"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
|WHAT||Northwestern at Michigan|
Ann Arbor, MI
October 10th, 2015
|THE LINE||Michigan –7.5|
|WEATHER||sunny, chilly AM, mid 60s gametime, 0% chance of rain|
Picture at right posted in a spirit of genuine love and admiration for Bo Cisek.
Run Offense vs Northwestern
Anthony Walker is not to be confused with Antoine
This has been up and down for the Wildcats. They've hampered Stanford and Minnesota (a combined 3.5 YPC after sacks are removed), but both Duke and Ball State gashed the Wildcats for more than five yards a carry, nearing 200 yards each. Duke's output was their best of the year on a per-carry basis; they just rushed for under a yard per carry in a 9-7 win(!) over Boston College. Ball State also just rushed for under a yard per carry against Toledo. They did not win.
So this is very different than Michigan's run D. It's not exactly bad. But it's not amazing. Northwestern is 44th in YPC allowed, and that's after facing the #35, #39, #83, and #109 rush offenses plus an FCS team. That is average performance against an average schedule. (For comparison, Michigan is fifth against #21, #32, #41, #84, and #115. IE: on another level entirely.)
Northwestern has a much more extreme version of the linebacker dichotomy Michigan does. Anthony Walker has been heroic this season, with a typical statline of 18 tackles, 3 TFLs, one baby saved from a burning building, and a PBU. Ace:
MIKE Anthony Walker flew under the radar heading into the season, but it's hard not to notice him now that he's amassed 44 tackles and 8.5 TFLs through five games for one of the most surprisingly strong defenses in the country. While he's a tiny bit undersized at 6'1, 235, he's got great athleticism for an inside linebacker, and his ability to read and react only makes it easier for him to shut down plays in a hurry:
Walker is at his best going sideline to sideline but he can also shed blocks and make plays between the tackles; he's also a solid cover linebacker.
The rest of their linebackers are nowhere near his level; I have seen them make weak tackle attempts in many games, get out of position, etc. After Walker, Northwestern's next two leading tacklers are the starting safeties. Only then do the other starting LBs come. Get Walker blocked and you can get to the secondary.
The Northwestern defensive line is fine. They're solid. They execute their assignments. They have something of a playmaker in Dean Lowry (4.5 TFLs). Ace compared him to Ryan Van Bergen and I think that's on point. I really liked RVB's game, but he's not Joey Bosa or Yannick Ngakoue. I am more optimistic about Michigan's ability to pound out yards against this defense than Ace is; the numbers for the season aren't great, and Minnesota's infinite offensive problems probably inflated the assets of the Northwestern D.
As for Michigan, Steve Lorenz is reporting Michigan should have De'Veon Smith back for this game. I have heard similar; I expect he will be available but maybe not 100% depending on his pain tolerance level.
Smith's projected return is a major boost. Michigan's anger back had his most impressive outing of 2014 in the #M00N game:
One particular third and short conversion was whistled dead despite Smith still inching forward with two different Wildcats hanging off him like 300-pound Christmas ornaments.
This is much the same crew he's going up against; if he can duplicate that performance Michigan has gone a long way towards winning.
That is somewhat likely. While Northwestern's taken a step forward on defense, it hasn't shown up too much in the run game; meanwhile this is basically the same Michigan rushing offense with a much better coaching situation. Consistent production is likely.
KEY MATCHUP: DE'VEON SMITH versus THE FLAILING ARMS OF THOSE WHO PLEAD FOR HIM TO STOP HIS BLOODY REIGN OF TERROR
[Hit THE JUMP for a SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE and a SIGN THAT NORTHWESTERN IS ALWAYS THEMSELVES]
Apologies for the audio quality this week, as we were at Suburban Chevrolet and there was significant ambient noise.
On the roundtable this week:
- Maryland aftermath
- Jake Rudock discussion
- The tailbacks and their health
- Just how dominant this D is
- Haggling over point spreads
- Craig wears a hat!
THE USUAL LINKS
On WTKA last week (before the Maryland game) the roundtablers got into a short discussion comparing Michigan's 2015 defense to, say, the 2006 one. Asgardian walked with it, comparing the M defense to others this year and some other great defenses by simply counting how many times they…
- Held opponent to 7 or fewer points, or
- Held opponents to 8-14 points, or
- Gave up 15 or more
I'm gonna go position by position. Argue any with me:
|Scores||2015 UM||3.23||2006 UM||3.08||1997 UM||3.33|
It's hard to compare eras (Peppers versus Clint Copenhaver!) but the 2006 defense didn't have enough depth at DB for the young spread era and that was its downfall. None of these defenses had any real holes; the 1997 defense didn't even have a spot that was less than really good (B).
I made a tool so you can try this with other defenses (be nice and don't sandbox where someone else is working). I got a 2.93 for this year's Northwestern and a 3.38 for 2013 Michigan State.
Now you're playing with….power rankings. Eye of the Tiger has been doing his own weekly ranking of Big Ten teams. He does this the way Brian does the "Fear Level" and "Desperate Need to Win Level" stuff in the previews, IE he starts with a baseline then gives a +2 for a win over a good team, –1 for a loss to a solid team, etc. Northwestern and Iowa are tops right now, though MSU has fallen behind Michigan.
Alum96 has kept up his version of this too, which informs by pointing out how wrong he was about things like Maryland being any good at football. And if you desire simple numbers instead of feels and backchecks, alum also has started posting the S&P+ rankings of M and the States.
[jump for the Most Lions Thing Ever]
Jim Harbaugh talked about the nature of life in his Monday press conference. I’m paraphrasing his paraphrasing, but he referenced a speech from Rocky IV or V about how life hits back and we have to absorb that and keep moving forward. The thing about sports is that they hit and we can’t hit back. We can’t alter events with more resolve or newly-acquired knowledge or literal brawn because we have nothing to do with the outcome. We let these teams get in and they infect our souls, and that irrationally intimate connection creates a baseline nervousness for me.
I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’ve developed a skepticism over the years that probably borders on overskepticism, but what can you expect from someone who’s been a Lions fan for as long as they can remember and has obsessively tracked the last eight seasons of Michigan football? One of the reasons I initially took an interest in stats is that they provide a tenuous buffer against the emotional blows sports land…to a point. While I anxiously await each week’s S&P and FEI update and we collectively giggle as we sift through line after line of defensive statistics, opposing fanbases can attest that sometimes the impact of the numbers can be just as grisly as the hits we take. Take a look at the picture above. They were again this week.
[Stats after THE JUMP]
Previously: Northwestern Offense
Matthew Harris forms half of arguably the best corner duo in the B1G. [Fuller]
Let's get this out of the way: Minnesota's offense is bad, they should feel bad, and trying to scout an opposing defense based on their performance against the Gophers is difficult because of that. I stopped charting when Minnesota benched Mitch Leidner for a true freshman. I hope you understand.
Personnel: Seth's diagram [click to embiggen]:
This is a defense with standouts on every level; it was tempting to give both of their safeties stars as well, but I didn't see enough of them in coverage, and that wasn't their fault.
Base Set? 4-3 under, though Northwestern will shift to an over depending on the offense's alignment. When Minnesota went three-wide (which was rare), nickel Keith Watkins replaced SAM Drew Smith. Former four-star recruit Ifeadi Odenigbo comes in as a pass-rush specialist for the most part.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown.]
Upon Further Review still has a sponsor.
Do not worry. The pants thing is still valid. Someone tweeted me worried that he would have to be formally attired after I failed to mention it last time. This is not the case. I was just stretching my creative muscles. Last time that happens EVER, thanks twitter guy.
FORMATION NOTES: Harbaugh unearthed a chestnut from the first half of the 20th century when he debuted a T formation:
After some Wikipedia reading I decided that Pro T == 1 WR, Wide T == 2 WR, and Power T == 0 WR. "Wide T" is not to be confused with "Split T," which means the OL take up crazy wide splits.
There wasn't anything too weird other than that unless you count a three wide shotgun formation as weird. Michigan spread the field much more than they did against BYU. They were still heavy; WRs got more snaps. Sometimes there were even two of them on the field at the same time.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Not much of note. Kerridge and Smith did not play. Isaac, Green, and Johnson seemed to split the RB opportunities down the middle for much of the game, with Isaac exiting permanently after his second fumble. Johnson got more playing time as the game went along.
OL was the usual, FB the usual minus Kerridge. WR was a bit more diverse than the last couple games, with Freddy Canteen and Grant Perry getting a dozen or so snaps each. Michigan spent more of this game in three-wide.
[After THE JUMP: scratching out… actually a lot more than they needed.]