9/24/2011 – Michigan 28, San Diego State 7 – 4-0
A long, long time ago now a Lloyd-Carr coached Michigan team was struggling through the 2005 season when they met Northwestern. A lot of throws to Tacopants (Jason Avant's 11-foot-tall imaginary friend) on both sides later, Michigan emerged with a 33-17 win and I embarked on one of the first of an endless procession of stat-nerd diatribes about the evils of punting.
You've probably heard it already: punting decisions have not kept pace with the increasingly offensive nature of the game, leaving coaches in a perpetual state of risk- and win-avoidance. Romer paper, Pulaski High, Mathlete chart. Etc.
In this particular Northwestern game, though, Carr went for it on fourth and five from the Northwestern 23, a decision I thought was too aggressive(!). When paired with a number of similarly aggressive calls from earlier that season, it seemed like a sea change for the old man:
In multiple cases he's made tough, correct decisions: going on fourth and goal from the one against Wisconsin, pounding it into the line twice against Michigan State, etc. Even when the strategy has backfired, he accepts the downside and persists in a more aggressive posture.
In context, the Penn State gaffe seems more like one last hit of that sweet Bombay Popsicle* snuck in-between rehab sessions than evidence of 1970s thinking taking hold. Lloyd Carr has checked himself in to the Betty Ford Center for Coaches Addicted to Low Variance. I wouldn't expect a flying-colors discharge any time soon, but he's made the first, biggest step.
*[I don't know either.]
That change lasted into the fourth quarter of that year's Ohio State game. Having acquired a two-score lead by converting a fourth and inches around the Michigan 40, Carr reverted to his primitive instincts at the crucial moment. With three minutes left from the Ohio State 40, he called for a wide receiver screen on third and ten. It gained six yards. With a two point lead, three minutes on the clock, no Ohio State timeouts left, and a fourth and four on the Ohio State 34, Carr punted. Ohio State drove for a touchdown; Carr would never again have the opportunity to kill a game against the Buckeyes.
In the moment, Carr choked. Six years on that single decision seems like the best way to explain why a lot Michigan fans found his tenure frustrating despite its high rate of success: the program was perpetually making poor decisions because a combination of fear and arrogance. Something could go wrong if you made a high variance decision, and Michigan could spit on expected value because This Is Michigan. See any game in which Michigan acquired an 18-point lead or the first half of the Orange Bowl for confirmation.
Carr coached like he had a kickass running game and killer defense no matter the facts, which was the difference between being a legend and a being a B+ coach who lost the battle with Tressel authoritatively. Hell, even Tressel blew games when he failed to adjust to the reality that sometimes his defense and special teams were not enough, and he ran roughshod over the Big Ten for nine years.
Part of the reason a segment of the Michigan fanbase (including the author) blew up at Hoke's hire is because it seemed to represent a return to that expectation-spurning 1970s decision-making.
Brady Hoke put a lot of those fears to rest by going for—and getting—the win against Notre Dame with eight seconds left. That decision was a no-brainer. If the field goal team had run out onto the field, I would have been livid. That was a test he passed, but it was one with a low bar.
On Saturday, Hoke sent out the punting team with about two and a half minutes left in the first half. It was fourth and two around midfield, and I was mildly peeved. It was not the percentage play, but I've watched a lot of football and it seemed too much to hope that even the rootin'est, tootin'est, eyepatch-wearingest pirate of a head coach would go for it. Needing more than a sneak and up fourteen in the first half, the world punts. My peevishness was directed at football coaches in general, not Hoke in particular.
And then an angel came down from the sky, and signaled timeout. Great trumpets erupted from the flagpoles, playing a fanfare as a golden staircase descended. Each of the steps was engraved with the names of World Series of Poker winners. Down from the clouds strode Doyle Brunson, clad in a jacket of hundred-dollar bills. And lo, Texas Dolly spaketh unto the people: "check-raise." Brady Hoke sent the offensive line onto the field.
This was a really, really good decision. Even if you don't believe the exact outlines of the Mathlete's calculations, it is not close: average offense versus average defense means the break-even line is around eight yards. This was not an average situation. Michigan had Denard Robinson against a pretty horrible run defense. And that number does not take into account the game situation. If Michigan gets the first down they are almost certainly robbing San Diego State of a possession. Punting gets you thirty, forty yards of field position. Getting the first down puts you in good position to score and is essentially another +1 in turnover margin. You need two yards and you have Denard Robinson.
stealing a joke from the internet: the guy on the right looks like he just looked into the Ark of the Covenant. via the News.
One speed option later Michigan was en route to the endzone and had essentially ended the game. Without that massively +EV decision they go into halftime up maybe 14, maybe 11, maybe 7 points. That ugly third quarter becomes the gut-check time most were predicting before the game. Maybe Michigan comes out on top (24-21, say). Maybe not. That didn't happen because when Michigan had its boot on San Diego State's neck, Hoke called Z 22 stomp right.
The Lloyd Carr example above shows we don't know that Hoke's going to do this consistently, that he'll stick to the non-pejorative MANBALL when the pressure is at its greatest, but so far so good. Even my doubts about Hoke's ability to math up in the waning moments of an Ohio State game are faint. When things go wrong he does not scowl or pout or throw headsets like Rich Rodriguez or Brian Kelly or Bo Pelini. He does not go on tilt. He calmly talks to guys about what in the hell they were thinking.
Hoke continues to leave best-case scenarios in the dust. Saturday night I watched Dennis Erickson punt on fourth and five from the USC 37 and thought "my coach would never do that." Then I watched Erickson chew out the punter who put the ball in the endzone because that's what happens when you punt from the 37 and thought "my coach would never do that."
That felt good. It felt invent-a-time-machine-to-assure-yourself-its-all-going-to-be-okay good. It feels like Michigan has finally learned how to gamble.
Boy do I want to play poker with certain people on the internet. Evaluating the decision has popped up on every Michigan message board. It's mostly been met with praise, but man, there are a lot of people who can't estimate and multiply out there. Maybe it's Carr Stockholm syndrome.
A reminder: anything on the MGoBlog photostream is creative-commons licensed, free to use for non-commercial applications. Attribution to Eric Upchurch, the Observer, and MGoBlog is appreciated.
Mark Huyge is delighted to be here. From the above SDSU photoset.
It's not quite the Molk death glare. It's more like Shifty-Eyed Dog.
Try to look at Mark Huyge ever again without having that play in your head.
That's a great question. Just as our rationality leads us to a belief in an objective reality, Kant believed there is an objective morality we can locate from the same process. The Categorical Imperative is an absolute, fundamental moral law on par with Minnesota losing to teams from the Dakotas. Things are either right or wrong—there are no gray areas, and context does not apply. You could call him the BJ Daniels of philosophy*.
*[Ten-cent summary of Kantian philosophy cribbed from Three Minute Philosophy, which is terrific. Philosophers wishing to quibble with my paraphrase of a comedic summary are invited to consider the moral consequences of their actions and also jump in a lake. USF fans wishing to WOO BJ DANIELS can skip to the latter.]
And the internet eeeed Countess. When Troy Woolfolk headed to the sidelines, all Michigan fans everywhere winced. When Blake Countess replaced JT Floyd in the third quarter, all Michigan fans everywhere prepared for the deluge.
It never came, and as a result everyone from my uncle to the internet to the newspapers are having little freakouts about Michigan's #4 corner. I am with all of you. The only thing stopping Countess from having a few PBUs or interceptions was Ryan Lindley's inability to throw the ball anywhere near the guys Countess had blanketed but Lindley targeted anyway.
For most of the third quarter I stopped watching the offensive backfield and started watching downfield coverage and while I won't be able to confirm this on the tape I think Countess was doing really well even when people weren't going after him. I'm with the rest of the internet when I suggest that Troy Woolfolk should take the Minnesota game off to recover from his multiple nagging injuries so we can see some more of the freshman.
I thought Avery did well, too. He had a third-down slant completed on him and was the DB victimized on the touchdown but in both cases he was right there tackling/raking at the ball. Is he doing something wrong I'm not perceiving yet? Because I think he's playing better than Woolfolk, who gave up some groan-worthy easy completions. (I don't blame him for allowing Hillman to bounce on one third down conversion because he was clearly held.)
Release the Martin. This week in the I-told-you-so files: Mike Martin is just fine. His good day last week was obscured by EMU never throwing and having quite a bit of success attacking away from him. Against SDSU he was nigh unblockable, bowling a veteran offensive line over backwards multiple times and drawing holding calls left and right. Craig Roh had two big plays and will show up doing little things when I do the UFR; Will Campbell had a couple of line-pushing plays. Hillman's YPC was still over five, so there are issues but I think a big chunk of them are localizable to…
Problems. So… everyone's talking up Jake Ryan, too. I'm with everyone in a general, long-term sense but a little less enthused about his performance on Saturday. One of the results of the first few weeks of UFRing/picture paging is that whenever the opponent tries to get outside I immediately focus on Ryan. Result from last week: three "aaargh Ryan" screams that no one in my section comprehended. He's still giving up the corner way too easy.
Also, there are two caveats to an otherwise encouraging performance from the secondary. One: Lindley and his receivers were flat bad as a group. Drops, bad routes, and bad throws artificially boosted Michigan's efficiency against him. Some of that was caused by pressure. Some of it was just a crappy opponent. Two: I wonder if Michigan's familiarity with the SDSU offense allowed them to beat the Aztecs' favorite routes into Michigan DBs heads.
Still, 5.3 YPA and actual depth at corner. +1 Mallory.
Offensive construction bits. Another week, another confirmation that running Denard is the offense. While I still groan whenever they line up under center, snaps from there were limited. I would really prefer it if they never ran I-form power on first and ten again, though. They've mixed in some inexplicably effective short play action so far; if they can't run that will probably dry up.
Things I liked: That screen to Smith. The essence of an RPS+3 is when three offensive linemen have no one to block for 30 yards. And then the much-discussed speed option debuted. I'd gotten a couple insider emails telling me it was part of the offense but thought it would be extremely bad form to publish that, so I'd been waiting. It was quite a debut.
I'm hoping we see Borges add wrinkles at the same rate Rodriguez did. He'll have to to keep the run offense ahead of the wolves. He's off to a good start.
via the Detroit News.
Tailbacks. I'm suddenly happy with Michigan's tailback situation after Vincent Smith made a lot of yards on his own, including the above touchdown where he kept his balance at about the five and managed to drag a safety into the endzone. There was also the zone play where he squeezed through a crack in the line it's possible literally no other D-I back would have fit through.
Toussaint, meanwhile, didn't have the yards Smith did but ran hard on the inside; I still like him best but understand if they're going to split duties between the top two. I feel bad for Shaw—maybe it's time to put him on kickoffs? He's got speed Smith does not.
The Denard question. So they did run a curl-flat. Denard went to the curl way late and threw his first interception. Not sure if that was schemed or just bad execution by the offense. If it's the latter that might be attributable to not running it over the offseason as Borges attempted to install his route packages, route packages that now seem like things Denard just can't do.
A three-point plan in an attempt to get Denard back on track:
- Stop throwing on the run.
- Provide some easy throws early—all hitch, snag—in an effort to get him calmed down.
- Develop some sort of counter-punch to the opponent getting all up in Denard's face on the rollout PA. A shovel pass?
Bending but not breaking. Michigan's giving up a lot of yards but not a lot of points. Frankly, some of this is luck. They are acquiring turnovers at an unsustainable rate. Not unsustainable for a mediocre defense, unsustainable for Michigan 1997. When the well dries up they'll do some more breaking.
The other thing is the secondary. Michigan's newfound ability to make plays on deep balls and Jordan Kovacs being stone-cold reliable (so far /crosses self) have erased cheap touchdowns for the opposition. WMU's touchdown came on a 15-play drive. ND touchdown drives went 7, 10, 7, and 4 plays. San Diego State's took six plays but started from the Michigan 38. The only quick drive Michigan's given up all year was ND's desperation drive, on which Michigan gave up chunks on purpose because of the time situation and then tried an NFL-style defense they weren't ready for and blew it. The longest touchdown other than that was the 16-yard pass Lindley hit in the third quarter.
Opponents have ripped off chunks on occasion, but they have not been handed free touchdowns. Michigan's at least making them earn it. That's a necessary first step on the road away from completely awful.
The next opponent. When Minnesota managed to hang with USC on the first weekend of the season they seemed like they might be more intimidating than your average Minnesota team. Then they lost to Not Even The Good New Mexico and North Dakota State and seemed even less intimidating than your average Minnesota team. Compounding matters: Jerry Kill is again out of commission with his seizure issue.
I did not VOAV this week for reasons of being spooked. Boyz In The Pahokee provided the usual bounty if you are jonesing.
ST3 goes Inside the Box Score:
Matt Wile. Wait, let me try that again. MATT WILE!!! Yeah, I think he was properly pumped up to play his Dad's team. Net yards per kickoff were 50 for SDSU and 49.2 for UofM. To be even on kickoffs is a win for us. Net yards per punt were 34.7 for SDSU and 43.5 for Michigan. To gain almost a full first down per punt is huge. Two punts were inside the 20, and two were 50+ yards. #82, Terrance Robinson had 2 ST tackles and did a great job as the gunner on punts.
Wile's just lost his punting job; if that allows him to improve his kickoffs and compete for the field goal job, Michigan's kicking could be one of those strength things by midseason.
Lordfoul's weekly Hoke for Tomorrow:
Michigan needs Hagerup back.Maybe Hagerup isn't the only answer. Wile's kicks are improving it would seem, both on KOs and punts, possibly because his nerves are settling down. Kickoffs regularly made it to the goal line and only 1 of 4 punts was returned for much while they averaged 49 yards per with a long of only 51(!).
Player participation notes from jtmc33.
You see that conch shell he's got in his hand? At some point in the first half he was talking into it like it was a cell phone. That is all.
Media, as in blog rabble. BWS hops aboard the Countess bandwagon and points out Denard can't throw.
MGoBlog : The Big Lebowski :: The Hoover Street Rag : The Hunt For Red October:
After the Notre Dame game, I tweeted very simply: "And the singing, Captain?" "Let them sing." The moment was too good to start worrying about the future. But at some point, the future arrives and you need to deal with it. How well prepared you are for that future plays a large role in how well you're able to handle it when the moment arrives. The non-conference schedule, particularly one played as four games at the start of the season should, theoretically, be a nice combination of challenges and the working out of kinks. Before the mission starts, you must know the capacity and capabilities of your crew.
Media, as in local newspaper. John Niyo on the defense, which is extant. Chengelis on the fact the team is not vintage. San Diego State had big pictures of their former coaches as signals. The Daily on RVB's Hillman chase:
Fifth-year senior defensive tackle Ryan Van Bergen caught Hillman from behind inside the 10-yard line and knocked the ball loose for the second fumble.
Try reading it this way: a 288-pound defensive tackle caught the nation’s second-leading rusher from behind in the open field — 30 yards away from the line of scrimmage.
Van Bergen got a block from fifth-year senior defensive tackle Mike Martin, but most of his help came from practice.
“But when it comes down to it, we have the most explosive player in the country in our backfield,” Van Bergen said. “We get to play against (junior quarterback) Denard (Robinson), so we’ve learned how to take angles at guys who have speed.
“I took off on my horse just thinking, ‘I’ve almost caught Denard before, maybe I can catch this guy.’ ”
“They were very emotional after the game, depressed, disappointed, upset, however you want to say,” said Long, whose team dropped to 3-1 after Saturday’s 28-7 defeat. “It was a very emotional locker room after the game and not in a good sense.”
They probably would have done a “poor job” of answering questions, Long said, so he kept them behind closed doors. “It’s my job to protect them,” Long said Sunday. “This is not pro football.” …
"The defense got shocked by the speed of especially one guy (Robinson),” Long said. “They got shocked by the strength they had up front and the speed of quarterback early in the game.”
• Offensively, Michigan is 13-for-13 on red-zone opportunities. It is one of 13 teams in the country to have scored on every trip inside the 20-yard line this year.
• Even better? The Wolverines have scored touchdowns on 12 of those 13 trips. That 92-percent touchdown rate trails only Texas Tech nationally.
One of the main arguments made in favor of Shotgun Forever is that red zone efficiency is not a stat that shows much repeatable skill year to year and that the huge chunks of yards Michigan picked up without, you know, scoring in 2010 would turn into points if you just left the damn thing alone (and got a kicker). The early returns are excellent.
National takes. Smart Football:
- Michigan 28, San Diego State 7. Brady Hoke’s new team faced his old team, and I’m still not sure, despite their 4-0 record, that we know anything about this Michigan football team. The defense seems to be improving under DC Greg Mattison, but they’ve been using so much movement and motion to cover up their talent weaknesses it’s unclear how the defense will fare against a polished opponent. And while the offense has found a better rhythm running a Rich Rodriguez-lite Denard Robinson attack — including Denard’s long TD run on the speed option — his passing line was abysmal: 8 of 17 for 93 yards, no TDs and two interceptions. He’s obviously uncomfortable in the new offense. He looked like a more polished and comfortable passer last year. I chalk some of this up to the fact that the very techniques he’s using are new, but he’s going to have to improve for UM to have success. That said, given Michigan’s favorable schedule — no Wisconsin and the easy part of the Big 10 schedule up next — we may not learn anything about Michigan until the last three weeks of the season, when they play Illinois, Nebraska and Ohio State.
No one else bothered. A couple weeks after puntosauring himself into a loss against Iowa State, BHGP documents Kirk Ferentz opening Iowa's game against ULM in a shotgun spread, demonstrating the Carr thing above perfectly.
Generalizations get slightly less haphazard:
Notes and stuff:
BOY WAS I RIGHT ABOUT LSU. And by "right" I mean "not right." Their combination of wins can't be denied. Q: should a hypothetical one-loss LSU get into the national title game over a hypothetical undefeated Wisconsin if Oregon and WVU are ten-win outfits? I say yes. Wisconsin needs to man up, stop drinking the wrong beer made from rice by Europeans, and schedule an actual nonconference game this century. I may have them entirely too high since they've played no one at all, but we'll find out a lot about them this weekend.
IT WAS REAL, BOISE STATE. Sorry, but other teams are playing other teams and beating other teams instead of not doing so. Moving Nebraska ahead of the Broncos is probably not cool since they only played Wyoming, but Washington is looking legit—moreso than Georgia, anyway.
JUST IN TIME FOR THEM TO EXPLODE. Welcome Clemson to the top ten. I am getting enthused about their prospects, which means they're about to lose inexplicably.
BOY, DO I HATE THE MIDDLE OF THIS POLL. I liked Illinois preseason but then they go out and squeak by Western Michigan the same week Arizona State handles USC. So they've got a win over a ranked opponent and need to go up. So there they are. I don't like it, but on resume it's hard to deny them.
Similarly, I hate putting South Carolina's interception factory in the top 15, or Baylor, but I don't have much choice.
TEXAS DROP. Bye week plus re-evaluation of Rice win given Baylor beating them badly.
MICHIGAN. Notre Dame win has a little more cred and San Diego State is expected to be a solid upper-tier MWC outfit, so they creep up.
Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen
Did you feel Mike Martin out there today? Van Bergen: “Oh yeah absolutely. Defensive line-wise, we probably had our highest production day. Obviously you have to watch the film to see how well we really performed. I thought Mike did a good job of getting after the quarterback, and when he wasn’t there, I was there, and then when neither of us was there, Craig was there. We did a really good job up front of getting to the quarterback. We didn’t register big numbers [in terms of] sacks or anything like that, but as far as QB hurries and pressures, I’d be interested to see that stat, because I felt like we were making him move his feet all day, which changed up some of his throws.
Is this the best you’ve played this year, and did you guys change anything in practice this week? Martin: “We didn’t change anything schematically. We had by far the best week of practice as a team collectively this week, and it definitely showed up on the field. I was interviewed earlier this week, and I said that the way we practice directly correlates with the way that we play. We started out fast on Tuesday, had a great day of work Wednesday to Thursday, then we tied it together on Saturday. It all ties together, and I’m glad we put it on the field today.”
A lot of sudden change situations in the fourth quarter. How did you respond to that? Van Bergen: “You know, we’ve been pretty solid on sudden change situations all season defensively. Not allowing a touchdown, holding them to a field goal when they get good enough field position for it. It’s something our defense prides ourselves on. We’re really intent that teams don’t get the best of us when we turn the ball over, because it’s going to happen. You’re going to turn the ball over, and the main thing is don’t let that translate into points, because that’s how you get beat. So our defense, that’s one of the things on our bulletin board. That’s on our wall. One of the things we have to be good at is sudden change situations. We pride ourselves on that.”
We’ve talked a lot about slow starts on defense. What was it about the first quarter that allowed you to get off to a fast start? Was it knowing the opponent better? Martin: “You know, that’s a part of it, but I like to say it was as simple as us coming out with the most intensity we’ve had in the first quarter this season. It’s something we have to remember that we did and build on that. It went right into the second quarter, and when half time came around, we made a few adjustments, but we came to play every single quarter. So we have to start fast and finish strong, which I think we did this week.”
Hoke said on Monday that the biggest aspect the team that he wanted to see improve was the play of the front seven. Did you agree with his assessment? Van Bergen: “Coach Hoke holds us to a very high standard. That’s something I said Monday at the Press conference. He’s going to have the highest standard of any defensive line in the country. We definitely don’t want him to lower the bar for us. I think Mike would agree with the fact that we haven’t played our best game up front. And I would probably go on to say this wasn’t our best game we could have played. We played better, but the standard is so high that any missed assignment, missed tackle, miscue, anything like that, or wrong alignment isn’t going to be tolerated until everything we do on every single snap is perfect.”
How were you able to keep Hillman in check and get two turnovers from him? Also, talk about forcing the fumble from behind? Van Bergen: “There’s a lot of parts to that question. [Hillman’s] a good back. We knew he was an explosive player, but I mean, when it comes down to it, we have the most explosive player in the country in my opinion in our backfield, so we get to play against Denard. So we’ve learned how to take angles to guys with some speed. As far as that call, Mike actually was the one who sprung me on that as far as they were running a toss to the boundary side, and we were running a stunt where Mike was supposed to come up to the field first and I was supposed to loop underneath him. He picked the guy that was supposed to block me, and I just took off on my horse, thinking, ‘I’ve almost caught Denard before. Maybe I can catch this guy.’ Our corner did a good job of turning him back in. We’ve practiced that all the time. Two months ago, spring ball, that might not have happened. I don’t remember who the corner was, but he made him turn back in. We all know in pursuit drill on defensive line -- if you catch a running back, you throw your arms around him as hard as you can and you hope that ball comes out. It was a good break for us because if they score on that possession, game might have gone a little differently. It was fortunate … Mike definitely set me up on that.” [Ed-M: Van Bergen(+1) for UFR-ing]
Did you think Lindley was a different quarterback under pressure? Martin: “Yeah, that’s something that we talked about as a D-line and as a group. We knew that if we got in his face and got pressure to him, press the pocket down on him, he would get happy feet and make missed throws. He’s a good quarterback. He can sling that thing around. If you don’t get in his face, he can throw it as well as anyone. We made sure that was a big thing for us ... to push the pocket and do whatever we can to get into his face.”
Did either one of you sense this was a tough week for Hoke? Van Bergen: “I didn’t think it was a tough week for him personally. I think that there was definitely a media factor as far as it was hyped up to the fact that it was his old program. But I mean, college football is a transitioning world. Everybody moves around, so it just happened to be that they were on the schedule, and he didn’t treat this any differently. He had some inside information as far as how they would play as far as personnel, but nothing to the point to making it any different than any other week. We had to have an intense week of practice, which Mike said we did, and then have a four-quarter game, which, defensively, we came along. I won’t say we had it, but we had a better week than last week.”
Coaches say the goal is to win Big Ten Championship. How much do they talk about that now that non-conference is over? Van Bergen: “I would imagine the intensity is going to pick up. We had some pretty intense practices, but the way Coach Hoke has been talking about even through fall camp and his first four weeks -- it’s always been about the Big Ten. Everything is in comparison to the Big Ten. We have to play better or we won’t compete against the Big Ten. We have to be better up front or we won’t be able to play in the Big Ten. The Big Ten standard is higher than any expectation. In order for us to be competitive in the Big Ten the way coach wants us to be, we’re going to have to step it up. We want to be Big Ten champions. We haven’t had a good record in the Big Ten, anybody on this team, since we’ve been on it. It’s a big thing for us. We’ve started off 4-0 non-conference schedule, but to come out in the Big Ten and have a strong showing, that’s a big deal to us. I can tell you all the guys in the locker room are very excited and hyped up to get started in the Big Ten schedule and see what we’re really about.”
Even though you’ve been downplaying this storyline, is there a sense of pride in helping your coach beat a team he left less than a year ago? Mike Martin: “That’s not something that was on our mind. Our bottom line was to win the game. We have to win the game no matter what so we can go into the Big Ten ready to go. We always want to win for coach. We always want to win for Michigan and this program. It’s what it’s all about. It’s not about coach, and he’ll say that. He’ll say that [about] himself. It’s not about him. It’s not about me. It’s not about Ryan. It’s not about anyone except for Michigan and this program.”
I know you can’t see what other guys are doing on defense, but Blake Countess had a really good game. Talk about him? Van Bergen: “I think Blake is one of those guys that -- as a true freshman you can get some guys that get wide eyes when they come on the field. But there’s also guys -- he kind of reminds me of Donovan Warren when he first came in. He was very focused. He has a swagger about him, and he’s very confident in his abilities. I think the more reps he gets, the more time he’ll see just because he’ll prove that he can play. I think the coaches are slowly getting more comfortable with him and rotating him in. Unfortunately I think Troy went down. I don’t know if JT came back or not, but we had some guys that went down a little bit, and he stepped up. And that’s something we have as a team is the expectation by position. It doesn’t matter who you are. That position is expected to be played a certain way. Blake proved that today. He did really well.”
To what extent are the turnovers a result of playmaking mentality, and how much is it is just constantly running to the ball and hoping for something to happen? Van Bergen: “You know, I think it’s just the emphasis. We have such a strong emphasis from Coach Mattison and Coach Hoke, almost to the point where you don’t want to hear them anymore. Just turn them off in practice because they’re always talking about running to the ball, that the ball’s going to come out. If you count it percentage-wise, you’re probably not going to get a ball out too often, but when it does, man, it feels great. When you buy in like our defense has bought in, all of a sudden the turnovers start piling up for us. I think everybody’s starting to take notice that we’ve gotten way more turnovers this year at this point than we did last year and the last couple years because of how much we emphasize it and how much we practice it and how much we believe that if we get 11 hats on the ball, good things are going to happen.”
Craig Roh and Mark Huyge
How complicated is Rocky Long’s defense? Did it give you guys problems? Huyge: “Well they basically stunted on every play. They were taking the defensive end and putting him inside, wrapping the nose around, bringing linebackers off the edge. They were twisting and stunting. It helps because we ran the zone a lot -- inside zone -- and that’s where everyone pushes to one side. When you can do that, it kind of negates it a little bit, but they got us on a few I know for sure.”
Can you take us through the sack/fumble play? How good did that feel? Roh: “With the sack, they were running hurry-up, so I just subbed in for Jibreel Black and just bullrushed and then ripped outside and got the ball. It was a good feeling. It’s always a good feeling when you get a sack.”
Do you take coach’s criticisms of the defensive line personally? Roh: “We take it personally every week, but we’re improving every week and I think today was a pretty good performance defensively, especially with the run. But we need to keep improving every week, and we’re not where we need to be yet.”
What was the attitude on offense when you turned the ball over, and how do you get past that and not allow it to slow you down? Huyge: “We know that we have to keep pushing past that. It’s been nice not turning the ball over, trying to sustain consistent drives. But when it happens, it’s just an obstacle. It’s football and we know that. Just keep pushing on. That’s what we keep telling ourselves. It’s what we try to do.”
What was the difference between the Ryan Lindley you saw today and the Ryan Lindley you saw on tape after you got inside his head a little? Roh: “We were getting real good pressure up the middle with Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen. I think it just rattled him a little bit and he didn’t perform as well as we had expected. He’s a real good quarterback, and we just got pressure on him and got him rattled a little bit.”
How important was it to establish Denard as a runner early in the game? Huyge: “Like Craig said, the emphasis this week was to start fast. The last couple of games we started slow and eventually picked it up. Getting Denard established early -- I think that gives the defense problems, and they have to adjust and get on their heels, and that’s always a good thing.”
This is the third straight game where you’ve had a turnover in the red-zone. What about inside the 20 makes you guys play up and what’s it like when you can get off the field without giving up any points? Roh: “It’s just, ‘Give us a place to stand and we’ll play.’ Coach Mattison’s always saying that, and I think all of us have taken it to heart.”
Denard Robinson and Vincent Smith
Talk about getting off to a faster start on offense? Denard: “That’s the thing that coach was preaching to us all week. All the seniors were just like, ‘Hey, we have to start taking off fast,’ so Tuesday practice everybody came out amped and ready to go.”
Denard, the option play with Vince was new. Do you like that play, and how long have you guys been working on it? Denard: “We’ve been working on a lot, and I wanted to give the ball to Vince, but I saw the opening and I was like, ‘All right, let’s go.’ ”
Vince, talk about chemistry in running game. Smith: “With two backs, it’s a good relief off Denard, and me and Fitz pride ourselves in taking the load off him and helping this offense move down the field.”
Hoke said one of the things that surprised him was how much you guys like each other. Denard: “We all love each other. We enjoy being with each other. It’s like a family, so that’s what we pride [ourselves] on.” Do you guys talk about that with the new guys? “Oh yeah, that’s my brother, and we’re going to take you in. So when the freshmen came in, they knew that they had a family here.”
Did you guys see the defensive signal cards that SDSU was using? Denard: “We were laughing. Everybody was in that huddle laughing like, ‘Look at those things they got. They’ve got pictures of our coaches. That’s crazy.’ ” Smith: “Yeah, I was laughing as well.”
Do you feel like you need to take it up another level on offense to compete with Big Ten teams? Smith: “We know we just have to sustain drives and keep the ball flowing and get into rhythm.”
Fred Jackson has a reputation for benching running backs who fumble. What did it mean to you for him not to bench you? Smith: “It puts a lot of confidence in me, and I knew that I had to make up for what I did. Obviously I did, and he knows that I’m capable of doing that.”
Talk about run where you broke free. Smith: “The last one I scored on?” No it was in the first half. Denard: “He’s talking about the one you broke -- you kind of looked like you were stopped -- and I was like, ‘What?’ ” Smith: “It was a zone read, and I just pressed my gut, which coach J was stressing to us all through the week. It wasn’t there at first, but I was just patient on the read, and just squirted out -- it was a small, small hole, and I just squirted through it. I just kept my feet going and something good happened.”
What’s your frustration level with yourself in the passing game? Denard: “I mean, I’m not too mad at myself, because my teammates, they keep telling I’m going to be all right. Just keep going and keep fighting. They have my back, and I know they do.”
Did anyone show up to your birthday party after your tweet? [Denard bangs head on table.] Denard: “Oh man. It was a good crowd. We went out [to Colonial Lanes] bowling, having a little bit of fun. It was just … ” How many people do you think showed up? “I don’t know. I don’t know.” What did you bowl? “I bowled a 200 the first try. The second time I only went 160 and the next time I went 170. I did all right.” Why’d you just bang your head on the table there? “Because Twitter -- I don’t know if I want to keep tweeting. I don’t want questions coming up in here about that.”
Speaking of odd questions, did you switch helmet manufacturers this year? Denard: “Big Jon told us we had to wear a different helmet, and I got a different helmet. He just told me. I came in one day and he was like, ‘Yeah, you’ve got to get a different helmet.’ And I was like, ‘Ah, come on.’ ”
Why do you think you couldn’t get into rhythm passing? Denard: “[San Diego State is] a great team. They fly around everywhere. So you could say that, but still we worked on it all week and I just have to execute, that’s all. We have to get better as a team.”
Going for it on fourth and two, how big was it score before halftime? Denard: “Roy and the seniors were just like, ‘Man, look. We have to get this and we can’t slack.’ I was like, ‘All right, let’s go get it then.’ Coach called the time-out and he was like, ‘Let’s go and get the ball. Let’s go and get the first down.’ And that’s what we did. That was a big key to the game.”
You downplayed the fact that this was your old team, but postgame you hugged SDSU players, etc. Talk about how this game was different. “Well, it still was Michigan playing San Diego State, so that doesn’t change. Obviously there’s some great kids on that football team and great individuals. They work hard, they play hard, and that part of it is, I guess, being a human being. There’s a love that you have for those guys that you’ve coached and you’ve been around.”
How much did you feel D-line today? “I thought the run game, from that standpoint -- I thought they were disruptive. I thought the backers were able to flow pretty decently. There was some pressure on the quarterback, some of the play action. I thought the transition from run to pass was pretty decent, especially Mike and Ryan did a nice job. And Craig Roh you could feel out there.”
The non-conference schedule is over. Can you talk about where this point is right now vs. where you want it to be? “We can’t turn the ball over four times, I can tell you that. That’s disappointing. We ended up a minus one. Defensively we caused three turnovers, and then we turn it over four times. You can’t win anything -- you can’t win your pop warner league if you turnt he ball over. WE were fortunate to get out to a decent lead in the football game, and I thought our defense kept us in the game because we tried to get it away.”
The decision to go for it on fourth down? “I just thought our defense was playing pretty good, to be honest with you. I think it gives your kids some confidence [that] they know you have confidence in them.”
For defense to come out and set the tone with three-and-out. How good was that? “It was a big deal, number one, in how we covered the kick. Kickoff coverage has been a little thorn in our side. Greg talked about with the defense before we left the hotel about that first possession, that first series how we want to play as a defense. We talk about the Michigan defense and wanting to be a Michigan defense.”
Can you assess Denard separately with his running and his passing? “I think he ran the ball pretty daggone well. He makes some things up as he goes, which I wish I could do … sometimes I do do. He really did a great job running the football. Thought he did a good job managing the offense. It’ll be interesting when I talk to Al tomorrow about some of the check plays because some of the different looks Rocky’s gonna give you, which are a lot. That’s not an easy defense -- Andy Dalton had plenty of problems with it a year ago. It’s not an easy defense to try and figure things out, but he did a good job there in the run game. I think throwing the ball -- I don’t know if one sailed on him a little bit, but I’m not sure about the route at this point, if this was run to the specifics of what it needed to be run. I think the one he tried to find a hole in there, you know, probably just made a bad decision.”
Talk about the pressure on Lindley. “I have the utmost respect for Ryan -- for how he studies the game and how he plays the game. I think it’s like all quarterbacks. You want to get as much rpessure as you can. It’s that fine line. They throw the fade down here in the fourth quarter and that’s going to be a touchdown if they hold onto it. It’s a fine line to how much zone you want to play to how much you want to try and get after him.”
What’s Troy Woolfolk status, and talk about Blake Countess? “Troy, he tweaked the ankle that he tweaked earlier in the season. I’m sure that’s day to day. If I know Troy, he’ll come out tomrrow and do everything that we’ll do. I thought Blake, he’s a young guy. He’s a talented young guy. He’s done a good job of -- he has great pride in his performance. He gets himself ready to play.”
Smith fumbled but was then in on the next series. How important was it to show confidence in him after a mistake? “Fred has a lot of confidence in him obviously, and I’ve got a lot of confidence in him. I want to see that play. I know he was fighting for an extra yard or two or whatever. I don’t know where he got loose with the ball or a hand punched it through. I don’t know. I’m glad Vincent Smith’s on Michigan’s football team.”
The turnovers gave you bad field position, but the defense only gave up seven points. Thoughts? “Well, I mean, that’s [why] those guys are on scholarship at Michigan -- to play defense. That’s what we talk about. It doesn’t matter what the offense does. I’m on my scholarship. I’m Ryan Van Bergen, defensive end, and I’m at Michigan to play defense.”
They got on your side of the field eleven times and scored only once. Are you relying on turnovers or are you just that kind of defense? “Well I think we all would like to be that kind of defense. I think we all stress turnovers -- how to get ourselves to the ball and angles and punching it out or ripping it out. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing that we’ve been able to create them. I don’t know if it’s such a good thing that the field position battle for a good [part] of this game, we were getting our tails kicked. I thought the Wile kid in the second half did a tremendous job of punting the football, and that was great to see.”
Field goal situation? “I think it’s one bad kick, and I can tell you from how he planted -- not that I’m Garo Yepremian and know much much about the kicking aspect -- but he just didn’t plant it well and kind of pushed it.”
Is there a difference between San Diego State’s physicality and Michigan’s? “No, I don’t think so. I know one thing about how those guys on that other team are coached and how they’re going to play with a physicalness on both sides of the ball. They’re going to get helmets and bodies to the ball, and they’re going to be aggressive on the line of scrimmage.”
Denard had a great first half but an interesting second half. How important is it for the offense to put together a solid four quarters? “Well, I think it’s obviously important, but it wasn’t all Denard. We had enough -- from the turnover standpoint and then [not] blocking the line of scrimmage like we’d like to. I don’t think we did it as well in the second half, and that’s disturbing because championship teams have a way of improving during the course of the game and finishing games, and we didn’t do that.”
You mentioned Denard had bad decisions throwing. What about his footwork? “I said he had a bad decision. He may have had more, but I want to see what plays he got us into, and that’s something the quarterback never gets credit for. He obviously got us into pretty good quarterback iso play depending on what they were bringing. I thought the one throw where he tried to throw it maybe into too many people with the different color jersey [was not good].”
Does his bad day passing spoil the good day he had on the ground? “No. I don’t think so. We won the game. And I’m not being sarcastic, but I think it’s something [about which] we’ll have good conversion tomorrow. We’ll point out things whether it’s his feet and those kinds of things or -- again with that one route, I don’t know if the route was totally run the way we coach it to be run.”
What were your conversations like with the SDSU players after the game? “It’s great to see them. Those conversations are personal.”
Now that it’s over, how does your mindset change for the Big Ten season? “I don’t know if it changes because you prepare to win every game. I don’t know if your mindset and how you go about your job for those kids [insert suitable verb] any differently. We’re going to be in there tomorrow and put this game to bed as coaches and players and move to Minnesota.”
Four weeks in, is there anything about this team good or bad that surprises you? “I like how they like each other. I’ve been around teams that don’t like each other. I like how they like each other -- if they like each other enough and respect each other enough, they’re going to play for each other. And that’s a powerful thing. When they play for each other and they play for Michigan, that’s a powerful thing.
San Diego State
Ann Arbor, MI
September 24th 2011
|THE LINE||Michigan –9|
|WEATHER||low 60s, cloudy, 40% chance of rain|
Run Offense vs. San Diego State
We don't know how good the San Diego State run defense is yet but the early returns are not good for Rocky Long. The Aztecs got ground down by Army in their first game against I-A competition, yielding 403(!) yards on 77(!) carries. That's 5.2 per against a team that threw less than 10% of the time. It's also a game against a triple option opponent. See Georgia Tech games for evidence option foes can screw with your brain without affecting how well you play against more conventional competition.
A first glance at the stats suggests Washington State played as if trying to illustrate this principle, racking up 51 yards on 28 carries. HOWEVA, a zillion sacks distort those numbers greatly. When you excise those, WSU managed 95 yards on 22 carries. That's not great, but it is 4.3 YPC from last year's #117 rushing offense. Washington State might seem much better but that doesn't mean they can run any: against obviously horrible UNLV they managed just 3.8 YPC on 39 carries. Wisconsin did 6.3, so… like… yeah. Are we ready to give up the dream of having Wisconsin-like numbers on the ground yet? I'm not. Are we ready to project 6.8 YPC based on an inane chain of comparisons? Sure!
It's a guess this early, but the guess here is SDSU does not have a good run defense, and may be downright awful. Ace's SDSU Fee Fi Foe Film* featured a couple of runs where 240-pound SDSU defensive ends get latched on to and turned into donkeys by WSU offensive tackles who are most certainly not Taylor Lewan. Watch the right tackle:
That's an inside zone! You know what never happens on inside zones? The defensive end never gets crushed to the point where the play bounces outside.
If the Aztecs try to play this straight up they will die, so they won't. That's the whole deal with the 3-3-5. If you're smart and disciplined and attack the right way even a size-deficient team like TCU can slash their way into the Wisconsin backfield and live. It seems obvious SDSU does not have this down yet, but neither does Michigan have their stuff down. They spent large chunks of the EMU game looking comically bad on power running schemes, especially that pin and pull zone play that is not the stretch and never gets any yards.
The prescription here is for more donkey: QB iso/offtackle stuff behind Lewan and a surprisingly feisty Mark Huyge, mixed in with some zone read just to see if the world really has forgotten how to defend it. (Frequent emailer and smart football guy (not that smart football guy) Tyler Sellhorn emailed me about my Q about the power-zone read combo and did confirm that it really puts the WLB in a bind and makes the scrape exchange games tougher to play, but that's another post.) Runs that hit laterally are asking the quick little buggers on the SDSU defense to slant into your face and should be infrequent constraints.
Key Matchup: Borges versus Long mindgames. I don't think SDSU can win straight up here and don't think Michigan knows what they're doing well enough to figure out all the blitzes Long will chuck at them. So the Q: who is going to catch the other guy out more often?
*[MEMO TO PAID MGOCONTRIBUTORS: Good God we need to work on segment names. Between "Michigan Muesday" that runs on Wednesday and the above… let's just say it's a work in progress. The redeeming thing about the above is potentially referring to it by its abbreviation: FFFF.]
Pass Offense vs. San Diego State
Washington State quarterback Marshall Lobbestael had a very Denard 2011 sort of day against the Aztecs, except with more volume: 368 yards and three touchdowns are explosive but two interceptions and completing just 20 of 42 attempts are not so much. And that's all we have to go on. SDSU's other opponents were a I-AA team I considered applying to out of high school and option-mad Army.
Last year the Aztecs were good, finishing 20th in pass efficiency D and a bit above average in sacks. They did a creditable job against Missouri's Blaine Gabbert, who needed 51 attempts to rack up 351 yards, 88 of those on a two-play WTF drive with just over a minute left. When not desperate, Gabbert was pwned, but at least Michigan's "fall behind and chuck it deep" strategy looks like it will work.
The Aztecs return three fifths of their starting secondary, losing leading tackler and bandit-type safety Andrew Preston and cover corner Darryn Lewis; the other corner, deep safety, and spur-type safety return. SDSU's pass rush comes from all over—I count 16 different Aztecs picking up sacks last year in Tim's preview—but the main threat is fifth-year SLB Mile Burris, the only guy on the team to get more than two. His 9.5 sacks should make him a marked man. Senior DE Jerome Long has three this year against questionable competition.
Michigan, meanwhile, has had a very Marshall Lobbestael 2011. That's not good. They don't throw much, throw accurately even less, and throw short very, very rarely. Against a shifting, zone-blitz-in-a-bag 3-3-5 that actually works Denard might have struggles identifying who the open guys are going to be on straight dropbacks. Or he might not. I have no idea what a 3-3-5 is supposed to look like. Given my experience with the defense, everyone will be open by at least ten yards.
If that's not the case I'd like to see Michigan work the less-dangerous edges with the curl/flat and snag stuff Denard did last year, saving the over the middle passing for deadly play action. I'm not sure we'll actually get to see this. It's time to go back to Denard's well. Will Borges see it the same way?
Key Matchup: Denard versus The Return of Tacopants. Gotta throw it on target before we can talk about anything else.
Run Defense vs. San Diego State
This is going to be a problem. Eastern Michigan averaged 4.5 YPC without any semblance of a passing game, and while the run offense is the one part of EMU's team that isn't completely horrible we're talking about a bad MAC team running better than any Carr team ever did. Yerk.
With Cam Gordon "available" but not starting the personnel won't be much better. It may be worse. I have a credible report that Craig Roh suffered an upper body injury in the EMU game that won't necessarily keep him out but may limit his playing time and effectiveness. With Jibreel Black playing well that won't cause a huge dropoff, but it does kill off any hopes Black and Roh might see the field together.
Michigan's getting decent to good play from three of the four defensive linemen and problems from whoever isn't Martin, RVB, or Roh/Black. Will Campbell's playing time has gradually increased as it becomes clear the walk-ons are pretty much just walk-ons and not magical Kovacs walk-ons.
ATTENTION WALK-ON FAIRY: YOU ARE NEEDED ON THE DEFENSIVE LINE
The linebackers have been erratic. While they're not helped out by plays like the above or the all-too-frequent edge busts from whoever the SLB has been, Kenny Demens and Brandin Hawthorne had rough games against Eastern. Demens did play well against Notre Dame, for what it's worth, and his track record suggests he's pretty good. The bigger worries are at the other two spots, where Jake Ryan is learning but still gives up the edge way too often and Hawthorne shows potential… when he's not wondering WTF is going on.
Opposite this uneven bunch of good players, walk-ons, tiny guys, larger guys, and a smattering of freshmen is Ronnie Hillman, the nation's second leading rusher. If that doesn't mean much three weeks into the season, he was tenth a year ago as a freshman. He was sort of held in check against the better MWC teams, with 62 yards against BYU, and 54 against both Utah and TCU. I say "sort of" because the main problem for Hillman in those games was usage, not efficiency: he had only 38 carries. If you're scoring at home that's still 4.5 YPC—hardly a reason to starve the beast. Here is where I will abruptly gloss over the 228 yards against Missouri so no one gets too frightened.
Did that work?
No. All right, it shouldn't. SDSU returns four of five linemen and is running basically the same offense they did last year—a lot of variety, but a variety these guys are used to. Hillman can play, and Michigan's defense to date has been frighteningly erratic. SDSU just annihilated WSU on the ground. This is going to be a problem.
Key Matchup: Hawthorne and Demens vs counter steps and other misdirection. They've been late reading plays all year and late to the hole. Do that against Hillman and he's severely testing Jordan Kovacs's to-date pristine record of not giving up long touchdowns when they bust into your secondary.
Pass Defense vs. San Diego State
Ryan Lindley and his favorite target Colin Lockett
You are probably aware of Aztec senior QB Ryan Lindley, he of the massive passing yardage and low-level NFL buzz. Lindley has not quite picked up where he left off last year. His day against Army was Denard-2011-like: 8 of 18, 146 yards, 1 TD and no INTs. 8 YPC, sure, but alarming completion percentage and what's with the number of attempts?*
Last week Lindley got the attempts in buckets (37) and managed 273 yards with two TDs and an INT. Washington State is clearly not as awful as they've been—hammering a I-A opponent, any I-A opponent, proves that—but that was last year's #110 passing efficiency defense.
The jury's still out as SDSU hovers around 50th in passer efficiency early in the season. This is largely because of SDSU's receiver situation. The Aztecs lost NFL third-rounder Vincent Brown and running mate DeMarco Sampson, then lost their replacements to season-ending injuries. The leading returner at WR is Dylan Denso and his four catches; he's got nine already this year. Sophomore Colin Lockett is the current go-to guy with 254 yards in three games. He's a big play threat: along with his 21.6 yards per catch he has a kick return touchdown against Cal Poly. However, he's also a position-switch starter, going from the two-deep at corner to a starter at WR once the injuries hit.
Michigan's pass defense has either not had to exist or had to cover Michael Floyd with only the bruised ribs of Alex Carder in-between. They are clearly better than they were a year ago simply by virtue of defending some passes some of the time. Woolfolk's return and extra experience for Avery and Floyd gives the secondary some of that rumored depth stuff; the main problem has been in the nickel when Michigan brings in either a deeply unreliable safety or a freshman. Last week it was the freshman and given Thomas Gordon's strong play opposite Kovacs it will probably be the freshman again unless Michigan gets comfortable with flipping one of the veteran corners inside. Since the position requires more tackling, that would presumably be Floyd. The other options are tiny or wearing a big ol' cast.
Meanwhile, a series of zone blitzes nearly decapitated the aforementioned Carder and got nowhere against the veteran Notre Dame line. San Diego State's line is similarly veteran but presumably not as good. Can Michigan generate pressure from the front four? Can they get guys into the backfield on the zone blitzes? Ask again later.
Key Matchup: Cornerback du jour (Floyd?) over the top on Lockett. Given Michigan's success to date with press coverage on deep throws and their weakness against the running game, they will go to their heavy blitz press package and dare Lindley to beat them over the top with receivers who should be who-dats. Winning the battle with Lockett one-on-one allows Michigan to focus on the short stuff and Hillman and maybe slow this offense down enough to where it sputters.
*[The SDSU-Army game was a Life On The Margins hall of famer. SDSU ran just 43 plays and picked up under 300 yards; Army had 84 plays and 446 yards. So of course SDSU wins.]
Michigan still has no field goal attempts unless you count a glorified extra point at the end of the EMU game, which is fantastic. They've found a punt returner in the suddenly-better-than-competent Jeremy Gallon, and that's where the good news ends. Kickoff returns and coverage have been dismal. The punting has been mediocre, though I'm of the opinion the return to the dino-punt is allowing opponents return yardage they wouldn't otherwise get. Hagerup returns, but he returns next week.
The opponent is middling in most categories. They do have a kick return touchdown, but it was against Cal Poly and is of debatable meaning. Their main advantage is (as always) at kicker, where they have a guy who puts it through the uprights. Abelardo Perez was 17 of 22 last year, though he's missed two of his three attempts in 2011.
Key Matchup: GIBBONS YOU PUT IT THROUGH THE UPRIGHTS AAAAAA
what I see when I look in the mirror
- Lockett is legit and too fast to stop over the top without help.
- Michigan isn't refining the stuff that doesn't work out of the playbook.
- Denard's still flinging it everywhere but the girl.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- SDSU's teeny DEs can't hold up over the tackles.
- The zone read continues to amaze and mystify.
- Michigan's zone blitzes return to effectiveness.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 4 (Baseline 5; +1 for Hillman Is Better Than Eastern Running Backs, +1 for Lindley Can Throw And Probably Won't Try To Throw To Michael Floyd, –1 for Actually Even Though Michael Floyd Isn't In The State That Might Not Be A Bad Idea Given The State Of SDSU's Receiving Corps, +1 for Irrational Flashback To Previous Close SDSU Game Against Much Better Michigan Team, –1 for Vegas Has Our Back By Two Scores, –1 for Denard How Does SDSU Defend It Not Well, –1 for Seriously Look At That Army Game.)
Desperate need to win level: 8 (Baseline 5; +1 for Insane Person Kyle Turley's Revenge Would Be Annoying, +1 for But I Like Thinking Nice Things About Michigan Football, +1 [UPDATE: I meant to finish this five hours late] for Being Ranked Is Nice, +1 for Niceness Is Nice And Nice, -1 for Reduced Risk of Kyle Turley Murdering Entire State.)
Loss will cause me to... show up at the postgame press conference with a fistful of postage screaming "RETURN TO SENDER."
Win will cause me to... be mildly encouraged about something but still deeply suspicious that 2011 is just 2010 and 2009 with a less annoying media environment.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
Will Michigan be able to run, run, run, run until SDSU has to freak out about it? I kind of think so but I'm wary given the Gator Bowl, when an attacking, gap-sound defense crushed the Michigan ground game. But then I'm all like Army 400 yards, and Washington State being competitive on the ground. This should be an old-school bludgeoning as long as Borges keeps it restricted to the stuff he knows they can execute.
If that happens and Michigan can hit some RPS+3 plays as a result they can keep ahead in this game. If they can't, they're in trouble. Hillman is going to rip off big runs on M. Resign yourself to this. They're going to spread the D out and hit those misdirection plays the linebackers have been vulnerable on all year and test out that freshman nickelback. And Lindley will hit the open guys who will be open.
Michigan will do well to bend but not break here, getting good safety play from Kovacs and Gordon and picking the right spots to get SDSU behind the chains with press man and the right blitzes. Keep the big plays to a minimum and make them bleed out field goals on you.
Survey says… possible. I've got less faith in this ground game than people only attending to last year might since it seems committed to chucking away a half-dozen downs per game on something or another that this line isn't very good at and therefore think Vegas is optimistic. In keeping with the 2010 and 2009 theme, this is the stomach-churner in the fourth quarter that keeps you undefeated but makes everyone very nervous.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- There is no screwing around with the idea that Denard is not the offense against an opponent the coaching staff respects. He has another 20 carries and 150 yards.
- Kovacs cracks double digits in tackles, most acquired as he slices Hillman down after a ten yard gain.
- Zone blitzing does not phase SDSU's OL—they're used to it—and Lindley has a high completion percentage.
- Michigan, 27-24.