“He was on the other side of the court, screaming: ‘Good shot, Kev!’” Durant said, shaking his head in delight. “I’m thinking, this guy’s an All-American type of teammate right there.”
Misdirection plays were a big part of offense. Will we see more? “Maybe. It just is kind of the offensive package. It’s kind of, when you have a quarterback that threatens people because of his ability to run, that’s part of it. That stuff is like the old counter play, which you don’t see a whole lot of people running anymore. It’s a lot of traction one way and then going back the other way.”
Talk about Denard’s passing. Is that more like what you see in practice? “Yeah. The sky’s never going to fall. We’re going to make it through. He throws the ball well, and we like how he throws the ball. [He] set his feet well and we ran good routes and completed some balls.”
Talk about the intensity of tackling and sacks. “I think Jerry Montgomery has done a tremendous job with our front, and the pride that a guy like Van Bergen or Martin have in how they play is a big part of it. I think this whole thing is a process what the kids are going through and how you do things. I think it’s just one of the things that we emphasize and they really did a nice job on some of those things. As far as tackling goes, if you fit the defense right, and wherever the support is or the cutback player -- all those different intangibles you have to have on defense -- I think you tackle better.”
Talk about Denard/Devin formation. What kinds of problems can that create for defense? “They’re both pretty talented. I think who’s back there in the backfield with them have some talents. It’s just something that Al has had for a while and something that we thought would be a good thing to do.”
Talk about Vincent Smith. “He does everything you want him to do, when you look at him as a football player and how he prepares and his toughness. All those things that -- Vince is a guy that you can count on. If he makes a mistake or doesn’t do something as well, it’s not because of lack of effort or lack of toughness. He’s done a good job for us.”
How pleased are you at the 58-0 effort to start your Big Ten career? “It has nothing to do with my career. It really has to do with these kids and that jug, and keeping that jug in Ann Arbor. And us going out to play better football every time we take the field whether it’s tomorrow when we practice or if it’s on game day. Believe me we have a lot of mistakes from a personnel standpoint. We take a daggone penalty, and that’s my fault. We didn’t have a guy out there on the punt team. You can’t do that and win championships, and that’s my fault.”
Why did you choose this game to unleash all this offensive creativity? “You work on it during fall camp, you put it to bed for a little bit, but you work on it so the kids have a knowledge of it so when you bring it back out, it’s just something we thought was a good time to bring out.”
What was your reaction when Borges brought the 2-QB package, and is this the most complete game you have played this season? “Well Al and I have talked about that package in March? April? And believe me, Al Borges is very, very creative. So that’s not just that package. I’m sure his creativity will show up again. We played probably our best game to this point, but the schedule is -- we’re going away. We’re going on the road. We haven’t been on the road. They don’t know how we like to travel. And I say we as a staff. They have an idea, but there’s a lot of unknowns out there, and there’s a lot that we have to get better.”
Did you practice any jug security so you wouldn’t drop it, and does a game where everybody gets to play give you a boost in practice the next week? “I’ll answer the second question first. No question the morale of your football team -- those other guys, and I’ll use an example: Richard Ash, I don’t know how many plays he got, maybe four or five. But he goes down there on that look team and does a tremendous job down there and has the ability to come out there and play some. I would think he would feel pretty good about that. So I think that’s always important. You get guys live reps in games.
“Jug security is always at a premium.”
(more after the jump)
How did the game plan defensively change for you after you learned Marqueis Gray wasn’t going to play? Also, how did your defensive front do against Shortell? “We really didn’t change it at all. We do a lot of things by personnel groups, what personnel groups they have in. So all the calls were based on those groups. So they would have had the same calls if Marqueis would have been in there. So there was no change at all.”
Is the confidence level of players high enough where they expect to win a Big Ten championship? “I hope so.”
Are you eager to get this Michigan team out on the road, and will it give you and your staff a better indication of where they’re at? “We like playing at home. Now if Dave can do a 10-game home schedule, it would be wonderful. It’s pretty convenient. I’m kind of interested in seeing how we react. I really am. To see what we’re made of -- see our mentality, our mental toughness, see if we’re business-like in how we go about the work that we have to do, and the preparation and all those things.”
The defensive line wasn’t where you wanted it to be. Talk about progression? “I think they were disruptive. That’s what I like and that’s what you have to do if you’re a guy who plays up front. As you look at the schedule and you look at teams you’re going to play, I think there’s some offensive lines in this league that are pretty stout. We’ve got to make sure that we’re making our gains and our progression on a daily basis with great urgency and intensity.”
Three things: Troy Woolfolk looked like he was limping. What did Denard have done to his arm? How did Schofield play? “I didn’t notice Troy limping, so that’s new to me. Denard had a boo-boo. Schofield I imagine did okay in there. I can’t tell you for sure because of not [having watched] the film yet.”
Helmet numbers? “That was my decision, and we will have those numbers on there throughout the rest of the season when we get into Big Ten play because we want to honor the guys who wore those numbers before, and the 42 championship teams. And the guys who have represented Michigan. It’s important to us.”
McColgan was out. “He got banged up a little bit.” Is it serious? “Week to week, day to day.”
Did you sense more physicality up front? Also, how did Fitz Toussaint run? “I think, up front, you try and gauge yourself. Molk’s played a lot of football, and I kind of, being a defensive line coach, I like watching other defensive lines and how they play and how we block them. I thought there was football being played at the point of attack. And … why are you laughing at that? It was pretty obvious football was being played. But you could hear it. You could feel it and sense it. When you look at your line and you look at, if the back has to start making his decision and his cuts further back from the line of scrimmage, then you’re not doing a good job. And you could see when Shaw and Fitz and those guys were coming, they got more downhill, pressed the line of scrimmage more, and that tells you those guys were working hard. Fitz, I thought he ran well. He’s a tough little burger who did a nice job.” [ed-M: I doublechecked the video: he definitely said 'burger.']
Re: Two-QB formation. How much does that help that other teams have to prepare for it? Also, what’s that called? “Uh, you know, two quarterbacks, whatever. It doesn’t matter what it’s called. It really is, yeah. People have to prepare.”
Talk about your secondary and how guys like Avery and Countess are playing. “Well, you know. Courtney and Blake, and there’s Raymon Taylor, [who] is going to be a good football player also. Our young guys have done a good job. It starts in my opinion with Jordan Kovacs and his leadership and his directing traffic out there. I think they have a lot of confidence in each other. I think there’s a chemistry. I think J.T. has done a nice job. When he focuses in, he’s pretty doggone good. I think there’s number one, there’s some competition, because there’s a lot of guys in that room that all want to play.”
Talk about Thomas Rawls? “It was good to get Thomas some carries. He’s a freshman that’s learning the game of football at the Division I level. I think he’s got some skill sets that are pretty good. I think you saw some of that today. So it was good to see him out there.”
Gibbons was 3/3. “Someone has said that he’s kicked really good during fall camp. Ahem. Someone did. We’ve got a lot of confidence in him, and hopefully that injects even more confidence into him.”
Denard was 11/11 before his first incompletion. He’s a pretty confident guy, but how important is it to re-establish that confidence that he can be a succesful passer? “Yeah, because all he hears is he’s not. Not from us, but other people. (Ed: Looking at you, buddy.) I think getting off to a good start helps us with the run game so much. People want to put nine guys, and they played a lot of quarters, and they were doing a lot of good stuff with their safeties depending on where the back was. And then they changed during halftime, which is good coaching. Bill Miller’s a good defensive football coach. It was good, and being able to throw the ball was a big part to our offense.
Can you be successful in the Big Ten relying on Denard to get most of your yards? “I don’t think so. You become too one-dimensional. People are creative. We’re going to play a lot of good coaches and some teams with very good personnel. When good coaches give good personnel the game plan and scheme, they can be a problem. The ability for our running backs to do a nice job running with the football and the ability to do a nice job in the passing game is a big part of it.”
As a defensive coach, you must love a shutout. “Right.”What did you like specifically, and what can you improve on? “Yeah. They broke two runs that got outside that shouldn’t have. Then they fumbled. We got fortunate at the end [when] They fumbled the ball -- and the daggone end doesn’t squeeze when the tackle blocked … Just simple. Basic. Football. Stuff. That we didn’t do. As many times as we’ve done drills and as many times -- that’s unacceptable, because that’s a discipline that you have to have.”
Greg Mattison said during the halftime radio show, “An average defense comes out and goes downhill during the second half.” Were you concerned about a letdown during the second half? “I think we communicate with them pretty well. I think Greg and his staff -- I think we challenge them. This was a first step to what the goal of this football program is and has been, and that’s a Big Ten championship. You can’t go out there in the second half and slop around and not tackle well and not have an urgency and not have an intensity. That doesn’t get you any better. You go backwards, and I’m not a believer in going backwards.”
Please read the Liveblog Chaos Mitigation Post before participating.
So here's a still from Friday's walkthrough video:
Watch the thing in full if you need to assure yourself that this is not a hallucination and is actually a bandage on his elbow.
What is it? Denard had a procedure earlier this week for an abscess on said elbow. The bandage is the after-effect. An abscess is an irritating, fairly quick-healing thing that may have affected his accuracy earlier in the year. It won't cause him to miss any time but may be a reason the passing game has been minimized so far. If he suddenly gets a lot more accurate in three weeks that might be why.
What was up with Roh. Mike Rothstein has more details on Craig Roh's fall camp malady:
Before Michigan's fall camp started, Craig Roh went back to Arizona and spent time with his family. His brothers had mononucleosis over the summer, but Craig returned to Michigan feeling fine.
Three days into camp that changed. He was tired. By the end of the day, he ended up in bed with the chills.
Was it possible? Could he have contracted it, too?
He didn't know. What he did know, his father, Fred, said, is he was in bed and uncomfortably sick. The next day, Craig woke up with fever of 102 degrees. He went to the doctor searching for answers, and received antibiotics. Doctors had diagnosed him not with mono but a respiratory infection.
He skipped one day of practice and began to feel a little better. Cleared by doctors, even though his energy level wasn't at 100 percent, Roh returned to practice of his own volition. The sickness, though, had done its damage.
Coaches started dogging him, Roh got down on himself when he didn't play that well the first couple games, but he had his epiphany and now he's picked it back up. Hopefully we see him hit the level of performance everyone was projecting before the season.
Hatchdate. Austin Hatch is a few days away from returning home:
Per Caterbury HS head coach (and close friend) Dan Kline… Michigan recruit Austin Hatch will come home Oct. 9. Kline said rehab went amazing.
FCOA costs. The Bylaw Blog breaks down the full cost for full cost of attendance scholarships:
Q: How much would it cost?
Because the proposal covers all sports, cost depends on how many sports an institution sponsors. Stanford’s associate AD of business strategy and revenue enhancement estimated it would cost the school $750,000. Stanford runs the largest athletic department in the country, so that number might be considered to be something of a maximum.
To figure out a rough estimate of cost, we need to figure out the average athletic department. The NCAA’s membership report has the average number of men’s and women’s sports sponsored by FBS, FCS, and non-football institutions. The NCAA’s sport sponsorship and participation report lists which sports are sponsored by the most institutions. So combining the two, we can figure out an “average” athletic department and estimate the costs based on scholarship limits. And those costs are:
- FBS: $504,400
- FCS: $436,400
- Non-Football: $282,400
Obvious in those figures is the effect of football. An FBS football team can expect an increased scholarship bill of up to $170,000 while an FCS program should set aside $126,000. The range for athletic departments that fully fund all their teams would probably be somewhere between $200,000 and $750,000.
Good by me; any schools sponsoring sports can hack a small amount out of administrative and coaching salaries to cover that. And if you can't, the rule is conference-based. Not everyone will have to adopt it. Those that do will have to do it for all athletes.
This won't have much of an impact for Michigan's bottom line or recruiting prospects in major sports since everyone they're recruiting against will immediately adopt the FCOA proposal. It will help a bit in hockey, especially if schools in the NCHC can't make that decision without making it for their entire athletic department. Is the MAC going FCOA? What about whatever conferences North Dakota and UMD are in?
BONUS: The Bylaw Blog shares my skepticism that the four-year scholarship proposal is anything more than window dressing unless the same restrictions on revoking scholarships mid-year are applied for the period.
Break even? I what aah? The Mathlete's numbers on the Hoke fourth and two:
Brian is in love with it, but how much was it worth? Punt from 48 gets to the 17. Team down 14 with the ball around the 17 with 2-3 minutes left in the first half win about 8.0% of the time. A successful conversion gives Michigan a 93.2% chance of victory where a failed attempt drops your chances to 88.2%. To break even, Michigan would need to have a confidence that they had about a 75% chance of conversion. National average on 3rd and 2 is about 58.5%. Michigan has been a top 25 level 3rd and short team so the decision was probably about a break even if you account for Michigan’s offense.
This case is a bit closer than I expected, but if you believe our offense was bound to score, which it obviously did, a 21 point half time lead is good for a 97.1% chance of victory. Even if Michigan can get a field goal and run out the clock, an average conversion rate makes the decision break even
If this seems like a weird result given the other Mathlete chart…
…it is an effect of being up 14-0. If the score was tied the win percentage effect would be a landslide in favor of going for it. If you're measuring by projected margin in the final score it's a large +EV decision, but if all you care about is having one more point than the other team it's about break-even for average teams going up against each other. At the time it seemed like the defense could fall apart at any time, which still swings the decision to an easy go-for-it to me.
You need to get another MBA. Angelique Chengelis put up a story on In The Big House, which everyone hates, that included this quote from our new Chief Marketing Officer:
"It's gaining traction," Lochmann said. "We know there are people who love it and some people who hate it, but our core customers — the players — they want to hear it."
This sentence displays a lack of knowledge about public relations, marketing, economics, taste, and common sense. The "core customers" are your customers, who hate In The Big House.
Meanwhile, the Defilement is hinted at further in a caption:
“We’d love to get into the Big House and play it,” says Pop Evil lead vocalist Leigh Kakaty, who grew up in Grand Rapids.
Let's murder our brand for WWE entrance music.
Yay. This debacle will go down as Dave Brandon's halo.
More Trouba. Local hockey expert Jim Lahey on Michigan's newest commit:
Trouba is a total package defenceman with elite ability. Looked like a man among boys in AAA, and that pretty much continues in the USHL. Has excellent size, will probably grow an inch or so and end up somewhere in the range of 6'2 215lbs as a pro.
Trouba makes a clean, smart first pass out of his zone and plays with perfect position on breakouts. Stays calm, never panics, and consistently loses the forechecker completely behind the net to create odd man rushes. This won't happen at the next level as often, but he shows the poise needed to create good breakouts at the next level.
Takes care of his own end, does not allow himself to get pushed around in front of or behind the net. Superb zone awareness.
Jacob Trouba already has four assists on the young season. The recent University of Michigan commit is going to do very well against USHL competition thanks to his tremendous strength and toughness. The big test will come against the college teams where there’s going to be less time and space, forcing Trouba to make quicker decisions. The first major test for Trouba and his teammates comes right away as the U18s will take on Trouba’s future school Monday at Yost. The fellas from The Pipeline Show caught up with Trouba about his recent college commitment and the way he plays.
Another note on Trouba: TPS brought up that some have compared Trouba to former NTDP defenseman and current Anaheim Duck Cam Fowler. If you know me, you know I hate comparison scouting reports. While it may give people a basic picture of what a player might play like, they are often taken as gospel by those that read it and that’s pretty unfair to the prospect.
Trouba and Fowler are similar in these ways: They are American, played at the NTDP, are good offensive defensemen. That’s it. Trouba plays with an edge and brings an important physical element to his game. He has good offensive instincts and a powerful shot. Fowler is a heady defenseman that makes plays with his skills, defends with good positioning and is a pure puck mover. I’ve seen both play multiple times and I just don’t get the comparison. Jacob Trouba plays like Jacob Trouba. /dismount soap box.
Is it just me or does Michigan have a much better track record of reeling in elite, top-ten-pick defensemen than forwards? Michigan's last top ten pick at forward was Eric Nystrom, and even at the time people thought that was a huge reach. Trouba, JMFJ, and Mike Komisarek were all top ten picks.
Etc.: Hockey exhibition preview from somewhere in Canada mostly notable for naming the opponent the "UOIT Ridgebacks." We have declared Minesota a "Maize Out." RIP Maize Outs. Holdin' the Rope takes stock a third of the way through the season.
[Ed: you know what? I'm just going to bump this instead of linking it again.]
[Quick JCB plug: We’ve got you covered on all the weekend action, including a great preview on the stellar prime time schedule tomorrow night from SteveY and a breakdown of the Evil Empire vs Little Brother match tomorrow afternoon. More to come later today including a deeper look at the Nebraska-Wisconsin showdown and, of course, my weekend card of picks, so bookmark us already!]
October is hours away. And so is the start of the 2011 Big 10 conference season. Out of conference games are more or less over and we're about to begin an historic Big 10 season, one with Nebraska in it, two divisional races and a winner-take-all championship in, of all months, December. This will be season to remember, but will Michigan be a factor? The numbers from September are in, and the early math points to the Wolverine's showdown with Nebraska in November being for the division title.
But we've all been here before with Michigan looking good on the verge on the conference campaign only to see the September numbers wither with the changing seasons. I have a feeling this year will be different, but that doesn't mean the Wolverines will run the table or boss their division. My prediction for the division has always been its pretty mediocre and that we'll see three teams tied atop at 5-3. Michigan has as good a chance as anyone to hit that 5-3 mark. My other prediction was if they beat ND, they would be one game better through ten games than a year ago, so that's 8-2 heading into the nasty double date at the end of November with the Huskers and Ohio State coming to town.
There are plenty of storylines to be had in tomorrow's league opener for Michigan against Minnesota. The Little Brown Jug is on the line, fer gawd's sake!! We get another data point in the evolution of the new offense. How does Minnesota look with the whole Jerry Kill situation? Can these young, new playmakers on the Michigan defense continue their progression. And, of course, in my world, can Michigan cover the point spread. Generally speaking, I don't consider covering the line or not a true storyline for the masses. But in Michigan's case this season, I do. Don't forget, the Wolverines didn't cover a single point spread in Big 10 play a year ago. That's only the fifth time in the last decade that any FBS school didn't cover against the closing game in all their league games.
The paranoid ninny in me is naturally not happy that Michigan is the biggest chalk on the Big 10 board in the wake of last year's 0-8 ATS mark and 4-20 ATS mark the last three years against the Big 10. Obviously part of that is Minnesota's serious sucktitude so far this season. But some of it is indeed a changing mindset towards Michigan within the gambling community. Back in the summer, not only was nobody betting on Michigan, but everybody and their pet cats was betting against the Maize and Blue. However, a month into the season, Michigan has showcased some defensive competency, they still have Denard Robinson and, well, the rest of the Big 10 just looks terrible. The result? A major shifting of the odds in favor of Michigan. The Wolverines used to be 8th in line on the board with Big 10 Championship odds, checking in at +1600. But with the shifting Big 10 odds, today they are third in line at +800, behind Wisco and Nebraska. And when books re-released lines for future games on Monday, Michigan, which had been an underdog in almost every Big 10 game available, is now the favorite in almost all those games.
[ed: specifics after the jump. Thanks for being terrible, Big Ten.]
|WHAT||Michigan vs Minnesota|
|WHERE||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI|
|WHEN||Noon EDT, October 1st 2011|
|THE LINE||Michigan –20|
|WEATHER||mid-40s, cloudy, 20% chance of rain|
Run Offense vs. Minnesota
Despite being a raging tire fire of a team, Minnesota's run defense has been somewhat solid so far. Solid against teams that can't run worth a lick, but you've got to start somewhere. USC had three "team" carries for –34 yards—punts winged over someone's head?—that distorted their numbers but still only managed 4.0 YPC on 25 carries. That is downright respectable. Miami (Not That Miami) was also shut down.
Raincloud stickers apply for the Gophers' games against New Mexico State, who managed to get their main back over 100 yards at 4.9 YPC, and North Dakota State, who put up 141 yards on 27 carries. The
Lobos Aggies went out the next week and put up 16 yards on UTEP. So… yeah.
While the initial returns are encouraging—at least relative to Minnesota expectations—the Gophers were 98th in rushing defense last year, giving up a whopping 5.3 YPC. They basically made their opponents look like they all had Michigan's rushing offense. The Gophers do return the vast bulk of their front seven and can expect to improve. Enough to hold Michigan under control? Probably not.
Michigan enters the game in the top ten in rushing offense despite [TEDIOUS THOUSAND WORD ESSAY ON THE MORAL FAILINGS OF RUNNING POWER FROM THE I-FORM EXCISED] thanks to Denard Robinson being Denard Robinson and a couple of running backs emerging from the pile of muck. Fitzgerald Toussaint can make yards with his shimmy…
…and Vincent Smith blocks and catches screens like a champ and can even make some yards of his own from time to time. While neither is an All-American, Michigan's tailback situation is much better than it was a year ago.
It's hard to see anything other than an elite defense shutting the Michigan ground game down as long as Denard's around. In this game of immoveable object versus irresistible force, the object projects to be pretty moveable.
Key Matchup: The offensive line using POWER. A main issue with Michigan's shift to a power-based power system for power running is the offensive linemen being ill-suited to picking up opponents and placing them downfield. They did this with aplomb against a very small defense; doing it against a much larger—though probably not a lot better—opponent would bode well for the meat of the Big Ten schedule.
Pass Offense vs. San Diego State
If Denard Robinson can throw the ball to the guys he might have one of those games where you get more than 100 yards passing. Ace keeps battering this and it's worth battering:
Mentally strikethrough Stoudemire, the star-type substance of the unit—he's out with a hand injury—and you've got something resembling last year's Michigan outfit. They've played like it. It's one thing to give up a 300-yard passing day to Matt Barkley and entirely another to drop these lines on the world:
NMSU's Andrew Manley: 20 of 31, 288 yards, 3 TD/2 INT
NDSU's Brock Jensen: 16 of 21 for 197 yards.
That's two quarterbacks repping schools you need four letters to abbreviate averaging 9.3 YPA. Compounding matters: last year Minnesota finished dead last with nine sacks. This year they're on pace for three.
Michigan will be permitted to acquire yards. Actually taking advantage of that opportunity has been problematic for Michigan so far, what with Denard's shoddy Burmese guidance chip malfunctioning and all. This will be an opportunity to get Denard going with some screens and short passes:
It appears as though we are content to give up everything underneath up to 12-15 yards at a time. I do not recall giving up a deep pass all year but we give up an average of 11.5 yards per completion.
Ace saw that in FFFF, as well:
I mean, this is just way too easy:
That happened, oh, all game. Before USC got stupidly conservative in the second half and forced quarterback Matt Barkley into a lot of third-and-long situations, he had completed 18 of 20 first-half passes for 163 yards and three touchdowns, all to Robert Woods, who had 11 first-half catches for 115 yards. Only one of Barkley's throws in that span went beyond ten yards at the point of the catch, that being a 43-yard touchdown bomb to Woods when Minnesota tried to play tighter coverage, and Woods ended up setting the USC single-game mark with 17 receptions, almost all of them coming on screens, slants, quick hitches, and short out routes.
With Borges stating that he needs to work within Denard's capabilities a little bit better in this week's press conference, expect more of a ball-control passing game this week. It will be there, it will be like passing skeleton, it will be up to Denard to take advantage.
Key Matchup: Denard versus Borges. This seems like a great opportunity for the yin and yang of Michigan's passing offense to figure out what works together. You can relax, get in a rhythm without worrying about defensive linemen, and enjoy the luxurious passing lanes afforded by the Gopher secondary.
Run Defense vs. Minnesota
Much of this hinges on the "questionable" MarQueis Gray, the QB/WR/QB who moved back to QB this fall and is the Gophers' leading rusher by a considerable margin with 351 yards in the first four games. Ace detailed the various ways in which Minnesota gets Gray yards, which look an awful lot like the ways most spread offenses get their QB yards.
But Gray is injured:
"I'm hoping he'll be ready for Saturday and be able to give us minutes," Gophers coach Jerry Kill said about Gray during his radio show Thursday. "But I don't know. We got a lot of time before Saturday, and we'll take it all the way until game time to see what we do."
And their line is a mess:
3. What are some of the other challenges facing the Gopher’s offense? A weak running game, or struggling offensive line?
Offensive line is a pretty significant issue. We have a freshman and a sophomore starting at RT and LT respectively. Then we have three seniors on the interior. Unfortunately the seniors are the larger problem. Both of the tackles have been solid while the interior line has really struggled. It is a very good thing that Gray is strong and fast because he rarely has a pocket before it collapses on him. 11 sacks allowed through four games is only slightly better than Indiana’s 12 but it is bad no matter how you look at it. The run game has actually been fairly solid, at least when compared to our passing game but both rank 8th in the Big Ten.
Gray's injury is a toe/foot issue that may allow him to play at the same time it limits his effectiveness on the ground. If Gray's reduced to a pocket passer you might as well replace him with Max Shortell, the true freshman pocket passer Jerry Kill yoinked from Kansas last year. (Or possibly Brazil: the NCAA's website calls him just "Shortell".)
Aside from Gray, Minnesota has relied on senior Duane Bennett (4.3 YPC a year ago, 3.7 this year) and sophomore Donnell Kirkwood. Kirkwood's been more efficient but both appear to be JAGs stuck behind a porous offensive line. FFFF shows a lot of misdirection as Minnesota tries to compensate.
Key Matchup: Jake Ryan, and to a slightly lesser extent the other linebackers, against lack of contain and misdirection. Michigan basically shut down Ronnie Hillman when SDSU was not getting Michigan to bust alignments or lose contain. Minnesota will again test Michigan's ability to line up right, something they're getting better at. They still need work.
Pass Defense vs. Minnesota
This will also depend on Minnesota's quarterback situation. Gray is completing 50% of his passes for 6.7 YPA and is coming off a terrible game against NDSU—5 of 12, 53 yards, 1 INT—in which he was pulled for performance reasons. Shortell is the better passer… or is at least reputed to be the better passer. His numbers to date are almost identical to Gray's: completion percentage around 50, YPA around 7, equal numbers of TDs and interceptions.
Neither is likely to be much good. The two-headed Minnesota quarterback will be less threatening than any Michigan's gone up against save Alex Gillett, but unlike EMU Minnesota will probably throw the ball around a bit. Certainly more than the Eagles, anyway. They attempted six passes, none in the second half.
Minnesota does have its usual quota of a single wide receiver you'd really like to see in a winged helmet. This year's edition is Da'Jon McKnight (right), a strapping senior with NFL potential. McKnight had 750 receiving yards and ten touchdowns last year; he'll be a tough, physical matchup for whoever he lines up against. It'll be interesting to see whether Michigan matches JT Floyd, who seems like their best and most physical corner, with McKnight or is content to play field/boundary. That would expose the slight Courtney Avery or Blake Countess to a 6'3", 220-pound opponent. (The assumption here is that Troy Woolfolk will rest is comically large array of minor injuries this week.)
As for Michigan, last week they showed stunning competence against a passing offense that was supposed to be pretty good. This could be a week-to-week fluke or Michigan taking advantage of playing an offense they literally designed, but one thing seems like an indisputably encouraging sign for the future: pressure. Ryan Lindley was forced to chuck a dozen off-target ducks because he rarely had time to get to a second read. Mike Martin tore through the interior of the line time and again; Ryan, Roh, and Black helped out on the regular.
Martin via Blue Seoul:
In the secondary, Thomas Gordon continued to solidify himself as a non-cringe-inducing safety and all corners not named Woolfolk played well. Debutant Blake Countess was the talk over the past week but as mentioned, it's JT Floyd who's made a remarkable transformation from outright terrible to at least average. Michigan defensive backs are making life hard on opponents. For his next trick, Curt Mallory will teach Luke Fickell how to take a timeout.
Key Matchup: Defensive line versus a lack of gaudy sack totals. If the seniors on the interior are the problem relative to the freshman starting tackles, Michigan should be living in the backfield.
Will Hagerup returns. While Hoke is making noises about an open competition between the prodigal son and freshman Matt Wile, Hagerup has a cannon attached to his leg and Wile does not. Hagerup will get the job back and push Zoltan Mesko's punting average records. Kicker Brendan Gibbons missed his first real attempt of the season against SDSU, but at least it looked plausible. It did not spin sideways. So that's cool. (Gibbons did make a glorified extra point against EMU.)
Gopher special teams are less of a tire fire than the rest of the team. The Gophers haven't done much on kick returns but are averaging 30(!) yards a punt return… on one return. Small sample size disclaimers have never applied more thoroughly. Their punting has been legitimately awesome (46 yards a kick with just three returns on 12 punts); their kicker started off 1/4 but has made his last four.
Key Matchup: GIBBONS YOU PUT IT THROUGH THE UPRIGHTS AAAAAA
Twenty point spreads do not require intangibles until the current head coach has proven this assertion to be false. But here's this… item from Midnight Maize:
- Minnesota can block anyone on the line.
- Michigan can't handle the zone read, man.
- Y U NO 2010 DENARD, DENARD.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Michigan can take advantage of the porous Minnesota secondary.
- The Avery/Countess duo turns in a second solid game.
- Minnesota shows up instead of the Disguised Vikings.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 1 (Baseline 5; –1 for Minnesota Secondary Resembles Michigan 2010, –1 for MINNESOTA SECONDARY RESEMBLES MICHIGAN 2010, –1 for And They Rush The Quarterback Like A Pack Of Mewling Tajiks, –1 for Freshmen At QB And Both Tackles, –1 for Lost To Not Even The Good New Mexico, –1 for Would Not Finish in The Top Three In A Dakotas State Championship, +1 for Lingering Fear Of Losing These Sorts Of Games From Last Four Years of Experience.)
Desperate need to win level: 10 (Baseline 5; +1 for Not Having The Jug Would Crush MVictors, +1 for Would Like To Believe Michigan Could Be State Champ Of North Dakota, +1 for Losing To A 20-Point Dog Would Be A Carr Era Flashback I Would Not Enjoy, +1 for Oh No Not Again, +1 for Except This Would Be Even Worse.)
Loss will cause me to... never say anything nice about the defense again.
Win will cause me to... spend next week repeating "this is not 2010" and "this is not 2009" to myself over and over.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
Come on, man.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Denard picks up another 20 carries, the last few inexplicable. 150 yards.
- Black, Ryan and Roh combine for three sacks.
- The positive turnover margin run continues.
- Michigan, 39-14.