About last week:
No one played football. John Beilein ate subs. Crazy. (H/T Bagelz McDerman)
Michigan State (7-1, 4-0 B1G)
MIchigan State dominated this game. Obviously.
Last game: Michigan State 42, Illinois 3 (W)
Recap: This game did not start off well for State. Sparty’s offense continued its offensive funk from the Purdue game into this one, moving the ball only 63 yards on Illinois’ not-quite-Indiana-bad-but-still-pretty-damn-bad defense through the first quarter and a half, and Illinois faced a 3rd and goal from the 1 yard line to take a 10-7 lead. Two stuffed and a 99 yard touchdown drive, which was capped by… this… on 3rd and 25, and this one was basically over. Sparty proceeded to rip off four consecutive touchdown drives to open the second half to put this one in the ‘laugher’ column.
So, we have 8 games of data on Michigan State’s offense. And I contend that we still don’t have a clue what the hell they are. I can’t mentally combine all of the data we have into a single coherent theory. With Michigan’s maddeningly inconsistent offense, we can at least point to a few obvious causal factors directly correlated with their struggles. I feel like the “keys to victory graphic” will say, “MICHIGAN: minimize turnovers, avoid negative plays on early downs,” and “MICHIGAN STATE: use Good Connor Cook, don’t use Bad Connor Cook.”
Michigan State’s offensive line has been surprisingly consistent these last few games, especially in the interior (grumble grumble), and they have been opening some decent creases and some large cutback lanes for Jeremy Langford and Delton Williams. But the key to the MSU O vs. Michigan D remains Connor Cook vs. himself, an there’s no predicting which Connor Cook will show up.
Defensively, I now believe there is enough on tape from State’s last few opponents such that a skilled tactician could plausibly develop an effective way to attack Narduzzi’s murder-death-kill machine. It’s like getting a single extra letter on the final round of Wheel of Fortune. You’ve gotta sound it out, but it’s there. Notre Dame had success going over top of the MSU corners to the outside. Purdue had some success throwing underneath those corners when they had slightly softer zones. Illinois and Iowa had some success down the seams. I have no earthly clue how to beat this defense, but the pieces are there for some mad genius. I know this “OMG BORGESSSSS” thing is getting old, but this really will be a gigantic test of his ability to put together a game-plan.
One thing that WON’T work against this defense? The zone stretch. So I cannot be accused of second-guessing anyone, I’m putting my marker down here: Michigan won’t average better than a yard a carry on stretches in this game.
I also have to give a quick note on Illinois. Before the season started, we all assumed Illinois would be the worst team in the Big Ten. But a couple of early season signs of life led people to opine, “gee, maybe they aren’t so bad,” and we turned our attention to BoilerQuest. But while Purdue may have the worst numbers, Illinois remains the worst team in the Big Ten. They make 2009-10 Michigan look like paragons of fortitude and resilience. A couple of small things went wrong, and the team seemed to declare with one loud, resolute voice, “welp.” This team is a collapse waiting for a trigger, and they’re not very patient.
This team is as frightening as: In honor of Halloween, we’re going with scary movies as our theme. For Sparty, that movie is 28 Days Later. You know they’re going to attack head on at high speed, and if you make one mistake you’re doomed. Also… East Lansing on game day == post-apocalyptic London, but without the dry wit. Fear level = 8
Michigan should worry about: Mike Sadler. Michigan State WILL fake a punt in this game. It WILL work. There is nothing you can do about that. Just try to keep it to a minimal gain beyond the sticks.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Michigan State runs the exact kind of offense that Michigan should be able to stop, both in terms of scheme and quality. They remain not good, and they’re predicated on staying ahead of the sticks by running the football in a traditional manner, with an occasional jet sweep mixed in for texture.
When they play Michigan: Michigan should just camp 7 guys in a straight line along the first down line on 3rd down and medium. A crossing pattern is coming. Consider yourselves warned.
Next game: /checks schedule… It says here “vs. Michigan”
[AFTER THE JUMP: Things you won’t care about until next week]
[Ed: I bet this causes something less than a 130-comment blowup.]
COACH BEILEIN: Good to get to this point of the year where we're ready to start another season. I like my team. I like the way we practiced. Different format has allowed us to experiment with some things and give us a little bit more contact with the players, more access. But it's a long season and we still have a long ways to go, even to get ready for our first games let alone our conference season. But I do
like our team. I like the way we've approached the preseason. But we have a lot of things to replace.
We have five seniors that graduated last year that were incredible leaders for our team and sacrificed so much for the other guys. Now you lose two guys to the first round of
the NBA. There's obviously some replacement to do. At the same time, there's 25 or 30 shots out there. There's another 80 minutes out there. I think our guys are embracing the opportunities that they have in front of them.
Q. Obviously recruiting is very accelerated, Coach, but how have you seen making it to a national championship affect recruiting since then, please?
COACH BEILEIN: That's a common question. Recruiting is such a unique science to it.
I think there's been good things and I think it hasn't made a difference in some other ways as well. Certainly I think we're on a lot of people's lists. At the same time, everybody has different reasons for choosing their next university, the university they're going to go to. So I've seen some really good things, but at times it's maybe not the right fit. So we just keep doing what we are doing.
The young men we did have in recruiting probably were not the Trey Burkes and the Tim Hardaways, weren't on the top of anybody's lists. There's a lot of different ways to form a good team.
Q. The past few years you've been here, can you sense the target on Michigan
getting bigger from the other Big Ten teams?
COACH BEILEIN: No, I don't think about that at all. I think all the time that we are – we're just trying to be the best that we can be. And we have enough things to do to grow our program right now let alone worry about any target on our back. We just keep playing and trying to improve and take each day trying to improve, really.
Q. There's been a lot of discussion about Glenn perhaps changing positionally a
little bit, moving more toward the perimeter. Is that happening? And, if so, how is his skill development affecting the process?
COACH BEILEIN: Really, last year he was not an inside player at all. So he's been a
perimeter the whole time. I think the biggest difference is what I just alluded to. There's 80 more minutes and there's a good 20 to 30 shots, scoring opportunities that Trey and Tim rightfully took upon themselves last year that are wide open.
We want him to fill a lot of those opportunities, attacking from all different sides.
We can play big. We can play guards – all guards. We can do a lot of things. He'll probably
be on the floor no matter what we do.
Q. Regarding some of the new rules aimed toward decreasing the physicality of the
game, the Big Ten's a physical league, do you think the league's in any way being targeted by those rules?
COACH BEILEIN: The people that have changed the rules over time have really had a
good record at doing this. There's some experimentation probably we would have preferred at times. But we led the country in not fouling last year. I think we were number one or number two in not fouling. So I don't think there's going to be a
big change in how we coach.
And the block charge, I hope it simplifies things. I do not know that it does. We have to wait. And this is where I defer to the experts and say, okay, if they think it will work, they've done enough research on it, we just go and we adjust from there.
But we've had a scrimmage and inter squad scrimmage. I haven't seen the difference, in
particular, in how the game was called against us. And I think other teams have a drastic difference. But who knows.
[ED: Was this five minutes long? Yeesh.]
Gentleman, scholar, walrus.
With the Michigan State game just a few days away, you should all be familiar with the excellent blog The Only Colors—if you're frequenting, say, the RCMB instead of reading their content, you're not doing yourself any favors. I asked TOC's Heck Dorland (posts feed/Twitter) to do a scheme-centric Q&A and he went above and beyond with his responses; what follows is a remarkably in-depth look at how State operates on both sides of the ball and what it means for this weekend.
With the notable exception of the Purdue game, it appears that the offense has moved from complete incompetence to something resembling average. Have there been any significant schematic changes or is the improvement more a product of finding the right personnel?
I'd love to say that this happened:
*Dave Warner blows the dust and cobwebs off an old scroll and unfurls it*
“Uh, does anyone in here read... um...”
“That's Hurrian,” says a voice.
*everyone turns to look at Jim Bollman*
“What? I've been an 'Offensive Coordinator' who's not allowed to call plays for like, a decade now. What do you think I'm doing up there, calling my own plays and then comparing them one-by-one to Dave's plays, slowly nourishing a grudge with every play that I out-coordinate him? Hell no, I've spent the last two weeks polishing up the rough edges in my Aramaic. Anyways, it says something about six verts and a deadly curse...”
But that story would be an lie, as six verts is highly illegal. What mostly happened is the latter guess, MSU's guys either got better or got replaced by better guys behind them as this season has wore on.
A corner/go combo route; on this one, the go was obviously open.
If I had to identify a specific X's and O's change, I'd say most significant is how MSU has evolved to deal with man to man and one high safety/eight man box looks that tormented them in weeks one and two. This year MSU's passing game has been noticeably more willing to run various 'combo routes' (curl/corner, corner/post, corner/go etc.) against man-to-man than previous coordinators Roushar and Treadwell. Particularly effective vs these one high/man-to-man looks have been corner/go where MSU causes the CB to vacate on the go route and hit usually a tight end on the corner route towards the vacated space 15-20 down the sideline and corner/post where the outside receiver and slot receiver will mesh with the goal of freeing up the post over the middle, again, about 20-25 yards down-field. If you look at MSU's highlight reels since the YSU game, most of the big passing plays are coming against 8 man fronts, which was not true against WMU and USF.
[For the rest of the Q&A, hit THE JUMP. You should really, really read this.]
Michigan's 2014 basketball recruiting will either just about wrap up or flail about like a demon-god with two of its favorite psuedopods hacked off tomorrow when Devin Booker and James Blackmon, Jr., both announce decisions.
Michigan was long thought the favorite for Booker, a 6'5" shooting guard out of Mississippi, despite his dad's status as a Missouri program legend. That had a lot to do with his mom, who lives in Grand Rapids and supposedly has been enthused about Michigan for a while. His final five:
Booker, rated the No. 18 player in the Class of 2014 by ESPN, has publicly narrowed his choices to Kentucky, Michigan, Michigan State, Missouri and Florida. However, Kentucky, Missouri and Michigan are believed to be the favorites for his signature.
Michigan led, then everyone piled on Kentucky once they offered, and everyone's still on Kentucky despite a late move by Missouri, which hosted him for an official on the 19th immediately followed by an unofficial.
Kentucky folk remain confident; a random internet poll on the local paper's website favors Missouri, with Michigan running at 11%. Booker announces at 4PM.
James Blackmon Jr.
Blackmon's also dropping Thursday, publicly down to a similar list of IU, Michigan, MSU, Kansas, and UK. Blackmon's done a full tour of those schools after his decommitment from Indiana, and after some Michigan chatter things seem to have swung back to UK, heavily. His dad played there.
I guess the hope on both of these recruitments is that people don't really know what's going on with either kid, like they didn't have much of a read on Kam Chatman. That does not seem to be the case, unfortunately. These opinions about both picking Kentucky are of the Strong Take variety.
Blackmon announces at halftime of the Troy-ULM game on ESPNU.
Michigan's likely okay at the 2 even if they strike out tomorrow, which it seems the world expects. Stupid UK's stupid inability to get their plan A targets. Caris LeVert will be back, and Nik Stauskas should be. Even if Stauskas does leave for the NBA, Michigan can back up LeVert with a few minutes a game running two points or going big with Kam Chatman or Zak Irvin.
Michigan does project to have two open slots entering the spring signing period, and would probably like to use one and bank one, which would make the 2014 class two (open plus the graduation of Jon Horford) plus whatever attrition there is in the next two years, NBA or otherwise.
Obviously, the guy on everyone's radar is NV by way of Australia PF Jonah Bolden, who debuted with a splash at the Adidas Nations tournament, likes Michigan (his dad's from Flint) and is an excellent stretch four fit for Beilein's system. He's spending his final year of high school at Findlay Prep in Las Vegas, where Michigan has recruited before, nearly reeling in OSU redshirt freshman-to-be Amadeo Della Valle. It'll take a while for Bolden to get all his academics ironed out what with the transfer, but Michigan would almost certainly go after Bolden in earnest once that's settled.
Fellow Australian Dante Exum, a 6'6" fellow skyrocketing towards the top of NBA draft boards, was 50-50 between entering the draft and college as of late August and had Michigan in a top five with Indiana, UNC, Kentucky, and Oregon. That's a longshot for a lot of reasons.
If the big guns don't come through, Michigan will scour locally for another LeVert type: tall, young for his grade, late-rising.
[I'm behind on the Mattison presser transcript. It will be posted this evening.]
- Drew Dileo is still questionable to return this week.
- No turnovers.
- Stop the run.
- Be physical.
- Don't commit penalties.
“Good practices so far this week. Gonna have a really good one today. Got outside, did a little more crowd noise, trying to recreate the atmosphere, which you never can totally. You play on the road in this league, especially at certain places, it’s a hostile environment. Communication’s going to be particularly important on both sides of the ball.”
If you were granted a wish on both sides of the ball, what two things would they be?
“Taking care of the ball from an offensive perspective. That’s something high up there that is something that is important. You just look at games during the year, you look at NFL games, the turnover margin is so critical. Defensively, I think the transition – we’ve got to stop the run. Langford’s had three very good weeks. Overall with him and the other backs, they are 100-and-some yards a game. Might be close to 150 with the way they’ve been playing.”
Michigan State has a pretty good defense, as you may have heard, and this deep into Michigan State having pretty good defenses there's nothing you can say about it other than "I wish that was not the case." There is some Bud Foster action going on in East Lansing.
Let's review what went down the last two years, in an effort to figure out what Michigan's looking at and what they might do in response.
The trash tornado game. With winds howling around Spartan Stadium, Borges put the game on the arms of Robinson and Gardner and got little in return.
Shotgun or under center? This was almost entirely a shotgun game, and when Michigan went under center it was to throw. Setting aside the disastrous fourth-and-inch from the nine on which Michigan went goal line play action and Brandon Moore didn't block his guy, Michigan saw five snaps from the I-form (two more were penalties, one on each team). One of these was a pitch to Toussaint for four yards. The others were throws. The first was a wild, jinking 15-yard touchdown scramble for Robinson on Michigan's first drive; the others were a sack, a one-yard throwback screen, and an incompletion to Hopkins in the flat off play action.
First down approach? 16 passes, 11 runs. Not that it really mattered. Michigan got a 34-yard touchdown when Roy Roundtree broke a tackle on a slant. They had one other good gain, a 29-yarder acquired when Robinson ignored two open guys, threw at Hemingway as a linebacker was undercutting him, and threw it high enough to get over the LB but short enough for Hemingway to grab it—a lucky fluke. Their other first-down passes acquired a total of –3 yards.
Running was no better, with 36 yards on their 11 attempts. Four of these were Denard's (18 yard total), which boggles. Michigan had 27 opportunities to run Denard Robinson on first down and did it four times. But that's not really relevant with Gardner, who's much more of a dual-threat.
What worked? Virtually nothing. That one long completion where Roundtree beat a tackle in cover zero was the longest play, Denard's should-have-been-pick-six was #2, and #3 was a double A gap blitz on which Vincent Smith was hit in the backfield but managed to pop through a tackle. Breaking tackles to get more than five yards is no way to live.
The rest of it was Robinson running around: a scramble, a jet sweep, a run-around improv throw, a jet stretch, and a QB draw were Michigan's most successful plays outside of the aforementioned.
Was it really as bad as all that? Yes and no. Borges did rip open the MSU defense for several plays that should have been big gains only for his quarterbacks to throw it at covered guys.
Spielman's faith that Robinson would have found the open guy is probably optimistic, but inserting a clearly overwhelmed Gardner was a huge tactical misstep, as he blew multiple opportunities to gash MSU. This in turn may have led to the WR move, which in turn led to the Nebraska game, which… let's stop the counterfactual history of the Michigan program before our heads go numb.
On the downside: Michigan had no answer for MSU timing their snaps, both with double A blitzes and plain old running at the quarterback. This was maddening since it had just happened the year before; there were no adjustments. And they relied on Brandon Moore, who had seen virtually no meaningful snaps in his career, on that deadly fourth down. When that guy doesn't execute, you share in the blame for putting a guy who'd never seen live bullets in a stressful situation. But he's a tight end, and all tight ends must tight end even if they obviously can't tight end.
Wurrfle furffle torghern furfen. Michigan abdicated without really trying here. See: 4 first down Denard runs. The constant snap issues were a coaching issue, not a toughness one. Ditto the thing where Molk put his head up a nanosecond before the snap and had to figure out which of the two linebackers he was going to block and which one he was going to let scream up the middle unmolested.
[2012 and 2013 after the jump]