"What (Michigan coaches) told me is that they're focusing on point guards right now, but if anything opens up, they'll definitely come back on and recruit me as hard as they were," said Towns
Opening remarks: “It was good to get back out and play football and compete after two weeks ago. I thought our team prepared themselves well, and they came out and responded a little bit. [Purdue] took the ball down the first drive there and scored. I thought our guys held their poise together, went back and talked about it on the sideline and adjusted a little bit. It really wasn’t that much of an adjustment that needed to be done, but I was pleased with that.
“Offensively we rushed the ball well. Fitz obviously did a nice job, but I think overall they all did, and really it goes to your offensive line, so that was a good part. Didn’t like the end of the first half, because we needed to get seven points, not kick a field goal, and that’s something that we have to be able to do however we have to do it whether it’s running the iso up there or quarterback sneak or whatever. We’ve got to score points, and that was too big of a situation in the football game and having too good of field position not to do that with 1:58 left. That’s disturbing. The touchdown at the end was disturbing because at Michigan, the expectations are for the position and who’s in there, so we’ve got to obviously work that part of it, too.”
Can you talk about the running game, and did Fitz do a good enough job to win the top running back position? “I don’t know, we’ll see. I thought he did a nice job and I thought the guys up front did a nice job. We’ll see, we’ll look at the tape as a staff and see the things he did well. It’s always easy to see them when they do good things, because they’re usually biting up big chunks of yardage, but there are other things that go with it, but I thought he did a nice job today.”
How big was Mike Martin’s safety? “It was great momentum. When you score defensively, it always, for your team, brings a great momentum, a great morale and all those things. Mike has been playing good football for us. I think he’s continued to be a great leader for us and work hard -- I was real excited for him.”
What’s going on with Kovacs, and did his absence that hurt you on that first Purdue drive? “No. Again, the expectations are for the position. If you’re in there, there’s a way we expect you to play.”
Can you talk about how those guys played in Kovacs’s absence? “Well, I thought Thomas played really aggressive. Troy, we were moving anyway, so it was one of those things that worked out well. Troy’s got some makeup speak that other guys don’t have, and that’s good. I’d like for him to be a tad more physical at times, but I thought he did a good job. They tried to tempo us a little bit, so he did a good job of getting us in and out of what we needed to be looking like back there.”
Are you trying to achieve diversity on offense with Gardner? “Well, I think part of that is there’s no question that when you’re able to throw some things at a defense or team, and for us, the two quarterback system -- or whatever you want to call it -- formation, it forces guys to work on it. I think there’s enough variety, and in fact there’s a lot more that we can do with it, but it really forces a defense … you need to spend now ten minutes a day on that package or whatever. I think that helps us, yeah.”
You didn’t make much of a change after the first touchdown, but you looked a lot different after you came back. Was there a mental adjustment? “Nah, you know, we just talked to them. They came down the bench, [said], ‘Hey, we have plenty of football left in us.’ There wasn’t any yelling or ripping. It happened early in the year, too, when they’ve stayed together and they’ve come back and played well. It’s them communicating with each other, which is the good part.”
So Troy was moving to safety anyway? “Mmhmm.” What will your defensive backfield look like when Kovacs returns? “We’ll either have four, five, or six guys in there.” When will Jordan come back? “I don’t know.”
Overall thoughts on the defense -- is it getting better week to week in your mind? “I don’t know. I mean, I’m really thinking -- we’ll find out more next week. I think it’s a work in progress. Our linebackers, you could feel today. Two weeks ago I didn’t feel them. Today, playing downhill and playing physical through people, I could feel that today. If we can grow from that and keep that consistency, then we’ll get better.”
You talked about getting back to playing Michigan football. “Michigan football, as I know it, is playing defense. First and foremost. Nationally people think about Michigan football and playing defense and then running the football. Being able to run the football and knock people off the line of scrimmage. I think that’s what, in my mind, Michigan football is.”
Desmond Morgan got his second start. Can you talk about what you liked about him? “I think he’s a very instinctive football player. As a linebacker I think that’s critical. I think he’s a guy who’s got a nice burst and will be physical at the point of attack. I think he’s going to play a lot of football here at Michigan.”
There were 37 carries by people not named Denard. Is that what you envision for your offense? “Is that what they had?” Yeah. “Yeah, that’s pretty good. I think that’s a good number.”
Can you talk about the status of Taylor Lewan and Ricky Barnum? “Ricky hurt his ankle. Taylor -- I don’t know. His leg hurts. That’s what I know right now.”
Last week you were talking about how happy you were with how healthy the team is. How do you feel about that situation now? “It’s football. That’s why you guys on the team to compete, and they just have to keep improving. When their opportunities come, you have to take advantage of it.”
Can you elaborate about the resolve of this Michigan team compared with the last few seasons? “It’s hard for me to compare that to what happened before, but I’ve liked our team. I like how they like each other. Maybe that’s corny or whatever, but from where I sit, I’ve liked that they respect each other and they want to play for each other, in my opinion. It shows. It shows how they practice, and it shows out there today. Look, they’re on scholarship to get a great education and play football. They’re expected to do both.”
Three-way tie in the division. Thoughts? “Every game is a championship game. We’ve said that since Minnesota. There’s six to eight plays in a game that are going to be the difference. Somebody said Mike’s safety. Was that a difference in this game? From a momentum side, yeah, no question. Next week, we’re on the road and it’s a championship game.”
You mentioned a few times the offensive line responded well. Was that a specific area you guys challenged after last game? “No question about it. I can say that every week, though, because that’s where the game’s played. Those two lines -- that’s where the game’s played. You guys like talking about running backs and stuff like that. I like talking about centers and guards and defensive tackles, where the game is played. That’s the fun part.”
You said all week that you said the freshmen would play a lot more, and they did today. How did they do? “I’m going to kill one of them. Ah … It’s not fair. Read it in the obituaries.
"No, but I think those guys, they’re playing hard. They’re playing hard and there’s some talented guys. Blake is a talented guy and he’s got a good instinct. Desmond does. Frank Clark does, and Brennen Beyer -- it’s great that they’re getting all the time that they are, and they have a great attitude.”
Do you expect Kovacs to come back this year? “Yeah. Yeah.”
Taylor Lewan had a leg injury and he played through it. Does that lift the offense? “I think, yes. I think it lifts your team.”
Did Fitz have an injury going into the bye week? He looked more rested. “You know what, not really. He wasn’t beat up or anything. Smitty’s been the only one who’s been a little beat up as of late with an ankle, but nothing terrible. [Toussaint] saw things better -- the touchdown run was a great run for a lot of reasons, not just by him, but the receivers do what our receivers do down the field, and that’s an important part of it.”
Is safety a natural fit for Woolfolk? “Oh I don’t know. I think with the emergence with how Blake’s been playing -- I always believe you put your best players on the field. Troy’s probably in the top 11, 12, 13 guys on defense.”
When you get that kind of production out of Mike Martin, how does it change how you play defense? “I think it sets a tone for how you play defense. Doesn’t change how we play. We’re going to play the scheme and everything that we have, but I think when you see a guy who’s lining up over the football and rushing the passer, and then they throw the dig -- no they threw … I forget what route it was, but the guy made us miss and did that, and 16 yards downfield [Martin] is making the tackle. That means something. That means something, and I’ll be pointing that out, because that means something.”
Did you make a concerted effort to feed the backs? “Gosh, I wish. I wish it looked like that every week. We want to do our due diligence of making sure that we’re trying to pound the football.”
Are you concerned about playing so many freshmen on defense at the same time? “Nope. I don’t have any concerns about it because of how they play and how they practice.”
Do you feel like the defense was the biggest difference in this game? “I don’t know. I think we responded well defensively, and then I think I would tell you that our offense complemented our defense.”
Please check out the Liveblog Chaos Mitigation Post for information on how to do this thing below.
Thread about pumpkins / Costume idea
Halloween has been unkind to the Wolverines in recent years. In '08 Michigan's heretofore okay secondary dressed up like a bad 3-3-5 and handed out open out routes to Purdue like candy. In 2009 it was the House of Haunted Dong-Punching that in retrospect marked the turning point in the Rodriguez experiment. Last year M came out of a bye having swapped out Cam Gordon for a 2-star true freshman, and the barest hope of defensive competency for none.
Perhaps such horrors are the reason our ancestors celebrated All Hallow's Eve by huddling in their homes, carving pumpkins to look like possession receivers, and dressing up as professional wrestlers who teach toughness and point at things. It's a good night to curl up with your favorite book (909Dewey on Three and Out), calculate your chances of winning Pick Six (Jeff), catch a high school game (frerrnnur5 sees Jordan Payton play), or—a must read for Big Ten refs by Enjoy Life—learn the difference between a fumble and a backward pass.
The rest of you will be stepping away from your internets to pretend you have social lives. But there's no reason you have to leave your MGo-obsession at home until your screen saver of cjm, monuMental and Blue Indy wallpapers (this week's by the latter) takes over. In a weak (read: bye) week, this is the Diarist of the Week. Here's a few costume concepts inspired by this week's diaries; feel free to add yours in the comments:
1) RON ZOOK, WITH A DRY ERASE BOARD ON HIS BACK THAT PEOPLE CAN WRITE SCORES ON
Ron Zook won the eponymous Dumb Punt of the Week again in the Mathlete's Mid-Week Metrics. Now you too can be just as oblivious to the world around you. Just get an Illinois sweatshirt, a nice silver coif, and walk around kicking things when you shouldn't.
2) LITTLE ORPHAN ANNIE WITH A NEBRASKA 'N' ON YOUR SKIRT
You walk in singing "I think I'm gonna like it here," until you discover living with Daddy Warbucks is even more fraught with dangers than the poor orphanage you left (which Ms. Hannigan and her nefarious friends are meanwhile plotting to bring to ruin). Wisconsin ate the upset bug last week in Maize_in_Spartyland's Upset Watch. Don't count on 6-1 Nebraska making things right however, as they're 2-5 against the spread so far this year.
3) HOPLITE IN A PRISON UNIFORM
BlueSeoul came away unimpressed with Spartan discipline. You can pay tribute by picking up an orange jumpsuit or striped uniform and a Spartan mask.
4) COUGARS AND A PACK OF TROJANS
In the Ugly Game of the Week, stubob gives you the games that'll have you changing the channel to Golden Girls, starting with the Troy Trojans of Troy (We're from Troy!) versus FIU.
5) A NEUTERED BULLDOG
Michigan beat Ferris State last night but Yesman2221's weekend series preview is still relevant through this evening.
Give Them a 'Hail!'
Field Hockey: Big Ten Champs.
The Best of the Beyoard
LESLIE NIELSEN AS GERG, SETH ROGAN AS THE STUFFED ANIMAL
MGoJoe and friends have begun casting for Three & Out: The Movie, starring Russell Crowe as Rich Rodriguez, George Clooney as Dave Brandon, and Al Pacino as Dave Brandon's Pimp Hand. Hey, they made Moneyball into a feature so why not T&O? Skip Joe's picks and go right to the replies.
THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE MIDWEST EMPIRE
PeterKlima asks rhetorically if the conference has entered its Dark Age. I guess the Carr and Cooper years, from the conquest of Penn State to the pagan revival of Alvarez, could be the period of the tetrarchy and late antiquity; who's Justinian, Jim Tressel? Is the Spread Offense Christianity? Is any part of this analogy mentioned in the thread itself? No, not really.
FACEPALM GUY IS THE ANTI-LLOYD BRADY
The photoshoppers came out in force this week. The guy who twice caught ESPN peeking for UTL fan reaction shots bought the O.P. a beer, and for his troubles got a photoshop thread. So far Facepalm Guy has appeared in a family Christmas film, signed the Declaration of Independence, was carried off the field after a Citrus Bowl victory over Florida, perched atop a 1930s Manhatten skyrise project, gave the nation the Nixonian Double-Peace from the door to Marine One, got himself tased by MLB security guards, understudied Johnny Depp, stuck his head in the ground, escaped the Death Star, won a bodybuilding contest, and rededicated Notre Dame stadium to his blessed works.
CASE STUDY SAYS BAD IDEA IS BAD IDEA
Minimum donations 1/5th of the cost DB is asking for next year have led Penn State to non-sellouts (thanks Murph). This is Penn State's 2011 home schedule versus Michigan's 2012 home schedule:
|Penn State 2011||Michigan 2012|
|9/3 – Indiana St||9/8 - Air Force|
|9/10 - Alabama||9/15 - UMass|
|9/24 – Eastern Mich||10/13 - Illinois|
|10/8 – Iowa||10/20 - MSU|
|10/15 – Purdue||11/10 - Northwestern|
|10/29 – Illinois||11/17 - Iowa|
|11/12 – Nebraska|
The Nittany Lions have two marquee games and another three non-terrible conference opponents versus Michigan's one and two or three. They asked their fans for a minimum of $100 (up to $1,000 for the best seats) to lock in their seats and now their stadium looks like Joe Louis Arena (packed house above, half-empty in the pricey section). Brandon is asking Michigan fans to fork up about the same as what emptied the Lions' den, but without the actual promise of getting a seat. Yeah, this is a completely terrible idea.
IT'S ALMOST 2012; DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR APR IS?
We got a moment of panic from myrtlebeachmaiz…[name gets too long] about whether that albatross of an 897 Academic Progress Rate from 2007-'08 will subject Michigan to the new Srsly APR is Srsly penalties. Brian will probably cover in the future but the short-short version is we're probably in the clear.
BRADY AFTER BYE
Hoke's teams are 6-4 coming off bye weeks. More good news: Hoke has never employed Greg Robinson. Not even once.
ADD TO THE FAQS MAN
Some of the newer folks like Mr. Yost think it's time to bring out THE FAQ again. If you hover your mouse over "About" and click on "FAQ" you can read all about the acronyms you don't know and the nicknames you've never heard of, like who exactly is Tacopants (who is sadly very much back on the team) and Manbearfreak (that one is so retired). If you can think of some other bits of acronyms or jargon that need to be added, mention them in Yost's post and I'll do a one-time update this weekend or something.
THIS EDITION OF DD WASN'T YOUR BEST MISOPOGON
Yes I know. Can I go back to my book now?
Sometimes you start typing up a UV bit and then you hit 600 words and break it out into a post you had not intended to write.
So: hockey. It's been playing. They spent the first couple weeks wandering about looking pretty bad, then annihilated St. Lawrence to be an incredibly underserving #1. One Hunwick game misconduct later they came back from Northern with just two points in their CCHA opener and that ranking was gone.
Ferris rolled into town last night with a 6-0 record and sweep of Miami to their credit; Michigan came away with a validating 5-2 win. I have a habit of watching Ferris early in the year, thinking they're really good, and then watching them go .500, but I mean it this time: I think this is a really good Ferris team. This time I'm on steadier ground what with their record.
I'm still getting a handle on the team since it is hugely different than last year's outfit, but I think it's going to be more fun to watch than last year's edition. That's not to say it will be better—they won the league and got to overtime in the national title game—but they've already scored more pretty goals than they did all of last year.
That's thanks in part to Lindsay Sparks going from oft-scratched to the team's leading scorer. I won't question Red Berenson in case he decides to look at me with disappointment, thereby turning me into dust, but… I don't get it, man. The last couple years it seemed clear he was more of a threat than several second-liners, let alone the Rohrkempers of the world. This year he's looking like an all-conference player. He's already got 11 points, many of them featuring top-level skill.
Freshman takes in order of eeee:
- Phil DiGuiseppe. As I tweeted yesterday, guy can play. Slick passer, good jump, good size, good hands. Sometimes you pull these guys out of Junior A (not B, as I erroneously tweeted) and it turns out they can't make the transition. No such problems for DiGuiseppe, and he just turned 18. Star potential.
- Zach Hyman. Hyman hasn't leapt off the page as much as DiGuiseppe but he'll get there. He's good good balance and hands and he's been an effective part of the Sparks line.
- Mike Chiasson. Steady, conservative defensive defenseman. Will be a four year player; should quietly hold down a second pairing for most of his career.
- Brennan Serville. Has not been as noticeable but seems to have a regular spot. Don't know much about his game yet.
- Travis Lynch. Slotted into a spot with Wohlberg and Glendening and has 3-3-6 already. Had a sweet deflection last night on a Bennett point shot. Not sure if he can keep this up but he's been on a tear since about two seconds after he committed.
- Alex Guptill. Getting a generic-big-guy vibe from him. He'll slouch around the third line most of his career before suddenly getting really good as a senior, like Rohlfs or Lebler.
Szuma and Sinelli got in one game; they get incompletes. They are the new generation of healthy scratches.
Random other items:
- Greg Pateryn is a long-limbed rock. Tough to get enough space to get a good chance when he's on the ice. He will screw up too often to be truly great but if they come through this period without Merrill okay it will be because he held down the fort against top lines.
- Kevin Clare is unbelievably slow. I think he's the guy who sees his playing time decline when Merrill gets back.
- Derek Deblois looks like he's taken a step forward this year. Ditto Brown.
- I guess I can't complain when David Wohlberg is above a PPG but I don't like having him on the same line as Lynch (freshman edition) and Glendening. I'd like to see what a Sparks-DiGuiseppe-Wohlberg line could accomplish, and let the Lynches and Glendening anchor a checking line.
- The official scorer at Yost is padding opponent shot totals like a mother. Anything that gently rolls to a stop two feet in front of the goal is counted. I'm of a mind to look at Hunwick's home/away splits last year to see if there's a big difference in save percentage.
Michigan's streak of picking up an NTDP goalie has hit a third straight year with the commitment of 2012 G Jared Rutledge. Hurray. You're worried.
You're right to be, but Michigan's streak of having that goalie blanch at the prospect of competing with Shawn Hunwick and bolt to the OHL should end at two since Hunwick will be gone after this year. Rutledge, like Trouba, waited a long time to figure out what he was going to do so he wouldn't end up breaking his word:
"I told Red I didn't want to be their hat trick," Rutledge said with a smile. "I told them all along that when I made my decision, I was going to be 100% sure I was coming there. I couldn't be happier and I'm really excited."
Tell us what we've won, me.
Rutledge is a smallish goalie reputed to have excellent anticipation, rebound control, and positioning:
Rutledge is technically and positionally very sound, is excellent at controlling rebounds, handles the puck well, competes hard, has a good glove, doesn’t get phased on the rare occasion he does let in a bad goal, and is extremely good at anticipating the play. Though he isn’t overly big, he challenges exceptionally well, and makes life miserable for shooters. If you don’t beat him on the first shot, chances are you won’t get another opportunity.
Sounds like a less-tiny Hunwick who isn't constantly kicking pucks out into the slot. (No offense intended to Tiny Jesus.) He was drafted in the fifth round of the 2010 OHL draft by Saginaw and is kicking around draft lists as a "B"—mid-round—prospect. His stats are pretty solid—he's averaged between .910 and .920 save percentage splitting time between the U17 and U18 teams, generally outperforming his competition in the same situation.
Hockey recruiting class: complete? Michigan might add a walk-on piece here and there, but this looks like it's about it for next year (question marks denote kids Heisenberg has listed as 2012 or 2013:
- Forwards: Boo Nieves, Daniel Milne, Justin Selman, Max Shuart(?)
- Defensemen: Jacob Trouba, Connor Carrick, Spencer Hyman(?)
- Goalie: Rutledge
If Merrill makes it through his current suspension I'm guessing he will be around next year as well. It seems like someone who was going to leave after this year anyway would book it given the severity of the punishment. If so they may or may not add Hyman. Right now they're scheduled to bring back everyone save Pateryn and I'm not seeing a ton of departure threats. Maybe Bennett. Hyman would be the seventh defenseman at best in that situation because Michigan would be insanely loaded on D: Merrill, Bennett, Trouba, Moffie, Carrick, Chiasson, Serville, and Clare plus Szuma and possibly Hyman. If Merrill and Bennett both take off then there'd obviously be room.
I wish there was a little more depth in the forward corps—I haven't seen any buzz about Milne and Selman being draftable—but a quality goalie plus two first-round types is a big haul to go with what's looking like a promising freshman class.
The scoreboard is hypothetically awesome but they're still trying to figure out how to use it. Goal replays are erratic; highlight packages sometimes don't appear at all in intermissions, and penalties never get replays. If they're willing to put the Wohlberg goal up last night as it was being reviewed I don't think that's a controversy thing. I get that there's only one camera but at least some of the penalties are on the puck.
As for Yost… man, it has been off. I think moving the seniors close to the band was a mistake. When they were in the middle of the ice the chants had a smaller maximum distance; now the two sections furthest away from the band are mostly empty and totally lame. Are ticket prices too high? Michigan ran that Groupon special and packed the empty endzone seats; once that stopped we were again treated to nearly-empty sections in both endzones. I sit amongst the old fuddies now and they're not around either.
Another possibility: odd starting times have thrown people off after decades of Friday, Saturday, 7:30, see you in two weeks.
Whatever the explanation, I'm not feeling the same sort of excitement in the building that there was even a couple years ago. We're seeing the same sort of apathy infect the student section at football games. I think it's time to start taking attendance and offering people nice perks for showing up on time, like better seats next year. The AD's solitary focus on money is making the product worse.
|WHAT||Michigan vs Purdue|
|WHERE||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI|
|WHEN||Noon Eastern, October 29th 2011|
|THE LINE||Michigan -14|
|TELEVISION||National on ESPN2|
|WEATHER||mid-40s, clouds moving in, 30% chance of rain|
Remember Aliens? This is like that except with Purdue coaches.
Reminder! Hit up the Draftstreet freeroll this weekend.
Run Offense vs. Purdue
DT Kawaan Short
This looks like something of a strength for the Boilers. By raw yardage they're hovering around mediocrity but they're only giving up 3.7 YPC despite not having many sacks. Break out the actual opponents (and Minnesota), though, and things look quite a bit murkier:
They got blown up by ND, did well against Minnesota, okay against PSU, and not so good against Illinois. That not so good was obscured by sacks and possibly understandable as Purdue bled out a win after jumping up 21-0 early.
DT Kawaan Short will be a handful. By far Purdue's best defender, Short already has 9.5 TFLs, six of those things other than sacks. He's a penetrator in the Mike Martin mold, but stockier and harder to move when you get a lock on him. LBs Joe Holland and Dwayne Beckford are Purdue's leading tacklers—neither does much in the way of playmaking but at least they don't have a safety leading the tackle charts. That safety is third, which is okay. By all appearances this is solidly middle-of-the-road run D.
Ace noted a couple of little guys on the perimeter, particularly a 235-pound guy they're running out at DE, so the way to beat these guys may be to test the edge. That goes double if they're in man coverage, something Ace also noted—receivers can run off the outside help and force those linebackers to flow hard if they're going to cut down stuff that gets outside.
In this year's offense that means the speed option and jet sweeps possibly featuring Denard, along with pin-and-pull zone. The problem with the latter is that Michigan can't make it work, so they're left with a few gimmicky plays and no consistent threats. You'd think that Borges would notice the line blocking pretty well when asked to outside zone on those speed options sooner or later, but POWER is to be used. They use POWER. Not WELL.
Michigan gets Ricky Barnum back from an ankle issue this week. What that does to the interior line is as of yet undecided. His replacement, Michael Schofield, has been playing well. The right guard, Patrick Omameh, has been struggling extensively. They may flip Schofield to the other side and see what that does, or they might throw Mark Huyge inside after he was exposed in pass protection against Michigan State.
Either way, Michigan needs to see their run game bounce back to the levels it was performing at before Michigan State. That should mean 20 carries for Denard, and hopefully he can break one long—something that's been missing from this offense.
Key Matchup: Interior line vs Short. A weakness-type substance goes up against Purdue's best player. If they can deal with him their options get large and the YPC too. But they probably can't.
Pass Offense vs. Purdue
Ricardo Allen right, returning a very bad INT last year
Oh, this again. Denard has had two weeks off since the Mike Valenti Experience in the trash tornado, two weeks to heal any lingering "boo-boos" and maybe step into a throw or two. This weekend the wind should be manageable. The opponent may not be so pliable.
Massive strength of schedule disclaimers apply, but the Boilers are 27th in pass efficiency D. Those massive strength of schedule disclaimers: McGloin, Scheelhaase, Gray, mid-major goobers. Tommy Rees pilots one of the few functional passing attacks Purdue has seen; he went 24 of 40 for 254 yards and three touchdowns. That's still not particularly good (6.3 YPA) but with the Irish racking up nearly 300 on the ground Rees was not required to go deep.
Because of the competition, it's tough to tell how much quality they really have. They're not a tire fire. That is established. Past that it's tough to take anything out of 40% passing performances from MarQueis Gray and Matt McGloin (on the Midwest trash tornado day). I think they're at least decent. Scheelhaase is okay and was bottled up to an extent that demanded the entry of ludicrously-named Illinois freshman/Bond girl Riley O'Toole. The Purdue secondary is not Michigan's last year or Northwestern's this year. They have people.
I'm not sure how much that will matter since Michigan's passing game has been in Man vs. Himself mode for much of the year. From Denard back-footing interceptions against Northwestern to Vincent Smith running a hitch instead of a slant on the fatal MSU pick six, simply executing the basics has been Michigan's main issue. That and throwing to the blitheringly wide open guys. For whatever reason, both of Michigan's quarterbacks go into Rex Grosssman "eff it, I'm going deep" mode far too much, often with disastrous results. I keep writing key matchups that don't mention the opponent because opponents haven't been the main problem.
Ace saw Purdue go man all day against Notre Dame, something that seems to invite trouble against a quarterback as athletic as Robinson. If he can break the pocket against a Purdue line that's a little wobbly on the edges there could be some grass for him; if they spy that should open up other things.
It doesn't seem like Denard is going to be under a lot of pressure. Purdue likes to keep its safeties deep and is 93rd in sacks. They might change their gameplan given the massive pressure Michigan allowed against MSU—if so I'll have a little fit if Michigan doesn't have some tools to deal with that.
Key Matchup: Denard vs Accuracy. Forever and ever this key matchup until Denard's missing at a rate that forces defenses to fear him in the air. Is this possible? Absolutely—a lot of spread QBs have light-on moments. Until it happens it hasn't happened.
This section is unchanged from two weeks ago. Until this part.
Run Defense vs. Purdue
Signs of life against Penn State and Purdue are only that—signs. The Boiler offense remains a creaky thing still trying to lock down a starting quarterback and tailback. The Illinois game saw Purdue rip off two long touchdown drives to open the day. They were gifted a short field on a bobbled punt, converted, and then went into a shell:
The Boilers played a very different game after the break, when they must have enjoyed the Joe Tiller staple of halftime meals -- pasta, turkey and warm milk. Purdue had three whole first downs in the entire second half, two of which came on one drive. Drive is a generous term, really, as the Boilers never got inside the Illinois 40 in the second half.
Purdue barely cracked 300 yards. The previous week they put up a respectable 344 on Penn State's upper-echelon defense but threw three picks. Both their touchdown drives started on the opponent side of the field after a long kickoff return and an interception.
They're still finding their stride. It looks like Caleb TerBush has won the starting quarterback job from Robert Marve, who had only five attempts against Penn State and did not play last week. He's more of a run threat than the statuesque Marve, but less of one than Rob Henry during his brief windows of functionality between ACL surgeries. TerBush has 200 or so yards on the ground this year if you disregard sacks. Purdue uses a lot of inverted veer and other zone read type plays; TerBush will be used to keep the defense honest and not much more.
The backfield is a heated battle between Ralph Bolden and Akeem Shavers with Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert also chipping in carries. (My guess for the most common thing Bolden says: "No, thank you, I would not like to convert to Islam." Number two: "I am sorry to hear about your horrific knee injury.") Bolden has an edge in carries but this is a platoon situation.
Purdue has been forced away from its traditional short passing game by quarterback incompetence and injury. They now deploy a full-on spread 'n' shred with a heavy emphasis on the inverted veer. It looks like a combo of Rodriguez and Malzahn run by the kind of athletes who end up at Purdue—eh—and works at the level you'd expect. Bolden's averaging 4.8 YPC, Shavers 5, TerBush somewhere around that. They've been decent:
Some of those Illinois struggles can be chalked up to Purdue being the sort of team that gets up 21 and tries to strangle the game as safely as possible because of their QB situation. 166 yards in a competitive game against Penn State is impressive. The Lions have a top-20 rush defense.
Key Matchup: Hawthorne, Ryan and Demens making correct, quick decisions on option/zone read plays. They'll get optioned a bit—Ace noted Purdue running some of the short pass/run combo plays Michigan tried against MSU—but they have to be better at their assignments than they've been in the recent past. Purdue's offense is built to exploit indecisive or excessively aggressive players. Balance.
Pass Defense vs. Purdue
Left: I shouldn't have spent last night reading all that Nietzsche
Right: Siller is now a WR, but just to terrify you
TerBush has taken the reigns. Against Illinois he was okay, but only okay. TerBush is King of the Dinks, averaging 11.2 yards per completion in Big Ten play. That is not many yards per completion. His YPA (again Big Ten) is a below-average 6.7. Ace:
TerBush hits his receiver on a slant for the first down, and this appears to be the route he's most comfortable throwing—he throws almost exclusively underneath, with a lot of slants and inside hitches, and rarely chucks the ball beyond ten yards.
When he did go deeper against Illinois many throws were to Tacopants, and yes yes Michigan has that problem that's another section. Here we are talking about Purdue's oft-errant quarterback.
Justin Siller is Purdue's leading wideout with 28 catches. You remember him well, all too well. Purdue will throw him out there in a wildcat look from time to time if only to mess with your head. Prepare for this now. When Siller's at WR he's pretty good, an athlete who accelerates smoothly into space. Underneath running mate OJ Ross—once vaguely on Michigan's recruiting radar—is a slot receiver playing outside frequently due to necessity. Think Gallon. Holding down YAC on these two will be a priority.
With a yards per catch significantly over ten(!), Antavian Edison is the kinda-sorta deep threat. Purdue will also line him up in the backfield. There is also a person named Waynelle Gravesande who will not play much on offense but is named Waynelle Gravesande and you should be notified of these things.
The tailbacks are hardly involved in the passing game. Shavers, Bolden, Hunt, and FB Jared Crank combine for ten catches.
Purdue takes a lot of sacks; they're 80th nationally and would be a bit worse if the NCAA was measuring something reasonably like sack rate—Purdue's 212 attempts are a bit below average.
So… Michigan seems like they should be able to deal as long as they're not put in awkward situations by turnovers and returns. They still haven't given up anything long and when Troy Woolfolk isn't gamely limping in the direction of Keshawn Martin opponent's really haven't had much opportunity thanks to competent(!) safety play and good play from the cornerbacks. Purdue is not good at long stuff and gives up sacks with some frequency. Bend but don't break should work in this situation… as long as Michigan's perimeter holds up.
Key Matchup: Thomas Gordon and cornerbacks against the bubble and other YAC-focused throws. This is the sort of spread team that loves quick-hitting stuff in an effort to get you tackling in space, something Michigan did extremely poorly against Northwestern. Improvement here will force TerBush into situations he's not comfortable with.
If Michigan ends up losing this game chances are many of the infinite fingers of blame shrilly point at this unit. You know about Michigan's struggles to return or cover anything; Brendan Gibbons remains a suspicious customer.
Purdue's special teams are wildly variable. Sometimes they're not getting game-winning field goals blocked against Rice or giving up a kick return touchdown. But their punting is fourth nationally with a net of over 41 yards a kick. The aforementioned Gravesande has been pretty decent returning punts, and Mostert has been strong on kick returns. Kicker Carson Wiggs is decent. He's 9/14 on the year.
So… yeah. This could swing either way but if the game turns into a puntfest that would seem to be advantage Purdue unless Hagerup finds his form in a big way.
Key Matchup: AAAAAH GIBBONS YOU PUT IT THROUGH THE UPRIGHTS
This seems appropriate for a game in which the spread is two touchdowns.
Also, this is a real thing from a real military mag.
- Denard's accuracy remains at low ebb.
- Short is too disruptive to get a consistent ground game going.
- Molk head bob snap disaster.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Purdue does play man extensively and pays for it, letting Denard break the pocket repeatedly.
- TerBush is harassed into ridiculous throws.
- Borges used the bye week to put in a bunch of effective plays I'll complain weren't saved for a tougher opponent.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 3 (Baseline 5; +1 for Another Argh Bubble Opponent, +1 for Default Plus One Paranoia Until Denard Throws Straight, –1 for They Can Say The Same Thing About Throwing Straight, –1 for I Think We're Better Than Rice, –1 for Not To Mention Middle Tennessee, –1 for Comparative ND Scores, Man, +1 for Looming Possibility Of Borges/Denard Fusion Mishap, –1 for Opponent Basically Cannot Move Ball For 400 Yards.)
Desperate need to win level: 9 (Baseline 5; +1 for This Is Not The Last Two Years, Please, +1 for Deflating Home Loss To Purdue Would Be A Sign Hoke Does Not Get It Just Like RR Did Not, +1 for I Like Nine Wins And I Cannot Lie / You Other Brothers Can't Deny / That When A Bowl Walks In With An Itty Bitty Date And That Citrus In Your Face / You Get Sprung(!), +1 for Danny Hope Must Die For The Sake Of Craig Ross.)
Loss will cause me to... find Craig before he does something heinously illegal to Danny Hope's mustache, and then watch him do it.
Win will cause me to... complete the arduous conversion of "Baby Got Back" into a Citrus Bowl ode*.
*[Win will not actually cause me to do this.]
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
While I'm a bit leery of the Boilermakers after their surprisingly competitive October this remains an opponent that lost to Rice, squeaked one out against Middle Tennessee, got blown out by Notre Dame, and allowed Minnesota to score in the first half.
Denard should rebound. He's at home, the defense he's going up against isn't as good, and the wind won't be as much of an issue. I bet Borges has some new stuff that is effective, and that will see Michigan's offense revert to the unit that put up 42 against Northwestern despite a bunch of terrible turnovers. Of which there will be more. Sad face.
On defense, Michigan might give up a cheap one—they're going to eventually—but Purdue has an offense that has to grind down the field. If they don't get short fields they won't put up many quick touchdowns, and when you have an offense like that you eventually get behind the chains and have to give it up.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Massive Denard improvement, which is something of a copout since he could twist his own helmet and improve over last week. But, like 60% completions and looks much better.
- We see more Shaw and Rawls than you might expect.
- Thomas Gordon moves back to the nickel against a team with more outside edge running and they do improve on the bubble screens.
- Michigan, 29-18
Strong language contained herein. Three and Out is a book about the short, tumultuous reign of Rich Rodriguez at Michigan.
[star wars text scrolling]
The week after Michigan collapsed against Illinois in 2009, they prepare to take on Purdue.
A weary Rodriguez wearily surveys his weary troops, because he has to or the media will write about other things…
[/star wars text scrolling]
The Friday night before the Purdue game, Rodriguez dug at his meal like a hungry prisoner who was sick of eating the same gray food every night. When I told him I was surprised that the guys seemed loose, like they were still having fun and staying positive, he stared at his food, paused, and said, “I don’t care.
“I don’t care anymore about trying to analyze the psychology of these guys, especially for the press. I just want them to freakin’ play. I’m sick of it.”
Sick of what?
“Everything. I’m sick of the situation I’m in. I’m sick of the crap I’ve got to deal with every week. I’m sick of people not taking responsibility.” A case could be made that all happiness is feeling like you have possibilities. When someone wins the lottery, he’s happy not because he won the lottery but because he suddenly has dozens of options he didn’t have the day before.
But the corollary is also true: All unhappiness is feeling like your options are shrinking and the world is closing in on you. That you’re trapped. Rich Rodriguez’s options were shrinking. By the time he arrived in Ann Arbor, it was clear he could not go back the way he had come. But after only twenty-one games at Michigan, it had become just as clear there would be only one way he could stay: winning football games. And fast.
Every Friday night, between the dinner and the movie, the offense and defense met separately with their coaches to go over the scouting report one last time. But this week, instead of reviewing the opponent, they reviewed a tape of their practices that week. The message was simple: The Illini didn’t beat the Wolverines. The Wolverines beat the Wolverines.
Job 1: Hold on to the damn ball. There was a reason John Heisman famously showed his players a football and said, “Gentlemen, it is better to have died a small boy than to fumble this football.”
But John Heisman never met Tate Forcier. On one play Rodriguez showed that night, Forcier held the ball like an oversized sponge and swung it around like he was washing his windows with it. Sure enough, the defense soon forced a fumble.
“High and tight, high and tight, high and tight,” Rodriguez said with relative calm. “Anything else is selfish. It shows disrespect for your teammates, and I know you’re not selfish, and I know you don’t want to disrespect your teammates.”
Here he was, going into the tenth game of the season, reviewing something they had covered on the first day of spring ball, the first day of summer practice, and just about every day since. It was pretty clear Rodriguez was tired of that, too.
But he knew it came with coaching young players, and he usually enjoyed the teaching process. But they were repeating the same lessons too often, which became especially aggravating when he had no idea how many lessons they would get.
Job 2: In the spread option offense, the quarterback has to take three steps and throw it. Not four steps. Not five steps. And no hitches, either. Three and throw. Three and throw. The timing was simple but exact—and it was everything. Any freelancing and incompletes, sacks, and interceptions soon followed.
And that’s exactly what Rodriguez saw next on the practice tape: Forcier taking three steps (an improvement), seeing his receiver open— but then hitching, which allowed the linebacker to cover the receiver. Rodriguez was calm but firm. “I’m sure I will not have to see on Monday any tape of any Michigan quarterback taking three steps and a hitch when he should be taking three steps and throwing.”
Next play, same thing, but this time Forcier threw it behind the receiver. The linebacker just missed making the interception.
“That one’s late. Why? Three and hitch instead of three and throw. I’ve been doing this for twenty years! I didn’t just wake up and come up with this thing. We have refined this over time. We know what works. We’re not guessing! Three steps and throw! THROW! You’ve got to trust the timing!”
But it was really more than that. The quarterbacks had to trust the system—and the coaches who had created it.
The flipside was just as simple: The coaches had to remember that Forcier was still a freshman. And even though Rodriguez’s quarterbacks on every team he’d coached eventually won Conference Player of the Year, not one of them did it his first season.
If the Illinois game could be reduced to Michigan’s four tries from the 1-yard line, Michigan’s season likewise boiled down to four great chances to win just one game to secure a bowl bid: Michigan State, which ended in overtime; Iowa, which ended one pass short of a winning field goal attempt; Illinois, which broke on the 1-yard line; and Purdue, which looked like an eminently winnable game. But like the fourth-and- 1 play against Illinois, the pressure mounted with each failed attempt. This was Rodriguez’s last best chance at match point.
Blow it against the Boilermakers, and the odds would only get taller against Wisconsin, and taller still against Ohio State, still in the hunt for a national title. Collars were tight in Ann Arbor.
The quarterbacks didn’t think Purdue would be a pushover, either. “They’re good, they play hard,” Sheridan said later that night in his hotel room. “Much harder than Illinois.” And then, unable to let Illinois go: “I still can’t believe we lost to those guys.”
“Don’t let ’em beat you twice,” Forcier said, as a half- joking warning they’d all heard a hundred times. “Man, we just got to win again. That’s been driving me fucking nuts. We just got to win again.”