|WHAT||Michigan at Northwestern|
|WHERE||Welsh Ryan Arena, Evanston, Illinois|
|WHEN||7:00 PM Eastern, Thursday|
|LINE||Michigan –8 (Kenpom)|
Right: Willie the Wildcat, presumably in happier times.
Poor Northwestern, man. The team that has never made an NCAA tournament appearance wasn't expected to make a ton of noise after losing all-time leading scorer John Shurna; slim hopes for postseason play were dashed entirely when Drew Crawford was lost for the season after tearing his labrum last month.
Now the Wildcats must open Big Ten play against Michigan without the services of leading scorer Reggie Hearn, who will miss the game with an ankle injury. Even though Tim Hardaway Jr. likely won't play tonight with an ankle issue of his own, this bodes unwell for Northwestern's upset hopes.
Sophomore point guard Dave Sobolewski is the team's only healthy double-digit scorer, not to mention the lone returning starter from last year's team in the lineup. Sobocop takes a little over half his shots from beyond the arc, hitting those at a 49% clip; he's decent on the drive (52 FG% at the rim) but hasn't found his stroke on two-point jumpers, connecting at a 12% rate per hoop-math.com.
Hearn should be replaced at the two by senior Alex Marcotullio, a career role player who can knock down the three and otherwise doesn't stand out as doing anything very well or very not-so-well. Freshman Kyle Abramson steps in for Crawford at the three; he's another decent outside shooter (35.3 3P%) that doesn't do a whole lot else.
BONUS POOR NORTHWESTERN: Marcotullio has been limited by back spasms.
The Wildcats do have some size up front in 7'0" freshman center Alex Olah and 6'8" senior forward Jared Swopshire. Neither is a stellar rebounder, though Olah at least is a good shot-blocker. Neither hits 50% of their twos, though Swopshire contributes(?) 30.8% three-point shooting. Olah does boast an unusually high assist rate (26.2%); he also shoots 41.7% from the line. Advantage up front: Michigan.
The bench no longer really exists because of injury. Only seven Wildcats average over 15 minutes per game—two of those are Crawford and Hearn.
Northwestern currently boasts a 9-4 record with quality wins over KenPom #28 Baylor (by four on the road) and #43 Illinois State (in overtime, neutral site). Losses have come to #53 Maryland, #139 Illinois-Chicago, #41 Butler, and #50 Stanford, all at home.
|eFG%||Turnover %||Off. Reb. %||FTA/FGA|
|Offense||50.6 (96)||17.5 (34)||29.7 (242)||36.5 (140)|
|Defense||45.2 (77)||20.8 (173)||29.9 (92)||32.9 (125)|
These numbers are probably highly misleading with the absence of Crawford and Hearn, who have missed just four combined games, not to mention a schedule with seven opponents ranked #235 or worse on KenPom. Michigan can expect Northwestern to take care of the ball and shoot well from outside; without their two top players, it seems unlikely the Wildcats will be able to threaten inside the arc.
Defensively, Northwestern will break out the 1-3-1; while they've done well limiting opponent shooting, especially inside the arc, they're not forcing the turnovers one would expect from an aggressive zone defense. While the rebounding numbers are decent on their surface, Dylan points out that the Wildcats were abused on the boards by Stanford, Maryland, and Butler—the closest comparables on their schedule rebounding-wise to Michigan.
Key on Sobocop. The only conceivable way I can see Northwestern winning this game is by catching fire from three, and Sobolowski is by far their best outside shooter. If the Wildcats set a screen for him, Michigan should be going over the top and hedging like crazy—let anybody else on that team try to beat them.
Attack Sobocop. Hell, why not foul the guy out—he's committing 3.2 fouls/40 and hasn't faced a Trey Burke. If Sobolewski reaches a point where he can't commit to contesting Burke's drive because he's worried about fouling out and leaving the Wildcats with nothing, it's game over, man.
Do not contract Northwestern Injury Curse Virus. Please and thank you.
Keep doin' what you've been doin'. I mean, yeah.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Michigan by 12, which is not KenPom's prediction because KenPom is accounting for data from Crawford and Hearn. This number would be higher if not for Big Ten road game.
How many injured players are there on Northwestern's stat sheet with more points per game than Dave Sobolewski, Northwestern's top leading healthy scorer?: That would be two.
How many teams in the country are ranked higher than Michigan: That would be one.
How many conceivable ways could Northwestern win a game in that scenario?: That would be zero.
DEPARTURES IN ORDER OF SIGNIFICANCE.
goodnight sweet prince
- QB Denard Robinson. Michigan's career leader for yards per carry (6.3, tied with Jon Vaughn, would best it if sacks were accounted for properly). All-time national record-holder for most rushing yards by a quarterback. Three-year starter. Only player who could run for more than two inches per carry behind last year's offensive line. Kind of a big deal. Did not start last five games at QB, which mitigates blow significantly since Gardner was a revelation.
- LT Taylor Lewan [assumed]. Future first-round pick was near flawless in pass pro his last two years. Penalties returned after refinement as a sophomore; got beat painfully against OSU, but nearly shut out Clowney in the bowl game.
- WR Roy Roundtree. Never really recovered his prominence after rampant 2010. Did bounce up to 31 catches as a senior at a nice YPC clip. Had clearly become the #2 option by the end of the year.
- OG Patrick Omameh. Four year starter was probably Michigan's best interior OL. Lacked desired power for manball run game. Pass protection was solid. Probably replaceable. Probably not getting drafted.
- TE Mike Kwiatkowski. Don't-call-him-a-walk-on tight end was Michigan's most effective blocker at the spot; not targeted much in the pass game.
- OC Elliott Mealer. Last minute switch to center didn't smooth over issues; seemed to mess up a bunch of line calls starting in the Nebraska game; graded out as an extensive downgrade from Molk.
- OG Ricky Barnum. Not very good. Got run over a lot.
RB Vincent Smith. Throwback screen merchant and pass-protector extraordinaire was never a great runner but leaves a hole at third down back. Admirably managed to not dissolve into component atoms after Clowney hit.
- FB Stephen Hopkins. Seemed to lose his job to Joe Kerridge and left the team after the OSU game.
- TE Brandon Moore. Barely played.
we gon' throw
- QB Devin Gardner. Blew in from wide receiver after Nebraska debacle to start final five games of the season, completing nearly 60% of his passes for 9.7 yards a pop with 11 TDs and 5 INTs. Added a couple hundred yards on the ground, sacks excluded. Those were mostly on scrambles. Fluctuating accuracy a concern.
- WR Jeremy Gallon. Gardner's favorite target was on pace for 80 catches and 1300 yards once Denard hurt his elbow. Diminutive but capable of leaping past defensive backs; quick enough to get open against almost anyone.
- RB Fitzgerald Toussaint. Gruesome break of both bones in his leg should actually be healed by fall. If available, Michigan needs the 2011 version of him badly.
- LT (presumably) Michael Schofield. Early struggles as he transitioned back to tackle did not last; established himself a good pass protector and adequate run blocker. With freshmen populating the depth chart everywhere on the OL, will likely move over to Gardner's blindside, allowing a burlier kid to play RT.
- TE Devin Funchess. After breakout Air Force game use steadily declined; he finished with only 15 catches for 234 yards. Did lead the team in receiving TDs with five. Passing game priority one needs to be getting the Devins on the same page.
- WR Drew Dileo. Sticky-fingered Louisiana gnome should have been targeted more. Catches quickly, gets upfield, small target but extremely reliable.
- TE AJ Williams. High school tackle was supposed to be Michigan's blocking TE but displayed horrendous technique and probably would have redshirted if Michigan had any options. Needs a big step forward with Kwiatkowski out the door.
- FB Joe Kerridge. Thumping fullback of the walk-on variety will be frequently used as Michigan transitions back to pro-style.
- RB Thomas Rawls. Flashed some tackle-breaking power in garbage time against Purdue and Illinois; proceeded to average under two yards a carry once forced into the lineup late in the year. Passed by Justice Hayes in bowl game and will likely fall behind freshmen when they arrive on campus.
- WR Jeremy Jackson. Lumbering possession receiver can't get separation from DBs.
WHAT'S NEW, OR CLOSE ENOUGH, ANYWAY
The offensive line. With Lewan taking his twosie to the next level, Michigan is left with Michael Schofield and a bunch of guys who haven't seen the field. Two fellows seem like locks to start:
- Redshirt sophomore Jack Miller at center. It's possible Blake Bars moves over to challenge, and vaguely possible that Patrick Kugler—son of former Steelers OL coach and new UTEP head coach Sean—enters ready to play on day one. Miller has to be considered the heavy favorite. The coaches love his nasty, Molk-like disposition; they may not love his Molk-like size. He does have the asset of being a center from the get go, unlike the candidates in 2012.
- Redshirt freshman Kyle Kalis at guard. I bet if Michigan had to do it over they would have put Kalis in the mix to start from day one. Instead they preserved a year of eligibility for him, which will benefit them down the road. If Kalis, a proverbially nasty road grader, doesn't win a job with ease, it's time to start worrying about living up to the hype.
A third is not quite a lock but has a healthy lead in my head:
- Redshirt freshman Ben Braden at right tackle. Braden is a mountain of a man better suited to crubberate people off the ball than classmate Erik Magnuson, who's more of a left tackle type. Scuttlebutt reaching my ears is that the coaches are extremely high on him. Magnuson does have a shot.
The fourth is up in the air between these folk:
- Redshirt sophomore Chris Bryant, who remains a 320, 330-pound mauler. He missed the season with a leg fracture. Availability in spring will be key.
- Redshirt freshman Blake Bars, who's a lot smaller than Bryant and will probably have to wait a bit longer for a shot at the starting job. He was a 3/4 star borderline kid.
- True freshman Kyle Bosch, this year's edition of Kalis. While he's not quite as hyped, he's enrolling early and should find himself on the two-deep immediately. He could push through.
- Redshirt junior Joey Burzynski. I'd be surprised if a 6'1" kid can move past the aforementioned trio and into the starting lineup. That said, he's got the most on-field experience in this grouping.
Breaking in four new OL, three of them likely to be freshmen, is scary. On the other hand, it's not like they can be worse at run blocking.
A dang running back who can run the dang ball. Maybe this is Toussaint. It seems more likely it's either DeVeon Smith or Derrick Green, particularly the latter guy if he does indeed end up in Ann Arbor like it seems the world expects him to. Running backs don't need a lot of seasoning, and Green is college-sized and then some.
Also here's my candle for Dennis Norfleet, third down back kthx. Get some Muck in you, kid, and there's a job waiting.
African refugee wide receivers. Amarah Darboh pointlessly burned a redshirt; Jehu Chesson kept his. With no immediate help from this WR class likely, last year's folk will have to break in. I was pretty high on both those dudes, with Chesson a co-MGoBlog Sleeper of the Year with Braden. They both provide relatively big targets, and Chesson might have deep speed.
WHAT'S ROD STEWART 1972
Gardner to Gallon. As mentioned above, that connection was red-hot over the last five games of the season, and not just against tomato cans. Gallon's best game of the year was the nine-catch, 145-yard, two-TD outing against a top-shelf SEC defense in the bowl game. Those guys are in tune.
Just running one offense, thanks. No longer will Michigan be at war with itself about what it wants to do. A section a bit later in this post hopes they'll run the QB some; this should not detract from the fact that Michigan moves from a system Borges never quite got the hang of to his bread and butter. Gallon's performance once Michigan had a quarterback who could stand in the pocket and deliver entices.
Presumably large improvement from the tight ends. Devin Funchess and AJ Williams got thrown into the fire a year too early; now they can add 20 pounds each and learn how to block and add a couple new guys in the hopes of Stanfordizing this offense.
Funchess seemed like a matchup issue last year, but if you were a defensive coordinator considering him a wide receiver, how wrong would you have been? Not very. Getting him to a point where he is a credible blocker is what'll get him open on seams and whatnot.
WHAT'S ROD STEWART 2013
Offensive line depth x2. This isn't quite as bad as it was last year, when there were essentially no backups—the sixth OL was a walk-on. It is still not good. If you make the reasonable assumptions that the freshman class redshirts and Bryant wins the other guard job, Michigan has Burzynski, Bars, and Magnuson available. Freshmen and that walk-on. Suboptimal.
But hey at least next year this problem goes away: Schofield's gone; everyone else returns.
Offensive line starters, probably. Four new ones; asking a lot for all of them to be good from day one.
WR depth? I'm not entirely sure this is a huge problem with Gallon stepping up and Dileo presumably establishing himself an excellent slot option. But they need some other guys; the incoming class provides little immediate help, so then it's down to Darboh and Chesson. Either or both could break out—Michigan needs one to.
QB depth. Bellomy or a true freshman.
WHAT'S HEISENBERG ROD STEWART UNCERTAINTY
The offensive line can't be worse, right? The running backs didn't help sure but when you return a thousand-yard rusher and his YPC average dips almost two yards a carry, the finger points squarely at the blocking. Lewan will be missed. The other guys are replaceable.
But replacing them is not a great thing. Michigan needs an upgrade.
How accurate is Devin really, and how much progress can he make in one offseason as the man? The overall numbers are good; his last two games left a bit to be desired. Hopefully he can refine down those misses by 20-30%, at which point Michigan is in the proverbial business.
How hard are we jamming the pro-style pedal down? Petrified at the prospect of having Gardner go down when it seemed like the alternative was Jack Kennedy, Michigan all but dumped quarterback runs from its playbook once Gardner entered the game. Was that circumstance or preference? And if it was the former, how comfortable will Michigan be incorporating Gardner's legs as an intentional part of the gameplan if the alternative is Shane Morris?
We won't know that until fall. I'm hoping Michigan keeps the inverted veer around, because that's a pretty good play.
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD CAN ANYONE OTHER THAN DENARD ROBINSON PICK UP THREE FEET ON THE GROUND? Freshmen will get opportunities, yes. Toussaint may be back. The youngsters will be a bit older, and at least Hayes and Norfleet came with some scatback hype—though I wouldn't be entirely surprised to see Hayes move to slot receiver since there's no one on the roster who won't be a senior next year. Only the seeming likelihood that Michigan acquires Derrick Green prevents this from going in the Rod Stewart 2013 category.
MANDATORY WILD ASS GUESS
Improvement as long as Gardner stays on the field. This edition of Michigan limped to middling numbers everywhere. Next year's offense figures to have a better fit with the offensive coordinator, a better offensive line if only because of reversion to the mean and having non-walk-on options outside of the starters, and at least equivalent playmakers at the skill positions with an outside shot at much better if the running back situation gets an injection of talent.
So then, how are you feeling about Denard Robinson's legs versus Devin Gardner's arm+legs? I'm thinking that's a push once turnovers are accounted for and we bake in an offseason of Gardner improvement. Guy was the #1 dual threat QB of his class, after all, and displayed some excellent potential on the ground in his tenure as a starter. And in a Borges offense, there's no comparison in the passing game*.
A lot rides on Jack Miller and the tackles; I figure the guards will be an upgrade. I'd guess we see an improvement—not that it'll take much to get that with Alabama sliding off the schedule and hopefully not having a half against Nebraska where the offense goes to die. Gardner bails Michigan out from some tough times.
*[Let's say we had that argument about the spread 'n' shred and not have it, okay?]
Today's recruiting roundup covers the various All-American bowl practices, the latest on Derrick Green, and (debunked) rumors about a commit taking visits.
L to R: Jourdan Lewis, Dymonte Thomas, Derrick Green, Jake Butt, Chris Fox
Michigan has four commits at the Army All-American Game and many are wondering if they'll soon have a fifth after VA RB Derrick Green jumped into a picture with them (above, via). Green conducted a live chat on Rivals yesterday, reiterating that Michigan is his top school, holding a "small" lead over the field—Auburn, Tennessee, Miami, Florida State, and USC. He also got the Fred Jackson Seal of Approval for this quote:
Comment From Guest
Who would you compare your running style to?
Derrick Green: I compare my running style to a combination of Bo Jackson, Herschel Walker and Trent Richardson
Green mentioned the possibility of committing within the next week or so—though not at the Army game itself—but also stated a desire to take his two remaining official visits even after he commits; if his choice is Michigan, he'd obviously have to talk that out with the coaches.
FL S Leon McQuay III is set to announce on Friday and the sense from insiders is that Florida State—the presumed pick—and USC both hold an edge on Michigan, and quite possibly Vanderbilt does as well. If he holds off on making a decision, which Sam Webb has mentioned as a slight possibility, then the Wolverines could have hope; as it stands, not so much.
Matters are looking better for CA OL Cameron Hunt, at least if Patrick Kugler is to be believed:
— Patrick Kugler (@Kugleybear57) January 3, 2013
Hunt will take his official visit to Ann Arbor on January 11th.
Michigan is out of the running for for Wisconsin commit Marcus Ball, according to 247's Evan Flood. The Wolverines were pursuing Ball as a linebacker.
[For practice reports on the commits and more, hit THE JUMP.]
Reading between the lines not particularly necessary. After largely quieting Jadeveon Clowney in the Outback Bowl, Taylor Lewan has got to be out the door. Everyone expects it; latest bit to read into:
"I haven't addressed the team yet," Lewan said. "I'll address the team, then we'll do whatever (sports information director) Justin Dickens, Coach (Brady) Hoke wants to do and how he wants to let that out to the public.
"It's not fair to my team to tell y'all, then not tell them."
Why hold off for a formal announcement if he actually intended to stay for his senior season?
"Next question," Lewan said.
Hope for sanity. I'm still holding out for the Eye of Sauron but I'll take anything that gets Michigan and Ohio State in the same division. It sounds like that may in fact happen. Rittenberg:
Delany has said geography would be a bigger factor in the new division alignment than the first one, so expect several teams to be on the move. Several items to watch:
Will Ohio State and Michigan be placed in the same division? It would eliminate the possibility of a rematch in the Big Ten championship, but it might balance out the power between the two divisions.
Will Wisconsin move back to the "West" side of the league? The Badgers would like to play Iowa every year, and their rivalry against Nebraska packs plenty of potential.
I'm holding out a vague hope they'll add a ninth conference game.
Gallon checkup. The Mathlete was kind enough to run the numbers on my Gallon yards per target speculation from yesterday and came up with this:
Don't have bowl games in yet, but Gallon is 22nd in Yds/Target for players with 50+ targets. At 11.0 YPT, its the third best UM season, behind Hemingway last year (12.0) and Manningham in 2006 (11.1)
That is impressive. The bowl game may push Gallon above Manningham as long as Gardner didn't miss him too much, and Manningham was kind of good. I bet Gallon's final five games are even better. Bodes well for 2013, especially since Minnesota/Northwestern/Iowa/OSU/South Carolina is a pretty tough stretch relative to a full schedule with cupcakes and whatnot.
Of note: Gallon's 2011 was 10.8 on 42 targets, so you can tack that on to your sample size to increase your confidence he can play, and that Borges is a notch above previous offensive coordinators who did not desire to unleash the dragon as much.
MSU departures en route. Dion Sims is gone according to Joe Schad. LeVeon Bell is likely out the door after a bell-cow season at State. Will Gholston seems like he may be leaning to early entry as well:
"It's about the things I can do, and the other things in my life I have to take care of,'' Gholston said. "But I know I can graduate on time. I may have a year and a semester left (to get a degree).''
FWIW. Their defense should be fine without Gholston, but losing Bell would be rough. MSU has very little on their roster—just Nick Hill and a few not-so-touted freshmen. Unless they strike gold twice in a row that looks like a major dropoff.
[UPDATE: Bell declares.]
File under structure of the offense. Luke Winn charts Stauskas's threes to date:
Not much to read into that, I don't think, except when you play the 3 in this offense you end up on the left side of the floor mostly.
Winn also discovers a blocked three erroneously listed as a two from the Bradley game, which liessssss.
Hardaway status. Sounds like it's not going to be a big deal, but his availability for the Northwestern game is in doubt.
"Based on what I found out about the injury, it was something that needed a little bit of time (to rest) or it could nag him all year long. I do not know when he'll be back."
Burke had a sunnier take:
"They haven't told me, but it's not too serious," Michigan point guard Trey Burke said after the game. "I think it's just like a bone bruise. I'm sure he'll be back next game.
"But that's all I've heard, we just heard coach wanted to sit him for this game so nothing major could happen."
In the opposite of news, John Beilein desires Hardaway to be healthy.
Meanwhile, Northwestern's Reggie Hearn—their leading scorer—is out. The Wildcats are unlikely to pose a challenge even on the road that shorthanded.
Bonus loladidas moment. I forgot this one. Michigan wore alternate jerseys for the GLI, and on about half of them they screwed up the nameplates.
Here's hoping they're branding themselves "the apparel company for colorblind people."
Statement of slight annoyance. The kPOY suffers from Rebound Overrating Syndrome, as many basketball statistical measures do. Mason Plumlee is getting a lot of rebounds on both ends, but how important is that really when as a team the Blue Devils are sitting right on the national average on defense? And are poor on offense? If Plumlee's rebounding was truly a major asset Duke would probably be, you know, good at it. They are not, so he's probably just grabbing rebounds from teammates.
QED bit of this is that when Ben Wallace—who I love don't get me wrong—left the Pistons their rebounding changed in no way whatsoever. Rebounds just happen. They're important, but just because you get a lot doesn't mean someone else couldn't do as good a job if they were in your role. Meanwhile, on a team level the correlation between defensive rebounding and efficiency seems extremely weak. Exactly one of the top ten teams in DREB has a defense that ranks better than 77th in efficiency: Michigan, 39th. Three of the ten check in better than 100th. Hauling down monster boards is less important than any of the other four factors*, but it is the one defensive thing we have a stat for, so…
Trey Burke, obviously, is being robbed, and don't get me started on Russ Smith, whose main asset is huge usage on a team with the #1 D in the country. FIGHT ROS.
*[In the top ten in eFG%D you find one defense outside the top 100 and five top ten outfits. TOs have four outside the top 100 but also feature the top two defenses in the country, Louisville and Syracuse. FTrate also has four outside the top 100, but none very far outside and has six teams better than the 77th that DREB brings. Rebounding is the least important factor.]
Etc.: Canada, I know you gave us Stauskas but come on please refer to walk-ons as "Windsor's Kovacs" instead of "Windsor's Rudy." Lloyd Brady articles are epic, constant. Purdue beat Illinois last night; Nnanna Egwu DREB rate drops to an even 10.0. Free throws and luck.
Oh, hello you. You may not realize this, since your school isn't quite as, how do I say this without sounding rude, enlightened as the one in Evanston, but it seems you Michigan fans have been bequest yet another charitable opportunity to acquire the afore mentioned droll affectations for the simplistic publishing of an educated guess. So as not to parse words: a contest, in which you may win clothing that acclaims your allegiance to a particular company of sporting men, by accurately adumbrating the final numerical representation of the upcoming, barbaric contest of basketball prowess between your vulgar Wolverines and the Wildcats of the fair, genteel, and eminently more sophisticated Northwestern University.
For the boorish:
- I put up a winnable prize that consists of a desirable good.
- You guess the final scores of this weekend's designated game (football or hoops, depending on the season), and put it in the comments. First person to post a particular score has it.
- If you got it right, we contact you. If not, go to (5)
- The desirable good arrives at the address you give us.
- Non-winners can acquire the same desirable good by trading currency for it.
About Last Time:
The Battle for Washtenaw County ended with the Eagles surrendering in five minutes and everyone getting drinks together at the Corner Brewery. In this the Michigan team out-drank Eastern 93 shots of Tequila to EMU's sad 54. I'm giving it to joeismyname for guessing 91-55, though I was momentarily tempted to give it to the guy who said 92-17. Also I've found it's hard to write an email to a stranger that says "congratulations you've won" without getting into spam folders so if you haven't heard from us after you win something, check the spam box of the account you use for the blog.
This Week's Game:
The Vainglorious Wildcats of Pretensiousestern, versus the High and Mighty Michigan Wolverines
And the Prize:
An exclamation that requires little explanation.
Fine print: One entry per user. First user to choose a set of scores wins, determined by the timestamp of your entry (for my ease I prefer if you don't post it as a reply to another person's score--if you do it won't help or hurt you). Deadline for entries is 24 hours before the start of the game. MGoEmployees and Moderators exempt from winning. We did not invent the algorithm. The algorithm consistently finds Jesus. The algorithm killed Jeeves. The algorithm is banned in China. The algorithm is from Jersey. Rutgers is from Jersey. Holy shit guys Rutgers is in the Big Ten. BIG TENNNNN! The algorithm constantly finds Jesus.. This is not the algorithm. This is close.
1/1/2012 – Michigan 28, South Carolina 33 – 8-5, EOS
Well, it's over.
A confession: before yesterday I had attended one bowl game in my life, that the 2007 Rose Bowl in which Michigan was tied 3-3 with USC at halftime and got their doors blown off in the second half when Pete Carroll told his OC to stop running the ball, period. That was crushing despite the inevitability of the loss once Michigan's severe lack of corner depth was put to the test.
This game was far closer to even—South Carolina was in fact one yard better than M before their final drive, one which almost didn't get off the ground—and yet by the time I exited the stadium I was pretty much over it. This was weird for all sorts of reasons, foremost among them a sense that I would have cared more if I had watched it on TV. As the game reached its frenetic pitch I did reconnect, to my relief. Still, it took a lot to recover from finding out Michigan had been designated Team Coconut Shrimp, or something. There's just not that much difference between four and five losses.
In retrospect this season lost its urgency the moment Denard's elbow banged the Memorial Stadium turf and Michigan's offense died in Lincoln. That game staked the Huskers to a lead they would not relinquish no matter how they tried. Michigan was reduced to playing out the string without Senior Hero at quarterback, without a shot at the Big Ten championship, without the storybook ending every Michigan fan entered the year pining for.
There were moments of vitality when it looked like Nebraska might blow it, but Michigan wasn't playing those games. By the time the bowl rolled around it was exhibition time, with little on the line other than a few spots in a poll that would have Michigan 15th at best. A starting cornerback and the punter confirmed that analysis by violating team rules and being left home.
I went to see Denard for a last time, and ended up squinting to make sure he wasn't Vincent Smith. He ran 23 times, picked up 100 yards, ground out 4.8 yards a carry, and reminded me of that picture of Mike Hart in a Colts uniform Johnny put up in a post, where Hart looked old—erosion old—and like he was doing something as a job. It took about 20 open tabs to find it, but yeah.
I think Johnny was maybe projecting his own thought processes onto Hart a little when he wrote this…
But he’s more mechanical now; he doesn't smile like he used to, he isn’t as self-indulgent. His cuts aren’t as risky – more just graceful, cautious lunges. He’s a professional now, measured and stoic and less eccentric. He looks stronger, and too focused. It used to just be a playful resentment for the institution, but now he seems like he respects it. It’s like the NFL has tranquilized him.
…because I know that Denard hasn't changed much since he made everyone laugh and caused me to bolt upright when he ran through two Ohio State tackles at the end of the first half of The Game.
It is the end, though, and Denard looks like this
and I'm a little disoriented. This season was not supposed to end with Peter Pan becoming an accountant.
He was good. He seemed like a plausible NFL running back once he learns how to block. He joins LSU's Jeremy Hill as the only running back not from Wofford's triple option to crack 100 yards against Clowney and company. For him there is still a lot at stake, and yesterday was important. It is a fine career that awaits him.
But I just keep thinking of that throw he made, and what it represented. How those moments where he'd go to the sideline holding his hand built up and finally washed over the levee. If his arm had held up, or Rich Rodriguez had recruited some OL, or Devin Gardner had stayed at quarterback… if.
That's a burden now: what if Denard dot dot dot. Instead of an exclamation point, we end with an ellipses. Unspoken thoughts, trailing off. Re-carving a rock-hard past into something more pleasing. What could have been, etc.
I don't understand why I felt disconnected. I guess it was because this thing I was at was not what I thought it would be, and for once someone managed to keep Denard from obliterating all doubt.
Well okay. No real complaints about Borges this time around, but it was really odd how South Carolina reacted to the Denard plays at QB, all predictable runs save the attempted screen. They still dropped a safety 20-30 yards deep, sometimes two guys at 15 yards, and while they tended to blitz they did not sell out like Ohio State did in the second half, even after Denard's lame duck of a throw.
I'm still a little disappointed that Denard wasn't used more as an attention-grabbing decoy. Despite that Michigan had a solid day on offense that would have verged on excellent if Gardner's accuracy had been better.
Wither Northwestern/Iowa Devin? With five games under his belt I think we can say that Gardner's accuracy leaves a bit to be desired. The Minnesota game was effective but shaky; he blew through Northwestern and Iowa, and now he's had a couple of games where some bad decisions and awkward throws hurt him against quality defenses.
In this one he hit 18 of 36 for 214 yards, 3 TDs, and an interception. 5.9 YPA is poor. There were throws to make there, and he just missed them. He made up for that with a couple scrambles, I guess.
WR corps 2013: not a problem maybe? Jeremy Gallon may be small in stature, but he is his own imaginary 11-foot-tall friend made of dreams. This is not quite the rocket boots touchdown from the Minnesota game, but I mean come on pretty nice:
Meanwhile, his other touchdown came on a post route on which he got open one-on-one a play after he smoked that same corner crispy on a corner route that Gardner actually threw a split second too early, before Gallon had even made his break. The TD:
Gardner trusts the guy to get open, that's clear.
His 9 catches and 145 yards push him up to 49 and 825 on the year, which is impressive production given that he caught a lot of screens that would normally make achieving a 16.8 YPC impossible and that the quarterbacking for much of the year was erratic.
Gallon's season totals are now in a virtual dead heat with Kenny Bell and Jared Abbrederis for second in the league behind thousand-yard-guy Allen Robinson of Penn State, and he made an array of tough catches without more than a drop or two all season.
As a senior is he a quality #1 option? I think the answer there is clearly yes. Take his production in the Gardner era and extrapolate it across as season and you get 81 catches for 1329 yards—ie, one of the top ten receivers in the country.
I'll be interested to see what his yards per target is if Football Study Hall updates those numbers that showed Junior Hemingway was probably the most underrated player at Michigan in a long time. While Gallon's small stature doesn't hurt him in the UFR catch numbers, the simple fact that he's not 6'4" turns balls that Devin Funchess could nab easily into uncatchable zeroes. I think he'll come out well—last year he was top five in yards per target with a per-catch average of 14.6.
Add in Dileo—an excellent underneath option—with a maturing Funchess and you only need one of Darboh/Chesson to step up to have a solid set of options.
Nope, but pretty much anyway. Denard bludgeoned out 100 yards on 23 carries as basically a tailback, which was quite good against a quality run defense behind an offensive line that couldn't get anyone else an inch. It, however, dropped Denard's season YPC to 7.2, a tenth behind Ty Wheatley's 1992 campaign. If we take out sacks Robinson suffered he would pop back above Wheatley, but that's not how it looks in the record book.
Of course if we're going to start poking around at sacks we might as well take a larger view. This line versus to Michigan's 1992 outfit featuring future longtime pro Steve Everitt, three other All Big Ten linemen (Joe Cocozzo, Rob Doherty, and Doug Skene) plus future first-round NFL draft pick Trezelle Jenkins*? There is no comparison. Four of those guys were drafted, two in the first round. Lewan will go high and I bet Schofield works his way into mid-round consideration, but there's no comparison between the interior lines.
AN IMPORTANT OPEN LETTER FROM MICHIGAN TAILBACKS TO FUTURE GAME SCHEDULES
Dear future Michigan game schedules,
Please endeavor to exclude South Carolina.
Michigan running backs but especially Thomas Wilcher and Vincent Smith
[South Carolina lost that '85 game 34-3, FWIW.]
On the demolishing. Lewan was frank about what happened. Via Andy Staples:
Meanwhile, Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges had called a Power run to the left side. Wolverines offensive tackle Taylor Lewan -- whose play against Clowney on Tuesday further solidified his place near the top of the NFL draft if he chooses to turn pro -- noticed something amiss about Clowney's alignment. "The end lined up on me in such a gray area that I had to call a Deuce to the inside," Lewan said. Lewan explained that a Deuce call ties the tackle to the guard, and their responsibilities are the lineman nearest the guard and the backside linebacker. By making the Deuce call, Lewan had untied himself from tight end Mike Kwiatkowski, who had anticipated working in tandem with Lewan on the play. Lewan said Kwiatkowski didn't hear the Deuce call, and video replays make that quite obvious. Kwiatkowski fired off the line at an angle that would have been perfect had he and Lewan been working a combo block. But Lewan was working a combo block with guard Ricky Barnum. Clowney, the owner of one of college football's quickest first steps, shot the gap before Kwiatkowski could realize what happened. "He's got that little slip move," Spurrier said. "When they come at him, they get nothing but air." Smith never had a chance. "That miscommunication," Lewan said. "Those are the plays that can lose games."
Just a miscommunication that got Smith decleated—de-everythinged.
Terry Richardson, Delonte Holowell—thanks for playing. Disclaimers about young players improving apply.
That said, Michigan was so opposed to putting those guys on the field that even after four verts blew them to pieces several times in the previous three quarters Michigan still stuck with a nickel package featuring Jarrod Wilson at free safety and Gordon/Kovacs moving down over the slots, with the subsequent events we all know and are slightly depressed about.
Don't click play if you are still depressed.
Kovacs should never have been put in that position, covering South Carolina's leading receiver, and Jarrod Wilson seems super super late—he should not have been on the field.
That's not Kovacs's game, everyone knows that's not his game, there's a reason he was a walk-on, and for Michigan to resort to that indicates that the two small guys from Cass Tech basically can't see the field, period. As a true freshman Richardson still has some hope of finding his way as a nickel corner down the road; as a redshirt sophomore, if Holowell can't see the field in that game he's never going to. Since spring practice Michigan lost four corners (Floyd, Countess, Talbott, Carter) and still not a sniff. Bad news.
Also, WTF was with moving Norfleet then? At least give the guy a chance to be a third down back—Michigan is now in the market for one.
JT Floyd: guh. Michigan wins this game if they can go to the Avery nickel package with confidence; they couldn't because JT Floyd got left home for the final game of his career. I hope it was worth it, man.
Kenny Demens coverage: missed. I assume that Bolden can get there in time, but not all of the seam bustage was on safteies/corner folk. For one, I blame no one on that Ace Sanders touchdown that was in by about a millimeter—that'll happen. On the tight end completion I bet that was a linebacker not carrying that guy. It's still pretty great that Michigan went much of the game with true freshmen at LB and performed very well against the run.
Beyer will win the WDE spot next year. The huge South Carolina QB run was Frank Clark ignoring backside responsibility and chasing a tailback without the ball as two other guys tackled him. This is a full year after he was biffing these things against Scheelhaase; to make a mistake that momentous on a basic, basic play is a good indication that he's just not getting there mentally. If he was making big plays to repair his mistakes, maybe that's one thing, but the pass rush he adds is minimal. If he doesn't figure it out, he's going to fall off the two deep quickly with Ojemudia and Charlton pressing from behind.
Oblig. game theory bits. Plenty to chew on in this game.
ONE: Fake field goal on which Dileo runs around and stuff for a first down.
The box score has this a 4th and 6 from the 27; in the stadium they had it 4th and 9. Assuming that Everybody Loves Raymond Stadium was wrong, that's a push according to the Advanced NFL Stats calculator. The break even point is 53%; given how Michigan's fake field goals have gone I'd say that's a coin flip. Since M was down 11 at the time, increasing that variance is probably to your advantage.
TWO: Fake punt on which 9.9 yards is basically a first down, man.
This was fourth and four from the Michigan 37.
Loved this. Michigan was up one with around eight minutes left. If you can go on a drive, rip four or five minutes off the clock, and even get a field goal you've tipped the scales in your direction massively. If you fail, you are in a bit of a bad spot but a South Carolina score allows you time to respond. As it happened, Michigan got the first down (sort of) and still felt the sting of what failure would have been like—then they responded with a touchdown drive. Love Hoke going for the jugular there.
THREE: Unsportsmanlike conduct on South Carolina's second-to-last TD.
My initial instinct was to take the penalty on the two-point conversion (argh), which would have put that at the 18 and all but forced a one-point attempt. South Carolina didn't get it and subsequently kicked from the 20; Michigan got it out slightly over the 35.
I still think the play there is to take it on the two-point conversion, as you're significantly reducing the chance that is successful. That seems well worth the ten yards Michigan picked up.
FOUR: Spurrier is not Ferentz.
Michigan's ultimate demise came on another four verts play on which the seam came wide open as a Michigan seam defender—in this case Jordan Kovacs—got smoked. That was pure OBC, and won them the game.
The setup: South Carolina's kicker was 11 of 15 on the season but had missed a moderate length field goal and had another blocked. They had a timeout left, it was second and ten from the 32, and the Gamecocks had been pounding the seams all day. Spurrier gets Kovacs lined up over Ace Sanders, ballgame. Tip of the cap. This was a game in which both coaches went for the win.
THEY S'POSED TO BE NFL
Everyone Hates Raymond Stadium. If you're ever on the fence about going to an Outback Bowl in the future, don't. I imagine the scoreboard situation is going to get repaired in the near future, but until then that stadium has the worst I've ever seen. They're useless. They're tiny, 40% of them are given over to ads during replays, and you can't see anything on them anyway. They're worse—much worse—than the boards Michigan just replaced. It was flabbergasting. I mean, it's an NFL stadium. I hear they're doing fairly well for themselves.
Meanwhile, the stadium itself has an incredibly shallow rise, which means if you're unfortunately positioned in what purports to be a good seat*, you spend large chunks of the game looking around beer vendors or Only Guy In The Section Standing Up Guy. The sidelines are huge; the field is not that far below seat level. The end result is a lot of very bad seats, and not much recourse when you can't figure out what happened immediately.
In addition, the area around the stadium is run-down and amenity-free. There's nothing within walking distance. It is the opposite of stadium districts in Detroit, Denver, Columbus, Minneapolis, Pasadena, etc. Unless it is geographically convenient or your favorite player(s) are entering their last games ever you probably shouldn't go. The guy who makes 800k for running the thing probably deserves it for keeping such a crappy venue high up in the pecking order.
Tampa is everything it's reputed to be, as well. Most Tampa thing: all the police cars advertise their website located at www.tampagov.net.
*[This reminded me of Wrigley, actually. A fan of the blog with access to nice tickets threw us a couple a few years back and I spent literally an entire half-inning looking into the paunch of a beer vendor since Wrigley's rise is minuscule. Vertical stadiums are the best.]
Everyone Hates Adidas. I mean, who could have known that putting light yellow numbers on a white jersey would make it impossible to tell who was who? It's almost as if these uniform stunts aren't well thought out.
I was skeptic in re: guys on message boards proclaiming that Nike was the best and that moving to Adidas was a mistake despite the fact they would give Michigan all of the money. I was wrong.
Two things have finally torn it:
- This uniformz debacle. Completely impossible to tell who was who. Didn't figure out Demens wasn't playing much, if at all, until second half, and that was because twitter was talking about it. I had no idea which DB got burned on the first touchdown until twitter told me, as well. Idiotic.
- Hockey third jerseys. You have to see these in person to fully appreciate how awful they look. It's not just the weaselferret. It's not even sort of the weaselferret. It's that they look like they came straight off the rack from the Walmart replica section.
Once this contract is up Michigan should flee. They will just take whoever offers them more money; after what Underarmour did with Northwestern this year I am rooting my ass off for those guys. Yeah, Maryland, whatever. That's on the AD. If M screws it up as much as the Terrapins we'll know what the problem is.
WE DIDN'T LISTEN
WE DIDN'T LISTEN
I'll collect game reacts later; this is tough to do in a day now that it's ballooned into a 5000 word monstrosity.