in town for free camps
|WHAT||#10 Michigan vs #3 Akron|
|WHERE||Harder Stadium, Santa Barbara, CA|
|WHEN||11:00 Eastern, December 10th 2010|
|THE LINE||College soccer lines, junkie?|
|WEATHER||Sunny, around 60
0% chance of rain
Right: meet the only context in which this is 100% appropriate.
Livebloggin' is in effect starting maybe a half-hour before the game.
And here's where the problem kicks in: how does one preview a soccer game? Stats are sparse on the ground, there's not a clean division between units that allows for easy compartmentalization, I haven't seen Akron play and have rarely seen Michigan, and while I am outstanding at Football Manager—truly righteous—most of my skill comes in identifying hot young talents other teams are content to give away for peanuts.
Let's start with what we know: Michigan's last loss was against this Akron team. It was not a pretty one. Michigan got clunked 7-1—Akron's biggest margin of victory on the year. They also lost 1-0 in a spring exhibition at the Silverdome.
Ives Galarcep's most recent MLS draft "Big Board" has Akron players at…
1. Darlington Nagbe, M/F
2. Perry Kitchen, DM
3. Kofi Sarkodie, DR
5. Darren Mattocks, F
8. Zarek Valentin, DC
18. Anthony Ampaipitakwon, M
25. Michael Nanchoff, ML
…this is seven of a starting eleven in the top 25. Michigan has one player, Justin Meram, at 25. (In the comments, a "Seth Brokekicker" admonishes Galarcep for hyping Meram up when he's needed on campus next year.) Someone asks about Soony Saad and Galarcep says he's on the 2013 board.
I bet not even Jamiemac of Just Cover can find a line for tomorrow's game, but if he does Michigan will be an impressive underdog. Akron is be the #3 seed and while Maryland was the #2 and beat Akron 3-1 in an exhibition last spring it's hard to find a reason Akron wasn't far and away the #1 seed in the tournament if they don't manage a single loss against Cleveland State(!) in late October. Their schedule wasn't great and as a result their RPI was fourth. Michigan's was worse. Before the tournament they were third in a stretch of Big Ten teams ranging from 12 to 15; Indiana was 12th and first in the league despite going only 9-7-2 against D-I.
One man's scouting report follows. This guy has seen three games this year, has not had the benefit of replay except once, and is not Zonal Marking, so bear with me.
Meram vs Maryland. Jake Fromm/Daily
Anyone will tell you that Michigan's strength is in their attackers and this is true. Freshman Soony Saad is the nation's second leading scorer and rookie of the year with 19 goals; he's a crafty shooter who scored from his own half this year and scared the hell out of UCF's goalie when he tried it again in Michigan's tournament opener. Strike partner Justin Meram is a soccer version of TJ Hensick or Mike Comrie, a gifted dribbler and accomplished sniper who's all right physically but will not wow you. At the UCF game a friend of mine turned to me and said in all seriousness "he's better than Robbie Findley," and I thought to myself "this is literally true." When in doubt Michigan chucks it up to Meram and hopes he can run onto it.
Soony's brother Hamoody alternates between a central attacking midfield role (Michigan plays with a dedicated destroyer behind him, relieving Hamoody of many defensive duties) and a wing spot, where he interlinks with both forwards. He's often the player who touches the ball right before the guy who gets the assist. He's not as much of a threat with the ball at his feet as the two strikers but is good at getting them involved in space.
The two wingers are usually senior Alex Wood and sophomore Latif Alashe; Alashe is more immediately impressive but Wood was the guy who sprung Meram for the tying goal against UCF. Alashe deflected the winner into the net. Those five attackers are the strength of the team.
so gritty snow follows him around in the hopes it will become sand.
On defense it's considerably wobblier. The defensive midfielder is redshirt junior Adam Shaw, who is a gritty, gritty man. By this I mean "5'8" and not very fast." He makes up for this by being dogged. The word just sort of leaps into your mind as you watch him play. That kid—dogged, that kid. He could be to be a weak link against a rampaging Zips midfield. With Hamoody Saad upfield and multiple Akron players capable of dropping into the hole or effectively transitioning into attack he's going to have his hands full unless Michigan makes a tactical change.
The defense has scared me in games against mediocre opponents this year and was obviously gunned down in spectacular fashion in the game against the Zips earlier in the season. Since it is my fate to not like the left fullback on any soccer team I've ever watched I haven't been a big fan of Chase Tennant; he was pretty weak in two of the three games I saw and while he was better against UCF he still gives away possession flamboyantly. He's not an offensive threat.
Right back Jeffrey Quijano is a senior who fought through a challenge for his job and reclaimed his starting spot midway through the season. He's prone to leave his feet in bad situations but is much better on the ball than Tennant and can be a threatening presence down the wing. Quijano scored one of Michigan's goals against Maryland and put Meram's on a plate after slaloming through several defenders. (Or so Goal.com says. I have no idea since I was at the basketball game.)
The central defenders are okay. I like Kofi Opare better, as he seems less prone to misjudge long balls and better at developing possession from the back. Brian Kemczak is his running mate and has come off like Jay Demerit—solid defensively but a hoofer as soon as it touches his foot. I have gotten a sense of vague disquiet whenever the ball is bouncing around the box and can't tell if that's justified or just how I watch soccer.
I didn't notice much about goalie Chris Blais but the guy next to me at the UCF game muttered something to his friend about how he had "frankly been a weak link." That guy sounded like he really liked Prairie Home Companion and said something patronizingly moralistic about a yellow card he thought had gone to Soony Saad for rolling around theatrically after someone had stepped on his foot. Said yellow had actually gone to his brother for dissent. So take that with a grain of salt. I thought he could have done better on the UCF goal, which pinged around the box and probably should have been fisted away*.
Miscellaneous bits. Michigan is very good at set pieces. Soony Saad is a bomber who's a threat to score by shooting; Hamoody takes the corners and usually drives hard in-swingers. He was the motive force behind Michigan's game-winner against UCF when he swung in a terrific ball that was headed for the net and just needed a tiny deflection to wrong-foot the goalie. It reminded me of David Beckham's World Cup goal against Paraguay:
In this case the touch was from a Michigan player; on both the initial ball did 90% of the work.
Michigan did catch a bout of short corner disease against UCF, so be warned.
Search me. They're really good, tied for the national lead in scoring at 2.65 goals per game (tied with most recent Michigan victim Maryland) and sixth-best defensively, ceding just 0.63 per game. Michigan's at 2.17 and 1.42, respectively, so they're close to the Zips on the front line but not so much on the back. If you take out the Akron game those margins get way smaller, but hey—we're playing Akron.
Coach quote from the Tulsa guy after getting whipped:
"They're very opportunistic," Tulsa coach Tom McIntosh said. "And they are very good on set pieces. They don't need many chances for goals. The problem is we got two goals down, then we had to chase the game. This is not a team you want to chase a game against."
Michigan can vouch for that. There's an interview with a couple recent alums that is beyond boring.
Grant Wahl** names literally half of Akron's outfield players as people to "keep an eye on" and naturally picks them for the title:
Keep an eye on Akron forwards Darlington Nagbe and Darren Mattocks, midfielder Perry Kitchen and defenders Kofi Sarkodie and Zarek Valentin; Michigan forwards Justin Meram and Soony Saad; North Carolina midfielder Michael Farfan; and Louisville defender J.T. Murray. The national semifinals will be broadcast on ESPNU and ESPN2 on Friday, with the final being shown at 4 p.m. ET Sunday on ESPN2.
I'll go with Akron to win it all. Coach Caleb Porter has had the most talent in the country for a while now, and all he needs to validate his program's success is an NCAA championship.
Wait… what? Their coach is 35? That's loony.
Soccer predictions are even dumber than football ones, which are dumb but I feel I have to do. But: given the previous matchup, the ridiculous concentration of talent on the Akron roster, and the feeling they're the heavy favorite to win the entire tournament, I'm not expecting victory.
On the other hand, Cal almost ended them in OT and soccer specializes in WTF moments. Back in 2002 I've got no idea what's going on when I turn on the TV in Ireland and catch Manchester United playing the improbably-named Zalaegerszeg. Man U dominates but never cracks the defense and then in stoppage time this happens:
This would not be anywhere near as titanic an upset, obviously, but it's tonic for anyone looking at 7-1 earlier in the year and wondering how the rematch could play out the other way.
*(If you're looking to start a soccer blog you could do worse than "Fisted Away.")
**(Prepare to experience the odd frisson of a relevant Grant Wahl tweet in a liveblog, kids.)
Side note: usefulness of this may be depressed since Dan Mullen's probably gone from Mississippi State in the next few days, but whateva.
In late September, Mississippi State was coming off consecutive losses to Auburn and LSU when they faced Georgia. With only a win against inept Memphis to their credit, no one expected much, but Georgia had just lost to South Carolina and Arkansas and only had a win against Louisiana Lafeyette to their credit, so no one expected much out of the opponent either. AJ Green was in the fourth and final game of his suspension for selling his bowl jersey.
Mississippi State won 24-12 despite getting outgained by sixty; in a mini-Denard performance Chris Relf was 9 of 14 for two touchdowns and had 109 yards on the ground on 20 carries. Items and observations follow.
Brutally Inadvertent Honesty
"The importance of this game cannot be understated."
I think you just did, actually.
This Is Not The Michigan Offense
It's the spread but it's closer to Auburn's than Michigan's. Amongst Michigan opponents the closest comparison is Illinois. Michigan almost never uses presnap motion. At WVU Rodriguez would occasionally pull a slot receiver into the backfield or motion one out back into the slot, but at Michigan even that's been eliminated. About the only guy moving before the snap is Vincent Smith on his occasional head starts out into the flat to threaten screen. Meanwhile Michigan hasn't run more than a couple true option plays in three years.
Mississippi State uses a ton of motion and runs a ton of option. Here's MSU's first touchdown, a triple option that sees an end-around fake lead into a triple option look with both a shovel and pitch. Georgia makes it easy by not covering the pitch guy:
Shades of Michigan against Illinois.
That motion and reliance on the option is not what Michigan does. MSU rarely runs straight up zone plays of any variety, possibly because their offensive line can't handle it. They compensate by optioning guys off. This means a steady defense ready to execute the proverbial assignment football can erase the best bits of the MSU offense and force Relf into a bunch of uncomfortable situations—Bulldog QBs combined to throw five interceptions against LSU and even Kentucky forced him into a 7 of 17 day. This does not describe Michigan at all, obviously.
Dan Mullen: Pretty Smart
On Mississippi State's next drive they try it again and get stuffed:
On second and eight Mullen dials up a play perfectly constructed for the situation. He flips the option, changes the formation, and goes after the guy who just shot up on the pitch:
He's suckered in after getting chewed out by his DC on the sideline, allowing Chad Bumphis a vast amount of room on the outside since the outside WR ran the safety off. If the option works, it works; if it doesn't you're likely to have your best WR open for a big chunk. This is not the kind of stuff you can do every play—you are inherently limited by your players—but that's an example of a smart offensive coach exploiting a hole he expects will be there after you adjust.
Mississippi State is a team almost totally devoid of talent on offense and has been for a million years, and Dan Mullen has dragged them to around average.
Chris Relf: Hoss, Highly Variable Thrower
Relf is more Tebow/Newton than Robinson. They used power:
He's 240 with good speed but not much in the way of quicks. Meanwhile, his throws are erratic, some well off target, some either horrible decisions he got lucky on or gorgeous back-shoulder fades:
Which is that? If we're talking about a team trying to man up Crab against Texas Tech, it's the latter. We aren't, we're talking about a 56% passer on a team that throws 30% of the time. So… could go either way. He's got some Denard in him, throwing zingers that end up high or low:
Note that "cannot be understated" guy follows that up with "Bumphis took a cheerleader into the hedges." Someone put Chris Martin in a box and ship this guy to Chicago.
This was mentioned earlier today but good Lord, Manny Diaz is one guy you should take seriously when he does the defensive coordinator thing and talks about being very aggressive. When Mississippi State calls a play they're usually sending at least one and most of the time two; occasionally they will show blitz and check when the opponent checks but against Georgia that just resulted in crappy zone coverage and lots of time for Aaron Murray to shred it.
Their cornerbacks are not very good. This is a ball you can make a play on or maybe intercept but this guy does the full Todd Howard:
That sets up Georgia in scoring position, at which point Mississippi State eats up consecutive runs with maniacal run blitzes…
…manically blitzes Aaron Murray on third and twelve, maniacally tackles the obvious RB screen after ten yards, and then watches maniacally from the sidelines as Mark Richt limply sends in the field goal team.
They don't have an obvious standout player other than Pernell McPhee, a JUCO from Pahokee Michigan had a brief, predictably fruitless dalliance with a couple years ago. He's quick and disruptive. The rest of the guys seem to know their assignments and get in the right spots. They don't have to beat blocks much because MSU moves around so much and attacks vertically, which will lead to plays on which guys get shoved out of big holes. Could be dangerous against Denard; not so much Georgia's extremely mediocre set of tailbacks.
Their safeties are thumping tacklers and very solid, or at least were in this game. Georgia lost an all but sure touchdown when Ealey was separated from the ball at the one yard line:
On other plays those overhang guys came up well and tackled without a hint of disastrous long runs.
That play above also shows a distinct vulnerability to seam routes—MSU will often keep those safeties way back—that should see Michigan tight ends and Roy Roundtree have a productive day as long as they catch the damn ball.
Scout yourself. BitP collects various Mississippi State torrents if you're interested in taking a look at an unfamiliar opponent:
- vs Auburn (17-14 loss)
- vs Alabama (30-10 loss)
- at LSU (29-7 loss)
- at Mississippi (31-23 win)
- at Florida (10-7 win)
- vs Georgia (24-12 win)
Folks are already combing through these.
See what I'm talking about. I'm in the midst of the Georgia game; BWS has been focusing on how MSU defended screens against Auburn—like maniacs:
BWS says this is "structurally unsound," and while it may be many teams had issues dealing with the seeming unsoundness of the defense. Tearing off the edge to blow up screens is also a feature of the Georgia game: they blitz off the edge and if they read bubble the blitzer comes off to attempt to bat the ball down. So far one bubble was two yards behind the WR and should have been a loss but for some fancy footwork by the WR and a missed tackle by the safety; the other was batted down by a blitzer.
My impressions from the first half of the Georgia game should be read in your Teddy KGB internal monologue*: very aggressive. Mississippi State blitzed the pants off Aaron Murray throughout the game except in one instance where Murray checked and the Bulldogs cleverly checked into a three-man rush that Murray burned for a big gain. I was wondering if they might be less maniacal against a spread team, but it appears not:
Offensively, Chris Relf is more Newton than Robinson, a big dude with good size and speed but lacking the explosive quicks of Robinson. His accuracy is sufficient at best.
*(Don't bother denying that you have one.)
Burninating the countryside. If you are thinking to yourself "self, it seems like shooting safeties at bubble screens because you send six guys most plays is something Michigan seems prepared to deal with," that was my thought too. You should also have read that in your outrageous Teddy KGB internal monologue.
BWS broke down another play in which the H-back screen morphs into a deep hitch as those maniacal DBs get burned when they try to rip past blocks that aren't blocks at all. If you get caught peeking in the backfield against Michigan you can get doom pretty quick:
Michigan's main trouble this year has been with the Big Ten's traditional sit-back-and-have-tea cover two 4-3s that bleed down the field and then watch Michigan implode via Lewan penalty, kicker misfortune, drop, or turnover. They are explosive but inconsistent; Mississippi State seems like a team that's going to play it high variance and Michigan will have the opportunity to make a suite of big plays. This could go either way—this is the nature of high variance.
Misdirection will be huge, as it looks like MSU is vulnerable to the QB Draw Oh Noes and fake-bubble-to-slant stuff that have been consistent yardage generators this year. Mississippi State just sells out against the run, so a run-pass distribution closer to even may be called for.
The frustrating bit. There are so many players starting for Mississippi State that I've heard of because Michigan recruited them. They are the reason the "Mississippi is a black hole nothing escapes" tag exists: Fletcher Cox, Chad Bumphis, Pernell McPhee—all of these people were part of Michigan's ill-fated Jay Hopson experiment, wherein they recruited everyone viable in Mississippi and they all told Michigan they were afraid of planes and/or electricity. McPhee was actually a JUCO from Pahokee but whatever: Mississippi is a black hole. Nothing escapes.
Lines. Some early lines are up, with Ohio State favored by about a field goal in the Sugar Bowl and TCU(!) by three in the Rose. This makes no of the sense. Michigan is a six point underdog to Mississippi State.
The stupid. New Year's Day creep has reached its apex this year. Behold the Big Ten schedule:
|Jan. 1||12:00 pm||
Dallas Football Classic
Northwestern vs. Texas Tech
|Jan. 1||1:00 pm||
Penn State vs. Florida
|Jan. 1||1:00 pm||
Capital One Bowl
Michigan State vs. Alabama
|Jan. 1||1:30 pm||
Konica Minolta Gator Bowl
Michigan vs. Mississippi State
That is four Big Ten games on at the same time, three of them matchups against the SEC. I used to enjoy flipping on random Purdue bowl games on January 28th to root for the conference; now I've got two opportunities to do this. Literally half the conference is playing on or after NYD, erasing three opportunities for me to watch bowls I care about. Boo. Also, this obscures the red line between success and failure that a NYD bowl used to symbolize.
Remember, all-time updates can be found on the 2011 Michigan Football Recruiting Board. If you have any recruiting tips or questions, you can e-mail them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet @varsityblue. For game updates on Wolverine commits, check out the Friday Night Lights series.
Though the writing has been on the wall for weeks, the decommitment of FL QB Kevin Sousa still came as a bit of a surprise, at least in terms of timing. However, he enjoyed his official visit to Wake Forest enough to switch his pledge to Jim Grobe's Demon Deacons. The kid had been saying for weeks that he wasn't getting as much attention as he'd like, so the decommitment was likely a mutual decision. Best of luck to him in the ACC.
Though I said in the decommitment post that I'm not sure it's worth Michigan's coaches going after another quarterback to fill the slot (assuming they can hold onto all three current signal-callers), the coaches seem to want one in the class. OH QB Cardale Jones is looking like the most likely candidate at this point, but he's not much of a runner, goes to Michigan kryptonite Glenville, and just cancelled a visit this weekend.
Happy Trails, MI DT/DE Damon Knox. He had a final three of Michigan, Michigan State, and Illinois ($, info in header), but he's since committed to Michigan State. He has work to do to qualify at the next level.
Elsewhere in Not-So-Happy News
As for the other decommitment scuttlebutt over the weekend, FL RB Demetrius Hart had a "big announcement" following his game on Friday, and speculation was that he would be decommitting for Alabama. That didn't happen, but there's a storm to weather yet, as Alabama will be conveniently holding their Capital One Bowl practices... at Dr. Phillips High School.
Dee tells the Orlando Sentinel he will end up in Ann Arbor as long as Rich Rodriguez is the coach, but Florida is the alternate choice, rather than Alabama. He no longer plans to enroll early. By the way, kid's a National Player of the Year finalist.
THE HITS KEEP COMING, as Shawn Conway will not be able to qualify, and instead will head to a junior college. Better now than after Signing Day, I suppose. This helps explain the staff's increased interest in wide receivers of late. Shawn still plans to attend Michigan eventually ($, info in header).
Looking for a replacement? CA WR Devin Lucien has scheduled a visit to Michigan for the January 7th weekend. That's shaping up to be the Wolverines' next big recruiting weekend after the Big Chill. Highlights:
If you're worried about Michigan's other commitments, most local ones say they'll stick with Michigan no matter what, but also that they'll disappointed if Rodriguez is fired (though most think there's very little risk of that actually happening). Jake Fisher fluff, in which he confirms that position. Delonte Hollowell will also attend Michigan, regardless of whether Rodriguez is retained. Greg Brown is good to go on early enrollment ($, info in header). Right now, it seems he might be the only commit joining the Wolverines in January.
Big Chill, Big Visits
Last week's recruiting update had a working list of visitors for the Big Chill at the Big House this weekend:
- IL OL Chris Bryant. Tom says a decision is not expected from Chris, but wouldn't be a surprise, either.
- MI DE/OL Anthony Zettel. He won't pick a school until January, so Michigan's coaching situation should be fully settled by the time he decides.
- MI LB Desmond Morgan.
- FL LB Ryan Petro.
- OH QB Cardale Jones.
- OH WR Shane Wynn.
A mentioned above, January 7th looks like the next big recruiting weekend.
MI RB Thomas Rawls is visiting soon, but there's still no word on a qualifying test score.
Alabama is starting to show interest in FL RB DeVondrick Nealy. He's said that Michigan leads for his services (even though the Wolverines are unlikely to have room in their class for him).
FL Slot Prince Holloway says (paraphrase) "if I can qualify, I will get a committable offer from Michigan," which leads me to believe that he's unlikely to get a qualifying test score. Justice Hayes probably has the slot position locked down for this class, unless Holloway can play corner (but even there, Michigan has higher prospects on the board).
Still the status quo for NC WR/LB Kris Frost, who will choose between Michigan and Auburn ($, info in header).
NJ TE Jack Tabb enjoyed his Michigan visit a few weeks back, saying:
“I had a great time. I couldn’t have asked for a better trip. They definitely have a need and a want for a tight end and that’s a very good thing. In fact, that’s one of the most important things. They would definitely have you moving all over the field, at tight end, in the slot and in the backfield.”
After his Iowa visit, he dropped the Hawkeyes ($, info in header), so his high praise may carry a little more weight than a recruit who loves every visit. He's still planning a decision before Christmas.
PA OL/DT Rob Trudo, currently committed to Syracuse, will visit Michigan ($, info in header).
FL DT Tim Jernigan has a top four of Alabama, LSU, Michigan, and Florida State, but he told the Gainesville Sun's Ed Aschoff that "he could go to a school not listed in his top four." He lives within an hour of Jacksonville, so I wonder if he might take a trip to the Gator Bowl.
Michigan is still in the top five for MD DT Darian Cooper ($, info in header).
Recent visitor FL S Wayne Lyons has been selected to the Army All-American Game - and that's where he plans to announce his commitment. The schools in the running for his commitment (in no order) are Stanford, Michigan, Notre Dame, UCLA, Nebraska, Florida, and Auburn. The two SEC schools did not receive official visits from Wayne.
NJ S Sheldon Royster will visit in January.
Like his classmate (MI CB Terry Richardson) a couple weeks ago, Cass Tech LB Royce Jenkins-Stone is the subject of the most recent recruiting column by Sam Webb in The Detroit News. The moneyshot:
Though he covets an offer from the Wolverines, Jenkins-Stone warns against expecting him to make a quick decision on a scholarship. "I would wait (to commit)," he said. "I would probably sign with them later on when I get the papers on signing day after my senior year of football. That is my No. 1 school. I just want to see what else is out there before I commit."
He goes on to say that he's not a lock to eventually go to Michigan... but that's about as close as it gets, right? Scout's Allen Trieu breaks down his game:
"He has good speed, a nice frame, and is comfortable dropping into coverage as well as coming forward. Most of all, I think he really likes contact, he's a strong kid, and a sure tackler. I'd like to see him keep filling out a little more. I think you'd like to see him at 225-235 pounds before he gets to college. He can play in the middle or outside. He's versatile enough to do both."
Since he's buddies with Richardson and MI LB James Ross from Orchard Lake St. Mary's, the three of them could be a great nucleus to an excellent defensive recruiting class in 2012.
MI DE Evan Winston is drawing interest from Michigan, among other Big Ten schools.
A little bit of local fluff on OH S Bam Bradley and his older brothers. Most interesting is that one of the top Ohio prospects in the class of 2012 hasn't heard from the Buckeyes.
Outdoor History and The Big Chill
Players have probably never played in serious games outdoors. Red grew up playing 90% of his games on outdoor rinks. They'd have to deal with the elements, shovel the rink, etc. "It was a great way to grow up." The players have probably played only one game (last year @ Wisconsin) outdoors.
Red played in Oslo in 1959 for the Canadian team. Outdoor stadium, about 20k people. Helsinki and Stockholm after. They didn't have indoor rinks, they'd always play outside. Great venues. as a 19-year old, he played some. "Now we get a chance to play some of the biggest games in my recent tenure."
The Michigan team had concerns about playing outside 10 years ago at Spartan Stadium. There was rain during their scheduled ice time the night before, so they skated inside instead. Skated morning of the game instead, and conditions were perfect. They had a big freshman class with Nystrom, Gajic, et al. Camalleri was hurt that week and wasn't supposed to play, but he insisted on it and was the team's MVP of that game.
After the Cold War, were they thinking about playing at Michigan Stadium? "We talked about whether that could happen here." after playing at MSU outside. Red definitely supported if the AD wanted to go for an outdoor game. That decision was just made in the last couple years "it wasn't like that question was lingering."
Finalized in January, Seamless work by the AD. "When you think about all the things that go into this... it's a lot of commitment." Outdoor games in football stadiums are positive. The NHL doing outside games has helped the process go smoother and smoother with more practice. "These are great events."
"I've pretty much stayed out of the ice quality business." Red only worries about the water that goes in - the guys dealing with the rink are pros. There are 75-100 different inuit words for quality of ice. "I just skate on it, so I'm not worried about it." This is "outdoor-indoor" ice. Playing on an indoor rink with pumped water and artificial freezing, but doing it outside.
"I was so impressed with the whole Michigan family" in selling out such a big stadium. People are coming in from all over "but the Michigan people are the ones that snapped up the tickets." MSU sent tickets back because they didn't sell them, it should be 90-95% Michigan fans. Tickets were bought in summer: "People were excited about an outdoor hockey game in July," and that's special.
"We've been waiting for this and looking forward to it, and now we can say it's our next game, so we don't have to try and keep it off in the distance and worry about current games." Can't pretend it's not going to happen if you're worried about focus. Doesn't think it's been a problem.
The thrill of playing outside will be out of the way quickly, guys will have to just adjust to wind conditions, it'll be cold, there are tons of fans. All that can be a factor. The crowd: "I don't think they'll overreact to it, but they'll feel it." There's no motivation issues playing in front of 100k. "It'll be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the guys that are playing." Hoping to give the fans something to cheer about.
The players will skate outside on their own today, they'll practice outside Tues, Wed, Thurs, Fri. Part of that is getting used to the Olympic-sized ice.
"The college sports spirit" is what made this event so big. It's a tribute to college hockey that this is a big deal. "We'll see down the road" if this big event can boost the profile of college hockey.
Goalie situation: "We'll definitely sit down this week, we'll look at the wins and losses and where they played and how they played, and experience and so on and so forth" and play one goalie, unless they get an opportunity with a big lead. "You'd do that more in an exhibition game. This is not an exhibition game." It was the same story at Wisconsin last year: they played to win the game. "We can't take it lightly and we won't."
An annual post informing/figuring out what's going on with the hockey team when football season ends.
Last year: On the one hand, Michigan tore through the final ten games of its schedule en route to its 20th straight NCAA tourney bid. They swept Michigan State at Munn in the ultimate karmic retribution, beat Miami at the Joe, beat Northern to clinch their tourney bid, and were one erroneous whistle away from a thrilling overtime win against Miami in the rematch and a Frozen Four bid.
On the other, Michigan needed every game of their CCHA tourney run to go their way or they would have been left out of the tourney entirely. After struggling to a .500 record more than halfway through the season, an uninspired group of Carl Hagelin and a bunch of guys who weren't very good seemed like obviously the worst Michigan team assembled since Red got his machine going back in the late eighties.
The question going into 2010: which was it, then?
Neither Great Nor Terrible
Eighteen games in, that's the answer. Michigan's part of what looks like it will be a three-way race for the league title with Miami and Notre Dame. Michigan is two points behind the Redhawks but has two games in hand; they are behind Notre Dame by virtue of a single shootout point. They've split with ND already and have played two of the three teams hovering around .500 in the league, so the schedule has been somewhere between representative and tough.
The nonconference has not been as kind. Michigan's 1-2-3 with ties against Mercyhurst, UNH, and Wisconsin, a loss to Minnesota, and a split against Nebraska-Omaha. That's a very difficult schedule—UNH is #3, UNO #10 while Wisconsin and Minnesota are middling WCHA teams—but nonconference losses are Pairwise anchors. Michigan's probably given away any shot at a #1 seed unless they rip through the second half schedule.
This is miles better than last year, when Michigan finished seventh(!) in the league and was .500 at the holiday break. If Michigan can take care of business against a 3-7-1 Michigan State team that's just as bad as it should be after losing all but a couple players with a hint of talent, they'll go into this break 10-5-4 with a solid head start at landing an at-large NCAA bid.
So why does this feel just like last year?
It's kind of just like last year. Carl Hagelin lacks the raw net-ripping scoring to carry the team offensively but is awesome in all phases and is the only Michigan player to be noticeable on almost every shift. Louie Caporusso is frustrating but somehow is tied for the team lead in points. A totally obscure senior forward has made himself a critical contributor (Lebler last year, Vaughn this year). Large stretches of every game are boring, defensive hockey not because that's how Michigan is trying to play but because there's no one on the team who can create chances for himself or his teammates. The power play: guh. Michigan's scoring margin this year is 13th nationally, right about where they finished last season.
The main differences:
- They are not maniacal hackers any more. Michigan is traditionally amongst the national leaders in penalty minutes. Last year they were 15th. This year they're 22nd. Since a large chunk of those are coincidentals, I took a look at PP/G given up. Michigan is 33rd—essentially average. That's a big improvement. Michigan went 115 minutes against Notre Dame without going on the penalty kill.
- The goaltending is average and could be better. Bryan Hogan was puttering around at .901 when the season ended and spent most of the year looking up at .900. This year he's splitting time with Hunwick, who is puttering along at .903 while Hogan is at .923. Put them together and Michigan's overall save percentage is slightly above average this year; last year it was ridiculously bad. Hogan's 19th nationally in SV% and is 7-2. Hunwick' 2-3-4 and just gave up a horrendous goal* to Ohio State that eventually proved to be the difference in a 3-2 OT loss—it may be time to give the job to Hogan full-time.
- They don't have a defenseman who is killing the team. I've been rough on Llewellyn for the duration of his career so credit where it's due: he has been a steady presence on the backline to the point where I'd rather have him out there than Lee Moffie or a couple other offensive defensemen. I think he's had one penalty this year that I was like "aaaaargh" about, which is on par with the rest of the team. He's made a step forward. So has Pateryn, who I think should be seriously considered for a first-line shutdown role.
The things that are the same:
- There is no grade A scorer. This is the point at which Louie Caporusso says "oh really" and starts sniping goals left and right but at this instant I'm down on his ability to do much other than shoot, which he doesn't do enough. Hagelin's outstanding but needs a pure scorer on his wing; he's got Rust and Lynch, who are not anywhere close.
- The depth is weak. Michigan's picking between Scooter Vaughn and Luke Glendening when they're figuring out the second line. No offense to those guys but that's two guys who would have a third line ceiling on a truly good Michigan team. Meanwhile, Chris Brown has two goals and AJ Treais—the designated tiny stick ninja and the U18 team's leading scorer—three, one of them a pinball gift.
- There probably isn't a true shut-down defenseman. Michigan's top pairing has been Chad Langlais and Jon Merrill, and while both have been good neither is a physical presence like a Mitera or Komisarek. Pateryn might be, but those guys were first round picks and he was a 5th or 6th who's still developing.
This is a frustrating team. They'll play two games that are exactly the same over the course of the weekend. They will lose one. They will win one. Most of the time the outcome of either game seems heavily dependent on luck. See last weekend against Ohio State or the Notre Dame split. Last weekend Michigan dominated a bad team territorially and in shots and got a split because they hardly had any scoring chances and Hunwick let in a soft goal. Against Notre Dame they played a fairly even game but eventually ended up on the short end in shots and chances. They won on Saturday because three pucks wandered into the net of their own volition and Chad Langlais was the only person on the ice who realized Chad Langlais had the puck.
Unlike last year's team, they're not undisciplined enough or poor enough in goal to lose many games against the dregs of the CCHA. The Ohio State loss was the first one that could truly be considered bad; all games against the bottom rungs of the league have alternated periods of Michigan dominance with (long, so very long) periods of aimless whatever in which neither team really does anything. That adds up to a 5-1 record against teams that aren't legitimately good, and that coupled with Michigan's ability to tread water against the elite should see them finish second or third in the league—it appears Miami is again the class of the league and should prove that over the course of the year—and get a two or three seed in the tournament, where they'll have to get lucky to advance.
It's not all bad, but it's not what the thrilling run at the end of last year promised. I guess that was too good to last—you can only live on adrenaline so long before it loses its effect.
*(The first one, not the one with under ten seconds.)