I did not make this headline up
10/2/2010 – Michigan 42, Indiana 35 – 5-0, 1-0
When you want to watch ESPNU in Sedona, Arizona, you go to this place called "Sticks and Steaks." To get there you drive past a massive tourist art complex with a faux-native name, a sign exhorting you take advantage of Angel Lightfoot's magic healing crystal expertise, and an enormous, profligate fountain in the middle of the damn desert. Whatever Sedona's purpose was when someone said "screw it" and set up camp in 1902 is gone, replaced by a talent for taking money that was jammed into old ladies' bank accounts and circulating it through the economy again.
Inside this place you'll find TVs, horse betting, and a motley collection of people who would rather be home for three and a half hours on Saturday. In front of me there were a couple peeved Texas fans watching their team get punked by Oklahoma. Behind me there was a Wisconsin guy who asked if I was wearing my lucky Michigan tie. (I wasn't: I'd neglected to bring one and had to drive back to the next town over and stop at their outlet strip mall to get one.) A couple of old women who didn't care about football ate there; as they left one of them said they'd gone to Indiana and was surprised the game was even that close.
I think it was an attempt to comfort me, as I'd spent the hour they were there pulling my hair back over my skull and swearing under my breath. Sometimes not so under my breath, too. I said something about how IU's quarterback was outlandishly good and hoped it was true.
I do not have to tell you this but I will anyway: that game was bizarre.
In the aftermath it stands as a tribute to how useless time of possession is. Michigan's put-upon defense actually got better in the second half of their 98-play version of Ishtar, and it turns out that a touchdown scored in three plays is worth just as much as a touchdown scored in 14. We have sufficient evidence now to declare this finding statistically significant. So that's nice.
In progress it felt like dying from a thousand paper cuts only to be brought back with the crashing thunder of paddles, conscious and fully aware you were about to do it all over again. The opponent holding the ball for 42 minutes might not mean much statistically, but it does make most of the game an agonizing slog.
As a result, records were set across the Michigan fanbase for "most muted response to a 70-yard touchdown." Such a thing wouldn't have been possible even four years ago. I remember thinking to myself "that's 25% of the points we need to win" after the first drive of the '06 Ohio State game, and I was delighted through a whole commercial break. I grew up with angry cold Midwestern football where touchdowns were hard-earned things only somewhat less rare than goals in soccer. Each one was a major step towards your goal, and punting a guy down inside their ten was tantamount to getting the ball back on the fifty.
Now a touchdown is just holding serve. When Denard fumbled the snap on the one I thought "this is going to be a 99-yard touchdown drive," and then it was a 99-yard touchdown drive. It's disorienting, and as Indiana is driving down the field again you can't even figure out who to scream at because no one's in the same zip code as the receiver, and you hate everything about everything because this is MICHIGAN we don't do things like this.
On the other hand, "this is MICHIGAN" also applies to an offense that could end up loaded with NFL talent and still come nowhere near this one. Michigan still has Denard and its blitzkrieg of an offensive line and a bunch of wide-receivers who draw straws to determine who gets this week's monster day. One day when the defense is capable of covering guys here and there, Michigan will club people. At the moment it's about having the ball last.
I got somewhat demonstrative during all of this, which is why the Wisconsin guy asked me about my tie and the Indiana woman offered a ham-fisted attempt at comfort. People found me entertaining as I alternated between brief flashes of happiness and long stretches of sports Tourette's, I guess. I probably would have too.
As I was leaving this other guy who I hadn't even noticed added his bit, jovially saying "Hey, you survived." I had. They had, unlike Texas or Wisconsin or Indiana. The Texas folk hadn't even made it past halftime. The fiancée, still able to engage in small talk beyond grunts and squeaks, asked who he was rooting for. He said "USC, but they don't play yet." When they did, they lost to Washington for the second straight year. There are worse things than getting bombed for 480 yards by Ben Chappell even if it doesn't feel like it at the time.
Stop it. I've defended the three man rush but good lord you have got to be kidding me. I defended the 3-3-5 but that's when I thought it would be used to create a wide variety of four-and-five man fronts with unpredictable blitzing. Michigan probably rushed more than three guys 10% of the time in the second half, and when they did that it was four. I can't support having Craig Roh and using him in zone coverage on every snap.
What's worse was the inane substitution pattern. Every Indiana run in the second half was a wasted down, and probably would have been a wasted down even if you replaced Banks with Roh and brought in a cornerback. One of this defense's few assets is the pass rushing ability of the outside linebackers, but Michigan is going out of its way to avoid using it.
Stop it, but the clock. I would have thrown a shoe at the TV if Michigan had botched time management at the end of the half like Indiana did. How do you get inside the 20 on that drive with a minute or so on the clock and end up with four seconds on third and goal? Indiana let the clock run from 13 seconds to 9 after a first and goal play before calling timeout, which meant they'd just blown an opportunity to run a fourth down. They got the TD anyway, but that was a sequence worthy of Les Miles.
Speaking of decisions like going for it on third there…
How Denard Robinson is like multi-way callers in a limit hold-em game. There is a phenomenon in limit hold-em called "schooling" where a bunch of weak players who call a lot of hands they should ditch accidentally make their play close to right, frustrating more experienced players with a strong hand they'd like to get heads up with.
I think about this every time an opposing coach defies his inner Lovie Smith and goes for it on a fourth-and-Romer down against Michigan or eschews a half-ending field goal attempt in an effort to score the seven it's obvious they'll need to keep up with Denard. Michigan has now faced 15 fourth down attempts on the season, which is double the next-highest total in the Big Ten and triple the average*. They've converted nine of these, turning a bunch of drives that would have been punts or field goal attempts against a less terrifying offense into touchdowns.
The difference is that the coaches' decisions are statistically correct, not just less wrong. Which is not so good for Michigan. Bill Lynch did manage to punt from the Michigan 42 on fourth and short, which just goes to show that it is the nature of all coaches to play it safe. I'm hoping as we get into the stodgy section of the schedule we'll see more insane decisions to punt when Michigan scrapes together a stop. Someone can tell Mark Dantonio and Kirk Ferentz and Joe Paterno that they should go for it, but what are the chances they listen? Maybe 40%?
*(FWIW, I disagree with the author's assertion that the reason Michigan's opponents are exceeding their yardage season averages when they play M is because Michigan is the "red-letter" game on the schedule. It's just because Michigan's defense sucks.)
Same thing on our side of the ball. Michigan should have gone for it on fourth and one in the second half; instead they sent Forcier out to pooch it. I'm fine with the pooch punting in general, as it's impossible to return or even catch one. Michigan netted 39 yards on Forcier's attempt, which would be good for 23rd nationally as a season-long average.
But punting in that situation? No thanks. When your offense is tearing through the opposition like M's offense was that Mathlete chart about correct decisions swings way towards going for it there.
Part of the problem may be the apparent lack of faith in Michigan's bigger backs. Cox didn't appear at all and Hopkins was just used as a blocker; when Vincent Smith is your best TB option (blocking or running) short yardage is less of a certainty. I'm still not a fan of Smith this year despite the long run against IU. He didn't have to do anything except run through a gaping void and run through an attempt to tackle him from behind. He's reliable, but having him at tailback is like having Greg Mathews on punt returns.
It could not be clearer that Michigan doesn't need much time to score.
But what the Wolverines do need is the ability to keep their defense off the field. This defense is young, and it's still learning, and without the Michigan offense, its flaws would be that much more evident.
The Daily's Joe Stapleton also offered something along those lines.
Anyone who's read this blog for longer than a couple weeks knows the general outline of what's to come but whatever here goes: a touchdown is worth seven points no matter how long it takes to score, and having an offense that rips down the field in three or four plays against Indiana is not a bad thing. Against better defenses those opportunities will be much rarer. And what is Denard supposed to do, anyway? Kneel down at the 20?
It's the defense's job to get off the field. The offense is a thing to score points with. Was it good that Roy Roundtree got caught at the three? Not so much. If Michigan wants to bring TOP closer to even they'll have to get much better or blitz like madmen, but since that's a stupid goal to have they should only do the latter if it also makes it more likely they'll get stops.
Slight mitigation. One effect of Michigan's rapid-fire touchdown drives was to inflate Indiana's opportunities. Both teams had twelve bonafide drives in the game. That's 50% more than the opener against UConn; Michigan would have expected to give up 23 points if they'd faced eight IU drives. Which is still terrible, but maybe slightly less so than it seemed.
I was in transit yesterday so no VOAV; apologies. Here's the Michigan defense highlight reel:
Something slightly longer from WH:
In non-video items: a serendipitous sideline photo gallery. Michigan's ridiculous "on pace for" numbers. Mike DeSimone has resumed his incredibly useful photo collecting. Wow, Les Miles. Wow Denard from the Indy Star:
There are certain moments that reveal a potential Heisman Trophy winner's essence, and that came on that final five-play, 73-yard game-winning drive that sealed the 42-35 victory.
"Shoelace'' has got my Heisman vote, and it would take an act of God to make me change my mind.
ESPN's Heisman watch says it's "Robinson and everyone else":
Now it's just getting ridiculous. I mean, at some point shouldn't we stop being amazed? We've seen it for five weeks now. Shouldn't we be used to it? I'm talking, of course, about Michigan QB Denard Robinson, and the answer is no. We haven't seen this type of college football playmaker since … Barry Sanders?
Postgame GERG-RR stills from MVictors are… not so happy. Ace asks if we're jaded already. I'll talk about this more in a bit but despite the stuff about the three-man rush above, complaints like those of BWS…
The real story is that Greg Robinson's defensive schemes do not work. No longer is this a question of defensive talent or improper personnel. No, sadly, this is far more systematic: Greg Robinson's schemes Do Not Work.
I've been advocating a man coverage package for the last three weeks. Robinson has shown it sparingly. Not that I'm more qualified to run this defense, but Robinson's inability--or maybe stubbornness--to show new looks is far and away the most disappointing aspect of this season. Play after play (and now game after game), teams are running quick slants and seven-yard hitch routes and absolutely shredding Michigan's defense. And it's not that the defense looks athletically overmatched. They look unprepared and poorly coached.
…are kind of ridiculous. James Rogers cannot change direction. Jordan Kovacs cannot cover people man to man. There are massive personnel deficiencies that need covering up.
Rolling into the sixth week already Michigan's recruiting has started to pick up steam. This week's and next week's games will both be big for visitors. We could (should?) see a few commitments along the way. Here's an update on a few prospects with a look at the visitors this weekend scheduled so far.
6'5", 320 lbs.
Ray has been on Michigan's radar for awhile now, and it had seemed as though Wisconsin was the school to beat. Michigan is still looking to add a few offensive linemen to this class and Ball is one of those targets.
I would say that Michigan and Wisconsin are tied at the top right now. Once I go up to both schools I will know who is where on my leader board. I'm visiting Wisconsin on October 16th, and I haven't set it up yet but I think the Illinois game will be the best for my official to Michigan.
Ray said that his decision will come down to who has more to offer and who comes out with a bang on his visit. Wisconsin's visit could vault them ahead of Michigan, but if he takes his visit to Wisconsin and doesn't commit then M should have a good shot. Ball may be competing with Chris Bryant for the final offensive line slot in the class.
6'4", 215 lbs.
Michigan is also looking for a few linebackers in this class, and Sean Duggan is a target. Duggan has somewhat pushed his recruitment to the back burner to focus on school and his team. He has started to set up his official visits though.
I'm going to Boston College on the weekend of the Clemson game, and Michigan either the first or second week of December. Depending on if I'm still playing or not, I'll go up to Duke and Virginia after my season.
Wisconsin was removed from his final list because they're full at his position. So Michigan is in the top four and will get a visit. I think they have some ground to make up on Boston College but it definitely helps that Wisconsin is no longer in the picture. You can tell by Duggan's list that he's a serious about academics.
5'8", 190 lbs.
Demetrius is making his final decision on Friday of this week. He'll be notifying the coaches of each school if he'll be playing for them next season. This is hard for me because I can't really share a lot of info this close to a decision.
I know that's not what any of you want to hear, but I don't want to ruin anything for Demetrius. I've been saying this for awhile now, and it's not speculation, Auburn is not as big of a threat as people are saying. I have a call scheduled with the family today, so I'll share what they allow me to, but don't expect a lot before the decision. I don't really like giving hints about where he's going, but I will let you know of any negatives to watch out for.
I will create a separate list in the diaries for this, but here are the visitors (that I have confirmed so far) coming in for the game this weekend. You'll notice that Kris Frost is not on this list. He's not sure if he's going to make it or not. He wants his parents there, and they're not sure if they can make the trip.:
- Devondrick Nealy (5'10", 175 lbs., Running Back/Slot) Jefferson County/Florida - Nealy said when he received his Michigan offer that it was "One of the biggest scholarships yet," and that he was very excited. Michigan is recruiting him more for a slot receiver and he has a top four of Arkansas, Auburn, Michigan, and Minnesota (yeah, Minnesota). He doesn't plan on making his decision until the end of the year.
- Marquise Williams (6'3", 218 lbs, Quarterback) Mallard Creek/North Carolina - Williams is a North Carolina commit and friend of Michigan target Kris Frost. I spoke with Williams about the NCAA allegations and how it effects North Carolina and he didn't seem too thrilled about what was happening. This is an odd situation because Michigan currently has QB Kevin Sousa committed.
- Kellen Jones - Michigan commit.
- Jack Miller - Michigan commit.
- Jake Fisher - Michigan commit.
- Kishon Wilcher - Cass Tech athlete and son of Cass Tech head coach Thomas Wilcher. He does not have an offer from Michigan, and thinks they want him to walk on. He's not sure if he would be willing to do that because he doesn't want his parents to have to pay for college. He does have a Toledo offer.
- Royce Jenkins-Stone - 2012 Cass Tech linebacker.
- Terry Richardson - 2012 Cass Tech DB.
- Brian Blackburn - 2012 Crockett quarterback.
I moved to a full resume ballot this week, so some of the deltas may seem a little bit off. The full chart of resumes can be found here, listed from most to least impressive victories.
There are a few things I'm not certain of (there is a case to be made for Michigan State above Florida, for example, and as usual, there could be a number of other teams at the end of the poll).
I'm open for suggestions, corrections, etc., so comment and I'll try to respond and/or include your contributions.
Hello, I'm Misopogon. You may remember me from such entries as "The Decimated Defense," "Tate's a Quarterback, Yo!," and "Can I Get a Hero Up in Here?" It is my intention, Diary, to each week give you the latest and greatest in user-generated content from MGoBlog's Diaries section.
Tim used to do this feature, but with his permission, and because I'm the guy editing them anyway, I am taking over. This will again be a regular feature, probably on the weekends. They will also be shorter – this one's an extended edition to fill in everything that's happened since the last Dear Diary.
So - ahem - Dear Diary,
Sorry I Haven't Written Since July.
Allow me to catch you up on all of the history that's happened in the interim:
Back in late July, mankind was entering the 2010 season with a sense of wonder as his technology went from the Stone Age (when man could only throw rock), to the Bronze Age, then the Iron Age, The Steel Age, and finally that fateful day that MCalibur announced we had entered a true Dilithium Age.
In these kind days, the world was writ in poetry, and Rich Rod was building a new civilization (Blazefire). But whenever we seemed about to return from our long Odyssey (Mustaches4Michigan), some Angry Michigan [Position]-Hating deity or another would strike man down again (via – who else? - Shredder):
Aye, Rome fell, but thanks to MGauxBleu, it will not be forgotten.
(way more after the jump)
|WHAT||Michigan at Indiana|
|WHERE||Memorial Stadium, Bloomington, IN|
|WHEN||3:30 Eastern, October 2nd 2010|
|THE LINE||Michigan –10.5|
high 60s, partly cloudy
0% chance of rain
It's tough to get a read on IU because their first three opponents are somewhere between horrible and horrible:
- Towson is a 1-3 I-AA team with a single 5OT win over Coastal Carolina. They just lost to an Ivy League team by two touchdowns.
- Western Kentucky is 0-16 in its second year in I-A and lost 63-28 to Kentucky.
- Akron is 0-4 after losing to 2-2 I-AA school Gardner-Webb and 47-10 to Kentucky.
I watched a torrent of the WKU game to get educated. Their opponents are not only winless against I-A competition, they're 1-3 against I-AA. The bye week may have been their toughest test. All stats except crappy ones should be taken with a grain of salt. Speaking of crappy stats…
Run Offense vs Indiana
(truth and justice @ right via MZone.)
Despite the competition level, Indiana is 92nd in rushing defense. This is suck on a truly epic level:
Akron managed 55 yards against Syracuse, Towson 87 against Columbia. Sacks make that better but I can't be bothered to figure out exactly how much given the incredible weakness of IU opponents and IU's incredible weakness against them. Once the crappiness reaches a second derivative I'm done parsing sacks.
The upshot: Indiana could be on track for a historically bad run defense. They are giving up 5.2 YPC according to the sacks-included NCAA numbers—106th nationally—against those guys. It's so bad that the local beat writer offers up a… C-:
RUSH DEFENSE: After watching the Towson quarterback run wild, then a good back from Western Kentucky have a good first quarter against the Hoosiers, and then Akron gain 160 yards rushing, there’s only one question that keeps coming to my mind: How is the team going to stop Michigan or Ohio State or Wisconsin or (fill in your Big Ten team here). Missing Tyler Replogle had to hurt Saturday but this is a unit that needs to improve in a hurry. I think the Hoosiers have some good players up front but someone needs to start tackling better. GRADE: C-
What would Indiana have to do to get an F from Terry Hutchens? By the looks of it, picking tailbacks up on a palanquin and escorting them into the endzone would warrant a D, maybe a D+ if they looked unhappy about it.
Michigan will shred them mercilessly. After 466 yards against Bowling Green at 8.3 YPC Michigan is now second nationally in rushing offense behind only Air Force. They are second to Nebraska in YPC. There is zero chance Indiana can even slow down Michigan's ground game unless penalties intervene; a day much like that Michigan had against BGSU, where passing was an optional sidelight and it took a turnover or a comedy of errors to prevent a touchdown drive, beckons.
The only things that can stop the donkeytrain are crappy execution by Michigan and the return of linebacker Tyler Replogle, one of Indiana's best defensive players, from injury. The former is always a possibility since football is weird; the latter will help IU but probably not enough. When this is the best Indiana folk can muster…
Also, I would note that Robinson has thrown 80 passes and has run the ball 79 times this season, and so far he’s thrown one interception and has not lost a fumble. Of course, that means he’s really good, but even for a really good player, those numbers are unsustainable. Perhaps his luck will take a turn for the worse against IU. I realize that hope is not a strategy, but given Robinson’s ability and IU’s defense, it’s all I’ve got.
…a firebombing is on the horizon. The Mathlete says so, too.
It is worth noting that both Fitzgerald Toussaint and Michael Shaw are doubtful for Saturday. Toussaint has not been a factor so far and his absence won't have much impact, but Shaw has been the better half of Michigan's two-headed tailback and losing him forces Michigan to rely on a seemingly damaged Vincent Smith or a couple guys who haven't seen much playing time yet.
I have an unconfirmed report that Mike Cox is going to start Saturday, though in this offense that just means he'll get half the carries for the tailbacks and a quarter of the overall carries. He has flashed an impressive size-speed combo and great balance in limited time, but he also completely biffed an assignment when he ran out to block when he was supposed to take a handoff off tackle (note: the UFR mistakenly attributed this to Shaw), which completely lives up to his scouting report.
Key matchup: Tailbacks versus ball security. Ball not on turf == touchdown. Shaw out == increased possibility of ball on turf.
Pass Offense vs Indiana
So the good news is that the Hoosiers are 20th in pass defense and 43rd in efficiency. Woo! However, they did this against teams ranked 114th, 95th, and 56th in I-AA in passing efficiency. Michigan is 11th in that category. Given the horror show their run defense is, Michigan is all but guaranteed to have the luxury of passing when it wants and sucking linebackers out of position when they duly freak out about Denard or whoever else is gashing them. Michigan will pass to keep 'em honest and to stick the dagger in.
Indiana returns one starter from last year's secondary in corner Donnell Jones. Mitchell Evans, who you may remember as a receiver and part-time wildcat QB from a year ago, is the starting strong safety—he's a position switch starter, and a desperate one. On the line they lost their excellent defensive ends and replace them with short (like six-foot short) guys who haven't done much in their careers to date. Their defensive tackles are happy just to stay in the vicinity of the line of scrimmage. They're playing Denard Robinson, who will murderize you if you get out of a rush lane. He'll have as much time as he wants to throw.
This section is short. We have little information on Indiana since the QBs they've gone against have been horrible and Michigan is going to run lots and lots. But the stats here are deceiving, as Michigan's highly efficient passing attack goes against a team that's way worse on paper than their stats to date suggest. They haven't been tested by anything approximating Denard and the Michigan receivers are likely to steadily bleed yardage with one to three explosive plays mixed in when play action burns them.
Key matchup: Denard versus Tendency to Chuck Seams on a Line. Here, too, it will be a matter of executing cleanly and taking the many opportunities the Indiana defense offers.
Run Defense vs Indiana
This looks like it sucks when it comes to raw yardage, too, but part of that is atrophy. While IU is 96th in overall yardage, here they're 72nd—almost average—in YPC. That's still completely horrible given their schedule, which features the 86th, 92nd, 102nd (in I-AA) best rushing defenses in the country despite playing run-averse Indiana.
I took in the Western Kentucky game and while the Hoosier pass offense was genuinely impressive, that's another section. The run game was not so good. Some of WKU's defensive tackles were tiny, yo, and Indiana's OL still had trouble moving them. IU ended up with 108 yards on 30 carries, with most of those coming on jet sweeps or outside runs on which WKU inexplicably passed on even the vague idea of containment. Primary tailback Darius Willis, who you may remember from last year's emasculating faster-than-our-secondary 85-yarder, managed 30 yards on 13 carries. He's done better in the other two games, probably thanks in no part to the offensive line. The team hasn't really: IU had 102 yards on 25 carries, sacks and kneeldowns excluded, against an Akron team that was gashed for 290 by Kentucky and 202 by Syracuse.
The Mathlete calls this a "pillow fight" and that's fair after Michigan was gashed for almost 100 yards by two separate UMass tailbacks, but I expect this area to be closer to the Bowling Green outcome than that since Jonas Mouton's played well in three of four games, Obi Ezeh has done decently in two and much better than he did against UMass in all, and frankly I'm willing to bet that a transfer-enriched UMass backfield and line is at least Indiana's equivalent. Willis should average about 3 YPC except on the one run that someone busts an assignment on; hopefully that goes for 20 yards instead of 85.
Key matchup: Michigan's heavy package versus short yardage. I'm not sure a third and two is a running down for Indiana after what's gone down so far this season, but they'll probably regard it as one. Each third and short is an opportunity to boot IU off the field and let the offense hold serve.
Pass Defense vs Indiana
This is where it breaks down for Michigan. Western Kentucky busted coverages periodically and never really challenged Indiana receivers even when they had the right assignments, and Chappell had all day to throw. But caveats aside, Chappell was 32 of 42 for 366 yards and three touchdowns and a large number of these passes were accurate downfield zingers. Even if WKU made it easy, Indiana can really execute their passing game and they have far more talent than UMass and their QB's 22 of 29 day did. I love Michigan's receivers and I'd think about trading for Indiana's straight up. Seriously. I wouldn't do it because of the insane rootability factor Roundtree, Stonum, and Odoms have, but I'd think about it. And Michigan has trouble against teams that can execute and stuff.
The one uncertainty in an Indiana offense that returns a bunch of starters is the offensive line, which is down a second-round pick and could not get any push at all in their first three games. They've kept Chappell clean so far, but they'll be facing an enormous step up in quality when facing Mike Martin, Craig Roh, and Jonas Mouton. Michigan hasn't put up many sacks thanks to an awful lot of three man rushes and some missed opportunities; they're kind of better than Akron's dudes, I'm guessing.
A positive for the Michigan defense: Chappell does not roll out much, something that's been a struggle for M. He was lethal when provided time to throw (which was almost always) against WKU; Michigan needs to get him rolling and uncomfortable. I expect them to alternate between three- and six-man pressures like they have most of the year, with a focus on getting IU into any third down possible and banking on their erratic run game to see the punter (or field goal kicker hit the field). Second and ten is a guaranteed eight-man zone.
One thing to watch for here is how often Michigan goes to the nickel and dime packages it deployed on passing downs last week. The bet here is we see Courtney Avery as much or more than the Thomas Gordon/Carvin Johnson spur combo, which has been solid against the run but indifferent in coverage. Terrence Talbott will appear on third and long, as well, and Michigan will test those tackles with the "rush" line.
Key matchup: Eight man zone drops versus big chunk plays. Michigan's gameplan to date has featured a ton of three-man rushes paired with eight man zones, so they'll probably do it again this weekend. The key there is to get to the QB with some regularity and cover the deep seams and corners, forcing checkdowns and putting IU in a lot of third downs that they aren't particularly likely to convert on the ground.
This is slightly less guh than last week, though not because of anything the kickers did. When not watching they were kicking extra points and leaving kickoffs as short as they usually do; Will Hagerup didn't get to punt even once.
The improvement came in the punt return game, where a new formation featuring three returners spread across the field saw Michigan field all but one punt and get decent returns on three or four. If Indiana uses a spread package (and Blue Seoul says they do) Michigan will keep that going, which has the potential to improve Michigan's average net by ten or more yards.
Hagerup should pull out of his Frankly Mr. Shankly phase sooner or later, hopefully sooner. His net on punts that he actually gets off isn't as bad as it seems without looking. If Michigan loses yards versus Indiana in the punt game it won't be many unless Hagerup drops another one. That's unlikely.
Indiana, on the other hand, has strong return units. They're second nationally on kick returns, something that combines with Michigan's tendency to drop line drives at the ten in a nasty way. A mitigating factor: if you think the guys on Towson, WKU, and Akron's offense and defense are not I-A caliber athletes, the special teams are another level of wobbly weeble. IU's kicker was iffy last year, going 14/25. He missed the first couple games, allowing a freshman to take over and hit two of three.
With offenses going up and down the field the most important bits here should be kickoff returns and field goal kickers; both are advantage IU.
Key Matchup: STOP KICKING THE DAMN BALL
This one's on the verge of no cat because it's a double digit spread, but when you've got this picture…
…and these offenses are going up against these defenses we'll bend the rules.
- A confused Michael Cox runs the wrong way and fumbles explosively.
- The field goal kicker makes multiple appearances.
- Denard ends up in another crumbled heap, temporary or not.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Michigan's three-man rush is tearing through the Indiana line.
- Indiana's run defense turns out to really be that inept, which it probably will.
- A Michigan safety manages to not lose a fumble on his interception.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 2 (Baseline 5; –1 for Denard!, –1 for Indiana's Run Defense!, –1 for The Combination Of The Two!, +3 for Chappell!, Michigan D!, Combination All Reverse Like!, –1 for Michigan Is Not The Lollipop Guild Of IU's Schedule To Date, –1 for I'm Giving Denard Another One, If You Don't Like It Try To Stop It Oh That's Right You Can't, –1 for Michigan's Passing Offense Is The Hidden Extra Mismatch.)
Desperate need to win level: 10 (Baseline 5; +1 for This Is The Last Really Long Winning Streak To Our Name, +1 for If We're Not Thumperating A Team With This Run Defense The Boding Is Not So Good, +1 Rabble Rabble Just Like Last Year Rabble, +1 for It's Indiana, +1 for Constant Rodriguez Job Rescue Program)
Loss will cause me to... make more use of an open bar at a wedding than anyone short of Andre The Giant ever has.
Win will cause me to... make moderate use of open bar at wedding.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
Chappell was good against Michigan last year, returns all his receivers, and has complete control of the offense. Indiana did lose their NFL-worthy left tackle but returns most of an offensive line that was good in pass protection last year. They're going to move the ball. However, their run game has been poor against a ridiculously soft schedule and when it comes down to the redzone IU is going to have to make some tight throws or hope to catch Michigan off guard—that offensive line couldn't crease Western Kentucky, they're not doing much with Martin and Van Bergen unless they're caught pass-rushing. This points to a lot of frustrating drives, a lot of red zone opportunities, some touchdowns, and a number of field goal attempts. Holding them under thirty would be good, and should be possible if Michigan successfully bends down the field.
On the other side of the ball… come on. Indiana lost every talented player not named Replogle from last year's already-terrible defense and is near triple digits in run defense despite playing what might literally be the worst possible schedule available. No one on this defense is ready for Denard and Michigan's ass-kicking offensive line. The difference in skill and speed from Akron to Michigan will leave Indiana in a state of shock for most of the first half. A Michigan drive that doesn't end in the endzone is 80% likely to come up short because of failed execution by M and penalties, and it's a lot harder to fail to execute on the ground than in the air.
Red zone efficiency will be the difference, and Michigan leads the nation in that category against a much tougher schedule than #48 Indiana. Michigan can stiffen inside the 20; Indiana can only watch Michigan grind it into the endzone. If Michigan loses they will have suffered a torrent of penalties and a turnover margin of at least –2.
Finally, five opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Denard goes over 200 yards rushing again.
- Mike Cox gets more carries than any other tailback; RAGING COX threatens to overwhelm all memes ever for juvenility.
- Hagerup punts twice.
- Michigan is again positive in turnover margin.
- Michigan, 44-27.