in town for free camps
I used to be mad at my school. The defensive play was not cool. But I can't complain.
Sports fans and pundits often make the mistake of treating the last contest as too exemplary of the current state of things. Michigan's offense isn't so good to typically put up 500 yards on an okay Big Ten defense by halftime. Maybe its defensive mean isn't giving up 65 points after three overtimes. We probably won't give up five turnovers, or leave receivers on our 1 yard line with acreage of openness like -- what was it, two, three times? -- in every game.
But I will say that yesterday's 67-65 triple-overtime victory over Illinois is Michigan 2010 in extremis: the defense isn't going to stop anybody; kickers will miss; and with Tate or Denard, our offense won't stop unless it stops itself.
Sgt. Barwis's Lonely Harts* Club Band
White Boy, if you're out there, GET HER BACK TO WORK! You're our only hope.
4th quarter, man! Remember when not too long ago we were rooting for a team that routinely struggled to hold a two-score lead in the 4th quarter**? If it's possible to overstate the transition from Massey-Eat-Pizza to Eeeeee Barwis!, surely this blog will get there without me, but how happy were you, when the rounds of this game starting piling up like a Rocky Balboa fight, that we were the guys with the wolf-man's conditioning program?
This is a Rich Rodriguez team: more deserving of admiration than awe. It's both by design, and a design flaw, because Justin Turner giving 80 percent is probably better than Ray Vinopal's 110% effort, and the going theory is that we don't have Turner because 80 percent of anything doesn't get to play for Michigan these days. It's inspirational, and maddening, and really young, and it apparently can beat an average Big Ten team 67-65 in triple overtime.
I don't need a reason to root for Michigan, but I like to have one. I rooted for Lloyd because a man who could coach football and speak intelligently about Emerson was unique and good. Rich Rodriguez's team earned their playing time not just be being better than the other guys, but trying better. They are the ones who went through Barwis hell. They are the ones who stayed.
* Cause they've all got HART, get it?
** and when 7-5 was a "Year of Infinite Pain?"
Beating Illinois 67-65 isn't an end, unless it is made so. We have a sophomore offense and a freshman defense, and regardless of what traspired yesterday or in the next month, we have very good reason to think we'll be better. Let me show why...
Do You Need Anybody?
This comes from a conversation this week in response to an excellent diary by I Blue Myself about the huge leap Michigan is expected to take next year, simply by returning most of what's already a very good offense, and the defensive starters being more than a few months from senior prom.
Allow myself to quote... myself:
Would you trade Schilling, Webb, Dorrestein, Mouton, Banks, and the backup NTs and MLBs for another year of experience for Denard/Tate, the entire RB corps., Koger, the entire receiving corps., the other three offensive linemen plus all of their young backups? Maybe.
Would you trade them for that plus a magic wand that gets Jibreel Black and Craig Roh 40 lbs. heavier, puts another year under (and within) the belts of the young and hyped linebackers, transforms freshman DBs into sophomore corners, and transforms James Rogers into Troy Woolfolk. Um, yes please.
This got me thinking about when the last time we expected such a leap. I know this place likes charts, so I made a big one (er...three) for other recent annual transitions. What it does is try to put a value of performance that Michigan attained from each position in the years 2006 to '10, and project that of next year.
The positions are weighted, so like out of 56 "points" of performance that the offense can attain, 8 are attributable by the quarterback, 6 by the running backs, 5 each for linemen, etc. A 100-percent score for any given position is what you would expect from a well-scouted 4-star upperclassman. Ryan Van Bergen is a 100-percent positional fulfillment. The thinking goes that a team getting RVB production at every spot is the kind that can beat any team in the country.
For guys like Brandon Graham '09, there's an extra point awarded beyond the positional weight. A team full of these guys would not only be able to beat any team, but would be favored to do so. But that's not our expectation, and I'm trying to create an expecation percentage. Think of it as the chance that a given team will be an average (Illinois) Big Ten team.
The full spreadsheets are here (same link) so you can see how I rated everybody. Tabs at the bottom get you to different pages. Feel free to argue my numbers. Below are the conclusions:
The returning numbers are the weighted percentage of returning starters by position, so if a quarterback's coming back, that's 14% of the offense returning, whereas a returning fullback is 1.7% of an offense returning.
So if nobody gets hurt or transfers or makes a major regression, etc., we can look at the 2011 team and say they will about as good as the last Lloyd team. The point is that we're set up next year for a huge year-to-year progression:
|'06 to'07||'07 to '08||'08 to '09||'09 to '10||'10 to '11|
And Rocking Horse People Eat Marshmallow Pies
Am I fooling myself? I'm certainly worried about it. After all, this was said by Brian:
So… yeah. Michigan's defense improves in real, non-running-in-place terms. Maybe not much. But given the schedule they should claw their way to slightly above average, just like the offense.
...in the 2009 defensive preview. That preview projected improvements in BG, Ezeh, Mouton, Steve Brown replacing Thompson, Warren getting healthy, and Woolfolk taking over FS. It expected Mike Martin as a sophomore to be about as good as Taylor as a senior, Cissoko as a sophomore to be equivalent to Morgan Trent as a sophomore, Mike Williams to be on par with Charles Stewart, and then dropoffs from Will Johnson to RVB and Tim Jamison to Herron. How did that work out?
Better than expected: RVB being okay, and Roh being a better Jamison than Herron.
About as expected: Graham Beast Mode, Brown being good at linebacker, Woolfolk at FS when he could be a free safety, Martin.
Worse than expected: Ezeh>Ezeh, Mouton>Mouton, Warren>Warren, Cissoko=Trent, M.Williams=Stewart
Nothing in that preview mentioned a walk-on playing safety, Mike Williams being worse than said walk-on, J.T. Floyd as the best cornerback option opposite Warren, or the nuclear test site that was free safety.
I ran this again, using expectations as of the previous November, to see if this overrating of the future was endemic.
It is, especially the last couple of years. This is the result of all of the attrition and busts and whatnot. Each of these years we've been expecting Mouton and Ezeh to turn their respective lights on. We figured Martin would remain healthy. We figured the backfield this year would have a senior 2nd team Big Ten candidate (Woolfolk) opposite a sophomore blue chip (Turner) at corner, a 4-star sophomore (Emilien) or maybe a 5-star freshman at deep safety, and for Kovacs to be the worst, rather than the best, player in the backfield. Voila: minus-22.
Considering this exercise, I am starting to think the problem is not in our expectations for the future, but in a serious problem, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, to meet generally conservative expectations for improvement. Injuries to the defense's best two players can't be helped. Obi and Mouton should have some noticeable improvement. Your 4- and 5-star defensive backs (Cissoko, Emilien, Turner, Dorsey) should, as of mid-way through their sophomore years, be...I dunno...if not on the field, at least on the friggin' roster.
has destroyed so much goodness in the world that it would take a herculean effort by incredibly talented, system-perfect, quickly trained and generally healthy offensive players coached by a football genius to make up for it. (more about that in a minute).
The point of this is to see whether we should expect such disappointments again next year, and adjust accordingly. Here's the things that I am expecting to go right:
- Mike Martin returns, is healthy and an NFL-ready beast (+3)
- Jibreel Black makes a sophomore jump (+1)
- Roh makes a Junior jump, and is used at DE instead of LB (+2)
- Two of Jones/M-Rob/Furman/Fitzgerald/Herron are as good as Mouton and Obi have been this year (hold)
- Demens improves as a junior, isn't Ezeh in Sept-Oct (+2)
- Gordons become sophomores (+1)
- Kovacs remains Kovacs-ian (even)
- Woolfolk replaces James Rogers (+4)
- Floyd/random sophomore 3-star project is the soft corner instead of, like, a guy who was a high school QB this time last year (+2)
- Dime and nickel backs are sophomores, exist (+2)
That's 17 improvement points, not including any surprises or freshmen playing. Most are some version of replacing a guy who has played his position for two months going to a guy who has been there a year or more. Injuries will knock that back some since we are thin all over the place. But if I even yank that down to 11, we're talking about the same improvement the offense had between 2008 and 2009.
(flip the disc for Side 2)
Hey, remember when Michigan won games and people put lots of video on the internet? Me neither. But apparently they do. There's an SD torrent up already.
This week's headliner is Roy Roundtree being fantastic, as per usual:
The official site's highlight reel necessarily leaves out almost everything, but if you're looking for a quick primer on about 20% of the scoring here it is:
Wolverine Historian put together an extensive clip package that's after the jump.
Tim caught the on-field celebration:
Tim's photo gallery:
The halftime show was epic (and was recapped by the Hoover Street Rag):
This is an official petition for the band to have their insane wildcat tackle fake Brutus every week. For twenty minutes straight.
More interviews, highlights, and random bits after the jump.
Notes from today's postgame. Pictures, etc. coming tomorrow.
On the play where the ball hit the Illinois defender in the back of the head, it popped in the air, and Junior just stayed with the ball.
Everybody excited and smiling in the locker room. Players, coaches, staff, trainers, everybody was happy.
Sense of history with high score? "We really didn't realize it or pay attention. We were just out there playing." Never been part of a game with that level of excitement.
Couldn't really tell what happened to Denard when he went down. "We've got faith in our quarterbacks. Tate came in, he held his own, kept his poise, and drove us into the endzone."
The offense had tension in OT, knowing they didn't have any choice but to score.
Final 2-pointer: "Went inside, broke back out. Tate had me in sight, he threw the ball, and I just caught it." Juggled it a bit, but caught it. Falling down at the end was relief and happiness.
Bowl eligibility? "We didn't really discuss it because we know we've gotta keep going." Each additional win gets them into a better bowl.
On Rountree's day: "I was like 'damn, Roy can we get some?'" Told him to keep doing his thing. It's a team game, and they weren't concerned about him getting all the balls. The players knew from film study that the safeties and corners were going to play a certain way to leave that route open for the slots, and Roundtree took advantage.
When you woke up this morning what did you think? "I'm hungry." Didn't think he'd have a day like this, even though he's been working hard. When the ball comes his way, he has to make the most of his opportunities.
"[The offense] is wide receiver friendly. You know, we all gotta get open." They'll get the ball if they get open. QBs are making the right reads.
First big play: Denard read the safeties, and left him open. The Illini were scared of the run. "Last year, when I got hawked down, I just thought like man, I got the ball, I gotta score. When I saw it wide open like that, I said 'ain't nobody catching me today.'"
On setting a single-game receiving record: "Wow, that's crazy. Just gotta keep working, man. Today was a great day." Not worried about stats. "If we score, we've gotta score again. That's our motto on the offense."
Really not sure how Illinois was playing their D a lot of the time. His covered man was blitzing a lot, giving him 1-on-1s with the safeties.
Was the Illinois defense talking between plays or getting chippy? "We don't really get to hear what they're talking about." The fast tempo offense means no time to listen to the D.
"We can move on anybody. Any quarterback that gets in, that's how it is in practice. We rotate quarterbacks so we get used to all of them. It really wasn't a big deal. Just, if we play like we play, I don't think nobody can stop us."
Proud of the way the guys played. They showed heart and fight with their backs against the wall. "When your back's against the wall, you can go two ways. You can go forward or slump down. I didn't want anybody to slump down, and I don't think anybody did."
Experienced vet of triple OT games. "That's not easy on the heart." Feels good to be up by 8 at the end, but it's hard to make plays on D the longer the game goes. "I've been in triple overtime before. I think it was in the 40s, it wasn't in the 60s." Knew that the team's conditioning and the student section would make the difference at the end.
"We're still growing offensively. Again, we had five turnovers, which usually would kill us." Illinois does a lot of different things defensively, so the O got some new stuff this week. "Sometimes it was a grind, because we didn't get a lot of big runs." The runs helped set up play-action.
Denard was probably hurt on the helmet-to-helmet hit. "Certainly for his safety, you're not gonna put him out there." He had a smile on his face after, but you're going to be careful with a kid going forward. "We'll see where he's at tomorrow and go from there."
WRs made a lot of big plays.
Courtney Avery - "He battled." 3 true freshmen in the secondary, with a redshirt frosh underneath. "That's why I'm so excited about the future. They're playing, the guys that are injured will be back, we're gonna be a whole lot deeper." Glad to see how the young guys played today.
Bowl eligibility - "We talked about it last night." Every win after that elevates bowl status. "Our guys realize that, partilcularly our seniors." Each win going forward is even more important, but "It's been a month or more since we had that good feeling in the locker room."
GERG and Gibby both told him they were bringing the house on the last play. The pressure left a man open for Scheelhasse, but it got to him before he could make a throw. "On that one we sold out. It was a complete sellout and we're fortunate we got some pressure." The defense making a play "that's a perfect ending, in my opinion." Defense won the game for the team at the end.
"It's been a good week. Mr. Brandon and I both talked about that on the way over here. It's been a good week."
When Hemingway caught the tipped pass, Rich thought "we got our lucky break." When Gallon's big gain near the end of regulation was called back, he knew they'd need to catch a break in order to win.
Nothing particular on film they saw that would lead to Roy being open all day. "Last year he caught a long one and got caught." Didn't get caught on the first one today.
"I'm really proud of the way the players have handled everything." They've been ignoring the outside crap, staying focused. Even when they aren't playing the best, they hang together. "That's one of the main reasons we won today, because we talk about being all-in, and our guys are always all-in."
"We came up with some big stops when we had to." Young guys stepped up.
Knowing they had an all-out blitz on the last play, all he thought was "Let's stop 'em. I'll do my part, and I'll trust my teammates to do their part."
They were put in some tough situations defensively, and responded well. "Overall it was a great game on both sides, and we're just excited for the win."
Proud of bowl eligibiity, they were hungry after the past couple years.
On Vinopal's 3rd-and-1 tackle. "Ray. He played a great game. That was a huge stop for us. I was just proud of the way he payed, and same thing with Courtney and all those other young guys." There's still progression being made on D. "Ray's play. That was probably one of the best plays by a safety all year." Courtney had a similar one on the first half.
Huge win, finally bowl eligbilie, still some corrections to be made, but they're continuing to fight. "As long as we continue to fight, we'll be fine."
"The o-line played outstanding. That's one thing, I don't think they've been getting enough credit this year for the way we've been able to run the ball." Mike was just trying to run behind them and make the right reads.
In a game like this "I'm still feeling those hits, but it was well worth it."
Getting the sixth win under their belt allows them to focus on bigger things. It felt good to be able to sing the victors, and to give the home crowd something to cheer for.
At the end, everybody knew the defense was going to be able to get the final stop that they needed.
A triple overtime game is all about will and determination, and the result today just shows how hard they've been working.
When they were turning the ball over during the game, they knew they just had to count on the defense to make the stops (which they did) and be ready to score the next time out.
The team practiced short-yardage situations hard this week, so it was no surprise the defense was able to get the final stop they needed.
This was his first ever overtime game. "It wears on me. I'm a little tired right now."
"That was the craziest game I've ever witnessed, let alone be a part of it."
Being eligible to play in a bowl game: "Oh man. I'm so happy for myself, just to finally get that opportunity, but I've got two more years to still go to more bowl games. I'm more happy for our seniors, they've been fighting so hard."
On his first fumble: "I actually had a touchdown. That's what actually made me mad." His hands were a little sweaty from his handwarmer, and he lost the handle on the ball. He was able to move on though.
Being hit out of bounds in overtime "That hurt. I think I hurt the guy that I hit more than it hurt me though."
The pace of the game made it seem really frantic, even in the overtimes. "We won. You can't be mad about it." Going back and forth so much in overtime keeps you in a rhythm.
"I heard Roy Roundtree had a record day. That's one of my best friends, so I'm real happy for him." Glad that so many different guys got to score today, as well.
Illinois has a very diverse defense. Iowa and Indiana do fewer things, and focus on doing them well, but Illinois throws a lot more at you.
On Hemingway's off-the-helmet catch: "Junior saved me on that one."
Five turnovers are a sign that the team is young. When they start eliminating those mistakes, they'll be a better team for it.
Mike Barwis and his staff do a great job with conditioning. The team's ability to close out in a long game like this one is a credit to those guys.
At the end, "you're just thinking about getting a job done, and winning a football game."
The defensive performance: "We did a lot of different things today that we just put in this week. So the numbers may say otherwise, but guys came out and fought, and we got a win."
Defensive changes "Everybody seemed to take to it fine. You know, if we were playing what we've been playing I still think guys would have taken to it the same way. The coaches obviously felt like we needed to change some things up and they did it, and we got a win today... Just a few schematical changes and moving a couple guys around to different positions, and we had a chance to put a lot more different players in the game this week. Guys took to it."
On Vinopal and Avery: "They played with a lot of confidence, they know that everybody believes in them, and they made some great plays today."
It's great when the defense gets 3-and-outs, but in the end, the win is the most important part.
"This won't be my first bowl, but it's great for the younger guys to experience that, and for me to be here to experience it with them." Every win now is to get to a better bowl. "I felt for the guys the past couple years that couldn't make it."
On the final 2-point conversion, the defensive linemen did a good job flushing the QB out, and Jonas was just there to clean up at the end.
It's great to have Mike Martin contributing again, but Adam Patterson also does his job when he's in there. "Obviously when Mike came back out there he made some plays and he caused some ruckus."
So. That happened. If you are feeling like David after Dentist, you are not alone.
And you can't have one without the other…
Let's not blow it against Purdue!
As always, the Liveblog Chaos Mitigation Post is your friend.
Just fffuuuu it.
|WHAT||Michigan vs Illinois|
|WHERE||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI|
|WHEN||Noon Eastern, November 6th 2010|
|THE LINE||Michigan –3(?!?!?)|
|TELEVISION||National on ESPN|
Clear, around 40
Run Offense vs Illinois
Illinois appears to have a for-real defense this year after bringing in Vic Koenning, an established collegiate defensive coordinator with a recent history of success at Clemson and Kansas State. The three years before his hire, Koenning's Ds were 9th, 18th, and 39th in total defense, with that last stop a one-off year at Kansas State where he took the Wildcat D up from 117th. Ahem.
Illinois has been shutting down guys on the strength of a good defensive line (one that features MGoSouldongmate Corey Liuget) and the emergence of Martez Wilson (right) into something resembling the uber-hyped recruit he was. Wilson's by far Illinois's leading tackler with 68; he's second to Liuget in TFLs and sacks. Against the Big Ten:
That is pretty impressive, with the MSU game standing out as intimidating. The saving grace for Michigan are the numbers against Purdue and OSU, both teams that feature running quarterbacks. (Purdue actually featured two—they started off with fingerless Rob Henry until it was obvious he couldn't throw, then brought in Sean Robinson, using Henry as a tailback in their version of the inverted veer. It was freaky.) Pryor broke off a 66-yard run en route to 121 yards on just eight carries, but blew up his quad in the third quarter and did little but hand off when he returned, or Ohio State may have gotten some distance from the Illini. Unfortunately, Purdue's respectable YPC was on the back of a single 57-yard run from Al-Terek McBurse; the Purdue quarterbacks combined for 31 yards. Dan Dierking did average 5 YPC on 10 carries, FWIW.
Neither OSU, which tends to regard the spread option as a backup plan and had a Navarre-level statue for most of the second half, or an injury-decimated Purdue team is a particularly good comparison for Michigan. Neither are the rushing games of MSU and PSU (pro style) or Indiana (both injury ravaged and pistol-based). So we don't know much about this specific matchup.
Illinois has proven throughout the year that they'll be tough sledding, though, with Liuget a constant threat to penetrate and Wilson capable of running down Denard wherever he ends up. Getting a good release on him and chopping him to the ground will be important.
Key Matchup: Denard's Reads versus His Desire To Not Be Shattered. I'm pretty sure at this point that Michigan's read option plays are really just handoffs that attempt to get the opponent to respect the idea of a pull. Denard's already running so much that he invariably hands off even when it seems like he's got the edge like whoah. In a critical, critical (yes, another) game I'd like to see him take advantage of those opportunities.
Pass Offense vs Illinois
Michigan had an off week against Penn State, with Denard making a number of poor throws and/or poor decisions. When the receivers had an opportunity to rectify some of those mistakes they did not take them, and Robinson had his worst completion percentage of the year by a healthy margin. Penn State got no pressure, at least, and Denard's one-man play action continued to be very effective.
Meanwhile, Illinois is 25th in pass efficiency defense. They intercepted Ben Chappell three times, held him to just over 50% completions, and generally blew him up. Kirk Cousins was just over 50% himself but put up a good YPA thanks to some deep balls to BJ Cunningham; Illinois destroyed Robert Bolden. They got a pass against OSU since the wind and Pryor's injury limited the Buckeyes to 18 attempts, two of which were from the backup. They've got a good track record.
They've done this despite losing Terry Hawthorne to a stress fracture and Supo Sanni to something or other. Illinois moved a cornerback to safety and dropped two new starters in at corner, one of them a converted tailback. The difference between Justin Green and the guys Michigan is rolling out is one of experience—he's a sophomore—and talent, as he was a top 100 recruit who made a strange switch from Ohio State to Illinois. Still, he's a position switch starter and the team isn't suffering from it. A dollar to that position coach. Hawthorne's working his way back to health, which means that Illinois has three more competent cornerbacks than Michigan and now this is just getting depressive.
Anyway: Michigan should have success in the same vein they did against Penn State, where the threat of the run opens up passing plays that eat up big chunks of yards but third and long is almost futile. Michigan's success here will be dependent on Denard's accuracy and the situation Michigan finds themselves in.
Key Matchup: Denard and His Receivers MAKE PLAYS. Illinois, having seen Michigan's jagged passing success, will probably play it cool, giving Denard some opportunities to hit guys and those guys opportunities to bring balls in.
Run Defense vs Illinois
Last week's bold prediction was stupid indeed—encouraged by a not-awful performance against Iowa and anticipating that Penn State's offensive line would be a far less serious challenge, I suggested Michigan would hold Penn State under four yards a carry. Close! Except not close: PSU averaged 4.7 as Michigan switched from a four-man front to a debacle of a 3-3-5. Like the 2008 Purdue game, rumors are flying that Michigan is scrapping their bye week spectacular for something else, and with Craig Roh seemingly ready to put his lost year behind him and get his hand on the ground that will be more of a conventional 4-3 look, I'm guessing.
If the Iowa game is any evidence, that could be not awful against a conventional rushing attack even minus Mike Martin. Unfortunately for Michigan, their array of freshmen, position converts, freshman position converts, and LSD-tripping ferrets is going up against a shotgun triple option attack. Michigan doesn't even know where they're supposed to be on an inside zone. Illinois has used the option, a healthy dose of zone reads of all varieties, and some Nathan Scheelhaase scrambling to do this against relevant opponents:
Unfortunately, the "relevant" bit of the Big Ten numbers is definitely more Indiana-Purdue-PSU than OSU-MSU.
As mentioned in the scouting post from the bye week, expect to see a lot of this:
Illinois runs a lot of triple option. Against Purdue they were content to run basic zone reads since the backside DE was crashing down all day, but Michigan's guys should be experienced at dealing with that. The triple option not so much. With Martin on the injury list he figures to be limited, leaving Mouton, Demens, Spur Of The Week, and Kovacs to play the proverbial assignment football and tackle in space. Kovacs seems suited for this, and Demens may be—still too early to tell—but I'm worried about Mouton and the other guy, whoever it is. Also I'm worried about…
Key matchup: Freshman cornerbacks and safeties [Ed-M: and ferrets] tackling on the edge on the option. The option puts a lot of pressure on your safeties to come up and fill ably, which apparently means we're going to have the privilege of watching Ray Vinopal try to tackle guys fifty pounds heavier than him.
Pass Defense vs Illinois
Two weeks ago I would have said this will be a sidelight on third and long and Scheelhaase will do well not to turn it over, but then Michigan played Penn State and Scheelhaase averaged 9.7 YPA with 4 TDs against Purdue. His long was again a pass to his tailback and no receiver brought in anything longer than 17 yards, but even if Illinois's passing game is an all-dink affair Scheelhaase is getting comfortable with it. He was 16 of 20 against Purdue, 13 of 21 against Indiana, and 15 of 19 against Penn State, all in grindingly effective games for the Illinois offense. His only bad day in the past moth was against Michigan State. That was a very bad day (3 INTs), but we can't expect something like that to recur, especially against this secondary.
I'm not sure Courtney Avery could have been worse than JT Floyd against Penn State but "secondary just as good as it was against Penn State" is a recipe for disaster. Moving the safeties around worked about as well as it did last year, and the year before. James Rogers was out for most of the PSU game in favor of Talbott so we may see our long-held dream finally come to fruition: a secondary made up of nothing but true freshmen without a fourth star to any of their names.
Key matchup: Demens and Mouton getting their zone responsibilities right. I mentioned this in passing but to reiterate: I now think it was Demens screwing up against Iowa since in the PSU game the guy lined up over the slot receiver carried him all the way several times, leaving the linebackers to deal with problems underneath. Illinois gets a large chunk of their passing yards after the catch, so dealing with mesh and whatnot will be important against a passing attack that looks short almost without exception.
For the first time in a while it looks like the opponent's return game is about as bad as Michigan's. The Illini are 118th(!) in punt return average at just over two yards a pop and have had a Michigan 2008-level epidemic of muffed punts. Two of those gave Penn State its (sigh) only points outside of an eighty-yard touchdown strike. Kick returns aren't much better at 89th.
Illinois has the usual massive advantage at kicker (15 of 17 on the year). Their punting has also been outstanding; they're sixth nationally.
Key Matchup: STOP KICKING THE DAMN BALL
- Martin's ankle prevents him from doing anything useful.
- Michigan doesn't look like they know what they're doing against the option.
- The secondary.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- We get some sort of bizarre Minnesota-2008-like turnaround as the coaches finally realize they should be doing something basic with all these noobs.
- Denard's hitting his passes more accurately and Illinois can't deal.
- Pryor's success running presages success.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 8 (Baseline 5; +1 for What The Hell Was That?, +1 for If James Rogers Really Got Beat Out By Talbott Last Week The Secondary Is Literally Three True Freshmen and Kovacs, +1 for And Then We're Throwing a Freshman Spur Out There Against The Option, +1 for Assuming That Martin Is Not Useful Until He Is Again, –1 for Denard, –1 for Denard Plus Bonus Ninja Tricks, +1 for FFFFFFUUUUUU.)
Desperate need to win level: 10 (Baseline 5; +1 for God, A Win, Any Win, +1 for Rich Rodriguez Job Reclamation Project, +1 for Denard Career Flight Path Maintenance, +1 for Seriously That A Win, Any Win Bit, +1 for A Brief Respite From The Enduring Misery Of Life Is Needed In These Dark Times, Oh Lord, I Beseech Thee, Hear My Call And Respond To Your Good And Faithful Servant, Or At Least, You Know, Your Middling And Somewhat Forgetful Guy Who Resents The Idea Of Servitude, Oh Lord, Lord.)
Loss will cause me to... drink.
Win will cause me to... open one eye and look around in case the falling building didn't actually hit me.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
WTF, Vegas? Michigan being favored here seems insane after last week on both ends. I foresee Illinois's offense tearing through Michigan's like it's almost not there on both air and ground, with some rough spots from Scheelhaase ending a drive here and there and Michigan's return to a somewhat sane defense making the going slightly tougher this week. The Illini won't score on 7 of 9 drives. More like 5 of 9.
Michigan's offense, meanwhile, will have the same promising-but-not-quite-there style they've had since the Big Ten sledding got tough, exploding for a couple of long touchdowns and putting together a number of long drives that get Michigan into the high twenties but sputter out in missed fourth downs, missed field goals, and penalties.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Michigan goes back to a 4-3 under look and it seems like an improvement.
- Mike Martin does not play effectively.
- Courtney Avery has a less bad day than JT Floyd did against Penn State.
- Illinois, 37-30.