Something's been missing from Michigan gamedays since the free programs ceased being economically viable: scientific gameday predictions that are not at all preordained by the strictures of a column in which one writer takes a positive tack and the other a negative one. Something like… Punt-Counterpunt.
By Ken “Sky” Walker
In the past year, you’ve gotten a lot of ink for your commitment to have Michigan play the most entertaining schedule they possibly can. And while this season’s schedule has plenty of marquee games, you’ve failed to address the worst inequity facing season ticker holders. This is the dreaded ‘every other year is great’ syndrome. This is something that has to be addressed.
I’m not the first, nor the last, person to point out this feast or famine pattern in the schedule. Last year was fat city; great excitement, record crowds. The Irish, Huskers and Buckeyes; all were gracing the Big House. This year, all we’ve got is Sparty. Now I’m not pooh-poohing the MSU game. It’s arguably one of the biggest games in recent program history – the Wolverines need a win badly. But one big game does not make a season.
If you doubt the lack of interest in this year’s home schedule, look no further than my column-mate, Counterpunt. Counterpunt has yet to attend a home game—and won't be in the stands today. The runt was all fired up to make a last minute, 1200 mile road trip to Dallas. But negotiating the 2.3 miles from his abode to Michigan Stadium has thus far, proven to be an insurmountable task. And what is it that’s kept my esteemed colleague away? Why it’s soccer! Counterpunt would rather attend a tweenies’ girls’ soccer game than make an appearance at Stadium & Main. Who knew? (I guess he’s technically coaching, but that’s a matter of opinion.)
While this might make Counterpunt a candidate for dad of the year, it’s also somewhat of a commentary on the unattractiveness of what’s being presented. Would it be too big of a sacrifice to offer to play two away games in one of these series, just to even out the schedule? Especially, if giving up home games to accommodate “spread the brand” appearances, is going to be the name of the game in the future.
I’ll admit today’s game will be great for those who like blowouts. Frankly, UMass probably isn’t good enough to be in the MAC at this point. I think the only way Michigan doesn’t score half a hundred, is if Coach Hoke starts substituting early and often. Oh well. Guess I’ll just have to enjoy my doublewide, cushioned seat. It’s costing me enough. Go Blue!
Michigan 54 UMass 10
By Nick RouMel
Nearly two years ago today, after starting the season 2-0 including a stirring win at Notre Dame, Michigan played the tiny, insignificant University of Massachusetts “Minute Men” in the Big House. They barely escaped with a 42-37 win, unable to stop UMass, which gained 439 yards and scored 20 points in the 4th quarter.
I fear a similar result today. And yes, I understand UMass is now 0-2, and that Brian calls them the football equivalent of a baby seal. As if we Wolverines are anything so fearsome, padding across the ice floe with our Nerf club in hand, causing said baby seal only mild curiosity.
Which is why, Punt, instead of sitting with you on your cushy, hemorrhoid-resistant stadium cushion, I am choosing to coach my 11th grade girls’ travel soccer team, the MPSA Crush “Fighting Pumas,” in a tournament in Linden, Michigan. (And these 16 year old young women, who for the most part have drivers’ licenses, would take mighty offense at you calling them “tweenies,” if they cared even one whit about the opinions of the self-described “geezer” Punt.)
(Remember last week, when Punt got all excited when a young woman at work admired his maize and blue bulletin board push pins? Punt is much like the old dog on the front porch, who watches the squirrels cavort not twenty feet from his nose, but too tired to actually do anything about it.)
Except to navigate those 2.3 miles to the Big House, and fancy himself active and energetic, wearing his maize and blue checkered “Sans-A-Belt” pants, sitting on his soft cushion, and lifting his bottom six inches when the “wave” comes his way. Punt is as responsive as the Michigan linebackers, when a couple of Minute Men come lumbering their way, turning their heads in apparent surprise, followed several seconds later by the realization that they must give chase.
You, Punt. Go watch those Wolverines, as they barely escape the inexplicably motivated baby seals. In turn, I will pace the sideline of the soccer pitch, cheering on my Pumas, immune from the criticism of blogs, sportswriters, and snarky pseudo-journalists such as myself.
Hmm, maybe I’m actually the one looking for the soft, cushy Saturday, hiding in Linden from our lumbering linebackers, who will get the job done in the end, when they have to.
MICHIGAN 28, UMASS 24
Technically incorrect, which is the best kind of incorrect. This is BWS's UMass preview in full:
Awesome. MVictors and the Hoover Street Rag have collaborated on a historic Michigan calendar that tells you, for instance, that tomorrow is the anniversary of the "Yakety Sacks" game against Jimmy Clausen… and that Sunday tomorrow is the damned Kick It To Rocket anniversary. Also, March 7th is Alijah Bradley's birthday.
How do we wiki this thing?
Speaking of that money. Another reason real games are becoming more viable:
Per MassLive's report, Massachusetts got $390,000 to come to Ann Arbor two seasons ago. …
According to MassLive, Michigan is getting somewhat of a deal this season with regard to UMass' guaranteed money price tag -- as the school will receive roughly $800,000 to play the likes of Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Penn State in the future before grabbing a whopping $1.25 million to play Florida in 2016.
That's inflation far outpacing ticket prices. Since the TV money is essentially negligible—split with the conference—that's a motivator to play real teams to keep fan interest up. That increase is probably how the Oregon State and Colorado games got done. Those will cost more—CU got two million for a one-off with OSU—but not enough to offset the actual opponents bump they bring. Yeah, even Colorado. Death to Hail Marys.
Never forget (not that Never Forget.) Or that other one. This one:
Let us all take the opportunity to reminisce.
We must keep Notre Dame in our lives, people of Michigan. Be you green or blue, you must know this.
Whoah. Via Bring Your Champions, They're Our Meat, the best darn football/cossack blog on the internet:
Understanding the Big Ten's rough weekend really can't be completed without a guide to what disappointed coaches look like when compared to specific Zaporozhian Cossacks.
I don't even know what he's talking about, but I'm still amazed.
Kramer stuff. His jersey will be un-retired this weekend and folks are talking to other folks about stuff:
The Michigan Daily: What are your emotions, what are your family’s emotions as your grandfather’s number is put back into circulation this weekend?
Kelsey Kramer: My family is thrilled. It’s kind of a cool thing for me, being a student here. I know a lot of kids my age don’t necessarily know about him, so for me it’s neat that it’s back on the field. It’s going to draw a lot of attention to that and the memory of him playing here, in a way.
Kramer stories are the best stories; look for a few in Greg Dooley's article in the game program.
ND stuff. They're adding a game or two to their ACC schedule, and more importantly, aren't going to pick who they play. The ACC will do that, and they'll do that by rotating through their entire collection of pretty awful football teams. This puts ND's various Big Ten series in doubt because the really important thing is to keep playing Stanford for some reason. 5 + 3 + 3 == 11, meaning that if ND keeps playing their three (almost) annual Big Ten opponents they'd have only one other slot to hand out, and up to three(!) actually good opponents in any one year—USC, Michigan, and VT/Clemson/FSU.
So ND is rumbling about reducing playing games against MSU (a total of 69 meetings), Purdue (80 meetings), and Michigan (33 meetings, the vast majority of them classics) so they can play Stanford for some reason. Brandon's said he would like to keep the series going…
Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon says he hopes to keep playing football with Notre Dame after their contract expires in 2020. … Brandon says it's up to the Fighting Irish to decide how to schedule the rivalry. The teams meet yearly through 2017 before taking a previously scheduled hiatus in 2018-19.
…but who knows if that will happen.
Anyone who wants to stop playing ND is nuts. It's an easy road trip, the fans there are incredibly nice, you get more credit for beating them than you deserve, and Michigan has feasted on ND hearts for five of the last six years. The Notre Dame series is fantastic, and it's not like you can't schedule a second real team despite having that. Michigan State has Oregon and Alabama lined up in the future, and college football is moving towards a committee approach that has schedule strength as a point of emphasis. ND is not a death knell for playing other interesting opponents going forward.
Meanwhile, think of what Notre Dame has given us. Awful, awful things like Rocket and Harry Oliver. Awesome things like Yakety Sax, Yakety Sax II, "Oh Wide Open," and the last three years. Charlie Weis. Lou Holtz. Freekbass. NDNation. NDNation!
Not playing Notre Dame is stupid. It's stupid that Michigan doesn't play them in basketball and stupid that they seemingly won't be playing much in hockey after the CCHA breaks up. More Notre Dame. Always Notre Dame. They are the perfect foil. I love them, the bastards. Let's never stop playing them. Amen.
Etc.: Freep Deathwatch continued. Tyler Eifert is a WR for ND, mostly. File under "scouting" and "something Devin Funchess might end up doing." Manny Harris to Ukraine. Commence Seinfeld Risk jokes. Brian Kruger discusses Black and Blue on WTKA. Ufer retrospective from the Daily. Nick Saban DB technique. Starting DT off Nebraska team after getting blitzed for 600+ yards by UCLA.
Unbalanced stuff, Denard under center.
First, in this pic from the Air Force Defensive UFR:
The slot receiver would be eligible if he took a step back and the WR at the top took a step forward, correct? So what is the advantage to having this alignment vs. having two players be positioned less than one yard differently? I can’t quite grasp what would compensate for losing an eligible receiver.
Normally, yes. Here Air Force is going to send the WR to the top of the screen in motion until he ends up behind the two guys in the backfield. That makes life easier for Air Force if they want to run to the short side because they've effectively blocked the corner to that side by putting him on the other side of the field.
Defenses can react to this by shifting but it's unnatural for them to do this. Sometimes they mess it up, especially when you're going at speed like Air Force does. The disadvantage created by making that WR ineligible can even be mitigated by sending him on a crazy route that takes him behind the QB. Is the offense going to use this? Probably not. Is the defense going to totally abandon defending this guy? Probably not.
Second, I saw the ESPN article about Denard’s passing from under center being pretty fantastic. Given that, and Denard being Denard, why wouldn’t we run a basic QB draw from that setup on the regular? Or is the passing being so good a result of defenses making sure to take that away?
The numbers here are relatively small—Rothstein charts 62 attempts from under center under Borges, which is two or three games of data. He's done well with those attempts, obviously. I have no idea why, and if you go all Gaussian on things it's clear that there's a lot of jitter in there. Via The Power Rank:
Rothstein does acknowledge the sample size issues. But just because your data is not big enough to be authoritative does not mean it isn't suggestive. Given the numbers, the chances that randomness explains all of the difference is a mere 6%. It's worth figurin' on.
There's a pretty obvious mechanism that makes Michigan's running game more effective from the shotgun—hi my name is Denard's legs. What is the reason Denard's only throwing interceptions from the shotgun? Nothing leaps out. The routes? They're probably the same. The drop-back? In the NFL, the shotgun is a more efficient formation (even accounting for down and distance) despite running quarterbacks being largely absent. Run paranoia? It seems hard to believe that's more of a factor from under center.
Three things do seem like potential mechanisms:
- Pressure. It's easier to max-pro when you've got a couple TEs or a couple backs. Also, it's easier to not tip your snap count against MSU. Denard + pressure == doom. If Denard is getting better protection from under center that would be an obvious way in which under center was really better.
- Situation. Michigan's more likely to go under center in short-yardage situations, making those passes more profitable as the defense expects run. Also a potential factor in "situation": Michigan may run more under-center stuff against easy Ds and default to shotgun when they think they're up against it.
- Luck. Sample size here is small enough that it probably explains some of the difference. It's hard to think TD/INT splits of 12-1 (under center) and 11-17 (shotgun) are totally explainable by luck.
The problem with throwing from under center is that sometimes you have to run it from under center, and that's burning downs at this point.
Seth has all this in a UFR database and will address it in more depth on Tuesday.
Punt versus kick return, fight.
Hey, Brian. I hoping you might be able to shed some light on a question. What is the difference between kick returner and punt returner? Why does Norfleet return kicks and Gallon return punts? Is it to limit their exposure to 11 special teams defensemen running downhill at full speed with the intent of breaking the returner's back? Or are there different skills involved? (Because who wouldn't like to see Norfleet returning punts, too?)
Kick returns are the junior varsity version of punt returns. As a kick returner you have a high-arcing kick travelling 60-70 yards before you camp out under it. If you fumble the thing, the nearest opponents are 20 yards away. You pick it up, you lose a few yards in field position, and no one has a panic attack. Either that or it's a touchback. BFD.
Screwing up a punt, whether it's by fumbling it or failing to field it, has much direr implications. A fumble is almost guaranteed to be a turnover, and we just saw Jeremy Gallon cost Michigan 25 yards by not fielding an Air Force punt. Additionally, punts can come in at all sorts of angles, generally much faster than kicks. Ever seen a kickoff fielded on the run? Maybe if someone is making a terrible decision on one that's going out of bounds. Otherwise, never. On punts it's not uncommon.
In addition to that, there are some different skills involved. Punts often involve dodging guys with little or no opportunity to get up to full speed. On a kickoff you're generally going to have the opportunity to get your motor humming before you have to make a cut. So a guy like Darryl Stonum made an excellent kick returner thanks to his top-end speed and ability to make a shallow cut at speed, but wouldn't have made much of a punt returner.
Gallon and Norfleet both have skills that make them a good fit for both positions. The coaches are currently more comfortable with Gallon back there, but if he keeps bringing out 2010 Gallon and Norfleet proves capable in practice, a switch won't be long in coming. Either way, at least Michigan won't be running a Greg Mathews out there.
I haven’t seen any film on last year’s game between Nebraska and MSU, but I have to believe that Nebraska had a relatively effective day on offense judging from the score and offensive numbers. (24 points and 190 yards on the ground) So with that being said and knowing that Michigan and Nebraska run similar offenses, can Michigan look at that the game film and implement some sort of parallel schemes against MSU that Nebraska executed and have a likewise outcome?
That game was won by Nebraska's defense, which limited the Spartans to under 200 yards. While the Huskers racked up 190 yards rushing it took 58 carries for them to get there—3.3 YPC. Unless Michigan can do the same thing to the Spartan offense they're not likely to win with that kind of rushing output.
Meanwhile, an offense with pitches like Nebraska's is one you have to dedicate yourself to. It's not something you can implement for a single week. You can change your blocking schemes, routes, protections, and playcalling, sure, but when you start asking a guy to make split-second decisions about whether to fumble a ball in the general direction of the running back you're asking for trouble.
FWIW, it does seem like Michigan is at least allowing the center to get his head up and survey the landscape before he snaps the ball these days.
"That was the finest beating I ever took."
Define the scope of the problem. After the Bama game I texted with my best friend Tres. Tres lives deep in SEC country, where the only conversation anyone ever has about college football is about how the SEC is better at it. So of course big Michigan—the Michigan that tripped up Tebow and outscored Shawn Alexander—getting gutted by the Crimson Tide has made his life oh so pleasant the last two weeks. Tres suggested that game was like when Amsterdam first tries to kill the Butcher. Walking into Bill's great big Dallas party and chucking it long to Devin Gardner while not getting Denard lit up was always doomed to fail, and in such a way that not even a moral victory might be claimed. So was going toe to toe and talent for talent with Saban the Butcher. But it's also that point in the movie when you learn what it takes to beat Bill: recruit your own army and come at him from the front.
Here's Ball State's old head coach talking to his players—among them mgouser IncrediblyBLUE—after "quieting the Big House" and losing…
He told us we needed to build on the positives, that we needed to use the energy we had taken with us to Ann Arbor and move forward to the rest of the season. This my friends, is when Coach Hoke told us that "a moral victory is still a .... loss."
This is how far you need to get, and if you don't get there you lose. Let it be a lesson.
I've almost exhausted the amount of times I can be like "I met this football player once" but there's one last important nugget from when I chatted up MSU LB Chris Norman for an hour at an airport. This is about when they played Alabama in that Citrus Bowl a few years ago. It was a blowout but according to Norman it was the most important game they ever played. Paraphrasing, facing Bama showed them exactly how far they needed to get. Players don't care who was a 3-star and who in the Rivals 100—they get on the field with guys like Dont'a Hightower or Courtney Upshaw and see linebacking done right.
We now know how far Michigan needs to get to win Hoke a championship.
More problem solving after the jump
Lovable coaches all around in this one
Since the Fighting Dukakises don't pose a serious threat this week, I decided (okay, Brian decided) that it would be a good idea to take a look ahead with this week's film study. Notre Dame and Purdue faced off last weekend in South Bend, giving us a look at a pair of future opponents; the Irish came away with a 20-17 victory that was closer than expected.
A quick overview: Neither team could get anything going on the ground while Notre Dame's vertical passing attack far outstripped Purdue's dink-and-dunk approach, leading to a 376-288 advantage in total yards for the Irish. The Boilermakers managed to hang around, however, and tied the game at 17 late in the fourth quarter after corner Josh Johnson made a stellar effort to strip the ball from ND QB Everett Golson. Golson was shaken up on the play, so it was much-maligned QB Tommy Rees who led the game-winning drive for a field goal in the waning seconds. Yes, that Tommy Rees. I'm seriously, you guys.
[To the breakdown, after THE JUMP.]