we're back. woo!
For most of the first half I felt like Emperor Palpatine in Return of the Jedi:
The thing does end up blowing up, sort of like Michigan's 2009 season, but if one of UConn's coaches didn't turn to another and scream "It's a trap!" I'll eat my hat.
AND NOW THE MUPPETS:
And you can't have one without the other…
IT'S A TRAP.
So: I didn't get Paul or anyone clips and thematic instructions in time for a hype video to exist. This is my fault. But the community provides where the blogger does not, in more than one way.
2. Thematically similar, though more NSFW
Next year: less gray, hopefully.
Thanks to MCalibur and ShortsGoBlue, along with everyone who contributes in the diaries, board, and comments. This site would not be the same without you.
This completes the season preview. In case you missed any of it:
Let's play some footbaw.
Previously: The story, the secondary, the linebackers, the defensive line, the quarterbacks, the running backs, the receivers, the offensive line, special teams, the conference, offensive questions answered(?), defensive questions answered(?), and the prediction.
And introducing Honorary Season Preview Posts.
One: FOOTBALL SEASON IS OVER. FOOTBALL SEASON HAS BEGUN.
Two: Pelé as a Comedian.
Read them or don't, but it'll be your loss if it's the latter.
At some point in the increasingly distant past, my inbox became a triage center where the easily taken care of were quickly dispatched and the things that required some time sat, slumbering, until I made the effort to hack through the underbrush. As emails age they tend to keel over unaddressed, leaving a small but dedicated band of old-timers I guiltily survey whenever I accidentally hit the "home" key.
Right now the teetering old man of the inbox is an in-depth post about corrections and additions I should make to the UFR FAQ from last September. Number two came in two months later at five in the morning on November 20th, 2009—the day before Michigan lost to Ohio State for the eighth time in nine tries, two weeks after Notre Dame lost to Navy for the second time in three. It was a weird email and I feel very, very guilty for letting it molder so long:
state of the schwatevs...
Let's pretend for a second that you aren't, you know, a dork. That you haven't read 'Song of Fire and Ice' (such as it is thus far) and that you don't know what Order of the Stick means and that you never made a joke involving the fact that Comparative Literature is listed as 'clit' and that memes aren't bigger than just memes and John Updike's death wasn't something you immediately had to form an opinion about. Let's pretend none of that is true. Pretend now you haven't got rhetoric and no awful conception of your own brightness, and that you're just into sports like urrybody else is. Then, after that, tell me why do you care about football? Really why. It's important that you answer this question, I think. I mean, it might help me figure out what to do with my life. And you could tell people you once helped a drunk pre-med Notre Dame fan who got in to Notre Dame and turned it down to do Pure Philosophy at Trinity College Dublin, effectively killing his father.
But how do you reply to that, especially when I haven't actually read Song of Fire and Ice, don't know what the Order of the Stick means, and haven't actually made any jokes about comparative literature? I did immediately envision all the unpleasant ways in which John Updike would liked to have described his death since there's no question in my mind that his morbidity fantasies involved barbarously sexing at least one but preferably several nubile innocents, so guilty as charged there. Even so, attempting to bridge the gap between this urrybody version of my mind and a drunk Notre Dame fan/philosophy major at Trinity College who makes it very unclear if he means the bit about killing his father figuratively or literally was not something I could do on MGoBlog D-Day, and not something I was inclined to in the malaise after.
Even as I try to summon up the answer now, the reason this email is still in the geriatric ward is clear. I don't really know.
I am 31 now, a dozen years removed from sitting in my girlfriend's parents' house during the '98 Rose Bowl, seething at how the people around me didn't care nearly enough. It's strange to me that I spent a lot of fall Saturdays in high school going to quiz bowl tournaments instead of being terrified about the outcome of a football game. I completely missed the Kordell Stewart Hail Mary and remember sitting in a car the following year, sick to my stomach as Colorado tried to reprise the feat. How could I feel that bad about a football game and not watch it? When did this start happening?
I have two prehistoric memories of football. In the first, I was very young and Michigan was playing Michigan State. I privately decided to root for Michigan State because everyone else wanted them to lose and this seemed unfair. That was sometime in elementary school. In the second, I fell asleep for the middle bit of the 1991 Rose Bowl. When I woke up Michigan was way behind and my dad was pissed off. I felt guilty. The next year I was trying to figure out some way an 8-0-3 Michigan team could leapfrog a bunch of teams for a national title and pretty pissed off when it didn't happen after Tyrone Wheatley gutted Washington. It happened then. Why? "I turned 12" seems insufficient.
Football came to me as something that was important long ago, so long that if its importance was ever external to the thing itself distance has obscured that. In the wash of items my mind has pruned out of memory must be the reactions of tall people who could do anything they wanted even after eight PM. They thought it was important, and now so do I. I could think up a dozen reasons I haven't forgotten, but they would be post-hoc justifications for something that already was. Football has migrated from reason to the reptilian part of my brain. Now it lives in my throat and has the power to close it at will. This is a terrible answer.
I can say that most of the time I like that I find football important. It gives life a rhythm. I think my favorite part happens on the first day of the new year, when I file into the stadium an hour early. It's still mostly empty then. You can spread out in the sun. In my mental picture of this my seats are high up in the corner so I can take in the whole vast breadth of the stadium. Perched there, looking down and across, the future stretches out across the horizon. Anything seems possible, and the wait is over.
Previously: The story, the secondary, the linebackers, the defensive line, the quarterbacks, the running backs, the receivers, the offensive line, special teams, the conference, offensive questions answered(?), defensive questions answered(?).
The theory of turnover margin: it is nearly random. Teams that find themselves at one end or the other at the end of the year are highly likely to rebound towards the average. So teams towards the top will tend to be overrated and vice versa. Nonrandom factors to evaluate: quarterback experience, quarterback pressure applied and received, and odd running backs like Mike Hart who just don't fumble.
|Year||Margin||Int +||Fumb +||Sacks +||Int -||Fumb -||Sacks -|
|2007||0.15 (41st)||14||15||2.46(33rd)||14||13||2.17 (67th)|
|2008||-.83 (104th)||9||11||2.42(33rd)||12||18||1.83 (57th)|
|2009||-1.00 (115th)||11||5||1.83(68th)||15||13||2.33 (83rd)|
So. Last year I suggested this would head towards average; it totally did not. It somehow conspired to get worse. One major reason for this is the blindingly obvious one: freshman quarterbacks. They accounted for the uptick in interceptions and a large number of Michigan's fumbles. With another year of experience it's reasonable to suggest Michigan's turnovers lost will decline from the 28 given away last year, tied with a few other teams (including Georgia) for 99th nationally. This blog's theory about QB experience and pressure should work in Michigan's favor this year. Finally.
There should be good news on defense, too. Michigan's five fumbles recovered is a very low number, tied for fifth worst nationally with LSU and Tulane (your national "leader" in not getting fumbles: Georgia), and fumbles are so much more fluky than interceptions that Michigan can expect a +5/6 improvement in that metric just by virtue of not being on the death end of fate. Maybe. If they aren't this year, you know.
So… yeah, one more time: this should get way closer to even than it was last year. More fumbles recovered, marginally less awful defense, sophomore quarterbacks. Just ending the year at zero would be worth a couple wins, and while that's optimistic with still-young quarterbacks and that secondary they should see themselves pull way closer to the center. If they don't it's curtains for Rodriguez.
Position Switch Starters
Theory of position switches: if you are starting or considering starting a guy who was playing somewhere else a year ago, that position is in trouble. There are degrees of this. When Notre Dame moved Travis Thomas, a useful backup at tailback, to linebacker and then declared him a starter, there was no way that could end well. Wisconsin's flip of LB Travis Beckum to tight end was less ominous because Wisconsin had a solid linebacking corps and Beckum hadn't established himself on that side of the ball. Michigan flipping Prescott Burgess from SLB to WLB or PSU moving Dan Connor inside don't register here: we're talking major moves that indicate a serious lack somewhere.
- Mark Moundros moves from fullback to MLB and will start or is basically as good as the starter.
- Cam Gordon moves from WR to FS and will start.
- Martavious Odoms moves from slot to outside WR and will start.
- Ryan Van Bergen moves from DT to DE and will start. Mitigating factor: last year RVB moved from DE to DT.
- Mark Huyge moves from RG/RT to LT and will probably start unless Lewan eats him.
- Craig Roh is something or other that is not quite what he was before.
Offensive moves are basically eh, but the topmost defensive moves are major red flags.
An Embarrassing Prediction, No Doubt
If only they were playing last year's schedule again. If they were, I could say "is the offense going to be better? 100% yes! Is the defense going to be worse? 90% no!" At that point I cold throw out a 6-6 worst case and be confident. Unfortunately, Eastern Michigan is replaced by UConn and things are complicated. They won't go 0-fer on the teams outside the bottom of the schedule, but a crappy defense and a lot of shootouts that go the wrong way could see them hit 5-7 again, and then the bricks.
I don't see much upside in the D, but it is possible that teams without good quarterbacks won't be able to take advantage of it, leaving the offense to Leap its way past the middling bits of the schedule. It's fairly easy to see how they win against UConn, Penn State, maybe Notre Dame, and maybe Purdue on this basis; throw in a home split against MSU and Iowa and 9-3 is hypothetically in reach. Hypothetically.
The offense will undergo Leap II: This Time It's Obvious, becoming legitimately scary to opponents across the league. They will find at least two tailbacks to go with the Denard experience; the line will improve considerably; the turnovers should finally (finally) come down to reasonable levels. This is what Rodriguez has based his career on and if it doesn't happen that career will probably be continuing somewhere else.
Defense? Last year again with less confusion and very long stupid easy touchdowns, shredded by experienced, good quarterbacks (of which there are 4 or 5 on the schedule), considerably better against the run, slightly better overall, still prone to major breakdowns.
|9/4||UConn||Leans to win|
|9/11||@ Notre Dame||Tossup|
|9/25||Bowling Green||Must win|
|10/2||@ Indiana||Must win|
|10/9||Michigan State||Leans to loss|
|10/16||Iowa||Leans to loss|
|10/30||@ Penn State||Leans to loss|
|11/27||@ Ohio State||Longshot|
There are the two gimmes in the nonconference and two games against Big Ten teams that should be terrible, as Indiana and Illinois were wracked by graduation losses and weren't good to begin with. The opener against UConn is a game Michigan his maybe 60-70% to win; who knows about Notre Dame and Purdue. From there Michigan will probably get five or six wins. The seventh, or sixth will be picking off one of MSU, Iowa, or Penn State. 7-5 is still the call, but with the secondary attrition 6-6 is more likely than 8-4; before I thought the reverse.
|WHAT||Michigan vs Connecticut|
|WHERE||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI|
|WHEN||3:30 Eastern, September 4th 2010|
|THE LINE||Michigan -3|
|TELEVISION||ABC/ESPN2 (Coverage Map)|
Run Offense vs. UConn
With a stable of backs six-deep, a strong interior line, and a quarterback who runs on dilithium, the run game should be one of Michigan's strengths this season. UConn's starting defensive linemen range from the tiny (225-lb Trevardo Williams) to the light (255-lb Jesse Joseph) to the good-sized (both defensive tackles are in the 290s). If Michigan's offensive line has made the improvements we think they have, they should be able to push this defensive line all over the field.
UConn's front four is built for speed, rather than power, which might make outside running a little tougher, but the Wolverines should be able to generate a good push up front. At the second level, the linebackers are all seniors, and all have pretty good size. However, the man in the middle, Greg Lloyd, is an enigma. He started the fall at defensive end, then was lost for the season with an ACL injury. A couple weeks later, and he's the starting middle linebacker. Might that make him more tentative? On the weakside, Lawrence Wilson is an athletic 226 pounds, which should give him the ability to chase Michigan's quarterbacks around.
Key Matchup: Rich Rodriguez and Calvin Magee v. The Husky Scheme.
From a physical standpoint, Michigan should be able to move the ball on the ground against UConn. Randy Edsall's coaching staff is aware of this, so they'll throw some things at Michigan's offense (such as the scrape exchange, maybe some run blitzing) to offset that advantage. The offensive braintrust must know when these tricks are coming, and how to counter them.
The Huskies were subpar against scrambly types last year, with West Virginia's Jarrett Brown, Cincinnati's Zach Collaros, and South Florida's BJ Daniels having particularly good days with their feet. UConn is going to come up with some new ideas to prevent Michigan from repeating this success.
Pass Offense vs. UConn
UConn's pass defense had a world of trouble last year, particularly once starting corner Jasper Howard was murdered in October. Part of that was the competition (Cincinnati and Notre Dame were very good passing teams last year), but part of the Huskies' #85 ranking in pass efficiency defense was simply not being very good at football.
So, losing a couple starters to the NFL is a good thing, right? No? Robert McClain (7th round, Panthers) and Robert Vaughn (undrafted, Packers) are both out the door, and this secondary was bad WITH two future NFLers roaming it. The returning starters are redshirt sophomores safety Jerome Junior (listed at second-string on UConn's depth chart) and corner Blidi Wreh-Wilson. Moving on up into starting roles are junior safeties Harris Agbor and Kijuan Dabney, along with redshirt sophomore corner Dwayne Gratz. Both second-string corners are true freshmen.
The one area of pass defense that the Huskies did well in last year was getting after the quarterback. They finished 28th nationally in sacks, and Michigan's projected starting tackles aren't known for their pass-blocking skills. However, leading sacker Lindsey Witten is off to the Pittsburgh Steelers (undrafted), and with him go 11 sacks. Expect a step back in that department from UConn.
Key Matchup: Michigan's Receivers v. Getting Open.
There have been enough reports throughout the offseason that Roy Roundtree and Darryl Stonum in particular, and the receiving corps at large, have improved in catching the ball. We know Roundtree has a knack for getting open, but the rest of the unit has had its share of struggles.
This UConn secondary might be Michigan-level bad (does "true freshmen in the two-deep" sound familiar?), but it's up to the receivers to take advantage of that. If they can get open against a weak UConn back four, there could be plenty of room to run after the catch. That will back up the defense and open running lanes, which is where Michigan is going to do most of its damage in this game.
Run Defense vs. UConn
Now things start getting sketchy. UConn's offense, like Michigan's, should move the ball on Saturday. Randy Edsall's team last year focused on the rush, and they'll probably do the same in 2010. Jordan Todman is a tiny speedy guy, and should see the majority of the carries. Robbie Frey and USC transfer DJ Shoemate (a wide receiver-turned-fullback for the Trojans) should do a bit more of the pounding.
The Husky offensive line is experienced (two redshirt seniors, two redshirt juniors, and a redshirt sophomore) and big (they average over 300 pounds, and the right side, which I assume will be a focus in rushing, features a 325-pounder and a 333-pounder), just as you'd expect from a grind-it-out offense. Michigan's defensive front is bigger than last year, but they still have their work cut out for them.
Without knowing as much as we'd like about Michigan's scheme, we do know that the linebackers, on the whole, have been disappointing so far in their time in Ann Arbor. Obi Ezeh is the heaviest one on the team, but the mental game has never been all there for him, which means he'll probably be replaced by Mark Moundros in the starting lineup. Craig Roh, who will be a blitzing specialist, has added enough size to make him effective against the maulers up front.
Key Matchup: Michigan's Linebackers v. Their Performance To Date.
Outside of Roh (who could be considered a defensive lineman), the linebackers had a seriously disappointing 2009. Jonas Mouton regressed from a strong 2008, and Obi Ezeh didn't show the improvement we've been waiting three years for. Michigan won't win this game if the linebackers can't get their pads on Todman and wrap him up, because he has the speed to do serious damage once he's past them.
Mark Moundros, former walkon and converted fullback though he may be, has been praised all offseason by the likes of Rich Rodriguez, Greg Robinson, and his teammates as someone who 1) plays with a physical edge and 2) understands the game, and is willing to work in the film room on schemes. If he supplants Ezeh, He's less physically talented, but also less likely to make Michigan fans groan with a poor play.
Pass Defense vs. UConn
Rich Rodriguez expects the Huskies to use play-action as a basis for their pass game, as they did last year. With a trio of inexperienced defensive backs patrolling (not including hybrids), that should scare the living daylights out of you, the Michigan fan. There are a couple reasons for optimism, I guess.
- Zach Frazer, the less impressive UConn quarterback last season, has been named the starter. Since then, Cody Endres has been suspended, so he won't be an option if Frazer struggles.
- UConn graduated its top two receivers in Marcus Easley (a fourth-round draft pick of the Buffalo Bills) and Brad Kanuch.
That's it though, and the deep threat of Easley has been replaced by fellow speedster Kashif Moore. Tight end Ryan Griffin is available to get open over the middle for 30-yard touchdowns on third and 26.
MIchigan's scheme will be to play soft and give up some of the underneath stuff in order to avoid the Huskies going deep. With the roster as thin as it is, that's probably a good idea. GERG will probably also dial up some different pressure packages to take a bit of heat of the defensive backs.
Key Matchup: The Back Seven v. Broken Tackles.
If you allow an opposing offense to complete short passes, you'd damn sure better keep the gains to a minimum. Yards After Ezeh And Williams were huge last year, and with reports of iffy tackling in the fall scrimmage, that can't happen if Michigan is to win this contest.
Sophomore Dave Teggart returns to kick the ball, though he was iffy last year. He'll probably continue improving, so don't expect field goals to give the Huskies any trouble.
Punter Desi Cullen is out the door, leaving an unknown. With him, UConn was 24th in net punting last year, which is bound to take a step back. Michigan's punt return teams, of course have been nothing to fear. Tony Gibson has been newly-appointed the Special Teams Coordinator in the offseason, and having a single coach focused on the special teams game (at least in part) might improve that.
On the other side of the ball, UConn's return game has been outstanding the past couple years. Three different Huskies returned kicks for touchdowns last year, and all of them are back this season. They'll look for a new punt returner with the departure of Robert McClain, but I suspect they'll have some decent options there. Kickoffs into the endzone and punts with a lot of hangtime will be key.
Key Matchup: HOLD ONTO THE DAMN BALL.
Come on, could it have been anything else?
The Wolverines re-open the Big House, Brock Mealer leads them out of the tunnel, and they're looking to (finally) break through under Rich Rodriguez. But those intangibles seem a little... tangible.
- UConn can generate more than one big play on the ground or through the air.
- The offensive tackles get Michigan's quarterbacks killed.
- Special teams seem... special.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Michigan ends up with a positive turnover margin.
- Patrick Omameh and Steve Schilling are blocking downfield for a ballcarrier with a lot of daylight.
- The young corners look anything better than competent.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 5 ([Ed: Baseline 5, +1 for Aigh Woolfolk, +1 for Aigh Everyone Else In The Secondary, +1 for Srsly, -1 for Leadership Doesn't Shred Secondaries, -1 for UConn Loves to Grind, -1 for And They Can't Defend Athletic Spread Quarterbacks And We Have A Cheetah Strapped To A Jet Engine And Dropped Of A Plane.)
Desperate need to win level: 11 (Baseline 5; +1 for Season Opener, +1 for Brock, +1 for Stadium Opener, +1 for Let's Keep The Wolves At Bay For Like 30 Seconds, +1 for Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want This Time, +1 for If The Stadium Sets An Attendance Record We'll Set The DNTW Record)
Loss will cause me to... Start worrying (for real this time) about Rodriguez's job security.
Win will cause me to... Immediately shift my terror complex from UConn to Notre Dame.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
This game looks to have the makings of an offensive shootout unless GERG Robinson is a miracle worker. Both defenses are expected to be subpar,
WesternUConn's offense is probably good, and Michigan's offense is an unknown decent trending towards good. One team will probably put up decent numbers in order to win. (Yes, this is almost verbatim from last year's Western Preview).
The question then, is which offense can better take advantage of the opposition's defensive weaknesses. Both offenses should be solid all around, but better in the running game, and both secondaries are weaknesses. I'll take Michigan's front 6-7 over UConn's front 7 though, partially because the UConn D-Ends are nowhere near big enough to hold up at the point of attack, whereas Michigan's are 285 pounds a pop. The Wolverines should also be more confusing in their pressure schemes.
The turnover battle will be where this game turns. The Wolverines have been awful the past two years, finishing in the bottom 20 each season. If they can at least break even this game, It's hard for me to see something other than a win. If they come out in the positive (and don't give it back in special teams), it could be a very good day indeed in Ann Arbor.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Michigan plays all three quarterbacks if the game isn't in doubt in the fourth quarter. Denard Robinson will lead the team in rushing...
- ...but two other Wolverines score rushing touchdowns.
- The defense successfully executes the "bend quite a bit" tactic, giving up more than 200 yards through the air.
- Michigan, 38-30.