You say you're Minnesota? Cupito was 25 of 36 for 347 yards; Amir Pinnix had but 26 carries for 76 yards. Welcome to evil mirror universe Minnesota. Why did this happen? Well, Penn State's Steve Alford gave their interior line issues all day, so that was part of it. When the Gophers had successful plays they went for six to eight yards; when they didn't they went for zero to two. It's not that their run game was consistently stoned, but rather that they didn't pick up any of those 15-20 yard gashers that are a Gopher speciality.
The odd thing is that the plays on which Minnesota picked up big chunks of yards versus Michigan were entirely absent versus PSU. The whole pulling off-tackle monstrosity that is the Gopher run game went away. Why? I don't know. Possibly they thought the fast PSU linebackers were a bad matchup. Minnesota got all their chunk plays versus the Penn State secondary.
And about that secondary. Think Michigan's secondary last year: nummy soft zone almost constantly. Minnesota found plenty of space in between levels, hitting Spaeth and Payne on posts and outs and such for big hunks of yards. All are seemingly incapable of tackling and not even Justin King is frequently trusted in man coverage.
It's deep zone deep zone deep zone and has been all year. I don't expect Manningham's absence will alter that, as Penn State's coaching staff is the equivalent of what the most pessimistic Michigan fans think is their cross to bear. Adjustments? What me, worry?
Pass rush remains weak. The outstanding feature of the Notre Dame game was a total lack of pass rush. It was a little better versus Minnesota but not much. Alford had an impressive sack or two; the rest of the line did very little.
Black Shoe Diaries is taking exception to my characterization of Penn State as a bad team. Specifically, he asks us to remember another person when it comes to pass rush:
Brian also suggests Jay Alford is the only one who can get any pressure on the QB. Remember #92. His name is Ed Johnson.
Citing a DT as a major pass rushing threat sums up their situation nicely. PSU actually has 18 sacks, but many of them came against NW, Youngstown State, and Akron. In three games versus actual competiton, they have six. That's not bad on the surface but the sack numbers are hollow, backed with little quarterback pressure outside of the numbers.
Run defense? Fairly good against Minnesota and Notre Dame, or 5.5 per carry to Antonio Pittman? No other games are meaningful. Jay Alford is a really, really good player but Ed Johnson hasn't had much of an impact and the defensive ends have been uninspiring. We'll be running away from Alford most of the day but I expect a few plays where one of our guards follows him to Hart in the backfield. He is a penetrator, though, which may make all those draws we ran last year a good option. He'll take himself out of the play if you give him the opportunity to.
Tony Hunt! I forgot to mention this over the past couple weeks of OSU games, but I was wrong about Antonio Pittman. He's actually pretty good.
Am I going to take back my Tony Hunt bashing? No sir! He racked up a ton of yards versus Minnesota, but I swear to God that a good 60% of them came after dragging Minnesota linebackers. That requires two things: a good head of steam and crappy tackling, small linebackers. To date Michigan has thumped two backs even larger than Hunt, PJ Hill and Jehuu Caulcrick, to the tune of 2.5 yards per carry. Both those teams had inexperienced lines and backs who couldn't really get the corner if their hole was jammed up. The end result was Burgess, Harris, Branch, et al devouring them. I expect more of the same.
Derrick Williams! has 19 catches for 221 yards. Much-maligned Steve Breaston has 23 catches for 222 yards.
Anthony Morelli! is improving... he only threw three balls that should have been interceptions instead of his usual four. No, seriously: he was improved. But you can only be so impressive against Minnesota and their total lack of quarterback pressure or guys in the secondary.
His deep ball is fairly accurate but with a wide array of diminutive wide receivers they don't have a lot of jump ball potential. They've got to get behind the secondary, which is easy versus Minnesota but perhaps a little more difficult against Michigan. Note I didn't say "impossible," as Rhema McKnight got loose against the Michigan secondary and Jamar Adams got burned by Jerramy Scott. Michigan seems to give up one big passing play a game and will probably give up another.
That pass interference call was so, so weak.
As per WTKA, Carr's weekly press conference, and basically the entire world.
Immediate reaction: sucks, but come on now. PSU is still bad and we should gut them.
Update: By "WTKA" I meant "WDFN," sorry. I now have two reports from people who have spotted Manningham around campus on crutches, and Carr's "I can't say anything, I don't know anything, I'm like those see-no-evil monkeys" response to fervered questioning speaks volumes. I think he's out.
What does this mean for the game? Obviously the chances we nail someone on a long pass route go down, but given the way PSU plays that was unlikely to be in the cards. I watched the Minnesota game and will post on it tomorrow, but long story short Penn State blitzes rarely and what pass rush they get comes almost exclusively from DT Jay Alford. They drop back in a deep zone a lot. The last time we faced a team so intent on hanging back it was CMU. Unless they do something that provides shocking evidence that, yes, Joe Paterno still dimly perceives the outside world, Manningham probably wasn't going to be running a whole lot of fly routes anyway.
Also: Adrian Arrington is not, how you say, chopped liver, and neither is he slow. He was about as hyped a recruit as Mario was, has caught a bomb his ownself, and clearly has some wicked acrobatic catchin' chops. Now we are concerned because we don't have two deep threats? Oh... okay.
10/9/2006 - Michigan 31-13 Michigan State - 6-0, 3-0 Big Ten
It turned out that all you needed to know about this game came on Michigan's first drive of the day, when MSU jumped offsides five times and was flagged for it twice. Befuddled by Chad Henne withdrawing from center to check into another play -- can he do that? -- the Spartans gave Michigan ten important yards on their first touchdown drive of the day. By jumping offsides. Five times.
And so forth and so on:
- A personal foul after an extra point.
- A dropped touchdown pass.
- A total inability to not rough the kicker.
- A fair catch at the four yard line.
- An indecisive kickoff return that ended up at the nine.
- A useless late hit personal foul that extended a Michigan drive and led to another touchdown.
Michigan fans often bitch about the coaching staff's flaws, and I'm no exception, but in the wake of whatever that was it's clear that there are worse fates than running way too much. Ever since college football entered my consciousness, Michigan State has been dangerous because of its stupidity. Sometimes they're a danger to others because they're too stupid to know they should lose. Sometimes they're a danger to themselves because they're too stupid, period. This was the latter.
And thus I must risk blogospheric cred by aping Simmons and quote Teddy KGB from Rounders: "I feel so... unsatisfied." There's no great joy in watching them run around punching themselves in the face, only a small and petty one. Instead of glorying in the dominating victory of our warrior-poets, I found myself trying to come up with the best way to complete this sentence: "Michigan State is as organized as [adjective(s)] [silly noun] [preposition] [noun phrase]." (Candidates:
- a horde of coked-up squirrels looking for nuts to nut
- Dadaist theory as perceived by art history freshmen
- the unfortunate neural pathways in what purports to be the mind of Mike Gottfried
- Brady Quinn's bowels in the fourth quarter of the Michigan game
- the French army.
) Which is nice and all, but, yeah. With the fourth quarter dragging through a series of injuries, TV timeouts, and unnecessary instant replay reviews, I became bored and frustrated with run run run punt.
Bored, and frustrated, and up 31-13, and 6-0. Uh... I'll take it.
Hopefully More Satisfying Bullets:
- Re: Arrington's controversial catch. The NCAA rulebook does state that "any part of the body" landing in bounds makes your catch legal:
c. To catch, intercept or recover a ball, a player who leaves his feet to make a catch, interception or recovery must have the ball firmly in his possession when he first returns to the ground inbounds with any part of his body or is so held that the dead-ball provisions of Rule 4-1-3-p apply (A.R. 2-2-7-I-V and A.R. 7-3-6-IV).
1. If one foot first lands inbounds and the receiver has possession and control of the ball, it is a catch or interception even though a subsequent step or fall takes the receiver out of bounds.
"Any part of his body" is crystal clear, though the phrasing of the second passage is worrisome. This image shows Arrington did punch his hand down before falling out of bounds, so if a hand is good, the catch is good. Still: it should have been reviewed.
This will be the first game all year where running 2/3rds of the time is clearly the wrong decision (assuming we aren't up by three touchdowns again). Will DeBord adjust?
If I had to guess -- and I would like to point out that this is speculation and not something you should take as Gospel, in fact you should probably just stop reading this post right now -- I'd say Manningham has a mildly sprained knee and is questionable for this weekend.
It's a wacky, wacky week. I normally try to avoid any of the super-cool lists, but I'd be shocked if I didn't pull Mr. Manic-Depressive for this baby.
- I hate every team after #15.
- Is Arkansas any good? No. They are not. They only beat Alabama -- a team that was in a fourth quarter battle with Duke -- because the Tide's kicker underwent an epic meltdown. They beat Vandy by two. They're apparently worse than the Pac-10 middleweights (and lightweights, in the case of Arizona) that USC's been struggling with all year.
And yet they crush Auburn by three scores despite featuring a true freshman quarterback who threw all of ten passes. So what to do? Well, given Auburn's performance to date -- struggles with South Carolina and Buffalo(!), and a good but close and debateable win over an LSU team that was just pantsed by Incredibly Surprising Tim Tebow -- you crush Auburn's face in in your poll. AU's offense has been reliably awful.
- So, yeah... Arkansas is no good but I rank them #16? Well... who else? Can you pick a team below them better? If so, for God's sake tell me.
- Also: who says LSU is any good? Wins over ULL, Arizona, Tulane, and Mississippi State. Losses to Auburn and Florida. They crush the weak and lose to the strong. I dunno.
- Wild, wild swings of opinion on Tennessee and California. UT's run defense crushed Cal but fritzed out against Air Force and now UGA, so they're a bit wonky, but they hammered Cal and Georgia and lost by one to Florida. Yeah, I'd bet on them versus anyone below them. As for Cal, how heavily do you take that UT game into account? With Longshore flipping a switch to go from "Ayoob" to "Booya," is this even the same team? Not so much. They murdified an Oregon team that, yes, was fortunate to win versus OK, but obliterated a defense that just held Texas to 200 yards. Would I bet on them versus USC? Damn skippy.
- My raging contempt for Louisville and WVU continues unabated.
- Iowa! Up ten! Purdue's no good but they finally laid the smack down on someone. It's more like I've soured on the SEC en masse and they were the biggest beneficiary.
- Texas... oy. The Longhorns and Sooners are mirror images of each other. Both clearly have epic talent at the offensive skill positions and a quarterback they trust not at all. Defensively, both have talked a good game to date but had little to show for it until last week. I hate games like this year's Red River Rivalry that give me the impression that the teams are nearly identical but end up with lopsided scores due to a bad luck explosion on one sideline. I think Texas should be lower but refuse to drop them behind Louisville and WVU; I think OU should be higher but refuse to raise them higher than a bunch (more) one-loss teams. Maybe? I'm strongly considering jumping OU past the knot of SEC teams I hate.
Games Seen: Michigan-Michigan State, Penn State-Minnesota, Auburn-Arkansas, Texas-OU, Georgia-Tennessee, bits of Missouri-TT, bits of Nebraska-ISU.
OMG Beat Puke State LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL.
Run Offense vs. Michigan State
The last three years a Michigan tailback has broken 200 yards against the Spartans. That streak will probably end this year with Kevin Grady and Brandon Minor stealing carries from Hart, but the run game should improve from a year ago. I don't know if you remember, but other than Hart's two long jaunts through the Spartan secondary and Michigan's grinding drive at the end of the game, the run blocking last year was atrocious. This year Michigan has had its issues but is obviously and vastly improved. Having a fully healthy Mike Hart helps, as do guards who, you know, block and stuff. Rueben Riley's problems on the backside and a tendency to hurl Hart into eight- and nine-man fronts have been minor irritants, but Michigan is 20th in rush offense. There isn't that much to complain about.
State's rush defense is superficially all right -- 41st -- but Michigan State has only played one game in which the opponent was A) not a cupcake and B) not desperately playing catchup for most of the second half, that against Illinois. Opposition running backs totaled 24 carries in games versus Pitt and Notre Dame, averaging over 4.3 YPC. Illinois (I repeat: ILLINOIS) then shredded MSU for 252 yards on 44 carries, many of them Incredibly Surprising Quarterback Draws from true freshman Juice Williams. They're bad. Mike Hart is good, and if there's any team in the country without the discipline to maintain good lanes versus a zone running game, it's Michigan State.
Key Matchup: Adam Kraus/Mark Bihl/Alex Mitchell versus Clifton Ryan. Ryan's a senior and probably Michigan State's best defensive player. Michigan's running game versus Notre Dame was severely hampered by penetration from Derek Landri. Ryan has the potential to have the same impact.
Pass Offense vs. Michigan State
If Henne plays like he's been playing and State plays like they've been playing, this will be a Stalinesque massacre. State's cornerbacks have spent most of the year cowering ten yards off the line of scrimmage. This worked fine against Idaho, Illinois, and other teams featuring passing attacks more anemic than most but got them lit up for 400 yards and five irritating, irrational-Heisman-campaign-propping touchdowns versus Notre Dame, most on hilarious blown coverages or tackles. It would have been more if Brady Quinn hadn't spent the first half flinging open outs to Tacopants.
There is the matter of the Pitt game, during which Michigan State rolled out to a 38-10 lead on the nation's #1 pass efficiency offense. Before two meaningless garbage time drives, Tyler Palko had 151 yards, two interceptions, and six defensed passes. So what was that, exactly? My money is on an aberration. I've watched every MSU game this year save Idaho and Eastern: these cornerbacks are about as good as they were last year. Which is to say they are not good in any way whatsoever. Michigan's main fear is that whatever qualities the Spartan defensive backs have are somehow contagious and their frequent panicked attempts to tackle Michigan wide receivers will result in some sort of suck infection. Did I mention that Michigan State has seven sacks, 92nd in the nation and last in the Big Ten?
On the other side of the ball, Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington are both players capable of getting open deep versus the Spartan secondary and Henne has been the man to get it to them.
Key Matchup: Uh... Chad Henne versus Consistency? Dollars to donuts MSU lays back and plays two-deep much of the game, hoping to bend its way down the field. Henne's going to have to convert a lot of third downs to get Michigan in the endzone.
Run Defense vs. Michigan State
Michigan's task is made much easier by the injuries to Javon Ringer and Drew Stanton. Ringer, of course, is out. Stanton either has bruised ribs, something seriously wrong with his non-throwing hand, or both. Either way, his rushing attempts figure to be limited, as every hit could potentially knock him from the game. The carries will fall mostly to 260-pound bowling ball Jehuu Caulcrick and redshirt freshman AJ Jimmerson, neither of whom is particularly elusive.
That plays into Michigan's hands. Shawn Crable and Prescott Burgess are still susceptible to getting caught by misdirection -- or at least I fear they are -- but Taylor, Johnson, Branch, and Harris are a hell of an interior run defense. With the injury turmoil on the inside of the Spartan line, it's highly doubtful they finds anything resembling consistent success up the middle. And Caulcrick on a bounceout... versus Burgess and Crable? Uh, not so much.
The Michigan State offense is constructed such that one error by a defensive player results in a big chunk of yards, and we can still expect periodic errors from Michigan players. Expect a performance similar to but slightly better than the Minnesota game: a few plays where they take big chunks out of a flat-footed or misaligned defense interspersed with a lot of Alan Branch looking mean after a TFL.
Key Matchup: Crable and Burgess versus Spartan options. Even though Stanton is banged up Michigan State will still try to use him in the ground game, though he may be more decoy than actual threat. I still fear our outside linebackers are prone to slow or erroneous reads and we could get gashed on misdirection or option plays.
Pass Defense vs. Michigan State
Stanton's had a rough time of it lately, but I still fear his wrath. I know damn well he's a better quarterback than Brady Quinn and his mobility and accuracy will give the Michigan secondary problems. The Spartan receivers are a pedestrian bunch, though Kerry Reed is slowly sneaking towards being pretty damn good. Matt Trannon is still very big but almost incapable of getting separation in man coverage. Jerramy Scott is meh. Terry Love is decent but not explosive.
Stanton's rollouts will help mitigate what should be a fierce Michigan pass rush, but Michigan will use the 3-3-5 they've deployed extensively against the spread attacks of Vanderbilt and Central Michigan. In that set, Shawn Crable features as a freelancing bullet capable of coming from anywhere. He'll probably start or stunt wide quite a bit, hoping that he can slice through ponderously mobile offensive linemen and track down the quarterback before his receivers come open.
Key Matchup: Michigan safeties versus complex routes and trickeration. They've been burned deep a couple times this year on play action and trick plays, both specialties of MSU. There's the potential for a long touchdown play or two here unless they play perfectly, especially with Jamar Adams questionable.
One area in which Michigan State has indisputably improved is field goal kicking. Last year the Spartans found out something Michigan fans already knew: having someone named "Goss" associated with your football team can only lead to bad things. This year freshman Bret Swenson has proven himself something other than totally incompetent. So they've got that going for them. Punter Brandon Fields remains Michigan State writ small, alternating booming punts worthy of Zoltan with shanks and line drives.
Michigan has a decided advantage in the return game, as they have Steve Breaston. The Spartans are making do with the uninspiring Terry Love returning punts and Demond Williams returning kicks. Neither is much of a threat.
Key Matchup: Brandon Fields versus His Unpredictability. The Badgers regularly outkicked their coverage and were harshly punished by Steve Breaston. Minnesota sent him a series of Ross Ryan specials and escaped his wrath. Fie
lds can boom 'em, but might be better off forgoing 50-yarders.
Rivalry rivalry blah blah blah recordbooks blah blah throw 'em out blah blah records too blah. RABBLERABBLERABBLE.
- Michigan State plays over its head, as usual.
- Henne has an off day.
- Stanton plays like he can, not like he has.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Their offensive line is perforated like cheese of Swiss.
- Uh, like, Hart and stuff.
- They get behind a couple scores and decide to pack it in.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 6 out of 10. (Baseline 5; -1 for HA HA, Illinois; -1 for You Seem To Be On The Verge Of An Utter Collapse; +1 for Stanton Is Pissed; +1 for This Is Their
Rose Motor City Bowl; +1 for They Do Have An Offense Capable Of Wondrous Deeds).
Desperate need to win level: 10 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +5 for Eff It, We Must Go To Columbus Undefeated)
Loss will cause me to... slap myself.
Win will cause me to... anyone got spare PSU tickets?
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict: Without the Spartan injuries I'd be in full freakout mode, as a high powered Spartan offense and a couple mistakes here or there could easily result in a Michigan State victory. Assuming Stanton's running is curtailed, the Michigan State rushing game is going be largely ineffective. There will be instances here and there where someone misses a tackle or makes the wrong read and Michigan gives up a chunk of yards, but consistent, drive-sustaining five and eight yard carries will be rare. State's passing game will be far more difficult to shut down -- I expect a number of frustrating third-and-long conversions -- but English has implemented and used that 3-3-5 with this game (and OSU) specifically in mind. Crable is the right guy to help with those rollouts. Michigan will give up yards and probably a touchdown or two, but will adequately contain MSU.
Michigan's offense should shred the MSU defense. I expect the Spartans to lay back and hope for execution errors that prevent Michigan from driving the length of the field. Michigan will oblige some, but State can't defend the run or the pass and Michigan can do both. Offense should be Minnesota redux.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Hart: 159.
- Breaston rips off a huge return.
- 34-17, Michigan.