there would have to be some to wash away
11/15/2008 – Michigan 14, Northwestern 21 – 3-7, 2-6 Big Ten
At halftime I momentarily thought I had found a forgotten pair of hand warmers in the recesses of my jacket, only to pull out an empty packet of trail mix and other assorted detritus. This was worse than having no hope of hand warmers at all.
I then examined the various and diverse pockets of my jacket, coming across nothing useful. I did strike upon my ticket from last April's Frozen Four, which now commemorates the gut-punch loss suffered because of Nickelback and Creed. Thanks for leaving it there, Brian Of Christmas Past. I hope your football team goes 3-9, douchebag.
I spent halftime with my hands on the glass of the pretzel oven. Contraption. Vendor thing. Thing with flames and heat that contains pretzels. Whatever the hell it is. It didn't help much.
This is how weird it's been of late: as I huddled near a pretzel contraption at halftime of a game between 3-7 Michigan and Northwestern, soaked, frozen, pondering the grim futility of all things, I discovered that I was sort of enjoying this. Yeah, sure, you had to peel back layer upon layer of misery to get to the morbidly sunny core. But it was there.
If you were there, and stayed there, and did not move from your seat until Nick Sheridan's final pass sailed out of bounds, you have completed the final challenge. This is the worst it can ever be: an awful team that does things specifically intended to hurt you playing a meaningless game against Northwestern in weather not fit for man nor beast. With multiple infuriating million-year-long media timeouts in the fourth quarter. That they lose.
If you put up with it (and far, far fewer than the announced 107,000 did), you are hardcore. You have a black belt in fandom. You get the Fandom Endurance III merit badge. If anyone ever questions your Michigan allegiance, you can just say "I was at the 2008 Northwestern game" and they will have to step off. If they fail to do so with sufficient obsequiousness I'm pretty sure you can cave their skull in with your finger.*
Hell, if you've even watched all these games and maintained enough emotional attachment to swear profusely during them, you're at least a purple belt or a yellow belt or whatever is pretty high up on the belt list.
You probably didn't do this by choice. Anyone with a choice either didn't show up or left or checked out emotionally. You stayed because it was inevitable.
This, of course, is abject stupidity. I, and everyone else there, knew that the four-plus hours spent going to, attending, and returning from the game would be four of the least pleasant hours of our lives. At one point my rain-soaked uncle exclaimed to us all "we do this for fun!"
So, okay, established. Fandom is stupid LOL etc.
But why, hand on the pretzel machine, did I find perverse satisfaction in what I was doing? Why was that horrible game a sort of uniquely rewarding experience in a way last year's Ohio State game, equally dismal on-field and off, was not?
The Ohio State game last year had stakes. Win, and go to the Rose Bowl. And it was Lloyd Carr and Chad Henne and Mike Hart and Jake Long leaving. And it was against Ohio State. There were reasons to go, the chance of seeing something spectacular. Even if that chance was low.
No such chance existed on Saturday. It was pointless and horrible. Anyone with any common sense stayed away. But our stupidity is unbreakable, and that's now 100% proven. There's at least a little something in that.
*(Don't try this at home, kids! Unless you live in Ohio!)
- Hey, chalk up another running performance somewhere between respectable and pretty good. Carlos Brown, back from the dead, was outstanding with his cuts and there were open lanes time and again. And this was against a pretty good run defense in conditions that made throwing an extremely unlikely occurrence.
- Hopefully the Martavious Odoms fumble festival was more due to his inexperience in conditions like those he experienced on Saturday. Remember, this guy is a freshman from a swamp, basically.
- We'll see how he looks in UFR, but Mouton looked dynamite, at least against the run.
- Michigan got jacked by the referees, who 1) took away a Michigan touchdown by ruling Donovan Warren out of bounds, 2) gave Northwestern a touchdown by ignoring an incredibly blatant hold on Tim Jamison, and 3) killed any hope of a comeback by ignoring two obvious PI calls. I mean, whatever, we're 3-8, but Christ the standards in this league are horrifically low.
- That was one high-variance punting strategy employed by Northwestern.
- I hate third and more than 15.
A thousand apologies: I accidentally published this as the Minnesota preview, so no one saw this.
|WHAT||Michigan vs. Northwestern|
|WHERE||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Michigan|
|WHEN||12:00 EST, November 15th, 2008|
|THE LINE||Michigan by 3.5|
|WEATHER||Mid 40s, windy, 100% chance of rain. Fun!|
Run Offense vs. Northwestern
Michigan's run offense has emerged from slumber with a series of slashing 40-yarders the past couple weeks. Yesterday's UFR has the details:
Over the last two weeks, Michigan has 76 carries for 430 yards. Though they haven't been taking on the 1970s Steelers, that's 5.7 YPC against a vast array of eight- and sometimes even nine-man fronts with a rag-tag offensive line, a banged up set of running backs, and quarterbacks close to the platonic opposite of Pat White.
Caution is still advisable, as Purdue is the country's #90 rush defense and Minnesota is #65. Northwestern, remarkably, will be a step up. They come in with the #45 rush defense and I'm sure most of you remember the specter of Northwestern DT John Gill slashing into Mike Hart over and over again last year in Evanston.
Add in an impressive performance against Penn State and that's three of four weeks the ground game has performed admirably, with Michigan State's snap-jumping ways the exception.
FWIW, Half of Purdue's total was one 76 yard Kory Sheets touchdown, so that game is:
- 76 yard touchdown
- 24 carries for 3.4 YPC.
This, unfortunately, looks like Great Success against finesse spread teams and crunching death against the straight-ahead pounders of the world. Michigan has been pretty good with the straight ahead pounding, actually, but that's almost entirely due to MINOR RAGE, which is doubtful with shoulder and rib injuries this week. The backups are slight freshmen better suited to bouncing past opponents than powering through them.
I think this will be an issue. Last year the Northwestern game caused my head to explode. Michigan ran no play action and one misdirection play the whole game, allowing this to happen:
Holy crap, Kraus(-2) just gets his ass kicked by John Gill. He's driven yards into the backfield, directly into Hart's path, and Gill makes the TFL. … Gill crashes into Boren, preventing him from doubling the other DT. So no zone block and thus an unblocked linebacker. Hart stuffed for nothing. … Kraus(-2) lets Gill right by him and Mallett is sacked … Boren(-2) owned by Gill again. WTF is going on? … Gill again in the backfield, this time working on Kraus(-1).
John Gill is a badass. John Gill is basically J Leman. John Gill is starting for Northwestern this weekend in a windy, rainy game in the 40s. Last year John Gill slanted so hard to the playside on every snap that it was impossible to prevent him from punching Mike Hart's mom in the backfield.
Raise your hand if you're surprised the UFR was one long diatribe against Mike Debord. No one, I see.
So. WTF? Well, the Gill Event was extremely similar to the Penn State event Michigan experienced last year: saddled with Mallett, Michigan ran zone stretches again and again and again and basically told their opponent that if you slant hard you're going to kill the play in the backfield half time time. Michigan averaged 3.2 YPC. The week before, Michigan scraped out a win against Penn State averaging 3.0 YPC.
This year, Michigan tore Penn State up in the first half before running out of stuff to do, shooting Brandon Minor into Penn State's secondary with some unexpected plays. The gambling, slanting Penn State defense was cowed by consecutive long runs that caught PSU DTs on the wrong side of Michigan OLs; if Michigan can get Gill and other Wildcats guessing wrong there will be creases. Significant creases.
Key Matchup: I think it might be John Gill and Slanty McDefensiveCoordinator versus David Molk and Michigan's playcalling.
Pass Offense vs. Minnesota
Suicidal kitten? It's cute, small, you want to care for it and hope it does the best but you're probably going to end up with DEATH at some point.
Yeah, so Nick Sheridan put up 18 for 30 for 203 yards and a touchdown last week. He hit a variety of bubble screens. He rolled out and threw looping fifteen yard passes that looked like sure disaster but invariably found their way into the receiver's hands for a first down. He was accurate-ish on a number of deep balls but floated two of them such that easy touchdowns were turned into an incompletion and a 30-yard wheel. He should have thrown two ugly interceptions.
He'll start tomorrow; Threet is supposedly healthy (he has gone through the last couple practices and is available). Justin Feagin will probably reprise his Incredibly Surprising Quarterback role. In the script this is the week he pulls up and chucks one to a wide open tight end.
Northwestern, meanwhile, has given up a ton of yards through the air (they're 89th) but has been good-ish in efficiency terms (49th), though the quality of competition hasn't exactly been great. Northwestern got Indiana's backup, a melting-down Curtis Painter, a n00b-y Ricky Stanzi, and Brian Hoyer, and didn't exactly blow the doors off. They're 20th in sacks, though.
I pretty skeptical we'll see a repeat performance from Sheridan, especially given the nasty combination of his arm strength and the weather conditions. He might be the more effective quarterback anyway, because he's the more accurate guy on screens and short stuff
Key Matchup: Sheridan versus not throwing the killer interception. Even in his magnum opus last week he should have chucked two interceptions. I think Michigan wins if he avoids the killer INT.
Run Defense vs. Northwestern
Michigan's run defense has been spotty at best this year but if the 3-3-5 has been relegated to history's trash pile I'm fairly optimistic here. You may remember last year's game, when Michigan used… well… an inexplicable 3-3-5 on a lot of potential run downs and got gashed a thousand times, including yielding a 50-yard touchdown run to Northwestern backup tailback Omar Conteh. When Michigan was in a more conventional front their runs were limited to the occasional Shawn Crable screwup on the edge.
Michigan doesn't have to worry about Conteh this year, and it's not because starter Tyrell Sutton has returned to health: both players are out for the year with injuries. Left standing is true freshman Stephen Simmons, who has 18 carries for 53 yards to his name. Information is limited, but what we know:
- He's 5'8".
- Rivals gave him two stars.
- His other offer was from Indiana.
Okay, not incredibly impressive but you dismiss the Northwestern running game at your peril—I mean, it's basically what we run and we've managed to cobble something together of late.
Simmons isn't going to get all the carries, though. Between them, Mike Kafka and CJ Bacher have 31% of Northwestern's attempts on the ground this year. The quarterback keeper is much more of a threat for Northwestern than it is Michigan. Kafka won the Minnesota game by putting up 217 rushing yards and actually had an eminently respectable 126 rushing yards against Ohio State; 43 yards of sacks masked his day on the ground.
Key Matchup: Jamison or Graham or Harrison or whoever's got QB contain versus irresponsibility. I know this might bite me in the ass, but I can't see this Simmons guy doing much against Michigan's defense. A few runs here and there will get into the secondary, but unless they managed to unearth another Sutton (and remember that Sutton had much more hype coming into college after an impressive HS All Star game performance) he's not going to make yards that aren't there. Contain the QBs, contain the NW running game.
Pass Defense vs. Northwestern
Word on the street is that starting quarterback CJ Bacher will return this weekend after suffering through a hamstring injury the past couple weeks. Lake The Posts remains skeptical about Bacher's health:
The semantic interpretations over Fitz' positioning of the QB situation continue to fill up columns, but I think every Cats fan expects both CJ and Mike to play.
We might see something like a Sheridan/Feagin split in the game, with Mike "Franz" Kafka in the Incredibly Surprising Quarterback Role. Kafka can throw at least a little bit, so he might be only Mildly Surprising.
Northwestern quarterbacks are collectively 89th in passing efficiency; Bacher has 10 touchdowns against 11 interceptions so far this year and is averaging an ugly 5.6 YPA. Kafka's managed 3 interceptions in just 46 throws, though he is averaging 7.2 YPA. Some of that is probably Ohio State taking the foot off the gas after getting up huge,, though.
There is no main receiving threat: Eric Peterman, Ross Land, and Rasheed Ward have near-identical statistics and there's a trio of guys with about 15 catches behind hem; Running backs have caught 40 passes, too, so Michigan will have to watch for screens and the like. All of these guys are typical Northwestern receivers: large, not particularly athletic, decent hands, etc.
Michigan turned in a terrific performance against Minnesota one week after getting obliterated by Purdue's third-string quarterback, so you tell me what the hell is going on. The change away from the 3-3-5 stack allowed Michigan to keep two deep safeties and that, in turn, gave the cornerbacks freer reign to play aggressively.
One thing to look for: the bubble screen minigame. Michigan's scheme against the bubble is to have the cornerback to that side freak out and explode the guy in the backfield, which has worked wonders but seems vulnerable to a counter-punch of some sort. Minnesota tried it once, found no one immediately open, and then was swallowed by Brandon Graham. Northwestern loves screens of all sorts and will have to find a way to make the bubble effective or will have a hard time moving the ball.
Key Matchup: Screen minigame.
Should be a Michigan advantage overall. Michigan got a couple good kickoff returns for the third consecutive week and now threatens to reach average in returns. They're 66th in KO returns and 62nd in punt returns. Given the vast disaster this area was early in the year, that's cause for a (small, reserved) celebration. Northwestern, meanwhile, idles in the 90s.
Michigan remains #1 in net punting; Zoltan is a hero and will continue providing long, virtually unreturnable kicks that are well-covered. One thing to watch for: if it's windy Michigan might go with the rugby liners more often: several of Zoltan's punts this year have had intentionally flat trajectories. These punts hit after about 30 yards, but are never fielded and because of the trajectory invariably bounce 10 or even 20 yards downfield. Northwestern's net punting is 44th; if there are regular punt exchanges Michigan should come out ahead.
Kicking is a slight advantage to Northwestern. Spectacularly-named Armando Villareal is 17 of 21 this year; KC Lopata is 10 of 13.
Key Matchup: Kickers versus the weather. And punt returners.
- John Gill slices into the backfield and you're like "doesn't this look familiar? And stupid?"
- Our running game just can't operate well without MINOR RAGE.
- Northwestern's third string running back starts slashing us.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- The diversity of the Michigan ground game gets NW guys on the wrong side of blockers.
- The nickel package looks like a good solution.
- They throw a lot of bubble screens.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 6 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +1 for Maybe Not DEATH But Suicidal Kitten, +1 for The Weather Is Ugly, Isn't It, –1 for Hey We're A Vegas Favorite!, +1 for And We're Like 2-8 Against The Spread, –1 for Their Running Backs Are Dead And So Is Their Quarterback, Sort Of, +1 for Uh… So Are Ours, –1 for In A Battle Of Punts, We Have Space.)
Desperate need to win level: 2 out of 10. (Baseline 5; –1 for We're Still 3-7, +1 for But A Win Plus Something Respectable Against OSU Looks Like Progress, –1 for .)
Loss will cause me to... sigh audibly and return to my "Is Michigan 2008 Worse Than Notre Dame 2007?" post.
Win will cause me to... allow myself the tiniest little flicker of hope about beating Ohio State, which I will forcibly obliterate by Monday.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
This looks like an ugly punt-fest to me. I assume Northwestern won't replicate Minnesota's mistakes and let the bubble screen become a regular part of Michigan's arsenal, especially in the gross weather expected. They'll crowd the line, take away that, and dare Michigan to chuck it deep, which they will not be able to do.
Michigan will get behind the chains on first down plenty due to that and gambling from Northwestern's pretty good front seven, which will make it very tough to sustain drives. There should be a couple opportunities for Michigan to slash into the Northwestern secondary, at which point someone will pick up 30 or so yards; much hinges on whether these plays hit the endzone (either because the running back makes a safety miss or good field position) or end up resulting in dodgy field goal attempts.
As for Northwestern's offense… well, I see virtually the same thing with less chance of a long run due to the shakiness of their tailback situation. These teams are near mirror images on offense: same scheme, same dinged up nominal starter, same pass-wonky backup, same depleted RB corps. I worry about a bubble-screen counterpunch and Northwestern's consistently effective regular screen game, and figure they'll sustain at least a couple drives and get one big play.
In the end, though, there will be many punts and that favors Michigan, which has found someone to return them and someone to boot them very far in such a way as to make them nigh unreturnable.
Finally, opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Sheridan takes a major step back.
- Zoltan is the difference.
- Michigan, 17-13.
One: Michigan is holding an open scrimmage after the Northwestern game, which might be appealing to those of weak constitution facing down what looks like some legendarily awful weather:
Admission to the “Garden Party” will be free of charge and fans can begin entering Crisler Arena through gates B and C from inside Michigan Stadium at the start of the fourth quarter. Fans will be able to observe the Wolverines practice with the football game broadcast without sound on the Crisler Arena JumboTron.
If, midway through the fourth quarter you are drowning and cold and want to go somewhere but also want to watch the game… eh… there you go.
Two: Michigan opened its season with two victories and will take on UCLA at Madison Square Garden Thursday. Impressions abound. UMHoops:
Manny Harris seems to get better every night. After posting a career high 30 points last night Manny came 2 assists short of a triple double tonight. Yesterday the only thing you could criticize about Manny’s game was that he didn’t have many assists. Well he posted 8 tonight and seemed to be looking for the open man most of the night (while still managing to score 26 points). Manny shot it efficiently (6-9), got to the stripe (13-14), and rebounded (10) — I don’t know what else you can ask from him.
Manny Harris is WAY too good to play for Michigan. Thanks Tommy! Corperryale with a near-triple-double in his second game? Very LeBron James-esque. And how sweet would those back-to-back dunks have been? I'd love to say "Wait 'til next year" with this guy, but I'm not sure there will be one. Our only hope is that Harris realizes he'll get pounded in the NBA with his current frame and comes back for Michigan's first trip to The Dance since '98.
Rebounding was the major concern, as Michigan allowed a whopping 20 offensive rebounds and only retrieved 55% of opposition misses (of which there were many). UMHoops points out that getting your ass kicked on the boards is a sure sign you're being coached by John Beilein, and with Michigan down to two potential post guys (Ben Cronin exists, I guess, but most people expect little from him this year), neither of whom is exactly Ben Wallace, that tendency is going to be there all year. Michigan is going to be a zone team, period, and will get murdered on the boards. They'll try to make it up with turnovers.
The Big Ten Geeks say "don't get carried away," then note some unusual, very un-John stats:
The Wolverines were not as perimeter focused this game, devoting less than a third of their field goal attempts to 3 pointers. Partly as a result, they shot 26 free throws on just 43 FGAs, and they made all but one of them. Of course, the Wolverines did turn it over 14 times in a 59 possession game, which isn't so good. Michigan lit the nets on fire everywhere, shooting 35.7% on 3s and 62.1% from 2, and you won't lose many games doing that.
This was due at least in part to Northeastern's intermittent pressing, which Michigan beat for several easy buckets and Northeastern used to pick up several turnovers.
Hockey does not have a G you can drop. Michigan takes on Western Michigan in a home-and-home this weekend. Western, as usual, is freakin' dire. Yost Built has your Ten Things to Know. Anything other than a sweep is disappointing.
In other news, Mark Mitera opted for surgery, and the prognosis is actually encouraging. The stated timeline is three(!) to six months of rehab, which means there's at least some chance we see Mitera on the ice at Yost again. Yost Built does the math:
last Thursday was November 6. Three months would put him at February 6. Four months and he's back for the CCHA Tournament. Five months and it's just the Frozen Four if we make it. It might be unlikely, but apparently there's still a chance that Mitera's Michigan career isn't over. You know he'd like to make it back in four months and play at Yost one more time...
I am also in the club of "would like to see Mark Mitera one more time, or preferably ten." There are also rumblings that Kampfer might not be done for the year.
One recruiting downer: uber-prospect Colin Jacobs, who Michigan had a couple ins with, will not be joining the sick 2010 recruiting class. He's signed with a WHL team.
Draftin'. The draft prospects of Michigan seniors are not super high according to Pro Football Weekly whispers:
Scouts increasingly have been disappointed with Michigan senior CB Morgan Trent, whose lack of toughness and tackling deficiencies too often have been exposed. He is tight in the hips and too straight-linish and has not warranted better than fourth-round grades from evaluators.
Michigan senior DE Tim Jamison plays hard and gives good effort, but he is not a threat as a pass rusher and all of his production comes because he continues working to the ball and chasing, not because he is able to create plays.
I imagine Terrance Taylor is a second or third round pick and you'd think Will Johnson will end up getting drafted somewhere late.
Etc.: Yrs truly quoted by the Daily Northwestern; they picked out the zingers.
Reviving a tradition I did not execute last year: haikus for the graduating scholarship seniors, and other notables. Those with remaining eligibility are omitted.
You'll probably be
a fancy suit stock broker
so it's not all bad
Centers never knew
they could be so afraid of
a balding tackle
In your younger days
I thought you would be a ninja
or maybe a bear
Suggest you cover
deep routes in life, so, like
get health insurance
Bet it's annoying
that everyone says you have
a smoking hot mom
You committed to
Tyrone Willingham, which, like
makes you a rare bird
No one blames you, man
we all know Crable messed up
if that helps any. No?
That Kentucky raid
you played the most from it
it didn't work out
There are worse things than
having an awesome nickname
like "The Machete"
Did you know your name,
su, doesn't fit here?
You'll be a footnote
"First M JUCO in ten years"
So congrats I guess
What do you get when
you cross a bear, a hydrant,
and a six foot smile?
is underrated these days
but I recall Brabbs
Small, nimble slot guy
You showed at Michigan
four years too early
The bubble screen is a staple of the spread 'n' shred. It's tough to defend without committing a player that would otherwise be in the box to the slot receiver, and if you've got the right zippy dwarf running it it can break big.
Theoretically, it should be an easy throw, but it requires precise timing and location. If you're off by a couple feet on a longer ball you might take the receiver off his feet but you've still picked up eight, ten, fifteen yards. If you're errant on the bubble screen you'll slow the receiver and wreck the play. Or you could, like, throw it backwards and provide a free turnover to an opponent.
Since that last horrible example has actually occurred this year, this will be no surprise: Michigan's quarterbacks have been pretty iffy on them all year. However, Nick Sheridan had a couple beauties against Minnesota. Here's the purtiest:
Minnesota lines up in a 3-4 with a linebacker or safety sort lined up over Clemons. The outside coverage is offering eight-yard cushions; this is a pre-snap setup that looks perfect for the bubble. (It's markedly different than Illinois' approach.) Especially when…
…the guy covering the slot blitzes. Michigan gives the dive fake, then Sheridan pulls up for the bubble. Note the position of Clemons at the moment. He's four yards behind the line of scrimmage. He will give another yards as he searches for depth, then run forward to a designated spot.
Here Clemons has acquired the ball. You can see the setup downfield, with the outside receivers blocking the two defenders and a safety attempting to close it down from the outside. The key here is the timing of the pass and its location: Clemons catches this in stride, facing downfield. There is no delay between the catch and run. This has not frequently been the case this year.
Excellent blocks from the two receivers and a not-quite-quick-enough reaction from the safety provide…
…a first down. Clemons will use his momentum to get ten more.
Here's the video:
Here's a similar play against a defense that's basically the same except the opposition defensive backs are offering less cushion:
In UFR I said this one "isn't as upfield as it should be," and you see Odoms has to turn his body upfield a bit to catch a ball slightly behind him. I think I overstated my criticism a little bit on review (review-review, actually); this one also sees Odoms catch the ball basically in stride.
A couple notes:
- I can't find where I read this, but IIRC when you see Michigan give a handoff fake before the bubble screen, that's a read. When it's a presnap call they just throw it.
- I'm not sure if different defensive alignments call for different sorts of throws and may be partly responsible for the QBs not throwing these "right" much of the year. But I kind of doubt it; even this well-timed bubble is caught four yards behind the LOS.
- This is the kind of thing I thought we would be surprised we missed without Henne. (We all knew we'd miss, say, laser post passes to Adrian Arrington.)