"Jim's a tough guy and you can see his personality is all over this football team," Fitzgerald said.
Just posting this for kicks since I track it.
This is the S&P+ data for opponents thru 6 weeks of UM, OSU, MSU. I also posted those 3 teams week over week changes in data - both OSU and MSU had rough weeks in S&P+ rightly so. This is still early enough in the year, 1 bad or good week can make you move a lot.
In terms of the 18 opponents (5 weeks completed + this week) biggest movers (i.e. 30 spots-ish) were:
- CMU's D took a huge step up for holding N.Ill to 19. Even if N. Ill offense has a bad rank. There could have been other factors like CMU's earlier opponents (not named MSU) doing better.
- VA Tech's offensive S&P ranking sunk as Pitt held them down and they continue to look like boogers.
Utah slid its way up on both offense and defense as they did nothing but sit in a bye as other top teams looked LOL. BYU's D also got a 10ish slot pop. Maryland's O sunk further into the abyss thanks to UM.
Overall same perception as last week - MSU has faced the best offenses, and OSU the worst. UM has faced by far the best defenses (will be 4 top 50 defenses after this week). Even UNLV's D is wonderfully meh by S&P+ standard? Which is better than we thought.
|Off S&P+||Def S&P+||Off S&P+||Def S&P+|
|Opp S&P+||Opp S&P+||Opp S&P+|
|UNLV||98||N. Ill||106||Air Force||27|
|BYU||46||W. MI||69||C. MI||90|
|Opp S&P+||Opp S&P+||Opp S&P+|
|UNLV||64||N. Ill||26||Air Force||52|
|BYU||29||W. MI||112||C. MI||42|
Welcome to your week five edition of these Big 10 Power Rankings! As discussed last week, these rankings are results based, in the sense that they judge what teams have actually done in games (and not how good they are perceived to be by the media). This diary will proceed as follows. First I will explain the methodology (including a major change from last week, as well as a proposed change for next week). Then I will present the rankings. Finally, I'll briefly outline some observations based on the results.
- 2 – win over “good” team
- 1 – win over “solid” team
- 0 – win over “not good” team/loss to “good” team
- -1 – loss to “solid” team
- -2 – loss to “not good” team
NOTE: This system starts by assuming every team is "baseline average," that is to say, every team is expected to beat "not good" teams, expected to lose to "good" teams and expected to win/lose to "solid" teams in roughly equal measure. Anything above that is rewarded and anything below that is penalized.
NOTE: This system does not reward teams for wins over “not good” teams, nor does it penalize teams for losses to “good” teams. The baseline average team is expected to beat the former, lose to the latter and break even against “solid” competition.
NEW: Last week several commenters suggested I make the system for determining “good,” “solid” and “not good” more transparent. So this week, instead of rating each Big 10 team’s opponents individually, I’m just using Football Outsiders’ F+ rating system, like so:
- Good: #s 1-25
- Solid: #s 26-75
- Not Good: #s 76+
Note: in order to avoid endogeneity issues, I’m using the F+ rankings from the previous week (i.e. from before the current slate of games were played).
- 0.5 – road win
- 0.0 – home win/road loss
- -0.5 – home loss
Margin of Victory Weight
- 1.0 – large win over “good” team
- 0.5 – large win over “solid” team/small win over “good” team
- 0.0 -
- -0.5 – large loss to “solid” team/small win/loss to “not good” team
- -1.0 – large loss to “not good” team
EXAMPLE: So a 6 point win over Northwestern this week (currently #17 in F+), would be scored as follows: 2.0 [no home/away weight] + 0.5 = 2.5. A 6 point loss to Northwestern would be scored like this: 0.0 – 0.5 [no weight for MoV]: -0.5.
Proposed Conference Game Weight
Unlike the human polls, this ranking system doesn’t distinguish between recent and older results. As a result, it also potentially overrates non-conference games relative to their importance as part of a conference power ranking system. So I’m wondering: does it make sense to add a +/- 0.5 weight for conference vs. non-conference games? That wouldn’t really change much right now, but going forward it would reduce the impact of early season results against non-conference opponents.
I’m not wedded to the idea, per se, though I think it might improve the system. I’ll implement it next week if you guys think I should, and leave things as is if the balance of opinion tilts that way.
Week 5 Rankings
[Note: the (+/-N) refers to movement up or down the scale since last week: +2 means a given team has climbed the rankings by two spots, say from #4 to #2 (i.e. it's inversely proportional to the numerical value of the rank).]
1. Northwestern (5-0, AP #13): 5.5
(=) Last week’s top ranked team does the most to improve their position this week by crushing “solid” Minnesota at home, but also benefits from previous opponent Duke moving up to #22 in week 4’s F+ rankings (which leads to their reclassification as “good”). Though most observers see Ohio State as the best team in the Big 10, Northwestern has—by far—accomplished the most through five weeks.
2. Iowa (5-0, AP # 22): 4.5
(+4) Iowa is week five’s biggest winner, moving up from #6 to #2. The most obvious reason for this is their (fairly lucky) road win against Wisconsin (#19 in F+). But the shift to using F+ has also benefitted the Hawkeyes in other ways, as previous opponent Iowa State barely squeaked into the “solid” category at #75 in F+ (and Pittsburgh is #50). It’s unlikely that Iowa State will remain in this category, so expect that score to decline somewhat. But Iowa is definitely better than expected.
3. Ohio State (5-0, AP #1): 2.5
(-1) A top five team by most national ranking systems, and the near unanimous preseason #1. Ohio State is undefeated, but have not impressed in victory. The Buckeyes remain at 2.5, as their road victory bonus for winning in Bloomington is canceled out by the small margin of victory over what F+ considered to be a “not good” (# 78) team going in to week five.
4. Michigan (4-1, AP #18): 2.0
(-1) No major change here except for a road win bonus against Maryland, as the system does not factor in large margins of victory against teams rated as “not good.” Still, getting a first road win under Jim Harbaugh is nice. Next week’s matchup against Northwestern provides an opportunity to make a major move upward in these rankings. It will also tell us a lot about where we are as a program.
5(t). Michigan State (5-0, AP #4): 1.0
(-2) Starting from a raw score of 2.0 (for wins over “solid” Oregon and Air Force), MSU is then penalized for failing to win convincingly against bad teams like Central Michigan and Purdue, while another MoV penalty cancels out a road win bonus against WMU. Bottom line, this system expects good teams to impose their will on inferior opponents and the Spartans have yet to do that in a single game. And they almost lost to Purdue (who are very bad). So it still remains to be seen whether MSU is a sleeping giant or paper tiger. A very tractable schedule, though, ensures that latter eventuality probably still translates to 9 wins and a decent bowl game. Bring on Rutgers!
5(t). Minnesota (3-2, AP NR): 1.0
(-2) I’ve never believed in this team, given that they graduated like 90% of last year’s offensive production (i.e. Cobb/Cobb/Maxx). Now Northwestern has exposed the Gophers for the average-plus team they are. For those paying close attention to scores, Minnesota has beaten two “solid” teams according to F+ (Colorado State and Ohio), but is penalized for the loss to Northwestern, since the Wildcats were classified as “solid” by F+ in week four (#26). In other good Gophers news, Purdue and Nebraska are up next.
7. Illinois (4-1, AP NR): 0.5
(+3) This week Illinois beat a struggling Nebraska, whose fans may be regretting the offseason coaching change right now. Prior to the game, though, Nebraska were rated “solid” (#38 in F+). Strangely, Middle Tennessee also qualifies as “solid” (#69 in F+). Nebraska is likely to be downgraded next week, but still—for a team that projected to be straight-up bad, Illinois looks surprisingly mediocre so far, and that’s an improvement over the Tim Beckman era.
8. Wisconsin (3-2, AP NR): -1.5
(-1) Badgers has a sad. On the other hand, the Big 10 West is pretty bad. Wisconsin should be okay, if not much better than okay.
9. Indiana (4-1 AP NR): -2.0
(-1) The Hoosiers definitely look better than expected, and came ever-so-close to upsetting the defending champs this week. But three unconvincing wins over teams that are clearly “not good” does hurt. Even still, Indiana has four very winnable games left on its schedule (away at PSU, Maryland and Purdue, and home versus Rutgers), so bowl eligibility looks to be in the cards.
10. Penn State (4-1, AP NR): -2.5
(+1) PSU may be 4-1, but they’ve struggled against 3 out of 4 “not good” opponents and lost to the only “solid” team they’ve faced. This is the kind of team that might have a surprising performance or two in them, but I only see one likely win on their remaining schedule (home vs. Maryland). The rest of the schedule ranges from tossup (home vs. Illinois) to near-certain loss (away at MSU, OSU, Northwestern). Bowl eligibility is still in question, pending next week’s match against Indiana.
10(t). Maryland (2-3, AP NR): -2.5
(-1) Maryland isn’t very good, but at least their losses are fairly explainable—both West Virginia and Michigan are rated as “good” by F+, and thus the beat downs are expected results vs. an average team, and Maryland, so far, appears to be a moderately below-average team. Sadly, though, the Terrapins really only have one more game on their schedule that I’d consider a likely win (away at Rutgers).
12. Nebraska (2-3, AP NR): -4.0
(=) This is not a good debut season for Mike Riley, though the fact that the Cornhuskers have been “in” each of their losses suggests that this team * might * be able to put it together at some point. Or they might collapse, like our 2009 team did midway through the Illinois game. There are only two likely wins left on the schedule (away at Purdue and Rutgers), so they’ll have to pull an upset if they want to make the postseason. Even odds on that happening.
13(t). Purdue (1-4, AP NR): -4.5
(=) Purdue is bad. How they almost beat MSU is hard to explain—maybe MSU isn’t that good, or maybe it’s just one of those mysteries, like how Ty Willingham’s very bad Washington teams consistently gave Pete Carroll’s USC a game but got shellacked by everyone else in the Pac-12. Unfortunately for the Boilermakers, this system does not reward closer-than-expected losses to “good” teams. On the other hand, it does penalize home losses to “solid” opponents—and Purdue has two of those (and the loss to VT was a blowout).
13(t). Rutgers (2-2, AP NR): -4.5
(+1) Rutgers “benefits” from not playing this week. Next week they’ll be the punching bag MSU unloads its frustrations upon. But hey--one dude might be out of legal trouble. That's something, right? Right?
- Mean: -0.3
- Median: -0.5
- Range: 10 (5.5 - -4.5)
Though this ranking system does not predict who would win in a head-to-head matchup (whereas F+ or the AP poll do attempt to do that), it does indicate whose early season records denote accomplishment, and whose do not. Northwestern and Iowa are the teams that have done the most so far, though few, I imagine, would rate them as best in conference. Still, right now it looks like the Big 10 West will come down to these two, and both look much better than expected.
These rankings also confirm what many of us have long suspected: that the human polls are overrating OSU and MSU based on preseason biases. The difference is that OSU has a much higher talent level than anyone else in the conference. By contrast MSU's problems strike me as more serious. Under Dantonio, MSU has relied on effective defensive scheme and a remarkable upcoaching system on both sides of the ball to paper over gaps in raw athleticism relative to elite opponents. This year the scheme, at least, appears to have moved to Pittsburgh. On the other hand, look at their schedule: if everything goes pear shaped, they still probably win 8 games. That's a nice cushion.
As far as Michigan goes, well, the system rates the BYU win higher but not much else. We need another win against someone with a pulse to demonstrate that we are really back, and not just a team that's going to hang around the bottom edge of the AP poll for the rest of the year. That said, this is as good a start as I've seen over the past decade. I'm quietly confident we are on track for a 9 win season, including a rivalry win (my guess would be over MSU).
Finally, the system also tells us not to buy Indiana (despite being game against OSU) or PSU at 4-1. As I see it, Indiana is headed for a respectable 7-5 season. PSU, by contrast, may struggle to earn bowl eligibility. The system is more bullish on Illinois, which just shows how terrible Beckman was.
...oh, and Rutgers is bad. Also Purdue. So MSU should feel bad about almost losing to them.
Okay, that's all for this week. As always, if you have some constructive suggestions, I'm listening. Also, please do tell me what you think about the proposed conference game weight!
I've updated the mini program for the game this weekend. I added a total defense section as well.
Feel free to let me know any changes directly on here.
Obviously we're off to a great start on defense, but it's early. Here's to keeping it going and praying that this start does not turn in to a September statistical anomaly.
Here's a (non-advanced stats) look at some measuring sticks. Yes this is arbitrary. No I didn't go back and adjust them all for defensive scores. But hey, my lizard brain finds this useful/fun.
Below the brackets denote 3 things: (the number of games a defense held it's opponent to 7 or fewer points / and the number of games a defense gave up 15 or more / number of games from 8-14 pts allowed)
So (Great / Bad / Good) format.
EDIT: ^ Per comment requests, now in "Great / Good / Bad" Order. 0-7, 8-14, 15+. 15pts allowed isn't "Bad" exactly, but you get the idea.^
2015 Michigan: (4 / 0 / 1)
2015 Northwestern: (3 / 1 / 1)
Don't look now, but that Stanford win continues to look more impressive:
2015 Wisconsin: (3 / 1 / 1)
These former members of our conference have given up 0, 3, and 0 to Miami (OH), Troy & Hawaii. They lost 10-6 to Iowa and gave up 35 in a loss to Alabama to start off the season.
2015 Michigan State: (0 / 1 / 4)
Results are in and as people have been saying, this is not the defense they used to have. Other than holding CMU to 10 pts, they've given up at least 21 in every game so far this season.
2015 Ohio State: (1 / 2 / 2)
Shut out Hawaii (was also shut out by Wisconsin, tough start for the Rainbow Warriors), gave up 21+ to Indiana and VT.
Now for some prior year comps:
Michigan 2011: (3 / 3 / 7)
Michigan 2012: (1 / 5 / 7)
Michigan 2013: (0 / 2 / 11)
Michigan 2014: (0 / 5 / 7)
This Sugar Bowl run was our best defensive performance of the Hoke era by this measuring stick, with 2013 the worst. 2013 was arguably Peak "recruiting lull" age adjusted for Juniors/Seniors.
Michigan 2006: (4 / 4 / 5)
Interestingly, only 1 of our 8 best performances came from the non-conference schedule (Vanderbilt, 7pts). CMU put up 17, Notre Dame put up 21, and as has been mentioned on this blog Ball State put up 26 /twitch.
Ignoring those and looking only at the conference performances is even more heartbreaking than I remember: (avert your eyes trigger warning):
Points given up in Big Ten play: 13, 14, 13, 10, 6, 3, 3, 42
Michigan 1997: (6 / 3 / 3)
Note the 3 "worst" performances were 16, 16, and 24. Definitely a different era. Exhibit A: This was BF: Before Ferentz. Hayden Fry coached the Iowa team that scored the high water mark against this defense in a 28-24 Michigan victory.
Other Best In Modern Era Performances:
2013 Peak "MSU"/Narduzzi: (6 / 5 / 2) Total PPG= 12.9
Also a defense that played better later in the year and/or against the Big 10. The "MSU Defense" hype was truly built late in the season when they rolled through a stretch of Big 10 play without giving up a touchdown in five out of six games (Purdue=0, Illinois=3, Michigan=6 /flinch, Nebraska=28, Northwestern=6, Minnesota=3).
2013 "National Champs" Florida State: (7 / 3 / 4) Total PPG = 11.1
Loaded team NFL talent-wise.
2012 "National Runner Up" Notre Dame (5 / 3 / 5) Total PPG = 10.3
2012 "National Championship" Alabama (6 / 5 / 3) Total PPG = 11.6
We played both these teams. Yay!
2011: "National Championship" Alabama (7 / 5 / 1) Total PPG = 7.7
2011: "National Runner Up" LSU (6 / 4 / 4) Total PPG = 11.2
Peak "SEC!!!" The year that inspired the legend, when people looked up and said "hey this conference is having a pretty good run, thanks Urban we'll take it from here. Infamous for LSU over Bama 9-6 in overtime regular season, followed by Bama over LSU 21-0 in the National Championship game. Also spurred a counter-criticism "SEC offense is HORRIBLE". Arguably a different era.
Key theme: It appears, "The Best Defenses" play in conferences with "The Worst Offenses". It's usually both not one or the other. Which makes sense.
This is my weekly feature to look back at summer previews, get egg on my face, look over what Michigan did, and then project the rest of the year as we get more real time data. Last week's taking stock report can be found here.
Prelude: I did season previews on most UM opponents - I skipped UNLV and Rutgers out of boredom, and OSU out of fear. The rest are below
Dear readers - the deeper we go into the season the more off my summer views will become as naturally teams evolve from what we thought they would be and injuries happen.
So let's see how I did with Maryland ... I began the preview with:
Maryland football took advantage of the struggles of PSU and UM to finish 3rd in the Big 10 East in 2014 in their inaugral season in the conference. Unless Mark Dantonio retires in the next 3 years or James Franklin is a complete buffoon that might be Maryland's highest finish for a very long time. Just like I believe the average UM fan on this board is undervaluing PSU in 2015, I think they are overvaluing Maryland based on last year's 3rd place finish. This was a really mediocre team last year that lost some key talent and could turn into a poor team in 2015. Maryland only returns ~10 starters (6 on offense, 4 on defense) ... that would rank in the bottom tier across the P5. The division will be tougher as they will be facing less dysfunctional teams in UM and PSU. There is also a brutal 7 game stretch mid season that spans West Virginia, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan State. Going 2-5 in that span may be considered a victory with 1-6 more likely. On top of all that Maryland lost its defensive coordinator but considering the meh defense last year, I don't know if that is a loss or gain. I see Maryland battling it out with Rutgers and Indiana to determine 5th, 6th, and 7th in the East.
There is very little star power on this team but one standout is diminutive Will Likely who had two pick 6s last year along with numerous big plays on special teams. He showed yes even at 5'7, 175 lbs you can succeed as a Big 10 CB.
And ended with:
UM did not fare well under Brady Hoke on the road - especially against teams >.500. While Maryland might be .500 or better at the end of September due to the non conf foes I don't expect that to last long. This game is in early October when UM should begin finding its feet as a team and there is just way too much talent on this team to lose this game unless its one of those 3 turnover days or Will Likely returns 2 kicks for touchdowns.
This seems to me like a game that casual UM fan will worry about too much - as opposed to a team like BYU that casual UM fan should worry about a lot more. Maryland will be coming off a road game against what should be a decent West Virginia squad the prior week and I expect them to get exploited there. Michigan will be coming off what I expect to be a wild high scoring affair v BYU. Maryland looks like the perfect balm after 2 tough games vs teams from Utah in the month of September. Their DL is a bunch of newbies and converted LBs and this is the point of the year Drevno's influence should have the OL able to push around this kind of DL. Michigan's run game should have success. Maryland's run game is suspect while UM's run defense should be quite good. Rowe is an X factor of course and you just hope he does not have a Gary Nova 2014 type game but Nova had a special WR in Carroo - Maryland's special WRs are in the NFL.
This will be a night game (8 PM) so those cute Terps football fans will be pumped up but a methodical Michigan team should impose their will over time. It's been a long time since we've said that so hopefully I won't have egg on face assuming it can be done.
Again... don't kick to Will Likely. Also don't throw on him. Thank you.
Generally I think this was a 96/100 - where I got it wrong was that UM was not coming off a tough BYU game, PSU is not so hot, and the game was not at 8 PM. Pretty happy with the rest!
/pat self on back
These were my views of the matchups this summer when I thought Caleb Rowe was at least a high risk, high reward halfway decent QB in relation to crap QBs of the Big 10.
UM rush off v MD rush def - Adv: UM. Even with all the questions UM has in the run game, Maryland has even more in their rush defense. They lost almost their entire front 7 and their rush defense was not good last year even with those players.
UM pass off v MD pass def - Adv: Even. If Maryland had any veteran presence in the pash rush I'd give this to them due to their secondary but even a great group of defensive backs will get exploited if the QB is not rushed. Last year Maryland was solid at getting to the QB with 32 sacks. Most of those guys are gone. So the question will be can MD get anything out of their DL in terms of pass rush outside of Ngaouke by early October. Meanwhile you know the questions for UM by now - who can get open out of our WR corps vs good corners and safeties?
MD rush off v UM rush def - Adv: UM. Rowe is not a dual threat in the mold of C.J. Brown so UM will need to focus mostly on an uninspiring group of Maryland running backs.
MD pass off v UM pass def - Adv: Even. If Rowe is healthy he actually looks like a competent Big 10 QB. Again that is a low bar but his stats are compelling even if the sample size is relatively small. Will he make it to week 5 in 1 piece? Maryland is not playing a lot of big shots early so you'd think so. The questions for Maryland - much like UM - are more about finding wide receivers. UM defensive backs likewise should still be in good condition this early in the year and the depth at corner (which could be an issue) should not challenged yet. These are 2 mysterious units. If Rowe is not healthy by the time this game rolls around, the advantage swings heavily to UM.
Special note - UM MUST DO A GOOD JOB DEFENDING WILL LIKELY ON PUNT AND KICKOFF RETURNS. KICK THE BALL OUT OF BOUNDS ON PUNTS COACH BAXTER.
So yeah, if you wonder where the DONT KICK TO WILL LIKELY meme began - there ya go. ;) We generally avoided him (he is not as dangerous on kickoffs as punts) and when we did special teams did great. Thank you Harbaugh for finding Baxter.
In terms of the other 2 units, UM's rush offense was ok but not great. Smith was out, Isaac sucked, Green is Rawls, and it was basically Johnson. If not for Chesson's run the stats would be ugly. Part of that is not having Smith, and part of that is no one respecting Rudock downfield. So a tiny advantage to UM vs a horrible rush unit I guess.
UM's pass offense was mediocre as usual. The line did a good job of protection again - Maryland had basically 1 player who was a menace. Rudock had a 50% completion rate and an INT with a TD. I'd call this a small win for Maryland actually.
I said UM would win the rush D battle and they did - by a landslide. 26 carries for 29 yds with the QB sacks included; excluding them still an excellent 19 carries for 43 yds. (2.3 ave) I found Brandon Ross to be mediocre when I analyzed his stats this summer - like Derrick Green he gets lots of stats vs App State and Rutgers types and is very containable vs real defenses. This remained the case.
The LOL moment from the summer was thinking Rowe was a high risk / high reward QB. At this point he is only a high risk QB. So our pass D won the battle and it was not close to even. The 1 part I did get correct was MD needed to find WRs after losing their talent to the NFL. As bad as Rowe was he had a few good passes just dropped - ugly.
Turning from the summer preview, in last week's diary my pregame preview was simply DO NOT KICK TO WILL LIKELY. PROFIT.
A Look at Michigan
This was a horrible 1st half playing down to a horrible team. That might have been lost in the 2nd half performance when a horrible team was exhausted and UM imposed some will but facing a better opponent this would have been a loss. Even if Maryland's WRs could catch the ball this could have been an interesting game at least thru 3 quarters. And it should not have been anything like that even with Smith out.
So our weekly Rudock talk. I think I have figured him out - he is that guy who on the stat sheet looks decent but when you watch him week after week you see why Iowa fans said "yes please take him." Jake is just not a quality QB at this point - he is projecting not that different than Devin Gardner 2014 as I line up their stats side by side - similar TD to INT ratios, similar YPA, similar completion %. That is not what we thought we were getting. Also like Gardner he is a "first read or bust" type of QB. I thought Rudock was a "check 1st read, check 2nd read, throw to 3rd read 5 yards- frustrate fan base" QB. And Rudock has far more time to throw than Devin ever did in 2 years. So it's disappoining as hell right now.
Now again the opposing QBs in this conf mostly suck and UM's D is playing lights out so some of this will be mitigated but unless there is some turnaround - and soon, I see Rudock costing a game or three. I know some viewers disagree and "it's still early". No folks, it's not early anymore - he should be better by now. 16/32 (50%) , 5.6 ypa, vs the 96th ranked S&P+ passing defense and 93rd ranked NCAA stats passing defense. But as I said in paragraph above - forget the stats. He doesn't pass the eye test at this point. Still hesitating, still throwing "near misses" that quality teams would INT, still unable to go to any option but #1. Still missing wide open receivers down the field >20 yds. (Chesson!) The turnovers are the thing that really bite - he is on pace for 15.6 INTs. Not much different then Devin's 15 last year. IDK man.
If interested completion distribution was 9 WR, 4 TE (all Butt), 3 RB/FB. That is actually a lot more aggressive of a distribution then has been the case this year. Johnson's 31 yarder skewed Rudock's yardage up nicely; otherwise it was typical dink and dunk.
Lack of respect for Rudock leads to a tough day at the office for the run game. Much like 2 weeks ago vs Oregon State the stats are going to look better than what really happened. In that game Isaac had one big run and otherwise it was a mediocre 178 yds on 38 carries (4.7 per). This week take out the Chesson run (yes I know, you dont take out the big plays in a game but trying to showcase a point) and it was on 132 yds on 39 carries (3.4 per). This is vs the 64th ranked S&P+ rush defense and 102nd ranked NCAA rush defense. That's poor. Yes Smith was out, our two (1!) 5 star running backs looked pathetic and our 2 star was the only guy who ran worth a crap, but its inexcusable even with no one respecting Rudock. Isaac looked like hot garbage and fumbled twice and at this point is probably stapled to the bench when not committing penalties on punts. Joshnson started looking like Johnson (that's what she said) in the 2nd half and Green looks like Green. Which is not a compliment. Smith/Johnson looks like the combo go forward and Isaac aside from 1 game this year has been uninspiring and seems like a guy who doesn't do the little things right (pass protect, protect the ball, etc) - the type of things that a Harbaugh regime won't accept. Ugh.
So the offense was a smoke and mirrors situation to me this week. Thank god for the defense. 105 yds given up. Again. Yes MD's WRs helped us out but if they played like average WRs it might have been 165 - still good.
However we had a bad injury - and it will be costly. I judge injuries not so much on the player injured but the variance vs the guy behind him. Hence while the Mone injury sucked I was confident DT was our best position so it was an inconvenience and maybe a blessing in disguise (keep Mone an extra year). Mario being lost is worse because right now the backups are a converted LB who has barely played in 4 years and a RS FR who has been in the doghouse. So flexibility will be lost as we dont have many buck types on this roster due to recruiting misses. Injuries are part of the game and we can't complain too much but that was one position on D we might have the most open questions after the starter now that Clark and Stribling look competent.
Overall not much to complain about the D, Morgan looked especially good and Bolden made some of his normal early mistakes. I think OSU and even Indiana however are going to salivate on ways to exploit these guys in the pass game. But don't worry
we have the offensive firepower to compsenate. Ok worry.
UM's S&P+ defense moved up from 4 to 3 by the way. Offense S&P+ fell from 48 to 53. FEI data will be available in 2 weeks and we'll start incorporating it.
Will Likely had 3 returns for 12 yards. Boom. Coffin corner kick by Blake was awesome. #puntporn
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY (DOD!) RANKINGS
Basing games on WHEN they are played and WHERE this was my general view on degree of difficulty for each opponent coming into the year and adjusted weekly, Again this is not how good the team is in a vacuum but how they match up vs UM.
|Week 5||Week 4||Week 3||Week 2||Week 1|
|11||Oregon State||Oregon State||Oregon State||Oregon State||Oregon State|
- Northwestern (+2) - I said last week I was glad that Minnesota v Northwestern was happening so early in the schedule so I could figure out who is who they really were. Northwestern was the dominant force and that defense is looking all sorts of elite. I don't give a damn about the Ball State game - every team has a let down and that was between a big win on road vs Duke and this big matchup in the West vs Minn. NW made Mitch Leidner their bitch and have given up 3 TDs all year. One of those a 1 play 22 yd drive after their sometimes LOL offense turned the ball over deep in their territory. This is not all about scheme either - NW's team speed is up, esp on defense and they found a star RS SO out of Miami as their MLB in Anthony Walker (already won Big 10 defensive player of the week twice). Their advanced and regular stats are off the roof on defense (the Stanford win looks better by the week) and their special teams are also contributing too. That's a great way to win a lot of games in the Big 10 - ask Jim Tressel. It's all about that offense for NW. Justin Jackson continued to be an outstanding runner with 6.0 ave on 20 carries and Thorson played decently and safely (14/19 for 128 yds, no INT) Does that sound familiar UM fans? Talk about 2 like minded teams. At this point, based on resume - I was very torn on moving NW ahead of MSU - but since UM is MSU's Super Bowl there will be a different emotion in that game.
- PSU (+1) - PSU has been fluttering between 6 and 7th on my DOD rankings all regular season, mostly due to actions of other teams around them and not themselves. This is a default rise in the ranks, not due to their own work. PSU played the 1 service academy which is a rollover (Army) and won ho hum 20-14 in a rain soaked game. That is with Army fumbling 7 times, losing 3 of them. That's actually a pretty sad result. Army passed 1 time. The entire game. For 32 yards. If you extraplate that to 40 pass attempts, well you would have had something Army! The weekly Hack watch was a 5 on the "PTSD or not PTSD" scale of 10. 10/19 for for 156 yds and 1 TD. The stories I read didn't say how many times Hack got sacked but it sounded like not many if at all. PSU has been good at not turning the ball over so they have that. With bad ass true freshman Barkley out at RB (and Akeel Lynch also missing) the PSU rush attack sucked at 34 carries for 108 yds - can't even blame Hack sacks for hurting the total, as he gained net 3 yds. I said in my PSU preview this summer that they might be the most lousy 6-0 or 5-1 team in the country going into week 7 (vs OSU) and they are on target. Although, like UM, with that offense they could face trouble vs Indiana next week. Don't know the Indiana QB situation though.
- Minn (-3) - If you only read these weekly missives and not the summer preview I wrote on Minnesota I probably sound like a Minn slappy. But note I had them ranked #6 in DOD preseason and like Maryland I was down on them coming into the year - I think I wrote something akin to "I want to sell short Minnesota in 2015 but then put them in my 401k in January 2016" in my summer preview of the team. I thought the losses of Cobb and Williams were too great and Leidner sucked. Then the TCU game happened and much like UM now I was thinking a very good D could keep that team in games, while the offense did very Minnesota like things like scoring 16 pts a game. So now I am full circle and think Minn is as mediocre as I thought they might be this summer. The TCU game seems to be an outlier. While Minnesota's D is solid and they have a decent running back to replace Cobb the passing game is just crap. Run based offenses that can't pass play into UM's D bread and butter. Probably setting up for #M00Mish type game for a half until Minn D wears down, but our D is better than their D and our O is better than their O. Minn was so unhappy with Leidner they brought out a kid they were trying to redshirt (Croft) and by the time they get to Michigan week Croft may be the QB. He sucked too. (5/11, 27 yds). NW shut down Minn run offense in a way I think UM will, and Minn had nothing else left in the arsenal.
- OSU - OSU. So damn lucky. Both Indiana's starting QB and RB get hurt. Still by far the highest ceiling of teams on the schedule but the offense is nowhere near it aside from Elliott who is a beast. I wish we had an Elliott. 23 carries, 274 yds. Deep longing sigh.
- Utah - Utah had a bye and by not looking LOL like a lot of teams in the top 10 this week moved up a bunch of spots. A fun matchup with Cal awaits and the bye week could not have come at a better time mentally, post the Oregon destruction as "letdown" city awaited them.
- MSU - MSU 2015 is Carr era Michigan (insert almost any year but 97). A team with lots of NFL talent that plays down to its competition and does not look inspired, and has an OC who the fanbase is beginning to hate due to conservatism. To be fair the injuries are now starting to pile up - out for the year with a broken leg went the 3rd tackle (Finley) and after the game it was announced starting S RJ Williamson is out for most of the year too. With that said this was Purdue. Purdue somehow has MSU's #.... in a way that is frustrating for UM fan in that (a) they look better vs MSU than UM does and (b) by having their # all they do is keep it close and tease us rather than actually upset MSU. With the loss of Williamson and struggles of SO Nichsolson the back 4 of MSU looks exploitable as heck. if only we had a QB who could exploit it ("It's still early!!" meme here). So instead expect the front 7/8 to stack the box and Rudock to look lost throwing downfield. MSU will also get way more pressure on Rudock than other teams have thus far. I do like the UM D v MSU O matchup now esp with Cook either "shackled" or looking mediocre most weeks - along with that patchwork OL. Sounds like starting tackle Kieler wont be back for UM week and Conklin is a mystery. All American center Jack Allen was thrown out to tackle in an emergency move mid game as his brother Brian went to center and they threw in a RS SO at guard. Ah youth on the OL - enjoy it MSU.
- BYU - BYU was tied with UConn late until going on a late game surge. Not inspsiring. Mangum threw for a zillion yds so I guess there is that. I might have dropped BYU but look who is behind them - PSU and Minn. Haha.
- Indiana - Indiana is Indiana. Scary enough on offense and generally garbage on defense. But if UM's offense doesn't improve this game has trouble written all over it as Indiana will be hyped and have decent skill players. Let's see if Indiana can go into Happy Valley and cause some trouble.
- Maryland - It is disgusting that Maryland is only #9 in the DOD rankings. That speaks to the bottom of the schedule. Maybe Oregon State can make a move in the coming weeks because these bottom 4 teams are bad.
- Rutgers - Rutgers won the bye.
- Oregon State - Oregon State won the bye.
- UNLV - UNLV beat Nevada, whose 2 wins are UC Davis and Buffalo. I don't know man - maybe they could take Maryland.
Last week the schedule sort of looked like a "top 3", "middle 4" and the "garbage 5". Now you have to give NW the respect and make it a "top 4", keep the middle but reduce it to 3, and avert eyes from the garbage 5... but maybe Indiana can jump into the middle group next week with a win vs PSU.
Even with all the offensive woes this is ending up to be a schedule with 4 legit teams on it. With 3 of those 4 at home. i.e .a very favorable schedule. MSU needs to get healthy but still has a ceiling and OSU has a major ceiling... NW is probably what it is going to be unless their freshman QB progresses further.
Road games vs PSU and Minn are tricky insofar they are on the road and better than Maryland. And UM likes to take 1 half off each game. I much prefer when it is the 2nd and we are up 25+. Indiana is just a wtf game at this point - who knows what is going to happen.
Week in and week out we know what is going to the be the storyline. Can the top 5ish defense keep the opposing offenses down enough that our meh offense can win the game. What can the UM offense do vs stacked LOS? A special teams TD would be nice as would be more winning of turnover battles.
This is not your dad's Northwestern defense. NCAA total defense #5 (a flawed stat but since we are touting UM #2) and S&P+ #10 (UM #3). They flat out have some athletes - and a top player at each level. Anthony Walker is on the way to stardom at MLB with speed to burn at 235 lbs. Godwin Igwbuike (a target for Hoke) came back from injury and looks to be a top safety prospect. And there are some nice complimentary pieces on this defense - its not a scheme thing but talent this year with athletes better than we are used to seeing a NW squad have. They are top 10 in both 3rd down defense conversion and 3rd down offense conversion (believe it or not on the latter).
They have legit special teams which is helping them win games. They are not often penalized. They win the turnover battles. So far this is Tressel-lite eh?
Their run game is more consistent then UM's with a healthy Justin Jackson who came into the year an established top end Big 10 RB. They don't give up many sacks. Obviously their question is QB. As is ours. Thorson is not a huge runner but mobile enough (160 yds) to keep you honest, and has run for 4 TDs so they like to use him close to the end zone.
This one looks really close on paper to me although Vegas disagrees (oddsmakers opened this at 12 and its down to 8). That seems like a lot of points to give but if its a 17-9 game, 8 works. UM also has home field along with having NW's # with last second wins of late. A win here should move UM into the top 12ish setting up a tasty matchup in AA the following Saturday.
This went up late because family visits + small child + overwhelmed spouse = limited times to rewatch a bloodbath. Also, thanks BTN for telling me the complete opposite channel to record the game, so I got to watch the first quarter of the rock fight between Minny and NW.
Best: Old-school Complaining
John Bacon mentioned in his latest book the old adage that a certain percentage of UM fans couldn’t be happy unless they were unhappy. While I take umbrage with that statement on two fronts; namely, (a) because it feels akin to the “you can’t be critical about sports unless you played it” spouted off whenever basement-dwelling bloggers point out that maybe, just maybe, your offense/defense is terrible for very justifiable reasons, and (b) because you could literally say “some people aren’t happy about X because they are overly critical of it” about virtually everything in modern society, it is undoubtedly true that the UM fanbase has been home to a fair bit of self-flagellation even during the good times. Now, obviously the “good times” haven’t been around these parts for about a decade, and much of the melancholy has been earned in A2 through the various transitions.
But now, for what feels incredibly authentic and organic, UM seems to be “back” to what it was during most fans’ lives. This isn’t Brady Hoke riding a bunch of turnovers and great short-yardage defense into a BCS bowl. Now, UM now beats up on bad teams, sticks around against good teams, and generally doesn’t mess around too much either way. Yes, Carr had this tendency to lose a couple of games a year he probably shouldn’t have, but he still averaged over 9 wins a season over 13 years, and only had 1 year with less than 8. Moeller was a bit more up-and-down, but you could pencil those teams in for 8+ wins a year, and, well, Bo was Bo. Sure, we have a couple Bump Elliott and Bennie Oosterbaan diehards in the group, but the point largely stands. Fans can once again expect competency from their football team, and like those fateful words you absolutely will hear blare from Michigan Stadium speakers this season, you don’t know what you got, till it’s gonnnnnnnnneeeeeee.
And that’s what was lost since The Horror and the subsequent fallout. UM fans talk about expecting Big Ten titles and expecting national championships, but you just have to look at the history books to see that the latter has been more wistful thinking and reality for half a century. For a litany of reasons I won’t get into, UM football felt like the treasury bonds or CDs of college football; you weren’t going to get amazing returns year in and year out like some of the meteoric programs (e.g. Miami, FSU, Oregon, basically the whole SEC at some point or another), but you also weren’t going to suffer through any sustained downswings when that volatility inevitably went bad (e.g. Miami and FSU when the NCAA started paying attention). You just kept chugging along at your sensible winning percentage, letting basic math carry you on to the most wins (and best winning percentage) in college football history.
Even that last Carr year was mostly by-the-book after the first two games of the year (and yes, I know that’s the “how was the play otherwise, Mrs. Lincoln” of college football), but the rest of 2007 wasn’t particularly eventful save for the offensive explosion against Florida in the Citrus Bowl. But once RR took the helm, that competency was thrown out the window. Losing to a terrible Toledo at home? Sure. Getting blown out in the second halves against turd-tastic Purdue and Illinois squads? You betcha. Win a game 67-65 because the other team finally fails on a 2-pt conversion? Somebody check Carr’s blood pressure. Squeaking by Akron and UConn by a combined 7 points in consecutive weeks? Mmm hmmm. Having the ignominy of losing to BOTH offspring of Jim Delaney’s fever-dream expansion onslaught? Rock on Kennedy.
What was taken from UM fans this past decade wasn’t an unrealistic sense of superiority over every opponent on the schedule; that ain’t ever going away. But what WAS taken was a sense that UM would field competent units that could comfortably beat the vast majority of inferior teams every year; that they could take care of business against the teams that shouldn’t stand a chance. That’s how UM has looked thus far this season, even with the loss to Utah – a team that treats each week as business as usual, doesn’t get flustered when a couple of breaks go against them, and just grinds your Oregon State’s and Maryland’s of the world into a fine dust with minimal consternation.
So now fans can get back to the usual complaints and concerns, about not winning a game by enough points, of pollsters not respecting UM enough to bump them up into the teens, and about momentary lapses of efficiency and performance and not whole months of incompetency. I’m not sure Harbaugh has UM anywhere close to the top of the college football hierarchy (though when you look around, it’s getting harder and harder to find truly elite squads beyond a handful), but he absolutely has them back to back to the point where fans worry about the how of a victory, not the if.
Best: Making It Look Hard
Piggybacking a bit on this point, the biggest change between this year’s defense and the past couple is how hard it seems for other offenses to do anything against them. While previous teams haven’t quite reached these heights in past seasons (#3 in S&P+ defensive rankings), they have always comfortably been a good-to-very-good defensive squad since Hoke took over. But they always had hiccups, always had these weak spots where their deficiencies were exposed rather spectacularly. Whether it was Gary Nova throwing for 400 yards, or Carlos Hyde running for 226 yards on 27 carries, or numerous punt returners flying down the field for big gains, it always seemed like teams could move the ball against UM if they were even a bit creative.
And what made it worse is that, especially early on in a season, you deluded yourself into believing that maybe, just maybe, Akron is better than you though under Terry Bowden (he coached at Auburn!), or maybe Gary Nova was a fringe NFL QB, or Tyler Lockett was an amazing player (okay, that last one turned out to be largely true). Then you’d watch them play other teams and realize that, no, they just looked good against UM, and that seemed to happen far too often.
But not this season. Even though Utah had some success moving the ball, it still looked like far more of a slog for them than against anyone else on their schedule. And since that first game, UM has just been muderballdeathing offenses to a degree that hasn’t been seen around these parts since, I don’t know, 1997? I know Brian and Ace debated about 2006 on one of their numerous audio discussions, but that was a veteran-laden unit that existed just before the vast majority of offenses really incorporated spread elements. Ball State gave them trouble when the second unit allowed 2 straight scoring drives late in the game, and both OSU (led by spread-y Troy Smith) and USC exploited weaknesses in the secondary as well as in space. They were elite when playing right-handed, but if the opposition had a little Dread Pirate Roberts in them things went pear-shaped.
But not anymore. This defense probably doesn’t have the pure star power of that 2006 unit, but it seems to be more complete, more adaptable, than any we’ve seen in years in Ann Arbor. For the second week in a row, the offense held a Power-5 offense to about 100 yards of total offense. Yes, Maryland is all kinds of terrible on offense, but they threw for about 60 yards less (76 yards) than their next lowest total (138 yards against Richmond, which was offset by 341 yards on the ground) and their rushing total of 29 was 85 less than they put up against South Florida. Hell, they put up 173 yards on the ground against WVU last week, and that was a game they trailed 38-0 at halftime.
To put it another way, Maryland had as many first downs by penalty as they did by rushing, which was accomplished by Ross on his first carry of the game. At no point could Maryland hope to muster anything resembling an offensive flow after that first drive, and only sniffed the UM redzone when UM turned the ball over. Like Doomsday in the DC universe, the defense seems to take your best punch then react, adapt, and destroy from that point on. I’m sure there will be a Superman who’ll come along and vanquish/expose some holes in the unit, but right now it just looks like even competent offenses are trapped as soon as they step onto the field.
Best: The Old Guy
It’s weird to call anyone who’s about a decade younger than me the “old guy”, but Desmond Morgan (along with Ryan Glasgow and Jourdan Lewis) feels like the heart and soul of this defense, and so it was great to see him have another nice game. The interception was the highlight, but he also had two pass breakups and led the team with 9 tackles. Bolden, another senior, played pretty well next to him, and Lewis was his usual dominant self in coverage. And while the loss of Ojemudia is going to be felt by the line, especially when it comes to holding the edge, the increased production by guys like Hurst and Godin makes me believe that they’ll be able to compensate reasonably well.
Worst: HOLD ONTO THE DAMN BALL
Depending on how you look at it, the fact UM has a negative turnover margin and yet is still dominating teams is either amazingly impressive and showcases this team’s elitism or portends some heart-breaking future losses if it continues. I’m leaning toward the prior, but Rudock threw another pick that wasn’t really his fault (Sione had the ball in his hands and just popped it up) and fumbled on a bad play, while Isaac put the ball on the ground twice, nearly losing it deep in UM territory, and found himself stapled to the bench shortly thereafter. While there don’t appear to be a large number of teams left on the schedule who could make UM pay dearly for their continued struggles in the TO department, they still won’t be beating MSU, OSU, or PSU if they cough the ball up as many times as they have this season.
This is particularly true against MSU and PSU, which have two of the best margins in the country mostly because they don’t turn the ball over themselves at all (2 TOs thus far by MSU, 3 by PSU). This stat probably helps to explain how MSU has been able to stay undefeated despite some mediocre defensive numbers, and how PSU keeps pulling off wins despite a janky offense.
Worst: Running Game Shotgun
At first blush, you’d look at about 200 yards at 5.0 ypc with 2 TDs on the ground and say that UM had a pretty good performance against Maryland. And, yeah, it certainly wasn’t a terrible, 27-for-27 performance, but much like last year it was a meh day on the ground with a massive run skewing the numbers. Last year it was Joe Kerridge on a fake punt for 52 yards, while this year it was Chesson taking another sweep to the house for 66 yards.* Throw that carry out and you have about 160 yards at 4.4 ypc, with Johnson and Ruddock doing most of the damage. Isaac definitely seemed off all day, and I’m wondering if perhaps that UNLV run was more the aberration than the standard as he works his way back into football speed; he’ll bust a play or two, but he doesn’t seem quite in the groove as an every-down back right now. And Derrick Green, despite getting a decent number of carries, never seemed able to get anything beyond what his line could generate, repeatedly getting stopped on short yardage because he either couldn’t hit the right hole or seemed unable/unwilling to lower his shoulder and run over people.
I suspect that Smith will be back next week against Northwestern, but I fear that his ankle might not be 100%. While he certainly has had his rough moments, he remains by far the best running back in the backfield, and UM is going to struggle to move the ball against the Wildcats if he struggles.
* Brian has been saying that in order for TEs like Poggi and Williams to be out on the field, the offense needs to throw the ball to them a couple of times just to make the defenses treat them as viable options. But right now, it seems like UM just needs to throw to Chesson a couple of times a game to make people not cheat too heavily on all of these WR runs he is scoring on.
Meh: Blame it on the Rain
Quick, guess which four QBs have the following stats:
|Name||ComP %||Passing Yards||YPA||TDs||INTs||Rushing Yards||Rushing TDs|
Player A is Jake Rudock, Player B is Cardale Jones, Player C is Christian Hackenberg, and Player D is C.J. Beathard.**
My point isn’t to say that Rudock has been a revelation at QB, but that compared to everyone in the conference not named Connor Cook, he’s been remarkably solid, especially after that first week. On paper the passing game wasn’t particularly impressive again (50% completion, 180 yards, around 5.6 ypa, 1 TD:INT), but given the conditions it felt like a managed performance, the type that you expect when your defense is stupefyingly dominant and the only way the other team is going to pose a threat is if you gift wrap it for them. And his numbers in the first half were very Rudock-ian (12/18 for 121 yards and 20 yards on the ground).
About the only number that is particularly distressing is the low YPA, but that should tick up as his comfort level with the receivers (and the overall offense) improves and the running game continues to pull defenses in and open up those easy YAC throws to guys like Butt and Darboh. Again, Rudock isn’t going to be a gunslinger, but he seems to be taking what the defenses give him, and at this point in the season you can’t really ask for more.
** And yes, Beathard has put up good numbers, but in his first game against a good defense (Wisconsin is still a top-20 outfit), he went 9-for-21 for 77 yards, 1 TD to 1 INT, and 12 yards on 9 rushes. Yes Iowa won, but that wasn’t a particularly inspiring performance.
Best: Didn’t (Really) Kick to Will Likely
Will Likely is The Danger for Maryland this season. Everyone knew not to kick to Will Likely in any situation where he could likely hurt you. Michigan played a bit with fire, giving him a couple of returnable punts, but nothing seemed particularly dangerous, and he never got close to really breaking anything even on kickoffs. Given the wonky weather, I’d call that mission accomplished.
On the other side of the ball, Peppers had another great punt return and generally looks like he’ll bust one soon enough. He just makes guys miss in that first guy miss more times than not , which is something Dennis Norfleet always seemed to struggle with. If I’m Rutgers, MSU, or Indiana, I would be exceedingly careful where I punted in those games.
Worst: The /b/ Announcing Team
Glad it was noticed by others, but after last week’s Spielman/McDonough crew had some great insights in the game against BYU, Matt Millen and the guy who drew the short straw to be stuck in the booth with him.
Millen has never been particularly insightful, and today was no different with his proclamations that if Maryland followed UM’s blockers, they’d be able to tackle UM runners, and that if you bring pressure as a defense you can disrupt and offense. I mean, I know this guy was a super-successful GM of the Lions, but I actually felt dumber listening to him ramble on for 3 hours.
But that’s kind of standard-issue for college football outside of the marquee games; there’s a reason you get sent to cover UM-Maryland at noon, and it isn’t because somebody upstairs likes you. What did get me was the vitriol he directed at players, usually for Maryland, throughout the game. He called efforts pathetic, questioned the intelligence/decision making of Caleb Rowe rather bluntly when he threw the Lewis INT, and various other quips and degradations. I’m certainly not advocating a ban on any critical analysis during football games, but for a guy who had a terrible draft record and who helped, I don’t know, “build” the first 0-16 team in NFL history, questioning the decision-making of a college kid being chased by 300-pound linemen intent on crushing parts of innards while trying to throw a ball in heavy winds is a pot calling a kettle black AND to see if Mike Williams is still available.
Best: Bring on the NERDS!
So yeah, apparently the ogres at UM are going to be playing some smarty-pants next week. Both teams have great defenses and wonky offenses; I’d argue NW’s is wonky because of talent, while UM’s is more about execution. If Smith is healthy, I’d give the edge to UM at home. Hell, if he isn’t I’d still give it to UM just because I’m fairly certain Michigan can still scratch out 100 yards of offense, while the jury is still out about the Wildcats against UM. Regardless, this could very well be the first of many marquee matchups featuring UM this year, so let’s keep the good times going.