"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
I posted a shorter version of this on the main board last night but with the volume of new subjects this week it will be knocked off page 1 by noon today. I also will include a "vs UM" measure in the diary which will compare a Sparty weakness or strength vs the appropriate counter measure from UM.
At bottom I will do a summary of places there is a major discrepency of strength i.e. 1 team is great at something vs the other team bad at it, along with strength on strength summary,
First the charts
|3rd down conversion %||8||50%||3rd down conv % D||1||18.8%|
|Passes Had Intercepted||10||2||Passes intercepted||27||7|
|Passing yds per comp||28||13.7|
|Fumbles lost||2||1||Fumbles recovered||117||1|
|Sacks allowed / game||8||0.67||Sacks / game||38||2.5|
|TFL allowed / game||20||4.5||TFL / game||15||8.0|
|Fumbles recovered||23||5||Fumbles lost||40||3|
|Passes Intercepted||36||6||Passes had intercepted||80||6|
|Red zone defense||29||76.5%||Red zone offense||12||95%|
|Rushing defense||34||130.2||Rushing offense||33||201.3|
|Sacks / game||7||3.5||Sacks allowed / game||36||1.3|
|Tackles for loss / game||23||7.5||TFL allowed / game||26||4.7|
|Misc / Special Teams||Misc / Special Teams|
|Blocked kicks||5||2||Blocked kicked allowed||T1||0|
|Fewest Penalty Yds/Game||6||35.3||Penalty Yds/Game||49||51.7|
|Turnover Margin / game||8||1.33||Turnover Margin / game||77||-0.2|
|Turnovers lost||4||3||Turnovers gained||68||8|
|Natl rank||Value||UM rank||Value|
|Passing Offense||76||222.3||Passing defense||2||115.5|
|Red zone offense||89||80%||Red zone defense||67||83%|
|Total offense||72||397.3||Total defense||2||181.3|
|Passing yds Allowed||88||242||Passing yds||97||189.2|
|Misc / Special Teams||Misc / Special Teams|
|Blocked kicks Allowed||120||3||Blocked kicks||0|
|Kickoff return defense||71||21.5||Kickoffs returns||1||39|
|Kickoffs returns||86||20||Kickoff return defense||24||18.1|
|Punt return defense||119||16.1||Punt returns||60||8.7|
|Punt returns||124||1||Punt return defense||58||7.5|
Battle royale section - strength on strength
MSU offense v UM defense
- MSU 3rd down conversion v UM 3rd down conversion D
- MSU passes intercepted v UM defensive interceptions
- MSU sacks allowed per game v UM sacks
- MSU TFL allowed per game v UM TFLs
MSU defense v UM offense
- MSU red zone defense vs v UM red zone offense
- MSU rushing defense v UM rushing offense
- MSU sacks v UM sacks allowed per game
- MSU TFLs v UM TFL allowed per game
Special teams / Misc
Areas to exploit section - weakness vs strength
- Fumbles lost v Fumbles recovered
- Passes intercepted vs Interceptions thrown
- Turnover margin / game
- Passing defense v MSU passing offense
- Total defense v MSU total offense
- Kickoff returns v MSU kickoff return defense
- Kickoff return defense v MSU kickoff returns
- UM punt returns and punt return defense is quite average but MSU's is bottom FBS so not a strength on weakness but a middle of pack on weakness battle
Weakness on weakness
- MSU red zone offense v UM red zone defense
- MSU passing yards allowed v UM passing yards
It is interesting that while we all fear the potential of Cook and the passing game, MSU's passing stats have been quite pedestrian this year. Most of the Sparties say this is due to conservatism of their OC and when push came to shove i.e. vs rutgers you saw the potential of Cook. Can't disagree too much with that thesis. Also the OL challenges of late probably push them to protect Cook from getting needlessly hit.
Cook often throws for 300+ yds in MSUs big games when opposing defenses stymie their run to a degree and/or MSU needs to come back from a deficit. (Stanford, OSU 2013/2014, Oregon 2014/2015, Baylor) Which has been a rare thing the past 2.5 yrs. Last Saturday was the first extended defict they had thru 6 games So I'd expect a ton of passing (35ish attempts?) in this game despite the data above. Dude has a NFL arm and seems to be quite clutch in that he seems to play best on 3rd down. Also he has no memory from play to play which is a good quality to have as a QB. He is never going to be a high completion % guy but he throws well in the intermediate to long range and takes risks. An INT or two would be fantastic but considering he has only 2 all year, we'll be content with 1.
Frankly vs most Big 10 offenses the past few years MSU only needed to play Tressel ball - let defense dominate, don't take risks, don't turn the ball over, run it, punt well to win field position battle, and then let Cook throw it 20-25x a game. Honestly that is basically what Jim Harbaugh is doing at UM as well this year. Isaac has 2 of UM's few turnovers and has been essentially banished to Bolivia. Dantonio likewise sits any running back who fumbles - regardless of their actual running ability. They are among national leaders in turnover margin this year again, whic is a carbon copy of prior years. So long story short, MSU will be taking more risks in this game because they are forced to. And if UM can create turnovers off those risks it would be a positive - it seems those will need to come thru the air as UM's one main weakness on defense is causing fumbles.
Another epic battle will be MSU's great 3rd down conversion rate vs UM's great 3rd down conversion defense. Due to some lag in their offense in most games MSU has had quite a few 3rd and medium/long vs prior yrs when Langford would routinely get them to 2nd and 5 and 3rd and 2. What's been impressive is Cook's ability to find medium to long completions on 3rd down - the rutgers game was especially great as they went 11 for 17 on 3rd down and these were often 5+ yd conversions. Those are back breaking to a defense in terms of emotion. Ask Lions fans.
Despite the OL situation at MSU they have done an excellent job in pass protect and keeping negative yardage plays at a minimum. Meanwhile UM's DL has been great at creating TFL while the sack rate is above average if not great. I would certainly love to see Connor Cook on his ass often this game and even if not sacked (he is a big boy that is hard to get a clean hit on) I'd like to see him hear footsteps even on plays we don't get to him. And when we blitz we need to get there or Cook can open you up downfield.
MSU's defense is not of recent vintage in the pass D. Their 2013 defense was outstanding with 2 lockdown corners - a rarity in CFB. Their 2014 defense was still elite vs poor to average teams which was 80% of their schedule. They faltered vs the 3 elite passing teams they faced but that probably would go for nearly every team in CFB. This year the back 4 is full of follies, esp now that rj williamson is out at S. Carroo was open at will last game. Unfort this is UM's weak spot so it's a "weakness on weakness" battle. I do expect a ton of TE passes and you hope Jake can find 6-8 passes to Darboh and Chesson that can exploit this weakness.
MSU's run defense is still good - the Air Force game (51 runs v 9 passes) skewed their #s. They have given up a few big plays (1 huge one vs rutgers and purdue), and some vs air force but still are stout as hell. The only conventional offense with consistent ability to run was Purdue of all people (who also was able to do it vs them in 2014). But that was the game Williamson went out mid game and MSU had to adjust their safeties on the fly. (Cox moved over from corner to safety mid game) I do expect UM to get some yards because unless we are behind by 10+ we'll be running 40x this game. But a 3.8 ave per run vs a 3.1 ave for example would go a long way to success.
MSUs front 7 is still damn good, esp the front 4. They are still a havoc defense great at creating turnovers both on the ground and thru the air. They get to the QB. The OL for UM has to have its best game.
MSU is little penalized and like UM is a TOP team.
The biggest weakness for MSU outside of passing defense is special teams in almost every facet outside of blocking kicks. They've allowed 3 blocked kicks and their FG kicker is a basket case right now; a 35 yard FG is an adventure at this point. Our kickoff average return jumped to #1 this week thanks to Chesson but the sample size is small since we give up so few scores - think about it, we've only had 1 kickoff return in each of the past 3 games!!! So that's a bit misleading BUT MSU stinks at both kickoff and punt return coverage. Peppers should have an opportunity somewhere in this game but most important dont turn the ball over - he saves a lot of hidden yards with his crazy running fair catches but they make your heart stop and he is playing with fire. Despite a punter with a huge leg who routinely kicks it 50 yds the net kick for MSU is 35 - showing how bad their coverage is. The hire of Texas A&M fired DC as LB/ST coach this offseason was a great move!
The opening kickoff return has a pretty interesting structure. By the alignment, you can see that Michigan is very slightly shifted to the right, maybe anticipating this play.
Side note - lots of starters out there on special teams, Is playing your starting left tackle on kickoffs a common thing? Also, I think that's Wormley out there, but I'm not 100% sure.
1) As soon as Chesson secures the kick, Butt starts running across the field, towards the M sideline, giving up about 10 yards as he does so (Dark blue circle is his starting spot, blue dashed lines are the path he's taken thus far, and big maize arrows are where players are heading).
This shot gives us a good view of the play design. Five players (Wilson, Kinnel, Gedeon, Houma and Wormley) are forming a wall, while three lead blockers (Peppers, Butt and M. Cole) pull around to the right. Meanwhile, Bolden and Poggi double-team Northwestern's Terrance Brown (circled at bottom of image). Two Northwestern players are left completely unblocked on the left (circled at top of image). Chesson runs his first 10 yards straight upfield, which helps to pull the Northwestern coverage to his side.
2) Moments later, Chesson has just started his cut behind the wall and away from the unblocked guys in front of him. Butt (circled) is about to hit the unblocked guy in front of him. The fact that he came all of the way across the field to block this guy in particular indicates that this is by design. Peppers and Cole pull through to get the next blocks.
3) Cole latches on and Peppers is getting ready to hit Northwestern's safety who escaped the double (circled). Chesson arcs away from one unblocked player who picked his way across the field behind the wall...
4) ... and leaves him on the ground.
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, Indiana 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 will evolve from what we thought they would be and injuries happen.
So let's see how I did with Northwestern this summer ... I began the preview with:
After making what seemed like a "breakthrough" in 2012 with a 10 win season Northwestern began receiving the type of hype you are seeing with Minnesota this year as a top tier 2 team in the conference. I've already outlined why I believe Minnesota hype will come back down to earth this year and it sure did for Northwestern. Some of it was just bad injury luck but programs of this ilk rarely have the depth to go a whole season without a serious setback. After back to back 5 win seasons Minnesota has basically replaced Northwestern as the chic program to pick as a challenger for the Nebraskas and Wisconsin in the West. As for Northwestern, 2012 feels more like an outlier and if Northwestern doesn't get to 7 wins this year that will be 3 years in a row without a winning season.
Northwestern has ranked between 66th and 76th in the F/+ rankings in five of the last six seasons.
Vegas has set Northwestern's win line at 6.5 games and judging from their tough schedule this sounds fair. Tough games with brainy schools Stanford (home) and a suddenly solid Duke (away) are mixed with FCS Eastern Illinois and quite bad Ball State. 2-2 seems likely. (Duke is likewise breaking in a new QB but is well coached, and is at home) Northwestern is probably sick of playing Michigan as UM has (at times undeservedly) snatched some last second victories away but it doesnt get easier for the Wildcats in 2016-2017 as their crossovers switch from UM/PSU to OSU/MSU. If they only go 2-2 in non conf they'd need to go 5-3 in the conf to go 7-5 and surpass Vegas 6.5 games. That seems daunting with the schedule they have. I might actually take the under on Northwestern this year.
The Wildcats should have a solid defense but at least in terms of preseason projections their offense lacks an established QB and a lot of threats in the receiving core; running back should be good and could be quite good if all goes well. OL is questionable. That said their defense should keep them in a lot of close games and its up to the offense to do something.
And ended with:
Like Oregon State I think the type of team Northwestern brings fits solidly into the type of team UM is built to stop. Teams with good QBs scare me much more than those with "IDK", esp with UM's still "sorting it out" passing defense.
The defense should have a solid day and if they can do anything similar to what they did vs freshman RB Jackson last year it should be a comfortable win. While I'd expect Jackson to improve on his production and get nearer to 100 yards, rush defense should remain a UM strength especially up the gut. So "future Northwestern QB(s)" will need to find a way to get some yards thru the air without a lot of potent weapons.
This is a home game, enough weeks into the season for the offense to (fingers crossed) have a viable rush offense and that shold parlay in Rudock being more effective as the offense can be more 2 dimensional. Of course that is a lot of theories and we need to see them become fact by mid October.
Northwestern will be coming off a smash mouth type of game vs Minnesota while UM will be returning home after a night game vs a (IMO) not too impressive Maryland squad. However with MSU on the calendar a week after this game some Wolverines may be looking ahead.
This is the type of game a Harbaugh led team - even in year 1 - should do well in. Not to mention even Hoke's teams found magical ways to beat the unlucky Wildcats.
I give this an 80/100. While conceptually correct that NW will be run based and the offense just has to "do something" to help out a good defense, the defense has been much better than I thought. NW is surely going to surpass the win total Vegas set (and I thought NW could be below Vegas' #) as NW's D will dominate a lot of the very bad offenses in the Big 10 West. Nebraska and Wisconsin are also worse than I thought so NW should be favored in those games. I'm also not that convinced on Iowa (although both teams avoid OSU and MSU this year in crossovers) but the NW-Iowa game next week will be interesting to watch as Iowa has not played much of anyone of value while NW played UM, Stanford, and a solid Duke team.
NW is a very solid team but just went up vs superior players, esp on our D v their off, and a staff who look like chessmasters. Where I did nail this was saying it was a great matchup for UM much like Oregon State. (run based offenses with young QBs and non explosive offenses) You take away Justin Jackson and that offense has nothing really. UM took him away for the 2nd straight year. Once NW was down 14-0, I said in liveblog it is over as NW is not built to come back from behind. I do think newbie QB Thorson is going to be solid down the line and when facing non elite defenses he can do some damage even this year. They do need to find some WR talent.
These were my views of the unit matchups this summer:
(take these matchups with more of a grain of salt than usual because once you get past the month of September teams grow and evolve - well at least well coached teams.)
UM rush off v Northwestern rush def - Adv: Even. Both teams have questions and until the season begins its too early to really determine who has what. Hopefully by mid October UM has a viable rushing offense with lineman who create holes that running backs not named Drake Johnson can find. Northwestern's questions at DT offer similar questions for their rush defense.
UM pass off v Northwestern pass def - Adv: Even. This is only even due to Rudock. Northwestern's back 4 should be quality - espt at corner - but their pass rush might let them down. UM's receivers are of course lacking in production as a whole and are more about potential until we play actual games. Will it just be a group of complentary receivers complenting each other or will someone emerge by this time of the year? Expect a lot of Jake Butt (again).
Northwestern rush off v UM rush def - Adv: UM. This is only based on UM's performance last year and Northwestern's OL issues. Of the 2 teams Northwestern actually has the most proven back - which is sort of sad considering the multitude of high level prospects that filter through UM and the fact Minnesota's guy is a true sophomore. Aside from the UM game, Northwestern was able to run on the remaining 7 of final 8 opponents but without a great OL I do expect UM to have the (slight) advantage.
Northwestern pass off v UM pass def - Adv: UM. Northwestern needs to find an answer at QB. Maybe they have one by week 6 - it is a great unknown. Best case is Thorson grabs the jobs and begins to figure things out by this point in the year. The issue with UM is corner depth - this about the time of year your CBs begin to get dinged up and once you get past presumed starters Lyons and Lewis you begin to ask a lot of questions with the next group. Healthy savvy CB starters would be a boon if that's the case. (safeties have more depth) Northwestern doesn't have anyone who really scares you at WR but Jones should be solid. Michigan's "weakness" has more potential answers than Northwestern's "weakness" at this point in time.
A bit too bearish on UM here. The rush D this year has been even better than expected so while I expected UM to win that battle I thought it would be a slight advantage. Nope, domination. Pass D I expected to do well despite our questions (haha Lyons as a starter!!) and they did. Our rush O was decent this week, not relying so heavily on "1 big run" to boost the averages and the pass O was all I could ask for out of a game manager. NW actually has a high quality secondary so it makes me give Jake even higher marks based on that. 24 pts vs this NW D is very good - NW had given up only 3 TDs all year, and one of those was a 1 play 22 yard drive after their offense derped deep in their zone. So those early drives by UM that went full field were beautiful to behold. Then UM went into its 2nd half comatose state which have become a welcome pattern this year!
At the end of last week's preview...with a lot more data about NW I wrote this:
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.
Esp tickled with our ability to get thru a decent OL to the QB. And our special teams play was fantastic - thank you John Baxter, please stay another decade.
A Look at Michigan
This is Michigan. That's how I felt after / during this game. And not even Carr or Moeller's Michigan which many years lost 3-4 games, and almost always a wtf game. I am talking Bo's Michigan. Excellence in 2 of the 3 phases (special teams, defense) and "boring" but good in the 3rd phase. Yes please.
After depressing the hell out of me last week, Iowa 2014 Jake Rudock resurfaced. For an entire game. For the first time this year. And it pleased me. (stroke-cat-on-lap.jpg). If this Jake never leaves us this year uhh... you guyz... this is a 10 win team. Umm... maybe 11. Guyz?
Ok NW Jake won't be here all year but if you could just show up for the MSU and OSU games IN THEIR ENTIRITY I will be happy to give you a half off vs Rutgers and Minnesota. Deal?
Turnover free ball (even his derps were less derpy than usual; only can remember 1 near miss this week) combined with 17/23, 179 yds, 7.8 ave (woo hooo). Did I mention no turnovers? With this defense this is all Jake really needs to do for Michigan to dominate many of the coming opponents, and make fun games vs MSU and OSU.
Jake did get hit a few times this week, so the pass protect was a bit off but again that's a quality defense. The fact his performance was super game managery even with the few hits was even more promising. There will be more hits this coming week - please stay turnover free sir.
Pass distribution: 7 to TEs, 3 RBs, 7 WRs. I like that distribution for a game manager.
There are so many small things that are different with this team vs 2014 and prior. Things like AJ MF Williams. Dude with 1 catch in his career had 4 in this game. And had me asking where is Jake Butt (who had 3 catches himself) Remember post Utah when teams were going to double Heisman candidate Butt because we had no other real TE options. What do you think this staff has been doing for 5 weeks? Getting every other TE on the roster involved. But again AJ Williams suddenly has hands. Which the last staff could neither develop nor figure out. Grrrr.
Running game churned out 201 yds on a whopping 46 carries. Distribution all over the board. Smith looked good but I wish they had pulled him once we were up 3 TDs and just say him. He seemed to tweak his ankle at a point in the game he had no reason to be in. He had a 7.4 ave before going out which is... nice. Higdon had his redshirt taken off as a message to Isaac I assume. He struggled with am ave 2.0 per but seemed to have some scoot. First game experience vs CFB athletes and all. Johnson seemed marginalized a week after having a good game - I am confused there. Green was ok late (3.9 ave) vs a beaten down NW line; it is what it is - he looked functional at least and he can go in with big leads and you don't risk injuries to your top 2 backs. Kind of funny / sad / first world problemy to have two 5 stars plugged in as your 4th/5th RB in the rotation. Also shout out to the fullbacks this game as Kerridge returned and had a beauty of a run, and Houma continued to be #HoumaTime. I think with better running back talent these 46 rushes would garner 250+ yards rather than 201 but we're working with what we have.
As for the defense, I am running out of adjectives. Defense travels. Defense doesn't have off weeks like even elite offenses do. Gosh darn it, is is fun to see how demoralizing an elite defense is. This was a bad offense yes but UM's good defenses of the past would still give up 7-10 to bad offenses. NWs only threat was a long FG attempt. The only drama was if there would be another shutout. The "defense" chant by 100,000+ at the end of the game was goosebumpy stuff. The DL was magnifcent - what I love is new guys take the lead every week. Wormley has fallen off the past 3 weeks but now the Henry we thought we'd be getting preseason showed up. Glasgow seemed quieter than usual but then Hurst continued his ascent. Mario was out and RJS was effective. RJS? Yes RJS - the AJ Williams of the defense.
J. Lewis is J. Lewis. NW seemingly targeted him for reasons unclear to mankind. I barely heard Clark's name. I think Stribling dressed but did not play? Bolden did some Bolden things early. It is what it is and will only matter vs MSU, OSU, Indiana and our opponents in the playoffs (mmm kool aid) Much like BYU a few weeks back there was not much for the LBs to do this week since the DL was so filthy. Only thing that remains missing on this D is ability to create fumbles.
This staff simply can develop players and put them in places to succeed. Lacking for years on one side of the ball or the other (or at times both) with Michigan football. The team is now a lot like Utah football under Whittingham- the sum is greater than the parts. But our individual parts are better than Utah's - but you are getting the same development that a few staffs out there are well known for. It's exciting especially when you consider the lack of playmakers on offense - down the road think of the ceiling when you get a Kaepernick style QB combined with a Chubb RB and a Treadwell WR. Well a boy can dream.
UM S&P+ defense rank moved from 3 to 1. It will be difficult to move up from here I believe. #Math UM's S&P+ offense moved up from 53 to 46 - it was at 48 two weeks ago so probably this is the range it is destined to remain, especially since we like to take entire halves off with big leads. FEI unit data rolls in next week so we'll start reporting it then.
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 6||Week 5||Week 4||Week 3||Week 2|
|11||Oregon State||Oregon State||Oregon State||Oregon State||Oregon State|
|11||Oregon State||Oregon State|
No one bro...
- OSU - Maryland went back to their 1st QB that started the year and he showed he was a RB who has a bad arm who deserved to be benched. (10/27) He at least had a few big runs that made OSU sweat into the 3rd quarter. Cardale played very well and was very efficient. Elliott is just making me envious. OSU sort of unleashed Barrett as a running back at the QB position with 12 rushes. OSU finally rediscovered Braxton Miller in the passing game. The surprise here was more the D than the O - I just think it was one of those "spready rush QBs suck to play even when they suck". Clearly the highest ceiling of any opponent we face and they continue to have bye week after bye week on their schedule for another month.
- Utah - Utah played a quality Cal offense and caused all sorts of trouble for future NFL pick Jared Goff. Secondary was supposed to be a Utah weakness coming into the years but another 5 INTs. Wow. This is a defense that makes so many turnovers. Wilson had 2 turnovers himself so Utah went to Booker who went off for 200+. Now to be fair, Cal's D is not very good but still it's nice to have a RB you can feed like that. Cal was also able to run pretty well on Utah. I continue to believe Utah is not a top 5 team but based on resume I'd rank them there at this point. This ASU game has trap written on it as I believe ASU is nowhere near as bad as they showed in 1st 2 weeks of season and has a high octane offense. Will be a fascinating matchup.
- MSU - Coming into the year MSU had a top end college QB and 2 very well thought of lines. One of those lines has been hit with an array of injuries and it showed in this game. For the first time in his career Cook actually got more than 3 grass stains on his jersey. Welcome to the life most college QBs enjoy Connor! To his credit Cook played one of his best games of his career and MSU needed every amount of it. The WRs also played lights out. Cook was 23/38 for 357 yds (9.4 ave) with only a doofus INT at the end of the 2nd Q as a major mistake. Burbridge also dropped another TD pass. Cook was the offense. The run game struggled as the OL was bad at times. Rutgers spent the entire first half blitzing Cook then decided to stop doing what worked in the 3rd quarter when MSU promptly went on 2 long drives. That's why they are Rutgers. They began again in the 4th but some were not getting home and when you dont get home on a blitz you feel pain. And Rutgers has a lot of youth in their DBs. On D, MSU had no answer for Carroo - but he was not targeted enough IMO. I'd have thrown 15x+ to him. More shocking to me was Rutgers ability to run on MSU. I am PTSD watching MSU play rush D against us for years - and anytime I see a runner make a run over 2 yards it does not compute. But MSU's extraordinary run defense of years past is only "darn good" this year (ranked in the 30s nationally). MSu is playing more like a fringe top 25 team at this point and even AP voters finally broke and dropped them to 7.
- Northwestern - NW ran into a chain saw defense and it showed. I still have them as the 4th best team as there is no one behind them to justify moving past them. They still have probably the 3rd best resume of the 12 opponents and that D will do enough to keep them in every game the rest of the way until / when / if they get to the Big 10 championship game. Huge game vs Iowa next week to determine who wins the West as Wisconsin, Minn, Neb all look to be pretenders.
- BYU - BYU needed a run with 19 seconds to go to pull ahead of ECU and win a shootout. Mangum had another great game (24/33, 332 yds, 3 TD 0 INT) but apparently was hurt late. ECU's QB strafed BYU's passing D (which sucks) to the tune of 376 yds. Hence you get your shootout. ECU is average but not terrible - they lost to BYU, Florida, and Navy - all decent opponents at least. And beat VATech. BYU is a solid team and fringe top 25 when all is said and done; they have a good QB but a horrid pass D.
- PSU - PSU did what they had to do when the opposing team rolls out a former model as a QB. Zander did Zander things passing. (9/17) PSU did a great job on his running which is his main tool...held to 38 yds on 11 carries. The injury to running back Jordan Howard killed Indiana's run game and without Sudfeld to compensate the offense is bad. Hack had a good game but this is Indiana's HS defense we are speaking of. His ave of 6.7 per attempt still sucks for a "NFL pick". Looks like PSU was content to sit their freshman phenom RB Barkley for another week. One item of note - Duke beat Army 44-3 this week. PSU barely beat Army last week. NW beat Duke in Durham. Transitive baby.
- Minn - Minnesota went into Boiler town and put down MSU's 3rd biggest rival (UM, CMU, Purdue). Purdue led 6-0. It was 41-7 the rest of the way. Mitch Leidner did Mitch Leidner things - going 8/12 for 59 yds. Backup Croft went 2/5. UM is so going to be destroy that offense. Shannon Brooks was the story at running back with 17 carries for 176 including a 71 yarder. But this is Purdue's HS defense. Stopping Minn will be the same as stopping NW - stop Brooks and Rodney Smith at RB, laugh at their QB.
- Indiana - The people called for moving Indiana up the DOD rankings past Minn or PSU. I said NOT SO FAST. Of course without Sudfeld and Howard, Indiana might be in UNLV range in the rankings. We don't play Indiana until late in the year and you can be sure both will be healthy by then. They seem to have injuries which are week to week.
- Maryland - Maryland remains a joke. Edsall is gone. They don't have a viable FCS QB, forget FBS. The D appears to at least be "not horrid" but that offense is not something women or children should be exposed to.
- Rutgers - I feel like Rutgers has some pieces and maybe they can be moved up in a week. But coming close to beating a bad MSU team (zing) isn't enough to do so. Carroo does give them 1 weapon at least. Their QB has some potential. Lewis on Carroo though - then what Rutgers?
- Oregon State - The people called for moving Oregon State up the rankings because a sleepwalking Stanford who just came off an emotional win vs arch rival USC had to travel to Beavertown and let OSU hang around for a half. I said NOT SO FAST. And this is why. The flying Rich Rods exposed Oregon State for the bad team it is. If you can't score more than 7 on Arizona's 110ish ranked defense - that's just pathetic. Seth Collins went 8/24 for 56 yds. That's Mitch Leidner territory folks. He was benched late.
- UNLV - UNLV lost to the Al Borges Machine in OT. UNLV plays Boise State in 2 weeks. If they don't look like the a sad sad sad team I might consider moving them ahead of Oregon State.
Please don't leave me in 2 months DJ Durkin.
The schedule continues to fall in UM's favor. The Big 10 is bad and should continue to be ashamed of itself.... except that the ACC is probably worse. MSU is not a top 5 team. Their "program" win lost to Washtingon State last week. At home. Hell that makes Utah's win over Oregon look worse! Minn does not have a viable QB. Maryland does not have a viable QB. PSU's viable QB has PTSD. Indiana does have a viable QB but a defense UM should be able to put 40 on. Rutgers - see Indiana. Iowa is somehow considered a quality Big 10 team. Nebraska has Mike Riley. Wisconsin used to have an offense - no more. Purdue somehow has not been asked to be in the MAC. Illinois is now a West power at 1-1 in conf. NW - a team UM barely scraped by - has a 50/50 chance to represent the West in the championship game.
So win this week and the seas could be parting until The Game (tm).
MSU to 2013 = UM to 2015 if Jake Rudock can continue to be Northwestern Jake Rudock. That is all.
It's rivalry week. Dantonio is in a sour mood and scowling. Wait, that's every week. He is feeling disrespect even as his overrated team stays ranked 4th in the coaches poll with a 1st place vote (thanks Narduzzi!). This is a team that is a few plays away from being 3-3 with losses to a bad Oregon, an awful Purdue, and a below average Rutgers. But the gods of football still seem to love MSU.
Despite a S&P+ offense and defense rank almost identical to Nebraska the team is 6-0. They've played 4 of the worst defenses in the land and 2 other meh ones.
That said it's rivalry week and when Bobby Williams is not coaching it still matters. There is still some prime time talent scattered across their lineup and aside from the Central Michigan rivalry this week consumes all of MSU's time. They have one of the 2 best QBs UM will face this year. MSU finally decided to ride him - out of need - last week.
Let's take a look at the trenches. MSU has two NFL calibar lineman in C Jack Allen and LT Jack Conklin. Conklin has been out two weeks but was reportedly practicing all last week but held out vs Rutgers. "Practicing" can mean anything so we'll see - one assumes he plays. Allen was healthy all year until the last drive of the Rutgers game when some DL dude rolled on his ankle from behind. It did not look good. The other tackle Kodi Kieler came back from injury to play vs Rutgers but did not look his normal self either. Certainly not 100%. So those are both your tackles and your All American center in some form of pain. UM has a good DL. A very good DL. This matchup is key. Cook rarely faces pressure so if UM can get pressure without bringing the house constantly ala Rutgers it will be a big advantage. A month ago this looked like a stalemate - MSU's offensive strength against UM's defensive strength. Now it looks advantage UM. I want to see ALL OF THE grass stains on Cook's uniform. And I want to see a untouched Delano Hill arriving on a safety blitz to exchange an early Christmas wish to Connor.
On the other side of the ball this still looks like a MSU advantage in terms of MSU DL v UM OL. Both units look healthy. The one area MSU's DL has been a bit off this year is in rush defense - some blown assignements have led to a few big runs each game. It would be nice if UM could exploit that. The pass protect for UM has to be the best of the year because MSU has a very good pass rush. How Jake reacts to this in terms of making smart decisions is another key.
Looking at other parts of the teams - this is the best passing O UM will be facing until OSU. (yes better than BYU) While Burbridge is not Lippett level he is good. J Lewis - stay on him all game. That's Cook's go to man. How Stribling and Clark do vs the Kings and Sheltons of the world will be important. Josiah Price, MSU's very good TE has been hurt but most expect him back for this week so sad ghost of Bolden's pass coverage skills vs Josiah Price will probably cause some pain. But if we can limit those 12 yard gains to 12 and not 28 it will be nice. I'd prefer Ross covering Price myself but not an option for a half. Paul Lang and Jamal Lyles are other TEs to watch.
LJ Scott is looking like a beast mode running back early in his freshman year but is dinged up a bit. Gun slinger Delton Williams will probably play quite a bit too now that his "disciplinary redshirt" suddenly no longer matters. MSU has not faced a rush D anywhere near this. UM must dominate MSU's rush offense and make the unit 1 dimensional. "We have the technology".
On defense MSU rolls out its normal variety of good linebackers including the 28,737th Bullough. MSU's back 4 is currently LOL mode. Can Rudock take advantage? He must.
Overall MSU's D is not as good as prior versions but the front 7 is still very very good. They are still a havoc defense which makes a lot of big plays. Excellent at creating fumbles and interceptions. But a lot more suspectible to big plays thru the air vs even average offenses (in the past it was only good offenses who could do that to them). They will get pressure, they will cause stress - but they have holes.
Last, special teams folks. Holy advantage batman. The FG kicker is a basket case. They have one of the biggest legged punters in the country who can boom 50 yarders on the regular but they still only net 35 yds on ave in punting because the coverage is a sick joke. Peppers can begin to cement his legend if he can pull a Breaston in this game. Kickoff returns should also be an adventure - pick your poison, Chesson or Pep.
Based on S&P+, MSU is basically Nebraska who will treat this game as their Super Bowl. (FEI seems to like MSU much more than S&P+ thus far however) Obviously MSU is far superior than Nebraska at QB. But they have been relying on playing bad teams, and causing lots of turnovers to cover up other mistakes.
If you don't give MSU those turnovers, you don't have to do special things on offense - just be efficient and let the defense battle it out with MSU's O. Let the special teams win their battles. The team who rushes better and has less turnovers almost always wins these battles. So let's be good at those things and restart the 50+ year inferiority complex. Also, home field advantage - yes it matters when teams are pretty evenly matched and it's a bunch of 18-23 year olds living on emotion. Michigan Stadium should be the loudest it has been in a decade if the home team is doing their thing.
Last, UM has been treated like sh** in this rivalry for half a decade+, and esp the past 24 months. Yes MSU will bring emotion as this is the only game that matters to them, but damnit UM should have emotion filtering out of every orifice with Harbaugh's foot in their collective asses. We've been embarrassed for 2 years in a row - it must end.
[Ed-Seth- I may start bumping this every week]
Best: The Never-Ending Serene Story
Depending on your metric, I’ve either been writing these game recaps in 2010 against Iowa (with a heavy reliance on a cliched movie poster gimmick) or 2012 (which featured a picture of former Fig Things QB/Men’s Health cover model Brady Quinn and Poison lead singer/searcher-of-love Bret Michaels).
Needless to say, it’s been quite a long time. Over that span, I’ve seen UM attempt to transition to a run-first spread offense populated by mighty mite slot receivers and uber-mobile QBs, then back to whatever Al Borges thought he was running, to the Wreck of the Devin Gardner, to to current Stanfordization happening under Harbaugh. I’ve also seen UM field some of the worst defenses in their history, then a succession of good-to-competent ones, and then to the raging hellbeast that is the current incarnation under Durkin and Mattison. I’ve been writing about the highs and the lows, trying to make sense of the inherently unreasonable nature of college football, to determine if there is some unified theory, some midi-chlorian (ugh) connection that binds these games, these seasons together.
What makes it hard to thread these years together isn’t just that the authors keep changing, but also the readers and their expectations. While UM’s history pre-RR was marked by stability and consistency at the top, the year-to-year fluctuations still existed and made every season feel fresh and new. As I mentioned last week, the main difference under Harbaugh is that fans can safely return to the heightened, sometimes-unrealistic expectations of the past. But the more I’ve thought about it, I’m not sure “expectations” is the right word. Every fanbase has outsized expectations for their team because of how intimately they are attached to that squad; you always figure your middling LB or questionable RG is going to be better than anyone else’s question marks, that the breaks will go your way in the turnover battle, that every toss-up goes for the good guys. It’s human nature, this illusory superiority that manifests along the banks of Lake Wobegon, and it’s why college football has such an illogical hold over large swaths of the population.
[After the jump: Serenity; when is too soon?]
After the first game of the season I made a somewhat negative comment on this here blog and someone responded with, "what did you expect?" That exchange stuck with me. What does it mean to have an expectation? Google can't even figure it out. The first definition is, "a strong belief that something will happen." The second definition is, "a belief that..." So did I strongly believe we would go 10-2 at the beginning of the year, or was that just a belief that it could happen? I don't like to expect 8 win seasons. Why should I root for a team that I expect so little of? (I already have the Lions for that.) This is my team and my school. I want the best for them. If they fail to live up to expectations, we'll just work that much harder and try again. But we should never settle for mediocrity, nor should we expect it.
I've been asking myself, are my expectations realistic, or are they more "best-case scenarios," or my hopes for the season. I was conditioned by my first 36 years of life to expect 9+ wins per season, the occasional Big Ten championship, and to see a team that while maybe didn't win every game, at least was competitive in every game. After all, the ball can take some funny bounces and there is an RPS-aspect to every game. But the Michigan football team was well coached and controlled what they could - putting 11 men on the field, limiting penalties, making tackles, executing blocks, etc. The last seven years sorely tested the expectations I had built up over three decades.
Initially, the team failed to live up to my expectation as a 5th year senior quarterback coached by a QB guru, threw 3 interceptions in one game after throwing only 5 all last season. In the next two games, the team met my expectations by handling inferior opponents at home. In the fourth game against a ranked opponent that had demonstrated competence playing against serious competition, Michigan far exceeded even my lofty expectations, winning 31-0. I expected Maryland to score on us. I expected a close game, heck, they beat us in Ann Arbor last season, and this Michigan team hasn't traveled very well the past few seasons. But this season isn't last season, and that was proven yet again yesterday. Michigan far exceeded my expectations by blowing out the #13 team in the country and recording their third consecutive shutout. My son is 10 years old. The last time Michigan recorded 3 consecutive shutouts, I was 10 years old. A time when my expectations for Michigan football were being formed.
Burst of Impetus
* Is it possible to win a game in the first 13 seconds of action? With this Michigan defense, I'm going to say yes, yes it is. The opening kick return for a touchdown by Jehu Chesson set the tone for the rest of the day. Late in the 2nd quarter, Northwestern had an 8 play drive, granted they only gained 20 yards, but 8 plays is a lot against our defense. On the next drive they eked out a first down and started looking a little comfortable on offense. Then, Jourdan Lewis basically pick-pocketed the NU receiver and returned the ball for a touchdown. Had NU been able to score at the end of the half and score to start the 3rd quarter, maybe you could convince yourself they had a chance. Heck, the past 3 years, we've seen Michigan have trouble with the first and last 5 minutes of a half. But this season is not last season. Do you know what these two plays have in common? It's play-makers making plays. After writing 57 diaries about boxscores, far too often I've seen games decided not by the overall statistics, but by a few plays here and there. The Utah game to start the season is a prime example of this. They got the pick-6 in a 7 point game. Against NU, we got the pick-6 and the kickoff return, but we also dominated in every aspect of the game. When you can do both - make the big plays and dominate the down-to-down action - you've got the makings of a special team.
The Two Jakes
* For the first time this season, Jake Rudock met my arbitrary efficiency metrics with 74% completion percentage, 7.8 yards per attempt, and no turnovers. See, all we need is an efficient QB and we can beat top 20 teams by 38 points. I don't need greatness at the QB position, efficiency is sufficient.
* Jake Butt caught 3 passes for 40 yards with a long of 32. He was overshadowed by...
A.J. Williams, Receiving Threat
* A.J. led the receivers with 4 catches for 48 yards. Exhibit A in the case for Harbaugh's coach of the year nomination is this stat line. He takes guys that Brady Hoke struggled to put in positions to succeed and makes them significant contributors to the team. Other examples include Braden, Clark, Poggi, Houma, and Strobel. And the list just goes on and on. And he knows how special teams are supposed to work.
* Rudock spread the wealth again among 7 receivers. 7 passes went to TEs, 7 went to WRs, and three went to Smith.
* 9 players and one TEAM made carries in the game. Surprisingly, it was Derrick Green who led the team in carries with 12 followed by Smith with 8 AND Karan Higdon with 8.
* De'Veon is clearly the lead back, but I'm starting to think it doesn't matter who gets the next carries. Joe Kerridge got a 34 yard carry. Five player had long runs of 10 or more yards.
Tacos, Peppers and Captain Morgan
* I'll give Northwestern some credit; they did make our back 7 relevant. Safety Jarrod Wilson led the team with 7 tackles followed by linebackers Morgan and Bolden with 6 each.
* Michigan recorded 8 TFLs with Willie Henry leading the way with 2.5.
* A couple weeks ago, I noted that Michigan had 6 BrUps, a huge number. Well, against Northwestern, Michigan had 5 QHs, an equally huge number. I've been doing this for awhile and I don't recall ever seeing that many QHs.
* Peppers led the way with 3 of Michigan's 5 BrUps. Like I said before, play-makers making plays.
* Michigan ran 69 plays to NU's 58. There were 27 special teams plays. 17.5% of the plays were from special teams, or roughly 1 in 6.
* Michigan punted five times. Northwestern returned zero for zero yards.
* Michigan also kicked off seven times. Northwestern returned four of those for a total of 75 yards. Jehu Chesson returned NU's only kickoff for 96 yards and a TD. I'd say that's a win for us.
* Michigan gained 21 first downs to NU's 13.
* Net yards rushing was 201 for Michigan and only 38 for NU.
* Both teams came into the game allowing roughly 20% on third down conversions. Michigan went 7 of 14 while holding NU to 2 of 13.
* Michigan had the ball for 37:05 to NU's 22:55. Like DJ Durkin said after the game, a shutout really is a team statistic. The other team can't score if they don't have the ball, and they can't get in field goal position if the special teams are working and the offense isn't turning the ball over.
WHAT ARE THOOOSE?
* Those are robots and nutrients. You look confused, so let me explain. I didn't think I'd have one of theeese, or more properly, one of thooose, this week, until I turned on the MSU-Rutgers game. During every televised game, in an attempt to maintain the facade that college sports are integral to the academic mission (have I gotten that cynical?) the television network will show commercials for the two competing institutions. During the Michigan game, they showed Prof. Jessy Grizzle's robot. I know and like Prof. Grizzle, and I'm sure his robot is really cool, but it seems like they've been highlighting his research for several years now. Surely, there must be other interesting things going on in Ann Arbor?
* Fast forward to the Spartan game. The MSU commercial promoted a faculty member from their environmental engineering department and his work separating nutrients from cow manure. It was 30 seconds of cows and cows' manure footage. Great big machines were shoving rivers of cow manure towards a nutrient separation system that separated the 90% of manure that is water from the nutrients. The commercial ended with the professor suggestively taking a drink of yummy, recycled, nutrient separated cow manure water. I don't understand how they think that the average high school student watching at home is going to see that and get excited about applying to MSU. It's like they know they are Moo U and they have decided to double down and own their ag-based, academic mission. I have numerous friends and family members who root for sparty. If it was any other week, I probably would have skipped this section of the diary, but you know, there's a somewhat important game coming up on Saturday. Regardless of the outcome, my expectation is that we'll go back to our high technology jobs working with robots, while they will go back to separating nutrients from manure. Have I sufficiently beaten this to death? Yeah, I suppose so.
While we have a weak cold front to the north Friday night, high pressure will be in control of the Great Lakes for the weekend. It looks to be a perfect fall football day! Typical fall in the mitten - you'll want layers as we start the day cool, warm up nicely in the afternoon, and get a little chilly at night. Expect some light winds out of the SW. Get the crockpot and brewskis ready! Let's get a win out there guys!
If you're up and at 'em early you may see some fog. It'll be patchy, but could reduce visibilities quickly if you're out picking up the last minute bag of ice or bottle of hot sauce - just give yourself a couple extra minutes to do so. It will also be chilly! Temps to start the day will be around 40 degrees, with a light northwesterly wind. Without many clouds, sun will let the fog burn off, and begin to warm us up! By mid-morning, we'll be up around 50, and we'll be approaching 60 degrees for that lunchtime tailgate. Winds will shift during the first part of the day, out of the WSW mid-morning, and SW by the time we're heading into the afternoon, remaining around 5-10mph (a light breeze that would blow about some loose paper and leaves). Plenty of sunshine for tailgating - can't ask for much better!
Lots of sun for the kick-off! You may want the hat or the sunglasses for this game, rather than leaving them in the car. 63 degrees for the start, and the low 60s is where our highs will end up for the day. We'll have a few clouds here and there heading throughout the first half, with SW winds right around 10mph.
Down a degree or two by that halftime show, so still plenty comfortable with lots of sunshine. Winds will stay steady, holding at 10mph out of the SW.
Dipping just below that 60 degree mark as you walk out of the gates - smiling from a great win! If you're headed out to dinner, you may want the jacket - or walk a little faster back to the car/home - because temps will continue to drop off without much cloud cover. What will help is that southerly wind flow. Mid 50s for the dinner-time hours, and into the 40s for the late-night, hitting 45 for last call. That little bit of a breeze (SW around 5mph) will add a chill that'll have it feeling like 40. Go Blue!!