alternate headline: man does job
Even though we have a great season going on right now with much to be accomplished, I can't help but look forward to next year at the same time. As great as this year is, next year could be that much better. The biggest hurdle for us next year is the fact that we have OSU and MSU on the road (thanks Delaney) so I decided to see how their teams will tentatively look next year.
First, I'll start with us though.
What Michigan Loses On Offense:
So we all know this pretty well, but next year we return a whopping 8 starters on offense, which is great news. Everyone but Jake Rudock, Joe Kerridge and Graham Glasgow will return which bodes well for Michigan. While losing Glasgow, our second best OL, will hurt Michigan should survive wither by plugging in Kugler at Center or moving Cole to Center and putting Newsome at LT.
The Rudock loss looks like it will hurt more now that he's played so well these past two weeks, but between O'Korn, Morris, Speight, Malzone, Gentry, Peters and any grad transfers, Michigan should be able to find at least one good option among the bunch.
The Kerridge loss hurts even more because his back up Sione Houma will graduate as well (thanks Hoke). Both these guys have had very nice senior years in an offense that features the full back relatively often, so losing two major contributors there is less than ideal. That being said, I don't think this should hamper Michigan too much. We have a few guys already on the roster that can fill this spot in Poggi, Shallman and Winovich, plus we bring in some guys like Kingston Davis who could contribute immediately. Harbaugh knows how to coach this utilize guys in this position well so I'm fairly confident someone will be able to fill in competently here next year.
For non-starters, Michigan will probably lose a couple noncontributing potential 5th years like Blake Bars. We also lose AJ Williams, who has been having a very nice senior year relative to what we expected. Once again this loss shouldn't be huge though with Butt, Hill, Bunting and potentially Nauta as well. Harbaugh and co can coach TE's up well, as shown by Williams’s jump this year, so there should be plenty to work with there.
The only threat to leave early for Michigan on offense is Jake Butt, but to this point I haven't heard a ton of rumblings about that and would be fairly surprised if he left. One more year under Harbaugh and a great senior year could push him firmly into the first round of the 2017 draft.
What Michigan Loses On Defense:
On defense Michigan loses a lot more, but still returns enough to be very excited about next year. Michigan returns 6/7 starters, depending on how you look at it.
On the DL, everyone but BUCKs Mario Ojemudia and Royce Jenkins-Stone will return. The staff has applied for a 5th year for Ojemudia but it doesn't seem likely that he'll get it. Even with these losses, Michigan's DL should be great next year. If one of Lawrence Marshall, Taco Charlton or Carlo Kemp can just be average here next year, this D-Line should be one of the best in the country.
At LB, Michigan loses all 3 (or 2 considering how often we play with 5 DBs) starters in Desmond Morgan, Joe Bolden and James Ross. This is one of the two big questions mark spots on the team next year. The only guy with any experience who returns next year is Ben Gedeon, who has looked good in his limited action so far. Once again, considering how often Michigan has used 5 DBs this year, if even just one of Mike McCray, Allen Gant, Noah Furbush, Jared Wangler, potentially Chase Winovich and whatever recruits we bring can emerge to be average, I think the LBs will be fine, especially playing behind that D-Line.
In the secondary we lose Jarrod Wilson. This is the biggest loss on defense IMO, as Wilson has played at an All-B1G level this year. Next year the nominal starters would be Dymonte Thomas and Delano Hill. While both have been very inconsistent at times this year, not a great trait in a safety, both have also played great football at times. If they can improve at a reasonable rate this offseason, I think Michigan will be fine at safety. If one or both don't pan out, then Michigan will probably try to plug in Tyree Kinnel or even Jabril Peppers back there.
It's also worth noting that we lose Blake O'Neil, who will most likely be replaced by Kenny Allen. That should be a net loss but Allen was brought in mainly as a punter and should be serviceable next year.
The only threat to leave early is Jourdan Lewis, who has said he plans to return, so as of now there should be no early departures although we know how things can change.
Now I'll move on to OSU and MSU. There will be much less analysis there as I know a lot less about their rosters, and more of just listing who is leaving.
What MSU Loses On Offense:
MSU has done a complete 180 this year, succeeding because of an incredible passing offense with a mediocre at best run game and defense. The good news for Michigan fans is that offense gets gutted next year.
The biggest lost is of course potential 1st rounder Connor Cook. He alone is the reason MSU only has 1 loss so far and no matter who replaces him MSU will feel a hard drop there.
At wideout, MSU loses 4 of their top 6 on the depth chart. Potential 1st rounder Aaron Burbridge, Macgarrett Kings Jr., DeAnthony Arnett and AJ Troup are all seniors who will be graduating next year. Their receiving is probably the best in the B1G this year, so losing 4 of the top 6 including their top 2 is a major loss for Sparty.
MSU doesn't lose any RBs but does lose starting FB Trevor Pendelton. They probably won't lose anyone at TE besides 3rd string contributor Paul Lang. Theoretically they could lose starting TE Josiah Price, who is currently junior projected to go on day 2 or 3 of the draft, but if we assume Butt doesn't leave, it's safe to assume he doesn’t.
At OL, they lose starting Center Jack Allen, and All-American, and starting OG Donovan Clark. It's also safe to assume that starting LT Jack Conklin, another potential 1st round pick, will leave for the draft. Starting RT Kodi Kieler is a potential day 2 or 3 pick but will probably stay at this point. Backup OL Brandon Clemons will graduate as well.
TLDR: MSU will lose at least 6 starters for sure next year. They will probably lose a 7th in Conklin, with potentially up to 9 in Price and Kieler, although those aren't very likely. They also will lose 4 of their top 6 wideouts, a backup OL, and a contributing TE.
What MSU Loses On Defense:
MSU's defense has struggled all year, with the only bright spot being their front 4. Next year, however, they will lose 3 of those 4 starters. Shilique Calhoun, Joel Heath, and Lawrence Thomas all graduate, along with backup DL Damon Knox.
In the back 7, MSU returns a lot more. Starting LB Darien Harris and starting CB Arjen Colquhoun both graduate and the rest of the back 7 returns, although with how their secondary has played this year that may not be a good thing. The biggest potential for MSU next year will be LB Ed Davis. Davis was a 5th year senior this year and preseason All-American who was injured in training camp for the year. If he gets a 6th year MSU could have a great LB corps next year to make up for their depleted D-Line. If not, this might be the worst MSU defense in almost a decade.
MSU also loses long snapper Taybor Pepper.
TLDR: MSU loses 5 starters next year, include most of their fantastic D-Line. Potentially a nominal 6th if Ed Davis doesn't get a 6th year.
What OSU Loses On Offense:
Predicting OSU's loses is the hardest part of all of this since they have so many guys who may leave early for the draft.
The biggest loss for OSU on offense will be on the OL, as 3 starters will graduate in OTs Taylor Decker and Chase Farris and Center Jacoby Boren. Starting TE Nick Vannett will graduate as well. JR OL Pat Elflein could potentially leave as well, but will probably stay for his SR year.
At QB, JT Barrett will be back but I expect Cardale Jones to leave, either to the NFL or to a transfer. He seems to be squarely behind Barrett at this point and will be a 5th year senior next year, so it makes sense for him to either go pro or somewhere else he will start.
At the skill positions, Braxton Miller is the only graduating senior. However, most people assume both Ezekiel Elliot and Michael Thomas will leave as they are projected 1st rounders. If they do OSU will have a lot to replace on offense, but if they don't it will be another great offense down in Columbus. Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson could both theoretically declare as well, although I expect that they stay in school.
TLDR: OSU will for sure lose 5 starters. It could be up to 7 with Elliot and Thomas, who are both most likely to go, and also probably lose Cardale Jones.
What OSU Loses On Defense:
Like MSU, OSU's strongest unit is by far their D-Line. And like MSU, that unit will be depleted next year. Starting DT's Adolphus Washington and Joel Hale, along with backup DT Tommy Schutt are all graduating after this season. Arguably the best DE in all of college football, Joey Bosa is a junior but almost a 100% lock to leave, and has been hinting at him leaving himself.
At LB, OSU for sure loses starting OLB Joshua Perry. Backup MLB Cam Williams will graduate as well. The other starting OLB Darron Lee is only a RS SO, but a projected first round pick and the #1 OLB according to some sites so many OSU fans expect him to leave this year.
In the secondary OSU graduates nobody, but both safeties are threats to leave for the draft. JR Von Bell is a guy who many think could be a late 1st round pick and the other safety Tyvis Powell is a guy many think will be a mid-round pick if he declared. Starting CB Eli Apple is also a top 5 CB prospect who some think may leave as well. If I had to guess, I'd say only Bell leaves of the three, but that remains to be seen.
TLDR: OSU graduates 3 starters, with Joey Bosa essentially being a 4th. Potentially up to 4 more starters may declare for the draft, with 2 being the more likely number. OSU could lose anywhere from 4-8 starters, most likely losing 6, along with a key backup DL and LB.
Michigan definitely loses the least out of any of these three teams. Only 3 starters on offense and 5 on defense with no major threats to leave outside of those players. Michigan also has the talent to replace most of these guys adequately, especially with the solid recruiting class we should bring in.
MSU is going to be hit the hardest. The offense loses 7 starters, including 3 potential 1st rounders, and their passing offense will be decimated. On defense they lose 5 starters including three form their only good unit. I expect a big step backwards next year.
OSU is the hardest to quantify. They will be good, no doubt, but the variance is high. If all of the underclassmen who are projected to leave decide to stay and come back for one last run, OSU will be the preseason title favorites again, and have talent coming out the wazoo. If all of these guys end up leaving, OSU will have way too much to replace and probably be a bottom end top 25 team. If something in the middle happens, which is most likely, they will be a national title contender again but not the favorite, and probably be B1G co-favorites with Michigan.
Here's the Advanced Statistics Schedule Rundown for UM as of the end of Week 11, and thankfully, it's still including Iowa as the 13th game since UM still has a reasonable chance to play in Indy on December 5th. Iowa is a virtual lock for Indy even if it dumps the Nebraska game, so as long as UM's chances are greater than zero of making it to Indy, I'm showing it. So here's your obligatory embiggable chart:
As was the case last week, the race continues to tighten as it comes down to the wire, and the S&P+ romance with M is beginning to wane. In the S&P+ ratings, M showed a modest improvement over last week's results in Offense moving from #43 to #42, as did OSU in moving from #17 to #16. PSU declined from #62 to #66. IU continued to climb from #21 to #19, putting its offensive unit up there in the same strata with OSU. However, on S&P+ Defense, M's clunker in Bloomington sadly knocked it from #1 to #3. Lacking a quick remedy for a decimated DL, this trend will likely continue. The actual rating eroded by another 2.6 points from 9.4 to 12.0. Over the past two weeks, the overall trend amounts to an equivalent loss of home-field advantage. Meanwhile, the PSU & OSU defensive units continued to register improvements, moving from #16 and #9 to #13 and #7, respectively. In the aggregate, M declined to a #5 overall ranking and from a rating of 22.8 to 20.6 points. OSU assumes the #3 spot vacated by M, with the spread narrowing by 2.2 points to M -1.8. Despite its win, Iowa dropped precipitously in overall S&P+ rank from #20 to #28, with the net spread vs. M actually increasing in M's favor by 0.5 points to M -6.9.
As for the FEI Ratings, they continue to track the noticeable back-sliding of the Special Teams play, where M’s ranking dropped from #5 to #15, having been #1 just 2 weeks ago. Giving up a PR for a TD and botching a FGA are contributors for sure. Nonetheless, PSU & OSU continued their declines in Special Teams as well, moving from #89 and #32 to #91 and #44, respectively. Iowa improved from #48 to #44.
The FEI numbers warmed slightly regarding M's offense, which went from #41 to #39, thanks again to Rudock's record-setting performance throughout (no garbage time this week!). At this point, M just needs its running game to be good enough to threaten to bust one for a couple of yards to make its play-action work, nothing more. PSU improved its middling performance from #77 to #75 while OSU saw a slight decline from #25 to #28. At least now M is within 10 spots of OSU and Iowa, which jumped from #37 to #32.
Carrying on with the trend from last week, the most alarming aspect here are the FEI Defensive numbers, which see M continue downward from #5 to a #7 rank, while OSU stepped up from #12 to #11. However PSU and Iowa's defenses continued to slip from #13 and #24 to #14 and #36, respectively. As such, the FEI and S&P+ characteristics for offense and defense are largely congruent.
FEI Overall rankings show M has dropped still further, from #12 to #15, while OSU climbed from #8 to #6. PSU continues to wallow in mediocrity, sliding back from #45 to #48, and Iowa had a down-tick from #18 to #19.
Rolling the S&P+ and FEI numbers together, Connelly & Fremeau come up with the F/+ Combined Ratings, in which M drops out of CFP range from #4 to #6, now one behind OSU at #5. PSU also improved from #38 to #36, while Iowa continued its decline from #17 to #23.
Last but not least are the Football Power Index (FPI) ratings from ESPN. Here as well M's ranking declined by 0.1 points from #16 to #17, while OSU held onto its CFP placement at #4, but improved its score from 22.8 to 23.5. As with S&P+, the spread moved 0.8 points in OSU's favor from M +2.9 to +3.7, further affirmation that The Game is looking to resume its position in The Natural Order of Rivalries. Not to mention, neither PSU nor Iowa are shaping up to more than one-score games, but make no mistake – M will be competitive in all them!
Yours in football, and Go Blue!
Okay, now that that’s out of the way.
Worst: Freaky Saturday
Usually I take this opening section to lay out a narrative for the rest of the diary, provide some holistic summation of the last game and how it fits into the context of a season, a player or coach, the program, something. Lord knows I’ve gone through my fair number of shoehorns to make some of these stories fit, but the goal is always to let the moments breath a little while also trying to make some sense out of what happened on gameday, to not over-analyze it but also connect the data points and tease out what the past my portend for the future.
But try as I might, it just wasn’t coming to me this week. Maybe it’s because the next couple games will be what defines this season. It’s always hinged on how UM performs against their two biggest rivals, and throw in a feisty, sometimes absurdly tony-deaf Nittany Lions, and there isn’t much room left in my gut to get worked up over the collective gristle that the conference otherwise produces every year. And while IU is always game for a shootout, and the results sometimes harrowing, the reality is they haven’t beaten UM since 1987 and only have 1 win in the last 36 contests.
Or maybe Harbaugh’s mere presence on the sidelines has validated all the optimism that enveloped the program as soon as his plane touched down, dulling the game-to-game fluctuations in coaching staff faith that used to fuel a decent part of these columns. After limping through almost a decade of ineptitude and mismanagement, the fact that UM is in a position to challenge for a conference title, to play in the Rose Bowl or even something more, feels like manna from the heavens. Sure, I want UM to keep winning now and forever, but I no longer worry as much about what one or two losses might mean, or if the most recent struggles are indicative of a collapse. This is year 1 of what (I assume) is a multi-decade run of glory for the Wolverines, so if it’s a bit rough go to start I’m not going to get too worked up about it.
Or maybe it’s because there are certainly more important things going on in the world* than how a bunch of college kids did playing a sport for our collective entertainment, even though I’m well aware that finding enjoyment in sport does not invalidate or minimize the emotions one can feel about what else happened this weekend. But this was just an absurdly-weird game that worked out for the good guys, even though it exposed a number of potential problems (depth issues behind Glasgow, poor LB play, continued struggles running the ball) and strengths (Rudock as a playmaker, (re) emergence of Butt, pass defense maturation). It featured Jake Rudock throwing for more TDs in a game than anyone in UM history, Jordan Howard nearly tripling the number of yards on the ground UM gives up during an entire game, 89 combined points with over 1,000 combined total yards, and an ending sequence where UM scored 3 TDs in a total of 4 plays. In short, it was a college football game in November, and we were all brought along for the ride.
* This is a no-politics blog and I am one of the more stringent “there are literally a thousand other sites where you can have those conversations” proponents of that rule, but it was a pretty rough weekend across the globe.
Worst: Owners of a [Broken] Heart
I want to take a minute to, I don’t know, empathize with the IU fans for another heart-breaking loss in a season marked by an absurd number of them. Yes, I recognize that virtually all of the losses are due to fundamental weaknesses of the Hoosiers, namely on defense; as the announcers kept pointing out, IU has one of the best scoring margins in the 3rd quarter (something like +7 points) and the worst in the 4th (a bit over –8 points). Coming into the game, IU’s defense gave up about 500 yards of total offense a game, and their advanced stats aren’t much better. But still, to lose games to UM, Rutgers, OSU, MSU, and Iowa that you were definitely in a position to win late in the 4th quarter has to be dispiriting. And at least in this game, it wasn’t some massive brain fart or self-inflicted wound that did them in, unless you consider “defense” being that injury. They ran the ball about as well as possible against an undermanned-but-still-game UM defense, threw the ball decently enough, and even picked up a punt return to start the comeback in the second half.
And hell, on the final drive of the game they stopped UM 3 straight times as they tried to run the ball down their throats. That’s right, a Jim Harbaugh-led football team struggled to get a couple of yards on the ground against a team best encapsulated in this picture.
Now, you can see the ceiling for Indiana and the type of team they field under Kevin Wilson; I know people call them a chaos team, but lots of teams can move the ball effectively in today’s football landscape like IU does, but the good ones figure out a way to at least slow down the opposition semi-consistently. It’s why Baylor and Oregon have been consistently hanging out in the top 10 nationally for years while Texas Tech and and West Virginia are scrambling for bowl eligibility more times than not. With the (apparent) recruiting limitations at IU and their placement in the B1G East, it’s hard to see them winning more than 8 games in even the best seasons.
But still, man, it was a weird feeling watching UM escape Bloomington with the win. A big part of me was obviously ecstatic, happy to win another crazy game against the Hoosiers and excited that the potential run to the division title was still in place. And it’s not like they were “screwed” out of a win; they had multiple opportunities to stop UM and seal the game but they came up short. But a part of me just wanted to grab someone on that sideline and tell them
IU isn’t a football rival like MSU, OSU, or ND; I’m fine if any of those fans never see another win against UM. But IU is trying something fun and innovative in the conference, trying to win despite their limitations and not, say, sludgefart their way through 12 Saturdays a year like Rutgers or Maryland. And on that front, they’ve succeeded; I enjoy watching IU play football, even against UM, because at least they’re trying to make it work. And that’s why I want Wilson to stick around there versus IU “changing direction” and picking up some third-tier MAC castoff like the rest of the lower half of this conference, because I think this team is good for this league. So I’ll be pulling for IU the rest of the year, and hopefully they can beat Maryland and Purdue and be bowl eligible. And hopefully next year, they get that big scalp they’ve been chasing, as long as it isn’t Maize and Blue.
Worst: Unleashed the Glasgow! (Wait, We’re Out of Glasgows?)
So about that dominating, nation-leading rush defense. That Eater of Worlds on the ground…
Now up front, Jordan Howard is probably the second best back in the conference (behind Elliott). I’ve had him on my fantasy team all year and thus caught a couple of his games (including one against Wake Forest in some really ugly conditions), and he has this great blend of patience, power, and decisiveness when using his blockers that hasn’t been seen in Ann Arbor for what feels like ages. I know it took me a bit to realize that UM wasn’t playing all these runs terribly (at least early on), only that Howard was running what the offense was designed to do about as well as possible. Howard is just that good, and while he’s not the receiver or home-run threat Coleman was last year, it probably shouldn’t have been such a surprise that a guy who put up 1,500 yards at UAB last season (including 90 yards against Arkansas and 89 against Miss. St.) would be good in IU’s offense. And Indiana has an experienced offensive line with a couple of NFL-caliber linemen in Feeney and Spriggs, and even guys that have bounced around like their center Reed is a 5th-year senior with a decent number of starts under his belt. This is a team that gashed Iowa for even more ypc (5.8) than they did the Wolverines (5.6), and only struggled to move the ball on the ground when they were down both Studfeld and Howard against PSU.
So yeah, lose an all-conference-level DT, your run defense is going to take a hit against this team, but I don’t think anyone expected this to happen when Ryan Glasgow was (apparently) lost for the season. The drop-off from Glasgow to a guy like Hurst isn’t terrible, but the drop from Hurst as your backup to guys like Godin, Pallante, and Strobel is significantly more, which is a large reason why UM got run over for what felt like the entire 2nd half (IU running almost 90 plays didn’t help either). UM has been able to weather the losses of Mone and Ojemudia reasonably well because of the depth and flexibility of players on the defensive line, but this feels like one loss too much, and sadly it’s come at the time when they probably needed it the most with PSU and (especially) OSU next up. PSU isn’t likely to stress UM’s defensive line nearly to the same degree at the Hoosiers did, but OSU is basically IU on offense but with a bigger, faster back and a QB who can run through gaps as well as most runners (to say nothing of the inevitably Braxton Miller packages that I’m sure Meyer will break out).
This is when guys like Durkin and Mattison will have to earn their paychecks, shifting around the line as best as possible and shore up the middle while hoping the LBs and Peppers can handle anything that breaks outside. My guess is that Henry and Wormley will cycle inside more often, and if there is any potential hype left to wring out of Lawrence Marshall for this year you’d have to hope UM would try to set him loose just to give the line another able body. RJS (9 tackles, 2 TFLs including UM’s lone sack) and Charlton (5 tackles, 1 TFL) had solid games, so I don’t expect the unit to fall off a cliff even with some shuffling.
I know some are quick to wonder if moving guys like Strobel and Poggi to the offensive side of the ball was smart given the current dearth of tackles, but (a) it’s hard to plan on losing both NTs in a year, and (b) you have to see if guys buried on your depth chart can help out elsewhere, while still retaining at least the faint capability of bouncing back in an emergency. Well, consider that glass broken and the sirens blaring. We’ll see how the team responds next week in PSU; I’m guessing it won’t be giving up 300 yards, but I expect PSU to have moderate success moving the ball on the ground, especially if the game is close in the latter half.
Meh: The Rest of the Defense
It’s hard to tell how much of the rushing defense implosion was due to injuries on the line and how much was due to poor LB play, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that these aren’t going to be super-positive grades for anybody in the front 7. Bolden caught a couple of blocks on plays, and the fact that both Gedeon and Ross had as many combined tackles as Channing Stribling isn’t a good sign. It does seem like defenses are starting to identify holes in the LB core (Minnesota picked on Bolden and Morgan in pass coverage, while IU picked apart them on the ground) and exploiting them. And if the line isn’t there to keep them clean, I’m not sure we’ll see dramatic improvement for the rest of the year. Again, I’ll wait for the UFR to see if it was just a combination of good playcalling and a great back, but I’m not optimistic.
It bears repeating, but when your leading tacklers are your safeties, that means you probably didn’t have a fun time out there. Hill had the game-ending pass breakup on Paige, and both helped to mitigate the damage somewhat whenever Howard got into the secondary, so there is some positives to take out of their performance. And while Sudfeld was kept reasonably clean, he also struggled at times to connect with his receivers (58% on completions for 6.5 ypa) and his one big pass play to Cobbs Jr. was a comebacker where Jeremy Clark was in decent enough position to make a play had he turned around in time. The game was pretty quiet on that front, and you have to think a large part was because Lewis and co. made it inadvisable to throw the ball (of course, the rush defense made it very welcoming to keep it on the ground).
IU is a weird offense to prepare for, and despite giving up over 500 yards and being on the field for 89 plays, they basically matched IU’s average for yard per play (5.9) and conceded 34 points. They forced the Hoosiers to kick FGs on their early drives, and were never really caught off-guard in the ways they were under Hoke. With a healthy Glasgow I doubt this game is as close, and PSU definitely isn’t going to tax them in the same ways.
Worst: Like Falling Off a Horse
After rushing for over 200 yards 4 of the first 6 games of the season (and barely missing a 5th with 198 yards), UM hasn’t come close to cracking that mark since the MSU game. Against IU they finally broke 5 yards a carry after failing to break 4 as a team against Minnesota and Rutgers, but that was mostly due to Rudock scampering for a bunch of first downs. And this little stretch of games was when I expected the running backs to establish themselves on the ground, facing some less-than-stout rush defenses.
But nope, they continued to struggle to break anything long (Rudock had a long of 23; Smith led the regular backs with a long of 20), and for the umpteenth time failed to make second-level defenders miss. Now, I’ll acknowledge that a part of this output is due to Rudock’s record-setting passing night, but I doubt UM’s gameplan envisioned him throwing the ball 46 times. And despite having a couple 5* backs and the leading rusher from last year seemingly healthy again, UM’s second back is Houma, a good runner for a FB but nobody’s ideal backup rusher.
I do think a decent amount of these struggles are due to offensive line issues; the fact they couldn’t get reasonable pushes on multiple goalline rushes on UM’s last two scoring drives of regulation was shocking. And IU inexplicably thought it was a better idea to fill the box and stop the run instead of, say, staying within 10 yards of UM’s receivers for much of the game. But all the rationalizations and philosophies shouldn’t really matter; at this point, a Jim Harbaugh-led team shouldn’t be pushed around by Indiana on both sides of the ball. Maybe Rudock’s recent strides will help to loosen up teams a bit, but if IU and Rutgers didn’t see the light I don’t expect the Nittany Lions or Buckeyes to do the same.
Going forward, I guess Smith is your feature back and everyone else nibbles at the scraps. I have 0% faith that they’ll break 100 yards against PSU or OSU, and that’s not in some reverse-jinx “Rudock will never complete a pass over 5 yards” thing, but in a “I don’t see how it happens unless someone just busts terribly” sort of way. The fact guys like Green (who I know was injured this week) and Isaac aren’t sniffing the field most games despite it all speaks volumes, and puts added pressure on Davis, Enis, or someone else coming in to be an “impact” rusher next year.
Best: More Than Jake
I'll admit; I thought Jake Rudock was a lost cause all of 2 weeks ago. My completely-baseless prognosis was that he had an undisclosed injury that severely limited his downfield accuracy and arm strength while also robbing him of the velocity you need for those short and intermediate routes that you expected from him when he arrived from Iowa. He struggled to get the ball to his receivers, hadn’t hit a pass longer than 20-ish yards down field without stupendous luck/terrible defense, and at times seemed stupefied by the playcalling.
But fast forward two weeks and Rudock has thrown for 770 yards on 71 attempts, a tidy 10.8 (!) ypa, and has a sparkling 8:1 TD:INT ratio. He’s also added 68 yards and a TD on 8 carries, picking up precious first downs with his legs in this game. Yes it’s been against terrible pass defenses, but he also failed to crack 200 yards against equally-moribund Oregon State and UNLV pass defenses. And for the first time all season, he seems to be hitting his receivers with the ball in places where they can make plays; witness Chesson catching passes of 34, 41, and 64 yards, Butt snagging another 29 on a decent ball, as well as Darboh’s game-winning catch that could have gone for 100 yards had it been necessary. He’s still got a propensity to leave balls a bit short (that 41-yarder to Chesson had a bit “Mitch Leidner inside back-shoulder post” to it), and that pick was another pass where he either didn’t see or didn’t compensate for the IU defender on his loft to Williams (though the IU safety made a great play to bring it down), but it still feels like he’s turned a major corner at just the right time. My new theory is that there was an evil, goateed doppelganger called “Jakke Ruddock” who had previously occupied his locker until the Minnesota game, wherein he was knocked out by the head-hunting Gophers and Jake Rudock was able to return back from the Netherrealm.
But I will say this with absolutely certainty: there is no way UM wins this game against IU without him. And given how much dirt was on top of his grave even a couple of years ago, I’m kind of amazed his TD celebration isn’t one of these:
Best: Now in Pairs!
For the first time in decades**, UM had two receivers break 100 yards receiving, including Chesson reeling in 4 TDs and over 200 yards on 10 catches. These are obviously all season and career highs, and continue a torrid scoring binge for him (7 TDs in the last 3 games). I’ll admit to being down on Chesson for most of this year, believing at least some of Rudock’s problems throwing the ball deep were due to his main deep threat’s inability to run the proper routes and/or reel in balls, but I stand corrected. We always knew he could do great things with the ball in his hands, but he’s starting to put the rest of it together, highlighted by great concentration in pulling down that game-tying TD at the end of regulation.
Jake Butt added to his late-season renaissance with another great game, as Rudock is (finally) starting to throw balls high to his virtually-uncoverable TE. 7 catches, 82 yards, and a TD for the Booty Man, and he’ll need to continue this against PSU as the Nittany Lions haven’t really played a receiver like him at that position all year and could be susceptible (especially after Jordan Lucas got hurt against NW).
Penn State will definitely be a new level of competition for the passing game, but I’m starting to believe that they’ll be able to move the ball reasonably well regardless of competition. You might not see another 200-yard game this year, but this feels almost *gasp* sustainable for the rest of 2015.
**The last time? Oh, just that batshit 67-65 RR-special against the Illini in 2010(!!)
Best: Quick Shots
- I’m getting a bit worried about the reliance on Peppers to jump-start the offense. In this game, Indiana definitely keyed in on him to start the second half to stall the drive that led to Paige’s punt return, and even on one of his successful screens to set UM for a score in the 4th he had to make multiple IU defenders miss behind the line. And considering he was on the field for 90+ plays just on defense and special teams, I worry he might be wearing himself thin. I’m all for him being part of the offense, but his chief value on the team remains as a HSP, and just because the backs are struggling doesn’t mean he should be doing that job as well. UM’s defense needs him to be healthy for the next couple of games, and I’d hate to lose him because the other team’s defense is sending 4 guys to hit him on every obvious pass.
- 13 penalties, seemingly half of them for false starts, were infuriating. Consecutive false starts helped stymie a promising drive before Rudock threw his pick, and UM had a number of defensive offsides and false starts to give IU free yards. UM is averaging about 56 yards in penalties a game, and they simply aren’t good enough to keep giving up yards like this.
- Last week’s kick return troubles were largely due to missed calls and general incompetence by the refs; this week, it was just bad tackling. UM had 4 guys all closing in on Paige, and yet he was able to wriggle out of an off-balance high tackle and scoot into the endzone for a game-changing score. Some of this is absolutely bad luck, but at some point you hope that Baxter and co. can get back to stuffing a team’s return game.
- Finally, kudos to O’Neill for handling that bad snap on the game-tying extra point attempt. That could have gone a million ways wrong, yet he calmly righted the ball and Allen was able to sneak it in. After the MSU game, it’s nice to see him involved on the positive side of a seemingly-automatic ST play NOT ending in disaster.
Next Week: Penn State
It’s a road game at noon. The good thing is PSU fans won’t have had enough time to get thoroughly hyped/drunk enough to be out in full force, and despite being 7-3 it doesn’t seem like anyone is all that excited about this season. If Hoke vs. Franklin was like two kids playing checkers, Franklin vs. Harbaugh is like one kid playing checkers and the other kid playing Deep Blue to a standstill. Penn State is coming off a bye AND it’s senior day, so emotions will be high. But every time I think the Nittany Lions are starting to come around (e.g. dismantling IU and Illinois, for example), they stumble against anyone decent on their schedule. It’s going to be ugly, but UM survived a scare against IU and I’m guessing the staff will find a way to compensate on the ground against Barkley, and despite the massive drop in INTs thrown I’m not seeing Hackenberg making huge strides from last year. Assuming OSU beats MSU, that sets up a division championship the following weekend, and I don’t see PSU spoiling that for the Wolverines.
We all have to be 100% committed to Ohio State winning this week. Most of you know why- We then control our own destiny as far as winning the big ten championship. There is also a tiny chance we could make the playoff, and it means Sparty loses, which is nice. In preparation for being a Bucks fan until Saturday, I have taken the following steps. Please tell me what I've missed. 1. Cut the sleeves off 9 t-shirts, one for each day of the week. 2. Stopped showering. It is too cold to go outside. 3. Practiced for hours spelling out O-I-H-O. Thanks guys, GO BUCKS!
There's been a popular line on this blog for the past 10 months or so, "Oakland is still in play." Popular in the sense that it is commonly used, not that any one likes it. The first pro team I remember rooting for was the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders' logo with the shield, crossed-swords, and eye-patched, leather helmeted Raider/Pirate guy was an undeniable lure for a six year old boy. I even had a black and grey winter hat with the Raiders logo front and center. That was the only non-Michigan hat I would wear. But then the Denver Broncos drafted Rob Lytle and I switched allegiances between bitter rivals as fast as only a six year old can.
Besides their iconic helmet, the Raiders have been famous for a few things: their fanbase (the cooler-poopers of the NFL,) Al Davis, Al Davis' unfortunate son, and leading the league in penalties every year by a wide margin. Standing on the sideline and looking out onto a field of yellow laundry, one could excuse Jim Harbaugh for thinking he actually ended up in Oakland. Michigan committed 13 penalties, costing 72 yards. I dare say every one of those was earned. After giving MSU and Rutgers 4 first downs with penalties, Michigan gave Indiana 3 first downs via yellow hanky. Indiana returned the favor by committing 9 penalties for 79 yards. The Michigan of old would take advantage of a sloppy team. This Michigan team has yet to learn the difference between aggression and controlled aggression. When the senior captain ends up in the opponent's backfield before the ball arrives, it's apparent that something is missing.
Jim Harbaugh has mentioned how he passes by the statue of Bo Schembechler on his way to work. That prompted me to skim through my copy of Bo's Lasting Lessons looking for a nugget of wisdom to share with Team 136. Don't look in the index under "penalties." I'll bet Bo hated penalties so much he forbade Bacon to index them. What I did find was this passage,
Sloppiness in this building breeds sloppiness on the field. When a sloppy guy lines up, he'll jump offsides. When he goes out for a pass, he'll run a bad route. And when he carries the ball, he'll fumble it. Why? Because he's sloppy!
This quote, as with most things in life, reminds me of a Seinfeld episode.
Poppy and Team 136 are a little sloppy. Here's hoping the Michigan football team cleans things up in the next two weeks.
Burst of Impetus
* I'm torn here between the first play of the second half and the Indiana punt return touchdown that shortly followed. Michigan had built a 24-16 lead at halftime. Indiana was giving our defense trouble, but we were getting them off the field and forcing them to kick field goals. A good, sustained, scoring drive to start the second half would shorten the game and put us up by two scores. Instead, Michigan put Peppers in motion and pitched the ball to him as he crossed in front of the quarterback. Indiana's defense was ready for this and stopped Peppers for an 8 yard loss. An incompletion and a sack followed setting up 4th and 25. The ensuing punt was returned for a TD and all of a sudden it was a ballgame that was going down to the wire, and then some.
The Two Jakes
* Indiana's QB threw for 220 yards and their running back ran for 238 yards.
* Jake Rudock threw for 440 yards.
* Jake Rudock ran for 64 yards.
* Jake Rudock gained more yards than Indiana's prolific tandem of Sudfeld and Howard. Jake Rudock gained 504 yards running and throwing. Those are Denard Robinson numbers.
* Jake Buttttttt caught seven passes for 82 yards. He could have approached 100 yards if Rudock had turfed a couple obvious negative plays instead of throwing to Butt with a man all over him. This is a minor quibble considering the, you know, 504 yards and 6 touchdowns.
Root Tree Runners
* After spending much of the season spreading the ball out among numberous receivers, this was the Chesson/Darboh/Butt show. They accounted for 25 of Jake's 33 completions.
* I've probably grumbled more about Chesson's receiving abilities than most. He's an incredible runner and blocker, and Saturday he showed he's capable of being an incredible wide receiver as well, with 10 receptions for 207 yards and 4 TDs.
* The leading rusher was Jake Rudock with 64 yards at 9.1 yards per carry.
* Smith did the bulk of the running from the backfield, carrying 12 times for 58 yards.
Tacos and Peppers
* Our leading tacklers were safeties Delano Hill and Jarrod Wilson with 10 each. I don't have to tell you that's not a good sign. Hill did have the game-winning BrUp.
* Michigan only had 4 TFLs for 17 yards. 12 of those yards came on one sack. The inability to tackle Indiana behind the LOS was a big reason IU put up 41 points.
* There was only one FF, no FRs, no INTCs, no Blkd passes, and no QHs. I think you have to credit Indiana for having a very good offense, acknowledge that Michigan was missing Glasgow, Ojemudia, and Mone from the defensive line, and that combined with the "tempo" hurt Michigan badly. Tempo is in quotes because Indiana very rarely went hurry up. They got to the line and waited 20 seconds to get the right play called. My fear level for OSU ratcheted up a couple points. They can do what Indiana did with Howard and ADD a running threat from the QB position.
* This is the spot where I've been tracking total plays this season. There actually weren't that many plays run considering this was a double OT game and Indiana is noted for their pace. We ran 74 plays to their 89. There were 35 special teams plays (17.7%,) mostly extra points, field goals and kickoffs. There were only 5 punts total in the game, and only 2 of those were from IU.
* Michigan gave up another punt return TD this week. This one can be blamed on sloppy tackling.
* 20 of Indiana's 32 first downs came in the first half. I took a look at the drive chart for an explanation for the discrepancy between 1st and 2nd halves. Thanks to the punt return, Indiana only had 3 real second half drives. Those took 9, 9, and 8 plays, but only consumed 10 minutes and 11 seconds of the clock. It's hard to gain a lot of first downs when you don't have the ball.
* All but one of Michigan's first half drives took less than 2 minutes. All but one of Michigan's second half drives took more than 2 minutes. I don't know if this was a conscious halftime adjustment, or just the variability of this crazy game. If anything, I thought Indiana was using more of the play clock by looking to the sideline before almost every snap.
* Since time of possession is meaningless, I also looked at total plays. Indiana ran 54 plays in the first half, but only 35 in the second half and overtime.
* Net yards rushing was 307 to 141 in favor of Indiana. I remember being on the other side of that many times. It was only the last two seasons of the RichRod era where we were outgained like that on the ground.
* I'm not sure what I'm going to track under the Ooga-Booga category. It's either going to be horrible announcing or jinxes. Brock Huard had me thinking back fondly of the days Matt Millen called our games. Bob Windshield (as my son called him,) is just a guy. So if there was an ooga-booga, it was the fact that our #1 defense against the run gave up over 300 yards to Indiana. I tried explaining the ooga-booga jinx concept to my son, but he just responded with a confused look and said, "but we won." He's right, and there's nothing sloppy about that.
My son and I went to see the game yesterday. It was generally a great time -- lots of Michigan fans, the north "grass" lot was pretty much a huge Michgan party -- and the game itself was obviously exciting albeit disconcertingly close.
I would be curious, though, if others who went to the game felt the same way as me about the whole experience. Here are a few random thoughts:
1. The whole scene at IU is really campy and
dorky. They have a "players walk" from Assembly Hall to the stadium before the game. It was very awkward. The band plays on the steps of Assembly Hall while the cheerleaders dance for a while, then the players march to the field.
2. They call their band the "marching 100." Their PA announcer repeatedly calls them that.
3. They have a cartoon shark that swims on the scoreboard on third downs and it seems they have tried to get a sort of "gator chomp" thing going -- but it's not clear why and not many fans do it. Also, right at the most exciting part of the game, they had a Super Mario bros inspired bike race in the north end zone with two middle aged ladies riding bikes between cones and over a ramp. I have no idea what that was.
4. Their PA announcer is the most egregiously irritating person I have ever heard. Each time they got a first down he shouted "First down HOOOOOSIERS!" The fans all echo him when he says "Hoosiers." When they are on defense he would excitedly say "stand up fans! It's THIRD DOWN!!!"
5. Canadian Cowbell Girl Michigan fan. Has anyone else tailgated near this group? They are apparently from Canada, and one of their group is a girl who appears to be about 20-25 years old. She wears striped maize and blue pants and a maize cape with a blue maple leaf on it. She can hold an insane amount of alcohol. During the game she ran all around the stadium with her cowbell tapping out the bit before everyone says "Go Blue!" I was fascinated, horrified, and inspired by her. Does she go to all the games? It seems she must. I thought she would be passed out in a pool of her own vomit by halftime, but she was going strong the whole game with that cowbell.
6. Indiana fans in general were nice, polite, cheered well etc. The seemed flabbergasted that they were even in the game. They were also very campy and said obvious things all game long like "it looks like we'll probably have to punt here." Or "their receivers run better routes than ours." The guy behind us kept saying that Michigan should "go for two since they're the away team. Isn't that usually how it goes?" At first I hated him, but after a while I felt sorry for him. He wasn't so much a jerk as an ignoramus.
7. That offensive pass interference call near the end of the game was not legit. We got a break on that one.
8. Jordan Howard is for real. They kept running that stretch play and he timed his cuts perfectly. Their interior offensive line must be grossly underrated.
9. Once 98 on their d-line went down with what appeared to be cramping, I knew we would win. He was the man.
10. Not to be master of the obvious here, but our d-line looked tired and flat. There was no pass rush whatsoever. Sudfield had all day to throw.
11. I thought Dymonte was out for the year the way he was laying on the ground after that kickoff. But he was on the field playing at the end during crunch time. Awesome. It was also cool to see they defense high fiving the offense as they came on the field after the d couldn't hold during those last few drives. My sense was that Michigan never felt like they were going to lose.
Overall it was a good experience, but my sense was that they weren't quite sure how to be football fans there. It seemed novel to them and their support for their team was not spontaneous and natural.
I would be curious to hear what other people who went to the game thought.
I also haven't watched it yet on tv. Why were we getting so gashed on those run plays, particularly on their latter few drives?
Final thought: Chesson was in one on one coverage on the outside almost the whole game. That last touchdown pass I thought "finally!" It seemed like they could have exploited that more. Indiana was clearly stacking the line trying to stop the run. I guess that's why Rudock threw for 440 yards.