to play football, not to play trumpet
Michigan isn't going to the playoff.
No shame in that; we're building this year. The team is as good as we could have hoped for. The pathway is open for Michigan to win its way into Indianapolis, assuming Ohio State (or Penn State, I guess) knocks of MSU.
But the playoff discussion naturally came up tonight's playoff ranking post. And a good point was made--sooner or later a 2-loss team will make it.
What would it take for it to be Michigan? We've all thought about it. We've talked about it. Yeah, it's bats, but #14 won the title last year and stuff. How could it happen now?
Well, let's start by saying that the unusually strong roster of undefeated and one-loss teams makes this a less likely season for this sort of event; this is not 2007 where LSU was the best of many, many 2-loss squads in a year where upsets started strong and never stopped.
Ok, but what it would take?
There are six "lanes" to get to the place where four teams are picked for the playoff. X (as used by others on the board) represents the number of losses, for reference.
|B1G||Big 12||SEC||Pac 12||ACC||"Other"|
X=0 Ohio State
|X=0 Baylor||X=1 Alabama||X=1 Stanford||X=0 Clemson||X=1 Notre Dame|
|X=0 Oklahoma State||X=1 Florida||X=1 Utah||X=1 North Carolina||X=0 Houston|
X=1 Michigan State
|X=1 Oklahoma||X=1 LSU|
Out of the Big Ten, Michigan has the best chance of any current 2-loss team in the country to make the playoff. They are already the highest ranked team with such a record and a hypothetical B1G championship would involve beating both Ohio State and Iowa, both probably undefeated--an unimpeachable record. This scenario would also involve MSU losing at least once more, probably to Ohio State.
Such a result would, even with a worse record, probably propel Michigan to the top of the B1G "lane." Beating OSU and Iowa head-to-head should be enough to pass them in the minds of the committee with our resume (losses aren't that significant, but neither are at all bad and Utah was on the road).
Verdict: I WANT TO BELIEVE
What would then be needed is for two more lanes to fail to produce a team with a better resume; except for Houston and possibly UNC, this probably requires no team to finish with fewer than 2 losses. Also, let's assume for a moment that no conference gets two teams in, since I have hundreds of words of text already written that would be useless if that did occur. (Besides, I think the committee would rather have a strong 2-loss team than, say, LSU sneaking in on Alabama's coattails).
So, how could that happen? Let's assume, not unreasonably, that a Michigan team that accomplishes this will have the best rating of any 2-loss team in the country. Now, let's look at our "lanes" and see what our chances are:
The Big 12 is still very much up in the air, and the "big boys" still have a lot of games against each other, but it is hard to find a scenario where all teams end with at least 2 losses short of a highly improbably series of dramatic upsets to lesser foes. We're looking for realism here. A 1-loss or 0-loss Big 12 team will have wins over at least two of the power teams in the conference, both of which are high quality wins. That should be enough of a resume to get into the playoff over a 2-loss team. Jumping the Big 12's best candidate is unlikely.
Verdict: Highly Improbable
The SEC is probably going to be won by Alabama going away; I am not enthusiastic about their chances of losing again before the playoff. However, there is at least a small possibility that Florida could lose to arch-rival Florida State and then beat Alabama in the SEC championship, which would leave them with 2 losses but a resume pretty similar to ours. Also, LSU is still hanging around with 1 loss, and they have a win over Florida; barring an upset (say, at Ole Miss) they are hard to ignore as well. The chances of the SEC getting left out are always small, and right now nearly nonexistent.
Verdict: Highly Improbable
The ACC has fewer candidates, but its best candidate is the #1 team in the country with huge wins at home against Notre Dame and Florida State. Their three remaining regular season opponents should be walkovers; the ACC championship beckons, probably against a surging North Carolina team whose best win is... uh, Duke. Frankly, it is hard to see Clemson dropping two games the rest of the way; in the odd scenario where they did, their second loss is probably to North Carolina, and a (likely) 1-loss North Carolina team with a win over Clemson has a decent chance of jumping Michigan. Let's face it, Clemson is close to a lock.
Verdict: Highly Improbable
Three conferences, three near-locks for bids. What's left?
The Pac 12 has two reasonable playoff candidates: Stanford and our old friends at Utah. These two teams are the leading candidates to meet in the Pac-12 title game, which may be a playoff-elimination contest. However, these teams have something the previous scenarios do not: both have multiple losable games remaining on their schedule.
Utah travels to a struggling Arizona team this weekend, and while Arizona has been poor this is a very losable game for Utah. Next week they host a good UCLA team. If they somehow get by both of those (and Colorado the week following) they will be serious underdogs to Stanford in almost any scenario. There is a very good chance that they will lose again; and I believe Michigan at 2-losses with its quality of wins would jump them here despite head-to-head.
Stanford hosts Oregon, which now looks more like the Oregon we've expected the past few years, and travels to Cal. Those are not as dangerous as Utah's contests, but both are good teams and either could pull off the upset. Stanford also hosts Notre Dame... which, see below. It's possible that Stanford could lose the Pac 12 title game, but I don't consider it likely; the best scenario is for them to drop one of the next two games and then win out. Not assured, but... neither this nor the Utah scenario are at all ridiculous.
Verdict: Somewhat Plausible
Which brings us to "Other." I have Houston listed here because they could theoretically go undefeated with wins against Memphis and Navy and get at least some consideration if one-win teams aren't available, but I think it is unlikely.
But that leaves Notre Dame. And that's where Stanford again comes in, because after Wake and BC, Stanford is the conclusion to Notre Dame's season. At Stanford. Win and they're probably in. Lose and they have 2 (good) losses, but their best win is probably USC; they're out. Stanford is playing very well; there is a good chance they win here.
Verdict: Very Plausible
So Stanford getting upset once but winning the Pac 12 vaults Michigan past that lane; Stanford beating Notre Dame likely jumps them above that one as well.
Michigan is not making the playoff. But, is there a scenario where they sneak in? The likeliest, by far, involves Stanford suffering an upset against a good team this Saturday or next, and then winning out. Not likely, exactly, but it could happen.
If, at the end of November 21, Michigan and Stanford both have two losses, I believe Michigan is very much alive in the playoff race. If not, Michigan would require a series of upsets so improbable that Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect themselves would appear in person to witness it.
I don't think Michigan is ready for the playoff yet. They probably won't get in. But... it's not impossible. I welcome other scenarios.
Here's the Advanced Statistics Schedule Rundown for UM as of the end of Week 10, and yes, it's still including Iowa as the 13th game should UM be so fortunate as to wiggle into it. Iowa is a virtual lock for Indy, and as long as UM's chances are greater than zero of making it to Indy, I'm showing it.
So without further ado, here's the embiggable chart:
The race continues to tighten as this seaon approaches the wire, but the S&P+ love-affair with M continues to be quite torrid. In the S&P+ ratings, M showed a modest improvement over last week's results in Offense moving from #45 to #43, while the remaining opponents IU, PSU & OSU all showed slight declines on S&P+ Offense. The offense is what it is at this point, and a pummeling of Rutgers isn't going to change much. On S&P+ Defense, it's hard for M to improve on a #1 ranking, which was maintained, however the rating did erode by a half-point from 8.9 to 9.4. IU & PSU held steady in S&P+ Defense ranking, while OSU advanced from #12 to #9. In the aggregate, M maintains the #3 ranking and the same rating of 22.8. OSU is right behind at the same #4 spot, with the spread opening by 0.7 points to M -5.1. Iowa declined in overall S&P+ rank from #16 to #20, with the spread increasing by 1.7 points to M -6.4.
The FEI ratings may be more realistic? At least it includes a Special Teams breakout, which is insightful considering the debacle that was ST play in the first half against Rutgers. M is no longer the Special Teams darling of the FEI, as its ranking dropped from #1 to #5. Giving up a KO return for a TD and a PR with a huge equivalent points value to set up another score will do that. Nonetheless, PSU, OSU & Iowa all showed similar or worse declines in Special Teams, moving from #77, #24 and #44 to #89, #32 and #48, respectively - so as Blake O'Neil might say, "No worries, Mate!"
FEI warmed up significantly regarding M's offense, which went from #58 to #41, thanks to Rudock's fine performance leading into garbage time. Still, 2 of the 3 remaining opponents, plus Iowa, have higher ranking offenses. OSU saw a slight decline from #25 to #28, but this may be the Cardale Jones effect, which should be reversed next week when J.T. Barrett resumes QB duties.
On the other hand, perhaps the most alarming aspect are the FEI Defensive numbers, which see M decline from a #2 to a #5 rank, while OSU advanced from a #15 to a #12. However, IU, PSU and Iowa's defenses all slipped from #91, #9 and #19 to #99, #13 and #24 respectively. Regardless, outside of Indiana, M's offense will be looking at some of the toughest sledding of the season.
FEI Overall rankings show M has dropped out of the top ten from #10 to #12. IU and OSU held steady at #60 and #8, respectively. PSU improved to #45 from #50, and Iowa slipped from #17 to #18.
Rolling the S&P+ and FEI numbers together, Connelly & Fremeau come up with the F/+ Combined Ratings, in which M holds steady at #4, while OSU improved from #6 to #5. The Game is shaping up to be a truly epic matchup. PSU also improved from #40 to #38, while IU and Iowa both dropped from #63 and #13 to #64 and #17, respectively.
Last but not least are the Football Power Index (FPI) ratings from ESPN. Here as well M's ranking declined from #16 to #18, while OSU declined from #4 to #5. As with S&P+, the spread moved 1.5 points in M's favor from +4.4 to +2.9, further affirmation that The Game is looking to resume its position in The Natural Order of Rivalries. M is favored in all of the other matchups, but PSU, as well as Iowa, are both within one score.
Yours in football, and Go Blue!
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.
(what is not shown is the smoke is coming from smoldering tires)
So I didn't do summer previews on Rutgers or Indiana as I thought they'd be bad. Rutgers is horrid. Indiana is just Big 10 bad (0-5) but has enough offense to scare people.
Therefore, no summer evaluation of Rutgers but last week I wrote this based on data up to that point:
Rutgers has been imploded by Wisconsin and OSU back to back. Carroo is the entire offense and even if he is back won't be 100%. As I said above, if we give up 20+ to Rutgers I will have to consider the defense a bit fraudulent and feasting on 4 really bad QBs early in the year in (a) Seth Collins, (b) Caleb Rowe, (c) the backup at UNLV after Decker got hurt, and a (d) mediocre Thorson at Northwestern. We cannot make Laviano look like Gary Nova.
Rutgers defense is also putrid giving up nearly a zillion points to OSU and Wisconsin. Now with that said Clement was back for Wisconsin and we sure don't have a Clement and OSU is OSU but damnit I guess Peppers or something. This is by far the easiest game left of the 4 and at home so UM needs to find their form going into the final stretch of 3 games. It will be interesting to see how things shake out at QB - I am sure a healthy Jake will get the start but will he be healthy? And if not, how does Speight look with a full week of 1st team reps and confidence? And can we get back to the defense of pre MSU at least for a week please?
Laviano did not look like Gary Nova. Defense plays well but gave up some points but special teams was a bit off and 7 of those pts were directly on a kickoff return and I'd claim another 3 were due to special teams issues. So I'll put 6 on the defense which is ok. OSU had a shutout vs Rutgers until 4 minutes remained in game and surely a bunch of 2nd stringers in (with Carroo playing in NJ) so on that measuring stick I'd have liked to see a bit better but it's good enough. Jake did look like Gary Nova - which in this case was good.
A Look at Michigan
It was a comforting game in that Michigan did what you are supposed to do to very bad teams. After 2 sub 300 yard outings vs good (not great) defenses, Rutgers D came in on a silver platter. This was probably Rudock's best game at Michigan and only his second positive rating via Pro Football Focus this year, so let's do that again 3 more times (or 4 with the bowl) (or 5 with a championship game and a bowl) (or 6... well...) Yes you have to account for Rutgers S&P ranked 116th defense ....which is 122nd vs the pass but beggers can't be choosers.
Jake was 18/25 for 337 yds with 2 TD and 0 INT. More importantly in the eye test he was zinging it out there with some nice velocity on intermediate passes - and a lot better accuracy. In fact I think the WRs had 2 drops which hurt his stats. It's been difficult to tell how good our WRs hands are this year because they get so few opportunities so that was a minor ding but unlike prior drops these were mostly pretty catchable balls if I recall correct. The screen game was beautiful - obviously something was seen in film and unlike the prior staff, plans were made to exploit said holes. Pass protect was good vs a team that rarely gets to the passer.
Pass distribution was 5 to TEs, 7 to WRs, 5 to RBs/FBs, and 1 to Peppers. That's a very Harbaugh @ Stanfordish distribution.
The run game continues to be meh. The stats say it was ok 42 carries for 150 yards. But that's a measly 3.6 per against the S&P 108th ranked rush defense. On a day the safeties actually had to play intermediate passes and hence could not stack into the box. So it's not that good - but a consistent issue all year at this point. Smith did look the most healthy he has in a few weeks so let's hope that continues as we need a Thunder and Lightning mix vs PSU and OSU. The Drake was pretty pedestrian this game with 7 carries for 27 yds. Houmatime was fun to watch and at this point he seems to have passed the human victory cigar in the rotation as a RB??! I continue to see this team struggling to run on a consistent basis vs the PSU and OSU DLs - esp if bad Jake returns.
This game helped move UM up from 98th to 87th in total offense via NCAA (which ranks offenses only on total yards). Advanced stats look more kindly on UM but its generally a 50ish type of offense in that regard. The staff continues to make do with what they have and the addition of Peppers surely helps - his TD run was a "make something out of nothing" play that only truly elite playmakers make.
Defensively there was a lot of this:
To the untrained eye Morgan had a nice bounce back game, Wormley was causing all sorts of havoc (2 sacks, 2 TFL), Peppers seems to be improving in pass coverage, and Lewis was Lewis. Jarrod Wilson had a nice pick. PFF liked Taco Charlton's game - stats show he had 3 tackles and 1 TFL. Glasgow was dinged and sat out much of the 2nd half and Hurst was quiet.
Rutgers only had 225 yds and less than 100 thru the air. The one big bust this game was a 54 yd run so take that out and Rutgers only had 171 yards which is very good. They did get 17 first downs which is more than you want but were only 3/13 on third.
There was a bad kickoff return from Grant who already had 2 TDs this year so that was not pleasing. But in general the special teams continue to give UM's offense short fields. UM's TD drives were:
- 46 yds
- 58 yds
- 60 yds
- 43 yds
- 40 yds
- 60 yds
That's an average of 51 yds i.e. UM started those 6 drives on average at their own 49 yard line. This has been a theme the past month.
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 10||Week 9||Week 8||Week 7|
|11||Oregon State||Oregon State||Oregon State||Oregon State|
|Week 6||Week 5||Week 4||Week 2|
|11||Oregon State||Oregon State||Oregon State||Oregon State|
|11||Oregon State||Oregon State|
Not this time bro
- OSU - OSU sort of sleepwalked thru a game with Minnesota. But they are nowhere near the offense with Cardale that they are with JT. I hope JT celebrates the victory over MSU with a lot of drinks and is found with an open container immediately after with Joey Bosa and Darron Lee. OSU goes to Ill next week - a team that strangely has given them trouble the past 3-4 years if I recall correctly. Maybe they will look ahead to MSU and make it a closer game than it should be. OSU D continues to look pretty solid and absolutely mauled MN's run game (33 yds total - even if you take out Leidner's -13 it was only 46 yds)
- Utah - Utah had a tricky road game vs Washington and prevailed even with Travis Wilson channeling Jake Rudock for most of 2015 (12/25, 155 yds, 6.2 ypa, 1 INT). Booker continues to be used like Lorenzo White circa 1987 to the tune of 150 yds. (younger people ....google Lorenzo White) On a side note future New England Patriot and true freshman Britain Covey continues to play well with another 5 catches and him doing well v Peppers in week 1 makes more sense by the week.
- MSU - Simpsons-haha.gif. After playing with fire all year and selling many souls Dantonio finally ran out of humans to sacrifice. Truthfully this should be a 3 loss team with Vernon Adams completing a wide open pass, Blake handling a punt, and then Neb doing Neb. You could make a case for the Rutgers and Purdue games as well. The pass defense remains a tire fire and any teams with legit passing QBs have a chance. Unfortunately Maryland is not one of those teams next week. Cook was off in the 1st quarter but again carried the team the last 3 quarters. But he can't play defensive back.
- BYU - BYU barely beat the Flying Borges' this week in an uninspiring performance. The rushing game was horrendous - 36 yds on 25 carries. BYU is sort of a team that should be ranked 35th to 40th - advanced stats also support this. But they are 7-2 without many tests on their schedule.
- PSU - Yes PSU lost to NW but it ended up being a last second game and NW was doing its best to derp it away. I have come to the conclusion that home field is worth more than 3 pts in college (v the NFL) and I expect a home PSU to be a lot better than a road PSU. Hack can do enough to cause issues and PSU DL continues to be a worry. Hack was 21/40 but his 5.1 ypa was Joey Harrington-ish (Lions version) That said he was over 9.0 ypa for 3 weeks in a row. Saquon Barkley had a good game vs a decent rush D.
- Minnesota - Leidner had a pretty decent game (27/44) but his ypa was down in the 6 range so his ability to deliver arm punts was not quite as good as with UM. He still threw for nearly 300 as Minn was behind the whole night and OSU took away the run completely. This is a well coached team who is coaching up a lot of 3 star talent but aside from the seconday lacks playmakers.
- Indiana- Indiana continues to be a hard luck team. If you squint your eyes they have lost 3 times to teams with a combined 2 losses (err 1 loss damnit) in Iowa, OSU and MSU. Unfortunately when you open your eyes you see a team that game up 55 to Rutgers. Indiana seems to be a pretty good team for 50-52 minutes a game. Then they revert to Indiana. Worry is Nebraska type luck in that fortune has not been there way of late and at some point that turns around. Hopefully not next week. Sudfeld was worse than usual this game - 16/37 and a measly 4.9 ypa ...way below his average. Jordan Howard looked like the Howard of early in the season with 174 yds on 22 carries. Going to be very important for UM defense to contain this guy to 80ish yards.
- Northwestern - NW has a nice record but it strikes me as a bit fraudulent. You could see that vs Iowa and Michigan. The Duke win is looking worse by the week and the Stanford win at this point you chalk up to the crazy stuff of week 1. They looked decently in control v PSU but then began to remember they were Northwestern. Oliver came in for Thorson and was just as mediocre. Saving grace was Justin Jackson who has looked bad most of the year after a great year last year - 186 yds. To me this is a fringe top 30ish team that benefits from playing in an awful division.
- Maryland - Maryland is a bad team with bad QBs but gave Wisconsin a bit to think about at least. Corey Clement was out again after a big game last week and Wisc turned to uhh.... star linebacker Joe Schobert. Well he had 1 run for 57 yds on a fake punt as he tried to channel Peppers. MD also scored on an onside kick. This is a bad team with 2 wins and is only saved by the array of horrid teams below them - at least Maryland has one half decent unit (defense). This summer I had projected Maryland to struggles to get to 5 wins - they have 2 right now.
- Rutgers - They are a bad team. A very bad team.
- Oregon State - My preseason prediction was OSU would be the worst P12 team and they are doing nothing to make me look bad. OSU lost 41-0 to UCLA. Rosen crushed OSU's D (22/33 for 333) I am seriously considering moving UNLV ahead of them. At least UNLV has a QB when healthy. OSU finishes with @Cal, Wash, @Ore - the path to 0-9 in conf is clear.
- UNLV - UNLV beat Hawaii 41-21 and now has 3 wins. Blake Decker was healthy and the team is different when he plays.
Last week we said get this easy game out of the way and then things toughen up to finish off the season. So mission accomplished. 7-2 with 3 to go has UM in a nice position for a very nice season in year 1.
UM is better than Indiana and PSU but those are both road games and of the 6 halves we've played on the road this year I'd say we've played well in about 2 of them (2nd half Maryland, and maybe 30 of the 60 minutes vs Minn) Jake in particular has really struggled on the road.
2-1 would be great from here; 1-2 not so great, 3-0 fantastic. I am actually expecting 3 nail biters here on out.
Most of the talk will probably focus on Sudfeld but Jordan Howard could be next week's X factor. UM has a strong rush D but this might be the best RB (yes better than Booker) we face until OSU. He has been hurt for the past month but looks to be rounding back into form. It's ok to give up yards but the gash yards for 20-25 is where we need to be careful. Also, Lewis won't be able to focus on a "top WR" as was possible with some other teams as Indiana spreads it around pretty well. Clark and Stribling need to show up and make plays. A good pash rush to get to Sudfeld would also help.
Indian's pass D is 66th in S&P+ so not nearly as bad as Rutgers but you can throw on them. Their rush D is near 100 so getting some yards on the ground and keeping the TOP high would be good things to do. Need to see a quality game from Jake on the road as well. UM will need to score points as Indiana will get yards and points. I expect a quite tricky game as Iowa and Michigan are actually quite similar in advanced stats (Iowa not playing two top 15 teams however) and hopefully UM pulls away in the last 10 minutes as has been Indiana's MO this year vs quality teams.
Hey diary, I just found you. Didnt know I had a Diary but I never had one growing up so this feels special.
Nov 7- I'm writing this on Nov 9. Better late than never, thats what George Washington Carver taught me. Anyways, let me give you a run down of yesterday.
Saturday was turnt. We beat Rutgers like a rage doll. The refs are still trash. It was clearly targeting, but I'm actually okay with it being overturned. The smack talk after that got Harbaugh angry ad he "raan up the score" on Flood. (He really didn't, Rutgers sucks, but whatever makess their soon to be fired coach happy).
Jabrill is an OG and that's and understatement. If his rap career doesn't take off I think he'll be more than okay in the NFL, maybe.
Celebrating the win was great, and even better, shortly after that, MSU LOST! I don't remember it happening but I assume Dantonio holding his finger up asking for 1 more second resulted in me and my friends dying from laughter.
The rest of the night was status quo for a Saturday night. OSU looked mediocore but good at the same time and 'Bama did what you expect them to do eve against the #2 team in the country. But I still have one beef. FIELDING YOST HAD A BETTER RECORD IN HIS FIRST 50 GAMES THAN MEYER. 49-0-1, CHECK IT. Or don't , I'm right.
Nov 8- Woke up at 1:30 super hung over and pissed off because I started Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson in my fantasy league. Watched some NFL, ate pizza and gobstoppers, took a nap, woke up, more football. Boring stuff. I did what any sane fan would do at 7 pm. I fired up the DVR to what Harbaugh whoop Flood ass one more time. Good stuff.
Nov 9- Bored writing on my own personal Diary I just found. I love you Diary.
So I didn’t get to see most of this game until Sunday night on DVR. I say this every time, but given the outcome and the timeline, don’t expect this to be particularly long. I’ll try to compensate with more gifs.
Best: The New Jersey Jobbers
Professional wrestling has a nomenclature all its own: every planned storyline is a "work", an unscripted, "real" moment is known as a "shoot" (which can include actual fighting), guys can blur the line a bit and hit each other either safely ("snug") or borderline unsafely ("stiff"), and characters can move between working as "babyfaces" or "heels". As in the world of illicit underground fighting/anarchy-promotion, one did not talk about the business to non-wrestlers, as that destroyed kayfabe (doing so has created a cottage industry of "shoot interviews" by retired/angry former performers), the thin suspension of disbelief that allows fans to believe grown men and women actually do stuff like this within the course of a fight:
And for those of us who grew up watching wrestling in the 80s and 90s, one of the most common sights Saturday morning was Jake "The Snake" Roberts or Bret "The Hitman" Hart dismantling a "jobber" in short order. These performers, with names such as Barry Horowitz and the Brooklyn Brawler, would be referred to today as "enhancement talent", sparring partners of sorts who were supposed to make the other's stuff "look good" by flopping around and taking "bumps" in such a way to maximize the ferocity of their opponent's offense and sell that to those watching the match. In other words, they were the FCS/Sun Belt/MAC-rifices of the world, just with (slightly) better outfits/uniforms.
Well, I hope the NY basic cable sports package subscribers were worth it Jim Delaney, because Rutgers just got squashed about as authoritatively as possible this side of Brock Lesnar fighting a one-legged guy.
Now to be fair, as in squash matches, the jobber sometimes does get a little offense in. Maybe a punch here, a dropkick there, just enough to make it seem like they aren’t completely overmatched. Rutgers finished with 225 yards of total offense, 128 on the ground and another 97 through the air. Of that 128 yards, one was a 54-yard run on Rutger’s first scoring drive that sure seemed like a hold on Glasgow, who otherwise had the play dead to rights, and 42 of those 97 passing yards coming on two long completions by Laviano with Michigan up 46 to 16. The vast majority of Rutgers offense came from two sources; (1) Janarion Grant returns (his 98-yard KO return for a TD plus his 67-yard punt return that set up a FG to end the half) and (2) absolutely, positively incompetent refereeing. In a game, a weekend, a month, a year of terrible officiating across America, it’s getting harder to pick out specific examples of when the officiating gets its most wrong, but the end of the first half was just comically bad. I mean, I’m starting to lose track of which exasperated gif of Jim Harbaugh to link to anymore, as they all display the same “you have to f*ing kidding me” vibe of the same dumb decisions made the different, faceless goobers in polyester uniforms roaming the sidelines of college football games.
But despite this idiocy, Michigan just ran through Rutgers in this game, scoring on 8 of their first 10 drives before calling off the dogs a bit. About the only things fans were left rooting for entering the 4th quarter was whether UM would break 50 points and/or 500 yards of total offense, two marks they easily could have exceeded had they wanted. But after going for 2 up 25 because of math on a card, Rutgers was left looking up at the lights and UM was ready to cut a promo on the Hoosiers.
Best: Mr. Booty
So Jake Butt had himself a game. 4 catches, 102 yards, and though he’s generally a peaceful man, he apparently had bad intentions late in the 2nd quarter to the extent that nobody on the Rutgers defense thought it beneficial to keep an eye on him. I couldn’t tell watching the game if this was deliberate misdirection or if, you know, the 106th-ranked defense in the country gone messed up, but this unsportsmanlike penalty robbed Butt of an even more impressive game. Still, if you are a top TE recruit, yesterday’s game should hopefully be a reminder that a Harbaugh-designed offense is the platonic ideal for a player in that position, as Butt was able to line up across the field and wreak havoc with mismatches even when he wasn’t targeted. While Peppers often drew a fair share of panicked double teams whenever he stepped onto the field, there were a number of instances as the game progressed where Rutgers shifted their coverages to account to Butt, especially after he split the defenders on his long completion to start the second half scoring.
With MSU losing and OSU looking tractable, UM still has a chance to make a run at a conference title this year, and they’ll need Butt to have more games like this in order to keep the offense humming.
Best: Jake <Funny Dual-Threat Pun> Rudock
Yeah, finding a name for Jake Rudock that encapsulates his running ability is still a work in progress. When Steven Threet was manning the helm of RR’s janky 2008 offense, I loved referring to him as “Dual Threet” because I am apparently Carrot Top or a British variety show panelist. And with Robinson, well, it kind of wrote itself. But with Rudock, I’m not sure what name to give his particular brand of elusiveness. I was tempted to call him Jake “The Snake” Rudock, but then I remember people used to call Jake Plummer that, who in turn liked the nickname because it referred to his favorite professional wrestler Jake Roberts, and then a totem started spinning and all of a sudden I was floating through an elevator shaft with Tom Hardy.
But anyway, Jake Rudock had his best game by far as a Michigan Wolverine in this game. He was efficient (70% completion rate) and aggressive (337 yards on 13.5 ypa) while still cognizant of keeping the offense moving (no interceptions, 4/6 on 3rd down, 10 different receivers caught at least 1 ball). He accounted for 3 TDs (2 in the air, 1 on the ground) as well as the 2-point conversion, and generally got the ball to his receivers quickly and with some room to run. He was helped by an offensive line that held Rutgers with 0 sacks and only a handful of rushes you could even consider “pressures”, and I still think he threw a couple of balls such that his receivers didn’t catch them in stride, but these are minor complaints. Rutgers being a tire-fire defensively also can’t be ignored, but we’ve seen Rudock struggle against equally-mediocre secondaries, so this game can’t be solely chalked up to opponent derpitude.
It’s been said all along that UM can win most of their games with an efficient Jake Rudock; if this game turns out to be a turning point for him and he finishes the year strong, then this team is a real threat to run the table and make it real uncomfortable for the playoff committee. In addition to Butt, both Darboh and Chesson have looked much more comfortable these past couple of weeks, stir in a bit of Peppers here and there, and this team takes on a whole other, much scarier dimension if they can consistently move the ball in the air.
Meh: Running Backs – Outlook Hazy
Another week, another okay performance by the running backs. After there was reasonable clamoring for Drake Johnson to get more carries, he responded with 27 yards and a TD on 7 carries plus a nice 28-yard run on a screen, but also bumbled a simple pitch on UM’s first drive that nearly was a TO deep in their own territory. De’Veon Smith received the lion’s share of the carries (15 for 73 and a TD), and also added 2 catches for 45 yards. It’s not a perfect analogy, but with Johnson what you get is a player who can maximize the yards your offense is designed to get you; with Smith, you get a guy who will maximize the yards he can get given the offense. In other words, Johnson will make quicker cuts and get to the hole faster, but with few exception he tends to go down when he’s “supposed” to. With Smith, he might be slow to the spot, but he’ll drag 1-2 guys forward for an extra yard or two if the play breaks down. I’m not sure which is better, but it seems like UM is going to roll with both for the next couple of games.
Throwing out the last couple of drives when UM was just trying to run the clock out with guys like Green and Douglass, you’re looking at about 140 yards on 33 carries, or about 4 yards a pop. It was an adequate performance, but one you’d hope would have been a bigger win by the UM offense given how turrible Rutgers is against the rush. I don’t assume UM will find much more resistance next week against Indiana, so perhaps next week will be a more spectacular performance before they run into the stone walls that are PSU and OSU.
Best: Multiple Screen Experience
I know I ragged on the running backs a bit above, but kudos to the entire offensive side of the ball for some of the best screens I’ve seen UM run in years. There was a big 2-and-20 conversion where Smith rumbled for 31 yards on a delayed screen that was facilitated by a double fake, and another nice pickup by Johnson on UM’s first drive. You obviously can’t call too many screens before teams get wise to them, but as long as defenses continue to cheat up to stop the run, I love how Harbaugh and co. keep teams off-balance without forsaking the running backs in the open field. This type of playcalling felt nonexistent under Hoke, and I’m hoping it will become even more prevalent going forward.
Best: Defensive Bounceback
After getting gashed a bit last week by Minnesota and, apparently, a herd of football spirits who bet on the over AND the Gophers to cover, UM’s defense was back to largely strangling offenses. Yes, Rutgers busted a nice run early on (though it sure looked like holding), and had a couple of long-ish completions on them, but they also limited the Knights to 3.8 yards per play, 41% completion percentage, and about as many first downs by penalty (4) as by rushing (7) or passing (6). Most of Rutger’s more successful drives were helped by multiple questionable calls by referees (when Matt Millen, yes, THAT Matt Millen, thinks you might be making mistakes on the job, you ain’t doing great) or good field position due to a kick return with a couple of uncalled block-in-the-backs/targeting penalties.
After perhaps his worst game as a Wolverine, Desmond Morgan bounced back nicely. He led the team in tackles, didn’t seem to struggle too much in coverage, and generally looked the part of solid linebacker. I’m not sure how responsible he was during that 54-yard run, but he seemed to be where he needed to be to minimize gains all day. Bolden also played well, as did Ross at his more natural position after a 1-week trial at Buck. I was surprised not to see Gedeon on the field; I might have missed an injury report, though, so I don’t know why he didn’t see any time. Otherwise, I thought the unit responded well after they were run over a bit by the Gophers.
The defensive line played great again; it’s probably more worth my time to point out the rare instances when they don’t dominate a team. In this game, Chris Wormley took his umpteenth place in the spotlight with 2 sacks and multiple QB pressures; he nearly caught Laviano dashing across the field in the 3rd quarter, and along with RJS and Henry helped to compress that pocket all game. I noticed early on that Millen commented how Rutgers rarely had anyone open downfield, and while a healthy bit of that credit should absolutely go to the secondary, it was also clear that Rutgers had to maximize protection on a lot of passing downs to even have a chance of getting the ball out, and credit for that should go to the front line.
As for the secondary, they did catch a bit of a break with Carroo out for this game, but at this point I’m not sure it would have mattered all that much. Maybe Rutgers breaks one long pass and cracks 150 yards in the air, but this defensive backfield is playing really well even with the occasional breakdowns. As noted elsewhere, super-boring safety Jarrod Wilson had a very not-boring INT on a pass that should never have been thrown (or if you are Mitch Leidner, wide open gimme yards), Jourdan Lewis added his name to the record books for most pass breakups in a season with 19, and Peppers was his do-everything self. I also thought Thomas took a nice step forward after last week’s struggles, and one of these days he’s going to get into the open field on a pick and he’ll be gone.
Worst: No Turnover Luck
This was something I‘ve been passively watching all season, but UM has had some of the worst luck this year in recovering opponent fumbles. Over the first 9 games, UM has recovered 1 fumble by their opponent while coughing up the ball 5 times of their own. On the season UM has a –3 TO margin, but if they even had average luck with fumbles they’d be on the positive side of the ledger in that department. In 2011 UM had one of the best turnover margins in the country, helped immensely by their nation-leading 20 fumble recoveries. That helped to paper over some inefficiencies in the unit that caught up to them in subsequent seasons. But this year, UM is dominating other teams without getting quick outs or much luck on fifty-fifty balls like this, making their accomplishments even more impressive and, you hope, more indicative of real, sustainable progress.
Worst: Don’t Kick to Anyone
Again, it’s hard to find a lot of negatives when you beat a conference opponent by 33, but UM’s decision to kick multiple times to Grant was just dumb, especially the low, line-drive KO that he scored on. The punt return bothered me less because it shouldn’t have counted one iota (as a general rule, when a player is taken to the locker room because he’s suffering from head/shoulder injuries that you JUST flagged him for doing, you really shouldn’t pick that one up and tell everyone to move along), but like Will Likely and Maryland, Grant was one of the few offensive weapons the Scarlet Knights had in this game, and giving him the ball with a full head of steam was profoundly unnecessary. I’d get it if he took the ball 9 yards deep in his endzone, but whatever incremental advantages you get when you tackle a guy short of the 25 are far outweighed by the time the super-fast, hard-to-tackle guy houses a return. Again, 33 points and it could have been more, but I just don’t see the cost-benefit analysis in kicking to guys like this.
One positive, though, was Lewis nearly catching Grant on his TD return, which was reminiscent of him catching Utah’s running back last year to save a TD. But NFL scouts, he’s still super-small and not at all fast. No reason to waste his time thinking about the draft. None at all.
Worst: These F*ing Refs
I just…I don’t get it anymore. Matt Millen thinks you messed up a bunch of times in this game. Matt Millen. The guy who kinda, sorta defended Joe Paterno on ESPN. The guy who somehow turned the Detroit Lions from a very bad football team to a historically terrible one.
Anyway, I don’t know if the call on Butt’s long completion was right; I definitely think the decision to pick up the targeting flag at the end of the half and give Rutgers their last FG shot was terrible because they also missed at least one block in the back, maybe more. They also seemed to missed a couple of rather blatant holds on both sides, especially early on, and continue to not understand that a defensive player being run into by a WR doesn’t immediately count as “pass interference”, especially when the ball is 5 yards behind him. For once, at least, it didn’t really matter how incompetent they were to the final outcome, but it’s getting just silly watching these grown-ass men mess up week in, week out.
I normally don’t care all that much about other teams, even past opponents and current rivals, once UM plays them. I pay attention to the games, but I’m usually more rooting for a good game than a particular outcome. But I made an exception for Nebraska-MSU and that last couple of minutes because, well…
You make a dumb shirt commemorating the time you got one of the flukiest finishes in recent college football history to escape a game you deserved to lose? Yep, ain’t going to feel bad when you can’t stop Tommie Armstrong and 3-6 Nebraska from moving 91 yards in 4 plays to score a TD on you, crappy officiating and all. And yes, I think it’s dumb that calls like that still happen and it has to suck to lose a game in such a fashion, but when you’ve played with fire all season with late-game wins and crappy secondary play, you have to expect at some point it would bite you in the ass. On replay I couldn’t tell if the receiver was forced out of bounds, but the corner definitely made contact with him when he tried to come back in, and it was close enough on that sideline to be the type of judgment calls we apparently are happy to give 50-ish year-old men who seemed kinda gassed by the end of the game to make in the moment.
Regardless, I caught the last minute of that game with my FIL, and we both chuckled when Nebraska just started blowing down the field almost as if MSU wasn’t even there. I’m sure we’ll get an announcement this week from the B1G office regarding the officiating, but for now UM stands to gain immensely from this loss, especially if OSU does what is should and blows out MSU at home.
Indiana is scuttling, but that offense is very good. Jordan Howard is one of the best backs in the country (he’s averaging 6.1 ypc for the season, and an even healthier 6.3 at home), and Nate Sudfeld is very dangerous if given time. That said, IU also blew a 25-point lead to lose to this same Rutgers team at home, so I expect the defense to give up a couple of long gains but only after UM is comfortably ahead.
The format of this diary evolved slowly over the course of Brady Hoke's first season at Michigan. It began as a response to what I felt was a glaring void in MGoBlog's coverage of Michigan football games. The site was missing the boxscore. So I posted a link and added some brief discussion. As the Big Ten Network announcers derped their way through the season, I continually updated the section headings. The one section heading that has survived to this day is the "Burst of Impetus." I have a feeling we will be adding another perennial subject heading.
In the first quarter, our favorite BTN announcing team of Kevin Kugler and Matt Millen pointed out that Michigan had been successful on 15 consecutive trips into the red zone. Much like a basketball player on a consecutive free throws made streak gets jinxed by announcers pointing out said streak, Michigan barely missed a field goal ending it's streak. Matt Millen's response, paraphrasing, went something like this, I guess we put the ooga-booga on 'em.
I've never heard of the ooga-booga before, but if you had asked me what it was prior to the game, I'd say it was likely one of these three things:
1) a term that described Matt Millen's career as General Manager of the Detroit Lions.
2) the contents of my son's diapers when he was a baby
3) Rutgers University. As in, Jim Delaney put the ooga-booga on the Big Ten by adding Rutgers.
Burst of Impetus
* Rutgers is terrible. I had a brief blogument with Salvatore Quattro last week about Rutgers. I tried to quantify Rutgers abilities using statistics. He used the eyeball test. My problem is that the only time I saw Rutgers play, they had Leonte Carroo and they almost beat MSU. After watching Rutgers for a full 60 minutes of football, I can state without reservation that they are indeed terrible. Their only hope for winning the game was for Michigan to give them the game. On the first play from scrimmage, Drake Johnson apparently fumbled a pitch from Jake Rudock. We were fortunate in having the only sane replay official assigned to Big Ten games this season. He overturned the call, correctly asserting that it was a forward lateral and therefore not a fumble. Michigan kept the ball and the threat was over. Including the Northwestern game, this is now the second time Michigan has won a game in the first 13 seconds. I've gotta like that Jim Harbaugh hire.
The Two Jakes
* In Seth's, "Guess the Score" post, I correctly predicted that Jake Rudock would lead 8 scoring drives. I was only slightly wrong in predicting they would be 8 consecutive drives as the drive to end the half was disrupted by an official throwing an unsportsmanlike penalty flag because he didn't want to admit he wasn't paying attention to the game.
* Super-efficient Jake Rudock made his first appearance of the season, but maybe that's because he was playing against Rutgers. He completed 72% of his passes for 13.5 YPA (roughly double his season average) and did not throw any interceptions.
* His TD throw to Darboh should set aside any rumors of health issues. He put some zip on that ball.
* Jake Butttt caught 4 passes for 102 yards with a long of 56.
Root Tree Runners
* 10 players caught 18 passes from Rudock. After Butt, Darboh and Chesson were next with 3 receptions each.
* WRs caught 7 passes, RBs caught 6, and TEs caught 5. When everyone is a part of the game plan, this team is hard to stop (are you listening to me Minnesota gameplan?)
* The running game has me more confused than ever. This week, De'Veon Smith looked completely healthy and showed why he should be the feature back. He led the team with 73 yards on 15 carries and scored a TD. But maybe that's just because we were playing Rutgers.
* 10 players and the TEAM combined for 42 carries, 150 yards, and 4 TDs.
Tacos and Peppers
* I wish I had thought of the "Pepp-O-Meter," but I wouldn't have wasted that on tallying his number of plays. I'm sure there are some tempo teams that have players playing 80+ plays a game. It's what Peppers does with his plays that stands out. Peppers ran twice for 8 yards and a TD, caught a pass for 3 yards, decoyed twice setting up a couple big plays, held for a kickoff, fair caught up to 7 punts (they don't list these in the boxscore, but Rutgers did punt 7 times,) was third on the team with 6 tackles, had a TFL, and I'm sure a BrUp or two that wasn't credited to him. And he handled the post-game interview with aplomb.
* Morgan and Bolden led the team in tackles, with 8 and 7, respectively.
* There were plenty of other stats, including 7 TFLs, 1 forced fumble which we of course didn't recover, 1 interception, 4 BrUps, 4 sacks, and 2 QHs.
* Early season Chris Wormley returned with 4 tackles and 2 sacks for 21 yards.
* I discussed the referees in more detail last week in lieu of the special teams specific thoughts. The special teams cannot be ignored this week. I have a feeling we might fall from the #1 spot in the special teams efficiency rankings. That's quite a difference from last season when a performance like that might drop us from last place to even more last place.
* There were 35 special teams plays out of 163 total, for a whopping percentage of 21%. For context, this number usually hovers around 15-16%. Maybe that's why the game took 3:22 to complete; there are lots of commercials stuck before and after those special teams plays. Or maybe I'm just getting old. I never thought I'd complain about the length of a Michigan football game, but then again, we never used to play Rutgers.
* Rutgers beat us in the punting game, averaging 35 net yards per punt to our 22, but that was mainly due to one return aided by a questionable non-targeting call. One of the commenters here at MGoBlog nailed it when he/she wrote, if the guy has to leave the game with concussion-like symptoms, head-to-head contact was likely involved.
* Even though Rutgers had a kick return for a touchdown, Michigan faired better overall in the kick-off game. We netted 31.8 yards per kickoff to their 19. This is likely aided by the fact that they rutgersed a failed on-side kick attempt and we kicked off 9 times to average out the one big return.
* First downs were in Michigan's favor, 25-17, as were total net rushing yards, 150-128. However, those numbers are troubling enough that I am going to stop predicting Michigan gets a shutout every week. (Am I really complaining about holding a team to 225 total offense yards? When that team is Carroo-less Rutgers, yes, I am going to complain. Facetiously.)
* Rutgers had 4 first downs as a result of Michigan penalties. Sometimes you get the ooga, and sometimes you get the booga.
* Rutgers QB was the exact opposite of unstoppable throw god, Gary Nova, as they were held to 3.6 YPA.
* BTN selected Leonte Carroo as Rutgers' impact player of the game. He caught no passes for no yards and didn't play. I think he made the greatest positive contribution to Rutgers offense.
* John O'Neill's crew did not work this game, although at times it felt like it. No, they were doing another game of no consequence and did nothing noteworthy at that game. In fact, I think they called a perfect game.
* The side judge is listed as one, "G. Smith." I'm not sure why OSU's AD is allowed to ref our games, but at least now I understand the unsportsmanlike conduct call at the end of the first half.
* Matt Millen did say one intelligent thing during the game. After yet another early Michigan penalty, he said, "Eh, I don't know about that one." After watching Rutgers attempt to play football for 60 minutes, in regards to Jim Delaney's decision to add them to the conference, I'm left thinking, "Eh, I don't know about that one."