fair point that
Hello Chaos, My Dear Friend
Even though September football is typically little more than an amuse bouche for most teams – save for the Gigantic Huge Critical Games between well-regarded opponents from different conferences – we were given a memorable night of football last Saturday, a stark departure from the mostly inconsequential games of the season’s first two weeks.
Week Three gave us a little clarity. The most important result was Ole Miss’s improbable road upset of mighty Alabama – after two weeks of feasting on cupcakes, the Rebels rode that sugar high to a big win, and threw Bama’s national title hopes into early peril. That the Tide somehow gave away five turnovers, conceded one of the most ludicrous touchdown passes you’ll ever see, and still had the ball with a chance to win probably speaks well to how good the Tide are – but they still lost and Ole Miss is now the presumed favorite in the SEC West.
Along with Alabama, who was projected by many to make the playoff, USC suffered a home loss early in conference play to disabuse the notion that everything is going fine under Steve Sarkisian. Stanford put up 41 points on the Trojans after looking completely inept on offense in Week One against Northwestern. Is USC just terrible? Did Stanford tell us that they’re secretly good? Is Northwestern a burgeoning powerhouse? We still don’t know much of anything other than that USC likely didn’t deserve their lofty preseason ranking and that Stanford could make the Pac-12 North very interesting.
Elsewhere: Iowa hit a 57-yard field goal to beat Pitt, Texas missed a PAT that would have capped a 21-point fourth quarter comeback (and lost to Cal by one), Texas Tech took the fight to Arkansas and talked some shit afterwards, Toledo beat another Power Five team (Iowa State), Colorado beat Colorado State in overtime because of a blocked field goal attempt, and BYU’s magic ran out as they lost to UCLA by one point. All of those games happened in one TV window. College football is ridiculous.
[After the jump, more on the CFB world]
Four Plays – Brigham Young @ Michigan 2015
This series examines the probable individual matchups Michigan expects to face against particular opponents on one of Michigan’s key running plays and one of its key passing plays, as well as defensively against a couple of the opponent’s key plays (assuming first-sting personnel in a base defensive alignment).
I’ve been meaning to say, those “Fee Fi Foe Films” pieces Ace puts together before each game are a major solid for a guy just trying to get a diary out every now and then. Saves me from having to surf through multiple enemy blogs just to try and figure out stuff like which wide receiver lines up in the slot or which linebacker is which. The objective analysis is also much more useful than the typical product from the hagiographers at most other teams’ sites. So, much appreciated.
And with that, Michigan completes the second leg of its Utah-centric 2015 nonconference schedule on Saturday when 11th-year head coach Bronco Mendenhall brings his BYU Cougars to Stadium & Main. The injury bug has already stung the BYU program hard in the early season; not only is star QB Taysom Hill is out for the season with a broken foot, but injuries will also keep BYU starters Steven Richards (TE), Garratt Juergens (S), Colby Jorgenson (LB), and Travis Tuiloma (NT) on the sidelines for Saturday’s game as well. Despite the injuries, BYU has probably been the nation’s most fun team to watch—and not only because so many of their players have cool names. BYU has won two games (@Nebraska and Boise State) on Hail Mary passes, and lost a third game in a prime-time thriller against UCLA at the Rose Bowl. With good talent on both rosters and plenty of high-variance athletes in the mix, the excitement could well continue into this weekend. Now, let’s look at some matchups.
When Michigan has the ball…
1. Crack Toss Sweep
As I though Brian’s offensive UFR rather strongly alluded, last week’s game against UNLV provided an uncommonly exquisite demonstration of constraint theory. Michigan wanted to run Power O, and UNLV knew it—so UNLV loaded up the front with 8, 9 sometimes even 10 defenders. Constraint theory holds that when an opponent cheats to stop your base play by alignment, then you punish them by running a play designed to exploit the resulting weakness. In this case, packing defenders into the box left UNLV vulnerable on the edges (and deep, though I’m not going there right now). So Michigan capitalized on this weakness by attacking those edges with smoke screens to the WRs, a picture-perfect end around, and a number toss sweeps. Granted, after scoring enough points Michigan went back to banging their heads against 9-man walls—but hey, let’s talk about those toss sweeps.
The origin of the toss sweep is generally traced back to the Wing-T offenses of the 1940s and the so-called “buck sweep”—a play on which both guards would pull outside the playside tackle and lead block for the wingback, who would circle behind the formation to receive the ball. Vince Lombardi’s famous "power sweep" was essentially the same play from a two-back formation. Both were great plays in their times, but by relying on pulling linemen to block the edge defenders from the inside-out, the plays were slow-developing and vulnerable to fast-flowing defenses.
Contemporary offenses have added one final modern wrinkle to counter the slow-developing nature of these toss sweeps: the crack block. By aligning two blockers to the outside and having them crack-back to seal the playside linebacker and defensive end, the sweep hits much more quickly and gives the pulling linemen favorable blocking matchups—usually against defensive backs. And while the outside blockers—usually tight ends and wide receivers—are usually much smaller than the opponents they are tasked with blocking, this size disadvantage is compensated for by “leverage”—that is, favorable angles for the offensive players to make those blocks.
By hitting quickly and attacking outside the formation, the crack toss sweep is a good complement to an offense based around Power O—as teams that load the box to shut down inside runs make themselves vulnerable to being sealed inside and powerless to defense the edge. Isaac’s 76-yard crack toss run came against a loaded 9-man box—and went for a touchdown even though one of the outside blockers targeted the wrong player (a safety, rather than the SLB) and barely delayed him.
SE Amara Darboh: Crack block OLB Fred Warner
UTE Henry Poggi: Motion to the slot, crack block DE Graham Rowley
LT Mason Cole: Pull outside the crack blocks, advance downfield and block first inside defender (“KAT” safety Eric Takenaka )
LG Ben Braden: Downblock NT Logan Taele OR Travis Tuiloma
C Graham Glasgow: Pull outside crack blocks, advance downfield and block first unoccupied defender (ILB Harvey Langi)
RG Kyle Kalis: Advance to second level, block FS Kai Nacua
RT Erik Magnuson: “Cut off” block on DE Bronson Kaufusi
TE Jake Butt: Advance to second level, block WLB Jherremya Leuta-Douyere
FB Sione Houma: Kick out block on CB Micah Hannemann
RB Ty Isaac: Catch pitch from QB, aim for point three yards outside the end-man-on-line-of-scrimmage (or “EMLOS”), but watch for cutback lines inside; by third step, decide which gap to attack and bring outside shoulder to square to LOS.
After a rough start to the season in Salt Lake City, the Michigan offensive line has shown improvement the past two weeks (albeit against greatly inferior competition) and show signs of gelling together as a unit. BYU will either be missing its best defensive lineman or will have an injured version of him. I may be going out on a limb here, but I think M has a good day running the ball.
2. TE Mesh
BYU is mostly a zone team, but admittedly I haven’t yet got a handle on Michigan’s go-to plays against zone coverage. Utah and UNLV ran mostly man coverage. Oregon State ran a lot of zone, but on most of the passing plays in that game the camera did not show enough of the downfield action to make an intelligent determination as to what the route combinations were. But Michigan did run this TE mesh play three times against Oregon State.
The mesh concept pairs shallow crossing routes at one of the busiest areas on the field. If you force defenders to navigate high-traffic areas, then usually at least one of them will be slowed up trying to avoid a teammate, a different receiver, or even an official—leaving the guy that defender is supposed to be covering to run open. Michigan’s TE mesh play features two in-line tight ends crossing, then adds a third crossing route—a dig from the outside WR—over the top. In the linked clip above the WR’s dig route delayed the linebacker responsible for Y-TE Ian Bunting; this left Bunting wide open, creating an easy throw for a big gain.
What’s also notable about the linked clip, however, is that Michigan caught Oregon State in man underneath coverage. Running crossing routes against zone coverage isn’t usually such a good idea. But hey, Ace does say that BYU goes to man as a changeup sometimes, so that’s good enough for me.
XWR Amara Darboh: Motion toward formation, reset; run dig route at 8-yard depth, force defenders in your path to re-route (covered by CB Micah Hannemann)
U-TE Henry Poggi: run crossing route at 4-6 yard depth, (covered by ILB Manoa Pikula) cross under Y-TE
LT Mason Cole: Pass protect vs. LB Jherremya Leuta-Douyere
LG Ben Braden: Pass protect vs. DE Graham Rowey
C Graham Glasgow: Pass protect vs. NT Logan Taele or MLB Harvey Langi
RG Kyle Kalis: Pass protect vs. NT Logan Taele OR Travis Tuiloma
RT Erik Magnuson: Pass protect vs. DE Bronson Kaufusi
Y-TE Jake Butt: run crossing route at 4-6 yard depth (covered by OLB Fred Warner), cross over U-TE
ZWR Jehu Chesson: Run comeback route at 10-yard depth (covered by CB Michael Davis)
TB Deveon Smith: Pass protection
QB Jake Rudock: Use pre-snap motion to confirm man coverage underneath; receive shotgun snap, read left-to-right on Y-TE (crossing route) to X-WR (dig) to to Z-WR (comeback).
Jake Butt has already made good on his high pre-season expectations and Michigan’s wide receivers and other tight ends have been probably the most pleasant surprise in the early going. They face a BYU secondary that made Tommy Armstrong look like an effective pocket quarterback. But Rudock comes off a game in which he was consistently late and almost comically in accurate. If he’s back to being at least somewhat accurate, then we can give an edge to Michigan in this facet of the game. But for now, I have to call this a push.
When BYU has the ball…
1. Counter Draw
Those of you who weren't around for the John L. Smith era at Michigan State might not have such abhorrent recollections of the Counter Draw. But yeah, BYU runs it—which is kind of odd, considering it’s a play for devil-worshippers and highway bandits.
The Counter Draw is designed to use a defense’s own aggressiveness against itself. At the snap, the line executes a sprint protection scheme that vaguely resembles inside zone, but it is designed to induce the defensive line to rush upfield. Meanwhile, the QB and tailback sprint to the strong side, which is intended to induce the linebackers to flow hard to the strongside; the tailback then reverses field and receives the handoff to attack the vacated weak side. The play is especially dangerous threatening to a team that does not remained disciplined about staying in its pass rush lanes.
The fundamental technique for defending the corner against outside runs is for the primary force player to “set the edge.” This means fighting to a point two yards wide of the formation and two yards into the backfield, and from there not letting the RB outside of him. In Durkin’s nomenclature, it is the Buck LB who has primary force responsibility on outside runs to the weak side, where this run attacks. Were the Buck LB to read run immediately on this play, its chances of success would be slim. But this play is designed to fool the defensive line into reading pass, so I will describe assignments as though the line was indeed initially deceived.
Buck LB Mario Ojemudia: Pass rush vs. LT Ryker Mathews; stay outside the tackle until he reaches QB depth; when run revealed, defend playside C-gap (outside LT) and force runner back inside
NT Ryan Glasgow: Pass rush vs.C Tejan Koroma; stay outside center and inside Buck LB; when run revealed, defend playside A-gap
DT Chris Wormley: Pass rush vs. RG Ului Lapuaho; stay outside the center and inside SDE; when run revealed, defend backside B-gap
SDE Willie Henry: Pass rush vs. RT Brad Wilcox; stay outside tackle until reaching QB depth; when run revealed, pursue through backside C-gap
WLB Joe Bolden: Avoid dropping into coverage; defend playside B-gap vs. LG Kyle Johnson
MLB Desmond Morgan: Avoid dropping into coverage; defend backside A-gap
SLB James Ross: Backside pursuit vs. TE Tanner Balderree
BYU does have a pretty good running back, Adam Hine; according to Fox Sports, his nickname is “The Ninja.” Going up against ninjas is not ideal. But BYU’s offensive line is underwhelming, whereas Michigan’s defensive line has been playing particularly well all season. Perhaps most importantly, every member of Michigan’s front seven is an upper-classman, and thus less susceptible to deception plays like Counter Draw—particularly ones BYU has already put on film.
BYU quarterback Tanner Mangum may not have the experience or the running ability that Taysom Hill brought to the field, but he does have a huge arm. Against UCLA, the Cougars looked to take advantage of Mangum’s deep ball ability by running lots of double moves against UCLA’s secondary. One of the most effective was the post-corner route, such as this one on which Mangum connected with 6’6” slot receiver Mitch Mathews for a TD. It’s a good thing Michigan has a talented and deep secondary, because BYU will line up four-wide and look to exploit mismatches between their huge receivers and opponents’ third and fourth corners (or safeties).
BCB Channing Stribling: Press coverage vs. WR Mitch Mathews
Nickel CB Jabrill Peppers: Press coverage vs. WR Mitchell Juergens
WDE Mario Ojemudia: Pass rush vs. LT Ryker Mathews
3T Chris Wormley: Pass rush vs. RG Ului Lapuaho
NT Ryan Glasgow: Pass Rush vs. C Tejan Koroma
SDE Willie Henry: Pass Rush vs. RT Brad Wilcox
LB Desmond Morgan: Man coverage on RB Adam Hine
Dime CB Jeremy Clark: Press coverage vs. WR Nick Kurtz
FCB Jourdan Lewis: Press coverage vs. WR Devon Blackmon
FS Jerrod Wilson: Play deep half to weak side
SS Delano Hill: Play deep half to strong side
On paper, this is a pretty epic strength vs. strength matchup—possibly the best one I’ve looked at in a Four Plays diary. BYU’s receivers are extremely tall, but if any team has defensive backs who can hang with tall receivers it’s Michigan—with several corners over 6’. Granted, Michigan was still looking for a second trusty corner just a couple weeks ago and even the vaunted Jabrill Peppers saw his inexperience exposed a bit against Utah—but BYU is starting a rookie QB coming off a four-year Mormon mission, and he’s understandably shown some rough spots of his own. Michigan’s shown some better-than-expected pass rush this season, but BYU has a senior-laden offensive line and pass pro is their jam.
We seem to spend a lot of time griping about sorry football around here, both in the Big Ten and in the Big House specifically. So hopefully everyone will appreciate this weekend’s matchup of the BYU passing attack against the Michigan pass defense—two genuinely good units (even if on flawed overall teams).
* * * *
I should add that I thought about doing the Hail Mary for BYU’s passing play—but the memories of Rocket-Jet Right are still too damn painful. If you’re interested, though, check out this post from Matt Bowen of National Football Post for a nice diagram and a good explanation of each player’s role in defending against Hail Mary passes. I will say, Bowen covers the “rush three and knock the ball down” approach, though I personally tend to agree with the school of thought that says you should rush four and never let the QB even get the pass off. I could be wrong, but I suppose that’s what silently shuffling miserably out of a stadium with 100,000 other stunned comrades will do to one’s perspective. Let’s win this one by 9+ points on Saturday, huh Blue? I’m getting old, and the doctor says these Hail Marys aren’t good for my heart.
To fill the void left by user Lanyard Program, another has taken the torch and created a mini-program for all of us to enjoy.
The full details can be found in this thread, but all credit for this mini-program goes to MGoCustom. We are both fairly new to creating content on the blog and they were not sure how to create a diary, so here we are.
This iteration has the classic information you are used to having: depth chart, roster and current year schedule. Additionally, you will see current YTD stats and a list of coaches.
Get it here.
Mod edit: Originally authored by cdycus, go pos him somewhere. JGB.
Last year, I did (mostly) weekly stats reviews of the conference, but creating a dozen or so PNG files, uploading them to Photobucket then posting all of them in some order that made sense in the diary started to get cumbersome, so we’re going to do this a bit more corporate this year and run with a quick little scorecard (or three actually) built from the summary stats of the conference.
It also made sense to me to do this every three games as a “health check”, if you will, and of course after the first three, most Big Ten teams have had one or two tomato cans at least so this iteration probably will not be the most telling. The results so far are interesting all the same, however.
So, here’s passing, rushing and scoring offense and defense – you will note that in the parentheses, you can see how each is expressed.
Some items of note here:
- “Indiana Syndrome”; ostensibly prolific offense and a defense that is just north of non-existent
- Purdue is the only team that is, on average, giving up more points than it gets
- Purdue would also be a fun game if we played them, looking at their rushing defense
- Penn State probably would get more passing yard if Hackenburg were standing
- Minnesota gets close to 350 yards per game on offense, and yet…
- Michigan State’s passing defense average so far remembers Oregon well
How is Michigan doing though? Well, you can see clearly that the strength of this team is turning out to be the defense, but that’s what we expected anyway. What is nice also is seeing 185 yards of rushing offense on average per game so far (three games, sample size, grumble grumble). It has been a while, and even if it continues to work, albeit at a slower pace in conference play, we should do well enough.
Here are some special teams numbers:
One thing to note here is that kick coverage is affected by touchbacks, so this is average net shown here. Michigan is close to 40 yards here, which is pretty good despite being in “yellow” here. Much of that, as you can see, is due to some compression in those numbers. Kick returns average 26 yards for Michigan, and if you scan over to the punting numbers, the return game might stand some improvement, but overall there is some marked improvement in this part of the game too.
Also, 11 people on the field all the time. Weird, right?
Here are first and third down numbers with differentials. This is more informational, but you get at least a little insight into who is moving the ball better and who is getting stops on a regular basis. Again, against some of the teams the Big Ten has played collectively, it only takes will power and a mean stare to prevent the other team from converting. That will change, as will these numbers, soon enough.
Michigan’s numbers are about what you would expect from watching the games – the offense works in fits and spurts sometimes, hence the “meh” first down numbers. On third downs, you can see the defense clicking rather loudly, if you will.
This is my weekly feature to look back at summer previews, get egg on my face, look over what Michigan did, and then project the rest of the year as we get more real time data. Last week's taking stock report can be found here.
Prelude: I did season previews on most UM opponents - I skipped UNLV and Rutgers out of boredom, and OSU out of fear. The rest are below
Let's begin with a look back at my summer comments about UNLV
Ok there was no summer preview because previewing what would be a lower end FCS team is useless. We'll return to this feature next week when we can look at my summer views on BYU.
So with that, here is what was said last week about UNLV:
Michigan is currently a 34 pt favorite vs UNLV. Even accounting for the dumb money that puts money on brand teams this should be Michigan's easiest game of the year although UNLVs QB - if healthy - will pose more danger than Oregon State's. If Blake Decker can play the whole game UNLV probably can put up some points on Michigan's defense. If he cannot play, this will be ugly. The backup QBs looked Russ Bellomy'ish last week for UNLV vs UCLA. (4/15 for 4 yards, with a pick 6... oh and a fumble). Unless something wacky happens this should be like playing Eastern Michigan.
Michigan being Michigan the line was not covered. But it could have been if Jake Rudock even played an average game as he did last year at Iowa. More on that later. This should have been a 49-7 type of spanking if the offense was at all efficient in the 2nd half. The 7pts at the end of the game we gave up are meaningless but the struggles of the offense raise concerns - from the inablity of our QB to complete basic passes to inability of our line to get 3rd down and 1/2 completed against a bunch of 260 lb guys who would struggle to play in the MAC.
A Look at Michigan
I don't want to go too into the weeds about this game because I think everyone saw the same thing - an ok offense combined with a good defense. The main thing this week gave UM was practice time and more chances to practice plays vs a vastly overmatched opponent. On defense all we learned is when we outclass, outspeed, and outweigh them we are efficient. Something even Hoke's teams generally did - on defense. James Ross played more and the corners made some plays - against the level of competition they will not see again. This week will tell us a lot more.
The offense was troubling and we all know it. The variance on this board is what it means. There is still a large camp of "it's still early and/or playing close to the vest and/or Rudock will be better soon and/or #Harbaugh!". I am not as sanguine. Vernon Adams had 3 weeks to prepare for a defense far better than UNLV and at least looked competent - oh with a broken finger. Jake Rudock has had more time in the system, with 10 healthy fingers, and has looked like a RS FR at times. I did not expect much from Jake Rudock - I found the "Rudock is not different than Connor Cook" threads this summer hilarious. But I did expect a low turnover "West coast offense" type of QB who gets you the 12-16 yard passes consistently while protecting the ball. That has not been Jake Rudock. And it's troubling. I don't care about the ability to bomb a team for 30+ yards. But his complete misses and throws behind players (even on completions, which prevent the receiver from making YAC since they have to contort all over the place to make the catch) is a surprise. This was supposed to be an accurate dude. He has not been - and that's with one of the best QB coaches in the country working with him for 2 months now. I actually said the same thing Ozone said in live chat - right now Jake Rudock is giving UM a lot of the bad of Devin Gardner without any of the upside. The only benefit to Rudock over Devin right now is he doesnt scramble backwards for 15 yard losses on the regular.
Ozone had this stat in case you missed it:
Here is how far downfield his completions went when they were caught by a receiver: 7, 5, 7, 4, 2, -2, -1, 3, 7, 12, -2, 1, -2, and 3 yards. (His incompletions looked like this: 12, 5, 13, 9, 32, 1, 25, 33.)
This is pathetic. And why his completion % is still "respectable".
For further data I mined into NCAAs QB stats. Jake Rudock is currently 46th in the country in completion % (64.8%) - which is average - but it is because he is 90th in the country in yards per attempt (6.4).
For comparison - Kevin Hogan of Stanford - another "West coast" low risk, boring QB in a staid offense has a 63.2% compeltion rate... while averaging 8.9 yards per attempt. And there is no excuse for competition - Oregon State and UNLV are horrendous teams and Utah's strength is rush D, not pass D. AND Rudock has enjoyed the type of protection UM QBs have not seen since 2011.
If we had played a competent mid level team ala Iowa or Maryland or similar that would have been a 10-9 type of game and UM at risk of upset. Thankfully it was a complete garbage team.
If the blended average of the first 3 weeks of Jake Rudock continues to show up UM right now looks like a 7 win team despite an above average defense. Defenses will crowd our line and be more than happy to allow Rudock to try to throw over the top. And if he is successful 1-2x a game they will continue to crowd the line because the chances of him doing it repeatedly are small and the risk of turnover high. So it's going to be a long season on offense IMO - the main hope is Rudock at least improves in the 8 to 14 yard area of his passing. He couldn't have degraded that badly from last year in that regard.
As for the run game it was ok. A very overwhelmed opponent yielded 254 yds on 39 carries (6.5 per) but excluding the 1 huge run it was 178 yards on 38 carries - 4.7 per carry. That's not good enough vs this type of competition. Guys like Nick Chubb of GA are averaging 8+ per carry in conference play. Yes that's a superstar but it's just context. Penn State has a highly rated freshman recruit (Barkley) who in games 2 and 3 of his career last week v Buffalo put up 115 yds on 12 carries (9.6 per) and vs Rutgers 195 yds in 21 carries (9.4 per). Behind a shit OL and with defenses stacking the box because Hackenberg is shell shocked. The run game is just not good enough consistently considering the opponents. So the excuses we lay on this ground game are not good excuses when peers with the same issues are able to do more.
I am troubled by what I am seeing.
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY 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. Again this is not how good the team is in a vacuum but how they match up vs UM.
|Week 3||Week 2||Week 1||Preseason|
|11||Oregon State||Oregon State||Oregon State||Oregon State|
- Northwestern (+1) - I am reluctantly moving Northwestern up 1 spot. My DOD rankings are based on how I think UM matches up with other teams. So I moved Northwestern up past PSU - even as I believe the PSU game will be more difficult for UM. I actually think these 2 teams are very similar - but we have 1 game at home and 1 on the road. Both PSU and NW feature stingy defenses, with mediocre QB play and good running back play. We play NW at home and PSU on the road. So with all other factors equal PSU is the more difficult game IMO still - especially since I expect Hackenberg to go off (even with PTSD) at least 2-3x this year whereas NW is playing a freshman at QB whose ceiling I find limited. A freshman who went 9/23 for 70 yards last week. That said I am going to respectfully push up NW a slot for their strength of schedule - their Stanford win looks better after Stanford beat USC and going on the road to play a solid if not spectacular Duke squad is a feather in their cap. PSU has not played that level of competition. I watched some of that NW game after the UM game and it looks like another M00N game is headed our way. NW got a special teams touchdown early in the 2nd half; otherwise that's a 12-10 game with 2 bad offenses. NW's offense is basically Justin Jackson - without a true passing threat I think UM can nullify him to a large degree. And most likely Northwestern's defense will do the exact same thing to UM. So in summary - M00N 2.0.
- Maryland (+1) - I moved Maryland down last week because their coach refused to play Caleb Rowe @ QB. Well after the disaster of last week Perry Hills was demoted from 1st string to 3rd string and Rowe went out and won a game vs a mediocre USF squad. I still think Maryland is a bad football team but Rowe at least gives them hope. He has a big arm and takes big risks so he is INT prone. But his yards per attempt was 9.0 in this game which aligns exactly with his average of 2014 in limited duty (54 throws). So he can test UM's secondary and linebackers in space unlike most Big 10 QBs. But UM should get a turnover or two off him. Maryland still struggles to run and USF smartly only gave Will Early 2 punts to return. I'd like to see that # be 0 when we play them. I still think Maryland is headed for about 5 wins this year. But as long as Caleb Rowe is playing (he is injury prone) it's good enough to move them back up to where I had them in the DOD rankings earlier.
- Indiana (+1) - Indiana has played no one. But they score on folks. Sudfeld will get some yards on the UM defense and somehow Indiana has just reloaded at RB yet again - a frigging frustration after watching all these 4/5 stars at UM struggle. Unlike earlier opponents for Indiana, Western Kentucky is actually a half decent team among non P5s, and has a pretty damn good QB. So they scored on Indiana as every team will (gulp - even us?) Sudfeld had a great game going 20/27 for 355 yds with a staggering 13.1 per attempt. Jordan Howard continues to masquerade very well for Tevin Coleman with 31 carries for 203 yds (6.5 ave) I've moved Indiana up because it is a road game, and the offense is beginning to click. The question coming into the year was if they could find a running back to replace the guy they just sent to the NFL - they have. Coleman is average 6.5 yards per carry thru 3 games - yes that will drop when Indiana plays real defenses but it's less of a question today than it was 3 weeks ago. So Indiana will score some points - and Indiana will give up a lot of points. But if Rudock has a wtf game this one now has upset risk.
- PSU (-1) - As mentioned above my gut says not to move PSU down but I am respecting the NW SOS vs PSU's SOS. For the 2nd straight week PSU did not give up a sack. Darryl Funk is perplexed how that can be. For the 3rd straight week the PSU OL has created a lot of opportunities for running backs. Potential freshman star and high level recruit Saquon Barkley has taken advantage as he pounded his home state Rutgers into submission. When Barkley was not running for 200 yards, Akeel Lynch did the work with 10 carries for 120 yards (12.0 per). That's a nice 1-2 punch. PSU seems able to run now although the competition is still low in general. Hackenberg - despite not getting sacked is playing like Andre Ware in his Detroit Lions days - he is hearing footsteps that are not there and throwing a lot of beautiful balls that one hop to WRs. I give that guy credit for staying loyal but he has cost himself tens of millions based on the glimpses he showed as a freshman. It is sort of sad to see. PSU's D continues to improve as I expected as I think they have one of the best DCs - if not the best - in the conference. Rutgers was held to 300 yards and only 43 on the ground net of sack yardage. Rutgers' QB Laviano was sacked 5 times and intercepted twice. I'd love to see a UM defense do this. In terms of matchup PSU's strength on offense is UM's strength (rushing) - this feels like a Hackenberg v Rudock battle and at this point I think both are wholy mediocre. I guess whichever is less mediocre that given night will help his team win.
- Rutgers (-2) - I moved Rutgers UP 1 spot last week despite losing to Washington State and losing their best player to suspension. It had nothing to do with Rutgers and everything to do with how bad Maryland without Caleb Rowe was acting. But now they keep suspending a few players a week, along with their head coach and look like a total shitshow. The game is at home. They were just destroyed by a meh PSU squad. If they are not destroyed by UM it will be disappointing. I've not only moved them down 1 spot but 2 as Indiana on the road with a legit offense now poses more threat in my mind than Rutgers due to the ability of Indiana scoring more points.
- OSU - Northern Illinois is a pretty good non P5 program and I thought this might be closer at least thru a half as OSU sleepwalks through the next 2 months of the season waiting for MSU/UM at the end of the year. But I never expected such a close game. IMO Urban should be going with JT Barrett - get him starter reps - and say thanks to Cardale for last year and move forward. On the positive side OSU's D was stellar only giving up 190 yds to a good offense. But as we all know TOs kill a team and OSU QBs had 3 as they channeled UM the past 7 years. I am sure Urban is actually tickled by this result as it gives him a lot to yell at the team during practices the next few weeks and get them focused. OSU hosts Western next week so it will be interesting to see the how OSU's D handles a pretty good trio of QB/WR/RB the Broncos bring in. OSU's offense should have a field day vs that Western defense however.
- MSU - Ho hum - "MSU is overrated because they didnt squash a mediocre team". Yawn. Unfortunately MSU is at that stage in the program where a lot of weeks are just boring and it's going through the motions of beating teams far below their talent level. The complaints about how MSU is winning sounds a lot like what MSU fans were saying about Beilein teams pre 2014-2015 season "yeah they are winning but it's not by impressive margins!" Ho hum. MSU has basically 3 byes in CMU, Purdue and Rutgers before the Michigan game. Cook finally looked good in this game (4 TD, 0 INT, 10.7 ypa) and Burbridge finally seems to be coming into his own to take over Lippet's role as the #1 WR. Neither of those would be good developments for UM. The run game on the other hand was bad. As for the defense, playing Air Force is difficult as they chop block you to hell and run all sort of weird plays you don't see any other week of the schedule. I continue to see this as a terrible matchup for UM as our defensive strength is neutralized by their offense strength (DL v OL) and I fear how our OL will handle their front 7. Esp with no real threat of over the top throws - it will feel a lot like the Denard and Devin offenses except with even less threat of a QB run. Sigh. Oh and their punter is pretty damn great already as a freshman with a 44.3 ave this game - so that neutralizes ours.
- Minn - I considered moving Minn down after their M00K game with Kent State but I still see them sort of the same as Utah. A boring low explosion offense married to a good defense. I didn't watch this game but via the box score it looked boring as hell - Kent State averaged 2.5 ypa on rushing and Minnesota 2.4. Mitch Leidner did Mitch Leidner things - which led to 2 INTs opposite 1 TD. Minn has another MAC patsie next week before Northwestern in 2 weeks. It does sound like Minnesota has some injuries to the OL which is hurting so this might help UM. But it is pointing to a M00M game.
- Utah - Utah beat a pretty crappy Fresno State team who was coming off a... uhh... 52 pt loss to Ole Miss. It was looking like a typical low variance Utah game at the end of the 3rd with Utah leading 24-3. Then both teams exploded for 21 in the 4th. Kendall Thompson did ok in his backup QB duty, and Devontae Booker continued his workhorse ways with 31 carries for 156 yds. I believe this week is going to be the high point of Utah football in 2015 as it goes to Oregon, hosts Cal and ASU, before visiting USC.
- BYU - BYU's 75% of the way through a difficult 4 game start to the year. Preview of matchup below but in terms of the game vs UCLA, Josh Rosen finally looked human and had a typical freshman game while the excellent Paul Perkins (1600ish yds in 2014) strafed (not strifed!) BYU's rush D. There is a lot of talk on these boards about beating BYU's D on the ground. No that's wrong - you beat them through the air - Boise passed for 300 on them and Tommy Armstrong looked like a Heisman candidate thru 3 quarters against them. Their rush D is generally good when not playing absolute bad asses running behind a very good OL. The worry here for UM fans was BYU might have found a running game with Adam Hine and his 149 yds on 23 carries. Up to this week BYU's offense had been 1 dimensional so this is an issue. QB Magnum was solid if not efficient - he is the anti Rudock. He loves to throw bombs - connecting on a few each game. Anyhow BYU went into the Rose Bowl and gave a top 10 team all it could handle.
As I say every week my fear for UM in 2015 is explosive offenses and/or competent QBs as our defense looks like it will be prone to issues in space and our offense is not built for track meets. But now I have to add the Jake Rudock is not even mediocre fear on top of that. All summer I read countless comments LOLing at Iowa's handling of Rudock due to their conservatism whereas I posted quite a few posts this summer as devil's advocate saying maybe Iowa knows what they had in Rudock and is purposely conservative with him. Right now that devil's advocate view seems to be winning out - unfortunately. Again Michigan doesn't need a great Jake Rudock for 10 of their 12 games. They need a guy who protects the f***** ball and can complete 13 yard passes to TEs and WRs on the regular. That guy has barely shown up this year. Yes we need another guy altogether to test the OSU and MSU defenses but that's a different story. The type of Rudock we saw last week means teams like Maryland, Indiana, Minnesota, Northwestern, PSU are all threats to UM. Iowa 2014 Jake Rudock limits those teams as threats.
Not only is Rudock an issue but UM's inability to run for large parts of last game vs a horrid defense has me worried vs better defenses ala PSU, NW, Minn. You have a QB who can't throw past 10 yards and a running game that struggles with above average defenses. So what's left? On the plus side the opponents in those games are QBs like Leidner, Clayton Thorston, and
SackYipenberg. Thankfully UM plays in the Big 10 where Rudock is incredibly typical of the shitty QB play seen in most of the conf. I expect M00N, M00M, M00P, etc.
I was in the 7-8 win camp to begin the year, trending to 8 after last week but now trending back to 7. We're done with the 2 worst teams on the schedule and the 4thish best. That leaves 9 games - 2 where we are underdogs, and 3 we should be decent favorites. Follow the chalk and that takes us to 5-3. Leaving 4 toss up games - BYU, Minn, NW, PSU. Split those and you get to 7-5. A BYU win would be huge to stack odds to 8 wins.
BYU has big play capability thru the air. Magnum is not super efficient - but has a huge arm. BYU's WRs are very tall - but so are Clark/Stribling. The run offense is TBD - was the UCLA breakout a case of UCLA not having a good run D or a case of BYU finding a new weapon? I am leaning towards BYU finding answers at RB because UNLV put up good yardage on UCLA on the ground but once Decker went out at QB (hurt) UNLV basically only ran. And Virginia was held to under 100 yards by UCLA on 34 carries. That said the run game is not where I expect the defense to be hurt - it's through the air. This will be one of 4 aerial attacks of any measure we should face this year (unless Hack comes back from the dead).
On the other side of the ball you beat BYU thru the air, not on the ground. Paul Perkins is probably one of the best players in the country no one talks about. If he played in the SEC he'd be right behind Chubb and Fournette as a top 3-4 RB in the conf and talked about a lot. So BYU giving up 200+ yds to him is more a case of Perkins being good along with a stout OL than BYU sucking. BYU had a top 25ish rush D in 2014 and did well vs both Nebraska (37 carries, 126 yds) and Boise (31 carries, 64 yds). They generally suck in pass D - atrocious in 2014 and this year began with giving up 319 yds to Tommy Armstrong and 300 to Finley of Boise. Rosen sucked but that's a true freshman QB doing what true freshman phenoms do a few times a year as a freshman. So we need Rudock to be a horse in this one as BYU will get points. Going to be a tough game - real tough.
I say this every time, but I’m going to keep this brief. It’s a game UM was supposed to win comfortably; they did so. Next week will tell quite a bit more about how this team stacks up going into the conference slate.
Best: Neapolitan Without Chocolate and You Hate Strawberry or
Worst: Vanilla Ice Cream topped with Vanilla Extract Mixed with Vanilla Sorbet
One of the most derisive terms you hear on the internet (coined by legendary champion/male stripper Kevin Nash) to describe a professional wrestler is that he’s a “vanilla midget”. The term has a number of meanings and, in certain contexts, can almost be a backhanded compliment, but in general it refers to a wrestler who is good at “wrestling” but not so good at the “sports entertainment” part of it; it typically means he’s short, bad on the mic, a bit weird/generic looking, etc. Despite its evocative nature of a particular type of guy, it’s been applied to wrestlers of all stripes, usually in a way to trivialize their real accomplishments and reduce them to a trite tableau of unmet cosmetic expectations.
I noticed during this game how many people became discouraged that UM’s utter dominance of UNLV wasn’t “more” than it was. Outside of the one Isaac run, this was basically UM spending a half methodically walking up and down the field with minimal resistance from the Rebels, running the same basic plays effectively but without much flair. Yes, part of that was due to Jake Rudock’s continued inability to consistently throw the ball farther than 10 yards downfield, but UM was going to play this game as close to the vest as possible. If this was an NES game, UM just went full Tecmo on the playbook.
And yeah, I know how annoying these games can be when you see teams like Tennessee, Arizona, and Ole Miss drop 50+ points on hapless clubs, when you’d just wish UM would blow the doors off someone effortlessly as opposed to with stoic determination. Sometimes you want to say your prayers and eat your vitamins, you want to recite your favorite Bible verse as your stomping a mud hole in someone, and you do smell what is cooking.
But in the end, this was a thorough win by a team that is trying to get the “good at football” part down as much as anything. There will be other games this year (hell, there’s one next week) that will require more fireworks, more explosiveness from UM to pull out the victory. But for now, savor that UM can just go out and “take care of business” as it were, regardless of how it may look to the Uutsiders.
Best: Ground and Pound
I’m sure I’ll use this reference a number of times this season (and, hopefully, many more seasons under Harbaugh), but this was a prototypical “ground and pound” performance by the offense. It had a bit of nuance and subterfuge (witness Chesson’s jet sweep TD run following the end-around to Darboh), but otherwise it was mostly Power football with all the counters, leads, fullback dives, and sweeps you could ask for.
Isaac’s 76 yard run was the highlight, but that first half UM was able to do basically whatever they wanted on offense, and that turned out to be “hit guys in white repeatedly.” You look at the stat sheet and figure Isaac had the much better day compared to Smith, but you watch those carries and Smith was getting through the holes and picking up nice yardage the way you expect with him – by pounding human beings backwards. He’s not going to break those outside runs for huge yardage given his pedestrian speed, but had he carried the ball the 20-25 times you figure he’ll do during the season he’d have likely wound up with similar numbers he put up last week.
It was nice to see Isaac break out a bit, as his combination of size and speed are going to be essential to this offense continuing to be semi-effective against the better teams on the schedule, especially if (as it appears) Green isn’t earning a lot of carries and Johnson remains a bit of a question mark following his recovery. That long run showed off his combination of speed and physicality as he bounced off a couple of tacklers, though he was helped immensely by UNLV running into each other and/or getting lost in the wash on that play. Still, that was the first time this year when it felt like the offense was “explosive” and not just consistently grinding down a team.
The second half was a bit more discouraging in that the running game struggled to maintain its earlier dominance while the passing game continued to struggle, but when your lead never dips below 21 points I wouldn’t expect Harbaugh to do much else than run the same base plays and just work the kinks out. And UNLV obviously felt the same way, as they were selling out on the run pretty heavily. I remain troubled by the inability of this team to get a yard on 3rd/4th and short because it always seems like the Braden, Kalis, and Glasgow struggle to get a significant push, but it also feels a bit like UM is just losing to the percentages right now and, with a larger sample size, they’ll start converting those opportunities. Still, 200+ yards on the ground for the second straight week is a good showing, and gives me hope that UM will be able to keep it going against a suddenly-porous BYU defensive line.
Worst: Still With the Kinks
Nobody but the most maize-tinted glass wearers expected the passing game to be gangbusters to start the year, especially with a new QB and the lack of established options at WR save for Butt and Darboh. Even with Brian’s proclamations that Rudock was a low risk, moderate-reward QB who wouldn’t expand your passing game immensely but who would make the right throws with limited turnover, there were just too many uncertainties to expect there wouldn’t be hiccups along the way. Now, after three weeks, the passing game remains in flux, and what were once thought of as minor kinks to be ironed out are starting to look like functional deficiencies.
I’ll be frank – this was the worst performance Rudock has had this year, by a healthy margin. Utah had the INTs but it was the first game of the year and he was victimized by a couple of poor routes by his WRs. Oregon St. was better even with the pick, but it was still a disjointed game with missed deep balls (though at least the ball to Darboh was interfered with). Against UNLV, though, Rudock was missing seemingly at random, whether it be the terribly thrown ball to Butt in the endzone on that first drive that would have been a TD to the two mistimed shots down the field to Harris (a solid 2 feet out of bounds) and Darboh (though Darboh turned himself around a bit, it was still a bad ball). And even on a number of his completions, the ball was low and behind, limiting YAC and resulting in a depressingly-low 5.6 ypa, especially given the opponent. I know Harbaugh alluded to some swirling winds and the like, but this is a sport that has been played outdoors for centuries and, as a 5th-year senior who played for years at Iowa, Rudock should be used to throwing in such conditions. And on a number of errant passes, they weren’t off by a step or a foot, but either yards behind, ahead, and above his receivers. I remain cautiously optimistic that Rudock will improve somewhat because, again, this is still a small sample size, but whereas competency felt like the floor with him at the beginning of the season, it is starting to feel like the ceiling.
As for the receivers, it was a mixed bag. On the one hand, this was an opponent that UM didn’t need to throw against much, so they didn’t, especially after they were up 21. At the same time, issues linger that portend worse results when the competition level increases.
Jake Butt has been neutralized a bit, or at least the focus has been shifted some, as teams have clearly identified him as Rudock’s preferred target. Outside of that long TD against Utah, he hasn’t been targeted much downfield, which is doubly weird both because of the matchup problems he provides for you and because of the paucity of other threats. Part of it is absolutely playcalling against limited opponents and Harbaugh’s desire to use Butt as a viable blocking threat, but for a team lacking identifiable playmakers on offense it’s weird not seeing Butt being used more as a threat.
Darboh continues to be a nice surprise, though it’s becoming more clear that his strength is in the screens and mid-yardage game, not as a deep threat. That was a poor throw by Rudock in the 4th, but Darboh had both hands on it and could have bailed his QB out a bit. He also struggles to get separation without the ball, though that stiff-arm is FANTASTIC to watch in space.
For the rest of the receivers, it was a mixed bag. Chesson had a nice TD on that jet sweep but only caught 1 ball, and with that run you saw why he’s so dangerous (that speed to the corner) but also why he might just be a “speed” guy since he continues to struggle to catch the ball consistently. Mo Ways had a nice run and catch, and it was nice to see Harris get a deep target even if it was poorly thrown. He still looks like a guy who hasn’t played organized football in a couple of years, but he seems like the only legitimate downfield threat in the receiving corp, so hopefully his comfort level will increase and so will production.
Again, I’m not prone to read too much into the passing struggles because of the opponent, but this defense and running game aren’t good enough to carry this squad past some of the teams coming up, so it would be great to see marked improvement in that aspect of the offense sooner rather than later.
Worst: The Replacement
I've said this before but I think it bears repeating - replacing Jake Rudock with someone else (Morris, Speight, or a true freshman) only works if (a) you believe that he is hurting the offense (a debatable point) and/or (b) there is someone on the roster, right now, who would be a marked improvement. And that's the rub with any change at the lead position. Rudock has been inconsistent, but he's still the guy who (by most accounts) soundly won the position battle over Morris et al. And yes, UM will have to go through this again next year with a new QB, but you hope by then that the coaching staff is more comfortable with the pieces available and, perhaps, a guy like Morris, Gentry or O’Korn can take the reins with some seasoning and (in the case of O’Korn) eligibility. But change for the sake of change isn’t going to make the offense demonstrably better and, most likely, will stymie whatever progress the unit is making with Rudock at the helm.
I hate to drag up last year, but everyone remembers Morris replacing Gardner against Minnesota. I railed against the decision when it happened because it wasn’t based in logic or strategic advantage; it was just a beleaguered offense hoping they had a magic bullet in their backfield. Well, we all know how that played out. While I doubt the severity of a change at QB would occur under Harbaugh, it still isn’t the right decision unless Rudock absolutely flames out, which at this point doesn’t seem likely. This was never a year for championship dreams, and I’d much rather have an extra year for one of the young QBs on the roster in 2018-2019 than a win against, I don’t know, PSU in 2015.
Best: The Front 11
Another week, another solid performance by the entire defense. They held UNLV to under 250 total yards of offense, with about half of those yards coming in the 4th quarter when UM was liberally substituting players and generally just trying to bleed the clock out. Yes, the shutout was spoiled by a couple of nice throws and broken coverages, but people focusing on those last two drives are ignoring the fact that UM didn’t give up a drive over 25 yards until that point and held the Rebels to negative rushing in the 3rd quarter. For the game they had 9 TFLs, 2 INTs, and outside of late in the game, virtually no “busts” or bad plays. Yes, that first drive with that crazy 3rd-down run after the hard Godin tackle showed a lack of awareness, but it’s the type of play that happens periodically and you just kinda do one of these and move on.
The cornerbacks weren’t challenged much but largely responded as expected. I thought Stribling looked better than in previous games, and Clark played like a tall guy with decent athleticism. I’m sure that side will be picked on this year, but outside of BYU, MSU, and OSU I’m not sure who else has legitimate threats to really make them suffer.
The LBs played well, and I’m very excited that Ross seems to be fighting his way onto the field. This game was a good showcase for Bolden, as UNLV wasn’t able to really tax his problem areas (misdirection, coverage) and instead allowed him to flow to the ball decisively. I’m not great at reading defensive assignments so take all this praise with a massive grain of salt, but it looked like a defense that severely outclassed its competition and made sure of it early and often.
BYU will be a much tougher test, though UM has the athletes to minimize the age/height advantages typically enjoyed Kurtz, Houk, and Mathews. My guess is that the the run defense will hold up decently enough but that the secondary will break a bit, though Mangum does seem to be a bit careless with the ball and, on the road against UM’s solid pass rush, could lead to short fields for the Wolverines.
Best(?): So You’re Telling Me There’s a Chance?
I’ll get into this in greater detail after next week’s game, but right now I’m trending upwards in my expectations for the conference slate. Rutgers is a tire fire, PSU is a slightly less smoldering tire fire, Minnesota doesn’t have anything approaching a consistent offense, and IU and Maryland seem like teams that can kinda do stuff right but a stiff breeze can send that card house tumbling. I know NW is 3-0 and beat the Stanford team that beat USC, but I didn’t go to those schools so my understanding of the transitive property is weak. All I know is that it’s a team that hasn’t scored more than 19 points against an FBS team and has gotten at least 2 TOs in every game they’ve played. I’m not calling for a clean sweep or anything of that slate, but 5-1 over those 6 games isn’t particularly unbelievable as we stand in mid September.
So that just leaves the #1 and #2 teams in the country (shudder). OSU had a scare against NIU and hasn’t looked nearly as dominant as most expected thus far. Cardale Jones always struck me as a bit of a flash in the pan, and thus it should come as no surprise that a guy who can barely complete 55% of his passes in an Urban Meyer offense with a 2:3 TD:INT ratio is on the outs, replaced by (sigh) last year’s Heisman trophy candidate J.T. Barrett. Still, OSU seems to be hurting without the deep ball threat of Devin Smith, as Jalin Marshall and Michael Thomas haven’t been able to fill in that void. Even Eliiott seems a bit limited, as defenses have clearly triggered in on him with Jones scuttling. My guess is that Barrett will help somewhat, but it does feel like OSU will rely on that defense more than you’d expect this year. They’re probably still the #1 team in the country, but that run they had to the championship is feeling more and more like a crest than a sustained level.
As for MSU, they are very good at winning football games without seeming all that great at doing so thus far in 2015. That Oregon win is going to look better because the Ducks belatedly decided to not play a QB with a broken finger in other games, but it was still a solid win. The rest of their schedule outside of dates at UM and OSU look really easy, almost comically so. They do seem to be suffering real sustained injuries for the first time in years (Davis is out, Kieler is nursing a leg injury, they just lost a corner) and the running game remains a sore spot as nobody has really established himself. And that defense remains extremely vulnerable to passing teams with speed, which means OSU and maybe Nebraska can give them a bit of trouble.
So yeah, I just spent two paragraphs talking up OSU and MSU, but here’s the thing: I kinda think UM is gonna split those games this year. MSU is going to be hugely up for this game, but for the first time since Carr was at UM I don’t think the coaches legitimately care if they piss of Dantonio and his toad heart. And at some point, that over-sensitivity blows up in your face. Also, I don’t see MSU being able to run the ball successfully against UM’s front 7, meaning Cook is going to be under pressure to carry the offense in a way that he has only intermittently been able to do. And OSU will be coming off a game against MSU that could well be for their season, so a focused UM could absolutely shock the Buckeyes if the QB position remains in flux. It’s still some ways out, but I think UM wins against the Buckeyes and keeps it annoyingly close against MSU before Mark Dantonio sacrifices a freshman on the sideline so that Jake Rudock’s arm pops off as he throws a ball late. And yeah, I know I’m talking like a homer and UM could come crashing back to earth against BYU next week. But both of these squads aren’t as good as prior editions, and I refuse to believe that the gremlins that have been wreaking havoc in football thus far won’t turn their attentions toward the B1G leaders.
Next Week: Book on Mormons
The magic has dissipated a bit after losing to UCLA, and I expect UM to further rain on BYU’s parade at home. Mangum will make some nice throws and it’ll be higher scoring than the last couple of games, but UCLA ran for 200+ yards against the Cougars and I don’t see how UM can’t duplicate that performance. This BYU team could just as easily be 0-3 as 3-0/2-1, and with a couple more potential injuries after their last game it feels like the season might get away from them on the road. Also, UM is making demonstrable steps every game (except at QB), and this feels like a good continuation of a nice run.