this may be of some local interest
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.
Most of the preseason predictions had Michigan finishing the regular season with an 8-4 record, +/- 2 games. The first half of this game showed why many thought Michigan could finish with 9 or 10 wins. The second half showed why some thought 6 or 7 wins was a possibility. The final verdict from Saturday's game: need more data, check back next week.
A quick personal note before resuming our regularly scheduled boxscorology. I will be flying back to Michigan this week for the first time since my dad passed away two years ago. My cousin is getting married Friday night. Thank goodness she had the good sense to schedule the wedding on a Friday. As much as I would like to hang around and see the M-BYU game Saturday, I'll be flying back home Saturday. The DVR will be set, but the diary might be delayed.
Burst of Impetus
* Do I have to pick something? OK, how about this. One play after UNLV's QB phased out of the BTN universe for a 16 yard game, Channing Stribling picked him off and returned the ball 30 yards. This was an early message delivered to UNLV - your coach might think that college ball is not much different than high school football, but this is the Big House and you are playing Michigan.
The Two Jakes
* I thought I was going to have to rename this section The One Jake. Rudock finally threw a ball to Butt in the second half. Jake B. ended up with two catches for 14 yards. If they are saving him for BYU and the bigger B1G games, I understand.
* In the now weekly battle between Jake Rudock and ST3-defined efficient QB play, Rudock was 14 for 22 (64%, check,) with only one interception (check,) but he only averaged 5.6 yards per attempt. Ugh.
Root Tree Runners
* I don't recall who was in the booth with Chuck Long. Whoever it was, he was just awful, and while I'm mentioning Chuck, can someone poke him and see if he's still alive? I'm not asking him to overreact to a one yard gain by Sione Houma like his partner did - OMG!!! A FULLBACK RAN THE BALL FOR A YARD!!!; I just want him to put a little thought into his comments and pretend like he's watching the game. For example, it makes no sense to say that it's difficult to schedule teams because of travel costs while we scheduled four western schools. He should also know that the games were scheduled well before Harbaugh agreed to coach Michigan. Harbaugh didn't schedule 4 west coast teams to improve west coast recruiting. At least he corrected his partner about root trees. Yes, trees have roots, but wide receivers run routes.
* After back-to-back games having 9 root tree runners catch passes, eight players caught passes against UNLV. In Jake Rudock's defense, he has to develop chemistry with 4 different tailbacks, 2 fullbacks, a team full of H backs and tight ends and numerous wide receivers. I think the timing was off on one of his throws to Drake Johnson probably for this reason, leading to an incomplete pass.
* A week after stating his case for being the lead back, Utah-De'Veon returned. He carried 13 times for 33 yards with a long of 6. Be patient De'Veon, follow your blockers.
* Ty Isaac showed why he may be the feature back when Big 10 play starts as he gained 114 yards on 8 carries. Yes, 76 yards came on one run, but that still leaves him with 38 yards on his other 7 carries.
* 10 players ran the ball. Only 2 of them had long runs greater than 9 yards. Yes, there were two long runs, but the rest of the game was standard - thump, thump, thump - jackhammer style pounding.
Tacos and Peppers
* UNLV was held to 92 yards net rushing thanks to 37 yards of TFLs for the Michigan defense. 8 defenders contributed to the 9 TFLs.
* Channing Stribling only had 1 tackle assist, but he intercepted a ball and returned it 30 yards, he downed a punt at the three, and he had a BrUp.
* Jourdan Lewis made his case for an all-conference selection with three tackles and 4 BrUps. 4 BrUps is about 4 times as many BrUps as I'm used to seeing.
* Four of Blake O'Neill's 5 punts were downed inside the 20.
* Peppers returned one punt for 24 yards and one kickoff for 31 yards.
* Michigan only gained two more first downs than UNLV, 17-15. That, and Jake's 5.6 YPA are the cause of any lingering malaise after this game.
* UNLV's leading tacklers were Peni Vea and Tau (points finger at Ace) Lotulelei.
* Michigan scored 14 points off of UNLV's 2 turnovers compared to UNLV's 0 points. It feels good to be on the right side of the TO story for a change.
WHAT ARE THOSE?
* The WHAT ARE THOSE? award goes to the BTN cameramen. Those people running around on the field in stylishly matching outfits are football players. It's generally a good idea to keep your electronic moving picture taking box pointed at those players, especially the one that has the ball in his hands. But don't get too close lest the rest feel left out.
Sorry this is so late y'all! I have been traveling all day to get to a funeral tomorrow, so I may not be able to provide as many updates as I normally would - I'll try, but keep an eye on the weather in the morning! We've got a low pressure system and cold front draped right across Michigan, causing plenty of rain and storms. We'll keep the chance of rain and storms around throughout Saturday morning until it pushes east. Temperatures will be pretty comfortable, but even after the rain ends, we'll have breezy conditions. Let's send the Rebels home 0 and 3!
Have an eye on the sky if you'll be out tailgating early! Although rain can make things wet and muddy, storms are something you don't want to be outdoors in. Some rumbles aren't out of the question for the first part of the day. After hovering around 70 degrees all night, temps drop slightly to the mid 60s mid morning. Winds will shift throughout the morning, starting out from the SW at 10-15mph (leaves and small twigs blow around), turning to the NW at 15mph. Towards lunch we also start to see a few gusts around 20mph (you'd see white horses on the water), but our rain chances decrease.
There may be a lingering shower in the area, but that threat looks to go down in the first half. The sun will try to get through those clouds, and you'll notice them break up more and more during the first half of the game. We start at 65 degrees with NW winds at a steady 20mph, gusting to around 30mph (this is when small trees sway, you can hear the wind whistle, and empty garbage cans can blow over).
As we dry out and see a more of the sun, our temperatures will get a little boost - edging closer to 70 for the half. Still a bit windy- NW winds hanging on at 20mph and gusting to 30mph.
Up to the low 70s for afternoon highs in Ann Arbor, with a mix of sun and clouds. Winds will remain up until dinner-time, when we lose the gusts. By then, we're down to the mid 60s. Temps then drop right quick with clearing skies - down to 60 in the late evening hours with just a few clouds, and NNW winds around 10mph. If you're out celebrating a win into the wee hours, you'll see plenty of stars, winds will be out of the north turning light, and we'll be in the low 50s - so you may want to grab a sweatshirt! Let's go blue!
Christina Burkhart is a meteorologist for ABC in Flint, MI. She grew up in Ann Arbor and associates Saturdays with Michigan football. Go Blue!
MSU Notches First Major Result
Win over Oregon is the next step for Michigan State
Michigan State 31, Oregon 28.
Even though Michigan State has gone 24-3 in the past two seasons with two major bowl wins (Rose in ‘13, Cotton in ‘14), the Spartans have been absent from the national title discussion for the most part – in both 2013 and 2014, they lost games in September. In the era of the playoff, last season’s loss to Oregon didn’t preclude MSU from national contention, but the loss to Ohio State effectively ended the title hopes for the 2014 team; in 2013, starting the season unranked might have been the biggest demerit for State – their loss to Notre Dame made it impossible to finish in the top two.
This wonderful home-and-home between Oregon and Michigan State may wind up providing definitive results for teams central to the playoff discussion in December: Oregon tripped up against Arizona at home last season but won the conference easily; Michigan State has a far more formidable roadblock than any faced by UO last year – a road contest against Ohio State. Ultimately, that game will be the game for State, but they’re one for two in relevant results: aside from road games at Michigan and Nebraska, Michigan State’s ferocious lines will give the team a large margin for error in most games. As for that Ohio State game (scheduled for November 21st), it’s hard to avoid envisioning the stakes if both teams are still undefeated at that point – maybe the biggest regular season game of the season anywhere.
[After the jump, much more on the CFB world, including a preview of tomorrow’s games]
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 Oregon State
I opened my OSU (NTOSU) preview with:
The other OSU is going to suck this year. And most likely will really suck. UM could probably not have lucked into a better Pac 12 opponent and aside from a few P5s ala Kansas could not have found an easier warm up game in the Power 5 conferences.
The Beavers are basically the MSU of forty years pre Dantonio. A plucky team with limited depth that every so often puts together a good squad that gives big brother some troubles here or there and catches the national attention in "rivalry week" but otherwise operates in anonymity in a podunk town ..... This is not one of those plucky years.
The team lost a NFL talent senior QB (who had a decent - not great - year by Pac 12 QB standards) and loses 9 of 11 starters off a near Indiana level defense (80ish in both FEI and S&P+ last year).
I ended that same preview with:
UM should win and win big. Even with all our questions on offense. The Beavers are an offense whose strength (running) plays into UM's perceived defensive strength. They look like they will probably be starting a true freshman in his 2nd game. And if not a RS FR who has never played. The returning offensive starters must learn a whole new offensive system and UM fans will remember how ugly that looked in 2008 at times. The defense should be Indiana-ish. Oregon State will be coming off a game hosting awful Weber State (2-10 last year) - that might be their highlight of the year with the Pac 12 going to a 9 game schedule. The Beavers should be stuffed in AA.
Considering the lack of real game data I am happy with these predictions.
These were my views of the matchups this summer:
UM rush off v OSU rush def - Adv: UM. Just nearly impossible to guage the Oregon State defense - while down the road I expect the Beavers to have a good defense with the combo of Andersen and Sitake this is not down the road - this is now. Should be a great game for UM to work on their run game after what will be a very tough Utah defense in week 1.
UM pass off v OSU pass def - Adv: UM. See comment above - Rudock is a 3 year starter and will be going against a bunch of green defensive players. One hopes one of the secondary WR guys gets some confidence this game and begins a breakout season to join Butt and Darboh as actual threats.
OSU rush off v UM rush def - Adv: Wash. If UM can limit the run game this should be a very ugly score line. That said I do think Woods does get his yards even as the Beavers break in a new playbook. UM rarely truly stuffs a good RB in MSU fashion - usually they can limit them to a good degree. It also helps when your HC benches a star RB (thanks Kevin Wilson). I don't expect any benching of Woods.
OSU pass off v UM pass def - Adv: UM. We have zero intelligence on the Beavers QBs as they haven't played a minute of a real game. Coming into the Big House in game 2 of their careers I don't expect much - Andersen and Baldwin will probably try to run nearly every 1st down and try to keep their QB in 2nd and 6 and 3rd and 3 situations. One danger zone is sleeping on Funchess sized Villamin - when your whole day is spent crowding the line you can fall into a lull and you have to assume OSU tries to throw over the defense a few times.
Generally solid although I gave Oregon's rush offense too much credit. It was bad too. I had noted if UM could limit Oregon's run offense - which I felt would be their only offense - the score line would be ugly. True.
OSU's defense was as bad as expected and undersized (I hadn't realized how small the DEs in the 3-4 were in the summer). Unfortunately no secondary receiver outside of Butt or Darboh had a breakout game but part of that was it was not really necessary in the second half. Villamin did look scary physically (3 catches, 26 yds) but you need a QB who can deliver the ball to him - OSU doesn't have one.
I didn't see much reason to change my views in last week's stock report after the week 1 rousing victory over 2-10 in 2014 FCS Weber State.
My view is Oregon State is the worst or 2nd worst Pac 12 team and is being served on a silver platter to UM. They are going through an offensive transition that mimicks UM 2008 - going from pro style to spread concepts without spread players. Their hastily put together class has a freshman QB dual threat they are going to throw out to UM. It should be similar to what happened when Indiana tried that last year. And Indiana and Oregon State's defenses probably won't be too dissimilar. Oregon State stood head to head with a 2-10 FCS level team in week 1 thru the 3rd quarter before pulling ahead. If UM does not show a competent offense in this one I'd be worried about a lot more M00N games the rest of the year. I expect our defense to maul the Beavers and hold them to mid teens.
OSU did even less than I thought they'd do on offense. UM basically did what I expected on offense.
I expect my predictions to look far less prescient in the future.
A Look at Michigan
After that fugly first defensive drive, UM held OSU to zero points and about 115 yards net of that horrid punt that was credited to the defense as a 48 yard loss. I'll take 1 football field + 15 yards over 3+ quarters anytime. Defensively my concern this year are QBs who can - you know - actually throw the ball consistently and strife our back 7 (well 6 - Jourdan Lewis does not get strifed). Luckily for UM very few teams on the schedule have much competence at QB. While fear snuck into the heart of many UM fans going into this game due to a "running QB" this was still a low rated true freshman in game 2 of his career in an offense full of players who knows crap about spread as everyone is learning from the ground up. (See Michigan 2008) The UM defense did what it needed to do although it OSU's offense plays straight into UM's strength (rush defense).
Offensively, UM still lacks explosion. That dude who writes Monday reviews of Michigan games for the O Zone noted the lack of explosion in UM's running game thru 2 games.
Michigan rushed for 225 yards on 48 carries (4.7 avg), but the longest carry was just 19 yards. The Wolverines are one of just 13 teams in the nation who do not yet have a carry of at least 20 yards, and their six carries of 10+ yards is 106th in the nation.
It is what it is folks - Deveon Smith is not going to gallop for 30 yards very often, if ever. Even against shit defenses. This will hurt vs competent defenses ala MSU, OSU, Minnesota, Utah. It won't matter much vs the swiss cheese variety.
I was dissapointed at the lack of non TE/Darboh/RB targets in the passing game. I mean I realize we are TE central now but if you can't find some deep seams vs Oregon State or UNLV types it seems difficult to project it happensing vs MSU and OSU defenses when we actually need to do it. There were 18 completions in this game and only 3 went to a non TE/RB/FB/Darboh. Rudock looked solid but still turnover prone - which will haunt UM vs better teams. I am surprised how turnover prone he has been.
On the positive side it looked like Stanford - albeit vs a horrid defense - out there in the 2nd half. Pound the ball, supplemented by throws to TEs, followed by physical mauling, and even a throw to AJ Williams. TOP was dominant in the second half but against a quick strike offense that won't matter much - TO ratio is far more important to me long term. And we lost that one again.
Not going to get giddy about this game as it was "as expected" but after 7 years of "as expected" not happening we'll mark this one as a positive step, and note our surprise that Ben Braden is great enough to start for Ohio State. If Michigan can pound a decent defense like Minnesota into submission in the 2nd half in a similar fashion mid season, I'll be much more tickled.
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. And now my adjusted views (that will be adjusted again!) after week 3. Again this is not how good the team is in a vacuum but how they match up vs UM.
|Week 2||Week 1||Preseason|
|11||Oregon State||Oregon State||Oregon State|
- Minn (+1) - For the second week in a row I am not moving Minnesota up so much based on Minnesota but based on other teams around them faltering (or about to falter). As I look ahead to Utah - who I moved Minn past - I see a lot of doom in the Utes future (more on that below). So this is a bit of a pre-emptive strike. Utah is about to embark on a month of hell while Minnesota plays 2 MAC teams, Purdue, and Northwestern. It is going to be difficult to judge Minnesota much until that Nebraska game 2 weeks before Michigan. I've been negative on Mitch Leidner as a QB so let me give him some credit for this week when he went 23/45 for 233 yards and 2 TDs. That % still sucks but hey in Big 10 QB terms 233 yards is like 400 in the Pac 12. Let me say I am also confused Jerry Kill allowed his QB to throw 45 times. Some dude you'd expect to sit next to in accounting class named Drew Wolitarsky had 9 catches for 114 yards. Guyz, Drew from accounting had 10 catches all of last year. Rodney Smith had a 2nd good week at RB (21 carries, 108 yds) and it looks like Minn is on its way to replacing David Cobb in a competent way. Look it was Colorado State but if this offense can have any sort of pulse through the air I have to upgrade the Minnesota risk assessment. CSU had a bad time passing with its new QBs and star WR out with injury but did well on the ground with 172 yds. We won't learn anything new the next 2 weeks about Minnesota so we'll get more data when they play Northwestern in 3 weeks.
- Rutgers (+1) - Rutgers lost to a quite bad Washington State team in the waning seconds, and after the game indefinitely suspened their best player. The Rutgers game is at home for Michigan. But I still moved them up 1 spot in my "degree of diffuculty rankings". That is how bad Maryland looked. I don't expect Rutgers defense to be all that but it's impossible to really judge a defense after playing Washington State. Their QB threw nearly 70 times aka a normal week at WSU. WSU's defense is so bad it's all difficult to judge opposing offenses but a key this year for Rutgers is to find a replacement for Gary (Super)Nova and Chris Laviano has looked competent thus far (23/29 204 yds). That's nothing special but competent in the Big 10 means you are a top 5 QB in the league. Also I'd like to note DO NOT KICK TO JANARION GRANT (6 kick returns, 195 yards, 1 TD, 32.5 average...... on top of 2 punt returns for 58 yards, 1 TD, 28.0 average). If you are keeping track at home that is 2 TDs on kick returns. Peppers - start doing this.
- Utah (-1) - Utah lost its QB and best defensive player (Hunter Dimick) to injury and still won. Their DBs had another 2 INTs. While I realize Utah wins close games and doesn't blow people out I fear for Utah's future based on their schedule in the Pac 12 South and their crossovers with Oregon and Cal. The QBs on these teams are frightening and if UM had this schedule I'd be in the turtle position. Kessler, Goff, Adams, Solomon, Rosen - those are all guys who can crush a defense, even a solid one like Utah's. Wilson sounds like he will be back for Oregon but it was an arm injury - and Dimick I don't see any update yet. Utah is ranked top 25 right now but in a month they won't be - after Fresno State Utah meets Oregon, Cal, Arizona State and USC. I could see Utah losing all 4 of those. Cal plays Texas this week and I expect Goff to open some eyes nationally as Zaire did. I don't think Utah is any worse than PSU, Northwestern, or BYU so it is difficult for me to push them down farther than those teams even if they are 3-4 in a month from now. That might speak to how crappy the Big 10 is below the top few teams.
- Maryland (-1) - In my season previews I said Maryland was the one team that the UM fanbase way overestimated this year. They lost their NFL talent at WR, lost their starting QB (who was also their top rusher), and when not playing teams that sucked last year (incl PSU and UM) were destroyed (Wisc, OSU, MSU). I did think Caleb Rowe would be their starting QB which gave them hope (instead it has been the ineffecitve Perry Hills) but they had potential for 5 wins this year from what I saw on paper. But one of those wins was vs Bowling Green. Which did not happen - not only did they lose they were blown out. Now Bowling Green is not bad - they gave Tennessee a good battle through 2+ quarters but it is one thing to lose and another to get crushed. And that was with Will Likely returning YET ANOTHER KICK FOR A TD. WHY DO YOU TEAMS KICK TO WILL LIKELY. I SAID THIS SUMMER DON'T KICK TO WILL LIKELY. I SAID LAST WEEK DON'T KICK TO WILL LIKELY. JOHN BAXTER - DO NOT KICK TO WILL LIKELY!!!!!!!!!!!! Outside of Likely, Maryland is garbage. Bowling Green threw for 500 yards and 6 TDs. Then they ran it for 200 more yards. Their defense sucks and their offense sucks. But hey they have good special teams - DO NOT KICK TO WILL LIKELY!!!!!!!!!!! Maryland plays what looks to be a half decent USF team next week and then follows it with West Virginia, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Iowa, Wisconsin, and MSU. Which is why I said they'd probably be a 5 win team (they finish with Rutgers and Indiana). They now are in risk of not even hitting that. (Update - i see Caleb Rowe has been named starter for next week)
- OSU - sleepwalked through a Hawaii team. Will continue to sleepwalk until they play MSU.
- MSU - "Oregon is garbage!" comments here. While not a vintage Oregon team this will still be a team that outscores most of their opponents and probably ends up 9-3ish so a good opponent. And they will get better - Adams has been with that team a whole month. Obviously a gift wrapped overthrow by Vernon Adams preserved the win, but MSU was in the national spotlight and beat a "brand" team in an exiciting back and forth affair and well all that sucks. MSU in a vacuum is different than MSU matched up vs UM. I just hate the matchups on the lines as UM's strength (DL) is MSU's strength (OL) and UM's potential weakness (OL) is MSU's strength (DL). #Harbaugh and all but you need to beat MSU thru the air without a lot of turnovers and with some big chunk plays and thus far Rudock has not shown that ability. And our ability to run on MSU's D will be .... challenged. UM will probably need a few big plays in special teams (which is possible considering MSU's issues there) and MSU to cough the ball up a few times. Rivalry game and all but on paper this still looks like a bad matchup based on each team's weaknesses and strengths.
- BYU - BYU beat a quality Boise State team on the road in the closing seconds. This makes then 2-0 in their guantlet of Neb, Boise, UCLA, and Michigan. I don't care how it was done - it is still an impresive feat. New QB Tanner Magnum is still an unknown but he has a huge arm. Take out the 84 yard bomb early in that game and he went 16/27 for 225 yds. That's still a 60% completion ratio which in Big 10 QB terms would make him aweeeesome. He did suffer some TFLs/sacks. Adam Hine did manage 93 yards on 19 carries which is a solid 4.9 per. Coming into the year finding a running game not named Taysom Hill was a question for the offense. Defensively we know what BYU is - solid rush D with awful pass D. Ryan Findley threw for 300 yards but tossed 3 picks which killed Boise. This game feels like one both defenses will neutralize the others and it's going to be Jake Rudock vs Tanner Magnum. I don't know who to take in that situation. I expect BYU to lose to UCLA this week but I won't be moving them down as BYU has the type of QB to stress UM's weaknesses.
- PSU - PSU beat the Buffalo Bulls by 13 at home. If you are a PSU fan right now you are where UM fan has been for years - just happy it was not another disaster. Hackenberg looked PTSD with 14/27 for 128 yards. That's an awful 4.7 average. PSU reshuffled its OL and gave Hackenberg some time. The running game looked decent as Saquon Barkeley ran 12 times for 115 yards. (9.6 ave with 33 yard longest) Barkley is a (sigh) highly rated freshman RB who probably is going to wrest the job away from Akeel Lynch in the first month on the job. Cant take much more out of this game as the opposition is weak.
- Northwestern - For the second straight week the peanut gallery shall yell: "Why you no move up Northwestern after beating Stanford impressively at home and crushing tomato can in game 2?" I said last week I will wait until this week's game with Duke before judging Northwestern and I am sticking with it. An impressive win vs a now solid program in ACC country and I'll be moving Northwestern up. Remember, this team beat Wisconsin last year on their way to a garbage year. Newbie QB Clayton Thornston only threw 16 times but he only needed to throw 16 times - this was Eastern Illinois. Surprisingly star RB Justin Jackson was held to a 3.5 ypc average. The story is the NW defense which has now given up 6 pts total this year. Duke has played nobody and given up 7 pts thru 2 games.
- Indiana - Indiana scored 17 pts late to beat Florida International 36-22. Indiana is who we thought they were. Keep an eye on Jordan Howard who is Tevin Coleman's replacement. He has had 2 monster games vs nobodies. Indiana plays Western Kentucky next week which is actually a half decent team for a non P5.
- UNLV - see below
My fear for UM in 2015 is explosive offenses and/or competent QBs as our defense is prone to issues in space and our offense is not built for track meets. i.e. a crap team like Washington State would scare the crap out of me as a UM opponent. Hell Bowling Green would scare me to death. As the first few weeks have played out the schedule has turned more into UM's favor in this regard. UNLV has a decent QB but his hamstrings look to be an issue. Maryland had what looked like a decent QB who
the coach thus far has refused to play will finally get a start this week. BYU had a QB who is UM's nightmare for 25 years - he is out with injury. Sackenberg might be broken. Northwestern's QB is a newb. Most of the other Big 10 teams have Big 10 QBs. That's not a complement. We'll see how Laviano develops and Sudfeld is Sudfeld.
Unless Caleb Rowe turns a whole lot of stuff around at Maryland and John Baxter decides to channel Bo and kick to Rocket IsmaIl 2.0, Michigan has a very manageable month going into MSU. Pending a Northwestern blowout of Duke, BYU feels like the main challenge in the coming 4 weeks.
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.
I haven’t been this happy to write a recap since, I don’t know, UTL II? Yeah, let’s go with that.
Best: Reasonably Excited!
I know, this was the JV game of the Battle for Mid-Sized States with Coastlines or whatever ESPN tried to turn this particularly random scheduling quirk into, and I know that the upper-echelon of the conference as it were (OSU, then some distance away MSU, then some farther distance away I guess Minnesota and Wisconsin) is still between outrageously and significantly better than the Wolverines, and I know that Oregon State doesn’t have a QB on the roster who played a down of college football before the season started, and I know that it’s one of the youngest teams in the country and not particularly talented youth to boot, and I know that whatever gypsy or witch Al Borges insulted back in the 90’s who subsequently cursed all of his QBs hasn’t broken her spell despite him leaving UM 2 years ago, and I know that we’ve seen the running game look this good against undersized defensive lines only to be exploited (like it was last week) against defenses who can push back, and I know that the pass rush is still really inconsistent (witness only 2 sacks, one by Morgan), and I know that the linebackers remain adventures against small guys, big guys, really any guys in space or in coverage, I know that the corners not named Lewis still have major question marks that probably won’t be answered/exposed until BYU, and I know that the offense still took about a half to get anything resembling coherency and that isn’t going to work against more competent offenses, and finally, I know that beating a pretty bad Pac-12 team isn’t going to be substantially change the outlook for the season for any reasonable fan…
I’ll take it. I’ll take it because this was the type of win you always wanted to see out of those old Hoke outfits, not the nail-bitters against UConn(!) and Akron(!!) where the offense looked like it was shot with the Devolution Gun. I’ll take it because it felt like the team embodied its offensive and defensive philosophies, not just pay them lip-service while flailing around for anything that works. I’ll take it because after that first drive, Michigan’s defense stiffened and held OSU to 84 total yards of offense, including 2 drives that went backwards (I don’t count the Tacopants punt and the kneel down to end the first half; it’s 4 if you count those). I’ll take it because Michigan had three more 10+ drives that ended in scores, and probably would have had more such drives in the second half if the field didn’t shift steeply toward the OSU side of the field and UM had great field position. I’ll take it because while Rudock threw another pick, it (a) late in a blowout, (b) a defensible throw in that he was trying to hit Butt and threw it a bit too inside after Butt seemed to settle into his spot a bit early, (c) featured a good play by the LB to jump in front of the pass, and (d) came after a 13/16 stretch in which Rudock looked much more comfortable throwing the ball. I’ll take it because Smith, Green, and Isaac, and the offensive line just ground down a P5 defense for 224 yards with a long of 19. I’ll take it because the A. J. Williams caught a long pass for the first time in what seems like forever, Ian Bunting had some nice catches, Darboh continued his ascension to #1 WR, and 9 guys caught passes for the second time this year, which happened twice all of last year and never as fluidly. I’ll take it because Chris Wormley has been a revelation on the defensive line, recording another 3 TFLs and giving the line the type of dual-prong rushers you need to generate an organic/disruptive pass rush as well as contain the running game. I’ll take it because, even with Jourdan Lewis out for the second half due to a potential concussion, the pass defense steadied itself after a rough first quarter and gave up a total of 30(!) yards the rest of the game. I’ll take it because the special teams turned the game around to end the 2nd half (though obviously the OSU long snapper did most of the work) despite getting screwed earlier in the drive by a wonky, at best, roughing the kicker penalty on the OSU punter. I’ll take it because searching for “Jim Harbaugh freak out” is WAY more fun than “Brady Hoke freak out” (which features Brady Hoke half-hugging Brian Kelly and a half-dozen pictures of him looking like he’s in various stages of passing a massive bowl movement). I’ll take it because UM won comfortably despite the referees doing their best to muck up the game (they apparently thought they were in East Lansing and the other Oregon team was playing). And, finally, I’ll take it because UM looked better than they did last week, better as the game progressed, and at the end looked like a team that bulldozed over a mediocre Pac-12 team like a Jim F*ing Harbaugh team SHOULD from now until forever!
Best: Like Novacaine
I know I use this video all the time, but it perfectly encapsulates how good offenses should work. I know you read and hear all the time about dynamic offenses that roll with a million different formations and playcalls; I've been a proponent of those types of offenses as the natural evolution of collegiate offenses and a system I'd kinda hope UM had been able to make work with previous coaches. But I’ll admit that a lot of those complaints are about window-dressing or presentation; a good offense, at its core, looks like every other “type” of good offense, whether it be spread, Air Raid, triple-option, run-and-shoot, MANBALL, etc. It’s about executing the plays you are best equipped to run with consistency and reasonable effectiveness.
And while you definitely should adapt as the game dictates, it also means running your offense sometimes in spite of individual results if you are confident that the final outcome will be a net positive. That’s what Hoke’s offenses struggled from as the years went on; he’d run plays X until the defense wised up, then switch to plays Y, but always seemed concerned about going to back to plays X if it made sense to, even if Y seemed to be working. It’s why we saw tackle over for most of the game against Minnesota instead of trotting it out periodically and using it as an occasional constraint for his “base” offense.
At some point in the 1st half, UM had 17 yards rushing. The line couldn’t sustain a push, the RBs weren’t getting much yardage beyond the line, and even little screen passes were being blown up for minimal gain because Mason Cole, for example, basically got flipped over by an OSU linebacker. But to his credit and as proof that Harbaugh is a masterful offensive technician…he didn’t really change anything. He just kept pushing forward with Smith, asked Rudock to make safe-ish throws, and trusted that an undersized OSU defensive line would start giving up ever-bigger holes for Smith to rumble through. And, ultimately, it did. A defense that had completely nullified the OSU offense helped, but the offensive performance felt organic and persistent in a way that hasn’t existed for years in A2; save for when Drake Johnson was the lead back at the end of last year, a Michigan rushing attack hasn’t looked close to this natural since 2011. And looking at the bulk of the upcoming schedule and assuming a natural improvement as the players become more comfortable with the new offensive playcalling, I don’t see too many teams that will be able to completely disrupt the general offensive flow. I know “most teams won’t be able to stop UM from running forward with the ball” is pretty faint praise, but I’ll take it after 2 games of another coaching regime.
Worst: You’ll Probably Still Want Someone to Drive You Home
Not to be a downer because I thought the running game executed really well against OSU, but this remains an offensive line with major question marks both at positions you expect (Braden) and not (Cole has been less-than-stellar thus far, at least in run blocking). Oregon State has both a young and not particularly defense, and still it took Michigan nearly a half of football to establish consistent running lanes. And even when they did execute, at times it felt more a by-product of an overmatched Beaver defense than fantastic play by the offensive line. In particular, I remember one of the longer Smith runs in the 4th quarter featuring Braden pulling across and into the second level. Instead of crushing the LB/safety waiting for him, he kinda just, I don’t know, fell on the defender and that allowed Smith to break outside a bit, but also slowed him a down enough to let other defenders tackle him.
I know that Braden is very tall and leverage becomes a major issue when trying to block guys half a foot or more shorter than you, but I saw a number of instances where the offensive linemen did “enough” right things for a positive, and that simply isn’t going to work against better defenses. I fully expect them to improve, and the improvements even since Utah, opponent quality acknowledged, were encouraging. I did think Braden handled the pass rush better, and Smith and co. ran through gaping holes not only because they saw them but also because they were sustained and, in some instances, carved out of the defensive line exactly how the play call asked for it. But I still see it being tough sledding against teams like Minnesota, MSU, OSU, and, maybe, PSU on the ground. I don’t expect there to be another 27-for-27 or what happened a couple years ago against MSU, but this remains a semi-fragile running game that isn’t going to necessarily carve up defenses the way it looks like they will the remainder of the OOC season.
Best: Getting Closer
As ST3 noted in his always-good Inside the Boxscore, Jake Rudock doesn’t need to be a world-beater for Michigan to win. Jake Rudock doesn’t have even be a gunslinger or a “playmaker” in the Denard/Gardner-before-broken-soul mold. Jake Rudock just has to be Iowa Jake Rudock, or more definitely:
My definition of efficient is 7+ YPA, 60+% completion percentage, and no more than 1 turnover per game. He was at 6.9 YPA and 69%, but he turned the ball over twice (1 INT, 1 fumble.) We're getting there.
We are getting there. I’m more bothered by the fumble than the INT, because as I noted above the INT was late in a blowout and just felt like ongoing growing pains for the offense. But the fumble was because a LB came in unblocked on a delayed blitz and, for whatever reason, Rudock either didn’t see him, failed to throw to the hot route, or just throw it at someone’s feet. He’s a 5th-year senior, and he played for Iowa last year behind a suspect offensive line; getting rid of the ball before you get hammered by an unblocked defender shouldn’t be “new” to him the way it seems to be whenever, say, Connor Cook feels the faint breeze of a defensive end’s outstretched fingers grasp within 2 feet of his face.
Anyway…beyond the fumble I thought Rudock looked pretty good once the running game established itself and drew in the safeties a bit. Unlike last week’s game when it seemed like every downfield threat was double-covered, this week you could see Oregon State start to cheat up a bit, and that opened up throws to guys like Darboh and Bunting with room for yards after the catch. That’s what a good running game does for a QB; it opens up the field and forces defenses to guess more than they like, which almost always favors skill players on offense. The deep passing game remains a bit of an enigma, but if Rudock can be deadly accurate within 15 yards and those little bubble and WR screens stick and remain effective, that might be enough against most of the defenses they’ll see this season.
Best: I’ll Happily Admit Defeat
At the beginning of the year, I was down on Amara Darboh as a #1 receiver, likening him to a #2/#3 who plays as a #1 by default. While I’m sure he’ll have trouble against some of the better corners in the conference, I am pleasantly surprised how good he’s been thus far. He isn’t a burner, but he’s quicker than I remember from last year, and his upper body strength coupled with that speed has really helped him maximize the WR screens and crossing routes that have been big gains for the passing attack. I also suspect he’ll be a solid downfield blocker if/when the running game starts breaking off those longer runs you kind of expect will start happening any game now.
As for the rest of the receiving core, just remember that both A. J. Williams and De’Veon Smith had 20+ yard receptions a week after both dropped critical passes. If Harbaugh and co. aren’t careful, I’m going to stop clutching those pearls around my neck on every 3rd down, and I’m not sure if I’m ready for that.
Best: The Line Was Drawn Here; They Went No Farther
With the exception of that first drive (and let’s just assume I say that before everything else going forward in this diary), the defensive line played a great game. Chris Wormley is a revelation at defensive tackle/end, and really has given this defense an identity along with Glasgow and Henry on the front line. It still lacks an elite pass rusher, but except for what I assume are the elite running games (OSU, maybe MSU and Minnesota), I don’t see this line giving up much on the ground consistently and, more promisingly, giving more teams trouble in the passing games than in years past.
I remain…surprised that Lawrence Marshall hasn’t gotten really any meaningful playing time after the preseason hype, and (sadly) it’s not because Ojemudia or RJS is performing above expectations on the weak side. BYU will be a test because even if Mangum lacks Hill’s explosive running ability and seems to be balancing on that razor’s edge between competent and self-sabotaging at times, he can absolutely throw the ball if given time. My hope is that someone emerges to provide even token pressure from the position by then.
Worst: Still Not Sure About the Second Corner
This is a light Worst because, again, under 100 yards over the last three quarters, with virtually nothing in the air. Yes, OSU was starting a caravan of people who hadn’t thrown a down of college ball, but that’s still an accomplishment. I thought the TD on Lewis was just a really well-thrown ball that Jarmon was able to haul in after getting a step; it happens. That it was at the end of a bad drive probably made it sting a bit more than normal, but other than that Lewis looked great until he was knocked out with the concussion. I assume he’ll be back next week, but they might just keep him out as a precaution, as I doubt UNLV will test UM much especially if their QB Decker is out.
As for the man opposite Lewis at corner, that remains a mixed bag. After Villamin burned Stribling for a couple of early receptions, Clark came in and, I guess, did a bit better on a failed 4th down conversion. Peppers also got a bit of a run in there as well, but the 2nd corner spot remains in flux. It might behoove the defense to keep Lewis out/use him sparingly and let the other guys get some game experience and see if anyone can really stand out, as right now any offense with more than one semi-competent WR is just going to attack that second spot mercilessly. Luckily this is the B1G so half your schedule has, at best, one competent receiver, but you’d still hope someone, anyone, would have locked down that spot in the event that it becomes an issue.
Meh: The Men in the Middle
I’ll admit I never can get a good read on LB play during a game. Some games I think everyone is going great and then you look back and you see a bunch of missed tackles. Other times it seems like every tackle is happening 3 yards after the line and they grade out as above-average because the defensive tackles aren’t holding up well. And coverages are especially hard based on the camera angle, as sometimes the zones put LBs in no-man’s land where conceding 5-6 yards is how you want the play to end.
As usual, Desmond Morgan hit people and they stopped. He also did a pretty good job flowing to the ball on those jet sweeps and QB runs that OSU relied on to move the ball. Bolden got better as the game went on, and he showed a nifty set of hands picking up that fumble from Bolden. He still seemed slow to react on some plays, especially early on when OSU was finding success testing the edges, but again, he helped hold a P5 team under 150 total yards of offense. Ross and Gedeon also got some time and played well enough. I remain a bit scared about the linebackers going against BYU and that ilk, but it’s not like Maryland, UNLV, or NW are loaded offensively. Like the rest of the defense, the LBs are growing into the schemes and showing incremental improvements, so let’s assume they keep that up.
Best: That’s Why You Give Long Snappers Scholarships!
I know some people joked about Scott Sypniewski getting a scholarship as primarily a long snapper, but after watching the OSU snapper rocket two increasingly-terrible throws back to his punter, the first leading to an illogical “roughing the kicker” penalty to extend a drive, and the latter a Tacopants special that led to a late UM score on the same drive, there is value in making sure the guy setting up your punter is good at, you know, doing that with a football.
I’m assuming everyone saw that sequence toward the end of the half, but for those who didn’t here’s a brief recap. OSU was forced to punt on 4th down, and on the punt the snap was high and to the right a bit, causing the OSU punter to bobble the ball before running pretty far to one sideline and getting the ball off. He was then bumped into by Clark, leading to (a) the refs calling a “roughing the kicker” penalty that netted OSU a first down, and (b) Jim Harbaugh absolutely losing his mind on the sideline.*
So the drive continued and OSU had to punt again because they basically used up all their bag of tricks on that first drive and were running into various walls offensively after that. On the next punt, UM made sure to not even fart in the general direction of the punter, and he was able to pin UM deep in their own territory with about 1:30 left in the half. But that punt was called back after an illegal formation penalty on OSU, so on the subsequent play the OSU long snapper sailed a ball a good 10 feet over the punter and 30-ish yards deep, resulting in UM getting the ball back at the OSU 3 yard line. It was a 90+ yard swing, and let UM go into the half up 10 and really helped salt the game away.
* As a brief aside, it was nice to see a coach ride the officials a bit. Hoke never did that, and while I don’t believe that referees consciously do “make-up” calls, I do believe that they are human and hate being yelled at by a crazed man in a baseball cap. Over time, they will subconsciously want to stop that crazy man from yelling at them and, as a result, make calls that appease said crazy man. It won’t work all the time, but it never hurts.
Worst: These Refs, Though
I’ll keep this brief – OSU had nearly as many first downs due to penalty (3) as they had rushing (4) or passing(5). Their only first down in the second half came on a facemask penalty against UM, and UM recorded nearly as many penalty yards (105) as OSU recorded total yards (138). Beyond the punter penalty I spoke of above (I always thought a punter was “live” outside of the tackle box), the refs also missed a number of obvious PIs on OSU (including one in the endzone on Darboh that would have been a TD) while also calling a dubious PI on Peppers in the first half. I get that UM was sloppy at times, but how UM went from 3 penalties on the road to 10 penalties at home against a team they were killing for most of the game was just infuriating.
Best, I Guess: Snack on Danger, Dine on Death!
So yeah, I missed a wrestling reference last week, but I couldn’t help myself after the past couple of weeks. Against Utah last week, Booker tried to hurdle a UM defender and was instead depositing on his head and shoulders by Joe Bolden. Last year, Utah’s Travis Wilson tried something similar, and, well…
So in this game, Seth Collins tried to, I don’t know, fly over the UM defense. It didn’t work and he wound up being crunched mid-air by either Bolden and/or Desmond. It was nasty, dangerous, and continuing this weird tradition where opponents set themselves up for variations of the Doomsday Device popularized by the Legion of Doom
I’ll give you a brief synopsis of the Legion of Doom. They started off as the Road Warriors (Animal and Hawk) in the old territory days of professional wrestling, these hulking bodybuilders who worked super-stiff (i.e. in the world of fake fighting, it’s when guys don’t really hold back on their punches/kicks/slams etc.), were underrated athletes (in particular Hawk, who moved amazingly well for a big guy) and had a great look. Over the years they evolved into, well, Mad Max-style brutes with shoulder spikes, snarling, barely-coherent promos, and a reputation for just demolishing guys. They were known as the Legion of Doom in the WWF/E, and became some of the biggest draws of that era. Oh, also, if you were ever in an arcade in the early 90’s and walked by the Wrestlefest cabinet you heard their catch phrases. They were dumb, cheesy, and 100% in your wheelhouse if you were a young kid who loved professional wrestling.
Over the years their gimmick got a bit stale, drugs and alcohol problems took over, and they kind of fell apart. Hawk passed away at the age of 46 from a sudden heart attack, the guy the WWE tried to semi-replace Hawk with before his death (Droz) wound up breaking his neck in a freak in-ring incident a couple years later, and Animal still kicks around on the indy circuit and will pop up on Raw every once and a while. Everything in this paragraph can be said for about 80% of the wrestlers from the 80s and 90s, I know. Oh, also, Joe Laurinaitis (Animal) is the father of famed Ohio State LB James Laurinaitis.
This should also not surprise you at all.
Anyway, my point is that wrestling is fake, yet college football players still seem to think throwing themselves in the air is going to end well with 225+ lb men trying to knock them out of said air. The LOD wrecked guys for years so that you can watch them on youtube; you don’t need to try to recreate modern-day beheadings for a couple more yards.
Best: Runnin’ Rebels
I predict UM scores many points, accumulates many yards, and my entire diary is full of animated gifs of professional wrestling and raccoons on little bicycles.