1. It is hard to convey how close the game wasn't. I take my hat off to Dantonio and Co. for their game plan. State absolutely dominated this game. Their 130 yard drive was an impressive display of consistency notwithstanding their efforts to self-destruct. Other than a relatively ineffective running game (I'm excluding QB scrambles), MSU played extremely well on both sides of the ball. The only thing I would pretty furious about if I was a State fan was Dantonio's decision to sub in Nichols at different points in otherwise successful drives. He was far less effective than Cousins. I have seen reporting on ESPN that Cousins was banged up, and that may explain the 4th quarter, but there were several moments in the first half where Nichols came in and absolutely killed an otherwise solid drive.
2. Paradoxically, I was pretty thrilled with the defense. Obviously, the defense gave up a lot of yards today. But today is the day when I became a true Greg Robinson believer. Our defense is seriously lacking in athletic talent. But it seemed that GERG was using the linebackers to help out in coverage in a way that help band-aid our secondary's woes. In addition, JT Floyd looked not horrible today. There was an obvious cost to the way they deployed the linebackers -- no back up containment when the defensive line broke down in the middle. But at the end of the first half, I looked up at the scoreboard and said "Hat's off to Greg Robinson." He had a great gameplan that worked well. And, as per usual, he made great adjustments in the second half. I thought the defense delivered today in every way it is reasonable to expect.
3. It took us awhile to adjust to our inability to run. State's linebackers did a great job on the run game and were clearly part of a comprehensive scheme to shut down the read option. It was impressive. RichRod adjusted well in my view, and began passing, but we were seriously hampered by drops in the first half. Koger drops a ball -- I think "Hey, he's a tight end and having those guys running full speed down the field is tough." Kelvin Grady, though, is starting to get on my nerves. From where I sit, that guy drops more than he catches. With the substantial improvement of Martavious Odoms, I'd like to see more Number 9 and less Kel. Grady.
4. I am concerned about playcalling. Complaining about play calling is obviously an age-old Michigan meme. I have been listening to people bitch about Bo's playcalling since I was eight years old. However, I feel like our playcalling today had a "let's try this; ok, let's try this" feel to it. I didn't feel like we had a philosophy that was behind our playcalling. I think the best evidence of this is when they stuck Denard Robinson in in the 3rd Quarter with Michigan's ball at the 20. We very much needed to get untracked and drive the ball at that point. We really hadn't all day. I love Denard and see the upside, but he's not the type to engineer a lengthy drive, especially because he's still learning much of the playbook. I had a distinct feel that Rodriguez was grasping at straws and was kind of hoping Denard might do something amazing and bail us out. That's obviously not a ridiculous hope, but MSU's defense is far from overwhelming, and there was real reason to think each time we got the ball that we were about to get untracked. The Denard series was a mistake.
At this point, we have to discuss the fake punt. There was a part of me that was getting concerned enough that I thought about just lining up and going for it. Then my brain said "Yeah, right. Even if it works, you still have 80 yards to go. Cost-benefit doesn't work out." And then I watched in confusion as Zoltan started running and thought "Why are we rugby punting?" And then I thought "Holy God, we just faked a punt on our 15 yard line." I love RichRod. I do. But it is absolutely inexcusable to make this call in a close game. It demonstrated a frustration and lack of discipline on his part that he simply cannot afford to have. I viewed that playcall as an example of a head coach panicking simply because his normally magic touch wasn't working.
In general, for three quarters, I genuinely felt like we had no flow to our play call. Each drive felt like everything had to go right in order for the drive to succeed -- you felt like there was no margin. Dropped ball? Dead drive. Sack? Dead drive. All the while, State was the complete opposite. No matter how bad their third and longs were (and God Almighty did they convert more third and longs than I have ever seen), you sensed that they had a chance to convert. I felt like we lacked that type of resilience.
5. God I love this team. All of the foregoing being said, I saw the heart of a lion out there today. I absolutely LOVE the fact that with RichRod at the controls, this team is literally never out of a game. With limited exceptions over the years, Michigan simply is not a team that does well coming from behind. We have been built as a horse that gets the lead and then holds it. This team is different. These guys are punchers. With four minutes to go, I honestly felt like we had a chance. Obviously, a lot of things came together to make it happen, but I would have NEVER thought we were still in this game under Bo/Mo/Lo.
6. The State of Our Union is Strong. Look at where these two programs are. MSU has three years under Dantonio. From where I sit, they look like a sailboat that is going in circles. I predict they end the season .500 or with a losing record. By contrast, in our second season under RichRod, our record is up, our recruiting is up, and you are really starting to see the possibilities.
It sucks losing to Sparty. I get that. But we absolutely stole two games already this season. We have two walks on playing defense. Our quarterback is a freshman. Our line is only OK at best, and that was before transfers. If we were going to lose today, this was a good way to lose. I am not deterred.
-1999 W @ Syracuse 18-13
A win but lowest point total of the season.
-2000 L @ UCLA 20-23
-2001 L @ Washington 18-24
Lowest point total of regular season.
-2002 L @ND 23-25
96 Rushing yards. -2003 L @ Oregon L 27-31
Scored late TD by Breaston to make it look closer than it was. One of the TD's was scored on a blocked FG
-3 Rushing yards on the day!!!!!!
-2004 L @ ND 20-28
56 Rushing yards.
-2005 L @ Wiscy 20-23
Only scored 13 points until late in the 4th. Scored on long flea-flicker to Manningham.
Look it happens, if you can remember these games the offense was terrible. And half of these games were played by WAY more experienced players. The only exception was Henne in 04. Were there some questionable play calls? Maybe. But remember watching these games in the past and banging your head against a wall?
1. The Inability of Michigan's Defense to Stop Michigan State Early.
-On State's first drive, they had 4 penalties for 50 yards. Their drive was 80 yards. That's 130 yards total of offense they had to create. Anytime a team gets a personnel foul 15 yard penalty, it normally KILLS the drive. There are two reasons why it didn't here: Both times it was AFTER the play, so it merely set MSU back, rather than 2nd and 25, it was 1st and 10 from 15 yards back. Second, Michigan failed to make MSU pay for the chop block penalty that set them at 2nd and 25. Instead, they allowed Cousins to scramble and practically erase the penalty. More on that later. Through out the entire first half, Michigan's defense did not stop State on 3rd down until late in their drives, if at all.
2. The Inability of Michigan's Defense to Contain
-A couple plays come to mind: namely every time Cousins scrambled out of the pocket, he picked up at least 10 yards because our defense lost contain and could not close in fast enough. We got KILLED by this the whole game. Give props to Cousins for seeing that massive hole to run through, because it was his for the taking. Our defense just could not stop him at all. And let's not mention that end-around where Michigan had the play resolved and just had to make the tackle, but somehow managed to allow Martin to run around the entire defense and turn a 3-4 yard loss into an 18 yard gain.
3. The Inability of Michigan's Defense to Get Turnovers
-MSU presented plenty of opportunities for the Wolverine's to get a turnover by having I believe three or four fumbles during the game, only one of which was recovered. Granted one bounced literally into the arms of MSU's Grant as he was getting up from a block, but the others were recoverable. We were able to force the turnovers but we just couldn't recover them.
4. The Inability of Michigan's Defense to Get Pressure And Disrupt The Pocket
-This goes hand-in-hand with number 2. Giving Cousins and Nichol over 5 seconds to throw and not coming up with a sack is ridiculous. Giving them over 5 seconds to throw and then letting them scramble for 15 yards is just inexcusable. Our defensive front got beat all day long. Yea you can say they showed poise on the early goalline stand, or the Brandon Graham I'll-Knock-You-Into-Next-Year-When-I-Don't-Get-Blocked tackle on MSU's Winston, but overall they didn't show up.
Okay, enough gripe about the defense, we know they sucked coming into this game, but how about the offense with Tate the Great?
5. The Inability of Michigan's Receivers to Catch a Pass
-Seriously, how many dropped balls did we have in the first half? Like a billion? Ok, only about 4 or so, but still. It seemed like our receivers just could not hang onto the ball or make a catch all game long. Tate would scramble around and make the throw only to have it fall through someone's hands, or be caught and then jarred loose. Give credit again to MSU for delivering big hits on a couple of those, but some had the receiver wide open and they just dropped it.
6. The Inability of Michigan's Offense to Adjust to MSU's Defensive Front
-When you continuously try to run the ball up the middle the whole game, and continuously get stuffed, how does that make a good game plan? Carlos Brown thrives on speed and being able to blow by people, not run up the middle and pound it out; that's Minor's job. Michigan needed to find ways to get Carlos outside in space, rather than have him try to get yards by going forward up the middle.
7. The Inability of Michigan's Offense to Convert Turnovers
-Biggest case, the opening series. Got a great turnover early and a touchdown would have been icing on the cake to start the game. Instead, the most Michigan can muster is a net 5 yard loss and tack up the field goal. Had Michigan scored there, the entire game is different. Then again later in the 3rd quarter, a clutch interception takes away three points, and what does Michigan do? Makes the most confusing play call of all-time.
8. The Worst Play Call of All-Time
-4th and inches, deep in their own territory, Michigan opts to kick it...except not. Instead, Zoltan tries to run from 8 yards deep to get to the first. Normally on fake punts it goes to one of the guys setting up the block, not the punter. And if it does go to the punter, it's normally a pass, because he's so far deep. In that scenario if Michigan truly wanted to go for it, give the ball to Brandon Minor, or have Tate get under center and push. Either way, that play could have changed the game had Michigan's defense not miraculously held MSU to a field goal.
9. Michigan Did Not Want It
-If you watched the game, you could see the hunger and desire in the eyes of the players of MSU. They wanted this win. This win could turn around their season and give them a shot at a Big Ten Title run. This win would define the rest of their season. For Michigan, it seemed the players were content with starting 4-0 (and then 4-1) and the passion was not there as it was for MSU. Granted, it was in East Lansing, but that does not excuse the fact that Michigan's effort was severely lacking compared to MSU the entire game. I don't know if players weren't focused or what, but they just didn't seem as into it as MSU.
10. Tate Can't Do Everything Himself
-Out of the Michigan players, this is the one kid that did want it. His two fourth quarter drives proved it. He wanted to win, and he wanted it badly. He did everything in his power to guide his team to victory, but in the end it wasn't enough. He can't carry the whole team by himself; he needs support from the other players. Tate will be great, of that there is no doubt, as it already has been proven. But every great player has a great supporting cast, and others now need to step up.
Michigan did not win this game, because they had no business being in this game. Those last fourth quarter drives were unearned and Michigan did not deserve to be in overtime with Michigan State. The result is what it should have been, a loss for Michigan. The Wolverine's took their early successes as an excuse to look past MSU, especially given MSU's 3-1 start. But now Michigan needs to regroup and refocus for next week, and continue to take the season one game at a time.
This was a tough loss to handle, especially after tying the game and going into overtime. But next week's game is going to be harder. Iowa brings a defense that is 3rd in the Big Ten behind Penn State (#1) and Ohio State (#2). They won't need to outscore the Wolverine's if their defense does their job, and their offense should be fine against Michigan's porous defense. Michigan needs to step up and find other role players on both sides of the ball that can make plays. This is the spot of college football, and on any given Saturday, any team can win.
1. The UM secondary - this group has been giving up big plays all season, oftentimes playing far off receivers. Is this because of the scheme Greg Robinson has been using, or is this because he lacks trust in the ability of the defensive backs to defense the long pass? Other than the Warren interception, this group has been more reactive than proactive. They rarely get a good enough read on the QB to step into a passing lane to make a play; instead, they wait for the catch to be made and then react. I can't help but notice that other teams do a better job of this. My guess is this is part inexperience, part scheme. We'll see how they respond to the MSU passing game today, but if the defense is truly progressing each and every week, we should see a few more plays being made.
2. The UM Defensive Line - While solid at times, this unit has had much difficulty putting pressure on the QB. A few more sacks could go a long way for the defense. The other issue has been with the rush defense. Half of the time they stop the running back for little to no gain, the other half they seem to get gashed by a big run. While the MSU run game has struggled, this is the second chance to go against a Big Ten offensive line. If the MSU run game has success, I don't think this bodes well for future games this year. If they put in a solid performance, it's a step in the right direction. No doubt that the problem with the D-Line is, in part related to the first.
3. Freshman on the Road - This is the first true test for the youngsters we have on offense and defense. While Tate has shown poise under pressure, you have to wonder how the rest of the group will respond. Denard is likely to have issues if he decides to pass. The defensive backs are likely to find themselves lost at times. Nevertheless, it's probably better to have MSU for the first road game than a better team like Iowa.
What will we see today - time will tell. WIn or lose, it's still fun to watch this team play and we should sit back and enjoy the maturation of the team.
(Alternate Title: Braving the Weather Edition)
Diarist's Note: A few minutes before kick and the action is final. Here were the odds I got going to the windown at the buzzer: UM +4, Over 53.5, Wisco +3, Over 52.5, NW +7, O 57
We're one month into the season, and just one week into Big 10 play, and already we've seen the league's offseason conventional wisdom and pecking order usurped. Iowa rudely crashed the Big Two of Ohio State and Penn State. Darkhorses Illinois and Michigan State struggled to a combined 0-5 against Bowl Subdivision teams and need fast reversals just to get back into bowl contention. Michigan might be a candidate. Wisconsin, thought to be on the decline, are 4-0, looking as dangerous as ever on offense.
This week's storylines include two intense rivalry games, league heavyweights laying heavy chalk, including two in road games and a lot of teams fighting to save their season or extend the early season good times. As for my picks, we took a dip last week going 3-4. Iowa and the Michigan Over were Ab Fab. But, I should have to wear a bag over my head in shame for a day for hitching my wagon to Illinois. The biggest mistake I made was not adding the MSU/Wisco Over to the card. I did so at the JCB, but right at the last minute before we left in the morning for Ann Arbor. Why I didnt do so here is beyond me. It loomed large as I would not have had to face the indignity of a losing record. Eh, those are the breaks. The column record this year is 13-7, so I really should stop the bellyaching routine. The positive MGoMojo has been good to my picks ever since I began penning diaries, so let's keep that going this weekend.
Northwestern +7 at Purdue, O/U 57, noon, BTN
Wisconsin +3 at Minnesota, O/U 52.5, noon, ESPN
Michigan +4 at Michigan State, O/U 53.5, noon, BTN
I am grouping these games all together, not just because they all kick at high noon, but because I have a theory on the Big 10 this year. We'll get a lot of proof in either direction with this trio of games. And, of course, we're putting our money where our mouth is. It would not be fun otherwise, right?
This will be the year of the crazy shootout here in Big 10 country. Part of it is I think some of the offenses are underrated and potent. I love the skill position players throughout the huddled masses of this league. Al Toon, Jon Clay, Brandon Green, Tate Forcier, BJ Cunningham and Darius Willis just to name several underclassmen who are emerging as the next great round of playmakers and game changers for the league. I'd argue 10 teams in this league are experiencing a significant upgrade at the QB position from a year ago. Sorry Illinois. It's really been several years since I've looked out at the conference landscape and felt that so many teams pose a dangerous offensive threat. I dont expect this to be as shockingly explosive as say the Big 12 South last season, but I dont think it will be too far behind. Most can score 30 with no problem if they're on their game.
And these emerging offenses have the benefit of playing in a season where the defense across the conference might be at an all-time low. Ohio State, Iowa and Penn State can play D, for sure. In fact, they're the only ones I trust on that side of the ball and why, right now, I only consider those three to have any legit BCS Bowl hopes. The rest? Try a combination of too young, not talented enough, no depth and poor fundamentals. Most teams can circle at least two of those plaguing their defensive hopes. Just take a look at the six teams involved in these conference nooners. I think Minnesota might have the best defense of the bunch. If its not them, it might be Purdue. I can't justify putting any of the other four schools at the top of this list. Coming into the season, I thought the Boilers and Gophers D would be among the bottom 2-3 stop units in the league. But, the fact they may rate better than these other outfits is not as much a reflection on any improvement on their part as much as it is a major downgrade of the others.
What does any of this mean? I think it means a lot of points. A lot of teams scoring 30 or more points and still losing. Since it still looks like mass chaos in the league's bursting middle class in the pecking order behind the top team, this will play out with exciting, dramatic up tempo games. It wont be your father's Big 10. But, it might be more fun to watch. The chase for bowl positioning will rival the topsy-turvy world that was the ACC last season. Handicapping this league will prove dangerous for chalk lovers as with these shootouts, the underdogs will regularily make runs at the favorite with more than their share of outright "upsets." When these teams play each other, I see a lot of Overs hitting, and I see a lot of Dogs covering.
I like the sound of that. I enjoy games where I like both the Dog and the Over. Everyone has their own style and mine is rocking when I'm able to pinpoint games with this Dog/Over combo. In 2009, I think we're going to find a lot of these games in Big 10 play. We saw two of these combos cross the stage last week out of five league games. Because of their defenses, I would exclude games involving Ohio State, Penn State and Iowa from this hunt, so really in the first week of play two out of three games hit this combo, with the third at least seeing the Over hitting.
I said in the middle of September that any game involving Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin should be Over bets. During the podcast segment I did with Brian and Tim, I expanded that list a bit, but now really see no reason to include all the other eight teams in this league into this equation. They're all worth a look at the Over every week until these defenses prove they can stop the offenses. And, when they're playing each look extra close, we might have our lucky Dog/Over combo. I think we have it in all three of these nooners. Therefore.....
Wisconsin +3 over Minny, Over 53........one of the greatest rivalries in the Big 10. It's also one of the highest scoring games of the season. In six of the last nine contests, both teams have scored at least 30 points. In eight of the last nine contests, at least 60 points have been scored. No reason to think that'll stop. The Badgers will have a hard time all day containing Erik Decker. And Minny QB Adam Weber has slowly, but surely brought in the other receivers into the downfield game. They're a running game a away from going from good offense to dangerous. The Badgers already are dangerous. I've said it a few times in various diaries and comment threads, but the Badgers might have the best collection of skill players in the conference. They have so many guys who can hurt you and a typical big Wisco offensive line blocking for them. If they're going to dedicate getting Jonathan Clay the ball the way they did last week against MSU, then the Badgers will make a run at league honors. Brett Bielema, if you keep Clay as your feature back, I will take back everything I have said about you. Well, most of it, anyway.
Northwestern +8 over Purdue, Over 56......I said on the podcast I like Purdue to win. I still do. But, there is no way, no how they are more than a TD better than anyone in this league. Northwestern has won three of the last five straight up in this series, so you can make a case they're the better program right now. I'll take this head start. As for the Over, Northwestern has not stopped anyone in three weeks, a cast that includes Minnesota, Syracuse and Eastern Michigan. Purdue has allowed more than 32 points per game. Ironically, their best outing was last week against Notre Dame. That was such a weird ND lineup, however, with injuries knocking out entirely or limiting severely almost all their glitzy weapons. That was a bit of a fluke. I hate the be repetitive, but I see both teams scoring 30 points here.
Michigan +3.5 over Michigan State, Over 54.......what, it's raining? No worries. Why would two defenses already a step slow, hesitant to the ball carrier and a twisted mess in pass coverage suddenly get better at that in rainy weather. The offense, after all, knows where its going and thats a strategic advantage. The game will have sloppy moments, but some of those will set up short field scores. These clubs have already played two games apiece where the loser has scored 30 or more. Why would that stop here. Both teams are better at the QB position this year. Both teams have receivers who have improved their games from a year ago. Michigan, in specific, also has an offensive line playing better and more explosiveness from the tailback spot than 2008. These teams scored 56 points last season and both offenses are better. Neither of the defenses are better. MSU cant get off the field, having forced just five three and outs or better than last three weeks and have been easy pickings on third down. We know Michigan's troubles. In the end, Michigan has the one defensive chip State does not and that is the presence of Brandon Graham who murdered the Spartans last year. He will come up with a huge play to kill MSU's final drive. Michigan 41-37.
As for the other Big 10 games of the day, I'm changing suits, and I will be an unabashed chalk eating mo*!@*!er.
Penn State -7 at Illinois. When you watch the Illini, recall that they were the top team on Phil Steele's Most Improved Team list. Yikes. This team is a mess. I dont see how they get better against a angry, bitter Penn State team that cant wait to take out some frustrations. They may sleep walk a bit, but eventually they pull away here. Illinois is the one team in this league that's seen an obvious regression of production at the QB spot. That's going to hurt them all year and drive them into the cellar of this league. Oh, and their defense blows donkey. No Sugarcoat. I'm not sure this game will be any tougher than previous 2009 tussles for Penn State against the likes of Temple and Syracuse. The Nittany Lions win this game by double digits.
Ohio State -17 at Indiana. Speaking of double digit wins. And then some. The Bucks roll. The crowd in Bloomington might be a 50/50 split, and the IU athletic department might have been better off relocating this game to Cincinnati or something and at least cash a paycheck. They wont get much of a home field push. Only twice since 1994 have the Hossiers stayed within 17 points of the Buckeyes, and the Bucks have won the last five matchups by an average of 30 points. Oh sure, the Cream and Crimson in me wants to see IU do to OSU what I saw them do in person to Michigan last week. But I'm keeping those hopes firmly in check. In the last ten games with the Buckeyes, Indiana has not scored more than 17 points in any of them and seven times been held to 10 points or less. Ohio State is all business on road trips. Frankly, they play much better on the road as they dont have 100,000 insane freaks grumbling every time Tressel Ball calls a punt. Ohio State is 15-4 as road favorites since 2005 and they're 12-1 ATS on the road agasint teams that are .667 or better. Ironically, Indiana fits that bill. Road success has followed the Buckeyes to Bloomington where they covered seven or eight against IU. Buckeyes win this by three touchdowns. Indiana will look like a mere shadow of the team we saw up close last week.
Iowa -21 over Arkansas State. Only by the spirit of the agreement that I would play every Big 10 game once league season starts does this game make the list. I wont lie, this game is getting a small amount placed on it as far as real monetary values go. Actually, I'll say it now. I'm passing on this game. Iowa has been known to play down a bit to their foe, especially after a big game. And therein lies the rub. This is a classic sandwich game, a week after such a breakout victory over PSU and a week before another primetime showdown against hated Michigan. The Hawks have spent all week being feted for last Saturday with a lot of hype already being thrown on next week's home game under the lights on national TV. Oh. Yeah. That's right, Arky State comes into town first. It's good policy to avoid heavy chalk wedged in this sort of sammy. So, its hard to recommend Iowa. But, I cant go against them either. Not at home. Kinnick Stadium has been very, very. very good to me over the years. I hate not betting on the Hawks when they're at home. It's like a parent missing their kids Little League game. But, I think I'm going to have to in this case. The power of the Sammy is too strong. While Iowa is 19-8 as double digit home chalk under Ferentz, their actually just 3-8 in that role the last three years. We wont be doing anything with this game. Pass.
(Diarist Note: I'll have a couple updates on the JCB during Saturday. First one about half way through College Gameday, although I dont think I'll have anything to say about the rest of the noon schedule beyond these Big 10 games.)
After putting together the data for the Point per Field Position post I put up earlier, I realized that I could Frankenstein the data into a projection for the game score. What follows is method and result. I'll skip the gory details because they're boring.
Nothing spectacular, going with equal parts offense and defense. So if Michigan’s Offense scores an average of 2 points per possession from a certain sector and State’s Defense gives up 3 points per possession, the expected value used would be 2.5 points per possession. The result of this operation is Michigan scoring at an aggregated 2.7 points per possession and State at 2.2 ppp. Expected Number of possessions
Michigan has been averaging 14 possessions per game where as State has been averaging 12 possessions per game. Same idea as the method to generate performance expectations; using 13 possessions in a 4 quarter game.
Giving State a home field advantage of 3 points we end up with this: Michigan 35, Michigan State 31. This lines up pretty closely with Brian's and The Mathlete's projections so it'll be interesting to see how it turns out.Hmmm
There is another way of assembling the numbers that has beating State by 10 (38 -28)based on performance during drives not starting via a special teams play such as fumbles, interceptions, missed field goal attempts, and turnover on downs. But, I dont know if doing what I did was fair so I'm just tossing it out there for fun. WEE!