I did not make this headline up
For the Rich Rodriguez era at Michigan it was a signature four quarters of football. Six different Wolverines found paydirt. The offense, after some initial stuttering, exploded to score touchdowns on five of six drives. Michigan was +2 in the turnover battle and did not have a single giveaway. The defense harassed the quarterback and had a pick-6 of their own that electrified the crowd. The visitors tacked on a pair of touchdowns late to make the game appear closer, but in the end it was a 41-23 rout and a Homecoming celebration promptly ensued.
Sounds good, right? Of course, the above portrait does not capture the start to finish of a single game. Instead, its the final two quarters of the Wisconsin game followed by the first two quarters of the Illinois game. Michigan needed the Wisconsin finale to overcome a terribly historic first half en route to a comeback win. The Illinois first half set them up with their largest lead of the season, which the team gave up because the offense struggled to maintain their new found efficiency and untimely defensive breakdowns.
Putting those halves together does look pretty sweet and offers a ray of hope that this team is closer to gelling than Saturday's final score would indicate. Sprinkle in a few unicorns streaking down the sideline along with a dash of capitalist disdain and the opening paragraph of this diary reads like a dispatch from the WLA propaganda machine. But, seriously, this team is not miles away from being good and if they can come out even in the turnover game from here on out, they will snare enough wins to make for an interesting November. Here are some other quick thoughts on the game:
- A lot of type was banged out last week regarding which running back should get touches and what the hierarchy of the depth chart ought to read. One name never got mentioned. Mark Moundros. I am convinced that he needs to play a lot. The sputtering running game had consistent life--and more importantly positive yards --just about every time he was in the formation. He was the lead blocker on 8 runs for 33 yards. The only two runs in these cases that did not go for more than 4 yards were because McGuffie tripped over his own feet on the way to a clear and free corner and then another time did not run hard to the corner on a third and goal run. They ran some pretty cool counter plays with him lining up just behind the tackle and pulling on the snap. He was also used as as basic straight up lead blocker out of that formation and the traditional power I look. He also caught a TD pass and served as a nice decoy in the passing game that helped open Odoms up on a couple of corner routes.
- Piggy backing on the Moundros theme, its pretty clear what makes this running game work and what does not. It needs a lead blocker from the backfield. The OL is terrible and overmatched. But, with an extra blocker paving the way, Michigan has found running plays that regularly move the line of scrimmage forward. With a lead blocker, I counted 13 runs for 63 yards. Conversely, when it was just McGuffie in the backfield, we saw 5 carries for 1 yard. A lead blocker is needed or the running game goes nowhere but backwards. Minor had an excellent lead block off the above counter look to spring a big run, so it was not always Moundros doing the dirty work. Carlos Brown and Kevin Grady did not see the field and Shaw first played late in the third quarter and was complicit in a killer turnover. Pretty much right now, I am fine with the backfield as long its a combination of two of the following, McGuffie, Minor and Moundros. Dare I dream of a runaway beer truck moment out of Moundros?
- I am not sure we need to pass the ball more, but I do know that the coaching staff has to get creative and make it a goal throughout the game to keep the passing game in rythmn. Threet can move this team down the field, but since he is a red shirt freshmen he is prone to in game slumps that remind me of 2001 John Navarre. He was on fire to start the game, but then went through a 3-for-13 stretch, many of which came in difficult down and distances to work with.
- How does this game change if Threet and Odoms connect on that play down the middle just before half time. It was open and should have been a touchdown. Talk about a frustrating play. A week after Odoms and Threet weren't in the same zip code, these two were a top flight combination Saturday. Except for one play. And, it cost Michigan six points and an immeasurable amount of halftime momentum.
- Of course, its hard to get into a passing game groove when every week you are seemingly breaking in new receivers. A few times on Saturday, Threet needed Savoy and Clemons to come up with a big route and catch and the timing just was not there. Savoy should have been able to haul in a long catch to set up a first and goal, but he just lacked the on field saviness to do so. It will come from him, but its just too bad that in the fifth game, the new QB still needs to break in new guys, but thats what a series of injuries and unofficial suspensions will do. Mathews will be there, Odoms is getting better, but third and fourth options are not developing yet. The last time Michigan had a QB this inexperienced at this level, the targets were an all-american senior/future NFL first rounder and two others who had at least one year off all-big ten caliber production. Threet has to develop an in game rythmn with new targets every game.
- The coaches need to lose a few pages of the playbook. Specifcally the one with the option pitch. Not only are these plays going nowhere, but they're being executed carelessly and are a bad turnover waiting to happen. Other plays that need a temporary hiatus include anything thats run horizontal and takes time to develop. The blocking is not there to sustain reverses, runs wide in a single back set without a lead blockers and passes parallel or behind the line of scrimmage to targets not on the move. These plays were much less a staple of the play calling on Saturday and we actually saw arguably the offense's best game of the season. But, they were called, these plays still went nowhere and were wasted downs.
- Fourth and four at Illinois' 42-yard line with 50 seconds to go in the first half. Michigan punts the ball. Discuss.
We all knew this year would be tough. We knew the team would lose one game because it would have no idea how to execute the new offense. We knew one game would be lost because all these freshmen and first time players would crap down their leg in a turnover fest. And, because it is a Michigan tradition, we knew one game would be lost because of mind blowing defensive breakdowns. Well in the Utah, Notre Dame and Illinois games, we've seen all of those. Are those out of their system?
I am still hopeful for the rest of the season. If they come out even in the turnover department, they'll win games. I feel this offense can hum against Toledo, Purdue, Minnesota and Northestern. Only brutal turnover outcomes will get us in trouble in those games. We're in trouble against PSU and OSU (understatement of the year...well, its in the team photo) and will probably have similar defensive breakdowns in those games making it hard for the offense to go point for point anyway. That leaves Michigan State. I like the matchup and Threet can outperform Hoyer. Its clearly a must win for bowl hopes and to avoid being shutout in the rivalry games this season.
Well that sucked. I feel like a kid who just found out that Santa Claus isn't real....
I was opening up my gifts last weekend and I wasn't very excited. The first gift I opened was fruity
Christmas sweater and some of those slipper socks with the tread on the
bottom. The next gift, an ant farm. The next gift, a pet rock. I check
my stocking, a lump of coal. The next gift, a Detroit Lions sweatshirt
that is 3 sizes too small. Detroit Lions? Really Santa? And just as I
was about to point my middle finger towards the north pole, I see three
more presents behind the tree. The first one, my first 10-speed
Mongoose bike. SWEET. The second one, Tecmo Super Bowl. YES. The last
one, a brand new Red Rider BB gun. YOU FUCKING ROCK SANTA!
I ride around my neighborhood all week on my jazzy new Mongoose while
picking off any squirell that dare cross a power line under my watch.
Needless to say, I am jacked up from all of the Maize and Blue kool-aid
I had been drinking all week. So this weekend I wake up early and hurry
downstairs to see what kind of presents await me. What the hell is
this. All I see is a card. Alright, maybe it is a hundred dollar bill
or a gift card to Toys R US. I open it up, "Merry Christmas Sweetie!
Love, Mom and Dad." I run upstairs, "Mom, what the hell is going on." I
receive the earth shattering news that Santa is an imaginary character.
I also receive the news that the Tooth Ferry, Easter Bunny, and Jesus
are cut from the same cloth...but who cares, these assholes haven't
ever done shit for me. But Santa? I had become a strong believer
through just 3 gifts, but these gifts were the bomb, so I had to
believe, right? Now this week it has all come crashing down, now I
don't know what to believe. Flying Spaghetti Monster?
spectacular 2nd half come back against Wiscy left me with all the
confidence in the world that we could compete this year. And then we
come out blazing at the Big House against the Illini and my confidence
is confirmed, we really can compete for the Big Ten. Don't get me
wrong, I never thought we would win the Big Ten, but I did think that
we had a chance, a small chance, but a chance.... Not so much. Steven
Threet made me cringe and pray that John Navarre was coming out of the
locker room. The defense was Swiss cheese, allowing Illinois to score
at will... Paris Hilton thought we were easy. And then Minor, a guy I
have been lobbying for to get more carries, gets in the game and
fumbles on his first touch...Tiki Barber holds onto the ball better
than you. And now we are back to square one. We might not win one more
game in conference and the consecutive bowl streak is at serious risk.
Damn you Reality!
First off I want to rant ... There should be a law banning weddings on football Saturday. I had to go to a wedding this Saturday and I have a wedding on the Saturday of the MSU game. UNREAL!!!!
I caught the tail end of the game at the bar while we were waiting for the reception to start. I started thinking to myself a couple things. First off, the need for a different breed of player doesn't just apply to the offense. The defense has long needed an overhaul from the traditional 6-2 250 lb linebackers that run a 4.6 40 and the corners that can't stop a double move. Secondly, I started thinking back to giant reformations of quarterbacks and how they went and how long it took for that team to come back to dominance.j
I remembered USC started 2-5 in Carroll's first year, with that 5th loss being a sheer domination at the hands of an awful Notre Dame team. I remember watching that game and thinking USC might never be good again, and of course the next year they were a BCS team and the year after they started their incredible run of success.
I also remember thinking Michigan would never lose to Ohio State more than a couple times every 10 years. They always seemed "soft", and then of course they knocked John Navarre in the mouth and I don't really care to recall the rest. But that first Tressel team lost a lot of early games including a game to Illinois, I think, dont quote me on that.
I also think that this team will get better each and every game, and back at the beginning of the season I thought "Michigan will need some luck to start 3-2" and to be honest if their was a reset button Michigan could have just as easily won those games against Notre Dame and Utah. I also think that Threet will probably be next year's starter as well, so its important to rally behind him, and in a wierd way he kind of reminds me of a young Tom Brady (maybe I am being way to glass half full, but that's how I see it)
Sorry for the rambling ... more just venting ... the best is yet to come and Michigan will be dominant once again! GO BLUE
There's been a little chatter on here about Michigan needing to mixup their first down plays a little more (as if this is a new complaint - haven't Michigan fans bitched about this since the dawn of Lloyd?). Anyways, I watched the tape!
I watched every 1st down play all the way through the 3rd quarter. By the end of the 3rd Michigan was down 31-14 and obviously they were getting into hurry up mode, so they were definately moving away from their offensive game plan by then. The last offense play of the 3rd was the Shaw fumble. Someone suggested earlier that that ended the game......you might be onto something there. That particular drive was looking good. At that point Michigan was only down 24-14.
First Down Runs:
- Michigan ran on first down 17 times out of the 23 first downs in the first 3 quarters. They gained 41 yards on those runs which is 2.41 yards per attempt. Ouch. On a good note, McGuffie scored a TD on a first down run, but on a bad note the Shaw fumble was a first down run.
First Down Passes:
- To flip that coin Michigan passed on 6 out of their first 23 first downs with 4 completions. On those plays they gained 64 yards which is 10.67 per attempt. Much nicer. However, two of those plays were to Odoms for 27 yards and 24 yards each. That kind of skews the numbers. The other two were for 7 and 6 yards.
It's hard to give a definite answer on this age-old Michigan fan bitch. The fact that Michigan ran on 74% of those first downs tells you many things:
- Pehaps they were more successful passing those few times BECAUSEof all of the 1st down runs? Illinois defense was ready for the zone-read and were selling out to stop it. Those 6 passes caught them out of position and made it easier to complete a pass.
- Is it better to gain, on average, 2.41 yards on first down than to risk an incompletion, which gives you 2nd and 10 instead of 2nd and 7 or 8?
- Not only that, Threet has been wildly inaccurate thus far (under 50% competion) and at times he likes to throw the ball at A) Tacopants or B) guys wearing the other jersey. What is the risk/reward here? Obviously the coaching staff feels it is more risky to put the ball in Threet's hands on first down then to give it to McGuffie (thou shalt not fumble).
- The O-Line. As we know they are green and it shows. You're risking getting Threet killed the more you drop him back to pass. Not only that, you're looking at fumbles and sacks, too, further handicapping yourself.
- Keep in mind that Stonum and Hemingway were out yesterday. Those are your 2nd and 3rd outside receivers, by a wide margin, I think. When you are trying to stick Savoy (horrible dropped pass in the first half, BTW) and Zion Babb into Stonum and Hemingway's shoes you are asking for trouble. Imagine Chad Henne without Matthews and Arrington last year?? Not good. And he's Chad Henne for F sake!!
- Rodriguez's offense has historically been run-first, so, hey guess what? They are running first! I don't think you can blame him, he's got some good talent in McGuffie, Shaw, Minor and Grady, they just need more help from the O-Line.
Michigan's lineup has fluctuated throughout the year, and I expect that it will continue to change until Michigan plays with more consistency - which may not happen until 2009. Note: Only players who have a viable backup will be chosen to lose their jobs. For example, Threet likely will not be chosen because Sheridan has been a complete disaster.
OFFENSIVE STARTER WHO SHOULD KEEP HIS JOB
Martavious Odoms, WR/KR. Odoms was Michigan's best player on Saturday, with the exception of a late fumble on a kickoff return. Odoms had 7 catches for 129 yards (18 yard average) and 7 kick returns for 183 yards (26 yard average). He has shown the best ability to get open repeatedly, and he creates yards after the catch. He breaks a lot of tackles and runs very hard for being only 5'9" and 171 lbs. In his first action this year as a kickoff returner, he showed better acceleration and decisiveness than any other returners have shown this year.
OFFENSIVE STARTER WHO SHOULD LOSE HIS JOB
David Molk, C. This might be a little harsh, because Molk has a lot of good qualities. He is quick and strong, and he's a redshirt freshman, so there's plenty of time to improve. But Michigan's offense started to stall when Illinois started to blitz and blitz and blitz and then blitz some more. The center is the quarterback of the offensive line and needs to make the line calls, and the offensive line just didn't get the job done. Illinois hit Threet early, and you could see that he felt rushed and a little tentative later in the game. Threet actually played pretty tough and didn't get as rattled as a lot of young quarterbacks would, but any quarterback is going to get a little gun shy when he gets hit frequently. Perhaps Molk should move to guard and allow David Moosman, a redshirt junior who has been around a little longer, to slide over to the center position.
DEFENSIVE STARTER WHO SHOULD KEEP HIS JOB
Obi Ezeh, MLB. After giving up 45 points and 500+ yards in total offense, it's hard to say any defensive player should keep his job. Defensive backs blew coverages, the linebackers couldn't tackle, and the defensive linemen failed to record a single sack. Statistically, Ezeh was the biggest bright spot with 15 tackles, including 4.5 tackles for loss. He did miss a few tackles, but he's still young and looks like a heat seeking missile at times. Out of the current crop of linebackers, I actually think Ezeh would be a better fit at SAM with Thompson moving to MIKE. Thompson is practically useless as a blitzer because of his stiffness. Ezeh is quicker and more agile coming off the edge. Either way, Ezeh has been the most consistent defensive player this year.
DEFENSIVE STARTER WHO SHOULD LOSE HIS JOB
Steve Brown, FS. This category is tough, because very few players played well on Saturday. And instead of just picking on a player, I feel it's necessary to offer a viable solution. It's time for Steve Brown to lose his job. With the exception of the Wisconsin game, he has been consistently beaten in the passing game. The last straw was when Illinois running back Jason Ford beat Brown on a go route down the sideline; fortunately for Michigan fans, Juice Williams made a slightly inaccurate throw and Ford made a poor adjustment and dropped the ball. Brown consistently gets caught looking in the backfield and reacts too slowly. He has tremendous physical skills (witness him chasing down Juice Williams from behind on what looked to be a sure touchdown), but his recognition skills are poor. Charles Stewart made a poor effort on the 77-yard TD pass, but that's the first time this year that Stewart has looked bad. Redshirt freshman Michael Williams has played well on special teams. One of those guys deserves a shot at the FS position, and instead of bringing in a third safety in nickel and dime situations, Boubacar Cissoko and/or Troy Woolfolk should enter the game. Odoms got removed from the KR job for Avery Horn after the former fumbled, but Brown continues to play after allowing big play after big play. Those standards seem inconsistent.
I think last week's debut of the column did fairly well. Its not that often you sweep the board, but last week these picks went 7-0. Someone asked if it was luck or routine for me. The answer: Both. I feel I am savvy enough where I can make several awesome plays a weekend based on my capping skills, but to sweep a card of seven picks involves some luck. Like having a team overcome a 19-point deficit. Or, a team punching in two worthless TDs late in the game to nab an Over. My goal in continuing this column is not to find another undefeated card, as much as it to exceed the number of games right now that I am over .500. A 7-0 start puts a lot of cash in the pocket. My goal is to not lose that cash and maybe add a little more to it before the season is done. Lets just string some winning weeks toghether and ride it out until the end.
Today's Big 10 card does not excite me. Nothing really screams out as an obvious play, but after looking at the contests, I have found sides in all five games and two totals. I hope you like playng underdogs.
Indiana at Minnesota. Line: Minnesota -7, O/U 59.5 A key game in the drive for the Motor City Bowl takes place this afternoon when the Hoosiers and Gophers play in downtown Minneapolis. Here's a stat: In these teams last eight matchups, the winner has avaerged 41.36 points per game. In six of those games, the combined total points scored exceeded 60. Indiana has given up 40 points in consecutive games heading into this contest and has allowed over 225 yards rushing and passing in both of those games. The Gophers, meanwhile, have allowed an average of 32.65 ppg in their last 25 Big 10 games. Those numbers are trending upward with Minnesota's D giving up over 36 ppg in the last nine league tilts. It's safe to say that I expect a lot of points to be scored in this one. QBs Kellen Lewis and Adam Weber will be stat sheet stuffers today. Indiana catching points intrigues me as well. I dont think a whole lot spearates these teams. Last season, the Hoosiers were laying 14 points and won by 20. I doubt the fortunes of these teams have changed all that much where we will see a 28-point swing in the outcome. I can see either team winning, but I cant see either team stopping the other.
The Pick: Indiana +7, Over 59.5
Penn State at Purdue. Lines, Penn State -13.5, O/U 59. I hate this game. There is nothing I like about it. On one hand, you have Purdue who has a worse resume than Matt Millen. They have a senior QB who can play, but they haven't shown up for a big game it seems since Drew Brees was in town. On the other hand, you have a Penn State team that is flat out rolling and getting a lot of national love. However, The Nits are in a classic sandwich game today. They're on the road between primetime national TV showdowns. That sounds like a hard motivational chore to overcome. Its also their frst true road game in front of a hostile crowd (I dont count their trip to the Carrier Dome vs the Orange considering how bad they are and that there were more PSU fans in the building that day). I think that adds up to some trouble for Joe Pa's crew and Purdue QB Painter will make them pay for showing up flat footed. Here's a theory: Once you get to around mid season, it becomes real profitable to bet on double digit home underdogs. The problem is you find yourself betting on bad teams, so its a lot like driving on ice and never makes for comfortable gambling. I'll leave it to you if you want to play that theory blindly this season. But, I am game in this spot. Is Purdue appreciably worse than Illinois, a team that covered 14.5 last week on the road vs PSU? I say no and this large number will be hard for Penn State to hurdle. Eventually Penn State will notch the win, but they'll get a little bit of a scare from the Boilers, who are 34-26-2 ATS at home in the Tiller era.
The Pick: Purdue +13.5......and holding my nose the whole way.
Iowa at Michigan State. Line, MSU -7, O/U 46.5. Do you want another gambling theory of mine? Whenever you say, hear or read the following phrase, "Hey, if the Spartans win this one, it sets up a pretty big showdown next week," contact your local bookie and bet against Michigan State. Do whatever you have to do, but get that bet down. Stop reading this if you must. We'll wait. Sparty has this habit of not so much losing the big game, but losing the game the week before and thus tarnishing the luster of the future showdown. The question is, does a win over Iowa today, set up a huge game next week at Northwestern? In this year's Big 10, that answer is yes. I think D'Antonio will have his team focused enough to notch the win, but I dont like their chances laying points in any possible look-ahead situation. Besides, this is a tough matchup. Iowa's defensive front is active, aggressive and will hem in the powerful Ringer enough times to make Hoyer beat them. And, he wont do it enough to let the Spartans run away and hide in this one. Iowa's D is pretty good at getting sacks and MSU's receiving corps has problems with drops, so if they contain Ringer like I expect, I dont see MSU loosening things up with their aerial attack. Say what you will about Iowa's team inconsistency, but on defense they have the 20th ranked overall defense, 28th against the run and 4th in scoring. Stanzi, their QB, has actually put up better numbers than Hoyer this year and in Shonn Greene, the Hawks have a power back of their own. This will be a fun contest to watch for the battle between Ringer and the Iowa front. Iowa has a strong shot of pulling off the mild upset. And, if Sparty proves me wrong here, dont think for a second I wont chase my theory hard next week. After all, with a victory over Northwestern, a huge showdown looms the following week against Ohio State.
The Pick: Iowa +7, Under 46.5.....hey, I have won three weeks in a row taking the Under in Iowa's games. I wont get off this bandwagon until it crashes.
Illinois at Michigan. Lines, UM -2.5 O/U 49.5. Michigan beat Illinois last season in front of hostile crowd under the lights. The big key will be how will Michigan overcome the graduation of Carlos Brown who churned out over 100 critical yards last year against the Illini. Wait, whats that you say? Carlos is still on Michigan's team!?!? Hmmm. Interesting. I did not know that. So, with Carlos in tow, the suddenly smooth sailing UM offense will just march up and down the field, right? Alright, enough with the lame jokes, lets make a pick here. I have to go with Michigan. I dont get the feeling the team is resting at all on their laurels in the wake of last week's comeback. Besides, this defense wont rest until it murders someone. I love the matchup of UM's D-Line vs Illinois O-Line. Juice Williams will be under a lot more seige than he saw when he raced up and down the field against Missou and PSU earlier in the season. Michigan struggles againt the spread, but they bottled up Illinois quite well last season and defensively, they are stronger and faster now. Expect Shaffer's Okie Defense to come out firing immediately in this one to set the tone. On the other side of the ball, well, lets hope the Wolverins can extend the current 2 quarter, turnover free streak they're on. If so, I think they'll be ok in the end.
The Pick: Michigan, to win on the Moneyline, -124.......my preseason bowl projections have Michigan in the Outback. A win here was originally projected, so I wont back down on that. Its a cheap moneyline, so I'll do that rather than deal with the number. Typically, you have to wager $110 to win $100 and this is just $124 to win $100, not a big difference and worth the extra juice. Now Michigan just needs to win. I have a good feeling about this club. Maybe its the Bailey's I poured liberally in my morning coffee. Rodriguez ought to outcoach the Zooker, right!?!?
Ohio State at Wisconsin. Line, OSU -1, O/U 44. When the Big 2, Little 8 began cracking in the 1980s and parity slowly found the Big 10, each of the traditional Big 10 powers, Michigan and Ohio State, found foils in certain leagues foes that continue to this day. For the Blue, it was Hayden Fry's Iowa teams. The Bucks' foil was the Wisconsin Badgers. Since 1980, OSU is only 13-10-1 straight up against Wisco. In that time, the Bucks actually have a losing record in Madison. Dave McClain owned Earle Bruce springing famous upsets in 1981, 82 and 85, all of which kept OSU out of the Rose Bowl and the latter coming a week after the Bukcs had toppled top ranked Iowa. Cooper's teams struggled as well, losing in 1992, tying in 1993 and giving up 42 straight points at home in a 1999 drubbing. The Badgers played those powerful 1995 and 96 Buckeye teams better than anyone else (well, almost better than anyone else) en route to covers. Surely Tressel has turned the series around, right? Um, no. The Vest is 2-3 versus Bucky. The last time these teams played on this field was in 2003. It was a primetime game and OSU was the defending national champs. The Badgers won a slugfest 17-10 and OSU LB Robert Reynolds commited felonious assault. My gut tells me Wisconsin cant wait to get n the field to make amends for last week. OSU looks better with Pryor, but I think the confident/cocky kid is in for a rude Big 10 welcome tonight. I am still not sold on this year's OSU defense. Something is not right back there and thay have yet to meld into the dominant force that was expected. We're getting far enough into the season where maybe thats just the reality. Very intriguing to see how they play tonight.
The Pick: Wisco +1.......for months, I have said OSU will not run the table in Big 10 play and have circled this game as a likely loss. Tonight, I'll be sticking my money where my mouth is. Also, various books on the web are still offering lines, with steeper juice of course, showing Wisco +3. I'll probably be on one of those, but for this exercise will use the line local books are likley to use. There's no negotiating with those folks like there is on line.
So, that's my Big 10 card for the day. Three underdogs kick off at noon, so lets hope for some afternoon dramatics. No game stands out as a better bet, unlike last week where three of seven jumped out at me. If I have time before I leave for Ann Arbor, I will update this with some of my picks in other games across the country. Overall, I am on a 17-6 run in college picks since last Friday night, so hopefully I will stay hot. Good luck with whatever you play today. And, as always, Go Blue!!