fair point that
After the ClusterPunt debacle with MSU on Saturday, I continue to be in a state of suspended disbelief regarding UM's ranking at #2 as per the S&P+ composite numbers. What's also interesting to note, beside the smattering of teams with 2 and 3 losses in the top 25, is that the upper echelon which U-M shares with Clemson, is separated by about 2.5 points from the next level shared by Alabama & Baylor. The total separation across the top 10 is about one TD, and 2 TD's across the top 25.
Along those lines, Bill Connelly has once again updated the Adv. Stats Profile for Michigan, which of course features a win probability for each of the remaining games. So given that, here's an updated look at the Total Wins Probability distribution:
Mr. Obvious: "WTF! Where's the bell-shaped curve?"
Mr. Smarty-pants: "Dude, it's a Poisson Binomial random process. Take a stats class."
Bill Connelly's model continues to be stoked on that high-octane MaizenBrew Cool-Aid. I'd suspected that UM's statistical profile is some sort of outlier and some regression toward the mean might be anticipated after future games - especially after a loss that saw the defense gouged by Connor Cook, but trying to noodle thing through, the defense allowed only 21 points to MSU's top 40 offense, which is still much better than average, and that gets effectively averaged with the other 6 games. That said, it would seem that U-M's defense is well-established at the so-called "elite" level, and it will take significant and protracted poor performance to revert from that. Same principal would also apply to the offense, I think. Pretty well established at the top 50-ish range.
Oh, and here are the individual game numbers that went into it:
Win Opponent Probability ---------------+------------ at Minnesota 87% Rutgers 98% at Indiana 88% at Penn State 76% Ohio State 71%
The likelihood of beating OSU has declined from 82% last week to 71% now. Sound familiar? OSU once again is taking half a season to remember how to play football while practicing with tomato cans, but will probably have things in order by the time Sparty comes to town, which is good for U-M, because U-M needs OSU to be undefeated when they roll into Ann Arbor.
Mr. Obvious: "That means I'll have to pull for OSU. Maybe I'll just take the Missus out for brunch at the Museum that day."
"The enemy of my enemy is my friend."
- Sanskrit proverb, ~400 B.C.
So just to get a complete picture of how all of these probabilities impact conference standings and prospects for U-M to win a B1G Championship, here you go:
|* head-to-head tie break winner|
Given that U-M is expected to win each of its remaining games, including OSU, and MSU is also expected to lose to OSU and at Nebraska, that would make U-M the B1G East champion. U-M would also be favored to beat Iowa in that neutral site matchup.
edit: corrections included
Well, college hockey in the B1G kicked off for real this weekend. Much like last year, it looks like the B1G is going to struggle with national prominence. First the results:
Saturday, October 10, 2015
- Michigan State 4 @ Lake Superior 1
- Northern Michigan 3 @ Wisconsin 3 OT
- Ohio State 0 @ Bowling Green 2
- Penn State 6 @ Canisius 1
- Vermont 3 @ Minnesota 0
Friday, October 16, 2015
- Mercyhurst 4 @ Michigan 6
- Michigan State 2 @ Denver 4
- Miami 3 @ Ohio State 2
- Notre Dame 7 @ Penn State 4
- Minnesota-Duluth 3 @ Minnesota 1
- Wisconsin 0 @ Boston College 6
Saturday, October 17, 2015
- Michigan State 0 @ Denver 3
- Notre Dame 3 @ Penn State 5
- Ohio State 1 @ Miami 3
- Minnesota 0 @ Minnesota-Duluth 3
- Wisconsin 1 @ Boston University 4
Sunday, October 18, 2015
- Mercyhurst 2 @ Michigan 3
- Two weeks into the season, only Michigan and Penn St have shown signs of life. Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Ohio St are all winless, with all three looking like they're going to have issues this year-- Minnesota with replacing goaltending and upper class talent; Wisconsin with avoiding a death spiral of ineffective recruiting & player development, coupled with a HC on the hot seat; Ohio St being Ohio St hockey. Michigan St only has a win against Lake St with two uncompetitive losses to Denver. Hildebrand's looking vulnerable in addition to the usual MSU lack of offensive firepower. All the bad results from Minn, Wiscy, and OSU being OOC losses to NCHC teams will kill us down the road in strength of schedule calculations.
- That being said, Penn St looks good in context. A split with ND is a respectable showing, and considering their trajectory, this could be a leap year for the Nittany Lions. They have scoring (their PP looks legit), but their goaltending may be a liability. I need to watch them more in person.
- Michigan will probably not have a problem scoring goals (again), but uncertain goaltending and a loose defense will be issues (again). I've seen 2 of the 3 games Michigan has played this year so far in person, and here's to hoping Nagelvoort takes the job and runs with it, because Racine did not look good. I will say that encouraging signs are Nieves seems ready to make a big leap, and the passing against Mercyhurst was much improved over what I'd seen in the past two years.
Early season bottom line
- If you asked me to call it now, I'd say this is going to be a 2 team race for the conference title between us and Penn St, and if we get competent goaltending, Michigan could run away with it.
- I'd be suprised if B1G gets two teams in the NCAA tourney, with the exception of Michigan winning the conference by a large margin, and then a Cinderella team wins the conference tourney. If it's a close 2 team race between Michigan and Penn St for the conference, unless both teams only have losses to each other in conference, it's probably a one bid league.
- In a "damn it" realization, I think it's safe to say the NCHC got the better of the CCHA dissolution, probably even long term. Every single one of their teams except for Western Michigan and St Cloud St have established themselves as national level programs now. Maybe NoDak takes a step back if the coaching loss really was that big, but they're still prominent enough they can absorb a couple down years and regain status fairly fast.
- Hate to say this, but the next two weeks are probably make-or-break for Michigan's at-large dreams. Sweep #11 Union, RPI, and Robert Morris from now through Halloween, Michigan can probably split the BU and still be OK. Lose two of the next four, we may need a Boston sweep to keep at-large dreams alive. Such is life when you're in such a sucky conference.
So MSU may have won the game - I use the term "won" loosely in this context - but as the advanced statistical analyses continue to bear out, MSU STILL SUCKS! So, big deal, you think, they still beat us, and all hope is lost for a B1G Title and any prayer for CFBC invitation. Well, as Corso might say, "Not so fast, my friend!" So without further adieu, here's this week's Advanced Stats Schedule Rundown:
Interesting things to note:
- So quite unremarkably (but I'll remark anyway) MSU would still by an underdog if the game were to be played again. Except, if it were in East Lansing, then Sparty would be a +0.5 point favorite on the FPI scale. S&P+ still loves the beloved Maize'n'Blue. Thus, MSU still sucks, dumb-ass lucky winners that they may be.
- U-M's position in the rankings improved from #3 to #2, maintaining it's hold on the #1 S&P+ Defense ranking, and sliding from #46 to #50 on Offense.
- OSU is now a 2 point favorite on the FPI scale, but U-M is a 9 point favorite vs. OSU on the S&P+ scale.
- Not readily apparent from the chart ... but Iowa remains the favorite to win out in the West, and will in all likelihood be 12-0 going into the B1G Championship game, so I'm including them as a 13th game, in which U-M would be favored should they be not un-lucky enough to make it there.
The bottom line is that U-M is in good position to win it's games between now and when OSU rolls into town, and even now, U-M is poised to make it a very competitive matchup.
Please refer to the week 6 diary for additional external sources & references, as well as how to interpret the color scheme if it's not completely intuitive for you.
This is my weekly feature to look back at summer previews, get egg on my face, look over what Michigan did, and then project the rest of the year as we get more real time data. Last week's taking stock report can be found here.
Prelude: I did season previews on most UM opponents - I skipped UNLV, Indiana and Rutgers out of boredom, and OSU out of fear. The rest are below
Dear readers - the deeper we go into the season the more off my summer views will become as naturally teams will evolve from what we thought they would be and injuries happen.
[Sparty photo would usually go here but screw you Sparty]
So let's see how I did with MSU this summer ... I began the preview with:
[I don't want to talk about it]
And ended with:
[Still don't want to talk about it]
These were my views of the unit matchups this summer:
[No, still not going to talk about it]
At the end of last week's preview...with a lot more data about MSU I wrote this:
It's rivalry week. Dantonio is in a sour mood and scowling. Wait, that's every week. He is feeling disrespect even as his overrated team stays ranked 4th in the coaches poll with a 1st place vote (thanks Narduzzi!). This is a team that is a few plays away from being 3-3 with losses to a bad Oregon, an awful Purdue, and a below average Rutgers. But the gods of football still seem to love MSU.
Despite a S&P+ offense and defense rank almost identical to Nebraska the team is 6-0. They've played 4 of the worst defenses in the land and 2 other meh ones.
That said it's rivalry week and when Bobby Williams is not coaching it still matters. There is still some prime time talent scattered across their lineup and aside from the Central Michigan rivalry this week consumes all of MSU's time. They have one of the 2 best QBs UM will face this year. MSU finally decided to ride him - out of need - last week.
Let's take a look at the trenches. MSU has two NFL calibar lineman in C Jack Allen and LT Jack Conklin. Conklin has been out two weeks but was reportedly practicing all last week but held out vs Rutgers. "Practicing" can mean anything so we'll see - one assumes he plays. Allen was healthy all year until the last drive of the Rutgers game when some DL dude rolled on his ankle from behind. It did not look good. The other tackle Kodi Kieler came back from injury to play vs Rutgers but did not look his normal self either. Certainly not 100%. So those are both your tackles and your All American center in some form of pain. UM has a good DL. A very good DL. This matchup is key. Cook rarely faces pressure so if UM can get pressure without bringing the house constantly ala Rutgers it will be a big advantage. A month ago this looked like a stalemate - MSU's offensive strength against UM's defensive strength. Now it looks advantage UM. I want to see ALL OF THE grass stains on Cook's uniform. And I want to see a untouched Delano Hill arriving on a safety blitz to exchange an early Christmas wish to Connor.
On the other side of the ball this still looks like a MSU advantage in terms of MSU DL v UM OL. Both units look healthy. The one area MSU's DL has been a bit off this year is in rush defense - some blown assignements have led to a few big runs each game. It would be nice if UM could exploit that. The pass protect for UM has to be the best of the year because MSU has a very good pass rush. How Jake reacts to this in terms of making smart decisions is another key.
Looking at other parts of the teams - this is the best passing O UM will be facing until OSU. (yes better than BYU) While Burbridge is not Lippett level he is good. J Lewis - stay on him all game. That's Cook's go to man. How Stribling and Clark do vs the Kings and Sheltons of the world will be important. Josiah Price, MSU's very good TE has been hurt but most expect him back for this week so sad ghost of Bolden's pass coverage skills vs Josiah Price will probably cause some pain. But if we can limit those 12 yard gains to 12 and not 28 it will be nice. I'd prefer Ross covering Price myself but not an option for a half. Paul Lang and Jamal Lyles are other TEs to watch.
LJ Scott is looking like a beast mode running back early in his freshman year but is dinged up a bit. Gun slinger Delton Williams will probably play quite a bit too now that his "disciplinary redshirt" suddenly no longer matters. MSU has not faced a rush D anywhere near this. UM must dominate MSU's rush offense and make the unit 1 dimensional. "We have the technology".
On defense MSU rolls out its normal variety of good linebackers including the 28,737th Bullough. MSU's back 4 is currently LOL mode. Can Rudock take advantage? He must.
Overall MSU's D is not as good as prior versions but the front 7 is still very very good. They are still a havoc defense which makes a lot of big plays. Excellent at creating fumbles and interceptions. But a lot more suspectible to big plays thru the air vs even average offenses (in the past it was only good offenses who could do that to them). They will get pressure, they will cause stress - but they have holes.
Last, special teams folks. Holy advantage batman. The FG kicker is a basket case. They have one of the biggest legged punters in the country who can boom 50 yarders on the regular but they still only net 35 yds on ave in punting because the coverage is a sick joke. Peppers can begin to cement his legend if he can pull a Breaston in this game. Kickoff returns should also be an adventure - pick your poison, Chesson or Pep.
Based on S&P+, MSU is basically Nebraska who will treat this game as their Super Bowl. (FEI seems to like MSU much more than S&P+ thus far however) Obviously MSU is far superior than Nebraska at QB. But they have been relying on playing bad teams, and causing lots of turnovers to cover up other mistakes.
If you don't give MSU those turnovers, you don't have to do special things on offense - just be efficient and let the defense battle it out with MSU's O. Let the special teams win their battles. The team who rushes better and has less turnovers almost always wins these battles. So let's be good at those things and restart the 50+ year inferiority complex. Also, home field advantage - yes it matters when teams are pretty evenly matched and it's a bunch of 18-23 year olds living on emotion. Michigan Stadium should be the loudest it has been in a decade if the home team is doing their thing.
Last, UM has been treated like sh** in this rivalry for half a decade+, and esp the past 24 months. Yes MSU will bring emotion as this is the only game that matters to them, but damnit UM should have emotion filtering out of every orifice with Harbaugh's foot in their collective asses. We've been embarrassed for 2 years in a row - it must end.
I thought with the injuries to Allen, Conklin and Kieler and our DL line showing very well this had turned from a stalemate to advantage UM. It did not. I was reluctantly impressed as hell with what MSU did with various forms of injury on their lines. Jack Allen 2015 is David Molk 2011. Huge loss for MSU. I dont know how injured Conklin was and neither do you but he was out a few weeks and had to be rusty to a degree. He stymied us. No surprise - he stymied Joey Bosa and Randy Gregory last year and we don't have an end of that caliber. But I thought 80% Conklin would give us a chance. Kieler came into the game hurt (looked awful last week vs Rutgers), got hurt again early, and according to some was pulled late - I read on the last drive Henry was going vs a backup tackle and hence the pressure he created. I don't know but this was in bronxblue's diary. If so it shows the dropoff from an not 100% Kieler to their 4th tackle (their 3rd tackle FInley is out for the year with a broken leg). I was a bit discouraged on what I saw here - realizing we are playing a lot of 300 lb guys at ends and RJS is a 2nd game starter but if that is what we could do vs a banged up line with a guard playing center I would not have liked to see what we would have done vs a healthy MSU line. Cook was pressured some but not like he was v Rutgers and that was disappointing. More on this later in the piece. The DL did do great in run defense.
On the other side of the ball I felt their DL had their way with our OL a lot. Coming into the game the question was how far our OL had progressed since the Utah game since that was the only similar DL Michigan has faced. The answer is not much in my mind. Aside from 1 fullback run there were not many holes to be had and it was a typical bang your head into the wall type of game vs MSU's run D. This was supposed to be the year we could break off multiple decent runs as MSU's run D had holes. Not so much. So run blocking was a negative. Pass blocking was ok, not great. I felt Magnuson was eaten up by Calhoun but we'll see the UFR. McDowell was in beast bode. Thomas was the 2nd leading tackler for MSU which is pretty rare for a defensive linemen. Only Heath was not noticable constantly on that line and that is pretty normal for him - he is more of a space eater type.
Cook was Cook - not completing a high % of passes but throwing a lot of darts when it mattered. It was frustrating in the fact there was literally one weapon all game for MSU and that one weapon was enough. * I said we had to make MSU 1 dimensional - we did. And still not a win... damnit.
*well not enough... but based on final score, enough.
The other weapon I feared - Price - seemed to barely play. And MSU could not run. So it was basically Cook and Burbridge for nearly the entire offense. Shelton and Kings had some yards but thankfully Kings dropped 2 that could have hurt us badly.
Special teams? Well as expected UM dominated. Until the last play. But aside from Peppers, O'Neil may have been MVP of this game so not sure how anyone can hate on him. He changed field position constantly, he pinned MSUs offense constantly. On his first punt he had an 80 yards. MSu promptly had a 16 play, 70 yd drive. If Blake had kicked a 50 yard punt that would have been a TD for MSU instead of a failed 4th down attempt. So he made a huge difference all game mostly pro and one con.
One Week Only Feelingsball Section
Like many I have had personal experiences with games like this. Do they happen to UM more often than others? It sure seems like it. I was at the Colorado game as a student and that was the only similar situation I can think in terms of a complete 180 degree change in belief, attitude, emotion, everything. The Chris Webber TO was a moment but not a moment at 0:00. App State had been building all game. Various and sundry other WTF moments had buildups. This and Colorado were instant and final.
I remember walking out of the stadium to this day vs Colorado and never hearing Ann Arbor so quiet. It was like the air had been taken out of the....air. I can only imagine the pain of that this past Saturday for our fans when that emotion was combined with a material amount of Spartan fans in AA that had to be off their rockers with their stupid go green go white chants. That was not something we had to deal with post Colorado. And no decades of hatred built up. This was a dong punch of the highest order based on who did it, and how it happend, and the conditions (Harbaugh was finally going to take out Dantonio!) and the recent history and how UM entered the game on fire, and how MSU stumbled in. #*$()$*#()$&*(*#)$*(# 0.2% chance. MSU is a fucking zombie - ESPN showed they now have 3 of the 5 wins with the lowest end of game probability (with this game being the lowest) in the past decade.
If this happens vs Iowa, Wisconsin, even Penn State it's just a hateful act by the football gods. But MSU? At my age I will be subjected to this every single f**king year from here on out til death in October during the build up to the game. And it's all about me in the end, amiright?! Not to mention the having to deal with the smugness another 364 days among the local populace, and knowing that our seniors only leave UM with 1 win vs MSU in their career, or knowing the Dantonio statue to be built in 2023 in EL will now be 12 feet tall rather than 9 feet tall. (more room to vandalize I guess)
And no I don't want to hear the rationalization - all the things we are rationalizing about could also be rationalized about with a WIN under our belt. @#@*#()*&@#*(@*
A Look at Michigan
This was a bit of a tough game to analyze because the special teams advantage was so damn stark it sort of threw a lot of other stats for a loop. That said I am not so sanguine about our offense as others have been. Was it "good enough" to win? Yes vs a Sparty team with horrendous special teams which gave us so much good field position. But for a team starting TWO DAMN FRESHMAN SAFETIES, missing their star linebacker, and a nobody at the other corner (UM equivalent of Ty Kinnel at safety spot #1, Ty Kinnel at safety spot #2 and Terry Richardson as one of the corners) it was below par.
I am going to spend time this week looking at the offense as a whole rather than just individual parts as I usually do because there is some telling data in there.
Michigan had 230 yards of offense. At home. Purdue - a complete garbage program - had 301 yards vs MSU. In East Lansing.
Rutgers had 349 yds vs MSU. Taking out Leonte Carroo and Rutgers still had 215 yards vs MSU. Or only 15 less than UM at full strength.
Not good. Not good at all.
Was 230 yards technically enough to win? Yes. But it would have papered over a mediocre performance. And a more competent offensive performance would have led to that last drive for MSU meaning nothing as well as the last play. I blame the offense not Blake O'Neil for the eventual outcome.
Rudock is Rudock - not going to beat a dead horse. Rudock was ok in a vacuum. 15/25 for 168 yds, 6.7 ypa. No turnovers. But this was not a vacuum. This was a horrific secondary that had TWO DAMN FRESHMAN SAFETIES and a LOL corner in Colquhoun across from the solid Demetrious Cox. Carroo made Colquhoun his personal b**** last week. This was a secondary ripe for the picking. But our QB could only do his normal 8 yard patterns and hope for YAC. He missed Chesson yet again for a play that changes this entire game. That was a missed TD. Outside of the deep ball (which we now assume miss) there were very few intermediate throws that you attempt against TWO DAMN FRESHMAN SAFETIES AND A LOL CORNER.
Where was Jake Butt? I saw 1 drive we went to him twice and Reschke played tight defense and denied the pass. But that was all we were going to try? I got ripped for saying Reschke is Bolden level last week but apparently we were so fearful of him we could not try throwing to our All Big 10 TE more than 3x this game. How does an offense built on TEs do so little with them all game? 3 completions to TE in a Harbaugh offense? Give that one to Dantonio and staff - they took away our bread and butter. We couldn't run, we couldn't pass to our TEs - so what does that leave the UM 2015 offense vs a real defense?
We had 12 drives not incl the last one and 6 were 3 and outs (50%). Two others were 4 or 5 plays that led to field goals only due to amazing field position (Spartan 48 and Spartan 28 yard line respectively). The 4 play drive was all of 8 yards. So 8 of our 12 drives (75%) did nearly nothing in TOP, yards, production but we generated 6 pts out of it thanks to Peppers giving great field position. Did I mention this was against a defense with TWO FRESHMAN SAFETIES AND A LOL CORNER AND MISSING ITS BEST LB? I was told MSU's D took a big step back this year on the blogosphere. Hmph.
There were 2 material drives on offense, one a 8 play 72 yarder that we badly needed immediately after MSU's 16 play drive. That was great. Then a 10 play, 62 yarder that led to a field goal. Sufficient. But that was it in terms of moving the ball > 40 yds on a "deficient MSU defense". The other TD drive was again on a short drive that started on MSU's 38 yard line.
The offense was given amazing field position all game and mostly derped it away. 2 serious drives (>40 yds) in 60 minutes of football.
On the plus side Kenny Allen is a boss. As is Jabrill Peppers.
Speaking of Pep, he was the only guy who looked gamebreaking in any fashion on offense. Which says a lot about our offense. What the hell was Hoke doing with his offensive recruiting all these years. And speaking to this staff where was the creativity? You save that cool double fake pass for BYU but have nothing ready for MSU other than "we are going to run the same damn plays but with Peppers in them." Again, if we had won no one would say these things but there was such a conservatism out there it boggled. Don't you practice 6-8 plays from August that are run for no one but MSU and OSU? I didn't see them. The 1st half BYU game plan was more dynamic IMO.
Offensive nexis is QB and OL. We've talked enough about QB to know what he is. That OL though - I expected better. Not a lot better but better. Both teams stymied the others run game - not unexpected. Pass protect I did not like our production. Maybe I should not have been surprised - Football outsiders shows UM's OL as 86th ranked in the country. That is a big drop from 2014 and surprised me; I only noticed because someone had written it in a post game message.
We ran 61 plays in total. 7 resulted in TFL (11%), 3 resulted in sacks (5%). Our 29 non Rudock non O'Neil rushes led to 87 yds, or 3 per. Again.... Rutgers and Purdue did better. (both had a bigger run than Houma's to be fair to boost their average). Take out #Houmatime run and it was 2.1 per attempt. Bad.
Again play calling. I didn't get it in the run game. Multiple runs of Deveon Smith to the short side of the field WIDE?? That dude is not a lateral runner vs slow defenses forget MSU's. Then you take our entire team and their entire team to the short side of the field to boot? Boggling. Sorry - Drevno and Harbaugh are not above questioning the next 10 years or however long they stay and this I question. Houma's run was down the gut and while you usually don't get much in the run game with our personnel we were not going to beat MSU to the edges in the run game.
Forgetting the stats the eye test just showed Calhoun and McDowell - and to a degree Thomas impacting the line of scrimmage repeatedly. There are not more excuses with this OL due to age, experience, or coaching. They have it all in spades and needed to be better. And yes MSU's DL is very good but our OL has to be better vs teams with 4 stars on them vs the bevy of 3 stars from the Northwesterns and Minnesotas.
Switching over to the defense it was solid. Didn't get nearly the same 3 and out production MSU did but MSU has a better QB which changes everything. Good enough to win with a better offense. *
MSU had 5 drives of >40 yds and 1 of those was the drive with the FB play so lets's call it 4 sustained drives out of 12 (I didnt count their end of half drive deep in their zone as a drive, as it was drive #13). MSU had 2 other drives that had quite a few plays (6 plays and 9 plays) but didn't get more than 30 yards. I thought MSU would get 20-24 pts and that is basically where they were before DOOM happened.
I assumed we'd stymie them in the run game and we mostly did. LJ Scott was mostly contained. Holmes did most of the damage but even his damage was not serious. Take out Cook's negative yards and MSU had 81 yds on 29 carries or 2.7 per. Their biggest run was 11 yards so that was not boosted by 1 big run in anyway. You can win with that run defense.
Pass rush disappointed me considering the patchwork state of the MSU OL. UM's OL was ranked 86th by Football outsiders but MSU's was ranked 88th. So more was needed.
Henry went off late but outside of his 2 sacks on the last drive it was 7 TFL and 1 sack for UM's D - again solid but the eye test for pressure consistently did not show up to me. And MSU had 72 plays to UM's 61. So 11 more opportunities to get a sack or TFL for our D. It wasn't a bad performance by the DL in any fashion - I just thought we'd get more pressure. And I disagreed with the philosophy again of mostly playing prevent. Rutgers blitzed Cook non stop (with 6 or 7) for 3 quarters and made him pay mostly. They went to prevent defense in the 3rd quarter and Cook picked them apart and MSU scored 14 pts. We decided to mostly follow the 3rd quarter Rutgers strategy. Didn't agree with that. Didn't need to send 6-7 guys in like Rutgers but send an extra safety or LB more often so Cook had to wonder where the extra guy would come from. Almost every time we blitzed it was a success for UM. Again, as with EVERYTHING in this game if we had won no one cares about these things but they were things that may have changed the complexion of the game. Cook is not a high % guy to begin - you take away .5 seconds from him with an extra blitzer to find Burbdridge and some of those drives stall earlier.
Lewis was fine. Burbridge is good and he has a QB who can deliver him the ball. I believe he was targeted 17x (19x?) and had 9 catches so that is about a 50/50 split. Again if we had more pash rush more consistently in this game vs that banged up OL maybe some of those passes are not delivered so well and Lewis has a pick or something to change the game. Kings saved our bacon with 2 key drops.
Special teams were great and took advantage of some horrid units by MSU. Which is why the last play was so frigging ironic.
Speaking of that last play and I won't speak much of it ever again, after I watched on replay for the Nth time it simply would never happen again if replayed 1000 times. The angle O'Neil was when hit, where the ball bounced (exactly into a MSU players hand), the fact the ball did not pop up in the air allowing UM guys to recover backwards, the fact it did not hit the ground and do strange bounces that footballs are famous for, the fact it didnt squirt out shorter (near O'Neil) or farther (nearer to the sideline). I mean if this was a movie they'd send it back to script writing to make it more believable. #@*()*@)(#*@)*#@()#*
Special Ref section
I'm not usually a guy to pile on refs but this was one of the worst ref jobs I've seen. Mostly towards UM but even some of the calls towards MSU were bad too. It stains the Big 10 if that is their best crew. Even more boggling were some of these calls stood (or were reversed) after yet another pair of eyes in the review booth had time to look at them.
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY (DOD!) RANKINGS
Basing games on WHEN they are played and WHERE this was my general view on degree of difficulty for each opponent coming into the year and adjusted weekly, Again this is not how good the team is in a vacuum but how they match up vs UM.
|Week 7||Week 6||Week 5||Week 4|
|11||Oregon State||Oregon State||Oregon State||Oregon State|
|Week 2||Week 1||Preseason|
|11||Oregon State||Oregon State||Oregon State|
- BYU (+1) - BYU was down 17-3 early and then 24-17 late, but scored 21 unanswered late in the game to win vs a mediocre Cincinnati. This is not so much about BYU as it is about Northwestern being a fraud. Mangum had a decent game. BYU pass D is still sort of LOL-y but they are a decent fringe top 25-35 team when all is said and done due to that offense and a decent rush D.
- PSU (+1) - I think this remains a trouble game for UM despite PSU's issues and I think UM fanbase will go into this game overconfident of a win. Matchup problems abound for our offense vs their defense - and this has the potential to be a #M00P game. On paper it looked like OSU blew out PSU but that game was 21-10 entering the 4th and Urban had to change his offense to get real production vs PSU's very good D. OSU changed from a relatively conventional offense with Cardale to a pure spread option late in the game with JT. Must be nice to be able to change your entire offense on the fly like that. A defense can only prepare for so much. JT Barrett went off 102 yds on 11 carries, much of it late (and 4/4 passing). UM does not run a spread rush offense and UM does not have a playmaker at QB. We also don't have Elliott at running back. This is going to be tough for UM's O. Quality of compeition caveats apply but PSUs D was not suddenly good overnight - they were excellent last year too and returned most of the same players. Post OSU, PSU still had the #10 passing defense in terms of yards allowed, and the #45 rushing defense. Those are better stats than MSU had. They are opportunistic and wont be playing a bunch of nobodies in the secondary. They have recovered 8 fumbles, good for #4 in the country. They have some demons on the DL in Zettel, Johnson, and Nassib. I worry about our OL greatly in this game. Also Saquon Barkley returned from injury and the freshman is cementing himself as the real deal. He rushed for 194 yds on 26 carries vs a decent rush D. So apparently high ranked running backs can make immediate impact and be everything their rankings imply. Just not at UM post Hart. Thisprojects to a slugfest under the lights. Thankfully Hack is no Cook. He was pretty crappy yet again (7/13 for 120 yds). No idea how you only have him throw 13x in a game you were behind most of the game - that's called distrust. He did get sacked a lot as OSU has a good DL too.
- Indiana (+1) - We are all Hoosiers this coming week. Indiana lost a Big 12ish game 55-52. If you want 2 outfits that don't play defense Indiana and Rutgers would be the 2 that come to mind. Indiana's normal RB did not play but it did not matter - this is Rutgers. Sudfeld went Sudfeld: 32/42 for 464 yds and 4 TDs but 2 INTs. I moved Indiana up because this is a road game and Indiana is going to get points so there is some danger. Also because Minnesota. I expect Michigan to get a lot of points too... as this is Indiana's defense. But who knows, some wacky plays on special teams or turnovers and you could find yourself in a weird situation.
- Northwestern (-2) - Well these first week results for Minn and NW have to be proven to be nothing more than misleading data. Your "top 5" defense just gave up 88 pts to two mediocre offenses Northwestern. No soup for you. We knew their offense was meh but that defense was supposed to keep them in games. Iowa is solid but not this solid - Wisconsin stymied Iowa's offense all day a few weeks back. Beathard didnt even have a big day - some dude named Akrum Wadley (all of 185 lbs) went off for 200+ yds on 26 carries. Justin Jackson was shockingly stymied for a 2nd week in a row (10 carries for 30 yards) and that is the extent of NW's offense. So that was essentially Iowa's "big test" on the remainder of their schedule. See you in Indianapolis Iowa.
- Minn (-1) - Boy that close game vs TCU seems ages ago. Now to be fair Nebraska is not as bad as their record indicated. I think they've lost on last second drives 3x this year and their 4 losses have been by a combined 11 pts. But they are just mediocre. This was 31-14 Neb going into the 4th before Minn unleashed the Leidner. Leidner actually played well for uhh the 3rd time in his career? 26/40 for 300 yds but Nebraska's pass D has a lot to be desired. And asking Mitch to do that 2x in a row would be like asking for a miracle. Neb completely destroyed Minn's rush offense and I am sure Leidner was playing against bend dont break defenses late. We will destroy their run offense too. Not worried.
- OSU - Same thing as every week. Best ceiling in conf, going through a litany of motions until MSU and @UM to close out the year. I'll talked about the OSU v PSU matchup above.
- Utah - After a scare last week, Utah was behind going into the 4th quarter vs Arizona State ... then went off for 20 pts. One of those ASU scores was on special teams so that Utah D continues to do nice things. And the offense has some explosion to it. Travis Wilson had himself a game (26/36. 297, 8.2 ave. 2 TD, 0 INT). Also helping Utah is their close game vs Utah State looks better in retrospect as Utah State dismantled ranked Boise State.
- MSU - Null. Please Indiana take out these fools.
- Maryland - I thought Maryland handled their bye well. No INTs were thrown.
- Rutgers - Laviano is proving to be a decent QB and Carroo is a good player. But before you get all hot and bothered by Rutgers, this was vs Indiana and their HS defense. Also, Indiana was leading 52-27 deep in the 3rd quarter. But then Indiana Indiana'd. Indiana had three turnovers in the 4th. It was a wacky game. I expect Rutgers to get a busted play or two against our secondary with Carroo but that is the extent of the offense against legit defenses. Their D has a playmaker on the DL and then a bunch of non playmakers everywhere else. IDK - maybe they are better than Maryland but again that was a road game and this is a home game - splitting hairs on who is less crappy.
- Oregon State - Washington State has a pathetic D and let OSU score 31 pts. But WSU scored 52 on OSU. Seth Collins was the whole show - he not only was throwing but he ran 23x for 124 yds. Based on his body size he might not make it to the end of the year. And again this was Washington State defense which is Indiana level.
- UNLV - UNLV lost to former 1-5 Fresno State. They continue to suck and without their 1st string QB don't offer much in resistance.
Well all year in this section I wrote "what worries me about 2015 is any team with a viable passing attack and can do explosive plays." So we saw that this weekend and even then it was something we could have overcome. But didn't. This was frustrating.
UM is not a playoff team but maybe could have snuck in off momentum of this win. If you put a playmaking QB on this team, teams have to respect the run a bit, and our ok OL might not have these issues vs more stout DL and our run game could get going more. And I think it could be a legit playoff team even with current issues - every team has some issues. But watching other games and their explosive offensive players, then watching Peppers be able to do it, and then watch every other skill player we have - it makes me wonder what Hoke was doing in offensive skill player recruiting. The "young guys" have also not contributed much at all this year - the Ways, Harris', Canteens (hurt often).
I've noted the run game has been helped by "1 big run" most of the weeks we do this so the stats have been misleading. This was apparent this week. It's not a top notch run offense. And I expect it to be apparent vs PSU. Not so much an issue vs Minn, Indiana, Rutgers. OSU I don't know yet - they will stack the line like everyone else and dare us to go over the top. Which we can't.
9 wins is still plausible but challenges await vs OSU ... and then PSU and Indiana for varied reasons. Minn and Rutgers will get UM bowl eligible and then some.
Still "ahead of schedule" vs where some of us thought 2 months ago but you change your schedule based on what you have. The D is a bit less elite than thought (missing a pass rush threat from the edge ala Calhoun or Bosa or Nassib) but good enough vs 90% of the teams in the country. And certainly most teams in the Big 10. But they simply need more help from the offense when they play serious teams (Utah, OSU, MSU).
I do also want to say when we look back on this offense in 5 years we are going to be shaking our head on what Harbaugh did with the team (I hope we are saying that about a 9-3 team). Its an average OL with ok running backs, and ok wide receivers and an ok QB. Butt is the one non ok player and even he has been marginalized a bit the past month as teams see that and take it away. The sum is greater than the parts - which points to coaching. But the overall talent level lacks and that is shown when playing these better defenses (Utah, MSU).
Then inflict pain on Minnesota which is a poor man's Northwestern with an offense built for UM to destroy.
I received this from ex-lawyer now novelist Jon Rowe. He lives in Kona but is a UM and Stanford grad. A UM fan.
1. 1982, The Stanford Band game. Jack London famously said there are only three archetypal plots: Man against Nature, Man against Man, and Man against Himself. But that's just because Jack London never saw the Stanford Band in action. Even Stanford's then-recently-departed brilliant Head Ball Coach Bill Walsh could not have drawn up a special teams play to stop that 1982 Cal last-second kick runback in the "Big Game," given that Stanford's Eleven were up against not only Cal's eleven special teamers, AND Nature, AND themselves -- but Stanford was also up against the entire badly-dressed horn section of the Stanford Band. Not since Thermopylae have such valiant defenders been so badly outnumbered.
2. 1993, Leon Lett's "Muff." This one was straight out of Greek Tragedy. Up 14-13 with less than 10 seconds to play, Dallas's Heraclean Leon Lett rose up like a Pillar of Stone, and swatted Miami's pathetically mortal FG attempt to the ground -- arguably not as hard as stealing the girdle of the Amazon Queen, or gashing your eyes out after learning you've married your mother, but still, no easy feat for mortal man -- yet instead of just letting the dead ball lie on the frozen tundra and heading for the presser, all-too-mortal Leon Lett attempted to "recover" the dead ball (a recovery which would have served no purpose in the game), yet unfortunately Leon slipped on the snowy field just after fatally touching the ball, thereby transforming his brilliant apparent game-saving block into a "muff" which Miami recovered and, after sagely calling timeout with three ticks let, Miami kicked the game-winning FG. Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory ...
3. 2013, Auburn returning Bama's missed FG. This classic meltdown had more of a Biblical feel. Last play, game tied, Bama's on Auburn's 41, the normal call is a "Hail Mary" (a football term coined after uber-religious Roger Staubach claimed he "said a Hail Mary" just before heaving an improbable 1975 last-play game-winning bomb for the Cowboys, who preferred then, as now, to be called 'God's Team'); but in 2013, Nicky Saban, after consulting the Oracle that presumably resides somewhere within the four national championship rings cluttering his fingers, decided to attempt a 58-yard FG. Like a college kicker is going to hit a 58-yarder? Yeah, right. But what I really liked about this play, besides Nicky looking like a Fool, is that Gus Mahlzan was so QUICK to send in his best returner in, to field what he knew would be a short FG attempt, and then send that swift messenger out against Bama's FG team -- i.e., Bama's worst tacklers -- to deliver the Biblical Bad News straight to Nicky: Pride Goeth before the Fall.
4. 1999 Baylor v UNLV. Speaking of "pride goeth before the fall," in 1999 Baylor was up 24-21 on UNLV, Baylor had the ball on UNLV's one-yard-line, and there was time for just one more play; but instead of taking a knee, Baylor elected to try to run up the score on the Runnin' Rebs -- but fumbled, and the Rebs picked that fumble up and ran it back 99 yards for the victory. Hard not to see the Hand of God in that one.
5. 2002, Black Saturday. This game-ending piece of hubris is another "pride goeth before the fall" play that probably deserves to be #1 on this list of gut-wrenching ways to lose, except it involved a bunch of redneck hillbillies that no one outside of Georgia and the Carolinas cares about -- and only rednecks could possibly be THIS dumb. With seven (7) seconds left, Furman scored a touchdown which made the score Furman 15, Appalachian State 14. Instead of, say, attempting to KICK an extra point -- or just plain falling on the ball -- the Furman boys went for two (presumably to rub salt in the wounds of their hated rivals, the App State Mountaineers). But it turns out, under the Rules of Football, if an attempt to kick an extra point is blocked, it can be advanced by the defense and, if they reach the opposite end zone, they get one point -- but if a two-point conversion attempt is intercepted, as Appalachian State did to Furman on that "Black Saturday" in 2002, the intercepting team can advance the ball, and if they reach the opposite end zone, as App State did that dark day, they get two points, and win on the last play, 16-15. OUCH!
6. 1978, The Holy Roller. Ye Olde Oakland Raiders lacked the grandeur of the Greek and Biblical heroes; yet the Raiders' thugs brought a special creativity to bending the rules -- 'cheating', in plain English -- that was very refreshing. The Raiders' finest moment (well, except when the Raiders made the various and sundry plays that necessitated the NFL adopting rules against spearing, leg-whipping, clothes-lining, chop-blocking, taunting, and excessive use of 'stickum') was when the Chargers were up six points in 1978, but with the Raiders knocking on the door at the Chargers' 14, yet with time for just one last play; and the Chargers tackled the Raiders and brought them to the ground, not once, not twice, but three times -- yet each time the various and sundry Raiders' ball carriers (Stabler, Banaszak, Caspar) keep FLINGING the ball towards the end zone just before they were tackled, in transparently obvious intentional forward fumbles, until Caspar finally fell on the ball in the end zone for the game winner. Holy Roller, Batman. But the Holy Roller game was probably just the God of Karma settling debts with Al Davis for the Raiders' gut-wrenching defeat in:
7. 1972, The Immaculate Reception Game. As a Raiders fan, I can't bear to talk about this one. Look it up, and weep.
8. 1978, The Miracle At The Meadowlands. Stop me if this one sounds familiar, 2015 Michigan fans. Giants are up 17-12 on the Eagles, 31 seconds to play in the days when the play clock was 30 seconds, Giants have the ball on their own 26, Eagles are out of timeouts. Giants just have to run one play -- heck, they can just fall on the ball -- and then claim victory over their second-most-hated-foe, before heading for the presser. But instead of taking a knee, the Giants attempt a simple hand-off to their future Hall of Fame tailback, Larry Csonka; only Csonka fumbles, and Herman Edwards of the Eagles picks it up and runs it back for a touchdown. Does that sound familiar?
9. 2015, UM v MSU, The Miracle at the Big House. UM's up 23-21 with ten seconds to go on our 40-something, UM punter fumbles the 4th-down snap, could have just fallen on it and there's no way Sparty could get its FG unit on the field in time (much less make such a long kick), and it's doubtful Sparty even had enough time to line up and heave a Hail Mary, but instead our punter tries to pick it up, and then Sparty picks it up and ... oh, I can't even complete this sentence, unless I get 50 years of counseling.
10. 2005 UM/Nebraska Alamo Bowl. Nebraska's up 32-28, but UM was on the verge of winning the game with 7 laterals on the last play, only the refs apparently had a flight to catch, so they didn't bother enforcing the rule against 37 Cornhuskers wandering onto the field of play, even while the last play was still going on ... [Not that I'm bitter, but ....]
If you are coming here looking for rants, I might have a couple but I’m remarkably, I don’t know, accepting of yesterday’s insanity. Probably one of those grief stages. So fair warning (unless you are a referee in this game – for you, I’ll make an exception).
Best: A Broken Heart Mended
I was 13 when Kordell Stewart ripped UM’s heart out. For some reason I thought I was younger, but maybe that was just because I was a late convert to UM football in that respect. I cheered on UM because they crossed the family TV screen most Saturdays, but I was a Pistons (and, honestly, an NBA) fan at my core. I went to a couple games a year, voraciously read box scores each morning during the season, and consumed as much content as possible about the NBA. If I had any football fandom in my body, it was for Barry Sanders, tragically dragging the Lions along with his brilliance under a baggy dome.
College football was just a thing that was on, the white noise machine of fall Saturdays. I cheered UM because of their ubiquity and prominence locally. I cheered because of the uniforms, the pageantry during the Tournament of Roses before the Rose Bowl, and the fact that they always seemed to win. My dad had gone to UM but never wore that connection on his sleeve, and I was still a bit too young to care about academics and job prospects, the objective metrics that led me to attend UM. Hell, I’m not even sure when we got ESPN on cable (and chances are had I stumbled upon it, it wouldn’t have been football). No, my relationship with UM football was one of convenience and detachment, where I would cheer because UM was usually winning or losing in conventional manners, and I knew enough about the sport to accept that at face value.
Until that play. I still remember sitting with my dad on the coach in the living room, just watching it unfold. My Dad assumed the game was over; it was 70+ yards to the lip of the endzone, and while Stewart had a cannon this was an era before the internet, before on-the-field Statz and talking heads, before constant replays and trips to the video archives between timeouts, so there wasn’t much in the way of foreshadowing. You knew about the Flutie Miracle, The Miracle in the Meadowlands, and The Band on the Field between Cal and Stanford, but it always felt distant and unimaginable, moments of affliction that deeply wound the participants but are mostly macabre blips in everyone else’s memory. Those plays happened to them, not us.
So it felt almost like a fait accompli that UM would win the game after Colorado’s last-gasp attempt, with (I’m guessing) most in the stands wondering if Stewart would even be able to get the ball to the endzone. It seemed impossible to contemplate anything more. And then the ball sailed from his arm like a rocket, and you could tell even the camera man was caught a bit off guard. He just kept panning, panning, panning into the endzone, and then a bunch of limbs reached out like a preacher’s chorus praising the gods of football, and the ball caromed into the waiting arms of Michael F’ing Westbrook, and then it was over.
And at that moment, even though it took a couple of more years for me to fully realize it, I became a UM football fan. You can’t have your heart broken like that, to see your guys lose a game because of celestial forces and cold physics, and not have that feeling wiggle its way into your rib cage and never leave. From that day forward, I always made sure to check the box scores every Sunday morning, to track the AP polls, to know how the Wolverines did. I started to get annoyed with the 8-4 seasons, the seemingly annual underperformance, and then the ascendant ‘97 season hooked me forever. I was in the stands when Notre Dame nearly drove the field with no timeouts in 1999, unable to catch my breath. I watched them lose to Purdue and Northwestern in heartbreaking fashion in 2000, and then 2001 with the damn Clockgate against MSU. And when I graduated and moved away, I still followed the team, yelping uncontrollably after Braylonfest, losing my mind after the New Math game, and giggling myself silly when ND left Gallon all alone in 2011. The 2006 game against OSU, Horror, everything that transpired under RR and Hoke (including the heartbreaking 2009 loss to MSU), and now this game all fell on the other side of the ledger.
I know people want to frame this as a curse, some lingering bad juju from the clusterfuck hanging over the program since Bo died, but I don’t think that’s it. Every game, both in the micro level and in the macro sense, creates fans and keeps them there. And this element of fandom is a zero-sum game; for every breathtaking win there must be a heartbreaking loss, only the names and faces change. They come about organically, and sometimes the most fertile soil is littered with shitty outcomes. But you can’t root for something and be surprised when they don’t come out on top all the time, and while I’m going to try to frame this as a sign of good things to come, of a team that is growing into something special and a future that is brighter today than it was 2 months ago, that’s not going to take the sting away, and it shouldn’t. But you don’t win all those games without a couple of tough losses, and sometimes you’ve got to wade through some foul stuff in order to come out better on the other side.
Worst: Leave Blake Alone!
Objectively, that last play was terrible. It was a series of small disasters that snowballed into an improbably loss. It was a low-ish snap that O’Neill couldn’t get ahold of, resulting in the ball being bobbled. UM, knowing his tendency to run to the right before booting the ball, shifted the shield in that direction but left nobody on the back side to handle the 4 MSU rushers from that direction. Had there even been one blocker extra on that side, I wonder if MSU is able to get to Blake quite that quickly. Once the ball was snapped, the offensive line started running down the field to cover the punt even though it didn’t appear MSU had anyone returning it, leaving even fewer players back to hold up the rush. Then, in his attempt to at least get the ball off, O’Neill kicked the ball right into the arms of the MSU defender, who then stumbled his way to the endzone. As others have noted, O’Neill probably should have fallen on the ball and just given up the field position, since MSU still would have had time for maybe 1 or 2 more plays with about half the field to go. But in the heat of the moment, it’s hard to fault a kid for trying to make a play.
Ultimately, it was the play that cost UM the win, but it wasn’t because of any single player. It was just a bit if bad luck at the worst possible time. And while the vast majority of the fanbase responded positively toward O’Neill, it must be stated again that if you think calling for a kid to be deported or kicked off the team, or sending him Twitter-muscle shade, or anything else that prompted Jim Hackett to send a formal letter to the fans and students to lay off of O’Neill, well…
Best: Rationalize away Merrill
ST3’s always-excellent column touched on some of these points, but this was a game far closer than the yardage would lead you to believe. You skim the narrative being put forth by the MSU faithful today, the argument for why MSU won wasn’t because they got the flukiest f*ing play in recent memory but because UM got incredibly lucky because the MSU offense was unstoppable and MSU’s defense was demolishing UM’s attack.
Now, MSU’s passing game was pretty solid (328 yards, 8.4 ypa, 1:0 TD:INT) in aggregate, but Cook still completed less than 50% of his passes, and 74 of those yards came on a busted play to FB Trevon Pendleton. Yes that play happened, but it was also an extreme outlier that goosed the numbers a bit. Throw that out and you have far more pedestrian numbers (254 yards, 6.9 ypa), furthered buoyed by some questionable penalties that kept MSU drives going (the 12 men on the field penalty was correct; the extremely questionable Lewis holding call where the receiver fell into the official that wiped out a pick, the targeting atrocity on Bolden, and the personal foul on Henry for tackling a player before the whistle was blown all felt like missteps) and some great catches by Burbridge. Some fans will argue that Cook was let down by his other receivers (most notably Kings) due to some drops, but that’s the equivalent of arguing “the computer is cheating” whenever your game of Madden mirrors reality a bit and mediocre WRs drop balls. To Cook’s credit, though, he made some great throws in tight windows, and while I still wouldn’t trust him to run my NFL franchise, he played well enough against UM.
By comparison, I thought Rudock had a fine game. He played the game like a QB whose team had the lead for virtually the entire game and knew that the worst thing he could do was give MSU a short field with a bad throw. He completed 60% of his throws for around 6.7 ypa and kept the sheet clean, while lofting a couple of nice balls to both Darboh and Chesson to come back to for completions. In fact, 7 of his 15 completions were for 1st downs (to Cook’s credit, he had 13 for first downs as well, but he also threw the ball 14 more times than Rudock). He continues to struggle throwing the ball deep, jarring in this game due to MSU’s poor corner play, though at some point you have to wonder if there’s a bit Luis Mendoza in his main deep threat, Chesson, who has amazing speed but just has never seemed able to harness it properly as a receiver (obviously he’s had a bit more success on returns and designed runs). But as Brian and others have said, if this is the Rudock UM gets this season, they should win every game except OSU, and until the last 10 seconds, he did more than enough to get this team the win.
MSU never established the running game (yes they had injuries to the offensive line and Jack Allen was out, but MSU has struggled all year on the ground), with the top 3 backs averaged about 2.7 ypc, which was less than the 3.5 ypc picked up by Smith and Houma, the two leading rushers for UM. For the game, UM had more and better rushes than MSU, and that includes knocking off 15 yards for O’Neill’s final punt play. Michigan scored in all 5 of their red zone trips while MSU only scored on 2 of them, missing two FGs and turning the ball over on downs. In fact, MSU failed to convert 4th downs 4 times in this game, only one of which would be considered required (the seemingly last drive on 4th and 19). Hell, dad they lost this game, people would have questioned Dantonio’s decision to call a pretty obvious fake punt that was stopped and UM turned into a TD.
As for defensive dominance by MSU, that doesn’t ring all that true either. MSU scored on 3 of their 12 drives (I’m excluding the end of the half and the last blocked return), while UM scored on 5 of their 13. UM had 3 sacks for 29 yards, matching MSU, and while UM had two less TFLs, theirs resulted in more lost yardage than those by MSU (7 to 9 TFLs, but 37 yards compared to MSU’s 23). MSU had one more QB hit, but UM had 10 (!!) pass breakups, including 6 by Lewis. The teams had basically the same 3rd-down conversion rate (MSU was 3/12, UM 4/15), and UM converted more in the 2nd half (3/10) than MSU (1/6).
The reason MSU had so many more yards compared to UM had largely to do with special teams decidedly going in UM’s favor (along with MSU’s poor conversion rate), with O’Neill averaging 44.6 yards on 7 punts, highlighted by the field-shifting 80 yarder in the first quarter, and pining MSU inside their own 20 two more times. By comparison, MSU averaged 37 yards on 5 punts, including one touchback. And as for returning said kicks, UM pantsed MSU mercilessly, with Peppers and Chesson picking up 154 yards on 7 returns while MSU snagged 54 yards on 4 returns. It all added up to UM starting on it’s own 38 while MSU had an average starting drive on their own 22 yard line. So yeah, that’s where your 150-ish difference in yardage mostly came from; UM didn’t need to go as far to score, so they didn’t.
MSU played well enough to win; UM suffered by not converting a couple more of those redzone trips into touchdowns, and that ultimately cost them at the end. But don’t for a second believe that MSU “deserved” to win this game because the people making the arguments fear basic math. It was a close game that went against UM due to the most freakish of plays possible, nothing more and nothing less.
Meh: Offensive Line Expectations Ticked Down
Yes this is MSU, and yes they again appeared to have a jump on a number of snaps (the 3 goal line runs capped off by Houma’s TD in the 3rd quarter all featured MSU players jumping the snap successfully), but I thought the offensive line did struggle at the point of attack, especially in the running game. MSU’s defensive line is the obvious strength of their unit, and it played well, consistently getting pressure and clogging up the running lanes. Thomas, who I still think is more a uniform stuffer than an elite talent, was second on the team with 7 tackles and held the edge well when UM (illogically) attacked it. I’m sure there were bad cuts by Smith that led to some stops, but like in the Utah game, you can see the deficiencies that submarine the rushing attack against elite defensive lines. Luckily, there aren’t a huge number of those lines left on the schedule, with OSU seemingly being the only sure bet to reproduce this level of disruption.
As for passing downs, it’s harder to tell because Rudock seemed willing to take a couple of sacks instead of throwing the ball downfield. Calhoun was consistently getting pressure and MSU got a couple free runs from their LBs, but it wasn’t the demolition we’ve seen in years past. Rudock appears to have all of his ribs and soul intact, which is a marked improvement for UM signal callers in this rivalry. And as noted above, the passing game was reasonably efficient even though the screen game, which might have loosened up the pressure a bit, was lacking. Overall, it felt like a decent performance by an average line but perhaps not the step forward fans had hoped for coming into the game. At the same time, it wasn’t a huge setback, it was just a reality check that this year’s rushing attack won’t approach the best units under Harbaugh’s various regimes.
Best: Jourdan MF Lewis
Nothing was more entertaining than seeing MSU fans complain about Lewis “mugging” Burbridge throughout the game on his way to 6 pass breakups and a pretty decent effort against MSU’s sole real passing threat. Lewis, of course, is just playing the same type of physical, grabby defense MSU introduced to the conference some years back, just perhaps at a better level than either Waynes or Dennard every did. Being a shutdown corner doesn’t necessarily mean that the guy you cover never catches a ball, especially when the opponent doggedly targets him because they literally had no other competent options (Burbridge was targeted 19 times in this game).
Instead, it means making it as difficult as possible for the offense to consistently complete passes to your side and limiting the damage when they do, and Lewis did that in spades. Even though Burbirdge finished with 9 catches for 132 yards, he only had 3 catches after halftime, and at least two of them were just great plays by him despite great coverage by Lewis. Lewis was also the victim of a pick play in the 2nd quarter (I believe) that Brandstatter called out immediately when it happened. Overall, he played like the All-American he’s being touted as and performed well in a tough matchup against a good receiver.
Best: Defensive Line Expectations Ticked Up
I know MSU had some injuries on the line, but I thought the defensive line, in particular Wormley and Henry, were great in this game. The front 4 recorded 3 sacks, held MSU’s rushing attack in check, got consistent pressure on Cook even when the Spartans left extra blockers in, and generally played like the dominating unit they’ve seen this whole year. They were also active in the passing lanes, with both Wormley and Henry recording pass breakups as well. I await Glasgow’s score in the UFR, but he seemed to hold up decently against a solid MSU interior, and both Jenkins-Stone and Hurst had some nice TFLs in there as well.
Will OSU give them problems? Probably, but even then I’m not sure we’re going to see Elliott plowing past them like he has against most other units. This remains a terrifyingly-good unit, and one that you hope will largely return next year to go along with the return of Mone and (fingers crossed) some high-end defensive tackle recruits. I’m certainly intrigued about next year under this coaching staff.
Best: Peppers Army Knife
Peppers was deployed everywhere possible in this game, and he excelled at all of them. He flipped the field with some great punt returns, had a great 28-yard pass/run play to set up a TD, and did well the couple of times MSU challenged him. He’s obviously still not a finished product, but the strides he’s made in these six games definitely give some credence to the “Woodson” comparisons that seemed a little far-fetched at the start of the year.
Worstest: These F*ing Guys
By the time they went to the review booth for the third time on UM’s goal line run, you could hear the announcers lose their patience (and for the record, I could understand the argument that Houma’s momentum was stopped, but he played to the whistle, which allowed him to score). And even at that point, the refs had a handful more dubious calls to make (Henry’s drive-extending PF, Jake Butt’s probably-a-catch that would have kept a late UM drive alive, Shelton’s “two guys are saying he’s out, but let’s trust the idiots in the booth” catch along the sidelines). The Bolden ejection was terrible in real-time and looked even worse on the numerous replays, as the refs initially tried to frame it as Morgan head-hunting when in fact Cook baseball slid in, then compounded the error by ignoring Conklin clearly throwing Bolden down on top of him. It was a terrible call, an inexcusable call, and yet not all that surprising given how the season has gone in terms of referee miscues.
I understand that being a referee is a thankless job; jagoffs like me freak out every time you screw up and don’t recognize when you get it right. But at the same time, you can’t make a series of illogical calls throughout a game and just chalk it up to “human error” and whatnot when you ALSO try to correct every possible call using video replay. In a game like this between two evenly-matched teams, one team losing its leading tackler due to a dubious call while the other received a fifth of their first downs by penalties is insane, especially when neither team is particularly known for being penalty-prone. And the thing is, this isn’t a Kings-Lakers situation where there might have been actual bias involved; it was just a series of terrible calls without reprieve. And as grown-ass adults who are tasked with calling a game as well as possible, this officiating crew failed, and it failed hard. It didn’t cost UM the game; that’s a fool’s argument to make, especially given how the final play turned out. But it doesn’t make the clown show we all watched any more palpable.
Best: A Week Off
On the one hand it sucks that UM is going to have to wait 2 weeks to wash the taste of this loss from their mouths, but on the other hand it should mitigate any hangover that could linger against the Gophers. UM played like the top-15 team they have shown thus far, and while they certainly shouldn’t have been in any national title talk, they looked a hell of a lot closer to MSU than they had coming into the year. That’s progress I’ll take.
I’m not sure about next week. I might do a mid-season recap, take a break, or something in between. But in a blink of an eye, there are only 5 more games left on the schedule, with the bowl game being the 6th. And I’m going to try to enjoy the last couple weeks as best as possible.