|WHAT||Illinois at Michigan|
Ann Arbor, MI
October 22nd, 2016
|THE LINE||Michigan –38.5|
|WEATHER||sunny, around 50
0% chance of rain
Illinois has a relatively legit coach in Lovie Smith, formerly of the Bears, but is still digging out from the demise of the Beck Man era and the brief Bill Cubit tenure that followed. The results have not been pretty. Rutgers, who you may remember cowering in fear for three hours two weeks ago, just outgained Illinois in a 24-7 UI win.
Add "approximately as good as Rutgers" to "probably playing a third string quarterback" and you get the above spread, which is truly massive. Juice Williams and Greg Robinson aren't walking through that door.
Run Offense vs Illinois
CHUNKY CAN GET UPPPPP
Illinois enters with some quality pass rushers... and one of the worst rushing defenses in the country. They're #122 in S&P+ after five straight weeks in which they gave up 200 rushing yards. (UNC was technically at 197, but remove sacks and they're at 204.) The two most recent of those weeks were games against Purdue and Rutgers.
Purdue. And Rutgers.
This has been a holistic collapse. Illinois is tied for 110th in 30+ yard rushes ceded with 7; per S&P they're in the bottom third of the country in adjusted line yards and dismal in run success rate. On the other hand, they have a ton of TFLs. DE Carroll Phillips has 11, but when he's not beating a guy he's losing in a blowout. It's quite a trick to be on pace for nearly 20 TFLs and end up slightly negative to PFF; Phillips has pulled this off. Ace on the Illinois DL:
Smoot is a problem. DTs Rob Bain and Jamal Milan both stood out to me as strong run defenders—I clipped a nice run stuff from Milan and was tempted to add another to the video pile before realizing he isn't in the starting lineup. SDE Gimel President, an Auburn grad transfer, has the size and strength to allow Smoot to move to the weak side. WDE Carroll Phillips is more in the Winovich mold; he provides decent pass-rush, too, though he's more susceptible to getting pushed off the line—his presence forces Smoot to play SDE. Freshman DT Kenyon Jackson looks like a freshman for the most part, but did have a couple nice plays in this game.
Illinois will blitz, stunt, and twist all day to cover up for mediocre nose tackle Chunky Clements, who is a name All-American and iffy run defender. Sometimes they'll slice past Michigan opposition for a TFL. When that doesn't happen Michigan will rip off chunks of yards. Illinois's defensive strategy appears to be "do anything to get the opposition in a passing down," and they will win on that from time to time.
If Illinois is hitting early this could be more of a frustrating slog than you would anticipate given their numbers to date; it is deeply unlikely they can go a full game without cracking and giving Michigan some huge chunk runs. This goes double if Michigan continues to work Jabrill Peppers and his Pepcat package into the gameplan.
KEY MATCHUP: MICHIGAN RUNNING BACKS versus UNEXPECTED CUTBACK LANES AS ILLINOIS GETS AGGRESSIVE. They're going to be there; the Illinois DL is very much a roar-into-a-gap kind of outfit. Isaac's been doing a great job finding the little creases; he could be in for a big game.
[Hit THE JUMP for OH MAN THIS LINE against MICHIGAN'S DL is a THING I SAY EVERY WEEK NOW]
|WHERE||Cable Subscribers Stadium
October 8th, 2016
|THE LINE||Michigan –29.5|
|WEATHER||overcast, mid 60s
slight chance of rain
HAHAHAHA!!!! Now there are 'R's all over your field! Now you have to pick them up! The Era of Rutgers is at hand! pic.twitter.com/h0ruuAQuvV
— Mr. Dubs (@rockydubs85) June 8, 2016
Rutgers has been hammered 48-13 by Washington and 58-0 by OSU this year. The beatings will continue even if they managed to hang close with Iowa.
Run Offense vs Rutgers
Hamilton: now DT sized. Still very good.
This is a spot at which it's difficult to reconcile PFF's grading and Bill Connelly's fancystats with regular old numbers. Run defense is a relative strong point for the Cable Subscribers—38th in S&P+—for reasons that are obscure. They did hold Washington to three yards a carry in the opener. Unfortunately for them, things have gotten steadily worse since: 3.9 YPC for Howard, 5.2 for New Mexico, 5.1 for Iowa, and finally 7.7 for Ohio State. At this rate they'll be giving up 15 yards a carry by the end of the season. They're 13th in the Big Ten in YPA allowed, one one-hundredth of a yard in front of Purdue.
Meanwhile, Ace points out that the Washington stats are deceiving:
Washington put up 24 points in the first quarter, added a kickoff return touchdown in the second, and basically closed up shop—their two second-half scores were on punt and interception returns. While the Huskies were able to throw at will—an even ten yards per attempt—they managed only 100 yards on 28 non-sack carries.
So the S&P number has some explaining to do.
Anyway: PFF likes their defensive line quite a bit. Darius Hamilton, their star DE/DT, is still around. He's grading out as a plus player against both run and pass, very much so on the ground. They rotate seven defensive linemen even after DE Quanzell Lambert got knocked out for the year. PFF thinks three of them are good to very good and one is about average; even if the other three guys aren't so great this is better than you'd expect for a team that's struggled so much in plain old yards per carry.
By way of explanation, PFF hammers all three starting linebackers. Trevor Morris, Deonte Roberts, and Greg Jones all carry significantly negative grades; they're positive in coverage, generally, and bad to very bad on the ground. No one on this defense touches the astoundingly poor grades for the offense, but nonetheless that LB level is a major liability and one Michigan is well-suited to exploit with their various misdirection plays. Compounding matters was a helmet-to-helmet hit Jones took from Morris last week. He is unlikely to play.
Hamilton will pose problems for the interior of the line. He is good enough to disrupt plays on his own, and he's apparently surrounded by some other guys who can play a bit. While this figures to be a walkover, there's a significant chance the ground game looks iffy, at least until someone pops through the line and nobody's there to clean up. Could be a day where a bunch of disappointing gains are offset by multiple romps for 30+ yards.
KEY MATCHUP: WHOEVER THE NEW GUY IS versus A SENSE OF RISING PANIC. Whether it's Kugler or Bushell-Beatty who draws into the lineup all eyes will be on him in an attempt to discover how boned we are thanks to the Newsome injury.
[Hit THE JUMP for OH MAN THIS LINE against MICHIGAN'S DL is a THING I SAY EVERY WEEK NOW]
|WHAT||Wisconsin at Michigan|
Ann Arbor, MI
October 1st, 2016
|THE LINE||Michigan –10.5|
probably some drizzle
Wisconsin is in an odd place on Michigan's schedule, as this is the first time I can remember that there's a nonconference game after the start of—
what's that now
how many damn teams does this conference have now
Anyway. The Certainly Part Of The Big Ten Wisconsin Badgers come to Michigan Stadium for the first time since people rode dinosaurs to the discotheque. They're coming off two hot-hot-hot wins over Certainly Top Ten Teams LSU and Michigan State. They're riding high with a legitimately terrifying defense and... an offense. That's not bad, per se. It's good for one 17 play touchdown drive a game. Anyway, the defense!
Run Offense vs Wisconsin
Sheehy(94) is the star on the line
The loss of star OLB Vince Biegel is a huge blow to the Badgers. Biegel and fellow OLB TJ Watt are far and away Wisconsin's best defensive players; without him it seems like Wisconsin will move Jack Cichy, he of the three straight sacks in the bowl game, to OLB and bring in one of the backup ILBs they're already rotating.
That shift seriously dents what is probably the best linebacker corps in the nation. Wisconsin runs a 3-4, so there are four of them; PFF has all of them +2.5 or better, with Biegel at +7.4 and Watt at +8.3. UW's given four other LBs significant snaps so far this year, so Biegel's replacement won't be fresh off the turnip truck. Whoever it is will be a massive downgrade.
As far as the run game goes, Michigan has to be looking at planet-sized nose tackle Olive Sagapolu with some concern after struggling against Colorado's Josh Tupou. Ace doesn't think it'll be a thing, though:
Up front, Sheehy was easily the most impressive lineman. NT Olive Sagapolu is a massive 340 pounds, but I don't think he'll give Mason Cole nearly as much trouble as Colorado's immovable NT Josh Tupou. Sagapolu didn't hold up too well to double-teams; LJ Scott didn't have much opportunity to establish himself because of the score, but when he had success it came right up the gut:
That was also a rare instance of Sheehy getting handled one-on-one. The other starting DE, Chikwe Obasih, is undersized for a 3-4 at 267 pounds and looked it for much of this game. Even for a 3-4 DE, his production is really lacking—no tackles in this game, only three (two solo) on the year—and he was the lineman most easily taken on and moved out of his lane by single blocking.
Connor Sheehy is a very legit 3-4 DE, albeit a guy who offers nothing rushing the passer. The other two guys are just kind of there.
Despite this, Wisconsin battered MSU into meek submission and held Leonard Damn Fournette in relative check. This is because linebackers, mostly. TJ Watt is a fullback-destroying missile, and everyone in that unit grades out positively.
Wisconsin comes up against a Michigan run offense that got right in a big way against Penn State, with four running backs all ripping off big chunk runs en route to over 300 yards. Issues abounded before that, however, and promise to crop up once again now that Michigan is playing a team with (mostly) first teamers in the front seven. Previous versions of the Michigan run offense under Harbaugh have taken one step back for every one forward. Consistent production this Saturday would be a game-changer for season expectations, but seems unlikely. Michigan will get some yards. Michigan will get stuffed more than they care to.
Wild card: Jabrill Peppers. With Noah Furbush back and Wisconsin inclined to run on first down this is a game where you can buy Peppers a bunch of offensive snaps by running an actual 4-3 on some downs. Even if they do keep him out there all the time, this is a game where 8-10 Peppers touches could contain in them the seed of a critical touchdown.
KEY MATCHUP: MASON COLE versus OLIVE SAGAPOLU and MICHIGAN'S OL IN GENERAL against CHIP AND RELEASE ON ZONE RUNS. This is kind of the same thing. Michigan would like to mitigate the big damn nose tackle. Mason Cole had major issues against Tupou and needs to do better against a not as good version, and the line as a whole needs to actually hit guys before releasing to the second level when they run zone stuff.
[Hit THE JUMP for CERTAINLY AN OFFENSE]
|WHAT||Penn State at Michigan|
Ann Arbor, MI
September 24th, 2016
|THE LINE||Michigan –19.5|
|WEATHER||sunny, around 70
Meet the new Penn State: they honor Joe Paterno, make questionable in-game decisions, have a wreck of an offensive line, and deploy a legitimately terrifying running back. Sooooo... the old Penn State.
This year's version does have some significant differences. They beat Temple, for one. Also they lost to Pitt. Trace McSorley's an upgrade on Christian Hackenberg; their new punter is an upgrade on the legless duck they ran out last year. The new defensive linemen... are not an upgrade. Neither are the second-string linebackers, all of whom figure to start this weekend.
Penn State's struggled on both lines and Michigan should dominate one matchup and seek to get right in the other.
Run Offense vs Penn State
injury crisis means walk-on Brandon Smith is PSU's starting MLB
The looming question for PSU is whether they will have any of their starting linebackers available. Nyeem Wartman-White is out for the year, again. Jason Cabinda was sporting a large cast on his arm last Saturday and is doubtful. Brandon Bell was on crutches; he's also doubtful. Neither is listed on the PSU depth chart. Without those three, PSU was forced to turn to walk-on Brandon Smith at MLB and sophomores Manny Bowen, their spacebacker, and Jake Cooper at OLB. PFF likes Bowen and hates Cooper; Ace didn't like either but did like Smith.
PSU's rush defense was excellent against Temple, okay against Kent State, and obliterated by Pitt. Pitt rushed for 341 yards on 56 carries; five different players had a run of 20 yards or more and the Panthers put up 42 points on a day where they threw for 91 yards. That was before the injury plague hit its peak. PSU's done fine against their lower-level opponents; where Michigan's run game fits in a spectrum from Pitt to Temple remains sadly unknown.
One thing that is known: Mason Cole will surely appreciate the change of pace from last week. Josh Tupou departs; Penn State arrives with Kevin Givens and Parker Cothren, both sub-300 pounders. Givens is listed at a malleable 275. PFF rates them tolerably well, but their grades are like mine and therefore based on the competition. It's possible both were good against Temple and Kent State and that's overwhelming the Pitt mess. Saturday will be a clarifying event for both teams as they try to gauge their abilities in this department.
FWIW, PSU fans are terrified of jet sweeps. Michigan's been running a ton of them, but with PSU no doubt focusing on improvement there and Michigan having largely omitted their counters for jet sweep overplay from the playbook so far I'd guess Michigan spends more of its time faking the jet than actually running it. Either way the interplay between a soft Penn State edge and the skill position corps that rescued the Colorado game by pounding players near the sideline will be one to watch. Michigan ran a ton of WR screens last year and this is largely the same group on both sides of the ball; watch for Michigan to supplement their actual run game with a virtual one on the outside, whether that's by jet, bubble, tunnel, or flash.
I'm not sure what to expect here. I'm alarmed by the Colorado game but that feels like a highly negative outlier against the worst matchup imaginable for Mason Cole. PSU is a much smaller interior and one that got hammered by the only power 5 team they've played so far. I'd guess Michigan bounces back to "fine, just fine, it's fine" against a depleted opponent. I won't be shocked by a hammering either way.
KEY MATCHUP: MICHIGAN LINEMEN versus COMBO BLOCKING. They shouldn't be so bad at deciding what to do at this stage in their careers. If it doesn't start getting better this week it probably won't until next year, when a new generation takes over.
[Hit THE JUMP for OH MAN THIS LINE against MICHIGAN'S DL]
|WHAT||Colorado at Michigan|
Ann Arbor, MI
September 17th, 2016
|THE LINE||Michigan –19.5|
20-30% chance of rain during game
Colorado's not good. They haven't been to a bowl game since 2007 and last year's 4-9 campaign was actually an improvement over 2-10 the year before. Like Michigan, they played Hawaii in their 2015 season opener. Unlike Michigan, they lost. The Buffaloes have been lost in the wilderness, head-butting each other, for going on 20 years now.
In this context a rousing blowout of in-state rival Colorado State does mean something. They squeezed by a 7-6 CSU team last year and spent big chunks of the last decade actually losing to them, so roaring out to a 30-point first-half lead and coasting the rest of the way is a notable improvement no matter how off this year's Rams are. How much improvement is an open question, but they could be a 6-6, 7-5 type outfit headed to Shreveport or wherever.
Vegas expects them to be Michigan's stiffest test to date, with a line more than two touchdowns closer than the UCF game. This shouldn't be close, but it should be a football game.
Run Offense vs Colorado
Tupou is large, man
Questions abound for Michigan after a performance against UCF which was disappointing even considering the Citronauts' box-stacking. A poor performance from the rotating left guard and indifferent ones from a couple others left Michigan fans fretting after a 37-point win, as they are wont to do.
In Colorado they meet last year's #96 rushing D per S&P+, but one that should improve after losing just one contributor in their front seven and getting back monster nose tackle Josh Tupou. Tupou, who pushes 330 and is the space-eater a 3-4 defense needs, returns after missing 2015 because of an off-field incident. He was honorable mention All Pac-12 in 2014 and should provide a stiffer test than anyone Michigan's interior line has yet faced.
Colorado is also entering their second year under DC Jim Leavitt, who you may remember seeming like a reasonably good idea* during Michigan's DC search. Leavitt put together quality defenses as USF's head coach a decade ago and CU should be past the inevitable hiccups that come with a coordinator change what with just about everyone returning.
Upside may be limited; most of the returners are juniors moving into their senior year and there isn't a touted gentleman amongst them, either by recruiting rankings or NFL prospects. This is a situation where improvement comes from the next generation pushing through.
Early returns are not good. CSU had 186 yards on 33 carries, 5.6 a pop, and many plays featured cavernous holes. Ace:
Colorado's safeties had to get involved quite a bit, and they were good enough to prevent chunk gains from turning into home runs, but they were involved more than they should've been. That's because Colorado's front seven had a tough time getting off blocks unless a CSU blocker comically fell over.
They dominated Idaho State for what little that's worth.
If there's a danger in the CU front seven it's at linebacker. Junior Derek McCartney (yes that McCartney) had 11.5 TFLs a year ago and five sacks as a sophomore; Ace and PFF liked WOLB Jimmie Gilbert's ability to get to the QB. He doesn't seem to do much else—he had six sacks last year and one other TFL plus just 25 tackles overall—but should be a test for Michigan's tackles.
The DEs and ILBs are weak points Michigan will go after. We'll see if Colorado plays as aggressively as UCF or decides they've got something to lose if they let Wilton Speight get going. Leavitt does have a reputation as a guy who wants to get after you.
*[On the field. Maybe not so much off it.]
KEY MATCHUP: MICHIGAN'S LEFT GUARD versus WHATEVER THAT WAS LAST WEEK. Huge sinkhole was a major factor in the lack of production. Must get that fixed for Saturday and beyond.
[Hit THE JUMP for a LEGITIMATE ALL-AMERICAN… and SOME OTHER GUYS]
|WHAT||UCF at Michigan|
Ann Arbor, MI
September 10th, 2016
|THE LINE||Michigan –35.5|
|WEATHER||mid-70s, 15 mph wind, scattered thunderstorms|
UCF last year:
So they hired Scott Frost, who people are mad at for saying he thought his team was good and for having a mother who may or may not have trash-talked The Wolverine. Sports! (They should be mad at him for killing that kid on his dirtbike.) And they won a game 38-0 against SCSU (not that SCSU).
Anyway they're going to lose by a billion.
Run Offense vs Central Florida
Pittman can play.
This is an absurdly undersized front that should be vulnerable to Michigan packing the box and blowing guys off the ball. UCF runs a 3-4. They've got a 275-pound DE, which is not great Bob for a 3-4, and then the linebacker level runs 230, 228, 217, 213. This is a defense with at least six DB-sized players on the field at all times and two DTs tops. This is not ideal against anyone, let alone Jim Harbaugh's Michigan.
There is a person of interest. That would be junior DT Jamiyus Pittman, who led the team in TFLs with 7 and sacks with 4.5. Those are actually damn good numbers for a 300-pound 3-4 NT surrounded by nonentities. Pittman was an Ole Miss commit for a time and was better-ranked than the vast majority of the recruits in this year's Rutgers class, so he's got Power 5 ability.
The rest of the front seven consists of nondescript recruits performing nondescriptly. All advanced stats had the UCF rush defense in the triple digits and a good outing (2.7 YPA) against SCSU (not that SCSU) ain't going to change opinions.
Michigan will mash these gentlemen.
KEY MATCHUP: CHRIS EVANS versus EXPECTATIONS.
[Hit THE JUMP for a PICTURE OF SOMEBODY'S GRAVE because YOU CAN'T EVEN GOOGLE SOME OF THESE PEOPLE]