"He makes it really easy on you as a coach because he has tremendous football instincts," Michigan tight ends coach Jay Harbaugh said. "Things come really naturally to him. He doesn't have to see things too many times. He has a good sense for how things should look and feel, and he's a tough, physical guy."
It's Ace, filling in for Brian today on the preview. You will skip over this and address your comments to Brian because that's what always happens. If I'm horribly wrong about anything, though, this is totally Brian.
|WHAT||Michigan at Northwestern|
Big House West
November 8th, 2014
|THE LINE||M -1.5|
|TICKETS||Currently 27 bucks|
partly cloudy, 20% chance of rain dropping to 0% after kickoff
low 40s dipping to high 30s, ~15mph winds
Northwestern is a tough team to figure out. They looked pretty bad during the nonconference portion of the schedule, started Big Ten play by blowing out Penn State and knocking off Wisconsin, then lost their last three, culminating in a 48-7 thumping at the hands of Iowa last week. Vegas thinks this is pretty close to a coin-flip; the line opened Northwestern -2 but has been bet all the way to Michigan -1.5. Both of these teams are obviously having a rough go; at least one InsideNU contributor is totally stealing our schtick:
It's almost basketball season... it's almost basketball season...
Michigan 23, Northwestern 10
This seems to be one of those games where fans of each team are by and large expecting the other team to win.
Run Offense vs Northwestern
Chi Chi Ariguzo (#44) is one of the B1G's better weakside LBs. [Fuller]
Until the last two weeks, Northwesterns rush defense had been quite good outside of an understandably rough outing against Wisconsin. Those last two weeks don't look so good, however, as both Nebraska and Iowa rushed for four touchdowns on around 45 carries that averaged ~5 yards. Mark Weisman (Mark Weisman!) was able to turn the corner on several outside runs against the Wildcats last week.
The rush defense's dropoff coincides directly with senior MIKE Collin Ellis missing these last two games due to a concussion suffered against Minnesota, and Ellis isn't expected to play this weekend. His replacement, Anthony Walker, is a redshirt freshman—he looked like one against Iowa. Chi Chi Ariguzo is a quality weakside linebacker, but all it takes is one inside LB getting out of his lane for a solid gain to open up.
The Northwestern defensive line is solid but unspectacular, with only one DL (DE Dean Lowry with 5.5) posting more than three tackles for loss this year. As a team, the Wildcats have just 44 TFLs in eight games—they don't give up many big plays, but they also don't make many.
That could be very good news for Drake Johnson, who should get the chance to build on his breakout performance against Indiana; with his speed, getting to the line of scrimmage clean should be enough for him to crank out 3-4 yards with relative regularity, which is really all M fans can ask for by now. Iowa's repeated success getting to the edge is also encouraging; even after last week, the Hawkeyes are 101st in rushing S&P+, while the Wolverines are a downright average 45th.
One thing to watch: Northwestern likes to get a little aggressive with their strong safety, whether it be four-year starter Ibraheim Campbell—who's missed the last few weeks with a hamstring injury and may or may not be able to play Saturday—or talented but raw redshirt freshmam Godwin Igwebuike.
I'm a little afraid to declare this publicly but I think Michigan might actually be able to run the ball a little bit this weekend.
Key Matchup: Michigan blocking backs and tight ends versus Northwestern's aggressive safeties. If NW is rolling a safety into the box and run-blitzing, the ancillary blockers—as well as the line—has to be able to recognize and pick up their assignments. If they do so, the zone stretch should be there for the taking, and that seems like the play Drake Johnson is most comfortable (and productive) running.
[Hit THE JUMP for the REST of the PREVIEW]
|WHAT||Michigan vs Michigan State|
East Lansing MI
October 25th, 2014
|THE LINE||MSU -17|
|WEATHER||60, sunny, 15 mph winds|
I have to change this now. Since the Big Ten season started this section has been a slightly modified assertion that Team X is probably not real good with issues up the wazoo, a resume that does not intimidate, and a reasonably tractable Vegas line.
None of these things are true in re: Michigan State. They are probably real good, they have no wazoo-rated issues, the worst thing on their resume is beating Purdue by two touchdowns, and Vegas is like lol head for the hills.
PROBABLY IN: Shane Morris is likely available.
MAYBE: Erik Magnuson's rumored high ankle sprain should be healed by now, right? I mean, unless it's one of those high ankle sprains that never do.
Jabrill Peppers is prominently listed on the depth chart but chatter has him potentially out for the season; we'll see if the internet or the program is more truthy. Bet here is internet.
PROBABLY OUT: Delano Hill, Derrick Green, Desmond Morgan.
Run Offense vs Michigan State
Taiwan Jones is going to be making a lot of tackles.
This is not the all-destroying unit of a year ago but it's still plenty good enough to shut Michigan's arthritic run game down. MSU is currently 28th in YPC allowed; notably, they crushed Nebraska to the tune of 47 yards on 37 carries.
Things have gone less swimmingly at other times—mostly times when someone pops into the secondary and there is flailing around him. Shane Wynn broke a 75-yard reverse last weekend; Tevin Coleman added a 65-yard romp; Purdue had rushes of 52 and 36 yards. That has scuffed up last year's national-best rush D.
The problem for Michigan is what happens on carries that don't go 30 yards. Michigan State is in a tie for 116th with 4 rushes of more than 50 yards allowed; they're eighth with 21 rushes for more than ten yards. The secondary biffs at a high rate on a low number of plays that break long. When they don't go a long way they don't go anywhere unless you're Tevin Coleman. This is an obvious problem for a Michigan rush offense with three runs of 30 yards on the year, all of which came against early-season tomato cans.
You cannot run the ball consistently against Michigan State and Michigan has no explosive capability.
The best bet for something that looks respectable is misdirection and frippery, which Michigan has gone to on occasion this year with Norfleet and Funchess; otherwise it's going to look a lot like the Penn State game, in which Michigan was rarely caught behind the line but struggled to scratch out more than a couple yards at a time.
Key Matchup: Braden/Cole/Williams/Butt versus the MSU perimeter. The State DTs are not great and Michigan's interior line is likely to get push here and there; it may not matter if Michigan can win blocks against the LBs and DEs.
[Hit THE JUMP for a THEMATIC VIDEO of QWOP]
|WHAT||Michigan vs Penn State|
Ann Arbor MI
October 11th, 2014
|THE LINE||Michigan -1|
|TICKETS||Starting at 32 bucks|
|WEATHER||clear, 0% chance of rain
50 dropping to 40 by 10
Penn State is probably not real good. They've got offensive line issues up the wazoo, they beat a middling-at-best Rutgers 13-10, they escaped UCF with a last-second field goal. I guess I'm sayin' there's a chance. Vegas is saying there's a downright fair chance. When it's all tied it up it's anyone's game as long as they're there to make plays, right?
PROBABLY IN: Taylor, Funchess, Wilson, as all played last week.
MAYBE: Shane Morris, who Michigan dressed last week in a classic "nuh-uh" move.
Erik Magnuson is reaching the timeframe where he may be available after his rumored high ankle sprain, but it's more likely he waits until after the bye week.
PROBABLY OUT: Delano Hill, Derrick Green, Jabrill Peppers, Desmond Morgan.
Run Offense vs Penn State
Michigan showed signs of life against Rutgers, going for 5.5 yards a carry without anything particularly long. Tiny flags were waved across the ramparts of Ann Arbor
Now Penn State wheels the big guns in. Michigan is staring down the barrel of this:
None of these teams are good at running the ball—Akron is in fact highest in YPC at 58th. And Michigan is shockingly proficient in statland, 32nd in YPC thanks to steamrolling Appalachian State and Miami (Not That Miami). But at this early juncture a big chunk of PSU opponents' ranking comes from facing PSU, and the Nittany Lions lead the country in YPC allowed at 1.99. They can say YOU DON'T WANT THIS and the right answer is probably "yessir."
A quick sanity check of their personnel reveals that they should be pretty good. Ace:
The defensive ends also played quite well. RU's right tackle couldn't handle the size/speed combo of SDE Deion Barnes, who looks very capable of producing a similar mismatch against Ben Braden. WDE CJ Olaniyan is also quick around the edge, though he did get blown off the ball a few times against the run; that didn't burn PSU much in this game because of Zettel.
Hull is the standout in the middle of the defense, and while neither of the outside linebackers are at his level, they cover a lot of ground sideline-to-sideline against both the run and the pass. Wartman missed last weekend's Northwestern game with an arm injury but is expected to be back on Saturday—he practiced in full pads on Wednesday.
These guys are all experienced upperclassmen even after the offensive line was forced to raid the DL for both starting guards this offseason. There's not a whole lot of depth, as this is the year Penn State's sanctions bite most deeply, but they've been plenty good enough to boot opposing offenses off the field quickly enough to stay fresh.
These guys are legit, and that should be alarming to a Michigan unit that overpowered a small Rutgers front last week but threatens to be overpowered themselves this weekend.
Key Matchup: Tackles versus ends. Michigan's weak point meets Deion Barnes and CJ Olaniyan, and since it only takes one messed up block to blow up a play…
[Hit THE JUMP for a GIANT MACAQUE terrorizing THE STREETS OF BANGKOK this is NOT A REFERENCE to ANY PLAYER it's just WEIRD]
|WHAT||Michigan vs Rutgers|
Probably New York, NJ
October 4th, 2014
|THE LINE||Rutgers -2|
|TICKETS||Currently 50 bucks|
|WEATHER||clear, 0% chance of rain
low 60s dipping to mid 50s, light winds
Rutgers is probably not real good. They've got quarterback issues up the wazoo, they lost 13-10 to a middling-at-best Penn State, they… uh… beat the team that just beat Utah at home a week after Utah blew Michigan out. I guess I'm sayin' there's a chance. Vegas is saying there's a downright fair chance. It doesn't feel like it, I know, but Gary Nova! Chin up, there's a good boy, let's march into that forest of bayonets like Englishmen.
We've heard nothing about Michigan's crew of walking wounded except some chatter about how the Peppers' injury was either fiction or had something else attached to it—Hoke's explanation that he was not on the sideline because of an injury he'd suffered in practice days prior was extremely weird.
PROBABLY IN: Raymon Taylor, who played last week. Devin Funchess is coping with an ankle thing.
MAYBE: Jarrod Wilson's supposedly on his way back soon.
PROBABLY OUT: Delano Hill, Erik Magnuson, Peppers, Desmond Morgan, Shane Morris.
Run Offense vs Rutgers
Hamilton (91) is the man
This does not appear to be a good matchup for a struggling rush offense after Utah's relatively diminutive line slashed past Michigan's OL far too frequently. Rutgers brings a similar approach to the table, deploying no one over 275 pounds on their DL. Star DT Darius Hamilton is only 255; their SDE is hardly bigger at 260, and they tend to run an under so that is a quasi DT.
Results have been uneven, but with Navy and Howard running triple option systems you have to take those games with a grain of salt when projecting to normies; meanwhile Rutgers has taken on Washington State—currently 125th in overall rushing yardage with under 20 attempts a game—and Penn State—currently 116th, with horrendous OL. They shut both those teams down spectacularly.
Their other game was against Tulane, and the Green Wave cut 'em up pretty good, getting to 152 yards on just 31 carries without bothering to excise sacks. I assume that Tulane is a much better rushing offense than Michigan since they put up 250 on Tulsa and 230 on Duke, albeit in losses, and those are actually okay teams instead of App State and Miami (NTM).
No, it does seem like the closest analogue we have is Penn State…
here's a great play to blow up a run and draw a hold by... some defensive lineman:
Even with the benefit of replay, I can't tell who did that.
The above is representative of what Rutgers did to Penn State's running game. Here's their starting nose tackle, Kenneth Kirksey, annihilating PSU's center so badly Bill Belton's only option is to make a futile effort to get the edge. At first this play looks like a well-timed corner blitz, but the corner shouldn't come into play—Belton can't hit the intended hole because WDE David Milewski got instant penetration up the gut. Rutgers makes up for their undersized front by shooting the gaps hard, and against PSU's line this led to great success.
…and while I think Michigan's OL is better than Penn State I'm not sure.
Michigan has struggled to pick up slants and stunts this year and Rutgers thrives on that; their defense is reminiscent of the Schiano-era Rutgers Ds that seemingly had eleven guys all the same size coming from anywhere. Doubtful Michigan can pick that up.
Michigan's ground game has had two modes this year: clubberation of the worst teams in D-I and massive struggles against anyone else. Michigan has barely poked its head above 3 YPC in games against Notre Dame, Utah, and Minnesota, and it's not like those are all powers. Minnesota gave up nearly 200 yards on the ground to Middle Tennessee State; WSU just about matched Michigan's output when they played (and beat) Utah last week, and WSU is one of the worst rushing teams in the country.
So while it doesn't look as bad as last year most of the time, we've seen enough data that we have to give up the "no seriously it's better give it time" ghost. It's probably not good. Better than we've seen? Maybe if the tailbacks' vision improves, but that seems like a futile hope at the moment.
A possible exception: the one bright spot against Minnesota was De'Veon Smith, who singlehandedly trudged Michigan to their only touchdown with Shane Morris on the field. He got one carry after that, because ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Smith's a bit ponderous with his cuts but does a Hart-like job of lugging people downfield after contact and you think would be in line for more reps after picking up the vast bulk of Michigan's ground yardage on just 9 carries. Given Michigan's personnel decisions to date, you just don't know.
This should be high variance. When and if Michigan can latch onto the little buggers on the defensive line and the Knights' backup MLB does not fit correctly, Michigan will have big avenues to attack. (That they still might ignore, of course.) Rutgers is going to do its best to confuse an easily confused line, though, and that should result in more TFLs. If I had a nickel for every TFL boy Stephen Ross wouldn't be the only guy getting interviewed by the WSJ about this let me tell you…
Key Matchup: Hamilton versus Michigan interior linemen. Hamilton has 6 TFLs already and is by far the most disruptive player on the Rutgers D. Michigan's interior line… is probably better than their tackles?
[Hit THE JUMP for the REST of the PREVIEW]
|WHAT||Michigan vs Minnesota|
Ann Arbor MI
September 27th, 2014
|THE LINE||M –13|
|TELEVISION||ABC/ESPN reverse mirror|
|TICKETS||From 18 dollars. Soon they will cost as much as the original jug.|
|WEATHER||mid 70s, clear
0% chance of rain
Image via MVictors
Minnesota is probably not real good. They've got quarterback issues up the wazoo, they lost 30-7 to a middling-at-best Big 12 team, they completed one pass last week. They are, in short, a Big Ten team. So I'm sayin' there's a chance.
Run Offense vs Minnesota
Cameron Botticelli exists
With Shane Morris probably starting, about which more later, Michigan figures to lean heavily on its ground game one week after it blorped out just over three yards a carry against an undersized and probably not very good Utah team. Since Michigan doesn't incorporate the quarterback as a runner you have to account for regularly, that means a lot of stacked boxes without recourse to actually-threatening play action and a lot of meh. Michigan had two runs that weren't meh against Utah: one pin and pull zone and a power play that Derrick Green cut back when a Utah DT went blorp himself. It was ugly.
They go up against a Minnesota defense that we have little data on. They crushed SJSU last week; SJSU employs GERG and can be safely discounted as a relevant data point. The week before TCU ripped them for 6.3 yards a carry but on only 27 attempts; Middle Tennessee had a respectable 4.4 yards a pop on 43.
FWIW, last year the Gophers were highly variable leaning towards bad, allowing 4.5 yards a carry overall. Six of their Big Ten opponents went over 180 yards while averaging at least 4.4 yards a carry; the exceptions were Northwestern and of course Michigan. Remember how we were all mildly intrigued by tackle over? Yeah, that was 3.2 YPC, the worst performance against the Gophers last year by any Power 5 school. Only Northwestern was within a yard.
So that's depressing.
This year Michigan seems better, at least most of the time. Minnesota has a reasonable case they will be as well, with three of their defensive linemen returning along with their best linebacker. It did not show against their one competent opponent, and Ace looked at a game where they were playing a team that employs GERG. Yes, on the other side of the ball. It does not matter. So who knows?
Key Matchup: Michigan OL versus slants and stunts from Minnesota. Michigan had a hard time IDing them against Utah and Minnesota brings a similarly smallish but mobile front that will attempt to mess up Michigan's gaps.
[Hit THE JUMP for they fart, and sludge / sludge, and fart / fart fart fart, sludge sludge sludge / the Sludgey And Farty Show!]
|WHAT||Michigan vs Utah Utes Of Utah (We're From Utah!)|
Ann Arbor MI
September 20th, 2014
|THE LINE||M –4|
|TICKETS||From 23 bucks for a real game? Wow.|
|WEATHER||Muggy, high 70s
70% chance of rain
We know very little about what Utah might be like this year; they opened the season against I-AA Idaho State (what's up Matt Gutierrez) and a hilariously incompetent version of Fresno State. Remember how Nebraska was in a dogfight with McNeese State? Yeah, they just blew the pants off of Fresno. The Bulldogs have three games under their belt and have given up over 50 points in each, and neither Nebraska nor USC has exactly covered themselves in glory in their other games.
So: I dunno man.
Run Offense vs Utah
Utah's DL is a bit wee
Utah may be tractable here. While hilariously incompetent Fresno State couldn't go anywhere, Idaho State moved the ball on the ground efficiently. Their top two backs combined for 34 carries and nearly 200 yards; they averaged 5.7 yards a pop. (It was ISU's horrendous passing game that prevented them from doing much: 4 yards an attempt.)
The Ute DL is undersized, rolling out a 5'11", 285 pound nose tackle and 3-4-ish DEs that run 266 and 276; it's unknown how they'll respond to a 2TE offense but their slot corner is 5'8", 178 so just folding him inside is going to be a bad idea. They either went with six guys when Fresno put two guys in the backfield or rolled a safety down.
Against the spreads they've faced so far Utah runs a lot of the 3-man-front-with-standup-DE I've been calling "30 slide" in the UFRs; that standup guy is 255, so when they slide down to a four-man front their SDE and three-tech both weigh less than Frank Clark.
Meanwhile, almost all of these guys are new: only two front-seven starters are back from last year's in-fact-excellent rush D, which finished 17th in the nation at 3.5 yards a pop. (This obscures some roller coaster action: one week after giving up 300 rushing yards to Arizona, Utah held USC's entire team to poor-damn-Toussaint output: 30 yards on 30 carries… in a game they lost by 16!)
Ace noted that even when they were stuffing hilariously incompetent Fresno State those guys weren't holding up too well:
Utah's undersized DTs can get pushed around quite a bit—on a play that stood as a testament to Fresno's inability to do anything right even when doing something right, they pancaked both DTs on an inside run, but failed to account for a single linebacker, managing just two yards even though both tackles were on the dang ground.
The best things these guys have going for them are the legitimately disruptive Nate Orchard (who's from the same high school Sione Houma and Bryan Mone are) and their nose tackle's spectacular name: Viliseni Faounuku.
You never know about mostly new football defenses but the overall picture here is encouraging.
On the winged side of the ball, Michigan is gradually working out the kinks in its zone-heavy scheme. Last week Michigan had a lot of success after some early stumbles and blasted out over six yards a carry. It was against a horrible opponent, but it still represented progress. Michigan's tailbacks hit some of the large holes this time out. Tiny flags were waved in response. Michigan mashed an undersized Miami line off the ball for the most part.
Presented with an opportunity to do something similar against the Utes Michigan is likely to take it. Those kinks will linger—expect Derrick Green to cut to the backside when he's got a promising hole at least once; it actually seems like Michigan can expect success against a Power 5 school.
Key Matchup: Michigan tailbacks versus RUN THERE WHY DON'T YOU RUN THERE. Improved in the last game; there should be similar opportunities in this one.
[Hit THE JUMP for the terrifying tower of tempo.]