State College, PA
|WHEN||5 PM Eastern
October 12th, 2013
|THE LINE||M –2.5|
|WEATHER||partly cloudy, mid 60s dropping to 50s, 10% chance of rain|
I ADMIT IT, AND I'D DO IT AGAIN, SEE? YEAH, SEE?
Penn State enters their game against Michigan reeling after their first-ever loss to Indiana, that by a whopping 20 points. While Penn State's attempts to get back into the game created a bit of a point avalanche for the Hoosiers, Indiana racked up almost 500 yards in a decidedly non-fluky victory.
With a 37-34 loss to UCF that wasn't really that close also in the rear view mirror, Penn State is teetering on the brink of a sanctions-imposed abyss. A win against Michigan forestalls that for a while yet. A home loss to go 3-3 with two gimmies and spirits will deflate.
Run Offense vs Penn State
Glenn Carson tackles will hit double digits
Penn State's rushing defense has been schizophrenic. They've obliterated Eastern Michigan and Kent State. Those teams are really terrible at offense, sure. Syracuse is actually decent-ish and Penn State held them under a hundred yards; their main backs combined to acquire 3.5 yards an attempt on 28 carries.
In their other two games they've been shredded.
- UCF got two runs of 40+ yards and averaged 6.7 yards an attempt, quarterbacks excluded.
- Indiana was a bit less prolific but also ripped off a 40-yarder and averaged 5.2 a pop, team and QB rushes excluded.
Ace hopped on Google Talk to describe with wonder IU's backbreaking 75-yard touchdown drive to go up 28-17, because it was all rushes and screens. Vintage Penn State defense this isn't.
Sanctions have started to bite heavily, especially in the linebacker corps, where Nyeem Wartman and Ben Kline have been knocked out of the lineup and Mike Hull has been playing hurt, visibly. He missed EMU and Kent State and has limped through the last couple games. That leaves senior returning starter Glenn Carson, a fringe NFL prospect, as the only fully healthy starter. Hull's making do at one spot and 5'10" converted safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong is operating as a permanent nickelback at the other. Against Indiana, PSU used Carson and Hull as the ILBs; against Michigan they'll have to hope all three guys can read and react in the box, because if you think Michigan sees 5'10" linebacker and 250 pound SDE and isn't going to manball faces you've got another thing coming.
Given Michigan's success at reducing turnovers with a grinding style, expect them to continue that until Penn State proves they can stop it—and I mean stop it, not just reduce it to 3 or 4 yards. This is actually a situation in which you may be able to "wear down the opponent," because the opponent is operating with 61 scholarship players. Penn State has a tough task against tackle over: shift under and Lewan's blowing your DE off the ball. Shift over and you're asking a lot of Obeng-Agyapong.
The cat-and-mouse game will play a large role in success here, as Michigan's overload is susceptible to a similar overload from Penn State and counters were limited and not particularly effective against Minnesota. They had a couple of weakside isos and one honest-to-God counter; only one of those plays was particularly successful.
With Fitzgerald Toussaint obviously instructed to get upfield fast and hard on threat of pudding bath, Michigan will grind out another low-TFL, low-YPA, lots of third-and-short running performance, leaving big plays to relatively infrequent passes.
Key Matchup: Kerridge, Butt, and Kalis/Bryant against Penn State linebackers. Yeah, I'm taking it for granted that the Red Sea will part on these power plays, whether it's by playing straight up for Lewan adjusting to slant games PSU comes up with. That'll leave the lead block convoy against PSU's hallowed but flagging LB corps.
[Hit THE JUMP for Come to Penn Shhhhhhtate!]
|WHAT||Michigan vs Minnesota|
Ann Arbor, MI
|WHEN||3:30 PM Eastern
October 5th, 2013
|THE LINE||M -20|
|TELEVISION||ABC/ESPN2 reverse mirror|
|WEATHER||mostly cloudy, high 70s, scattered showers|
100% confidence in creepy ass subtext.
It was strongly suspected that Minnesota was pretty bad at football this year despite their 4-0 start since they'd gotten outgained by 99 yards against UNLV and 62 yards against San Jose State in wins that looked like blowouts but were far from that. Then the Gophers grind out 165 yards of offense against Iowa while giving up 464 in a win that only Kirk Ferentz could keep as close as 23-7. Minnesota is terrible at football.
Dammit. This is going to be a gut-wrencher.
Run Offense vs Minnesota
I've got 99 problems and Ra'Shede Hageman is all of them
Fitzgerald Toussaint got on track to the tune of 120 yards against UConn, but that was nowhere near enough to prevent Michigan from shaking up its offensive line. Jack Miller exits, Graham Glasgow slides over to center, and Chris Bryant makes his first start tomorrow. This will probably help, as Miller's been not so good for most of this year; it's a rough introduction to college football to get Ra'shede Hageman in your first start.
Maybe. UNLV's pistol-oriented attack had a lot of success on the ground in the opener, and Iowa just mashed them for 246 yards on 45 carries. Shutting down NMSU, WIU, and SJSU in the interim doesn't mean much. Iowa's Mark Weisman is a definitively between-the tackles runner who averaged 6.1 yards a pop with a long of 19, so there's something wrong in the Gopher rush defense.
What that might be:
The problem for Minnesota is their small, undisciplined defensive ends. Starters Michael Amaefula and Theiran Cockran weigh in at 244 and 238 pounds, respectively, and attempt to make up for this by firing upfield on most snaps.
Adding to the issues was near-constant use of man coverage, which combined with the lack of gap discipline from the ends to open up a Rudock touchdown scramble early and another long scramble late on which Rudock casually strolled by Gopher defenders who weren't even looking at him. I can't believe it didn't hit youtube. It was hilarious. Devin Gardner is going to average 10 yards a carry on scrambles.
The more conventional run game is a mystery with the line switch. Can Michigan still run the stretch? Do they even want to anymore? Can Michigan move Hageman with doubles on the inside zone? Can they exploit the light ends and general lack of DB support created by frequent man to man coverage? I don't know!
I do think Michigan should try some of those down G power runs on which the playside guard pulls and you try to hit it up outside of the end quickly. This is do or die for the idea that tight end blocking can be an asset against literally anyone in the league; if AJ Williams doesn't get some face-mashing in Saturday, he's not going to do it against anyone.
Key Matchup: Bryant and Glasgow and Kalis versus Hageman and company. For this game the TEs might be more of a factor. For the season, watching how the new-look interior OL copes against Minnesota's strength is incredibly important.
[Hit THE JUMP for obligatory Gardner turnover assumptions.]
|WHAT||Michigan vs UConn|
September 21st, 2013
|THE LINE||M -18|
|WEATHER||mid-60s, 0% chance of rain|
"paul pasqualoni young". Yup. That's real. If you don't believe me you're spending an awful lot of time disbelieving things it would be patently silly for anyone to make up.
Run Offense vs UConn
UConn. The very name sends trembles down your spine. After Randy Edsall ascended to Heaven on a pillar of righteousness, the Huskies hired legendary Michigan-killer Paul Pasqualoni, and since they have written their name in blood and glory across the night sky.
In their opening game the Towson Somethings struggled to acquired 201 yards on the ground on 50 carries, a 4.0 average. Starting tailback Terrance West ground out 156 yards on 36 carries as the Huskies bayed and called around him, mocking, ever mocking. The Conn Army's second game was ever more dominating: Maryland acquired a pathetic 231 yards on 40 carries; the Terrapins feared exposing just one tailback to the ruthless fangs and split their carries between CJ Brown (QB, 1991-2013, 16 carries for 122 yards) and Brandon Ross (RB, 1992-2013, 18 carries for 95 yards).
I have to break from the faux terror here because UConn's defense was in fact shockingly good a year ago. Do you remember that they held Teddy Bridgewater to 10 points in regulation and 20 overall in a triple-overtime win over Louisville last year? You probably do not, because who remembers things about random Big East games featuring 5-7 UConn? Bridgewater took 53 attempts to acquire 331 yards but threw two interceptions and got sacked five times. The Louisville ground game acquired 57 yards, quarterbacks excluded. For the year, UConn was seventh nationally in rush defense, second only to Alabama in yards per rush ceded.
Unfortunately for the Huskies, Trevardo Williams and Sio Moore* are off to the NFL, as are corners Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson. All of those guys were off the board by the early fourth round. Losing four mid-round NFL draft picks in one go is a body blow for a team with UConn's talent level, and they're currently reeling. Maryland bombed them for 500 yards and FCS Towson almost cracked 400.
Without much penetration or experience on the outside save for Yawid Smallwood, the lone returner from last year's all-NFL linebacking corps (Smallwood is projected as a third round pick like his buddies), Michigan should have opportunities similar to the ones they did against Akron as soon as they figured out what the Zips were doing with their bear fronts. UConn will stem into some three-four looks, but Michigan's seen that already. This has to be a step forward for the line and Toussaint or it's time to stop pushing the panic button and resign ourselves to another zombie apocalypse of TFLs.
Ace thought the interior of the line was solid against the Terps, so this will provide a human-sized challenge for the offensive line after two weeks of baby seals and one featuring two top-end NFL prospects. Move some guys, get some holes, see Toussaint follow them, and spark an ember of hope.
*[Sio is a nickname for… wait for it… "Snorsio." Wow.]
Key Matchup: Fitzgerald Toussaint versus Poor Damn Toussaint Syndrome. Follow your fullback, man. What's the worst that could happen?
Other than that.
Please come out from under the table.
[Hit THE JUMP for lots of caps letters in the cheap thrills section.]
Other stuff here: Ace FFFF!
|WHAT||Michigan vs Akron|
Ann Arbor, Michigan
September 14th, 2013
|THE LINE||M -38|
|WEATHER||sunny, upper 60s
0% chance of rain
I'm trying real hard, Mr. Roo.
Run Offense vs Akron
The Zips were 109th in rushing defense a year ago, ceding nearly five yards a carry even without removing sacks. It's possible they've improved in that department after holding UCF to four yards a carry and James Madison to 3.7, but doubtful that Michigan will notice such a difference.
That's Akron playing defense against Central Florida.
For Michigan, it's about identifying guys correctly and blowing them up. They've had opportunities to break long ones submarined by one missed assignment here, one missed assignment there. That's understandable with a young line and (still) young tight ends. Michigan wants to develop those guys over the course of the season; now would be a good time to put the spurs to an opponent.
Key Matchup: The offensive line vs generating false hopes because they smash low level competition.
[Hit THE JUMP for more condescending key matchups.]
Other stuff here: Ace FFFF!
|WHAT||Michigan vs Notre Dame|
Ann Arbor, Michigan
|WHEN||8 pm Eastern
September 7th, 2013
|THE LINE||M -4|
|WEATHER||mid 70s dropping to low 70s, isolated thunderstorms, 30% chance of rain|
Expanding Tom Hammond head from NDMSPaint. We miss you, Tom.
Run Offense vs Notre Dame
Hello, Mr. Nix, I am a center popularly described as "undersized." Let me step around you all day?
This matchup got more intriguing last week as Michigan's offensive line showed pretty well running zone stretches and Temple went for 4.6 YPC against the Irish. In the aftermath, Louis Nix seemed frustrated at his lack of impact after eating double-team after double-team. This spawns questions: were people not doubling Nix before? Are people aware that doubling nose tackles is standard practice in many offenses? Was it just the sweltering heat that deflated Nix's performance? I don't know, man.
A big chunk of the Temple ground game came on scrambles we'll address in the next section. What didn't was a result of effectively double-teaming Nix, avoiding Stephon Tuitt, and getting Notre Dame's middle linebackers confused. Temple used a lot of packaged plays in this one, which caused the Irish MLBs to look clueless as they sucked up on runs that turned into quick seam routes they vacated. Expect Michigan to do something similar, whether it's more packaged plays—Michigan has run them on occasion in the last couple years—or a variety of counters and screens that exploit a couple of guys in Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese who don't play like the veterans they are.
Also of note: hyper-touted recruit Jaylon Smith is one of the starting outside linebackers for Notre Dame. He's a true freshman who replaces the retired Danny Spond, and may be vulnerable to either getting optioned or just straight-up blown up by guys who have been in college a bit longer.
[NOTE: Notre Dame's 3-4 is going to look a bit like a 4-3 for maybe half the day, as Michigan will have a tight end and Notre Dame will screw down their strongside linebacker (either Prince Shembo or Ishaq Williams) over the tight end. They'll still two gap when they're in that front; sometimes they will go 4-3 with 320-pound Stephon Tuitt moving inside.]
For Michigan, it's Fitzgerald Toussaint's time to grab a death lock on the feature back job or slog through another middling game that opens up the freshman floodgates behind. In this one, I'll believe a freshman gets tasked with defending blitzes from a 3-4 ten seconds after it gets Gardner splattered into goo. Except for short yardage it'll be Toussaint, and then Justice Hayes if he needs a blow.
As for the line, it showed as well as it could against CMU, repeatedly crushing the Chips off the ball to the left side of the line. Jack Miller and Graham Glasgow showed an affinity for the scoop blocks that make the stretch go, and Miller in particular showed the agility you need. That's no surprise since he was recruited by Rich Rodriguez. Michigan will do plenty of that in the hopes that Taylor Lewan can win his one on one matchup and Nix will be left behind, panting. Note than in three-man fronts, Glasgow will be releasing immediately and it'll be Miller and Kalis trying to combo Nix. Not as effective, likely.
Michigan's tight ends are a key. They've got to be able to either block Smith or outrun Shembo/Fox/Calabrese to be effective. Funchess had a tough outing against CMU, and AJ Williams could have been better. Michigan wants to hit the edge, and the tight ends will have to help them get there.
What happens? I don't know. Seriously.
Key Matchup: Nix versus Miller/Glasgow/Kalis. If Michigan can get a stalemate here that's a win. Temple did handle him.
[Hit THE JUMP for my diabolical revenge on Jack Swarbrick, and other stuff.]
Previously here: Brian's turn to self-inflict carpal tunnel (aka the 'preview 2013' tag—if you haven't read through those by now, set aside a good ALL OF THE HOURS)
|WHAT||Michigan vs Central Michigan|
Ann Arbor, Michigan
|WHEN||3:30 pm Eastern, August 31, 2013|
|THE LINE||M -32|
|WEATHER||partly cloudy, around 80, 10% chance of rain|
Trollin' trollin' trollin'/Sparty LOL'in/This better not happen/To ussssssss
Run Offense vs Central Michigan
The good news for Central Michigan is they return four of their six starters up front (they run a 4-2-5 defense); the bad news is one of those starters is buried down at third on the depth chart at nose tackle—oh, and the Chips allowed 193 rushing yards per game last season, 93rd in the NCAA. Returning talent is good if it is talented; CMU's defense was not so talented in 2012.
The Chips return both linebackers, senior SLB Shamari Benton and junior MLB Justin Cherocci; the pair combined for 258(!) tackles last season, largely because the defensive line couldn't make plays—only two D-linemen cracked 40 tackles last season, and both have since graduated. Benton and Cherocci will be tasked with keeping five-yard gains from turning into big plays; their tackle numbers indicate they're pretty decent at doing so, though CMU's opponent rushing numbers (4.9 ypc before sacks removed) may tell a different story.
If Michigan can't get a traditional run game going against this team, it may be time to PANIC. Maize n Brew interviewed Hustle Belt blogger Ron Balaskovitz about the matchup, one that doesn't bode well for CMU given what their defense is designed to stop:
The problem for CMU when they face a team like Michigan, who wants to establish a power running game, is that CMU doesn't play a normal front seven. They play 4-2-5 defense that is designed to bend but don't break, and slow down the pass happy MAC offenses, so it leaves them vulnerable against power run teams. It doesn't typically blitz often, and relies on pressure from the front four, and lots of tackles by the linebackers. The linebackers are both back, and both had over 100 tackles last year, so the pressure rests squarely on the defensive line coming into this game.
Only one CMU defensive lineman, nose tackle Leterrius Walton, returns to his starting spot this year; last year's other starting DT, junior Jabari Dean, is now listed third on the nose tackle depth chart. CMU lists co-starters at both defensive end spots, and none of the four crack 250 pounds. Michigan should be able to control the game on the ground without breaking out much fancy stuff; if they struggle to do so, optimism for their chances against Notre Dame—and their beastly defensive line—drops several notches.
Key Matchup: Jack Miller and Graham Glasgow vs. The One Proven CMU Lineman. Actually, the non-proven ones, too. If Miller and/or Glasgow struggle to get a push against these guys, it does not bode well for the running game going fowards. I think I've made that rather clear.
[Hit THE JUMP for how do you give up that many passing yards to MSU? Also, a fearsome running back named Zurlon.]