|WHAT||Rutgers at Michigan|
Ann Arbor, MI
|WHEN||3:30 PM Eastern
November 7th, 2015
|THE LINE||Michigan –24.5|
|PARKING||Limited availability from $20|
|WEATHER||partly cloudy, 0% chance of rain, 50s dropping to 40s|
Should have saved grumpy cat for this week.
Parking note sponsored by Park 'n' Party, which is your fancy same-place-all-the-time tailgate headquarters. They tell me they're now expanding into catering and equipment so they can accommodate all levels of commitment. They also say that if you wait you will not get parking and then you will
wander the earth doomed for all time have to explain this to your spouse. Seriously, they sold out for MSU and OSU is on the way.
Rutgers isn't good at football. Nor are they good at cloak and dagger attempts to raise a player's grades, keeping that player and several others from committing a series of robberies, recruiting, basketball, public relations, and most other things.
Playing Rutgers is an opportunity to reflect on the pure hypocrisy of not paying the players when people like Jim Delany have done everything in their power to make slightly more money, which generally goes to Jim Delany and people like him.
Run Offense vs Rutgers
Steve Longa is a prime tacklist for Rutgers
Michigan has really struggled in this department thanks to a confluence of factors. With literally no downfield passing game, safeties sit just behind the linebackers. In their first year in a new system—and for a few people a new position—Michigan commits too many mental errors in blocking for efficiency. The tailbacks get only what is blocked and sometimes a good deal less than that.
Add it up and it is very bleah when a wide receiver isn't loping downfield virtually uncontested. Surprisingly, that's happened enough that Michigan has shiny number in the fancy stats—26th. That makes little sense when all of their peripheral factors are average at best, but here we are. One thing they have going for them: they've actually played a lot of good to very good rush defenses.
Rutgers is not that. In Rutgers they find the most pliant rushing defense they've run across since UNLV. The Cable Subscribers lost star defensive tackle Darius Hamilton for the year, and the floodgates opened:
- Penn State: 41 rushes, 330 yards
- Michigan State: 37 rushes, 122 yards
- Indiana: 34 rushes, 163 yards
- Ohio State: 49 rushes, 281 yards
- Wisconsin: 38 rushes, 209 yards
With the exception of Michigan State's rickety OL all teams not named Norfolk State and Kansas have sandblasted the Rutgers rush D, which is 108th in S&P+.
Rutgers is seriously undersized, with only one guy approaching 300 pounds on the DL. With three freshmen starting in the secondary when a rush gets to them they blow it a lot. Rutgers does a ton of slanting and shifting and blitzing in an effort to conceal their inability to stand up to the opposition, and that is reasonably effective—they stuff a lot of plays. Linebacker Quentin Gause has 9 TFLs; guy Seth always drafts in Draftageddon Steve Longa has 4. It's just what happens once the opposition gets past the first wave that alarms.
Michigan figures to let 'er rip on Drake Johnson this week after he got yards while the other guys did not, but De'Veon Smith and others will also feature. With Rutgers one of those aggressive gap-shooting defenses expect a return of the misdirection and trapping that were largely shelved against Minnesota's read and react unit.
This probably won't be great because Michigan's problems are frequently opponent invariant, but so are Rutgers's. Michigan should bust some 15-20 yarders and have an encouragingly productive day.
KEY MATCHUP: DRAKE JOHNSON versus LET'S SEE IF DRAKE JOHNSON IS THE FEATURE BACK
[Hit THE JUMP for WHEN YOUR SECONDARY GETS ARRESTED YOU'RE GONNA HAVE A BAD TIME]
|WHAT||Michigan at Minnesota|
|WHERE||Homesure Lending Stadium
|WHEN||7 PM Eastern
October 31st, 2015
|THE LINE||Michigan –13.5|
|PARKING||Dunno, is road game|
|WEATHER||partly cloudy, low 50s dropping to 40s, small chance of rain|
This game took on added significance for Minnesota after the sudden retirement of Jerry Kill for health reasons. It was already pretty significant, though, as the Gophers took the piece of crockery pictured above on a Stanley Cup-like tour of the state after winning it a year ago.
For Michigan, this is a chance to exorcise demons on Halloween. It was this game last year when Michigan put in Shane Morris and stayed with Shane Morris long after that was a reasonable option and then the concussion catastrophe happened. It was last Halloween when Dave Brandon resigned and Jim Hackett took the first step towards completing the Harbaugh Hail Mary.
Oh and Michigan has a division to play for, even if a path to winning it looks a bit murky right now.
Run Offense vs Minnesota
Drake Johnson should be healthy [Barron]
This unit has been middling for the Gophers. Nebraska got one 69-yard touchdown on misdirection on which the Gophers blew a run fit and a safety had his head in the clouds; that was the cornerstone of a just-okay 203 yard, 39 carry day. Other opponents have run a lot with not very much efficiency. Only TCU and Colorado State have scraped above 4 YPC, though Ohio got close.
Neither have many opponents been shut down, though. Purdue and Kent State yes. Others not so much. Minnesota's rush defense is a lot like their rush offense: capable of setting up second and medium and not so much with the TFLs. They are really really average, and the stats say they are really really average.
Minnesota's front seven is a little dinged up. Cody Poock, normally a starter, was unable to practice before the Nebraska game and is listed as a backup on the Gopher depth chart; Tracy Claeys blamed himself for the long run because he spent much of the week prepping as if Poock would be available. DT Scott Epke is listed as questionable.
Michigan's ground game is a little bit better than average, but not by much. Plagued with questionable cuts from the backs and targeting issues but #blessed with fullbacks sprinting for 30 yards on the regular and other Harbaugh wrinkles, Michigan is making chicken salad this year.
Minnesota has shown itself vulnerable to misdirection as they play a lot of man with their excellent CBs and the safeties and linebackers tend to drift and then don't have great speed with which to recover. If Michigan can get their lines down with the various Harbaugh wrinkles they should have a number of chunk plays on which the playcall did a lot of the work; from there it's about controlling an average defensive line and making those three yard runs into five yard runs.
This won't be a blowout but I expect Michigan to do well enough here to string together productive drives—maybe not 80 yards but 30 will do if you're in a punting battle.
KEY MATCHUP: MICHIGAN TAILBACKS versus THEIR PERIPHERAL VISION and sometimes JUST THEIR VISION PERIOD
[Hit THE JUMP for A SECONDARY AS BIZARRELY GOOD AS NORTHWESTERN's and AN OFFENSE THAT IS ALSO BASICALLY NORTHWESTERN's]
|WHAT||Michigan at Maryland|
College Park, MD
October 3rd, 2015
|THE LINE||Michigan –15.5|
|PARKING||suggest you bring a kayak|
|WEATHER||mid 50s, 25% chance of rain, 20 MPH wind|
Ceilingturtle is watching you… well, you know.
Maryland is bad. They were outgained about 2-to-1 in a 21-point loss to Bowling Green in which they gave up almost 700 yards of offense. They were just blown out by West Virginia 45-6 in another game they just about got doubled up in. Their wins are over an FCS team most notable for once having John Beilein as its basketball coach and South Florida.
They had a team meeting this week that Randy Edsall had no idea about, and then Edsall misinterpreted Forrest Gump. Forrest Gump is not exactly Zizek, whoever Zizek is. Ask MGoWife. I think he was a Hungarian waffle impresario or something.
The current forecast has winds around 20 MPH and a 25% chance of rain. Meteorologist dudes say that there will be gusts:
The main weather factor to affect Michigan's game will be strong, gusty winds. The wind gusts are still expected to be over 30 mph out of the northeast. There even could be a gust near 40 mph.
But the rain should be intermittent and not ridiculous:
Deep passing will be erratic and special teams will be impacted by the wind, but this shouldn't be a complete disaster.
Run Offense vs Maryland
Yannick Ngakoue is back. Ain't nobody else.
This is going to be a theme for this year and all subsequent ones: dunno, but probably destruction. The Terrapins have not played anything like Harbaugh's offense. They have not done well against the spread attacks they've faced so far. That's not a huge surprise. They lost six of seven starters from their front seven and have been gashed in every game except Richmond. I'm not taking out Maryland's many sacks because you get the idea anyway:
- vs Bowling Green: 50 carries, 201 yards
- vs USF: 50 carries, 240 yards
- vs WVU: 59 carries, 304 yards
When Ace settled in for a review of that West Virginia game he came back with many screenshots of lanes a battleship could scoot through:
West Virginia got whatever they wanted because they controlled the line of scrimmage. Maryland's defensive tackles, especially, couldn't prevent WVU from opening huge creases up the gut. This went for a big gain because a DT got pancaked so quickly that Kyle Bosch—yes, that Kyle Bosch—could get out to the MIKE and nobody else was home:
Safeties are making a ton of tackles for the Terps. Their linebackers are constantly eating blocks; nobody on the front seven is able to make much impact against single blocking. The good news for Maryland, such that it is, is that the Terps have been playing a 4-3 much of the year. They won't have to change their personnel much in an attempt to match up.
That defense sounds like something Michigan should tear apart. Harbaugh's maniacs have spent big chunks of the past couple games with one wide receiver on the field and that's been fine. Michigan has ripped off few big runs; the constant pounding has seen their rush offense approach 5 YPC despite a ton of missed cuts and a second-half tendency to put the horses back in the barn after sprinting to a four-score lead. Blocking has been consistent but not overwhelming; this looks like a defense against whom consistent will be overwhelming.
Meanwhile, Harbaugh's weird-ass offense is well suited to deal with any weather issues that may arise. Many weather games devolve into hopeless slogs because opposing defenses get cocky and bring everyone to the line of scrimmage. That is already happening to Michigan's offense and they're still banging out five yards a carry. All rain does is make the prospect of tackling De'Veon Smith even more daunting.
KEY MATCHUP: RUNNING BACKS versus MICHIGAN RUNNING LANES HAVING SOME SORT OF WEIRD STEALTH MODE
[Hit THE JUMP for YOU GAVE UP WHAT TO WHO?]
|WHAT||BYU at Michigan|
Ann Arbor, MI
September 26th, 2015
|THE LINE||Michigan –6.5|
|WEATHER||partly cloudy, mid 70s
0% chance of rain
BYU is simultaneously this year's luckiest and most cursed team. They've won two games on Hail Marys (or close enough, anyway). They've lost their starting QB, NT, RB, and TE—and the former two are the best players on the team.
What's left over isn't nearly as intimidating as BYU looked in the middle of summer, but neither are the Cougars suddenly bad. Last week they baffled Josh Rosen into three picks and a horrible day as they nearly upset UCLA; to be in position to win against Nebraska and Boise State with Hail Marys you have to be rather close.
Run Offense vs BYU
Tuiloma's health is in doubt
Much depends on the health of monster BYU nose tackle Travis Tuiloma, who was knocked out of the Nebraska game with a knee injury and expected to miss 4-6 weeks. There have been rumblings about a return, and rumblings that such chatter was hopeful at best. The latest as of press time is "dunno." Most of the optimism seems to have come from Tuiloma himself on twitter. All else has been vague save for this potentially revealing slip-up from one of his DL teammates on Tuesday:
Peck talked as if nose tackle Travis Tuiloma (knee) won't play, and said the Cougars "will definitely miss Travis" in a game like this.
Tuiloma is a future pro and BYU has both coped and suffered without him. Nebraska's ground game went from nonexistent to extant once he left, and while the Cougars shut Boise State down they just got ripped for just under 300 yards at 7.8(!) yards a pop by UCLA.
Bronco Mendenhall was not pleased in the aftermath:
"Yeah, obviously everyone knows there has been a big issue with tackling. In coach Mendenhall's words, he calls this week a bloodbath. That is kind of what practice was," Peck said. "Wrapping up and bringing the scout team guys to the ground — not just wrapping up. And so there is an emphasis on tackling, and hopefully we will be able to get better at it this week."
BYU's 3-4 is one of those ever-morphing, slant-heavy, pretty-much-a-3-3-5 setups. They will seek to offset a size discrepancy by putting surprising guys in surprising gaps and hope to get to Michigan's tailbacks before they build up a head of steam. Tuiloma makes that job so much easier because he is virtually impossible to deal with one on one; without him they're much more susceptible to getting gashed when teams deal with their blitzes.
How BYU will react to Michigan's offense is a mystery. They've only faced spread teams to date, and they are decidedly small overall. Both starting OLBs are 230; they don't have an ILB who cracks 235; without Tuiloma they don't have a 300-pounder on the line. That's a bit of a problem when you are running a straight-up 3-4.
That sounds inviting for De'Veon Smith. If Smith can get past the first wave of defenders these are gentlemen who bounced off much smaller UCLA backs last week and project to do the same when Smith contacts them. Michigan has been repping and repping and repping against nine and even ten man fronts the last week, gradually showing more and more of the weird stuff Harbaugh mixes into bust big plays against stacked boxes. This will be a test, as BYU is well short of Utah in the front seven but well past Michigan's other two opponents.
KEY MATCHUP: Michigan Pullers and Tailbacks versus Wacky Slant Blitzes. Michigan's had opportunities to bust long plays against defenses that are sending guys all over; to date they have not quite gotten there. Either the tailback isn't seeing it or one block is getting messed up; if Michigan hits it right they should get motion on various guys on the front.
[Hit THE JUMP for THE GUN SHOW, OR GNU SHOW. WHATEVER.]
|WHAT||UNLV at Michigan|
Ann Arbor, MI
September 19th, 2015
|THE LINE||Michigan -34|
|WEATHER||mid-60s, AM rain ceasing around gametime, 15 mph winds|
The Rebels, or at least UNLV beat writers, are entering this game with a modest goals:
Depth will be an issue all year and that makes getting out of this third game healthy arguably more important than the scoreboard. …
The good news is Decker’s injury isn’t as severe as expected. The better news will be if that’s still true Saturday afternoon.
All right then. Michigan's disappointed as huge favorites before, but UNLV enters this game battered and expecting little.
The recipe for a nerve-wracking game or colossal upset starts with a quarterback who can play out of his mind and a run defense that can prevent Michigan from rolling over them. UNLV's starting QB is questionable and their run defense is hilariously undersized. A Hoke rushing offense could probably barf this up; it would be a surprise if Harbaugh's could even in week three of his career as Michigan's head coach.
Run Offense vs UNLV
FAKA ME?! FAKAUHO!
UNLV has not had a promising start in this department. Northern Illinois rushed for 185 yards at 4.4 a pop; UCLA went for 273 at 5.8. It doesn't take much digging to figure out why this might not be going that well:
UNLV's defensive line features one returning starter, two 230 pound guys—one of whom plays a lot of DT(!) at 6'6"(!!)—and a dude whose last name sounds like Joe Pesci yelling at you. Only the latter has the requisite size (and RBF) for the major level of competition. Baldwin hops around a lot and they'll often show a 3-3-5 look, but that still leaves you with a 230 pound guy on a 3-man front. Ain't no way around it: they're tiny. They will spend the entire game trying to slant, stunt, and confuse their way into the backfield, because if Michigan latches on to them they're going for the proverbial "ride."
Meanwhile we have no idea who UNLV's third linebacker might be since they never left nickel against the Bruins, instead preferring 165-pound freshman Darius Mouton (who I don't think is related to Jonas, FWIW) even on short yardage.
This adds up to not very good. Ace:
So... this is basically Oregon State but even smaller and less talented. UCLA ran for 5.8 yards per carry on a bunch of stuff that looked like this:
The defensive line got no push, the linebackers were unathletic and often caught up in the wash, and the play usually got to the secondary before initial contact was made. UCLA was able to do this while spreading out UNLV; Michigan should have even more success loading up and going right at them—they don't look like they can hold up against a big, run-heavy team.
Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the run defense?
UNLV has responded to personnel deficiencies by dialing up a ton of blitzes. These leave their secondary somewhat exposed, but that would seem to be the recipe against Michigan as well. M has not displayed much deep ball ability yet, and for the Rebs it's get busy blitzin' or get busy dyin'.
Michigan's half of this is very promising for a certain level of competition. UNLV fits neatly in this box. UNLV may huddle in a corner of this box hoping nobody picks it out. Alas, poor UNLV: De'Veon Smith is coming for your life force.
Michigan will want to build on a mauling game against Oregon State by correctly identifying all the games UNLV wants to play and blasting them into the stratosphere. This won't be much of a physical test; it promises to be an interesting mental one.
KEY MATCHUP: The Front X versus Targeting Correctly. M did a great job in the last game. This one provides an opportunity to build.
[Hit THE JUMP for VARIOUS ADDITIONAL SMALL PERSONS, AT LEAST IN THE CONTEXT OF COLLEGE FOOTBALL.]
|WHAT||Michigan at Utah|
Salt Lake City, UT
8:30 pm Eastern
September 3rd, 2015
|THE LINE||Utah –4.5|
|TELEVISION||Fox Sports 1/Fox Sports Go|
|WEATHER||mid 80s, partly cloudy, 10-20 mph wind|
It's here. It's finally here.
It's safe to say things are little different this year. Yes, Utah beat Michigan in 2014, but even by that early juncture in the season M fans certainly weren't saying "IT'S HERE" in tones normally reserved for Christmas Day or a particularly indulgent Amazon Prime order.
The Utes enter the game as the favorite, though the line has creeped down a point after holding at -5.5 for much of the offseason. Both teams should look substantially different than they did last fall. That bodes well for Michigan; we'll see how it goes for Utah.
Since we don't run a FFFF in the first week, Seth threw together a diagram of the Utah starters (click for big):
Booker, Norris, Dimick, and Hackett (seriously) qualify as dangermen.
Run Offense vs Utah
holes like this one would be quite nice [Fuller]
If the biggest loss for the Utes wasn't DE Nate Orchard, the nation's leader in sacks a year ago, it was up-and-coming defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake, who left for the same job at Oregon State during a tumuluous offseason. In Sitake's place steps John Pease, whom Kyle Whittingham coaxed out of retirement; Peace last served as Whittingham's defensive line coach from 2009-10. Whittingham is a defensive specialist, so the impact of the coaching shakeup may be minimal, but it's worth keeping in mind. They're also switching to a 4-3, though like Michigan's "3-4" the difference may be more semantic than anything else.
Peace inherits a strong front seven even without Orchard. While the Utes only finished 50th in rushing S&P+ last year, their worst performances came against spread teams, and Michigan is very much not one of those. They're anchored on the interior by sophomore DT Lowell Lotulelei, younger brother of Star Lotulelei, who's coming off an impressive freshman campaign. The other tackle spot could be a weak point; Filipo Mokofisi is a 285-pound sophomore with two starts to his name. Utah boasts a pair of playmakers at defensive end; Hunter Dimick (4.5 run TFLs) and Jason Fanaika (4.5 run TFLs as a backup) were overshadowed by Orchard last year, but both are good players in their own right.
The linebackers are both experienced and productive; all three starters are seniors. MIKE Jared Norris led the team with 116 tackles in 2014, with 13 of those coming behind the line (nine against the run). "Rover" Gionni Paul is something of a poor man's Darron Lee, a 225-pound linebacker who's comfortable making plays in space. "Stud" Jason Whittingham, nephew of the head coach, missed most of last season but played well in ten starts as a sophomore.
The departure of strong safety Brian Blechen, a longtime standout who tallied 45 solo tackles last year, could hurt the run defense, but the Utes appear to have a ready-made replacement. Tevin Carter was one of Utah's best defenders in the four games he was healthy last year and he'll step into his more natural spot at strong safety this season.
There aren't many obvious holes in Utah's run defense, but their mediocre performance last year suggests they can be worn down; as Bill Connelly noted, they got worse as games went on last year, and depth could be even more of an issue up front this season. If Michigan's offense can control the ball for long enough stretches to force the Utes to rotate, De'Veon Smith and the rest of the committee could be in for a solid night of work.
Key Matchup: Ben Braden vs. Utah's interior line. Braden had some trouble keeping leverage in the run game last year and the Utes have guys who can get under your pads and make you go places you don't intend. I'm expecting M's line to hold up pretty well, but if Braden has a rough outing it could submarine the run game.
[Hit THE JUMP for CAN I MAKE IT THROUGH THIS PREVIEW WHILE BREATHING THROUGH A PAPER BAG LET'S FIND OUT.]