"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
|WHAT||USA vs Nigeria
Send Off Series Friendly
|WHERE||Chad Henne Field
|WHEN||6 PM Eastern, Saturday|
|LINE||I don't know man|
Super Eagles! via Vanity Fair
THE THEM: TEAM THAT FINALLY HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH ARMENIA
The US finally draws an opponent in the World Cup in their final open-door friendly. (They'll play Belgium in Brazil behind closed doors.) Nigeria's in group F with Argentina, Bosnia, and Iran. They're ranked 44th in the FIFA rankings and yes I hate World Cup draws, too.
Here is the part where I'd tell you where Nigeria falls in ESPN's Soccer Power Index, but it evaporated last week so I'm not entirely sure. This article ripping the World Cup draw process that I agree with so hard seems to have gotten them just before they disappeared, though, and it shows Nigeria 28th, approximately equal to the Greek squad Portugal just drew 0-0 with (albeit without Ronaldo) and in the vicinity of Costa Rica and Honduras.
In qualifying, Nigeria went 3-0-3 against a weak group of Malawi (122nd in the FIFA rankings), Kenya (102nd), and Namibia (120th) before defeating Ethiopia 4-1 (101st) in a two-legged playoff to claim their bid. In January they finished third in the African Nations Cup, losing the semifinal on penalties to Ghana after a 0-0 regulation; in recent World Cup friendlies they've drawn Mexico 0-0, Scotland 2-2, and Greece 0-0.
You may have figured out that this is a boring team that relies on its defense, and yes, yes they are. They had seven goals in their six group games despite playing some really bad teams, and you remember that USA-Scotland friendly. Nigeria omitted Seattle Sounders star Obafemi Martins in favor of unattached 32-year-olds with six caps and five goals for club over the past three years like Shola Ameobi, seemingly because the coach has a problem with him. So I guess it's not just Klinsmann.
Anyway. The Greece matchup was as dismal as you'd fear:
Defense and goalkeeping controlled the game in a 0-0 draw played in front of a largely pro-Greece crowd of 10,131 fans at the Chester stadium. Each team held the other in check throughout the game, preventing many quality scoring chances.
The teams managed just four shots on goal apiece.
But Klinsmann says Nigeria and Ghana play similar styles, so here they are.
Despite having an identical scoreline, the Mexico game was wide open and attacking:
So maybe the Greece thing is just Greece's ironhearted determination to be the least watchable football outfit on the planet.
Nigeria is threatening on the break and looks to counter; they are seemingly disorganized on set pieces, though: Mexico had four grade-A opportunities from dead balls.
While the lineup against Mexico was listed as a 4-4-2, it looked like a 4-3-3 for big chunks of the game; Liverpool-by-way-of-Chelsea forward Victor Moses is one of those striker/winger hybrids with Fenerbache's Emmanuel Emenike the main guy up top; Chelsea's John Obi Mikel is the heart of the midfield.
Like Ghana (and the US!), defense looks like it may be the Achilles' heel. A quick glance at the clubs of the players called up is enough to confirm that: the Nigerian defense includes two local players, a couple of guys in the English second tier, and just one player at anything resembling a big club: left back Eldereson Echiejile plays for French runners-up Monaco, and by "plays" I mean "mostly watches"—he had five appearances last year.
With limited exceptions, Nigeria is young and very athletic. They're likely to have one guy older than 27 start, that 33-year old captain Joseph Yobo, a central defender.
DEFENSIVE DEBACLE ON THE LEFT
Fancy soccer charting service Opta defines a "key pass" as the last pass before a shot attempt. The above is a chart of Turkish key passes against the USA. While the end point of the pass is not always the location the shot comes from*, it's a pretty good approximation when combined with your first-hand observations. The above chart amply demonstrates the debacle that combining Timmy Chandler and Brad Davis resulted in. The vast majority of chances originated on the USA's left flank; exactly one remotely threatening ball—the horizontal ball from #18 that ended up in the box—came in from the right side of the defense.
*[For instance, that super-long cross field pass from the Turkish side of midfield was the WTF ball that beat everyone and resulted in a shot from just outside the six-yard box.]
Crosses tell much the same story.
The Turks got in three crosses on the USA's right flank from the dangerous areas near the end line versus eight from the left. there were eight-ish more from moderately dangerous areas compared to three or four on the right. (The extremely deep crosses from 18 are almost harmless.) Whatever the US was doing on the left, it was not working.
While any soccer event has a thousand fathers, to my eye the chief blame was because of a mutual and profound cluelessness from both purportedly left-sided players. I noted some positional issues in the Turkey recap, where scoring chances came with Davis not even on the left half of the field; SI's Liviu Bird highlights another instance:
A taste of the U.S.'s poor defensive shape — in midfield and the back line — against Turkey. Should've been punished: pic.twitter.com/IrrGHYlzNf
— Liviu Bird (@liviubird) June 3, 2014
Bird also posted a stunning shot from just before the Chandler gift where Brooks is in fact outside of Chandler, because Chandler has once again inexplicably pulled up from the back four to no purpose.
Could this have been intentional? Is the US sliding its formation right, pretending that Turkey is Portugal and getting the ball off of Ronaldo's foot? It does not matter. Giving Portuguese right wing Nani the kind of time and space on the ball that the Turkish right was afforded in this game and Ronaldo's just raining in headers from Nani's pinpoint crosses.
So this is the thing that needs to get fixed.
GOALIE: Whoever, but I'd guess Guzan gets the start.
DEFENSE: Beasley, Besler, Cameron, Johnson/Yedlin.
Well, you know my opinion on how Chandler did. This is probably the last time I'll get to mention it, so let me just reiterate how unbelievably bad he was on the goal that he handed to the Turks: not only did he give the ball away like a six-year-old, not only did his bizarre positional error start the move, but when the guy with the ball got to the near post, Chandler ran away from him! Guzan and the Turk had a jerky dance-off, and then the guy used the epic amounts of room provided to plink one off of Cameron's hand.
And the above charts. My God man. Beasley's not perfect, but neither does he run around handing out goals. To favor Chandler over him after the last two performances from Timmah in a US shirt is pure eurosnobbery.
Brooks looked pretty good in his run-out in the last 45 minutes but made too many big errors (that last image from Bird is very much a WTF thing) to displace Besler. I would guess we see him again at some point; the two starters will keep starting in an effort to get some chemistry together.
Johnson is your starting right back; might be time to put him on the shelf to keep his legs fresh and avoid injury. If Johnson does start, Yedlin at halftime is highly likely.
MIDFIELD: Jones/Beckerman, Bradley, Bedoya, Zusi.
Bradley is the man; unlike Johnson he's still working out positional kinks and trying to find his passing boots more consistently. Meanwhile the holding mid war will likely continue in 45 minute increments.
Look for the US to adopt an approach closer to the one they deployed in the second half, with Bradley shuttling back and sometimes interchanging with the other central midfielder, then taking over when it's time to surge forward. This will allow the wingers to spread wider and hopefully prevent the same kind of exposure the left endured against the Turks.
On the wings, Bedoya and Zusi look like near-certainties. Zusi is by far the USA's best set piece option who isn't a defensive trainwreck; Bedoya has the speed and athleticism to help cover the USA's weaker flank. Even if he's not looking like much going forward, he's got to be it.
Diskerud should see more minutes as a sub, and I guess Davis.
Might they play together?
ALTERNATE UNVERSE: if the US is truly dedicated to the idea of a narrow diamond midfield, there's little need to pretend your right and left midfielders are anything that looks like a winger. Zusi remains mandatory because set pieces, but if you're going to tuck your guys in so extremely a setup featuring all three of Bradley, Beckerman, and Jones is feasible, with Jones your nominally left-sided midfielder.
That provides a ton more bite and defense on your weak flank without sacrificing much, if anything. It's clear Davis doesn't know WTF he should be doing; Jones is not going to be a downgrade there, and then his pressing, ball-winning ways come with another pure holder on the field. He can also cover for an advanced fullback reasonably well.
Squad depth then becomes a major concern, of course.
FORWARD: Altidore, Dempsey
Absent a drastic change in formation, Altidore is mandatory as the only holder. Dempsey is trying to learn how to work with him and Bradley; the US should value whatever chemistry they can acquire over the distant chance something goes awry. Johannsson and Wondo should both pop in, you'd think.
WHAT YOU'RE LOOKING FOR, OTHER THAN EVERYTHING
Diamond versus 4-2-3-1, part III. The US tried to shut up shop a bit in the second half by withdrawing Bradley, and the pace of Turkish chances did slow somewhat. Clearly something has to change lest more ruthless teams than the Turks pile up the goals. The thing that makes the most sense is to go back to more of a flat midfield four with a designated holder who allows Bradley to maraud forward. The US were forced into something similar in their qualifier against Panama last year, when Cameron was the other central mid:
That game could easily have ended 5-0. Call it a 4-4-2 or a 4-2-3-1; either way it seems like the best balance of defense and attack available.
Do we see something weird? See above about Jones and Beckerman on the field simultaneously. If the idea in the Turkey game was to overload the Ronaldo side of the field and force the ball away from it, I can see that being workable… but obviously not with Davis. Given the holes on the roster, some outside the box thinking might be in line.
Is there a way to get Diskerud or Johannsson on the field for a start? A corollary to the "something weird" question: will Klinsmann look at either of those guys for the Donovan-shaped hole at left mid? Is it completely crazy to consider a 4-3-3 with the three holders and something like Johannsson/Altidore/Dempsey up top? Probably! Almost certainly! I will do just about anything to displace the Landon-Donovan-shaped hole!
Can Yedlin force his way into the lineup? Johnson is locked in on the right for Portugal, you'd assume. But Yedlin showed very well against the Turks and it's not going to take that much for a Johnson-LB, Yedlin-RB lineup to seem like the best option in a non-Ronaldo world. I'm still guessing that Beasley has the edge unless there's a major issue with his play against Nigeria.
Can a forward score a real goal? Not just to shut Twellman up about it, because he's not entirely wrong. But, yeah, partially.
SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
|WHAT||Michigan vs Kansas State|
|WHERE||Sun Devil Stadium
|WHEN||10:15 PM Eastern
December 28th, 2013
|THE LINE||Kansas State –5.5|
|WEATHER||Cloudy, 60 dropping to 50, no wind, no rain|
What if they played a bowl game in Arizona that kept moving and changing its name every other year? What if your team was in it? What if it was scheduled to end around 2 AM? I don't know, man. Let's find out.
Run Offense vs Kansas State
Remember Brennan Clay? He is good to have against Kansas State.
With Devin Gardner out, about which more later, this is where Michigan will have to make their hay. The bad news: Michigan's running game. The good news: Kansas State seems like a pretty bad rushing defense. Both of Football Outsiders' advanced stats think they're around 50th overall, which is not good in metrics that try to adjust for schedule strength. The Wildcat rush defense is particularly ugly at around 80th. Neither of these metrics know that NDSU went for 215 yards on 43 carries in the opener, either.
After that, things alternated between bad (177 yards on 40 carries for ULL) to real bad (227 on 47 for Texas) to actually okay (85 on 25 for Oklahoma State, albeit while Okie State was tearing KSU to shreds in the air) to a middling four game stretch before getting annihilated by Oklahoma (301 on 52). They did smother Kansas. Hooray.
Michigan is a rushing offense that could get smothered by anyone, but they have had two decent performances in their last three games and you'd hope that 18 bowl practices would help them figure some things out and get healthy; youth should improve faster than age, and Michigan's featuring almost entirely youth in its rushing core, which features two senior tackles and Fitzgerald Toussaint against, five freshmen (Smith, Green, Butt, Bosch, Kalis) and three sophomores (Glasgow, Kerridge, Williams). The figuring it out thing may be happening, at least to the tune of having something not heart-maulingly awful.
WAIT WHAT MITCH MCGARY WHAT
/rends flesh with hairshirt
Anyway. Kansas State's straight metrics are flattered by the prevalence of spread passing attacks in the Big 12; when they've come up against decent rushing offenses they've been hit hard. Michigan can make a case they've ratcheted themselves up to that level by nearing 200 yards. I have no idea if this is at all in the realm of possibility.
Key Matchup: Seriously, 2013, I hate you.
[Hit THE JUMP for just don't hit the jump]
|WHAT||Michigan vs Ohio State|
Ann Arbor, MI
November 30th, 2013
|THE LINE||Ohio State -17|
|WEATHER||partly cloudy, mid-30s
0% chance of rain
10 mph winds
Run Offense vs Ohio State
Ryan Shazier got better.
The Northwestern blip was just that: a blip, as Michigan's offense retreated back into its shell against Iowa. Thanks to buckets of Iowa turnovers this staked Michigan to a lead until late, but this was back to the pain factory. It was probably worse than usual, actually, as Gardner only suffered one sack. Take that out and Michigan rushed for 74 yards on 28 carries, a thrilling 2.6 yards an attempt.
This is still forward, I guess, and therefore represents progress. The kind of progress last experienced in the Dark Ages, but progress nonetheless.
This is too depressing to contemplate for very long. Michigan again went with a bunch of inside zone, whereupon Iowa linebackers fired into the gaps over and over again like Notre Dame did. Michigan has no idea how to deal with that other than "execute better"; they have no way to back those guys off; they have a bunch of play action on which the fact that the linebackers run literally to the line of scrimmage before going "oh" and backing into short zones is okay for the defense.
The unit they're going up against is not quite a vintage OSU outfit; it is still plenty good enough to see Michigan to another grunting performance under 100 net yards. Once you remove sacks, Ohio State's run offense is in a tier below Michigan State's face-crushing unit with Wisconsin and Michigan; they're giving up just under 4 yards a carry.
The existence of a healthy, clueful Ryan Shazier is particularly bad for Michigan. Two years ago he was a limping freshman who showed up in the hole against Denard Robinson and ended up left in the dust. This year he's nearing OSU records for TFLs against the worst team in the country at giving them up. His strengths—slashing into the backfield as soon as he reads run foremost amongst them—line up perfectly with Michigan's weaknesses.
The line is a slightly better matchup than it was last year with Jonathan Hankins in the NFL. They have not replaced him with a similar space-eater. Michael Bennett, their best DT, is 285. Unfortunately, he's a Jibreel Black++ type player with 10 TFLs and 5.5 sacks to his name. But that's another depressing section. Against the run he will be more moveable. Not that it's going to matter.
Key Matchup: Denard Robinson versus NCAA Eligibility Rules
[Hit THE JUMP for just don't hit the jump]
|WHAT||Michigan vs Iowa|
Iowa City, IA
|WHEN||Noon PM Eastern
November 23th, 2013
|THE LINE||Iowa -6|
|WEATHER||mostly sunny, mid-20s 0% chance of rain
20 mph winds
When the native Iowans realized their state had been abducted by a race of soulless aliens attempting to figure out how our morality worked, they banded together in rebellion. Praying to the great old ones, they struck a terrible bargain: in exchange for freedom and return to Earth and music videos with hot Korean girls making out with Iowa paraphenalia, they would offer up the fecundity of the land. The great old ones were big Mouse Davis fans and thought three yard runs were boring, so they demanded the finest tailback in all Iowa, delivered semiannually.
Eventually, the Greatest, Oldest One was hired as the offensive coordinator. Also, Iowa's defense is much better this year after a flailing period in the immediate aftermath of Norm Parker's departure.
Run Offense vs Iowa
Anthony Hitchens finishes tackles with devastating obituaries of his victims
This existed against Northwestern! Let the sweet taste of reasonable output from tailbacks dissolve on your tongue. And then try to remember it, forever, in case it never happens again.
Iowa is an odd team to read here, as they've been mostly permeable on the ground but utterly crushed Purdue (okay, no surprise there) and Big Ten Power™ Minnesota. The Gophers were held to 30 yards on 27 attempts, and while you should remove sack yards that gets them to about 2 yards a carry, which is completely terrible. Purdue did… it does not matter what Purdue did. Never mind.
In between these dominating bookends, though, Iowa has been kind of bad. Sack-adjusted numbers:
- vs Michigan State: 37 attempts, 135 yards, 3.7 YPC
- @ OSU: 49 attempts, 283 yards, 5.8 YPC
- vs Northwestern: 46 attempts, 234 yards, 5.1 YPC
- vs Wisconsin: 44 attempts, 223 yards, 5.1 YPC
Ace tracked Iowa's performance against NW inside zone plays and found that the same Northwestern offensive line that couldn't move Michigan at all found quality output against the Hawkeyes:
The Wildcats amassed 69 yards on 14 inside zone runs (4.9 ypc) and gained at least three yards on all but one of them.
Dare we cock an eyebrow at what statistics say is the #29 YPC rush defense in the country and suggest that Michigan might have success against them? We might. There's a huge divide between traditional stats (in which Iowa is 9th in total yardage) and advanced ones, where Iowa's defense is slightly better than as Michigan's offense. Yeah… think about that.
Michigan achieved its success against the Wildcats by dumping the idea of a pulling lineman, going primarily with inside zone, and frequently threatening the bubble screen to keep Northwestern's slot linebacker out of the picture. This gave Michigan the opportunity to execute extended double teams on the Northwestern DTs and resulted in a lot of five, six, seven yard runs as Michigan got a hat on everyone in the box.
Iowa is a team that this can work on as well. They prefer to slide their linebackers and play zone, and they like to keep their safeties deep—both of them. Assuming that Iowa puts their top corner BJ Lowery over Gallon, that would leave a box comprised of a not-very-good defensive line, two linebackers, and freshman corner Desmond King, and then it's on James Morris and Anthony Hitchens to make very good plays unless the DTs can hold up. They are pretty good, those two guys, but Michigan can keep their scheme from the most recent game and succeed with it unless Iowa makes a significant change to what they do.
Which is totally possible, because Kirk Ferentz pulls out all the stops against Michigan and Ohio State. But even when he does that, the defense remains the defense. Here is a note of cautious optimism that Michigan's run game will function.
Key Matchup: Michigan guards versus executing doubles well. Michigan should ride with the inside zone against a DL that can get pushed around; getting depth there opens up other possibilities, like the stretch and those throwing things
[Hit THE JUMP for MORE HOT KOREAN GIRLS (actually just more of this year's football team) BUT PROBABLY HOT KOREAN GIRLS]
|WHAT||Michigan vs Northwestern|
|WHEN||3:30 PM Eastern
November 16th, 2013
|THE LINE||Northwestern -3|
|WEATHER||mid 50s, cloudy, rainy
20 mph winds
why am I going to this
Two teams will play a football game.
Run Offense vs Northwestern
After last weekend it doesn't seem like the opponent matters here. Be they Alabama or an irregular unit of limbs blown off in World War I, eleven entities set in opposition to the Michigan rushing offense will bludgeon it with whatever is handy until it lets out a final wet squeak and collapses in a pile of hypocrisy and charlatanism six inches from its starting point.
But I suppose we have to evaluate. Northwestern's rush defense is middling at best, clubbed for 248 and 286 yards by Ohio State and Wisconsin but able to hold Northwestern in low-scoring games against Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska. Those opponents all piled up 150-ish yards with Nebraska approaching 200 themselves but they required piles of carries to do it: 49 for Minnesota, 41 for Iowa, 50 for Nebraska. Sack adjusted YPCs start out ugly and then are mostly respectable:
- OSU: 5.3
- Wisconsin: 6.4
- Minnesota: 4.3
- Iowa: 3.5
- Nebraska: 4.8
As of last week, Northwestern was just about dead average in the Big Ten at giving up sack adjusted yards on the ground with 4.7 on the season. They didn't play last week, so that holds. They're just flat middling.
The catch, of course, is that all of the teams they've played so far with the possible exception of Iowa can, you know, run the ball. Forward. Michigan patently cannot.
This is the point at which I say things like enormous outliers, no one's had back-to-back negative rushing games since 2008, things are bound to turn around, it just takes a little bit of elbow grease and derring-do. And I do kind of believe bits of that. At some point Michigan will try to take the ball forward on the ground and do so. Northwestern's not that much better than Indiana statistically and Nebraska was… well, it was a series of unblocked blitzes that Michigan never found an answer to.
At some point the dam has to break, at which point a sickly green trail of algae feeding on the broken dreams of Michigan fans will charge forward for three yards a carry. Is that going to be this game? If they want to do it this year, that would be advisable.
Key Matchup: You versus Your Liver. You hate your liver and want to drown it; your liver feels the same way about you, buddy.
[Hit THE JUMP for IT'S NOT YOUR FAULT]
Other stuff here: Ace FFFF!
|WHAT||Michigan vs Nebraska|
Ann Arbor, MI
3:30 PM Eastern
November 9th, 2013
|THE LINE||M –6.5|
|WEATHER||sunny, low 50s, 0% chance of rain|
Via Nebraska version of E3W, The Dailyer.
Liveblog: getting started around 3pm, presented by Marawatch. Former Mich. cornerback Brandon Williams will be present to talk about Go Blue Then And Now's latest efforts and what it's like to wear #12 for your entire career (since no starter has managed that since).
Take the Michigan ground game. Put it on the other side of the ball. This is the story of Nebraska's season: bogglingly utter ineptitude at stopping folks other than Purdue from running epic distances without much skill.
Now remove that team's starting quarterback but give them a Big Ten schedule reading Illinois, Purdue, Minnesota, Northwestern, and you have the Nebraska Cornhuskers: a good record against a terrible schedule and two uncompetitive losses to middling teams, with multiple close calls against bad ones.
Saturday is Michigan versus Funhouse Mirror Michigan, except Devin Gardner persists against all odds.
Run Offense vs Nebraska
After brutal disappointment last week Michigan finds sweet sanctuary in the form of the Nebraska defense, which more often than not has been ground into paste this year, often by the start of the second quarter. The Huskers opened the year by giving up 600 yards of offense to Wyoming, 219 of it on the ground. Since then they've done well against… uh… Purdue.
|South Dakota State||33||271||2||8.2|
(Omitted Southern Miss, FWIW, since USM is so bad I don't think games against them mean anything.)
Nebraska has been very good at getting to the QB, which somewhat obscures how bad they've been against actual rushes. I smashed some stats together from CFBStats to fix that issue. Here is the Big Ten against ground games:
Nebraska's been worse than Indiana over the course of this season, and basically equivalent to Purdue and Illinois. Moveable object, come on down.
Why is Nebraska so pliable on the ground? Ace:
their line got consistently pushed off the ball by Northwestern. The DEs weren't disciplined in containing the edge and the DTs couldn't get push. What this means for Michigan is a matter of considerable debate; if Borges decides it's time to go full spread-to-run, I think the Wolverines will have success getting Gardner and Toussaint to the edge. At the very least, this won't be a State-like massacre up front. …
The linebackers are a mess. This will be covered in more detail later—redshirt freshman MIKE Michael Rose made his first start against Northwestern and didn't fare well, getting out of his lane with regularity and eating blocks due to a lack of aggressiveness.
Ace highlighted a particular wow freshman experience on one of Green's rips up the middle:
A battle of blown assignments looms. That sounds pretty good to me after last week; when guys get out of lanes then it's more about seeing the opportunity and taking it more than anything else, and even if by this point Fitzgerald Toussaint would regard a gaping hole like a POW emerging into the sunlight after years of captivity, the second or third time he sees one he might do something other than gape open-mouthed in wonder.
But on the other hand. Michigan rushed for 23 yards on 20 carries against Michigan State, has struggled to put up mortal numbers against some very bad rushing defenses, and is currently spinning through interior linemen at an alarming rate. Nothing is working except murdering Devin Gardner.
I can't tell you I expect much better this week. Michigan was incapable of running from under center against the Hoosiers until a late breakthrough after the game was decided, and even then their YPC was solidly under Indiana's season average. Operating from the shotgun was effective, at least.
Michigan tends to cycle through several phases when they approach their rushing offense:
- WE ARE GOING TO MANBALL YOU
- High numbers of big sets get no yards at all
- well I guess we'll spread you out a bit but we don't like it
- Shotgun rushing is generally effective
- Weak opponent approaches
- WE ARE GOING TO MANBALL YOU
- repeat ad nauseum
This is a prime candidate for manball reset, as Michigan's coming off a game where they couldn't run in any formation and can thus vaguely justify gravitating back towards their desires. That would be bad except Nebraska may just shatter anyway. But still probably bad.
Key Matchup: Michigan busts versus Nebraska busts. QUIEN ES MAS BUSTO
[Hit THE JUMP for aw hamburgers]