"Though I received no official response to these sophisticated and elegant tweets to the Illini Athletic Department, I would like to think that Beckman spent the evening prank calling everyone in Illinois named George McLellan and then ordering an absurd amount of hats off an internet haberdashery to hoard in his home's hat annex."
|WHAT||Michigan vs Ohio State|
12:00 PM Eastern
November 24th, 2012
|THE LINE||OSU –3.5|
|WEATHER||partly cloudy, dry, mid-30s|
This preview assumes that Denard Robinson will play a similar role to the one he did against Iowa, still minus about all of the throwing.
Run Offense vs OSU
wall of fame sports describes Hankins as a "road grater"
Yerg. After weeks and weeks of struggles against mediocre or worse Big Ten defensive lines, Michigan is staring down the barrel at John Simon, Jonathan Hankins, and company. Ace:
The front four is very, very good. Behemoth DT Johnathan Hankins demands two blockers on the interior; while he's mostly a space-eater, he'll make a few plays that show off frightening quickness, which is why he'll be a top ten NFL draft pick. Garrett Goebel is solid, not spectacular, at the other tackle spot—while he doesn't make a lot of plays, he holds the point of attack well. Nathan Williams is also in that mold—not a huge playmaker, but not a weak point. That allows Simon to do what he does, and Michigan would be wise to avoid him as much as possible.
Abandon all hope all ye who try to run between the tackles.
Ohio State has rebounded from some rough early outings to shut down the Big Ten's assortment of feeble offenses. In the league all comers have been crushed save Nebraska and Wisconsin. The Huskers got one huge play and an assortment of moderately-sized ones en route to 253 yards on 41 carries, 6.2 a pop. Taylor Martinez threw three interceptions and Nebraska still put up 38 points and around 450 yards. Wisconsin had a similar outing minus the huge play, grinding out 242 yards on 52 carries. This was almost all Montee Ball, who neared 200 himself and needed 39 carries to do so.
Michigan is caught between those teams' offenses, except when they try to run the ball from under center they get bags of despair instead of yards. This sucks, as Etienne Sabino's return has seen him move to SLB when OSU is in their base package with converted fullback Zach Boren—like, converted a few games ago—the starting MLB. Wisconsin profited from that weak spot, as Ace noted; it's doubtful Michigan can manage it.
So what does that leave? The inverted veer game from the shotgun and a satellite of plays around it, plus Denard jet sweep type action, Fritz-type action, and maybe just giving him the dang ball on conventional running plays because why not. Michigan showed a diverse array of stuff last week; this has no doubt sent the Ohio State coaching staff into a tizzy preparing for it; Michigan knows this and is preparing counters; Ohio State knows this and is preparing for counters they haven't yet seen but can probably guess at since there's little new under the sun in football.
They can get stuff here. Ryan Shazier is much better this year but still retains some of those Ohio State Defense Alcohol symptoms: he is the cause of, and solution to, all problems.
Using Denard as a jet/veer/option/whatever threat is imperative. He can't be in the game without Michigan faking a handoff to him and using him as a potential dumpoff threat to keep the heat off. So Michigan must run that stuff on the ground as well. I'm guessing Michigan debuts a Devin/Denard/FB-type backfield in this game and uses Denard as the veer back and just, like, you know, the guy who takes handoffs. Running back.
That exists separately from the snaps Michigan must hand over to actual running backs on downs where Gardner is operating from pro-style sets. Since the dawn of Gardner, Thomas Rawls has 27 carries; these have gone for an average of 2.4 yards an attempt. A lot of those have been short yardage, yes, but one of the reasons a lot of those have been short yardage has been Rawls's general inability to power out the yards a guy like him is supposed to. The difference in YAC between Rawls and Iowa pounder Mark Weisman was eye-opening; several times since Gardner entered the lineup Michigan has been reduced to third- and fourth-down Gardner run/pass rollouts.
A Rawls carry that gains more than two yards will be a pleasant surprise. Michigan's other options are Vincent Smith, who has 11 carries for 23 yards in Big Ten play, and redshirt freshman Justice Hayes, who has three carries for –2 yards in all games not against UMass and Illinois. This is where millions of voices cry out for Dennis Norfleet and are suddenly silenced, but if you're going to put your miniature true freshman on the field that's pretty much putting Denard out there—he's not blocking anyone, so you might as well just go with Denard.
So, Al, what can you do with Fritz and friends?
Key Matchup: Borges vs seeming mismatch up the middle. No one's going to blame the guy if the run game can't make any headway given the relative NFL prospects of the offensive and defensive lines here, especially without Toussaint. If Borges can get some big plays out of this Devin/Denard combo by winning rock-paper-scissors matchups and confusing the opponent that'll be a bonus.
[HIT THE JUMP FOR erm]
|WHAT||Michigan vs Iowa|
Ann Arbor, MI
|WHEN||12:00 PM Eastern
November 17th, 2012
|THE LINE||Michigan –17|
|WEATHER||Partly cloudy, dry, low to mid 40s|
Why? I don't know. Ask BHGP.
This preview assumes that Denard Robinson will play in a strictly ceremonial role.
Run Offense vs Iowa
This has been a depressing grind since Denard Robinson's injury and will remain so unless Michigan finds itself behind the eight-ball late and resorts to Devin Gardner's legs. That seems like a highly improbable outcome what with Iowa being terrible.
So expect a lot of under-center running from Toussaint and Rawls that doesn't make much headway. Against Northwestern late Michigan did finally get some movement by always doubling guys at the LOS before moving on—I'd expect they go that conservative route so that they're at least getting four yards on an iso and whatnot. Michigan's actually been decent at moving bleah defensive tackles when they do that; the foremost amongst many problems on the ground has been blocking assignment errors.
Those should decrease, but at this point it's foolhardy to expect them to decrease much. At least Borges has responded to the problems on the ground and the week-to-week surge in Devin Gardner's ability by doing a lot more passing.
As for the opponent:
Iowa started off well before getting clubbed by Northwestern, had a virtual run bye against Indiana, and then struggling against Purdue. They're dead average nationally—60th.
Issues against both run and pass caused Iowa to remove linebacker Anthony Hitchens, their top tackler with a whopping 114, and insert freshman Travis Perry last week; Hitchens remains on top of the depth chart. The defensive linemen top out at serviceable; the linebackers are just okay. Michigan should be able to get people blocked, somewhat, if they get their assignments right, and grind out a few yards here and there. At this point it's a sideshow keeping folks honest for the passing game.
Key Matchup: Michigan Interior OL versus Block Somebody. Right? I mean, right. [repeat]
[Hit THE JUMP for the joy of GERG on the other team]
|WHAT||Michigan vs Northwestern|
Ann Arbor, MI
12:00 PM Eastern
November 10th, 2012
|THE LINE||Michigan –9.5|
|WEATHER||dry, partly cloudy, around 60|
Yeah, that line swung hard from a –13 open. Denard uncertainty, or just bettors all looking at that and going "ah yup Northwestern," as was Michigan fans' instinct? Probably both for a four point move.
Run Offense vs Northwestern
So… after last week I don't even know man. Here's Northwestern's Big Ten performance to date:
I've gotten a vibe of sunny optimism from Northwestern fans about the run defense with their blogs and our Q&As and whatnot; the numbers don't really show it until the Iowa game. Penn State yeah but I think they only did okay there. Zach Zwinak put up 122 yards on 18 carries, 4.3 per; Matt McGloin had seven carries, two of which I've slashed out as sacks; the other five just about have to be scrambles. But even so they're only around 4, 4.5.
Meanwhile, a Denard-less Michigan just put up 4.0 YPC against awful awful Minnesota, garbage time excluded, and 4.7 garbage time inclusive. Without Denard the run offense's limitations are ruthlessly exposed. So it depends on the availability of the man who is Denard, about which we know nothing. Michigan is flirting with offensive line changes…
To prepare for Northwestern, Hoke has emphasized physicality in practices this week. On Wednesday, Hoke recycled a phrase he hasn’t used in quite some time. He said he could “hear” football, a term he favors when his lineman are hitting up to his standards.
Still, Hoke said he wouldn’t make a decision on Burzynski or Miller until after Thursday’s practice.
“Those guys have gotten some reps with the ones some, but we’ll see,” Hoke said. “I can’t tell you until we finish, and we don’t really finish until Thursday, where everybody’s at from a mental standpoint.”
…ten games into the season. That is not good. Barnum, Mealer, and Omameh—Omameh to a lesser extent—have all taken turns getting run plays blown up, and the tight end play has been erratic at best. Kwiatkowski has been pretty good; the other two guys have not been. The running backs have not been generating yards themselves.
Everything is a disaster and Denard is averaging 7.2 YPC without even bothering to adjust for sacks. Gardner could paper over some of that with his legs, but Michigan wisely avoided deploying them much since getting Gardner dinged would mean walk-on Jack Kennedy enters. That is not likely to be good eats.
So… yeah. At this point Michigan isn't likely to find the secret, so it's about the quarterback getting a numerical advantage and running the veer—Michigan's single consistently successful run play—and only Denard can do that because if Denard is not in the game Michigan cannot risk getting their QB injured. Predict that.
As for the Wildcats, they are functional. They crushed their crappy nonconference opponents (Syracuse, Vandy, BC) on the ground and have hung in against the non-Indiana(!) sections of the schedule. I'd normally dismiss crushing Iowa's run game after AIRBHG blew everything up, including two Hawkeye OL starters, but… yeah, can't. Because of the blocking.
Key Matchup: Michigan Interior OL versus Block Somebody. Right? I mean, right.
[Hit THE JUMP for more BIG TENNNN offense]
Previously here: Ace FFFF!
|WHAT||Michigan vs Minnesota|
12:00 PM Eastern
November 3rd, 2012
|THE LINE||Michigan –11.5|
|WEATHER||partly cloudy, dry, around 40|
in the community
in the community
in the community
in the community
Run Offense vs Minnesota
ra'shede hageman is the best defensive lineman in the history of the big ten, it's just the guys around him who are completely terrible at all things
After years in which it seemed any offense helmed by Denard Robinson would be pretty all right in this category, Michigan is suddenly thrown into a state of higgledy-piggledy by Denard's elbow injury and mass confusion on the part of any Michigan player tasked with obstructing the progress of an opponent. Will Denard be healthy? Was there a mass hallucination induced by helium poisoning last week? If Denard's not healthy will Michigan just say "screw it" and roll with Devin Gardner?
I know the answers to all these questions with unerring certainty but refuse to tell you. You should have been nicer to cats as a child.
The good news is that Minnesota's defense remains as porous as it has invariably been since Glen Mason got the boot for not making the Gophers respectable enough. Behold their Big Ten schedule:
Nebraska at least had some blips of competence in there. Minnesota has none whatsoever, except I guess very dead walrus that is Purdue football at the moment probably racked up a lot of those yards after they'd fallen behind 44-7. Even so, in four tries against Big Ten competition they haven't even come close to getting their opponents under six yards a carry. If Michigan can't run the ball on these guys, Denard or no, it's sackcloth and ashes time.
We may see a revival of the old-timey plain old zone read in this game. The inverted veer is a great play that tends to give the QB the ball. The old-time zone read is at this point a well-defended play that tends to give the RB the ball. Michigan's desires are clear .
The nice thing about the zone read with Denard is that even if you're not running the guy you're still using him since the defense has to account for him. A low chance of a Denard keep is still something you have to respect. Unfortunately, Michigan hasn't been running the true zone read in a long time. For whatever reason they prefer to block the backside end and then do something else with the threat of the QB running—often nothing.
In this game, helping the run offense along with the threat of Denard on the outside is a good idea, and if they cheat then you can use one of your roll-the-dice Denard carries on the guy in a lot of space. Most of these don't even have to be reads. Just run the ball, but use Denard's legs to block someone. It's more reliable than asking your OL to, amirite?
Key Matchup: Michigan blockers attempting to block the correct people versus Minnesota defenders managing to stay between the white lines most of the time. I'm betting on the former.
[Hit THE JUMP for freshman, come out to play]
|WHAT||Michigan vs Nebraska|
8:00 PM EST
October 27th, 2012
|THE LINE||Nebraska -2|
|WEATHER||cloudy, dry, around 40|
Is that corn in your pocket or… oh, I see. It's corn.
Run Offense vs Nebraska
COME TO NEBRASHHHHKA STATTE
Last week Michigan kept its head above water against an excellent run defense on the strength of two big gains. One of them came when MSU's crappy defensive tackle got creased on a run blitz. The other was a quarterback draw late when Michigan State backed off, uncharacteristically, and paid for it. With those two runs, Michigan crested 5 YPC against a top ten—maybe top five—defense. Without them, they barely exceeded 3 YPC.
Is that good? Bad? Ah hell I don't know. Denard is Denard and will rip off big gains if you keep feeding him the ball, and Toussaint's big run is the kind of thing that happens to super aggressive defenses when they get creased (and a walk-on WR gets his block on). In the end, 5 YPC is fair. Nard gonna Nard.
The good news is that Nebraska's defense is emphatically not Michigan State's.
Except when it is sometimes I guess? Nebraska blew it badly on one 80-yard Venric Mark touchdown. Other than that, Northwestern muddled along at about the same rate Wisconsin did. In half of Nebraska's games against BCS competition, they're Michigan State. In half, they're roadkill.
If there's a pattern you can draw from four games, it's spread 'n' shreds leaving tread marks all over the Cornhusker D. UCLA QB Brett Hundley is a run threat (9 carries for 66 yards) and opened Jonathan Franklin up for a 216-yard blitz. Braxton Miller almost cracked 200 himself and opened it up for Carlos Hyde to hit 140. Though not included in the table above, even winless Southern Miss saw quarterback Anthony Alford hit 84 yards on 15 carries… before getting pulled because he was also 1 of 5 for six yards. The Eagles hit 4.6 YPC on the day.
In a bizarre move, Northwestern all but abandoned the Kain Colter running game in favor of having Trevor Sieman throw 35 times, so they fit more in the Wisconsin mold than UCLA/OSU:
Nebraska made it very clear that they'd sit back in man free all game, and the Wildcats tried to beat them over the top time and again even though the Husker corners were locking down the Northwestern wideouts and quarterback Trevor Siemian lacked accuracy on his deep ball. The Wildcats threw 37 times and ran 38 times despite (1) playing against an awful run defense, and (2) holding a lead for most of the game.
WTFitz. Nebraska did hold Colter down on his few carries, FWIW.
Will Nebraska be able to do the same to Denard? Well… I'm doubtful. Ace saw Nebraska blitz twice in the first half and lay back in a bend-but-don't-break shell, likely because the shell-shocked Huskers were going back to basics after the OSU debacle. Nebraska's safeties, like Michigan State's, are active hitters in the run game, though, so if they're lining up nine yards off the LOS and coming down hard in an effort to replicate MSU's gameplan, trouble may ensue.
Emphasis on "may"—MSU's aggressiveness was effective instead of disastrous because Denicos Allen and Max Bullough are fast as hell and the MSU safeties are pretty good, as well. Nebraska only avoided a couple of long Denard Robinson touchdowns last year because Lavonte David played the same role as the MSU linebackers did last week: guy who makes shoestring tackle just as you're standing up to yell "GOOOOOOOOO." Lavonte David's not around anymore, and the Nebraska LB corps misses his athleticism. They're not bad—except when they are of course—but if a gap gets vacated or the sideline is tested they are less likely to be able to mitigate that damage with a super fast tackling machine. Stafford is a boom or bust SS, too, and could at any time wander off in the wrong direction as Denard screams upfield.
Key Matchup: Denard's ankles versus opponent's outstretched arms. There are going to be two or three moments in the game where Denard is setting sail for the endzone. Where you at, Will Compton? Are you Lavonte David walking through that door?
[Hit THE JUMP for WHAT THEY CAN SCORE THAT AIN'T RAIGHT]
|WHAT||Michigan vs Michigan Staee|
Ann Arbor, MI
|WHEN||3:30 PM EST
October 20th, 2012
|THE LINE||M –9.5|
|WEATHER||mid-40s, showers early, mostly cloudy but likely dry late|
Run Offense vs Staee
I am unfamiliar with this concept
Here is the game. Michigan State has done an exceptional job of shutting down Michigan's rush offense the past few years, and in retrospect from there things have been academic. Winning this battle means winning the game for Michigan; losing it wipes out a double-digit (but steadily eroding) Vegas advantage and puts things in the tossup category.
So this is MGoBlog and you know the next words that are coming out of the mouth are about the snap count. You are right: JESUS H. KELLY, DON'T LET THEM JUMP THE SNAP. Whether it was super extra preparation or David Molk being an awful poker player or a transition cost born of the coaching switch arriving between Jerel Worthy, sophomore, and Jerel Worthy, junior, I do not know. Nor do I care. Michigan abso-goddamn-lutely has to reduce Michigan State snap-jump advantage levels to those of normal humans. For a lot of reasons, the rest of this preview assumes this—reasons like Elliott Mealer promising things are fixed…
"They did a good job at timing that up and keying us," Mealer said. "We got that under control. It was more a recognition thing -- being able to recognize the defense before you snap the ball -- and it's something that we've been doing ever since that game. I'm not too worried about that."
…—but we will come back to the thing in at the end because obviously.
Setting snap jumping and other MSU over-preparations aside, this is still going to be a slog. I may talk epic crap about Will Gholston but that's only in context: when he's the fourth or fifth best player on your defense—as he is—you're doing pretty all right. Max Bullough is probably the best inside linebacker in the conference; Marcus Rush is a playmaker at DE; Isaiah Lewis will come down and pop you; Denicos Allen is a menace blitzing.
But MSU does miss Worthy on the interior…
NT Anthony Rashad White doesn't get quite the same level of penetration as Worthy, but he's tough to move at 330 pounds and holds the point of attack well enough to allow the linebackers to come in and clean up. If single-blocked, he's a threat to find his way into the backfield for a TFL. Three-tech James Kittredge made a couple nice plays in the backfield, as well, though at 272 lbs. he also got pushed out of the hole on a few occasions.
… and the numbers seem to show it:
Braxton Miller neared six yards a carry against the Spartans with a long of 20—they can be had by a mobile quarterback. Iowa's numbers have to be taken in the context of last weekend's Michigan weather, as well. Four yards a carry is good defense in a sack-adjusted world; maybe less so in context.
Kittredge has just been inserted into the starting lineup, which is not a good sign for MSU this deep into the season, especially when we're talking about a converted OL listed at 272 who transferred from Vandy. Michigan should be able to get push here. When they're running inside, Gholston will not be a problem, and then it's mano-a-mano with second level guys against linebackers. This will be a test for Rawls and Kerridge, as their ability to blast Bullough out of the hole will go a long way towards determining how well Denard isos will work, and how much they can punish MSU over the top once they try to defend them.
As for the Wolverines, they've been pounding away since the interception explosion from the first half of the ND game. Borges has re-added RR's QB iso to the playbook, albeit with a twist, and it has created several long Denard runs the past few games. The veer and the regular old zone read are also a part of the playbook along with a frequently-deployed power sweep; the infamous double A gap blitz is in serious trouble against half of those plays.
Toussaint's had his struggles; Denard has not; Rawls will continue to siphon carries away as long as he's busting guys in the chops and getting YAC. If Michigan State can stop it again, well… they can stop it. Michigan still needs to be who they are.
BONUS BONUS BONUS PROTIPS FOR PEOPLE WANTING TO SHED SCARE QUOTES "DIRTY" REPUTATION:
- Don't try to rip an opponent's head off when they're defenseless on the ground in a pile of players
- Don't try to rip an opponent's arm out of its socket
It is in these ways you can not be regarded as a menace to society.
Key Matchup: Michigan's interior OL versus the State DTs. This has been a massive win for State the last three years; if that continues it's going to be a long day for the offense. Michigan has to get movement on Kittredge and seal off White, and from there things will flow in the rush offense.
[Hit THE JUMP for ROUSHAR LOL MORE LIKE ISHTAR]