Other stuff here: Ace VEQ!
irrelevant is just a state of mind
|WHAT||Michigan vs Michigan State|
East Lansing, MI
|WHEN||3:30 PM Eastern
November 2nd, 2013
|THE LINE||M +6|
|WEATHER||mid 40s, scattered showers, 10 MPH wind|
Michigan State is a version of what they were last year: a boa-constrictor defense paired with mincing foppery on the other side of the ball. According to FEI, both units are marginally worse than they were last year, but the eye test and various other stats suggest that the defense has taken a frightening step forward. They lead the Big Ten in yards per play allowed by almost a full yard over Wisconsin.
The offense seemed to have taken a huge step backwards when MSU could barely get a first down against luminaries like WMU and South Florida early in the year, but of late have put the hammer down on awful defenses Indiana and Illinois (Illinois is last in YPPA in the league and 114th nationally), struggling against Purdue in between. The jury remains out as to whether Michigan State can move the ball against an actual defense. Yes, Michigan has one of those.
Run Offense vs Michigan State
It doesn't look good. This year's top rushing output against the MSU defense was Indiana going for 92 yards on 27 carries. With 64 of those coming on a defensive bust in the first quarter the down-to-down pattern was misery even for the lights-out Hoosier offense.
ND went for 82 yards on 32 carries, if you'd like to compare that to Michigan. While MSU hasn't played anyone who's particularly good at scoring touchdowns other than Indiana, Iowa's 16 carries for 23 yards is a massive outlier for them, as was Illinois's 21 carries for 25 yards. I'm not even bothering to separate sacks here, because… I mean… the numbers speak for themselves. MSU's leading the country in YPC allowed with 2.1, which is the best number anyone's put up since TCU's 2008 outfit allowed 1.7. That is obviously pending a number of opponents better than what they've seen so far. Even so, prepare to be boarded. You know this.
State accomplishes these things by crowding the box with linebackers and safeties. They play "quarters" most of the time, which mgouser Colin detailed last year. Though it sounds super-conservative (cover 4 == 4 deep, right?) in fact MSU plays a hyperaggressive defense featuring tons of press coverage and safeties that start ten yards off the line of scrimmage even on downs like second and 16.
Ohio State tried this last year, busted a ton of stuff, gave up big plays, and has retreated into a less aggressive scheme this year. Michigan State is pulling it off, obviously. A lot of that has to do with the guy pictured above, Max Bullough, a senior who is the proverbial QB of the defense. Denicos Allen is a slashing, slightly undersized blitzer next to him; Michigan has had extreme issues trying to deal with him the past two years.
If there's a weak link in the MSU D, it is the defensive tackles. They've shuffled some guys around and are now going with Micajah Reynolds and sixth-year senior Tyler Hoover. At times this year they've been beaten out of the hole and allowed opponents to grind out some runs—South Florida in particular managed this. But with those safeties screwed down and utterly reliable linebackers behind, the payoff is low even if you do get some movement on the interior. And Michigan is doubtful to do so consistently.
For Michigan's part, Fitzgerald Toussaint's averaging 3.7 yards a pop. To pick a guy you saw and were totally unimpressed with, Minnesota's David Cobb is at 5.2. The feature back for Michigan State's supposedly terrible offense, Jeremy Langford, is at 4.7. This is in large part because of 27 for 27, but when five of your seven opponents to date are CMU, Akron, UConn, Minnesota, and Indiana there is plenty of room to obscure that; Michigan has not.
I am only telling you what you already know because your eyes have told you so. Stats are so very unnecessary here, aren't they? Michigan can't run worth a damn. The frantic offensive line shuffling: QED. Whatever assumptions Michigan made about their ability to do things in the run-up to the season have been disproven emphatically, and now they're going up against what the guys who try to smooth out schedule differences say is the best defense in the country.
Michigan's best hope here is for low frequency. I'm on board with unleashing the dragon here; MSU dares you to test them deep and Michigan has a couple of guys who can do that in different ways. That means buckets of max protection from twins sets and play action, which necessarily means sometimes Michigan's going to have to plow into the line.
With AJ Williams suspended Michigan has three options: spread it out and throw first, play Jordan Paskorz in the Williams role, or just say screw it and play six offensive linemen. It says here that the first and third will take equal measure with Paskorz an occasional alternative, and Michigan won't seem to miss the absence. Williams hadn't run a route longer than five yards all year and has not caught a pass; he was essentially a sixth OL anyway.
Key Matchup: Borges versus Coming Up With Something Clever. Michigan's not going to get much straight up; they'll hope to bust a big play to keep the numbers respectable. The aggressive nature of the MSU D can lead big plays for the opponent, and the right counter is the best way to unlock that since it doesn't seem like MSU's going to bust on its own. The "right counter" is nothing you've put on film before.
[Hit THE JUMP for EXPLODES IN ALL DIRECTIONS]
Other stuff here: Ace FFFF!
|WHAT||Michigan vs Indiana|
Ann Arbor, MI
|WHEN||3:30 PM Eastern
October 19th, 2013
|THE LINE||M –9|
|WEATHER||overcast, low 50s, 30% chance of rain, 10 MPH winds|
Indiana is the new Northwestern, an outfit with an irritatingly good offense whose defense gets clubbed so regularly that they struggle towards bowl eligibility. They've given up 450 rushing yards to Navy, 35 points to Indiana State, 45 to Missouri, 42 to previously-moribund Michigan State.
If only Michigan's rushing offense could be described as "moribund"…
Run Offense vs Indiana
This is high up in a search for "nihilists" thanks to Midnight Maize
Michigan's coming off the worst tailback performance in the history of the program in game I charted and have the tailback a +6.5 for the day, so the foxhole is crowded with atheists. Nihilists. What have you.
The good news(?) is that if there is a program on the schedule that provides an ability to get healthy, it is the extremely permeable Hoosiers. Leaving aside the Navy game, here are Indiana's outings against BCS competition:
Two hammerings and then Penn State providing a little sobriety about the performance of Michigan's rushing defense last week. Ace noted that their line is bad and their linebackers are bad, so they are bad. Think Indiana.
Of course, we're all in this foxhole waiting for the next shell in re: Michigan's running game. It got so bad against Penn State that savior Chris Bryant was pulled for walk-on Joey Burzynski, who didn't do any better against Penn State's loaded-up box. This week damn near anything might happen at guard, including an honest-to-God start for Burzynski or tackle Erik Magnuson getting his first career start at a position he has not played in his career at Michigan. Or both! After a miserable game in Happy Valley, reports are that Kyle Kalis's job is under siege as well, and deservedly.
This is time to full-on panic. Michigan's already pressed that button once with a mid-season switch; they are now pounding it. What's more, the previous move was plausible—Glasgow is major-college-sized and had played a lot of center in the spring and Bryant was a guard who had been injured for a while. Sticking a 6'1" dude and/or a tackle in when both weigh a 70s-era 285 pounds is not plausible.
Michigan will have to be better against Indiana if only because futility on the level of last week only comes around once every 64 years, if that; also Indiana is horrible. But no one's going to be talking about how the line is finally on the right track after this one.
Key Matchup: Guards versus anyone. Is the DT/interior OL matchup an advantage for Indiana? Think about that.
[Hit THE JUMP for WHY U HAVE TO BE GOOD AT OFFENSE]
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.]