I did not make this headline up
|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]
|WHAT||Michigan vs Illinois|
Ann Arbor, MI
|WHEN||3:30 PM EST
October 13th, 2012
|THE LINE||M -25|
|TELEVISION||ESPN/ABC reverse mirror (I KNOW)
|WEATHER||around 50, light rain all day w storms at gametime|
Bring your ponchos out. Image via Dubsism.
HEY GUYS I'M KIND OF TERRIBLY SICK AND IF THIS IS LATE AND MAYBE LESS EFFORTFUL THAN NORMAL JUST BLAME EVERYTHING EXCEPT ME.
Run Offense vs Illinois
Do not get used to this statement about the Illini football team: hey, this isn't half bad. Every other Illini stat of relevance languishes 80th or below; Illinois is 38th in rush defense despite acquiring almost no sacks. The problems only happen against bad BCS rushing offenses:
PSU is currently 80th, Wisconsin 90th in rush offense. Arizona State is okay at 55th. The week before the Illinois-Wisconsin game, the Badgers got Montee Ball 93 yards… on 31 carries. You can probably chalk the relative statistical success here up to schedule effects that will evaporate as the season goes along.
Spence's star has started to fade without departed defensive coordinator Vic Koenning:
Akeem Spence*/DL/Illinois: Spence recorded 9 tackles during the loss to Penn State, but the statistics don't tell the whole story. The junior tackle was manhandled most of the game and pushed off the line of scrimmage or controlled in man-on-man blocking. Spence did not turn in a terrible performance, but did not look like the first-round prospect most believe him to be.
My memories of Spence are mostly David Molk reaching him like a boss.
Okay, okay, but Wisconsin had about half of those yards in the fourth quarter when things got out of hand, and Michigan has not been pushing guys around. Everyone's concerned about Fitz Toussaint's production, or lack thereof, and despite the numbers above this just doesn't seem like a slam dunk, especially if Michigan is going to put the passing game in the barn again.
That said, fits and starts are the order of the day, with starts being long long runs when Illinois busts something and the fits coming when one of their players shoves someone other than Lewan into the backfield. It'll be an ugh-ugh-WOO kind of thing.
Key Matchup: Mealer/Omameh/Barnum versus Spence and Other Guy. Would like to see some movement here, some inside zone doubles that actually come off, some Toussaint yards. Our operative theory so far is that it's hard to deal with Short and ND's 3-4s in Michigan's non-Denard Run Game; movement Saturday is necessary to continue that narrative.
[Hit THE JUMP for Champaign
|WHAT||Michigan vs Purdue|
West Lafayette, IN
4 pm Eastern, October
|THE LINE||M -3|
|WEATHER||partly cloudy, around 50, no chance of rain|
Note the 4 PM start time. A little strange, that one.
Run Offense vs Purdue
remember this guy?
Michigan is going to test out the new Lloydmanbearpigball offense they rolled out in the second half against Notre Dame in harsh conditions… maybe. Despite having Kawaan Short and Bruce Gaston last year, Michigan exploded for 339(!) rushing yards on 53 carries. Fitz Toussaint's 59-yard back-breaker was the highlight but even outside that, Toussaint had 111 yards on 19 carries. In the UFR I marveled at how terrible Purdue's defensive ends and how slow their linebackers were, cautioning anyone from giddiness:
You say long-term. Isn't this a post-bye week ability to insert more of the actual offense effective immediately?
Maybe, but I have my doubts about how well it will work against teams stouter than Purdue. I know the Boilers coped vaguely well with Illinois and Penn State. I just have no idea how they managed that. Purdue's run defense suuuuuuuuuuuucks.
They have two main issues: the defensive end who is not senior Gerald Gooden and their outside linebackers. Gooden was all right holding the edge, so Michigan ran away from him most of the day. This is because Purdue's other DE is terrible whether it's the starter or the backup. That guy got sealed all day:
That is Michigan's first play from scrimmage. Koger seals the playside DE and that's about it. When that guy isn't stringing the play to the sideline or taking out another blocker your pitch is 75% of the way to success. On this play the MLB taking a dumb angle upfield of the Koger block is the rest of it.
A year later they're 23rd in rushing defense and ceded just 97 yards on 29 carries to Notre Dame, the only BCS team they've played to date. Ace took a look at that game instead of FFFFing a nonexistent UMass game and came back impressed with Short:
Purdue exacerbated Notre Dame's interior rushing woes by selling out against the run, forcing Golson to beat them with his arm. Kawaan Short played an All-American-caliber game, holding his ground against double teams and blowing up plays whenever he faced a single blocker. He recorded four tackles and two sacks, both coming when he made a lone Irish interior lineman look silly with a quick move off the line. PROTIP: Do not block Kawaan Short with one person.
After Michigan had a similar outing against ND's rushing offense the viability of the Irish OL is in question… but so is the viability of Michigan's OL. They had a tough time with Nix and Tuitt and will be getting a couple of players of that caliber in their face Saturday.
The question for Purdue is: what about everyone surrounding those stars at DT? Ryan Russell was a huge problem last year as a redshirt freshman; this year he's got 4.5 TFLs and two sacks. Improvement or mirage?
The same goes for Will Lucas, currently Purdue's leading tackler as a true junior. He was the MLB mentioned above. He's entering his second year as a full time starter and should be expected to improve a great deal. When Michigan flees from Short—and they will flee from Short if Mike Kwiatkowski's inflated UFR number from the ND game is any indication—will the ends hold up and the linebackers show up? Not so much last year.
Key Matchup: Kwiatkowski, Funchess, Williams, and the tackles sealing those ends inside. That was deadly for the Boilers last year.
[Hit THE JUMP for tiny corners, standard Purdue offense.]