this week in unintentionally grim-sounding recruiting headlines
|WHAT||Michigan vs Notre Dame|
Notre Dame Stadium,
South Bend, IN
|WHEN||7:30 pm Eastern, September 22nd 2012|
|THE LINE||ND -5|
|WEATHER||rainy and mid-50s most of the day, but clear by gametime, minimal wind|
Run Offense vs Notre Dame
the thing no one remembers about this is Te'o made this tackle about two yards downfield
This was a slog for Purdue and not particularly effective for Michigan State, though the Spartans may have been better off imitating their Boise State gameplan: LeVeon Bell averaged 4.1 yards on just 19 carries.
You're probably all like "none of those teams have Denard Robinson," and that's true. But Michigan only got 114 yards last year, almost literally all of them from Denard. Vincent Smith, Michael Shaw, and Stephen Hopkins combined on eight carries that gained ten yards with a long of three. Denard managed 113 on 15 carries. This was very early in Borges's wild ride with the spread, though, and his first against a real opponent. The next week Robinson would carry 26 times against EMU, which is either inexplicable or Borges trying to get a handle on something he hadn't been able to against the Irish. Much rests on that handle being acquired by now.
Notre Dame's star is of course Manti Te'o, the inside linebacker from Hawaii who etc etc etc you've watched him meet Denard probably thirty times, you know all about Te'o. He's kind of good, you guys. This year I'm not even sure the ND LBs are freaking out enough to burn them on misdirection—whatever reads they're making have been accurate. The other guys aren't quite to that standard. Chris Fox is pretty vulnerable in space, whether it's tackling a guy or covering one; Carlo Calabrese is good, but not great.
The line is getting nasty. Nose tackle Louis Nix was a stumbling battleship last year; he's slimmed down and is two-gapping opponents effectively. Stephon Tuitt is a 3-4 DE at 300 pounds who has five sacks on the year, about which more later. They'll put LB Prince Shembo down at DE on passing downs and use Kapron Lewis-Moore (a strong candidate for Brooks Bollinger eighth year memorial senior) as a stouter run defender. These guys are all playing effectively, albeit against questionable offensive lines.
ND's 3-4 is predicated on two things: making you double those linemen to move them and getting both inside linebackers to the gap clean. This is happening a lot. The results are above.
Michigan has Denard!
Right, so that. Denard is a problem for anyone on the ground because he gives the offense an extra blocker. Opponents generally combat this by bringing down a safety, which ND will likely do by splitting him over the slot when there's a slot. There is a not-insignificant danger ND will not have to do this. Michigan's interior line has been worrying, and it's hard to see any of Michigan's OL in there being able to prevent Nix from bulling his way into the backfield without help. If Schofield can't hold up against Lewis-Moore or Tuitt, two linebackers will be enough when one of them is Te'o quality.
Misdirection is called for. Neither of ND's first two Big Ten opponents could use much of that for whatever reason, but Michigan has a big threat wearing 16 and a mad scientist OC who had better damn well have something up his sleeve after two weeks in which the offense was "whatever because it works" and a third in which the offense was "don't get Denard hurt."
Key Matchup: ND ILB versus second level blocks. Must get hat on opponent or Denard goes no places.
[Hit THE JUMP for Hannibal Lecter DE, Brian Kelly cat, and oh God I have to predict something don't I.]
|WHAT||Michigan vs UMass|
|WHERE||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI|
|WHEN||3:30 pm Eastern, September 15th2012|
|THE LINE||Michigan –45.5|
|WEATHER||mid-60s, partly cloudy, calm|
Run Offense vs UMass
In their first two games, the Minutemen have given up 147 yards on 43 carries to UConn (which subsequently went out and put up 35 yards on NC State) and 331 yards on 53 carries to Indiana (which needs no additional wow experience appended). They are really not good at containing rushing defenses. Indiana State gave up just over half as many yards as UMass did to Indiana.
If this is not a full-on baby seal massacre, I am disappoint, Michigan rush offense. Air Force wasn't good, but UMass seems a large step down from the organized and veteran Falcons. Denard should break one or two long ones, Toussaint will crack 100 yards at a healthy YPC rate, and we'll get our first distorted looks at what Justice Hayes and Dennis Norfleet look like taking handoffs.
Key Matchup: Michigan cleat traction versus the thick layer of slippery gore laid down by the third quarter. Watch out, Dennis Norfleet! That's probably a broken bone you're cutting on!
[Hit THE JUMP for barely concealed contempt for the opponent.]
|WHAT||Michigan vs Air Force|
|WHERE||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI|
|WHEN||3:30 pm Eastern, September 8st 2012|
|THE LINE||Michigan –21.5|
|TELEVISION||ESPN2/ABC reverse mirror (coverage map)|
|WEATHER||windy, mid-60s, slight chance of rain|
[HEY BOO-URNSERS: I know ain't no one gonna tell you what to do, but booing a service academy when they are introduced is a terrible idea. Let's not do that! None of you are reading this blog, probably.]
Run Offense vs Air Force
what up mr kotter, what up
After a comprehensively abysmal outing against Alabama, Michigan gets a slightly better matchup against the Falcons. Subtract 70 pounds from everyone on the Alabama defense and add serious engineering degrees for most: that's Air Force. Thank gawd.
Last week Air Force beat up on I-AA Idaho State. The Fighting Gutierrezeses were 2-9 last year, losing to the various Montana, Utah, and Washington I-AA teams by scores like 54-13. They averaged—wait for it—27 yards rushing doing so. This is not data.
We don't have much in the way of data we can take forward from last year's Falcon outfit since they turned over seven starters, but if we assume they'll be a lot like last year's outfit, Michigan should go buck-wild on what was the #109 rushing defense. The Notre Dame game featured in Ace's FFFF saw the Irish go for 266 yards on 29 carries, including a 78-yard run by Andrew Hendrix(!). Brady Hoke's old outfit and 2011 common opponent San Diego State put up 201 on 35 carries, with Ronnie Hillman going for 172. Undersized and heavily reliant on confusing the opponent with blitzes, Air Force stands little chance of holding up against any reasonably good BCS-level rushing attack.
Michigan should have one of those again. They've got Fitzgerald Toussaint back, and since this is an overmatched opponent Michigan will probably run Denard 30 times. I'm not sure we learned anything about Michigan in the first game for the exact opposite reason we didn't learn anything about Air Force in the first game; extrapolating from past seasons suggests Michigan will run riot.
Key Matchup: Offensive line vs getting push. This should not be a problem, but we're all spooked after last week's total inability to block any-damn-body.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the news. Which is less bad!]
[Note for people who don't read who posts what: Ace posted this. You probably didn't read this either. DAMN YOUUUUU.]
|WHAT||Michigan vs Alabama|
|WHERE||Cowboys Stadium, Arlington TX|
|WHEN||8 pm Eastern, September 1st 2012|
|THE LINE||Alabama -13.5|
|TELEVISION||National on ABC|
|WEATHER||sunny, mid-90s, roof expected to be closed so it doesn't really matter|
[Image via Tower of Bammer]
It's the opening game of the season, so certainly the Wolverines have scheduled a directional Michigan school or similar creampu...
Michigan takes on defending national champion Alabama, which is ranked second in both preseason polls despite returning just 11 starters. There is good reason for this: Nick Saban has turned Tuscaloosa into an NFL talent factory, one that shows no signs of slowing despite the heavy personnel losses. Michigan's toughest test traditionally comes in the last regular season game; this year, it's the first.
Run Offense vs Alabama
Jesse Williams shifts from end to nose tackle; this should not be a problem
The Crimson Tide defense posted one of the most dominant seasons in collegiate history in 2011, allowing ten yards per game fewer than any other team in the country. A look at their run defense, game-by-game, reveals their numbers could have been even better if not for one obvious outlier:
FCS school Georgia Southern was the only team to crack 3.6 yards per carry against Alabama, and they more than doubled that figure. Flukes are flukes, however, and a triple-option FCS team managing that kind of output against that defense screams irrelevance unless Al Borges breaks out the flexbone tomorrow. The rest of the year, Bama allowed more than three ypc just twice, to Penn State (still boasting Silas Redd) and LSU (first matchup—the second didn't go so well).
This isn't the same Alabama outfit, of course; they lose nose tackle Josh Chapman and a pair of All-American caliber linebackers in Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw. The Tide can replace that talent effectively, sliding 320-pound end Jesse Williams down to the nose and inserting former blue-chip recruits Trey DePriest and Adrian Hubbard into the lineup at linebacker, but replicating last year's success will be difficult.
Then again, Alabama ceded just 2.4 yards per carry last year en route to crushing the entire universe. Giving up a full yard more per carry would've still placed them inside the top 25 nationally—there may be regression, meaning the extent of their destruction is limited to merely our own galaxy. Williams reportedly bench-pressed 600 pounds(!!!) over the summer—as a JUCO transfer who originally hails from Australia, he's just beginning to reach his potential. Starting ends Damion Square and Ed Stinson each played in all 13 games last year (Square started all 13) and weigh in at over 280 pounds. The Tide carry a reputation for being strong up the middle and that should not change this year.
At linebacker, Nico Johnson and C.J. Mosely combined for 11 TFLs in 2011 and should greatly improve on that output now that they're out from under the shadow of Hightower and Upshaw. Johnson is listed as the co-starter at both MIKE and WILL, while Mosely will stick to the weak side. You may remember DePriest from his recruitment, when the five-star out of Springfield, Ohio, appeared to favor Michigan at one point before choosing to head South. He tallied 25 tackles as a true freshman last year and is a star in the making. Strongside linebacker Hubbard functions more as a defensive lineman in Alabama's 3-4 defense.
On the Michigan side, their performance in this regard may hinge on the status of Fitzgerald Toussaint [UPDATE: forget that]—it takes a dynamic runner to be effective against this defense, and Thomas Rawls and Vincent Smith do not fit that bill.
If Toussaint isn't available, Moving the ball on the ground will be a difficult proposition, especially since Alabama can then key on Denard Robinson without having to fear the guy next to him.
As long as there are no injuries along the offensive line, the Wolverines should hold up in the trenches. The pressure will be on Patrick Omameh—who's struggled against bigger, stronger linemen—and new starter Elliott Mealer to not give any ground; if they're getting knocked into the backfield, the efforts of Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield will be for naught.
If, as expected, Toussaint is not available, it'll take a monster effort from Denard for Michigan to consistently move the ball. He's capable, of course, especially against a defense facing its first full-speed test of the season. As detailed in FFFF, it usually takes misdirection to find running room against the Tide, so we'll see if Borges gets creative to try and get Denard into space on the edge.
Key Matchup: The interior line vs. Jesse Williams. As I said, Lewan and Schofield could dominate and it won't matter if Omameh, Mealer, and center Ricky Barnum can't keep Williams from getting a push up the middle. If the interior line can fight Williams to a draw there's a chance Denard and the backs can put together a few decent runs, perhaps (please?) by running some inverted veer, which Auburn (and Cam Newton) ran with great success against the Tide in 2010.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the news. Which is mostly bad.]
North Korea DPR
|WHERE||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor MI|
|WHEN||Noon Eastern, November 26th 2011|
|THE LINE||Michigan –7.5|
|TELEVISION||National on ABC|
cloudy, mid-50s(!) minimal chance of rain
So… before we even get into the breakdowns, yes, Opponent is bad. Their wins are over…
- Akron, Colorado, and Indiana (horrendous teams that will finish with double digit losses)
- Toledo (a good MAC team that still managed to lose to 'Cuse; Ohio State was one good zone read decision away from losing)
- Illinois (Illinois)
- Wisconsin (uh…)
No, the Wisconsin win makes no sense. They've lost to 6-5 Miami and 5-6 Purdue. They've had some relatively good outings this season but strip away the scarlet and gray and this looks like Purdue again. I know, I know.
Run Offense vs Cleveland State
Ryan Shazier will be a source of big plays both ways
Jackrabbits fans were bracing for impact on offense as soon as Terrelle Pryor's eligiblity went poof, but the Tressel fallout has unexpectedly claimed big chunks of the defense's effectiveness as well. Yeah, they lost a lot of starters. But they are still the vaunted SUNY-Stonybrook defense. They reload.
Not so much this year. They've dropped to 41st nationally defending the run. The game-by-game is… variable.
[Note: for purposes of this preview Colorado is not counted as real opponent.]
Murderous performances against MSU, Purdue, and Illinois are paired with eh outings against Indiana and Wisconsin and crap versus Miami, Nebraska, and PSU. I don't know what to do with that. Spread and pro-style are all mixed together; good and bad are mixed together.
If there's a trend it's one of struggles against the spread. Penn State deployed a wildcat look that tore it up in the first half of that game; when forced away from that they imploded. Nebraska: spread option, MSU: pro-style. But Miami is basically pro-style—certainly was against OSU—and Purdue is spread. Emphasis on the "if" in that sentence about trends.
OSU has some assets. John Simon is like Mike Martin… but fast(!). Nominally a DT, he has been a crazy effective DE this year. His game is built on penetration and he is their leader in TFLs(13.5) and sacks(6). Jonathan Hankins [insert rant about RR DT recruiting and/or Archie Collins here] has 10 TFLs and three sacks. That's a defensive line's worth of production from two guys.
That's kind of where it stops, though. At least, relative to your average Ferris State defense. They've still got plenty of TFLs and whatnot… just not quite as many as usual. The other two starters on the DL have 4 TFLs between them; there is no standout linebacker unless it's newcomer Ryan Shazier. Shazier's nominally Andrew Sweat's backup but has been making plays in limited time all year. Think Lavonte David, except bigger. With Sweat questionable after a nasty concussion suffered against Purdue, Shazier will be a pain if he's in the right place. That is an if. While Shazier made a ton of highlight reel tackles against Penn State, it's the ones he didn't make that let the Nittany Lions rack up those gaudy numbers above.
As for Michigan, they recovered from an alarming outing against Iowa to put up back to back 200 yard games. Their performance against Illinois (which went out the next week and held Wisconsin under 300 yards only to be betrayed by their turnover-prone offense) was more impressive statistically. The Nebraska game saw a comedy of errors on Denard Robinson's part…
Three yard loss because Denard did not pitch
…hold down a series of plays that would have worked if he'd pulled or pitched. The blocking was quality all around, Fitzgerald Toussaint locked down the starting tailback job, and Borges seems settled on a mostly zone shotgun attack that fits the personnel. The addition of an H-back headed for the backside end has neutralized the double-A-gap blitzes that annihilated Michigan's offense in East Lansing.
So they'll probably be good. Michigan will have to more effectively constrain the Ohio State defense than they did Nebraska—it's much higher quality. Those runs that were slipping through the line despite Denard making an iffy decision may not be there, and then you've just got the litany of 3, 4, 0, –2 that might as well be run from under center.
Key Matchup: Denard decisionmaking and/or actually giving him decisions to make. Nebraska didn't exactly lay down a blueprint for stopping the Michigan offense but they did hint that you can cheat in certain ways without getting punished. Michigan will either have to read or call their way out of that.
Pass Offense vs IUPUI
Anyone attempting to scout a Big Ten passing defense runs up against a familiar problem: where are the quarterbacks? The Minutemen defense has gone up against few passers of any quality.
They gave up near-identical 7.8 YPA days to Russell Wilson and Kirk Cousins… and that's about it as far as threatening passers. The non-threatening variety:
- Taylor Martinez averaged 8.7 YPA with two TD and one INT
- Nathan Scheelhaase averaged 5 YPA with one TD and two INT
- Tre Roberson averaged 8.3 YPA with one TD and one INT
- Purdue's two-headed outfit averaged 6.3 YPA with an INT
- Matt McGloin was indistinguishable from Braxton Miller with 4.9 YPA and an INT
With Cousins also throwing a couple picks, plan on Robinson getting intercepted at least once. Yes, you were already planning on that.
Limiting volume seems like a good plan here. The quality passers got away with attempts in the mid-30s; Martinez and Roberson succeeded on 22 and 21 attempts, respectively. Scheelhaase and the Purdue outfit are not quality passers and got up into the 30s. The effect is apparent in their YPA. (McGloin had limited attempts but plays for the pro-style tire fire that is the Penn State offense and should probably be ignored.)
The secondary is youthful and iffy, at least by the high standards in Columbus. Travis Howard and Bradley Roby are the corners; Howard was expected to be a lockdown type and has not. He's kind of like JT Floyd, actually. Redshirt freshman Bradley Roby has been okay to good, considering his age. The real issue is in the safeties.
When is the last time you saw Kovacs helplessly wave at a running back headed for six? GERG was roving the sidelines with a beaver. CJ Barnett is a redshirt sophomore who's been at fault on a number of big plays against this year; Orihan Johnson has kinda sort a lost his job to Christian Bryant at the other spot. Bryant is 190 pounds. They'll shuffle both guys regularly; they can all be exploited. Barnett will make great plays in coverage when he's got his head on straight. These guys are all athletes with high ceilings. They just haven't hit them because they're inexperienced.
This might be a game in which an oh noes type action comes back. Michigan's all but shelved it the last few weeks after opponents started planning for it. If Shazier or the safeties or one of the other linebackers starts getting nosy, play action could re-emerge.
On the other side of the ball, Denard Robinson has emerged from a shaky period early to reclaim his situational accuracy and not entirely terrible reads. He is a danger to both teams when he drops back; this is an improvement from early in the year. Borges has slowly hacked out passes that aren't zings over the middle or bombs and Denard has actually started setting his feet when he throws. On the run, even. Sometimes.
Michigan's offensive line has been pretty good in pass protection but Mark Huyge is potentially exploitable by a quality end like Simon; Michigan did miss third-down back Vincent Smith against Nebraska. Fitzgerald Toussaint is a much better runner but his blitz pickups make you understand why coaches hate playing young running backs on passing downs.
M receivers… eh. They're all right.
Key Matchup: OL versus Simon and blitzers. Pressure Denard and you will be rewarded with bad decisions. Very bad decisions. Pick up six, though, and it's trouble for a defense that can either cover deep or prevent scrambles—not both.
Run Defense vs Creighton
This will be a test after a couple weeks running up against flimsy offensive lines down important starters. This week Michigan runs into an intact, veteran line with lots of power (and admittedly crappy coaching). Senior Mike Brewster is an NFL prospect who was getting touted as a potential Rimington winner preseason. That's probably out of the question after snapping the ball into his own butt three times last weekend.
He's still a massive upgrade on the guys Mike Martin has been tossing around like ragdolls the past three weeks.
Brewster is flanked by touted recruits. At tackle, McGuffie buddy JB Shugarts is a false-start machine but when he missed the Purdue game his replacement was a sieve; they don't have alternatives and he generally shoves the guy in front of him so there he is. Mike Adams returned from his tatgate suspension and quietly re-emerged as an excellent LT. On the interior a couple of sophomores hold down the guard spots.
Ohio State runs "Dave"—their name for cromagnon iso football—out of the I, matching it with counters and the occasional outside pitch. From the shotgun and pistol they run a lot of zone on which confusion can abound. If Michigan's linebackers are suddenly more effective in this game it's probably an environmental effect more than anything else. They use Miller as a runner whenever, wherever, with any passing down a potential quarterback draw. Third and fifteen? Honey Bollman don't care.
They also like speed option; the QB never pitches on theirs, either. He's getting better at actually running the damn play, but will go off script on a whim:
There's only so much you can do to prepare for a quarterback like this, because Miller won't always do what is intended on a given play, making it really difficult for the defense to stuff a play even when making the proper read. He'll reverse field, go through the wrong gap, wait around in the backfield until he finds a crease—there's just no guessing where he is going to go. The best way to defend this is through dominant defensive line play, and luckily Michigan has had that in spades recently—it's going to take a big day from the entire line, as well as the linebackers, to keep Miller from amassing 100 yards.
Contain, fits, contain and fits. Overrunning things or getting out of your lane is a big play waiting to happen. Stay responsible and eventually Miller will go down to a gang tackle.
Defensive line penetration will be important. Penetration hacks off potential running lanes and allows cleanup defenders to focus on a smaller section of the field that's usually away from blocking angles. Second level defenders should be cautious; linemen should get into the backfield and be the first guy Miller makes miss.
Key Matchup: Martin vs Brewster, et al. The touted one on one matchup between Brewster and Martin may not develop unless OSU tries to run to him on the zone. Most teams choose to run away from him, leaving the backside guard the man in question. Either way, if Michigan can stone inside runs with regularity the resulting passing downs will be rewarding. Martin can make that happen by himself, or he can force the ballcarrier to his friends.
Pass Defense vs Eastern Washington
Braxton Miller attempts in games he's played the whole way: 4, 12, 11, 18, 17. Last week against Penn State he got the ball back down six with seven minutes left and proceeded to Zook his way down the field, burning 5:28 on a drive that ended on downs at the Penn State 32. Albion does not throw the ball much.
They do call a lot more passes than they actually throw. Many end in Miller scrambles; others end in sacks. Despite having just 196 attempts to their name (115th nationally) they are is 116th in sacks allowed. That is an incredible combination of incompetence. While the frequency of Miller scrambles and existence of Joe Bauserman complicate things, doing a simple [sacks / (passing attempts + sacks)] calculation gets you an astounding 16%. Great googly moogly.
This isn't all Miller's fault. He's been saddled with an untenably young receiving corps that got untenably younger when Verlon Reed was lost for the year attempting to field an onside kick in a 10-7 loss to MSU. Freshman Devin Smith is the leading receiver in terms of yardage and he's caught three passes in the Big Ten season. Sophomore Corey Brown (Not That Corey Brown) is next, and it appears that everyone in Buckeye comment threads hates him. Jake Stoneburner is a senior and the kind of guy Al Borges would turn into an All American, but he goes to New Jersey Institute of Technology and therefore has 13 catches. (Seven have gone for touchdowns. PROTIP: cover Stoneburner in redzone.)
The inexplicable return of DeVier Posey complicates matters. Anyone who saw him make that one-handed spear along the sidelines knows he's pretty good. Unlike the rest of the receiving corps, he's veteran. Last year he had 848 yards. He had four catches for 66 yards against Penn State and could—probably should—become Florida Gulf Coast's leading receiver before halftime of the Motor City Bowl.
Since the biggest threat on Shawnee State's passing plays is still Miller's legs, opponents have prioritized containment. Miller generally goes through one read, two at most, and then starts wandering around MAKING PLAYS. Wisconsin can attest that he does keep his head up looking for downfield opportunities on the roll; overplaying his legs can result in big plays that are even more disastrous against an offense hovering in the triple digits nationally.
Key Matchup: Mattison blitz schemes versus Braxton Miller's scrambling. Taylor Martinez had a wide open QB draw he cut back into defenders; that draw was open because a Michigan okie scheme got RPSed. Miller is a more dangerous runner and when Michigan sends its wildly unbalanced zone blitzes there will be lanes for Miller. Having a plan to combat those will help Michigan hold Miller under the 100 yards that seem a requirement for a win.
This was supposed to be a huge advantage for Nebraska last week; instead the Cornhuskers' various debacles saw them fall from 5th to 14th in FEI's special teams rankings. This week it's much the same. LSSU's traditionally strong special teams are holding serve.
While nothing excels except maybe kickoff returns, all five phases are above average. Kicker Drew Basil is 13 of 16 on the year. Punter Ben Buchanon's net is held down by a lot of derpy short-field punts and he's still 43rd in raw yardage. Jordan Hall is a quality returner on both kicks and punts; he's spearheaded their run to 7th nationally in kickoff returns without springing a long touchdown. While Michigan's gotten better in the KO return department since early in the season this is still a matchup of concern.
Michigan is the usual except their kicker is not a tire fire and punt returner Jeremy Gallon has come on in recent weeks. He's way more reliable than he used to be and he's even getting some yards here and there.
Key Matchup: Gibbons you put it through the uprights?
Tacopants Bowl? Tacopants Bowl.
- Wright State is teeing off on Toussaint without riposte.
- Denard can't get the time that makes him effective because of Simon.
- Miller goes all Troy Smith 2004.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Mattison has a package that gets after Miller without opening up too much in the way of scrambles.
- Borges gets Shazier running really fast in the wrong direction.
- Clock reads 00:00 and Michigan has more points.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 3 (Baseline 5; +1 for I Think We May Have Not Won Many Games Against This Team In The Recent Past, Let Me Check, +1 for OH GOD I CHECKED, –1 for 118th In Passing Offense, Man, –1 for Ding Dong The Tressel's Dead, –1 for And Their Head Coach Is Now Adam Sandler, –1 for OY OY OY Seems More Concentrated On The Opposing Sideline After The Last Two Weeks, +1 for Denard Turnover Fiesta AY AY AY, –1 for Comparative Scores Against Purdue, Illinois, Nebraska, MSU, +1 for General Principles.)
Desperate need to win level: 11 (Baseline 5; +1 for This Garbage Stops Now, +1 for BCS Bid On The Line, +1 for Officially Puts League On Notice In Year One, +1 for This Opponent Sucks And Has Sucked All Year, +1 for Seriously, Screw These Bastards And Their Crying About The Immense Damage Losing Tressel Has Caused Them, +1 for This One Goes To 11.)
Loss will cause me to... drink.
Win will cause me to... I don't even know anymore. Michigan has never won The Game in the history of this blog.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
It seems like Miller and company can only move the ball serious distances in the event of hijinks, major Michigan mistakes, and awesome plays that Miller and Herron and Posey all have the capability to turn in. Major Michigan mistakes have been minimal this year and Bollman has not seemed capable of forcing them in opponents. So Ohio State points come from their one or two sustained drives, the turnover(s) you know are coming from Michigan, and…?
That puts them in a range from 7 to 20, the bottom of which seems more likely than the top. Don't give up a cheap long one and Michigan seems good. This is where the power of Kovacs is powerful.
As for Michigan's offense, the assumption is they'll keep it tight for the same reasons Tressel kept it tight in the 2007 edition of the Game. When the opponent doesn't seem capable of scoring unless you help it and you have a run offense that will eventually find a crack and break it big, you just probe until you break it open. We'll see some deep balls mixed in because Borges gets the shakes if a quarter goes by without him seeing a ball at eye level, but it will be a tortoise sort of day. They'll do all right and grind it out. Turnover fiesta is the main danger.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Combined passing attempts go under 40.
- Borges has some new stuff saved for this very event.
- Fitz Toussaint goes over 100 again at a 5 YPC clip.
- Michigan, 24-12
|WHAT||Michigan vs Nebraska|
|WHERE||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor MI|
|WHEN||Noon Eastern, November 19th 2011|
|THE LINE||Michigan –3.5|
|TELEVISION||National on ESPN|
|WEATHER||mid 40s, cloudy, 10% chance of rain, moderate wind|
Why have one mascot when you can have two on a tandem bike? OH NO DAVE BRANDON HAD AN IDEA
Run Offense vs. Nebraska
Lavonte David likes the letter X
One week after Michigan turned in a poor outing against an Iowa run defense currently struggling to get its nose above average (thus causing all Michigan fans to PANIC about the previously-taken-for-granted running game), they kicked off the Illinois game by marching 80 yards in four plays against a top ten defense. By the end of the game they'd put up the best numbers anyone had against the Illini:
How did this happen? Michigan went from a 50-50 split between the shotgun and under center to nearly 80-20. In the UFR yesterday I calculated a gap of almost 2 YPC between the two, with shotgun averaging 5.8 YPC and under center 3.9. The numbers above disagree slightly: remove the under center runs and you get a smoooooooth 6.0 YPC.
If it wasn't blindingly obvious before—no. It was blindingly obvious before and is now even more blindingly obvious. Michigan has two run games. They are Oregon from the shotgun and Akron from under center.
As for the opponent, you'd think a team that practices against Taylor Martinez and has an undersized lightning bolt of a weakside linebacker would have disproportionately good performances against mobile quarterbacks, but that is not the case:
Head coach Bo Pelini's defenses have thrived against pocket passers. Against dual-threat quarterbacks, the results aren't nearly as good. In both of Nebraska's losses this season, a run-pass threat at quarterback did much of the damage. So facing the most electric dual-threat player that college football has seen since Michael Vick (i.e. Denard Robinson) presents an enormous challenge.
Survey says: yeah, but it's not quite the blowout you'd think from the above. In seven games against BCS opponents Nebraska's faced two pro-style statues, two passing-oriented scrambly types, two out-and-out dual threats, and a crazy melange from Northwestern. Results ordered by total yards above or below season average:
*[YPA based on Miller's production, not Bauserman going 1 of 10. Using Bauserstats is ridiculous.]
Yards are a noisy stat but the overall picture painted is a team that has difficulty defending the pass when they are stretched or busy defending the run. Mobile quarterbacks have had mixed success when actually probing on the ground. Miller averaged 9.1 yards a carry; Persa and Colter combined for 4.2; MarQueis Gray had just 3.9.
The run games that seem to work best are the sort that pound between the tackles. OSU still does this with aplomb. Wisconsin is Wisconsin. Washington has the tough interior running of Chris Polk, and MSU is MSU. Penn State may not have done so hot but they are Penn State and the thing that leaps out from that chart above is how Nebraska is so not Illinois.
They weren't even when they had Jared Crick; now that he's laid up with an injury their defensive tackle rotation is like Michigan's… with less quality at the top and depth. This is from the immediate aftermath of Penn State:
The defensive line is beat up too. Of course All-American Jared Crick is out for the season and Thaddeus Randle has missed the last couple of games.
[Chase] Rome, who missed the game against Northwestern with a groin injury, was able to play enough to give Terrence Moore and Baker Steinkuhler a break every now and then.
“We don’t have a lot of depth right now,” Rome said. “At least I can contribute and give the other guys some rest when they needed it. I thought it was a good system with how it worked out, especially with it being my first time out since being injured.”
Moore and Steinkuhler aren't Crick, or anything approximating him. They've combined for just four TFLs. Will Heininger's managed that by himself.
The bulk of the tackling and playmaking comes from WLB lightning bolt Lavonte David—think Brandin Hawthorne except really good—and MLB Will Compton. There will be gaps in the line; getting hats on second level dudes will make the difference between a pretty good and a very good day.
Key Matchup: Michigan versus the dirty pictures the I-Form has of them. This is actually another matchup where it seems possible Michigan will have some success lining up and running straight at the Huskers, what with their undersized LBs and dodgy DT situation. That worked out to the tune of 3.6 yards per Fitz carry against Iowa. Don't take the cheese.
Pass Offense vs. Nebraska
Alfonzo Dennard and some guy who is not good
Michigan took one look at this matchup in the swirling winds of Memorial Stadium and decided to pass on passing, a decision that worked out just fine. They're not likely to do the same against a less intimidating Cornhusker defense. Nebraska enters the game 86th in sacks and 29th in pass efficiency defense. While the latter number isn't far off that put up by the Illini, the former is a huge step back from Whitney Mercilus and the blitz-mad Vic Koening. When Michigan drops to pass this will be closer to Iowa than Illinois.
Nebraska's YPA ceded can be found above; the place it seems Nebraska struggles is when they have to defend with an extra guy because the quarterback is a threat or they are playing Wisconsin. (Russell Wilson's four carries had little to do with the gameplan, but Wisconsin is Wisconsin.) Play action appears to be the death knell, what with 81-yard Kain-Colter-to-Jeremy-Ebert touchdowns popping up in box scores. I mean, holy terrible safety play, Batman.
This makes the lack of the damn I-Form even more imperative since Nebraska's weaknesses multiply like badgers once you force a safety into the box or make them defend both run and pass. They never want to do this. FFFF:
You know how Iowa does the whole cover 2 zone thing constantly? Nebraska is their cover 2 man counterpart, pretty much doing the same thing on every play and relying on their defensive talent to make plays. Unfortunately, the Huskers lost their All-American DT, Jared Crick, and now only have three healthy scholarship players on the interior of their D-line. Their corners are very good in coverage, but the safeties looked very susceptible to deep throws over the middle, especially off play-action, and the line just can't generate any pass rush.
Dollars to donuts this is because the Huskers have one asskicking cornerback and not much else in the secondary. Alphonzo Dennard has 20 tackles this year… and five PBUs. That is the statistical profile of a totally awesome cornerback. Michigan is going to avoid him like everyone else. This should hurt them less than most teams because they have a deep stable of eh receivers with no particular standout. I guess Hemingway might be less likely to catch a deep one, which, like… when is the last time that happened?
Husker safeties Damion Stafford and Austin Cassidy have racked up a lot of tackles but those big flashy YPA marks above are their doing. Stafford is a big hitter fresh out of JUCO; Cassidy appears to be a former walk-on who emerged as a starter halfway through last year. Last year's Michigan offense would be good for some Worst Waldo plays against this pair—finding some in this year's offense is up to Borges.
There's only one guy Michigan has to watch for in pass protection: end Cameron Meredith. He's got five sacks. No other Husker has more than two.
Key Matchup: Denard (and possible lingering hand issues) versus the usual array of WTF throws and decisions. He's been better in the Big Ten season and should have time to survey. I think he'll be okay as long as the hand is.
Run Defense vs. Nebraska
Sometimes Nebraska uses the wildcat… but when?
Illinois brought a rep for using a lot of option. They left having deployed it once, and not well:
Nebraska will not do the same thing. After the disastrous Callahan years they have restored sanity to college football by reverting to an option-based system featuring a terrifyingly fast quarterback who throws like a duck. Yea, and all was right in the world again.
Nebraska's option is of the spread, modern variety but it's still option. They do all the spread 'n' shred stuff you've seen Michigan run the last few years but their blocking is more heavily focused on POWER than Rodriguez; unlike Michigan their POWER is actually fairly POWERFUL instead of AMY GRANT HIT WITH A TRANQUILIZER DART. They'll run triple option. They'll run the inverted veer and use the back to the outside a a pitch guy. They'll run in your face with POWER from the pistol. They have a diverse and scary run offense that is totally going to option off some of Michigan's baby-faced youth on the edges.
Probably, anyway. Despite all the blingy option plays, Taylor Martinez's season has taken a decidedly Denard-like path:
He hasn't rushed for more than 60 yards since the Ohio State game and his yards per carry has dropped to 3.85 from 6.68 YPC in September. Nebraska fans will take that trade. Martinez is learning how to throw. He won't forget how to run. The threat of his speed is enough on its own.
Michigan fans will be violently split on that trade, because they are violently split on all things. If Martinez averages 3.85 YPC on Michigan I thi nk Michigan wins, though. That's because Martinez is a relative home-run hitter. Tailback Rex Burkhead is a gritty tough son of a gun Eckstein, a cerebral bellcow who really takes to coaching and finds his way on the field through his smarts and subtle racism. [ed: This was unclear. Just making a joke about how white RBs are described, not implying that Burkhead is a racist. Fun with ambiguity! Not fun.]
Burkhead is a grinder. His long against real competition this year is 22 yards and he specializes in pounding out 100 yards on 25 carries with a YPC under 5: 121 on 25 carries against PSU, 69(!) on 22 against Northwestern, 130 on 35 against MSU, 119 on 26 against OSU, 96 on 18 against Wisconsin. He managed to edge over 5 YPC against Minnesota and Wisconsin; the former was Minnesota and the latter was a blowout. It's hard to see Nebraska getting anything past Michigan's safeties given the trends in both seasons.
Speaking of those safeties: I expect Michigan to go with a lot of man and three-deep that allows Kovacs to shoot up into the box where he can be the tiny space linebacker that made him a three-time Heisman winner in an alternate universe where open-field tackling is the most coveted thing in a football player. It's either that or hoping Michigan's cornerbacks can be tough on the edge. Not betting on that. The over/under on Kovacs tackles is set at 8.5.
Key Matchup: Youth on the edge funneling to Kovacs. This did not so much happen against Northwestern. It did against Illinois—once. Nebraska will be a stiff, confusing test for the freshmen in the lineup.
Pass Defense vs. Nebraska
throws like a duck; catches like a duck
One look at Taylor Martinez flapping the ball out to his receivers and you think "Nick Sheridan with legs," and for big hunks of his career that has been true. Unfortunately those hunks have not come recently:
Since [Wisconsin], Martinez is 77-for-122 passing (64.2%) for 865 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions. That's a passer rating of 142.18 which, if it was his season total, would place him third in the Big Ten ahead of Michigan State's Kirk Cousins. That's not factoring in drops, which have become a growing problem of late.
WR Kenny Bell said there were "at least four" in the Penn State game. The Minnesota game had at least three that I can remember in the third quarter alone. No matter, the trend is clear. Martinez, as a passer, is playing as good as he's ever played.
There are games with Minnesota and Northwestern in there. As someone who's seen his team's erratic quarterbacks play Minnesota and Northwestern and emerge averaging 10.6 YPA with five TDs and three INTs… eh… maybe it's best not to consider Minnesota and Northwestern. Survey says:
Given the opponents, Martinez is actually backsliding a bit when it comes to YPA. But the thing that jumps off the page is the lack of interceptions. Michigan's had more multi-INT quarters than Martinez has had games.
The key here will be responding to paly action. Martinez has gotten significantly over 20 attempts in two games. In one he was bad, in the other he was playing Northwestern. In all other games Nebraska makes up for the lack of skill at QB by going mostly with play action. (Yes, it is frustrating to watch Nebraska roll the pocket on an option fake and then drop back without getting their QB killed.) Putting Nebraska in situations where they can't effectively do that will end drives. Doing that will probably require defending it when they can.
There's no point focusing on any one Nebraska receiver. They're immensely diverse. Seven players have at least thirteen catches on the year; all save Burkhead have a YPA over ten. Kenny Bell is nominally the top WR with 23 catches for 306 yards. This seems like a situation where having seven receivers means you have none: as mentioned above, drops have been a big problem for the 'Huskers. Michigan may get bailed out a couple times.
I'd expect something similar to the first four games above: few attempts, decent success with those attempts. If Martinez starts pushing into the 30s it will be bad news for UNL.
Key Matchup: Demens and Morgan versus play action drops. The bulk of Nebraska's damage comes in big gaping holes between the linebackers and safeties. I don't think this will go well, but it only has to go well enough.
Massive Nebraska advantage. The Cornhuskers are great on kickoff returns—freshman Ameer Abdullah has a touchdown and a few other impressive returns this year—decent on punts, good at punting, and have hit 16 of 19 field goals this year. FEI's introduced special teams rankings; they're fifth. Michigan is 80th.
Key Matchup: Gibbons you put it through the uprights?
It's a candy corn hat, you pervs
- Folks on the edge against the option aren't actually there.
- Michigan lines up under center.
- Martinez is slinging darts.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Nebraska gets stuck in an obvious passing down. Michigan's okie package gets pressure without providing tons of scrambling lanes when it sends four.
- Molk and company can pound the shaky interior of the Nebraska DL.
- Kovacs appears to have cloned himself.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 5 (Baseline 5; +1 for Is This The Best Team They've Played? Seriously, +1 for Option Paranoia After Northwestern Game, –1 for But Mattison Heals All, –1 for Their QB Throws Like A Duck, +1 for Our QB Throwing Like A Duck Would be An Improvement, –1 for Boy We Figured Out What To Do Last Game, +1 for Maybe, –1 for Run Defense Weakness In Opponent At Home.)
Desperate need to win level: 7 (Baseline 5; +1 for NYD Lockdown, +1 for I Like Nine And Half Wins And I Cannot Lie, –1 for It's Pretty Much About Next Week, –1 for Keeping The Possibility Of A Sparty No Open Is A Silver Lining To A Loss, +1 for ALAMO REVENGE, +1 for 1997 JUSTICE.)
Loss will cause me to... place way too much importance on beating a 6-5 team next weekend.
Win will cause me to... place way too much importance on beating a 6-5 team next weekend.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
Oh, hell. I just know the defense is going to have a comedown. I just… I look at the opposing offense and think "okay, they'll get some yards but are they going to bust anything long?" I've been predicting this will happen in the option game all week but now that I've look at the numbers, they just don't have it. Burkhead tops out at 20 yards and Martinez hasn't had anything, really, since the Ohio State game.
And if Nebraska isn't busting it long, if they're grinding it down the field, how long can they manage that before Michigan's third and short defense rises up and boots them off the field?
On the other side of the ball, as long as Borges makes the obvious conclusion from last week—shotgun forever—Michigan will move the ball. They'll even get some opportunities downfield when the safeties freak out on play action, which they'll have to if Nebraska is intent on running man in a nickel package against Michigan. If they do that it's like crediting Michigan for running the bubble when they don't, and then you could see some fireworks.
This looks like a win, but two things worry. Turnovers, obviously, and then what figures to be a massive hidden yards advantage for the Cornhuskers. It's really easy to see this game show up in "Life on the Margins" after Michigan outgains Nebraska by 150 yards and still loses.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Michigan finally hits a Worst Waldo play.
- Burkhead averages 4.0 YPC on a zillion carries.
- Denard has a day that mildly surprises to the positive.
- Michigan, 26-20