"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
|WHAT||Michigan vs South Carolina|
Everybody Loves Raymond Stadium
Tampa Bay, FL
1:00 PM Eastern
January 1st, 2013
|THE LINE||South Carolina –5.5|
|WEATHER||partly cloudy, mid-70s, minimal chance of rain|
Again this preview assumes that Denard Robinson is basically a wildcat guy when he lines up at quarterback now. Hoke just reiterated that Gardner will start and Robinson will play "some quarterback," and by "some quarterback" he means "wildcat guy."
Run Offense vs South Carolina
This was two things against Ohio State: Denard Robinson and disaster. Stripped of the one back with any credentials to his name by a gruesome injury to Fitzgerald Toussaint, Michigan all but abandoned any thought of running the ball with the men misnomered "running backs" in the first half, and then proved the wisdom of that decision—if not the wisdom of their second-half playcalling—by getting stuffed almost literally every time they touched the ball after halftime.
The results were grim. Vincent Smith and Thomas Rawls had ten carries between them for a total of 14 yards. Rawls gained a total of two yards on five carries while turning in this career lowlight:
That is likely the point at which we remember Rawls hype deflating entirely as he's relegated to Kevin Grady duty for the rest of his career.
It's not like Rawls is alone in that department. Toussaint followed up a breakout 2011 (1041 yards on 187) by dropping almost two yards from his per-attempt average, going from 5.6 a pop to 3.9. Vincent Smith managed 2.8; Rawls is actually at the top of the heap with 4.2 thanks to a couple of garbage time runs against Purdue and Illinois. When Rawls was forced into the lineup in earnest this November, the results were ugly: 32 carries, 57 yards, less than two yards an attempt. I'd be more receptive to the argument that Rawls saw a lot of short yardage carries that artificially depressed his YPC if he wasn't a major reason he saw so many of those carries by failing to get any YAC on the goal line.
Anyway. The failure of the Michigan running game is comprehensive. The interior line can't block, the tight ends are too young, the tailbacks miserable. Except…
In this context Denard Robinson's season is nothing short of miraculous. His historic season has been obscured by injury and interceptions, but here it is: 1166 yards on 154 carries, an average of 7.6 per despite missing games against Minnesota and Northwestern. That will be a record dating back to at least 1948 (100 carry minimum) if he keeps it above Ty Wheatley's 7.3.
Meanwhile no other player on the roster can grind out half of that outside of garbage time. It is time to shake our fists at the fickle whims of injury and Rich Rodriguez's offensive line recruiting, with a bonus shake at the motley collection of tailbacks on the roster.
ok one more
Ok. Now, the opponent.
South Carolina's got shiny numbers that are a bit distorted by their rampant sackage. They're 16th nationally, giving up 119 yards a game. Removed 40(!) sacks for 253 yards and opponents do get up to 4.0 yards a pop. This is a good run defense, yeah, but it's not on the same level as Alabama, Notre Dame, MSU, or OSU (when OSU isn't giving up 70-yard touchdowns). The defensive tackles are not pocket-crushers, the safeties like to shoulder-block people down after they get first downs and stand over them like idiots, which might be an asset when Denard breaks into the secondary if any of them have the chutzpah to try that against 16.
Is it going to matter? Probably not. In the game of "can Michigan run a football with Not Denard," bet on "no." Can Michigan effectively integrate Denard into a 20-carry presence if he's not playing quarterback? Well…
Key Matchup: I wonder if two months is enough time for Borges to figure out how to put Denard and Devin on the field at the same time. Denard's great; he can't beat out 10 guys going for him on the snap; just Percy Harvin the guy already and stop holding up a huge sign that says RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN when Denard is at QB. Also you can probably run Gardner some since it's the last game of the year.
[HIT THE JUMP for CLOWNEY THE DRAGON]
|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]