...says Denzel Valentine of Big Ten Tourney favorite MSU, which is 5-7 in its last 12 games. Cumong, man.
|WHAT||Michigan vs Kansas State|
|WHERE||Sun Devil Stadium
|WHEN||10:15 PM Eastern
December 28th, 2013
|THE LINE||Kansas State –5.5|
|WEATHER||Cloudy, 60 dropping to 50, no wind, no rain|
What if they played a bowl game in Arizona that kept moving and changing its name every other year? What if your team was in it? What if it was scheduled to end around 2 AM? I don't know, man. Let's find out.
Run Offense vs Kansas State
Remember Brennan Clay? He is good to have against Kansas State.
With Devin Gardner out, about which more later, this is where Michigan will have to make their hay. The bad news: Michigan's running game. The good news: Kansas State seems like a pretty bad rushing defense. Both of Football Outsiders' advanced stats think they're around 50th overall, which is not good in metrics that try to adjust for schedule strength. The Wildcat rush defense is particularly ugly at around 80th. Neither of these metrics know that NDSU went for 215 yards on 43 carries in the opener, either.
After that, things alternated between bad (177 yards on 40 carries for ULL) to real bad (227 on 47 for Texas) to actually okay (85 on 25 for Oklahoma State, albeit while Okie State was tearing KSU to shreds in the air) to a middling four game stretch before getting annihilated by Oklahoma (301 on 52). They did smother Kansas. Hooray.
Michigan is a rushing offense that could get smothered by anyone, but they have had two decent performances in their last three games and you'd hope that 18 bowl practices would help them figure some things out and get healthy; youth should improve faster than age, and Michigan's featuring almost entirely youth in its rushing core, which features two senior tackles and Fitzgerald Toussaint against, five freshmen (Smith, Green, Butt, Bosch, Kalis) and three sophomores (Glasgow, Kerridge, Williams). The figuring it out thing may be happening, at least to the tune of having something not heart-maulingly awful.
WAIT WHAT MITCH MCGARY WHAT
/rends flesh with hairshirt
Anyway. Kansas State's straight metrics are flattered by the prevalence of spread passing attacks in the Big 12; when they've come up against decent rushing offenses they've been hit hard. Michigan can make a case they've ratcheted themselves up to that level by nearing 200 yards. I have no idea if this is at all in the realm of possibility.
Key Matchup: Seriously, 2013, I hate you.
[Hit THE JUMP for just don't hit the jump]
|WHAT||Michigan vs Ohio State|
Ann Arbor, MI
November 30th, 2013
|THE LINE||Ohio State -17|
|WEATHER||partly cloudy, mid-30s
0% chance of rain
10 mph winds
Run Offense vs Ohio State
Ryan Shazier got better.
The Northwestern blip was just that: a blip, as Michigan's offense retreated back into its shell against Iowa. Thanks to buckets of Iowa turnovers this staked Michigan to a lead until late, but this was back to the pain factory. It was probably worse than usual, actually, as Gardner only suffered one sack. Take that out and Michigan rushed for 74 yards on 28 carries, a thrilling 2.6 yards an attempt.
This is still forward, I guess, and therefore represents progress. The kind of progress last experienced in the Dark Ages, but progress nonetheless.
This is too depressing to contemplate for very long. Michigan again went with a bunch of inside zone, whereupon Iowa linebackers fired into the gaps over and over again like Notre Dame did. Michigan has no idea how to deal with that other than "execute better"; they have no way to back those guys off; they have a bunch of play action on which the fact that the linebackers run literally to the line of scrimmage before going "oh" and backing into short zones is okay for the defense.
The unit they're going up against is not quite a vintage OSU outfit; it is still plenty good enough to see Michigan to another grunting performance under 100 net yards. Once you remove sacks, Ohio State's run offense is in a tier below Michigan State's face-crushing unit with Wisconsin and Michigan; they're giving up just under 4 yards a carry.
The existence of a healthy, clueful Ryan Shazier is particularly bad for Michigan. Two years ago he was a limping freshman who showed up in the hole against Denard Robinson and ended up left in the dust. This year he's nearing OSU records for TFLs against the worst team in the country at giving them up. His strengths—slashing into the backfield as soon as he reads run foremost amongst them—line up perfectly with Michigan's weaknesses.
The line is a slightly better matchup than it was last year with Jonathan Hankins in the NFL. They have not replaced him with a similar space-eater. Michael Bennett, their best DT, is 285. Unfortunately, he's a Jibreel Black++ type player with 10 TFLs and 5.5 sacks to his name. But that's another depressing section. Against the run he will be more moveable. Not that it's going to matter.
Key Matchup: Denard Robinson versus NCAA Eligibility Rules
[Hit THE JUMP for just don't hit the jump]
|WHAT||Michigan vs Iowa|
Iowa City, IA
|WHEN||Noon PM Eastern
November 23th, 2013
|THE LINE||Iowa -6|
|WEATHER||mostly sunny, mid-20s 0% chance of rain
20 mph winds
When the native Iowans realized their state had been abducted by a race of soulless aliens attempting to figure out how our morality worked, they banded together in rebellion. Praying to the great old ones, they struck a terrible bargain: in exchange for freedom and return to Earth and music videos with hot Korean girls making out with Iowa paraphenalia, they would offer up the fecundity of the land. The great old ones were big Mouse Davis fans and thought three yard runs were boring, so they demanded the finest tailback in all Iowa, delivered semiannually.
Eventually, the Greatest, Oldest One was hired as the offensive coordinator. Also, Iowa's defense is much better this year after a flailing period in the immediate aftermath of Norm Parker's departure.
Run Offense vs Iowa
Anthony Hitchens finishes tackles with devastating obituaries of his victims
This existed against Northwestern! Let the sweet taste of reasonable output from tailbacks dissolve on your tongue. And then try to remember it, forever, in case it never happens again.
Iowa is an odd team to read here, as they've been mostly permeable on the ground but utterly crushed Purdue (okay, no surprise there) and Big Ten Power™ Minnesota. The Gophers were held to 30 yards on 27 attempts, and while you should remove sack yards that gets them to about 2 yards a carry, which is completely terrible. Purdue did… it does not matter what Purdue did. Never mind.
In between these dominating bookends, though, Iowa has been kind of bad. Sack-adjusted numbers:
- vs Michigan State: 37 attempts, 135 yards, 3.7 YPC
- @ OSU: 49 attempts, 283 yards, 5.8 YPC
- vs Northwestern: 46 attempts, 234 yards, 5.1 YPC
- vs Wisconsin: 44 attempts, 223 yards, 5.1 YPC
Ace tracked Iowa's performance against NW inside zone plays and found that the same Northwestern offensive line that couldn't move Michigan at all found quality output against the Hawkeyes:
The Wildcats amassed 69 yards on 14 inside zone runs (4.9 ypc) and gained at least three yards on all but one of them.
Dare we cock an eyebrow at what statistics say is the #29 YPC rush defense in the country and suggest that Michigan might have success against them? We might. There's a huge divide between traditional stats (in which Iowa is 9th in total yardage) and advanced ones, where Iowa's defense is slightly better than as Michigan's offense. Yeah… think about that.
Michigan achieved its success against the Wildcats by dumping the idea of a pulling lineman, going primarily with inside zone, and frequently threatening the bubble screen to keep Northwestern's slot linebacker out of the picture. This gave Michigan the opportunity to execute extended double teams on the Northwestern DTs and resulted in a lot of five, six, seven yard runs as Michigan got a hat on everyone in the box.
Iowa is a team that this can work on as well. They prefer to slide their linebackers and play zone, and they like to keep their safeties deep—both of them. Assuming that Iowa puts their top corner BJ Lowery over Gallon, that would leave a box comprised of a not-very-good defensive line, two linebackers, and freshman corner Desmond King, and then it's on James Morris and Anthony Hitchens to make very good plays unless the DTs can hold up. They are pretty good, those two guys, but Michigan can keep their scheme from the most recent game and succeed with it unless Iowa makes a significant change to what they do.
Which is totally possible, because Kirk Ferentz pulls out all the stops against Michigan and Ohio State. But even when he does that, the defense remains the defense. Here is a note of cautious optimism that Michigan's run game will function.
Key Matchup: Michigan guards versus executing doubles well. Michigan should ride with the inside zone against a DL that can get pushed around; getting depth there opens up other possibilities, like the stretch and those throwing things
[Hit THE JUMP for MORE HOT KOREAN GIRLS (actually just more of this year's football team) BUT PROBABLY HOT KOREAN GIRLS]
|WHAT||Michigan vs Northwestern|
|WHEN||3:30 PM Eastern
November 16th, 2013
|THE LINE||Northwestern -3|
|WEATHER||mid 50s, cloudy, rainy
20 mph winds
why am I going to this
Two teams will play a football game.
Run Offense vs Northwestern
After last weekend it doesn't seem like the opponent matters here. Be they Alabama or an irregular unit of limbs blown off in World War I, eleven entities set in opposition to the Michigan rushing offense will bludgeon it with whatever is handy until it lets out a final wet squeak and collapses in a pile of hypocrisy and charlatanism six inches from its starting point.
But I suppose we have to evaluate. Northwestern's rush defense is middling at best, clubbed for 248 and 286 yards by Ohio State and Wisconsin but able to hold Northwestern in low-scoring games against Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska. Those opponents all piled up 150-ish yards with Nebraska approaching 200 themselves but they required piles of carries to do it: 49 for Minnesota, 41 for Iowa, 50 for Nebraska. Sack adjusted YPCs start out ugly and then are mostly respectable:
- OSU: 5.3
- Wisconsin: 6.4
- Minnesota: 4.3
- Iowa: 3.5
- Nebraska: 4.8
As of last week, Northwestern was just about dead average in the Big Ten at giving up sack adjusted yards on the ground with 4.7 on the season. They didn't play last week, so that holds. They're just flat middling.
The catch, of course, is that all of the teams they've played so far with the possible exception of Iowa can, you know, run the ball. Forward. Michigan patently cannot.
This is the point at which I say things like enormous outliers, no one's had back-to-back negative rushing games since 2008, things are bound to turn around, it just takes a little bit of elbow grease and derring-do. And I do kind of believe bits of that. At some point Michigan will try to take the ball forward on the ground and do so. Northwestern's not that much better than Indiana statistically and Nebraska was… well, it was a series of unblocked blitzes that Michigan never found an answer to.
At some point the dam has to break, at which point a sickly green trail of algae feeding on the broken dreams of Michigan fans will charge forward for three yards a carry. Is that going to be this game? If they want to do it this year, that would be advisable.
Key Matchup: You versus Your Liver. You hate your liver and want to drown it; your liver feels the same way about you, buddy.
[Hit THE JUMP for IT'S NOT YOUR FAULT]
Other stuff here: Ace FFFF!
|WHAT||Michigan vs Nebraska|
Ann Arbor, MI
3:30 PM Eastern
November 9th, 2013
|THE LINE||M –6.5|
|WEATHER||sunny, low 50s, 0% chance of rain|
Via Nebraska version of E3W, The Dailyer.
Liveblog: getting started around 3pm, presented by Marawatch. Former Mich. cornerback Brandon Williams will be present to talk about Go Blue Then And Now's latest efforts and what it's like to wear #12 for your entire career (since no starter has managed that since).
Take the Michigan ground game. Put it on the other side of the ball. This is the story of Nebraska's season: bogglingly utter ineptitude at stopping folks other than Purdue from running epic distances without much skill.
Now remove that team's starting quarterback but give them a Big Ten schedule reading Illinois, Purdue, Minnesota, Northwestern, and you have the Nebraska Cornhuskers: a good record against a terrible schedule and two uncompetitive losses to middling teams, with multiple close calls against bad ones.
Saturday is Michigan versus Funhouse Mirror Michigan, except Devin Gardner persists against all odds.
Run Offense vs Nebraska
After brutal disappointment last week Michigan finds sweet sanctuary in the form of the Nebraska defense, which more often than not has been ground into paste this year, often by the start of the second quarter. The Huskers opened the year by giving up 600 yards of offense to Wyoming, 219 of it on the ground. Since then they've done well against… uh… Purdue.
|South Dakota State||33||271||2||8.2|
(Omitted Southern Miss, FWIW, since USM is so bad I don't think games against them mean anything.)
Nebraska has been very good at getting to the QB, which somewhat obscures how bad they've been against actual rushes. I smashed some stats together from CFBStats to fix that issue. Here is the Big Ten against ground games:
Nebraska's been worse than Indiana over the course of this season, and basically equivalent to Purdue and Illinois. Moveable object, come on down.
Why is Nebraska so pliable on the ground? Ace:
their line got consistently pushed off the ball by Northwestern. The DEs weren't disciplined in containing the edge and the DTs couldn't get push. What this means for Michigan is a matter of considerable debate; if Borges decides it's time to go full spread-to-run, I think the Wolverines will have success getting Gardner and Toussaint to the edge. At the very least, this won't be a State-like massacre up front. …
The linebackers are a mess. This will be covered in more detail later—redshirt freshman MIKE Michael Rose made his first start against Northwestern and didn't fare well, getting out of his lane with regularity and eating blocks due to a lack of aggressiveness.
Ace highlighted a particular wow freshman experience on one of Green's rips up the middle:
A battle of blown assignments looms. That sounds pretty good to me after last week; when guys get out of lanes then it's more about seeing the opportunity and taking it more than anything else, and even if by this point Fitzgerald Toussaint would regard a gaping hole like a POW emerging into the sunlight after years of captivity, the second or third time he sees one he might do something other than gape open-mouthed in wonder.
But on the other hand. Michigan rushed for 23 yards on 20 carries against Michigan State, has struggled to put up mortal numbers against some very bad rushing defenses, and is currently spinning through interior linemen at an alarming rate. Nothing is working except murdering Devin Gardner.
I can't tell you I expect much better this week. Michigan was incapable of running from under center against the Hoosiers until a late breakthrough after the game was decided, and even then their YPC was solidly under Indiana's season average. Operating from the shotgun was effective, at least.
Michigan tends to cycle through several phases when they approach their rushing offense:
- WE ARE GOING TO MANBALL YOU
- High numbers of big sets get no yards at all
- well I guess we'll spread you out a bit but we don't like it
- Shotgun rushing is generally effective
- Weak opponent approaches
- WE ARE GOING TO MANBALL YOU
- repeat ad nauseum
This is a prime candidate for manball reset, as Michigan's coming off a game where they couldn't run in any formation and can thus vaguely justify gravitating back towards their desires. That would be bad except Nebraska may just shatter anyway. But still probably bad.
Key Matchup: Michigan busts versus Nebraska busts. QUIEN ES MAS BUSTO
[Hit THE JUMP for aw hamburgers]
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]