Video note: Unfortunately my computer rebooted itself after applying an "important update" last night, which obliterated a 14-hour process via which I convert the torrent into something clippable. So no video today. I will go back in an add it later, and I'll revisit the key points in a couple of Picture Pages posts.
Personnel notes: Leach replaced Ezeh until very late; Ezeh and Kenny Demens were part of the goal line package, though, with Leach apparently relegated to the bench because he's slight. The rest of it was as per usual, thought it seemed like the starting DL got more time than usual.
Michigan did continue its passing down substitution package, replacing Williams with JT Floyd.
Formation notes: This is what I'm calling "4-3 under split" based on an earlier Steve Sharik post:
Both outside linebackers are on the LOS with Leach a single middle linebacker. Michigan went to this frequently against 2TE formations.
And this is what I'm calling "nickel even":
It's not really a nickel package, with Brown on the slot receiver, but it functions more like a nickel package than a standard 4-3 as Michigan would play two deep behind it unless Williams rolled up into the box. Note the position of the DTs right on top of each other, with both guys playing 1-techs over the center. This was probably an adjustment to what Illinois runs more than anything else.
Possibly annoying terminology note: I tried to call Juice Williams "Juice" because if I call him Williams sometimes Williams does something to Williams and that gets confusing.
On with the show:
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O18||1||10||Ace 4-wide||4-3 under||Run||Inside zone||Roh||0|
|Roh(+2) shoots inside the tackle at the snap into the intended hole, is held blatantly, and is basically tackled, but still manages to force the RB back behind the play and tackles with help from Mouton, who didn't have to do much other than clean up with Leshoure already going down by the time he arrives. (tackling +1)|
|O18||2||10||Shotgun 2-back Twins||4-3 under||Run||Triple option veer||Graham||27|
|Uncalled illegal formation as Illinois only has six on the line. It's hard to hand out minuses here because I'm not sure who's got which assignment. Graham crashes down on the dive fake and tackles it; Mouton hangs inside and gets blocked by a guy who should not have an angle on him. I definitely blame Mouton(-1) for sucking in; even if this was a dive he was going to get obliterated by the tackle for not knowing WTF was going on; Warren comes up to support on the pitch guy but with no one on Williams it's an easy big gain. I also blame Graham(-2), though, because this dive was stuffed anyway and if he had stayed out Illinois had nowhere to go. Good job by Leach to hop into the appropriate hole, FWIW.|
|O45||1||10||Shotgun trips||4-3 nickel even||Run||QB counter trap||Mouton||6|
|Both the backside T and G pull around as the rest of the line blocks down; Juice fakes a handoff to Leshoure that holds Graham outside. Roh(+1) actually does a good job of reading it and getting inside of the puling G, but Williams(-1) and Mouton(-1) run themselves into blocks passively; here the pulling OT has to route around the Roh-based disruption and he still gets a good block on Williams. Result: six yards.|
|M49||2||4||Shotgun 3-wide||4-3 under||Pass||Flare||--||14|
|Williams rolls up to the LOS and blitzes; no one gets out on the tailback rolling out of the backfield on a flare route and he's wide open(cover -2) for plenty of yards. I don't know if this is on anyone specifically; sometimes you have a blitz read that changes if you see the RB head out of the backfield like that, sometimes you don't. (RPS -1)|
|Busted play. Illinois wants to throw a long handoff to Benn but Benn runs a route. Juice improvises for a few yards; Leach did a decent job of reading it and coming to tackle.|
|M31||2||6||Shotgun 2TE||4-4 under||Pass||Long handoff||Warren||12|
|Warren(-1) playing in the parking lot and giving this to Illinois (RPS -1, cover -1). He then misses a tackle(-1), adding several yards.|
|M19||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||4-3 nickel even||Pass||Long handoff||Warren||4|
|Man, Warren keeps bailing into three deep at the snap here and Illinois is looking for it; they get it again here but Warren and Williams do manage to hold it down to four yards. A small victory.|
|M15||2||6||Shotgun 4-wide||4-3 under||Run||Speed option||Williams||5|
|Benn goes in motion and Kovacs immediately signals for Williams to attack the LOS. Looks like Michigan has this scouted and expects Illinois to run a speed option to the now-overloaded short side. They do. Williams(-1) gets crushed by the TE and driven back; Warren is bailing out into cover-three and can't help on the edge.|
|M10||3||1||Shotgun 2-back 2TE||4-4 under||Run||Zone stretch(?)||Brown||4|
|Illinois confuses Michigan by shooting one RB past Juice and using the other one as a lead blocker for him; Brown(-1) ends up sitting back the whole play, sucking inside when Williams does his draw fake and giving up the corner for the RB instead of following his assignment and getting out on the edge to hold this down. He was not blocked at all and could have crushed this since Graham absorbed a double team and no one was out on him.|
|M6||1||G||Ace Twins||4-3 under split||Run||Inside zone||Leach||1|
|Think this is just Michigan beating the Illinois playcall with this split formation. Playside TE is taken upfield by OLB Mouton; DE Roh slants inside, taking the tackle with him, and Leach(+1) reads the direction of the play, shooting into the hole to tackle with help from Williams. (RPS +1)|
|M5||2||G||Shotgun 3-wide||4-3 nickel even||Run||QB zone stretch||Leach||2|
|Roh(-0.5) is flowing down the line okay when he trips and hits the ground, opening up some space. Leach(+1) reads the direction of the play, flows outside too quickly for a guard getting a free release to get an angle on him, takes on the lead block from the RB, sheds, it, and tackles(+1). Very good play from him.|
|M3||3||G||Power I||???||Run||Power off tackle||Williams||3|
|2TE, I-form, Benn lined up next to the fullback. You tell me what to call this. [Update: it's the power I.] Illinois runs a version of a power o; Williams(-1) is blitzing and gets in unmolested but goes inside of the fullback and fails to string the play out enough because Mouton got slightly chopped by a linebacker. Mouton keeps his feet but is off balance and in no shape to hold up to the RB's lead block. Warren makes a valiant effort to get out on the edge; Benn leaps over him for a score.|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 7-0, 9 min 1st Q.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O19||1||10||Shotgun 4-wide||4-3 nickel even||Run||Speed option keeper||Roh||2|
|Roh(+1) gets into the DE, refuses to get sealed, and strings this out to the sideline, cutting off the room and forcing Juice OOB basically by himself. Leach had also flowed down the LOS and was there to assist on the escort.|
|O21||2||8||I-Form Twins||4-3 under||Run||Pitch sweep||Mouton||6|
|Ford, the FB, motions out; Warren is in zone and follows. Play is a pitch sweep with pulling linemen on which Graham(+1) shoots into the backfield, taking out a pulling guard and absorbing two blockers. This leaves Mouton(-1) totally unblocked; he overruns the play and is fortunate to grab the RB as he passes; this could have been two yards and was six because of Mouton.|
|O27||3||2||Shotgun 3-wide||4-3 nickel split||Run||Zone read stretch||Van Bergen||-1|
|Backside of the line just doesn't get blocked as Martin(+0.5) and Graham(+0.5) slice up, but the key is RVB(+1) coming upfield of an attempted double despite another blatant hold and getting in the running lane, forcing a cutback into doom. I don't know if this was a technically sound play by RVB, who ended up attempting to shove his back into the RB, but it worked. James notes that Williams is totally irresponsible on the read here, and this will bite Michigan later.|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 7-7, 2 min 2nd Q. Michigan muffs the punt.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|M41||1||10||Shotgun trips||4-3 nickel even||Run||QB counter trap||Williams||14|
|Same play as earlier, with the backside tackle and guard pulling around to the backside as the RB makes a fake out to the edge. Juice keeps it, following his lead blockers. Roh heads inside, drawing a blocker; Mouton(-1) also dives inside even though any tailback handoff is something he's not going to be able to get to; he's run himself out of the play despite a bleeding obvious double pull from the OL. This leaves Williams(-1) on the edge with an OL. He compounds matters by losing leverage and letting Juice outside of him. Even if Mouton had played this correctly, it wouldn't have helped. Juice breaks outside for good yardage.|
|M27||1||10||Shotgun 4-wide||4-3 nickel even||Pass||PA seam||Williams||Inc|
|Play action gets Michigan sucking up, with Williams(-1) reduced to an ineffectual chuck on Benn as he realizes he's not about to get blocked into next week but is instead going to give up a wide open route(cover -1). Juice turfs it. Mouton(+0.5) did a pretty good job of avoiding the RB's block to get some pressure.|
|M27||2||10||I-Form||4-4 under||Run||Speed option||Warren||6|
|Michigan drops back into a two-deep look as Benn comes across the formation with Warren dropping into a second deep safety slot; Illinois runs at the vacated area. Graham forces a pitch; FB crushes Williams(-0.5) back; he has no chance to do anything once he guy locks on. Warren(-0.5) reacts late and can only undercut the RB as he nears five yards; he cartwheels forward for more. (RPS -1)|
|M21||3||4||Shotgun 2TE Twins||4-3 under split||Pass||Hitch||Brown||Inc|
|RB motions out and Leach goes with him in man. Michigan sends six, with Brown(+1) coming unblocked to hit Williams as he throws (pressure +1), which might be the reason this hitch is thrown wide of the receiver. Might be just Juice, too. (RPS +1)|
|Drive Notes: Missed FG(38), 1 min 1st Q.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O10||1||10||Shotgun 4-wide||4-3 under split||Run||Zone veer handoff||Mouton||-3|
|If this is a read, Juice made the wrong one, because he hands off to the back when Mouton(+2, tackling +1) is coming up on him hard and it seems like an up-the-middle keeper is called for. This is impressive change of direction and tackling from Mouton.|
|O7||2||13||Shotgun 2-back||4-3 under||Run||Triple option dive||Brown||8|
|This isn't so much a dive as an off tackle but eh that's life. Brown(-2) ends up totally unblocked in the hole as he crashes down from the slot receiver but whiffs a tackle(-1), turning zero yards into eight. Leach cleans up; I'm impressed Leach read the play well enough to get over to tackle. He's played well so far.|
|O15||3||5||Shotgun 3-wide||4-3 nickel even||Pass||Sack||Martin||-9|
|DTs twist and Michigan blitzes two linebackers, causing Martin(+2) to slant into the backfield past the center and the guard, who have other problems, as the Michigan blitz causes Illinois to bust a pickup. (RPS +1) Martin gets there first and forces Juice to pull the ball down; RVB(+1) follows it up to crush Williams for a big loss. (Pressure +2)|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 7-7, 11 min 2nd Q.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O27||1||10||Shotgun 4-wide||4-3 under||Run||Zone read keeper||Mouton||5 (Pen -10)|
|Given future events this is scary: Illinois runs a read intended to shoot the right between the backside tackle and DT and should have a huge gainer, but Juice keeps it. I mean, really, if this is a handoff it could be a 70 yard touchdown. Juice keeps it and fakes a bubble, which is also there since Mouton(-1) has failed to cover either the handoff or the bubble or the keeper, and Williams picks up five before the other Williams tackles him. Holding brings it back.|
|O17||1||20||I-Form||4-4 under||Run||Speed option||Williams||3|
|Usual course of events: Illinois doesn't block Graham and forces him to force a pitch; this time Williams(+1) gets to the outside shoulder of his blocker and drives him upfield, forcing the pitch man to the sidelines and making this a minimal gain. (RPS +1) Good blitz call.|
|O20||2||17||I-Form||4-4 under||Run||Inside zone||Roh||-1|
|Roh(+1) on a slant, he steps inside of the guard(!) and gets upfield into the path of the run, forcing the play to the backside. He gets a hand on the RB's thigh, slowing him and allowing Williams to finish with an easy tackle. (RPS +1)|
|O19||3||18||Shotgun 2TE Twins||Nickel||Pass||Sack||Graham||-9|
|Williams pulled for Floyd; M drops seven guys off into deep coverage but it doesn't matter much because Graham(+3) murders the freshman RT and crushes Williams almost before he can set up in the pocket (pressure +2)|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 10-7, 5 min 2nd Q.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O29||1||10||Shotgun 4-wide||4-3 under||Run||Zone read keeper||Graham||1|
|Graham(+1) stays home, drifting slightly inside. Juice pulls it out and Graham gets out on him as he passes, grabbing Juice from behind and tackling with help from Williams (+0.5), who makes the easy fill given Graham's presence all over Juice's back.|
|O30||2||9||Shotgun 4-wide||4-3 under||Run||Speed option||Williams||3|
|Williams(+1) reacts quickly and fills to the short side of the field. Unblocked, he tackles(+1) for a minimal gain.|
|O33||3||6||Shotgun 3-wide||4-3 under||Pass||Sack||Leach||-9|
|First read is a hitch that Roh(+1, cover +1) has dropped out on and covers; Juice probably has a slant against Woolfolk but can't find it before Leach(+2), who's looped around on a delayed blitz, gets in on Williams and forces him to take evasive action. Leach comes in under control and reads Juice's planned scramble, securing a solid tackle against a guy considerably more athletic than him. Very nice play; I've seen so many guys overrun this. (Pressure +1, RPS +1)|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 13-7, 30 sec 2nd Q. Rodriguez doesn't call timeout with a minute left in the half. They go after the punt, but don't get it.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O1||1||10||Ace||4-3 under||Run||QB sneak||--||2|
|O3||2||8||Ace Twins||4-3 under||Run||Zone stretch||Roh||5|
|Frontside jammed up by Graham(+0.5) and Martin(+0.5), forcing a cutback into Roh(+1), who has zipped into the backfield. Ford ends up carrying Roh, though—he used power—a couple yards downfield, at which point Williams(-1) lays a wicked hit on... Roh. Leshore gets another three yards out of it. (Tackling -1)|
|O8||3||3||Shotgun 4-wide||4-3 under||Run||Speed option||--||4|
|Illinois motions Benn to the short side of the field for a trips look and run their speed option. Michigan is slanting away from it, which means Graham sucks in and is blocked by the line as Mouton shoots upfield unblocked; Juice pitches outside, where there is no support. Would rather see Michigan force Juice to take the ball here, but that's not how they've been playing it. (RPS -1) Williams does come up through blockers to lay a pop on the RB as he reaches the sticks, but the RB wins that battle and gets the yard he needs.|
|O12||1||10||Shotgun 2TE||4-3 under||Run||Draw?||Brown||1|
|Illinois OL sets up to pass block, sliding the line one way and then handing the ball off the other way. Handoff is awkward and almost fumbled but I don't think it would matter because Michigan's slant + RVB stunt leaves no holes and gets three guys in unblocked on the tailback. He goes nowhere. (RPS +1) I guess Brown (+0.5) for keeping contain.|
|O13||2||9||Shotgun 2TE||4-4 under||Pass||Hitch||Mouton||17|
|Same setup as the previous play except Juice keeps it. TE Cumberland runs a good hitch route but Juice is a little late and Mouton has a shot at making a play here; he fails(-1), diving over the top without getting the ball and giving this guy another 7 YAC. (Tackling -1)|
|O30||1||10||Shotgun 4-wide||Nickel under||Run||Zone read dive||Leach||70|
|I don't know who's issue this is. Michigan is in a pure two-deep with Mouton rolled up the LOS and Brown over one of the slot guys, with Leach the only real MLB aligned like that. On the snap, Michigan's DL slides a bit and Roh gets kicked out by single blocking, opening up a hole here. Roh's not really defending Juice or the dive, so he gets a -1. Then: Mouton backs out and appears to be spying on Juice on a potential keeper, and Williams is sucking up as Benn runs a bubble route. Reasonable. However, Leach(-3) runs himself way out of the play in anticipation of a stretch that Illinois doesn't really run much; they run this all the time. He then compounds the error by not freaking out and running back downfield away from a releasing C; he gets blocked out of the play. Kovacs(-2) is dropping into a deep zone and does not come up soon enough to get an angle to slow the RB down, and he runs for a long way. Oh, and hell, Mouton(-2) had no idea who had the ball way too long and failed to close down either Juice or the RB.|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown,13-14, 9 min 3rd Q.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O21||1||10||Shotgun 4-wide||4-3 under||Run||Triple option dive||Williams||27|
|Ugh, ugh, ugh. Illinois motions a guy into the backfield for a two-back look and Williams is keying on this so he flies to the LOS. Illinois runs a triple option look off of it; Williams(-2) blitzes into the backfield and has this dive dead to rights, but comes in way too hard and gets back-juked. Freakin' disaster. Opposite of what Leach did earlier. Guy now has a huge cutback lane since the linebackers are to the playside and Roh(-1) got his ass kicked and let himself get shoved out of the hole. Probably wouldn't have mattered much but might have held it down if Roh could provide some delay here. (Tackling -2)|
|O48||1||10||Shotgun 2TE||4-4 under||Pass||TE Wheel||--||34|
|Michigan in a two-deep zone that Williams cannot get out onto his guy on because he's picked by Benn and rode down the field. Probably should be offensive PI but they never call that. Can't really blame Williams here; he can't run through a dude. Result is an open bomb that Michigan can't do anything about. Pocket was great for Juice, too. (Pressure -1, cover -2, RPS -1)|
|M18||1||10||Shotgun 2TE Twins||4-3 under||Run||Zone read keeper||Brown||2|
|Michigan slants so hard that the backside TE and OT have no one to block and can just roll downfield. Herron crashes down on the RB, causing Juice to pull it. Mouton(+1) came up to the line, read the RB's path, and hopped playside of the C's attempted block, which lets him flow down the line past the guys who released downfield, and Brown is unblocked coming in from the edge. This makes the bubble pretty open but it works. Brown(+1) sets up and makes a good open field tackle(+1).|
|M16||2||8||Shotgun 2-back||3-4 nickel||Pass||Wheel||Brown||Inc (Pen + 14)|
|Brown(-2) is decent position on this play but never turns around to look for the ball and ends up pushing this receiver before the ball gets there because it's underthrown. I hate these calls, which reward the offense for being inept more than anything else. Pressure was coming, possibly resulting in a marginal throw. I keep watching this and I hate this call so much. It's ridiculous. Guy is in position and trying to make a play and should have a right to his momentum; instead he gets a call.|
|M2||1||G||Power I||Goal line||Pass||Waggle flat||Ezeh||2|
|All eleven players freak out assuming it'll be the same Benn sweep, leaving both TEs wide, wide open. Ezeh(-1) and Mouton(-1) and cover -2.|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 13-21, 5 min 3rd Q. aaaargh|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|M45||1||10||Ace 4-wide||4-3 under||Run||Inside zone||Sagesse||5|
|Blocking the backside DE here and shoving Sagesse(-1) way down the line opens up a hole that Mouton can't fill fast enough despite reading the play quickly and getting to the ball as fast as you can reasonably expect. Hole too big and Sagesse moving too far out of it in anticipation of a stretch.|
|M40||2||5||Shotgun 2-back Twins||4-3 under||Run||Triple option dive||Banks?||7|
|This really should go nowhere as the two backup DTs get some push and Brown gets past the slot receiver to sit unblocked in the hole. But Sagesse bulling his way into the back of the LT doesn't prevent the LG from getting out on Leach and when the RB tries to cut back into the mess that is the four guys in the middle of the line he somehow squirts through for first-down yardage. I'm not sure who, if anyone, is to blame here other than bloody-minded fate. I'm going to -0.5 Banks for getting kicked out of the hole eventually, I think.|
|M33||1||10||Shotgun 2TE Twins||4-3 under split||Pass||Sack||Brown||-8|
|OLBs flanking the LOS here on this two TE package and both are sent on a blitz. RB has the pickup on Brown(+2), who sets up inside then bursts upfield of his blocker, sacking Juice when he tries to move up in the pocket only to hit his own RB. Graham(+1) was driving the RG back into the pocket, creating the restricted space in which Juice had few scrambling options. (Pressure +2)|
|M41||2||18||Shotgun 4-wide||4-3 under||Pass||Fade||Woolfolk||37|
|Of course. Michigan sends four with Herron backing out into a short zone and Graham(+1) immediately crushes the guard attempting to block him, hitting Juice as he throws what's basically and arm-punt, Juice Williams gets nailed as he throws. Juice Williams. His throw? Perfect. Woolfolk(-1) was beat deep in man press (cover -1), but not that badly and the receiver made a spectacular catch. I mean... Christ.|
|M4||1||G||Ace Twins||4-3 under split||Run||Inside zone||Martin||1|
|Martin(+1) back in; he drives playside of his blocker and forces a cutback into Herron(+0.5), who is one-on-one in some space with the TB and holds him to basically no YAC. Maybe one before the cavalry arrives.|
|M3||2||G||Shotgun 2-back TE||4-3 under split||Pass||Zone read keeper||Williams||3|
|Williams(-2), the contain guy, completely overruns the play and Juice takes it in for an easy touchdown.|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown,13-28, 1 min 3rd Q. Here's to you, worst third quarter ever.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O21||1||10||Shotgun trips||4-3 nickel even||Run||Veer handoff||Martin||-6|
|Play Illinois has run earlier with a veer outside look paired with the backside guard and tackle pulling around. This time Juice hands it off... for some reason. This doesn't seem like it can be a real read because it just doesn't block two guys on the frontside of this play, and Martin(+1) and Graham proceed to crush this guy in the backfield. No idea how this handoff ever works.|
|O15||2||16||I-Form||4-3 under||Run||Pitch sweep||Mouton||4|
|FB motions out for three-wide look and Illinois runs a down G scheme with a pitchout, pulling the playside G around as the down-block Graham. Mouton(+1) gets outside of the pulling guard and upfield, forcing the play back inside to Leach, who tackles(+1) a couple yards downfield with help from Williams. Graham also did a good job of flowing down the line and preventing the other pulling OL from getting out on Leach.|
|O19||3||12||Shotgun 4-wide||4-3 under split||Run||QB draw||Graham||26|
|Oh, right. This. This looks like a scramble at first blush but there are linemen releasing downfield, it's a called run. Graham(-1) comes too hard inside and vacates a passing lane. Martin(-1) is doubled and blasted way out of the center of the field; Leach(-1) ends up way overrunning Juice's cutback lane, and the safeties are nowhere to be found. (RPS -1)|
|O47||1||10||Shotgun 4-wide||4-3 under||Run||Zone read dive||Leach||5|
|Martin(+1) and Graham do a good job of cutting off any potential frontside holes and there's nowhere to go there; there's a cutback from the RB into unblocked linebackers since Martin absorbed a double. Leach(-1) does not read it quickly and ends up taking a hit from the RB two yards downfield, getting bowled over for another 3 YAC. Should have/could have reacted more quickly to hold this down.|
|M48||2||5||Shotgun 2TE Twins||4-3 under split||Run||Zone read dive||Kovacs||22|
|Same play. Michigan is stunting, which ends up seeing RVB run outside and out of the play, opening up a crease. This time Leach(-1), who can't win, has delayed waiting for a cutback to the Martin/Graham side and gets sucked into a mess. Herron(-1) could not hold the POA on his stunt and gets blown back, which doesn't help matters. Kovacs(-1) then misses a tackle(-1) and turns this from a first down into lots of yards.|
|M26||1||10||Shotgun 2TE Twins||3-4 Base||Run||Zone read keeper||Williams||23|
|is this on Williams or Mouton? Williams blitzes off the snap and can be thought of as a crashing backside DE. Is Michigan supposed to scrape here, then? That would make sense to contain this, as Williams has the dive dead to rights and Mouton could scrape out to contain Juice. I don't know which it is. I originally gave Williams minus two billion because I'm just fed up with him, but I think this might be on Mouton, who lord knows has had some serious mental issues this year. One of these two guys gets a negative two billion. I tentatively assign them to Williams.|
|M3||1||G||Power I||Goal line||Run||Speed option||Ezeh||1|
|Brown pops up on the QB, forcing a pitch, and Ezeh(+1) manages to get outside the lead blocks from the FB and TE to force the play back inside where Demens and Graham are; RB falls, possibly because of Graham, for no gain.|
|M2||2||G||Power I||Goal line||Run||Iso||Martin||-4|
|Absolutely nowhere to go as Martin(+1) wins the battle with his guy and Graham dives forward, creating an impenetrable pile of bodies. Campbell(+1) cuts through a block on the backside and grabs the RB's foot, causing him to fumble. (For a loose definition of "caused".) Illinois gets it back, though a few yards short of the LOS.|
|M6||3||G||Shotgun 2TE offset||Goal line||Pass||PA TE corner||Williams||Inc|
|Unbalanced formation with both Ts on the same side of the line; this is an attempt to fool Michigan into leaving the RT—actually a TE—uncovered. That doesn't quite work but Williams(-1) gets beat by Cumberland and Juice can hit him for a TD; it glances off his fingertips. Brown was applying pressure on the corner. Bonus: Cumberland was covered up on the LOS and that went uncalled. Woo Big Ten refs.|
|Drive Notes: FG(23), 13-31, 9 min 3rd Q.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O11||1||10||Ace||4-3 under||Run||Inside zone||Watson||8|
|For some reason, Steve Watson is in at deathbacker. Watson(-1) falls to the ground as Michigan flows down the line against the zone blocking, opening up a cutback lane the RB hits. Ezeh's in and gets blocked; Williams(-1) basically whiffs a tackle but the RB falls as he cuts behind it.|
|O19||2||2||Shotgun 2-back Twins||4-3 under||Run||Busted play||--||-2|
|Juice fumbles the snap.|
|O17||3||4||Shotgun 4-wide||4-3 under||Run||Speed option||Watson||6|
|There is no one on the edge as Watson(-1) drops off into a zone, weirdly, and Mouton gets caught up in the wash of the WR blocking the hell out of Watson. Juice has an easy time moving up for the first down. (RPS –1)|
|O23||1||10||Shotgun 2TE Twins||4-3 under||Run||Zone read keeper||Watson||1|
|WOOO THE DRIVE OF WATSON. Here Watson(+2) does a great job as the unblocked DE, convincing Juice to keep the ball by coming down a little bit on the RB, then hopping out to contain him. Forced back inside, Juice is tackled by Watson from behind.|
|O24||2||9||Shotgun 4-wide||4-3 under||Run||Zone veer keeper||Ezeh||11|
|Here's why Ezeh's lost his job. Michigan slants and shifts Ezeh right over the hole where this Illinois veer play goes if Juice keeps the ball. Mouton has shot upfield to erase the potential handoff, leaving Ezeh(-2) alone in the hole with one assignment: Williams. Ezeh, of course, decides to run out and try to tackle the tailback. Who Mouton has owned. And doesn't have the ball.|
|O35||1||10||Shotgun 4-wide||4-3 nickel even||Run||Inside zone||Mouton||3|
|Good by the DTs to hold the POA and Mouton(+1) attacks quickly, swallowing the RB in the backfield when he hesitates.|
|O38||2||7||Shotgun 2TE||3-4 Base||Pass||Long handoff||--||Inc|
|Behind the receiver and incomplete.|
|O38||3||7||Shotgun 3-wide||4-3 under||Pass||Cross||Brown||5|
|Dumpoff short of the sticks.|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 13-31, 4 min 4th Q. Charting stops. I would have stopped it already if I had known Watson was in. Graham(+3) blocks the punt.|
What's this coming out of my eyes?
It looks like ichor of some variety.
Gross. Are you sure it's not blood?
I didn't think tentacled Cthulu-beasts had blood.
I thought I was Boubacar Cissoko.
Fine: tiny tentacled Cthulu-beasts with poor ability to model the future.
I think a chart might focus the pain emanating from my eyesockets into one white-hot point. I heard people undergoing torture do stuff like that Chart?
|Graham||11||3||8||Not quite up to the usual standard as I think he got suckered on a couple of runs, but still pretty good.|
|Heininger||-||-||-||Didn't record anything.|
|Watson||2||2||0||Replacing Patterson because he got on the field late.|
|Roh||7||2.5||4.5||Effective slanting all day; not great in pass rush yet.|
|Martin||7||1||6||No frontside creases all day; too bad about the linebackers.|
|Van Bergen||2||-||2||Not a major factor.|
|Campbell||1||-||1||Good play on the goal line.|
|TOTAL||31.5||11||20.5||Same total number as against Penn State, weirdly.|
|Ezeh||1||3||-2||Managed to do this on like five plays.|
|Mouton||5.5||9||-3.5||The usual at this point. Excellent athlete, many mental mistakes.|
|Leach||4||6||-2||Better than Ezeh, and did okay, with half of his minuses coming on the big play.|
|TOTAL||14||23||-9||Also the exact same total as against Penn State.|
|Woolfolk||-||1||-1||The one bomb, otherwise not tested.|
|Williams||2.5||14.5||-12||DELICATELY PHRASED STATEMENT.|
|Kovacs||-||3||-3||Again burned as a deep half safety.|
|Tackling||5||7||-2||First negative tackling day.|
|RPS||8||7||1||Scheme seemed fine.|
[A reminder: RPS is "rock, paper, scissors." Michigan gets a + when they call a play that makes it very easy for them to defend the opponent, like getting a free blitzer. They get a – when they call a play that makes it very difficult for them to defend the opponent, like showing a seven-man blitz and having Penn State get easy touchdowns twice.]
That appears to be a huge negative number next to Mike Williams's name.
Yeah. First a disclaimer: it is possible some of those minuses should migrate over to other folks on the defense because Williams wasn't actually the guy who was supposed to have contain as Michigan was running a scrape exchange. I watched the plays a lot, though, and think there's only one instance where that is a serious possibility. On the others it seemed obvious that Williams was irresponsible.
This is not a surprise. Williams was –6 against Iowa and –4 against Penn State, and the Penn State numbers were generous. It was evident Michigan was trying to use him to defend the long handoffs, which he could not do for whatever reason. Against Illinois he had a huge problems.
So… yeah. He's the reason—or at least, the emblem of the reason—Misopogon spent the last week of his life composing a master's thesis about Michigan's defensive recruiting and retention relative to its rivals. He's a weak link, probably the weakest, and Michigan has no alternative the rest of this year. Next year they'll have to hope he gets better or that one of the freshmen passes him. I can't see him getting any better after the last three games.
In an SAT analogy:
2009 Michigan Football : Mike Williams :: _______ : ________
A. 2008 Michigan Football : Nick Sheridan
B. Notre Dame Football : South Bend, Indiana
C. MAC Football Programs : Former Lloyd Carr Assistants
D. Life : Entropy
E. All Of The Above
Next year Williams will either be much better or on the bench.
Aren't those sorts of errors on plays Michigan practices against every damn day?
Uh… yeah. I do think it's a bad sign that Williams is making really basic errors that no one should make. "Hey, you have QB contain" is not a thing that should be dependent on which coordinator you're playing for. "Do not let the QB outside of you." Not hard. Apparently, Robinson has taken over coaching the safeties. Eventually he'll be the everything-except-DL coach.
So how was Kevin Leach?
He was okay. There were a lot of plays I thought he did well on that did not rise to the level of a + given the standards I've set for them over the past few years, and the mistakes he made were less mindboggling than the ones Ezeh did in his brief time on the field. Ezeh's main contributions were leaving an Illinois TE vastly wide open on first and goal and running out of a hole that Juice was in when he had the ball. It looked like he though Juice was the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog.
Er. Check that.
Leach did not remind me of any scenes from Monty Python. He didn't do anything that made me want to hit my head against a wall. There was the one big error on the 70-yard touchdown where he sucked out of position because he was keying on the OL instead of the backfield, but that error was shared by at least four other people.
After a game of Leach I do think he's better than Ezeh, which is a mindboggling statement in a thousand different ways. Redshirt sophomore walk-on > scholarship third-year starting linebacker (and Butkis semifinalist!). Is that a failure to develop talent or just an indictment of Carr's ability to recruit the right sorts of guys late in his career? I hate 'em both.
Should we be grumbling about Robinson? If not, who should we be grumbling about?
I can't imagine the defensive coordinator who can mash these parts together and come up with something good. I have been saying this since the start of the year, though: the linebacker play has been consistently terrible despite experienced players returning and at least some continuity at coaching the position. Maybe it's just that Michigan picked up a bunch of duds, but Mouton's stunning regression is a black mark from any angle.
Other than that, read the masters thesis. We dead, and we aren't going to be in a position to be good next year. Better? If not, heads will start rolling in earnest. Good? No.
Graham and Martin both played very well.
See SAT analogy above.
Also, Jordan Kovacs was much better in the quasi-LB role than he is as a deep safety. This is not really his fault.
What does it mean for Purdue and the future?
Oh, hell. It seems likely that one of these days Michigan is going to have a game in which they do not have huge screwups that yield long touchdowns for the opposition and everyone moaning about it is going to have to take a step back, but that day seems likely to come in 2010 at the earliest. The safeties are just totally inadequate, the linebackers remain subpar even after the Ezeh-Leach switch, and the DL is making a valiant effort only to see huge cutback runs and ridiculous lost contain submarine all their efforts.
As for Purdue, they picked up 140 yards last week, so there's a chance if we catch them on one of their bad Boiler days, but this is an offense designed to tear up the middle of the field with short passes and Michigan is uniquely positioned to not stop this sort of offense. The defense will remain terrible until 2010.
10/31/2009 – Michigan 13, Illinois 38 – 5-4, 1-4 Big Ten
To paint with broad strokes, I probably don't have much in common with 6'3", 290 pound black guys from Miami who think it's a good idea to play for Ron Zook. Our worlds are unlikely to intersect at a Lil Wayne show or the Ann Arbor Film Festival. Cory Liuget has probably never thought to himself "that reminds me of a Morrissey song." Of late, I think that all the time.
But at around 6:30 on October 31st, 2009, we both felt like we had been punched in the dong. In Liuget's case, this is because he had been punched in the dong:
In my case, and probably in yours, you had not actually been punched in the dong unless you had decided at some point that going outside with your buddies and punching each other in the dongs was preferable to watch the metaphorical dong-punching that started when Roy Roundtree's knee hit the ground at the one yard line and has not, to my knowledge, stopped. If you managed to miss this play and its aftermath because you were outside getting punched in the dong, congratulations: this is the one and only time when your decision-making skills will ever be regarded above average. Punch yourself in the dong in celebration.
Liuget got off easy. He was wearing a cup. My soul-dong has no cup, and it's taken a mighty battering in the last couple of years. Weary, bepunched, bruised, bepunched some more, the soul-dong cries out: why, gods who dictate which ghostly shadow genitalia get the full America's Funniest Home Videos treatment, have you chosen these dongs for maximum severe extreme punishment?
In the end, it doesn't matter. It just hurts when you don't move carefully.
You probably think I'm done with this riff on dong-punching. You get the dashes and the topic changes and then the topic comes back around to the previous item by the end of the column, with maybe some more dashes indicating where you should be prepared to shift thoughts. This, surely, is where a sentence can go by without the author mentioning someone getting punched in the dong.
No: the dongs. They are punched. This is what Michigan football has been since about the instant Drew Henson decided to take millions of dollars from the Yankees: the constant struggle to get your dong punched in new and interesting ways. Super-recruit quarterback leaves before senior year: kapow. New, wholly obscure Ohio State coach from I-AA is the anti-Cooper: tiger PUNCH. 2005: E. Honda hundred-hand-slaps your jibbly bits. 2006: more of a Tekken unblockable thunderfist with a huge-long windup that you think is going to be awesome until you fail to dodge the full testicle-crushing force of the blow and end up flat against the wall. 2007: Jack Bauer finds the bomb, finds it's a ridiculously tiny nuclear device, and decides to screw with you by placing it in the appropriate place before the Horror. 2008: A hundred E. Hondas hundred-hand-slapping your scrotum for three straight months.
2009 can be seen above: SURPRISE! You, Corey Liuget, think your dong is unthreatened late in a game you've turned into a blowout. You are wrong, and E. Honda shows up 75% through the damn thing just to give you dangly punishment.
As per usual.
Here we are, gingerly attempting to sit down without having any part of our anatomy brush up against other parts of our anatomy. Things just got raw, yo. Every place on the internet that didn't immediately repeal the first amendment(!!!) is burning.
I've been watching the same stuff everyone has for 1.5 years and here's where I am: it's blindingly obvious that some portion of the suck is Rodriguez's doing. After that huge reversal of fortune you have to back down from any previous stances you have about the program, its progress, and etc etc etc. That is a game-changing event. That game turned "Rich Rodriguez flames out in three years" at Michigan from a laughable notion to a possible one. Distantly possible, but possible.
I'm not sure what the suck is and how much can be laid on the current coaching staff. The Shafer hire was a poor one. Past that, the last couple years have featured four quarterbacks that were either freshmen or walk-ons, a disaster of an offensive line, and a defense that actually saw two walk-ons start against Illinois because they were preferable to the alternatives. I don't know if that's Jay Hopson's fault or just crappy luck that you're starting a guy who would never see the field because the options behind him are so poor.
I still think we aren't anywhere near the point at which we can chuck out Rodriguez's stellar previous track record. That is not an accident. The previous coaching staff was responsible for The Horror and was attempting to position Mike DeBord as a legitimate in-house candidate, so it's not like the vast program-killing screwup that is the defensive recruiting is an huge outlier in judgment.
On the 70-yard touchdown that put Illinois in the lead for good, two players were largely responsible: Leach got dragged out of position expecting a stretch and Kovacs took what he thought was a good angle but was not because he is a freshman walk-on. There are a lot of problems with the program that no one could deal with.
Rodriguez will be back next year with a mandate to get to a mediocre bowl, and he'll be under pressure to produce a serious team in year four. My confidence that he'll do that is waning. There's not much that would improve the situation; as we've seen the last two years, program continuity is a huge factor in any football team's success. Firing Rodriguez before he's thoroughly proven he can't make it work here is going to make the previous suffering in vain.
That's where I am. If you're elsewhere, fine, I can understand that after the huge reversal the past couple weeks. Before the 2008 season I dug out that picture of Bo and Canham and Bump Elliot and placed the fanbase in the center of it:
We are all Don Canham now. Rich Rodriguez comes in with a wildly successful pedigree but promises to finally tear down the culture of Bo’s program, to replace it with something uncertain. This has caused apprehension in some, joy in others, and disdain verging on hatred in a select group.
The program risks changing into something people drift away from because it has drifted from them, or, worse, something that you only wish you could drift away from. It also promises fireworks and fun and victory and a feeling that’s something other than that thing we’ve felt so much before. Other fanbases go through this every five or ten or fifteen years; for us it’s been 40.
I could welcome it, I guess, or celebrate it, or proclaim inevitable dominion over the land. But I don’t feel like it. Nor do I feel like fretting over imaginary scandals future. Like Canham, I just hope it works.
I still hope it works. It's getting harder to think it will. Next year will tell the tale.
- Michigan should prepare for an Ortmann suspension. Omameh is probably the guy who draws in, but he's been practicing at right tackle. Ricky Barnum is the nominal backup left tackle if the Baby Seal U game is an indication, but I don't think he's left tackle material; the real backups at tackle are redshirting.
- Michigan's losing their composure, yes, and it's clear there's a cultural divide on the team between guys like Odoms, who know from rough, and Carr holdovers who still seem pissed that this is what they got when it's not what they signed up for.
- Holy hell: turnovers. I'd mentioned this before but here's a useful diary post from Enjoy Life on Rodriguez's turnover history. It's ridiculous:
Aside from the ugly first year, West Virginia had a positive turnover margin every year of Rodriguez's reign, with double-digit years four out of six tries. It's not the system, and it's not the weather as it applies to the system—it gets cold and rainy in West Virginia, too. It's freshman quarterbacks and terrible defense.
- Also holy hell: what a disaster Mike Patrick is. One: if our starting center was actually named "Mossman" he would a superhero capable of enmeshing opponents in his velcro-like grasp and Michigan's offensive line wouldn't fail to pass block against a terrible team that had no pass rush coming into the game. This was not an error. He and equally idiotic Craig James called him "Mossman" at least six times.
Two: you just knew as soon as the goal line stand happened that the rest of the game would be Patrick and James going Favre on Terry Hawthorne tracking down Roundtree, and this they did, often failing to even describe the play in front of them in favor of yet more rapturous praise for Hawthorne. They should find whatever pasture they've put Maguire in and put Patrick in it, too. And then shoot it into space. It will be like the Little Prince!
Three: this is not Patrick's fault but after a couple games on ABC that were beautifully directed, this one missed a half-dozen plays.
- Mike Williams had edge responsibility time and again against Illinois and blew it when he wasn't getting blocked into the bench. He was spectacularly bad, just as he was against Iowa. I find it hard to believe Vlad Emilien is worse, and since he's played on special teams recently he's not getting a redshirt. Wonder if we see him a little bit more the rest of the season.
- It's really obvious why they moved Woolfolk to safety in spring now. What a terrible feeling it must have been to watch these guys play in spring practice and know you were going to die in the fall.
- Kovacs makes sense because there are literally no scholarship options at his spot other than Emilien and project true freshmen, but what is with Leach getting on the field in front of Fitzgerald or Demens? I'd say it's a failure to develop talent on the part of Hopson, but he's also the guy coaching Leach. All I know is that it's very bad when you have major recruits (Fitzgerald was just outside top 100 lists and Adam Patterson was a top-50 player) idling behind walk-ons.
- What happened to Shaw? Undisclosed injury?
- The offensive line's pass blocking is the biggest problem with the offense right now. Every week I go into UFR expecting that Forcier will have all these terrible scrambles and there's maybe one or two instances where it was optional. In all other cases, someone is bearing down on him. The line is getting crushed in the protection metric. I hope this is an effect of losing Molk more than anything else; also, Michigan doesn't have any options other than freshmen behind the starters now.
- I got emails from people asking why they couldn't post stuff on the blog. How do you attempt to post something on the blog without reading the single paragraph post at the top of it that says you can't post? And should this be taken as evidence that the people in question should not be allowed to post anyway?
- LVSC's initial opening line for the game: M –7. Vegas loled and set it at 3.5. But… hey… 3.5 point favorites! WOO MOTOR CITY.
Hey. Here we are again. As per usual, check the Live Blog Chaos Mitigation Post to learn how to be a good person.
|WHAT||Michigan @ Illinois|
|WHERE||Memorial Stadium, Champaign, IL|
|WHEN||3:30 EST, October 31st, 2009|
|THE LINE||Michigan –7.5|
|TELEVISION||Nationwide on ABC/ESPN2 mirror|
|WEATHER||Sunny and around 50.|
Note: I'm sick of qualifying "last two games" because Delaware State is in there and obviously doesn't matter. For the duration of this preview, the Baby Seal U game is assumed to not exist.
Run Offense vs. Illinois
Though Michigan has fallen off a bit from their ridiculous start, they've done well in the last two games, and they did that against good run defenses. Iowa is currently #44. Penn State is #4. Michigan put up 195 yards against Iowa with Minor racking up 95 on just 22 carries. Against Penn State Michigan did well but for five Forcier sacks, which have been excised from the below numbers:
That's 4.2 yards per carry against a team that's currently giving up 3.4 to the rest of the world. (Penn State's got 26 sacks for 155 yards on the year, which hugely distorts the numbers. Including those, PSU is giving up 2.6 YPC!) That, more than anything that's occurred against Baby Seal U, indicates that Michigan's got a ground game that's for real. At this point it's established. People on the internet and the radio are begging for more running plays. It's a good rushing offense even without David Molk.
On the other side of the ball, Illinois is atrocious. They're 101st in rushing defense. Various abominations put forth this year:
Yikes, eh? Every Big Ten opponent Illinois has faced has gashed them, with Michigan State the only team not to approach five yards a carry. When Mike Rothstein took a look at the Indiana game he came away thoroughly unimpressed, emphasis mine:
-Illinois run defense is unimpressive. Indiana ran right at the Illini’s front four with success, getting a lot of the push with the offensive line.
-The Illini front four also didn’t appear to pressure Ben Chappell much. They’d send four a lot and Chappell had plenty of time to sit in the pocket and throw quick seven-yard passes.
-Illinois really struggled when Indiana brought Mitchell Evans in to run the Wildcat (which usually leads to Evans running). Makes you wonder that if Denard Robinson can hold on to the ball, how much Michigan might be able to use him.
-Illinois’ cornerbacks are unimpressive. They gave a lot of cushion early on, but eventually pressed a little bit.
Ha ha ha, losers
-Illinois’ defense is a lot like Michigan’s. There seems to be a soft hole in the middle of the Illinois defense, much like the Wolverines.
Awwww, hamburgers. But for this section, at least, that's good news: Illinois is flat terrible and is going up against a running offense considerably better than those of certain teams that have crushed them. Michigan should average at least five yards a carry; the Denard Robinson Experience should be extremely effective; I want Michigan to run the ball on 80% of first downs until such point as it's obvious that's not a good idea or it's time to screw around.
Brandon Minor is slightly hurt, as he always has been and always will be, but will be available; this is a game in which Shaw and Smith will get some cracks, too.
Key Matchup: HOLD ON TO THE DAMN BALL. If Michigan just keeps pounding at Illinois, they've demonstrated that they will crack, Molk or no.
Pass Offense vs. Illinois
Illinois is also terrible here. Whee! They can't get to the quarterback: they're 112th in sacks. They can't defend it when it's passed: they're 91st in pass efficiency defense. They are almost mediocre in terms of yards but that's an effect of the rush defense being so bad and Illinois being so bad and everyone just running all the time.
I mean, there's not that much else to say. Ben Chappell went 23/38 for 333 yards and three touchdowns. Terrelle Pryor threw twice in the first half. These two items suggest about all you need to know about Illinois's pass defense: when you have to, you can slice and dice it. You probably won't have to.
The non-Chappell numbers can not make this any clearer:
If you are not Terrelle Pryor you will throw 25 times a game with some uninspiring final yardage numbers, a YPA around 7, and no touchdowns because you just run 'em in. End of story. Illinois likes to lay back and play it safe, because the alternative is the Missouri game.
Michigan's passing offense has bogged down in a big way against two of the best pass defenses in the country the past two weeks. Pass protection has been a major issue. So have drops. And poor decisions from the quarterback. And questionable penalties. Virtually anything that can be going wrong with a passing game has been doing so for Michigan of late.
Things figure to improve against Illinois. That sacks number indicates that Michigan shouldn't have nearly as much trouble holding a pocket together against the Illini as they did against their last three real opponents, which should give whoever's in it some time to come off a first read and hit a second. We'll see if said passer actually takes that opportunity instead of running around like crazy. Probably not, if I had to guess. In any case, Illinois is going to give Michigan a lot of soft coverage because they don't have an alternative, and Forcier should find open guys for short gains when Michigan bothers to pass, which won't be often.
Key Matchup: Forcier versus his tendency to run around. This is a game in which he should be able to stick in the pocket.
Run Defense vs. Illinois
This is the one thing other than waterskiing…
…Illinois is not terrible at. This is largely because of the presence of Juice Williams and his crazy ninja ballfakes. Illinois's rushing game is a crazy reflection of Michigan's. They run a ton of zone option stuff but they run a lot of veer plays where everyone blocks down on the line, leaving the playside DE open as the RB tries to get outside; Williams reads that guy and makes a decision. Illinois likes this for a couple reasons:
- Juice Williams is an excellent runner who can make significant yards on this up the middle, and
- their offensive line is a disaster and down-blocking a bunch of guys is way easier than attempting to stretch them a la Michigan.
They will like it even more against Michigan because it will allow them to not block Brandon Graham. Illinois isn't going to block Brandon Graham whether or not they're trying to; on this play Illinois will be prepared for it. Expect to see a lot of guys tackling RBs without the ball.
You might remember Michigan getting shredded by this last year. Or you might have forgotten it all in an alcoholic haze. (They… they were the lucky ones.) There are a couple reasons to think Michigan will improve this go around. Most of the coaching staff has seen it, the offensive line is a lot worse and less of a threat to do anything else, and Michigan's not trying to get away with a really slow OLB.
However, you are probably thinking "this does not fix our bighuge problem at middle linebacker," and that is accurate. Michigan is still vulnerable to overpursuit from the linebackers and crippling errors from the safety and most visions of this game include one or two agonizing long runs from Illinois when someone blows an assignment.
When Charest comes in, Michigan should crush the ground game. Given this offensive line, Brandon Graham, and the rest of the Michigan defensive line there will be limited opportunities for any of Illinois' mediocre running backs to create yards without serious errors from Michigan's linebackers. Which there will be. So chalk up a 10 or 20 yarder or two with Charest in, interspersed with a lot of nothing.
Key Matchup: Ezeh and Mouton versus Williams. Williams is the big play threat and he will create big plays by convincing one of our erratic linebackers to tackle a guy without a ball or, like last year, convincing two.
Michigan has demonstrated that there is plenty of vulnerability in their secondary, but Illinois seems singularly incapable of taking advantage of it. Again, the terrible offensive line combines with confused, inaccurate quarterbacks to create a sort of crazy magic: Illinois is 112th in sacks allowed, 110th in passing efficiency, and 101st in passing yardage. They are terrible. This is how terrible: backup quarterback Eddie McGee got to start the Michigan State game and went 2 of 11 with a pick-six before getting yanked and is now a wide receiver.
The Not Juice du jour is redshirt freshman pocket passer Jacob Charest, who completed half of his passes against Purdue a week ago and will rotate in as Illinois tries to find something, anything, that works. The wisdom of sticking a freshman pocket passer behind your terrible offensive line when the opponent has Brandon Graham is… um… debatable, but when the alternative is Juice Williams it makes some sense.
Illinois still has terrifying uber-receiver Arrelious Benn around but can't get the ball to him because of the aforementioned problems. If Illinois does find protection it's going to be very tough for Michigan to cover him. Illinois loves lining him up in the slot and Michigan's response to that has been to stick Stevie Brown on said slot guy—sort of—and hope. With little in the way of safety help in Michigan's eight-man front, expect a wide-open corner route or two that may or may not be completed. Benn has an injured ankle and a dinged shoulder, FWIW. He will play; he's not 100%.
Michigan will have to defend the Illinois passing defense the way everyone has so far: sit back, let your line shred the Illinois line, and don't give up anything cheap before Illinois screws up a third and short or gets sacked or throws a hilariously terrible interception. It's teams like Illinois that remind us why bend-but-don't-break used to seem like such a good idea: people would shoot themselves in the foot well before they neared the endzone in the olden days.
Key Matchup: Jordan Kovacs and Mike Williams in two-deep coverage. They key to bending, but not breaking, is to not give up really long touchdowns. Can Michigan do that with a couple of slow underclassmen at safety? Eh… maybe, maybe not.
It's a theme: Illinois has terrible special teams. They're 108th in punt returns and 89th in kick returns. Kicker Matt Eller is 3/7 this year and missed an extra point. Their punting is pretty good, I guess.
Michigan, well: you know the story by now. The kick returns have returned to normal after an early period of competence, and the opposition kick returners are 50-50 to get a long one. Punting is fantastic; punt returns are an effort to fair catch every ball. Jason Olesnavage has been pretty good as a kicker. Slight advantage Michigan.
Key Matchup: CATCH THE DAMN BALL.
Kittens? I hesitate, but the spread is in the single digits.
- Illinois gets any push at all from the offensive line.
- Michigan can't pass protect again.
- Folks other than Graham aren't smoking their blockers.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Juice Williams is in third and long.
- Michigan doesn't even have to gesture towards play balance.
- They don't screw themselves with turnovers.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 3 out of 10. (Baseline 5, –1 for Holy God This Opponent Is Terrible, –1 for And In Ways That Play Into Michigan's Strengths And Away From Their Weaknesses, –1 for And Holy God, Just Look At It, +1 for This Same Quarterback Put Up M-vs-Baby Seals Yards Last Year, By Himself, +1 for and It Is A Road Game, –1 for That Will Be Attended By Six People.).
Desperate need to win level: 10 out of 10. (Baseline 5, +1 for This Is A Debacle Of A Team We're Playing, +1 for Loss Would Totally Blow The ND Game Good Feelings, +1 for …And It Would Make A Bowl Game Look Super Iffy, +1 for …And Then I'd Have To Go On The Radio The Day After, +1 for …And Then I'd Have To UFR It.)
Loss will cause me to... rip a single branch off every tree in Ann Arbor out of existential spite.
Win will cause me to... WOO BOWL GAME BABY.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
The recipe for this game is Lloydball. On offense: run, run, run, run. Sprinkle in a short pass here and there, run some play action for shots deep. But do it rarely and just plow ahead for your points. On defense, lay back. Bend but don't break, don't give Illinois anything cheap with their athleticism, and wait for the inevitable stuff/sack/incompletion that gets you off the field.
Can Michigan follow this recipe? On offense, almost assuredly. The only thing that argues otherwise is the persistent issue with fumbles. If Michigan HOLDS ON TO THE DAMN BALL, the rushing numbers from the first few Big Ten games will be at least replicated, with the Penn State bombing more likely than the quasi-respectable game against Michigan State. Michigan matches up well against this defense. (Who doesn't, you ask? Er.)
It's a little bit iffier on a defense that's alternated stretches of competence with huge errors or structural deficiencies that give away easy yards. I expect Illinois to look almost competent on offense, something similar to the first half of the Penn State game where Illinois' running game was working pretty well and Penn State was busy with that and couldn't be bothered to get the pressure that kills Williams. So they'll have some drives that move the ball, but without short yardage it's hard to see more than one serious touchdown drive. Tack on one mind-bending error and some other stuff, and you've got a score similar to the other ones Illinois has put up so far, albeit one that assumes Illinois's points are not garbage-time decoration.
Finally, opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Denard goes for 100 yards.
- Michigan has a positive turnover margin.
- The safety play burns Michigan.
- Michigan, 28-17.
For the Illinois Game (Saturday, Oct. 31)
Zac Johnson (shoulder)
David Molk (knee)
Probable (75 percent chance of playing)
Martavious Odoms (knee)
In addition, head coach Rich Rodriguez announced the game captains for the game at Illinois: running back Kevin Grady, defensive end Brandon Graham, wide receiver Greg Mathews and offensive lineman Tim McAvoy.
Odoms not playing or being limited would be a considerable loss; the other options at slot appear to be a meaningful dropoff, and Odoms had reclaimed the punt return job before the injury. Hemingway appears good to go, though, as does Warren.
Unfortunately, we did not flag down an Illinois blogger for this week's podcast, as I wasn't aware of anyone with a regularly-updated Illinois blog. But we do talk with Tim about the Penn State game—which was awesome—and bring in Jamiemac for the usual trip around the Big Ten, with the discussion of the Michigan-Illinois game serving as this week's opponent preview.
Note: here's a handy link to subscribe via ITunes.