|WHAT||Michigan v. #25 Michigan State|
|WHERE||East Lansing, MI|
7:00 PM EST
January 27th, 2011
|THE LINE||Michigan +10.5|
After a surprisingly strong start to the season Michigan was riding high at 10-2 and some of the more optimistic fans (yours truly included) were predicting a finish on the NCAA bubble. A win over Penn State and blowout losses to Purdue and Wisconsin - both on the road - didn't change the equation much. Close losses to #2 Kansas and #1 Ohio State in Crisler Arena gave further hope.
Then it all came crashing down. A previously solid Michigan defense was exposed in road debacles against Indiana and Northwestern, dropping from the top 20 nationally to the worst in Big Ten play. Jordan Morgan says "we thought our defense was good just because it was good, but really it was the hard work we were putting in." The team needs to get back to focusing on defensive play, rather than expecting the success to come.
Of course, Michigan's season - as painfully as it's unfolded - can't be looked at as a disaster, because there were almost no expectations coming in. That's not the case for the other side.. The Spartans have failed to live up to the usual hefty expectations--unfair though they may have been. Michigan State has dropped to an UNACCEPTABLE #25 national ranking (John Beilein: "That's not struggling"), and the perception is that they're reeling.
The perception isn't helped by the recent suspension of Korie Lucious for the remainder of the season. Though Lucious hasn't started any games this season, he's playing starter minutes (4th on the team in minutes/game) and was leading the Spartans in assist rate. He didn't accomplish much in two games against Michigan last year, but he's played a bigger role for the Spartans in 2010-11.
And of course, what would a Michigan-Michigan State basketball game be without the Rivalry Factor? Indiana native Zack Novak said "I hate them as much as people who have been here their whole lives," though his fellow Hoosier expatriate Stu Douglass backs off a bit, saying "I wouldn't call it hate." Either way, the Spartans have owned this "rivalry", winning every game since that duo has been in Ann Arbor. It's been over 10 years since Michigan has won in the Breslin Center (or even kept it to single digits), and Michigan is going to have to break their run of poor form if they want to end that streak.
With a few games under each team's belt, it's finally reasonable to look at the stats. If you need an explanation of the stats, check out Ken Pomeroy.
|Michigan v. Michigan State: National Ranks|
|Category||Michigan Rank||State Rank||Advantage|
|Mich eFG% v. MSU Def eFG%||107||75||S|
|Mich Def eFG% v. MSU eFG%||164||111||S|
|Mich TO% v. MSU Def TO%||21||210||MM|
|Mich Def TO% v. MSU TO%||232||201||S|
|Mich OReb% v. MSU DReb%||303||84||SSS|
|Mich DReb% v. MSU OReb%||58||32||S|
|Mich FTR v. MSU Opp FTR||342||159||SS|
|Mich Opp FTR v. MSU FTR||61||219||MM|
|Mich AdjO v. MSU AdjD||70||18||S|
|Mich AdjD v. MSU AdjO||76||50||S|
Difference of more than 10 places in the national rankings get a 1-letter advantage, more than 100 gets a 2-letter advantage, more than 200 gets a 3-letter advantage, etc.
The advantages for Michigan State come where you'd expect: rebounding and not sending Michigan to the free thrown line. Sparty's not the exceptional rebounding team they've been in the past, but early rebounding competency from the Wolverines has faded as the schedule has gotten tougher, and Michigan has gone with Evan Smotrycz at the 5 more frequently.
All said, this isn't the statistical nightmare on paper that I've come to expect from these contests. Though Michigan has had at least their share of struggles, State is in a similar boat, albeit against tougher competition.
One key will be for MIchigan's bigs to stop committing silly fouls. Jordan Morgan said, "I'm learning from a lot of mistakes I've made," but learning means very little if it's not applied in game situations. Foul trouble among the bigs must be avoided, as State's Draymond Green and Delvon Roe are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Spartans' talent in the frontcourt. Another key is to defend Michigan State's athletes, and prevent the Spartans from getting up and down the court in transition, and getting into the lane on drives from the likes of Kalin Lucas. That can be a tall task, as even John Beilein admits that Michigan's quickness is a weakness.
Rivalry games mean lots of coverage across the internets:
- Dylan asks questions of KJ from The Only Colors.
- KJ returns the favor, and TOC's Pete does the same with Remember Bo of Maize n Brew.
- MSM coverage from AnnArbor.com, the Free Press, and the Detroit News.
- Finally, game previews from TOC and from UMHoops.
At least one Wolverine fouls out, more likely two. I'll guess Jordan Morgan and Tim Hardaway Jr. Darius Morris picks up his play, though not to early-season levels. He finishes in double digits scoring, and is close in assists. The Wolverines will come closer than they have in a long time, but still fall in Breslin, 76-68.
Is this inane or brilliant? Like all the best newspaper headlines, I can't tell if this News editor is serious or making a terribly sly joke:
New names add flair to Big Ten for next season
Flair you say?
The awful periwinkle logo does look like it belongs on a button that says "my other car is the incorrect belief I have a sense of humor."
Oddly, multiple readers have emailed to inform that the agency who put together this debacle is "highly respected." I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around a marketing firm named "Pentagram," which seems deliberately mom-terrifying and reminds me of Dan Akroyd in goat leggings and generally seems like a thing you should avoid if you don't want to give off the wrong impression.
Meanwhile, the public loves it:
According to an unscientific poll on ChicagoTribune.com, 6 percent believe Legends and Leaders "represent what the Big Ten is all about," and 94 percent say, "You have to be kidding … is this the best they can do?"
Similarly, 93 percent of those responding to a midwestsportsfans.com poll voted for either "terrible" or "it makes me want to gouge my eyes out with a spoon." Others opted for "awesome" (2 percent) or "indifferent" (5 percent).
94%! You can't get 94% of people to condemn murdering six year olds these days. In two weeks all FAIL pictures on the internet will have been mysteriously replaced by images of Jim Delany.
The count. They announced 113,411 at the Big Chill by adding up every single person who was there and counting Red Berenson as six because obviously, but when Guinness sits down to actually put a number in the book it will be considerably smaller than that because they take a more restrictive view on what counts as a spectator:
The school counts players, media and others at the game to work. Guinness doesn’t count any of those people.
"It's a combination of scans with the barcodes on tickets," Janela said, explaining how Guinness reaches its number. "It's not for tickets sold but for people who actually show up. People who weren’t ticketed, marching band for instance, or people who were given special passes."
Media and players, he said, do not count in the numbers because they are not actually spectators of the game.
UPDATE: Wow. Guinness says the actual count was 85,451, which seems low.
Also from that article, a ref skated over to the Michigan bench after the Wohlberg extra-point celebration and said any more funny business would result in a penalty and Rick Comley said it was "uncalled for." The NFL infects all.
Speaking of. A reader emails that the XP is not lost to history:
I also broke a cardinal rule of game columns by not checking my feed before posting, so I missed an extensive WH highlight package:
Casteel Watch. Jeff Casteel remains the most plausible defensive coordinator candidate out there, having established a level of performance with the 3-3-5 that's become as impressive as Rodriguez's WVU offenses were. That level is "really impressive… for the Big East." Even with that BE caveat, WVU's defense is #1 in FEI this year and equally impressive in conventional metrics. The three years before this they were 33rd, 28th, and 8th. I'd be willing to roll with Rodriguez again if the band got back together.
Unfortunately, after two swings and misses the chances of that are miniscule unless Bill Stewart whittles on down that road. Fortunately, there are machinations afoot in Morgantown, with Oklahoma State OC Dana Holgorsen heavily rumored to be taking the job after Stewart coaches the bowl game*. Though a Smoking Musket rumor that Stewart was out was refuted on the twitters by multiple players, actual newspapers are saying that may be a matter of timing:
Sources confirmed today that a high-ranking official from West Virginia's athletic department has been in contact with Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen about the head coaching position at West Virginia, even as there is no vacancy. …
A source confirmed it is probable Stewart will be fired if West Virginia does not win that bowl game, and could happen regardless of the outcome. A win in the bowl game would give the Mountaineers a 10-win season.
It's possible Holgorsen would look at the defensive side of the ball and decide that he shouldn't fix what isn't broken but the chances of landing Casteel go from zero to non-zero if Stewart gets the boot. Let's hope NC State wins 3-0.
UDPATE: Newspaper type folk are reporting that Holgorsen is in as OC/coach in waiting and will replace Stewart after next year without touching the defensive coaching staff. Dangit.
*(Is it just me or are there an inordinate number of coaches in limbo this year? Usually it's fire and forget immediately after the regular season, but this year the coaching carousel has a number of schools half in, half out.)
Darius as mini-Denard part two. Way back on Friday Michigan dismantled Utah in an 11-point game that wasn't really as close as that, and people are beginning to pick up on Darius Morris's leap forward. Someone was asking about surprise teams on the most recent Big Ten conference call and both Tom Crean and Matt Painter cited Michigan, with Painter specficially mentioning Morris as the reason. Big Ten Geeks:
Darius Morris led the way with 19 points to go with 10 assists, and it’s hard to ignore his play so far this season. A role player last year, Morris has become much more assertive in running the offense. This is actually somewhat of an exception--role players don’t suddenly start consuming possessions over an offseason in general--but one should keep in mind that with Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims monopolizing the offense last season, there wasn’t much of an opportunity for Morris. It’s been a different story in his sophomore season, as Morris is quickly becoming one of the Big Ten’s best floor generals. He’s shooting an amazing (for a 6-4 guard) 61 percent from 2-point range, along with one of the best assist rates in the country.
At times in the Utah game the problem with the offense seemed to be Morris's lack of assertiveness—most of Michigan's worst possessions saw him with limited time on the ball.
If Morris is shooting 61% from two he's probably not shooting enough, which is an interesting problem to have. Last year Manny Harris was sucking up 30% of Michigan's possessions while shooting 48% inside the three-point line. The rest of the team shot at a higher clip, and while that was because Harris drew so much attention I often felt like the team would have been better if the shots were more evenly distributed.
This year Morris is killing people; the rest of the team is doing well but can't keep up. Major SOS caveats apply, but I think I'd like to see Morris try to get a few more shots off per game. A complicating factor is Morris's assist rate, which is fifth nationally—a major reason he's not getting off more shots is he's turning Jordan Morgan into a 61% shooter, too.
Speaking of Morgan, he bounced back from a couple of rough outings with solid, annoying post defense against Utah's bigs, who are very big indeed. UMHoops grabbed a sequence in which he took a couple offensive fouls:
I wish they'd also clipped the possession before that, in which Morgan went to war with Foster for the duration of the possession and eventually got an elbow to the head for his troubles. The ref let that go but was looking for any funny stuff on the next trip and got it when a pissed-off Foster barged into him. Foster's not any good offensively—his usage rate is an amazing 8.9%—but he also did a good job on Washburn, and this year I think all we're looking for out of Morgan is holding his own against the mediocre and beating the bad.
Morgan drew a third charge with help defense later, but since he was 1) moving and 2) directly underneath the basket in the pretend no-charge circle the NCAA instituted last year that was positive reinforcement of a negative play Michigan got lucky on.
OH SO TINGLY. I may not be a fan of Michigan Stadium hosting dancing curly fries but some of the things Dave Brandon is plotting are major compensations:
Q: You also have talked about new scoreboards for Michigan Stadium. Your vision is not Cowboys Stadium huge, but pretty huge?
A: Pretty huge. If you picture the size of those (current) scoreboards and maybe something that's 30 percent larger, 40 percent larger, but then the entire surface or at least the vast majority of the surface would be video screen. I think those scoreboards look wimpy now with this structure and then the fact the HD video portion is only about a third of the surface. We can't do what our fans want us to do in terms of showing them really high-resolution replays, game action and even a lot of the marketing stuff we're doing with videos and pre-game and halftime shows — these screens are just not acceptable. This is very old technology, and they don't look very good, either. Think 30 or 40 percent larger and think big-image area for high-definition resolution screens. I think our fans will love it.
If you have never been to a stadium with video boards that size, it's a massive difference. It is Brandon's "hope" they are in for 2011. Brandon also re-iterates that advertising for the Big Chill does not presage advertising during football games. That's part of an extensive interview with Angelique Chengelis, BTW, that you should check out.
Time to go. The Only Colors takes an unprecedented step for them and calls for the replacement of Rick Comley as Michigan State's head coach. Despite how much I've been enjoying this stretch in MSU hockey, I'm with them. This is the third straight year they'll miss the tourney and the second time in three years they're virtually indistinguishable from Bowling Green, a school that's considering dropping their program. This year is like Rich Rodriguez having another 3-9 year two years after his first, and while Comley does have a fluke national title that sort of thing shouldn't be survivable at a program like MSU.
Etc.: Doc Sat points out how weird it is that awards lists are featuring Denard Robinson as something other than a quarterback when they were fine with Eric Crouch, et al, as QBs. Robinson completed 60% of his passes… what more do you need? Basketball takes on North Carolina Central at 7 this evening.
12/11/2010 – Michigan 5, Michigan State 0 – 10-5-4, 9-3-1 CCHA
Michigan State is bad at hockey.
12/10/2010 – Michigan 1, Ak—
Oh, all right.
Michigan State is really bad at hockey, bad to the point where it seems like the next time their program is anything better than decent it will be under their next coach. While I find this 80% delightful the other 20% is depressed that the grand terror of a game against Ryan Miller* has been replaced by the usual mild discomfort when a crappy CCHA team comes to town against a Michigan team capable of blowing it against a crappy CCHA team.
So the only differences between this game and Michigan's series against BG earlier in the year are the size of the crowd, my annoyance at the State band, and my lingering antipathy for Rick Comley for his non-handling of the Kampfer incident. I have a sense of how Ohio State fans must feel about Michigan football's struggles now.
As a result the Big Chill lacked the grandeur of the Cold War despite being bigger and having more fireworks and an equal amount of appalling pregame musical guest. The thing on the ice was no longer #1 versus #4. Ryan Miller was not there, nor was Mike Cammalleri or a half-dozen other guys currently plying their trade in the NHL. Midway through the second I wished Michigan had scheduled Notre Dame or Miami, because if Michigan State's going to return a big chunk of their allotment anyway we should at least have a hockey game worthy of 113,000.
If you're going to schedule a team that's hanging out with Bowling Green in the conference slums, though, you should at least chop them up into tiny bits and serve them as hors d'oeuvres to the assembled throng. Michigan did, leaving the crowd's biggest reaction to come at the tail end of a 5-0 game when the most important thing was holding on to the shutout. This year it appears symbolic acts will be the only important ones, and in ten years when this happens again and they dig out the record books for outdoor games past that zero will read "Comley" to me, and I'll remember that weird period when Michigan State was horrible.
Non-bullets got very cold towards the end
A lovely touch. This is the opposite of Cal playing Chariots of Fire on their scoreboards after Washington pulls off a last-second win: event organizers forced Michigan State to sit through the fireworks in the cold after losing 5-0; when they tried to leave halfway through they were prevented.
A fishy number. The stands were almost full, but with the top end of one endzone was sparsely populated I'm a little dubious about the Guinness-endorsed 113k since it seems like a football game would have hit that this year. I've assumed Michigan counts every last person in the building for football, but maybe not.
Hey, that looked intentional. First, highlights:
The Rust-to-Merrill goal was a two-on-two rush that resulted in a pretty goal, something Michigan fans haven't seen much of this year. The rest of the goals were also intentional but born more of hard work finding rebounds or just shooting—the slick passing to get someone open has not been a regular feature.
Celebrations. On the reel above you can see Carl Hagelin either attempt to saw off his arm at the elbow or play the world's least tiny violin after his first goal, but they missed a celebration in the third wherein the team assembled to kick an extra point. This has apparently been lost to history.
The road ahead. Notre Dame and Miami split two weeks ago, leaving the three-way race at the top of the league very tight. Michigan would be ahead in hypothetical baseball standings as they're a point back of Notre Dame with a game in hand and one clear of Miami with two in hand, and their schedule is looking pretty easy down the stretch:
- The GLI features State, an MTU team that's lost ten straight, and a 7-5 Colorado College team. Michigan should meet CC in the final.
- Games against very bad CCHA teams: Three more against MSU.
- Games against mediocre CCHA teams: two against Ferris (home and home), two against OSU (home), two against WMU (home), two against NMU (away)
- Games against good CCHA teams: two against Alaska (home)
- Series of the year: two against Miami (away)
The CCHA is the three teams at the top, LSSU, MSU, and BG at the bottom, and then a mass of five teams that are tough to differentiate. Miami has to play both ND and Michigan again, but Michigan has already gotten its series with ND out of the way—advantage teams that aren't Miami. Michigan also has a ton of home games. They'll have to get a bit better in goal and score more goals they mean to if they're going to win the league, but they've put themselves in good position.
Unfortunately, without tearing through the back end of the schedule Michigan is probably locked out of a one seed with their mediocre OOC performance. Hockey puts inordinate emphasis on OOC.
A rule not so good. Michigan State did score, though. They put in a power play goal when a puck deflected high off Hunwick and fluttered to the goal line to be batted in, but a nanosecond before that happened Hunwick fell into the net and knocked it off. While the refs got the call right, it was totally unfair: you definitely scored, you didn't do anything to get the net off, and you still get nothing. They should probably change it so that if your goal is imminent when the defense knocks the net off you still get it.
Merrill actually doesn’t remember the first goal. He closed his eyes when he shot it and the next thing he knew, he was mobbed by teammates. Everything else is a happy blur.
Not recommended for drivers, as your blur will not be happy.
*(I have superficially hated many opposing athletes but Miller stands out as the guy I hated only because he was so unbelievably good. He did nothing but save everything.)
|WHAT||Michigan vs Michigan State|
|WHERE||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI|
|WHEN||3:00 Eastern, December 11th 2010|
|THE LINE||College hockey lines, junkie?|
|TELEVISION||FS Detroit/Big Ten Network|
20% chance of rain/snow
The Only Colors has a preview from a Michigan State perspective that's essentially what I'd write if I was going to put one together. After a decent start Michigan State endured an awful 1-6 stretch that's put them behind the eight ball in the league and the (hypothetical) pairwise.
The last couple weekends they've recovered to split in the Showcase and against a decent Ferris State team, but the losses of Petry, Tropp, and Rowe have been too much for a talent-deficient MSU team to overcome. As long as Comley's around the Spartans are going to be bad or very bad when they only have two seniors and four draft picks. Both programs have fallen off from where they were ten years ago for the Cold War, which was a season-opener in October that saw #1 Michigan State take on #4 Michigan, but Michigan's fallen back from dominant to very good while Michigan State has turned into Northern Michigan, except Northern never ends up tenth in the league.
There's a big gap in the goal differentials:
MSU: 42 GF, 46 GA overall (2.47/2.71 per game), 23/29 in conference (2.09/2.63 per game)
Michigan: 58 GF, 45 GA overall (3.22/2.50 per game), 38/26 in conference (3.17/2.17 per game)
Michigan's goal difference is about where it was last year (higher in conference but lower overall). Ours, on the other hand, has gone well into the red. This time, the records actually match the goal difference numbers, unlike last year where we finished 2nd in conference and Michigan was 7th despite a better goal difference.
The guy to watch is Brett Perlini, a seventh-round pick of Anaheim who's Michigan State's leading scorer with an 11-5-16 line. Big and talented, he's the kind of player Michigan's finesse defense might have issues with. Daultan Leveille is a first round pick of the Thrashers and while he hasn't lived up to that hype in three years at State he's extremely fast and is the Spartan best able to take advantage of the Olympic sheet. Derek Grant is Perlini's setup guy and an Ottawa draft pick; past that the Spartans have diminutive senior Dustin Gazely, who is all right and has 5-6-11, and a bunch of guys named Chelios who are marginal players. Shut down the Spartans' top line and they have very little else. The only D who gets involved with the offense is Torey Krug
Michigan State goalie Drew Palmisano is having an okay year. He's about average in save percentage; given what I've seen from him in the past I'm betting he's facing an inordinate number of good shots.
I summarized the season to date earlier in the week and nothing's changed since then. To recap: Michigan isn't the team that went 10-10 before the break last year, but it's not the team that tore off ten straight to salvage an NCAA bid, either. It's a version of last year's team that's a little older and better. They spend most of the game in the opponent's end unless they're playing elite competition, get a lot of goals they don't really mean to score, and lack the top-end scoring star Red's teams have been built around for ages. When Berenson admits his group is "blue collar," you know there's a lack of flash. Yea, it is so.
They're still not bad or anything, but it doesn't look like this group is going into the NCAA tournament expecting to make a Frozen Four. Hoping, probably. Not expecting.
Hogan has earned the start this weekend, which may presage a shift in Michigan's goalie strategy long term. Two years ago Michigan split time between Hogan and Sauer, with Hogan taking over in the second half of the season. I wouldn't be surprised to see a repeat in the cards, with Hunwick getting a few games here and there.
Michigan has an advantage in that they've practiced on the outdoor ice (and Olympic sheet) the past week:
"Now we don't have to worry about the sun or the rain or wind or snow or bad ice or good ice. Now we can just worry about playing hockey," he said. "We know the environment, we know the scenario is unique, but I think the novelty is wearing off a little."
MSU will have one practice outside today.
You may notice the threatening chance of rain above. The temperature is excellent for December… unless it rains, in which case everyone is going to be thinking of the 2008 Northwestern game and wishing it was 25. There are different forecasts at different sites. Weather Underground says there's a 20% chance of snow, which would be fine. The Weather Channel says a 30-40% chance of rain/snow, which would be miserable.
IANA meteorologist but it given the temperatures—barely above freezing and way colder in the cloud layer—and the dew point, which some guy on Yahoo Answers said had to be below freezing, it'll probably be a wet snow that melts when it hits. This section is evidence of a diseased mind.
Anyway, Weather Underground also says winds will be in the 10-14 MPH range, which may be enough for the CCHA to stop the game midway through the third and have the teams switch ends. This did not happen in last year's game against Wisconsin despite Michigan's request (Hogan's crease was faulty), but the CCHA's on top of things.
This is a game Michigan should win by putting Hagelin and company out against Perlini and relying on those guys to overwhelm the slower MSU team with their skating. Lines two through four are major advantage Michigan and the game should be largely focused in the MSU zone when they're on the ice.
Michigan has a hard time turning possession into goals, however, and plays a large number of games against obviously inferior competition that they can't break open because of their lack of firepower. They just did it twice against Ohio State, struggled to finish off Lake State, etc. If they played this 100 times Michigan might win 60 with 20 ties and 20 MSU wins, but they're only playing once, so here's a stupid prediction of a 3-2 Michigan victory and snow.
Macho man. Invaluable video guy Boyz in the Pahokee noticed something that's gone unremarked upon for five years. Note the score, time, and bicep kiss:
WHERE'S YOUR BICEP NOW? And how did the director of the game not cut back to Bicep Guy after Manningham went New Math on people?
via the Shredder
Not sure if serious. So the news that a loose cannon walk-on is going to start tomorrow should be fairly crushing news to Penn State fans, but if I could be excited about Michigan's 2007 recruiting class they can be excited about Matt McGloin:
This might just be the kick in the pants to spark this offense. We will see. Good luck to the young man.
This kid has gigantic balls!
I’m so glad we have a pure passer starting in this game, I think it gives us the best chance to win. Knewsome can’t pass and Bolden would never WIN us this game. Now, granted McFarve might lose the game, but there is a chance he could WIN us the game.
I already used the image macro once today so I'll forgo it, but… seriously?
A later BSD posts breaks down his performance and even includes video. It could be chopped better—I'm spoiled by BitP's Every Snap videos—but the overall effect is to turn not sure if serious into definitely not serious in the comments, and should be reassuring to anyone fretting. Here's a UFR chart for McGloin:
I seem to be missing one of his throws but that won't change the overall picture much. The BSD predictionfest goes 4-2 to Michigan, FWIW.
If you change your colors to orange you can get them on the field faster. I suppose I have to say something about Chris L. Rucker's reinstatement. Anyone who didn't see this coming a mile away hasn't been paying attention. People haven't, though, because Dantonio says things like "I don't believe in superstition, I believe in God" and has a square jaw. But all it took was…
- Dantonio baldly lying about Roderick Jenrette's "family issues" that were in fact robberies,
- 20% of the team descending on a party to ignite a melee,
- Glenn Winston injuring a hockey player in that melee so badly he missed an entire season,
- Winston going to jail for five months,
- Dantonio reinstating him literally as soon as he got out of prison,
- 20% of the team, most prominently Jenrette and Winston, descending on a dorm room to ignite a melee,
- Dantonio reinstating most of the players who attended and promising zero tolerance, and
- Rucker being reinstated two seconds after he got out of jail…
…for the media to notice. But notice they have, with Rittenberg, Wojo, and even Mitch Albom(!) saying "hey, wait a minute." So, fine. As long as the correct win-at-all costs guy is being identified, fine. My whole thing here has not necessarily been to hammer Michigan State but to point out how little sense the media storyline about Rodriguez being some sort of renegade has made given the epic crime spree MSU has been on.
So now we know: Dantonio is just another boys-will-be-boys football coach, albeit one who wears his faith as a shield in a crassly cynical way. We can stop vilifying Rich Rodriguez for taking another job now, right?
Hockey weekend. The athletic department managed to schedule the home half of the Ferris State home and home at the exact same time Michigan plays Penn State, and then didn't move the game to Sunday, so 14 people will enjoy a matchup against the Bulldogs tomorrow. The away half is tonight; Yost Built has ten things about Ferris for you. The Bulldogs are 4-2 so far with a sweep of St. Lawrence, a split against Ohio State, and a split against Alabama-Huntsville. It doesn't seem like this is one of the occasional FSU teams that's a contender for a tourney bid.
More Ufer. Nice hair, everyone!
Also Frank Beckmann fluff.
Etc.: I can see why PSU folk think David Jones is their Drew Sharp. Soony Saad scores from distance… like own-half distance. Kenpom says he has "a special place in [his] heart" for MGoBlog because of its David Berri screed. Swoon! Michigan's apple tradition. A look at the future (and distant future) of the weakside linebacker position.
|WHAT||Michigan vs Michigan State|
|WHERE||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI|
|WHEN||3:30 Eastern, October 9th 2010|
|THE LINE||Michigan –4.5|
|TELEVISION||ABC/ESPN2 reverse mirror|
|WEATHER||70 and sunny
Run Offense vs State
The brahs are all like "OMG Greg Jones" as if Manti Te'o isn't a faster, better version of him, assuring everyone who will listen and their poor disappointed mothers that sometime in the second quarter Jones will violently disembowel Denard so a funeral can be held at halftime.
Unfortunately for the brahs, the State defense hasn't lived up to those proclamations. Aided by an injury, MSU held Wisconsin's John Clay somewhat in check. He managed 80 yards on 17 carries, 4.7 per. They didn't do so hot against his backup James White, a smaller, speedier guy who averaged almost 10 YPC. Between the two primary tailbacks Wisconsin had 178 yards on 27 carries, 6.6 a pop. (White, a freshman, was also responsible for a couple of terrible blitz pickups.) A couple of those long runs came when MSU sucked inside and got punished by bounce-outs because of irresponsible play; against Denard Robinson getting irresponsible is six points conceded.
Meanwhile, ND's Armando Allen averaged 5.5 YPC on just 13 carries, though MSU did keep ND's other tailbacks down. Overall, ND tailbacks averaged 4.5 YPC, almost exactly what they managed against Michigan. I think we know what happens when Michigan's rushing offense goes against the Michigan defense.
That's it as far as useful comparisons go. Western Michigan is 114th and Florida Atlantic 116th in rush offense, and Northern Colorado is a 2-3 I-AA team.
So that seems encouraging, but Michigan was expecting to run against Michigan State last year and ended up averaging one yard per carry. Brown and Minor combined to for 17 yards on 10 carries. This was the first inkling that Michigan's rushing offense was something of a mirage:
Forcier kept the ball when he should have handed it off, most painfully on Michigan's overtime drive where a veer play absolutely had State for a ton of yards and maybe a touchdown but Forcier kept it and was forced to follow Minor into the hole for only four. Twice Brown burst into the open field with a lead blocker and naught but one player between him and the endzone and both times Brown and the lead blocker failed to beat that one guy. Martavious Odoms took a reverse and had absolutely cavernous space to cut up into but did not realize it until far too late and slipped making his cut. On several plays State had left themselves open for a big cutback run behind the center but the tailbacks did not take it. And, yes, the right side of the line repeatedly failed to crease State's DL or chop the backside DT when plays went away from it. State did a good job—on both of those potential big gainers the State player in question made a huge, touchdown saving tackle—but Michigan left a ton of yards on the field.
The offensive line was blown up, too. On GS's run chart your winner was Mark Ortmann's +1.
There were plenty of reasons for this, foremost David Molk's injury and the shuffling it imposed on the defensive line. David Moosman played center, adding another bad snap to the pair that killed drives in the Indiana game. Huyge played right guard and struggled so badly that journeyman John Ferrara got a drive or two in case he was better; Dorrestein was forced into the lineup at right tackle and struggled.
This year, Molk is back, Patrick Omameh has ascended to the starting right guard job and has performed at an all-conference level after a rough start against UConn, and donkey-hating Taylor Lewan has forced his way into the starting lineup past Huyge. Schilling and Dorrestein return as better players. And Michigan has the most dangerous runner in the country taking snaps.
State, meanwhile, lost Oren Wilson and Trevor Anderson from last year's defensive line. Anderson's been replaced by the clunky 6'7" Tyler Hoover, a redshirt sophomore who is a version of Greg Banks minus some of the veteran savvy. Wilson's replacement is a platoon of Kevin Pickelman and Blake Treadwell. MSU returns DT Jerel Worthy, their best DL by some distance, and meh DE Colin "Cam" Neely. Neely and Pickelman missed the Wisconsin game but will return this weekend. Their linebackers are senior versions of last year's guys.
State's been decent against the run but when BlueSeoul broke down the MSU-ND game in one of his extensive Picture-Pages-on-Steroids diaries a major reason for this was the general derpitude of ND offensive linemen in space:
Michigan linemen are from space. They voted for Zoltan and everything. If you put them in space they and the mountain goat receivers will show you your O-I'm-on-the-ground-and-Denard-is-fast face.
Michigan is going to get yards against this defense, but the torrid pace—7.1 YPC, first nationally and a full yard better than all but six teams—they're on should cool off somewhat. If MSU is intent on leaving the safeties back, this will be a steady drip of five, eight, ten yards. If they go Indiana on things it will be more erratic but prone to bigger plays. One key: will Michigan break out the midline option or the veer that Oregon (and now Nebraska) are slicing defenses apart with? Worthy is a guy who just tears after people; he could be exploitable against the midline. Michigan hasn't had to do anything new except pop out a pulling lineman or two; this is the week to deploy a completely new package.
Key matchup: Schilling, Molk, and Omameh versus Worthy and Pickelman/Treadwell. Last year State owned this matchup. Worthy is a quality player but the other defensive tackle is something of a weak spot; Michigan must win this matchup to get second-level players out on the State linebackers and keep the ground machine operating at full death.
Pass Offense vs State
This was also a source of OL ownage on State's part last year:
PROTECTION METRIC: 37/57, Team –5, Dorrestein –4, Ortmann –4, Ferrara –3, Huyge –2, Minor –2, Moosman –1.
That is terrible, and large parts of it can be blamed on the absence of one David Molk. People who would not have been playing otherwise picked up –7 and one bad Moosman snap was given –1: more than half of the 15 negative points assigned to specific players on the line are attributable in ways direct or indirect to Molk's foot.
Michigan's offensive line gave up five(!) passes (or attempts to pass) that were marked "pressure"; Forcier also added ten more attempts that were IN, BR, or TA, including the fatal super triple BR on the OT interception. Three flat drops did not help matters. Forcier managed to go 17/32 for 223 yards despite this, but the offense operated in fits and starts and relied on a burst of Stonum athleticism and desperation to get its two touchdowns.
That is not likely to repeat this year. For one, Michigan's tied for first nationally in sacks allowed with one thanks to a combination of Denard running, massive progress on the OL, and opponents being terrified of Denard breaking contain. Meanwhile, after losing Trevor Anderson and Oren Wilson, Michigan State is in the triple digits when it comes to acquiring sacks. They've got five; even Michigan's three-man rush is doing better (yes, yes, against an avalanche of passing spreads). When Michigan drops back to pass they'll have time.
Despite the lack of rush, State's pass defense has been at least decent:
Notre Dame racked up a bunch of yards and touchdowns but took 55 throws to get there and didn't put up a huge YPA; Wisconsin got thunked. A large portion of the latter was Tolzien having a bad day and Nick Toon dropping everything that came his way (and subsequently complained about not getting enough opportunities!). Even so, Michigan State has not been lit up in the same way Michigan has. A large part of that is the return of Johnny Adams from injury. Their okay senior corner (Chris L. Rucker) also managed to not explode his ankle, so they've got that going for them.
Even if the outside guys are kept in check, this could be a big day for slots. It appears that ninja-kicking former walk-on Jon Misch is going to be the weakside linebacker who spends much of his day hovering in the vicinity of the slots; the fact that he's in a true battle with hyped sophomore Chris Norman is probably not so good for State. MSU cornerbacks have also been historically poor at tackling, leaving bubble screens attractive options, and the main reason Notre Dame couldn't exploit MSU's addiction to the 4-3 was this equivalency: Stephen Threet : screen :: Dayne Crist : screen.
Robinson will have to throw more than usual and in some uncomfortable situations; this will depress his remarkable efficiency ratings. He should still have enough opportunities to hit big plays in the passing game to win.
Key matchup: Magee and friends versus hyperactive Michigan State run defense. We've seen it all year: Denard takes a step forward, causing the entire defense to fly downhill at him, then flicks a pass to Roundtree that he runs into or near the endzone no matter how far away from it he is. While State's probably spent time on defending that particular iteration of Denard Automatic Play Action, there will be other opportunities to rack up RPS +3; in this game Michigan is going to have to lean more towards balance on first down to prevent the drive-stalling two yard plays that happen when a team sells out, Tecmo Bowl-style, and gets it right.
Run Defense vs State
Michigan's run defense isn't good but it's probably better than the pass defense; against State they will be severely tested. Edwin Baker, Le'Veon Bell, and Larry Caper are all quality backs in the same mold: big, fast tackle-breakers slightly light on the shimmy. Bell has more RAGE, Baker more breakaway speed. Caper is returning from injury and may have gotten Wally Pipped by Bell, a who-dat recruit out of Columbus who arrived in a chariot of thunder and said "surprise!" They're all OR on the depth chart, but Caper's had six carries in MSU's two actual games. He is OR in name only.
The other guys:
That's… uh… kind of terrifying, actually.
Michigan's most relevant outing was the opener against UConn and their similarly power-heavy stone age offense; in that game Jordan Todman had 20 carries for 105 yards, 5.3 per. That's not awful; Todman is legit. In his two other games against D-I foes he put up 192 on a Temple and 190 on Vandy. While those aren't the greatest opponents UConn returned Todman and four offensive lineman from last year's #39 rush offense and appear to be picking up at or above where they left off.
Oh, wait, right: UMass. Crap. Michigan also got imploded by UMass on a series of counters and power running plays on which the linebackers got lost. While Mouton and Ezeh played much better in the two games since the opponents were Bowling Green and Indiana, two passing spreads with no clue how to run the ball that are allergic to pulling linemen. Any hope derived from those games should be vague and humble.
HOWEVA, after watching the Wisconsin game I'm weirdly optimistic Michigan can not die in a fire. Wisconsin's DL was in the backfield a lot and big chunks of MSU's rushing yards came on a misdirection fourth and one pitch and an instance where Wisconsin was badly misaligned against a full house backfield. When it came to just lining up and running it State didn't open many holes. Their tailbacks did drag tacklers all day. If Michigan's linebackers have their heads on straight I can see something similar going down where Michigan does enough to force a bunch of second and long.
Simple power plays and zone stuff probably won't go very well but State has to run it to set up the rest of their offense of counters and play action; I bet the counters are consistent gashers and the regular stuff pops a run or two but also sees a lot of two-yard gains. Some of these will get up to four or five thanks to the quality tailbacks; by the end of the day numbers similar to the UW game are likely.
Key matchup: Cam Gordon run support versus backbreaking long runs. MSU's rush offense is the usual old-school thing Michigan fans will remember from Lloyd Carr's days: a lot of grinding, a lot of meh results, the occasional long gainer that happens when someone busts an assignment or a tackle. For Michigan to keep MSU's numbers in the Wisconsin-or-below range Gordon is going to have to go 10/10 on opportunities to take down MSU backs breaking past the linebackers.
Pass Defense vs State
HAI GUYS I'M THE MICHIGAN SECONDARY
You know the story on Michigan's side of the ball. When it comes to Michigan State, they still have Kirk Cousins. Cousins is a somewhat mobile pocket passer with good accuracy who makes a lot of excellent decisions… and two or three mind-boggling throws per game.
He usually does the latter bit when he's pressured. He has a tendency to chuck the balls Ben Chappell was tossing into the stands at covered receivers. He threw two interceptions against Wisconsin, one horrible, one a ball deflected at the line that seemed like it was going directly to a double-covered receiver and was going to be picked off anyway. In the second half he got lucky on a back-foot throw that could have been a pick-six if it was more accurate.
State's receivers are analogous to Michigan's—a solid unit without a Braylon/Plaxico superhero. Mark Dell, Keshawn Martin, and BJ Cunningham have split receptions almost right down the middle, and if you squish MSU's two TEs into one body you can say the same thing about Charlie Gantt and Brian Linthicum. There is no one go-to guy. If you're pigeonholing, Martin is the explosive slot guy, Cunningham the big possession guy whose ability downfield comes more from muscle than speed, and Dell a pretty good generic outside receiver. To compare them to Michigan guys: a poor man's Steve Breaston, Junior Hemingway, and… uh… a rich man's Ron Bellamy? There isn't really a good Michigan analogue for Dell. Anyway, it doesn't really matter who they are because they will be open. State's receivers have had a case of the dropsies this season, FWIW.
BlueSeoul picked out a specific thing State does well that Michigan's defense has seen a lot of in practice but still can't defend: the bubble.
Prepare yourself for this. Michigan is going to put either James Rogers or a freshman out on the outside. One will be playing in the parking lot; the other will get blocked into the parking lot. Michigan State is going to eat up yards on bubble screens, and you will be enraged.
This looks like a functional passing game run by something that's not a duck. This means doom so far as it's possible. Will Michigan State abandon its usual gameplan of "run or play action on 80% of first downs" in an effort to attack the Michigan secondary? Probably not since it's not likely anyone will mistake the M run defense for the 2006 unit. Will they have considerably more success on third down than they should? Yes.
Key matchup: Martin and Roh versus the MSU OL. Michigan has the opportunity to pick off some passes of their own if Cousins is dealing. Sometimes this happens when receivers are covered and he just tries to MAKE PLAYS; usually its an artifact of someone getting in on Cousins. The turnover margin will be huge, and Michigan should have an advantage if they get quarterback pressure.
An advantage for Michigan State. Martin returned a punt for a touchdown against Wisconsin and the Spartans have one of those kicker guys. Dan Conroy is 7/7 on the year. They're also averaging 38 net yards on punts, which is around 40th nationally. Michigan can't return punts or kick field goals and freshman punter Will Hagerup is still working through the jitters. Hagerup seems to be coming around, but Michigan hasn't even attempted a field goal since the first half against UMass and seems happy to keep it that way.
Will it matter? Maybe not. Special teams have not played a major role in Michigan's last few games because touchdowns have been plentiful, and both kickoff return units are weak. Michigan's probably going to go for it on fourth and reasonable distance once they crack the MSU 40 until game theory concerns kick in late. MSU is more likely to make their field goals and more likely to get a big punt return; the net effect of that bonus will either be negligible or large with little in-between.
Key matchup: STOP KICKING THE DAMN BALL
- Denard allows his usual backup quarterback cameo, and continue worrying until he returns to the field.
- MSU's line is kicking M's ass again.
- This jumping the snap business happens again.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Michigan State's maligned defensive coordinator leaves the safeties back in a Norm Parker-style adherence to old principles in the face of new technology.
- A significant new addition (midline, veer) to the running game leaves MSU's defensive gameplan in shambles.
- Roh rushes the passer lots.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 6 (Baseline 5; –1 for Michigan State's First Road Game Unless You Count Playing In Front Of Sixteen Fans In Detroit, +1 for They Hit Wisconsin Upside The Head With Ten Pounds Of Ham, –1 for Previous Defensive Performances Say Michigan Can Run Lots, +1 for Competent Passing Offense Versus Sack Of Confused Cats, +1 for Oh God What If Field Goals Are Relevant, –1 for Denard!, –1 for Vegas Is In The Tank For M, +1 for Annual Crazy Michigan State Over-Preparation, +1 for No Reason Except The Lump In The Throat.)
Desperate need to win level: 10 (Baseline 5; +1 for Would Be The Definitive 2010 Is Not 2009 Answer, +1 for Would Force Inane Media Narratives To Switch To A Different, Less Annoying Inanity, +1 for Would Cause Uppity State Fans To STFU, +1 for The Alternative About The Annoying State Fans Is Horrible To Contemplate, +1 for Constant Rich Rodriguez Job Rescue Campaign)
Loss will cause me to... get really annoyed at the little Dantonio head growing out of my shoulder. I mean, you think it's annoying now, let me tell you… man.
Win will cause me to... forcibly suppress any ideas Michigan might be playing Ohio State for the Big Ten title at the end of the year.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
Well… dammit. I didn't really know what would happen against UConn. I didn't really know what would happen against Notre Dame. And I don't really know here. Is Wisconsin the top-ten team I was terrified of before the season or was last year a mirage? Is Indiana's passing offense really a high-powered knife cannon aimed directly at the Big Ten's tingly bits? Denard? Greg Jones?
There is a common opponent:
- Michigan beat Notre Dame 28-24, outgaining the Irish by a narrow margin if you discount ND's last drive on which Michigan was happy to cede 40 yards. The game was on the road, but Dayne Crist missed a quarter and a half. Michigan missed two field goals, but why wouldn't they miss two more against MSU?
- Michigan State beat Notre Dame 34-31 in overtime on the trick field goal. Yardage was basically dead even. The game was at home, but Crist went the whole way.
This tells us nothing. At the end of regulation ND had four extra points against State. The home-road flip is worth another six. A reasonable estimate of how many points Crist's absence cost Notre Dame is ten. Flarbity doo, I'm wearing a shoe.
So: I think Michigan's offense is not going to slow down much against what is likely a mediocre Big ten defense. Their drives will be longer because MSU is not a flamingly awful Big Ten defense, but the overall efficacy of them won't be too far off the high level they've established so far this year. I think State will do much the same to M. The home/road flip should be good for a stop or two; Michigan's defense will not be the wasteland it was against Indiana if only because they'll be going up against an offense less suited to torch it; the freshmen defensive backs will have more of a clue; Michigan is likely to end up in the black in TO margin since a somewhat pick-prone Cousins will be putting the ball up more frequently than Denard.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- MSU safeties combine for more tackles than Greg Jones.
- Denard goes for 150 on the ground.
- Michigan finally looks like they've prepared for this game specifically.
- Michigan, 35-30.