Sometimes I post on Wednesday, sometimes I post on Thursday. Ideally I should post on Tuesday, but ideally Michigan should be undefeated.
Fear scale: 0 = Bye week?; 1 = If Michigan loses to this team somebody’s going to get fired; 5 = 2010 Illinois; 8 = Best in conference/will play in a BCS bowl; 9 = National title contender; 10 = Hold me, Ace.
The Road Ahead:
Purdue (4-3, 2-1 B1G)
Last game: No. 23 Illinois 14, Purdue 21 (W)
Recap: If you want something more than handwaving, see Ace’s FFFF.
In a nutshell, Purdue managed two real drives in the first half while stymieing Illinois’ offense for a good 50 minutes before the Illini finally came to. As Ace indicates, the Boilermakers didn’t so much win this game as Illinois lost it: Purdue is a not very good team that happened to play well. The Illini were a better team that made enough mistakes to beat themselves. Sometimes you can bring a knife to a gunfight and prevail because the guys with the guns shoot at each other first. That’s not the best analogy but you get the point.
Right now they are as frightening as: After losing to Rice and narrowly escaping Middle Tennessee State at the beginning of the season, Purdue has improved enough to play Penn State close and beat a ranked Illinois team. What does this mean?
It means that the Big Ten isn’t very good. Fear level = 4.
Michigan should worry about: Underestimating Purdue’s defense. While not stellar as a unit, they’re fairly opportunistic, led by a secondary that is competent to good. CB Ricardo Allen, the guy who intercepted Denard last year and hurdled him for a 94-yard touchdown, is still on the team. He’s a sophomore, so we’ll be seeing him for a while.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Saturday’s weather forecast says 52 degrees and partly cloudy with 0 percent chance of trash. Roy Roundtree's Donald Duck voice.
When Michigan plays them: Is Michigan good enough to not beat itself? Most signs point to yes. This game may not be pretty--you should avert your eyes every time a Purdue running back makes for the sideline or when Denard throws a duck into coverage--but a barring a complete collapse on both sides of the ball, the Wolverines should at least be able to grind out a win.
Next game: at No. 17 Snake Oil Emporium
LAST TIME ON GOPHERQUEST: We laid out the somewhat silly ground rules for Worst Big Ten Team ever, which are:
Lose all your conference games
Score the lowest percentage of points in your conference games
Have existed after 1930
A quick recap of history indicated the Gophers were off to a stirring start. Two games in they were the worst Big Ten team in 50 years.
THIS WEEK ON THE QUEST
The Gophers played Nebraska, one-time annihilator of the Big 12, and lost 41-14. The noon window on Saturday was so bad that I watched the last ten minutes of this game, screaming at Nebraska's second-string defense not to allow second garbage-time touchdown. They did.
POINTS ALLOWED: 144
POINTS SCORED: 31
SCORING PERCENTAGE: 17.7%
The '81 Northwestern Wildcats had scoring percentage of 15%.
At the end of the season I think we're going to look at these two weeks as a massive missed opportunity. Nebraska was up 34-0 at the half. Braves and Birds on what Nebraska does to teams they are up 34-0 against:
Bo Pelini, the vintage Nebraska teams would not have allowed a 34-0 halftime lead over an overmatched opponent turn into a 41-14 final. Tom Osborne would have beaten Minnesota by at least 65-3.
Alas, they don't make blowouts like they used to.
If Gray doesn't punch one in with two minutes left against Nebraska and Purdue doesn't give up a kick return touchdown, Minnesota's hovering around 10%, well within shouting distance of Harry Kipke's worst-ever 1934 Wolverines.
The Gophers had their bye week before Nebraska and face this season-closing gauntlet: Iowa, @ Michigan State, Wisconsin, @ Northwestern, Illinois. Purdue easily beating Illinois gives Minnesota some hope that they might be vaguely competitive—like into the second quarter—against the kind of teams that lose to Purdue, but Iowa's defense can hold Minnesota's best hope may be the Northwestern secondary.
Quest fans, meanwhile, are eyeing that Wisconsin game as an opportunity for the 83-0 drubbing it's going to take to push the Gophers into all-time territory.
Sagarin predicts the following:
- Iowa: 12-point loss
- @ Michigan State: 32-point loss
- Wisconsin: 31-point loss
- @ Northwestern: 13 point loss
- Illinois: 16 point loss
That's not going to get it done, but I don't think Sagarin's computer is able to process how extreme of an outlier this Gopher team is.
MOMENT OF GOPHER ZEN
[protip: hit escape to stop gif animation]
(Fear scale: 0 = Bye week?; 1 = If Michigan loses to this team somebody’s going to get fired; 5 = 2010 Illinois; 8 = Best in conference/will play in a BCS bowl; 9 = National title contender; 10 = Hold me, Ace, the last Anbender.)
About Last Saturday:
Michigan 14, Michigan State 28
That feels about right.
The Road Ahead:
Purdue (3-3, 1-1 B1G)
Last game: Purdue 18, Penn State 23 (L)
Recap: Try figuring out how many football scores it takes to get to 18. What is that, six field goals? Two touchdowns and two safeties? Now try to make 23.
Yeah, it was that kind of a game. Purdue was also inexplicably a couple missed kicks short of being tied with Penn State.
Not sure which team was still living in last week, but both were coming off statement wins -- the Nittany Lions’ of the “Kirk Ferentz owns us only most of the time” variety, and the Boilermakers’ of the “If the Big Ten were the solar system we would be Venus, which is still a lot better than that Kuiper belt object named Minnesota, formerly known as Pluto” variety.
Purdue’s running back duo carried the ball 13 times each with surprising effectiveness. Ralph Bolden averaged 7.5 ypc, thanks largely to a 39-yarder, and Akeem Shavers averaged 4.2 ypc. Against Penn State, that’s a pretty impressive accomplishment, although Ace’s FFFF next week will probably have something to say about the schematic advantage inherent in their offense. (Hint: they run the spread.)
The Boilermakers QBs, on the other hand, were unremarkable. Caleb TerBush completed 12 of 25 passes for 162 yards, 1 TD, and 2 INTs. QB Robert Marve attempted just five passes, one of which was an interception. Bench.
About Purdue’s defense -- that the Nittany Lions couldn’t seem to score points against them is more a testament to how derpy Penn State’s quarterback situation is rather than to how stout the Boilermakers are on that side of the ball. For the record, Purdue has the 30th ranked scoring defense in the country, which reflects some degree of competency, but that’s a ranking that’s about as tenable as Michigan’s No. 10 spot in that category.
Right now they are as frightening as: Michigan’s ability to defend an inconsistent spread. 4.
Michigan should worry about: Teaching the linebackers how to defend the perimeter -- you know, keep contain and stop outside runs, short passes, and bubble screens. Things that no one else ever seems to have a problem doing for some reason.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Purdue doesn’t run the spread very well. How they managed to put together four scoring drives against a Penn State defense that held Iowa to three points is beyond me, but again, Ace’s FFFF should shed some light onto that.
When Michigan plays them: Fueled by an irascible disdain for the sale of snake oil, Purdue has outperformed in this game for the past several years. If you’ll recall, there was that last minute hook-and-ladder incident in 2008. Then in 2009 they came from behind to win by capitalizing on a missed Michigan PAT and surprise onside kick. Last year, despite being in the middle of the great torn ACL epidemic, the Boilermakers played Michigan so closely that as I tracked the game from an iPhone, I got mad at ESPN Mobile for doing a crappy job updating the scores.
So yeah, the Not-2008-or-2009-or-2010-ness of this year’s Michigan team could use a decisive win here.
Next game: No. 23 Illinois
Next, the Jump. Michigan should worry about: broken internet connections. Sleep soundly about: more room on the front page.
About Last Saturday:
Michigan 42, Northwestern 24
I wasn't there. Wah wah.
The Road Ahead:
Michigan State (4-1, 1-0 B1G)
Last Game: Bye
Recap: They didn’t play, but I’m going to write mean things about them anyway.
Right now they are as frightening as: Jerel Worthy’s tattoo.
It’s big. It’s ugly. It’s under the skin. It’s going to be there forever. On the other hand, a closer look reveals something misguided about the sense of superiority it portrays. It ends up being actually kind of funny, and years later, whenever the Big Ten becomes a superconference and lets Missouri into the club, it’ll finally make sense.
Oh yeah, about their football team: Objectively, they’re probably around a 6. Personally, they got up to somewhere near an 8 when I watched Michigan’s first half vs. Northwestern and dropped down to a 4 when I watched the second half.
Michigan should worry about: Denard vs. interceptions. The ineffectiveness of the ground game against Northwestern was a bad sign because against Michigan State it’s going to be worse. Denard is going to have to throw it, and I’m going to end up really sick from stress-eating all the press box food. I hope there are meatballs.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Brady Hoke, on Michigan State’s offensive line:
Well, they’re big, which is the normal case.
To their credit, Michigan State does have solid-to-stellar players at QB, RB, and WR, but having a talented 7-on-7 squad doesn’t mean much when the other team puts 11 guys on the field.
When Michigan plays them: This is going to be one of those games where the score will be 14-10 after the first quarter and 14-10 at the end of the third quarter. It’s going to be terrible. Halfway into the second quarter I’m going to start annoying the person sitting next to me with compulsive commentary, especially if Ace isn’t going to East Lansing. He just told me he’s not going. Okay well that sucks. Apologies in advance to whoever ends up sitting next to me.
Michigan wins if they can get to Cousins early and often, especially if they can accomplish that with just a four-man rush.
Next game: No. 11 Missouri Raccoons.
(more after the jump.)
Worst mascot ever for worst team ever
In the aftermath of a 45-17 stomping that wasn't even that close at the hands of Purdue, which lost to Rice, the question must be asked: is Minnesota the worst Big Ten team of all time? There are still six games left in conference for the Gophers, so we're a long way off from a conclusion. All they have to do is win one game and they'll escape the basement.
But they totally aren't going to, so let's look at the most awful Big Ten teams chronologically.
The worst team in Big Ten history has no wins and no ties; nonconference doesn't matter; 1930 is the cutoff since before that teams played highly variable schedules. Teams from WWII are included. We are going on a straight ranking by scoring ratio, which is:
point scored / (points scored + opponent points scored)
This should help normalize for the fact that football has gotten progressively higher scoring as the years have progressed.
Minnesota will be the worst Big Ten team since X if they do Y…
2005: Lose all their games
The last winless Big Ten team was 2005 Illinois.
1981: Lose and finish with scoring ratio below 21%
2005 Illinois managed 21% and their 1997 team matched that. The 1981 Northwestern Wildcats scored 75 points in nine league games but gave up 425 for a scoring ratio of 15%.
1961: Lose and finish with scoring ratio below 15%
1961 Illlinois never reached double digits or came within two touchdowns of an opponent (23-9 versus Purdue was their closest game) and had a scoring ratio of 12.3%.
1960: Lose, scoring ratio below 12.3%
1960 Indiana managed just 11.8.
1957: Lose, scoring ratio below 11.5%
1944: Lose, scoring ratio below 8.9%
Iowa 1944 set a low bar, and then they lost to Iowa Pre-Flight, though Iowa Pre-Flight was 10-1 that year.
Pretty Much Ever: Lose, scoring ratio below 8.7%
Harry Kipke's 1934 Wolverines managed this.
Minnesota is currently on pace to be the worst Big Ten team since…
Minnesota's scoring percentage stands at 14.1% thanks to a kick return touchdown and a garbage-time drive.
NEXT WEEK: Minnesota takes on 5-1 Nebraska.
A few things: 1) I’m not going to change the X’s until Michigan loses. 2) Opponent Watch is moving to Tuesday next week. This is more for me than it is for you. 3) I’ve added a section devoted to tracking past opponents. 4) Michigan is not going to lose.
Fear scale: 0 = Bye week?; 1 = If Michigan loses to this team somebody’s going to get fired; 5 = 2010 Illinois; 8 = Best in conference/will play in a BCS bowl; 9 = National title contender; 10 = Hold me,
About Last Saturday:
Minnesota 0, Michigan 58
The Road Ahead:
Northwestern (2-2, 0-1 B1G)
Last game: Northwestern 35, No. 24 Illinois 38 (L)
Recap: Northwestern QB Dan Persa (10/14, 4 TDs) finally returned to action last Saturday against Illinois. It’s hard to tell whether he was suffering lingering effects of his Achilles tendon injury leading up to the game, but Persa had five real carries -- mostly on zone-read keepers -- before he exited the game in the fourth quarter with pain in said Achilles tendon.
Despite having Persa’s arm back for the first time since Iowa last year, Northwestern insisted on sticking with the run. For two and half quarters this strategy was surprisingly effective. Persa’s four TD passes to bring the Wildcats ahead 28-10 were set up by a ground game that churned out nearly 5 ypc for two and a half quarters, which, if you’re not a spoiled Michigan fan, is really quite good. RB Mike Trumpy was the centerpiece of the ground game, gaining 63 yards on 12 carries, which, again, if you’re not a spoiled Michigan fan, is quite good. Unfortunately, he also had to leave the game with a leg injury, and reports are saying he’s lost for the season.
For about 40 minutes, Northwestern’s offense sparkled and shined. Then both Persa and Trumpy got knocked out of the game. By that point they were up by three scores in the third quarter, so it was hard to see how they might blow it.
Their secondary answered the challenge. The Wildcats left Illini receivers open all day and had no answer for WR A.J. Jenkins, who took advantage of some hapless defensive backs to haul in two long touchdowns, bringing his team to within a score. Jenkins’ 28-yard reception during the final minute also helped set up the winning Illinois touchdown.
Here’s Ace’s take for more detail.
Right now they are as frightening as: With a gimpy starting quarterback, an injured starting running back, and a defense that sometimes chooses not to cover people, they strike me as Purdue 2.0. Fear level = 4.
Michigan should worry about: Mental errors on the road. Also, Persa’s arm. There’s a good chance at least one of these things will happen, but both will have to happen simultaneously for a significant amount of time for Northwestern to pull out the win.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: There were a lot of questions during the press conferences about how Michigan will deal with Persa’s dual-threat capabilities, but in reality the threat of him running is far scarier to the his Achilles tendon than for an opposing defense.
When Michigan plays them: If Northwestern wants to be stubborn with their play calling, they will again try to establish the run with a lot of of zone reads. Michigan will be able to cheat and key in on the running backs because it would be stupid for Persa to run more than a handful of times. This will last about a quarter before the Wildcats realize that maybe getting 3 ypc isn’t a winning strategy, at which point they’ll likely air it out against a Wolverines secondary, which, thankfully, finally knows how to cover receivers. The Michigan defense will probably make some mistakes -- they’ll give up a couple bombs or a long run here and there -- and the running backs will have less room to wiggle than in previous weeks, but it’s hard to see this game being more worrisome than a Western Michigan/San Diego State redux, albeit against some bigger dudes and on the road-ish.
Next game: No. 12 Michigan
(more after the jump)