(Still tweaking, but I think I’m getting close to a winning formula. Again, 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, TomVH.)
About last Saturday:
Eastern Michigan 3, Michigan 31
Ace and I played “Where’s Waldo/Brian?” from the press box.
He’s so dreamy when he’s pixelated.
[Ed: I told you there was no one in my section.]
The Road Ahead:
San Diego State (3-0)
Last Game: Washington State 24, San Diego State 42 (W)
Recap: After escaping Army, San Diego State hosted Washington State and waited for the Cougars to lose, which they did. The Aztecs capitalized on three Washington State turnovers in the fourth quarter to turn what seemed like a tenuous lead into an 18-point cushion. San Diego State actually trailed for the entire first half and through most of the third quarter before Aztecs RB Ronnie Hillman converted a third-and-one at the goal line to finally put them ahead 28-24.
The Cougars, devastated by the loss of such a rare lead, imploded.
The play on which it happened should sound familiar. Seven plays into their next drive, the ball slipped out of Washington State QB Marshall Lobbestael’s hand a la Tommy Rees. On the following play for San Diego State, the Cougars defense allowed Hillman to break free for a 64-yard touchdown sprint. Game over. Lobbestael additionally tossed two interceptions to make sure his team fell well short of covering the four-point spread.
What we know about San Diego State is this: the defense has faced two mediocre offenses that are as one-dimensional as these dashes -- Army ran for 90% of their yards, and Washington State passed for 88% of their yards -- and has yielded on average three touchdowns and 400+ yards to each. (Cal Poly doesn’t count.) Rocky Long may have a funky scheme that’ll confuse some offenses, but as Ace points out, that defensive line is leedle. They are the bendiest of bendy defenses kept respectable by opponent turnovers, a significant number of which were just stupid. Yes, they’ve done enough in their previous two games to win. Against Michigan, they will need to do more.
The offense is a solid, well-rounded B+, good enough to attend a four-year college, marry a nice Christian girl, have three kids and a golden retriever named Chelsea, and also score multiple touchdowns against the Wolverines, which, miraculously, is a feat only Notre Dame has achieved so far. Think of the San Diego State offense as a less intimidating but less hilarious Irish offense. With a better quarterback. But worse wide receivers. And a running back who doesn’t fumble. But maybe a smaller offensive line?
Nevermind. Forget I said that.
Right now they are as frightening as: Their overall vibe strikes me as a well-coached Indiana. Fear level = 4.
Michigan should worry about: Containing Hillman. Michigan has enough talent on the defensive line to manage the trenches and keep inside runs to a minimal gain. Irresponsible linebacker play on the edge, however, will lead to 200+ yards for Hillman and a 20+ tackles for Jordan Kovacs. If Kovacs ends up being next week’s Alro Steel Ironman, you’ll know something went terribly, terribly wrong.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Again, the scouting report. Knowing is half the battle.
If Michigan plays them next Saturday: The first quarter will be critical. Michigan will need to avoid falling behind early against a team that’s more talented than Western Michigan and more disciplined than Notre Dame. After the most sobering 31-3 victory ever, the Wolverines offense -- particularly the passing portion (particularly the Denard part of that passing portion) of the offense -- needs confidence that only a lead can provide. Also, the last thing the Wolverines can afford to give San Diego State is momentum, as they’re already playing with the following list of motivations:
- You stole our coach.
- He left us because he thinks you’re better than us.
- You think you’re better than us.
- You’re ranked, so everyone else thinks you’re better than us.
- He broke up with us via text message.
So. Let’s score some early points, yeah?
Next game: at No. 22 The University of Greener Pastures
(more after the jump)
(Last week there was some confusion about opponent fear levels. Let me explain my scale: 0 = Bye week?; 1 = If Michigan loses to this team somebody’s going to get fired; 5 = This team will have a winning record; 8 = Best in conference/will play in a BCS bowl; 9 = National title contender; 10 = Hold me, TomVH. Also, I’ve made some minor tweaks, but again, I welcome your suggestions for how I can make this more informative. Disclaimer still applies -- these analyses carry little weight until we’re through with the cupcakes or N=3.)
[ED: Yo. Heiko accidentally overwrote last week's opponent watch, so the first 45 comments are from that post last week. Do not be confused. Or do, I guess, but that's on you.]
About last Saturday:
Last game: Notre Dame 31, UM 35
Question: Where were you when Roy Roundtree caught Denard Robinson’s pass to allow Michigan to beat Notre Dame with two seconds left on the clock?
I was cheering so hard I forgot to take pictures, and when I finally did, this is all I got:
And it was awesome.
The Road Ahead:
Eastern Michigan (2-0 (! ? .))
Last game: Alabama State 7, EMU 14 (W)
Recap: Let’s start out nice and easy with a backhanded compliment. Brady Hoke:
“How do you make sure EMU is not a letdown game? “I can tell you one thing -- Eastern’s 2-0. They haven’t been 2-0 since 1989.”
So … Eastern Michigan managed to schedule a pair of FCS teams to begin their season and not lose to them. Bravo. You know what happened during week one, right? They crushed a bad, bad Howard team 41-9. Last Saturday they played against Alabama State, which according to MGoUser mikoyan, is not that bad. There is some merit in that assessment:
“I'm not sure Alabama State is a worse team than Eastern, they blew out their opening week opponent 41-9. If I recall, they are a fairly good 1AA team.”
I fact-checked to confirm that, indeed, a team coming off a 41-9 week one victory had squared off against another team coming off a 41-9 week one victory. #Destiny. #LoveIt.
You should stop holding your breath is what happened. It was unwatchable/I didn’t watch any of it.
The teams matched each other closely for first downs -- the Hornets accrued 18 and Eastern Michigan had 20 -- but each averaged only about 1.5 first downs per drive. (I know, I know, that sounds like … Michigan against Notre Dame!) The Eagles won by relying heavily on their ground game, which was good for 336 yards, because their passing was atrocious (which is the negative descriptor of the week). Eastern QB Alex Gillett put up a 2011-Notre-Dame-Denard-like completion percentage (7 for 19, 1 TD, 1 INT) without the 2011-Notre-Dame-Denard-like yards (61). Gillett actually gained more yards running (74) than passing, which officially makes him the Little Sister of the Poor Man’s 2011-Notre-Dame Denard. Wow, that’s two rivalry references in one.
Their defense did manage to convince Alabama State to run backwards for -13 yards on 30 attempts. Woo.
Right now they are as frightening as:
The common cold. At worst it’s an inconvenience, and a week later, nobody ever remembers you were sick. 1. A canker sore. You worry about it only if you think it might be Herpes. It’s not. 1.
Michigan should worry about:
It’s possible (but not probable) that Mike Hart may have some kind of fifth-year/grad/transfer eligibility left. Hart’s comments about not cheering for Michigan. Aww. =(
Michigan should sleep soundly about:
The highway that separates Ann Arbor and Ypsi. Those three-game Putterz vouchers never expire.
If Michigan had played them last Saturday:
Dave Brandon would have argued that the game was in hand before the game even started. At least GameDay would have been covering two teams with winning records.
Next game: That Team A Couple Miles West On Washtenaw.
San Diego State (2-0)
Last game: San Diego State 23, Army 20 (W)
Recap: San Diego State has now beaten all three service academies within the last year, which is more than Notre Dame can say for itself.
This game was close. Though Aztec RB Ronnie Hillman had another 100+ rushing performance, Army outrushed San Diego State 403-146. How did Army not win? Their passing was crappy (not that the Black Knights’ triple-option offense ever passes), and they turned the ball over three times, plus a forced fumble that was almost a fourth turnover on the last drive (they turned it over on downs on the next play regardless). The Aztecs had zero turnovers:
"Yards don't win games," Army coach Rich Ellerson said. "Turnovers is what correlates to the final score."
I know, says Brian Kelly. I know. =’(
San Diego State QB Ryan Lindley was 8 for 18 with 146 yards and a TD. He wasn’t as good as last week, but he got the job done. More importantly though, Lindley seems to be courting a favorite wide receiver from the depths of the depth chart. His name is Colin Lockett, he’s a sophomore, and he didn’t even make it onto Tim’s 2011 Opponent Preview, but he did catch five passes for 113 yards and a touchdown, so Michigan should keep an eye on him.
The obligatory defensive report: they gave up three more rushing touchdowns. Man, defense is so boring to write about.
Right now they are as frightening as:
The ex-fiancé of a girl that you dated before they were together to whom you are now married. Yeah, you were there first -- and he totally understands -- but you accidentally mailed him an invitation to your baby shower. Oops. 4. The ex-fiancé says he’s doing well, doesn’t miss your wife at all, and even got re-engaged … to your wife’s former defensive coordinator. Fear level remains at 4.
Michigan should worry about:
Lingering toughness and accountability from San Diego State’s Hoke era. In all seriousness, shoring up that run defense against Hillman.
Michigan should sleep soundly about:
The best scouting report EVER. They don’t have much of a run defense, either.
If Michigan had played them last Saturday:
Ryan Lindley, meet Jordan Kovacs. Kovacs, Lindley. I would love to see a noon game with the lights on.
Next game: Washington State
(more after the jump)
This is a personnel-oriented look at the season's opponents. The game-week previews will be more matchup based. Last year's stats are presented with projected starters in bold and departed players in italics.
|Minnesota Offense 2010|
|Yards Per Game||361.33||77|
|Points Per Game||23.17||89|
|Yards Per Play||5.26||78|
|Yards Per Pass||7.18||54|
|Yards Per Rush||3.63||92|
|Playcall Distribution||1.18 Rush:Pass|
We're going to see plenty of change here. Offense (along with "everything") is one of the areas of football that Tim Brewster was pretty bad at coaching, and it's reflected in the numbers for the Gophers. Brewster seemingly changed his scheme every year, with run-heavy and pass-heavy schemes, pro and spread sets, and a general GERG-like vibe of "can't make up our mind on what to do."
New Gopher coach Jerry Kill believes in his heart that running the ball is important to the people of Minnesota (seriously), so expect a slant toward the run, even more than we started to see last year, when the spread-to-pass basically died for the Gophers (less sacks, they still called 1.09 rushes for every pass).
Tim Brewster's coaching reign lived and died a horrible, fiery death by the arm of Adam Weber even when the Gophers started to balance their offense a little more. With Minnesota's all-time leading passer out the door, it's probably the MarQueis Gray show in Minneapolis. Gopher fans are hailing him as Denard Robinson except impervious to inury, even though Gray spent much of last year playing wide receiver. Behind him, there are only redshirt freshmen Tom Parish and Moses Alipate, so the depth is scary thin.
|Minnesota QBs 2010|
|Minnesota QBs Rushing 2010|
Grade: 1/5. MarQueis Gray hasn't proven anything as a quarterback, aside from decent running ability (he was 6/15 passing in 2009). With no proven backups, it's going to be tough to run the ball with the signal-caller much, and his arm hasn't done anything yet to put fear into defenses. That said, he was a highly-rated recruit, so maybe the right coaching can flip the switch for him.
The Gophers had issues with banged-up runners over the past couple of years, and last season was no different, as Donnell Kirkwood went down after four games.
I think 5th-year Duane Bennett will get the starting nod over DeLeon Eskridge, as he was more effective despite fewer carries, and should be fully healthy after a couple years recovering from knee surgery. [Ed-M: some updates since Tim put this in the hopper: Eskridge has left the team, but Kirkwood received a medical hardship and basically gets to restart a promising career as a Stephen Hopkins-like (5'10, 215 lbs.) downhill ball. Bennett meanwhile seems to have won the slot receiver sweepstakes, so...Kirkwood]. Phil Steele is really high on redshirt frosh Lamonte Edwards. With a shift to more run-heavy schemes, the Gophers are short a fullback, as Jon Hoese is out the door.
|Minnesota RBs 2010|
|Jon Hoese (FB)||19||53||2.79||3|
|Minnesota RBs Receiving 2009|
|Jon Hoese (FB)||12||97||8.08||0|
Grade: 3/5. It's hard to pin the lack of production on the running backs themselves, because Minnesota's offensive line hasn't done them any favors in the recent past. If everyone can stay healthy, look for improvement here.
Senior Da'Jon McKnight would be the Gophers' unquestioned number one this fall... if he wasn't coming off spring knee surgery. With the Gophers' #2 receiver from last year now plying his trade at quarterback, and just about everybody else graduating, it's McKnight-or-bust until some young guns emerge. Junior Brandon Green redshirted last season, and is expected to start as well. Everything else is up for grabs. At tight end, Eric Lair is a solid returning starter.
|Minnesota Receivers 2010|
|Eric Lair (TE)||39||526||13.49||2|
|Troy Stoudermire (CB)||6||114||19.00||1|
|Tiree Eure (TE)||3||47||15.67||1|
|Minnesota WRs Rushing 2009|
|Eric Lair (TE)||1||9||9.00||0|
Grade: 1/5. The above was Minnesota's wideout production under the following circumstances: 1) The most prolific QB in school history was tossing them the ball 2) The top two targets were not coming off knee injuries 3) The head coach was not a Gopher-looking man who feels in his heart that he needs to run the ball. With all three of those factors dropping off and the second-best receiver now playing quarterback (poorly, if history is any indication), this should be a scary year for the Gophers' receiving corps. McKnight is a Phil Steele 3rd-Team All-Big Ten projection.
The Gophers lose two guys on the offensive line who started every single game last season in right tackle Jeff Wills and center DJ Burris, along with another guy who started in 10 contests, right guard Matt Carufel. For good measure, Dom Alford, who started most of 2009 but only a couple games in 2010, also departs the Twin Cities. That means a big shakeup for an offensive line that already wasn't very good. Redshirt sophomore Ed Olson should start at left tackle after holding down that position most of last year, and fifth-year Chris Bunders will return at left guard. From there, it's all newbies with Ryan Wynn at center (he was a starter at tackle back in 2008), Ryan Orton at right guard, and redshirt freshman Jimmy Gjere starting at right tackle.
Grade: 2/5. Minnesota's line was actually pretty good at keeping Adam Weber upright last year, allowing only 17 sacks the entire season. However, part of that is due to scheme (quick passing, an insistence on pounding the rock down several scores against USC) more than anything. Considering the Gophers were downright terrible at rushing the ball, this was a bad unit last year. With several losses along the front, they shouldn't improve their performance, though I expect Jerry Kill's coaching staff will do a better job coaching them up.
|Minnesota Defense 2010|
|Yards Per Game||392.17||76|
|Points Per Game||33.00||98|
|Yards Per Play||6.57||115|
|Pass Yards Per Game||200.75||33|
|Yards Per Pass||8.60||113|
|Sacks Per Game||0.67||120|
|Rush Yards Per Game||191.42||98|
|Yards Per Rush||5.27||114|
Oh. Oh my. I'll say it: this defense was the worst in the Big Ten last year--and possibly by a wide margin. As horrific as the GERG-era Michigan defenses were, this was something special even without as many injuries all over the lineup. If they had faced the same number of plays as Michigan's defense, they would have given up well over 6300 yards (Minnesota fans are thanking their lucky stars for a positive turnover margin... now).
The Gophers couldn't stop the run, giving up nearly a yard more than Michigan on each carry(!), and couldn't stop the pass, although teams rarely needed to throw the ball to beat the Gophers. Michigan probably could have scored 100 on these guys had the two teams met last year.
Jerry Kill, then, is in charge of leading a massive defensive renaissance, not unlike Michigan's own Brady Hoke. There is probably less overall talent on Minnesota's roster, but much more experience among the Gopher players.
The good news for Minnesota is that they return nearly every contributor save defensive end Jewhan Edwards. The bad news is that their defensive line was terrible last year, generating the worst pass rush in the country, and one of the worst yards-per-rush numbers. Redshirt sophomore Matt Garin will step in to replace Edwards, with redshirt junior D.L. (Major Major) Wilhite -- a promising freshman in '09 who regressed last season -- returning as the other bookend. The tackles are both returning starters in seniors Brandon Kirksey and Anthony Jacobs. The experienced depth is very light, so look for the Gophers to get a few more players into the rotation than they did last year.
|Minnesota Defensive Line 2010|
Grade: 1/5. This unit was so unbelievably bad last year. Like, Eastern Michigan bad. The only hope is for addition by subtraction (of the previous coaching staff). The best pass-rusher is out the door on the worst pass-rushing defense in America, and it's going to take a miracle for anything better than mere incompetence here. There's some hope in that the starters all have experience and Wilhite's sophomore slump may have been a schematic issue, but these guys as a group were just plain bad last year. Plugging in a bit of new blood should help Jerry Kill and Co. build toward the future, at the very least.
All three of last year's starters return, with Honorable Mention All-Conference selection Gary Tinsley - pictured at right - the headliner at SLB. Redshirt juniors Mike Rallis (middle) and Keanon Cooper (weakside) are also returning starters, with starting experience sprinkled in among the backups as well. Spencer Reeves and Ryan Grant also got some serious time with the ones last season. The X-factor is Florida transfer Brendan Beal, who has the ability to play any of the starting positions.
|Minnesota Linebackers 2010|
Grade: 3/5. This unit was nowhere near as bad as the defensive line last year - though they're obviously not blameless for the terrible run defense and pass rush. With everybody back (including Phil Steele 3rd-Team All-Conference projection Tinsley), and the addition of a former 4-star talent in Beal, this unit should be able to improve. If the defensive line isn't as inept as last year, I dare say the linebackers have a chance to be pretty good.
Though the Gophers lose their two starting safeties from last year, it's not as bad as it seems, as 2009 starter Kim Royston missed the 2010 season with injury, and should return to the free safety position in 2011. Troy Stoudermire switched to CB during last season, and should solidify the position this year. The other two starters are question marks, but James Manuel is a good bet at strong safety, and Michael Carter was a better ballhawk than kyle Henderson last year, though he didn't make as many tackles.
|Minnesota Defensive Backs 2010|
|Troy Stoudermire (CB)||37||2||1|
|James Manuel (SS)||29||0||1|
|Michael Carter (CB)||24||1||2|
Grade: 2/5. If the pass defense wasn't quite so horrible last year, I might upgrade this to 3/5, but in fact it was. The loss of two safeties is never a good thing, but Royston would have started last season anyway, so he should be a better-than-adequate replacement at one of the safety spots.
Dan Orseske had a rocky freshman campaign as a punter, but he's back in 2011 to try to improve his performance. The kicking situation should be quite sketchy, with Eric Ellestad - no shining star himself - out the door. NC State transfer Chris Hawthorne is Phil Steele's prediction to be the starter.
|Minnesota Kicking 2010|
|Minnesota Punting 2010|
Grade: 2/5. The punting was awful last year (Minnesota was last in the Big Ten), and though there should be some improvement, there's a long way to go to mere competence. The Gophers' kicking was the worst in the Big Ten this side of Michigan, so unless Hawthorne is an unexpected shot in the arm, this unit should remain a big liability.