landing spot. will be interesting to see how he does.
mississippi is a black hole nothing escapes
Hello. Sorry about that involuntary vacation there. Dumping water on your laptop is not fun, especially when the backup you had on hand for just such an eventuality doesn't boot either. Then I was at Blogs With Balls yesterday, trying to look somewhat official.
I am back now, even if the change in keyboard styles makes me want to die. Nothing makes me angrier than trying to use a keyboard I'm not familiar with. It's like having a stroke, one that suddenly puts punctuation all over the place for no reason. Anyway.
Just another day in the life. Offseason is relative.
Jim Harbaugh gives his version of Drake's album cover, gets RT'd by the First Lady
Anonymous NFL scout strikes again. The woooooorst:
This anonymous scout quote abt OSU's Eli Apple was, um, interesting:"The kid has no life skills. At all. Can't cook" https://t.co/03a8Tn3F6V
— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) April 27, 2016
There's about a 90% chance that the dude anonymously slamming Apple's life skills spends most of his life in hotels, has been divorced four times, and hasn't cooked anything more complicated than cereal since the 1970s. Also, this random slam from a guy who doesn't even know Apple appears to be 100% false:
Eli has made me some fire fried chicken and mac and cheese. The source seems to be pretty unreliable
— EzekielElliott#⃣1⃣5⃣ (@EzekielElliott) April 27, 2016
The NFL draft starts tonight so our brief annual spate of anonymous, ludicrous slams of NFL prospects is just about over. Tune in next year, when someone accuses Jourdan Lewis of setting fire to his toaster.
Durkin on Harbaugh. None of this is actually a surprise; it is a confirmation about what life under Harbaugh is like:
CR: I'd imagine your early days at Stanford under Jim Harbaugh were a lot like the early ones at Bowling Green under Meyer. Is that accurate?
Durkin: It was absolute mayhem. It really was.
When I first got there, it was like, oh my gosh. Then you finally spend more time with Jim. The guy is really smart. Extremely smart. Everything is for a reason, but he loves chaos. That's just how he operates. He loves confrontation, chaos, conflict. He doesn't want it to be everyone comfortable, this is the schedule. He just loves throwing a wrench in the works.
So, when you first get there, it's like, what's going on? But it was great. To see someone impose their will, their confidence, their vision on a program, to totally change it—total 180. Stanford was known as a soft, academic, wine-sipping program. Now it's the total opposite. He definitely imposed his will on the place.
This was Bo's approach to the point where he would deliberately stoke fights between his coaches just to see what everyone really thought. Harbaugh runs through a lot of coaches; they generally move on up afterwards, often quickly, because life under Harbaugh is a pressure cooker.
Durkin also relates the one-on-one story we've heard a couple times before:
CR: Let's end with the story of you playing Harbaugh one-on-one at Stanford. What do you remember?
Durkin: It was a random day in the office. We were meeting, talking about something, and he was dribbling a basketball. We were talking about something—recruiting or something—and the conversation somehow got to, "Hey, let's go out and play."
So we went to play one-on-one. First to seven. Great. So we're playing. I went up for a layup or something, he fouled—I mean, hacked me. And I didn't call it. I didn't expect him to call foul. No, we're good. Check up.
Then it became, O.K., if that's not a foul, there are no fouls. So the game went on for—the reason it became epic—it was over an hour-long game. To seven. And people are up there watching. No one wanted to lose, and no one would call a foul. So it was, if the guy got a step on you, chuck him in the back, lose the ball. Nope, no foul. Good, your ball. So it went on. It was well over an hour. A game to seven.
CR: Who won?
Durkin: He won. I let him win in the end. Job security.
I've repeatedly stated that I was skeptical about how good of a DC Durkin actually was after Michigan tailed off against spread teams late, but he's the kind of guy who could be much better as a head coach than a coordinator*. He's already done some good things with Maryland's recruiting.
*[And he's just unproven there, not necessarily bad. Last year was his first truly running his own D after operating under Will Muschamp at Florida and he inherited a ton of talent from the previous guy. It's striking how close the parallels are between 2015 and 2006, which also saw a hotshot new coordinator inherit a bucket of talent, turn his unit into one of the nation's best, and then get annihilated by Ohio State while doing something seemingly nonsensical. With Durkin that was running a safety at 15 yards against a spread to run offense; with Ron English it was trying to cover an NFL first-round WR with Chris Graham.]
Maryland doesn't recruit good and stuff. Excellent data post from Capital News service detailing the futility of Maryland recruiting despite a healthy amount of local talent. It incidentally proves our Mississippi Is A Black Hole Nothing Escapes theory:
That will never cease being a mystery to me.
I do think there are some questionable assumptions the data invites you to take away here because their list of top talent-producing states has Delaware(?!) third and Hawaii fifth. This is correct on a per-capita basis, but why that's relevant to a college trying to fill a recruiting class is unclear. (Delaware is likely that high because of ECA, the controversial magnet school that Freddy Canteen and Brandon Watson attended.)
Incoming Cain? MI SF Jamal Cain got his Michigan offer. Cain, a 2017 kid ranked as a three star by the world, got a bunch of Michigan predictions on his 247 page in the immediate aftermath. It doesn't sound like he'll drop immediately…
"His recruiting is rapidly growing," said Covington, a former player at Oakland, who added that Cain is likely to go through the recruiting process and not commit anywhere until before or duirng his senior year at Cornerstone Prep.
Cain is currently rated as the No. 190 overall played in the 2016 class in the 247 Sports Composite.
…but plans have a tendency to change. Endless Motor has an interview with Cain that is of interest:
EM: Can you tell us a a bit about the basketball presentation?
JC: Coach Beilein showed me film of Tim Hardaway Jr. and Zak Irvin, and said he wanted me to play a similar role at the shooting guard/small forward spots, and that I would be used in that way. Coach Beilein said I could really thrive in that role at UM.
In Trey-Burke-ish basketball recruiting news, Xavier SImpson surges into the top 50 in ESPN's final rankings after an outstanding senior season that saw him win the USA Today POY in the state.
So much for that. JT Compher signs with the Avs and CCM is gone lock, stock, and barrel. When Red returned one of the arguments made in favor of that decision was that CCM was more likely to return—at least portions of it—in Ann Arbor. That obviously did not work out.
With NHL departures now (probably) completed, this is what Michigan's looking at next year. I'm bumping Cutler Martin up to F:
That does not look like a tournament team unless Michigan is better than it's been on defense since Mel left. Michigan loses six of its top seven scorers and gets back only two forwards who were significantly above zero in +/-: Kile and Dancs.
Goodbye Idaho. If only EMU would follow. The Vandals are dropping down to I-AA after getting booted from the Sun Belt, which only admitted them in the first place so they could have a conference championship game. With no conference home and none pending, their only logical move was to drop down and play with the Montanas and North Dakota States of the world. Two things: this apparently won't even save them money…
The athletic department will save money having to fund fewer scholarships (63 as opposed to 85), but a source told CBS Sports that the program will lose money overall.
…and Idaho football costs about 20% as much as EMU's athletic deficit.
While the move enjoys some support in the community, Idaho will lose its FBS branding -- playing at the highest level of college football. Idaho students fund football to the tune of $127 per semester in their tuition payments.
Which is boggling if you think about it. EMU faculty and students just urged the university to drop football, to which the regents said "nah." Eastern's athletic department spending is completely insane:
The study point to an increase in the total full time equivalent athletic staff from 64 in 2006-07 to 85 in 2015-16, doubling staff salaries from $3.2 million to $6.4 million as the department saw 10 more coaching positions and more than 11 "athletic personnel" added during the same time period. During that same time period, the report indicates EMU's entire faculty increased by just 15.78 full-time equivalent personnel.
The arms race at the top of college athletics makes sense because the money's got to go somewhere. Eastern is setting money on fire—its students' money.
Rappists say nice things. I mean, I think they do. Migos on Harbaugh:
"He knows the music," Migos member Offset told TMZ. "He's a real cool playa. He's a playa, man, from the Himalayas."
#wellactually he goes to the Andes mountains, person who was clearly trying to rhyme things.
SBN on the Big Ten's rights situation. This is a point worth considering:
Will coaches freak out if their games aren’t on ESPN?
Yes, and so will administrators throughout the conference. Years ago, when the ACC flirted with leaving ESPN for Fox, some of the conference’s powerful basketball coaches were not shy about voicing their displeasure, believing that the lack of ESPN coverage would hurt their recruiting efforts. It’s too early to know how Big Ten coaches and athletic directors will react. But consider this: When school administrators asked at the recent league meetings if it’s possible for ESPN to get shut out, they were told, “Anything is possible.” One senior official at a Big Ten school said his peers “were scared to death” at the prospect of not having games on ESPN, which could eat into their recruiting.
ESPN's "lowball" offer for half the rights package was easy to pass over. It'll be harder for the Big Ten to extract maximum revenue from the second half without abandoning ESPN entirely, and that's a move everyone is wary of. Well, maybe. I've yet to see the Big Ten do anything other than maximize revenue.
Etc.: MLS to Detroit? If so you have to make them Detroit City and call them "The Rock." This is not negotiable. Profiles of Graham Glasgow and Jourdan Lewis. More on Glasgow's draft status. Jabrill Peppers already being talked about for next year's draft. A CFB commissioner is discussed; seems impractical. Baseball doing well. Holding The Rope on personnel shifts at ESPN.
My regional breakdown, still.
After I did that regional study of football talent production by state, Michael Elkon (Braves & Birds, SB Nation, regular HTTV contributor) asked if I'd do the same with hoops recruiting. I responded that I'd love to, but we just had our first child and I need some time to stare at her. This is also my response for why I didn't have any content last week. In fact it is my excuse for everything; to those who don't have kids I can say "you don't understand" and they have to shut up because this is the ultimate trump card. Those who are already parents keep quiet because they're in on it. Having kids is AWESOME!
Anyway it's back to work, and because it's me that means charts. So back to charts.
This is NOT exactly accurate
Data are from the Rivals (most easily accessible) databases since 2003. Putting lists of football and basketball recruits against each other is not a one-for-one comparison. Basketball has more teams, fewer recruits per team, way more international players, and players who went directly to the NBA or committed to Kentucky or some other stupid one before they're done with the pretense.
Top basketball players are also far more likely to go to prep schools, and these are often nowhere near their hometowns. The Rivals database lists actual hometowns for many prep players, but not international ones, so, e.g., Canadian from Canada Nik Stauskas registers as a Massachusetts recruit despite being from Canada. Where a hometown was noted I used that. Some states will appear disproportionately large because their prep programs draw kids from around the region, but that is also an advantage to the schools near the prep programs.
Talent Supply By Region
As with football, the Southeast appears to produce a disproportionate amount of talent compared to its population, but to nowhere near the extreme as it is with football. Observe:
|Region||% U.S. pop
|% of Top ~400
|% of Top ~400
|Atlantic||22%||20% (-2)||15% (-7)|
|Midwest||18%||18% ( - )||14% (-4)|
|Northeast||5%||6% (+1)||1% (-4)|
|Pacific||19%||14% (-5)||14% (-5)|
|Plains||17%||17% ( - )||18% (+1)|
|Southeast||19%||25% (+6)||38% (+19)|
The Atlantic, Midwest, and Northeast are considerably better represented, suggesting a marginally higher basketball orientation than the national average. My guess is this has a lot to do with the fact that it doesn't snow in gyms.
The list of top states in proportionally producing more basketball talent was heavily influenced by the prep school effect: New Hampshire (more than 3x their share of hoops talent) was done by three schools: Tilton, New Hampton, and the Brewster Academy. Most of Nevada was Findlay Prep, and Bishop Gorman sent most of the rest. Leaving those aside, the big basketball states (proportional to their population) were Kansas (209%), D.C. (202%), Mississippi (185%), Georgia (183%), Iowa (172%), Virginia (166%), North Carolina (154%), and Indiana (150%).
There's a reverse prep effect at the bottom: Vermont and Rhode Island were drained by New Hampshire it appears, and Delaware seems to have sent their kids to Virginia or D.C. The remainder to produce less than half as much talent as you would expect from their populations: Alaska (17%), Montana (25%), Colorado (34%), Nebraska (40%), New York (41%), South Dakota (45%), and New Mexico (47%).
Michigan (3% of the U.S. population, 2.4% of the top basketball talent) was about in the middle, about even with Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Missouri, Ohio, and Arizona. Straight-up Michigan is the 14th biggest producer of basketball talent, and the 12th biggest producer of football talent. I thought the more interesting stat was within the Midwest (that above table), where Ohio produces nearly half of the top football prospects the basketball talent is shared.
[jump for where they go]
Number one breakout. ESPN's Travis Haney compiled a list of 50 breakout players for the upcoming season based on "a lot of input from coaches" and your new favorite quarterback is #1:
“I recruited him,” said one of the Big Ten coaches who played against Gardner late last year. “I know how good he can be. I would say I have been looking forward to him getting his chance, because he’s a really good kid, but they’re on the schedule again this year.”
Frank Clark also features at #35.
Swag. We are totally losing Michael Ferns to Mississippi State, you guys.
Following up on earlier assertion. I mentioned in passing in a previous post that I felt Bill Connolly was way underrating LeVeon Bell and way overrating Michigan State's offensive line in his Spartan preview for the year, and as I was looking up various things about Derrick Green I came across a stunning stat on Bell:
Le'Veon Bell gained 921 yards after contact in 2012, most among players from AQ schools. Bell gained more than 50 percent of his yards after contact and averaged 2.4 yards after contact per rush.
Bell got 2.3 yards before contact and 2.4 after. That is a man doing work to clean up for a terrible offensive line. And quarterback: Bell's 382 carries led the nation by 26.
Countdowns to kickoff. Taylor Lewan:
Lewan is a thousand times more boring than he used to be. Leadership!
Also Quinton Washington and Jeremy Gallon. True story: bought a chair at Art Van this summer, marveled at the size of the guy they had hauling stuff around, realized that I knew who this was: Quinton Washington. Woo minimum wage, for one more year.
Also, the first day of practice:
Derrick Green's first carry went for 50 yards and birthed a unicorn.
Wide receivers block, then they receive. In-depth ESPN article on the blocking aspects of playing out wide comes highly recommended for interesting quotes and such. Minnesota safety Brock Vereen is either worried about his knees or an expert at backhanded compliments:
“They act as if they are more excited to block than they are to catch a pass,” Minnesota safety Brock Vereen said. “Sadly, I’m not even exaggerating.”
Michigan's dumped cut blocking for a lot of reasons, but the primary one is the fact that defensive backs just get up too darn fast these days:
“They are like those Weeble Wobbles that you had growing up,” Hecklinski said. “You can throw a great cut and he’s right back up making a play and golly, that’s a great cut."
"Golly," says the man eating everyone's lunch on the recruiting trail. #TheMichiganDifference.
The article gestures at one of the main reasons Michigan's wide receivers were so pumped up to block: with Denard Robinson on your team, any play could be a 20 yard run you fail to turn into 80, and then your ass is roasted. Hopefully they maintain the same urgency as Michigan moves to a system more likely to get you five (after contact, and by "contact" I mean "safety murder") than 50.
Hoke advocates earlier official visits. Makes sense, will never happen for the same reason a baseball season that makes sense will never happen:
“Having an official visit date in June would help football,” Hoke stated. “I know some of our friends in the Pac 12 and the SEC probably don’t want the young man and his family coming up to Michigan during the first two weeks in June, because they’re hoping it’s 10 below zero when those official visits take place.”
A rather large win. Wolverine Historian puts up the '95 Minnesota game:
Mack Brown offer letter. I just find this interesting. It's an official offer letter from Mack Brown to a guy named Lorenzo:
- The first bullet is basically Michigan's much-discussed and much-misunderstood "policy" about commits taking visits: you are committed if you are not taking visits, and if you visit elsewhere Michigan will not consider you committed. That doesn't necessarily mean they'll pull your scholarship offer, but your spot is no longer reserved and they may recruit someone else or just reconfigure their class. Why recruiting sites, opposing fans, and Michigan fans keep going on and on about it is a mystery to me.
- Texas is explicitly offering four year scholarships, and seems to state that a fifth year is also guaranteed… but I think the fine print there means the firm handshake is still an option if the Head Coach wants it to be.
- The pointlessness of the rule where players cannot get written offers before August 1st of their senior year is brought home in the first paragraph: Texas is "pleased to reconfirm our commitment to the football athletic scholarship you committed to earlier this year." The lack of written offers has led to the rise of the incredibly annoying "uncommittable offer" and prevents players from getting the exact stipulations of their scholarship offer in writing until long after many of them have committed. And it obviously does nothing to slow down the pace of recruiting.
The only way to slow down the pace of recruiting, by the way, is to let kids sign whenever they want. Eighth grader offers will come to a screeching halt, for real.
SBNation has a roundup of offer letters from around the country, featuring Comic Sans from Virginia Tech, "formally" spectacularly misspelled as "formerly" by Virginia, and Illinois claiming that those who attend there will play "championship football." That latter might be true if in fact the Big Ten has been relegated to the second level of English soccer. Which it probably has after last year. We done got relegated you guys.
Quite a rise. Four Michigan players make the final roster at the USA World Juniors evaluation camp: JT Compher, Tyler Motte, Boo Nieves… and Andrew Copp. I think 14 of the 18 forwards on the roster will be on the WJC team, so Copp's gone from JJ Swistak But Big to a guy with a very good chance of making the WJC team in 12 months. Wow.
Amen. Hoke on ND:
"I do not like the fact it's going away," Hoke said.
Asked who is a fault for all this, Hoke responded simply: "We would like to continue the series."
Realignment has replaced the ND game and games against Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Northwestern with Rutgers and Maryland.
Etc.: Harmon Of Michigan's theme song is a "Hollywood-style rendition of the Victors," and MVictors has it. Michigan Hockey Net posts the famous 2002 Denver-Michigan West Regional Final at Yost. Michigan players on the O'Bannon case.
Also! Of course Mitch McGary is photobombing John Beilein, triumphant.
McGary is Facetiming Zack Novak with part of the net on his head, because of course he is. SUBMITTED: "Big Puppy" is still an appropriate nickname for Mitch McGary even if he is putting in 25 and 14 on Jeff Withey.
Been there. A TWIS-worthy moment from a sideways Kansas fan watching the Burke three:
Prediction of the tournament. Mark Titus, come on down:
5. Bill Self will become so enraged with Elijah Johnson that his toupee will fall off
Self and Johnson have an interesting relationship, and by “interesting,” I mean that before every game, I’m pretty sure Self pulls Johnson aside and gives him the following speech:
“…God as my witness, if the other team’s point guard outplays you tonight, I will end you. Your corpse will spend eternity in the crawl space of my summer home, and when guests ask, ‘What’s that smell?” I’ll tell them it’s the scent of mediocrity."
He also predicted that Tim Hardaway wouldn't wear his hat. No matter: that is creepy. In lots of ways.
Yeah. No. Charles Pierce has an article on Syracuse's 2-3 zone that strikes on a key point:
"Everybody's talking about the 2-3 zone," Thompson said. "That's not a 2-3 zone. The 2-3 zone has been with us since the dawn of time. It's the way it slides and moves out there, like a damn amoeba.
"The only time it's a 2-3 zone is when they're waiting for you to bring the ball to it. Then, it becomes something else."
Watching the IU-Cuse game I was struck by how the conventional wisdom about where you need to attack the 2-3—flashing to the free throw line—didn't seem to apply. Cody Zeller seems built to crush a 2-3 by getting the ball there and passing, shooting, or driving as the defense provides a wrong answer to the threat he provides no matter what they do.
Syracuse just checked him and folded in their "wings" a bit. Those guys are 6'8", so Watford wasn't much threat and they were more than capable of extending out to contest three pointers from the corner. More than that, they just knew what to do to react to Indiana's attempts to beat the zone. By playing this amorphous zone they play on a sort of home court against everyone. They know exactly what they're doing; a lot of opponents don't.
This'll be a test of the Beilein Is A Genius meme. Boeheim is undefeated against him, albeit in talent matchups nowhere near as even as this one.
Not exactly a rock of journalistic credibility. Seriously, New York Times?
Stop listening to NPR! It's just stories about how you shouldn't abuse elderly people!
[Via Reader Brent McIntosh.]
Correct. Reader Stephen Suarez provides a visual representation of Nik Stauskas's decline, fall, and mutation into unstoppable phase beast:
At least they got your/you're right. Michael Ferns instagrammed this Handwritten, Lovingly Crafted Recruiting Letter from Mississippi State:
"Baller" is underlined, FWIW.
I've always wondered what the hell anyone could put in the incessant communication teams have with recruits, and now I know. I am dumber for this knowledge.
I ran out of fouls! I—I had guards with shoulder injuries! We recruited guys who ended up at Iowa State! There was an earthquake! A terrible flood! Blue Devils! IT WASN'T MY FAULT, I SWEAR TO GOD!!! Tom Izzo post-NCAA-exit always sounds like John Belushi trying to prevent Carrie Fisher from flamethrowing him. With Michigan in the Final Four, he's turned it up to 11, to mix 70s movie metaphors.
Tom Izzo doesn't blame the referees.
"It just seemed like that whistle was blowing all the time, and we never got in the flow of the game in that second half,'' Izzo said. "I'm sure they (officials) thought they did a helluva job, or I thought that I did a helluva job.
"I bit everything I could bite a couple of times.''
I wonder why that might be, that Michigan State might get called for a bunch of fouls. I am racking my brain for a potential reason a proud purveyor of "physical defense" might end up flaming out in the NCAA tournament thanks to fouls. I am… nope. Still thinking.
In any case, the free throw disparity was vast.
Duke made 24 of 26 free throws while MSU was 18 of 24 from the free-throw line.
"They killed us on the free-throw line,'' Harris said.
Before the last 1:20—when State started fouling intentionally—FTAs were 24-16 in favor of Michigan State.
Tom Izzo doesn't blame his players, he blames himself for his players.
"I think it got in all of our heads, and that's why I did a poor job, I can't let that happen,'' Izzo said. "We're not gonna win that battle, and I let some of that get to me.''
Have we mentioned that injuries devastated Michigan State to the tune of two games missed by a starter? Duke's Seth Curry hasn't practiced all year; Trey Burke was sick and still shaking off that nasty fall he took against South Dakota State. Izzo takes full responsibility for that, too. Those guys had no right to play that well.
"Make sure you give Bo Ryan his nappy." That's the Big Ten equivalent of the brewing officiating scandal in the Pac-12, in which the director of officials offered bounties for technical fouls on Sean Miller. Joking or not, dude is fired.
Etc.: Five key plays from Florida. Beilein and Boeheim kind of go way back. Surprise: Trey Burke is an All-American to everybody. Final Four refs include a few guys who have done Big Ten games this season, but no one you know. Recommended: this Matt Norlander article at CBS on Michigan's regional triumph. Gregg Doyel writes something nice!
LOL UCLA hired Steve Alford.
In multiple parts due to length.
|WHAT||Michigan vs Mississippi State|
|WHERE||Gator Bowl, Jacksonville, FL|
|WHEN||1:30 Eastern, January 1st 2010|
|THE LINE||Mississippi State –4.5|
|WEATHER||Partly cloudy, 76 degrees
20% chance of rain
If you haven't gotten the basic outline by now you're to be commended on your remarkable ability to avoid information. The internet now possesses a frame-by-frame breakdown of a long run by I-AA Alcorn State in their body-bag game against the Bulldogs along with dozens of other bits less manic. Truly, no team has ever met the level of amateur scouting that Mississippi State just did from the Michigan blogosphere.
But here we go anyway…
Run Offense vs. Mississippi State
The maniacal maniacs of Manny Diaz will make this tough sledding for the Michigan ground game except in instances where someone gets caught out of position and Denard Robinson's sledding will have a new non-caloric silicon-based kitchen lubricant applied to it. MSU's hoping this won't happen, what with articles being written that quote "discipline" in the headline and stress tackling:
"Tackling is the other big concern with bowls because we haven't tackled a guy in five weeks," Diaz said. "So those will be the things we will all unfortunately find out together, whether we'll be ready to tackle in one-on-one situations. They're going to spread you out and make that a one-on-one game."
And other articles in which Diaz invokes "gap control":
“It’s all about gap control,” Diaz said. “They do some pretty good things with their run game. They’re going to ask you the questions and you have to have the answer for it. The issue with them is that if there’s a play when you miss the answer, he has a chance to go 80 yards because he’s so fast.
"With such a small margin of error, it might be our death.”
Can the Bulldogs do this? They've got a shot. Diaz points out they won't be intimidated since their scheduled was littered with Heisman finalists, including the 6-6 controversy robot that won the thing. MSU held him to 70 yards rushing on 18 attempts and 136 yards passing in a 17-14 loss; if they do the same to Michigan and give up 17 points they won't be losing.
The basic philosophy of the MSU defense is evident in their first drive against LSU. It's evident everywhere all the time but this is a particularly emblematic bit:
Blitz, blitz, blitz from everywhere. Eight guys on the LOS on first down run blitzing like nuts. On passing downs heavy doses of zone blitz, and on third and two there's a specific rollout contain blitz from a linebacker. MSU doesn't blitz like Michigan blitzes: as the changeup.
This has been highly effective no matter what metric you grab. MSU is 19th in rushing defense against a fairly tough schedule—they didn't play anyone in the nonconference but got stuck in a brutal SEC West (or "Legends," whatever)—and obliterated a few actual teams along the way:
The problems usually came in the form of big gains, like a 56-yard Julio Jones run by Alabama, a 64-yard Knile Davis run by Arkansas, and even the aforementioned long touchdown by the Alcorn State Acorns.
The ruthless math of blitzing is that when you're wrong, you're really wrong. Mississippi State has not found a way to defy this, but they're good enough that you're going to be in second and long lots and unless you rip off a long one you're not cracking 5 YPC even if you've got Cam Newton. They also managed to give up 24 points to a 4-8 Conference USA team a week after holding Florida to seven—unpredictability is inherent in the system.
This begins to be old hat but the numbers above indicate a certain difficulty with spread systems—Florida, Auburn, and Arkansas had three of the top four rushing days against the Ole Miss defense. As you can see above and Georgia found out in their loss to MSU early in the year, the question you're asking when you line up under center and run pro-style at this thing is "do you know how much I like second and long?" Michigan's spread will pull linebackers outside and ask questions of the safeties, who I liked in the Georgia game but Alcorn State (and everything else) analyst Blue Seoul has consistently dogged for things like that still above, wherein #5 is in the midst of pulling a Random Michigan Safety Since Marcus Ray With The Exception Of Jamar Adams-level boner.
As far as individual Mississippi State players, the defensive line is a who's-who of reasons Jay Hopson was a bad idea. He tried and failed to acquire three fourths of their starting DL. One was longshot JUCO Pernell McPhee; the others were high school kids Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd. Neither could escape Mississippi's immense gravitational field, and even trying has seen Hopson move to Memphis. Within two years he'll be in the event horizon.
Anyway, on tape none of these guys are great. McPhee is the best, a fairly disruptive (9.5 TFLs) DT who leads the line in tackles with a respectable 32 and can penetrate if given a one-on-one matchup. Boyd is also a guy who can beat a block and make a play. No one really gets to the QB but that's another show.
Key Matchup: Denard Robinson and possibly others in space against Mississippi State safeties. The very nature of this defense and this offense demands that this matchup happens several times. Sometimes it will be behind the LOS and bad for Michigan. Sometimes it will be downfield with one guy between Denard, paydirt, and 5 YPC. Note that the situation with Alcorn State victim above got bad at the end of the year. He was replaced for the Arkansas game, not that it mattered as Mallett went ham.
Pass Offense vs. Mississippi State
Chris White is white. Also he sacks people sometimes.
Here's a spot the Bulldogs might be vulnerable thanks to that blitz-mad philosophy. MSU's 89th in pass defense and while they're considerably better in efficiency terms at 50th, Michigan rolls into the game with the 24th ranked pass efficiency offense thanks to a wide variety of long gains that happen when people freak out about Denard Robinson and forget about 'Tree and company.
Michigan's got a reputation as a run-mad team where receivers go to die but if you flip over to the actual stats you'll see Roy Roundtree behind only a trio of Indiana receivers in receptions per game. He's 37 yards short of Jeremy Ebert's conference-leading 919 receiving yards, and most of those were not screens—teams have been taking away the bubble just about the whole year. If he hadn't gotten a severe case of the dropsies late in the season Roundtree would have led the conference in yards.
The reason a slot receiver has gone ham this year is because of the guy throwing it to him. Teams bring up a safety, then they bring up another safety, then they watch Roundtree fly down the field behind those guys. Opponents that have played it safe have held him in check, however. Conservative Big Ten cover two archetypes Iowa and Michigan State held him to a total of 58 yards, but both had the luxury of doing so because Michigan's offense rolled down the field only to turn the ball over in the redzone in both games.
It's not like Michigan is going up against a defense anything like that anyway. MSU is aggressive to the extreme. Their results to date show a vulnerability…
…but unfortunately for Michigan it appears it's a vulnerability to good pro-style quarterbacks who either have the protection to slice apart the defense or the arm and devil-may-care attitude to zing it into tough places MSU gives up by design. You'll note that Auburn has the best performance outside of the pro-style slingers. Auburn was wildly run-biased in that game, especially since two of the throws were trick plays for former QB Kodi Burns and a few more were screens, and it got them their worst scoring output of the year. Michigan should learn the lesson from that game and move first-down playcalling much closer to a 50-50 split unless they have some indefensible magic rushing gameplan.
When Michigan does pass, pickups will be key. The Diaz philosophy is evident in the numbers. His leading sack guy is linebacker Chris White with six. Number two is linebacker KJ Wright. Five different defensive backs have tackled the quarterback in the backfield when he attempts to throw the ball. Since no MSU defensive lineman has more than two and a half sacks and Michigan's offensive line has combined with Denard's legs to provide mostly fantastic pass protection, most pressure on Denard will come via unblocked rushers. On the one hand, that's a Diaz specialty. On the other, pickups equal time equal trouble for MSU because…
The Mississippi State secondary is shaky. They did not impress in the Georgia game and Blue Seoul's comprehensive evaluation of the Bulldogs hammers this point time and again:
Ark. #7 takes it to the house on a 60+ yarder on a student body left type play. Again, these DBs will give up big plays against real speed. Thankfully we've got a lot of that at WR. (not so much at RB, this would be a great team for Carlos Brown to play against). MSU's #7 let himself get blocked on the play when he didn't need to and could've saved the TD (14 yards downfield, but that's still better than a TD)
All the blitzing covers up for that, but it'll be interesting to see who wins that back-and-forth battle. Michigan opponents have been terrified to get after Robinson in the pocket since a missed tackle (or even a poor choice of rushing lane) is a big gain waiting to happen, especially if you have the cajones/stupidity to put man coverage behind your blitz. Robinson is going to see a ton of zone blitzes.
On conventional downs this game cries out for a heavy does of QB Draw Oh Noes. The thing that leaps off the tape about the LSU game above is just how aggressively the Bulldog defense reads run. Mallett also nailed one of the MSU safeties for an 88-yard TD on play action in the Arkansas game—these guys scream downhill. Michigan has gashed opponent after opponent with Denard's one-man play action and there probably isn't a team on the schedule more naturally vulnerable to the play than MSU. The Bulldogs will be trying to coach their players up on it but when your entire philosophy is built around maniacal aggression it's tough to beat that now well-worn instinct out of players.
Key Matchup: Magee versus Diaz, and in the event of a favorable outcome there Denard versus His Shoulder. There will be opportunities for explosive plays if Magee catches Diaz in the wrong call.