...says Denzel Valentine of Big Ten Tourney favorite MSU, which is 5-7 in its last 12 games. Cumong, man.
(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.)
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)
(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)
Opening remarks: “Um, that was an exciting football game.” Har har. “Oh, you do have a sense of humor.
"I thought both teams -- I’ve gotta give Brian and his staff and his kids a lot of credit. I thought both teams fought, and they fought for 60 minutes. It wasn’t pretty probably at times on both ends of it. But like I told our players, it’s great to win. There’s a lot to learn from this tape, but to go out there and play for 60 minutes and win the football game in the manner that we won -- our kids, I’m real proud. Terrence Robinson, on the last kickoff [with] two seconds left, watching him bust his butt to get down the field to try to cover it. There were other guys doing the same thing, but that’s the thing, as a coach, that you take away from your team.
“We had some adversity, they fought back. We never really got on track early in the game. Didn’t have any momentum, any rhythm, when you look at it from an offensive standpoint. And defensively, we didn’t start as well as we’d like. Played a little better there for a while, and then it was back and forth. We have a lot to look at and a lot to work on. It’s great to win, and it’s great to win for our seniors -- [it’s] the last time they play in this great rivalry. So now we move forward.”
Did you say anything to Denard after he threw the pick in the endzone? “We’ll look at it tomorrow, and he may have seen something there that was better than maybe it was. I never said anything to him -- unless it’s really a poor decision throw. I didn’t think it was a poor decision.”
Do you think this win creates momentum for the program? "I don’t know. I think there is momentum. I think you do gain some momentum, and I think for us, as a team, it will be a great learning experience. It’s amazing when you do play 60 minutes of football, meaning you do stay together as a team. You compliment each other and you lean on each other. That, for us, will be part of the teachings and part of the lessons from this football game.”
Why were receivers so hit-or-miss, and what allowed them to be able to make spectacular catches? "I think it’s just being a human being. I think we all have good days and bad days. We all maybe write something good one time and maybe something not so good the next. I’m sure that never happens in here.” Aw, shucks. "I’m not being sarcastic. Really.” You shouldn’t have. “But, in truthfulness, there were probably three balls early in the game, in the first half, maybe one in the second -- maybe four total -- that I think would have moved the sticks for us, would have given us some more momentum. We weren’t very good on third downs on either side. They were 8 for 14, which is good for them, bad for Michigan defense, and I think 3 for 9 when you look at what we were. There’s no explanation besides we have to do a better job concentrating and focusing and catching the ball.”
How much did it help to have beaten Notre Dame in similar fashion the last couple of years? “I’m sure it helps. I think it’s a great question for them. I think anytime you compete -- but at the same time every team is so different. Your seniors are different. Your leadership is different. Playmakers, to some degree, may be different. I think it’s a great question for them, if they had a little more juice at the end because of that -- I don’t know.”
[More after the jump]
Other stuff: Festivities you won't go to because you have a tailgate. Soccer doubleheader tonight, though: men at 5, women at 7:30. The MZone provides Know Your Foe. BWS previews the Irish. One Foot Down reviews the Michigan offense. Too little data so they make big, but it's worthwhile.
|WHAT||Michigan vs Notre Dame|
|WHERE||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI|
September 10th 2011
|THE LINE||Notre Dame -3|
|TELEVISION||National on ESPN|
|WEATHER||High sixties dropping to low sixties; 40% chance of rain; NO SUN!!!!|
|MY AWESOME KELLY NICKNAME||Zach De La Coacha|
Run Offense vs. Notre Dame
This remains an enigma after an abbreviated, well-in-hand game against a MAC opponent. Michigan mixed a bunch of different formations and blocking schemes—minus the stretch—en route to 7.3 YPC.
What they'll do when a rivalry game is on the line bears little relation to what they were running out with a two-score-or-better lead against Western Michigan. But if I had to guess, and I do, it will look more like Michigan's first possession than the rest of the game. When they got the ball for the first time they were down a touchdown and there was no guarantee the defense wasn't still a flaming tire fire.
On that drive Michigan operated exclusively from the shotgun and ran Robinson four times. When they were nervous, they went back to the well. In a huge, meme-establishing matchup for Brady Hoke's career he might as well run those power plays with 1) his best running back, 2) an extra blocker, and 3) the possibility of QB Draw Oh Noes.
In addition to a wide array of QB power, look for the zone read. Michigan ran it to good success late and Notre Dame was irresponsible on the zone read against USF. Three times in the first half they let the outside guy in the zone read break contain. Once it was an inverted veer on which both the give and take would have picked up eight or so. While USF's overall stats were bleah, they moved the ball fairly well in the first half despite having absolutely no hope of completing a pass longer than zero yards. In the second half they were content to run the ball into stacked lines.
[SIDE NOTE: One reason the zone read was successful may have been a USF tweak to it: running it out of the pistol. Michigan's current setup isn't far off. After the QB steps forward, he's almost at pistol depth. The difference is the positioning of the running back. In the pistol he gives nothing away because he can head to either side of the QB. In the traditional shotgun the zone read is on one side or the other. You can flip this assumption with speed options and other plays that make the optioned-off guy a playside defender, but Michigan hasn't done this and the pistol seems like a cheap way to sow uncertainty in the defense. I don't expect to see it against ND, or ever, since Borges is focused on other things.]
As for the rest of Notre Dame's run defense, it remains largely the same. They've got a bad situation at ILB next to Te'o, where Carlo Calabrese lost his job to Dan Fox… and then Fox was pulled for Calabrese midway through the USF game. The outside linebackers seem a bit confused. The ends are good, though—I can see Lewan handling Ethan Johnson but on the other side of the line Michigan might want to option off Kapron Lewis-Moore. That's a matchup that does not favor Huyge. Michigan will remain left-sided.
I hesitate to offer much in the way of predictions given the uncertainty here—I think Michigan will struggle to move the ball on the ground from under center, but there are opportunities to get a defense that seemed vulnerable to confusion last week out of position.
Key Matchup: Molk/Omameh/Barnum against NTs Cwynar and Nix. If Michigan is going to run power they're going to have to blow the NT off the ball in the 3-4. That will be much easier when the relatively slight Cwynar (6'4", 285) is in. Nix is a 340 pound hambeast who, while only a redshirt freshman, may be able to stand up to double teams.
But can he deal with Molk reaching him? I'll be watching ND's substitution on the nose and how Michigan reacts to it. I'm hoping they make Nix move laterally while pounding Cwynar.
Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame
This is also almost totally unknown. BJ Daniels is awful. In the first half when USF racked up 16 of their 23 points, Daniels completed zero (0!) passes past the LOS. The only thing we can take from the USF game is that Notre Dame has trouble defending bubble screens. The Bulls consistently racked up 5-10 yards despite the wholesale suck of Daniels. Chalk up some free yards on the outside.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame's late-season defensive surge came against Utah, Army, and the backup quarterbacks at USC and Miami. The former was passing in a driving rain storm; the latter had 282 yards on 33 attempts and a passer efficiency rating of 152.
What data we have on Notre Dame's pass defense leans towards not so good, but it's mostly "ask again later." Denard Robinson got thirteen dodgy attempts against Western. A lot of different things are within the realm of possibility.
These are basically the same teams as last year, when Denard went 24 of 40 for 244 yards and a touchdown, but extrapolating from that is dangerous. Michigan debuted QB Draw Oh Noes for a 30 yard touchdown, got something similar for another seam throw down the sidelines to Odoms, could have had a couple more to Roundtree, etc. Michigan's snag package was new, too. All the things Denard could do were new. Not so much anymore. He'll will have to do new things against a veteran secondary. Every starter is a senior. They remember what happened to them last year.
Meanwhile, Michigan has a new offensive coordinator with a totally different passing game that he has already installed. We did see a QB Oh Noes or two against Western and a lot of familiar things, though, and it's not like Borges can't dial up a high-low read of a cornerback. The issue will not be slants and flares and various underneath passes but the mid-level stuff and beyond, particularly getting the same results out of Denard without getting him killed or asking him to fit it in a tiny window.
So who knows?
Key Matchup: Borges vs Acquisition Of The Big Easy Play. Even assuming that Denard just had an off day and is about as accurate as he was last year, Michigan's not going to go up and down the field just based on his arm. The omnipresent threat of the run and the lack of safeties that implies will be critical. I think Borges knows this and will take advantage, but to do that he's got to force those safeties into the box with Denard's feet, or at least the zone read.
Run Defense vs. Notre Dame
Against USF, Notre Dame's rushing offense looked a lot like Michigan's might over the course of the season. They operated from the shotgun and ran tons of power from it. They didn't use the quarterback on these things, but they still go good yardage. Starting tailback Cierre Wood is a talent. I've hardly seen Toussaint run so this might sound dumb, but the two backs are carbon copies: fast, agile, bouncy, with an inside edge. Wood might be a bit more athletic but it's hard to tell given the limited evidence available.
Wood averaged 5 YPC on the day. While he was less than explosive against a USF team that lost three starters off its line, the Bulls were a solid defensive team last year and project to be one again. Backup power back Jonas Gray did 4.3 but also lost a back-breaking fumble that was returned 98 yards for a touchdown; he's a guy who just runs straight ahead and gets what he can. Wood is the threat.
Notre Dame's line is powerful—virtually every guy on it was recruited by Michigan. On short yardage their ability to cave in the center of the USF line was impressive. Often backs had to do little other than run up the backs of their offensive linemen to pick up a good gain. When Notre Dame pulls they often pull two linemen because center Braxton Cave is agile enough to get outside. He and a backside tackle will frequently show up at the point of attack—don't think Notre Dame can't put MANBALL yards on your face because there isn't an H-back on the field.
As for Michigan, they brought on a 220 pound true freshman to play DE in their passing spread and got burned for it. Other than that the Broncos didn't pick up much. At night in temperate conditions expect much more from the starters than we saw in week one. Brennen Beyer will be relegated to the bench and hypothetical extra DE will be Jake Ryan, who was an impact pass rusher last week. The rest of the line should be able to hold up on the interior, and Kenny Demens will be hard to run past.
Unfortunately, it's not hard to envision Wood exploiting Michigan's weak edges with his ability to bounce outside. It will be easy to lose contain against him; Michigan's outside linebackers were thoroughly bleah against Western; Michigan will lose contain. If Wood doesn't go over 100 yards that will be a surprise. Holding him to 4 YPC instead of the 5 and getting Kovacs to slice him down to live another down will be keys. They'll get yards. Michigan has to make them earn touchdowns.
Key Matchup: Mike Martin vs Cave, etc. Martin is supposed to be banged up. If he's ineffective that takes a major source of the zero-yard plays Michigan needs to kick ND off the field out of play. This is the time to Make A Statement.
Pass Defense vs. Notre Dame
Last year this was either walk-ons at QB for the Irish or DOOM. This year the guy who got yanked in favor of that walk-on after doing this…
…is in charge. Unfortunately, he's not fresh off the pickle farm anymore. Now a sophomore, Tommy Rees came in at halftime after Crist had bombed himself down the depth chart and lit up the USF secondary to the tune of 296 yards on 34 attempts. He was victimized by drops, one of which led to a crippling interception. (The other INT was Rees's brain going "FLOYDFLOYDFLOYDFLOYDFLOYD" despite Floyd being double covered.)
Rees's situation was a major factor in those numbers. South Florida entered the second half up 16 and played to not give up the big play. Almost a third of Rees's yards came on an all-but-meaningless drive that started on the ND 11 with two minutes left and USF leading by ten. Before that he was playing strictly against a GERG-style three man rush that never got home. He was able to leisurely survey the defense and grind down the field as USF gambled that playing like idiots wouldn't catch up to them before the end of the game*. He was really good at this.
And then there's Michael Floyd (@ right), who I don't have to describe to you. ND's other receivers are just all right. Theo Riddick might be good if he learns to catch. TJ Jones is currently holding his binky tight and sucking his thumb in case the bad man yells at him again. Tight end Tyler Eifert isn't Rudolph, but he is pretty good. He'll be a source of frustration.
Michigan's situation here is far less doom-ridden than last year. Woolfolk should return. I'm betting they put him over the top of Floyd in the hopes that his speed and height can break up some of the deep stuff. Avery and Floyd both had their moments against Western and will put the theory that Tony Gibson's real name is Debbie and real profession is pop start to the test. Kovacs seems like he's moving to genuinely good. The main issue is the situation at non-Kovacs safety. In the nickel Michigan figures to be running much of the day that was Carvin Johnson or Marvin Robinson, neither of whom seems ready for primetime. I wonder if Michigan will roll out Avery as that nickel corner—something he played last year—and move Gordon back to the safety spot.
Meanwhile up front, Michigan used an array of blitzes to freak Alex Carder out. They didn't get much pass rush from the front four save freshman Jake Ryan, but the starters were sat for much of the game due to punishing heat. I don't think that override what we've seen for the careers of Martin and Roh and Van Bergen. They'll get to the QB whether by blitzing or not. Rees will probably get a read first.
Key Matchup: Mattison's zone blitzing against Rees's ability to react quickly. Some of the blitzes won't get home and Michigan will give up chunks. What happens when Michigan's blitzes do slip guys through unblocked will decide the game. Does Rees panic and throw balls up for grabs? Does he shut down like a deer in the headlights as Kovacs bears down and he can't find a receiver? Or does he zing evil passes to evil Mike Floyd for evil yardage that makes us lose?
*[Seriously: Skip Holtz went full Lloyd in this one. It was a little repulsive to watch. If ND didn't have the worst case of butterfingers they would have blown the lead, deservedly. The only thing I thought during the second half was "I hate football coaches."]
You'd think this would be a huge advantage for Notre Dame but last week David Ruffer missed a chip shot field goal, Ben Turk averaged 34 yards on five shankalicious punts, and USF ripped off a 34-yard punt return—their only opportunity of the game. Notre Dame's got problems, too.
It's still a Notre Dame advantage because Ruffer has an excellent track record; Gibbons does not.
Key Matchup: GIBBONS YOU PUT IT THROUGH THE UPRIGHTS AAAAAA
I call him "Brian Kitty"
- The extreme efficacy of Mattison's blitzes turns out to be playing against a crappy WMU line and those four-man zone blitzes aren't getting home.
- Uncertainty at the safety spot opposite Kovacs bites Michigan in the ass like it did last year.
- Denard is operating from under center.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Rees starts chucking it off his back foot because his ribsies are hurty.
- Nix == zone stretch == Omameh-Te'o reunion
- Brian Kelly's head turns mauve.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 6 (Baseline 5; –1 Home night game with frickin' firewurks, +1 for Mike Floyd aaaiaigh, –1 for Mike Floyd didn't do crap last year…, +1 for Because of Walk-on Stuff And Cam Gordon Making Him Irrelevant, +1 for Ugh More Freshmen DL, +1 for Denard's Not Getting 500 Yards This Time, –1 for True Sophomore With Scant Experience Against Mad Mattison)
Desperate need to win level: 8 (Baseline 5; +1 for Let's Get This Party Started Right, +1 for The Sky's A Different Color And It's On Another Channel, +1 for It's Notre Dame And They Are Very Annoying, +1 for A Win Probably Means Borges Is The Platonic Ideal Of Borges, –1 for It's Not Like We're Playing For A National Title This Year)
Loss will cause me to... make even more insufferable comments about the stupidity of MANBALL
Win will cause me to... WOO SHOTGUN MANBALL
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
I always hate this section because predictions are stupid. I hate it even more now because predictions in this specific case are even stupider than stupid. There's all the uncertainty above and then the possibility of yet more pounding rain. So, like, I don't know, man.
But strictures and conventions. After watching the ND game I'm a lot less worried about the yardage disparity against USF. Skip Holtz went into full turtle mode at halftime(!) of a game he led by two scores. It was gross. In the first half USF moved the ball pretty well but had fewer opportunities to rack up yards because of a defensive TD and terrible, terrible punting by ND.
USF ranked 112th in returning starters according to Phil Steele and still features terrible BJ Daniels, who is terrible, as their quarterback. Under the circumstances I might have pulled the Holtz there too. And when they finally got scared after ND missed a chip-shot FG to bring them within a score, they took the offense out of the garage for an 80-yard, 14-play touchdown march.
So… don't put too much stock into Rees's performance. He was allowed a ton of easy underneath throws with no pressure at all. He's a true sophomore who was a generic three-star out of high school. Severe meltdown is possible. Unfortunately, that goes both ways since Rees is throwing to Michael Floyd.
Michigan is almost totally unknown. We got some encouraging notes from Al Borges in a brief window and we saw some sexy NFL style zone blitz packages that promise to rattle quarterbacks all year. Mattison will have more in the drawer. And then there's last year and Denard running forever and ever amen.
I think it comes down to turnovers. Given what we saw last week, the relative abilities of the opposing teams to get pressure on the quarterbacks, and an admittedly hypothetical improvement in Denard Robinson's ball security, that slightly favors Michigan.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Michigan's shotgun breakdown is approximately what it was last week and Robinson nears 20 carries out of necessity.
- Borges brings back the stretch when Nix gets in and Molk kills him to the point where Nix ain't in no more.
- Michael Floyd destroys M to the tune of 150 yards and two TDs. Many of these will be on Rees panic bombs as Michigan rushes him.
- Michigan, 26-24.