things go poorly
As per usual, you will help the moderators not go crazy if you read the Live Blog Chaos Mitigation Post.
|WHAT||Michigan vs #13 Penn State|
Ann Arbor, MI
October 24th, 2009
|THE LINE||Penn State –4.5|
|TELEVISION||Nationwide on ABC|
|WEATHER||Mid 40s, cloudy
30% chance of rain
Run Offense vs. Penn State
Despite the scary numbers Penn State has put up so far, I think Michigan can run the ball on them. Michigan will bring a rushing attack far better than any that Penn State's seen so far, and the most Michigan-like offense the Nittany Lions have faced did a good job in the limited attempts they were provided:
(As per usual, I excised sacks. There were three for 23 yards.)
These were not garbage-time stats. Illinois outgained Penn State by a significant margin in the first half and failed to score more than three points because Penn State downed two punts at the one and the drives they created from that field position went 40-60 yards before stalling out. Illinois is the #40 rushing offense in the country and did not exactly light up any of their other opponents; I think it's safe to assert that Michigan's line and backs are considerably better than those of Illinois if Molk is fully healthy. Williams' ability versus Forcier/Robinson's is a wild card.
Illinois did a lot of their damage on the edge, as Penn State defensive tackles Jared Odrick and Ollie Ogbu were very good at blasting into the backfield and causing havoc on conventional stretch runs. Illinois runs a veer package where the line blocks one direction and the run goes the other, with Williams reading an unblocked playside defensive end; this was pretty successful because the DT's natural inclination when they see stretch blocking is to shoot to one side of the field. This leaves Michigan open for cutbacks, and this was the tendency Michigan exploited last year to birth Minor RAGE and give Anthony Scirroto very bad dreams.
Chances are Penn State will attempt to adjust to this with backside games. Against Illinois they remained in their base 4-3 on all but extreme passing downs, showing a two-deep look but always—literally—walking down a safety over the slot receiver and showing one deep middle safety. So this isn't going to be as gentle as the Iowa game for Michigan. Penn State will be more aggressive and less predictable. Denard Robinson will find the sledding tougher than he did on his drive against Iowa; even against Denard the Hawkeyes persisted with their two deep safeties.
Star Penn State linebacker Sean Lee is supposed to play after missing most of the last three games. Lee got in for around 15 plays against Minnesota before "tweaking" his injured knee and getting pulled. How healthy he is, and how effective he'll be after a layoff, is a mystery. Indications are he will play.
Michigan has had two weeks to prepare for Penn State and has a good indication of what the Nittany Lions will try to do on defense. They have always been an aggressive, slanting defense against the stretch, dating back to the Debord days of stretch monotony, and that's not going to change because of a few hiccups in a game they won 35-17. Look for a number of new wrinkles for Michigan's rush offense—more blocking the backside end and trying to slam it up behind the slant-happy DTs, for one—and an extremely effective drive or two to start. I think Michigan pulls out a new package and gets mileage out of it; their conventional sets should also pick up yards. I think this is a solid win for Michigan; they should approach 200 yards with more if someone breaks it long.
Key Matchup: Molk vs Odrick/Ogbu. If Molk can reach one or the other DT consistently, or even most of the time, Michigan is going to rip it up. He probably can't because these guys are serious, but if he does…
Pass Offense vs. Penn State
Tate Forcier's had two weeks to get right after his torrid outing against Iowa, to heal his shoulder and clear the cobwebs from the minor concussion he sustained in that game. He now claims to be 100% healthy. Penn State will put that to the test.
PSU has lost its top three defensive ends from last year, two of whom were high picks in the NFL draft, and the replacements have been decent to good. The numbers are impressive—PSU is 11th nationally with three sacks per game—but there is the whole schedule thing to take into account. Jack Crawford has four sacks, all of which come against the Akrons and Temples on the schedule. In Penn State's three real-ish games, they acquired one sack (Odrick) against Minnesota, three (Crawford, Latimore, Stanley) against Illinois, and two (Hull and Crawford/Lynn) against Iowa. Odrick is actually the biggest threat; he's got four sacks from the defensive tackle spot. He's a frightening dude.
Penn State's pass coverage has been very good but as per usual the schedule is a big asterisk. It's even more of one when the best QB you've faced is… Ricky Stanzi? I think so. Juice Williams and Adam Weber are your other candidates. The numbers from those guys:
Yeeeaargh. Williams had a good game—some of that was garbage time but his first half was on par with the above numbers—and the other two guys died an ugly death. And all this came with a totally new secondary that's sporting a true freshman nickelback.
Has Forcier established himself as obviously better than those guys yet? I don't know. His numbers are certainly better and he's only had one ugly performance so far, the cold night road game against Iowa's fierce secondary. But that's the last memory we have of him and it lingers, unpleasant.
Black Shoe Diaries has seen Penn State go up against its share of scramblers and indicates that the Nittany Lions will likely reserve a linebacker for spying duties, trusting their defensive line to zip past Michigan's offensive line without help from the blitzes and then using that linebacker to snuff out Forcier's wild scrambling. Penn State's gameplan will be to make Forcier beat them from the pocket, a place he's clearly uncomfortable. Some of the reasons he's uncomfortable are not his fault—the right side of the line has had serious pass-blocking issues—but whether or not it's on his shoulders, the fact is Michigan hasn't gotten a lot of production out of the pocket this year and Penn State has the wherewithal to force Michigan to operate out of it.
Since Michigan's receivers have proven themselves to be unintimidating on the long ball, Penn State will crowd the line with that one-high safety and dare Forcier to read coverages, throw slants, and whatnot. Forcier should do better than he did against Iowa, if only because the game is at home and he's now got some experience with high level defenses, but asking him to put the game on his shoulders is just asking for it. Michigan's success in this game is going to have to come on rollouts and play action.
Key Matchup: Moosman & Huyge/Dorrestein vs Crawford, et al. Michigan's offense has bogged down when these guys can't pass block, and Penn State will test their ability. At least Molk is back.
First: Penn State backup tailback Stephfon Green is out. That's not a huge blow for Penn State but Green's a fast bugger and replacement Brandon Beachum is the kind of guy who gets listed as a fullback/tailback. He is not a fast bugger. The chances that Penn State breaks something long on the 5-8 carries Royster doesn't get are considerably reduced.
This has been a struggle for Penn State all year, the major reason Penn State fans have to fret about the team. Against Iowa—as we've seen, not a great run defense—Penn State scraped out 118 yards on 30 carries, a pedestrian 3.9 per. This was the culmination of four games to open the season in which Penn State struggled to run the ball against damn near anyone: 136 yards against Akron, 78 yards against Syracuse. (They did get 186 against Temple).
Then came the Illinois game. They were bottled up in the first half until a Stephfon Green run broke long with an assist from an uncalled clip; from there it was time to bludgeon. Penn State ended with 338(!!!) rushing yards on 40 carries. Eastern Illinois was next and as meaningless as Delaware State for Michigan, but last week they ground out 177 yards on 43 carries against Minnesota; Royster averaged 6 YPC with a long of just 26.
Clearly there's been some improvement from early in the season, when Penn State couldn't dream of putting up numbers like that against Syracuse. How much the offensive line has "come together" and "cliche cliche cliche" is in the eye of the beholder. For what it's worth, Illinois' rush defense has been consistently horrible all year and Minnesota has been little better. Minnesota yielded 295 yards on 49 carries to Wisconsin; they are currently sitting 87th nationally.
Michigan, for its part, started off slowly and is still digging themselves out from things like "85-yard Indiana touchdown" and "Kirk Cousins's Michael Vick impression." Statistically, they are not good. But, like Penn State, they've put together two good-to-excellent performances against Big Ten teams in their last two tries. Like Penn State, it appears the opponents in question are pretty terrible at the activity in question. Like Penn State, you can argue that a bunch of young guys in a new system are finally getting their heads on straight and will be better henceforth.
It could be that the improvement here is a mirage on one side or the other and someone is going to get pwned. I doubt it, though, and lean towards a fairly even battle in which Penn State gets 4 YPC and maybe breaks a couple long-ish runs but doesn't make a living on the ground. There's always the chance someone from Michigan screws up heinously, but that hasn't happened in the run game of late. Passing game… eh, well, that's next.
Key Matchup: Van Bergen versus Various Guards and Centers. As per the Iowa game: Van Bergen establishing himself a tough, productive defensive tackle makes Michigan's defensive line go from okay to very good. Recent indicators are encouraging; if he puts out a +5 or so day against Penn State they're going to have some ugly rushing numbers.
Pass Defense vs Penn State
Via the Shredder.
Darryl Clark died
in Iowa City against Iowa like all quarterbacks do this year, and that concludes the decent pass defenses Penn State has faced. Ah, but describing Michigan's pass defense as "decent" is something of a leap. At least… maybe? Though M is 80th in yardage they're 38th in passer efficiency thanks to a number of interceptions provided by Ricky Stanzi, the pass rush against Michigan State, or Indiana's sheer stupid brazenness. FWIW, Clark against Big Ten competition:
One excellent game, one okay game, one poor one.
Michigan actually has a decent chance of matching up against Penn State's receivers. 6'5" deep threat Derrick Moye is threatening, but he hasn't done much outside of the Akron game to start the year and last week's Minnesota game where he had 6 catches for 120 yards and a touchdown. Neither Warren or Woolfolk should have much trouble running with him and they've got good size for corners; while I can see a fade here and there I don't think Moye is the kind of guy who Michigan's going to have a huge amount of trouble with. Penn State's got a tiny white possession slot receiver in Graham Zug; I assume he'll reel in a few balls underneath the coverage and maybe a corner or something but Michigan should match up okay with him, too.
The guy who has the potential to kill Michigan is tight end Andrew Quarless. He's a talented guy, and this week's UFR inadvertently coined the term "Moeaki open" after the Iowa tight end was handed two touchdown receptions without so much as another Michigan player in the same area code. Michigan's linebackers are now freaking out and running downhill and the safeties are small guys without a ton of athleticism; it's hard not to see Quarless running wide open on several play action passes. Defending that is something Michigan's worked on for two weeks, I'm betting. Who's got super awesome faith in their ability to fix it over that time span? No one? Correct.
Pass rush will be the key. That's tough against Darryl Clark, who's not Michael Vick but isn't John Navarre, either. If Michigan yields running lanes like they did against Michigan State, Clark is more than capable of exploiting them. The good news is that right tackle is a huge concern for Penn State. The first and second string guys are laid up with ankle injuries, leaving JUCO transfer Ako Poti the starter at the position. Ako Poti vs Brandon Graham == image you see above. Or, at least, it better. I think the recipe in this game is to threaten a lot of blitzes away from Graham's side to force protection slides, bring a number of them, and tell the defensive tackles to crush their guys backwards but under no circumstances get out of their lanes.
This could be a painfully variable matchup for both teams. Michigan should get guys in on Clark, which may result in sacks or interceptions—Clark was very poor when pressured against both Iowa and Illinois—or Clark loping downfield in acres of space. When Michigan does not get to the quarterback they are liable to turn third and twenty-five into first and goal, though it will be interesting to see if Kovacs is the deep safety this week. That would say lots about Kovacs, and Mike Williams. I don't think Clark will kill Michigan but something like 60% completions for 200 yards, 2 TDs, and an INT might be in the cards.
Key Matchup: Brandon Graham versus Poti or whoever. If Graham kills a drive, Michigan probably loses. If he kills four, they win.
Michigan ascended to #2 in net punting on their bye week, with Zoltan averaging almost 42 yards net per punt. Penn State languishes at #86, but that's deceiving. PSU's punter is averaging almost 43 yards a kick and has seen only five returns. They've been big returns, though, averaging 17 yards each. That combined with a punt block shoots Penn State into the basement. Without the block, they'd be in the top 20.
The rest of Penn State's special teams are atrocious, though. They're 95th in punt returns and 119th in kick returns. Kicker Colin Wagner is only 6 of 10 on the season. This should be an advantage for Michigan as long as they…
Key Matchup: CATCH THE DAMN BALL.
- Ako Poti does not cower and beg for mercy at some point.
- Michigan doesn't have an answer for Slanty McDT and friends.
- The RT is getting abused.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Penn State gets a blizzard of new looks and can't cope.
- Forcier can get comfortable in the pocket.
- Penn State's OL renaissance turns out to be illusory
Fear/Paranoia Level: 7 out of 10. (Baseline 5, +1 for I Explained It Away Above But Those Defensive Stats Are Still Gross, +1 for And We've Been Outgained By All Big Ten Opponents So Far, –1 for Huge Mismatch With Michigan's Best Player, +1 for Jebus The Safeties Are Going To Kill Us At Least Once, –1 for We Own Penn State, +1 for Do We?).
Desperate need to win level: 7 out of 10. (Baseline 5, +1 for Owning Penn State, +1 for Huge Swing Game That's The Difference Between Hoping For 7-5 And Staring Down A New Year's Day Bid, +1 for I Think I Should Make That Last One Two Points, –1 for Season Still About Building And Losing This Narrowly Wouldn't Be A Disaster.)
Loss will cause me to... fret about the possibility of losing one of the next two weeks and blowing the goodwill from the Notre Dame game.
Win will cause me to... dream about going into Madison 8-2.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
So there's one other variable to account for that's a coaching matter: will Penn State pack in and Lloydball their way to a loss? Maize 'n' Brew has a post up about the possibility. Unfortunately, it's totally inconclusive. I do think Penn State has a tendency to go into a shell in big games and that plays against their strength—passing the ball against Jordan Kovacs, last line of defense—and will result in a lot of plays that are stuffed runs.
Another variable to account for, stolen from a message board:
UM's five 1A opponents, in NCAA rank in total offense:
12, 32, 50, 66, 79
PSU's five 1A opponents, in NCAA rank in total offense:
75, 79, 99, 105, 114
Now… we're six games into the season and at least some chunk of the reason PSU's opponents have such crappy offenses is because they played PSU; the same goes for Michigan's opponents. Penn State is giving up 76% of their opponents season averages, though, and has extended that outperformance into the Big Ten schedule. It's a legitimate defense. How legitimate? I don't think anyone really knows. It won't be easy for Michigan, that's for sure, and I'm expecting the lowest point output of the season tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Michigan is probably going to go into a similar shell against Penn State, but for better reasons: that's what makes sense against a defense like this and given your relative strengths in senior tailbacks and whatnot. It'll be a close, grind-it-out sort of Big Ten game that will swing on a few things:
How well did Michigan use the virtual bye? Punishing a potentially over-aggressive Penn State defense with new looks opened it up for Michigan to take a shocking halftime lead last year.
How vulnerable is that Penn State offensive line?
How vulnerable are Michigan's safeties?
Will Penn State's terrible special teams affect the game?
Tentative answers: very well, considerably vulnerable but not overrun, also considerably vulnerable, and probably somewhat.
Finally, opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Minor gets the bulk of the work and puts up 100 yards on 20-ish carries.
- Graham gets a lot of doubles, which leads to effective blitzing from Brown and Mouton.
- Michigan busts out the wheel routes they've avoided so far this year and gets a big one.
- Michigan, 23-21. Missed field goal the difference.
Press release. Whee for lots of posts!
For the Penn State Game (Saturday, Oct. 24)
Zac Johnson (shoulder)
Probable (75 percent chance of playing)
Carlos Brown (concussion)
Brandon Minor (ankle)
David Molk (foot)
In addition, head coach Rich Rodriguez announced the game captains against Penn State: running back Carlos Brown, linebacker Stevie Brown, punter Zoltan Mesko and offensive lineman David Moosman.
Weird how guys keep popping on and off the lists. Minor wasn't on last weeks list but didn't play, and is getting healthier, and is on this week's list.
Podcast this week is long, long, long. Get some tea. We talk with Jamiemac of Just Cover, as per usual, and Mike from Black Shoe Diaries about the upcoming Penn State game. Also we talk about the Delaware State game a bit. Also we talk about Terrelle Pryor, because obviously you have to.
One item: at the end of Mike's segment he starts asking for "two seconds," which I totally failed to parse. That sucks, because I've always wanted to ask a Penn State fan harboring resentment about that game a single question: do you realize that Joe Paterno asked for and got two seconds—exactly two seconds!—when Penn State was driving for the go-ahead score?
Programming note: the Martin news and AD search was clearly more important than slapping up half of the Delaware State UFR, so both halves will land tomorrow.
A couple AD clarifications. The thing about Dave Brandon politicizing the AD position was not meant to suggest a staunch anything couldn't run the department—Bo, good God. The thing is: Brandon almost made a run for senate the last time around and is considering a run for governor. If he's got political aspirations he'd have to resign to pursue them, and Michigan would just be at square one again.
Molk to return. It sounds like David Molk will return to the lineup against Penn State:
"Medically, everything has been cleared for him to go to practice, so I think it is just a matter of how comfortable he feels with that and getting back in action," Rodriguez said. “He really hasn’t done much football wise. He did a little bit last week, but nothing with full pads so tomorrow will be the truer test as opposed to today."
Moosman would slide over, leaving Huyge and Dorrestein to fight it out for the last spot. Everyone else is on track to go, with Forcier declaring himself "100%" yesterday. To steal some of Tim press-tweet thunder:
Molk healthy, will start at C. Moos to RG, Dorrestein or Huyge at RT // CBrown, Tate healthy. RB starter depends on Minor's health and play selection. Minor's injury day-to-day.
Everyone's full-go, then, except Minor, and that's just life with Brandon Minor.
Down, pull, tomato tomato. So that play that Michigan got burned on a few times against Eastern Michigan and exists as the staple of the Michigan State rushing offense has been called at least two different things around here. Steve Sharik calls it "Down G" because the line blocks down and a guard pulls around. I've tended to call it "power off tackle" because it's a power run that usually goes off tackle. Chris Brown splits the difference, calls it "Power O," and breaks it down in the usual clear language that teaches you something:
The lineman to the side the run is going (playside) essentially “down” block, meaning they take the man to the inside of them. For the guards and center, that includes anyone “heads up” or covering them, but for the playside tackle, he does not want to block the defensive end or other “end man on the line of scrimmage.” These lineman use their leverage to get good angles to crush the defensive lineman, and the fact that they don’t have to block a couple of defenders on the playside frees them to get good double teams and block the backside linebackers. To use Vince Lombardi’s phrase, the idea is to get so much force going that direction that they completely seal off the backside.
There are four or five additional aspects to the play and accompanying cut ups. Every once in a long while Michigan will run this, but not often; usually they just zone to one side of the field or the other. They did bust it out a couple times against Delaware State; they use it as a short-yardage play. (As opposed to DeBord, who loved running the stretch on third and short.) They tried it on the goal line once but Vincent Smith didn't get the memo and ran directly into the space the pulling guard had vacated.
If they do run it in non I-form short yardage sets in the future, I'd expect it would be from a set featuring Robinson and Minor in the backfield.
Michigan gets exposed to this play on defense a ton, though, and the key to it is for the unblocked defensive end to prevent this from happening:
First, the fullback (or, more often nowadays, some kind of H-back or other player) is responsible for blocking the otherwise unblocked end man on the line of scrimmage (”EMLOS”). He uses a “kick out” technique, simply meaning he blocks him from the inside to out, in order to create Lombardi’s famous “seal” going the other way.
EMLOS: football jargon or the cybernetic virtual intelligence gone awry that you must defeat to save the station and turn the zombiefied crew back into humans?
Er. Anyway: the defensive end has to get inside that block. If he does this he almost always turns the pulling guard into a useless hunk of meat stuck in the backfield and then "spills" the play outside, where an unblocked linebacker should have an easy time stringing the play out and tackling for a minimal gain. At least in theory. Michigan's done this a lot this year and sometimes the linebacker has not made the easy play on the outside. Por ejemplo:
That's JB Fitzgerald there but Mouton has also done that more than once. Not recently, though, so that's good.
Not exactly making a sandwich with someone else's cheese. I guess this qualifies as trash talk, but it has a decidedly Victorian air to it:
“I think we feel like we’re the better team and we can go out there and still beat them," Royster told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for a story published Tuesday.
Not one but two qualifiers there. Graham in response:
“He’s just going to have to show it,” Graham said on a teleconference. “We’re going to come. They better come hard, cause we’re coming. I just don’t think they really know. How much preparation and how much we’ve been waiting for this game since last year. If he feels pretty confident, they better prepare. That’s all I have to say.”
Good show, Mr. Graham. Your delicately phrased bon mot will be the talk of the salons this day! I daresay the viceroy's daughter may even catch wind of it and permit herself a lady-like titter. Write her a letter confessing your affections, but beware her devious half-brother's designs on the throne—and milady's heaving bosom!
Stat abuse. I mentioned the huge swing in Michigan's statistics after the Delaware State game in the game column; Ace has a fuller breakdown over at his site. My favorite line in the table is Zoltan & Co jumping from third in net punting to second on a day with no punts. More drastic than even the huge jump in offense rankings are some of the individual statistics. Denard, welcome to the realm of the statistically viable:
Denard Robinson’s season (and, therefore, career) passer efficiency rating skyrocketed from a paltry 55.39 (for context, the 100th best qualifying passer in the country, Clemson’s Kyle Parker, has a rating of 106.55) to a very acceptable 131.83 (which would qualify for 54th in the country, just above Northwestern’s Mike Kafka). David Cone’s season rating went from 0.00 to 150.72.
Meanwhile, Michigan has been outgained in four games against BCS opponents.
Understated positivity, also ROOOOONEY! You probably have no idea who Martin Tyler is unless you're British or have FIFA 200X, but even if you don't you have to understand this is good news:
SI.com has learned that Martin Tyler, the venerable British announcer who was voted the FA Premier League Commentator of the Decade, has been hired by ESPN to be the lead play-by-play voice for the network's English-language coverage of next summer's tournament in South Africa. The formal announcement is expected this week.
Guess who's not watching the 2010 World Cup in Spanish? This guy. This is going from Pam Ward and a howler monkey that spends 90 minutes screeching your embarrassing personal secrets to the world to Keith Jackson and a somewhat annoying Irish guy. The guy behind this delightful turn of events is the improbably-named Jed Drake, and he's possibly signaling a shift in ESPN policy away from "let's try to make Brian stab the cat":
"After the ['08] Euros we said, 'OK, let's take the presumption that we are going from scratch and start looking at those who can contribute at the highest level to our ongoing efforts in the world arena of football," said Jed Drake, ESPN's senior vice president and executive producer, event production.
Yes. Yes please.
Etc.: Cinci radio stations are getting uppity re: OSU. UMHoops interviews John Gasaway, the artist formerly known as Big Ten Wonk. Chuck Klosterman's new book is excerpted on Page 2; Michigan zone readin' it against Minnesota is a jump-off point for a Klosterman discursion into life, the universe, and everything. It probably says something uncomplimentary about me that I thought Klosterman's description of the play was irritatingly inaccurate in an article where Klosterman apologizes for the excessive football detail four or five times, even inviting readers to skip ahead.