chance of bowl: 13.6%
|WHAT||Michigan at Purdue|
|WHERE||Mackey Arena, West Lafayette, IN|
|WHEN||7 PM Eastern, 1/24/2012|
|LINE||Purdue -4 (Kenpom)|
Michigan starts paying debts incurred during their soft, home heavy opening stretch tonight against perennial tourney participant Purdue. This edition of the Boilers is something less than the Johnson-Moore led teams, which were widely hyped as final four contenders before Robbie Hummel's ACL was the first of all Purdue ACLs to GTFO, starting my favorite elephant-and-ligament-based internet meme:
Hummel will be picking up extra years of eligibility from now to eternity; right now he is a senior and the Boilers' leader. He's the only Purdue player to average more than 70% of available minutes and launches over 31% of his team's shots when he's on the floor. While he hasn't been a terrific shooter (42% on twos, 35% on threes) his extremely low turnover rate makes him an efficient high-volume player.
Diminutive point guard Lewis Jackson and sniper Ryne Smith are the other major parts of the Boiler offense. Jackson is a penetrator and setup man who gets to the line and shoots 52% from two. He isn't much of a three-point shooter but he's too quick for that to affect his game. Trey Burke's played well defensively so far and seems to have the quickness to stay in front of Jackson; if he can prevent the penetration that is the heart of Jackson's game that will go a long way towards slowing the Purdue offense down. Easier said than done.
Smith gets off more than six three-pointers per game and hits 43% of them. That is his role in the offense, full stop. He averages less than a two-point attempt per game.
Guard types Terone Johnson, Kelsey Barlow, Anthony Johnson, and DJ Byrd will also see chunks of time. Barlow is a 6'5" guy who is reasonably efficient with low usage; he gets to the line. He is likely to draw Hardaway defensively; last year he was frustratingly erratic and ended up suspended for "conduct detrimental to the team." Both small forwards seem emotionally volatile, so this matchup could go one way or the other quickly.
Johnson was Purdue's top recruit last year and had a bench role; he succeeds with "aggression." He is an exception to the rule for Purdue:
Of course, the one thing I haven't addressed yet is the abysmal shooting from the Michigan State game. Let's face it: aside from Barlow, Lewis Jackson, and Terone Johnson, we're a jump shooting team. If they are falling, we look good. If Robbie Hummel is 0 for 926,012,965 (approximate) we're not going to look good. Rob looked awful on Saturday and dejected as a whole.
The center position is a platoon of three underclassmen who have ridiculously small usage, very high TO rates, and mainly contribute with offensive rebounding. Hummel is the only other guy on the roster taller than 6'5". Purdue is a short team overall.
Purdue's conference schedule is an eerie inversion of Michigan's, with losses to Wisconsin, Penn State (by 20!), and Michigan State. They have beaten Iowa twice in two attempts, unlike Michigan. Both teams have beaten Minnesota; Purdue also has a win over Illinois.
Their nonconference schedule is kind of eh. They have a few victories over opponents in the bottom half of the Kenpom top top 100 (#61 Iona, #52 Temple, #76 Miami (That Miami)) and losses against #18 Alabama, #51 Xavier, and #133 Butler.
|Factor||Offense (Rk)||Defense (Rk)||Avg|
|Effective FG%:||50.3 130||47.6.0 125||49|
|Turnover %:||14.8 1||21.9 113||20.8|
|Off. Reb. %:||33.3 142||31.2 114||32.5|
|FTA/FGA:||36.8 158||37.6 206||36.5|
Purdue is middling at everything except taking care of the ball, at which they are the best in the country. Other tempo free stats that jump out are terrible free-throw shooting (63%), poor three-point defense, and a somewhat high rate of threes.
Hello more Douglass. Horford is still out so expect more small lineups featuring Stu Douglass against a team that is pretty small and appears to ignore their posts offensively.
Somebody other than Novak shoot straight. Or get it to Novak, but he's never going to be a huge usage guy. Michigan's two point shooting has still been pretty good in the tougher section of the schedule. The bleeding is coming from three, where Evan Smotrycz, Tim Hardaway, and to a lesser extent Matt Vogrich and Douglass are renovating Crisler brick by brick. Hardaway is averaging almost six threes a game and hitting 27%. Smotrycz has dropped ten points off his three point shooting in an awful slump; Douglass is at 33%, Vogrich 23%.
I'm not sure how much of that is random chance and how much of it is poor shot selection, but the trend is clear. Michigan is a terrific two-point-shooting team and launches 44% of their shots from three. That's just the offense. Michigan has to start hitting. There's not really another option.
Except for Hardaway. Hardaway has options. Good God, man, you are 6'5" and can jump out of the gym. Go to the hoop. I want Hardaway to commit a charge per game from here on out. If he gets an open three, fine, but no more of this contested jack stuff. His shot selection is becoming getting reminiscent of Manny Harris.
Watch Hummel self-destruct, or just destruct. Purdue's coming off a hammering at the hands of Michigan State in which Robbie Hummel went 0 of 11 from the floor. If that happens again Purdue is not winning. That is not going to happen again. Hopefully this won't, either:
Hummel has been very good against Michigan in the past and will be in the friendly confines of Mackey; do not expect a repeat.
If you're getting the vibe that terrible shooting from people you think are good shooters has plagued both teams, well, yeah. Whoever ends up losing this game is going to sink further into their ice-cold funk.
Keep Jackson out of the lane. As I said above, easier said than done but if Burke can D Jackson up like he did Jordan Taylor that is huge.
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
Purdue by 4.
About Last Saturday:
Purdue 14, Michigan 36
Caption contest. Go.
The Road Ahead:
Iowa (5-3, 2-2 B1G)
Last game: Iowa 21, Minnesota 22 (L)
Recap: The only thing worse than questing for title of “Worst Big Ten Team EVER” is losing to that team, which Iowa did on Saturday. Flags in Iowa City flew at half mast to honor the death of Gopherquest -- and themselves, in the eyes of Brian Cook.
Two deaths and a funeral indeed.
Let’s take a look at the autopsy report: Thanks to a couple missed field goals, the game was close through the third quarter until Iowa scored to go ahead 21-10 early in the fourth, seemingly poised to finally wrest it out of Minnesota’s reach.
After a Hawkeyes fumble and Gophers field goal, however, Minnesota converted a fourth and one from their own 42 and scored a touchdown a couple plays later.
The Gophers onside kicked, catching Iowa by surprise. Minnesota recovered and miraculously scored again on a fourth-down conversion at the Iowa three.
Flailing, the Hawkeyes went four-and-out and were then helpless to stop the Gophers from running out the clock.
Remarkably, Iowa RB Marcus Coker carried the ball 32 times for 252 yards and 2 touchdowns in an outstanding effort no Iowa fan will ever remember. Imagine if Pheidippides had made it all the way to Athens only to collapse before delivering his message. Instead of inspiring an entire culture of running a couple millenia later, now he’s just a clammy dead guy.
Right now they are as frightening as: A watered down version of 2007 Michigan immediately post-Horror -- not as good, therefore not as embarrassed. Still hiding under a blanky though. 5.
Michigan should worry about: The first real manball team on the schedule not playing in a trash tornado. Also the last.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Iowa had the rhabdomyolysis problem in the offseason, which seems to have scared the CARA out of the strength staff. (Do you see what I did there?)
As a result, Iowa’s defense looks like it’s been playing Wii Fit in lieu of real conditioning. They made Iowa State QB Steele Jantz look like Andrew Luck, allowed Penn State to go Look-Ma-No-QB, and couldn’t stop Marqueis Gray when it mattered -- incidentally, all of these things happened in the fourth quarter.
When Michigan plays them: 2011 Iowa is undefeated at home. 2011 Michigan is undefeated in November. Immovable object meet unstoppable force? Hah.
For realsies now: Iowa’s best win was against Pitt. This was the game where Vandenberg led the epic comeback against a Tony Gibson coached secondary, earning him the Vandenhenneberg moniker. The joke is getting stale, but if you were still wondering, that along with BGHP’s gushing comparison at the beginning of the season is where it comes from. Their next best win was against Northwestern, and you know all about Northwestern’s secondary. And then if you keep looking you fall off a cliff right before the Indianas and Lousiana-Monroes of the world, where concerns about the secondary are, well … secondary.
Sorry, I had to do that.
The Wolverines secondary is much better these days, having survived Alex Carder, Michael Floyd, Dan Persa, and B.J. Cunningham (electing to fall prey to Keshawn Martin instead). Teams succeeded against VandenMcHenneNutt by preventing deep routes. Michigan’s inside-and-in-front philosophy should be able to do at least that.
And then there’s the issue of the Hawkeyes defense. Their major breakdowns tend to happen late in the game due to the aforementioned stamina problems. Aside from targeting specific weakness (see Ace’s FFFF), offensive playcalling that spreads and stretches the field laterally to wear down Iowa defenders would be a smart approach, especially early in the game.
(more after the jump)
A bubble screen once beat up Al Borges and took his lunch money.
Fitz did good. “That’s really what we’ve wanted to do all year. With two weeks to get ready and some careful considerations with regard to not getting our quarterback beat up, that was a huge issue. We worked hard on trying to get back to what we originally wanted to do. We wanted to be more of a combination of pro to spread offense without, of course, completely divorcing ourselves from spread concepts. We still run a lot of it, but that is closer to what we wanted in the beginning. We just weren’t executing very well. Touss did a great job, and the offensive line moved some people, not only on the line of scrimmage but also on the perimeter.”
What makes Toussaint the guy? “He’s a tough guy that makes no concessions to the defense. You’re going to have to tackle Fitz. He’s not just going to go down. He’s really improved in his ability to find the cavities in the defense. When we first got here his vision wasn’t all it needed to be but he’s gotten so much better. Some guys never get that, but Fitz has. He’s got a better feel for pressing the line of scrimmage, finding the cutback lanes … do whatever the defense dictates that you must.”
Were you surprised to see Denard take a knee during the offsides call? “No. No. He’s fine. We got a free five yards.”
Toussaint looks faster. Is it because he's finally healthy? “Yeah, he’s always been fast. Fitz has got speed. He was a track guy in high school. It’s just opportunities. That’s really it. Chances to carry the ball. That’s what I said -- we’re going to find a guy who can carry it 20+ and gain a 100 yards. He got to carry it 20+ and he did.”
You used Devin a lot. Do you worry that you use it too much and it disrupts the rhythm of your offense? “No. Not at all. As a matter of fact, we used him as much as we would like to use him. Our productivity in our two-quarterback offense in the last two weeks has been pretty good. I think it adds to our rhythm. Now if you kept him in there a few plays and Denard wasn’t lining up every single snap, I guess that could break it a little bit, but no. That’s why I don’t like series. That does break a quarterback’s rhythm. But spot him here and spot him there, and the quarterback stays in the game -- I don’t think it hurts us at all. I think it helps us.”
(Jeremy Gallon says he can dunk.)
Denard Robinson and Fitzgerald Toussaint
Denard, can you talk about re-establishing the running backs? Denard: “First of all, our offensive line played a great game, and once Fitz got the ball in the open field, he made things happen.”
Fitz, can you talk about the long touchdown run and what you saw? Toussaint: “I just saw daylight. Coach Jackson always stresses, when you see a crease, shoot through it like a cannon. That’s what I did, and credit goes out to the offensive line for creating that for me.”
Talk about focus you had coming up to this week? Denard: “We knew we had to bounce back this week. Everybody prepared hard, and everybody was ready. We did what we had to do. That was a great team we faced.”
Do you enjoy the diversity of the offense, and are you excited about how it gets so many of your teammates involved? Denard: “I think I was excited about everybody. Everybody that watched the game was excited, and I’m in it, so I’m loving it.”
Fitz, you look like you found an extra gear. Did the bye week help you get healthier? Toussaint: “A lot of it was to get off my feet more and get a little bit more treatment on my body for me to be healthy for this game.”
Does this game show that you can be the lead back for Michigan? Fitz: “I still feel like we have to go out there every Tuesday and throughout the whole week to just compete. All the running backs.”
Fitz, on your touchdown run, what was the moment you knew you were going to go all the way? Toussaint: “There wasn’t really a moment. I … kind of just saw it and hit it.”
At what point did you know that Taylor had sprung you? Toussaint: “I really can’t even remember the moment. It just happened so fast.” Did anyone touch you at all? “I have no clue. I’m just happy that the line opened up the hole for me.”
Denard, can you talk about being 7-1 and it could be anyone’s division to win? Denard: “We just have to focus on this team, Michigan. We have to come out ready to play every weekend because [in] the Big Ten there’s always competition. That’s what we have to do every week.”
Fitz, can you talk about what it feels like walking off the field this week compared with how it felt two weeks ago? Toussaint: “Every team faces adversity. It’s not really how you have adversity. It’s really how you respond to it. We knew we had two weeks to get prepared for this game, and we did what we had to do.”
Denard, you guys have gone against the Michgian defense in practice. What’s different about it this year? Denard: “Well, everybody holding each other accountable. That’s the biggest thing. If the cornerbacks don’t play good defense the D-line won’t get pressure. So everybody holding each other accountable.”
Fitz, in the deuce packages, how do you guys see defenses playing that? Toussaint: “It’s kind of hard to play it because when you have your best athletes in the game, it’s kind of hard to really actually practice that formation. I think it’s kind of hard.”
Can you guys talk about how tired you are of hearing about people waiting for the Michigan collapse? Toussaint: “We really just focus on going out there and preparing every week for Saturday.” Robinson: “We don’t really care about what other people think. It’s about this team. Team 132.”
Denard, do you feel half the defense going with you on the jet sweep fakes? Denard: “Coach Fred -- Freddy J -- he told us one good fake equals two blocks. I just run full speed and hope somebody runs with me.”
Mark Huyge and Craig Roh
Mark, how much did you emphasize the run in practice the past couple of weeks? Huyge: “Well it’s always an emphasis. One of our main goals is to get some tailback yardage, too, and really put it on that, because when we can get our tailbacks out and take some pressure off Denard, that’s a big thing, and that’s a big key to our success on offense.”
Mark, how hard is it for you to shuffle the offensive line and still produce the way you did? Huyge: “Well even in practice and throughout the couple years here since all the guys have been here, we’ve been playing next to each other. I know I’ve been on both sides. Ricky, Mike Schofield, Patrick Omameh, they’re all going back and forth, right and left sometimes. It’s not really that big of a deal, though. We have pretty good chemistry up front, and it showed.”
Craig, when you see Mike Martin produce the way he did, how does that alter your own attitude? Roh: “Well, that guy is just a physical beast. He’s a very dominating player. When you see that, you’re like, ‘I can do that.’ It’s cool to see him because you’re like, ‘That guy’s right next to me, and I know he’s going to beast his guy, so I have to beast my guy.’ ”
Craig, what changed after that first touchdown? Roh: “We just made a few adjustments. Usually in games, offenses come out with a few tweaks here and there. We just adjusted and we came down and played Michigan defense.”
After the last game, did you feel like the offensive line was under a lot of scrutiny? Huyge: “We didn’t get it done in that game. The key was to move on as quick as possible from that, make the necessary adjustments. We were under a little bit of pressure, but we knew if we played our game and executed to how we’re capable, we’ll be just fine.”
Craig, what was discussion like after the first touchdown, and what were the adjustments? Roh: “We knew everything was okay. They scored a touchdown. We never want that, but we weren’t freaking out or anything. We were like, “Okay, let’s just settle down and play Michigan defense.’ ”
Was that the most confident you’ve seen Fitz? Huyge: “I think he was just himself. I didn’t really see anything that stood out. I know he had a couple big runs there and that one long run when he cut it back. I was really impressed with that because he found the opening and got some good blocks downfield. Steve Watson threw a great block to spring him.” You said he was just himself. What does that mean? “He’s actually a pretty sarcastic guy. He’s always trying to start stuff with me, and then he’ll back off right away. He’s just a cool guy.” He does this in games? “No, not in games.”
You’re 7-1, tied for division lead heading into November. What’s your feeling about that, and what’s your motivation? Roh: “We just need to keep improving and play the way we know how to play. We can win every game here.” Huyge: “That’s just the main thing. One game at a time.”
Mark, can you talk about Taylor Lewan’s toughness? Huyge: “Obviously Taylor is a pretty tough guy. He’s been banged up before. He just keeps fighting through it. I know in the game I remember him saying he might have gotten rolled up on a couple of times, which happens, but he just kept fighting through it.”
Craig, can you talk about the effectiveness of your perimeter defense? Roh: “Offenses are going to look at tape and if one thing works the offense is going to do that, but that’s something that we’re working on as a defense to be tougher on that perimeter.”
How much of a focus was that in practice? Roh: “I mean the focus is always on technique and perimeter defense comes from good technique and aggressive playing. I think that was more of the focus than just perimeter defense. We take unbelievable pride -- this whole entire defense takes pride in perimeter defense and inside defense. Really everything.”
Mark, can you talk about the challenges of flipping from right tackle to left tackle when Taylor went out? Huyge: “I’ve played both in my career and I do it in practice a lot, too. It’s not too difficult. Sometimes it takes a little bit, a few plays to adjust. I feel confident I can do that.”
What was Taylor’s demeanor while he was trying to soldier through the game? Huyge: “He was just saying that, ‘I’m going to stay in, and let’s go.’ I mean, yeah, he wasn’t going to get pulled out.”
Craig, on the safety, were you looking for the safety, and how much of a turning point was that? Roh: “I mean, you’re looking for the offensive set. You’re looking for the tendencies coming off of that. When you have them pinned back, that’s always on the forefront of ... you front that that is a possibility. When Mike Martin got that safety, I couldn’t be any happier.”
Craig, what is your definition of Michigan defense? Roh: “Michigan defense is just dominating everything. And every aspect of life. That’s a rough definition.”
Does anything change for you guys when Marve comes into the game? Roh: “I mean we just keep playing our technique. Keep playing our defense the way we know how to play it. We adjust somewhat to personnel.”
After Devin’s interception, you turned to the power play and the run game. Huyge: “We like to run the ball as an offensive line. I’d personally rather run than pass. It’s fun to get going. When the offensive line gets it going, the running backs running hard, it’s a fun thing.”
During the off week, was there anything special you paid attention to that paid dividends today? Roh: “I just thought technique. We just focused on technique and played hard-nosed Michigan football.” Huyge: “Just improving from last game and getting back to the fundamentals and basics of football.”
Hoke said he wanted to challenge the offensive line. How did he challenge you guys? Huyge: “All of our practices are pretty physical, and that’s one thing where we try to go out and hit people. Sometimes we’re a little -- I don’t want to say tentative, but it looked like on film. We did not get it done, and we needed to just go out and just play as hard as we could.”
Mike Martin and Courtney Avery
That safety -- kind of a defensive lineman’s dream, eh? Martin: “Van Bergen did a good job with giving me a little bit of a presnap idea of what they were going to do. We were looking for a few things, but he did a good job of where they were going to slide the protection, and when it came down to it, we were just aggressive off the ball, and good things happened.”
On the play following the touchdown, did you feel like the defense needed to step up? Martin: “Yeah. This defense is great with responding to adversity whether it’s a sudden change -- whatever it might be -- or we get scored on, which we never want that to happen. But we did a great job of coming to the sideline and regathering and knowing that we had to play better defense, and that’s what we did. We responded well. Period.”
Craig defined the defense as dominating every aspect of life. Do you have different definitions? Martin: “Playing Michigan defense, and coach Hoke says it all the time and Coach Mattison -- it’s really playing with the mentality that first of all no one can run on you. No one can run the ball. You have to have that as a defensive line, up front, as a whole, as a defense. When they pass, getting to the quarterback. Really just getting 11 hats to the ball every single play with the effort that’s just crazy. I think we did that today. We’ll watch the film, have improvements, and we’ll get better for next weekend.” Avery: “Going off what Mike said, from the secondary’s standpoint, we want to keep everything inside and in front and then just get 11 hats and pursuing like crazy to the ball.”
Why is this team better equipped to handle the second half of the season? Martin: “Well, our mentality every single day when we take the practice field, whether it’s on a Tuesday or Wednesday, any work day during the week, watching the film -- we just have the mentality that we want to get better. Every single day. This defense is hungry to get better. We have young guys, stepping up, playing. That’s what it’s all about. We’re just going to keep on taking positive steps forward, and from this point on every single game is a championship game for this program.”
That easy touchdown was the first of the year. Avery: “I just feel we didn’t attack it as well as we would like to and we didn’t cup it as well as we would like to, but we made some adjustments and coach brought us over to the side and told us just to attack it and that’s what we did. We stopped that play later on during the game.”
Mike, you got the safety in the first quarter, but then in the fourth quarter when they were backed up in their own endzone again, you got called offsides. Did you get a little trigger happy on that one? Martin: “Well, the mentality of our defensive line is getting off the ball. That was definitely all my fault and I was really trying to get a good jump on the ball, which is what you try to do every single snap. I should have been smarter on my part of it knowing they were going to do it in the black. I just have to get better on my half of it. Coach talked to me about it, and I didn’t do it again.” So it was because they did something with the snap count? “Yeah, they got me. They did a good job with that.”
Mike, after the Michigan State game, Hoke said he was going to challenge the offensive line. Did you notice anything different in the way they practiced? Martin: “Yeah, that was probably a big part of it. They did a great job of executing, and really it’s because of how good of a look we gave them during the bye week. We played really physical in our bye week. It wasn’t lackadaisacal, take-a-week-off-because-we-have-a-week-off type of practices. We were going after each other, and we were giving each other the best looks we could up front, and it showed on the game field today.”
Hoke praised Mike’s tackle 16 yards downfield. He said that means something. Courtney, what does that mean? Avery: “It just goes back to the effort and pursuing to the ball. You just have to keep fighting and the ball’s not the endzone until it’s in the endzone.” Does it help the rest of the defense to see a guy hustle like that? “Oh definitely. …”
There’s been a lot of questions about the defense. After eight games, do you feel like those questions have been answered? Martin: “You know, every week’s going to be a test for us. There’s always going to be people saying different things about our defense, but the most important thing is really the guys that are in that locker room. The guys that are in that team defensive room. Those are the most important guys. We’re going to play for each other. Courtney and myself and everyone else in that defensive room, including the coaches, we’re all in this thing together. We just have to make sure that we control what we can, which is how we play, every single week.”
Courtney, can you talk about your interception and the ability of this defense to make stops? Avery: “That’s a great thing about our defense. It just seems when we have our backs to the wall, we seem to rise to the challenge. With the interception, they ran that play before, and they got a big play out of it. Coach brought us to the sideline, told us to attack that, so I just did what the coach said and attacked it and it came out good for us.”
Is it different to feel like there’s something to play for in November other than just pride? Martin: “Yeah, time’s flown by. Senior year and this year for this team is huge. November is championship football for us. Going from month to month, we know we have to get better. Week by week, I think we’ve done that. Sometimes we haven’t taken the biggest steps forward that we want to, but we’ve gotten better, period. I’m confident that we’ll continue to do that. These games coming up, we’ve got Iowa away. That’s going to be a great test for us as a team and as a defense to respond in a high-[stakes] environment. That’s going to be a battle for us.”
Courtney, how did Blake Countess play today? Avery: “Blake’s been solid in practice, and during the game he looked really good. He’s coming along, he’s improving, he’s working hard. He’s a hard worker.”
Courtney, you said Purdue got a big play earlier in the game using the same play on which you got the interception. Was that the touchdown pass on their first drive? Avery: “Yes, sir.” How close was the ball to hitting the ground?“It was pretty close. He bobbled it actually twice, and then once I got it, it was pretty close to the ground, yes sir.”
How close was this game to Michigan football on both sides of the ball? Martin: “I think coach probably said he hasn’t seen the film yet, but he probably said that we played with great effort … But I say the same thing. I just know period that we were busting our butts to the ball, we had guys doing whatever they could to make a play. You’re never going to play a perfect football game. That’s going to happen. The thing’s that’s important is to take steps forward every single week. We’ll look at the film and make sure that we correct those things and play even harder next week.” What about the offense? “They were playing their butts off. The thing we’ve gotten better as a team is complementing each other. Offensively, them holding onto the ball, time of possession, running the football, putting points on the board. And then us getting the ball back to our offense. They were playing physical and it showed on the scoreboard, period.”
Opening remarks: “It was good to get back out and play football and compete after two weeks ago. I thought our team prepared themselves well, and they came out and responded a little bit. [Purdue] took the ball down the first drive there and scored. I thought our guys held their poise together, went back and talked about it on the sideline and adjusted a little bit. It really wasn’t that much of an adjustment that needed to be done, but I was pleased with that.
“Offensively we rushed the ball well. Fitz obviously did a nice job, but I think overall they all did, and really it goes to your offensive line, so that was a good part. Didn’t like the end of the first half, because we needed to get seven points, not kick a field goal, and that’s something that we have to be able to do however we have to do it whether it’s running the iso up there or quarterback sneak or whatever. We’ve got to score points, and that was too big of a situation in the football game and having too good of field position not to do that with 1:58 left. That’s disturbing. The touchdown at the end was disturbing because at Michigan, the expectations are for the position and who’s in there, so we’ve got to obviously work that part of it, too.”
Can you talk about the running game, and did Fitz do a good enough job to win the top running back position? “I don’t know, we’ll see. I thought he did a nice job and I thought the guys up front did a nice job. We’ll see, we’ll look at the tape as a staff and see the things he did well. It’s always easy to see them when they do good things, because they’re usually biting up big chunks of yardage, but there are other things that go with it, but I thought he did a nice job today.”
How big was Mike Martin’s safety? “It was great momentum. When you score defensively, it always, for your team, brings a great momentum, a great morale and all those things. Mike has been playing good football for us. I think he’s continued to be a great leader for us and work hard -- I was real excited for him.”
What’s going on with Kovacs, and did his absence that hurt you on that first Purdue drive? “No. Again, the expectations are for the position. If you’re in there, there’s a way we expect you to play.”
Can you talk about how those guys played in Kovacs’s absence? “Well, I thought Thomas played really aggressive. Troy, we were moving anyway, so it was one of those things that worked out well. Troy’s got some makeup speak that other guys don’t have, and that’s good. I’d like for him to be a tad more physical at times, but I thought he did a good job. They tried to tempo us a little bit, so he did a good job of getting us in and out of what we needed to be looking like back there.”
Are you trying to achieve diversity on offense with Gardner? “Well, I think part of that is there’s no question that when you’re able to throw some things at a defense or team, and for us, the two quarterback system -- or whatever you want to call it -- formation, it forces guys to work on it. I think there’s enough variety, and in fact there’s a lot more that we can do with it, but it really forces a defense … you need to spend now ten minutes a day on that package or whatever. I think that helps us, yeah.”
You didn’t make much of a change after the first touchdown, but you looked a lot different after you came back. Was there a mental adjustment? “Nah, you know, we just talked to them. They came down the bench, [said], ‘Hey, we have plenty of football left in us.’ There wasn’t any yelling or ripping. It happened early in the year, too, when they’ve stayed together and they’ve come back and played well. It’s them communicating with each other, which is the good part.”
So Troy was moving to safety anyway? “Mmhmm.” What will your defensive backfield look like when Kovacs returns? “We’ll either have four, five, or six guys in there.” When will Jordan come back? “I don’t know.”
Overall thoughts on the defense -- is it getting better week to week in your mind? “I don’t know. I mean, I’m really thinking -- we’ll find out more next week. I think it’s a work in progress. Our linebackers, you could feel today. Two weeks ago I didn’t feel them. Today, playing downhill and playing physical through people, I could feel that today. If we can grow from that and keep that consistency, then we’ll get better.”
You talked about getting back to playing Michigan football. “Michigan football, as I know it, is playing defense. First and foremost. Nationally people think about Michigan football and playing defense and then running the football. Being able to run the football and knock people off the line of scrimmage. I think that’s what, in my mind, Michigan football is.”
Desmond Morgan got his second start. Can you talk about what you liked about him? “I think he’s a very instinctive football player. As a linebacker I think that’s critical. I think he’s a guy who’s got a nice burst and will be physical at the point of attack. I think he’s going to play a lot of football here at Michigan.”
There were 37 carries by people not named Denard. Is that what you envision for your offense? “Is that what they had?” Yeah. “Yeah, that’s pretty good. I think that’s a good number.”
Can you talk about the status of Taylor Lewan and Ricky Barnum? “Ricky hurt his ankle. Taylor -- I don’t know. His leg hurts. That’s what I know right now.”
Last week you were talking about how happy you were with how healthy the team is. How do you feel about that situation now? “It’s football. That’s why you guys on the team to compete, and they just have to keep improving. When their opportunities come, you have to take advantage of it.”
Can you elaborate about the resolve of this Michigan team compared with the last few seasons? “It’s hard for me to compare that to what happened before, but I’ve liked our team. I like how they like each other. Maybe that’s corny or whatever, but from where I sit, I’ve liked that they respect each other and they want to play for each other, in my opinion. It shows. It shows how they practice, and it shows out there today. Look, they’re on scholarship to get a great education and play football. They’re expected to do both.”
Three-way tie in the division. Thoughts? “Every game is a championship game. We’ve said that since Minnesota. There’s six to eight plays in a game that are going to be the difference. Somebody said Mike’s safety. Was that a difference in this game? From a momentum side, yeah, no question. Next week, we’re on the road and it’s a championship game.”
You mentioned a few times the offensive line responded well. Was that a specific area you guys challenged after last game? “No question about it. I can say that every week, though, because that’s where the game’s played. Those two lines -- that’s where the game’s played. You guys like talking about running backs and stuff like that. I like talking about centers and guards and defensive tackles, where the game is played. That’s the fun part.”
You said all week that you said the freshmen would play a lot more, and they did today. How did they do? “I’m going to kill one of them. Ah … It’s not fair. Read it in the obituaries.
"No, but I think those guys, they’re playing hard. They’re playing hard and there’s some talented guys. Blake is a talented guy and he’s got a good instinct. Desmond does. Frank Clark does, and Brennen Beyer -- it’s great that they’re getting all the time that they are, and they have a great attitude.”
Do you expect Kovacs to come back this year? “Yeah. Yeah.”
Taylor Lewan had a leg injury and he played through it. Does that lift the offense? “I think, yes. I think it lifts your team.”
Did Fitz have an injury going into the bye week? He looked more rested. “You know what, not really. He wasn’t beat up or anything. Smitty’s been the only one who’s been a little beat up as of late with an ankle, but nothing terrible. [Toussaint] saw things better -- the touchdown run was a great run for a lot of reasons, not just by him, but the receivers do what our receivers do down the field, and that’s an important part of it.”
Is safety a natural fit for Woolfolk? “Oh I don’t know. I think with the emergence with how Blake’s been playing -- I always believe you put your best players on the field. Troy’s probably in the top 11, 12, 13 guys on defense.”
When you get that kind of production out of Mike Martin, how does it change how you play defense? “I think it sets a tone for how you play defense. Doesn’t change how we play. We’re going to play the scheme and everything that we have, but I think when you see a guy who’s lining up over the football and rushing the passer, and then they throw the dig -- no they threw … I forget what route it was, but the guy made us miss and did that, and 16 yards downfield [Martin] is making the tackle. That means something. That means something, and I’ll be pointing that out, because that means something.”
Did you make a concerted effort to feed the backs? “Gosh, I wish. I wish it looked like that every week. We want to do our due diligence of making sure that we’re trying to pound the football.”
Are you concerned about playing so many freshmen on defense at the same time? “Nope. I don’t have any concerns about it because of how they play and how they practice.”
Do you feel like the defense was the biggest difference in this game? “I don’t know. I think we responded well defensively, and then I think I would tell you that our offense complemented our defense.”
Sometimes I post on Wednesday, sometimes I post on Thursday. Ideally I should post on Tuesday, but ideally Michigan should be undefeated.
Fear scale: 0 = Bye week?; 1 = If Michigan loses to this team somebody’s going to get fired; 5 = 2010 Illinois; 8 = Best in conference/will play in a BCS bowl; 9 = National title contender; 10 = Hold me, Ace.
The Road Ahead:
Purdue (4-3, 2-1 B1G)
Last game: No. 23 Illinois 14, Purdue 21 (W)
Recap: If you want something more than handwaving, see Ace’s FFFF.
In a nutshell, Purdue managed two real drives in the first half while stymieing Illinois’ offense for a good 50 minutes before the Illini finally came to. As Ace indicates, the Boilermakers didn’t so much win this game as Illinois lost it: Purdue is a not very good team that happened to play well. The Illini were a better team that made enough mistakes to beat themselves. Sometimes you can bring a knife to a gunfight and prevail because the guys with the guns shoot at each other first. That’s not the best analogy but you get the point.
Right now they are as frightening as: After losing to Rice and narrowly escaping Middle Tennessee State at the beginning of the season, Purdue has improved enough to play Penn State close and beat a ranked Illinois team. What does this mean?
It means that the Big Ten isn’t very good. Fear level = 4.
Michigan should worry about: Underestimating Purdue’s defense. While not stellar as a unit, they’re fairly opportunistic, led by a secondary that is competent to good. CB Ricardo Allen, the guy who intercepted Denard last year and hurdled him for a 94-yard touchdown, is still on the team. He’s a sophomore, so we’ll be seeing him for a while.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Saturday’s weather forecast says 52 degrees and partly cloudy with 0 percent chance of trash. Roy Roundtree's Donald Duck voice.
When Michigan plays them: Is Michigan good enough to not beat itself? Most signs point to yes. This game may not be pretty--you should avert your eyes every time a Purdue running back makes for the sideline or when Denard throws a duck into coverage--but a barring a complete collapse on both sides of the ball, the Wolverines should at least be able to grind out a win.
Next game: at No. 17 Snake Oil Emporium