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
[Coordinator transcripts will be up shortly after I figure out how to turn .wma files into Quicktime compatible files.]
News bullets and other important things (forgot this earlier, sorry, FML):
- Barnum and Lewan have been practicing, should be healthy.
- Justice Hayes is getting a redshirt.
- Coaches are working on getting Marell Evans a sixth year of eligibility.
Opening remarks: “I thought we had a good day yesterday. Thought we had a lot of spirit to us, a little chippiness to us that I always enjoy. I think we competed really hard. I thought we played fast on both sides of the ball.”
Will Heininger said he’s been focused on playing lower. How much has he improved? “Well anytime you play with good pad level, and I think Will played his [best] football game two weeks ago to this point in the season. That has to translate to him playing better this week and better next week. I think he’s playing with a little more authority, which you like to see out of a guy who’s a senior, but I was pleased with his performance.”
Would you like to see Will and Mike not just push the pocket but also get past their guys more? “Well yeah, I mean the name of the game is football. That’s the object. You always want to be able to -- not just your block, your initial protection if you want to call it that ... the ability to ragdoll off and get to the football or get to the quarterback is a critical issue … We want more pressure from them, no doubt about it.”
What does chippiness at practice tell you about your team’s mentality? “Usually, and I’m sure you’ve all done the same thing, when you have a little bit of edge to you, no matter what your’e doing, it seems there’s a little bit of energy in there, a little bit of focus, and a little bit of wanting to get back out there on the field or do it again.”
Is it fair to say that your running backs are never going to be as productive as you want because of what Denard’s able to do? “I don’t know about that. I think that there’s enough in the system -- either it’s out of the two backs or split backs, I-backs, one back -- I think there’s enough diversity to it. [What] we all know is this thing gets a little harder as you go because you’re playing better football teams. The defenses you’re going to play against in the Big Ten, they’re obviously well-coached and the athletes are out there.” But does it change things at all because your best runner is your quarterback? “I don’t think so. Not for where we need to get to.”
*What are the keys to improving linebacker hesitancy problems? “I think the biggest key is your focus on that key. I was an A-gap linebacker years ago, now I’m a nose tackle. I think the initial reaction, the play recognition, the aiming points when you’re going downhill, there’s a lot of things. Playing with the speed that you need to play with. If you’re hesitant at all, that half a step that you’re behind can cost you as a defense.”
*Is that something you emphasized this week in practice? “Yeah, I think, in fact after watching all the tape last night as a defensive staff, we played faster. We played more downhill. That’s going to be something that constantly we have to do a good job of coaching and focusing on.”
Is Ricky Barnum healthy enough to take his job back? “Yeah. Well, we’ll find out. It’s competition. But he’s healthy. Lewan’s healthy. They all practiced.”
How confident is this group? “You know, the way they practiced yesterday, I think there was a confidence that they have. I think that part of it was one thing you wanted to see as a coach. And they were good on Sunday. Sunday they came out and flew around, but there was even more physicalness to how we practiced yesterday.”
Any update on Marell Evans? “No. I tell you what, he busts his butt out there though as a scout team linebacker. On the scout team, with the kicking game, and everything else. He’s been a great teammate.” Does he have a chance of getting another year of eligibility? “There’s a lot of hoops to go through and it’s pretty daggone complicated trying to obtain a sixth year and all those things.” Is that what you’re trying to do? “That’s what we’re trying to work towards.”
Do you feel like you need to give the running backs a certain number of carries in order to establish them? “I think you do have a get a number of carries. We’ve talked about that as a staff, that carries are important, and that probably sounds really dumb, but it’s important to get a number of carries that you can get with them. That’s one thing that we all felt that we maybe should have had a little more touches for them two weeks ago.”
Is there a number of carries you try to hit every week? “At the end of the day, you want to win the football game, so whatever you can do or whatever you’re going to do, that’s going to help you offensively … in saying that, I would love to have between the two of them maybe 20-25 touches a game. Now every situation changes. You get down, you think you can exploit something else maybe, and you don’t execute it as well as you should have -- those things happen in the course of the game plan. One thing, we talked about this, I thought Al and Greg both have done a great job of adjusting game plans in the course of games. They’re both really good football coaches. I don’t know if I answered your question. I think I did. I just think, we’d like to run them, but we’ve got to be able to run them.”
Are Fitz Toussaint and Vince Smith the two running backs at this point, or is Shaw included? “Michael can be in there, too. You see who gets a little bit of the hot hand, to some degree. Vince is very multiple in what he can do. Not saying Fitz won’t be, but Fitz, he’s a young guy still.”
Could Thomas Rawls get more carries? “He could. We’re trying to get him some work on some of the kick game and all that, but he could.” What about Justice Hayes? At this point are you redshirting him? “Oh yeah. Yeah.”
Anyone else (Ed: I think this person means freshmen) who hasn’t played yet that might play, barring injury? “Barring injury, I don’t think so. I think what we’ve done so far, we’re at our limit.”
Re: Perimeter defense … How do you think Purdue’s going to attack you? “Well, I would attack our perimeter. The stretch play they run and all those things are ready made for it.” Similar to what Michigan State did? “Similar. Not quite the same. They’ll TGO (Ed: ?) pull it, or do some different things depending on if the tight end’s on the line, in location or not in location, depends if it’s weak back, strong backs -- there’s a lot of different ways you can get to it. They throw the bubble. They throw the rocket. They run the outside zone, the stretch play. Yeah, that’s where I would start.”
How are you doing in terms of containment? “Obviously it’s been something we’ve done a very good job of emphasizing. Our attacking the blocks, getting off blockers, all those things that go along with it, our inside-out pursuit, all those things.”
What do you see out of Caleb TerBush? “Well I think he’s been very active in a lot of different areas, but I think he’s been accurate. I think he’s got a good arm, throws the ball well. He’s taking care of the ball pretty well for them. You don’t see him panic. He’s elusive enough to get out of some problems. They’re going to look at what you’re doing a little bit defensively, and they’re going to check. He’s done a good job of getting them in and out of plays. I think he’s a pretty daggone good quarterback.”
*asked by yours truly
[No coordinator or Wednesday presser this week, fyi]
News bullets and other important things:
- We might be seeing more of Frank Clark, Brennen Beyer, and Raymon Taylor.
- Woolfolk and Barnum seem to be better.
- Lewan had an ankle injury but is expected back on Saturday.
- With Barnum back, there also will be competition at right guard (currently Patrick Omameh).
Opening remarks: “It was good in some ways to have a bye week. From a health standpoint, I think it always helps you a little bit, no matter where you’re at in the season, to get a little more rested. I think our guys did a nice job with that. I thought our practices on Tuesday, Thursday, and yesterday were at a high tempo. I think there was a lot of good teaching that went on. When you look at the fundamentals of where we need to improve: blocking, tackling, all those things that go along with football, I think that was good. We’ve got five guaranteed opportunities left that we need to focus on, and obviously this week is Purdue.”
Any new players cracking the depth chart? “Frank Clark [is] one that comes to mind. I think Blake [Countess] has been playing, but I think that helps. Raymon Taylor, when you look at it from that vantage point, that’s good for them to get a little more work in.”
When did you move on from Michigan State, and how fired up are you for Purdue? “Well, we did that on Tuesday. Tuesday was the first time we met together as a team. [We] went through the film, met after the film, went out and practiced, and moved forward.”
You put a lot of emphasis on the trenches. How are they doing by your assessment? “I would say we are not where we need to be with the consistency of how we want to play on both groups. I think there’s been times when, from an offensive standpoint, we blocked the line of scrimmage pretty well and created movement and the things that you want to do at the point of attack. And then I think there are times we haven’t blocked it as well. I would say the same thing on defense. I think Mike’s been very consistent. He’s played better and better every week when you evaluate what he’s done in the middle. I thought Will Heininger played a better football game a couple weeks ago. Maybe one of his better games. But the consistency of all four guys is something we need to keep striving for.”
Greg Brown left the team. Why, and have you ever had guys leave in the middle of the season before? “Greg is no longer part of our team, and yes. I’ve had guys leave.”
(more after the jump.)
(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)