"He makes it really easy on you as a coach because he has tremendous football instincts," Michigan tight ends coach Jay Harbaugh said. "Things come really naturally to him. He doesn't have to see things too many times. He has a good sense for how things should look and feel, and he's a tough, physical guy."
Alright. We are going to try this despite not organizing it well at all.
Jared is the only guy around but CIL now allows you to add moderators on the fly. If you'd like to help out, and help will be needed, type it in the box below. Approximate dispersion of people:
- PBP guy/scoreboard updater
- News item guy
- 2-3 comment moderator guys
I'll be at the game, but I wish you luck. For people new to this thing check out the Live Blog Chaos Mitigation Post.
|WHAT||Michigan vs Western Michigan|
|WHERE||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Mi|
|WHEN||3:30 Eastern, September 5th 2009|
|THE LINE||Michigan -13|
|TELEVISION||Nationwide on ABC|
Run Offense vs. Western
If Michigan wants to win football games this year, especially starting a freshman quarterback, they are going to have to run the ball well. As detailed extensively here and at Varsity Blue, they went from a horrible running team at the beginning of last year to an average-to-good one after the Penn State game. Returning every contributor from the offensive line with another year in the offensive system and the weight training program can only help.
The Broncos weren't particularly adept at stopping the run last year, ranking 62nd in the nation despite facing buzzsaw offenses like Idaho (#74 in rushing), Tennessee Tech (#95 - in Division 1-AA), Temple (#109), Ohio (#79), Buffalo (#75), Central Michigan (#72(!)), and Rice (#62). The Broncos did also face a couple top-30 teams, and some that were vaguely around the 50th percentile. Still, they gave up some serious rushing yardage to some bad teams. Michigan should have the talent advantage over every single one of those moribund teams and everyone the Broncos played against last year except Illinois (who the Broncos took down) and Nebraska. I say "should" because of last year.
That brings us to the horror show that is Western's front seven. The top two defensive ends and the 2nd and 3rd defensive tackles are gone. Cody Cielenski—all 274 pounds of him—is the only returning starter. That much turnover on a line that wasn't very good last year, could spell trouble for the Broncos' ability to defend the run.
The linebackers aren't quite as inexperienced, with 5th-year senior Austin Pritchard returning. He was second on the team in tackles last year, and was named first-team all-MAC. He'll be joined by Mitch Zajac and Justin Braska. Braska is a classic linebacker, while Zajac is the new-model converted-safety-type who can play in space, and will likely be a bigger hindrance to a spread team like the Wolverines.
Key Matchup: Michigan's Interior Offensive Linemen v. The Second Level. With an inexperienced defensive line facing Michigan's now-seasoned OL, the Wolverines in the trenches should be able to execute their initial double-teams and move up to the second level. If their athleticism is such that they can get blocks on linebackers and even secondary players, it could be Big Play City for the Michigan offense. Otherwise, it could be a grind-it-out kind of day, which might not be the best-case scenario for Michigan with Brandon Minor dinged up.
Still, Carlos Brown and Co. should be able to move the ball on the ground with, no matter what.
Pass Offense vs. Western
If Western's run defense was pretty bad last year, their pass defense was downright terrible. Facing the same motley crew of offenses, they finished #102 in the nation in pass defense. 9They were a more respectable #62 in pass efficiency defense.) That indicates they were in lots of shootouts last year (a couple) and games in which the opponent was trying to mount a comeback (a couple more).
The Bronco defense soared to those heights despite two players selected in the NFL Draft in Louis Delmas (2nd Round to the Lions, still technically in the NFL) and EJ Biggers (7th Round to the Buccaneers). I think it's safe to say that you can't expect WMU to replace two NFL-caliber players at one position group. Ohio State they are not. The lone returning starter is strong safety Mario Armstrong.
For Michigan's part, they're trying to erase the memory of a horrible passing game last year (#108 in the country). It's not like we'll be sending out a juggernaut against the Broncos' depleted corps. However, their must must must be an upgrade at quarterback, if only because there was no place to go but up. Tate Forcier will hopefully justify his reputation as a robo-QB, and all will be well as Junior Hemingway, Greg Mathews, and Martavious Odoms can stride from one end of the field to the other with ease.
Key Matchup: Michigan Freshman/Sheridan QBs v. Their Inherent Freshman/Sheridan Qualities. Western's secondary isn't going to be all that good. Their defensive line will only be able to provide a little bit of pressure. The main thing that can stop the Wolverine offense here is shooting itself in the foot. First-game jitters for the freshmen may lead to a little bit of that, and we all know what Sheridan can (or more accurately, can't) do.
The runner up in this category was Michigan Receivers v. The Dropsies. There have been some reports of mild problems in this category, and there are few things more frustrating than a wide open receiver droping a pass.
Run Defense vs. Western
Western has had a prolific offense in the Bill Cubit era, but they haven't been doing most of that work on the ground. They were 28th in total offense last year despite finishing #96 in rushing. Their lack of rushing yardage, however, wasn't always for lack of trying. They tried with little success to pound the ball against Nebraska and Illinois. It will be interesting to see if that extreme pass skew holds up this year; Western has experienced running backs and offensive linemen and a green receiving corps.
Michigan's defense, on the other hand, is a wildcard. Hell, we aren't even positive what the schemes are going to be. Brandon Graham and Mike Martin are the anchors of the DL, and Ryan Van Bergen should be decent unless he has leverage problems with his height. The Western offensive line is pretty big, however, and they could wear out Michigan's DL, especially with the lack of depth Michigan has. Oft-MGoMaligned Obi Ezeh could be vulnerable in space. Brandon West and Aaron Winchester are the type of little darters (Winchester much more so) that have given him trouble in the past of the variety "Ezeh totally overruns the play (-1)."
Contain and discipline will be key.
Key Matchup: Michigan's Defense v. Getting Off The Field. As long as the Wolverines' defensive line doesn't have to play too many snaps, especially consecutively, they should be pretty good. This was a huge issue last year, when they'd force a third and long, and then allow the offense to convert.
Pass Defense vs. Western
This is the segment of the review were Legitimate Fear strikes Michigan fans. Tim Hiller has been prolific in his career to date and is one of Mel Kiper's top five senior quarterbacks. (Don't take that to the bank: Curtis Painter was Kiper's #1 at this time last year.)
There are some reasons for optimism here;
- Hiller is coming off offseason ACL surgery and is not necessarily in peak physical form.
- Western lost most of its receiving corps. Gone are 3 of last year's top 4 options. Juan Nunez returns as the team's best deep threat, but he's one of the very few guys left. Freshman Ansel Ponder should be a top target for Western, with good hands and enough speed to possibly get deep. The Broncos do have a number of tight ends that they may use as well.
Michigan's secondary, however, is about as inexperienced as the Bronco receivers. They won't be tested as much as you'd think, because most of Western's passes are caught within a few yards of the line of scrimmage. That does mean Michigan's linebackers, notorious for their inability to defend the pass, will have to make plays. This will be an early test for Michigan's revamped, speedier linebacker corps and their underneath coverage.
Key Matchup: Brandons Graham and Herron v. Western's Tackles. If Tim Hiller has time to throw the ball, he will find an open play and make a play. That's what 5th-year seniors do, especially those who are coming off all-conference season last year. Michigan needs to make sure they don't allow Hiller that time to make passes.
Both Western's kicker (John Potter) and punter (Ben Armer) return. Potter didn't kick enough field goals and extra points to register any higher than 16th in scoring from last year's MAC ledger. He was decent in his freshman year, and should improve as a sophomore.
The punting game was not so kind to the Broncos last year. They were 97th in the nation in net punting, with Armer barely eclipsing the 40yds/punt mark. If Michigan's returners can hold onto the damn ball, there should be some pretty good opportunities to get serious field position.
For Michigan's part, there is Space Punter and the Unknown. Olesnavage has never kicked a field goal or extra point, and his first real contribution to the team may have to come in crunch time. There is the slight relief that he beat out a scholarship guy in Brendan Gibbons, but I guess Jason Gingell had beaten out Bryan Wright before The Horror, as well.
Key Matchup: Olesnavage v. Angry Michigan-Hating Upset-Minded God. The past two years, Michigan has suffered humiliating upsets because of key missed field goals. If Michigan starts giving away points in special teams, we might be headed for an unfortunate repeat.
Hey, you know what didn't work out last year? Lack of cats.
- The linebackers and secondary look inept in covering the short passing game.
- Either Michigan freshman QB gets hurt, leaving Sheridan as the only viable backup option.
- The offensive line's reported improvement isn't really really obvious.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Michigan can get to Hiller over and over again.
- Tate Forcier looks as good against the Broncos as he did against backups in the spring game.
- Michigan linebackers are sniffing out the screens.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 3 (Baseline 5; –1 for You Have No Men Larger Than Minor On D, Let Alone Linemen, –1 for Still Have Pretty Decent MAC record, +1 for Sheridan Shall Be Sighted, –1 for But Not Much, +1 for Oh Lord Some Safety Is Going To Head Asplode Me.)
Desperate need to win level: 10 (Baseline 5; +5 for Duh.)
Loss will cause me to... Relive the depths of 2008, probably hear all week about how RichRod is sooo fired.
Win will cause me to... Breathe a sigh of relief and look forward to a year of potentially-competent football.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
This game looks to have the makings of an offensive shootout unless GERG Robinson is a miracle worker. Both defenses are expected to be subpar, Western's offense is good, and Michigan's offense is an unknown trending towards good. One team will probably put up decent numbers in order to win.
Offensive shootouts, of course, are typically decided by a couple key plays on defense. Be it a moment of general freshmanity for Forcier or Robinson, or a big sack by Brandon Graham to change field position, one mistake by either offense could decide this one. Considering Michigan's better overall talent level, it should be the Wolverines coming through with a big play.
Offensively, Michigan is still an unknown, mostly because of projected improvement at some positions (offensive line) and youth at another (quarterback). If Brandon Minor was fully healthy, I'd feel much better about this one, as we could probably RAGE down their throats all day. Even if he plays, though, he might be limited. That means a more diverse offense is probably necessary to find any success. That, in turn, means trusting unproven quarterbacks, which generally scares the hell out of me.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Michigan executes a running play longer than 58 yards, their long last year. (It was Threet's gallop against Wisconsin.)
- Tate frustrates the hell out of fans at least once, but excites them more times than that.
- Hiller gets sacked at least three times.
- Michigan, 31-21. [Editor's note: put me down for 34-20.]
[Aaaaand we're out.]
This is slightly dated but we know why, right? Let's just skip the recriminations and go to the bits. Bits about the first depth chart release:
- Rumors of Greg Mathews' demise are apparently exaggerated, as he remains atop the depth chart at outside WR.
- Kelvin Grady is second to Odoms, and only Odoms, at slot. Massive rise there.
- Offensive line is exactly as expected.
- Adam Patterson is over, man. He's behind a redshirt sophomore walk-on. That's Will Heniger, by the way, and if Graham goes boom we're in serious trouble.
- Roh is second to Herron at deathbacker.
- Yikes: Brandon Smith is idling behind Kevin Leach; hopefully just inexperience at the position there.
- Where's Hawthorne in the Brown backups? 5-10 guy who I thought was a corner Floyd Simmons is third string.
- Mike Williams has apparently wrested the starting job opposite Woolfolk from Vlad Emilien.
- Oh, god, starting secondary, remain healthy.
- Olesnavage, as expected, is slightly ahead at kicker.
- Morales may have shaped up but he's not even on the depth chart at long snapper. Ryan Van Bergen(!) is.
- Odoms. Hold on to the ball. Hold it. Love it.
Holy pants. YouTube HD, people!
Sweet. Someone lock Wolverine Historian in a room with a computer and a stack of videos. (This may be redundant, yes.)
Pah. The New York Times' bottom-to-top rundown of I-A football has reached Michigan at an uninspiring #57. The meandering glory of the thing has 100 words in German, mentions Elroy Hirsch, cites Varsity Blue, and desperately needs more paragraph breaks. It > CFN.
But the thing that sticks out to your correspondent:
Who is No. 56?: The name of its first president graces our next university’s football stadium and library. There is no memorial to Jimmy Bob, his ever-present parrot.
A commenter solves the riddle:
#56 is Western Michigan, home of Waldo Stadium and Waldo Library.
Awwww, come on. There is no way that's not a hook for the WMU preview.
Up-and-coming. This doesn't come as a surprise to me since the Doc pinged me to ask whether Boubacar Cissoko was a reasonable pick for the team—I replied "if you don't have anyone truly inspiring," to which he said "I do not"—but Michigan features twice on Dr. Saturday's up-and-coming defense. You'll be able to guess the other member without reading the post, but what the hell:
Defensive Tackle: Mike Martin • Michigan
Aside from punting, run defense was the only halfway respectable aspect of the entire Wolverine operation last year, and the best aspect of the run defense may have been that Martin held his own as a regular part of the rotation as a true freshman -- with both starters graduating, the middle of the line remains one of the team's many red sirens. Most importantly, Martin earned the MGoBlog seal of approval, which is no small feat.
Hey, now: the rushing offense was (very, very slightly) above-average. That linked caused me to return to the Wisconsin UFR, in which Martin thwarted Wisconsin's second attempt at a game-tying two-point conversion by escaping a double team and crushing the QB as he released the ball; he is kind of a great interior pass rusher already. I just hope he can hold up against the consistent pounding of the ground game.
The Doc's offensive team is hyah; call me skeptical about the inclusion of a no-block tight end from Ohio State on the list. Ohio State tight ends have to block because they do little else except get death threats. One dollar says that Kevin Koger has more catches than Jake Stoneburner at the end of the year. (Stoneburner, naturally, will blind more messiahs.)
Find Pierce Brosnan. Jewel Hampton is the tailback on that DocSat up-and-coming offense, but his knee may have up and left:
Multiple Web sites are reporting that Iowa football running back Jewel Hampton sustained a knee injury during non-contact drills Friday. If confirmed, that would put a damper on the 4th of July weekend for Hawkeye fans.
BHGP links to stuff that suggests the injury is a torn ACL, which would knock Hampton out for the year. Yea, if there is any Angry BLANK Hating God as wroth as Angry Michigan Safety-Hating God, it's Angry Iowa Tailback-Hating God.
However, the second-wave word on the thing is much friendlier to Iowa and Hampton:
"I'm OK," he said.
When the 5-foot-9, 210-pound sophomore-to-be from Indianapolis was asked whether he would play in the fall, Hampton said with a grin, "Don't know yet."
Dude NFW. You know what? I really don't want to get into this again. But I find it amazing that this happens to be true:
Almost there! With two graduated, third-team seniors predictably (and acceptably) having left the team over the past week, Bama Sports Report reports that the Tide only has ... 10 more scholarships to free up over the rest of the summer! That's not too bad! Here, here's a handy alphabetical run-down of how many scholarships each SEC team still has to clear off the existing roster to bring in their full signing class in fall camp:
Mississippi St.: 0
South Carolina: 0
Say what you want about the man, Saban stands by his principles, such as they are.
Etc.: You will be SHOCKED at the #1 players on Ace's list of the top 15 players on both sides of the ball from the past 15 years.
3/13/2009 – Michigan 5, Western Michigan 2 – 27-10-0, 20-8 CCHA
3/14/2009 – Michigan 6, Western Michigan 1 – 28-10-0, 20-8 CCHA
This weekend's hockey series featured huge stretches of play so dominating that the above scoreboard resulted. That is the beginning of the first intermission. Michigan has three goals and 21 shots. Western has zero goals and zero shots.
Western's first shot would come at the beginning of the second when a Bronco forward, clearly instructed to get Western on the board, took a slapper from outside the blueline. It was going high, but they counted it anyway. The next shot was a clearance that dribbled in on Hogan, again from outside the blueline. That counted too: Michigan's official scorer was giving Hogan the full Jeff Lerg treatment out of pity to the visitors. By my count, the first actual shot Western launched on Hogan—certainly the first that originated from the offensive zone—came with 15:40 left in the second.
It was that kind of weekend. Total shots: 103 for Michigan and 41 for Western. Only Riley Gill's best Dominic Hasek impression kept Western from ceding 20 goals on the weekend.
So, again: this team is pretty freakin' good. They've pushed their recent non-crazy-goal-controversy record out to 19-1 since late November. Mark Mitera has been making excellent outlet passes and hasn't seemed out of place since an error that lead to Ferris State's first and only goal of the Friday game two weeks ago. They were 15-1 in NCGC games before they added last year's defenseman of the year. They're scratching an NHL draft pick every night. Our third defense pairing is either Steve Kampfer and Brandon Burlon or Tristin Llewellyn and Chris Summers, either of which pairings would be the #1 pair for any CCHA team other than Notre Dame.
When Michigan did anything other than dominate it was more because they were bored and hadn't spent any time in the defensive zone in two weeks and weren't quite sure what you were supposed to do. I am a little concerned that Michigan spends 80% of its time in the offensive zone because it leads to breakdowns and carelessness in their own end. This is a pretty good concern to have, all things considered.
Bullets Western left in the chamber:
- Holy crap was Carl Hagelin out of his mind this weekend. He singlehandedly dominated the penalty-kill, skated through the opposition like it wasn't there, and did his usual demonic backchecking. The Friday night ENG was justice for an outstanding performance. Two borks up.
- Northern Michigan upset Miami to reach the Joe, which improves Michigan's draw (they get Alaska) but hurts them in other ways: Michigan's SOS goes down as they played Miami four times, and Northern is now a TUC which brings M's 1-1 record against them into play.
- We wanted OSU to win the other series; they did not. Bizarrely, since we play now Alaska we want them to stay a TUC if we beat them since 2-1 is good for our overall percentage in that category.
- It doesn't hurt Michigan nearly as much as it does Miami, which is now the final team in the tourney and is vulnerable to an unexpected winner in any of the power conferences.
- I deeply regret that we were not allowed to trade Scooter and a recruit to be named later for Gill's services during the playoff run. That guy was insane both nights, which brings his record for insanity at Yost up to 3/3 on the year, as he was insane in a game Michigan totally dominated and contrived to lose 2-1 when Western conjured two late goals out of deflections and screening. About halfway through the Saturday game people around me started chanting "goalie-goalie" during the Temptation goalie-sieve chant, and, like, yeah. At some point Gill flat robbed Aaron Palushaj to the point where he was compelled to explain just how the hell the puck didn't go in the net to his linemates.
Gill's got a .920 save percentage, which is impressive but only 17th nationally. In context it's astounding, though. This is Western Michigan we're talking about here, always the worst defensive team in the league under Jim Culhane. He probably sees more grade-A rubber in a game than one of Mason's pedestrian .940 guys (Alban, Blackburn, etc) saw in a year; every Western goalie I've ever checked stats of is languishing around .885 or something. I'm sure Alaska's Chad Johnson is pretty good with his .939, but, man, how did Gill get left off the All CCHA Team for Jeff Lerg?
- Hey: they finally got a goal review right! Michigan's third-period goal to go up 4-2 was waved off by McInchak for no apparent reason—it was a virtual replay of the waved off OSU goal—but reviewed and declared good, largely because Shegos got in the box and was like "dude, that's his chest." Good on you, Shegos. Also, the look on Shegos' face—"not this s--- again"—was priceless.
- Last time we saw Shegos, by the way, he was with Langseth. This time no Langseth. Did he get busted down to linesman again? Or did they just tighten the crews because there were only four series to do this weekend instead of the usual six?
- I don't think we can pass ND, but I'll check.