at least it's not just us?
Since the defensive improvement has been far and away better than anything any of us could have expected, I thought it would be interesting to see the extent of the improvement in historical terms. I collected data on scoring defense and yardage defense from Rivals as far back as 2003 to the present. Here are the results (click on the graphs to embiggen):
And, to compare the two data sets, I've superimposed them by representing each as a percentage of the worst historical performance (i.e., 2010):
The result is striking. Thus far, Hoke, Mattison and the rest of the defensive staff have turned this squad into one of the best 3 defensive teams in the past 9 years.
UPDATE: MGoBlog user Mat suggested that I look at our defense's yards allowed per play. I did some googling and found stats dating back to 2003 foryards per play. The following graph is based on statistics that only take into account performances against other FBS teams:
Which confirms Mat's impression (and ours) that while this defense is excellent we are not yet elite. That's not surprising given that it's year 1 of yet another defensive system and that we are starting two freshmen.
This weekend, I took a trip to Happy Valley. Yes, your read that right. Why, you ask? This had been planned for months as a good time to visit a friend in grad school there on a Michigan away game week, that conveniently matched up two good teams that should've been talking about a rematch from their last contest and the possible budding of a new rivalry. My ticket was purchased, my friend expected me, so I went. I'll delve a little into the awkwardness of everything but mostly wanted to give an in person preview of what Michigan can expect when Nebraska comes to Ann Arbor in a few days.
The tailgating to start the day was more than slightly subdued. Sure, they still had beer, brats and music, but it did not feel like a matchup between two ranked teams vying for a possible path to the inaugural B1G Championship game. Appropriately so given the awful tragedies that had taken place. How much was out of respect for the kids and how much was the fact that they missed JoePa is up for debate, but I'd like to give them the benefit of the doubt and lean towards the former. Those of you that watched the game on TV likely saw the pregame honoring of the victims, which was done quite well. When the teams met at midfield to pray, you could faintly hear the man speaking at the 50 from 20 rows up around the 5 yard line. It was that silent. Small groups of people tried to start chants but were appropriately shushed. The crowd eventually got impatient and started a slow clap, which was not really disprespectful but did somewhat dampen an otherwise nice moment. As the game started, there was cheering from the student section, but it all felt quite hollow, as it should have. Late in the game it got as loud as I assume Beaver Stadium normally gets, but only for a brief period of time. Overall, the weirdest and most awkward game I've been to by a longshot. Downright eery. Anyways, on to football things.
Taylor Martinez - boy oh boy is it tough to watch him throw. But you already knew that. What perhaps you didn't know is that every throw he makes is a frozen rope about 6 feet off the ground. And this is not a good thing for him. It appears that his chicken wing delivery doesn't afford him the ability to put any touch on his throws. If I were the coaching staff, I would put a tremendous amount of emphasis on the D line getting their hands up. Having not watched a ton of their offense this year, I was suprised to see how often they went to the air early. It appears that their game plan was to try to relax Penn State's stout defense, then run the ball late. They stuck with the passing game despite its ineffectiveness for quite a long time.
Rex Burkhead - Quick as hell and incredibly frustrating to try to stop. They frequently will line up in the I and have Burkhead and Martinez switch places. Burkhead is such an effective runner and Martinez such a terrible passer that it sometimes feels like they should do this permanently. He's a decisive runner with solid vision and decent power who always seems to fall forward. They've got a power runner whose name escapes me that they used in goal line. He's effective.
The punter - Yea, the punter. He's the third player I'm talking about. The punter. He's that good. He's like the space emperor. He can coffin corner better than anyone I've seen in a long time and he'll bomb it as well. Someone nearby asked what the name for the punter of the year award in college football was and suggested it be renamed after the Nebraska punter.
Nebraska's corners - they're good. It's hard to tell how much of Penn State's ineffectiveness passing was due to McGloin - or, as he's known, "The Scranton Slinger", and how much was due to the corners, but I felt like receivers were consistently well-covered. Penn State doesn't have world beaters, but Moye is a solid receiver and I often watched him get locked down. Obviously everyone knows about Alphonso Dennard, and he was as advertised. The rest of the secondary was also great, though.
I had more to say, but my memory escapes me on a few of my mental game notes. Overall, Nebraska definitely seems beatable. They execute the triple option damn well, and can eventually burn you with it, but their offense feels like a middle of the road B1G one, and I think the statistics bear that out. Their defense is meh, but the secondary does worry me. An ability to lock down several receivers with man coverage could pose problems. This will definitely be a game where I'd like to see a lot of 4 wide with zone running. Getting into an Ace formation and the like and running play action pass probably won't fly as they'll be able to both confidently load the box and shut down whoever is on the outside.
I like that computers are part of the BCS rankings. They're objective. That doesn't mean they're smart, though, since any computer ranking is only as smart as the people writing the ranking algorithm.
I'll pick on Jeff Sagarin, since his rankings are the best known and he's the most extreme with the Big 12. Here are the Big 12 teams in his BCS rankings:
2. Oklahoma State (10-0; AP#2)
6. Oklahoma (8-1; AP#5)
7. Kansas State (8-2; AP#16)
9. Baylor (6-3; AP#25)
12. Texas A&M (5-5; no AP votes)
13. Texas (6-3; AP#31)
17. Missouri (5-5; no AP votes)
26. Texas Tech (5-5; no AP votes)
28. Iowa State (5-4; no AP votes)
66. Kansas (2-8; no AP votes)
For reference, he has Michigan at #27 and his top ranked Big Ten team, Michigan State, is #22. In other words, he believes that 70% of the Big 12 has had a more impressive season than every single Big Ten team. Every Big 12 team but Kansas has been better than Wisconsin.
It seems like these rankings are far too kind to teams struggling in conferences that perform well in a few nonconference games. The Big 12 performed relatively well, granted, but here are all of their games against AQ conference teams:
Wins (6): Arizona (OSU), Florida State (OU), Miami (K-State), UCLA (Texas), Iowa (ISU), UConn (ISU) [note: they also had a few solid wins against TCU, Tulsa, etc.]
Losses (3): Arkansas (TAM), Arizona State (Missouri), Georgia Tech (Kansas)
This is a trivial thing to get worked up about, but these rankings make a big difference in determining who plays in BCS games and the championship game. Problems here can have major consequences.
I think this is going to be a tough game. We have struggled against top defenses. Hopefully, Hoke continues his undefeated streak in the Big House.
Not sure what the all time record is against Nebraska but in the last 30 years or so we are 1-1 with the 85 team winning the Fiesta Bowl and the 05 team losing the Alamo Bowl. Need to get this one.
Henry was the guy who almost had that interception on the play when Denard got hit in the hand and was knocked out of the game. Insane.