...says Denzel Valentine of Big Ten Tourney favorite MSU, which is 5-7 in its last 12 games. Cumong, man.
Notes from Rich Rodriguez's Monday meeting with the press.
Denard was suffering symptoms similar to a concussion, so they held him out Saturday. Trainers came to Rich and said Denard should be held out. He was tested yesterday and should be fine. Will be full-go this week. Might have been the helmet-to-helmet, not positive. Denard's arm "felt a whole lot better" against Illinois, the knee isn't 100%, but it's good. "I'm hoping he'll be feeling as good as he's felt in weeks this weekend."
Teric Jones has a torn ACL and is out for the rest of the season.
Mike Martin is better, Mouton is limited with a chest muscle issue. He might be held out of full-contact tomorrow. Not sure if Mouton will be available this weekend. "I'll know more tomorrow." He was able to play through it for part of the game, so it may not be that serious.
Will know today if Fitz Toussaint will be available this weekend.
Perry Dorrestein could have played against Illinois if they needed him. He's a lot better now than he was the past couple weeks.
JT Floyd had his surgery. Troy Woolfolk is out of his walking boot, working out upper body only. Mike Jones is good after his surgery. Tae Odoms "is fine after his surgery." Not sure if any of those guys will be able to go in spring practice, but they're doing well.
"I think Craig [Roh] - that move putting him at end is probably gonna stick." That's his better position, and he's more physically suited for it than he was last year with more bulk. "Playing him at end, especially at open-side end is better for him." JB Fitzgerald played pretty well in the same spot. "Obi's got some experience, Kevin Leach played a bit too." Mark Moundros should be in line for more playing time.
Illinois and Team
They rotate through the backs by feel. Vincent Smith is the most well-rounded, Michael Shaw has good burst, and Stephen Hopkins is the big guy. If a fourth guy steps up, they'd like to roll 4 backs in and out.
Roy Roundtree is a good athlete with great ball skills, and he's getting bigger. He has a good feel for getting open. "Roy's got kind of a natural feel for that." They saw that when he was in high school. #1 jersey - "I'm not touching no number things... Nobody's asking for it - it might be because they don't want to deal with all the drama either, I don't know." Roy likes #12, even if it's not a top seller in the stores.
Mark Huyge has done well in place of Perry. "We wouldn't hesitate at all to put Michael Schofield in there either. Michael Schofield can play too. He's just a redshirt freshman, but he's ready to play." Ricky Barnum and Rocko Khoury are also good young players on the OL.
Been good most of the year with not turning the ball over outside of a couple games, but they're disappointed in their inability to gain turnovers. "We're not quite creating turnovers, and we talked about that a lot with the defensive staff." Are they not in position to make plays, or not causing confusion for the opponent? There's no simple answer, but they're addressing it. Through the turnovers, the team managed to bounce back.
"The things that our guys kept doing was they kept competing." Didn't matter if they were down, up, after a turnover, etc. Young guys kept their poise, even though many of them should be redshirting in a perfect world. "There's a lot of growing lessons happening." There was no one particular thing that led to turnover problems. There was a great play by Illinois, poor ball security for Gallon, Tate coming off the bench cold, a couple missed reads. "It wasn't all just one thing."
In light of some of the inexperience the defense puts on the field (which really doesn't happen anywhere else), they competed well. Forced a few 3 and outs, 5 or 6 stops. The offense put the D in a couple bad spots with turnovers, and they responded well.
"Illinois is one of the most athletic teams in the league, and we frankly have to get more athletic." That comes through development - size too. Have to address it in recruiting as well. "Recruiting is going well, and our strength staff I think is the best in the country."
Not sure why the wheel routes were open - not same RB, not same coverage. "To be open is one thing, to be that wide open is another thing." A couple guys just made mistakes in coverage. "I would expect we'll probably see a play similar to that in every game going forward (laughs), so we'll be working on it quite a bit."
"I thought we tackled OK. we didn't tackle great." Didn't get off blocks well, especially on the perimeter on options. Part of that is Illinois's ability.
Not worried about offensive swagger "but our defense needed some." A defensive play won the game at the end, which will hopefully give them confidence going forward.
On the final 2-point conversion, Illinois was running a rub route, Michigan was bringing 7 rushers. "They got us rubbed off pretty good, but the pressure got to him first."
If you had veteran corners, you can blitz more. Michigan doesn't have that, so they have to be careful and pick their moments. "Nobody wants to sit there and die a slow death." Working a lot on mixing up defensive looks so opponent won't know coverage pre-snap.
"I'm the hardest one on our defensive coaches, because I think there's a certain standard we should be playing at." Playing this many freshmen and young guys is probably unprecedented. "It was a perfect storm of injuries and misfortune that got us here."
Quinton Washington played goal line and short yardage D. "I think that move may stay." Not sure how long it will take until he's ready to play in base defense. "Hopefully he'll get a little closer this week with that."
Kenny Demens - "He was really pretty consistent in the game Saturday. This was one of his better games." He was in the right spot and made some big tackles. He's not really experienced, but this is his first extended playing time.
Ray Vinopal is a young guy, so will make some mistakes. He was well-coached in high school, and is a smart football player. "We make all of our own judgments on our guys. These recruiting sites really do a pretty good job for the most part rating them, but we don't ever make our judgments based on what a recruiting site rates them."
Courtney Avery - "They got the one touchdown on him, and he wasn't that far out of position." He was nervous, but didn't show it. "I think he'll be able to grow from that, and I'm really excited about him." Getting quality experience will add depth when Troy and JT return too.
Worry about opponents' athleticism for kickoff coverage. "We had been pretty solid all year covering kicks, but we let a couple get out of there Saturday."
When there's not dropoff between 1st, 2nd, and 3rd teams, you'll be a good football team because you can handle injuries. "We're there at some positions this year, but most positions we're not." QB, RB, and OL to a degree. "Nowhere on defense are we there."
Winning an exciting game is maybe even more important than getting the 6th win from an emotion level in the post-game celebration. "The guys have been through a lot, they have been. That's why I've been so proud of the focus that they've kept." Even when they've faced adversity, they know that have to move past it. "If it helps them have a little enthusiasm and a little pep in their step, that's good" to get confidence, etc. after a win. Even if some people didn't play well, they'll be more confident after a win and that's positive going forward.
Hasn't had a conversation with Danny Hope about what happened last year. Have only briefly spoken during the conference meetings.
Motivation won't be an issue, especially with Purdue getting wins in the past two meetings. Purdue has had some QB injuries, fast skill guys, two good defensive ends. "I want our guys to feel good for a couple days" but that doesn't mean they'll overlook Purdue.
They match up in certain spots with Purdue, particularly at QB and WR, but Purdue is athletic up front on the OL. "Defensively, we have some athleticism, but not enough. Not enough speed yet."
Not yet sure which quarterbacks Purdue will have back this week - if Rob Henry will be available.
On getting to a bowl - "No question it was a sense of relief, not only for the staff and the players, but particularly for the seniors." They earned the chance to extend their college career for one more game, and they'll get another month as members of the team.
Important if you have a lot of young players to get those 15 bowl practices. "We have a lot of young players that they're going to have to develop and they'll have to get ready to help us, especially on defense." Early enrollees can't participate in bowl practices. RR thinks that's a good policy.
Not necessarily more injuries (across the country) now, just more public. Guys are getting bigger and faster, so maybe there are more injuries. FieldTurf has probably saved 25% of knee injuries vs. Astroturf.
Injury report - want it to be fair to the kids by being accurate from the source. Families know first, but don't want to have incorrect reports published.
Won all three times he's been in a triple OT game. Couldn't imagine how tough it would be to lose one. "We have a hard time sleeping anyway as coaches. I can imagine how many plays you'd replay in your head over at night... there's so many plays that can make a difference in the game, and if you win them, you think about them and move on." If they won a 10-7 overtime game, it would be a shock (to only score that much), but they'll take any win they can.
Wins help the players stay confident for the future, prevent spiraling. "Even though it might not have been a really good game for them individually, it was a good game for Michigan." The guys get to enjoy that moment.
Assistant coaches tell Coach Rod about negative recruiting stories they hear on the road. "I think we have enough positives here that we can accentuate the positive."
Has never had a non-kicker/punter have to attempt an extra point. Thought Suh's kick was going to be good, and he just barely missed it.
11/6/2010 – Michigan 67, Illinois 65 (3OT) – 6-3, 2-3 Big Ten
At the risk of convincing everyone that the first impossibly apropos moppet was fiction, let me tell you about this impossibly apropos moppet a few rows in front of me.
He was about ten. He was wearing a number seven jersey and when he took his hat off for the national anthem his hair was staticky. Before the game he was hopping up in down in an attempt to burn off nervous energy, and when Michigan ran out to touch the banner his mind was blown. He exclaimed "this is so AWESOME" as only a ten-year-old boy can. The words forced themselves out in self defense—if they hadn't the pressure would have given him an aneurysm. I know what that excitement is like. I remember getting a Nintendo.
I can't imagine what his mind is like four fighter jets, three overtimes, 132 points, and one last-play win later. He's probably sitting at his desk right now, mouth slightly ajar and drooling, involuntarily twitching out the words "so" and "awesome" as the rest of the class learns to count to 15 in Spanish. Plans to put him on ritalin have been temporarily shelved. His father has been asked "what did you do to the boy?"
The father can only shrug and say "talk to Ron Zook, Rich Rodriguez, and Greg Robinson."
What can you say about a game like that? You can say it was entirely appropriate for Special K to play the Bed Intruder song. Yes. Michigan and Illinois just went Rasputin on that barn. They burned it, then they napalmed it, then they nuked it, then they shot up the radioactive wasteland for the hell of it, then they poisoned a flat expanse of glass with holes in it, then they dug it up and threw it into the river for it to drown. And then it was halftime.
While the kid was getting the football equivalent of heroin in his eyeballs it seemed like the rest of the stadium was strangely muted once it became clear that touchdowns were more like baskets than goals. Any individual event was far less important in a game that would last until mid-day Sunday.
I was with them. I still remember thinking "that's 30% of the points we need to win" after Michigan's first touchdown in the 2006 Ohio State game. I was raised on three yards and a cloud of dust, and while I could not be more grateful that Michigan's offense now has run plays beyond "zone left" and "zone right," this style of football is all frisson. It piles up and up and up. It's amazing, but when you're not ten your mind only has so much to give before it gets complacent. Things don't build up, they just happen. So when Roy Roundtree scores on the first play of the game you're happy but you're also wondering how they're going to blow it.
The answer was "in all ways possible with a special emphasis on running back wheel routes." But they kept setting things right until Jonas Mouton leapt over a cut block and Craig Roh stunted inside and Nathan Scheelhaase finally had nowhere to go but down. My reaction to this was very strange. After feeling dampened most of the day I cracked and hugged my fiancée—making her annual pilgrimage—long and hard and relieved. So relieved.
This team isn't good at all but I love it. If Craig Roh gets to class early he runs up and down steps in his spare time. Roy Roundtree does a Donald Duck impression and wakes up hungry. Tate Forcier's gone from sulking on the bench and "out" to leaping around like a madman after leading a comeback win over Illinois and coming somewhat close to the same against Iowa. And then there's Denard, and the most put-upon man on the planet, and I just want them to succeed because it will make them happy.
A lot of sports fandom does degenerate into rooting for you in that sad Nick Hornby way. While I'm not anywhere near sports Buddhism, more and more prominent among the millions of reasons I want Michigan to win is because of how it will validate all this crap they have to put up with.
Even if that goes with the territory at Michigan, what's gone on the last three years long ago crossed the line from disappointed and upset to nastily personal, on everyone's part.
Almost everyone, anyway. After the game we're walking up the bleachers and the kid's right in front of us, trying to show his father his hand. His father seems to acknowledge the hand, but not enough for the kid's taste. "I'm never washing this hand again," he says. "Denard gave me a high five." He wears an Adidas wristband like the players. He doesn't care about anything other than Michigan won and I touched Denard and this is awesome. I think about White Noise, a Don DeLillo book I don't actually like that much* about the paralyzing fear of death driving middle aged academics literally insane, and how the only moments of respite in the book are thanks to the presence of an infant named Wayne or Warren or something.
So Saturday was awesome, and this is my favorite bad team ever, and goddammit I'm going to their nondescript bowl.
*(The moment in American literature when ironically capitalizing marketing messages to assert that the background radiation of advertising has become our national discourse has mercifully passed—David Foster Wallace got away with it a few times but only just, and not always.)
Non-Bullets, Amazingly Long
Head injuries. Michigan's bombing Illinois with Denard and pulls him because of a headache and some concussion-like symptoms in a game that is almost make or break for Rich Rodriguez's career. And he could even see:
"Certainly for his safety, you're not going to put him back out there," Rodriguez said. "I'm not a doctor, so I can't tell you where he is, but he had a smile on his face and he was talking, but obviously, you're going to be precautionary.
"Anytime you get hit there and you've got some headaches, you're going to watch that."
Is there anyone who's been unfairly demonized more than him? "Win at all costs." Right.
(HT: the Wolverine Blog.)
Skill position contributions. My takeaway from the offense other than "duuurrrr" was that's what it looks like when the skill position players are adding yards of their own. Vincent Smith made a lot of great glide cuts on the zone stretch, spun through a couple tackles, and had his best day as a runner at Michigan. Junior Hemingway's sideline rain dance created another touchdown from 15-20 yards, and Roy Roundtree was finding epic YAC. That's something we've been missing most of the year save for Stonum's screen touchdown against UMass, which is UMass and was not the #15 defense in the country entering the game.
Stretching it. Speaking of the stretch: it came back. Michigan had gone almost exclusively to an inside run game earlier in the year, and that worked well enough, but I think part of the issue with getting Denard some zone keepers has been that move away. The stretch makes it tough on the backside defensive end because if he's going to tackle the tailback on a cutback he has to flow down the line hard. On all the inside zone stuff Michigan's been running he can hang out and do whatever and still have a decent chance of making a play. That's why Michigan has been blocking the backside guy all year and probably why I'm always a little frustrated by Denard never keeping the ball.
They brought it back for Illinois and I'm pretty sure what I'll see in the UFR is an ass-kicking day from David Molk. On Michigan's last touchdown they went to the stretch on second and goal from the five. Corey Liuget, who is an all-conference type of player, shot into the backfield; Molk walled him off and eventually sent him to the ground. There wasn't a hint of a hold on the play, but a frustrated Liuget did the flag motion thing to the referee and just stood there exasperated as Michigan celebrated a touchdown that came on a gaping hole from the five because Liuget had just gotten owned.
The stretch also seemed to revitalize Vincent Smith, who had the opportunity to make darting cuts past traffic and find the creases as they developed. I'll be interested to see how it holds up on film.
End of half game theory stuff. Reverse on the kickoff was a beautiful playcall because in that situation if you get hammered for a loss you can probably just run the clock out. A perfect time for that call and one that got Michigan in scoring position with a minute on the clock. That's a win.
In retrospect, the decision to kick was not so much. I didn't think about this at the time so I'm not blaming anyone else for not thinking about it either, but with Michigan's defense and 42 seconds (IIRC) on the clock the argument for going for it is a lot stronger than it would be with 12, because if you get it you're robbing Illinois of the opportunity to get that last possession in. Even if you don't get it, most coaches will just head to the locker room if they get the ball on their own 15.
Defensive moves. While the defense remained horrendous, it wasn't nearly as horrendous as it was against Penn State (and Matt McGloin did just bomb Northwestern for 35 points despite Robert Bolden playing the first two series, so that performance was only 90% completely awful). PSU had 41 points on nine real drives; Illinois had 45 in regulation on 16, many of which started in advantageous field position after Michigan turnovers and one Hagerup punt from his endzone.
Moving Craig Roh back to defensive end seemed to pay immediate dues, but Michigan kept flipping between three and four man lines with the fourth guy on the line either Obi Ezeh or JB Fitzgerald. Illinois ran right at that and had good success—that was the setup on the first and twenty option that went the distance, though I'm pretty sure the culpable party there was Mouton. Anyway, Cam Gordon looked a lot better in his second game at spur and you can tell the difference in tackling technique between him and Ray Vinopal—Vinopal uses his arms. Sweet.
Gordon looks like a much better fit as his current position. He was surprisingly adept at blitzing—he'd get the edge on the Illinios tackle and come around to flush Scheelhaase a few times.
Demens, yo. Another thing that will have to wait for the tape but: I'm pretty sure Kenny Demens had a great game unless he blew a lot of coverage (which is possible). The number of runs that were heading outside the tackles for what looked like big gains until they were suddenly cut down by Demens after he cut through a block seemed like it was around a half dozen.
Not a controversy but not a clear cut thing either. I was thinking this myself but Adam Jacobi already wrote it and blockquoting is easy:
Forcier is clearly not Denard, but the fact remains that Forcier is good enough that he should be spelling Robinson periodically throughout Michigan's game regardless of Robinson's health. Michigan has two starting-quality quarterbacks, and as Robinson's accumulation of minor injuries demonstrates, they clearly need to use them! It's just up to Rich Rodriguez to use both on his own terms, rather than waiting for Robinson to get knocked out of the game first.
The frequency of Denard Robinson dings has seen Forcier enter most games this year, with extended relief appearances in the fourth quarter of the Iowa and Illinois games. When Forcier comes in Michigan generally punts quickly (or Forcier yakety saxes an unforced fumble). Forcier gets his feet under him a bit later and things are fine. It may be time to put Forcier in on the regular, say two or three drives a game. This would reduce wear on Robinson, have Forcier ready to play each week, throw defenses a curveball, and lessen the chances a desperately-needed Forcier lights out for somewhere else after the season. The offense doesn't seem quite as good when Tate's in there but the difference isn't vast and the benefits are tangible.
Special K, I hate you. The level of odiousness from Special K was exceeded by a factor of 100 on Saturday when he played "Let the Bodies Hit the Floor" and "Down with the Sickness." We've gone from minor league hockey to WWE. Thanks, Special K. This is the no-BS one thing that makes me think the Brandon era will be something other than a success: he hasn't taken this guy and put him in stocks on the diag.
Some photos from an Illinois guy. AnnArbor.com has an extensive collection as well.. Purdue blogger guarantees victory over Michigan. The Hoover Street Rag riffs on A Better Son/Daughter. Doc Sat's take:
If for some reason you were kidnapped by maniac who forced you at gunpoint to make sense of Michigan's roller-coaster season in 12 words or less, you'd probably settle for something like this: The offense is unstoppable. The defense is horrible. Denard Robinson got hurt.
If you hadn't seen a single one of the Wolverines' first eight games, that would pretty much bring you up to speed coming into today, except for one minor detail: Against a string of respectable competition over the last month, you could also add "Wolverines lose."
And a random video of the Michigan drumline:
There's another one on the tubes as well.
An finally, Maize n Brew headline:
Hallelujah!!!! Holy S@#%
Hey, remember when Michigan won games and people put lots of video on the internet? Me neither. But apparently they do. There's an SD torrent up already.
This week's headliner is Roy Roundtree being fantastic, as per usual:
The official site's highlight reel necessarily leaves out almost everything, but if you're looking for a quick primer on about 20% of the scoring here it is:
Wolverine Historian put together an extensive clip package that's after the jump.
Tim caught the on-field celebration:
Tim's photo gallery:
The halftime show was epic (and was recapped by the Hoover Street Rag):
This is an official petition for the band to have their insane wildcat tackle fake Brutus every week. For twenty minutes straight.
More interviews, highlights, and random bits after the jump.
So. That happened. If you are feeling like David after Dentist, you are not alone.
And you can't have one without the other…
Let's not blow it against Purdue!
As always, the Liveblog Chaos Mitigation Post is your friend.
Just fffuuuu it.
|WHAT||Michigan vs Illinois|
|WHERE||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI|
|WHEN||Noon Eastern, November 6th 2010|
|THE LINE||Michigan –3(?!?!?)|
|TELEVISION||National on ESPN|
Clear, around 40
Run Offense vs Illinois
Illinois appears to have a for-real defense this year after bringing in Vic Koenning, an established collegiate defensive coordinator with a recent history of success at Clemson and Kansas State. The three years before his hire, Koenning's Ds were 9th, 18th, and 39th in total defense, with that last stop a one-off year at Kansas State where he took the Wildcat D up from 117th. Ahem.
Illinois has been shutting down guys on the strength of a good defensive line (one that features MGoSouldongmate Corey Liuget) and the emergence of Martez Wilson (right) into something resembling the uber-hyped recruit he was. Wilson's by far Illinois's leading tackler with 68; he's second to Liuget in TFLs and sacks. Against the Big Ten:
That is pretty impressive, with the MSU game standing out as intimidating. The saving grace for Michigan are the numbers against Purdue and OSU, both teams that feature running quarterbacks. (Purdue actually featured two—they started off with fingerless Rob Henry until it was obvious he couldn't throw, then brought in Sean Robinson, using Henry as a tailback in their version of the inverted veer. It was freaky.) Pryor broke off a 66-yard run en route to 121 yards on just eight carries, but blew up his quad in the third quarter and did little but hand off when he returned, or Ohio State may have gotten some distance from the Illini. Unfortunately, Purdue's respectable YPC was on the back of a single 57-yard run from Al-Terek McBurse; the Purdue quarterbacks combined for 31 yards. Dan Dierking did average 5 YPC on 10 carries, FWIW.
Neither OSU, which tends to regard the spread option as a backup plan and had a Navarre-level statue for most of the second half, or an injury-decimated Purdue team is a particularly good comparison for Michigan. Neither are the rushing games of MSU and PSU (pro style) or Indiana (both injury ravaged and pistol-based). So we don't know much about this specific matchup.
Illinois has proven throughout the year that they'll be tough sledding, though, with Liuget a constant threat to penetrate and Wilson capable of running down Denard wherever he ends up. Getting a good release on him and chopping him to the ground will be important.
Key Matchup: Denard's Reads versus His Desire To Not Be Shattered. I'm pretty sure at this point that Michigan's read option plays are really just handoffs that attempt to get the opponent to respect the idea of a pull. Denard's already running so much that he invariably hands off even when it seems like he's got the edge like whoah. In a critical, critical (yes, another) game I'd like to see him take advantage of those opportunities.
Pass Offense vs Illinois
Michigan had an off week against Penn State, with Denard making a number of poor throws and/or poor decisions. When the receivers had an opportunity to rectify some of those mistakes they did not take them, and Robinson had his worst completion percentage of the year by a healthy margin. Penn State got no pressure, at least, and Denard's one-man play action continued to be very effective.
Meanwhile, Illinois is 25th in pass efficiency defense. They intercepted Ben Chappell three times, held him to just over 50% completions, and generally blew him up. Kirk Cousins was just over 50% himself but put up a good YPA thanks to some deep balls to BJ Cunningham; Illinois destroyed Robert Bolden. They got a pass against OSU since the wind and Pryor's injury limited the Buckeyes to 18 attempts, two of which were from the backup. They've got a good track record.
They've done this despite losing Terry Hawthorne to a stress fracture and Supo Sanni to something or other. Illinois moved a cornerback to safety and dropped two new starters in at corner, one of them a converted tailback. The difference between Justin Green and the guys Michigan is rolling out is one of experience—he's a sophomore—and talent, as he was a top 100 recruit who made a strange switch from Ohio State to Illinois. Still, he's a position switch starter and the team isn't suffering from it. A dollar to that position coach. Hawthorne's working his way back to health, which means that Illinois has three more competent cornerbacks than Michigan and now this is just getting depressive.
Anyway: Michigan should have success in the same vein they did against Penn State, where the threat of the run opens up passing plays that eat up big chunks of yards but third and long is almost futile. Michigan's success here will be dependent on Denard's accuracy and the situation Michigan finds themselves in.
Key Matchup: Denard and His Receivers MAKE PLAYS. Illinois, having seen Michigan's jagged passing success, will probably play it cool, giving Denard some opportunities to hit guys and those guys opportunities to bring balls in.
Run Defense vs Illinois
Last week's bold prediction was stupid indeed—encouraged by a not-awful performance against Iowa and anticipating that Penn State's offensive line would be a far less serious challenge, I suggested Michigan would hold Penn State under four yards a carry. Close! Except not close: PSU averaged 4.7 as Michigan switched from a four-man front to a debacle of a 3-3-5. Like the 2008 Purdue game, rumors are flying that Michigan is scrapping their bye week spectacular for something else, and with Craig Roh seemingly ready to put his lost year behind him and get his hand on the ground that will be more of a conventional 4-3 look, I'm guessing.
If the Iowa game is any evidence, that could be not awful against a conventional rushing attack even minus Mike Martin. Unfortunately for Michigan, their array of freshmen, position converts, freshman position converts, and LSD-tripping ferrets is going up against a shotgun triple option attack. Michigan doesn't even know where they're supposed to be on an inside zone. Illinois has used the option, a healthy dose of zone reads of all varieties, and some Nathan Scheelhaase scrambling to do this against relevant opponents:
Unfortunately, the "relevant" bit of the Big Ten numbers is definitely more Indiana-Purdue-PSU than OSU-MSU.
As mentioned in the scouting post from the bye week, expect to see a lot of this:
Illinois runs a lot of triple option. Against Purdue they were content to run basic zone reads since the backside DE was crashing down all day, but Michigan's guys should be experienced at dealing with that. The triple option not so much. With Martin on the injury list he figures to be limited, leaving Mouton, Demens, Spur Of The Week, and Kovacs to play the proverbial assignment football and tackle in space. Kovacs seems suited for this, and Demens may be—still too early to tell—but I'm worried about Mouton and the other guy, whoever it is. Also I'm worried about…
Key matchup: Freshman cornerbacks and safeties [Ed-M: and ferrets] tackling on the edge on the option. The option puts a lot of pressure on your safeties to come up and fill ably, which apparently means we're going to have the privilege of watching Ray Vinopal try to tackle guys fifty pounds heavier than him.
Pass Defense vs Illinois
Two weeks ago I would have said this will be a sidelight on third and long and Scheelhaase will do well not to turn it over, but then Michigan played Penn State and Scheelhaase averaged 9.7 YPA with 4 TDs against Purdue. His long was again a pass to his tailback and no receiver brought in anything longer than 17 yards, but even if Illinois's passing game is an all-dink affair Scheelhaase is getting comfortable with it. He was 16 of 20 against Purdue, 13 of 21 against Indiana, and 15 of 19 against Penn State, all in grindingly effective games for the Illinois offense. His only bad day in the past moth was against Michigan State. That was a very bad day (3 INTs), but we can't expect something like that to recur, especially against this secondary.
I'm not sure Courtney Avery could have been worse than JT Floyd against Penn State but "secondary just as good as it was against Penn State" is a recipe for disaster. Moving the safeties around worked about as well as it did last year, and the year before. James Rogers was out for most of the PSU game in favor of Talbott so we may see our long-held dream finally come to fruition: a secondary made up of nothing but true freshmen without a fourth star to any of their names.
Key matchup: Demens and Mouton getting their zone responsibilities right. I mentioned this in passing but to reiterate: I now think it was Demens screwing up against Iowa since in the PSU game the guy lined up over the slot receiver carried him all the way several times, leaving the linebackers to deal with problems underneath. Illinois gets a large chunk of their passing yards after the catch, so dealing with mesh and whatnot will be important against a passing attack that looks short almost without exception.
For the first time in a while it looks like the opponent's return game is about as bad as Michigan's. The Illini are 118th(!) in punt return average at just over two yards a pop and have had a Michigan 2008-level epidemic of muffed punts. Two of those gave Penn State its (sigh) only points outside of an eighty-yard touchdown strike. Kick returns aren't much better at 89th.
Illinois has the usual massive advantage at kicker (15 of 17 on the year). Their punting has also been outstanding; they're sixth nationally.
Key Matchup: STOP KICKING THE DAMN BALL
- Martin's ankle prevents him from doing anything useful.
- Michigan doesn't look like they know what they're doing against the option.
- The secondary.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- We get some sort of bizarre Minnesota-2008-like turnaround as the coaches finally realize they should be doing something basic with all these noobs.
- Denard's hitting his passes more accurately and Illinois can't deal.
- Pryor's success running presages success.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 8 (Baseline 5; +1 for What The Hell Was That?, +1 for If James Rogers Really Got Beat Out By Talbott Last Week The Secondary Is Literally Three True Freshmen and Kovacs, +1 for And Then We're Throwing a Freshman Spur Out There Against The Option, +1 for Assuming That Martin Is Not Useful Until He Is Again, –1 for Denard, –1 for Denard Plus Bonus Ninja Tricks, +1 for FFFFFFUUUUUU.)
Desperate need to win level: 10 (Baseline 5; +1 for God, A Win, Any Win, +1 for Rich Rodriguez Job Reclamation Project, +1 for Denard Career Flight Path Maintenance, +1 for Seriously That A Win, Any Win Bit, +1 for A Brief Respite From The Enduring Misery Of Life Is Needed In These Dark Times, Oh Lord, I Beseech Thee, Hear My Call And Respond To Your Good And Faithful Servant, Or At Least, You Know, Your Middling And Somewhat Forgetful Guy Who Resents The Idea Of Servitude, Oh Lord, Lord.)
Loss will cause me to... drink.
Win will cause me to... open one eye and look around in case the falling building didn't actually hit me.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
WTF, Vegas? Michigan being favored here seems insane after last week on both ends. I foresee Illinois's offense tearing through Michigan's like it's almost not there on both air and ground, with some rough spots from Scheelhaase ending a drive here and there and Michigan's return to a somewhat sane defense making the going slightly tougher this week. The Illini won't score on 7 of 9 drives. More like 5 of 9.
Michigan's offense, meanwhile, will have the same promising-but-not-quite-there style they've had since the Big Ten sledding got tough, exploding for a couple of long touchdowns and putting together a number of long drives that get Michigan into the high twenties but sputter out in missed fourth downs, missed field goals, and penalties.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Michigan goes back to a 4-3 under look and it seems like an improvement.
- Mike Martin does not play effectively.
- Courtney Avery has a less bad day than JT Floyd did against Penn State.
- Illinois, 37-30.