Niko Porikos grew up in an NTDP billet home. Cool story.
|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.
University of Michigan Football Injury Report
vs. Illinois, Nov. 4, 2010
OUT (0% PLAY)
Floyd, J.T. Ankle
Jones, Mike Leg
Odoms, Martavious Foot
Toussaint, Fitzgerald Shoulder
Van Slyke, Jared Clavicle
Williams, Mike Head
Woolfolk, Troy Ankle
QUESTIONABLE (50% PLAY)
Dorrestein, Perry Knee
Stokes, Je’Ron Knee
PROBABLE (75% PLAY)
Martin, Mike Ankle
All the guys in "out" are guys we know are out for the year with the exception of Fitzgerald. Meanwhile, it seems like Huyge is likely to get another start at right tackle on Saturday—which fine he's about as good as Dorrestein—and there is an explanation for Stokes's absence for much of the Penn State game.
Martin… well… reports said he sprained his other ankle, so if that's true he's got a better shot at returning effective than if he was suffering a high ankle sprain. But I'm not confident he'll have an impact. We'll see.
[Ed-M: Added the video provided by Boyz n da Pahokee]
"It's an attitude adjustment... it can't just be some half-assed work ethic." Guys need to fight every game, every down. "We're gonna realize that shortly, and we'll get it done."
"Losing isn't good. Losing looks bad, and we don't deserve it. We've worked too hard, gone too far, and done too much, and this shouldn't be the outcome. It's going to change. I'm going to do whatever I can do, as much as I can do."
Every young football player coming in needs to make an adjustment to the next level. It comes with the experience of playing in college. "It's coming. It just needs to show."
The team has ability, and is showing effort. "It's just the mental apect, we need to improve our technique, we need to improve our reading skills. It's something that will come and I'm hoping it comes fast." The mental game is an acquired talent, you don't just wake up one day and know how to play football. Guys need to work at it, and they are learning it. "We're moving towards the place we need to be. We're just not there yet."
How to avoid pointing fingers at D? "We're a team for a reason. We're not an offense and a defense. We're a team. And when you point things at one side, it just kills it. There's a chemistry that we have as a team, and will build on for years to come."
Illinois is a good defense with a strong defensive line, and a good linebacker in Martez Wilson. "They're a solid defense, a very solid defense, but I think we should do well against them."
What was it like to miss last year's game? "I mean I've answered this question probably 300,000 times at every media event I've ever been to. Obviously it's not good. I don't like sitting at home watching it with my leg up."
Mike Martin's ankle injury - the only thing that hurts him is the physical injury. It's hard to come off that, but you adapt to the pain. No football player has ever been 100% healthy the entire season.
Rich Rod doesn't need his players to play psychiatrist with him. "He's his own man and he can handle himself. He doesn't need one of his players to mediate him and make sure he's calm."
What does the team think about media criticism of Rodriguez? "I could care less. I don't think I've ever read or listened to a single media thing that you guys have ever put out. So, I mean I could care less."
"We haven't had a team meeting yet, but from what I've seen from lifting today, our spirits are still pretty high."
The expectations on DL aren't on the player, but the position. Adam Patterson and Renaldo Sagesse have to step in for MIke Martin's production if he goes down.
The defense: "We spoke to each other after the game. We're all on the same bus... we told the young guys 'you're not a freshman no more. You're all a year into what, your sixth or seventh game.'"
RR's fourth quarter speech was about reminding players that the big stage is why they came to Michigan. They need to play together as a unit and step up, making the plays when available.
Scheelhasse can run and pass, and his teammates have been supporting his production very well. "He did it both with his arm and his legs." Have to prepare for dual-threat QBs every week practicing against Denard. A few of the guys Michigan has faced prefer to stay in the pocket, but seize the opportunity to run if they get it.
"Where we need to improve is our tackling and our third-down efficiency. We all take the responsibility for that. Me as a defensive lineman, I take a heavy burden on third down, because we need to get more pressure on the quarterback."
"The onus is on us. I mean the coaches, they can only do so much. The rest of it falls into the players' hands." Greg Robinson is a great coach, the players' execution in tackling, etc. is letting them down. "He's putting us in the positions, we're just not executing."
Nobody's gotten the Michigan defense's best shot this year. They haven't had 100% effort, execution, and responsibility in any game yet.
The team is excited every Monday to get back to work. They're disappointed with Saturday's performance, but can't dwell on it, need to try improving.
Not sure how the defense can force more turnovers: "If I had that answer, I'd be a coach right now." There's a necessary mentality that the team needs to improve. Same story on 3rd and long: "Those are key parts of the game that we definitely need to improve on. I don't know what it is, why we've struggled with it, but I'm sure the coaches know and we'll get into that this week."
Hasn't heard the rumors about Greg Robinson being demoted.
Players beat themselves up after the game about individual mistakes, not the play of the other guys on the defense. "What could I have done to help the defense play a better football game, and stuff like that sticks with you a little bit."
Ray Vinopal had a great week of practice, with a few picks. "He came in a little wide-eyed... for the most part, I definitely thought he played very well." He made some plays, didn't allow anything big.
They work on 3rd and long defense every day. "I guess that's not something you can improve on just in practice. It comes with game reps." They'll continue to improve with experience.
"Guys are still hungry. It's not gonna be like last year; We're gonna turn it around. We're just gonna continue to fight, and that's what this team's about... This group fights, they're hungry, these guys want to win. I guess that's just different than last year." They are different years, and there's no purpose i dwelling on similarities.
"We've been playing a lot of freshmen." Jibreel Black, Ray Vinopal, Terrence Talbott, and Courtney Avery have improved over 8 games, and will continue to do so.
Illinois has a versatile offense with a good running back, multiple offensive formations.
Notes from Rich Rodriguez's Monday meeting with the press. Photo from file.
Mike Martin is going to be OK this week. "He's our best defensive... one of our best defensive players period. One of the best in the league when he's healthy." Other people need to be able to step in.
Perry Dorrestein should be able to practice by tomorrow. "Michael Shaw and maybe even Fitz Toussaint, we'll see if he can get back in the mix there." Will Heininger will be more in the rotation this week. "You'll probably see him more likely playing going forward."
Cam Gordon is now the starting Hybrid [Ed-M: Spur], backed by Thomas Gordon. Ray Vinopal is the starting Free Safety, backed by Carvin Johnson. "I thought the personnel moves defensively, I think were good for us in the short term and the long term." Cam Gordon more comfortable closer to the ball. Vinopal did "ok" for his first time out there. Staff is trying to figure out a unit that can get some stops, part of it is just getting them to play better.
There haven't been changes to the defensive coaching staff. "No. I've just met with the defensive staff the last couple hours, and we talked about some of our issues and talked about what to do to get ready for Illinois." "Y'all don't deal with rumors do you?" Everyone is frustrated, but it's always a collective effort, win or lose.
He'll be spending more time on defense this week, because the more inexperienced players over there might need more coaching. Injuries will affect lineups, different packages. "We have what we have." If there was somebody else there who could help, he'd be contributing by now. "I have a critical view of everything, every coach, every player, everything in our program every day... That's what head coaches do, you evaluate everything with everybody every day."
"Schemes are way, way overrated as far at 4-3, 3-3-5." There's no front that does or doesn't work in a particular league. "It's the execution of the schemes. We've gotta coach the schemes the right way, we've gotta execute the right way." They'll try moving Craig Roh around a bit. Laughed when he heard rumors of defensive staff changes.
"They're a big screen-draw team." They hadn't done much of it with their fullback yet. Defensive recognition wasn't great on that, partially experience. "When an experienced player gets hurt [Mike Martin] - I'm not making excuses - whether you put a senior, junior, or freshman in there, when a guy hasn't played a lot of football, it's different."
"That was one of the positives of the game, is I thought Denard played pretty well." They were close to breaking a couple big ones. He landed on his hip the one time, but was able to come back from it. "His shoulder was better. It's good, but it's not 100%."
Speech to defense at the start of fourth quarter was just a pump-up one, nothing particular schematically.
Personal foul call? "Well, I don't want to get in trouble here. There's some plays I'll send in and get clarification on the rule." Turn in a few plays every week "there's a few more this week."
Illinois - Not a rebuilding year, because they returned plenty of good athletes this season. "They're playing at a very high level right now - probably playing their best football." One of the more athletic teams in the league and that Michigan has played in the last two years. Illinois is playing with confidence.
Illinois has a bit of a rhythm, their young quarterback is playing well for them. They have really athletic guys.
Illinois has a similar offensive scheme to Michigan, it may help the defense be prepared for it. It'll be different to do it live, because they don't tackle Denard in practice.
Goods drive at the game (Gates 2 and 8) to send to troops and families in Afghanistan. Tim Horton's is donating 720 pounds of coffee to send as part of it. Team will be wearing a flag on the back of the helmets. The American flag will be embroidered on the coaches' hats (not the Adidas ones from the Sep. 11 game).
Some of the D problems aren't going to get fixed overnight, etc. "Not just the freshmen, we've got a lot of inexperienced players playing defensively." There is a bit of improvement at this point, but not to the amount that they need.
"We've gotta get faster and more athletic defensively." That was painfully obvious from the film.
"I don't have any grand magic wands to wave [at the defense] and all of a sudden they're going to be playing better." Spending more time with the D is something he's done a few years in the past. If it was an easy fix, he'd have already done it.
Talking about defensive turnovers gained "We're almost like next to last in the country." They're trying to improve that by making sure they get guys in the right positions, working on recognition, aggressiveness. "If it doesn't work out, don't go in the tank the rest of the game."
3rd and long conversions: "If it was jut one particular thing, it would be easier to solve... or one particular guy." It's always something different. They need to look at doing enough third-down work in practice, already doing more than they've ever done.
"We're playing OK offensively, but I think we can play even better when we have more of a rhythm." Defense getting opponents off the field will help establish that rhythm.
"When you play a whole bunch of freshmen in the secondary, do you want to play a lot of man coverage or cover-0?" Need to find a balance with inexperience. Took a couple chances against PSU, and got beat.
Stop a slide like last year? "I don't have to think about it. Everybody else writes about it." People want to focus on the negative, because it sells papers. Team is better offensively, team is closer as a group, making strides in classroom and weight room. Young men are growing up. The wins and losses are bad, but there's more to it than that.
"These guys that are playing young and inexperienced from now, they're going to be experienced a year or two from now. I'm not happy, but I'm optimistic."
"Nobody's happy we've lost the last three games. We're still five in the good and three in the bad." People can't walk around moping, just need to learn from the mistakes, be mad for 24 hours, and start working on the next game.
Turnovers "I thought we were really pretty good at it most of the year." Denard used the bye week to go back and remember to have his eyes in the right spot. "Denard threw one ball he'd like to have back that could have been intercepted," and Hopkins had the fumble, but it was good other than that.
Defensive scheme change help? "we're gonna try." Trying to simplify some, but still give them the opportunity to be aggressive without exposing the secondary.
"I'm not sticking my head in the sand... we know what we have, we know what we've gotta have, and we'll try to fix that going forward."
UFR note: The first torrent didn't go up until yesterday afternoon, so I haven't embarked on my usual journey of discovery yet. The UFRs will be a day late. So in lieu of figuring out the tao of Demens I took a look at a couple games featuring teams in this critical upcoming stretch…
Purdue (vs Toledo)
I picked the game they lost by 11 to a MAC team and haven't seen them beat Northwestern yet. This is probably the worst game they'll play all year. Even so…
Jesus. Jesus, they're bad.
QB. Marve went out like EMU's quarterback did last year—untouched. He was facing a totally unblocked DT up the middle, FWIW.
Rob Henry, the guy Michigan will face, is very erratic. Many of his throws were wildly off target and his interception was completely doomed. He stared at a guy on a hitch route, decided not to throw it, kept staring at him, and then finally let it rip. A linebacker met the receiver and took it away.
Henry's main assets are his legs. He's a decisive upfield runner with good speed. This will be the closest Michigan gets to playing Denard Robinson this year—not very close at all. (Pryor is an entirely different animal, a tank more concerned with its paint job than anything else.)
Skill position melange. With Smith and Bolden out they're just guys. Dierking is obviously a bottom-three tailback in the Big Ten and their receivers didn't do anything of note. Cortez Smith dropped a couple balls.
Offensive line. Terrible. Toledo stoned Purdue short yardage thanks to their DT getting underneath the 6'6" Boiler center and discarding him. When Purdue went to stretch plays the Toledo DTs always got playside of their guys and forced the play back inside. Also, Boiler OL could not find a second level block for the world. When there were creases in the line most of the time Toledo linebackers would run right by ponderous OL and tackle after a few yards.
A couple exceptions came on runs by WRs right up the gut on the inside zone where doubled Toledo DTs got blown way off the ball. I have no idea how Purdue managed 220 yards on the ground; they had trouble with Henry on the outside.
In pass protection things were a little better but on Purdue's final drive Toledo ripped into the backfield and sacked Henry on consecutive plays. Those were just straight-up four-man rushes on which Toledo DTs and DEs smoked Boiler OL.
DL. Ryan Kerrigan is really good. I've seen him be really good against real teams, too—this is just confirmation. Purdue doesn't have much else on the line.
LB. Lost. Toledo is a passing spread with some read-option elements, and their quarterback found guys shockingly open on simple drag routes all day. Purdue had a knack for vacating the area directly in front of the quarterback's face. Junior linebacker Joe Holland stood out as not very good, as it seemed like every attempted tackle from him was run through. His coverage was dismal, too.
Toledo got a long touchdown on a read option keeper when the contain guy didn't contain and the safety jumped the handoff.
Secondary. As mentioned, a deep safety went off schedule and turned a twenty-yard gain into a 58-yard touchdown on a simple option keeper. I didn't look too closely at this group but Toledo was finding wide open guys 15, 20 yards downfield with consistency.
Overall worry level: I'll withhold final judgment until I see a couple more games but Michigan should shred this team; Henry won't be able to throw enough to keep up unless he gets radically better. FWIW, Toledo ran the midline a few times with good success. Maybe this is where Hope got the idea.
Penn State (vs Illinois)
QB. Bolden rolled out for one eighty-yard touchdown pass to Derek Moye; he completed 7 of his other 20 attempts for 62 yards. Illinois's defense didn't give him anything easy and he responded with hopeless checkdowns and lots of inaccurate balls. Penn State's completely abandoned running the quarterback as long as Bolden's in the game, by the way. Strange since he's plenty fast enough to do some damage in space.
RB. Royster is Royster, but he's got problems in front of him. He did seem to lack some of his old Hart-like spark, FWIW. Penn State boards are flying with rumors about him having issues.
WR. PSU's got two enormous WRs that aren't going to beat you deep much. Bolden must not be able to throw a fade to save his life, though, because not once did Penn State try to use the fact that they're rolling out two 6'5" guys on the outside to their advantage. Slot guy Devon Smith is a quick little YAC guy who I can see doing some damage against an erratic Michigan LB corps.
OL. It's shocking that a stable program like Penn State can have such a pasted-together line. I know they lost their starting RT for the year but the four guys on the line who weren't pressed into the lineup because of injury weren't much better. An early fourth and one:
That's four OL on three DL getting no push. Martez Wilson, the MLB, will shoot into a gap unblocked and tackle at the LOS. Penn State tailbacks had 64 yards on 20 carries and weren't obviously leaving a bunch of yards on the field.
DL. While other bits of the Penn State defense may be suffering, the defensive tackles are up to the usual standard. Devon Still and Ollie Ogbu were in the backfield a lot, and if they'd gotten anything from the linebackers they may have made it a game. Tough to judge the defensive ends. They were so injury-wracked that a 309 pound true freshman DT played a big chunk of the game outside. I'm not sure how close to the starting lineup #44 Kevion Latham will be against Michigan but I was not impressed with him.
LB. MLB Chris Colasanti is not up to the usual standard. He's slow mentally and physically and while he'd be an upgrade at M he's just a guy. PSU fans are pushing for hyped recruit Khairi Fortt to play more but he's got the same freshman issues big chunks of Michigan's defense does. When he was in there he was vulnerable to cluelessness against run and pass. Same goes for Mike Yancich, who abandoned a flat zone on one of Illinois's long pass plays.
Underneath zone coverage was atrocious:
That second and fifteen drag went for 18 yards, Scheelhaase's second longest completion of the day. That's starting linebacker Nathan Stupar pulling the Courtney Avery by turning zone coverage into man there; Sukay could not get an angle on the guy before the sticks.
Here's the exact same thing on another 18 yard pass that would be the first Illinois touchdown:
That's a result of DE Pete Massaro and Fortt dropping into the same zone. Clueless youth, but maybe not clueless youth that's going to play against Michigan.
Secondary. Cornerbacks had the day off against Illinois. Safeties were hard to tell because Nick Sukay tore a pectoral muscle and won't be playing against Michigan; by the time he went out Illinois was cruising and content to run. Drew Astorino didn't stand out good or bad.
Overall worry level: This may not be a representative sample of what Michigan sees from Penn State on defense. The Nittany Lions were down to Talbott-equivalents all over the field and their errors opened up large chunks of Illinois yardage. Still, the complete ineptness of the offense is stunning—their line cannot block anyone. If Michigan plays bend but don't break against Penn State it should work because eventually Bolden's going to get stuck in long yardage and he's uncomfortable trying to fit throws in windows. Meanwhile, the defense is obviously a step down from previous editions. How much of one depends on their health level going into the game.
Illinois (vs Penn State)
Illinois is a triple option team. They run it from the pistol…
… but their offense is 60% old-school Nebraska with a modern twist:
Scheelhaase is about Henry's equivalent on the ground, maybe a bit faster.
QB. Scheelhaase's passing ability is primitive. He managed to go 15 of 19 for 151 yards against Penn State but save a swing pass to Leshoure that Yancich busted that went for 32 his long on the day was 18 yards. Literally all routes were little hitches or drags. I'm not even sure if Scheelhaase looks deep, ever. This post (on the far right) on the earlier drag route is about to be a billion yards open:
Sukay is already heading towards the TE who Stupar is getting out of position on.
Scheelhaase's three longest completions were three-yard passes taken for lots of yards after the catch. His other completions averaged 6.9 yards. The book is clear: sit in zones and tackle.
RB. Leshoure is Yet Another Big Ten Back I'd Kill For. He's got a good size-speed combination. He drags piles and hits the holes hard. He doesn't have much shimmy, though—think a poor man's Edwin Baker. Leshoure backup Jason Ford is also pretty good.
WR. AJ Jenkins is the main target in the passing game. His ability to pick up YAC is impressive, Penn State had a tendency to leave crossing routes in the middle of the field shockingly open. Obviously.
OL. Not sure about the OL, which seemed to allow a lot of penetration from the DTs but since Illinois was running at the DEs all day it didn't matter. The Illinois passing game is all short stuff so Penn State did not have time to get pressure.
Defense. Defensively, also hard to tell since Penn State is decimated. Martez Wilson finally has acquired a clue to go with his intimidating physical ability; he came on a blitz designed to blow up play action and showed up in Bolden's chest frighteningly quickly. On the line, Clay Nurse and Corey Liuget are legit playmakers.
Bolden's inaccuracy has something to do with the Illinois secondary. You can never tell about these things for sure but I think a reason he threw a lot of inaccurate passes were guys getting in the way of short routes and knocking off the timing—Bolden doesn't have the experience to adjust yet. Another set were deeper throws on which Bolden's first read was covered. His instinct seems to be "let's see if I can fit this in a tiny window and my receiver can make a spectacular catch."
Dreads. Illinois has fewer players with dreads but they make up for it by having the dreads guys have crazy Marley dreads that end up halfway down the kid's back.
Overall worry level: The Illinois offense moves the ball based on your mistakes only, which means Michigan will have a frustrating day but maybe not one that sees Illinois put up 30 points. Third and long will mean lots of guys in zone and checkdowns Michigan will have to tackle; getting them there will mean implanting Kovacs's brain into the rest of the D.
Defensively, I'm more alarmed by what the Illinois defense did to the MSU run game than anything that transpired here. There is no comparison between the Penn State OL and the Michigan OL. They're clearly good, though, and this should be the toughest game in the upcoming stretch.