chance of bowl: 13.6%
|WHAT||Michigan vs Iowa|
|WHERE||Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, IA|
|WHEN||Noon Eastern, November 5th 2011|
|THE LINE||Michigan -4|
|TELEVISION||National on ESPN|
|WEATHER||mid-40s at kickoff rising to almost 60; sunny, windy|
Run Offense vs. Iowa
this team averaged 4.8 YPC.
Now that this site has a post dedicated to opponent scouting that I don't write it's always interesting to see whether my impressions from the opponent's game are the same as Ace's. This week they were in one critical respect: wow, Iowa has problems at DT.
Minnesota's late surge was a bunch of downhill runs from the pistol aimed at one Steve Bigach, who is a walk-on, national merit scholar, and Academic All Big Ten. He played like it. He's actually the second-string walk-on; Thomas "Not That Nard Dog" Nardo is the preferred starter but he was out with injury. He's touch and go this week in the same way Kovacs is. This is the difference between Michigan starting Heininger (not ideal but you can get away with it) and Brink (time to be nervous).
The rest of the Iowa front seven has not been great. Iowa is languishing at 69th in rush defense. Results against teams other than Tennessee Tech and Louisiana-Monroe:
That's remarkably consistent. Any opponent other than Iowa State averages just under five yards a carry despite not being that good at running the ball. The last couple weeks mobile quarterbacks Tre Roberson and MarQueis Gray have combined for 156 yards at 5.9 a pop. Mac Morehouse just describe the Hawkeyes as "awful" against mobile QBs.
no reason. via Midnight Maize
Michigan is good at running the ball when they bother to do it. After Finding Themselves against Purdue Michigan moved from a horrible 12th to a fantastic 8th nationally. They're actually beating last year's 5.5 YPC at about 5.8, albeit with most of the toughest defenses on the schedule yet to come.
Last week it was finally the Fitzgerald Toussaint show. Toussaint was the first Michigan tailback to get 20 carries in a game since Eastern Michigan in 2009; he turned those into 170 yards and won the starting job in the process. Denard Robinson enjoyed a relatively light workload thanks to that, and everyone hopes that will continue.
As to what Michigan does… at this point your guess is as good as Norm Parker's. Michigan bludgeoned the outside of the Purdue defense, brought out a power-based variant of the inverted veer (or "dash"), and is liable to do something completely different next week. Hell, if Iowa's interior line is as iffy as it looks they could line up in the I and run power. They might even succeed at it.
The only sure thing is that Michigan will do a bunch of different stuff and it will average around 5 yards a carry, if not more.
Key Matchup: Iowa LBs versus Toussaint/Robinson. The Iowa guys don't find the ball that well and could be optioned off to spectacular effect—or just run by. A big play or two could be in the offing.
Pass Offense vs. Iowa
If the run defense is a problem this is a… very large problem. That's the ticket. You have seen the Steele Jantz comparison from Fire Jerry Kill, but here is the Steele Jantz comparison:
The issues in Iowa's pass defense are not limited to funny but trigger-happy Gopher fans, either. Local beatwriter Mark Morehouse picked up on the same post I did before last week's Hawkeye Armageddon event:
FireJerry, who put some work into the post, computed that Iowa’s opposing FBS quarterbacks have pass-efficiency ratings that are 27 points higher against the Hawkeyes than against the rest of their competition.
But the site draws the same conclusion you (at least you should) and I do about the Gophers’ chances of springing an upset at TCF Bank Stadium Saturday:
If only Iowa’s offense was as bad as their defense then we might be on to something.
It’s still the Minnesota defense that allows 308.7 rushing yards per game in Big Ten play.
Herf nerf hurf hurf.
So. The Iowa secondary is atrocious, 91st(!) in pass efficiency defense despite having maybe one decent QB on the schedule I mean, seriously people:
- Steele Jantz
- Tino Sunseri
- Matt McGloin (wsg Rob Bolden)
- Dan Persa
- Tre Roberson
- MarQuies Gray
I've spent the year fretting about the level of competition facing Michigan's defense; Iowa has faced worse (No ND, no MSU even in a trash tornado) and is in the same ballpark as the GERGfence's pass efficiency D.
This is inexplicable.If you were asking people to name the best starting cornerback combo in the Big Ten before the season started, I'm guessing most people would have gone right to Iowa's Prater/Hyde combo. I would have, certainly. Even if Prater has been a disappointment that's probably not it.
Candidate reasons include a complete lack of corner depth (MGoFootball's interview with Planned Sick Days hopefully mentions the return of a nickel corner that might foretell a nickel package), a complete lack of pass rush (83rd wsg 99th in TFL implying a further lack of penetration), and walk-on safeties of the not-Sash variety (
For Iowa's defense to be so bad against such a motely collection of opponents the answer has to be "all of the above." Nothing is working.
The good news for Iowa is that Michigan's performance here has an opponent-invariant quality. You might shoot a guy wide open but if he's not the one farthest downfield you just might get away with it, because both of Michigan's quarterbacks have Rex Grossman disease*. Robinson has been incredibly frustrating this year and Gardner's best pass was a beautiful touchdown that was just a bit over the line.
That fretted about, against defenses of Iowa's caliber Denard has been acceptable. He was 9 of 14 against Purdue with a YPA well over 12 (26th in pass efficiency D), put up 337 yard on Northwestern, and bombed Minnesota as everyone except Iowa does. Struggles against iffy teams stopped when the nonconference schedule did.
Terrible interceptions did not. You might as well rack one or two up right now. This will slow Michigan's offense down; it doesn't seem like Iowa is going to.
*[The secret weapon in Michigan's turnover margin is that half of Michigan's function as punts.]
Key Matchup: Denard vs Accuracy. Forever and ever this key matchup until Denard's missing at a rate that forces defenses to fear him in the air. Is this possible? Absolutely—a lot of spread QBs have light-on moments. Until it happens it hasn't happened.
This section is unchanged from the last two weeks. Until this part.
Run Defense vs. Iowa
"I call them Lithuania and Estonia. Latvia? That's for a special someone."
After weeks and weeks wherein opponents went after Michigan's flimsy edges, this will be a stiff test for the interior of the defense. Marcus Coker is a tank with legs, if you can call the meaty appendages below his torso "legs" instead of "Baltic states." Think Beanie Wells with less breakaway speed and even more cinderblock to his fists. I be like dang about one of his long runs against Minnesota:
There is a 75% chance Hoke kidnaps him after the game and puts him out in Cavanaugh's number at the Tuesday practice availability. I fully support this course of action.
Iowa does the fullbacks and TE and MANBALL thing except their main play is zone—they haven't pulled linemen much since Ferentz arrived and they're not going to start now. The Iowa line is veteran and quality; there's some dodginess in the pass protection but that's another section.
So what's the deal with the rankings? Iowa is square in the middle in rushing yardage, 60th at just under 160 a game. That's after running through the tissue-soft Northwestern-Indiana-Minnesota anti-gauntlet. The numbers:
I'm not sure what to make of that Penn State number since it includes 49 yards from Vandenberg—surely scrambles—and hacks out 39 sack yards. Coker managed 74 yards on 18 carries, 4.1 per. Make of that what you will.
I make this of it: punt. I don't think you can tell much from the last three games. The Penn State number looks a little daunting, Pitt not so much. It's clear from the numbers that the issue with the Iowa run game is not quality so much as quantity. As BHGP put it earlier in the week, Coker's backup has been Marcus Coker. In games that are serious they can't put it all on the run game because the run game will break and then they'll be screwed.
Michigan's run defense is also sort of an enigma. They're obviously a lot better than last year. They also got gashed for big yards by the two teams with serious rushing attacks they played (Notre Dame and MSU), and neither of those teams actually has a serious rushing attack. They just have quality backs. If that's the secret to beating the Michigan defense—outrun and out-thump Michigan's young, iffy linebackers—er… the above run is not so much with the confidence building.
Is Mike Martin the guy who almost singlehandedly crushed the Purdue ground game or the one who got blown out of the middle by MSU's rickety offensive line? Well, it's kind of both:
"Purdue decided to block him one-on-one and zone me? Good luck to the guard that’s gotta block him," Van Bergen said this week. "I’m confident there’s not one guy in the Big Ten who can block Mike Martin one-on-one, run-blocking or pass-blocking. He’s too strong, too quick, got too many tools."
That was odd. If Iowa does the same thing they will be dumb, so they probably won't.
Meanwhile, will Jordan Kovacs be around to provide the security blanket that made Michigan one of the last teams in the country to give up a play longer than 40 yards? Let's find out.
Key Matchup: Heininger and Martin—mostly Martin—against the interior Iowa OL. The best way to stop Coker is to slow him in the backfield and tackle him before he can get up a head of steam. Martin's variable performance and the lingering possibility that Heininger just gets blown up are this matchup's largest X-factors.
Pass Defense vs. Iowa
Problems also loom here. Michigan's list of quarterbacks conquered isn't much more imposing than Iowa's. Purdue and Minnesota are bad (and Gray didn't even play); Cousins is iffy and was playing in the trash tornado; Ryan Lindley is currently 75th in passer efficiency. Tommy Rees went for 315 yards, Dan Persa 331. Michigan's main asset has been that lack of big plays conceded: Rees needed 39 attempts for his yards, Persa 44. That keeps Michigan's YPA in a reasonable range. It does make you wonder what happens if someone like Tommy Rees minus the three mindblowing turnovers comes along.
|13||Jarrett Lee, LSU||63.2||1250||8.1||13||1||157.4|
|14||E.J. Manuel, Florida St.||66.0||1776||9.0||13||8||155.4|
|15||James Vandenberg, Iowa||62.2||1918||8.5||17||4||155.2|
|16||Tajh Boyd, Clemson||61.3||2674||8.4||25||5||154.8|
|17||Brandon Weeden, Oklahoma St.||71.3||2710||7.9||22||7||154.3|
|18||Matt Barkley, Southern California||67.3||2290||7.6||22||5||151.5|
[Ed: thanks for nothing, official NCAA stats site and your decision to freak me out by spelling it "Vanderberg."]
Looks like it's time to find out. Vandenberg's performance does come with some schedule strength caveats similar to those you can apply to Coker. The secondaries of Indiana, Northwestern, and Minnesota are liable to make even Ohio State's quarterback situation look good. Vandenberg struggled against Penn State (50% completions, YPA under 5, two INT) and hasn't really played anyone else with a good pass D. Iowa St and Pitt are decent, I guess. The three already-mentioned dwarves are tire fires. Saturday's game looks like a proving ground for both units.
Iowa has a couple weapons before a steep dropoff. Marvin McNutt is a notch below Michael Floyd but only a notch; Keenan Davis is a quality second banana. Things do get a little thin after the top two: freshman Kevonte Martin-Manley* is the third most prominent target. While he's looking like a keeper he remains a dread freshman. Coker gets his share of dumpoffs and then it's bupkis. They'll hit some tight ends for short gains from time to time, but there's no Clark/Moeaki this year.
The offensive line could be an issue. Watching first-round-hype-recipient Reilly Reiff get blasted back into Vandenberg so badly that a Minnesota DE sacked him with his but is an eye-opening experience. Iowa's below average in sacks allowed (73rd) and the Iowa internets believe Vandenberg freaks out at blitzes. This could be a game in which the Mattison blitz packages play a major factor.
Michigan's pass defense is the most wonderfully mediocre thing that's ever existed. Never in the realm of simulated conflict have so many been so happy for something so middling. Michigan's 41st in pass efficiency D. This statement has sent a half-dozen readers into rapturous seizures. Their man strength is not being completely awful. They get behind opponents but rake the ball out. They usually tackle on the catch. Every once in a while a ball will get batted to them. The safeties haven't let anything behind them all year. This is a tiny unicorn being shepherded into adulthood by an entire community.
The main issue will be the health of Jordan Kovacs. Kovacs missed last week's game against Purdue with some sort of knee injury; he has reportedly been practicing and Brady Hoke says he will go. These things will be believed when seen.
Extra bonus weird factor: there's going to be some wind. Not MSU-level wind, but potentially meaningful.
Key Matchup: Floyd and Countess vs their counterparts. I'm expecting the first deep balls since MSU (sort of), these run by quality receivers in an environment more conducive to completions. Each ball that Vandenberg hangs up there will be a huge swing opportunity for Iowa. May the corners get in chests all game long.
*[Iowa has replaced their Inexplicably Great White Wide Receiver with the Elaborately Named Great Wide Receiver of late. Call it a push.]
Iowa's kicker was amongst the most reliable in the league before he missed a chip-shot and a 30-some yarder in the Minnesota loss. He's still 12 of 16 on the year and was 14 of 17 last year. The misses against Minnesota are a fluke.
Brendan Gibbons added 22 and 37 yard field goals to his collection of uninspiring makes that we'll take all day after last year. He's now 6 of 8 on the year. None of those are from outside 40 and two are glorified extra points. This is still massive improvement.
Iowa has a huge advantage in punting (Michigan is 111th, Iowa 12th net) but Michigan's is based on an extremely small sample size dominated by pooch punts from Michigan State's half of the field. Nobody's returning anything much, though Iowa has a slight advantage on kickoffs.
Key Matchup: Gibbons you put it through the uprights?
- Martin is getting blown up like he was at MSU.
- Denard and Devin do not make the Iowa secondary pay for its inexplicable badness.
- Michigan's road issues rear their heads again with more snap count goofs.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Iowa fans' predictions that mobile quarterbacks will tear them to ribbons bears out.
- Bigach is playing and Michigan can manball him and the rest of that DL.
- Mattison blitz packages send Vandenberg into UPDATE: the fetal position.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 5 (Baseline 5; +1 for Road Disaster Reprise?, +1 for Coker Plus Freshman Linebackers Equals Like Dang, +1 for Where Is The Kovacs Binky?, –1 for GERG-Level Pass D Against Basically A Season-Long McGloin, –1 for Minnesota Comparative Scores For Real, +1 for Vandenberg Is Not TerBush, –1 for Roberson/Gray == Luck Plus Legs, –1 for They Would Take Heininger In A Hot Second.)
Desperate need to win level: 8 (Baseline 5; +1 for This Is Not The Last Two Years, Please, Part II, +1 for Division Goals: We Has Them, +1 for I Like NINE WINS, –1 for It's Not Like This Would Be Totally Incomprehensible, +1 for Hell Yes It Would After The Minnesota Game.)
Loss will cause me to... collapse to my knees, rend my garments, and prepare for the literally Red Sea that is the rest of the schedule to cave in. Okay, so some of it is orange. But orange is almost red.
Win will cause me to... tattoo B-R-A-D-Y G-E-T-S-IT across my knuckles.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
Man, this creeps me out. In the aftermath of the Minnesota game Michigan is a solid road favorite that the public is piling in on and Vegas is like "fine by us." Heebie jeebies right there.
Still, they did lose to Minnesota and when Graham Watson made the Hawkeyes her upset special on Doctor Saturday one of her arguments was "Iowa outgained Minnesota by 75 yards." That is the worst argument in the history of arguments. Total yardage in Minnesota-Michigan: 580-177. I know football is weird but it ain't that weird. It's hard to comprehend but it does look like this Iowa team is the kind of team that can lose to Minnesota if they get a few bad breaks, which basically makes them Purdue.
But it is on the road and Michigan is capable of throwing six interceptions at any moment against any opponent and confidence is not roaringly high over here. Still… man. Losing to ISU, scraping by Pitt, hardly threatening to score against PSU, losing to Minnesota… these are not events that make me think this is a team that should beat Michigan.
Meanwhile, what happens if Iowa gets a fourth and two at the Michigan 38? Do they send Marcus Coker at Will Heininger? No, they punt. What happens if the inverse happens? Adamantium claws burst from Hoke's forehead and he says "go for it." Given the defenses in this matchup, advantage M.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Denard has a Heisman-ish day, cracking 100 yards on the ground and completing 65% of his passes. Yes, terrible INT.
- Coker grinds out 120 yards at around 4 per, and this seems acceptable.
- Power works in this game. For real.
- Michigan, 33-28
What's that? | A starting tailback? | For me? | You guys!
Hey coach, they say it's your birthday. Brady Hoke yesterday turned a chipper 53. Born in 1958 in Dayton, Ohio, to a father who played along side Bo, from an early age Brady reportedly called for his bottle by raising a fist from his crib and crying "hail!" Other than that one running back he's always wanted, Brady gets the undying love and devotion of the Michigan fanbase, until such time as he loses to Ohio State, which cannot happen because Ohio State no longer exists. We'll come back to the board but first, diaries:
The Mathlete's Mid-Week Metrics are all official now but this greatest diarist of all time can still put up a Diary of the Week on the side to weight the chances of various Big Ten Championship hopefuls. Michigan's less than a 10 to 1; we're rooting for MSU to lose out while the Spartans want Michigan to win out. Yeah, that's about as screwed up as dreaming about going to Indianapolis. Remember when you could beat Ohio State, stick a rose in your teeth, and book a flight to Pasadena? That will never happen again. Because Ohio State doesn't exist anymore.
BlueSeoul had another great Game Wrap, though I could have done without the characterization of Hoke and co. as a return to Lloydball:
And then I realized, it's not about da shoes. The thing that changed was me. I'm ready to go back to 9-3 season's again. I'm willing to tolerate 8-4 years if they're balanced with 10-2. I might even be able to stomach the very infrequent 7-5 year if it's offset with a couple 11-1's and 12-0's. And I don't need last second comeback drives against Indiana to be entertained. Saturday's stomping of Purdue was boring, and entertaining, and filled with more satisfaction than I've felt in years.
Let's not confuse late Carr and RR-era Grouchy Carr with three decades of Carr the D.C. and Carr the H.C. who put many roses in many Michigan mouths. He didn't break chairs and splatter goats in visitor's locker rooms after losses but this idea that Carr was not intense and hell-bent on winning championships needs to die. Also needs to die: Interceptions:
That's from turnover analysis by Enjoy Life. Michigan has thrown 12 INTs and picked off six. Fortunately the arm punts don't hurt so much EJ explains. When ST3 went inside the box score, he pointed at Avery's pick as the play of the game.
Maize_in_spartyland handed out 3rd quarter grades across the Big Ten. They're starting to sound like Michigan 2009-ish:
Iowa needs one more win to be bowl eligible, and they missed the potential to do that last weekend, with a loss to lowly Minnesota. Iowa finishes up with Michigan and Michigan State visiting Iowa City and visits to Purdue and Nebraska.
Iowa's still technically in the hunt for the Bo Division title, but they're also one bad trip to West Lafayette and three losses to Top 15 opponents away from their season ending in November. The pic above is Blue Indy's 'Marvel'ous wallpaper.
Recruiting is a thing again. Ace provides the weekly class rankings that haven't changed but for two JUCOs to Minnesota and Purdue. A scouting report on 2013 OLB prospect E.J. Levenberry was posted by austinte and bumped. The Virginia linebacker has a 5-star's offer sheet and is probably a WLB to Michigan. There's plenty of room available for this year's guys, finds airvipermb.
Google has to be wondering what's up with stubob and the weekly pony image searches for Ugly Game of the Week. The guy probably can't type 'p' into his search box without "pretty prancing ponies" filling in. MiS's Upset Watch shows Michigan 7-1 against the spread this year but Iowa is 5-0 at home ATS this year and Ferentz is usually a good home dog, dammit. Yesman2221 previews WMU in hockey. Chris of Etc. moved the picture pages. Get your program.
Coming up, you were not imagining the imaginary Woodsons; they are everywhere. Also: Craig Roh dressed as a shepherd and Mike Martin's Smashing Pumpkins.
Last week, I was really getting worried about what to do for this week's FFFF, as the only working Iowa torrent I could find was from their 13-3 loss to Penn State, and they were slated to play Minnesota in the week leading up to the Michigan game. There's no possible way that any game film against Minnesota would be useful, due to the inevitable bludgeoning as GopherQuest forged on, and... wait, what?
This requires further investigation. To the breakdown! (This week, breakdown sadly comes sans video, as my video converter apparently couldn't handle the end of GopherQuest and committed suicide before turning my uneditable .mkv file into a nice, iMovie-compatible .mp4—prepare for lots of screencaps. If you want to see larger versions of the photos, I've uploaded them to my Flickr account.)
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Pro-style. Iowa spends much of their time in one-back and I-form, and usually goes to the gun only in obvious passing situations.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? MANBALL, which is pretty effective thanks to man-child running back Marcus Coker (more on him later).
Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): James Vandenberg is relatively statuesque, though he has the ability—if given a fair amount of space—to escape the pocket and pick up a first down. It still takes a while. I'll give him a 3.
Dangerman: Marvin McNutt (#7) is arguably the best receiver in the conference, but I'm more worried about Coker (#34), who runs like a bigger, healthier Brandon Minor.
OVERVIEW: Iowa has a reputation for being very vanilla on defense (and they are), but that reputation easily carries over to the offense as well. Even when the Hawkeyes didn't have a great running game—while also boasting two outstanding receivers and a senior quarterback—they looked to ram the ball down your throat, and now with a first-year starter at QB, no Darrell Johnson-Koulianos, and Coker in the backfield, it's all about the run. On most first downs (and second, for that matter), they'll go under center and smash Coker up the middle, and he'll do this to great effect—Coker averages 5.3 yards per carry this year and has nearly eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark already. You'll see him a lot, as Coker has 182 carries this season while no other Hawkeye running back has more than 18—depth is a huge issue there.
Vandenberg is your stereotypical big pocket passer—the Chad Henne comparisons are accurate in terms of style, at least—and he has a very strong arm and solid accuracy. He has issues reading defenses, however, and resorts to a surprising amount of dink-and-dunk throws unless the Hawkeyes are running play-action—most of his big throws downfield came after a run fake, and he was quick to check down when there was even a hint of pressure. In order to help Vandenberg with his pre-snap reads, Iowa will motion an H-back or wide receiver on what seemed to be around half of their snaps, and if Vandenberg doesn't like what he sees from there, he'll usually check down into a run play or short pass.
PLAY BREAKDOWN: While Iowa tends to be pretty predictable, their big plays tend to come when they break tendencies. On the play screencapped below, the Hawkeyes lined up in the gun with three wideouts and an H-back, who motioned to a spot two yards in front of Coker. While Iowa mostly runs from under center, they'd shown this look before and handed it up the gut to Coker. On this play, however, they'd fake the dive and send Marvin McNutt—lined up in the slot—right up the seam. Let's just say he found some space:
This would be a 26-yard completion once the Gopher safeties finally dragged down McNutt. The play-action made it easy for Vandenberg to set up and immediately go to his first read—he's hesitant to throw downfield if the receiver isn't McNutt and there's no play fake to suck in the defense. In another example of Iowa breaking tendency, they lined up in a one-back set with the H-back going in motion—the same look they showed on at least a dozen of Coker's carries—then faked the dive and ran a reverse to McNutt, who had a ton of space and picked up 19 yards. The key to stopping this offense, besides doing whatever possible to slow down Coker, is to not get lulled to sleep.
As stated earlier, Vandenberg does have issues with his pre-snap reads, often appearing to choose which receiver he'll throw to before the snap (he locks on to McNutt often, and though this isn't a terrible idea given his ability, there were multiple passes into double coverage against Minnesota). When he sees a blitz coming, he'll get the ball out quickly, usually on a checkdown to the running back or a quick hitch to one of his receivers. This usually keeps him out of trouble, as evidenced by his lack of turnovers—he's thrown just four interceptions and the Hawkeyes are 11th in the country with just nine total giveaways.
Vandenberg doesn't always see the blitz, however, and that's when problems arise—on the play pictured below, the corner from the top of the screen snuck down to the line just before the snap, Vandenberg didn't see him, and the corner tore off the edge as the play rolled slightly away from him. The offensive line was in no position to pick up the blitz (and while they were outnumbered and this play was doomed, they didn't do Vandenberg any favors by having two guys not block anyone), and BRACE FOR CONTACT:
Would you be surprised if I told you Vandenberg fumbled on the play? Because you shouldn't be. Expect Greg Mattison to dial up a lot of zone blitzes in the hope that he'll confuse Vandenberg and get some free hitters on the blind side. Iowa's line managed to allow three sacks to the Gophers, who had all of five on the season heading into the game, so there will be opportunities to hit the quarterback and force some turnovers.
- About that Coker guy: He ran for 252 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries, and while all the usual caveats about holy hell Minnesota is awful apply, well, he still might be the best running back Michigan has faced this year. He's an absolute wrecking ball at 6'0", 230 pounds, and he'll simply laugh and then destroy if anyone smaller than a defensive lineman tries to tackle him one-on-one in space. After one thunderous run in which he broke through several attempts to tackle, Coker was described by the BTN play-by-play guy as "a rolling ball of steak knives," which is probably the most on-point comment ever uttered by a BTN announcer. The Wolverines will need to get multiple players in a position to hit Coker when he has the ball, and he's still going to break a couple runs into the secondary—this is when we'll really find out how big a deal it is losing Kovacs.
- I think Michigan's best strategy in this game is to get very aggressive with their blitzes and force Vandenberg to throw the ball downfield. Despite getting first-round hype heading into the season, left tackle Riley Reiff looked very susceptible to the speed rush, and got beat easily on a quick inside move for a sack by one of Minnesota's DEs. Vandenberg will throw the checkdown even on third down and long, and a couple Iowa drives ended on four-yard passes on third-and-eight (bingo!). On one such play, Vandenberg actually read the blitz and checked into a play in which his first two reads both ran hitches well short of the sticks, and it failed miserably.
- Give Vandenberg time, however, and he'll pick you apart—if he can set his feet in the pocket and go through his reads, he can hit any throw on the field. He threw a gorgeous fade to McNutt for Iowa's first touchdown and had some really impressive lasers on corner routes. The only game in which he had less than 7.4 yards per attempt this season came against Penn State, who sacked him five times. This is not a coincidence.
Base Set? 4-3. Iowa stays in their base set almost exclusively, unless facing a four-receiver spread.
Man or zone coverage? Defensive coordinator Norm Parker's affinity for the cover 2 zone—on practically every play—is well documented. The Hawkeyes will play zone until you find several ways to beat it, and then they'll play zone a little more just to make sure that wasn't a fluke, and even if it wasn't they'll keep doing it anyway because, dammit, that's how it's done at Iowa.
Pressure: GERG or Greg? In other words, rush three or bring a bunch of blitzes? Iowa would make GERG proud, as they almost never brought any extra pressure outside of rushing their four defensive linemen. They also barely got any pressure, and though one could chalk that up to Iowa ensuring they kept contain on MarQueis Gray, that's not going to change against Denard Robinson.
Dangerman: DE Broderick Binns (#91) got all the preseason hype, but he's been disappointing and had no impact against the Gophers, which can't be a good sign. I liked what I saw from weakside linebacker Christian Kirksey, who's a bit undersized at 6'2", 215, but always seems to end up around the football and is also the best Iowa linebacker in coverage.
OVERVIEW: Have I mentioned that Iowa likes to run the cover 2? That's really all they do, and it's just a matter of beating it. Handy cover 2 diagram, just mentally insert "weakside linebacker" in place of "nickel back":
There are weaknesses, of course, and Minnesota managed to exploit the two major ones when they passed the ball (Gray had by far the best game of his career, completing 11-of-17 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown with no picks)—10-15 yard passes to the sideline (between the corner and the deep safety) and the seam right up the middle (splitting the two deep safeties and over the top of the middle linebacker).
Iowa also had a difficult time defending runs right up the middle—more on that later—and this was against a Minnesota team that was (a) Minnesota and (b) trying out a new starter at left guard. The Hawkeye run defense is just 69th in the country, and their pass defense, shockingly, is worse (91st in opponent passer efficiency) despite boasting a pair of well-hyped corners in Shawn Prater and Micah Hyde. Prater looks susceptible to deep passes over the top (on the rare occasion when he is in man) and also got beat to the inside on a few slants. Hyde was barely tested, though he did have a nice pass breakup on a fade in the end zone and drew what I thought was a questionable pass interference call.
PLAY BREAKDOWN: About that cover 2—if you're going to run it, you need your safeties to be very, very disciplined. Iowa was usually pretty good about not letting anything go over the top, but they had trouble with play-action passes, especially this one, as free safety Tanner Miller bit on the run fake and could not recover and get outside:
That play went for 61 yards as Minnesota both drew up the free safety (on the right in this picture) on the play-fake and occupied the strong safety by running a post with their slot receiver. I'm actually surprised they didn't also send both outside receivers on streak routes, instead of just the one, but Minnesota likely wants Gray to have a safe underneath option—with the middle linebacker also occupied by the post, the slant could've worked here if the streak wasn't so hand-wavingly wide open.
The Hawkeyes also had trouble with runs up the middle—Minnesota's second-to-last scoring drive consisted of 11 runs on 12 plays, only one of which was an outside run, and that one a scramble on a pass play by Gray—as their defensive tackles repeatedly got sealed to the outside. Here's one such example in which not one, but both DTs end up getting pushed off to the left (from the offense's POV), allowing Duane Bennett to bust a 15-yard run up the middle:
I know this one's tough to see, but #93 (the interior D-lineman with his back turned) started as the DT on the right hash, while Binns (the near-side DE) is getting sealed to the outside by the right tackle. The arrow shows you where Bennett will find a gaping hole as the linebackers were unable to fill. I was pretty unimpressed by the linebacker play of Iowa, even though MLB James Morris recorded 13 tackles—too often they were passive and allowed blockers to get right into them. Now that Al Borges has introduced the inverted veer to the offense, I'd like to see Michigan try to exploit this weakness up the middle and see if they can get Denard running full speed into the secondary. Fitz Toussaint's success last week came almost entirely off the edge, so I think Shoelace gives Michigan the best chance to break a big run up the gut.
- The player who showed the biggest weakness to me was starting defensive tackle Steve Bigach (#54), who was repeatedly blown off the ball and was the main culprit on several of Minnesota's big runs up the middle. He weighs just 282 pounds, so there's actually a good chance that the somewhat-undersized interior of Michigan's O-line can do the same—hell, Minnesota managed it.
- Iowa really couldn't generate any pressure on Gray while leaving the pass rush in the hands of their defensive line. Without Adrian Clayborn wreaking havoc across from him, Binns seems to be relatively easy to neutralize—he only has 2.5 sacks this year, which is just .5 off the team lead. The Hawkeyes are tied for 83rd in the country in sacks for a reason, or I guess two: their conservative strategy and the lack of big-time playmaker on the line.
- The key for Michigan against this cover 2 will be for Denard to not force anything underneath, where there are usually several linebackers hanging out waiting for a wayward slant or a late throw on a hitch. Denard has had his issues this season in throwing the ball late to covered receivers—see his interception on the pass to Koger last week—and he won't be able to get away with those against Iowa. The good news is that Michigan should be able to flood the sideline and get multiple options vertically—handy picture pages post here—and that should give Denard some easy reads, since he should have ample time in the pocket.
Maybe it's because THEY LOST TO FREAKIN' MINNESOTA, FERGODSAKES, or just because there seem to be several weaknesses that play right into Michigan's hands, but I have a hard time seeing the Wolverines losing this one unless Coker goes HAM and Michigan commits multiple turnovers. I'm quite confident in this one now that there's enough evidence that the defense isn't a complete mirage. Hooray for confidence in the defense.
This one is slightly over an hour, like 1:06.
Purdue. That happened, and apparently that is my terrible catch phrase.
The offense is kind of a bunch of different things. Is this good or bad?
An excessively detailed explanation of the pin and pull zone. Is offered.
Toussaint. Is praised. It is wondered why he only got two carries against State.
The defense. Is this real life?
The Big Ten. Is not good.
Iowa. Doesn't seem real good, either. Jamie brings a statistic that has us laughing in disbelief.
Music this week was tough to link to anything in particular. I stumbled across my Dismemberment Plan directory and "Memory Machine" (from Emergency & I) seemed appropriate, since they're all engineers and we could all use one of the aforementioned machines for the last few years. Then I was in the same directory and went with "Face of the Earth" (from Change) for a reason that shall remain secret. (I like it is the reason.)
The usual links: