and... i like them? I think I like them.
2011 michigan state
Some things that are inevitable are impossible to call until they happen. Like that Google AdSense would eventually find the perfect sponsor to reach the massive and growing audience of Michigan/cat readers. Or that Michigan would eventually run a fake from the FB dive.
It's 4th and short. Michigan has cut MSU's lead to 7 and has the ball on the MSU 9 with a little over 6 minutes to play thanks to a State fumble on its own 32. Michigan has already converted a 4th and 1 on this drive (the ZR where Denard pulled it after his RB was already being tackled). A fumbled snap, a short pass to Koger and a dead-on pass to Gallon at the sticks for 11 yards (had Michigan challenged the spot we would have gotten it) later it's 4th and inches. Then everything goes wrong:
Somewhere in Michigan, a cat is being abused.
Do you wish you would have called a running play on the fourth and one? “No. I liked the play. If we execute the play, Koger’s in the endzone. We don’t make a block that we need to make, and that’s part of it. That play’s been very successful for us. It’s a nice complement to the dive. We just didn’t execute it.”
WE DON'T MAKE A BLOCK THAT WE NEED TO MAKE
Before the snap the TE on the top of your screen (Moore) is looking inside for the snap and misses the CB start his blitz. By the time Moore is out of his stance the CB is already past him. The fake doesn't work because the corner is coming from the edge and knows exactly who has the ball.
IF WE EXECUTE THE PLAY
There was more than just the missed assignment. MSU's strongside end managed to hit both Watson (the TE) and Koger (the H-Back), which occupied Koger long enough to throw off his route. By the time Denard was on the ground, Koger still hadn't made it out of the backfield, and had picked up a safety escort.
BUT THE DIVE-FAKE WAS SET UP!
How many times in a short situation has Michigan come out in the I, shifted the RB outside, then run a FB dive? Eventually there was going to be a wrinkle off of this. Such a wrinkle was primed like a Guitar Hero Star Power Meter. Or was it?
Here's all the goal-line dives this year:
- 4th and 1 from WMU's 19. Toussaint gets 3 against the 3-4 defense.
- 2nd and goal from WMU 1. Well defended but Toussaint just barely gets the nose of the ball to break the plane.
- 3rd and goal from ND 3. ND stuffs, Hopkins fumbles, Denard picks it up and runs in unmolested.
- 3rd and goal from EMU 1. Because it's EMU they are slow to react and Toussaint leaps over the pile.
- 2nd and goal from Minn 1. Michigan gets a yard.
- 1st and goal from NW 1. Wildcats spot the play, meet Toussaint's leap, stopped just short.
- 2nd and goal from NW 1 (the next play). Toussaint doesn't jump, they stop it.
In Star Power terms this is Note-plink-plink-plink-plink-plink-plink = U No Haz Str Pwr.
DeBordian thinking would tell you a fake off the dive is perfectly set up. MSU knows the dive by heart. They're even tempting Michigan to run it by shifting the alignment. There's a hole to the left of Molk that either Toussaint or Norman will get to first. This is Man-Ball at maximum chest hair.
Because of Molk's block (he's 3/4 of the way to a seal before anyone else is out of their stance) and Toussaint's athleticism, the dive probably would have worked. It would depend on the spot, and be close.
The point is a fake off this thing was as incredibly surprising as a DeBordian waggle. MSU had seen it defended, and knew just like the rest of us that a fake was eventually inevitable. Their answer: blitz the corner in case of a keeper and having Norman shoot the hole they left.
IT'S THE WRONG OFFENSE AT THIS MOMENT
I am totally fine with the FB dive and its variations this year. It is a staple of power offenses, and except in terrible, cat-abusive situations, saves Denard from taking hits. Saves him, for example, for those times you're down a score and deep in your opponent's territory late in the 4th quarter against a rival with a three-game streak against you.
What caused this…
That was the dumbest goddamned $%&*^-*$#*ing #&!$brained dip*&%$ mother*(%$ing horse_+$# goat-&^%t &%$*y-infested $%^&stick playcalling I have ever &*$ing seen in my life.
…wasn't any of the execution problems. It was conceptual. Hoke and Borges are betting that MSU sells out against the dive—never mind the plinking—and he can use that to take an easy touchdown. This is the opposite of correct, the equivalent to Weis throwing a bomb on 2nd and 10, and giving Tate and company an extra 28 seconds for the comeback. It's throwing away a huge advantage for the advantage of surprise. It's making lemonade when God gave you apples and an apple crusher.
Every second the quarterback is moving backwards or isn't facing the line of scrimmage is a second that the quarterback isn't going to be running forward. Even if it was properly blocked. Even if Koger wasn't held up by a great rush by MSU's end, it's a terrible play call because it leaves Michigan's biggest weapon—Denard Robinson's legs—in the garage, while trusting Denard's arm (not good in a garbage tornado), Koger's catching (iffy all day), and Michigan State to not play disciplined defensively (between the whistles they were fine).
I haven't changed my opinion about these coaches: we have awesome coaches and I'd rather have them than any other person who's coached in this state the last four years. But that was a terrible, terrible call.
[Guh. Google image search for "rugby punt" and one of the first images is Zoltan making his very bad decision against Michigan State. Thanks for nothing, BWS.]
Rugby punt responses.
What do you think about having an up man for punt returns when we play against a rugby style punter? How many times have we seen 25 - 30 yard punts turn into 50 yard net results because it was impossible for one man to cover enough ground to catch the ball. If we had an up man he could immediately start moving toward the side that the punter runs toward and would be in position to fair catch many of these 30 yard floaters. I actually like a two man return set up for all punts but it certainly seems to make sense against the rugby style. My nomination for up man is Drew Dileo - great hands, dependable and seems to have an unflappable field presence.
All the best,
Jerry in Ibiza
Against traditional punts putting a second guy that far back could be an invitation for the opponent to run a fake. You could get away with it for a few games but once opponents plan for 9-on-11 you're asking for trouble.
That problem doesn't exist with spread punting*. Fakes there are invariably the punter taking off after he sees the opponent bug out downfield, something the returning team can prevent with three or four guys. So… yeah, I've been in favor of a second returner for a while now. The combo of spread with rugby style punting means returns are infrequent and the best you can hope for is to field the thing on the fly and hope to get lucky—having a guy a closer to the roll side who's 30 yards deep could save you dozens of yards of field position.
In the last year of the Rodriguez regime we actually saw something like that in the open practice. Michigan came out with three returners, one at normal depth in the middle of the field and two guys outside of him closer to the line of scrimmage. Never actually saw it in a game, though, and the punting was so terrible in that practice that we never even saw it return in practice.
I doubt Michigan ever does something like this—using the old-style punting is indicative of a regime that's not particularly innovative on special teams.
*[Rugby punt googling also turns up a coaching video on the thing calling it "shield" punting and enumerating its many advantages:
The traditional punt formation has only two gunners. Everyone else is tasked with protecting the punter until the kick is off, which means they lose time they could be using to go after the returner. The basic shield punt formation allows for much better coverage by spreading out seven gunners on the line of scrimmage with three defenders protecting the punter.
The shield punt is a simple formation that results in your opponents giving you fewer looks and allows you to minimize practice time spent on punt coverage. Your athletes have limited assignments which translates into quick learning and fewer reps in practice.
Seven gunners, man.
BONUS RANDOM Australian team logo:
Is that a location or a description? ]
One of about a dozen emails about why we couldn't do anything against MSU.
Denard, Borges, and the o-line are rightfully getting a lot of heat after Saturday's loss. How much of the blame should go on the wide receivers? MSU loaded up the box and dared UM to beat them through the air. They manned up on the wide-outs and sent the house. I remember a few plays Denard missed open guys, but on most passes the receivers were blanketed. On one pass over the middle, Denard stepped up into the pocket and threw a bullet to Roundtree. The pass was slightly to Roy's left, but instead of sliding his feet, he just reached for it, and the ball glanced off his hands. The best way to stop a team from blitzing is to beat man coverage. On the Roundtree TD, it took a near perfect throw to fit the ball in there.
Clearly MSU didn't respect our wide-outs' ability to beat man coverage. This is the first game I think we missed Stonum's speed. He had that huge catch and run to jump start the team 2 years ago against State. He also got the offense over the hump last year vs. (gulp) UMass. Hemingway is a good position guy, crafty after the catch, great on jump balls, but he's no burner. What impact do you think Stonum might have had on Saturday's game?
PS - why no more bubbles? On the Denard pick 6, UM had 3(!) on 2 and didn't throw it. I don't think we're stretching the field enough horizontally anymore.
I have many of these arguing that various things were wrong with the offense, so if this isn't yours, apologies for not replying—I did read it and will go into UFR looking for it.
As for the wideouts, it seemed like the wind was also screwing with them. Michigan State suffered a half-dozen drops to go with Roundtree's. That's more evidence passing was not the best idea on Saturday.
Did they get open and if not was that their fault? It's hard to tell. While the WRs weren't open on that disastrous three-play sequence in the second quarter, other players were. If the QBs throw to the hand-wavingly wide open guys we're not having this conversation. On other plays they may not have been open because Michigan ran three guys deep into cover three. There was a shocking lack of short routes to exploit MSU's constant double-A-gap blitzing.
Just last week the WRs brought in seven iffy passes from the QBs against Northwestern, and while they aren't Edwards, Avant, and Breaston issuing those guys the blame when they hardly got a hand on the ball is goofy. The QBs and Borges were the main issues.
RE: bubbles. I don't know, man. Argh. They looked open all day. That's a symptom of a larger issue: lack of constraints in general. The base didn't do anything in large part because MSU was cheating it and Michigan had nothing to punish the cheating. It's possible they did but couldn't execute it—Meyer thought the pick six was a slant that a WR did not run.
Ticket wait list: not so good.
So I decided after many years to get my own tickets, expecting to go on a waitlist for end zone seats, maybe take a couple years or more for my name to come up.
I read the online info and sent an email to the ath dept to clarify.
To sum up what I learned, I'm told that I have the opportunity to make a donation of $500 to be on the interest list for this year. Key points: 500 minimum donation, but no guarantee of getting tickets. $500 puts me on the list for this year only. If I don't get them this year, then I need to cough up another $500 to try again next year. Or just donate a large enough amount move higher up the list. It's all about points. More points move you up the list. My degree is worth 5 points, which I could buy for a mere $500.
I told them to tell pass along my dislike to DB.
This is bizarre given the many stories floating around on the internet stating that over the past half-dozen years or so you could jump the season ticket wait list with a donation of $100, $150 at worst. To reiterate, this is next year's home schedule: Air Force, UMass, Illinois, MSU, Northwestern, and Iowa. You could pay $500 for the privilege of being on the wait list, or you could take your 500 bucks, scalp every game, and have enough for a Wii left over.
I'll be fascinated to see how this works.
Since there has been much criticism and analysis of the various systems deployed by current and former coaches, I am just curious: what is your ideal offense? As in, if you were to become an offensive coordinator, what would the personnel look like and which current system would it most resemble?
Oregon. Oregon has the whole toolbox: power, inside zone, outside zone, constraints on all of those, the zone read, and a downfield passing game that is often a blitheringly open touchdown factory. There are a number of other systems that I wouldn't mind—I like Oklahoma's "have an NFL first round QB throwing to NFL first round wideouts" strategy—but the tiebreaker for me is Oregon's ability to manipulate the tempo of the game in their favor.
Oregon can play lightning fast when they have the opponent off balance, which keeps the opponent off balance. If they were to hypothetically be behind in a game, the up tempo nature of the system helps them there, too. If you're trying to kill a game it's nice to have a rushing attack well over seven yards a carry. And finally being really good and playing fast makes you less vulnerable to weird stuff because you're putting more possessions in the game.
Oklahoma's air-raid derived passing spread is also quite lovely but seems more vulnerable to vagaries in quarterback talent. Oregon made Jeremiah Masoli an all-conference player.
We will make an exception this time.
I graduated from UM Law in 2006 and consider myself to be a huge Michigan fan. I went to Yale as an undergrad and was in an a capella singing group (I know, I know) called the Baker's Dozen. Through some weird circumstances, I found out last year that from the early '60s until the late '80s, my group sang and recorded "Hawaiian War Chant."
As you would imagine, or, I would hope, can at least understand, I freaked out and immediately found and purchased a copy of an album from the 80s that contained the song. In the meantime, an alum of the group sent me the attached mp3 which is a recording from the Baker's Dozen's 1960 album.
My wife's about to have twins, so I figure the only logical thing to do is to send the girl to Michigan and the boy to Yale where he'll join the same group and revive the song. That's not a weird plan, right?
Here is one without the other:
Someone in the readership will no doubt find a 60s a capella version of Temptation now. This is what the readership does. It is a machine.
This week on the podcast: complaining, complaining, and more complaining. It's kind of jovial-like, though, so it's not as annoying as that might sound. But in the interests of full disclosure:
We complain about the fourth and one call.
We complain about the offense in general.
Ten minutes in, we consider whether we will stop complaining. Answer: no.
We complain about throwing the ball in a trash tornado.
We start talking about the defense, get in a few complaints about holding the edge, find the defense too not-depressing to talk about for an extended period of time and so move on.
We complain about Rich Rodriguez's offensive and defensive line recruiting.
We complain about the uniforms.
We complain about our wow experience.
Then Jamie of Just Cover comes on and we talk about the Big Ten. I don't think we complained much in that segment.
Musical interludes from Bonnie Prince Billy, one of Will Oldham's alter egoes, and Rilo Kiley. The former's tune is "Death to Everyone" of off I See a Darkness. The latter is "The Execution of All Things" off the album of the same name. I see what I did there.
The usual links:
10/15/2011 – Michigan 14, Michigan State 28 – 10/15/2011, 6-1, 2-1 Big Ten
right via Melanie Maxwell/AnnArbor.com
WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING THROWING 30 YARDS DOWNFIELD IN A CYCLONE
YOU'RE ASKING DENARD ROBINSON TO BE JOE MONTANA IN A TRASH TORNADO
YOU'RE COMING OUT FIVE WIDE
RUN THE FOOTBALL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
-Brian Cook's brain channeling Mike Valenti, 3:07 PM 10/15/2011
The now rapidly developing lizard brain theory of college football coaching states that there is a certain level of pressure above which rationality goes out the window and coaches revert to who they really are. It came to me in a horrible epiphany when Lloyd Carr punted in the 2005 Ohio State game less than a quarter after going for it on his side of the field. Coaches panic, go to their binkies, and then try to convince you otherwise in the post-game.
Different coaches have different levels. Ron Zook reverts to the lizard brain on the opening kickoff of every game. Kirk Ferentz makes it about five minutes in. We don't know about Tressel because he constructed his team such that the lizard brain was right. Les Miles exists on an entirely different axis with taffy on one end and victory on the other. He is the only one who escapes. The lizard brain is unavoidable.
Al Borges's lizard brain kicked in after Vincent Smith ran for two yards on Michigan's first offensive play of the second half. First and ten after that:
Robinson sacked for –9 yards
Smith rush for two yards
Gardner rush for four yards
Robinson rush for –1 yard
Robinson slant complete for 34 yard touchdown
Robinson rush for –1 yard
While this doesn't paint a pretty picture for the run game, either, after halftime Michigan passed on 60% of its first downs, got one completion on a short route that turned into a big gain when Roundtree broke a tackle, and did nothing else.
For the game Michigan tried to pass at least 41 times*, averaging 2.8 yards per attempt and giving up a defensive touchdown.
TWO POINT EIGHT YARDS
RUN THE FOOTBALL!!!!
Michigan tried to run the ball 26 times and averaged… oh, Jesus… 5.2 yards per carry. Fitzgerald Toussaint got two carries, Denard twelve.
I just realized this is what it's like to be Walter Sobchak.
MARK IT 2.8.
(This is not a threat against anyone's person. Do I look like Will Gholston?)
So, yeah. There is no way to put this without getting an email from some guy concerned about his eleven year old without resorting to Bloom County methods. That was the dumbest goddamned $%&*^-*$#*ing #&!$brained dip*&%$ mother*(%$ing horse_+$# goat-&^%t &%$*y-infested $%^&stick playcalling I have ever &*$ing seen in my life. I see you, Valenti. I get it now. I get it.
ON FOURTH AND ONE AL BORGES HAD THE QUARTERBACK, WHO IS THE MOST DANGEROUS RUNNING QUARTERBACK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL, TURN HIS BACK TO THE LINE OF SCRIMMAGE AS IF EVERY DEFENSE EVER CONCEIVED AGAINST THE GUY DOESN'T HAVE EDGE CONTAIN OF HIM AS THEIR FIRST THREE PRIORITIES
ON FOURTH AND ONE AL BORGES HAD THE QUARTERBACK, WHO IS THE MOST DANGEROUS RUNNING QUARTERBACK IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL, TURN HIS BACK TO THE LINE OF SCRIMMAGE AS IF EVERY DEFENSE EVER CONCEIVED AGAINST THE GUY DOESN'T HAVE EDGE CONTAIN OF HIM AS THEIR FIRST THREE PRIORITIES
Okay, okay… sorry. Sorry. I'm vented.
What we have to deal with now is the cold certainty that the honeymoon is over and our football coaches are football coaches, like they always are, and we cannot assume that everything will be honeydew and game theory from now on. Hoke punted on fourth and short-ish from inside the opponent 40. Borges did that above.
That's okay, really. Given the crapfest we endured on offense I almost can't blame Hoke for the punts. And in many other situations I prefer an offensive coordinator who wants to throw when he's in trouble to one who wants to go into a shell. The Morris/upperclass Gardner offense won't put the Ferrari in neutral until the second half. Recruit like they're recruiting and coach like it seems they can and eventually we'll get to a nice place to be.
In the near term, though, those happy thoughts over the first few weeks about Borges adjusting to Denard evaporated in a flurry of sacks after which you look at the receivers and there are three guys thirty yards downfield with no one between them and the carnage. You can fake it against defenses that can't play, but when it comes down to it the combination of Borges and Denard makes everyone wonder that bad old question about whether he should really play QB. IE: the worst-case scenario from the offseason.
A certain genre of Michigan fan will say this was always who Denard was, but last year he completed 58% of his passes for 9.3 YPA and a 12-9 TD:INT ratio in the Big Ten. Whatever his limitations were they seemed a lot less limiting last year, when Michigan stressed the defense to the edges and exploited the ruthless equation of the spread: a running quarterback means someone's open if you can just find him.
I don't blame Borges for that. You can't up and be someone else at the drop of a hat. If we are again pointing the finger of blame it's aiming at Rich Rodriguez for not deserving a fourth year. I do blame Borges for throwing almost two-thirds of the time when that should be inverted. The incoherent grab-bagginess of the offense is a natural effect of hiring a pro-style guy with a spread offense. Running Denard twelve times in a trash tornado is not.
So here we are, with football coaches instead of magical fairies who can do anything. That sucks. The honeymoon over, life re-asserts itself.
*[I'm not sure how many QB carries were scrambles. I counted the 8-yard Gallon scramble as a pass.]
Non-Bullets of I Wish They Were Real Bullets
Hurray clowniformz! So much for a one-time thing. It's as if they knew they would need to both play and look like Yakety Sax:
That's the third time this year we've had a uniform stunt, this one the ugliest and stupidest of them all*. It's like Dave Brandon took in the majesty that is the Spartan Stadium game experience and said "someday this will be mine." Chengelis's headline on the subject…
Spartans, Wolverines compete with fashion statements, too
…is even more evidence that Dave Brandon Gets It less than anyone has ever not Gotten It before.
I had a wow experience. Did you? Everyone looking forward to the analwowing in Dallas next year when we take our freshman defensive tackles and paper-thin offensive line into a game we are absolutely not prepared for? CEOs are psychopaths.
[Bonus: last time we did this was 1976, the very heart of the era when people lost their minds about fashion. We lost then, too.]
*[No, that guy on every message board who could spin Denard Robinson's arm being torn off by William Gholston as a positive for the program, they did not look good. A sane political system would prevent you from voting. You suck. I'm sure you've got a comment all lined up to complain about the complaining. Bring it, I've got an itchy trigger finger today.]
Obligatory personal foul section. Yeah, it was ugly. The truly sad thing was that band of morons getting away with 120 yards in penalties without losing. If we had a sane offensive plan and/or a plan to deal with snap jumping those personal fouls are only 10% enraging—the intent to injure bits—and 90% hilarious Sparty being Sparty. That's where we are as a program right now: we can play the stupidest 85 people ever assembled on one football team and still lose by two touchdowns.
Gholston should obviously be suspended at least two games for the helmet rip—as bad an intent-to-injure play as the Reynolds-Sorgi incident—and the punch, which has been established by the great Jonas Mouton Suspension Fiasco as a one-gamer. There was also a less obvious judo chop that forced Lewan out of the game for a few plays. I bet nothing happens, because that's the way life goes.
This is the second consecutive year a player has been knocked out late after the game is decided by a dirty hit. Look at Dantonio's jaw… you are feeling very sleepy… you cannot put together incidents to see a pattern forming… so much… fake… bible… Spock.
I guess targeting other football players is progress relative to beating up mechanical engineers en masse.
Edge destruction. Early candidates for big negative days in the defense UFR: Roh and Ryan, who were targeted by the MSU offensive coaching staff to good effect. MSU's first TD drive was a series of easy outside runs as those two got destroyed. They improved a bit as the day went on but were clearly a weak spot targeted effectively.
Woolfolk also got pulled after a series or two; he's obviously hurt. Avery was the nickel corner since MSU doesn't spread to run much.
Man, Baker. It kills me whenever I see a really good running back go against Michigan because the mind immediately plugs that guy into rotation at the RB spot post-Minor and groans. Baker is one of those guys, a leg-churning tackle-breaker who would turn a lot of Michigan's two yard runs into five or six or more.
Penetration. They had it. Michigan didn't. Why not?
One part: It's clear all these late-developing passing routes are exposing the Mark Huyge we saw trying and failing to block for Tate Forcier as a sophomore. After a year of being covered up by the spread 'n' shred he's back to allowing sacks on a three man rush.
But the interior line? I saw Molk ole guys. Molk! How is this year four of MSU using a simple parlor trick of slanting under at the snap without two different coaching staffs being able to do anything about it?
Old school punting. Positive of a sort: When asked to coffin-corner punts Will Hagerup does a pretty good job. Haven't seen that in 15 years—you know it's old school when Sap is referencing Harry Kipke when handing out helmet stickers.
Why "of a sort": if you can coffin-corner a punt you probably shouldn't be punting.
The Minnesota plays. Doesn't seem too smart to have run a zillion new things against Minnesota now, does it? Michigan brought out the sprint counter once and it got stuffed—would MSU have been prepared for it if they hadn't seen it against Minnesota? Since Michigan isn't running the QB stretch that motion was a tipoff the counter was coming and an expected counter is a dead counter.
Inside the Box Score points out a huge swing play:
The refs did miss one backwards pass from Cousins, who clearly let go of the ball on state’s 37 and hit his receiver’s hands on the 36. The explanation was really lame, something along the lines of Michigan didn’t recover the football right away. The way I saw it, the ball hit the ground and the Michigan defender bent down and picked it up. What am I missing?
With no one around the ball except Wolverines if that's correctly called that is a potentially game-changing defensive score. This isn't a bad offsides penalty or uncalled false start, it's a touchdown being wiped off the board because the refs blew it dead too early. Very frustrating. I thought they were supposed to let it go if it was too close to be sure about now.
Also there is this:
Our leading tacklers were Gordon, Kovacs, Roh, and Countess, with 8, 6, 6, and 6, respectively. Do you notice what’s missing? Linebackers. Demens was the leading tackler among the linebackers with 5. I noticed this week that Touch the Banner was high on Demens for last week’s performance against NU, but Brian was critical of him in the UFRs. I think this game was the tie-breaker. I don’t think our LBs were productive enough. Baker gashed us all day long. His longest run was only 25 yards, yet he gained 167 yards on 26 carries. State was consistently able to pound the football against us.
How many times did MSU linebackers shoot out to the sideline on plays that looked like they were going to work and hold them down to a few yards, and how many times did Michigan linebackers do that? That's not always on the linebackers—could be on the M OL not getting out or DL not taking on doubles effectively—but given what we saw against Northwestern I'm betting some of the big chunk plays from Baker see linebacker minuses aplenty.
Hoke for Tomorrow is briefer. I would like to interject about this amongst the things learned:
That strong winds + Kirk Cousins > strong winds + Denard Robinson.
Cousins averaged 5 YPA and threw a backwards pass that should have been a disaster. Drops had a lot to do with it but it's possible the wind messed with both WR and QB, which is even more reason that throwing 41 times in the trash tornado was inexplicably dumb.
Media, as in stuff. The official site valiantly found highlight-type-substances in the wreckage:
Blogs. Come on, Braves and Birds picture comparison. Come on. The Hoover Street Rag does something long and complicated that I don't understand. Parody of a bad NBC hour-long drama? Mathlete says Michigan underperformed expectations by 28 points, his worst number of the season for all of I-A. Various bullets from MVictors. Touch the Banner also has them.
National variety from Doctor Saturday:
On seven trips into MSU territory after the opening possession, Michigan punted on five and turned it over on downs on a sixth.
Series by series, punt by punt, the sense of progress over the first half of the season dissolved into a disheveled mess. The running game stalled. The two-quarterback shuffle failed to gin up any semblance of a steady passing game, or a big play with Robinson lined up as a wide receiver. The pass protection broke down. In almost every aspect, it was Michigan's worst nightmare: At the exact point on the calendar that optimistic starts began to give way to collapse each of the last two years, the Wolverines looked like a team on the verge of collapse.
Newspapers. Michigan fell to 17th/18th in the polls. I did not find anything else of a newspapery variety that is open in my tabs.
I am headed for East Lansing very early in the morning so I should put this up now so that it actually gets done. Here it is. Please see the Liveblog Chaos Mitigation Post for information on how to be an excellent liveblog participant.
Go Blue. If I don't post by Monday, avenge my death.
Previously here: ACE FFFF!
|WHAT||Michigan vs State|
|WHERE||Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, MI|
|WHEN||Noon Eastern, October 15th 2011|
|THE LINE||State –2.5|
|TELEVISION||National on ESPN|
|WEATHER||mid-50s, partly cloudy, 10% chance of rain, windy|
Run Offense vs. Michigan State
Jerel Worthy: self-trolled
This is an irresistible force versus immovable object matchup that pairs the nation's #7 rushing offense against its #1 rushing defense. Massive schedule strength caveats apply to both numbers.
Michigan State has played a I-AA team and I-A's #111, #94, #48, and #31 rushing offenses. The two good opponents were Ohio State, against whom MSU got a healthy dose of Bauserbombs and nine sacks, and Notre Dame, whose primary tailbacks combined for 126 yards on 26 carries—4.8 a pop. MSU did shut down an Ohio State rushing offense that did well against Nebraska, Colorado, and Miami (That Miami). There is plenty of there there.
A large part of the there is in the person and Missouri-themed tattoo of NT Jerel Worthy. Worthy is being talked about as a potential first round draft pick and has tormented Michigan the last two years by jumping snap counts and generally being impossible to to run against. Michigan will have to block him, and get his snap-timing ways off guard. If you let him jump a snap your play is done. Trap him, counter him, do various things to him that exploit his aggression.
The rest of the line is inexperienced. With Tyler Hoover out for the year the ends are one-time Michigan prospect Marcus Rush, a redshirt freshman, and hyped true sophomore William Gholston. Gholston got a lot of hype during the Ohio State game but that turned out to be mostly for running down the backside of the play and tackling for loss when State's massive blitzing forced tailbacks to cut back. When Ohio State blocked him he stayed blocked; his pass rush moves are rudimentary. He remains a physical marvel. Rush is a smaller DE in the mold of a Roh who's quick around the edge and has some issues holding up.
Chris Norman, Max Bullough, and Denicos Allen are the linebackers. Allen you may remember executing the flying squirrel sack on Bauserman late in the OSU game. Norman and Bullough are four-star types with a modicum of experience. They aren't Greg Jones, but they're obviously not a huge downgrade.
As for Michigan, their merry train of destruction was slowed considerably by Northwestern. Denard managed his hundred or so yards but the tailbacks had grim days. This was due in part to Northwestern stacking the line to the point where they gave up 13 YPA. Michigan State is like Iowa in that they are loathe to do that, preferring a standard 4-3 cover two against all offenses from maximum spread 'n' shred to maximum MANBALL. They blitz from time to time but rarely.
Michigan has had issues running power, first from under center (now abandoned) and increasingly from the shotgun. They've started running a lot of two-back, one-TE sets from the shotgun, de-spreading the spread and packing the box, and they've been running away from Taylor Lewan, their best drive-blocking OL, because they evidently don't trust RG Patrick Omameh to pull. Finding a way to make Michigan State defend both sides of the line and giving them things other than plain old power will be important—MSU sees that stuff every day all day in practice and Michigan's line is not built to move guys off the ball.
Key Matchup: Borges vs finding ways to get the edge. Michigan State's linebackers are young and the defensive ends younger. Worthy is large and the interior OL is not prepped to drive-block him. Speed options, veers, pitches, rollouts, zone read variations, stretch blocking—Michigan has to get outside the tackles effectively.
Pass Offense vs. Michigan State
Tacopants via Spawn of MZone; MSU's Johnny Adams
Denard Robinson's interception rate has shot up this year to a staggering 8.6%. He thrown 9 picks in 104 attempts after throwing 11 in 291 last year. That is a hell of a step backwards. If Denard's INT rate remains at that level Saturday, Michigan loses.
Denard INTs have come in two flavors this year: extremely bad decisions to throw deep into coverage (all three against ND) and massive overthrows (all three against NW), with some combining both aspects into one debilitating cocktail of depression. Over the past two weeks Denard has shown considerable progression in his accuracy (65% against NW, much better than that against Minnesota) at the same time he's made a ton of horrible overthrows. He seemed to fix his issues in the second half against Northwestern—maintaining that through the Michigan State game, especially in the face of pressure, will make Michigan's path to victory much clearer.
Michigan's receivers are the opposite of MSU's: a deep bunch without a true star. Junior Hemingway and his ability to high-point underthrown deep balls are the closest thing.
State's secondary is pretty good. Their safeties make mistakes from time to time but not too many; the cornerbacks are tough guys who make you earn your completions short and long. That's the impression from the Notre Dame game, anyway. There is no other data worth looking at.
Their line is 21st in sacks thanks to the nine against Ohio State; they have five in their other four games, one against Notre Dame on a stunt that was not picked up. Michigan is first nationally, allowing two in five official games. Part of that is Michigan not passing much—they're just over 20 attempts per game—and part of that is defenses sitting back lest they get too aggressive and spring Robinson into the secondary. Unfortunately for Michigan, even token pressure has caused Robinson to fling inadvisable or inaccurate balls—they don't need to swarm him to be productive.
State will sit back in a cover two and play a ton of zone, forcing Denard to be patient for holes to open up and hit spots in the zone with good timing. He's done it before… he's also imploded spectacularly.
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.
Run Defense vs. Michigan State
Edwin Baker; Dan France having a sad last year, wearing a DL number
A year after... actually, nevermind. I was going to contrast this year's MSU run offense with last year's but it turns out Michigan State was mediocre in 2010, finishing 64th in yardage and 49th in YPC. Their 249 yards against Michigan said more about Michigan than State, but you knew that already.
That was with the assistance of an offensive line. This year they don't have one of those. Both guards return and are okay, though Joel Foreman was the guy getting schooled by Aaron Lynch late in the Notre Dame game. It's the other three spots that are a concern. At right tackle, redshirt freshman starter Skyler Burkland broke a bone in his ankle and is out for the year, leaving fresh-off-the-JUCO Fou Fonoti the starter. At left tackle, converted DT Dan France has emerged as the starter after Jared McGaha proved to be not very good at football. Redshirt freshman Travis Jackson returns from injury to replace injured converted DT Blake Treadwell—he was supposed to be the starter at the start of the season.
As a result, the same tailbacks who were okay last year can't run this year. Like, at all. In their two games against BCS competition, Michigan State has rushed for 2.2 YPC against Notre Dame and 3.3 YPC against Ohio State, sacks removed.* They managed 4.2 against Florida Atlantic, an 0-5 Sun Belt team, and 4.6 against Central Michigan, which lost to Western Michigan by about the same score they did against State. That is their rushing year against I-A competition. Opponent with pulse == shut down. Without pulse == mediocre production.
So, does Michigan's rushing defense have a pulse? Unfortunately we can still do no better than "maybe" at this point in the season. Plausible opponents to date:
Non-plausible opponent Eastern Michigan also managed 4.5 YPC. Those numbers aren't any more encouraging than State's.
The UFRs have detailed one of the major causes of the big numbers put up by opponents: weakness on the edge. Freshman SLB Jake Ryan has been a major source of these issues but indecisiveness from the other linebackers has also "helped." Last week Northwestern exposed yet more edge weakness on a series of option plays. State will try to exploit that, but Kirk Cousins isn't running the triple option and while their tailbacks have some quickness, Bell and Baker are more north-south guys whose effectiveness wanes when their shoulders are square to the LOS. Expect Martin jet sweeps, possibly out of a wildcat look.
On the interior, Michigan isn't great. Neither is State—their OL cannot get to the second level. A couple of screwups by Michigan linebackers will grant State a few chunk runs and the steady power diet will chew up 2-4 yards at a time; Michigan will still put up its best YPC effort of the year against the Spartans.
Key Matchup: Will Heininger and Will Campbell against the MSU interior line. Michigan's three-tech has been a sore spot against the pro-style formations MSU figures to spend much of its day in. If the three tech can hold up, Michigan State isn't going to move anyone else on the line and those erratic yards on the edge will be easy enough to weather.
*[I also removed a -12 yard carry from Cousins against OSU and two "team" carries for -9 yards. IIRC the Cousins thing was a fumbled shotgun snap he fell on.]
Pass Defense vs. Michigan State
oh good, an enormous NFL wide receiver wearing #3 again
Kirk Cousins is Kirk Cousins: pretty good, not great, somewhat prone to the yips when pressured. He was 20 of 32 against OSU for 7.8 YPA; he also threw a touchdown and two interceptions. Against ND they had to rely on his arm almost exclusively and he put went 34 of 53 for 6.2 YPA, a touchdown, and an interception.
In both games a large bulk of his production came through BJ Cunningham, the hulking senior who is the Big Ten's best Michael Floyd impersonator. Cunningham has 38 catches for nearly 600 yards already. He's a lock to be all Big Ten and Michigan's going to give up ten catches for 150 yards. Brace yourself.
There's little past Cunningham. Slot guy Keshawn Martin figures to get involved on the edge as Michigan State tests out Michigan's evident weakness against bubble screens—Cunningham doubles as a tight-end-sized blocker out there—and former QB Keith Nichol has made catches here and there. WR depth remains a major issue. MSU runs out a bunch of tight ends, computer distribution expert Dion Sims most prominently, and throws screens and dumpoffs to the backs. Downfield threats begin and end with Cunningham. MSU does expect Bennie Fowler back. He had 14 catches last year as a freshman and may be a better non-Cunningham option than the guys on the field to date.
The line is also an issue here. Though Cousins was only sacked twice against ND and zero times against OSU, the line picked up a bunch of holding calls trying to keep their QB alive and it seems like Cousins's internal clock has accelerated to the point where he's not letting certain plays develop.
Though Michigan's remarkable streak of not being totally awful continued against Northwestern, the M secondary exposed some flaws against Dan Persa and company. Persa averaged 7.5 YPA and his interception was of the WR gift variety*. Freshman Blake Countess got beat on a 39-yard fade and Michigan gave up an average of 7.1 yards on nine bubble screens. JT Floyd has emerged into a reliable, average-ish Big Ten corner and Countess is promising, but Troy Woolfolk's perpetual injury issues have seen him rendered largely ineffective. He's been pulled for Countess before garbage time each of the last three weeks.
And Michigan's safeties are extant. Jordan Kovacs and Thomas Gordon have not let a long run past them this year, nor have they blown a deep coverage. They are clueful. Things get a little dodgy when Gordon slides down to the nickel and Carvin Johnson comes in, but Michigan's days as Free Touchdown U have come to an end. Michigan showed a little nickel with Courtney Avery in and Gordon deep against NW, but pulled that once the bubbles rained down—on passing downs I bet Michigan goes with the three corners and keeps Johnson on the bench.
Michigan's pass rush has been okay. After a slow start they've picked it up; Dan Persa was sacked four times last week. Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen are capable of getting pressure by themselves, but a lack of consistent production from the defensive ends has been a problem. Mattison compensates with frequent zone blitzes.
*[Northwestern also managed an incompletion charged to "Team." What?]
Key Matchup: Mattison zone blitzing versus Cousins's head. This should be the perfect situation for Mattison to loose his devious NFL blitz packages against a rag-tag bunch of crappy, confused offensive linemen. The catch is the veteran senior quarterback behind that OL. Cousins has proven ill-equipped to handle pressure in the past—how he deals with it Saturday is a major key.
State's punting looks atrocious thanks to a blocked or fumbled zero-yarder; when actually getting punts away Mike Sadler has been okay. He averages about 40 yards. Nick Hill has done well in limited opportunities as the kick returner, and Martin is a large threat to rip off a long punt return when Michigan's gunners don't get the job done. On the other hand, State has given up a kick return touchdown of its own this year. Kicker Dan Conroy is 6 of 9 on the year after going 14 of 15 last year.
Michigan can now kick field goals up to 38 yards, maybe, has terrible kickoffs—they were a bit better against NW but Wile put one out of bounds—can't return anything for any yards, and has a punter who should hypothetically be righteous but missed the first four games due to suspension and is averaging 38 yards on three kicks since that suspension expired. Advantage MSU.
Key Matchup: AAAAAH GIBBONS YOU PUT IT THROUGH THE UPRIGHTS
- Michigan again lets State win the overpreparation-for-a-single-game battle.
- The State run defense shows up at maximum legitness.
- Denard isn't stepping into throws.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Jerel Worthy is picking up offsides calls early.
- Mattison blitz packages cause OL head explosion fiesta.
- Borges has a crazy package that is crazy effective.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 7 (Baseline 5; +1 for Oh Good It's Michael Floyd Again, +1 for Actual Road Game Instead Of Neutral Site Chicago, +1 for Spartan Overpreparation Now Actually Working, –1 for Opponent Offensive Line Best Compared To Michigan 2008, –1 for Strong Possibility Terrible Interception Battle Is A Draw, +1 for Even A Fraudulent #1 Run Defense Is Probably Pretty Good.)
Desperate need to win level: 10 (Baseline 5; +1 for Must End The Brahgasm, +1 for This Is Not 2009 Or 2010, +1 for Winner Is Strong Division Favorite, +1 for We Have A Countdown Clock For This Now, +1 for Juggalo Invasion Revenge Tour.)
Loss will cause me to... scream "I HAVE TWO COMPUTER ENGINEERING DEGREES" to thousands of people in green Affliction t-shirts.
Win will cause me to... unironically proclaim Brady Hoke gets it, chant "just like basketball," post Vincent Smith fingerguns.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
Flip a coin.
I have no feel for how the game will go. I can see blowouts both ways. Michigan State: M OL cannot get push, coaches cannot invent ways to run, Denard throws three picks. Michigan: MSU OL combines with Martin and Mattison zone blitzes to leave the MSU offense a quivering hunk of goo and youth on the edge for Michigan State lets Denard rack up video game numbers.
None of that seems particularly likely. Neither do a lot of points, especially with wind potentially hampering deep balls on both sides. Offenses move in fits and starts with Borges getting some gashes and Michigan's addiction to power it can't run very well putting Denard behind the sticks; Michigan State can't run consistently either, and they can't protect Cousins well enough to convert third downs.
Special teams look like a tiebreaker to me, with State's field goal kicker an established one and their return units far more likely to rip off a long one, especially since Michigan can't get more than two guys within 20 yards of a punt returner on the catch.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Newly stride-y Denard looks more like he did in the second half against NW than the first half, cuts down on the terrihorrible overthrows, and puts up numbers that surprise many. Still throws mind-bending INT.
- Mattison blitzes Cousins into two turnovers.
- Something goes very wrong on special teams, likely a long return.
- Michigan State, 22-19