a terrible blight on our fine country
Bear with me this week as I test out some format tweaks to FFFF—please let me know what you think of the new format/features in the post, as I got some good feedback last week about needing more structure for these. This week, I'm breaking down film from the Northwestern/Illinois game from last weekend, which ended in a 38-35 comeback victory for the Illini. The show? It's on...
First, the newest feature, in which I give a very brief overview of the general structure of a team on each side of the ball. For the offense, there are a few basic questions:
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Spread.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? Also known as zone or gap blocking—in Northwestern's case, they run almost exclusively zone.
Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): Dan Persa, without speculating on injury status, is about a six. Kain Colter, his backup and part-time slot receiver, is a seven.
OVERVIEW: Northwestern utilizes a run-heavy spread offense with a strong emphasis on zone read and inside zone plays. Their passing attack is mostly limited to short, quick passes to Jeremy Ebert or running back screens, in large part due to the fact that their offensive line is terrible in pass protection. While Persa, at least before he left the game after feeling discomfort in his injured ankle/foot, looked relatively mobile, he wasn't able to establish himself as a real threat on the ground.
When they scored points, it was on long, drawn-out possessions or after getting the ball with a short field—it doesn't appear that the Wildcats have much quick-strike ability. The running game, especially without injured tailback Mike Trumphy, is pretty ineffective—even after sacks are removed, NW averaged just 3.2 yards per carry on 47 attempts against Illinois. This team needs to be able to chew up yards on the ground to be a big threat, but with a less-than-100% Persa and no deep passing game, their efforts to power their way down the field were mostly fruitless, with the team averaging just 4.9 yards per play.
PLAY BREAKDOWN: This first clip was one of Northwestern's best runs of the day, a simple inside zone in which their left guard and center combine to get a great block to seal off the middle and open up a gaping hole:
This is Northwestern at their most effective, as their zone read game is still hampered by the injury to Persa—who gained just 14 yards on five carries with sacks removed—and Colter doesn't provide enough of a passing threat to keep defenses from keying on the run. The Wildcats were most successful running the ball on the inside zone, despite the fact that their offensive line wasn't opening up many holes—instead, they did a solid job of holding their ground and not letting defenders through, giving the running back time to find a crease inside or bounce the play outside if the defense didn't keep contain. The key for Michigan will be to get penetration in the middle—Mike Martin, I'm looking at you—while maintaining leverage on the outside.
Hit the jump for the rest, including offensive formations, defense and a brief note on the special teams.
Thoughts on Denard’s improvement? “We worked on it pretty good, you know. And he took it to heart. He was stressing that he wasn’t throwing well. He’s a better passer, I’ve told you that before. Like I said, part of it is we had to get him some throws that he could make early and then he got into rhythm, and it was lights out after a while. Yeah he was feeling good. But his fundamentals were so much better other than two throws, okay -- there were two throws and both of them were pocket movements to the left where I think he didn’t get turned very well, and part of that was protection. But he got his screws in the ground pretty good and transferred through most of the throws, and he was pretty much on the money. And he touched a few balls nice, too. He dropped a couple balls in, and the key to passing is it’s a finesse art.”
How did you come up with the diamond thingy and what can we expect to see from that in the future? “Well I’m not going to tell you that. But it’s something -- Devin Gardner’s a talented kid, and we just wanted to give him a chance to feature him a little bit in a couple of deals. [With] Big Ten play, we’ll empty the drawer more as we go now. Our first four games, we’re still learning the offense. That’s still a work in progress. We’re going to have our deals. They’re not all going to work. Some are going to be good, some of them aren’t. But that was just one of them.”
Is it based off anything or did you just kind of pull it out of thin air? “Well, it goes way back. There was a series [that the] Chargers ran back in I think was the 80s or early 90s with Buford Jordan, where he was a quarterback in college and we took a piece of that and expanded it a little bit. I think Dan Fouts was playing back then. Part of that’s kind of old Ernie Zampese would have done that. The other piece is that we just kind of built some stuff off it that they didn’t do back then. The option part of it was a piece from the past.”
(more after the jump.)
News bullets and other important things:
- Barnum is still day to day.
- Woolfolk is fine, even though he may or may not have been limping at the end of the game.
- Cam Gordon will practice more. Sounds like he has to fight for his job back.
- McColgan should be back for Northwestern.
- Hoke voted for Michigan to be in top 25.
Opening remarks: “It was good to start the Big Ten season winning the football game on Saturday. It was good to keep the Brown Jug. I think the score got painted on this morning at eleven. It’s good to have the Jug here in Ann Arbor.
"Everything gets tougher. Northwestern, they’re 2-2 as you all know. They lost a heartbreaker down in Champaign last week, but they have a football team that’s very well coached. Pat’s probably as good a coach as there is in the league and a guy that feels strongly about that program, being an alumnus of Northwestern and being a tremendous player there. I also think when you look at them from an offensive and defensive standpoint, they’re a team that’s going to play physical. They’re going to play 60 minutes of football. Defensively, they run very well to the ball. Offensively, Persa was back, played most of the game, was pretty productive. But Coulter is also a guy who’s moved them offensively and done a nice job. So when you look at it and playing away, we haven’t been away. It’ll be a little bit different for us because we’ve been fortunate enough to play five games in Michigan Stadium.”
Does being tied for second in the country in ppg allowed mean anything to you? Also, can you point to any tangible improvements in the defense between the spring and now? “Well, it’s like anything else. It doesn’t mean anything right now. I mean, none of those things matter. We’re 1-0 right now. I think when you look at our front the last two weeks, we’ve been a little more disruptive. That’s enabled the linebackers to do their job. I think we put a little bit more pressure at times on the quarterback. We still don’t blitz worth a dog, period. And that’s got to improve. Guys are playing together. I think they’re understanding the roles. I think the defensive staff has done a good job in preparation, and the guys are doing a good job preparing themselves.”
How did Denard look in the passing game on film? “I think mechanically he was better. I think the routes were better. I think the timing of the offense was better. There was a good tempo and good flow when you look at him and his footwork and all those things that are part of the mechanics of throwing. I think it was better. I thought it wasn’t bad versus Notre Dame, either. I think he’s a prideful guy, he’s a competitive guy … He wants to be good for his teammates.”
How do you work on timing in practice? “Well it’s just the routes and the timing, and if it’s five-step or three-step drop, from the gun or under center. Just the mechanics of that and when the ball should be thrown, on what step.”
(more after the jump around.)
(Fear scale: 0 = Bye week?; 1 = If Michigan loses to this team somebody’s going to get fired; 5 = 2010 Illinois; 8 = Best in conference/will play in a BCS bowl; 9 = National title contender; 10 = Hold me, TomVH.)
About last Saturday:
San Diego State 7, Michigan 28
This is how you get from “Rolling in the Deep” to “Someone Like You.”
The Road Ahead:
Last game: North Dakota State 37, Minnesota 24 (L)
Recap: Minnesota lost to FCS North Dakota State last Saturday in a game where the Gophers were out-everythinged, which made coach Jerry Kill feel a lot of bad for a lot of people.
"Coach outcoached me, their team outplayed us and they deserved to win the game," Gophers coach Jerry Kill said, adding: "I feel bad for our students. I feel bad for the state of Minnesota. I feel bad for our fans, and I feel bad for our kids."
This didn’t make Brian’s This Week In Schadenfreude column probably because any decent human being would find it hard to derive any joy from Minnesota’s pain. They’ve lost to three FCS teams over the last five years. At this point you just feel bad for them.
If you insist on analyzing the game, you’ll see the key stat of the game is two turnovers -- both Gophers quarterbacks threw an interception each, and both interceptions were returned for touchdowns.
But it’s hard to see anything through the acrid smoke from the tire fire that was Michigan’s 2010 defense and is now Minnesota football.
The best part about Michigan playing a team in such pitiful state, however, is watching Hoke come up with reasons for why they’re a respectable opponent.
Minnesota got beat by North Dakota State, which is as good a football team as -- you don’t want to schedule them, I can promise you that, because they are well coached and they are tough.
So they were beaten by a football team that is a football team. Fair. These things happen sometimes, I guess.
“I think Marqueis Gray, their quarterback -- and they’re using two quarterbacks. I think he’s averaging right around a hundred [yards] rushing the football.”
And they have a quarterback controversy that involves a guy who can run. That’s probably cause for concern. For them.
“I haven’t looked much at their defense yet. I know Royster, I think their safety -- what’s his name?” Kim Royston. “He’s a good football player. He sticks out. Linebacker 51 (Gary Tinsley) sticks out.”
He has no idea.
Right now they are as frightening as: Someone choking. A good, hard abdominal thrust might break a couple ribs, but ultimately it’s for their own good. Fear level = 2.
Michigan should worry about: Some average-to-good Big Ten team will inexplicably lose to them.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: It’ll probably be Iowa.
When Michigan plays them: Their coach’s health is a concern, and now Marqueis Gray stubbed his toe … We might finally get to see Devin Gardner play more than two snaps. Knock on wood.
Next game: at No. 19 Michigan
(more after the jump.)
(Still tweaking, but I think I’m getting close to a winning formula. Again, fear scale: 0 = Bye week?; 1 = If Michigan loses to this team somebody’s going to get fired; 5 = 2010 Illinois; 8 = Best in conference/will play in a BCS bowl; 9 = National title contender; 10 = Hold me, TomVH.)
About last Saturday:
Eastern Michigan 3, Michigan 31
Ace and I played “Where’s Waldo/Brian?” from the press box.
He’s so dreamy when he’s pixelated.
[Ed: I told you there was no one in my section.]
The Road Ahead:
San Diego State (3-0)
Last Game: Washington State 24, San Diego State 42 (W)
Recap: After escaping Army, San Diego State hosted Washington State and waited for the Cougars to lose, which they did. The Aztecs capitalized on three Washington State turnovers in the fourth quarter to turn what seemed like a tenuous lead into an 18-point cushion. San Diego State actually trailed for the entire first half and through most of the third quarter before Aztecs RB Ronnie Hillman converted a third-and-one at the goal line to finally put them ahead 28-24.
The Cougars, devastated by the loss of such a rare lead, imploded.
The play on which it happened should sound familiar. Seven plays into their next drive, the ball slipped out of Washington State QB Marshall Lobbestael’s hand a la Tommy Rees. On the following play for San Diego State, the Cougars defense allowed Hillman to break free for a 64-yard touchdown sprint. Game over. Lobbestael additionally tossed two interceptions to make sure his team fell well short of covering the four-point spread.
What we know about San Diego State is this: the defense has faced two mediocre offenses that are as one-dimensional as these dashes -- Army ran for 90% of their yards, and Washington State passed for 88% of their yards -- and has yielded on average three touchdowns and 400+ yards to each. (Cal Poly doesn’t count.) Rocky Long may have a funky scheme that’ll confuse some offenses, but as Ace points out, that defensive line is leedle. They are the bendiest of bendy defenses kept respectable by opponent turnovers, a significant number of which were just stupid. Yes, they’ve done enough in their previous two games to win. Against Michigan, they will need to do more.
The offense is a solid, well-rounded B+, good enough to attend a four-year college, marry a nice Christian girl, have three kids and a golden retriever named Chelsea, and also score multiple touchdowns against the Wolverines, which, miraculously, is a feat only Notre Dame has achieved so far. Think of the San Diego State offense as a less intimidating but less hilarious Irish offense. With a better quarterback. But worse wide receivers. And a running back who doesn’t fumble. But maybe a smaller offensive line?
Nevermind. Forget I said that.
Right now they are as frightening as: Their overall vibe strikes me as a well-coached Indiana. Fear level = 4.
Michigan should worry about: Containing Hillman. Michigan has enough talent on the defensive line to manage the trenches and keep inside runs to a minimal gain. Irresponsible linebacker play on the edge, however, will lead to 200+ yards for Hillman and a 20+ tackles for Jordan Kovacs. If Kovacs ends up being next week’s Alro Steel Ironman, you’ll know something went terribly, terribly wrong.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Again, the scouting report. Knowing is half the battle.
If Michigan plays them next Saturday: The first quarter will be critical. Michigan will need to avoid falling behind early against a team that’s more talented than Western Michigan and more disciplined than Notre Dame. After the most sobering 31-3 victory ever, the Wolverines offense -- particularly the passing portion (particularly the Denard part of that passing portion) of the offense -- needs confidence that only a lead can provide. Also, the last thing the Wolverines can afford to give San Diego State is momentum, as they’re already playing with the following list of motivations:
- You stole our coach.
- He left us because he thinks you’re better than us.
- You think you’re better than us.
- You’re ranked, so everyone else thinks you’re better than us.
- He broke up with us via text message.
So. Let’s score some early points, yeah?
Next game: at No. 22 The University of Greener Pastures
(more after the jump)
This is a personnel-oriented look at the season's opponents. The game-week previews will be more matchup based. Last year's stats are presented with projected starters in bold and departed players in italics.
|Northwestern Offense 2010|
|Yards Per Game||391.08||48|
|Points Per Game||26.38||63|
|Yards Per Play||5.40||70|
|Yards Per Pass||7.94||29|
|Yards Per Rush||3.64||91|
|Playcall Distribution||1.45 Rush:Pass|
Northwestern's offense was a one-man show last season, with quarterback Dan Persa accounting for 61% of the Wildcats' total yardage... despite missing three games (Denard accounted for 67% of Michigan's yardage; Persa was accounting for 76% for the Cats before he went down). If Northwestern is going to have success this year, they need to find other playmakers in the backfield to spread the ball around a bit more, especially with Persa coming off a serious injury.
Adjusting for sacks, NU called a pass for every 1.35 rushes, and if Persa is to be kept healthy, he's going to have to either pass or rush less. He's unlikely to have the same escapability as last year.
We're really tying the Dan Persa theme together here, as he was probably the player in the Big Ten that was most important to his team - yes, even moreso than Denard Robinson to Michigan. Coming of an Achilles injury is not easy to do, especially after just 10 months. That could mean some serious reps for backup Evan Watkins, who started the final three games for Northwestern last year - all losses.
|Northwestern QBs 2010|
|Northwestern QBs Rushing 2010|
Grade: 3.5/5. This grade is assuming non-full health for Dan Persa (Phil Steele give him that vote of confidence, naming Persa the league's 1st-Team selection at QB). His importance to Northwestern was magnified by exactly how bad his backups were in comparison. Since he's likely to be less of a rushing threat this year, it takes him down a notch. The experience from last year - unsuccessful though it may have been - is a positive going forward for the backups. If Persa was healthy, this would likely be a 5/5.
Despite their general ineffectiveness, a ton of different Northwestern backs got some experience last year. Mike Trumpy got by far the most run (second-most used back, Arby Fields, was by far the least effective), so I'm guessing he'll start again this year. There are three returning backs with significant experience.
|Northwestern RBs 2010|
|Northwestern RBs Receiving 2009|
Grade: 3/5. Having this much talent returning is a bright sign for Northwestern, even if they didn't have a lot of success on the ground last year. Trumpy was just a freshman last year and Fields just a sophomore, so it's reasonable to expect those guys to improve.
Jeremy Ebert was the Big Ten's most oft-deployed receiver, and turned that into the highest yardage total in the league as well. His #2, Sidney Stewart (younger brother of former Michigan DB Charles) is out the door, but plenty of Wildcats got game experience. Demetrius Fields should take over the #2 role, with Charles Brown stepping into a starting role. Drake Dunsmore got plenty of work (at "superback" in the NU offense) last year, but other than him, don't expect a ton out of tight ends.
|Northwestern Receivers 2010|
|Drake Dunsmore (TE)||40||381||9.53||5|
|Josh Rooks (TE)||5||24||4.80||1|
|Aaron Nagel (TE)||1||6||6.00||0|
|Northwestern Receivers Rushing 2009|
Grade: 3/5. Losing the #2 receiver probably hurts, but Northwestern spread the ball around plenty last season, so the players that will be expected to step up aren't exactly green. With the Big Ten's most-prolific receiver in the fold (though Phil Steele only projects him to the All-Conference second team), the young guys should be more than capable of picking up the slack. The one question mark is a lack of serious downfield threats - partially a product of a screen-heavy NU offense.
The Wildcats only lose right guard Keegan Grant from last year's starting lineup, but that may not be such a good thing, given how awful the front line was last year. NU gave up more sacks than any team in the conference, and they were in the "Minnesota-Indiana" cohort of rushing futility. NU should start three seniors this year, with Al Netter on the left side, Ben Burkett at center, and Doug Bartles taking over the RG position. Junior returning starters Brian Mulroe and Patrick Ward will play left guard and right tackle, respectively.
Grade: 3/5. The big hope for Northwestern fans here has to be that a line with very little personnel turnover will be able to build the chemistry to develop into a stronger unit. It really couldn't be a whole lot worse, as I shudder to think how terrible the line's performance could have been without Persa the whole year.
|Northwestern Defense 2009|
|Yards Per Game||426.15||97|
|Points Per Game||29.00||77|
|Yards Per Play||5.94||94|
|Pass Yards Per Game||241.15||95|
|Yards Per Pass||6.73||t-45|
|Sacks Per Game||1.23||104|
|Rush Yards Per Game||185.00||92|
|Yards Per Rush||5.15||110|
So, oddly, despite Pat Fitzgerald's reputation as a hard-nosed defensive specialist and all that entails, the Wildcats' defense was pretty bad. It was probably around the same league as Michigan and Minnesota in several areas.
So, what is Northwestern going to do to improve that? Getting to the passer and stopping the run were the two major weaknesses of the D, so stepping it up along the defensive front and linebackers is of the utmost importance.
The Wildcats' defensive line - weak though it may have been last year - returns three of four starters, and should have an opportunity for improvement. Vince Browne and Kevin Watt return for their senior seasons as bookends, and classmate Jack DiNardo will plug the middle. The only replacement is at the other defensive tackle spot, where Brian Arnfelt will replace Corbin Bryant. Northwestern also has a few players - most notably DEs Quentin Williams and Tyler Scott - who have a bit of experience and will play a role in the rotation.
|Northwestern Defensive Line 2010|
Grade: 3/5. It's hard to look past how bad Northwestern's run defense and sacking were last year when evaluating this unit. They should improve with three returning starters, but they have a long way to go to get out of the depths.
The Wildcats' top two tacklers from the linebacker position are out the door in Nate Williams and Quentin Davie, so there's some reshuffling to be done at the position. Bryce McNaul is the lone returning starter on the weakside. Junior David Nwabuisi is expected to fill the middle, while senior Ben Johnson will play the strongside. Sophomore Damien Proby is the only other player with significant experience anywhere other than special teams. Roderick Goodlow is coming off a mid-career redshirt thanks to a knee injury last year, as well.
|Northwestern Linebackers 2010|
Grade: 2/5. The linebackers weren't blameless for the issues I pinned on the DL, so losing the two most productive players from a weak unit isn't going to solve anything for Northwestern. The depth is also lacking in a big way. Any injuries could spell more doom (than already exists) for Northwestern.
Justan Vaughn is the only departing DB for the Wildcats, so there's a good chance the performance along the back is improved this season. Senior Jeravin Matthews should slide in to take his spot, with 4-year starter Jordan Mabin on the other side. The situation is a little murkier at safety, with Brian Peters a lock to start at one position, but three reasonable options at the other spot. I'm guessing Hunter Bates will play FS, allowing the enormous Peters (6-4, 215) to play closer to the line of scrimmage. David Arnold and Jared Carpenter both have a bit of starting experience, and could slot in at safety, as well.
|Northwestern Defensive Backs 2010|
|Brian Peters (SS)||60||4||3|
|Jordan Mabin (CB)||63||0||1|
|Hunter Bates (FS)||45||2||2|
|Jeravin Matthews (CB)||15||0||0|
Grade: 4/5. This is easily the strongest unit on Northwestern's entire team, with Phil Steele picking Peters to his 2nd-Team All-Conference defense and Mabin on the fourth team (though he was a 3rd-team performer in the Big Ten last year). There's also a few combinations that would result in four senior starters. Pass D was one of the few bright spots on NU's defense last year, and with even more experience, it could improve further in '11.
Stefan Demos - a recipient of the Brooks Bollinger Memorial Eighth Year Senior Award - has finally moved on, meaning that redshirt sophomore Jeff Budzien should become the new placekicker. Redshirt sophomore Brandon Williams will return for a second year as the starting punter.
|Northwestern Kicking 2010|
|Northwestern Punting 2010|
Grade: 2/5. Demos was never a superb kicker, so Budzien's inability to unseat him doesn't speak to any big upgrade there. In the punting department, Williams was steady last year, but not really very good. This should be an iffy unit.