to play football, not to play trumpet
2011 san diego state
San Diego State
Ann Arbor, MI
September 24th 2011
|THE LINE||Michigan –9|
|WEATHER||low 60s, cloudy, 40% chance of rain|
Run Offense vs. San Diego State
We don't know how good the San Diego State run defense is yet but the early returns are not good for Rocky Long. The Aztecs got ground down by Army in their first game against I-A competition, yielding 403(!) yards on 77(!) carries. That's 5.2 per against a team that threw less than 10% of the time. It's also a game against a triple option opponent. See Georgia Tech games for evidence option foes can screw with your brain without affecting how well you play against more conventional competition.
A first glance at the stats suggests Washington State played as if trying to illustrate this principle, racking up 51 yards on 28 carries. HOWEVA, a zillion sacks distort those numbers greatly. When you excise those, WSU managed 95 yards on 22 carries. That's not great, but it is 4.3 YPC from last year's #117 rushing offense. Washington State might seem much better but that doesn't mean they can run any: against obviously horrible UNLV they managed just 3.8 YPC on 39 carries. Wisconsin did 6.3, so… like… yeah. Are we ready to give up the dream of having Wisconsin-like numbers on the ground yet? I'm not. Are we ready to project 6.8 YPC based on an inane chain of comparisons? Sure!
It's a guess this early, but the guess here is SDSU does not have a good run defense, and may be downright awful. Ace's SDSU Fee Fi Foe Film* featured a couple of runs where 240-pound SDSU defensive ends get latched on to and turned into donkeys by WSU offensive tackles who are most certainly not Taylor Lewan. Watch the right tackle:
That's an inside zone! You know what never happens on inside zones? The defensive end never gets crushed to the point where the play bounces outside.
If the Aztecs try to play this straight up they will die, so they won't. That's the whole deal with the 3-3-5. If you're smart and disciplined and attack the right way even a size-deficient team like TCU can slash their way into the Wisconsin backfield and live. It seems obvious SDSU does not have this down yet, but neither does Michigan have their stuff down. They spent large chunks of the EMU game looking comically bad on power running schemes, especially that pin and pull zone play that is not the stretch and never gets any yards.
The prescription here is for more donkey: QB iso/offtackle stuff behind Lewan and a surprisingly feisty Mark Huyge, mixed in with some zone read just to see if the world really has forgotten how to defend it. (Frequent emailer and smart football guy (not that smart football guy) Tyler Sellhorn emailed me about my Q about the power-zone read combo and did confirm that it really puts the WLB in a bind and makes the scrape exchange games tougher to play, but that's another post.) Runs that hit laterally are asking the quick little buggers on the SDSU defense to slant into your face and should be infrequent constraints.
Key Matchup: Borges versus Long mindgames. I don't think SDSU can win straight up here and don't think Michigan knows what they're doing well enough to figure out all the blitzes Long will chuck at them. So the Q: who is going to catch the other guy out more often?
*[MEMO TO PAID MGOCONTRIBUTORS: Good God we need to work on segment names. Between "Michigan Muesday" that runs on Wednesday and the above… let's just say it's a work in progress. The redeeming thing about the above is potentially referring to it by its abbreviation: FFFF.]
Pass Offense vs. San Diego State
Washington State quarterback Marshall Lobbestael had a very Denard 2011 sort of day against the Aztecs, except with more volume: 368 yards and three touchdowns are explosive but two interceptions and completing just 20 of 42 attempts are not so much. And that's all we have to go on. SDSU's other opponents were a I-AA team I considered applying to out of high school and option-mad Army.
Last year the Aztecs were good, finishing 20th in pass efficiency D and a bit above average in sacks. They did a creditable job against Missouri's Blaine Gabbert, who needed 51 attempts to rack up 351 yards, 88 of those on a two-play WTF drive with just over a minute left. When not desperate, Gabbert was pwned, but at least Michigan's "fall behind and chuck it deep" strategy looks like it will work.
The Aztecs return three fifths of their starting secondary, losing leading tackler and bandit-type safety Andrew Preston and cover corner Darryn Lewis; the other corner, deep safety, and spur-type safety return. SDSU's pass rush comes from all over—I count 16 different Aztecs picking up sacks last year in Tim's preview—but the main threat is fifth-year SLB Mile Burris, the only guy on the team to get more than two. His 9.5 sacks should make him a marked man. Senior DE Jerome Long has three this year against questionable competition.
Michigan, meanwhile, has had a very Marshall Lobbestael 2011. That's not good. They don't throw much, throw accurately even less, and throw short very, very rarely. Against a shifting, zone-blitz-in-a-bag 3-3-5 that actually works Denard might have struggles identifying who the open guys are going to be on straight dropbacks. Or he might not. I have no idea what a 3-3-5 is supposed to look like. Given my experience with the defense, everyone will be open by at least ten yards.
If that's not the case I'd like to see Michigan work the less-dangerous edges with the curl/flat and snag stuff Denard did last year, saving the over the middle passing for deadly play action. I'm not sure we'll actually get to see this. It's time to go back to Denard's well. Will Borges see it the same way?
Key Matchup: Denard versus The Return of Tacopants. Gotta throw it on target before we can talk about anything else.
Run Defense vs. San Diego State
This is going to be a problem. Eastern Michigan averaged 4.5 YPC without any semblance of a passing game, and while the run offense is the one part of EMU's team that isn't completely horrible we're talking about a bad MAC team running better than any Carr team ever did. Yerk.
With Cam Gordon "available" but not starting the personnel won't be much better. It may be worse. I have a credible report that Craig Roh suffered an upper body injury in the EMU game that won't necessarily keep him out but may limit his playing time and effectiveness. With Jibreel Black playing well that won't cause a huge dropoff, but it does kill off any hopes Black and Roh might see the field together.
Michigan's getting decent to good play from three of the four defensive linemen and problems from whoever isn't Martin, RVB, or Roh/Black. Will Campbell's playing time has gradually increased as it becomes clear the walk-ons are pretty much just walk-ons and not magical Kovacs walk-ons.
ATTENTION WALK-ON FAIRY: YOU ARE NEEDED ON THE DEFENSIVE LINE
The linebackers have been erratic. While they're not helped out by plays like the above or the all-too-frequent edge busts from whoever the SLB has been, Kenny Demens and Brandin Hawthorne had rough games against Eastern. Demens did play well against Notre Dame, for what it's worth, and his track record suggests he's pretty good. The bigger worries are at the other two spots, where Jake Ryan is learning but still gives up the edge way too often and Hawthorne shows potential… when he's not wondering WTF is going on.
Opposite this uneven bunch of good players, walk-ons, tiny guys, larger guys, and a smattering of freshmen is Ronnie Hillman, the nation's second leading rusher. If that doesn't mean much three weeks into the season, he was tenth a year ago as a freshman. He was sort of held in check against the better MWC teams, with 62 yards against BYU, and 54 against both Utah and TCU. I say "sort of" because the main problem for Hillman in those games was usage, not efficiency: he had only 38 carries. If you're scoring at home that's still 4.5 YPC—hardly a reason to starve the beast. Here is where I will abruptly gloss over the 228 yards against Missouri so no one gets too frightened.
Did that work?
No. All right, it shouldn't. SDSU returns four of five linemen and is running basically the same offense they did last year—a lot of variety, but a variety these guys are used to. Hillman can play, and Michigan's defense to date has been frighteningly erratic. SDSU just annihilated WSU on the ground. This is going to be a problem.
Key Matchup: Hawthorne and Demens vs counter steps and other misdirection. They've been late reading plays all year and late to the hole. Do that against Hillman and he's severely testing Jordan Kovacs's to-date pristine record of not giving up long touchdowns when they bust into your secondary.
Pass Defense vs. San Diego State
Ryan Lindley and his favorite target Colin Lockett
You are probably aware of Aztec senior QB Ryan Lindley, he of the massive passing yardage and low-level NFL buzz. Lindley has not quite picked up where he left off last year. His day against Army was Denard-2011-like: 8 of 18, 146 yards, 1 TD and no INTs. 8 YPC, sure, but alarming completion percentage and what's with the number of attempts?*
Last week Lindley got the attempts in buckets (37) and managed 273 yards with two TDs and an INT. Washington State is clearly not as awful as they've been—hammering a I-A opponent, any I-A opponent, proves that—but that was last year's #110 passing efficiency defense.
The jury's still out as SDSU hovers around 50th in passer efficiency early in the season. This is largely because of SDSU's receiver situation. The Aztecs lost NFL third-rounder Vincent Brown and running mate DeMarco Sampson, then lost their replacements to season-ending injuries. The leading returner at WR is Dylan Denso and his four catches; he's got nine already this year. Sophomore Colin Lockett is the current go-to guy with 254 yards in three games. He's a big play threat: along with his 21.6 yards per catch he has a kick return touchdown against Cal Poly. However, he's also a position-switch starter, going from the two-deep at corner to a starter at WR once the injuries hit.
Michigan's pass defense has either not had to exist or had to cover Michael Floyd with only the bruised ribs of Alex Carder in-between. They are clearly better than they were a year ago simply by virtue of defending some passes some of the time. Woolfolk's return and extra experience for Avery and Floyd gives the secondary some of that rumored depth stuff; the main problem has been in the nickel when Michigan brings in either a deeply unreliable safety or a freshman. Last week it was the freshman and given Thomas Gordon's strong play opposite Kovacs it will probably be the freshman again unless Michigan gets comfortable with flipping one of the veteran corners inside. Since the position requires more tackling, that would presumably be Floyd. The other options are tiny or wearing a big ol' cast.
Meanwhile, a series of zone blitzes nearly decapitated the aforementioned Carder and got nowhere against the veteran Notre Dame line. San Diego State's line is similarly veteran but presumably not as good. Can Michigan generate pressure from the front four? Can they get guys into the backfield on the zone blitzes? Ask again later.
Key Matchup: Cornerback du jour (Floyd?) over the top on Lockett. Given Michigan's success to date with press coverage on deep throws and their weakness against the running game, they will go to their heavy blitz press package and dare Lindley to beat them over the top with receivers who should be who-dats. Winning the battle with Lockett one-on-one allows Michigan to focus on the short stuff and Hillman and maybe slow this offense down enough to where it sputters.
*[The SDSU-Army game was a Life On The Margins hall of famer. SDSU ran just 43 plays and picked up under 300 yards; Army had 84 plays and 446 yards. So of course SDSU wins.]
Michigan still has no field goal attempts unless you count a glorified extra point at the end of the EMU game, which is fantastic. They've found a punt returner in the suddenly-better-than-competent Jeremy Gallon, and that's where the good news ends. Kickoff returns and coverage have been dismal. The punting has been mediocre, though I'm of the opinion the return to the dino-punt is allowing opponents return yardage they wouldn't otherwise get. Hagerup returns, but he returns next week.
The opponent is middling in most categories. They do have a kick return touchdown, but it was against Cal Poly and is of debatable meaning. Their main advantage is (as always) at kicker, where they have a guy who puts it through the uprights. Abelardo Perez was 17 of 22 last year, though he's missed two of his three attempts in 2011.
Key Matchup: GIBBONS YOU PUT IT THROUGH THE UPRIGHTS AAAAAA
what I see when I look in the mirror
- Lockett is legit and too fast to stop over the top without help.
- Michigan isn't refining the stuff that doesn't work out of the playbook.
- Denard's still flinging it everywhere but the girl.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- SDSU's teeny DEs can't hold up over the tackles.
- The zone read continues to amaze and mystify.
- Michigan's zone blitzes return to effectiveness.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 4 (Baseline 5; +1 for Hillman Is Better Than Eastern Running Backs, +1 for Lindley Can Throw And Probably Won't Try To Throw To Michael Floyd, –1 for Actually Even Though Michael Floyd Isn't In The State That Might Not Be A Bad Idea Given The State Of SDSU's Receiving Corps, +1 for Irrational Flashback To Previous Close SDSU Game Against Much Better Michigan Team, –1 for Vegas Has Our Back By Two Scores, –1 for Denard How Does SDSU Defend It Not Well, –1 for Seriously Look At That Army Game.)
Desperate need to win level: 8 (Baseline 5; +1 for Insane Person Kyle Turley's Revenge Would Be Annoying, +1 for But I Like Thinking Nice Things About Michigan Football, +1 [UPDATE: I meant to finish this five hours late] for Being Ranked Is Nice, +1 for Niceness Is Nice And Nice, -1 for Reduced Risk of Kyle Turley Murdering Entire State.)
Loss will cause me to... show up at the postgame press conference with a fistful of postage screaming "RETURN TO SENDER."
Win will cause me to... be mildly encouraged about something but still deeply suspicious that 2011 is just 2010 and 2009 with a less annoying media environment.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
Will Michigan be able to run, run, run, run until SDSU has to freak out about it? I kind of think so but I'm wary given the Gator Bowl, when an attacking, gap-sound defense crushed the Michigan ground game. But then I'm all like Army 400 yards, and Washington State being competitive on the ground. This should be an old-school bludgeoning as long as Borges keeps it restricted to the stuff he knows they can execute.
If that happens and Michigan can hit some RPS+3 plays as a result they can keep ahead in this game. If they can't, they're in trouble. Hillman is going to rip off big runs on M. Resign yourself to this. They're going to spread the D out and hit those misdirection plays the linebackers have been vulnerable on all year and test out that freshman nickelback. And Lindley will hit the open guys who will be open.
Michigan will do well to bend but not break here, getting good safety play from Kovacs and Gordon and picking the right spots to get SDSU behind the chains with press man and the right blitzes. Keep the big plays to a minimum and make them bleed out field goals on you.
Survey says… possible. I've got less faith in this ground game than people only attending to last year might since it seems committed to chucking away a half-dozen downs per game on something or another that this line isn't very good at and therefore think Vegas is optimistic. In keeping with the 2010 and 2009 theme, this is the stomach-churner in the fourth quarter that keeps you undefeated but makes everyone very nervous.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- There is no screwing around with the idea that Denard is not the offense against an opponent the coaching staff respects. He has another 20 carries and 150 yards.
- Kovacs cracks double digits in tackles, most acquired as he slices Hillman down after a ten yard gain.
- Zone blitzing does not phase SDSU's OL—they're used to it—and Lindley has a high completion percentage.
- Michigan, 27-24.
(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)
News bullets and other important things:
- Vincent Smith is starting at RB.
- Thomas Rawls is second or third on RB depth chart.
- Russell Bellomy is scout team QB to simulate Ryan Lindley.
- Matt Wile hit a 59-yard field goal in practice.
Greg said yesterday that he’s asking the Michigan defense to play perfect. What does that mean? “I think perfect means perfect, and it’s a part of what you want to be. You’d like to go out and play a perfect game. When you say that, you have high expectations for each individual out there for a specific position and for the defense itself. Whether it’s playing your base package, your sub packages, whatever -- if they’re doing exactly what thye’re supposed to do with the best of their abilities with great effort and toughness.”
Will Vincent Smith be the starting running back? “Yeah, I would think so. And Fitz had a good day yesterday, too. Both those guys ran the ball hard. Rawls ran the ball hard. He had some snaps in there. I think we’re still trying to find what the magic combination is.”
Don’t want to be running back by committee, but is there a point where you want to see just one guy to establish rhythm? “I think there’s a point, but I can’t tell you on the 21st of September that we know when that point’s going to happen. I think there’s good things that they all do, but at the same time, we want that guy who’s going to play a perfect game.”
Where does Rawls fit into the depth chart right now? Would he be second or third? “Probably somewhere in there.”
Mike Shaw has gotten fewer carries. What’s going on with him? “He has to be a little more consistent in everything that we do. He’ll have his time in there. There’s a lot that goes along with being a back besides running the football, and we’ve got to be a little more consistent in those areas. He’s working his tail off. That’s the encouraging thing.”
How important is running back pass protection in a week like this? “It will be very important. This is unique. You never know what Rocky Long’s going to have in store for you. Working for him for six years on the defensive side of the ball, he’s going to have something you haven’t see and something a little different.”
Rocky Long does funky things with defense. As his head coach did you talk about those things with him? “We ran it at Oregon State. Believe me I still have playbooks from that, not that it helps, because he’s evolved quite a bit from the basics. Number one, the personality of that team and the quickness of that team -- the thing that you equate it to from a defensive standpoint, when you play midline option to use a true triple option, your defense has to catch up a little bit with the tempo and the speed. I think it’s the same way offensively three or four possessions in, trying to have a clear understanding of what the defense is doing and catching up to that speed.”
What do you do for the scout team? “Well they’ve been working like heck. They gave them a great look yesterday. Roy Manning, the GA who runs it, did a great job of preparing them for it. Credit to those kids on the look teams -- they did a nice job.”
You have a quarterback still in his first year getting used to the offense. How difficult is it to prepare for such a unique defensive set? “When you look at your schedule, I think there’s a uniqueness to every defense. Some of that may be if you’re going to be a man team, a man free team, a tampa 2 team … He did a nice job yesterday. What we ask a quarterback to do, getting in and out of things, that’s a good start.”
Is it a problem that you don’t have anyone on the scout team who can throw the ball as well as Lindley? “Well, Russell Bellomy throws the ball pretty well. So that’s a plus. I really think the pride that those guys are really getting when it comes to giving you great looks. We reward those guys who do the best job every week. We’ve had two guys a lot of the time, which is good. I think they’re doing a daggone good job. In fact one guy came up to me and apologized after practice because he didn’t think he did a good enough job. That tells you a little bit about their consciousness of helping the football team.”
How would you assess tight end play up to this point? “I think we’re doing okay. Kevin’s a really good tight end to do both -- blocks at the point of attack well, runs good routes, catches the ball well. Brandon’s coming along well. Steve we’ve used both at fullback and tight end. Ricardo hadn’t gotten any playing time yet, but he gets some good work with them. He’s escobar for us this week and doing a nice job of running the routes and the speed and those things. I think they’ve been pretty good.”
You looked a little mad when team when over to student section after the Eastern Game. How come? “I wanted to score a touchdown at the end instead of a field goal.” Is that something you’re going to allow the team to do? “Yeah it’s fine. I mean, the students are important. I hope they will get there early. We need a lot of noise.”
Greg said that he’s been very hard on Craig Roh, and about a week ago he saw a different player. “I think if you’d ask Craig, he’ll tell you his best week of practice was last week. It’s amazing -- how you practice is how you play. That’s always a battle, Angelique. Angelique, is it your birthday? Are you 39? 29?” I’m still younger than the head football coach at Michigan. “So is everybody else! But, uh, no, that’s something that you always push and you always want. You’re going to play like you practice, and that’s what he did.”
How has he practiced this week? “Good. He’s been good. He’s got a lot of pride and ownership of you are, and pride and ownership of who you represent.”
Is part of that breaking bad habits and rebuilding them? “We all have habits, good or bad. I think the expectations that we have for the kids and what they have for themsleves are always different. We’re coaching pretty hard but fair. We love them and kiss them on the cheek when they do things the right way, and kick them in the butt -- not literally, please understand that.” So you do kiss them on the cheek? “I do. Yeah.”
Is there a lot of emphasis on special teams coverage? “Yeah. Part of that’s placing the ball. Part of that is doing a good job of lane recognition and the block recognition at full speed. Wasn’t as bad as you think, and I hate saying that. I think the kids have a lot of pride, and they don’t like if we think they didn’t do as well as they could.”
Wile hit a 59-yarder in practice. Would you try such a long field goal? “Yeah. Yup.”
You want defense to be perfect. At what point would you say they were perfect or had a perfect game? “Hm. I don’t know. I don’t know.” Have you ever said that about any of your defenses? “Nope.”
In an effort to expand my ninja skills beyond the realm of recruiting, we (okay, Brian) decided I should do a weekly feature breaking down down film from the previous game (and potentially other games, as well) of Michigan's upcoming opponent. That feature is, at least temporarily, titled Fee Fi Foe Film, and today I attempt to draw conclusions about San Diego State based on an 11-minute highlight film produced by their vanquished opponent from last week, Washington State.
Normally, I'll have a full torrent at the ready and get into deeper detail about tendencies as well as specific plays, but unfortunately there wasn't one available this week. Instead, here's what I was working with, and I'll use clips from the following video to look at a few areas where I think Michigan can exploit the Aztec defense (as well as one clip of Ronnie Hillman, just for objectivity's sake and as a reminder that we should all be scared of Ronnie Hillman):
After watching 11 minutes worth of highlights put together by the other team, there are a couple areas where I think Michigan can attack the San Diego State 3-3-5 defense, and luckily for the Wolverines these advantages appear to fall right into their offensive wheelhouse. All of this should be taken with a grain of salt, as you must remember I'm using (1) a highlight reel, and (2) a highlight reel put together by the other team showing their best plays of the day. This shouldn't be an issue in the future when I'm using full-game torrents to put these together.
QB O NOES: WE HAZ IT? The first clip displays a recurring weakness for SDSU, and that's the throw right up the seam—this time off of play-action—which seems to set up more QB O NOES for Denard:
As you can see, Washington State operated from out of the spread, and here the play-action handoff either froze the safety for the split-second required to beat him deep or he's just slow—unfortunately, it's impossible to tell from this camera angle. Either way, it appears Michigan can take advantage of SDSU's safety play in this area of the field, as later in the game WSU connected for another touchdown on the same route, this time just without the play-action.
We've seen Al Borges work in the 'Denard take a jab-step, suck in entire defense, throw to wide-open receiver up the seam' play to relative effectiveness when Robinson puts the pass on target, and I expect that play will be utilized with success this week. If there's a game for Roy Roundtree to revert to last year's form, I think this is it, though the Aztecs's inability to handle speed up the seam may open up the opportunity for Jeremy Gallon to continue his breakout season in style.
RUNNING AGAINST THE 3-3-5: BANNER DAY FOR MOLK AND LEWAN? Two WSU running plays out of the shotgun bode well for Michigan's chances of great success against Rocky Long's 3-3-5 defense. While the Aztecs have a fair amount of experience on their defensive line, starting two seniors and a sophomore, neither defensive end weighs more than 245 pounds and their starting nose tackle, Jerome Long, is 6'5", 285. On this particular play, Long—wearing #94, lined up directly over the center—gets blasted out of the hole:
While David Molk has had his troubles against bigger defensive tackles when not working his zone-blocking magic, he should have success here regardless of how Borges decides to utilize his offensive line. If Washington State's center, whom Phil Steele tells me is not among the top 44 in the country (Molk is #2), can open up lanes like that, Molk is in for a good day.
Meanwhile, the pint-sized defensive ends may be in even bigger trouble against Taylor Lewan. Watch as the left defensive end on this play gets completely sealed off from the outside, allowing the Cougar running back to gain the edge and scamper for a first down:
I'm guessing SDSU's rather tiny defensive ends will be trying so hard not to become the next contestant on "Donkey Rides With Taylor Lewan" that throwing in a couple runs off the edge will keep them off-balance and allow for plays like the above to occur. Obviously, Michigan also has a luxury that Washington State does not, and that is Denard Robinson—the QB stretch could work quite well against the Aztecs if their ends can't maintain control of the edge.
PAGING JUNIOR HEMINGWAY: YOU ARE WANTED ON THE POST. On this next clip, you'll see that San Diego State—much like the Michigan teams of GERG—stays in their base defense with what appears to be their base personnel even when faced with a four-receiver look. In this case, WSU picks up a blitz out of the 3-3-5 and the quarterback hits the post in a post/flat combo on the wide side of the field for a relatively easy first-down pickup:
With Junior Hemingway's ability to gain position on just about any defensive back and box them out for the ball, I think he can have a big day when faced with man-to-man coverage on the outside like in the above play. It's a quick, easy read for Denard and a throw he's shown the ability to make (mostly last year, admittedly), though we'll have to see how aggressive SDSU gets with the blitz when faced with the paralyzing fear of Shoelace running wild if they can't get to him in a hurry
THE TUNNEL SCREEN FINALLY WORKS? I know Brian has ranted about Borges's use of the tunnel screen instead of the bubble (which theoretically should give the receiver more room to work with if executed properly off the zone-read fake), and I'm in agreement with him, but then I saw this highlight clip and realized maybe Borges was simply preparing for the team he coached last year:
Running the 3-3-5 necessitates bringing some extra pressure beyond the defensive line, unless you're GERG and have no idea how to run the damn thing, but there are obviously ways to counter the blitz. In this case, SDSU shifts their line to the short side of the field, where the running back is lined up, and brings all three of their linebackers without dropping any linemen into coverage. There are still five defensive backs in coverage on the play, but the safeties covering the slot receivers play far off their man, and this really opens up space for the tunnel screen. If Borges catches SDSU on a similar play, this is another way Roundtree or Gallon could rip off a big one.
For the record, I still think Michigan should re-incorporate the bubble screen, which should also work well against a six-man blitz with loose coverage against the slot, but this shows that the tunnel screen the Wolverines have been running could finally have some success.
RONNIE HILLMAN IS GOOD. Your reminder that running back Ronnie Hillman—who already has 497 yards and eight touchdowns on 77 carries this season (and though he beat up on Cal Poly in the opener, he also had 191 yards and four TDs last week)—should be your main point of concern if you're worried about an Aztec upset:
Jordan Kovacs would probably come up and make that tackle in the secondary, but that's only if he can catch Hillman first, and if Hillman can reach the second level that quickly and he's on the opposide side of the field as Kovacs, I'm skeptical that will happen. This is going to be a huge test for the outside linebackers (presumably Jake Ryan and Brandin Hawthorne—Cam Gordon is not in shape to start quite yet, according to Brady Hoke). Keep Hillman from getting to the outside and breaking off big runs, and I think Michigan wins this game handily. Allow Hillman to get the edge with regularity—something that has been an issue for Michigan so far this year, and Hillman may be every bit as good as Notre Dame's Cierre Wood—and this one could be uncomfortably close.
While I'm guessing next week's form of this post will look quite different, presuming I have a full game tape to look at, I'm still very much open to suggestions as to how to improve this feature. Let me know if you'd like to see anything added to these posts, and I'll do my best to incorporate some suggestions into the Minnesota Fee Fi Foe Film.
A third week. Only kind of late. Is this late? Have I established this happens on Mondays now? God, I hope not.
What's wrong with Denard? We have theories.
Jet sweeps and other matters. The defense: it existed after the first quarter. We try to maintain Will Campbell skepticism, talk about the status of the freshmen, and have this ... cautious optimism thing going on. Yeah. Weird.
We are going to miss Pahokee. Smith, Hawthorne, Odoms, Ash... that's a good hit rate.
Total crazy TresselSU comparison. I say something Hoke did is "very Ohio State to me" and I mean that as such a compliment. Srs.
The Big Ten has gone from suck to blow. There are no games in the league this week. Seriously, the most interesting matchups are M-SDSU and OSU-Colorado. So we take the opportunity to hit up Jamie for a State of the Big Ten. That state is "not good at football."
LOLSU. We save our longest, giddiest conversation for the stuff going down at OSU. We can totally beat them! (No we can't.)
Musical guests this week are Michigan themed:
- "Intimidation," by Mason Proper. Off There is a Moth in Your Chest.
- "They Are Night Zombies!! They Are Neighbors!! They Have Come Back from the Dead!! Ahhhh!" by Sufjan Stevens. Yes, that's the actual name. It's off Come On Feel The Illinoise.
Sufjan is Sufjan. He's the guy who did Seven Swans; he's from the west side of the state and is now indie darling. Mason Proper is from Alpena and would be based in Ann Arbor if they were currently being spastically awesome, but they're on a hiatus.
Q: can someone help us with the iTunes thing?
The usual links:
- Helpful iTunes subscribe link
- General podcast feed link
- Direct download link
- What's with the theme music?
Next week: more!