the season has truly begun now
2011 western michigan
ED-Seth: With the regular season over Heiko's opponent watch feature transitions to Opponent Recap, where he looks back over M's foes in detail so you can put the season into better perspective. Op met de show:
Rainbows: Denard still makes them.
Kovacs for Heisman.
- @ Michigan, 34-10 (L)
- Nicholls State, 38-7 (W)
- Central Michigan, 44-14 (W)
- @ No. 24 Illinois, 23-20 (L)
- @ Connecticut, 38-31 (W)
- Bowling Green, 45-21 (W)
- @ Northern Illinois, 51-22 (L)
- @ Eastern Michigan, 14-10 (L)
- Ball State, 45-35 (W)
- @ Toledo, 66-63 (L)
- @ Miami (OH), 24-21 (W)
- Akron, 68-19 (W)
Rank/Standings: 3rd place MAC-West
|Total||456.3 ypg, 22nd||434.1 ypg, 100th|
|Scoring||35.6 ppg, 18th||28.0 ppg, 72nd|
|Rush||127.4 ypg, 87th||215.9, 107th|
|Pass||328.8 ypg, 8th||218.2, 53rd|
Season recap: Western Michigan finished their season third in the MAC-West division. Their 5-3 conference record was two wins behind that of division champs Northern Illinois and Toledo.
That’s not a bad mark considering that the Broncos were a one-dimensional team. Their one strength was a pass-happy offense featuring a fearsome duo in QB Alex Carder and WR Jordan White (who led the FBS in receiving yards with 137 ypg, btw) that could score on anyone, but their inability/unwillingness to run the ball and stop the run cost them several games. RB Tevin Drake did average 5.5 yards a carry, but he had just 505 yards on the season; their rush defense rank was in the triple digit club.
The Broncos lost Carder for the better part of the last two games due to a separated shoulder, but his replacement Tyler Van Tubbergen was a serviceable next-guy-in. Carder should return for the bowl game.
I wish I knew more about the MAC so I could talk about Western Michigan’s ups and downs throughout the course of the season. I don’t, so I won’t. That Eastern Michigan game, though … man. Who knew the Eagles had that in them.
Best Win: @ Connecticut, but maybe not so much now that the Big East has formally declared itself a joke.
Worst Loss: @ Northern Illinois, in which their defense stopped playing after the first quarter. If Western Michigan had any chance of competing for their division they needed to beat the Huskies, and they fell way short. Northern Illinois incidentally ended up winning the conference on a late field goal to #BeatOhio (not that Ohio).
When Michigan played them, we thought they were as frightening as: The original week one post got overwritten so I don’t remember, but I think I set their fear level at a 3 and compared them to the MAC version of Ben Chappell-era Indiana.
But now we know they are as frightening as: The MAC version of this year’s Northwestern. 3. Their offense gained legitimacy throughout the season, and Carder even showed off some dual-threat ability. Unfortunately, their defense went the other direction.
What this win meant for Michigan: Though Western Michigan wasn’t your typical MAC-cake this season, Michigan sure made them look the part thanks to a couple favorable bounces, Jordan Kovacs, and weather.
The Wolverines had enjoyed exceptional opening day mojo for the past two years, and this game wasn’t any different. By luck and by Mattison, the defense got into Carder’s head, and the Broncos played like crap after their first turnover. Michigan did whatever it wanted for the remainder of the game.
The remainder of the game came to an unsatisfactory end, however, due to the great Midwest Monsoon of 2011. Fans wanted to see the fourth quarter to gain more confidence in this mysterious product Brady Hoke and company had been working on, capitulated opponent or not. Instead, everyone was sent out of the stadium, invited back in, then sent home and told to wait for next week.
There was also a window of confusion after the second weather delay during which everyone wondered whether a curtailed game could be recorded as a Wolverines victory, whether the game had to be rescheduled, or whether none of this happened at all and we would be told that we had just imagined it.
Finally a frazzled Dave Brandon informed the media that an agreement had been struck with the Western Michigan AD, once DB's pimp hand convinced her to be enough of a sportswoman to concede the Michigan win.
Hoke talked about how it was good to win a football game, Denard gave his teammate props for usurping his place as the team's top rusher, and Brandon Herron got his 15 minutes of fame.
Did you imagine your first game happening like this? "No I don't think so. It was kind of wild. Wet and wild."
Get well soon.
And it totally felt as awesome as: Rediscovering sex after nine months of pregnancy, and hey, it’s still pretty good!
Little Caesars Pizza Motor City Bowl vs. Purdue, Dec. 27 at 4:30 p.m. EST
I said I would write a final opponent watch to recap the season. This is not it. I'll have that one next week.
About Last Saturday:
Bad guys - 0, Good guys - a billion
(more after the jump)
(Wait. Which one is Michigan playing again?)
About Last Weekend:
No. 16 Nebraska 17, No. 18 Michigan 45 (W)
"Guess why I smile a lot."
"Uh, 'cause it's worth it."
The Road Ahead:
Ohio State (6-5, 3-4 B1G)
Getty / via the Huffington Post
- Akron, 42-0 (W)
- Toledo, 27-22 (W)
- @ Miami, 24-6 (L)
- Colorado, 37-17 (W)
- Michigan State, 10-7 (L)
- @ No. 14 Nebraska, 34-27 (L)
- @ No. 16 Illinois, 17-7 (W)
- No. 15 Wisconsin, 33-29 (W)
- Indiana, 34-20
- @ Purdue 26-23 OT (LOL)
Last game: No. 21 Penn State 20, Ohio State 14 (L)
Recap: Recap. Have to do a recap. Last recap. Gotta finish by the end of Tuesday. Tuesday's over. Damn. Gotta finish by Wednesday. One-day-late Championship recap. Okay.
... Ohio State fell into a hole early. Penn State RB Stephfon Green took a run up the middle, evaded some tackles, and sprinted 39 yards for a touchdown. 7-0 Nittany Lions.
The ensuing Buckeyes drive stalled because Ohio State C Mike Brewster snapped the ball into his ass while QB Braxton Miller was in shotgun formation. (I think this is when this particular bad snap happened. Bad snaps happened many times throughout this game. I think Brewster ended up blaming it on his gloves.)
Penn State drove and got a field goal, miring the Buckeyes in their third 10-0 deficit in as many weeks.
Ohio State wasn’t dead, though. Not yet. Miller ran the option to good effect and scored on a 24-yard keeper; most of the Buckeyes’ large chunks on the ground came from his option keepers, which is to say he kept the ball every time. He and Denard are both members of the “never pitch” movement.
That’s not anything relevant, but I google imaged “option keeper” and it’s what I got.
Also, WR DeVier Posey returned from suspension. He didn’t make a huge impact (4 catches, 66 yards), but he was pretty much the entire passing offense, and he did do this.
All of this game’s points were scored in the first half before the allure of B1G football got the better of both teams. Penn State scored another touchdown and field goal in the first half but failed to convert on a redzone opportunity in the second half when Ohio State turned the ball over on a fumble.
On that possession, the Buckeyes defense mounted an impressive goal-line stand to keep the Nittany Lions out of the end zone.
The second Buckeye touchdown came in the second quarter when Braxton Miller found TE Jake Stoneburner on a deep crossing route in the end zone. It was an impressive throw. Something tells me that he might eventually be pretty good when he’s given a real offense to work with.
You probably know the rest. Ohio State drove ferociously for a Hail Mary opportunity in the final minutes, but the first fourth-down conversion fell short when a Miller scramble, set back by a false-start penalty, fell short of the first down marker. The second attempt after a quick Penn State three-and-out fell incomplete because Penn State actually knows how to cover receivers. Unlike you, Wisconsin. For shame.
Right now they are as frightening as: Voldemort down to his last Horcrux.
Michigan should worry about: When you look at Miller’s highlight reel, the thing that stands out is that he scrambles effectively to buy time for his receivers to get open. He keeps his eyes downfield, and his instincts are usually good when it comes to finally tucking and running. A lot of his game-winning or almost-game-winning touchdowns came when he danced around in the backfield for some length before finding his target.
To get to him, Michigan’s secondary will need to stay on receivers for a lot longer than they’re used to, and D-line discpline will be essential. If he’s able to break through the containment, Miller will make plays.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: The Nittany Lions rushed for 239 yards on not that many carries. Their running backs consistently found enormous holes in the Buckeyes defensive line and frequently had to be tracked down from behind by linebackers. It looked like Ohio State’s defensive line was caught in pass rush mode at the wrong times -- the ends were way overcommitted, allowing the backs to run right by them.
Next game: No. 15 That School Up North
(more after the jump)
Finally, a post on Tuesday. November is championship football, and championship football requires championship opponent watching.
(Fear scale: 0 = Bye week; 1 = If Michigan loses to this team Lloyd Carr will announce his retirement a second time; 5 = Illinois any given year; 8 = Best in B1G, which may or may not actually be any good; 9 = National title contender somewhere in the SEC; 10 = Hold me, Ace)
About Last Saturday:
No. 24 Michigan 31, Illinois 14 (W)
The Road Ahead:
No. 19 Nebraska (8-2, 4-2 B1G)
David Swanson / Philadelphia Inquirer
- Chattanooga, 40-7 (W)
- Fresno State, 42-29 (W)
- Washington, 51-38 (W)
- @ Wyoming, 38-14 (W)
- @ No. 7 Wisconsin, 48-17 (L)
- Ohio State, 34-27 (W)
- @ Minnesota, 41-14 (W)
- No. 11 Michigan State, 24-3 (W)
- Northwestern, 28-25 (L)
Last game: Nebraska 17, No. 12 Penn State 14 (W)
Recap: Nebraska shrugged off last week’s upset loss to Northwestern as well as the national scandal that has been monopolizing headlines to win a football game on the road.
Their rush offense steadily churned out a 17-0 lead midway through the third quarter before Penn State finally put together a cohesive touchdown drive. A Rex Burkhead (25 carries, 121 yards, 1 TD) fumble at the beginning of the fourth quarter gave the Nittany Lions a short field, so with the help of some trickery, Penn State was able to find the endzone again to cut the lead to 17-14.
That’s when the Huskers defensive front, led by LB Lavonte David, who had been quiet for most of the game, stiffened. Three times they stuffed Lions running backs for no gain on short yardage. 2nd and 1 turned into 3rd and 1 turned into 4th and 1, which ultimately led to a turnover on downs.
Miraculously, the Penn State defense was able to force a Nebraska four and out to get the ball back with 49 seconds remaining, but Nittany Lions QB Matt McGloin (16/34, 193 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs) had trouble finding receivers on the desperation drive, and his last pass under pressure fell incomplete.
Huskers QB Taylor Martinez had a pedestrian day, completing 13 of 26 passes for 143 yards and no TDs or INTs. He was also limited on the ground, carrying the ball 19 times for just 56 yards -- only one of those carries was a sack. He did manage the game well, however, and the offensive play of the game was his last-second option pitch to Rex Burkhead that went for a touchdown.
Right now they are as frightening as: The mounting sense of unknowing you get as you stare down the betting lines this week. 7.
Michigan should worry about: Option offense, which is something Michigan doesn’t really know if it can stop. Northwestern ran it successfully but then outsmarted themselves by abandoning it in the second half. Illlinois used it in limited quantities, and while Michigan stifled the hand-offs, the Scheelhaase keepers were effective and therefore worrisome.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Numerous reports indicate that Nebraska’s offensive line is about as deep as Michigan’s, i.e. drowning is a hazard only for the very young or the very intoxicated. The Wolverines D-line play has been steadily improving since the bye week, so that matchup looks to be favorable.
Additionally, if you’ve ever watched Martinez throw … eesh. Imagine Denard passing, but instead of an arm he has a chicken wing. Expect to see Jordan Kovacs nuzzling the line of scrimmage frequently.
DE Jared Crick has been out with a torn pectoral muscle, so Mark Huyge at least can sleep a little better.
When Michigan plays them: Both teams are going to try to make each other take to the air, at which point it’s anyone’s guess.
Martinez thrives on the kind of passing game that made Denard a 2500+ yard passer last year -- as teams choke up on the run game, receivers find themselves wandering alone in areas of the field large enough to raise a horse. Michigan’s safeties have done a good job of not blowing these sorts of assignments or getting beat deep so far, but again, they haven’t been tested by a true option offense where the whole point is to get safeties to bite on play-action. Worry if the Wolverines can’t stop the Burkhead-Martinez tandem early.
As far as Michigan’s passing game goes, jump balls are probably not such a great idea. Nebraska boasts one of the B1G’s best cover corners in Alfonso Dennard, and the guy playing opposite him is not so bad either. The Wolverines’ passing game does seem to be more sophisticated than the Huskers’ and relies less on establishing the run game, so there’s that.
Ultimately, I wouldn’t be surprised to see both teams combine for six turnovers.
Next game: at No. 18 Michigan
(more after the jump)
A few rows in front of me at the Western game was one of those guys who exasperatedly yells out a piece of football wisdom he's picked up over the years whenever he is affronted by its lack. His wisdom was "turn around for the ball," which he yelled at Herron a couple times and the cornerbacks a couple times.
I was with him, but then a funny thing happened: no one could complete a fly route on these mediocre corners. Here's everything I've got marked fly/go/fade (which I am totally inconsistent about) from the first two weeks:
|Opp||Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|WMU||M25||2||12||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel press||6||Fly||Floyd||Inc|
|Demens's delayed blitz gets him in free(pressure +1, RPS +1) but I wonder if he didn't time it quite right. Another step and Carder is seriously harried. As it is he gets off an accurate deep ball on Floyd's guy, who's got a step. Floyd runs his ass off, starts tugging jersey early, and... I'll be damned. He strips the ball loose(+2, cover +1). That was textbook. Gibson -1.|
|WMU||M19||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel Eff It||7||Fly||Avery||Inc|
|Sends: house. Obviously something gets through(pressure +1); Carder chucks it deep to a fly route Avery(+2, cover +1) has step for step. He's right in the WR's chest as he goes up for the ball. WR leaps, then reaches out and low in an attempt to stab the ball. Avery rakes it out. Gibson -2. Demens(+1) leveled Carder, BTW.|
|Opp||Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||D Form||Rush||Play||Player||Yards|
|ND||O36||2||10||Shotgun 4-wide||Nickel even||5||Fade||Woolfolk||Inc|
|Hawthorne as a standup DE-ish thing and Ryan as an MLB. Blitz telegraphed? I don't remember this play. Survey says... yes. Ryan blitzes, Hawthorne drops into coverage, ND picks it up. Rees wants Floyd on a fade covered by Woolfolk. Woolfolk(+2) is step for step and uses his club to knock the ball away as it arrives. Robinson(+0.5) was there to whack him, too. (Cover +1)|
|ND||O44||1||10||Shotgun trips||Nickel even||4||Fade||Avery||Inc (Pen 15)|
|No question about this. Avery shoves Floyd OOB on a very catchable fade (-2, cover -1).|
|Floyd on Floyd action. Floyd(+1, cover +1) has excellent, blanketing coverage on Floyd but the back shoulder throw is perfect and his hand is a half-second late. Floyd stabs a foot down and Floyd can't do much other than ride him out of bounds. Sometimes you just have to tip your hat. This is one of those times. That is hard. That is why Floyd (not our Floyd) is going to be rich in about nine months.|
|ND||M21||2||10||Shotgun 4-wide||Okie||5||Fade||Van Bergen||Inc|
|They back out the MLBs this time and send the DL plus the OLBs. RVB(+1, pressure +2, RPS +2) is instantly past the G assigned to him because of a poor pickup; Rees chucks a ball off his back foot that's not catchable. Eifert gives it a go, though.|
|ND||M16||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel even||5||Fade||Floyd||Inc|
|Floyd(+2, cover +1) in press here and stays step-for-step with Floyd on the fade, breaking it up as it arrives. Fade is not well thrown, which helps.|
|ND||M22||2||2||Shotgun 3-wide||Nickel even||5||Fade||Avery||Inc (Pen 15)|
|Kovacs rolls up; check. They take advantage of the man to man to take a shot at the endzone. Avery(+1, cover +1) is right in the WR's face as the ball comes in; it's low and to the outside and Avery can't do anything about the futile one-handed stab the WR makes, but it's a futile one-handed stab. Avery is hit with a terrible PI flag (refs -1)|
|ND||O39||1||10||Shotgun empty||Nickel even||5||Fade||Floyd||Inc (Pen 15)|
|Hawthorne(+1, pressure +1) gets a free run at Rees so he chucks it to Floyd, Floyd(-2, cover -2) is beaten instantly and starts yanking the jersey in a desperate bid to not be an instant goat.|
|Miscommunication between QB and receiver means pass is nowhere near anyone. Blitz was just getting home.|
Your score excluding the miscommunication: two legit pass interference penalties, one horsecrap call, one 26-yard completion to Michael Floyd, five incompletions. What's more, in each case save one pressure-forced incompletion and the two legit PI calls the corners are 1) there and 2) making a play on the ball.
That's seven out of nine legitimately good plays from the DBs on accurate deep balls. On all but one—the legit Avery PI—the corners were on an island as Mattison sent at least five. No bracket here. The Avery PI was a zone, the rest of it was man coverage, much of it press.
Michigan's press-ish coverage success in fly routes in 2011 including a game against Michael Floyd: 88%. The exception was virtually unstoppable and still drew a plus from the ol' softie who does these things. That's miraculous in last year's context. Hell, it's miraculous in a lot of contexts. How has this happened?
Michigan Press Coverage As Explained By Underpants Gnomes
STEP 1: Line up a yard off the LOS with inside leverage.
STEP 2: When receiver releases outside, turn hips and run with him real fast.
STEP 3: NOBODY CARES WHEN RECEIVER LOOKS FOR BALL
STEP 4: NOBODY CARES!
STEP 5: When receiver reaches up for ball, punch him in the face.
OPTIONAL: grab his jersey a bit and get away with it
OPTIONAL: scream SHORYUKEN.
STEP 6: Profit: arm-waving motions indicating that the pass was incomplete.
OPTIONAL: shake head to indicate "no."
OPTIONAL: pick up horsecrap pass interference call.
Floyd on Floyd action:
Avery on Jones action:
Why it works. That whole find-the-ball thing is hard. Todd Howard was coached to do it but always did it late, whipping his head around just in time to see the ball zing by. When you do that you've given yourself an even tougher job than the WR, who's been tracking the thing since it left the QB's hand. Lots can go wrong there. He can slow up and you bowl him over. He can slow up on a deliberately underthrown ball. He can slow, then extend a la Manningham. Or you can just not find the ball quickly enough.
In contrast, the shoryuken technique seems pretty easy. Focus on the WR's chest. When his arms go up, get your arms/head/body in between those arms. Faceguard the guy for bonus points. Net result: incompletion or spectacular Prothro-style catch. Mostly the former.
It's hard to get lost because you're following the WR's chest everywhere, and the only bomb you can't defend is the one that's just past your outstretched arms. That's hard to throw and hard to catch.
Gibson –8. Two games in I am a believer in Tony Gibson Was The Worst. These are the same guys as last year making these plays. Notre Dame clearly identified these fades as a weakness to exploit, especially in press coverage, but got little out of them. If you discount the Avery PI, on the eight fade attempts against press coverage opponents got 41 yards, just over five yards per attempt. Even if you count the Avery PI that hops up to 6.9 YPA—still worse than the NCAA average of 7.2 YPA.
Compare that to last year, when even doing something right meant you did something wrong:
Small sample size disclaimers apply, but Tony Gibson? The worst.
Downsides and low upsides. So this style of coverage seems pretty effective, obviously. There are two major downsides to my eyes:
- Low upside. Since you are never looking for the ball you are highly unlikely to intercept it.
- A tendency to pick up PI calls. Refs give you more leeway when you are looking for the ball. Bumping a guy with your back to the ball is always going to be an issue, but you can get away with "look and lean," as Spielman calls it.
I'm a little concerned about our corners' speed when asked to run real fast. Against Western Floyd gave up a yard or two of separation to a MAC receiver on his successful fly defense; in the second clip above it kind of feels like on a longer route Jones will pull away from Avery. Those are hypotheticals, though, and whatever limitations of Floyd and Avery have do not currently include a tendency to get burned deep.
This allows cool stuff. Michigan can press with one high safety because of this, which opens up the blitz possibilities that produce big plays. While the coverage style precludes big plays from the cornerbacks it allows them from other parts of the defense, and those big plays are bigger. What would you rather have, an interception 30 yards downfield or the quarterback fumbling the ball?
Tony Gibson. The worst!
Brandon Herron picked up a lot of minuses yesterday but it could easily have been Kenny Demens if he was the guy tasked with hauling ass to a far, far away zone coverage instead of making Alex Carder spit blood. He was given a tough job.
But he didn't execute that tough job, and we remain a results-based charting service. The good news is that he did get better at not executing his tough job. If you're looking for evidence that this coaching staff is better than the last one at teaching people how not to be terrible defensive players, here's some hope for you.
I found two plays that were exact replicas of each other. It's third down on one hash in both. WMU is in a four-wide shotgun while Michigan deploys its Okie package. Michigan will send wide-side blitzers and Brandon Herron will be directed to drop into a zone on the other hash—IE, run halfway across the field. WMU completes both passes, but Herron gets better.
Play The First
You are focused entirely on Herron, who is on the near hash in front of Demens, threatening blitz:
On the snap Heron pivots as Demens comes; RVB drops in to a short zone as Michigan sends five:
Herron crosses the hash marks three yards off the LOS:
Still three yards:
Now he's maybe three and a half yards deep and not even to the midway point as Carder cocks to throw the hitch to the slot.
Two other things to note:
- Gordon got a free run at Carder but slips as he moves in for a killshot. If he doesn't, he's likely to bat the pass or sack Carder.
- RVB is totally cutting off the other inside hitch, though his back is to the QB.
As the ball goes over Herron's head he's four or five yards deep, still not to the other hash, and not facing the quarterback:
Play The Second
This is going to be the exact same play by both teams. WMU runs the same all-hitch; Michigan runs the same zone blitz behind it. It's third and four on WMU's first drive of the second half. Herron is below the bottom hash this time.
As the snap reaches the QB Herron is pivoting…
…and on step two he's already got a yard of depth:
By the time the WR cuts off the route he's at the spot he was when the ball went over his head last time:
Important: this hitch is seven yards and the previous one was ten. The extra two steps the WR would take to get to the depth on the previous play would also get Herron all the way to the hash, whereupon he could give that WR the business. He's closer and a bit deeper earlier in the play.
You can see the improvement in the zone drop in the next frame, when the ball is halfway to the WR. Herron is right there:
Unfortunately he's had to run hash to hash with his back to the QB and never turns around.
First down again.
A primary disadvantage of zone blitzing is having to haul ass so hard you can't look at the QB. You can see this in RVB's drops both times, too: when you're dropping into a surprising zone far away from where you start the play in order to facilitate QB pressure you can't just shuffle backwards like a linebacker, keeping your eyes on the QB and the receivers in front of you. To even get in the area you have to turn your back to the world and then whip around when it seems like the right time.
This seems hard. (Todd Howard is nodding his head right now.) Certainly we don't see it happening on either of the plays above. This is probably easier in the NFL when everyone's more athletic—and it may be an argument for the fastest, whippiest WLB Michigan can throw out there.
If your zone blitz works the pressure you get is often coming from the same area the open guy is. On the first play Thomas Gordon is in free. If he keeps his feet he's got a great shot at batting the ball skyward. A guy leaping at the QB may cause a delay. In a normal blitz package this might not get you much, but with Herron rotating over lateness is dangerous for an offense.
It doesn't take much for late to be late. Carder is late on the second play. You can see that on the frame where he's in his throwing motion: the WR has already settled and is looking for the ball. If he's on time the argh about Herron not turning around in the next frame is considerably reduced.
If offenses execute perfectly there's not much you can do about them, but offenses do not execute perfectly and defense is all about giving little margin for error. Michigan did a much better job of that on the second play than the first.
They're learning. This is good and bad. You could see the confusion on the first drive, the big errors that got a little smaller as the day went along. But if we're looking for evidence that this year's coaching staff is more adept at doing things other than preserving their meticulous hair, we've got a couple examples.