[Note for people who don't read who posts what: Ace posted this. You probably didn't read this either. DAMN YOUUUUU.]
|WHAT||Michigan vs Alabama|
|WHERE||Cowboys Stadium, Arlington TX|
|WHEN||8 pm Eastern, September 1st 2012|
|THE LINE||Alabama -13.5|
|TELEVISION||National on ABC|
|WEATHER||sunny, mid-90s, roof expected to be closed so it doesn't really matter|
[Image via Tower of Bammer]
It's the opening game of the season, so certainly the Wolverines have scheduled a directional Michigan school or similar creampu...
Michigan takes on defending national champion Alabama, which is ranked second in both preseason polls despite returning just 11 starters. There is good reason for this: Nick Saban has turned Tuscaloosa into an NFL talent factory, one that shows no signs of slowing despite the heavy personnel losses. Michigan's toughest test traditionally comes in the last regular season game; this year, it's the first.
Run Offense vs Alabama
Jesse Williams shifts from end to nose tackle; this should not be a problem
The Crimson Tide defense posted one of the most dominant seasons in collegiate history in 2011, allowing ten yards per game fewer than any other team in the country. A look at their run defense, game-by-game, reveals their numbers could have been even better if not for one obvious outlier:
FCS school Georgia Southern was the only team to crack 3.6 yards per carry against Alabama, and they more than doubled that figure. Flukes are flukes, however, and a triple-option FCS team managing that kind of output against that defense screams irrelevance unless Al Borges breaks out the flexbone tomorrow. The rest of the year, Bama allowed more than three ypc just twice, to Penn State (still boasting Silas Redd) and LSU (first matchup—the second didn't go so well).
This isn't the same Alabama outfit, of course; they lose nose tackle Josh Chapman and a pair of All-American caliber linebackers in Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw. The Tide can replace that talent effectively, sliding 320-pound end Jesse Williams down to the nose and inserting former blue-chip recruits Trey DePriest and Adrian Hubbard into the lineup at linebacker, but replicating last year's success will be difficult.
Then again, Alabama ceded just 2.4 yards per carry last year en route to crushing the entire universe. Giving up a full yard more per carry would've still placed them inside the top 25 nationally—there may be regression, meaning the extent of their destruction is limited to merely our own galaxy. Williams reportedly bench-pressed 600 pounds(!!!) over the summer—as a JUCO transfer who originally hails from Australia, he's just beginning to reach his potential. Starting ends Damion Square and Ed Stinson each played in all 13 games last year (Square started all 13) and weigh in at over 280 pounds. The Tide carry a reputation for being strong up the middle and that should not change this year.
At linebacker, Nico Johnson and C.J. Mosely combined for 11 TFLs in 2011 and should greatly improve on that output now that they're out from under the shadow of Hightower and Upshaw. Johnson is listed as the co-starter at both MIKE and WILL, while Mosely will stick to the weak side. You may remember DePriest from his recruitment, when the five-star out of Springfield, Ohio, appeared to favor Michigan at one point before choosing to head South. He tallied 25 tackles as a true freshman last year and is a star in the making. Strongside linebacker Hubbard functions more as a defensive lineman in Alabama's 3-4 defense.
On the Michigan side, their performance in this regard may hinge on the status of Fitzgerald Toussaint [UPDATE: forget that]—it takes a dynamic runner to be effective against this defense, and Thomas Rawls and Vincent Smith do not fit that bill.
If Toussaint isn't available, Moving the ball on the ground will be a difficult proposition, especially since Alabama can then key on Denard Robinson without having to fear the guy next to him.
As long as there are no injuries along the offensive line, the Wolverines should hold up in the trenches. The pressure will be on Patrick Omameh—who's struggled against bigger, stronger linemen—and new starter Elliott Mealer to not give any ground; if they're getting knocked into the backfield, the efforts of Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield will be for naught.
If, as expected, Toussaint is not available, it'll take a monster effort from Denard for Michigan to consistently move the ball. He's capable, of course, especially against a defense facing its first full-speed test of the season. As detailed in FFFF, it usually takes misdirection to find running room against the Tide, so we'll see if Borges gets creative to try and get Denard into space on the edge.
Key Matchup: The interior line vs. Jesse Williams. As I said, Lewan and Schofield could dominate and it won't matter if Omameh, Mealer, and center Ricky Barnum can't keep Williams from getting a push up the middle. If the interior line can fight Williams to a draw there's a chance Denard and the backs can put together a few decent runs, perhaps (please?) by running some inverted veer, which Auburn (and Cam Newton) ran with great success against the Tide in 2010.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the news. Which is mostly bad.]
Statement from Head Coach Brady Hoke on running back Fitzgerald Toussaint and defensive end Frank Clark:
"Fitzgerald Toussaint and Frank Clark have been suspended for one game and will not make the trip to Dallas for Saturday's game.
"The decision was not easy, but I feel it is in the best interest of this program and for these kids, and those always will be my priorities. We have choices every day, and you have to be accountable to this program, your teammates, your family and the University of Michigan.
"These are our sons. These are real lives, and I think too often many people forget that. It's not always just about football, or a football decision. It's about teaching life lessons, and if this helps these kids or someone else make a right decision later, then we've won. That is ultimately what we are here for, to help them grow and mature to become better sons, fathers, husbands and members of society.
"They are good young men who made poor choices, and we will continue to support them as members of our team and family."
Both will be back for Air Force. Thomas Rawls, Vincent Smith, and Dennis Norfleet(!) will have to pick up the slack at RB, with some possibility Stephen Hopkins will also get RB snaps. Black and Beyer will likely handle DE with some possibility Mario Ojemudia gets in as a rush specialist.
Hoke interviewed w/ bonus. Davy Rothbart got a one-on-one interview with Brady Hoke in which the man revealed he tears up at Hall and Oates songs, which is obvious in retrospect. He's just a big ol' bear. Grantland did not understand the power of the twosie and had space constraints*, so here are a couple of leftover bits from Mr. Rothbart:
Davy/Grantland: You've seen the pictures on MGoBlog of Taylor Lewan riding a "twosie" bicycle, right? What do you think of that?
Coach Hoke: [Laughing] Hey, we're happy if we can keep [the players] off of motorcycles. I'd say a twosie is okay in my book.
Hoke's favorite movies: "Silence of the Lambs. And A Few Good Men. What a powerful movie."
Hoke's favorite book: "Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell. It's the story of the U.S. Navy SEAL Team 10. A book about brotherhood, skills, and accountability."
Hoke's favorite food: "Pizza. My wife’s homemade pizza. We top it with hamburger, pepperoni, and maybe some feta cheese with some pepperoncinis. Artichoke hearts sometimes, and sliced tomatoes. My wife's sauce is the best. We have pizza night every Thursday night during football season. This year will be our 33rd year doing it. Just me, my wife, and our daughter... and then I bring the leftovers in for the defensive line the next day."
*[I know, it's the internet, don't ask me.]
Come for the spelling, stay for the crotch explosions. Shutdown Fullback is M-Bama oriented and taking gratuitous shots at MSU:
I need someone to make a college football themed collectible card game.
OPPONENT: Taps three boosters, plays AARON BURBRIDGE
SELF: plays NCAA CLEARINGHOUSE interrupt, taps Burbridge for three turns
OPPONENT: Plays BULLCRAP ONLINE COURSES to untap Burbridge
SELF: taps two unofficial visits, plays JT FLOYD
…and so on.
Step your game up, block-MS-painters. You just got served:
Will this aggression stand, MS paint aficionados? Mmmm?
Epic Cato June. BHGP is still running down the top 25 Ferentz wins, and I knew this one was coming: their epic beatdown of #8 Michigan in 2002. I was at that game, and did not have real good time. (Are we still saying that?)
I mention it because Iowa has gifed the most Cato June thing of all time:
Okay, it's at least top five. #1 would have to be a GIF where June celebrates like Ray Lewis after someone else made a tackle 20 yards downfield.
And then he became a pro bowl linebacker. Football is weird.
In case you've forgotten since last fall, FFFF is the weekly film breakdown of Michigan's upcoming opponent where I apply my (limited) knowledge of X's and O's—luckily, this week much of the technical brilliance is provided by Chris Brown.
College football fans should know a few things about Alabama: they're good (duh), they play a soul-crushing 3-4 defense, and they grind out wins with a glacial-paced zone running offense that's brutally efficient. I'll get into more detail below, of course, but that's the Cliffs Notes version if you hate to read. Given that it's the opening week of the season and Alabama is replacing several starters, this post will almost entirely focus on scheme; Friday's preview will go much deeper into their personnel.
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Pro-style. Alabama mostly operates from under center, usually with either a fullback/H-back or second tight end on the field.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? Though the Crimson Tide offense operates in the spirit of MANBALL, they actually utilize a lot of zone blocking—the inside and outside zones are staples of their offense.
Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): Even with sacks removed, quarterback A.J. McCarron rushed for only 70 yards on 19 carries last year. He's mobile enough that he could escape the pocket and possibly pick up a surprise first down, but not much more than that. I'll give him a 3.
Dangerman: QB A.J. McCarron. Alabama loses most of their top skill position players from last year, but McCarron is often overlooked as one of the better quarterbacks in the nation, largely due to their run-heavy attack and defensive reputation. As a redshirt sophomore last season, McCarron finished 25th in the country in passer efficiency (147.27) and 24th in yards per attempt (8.0), most impressively posting a miniscule 1.5% interception rate. McCarron doesn't wow you, but he's the perfect quarterback for 'Bama's system: the proverbial "game manager" who rarely makes a mistake.
Zook Factor: This is my measure of how often teams have horrible ideas like "let's punt on 4th and 3 from the opponent 35" and so on. While Alabama is hailed as a conservative paragon, they've been known to break that habit in a big way:
Of course, the reason this works so well is because Alabama normally takes the safe route; earlier in the same game, they punted on 4th and 1 from their 46 despite the presence of one Trent Richardson.
OVERVIEW: Alabama has a new offensive coordinator this year as former Washington OC Don Nussmeier takes over for new Colorado State head coach Jim McElwain. The general strategy should be the same, however, and if anything the offense could become even slower: according to Football Study Hall, the Tide—quite uncharacteristically—had a slightly faster pace than NCAA average last year, while Nussmeier's Washington squad plodded along at a 39.6% adjusted pace. Chart via Football Study Hall:
Alabama's hard-earned reputation as a run-first outfit doesn't manifest itself on standard downs (First downs, second-and-6 or less, third-and-4 or less); instead, it shows up in their far-above-average run percentage on passing downs (second-and-7 or more, third-and-5 or more). The Tide don't often find themselves in that latter category, however, as they led the nation in all three advanced statistical measures (S&P+, Success Rate, PPP+) on standard downs. In other words, they stay ahead of the chains and rarely find themselves in a situation where they need to pick up a big chunk of yardage.
[Hit the jump for the rest of the breakdown]
News bullets and other important items:
- 7 walk-ons got scholarships yesterday: SDE Nathan Brink, OL Joey Burzynski, LS Jareth Glanda, FB Paul Gyarmati, WR Joe Reynolds, QB Steve Wilson, TE Mike Kwiatkowski
- Still no decision on Fitz or Frank Clark
- Chris Wormley had his ACL surgery yesterday. It went well.
- If Fitz is out, there might be a running back by comittee situation. Super.
“Thanks for coming out. It’s always nice to visit with you. We’re getting a little closer to game day obviously. That’s probably an understatement. First thing I want to say is that we put seven guys on aid for the semester or for the year. They’re seven guys who have given a lot to Michigan and Michigan football. I think it’s only fair when we have them available at the time to reward those guys. Nate Brink and Joe Burzynski and Jareth Glanda, Paul Gyarmati, Kwiatkowski, Joe Reynolds and Steve Wilson are all guys that we wanted to make sure that we acknowledged. When you have the opportunity, every year’s different depending on what you have and what you’re going to do at mid terms and mid year and all that. We’re all happy about that. It’s an expensive dealing for some of them. Burzynski’s from Carlsbad or San Diego, California, out of state, and that’s -- you can imagine the price that he’s paying to be a guy who loves Michigan and wants to be part of Michigan football. That being said, that was fun. It was fun because we announced it in front of the rest of the team. There were hugs and kisses -- not kisses -- but hugs and excitement and all that kind of stuff. So that was good.
“Yesterday’s practice was okay. Not as sharp as we wanted, I wanted. We got a lot done, but at the same time you’re into a Tuesday. It’s a big workday. We’ve been working on Alabama for at least four days now. There’s a couple formation things, a little bit of communication from a defensive standpoint that we need to do a better job with. Still don’t have any decision for you on Frank or Fitz. You can ask me when I’m going to make that decision, and it’ll probably be before the game. It’s sometime before the game. With that, any questions?”
Can you talk about Quinton Washington emerging at nose tackle and moving Will Campbell to the 3-tech?
“What we’re looking for is getting the best four guys to be available to play inside. Q’s had a really good camp. Will’s had a good camp. So you kind of interchange those two to see which one makes that defense better, whether it’s one of them at the three and the other one of them at the nose. With so much trading and shifting and things like that, they both have to play the same position when they slide over, so it gives you an opporutnity to hopefully make yourself stronger rather than just having a true nose and that’s all he can play.”
Brennen Beyer is third on the depth chart. What does he have to do to move up?
“That group of three right there is never etched in stone. Brennen Beyer, I think, started out camp not as -- I don’t want to say tentative -- but not really realy playing as fast as I wanted him to play. Now the last week, though, he showed signs of being the Brennen Beyer of the spring. You’re going to see him play a lot. There’s no question about it. We got a group right there of guys, again, in the opening game, I don’t know how many plays you’re going to play -- you better have guys that can go in there, especially at that position because there’s a lot more running there. That’s a position that’s a defensive lineman sometimes and it’s a linebacker at other times, and he’s always got to run the farthest to chase the ball down … he has to be a guy that can run.”