I'VE HAD JUST ABOUT ENOUGH OF YOU SONNY
fee fi foe film
This week Michigan plays Iowa, which means I just got done charting every snap of an offense coached by Greg Davis. I'm pretty sure this is grounds for a hostile working environment lawsuit, but thankfully I'm not particularly litigious. Since I couldn't bear to watch last week's Iowa-Purdue pillowfight, I took a look at the Hawkeyes's matchup against... Indiana.
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Pro-style. The Hawkeyes spent the entire game in a one-back formation—because using two backs is clearly begging for an AIRBHG strike—with 35 snaps from under center and 16 in the gun, most of the latter coming on third down situations.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? Iowa mostly utilizes zone blocking. As in, somebody should tell Greg Davis there are run plays besides the zone stretch. Just a thought.
Hurry it up or grind it out? Grind it out. Greg Davis needs plenty of time to contemplate his next playcall (okay, okay, it's a zone stretch—you got me).
Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): James Vandenberg rarely takes off except in instances of extreme panic; with sacks removed, he's got 126 rushing yards on 31 carries this year. I'll give him a 3.
Dangerman: In this offense? An oxymoron.
Okay, if I have to choose someone, it's senior wideout Keenan Davis, whom the BTN announcer described as Iowa's "big-play threat"—he has 46 receptions for 560 yards (12.2 ypc) and one touchdown. He averaged over 14 yards per catch across from Marvin McNutt last year, but in case you haven't been following the Hawkeyes this season, the offense has taken a bit of a turn.
Zook Factor: This category could easily be named after Kirk Ferentz (except, strangely, when he plays Michigan). In this game, down three points with 4:52 left, he punted on 4th-and-inches from his own 28-yard line; this isn't that egregious for Ferentz, but Advanced NFL Stats has the break-even point for that situation (actually, 4th-and-1, so this is generous) at a 0.56 success rate, and 4th-and-1 situations are conveted at a 0.76 success rate. He actually had his offense out on the field until a review of the spot, which stood, before sending out the punt team.
Iowa got the ball back with 18 seconds left and couldn't produce a miracle drive.
Ferentz will probably grow a pair against Michigan, because this is what he does, and it probably won't matter.
HenneChart: The advantage, for a given definition of the word, of Davis's dink-and-dunk offense is that your downfield success rate doesn't look terrible thanks to a series of throws three yards "downfield":
This was also Vandenberg's best game of the Big Ten season by a wide margin—his 7.3 yards per attempt was a full yard over his next-best conference effort and well above his average of 5.5(!) in six B1G contests. While the structure of the offense usually allows Vandenberg to avoid crippling mistakes, he threw a bad interception into the end zone when he expected Indiana's cornerback to pass the receiver off to the safety, and instead the corner dropped right into the throw. You'll also see later that Vandenberg missed a golden opportunity for a long touchdown pass.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown.]
Northwestern, Michigan's upcoming opponent, had a bye last week, so I went back to the only Northwestern torrent I could find—their week six loss at Penn State—for this week's FFFF. The Wildcats allowed three fourth-quarter touchdowns to blow a 28-17 lead, one gained mostly by fortune and a Venric Mark punt return touchdown—PSU held the final edge in yardage, 443-247.
It's worth noting that Northwestern has been playing two quarterbacks this season; in the PSU game, Trevor Siemian got the majority of the snaps over the more mobile Kain Colter, who spent much of the game in the slot. Last week, however, it was Colter who got the starting nod as Siemian threw just one pass in a win over Iowa; this week's game notes have Colter at the top of the depth chart, and considering Siemian's ineffectiveness I'm going on the presumption that will be the case.
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Spread. Very, very spread. Northwestern ran exactly two plays from under center—both came when they were backed up on their own goal line after a Penn State punt pinned them deep. Otherwise, Northwestern ran 48 charted snaps out of the shotgun and six out of the pistol (all of the latter with Kain Colter at QB).
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? Basketball on grass—the Wildcats, especially with Colter at QB, lean heavily on the zone read. Honestly, they should've leaned on it more heavily, as you'll see when we get to Siemian's HenneChart.
Hurry it up or grind it out? Northwestern rarely huddles and plays at a very fast pace, going so far as to often line up Siemian at wide receiver when Colter takes snaps at quarterback so they can switch betweens QBs without making subsitutions. Pacing the defense is a huge part of their offense's success.
Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): Colter is one of the better-running QBs in the conference, probably behind only Denard and Taylor Martinez [EDIT: and Braxton Miller], so I'd give him an 8. Siemian, on the other hand, rarely looks to escape the pocket and gets maybe a 4—he did manage to scramble for a 15-yard gain against PSU but it occurred when the proverbial seas parted.
Colter has averaged 5.5 yards per carry and already has 11 rushing touchdowns this season. He's very adept at running the read option—his ability to wait until the last possible nanosecond before pulling earned him a touchdown here as PSU's DE gave up the corner:
Why Northwestern ran Colter five times while allowing Siemien to throw 36 passes in a close contest is entirely beyond my comprehension.
[For the rest of this week's opponent breakdown, hit THE JUMP.]
[Things got a little pushed back this week in part due to the basketball preview. FFFF is going up now, obviously, and the recruiting roundup is bumped to Friday. There will be a final basketball outlook piece this afternoon and I'll be covering the NMU game tonight.]
Just for you, Brian
Thanks to some DVR-related hijinks and the scarcity of Minnesota football torrents, this week I'm breaking down the Minnesota-Wisconsin matchup from two weekends ago, a game that ended in a 38-13 Wisconsin victory. This was the first start for true freshman Philip Nelson, who looked like a freshman but not an entirely overwhelmed one, and an awful game for the Gopher defense, which ceded 337 rushing yards on 6.2 ypc.
To the breakdown!
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Very, very spread—before I stopped charting with the score 38-13 midway through the fourth, Minnesota had run exactly two offensive snaps from under center, one coming on a third-and-short.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? Mostly zone read stuff for the Gophers, though they'll also mix in some gap blocking principles.
Hurry it up or grind it out? With a freshman QB, Minnesota wasn't going too high-tempo; this isn't unusual, as they currently plod along at 110th in the country in adjusted plays per game.
Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): Assuming Nelson sticks at quarterback, which is the plan, the Gopher QB provides a running threat but not a big-play threat; aside from a 17-yard scamper when he shockingly juked Chris Borland in space, Nelson averaged just 3.3 yards per carry and didn't get any yards that weren't provided by the blocking. I'll give him a 5; if quarterback-turned-receiver Marqueis Gray is forced into action, Michigan faces a much better athlete that probably merits an 8.
Dangerman: The aforementioned Gray is Minnesota's best athlete at any position. He's only got eight catches this season as a result of bouncing between receiver and quarterback, but he's the only Gopher who really poses a major matchup problem at 6'4", 245 lbs., with impressive athleticism. Nelson targeted Gray frequently against the Badgers, though their timing was often off; he's a big target and a nice safety valve to have on the outside.
Zook Factor: Nothing too egregious from Jerry Kill on this day, though after Minnesota's touchdown late in the third quarter, he attempted an onsides kick by lining up practically his entire kickoff team between the hashes—rather obvious, guys—instead of going for a surprise onsides kick. Wisconsin recovered with relative ease.
Hennechart: Nelson was most accurate when going up the seam off play-action, largely because those plays (one of which is detailed in the breakdown below) usually netted a wide-open receiver. When asked to read coverage or fit a pass into a small window, he struggled—not surprising for a freshman throwing his first career passes:
Asterisks denote a BRX or INX—an especially bad read or inaccurate throw—and Nelson had one of each on his pair of interceptions; the first came on an ugly overthrow on a deep hitch that allowed a recovering defensive back to jump and grab, the second when he threw a slant into an unseen linebacker in underneath coverage.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown, including one of the better-blocked runs you'll ever see (by Wisconsin, of course)]
Where have you gone, perfect-passin' Taylor?
Nebraska needed two touchdowns in the final six minutes to eke by Northwestern on the "road," 29-28, last Saturday. The game wasn't nearly as close as the score would indicate, however, as it took three Husker fumbles—two on muffed punts—to nearly negate a 543-301 total yardage advantage. For most of the game, Northwestern's best offense was to punt to Nebraska and dive on the football.
The first seven minutes of the game and the final two minutes were cut off, respectively, by the Ohio State-Purdue overtime and my DVR (note to self: extend recording an hour, not 30 minutes), and there's no torrent available, so this breakdown covers the middle 51 or so minutes.
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? The Husker offense leans heavily spread-run, with the vast majority of the snaps coming out of the shotgun except in short-yardage situations, when they usually go I-form.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? A team that runs as much as Nebraska is going to show both gap and zone blocking concepts. They run a fair amount of inside and outside zone, but also showed some interesting ways to get Martinez on the edge with pulling linemen (see the play breakdown below).
Hurry it up or grind it out? Nebraska had a slightly above-average pace last year and looks to be in the same range this year; they're not a sprint-to-the-line spread squad.
Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): You're likely pretty familiar with Taylor Martinez, who currently sits behind only Denard Robinson and Braxton Miller in the rushing standings among Big Ten quarterbacks. He's always been a very solid runner, with speed only surpassed by Denard among B1G QBs, and he broke a surprising number of tackles against Northwestern. The threat he provides with his legs makes the Husker offense very difficult to defend—I'll give him an 8, and that could easily be a 9.
Dangerman: With running back Rex Burkhead likely out of the game this weekend, Martinez becomes the focal point of the Husker offense. Another player to watch is sophomore wideout Kenny Bell, currently leading the team in receiving with 26 catches for 540 yards (20.8 ypc) and five touchdowns. He's a tough cover, dangerous both going downfield or catching short passes and getting big YAC, and that's worrisome if Raymon Taylor is limited at all this weekend.
Zook Factor: Despite having one of the best rushing attacks in the country, Bo Pelini is quite conservative on fourth down, only going for it three times this year. The Huskers have converted twice, but the failure came against Northwestern, when they dialed up the same QB sweep that they ran on the previous play for seven yards—the Wildcats sniffed it out and stuffed in the backfield.
HenneChart: If you've listened to the podcast in the last couple of week, you know that the Big Ten's passing efficiency leader—by a wide margin, no less—is none other than Taylor Martinez. Yes, the very same Taylor Martinez who completed 56% of his passes with a 13/8 TD-to-INT ratio last year. T-Magic completed 27-of-39 passes for 342 yards and three touchdowns against Northwestern. This must be a fluke, right?
Sure, part of Martinez's performance can be credited to Northwestern's craptastic secondary (107th in pass yardage, 54th in efficiency). However, most of it was due to improved mechanics and better decision-making. There were still flashes of the old T-Magic—back-to-back fourth-quarter passes earned the dreaded "Bad Read" label, and both were potentially game-sealing interceptions that were dropped by the Wildcats—but by and large he looks like a completely different quarterback.
[The rest of the breakdown goes after THE JUMP.]
Pictured: Will Gholston; Not pictured: Will Gholston making a play
I'm apparently a blogger of the self-hating variety, as yesterday I re-watched last weekend's Michigan State-Iowa opposite-of-a-barnburner and even sat through both overtimes. The things I do for you people (and a paycheck, I guess).
You probably know the story from this one; MSU couldn't hold on to two different ten-point leads or muster much of anything on offense, improbably losing to a Hawkeye team that averaged 3.7 yards per play after Andrew Maxwell tossed an interception in the second overtime. While this contest was fun for rivalry purposes, it was absolutely terrible for the game of football.
Let's move on to the breakdown while I still have the will to live.
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Largely pro-style. State operates from under center on almost all standard downs, only going to the shotgun when they need to put the ball in the air.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? MSU runs a largely zone-heavy rushing attack, though they'll mix in a heavy dose of POWER and a few isos.
Hurry it up or grind it out? State managed a 42.8% adj. pace last year when they featured an actual passing offense. My guess is that figure will be even lower after this year, becausezzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz*criesinsleep*zzzzzzzzzzz.
Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): Andrew Maxwell does not attempt to scramble or really move outside of the pocket. There's a reason for this. Here's a possibly-generous 3.
Dangerman: I was going to save this for the play breakdown, but whateva I do what I want:
That's LeVeon Bell, obviously, who's rushed for 916 yards and eight touchdowns on 200(!) carries this season. No other player on the Spartans has more than 16 carries. I think they call those "bellhorses" or "workcows" but it's early in the morning so I may be wrong here.
Anyway, the above is a prime example of why Bell is so dangerous. He's very adept at seeing the hole in a zone run and cutting to the backside, as he does above, and his combination of power and athleticism often allows him to make State's rather ineffective blocking irrelevant. Watch the center and right guard on that play; they pull off an effective double of the nose guard, but RG #62—Chris McDonald, reputedly their best lineman—fails to get off the block and chip anyone at the second level—you can see him make a desperation dive for MLB James Morris (#44) far after he has any chance to make a block.
But LeVeon Bell is very, very good, and simply adjusts by juking two linebackers out of their shoes and carrying two defensive backs into the end zone. He will make something out of nothing, and that something will be the majority of the MSU offense.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown, including the reincarnation of John L. and more evidence that William Gholston is the most overrated player in the Big Ten, and possibly the country.]
Illinois took the field at Camp Randall Stadium last weekend hoping that a game against a struggling Wisconsin squad was just what they needed to turn around a nightmare season. After keeping it close through three quarters in which neither team could move the ball, they gave up 21 fourth-quarter points en route to a 31-14 loss. The Badgers, which entered the game averaging just 309 yards of total offense, put up 427 on 7.4 yards per play; the Illini could muster just 284 yards of their own.
As you can see, first-year head coach Tim Beckman couldn't bear to take in such a performance without putting in a lip-full of dip. Like pretty much every other decision made by Tim Beckman this year, this was stupid:
Illinois self-reported a level 2 secondary violation to the Big Ten Conference after coach Tim Beckman was seen chewing tobacco during Saturday's game against Wisconsin.
The NCAA prohibits the use of chewing tobacco for coaches, game officials and players during practice and games.
"It's a bad habit, and one that definitely will be corrected," Beckman said on Tuesday.
Illinois football, ladies and gentlemen!
[Hit THE JUMP for the full breakdown and definitely not more pictures of Beckman channeling his inner redneck. No, definitely not more of those.]