"Rodrick Williams Jr.'s 10-month old, 2-foot-long savannah monitor named "Kill" gets the RB some strange looks when they go for walks together."
Reminder. Soccer liveblog starts at around 10:30.
Other soccer bits. AnnArbor.com has another story on Jeff Quijano and his journey from starter to backup and back. Quijano's the first Michigan athlete to cite Michigan Stadium's elaborate wave as a reason he came to Michigan:
“I know it sounds weird, but I saw the wave, all those people…it was like nothing I’d ever seen before,” Quijano recalls. “I was hooked.”
Everyone in the student section who does the arm-wave motion to cross the streams feels a tiny bit of pride about this. The Ultras have picked Buffalo Wild Wings as the gathering place of choice for those in the mood for compatriots. That's where I watched the USA-Algeria game, so hopefully we score the winner a minute into stoppage except stoppage doesn't exist in college.
The Daily actually makes a fairly good Miracle on Ice comparison; the US got blasted 10-3 by the Soviets before the Olympics, not unlike what happened to Michigan earlier this year. Like all Miracle on Ice comparisons it's still stretched.
Heisman back in the day. The Woodson presentation:
I still remember the dorm-wide "YEAH" that erupted. People who didn't care about football must have been mystified.
Blunt Brandon brandishes bludgeon. A brief interview excerpt from Sports Business Daily has some real talk about the NCAA investigation:
Q: What is more challenging, complying with NCAA rules or SEC [ed: Security Exchange Commission] rules?
Brandon: NCAA. I spent less time with lawyers doing a billion dollar transaction than I did with the recent NCAA case. The amount of resources and effort we used from something that started as a newspaper article was huge. If you aggregate the cost, it was between 1.5 and 2 million dollars in internal costs. My understanding is there are north of 80 to 90 cases currently in the NCAA queue. We’ve created a cottage industry that is stripping resources out of the athletic departments. It’s a broken system and needs reform.
That's to the point. I'm not sure what the reform would be, but we're heading towards an era with more enforcement, not less. He also says one of the things he's learned in the first nine months is "don't read blogs," which ouch. Pimp hand don't hurt me no more.
More maniacal bits. The Mississippi State defense against LSU:
I'm not sure how relevant that is against Denard, but it sure looks like they're going to damn the torpedoes and come after him when he throws. When Jefferson breaks contain early he's got acres of space.
Consider the following: our universities are flagships - meaning that they're the oldest, most well endowed, widely recognized, most highly publicized, and most readily associated with the famous and influential sons and daughters within our respective states. Our universities are liberal arts oriented institutions nestled in unique, quirky, and revered college towns. We revere and contribute to the arts and humanities. A significant portion of our alumni associations are attorneys who hate their jobs. Et cetera.
Undying loyalty is offered in exchange for victory, which I'll gladly take anyway.
Etc.: Bacon's latest is on the journey Red took from handing out tickets on State Street to playing in front of 100k. More on Mississippi State from BWS, with a season overview and analysis of how they held Auburn under 20 points. UMHoops previews the Utah game, starting in 1.5 hours. The HSR says Denard's melted bag of snow was a metaphor for the season.
Side note: usefulness of this may be depressed since Dan Mullen's probably gone from Mississippi State in the next few days, but whateva.
In late September, Mississippi State was coming off consecutive losses to Auburn and LSU when they faced Georgia. With only a win against inept Memphis to their credit, no one expected much, but Georgia had just lost to South Carolina and Arkansas and only had a win against Louisiana Lafeyette to their credit, so no one expected much out of the opponent either. AJ Green was in the fourth and final game of his suspension for selling his bowl jersey.
Mississippi State won 24-12 despite getting outgained by sixty; in a mini-Denard performance Chris Relf was 9 of 14 for two touchdowns and had 109 yards on the ground on 20 carries. Items and observations follow.
Brutally Inadvertent Honesty
"The importance of this game cannot be understated."
I think you just did, actually.
This Is Not The Michigan Offense
It's the spread but it's closer to Auburn's than Michigan's. Amongst Michigan opponents the closest comparison is Illinois. Michigan almost never uses presnap motion. At WVU Rodriguez would occasionally pull a slot receiver into the backfield or motion one out back into the slot, but at Michigan even that's been eliminated. About the only guy moving before the snap is Vincent Smith on his occasional head starts out into the flat to threaten screen. Meanwhile Michigan hasn't run more than a couple true option plays in three years.
Mississippi State uses a ton of motion and runs a ton of option. Here's MSU's first touchdown, a triple option that sees an end-around fake lead into a triple option look with both a shovel and pitch. Georgia makes it easy by not covering the pitch guy:
Shades of Michigan against Illinois.
That motion and reliance on the option is not what Michigan does. MSU rarely runs straight up zone plays of any variety, possibly because their offensive line can't handle it. They compensate by optioning guys off. This means a steady defense ready to execute the proverbial assignment football can erase the best bits of the MSU offense and force Relf into a bunch of uncomfortable situations—Bulldog QBs combined to throw five interceptions against LSU and even Kentucky forced him into a 7 of 17 day. This does not describe Michigan at all, obviously.
Dan Mullen: Pretty Smart
On Mississippi State's next drive they try it again and get stuffed:
On second and eight Mullen dials up a play perfectly constructed for the situation. He flips the option, changes the formation, and goes after the guy who just shot up on the pitch:
He's suckered in after getting chewed out by his DC on the sideline, allowing Chad Bumphis a vast amount of room on the outside since the outside WR ran the safety off. If the option works, it works; if it doesn't you're likely to have your best WR open for a big chunk. This is not the kind of stuff you can do every play—you are inherently limited by your players—but that's an example of a smart offensive coach exploiting a hole he expects will be there after you adjust.
Mississippi State is a team almost totally devoid of talent on offense and has been for a million years, and Dan Mullen has dragged them to around average.
Chris Relf: Hoss, Highly Variable Thrower
Relf is more Tebow/Newton than Robinson. They used power:
He's 240 with good speed but not much in the way of quicks. Meanwhile, his throws are erratic, some well off target, some either horrible decisions he got lucky on or gorgeous back-shoulder fades:
Which is that? If we're talking about a team trying to man up Crab against Texas Tech, it's the latter. We aren't, we're talking about a 56% passer on a team that throws 30% of the time. So… could go either way. He's got some Denard in him, throwing zingers that end up high or low:
Note that "cannot be understated" guy follows that up with "Bumphis took a cheerleader into the hedges." Someone put Chris Martin in a box and ship this guy to Chicago.
This was mentioned earlier today but good Lord, Manny Diaz is one guy you should take seriously when he does the defensive coordinator thing and talks about being very aggressive. When Mississippi State calls a play they're usually sending at least one and most of the time two; occasionally they will show blitz and check when the opponent checks but against Georgia that just resulted in crappy zone coverage and lots of time for Aaron Murray to shred it.
Their cornerbacks are not very good. This is a ball you can make a play on or maybe intercept but this guy does the full Todd Howard:
That sets up Georgia in scoring position, at which point Mississippi State eats up consecutive runs with maniacal run blitzes…
…manically blitzes Aaron Murray on third and twelve, maniacally tackles the obvious RB screen after ten yards, and then watches maniacally from the sidelines as Mark Richt limply sends in the field goal team.
They don't have an obvious standout player other than Pernell McPhee, a JUCO from Pahokee Michigan had a brief, predictably fruitless dalliance with a couple years ago. He's quick and disruptive. The rest of the guys seem to know their assignments and get in the right spots. They don't have to beat blocks much because MSU moves around so much and attacks vertically, which will lead to plays on which guys get shoved out of big holes. Could be dangerous against Denard; not so much Georgia's extremely mediocre set of tailbacks.
Their safeties are thumping tacklers and very solid, or at least were in this game. Georgia lost an all but sure touchdown when Ealey was separated from the ball at the one yard line:
On other plays those overhang guys came up well and tackled without a hint of disastrous long runs.
That play above also shows a distinct vulnerability to seam routes—MSU will often keep those safeties way back—that should see Michigan tight ends and Roy Roundtree have a productive day as long as they catch the damn ball.
Scout yourself. BitP collects various Mississippi State torrents if you're interested in taking a look at an unfamiliar opponent:
- vs Auburn (17-14 loss)
- vs Alabama (30-10 loss)
- at LSU (29-7 loss)
- at Mississippi (31-23 win)
- at Florida (10-7 win)
- vs Georgia (24-12 win)
Folks are already combing through these.
See what I'm talking about. I'm in the midst of the Georgia game; BWS has been focusing on how MSU defended screens against Auburn—like maniacs:
BWS says this is "structurally unsound," and while it may be many teams had issues dealing with the seeming unsoundness of the defense. Tearing off the edge to blow up screens is also a feature of the Georgia game: they blitz off the edge and if they read bubble the blitzer comes off to attempt to bat the ball down. So far one bubble was two yards behind the WR and should have been a loss but for some fancy footwork by the WR and a missed tackle by the safety; the other was batted down by a blitzer.
My impressions from the first half of the Georgia game should be read in your Teddy KGB internal monologue*: very aggressive. Mississippi State blitzed the pants off Aaron Murray throughout the game except in one instance where Murray checked and the Bulldogs cleverly checked into a three-man rush that Murray burned for a big gain. I was wondering if they might be less maniacal against a spread team, but it appears not:
Offensively, Chris Relf is more Newton than Robinson, a big dude with good size and speed but lacking the explosive quicks of Robinson. His accuracy is sufficient at best.
*(Don't bother denying that you have one.)
Burninating the countryside. If you are thinking to yourself "self, it seems like shooting safeties at bubble screens because you send six guys most plays is something Michigan seems prepared to deal with," that was my thought too. You should also have read that in your outrageous Teddy KGB internal monologue.
BWS broke down another play in which the H-back screen morphs into a deep hitch as those maniacal DBs get burned when they try to rip past blocks that aren't blocks at all. If you get caught peeking in the backfield against Michigan you can get doom pretty quick:
Michigan's main trouble this year has been with the Big Ten's traditional sit-back-and-have-tea cover two 4-3s that bleed down the field and then watch Michigan implode via Lewan penalty, kicker misfortune, drop, or turnover. They are explosive but inconsistent; Mississippi State seems like a team that's going to play it high variance and Michigan will have the opportunity to make a suite of big plays. This could go either way—this is the nature of high variance.
Misdirection will be huge, as it looks like MSU is vulnerable to the QB Draw Oh Noes and fake-bubble-to-slant stuff that have been consistent yardage generators this year. Mississippi State just sells out against the run, so a run-pass distribution closer to even may be called for.
The frustrating bit. There are so many players starting for Mississippi State that I've heard of because Michigan recruited them. They are the reason the "Mississippi is a black hole nothing escapes" tag exists: Fletcher Cox, Chad Bumphis, Pernell McPhee—all of these people were part of Michigan's ill-fated Jay Hopson experiment, wherein they recruited everyone viable in Mississippi and they all told Michigan they were afraid of planes and/or electricity. McPhee was actually a JUCO from Pahokee but whatever: Mississippi is a black hole. Nothing escapes.
Lines. Some early lines are up, with Ohio State favored by about a field goal in the Sugar Bowl and TCU(!) by three in the Rose. This makes no of the sense. Michigan is a six point underdog to Mississippi State.
The stupid. New Year's Day creep has reached its apex this year. Behold the Big Ten schedule:
|Jan. 1||12:00 pm||
Dallas Football Classic
Northwestern vs. Texas Tech
|Jan. 1||1:00 pm||
Penn State vs. Florida
|Jan. 1||1:00 pm||
Capital One Bowl
Michigan State vs. Alabama
|Jan. 1||1:30 pm||
Konica Minolta Gator Bowl
Michigan vs. Mississippi State
That is four Big Ten games on at the same time, three of them matchups against the SEC. I used to enjoy flipping on random Purdue bowl games on January 28th to root for the conference; now I've got two opportunities to do this. Literally half the conference is playing on or after NYD, erasing three opportunities for me to watch bowls I care about. Boo. Also, this obscures the red line between success and failure that a NYD bowl used to symbolize.
Actual News, Injuries
Practice schedule: They'll start Friday afternoon, go Saturday morning, and have 4-5 practices in between payers' finals the following week. First 4-5 practices working on "our own things." Need that fundamental work - and it would be good because the teams play similar offensive styles. Start putting in a gameplan end of next week. They'll have 11-12 practices in Ann Arbor, and 4-5 at the bowl site. Practices: benefit to get some fundamental work in. Lots of guys getting first bowl game, exciting for them.
The guys who are out for the year, like Martavious Odoms, Van Slyke, and Mike Jones, probably won't be available for the game, but they might be able to practice. "We're hoping that Van Slyke and Mike Jones will be able to do some things in practice... just to get them back working a bit will be good."
Lots of players beat up, including Denard. From the BGSU game, he hasn't been 100%. Having time off from football will heal him up. "Probably the best he's felt since the first couple games." His fingers are fine, he should be 100% by first practice. JR Hemingway should be fine, Darryl Stonum will be pretty healthy. Guys who were banged up for last few games should be OK, including Mike Martin and Jonas Mouton.
Defensive position changes: Putting Roh back down on the line helped, some of the personnel moves were by necessity with injuries. "Some of the others coming back healthy, we may be able to lock guys in there." Some coaches experiment with position changes during bowl practices, but Michigan may not be in a position to do that with the practice schedule.
Open competition among kickers starting in Friday practice. "We'll address that in recruiting as well," but he's more worried about the guys getting the confidence to perform in a game. Will Hagerup is back, and will make the bowl trip.
Michigan will wear Blue uniforms in the bowl, Mississippi State will wear white (H/T: @MVictors).
On Mississippi State
Rich has had no chance to look at MSU film this year, but he watched them on TV a couple times. He knows Mullen a bit and is familiar with the spread, he knows a couple defensive players from past recruiting. They run some spread principles, so Michigan will practice with some "good-on-good" (offense starters v. defense starters) to get ready.
Knows they did well against Auburn (though he hasn't had a chance to watch that game), and it should be a good football game. The SEC had lots of options for the Gator bowl, and the final selection depended heavily on the outcome of the league championship game.
In the past, lots of coaches came to visit WVU to learn the offense, especially after the Sugar Bowl. Florida (and Mullen) traded ideas with Rich at West Virginia, but both offensive staffs have tweaked their schemes since then. PSU and OSU were among the teams who learned at West Virginia, so Rich was worried he might have shared a bit too much when he came to Michigan (jokingly).
Cowbells: WVU played against Mississippi State a few years back, and is thus familiar with that school's "more cowbell!" tradition. They (RR's WVU) rang cowbells all week in practice. Somebody at WVU called this week to offer up all the cowbells they still have. "Our guys will hear them in practice here the next few weeks."
About Mullen's comments on Denard: "Maybe he forgot about the Auburn game."
The experience of practicing in another big city for a big game helps the payers grow. The added practices help too. Freshmen, redshirt frosh, sophs, who need work should be improved.
Evaluation process/job security: "You have to understand what Dave's position is with all his coaches." He has to worry about doing his job. "There's always obstacles in recruiting," so it could hurt a bit. "We'll maybe have to work hard in January to close with some guys, but we've had to do that before." He's met with Brandon throughout the year to talk about football, etc.
"The progress has been slow, but it has been progress... There's a lot of areas that we can get better quickly, and that's gonna take the next step." Going to a bowl will help with that a bit, because they get practice time, and get to grow together as a team and program.
On reactions to the Groban song: "Everybody's gonna have opinions on things, and that's fine." Emotional state: "Every coach has their own personality. I've probably always been emotional at our senior banquets." Has always felt close to players, and this senior class. "I thought the crowd was really appreciative of our senior class."
Feel in coaching limbo?: "It's a unique situation, and you deal with it the best you can." Recruiting is going well, they'll sign 18-20 guys, and are exicted about the guys who are interested. "We tell them we plan on being here and being their coach, and telling them all the positive things about the school and the football program." Recruits can come watch practices if they're open to public, some local recruits in Florida might swing by. More important for recruiting is getting your name in the paper, and giving Florida-based M players play close to home.
Exciting to become bowl eligible, guys got excited again to be in a Jan 1 bowl, Florida guys were excited to be playing down there. "Staying together for another 2-3 weeks as a football family" will be good. "It's somewhat of a reward of course, you want them to enjoy themselves... you've got to remember that the main thing is to go down there and win the game." More prestige to playing in a New Year's Day bowl, "I think the bowl system is so neat for the programs and for the fans..." likes some aspects of the bowls vs. a playoff.
Familiar with the Gator Bowl. They do good stuff with fans, Rodriguez has been there within the past 4 years. At WVU, the team stayed out at Sawgrass, this year they'll stay downtown. Terrific venue, exciting for players and fans. "They do as good a job as anybody in the country." Gator Bowl as a player: "That was almost 30 years ago." Played FSU in a night game. Fell into a puddle of mud on kick coverage. Was cold for the rest of the half, because he was only on special teams.
Will look at past gameplans for bowl games. Doesn't want to try to do too much. The Georgia gameplan for the Sugar Bowl was a very simple one, because they didn't want guys to worry about big-game jitters, etc. "We have to make sure we don't try to do too much, in actuality probably do less." All coaches go into the bowl game - or any game whatever it is - thinking "this has gotta be the game." There's always pressure to win though, and they'll do their thing coaching.
Coach's poll ballot: "The two teams clearly had outstanding seasons... TCU is phenomenal, they're every bit as worthy of talking in the same conversation with Auburn and Oregon." Those top two played tougher schedules, so he voted them 1 and 2. RR will vote on conference lines a bit as well. Most coaches think their league is a bit better, even their team a bit. Part of the allure of college football is that there's a lot to talk about with rankings and such.
Denard being Offensive POY but not All-Big Ten: "I don't know if that's happened before. How can you be player of the year, but not good enough to be first team?" May serve as some motivation for Denard going into next year. It was a great year for QBs in the Big Ten.
Roundtree's mindset after drops: "He had a couple, but he had a couple big plays, too." Really proud of his year still, didn't realize how close to 1000 yards he was.
Gator Bowl Chairman Steve Tremel
Pleased with opportunity to officially invite Michigan. "To have a team like the University of Michigan represented there is just fabulous." It's been since 1991 that M has been there, so the Gator Bowl is excited.
MSU (not that MSU) is ranked 20th by the AP, and Michigan is a great program and team, so it makes for an exciting matchup.
"I promise this is not the weather you'll see on New Year's Day."
"Good morning. I would like to formally accept." Heard late afternoon yesterday, and accepted "with great enthusiasm." Gator bowl representatives have been working hard, and he's excited to work through everything with them.
Excited to play a top-20 team on New Year's Day.
Brandon did not take questions from the media.
Y'all ready for this? oonts oonts oonts oonts
So you know this already because I'm slightly late because I thought they'd embargo the news until the "Bowl Selection Specials" about to drop on the teevees, but Michigan is going to play Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl. Press release:
Football to Face #21 Mississippi State in 2011 Gator Bowl on New Year’s Day
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The University of Michigan football program will participate in the 40th bowl game in program history, facing No. 21 Mississippi State University in the 2011 Gator Bowl played at EverBank Field on New Year’s Day 2011. The game will kick off at 1:30 p.m. EST and will be nationally-televised by ESPN2.
“We are excited about representing the Big Ten Conference in the Gator Bowl,” said Athletic Director Dave Brandon. “Our players, coaches and football support staff have worked hard all season and this is a great reward for them. We have great alumni and fan support in the Sunshine State and I anticipate a large Michigan contingent in Jacksonville.”
This will be the third time that Michigan has played in the Gator Bowl. The Wolverines’ initial appearance came on Dec. 28, 1976, a 17-15 loss to North Carolina. Michigan evened its Gator Bowl mark with a dominating 35-3 victory over Mississippi on Jan. 1, 1991.
The Wolverines (7-5, 3-5 Big Ten) will face the Bulldogs (8-4, 4-4 SEC) for the first time. This will be the 30th time that Michigan faces a SEC school (23-5-1 record all-time), with the Wolverines compiling a 7-3 mark against the conference in bowl games.
This is the first year of a four-year agreement between the Big Ten, SEC and the Gator Bowl. Visit www.gatorbowl.com for more information on the 2011 Gator Bowl.
The Wolverines have compiled a 19-20 record in bowl games and will be looking to even their mark with a victory in the Gator Bowl.
Ticket Information: The U-M Athletic Ticket Office will begin selling tickets to the 2011 Gator Bowl on Monday, Dec. 6, at 8:30 a.m. EST. Tickets range from $60 to $125, and will be assigned based on the Victors Club priority point program. Fans can purchase tickets online at MGoBlue.com/tickets or by calling the ticket office at 866-296-MTIX or 734-764-0247.
Alumni Tour: The Alumni Association is taking reservations for the official University of Michigan Bowl tour at 877-513-2320 or http://www.michigansportstours.com. PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS TOUR WILL INCLUDE GAME TICKETS. You can also find information about the U-M bowl pep rally featuring the team, marching band and cheerleaders and a pre-game tailgate at www.umalumni.com or by calling 800-847-4764.
Comments from Michigan Head Coach Rich Rodriguez
About playing in the Gator Bowl … “We are excited about the opportunity to play a very good Mississippi State team in the Gator Bowl. They run a first-class operation and our players will really enjoy the experience. I’ve always enjoyed my previous experiences at the Gator Bowl.”
About playing Mississippi State … “Mississippi State is a great team and has been consistently ranked among the top 25 this season. Dan Mullen and his staff have done an outstanding job. It should be a great matchup and we look forward to playing them on New Year’s Day.”
About his past trips to the Gator Bowl … “I have been fortunate to have coached in several Gator Bowls and I also played in it. They do a great job of hosting the teams and making the bowl experience a memorable one for the players. I look forward to seeing many of the Gator Bowl representatives who have become friends over the years.”
So instead of Florida's dysfunctional offense and loads of talent Michigan gets the offensive braintrust behind the Gators' most recent run and… not so much talent. As far as matchups go, I actually watched that 10-7 MSU win over Florida earlier in the year, and in that game the number of passing attempts the Bulldogs put up in the second half was either zero or one. I can't remember exactly. They're 91st in pass offense but decent in efficiency because they have a run-pass breakdown nearing Pat White WVU territory—with 561 runs against just 265 passes, MSU runs 68% of the time.
Starting quarterback Chris Relf had to fend off a challenge from Tyler Russell early in the year; Relf is a dual threat sort, Russell a pocket passer. Relf's MSU's second leading rusher with almost 700 yards. Vick Ballard and LaDarius Perkins are both over 500 yards as well, with Ballard the clear preference near the goal line with 16 touchdowns. They run an offense similar to Illinois, with a lot of triple option. The rush offense is 16th nationally but only averaging 4.6 YPC—not bad, but not awesome.
An extremely rush-oriented team with a somewhat erratic quarterback is as close to a "good" matchup as Michigan's broken defense will get. So we've got that going for us.
Their defense is good against the run—they're giving up just 3.5 YPC—but not so good against the pass, at least in terms of yardage. They're 89th in yardage but 50th in efficiency.
As far as their season went, they were 8-4 but their best nonconference game was against 5-7 CUSA team Houston and they narrowly escaped from their game against UAB by kicking a couple of fourth quarter field goals to win by five. In the SEC they missed Vandy, South Carolina, and Tennessee but went up against the loaded west. Games against LSU and Alabama did not go well but they were the only team to hold Auburn under a billion points in a 17-14 loss; they also took Arkansas to double overtime.
FEI has them 33rd, with Michigan 47th. S&P, which tends to favor explosive plays, has Michigan 30th and Mississippi State 35th. By the numbers it's an even matchup. More tomorrow.