About last week:
NOTHING BAD HAPPENED. EVERYONE WAS ON VACATION.
Minnesota (4-1, 0-1 B1G)
More or less (h/t Seth)
Last game: Minnesota 43, San Jose St. 24 (W); Iowa 23, Minnesota 7 (L)
Recap: The Gophers are probably who we thought they were. They continued their streak of solid-but-unconvincing wins over bad opponents by beating San Jose State 43-24 despite giving up 296 yards passing… in the first half. The Spartans (NTS) totaled 439 yards passing to Minnesota’s 71, but Minnesota outgained them on the ground by over 300 yards and caused three key turnovers.
However, Minnesota’s dreams of mediocrity hit the wall hard last week against, uh, mighty Iowa (see also Noodle, Giant, infra). Philip Nelson came back from a pulled hammy and replaced Mark Leidner, but threw for only 135 yards (5.6 YPA) with two picks.
When asked why he replaced the marginally effective Leidner with even less effective Nelson, Jerry Kill explained that, “A guy loses his job if the other guy’s playing three times better than he was when he got hurt.” Personally, I think this is a mistake. Regardless of who takes the snaps, Minnesota is pretty much incapable of throwing the football, so they’re going to be one-dimensional regardless. If you're going to be one-dimensional, you should probably go with your best personnel in that dimension. And to me, Leidner is more dynamic. Not Denard-style dynamic, of course. More Tebow/Leroy Hoard/Defensive-End-with-an-impressive-fumble-return dynamic. But when you're facing stacked boxes (as Minnesota will all year), you may as well go with the guy who can break a few tackles.
This team is as frightening as*: Minnesota, circa all the years. Fear level = 3
* Author’s Note: In the most recent version of Opponent Watch, I may have replaced all of the fear levels with unreasonable numbers and abstract concepts. The factors that induced this change (i.e. the Akron Yackkening) continue to apply with equal, nay greater weight and force after the near-death experience against the Fightin’ Used-to-be-Pasqualonis. Until Michigan returns to something approaching form, assume all fear levels are “infinity times infinity.” However, I’ll also place actual 1-10 numbers to indicate relative level of infinite fear.
Michigan should worry about: The performance in this game probably tells us how the rest of the year goes. As a result, you’re going to experience the same every snap “oh god what does that three yard gain mean” feeling that you experienced with, say, Western Michigan ’09 or UConn ‘10. This is a terrible way to experience a mid-season game against Minnesota.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: This sets up as a really good matchup for Michigan, especially defensively. Gnashing of teeth and generic FEAR notwithstanding, this should be an ego booster.
When they play Michigan: Move thee away from the nose, Jibreel. Large men comin’
Next game: vs. #17/19 Michigan
Penn State (3-1, 0-0 B1G)
Lovely day for a game (AP/John Beale)
Last game: Penn State 34, Kent State 0 (W)
Recap: We probably didn’t learn anything about Penn State in the last two weeks. Penn State beat the Golden Flashes comfortably and outgained them by a bajillion, though Hackenberg struggled (13/35, 176 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT). Allen Robinson didn’t do much for the first time in a long time, but poor weather and blowout-against-Kent-State caveats probably apply.
One encouraging sign from Penn State’s standpoint was the eptitude (that’s the opposite, right?) on 3rd down. Seven of eighteen is worlds better than their previous four games.
This team is as frightening as: How can I still have no idea? I dunno, but I dunno. Fear level = 6.5
Michigan should worry about: If you give Hackenberg a clean pocket and some safe throws, he can probably Good Tommy Rees his way down the field. Penn State’s line seems capable of giving him that pocket, so it’ll be up to Mattison to make him uncomfortable. This will be an RPS game.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Despite recent news about the gradual return of some of Penn State’s previously-eliminated scholarships, Penn State is still short-handed for the time being. They are also still starting a true freshman quarterback who hasn’t seen much in the way of a Mattisonian defense.
When they play Michigan: Probably not this. But if there’s a bad time for this picture, I don’t know it.
Picture is unrelated. Like you care.
Next game: at Indiana
Indiana (2-2, 0-0 B1G)
When do helmets become helmetz? At about this point. (Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY)
Last game: Missouri 45, Indiana 28 (L)
Recap: Bummer loss for Indiana, even if it was to an ESS EEE SEE team. They were hanging around until late in the first half, when a touchdown and a pick-six put them down 14 at the half. They never really threatened to make it close again. True to script, Indiana was pretty good on offense (475 yards), but abysmal on defense (623 yards. They gave up 8 drives of 50+ yards, and couldn’t make up for three Nate Sudfeld interceptions despite causing 3 first-half turnovers of their own. Sudfeld was actually lifted for Tre Roberson, who went 8/14 for 148 and a TD (10.6 YPA).
As we mentioned last time, this game was huge for Indiana’s bowl hopes. If they don’t knock off one of Penn State or MSU in the next two weeks, they’ll be squarely behind the 8-ball, which will promptly throw for several scores despite being a billiard ball.
This team is as frightening as: The flu. Probably not a serious threat to you if you're in good shape, but there's always that small chance you'll sh*t yourself. Fear level = 4
Michigan should worry about: Indiana is throwing for a hair under 350 yards per game, 8th best in the country. They can probably keep Michigan in a nickel for most of the game, and Michigan’s corners don’t look unbeatable.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Michigan gets Indiana at home, and on the heels of games of their trip to East Lansing. Sixty minutes of unnecessary carrying-this-pathetic-offense-on-our-backs can take a toll on any offense. Plus Indiana receiver Cody Latimer will be slowed by the weight of the Darquez Dennard still wrapped up in his away jersey.
When they play Michigan: We might see more Tre Roberson, we might not. But truth be told, I don’t think that’s going to matter much. It’s the defense that is Indiana’s problem right now, and it is… problematic.
Next game: vs. Penn State
Michigan State (3-1, 0-0 B1G)
Last game: Notre Dame 17, Michigan State 13 (L)
Recap: The worst parts about fandom often have nothing to do with games involving your favorite team. Sometimes it means you have to watch terrible football because of the tangential effect on your team. Exhibit A: this game.
If you didn’t watch the game, don’t worry, you already saw it. It was every Michigan State game for the last year and a half. Michigan State’s defense played extremely well, but was not able to make up for a dreadful offense, and as a result they lost a close game. The teams combined for 474 yards (which, coincidentally, was Denard Robinson’s average total yardage against ND in 2010-2011. By himself.).
Many Michigan State fans complained about the officiating, and their complaints were both well-founded and misdirected. They complained about several pass interference calls, some of which were legit, some of which were terrible. But they overlooked the fact that Darquez Dennard was basically an oversized backpack on ND’s wide receivers all day. Exhibit A:
That’s a body-turning jam 15 yards downfield, a handful of jersey for the last 10 yards, and a hand in the chest before the ball gets there, and Dennard never turns his head. This is obvious beyond obvious. This was not called. The refs apparently had no idea what pass interference was, as they just kinda called it randomly. But it goes both ways, and probably worked out as a wash.
Now, if you want to complain, how about the fact that Notre Dame didn’t commit a single holding penalty all game. In fact, they haven’t held anybody in the last four weeks. They’ve only held one person all year, and that was during a throwaway drive at the end of the Temple game, presumably by a backup. What discipline those Irish have. What technique. What absolute body control.
Dantonio did make two really curious decisions in this game. The first was to call a running back pass with RJ Shelton late in the third quarter when the score was tied. The idea of a trick play itself was probably bad, as they were finally starting to move the ball, and the most likely scenario is that you’re just burning a down, with the downside significantly higher than the upside. The bigger problem was that the play was poorly designed and run at an inopportune time; it was on a jet motion with play action behind it, which by its nature keeps the defenders from committing; the handoff took place within a yard of the line of scrimmage, so to create enough room to throw, Shelton had to retreat almost immediately (a dead giveaway); and they ran it with two-high safeties 15 yards off the ball, one of whom was going to have to actively try to not be where that route was going.
The other curious decision was pulling Connor Cook for Andrew Maxwell on the very last drive. Maxwell promptly went 0-3 for 0 yards, and took off running for the sideline on 4th and 20 (he gained 8 yards). Talk about taking a “eh, tough loss but there’s plenty to take from this game,” and turning it into a “QB CAROUSEL YIPEE.”
This team is as frightening as: A Middle Ages-era knight in full plate armor. Slow-moving on the attack, but really sound defensively. He's standing between you and the bridge. HAVE AT YOU... Fear level = 7
Michigan should worry about: Jeremy Langford. Despite the good laugh we all got at MSU’s running back situation, Langford has actually looked pretty good, and the line has given him juuuuuust enough room to have (limited, limited) success. Also, that defense.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Michigan State is showing no signs of recognition that Langford is better than Nick Hill.
When they play Michigan: Don’t turn the ball over and you win this game.
Next game: at Iowa (caution: NSFW)
Nebraska (3-1, 0-0 B1G)
Last game: Nebraska 59, SDSU (NTSDSU) 20 (W)
Recap: You may remember South Dakota State as the “13 seed that’s gonna knock off a 4 seed” from last year’s NCAA tournament (spoiler: they didn’t). However, they also have a football team, and that football team actually led Nebraska 17-14 in the first quarter before Nebraska ripped off many many points to pull away. Taylor Martinez didn’t play because of turf toe, but backup QBs Tommy Armstrong Jr, Ron Kellogg III, and Henry the VII picked up the slack and let Nebraska to 645 yards of offense.
Of course, the defense did a little sucking. SDSU put up 465 yards, and Jackrabbit running back Zach Zenner ran for 202 yards on 21 carries. Zenner is a quality back, but c’mon, Nebraska. Tackle someone.
This team is as frightening as: Hey there again, 2010 Michigan... Fear Level = 7
Michigan should worry about: That offense.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: That defense.
When they play Michigan: Bo Pelini will yell at something. Probably something that doesn't deserve to be yelled at. Like a fan or a goalpost or a water jug or something. Don't point out to him that he's yelling at a water jug. He'll yell at you.
Next game: vs.
South Dakota State Illinois
#16 Northwestern (4-0, 0-0 B1G)
Last game: Northwestern 35, Maine 21 (W)
Recap: Hey, look… a Legends team without HUGE GIANT GLARING weaknesses. Think about it:
Minnesota can’t throw the football.
Michigan State can’t throw or run the football
Michigan can’t stop throwing the football to the other team
Nebraska can’t stop anyone from doing anything with the football
Northwestern has some flaws, but they have a functional offense, a functional defense, and they haven’t been prone to incomprehensible implosions. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.
Northwestern is the second-highest ranked team in the B1G, and they have played most of the season without Venric Mark (who is rumored to be returning this weekend). They are hosting Gameday this weekend as Ohio State comes to Evanston. We live in heady times.
This will be one of those strained allegiances games for Michigan fans. You want Ohio State to win because Northwestern is Michigan’s biggest competition in the Legends. You want Northwestern to win because of all the other reasons. I fault no one for their rooting interests in this game.
This team is as frightening as: An ominous horoscope right before a dentist’s appointment. By habit, you tend to disregard it, but there’s a pretty good chance you’re gonna feel some pain. Fear level = 8
Michigan should worry about: We don’t really have much new information, so we default back to UNSTOPPABLE THROW GOD TREVOR SIEMIAN.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Northwestern doesn’t appear to have taken a significant step forward defensively this year. They’re probably better than they were, but the secondary remains very beatable, and they just aren’t what you’d consider “disruptive.”
When they play Michigan: Ball security won’t be enough here. Michigan will need to score, and score a bunch.
Next game: vs. #4 Ohio State
Iowa (4-1, 0-0 B1G)
Last game: Iowa 59, Western Michigan 3 (W); Iowa 23, Minnesota 7 (W)
Recap: Iowa sorta showed a pulse over the last couple of weeks, walloping Western Michigan and thoroughly manhandling Minnesota. Somehow Iowa got away with their “don’t give anyone but your graduating senior quarterback” plan from last year, as Jake Ruddock has emerged as a pretty solid option. He’s not flashy (even by Iowa standards), but he has actually shown a willingness and moderate ability to run. When’s the last time you could say that about Iowa? Brad Banks?
The Iowa defense is statistically quite good, and will get better statistically this weekend because they take on Michigan State. This game may be punishment because the Big Ten was built on top of an old cemetery, but they only moved the headstones. The O/U is 38.5, which is the lowest number of the week. I think it might be the lowest number since the invention of the forward pass. And it still feels a little high. So, as a way of making up for missing last week’s Opponent Watch, I agree to watch this game in its entirety and report back what I saw. No need to expose yourself to… that. And for the love of god, keep children at a safe distance.
This team is as frightening as: A giant noodle. With a sinister moustache. And a hockey mask.
Fear Level = 5
Michigan should worry about: Strange things happen at Kinnick. Remember Borges forgetting how a Denard works in ‘11? Remember Tate forgetting how everything works in ‘09? Remember Michigan forgetting how punt protection works in ‘03?
Michigan can sleep soundly about:
When they play Michigan: Trying to think of something amusing for this section just hurts my head right now. It will probably be a brutal affair, win or lose.
Next game: vs. Michigan State
The University of Ohio State University (5-0, 1-0 B1G)
Last game: Ohio State 76, FAMU 0 (W); Ohio State 31, Wisconsin 24 (W)
Recap: Ohio State played two games. One was competitive. One was… not.
Wisconsin definitely put a scare into the Buckeyes. The difference in the game was that Wisconsin made several big mistakes, and Ohio State played a pretty clean game. Ohio State actually seems like a pretty fundamentally sound team, with one exception: tackling. Hitting is fun and all, but try wrapping up.
In one particularly surprising and gratifying development, Jared Abbrederis made Bradley Roby look absolutely terrible. To compound matters, OSU lost starting safety Christian Bryant to a broken ankle, which is a big blow to their back four.
This team is as frightening as: Clowns. Fear level = 9
Michigan should worry about: Ohio State has won nine of the last ten games against Michigan.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Michigan has won the last one consecutive home games against Ohio State.
When they play Michigan: Let’s play two in a row. What the hell.
Next game: at Northwestern
Objects in the rearview mirror DON’T LOOK YOU WILL HAZ SAD:
Central Michigan (1-4 overall, 0-0 MAC)
Last game: Toledo 38, CMU 17 (L), NC State 48, CMU 14 (L)
Recap: Not good. Not good at all.
Next game: at Miami (NTM)
Notre Dame (3-2 overall)
Last game: Notre Dame 17, Michigan State 13 (W); Oklahoma 35, Notre Dame 21 (L)
Recap: Against Michigan State, Tommy Rees unleashed his inner Rex Grossman, throwing the ball downfield at every opportunity (including TV timeouts and during the halftime show). Against Oklahoma, Tommy Rees unleashed his inner Tommy Rees, throwing three picks, including two on his first three plays (one of which was returned for a touchdown).
If you’re looking for a flash of good news in the whole Transitive Property of Football thing, Michigan probably outplayed Notre Dame by more than did Oklahoma. But at this point, you reeeeeally don't want to go down the TPF path. It leads to doom and Towson.
Next game: at Arizona State
Akron (1-4, 0-0 MAC)
Last game: Louisiana Lafayette 35, Akron 30 (L); Bowling Green 31, Akron 14 (L)
Next game: vs. Ohio
UConn (0-4, 0-0 AAC)
Last game: Buffalo 41, UConn 12 (L)
Recap: Michigan apparently cost Paul Pasqualoni his job. BOOM, narrative’d.
Next game: vs. USF