Opponent Watch: Week 7
(Fear scale: 0 = Bye week?; 1 = If Michigan loses to this team somebody’s going to get fired; 5 = 2010 Illinois; 8 = Best in conference/will play in a BCS bowl; 9 = National title contender; 10 = Hold me, Ace, the last Anbender.)
About Last Saturday:
Michigan 14, Michigan State 28
That feels about right.
The Road Ahead:
Purdue (3-3, 1-1 B1G)
Last game: Purdue 18, Penn State 23 (L)
Recap: Try figuring out how many football scores it takes to get to 18. What is that, six field goals? Two touchdowns and two safeties? Now try to make 23.
Yeah, it was that kind of a game. Purdue was also inexplicably a couple missed kicks short of being tied with Penn State.
Not sure which team was still living in last week, but both were coming off statement wins -- the Nittany Lions’ of the “Kirk Ferentz owns us only most of the time” variety, and the Boilermakers’ of the “If the Big Ten were the solar system we would be Venus, which is still a lot better than that Kuiper belt object named Minnesota, formerly known as Pluto” variety.
Purdue’s running back duo carried the ball 13 times each with surprising effectiveness. Ralph Bolden averaged 7.5 ypc, thanks largely to a 39-yarder, and Akeem Shavers averaged 4.2 ypc. Against Penn State, that’s a pretty impressive accomplishment, although Ace’s FFFF next week will probably have something to say about the schematic advantage inherent in their offense. (Hint: they run the spread.)
The Boilermakers QBs, on the other hand, were unremarkable. Caleb TerBush completed 12 of 25 passes for 162 yards, 1 TD, and 2 INTs. QB Robert Marve attempted just five passes, one of which was an interception. Bench.
About Purdue’s defense -- that the Nittany Lions couldn’t seem to score points against them is more a testament to how derpy Penn State’s quarterback situation is rather than to how stout the Boilermakers are on that side of the ball. For the record, Purdue has the 30th ranked scoring defense in the country, which reflects some degree of competency, but that’s a ranking that’s about as tenable as Michigan’s No. 10 spot in that category.
Right now they are as frightening as: Michigan’s ability to defend an inconsistent spread. 4.
Michigan should worry about: Teaching the linebackers how to defend the perimeter -- you know, keep contain and stop outside runs, short passes, and bubble screens. Things that no one else ever seems to have a problem doing for some reason.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Purdue doesn’t run the spread very well. How they managed to put together four scoring drives against a Penn State defense that held Iowa to three points is beyond me, but again, Ace’s FFFF should shed some light onto that.
When Michigan plays them: Fueled by an irascible disdain for the sale of snake oil, Purdue has outperformed in this game for the past several years. If you’ll recall, there was that last minute hook-and-ladder incident in 2008. Then in 2009 they came from behind to win by capitalizing on a missed Michigan PAT and surprise onside kick. Last year, despite being in the middle of the great torn ACL epidemic, the Boilermakers played Michigan so closely that as I tracked the game from an iPhone, I got mad at ESPN Mobile for doing a crappy job updating the scores.
So yeah, the Not-2008-or-2009-or-2010-ness of this year’s Michigan team could use a decisive win here.
Next game: No. 23 Illinois
Next, the Jump. Michigan should worry about: broken internet connections. Sleep soundly about: more room on the front page.
Iowa (4-2, 1-1 B1G)
Last game: Northwestern 31, Iowa 41 (W)
Recap: Despite getting shredded by Northwestern QB Dan Persa (31/40, 246 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) and allowing the Wildcats to convert 16 of 22 third downs, Iowa found enough firepower on offense/holes in the Northwestern defense to make big plays and win the game. The Hawkeyes were also able to make the Wildcats pay for a pair of turnovers and a failed onside kick.
With the victory, Iowa shook off a three-game losing streak to Northwestern.
Their fans also did this:
Right now they are as frightening as: Your average Big Ten team on any average year when the Big Ten is average. Fear level = 5.
Michigan should worry about: This team is erratic, and it’s tough to tell why they match up so favorably against certain teams and so unfavorably against others without breaking down film. Unfortunately, something tells me they’ll have an “on” day against Michigan.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Their defense seems to be a lot softer than it has been the last couple years.
When Michigan plays them: Seems like the perfect opportunity to get them to do something like this:
Next game: Indiana
No. 16 Illinois (6-1, 2-1 B1G)
Last game: Ohio State 17, Illinois 7 (L)
Recap: By now most people already know about this: down 10 in the last couple minutes, facing fourth and three from the Ohio State 17, Illinois coach Ron Zook chose to … go for it. (If you’re confused as to why that’s completely stupid, let me explain. You need two scores, and it doesn’t matter what order they come in.
If you kick an easy field goal here, you’ll need to recover an onside kick and then try for a touchdown. If you go for it here and eventually score a touchdown, you’ll still need to do the onside kick. If you fail the fourth-down conversion, you lose the game. Non-Zook game theory says you should kick the field goal.)
So there was that, but let’s be honest -- it’s not like that one call lost the game. The Illini had zero points until the last five minutes of the fourth quarter. The Buckeyes defense stymied Illinois’ offense all day, not even allowing them into field goal range. Actually, that’s a lie. They got to the 32-yard line at one point but elected, instead of going for it there or kicking the field goal, to punt.
Illini WR A.J. Jenkins, hindered by the inability to find himself completely wide open, had 8 catches for 80 yards.
Lastly, it’s not clear how their defense allowed Ohio State get away with passing just four times the entire game with only one completion. Not having an offense of their own probably contributed.
Right now they are as frightening as: A large, mismanaged rock. 6.
Michigan should worry about: They still have a big, aggressive front seven. And option plays, to which Greg Mattison says:
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Ron Zook, their once and future coach.
When Michigan plays them: It’ll be another bizarre one, probably. With their level of Big Ten-iness on offense and defense, Illinois might look like the better team, but a questionable game plan (maybe they’ll try to run at Michigan’s interior line rather than around the edges) and even more questionable in-game decisions (Zook’s current trajectory has him close to challenging their own touchdowns) will keep Michigan in the game.
Next game: at Purdue
No. 14 Nebraska (5-1, 1-1 B1G)
Last game: Bye
Next game: at Minnesota
Ohio State (4-3, 1-2 B1G)
Last game: Ohio State 17, No. 16 Illinois 7 (W)
Recap: About that whole completing only one pass the entire game and still winning the football game thing -- Ohio State did it, thanks in large part to their defense, now at full strength, which forced three Illinois turnovers in the second half. Two of them were converted into touchdowns.
Buckeyes QB Braxton Miller returned to action after recovering from an ankle injury late in the Nebraska game last week. He had eight real carries, one of which was a 35-yarder, and he was also sacked four times, so he netted just 34 yards total. Those numbers don’t reveal whether his ankle is still an issue, particularly against the Illini defense, but at this point it’s clear that even a 50% Miller is better than a 100% Bauserman against any defense.
Ohio State’s win was unexpected if not downright impressive. Of the several games left on their schedule that can be considered tossups (Michigan and Penn State are the other two), this one probably leaned farthest toward a loss for the Buckeyes. Coach Luke Fickell has gone from not knowing how to call timeout to temporarily saving the program from armageddon, albeit against an opposing coach who can’t keep track of the score. Still, that’s progress. He has bought his team an opportunity to salvage their season and play for a respectable bowl game -- and even a chance to save his job -- which sounds like the perfect situation for Michigan to come in and completely ruin everything.
Right now they are as frightening as: I don’t know anymore. Fear level = ?
Michigan should worry about: Learning how to stop the run seems like a good idea.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Because that’s all they’re going to do.
When Michigan plays them: It looks like a critical mass of doom and gloom required to blow up the program was not reached, and Ohio State is likely going to win more than two more games the rest of the season. Damn.
On the bright side, that means the matchup on November 26 carries more weight because of the ostensible bowl game implications and maybe even division championships on the line.
On the dim side, that also means that this Buckeyes team is going to be a lot harder to beat, especially with Michigan’s health and depth issues for the tail end of the season and its alarming inability to stop the run.
Next game: Bye
Objects in Mirror
Western Michigan (4-3, 2-1 MAC)
Last game: Western Michigan 22, Northern Illinois 51 (L)
Recap: After procuring a 15-7 lead over Northern Illinois midway through the second quarter, Western Michigan’s defense said, “Seeya,” and allowed the Huskies to rack up nearly 700 yards of offense en route to 44 unanswered points.
Next game: at Eastern Michigan
Notre Dame (4-2)
Last game: Bye
Next game: Southern California
Eastern Michigan (4-3, 2-1 MAC)
Last game: Eastern Michigan 35, Central Michigan 28 (W)
Recap: Eastern Michigan prevailed against Central Michigan despite being outyarded (449 to 429), outfirstdowned (30 to 18), and outpossessed (32:01 to 27:59).
Next game: Western Michigan
San Diego State (4-2, 1-1 MWC)
Last game: San Diego State 41, Air Force 27 (W)
Recap: San Diego State prevailed against Air Force despite being outyarded (419 yards to 410), outfirstdowned (26 to 20), and outpossessed (33:20 to 26:40).
Next game: Wyoming
Minnesota (1-5, 0-2 B1G)
Last game: Bye
Next game: No. 13 Nebraska
Northwestern (2-4, 0-3 B1G)
Last game: Northwestern 31, Iowa 41 (L)
Recap: Northwestern lost because QB Dan Persa’s Achilles tendon couldn’t handle another come-from-behind victory dance against Iowa.
Next game: Penn State