Previously here: Brian's turn to self-inflict carpal tunnel (aka the 'preview 2013' tag—if you haven't read through those by now, set aside a good ALL OF THE HOURS)
Michigan vs Central Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan
3:30 pm Eastern, August 31, 2013
partly cloudy, around 80, 10% chance of rain
Trollin' trollin' trollin'/Sparty LOL'in/This better not happen/To ussssssss
Run Offense vs Central Michigan
The good news for Central Michigan is they return four of their six starters up front (they run a 4-2-5 defense); the bad news is one of those starters is buried down at third on the depth chart at nose tackle—oh, and the Chips allowed 193 rushing yards per game last season, 93rd in the NCAA. Returning talent is good if it is talented; CMU's defense was not so talented in 2012.
The Chips return both linebackers, senior SLB Shamari Benton and junior MLB Justin Cherocci; the pair combined for 258(!) tackles last season, largely because the defensive line couldn't make plays—only two D-linemen cracked 40 tackles last season, and both have since graduated. Benton and Cherocci will be tasked with keeping five-yard gains from turning into big plays; their tackle numbers indicate they're pretty decent at doing so, though CMU's opponent rushing numbers (4.9 ypc before sacks removed) may tell a different story.
If Michigan can't get a traditional run game going against this team, it may be time to PANIC. Maize n Brew interviewed Hustle Belt blogger Ron Balaskovitz about the matchup, one that doesn't bode well for CMU given what their defense is designed to stop:
The problem for CMU when they face a team like Michigan, who wants to establish a power running game, is that CMU doesn't play a normal front seven. They play 4-2-5 defense that is designed to bend but don't break, and slow down the pass happy MAC offenses, so it leaves them vulnerable against power run teams. It doesn't typically blitz often, and relies on pressure from the front four, and lots of tackles by the linebackers. The linebackers are both back, and both had over 100 tackles last year, so the pressure rests squarely on the defensive line coming into this game.
Only one CMU defensive lineman, nose tackle Leterrius Walton, returns to his starting spot this year; last year's other starting DT, junior Jabari Dean, is now listed third on the nose tackle depth chart. CMU lists co-starters at both defensive end spots, and none of the four crack 250 pounds. Michigan should be able to control the game on the ground without breaking out much fancy stuff; if they struggle to do so, optimism for their chances against Notre Dame—and their beastly defensive line—drops several notches.
Key Matchup: Jack Miller and Graham Glasgow vs. The One Proven CMU Lineman. Actually, the non-proven ones, too. If Miller and/or Glasgow struggle to get a push against these guys, it does not bode well for the running game going fowards. I think I've made that rather clear.
[Hit THE JUMP for how do you give up that many passing yards to MSU? Also, a fearsome running back named Zurlon.]
Pass Offense vs Central Michigan
The good news/bad news is much the same in the CMU secondary, which returns three starters from a unit that finished a sub-par 79th in opponent passer efficiency. The Chips lost their best defensive player and biggest playmaker, strong safety Jahleel Addae. Their starting boundary corner, junior Jason Wilson, lost his starting job after seven games last season. Their field corner, sophomore Brandon Greer, saw most of his action on special teams in 2012. Only two members of the secondary, strong safety Jarret Chapman and deep safety Avery Cunningham, started every game for which they were healthy last season. This is a group that allowed a combined 322 yards on 8.7 yards per attempt by Andrew Maxwell and Connor Cook, far and away MSU's best passing effort on the season.
The responsibility for that doesn't fall solely on the secondary, however; the Chips finished 100th nationally in sacks, and only did that well thanks to some aggressive blitzling from the DBs, per Bill Connelly:
Either by design or necessity, CMU came at you from everywhere last year. Safeties Avery Cunningham and Jahleel Addae combined for almost three times more tackles for loss than all CMU linebackers combined and almost as many sacks as CMU's starting defensive ends. That's impressive for the safeties ... and less-than-impressive (to put it kindly) for members of the front 6-7. Cunningham returns, as do ball hawks Jason Wilson and Jarret Chapman (combined: two interceptions, 13 passes broken up). However, this secondary was still far from strong (CMU was 120th in big plays allowed through the air, i.e. Passing PPP+), and the front of the defense is not guaranteed to improve.
Opponents had all day to throw, and CMU's defensive backs could hang with receivers for only so long. That doesn't look like it'll change with new starters at defensive end—all four of the co-starters at DE were on the team last year, three of them are now seniors, and they combined for 2.5 tackles for loss. The odds of these guys being able to generate pressure against Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, one of the best pass-blocking duos in the country, is exceedingly low.
Devin Gardner's biggest issues in the passing game cropped up when he faced pressure—or, by design, rolled away from pressure—against Ohio State and South Carolina. He should be able to stand confidently in the pocket and pick apart a secondary that, again, allowed 8.7 ypa to Michigan State and then lost their best player to graduation.
Key Matchup: Devin Gardner vs. Happy Feet. Given the level of competition, I'll mostly be looking to see just how far Gardner has come from a mechanical standpoint after a summer spent working on that stuff extensively. If he's stepping into his throws, he's going to be accurate, and he should have plenty of time—and open receivers—to make sure that isn't an issue. The real key matchup here may be Shane Morris vs. Freshman Quarterback ARGH, but that's getting ahead of ourselves a little.
Run Defense vs Central Michigan
Michigan's reshuffled defensive line gets a significant early test in the form of 6'1", 222-pound bruiser Zurlon Tipton, who accumulated 1,492 yards and 19 touchdowns on nearly six yards per carry last season, albeit with some help from this year's #1 overall NFL draft pick, left tackle Eric Fisher. Still, Tipton is tough to bring down—arm-tackles won't be sufficient—and he's got surprising breakaway speed when he hits the secondary, tallying 15 rushes of 20+ yards last season:
Tipton is a prototype feature back—he toted the rock 252 times last season; the next-closest Chippewa was sophomore Saylor Lavallii with 57, and he was far less effective.
Central must replace not only Fisher, but two other starters on the offensive line; the only returners are sophomore center Nick Beamish and left guard Andy Phillips, though senior left tackle Jake Olson, Fisher's replacement, has 24 career starts over the span of three injury-ravaged seasons—he should be a decent replacement, though not up to Fisher's extremely lofty standard.
An additional rushing threat could come from new starting quarterback Cody Kater, who was a solid dual threat for Grand Rapids C.C. before transferring to CMU prior to last season, which he spent as a little-used backup. Central's last quarterback, Ryan Radcliff, wasn't a running threat at all, so it's unknown just how much Kater's running ability will be utilized.
Key Matchup: The safeties vs. Tipton BOOM. The above highlight reel shows Tipton dispatching defensive backs with ease, and the departure of Jordan Kovacs combined with Jarrod Wilson's, er, lack of emergence into a trustworthy free safety means there's a lot more potential for big plays this year if a run busts into the secondary. I don't expect that to happen often given Michigan's impressive defensive front and CMU's relative inexperience on the line; all it takes is a few broken tackles in the secondary, however, to turn a comfortable blowout into a nerve-wracking experience. Wrap up, Jarrod Wilson.
Pass Defense vs Central Michigan
CMU loses quarterback Ryan Radcliff, who passed for over 3,000 yards last season, and replaces him with Kater, whose career stat line is 2-for-4 for 12 yards. Fortunately for Kater, he's got several proven targets on the other end of his passes, especially junior Titus Davis (pictured above scoring one of his two TDs in CMU's upset of Iowa last season), who is a serious big-play threat—he had 43 receptions for 860 yards (20.0 ypc) and eight touchdowns last season.
Central has to find a replacement for their leader in receptions last year; Cody Wilson had 74 catches, and no non-Davis receiver posted more than 24. Junior Courtney Williams (24 catches, 260 yards, 2 TDs) and redshirt senior Jerry Harris (54 career catches, coming off a season-ending injury last year) figure to get most of the snaps across from Davis. Sophomore Andrew Flory did a remarkable job of replicating Davis's production as his primary backup last season, also averaging 20 yards per catch on the nose, just on 17 receptions. The tight ends factor in more as blockers than pass-catchers; Mike Kinville, a converted linebacker, tops the depth chart after recording four catches last season. There's plenty of talent and experience in the receiving corps, and Michigan must be very careful not to let Davis or Flory loose over the top.
Of course, CMU must give Kater time in order for him to be able to exploit any potential weaknesses in Michgian's secondary, and that's not a guarantee with two new starters at tackle; we could be in line for Frank Clark's much-advertised breakout game, and Greg Mattison will surely dial up the heat to see if Kater can handle it.
Key Matchup: Frank Clark vs. Expectations. After going against Taylor Lewan all spring and fall, Clark should be salivating to go up against guys who aren't destined for multi-million dollar paydays. If he's the player everyone expects him to be, he should spend plenty of time in the CMU backfield; that'll be very key not only for keeping everyone's expectations of Clark high, it'll also help out the safeties—less time in the pocket means less time for Davis to take the top off the defense, and could cover for any potential coverage busts by Wilson.
Totally not relevant, yet totally relevant.
CMU breaks in a new kicker this year, though we're not sure which one it'll be: the depth chart lists that ominous "OR" between redshirt freshman Ron Coluzzi and sophomore Matt Cotiguala. So... who knows? Kickers are weird.
In exciting news for the MGoBlog staff, Central did a poor job covering punts last year, finishing 87th nationally with a net average of just 36 yards; Dennis Norfleet should get some opportunities to break a big return. The Chips have a designated kickoff specialist, senior Connor Gagnon, and apparently that's for good reason—they were 29th in kickoff coverage last year, allowing under 20 yards per return.
Titus Davis is listed as the starting punt returner; this is his first time taking on that job, and he could be dangerous with that explosive speed. The kickoff returners were relavitely meh last season and hopefully won't be a threat, especially since Michigan's coverage—with their new-found depth—should be better than last year.
Michigan is totally set in the kicking game with Brendan Gibbons, brunettes, Matt Wile, and even a solid backup option in Kenny Allen. This remains mindblowing in a very good way.
Key Matchup: SPREAD PUNT, PLZ.
FOR WORMLEY'S FRO, MAY IT REST IN PEACE
Michigan can't generate pressure with the defensive line.
The offensive line isn't opening up massive holes.
The safeties can't keep Tipton and Davis from producing big plays.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
Frank Clark looks like every bit the freak he's hyped up to be.
Jarrod Wilson comes up, lays a huge hit on Tipton, and flips off all the haters.
Shane Morris is taking snaps by the end of the third quarter.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 2 (Baseline 5; +1 for Safety Uncertainty, +1 for Zurlon Tipton Go Boom, –1 for Their Rush Defense Can't Stop The POWER, –1 for No Pass Rush To Speak Of, –1 for MAC Opponent Against Non-RichRod Coach, –1 for Devin Gardner Heisman Campaign Starts Now, –1 for Fitz/Green/Smith Will Produce)
Desperate need to win level: 10 (Baseline 5; +1 for Directional Michigan School, +1 for Don't Be Iowa, +1 for Don't Be State Either, +1 for Please Don't Kill Our Excitement Right Off The Bat Again, +1 for Seriously It's Central Michigan With A Terrible Defense And New Quarterback, Just Do This)
Loss will cause me to... stare at my laptop searching for a way to write a game recap without cursing enough to make a construction worker blush.
Win will cause me to... shrug, smile slighly, and run home to watch some competitive football.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
Okay, that's not enough. Michigan's offense is exactly the type that should exploit Central's defensive weaknesses with ruthless efficiency. They can't defend the inside run; they can't get pressure on Gardner (and if they do, good luck containing him); they lost the guy who led the team in forced turnovers, and those represent CMU's best hope of winning. Meanwhile, they're breaking in a completely inexperienced quarterback and have a reshuffled line that lost the #1 overall NFL draft pick. They should be worse than last year, and last year they weren't very good, victory against horrendous Iowa outfit or not. This should not be particularly competitive.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
Dennis Norfleet scores a touchdown, either on a punt return or a jet sweep. Brian explodes in a spectacular display of viscera. It's how he'd want to go out.
Michigan runs POWER over and over and over to great success. That success includes at least 50 yards from De'Veon Smith.
There's at least one awful blown coverage or tackle by a safety that leaves us all concerned about that position group going forward. It probably won't be Thomas Gordon's fault.