That would've been an epic (terrible) matchup to watch: 2009 Denard passing vs 2010 Michigan secondary. Oh my...
Preview: Defense vs Mississippi State
Run Defense vs. Mississippi State
The most terrifying bit of the game lies in here. You've heard it before but: this offense is Illinois part II. Chris Relf is a big, stocky runner with some talented sidekicks in a system that runs a ton of option until you freak out about it, then nails you for freaking out about it. They also effectively deploy the new hot thing in college football:
This isn't a veer of any sort but it is inverted,—the quarterback is the upfield threat—power-ish,—backside tackle(!) pulls around—and effective. Their running game is as diverse and almost as hard to stop as Michigan's. Michigan finished the year 11th, MSU 16th. The "almost" comes with a deeper look at the numbers: MSU runs a freaking ton, with 561 carries on the year against just 265 passes. That's a hefty 68% run rate reminiscent of Pat White's days at West Virginia. The Bulldogs average a full yard less per carry than Michigan, and that's a large chunk of the reason FEI has Michigan the #2 offense in the country and Mississippi State #72.
You can chalk that up to a distinct lack of Denard Robinson. Chris Relf is more Cam Newton than Robinson, albeit a version of Cam Newton without the ability to run away from Patrick Peterson. He's a tough inside runner with good vision and the occasional sweet move downfield but he's not a bolt of lightning. The reason MSU runs so much inverted stuff is to take advantage of his interior power.
On the outside the answer was a combination of Vick Ballard and LaDarius Perkins. Ballard is the team's leading rusher with around 900 yards, with Relf at 700 and Perkins at 500 and guys down the list picking up spare yards here and there. Michigan won't see slot receiver extraordinaire Chad Bumphis due to injury, so his role taking end-arounds, reverses, and jet sweeps figures to fall to Perkins. He's he fastest guy they've got left. Blue Seoul:
He's extremely dangerous on edge running plays. Especially the sweep. Expect him to carry the ball 5-10 times. But they'll probably have another 5-10 plays designed to go to him on either screens, wheel routes, or some other trickery.
With the extra practices, expect him to line up in the slot and then motion around, possibly to the backfield or to get the ball on a jet sweep.
Ballard is more of a north-south guy with good top end speed but not a whole lot of wiggle. Watch if MSU tips their option plays by tailback—Blue Seoul says Ballard was de-emphasized as the pitch guy as the season went along because he had a tough time maintaining the proper relationship with the QB.
Michigan will also have to watch for the shovel. While technically a pass play it's more like a different twist on the triple option. Remember that TE Gonzalez getting guaranteed first downs for Florida by pulling across the formation and taking a shovel pitch from Tim Tebow? Yeah, that has migrated over to Mississippi State. MSU lacks a TE with ridiculous athleticism so they will align in a wing set with one of the tailbacks as an H-back and then run the shovel away from the strength of the formation.
The MSU offensive line seems pretty mediocre to me but as he got deeper into the Bulldog season Blue Seoul came away with a certain appreciation for the tackles and center. Not so much the guards or the depth:
The only weak spot is #62. He is a good run blocker, but has made several mistakes in pass protection. I suggest running a lot of two man stunts or blitzes on his side making him choose who to block and who to let go.
There seems to be a significant talent/experience dropoff when the backups come in. In the one game where they had to shuffle linemen around because of injuries, Ballard was held in check and things were not pretty.
As far as Michigan goes, who knows what the hell we'll see. Everyone's pulling for a four-man line and whatnot but this actually seems like a game the 3-3-5 was built for—a matchup against a dedicated spread rushing attack. Expect to see Jordan Kovacs in the box 90% of the time on running downs as Michigan deploys an extra man on the edge in an attempt to slow down the option they couldn't against Illinois. Kovacs made some critical mistakes in that game that were compounded by the youth of a freshly-inserted Ray Vinopal and an odd scheme that saw Jonas Mouton rendered mostly useless.
Michigan's best hope for a surprisingly good performance rests in the ankles of Mike Martin, which have been pronounced 100%. If he can go full bore we'll see the combination of Actual Mike Martin and Kenny Demens we never really got in the regular season. Greg Robinson will line Demens up two feet from the guard and get him obliterated but I'm saying there's a chance of usefulness.
Key Matchup: Jordan Kovacs and Cam Gordon against the option. The edge safeties will be key players against a play Michigan struggled badly against in the Illinois game. They've got to correct their mistakes.
Pass Defense vs. Mississippi State
I don't think you're supposed to hold it like that.
Here's the other bit of why FEI is so down on the MSU offense relative to Michigan's:
That is a UFR chart of Relf's performance against Kentucky and it's basically on par with Denard Robinson… as a freshman. You remember what that was like. It wasn't very good. Massive caveat: that was by far the worst game of the season for Relf. I did the Arkansas game, too, and here it is:
That's better but still pretty ugly. Relf ended up 20 of 30 for 224 yards, which is a decent 7.4 YPA. His receivers dropped no easy ones—they could have bailed him out on two or three bad throws—and his deep balls were wildly off target. His successes came mostly on plays where he had all day in the pocket and could zing darts across the middle of the field, and on several plays he was reduced to ineffective scrambling after holding the ball a long, long time.
His two key deficiencies as a passer are that tendency and his total inability to hit deep balls. Blue Seoul suggests putting the corners in all inside leverage all the time and blitzing like Manny Diaz is in charge and I agree—in third and long situations Michigan should drop eight only as a changeup and send waves of blitzers, playing the percentages when it comes to Relf and tough throws.
At receiver, with Bumphis out the main guys are Chris Smith and Arceto Clark, with Brandon Heavens a third option. All are sophomores that seem pedestrian, though it's hard to tell given the limited opportunities they receive. They don't get much downfield separation but seem sure-handed.
Pass protection has not been good. Despite passing only 32% of the time Mississippi State gives up almost two sacks a game. They're 53rd in the NCAA's raw stats but would be well down the list if the NCAA ranked by sacks per pass attempt; against Arkansas there were a lot of blitz pickup breakdowns. Bizarrely, though, Arkansas is 6th nationally in sacks and still left Relf back in the pocket for ages for most of that game.
Mississippi State will attack the level between the linebackers and safeties on play action, attempting to hit chunk plays on digs and seams and whatnot; Relf's limitations and their lack of a go-to receiver makes deep balls futile unless the opponent massively busts a coverage, which Michigan will do twice. Relf's likely to miss it when it happens or miss the throw anyway.
On the other hand, the Michigan secondary.
Oh all right, the Michigan secondary: Jebus. What is it? Does it exist? We could ram them through a particle accelerator to find out if not for "laws" that you should keep off my body, kthx, and by body I mean joke physics experiment. Keep your laws off my joke physics experiment.
But seriously folks, Michigan cornerbacks should force guys outside and deep and hope Relf's accuracy is as advertised, with the linebackers getting appropriate depth on play action drops and the deep safety coming up into that middle range where Mississippi State makes its hay. Will they do this without getting burned? Probably not.
Key Matchup: Martin, Roh, and Van Bergen getting to Relf against (hopefully) single blocking afforded by a lack of stupid three man rushes I hate so very much.
Could we get MSU to run about 101% of the time? Please?
God bless you, Brian. I have hope.
My Gator Bowl fantasy has Michigan coming out in a four man DL with Martin, Q Washington, RVB and Rog. Q Wasington has learned all the D during the break and is not spectacular but holds his position and is immovable. Martin, RVB and Roh dominate the OL and cause havoc in the backfield. This throws their offense into disarray and makes the rest of the Michigan defense look much improved.
Well, Mike Martin may be very, very motivated if the rumbling about him turning pro (lord help us) is valid. With healthy ankles and something to prove he could be fun to watch and maybe, just maybe force the action enough to help the rest of the D look functional. But man, I cringe at the thought of next year's D without him in there.
But it's Saturday morning, my head hurts, stomach is ok, coffee in hand... so GAME ON and
Rush the QB and play tight on the receivers? Uh, yeah, sure, that sounds like how we play defense...that's the ticket...
The Florida TE you're thinking of is Aaron Hernandez, not Gonzalez.
1/2 a dozen the other.
I think it all comes down to Kovacs, Gordon and company stopping the run. If we can stop their run game and get them into second and third and longs, it will be a good day.
From the clips I've seen, I don't see the passing game beating us. Bring everyone up close and make them pass over the top.