national champs baby
|WHAT||#19 Michigan vs Indiana|
|WHERE||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI|
|WHEN||12:00 EST, September 26th, 2008|
|THE LINE||Michigan -21|
|TELEVISION||Nationwide on ESPN2|
|WEATHER||Mid 60s w/ slight chance of rain|
Run Offense vs. Indiana
Indiana's defense is currently 15th nationally, albeit after a steady diet of dink-and-dunk MAC teams and one I-AA opponent that's not even the most prominent directional school in its state. (Western Kentucky won a I-AA national title a few years ago and is I-A's newest member. You may remember them from such mascots as "oh my god is that a walking zit.")
The numbers to date, sacks omitted:
*(Western also had two "team" rushes for –22 yards. Those were either kneel-downs or horrible snaps over the punters head that result in a safety (just guessing) and are also omitted.)
Despite the raw numbers, that probably doesn't bode well against an offense that just blew up for 380 yards against Eastern Michigan and had 5.5 YPC against Notre Dame the week before. Indiana beat writer Chris Korman on the defensive line:
Indiana has five defensive tackles that play but none of them played a snap at the position before the season. One is a true freshman, three are redshirt freshmen and another here moved over from the offensive line. Their linebackers are average at best, (Tyler) Replogle is a pretty good rush linebacker but otherwise they have guys who run themselves out of position, aren’t exactly as big as you’d want a Big Ten linebacker to be so it’s just not there. Like you said, they get gashed a lot and they haven’t played a real good running team. Akron just had no running attack and that’s where that game got away from them. But Michigan and those big backs, you just wonder how Indiana is going to stop them. They haven’t stopped someone who wanted to run the ball since I’ve been here, three years. They’ve never put it down and stopped a team.
So maybe it's more relevant that Indiana was 91st in rushing defense last year. They were 35th after three weeks against—hey!—Western Kentucky, Murray State, and about-to-be-rampant-through-the-MAC Ball State. How did that work out? In their never-ending quest to wear Javon Ringer's legs down to tiny nubs, Michigan State went for 236 yards on 52 carries. So… yeah. For the 15th-ranked rushing defense they are not exactly intimidating.
Michigan, meanwhile, is now the #3 rushing offense in the country after that aforementioned yardage explosion against Eastern. That probably won't last and Michigan would do well to come vaguely near those numbers even against a defense as apparently young and undermanned as Indiana's.
Complicating matters is the broken bone in center David Molk's foot, which will see him miss the next 4-6 weeks. Michigan will slide RG David Moosman to center, RT Mark Huyge to guard, and insert Perry Dorrestein at RT. Last week Moosman's absence saw John Ferrara enter the lineup at RG, so maybe there was some discontent with Ferrara's play? Either that or Michigan's noticed that Huyge isn't great in pass protection but is a thumping run blocker and is experimenting with an arrangement that minimizes his weaknesses and maximizes his strengths. Dorrestein was functional as an injury replacement a year ago. There will be some hiccups here as two guys move to new positions and another draws into the lineup. Moosman might get replaced, too, as he missed last week with a shoulder issue that Michigan won't want to chance aggravating.
All that said, Michigan should expect to put up the 5.5 they did against Notre Dame at the very least on a day that figures to be a bewildering array of handoffs they've already shown.
Key Matchup: Probably David Moosman versus Being David Molk. I've long been a proponent of the leetle center's skills and fit in the offense. This week is the first of 4-6 without his services; if Molk can provide a reasonable facsimile it will be encouraging for the future.
Pass Offense vs. Indiana
Is there going to be one? Will there have to be one? Eh… maybe. This section of the game contains the most favorable matchup for the Hoosiers, as they have a pair of veteran defensive ends somewhere between competent and All Big Ten. Back to Korman—here he's responding to the question "how does Indiana win"?
Oh, uh, it would have to be, really have to be, the two defensive ends are really the key. If they can get some consistent pressure, shake up Michigan’s offense, get to the young quarterbacks and certainly Michigan is going to be smart enough to try and run the ball a lot but if Indiana can get a few stops and then force a 3rd-and-long and you go back and get to the quarterback and that makes it a lot easier.
Indiana did pick off Akron four times, but their starting quarterback was out that game and the backup is not Tate Forcier. I don't think Michigan will give Indiana the opportunity to tee off on Forcier. What throws they do make will be heavily screen and rollout based, and since the rollouts all come off the zone read Indiana will be forced to abandon the scrape exchange (which doesn't work all that well, especially when your defensive tackles are all freshmen) or eliminate their defensive ends from quarterback duty.
The Indiana secondary was horrible, horrible, horrible last year, for what it's worth: IU finished 106th in pass efficiency D and 105th in yardage despite those defensive ends getting the Hoosiers up to 26th in sacks. IU's leading receiver from last year was moved into the secondary in an attempt to staunch the bleeding, but that only opens IU up to MGoBlog season preview heuristic #2: if you move someone to another position and then start him, that position group is a disaster zone. So, yeah, disaster zone. When Michigan passes, guys will be open, with chance of long pass increasing because of potential ineptitude.
Key Matchup: Michigan tackles versus the IU defensive ends. If, oh, uh, Indiana's going to be a threat it'll be because they've crushed the precious in the backfield.
Run Defense vs. Indiana
Ah, the frightening bit. Indiana lines up in the pistol and, according to "Behind The Schemes" on the Big Ten Network, has run 44 of 46 rushing plays on which they have a tight end to the tight end side.* That might be a setup for some counters or whatever, but it'll be interesting to see if Michigan responds to this by aligning Mike Martin and Brandon Graham to the strong side of the defense consistently. Last week EMU aligned in a fashion that caused Michigan to expose the Roh/Van Bergen side of the line to an overloaded TE-heavy front, and it was from this that Eastern gained a lot of their rushing yards. Clearly, opponents will be gameplanning ways to attack the lighter side of Michigan's line; watch for potential Michigan ripostes to this.
Indiana's vaunted… okay, not vaunted. Maybe "over-discussed." Indiana's over-discussed pistol formation is supposed to be a pounding up-the-middle sort of run game which features big linemen and runs up the gut from hefty backs—both of Indiana's guys are in the 215 range—but it hasn't exactly excelled so far. After three games against poor competition, Indiana is the #65 rushing attack in the country and is averaging four yards a rush. Unfortunately, Michigan hasn't been much better. They're #56 against the rush and gave up 179 yards to Eastern Michigan last week at 3.7 yards a pop. Notre Dame shredded Michigan for 5.1 yards a carry.
Expecting Michigan to shut down just about any rushing attack seems foolhardy at this point. What you're looking for is something resembling improvement from the linebackers, I think, as the defensive line isn't suddenly going to have another offseason of Barwis under its belt any time soon.
*(Apparently. I didn't know the show existed, so I'm taking that from a message board report.)
Key Matchup: Ryan Van Bergen against Interior Double Teams. RVB has had a tough time holding up against doubles so far; improvement from him would be encouraging going into a couple games against tough-minded Big Ten sorts.
Pass Defense vs. Indiana
Last week Michigan went up against a quarterback who threw around 30 time a game for under 200 yards, averaged under six yards an attempt, and gave off the distinct aura of an inconsistent dink-and-dunk sort without the offensive line or receivers to challenge deep or break short stuff long.
There was an explosion against EKU, but even if I'm down on this defense I'm not ready to pretend a mediocre I-AA team is in any way a useful comparison to Michigan even if Mike Williams's sprained ankle will hold him out this weekend (he's a "game time decision" but was listed as doubtful on this week's injury report), paving the way for yet another game in which a walk-on is on the field for virtually every defensive snap. Hello long sentences.
Anyway: Indiana's main receiving threats are a couple of guys on the outside who are sort of anonymous, not huge, not short, not shifty. They're just guys. Tandon Doss is the leading receiver and I'm only bringing up the receivers' names because the second prime guy is the spectacularly-named Damarlo Belcher. Doss will probably draw Warren, as he's already got 21 receptions on the year and looks to be the prime downfield threat.
Key Matchup: Brandon Graham versus Life Hates Brandon Graham.
Zoltan was back to his usual ways and Olesnavage bounced back from shanking a short one against Notre Dame to hit a FG of moderate distance. Indiana's special teams are okay.
One prime annoyance from last game: Greg Mathews gave away at least 50 yards of field position against Eastern by not fielding catching easy balls.I know we don't want to fumble, but those were bad decisions.
Key Matchup: HOLD ON TO THE DAMN BALL.
21-point spreads against Indiana do not get kittens, but here's something else:
- Michigan decides to test their tackles against the IU DEs and comes up short.
- The infirmary list gets any longer.
- Denard continues to struggle throwing the ball.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- David Moosman looks like an adequate replacement for Molk.
- We get a new punt returner.
- There is not massive regression on all fronts.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 1 out of 10. (Baseline 5, –1 for Probably Don't Even Have To Throw To Win, –1 for And For That Statement The Ghost Of Bo Will Smile Fortune Upon Us, –1 for No, Seriously, Their Defensive Tackles Are All Freshman And Converts, –1 for And Even If We Do Throw We Can Do That Now, –1 for Indiana Doesn't Even Have Their One Scary Guy This Year, +1 for But We Are The Sort Of Team That Starts A Walk-On).
Desperate need to win level: 10 out of 10. (Baseline 5, +1 for Remember Last Week, Yeah All That Stuff Goes For This Week, +1 for Let's Re-establish That This Is Michigan, Okay, And Does Not Lose To Poor Versions of Indiana, +1 for I Like Being Happy, +1 for Seriously, It's Nice, +1 for Mmmmm Serotonin.)
Loss will cause me to... drive to Mexico at the head of a caravan of escapees, screaming "FOLLOW ME TO FREEDOM."
Win will cause me to... shrug.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
Remember what happened last week? Yeah, that. I guess the spread is a field goal closer.
Finally, opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Brandon Graham never sacks anyone again.
- Michael Shaw cracks 100 yards.
- People start seriously speculating as to whether a walk-on is a better safety than the Michigan version of Ryan Mundy was.
- Denard completes 50% of his passes again, except this time the ones that get caught get caught by the right guys.
- Michigan, 42-17.