Rain early but clear later, temp starts in 40s but dips to 20s
Run Offense vs. Iowa
This looked pretty awesome on Michigan's part until the State game, when it looked like early last year. What to make of that? One of two things: Michigan's early-season proficiency was built on a lot of erratic big plays that are not necessarily replicable, or Michigan State's got some sort of bead on the Michigan rushing game akin to the one they drew last year, when the Michigan State game was an outlier amongst a five-game sea of excellent rushing offense.
A couple things are clear. David Molk's absence is a big deal, and the scorching early success of the play this site termed the "zone counter dive"—as in a counter dive to the zone play, not a zone blocked counter—is not likely to be replicated now that backside defensive ends are warily sliding down the line looking for it. Michigan didn't have a response for that, nor did they have much of a way of getting the quarterback in a position to exploit that sort of coverage.
Compounding matters are health issues for Michigan's top two backs. Carlos Brown, the #1 so far this year, is likely out with a concussion. Brandon Minor, the thunderous force behind Michigan's second-half renaissance last year, has a total of 35 carries in the first five games, as he's been hampered by an ankle sprain all year. Minor is likely to start; sophomore Mike Shaw will be thrust into a prominent role in a tough situation.
As far as Iowa goes, I'd been operating under the assumption they were fierce beyond reason but the numbers aren't that great:
In five games against what seems like a largely unthreatening slate of opponents, Iowa's giving up 4.6 YPC. A closer look at Iowa's opponents reveals some shocking numbers, though: Iowa State is #20 in rush offense and Arizona(!) is #11. Both other I-A opponents are above average, and UNI is running around taking a machete to the rest of I-AA.
So that may be understandable. It's still not quite as dominant as you'd expect given the hype train building behind the Iowa rush defense. Your ESPN-approved mostly meaningless stat of the week: Iowa hasn't given up a rushing touchdown in 33 quarters. Woo! They gave up over 5 YPC to Iowa State with no carry longer than 17 yards! Not so woo!
This won't be an Eastern or Indiana romp but it shouldn't be a reprise of the Michigan State game. Michigan's got to pull some extra stuff out of the playbook; last week Michigan State was well-prepared for Michigan and Iowa's last game, though close, was against Arkansas State. That game prep week probably spent a day or two on Michigan; Iowa will be ready for the stuff Michigan's already shown.
Assuming some new looks (veers? options? Florida-esque triple option shovel to Koger? lots more Robinson and Forcier in same backfield?), Michigan should get its yards at a steady, but not amazing, clip. This may be foolish but I think the Iowa State YPC numbers are attainable. Penn State is clearly a mess on the OL, and proved that with weak rushing performances throughout the conference schedule. Michigan has proven itself on another level on the ground this year.
Key Matchup: Rodriguez and Magee vs the Same Old Stuff. This might be problematic because of Forcier's injury. I assume that Michigan wanted to provide some new looks against State but with Tate limited in practice last week (and this week) they were not confident in new packages that require option pitches to run them.
(Side note: last week's key matchup was Michigan guards vs Jones, which was termed the difference between six yards and a touchdown; argh argh argh.)
Pass Offense vs. Iowa
Thanks to the generosity of Austin Arnaud and Darryl Clark, Iowa sits an intimidating fourth in pass defense efficiency. It's not just the interceptions that got them there. Doing this to a senior who probably should have been the conference's preseason offensive player of the year…
…is frightening, shaky offensive line or no. And that goes double when a 79-yard touchdown on a bust was the first play of the game. Iowa's got two excellent cornerbacks, a safety with some crazy ability to intercept deflected balls, and a marauding defensive line that causes the hizzies in Iowa cizzie to lose their damn minds.
Michigan, meanwhile, has Tate Forcier, a middling set of receivers, and an offensive line with serious problems on the right side. This is where the thousand-year tenure of Iowa's Norm Parker hurts: Iowa knows what it's supposed to do and is the sort of team that has discipline above all, which should keep Forcier in the pocket, where he's uncomfortable, and not on the perimeter, where he waves his unicorn wand and conjures fourth-quarter touchdowns out of glue and beetle wings.
One thing to look for especially is some sort of counterpunch to team's successful deployment of the 4-3 against Michigan and the bubble screen. Both of the last two weeks opponents have used the safety as a kamikaze downhill defender against bubble screens, which has allowed them to stack the box, keep contain, and remove all three options in Michigan's triple option zone read. Steve Sharik suggests some alternatives in a diary post that involve 4-wide formations with double slots and run plays that zip into the secondary, which now has no safeties, for big gainers.
My take on that topic: man, turning that bubble route into a wheel and pairing it with a skinny post is almost guaranteed to get a guy wide open for a big gainer. We'll have to see whether Iowa plays it the same way; if they do and Michigan doesn't take advantage of the opportunities presented by that freakout, it'll be hard to see Michigan having a ton of success against an Iowa pass defense that has rocked so far. Michigan will get some yards because it's 2009 but this promises to be Forcier's worst day of the year.
Key Matchup: This is obvious but: getting some pass protection. Michigan was 37/57 last week, which is really bad.
Run Defense vs. Iowa
Iowa's been pretty meh here. Jewel Hampton's season-ending knee injury momentarily thrust Paki O'Meara panic back to the forefront in Iowa City, but the Paki Bomb was quickly supplanted by a couple of freshmen who are splitting carries about evenly because they are statistically indistinguishable from each other:
Wegher is an oddity in many ways: he's a white guy from Iowa who was given four stars by Rivals. Robinson was recruiting non-entity whose only offer was an Iowa grayshirt (IE: come in next January, kid, when we have room). Insert recruiting debate we're not having here.
Iowa has gone up against three good rush defenses in Arizona (19), Penn State (11), and Arkansas State (30) and has been juggling the offensive line due to injuries. Star tackle Bryan Bulaga missed three games with an illness and returned for the ASU game, which resulted in this:
“We were not very happy with our performance as an offensive line,” guard Julian Vandervelde said. “I suppose it’s good to have that sort of performance and still come out with a win. That’ll motivate us this week to work a lot harder at the things we need to improve on. We’ll spend a lot more time in the film room and on the practice field focusing on the details this week.”
… They always say the film is never as good or bad as you think it’s going to be. Sometimes, that’s just not true. It’s every bit as bad as you thought it was going to be. This was probably one of those weekends.”
The Red Wolves (why does every team that replaces their offensive Indian nickname put "red" in their new nickname? discuss) held Iowa to 124 yards on 33 carries, 3.8 per. That was Iowa's second-worst game of the year on the ground. The worst? The 87 yards they put up against Northern Iowa. Suggestion for Michigan: join the SWAC temporarily.
This will be an interesting test for Michigan's possibly-competent-when-aligned-correctly nouveau run defense, which crushed Michigan State's primitive attack to the tune of less than 3 YPC for the running backs. And Michigan State's pitch touchdown run was another instance of a badly misaligned defense similar to the 85-yard doom run by Indiana. Expect one or two of those against Iowa.
Outside of that stuff, Michigan's rushing defense was dominant. This is thanks in part to Brandon Graham (who actually graded out better in Steve Sharik's evaluation of the game than he did in his record-setting day in UFR):
And it's thanks in part to Michigan saying "screw it, we're an eight-man front" and dropping Jordan Kovacs into the box on almost every play:
That worked well and I expect Michigan will continue to do it, as they have a number of players with limited skill sets that they can take advantage of in very specific ways. For one: Jonas Mouton is a talented blitzer who's struggled with coverage and whatnot and Michigan decided they'd just blitz the hell out of him against State, to good effect. More of that will probably happen against Iowa.
The other aspect of the "run" defense to watch may not be run defense at all: Kirk Cousins averaged 10 YPC on 7 carries last Saturday despite his well-deserved reputation as a pocket passer. Stanzi's even more of a pocket passer—he's got –50 rushing yards on the year—but anyone can run up into the great wide open Michigan was graciously providing Cousins. Dollars to donuts Michigan spent a lot of time working on maintaining rush lane integrity; Stanzi's not likely to replicate Cousins's feat. Obi Ezeh is a lock to get dragged out of his zone, opening up at least one key, frustrating third down conversion.
Key Matchup: Ryan Van Bergen vs Iowa Interior OL. Van Bergen's emergence the last couple weeks has been the hidden secret to the run defense. He was able to prevent himself from getting sealed or blown back by MSU's OL and this removed just about the last weak spot on the line against the run. A reprise against Iowa's line would be very good for this game and the next two and a half seasons.
Pass Defense vs. Iowa
Here, again, Iowa has been fairly meh. Ricky Stanzi has thrown two pick-sixes in the last three games and is currently 70th in passer efficiency. That's a severe drop from last year, when Stanzi was the better half of a two-headed QB (recruitin' bust Jake Christensen was the other) and finished 34th. Stanzi's completing only 58% of his passes, has 7 interceptions to 8 touchdowns, all of which were against UNI, Iowa State, and Arkansas State, and averages 7.1 YPA. None of these marks are particularly good, and the rotating line has given up two sacks a game. There is some potential for Michigan to not soil themselves here.
Injuries have hampered Iowa here as well. Obviously, the line's been an issue. Iowa's also missed TE Tony Moeaki and WR Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, a man whose name is so long the NCAA's official site gives up somewhere in the middle of his second last name, for chunks of the season. With both those guys tentatively healthy and Bulaga back, Iowa figures to be a bit better than they have been so far. The prospect of Moeaki, who's been an excellent receiving tight end in the rare instances when he's healthy, against Michigan's dodgy linebacking crew is not a tantalizing one.
On the other side of the ball, Michigan has thrown a walk-on in as a full time starter and is thinking about moving once and future cornerback Troy Woolfolk from safety in an effort to shore up the corner spot opposite Donovan Warren, where virtually all opponent passes go. Mike Williams will slot in at free safety in that situation, leaving Michigan more vulnerable to long gainers but hopefully less likely to give up 130 yard, ten minute drives. It's ugly. I said there was little chance this went well against Michigan State and that was borne out; there is a chance it goes better against Stanzi and company but to get the horrible interception Michigan is going to have to cover some guys. Maybe Woolfolk can do that and maybe Michigan's linebackers can remove the head from the butt in the zone coverage; I'll remain doubtful about that until I see it.
Here, as always, the key is to get pressure on the quarterback. Dead donkeys cannot be covered, etc.
Key Matchup: Graham versus The Idiotic Idea You Can Single Block Him, or Brian Bulaga. I assume Iowa won't make the same mistake State did and let Graham run wild against single blocking unless they try it a couple times with Bulaga and it works out. Sharik notes that Michigan's gone to a strictly field-boundary scheme in the aftermath of the 85-yard touchdown run—ie, no flipping the line when Iowa realigns, so if Iowa wants to they'll be able to get Bulaga on Graham whenever it's not an obvious passing down. If Graham can win that battle and demand a second blocker, or just win that battle and cause Stanzi to do his usual interception thing, Michigan's in it.
During my podcast interaction with Oops Pow Surprise of Black Heart Gold Pants, he blasphemously asserted that Iowa's punter, whose name is something like Boring Smith, was the Big Ten's finest. I inadvertently uttered an expletive—as opposed to the intentional, if somewhat stammered ones earlier in the podcast—in reaction. And it is blasphemy. Boring Smith and the Hawkeyes are 31st in net punting. Michigan is fifth. Michigan should pick up an extra four yards every time punts are exchanged.
Michigan should also have an advantage in kick returns, where Iowa is 98th and Michigan is 25th; punt returns, which Michigan just doesn't bother with anymore (107th!) probably won't be relevant because opponents have only returned 7 of Zoltan's 26 punts and those have gone for five yards each because the opponents has invariably been surrounded by spread punt gunners of all varieties.
In the kicking game, Jason Olesnavage is now 5/6 of the season with proven range in the mid- to high-40s, though his one miss was a chip shot. Iowa's Daniel Murray has more of a track record but it's not a great one: he's 6/9 this year, was 6/9 last year, and was 7/10 the year before that. Tentative advantage here goes to Michigan.
Key Matchup: Can I cease saying CATCH THE DAMN BALL? I think so. How about field goal kickin'. Iowa's guy seems more likely to miss one and that could be a BFD.
The right side of the line reprises their Swiss cheese impression from the State game.
Tate looks out of sorts because of the cold.
Stanzi's finding open receivers alll over.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
Iowa fails to crease the Michigan DL and has to put a lot of the game on Stanzi…
…and Stanzi responds with his traditional festive interceptions.
There are a lot of punts because Boring Smith sucks.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 9 out of 10. (Baseline 5, +1 for Hello Iowa City Night Game, +1 for Probably Best Team M Has Played So Far, +1 for Spread Nearing Double Digits, +1 for M OL Vs Iowa DL Looks Like Not Fun Things That Are No Fun, –1 for But There Is The Tate Hulk Up To Account For, +1 for Dammit We Rushed For 28 Yards Last Game).
Desperate need to win level: 4 out of 10. (Baseline 5, –1 for This Is Not One That Anyone Expects To Pick Up, –1 for And The Fanbase Isn't Even Annoying, –1 for And No One Even Knows An Iowa Graduate, Right, +1 for The Battle Of Mary Sue Coleman, +1 for Man, 5-1 With A Road Win In Iowa City Heading Into Delaware State Sounds Like A Recipe For New Year's Day )
Loss will cause me to... not be particularly surprised.
Win will cause me to... probably get kidnapped and stuck in the Black Heart Gold Basement.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
I'd like to walk back some of the negativity I've offered on the radio and podcasts of late. I hadn't taken a close enough look at Iowa and seen how mistake-prone Stanzi's been or that the run defense looks fairly permeable, at least for Iowa. I still don't think Michigan wins but I was offering up 8-10 point margins earlier this week, and I now think Michigan will be closer than that, not least because of Tate Forcier's late-game heroics.
The prediction below is weird: it builds in what appears to be a 50-50 shot at Iowa having one more game-crippling mistake than Michigan. I think if M gets that game crippling mistake they will be in it at the end with a chance to win, possibly attempting to defend and Iowa game-winning drive. If they don't I think they end up in a hole and threaten to break out of it from time to time but never actually do so, with the cold and the crowd and the Iowa defense finally reining in Forcier when the game's on the line.
Finally, opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
Minor has like 90% of the carries.
Michigan finally pulls something out of the bag of tricks.
Woolfolk moves to corner and Iowa gets a big play because of safety error because of it.
As a Michigan fan living in Iowa (and also as a graduate of Iowa, now you can say you "know" one), I really hope Michigan pulls it out. Now that Iowa is "good" again, Iowa fans think they are sweet (see also: OMG Iowa = amazing and bring on USC, Florida, ect...)and I'm not ready for my cell phone to blow up with 2000 text messages should Michigan lose.
That being said, I'm expecting a 28-24 type game, but I unfortunately think Iowa will win.
tomorrow, meaning that if we play solidly to plus solidly there, we can win. But IMO Iowa is the best team we'll face other than OSU, we play them there in the cold, and have all of the above caveats with our team Brian mentions. Tough to see us winning.
"We can't overestimate the value of computers: yes they are great for playing games and forwarding funny emails, but real business is done on paper. Write that down."
I think it goes without saying that "CATCH THE DAMN BALL" cannot be said enough. This will definitely be a tough game, but I think it will come down to how Iowa plays.
All season they've been playing down to the level of their opponents. If they come out thinking they can easily take us down, I think we might have a shot at slaying the beast. I mean the football gods can only tolerate playing down to an opponent's level for so long, at some time it's gonna nip Iowa in the butt. Why not be this weekend?
A wise man speaks because he has something to say; a fool because he has to say something. - Plato
this was my exact line of thinking upon reading that. brian, dont ever think you can stop saying it (unless we start going for the block and stop even bothering to put matthews back there to watch it drop in front of him)
Zoltan has a monster leg and you guys have fast gunners on your coverage team, but Ryan "Irish Car Bomb" Donahue can more often than not put the ball wherever he wants it within 60 yards and have it bounce in a direction of his choice. The majority of those 13 inside the 20 hit within the 5 yard line and bounced almost straight up. 2 of the 3 touchbacks hit and rolled into the endzone after the second bounce, but could have been downed inside the 5 had our guys gotten there in time.
not to get into an "our punter is better" conversation, but...
lines like "more often than not put it wherever he wants it" and "the majority of those 13 inside the 20" and "could have been downed" don't really advance the conversation. they're analysis by anecdote.
After seeing him in person, I'll concede that Mesko is the better punter. Man, what a leg. Donahue had some rockets too, but it's hard to argue with a 55 yard average, and none of them bullets. I know at least two of his punts elicited a quiet "wow" from the stands.
Who the heck is this Donahue guy you're talking about?
Oh wait, it's Boring Jones. Well sure, maybe he can punt nearly as well as Zoltan, but can he make a bad read and decide to fake a punt deep in his own territory on 4th and inches in a rivalry game, fail miserably, and still not have anyone call for his head because he's one of the most dominant athletes the game has ever seen?
The one chip shot that Olesnavage missed, if I recall correctly, was a 26 yarder from the right hash, meaning that he had the tough come back across one's momentum pulls for that kick. Yes, you want your guy to make it, but I don't think all chip shots are created equal.
on the embedded play where Kovacs caused the fumble on Caper, notice how he and I believe Stevie Brown successfully switch their WR assignments, and then how Kovacs instinctively goes to Caper. That's a really great play to see from a kid with Kovacs's lack of experience. He should be an asset for this team going forward, specifically limited to the run defense.
I pray they play like Fernando Rodney rather than Miner League. At least with the heart attack and stroke associated with Fernando Rodney, Tate and the fellers might actually save one in the Big 10 at Iowa.
(I filed for a negging exemption before tangential MLB reference due to the tie in with Michigan... I have not heard back from El Capitan, however.)
"And all I ever wanted was a good job and some bus fare, a rocket and a bomb."- Michael Knott
I think night games should be +2 on the fear/paranoia level. Whether it's in Happy Valley, Iowa City, Madison or during a monsoon in Evanston, night games give me the heebie-jeebies. Everyone's amped and ready to go. I'd love to see the statistics on how visitors fare in night games over the last decade or so in the Big Ten.
+1 for QB eagles. Hardest to defend player in the game, but he is handcuffed with slow players at all the other skill positions. Give him a 56 in average max speed player at any position, and the Eagles would be unbeatable.
Funny you mention clutch, because I have never lived down beating my brother in the NFC championship by throwing up a last second, 70 yard bomb to Calvin Williams, which was double covered. Of course, I was lucky, and the whole jumping-receiver-cb-is-forced-to-dive-thing and walked into the end zone after making the jumping catch at the five.
As you know, this happened with such frequency that bombs of this nature were considered very poor etiquette in my family. Since then, "pulled a Calvin" became part of tecmo that never went away.
So ya, Barnett had better hands, Calvin went down as the "clutch" one for me.
Either way, speed was the most important stat in the game, give Eagles a Willie Anderson or any of the fast running backs to play with, and it's game over.
I was able to re-watch the first half of the Penn State v. Iowa game yesterday and Iowa looked completely inept aside from their very, very active D-Line (again, only watched the first half). Tate better brings his legs and be ready to roll out, because he will likely get no help from our O-line.
I also think we have the ability to make Stanzi look chumptastic tomorrow, since his accuracy from what I saw was garbage.
But we will without a doubt live and die by our pass protection, or Tate's ability to play with a lack thereof...
Iowa - Good D, Meh O
Mich - Meh D, Good O
I don't see our D improving a ton, so I think the game will come down to the offense. I'm hoping for improved right side of the line, and a crushing explosion from Minor. And on a wet (albeit turf) field, I'm hoping Shaw can make some people miss.
“What the mind can conceive, the mind can achieve and those who stay will be champions.”
I'm assuming someone here has the inside scoop at the MDen so...
I've been trying for about a month now to buy an authentic Forcier jersey. MDen and MGoBlueShop are both out of them. I've gotten ahold of "Doug" at MDen and he's only given me the runaround, saying "Oh, they're coming very soon, should be here within a week". That was 2 weeks ago.
So does anyone know what the deal is or how long I'll actually have to wait? It's about time I retire my Nike jersey...
Early in the season RR mixed in lots of standard formations. Then for some reason, they vanished in the Msu game. Michigan should come out with Tate under center, Minor behind him, two tight ends, and two wr's etc. then, do TONS of play action. These would accomplish serveral things 1) Iowa would NOT be expecting it, and Michigan would have them on their heels 2) The seven blockers would help our shuffled Oline 3) Tate would not take as many shots. THEN, after about a quarter of this, start mixing in some more "traditional" spread stuff. AND when that starts, have DR in there at the slot. It would scare the heck out of Iowa..just his mere presence. Once again, they would not expect it.
I do agree that Michigan needs to start using Denard more. He is too valuable and needs to get more touches. I was disappointed that he wasn't used more in the MSU game. However they do it, he needs to get into the game more.
We get > 400 yards of offense, Michigan wins. Less than 400 is a close loss. Less than 300, we will get blown out. For the record, PSU had 307 yards of offense vs. Iowa, but their defense kept them in the game despite four turnovers.
I fear that we won't be so lucky.
I think we we get between 275-300 yards of offense.
Personally I don't believe gerg has the pieces in place to stop Iowa's offensive attack. Ferentz knows how to exploit our D manning weaknesses way too well. 12 pt spread in favor of Iowa. Stats-wise we are going to look shabby again. I'm just not able to watch tomorrow, I sincerely hope this is adjudged a mistake on my part after reflection. Good luck, Tate, as you'll spell the difference should we prevail.
Jonathan Chait wrote an article on the Wolverine.com entitled "The Iowa Game: Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid." After reading it I came away somewhat puzzled. Since when should anyone (the Michigan team or its fans) be afraid of any opponent. For years the Michigan team was the team that all other opponents didn't want to face. Win or lose, the team or its fans should never fear anyone. That is not what Michigan is all about.
I think if we score at least 24 points, we win, bottom line.
And I think we will do both. (i.e., score 24+ and win)
I think we have a very, very significant special team advantage which will defray (somewhat... at least enough for us to be in it.) Iowa's possible defensive advantage.
I also think if we get a defensive or special teams TD, that puts us over the top to win for sure.
Their offense isn't that great, mistake prone, etc., everything Brian said above. If our defense can seize the opportunities they give us w/ their mistakes (i.e. no dropped interceptions or anything like that), that will put us in position to win if our O plays decently, which I think it will.
Plus, the ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Forcier - especially in the 4th quarter.
I honestly think we'll win this one. I just have a hunch. I really wasn't surprised by the loss last week, and though I'm in the minority on this (if not here than definitely in the grand scheme of things) I won't be surprised by a win this week.