After two games against solid BCS AQ teams, Michigan is averaging 287 yards per game at 5.6 yards a pop, good for seventh nationally. Everyone ahead of them has clubbed at least one total patsy, most of them two. Michigan's ground game is sort of good. You can read that as "Denard Robinson is sort of good" if you want.
Meanwhile, UMass is 10th in rushing defense in their division after playing two good I-AA foes. Meaningful? Eh… probably not. Holy Cross's first game was a 38-7 win against Howard in which they racked up 91 yards on 21 carries; William and Mary went for 157 on 47 carries against UMass. While they did well against those opponents there's a big difference between 4 YPC I-AA running games and the mystery that is Denard Robinson.
Michigan's had limited production from the tailbacks, though they haven't been given many opportunities. UMass will be an opportunity for Mike Cox, Fitzgerald Toussaint, and Stephen Hopkins to get some carries and hopefully get some production that might see Michigan's non-Robinson run game pose more of a threat in the Big Ten season.
Key Matchup: Robinson running away from people. Yeah, it'll happen.
Pass Offense vs. UMass
UMass has decent numbers here, too, 33rd in efficiency and 48th in yardage after two games. They've only got one sack, though, and don't figure to get any against Robinson unless they've got a death wish and blitz a lot.
Michigan will probably use the passing game as a sidelight. While they were almost 50-50 run/pass against Notre Dame much of that was the necessity of the last drive and Notre Dame's extreme overcommitment to the run. Against UConn Michigan was happy to grind the ball into the line time and again; they'll probably do the same here. Look for the same kind of stuff we've seen so far: hitches, seams, flare routes, some screens. New packages are not going to be deployed against a I-AA team.
Key Matchup: Denard versus air under the ball.
Run Defense vs. UMass
So here are some highlights and stuff:
Most of Notre Dame's yards were a result of Armando Allen turning the nothing Michigan's defensive line gave him into something by being way better this year than he was last year. That or Ryan Van Bergen crashing down when Notre Dame ran the midline zone read. The linebackers look better, Mike Martin is headed for beast status if he's not already there, and the spur and bandit have played well. Cam Gordon's weakness in the air has not been coupled with weakness on the ground: there have been no incidents where a filling safety took a bad angle and gave up a touchdown.
UMass, meanwhile, has a considerable amount of beef on their line for a I-AA team. Each starter is over 300 pounds, which has helped them grind out 223 yards per game in their first two. UMass's offensive stats against Holy Cross are eerily similar to Michigan's against Notre Dame: the QB threw 38 times (instead of 40), completed 25(24) for 293 yards(244); the team ran 53 times for 232 yards (41 for 288). And despite putting well over 500 yards up they only came away with 37 points.
UMass does not have a feature back but split the carries between Jonathan Hernandez, a senior who had 577 yards last year, and John Griffin, a senior seeing his first action this year. (He probably transferred from somewhere.)
Key Matchup: Mike Martin vs UMass interior line. Kill crush destroy!
Pass Defense vs. UMass
Richie Havens was pick-happy a year ago, throwing 15 to only 9 touchdowns, but has been much more efficient in 2010, completing 65% of his passes for 8.3 YPA, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. The competition will step up (at least slightly) this weekend. Anthony Nelson, presumably another transfer, has been the favorite target so far with 13 catches. Six more targets have at least three catches: UMass spreads it around.
Michigan, meanwhile, did very well against Notre Dame when the free safety wasn't making a painful rookie error. It's not hard to see another one or two (hopefully one) of those happening, and since Michigan seems hell-bent on a bend-don't-break style an array of three-man rushes and outside dinking could see UMass put together a drive or three. With Brandon Herron out with an ankle injury, Michigan won't be able to put Craig Roh on the line. This will provide UMass more time; Greg Banks is not in Roh's class as a pass rusher.
Key Matchup: Cam Gordon versus himself.
Guh. Guh guh guh. Guuuuuuuuuuh. Eye of the tiger!
Anyway: Michigan missed field goals from 39 and 40 yards, replacing Brendan Gibbons with Seth Broekhuizen for the final extra point and forcing me to look up Broekhuizen's last name for the fifth time. Maybe if I write it enough (Broekhuizen!) I'll remember it. Rodriguez declared the kicking job "wide open" during the week.
Meanwhile, uber-punter Will Hagerup got in his first extended action, shanking all manner of punts but still coming out of the ND game with a 34 yard net thanks to some kind rolls and no returns. Hopefully that was just a matter of nerves. The ones that went straight were pretty decent.
Returns were dull. Jeremy Gallon fair caught almost all of them; Darryl Stonum didn't do anything inspiring with the kickoffs.
Despite all this, Michigan might have an advantage. UMass is averaging a breathtakingly low 24 yard net on their punts and their punter's gross is just 34. That guy doubles as their kicker and is 1/1 on the year.
Key Matchup: HOLD ONTO THE DAMN BALL.
Kittens are not warranted for double digit spreads or games in which there isn't even a spread. But here's this:
Also here is a pika:
Anyone gets hurt.
Denard's passing regresses somehow.
The secondary gives up more long bombs.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
Cox or Fitzgerald looks sweet at tailback.
Some backup linebackers get in and look okay.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 1 (Baseline 5; –1 for Denard!, –1 for Against A Team Who's Best Player Transferred From Syracuse!, –1 for And Is Basically An Adolescent Seal, –1 for Also All The Rest Of Our Players Would Start For This Team Without Exception, –1 for And You Can't Put This Offense In A Shell, +1 for Never Forget.)
Desperate need to win level: 10 (Baseline 5; +1 for Never Forget, +1 for Hey Let's Just Blow It All To Hell Why Don't We, +1 for Rodriguez Repercussions: Devastating, +1 for This Would Be Worse Than The Sex And The City Movie, Which I Did End Up Half Watching When It Was On HBO And Could Not Turn Off Because I Was Trying To Figure Out If It Was The Worst (Technically, Morally, Ethically) Piece Of Purported Entertainment To Ever Be Produced, Eventually Settling On "Yes," But It Would Be Second If Michigan Somehow Lost To UMass After Everything We've Been Through And The Hope We Were Just Handed, +1 for That Last One Probably Deserves A +2)
Loss will cause me to... Cave. Beard. Rolling around on floor in own feces. No electricity ever. Look like Saddam eventually. Wish for a similarly merciful end.
Win will cause me to... shrug.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
Denard goes for a half, breaking one long touchdown run. Everyone is slightly, secretly disappointed he doesn't do more.
Yes, Devin off the bench first.
Cam Gordon does one more thing that is very concerning.
"the Spirit of Michigan...is based on a deathless loyalty to Michigan and all her ways....and a conviction that nowhere is there a better university, in any way, than this Michigan of ours" - Fielding Yost
I mention it down below....but it's Mich -28.5, O/U 51.5
A lot of off shores have been putting them out for years and will often have full boards for FCS and D2 action within those divisions. And, their playoffs too. Which, is like awesome as it helps soothe the college football withdrawals.
...that I too came across the Sex and the City movie on HBO last night, and - like Brian - could not turn it off because it was such garbage? The only thing I learned - after much internal debate - is that Sarah Jessica Parker is, indeed, an ugly, ugly woman.
Luckily a friend showed up, drunk, and snapped me out of it.
It shames me to say this, but my fiancee LOVES Sex and the City and I've seen the first one all the way through probably only once but I've seen half hour chunks of it more times than I'd like to admit.
That said, I made a deal with her where my end was going with her and her gf's to see Sex and the City 2 - and let me tell you, it makes the first one look like Shawshank Redemption. So so terribly bad. Really, terribly, horribly bad.
+1 for This Would Be Worse Than The Sex And The City Movie, Which I Did End Up Half Watching When It Was On HBO And Could Not Turn Off Because I Was Trying To Figure Out If It Was The Worst (Technically, Morally, Ethically) Piece Of Purported Entertainment To Ever Be Produced, Eventually Settling On "Yes," But It Would Be Second If Michigan Somehow Lost To UMass After Everything We've Been Through And The Hope We Were Just Handed
The illustrated Minuteman in the UMass logo looks like a Scooby-Doo villain. I feel like any second now he's going to be tricked into falling down a dumbwaiter and getting stuck in a barrel only to be unmasked and curse those meddling kids and their stupid dog.
This game is a big game for all of our young players. Being able to see Devin for an extended period of time is something I've been waiting for since his first snap in the UConn game. Being able to see guys like Buck, Marvin Robinson, J.Black, Ray Vinopal, and others on defense is going to be good to see where they are. This is an important game for our young players to gather up a lot of confidence going forward. Sorry to hear about their band director, hopefully we play it classy.
All he has to do is put up one big play-- one big OMG DENARD!!! play to make SportsCenter and keep the hype machine rolling. One big run, one touchdown with gazelle-with-dreads speed, one moment of THIS IS THE MOST EXCITING PLAYER IN THE SPORT AND THERE HE GOOOOOOOOOOOOES DOWN THE FIELD.
He doesn't need to be the whole offense, he just needs to deliver the magic. Again.
The media has developed a new taste for Shoelace, and he just has to do a little something every week to keep 'em fed. (Just like Charles Woodson did).