Over/Under: Michigan Defense
I wont lie: I am flat tired of writing preview-ish type pieces and getting summer, off season content up at the JCB. I had this great idea of doing preview pieces on all the Big 10 teams using a Over/Under theme. I didnt make it. I did not even make it half way through. Instead, I diverted my attention to other types of posts, eventually wore myself out at that and turned towards doing something pretty important the last couple of weeks: Enjoying summer. Or at least thats my excuse for only a handful of posts the last couple of weeks and no diaries in well over a month, despite promises to the contrary. We're in season now, so it wont be hard to throw up posts and diaries with actual games and results to mull over. But we want to give one last nod to the original preview idea and expand the Over/Under Board a bit before moving on to the season, so I've put together a post on the Michigan Defense for an MGoDiary and whipped up some Penn State odds over at my blog. For those who didnt see it earlier in the month, the Michigan Offense Over/Under Board includes, among others, total TDs from the QB position, 30.5; Drew Dileo kick returns 1.5; and leading rusher, 825.5 yards. To the defense........
Mark Moundros, total tackles: O/U 54.5
Before you scoff at how high this number is set, dont forget Kevin Leach, good old #32 marked 46 tackles a year ago. At the very least Moundros stands closer to the field at the beginning of this season than Leach did a year ago. The promise runs with the first team right off the bat could open the door for a high number of tackles. I dont expect him to get to the 90-tackle mark, a high water mark in recent years for Michigan LBs, but somewhere between 50-60 tackles might be the new expectation. Five weeks ago, the confusing case of Mark Moundros still seemed destined for limited touches as the fullback over any play at his fancy at linebacker. But the story has taken a surprising turn during preseason practices. He, along with
Darious Morris Tim Hardaway Jr., became August legends. For Moundros, he appears to be riding that momentum all the way into the starting lineup. When it was first pieced together by savvy watchers of the Countdown videos that Moundros was running with the first time, I chuckled that it didnt mean much. His stint with the one's just happened to coincide with the taping of the video at that time, right? But, this has legs. The Obi Ezeh era at MLB is apparently ending not because some uber, OMG shirtless recruit supplanted him, but because a former walk-on (er, I mean former#), turned linebacker after 3 years at fullback, waltzed into the position group and in the six months since then has turned the depth chart upside down. What a story. Musberger is going to love this by the time the Penn State primetime game rolls around. At least we hope so. I'm hardly discouraged by this development. Moundros' emergence upgrades this unit. Thats an indictment on the state of the position before he joined the depth chart, not the state with him on it. We'll find out on Saturday just how legit this is. I dont think position switches are all that bad. Northwestern has flopped David Arnold between the secondary and linebacking units and has been a solid producer. Indiana moved Ray Fisher from WR where he was buried behind some quality starters and became the team's top cornerback a year ago until a season ending injury. Christian Ballard arrived in Iowa City as a tight end, but he'll leave as an NFL draft pick on the defensive line. JJ Watts was a low-rated Tight End at Central Michigan, but he's now an All Big 10 contender at defensive tackle for Wisconsin. There's probably more oranges in those comparisons to the apples in Moundros situation, but the fact remains he's a good football player, loves to hit and apparently has shown more instincts in six months at the position than Ezeh or anyone else the last couple of years. If I am disapointed in anything is that the coaches didnt figure this move out sooner. Like the day they got here would have been nice. How much, and how well, Moundros plays on Saturday is one of the game's biggest storylines.
Mike Martin, total combined sacks and TFLs, O/U 13.5
On the offense over/under board, there's that quirky game trying to guess how many players will exceed their career catches with their single season numbers this year. Thats where the bar is being set here for Martin as 13.5 combined sacks and TFLs represent his career log during his first two seasons on the defensive line. He's had two sacks each season and last year disrupted to the additional tune of 6.5 TFLs, four more than his freshmen season in 2008. I think this kid is a beast and he's going to give first team All Big 10 a serious run. Outside of the interior pair of Christian Ballard and Karl Klug for Iowa, no returning defensive tackle has been as productive the last two seasons for his team. From an accolades standpoint, he's really suffering due to the team's lack of overall performance. That, and everybody looked like meager producers compared to Brandon Graham's season a year ago. Martin will be a force during his upperclassmen years in Ann Arbor. I think he flirts with double digit TFLs and a half dozen sacks. One of the enduring images of the team that I've clung to all off season were the long stretches of the OSU game when Martin controlled the line of scrimmage. The highlight play was an early sack on Pryor when Martin tossed aside Bryant Browning and threw the Buckeye quarterback down into the turf. I'd link to the UFR, but, well, I cant seem to find it. Are the archives working? Poking fun of Brian aside, we're all looking forward to a season full of more moments like that from Martin.
Total Takeaways: O/U 20.5
We all wake up in cold sweats after nightmares of Michigan ball carriers putting the ball on the carpet, quarterbacks throwing ducks to players with a different colored helmet and, of course, specialists muffing kicks. But Michigan actually took some babby steps forward in the giveaway department a season ago compared to 2008. Yet, the turnover margin got worse. When talking about Michigan's turnover woes the last couple of seasons, lets not forget part of the last year's blame should go to the defense that produced one of the worst takeaway number in years. Last year, the defense in Ann Arbor swiped just 16 takeaways. That's the fewest since 19 in 2001. The program's 11-year average prior to 2009 was 24.37. More than half of those years had more than two dozen takeaways. So last year was a 33-percent reduction in the production the Michigan defense had become accustomed to producing most of the time. Hypothetically, could the team have used 8 more takeaways a year ago? Give those to me, let me spread them around the slate--congrats, OSU, you get half of them!!--and BOOM, Michigan wins 7-8 games a year ago. We can write HOLD ON TO THE DAMN BALL in as many comment threads as we like, but the turnover margin wont be appreciably better unless the D steps up some and generates more giveaways. I dont know if Michigan will jump right back to getting more than two dozen takeaways a year, but I do expect the back to back years of regression with this stat to stop and at least begin to creep the other way. Where will the extra takeaways come? Craig Roh has the type of game that just screams forced turnovers. New Safety Cam Gordon packs a wallop on his sticks and should give Michigan a hard hitting, forced fumble threat in the secondary for the first time in years. Part of the reason Carvin Johnson has emerged atop the depth chart has been his ballhawking abilities. Finally playing for the same defensive coordinator two years in a row might help in this department as well.
Total Points Allowed, O/U 299.5 points
You know what I miss? I miss that goofy stat we used to throw around these parts about how unbeatable Michigan was when scoring at least 30 points. It's been a long, long, long time, it seems, since that era, so my memory may be wrong, but I think the Wolverines record in those situations was 531,731-2. I may be off a game or two. That's how bad the Michigan defense has been for a couple years running now. It has me pining for the manipulated stats used to support Mike DeBord's offensive philosophy. Uh, Rich, that is most definetly not change I can believe in. Here's the ugly money stat: The Michigan defense has given up 30 or more points in 13 of the 24 games the last two years. It's decidedly not a defense DeBord can win with. But Rodriguez could, especially if his high-powered offense in the making takes another leap forward and, more importantly, the defense puts up anything close to an average performance. How about allowing less than 300 points this season? That would be a big step. The Wolverines have given up 347 and 330 the last two years. Getting under 300 total points is the equivalent of allowing a field goal less per game compared to the last two seasons. Last year, thats the difference between 5-7 with an off season of continued angst and 7-5 while spending Christmas in Florida. Can the D reduce their points allowed by this much? More? Or more of the same and another season with half the slate dropping at least 30 on the Michigan defense?
Carvin Johnson, total combined tackles/sacks/TFLs/PBU/INTs: O/U 64.5
When Carvin Johnson comitted to Michigan ten months ago, he was an unknown to most recruitniks. He visited for the Penn State game, even though most of the gurus werent clear on who he was, and within the week had comitted to the Wolverines. He was not even ranked as a prospect. Yet, his legend grew during his senior season, an offer from noveau power Utah, combined with interest from homestate LSU suddenly turned this Louisiana prospect into a honest-to-goodness diamond in the rough. Months ago it was bandied about that he could see immediate playing time. It looks like his time will come this Saturday as he's expected to be the starter at the Spur position, which was manned ably by senior Stevie Brown a year ago. If the depth chart released this week is any indication, then it will be Johnson who gets first crack at this stat sheet stuffing position. For comparison's sake, Brown put up a 92 combined tackles/sacks/TLFs/PBU/INT a year ago in his only year playing this hybrid position. I cant see Johnson scoring that high because I dont think he's playing every down like Brown did a year ago. We're still going to see a few different people taking snaps there, especially if Johnson's debut against UConn is shaky. As a result, we're setting his number almost a full third below Stevie's 2009 production.