I'VE HAD JUST ABOUT ENOUGH OF YOU SONNY
10/25/2013 – Michigan 2, Boston University 1, 4-0-1
10/26/2013 – Michigan 1, UMass-Lowell 2, 4-1-1
There was a moment Friday night when BU had scratched out a goal and managed to hold out 30 or so Michigan shots when I looked up at the scoreboard and it felt like that Ryan Miller game oh so long ago, when Michigan bombed a passive Michigan State outfit, outshot them 31-13, and managed to lose 1-0, because that's what happens when you put Ryan Friggin' Miller in Ron Mason anti-hockey. MSU won a game they didn't score in that year. Whenever Michigan doesn't score with a lot of shots I think of that game. If you need to keep me out of your house for whatever reason (mom), just put a picture of Ryan Miller on your doors and windows; I will react to it like a vampire reacts to a cross.
Even so, watching the scoreboard grimly read "0" as the number below it skyrocketed was kind of great at the same time is was monstrously frustrating. Those Michigan teams were killers when not arrayed against Ryan Friggin' Miller. BU was coming off a 7-3 thrashing of presumed Big Ten favorite Wisconsin and for most of the game they could barely conspire to exit their own zone. Michigan was killing those guys everywhere except the scoreboard.
A goal was clearly coming, because BU's guy was only okay, and it did, and was waved off, and came again, and then Alex Guptill got a questionable penalty shot in his favor, and that went in, and clearly everything about those 30-some shots that went wrong was just a fluke and Michigan was going to ride roughshod over college hockey, screaming incoherent things about getting yours for last year.
Fast forward 24 hours and Michigan's coming off a loss in which they put up one goal on 39 shots, that a fluke where the puck popped out in front of the net for Evan Allen to shovel in unassisted. Since no one saw the seven goal explosion against an RIT team, I've watched an awful lot of Michigan hockey this year without seeing many, you know, goals. I have seen a lot of shots that would be goals if goalies were donut-shaped. This may be helpful against Wisconsin, but not at the moment.
At some point the massive pile of shots without corresponding goals is just who you are. That point is… probably after the season. Hockey is random as hell. But we're in the business of extrapolating from small samples here, and this team seems like some of the Hagelin teams where they'd dominate possession, outshoot the opponent on the regular, and sometimes lose because they didn't have an every-night offensive standout.
After last year, the reaction to this is HELL YES, but there was moment on Friday when it seemed like they might take the expectations for them and crush them into a thousand pieces. Michigan scratched out the third period against BU to go 4-0-1 against a brutal schedule, and delusions of grandeur flitted up from below.
The Lowell game was a reality check. They are not mid-90s Berenson vintage. They are a convincing imitation at times, threadbare at others. They seem like a team of Milan Gajics, perpetually on the verge of scoring but somehow never doing so. There's been a lot of that particular hockey-crowd anguish where each subsequent puck that does not go in the net amps up the howling.
I mean, yeah, okay. This team is still a breath of fresh air compared to last year. It's fun watching them lift everyone's stick, fun watching Compher and Motte play the Gardner and Gallon telepathy game, fun watching a harmless shot go at the net and not fearing it will go in. That last one may not actually be fun. It may be more realizing that the possum that had been gnawing your arm for the last decade finally died and fell off. But that's enough to flip a quarter and whistle about.
Sun's out. Time for a stroll. Now someone just put the black disk in the red thing.
[After the JUMP: penalty shots, ref shots, all sorts of shots, shots on shots on shots]
Position: Wide Receiver
Ht/Wt: 6'4"/207 lbs.
Location: Paul VI High School – Haddonfield, NJ
Offers: UMass, Old Dominion, Rutgers, Temple
With the Michigan coaches being free of game-prep duties this week they have taken the recruiting trail by storm visiting states across the nation and checking in on recruits from dozens of high schools. Tuesday afternoon Coach Ferrigno dropped in on Irvin Charles while making a sweep through New Jersey. Charles was a very cool kid to talk to and seemed very flattered to be contacted by the Wolverine staff. I asked him how long the visit had been set up and he surprised me with his answer.
Man, I had no idea they were in Jersey. He ended up telling me they were on a bye week so. I had no clue they were coming, I just got called down to the office and he was there. It was cool. It was my first interaction with Michigan so I was definitely surprised.
Charles told me that the visit wasn’t very long but that he and Coach Ferrigno talked about as much as they could in the short time they were together.
We talked about my recruitment, my training, my football season this year and just some personal life questions. He asked me how my dad is, asked about my sisters, where I live and who I live with.
This is another common thread I hear from recruits, that the coaches take a genuine interest in the life of the young man outside of football. That sentiment always seems to go a long way and I believe it did with Charles as well, as he said Michigan is now very intriguing to him and he rates his interest level, “From a 1-10, a 9 for sure.”
Charles is built in the exact mold that the coaches seem to love in receivers. At 6’4” and 200+ his body type is a lot like Moe Ways and he plays strong on film. He’s not a burner but he runs well (4.73 Nike SPARQ) for his age and size.
You can check out the first four games of Charles’ season here.
FORMATION NOTES: Michigan spent every snap in their nickel. This was fairly typical.
That also shows what I called "shotgun triangle" for IU. Wynn is lined up in the backfield behind the QB, but it's shotgun depth, not pistol. Wynn would always motion out after a hand-wave from the QB; this was always a decoy.
Michigan did show a few okie packages. This is Okie two; I designate them by the number of safeties.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Boatloads. Avery went back to safety and spotted Gordon and Wilson from time to time. This led to a lot of Stribling and Lewis, as Michigan played every snap in their nickel. Countess and Taylor did not leave the field, IIRC.
At linebacker the usual Ross/Morgan/Bolden rotation saw Ben Gedeon join. The line was the usual profusion of bodies. Clark or Ojemudia was usually one end with one of Beyer/Ryan/CGordon the other. On the interior, Washington, Black, Wormley, Henry and Heitzman seemed to split snaps almost evenly. Glasgow also got in some.
[After THE JUMP: go go go go go go go go go go]
Before I post a partial transcript of John Beilein's press conference, a few player interviews, and photo galleries from both Eric and Bryan, here are my main takeaways from yesterday's basketball media day:
- First and foremost, John Beilein is serious about playing two bigs and having a lot of lineup versatility—this sentiment echoed from Beilein himself down through the players, almost all of whom discussed playing multiple roles in some capacity. Everything from Walton/Spike/Stauskas/GRIII/McGary to LeVert/Stauskas/GRIII/McGary/Morgan is on the table; this team can play small or go very, very big—both Stauskas and LeVert are capable of running the point.
- Mitch McGary's health is a major question mark. Beilein isn't sure if he'll be ready for the first exhibition game—it certainly didn't seem like it—and would only say he's "day-to-day" when asked about a timetable. When asked about the nature of the injury, McGary responded that it wasn't an injury, but a "lower back condition" that the team is being cautious about right now. That's obviously a point of concern, even though McGary maintained that he felt good about where he's at right now and the upcoming season. He's definitely missing critical practice time—Beilein noted that he hasn't had a chance to practice his perimeter defense, a crucial area for improvement if McGary is going to be able to play the four.
- The physical development of the sophomores has been rather remarkable. Glenn Robinson III's improved vertical is getting a lot of attention—yes, he touched 12'3", maxing out Michigan's device for measuring vertical leaps—and similar gains have been made by Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert. All three look noticeably more muscular; though LeVert is still very much on the skinny side, he's no longer rail-thin, and Stauskas appears capable of playing the three if need be. GRIII, meanwhile, looks the part of an NBA player.
- When asked about their new break-the-huddle mantra this year, Beilein responded that it's simply "champions"—whether that applies to the Puerto Rico Invitational, the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, the Big Ten regular- and post-season crowns, or even loftier goals. Last year's team took the expectations to an entirely new level; it's clear this team is comfortable with that.
For direct quotes from Beilein, player interviews with Jon Horford, Jordan Morgan, and Derrick Walton, and photo galleries from media day, hit the jump.
Pictured, the closest defenders Jeremy Gallon saw all day [Upchurch]
1. The Six Factors
|Field Pos||Early Conv||Bonus Yds||Avg 3rd Dist||Adj 3rd Conv||Red Zone|
So, that was a lot of bonus yards. Michigan’s 385 yards beyond the first down mark was the highest mark in college football this year (largely because the game was close and all second half plays counted, unlike say every Baylor game this year). It was the 11th highest total since 2003 and narrowly edged the 2010 Indiana game (by 2 yards) for the highest mark for Michigan in the time period. For comparison, Purdue has 399 bonus yards on the season so far.
Add in Indiana’s 270 yards and this was the highest total for any game this season and the 13th highest total since 2003. There were a lot of big plays in this game. Also, not a lot of third downs, especially long ones and the ones that did occur were converted at a high rate, even after accounting for their short distance. The offenses may have done OK in this one. The important thing is that Michigan’s offense was better than Indiana at virtually all of these things, even if Indiana did pretty well themselves.
2. Individual Game Scores
Devin Gardner: +29.9 EV+, +118% WPA (1st)
The top quarterback score of the season, even after adjusting for what the average offense does against Indiana. This game finished as the #10 QB performance since 2003 and the second best B1G QB score behind CJ Bacher against Michigan State in 2007
Fitzgerald Toussaint: –1.8 (+5.3 before opp. adjustment), +11% (90th)
On the one hand, it was great to see some success from Toussaint, on the other hand, after adjusting for the Indiana factor, it was actually below average. At this point, my expectations are pretty low for the traditional running game. Toussaint had some nice success but given how bad Indiana was and that he still was only at 4.0 YPC until the final run, I don’t see things getting significantly better for him down the brutal November stretch.
Jeremy Gallon: +29.5, +84% (1st, obvs)
So this was a nice game for #21. This blew the doors off of any other receiving performance in the last 11 seasons. Gallon broke Stedman Bailey’s record set last year against Baylor by nearly 15%. I put together a quick chart of Gallon’s projected yards throughout the game.
After the first 70 yarder the pace shot up to nearly 600 yards and never dropped below 300 from then on. It was pretty amazing to see all the On Pace For jokes throughout the day and see that in the end, some of them undershot the final total.
Devin Funchess: +6.8, +15% (49th)
Tre Roberson: +15.5, +54% (4th)
Nate Sudfeld: –0.3, –6% (63rd)
Tevin Coleman: +5.6, +14% (11th)
Kofi Hughes: +9.3, 29%, (22nd)
Cody Latimer: +7.4, +19% (39th)
3. Game Chart
The six biggest plays of the game:
6. 11.1% Roberson runs for a 15 yard TD/Gardner hits Gallon for a 50 yard TD
5. –11.5% Tempo hits Michigan for the opening 59 yard TD pass
4. +14.2% Gordon picks off Sudfeld
3. +17.1% Gardner to
Roundtree Gallon for 70 yards
2. –18.3% Michigan fumbles the snap at the doorstep of the goal line
1. –20.3% Roberson to Hughes (through Stribling) for 67 yards to bring Indiana within a two point conversion
4. Ron Zook Dumb Punt of the Week
Last week featured a couple of coaches who punted to win. Both Butch Jones at Tennessee and Bronco Mendenhall at BYU called for punts while trailing with under 4 minutes left in the game. Those made not have been the optimal choices, but both coaches managed to get the stops and convert the stops into game winning scores.
Brian Kelly went for the punt on 4th and 3 from the USC 38.
Northern Illinois and CMU will share this week’s award. Northern Illinois punted on 4th and 3 from the CMU 35 yard line. This happened in a game where Jordan Lynch set the single game rushing record and averaged nearly 10 yards a carry on 32 carries! CMU shares the award by punting away to Northern Illinois with 5 minutes left while trailing by 13 points. Somewhere Gary Andersen is nodding in approval.
Bonus Dumb FG of the week: Arizona State took it to Washington early, and Washington was facing a 4th and goal from the 9 midway through the third trailing by 20 points. Rather than push to truly get back in the game, the Huskies opted for the chip shot field goal to cut it from a three score lead to a smaller three score lead. Going for in on 4th and Goal from the 9 is usually not a no-brainer, but when trailing by 20 in the second half, there isn’t a great case for the field goal.
5. State of the Stats
The Six Factors for all teams can still be found here
- Devin Gardner’s record setting day has him up to fifth in the season QB totals (+11.5) behind Bryce Petty (+14.7), Johnny Manziel (+13.7), Marcus Mariota (+12.5) and Aaron Murray (+11.9).
- No player has been more instrumental to his team’s success than Gardner who has accumulated a season high 3.8 wins on the season and is still in first in terms of team replacement value, with Michigan 117 points better when he rushes or passes versus an average play from any other player.
- Jeremy Gallon’s big day has moved him up to #4 on the season at +9.9 behind Antwan Goodley (+11.5), Mike Evans (+11.5) and Brandin Cooks (+10.4).
- Devin Funchess is inside the top 40 at +5.8 and is third among all players listed as tight ends behind Jace Amaro of Texas Tech and Eric Ebron of North Carolina.
- Next week I’ll dive into the details behind Michigan State, but the offense defense splits are getting absurd at this point. The Spartan offense is ranked 100+ in four of the five defense independent factors and the defense is top 10 on three metrics.
With no game this week, we’ll take a look at the season projection for Michigan. My numbers are more optimistic than most on the prospects for the remainder. I have Michigan as a favorite in all remaining games, with @NW, Nebraska and @Iowa listed as reasonable ~60% odds. My numbers aren’t big fans of either Michigan State or Ohio State, largely due to schedule concerns for both and offensive woes for Michigan State.
Next week I’ll dig more into the MSU numbers, but for now I have listed the original numbers as yellow and optimistic projections and a more realistic assessment (noted here as Pessimistic) of Michigan’s chances versus its two main rivals. Depending on your take on the games, this season is projecting to 9-10 wins, but with all the remaining games competitive, a lot of different outcomes are still on the table.
Meta: Chicagoans—if we did a Q&A-type event downtown the night before NW'ern would you come? Jared of SPW offered to host it as part of his killer Northwestern package; trying to gauge interest.
As per tradition, bye week Saturday is Wife Day, when sports fans stop to appreciate those who married us—only to discover they had also married this thing that makes us sometimes psychotic, often inconsolable, and constantly spending vast sums for tickets and road trips and apparel. Oh, you are perfectly right to bitch about somebody who plans their wedding on any October Saturday (I hope your every anniversary falls on top of a rivalry game, a hated hockey opponent, the opening throws of basketball season, and the World Series). But let's recognize—male and female (17% of our readership)—that this does make us a particularly needy breed of spouse.
Weeklies: Gifs and F+-ing. Best and Worst made a comic book reference I actually got, and points out the defense was actually doing a good job until the point in the 2nd quarter when they got Roberson'd. He rightly calls out the staff for still making major offensive line changes this late in the season, though I think we're happy they made them. Inside the Box score also brought up the O-line carousel:
* Midway through the first quarter, Joey Burzynski got hurt. So let's review our situation at Left Guard this year. Glasgow started the season there, only to move to center in an attempt to shore up the middle. Chris Bryant was the next man in. He's either injured or not as effective as the staff would like, so he was replaced by Burzynski. When he got hurt, Kyle Bosch entered the lineup. Yep, our 4th string left guard.
Turns out the offensive line should have been playing Indiana all along.
…and a chicken coop parade for ND, and CMU as the crying Indian in that don't-litter commercial from the '80s, and Akron/UConn as Indiana Jones obstacles. These are going to be weekly he says.
More F/+ please! Here is dnak439 with an updated chart of Big Ten teams by Fremeau's F/+: offense (y-axis) and defense (x-axis).
Hooray for being in the good quadrant; hard to believe MSU's offense is as good (bad?) as Penn State's. Iowa's tracking higher than Northwestern since AIRBHG whiffed on Weisman and nailed the Wildcats' entire backfield. Dnack also made a thing that tracks your rooting interest to get Michigan the Bo Division crown.
[Jump for new and improved Stauskas, GRIII levitates, hand checking enforcement effect on Big Ten teams, the Seeya! chant]
HELLO! HI! I AM BLUE! I AM A TUBE! I HOPE AT LEAST TEN OTHER STUDENTS MAKE BLUE TUBES! HELLO! ISN'T LIFE EXICTING!
THING NOTES: Torrent had no audio this week, so neither do the clips. Good news for people who get creeped out by the walrus lovemaking noises in the slow ones.
FORMATION NOTES: A note on nomenclature here: Indiana had a kind of weird system where they had a linebacker/safety type (6'1", 225) out over the slot.
That in itself isn't too weird against spread formations, but he still hung out over the slot when there was one in I-form twins packages and the like, and Indiana brought down a safety.
I designated IU formations with that guy in the gray area (and no safety down) "nickel" since the defensive formation thing is more about what the O is looking at than personnel packages the opponent has in and I felt their slot LB was a Hybrid Space Player, but I understand if you think IU was just in a 4-3 all game.
As for Michigan, they did not do much exotic in terms of formations. A lot of shotgun 3-wide stuff, some ace, some I-Form, etc. A couple things: I've changed Funchess to a WR in my personnel set tracking, so if you see "shotgun 3-wide" with four WRs that's because Funchess is the TE-type-substance. Also, when there are only four skill position players that's because Michigan has brought in an extra offensive lineman. Tackle over was still employed but rather rare.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Hoo boy. First: QB and RB were pretty obvious, with Green getting more run than he has in some other games in the past. FB was about split between Kerridge and Houma.
WR was a ton of Gallon and Funchess. Dileo went out early with an injury, leaving Jeremy Jackson to pick up most of the slot snaps. Chesson got in a bit but has clearly ceded a lot of PT to Funchess; Reynolds got a few snaps.
TE was mostly Butt and Williams; Williams ceded snaps to a sixth OL and also Jordan Paskorz, who got in some good blocks in the middle of the game. Funchess also lined up at TE from time to time.
And the OL. Burzynski started, tore his ACL, was replaced by Bosch. Glasgow was the C. Lewan was the LT, Magnuson the RG, Schofield the RT, except when guys were flipping all over the place. This game's version of tackle over was almost always a 6 OL with Kalis reclaiming his RG spot and Lewan flanking someone else: Schofield on the left and Magnuson on the right. Much less likely to get your QB murdered.
I noted OL changes in the notes below. Anyone not mentioned is playing their usual position. Apologies for cutesy name shortenings, but you try writing "Burzynski" and "Magnuson" for 80 plays. (Schofield defies shortening.)
[After the JUMP: nuclear samba Gallon.]
Michigan opens the season on—[checks
watch smartphone]—oh lord, Tuesday, so it's time to get to this previewin' business. Of course, we already have an entire book dedicated to this, and you should probably check that out, as it goes into far more detail than I'm capable of doing here.
I'm dividing up the team like we did in the book for the positional previews: bigs, wings, and point guards. For the purposes of this preview, I'm considering Glenn Robinson III a wing, though he'll get plenty of run as the nominal power forward when Michigan goes to a smaller, more Beilein-friendly lineup. On that note, let's start with the men up front.
Measurables: 6'10", 255
Base Stats: 19.7 minutes, 7.5 points, 59.8 FG%, 44.2 FT%, 6.3 rebounds
Key Advanced Metrics: 16.0 OR% (10th nationally), 22.4 DR% (86th), 3.9 Blk%, 2.4 Stl%
After Jordan Morgan's ankle injury near the end of the 2012-13 regular season, Mitch McGary ascended from highly-touted freshman energy guy to do-everything future All-American with a remarkable run in the NCAA tournament. McGary averaged 14.3 points and 10.7 rebounds in the Big Dance, dished out six assists (previous career high: two) to break the vaunted Syracuse 2-3 zone in the national semifinal, recorded eight steals in two games against Kansas and Florida, and generally performed like a guy once considered a top-two prospect in his class.
The tournament performance vaulted McGary onto just about every preseason All-American list, often as the first-team center. That's a lot of hype generated largely by a six-game stretch, though McGary—who started his freshman year slow after an injury hampered his conditioning—displayed flashes of greatness from the get-go, pulling down rebounds and forcing turnovers at a very high rate all season.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the big man breakdown, with some bonus '90s rap nostalgia.]
So yeah, I concluded yesterday that the quick fire throw to Gallon in the second quarter was a presnap read, not a true packaged play, and then about two plays into the remainder of the UFR, Michigan runs the same thing with the cornerback showing blitz presnap and M runs it after he backs out. Timing: I do not have it.
To the screenshots!
It's first and ten; Michigan's trying to respond to Indiana drawing to within one and has first and ten on their own 23. Same setup as the last play: 3 wide, Gallon alone to the boundary, IU in their nickel-ish package. This time the corner is indicating blitz.
On the snap, though, he backs out. Gardner's checking on Gallon, seeing if he's got the hitch.
When it become clear that the CB is not coming, he changes his plan. Taylor Lewan has the same idea, as his initial reaction was to pick up the corner. He's flared out to do so, and now has to frantically try to get back into the play and block someone who's trying to defend what's actually occurring.
Which is a handoff.
Now: Lewan's flare has borked a couple of things. See 98 below? He is being doubled and will end up three yards downfield, where it is ideal for him to go in the eyes of the offense.
The other DT, though, is being single blocked by Glasgow and if he chooses can decide to go upfield of him to the outside, which he does. Glasgow locks him out and pushes him past the play; Toussaint has one lane straight up the middle. Bosch deals with a DE well, but there's no one for an ILB.
That's unfortunate, since a guy dealing with him is a big gain with the other LB on a pass drop he's convinced to take by Funchess releasing into the slot LB. Even if he doesn't take this the backwards direction of the other DT would make it difficult for him to get to the hole.
Lewan tries to recover; can't quite; Toussaint makes the guy miss, which gets him a decent gain before the shuffling backside end comes down from behind to tackle.
Items of Interest
Nope, totally packaged. Gardner's first option is the hitch in the event of a CB blitz, and he decides that it's not there, so he hands off. Post snap read determining run or pass is the Smart Football-approved definition of a packaged play. Packaged.
An old bugaboo. This harkens back to some oddities Michigan had in their plays like this a couple years ago. When they ran the inverted veer in 2011, Michigan would often block the guy they were supposedly optioning with the pulling guard, leaving Denard to beat a guy if Michigan was going to pick up anything. This happened not infrequently, but it seemed pretty weird that you'd run an option and not option anyone.
This is a version of that old problem: Lewan flares out to block the corner when Michigan has a plan to deal with that. They're optioning him and they still block him, or would if he didn't back out into pass coverage. That leaves one of the ILBs free.
The rest of the line blocks it like they should if the corner blitz was coming; seems like someone on the OL made an adjustment to the blitz IU ostentatiously showed and backed out of.
A minor place. I don't want to make any grand conclusions from these two plays. A number of programs from the Okie State/WVU Hologorsen tree will build large chunks of their offense around packaged plays; Michigan has only dabbled in this department under Borges. They're still dabbling. The OL blocks this goofy because they are not on the same page as the play concept. If the guy making the line check understands that the corner is never a threat, this is a nice gain that doesn't require Toussaint to get his Hart on.
This isn't the first time they've tried these things—I remember pointing out a package to Smart Football a couple years ago. That didn't work, and it seemed like it got put on the shelf because the coaches weren't enthused with Denard's ability to read post-snap. Devin executed both of these; could they have been a test run for Michigan State?
Probably not, but here's hoping they've got something up their sleeve.
Bosch check. This was about par for Bosch's day. He got decent to good movement on his guys, probably better than Magnuson on average. Hopes were consistently tempered by the guy next to him, as when Lewan latched onto a dude he all but threw the dude into his teammates, ninjas-attacking-hero style. Indiana's terrible. He'll get a trial by fire next Saturday.
An accidental RPS. The other ILB's pass drop here is an interesting offshoot. He's reading Funchess and sees him release, and so goes to cover, as Funchess blocks (or attempts to block) IU's hybrid space player. That leaves the OL five on five in the box, which should be a profitable situation.
Every time a DE shuffles like this I want Gardner to pull, which is probably irrational. I don't think he should, but I have this visceral thing where it's like GO GIT EM, because is anyone in that position really keeping up with Gardner on the corner? I say no, especially when you've got Funchess bothering the slot LB. All DEs are shuffling and Gardner has beat them all around the edge. Sometimes there's help out there; that is the only thing that keeps these plays down.
Triple option? On this play it's asking a lot of him to read the corner and then come across the field to read the end, so the pull here is almost certainly not something that he has in the toolbox anyway. So, no, just a single option I think. The read option nature of the play does let you sort of option off two guys, though, except "optioning off" the corner is really just nerfing the corner blitz.
About last week:
No one played football. John Beilein ate subs. Crazy. (H/T Bagelz McDerman)
Michigan State (7-1, 4-0 B1G)
Last game: Michigan State 42, Purdue 3 (W)
Recap: This game did not start off well for State. Sparty’s offense continued its offensive funk from the Purdue game into this one, moving the ball only 63 yards on Illinois’ not-quite-Indiana-bad-but-still-pretty-damn-bad defense through the first quarter and a half, and Illinois faced a 3rd and goal from the 1 yard line to take a 10-7 lead. Two stuffed and a 99 yard touchdown drive, which was capped by… this… on 3rd and 25…
… and this one was basically over. Sparty proceeded to rip off four consecutive touchdown drives to open the second half to put this one in the ‘laugher’ column.
So, we have 8 games of data on Michigan State’s offense. And I contend that we still don’t have a clue what the hell they are. I can’t mentally combine all of the data we have into a single coherent theory. With Michigan’s maddeningly inconsistent offense, we can at least point to a few obvious causal factors directly correlated with their struggles. I feel like the “keys to victory graphic” will say, “MICHIGAN: minimize turnovers, avoid negative plays on early downs,” and “MICHIGAN STATE: use Good Connor Cook, don’t use Bad Connor Cook.” Michigan State’s offensive line has been surprisingly consistent these last few games, especially in the interior (grumble grumble), and they have been opening some decent creases and some large cutback lanes for Jeremy Langford and Delton Williams. But the key to the MSU O vs. Michigan D remains Connor Cook vs. himself, an there’s no predicting which Connor Cook will show up.
Defensively, I now believe there is enough on tape from State’s last few opponents such that a skilled tactician could plausibly develop an effective way to attack Narduzzi’s murder-death-kill machine. It’s like getting a single extra letter on the final round of Wheel of Fortune. You’ve gotta sound it out, but it’s there. Notre Dame had success going over top of the MSU corners to the outside. Purdue had some success throwing underneath those corners when they had slightly softer zones. Illinois and Iowa had some success down the seams. I have no earthly clue how to beat this defense, but the pieces are there for some mad genius. I know this “OMG BORGESSSSS” thing is getting old, but this really will be a gigantic test of his ability to put together a game-plan.
One thing that WON’T work against this defense? The zone stretch. So I cannot be accused of second-guessing anyone, I’m putting my marker down here: Michigan won’t average better than a yard a carry on stretches in this game.
I also have to give a quick note on Illinois. Before the season started, we all assumed Illinois would be the worst team in the Big Ten. But a couple of early season signs of life led people to opine, “gee, maybe they aren’t so bad,” and we turned our attention to BoilerQuest. But while Purdue may have the worst numbers, Illinois remains the worst team in the Big Ten. They make 2009-10 Michigan look like paragons of fortitude and resilience. A couple of small things went wrong, and the team seemed to declare with one loud, resolute voice, “welp.” This team is a collapse waiting for a trigger, and they’re not very patient.
This team is as frightening as: In honor of Halloween, we’re going with scary movies as out theme. For Sparty, that movie is 28 Days Later. You know they’re going to attack head on at high speed, and if you make one mistake you’re doomed. Also… East Lansing on game day == post-apocalyptic London, but without the dry wit. Fear level = 8
Michigan should worry about: Mike Sadler. Michigan State WILL fake a punt in this game. It WILL work. There is nothing you can do about that. Just try to keep it to a minimal gain beyond the sticks.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Michigan State runs the exact kind of offense that Michigan should be able to stop, both in terms of scheme and quality. They remain not good, and they’re predicated on staying ahead of the sticks by running the football in a traditional manner, with an occasional jet sweep mixed in for texture.
When they play Michigan: Michigan should just camp 7 guys in a straight line along the first down line on 3rd down and medium. A crossing pattern is coming. Consider yourselves warned.
Next game: /checks schedule… It says here “vs. Michigan”
[AFTER THE JUMP: Things you won’t care about until next week]