The press conference started of with a 20-minute presentation about Rich Rodriguez sponsoring a child-safety initiative, which sports writers are apparently supposed to care about. Once the actual football talkin' began, there were a few tidbits.
- Injuries: There were no new ones coming out of Illinois, except Greg Banks has sprained his foot. Brandon Minor's injury is expected to limit him through the remainder of the season.
- Purdue is probably a better team than their record. They lost a couple of close games early, and they still have a lot of talent and experience. They start 16 seniors. They looked bad against Wisconsin, but that was partially an abnormally bad game for them, as well as a great game played by Wisconsin.
- Rich Rodriguez is more impatient than any fan could be about the progress of the team. He thought success might come a little quicker, but when he arrived in Ann Arbor and saw what he had to work with, he knew the process would be a little longer. Building a championship-caliber program will take some time. Michigan has had to play more freshmen than he'd hoped over the past two years, and it's likely that will continue next year as well.
- This team has been inconsistent all year, whether it is at home or on the road. The road environment hasn't seemed to rattle the players. They just can't play inconsistently and expect to win. A bad half can't lead to widespread issues across the team.
- Players get too tight sometimes, and worry about making mistakes. Brandon Graham is one of the few guys who doesn't do that. He just gets after and plays. Even if he makes a mistake, he is able to play at a high level. Kevin Leach graded out the highest of any Michigan defensive player, but Obi is still in the mix for playing time. Vladimir Emilien is not currently in the mix for more playing time, but he has a chance to be in the near future.
- Rodriguez re-thinks the play-calling at the goal line, but only because it's impossible not to.
- Mark Ortmann's "punch" was reviewed by Rodriguez with Ortmann. He thinks it was open-hand, and more to push Corey Liuget away than to strike him. There should be no additional punishment for Ortmann. In other offensive line news, Patrick Omameh will probably get more reps this week, as well as Ricky Barnum. Perry Dorrestein has a slight back tweak.
- Winning the Purdue game is important for the program. The players deserve a reward game for all of their hard work, and the coaches would really like to have an extra set of practices for preparation for the future.
- The team needs to stay focused and worry about the upcoming game, rather than the past.
- There have been some missed opportunities and guys not playing up to their ability, but they can't overthink. If guys start to underperform or go into a shell, it's up to their teammates to pick them back up.
- Warren likes playing press coverage, but the scheme doesn't always call for it. He needs to do what will help the other 10 guys on the field attain success as well (reading between the lines: there aren't any safeties capable of providing deep help, so GERG is hamstrung with what he can ask the corners to do).
- The first month of the season was good for the offensive line, but they seem to have taken a step back. Not being able to punch in four tries from the 1 yard line was particularly frustrating.
- The offensive line has plenty of talent, and they should be able to uphold a high standard despite losing David Molk.
- The plane ride back after a loss is pretty depressing. Everyone is frustrated and just wants to get back into the win column.
- The Purdue game is important because it will clinch a bowl game. In his ongoing "vocal leader" role, Graham's going to explain the importance of the Purdue game to his teammates today. He sometimes plans what he's going to say, but a lot of the time he just lets it flow.
- Sometimes guys try to do too much and make plays that aren't their responsibility. When guys don't stay disciplined, that's when the big plays happen for the opponent. The goal line stand may have caused a lot of defensive players to think they needed to step up, but maybe they did more than they were supposed to. It hurt for the offense to be in the red zone so many times and not score touchdowns.
- The defense has to keep working to force more turnovers.
- This team is different from last year's because everyone is more in tune with the coaches. It will keep improving as everyone buys into the vision next year.
10/31/2009 – Michigan 13, Illinois 38 – 5-4, 1-4 Big Ten
To paint with broad strokes, I probably don't have much in common with 6'3", 290 pound black guys from Miami who think it's a good idea to play for Ron Zook. Our worlds are unlikely to intersect at a Lil Wayne show or the Ann Arbor Film Festival. Cory Liuget has probably never thought to himself "that reminds me of a Morrissey song." Of late, I think that all the time.
But at around 6:30 on October 31st, 2009, we both felt like we had been punched in the dong. In Liuget's case, this is because he had been punched in the dong:
In my case, and probably in yours, you had not actually been punched in the dong unless you had decided at some point that going outside with your buddies and punching each other in the dongs was preferable to watch the metaphorical dong-punching that started when Roy Roundtree's knee hit the ground at the one yard line and has not, to my knowledge, stopped. If you managed to miss this play and its aftermath because you were outside getting punched in the dong, congratulations: this is the one and only time when your decision-making skills will ever be regarded above average. Punch yourself in the dong in celebration.
Liuget got off easy. He was wearing a cup. My soul-dong has no cup, and it's taken a mighty battering in the last couple of years. Weary, bepunched, bruised, bepunched some more, the soul-dong cries out: why, gods who dictate which ghostly shadow genitalia get the full America's Funniest Home Videos treatment, have you chosen these dongs for maximum severe extreme punishment?
In the end, it doesn't matter. It just hurts when you don't move carefully.
You probably think I'm done with this riff on dong-punching. You get the dashes and the topic changes and then the topic comes back around to the previous item by the end of the column, with maybe some more dashes indicating where you should be prepared to shift thoughts. This, surely, is where a sentence can go by without the author mentioning someone getting punched in the dong.
No: the dongs. They are punched. This is what Michigan football has been since about the instant Drew Henson decided to take millions of dollars from the Yankees: the constant struggle to get your dong punched in new and interesting ways. Super-recruit quarterback leaves before senior year: kapow. New, wholly obscure Ohio State coach from I-AA is the anti-Cooper: tiger PUNCH. 2005: E. Honda hundred-hand-slaps your jibbly bits. 2006: more of a Tekken unblockable thunderfist with a huge-long windup that you think is going to be awesome until you fail to dodge the full testicle-crushing force of the blow and end up flat against the wall. 2007: Jack Bauer finds the bomb, finds it's a ridiculously tiny nuclear device, and decides to screw with you by placing it in the appropriate place before the Horror. 2008: A hundred E. Hondas hundred-hand-slapping your scrotum for three straight months.
2009 can be seen above: SURPRISE! You, Corey Liuget, think your dong is unthreatened late in a game you've turned into a blowout. You are wrong, and E. Honda shows up 75% through the damn thing just to give you dangly punishment.
As per usual.
Here we are, gingerly attempting to sit down without having any part of our anatomy brush up against other parts of our anatomy. Things just got raw, yo. Every place on the internet that didn't immediately repeal the first amendment(!!!) is burning.
I've been watching the same stuff everyone has for 1.5 years and here's where I am: it's blindingly obvious that some portion of the suck is Rodriguez's doing. After that huge reversal of fortune you have to back down from any previous stances you have about the program, its progress, and etc etc etc. That is a game-changing event. That game turned "Rich Rodriguez flames out in three years" at Michigan from a laughable notion to a possible one. Distantly possible, but possible.
I'm not sure what the suck is and how much can be laid on the current coaching staff. The Shafer hire was a poor one. Past that, the last couple years have featured four quarterbacks that were either freshmen or walk-ons, a disaster of an offensive line, and a defense that actually saw two walk-ons start against Illinois because they were preferable to the alternatives. I don't know if that's Jay Hopson's fault or just crappy luck that you're starting a guy who would never see the field because the options behind him are so poor.
I still think we aren't anywhere near the point at which we can chuck out Rodriguez's stellar previous track record. That is not an accident. The previous coaching staff was responsible for The Horror and was attempting to position Mike DeBord as a legitimate in-house candidate, so it's not like the vast program-killing screwup that is the defensive recruiting is an huge outlier in judgment.
On the 70-yard touchdown that put Illinois in the lead for good, two players were largely responsible: Leach got dragged out of position expecting a stretch and Kovacs took what he thought was a good angle but was not because he is a freshman walk-on. There are a lot of problems with the program that no one could deal with.
Rodriguez will be back next year with a mandate to get to a mediocre bowl, and he'll be under pressure to produce a serious team in year four. My confidence that he'll do that is waning. There's not much that would improve the situation; as we've seen the last two years, program continuity is a huge factor in any football team's success. Firing Rodriguez before he's thoroughly proven he can't make it work here is going to make the previous suffering in vain.
That's where I am. If you're elsewhere, fine, I can understand that after the huge reversal the past couple weeks. Before the 2008 season I dug out that picture of Bo and Canham and Bump Elliot and placed the fanbase in the center of it:
We are all Don Canham now. Rich Rodriguez comes in with a wildly successful pedigree but promises to finally tear down the culture of Bo’s program, to replace it with something uncertain. This has caused apprehension in some, joy in others, and disdain verging on hatred in a select group.
The program risks changing into something people drift away from because it has drifted from them, or, worse, something that you only wish you could drift away from. It also promises fireworks and fun and victory and a feeling that’s something other than that thing we’ve felt so much before. Other fanbases go through this every five or ten or fifteen years; for us it’s been 40.
I could welcome it, I guess, or celebrate it, or proclaim inevitable dominion over the land. But I don’t feel like it. Nor do I feel like fretting over imaginary scandals future. Like Canham, I just hope it works.
I still hope it works. It's getting harder to think it will. Next year will tell the tale.
- Michigan should prepare for an Ortmann suspension. Omameh is probably the guy who draws in, but he's been practicing at right tackle. Ricky Barnum is the nominal backup left tackle if the Baby Seal U game is an indication, but I don't think he's left tackle material; the real backups at tackle are redshirting.
- Michigan's losing their composure, yes, and it's clear there's a cultural divide on the team between guys like Odoms, who know from rough, and Carr holdovers who still seem pissed that this is what they got when it's not what they signed up for.
- Holy hell: turnovers. I'd mentioned this before but here's a useful diary post from Enjoy Life on Rodriguez's turnover history. It's ridiculous:
Aside from the ugly first year, West Virginia had a positive turnover margin every year of Rodriguez's reign, with double-digit years four out of six tries. It's not the system, and it's not the weather as it applies to the system—it gets cold and rainy in West Virginia, too. It's freshman quarterbacks and terrible defense.
- Also holy hell: what a disaster Mike Patrick is. One: if our starting center was actually named "Mossman" he would a superhero capable of enmeshing opponents in his velcro-like grasp and Michigan's offensive line wouldn't fail to pass block against a terrible team that had no pass rush coming into the game. This was not an error. He and equally idiotic Craig James called him "Mossman" at least six times.
Two: you just knew as soon as the goal line stand happened that the rest of the game would be Patrick and James going Favre on Terry Hawthorne tracking down Roundtree, and this they did, often failing to even describe the play in front of them in favor of yet more rapturous praise for Hawthorne. They should find whatever pasture they've put Maguire in and put Patrick in it, too. And then shoot it into space. It will be like the Little Prince!
Three: this is not Patrick's fault but after a couple games on ABC that were beautifully directed, this one missed a half-dozen plays.
- Mike Williams had edge responsibility time and again against Illinois and blew it when he wasn't getting blocked into the bench. He was spectacularly bad, just as he was against Iowa. I find it hard to believe Vlad Emilien is worse, and since he's played on special teams recently he's not getting a redshirt. Wonder if we see him a little bit more the rest of the season.
- It's really obvious why they moved Woolfolk to safety in spring now. What a terrible feeling it must have been to watch these guys play in spring practice and know you were going to die in the fall.
- Kovacs makes sense because there are literally no scholarship options at his spot other than Emilien and project true freshmen, but what is with Leach getting on the field in front of Fitzgerald or Demens? I'd say it's a failure to develop talent on the part of Hopson, but he's also the guy coaching Leach. All I know is that it's very bad when you have major recruits (Fitzgerald was just outside top 100 lists and Adam Patterson was a top-50 player) idling behind walk-ons.
- What happened to Shaw? Undisclosed injury?
- The offensive line's pass blocking is the biggest problem with the offense right now. Every week I go into UFR expecting that Forcier will have all these terrible scrambles and there's maybe one or two instances where it was optional. In all other cases, someone is bearing down on him. The line is getting crushed in the protection metric. I hope this is an effect of losing Molk more than anything else; also, Michigan doesn't have any options other than freshmen behind the starters now.
- I got emails from people asking why they couldn't post stuff on the blog. How do you attempt to post something on the blog without reading the single paragraph post at the top of it that says you can't post? And should this be taken as evidence that the people in question should not be allowed to post anyway?
- LVSC's initial opening line for the game: M –7. Vegas loled and set it at 3.5. But… hey… 3.5 point favorites! WOO MOTOR CITY.
|Last week's ballot|
I'm pretty comfortable with the moves during the top. Texas got a new marquee win, and Iowa was far less impressive against Indiana than the final score indicated. It also seems pretty likely that Iowa is going to grab Stanziball from the jaws of victory at some point this year.
I think Oregon ahead of Boise State is justifiable, despite the head-to-head result. The Ducks have beaten USC, Utah, Cal, and a couple other teams that are looking pretty strong. The only good win for Boise is Oregon, and if you're looking to be highly-ranked coming from a weak conference, it's probably a better idea to not schedule awful 1-AA teams.
TCU and LSU drop primarily because of the Oregon victory, and the boost it gave both the Ducks and Broncos. Everything else is pretty self-explanatory, but the end of the poll, as usual is a mess.
Resumes after the jump
[Editor's note: holy hell, man. This is like a PhD thesis.]
It hits you like a thousand knives stabbing you all over your body. You can't breathe. You can't think. At least, not about anything but the pain.
I'm searching for a metaphor.
Amidst the phantom flags and the Angry Michigan Hating Bounces and the dropping of babies on 3rd down on Saturday you could not possibly have missed a notable lack of competency in the 11 guys tasked with making sure the other guys score less than we do, otherwise referred to as "Michigan's Defense."
This is Part II of the afore-bumped diary "The Decimated Defense," a look at what has happened to turn Michigan's once vaunted defense into..
I don't have a metaphor...
Something that has a lot of really shiny beautiful parts, that ostensibly looks like something grand and wonderful, but like with some major defect or hole in it, from which pours in death and destruction...
In the wake of, well, that, I'm sure that you, as I, need to understand what happened to Michigan's defense, how we got here, will it get better, and can it be avoided again?
In the first of this series, I went through Michigan's last five classes to see if we could find where and what went wrong in defensive recruiting to lead us to a day when Jordan Kovacs was all that stood between the program and the bottom of the sea. We looked at the cheap rivets, the lack of safety training, and missing life boats, while Brian UFR'ed a really big iceburg.
It was long, and mostly stuff you already knew, and at one point you had to fix yourself a sandwich, but at the end we identified two factors that were very likely contributors:
- Small classes
- High attrition
Today we put that in context. I compared the current rosters to the recruited rosters of Michigan, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Penn State, Michigan State and Alabama, to see how each of these teams were built, and what was lost along the way, in order to understand why should so many other luxury liners and loveable tugboats and whatnot stay dry as we face a watery grave?
(Excel spreadsheet lives here.)
Recruiting: Quantity and Quality
Rose: The fall alone would kill you.
Jack: It would hurt. I'm not saying it wouldn't. Tell you the truth, I'm a lot more concerned about that water being so cold.
Here's how Michigan stacked up in pure defensive recruiting from 2005 through 2009 (Rivals ratings used):
|Michigan||Alabama||MSU||Notre Dame||Ohio State||Penn State|
This counts every recruit that came in ready to play defense, except athletes who played their entire careers on offense. It also includes offensive recruits later moved to defense. It excludes walk-ons.
Many nuggets here. Let us bullet:
- Notre Dame fans who blame recruiting for some of their woes have a beef. Their classes have been highly ranked, but even smaller than paltry Michigan's!
- Bama LOL
- Michigan and Penn State recruited pretty similarly. The big difference was that PSU brought in 7 more 2-stars.
- Michigan and Ohio State both recruited 20 players of 3-star caliber, and 3 blue chips, but OSU had 9 more 4-star players during that time.
- Michigan State clearly isn't in the same recruiting league as these others. They're basically averaging one lower star per recruit
- ...but out of a respectable class size.
- Even so, Alabama had more 3-star defensive recruits over this time than Michigan State.
Michigan's closest recruiting analogue here is Penn State, with the high-end (4-5 star) recruiting separated by one more 5-star guy for us. You can call Notre Dame basically a Michigan-light. If anything, the Fighting Irish have been even pickier about talent than U-M, OSU and PSU, except they haven't been as successful at reeling in the big fish as any of the major schools profiled.
For these schools, the distribution seems weighted slightly toward the top, but their bell curves are only slightly ahead of OSU and Bama. However, when placed beside each other, it's easy to see how large amounts of recruits can generate a much more sizeable talent pool from which to draw starters.
So recruiting tells a story, but certainly not the story. Certainly, Alabama and Ohio State recruited the most 4- and 5-star players, and subsequently have great defenses.
Michigan and Penn State should, just going by recruiting, have about the same level of defense, with maybe one more NFL-bound player in Ann Arbor, and maybe a bunch of 2-star guys backing up at Penn State instead of Michigan's walk-ons. Or it would be, if attrition was constant. We will see in the next section that it isn't. But you knew the problem wasn't just recruiting, anyway, since you know that Penn State's defense is legitimately good, and Michigan went into this season steering a pre-WWI luxury liner.
First, though, while we're on pure recruiting, let's look real quick and see if it's actually the age of the recruits that matter. Since they should be theoretically the heart of a great defense, and since the distribution among all schools except Michigan State was fairly equal when it came to 4- versus 5- stars, let's just look at those two groups, and when they came in for each school (MSU left out to spare them the indignation of looking like Antarctica):
|Michigan||Alabama||Notre Dame||Ohio State||Penn State|
[At this point I would ask everyone else to pause for a moment while we give Irish, who has been waiting patiently all this time, an opportunity to assign righteous blame on Ty Willingham. HE did this, precious!]
Okay, so other than an '05-'06 "Domer LOL," did we get anything out of this?
Penn State's great defense has a lot of high-rated juniors and seniors on it -- more than any other school. Michigan was kind of even, but actually should have had more upperclassmen than Bama or Notre Dame. Ohio State has been strong all the way through. Alabama is going to be really really good in a few years.
There's nothing here to suggest Michigan should be really bad. Not yet.
The Other Shoe, of Which Its Current Gravity Situation You Were Well Aware
Rose : Don't you understand? The water is freezing and there aren't enough boats. Not enough by half. Half the people on this ship are going to die.
Cal: Not the better half.
Cal, if you make it off that ship, and if that whole heir-to-a-robber-baron thing doesn't work out for you, you might make a fine SEC recruiting coordinator.
What I'm talking about is Alabama's over-signing strategy, which has been covered many times on this blog. In short, the Crimson Tide under Saban have recruited more guys than they have scholarships for, expecting enough will find reason to get themselves expelled or booted off the team before the count becomes official. The ultimate effect is that Saban has a strong incentive not to keep troubled players, particularly less talented troubled players, in school.
I bring it up now because:
|Def. Recruits||On Roster||On Roster %|
- Michigan has had higher attrition from 2005 to 2009 than Alabama.
- Let's rephrase: Michigan has had higher attrition than a team that has been TRYING TO SHED PLAYERS.
- If Ohio State is pulling a 'Bama, there is zero evidence for it here. They have a reasonable number of recruits, and very low attrition.
- Penn State, as I mentioned before, is a much older team, and therefore has had a lot more time to lose guys to graduation and leaving early for the NFL and whatnot. In that light, their retention rate is pretty darn good.
- Michigan State and OSU ended up with about the same number of recruits on their respective rosters, while Bama was just a bit higher.
- Notre Dame's team is much, much younger, hence the high retention rate.
- Attrition has generally been higher for the teams with coaching changes in the last few years.
- Michigan's 28 scholarship athletes on defense may work on your pre-2005 EA Sports video game (which had a 55-player limit) but is way, way below the competition.
- 58.33 percent, as it turns out, is in fact quite putrid.
This was a regular feature at my old site, and it will make occasional appearances here, though not nearly with the frequency of before. The nitty gritty details are after the jump, but the overview is here for your perusal:
|Big Ten Recruiting Class Rankings 2009|
|Rank||Team||Commits||Rivals Avg.||Scout Avg.||ESPN Avg.|
Rivals numbers are "RR Rankings," with unrated guys getting q 5.0. Scout numbers are simply stars, with 1* for unrated guys, ESPN's numbers are their arbitrary grades, with unrated players deemed worthy of 40 points. Full data after the jump.
|WHAT||Michigan @ Illinois|
|WHERE||Memorial Stadium, Champaign, IL|
|WHEN||3:30 EST, October 31st, 2009|
|THE LINE||Michigan –7.5|
|TELEVISION||Nationwide on ABC/ESPN2 mirror|
|WEATHER||Sunny and around 50.|
Note: I'm sick of qualifying "last two games" because Delaware State is in there and obviously doesn't matter. For the duration of this preview, the Baby Seal U game is assumed to not exist.
Run Offense vs. Illinois
Though Michigan has fallen off a bit from their ridiculous start, they've done well in the last two games, and they did that against good run defenses. Iowa is currently #44. Penn State is #4. Michigan put up 195 yards against Iowa with Minor racking up 95 on just 22 carries. Against Penn State Michigan did well but for five Forcier sacks, which have been excised from the below numbers:
That's 4.2 yards per carry against a team that's currently giving up 3.4 to the rest of the world. (Penn State's got 26 sacks for 155 yards on the year, which hugely distorts the numbers. Including those, PSU is giving up 2.6 YPC!) That, more than anything that's occurred against Baby Seal U, indicates that Michigan's got a ground game that's for real. At this point it's established. People on the internet and the radio are begging for more running plays. It's a good rushing offense even without David Molk.
On the other side of the ball, Illinois is atrocious. They're 101st in rushing defense. Various abominations put forth this year:
Yikes, eh? Every Big Ten opponent Illinois has faced has gashed them, with Michigan State the only team not to approach five yards a carry. When Mike Rothstein took a look at the Indiana game he came away thoroughly unimpressed, emphasis mine:
-Illinois run defense is unimpressive. Indiana ran right at the Illini’s front four with success, getting a lot of the push with the offensive line.
-The Illini front four also didn’t appear to pressure Ben Chappell much. They’d send four a lot and Chappell had plenty of time to sit in the pocket and throw quick seven-yard passes.
-Illinois really struggled when Indiana brought Mitchell Evans in to run the Wildcat (which usually leads to Evans running). Makes you wonder that if Denard Robinson can hold on to the ball, how much Michigan might be able to use him.
-Illinois’ cornerbacks are unimpressive. They gave a lot of cushion early on, but eventually pressed a little bit.
Ha ha ha, losers
-Illinois’ defense is a lot like Michigan’s. There seems to be a soft hole in the middle of the Illinois defense, much like the Wolverines.
Awwww, hamburgers. But for this section, at least, that's good news: Illinois is flat terrible and is going up against a running offense considerably better than those of certain teams that have crushed them. Michigan should average at least five yards a carry; the Denard Robinson Experience should be extremely effective; I want Michigan to run the ball on 80% of first downs until such point as it's obvious that's not a good idea or it's time to screw around.
Brandon Minor is slightly hurt, as he always has been and always will be, but will be available; this is a game in which Shaw and Smith will get some cracks, too.
Key Matchup: HOLD ON TO THE DAMN BALL. If Michigan just keeps pounding at Illinois, they've demonstrated that they will crack, Molk or no.
Pass Offense vs. Illinois
Illinois is also terrible here. Whee! They can't get to the quarterback: they're 112th in sacks. They can't defend it when it's passed: they're 91st in pass efficiency defense. They are almost mediocre in terms of yards but that's an effect of the rush defense being so bad and Illinois being so bad and everyone just running all the time.
I mean, there's not that much else to say. Ben Chappell went 23/38 for 333 yards and three touchdowns. Terrelle Pryor threw twice in the first half. These two items suggest about all you need to know about Illinois's pass defense: when you have to, you can slice and dice it. You probably won't have to.
The non-Chappell numbers can not make this any clearer:
If you are not Terrelle Pryor you will throw 25 times a game with some uninspiring final yardage numbers, a YPA around 7, and no touchdowns because you just run 'em in. End of story. Illinois likes to lay back and play it safe, because the alternative is the Missouri game.
Michigan's passing offense has bogged down in a big way against two of the best pass defenses in the country the past two weeks. Pass protection has been a major issue. So have drops. And poor decisions from the quarterback. And questionable penalties. Virtually anything that can be going wrong with a passing game has been doing so for Michigan of late.
Things figure to improve against Illinois. That sacks number indicates that Michigan shouldn't have nearly as much trouble holding a pocket together against the Illini as they did against their last three real opponents, which should give whoever's in it some time to come off a first read and hit a second. We'll see if said passer actually takes that opportunity instead of running around like crazy. Probably not, if I had to guess. In any case, Illinois is going to give Michigan a lot of soft coverage because they don't have an alternative, and Forcier should find open guys for short gains when Michigan bothers to pass, which won't be often.
Key Matchup: Forcier versus his tendency to run around. This is a game in which he should be able to stick in the pocket.
Run Defense vs. Illinois
This is the one thing other than waterskiing…
…Illinois is not terrible at. This is largely because of the presence of Juice Williams and his crazy ninja ballfakes. Illinois's rushing game is a crazy reflection of Michigan's. They run a ton of zone option stuff but they run a lot of veer plays where everyone blocks down on the line, leaving the playside DE open as the RB tries to get outside; Williams reads that guy and makes a decision. Illinois likes this for a couple reasons:
- Juice Williams is an excellent runner who can make significant yards on this up the middle, and
- their offensive line is a disaster and down-blocking a bunch of guys is way easier than attempting to stretch them a la Michigan.
They will like it even more against Michigan because it will allow them to not block Brandon Graham. Illinois isn't going to block Brandon Graham whether or not they're trying to; on this play Illinois will be prepared for it. Expect to see a lot of guys tackling RBs without the ball.
You might remember Michigan getting shredded by this last year. Or you might have forgotten it all in an alcoholic haze. (They… they were the lucky ones.) There are a couple reasons to think Michigan will improve this go around. Most of the coaching staff has seen it, the offensive line is a lot worse and less of a threat to do anything else, and Michigan's not trying to get away with a really slow OLB.
However, you are probably thinking "this does not fix our bighuge problem at middle linebacker," and that is accurate. Michigan is still vulnerable to overpursuit from the linebackers and crippling errors from the safety and most visions of this game include one or two agonizing long runs from Illinois when someone blows an assignment.
When Charest comes in, Michigan should crush the ground game. Given this offensive line, Brandon Graham, and the rest of the Michigan defensive line there will be limited opportunities for any of Illinois' mediocre running backs to create yards without serious errors from Michigan's linebackers. Which there will be. So chalk up a 10 or 20 yarder or two with Charest in, interspersed with a lot of nothing.
Key Matchup: Ezeh and Mouton versus Williams. Williams is the big play threat and he will create big plays by convincing one of our erratic linebackers to tackle a guy without a ball or, like last year, convincing two.
Michigan has demonstrated that there is plenty of vulnerability in their secondary, but Illinois seems singularly incapable of taking advantage of it. Again, the terrible offensive line combines with confused, inaccurate quarterbacks to create a sort of crazy magic: Illinois is 112th in sacks allowed, 110th in passing efficiency, and 101st in passing yardage. They are terrible. This is how terrible: backup quarterback Eddie McGee got to start the Michigan State game and went 2 of 11 with a pick-six before getting yanked and is now a wide receiver.
The Not Juice du jour is redshirt freshman pocket passer Jacob Charest, who completed half of his passes against Purdue a week ago and will rotate in as Illinois tries to find something, anything, that works. The wisdom of sticking a freshman pocket passer behind your terrible offensive line when the opponent has Brandon Graham is… um… debatable, but when the alternative is Juice Williams it makes some sense.
Illinois still has terrifying uber-receiver Arrelious Benn around but can't get the ball to him because of the aforementioned problems. If Illinois does find protection it's going to be very tough for Michigan to cover him. Illinois loves lining him up in the slot and Michigan's response to that has been to stick Stevie Brown on said slot guy—sort of—and hope. With little in the way of safety help in Michigan's eight-man front, expect a wide-open corner route or two that may or may not be completed. Benn has an injured ankle and a dinged shoulder, FWIW. He will play; he's not 100%.
Michigan will have to defend the Illinois passing defense the way everyone has so far: sit back, let your line shred the Illinois line, and don't give up anything cheap before Illinois screws up a third and short or gets sacked or throws a hilariously terrible interception. It's teams like Illinois that remind us why bend-but-don't-break used to seem like such a good idea: people would shoot themselves in the foot well before they neared the endzone in the olden days.
Key Matchup: Jordan Kovacs and Mike Williams in two-deep coverage. They key to bending, but not breaking, is to not give up really long touchdowns. Can Michigan do that with a couple of slow underclassmen at safety? Eh… maybe, maybe not.
It's a theme: Illinois has terrible special teams. They're 108th in punt returns and 89th in kick returns. Kicker Matt Eller is 3/7 this year and missed an extra point. Their punting is pretty good, I guess.
Michigan, well: you know the story by now. The kick returns have returned to normal after an early period of competence, and the opposition kick returners are 50-50 to get a long one. Punting is fantastic; punt returns are an effort to fair catch every ball. Jason Olesnavage has been pretty good as a kicker. Slight advantage Michigan.
Key Matchup: CATCH THE DAMN BALL.
Kittens? I hesitate, but the spread is in the single digits.
- Illinois gets any push at all from the offensive line.
- Michigan can't pass protect again.
- Folks other than Graham aren't smoking their blockers.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Juice Williams is in third and long.
- Michigan doesn't even have to gesture towards play balance.
- They don't screw themselves with turnovers.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 3 out of 10. (Baseline 5, –1 for Holy God This Opponent Is Terrible, –1 for And In Ways That Play Into Michigan's Strengths And Away From Their Weaknesses, –1 for And Holy God, Just Look At It, +1 for This Same Quarterback Put Up M-vs-Baby Seals Yards Last Year, By Himself, +1 for and It Is A Road Game, –1 for That Will Be Attended By Six People.).
Desperate need to win level: 10 out of 10. (Baseline 5, +1 for This Is A Debacle Of A Team We're Playing, +1 for Loss Would Totally Blow The ND Game Good Feelings, +1 for …And It Would Make A Bowl Game Look Super Iffy, +1 for …And Then I'd Have To Go On The Radio The Day After, +1 for …And Then I'd Have To UFR It.)
Loss will cause me to... rip a single branch off every tree in Ann Arbor out of existential spite.
Win will cause me to... WOO BOWL GAME BABY.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
The recipe for this game is Lloydball. On offense: run, run, run, run. Sprinkle in a short pass here and there, run some play action for shots deep. But do it rarely and just plow ahead for your points. On defense, lay back. Bend but don't break, don't give Illinois anything cheap with their athleticism, and wait for the inevitable stuff/sack/incompletion that gets you off the field.
Can Michigan follow this recipe? On offense, almost assuredly. The only thing that argues otherwise is the persistent issue with fumbles. If Michigan HOLDS ON TO THE DAMN BALL, the rushing numbers from the first few Big Ten games will be at least replicated, with the Penn State bombing more likely than the quasi-respectable game against Michigan State. Michigan matches up well against this defense. (Who doesn't, you ask? Er.)
It's a little bit iffier on a defense that's alternated stretches of competence with huge errors or structural deficiencies that give away easy yards. I expect Illinois to look almost competent on offense, something similar to the first half of the Penn State game where Illinois' running game was working pretty well and Penn State was busy with that and couldn't be bothered to get the pressure that kills Williams. So they'll have some drives that move the ball, but without short yardage it's hard to see more than one serious touchdown drive. Tack on one mind-bending error and some other stuff, and you've got a score similar to the other ones Illinois has put up so far, albeit one that assumes Illinois's points are not garbage-time decoration.
Finally, opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Denard goes for 100 yards.
- Michigan has a positive turnover margin.
- The safety play burns Michigan.
- Michigan, 28-17.
Somewhat less than timely, but still good. Michigan softball player Bree Evans, who suffered a scary injury at the beginning of the month, is out of the hospital. She's been out for a good long while…
Evans was released from the hospital two weeks ago, according to Michigan sports information director Leah Howard. Howard declined to comment on details of Evans’ injury.
…but better to know late than never, I guess.
Well, let's be explicit about it. Deshawn Sims and Mann Harris talking to Fox Sports's Jeff Goodman for a Beilein fluff bit before the season:
ANN ARBOR, Mich. - DeShawn Sims had just finished up his freshman season at Michigan when he heard the news that John Beilein had been hired to replace Tommy Amaker. At the time, Manny Harris was the Wolverines' top signee, and the word quickly swirled that he would explore other options.
"People were saying Beilein's system was for white boys," Sims said.
"I heard he didn't even like players that dunk," added the athletic Harris.
Elsewhere in basketball, perhaps the most newsworthy thing to come out of Big Ten Media Day was Illinois coach Bruce Weber suggesting that the Big Ten will "probably" move to a full round robin "down the road." I got so excited about it that I retweeted it, so, yes, I am enthusiastic about the hypothetical change. It just makes sense, and now with the Big Ten Network it makes financial sense—in conversations I've had with them they have a strong preference for intraconference matchups.
And here's a Tim Hardaway Jr fluffy bit from ESPN, courtesy reader Woodson2Heisman:
Michigan checks in at #15 in both preseason polls, but this is slightly terrifying:
Junior guard Manny Harris - an All-Big Ten team selection Thursday - has battled pulled hamstrings since the start of practice and Beilein, himself a victim of the consistently tight hammys, has been extra cautious. …
“Now that it’s happened, it’s got to be a season-long therapy thing,” Beilein said. “We can’t let down. He’s always been tight in his hamstrings. I have tight hamstrings so I know what it’s like. It can lead to back problems.
“Stretching is not my favorite thing to do, it’s not his. Therapy isn’t, but he has to do it. “
Ugh. Season-long nagging injury for the unquestioned star of the team. This is not so good.
Because you're still on a Quest for Toronto. Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician, the fantastic Syracuse blog, asks "why isn't anyone talking about Scott Shafer?" Insert snark here. But then TNIAAM drops some year-to-year numbers that are a little bothersome since Michigan and Syracuse have essentially swapped defensive coordinators:
Syracuse Defense Rankings 2008 vs 2009 (through seven games)
|Statistic||2008 Defense||2009 Defense|
|Tackles For Loss||106th||49th|
|Opp. 3rd Down Conv.||117th||38th|
That's across-the-board improvement except in pass defense. So, okay, there's a lot of noise in these numbers and they'll probably fall with Cincinnati and Pittsburgh the next two games on the schedule. And Syracuse apparently returned a lot of people on defense, including all the good players. But it's at least an indication that Scott Shafer isn't a total git who lucked his way into the Michigan job and blew it all by himself.
On the other hand: the last time I offered a small complaint about Robinson, one of the guys from The Only Colors who does their version of UFR emailed me about a post he'd put up highlighting Robinson's halftime adjustments. That's pretty noisy, too, but in the offseason we'll take a thorough look at the two defenses.
Early signing. Don't know why this came up just now but Rodriguez is in favor of a couple changes to recruiting. One is an early signing day that this site has advocated before:
“I would be in favor of having an early signing day around the third week in December, when the junior-college signing date is, and then have another signing date like we do now on the first Wednesday in February," Rodriguez said on Tuesday's Big Ten coaches teleconference.
The other item he's mentioned is the past is allowing schools to offer official visits over the summer, something that makes sense for schools fairly distant from talent sources in Florida.
Adios, Ufer. Bob Ufer died this week in 1981, and a guy emailed me to let me know he'd been putting up some Ufer retrospective videos on the tubes:
I haven't spent a lot of time scouring youtube to confirm this, but I bet Michigan dominates it, what with Wolverine Historian and this poster ("Ghosts of Michigan") and now a zillion individual plays from UFR.
CONSPIRACY These are the items I was talking about Monday when I mentioned a number of questionable calls that went against Michigan. The illegal formation is on the right tackle here:
There was also the too-many-men call on the Robinson interception, or lack thereof:
You can see the ball has already been snapped.
Rodriguez is not happy about this stuff, nor is he happy about the ridiculous Schilling holding call—the second time in two Big Ten games that Schillling's crushed a guy and gotten a hold for his troubles. RR:
"Some of them I understand, when you twist and turn a guy, whatever," Rodriguez said. "But if you've got your hands inside in great position, you're drive blocking a guy and he falls down, because, one, he loses his balance or something, I don't think it should be called holding.
"There is more of a gray area, and there's more frustration, I think, in seeing some of the calls."
No doubt some Penn State fan will run back to his message board going "lol we won 35-10" so let's just be clear: this did not have an impact on the outcome of the game.
While I'm at it, here's Holly Rowe, Hoth Edition:
Etc.: College presidents complaining about how coaches' salaries are excessive. Adrian Witty is still planning to enroll in January. Beilein's top priority for AD is a guy who will renovate Crisler for serious. A package of reforms designed to make the money trail from shady college coaches to shady AAU coaches more illegal has passed in its entirety.
For the Illinois Game (Saturday, Oct. 31)
Zac Johnson (shoulder)
David Molk (knee)
Probable (75 percent chance of playing)
Martavious Odoms (knee)
In addition, head coach Rich Rodriguez announced the game captains for the game at Illinois: running back Kevin Grady, defensive end Brandon Graham, wide receiver Greg Mathews and offensive lineman Tim McAvoy.
Odoms not playing or being limited would be a considerable loss; the other options at slot appear to be a meaningful dropoff, and Odoms had reclaimed the punt return job before the injury. Hemingway appears good to go, though, as does Warren.