There will be significant attrition this offseason. The first to fall:
In today’s weekly Big Ten teleconference, Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said sophomore Zion Babb was no longer with the team. Rodriguez said the wide receiver hasn’t been with the team since Sunday.
So… yeah. I was sitting on this until I had some outside confirmation and this serves as outside confirmation since three guys were mentioned as a group of players who had already made their decisions. The other two who have told the coaches they are out: sophomore LB/S Artis Chambers and Sam McGuffie.
Okay. Done panicking? Some context for this information:
How solid is it? Very solid. Three sources very close to the situation.
How official is it? It is not official until it is official. Earlier this year I said freshman RB Mike Cox was transferring based on equally solid info, but Cox reversed course and decided to stick out the year. Until someone actually enrolls somewhere else there is always the chance for a reconciliation.
Is this the end of it? No. The rumors are flying fast and furious about a couple guys buried on the depth chart; I don't have confirmation on anyone else and at this point I think they're still on the fence.
Removed NC LB Hawatha Bell (dropped us), TN CB Marsalis Teague (hasn't mentioned us in months and probably should have been dropped some time ago).
Added GA WR Jamal Patterson, LA WR Kenny Bell, PA WR JeRon Stokes, FL CB Jayron Hosley.
As always, some links from Varsity Blue.
New wideouts. With MN WR Bryce McNeal's decommitment Michigan is in need of a big hulking outside WR type and has a dearth of prospects with serious interest. They still have a dearth of prospects who seem likely to sign the fall, but it's not for lack of trying. Three guys I tacked on the board:
GA WR Jamal Patterson is a Stanford commitment who announced he will take some visits; one will be to Michigan. This one will get more interesting if Harbaugh, as rumored, takes the Raiders job.
LA WR Kenny Bell sounded like he was genuinely interested in Michigan this summer but couldn't afford to take an unofficial visit and ended up committing to LSU. He plans an official to Michigan now; still seems like a longshot.
PA WR Je'Ron Stokes is a Tennessee commit who is now looking around; Michigan has inquired.
Also added. FL CB Jayron Hosley has been idling out there with a number of meh offers despite his status as a Rivals250 guy, but now he's reeled in a couple big ones:
A little more info on the two offers. Michigan offered Hosley last week, and OSU offered him this past Thursday. Hosley doesn't know much about either school or the Big Ten conference and hopes to sort things out on visits.
He will not take any more official visits (Louisville in Sept)until after his season is over. When talking to him you get the sense he has no idea where he wants to go, but knows things will certainly clear up after seeing more schools campuses. It seems OSU will get Hosley up for an official.
Michigan's biggest need remaining in the class (assuming the guys wavering end up sticking and Will Campbell doesn't cause mass seppuku on Rivals/Scout) is cornerback; Michigan will no doubt be on him hard.
The Waverers. Sounds like an indie band and is now a drummer away from putting out "Rod Save The Recruiting Class"($, info in header);
Jordan Barnes has been committed to Michigan since the summer and while he maintains he is still committed to the Wolverines, Barnes wants to make sure he is making the right decision. Part of the process of making sure is looking around at a couple of other schools.
He joins TX WR Dewayne Peace and LA DT Dequinta Jones as guys who remain committed but are looking at official visits. Barnes' decision came down to Michigan and Alabama the first time around, so it's pretty safe to assume the Tide is the most prominent other team in the picture; they've already got a high profile MLB commit and may slow play him to see if they have room for a less touted guy at the same position in their class.
Weekly Will Campbell reassurance. Campbell took an Alabama visit and came back saying all the things you say about trips, but didn't commit or come close to it. Saban cleverly tried to get Campbell's 2010 teammate (and Michigan recruit) Dior Mathis to come along, but Mathis didn't end up taking the trip.
LSU is coming up in the next couple weeks, I believe, and then Campbell has trips to Michigan and Miami scheduled. He keeps listing USC but I don't think USC is seriously pursuing the guy.
Oh, BTW: Campbell is an Army All-American.
2010 items. I had erroneously stated that Pahokee WR De'Joshua Johnson was widely considered a Florida lock; that should have been Florida State lock. But it sounds like he may give Michigan (and others) a shot:
“I know a little bit, but I don’t know too much about them. I just started liking Michigan in the 8th grade, because that’s when I started paying attention to football. That’s when I realized that was my way out of here [Pahokee].”
With some familiar faces already in, or on their way to Ann Arbor, where exactly do the Wolverines rate in Johnson’s choices?
“Michigan is highly favored along with Florida State. My five are Florida State, Michigan, Miami, and then I go with Wisconsin, and I guess Florida,” said Johnson.
Luke Stampini from SoFlaFootball.com elaborates:
FSU has a very good shot. When I first met De'Joshua he was all about FSU and he was going to FSU for sure. The more and more I talk to him though, the more and more other schools are closing the gap.
He wants to see other schools now, it seems like he is pushing back his decision timeline as well. Is this him starting to understand the recruiting game or is the gap between FSU and other school really starting to close???? I don't know.
He is excited about the Michigan offer, really wants that Oregon offer so he can check out their campus. "I don't know if I'll ever be able to go to Oregon again in my life" is what he told me.
FSU still leads though.
Here's Johnson in action:
Etc.: Long article on the Pahokee kids trying to deal with the murder of their teammate.
Yeah, Florida springs past Texas. Neither has anything approximating a nonconference test yet but Florida is has had fewer cupcakes on the schedule to date and has generally throttled the opposition more thoroughly, Ole Miss game aside.
Oklahoma slips a bit. Moot after the TT game anyway.
Georgia up significantly and Oklahoma State down significantly… are completely unjustified right now.
The ACC and your six 7-3 teams: go to hell, please.
Any help is welcome.
What do you think about, in the wake of over half the student section not showing up for Northwestern), having a "first come-first served" system, to encourage students to show up early for games? Having half the student section, so-called the most "passionate" fans, not show up on senior day, even despite the conditions (they're 18!--if my dad can show up at 51, so can they), that was just embarrassing.
I can't blame large chunks of the student section for failing to show yesterday. Sorority girls just don't care. But, yeah, I think the student section's general tendency to show up halfway through the first quarter is annoying.
One man's attempt to revamp things:
Tickets should be limited general admission. Your ticket has a section on it and one of two sub-sections representing the top third of the stadium and bottom two thirds.
Michigan compiles the time your ticket was scanned every week and does seating priority based on that, not seniority. Rules:
- You get 20 points for getting scanned 40 minutes before kickoff (warmups), 10 for 20 (band), and 5 for 5 (kickoff). You lose five points for being more than five minutes late, and you lose 20 for not getting scanned at all.
- You get 20 points each for having season tickets for hockey and/or basketball.
- Validated tickets don't count for or against you, but anyone whose ticket is validated more than three times doesn't get tickets next year.
- Your worst two scores are dropped.
- Seating priority and priority for away game and bowl lotteries is based on the previous year's scores; seniors might get a bonus.
- Anyone with a negative score isn't allowed to buy tickets.
This last one will never get implemented but anyone who's spent significant time in the student section would just love to boot those always drunk, always late, always early-departing, always annoying "fans" out.
This comes from an acquaintance of mine who lives in DC:
So, I'm out at Kokopoolis, this really cool (and not at all trendy) pool room at the south end of the Adams Morgan strip here in DC. We're just wrapping up our game when this dude comes over toward our table carrying a rack of balls. The following is not even close to verbatim, but it's as close as my alcohol-ravaged mind will ever get.
"You using this table?"
"Nope; all yours."
[Notices Michigan shirt (and, as other communications might indicate, I was wearing a Tigers hat too) , presses index finger to my chest] "You go to school there?"
"You'll be real good. My old coach works there now. Few years, he-"
"Yeah, dude, 2010-2011 we'll be national title contenders."
"Yeah you will. My old coach, he works there now. He'll do good things."
"I used to play for West Virginia"
"Oh yeah? What'd you play?"
"Cornerback. I got this Fiesta Bowl ring right here."
[Flashes ridiculously huge Fiesta Bowl ring]
[stammers]"Uh, yeah, nice! Your name, sir?"
"Very good to meet you."
"You too, man. He's gonna be real good."
"Oh, I know, man."
So, besides being a wasted opportunity for me to ask some relevant, probing questions about the future of our program, and besides making myself look like a f---ing dicktard, this was a pretty nice experience of a WVU player saying unequivocally positive things about Rodriguez.
The Death Butterfly is going to be amazing.
I have nothing to add to this.
In the last mailbag, assistance in tracking down a video of Bo's "The Team" speech was asked for, but apparently there is no video. So says a man who was there:
In regards to you question about Bo’s speech, there is no video only audio. The speech occurred at a full team meeting at the beginning of the 1983 campaign. He would often address us in this manner on Fridays before we got on the bus for the Campus Inn or to the airport. I can tell you that this speech pales in comparison to speeches he gave to us on Saturdays in the locker room just before we hit the field.
Too bad. Side note: I'm pretty okay with the hype video they've installed as part of the pregame festivities, but does it not seem like an enormous missed opportunity that the above-mentioned speech doesn't feature prominently in it? I mean, if the thing ended with "the team, the team, the team" or "in the end it's going to be Michigan, again" you would have to put a roof on the stadium just so it could be blown off.
I get a fair share of questions from people more suspicious of Rodriguez than I am, and one guy asked a whole bunch so let's just tackle a bunch of protestations at once, shall we? These are from Tony Mlynarek:
I am a disgruntled and frustrated fan (will resume mgoblog reading, email groups, etc. after spring game). It's not the number of losses, it's the way we continue to lose. How much more maize n blue can we bleed this season?
I fault our offense and special teams in losing to Utah, Notre Dame, MSU, Toledo, and Northwestern. Since RichRod is the head coach, and directly oversees the offense and special teams, it would help if you (or better yet RR) [not likely! -ed] would answer these questions:
At what point do the coaches accept responsibility and coach the players to play well? Lack of execution has been the scapegoat for RR. Yet how do we expect our players to execute plays they actually cannot do? This has nothing to do with the spread vs. another scheme. Eg.-Why in the first half against NW would we ever call 2 pass plays on the goal line? Sheridan cannot throw downfield. Sheridan's strengths include handing the ball off, throwing a screen, and running for 2 more yards than Threet would on a keeper. Play calling has been an issue all season. Run Brown 3 times there and we get a touchdown instead of a blocked FG.
I find it very difficult to criticize any one play call, and given Michigan's redzone struggles against Minnesota the week previous "run three times = TD" is far from proven. Especially since we're talking about second and goal from the six. That's really a decision to throw on second down that didn't work out; third and goal from the six is a passing down.
More generally: it's not that I don't blame the coaches for a variety of things that have gone wrong this year. I just don't know. It is entirely possible that Scott Shafer found himself in over his head and cost Michigan a game or two or that Rodriguez's inability to reel in a quarterback last year cost Michigan dearly. It is possible Rodriguez is just exceptionally bad at transitioning programs.
It is also possible that the vast array of misfortunes to befall the program since Carr's retirement (transfers, injuries, etc) coupled with some dodgy recruiting and retention in the last few years would have condemned any coach to the same sort of nuclear waste dump of a season.
The things I think are long term trends are mostly encouraging: recruiting the hell out of Florida, running a bewildering array of run plays, playing to win, etc. The things I think are one-year flukes are mostly discouraging: fumbles, special-teams disasters (though at this point the special teams disasters are pretty much down to freshmen fumbling the ball), an inability to figure out who your best players are.
Why did Sheridan ever start over Threet in September? It's obvious Threet is a better passer down field and has a better pocket presence.
This one I can't explain. It's not necessarily that Threet and his 5.5 YPA (woo!) is any better than Sheridan, it's that Threet has, at times, seemed marginally capable of developing into a decent Big Ten starter. Sheridan's always looked like a guy picked off the IM champions; when your five-yard hitch passes have ICBM trajectories your upside is... well, you have no upside. I guess Rodriguez thought that Sheridan was the better guy in practice.
This, I think, was an error. I don't think it will be one we see in the future.
Why did Shaw and McGuffie receive favoritism over Brown and Minor this year? It's obvious they fit his scheme more, and they weren't injured as often. However, if your veterans can only practice a few days out of the week, you still play them over freshman. Would Rod play White and Slaton even if they couldn't practice all week? Brown and Minor were never given the benefit of the doubt this year until the youngsters proved they can't get past a decent D-line.
I think this question is "why did McGuffie start for half a season?" Shaw's lingering groin issue limited him to a grand total of 11 carries before the Purdue game; he's actually seen more extensive use of late.
We all know why Brown didn't play: he was, as always, injured. Minor was also dinged up, though not to the extent that he couldn't see the field.
A hypothetically dinged Slaton or White is still Steve Slaton or Pat White, a guy Rich Rodriguez has extensive knowledge of. A dinged Carlos Brown or Brandon Minor is just a guy in pads you've never seen practice full strength. And then when you throw Minor out there, he fumbles something like five times in his first fifteen carries.
Coaches need some time to figure out what their players can and cannot do. Even Mike Hart languished on the bench for the first couple games of his career, and he was a healthy guy playing behind David Underwood.
What was the extent of Threet's injuries prior to NW game? If he can't go now against O-state, why did we risk playing him on a short week of practice vs. NW?
Threet's injury that kept him out of the Minnesota and (most of) the Northwestern game was a concussion. With Threet playing poorly before that and Sheridan having turned in a pretty good game against Minnesota, I can see the decision to go with him, especially if Threet had missed a lot of practice time. And then you play him because you're down a touchdown and you're 3-8 and maybe if you can scrape a drive together you can win. The injury that knocked Threet out of the Northwestern game is a separated shoulder; he didn't aggravate a pre-existing condition.
In a similar vein:
I am continually surprised on the message boards by the amount of people saying that RR should be fired, which I think most people think is (at least) a bit reactionary and premature. What would we really be accomplishing by his firing?
However, in coming to his defense, many people seem to be of the opinion that any criticism of the coach at all is somehow not supporting the team. I am not referring to the now tired "booing" issue- I mean at all- on message boards, in the newspapers, etc.
I don't see how some criticism of RR is somehow exclusive of supporting RR. I don't think it's so far out to say that RR is not having a good season. Losing to 2-8 Toledo was pretty bad. But while I am willing to criticize- and quite fairly, in my opinion- RR for things like the loss to Toledo, I don't think he should be fired.
Has the trauma of this season caused people to think that "support" and "criticize" are mutually exclusive? Carr got criticized all the time- hell, I criticized Carr when we lost and I thought the coaching was at fault, but that didn't mean I didn't support the team or hated the coach.
Why do so many people seem to think that supporting RR means giving him a free pass for the season? I think most people were ready for a down year. I wouldn't have been over the moon, but I think I could have squared with this season if we had beaten Toledo and Purdue. But all the streaks coming to an end is important and depressing.
But isn't it fair to criticize RR for things he has done wrong this year while falling short of the extreme (and wrong) opinion that he should be fired?
I dislike the way these things get framed online; people mostly end up arguing at strawmen, and in doing so memes get born. I scan a lot of message boards and haven't ever seen someone defending Rodriguez use the words "free pass."
And what does that even mean in that context? As best I can tell, it means that the person supporting Rodriguez doesn't think the timetable where we can talk about firing him has been accelerated. There are two main camps of thought out there:
- This season puts Rodriguez on the hot seat starting in 2010, at which point he must deliver or bust.
- Sweet Jesus, this thing is going to take some time to put back together; we should be patient, which means five years.
I am obviously in camp two. Anyone in camp one should know they're rooming with Drew Sharp.
As far as the criticisms… I mean, sure, you can advocate patience and still think Scott Shafer was a mistake. The main problem with arguing on the internet (and, actually, everywhere) is excessive certainty. You can't say "this guy needs to go!" after one year. You can't declare this season to be definitively Rodriguez's fault, and you should wait for more data.
I am attempting to discern what.
UPDATE: I done did unbroke it!
11/15/2008 – Michigan 14, Northwestern 21 – 3-7, 2-6 Big Ten
At halftime I momentarily thought I had found a forgotten pair of hand warmers in the recesses of my jacket, only to pull out an empty packet of trail mix and other assorted detritus. This was worse than having no hope of hand warmers at all.
I then examined the various and diverse pockets of my jacket, coming across nothing useful. I did strike upon my ticket from last April's Frozen Four, which now commemorates the gut-punch loss suffered because of Nickelback and Creed. Thanks for leaving it there, Brian Of Christmas Past. I hope your football team goes 3-9, douchebag.
I spent halftime with my hands on the glass of the pretzel oven. Contraption. Vendor thing. Thing with flames and heat that contains pretzels. Whatever the hell it is. It didn't help much.
This is how weird it's been of late: as I huddled near a pretzel contraption at halftime of a game between 3-7 Michigan and Northwestern, soaked, frozen, pondering the grim futility of all things, I discovered that I was sort of enjoying this. Yeah, sure, you had to peel back layer upon layer of misery to get to the morbidly sunny core. But it was there.
If you were there, and stayed there, and did not move from your seat until Nick Sheridan's final pass sailed out of bounds, you have completed the final challenge. This is the worst it can ever be: an awful team that does things specifically intended to hurt you playing a meaningless game against Northwestern in weather not fit for man nor beast. With multiple infuriating million-year-long media timeouts in the fourth quarter. That they lose.
If you put up with it (and far, far fewer than the announced 107,000 did), you are hardcore. You have a black belt in fandom. You get the Fandom Endurance III merit badge. If anyone ever questions your Michigan allegiance, you can just say "I was at the 2008 Northwestern game" and they will have to step off. If they fail to do so with sufficient obsequiousness I'm pretty sure you can cave their skull in with your finger.*
Hell, if you've even watched all these games and maintained enough emotional attachment to swear profusely during them, you're at least a purple belt or a yellow belt or whatever is pretty high up on the belt list.
You probably didn't do this by choice. Anyone with a choice either didn't show up or left or checked out emotionally. You stayed because it was inevitable.
This, of course, is abject stupidity. I, and everyone else there, knew that the four-plus hours spent going to, attending, and returning from the game would be four of the least pleasant hours of our lives. At one point my rain-soaked uncle exclaimed to us all "we do this for fun!"
So, okay, established. Fandom is stupid LOL etc.
But why, hand on the pretzel machine, did I find perverse satisfaction in what I was doing? Why was that horrible game a sort of uniquely rewarding experience in a way last year's Ohio State game, equally dismal on-field and off, was not?
The Ohio State game last year had stakes. Win, and go to the Rose Bowl. And it was Lloyd Carr and Chad Henne and Mike Hart and Jake Long leaving. And it was against Ohio State. There were reasons to go, the chance of seeing something spectacular. Even if that chance was low.
No such chance existed on Saturday. It was pointless and horrible. Anyone with any common sense stayed away. But our stupidity is unbreakable, and that's now 100% proven. There's at least a little something in that.
*(Don't try this at home, kids! Unless you live in Ohio!)
- Hey, chalk up another running performance somewhere between respectable and pretty good. Carlos Brown, back from the dead, was outstanding with his cuts and there were open lanes time and again. And this was against a pretty good run defense in conditions that made throwing an extremely unlikely occurrence.
- Hopefully the Martavious Odoms fumble festival was more due to his inexperience in conditions like those he experienced on Saturday. Remember, this guy is a freshman from a swamp, basically.
- We'll see how he looks in UFR, but Mouton looked dynamite, at least against the run.
- Michigan got jacked by the referees, who 1) took away a Michigan touchdown by ruling Donovan Warren out of bounds, 2) gave Northwestern a touchdown by ignoring an incredibly blatant hold on Tim Jamison, and 3) killed any hope of a comeback by ignoring two obvious PI calls. I mean, whatever, we're 3-8, but Christ the standards in this league are horrifically low.
- That was one high-variance punting strategy employed by Northwestern.
- I hate third and more than 15.
A thousand apologies: I accidentally published this as the Minnesota preview, so no one saw this.
|WHAT||Michigan vs. Northwestern|
|WHERE||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Michigan|
|WHEN||12:00 EST, November 15th, 2008|
|THE LINE||Michigan by 3.5|
|WEATHER||Mid 40s, windy, 100% chance of rain. Fun!|
Run Offense vs. Northwestern
Michigan's run offense has emerged from slumber with a series of slashing 40-yarders the past couple weeks. Yesterday's UFR has the details:
Over the last two weeks, Michigan has 76 carries for 430 yards. Though they haven't been taking on the 1970s Steelers, that's 5.7 YPC against a vast array of eight- and sometimes even nine-man fronts with a rag-tag offensive line, a banged up set of running backs, and quarterbacks close to the platonic opposite of Pat White.
Caution is still advisable, as Purdue is the country's #90 rush defense and Minnesota is #65. Northwestern, remarkably, will be a step up. They come in with the #45 rush defense and I'm sure most of you remember the specter of Northwestern DT John Gill slashing into Mike Hart over and over again last year in Evanston.
Add in an impressive performance against Penn State and that's three of four weeks the ground game has performed admirably, with Michigan State's snap-jumping ways the exception.
FWIW, Half of Purdue's total was one 76 yard Kory Sheets touchdown, so that game is:
- 76 yard touchdown
- 24 carries for 3.4 YPC.
This, unfortunately, looks like Great Success against finesse spread teams and crunching death against the straight-ahead pounders of the world. Michigan has been pretty good with the straight ahead pounding, actually, but that's almost entirely due to MINOR RAGE, which is doubtful with shoulder and rib injuries this week. The backups are slight freshmen better suited to bouncing past opponents than powering through them.
I think this will be an issue. Last year the Northwestern game caused my head to explode. Michigan ran no play action and one misdirection play the whole game, allowing this to happen:
Holy crap, Kraus(-2) just gets his ass kicked by John Gill. He's driven yards into the backfield, directly into Hart's path, and Gill makes the TFL. … Gill crashes into Boren, preventing him from doubling the other DT. So no zone block and thus an unblocked linebacker. Hart stuffed for nothing. … Kraus(-2) lets Gill right by him and Mallett is sacked … Boren(-2) owned by Gill again. WTF is going on? … Gill again in the backfield, this time working on Kraus(-1).
John Gill is a badass. John Gill is basically J Leman. John Gill is starting for Northwestern this weekend in a windy, rainy game in the 40s. Last year John Gill slanted so hard to the playside on every snap that it was impossible to prevent him from punching Mike Hart's mom in the backfield.
Raise your hand if you're surprised the UFR was one long diatribe against Mike Debord. No one, I see.
So. WTF? Well, the Gill Event was extremely similar to the Penn State event Michigan experienced last year: saddled with Mallett, Michigan ran zone stretches again and again and again and basically told their opponent that if you slant hard you're going to kill the play in the backfield half time time. Michigan averaged 3.2 YPC. The week before, Michigan scraped out a win against Penn State averaging 3.0 YPC.
This year, Michigan tore Penn State up in the first half before running out of stuff to do, shooting Brandon Minor into Penn State's secondary with some unexpected plays. The gambling, slanting Penn State defense was cowed by consecutive long runs that caught PSU DTs on the wrong side of Michigan OLs; if Michigan can get Gill and other Wildcats guessing wrong there will be creases. Significant creases.
Key Matchup: I think it might be John Gill and Slanty McDefensiveCoordinator versus David Molk and Michigan's playcalling.
Pass Offense vs. Minnesota
Suicidal kitten? It's cute, small, you want to care for it and hope it does the best but you're probably going to end up with DEATH at some point.
Yeah, so Nick Sheridan put up 18 for 30 for 203 yards and a touchdown last week. He hit a variety of bubble screens. He rolled out and threw looping fifteen yard passes that looked like sure disaster but invariably found their way into the receiver's hands for a first down. He was accurate-ish on a number of deep balls but floated two of them such that easy touchdowns were turned into an incompletion and a 30-yard wheel. He should have thrown two ugly interceptions.
He'll start tomorrow; Threet is supposedly healthy (he has gone through the last couple practices and is available). Justin Feagin will probably reprise his Incredibly Surprising Quarterback role. In the script this is the week he pulls up and chucks one to a wide open tight end.
Northwestern, meanwhile, has given up a ton of yards through the air (they're 89th) but has been good-ish in efficiency terms (49th), though the quality of competition hasn't exactly been great. Northwestern got Indiana's backup, a melting-down Curtis Painter, a n00b-y Ricky Stanzi, and Brian Hoyer, and didn't exactly blow the doors off. They're 20th in sacks, though.
I pretty skeptical we'll see a repeat performance from Sheridan, especially given the nasty combination of his arm strength and the weather conditions. He might be the more effective quarterback anyway, because he's the more accurate guy on screens and short stuff
Key Matchup: Sheridan versus not throwing the killer interception. Even in his magnum opus last week he should have chucked two interceptions. I think Michigan wins if he avoids the killer INT.
Run Defense vs. Northwestern
Michigan's run defense has been spotty at best this year but if the 3-3-5 has been relegated to history's trash pile I'm fairly optimistic here. You may remember last year's game, when Michigan used… well… an inexplicable 3-3-5 on a lot of potential run downs and got gashed a thousand times, including yielding a 50-yard touchdown run to Northwestern backup tailback Omar Conteh. When Michigan was in a more conventional front their runs were limited to the occasional Shawn Crable screwup on the edge.
Michigan doesn't have to worry about Conteh this year, and it's not because starter Tyrell Sutton has returned to health: both players are out for the year with injuries. Left standing is true freshman Stephen Simmons, who has 18 carries for 53 yards to his name. Information is limited, but what we know:
- He's 5'8".
- Rivals gave him two stars.
- His other offer was from Indiana.
Okay, not incredibly impressive but you dismiss the Northwestern running game at your peril—I mean, it's basically what we run and we've managed to cobble something together of late.
Simmons isn't going to get all the carries, though. Between them, Mike Kafka and CJ Bacher have 31% of Northwestern's attempts on the ground this year. The quarterback keeper is much more of a threat for Northwestern than it is Michigan. Kafka won the Minnesota game by putting up 217 rushing yards and actually had an eminently respectable 126 rushing yards against Ohio State; 43 yards of sacks masked his day on the ground.
Key Matchup: Jamison or Graham or Harrison or whoever's got QB contain versus irresponsibility. I know this might bite me in the ass, but I can't see this Simmons guy doing much against Michigan's defense. A few runs here and there will get into the secondary, but unless they managed to unearth another Sutton (and remember that Sutton had much more hype coming into college after an impressive HS All Star game performance) he's not going to make yards that aren't there. Contain the QBs, contain the NW running game.
Pass Defense vs. Northwestern
Word on the street is that starting quarterback CJ Bacher will return this weekend after suffering through a hamstring injury the past couple weeks. Lake The Posts remains skeptical about Bacher's health:
The semantic interpretations over Fitz' positioning of the QB situation continue to fill up columns, but I think every Cats fan expects both CJ and Mike to play.
We might see something like a Sheridan/Feagin split in the game, with Mike "Franz" Kafka in the Incredibly Surprising Quarterback Role. Kafka can throw at least a little bit, so he might be only Mildly Surprising.
Northwestern quarterbacks are collectively 89th in passing efficiency; Bacher has 10 touchdowns against 11 interceptions so far this year and is averaging an ugly 5.6 YPA. Kafka's managed 3 interceptions in just 46 throws, though he is averaging 7.2 YPA. Some of that is probably Ohio State taking the foot off the gas after getting up huge,, though.
There is no main receiving threat: Eric Peterman, Ross Land, and Rasheed Ward have near-identical statistics and there's a trio of guys with about 15 catches behind hem; Running backs have caught 40 passes, too, so Michigan will have to watch for screens and the like. All of these guys are typical Northwestern receivers: large, not particularly athletic, decent hands, etc.
Michigan turned in a terrific performance against Minnesota one week after getting obliterated by Purdue's third-string quarterback, so you tell me what the hell is going on. The change away from the 3-3-5 stack allowed Michigan to keep two deep safeties and that, in turn, gave the cornerbacks freer reign to play aggressively.
One thing to look for: the bubble screen minigame. Michigan's scheme against the bubble is to have the cornerback to that side freak out and explode the guy in the backfield, which has worked wonders but seems vulnerable to a counter-punch of some sort. Minnesota tried it once, found no one immediately open, and then was swallowed by Brandon Graham. Northwestern loves screens of all sorts and will have to find a way to make the bubble effective or will have a hard time moving the ball.
Key Matchup: Screen minigame.
Should be a Michigan advantage overall. Michigan got a couple good kickoff returns for the third consecutive week and now threatens to reach average in returns. They're 66th in KO returns and 62nd in punt returns. Given the vast disaster this area was early in the year, that's cause for a (small, reserved) celebration. Northwestern, meanwhile, idles in the 90s.
Michigan remains #1 in net punting; Zoltan is a hero and will continue providing long, virtually unreturnable kicks that are well-covered. One thing to watch for: if it's windy Michigan might go with the rugby liners more often: several of Zoltan's punts this year have had intentionally flat trajectories. These punts hit after about 30 yards, but are never fielded and because of the trajectory invariably bounce 10 or even 20 yards downfield. Northwestern's net punting is 44th; if there are regular punt exchanges Michigan should come out ahead.
Kicking is a slight advantage to Northwestern. Spectacularly-named Armando Villareal is 17 of 21 this year; KC Lopata is 10 of 13.
Key Matchup: Kickers versus the weather. And punt returners.
- John Gill slices into the backfield and you're like "doesn't this look familiar? And stupid?"
- Our running game just can't operate well without MINOR RAGE.
- Northwestern's third string running back starts slashing us.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- The diversity of the Michigan ground game gets NW guys on the wrong side of blockers.
- The nickel package looks like a good solution.
- They throw a lot of bubble screens.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 6 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +1 for Maybe Not DEATH But Suicidal Kitten, +1 for The Weather Is Ugly, Isn't It, –1 for Hey We're A Vegas Favorite!, +1 for And We're Like 2-8 Against The Spread, –1 for Their Running Backs Are Dead And So Is Their Quarterback, Sort Of, +1 for Uh… So Are Ours, –1 for In A Battle Of Punts, We Have Space.)
Desperate need to win level: 2 out of 10. (Baseline 5; –1 for We're Still 3-7, +1 for But A Win Plus Something Respectable Against OSU Looks Like Progress, –1 for .)
Loss will cause me to... sigh audibly and return to my "Is Michigan 2008 Worse Than Notre Dame 2007?" post.
Win will cause me to... allow myself the tiniest little flicker of hope about beating Ohio State, which I will forcibly obliterate by Monday.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
This looks like an ugly punt-fest to me. I assume Northwestern won't replicate Minnesota's mistakes and let the bubble screen become a regular part of Michigan's arsenal, especially in the gross weather expected. They'll crowd the line, take away that, and dare Michigan to chuck it deep, which they will not be able to do.
Michigan will get behind the chains on first down plenty due to that and gambling from Northwestern's pretty good front seven, which will make it very tough to sustain drives. There should be a couple opportunities for Michigan to slash into the Northwestern secondary, at which point someone will pick up 30 or so yards; much hinges on whether these plays hit the endzone (either because the running back makes a safety miss or good field position) or end up resulting in dodgy field goal attempts.
As for Northwestern's offense… well, I see virtually the same thing with less chance of a long run due to the shakiness of their tailback situation. These teams are near mirror images on offense: same scheme, same dinged up nominal starter, same pass-wonky backup, same depleted RB corps. I worry about a bubble-screen counterpunch and Northwestern's consistently effective regular screen game, and figure they'll sustain at least a couple drives and get one big play.
In the end, though, there will be many punts and that favors Michigan, which has found someone to return them and someone to boot them very far in such a way as to make them nigh unreturnable.
Finally, opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Sheridan takes a major step back.
- Zoltan is the difference.
- Michigan, 17-13.
One: Michigan is holding an open scrimmage after the Northwestern game, which might be appealing to those of weak constitution facing down what looks like some legendarily awful weather:
Admission to the “Garden Party” will be free of charge and fans can begin entering Crisler Arena through gates B and C from inside Michigan Stadium at the start of the fourth quarter. Fans will be able to observe the Wolverines practice with the football game broadcast without sound on the Crisler Arena JumboTron.
If, midway through the fourth quarter you are drowning and cold and want to go somewhere but also want to watch the game… eh… there you go.
Two: Michigan opened its season with two victories and will take on UCLA at Madison Square Garden Thursday. Impressions abound. UMHoops:
Manny Harris seems to get better every night. After posting a career high 30 points last night Manny came 2 assists short of a triple double tonight. Yesterday the only thing you could criticize about Manny’s game was that he didn’t have many assists. Well he posted 8 tonight and seemed to be looking for the open man most of the night (while still managing to score 26 points). Manny shot it efficiently (6-9), got to the stripe (13-14), and rebounded (10) — I don’t know what else you can ask from him.
Manny Harris is WAY too good to play for Michigan. Thanks Tommy! Corperryale with a near-triple-double in his second game? Very LeBron James-esque. And how sweet would those back-to-back dunks have been? I'd love to say "Wait 'til next year" with this guy, but I'm not sure there will be one. Our only hope is that Harris realizes he'll get pounded in the NBA with his current frame and comes back for Michigan's first trip to The Dance since '98.
Rebounding was the major concern, as Michigan allowed a whopping 20 offensive rebounds and only retrieved 55% of opposition misses (of which there were many). UMHoops points out that getting your ass kicked on the boards is a sure sign you're being coached by John Beilein, and with Michigan down to two potential post guys (Ben Cronin exists, I guess, but most people expect little from him this year), neither of whom is exactly Ben Wallace, that tendency is going to be there all year. Michigan is going to be a zone team, period, and will get murdered on the boards. They'll try to make it up with turnovers.
The Big Ten Geeks say "don't get carried away," then note some unusual, very un-John stats:
The Wolverines were not as perimeter focused this game, devoting less than a third of their field goal attempts to 3 pointers. Partly as a result, they shot 26 free throws on just 43 FGAs, and they made all but one of them. Of course, the Wolverines did turn it over 14 times in a 59 possession game, which isn't so good. Michigan lit the nets on fire everywhere, shooting 35.7% on 3s and 62.1% from 2, and you won't lose many games doing that.
This was due at least in part to Northeastern's intermittent pressing, which Michigan beat for several easy buckets and Northeastern used to pick up several turnovers.
Hockey does not have a G you can drop. Michigan takes on Western Michigan in a home-and-home this weekend. Western, as usual, is freakin' dire. Yost Built has your Ten Things to Know. Anything other than a sweep is disappointing.
In other news, Mark Mitera opted for surgery, and the prognosis is actually encouraging. The stated timeline is three(!) to six months of rehab, which means there's at least some chance we see Mitera on the ice at Yost again. Yost Built does the math:
last Thursday was November 6. Three months would put him at February 6. Four months and he's back for the CCHA Tournament. Five months and it's just the Frozen Four if we make it. It might be unlikely, but apparently there's still a chance that Mitera's Michigan career isn't over. You know he'd like to make it back in four months and play at Yost one more time...
I am also in the club of "would like to see Mark Mitera one more time, or preferably ten." There are also rumblings that Kampfer might not be done for the year.
One recruiting downer: uber-prospect Colin Jacobs, who Michigan had a couple ins with, will not be joining the sick 2010 recruiting class. He's signed with a WHL team.
Draftin'. The draft prospects of Michigan seniors are not super high according to Pro Football Weekly whispers:
Scouts increasingly have been disappointed with Michigan senior CB Morgan Trent, whose lack of toughness and tackling deficiencies too often have been exposed. He is tight in the hips and too straight-linish and has not warranted better than fourth-round grades from evaluators.
Michigan senior DE Tim Jamison plays hard and gives good effort, but he is not a threat as a pass rusher and all of his production comes because he continues working to the ball and chasing, not because he is able to create plays.
I imagine Terrance Taylor is a second or third round pick and you'd think Will Johnson will end up getting drafted somewhere late.
Etc.: Yrs truly quoted by the Daily Northwestern; they picked out the zingers.
Reviving a tradition I did not execute last year: haikus for the graduating scholarship seniors, and other notables. Those with remaining eligibility are omitted.
You'll probably be
a fancy suit stock broker
so it's not all bad
Centers never knew
they could be so afraid of
a balding tackle
In your younger days
I thought you would be a ninja
or maybe a bear
Suggest you cover
deep routes in life, so, like
get health insurance
Bet it's annoying
that everyone says you have
a smoking hot mom
You committed to
Tyrone Willingham, which, like
makes you a rare bird
No one blames you, man
we all know Crable messed up
if that helps any. No?
That Kentucky raid
you played the most from it
it didn't work out
There are worse things than
having an awesome nickname
like "The Machete"
Did you know your name,
su, doesn't fit here?
You'll be a footnote
"First M JUCO in ten years"
So congrats I guess
What do you get when
you cross a bear, a hydrant,
and a six foot smile?
is underrated these days
but I recall Brabbs
Small, nimble slot guy
You showed at Michigan
four years too early