to play football, not to play trumpet
- Injuries: David Molk has a torn ACL and is out until the summer. He will have surgery and miss spring practice. David Moosman will start at center for the rest of the year, and Rocko Khoury and Tim McAvoy will get more reps at center as well. Martavious Odoms is day-to-day with a knee injury. There is no ligament tear, and they're expecting him back. Junior Hemingway has a knee bruise, and he's day-to-day. Brandon Minor bruised his heel (on the opposite leg that has been giving him ankle problems this year). He's day-to-day as well.
- Defensively, there were more technical errors and missed assignments than usual. Sometimes, it's a matter of guys trying to do too much and losing responsibility. The coaches are always evaluating every scheme and personnel choice. Sometimes adjustments work, and sometimes they don't. Rodriguez has full confidence in the defensive coaching staff.
- Denard and Tate are both naturally confident young men. Struggling in games may rattle their confidence a bit, and it's up to the coaches to bring it back up. They can't worry about dropped balls, and should only be concerned with what they can fix. They are still learning to use their eyes properly on passing plays.
- Holding is a point of emphasis for the referees this year. Rodriguez has seen a lot of calls that he doesn't agree with this year - both in favor of and against Michigan. Another thing Rodriguez is upset about is being called for too many men in the backfield. The team was lined up properly and still got called on Saturday - he'll send that play in to the conference for review.
- The coaches can see the places on the team where talent is lacking. They'll develop the younger guys, but also address the talent issue in the next two recruiting classes. They'll primarily recruit high schoolers, partially because it's difficult for Junior College credits to transfer to Michigan.
- Illinois is a pretty good team, they've just been unlucky at times. They're still very talented.
Ryan Van Bergen
- On a down-to-down basis, the defense isn't bad. It's the big plays that have really hurt Michigan this year. Everyone needs to lay their assignments to reduce the big-lay threat of opposing offenses.
- Van Bergen and Molk are roommates, and Molk's injury is unfortunate, but "it's a part of the game." Molk will help the team vocally since he can't do it on the field.
- The defensive line is a tight-knit group, and they're fun to play with. If Brandon Graham happens to win a postseason award, he's promised to give the credit to the rest of the defensive linemen.
- The comments from Penn State that the defense looked confused about where to line up were inaccurate. The team knew what they were doing, and some of the movement was shifting to confuse Penn State's offensive line.
- Illinois is still similar on offense to what they were last year. Despite the numbers, they still have explosive potential. They make a lot of mistakes though, and Michigan will have to capitalize on that.
- Moosman is ready to help the team by moving to center full-time. He needs to calm down and remain collected to succeed at center, since he has to direct the entire offensive line. Hopefully, he got all the bad plays out of his system already.
- The snap through the endzone was the culmination of a bad series by the OL and the offense in general. There was a miscommunication between Tate and Moosman, and Moosman takes the blame for the safety.
- Since Moosman went to high school outside Chicago, he was asked if he was interest in going to school at Illinois. "I visited Illinois, saw what it was all about, and decided to come here." ICE BURN.
- Carlos's health is good. The headaches from the concussion have gone away. Brown also had "another issue" in spring ball, related to a head injury.
- The team struggled with the little things against Penn State, and it all added up to result in the loss. Part of that was the fumbling. Brown made a mistake to switch carrying hands on his own fumble. Fred Jackson has a lot of ball security drills that he'll make the players go through this week.
- Carlos doesn't think Tate Forcier has hit a "freshman wall." He's still the same player he was through the first 4 games of the season, and he's going to pick up that pace again.
- With Carlos's career almost over, it's crazy to think that he only has 4 or 5 games left. The team's goal has to be making a bowl game to extend to the 5th game. Brown's first career start came against Illinois, and he's hoping to have a good time down there this weekend.
- Woolfolk didn't mind switching back and forth between corner and safety during the game Saturday. The package where he plays safety and Cissoko comes onto the field is called the SWAT package by Greg Robinson. It's designed to get the best pass coverage onto the field. Sometimes when the defense lines up in man coverage, it's the CB's decision to press the receiver or play off.
- The Penn State game wasn't a matter of one or two plays changing the result. Unlike Michigan State and Iowa, the Wolverines were just outplayed for 4 quarters. It was a definite eye-opener for the team to have that happen.
- The defense is capable of greatness, but they just aren't consistent enough. "We allow people to score [with mistakes], it's not that they're scoring on us." If MIchigan can eliminate the little errors, this could be a good defense. There wasn't confusion for the team, just guys not fully executing their assignments.
- Woolfolk has thought about returning kicks since he's one of the fastest guys on the team. However, in his only KR experience in high school, he muffed the ball and the other team recovered. His high school teammate Darryl Stonum told the Michigan coaches to avoid putting Troy back to take kicks.
- Arrelious Benn is a very physical and strong receiver - Woolfolk joked that the DBs will have to get in a lot of reps on the bench press this week. Illinois overall is a big, hard-nosed team. Michigan can't have execution errors and expect to win.
Per Tim's press conference twitter, David Molk has a torn ACL and will miss the rest of the season. Here's a kitten:
Feeling better? No? Oh.
I assume Michigan will go back to the line configuration they used last month when Molk was out with a broken foot. Left to right, that was Ortmann, Schilling, Moosman, Huyge, and Dorrestein. First guy off the bench now is probably John Ferrara, who saw some time in the Iowa game when Huyge wasn't playing well or had a minor injury.
Though Molk missed a ton of time and saw only three plays before getting knocked out against Penn State, he's not eligible for a medical redshirt. One play against PSU killed any possibility of that, and medical redshirts are only available for players who haven't already taken a normal redshirt. There is some possibility the NCAA might provide a hardship waiver if Molk suffers another season-ending injury, but even that's doubtful.
10/24/2009 – Michigan 10, Penn State 35 – 5-3, 1-3 Big Ten
In my memory I have one hazy previous version of that thing from Saturday: I remember James Whitley was returning punts. He'd put a few on the turf here and there already but people were still in the "that's not enough data" phase and willing to give him a chance. On this day, whatever day it was, it was a little wet and Whitley fumbled. And fumbled again. And fumbled again. He finally got yanked and I think his replacement fumbled. I don't remember the opponent or the final score but I do remember that Michigan fumbled 12 times on the day and the stadium had 110,000 people in it who would have set a world record for most eye-rolls at an event if only someone was tracking it.
I don't know if it's a self-preservation technique for my brain, but Saturday's game is almost as hazy as that decade-old debacle. I have to squint to remember anything more specific than a single play on which a tight end drops a pass that Denard Robinson fumbles to a Penn State player who throws to a ridiculously wide open player that a linebacker is attempting, and failing, to cover. On the extra point, David Moosman snaps it through the endzone or something. I think the brain is attempting to prevent itself from getting bashed against the wall. I think the brain is wise to do this.
As the man says, mama said there'd be days like this.
When Michigan had just beaten Notre Dame and it seemed like the Irish were a team destined for an easy BCS bid instead of one that will win or lose on the last play against anyone except Nevada, hopes bloomed across the Wolverine diaspora. Personally, I remember contemplating an Alamo or Outback with Tim on the giggly post-Notre Dame podcast, and that was an explicitly keep-your-pants on sort of prediction.
How are everyone's pants now? Firmly adhered to various bits of your anatomy, I'm guessing. Stayin' there for at least two weeks. Waiting for Michigan to outgain an opponent in a conference featuring letters other than M, A, and C before relaxing to non-tourniquet levels.
So, yeah, Penn State was kind of a comedown. At this point it's undeniable: Michigan isn't good. Though well removed from the nuclear apocalypse they were last year, this is probably the second- or third-worst team at Michigan in 40 years, give or take a 2005 or 1984. That's disappointing after the mirage of the first few games, but it's not surprising. The reasons why have been detailed in this space and many others, before the season and during it: freshman quarterbacks, new defensive coordinator, terrifying defensive depth chart. Preseason predictions of 7-5 factored in the idea that Rodriguez was a good coach in a big hole.
And though Michigan's on pace to meet those expectations, it was the sort of weekend where I studiously avoid the internet for a day afterwards and am then immediately, repeatedly reminded of why when I break the boycott the day after. Many caps, much emotion, etc. I've got a few emails in the inbox from folks who annoyed the commentariat and got neg-banged under the 20-point threshold at which you can start your own threads, most of which say I can kiss the ass of the user in question*. You've been on the internet. You know. It's always the last thing that happened that will always keep happening forever.
Your personal level of outrage depends on how much blame you apportion to Rodriguez, Carr, Bill Martin (for handing a Carr team to Rodriguez), and/or general bloody-minded fate, and how quickly you think 3-9 turns into a good football team. Ugh. Isn't it tedious to go through this again? Anyone who's read this blog for a while knows it falls—or at least attempts to fall—on the ruthlessly logical side of things, adds this latest game to the pile of data, shifts its opinion a little bit, and continues believing that Rich Rodriguez is a good coach put in a really tough situation.
As Michigan progresses further into the Rodriguez era the amount of blame that can be laid at the feet of people other than the head coach decreases. It's not to the point where much of it is Rodriguez's fault, in my e-pinion. There are many teams that have looked bad with freshman quarterbacks and many more that have looked atrocious starting five underclassmen, one of them a walk-on, on defense. Michigan is in the middle part of the curve here, and if you're pointing to extreme outliers like Paul Johnson and complaining you are purposefully shutting out data that disagrees with your thesis and—well, and here we go again. I argue against the legions of people on the internet who don't like it when Michigan loses and have poor impulse control, the reader agrees for a bit and then gets annoyed that this column is wasting its time on that sort of thing, etc etc etc. We did this last year. A lot.
This is the first time we've done it in 2009, eight games in, and that represents progress of a sort. The progress on the field is equally obvious: hack out the game against Baby Seal U and Michigan is averaging 80 more yards per game than they did last year; they've only gotten throttled once. They haven't lost to a 3-9 MAC team. They beat a team with a winning record. They aren't going to be 3-9 themselves. By the standards of Michigan past this is a disaster of a year, but the only relevant team in relation to this one is 2008. This year is not evidence Rodriguez is a bad coach.
*(Seriously, multiple negbang victims have deployed "kiss my ass" in their emails. Does this signify that most of the victims are of a certain age? I can't imagine anyone under 30 telling someone to do that; the kids these days are more likely to break out the heavy artillery. One very tenuous suggestion that the older you are, the less patience you have. Which, obviously.)
- Rodriguez bitches, I've got a few:
I'm fine with deploying Robinson, but Michigan has to be more flexible with him. The difference between second and nine, when a Robinson run is still a plausible threat, and third and nine, when it isn't, is obvious: second down is an open seam that Koger (argh) drops; third down is a horrible interception. Bringing Robinson in is fine—he was effective, the third and long was the result of a penalty and a drop—but once it's a passing down, Forcier's got to come in.
Aigh spike. I thought the running plays that got Michigan down to first and goal were plausible; I was iffy about the call on first and goal, and disliked the second-down call, but understand that at that point you're really operating at speed and split-second decisions aren't always correct. From the three with the clock running and no timeouts my instinct is to pass because one way or the other the clock stops afterwards. After fumbling, though, a spike with 13 seconds left is pretty maddening. If you're going to run the ball, you have to have a pass play ready to go that you can just call.
I still think that Rodriguez's game theory stuff is pretty good, far better than Carr's; at least the mistakes he makes are of the quick-decision, (usually) slightly-too-aggressive variety. He didn't punt from the freakin' 33, as JoePa did Saturday and Carr did plenty.
- Did anyone else have a strangely positive impression of the run game after it was all over? The box score is illuminating: Brown, Minor, and Robinson combine to average 4.3 YPC; Forcier ends up with ten yards on 14 carries because of a lot of sacks. Brown also had a 20 yard run called back for an illegal formation. I'll take that against Penn State; the main problem with the run game this year has been an inability to get Minor and Brown more carries. They should be combining for 35 carries, not 20.
- Bonus: that was accomplished with Molk missing all but three plays.
- Meanwhile, Royster had 100 yards but averaged just 3.1 YPC after his 41-yard opener, which I'm pretty sure will be a huge screwup by Jonas Mouton. That's the defense's MO: pretty good physically, doesn't get pushed around consistently, prone to massive breakdowns.
- I don't think Forcier was nearly as bad as the numbers. He got crushed by drops, which were legion and extremely important. Third and long conversions clattered to the turf after bouncing through people's arms. Those are something close to turnovers in terms of overall negative impact on the game.
- Also close to turnovers: turnovers. Note that this site's suggested that turnovers are largely random but there are two things that consistently cause them: pressure and inexperienced quarterbacks. Michigan's got plenty of the latter. I expected Michigan to move towards the middle this year but remain somewhat negative. They've not done the former. They're 105th in turnover margin at almost –1 per game.
- Obi Ezeh's job might be coming under threat. Multiple times in the second half he was pulled for Fitzgerald, first for just one play and then for a few; each time Hopson pulled him aside and explained various things to him. I don't really blame him for the Quarless touchdown; what the hell was Michigan doing send him in man coverage on Quarless without safety help? Was there supposed to be safety help? I don't know.
- Robinson's tendency to send six or even seven guys on third down is catching up to Michigan. There was the first Moeaki touchdown, on which Iowa had a playcall specifically designed to burn an all-hands blitz, and then there were a couple instances against Penn State where an all-hands blitz was easily anticipated and exploited; Graham Zug was the main beneficiary. That was the main thing that got him open. Careful what you wish for, I guess.
- What in the hell is with Donovan Warren playing ten yards off the line of scrimmage? Penn State had eight free yards whenever they ran a long. I was iffy on Robinson when he was hired. While I'm willing to give them a chance and it's obvious that there's almost no way this defense could be good, stuff like that and the bubble screen mania against Michigan State are really disturbing. I have no idea what you could be running in which it's a good idea to play your top cornerback so far off the LOS that you're giving Penn State second and two.
- Not that anyone affiliated with Penn State will notice, but they were the recipient of some questionable calls. Didn't matter, obviously.
- Cissoko returned and Michigan showed its first semblance of a situational substitution all year: on obvious passing downs he would replace Williams and Woolfolk would drop back to safety.
- Speaking of Williams: he's basically the only scholarship player left at safety, and I know he was a four-star but you can't just point to one high-rated recruit and claim things should be better; recruits don't always pan out. To really be assured of talent at a position you need two or three high-rated guys, or at least veterans.
- The play on which Donovan Warren was shoved into Junior Hemingway needs to be a penalty. As we saw, it's dangerous as hell. Kick catch interference should extend to people you're blocking into the returner.
|Last week's ballot|
Pretty self-explanatory this week. A few teams move up, primarily because I was undervaluing them last week (Iowa, Arizona, Pitt). Sadly, that probably makes me a pretty good candidate for Mr. Manic-Depressive this week, but that's how it goes sometimes.
There isn't too much I'm uncomfortable with. I think the top 10 is rock-solid, although near-stumbles by 'Bama, Florida, and Iowa might give Texas an opening. As usual, the last few teams in the poll are barely hanging on. If anyone can come up with other teams that have a legitimate argument for being included in the poll, let me know in the comments.
Resumes after the jump, your feedback in the comments.
A few weeks ago I mentioned that local Ann Arbor folk could stop by Underground's local retail space to pick up shirts without incurring shipping and handling costs, and a couple people reported back that the selection of MGoShirts there was somewhat lacking. This is emphatically no longer the case:
BONUS: There are another four(!) shirts available in the store, including the Woodson Heisman design by Six Zero that a lot of people were asking for and a charmingly odd one:
As always, consume for the good of the country.
|WHAT||Michigan vs #13 Penn State|
Ann Arbor, MI
October 24th, 2009
|THE LINE||Penn State –4.5|
|TELEVISION||Nationwide on ABC|
|WEATHER||Mid 40s, cloudy
30% chance of rain
Run Offense vs. Penn State
Despite the scary numbers Penn State has put up so far, I think Michigan can run the ball on them. Michigan will bring a rushing attack far better than any that Penn State's seen so far, and the most Michigan-like offense the Nittany Lions have faced did a good job in the limited attempts they were provided:
(As per usual, I excised sacks. There were three for 23 yards.)
These were not garbage-time stats. Illinois outgained Penn State by a significant margin in the first half and failed to score more than three points because Penn State downed two punts at the one and the drives they created from that field position went 40-60 yards before stalling out. Illinois is the #40 rushing offense in the country and did not exactly light up any of their other opponents; I think it's safe to assert that Michigan's line and backs are considerably better than those of Illinois if Molk is fully healthy. Williams' ability versus Forcier/Robinson's is a wild card.
Illinois did a lot of their damage on the edge, as Penn State defensive tackles Jared Odrick and Ollie Ogbu were very good at blasting into the backfield and causing havoc on conventional stretch runs. Illinois runs a veer package where the line blocks one direction and the run goes the other, with Williams reading an unblocked playside defensive end; this was pretty successful because the DT's natural inclination when they see stretch blocking is to shoot to one side of the field. This leaves Michigan open for cutbacks, and this was the tendency Michigan exploited last year to birth Minor RAGE and give Anthony Scirroto very bad dreams.
Chances are Penn State will attempt to adjust to this with backside games. Against Illinois they remained in their base 4-3 on all but extreme passing downs, showing a two-deep look but always—literally—walking down a safety over the slot receiver and showing one deep middle safety. So this isn't going to be as gentle as the Iowa game for Michigan. Penn State will be more aggressive and less predictable. Denard Robinson will find the sledding tougher than he did on his drive against Iowa; even against Denard the Hawkeyes persisted with their two deep safeties.
Star Penn State linebacker Sean Lee is supposed to play after missing most of the last three games. Lee got in for around 15 plays against Minnesota before "tweaking" his injured knee and getting pulled. How healthy he is, and how effective he'll be after a layoff, is a mystery. Indications are he will play.
Michigan has had two weeks to prepare for Penn State and has a good indication of what the Nittany Lions will try to do on defense. They have always been an aggressive, slanting defense against the stretch, dating back to the Debord days of stretch monotony, and that's not going to change because of a few hiccups in a game they won 35-17. Look for a number of new wrinkles for Michigan's rush offense—more blocking the backside end and trying to slam it up behind the slant-happy DTs, for one—and an extremely effective drive or two to start. I think Michigan pulls out a new package and gets mileage out of it; their conventional sets should also pick up yards. I think this is a solid win for Michigan; they should approach 200 yards with more if someone breaks it long.
Key Matchup: Molk vs Odrick/Ogbu. If Molk can reach one or the other DT consistently, or even most of the time, Michigan is going to rip it up. He probably can't because these guys are serious, but if he does…
Pass Offense vs. Penn State
Tate Forcier's had two weeks to get right after his torrid outing against Iowa, to heal his shoulder and clear the cobwebs from the minor concussion he sustained in that game. He now claims to be 100% healthy. Penn State will put that to the test.
PSU has lost its top three defensive ends from last year, two of whom were high picks in the NFL draft, and the replacements have been decent to good. The numbers are impressive—PSU is 11th nationally with three sacks per game—but there is the whole schedule thing to take into account. Jack Crawford has four sacks, all of which come against the Akrons and Temples on the schedule. In Penn State's three real-ish games, they acquired one sack (Odrick) against Minnesota, three (Crawford, Latimore, Stanley) against Illinois, and two (Hull and Crawford/Lynn) against Iowa. Odrick is actually the biggest threat; he's got four sacks from the defensive tackle spot. He's a frightening dude.
Penn State's pass coverage has been very good but as per usual the schedule is a big asterisk. It's even more of one when the best QB you've faced is… Ricky Stanzi? I think so. Juice Williams and Adam Weber are your other candidates. The numbers from those guys:
Yeeeaargh. Williams had a good game—some of that was garbage time but his first half was on par with the above numbers—and the other two guys died an ugly death. And all this came with a totally new secondary that's sporting a true freshman nickelback.
Has Forcier established himself as obviously better than those guys yet? I don't know. His numbers are certainly better and he's only had one ugly performance so far, the cold night road game against Iowa's fierce secondary. But that's the last memory we have of him and it lingers, unpleasant.
Black Shoe Diaries has seen Penn State go up against its share of scramblers and indicates that the Nittany Lions will likely reserve a linebacker for spying duties, trusting their defensive line to zip past Michigan's offensive line without help from the blitzes and then using that linebacker to snuff out Forcier's wild scrambling. Penn State's gameplan will be to make Forcier beat them from the pocket, a place he's clearly uncomfortable. Some of the reasons he's uncomfortable are not his fault—the right side of the line has had serious pass-blocking issues—but whether or not it's on his shoulders, the fact is Michigan hasn't gotten a lot of production out of the pocket this year and Penn State has the wherewithal to force Michigan to operate out of it.
Since Michigan's receivers have proven themselves to be unintimidating on the long ball, Penn State will crowd the line with that one-high safety and dare Forcier to read coverages, throw slants, and whatnot. Forcier should do better than he did against Iowa, if only because the game is at home and he's now got some experience with high level defenses, but asking him to put the game on his shoulders is just asking for it. Michigan's success in this game is going to have to come on rollouts and play action.
Key Matchup: Moosman & Huyge/Dorrestein vs Crawford, et al. Michigan's offense has bogged down when these guys can't pass block, and Penn State will test their ability. At least Molk is back.
First: Penn State backup tailback Stephfon Green is out. That's not a huge blow for Penn State but Green's a fast bugger and replacement Brandon Beachum is the kind of guy who gets listed as a fullback/tailback. He is not a fast bugger. The chances that Penn State breaks something long on the 5-8 carries Royster doesn't get are considerably reduced.
This has been a struggle for Penn State all year, the major reason Penn State fans have to fret about the team. Against Iowa—as we've seen, not a great run defense—Penn State scraped out 118 yards on 30 carries, a pedestrian 3.9 per. This was the culmination of four games to open the season in which Penn State struggled to run the ball against damn near anyone: 136 yards against Akron, 78 yards against Syracuse. (They did get 186 against Temple).
Then came the Illinois game. They were bottled up in the first half until a Stephfon Green run broke long with an assist from an uncalled clip; from there it was time to bludgeon. Penn State ended with 338(!!!) rushing yards on 40 carries. Eastern Illinois was next and as meaningless as Delaware State for Michigan, but last week they ground out 177 yards on 43 carries against Minnesota; Royster averaged 6 YPC with a long of just 26.
Clearly there's been some improvement from early in the season, when Penn State couldn't dream of putting up numbers like that against Syracuse. How much the offensive line has "come together" and "cliche cliche cliche" is in the eye of the beholder. For what it's worth, Illinois' rush defense has been consistently horrible all year and Minnesota has been little better. Minnesota yielded 295 yards on 49 carries to Wisconsin; they are currently sitting 87th nationally.
Michigan, for its part, started off slowly and is still digging themselves out from things like "85-yard Indiana touchdown" and "Kirk Cousins's Michael Vick impression." Statistically, they are not good. But, like Penn State, they've put together two good-to-excellent performances against Big Ten teams in their last two tries. Like Penn State, it appears the opponents in question are pretty terrible at the activity in question. Like Penn State, you can argue that a bunch of young guys in a new system are finally getting their heads on straight and will be better henceforth.
It could be that the improvement here is a mirage on one side or the other and someone is going to get pwned. I doubt it, though, and lean towards a fairly even battle in which Penn State gets 4 YPC and maybe breaks a couple long-ish runs but doesn't make a living on the ground. There's always the chance someone from Michigan screws up heinously, but that hasn't happened in the run game of late. Passing game… eh, well, that's next.
Key Matchup: Van Bergen versus Various Guards and Centers. As per the Iowa game: Van Bergen establishing himself a tough, productive defensive tackle makes Michigan's defensive line go from okay to very good. Recent indicators are encouraging; if he puts out a +5 or so day against Penn State they're going to have some ugly rushing numbers.
Pass Defense vs Penn State
Via the Shredder.
Darryl Clark died
in Iowa City against Iowa like all quarterbacks do this year, and that concludes the decent pass defenses Penn State has faced. Ah, but describing Michigan's pass defense as "decent" is something of a leap. At least… maybe? Though M is 80th in yardage they're 38th in passer efficiency thanks to a number of interceptions provided by Ricky Stanzi, the pass rush against Michigan State, or Indiana's sheer stupid brazenness. FWIW, Clark against Big Ten competition:
One excellent game, one okay game, one poor one.
Michigan actually has a decent chance of matching up against Penn State's receivers. 6'5" deep threat Derrick Moye is threatening, but he hasn't done much outside of the Akron game to start the year and last week's Minnesota game where he had 6 catches for 120 yards and a touchdown. Neither Warren or Woolfolk should have much trouble running with him and they've got good size for corners; while I can see a fade here and there I don't think Moye is the kind of guy who Michigan's going to have a huge amount of trouble with. Penn State's got a tiny white possession slot receiver in Graham Zug; I assume he'll reel in a few balls underneath the coverage and maybe a corner or something but Michigan should match up okay with him, too.
The guy who has the potential to kill Michigan is tight end Andrew Quarless. He's a talented guy, and this week's UFR inadvertently coined the term "Moeaki open" after the Iowa tight end was handed two touchdown receptions without so much as another Michigan player in the same area code. Michigan's linebackers are now freaking out and running downhill and the safeties are small guys without a ton of athleticism; it's hard not to see Quarless running wide open on several play action passes. Defending that is something Michigan's worked on for two weeks, I'm betting. Who's got super awesome faith in their ability to fix it over that time span? No one? Correct.
Pass rush will be the key. That's tough against Darryl Clark, who's not Michael Vick but isn't John Navarre, either. If Michigan yields running lanes like they did against Michigan State, Clark is more than capable of exploiting them. The good news is that right tackle is a huge concern for Penn State. The first and second string guys are laid up with ankle injuries, leaving JUCO transfer Ako Poti the starter at the position. Ako Poti vs Brandon Graham == image you see above. Or, at least, it better. I think the recipe in this game is to threaten a lot of blitzes away from Graham's side to force protection slides, bring a number of them, and tell the defensive tackles to crush their guys backwards but under no circumstances get out of their lanes.
This could be a painfully variable matchup for both teams. Michigan should get guys in on Clark, which may result in sacks or interceptions—Clark was very poor when pressured against both Iowa and Illinois—or Clark loping downfield in acres of space. When Michigan does not get to the quarterback they are liable to turn third and twenty-five into first and goal, though it will be interesting to see if Kovacs is the deep safety this week. That would say lots about Kovacs, and Mike Williams. I don't think Clark will kill Michigan but something like 60% completions for 200 yards, 2 TDs, and an INT might be in the cards.
Key Matchup: Brandon Graham versus Poti or whoever. If Graham kills a drive, Michigan probably loses. If he kills four, they win.
Michigan ascended to #2 in net punting on their bye week, with Zoltan averaging almost 42 yards net per punt. Penn State languishes at #86, but that's deceiving. PSU's punter is averaging almost 43 yards a kick and has seen only five returns. They've been big returns, though, averaging 17 yards each. That combined with a punt block shoots Penn State into the basement. Without the block, they'd be in the top 20.
The rest of Penn State's special teams are atrocious, though. They're 95th in punt returns and 119th in kick returns. Kicker Colin Wagner is only 6 of 10 on the season. This should be an advantage for Michigan as long as they…
Key Matchup: CATCH THE DAMN BALL.
- Ako Poti does not cower and beg for mercy at some point.
- Michigan doesn't have an answer for Slanty McDT and friends.
- The RT is getting abused.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Penn State gets a blizzard of new looks and can't cope.
- Forcier can get comfortable in the pocket.
- Penn State's OL renaissance turns out to be illusory
Fear/Paranoia Level: 7 out of 10. (Baseline 5, +1 for I Explained It Away Above But Those Defensive Stats Are Still Gross, +1 for And We've Been Outgained By All Big Ten Opponents So Far, –1 for Huge Mismatch With Michigan's Best Player, +1 for Jebus The Safeties Are Going To Kill Us At Least Once, –1 for We Own Penn State, +1 for Do We?).
Desperate need to win level: 7 out of 10. (Baseline 5, +1 for Owning Penn State, +1 for Huge Swing Game That's The Difference Between Hoping For 7-5 And Staring Down A New Year's Day Bid, +1 for I Think I Should Make That Last One Two Points, –1 for Season Still About Building And Losing This Narrowly Wouldn't Be A Disaster.)
Loss will cause me to... fret about the possibility of losing one of the next two weeks and blowing the goodwill from the Notre Dame game.
Win will cause me to... dream about going into Madison 8-2.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
So there's one other variable to account for that's a coaching matter: will Penn State pack in and Lloydball their way to a loss? Maize 'n' Brew has a post up about the possibility. Unfortunately, it's totally inconclusive. I do think Penn State has a tendency to go into a shell in big games and that plays against their strength—passing the ball against Jordan Kovacs, last line of defense—and will result in a lot of plays that are stuffed runs.
Another variable to account for, stolen from a message board:
UM's five 1A opponents, in NCAA rank in total offense:
12, 32, 50, 66, 79
PSU's five 1A opponents, in NCAA rank in total offense:
75, 79, 99, 105, 114
Now… we're six games into the season and at least some chunk of the reason PSU's opponents have such crappy offenses is because they played PSU; the same goes for Michigan's opponents. Penn State is giving up 76% of their opponents season averages, though, and has extended that outperformance into the Big Ten schedule. It's a legitimate defense. How legitimate? I don't think anyone really knows. It won't be easy for Michigan, that's for sure, and I'm expecting the lowest point output of the season tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Michigan is probably going to go into a similar shell against Penn State, but for better reasons: that's what makes sense against a defense like this and given your relative strengths in senior tailbacks and whatnot. It'll be a close, grind-it-out sort of Big Ten game that will swing on a few things:
How well did Michigan use the virtual bye? Punishing a potentially over-aggressive Penn State defense with new looks opened it up for Michigan to take a shocking halftime lead last year.
How vulnerable is that Penn State offensive line?
How vulnerable are Michigan's safeties?
Will Penn State's terrible special teams affect the game?
Tentative answers: very well, considerably vulnerable but not overrun, also considerably vulnerable, and probably somewhat.
Finally, opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Minor gets the bulk of the work and puts up 100 yards on 20-ish carries.
- Graham gets a lot of doubles, which leads to effective blitzing from Brown and Mouton.
- Michigan busts out the wheel routes they've avoided so far this year and gets a big one.
- Michigan, 23-21. Missed field goal the difference.
It lives! Tim has assembled and published the first edition of the 2011 recruiting board. Fear him. It's also up on the menu under "Useful Stuff" now.
It's open. Press release:
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The University of Michigan men's basketball team will open its practice to the public on Saturday (Oct. 24) from noon to 2 p.m., prior to the Wolverine football team's game against Penn State at 3:30 p.m. at Michigan Stadium.
All Wolverine fans will enter and exit through the Crisler Arena tunnel. The concourse will not be accessible to fans during the practice. Admission is free.
Worth checking out, probably, as long as the noon games are lame. Which is a strong possibility.
Hello Cissoko? Boubacar Cissoko may return to the field this weekend according to Rodriguez:
"If he does what he needs to do (Friday), he’ll be ready to go in action Saturday," Rodriguez said.
He's struggled so far but given the depth at corner even a struggling player is an important addition. If he gets his head right he can contribute this year and possibly even start next year if Warren makes the leap to the NFL everyone expects he will.
And stay out. The NCAA is about to adopt legislation that would significantly relax restrictions on players who happen to play with professionals but aren't professionals themselves. The main thrust is to allow the Robin Benzings of the world to not get screwed over because they practiced with some bearded professionals:
Of the 490 incoming athletes penalized for amateurism violations last year, 434 were foreign students, according to the NCAA. Punishments range from being forced to sit out games to, more rarely, permanent ineligibility.
That might be a slight aid to the Eurobig-friendly basketball program.
Interestingly, NCAA hockey wants no part of this. Puck Daddy highlights an NCAA hockey request for an exemption to the rule relaxation:
The ice hockey community believes that prospects who wish to participate in NCAA hockey would choose to participate in Major Junior A hockey before coming to college, and the recruit could be influenced to take action that could jeopardize his eligibility at the NCAA level (taking more than actual and necessary expenses, signing with an agent or signing a professional contract that provides more than actual and necessary expenses). Additionally, time demands of participation in the Major Junior A hockey league could hurt a recruit's academic performance.
Basically, NCAA hockey doesn't want to give kids the option of heading to major junior with the intent of attending college at a later date. It makes sense: any major junior team that acquires a kid with NCAA aspirations will have a ton of motivation to render him ineligible by hook or by crook. The natural inertia of playing in MJ, plus the lack of academic emphasis there, would see virtually no players actually follow through on the their NCAA plans. All it would do is help MJ recruit against the NCAA.
With the USHL and NTDP in place, college hockey has feeder leagues that feature play essentially equivalent to the CHL and shouldn't be losing anyone because they don't have a good place to play at 16 and 17, so there's no benefit here.
And as long as we're on hockey, a scouting blog checked out one of Lucas Lessio's games. The report is strangely muted for a player called "arguably the top 1993 player in OHL territory" and "probably a top half first rounder in 2011":
On the ice, he’s not the most flashy player, but he’s a very effective one. He’s got good size, and he’s a player that competes extremely hard on the ice. He’ll go to battle for loose pucks in the corner, and he’s not afraid to take a hit to make a play, or dish out a hit when he has the opportunity. His skating is above average, and could use some work, but he does a good job of protecting the puck in stride. Lessio has a pretty good set of hands, but his poise could use some work. Sometimes he overthinks the game when he has the puck, and he doesn’t have the same natural creativity that high end goal scorers have. His niche is definitely driving the puck to the net. He has a very good shot, and he has a knack of finding loose pucks around the goal mouth, which is where he can make a big impact.
The report makes him sound like a version of Brandon Kaleniecki that goes in the first round of the draft, which is a hard player to conceive of.
Also, Ben Winnett missed last night's game against Niagara with a "nagging groin injury."
Etc.: Rivals ranks basketball #14. I thought this was going to be about Corey Tropp for some reason as I'd forgotten about the incident that made some guy swinging a stick at Kampfer's head even scarier than it would otherwise be: former football walk-on and wrestler Mike Milano has been convicted of a misdemeanor assault charge for the incident that put Kampfer in a neck brace. Oddly, the judge in the case complained about the verdict.
Press release. Whee for lots of posts!
For the Penn State Game (Saturday, Oct. 24)
Zac Johnson (shoulder)
Probable (75 percent chance of playing)
Carlos Brown (concussion)
Brandon Minor (ankle)
David Molk (foot)
In addition, head coach Rich Rodriguez announced the game captains against Penn State: running back Carlos Brown, linebacker Stevie Brown, punter Zoltan Mesko and offensive lineman David Moosman.
Weird how guys keep popping on and off the lists. Minor wasn't on last weeks list but didn't play, and is getting healthier, and is on this week's list.