vicious electronic questioning
It's VEQ time; you may remember Tom Orr from last year's edition. Tom is the Executive Producer of ThePalestra.com, a college sports, music and entertainment network that recently partnered with Fox News, and was the guy who wrote "Michigan Monday" for the OZone before the current guy who writes "Michigan Monday" for the OZone wrote "Michigan Monday" for the OZone. OZone.
So this is quite a comedown from both last year and, for OSU fans, last week. Not exactly the Game of the Century this time, but still for a shot at the Rose Bowl. I assume that most Ohio State fans are perfectly content with this state of affairs in what looked to be a "rebuilding" season?
For the most part, yes. I don't know how representative I am of the fanbase on the whole, but I don't think there was ever a time that I expected (like "this is GOING to happen") this team to run the table. I thought the five tough-ish games in a row, starting with MSU, would trip them up somewhere. There have also been signs of looming trouble for significant chunks of the season if you knew where to look. You've got elements of the fanbase that aren't ever going to be happy with anything less than an unbeaten season, but given where most people thought this team would be back in August, a shot at an outright Big Ten title and berth in the Rose Bowl is pretty good right now.
What are those signs of looming trouble? I'm looking at OSU's season stats and I see exactly one area of true concern: kick returns. Before the Illinois game, OSU hadn't played a close game except a fluke fest against Michigan State in which OSU dominated statistically before giving away two defensive touchdowns. From 1000 feet there doesn't look to be much to worry about.
It's sort of similar to last year when the stats said "this is an awesome defense!" but it really had some cracks. Watching the Penn State game, there were several times that Rodney Kinlaw -- who's not going to be confused with Herschel Walker anytime soon -- was able to rip off big runs. That's on a team where it never really seemed that the Buckeyes were that concerned with the opponent's passing game.
PSU didn't do anything too crazy, they just lined up, got blockers on the linemen and then got hats on the linebackers as well. It was a gameplan that Mike DeBord would have pulled out for a so-so opponent. Just pulling guards and running the old Power O or close relatives of it. Against a somewhat one-dimensional team, a great defense turns that into a 20 carries, 27 yards kind of night. Kinlaw finished with 14 carries for 81 yards and that was with him effectively taken out of the game in the second half because of a big deficit.
So what was the difference between that game and Illinois versus the Michigan State and Wisconsin games, in which Ohio State shut down two very good run offenses?
Illinois is kind of a different animal, since they run that spread option game. There have been a lot of theories bandied about regarding that game-- the fact that they went with three down linemen was one of them, the no-huddle look keeping OSU from rotating its defensive linemen out was another.
Personally, I saw a little bit too much hesitation out of some guys. The play that really sticks out in my mind was about a 3rd-and-3 on that final, soul-crushing drive where Williams kept it on that choice option. Marcus Freeman was out there unblocked but kind of just held his ground. He kept contain, but by the time he got Williams to the ground, he had fallen forward for a first down. It's odd to complain about guys playing assignment-sound football, but it just seemed like they weren't "turning it loose" like they could have. But unless Michigan has recruited a mobile quarterback in the last 15 years that I'm not aware of, that probably won't play too much of a role in this week's game.
More relevant is Penn State ability to get to the linebackers with blockers and effectively neutralize guys like Laurinaitis. That has always been the knock on him -- if he's unblocked, he's great, but he sometimes has trouble shedding blocks. The middle of the OSU defensive line is not great. There are great ends, but the guys in the middle are young and a little undersized.
Penn State was able to exploit that, pulling a guard around to chip the D-linemen on occasion and also to pick up the 'backers. The Penn State offensive line isn't a bunch of world-beaters, but they're solid.
I can see Michigan trying that same strategy. If you see Michigan offensive linemen three yards downfield, picking up linebackers on running plays, that would be a bad sign for OSU fans.
My concern with the Michigan running game is it seems built to fail at this. Your undersized DTs will be allowed to slant to the ball, not driven back, in Michigan's zone game and Laurinaitis might not get blocked all that consistently with Michigan really struggling to find a right guard. Maybe Michigan will go away from the stretch -- they always seem to have a good gameplan for OSU -- but the run game as constituted seems ill-suited to exploit that potential weakness. Of course, Hart did have a very successful day last year. So I don't know.
Moving on: how is the secondary past Jenkins, who I assume will be matched up with Manningham all day? Adrian Arrington has been performing at a very high level so far; how are the second and third corners? The safeties?
Donald Washington has been pretty good all year on the other corner. He's a sophomore and while I think he's a ways from being a "shutdown" corner, he's not someone who's had fans cursing his name. Chimdi Chekwa has been something of a revelation as the nickelback. He's a redshirt freshman who came in with virtually no acclaim (I think he might have been a two-star or something like that) who has been a very consistent player this year. He won Big Ten defensive player of the week against Purdue.
The safeties were one of the bigger concerns with this team coming into the season. Both Anderson Russell and Kurt Coleman are sophomores, and having two underclassmen back there can be a recipe for the types of plays that lead smartass bloggers to name unflattering statistics after guys. [Who, me? -ed] Both have been pleasant surprises this year. Russell was off to a nice start in 2006 before he hurt his knee. His recovery was one of the big question marks this summer, but he's been good. Coleman, too. Frankly, if either one of them boxed at all, they're the kind of guys you would hear about incessantly. They're not infallible,
but before last weekend's unpleasantness, the longest run the defense had allowed all year was a 28-yarder. I'll give you 10 guesses and you won't figure out who it was.
He had a 20-yarder, but nope.
Close in the "likeliness" category, but no. Would you believe Anthony Morelli? It was a busted play, to say the least.
I don't believe you. I'm sticking with Tiller.
Right, I don't want to talk about this but it appears we have to: the pass rush. Fifth in sacks. Vernon Gholston. Etc. His matchup against (presumably) Steve Schilling gives all observant Michigan fans the heebie jeebies. How ugly will this be?
The pass rush has been good-- 10 sacks against a pretty good Wisconsin line. Much of that comes from outstanding defensive ends. Gholston is the one who gets a lot of pub and he's a great pass rusher, but having guys like Cameron Heyward (Ironhead's son), Alex Barrow and Robert Rose out there has helped keep those guys fresh. They've brought pressure quite a bit this year, as Jim Heacock is prone to do, so guys like Laurinaitis and Larry Grant have five sacks and Anderson Russell has three. For whatever questions there are about the middle of the D-line, the ends have been superb.
I'm with you -- I assume that OSU will try to get Gholston against Schilling as often as possible. Given that, and your documentation of Carson Butler's attitude toward blocking, I would think you might see Gholston in the backfield on more than one occasion, even if Michigan does keep him in to help. I know Hart's a good pass blocker, but I haven't seen that much of Brown or Minor in that role. Are they going to be useful, or is Michigan going to be forced to keep a fullback in there on most passing plays?
I assume Hart will leave the game only if shot, stabbed, drowned, poisoned, shot again, and guillotined. And then he'll have to aggravate his ankle sprain. (Hey, a guy's gotta sleep at night.)
Minor's been better than Brown in pass pro -- Brown was a HS QB and spent much of spring at CB -- and has been okay.
What's your general feeling for how Michigan will move the ball? Will the run game be effective? Can OSU crush Henne regularly enough to stop the offense? Will the corners win their battles against the Michigan receivers?
Assuming Hart plays-- and I completely agree that he's out there unless his leg falls off-- I think Michigan will be able to run it somewhat effectively. The fact that he's presumably not 100% probably lowers the "worst case scenario" from Biakabutuka to Perry, but that's still something Michigan fans would obviously take.
Not to go all Lee Corso on you, but I would expect a fair amount of screening, draws and long-handoff throws out of Michigan, since I think that they know they won't be able to keep the pass rush off Henne all day. Stopping the Michigan receivers has as much to do with the Michigan QBs as it does the OSU corners. If they decide to honor Tacopants on senior day, it's not going to make a damn bit of difference.
I have no idea what to expect out of Henne. He went ballistic against MSU for a quarter, but has looked positively dreadful at times as well. You know what you'll get out of Mallett -- lots of bad stuff mixed in with the occasional "holy crap, what did he just do?" piece of magic. Jenkins is very good, and should prevent Manningham from absolutely blowing up, but if Henne is throwing those ridiculous deep balls and dropping them in Manningham's lap (as he can on occasion), there's not much you can do to stop it. Arrington's pretty much the same. Neither guy is going to go "Braylon in 2003," I don't think, but a 100-yard day for Manningham and a 75-yard day for Arrington are certainly reasonable.
Mallett is not a real concern. He plays extensively, M loses. Analysis over. As for Henne, it's impossible to tell what to expect. After he returned from his first injury he was very good, then he was okay-awful-great in the MSU game. It's an enormous wildcard. The game hinges on his performance more than anyone else's, IMO.
Okay. Other side of the ball. Boeckman: Bellisari or Krenzel or Hoying or what?
He's a Krenzel-type, with a better arm. He has shown some mobility the last couple weeks-- something that we kept hearing about but never really saw much in a game until recently. For a guy John Navarre's size, he's pretty nimble.
Here comes the caveat: he seems to have these "uh oh!" moments where he channels Bellisari or the Stanley Jackson that you knew and loved so dearly 10 years ago this week. He made some really dumb plays against Michigan State that turned a blowout into a very close game. He seemed a little jittery in the pocket last week as well, at times dancing around when there wasn't any imminent danger.
He also has a little bit of the Rex Grossman "screw it, I'm going deep" mentality that has gotten him in trouble a few times. He will stand back there, stare down a guy, then throw it 50 yards downfield and watch the safety come over the top to pick it off or make a play on it. His pick on the last possession last week was a perfect example. OSU was down 7, he had tons of time and just needed to put a drive together. He had a checkdown guy open and decided to heave it instead, getting picked off.
He's been in the system for a million years (he gray-shirted in 2003, redshirted in 2004 and is now a fifth-year junior) but he's still a first-year starter. He's going to make mistakes, especially if you pressure him. I expect Michigan to have a very aggressive defensive gameplan.
So that leads into the next question: how has the line been in pass pro? Last year, of course, it all ended in tears against FLorida. This year they've been well above average. Blitz pickups been solid? How has the interior been? Michigan has a couple of pretty solid pass rushing DTs in Brandon Graham and Terrance Taylor.
The offensive line has been very good for the most part. I don't think a four-man rush is going to create too much havoc. You know about Boone and Barton-- both tackles are certainly above-average at worst. The middle of the line has definitely been better than Michigan's this year. Jim Cordle, the center, is an interesting story. He's right-handed and broke his right thumb earlier in the year. His solution: he just started snapping left-handed and didn't miss any time. The coaches said they've never seen a guy who could make that switch with such ease. [You are looking LIVE at Jim Cordle's hand!... We know, Tom. -ed ]
Both TEs, especially Jake Ballard have blocked well, and the backs are all okay too. Maurice Wells (if he plays) is actually a much better blocker in pass situations than he tends to get credit for. Michigan is going to have to blitz to get to Boeckman consistently. They will be able to get there if they bring enough guys-- the only question is how much they trust their corners. Really, I don't see them having much of a choice.
Please consider that Michigan has been not bad with the sacks itself this year. And didn't Boone have troubles
against edge-rushers before?
No question, the middle of the Michigan line is strong. Last year, pass pro was a HUGE concern of mine going into the game -- especially blocking Woodley. Boone looked lost in the national championship game, but then again, everyone did. I don't know that Michigan has a Jarvis Moss, though. Brandon Graham is a very good player, and he could present matchup issues, but I still think that OSU will be able to get to Henne more consistently than Michigan gets to Boeckman. I could be wrong.
Sure. So, then... Beanie Wells versus a Michigan run defense that's been consistently soft up the middle. I can't imagine this being anything other than a decided advantage for OSU. This is where you agree with me:
Yup. Chris Wells has been dinged quite a bit this year-- he had some ankle issues earlier and screwed up his thumb more recently. He wore a soft cast to interviews on Monday, but both he and Tressel swore it was a precautionary thing just to keep the swelling down. He is an absolute load-- I'm not sure who to compare him to. Well... other than another top-ranked back with size and speed who had some occasional injury problems during his OSU career earlier this decade. Even that's not quite right.
If he can play the whole game, I think OSU wins, and I think he's the player of the game. The other backs (Mo Wells and Brandon Saine) also aren't 100% this week. Mo Wells left the stadium in a boot after some Illini player rolled up his ankle last weekend and Saine had a mild concussion. Both are supposedly going to be able to go this weekend. Saine is an absolute burner who has developed into a nice little receiving threat out of the backfield. They may try to hit him on a wheel route at some point on Saturday. That could be a matchup problem for Michigan.
Boy, I can't wait to see Chris Graham covering that.
And, drumroll... a prediction?
This is where I warn your readers that I predicted something like 17-13 OSU last year, and that two years ago I thought OSU wasn't going to win a close game-- they came from behind to win by four in the final minute.
Well, we still need something on the record.
I think Hart plays extensively, I think Henne plays extensively. I'm operating under the assumption that neither one will be 100%, but will still be serviceable. If he was 100%, I don't think I could say for sure that Hart wouldn't crack 250 yards. [!!! -ed] I just don't think he will be full-go. He's still good for 90-120 yards, even on a bad ankle.
Henne... again... who knows? Worst-case scenario? He turns into fourth-quarter against MSU Henne and puts on a show. Realistically, I think he's going to have some trouble throwing the deep ball accurately with his shoulder in whatever condition it's in. That enables OSU to pressure the run game more than it otherwise might be able to.
On the other side of the ball, the OSU coaching staff has occasionally strayed from the run game to their detriment this season. I don't think that happens this weekend. Chris Wells goes for 30 carries, 160 yards and a couple scores. Boeckman makes one "what the hell is he doing?" play that puts my remote control in mortal danger, but finishes with about 175 yards and a score. Assuming a healthy Chris Wells and a less-than-healthy Henne and Hart? OSU 27, Michigan 20.
All right, there you go. One final question: any gut fieelings on which juniors go and which stay?
I think Jenkins is probably gone -- he's likely a top-15 pick. Gholston is probably also gone, given the significance the NFL puts on pass-rushing defensive ends. Laurinaitis... I mean, he's not the unstoppable force of nature that Brent Musberger acts like, but he's probably a late first-rounder. Tressel has been pretty consistent with advising guys who project in the first round to go. Alex Boone? I would lean towards him staying, but that's not based on anything in particular. Marcus Freeman almost certainly stays. Brian Robiskie is hard to guess on. He's 6-foot-3, which isn't huge, and he's not a total burner like Ginn was, but he's a solid guy with decent hands who does a lot of the little stuff like running good routes and has a higher-than-normal football IQ because of his dad. I would guess that he's maybe a late first-round guy like Tony Gonzalez was a year ago. He's probably somewhat borderline to go. It may depend on how the season ends.
Thanks to Tom, and I hope you get anthrax!
Hill sounds like a gametime decision...again. [Status is now "not likely to play." -ed] I can't imagine that they're being truthful about his injury when it's going on three weeks for a "bruised foot". I hope it's nothing terribly serious, but I am starting to fear that it's worse than they're letting on. Vanden Heuvel sounds like he will be able to play. Jake Bscherer probably starts at RT, and if Saturday is any indication, Tyler Donovan will need another couple hot tub trips before the Minnesota game if Bscherer plays.
Lance Smith will run the ball if Hill can't go, being as this is a home game and all. Hill's loss is the worst. He's fat, yes, but he can break tackles, and with how this line has been playing, it's good to have a running back who can do that. Holes are not plentiful for backs to run in right now.
Sounds like Michigan's line, actually, minus Jake Long, etc. Who replaces Langford and Chapman? Are the backups tested at all?
Aaron Henry starts at corner. He's a true frosh, meaning he's bound to screw up a few times. I like him, though. He'll challenge receivers, something Langford didn't seem too keen on doing. On the line, Chapman is a huge loss because they weren't deep. Losing Ostrowski and Cooper might not have done much on paper, but it robbed the line of any real depth. I expect Mike Newkirk to start with Nick Hayden at tackle, and freshman Kirk DeCremer is in for more playing time at end. Newkirk had been playing at end and spotting inside until Chapman was hurt. If there's a plus, it's that these guys have all played. If there's a minus, it's that you have to believe they were reserves for a reason.
That leads us to one of the great underrated mysteries of the season: the Wisconsin front seven. They returned five starters -- maybe six depending on how you regard the booted Jamal Cooper -- from an outstanding run defense. Hayden looked a bonafide star; Casillas was poised to break out. But the results have been awful. Wisconsin's gotten bludgeoned. What happened?
Hayden's actually been okay, especially lately. The problem is that the front four was never all that good. Their job was simply to take up blockers. Last year, Zalewski, Casillas, and Levy made most of the big plays, especially against the run. Losing Zalewski was apparently a bigger deal than any of us realized, because the middle of that defense has gone completely soft without him. I don't know if it was the mohawk or what, because I never thought Zalewski was all that good. Steady and a good leader, yes, but not a superb player. He hasn't been replaced, and neither have safeties Joe Stellmacher and Roderick Rogers, both of whom helped against the run at times.
Casillas and Levy have both regressed, it seems. That's due in large part to the fact that they haven't been free to do as much. Offenses are getting hats on them. But I don't think either of them have been anything remotely close to adequate when it comes to getting off blocks and helping to fill against the run. The ends have been dreadful. Cooper wasn't even on the team last year, so we can't blame it on him not being there. Maybe Joe Monty did more than it looked like he did last year.
It's also a coaching issue. I'm not a fan of what Mike Hankwitz has done schematically. Guys are out of position way too much, and the blown assignments that plagued the Green Bay Packers last year have made their way down the freeway to Madison.
[18:29] bruceciskie: (See: Pass play to Hartline at the end of the first half Saturday. I'll never understand how he was allowed to get that wide open.)
Even Shaugnessey? He was like OMG sophomore(!) last year.
Shaughnessy has been injured this year. It isn't true, but I keep telling myself that. Takes the sting off a bit. (He's been freaking terrible. If I knew why, I'd elaborate. I don't get it.)
How have the safeties been? Mario Manningham is making an NFL push and has been lights out lately when not asked to block or stick out the ball to get a first down. Last year he was most of the Michigan offense. This year?
Can we not talk about the safeties? My mom once told me not to say anything if I can't say anything nice. OK, I'll talk about them.
Remember when you asked me before the season about what worried me about Wisconsin? And I told you it was the safeties. And you thought I was nuts?
I think I thought that was fairly reasonable. Aubrey Pleasant was an MSU commit at one point. Bad judgement, as Teddy KGB might say. Not a good trait in a safety.
Yeah, that. They've been as awful as I feared. Carter is a really good athlete, and you can see it, but he doesn't have ball skills, and his coverage skills are lacking. He's a better tackler than Pleasant, but I'm pretty sure Orson is a better tackler than Aubrey Pleasant. More on that in a second. Carter has some upside, and I keep telling myself that he's only a sophomore and is bound to get better. What bothers me is that I don't see him getting remarkably better. Now, for Pleasant. He has nice hair, and that's about it for nice things. Like Carter, Pleasant's ball skills are lacking. Unlike Carter, Pleasant probably would struggle to tackle Chad Henne in the open field. He doesn't take good angles and I don't think he's physical enough in one-on-one situations.
I've not been enamored with Jack Ikegwuonu, but he's been, by far, the best and most consistent defensive player on this team. That says a lot, and most of it is not good.
Yikes. I don't know how much you've seen of Michigan lately but the OL's been a bit of a mess. RT Steve Schilling gets beat for a sack or two a game, the RG is a carousel of different players, none of whom have been particularly good, and Carson Butler just got done nearly blowing the MSU game five times. So... this is not a slam dunk by any means. Henne seems fine -- when I reviewed the game for UFR he looked much better -- and the WRs have been excellent, but if there are guys who can get to Henne Michigan will stall. How's the pass rush?
OK, actually. The problem is that they've not been really consistent, and they haven't finished plays that well. But the press
ure has been there much of the season. They'll blitz just about anyone except Ikegwuonu, and I'm guessing that the plan against Michigan will be to pressure Henne because he's been banged up. The Iowa game saw Henry, who was nickel back at the time, blitz like 200 times against Christensen and cause a bunch of problems. If they're going to have a shot in this game, they're going to have to disguise and blitz. If they rush four and let Henne pick them apart, he will.
It was one of the few things that I liked about last week's game against tOSU.
Meanwhile, Michigan's once-deadly screen game has totally atrophied. Corso says slow 'em down with screens and draws, Debord! Listen to Corso!
"Listen to Corso"? I'm pretty sure that's never been put in a blog before.
Anyway, on the other side of the ball... how has the Donovan era gone?
Donovan is a great leader. Tough as freaking nails (sorry, but I'm frazzled because of upcoming travel and can't think of anything better than a dumb cliche). He took hit after hit against tOSU and kept getting up. He can make all the throws Paul Chryst (OC) needs him to. He's mobile when he can complete his dropback without getting swarmed. He's not as accurate as Stocco, and he did start getting a bit wild with his throws Saturday once the Buckeyes hit him a few times in the second half. But I am not going to complain. He hasn't cost us a game, and he did a lot of really good things.
Allan Evridge will have some shoes to fill next year, to be sure.
I can't help but notice a 2 interception, 0 touchdown performance against Penn State. What happened there?
PJ Hill fumbled on the first play of the game. The defense was almost completely non-competitive. They were out of the game long before Donovan did anything wrong.
Worst game I've seen Wisconsin play in a long time.
Imagine how you'd feel if Michigan's defense spent two quarters making Anthony Morelli look like Colt Brennan.
I would feel very sad. And then I would want to punch a baby.
Okay. UW is 32nd in passer efficiency despite that. But also 100th in sacks allowed. Fluke? Or a likely indicator of serious turf-eating to come?
The sacks aren't Donovan's fault. The line hasn't done a great job, especially in the tOSU game, when Donovan was often swarmed with no chance to survey the field. Admittedly, there have been times that he didn't run when he should have, but I'm not going to fault him for all of that. This line has been a disappointment when it comes to pass-blocking and blitz pickup. My favorite play on Saturday was in the first quarter, when the LT blocked down the line and let Gholston rush into the backfield, where he only had to beat the block of true freshman RB Zach Brown to get the sack.
I mean, Gholston against a smallish freshman back? Who drew that crap up?
Opponents have done that against Crable, too. Weird. I think it's just a protection slide to make the n00b's blocking assignment clear. Sometimes it's Roidy McRoiderson. Sorry, kid.
Dumb. So if we keep doing that, Crable is guaranteed two sacks...in the first quarter.
Maybe Smith's pass pro is more advanced. Michigan did the same with Carlos Brown in the backfield. Not so much with Hart.
Smith is bigger. Frankly, I can't imagine he's a worse blocker than Brown. [Note that he's talking about UW freshman Zach Brown, not Carlos. -ed]
He's just a better player at this point. Too bad he couldn't handle a little cab fare tiff with his woman.
Meanwhile, Michigan's run defense has gotten gashed up the middle pretty consistently this year. After a half of stoning Michigan State they buckled against a fat back. How has the Wisconsin run game gone?
Good with Hill and Smith, bad without. Smith and Brown might have a shot against Michigan, but I'd rather Hill played, no matter what happened last year. The middle of Michigan's defense is vulnerable, and Brown isn't suited for attacking that. Smith's better on the perimeter, too, but is at least passable going up the gut. Hill is the best fit for what Wisconsin needs in this game. Generally, I think Wisconsin's run the ball pretty well, even if the stats don't show it every week.
Any particular strengths or weaknesses on special teams?
The return game is still not that good, though freshman David Gilreath has improved as the season has gone on. I'm just not impressed. Mehlhaff has been solid kicking, and DeBauche is a good punter. The coverage teams have played pretty well, which is nice, and a lot of that credit goes to the respective kickers. But that return game still isn't impressive. I'd like to see them make a big play at some point, and doing it against Minnesota doesn't count.
There should be opportunities in the kick return game. Michigan's been terrible at it this year. I hate the kickoff from the 30 for entirely selfish reasons.
I have no serious basis for this, but I'm going to do it anyway. I think Michigan's offense is too banged-up to consistently exploit Wisconsin's defensive issues. Wisconsin is also helped by the fact that Michigan doesn't run the spread (sound familiar?). Henne gets hit enough to keep him from owning the Badgers, and Wisconsin finds a way to score points. It's Senior Day, and Donovan will play well. So will Travis Beckum, who is a junior but could very well be playing at Camp Randall for the last time. I say Hill plays, and he's much better than last year in Ann Arbor. Wisconsin 24-20. Please.
It would make my trip to Colorado Springs so much nicer.
I don't know how banged up the offense will be, actually. Henne and Hart will play and everyone except TE Mike Massey is (relatively) healthy. Hart will still be gimpy-ish, probably.
Henne didn't look like he could run a 40 last week. And he's not exactly Vince Young to begin with.
You could cut most Michigan quarterbacks' legs off and put them on a cardboard box without any noticeable drop in performance.
So, yeah, I fly out [to Colorado Springs] in the morning. Sunny and temps in the 70s while we're there. It's in the 30s in Duluth, and it snowed this week.
[Holy cognitive dissonance, Batman! Ciskie goes through and viciously mauls UW's entire defense, the offensive line, and the running backs, then says... eh... victory. I followed it up with a query about the sturdiness of his prediction in the wake of the Hill news. The response:
I'm sticking with it. I may have thought Hill would play when I made that prediction, but we all knew something was amiss because he wasn't practicing. If I was stupid enough to pick Wisconsin under those circumstances, then I'm certainly dumb enough to stick with it.
Allll riiiiight! -ed]
There isn't really an Illinois blog on the radar yet, but hey, Iowa just played them and we don't play Iowa this year so why don't we bring in Oops Pow Surprise from Black Heart, Gold Pants? Okay! Let's do it. O... P... S... go!
a request before we start
I'm not doing this nude.
Actual English with capitals and periods and stuff will make this much easier on me. Also please take your clothes off.
Fuck! Duly noted.
Okay. Prepare for the questioning.
After the Oregon game, Michigan fans looked at Juice Williams, said "fuck, mobile quarterback," and chalked up the Illinois game as a humiliating loss. Things seem different now, largely because a heretofore flailing Iowa team held Illinois to six points. How did the Hawkeyes stop the Illini?
Well, the victory was had in the game plan. Knowing that Juice Williams is a "quarterback" the way Crocs are real shoes--i.e., solely by a measure of classification and location, the Hawkeyes completely and utterly sold out against the option. Aside from glaringly obvious passing downs, there was always, always, always at least one man shadowing Juice, and another playing Mendenhall on the pitch. The results speak for themselves: 35 rushes for 137 yards. Normally, those numbers would be ho-hum for each side of the ball, but remember: Illinois simply cannot pass.
Is the Iowa run defense particularly well-disciplined or good this year? Iowa's offense hs been... uh... I can't even say Penn State-esque anymore. Thanks for nothing, Wisconsin. Suffice it to say, the Iowa offense has been eye-clawingly bad, but the defense could be significantly better than Michigan's occasionally dodgy linebackers. Yesno?
The Iowa defense has vacillated between nonpareil and pedestrian, usually leaning toward the former. Dodgy's a good word for the Michigan linebackers, and they're going to have to put forth their best tackling effort of the season. Rashard Mendenhall is a Man-denhall (sorry) [there can be no forgiveness for this -ed], and for a noodle-armed basket case, the Juice can run a keeper extremely well. The key is shutting the Illini down early and often; they were definitely missing their swagger by the second half last season, and it's a lot easier to defend an option when the quarterback is running it like a frightened rabbit.
Chris Graham, if left unblocked, can spear mofos like nobody's business... or overrun them and flail. It will be interesting. I heard that Iowa spent the day in a 4-3, ignoring the idea of a passing game despite facing a spread. Is this true?
To be fair, sir, both teams were ignoring the idea of an Illinois passing game. As for Graham, Crable, etc., they're going to have to make sure they don't, as your example would ably demonstrate, have their athleticism used against them. But at the same time, they can't play timid, either; Illinois' guys are going to make anyone miss from time to time.
But did Iowa spend the day in a 4-3? Yes, and usually spying instead of in the Cover 2 shell that Norm Parker has used as a security blanket for decades. It's radically audacious, and Illinois' response--or more accurately, lack thereof--is about what you would expect from a head coach who brings checkers to a chess tournament.
Also to be fair, it's not clear that Zook can do anything except order his quarterbacks to throw interceptions. Speaking of interceptions: is Illinois backup SomethingSomething McGee any different than Juice?
Before we go any further with this question, I hope to God their backup QB somehow acquires the nickname "Tits." I don't care how.
Working on it. My Iowa preview last year was titled "Show Me Your Tates," so I am a kindred spirit.
What's striking about the Illinois quarterback situation is that for as physically talented as Juice is, there seem to be two undeniable truths:
1) He is at a point in a quarterback's maturation process that would keep him buried on most depth charts;
2) His coach does not seem remotely capable of remedying that fact.
Have you seen any marked improvement in Juice's game as a passer? He's completing all of 55% of his passes these days, which is better than 39% the way that herpes is
better than cancer.
Also, it seems that whenever McGee comes into the game, Zook all but scraps the option and lets the kid start throwing the ball, which he's not too bad at doing. Is it at all healthy for Williams, as a true sophomore, to already see his PT cut in order to give a freshman below him some snaps? Probably not. But that's the Zooker for you.
I would be careful... for one, Zook might hunt you down and crush your trachea. For two, all he has to do at Illinois is go 8-4 most years and he'll get a statue. I am betting on long term success for Zook. Which might be insane, but there it is.
I'm betting--nay, praying--for an Uncle Glen-like level of success from the Zooker. Which, really, would probably earn him a statue.
Anyway, on to the other side of the ball.
Ten points isn't a lot, but remember the eye-clawing thing. Any particular weaknesses in the Illinois defense? The stats seem to imply they have potentially major secondary issues but are stout against the run and tend to roll up a lot of sacks. Have a scouting report?
Keep in mind that I've only watched them against Iowa and Wisconsin, so please, please, consider the context.
Context locked in.
Oh, and a quarter against Missouri.
Context radically reconfigured.
The defense looked surprisingly decent. You're exactly right about their front seven. Their line is decent, but not of the type that Michigan would need to start slowing them down with counters or cutbacks.
Their line's strength isn't in the plays made, but rather a pretty impressive ability to tie up blockers and let the linebackers and secondary make plays.
That's really interesting vis a vis the Michigan run game, which often flat refuses to double linemen, instead allowing sometimes-overmatched center Justin Boren to get driven into the backfield rather than sacrifice the ability to get out on a linebacker.
And yes, the J Leman picture.
Tying up blockers is not something that results in a lot of sacks, which they have. Did you see much of a pass rush from them? How did the hold Iowa to only ten points?
If the line play is as uninspired as Wisconsin's, that will lead to trouble. Even with a long run in the second half, he didn't even sniff 100 yards.
They do get sacks, usually by opening up blitzes from all over the place. And they've got some ends that'll pin their ears back on 3rd and long.
As far as holding Iowa to 10, that's no great feat, of course. That said, they were especially aided by an Iowa turnover on the Illini 10 in the fourth quarter. The defensive effort was nothing remarkable, overall; Iowa accumulated 323 yards (which, adjusted for Michigan, is well over 700) and ran for about 150 of them. They're solid, don't get me wrong. This isn't the Orange Crushed from a few years ago. But there'll be holes in their zone when they start bringing heat on 3rd downs.
Oh, it should also be noted that Iowa did attempt two fourth-down conversions in the first quarter from Illinois territory and missed on both. So the 10 points are misleading next to 21 first downs and 10-17 3rd down conversions.
And the Penn State game was drive after drive into Illinois territory followed by horrible Morelli fumble/interception.
So... a prediction?
It's tough to call. How flexible are Michigan's defensive schemes from week to week?
Or in other words, how likely are they to repeat the mistakes of whatever euphemism you've given Week 1?
Chosen euphemism: "The Horror."
Michigan's defense has improved significantly. DE/DT Brandon Graham returned from injury or suspension to become a terror; Johnny Sears was replaced with Donovan Warren, and Stevie Brown got benched for Brandent Englemon. Each new player is vastly outperforming their counterparts.
The scheme is not likely to change. Michigan will go with a nickel, though there might be significantly more of the 3-3-5 look they brought out against Purdue to let Crable get out on the edge.
Michigan has always had problems with option attacks but has also crushed one-dimensional offenses. It's hard to know what will happen.
I've noticed that, and I'm secretly hoping to see Michigan go 8-0 in the Big Ten, being that it A) would not affect Iowa in the slightest, and B) would probably cause Kirk Herbstreit's head to melt.
I wonder what Kirk thinks about "Penn State, Big Ten champs! Anthony Morelli superfantastic!" now.
You know he's absolutely dreading the highlight package that he has to narrate while saying things like, "Morelli has really come into his own as a leader," and with a straight face.
Anyway, for the sake of putting a number out there, Illinois is playing in front of their fans, and at night to boot. Just about anything can happen. But I'm tempted to think that this Michigan team can run on Illinois well enough to control the pace of the game. My score prediction, which has a 99.3% chance of being wrong, is 24-19 Michigan.
Excellent. ONE OF US. ONE OF US.
What's the line on the game, anyway?
Michigan by 3. [this has moved to Illinois by one or a pick 'em, actually. -ed]
After these last two seasons, it would only happen if the Michigan athletic department wanted to conduct a sick sociological experiment to see if they could make the Ann Arbor townfolk march on the athletic complex with torches and pitchforks.
Past that, I don't think Ferentz would want to do that to Iowa.
Everyone says that Mary Sue and Captain Kirk are BFFs, but I agree with your assessment.
Isn't another kid of his showing up this fall?
James. And he's reportedly better than Brian was. Now, unless there's an upgrade at offensive line coach, that likely won't matter one whit, but supposedly the kid can play.
Thanks again to OPS of BHGP. And J Leman.
It's week four, Penn State's rolling into town, and the only thing anything I sure of is that everyone is terrified of Michigan. Penn State fans: terrified of Michigan. Michigan fans: terrified of Michigan. What's the general tenor of the fanbase? Is this The Year?
Absolutely scared beyond belief. Over the last eight meetings, Michigan has usually been the better team. Four of the games have been blowouts, and the other four have been closer in varying degrees. Penn State fans seem confident that we're the better team, but there's a prevailing, creeping sense of dread. Everybody knows that something bad is about to happen. Even if Penn State gets a big lead, nobody will believe the game is in hand until it's absolutely over. Perhaps not even until an hour after it's over.
I guess we should attempt to assess the chances of that. Given Notre Dame's performance this year, is it fair to say virtually no conclusions can be drawn from Penn State's first three games? Is there anything you feel you know about the team now that was a question going into the season?
Am I allowed to suggest that perhaps Florida International and Buffalo aren't *that* bad? No?
You are fully encouraged to suggest FIU and Buffalo have been your stiffest tests to date.
Honestly, isn't Buffalo the team giving points if they're matched up with Notre Dame on a neutral field?
I can't imagine that. Buffalo has been favored once in its history, and that against Temple, another Nittany Lion foe. (Information courtesy SMQB ongoing Buffalo Line Watch.) But you never know...
Actually, I think Buffalo will win a handful of games once they hit the MAC. FIU will win a few, as well.
I think it's relatively safe to suggest that the Penn State defense is still very good, despite the competition they faced in the first three games. Of course, they haven't faced the pure athleticism of guys like Manningham, Arrington, and Hart yet, either. A few successful deep passes are by no means out of the question for Michigan on Saturday, especially given the way the Wolverine offensive line tends to pick up our blitz packages....
As far as what we've learned about Penn State so far, it seems that Austin Scott isn't going to have the lightning in a bottle season we saw from Larry Johnson in 2002. He broke practically every single-season rushing record during his senior year of high school but sat behind Tony Hunt at Penn State for a variety of reasons -- lazy attitude, not being particularly dedicated to training, and Tony Hunt being one of the more underrated PSU players in recent memory.
I'm still very suspicious of our offensive line, which struggled to open up large holes in the first halves of each game before wearing down opponents in the second halves.
That dovetails nicely with my immense suspicion about Michigan defensive line, which was gashed time and again against Appalachian State and Oregon by simple shotgun zone read plays. The big difference against Notre Dame was the Irish' complete failure to get out on Michigan linebackers. Can PSU's line do better at this?
Well, we could end up having a full-fledged pillow fight in the trenches, then. Penn State has two new tackles and injuries at RG with John Shaw (knee) and Lou Eliades (concussion). Our running game features a lot of slow developing plays, and I don't think our offensive linemen are good enough to hold their blocks for three seconds instead of two. All of this comes with the questionable caveat that the coaches allegedly employed a very scaled-down offense in order to save some tricks for the conference schedule. Presumably, these are equally slow variations of our slow developing running plays. It's not like Anthony Morelli is going to be running the read option on Saturday.
I have absolutely no way of proving this, but it seems like 95% dive and counter plays so far. Apparently, RB pitches are too 1970's for Joe Paterno.
Are Shaw and Eliades out?
Paterno says that Shaw is unlikely to play very much. Eliades is available. While they were out, PSU used career backup Mike Lucian and true freshman Stephan Wisniewski, who both played well enough given their experience.
This is fairly encouraging; Michigan got Brandon Graham back from an ankle injury last week and he put up 3.5 of Michigan's eight sacks. Shawn Crable also got to slide back to linebacker against a non-spread attack. I am leaning towards declaring this an area of Michigan advantage.
In case this is something you care about.
Of course I care! I'd also agree, but it'll be close. I think the fact that Penn State runs a traditional style offense helps more than anything.
True. Other than some end arounds and a reverse or two, not much in the way of misdirection, right? They're like Michigan: eff you, try to stop this, oops you did let's punt.
Pretty much. Plus, I think there's a legitimate question of how diverse the offense actually should get. Considering our defense, why get too risky with plays that we're not that familiar with? Paterno has been accused of constantly trying to win games 10-7, but sometimes it's not the worst strategy in the world. He pretty much invented TresselBall.
Back when the Tyrannosaur dominated the game but fumbled lots. It's the tiny hands.
[side note: you just know that if Michigan football had been around in the Cretaceous that this guy would have been the quarterback and the would have lost to teams full of velociraptors running the goddamned spread. And they would punt from inside the opponent's 40. I should just not have started comparing the Michigan program to dinosaurs. This could go on for hours.
I think I will call him Navarrasaurus Rex.]
Terrible 40 time, the T-Rex. Narrow shoulders.
Right, about the defense: everyone knows about Connor, Lee, King, et al. How is the front four doing? They're pretty young, but highly rated, IIRC. Michigan's run game has been a constant masher against overmatched opponents so far. Projection?
Surprisingly good. They're extremely fast, and make up for their lack of experience with a ton of depth. That's not to say that Mike Hart won't get his yards. He will. It's the average p
er carry that ultimately concerns me. In addition, I can't recall a Penn State team blitzing so much. Our linebackers already have six sacks, which is a lot considering our usual scheme.
The Michigan offensive line has been the one unit that has really lived up to its billing (well, that and Hart)... you aren't concerned about the young guys getting pushed around?
I can only assume that Jake Long will eliminate just about everything on his side of the line. Honestly, I am just hoping for the defensive line to hold their own and not give up huge running plays because the linebackers are tied up with offensive guards and other blockers. I think the depth will help in that regard.
I fully recognize this borders on wishful thinking.
I think aggression will be key. Will Penn State hang back even if Ryan Mallett's in the game? It would be stupid but Penn State's coaching... uh...
The defensive coaches trust their secondary, as they should. I think that's why Penn State has blitzed so much this season -- the secondary is excellent and the defensive line could use a little help at times. Still, it comes back to the competition we've faced so far. Who really knows how good the defensive line is? It's FIU, Buffalo, and St. Charlie's School For The Helpless. I'm worried that Penn State will be initially shocked by the difference in athleticism, and I am scared to death of a situation where Anthony Morelli is forced to lead a comeback. I don't know that he can't do it, but it scares me. This week, everything scares me.
Right, about Morelli: I noticed some seriously crappy numbers against Notre Dame. And then it was 3-3 at half versus Buffalo. What's the deal? Is he improved? Can he be an asset?
Ahh, the eternal question -- can Morelli be trusted to be anything more than a game manager.
His receivers have dropped a number of passes, but they also bailed him out of some bad throws last week when he went 20 for 28 and threw 4 TD's. He's never going to be Dan Marino, but the reality is that he hasn't thrown as many interceptions as his reputation suggests (eight last year, one this year -- 9 in 15 games). The key word has always been "potential" with Morelli, but the fact is, he's started 15 games at Penn State's quarterback and has only shown occasional flickers of *getting it*. He doesn't feel backside pressure particularly well. He doesn't scan the field the way a fourth-year quarterback should. Still, he's firmly in between his potential coming out of high school and his reputation as a drooling rocket-armed freak.
Is he improved? Probably. Can he be an asset? Yes, most of the time.
Also, that interception returned for a touchdown against Notre Dame was a pure physical mistake. It was a good enough read -- Derrick Williams had single coverage, albeit against ND's best defender (who was not a boxer, though I'm sure you've heard about that guy once or twice). Morelli threw that ball off his back foot for absolutely no reason and it ended up being 15 yards short of where it should have been.
Yeah, but Jay can't make Anthony throw the pass. Jay Paterno and Anthony Morelli present such chicken/egg dilemmas.
It returns for a second year: House Rock Built and MGoBlog talk about the game without choking anything to death. Except our hopes. This is part two of our wide-ranging conversation; Part one can be found over at HRB.
So... one guy who's looked impressive so far on the Irish offense (and dare I say, the only guy) is Armando Allen. Yes? No? He's fast... can he run yet?
Love the kid. He runs like a gazelle on crack wearing one of those girdle things that they put on bulls to make them buck like crazy.
This seems... suboptimal.
Your metaphors need work.
It's been a rough season... I alcohol blame.
But in all seriousness, he's something to be excited about. He can run inside and outside, and has actual breakaway speed, which the Irish haven't seen too much of in recent years. I was excited in the Penn State game when the entire first drive revolved around finding ways to get him the ball. Then, the next drive, Travis Thomas came out and ran blindfolded into a gopher hole, and I became saddened and thirsty for the nurturing kiss of grain alcohol.
The little swing on the opener against PSU was pretty impressive. When you get outside Penn State's linebackers, you've accomplished something. I worry he might gash us. I worry that four-year-olds might gash us, but I worry more about Allen.
A legitimate worry... provided Weis has the sense to actually stick with him, which he has inexplicably not done in the first two games
Has he run between the tackles much? Can anyone run between the tackles given Notre Dame's offensive line?
I saw Michael Haywood trying to drive a Ford F-350 between the tackles at the fall practice. I think he averaged like 3.8 yards per carry. So, uh, no.
This reassures, since Appalachian State plowed Michigan. Oh, God. Do they make 400 proof whiskey? Let's talk about the other side of the ball.
So... Corwin Brown. Sellout or sellout?
Nah, kidnap and brainwash victim. Like that girl who played the harp. I think the second he decapitated Keyshawn Johnson in the NFL and developed a taste for Trojan blood, it was inevitable that he'd end up in South Bend.
Ah... that's more palatable. How has the 3-4 gone? I notice a lot of rushing yards ceded.
The defense has been huge this year. The rushing yards are hugely misleading because there have been so many plays run against the defense due to the O's inability to get a first down for large swaths of time. Also, a large majority of the yardage was given up in the 4th quarter against an exhausted D that has been on the field all day.
Fact is, Notre Dame should have lost both of its first to games by Cumberland College-esque scores with the way the offense played and gagged up the ball. The fact that we kept either team under triple digits while giving them the gift of field position and offensive zone turnovers is nothing short of a triumph.
My one beef with the 3-4 is that both GT and PSU showed an ability to get big yards on stretch plays to the right side, where the OLB John Ryan clearly hadn't quite figured out his job of containment from the position. Theoretically, that should be correctible, but it has been a recurring thing.
That seems a poor weakness against Michigan's stretch-mad run game. I also note a BGS post that confirms the exhaustion you saw; is that not a potential item that will recur against Michigan?
If the offense goes two and a half quarters without a first down again, then I can promise you the splits will look exactly like that.
I can promise you that will not happen.
At least Yahoo provided kittens in our time of need.
Sigh. I want to believe you, but we'll have to wait and see. I really feel like if the offense can mount anything vaguely resembling an attack, the defense will be able to make this a game, particularly if they're getting rest time on the sideline and good field position. We were only down by 7 to Penn State late in the 3rd quarter despite having literally no offense (that 10 straight 3 and outs wasn't an exaggeration... check the box score).
I actually watched the game today... the key to me will be whether or not Clausen gets the green light to find receivers downfield and can. People should be open; he might not be able to locate them. Especially if he's on his back. I think the Michigan offense will probably be about as effective as Penn State's. Better running game, probably worse passing with a true freshman at the helm. I think even Michigan can shut down an offense that's playing as safe as Notre Dame did against Penn State.
Well, word on the street is the playbook is going to be opened up, so at the very least we might get to see the Irish go down swinging for once. I'm glad to hear that, and feel like it's the only way this team is going to get anywhere is by taking the skirt off and slinging the football.
Given Michigan's secondary play last week, there will be opportunities to hit guys downfield... assuming people get blocked. Projected starting SDE Brandon Graham should return from an ankle injury that severely limited him the first two weeks; this will allow Shawn Crable to slide back to the attacking linebacker role he filled adeptly last year instead of being an undersized and ill-proportioned defensive end. The hope at the beginning of the year was for an attacking, sack-happy defense. That hasn't materialized but may against an offense Michigan seems better suited to defend.
One thing I am very concerned about: John Carlson. Michigan's linebackers are useless in space and Carlson is a terrific receiver. Seam routes off play action alarm.
Carlson has been the missing man this year. I'm guessing it's a combination of other teams keying on him (him being th
e only real proven threat on offense) and the dink-and-dunk offensive scheme not spreading the field. At any rate, the Carlson seam was a backbreaker against Penn State last year, and getting him involved in the offense should be one of the primary concerns for Weis coming into this game. I think by throwing the ball downfield more, it'll free up more room in the gooey middle of the field, where Carlson can play mismatches and raise hell.
Also Carlson's had to stay in to block.
All right, so the Michigan fanbase. Is there any sort of excitement for this game, or has it completely spiraled into sarcastic numbness? From the Irish perspective, this game is being viewed with much more aloofness and levity than it typically is because expectations are way down from recent years. What's the skinny in AA?
Sarcastic numbness is job one at Michigan even when things are going relatively well, now it's the only way we interact. We believe in nothing, Lebowski! There is something at stake here, though: if we beat Notre Dame there's at least some hope of refocusing the national derisiveness on the Irish and getting it (partially) off Michigan. Winning wouldn't make anyone particularly happy, per se, but it would be grimly satisfactory.
Women say the same thing about sleeping with me.
How about the Irish? Your 0-2 must suck considerably less than ours. I mean... you have all the freshman stuff, not four-year starters at QB and RB and a top five preseason ranking. Also you didn't lose to a I-AA team. But it seems that a lot of people are seriously questioning Weis, which is something I don't get. This year is the reason that Willingham got fired, really... not even the certified genius of Charlie Weis can deal with that. But it seems the natives are, if not exactly restless, a little peeved. Yes/no?
I don't think there's my native restlessness... or more to the point, I think that all of that is manufactured by the media because it makes for a charming headline. Irish fans are still happy with their robot genius, despite the fact that there are some legitimate grips to raise about the way these first two games were handled. You hit the nail on the head, this year is exactly why Willingham was fired. We knew it was going to be a rough 2007 back in 2004, so the results so far haven't been the type of radical departure from expectations that gets coaches fired. It's a rebuilding year, and everybody knows that. As long as the recruiting classes are staying good and the right kids are getting experience out there, the future and general inertia of the program is in good shape, which is the most important thing.
It's fair to say that people are actually "questioning" Weis in the sense that we're starting to move away from acknowledging him as the all-knowing oracle of football and moving toward a more realistic, post-honeymoon belief that he's a skilled coach capable of making some mistakes and occasionally being out-coached.
This seems... reasonable? You've turned my world on its head.
Yeah, there's a few stray rational neurons in the Notre Dame hivemind. Well, it's getting kind of late. You've probably got to go give Chad Henne a lower leg massage, right? So drop me some knowledge... what's your big prediction?
I would prefer implanting Tom Brady's brain but that will do.
I hesitate to predict anything good coming about for this Michigan team but it does seem to me that Michigan has at least one major advantage here: its offensive line and Mike Hart versus the Notre Dame run defense, which though valiant has been oft-perforated. Everything else looks like it could go either way. So I do tentatively think Michigan will win this, although a touchdown-plus spread seems excessive. Notre Dame wins if they find a downfield passing game that does not result in turnovers; I think this is probably not going to happen enough for them to win.
I had a vision last night while I was tripping on paint thinner. A hush falls over the Big House as a wobbly 59 yard field goal sails through the uprights, winning the game for the Irish. The benches clear, the jubilant Irish rush onto the field, and, lo, Jimmy Clausen finds Scarlett Johansson in the pandemonium, kneels down, and proposes. The two embrace passionately and the camera cuts to a teary-eyed Brent Musberger who solemnly declares, "This is why we love this sport so much," then trails off, not having any words to describe what he has just witnessed.
all-Scarlett-Johnasson-references-are-accompanied-by-picture rule. Because,
seriously, ladies... you would hit that too.
I welcome your 59-yard field goal attempt for the win. We are agreed that this is a satisfactory final play. (Assuming Michigan is ahead by 1 or 2.)
Well, best of luck this weekend. Tell that jowly interim head coach of yours I said "hi".
And tell your interstellar pirate made entirely of lard and self regard to invent something cool, like a first down, for Saturday.
Oh the hate!
Feel it flow through you.
Hate makes you strong!
It is base-ball time. Tomorrow at 3 Michigan opens a three game series against Oregon State in Corvalis. In search of the scoop on the Beavers, Building The Dam and MGoBlog viciously questioned each other. The results... below! Check BTD for the mgoversion of these later today.
Were you a big baseball fan before the Beavers won it all last year? Personally, college baseball hasn't appeared on my radar screen until the past couple years, since Michigan hasn't really done anything since the mid-80s. Is the sport a big deal at OSU and, more generally, the Pacific Northwest?
Baseball has always been one of my favorite sports, so yes, I followed the Beaver baseball team before they won the CWS. Obviously, the '05 trip to Omaha made Beaver Nation follow the team more closely, so the '06 and '07 seasons have definitely had a much larger fan base in general.
The sport is a big deal at Oregon State now... when we were 2-3 after the first five games of this year's football season, everyone sort of had a "at least we have baseball to look forward to" attitude. As it ended up, we finished the season out 10-4 and won the Sun Bowl. Beaver fans are feeling pretty good about the athletic program now, with the exception of the basketball team. (3-15 in the Pac-10 this year)
As far as baseball in the Pacific NW is concerned, it depends on what level you are talking. We really only have one MLB team, and that's the Mariners, but youth baseball is very big at least where I live, although it is being overtaken by Lacrosse to some extent. If you've looked at the Beavers roster before, you'll see that we are having all this success with local guys, and that's something our team takes great pride in. Twenty-eight guys on our roster are from Oregon and Washington, and the rest aren't from much farther away. These talented college players are coming from great high school programs around the Northwest, so yes, baseball is a big deal here.
Oregon State didn't seem to get much respect from the committee after winning the national championship, managing only a three seed despite having a 39-17 record. Was the schedule weak? Was the seeding unfair?
Although the Beavers had a 39-17 record, most of those wins came in the non-conference part of the schedule. OSU was 28-3 in those games, leaving their Pac-10 record at 10-14, which is not very good. We went down to UCLA for the last series of the season thinking we needed to sweep to make the field of 64, but we won two. On Selection Monday we thought we would be lucky to be one of the last teams in, but the 3 seed was actually a surprise for many fans. We knew that the team could compete at a Omaha level, but we didn't know if our season was good enough to earn us a spot. So to get straight to the point, no our schedule was not weak, we beat some very good teams, but we didn't win enough of the games we should have. The seeding was very fair, they actually skipped over two teams to get to the Beavers.
Who will Michigan face on the mound in games 1, 2, and 3 and how good are they? Who are some key relievers to know?
For the regular season, our Friday starter was Mike Stutes, and our Saturday guy was Joe Patterson. At the beginning of the season Daniel Turpen went on Sundays, but as the season progressed, freshman Jorge Reyes beat him out for the spot. The three starters you will see will likely be Stutes, Patterson, and Reyes, but the order is what I am not for sure about. In Charlottesville, the coaching staff decided to go with Patterson the first day of the tournament to get better match-ups. This descision was made the day before the game by the coaches, so it's really hard to tell. We've done some funky stuff with pitching in the past, so it's very unpredictable.
As far as relievers, we will have Turpen if he is not starting Sunday, along with guys like Blake Keitzman, Mark Grbavac, Greg Keim, Anton Maxwell, and Eddie Kunz. Keitzman, Keim, Maxwell, and Grbavac are all middle relief guys, and Eddie is the closer. But really, you could see any of these pitchers at any time. Eddie is the veteran of the bunch.
[Editor's note: These pitchers are pretty impressive. Reyes has a 3.48 ERA, Turpen 3.65, Patterson 3.81, and Stutes 4.05. One thing to watch: Stutes strikes out a ton of guys, basically nine per nine innings, but also walks a ton.]
How is the lineup, who are key players to watch, and are there any holes?
Just like our season, our line-up has gone up and down as well. I've come to the conclusion that we either hit well, or we don't hit at all. For example, the Beavers were 9/82 in the Arizona State series, which comes out to .110 overall. We either show up like we did in Charlottesville and at UCLA, or we don't.
As far as the line-up is concerned, it's all over the board. The coaching staff likes to move people around like crazy, but generally, they will select players based on their defensive skill before they will play someone because of their bat. This is one of the reasons that Oregon State's fielding percentage has been near #1 all year.
Behind the plate, Mitch Canham is our guy. He's in a major slump as of late, but if he heats up, watch out. Against UNLV when we played a Sunday double header, Mitch hit a grand slam in both games. That's a quick way to pick up 8 RBI's. He has led our team in batting average for most of the season, but as a result of his recent slump, he comes in third on the list. If Canham need a break behind the plate, you're going to see Erik Ammon, who is just as good of a defensive catcher as Canham. If this happens, there's a 99% chance that Canham will DH. He's such a big part of our team on and off the field that Pat Casey hardly ever takes him out of the lineup.
In the infield, we'll start with Jordan Lennerton at first base. He's hot right now, and hit a home run in Charlottesville. He's second on our team in batting average, at .325 on the season. Joey Wong is our second baseman, and he hasn't had that great of a season at the plate, but he is a baller on defense. He's only had three errors the entire season in over 250 chances, leading the Beaver infield. He's a good #2 hole hitter, but if he's not there, he's usually at #8 or #9 in the lineup. He's hitting .283. We also have a beast of a shortstop in Darwin Barney, the junior who was drafted 125th by the Cubs. He has great range at short, and is a great leader along with Canham. He's got a hot bat as well, currently hitting .296. Our usual third baseman is Lonnie Lechlet, although you may see Drew George. The position has been open most of the year, but Lonnie is beginnign to pull away both offensively and defensivley. Lechelt has always been the better defensive player, but he's never swung the bat that well. Last weekend heading into Charlottesville, Lonnie was somthing like 1-25 in his last 25 at bats, or something bizarre like that. He went on to hit two home runs on the weekend, and was the Beavers hottest hitter. Funny how that works.
In the outfield, our regular guys are Mike Lissman (Sr.) in left, and Chris Hopkins (jr.) in center. Hopkins has all kinds of speed, but he's in a slump right now. Lissman is another leader of the team, and he's currently the #1 hitter right now, at .327 with 8 home runs. Right field is usually either Scott Santschi, Braden Wells, or Koa K
ahalehoe. Depends on the pitcher matchups, usually.
Jason Ogata is the normal DH for the Beavers. He's at .295 on the year, and he has spurts when he is just lights out at the plate.
The holes in our lineup will be present, I guarantee you, but it's impossible to tell who the hot hitters and who the cold hitters will be this weekend.
How is the Beaver home field configured? Are there any anomalies we should be aware of? Is it a hitter's park or a pitcher's park?
Goss Stadium is a relatively standard ballpark, although the capacity is probably in most cases smaller than most parks in the Big 12 and such. Reports from campus say that it's in top notch shape for this weekend, including bleachers they've brought in for the outfield as well as the outfield foul lines. The way the park plays really depends on the wind. There are days when lazy pop flies clear the fence, and days when you have to have the starts aligned to hit a ball out. I'm not completely certain where the ball flies out the best though.
Does Oregon State consider itself a "northern" team? Geographically it is, but the Pac-10 doesn't seem to be a virtual mid-major in baseball like the Big Ten is.
I would say that yeah, we're a northern team, but we know that we can play with any team in the country. We already swept Georgia in three games this year, as well as victories over the Bulldogs, Miami, Rice, and North Carolina in Omaha last year. The confidence our program has gained with experience against east coast schools is great-- and last weekend's two victories over Virginia only helped that.
The Pac-10 is a very good baseball conference. We had four teams make the Regionals, and three of those move on to the Super Regionals, so the Pac-10 represents almost 20% of the teams remaining in the tourney. If all teams continue their success, Omaha could be very interesting.