|WHAT||Michigan vs Nebraska|
|WHERE||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor MI|
|WHEN||Noon Eastern, November 19th 2011|
|THE LINE||Michigan –3.5|
|TELEVISION||National on ESPN|
|WEATHER||mid 40s, cloudy, 10% chance of rain, moderate wind|
Why have one mascot when you can have two on a tandem bike? OH NO DAVE BRANDON HAD AN IDEA
Run Offense vs. Nebraska
Lavonte David likes the letter X
One week after Michigan turned in a poor outing against an Iowa run defense currently struggling to get its nose above average (thus causing all Michigan fans to PANIC about the previously-taken-for-granted running game), they kicked off the Illinois game by marching 80 yards in four plays against a top ten defense. By the end of the game they'd put up the best numbers anyone had against the Illini:
How did this happen? Michigan went from a 50-50 split between the shotgun and under center to nearly 80-20. In the UFR yesterday I calculated a gap of almost 2 YPC between the two, with shotgun averaging 5.8 YPC and under center 3.9. The numbers above disagree slightly: remove the under center runs and you get a smoooooooth 6.0 YPC.
If it wasn't blindingly obvious before—no. It was blindingly obvious before and is now even more blindingly obvious. Michigan has two run games. They are Oregon from the shotgun and Akron from under center.
As for the opponent, you'd think a team that practices against Taylor Martinez and has an undersized lightning bolt of a weakside linebacker would have disproportionately good performances against mobile quarterbacks, but that is not the case:
Head coach Bo Pelini's defenses have thrived against pocket passers. Against dual-threat quarterbacks, the results aren't nearly as good. In both of Nebraska's losses this season, a run-pass threat at quarterback did much of the damage. So facing the most electric dual-threat player that college football has seen since Michael Vick (i.e. Denard Robinson) presents an enormous challenge.
Survey says: yeah, but it's not quite the blowout you'd think from the above. In seven games against BCS opponents Nebraska's faced two pro-style statues, two passing-oriented scrambly types, two out-and-out dual threats, and a crazy melange from Northwestern. Results ordered by total yards above or below season average:
*[YPA based on Miller's production, not Bauserman going 1 of 10. Using Bauserstats is ridiculous.]
Yards are a noisy stat but the overall picture painted is a team that has difficulty defending the pass when they are stretched or busy defending the run. Mobile quarterbacks have had mixed success when actually probing on the ground. Miller averaged 9.1 yards a carry; Persa and Colter combined for 4.2; MarQueis Gray had just 3.9.
The run games that seem to work best are the sort that pound between the tackles. OSU still does this with aplomb. Wisconsin is Wisconsin. Washington has the tough interior running of Chris Polk, and MSU is MSU. Penn State may not have done so hot but they are Penn State and the thing that leaps out from that chart above is how Nebraska is so not Illinois.
They weren't even when they had Jared Crick; now that he's laid up with an injury their defensive tackle rotation is like Michigan's… with less quality at the top and depth. This is from the immediate aftermath of Penn State:
The defensive line is beat up too. Of course All-American Jared Crick is out for the season and Thaddeus Randle has missed the last couple of games.
[Chase] Rome, who missed the game against Northwestern with a groin injury, was able to play enough to give Terrence Moore and Baker Steinkuhler a break every now and then.
“We don’t have a lot of depth right now,” Rome said. “At least I can contribute and give the other guys some rest when they needed it. I thought it was a good system with how it worked out, especially with it being my first time out since being injured.”
Moore and Steinkuhler aren't Crick, or anything approximating him. They've combined for just four TFLs. Will Heininger's managed that by himself.
The bulk of the tackling and playmaking comes from WLB lightning bolt Lavonte David—think Brandin Hawthorne except really good—and MLB Will Compton. There will be gaps in the line; getting hats on second level dudes will make the difference between a pretty good and a very good day.
Key Matchup: Michigan versus the dirty pictures the I-Form has of them. This is actually another matchup where it seems possible Michigan will have some success lining up and running straight at the Huskers, what with their undersized LBs and dodgy DT situation. That worked out to the tune of 3.6 yards per Fitz carry against Iowa. Don't take the cheese.
Pass Offense vs. Nebraska
Alfonzo Dennard and some guy who is not good
Michigan took one look at this matchup in the swirling winds of Memorial Stadium and decided to pass on passing, a decision that worked out just fine. They're not likely to do the same against a less intimidating Cornhusker defense. Nebraska enters the game 86th in sacks and 29th in pass efficiency defense. While the latter number isn't far off that put up by the Illini, the former is a huge step back from Whitney Mercilus and the blitz-mad Vic Koening. When Michigan drops to pass this will be closer to Iowa than Illinois.
Nebraska's YPA ceded can be found above; the place it seems Nebraska struggles is when they have to defend with an extra guy because the quarterback is a threat or they are playing Wisconsin. (Russell Wilson's four carries had little to do with the gameplan, but Wisconsin is Wisconsin.) Play action appears to be the death knell, what with 81-yard Kain-Colter-to-Jeremy-Ebert touchdowns popping up in box scores. I mean, holy terrible safety play, Batman.
This makes the lack of the damn I-Form even more imperative since Nebraska's weaknesses multiply like badgers once you force a safety into the box or make them defend both run and pass. They never want to do this. FFFF:
You know how Iowa does the whole cover 2 zone thing constantly? Nebraska is their cover 2 man counterpart, pretty much doing the same thing on every play and relying on their defensive talent to make plays. Unfortunately, the Huskers lost their All-American DT, Jared Crick, and now only have three healthy scholarship players on the interior of their D-line. Their corners are very good in coverage, but the safeties looked very susceptible to deep throws over the middle, especially off play-action, and the line just can't generate any pass rush.
Dollars to donuts this is because the Huskers have one asskicking cornerback and not much else in the secondary. Alphonzo Dennard has 20 tackles this year… and five PBUs. That is the statistical profile of a totally awesome cornerback. Michigan is going to avoid him like everyone else. This should hurt them less than most teams because they have a deep stable of eh receivers with no particular standout. I guess Hemingway might be less likely to catch a deep one, which, like… when is the last time that happened?
Husker safeties Damion Stafford and Austin Cassidy have racked up a lot of tackles but those big flashy YPA marks above are their doing. Stafford is a big hitter fresh out of JUCO; Cassidy appears to be a former walk-on who emerged as a starter halfway through last year. Last year's Michigan offense would be good for some Worst Waldo plays against this pair—finding some in this year's offense is up to Borges.
There's only one guy Michigan has to watch for in pass protection: end Cameron Meredith. He's got five sacks. No other Husker has more than two.
Key Matchup: Denard (and possible lingering hand issues) versus the usual array of WTF throws and decisions. He's been better in the Big Ten season and should have time to survey. I think he'll be okay as long as the hand is.
Run Defense vs. Nebraska
Sometimes Nebraska uses the wildcat… but when?
Illinois brought a rep for using a lot of option. They left having deployed it once, and not well:
Nebraska will not do the same thing. After the disastrous Callahan years they have restored sanity to college football by reverting to an option-based system featuring a terrifyingly fast quarterback who throws like a duck. Yea, and all was right in the world again.
Nebraska's option is of the spread, modern variety but it's still option. They do all the spread 'n' shred stuff you've seen Michigan run the last few years but their blocking is more heavily focused on POWER than Rodriguez; unlike Michigan their POWER is actually fairly POWERFUL instead of AMY GRANT HIT WITH A TRANQUILIZER DART. They'll run triple option. They'll run the inverted veer and use the back to the outside a a pitch guy. They'll run in your face with POWER from the pistol. They have a diverse and scary run offense that is totally going to option off some of Michigan's baby-faced youth on the edges.
Probably, anyway. Despite all the blingy option plays, Taylor Martinez's season has taken a decidedly Denard-like path:
He hasn't rushed for more than 60 yards since the Ohio State game and his yards per carry has dropped to 3.85 from 6.68 YPC in September. Nebraska fans will take that trade. Martinez is learning how to throw. He won't forget how to run. The threat of his speed is enough on its own.
Michigan fans will be violently split on that trade, because they are violently split on all things. If Martinez averages 3.85 YPC on Michigan I thi nk Michigan wins, though. That's because Martinez is a relative home-run hitter. Tailback Rex Burkhead is a gritty tough son of a gun Eckstein, a cerebral bellcow who really takes to coaching and finds his way on the field through his smarts and subtle racism. [ed: This was unclear. Just making a joke about how white RBs are described, not implying that Burkhead is a racist. Fun with ambiguity! Not fun.]
Burkhead is a grinder. His long against real competition this year is 22 yards and he specializes in pounding out 100 yards on 25 carries with a YPC under 5: 121 on 25 carries against PSU, 69(!) on 22 against Northwestern, 130 on 35 against MSU, 119 on 26 against OSU, 96 on 18 against Wisconsin. He managed to edge over 5 YPC against Minnesota and Wisconsin; the former was Minnesota and the latter was a blowout. It's hard to see Nebraska getting anything past Michigan's safeties given the trends in both seasons.
Speaking of those safeties: I expect Michigan to go with a lot of man and three-deep that allows Kovacs to shoot up into the box where he can be the tiny space linebacker that made him a three-time Heisman winner in an alternate universe where open-field tackling is the most coveted thing in a football player. It's either that or hoping Michigan's cornerbacks can be tough on the edge. Not betting on that. The over/under on Kovacs tackles is set at 8.5.
Key Matchup: Youth on the edge funneling to Kovacs. This did not so much happen against Northwestern. It did against Illinois—once. Nebraska will be a stiff, confusing test for the freshmen in the lineup.
Pass Defense vs. Nebraska
throws like a duck; catches like a duck
One look at Taylor Martinez flapping the ball out to his receivers and you think "Nick Sheridan with legs," and for big hunks of his career that has been true. Unfortunately those hunks have not come recently:
Since [Wisconsin], Martinez is 77-for-122 passing (64.2%) for 865 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions. That's a passer rating of 142.18 which, if it was his season total, would place him third in the Big Ten ahead of Michigan State's Kirk Cousins. That's not factoring in drops, which have become a growing problem of late.
WR Kenny Bell said there were "at least four" in the Penn State game. The Minnesota game had at least three that I can remember in the third quarter alone. No matter, the trend is clear. Martinez, as a passer, is playing as good as he's ever played.
There are games with Minnesota and Northwestern in there. As someone who's seen his team's erratic quarterbacks play Minnesota and Northwestern and emerge averaging 10.6 YPA with five TDs and three INTs… eh… maybe it's best not to consider Minnesota and Northwestern. Survey says:
Given the opponents, Martinez is actually backsliding a bit when it comes to YPA. But the thing that jumps off the page is the lack of interceptions. Michigan's had more multi-INT quarters than Martinez has had games.
The key here will be responding to paly action. Martinez has gotten significantly over 20 attempts in two games. In one he was bad, in the other he was playing Northwestern. In all other games Nebraska makes up for the lack of skill at QB by going mostly with play action. (Yes, it is frustrating to watch Nebraska roll the pocket on an option fake and then drop back without getting their QB killed.) Putting Nebraska in situations where they can't effectively do that will end drives. Doing that will probably require defending it when they can.
There's no point focusing on any one Nebraska receiver. They're immensely diverse. Seven players have at least thirteen catches on the year; all save Burkhead have a YPA over ten. Kenny Bell is nominally the top WR with 23 catches for 306 yards. This seems like a situation where having seven receivers means you have none: as mentioned above, drops have been a big problem for the 'Huskers. Michigan may get bailed out a couple times.
I'd expect something similar to the first four games above: few attempts, decent success with those attempts. If Martinez starts pushing into the 30s it will be bad news for UNL.
Key Matchup: Demens and Morgan versus play action drops. The bulk of Nebraska's damage comes in big gaping holes between the linebackers and safeties. I don't think this will go well, but it only has to go well enough.
Massive Nebraska advantage. The Cornhuskers are great on kickoff returns—freshman Ameer Abdullah has a touchdown and a few other impressive returns this year—decent on punts, good at punting, and have hit 16 of 19 field goals this year. FEI's introduced special teams rankings; they're fifth. Michigan is 80th.
Key Matchup: Gibbons you put it through the uprights?
It's a candy corn hat, you pervs
- Folks on the edge against the option aren't actually there.
- Michigan lines up under center.
- Martinez is slinging darts.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Nebraska gets stuck in an obvious passing down. Michigan's okie package gets pressure without providing tons of scrambling lanes when it sends four.
- Molk and company can pound the shaky interior of the Nebraska DL.
- Kovacs appears to have cloned himself.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 5 (Baseline 5; +1 for Is This The Best Team They've Played? Seriously, +1 for Option Paranoia After Northwestern Game, –1 for But Mattison Heals All, –1 for Their QB Throws Like A Duck, +1 for Our QB Throwing Like A Duck Would be An Improvement, –1 for Boy We Figured Out What To Do Last Game, +1 for Maybe, –1 for Run Defense Weakness In Opponent At Home.)
Desperate need to win level: 7 (Baseline 5; +1 for NYD Lockdown, +1 for I Like Nine And Half Wins And I Cannot Lie, –1 for It's Pretty Much About Next Week, –1 for Keeping The Possibility Of A Sparty No Open Is A Silver Lining To A Loss, +1 for ALAMO REVENGE, +1 for 1997 JUSTICE.)
Loss will cause me to... place way too much importance on beating a 6-5 team next weekend.
Win will cause me to... place way too much importance on beating a 6-5 team next weekend.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
Oh, hell. I just know the defense is going to have a comedown. I just… I look at the opposing offense and think "okay, they'll get some yards but are they going to bust anything long?" I've been predicting this will happen in the option game all week but now that I've look at the numbers, they just don't have it. Burkhead tops out at 20 yards and Martinez hasn't had anything, really, since the Ohio State game.
And if Nebraska isn't busting it long, if they're grinding it down the field, how long can they manage that before Michigan's third and short defense rises up and boots them off the field?
On the other side of the ball, as long as Borges makes the obvious conclusion from last week—shotgun forever—Michigan will move the ball. They'll even get some opportunities downfield when the safeties freak out on play action, which they'll have to if Nebraska is intent on running man in a nickel package against Michigan. If they do that it's like crediting Michigan for running the bubble when they don't, and then you could see some fireworks.
This looks like a win, but two things worry. Turnovers, obviously, and then what figures to be a massive hidden yards advantage for the Cornhuskers. It's really easy to see this game show up in "Life on the Margins" after Michigan outgains Nebraska by 150 yards and still loses.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Michigan finally hits a Worst Waldo play.
- Burkhead averages 4.0 YPC on a zillion carries.
- Denard has a day that mildly surprises to the positive.
- Michigan, 26-20
News note: Late last night 11Warriors posted a tweet claiming two sources and 99.7% certainty of Urban to OSU. If it happens it happens.
Hey look, it's MGoBlog's gift-giving grinch, Gohblue. I do this thing every year where we go to a homeless shelter and throw the kids there a Christmas Party, complete with Santa and gifts, and the past few years MGoBlog has been the difference between two sizes too small and playing Michigan defense. If you can't volunteer, you can still buy something for the kids on Amazon. The date this year is Dec. 3 so if you can contribute now's the time. I still need a photographer. The diary explains in further detail.
And while you're in a holiday donation mood you know what else we need? Your blood, for the annual Michigan-Ohio State blood drive. M-Wolv sent in the details, which you can find here.
THE SLINGER, THE CUTTER, AND THE SHOE
One throws like a girl, one says "WHAAAT?" like a girl, and one's a little bitch. BlueSeoul breaks down some other comparisons between our QB and two very different dual-threats remaining on our schedule, by running style, favorite move, most dangerous running play, weakness, passing style, most dangerous passing play, and how to defend.
You saw the post-Illini weekly 'With Pics' article on the front page. But did you know you can also read his scouting report on Nebraska and Ohio State from when they played each other (or is one of them Wisconsin—damn these exactly alike uniforms).
I know, right -- THREE diaries in one week from BS? We are not worthy! BS is supposed to be out of the running for Diarist of the Week, and there is another good candidate, but three of the best four diaries in a 7-day period means he can share with the other guy.
That other guy was also front-paged. It is Space Coyote, who explains the Drag-Follow play (video) in the latest session of his Football Fundamentals series (link to article). Want to be a Diarist of the Week too? Become a football coach, watch tons of video of Michigan and their opponents, then spend hours putting together an article that can make important trends comprehensible to the masses. Easy. Michael Scarn also has a Nebraska preview from his visit to "Happy" Valley* that gave us the tag "Taylor Martinez Seizure Throwing Motion."
MATTISON PLUS ALL THE POINTS
You can also just get good at maths. We got two diaries this week from dnak438, the second (better) an update of the first, tracking M's defensive performance since the year I was a freshman, and Donovan McNabb was running all over us, and everything bad in the world became the fault of James Whitley. For example you see how that red line is higher in 2000 than any year but last? Whitley. See the big blue dip in '06? That's how good Michigan was against Illinois. Mattison plus all the points!
Recruitniks we got two for ya: Ace (the good one) received two very detailed, very glowing reports from Hardware_Sushi and Justin on M targets Stefon Diggs, Wes Brown, Ryan Watson and Kendall Fuller (the last two are juniors) from Blake Countess's alma mater in MD. MGoGarbs and joeyb saw Catholic Central take on Pioneer and came back with scouting reports for Godin and The Drake.
* We joke, we're all kidders around here. Can I give you my headshot?
BRIAN ASKS AND YE SHALL RECEIVE:
After the jump, the boards and the weeklies
UPDATE: Dangit. I forgot to pump this: the Blood Battle is going on RIGHT NOW. Defeat OSU, get cookies.
RIP Bo. Five years ago today.
Black and Blue. Hey, kids. That documentary about Gerald Ford, Willis Ward, and Georgia Tech is being screened for free at the Ford Presidential Library at 7 on Friday. If you're not going to the hockey game, hit it up. I am, so I can't, but if anyone does end up going a review in the diaries would be nice.
I let do… wat? Demar Dorsey features in the Detroit News saying things that are unexpected:
The passion for such a goal runs so deep in Dorsey that he claims he would try out for the team as a walk-on if a scholarship isn't available.
"If I can get into the school, I know I'll find a way to make the team," he said. "Nobody knows how bad I want it." … "I'm in the same state!" Dorsey said. "Why would you miss out on your best shot in the state? C'mon, Brady Hoke!"
You'd think the cynical crap he got from the local media would have turned him off on the entire state, but I guess not. Guy has goals. Unfortunately, with Michigan's class near-full, its APR hovering in a dangerous zone, the coach who recruited him gone, and Dorsey still carrying academic question marks from his high school career, a reunion is exceedingly unlikely.
Too bad. I'd love to see certain local folks twist themselves into pretzels trying to contrast this version of Dorsey with the one that proved Rich Rodriguez was Mark Dantonio.
UPDATE II: Apparently Dorsey is a 2013 prospect, so it's somewhat less of a longshot. Still a longshot.
The bump. Ace mentioned this in the morning but it's worth repeating: Scout's latest rankings see three Michigan commits (Joe Bolden, Tom Strobel, and AJ Williams) rise significantly with only one (Kaleb Ringer) dropping. Conspiracy theories about Michigan commits dropping all the time should be shelved this year.
BONUS eeee recruiting accounting: Michigan currently has thirteen commits in the Scout 300—actually all in the top 250—and virtually everyone they're still pursuing is also amongst that number. It seems like the only way they won't end up with 17 is if they strike out on two of their three high-end WR targets and have to pick up a decent three star instead.
Marvin Robinson's lawyer: better than Jerry Sandusky's. The Robinson POV on his court thing:
Mason said Robinson already has an Xbox. In fact, he has two, Mason said. The student who reported the theft is an acquaintance of Robinson's, and Robinson has been in his room on "various occasions," Mason said. They trade Xboxes, he said. Mason, a U-M graduate, said it's not uncommon for a student to go into another student's room.
"I lived in Michigan dorms and I used to walk into my room and find people sitting there, watching TV," he said.
Robinson is going to cooperate with university police and Washtenaw County prosecutors, Mason said, adding that Robinson has no criminal record.
"He goes to class," he said. "He goes to study hall. He goes to practice. And he goes to church every Sunday with his mom and dad."
His hearing has been delayed until January. No idea if that's an accurate picture of the situation but I'm guessing Robinson is still on the team when this is resolved.
In 2062, this will be an article about Toledo. Apparently beating Michigan in 1962 was a big deal:
Bob Devaney earned his first signature victory on that sunny September afternoon in 1962, upsetting the Wolverines 25-13 in what was supposed to be, according to the Detroit Free Press, an “opening-day breather” for the home team.
The rest is history.
Michigan went 2-7 in 1962.
Van Bergen FTW. A bit more on Van Bergen's stunt stunt last weekend, and the study that generates it, from the Daily:
Every Tuesday, the coaches hand out the scouting reports. Van Bergen usually finds the tendencies and play consistencies watching film on his own. Sometimes he’s right, and sometimes Montgomery has to straighten him out. The answers are always in the binder. In practice, the scout team gives the defense simulations of what they’ll see in the game.
“It goes from there to the game,” Montgomery said. “ ‘Hey Coach, this holds up. Every time they do this, it’s accurate.’ Then they start to believe.” …
Van Bergen knew Iowa was going to sneak its quarterback when it hurried up to the line on a fourth-and-1 two weeks ago — he and Martin snuffed it out.
The past three weeks in particular, Montgomery said, Van Bergen has been well versed in the opponent’s “meat and potatoes” (Hoke’s term for tendencies and key plays).
No wonder they’ve been his best three weeks of the season — 13 tackles, five tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.
He knew what play Purdue was going to run in the shadow of its own endzone, based on a tip — alignment, personnel, formation or all the above. He told Martin, who then ripped through the line for a safety because he knew what was coming.
Unless he has a long NFL career (not entirely out of the question), Van Bergen is going to be defensive line Mike Hart as soon as he graduates—the guy everyone follows in his coaching career, hoping he returns.
I was listening to the BSD podcast this week for various reasons mostly having nothing to do with football, but I did get a football tidbit when they had Ramzy from Eleven Warriors on. He mentioned that you can pick out OSU passing plays because their n00b receivers only look at their wristbands when it's a pass. That'll probably get hammered out by the time the Game rolls around; given the widespread antipathy for Bollman OSU will probably be tipping things in ways not so easily addressable.
More Van Bergen. I like Ryan Van Bergen.
"The year my class came here was after the 1 versus 2 Ohio (State) game and Michigan went to the Rose Bowl," Van Bergen said, referring to the 2006 season. "That was my expectation — we're going to play Ohio to go to the Rose Bowl every year I'm here. I was going to have coach (Lloyd) Carr for my whole time here, and it was going to be great.
"The amount of adversity that has been encountered by this senior class, especially the fifth-year guys, I'd be hard-pressed to find another group that has survived and now thrives in that situation. I don't know how much people even realize how dedicated these guys were."
"I guessed three times it was going to be a pass just by their formation, and I was right all three times. So I was like, 'You know what? Eff this, I'm doing it.' Mike went with me. He jumped in and it was successful."
(Angelique bowdlerized "eff this" to "forget this"; Heiko reports that it was "Eff" but not the full Molk.)
What’s Nebraska’s greatest position strength? Greatest weakness?
It’s not really a matter of position strength as it is a matter of depth and experience. It’s kind of a catch 22 for NU right now. NU’s best defensive player is a linebacker, Lavonte David. And, Will Compton has steadily improved. So, its a strength, right? The problem is they are very weak/thin at linebacker after those two. The same could be said for the secondary. Alfonzo Dennard is a stud, and they all feed off of him. At times, they play well. At others, they are very suspect. It’s the same story at running back – a strength because Burkhead is stud, potential weakness because it’s only freshman behind him. When he got nicked up against Northwestern, it hurt the offense a lot.
As far as a a true strength for NU, I can’t overstate how much quality special teams play has helped the Huskers so far this year. Brett Maher’s punting was important last week. He’s done a great job as a kicker this year too. The NU return game has been strong too. That’s the stuff that quietly helps win games.
Tight ends: pro-style requirements. Today in "quoting everything Chris Brown writes" we focus on tight ends. You may remember an emailer questioning Michigan's decision to take Pharaoh Brown as a tight end because defensive ends seem more valuable. I wrote then:
I get the vibe that tight end is going to be a big deal with Borges. If we're headed to a collection-of-plays Boise-style offense, having a diverse set of tight ends is a key component. Having a 6'6" guy who can run some is a major help in your effort to whiplash the defense from huge power running sets to spread passing attacks. What do you do when the opposition has a guy who can block a defensive end but can't be covered by a linebacker? Brown may be that guy.
Now Brown tackles the transformation of the Patriots offense from a full-spread passing attack back to something approximating NFL norms:
[In response to Rex Ryan blitzing his spread to death] Belichick went out and drafted [tight ends] Gronkowski and Hernandez.
Hernandez is more of a pure receiver, and his chief advantage is as a substitution/personnel problem: If he's in the game, you don't know if he'll line up as a tight end or if he'll split wide so that Welker can play the slot, forcing you to decide whether to put your cornerback on Welker or Hernandez, potentially creating advantages in both the run and passing game. But Gronkowski is a true triple-threat from the tight-end spot: He can block, he can go out for passes, and he can even block and then go out for delayed passes. Multiple defenders have to keep their eyes on him. And against such a threat, Ryan can't sell out with the multifarious blitzes overloaded to one side or the other, simply in an all-out effort to get Tom Brady. The presence of the tight ends—where will they line up, what will they do—dictates terms back to Rex Ryan, who would much rather cut loose and go on carrying his father's torch as the destroyer of pretty-boy quarterbacks.
Having Brown, Devin Funchess, and AJ Williams* in one class isn't overkill if a two-TE set is going to be the closest thing to a base offense Michigan has, and if you can split out a 6'6" dude like Brown that makes the whiplashing even whiplashier. There are a lot of things to get excited about in this recruiting class but the diverse, athletic set of tight ends they acquired is high on my list.
*[I know a lot of people are talking up Williams as a tackle. I think that's a possible endpoint for him but if that move ends up happening it won't be soon. Michigan will need him to play as a freshman.]
Etc.: Extensively reported NYT piece on Penn State makes McQueary look a little better, everyone else look worse. The NCAA left its SharePoint site open to the public for a while. Can't go two weeks in the Michigan blogosphere without someone posting some latin. BWS picture pages the Ryan/Kovacs speed option destruction.
No one photo can do justice to Taylor Martinez's shot-put delivery, but this comes close.
Nebraska, much like pretty much every other Big Ten contender, is a very tough team to get a handle on. Yes, they crushed Michigan State, but just one week later you could find them losing to Northwestern at home—if you're looking for me to make sense of how that level of bipolarity occurs, you've come to the wrong place. I can, however, try to make sense of their schemes, and this week I was able to find a video program that actually worked on my Mac (hooray!), so there is ample video this time around.
Since I wanted to watch a game in which Nebraska faced a mobile quarterback (or two, in this case) and exhibited both their strengths and weaknesses as a team, I chose to focus in on the Northwestern game, which the Huskers lost 28-25. Breakdown? Like John L. Smith at a post-game presser...
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Very much a hybrid. On Nebraska's first possession of the game, their first four plays came out of the ace (QB under center), a shotgun two-back look, the pistol, and then the I-form. They'll show a lot of different looks, though mostly sticking with two tight ends no matter the formation, and they'll run out of any and all of them.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? Again, there's a mix here. The Huskers run their fair share of zone read, but they'll also mix in isos from the one-back and I-form as well as your now-familiar power. BasketMANBALL? MANsketball? Something more clever? You decide.
Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): Most of you are probably familiar with Taylor "T-Magic" Martinez, who has amassed 768 yards and nine touchdowns on 153 carries (5.0 ypc) this season. He's the closest thing the rest of the Big Ten has to Denard, and since I gave Nathan Scheelhaase a 7 last week, I've got to give Martinez a 9. He doesn't have the shiftiness of Denard, but his straight-ahead speed and ability to get the edge are very impressive.
Dangerman: RB Rex Burkhead (#22) is third in the conference in rushing yards per game, averaging 107.2 on 5.1 yards per carry. He's a compact runner at 5'11", 210 pounds, but he has surprising speed and is at his best when he's able to go north-south—he's not particularly shifty, but his power/speed combination is tough to handle. He's also a decent receiver out of the backfield, and he's really the only running back Nebraska uses with any regularity—the rest of the tailbacks on the depth chart are freshmen, and none has more than 25 carries.
Zook Factor: This is new, and is all about stupid coaching decisions that fly in the face of game theory. I was going to put this in last week, but, well, Michigan was playing against Ron Zook himself, so it seemed superfluous. Enter Bo Pelini, who against Northwestern punted on 4th and 1 from the 50 and 4th and 2 for the Northwestern 45, then decided to not use any of his three timeouts as the Wildcats methodically drove for seven minutes and scored a touchdown to go up by ten with 1:38 to play. I mean, wow. Just wow.
OVERVIEW: Nebraska is very much a run-first, run-second, pray-you-already-got-the-first-so-you-can-keep-running type of team. Martinez and Burkhead are very tough to stop, but Martinez just is not very good at passing—he has a hideous sidearm/shot-put delivery, and is very Denard-esque in his ability to hit short passes but only connect on deep balls when his receiver is the lone man occupying his zip code.
The Huskers love the speed option, and we'll probably see it out of several different formations on several different occasions on Saturday—they'll even run it on third-and-medium, and if the defense keys too much on the pass it will work. Against Penn State last week, Nebraska even had Burkhead line up at quarterback in the I-form—with Martinez as the I-back—and have him run the speed option, a wrinkle which terrifies me.
Other than the constant switching of formations, Nebraska runs a pretty simple offense. They're going to run the option, pound the ball up the middle with Burkhead, and then try to get Martinez to the edge, like so:
Most of Nebraska's passes either come off of play-action or are quick, one-read throws for Martinez—almost all of his completions (and he was 28-for-37 against Northwestern's terrible defense, so there's a large sample size here) came on short hitches along with a few slants and quick outs. If Nebraska is going to throw downfield, it will either be off a run fake or a hitch-and-go after lulling the corners to sleep with all the short stuff.
They also play up-tempo, though not quite as fast as, say, Northwestern. They do get to the line quickly and make it tough for the defense to make any substitutions, especially since the Huskers usually keep the same personnel on the field, but I didn't notice any plays where the Wildcat defense wasn't able to get set before the snap.
By the way, for a great breakdown of Nebraska's offense from a man who knows far more about football than I ever will, check out Greg Mattison's opening remarks from this week's coordinator presser, which should be must-read material for you at this point anyway.
PLAY BREAKDOWN: The run offense is pretty straight-forward—they're going to run a lot, so Michigan has to be ready up front, especially on the edge—so here are a couple plays to show how Nebraska tries to move the ball through the air. On the first play, Martinez reads blitz before the snap, and when he does this he'll almost always check to a quick pass, in this instance a slant:
Receiver derp aside, that worked quite well, though expect Mattison to dial up a bunch of zone blitzes in the hope that Martinez tries a quick pass right into a dropping lineman. Nearly all of Martinez's throws are to his first read, often forcing passes into small windows, though if his main receiver is obviously covered he'll usually bail from the pocket and try to scramble or buy time for a receiver to run free. He usually just ends up scrambling, in that case, because he's not particularly accurate on the run and can usually pick up something with his legs.
Here's an example of Nebraska taking advantage of the defense overplaying the run, as Martinez hits a play-action slant out of what would appear to be a run-heavy formation. There are only three real routes on the play—one a slow-developing wheel route out of the backfield—so obviously the Huskers are expecting the defense to bite hard on the fake and open up in the secondary, which works out here:
Michigan is going to have their hands full keying on the run game, and the safeties and linebackers especially will have to make sure they stay disciplined—Nebraska's first touchdown came on a post route, and they hit a couple seams and some deeper hitches off of play-action. The middle of the field is going to be tested, while the outside corners will mostly have to deal with short hitches that test their ability to come up and make a play on the ball or a sound tackle.
- Nebraska's offensive line did a solid job of neutralizing Northwestern's pass rush, giving up just one sack, but Martinez sometimes runs himself into trouble when he tries to step up in the pocket. He'll also bring himself under unnecessary fire by scrambling to the edge when the pocket is still intact. Michigan should be able to generate a much more consistent rush than the Wildcats, and the key here will be in keeping contain—having a couple of faster-than-average DEs in Craig Roh and Jake Ryan should be helpful in this regard.
- There isn't much I can say about the Husker receivers—they're pretty unspectacular, and while Martinez's delivery makes for some tough-to-catch passes, they also dropped a few that should've been brought in. Freshman Kenny Bell is Martinez's favorite target, and he has just 23 receptions for 307 yards this year. Tight ends Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton are actually the most dangerous receivers on the roster as they work the seams on play-action.
- Nebraska did show another interesting look against Northwestern, a heavy I-form that was very overshifted to the strong side. They tried to trick the Wildcats by running a speed option to the (very) weak side, but it was completely stuffed. Not sure we'll see that again, but it's worth keeping an eye out.
For the breakdown of Nebraska's defense, hit the jump.
News bullets and other important things:
- Barnum is "available," but Hoke won't say whether he'll actually play.
- Woolfolk did everything in practice fine.
- As did Denard.
Opening remarks: “It was another good Tuesday for us when you look at practice and preparation on both sides of ball. In the kicking game we really worked on the coverage game. In kickoff returns [Nebraska has] been very successful. They’ve got [Ameer] Abdullah, [who has], I think, 31 yards a return, so that’s field position, and that’s something we have to do a great job of covering -- kicking the ball and the coverage itself. In the punt game they’re averaging nine yards a return. It’s still pretty significant. We’ve got to do a great job of executing the hidden yardage you get from your special teams. We’ve got to do a great job as a team. If you’re punting the football, snapping the football, protecting whatever you may be doing, we’ve got to be very good this week.”
Will you be practicing at the stadium more these two weeks? “Well the kickers will. We don’t go up there at all as a team until game day. It’s a special day for us, and game day is important being in that stadium, but we were fortunate enough to have pretty good facilities obviously and get a lot of work done.”
Does Nebraska’s run game change how you prepare your secondary? “You know, not really. It obviously, when you’re a back end position, the discipline of your eyes and the alignment of your feet are such an important part of playing back there because you are the support at times. You are the last line of defense. You are a lot of different things, and for us, I think we’ve worked every week as far as the run game part of it, which we do a lot on Tuesday. More the passing game on Wednesday. Really work on crack schemes that they’ll run, which they do run -- they’re pretty daggone good at it -- and those kinds of things, just the reaction of where your eyes are, and your eyes will tell your feet where to go.”
(might as well jump. (JUMP!))
Opening remarks: “Well. We have another big one ahead of us. This next one, I guess you’d say that every game is really really big, but I think this one will pose a real challenge to our defense because they’re like three offenses in one. They’re a power attack -- their running back is a really good downhill runner. They go from that to being able to be an option attack with the quarterback. I think they have 4000-some yards, and 3000 and some of those are the quarterback and the running back. You see where their offense is. It makes the defense have to be sound in all phases. You can’t load up and play the power because you may be getting optioned. You can’t go in there with an idea of being a finesse or assignment totally or you’re going to get the power run right at you. This is going to be a big test. And he can throw it. He’s put some yardage on people. The last thing they do that challenges your defense is they have a fast pace, so they do that to try to get your defense so they’re not in great alignments. Just to be a little sloppy because they hurry up and if you’re not a real disciplined defense, you don’t get set correctly, and you know as well as I do that we’re not good enough to not be perfect in our assignments and our alignments.”
After rewatching film, are you still as happy with your defense? “Yeah. I watched the film and we were very very cirticial while we were watching film, but Michigan defense is built on … up front, you play aggressive. You knock them back, you are physical, you rush the passer. [In the] secondary, you challenge receivers. As a defense, you swarm and tackle. For the most part our guys did that during the game. It’s never perfect. Obviously coach always wants us to have a number of clips good and bad to show the whole group on Sunday. Yeah, I probably could find some bad ones to spend more time than he gave us. There was improvement. I just really was proud of how hard we played and to be able to go back out there and stop them again and stop them again. That’s what Michigan defense does, and that’s what we’re going to be called upon to do if we’re going to be a Michigan defense.”
How big of a concern is tempo with Nebraska? “That’s a concern. Any time a team tempos you, you have to find out how mature your defense is. You have to be a very disciplined defense, and you have to be a tough-minded defense to know that you’re going to get the call at the spur of the moment, and you have to line up at the spur of the moment, and you have to play. That’s something our guys have already addressed with them.”
Does chasing Denard in practice prepare you for Taylor Martinez? “Yeah, it’s a different deal, though. Chasing Denard around is really -- that’s after the fact. It’s a different play. For us, it’s going to be getting set, play your assignment, and then if you have to chase him around, chase him around. That’s why it’s different. Brady does drills with our guys every Tuesday after practice -- chasing the rabbit drill with our defensive linemen. That’s emphasizing what you have to do, but that doesn’t happen in the game like that all the time. It’s a lot better playing against a Denard than it would be playing against a drop-back guy all day for sure.”
(more after the jump)
In terms of Denard’s progress, what do you see on film that most people can’t see? “Well the issues with Denard, I think in the last game, were pretty much ball security deals. Other than that, he didn’t really throw the ball too bad. We didn’t throw the ball a lot with him, and he got hurt later in the game, so you didn’t see as much, but he’s managing the game pretty well. When he doesn’t get the yards, somebody else does. When nobody gets the yards, then we have issues, and that’s happened in a couple games -- those games we shouldn’t have lost. Denard’s growing in our offense. Nobody wants to hear that. I told them in the beginning, that I told him he’s not going to gain 1700 yards. We’re going to try and get somebody else involved. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that. There’s certain games he’s going to get more than he’s going to get in other games. As long as we’re getting productivity from our running game, if it isn’t him, that’s fine.”
How has his role changed since the emergence of Fitz? “It hasn’t changed much at all, it’s just a matter of who’s getting the opportunities. Sometimes they’re taking Denard away. By taking him away -- if you watch the second play of the game it’s probably the best example. We ran a little misdirect divide zone, and he carried out the
fade fake and three guys went with him, which gave Fitz an opportunity to run through a big cavity where there was nothing left but a corner or a safety, or I don’t remember what. People don’t understand the residual effects of Denard. Sometimes it’s not always him running for 200 yards, but him getting someone else to run for big yards. He helps in that respect.”
Why has ball security been an issue? “Well a couple times we dangled it in the pocket. He was doing a good job with it for the most part. We dangled it in the pocket one time. We have to keep the ball inside the perimeter of your shoulders so that you naturally brace when you get hit. That’s one of them. And he got the ball away from his body one time when he was running. He’s been pretty good running the ball, taking good care of the ball. We got a couple close calls where I think the ground caused the fumble in a couple games, but that’s generally it. You usually fumble when you’re fundamentally bad. You don’t keep the ball with five points of pressure and it gets away from your body and somebody strips it.”
(more after the jump)
Finally, a post on Tuesday. November is championship football, and championship football requires championship opponent watching.
(Fear scale: 0 = Bye week; 1 = If Michigan loses to this team Lloyd Carr will announce his retirement a second time; 5 = Illinois any given year; 8 = Best in B1G, which may or may not actually be any good; 9 = National title contender somewhere in the SEC; 10 = Hold me, Ace)
About Last Saturday:
No. 24 Michigan 31, Illinois 14 (W)
The Road Ahead:
No. 19 Nebraska (8-2, 4-2 B1G)
David Swanson / Philadelphia Inquirer
- Chattanooga, 40-7 (W)
- Fresno State, 42-29 (W)
- Washington, 51-38 (W)
- @ Wyoming, 38-14 (W)
- @ No. 7 Wisconsin, 48-17 (L)
- Ohio State, 34-27 (W)
- @ Minnesota, 41-14 (W)
- No. 11 Michigan State, 24-3 (W)
- Northwestern, 28-25 (L)
Last game: Nebraska 17, No. 12 Penn State 14 (W)
Recap: Nebraska shrugged off last week’s upset loss to Northwestern as well as the national scandal that has been monopolizing headlines to win a football game on the road.
Their rush offense steadily churned out a 17-0 lead midway through the third quarter before Penn State finally put together a cohesive touchdown drive. A Rex Burkhead (25 carries, 121 yards, 1 TD) fumble at the beginning of the fourth quarter gave the Nittany Lions a short field, so with the help of some trickery, Penn State was able to find the endzone again to cut the lead to 17-14.
That’s when the Huskers defensive front, led by LB Lavonte David, who had been quiet for most of the game, stiffened. Three times they stuffed Lions running backs for no gain on short yardage. 2nd and 1 turned into 3rd and 1 turned into 4th and 1, which ultimately led to a turnover on downs.
Miraculously, the Penn State defense was able to force a Nebraska four and out to get the ball back with 49 seconds remaining, but Nittany Lions QB Matt McGloin (16/34, 193 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs) had trouble finding receivers on the desperation drive, and his last pass under pressure fell incomplete.
Huskers QB Taylor Martinez had a pedestrian day, completing 13 of 26 passes for 143 yards and no TDs or INTs. He was also limited on the ground, carrying the ball 19 times for just 56 yards -- only one of those carries was a sack. He did manage the game well, however, and the offensive play of the game was his last-second option pitch to Rex Burkhead that went for a touchdown.
Right now they are as frightening as: The mounting sense of unknowing you get as you stare down the betting lines this week. 7.
Michigan should worry about: Option offense, which is something Michigan doesn’t really know if it can stop. Northwestern ran it successfully but then outsmarted themselves by abandoning it in the second half. Illlinois used it in limited quantities, and while Michigan stifled the hand-offs, the Scheelhaase keepers were effective and therefore worrisome.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Numerous reports indicate that Nebraska’s offensive line is about as deep as Michigan’s, i.e. drowning is a hazard only for the very young or the very intoxicated. The Wolverines D-line play has been steadily improving since the bye week, so that matchup looks to be favorable.
Additionally, if you’ve ever watched Martinez throw … eesh. Imagine Denard passing, but instead of an arm he has a chicken wing. Expect to see Jordan Kovacs nuzzling the line of scrimmage frequently.
DE Jared Crick has been out with a torn pectoral muscle, so Mark Huyge at least can sleep a little better.
When Michigan plays them: Both teams are going to try to make each other take to the air, at which point it’s anyone’s guess.
Martinez thrives on the kind of passing game that made Denard a 2500+ yard passer last year -- as teams choke up on the run game, receivers find themselves wandering alone in areas of the field large enough to raise a horse. Michigan’s safeties have done a good job of not blowing these sorts of assignments or getting beat deep so far, but again, they haven’t been tested by a true option offense where the whole point is to get safeties to bite on play-action. Worry if the Wolverines can’t stop the Burkhead-Martinez tandem early.
As far as Michigan’s passing game goes, jump balls are probably not such a great idea. Nebraska boasts one of the B1G’s best cover corners in Alfonso Dennard, and the guy playing opposite him is not so bad either. The Wolverines’ passing game does seem to be more sophisticated than the Huskers’ and relies less on establishing the run game, so there’s that.
Ultimately, I wouldn’t be surprised to see both teams combine for six turnovers.
Next game: at No. 18 Michigan
(more after the jump)
Just over an hour.
RON ZOOK: A WINNER IS EVERYBODY ELSE. Seven minute drive down 17 with ten minutes left. Thanks, Ron.
WE BE LIKE DANG ABOUT THE DEFENSE. Martin, Ryan, and Floyd come in for specific praise. Mallory is wondered at. Mattison w00t.
SPECIAL TEAMS: EXTANT. Hurrah. Unfortunately, this section caused us to reminisce about last year's special teams.
BORGES: DEFENDED VIGOROUSLY. Serious.
DENARD VS DEVIN: ACE HATES YOU TWITTER. Do not tweet him about how Devin should start or he will look up stats.
WHICH BIG TEN TROPHIES WOULD ARCHEOLOGISTS LOSE THEIR CRAP OVER? Heated debate here. Seriously. Trends in ancient pottery
THE BIG TEN: THE BIG TEN. Jamiemac of Just Cover comes on to predict Illinois annihilation at the hands of Wisconsin, does not want to hire Danny Hope, and predicts victory.
I've had the White Stripes on the brain ever since I listed various songs that would actually be welcome in Michigan Stadium so this week the musical selections are "Conquest" (off Icky Thump) -- obvious reasons, also the a-ha reversal angle -- and "Little Room" (off White Blood Cells) because the defense is moving to a bigger room.
BONUS BONUS BONUS BONUS! I didn't break the iTunes link, so it still works.
SLIGHT UNBONUS. The first few seconds of the segment with Jamie got cut off.
The usual links: