Opponent Watch: Week 6

Opponent Watch: Week 6

Submitted by Heiko on October 11th, 2012 at 4:06 PM

About Last Saturday:

Michigan 44, Purdue 13

Mike DiNovo / US PRESSWIRE

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The Road Ahead:

Illinois (2-4 overall, 0-2 B1G)

Last game: Illinois 14, Wisconsin 31 (L)

Recap: Illinois scored first at Camp Randall on a Nathan Scheelhaase keeper, which was so exciting that they forgot to do anything on offense again until the fourth quarter, when they were trailing 24-7.

Two years ago -- maybe even last year -- this game would have been much more impressive to behold. Tough defensive battle. Field position chess. Making Plays. Manball. But given the way both teams have been riding the strugglebus since September, I don’t think either team left the field being overly excited about anything. 

Wisconsin got back on track in the running game with RBs Montee Ball (19 carries, 116 yards, 6.1 ypc) and James White (6 carries, 42 yards, 7.0 ypc) against a decent Illini rush defense (ranked somewhere between 30th and 40th), but they got most of their yards late in the game when the game was pretty much out of hand. They did nothing before the end of the third quarter.

Badgers QB Joel Stave (16/24, 254 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT) proved himself an apt replacement for Danny O’Brien, but the offense did an awful job on third down, converting only two of 10 attempts. Stave threw one bomb in the fourth quarter to WR Jared Abbrederis (7 rec, 117 yards, 1 TD), but was otherwise unremarkable. His other long TD was a screen to White.

So … what about Illinois? Illinois has a running quarterback and a couple scary-ish guys on defense. The rest of the team wears jerseys with nameplates that alternatingly read “Despair” and “Self-pity.”

Personnel note: CB Terry Hawthorne was involved in a nasty collision during the game (he got flagged for the dangerous hit), lost consciousness for several long moments, and had to get carted away in an ambulance. He’s deemed “questionable” for Saturday and needs to clear a bunch of concussion tests and cardio workouts, and then endure practice. Yeah. I don’t think he’s playing.

This team is as frightening as: Once upon a time Illinois was a rock: full of inertia, heavily influenced by gravity, a hazardous roadblock. Then someone stuck a stick of dynamite beneath it and blew it into a pile of rubble. Now all anyone needs to do is roll over it slowly and watch for jagged edges, of which there are few. Fear level = 2.5.

Michigan should worry about: Every once in a while a flailing team coordinates all its movements to put together an improbably coherent and effective performance against a confidently unsuspecting opponent. You can’t have followed Michigan football over the last several years and not experience this feeling on a weekly basis.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: The fact that they were better under Ron Zook, which is kind of like saying chocolate was better with orange juice because now all you have is tobacco juice.

When they play Michigan: Home game Big House wooooooo.

Next game: No. 25 Michigan

Opponent Watch: Week 5

Opponent Watch: Week 5

Submitted by Heiko on October 4th, 2012 at 6:25 PM

The Road Ahead:

Purdue (3-1)

Last game: Marshall 41, Purdue 51 (W)

Recap: Purdue’s defense gave up 534 yards and 41 points to a middling C-USA team, but this was okay because Purdue had a 42-14 lead going into halftime and ended up with four takeaways on the day due to the fast and loose nature of Marshall’s offense. The Boilermakers were never really in danger of losing, but for argument’s sake let’s go with the storyline that QB Caleb Terbush’s brilliant performance (27/37, 294 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT) saved the day. Who needs Robert Marve when you have Drew Brees under center. Yeah.

(As Ace noted in his FFFF yesterday, most of these were screen passes, so really, credit goes to the skill guys).

Purdue didn’t do much on the ground, where they averaged a little under 3 ypc. Most of their offense was generated by screens and quick passes. If lingering concern still exists about Michigan’s defensive front, it shouldn’t matter much against Purdue. Most of the action will go outside.

Defensively the Boilermakers got papercutted to death. Marshall QB Rakeem Cato (45/68, 439 yards, 5 TD, 3 INT) … well you can just read his stats to see how that went. Unfortunately Michigan has eschewed the dink-and-dunk offense for a Big Boy NFL vertical passing game, so it’s unlikely that Denard will have as much production through the air compared with Cato. But for the amount of hype Purdue CB Josh Johnson and Ricardo Allen have generated over the offseason, that kind of a ho-hum day (although they each did record a pick-six) seems reasonable to believe that there is room to get guys open against them. Again, different offenses, different game plan, but there is room for optimism.

This team is as frightening as: Notre Dame lite. Fear level = 5.

Michigan should worry about: This is the team Michigan will likely need to beat twice in order to reach the Rose Bowl.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: If Michigan can beat them on the road, they can beat them on a neutral site, eh?

When they play Michigan: The same sorts of matchups and opportunities exist against Purdue that existed against Notre Dame: a stout defensive front with key weaknesses behind them and a mediocre offense led by solid but uninspiring quarterback play. Michigan should succeed with a more conservative game plan on offense that emphasizes the ground game (just don’t run at Kawann Short) and easy reads for Denard. Michigan’s defense should take care of the rest.

Next game: vs. Snake Oil Emporium.

Opponent Watch: Week 4

Opponent Watch: Week 4

Submitted by Heiko on September 27th, 2012 at 11:38 AM

About Last Saturday:

Happiness - 6, Unhappiness - 13. 

Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images

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The Road Ahead:

Purdue (2-1)

Last game: Bye.

Recap: This was the B1G’s best performance last weekend in which cruelty to animals was not involved.

Next game: vs. Marshall

Opponent Watch: Week 3

Opponent Watch: Week 3

Submitted by Heiko on September 20th, 2012 at 5:17 PM

About Last Saturday:

Baby Seal 13, Club 63

The internet is a strange place.

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The Road Ahead:

No. 11 Notre Dame (3-0)

Last game: Notre Dame 20, Michigan State 3 (W)

Recap: Another Michigan fan on twitter suggested that watching this game was like watching two douchebags trying to get with your sister at Rick’s. If that’s the case, congratulations to Notre Dame for the equivalent of having more than three dollars to pay for her drinks.

Anyway, Football. Right. The Irish beat Michigan State by a healthy margin. After scoring twice in the first half to get to a 14-3 lead, Sparty never came close to breaking the chokehold despite holding the Notre Dame offense to a pair of field goals in the second half. The Irish front seven was just as impressive as Michigan State’s. Their defensive line ran through Sparty’s offensive line on nearly every play, which made life miserable for MSU QB Andrew Maxwell (23/45, 187 yards) in passing situations. They limited RB Le’Veon Bell’s (19 carries, 77 yards) effectiveness such that Michigan State had to abandon using him in the second half. More importantly, the pass rush allowed the inexperienced secondary to make a few plays on Sparty’s equally inexperienced receivers.

The linebackers impressed as well, and Manti Te’o (12 tackles, 2 PBU) was Manti Te’O, despite dealing with the tragedy of losing both his girlfriend and grandmother just days earlier. There are lots of Notre Dame players who are very easy to root against. Te'o is not one of them.

Offensively Notre Dame was underwhelming but relatively error-free. The game plan was to rely on the defense to win the game, so offensive playcalling focused on the ground game save for a couple spectacular big plays that ultimately resulted in points. The conservative approach resulted in some ugly stats like 1 of 14 on third down conversions, but it won the game, so I won’t criticize. I’d be surprised if the Irish deviate from that plan against Michigan since offensive errors cost them the last two games in the series.

This team is as frightening as: Windows 7. The previous version was buggy and unintuitive and too complicated with all the bells and whistles -- it sucked. This one looks like it could actually be viable for the long term, but by this point pretty much everyone owns a Mac. Bill Gates was so last century. Regardless, fear level = 8.

Michigan should worry about: An Alabama redux. If Michigan doesn’t hit a bunch of passes early, there will be no room for either Denard or Fitz to run.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: With S Jamoris Slaughter out, Notre Dame’s secondary looks an awful lot like NEVER FORGET. Michigan might actually be able to hit a bunch of passes early.

When they play Michigan: If this were any other game, I wouldn’t bother getting my hopes up for a Michigan win. But it’s Notre Dame, and weird things happen when Michigan plays Notre Dame.

Next game: vs. No. 18 Michigan

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Opponent Watch: Week 2

Opponent Watch: Week 2

Submitted by Heiko on September 13th, 2012 at 7:37 PM

About Last Saturday:

Air Force 25, Michigan 31

Your wings got helmets.

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The Road Ahead:

UMass (0-2)

Last game: Indiana 45, UMass 6 (L)

Recap: A baby seal walks into a club and says, "Ow."

This team is as frightening as: A couple reps with a five-pound dumbbell in the middle of a workout that has so far consisted of bench-pressing an elephant and 60 minutes of CrossFit. Fear level = 1.

Michigan should worry about: Hey guys, I really don’t think we need to worry about this one.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: Like for real.

Mike Cox: Is three inches bigger.

When they play Michigan: Key matchup will be me (-7) vs. press box food. “Ermahgerd” over/under is set at 10.5.

Next game: No. 17 Michigan

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Opponent Watch: Week 1

Opponent Watch: Week 1

Submitted by Heiko on September 6th, 2012 at 5:41 PM

(Fear scale: 1 = UMass. 10 = Alabama)

About Last Saturday:

14 - I’m totally over it!, 41 - Haha over *twitch* what?

I do not remember this happening.

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The road ahead:

Air Force (1-0)

Michael Ciaglo, Colarado Springs Gazette

Last game: Idaho State 21, Air Force 49 (W)

Recap: Let’s be honest: I didn’t watch this game. Nobody did. Not even Ace. Poor guy, though. Had to go down to Dallas and sit through the worst three hours of Michigan football since the Gator Bowl, and then had to break down film from a Notre Dame game. You know, my heart really goes out to him. He has a Facebook page. 1,000 likes and I’ll donate him half of my liver; 10,000 and I’ll throw in a kidney, too.

So word on the street is that Air Force bulldozed Idaho State for half a kilometer on the ground. This is completely unsurprising. Triple option teams are designed to put up 300 yards rushing on opponents like Alabama despite having far less talent in the traditional sense. 49-21 is therefore what happens when such a team plays someone that has even less talent than they do -- Idaho State is FCS.

News item: Air Force’s center Michael Husar, Jr. (Dad was a tackle for Michigan from ‘85-‘88) went down with an ACL/MCL tear. He was reputedly their best lineman, so look for their offense to be somewhat less impressive against Michigan. Get well soon, Michael.

This team is as frightening as: A fleet of MiG-15’s; Michigan is a squadron of B-52’s. Michigan will be fine as long as they get to their base before the other guys ever get off the ground. I realize that sounds a little strange, and I’m trying really hard not to say “bomb,” but the analogy works because the MiGs are smaller and have less firepower than the B-52’s, and during the Korean War … you know what screw it. Go read a book. Maybe you’ll learn something. Fear level = 3.

Michigan should worry about: Defense vs. triple option stuff. Close your eyes, cross your arms, and yell “LALALALALALA” if Kenny Demens never takes a step toward the line of scrimmage and as a result gets plowed by their backup center every other play.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: All their linemen are undersized because they’re the Air Force and the Air Force doesn’t make cockpits for fatties.

When they play Michigan: I will be sober. I promise.

Next game: In the Big House.

2012 Opponent Preview: Minnesota

2012 Opponent Preview: Minnesota

Submitted by Heiko on June 26th, 2012 at 9:00 AM

Previously: PurdueIllinoisMichigan State, Nebraska

Minnesota

Glory days. Once upon a time Minnesota was pretty good at football. During head coach Bennie Bierman's 18-year tenure in the WWII era, the Gophers claimed five national championships and seven conference titles. A decade later (1960) Minnesota claimed another national crown under Murray Warmath. They won a Rose Bowl a year later. And then the bottom fell out.

Since then, no Gophers coach has recorded a winning record (including Lou Holtz, who coached there in 1984 and 1985) until Glen Mason, who posted .535 and their first 10-win season since 1905. No coach has since recorded a winning record, either.

This is a circuitous way to say WHY WOULD YOU FIRE HIM???

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The actual preview part

1000-foot view.

The Metrodome, which unfortunately is not where this year's game will be played.

Last season sucked for the most part but ended with a ray of hope for the Minnesota football program. They stole a victory from Iowa and trounced Illinois, effectively ending GopherQuest, an unofficial pursuit to become the Worst Big Ten Team Ever.

So despite finishing 3-9, second year head coach Jerry Kill bought himself and his coaching staff time to rebuild the program. Whether Kill ever reaches the success of even the Mason era remains to be seen. He has a good track record as a coach, but taking a program like Minnesota from its previously moribund state into contention to even win the division will require a quantum leap. At the very least it will have to start with recruiting. For the Gophers, that currently isn't going so hot.

In the meantime Michigan fans can sit back and enjoy Minnesota's presence as the reputed "thorn in the side" of mid-major Big Ten teams -- the Iowas and the Illinoises, I suppose -- without Michigan itself being in any real danger of succumbing to the occasional upset. 

Here's hoping for a Minnesota victory on November 24. 

Schedule.

  • Aug. 30 (Thursday), @ UNLV
  • Sept. 8, New Hampshire
  • Sept. 15, Western Michigan
  • Sept. 22, Syracuse
  • Sept. 29, @ Iowa
  • Oct. 6, WIFEDAY
  • Oct. 13, Northwestern
  • Oct. 20, @ Wisconsin
  • Oct. 27, Purdue
  • Nov. 3, Michigan
  • Nov. 10, @ Illinois
  • Nov. 17, @ Nebraska
  • Nov. 24, Michigan State

Non-conference will be interesting only because Minnesota hosts Syracuse, who has a running backs coach by the name of Tyrone Wheatley. Other than that, there's not much reason to tune into any of their first four games unless you're so jonesing for B1G football by August you'll watch Gophers in Nevada on a Thursday night.

Not much is particularly notable about their B1G schedule. Having both Wisconsin and Nebraska on the road isn't ideal, but I don't really think anyone's expecting the Gophers to win either of those games regardless of location. Also, the last four games will be rough. 

Matchups to watch: at Iowa and Michigan State at home. Minnesota played both of those teams competitively last season and even managed to eke out the Iowa game. It will be interesting to see whether there is something inherent in the Gophers' playing style that's favorable against those two teams, who share similar systems, or whether they just played two really flukey games last year.

Minnesota should be able to get three wins out of non-conference and pull out a B1G win over Illinois (most likely) or Purdue or Northwestern (less likely).

This schedule is as favorable as: a half hour "hill workout" on a stairmaster.

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X's and O's, Jimmys and Joes

Offense

No. 5 QB Marqueis Gray

Style: Spready McSpreaderson

Key losses: RB Duane Bennett (639 yards, 3.8 ypc, 3 TD), WR Da'Jon McKnight (51 rec, 760 yards, 4 TD), TE Collin McGarry (16 rec, 120 yards, 2 TD), RT Chris Bunders, RG Ryan Orton, C Ryan Winn.

Top returners: QB MarQueis Gray (50.7%, 1495 yards, 8 TD, 8 INT), WR Devin Crawford-Tufts (8 rec, 156 yards), WR Brandon Green (15 rec, 190, 1 TD), LT Ed Olsen, LG Tommy Olsen.

Everything anyone needs to know about Minnesota's offense begins with MarQueis and ends with Gray. Gopher fans say Gray is their Denard Robinson (or better than Denard Robinson). Really he's more their version of Devin Gardner, i.e. a super athlete with a less than accurate arm who's probably better off playing receiver if not for the dire QB depth situation.

Last year he ran Minnesota's offense about as well as you could expect him to. He started 11 games, missing the entirety of the Michigan game due to a broken thumb, and otherwise got spelled by backup QB Max Shortell in a three-game stretch before wresting the starting job back completely. With the help of some decent skill players like Bennett and McKnight around him, Gray put on a few commendable performances against Iowa, Michigan State, and Illinois late in the season.

The loss of Bennett, McKnight, and the entire right side of the offensive line means Minnesota should probably brace for some "growing pains" -- as Al Borges would say -- this season. They might be okay at receiver. They have a couple fast guys (Crawford-Tufts, WR Marcus Jones) who should be effective in the spread. The running back competition seems to be murky at this point, however. The Gophers don't really have a whole lot in the way of reinforcements since their recruiting hauls have been understandably meager the last few years. They're going to have to make up with heart what they lack in stars.

Unless the Gophers can get their other receivers and a running back to step up, it will be the MarQueis Gray show until he gets injured, at which point the Gophers should just crawl into a hole and hope they don't see any shadows next spring.

This offense is as frightening as: A one-legged pirate who became a one-limbed pirate after a recent case of gangrene. Fear level = Yarrr! (3)

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Defense

No. 11 CB Troy Stoudermire

Style: 4-3

Key losses: S Kim Royston (123 tackles (2nd in B1G), 3.5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 PBU, 1 INT), MLB Gary Tinsley (87 tackles, 9 TFL 4 sacks, 3 PBU), DT Anthony Jacobs (26 tackles, 6 TFL, 1 sack).

Top returners: CB Troy Stoudermire (24 tackles, 3 PBU, 2 INT, missed 8 games due to injury), WLB Keanon Cooper (77 tackles, 6 TFL, 1 sack, 2 PBU)

One major reason Michigan blew Minnesota out of the water last season was the absence of MarQueis Gray. Another, perhaps more easily forgotten reason is the fact that Troy Stoudermire was missing from the game as well due to a fractured wrist. Stoudermire was a converted receiver playing corner in 2011, but through four games he proved to be a pretty competent one.

While the loss of Gray obviously had the bigger impact, having Stoudermire in the defensive backfield may have kept Denard in the game longer and given Borges a better opportunity to test Denard's passing issues against a decent corner instead of pulling him after an impeccable first half and calling it a day. Could have helped with the first half against Northwestern is all I'm sayin'. Dawg.

This season Minnesota should be getting Stoudermire back from injury. Good thing, because the Gophers lose a big chunk of their defensive impact players. Like the offense, this defense isn't going to get by on talent; other than Stoudermire, you wouldn't call anyone else on the unit a "solid B1G starter."

That's not to say they aren't any good at all. If you take away the massive skewing effects of their scores vs. Michigan, Purdue, and Wisconsin, their defensive stats weren't all that bad, especially toward the end of the season. That is a rough estimate.

Even without massaging the numbers, Minnesota ended up above average in things like pass defense, which is to say that with the right coaching they can at least milk their talent to allow them to hover around mediocre in other categories as well. They'll have to start with the front seven -- they were horrible against the run last season, and Ace identified this obvious weakness in his FFFF, back when North Dakota State was averaging 5.0 ypc against them. Not good. 

This defense is as frightening as: A one-limbed pirate who contracted frostbite in his remaining foot due to his inability to put on socks. Fear level = Yarr? (2)

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Predictions

Record: 4-8 overall, 1-7 B1G. 

Against Michigan: They might actually score a touchdown. Michigan will score fewer touchdowns. 31-7 Michigan.

Their chances of winning the B1G are as good as: A one-limbed pirate with frostbite completing a half hour hill workout on a stairmaster.