All Big Ten 2006: Offense

All Big Ten 2006: Offense

Submitted by Brian on November 27th, 2006 at 7:44 PM

Note: I've never gotten the idea of All-Whatever teams with two running backs. Teams don't play two running backs. They play a fullback or a third wide receiver or maybe a tight end. Given spreadmania in the Big Ten, the first team offense has three wideouts. A fullback is on the second team.

Also: offensive linemen are broken down by position, which was stupid in retrospect.

Also also: MGoBlog feels sorry for Notre Dame. Since the Irish aren't in a conference, they can't get all-conference level recognition. In the spirit of the season, I've decided to share the Big Ten awards with ND. All deserving Irish players are included.

Quarterback

1. Troy Smith, Ohio State.

I don't want to talk about it. Fortunately, I don't have to since this is obvious.

2. Chad Henne, Michigan.

Wasn't asked to do much -- new Michigan offensive coordinator Mike Debord apparently gets a series of painful electric shocks whenever he calls a first-down pass -- but was efficient when called upon. His strike rate on bombs was exceptional this year and his overall accuracy was similarly improved after an uneven sophomore year. Henne is maturing into the player Michigan fans thought he'd be after an impressive freshman debut, though he was clearly a step behind Smith during The Game.

Running Back

1. Mike Hart, Michigan

He's little, he's impossible to tackle, and he never fumbles except for that one time he did. But even that wasn't charged against him. Stupid rule, but we'll take it. The backbone of the Michigan offense, Hart led the nation in carries, finished seventh in yards, and drove Michigan up from the ashes of 7-5. He won't win the Doak Walker, but goddammit he should win something. Invent it. The Mike Hart: for being exactly like Mike Hart.

2. Tony Hunt, Penn State

Yes, he was badly outgained by Wisconsin's PJ Hill, but Hill had the following advantages:

  • a quarterback
  • an offensive line.

You will agree with me that these are important things to have in the game of football, yes? Hunt was the Penn State offense, such as it was. With Anthony Morelli completing a whopping 54% of his passes, teams could tee off on Hunt on anything that looked remotely like a running down. This they did, but Hunt dragged them five yards forward anyway. I went into the year thinking Hunt was average at best, but come out of it with a respect for his pounding style and yeoman service to a lost cause. Without him, Penn State reverts all the way to their 2003-2004 nadir. If you're handing out a "most valuable player" award in the Big Ten... well... Troy Smith still wins. But Hunt is second.

Fullback

2. BranDon Snow, PSU

I love fullbacks, and place one on this team despite their rapidly fading relevance. Snow was the thumping hammer for Tony Hunt's junior and senior years, when Penn State's running game emerged to rescue it from the bowlless depths of seasons past. Like Kevin Dudley, Snow turns linebackers into a white-hot furrow of snapped limbs and smoke, and that deserves a "shout-out," as the kids say with the hippin' and the hoppin' these days.

Wide Receiver

1. Mario Manningham, Michigan

Missed three games and was used sparingly in another two after midseason knee surgery, but you can't overlook 19.5 yards per catch and 9 touchdowns, all of them deep balls that Manningham hauled in with a breathtaking gracefulness. Or maybe that last bit is just me. He's inexplicably, remarkably good, physically imposing in no way. The magic is in his routes, which get him yards past befuddled defensive backs, and his hands, which cradle over-the-shoulder bombs like they're kittens. Kittens of Wolverine joy.

1. Anthony Gonzalez, Ohio State

IS BETTER THAN TED GINN. Okay? Okay? It's a testament to Troy Smith that the Buckeyes spread the ball around so much that four receivers ended up with around thirty catches, but it did depress the chances of said receivers getting flashy postseason awards. Well, not here. Gonzalez is fast, smart, and sure-handed, and it was he -- not Ginn -- who turned in the year's best highlight reel moment from the Buckeye wide receiving corps when he turned a short dig route into a WOOP WOOP WOOP thirty yard touchdown against Iowa. Also, he didn't drop like five passes versus Michigan.

1. Dorien Bryant, Purdue

It's a shame that Purdue only has one defensive player who doesn't suck in all the ways you can suck (DE Anthony Spencer), as a Purdue team with a competent defense would have been a fun, dangerous team to watch the rest of the Big Ten play. Bryant was the unquestioned center of that danger, a waterbug of a wide receiver who was Steve Breaston's good twin over the course of his four years as a Purdue starter.

2. Logan Payne, Minnesota

He's big, kind of lumbering, and white, but kind of good and fast and stuff. Where did Logan Payne come from? No one knows. Where is he going? The middle rounds of the NFL draft. The most unsung offensive skill player in the Big Ten, Payne ended up fifth in receiving yards per game playing in a run-dedicated Minnesota offense. He's a dedicated blocker on the edge, quick enough to take a long handoff six or seven yards, and irritatingly good at getting open in zone coverage. This was supposed to be Ernest Wheelwright's spot, but Payne was the focus of the Minnesota passing game.

2. James Hardy, Indiana

Much debate here. Hardy's numbers came in great bursts against certain crappy secondaries (Iowa, Michigan State) but were interspersed with caverns of nothing production against real teams. Still, Hardy had to deal with bracketed coverage, a freshman quarterback, and the general Indiana-ness of Indiana and still played a huge role in most of Indiana's five victories.

Tight End

1. Matt Spaeth, Minnesota

I've had a throbbing mancrush on the brobdingnagian Spaeth since his sophomore year, when he spearheaded Minnesota's perimeter rushing game with vicious abandon. He slowly became a viable option in the passing game; this year he was a weapon in both the run and pass games. I won't soon forget his down block on Tim Jamison when the Gophers played Michigan: he came in motion and then blew Jamison onto he ground like he was a child. Result: 20 yards for Amir Pinnix. Plus he catches and stuff. Farewell, O Mighty Spaeth.

2. Travis Beckum, Wisconsin

...was a linebacker a year ago. This year, he's the Big Ten's second-leading receiver. Saddled with receivers named "Swan" who play like that irritating Asian stereotype from the always-unfunny MadTV, John Stocco had to find someone to throw the ball to. Someone turned out to be Beckum, a hyped defensive recruit a couple years who found an application for this athleticism on the other side of the ball. Beckum has hands and the ability to stretch linebackers down the seam. He's a mismatch waiting to happen and Tyler Donovan's favorite target in 2007, guaranteed.

Offensive Tackle

1. Joe Thomas, Wisconsin

...will be a top five draft pick. Crooshed silly defenders en route to 1500-yard PJ Hill season. Yielded zero sacks. Uh, yeah.

1. Jake Long, Michigan

...will return for his senior year (please?). If he doesn't, will be a first-round draft pick. Michigan ran "zone left" on seemingly half its snaps a year ago, and Long was a major reason why.

2. Mike Otto and Sean Sester, Purdue

The Boilermakers threw a remarkable 505 passes this year. Curtis Painter was sacked only 17 times, largely because the veteran Purdue offensive line walled off opponents like whoah. (Also slightly because Purdue didn't play Michigan or Ohio State.)

Guard

Well... crap. I don't know enough about offensive lines and I haven't watched games closely enough to really tell you. So this is sketchy guesswork.

1. Adam Kraus, Michigan

I have watched a lot of Michigan games and observed the interior line play. Kraus has been solid in both pass and run protection. Occasionally he'll miss a block, but that happens to everyone, and when he does it's usually one of those playside nightmares against a slanting DL.

1. TJ Downing, Ohio State
2. Mike JONES, Iowa
2. Kyle Cook, Michigan State

On the theory that the coaches know what they're doing.

Center

1. Doug Datish, Ohio State
2. Mark Bihl, Michigan

Again, coach agreeance by default.

Woo! Interior linemen! So hard!

Unverified Voracity Deploys "You're" Correctly

Unverified Voracity Deploys "You're" Correctly

Submitted by Brian on November 13th, 2006 at 10:35 PM

Yeah...

...this guy definitely had to add that tiny apostrophe and obviously-not-centered E after a Northwestern fan pointed out that "Michigan Your Next" isn't English. Ladies and gentlemen, Ohio State fans!

CSTV is doing this "Battle of the Blogs" thing where Michigan and Ohio State bloggers tackle certain topics. Main page is up; my thing goes Friday.

In which I take aim at Michigan Monday. Passages of interest:

What worries me on offense? Basically, 1995 and 2003. I'm worried about Michigan coming out and being able to run the ball at will. Usually, when the game is in Columbus, I have no fears about Michigan's running game. Don't get me wrong, I don't see Mike Hart busting out like Tim Biakabatuka or Chris Perry, but the thought of Michigan getting five yards on first down every time concerns me.

Weird. The thought of Michigan running on every first down gives me hives; he's concerned about the rush defense. I do think there's reason to be concerned, FWIW, as the Buckeyes have given up quite a lot of yards per carry when opponent running backs are suffered to possess the ball, but I wouldn't expect an OSU fan to be worried about what's honestly been a pretty meh running game.

If Troy Smith gets time to throw, Michigan's secondary is vulnerable. The Wolverine safeties don't necessarily excel in pass coverage and the corners can only do so much. Leon Hall is a very good corner, and when he feels challenged, he always steps it up. Again, if Troy Smith gets time to throw, Michigan will have no favorable match-ups in four and five-wide situations. And that's why Michigan has to get to Troy Smith. If they don't, it's going to be nearly impossible for them to win.

I've addressed this before, but the persistent belief that the Michigan secondary is way vulnerable is also weird. And I agree: if Troy Smith is allowed to sit in the pocket with only one or no extra blockers in, we're screwed. But that's like saying that scoring points is a good idea. Uh... duh. For what it's worth, if OSU doesn't pressure Henne it's going to be almost impossible for them to win.

What about Michigan's passing game, you ask? Honestly, I'm not too concerned about it. Obviously, the screens concern me. In this game, they'll always concern me. But as far as the downfield stuff goes, I'll believe Michigan can have success with it when I see it. Of course, there's always the chance that Michigan has been saving something. Perhaps they'll choose to use the middle of the field more this week than they have in the past. Who knows. I feel the Ohio State secondary matches up very well with the Michigan receivers. The Buckeyes have three very good starting cornerbacks and two very good safeties. Without knowing how effective Mario Manningham is going to be, I think the Ohio State pass defense definitely has the advantage in this one. And don't forget, the Buckeye defense is averaging two interceptions per game.

See, to me something like "the Buckeye defense is averaging two interceptions per game" is a giant red flag, since interceptions are almost always someone on the offense's fault and are totally fluky unless a quarterback is hit while he throws. As a general rule, turnovers are a function of the offense's competency to avoid them, not the defense's ability to force them -- again, with the exception of quarterback pressure. Michigan is very good at avoiding turnovers.

Also: if he doesn't want to believe Manningham is healthy, that's his prerogative, but given everything we know about the nature and extent of his injury, plus the snaps he's taken in the last two games it's silly to assume he can't play. Wishful thinking. Nowhere in his column does he mention Alex Boone's status, and he didn't even play versus Northwestern. (Not that I think his injury will be an issue. The Bucks say he'll be fine, so I believe them.) Manningham is also fine, otherwise Michigan wouldn't risk him before the game -- that would be insane.

He revisits this later:

Receiver Mario Manningham. I won't be convinced he's healthy until I see it. What made him so good before his injury was his ability to cut and separate from the defender. I'm not sure he can do that as well as he needs to against Ohio State's secondary.

Seems like wishful thinking, IMO.

He's going to play most of the game this week due to Ohio State's spread attack. Ask your local Michigan fan how they feel about that. Assuming you know a Michigan fan that knows who Harrison is.

Well, you know, I wish he was like Justin King or whatever, but Harrison's been okay.

Braves & Birds takes a look at the MNC contenders and their average yards per play on both sides of the ball. Conclusions:

In addition to all the other factors that make this weekend's tilt exciting, Ohio State and Michigan look to be two very evenly-matched teams, especially when you take into account that Michigan puts the brakes on its own offense when leading more than your average college football power. (An unprovable assertion, I know, but I've watched a lot of football and I feel pretty comfortable in saying that no one employs the Milton Berle approach more than Michigan.) Michigan is a little better on offense, Ohio State is a little better on offense, and they both have wild card returners who can alter the balance of the game.

And also:

Notre Dame has no business being in the national title discussion. Against a relatively unimposing schedule, their defensive numbers are signficantly worse than those of any other national title contender and their offensive numbers are not nearly enough to make up for the shortcoming. USC should bury Notre Dame, especially if the USC team of Saturday night that can run the ball and play defense is the USC team that shows up on November 25. Furthermore, Notre Dame would either be there against a team that beat them by 26 in South Bend or in place of that team with the same record.

Amen. Lord knows what voters will do -- they have West Virginia in front of a Louisville team that beat them by two scores two weeks ago -- but I think they'd be hard pressed to dump the Michigan/OSU loser below ND given the BEAT DOWN in September. OSU would be more likely to fall than Michigan, IMO, since a potential OSU loss would be at home, the Buckeyes' primo win over Texas has recently lost some luster, and the computers are already turning up their noses at OSU's Wisconsin-free schedule.

Stadium & Main has more on the rematch thing.

Hey, well, that's cool. Maize 'n' Brew got a hit from a Google search for "Barry Alvarez Trip Hawaii hookers." Weird. He's the third hit. MGoBlog? The sixth.

I guess I should have pointed this out sooner... damn. Anyway, for much of the year the top result on Google when you type in "F*** Michigan" (sans stars) was my anti-Buckeye diatribe from last year. Something must have gotten rejiggered; now it's third. Damn.

BON busts out their "Under The Hood" series for Michigan-OSU, providing a complete statistical overview well worth your time. I also have to link anyone who busts out the time-tested and true "Charts? Charts." Charts!

Initial conclusion: approximately equal teams. Michigan slightly better on resume.

Don't click here.

Etc.: Maisel on UM; Mandel on same; MGoBlue's main page.