Opponent Watch: Week 9

Opponent Watch: Week 9

Submitted by Heiko on November 3rd, 2011 at 9:47 AM

About Last Saturday:

Purdue 14, Michigan 36

Caption contest. Go.

The Road Ahead:

Iowa (5-3, 2-2 B1G)

Last game: Iowa 21, Minnesota 22 (L)

Recap: The only thing worse than questing for title of “Worst Big Ten Team EVER” is losing to that team, which Iowa did on Saturday. Flags in Iowa City flew at half mast to honor the death of Gopherquest -- and themselves, in the eyes of Brian Cook.

briantweetiowadead

Two deaths and a funeral indeed.

Let’s take a look at the autopsy report: Thanks to a couple missed field goals, the game was close through the third quarter until Iowa scored to go ahead 21-10 early in the fourth, seemingly poised to finally wrest it out of Minnesota’s reach.

After a Hawkeyes fumble and Gophers field goal, however, Minnesota converted a fourth and one from their own 42 and scored a touchdown a couple plays later.

The Gophers onside kicked, catching Iowa by surprise. Minnesota recovered and miraculously scored again on a fourth-down conversion at the Iowa three.

Flailing, the Hawkeyes went four-and-out and were then helpless to stop the Gophers from running out the clock.

Remarkably, Iowa RB Marcus Coker carried the ball 32 times for 252 yards and 2 touchdowns in an outstanding effort no Iowa fan will ever remember. Imagine if Pheidippides had made it all the way to Athens only to collapse before delivering his message. Instead of inspiring an entire culture of running a couple millenia later, now he’s just a clammy dead guy.

Right now they are as frightening as: A watered down version of 2007 Michigan immediately post-Horror -- not as good, therefore not as embarrassed. Still hiding under a blanky though. 5.

Michigan should worry about: The first real manball team on the schedule not playing in a trash tornado. Also the last.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: Iowa had the rhabdomyolysis problem in the offseason, which seems to have scared the CARA out of the strength staff. (Do you see what I did there?)

As a result, Iowa’s defense looks like it’s been playing Wii Fit in lieu of real conditioning. They made Iowa State QB Steele Jantz look like Andrew Luck, allowed Penn State to go Look-Ma-No-QB, and couldn’t stop Marqueis Gray when it mattered -- incidentally, all of these things happened in the fourth quarter.

When Michigan plays them: 2011 Iowa is undefeated at home. 2011 Michigan is undefeated in November. Immovable object meet unstoppable force? Hah.

For realsies now: Iowa’s best win was against Pitt. This was the game where Vandenberg led the epic comeback against a Tony Gibson coached secondary, earning him the Vandenhenneberg moniker. The joke is getting stale, but if you were still wondering, that along with BGHP’s gushing comparison at the beginning of the season is where it comes from. Their next best win was against Northwestern, and you know all about Northwestern’s secondary. And then if you keep looking you fall off a cliff right before the Indianas and Lousiana-Monroes of the world, where concerns about the secondary are, well … secondary.

Sorry, I had to do that.

The Wolverines secondary is much better these days, having survived Alex Carder, Michael Floyd, Dan Persa, and B.J. Cunningham (electing to fall prey to Keshawn Martin instead). Teams succeeded against VandenMcHenneNutt by preventing deep routes. Michigan’s inside-and-in-front philosophy should be able to do at least that.

And then there’s the issue of the Hawkeyes defense. Their major breakdowns tend to happen late in the game due to the aforementioned stamina problems. Aside from targeting specific weakness (see Ace’s FFFF), offensive playcalling that spreads and stretches the field laterally to wear down Iowa defenders would be a smart approach, especially early in the game.

(more after the jump)

Opponent Watch: Week 8

Opponent Watch: Week 8

Submitted by Heiko on October 27th, 2011 at 11:18 AM

Sometimes I post on Wednesday, sometimes I post on Thursday. Ideally I should post on Tuesday, but ideally Michigan should be undefeated.

Fear scale: 0 = Bye week?; 1 = If Michigan loses to this team somebody’s going to get fired; 5 = 2010 Illinois; 8 = Best in conference/will play in a BCS bowl; 9 = National title contender; 10 = Hold me, Ace.

The Road Ahead:

Purdue (4-3, 2-1 B1G)

Last game: No. 23 Illinois 14, Purdue 21 (W)

Recap: If you want something more than handwaving, see Ace’s FFFF.

In a nutshell, Purdue managed two real drives in the first half while stymieing Illinois’ offense for a good 50 minutes before the Illini finally came to. As Ace indicates, the Boilermakers didn’t so much win this game as Illinois lost it: Purdue is a not very good team that happened to play well. The Illini were a better team that made enough mistakes to beat themselves. Sometimes you can bring a knife to a gunfight and prevail because the guys with the guns shoot at each other first. That’s not the best analogy but you get the point.

Right now they are as frightening as: After losing to Rice and narrowly escaping Middle Tennessee State at the beginning of the season, Purdue has improved enough to play Penn State close and beat a ranked Illinois team. What does this mean?

It means that the Big Ten isn’t very good. Fear level = 4.

Michigan should worry about: Underestimating Purdue’s defense. While not stellar as a unit, they’re fairly opportunistic, led by a secondary that is competent to good. CB Ricardo Allen, the guy who intercepted Denard last year and hurdled him for a 94-yard touchdown, is still on the team. He’s a sophomore, so we’ll be seeing him for a while.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: Saturday’s weather forecast says 52 degrees and partly cloudy with 0 percent chance of trash. Roy Roundtree's Donald Duck voice.

When Michigan plays them: Is Michigan good enough to not beat itself? Most signs point to yes. This game may not be pretty--you should avert your eyes every time a Purdue running back makes for the sideline or when Denard throws a duck into coverage--but a barring a complete collapse on both sides of the ball, the Wolverines should at least be able to grind out a win.

Next game: at No. 17 Snake Oil Emporium

Opponent Watch: Week 7

Opponent Watch: Week 7

Submitted by Heiko on October 19th, 2011 at 10:06 AM

(Fear scale: 0 = Bye week?; 1 = If Michigan loses to this team somebody’s going to get fired; 5 = 2010 Illinois; 8 = Best in conference/will play in a BCS bowl; 9 = National title contender; 10 = Hold me, Ace, the last Anbender.)

About Last Saturday:

Michigan 14, Michigan State 28

That feels about right.

The Road Ahead:

Purdue (3-3, 1-1 B1G)

Last game: Purdue 18, Penn State 23 (L)

Recap: Try figuring out how many football scores it takes to get to 18. What is that, six field goals? Two touchdowns and two safeties? Now try to make 23.

Yeah, it was that kind of a game. Purdue was also inexplicably a couple missed kicks short of being tied with Penn State.

Not sure which team was still living in last week, but both were coming off statement wins -- the Nittany Lions’ of the “Kirk Ferentz owns us only most of the time” variety, and the Boilermakers’ of the “If the Big Ten were the solar system we would be Venus, which is still a lot better than that Kuiper belt object named Minnesota, formerly known as Pluto” variety.

Purdue’s running back duo carried the ball 13 times each with surprising effectiveness. Ralph Bolden averaged 7.5 ypc, thanks largely to a 39-yarder, and Akeem Shavers averaged 4.2 ypc. Against Penn State, that’s a pretty impressive accomplishment, although Ace’s FFFF next week will probably have something to say about the schematic advantage inherent in their offense. (Hint: they run the spread.)

The Boilermakers QBs, on the other hand, were unremarkable. Caleb TerBush completed 12 of 25 passes for 162 yards, 1 TD, and 2 INTs. QB Robert Marve attempted just five passes, one of which was an interception. Bench.

About Purdue’s defense -- that the Nittany Lions couldn’t seem to score points against them is more a testament to how derpy Penn State’s quarterback situation is rather than to how stout the Boilermakers are on that side of the ball. For the record, Purdue has the 30th ranked scoring defense in the country, which reflects some degree of competency, but that’s a ranking that’s about as tenable as Michigan’s No. 10 spot in that category.

Right now they are as frightening as: Michigan’s ability to defend an inconsistent spread. 4.

Michigan should worry about: Teaching the linebackers how to defend the perimeter -- you know, keep contain and stop outside runs, short passes, and bubble screens. Things that no one else ever seems to have a problem doing for some reason.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: Purdue doesn’t run the spread very well. How they managed to put together four scoring drives against a Penn State defense that held Iowa to three points is beyond me, but again, Ace’s FFFF should shed some light onto that.

When Michigan plays them: Fueled by an irascible disdain for the sale of snake oil, Purdue has outperformed in this game for the past several years. If you’ll recall, there was that last minute hook-and-ladder incident in 2008. Then in 2009 they came from behind to win by capitalizing on a missed Michigan PAT and surprise onside kick. Last year, despite being in the middle of the great torn ACL epidemic, the Boilermakers played Michigan so closely that as I tracked the game from an iPhone, I got mad at ESPN Mobile for doing a crappy job updating the scores.

So yeah, the Not-2008-or-2009-or-2010-ness of this year’s Michigan team could use a decisive win here.

Next game: No. 23 Illinois

Next, the Jump. Michigan should worry about: broken internet connections. Sleep soundly about: more room on the front page.

Opponent Watch: Week 6

Opponent Watch: Week 6

Submitted by Heiko on October 12th, 2011 at 11:43 AM

About Last Saturday:

Michigan 42, Northwestern 24

I wasn't there. Wah wah.

The Road Ahead:

Michigan State (4-1, 1-0 B1G)

Last Game: Bye

Recap: They didn’t play, but I’m going to write mean things about them anyway.

Right now they are as frightening as: Jerel Worthy’s tattoo.

It’s big. It’s ugly. It’s under the skin. It’s going to be there forever. On the other hand, a closer look reveals something misguided about the sense of superiority it portrays. It ends up being actually kind of funny, and years later, whenever the Big Ten becomes a superconference and lets Missouri into the club, it’ll finally make sense.

Oh yeah, about their football team: Objectively, they’re probably around a 6. Personally, they got up to somewhere near an 8 when I watched Michigan’s first half vs. Northwestern and dropped down to a 4 when I watched the second half.

Michigan should worry about: Denard vs. interceptions. The ineffectiveness of the ground game against Northwestern was a bad sign because against Michigan State it’s going to be worse. Denard is going to have to throw it, and I’m going to end up really sick from stress-eating all the press box food. I hope there are meatballs.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: Brady Hoke, on Michigan State’s offensive line:

Well, they’re big, which is the normal case.

Ha. Lol.

To their credit, Michigan State does have solid-to-stellar players at QB, RB, and WR, but having a talented 7-on-7 squad doesn’t mean much when the other team puts 11 guys on the field.

When Michigan plays them: This is going to be one of those games where the score will be 14-10 after the first quarter and 14-10 at the end of the third quarter. It’s going to be terrible. Halfway into the second quarter I’m going to start annoying the person sitting next to me with compulsive commentary, especially if Ace isn’t going to East Lansing. He just told me he’s not going. Okay well that sucks. Apologies in advance to whoever ends up sitting next to me.

Michigan wins if they can get to Cousins early and often, especially if they can accomplish that with just a four-man rush.

Next game: No. 11 Missouri Raccoons.

(more after the jump.)

Picture Pages: Fourth And Fun

Picture Pages: Fourth And Fun

Submitted by Brian on October 11th, 2011 at 1:52 PM

Last time we saw Michael Schofield run by a blitzer coming up an interior gap. That combined with a panicked back-foot throw from Denard to result in an interception on a play that had otherwise opened one of two receivers up for an easy touchdown.

This time we're going to get an almost identical play from the offense, except instead of play action is it QB power. This is the fourth and one Michigan converted en route to the endzone.

The setup is the same: shotgun with twin TEs and twin WRs. Northwestern lines up in an even 4-3 with one of the linebackers over the slot and a safety rolled into the box. For fourth and one this is fairly conservative:

pickup-1

With Denard running the ball Michigan has a blocker for every opponent.

On the snap, Schofield pulls…

pickup-2

…and the SLB blitzes, hell-bent for the gap between the playside DE and DT, both of whom are doubled:

pickup-3

Faced with a similar situation on the last play, Schofield ran by the linebacker:

int-3int-4int-5

This time not so much.

pickup-4

With both linebackers gone—the other one ran into the line on the backside—and a double on the playside DE, once Smith kicks out the corner it's an easy conversion.

pickup-5pickup-6pickup-7

Video

Items of Interest

Being the pulling guard seems a lot more complicated than you'd think. A lot of power blocking is derp simple: block down on this guy. By contrast, everyone who runs a zone system talks up the need for their linemen to be intelligent because to run the zone you have to make a lot of split second decisions about who to block and when to release.

On these two plays we've seen what happens when a pulling guard gets challenged from a gap he doesn't expect to be threatened. He can miss it, at which point rivers of baby blood, or he can adjust, at which point your unsound defense has put the QB one on one with a safety for bonus bucks. He's got to have the vision and agility to pull that off. That's tough.

This seems like one of the major problems with the pulling scheme: the guards are crappier at it than the defenses are at defending it. Last year when they pulled out power blocking, defenses were trying to defend the zone and often got caught off guard. This year Michigan does not have that luxury. As a result we've seen a lot of plays on which the pulling guard gets caught up in some wash or just takes a bad angle to the hole.

"Adjustments." Is this an adjustment, or is it just telling the guard what he did wrong and not to do it again? In my view, an adjustment is changing your scheme to combat something the other team is doing—like throwing Ryan out on the slot to prevent argh bubble death. Telling your players how to stop screwing up is coaching, but it's not adjusting. What I was trying to say in the game column was that because of the nature of the offense they didn't have to do much adjusting, they just had to stop screwing up, at which point points fall from the sky.

This is not black and white. Borges did bring out some actual adjustments, like using Shaw to get the edge on theses aggressive linebackers, but I think the second-half turnaround was less figuring out what Northwestern was doing and stopping it than having a few specific players fix things the scheme is already telling them to do.

Short yardage numerical advantage. Not running Denard on short yardage is a goofy idea. Here you'd have to be nuts to not run the guy. He gives you the ability to double the playside DE and still block everyone except a safety rolled up. He has to be cautious because if he misses it's six points.

Handing it off, even on a zone read that should occupy some defenders, runs the risk of the defense selling out and Denard missing a read. Going under center takes away one of those doubles and turns the read into a call-and-hope situation.

I can see running conventional stuff in a low-leverage situation like first and goal from the one, sure. Keep the wear and tear down. When it really matters, this is the way to go.

Perfect mirror. This is a perfect mirror of the play that Denard got intercepted on, which is why the latter suckered Northwestern so badly and would have likely resulted in an easy TD if Denard can buy some time or Schofield makes the adjustment.

Opponent Watch: Week 2

Opponent Watch: Week 2

Submitted by Heiko on September 15th, 2011 at 4:37 PM

(Last week there was some confusion about opponent fear levels. Let me explain my scale: 0 = Bye week?; 1 = If Michigan loses to this team somebody’s going to get fired; 5 = This team will have a winning record; 8 = Best in conference/will play in a BCS bowl; 9 = National title contender; 10 = Hold me, TomVH. Also, I’ve made some minor tweaks, but again, I welcome your suggestions for how I can make this more informative. Disclaimer still applies -- these analyses carry little weight until we’re through with the cupcakes or N=3.)

[ED: Yo. Heiko accidentally overwrote last week's opponent watch, so the first 45 comments are from that post last week. Do not be confused. Or do, I guess, but that's on you.]

About last Saturday:

Notre Dame

Last game: Notre Dame 31, UM 35

Question: Where were you when Roy Roundtree caught Denard Robinson’s pass to allow Michigan to beat Notre Dame with two seconds left on the clock?

Right there.

I was cheering so hard I forgot to take pictures, and when I finally did, this is all I got:

 

And it was awesome.

The Road Ahead:

Eastern Michigan (2-0 (! ? .))

Last game: Alabama State 7, EMU 14 (W)

Recap: Let’s start out nice and easy with a backhanded compliment. Brady Hoke:

How do you make sure EMU is not a letdown game? “I can tell you one thing -- Eastern’s 2-0. They haven’t been 2-0 since 1989.”

So … Eastern Michigan managed to schedule a pair of FCS teams to begin their season and not lose to them. Bravo. You know what happened during week one, right? They crushed a bad, bad Howard team 41-9. Last Saturday they played against Alabama State, which according to MGoUser mikoyan, is not that bad. There is some merit in that assessment:

“I'm not sure Alabama State is a worse team than Eastern, they blew out their opening week opponent 41-9.  If I recall, they are a fairly good 1AA team.”

I fact-checked to confirm that, indeed, a team coming off a 41-9 week one victory had squared off against another team coming off a 41-9 week one victory. #Destiny. #LoveIt.

#SoTellUsWhatHappened!

You should stop holding your breath is what happened. It was unwatchable/I didn’t watch any of it.

The teams matched each other closely for first downs -- the Hornets accrued 18 and Eastern Michigan had 20 -- but each averaged only about 1.5 first downs per drive. (I know, I know, that sounds like … Michigan against Notre Dame!) The Eagles won by relying heavily on their ground game, which was good for 336 yards, because their passing was atrocious (which is the negative descriptor of the week). Eastern QB Alex Gillett put up a 2011-Notre-Dame-Denard-like completion percentage (7 for 19, 1 TD, 1 INT) without the 2011-Notre-Dame-Denard-like yards (61). Gillett actually gained more yards running (74) than passing, which officially makes him the Little Sister of the Poor Man’s 2011-Notre-Dame Denard. Wow, that’s two rivalry references in one.

Their defense did manage to convince Alabama State to run backwards for -13 yards on 30 attempts. Woo.

Right now they are as frightening as: The common cold. At worst it’s an inconvenience, and a week later, nobody ever remembers you were sick. 1. A canker sore. You worry about it only if you think it might be Herpes. It’s not. 1.

Michigan should worry about: It’s possible (but not probable) that Mike Hart may have some kind of fifth-year/grad/transfer eligibility left. Hart’s comments about not cheering for Michigan. Aww. =(

Michigan should sleep soundly about: The highway that separates Ann Arbor and Ypsi. Those three-game Putterz vouchers never expire.

If Michigan had played them last Saturday: Dave Brandon would have argued that the game was in hand before the game even started. At least GameDay would have been covering two teams with winning records.

Next game: That Team A Couple Miles West On Washtenaw.

San Diego State (2-0)

Last game: San Diego State 23, Army 20 (W)

Recap: San Diego State has now beaten all three service academies within the last year, which is more than Notre Dame can say for itself.

This game was close. Though Aztec RB Ronnie Hillman had another 100+ rushing performance, Army outrushed San Diego State 403-146. How did Army not win? Their passing was crappy (not that the Black Knights’ triple-option offense ever passes), and they turned the ball over three times, plus a forced fumble that was almost a fourth turnover on the last drive (they turned it over on downs on the next play regardless). The Aztecs had zero turnovers:

"Yards don't win games," Army coach Rich Ellerson said. "Turnovers is what correlates to the final score."

I know, says Brian Kelly. I know. =’(

San Diego State QB Ryan Lindley was 8 for 18 with 146 yards and a TD. He wasn’t as good as last week, but he got the job done. More importantly though, Lindley seems to be courting a favorite wide receiver from the depths of the depth chart. His name is Colin Lockett, he’s a sophomore, and he didn’t even make it onto Tim’s 2011 Opponent Preview, but he did catch five passes for 113 yards and a touchdown, so Michigan should keep an eye on him.

The obligatory defensive report: they gave up three more rushing touchdowns. Man, defense is so boring to write about.

Right now they are as frightening as: The ex-fiancé of a girl that you dated before they were together to whom you are now married. Yeah, you were there first -- and he totally understands -- but you accidentally mailed him an invitation to your baby shower. Oops. 4. The ex-fiancé says he’s doing well, doesn’t miss your wife at all, and even got re-engaged … to your wife’s former defensive coordinator. Fear level remains at 4.

Michigan should worry about: Lingering toughness and accountability from San Diego State’s Hoke era. In all seriousness, shoring up that run defense against Hillman.

Michigan should sleep soundly about: The best scouting report EVER. They don’t have much of a run defense, either.

If Michigan had played them last Saturday: Ryan Lindley, meet Jordan Kovacs. Kovacs, Lindley. I would love to see a noon game with the lights on.

Next game: Washington State

(more after the jump)

2011 Opponents: Northwestern

2011 Opponents: Northwestern

Submitted by Tim on August 26th, 2011 at 6:42 PM

This is a personnel-oriented look at the season's opponents. The game-week previews will be more matchup based. Last year's stats are presented with projected starters in bold and departed players in italics.

The Offense

Northwestern Offense 2010
Category Raw Rank
Yards Per Game 391.08 48
Points Per Game 26.38 63
Yards Per Play 5.40 70
Yards Per Pass 7.94 29
Pass Efficiency 144.37 29
Yards Per Rush 3.64 91
Playcall Distribution 1.45 Rush:Pass

Northwestern's offense was a one-man show last season, with quarterback Dan Persa accounting for 61% of the Wildcats' total yardage... despite missing three games (Denard accounted for 67% of Michigan's yardage; Persa was accounting for 76% for the Cats before he went down). If Northwestern is going to have success this year, they need to find other playmakers in the backfield to spread the ball around a bit more, especially with Persa coming off a serious injury.

Adjusting for sacks, NU called a pass for every 1.35 rushes, and if Persa is to be kept healthy, he's going to have to either pass or rush less. He's unlikely to have the same escapability as last year.

Quarterback

We're really tying the Dan Persa theme together here, as he was probably the player in the Big Ten that was most important to his team - yes, even moreso than Denard Robinson to Michigan. Coming of an Achilles injury is not easy to do, especially after just 10 months. That could mean some serious reps for backup Evan Watkins, who started the final three games for Northwestern last year - all losses.

Northwestern QBs 2010
Name Comp Att % Yds Yds/Att TD Int
Dan Persa 222 302 73.51 2581 8.55 15 4
Evan Watkins 36 70 52.43 378 5.40 2 5
Kain Colter 3 9 33.33 38 4.22 0 1
Northwestern QBs Rushing 2010
Name Att Yds Yds/Att TD
Dan Persa 164 519 3.16 9
Kain Colter 29 143 4.93 2
Evan Watkins 23 61 2.65 2

Grade: 3.5/5. This grade is assuming non-full health for Dan Persa (Phil Steele give him that vote of confidence, naming Persa the league's 1st-Team selection at QB). His importance to Northwestern was magnified by exactly how bad his backups were in comparison. Since he's likely to be less of a rushing threat this year, it takes him down a notch. The experience from last year - unsuccessful though it may have been - is a positive going forward for the backups. If Persa was healthy, this would likely be a 5/5.

Running Back

Despite their general ineffectiveness, a ton of different Northwestern backs got some experience last year. Mike Trumpy got by far the most run (second-most used back, Arby Fields, was by far the least effective), so I'm guessing he'll start again this year. There are three returning backs with significant experience.

Northwestern RBs 2010
Name Att Yds Yds/Att TD
Mike Trumpy 116 530 4.57 4
Adonis Smith 41 196 4.78 0
Arby Fields 62 178 2.87 1
Jacob Schmidt 49 161 3.29 4
Stephen Simmons 41 154 3.76 0
Scott Concannon 5 21 4.20 0
Northwestern RBs Receiving 2009
Name Rec Yds Yds/Rec TD
Mike Trumpy 20 182 9.10 0
Jacob Schmidt 14 114 8.14 0
Arby Fields 4 27 6.75 0
Stephen Simmons 2 9 4.50 0

Grade: 3/5. Having this much talent returning is a bright sign for Northwestern, even if they didn't have a lot of success on the ground last year. Trumpy was just a freshman last year and Fields just a sophomore, so it's reasonable to expect those guys to improve.

Receivers

Jeremy Ebert was the Big Ten's most oft-deployed receiver, and turned that into the highest yardage total in the league as well. His #2, Sidney Stewart (younger brother of former Michigan DB Charles) is out the door, but plenty of Wildcats got game experience. Demetrius Fields should take over the #2 role, with Charles Brown stepping into a starting role. Drake Dunsmore got plenty of work (at "superback" in the NU offense) last year, but other than him, don't expect a ton out of tight ends.

Northwestern Receivers 2010
Name Rec Yds Yds/Rec TD
Jeremy Ebert 62 953 15.37 8
Sidney Stewart 40 454 11.35 0
Drake Dunsmore (TE) 40 381 9.53 5
Demetrius Fields 25 291 11.64 2
Charles Brown 16 198 12.38 0
Rashad Lawrence 12 178 14.83 0
Tony Jones 11 157 14.27 1
Venric Mark 5 43 8.60 0
Josh Rooks (TE) 5 24 4.80 1
Brendan Barber 2 17 8.50 0
Aaron Nagel (TE) 1 6 6.00 0
Northwestern Receivers Rushing 2009
Name Att Yds Yds/Att TD
Venric Mark 8 63 7.88 0
Jeremy Ebert 5 21 4.20 0
Charles Brown 1 3 3.00 0

Grade: 3/5. Losing the #2 receiver probably hurts, but Northwestern spread the ball around plenty last season, so the players that will be expected to step up aren't exactly green. With the Big Ten's most-prolific receiver in the fold (though Phil Steele only projects him to the All-Conference second team), the young guys should be more than capable of picking up the slack. The one question mark is a lack of serious downfield threats - partially a product of a screen-heavy NU offense.

Offensive Line

The Wildcats only lose right guard Keegan Grant from last year's starting lineup, but that may not be such a good thing, given how awful the front line was last year. NU gave up more sacks than any team in the conference, and they were in the "Minnesota-Indiana" cohort of rushing futility. NU should start three seniors this year, with Al Netter on the left side, Ben Burkett at center, and Doug Bartles taking over the RG position. Junior returning starters Brian Mulroe and Patrick Ward will play left guard and right tackle, respectively.

Grade: 3/5. The big hope for Northwestern fans here has to be that a line with very little personnel turnover will be able to build the chemistry to develop into a stronger unit. It really couldn't be a whole lot worse, as I shudder to think how terrible the line's performance could have been without Persa the whole year.

The Defense

Northwestern Defense 2009
Category Raw Rank
Yards Per Game 426.15 97
Points Per Game 29.00 77
Yards Per Play 5.94 94
Pass Yards Per Game 241.15 95
Pass Efficiency 128.98 61
Yards Per Pass 6.73 t-45
Sacks Per Game 1.23 104
Rush Yards Per Game 185.00 92
Yards Per Rush 5.15 110

So, oddly, despite Pat Fitzgerald's reputation as a hard-nosed defensive specialist and all that entails, the Wildcats' defense was pretty bad. It was probably around the same league as Michigan and Minnesota in several areas.

So, what is Northwestern going to do to improve that? Getting to the passer and stopping the run were the two major weaknesses of the D, so stepping it up along the defensive front and linebackers is of the utmost importance.

Defensive Line

The Wildcats' defensive line - weak though it may have been last year - returns three of four starters, and should have an opportunity for improvement. Vince Browne and Kevin Watt return for their senior seasons as bookends, and classmate Jack DiNardo will plug the middle. The only replacement is at the other defensive tackle spot, where Brian Arnfelt will replace Corbin Bryant. Northwestern also has a few players - most notably DEs Quentin Williams and Tyler Scott - who have a bit of experience and will play a role in the rotation.

Northwestern Defensive Line 2010
Name Tack TFL Sack
Vince Browne 58 15.5 7
Jack DiNardo 33 7 0.5
Kevin Watt 29 5.5 0
Corbin Bryant 25 8.5 1
Quentin Williams 18 3 0
Brian Arnfelt 14 1.5 0
Tyler Scott 12 3 0
Niko Mafuli 4 0 0
Davon Custis 2 0 0
Anthony Battle 1 0 0
Will Hampton 1 0 0

Grade: 3/5. It's hard to look past how bad Northwestern's run defense and sacking were last year when evaluating this unit. They should improve with three returning starters, but they have a long way to go to get out of the depths.

Linebacker

The Wildcats' top two tacklers from the linebacker position are out the door in Nate Williams and Quentin Davie, so there's some reshuffling to be done at the position. Bryce McNaul is the lone returning starter on the weakside. Junior David Nwabuisi is expected to fill the middle, while senior Ben Johnson will play the strongside. Sophomore Damien Proby is the only other player with significant experience anywhere other than special teams. Roderick Goodlow is coming off a mid-career redshirt thanks to a knee injury last year, as well.

Northwestern Linebackers 2010
Name Tack TFL Sack Int
Nate Williams 96 9.5 2 0
Quentin Davie 68 6 1.5 3
Bryce McNaul 62 5 1 0
David Nwabuisi 26 2 0 1
Ben Johnson 21 1.5 1 1
Damien Proby 20 1 1 0
Tim Riley 2 0 0 0
Will Studlein 1 0 0 0
Timmy Vernon 1 0 0 0
Bo Cisek 1 0 0 0

Grade: 2/5. The linebackers weren't blameless for the issues I pinned on the DL, so losing the two most productive players from a weak unit isn't going to solve anything for Northwestern. The depth is also lacking in a big way. Any injuries could spell more doom (than already exists) for Northwestern.

Defensive Backs

Justan Vaughn is the only departing DB for the Wildcats, so there's a good chance the performance along the back is improved this season. Senior Jeravin Matthews should slide in to take his spot, with 4-year starter Jordan Mabin on the other side. The situation is a little murkier at safety, with Brian Peters a lock to start at one position, but three reasonable options at the other spot. I'm guessing Hunter Bates will play FS, allowing the enormous Peters (6-4, 215) to play closer to the line of scrimmage. David Arnold and Jared Carpenter both have a bit of starting experience, and could slot in at safety, as well.

Northwestern Defensive Backs 2010
Name Tack TFL Int
Brian Peters (SS) 60 4 3
Jordan Mabin (CB) 63 0 1
Justan Vaughn 57 0 1
Hunter Bates (FS) 45 2 2
David Arnold 42 0.5 1
Jared Carpenter 27 1.5 0
Jeravin Matthews (CB) 15 0 0
Mike Bolden 15 1 0
Demetrius Dugar 10 0 0
Davion Fleming 5 0 0
Ricky Weina 5 0 0

Grade: 4/5. This is easily the strongest unit on Northwestern's entire team, with Phil Steele picking Peters to his 2nd-Team All-Conference defense and Mabin on the fourth team (though he was a 3rd-team performer in the Big Ten last year). There's also a few combinations that would result in four senior starters. Pass D was one of the few bright spots on NU's defense last year, and with even more experience, it could improve further in '11.

Special Teams

Stefan Demos - a recipient of the Brooks Bollinger Memorial Eighth Year Senior Award - has finally moved on, meaning that redshirt sophomore Jeff Budzien should become the new placekicker. Redshirt sophomore Brandon Williams will return for a second year as the starting punter.

Northwestern Kicking 2010
Name FGM FGA % Long XPM XPA %
Stefan Demos 16 23 69.57 47 34 38 89.47
Jeff Budzien 0 0 - - 1 1 100
Northwestern Punting 2010
Name Att Yds Yds/Att
Brandon Williams 61 2439 39.98

Grade: 2/5. Demos was never a superb kicker, so Budzien's inability to unseat him doesn't speak to any big upgrade there. In the punting department, Williams was steady last year, but not really very good. This should be an iffy unit.

Unverified Voracity Ran This With Navarre

Unverified Voracity Ran This With Navarre

Submitted by Brian on August 24th, 2011 at 2:55 PM

Countdown: 10.

black_death

I figure that if the children are alive when I get home, I've done my job.
Roseanne Barr

Hatch encouragement. Austin Hatch's latest Caring Bridge update is very encouraging.

Pick Six: the return. Notre Dame blog Blue-Gray Sky used to run an annual contest wherein blog users would pick six teams, five from the AP poll and one unranked, that users thought would do well. Because they know what verbs are and can count, they called this Pick Six. (Ohio State fans would have called it "Ramming Speed.")

One user around here has been missing it since BGS called it a day a few years ago and finally stopped waiting for me to do something about it. Presenting Pick Six: The Return.

Contest king Jeff does not have a prize, but I do: the top five all get a free MGoShirt from the MGoStore and the winner gets three.

manballPrintthe-team

click for store

All these could be yours. Or other items, like maize versions. Hit up the google doc to get registered, and don't pick Michigan if you want to win.

U MAD, media? Brady Hoke is trolling the media. They hit up practice and get to see a bunch of stretching and Brady Hoke punting, and then:

The media saw only one snap from organized drills, and it was a carry by running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, who is among the seven players vying to become Michigan’s first lead tailback since 2007.

That's worse than not opening practice at all. Someone photoshop Trollface onto Hoke pointing at something.

Tangent: I wonder if the Fort is back in earnest after watching a significantly lamer edition of the BTN's tour show. We got hardly any insight and they were so hard up for video they showed the same plays a half-dozen times. Will Michigan still issue an injury report this year?

No need to hit play. This is Hoke talking about his team from yesterday:

But I'm just putting it here so I can compare him to Towlie.

towlie-pointing

He's even pointing.

Q: How is will Campbell doing? A: I have no idea what's going on.

Send this to Borges a thousand times. Smart Football's latest post is on the speed option, something we've never seen the good side of Michigan. We've been annihilated by it time and again; never have we used its powers for good.

Apparently it's just what we already run with added oopmh:

What further makes the play so good is that these concepts are universal; they are not tethered to a single offense or system. The play works from under center or shotgun, and has been effectively used by teams with great running quarterbacks and it has been used by teams with more pedestrian quarterbacks as just a cheap way to get the ball to the outside.

In modern form, the play is simple. The line outside zone blocks, which means they step playside seeking to cut off the defense and to even reach them as they can. The linemen work together to double-team the defensive linemen before sliding off to block the linebackers, and the idea is to create a vertical crease somewhere between a spot outside the tight-end and the sideline. The offense leaves an outside guy unblocked, typically either the defensive end or the strongside linebacker. The quarterback takes the snap and runs right at the unblocked defender’s outside shoulder. If the defender stays wide, the quarterback cuts up the inside crease (and typically looks to cut back against the grain). If the defender attacks the quarterback or simply stays inside, the QB pitches it.

To everyone except the runners that's a read option or outside zone. Meanwhile, the quarterback is attacking the same side of the defense the line is and is moving towards the LOS when he makes his decision. The lack of true option plays last year was likely an artifact of Denard's rawness; adding them is a good way to suck defenders to that threat without getting him killed. (You can get killed running the option, of course, but speed options from the gun seem less likely for that to happen because the QB has more time to make a decision.)

Additionally, the speed option seems like a good way to combat scrape exchanges. If that DE is hammering down the line he's blocked himself when the play heads the other way, and then another defender gets optioned off.

Chris praises the speed option as a simple, economical wrinkle you can put in even when your quarterback is not particularly fleet of foot. Even if Borges is not an expert on running quarterbacks, adding a true option to Michigan's repertoire seems doable. As a bonus, the speed option gives Michigan a run play that uses Denard from under center. An example:

Michigan's existing zone system paired with under-center running that uses Denard. Sex? Sex.

You can take things back. If only the Big Ten had the humility of Iowa Corn:

"The overwhelming feedback has been negative," he said. "Because we've listened ... people want something different than what was proposed last week. And we as Iowa corn growers and the farmers we represent, we want people to be happy."

A temporary trophy will be designed for this year's game on Sept. 10. Fans will be able to suggest a design for the more permanent replacement.

"The new Cy-Hawk trophy, we trust, will truly be something fans will embrace," Floss said.

The vetoed trophy is en route to the third world, where it will become the African Cup of Nations. The temporary trophy will be briefly labeled "interim" until that hurts recruiting; then it will be not interim, but not hired, either.

If Jim Delany was in charge of this, the new trophy they debut for the 2012 game would be exactly the same instead of what it should be: a hawk in an F16 shooting a missile at a tornado.

Evanston: so hood. I saw this on twitter but dismissed it as a joke. It is not a joke:

Does Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa have a limp or not?

‘‘Your limp could be somebody else’s pimp walk,’’ Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said.

You'll have to forgive me a moment of regret that Michigan didn't score Fitzgerald during its coaching search.

(HT: Rittenberg.)

Even more Hart. Man, Mike Hart takes a coaching job and everyone's all up in his business. This time it's the Syracuse press reliving his high school days and publishing an extensive interview with him. Hart's career goals:

“As I look forward, I want to be a head football coach of a college program that wins a national championship. My next goal is to go down as one of the best-known coaches. I’d like to be on the level of Lloyd Carr. I plan on being a great coach one day.”

He also says his exit was because he couldn't stay healthy—"If it was my business, I wouldn’t risk my money on somebody who got hurt every fourth game, either"— and flatly refuses to ever work for OSU or MSU. Recommended.

Etc.: The Dayton Daily News has just discovered that Terry Talbott got a medical scholarship a month ago. Do not panic about Terrance's status—at least don't do so because of that. Bill Connolly throws up his hands when trying to project OSU's season. Corn Nation previews Michigan—hey, that's us! Their poll about the game is split nearly 50-50 as to who wins. Weird. Just Cover looks at MSU and their Vegas-set over under of 7.5 wins.