Left to right: WMU’s Zach Terrell, Ohio’s Frank Solich, Kent State’s Terence Waugh
College football’s still a ways away, but now that we’re getting close to Memorial Day – when the national preview magazines start appearing at bookstores – we might as well take a look at the CFB landscape. While the sport’s third estate won’t receive as much ink as the superpowers and the playoff race, the mid-major conferences around the country are part of what makes college football so great. Now that the sport is divided into the Power 5 and Group of 5, there’s a decided hierarchy for the have-nots, but at least one of them is guaranteed a game against one of the big boys in a New Year’s Six Bowl. For the true college football fan, at least a cursory knowledge of the Group of 5 conferences is a must. Because of their regional proximity to the Big Ten, I’ll start with the MAC.
Some games are just games. When there are just games we just write the bullets. Don't forget Ace's instant recap.
12/4/2012 – Michigan 73, Western Michigan 41 – 8-0
So Michigan gets 7 and 9 points from Robinson and Hardaway as both shoot 3 of 10 from the floor and they win by 32. The new normal: better than the old normal. That was offset by a monster night from Trey Burke: 20 points on 11 shots, 7 assists, no turnovers, three steals. And onward.
Pick your sloppy point. Michigan is still working through long sections during which they look pretty sloppy, which probably shouldn't be a surprise with two or three freshmen on the court at all times. In this game it was early; in the previous two the rough patch was down the stretch. The net effect was about the same adjusted for level of competition.
To some extent that is basketball, but if they can just smooth out a couple of the rough patches by March…
/picks up paper bag
Tempo still slow, slow, slow. Michigan is 324th in tempo. I don't get it. It seems like Michigan is pushing the ball as much as makes sense for them to do. The Dailyhas an article headlined "Transition becomes Michigan's best option on offense" and I thought that was reasonable. A couple times in this game I thought Hardaway was going into two or three players when pulling it out and setting up the half-court offense was a better idea. And yet Michigan's tempo has barely budged. They're up under a possession a game from last year.
All I've got is this: Michigan takes care of the ball so well (13th in TO%) and doesn't force a whole lot of turnovers, leading to fewer short possessions that tend to lead to yet more short possessions when an open-court turnover turns into a fast break.
Supporting evidence: Beilein's teams at West Virginia forced a ton of turnovers and were a bit faster, ranked in the 270s and 280s instead of the 320s as Michigan's last four teams have been. Beilein's fastest team since 2003 was his first one at Michigan; that outfit had a lot of TOs, at least relative to Beilein averages.
It should be noted that the differences here are not huge: Michigan is about four and a half possessions away from the national average.
Big shooting: more spread out but more of it. A game like the WMU game stands out because Michigan's bigs were collectively 9/11 from the floor and took zero jumpshots to get there. Most of their efforts were throwing it down off the pick and roll, with a coast-to-coast Morgan steal and layup thrown in for good measure.
Anyway: though the bigs' collective usage is never going to approach the 2010-11 version of Morgan, Morgan only played 60% of Michigan's minutes that year. He got up 225 shots, which he made at a 63% clip. This year Morgan and McGary are collectively getting 87% of Michigan's minutes and are collectively 43/66.
Since there are two of them the lower usage is made up for by more efficient minutes. Michigan played 35 games two years ago. If they get the same number this year those two bigs shooting 64% will have gotten up 289 attempts. Michigan keeps sucking bad attempts out of the offense.
Given that, what is the weak spot on Michigan's offense? Is it GRIII? I think it is. GRIII would have been the best or second-best player on almost every Michigan team since the Fab Five exited, and he's the perimeter-ish guy on the floor who has low usage and isn't Stauskas. His ORtg is 126, which is near the top 100. In this game I got a little annoyed at him because of context.
/breathes into paper bag
Speaking of context. Trey Burke, who has been only okay shooting so far this year, was 8 of 11 and scored 20. I wrote that sentence and then looked it up to check. Burke twos are going in at an excellent 57% clip, which places him… fifth on the team.
/paper bag no longer works
Stauskas crazy stats watch. After missing two of four free throws he's down to an almost-human 89%, but going 3/4 from behind the line pushes his 3PT% on the year to 64%(!!!) and keeps that efficiency off the charts: 2nd in true shooting, 3rd in eFG, 3rd in ORtg. He picked up four assists in this one, too, including a couple of those pick and roll jams.
Western largely got the message about Stauskas and was able to limit his attempts to six—eight if you count the free-throw generating events, but one of those was off an offensive rebound. The beneficiaries of that were the bigs.
I'd like to see a little more of the offense run through Stauskas putting it on the floor. A couple of buckets in this game came when he drove, passed it out to the perimeter, and then Hardaway or Burke drove again, passing to a post for an easy layup or and-one. Both are in that highlight reel above. Reason this seems to work so well: you have to close Stauskas out so hard that help defense has to come over really early—on the and-one Stauskas only takes a couple steps—and then when the second guy gets the ball he gets an extra rotation and by that point if you're still effectively covering a post player well that's pretty dang impressive.
Stauskas also had a couple moments on the pick and roll, one a quick-release three, the other a Burke-like bounce pass for a McGary dunk. What I am trying to say is that Stauskas is really good. He could play some spot minutes at the point even.
Defense? It's hard to complain too much when the opposition shoots under 30% but Jim Jackson kept pointing out that Michigan's hard hedging put them in bad positions when opposition players were allowed to make easy passes for a series of layup-type-substances in the first half, and I was like "yeah" and grumbly.
Michigan adjusted shortly thereafter and then Western was close to helpless. I still think there's something just not there with the defense yet. I can't quite put a finger on it. Overall they're probably better because they've got the athleticism to rebound a lot more consistently, so it's got to be a lack of a guy who seems like a really good perimeter defender to harass the opposition's best player.
Horford helps out. No shots from Michigan's third big in ten minutes but five rebounds, one on offense, plus a couple other plays that didn't make it into the box score: he deflected an interior pass that led to a fast break, got a tap-out that led to an offensive rebound that I think gets credited to someone else and D-ed up on a couple of other possessions.
A good night for SOS. NC State came out on top of a nip-and-tuck battle against UConn; Northwestern went to Waco and beat Baylor. The rest of the Big Ten held serve against low-level competition, though Illinois had a scare against 3-6 Western Carolina. Their chances of beating Gonzaga: not great.
Speaking of NC State. I watched the second half of that game and still can't get over Tyler Lewis, their hobbit backup PG, being a McDonald's guy. When he came in Ryan Boatright's eyes got wide and he got to the lane for a couple easy buckets before Gottfried yanked Lewis. He's 5'11" and is truly indistinguishable from Albrecht; his one contribution to the offense was missing a tough jumper from around the free throw line after failing to get past Boatright.
Sanity checking the eye test with season stats: a third of NC State minutes, 17% usage, huge TO rate, 5 of 13 on the year from two and 0 of 3 from three. Albrecht is in fact a much better player statistically.
How anyone could look at Lewis versus Stauskas and rank the guy seven inches shorter way above the 6'6" assassin is inexplicable. The hobbit was at Oak Hill and Stauskas is Canadian. End of plausible explanations. I even find that dubious since Stauskas was all over the AAU circuit.
I can't wait for Lewis to be an okay player as an upperclassman and for this section to be used in an article on how he has Overcome The Critics.
Western Michigan head coach Steve Hawkins was frank in the aftermath of his team's 73-41 loss to Michigan. Of course, he wasn't exactly going out on a limb; that reality was apparent to anyone who saw the game, at least after the first eight minutes.
At the 12:01 mark of the first half, Michigan held a slim 12-11 lead. It was an ugly opening stretch marred by nine total turnovers, six of those by WMU. Neither squad was in an offensive rhythm.
Then the Wolverines hit their stride, ripping off seven straight points—capped by a Trey Burke three-pointer—and the Broncos couldn't keep up. At halftime, the margin was 14 points, and Michigan's lead would grow as large as 37 before John Beilein called off the dogs late.
Leading the way was Burke, providing a steady hand at the point once again while his teammates found their stroke—he finished with a game-high 20 points (8-11 FGs) and dished out seven assists with zero turnovers. Following his lead, Michigan turned the ball over just seven times after the early going. On the other end, Western couldn't hold onto the ball, coughing it up 18 times total—their turnover rate hung around 40% for most of the game before settling at a still-ugly 29.3%.
Off. Reb. %
Michigan's impressive shooting figure was bolstered by strong finishing inside from Jordan Morgan (8 pts., 4-6 FGs, 8 rebs.) and Mitch McGary (10 pts., 5-5 FGs, 3 rebs.), each the benificiary of slick passing by Burke, Nik Stauskas (4 ast.), and Tim Hardaway Jr. (3 ast.). McGary's passing, unfortunately, wasn't quite as nifty—the big freshman had four turnovers, including a baseball-style kickout that nearly beheaded a spectator in the second row.
Nik Stauskas rather shockingly missed two of his four free throws, as well as his first attempt from the field. Despite Western Michigan's efforts to deny him the ball—they refused to help off Stauskas—he drilled his other three long-distance attempts, getting off the schneid with a contested look as the shot clock expired. He finished with 11 points.
Hardaway (9 pts.) and Glenn Robinson III (7) each shot just 3-10 from the field. They found other ways to help the team, however—Hardaway with his passing, Robinson with five boards, including two on the offensive end.
Beilein continues to tinker with the lineup; tonight's tweak featured freshman Caris LeVert, who came off his redshirt against Bradley over the weekend, subbing in for Hardaway just 2 1/2 minutes into the contest. He'd play 13 minutes total, tallying his first collegiate points on a three from the top of the key late in the first half.
Matt Vogrich, on the other hand, played just three minutes. Beilein said postgame that LeVert has earned his spot in the rotation and the team was in favor of him playing. We'll see how the minutes shake out going forward; for now, it appears that LeVert has supplanted Vogrich.
LeVert led the team's chorus of "The Victors" after the game, though his vocal performance was only the second-most notable on the evening—during the first half, the Crisler Center jumbotron showed a video featuring McGary belting out a Justin Bieber song, to the delight of the crowd.
Asked about his affinity for Bieber after the game, McGary quipped, "he's a talented kid, and I like talented people." Luckily for McGary, he happens to be surrounded by them.
Right: Buster Bronco, (s)toked. Yes, I'm not-so-subtly implying that Western's mascot is Snoop Dogg levels of high.
Western Michigan is 6-1 on the season, though that hot start has come against a pretty weak early slate—KenPom ranks their SOS #309 nationally thus far. Their opening road loss to #241 Cornell dampens the resume, though they do boast a five-point away win over #93 South Florida, a tournament team last year.
The team's top scorer is 6'7" senior wing Nate Hutcheson, who's scoring mostly via volume shooting—his 13.7 points per game come while shooting 45% from two and 33% from three. An impressive knack for getting to the line can't save an ugly efficiency rating.
Those familiar with Illinois basketball will be shocked by this: 6'8" freshman forward Darius Paul, brother of notorious chucker Brandon, is averaging a very efficient 11.7 points per game on the strength of 53% shooting from two. He's 3-11 from three this year, so he's still upholding the Paul name with pride in a way, at least, while also doing good work on the offensive boards.
Rounding out the front line is 6'10" center Shayne Whittington, who doesn't finish well inside (47.2 2P%) but has the #8 defensive rebound rate in the country (28.3%) and a very high block rate (8.4%). Whittington also gets to the line with regularity; along with Hutcheson, he could test the new-found depth of the Wolverines up front.
Starting two-guard Brandon Pokley is Western's primary outside shooting threat, knocking down 15-of-33 three-point attempts so far this year. He's also drawing fouls at an impressive clip, despite rarely attempting shots inside the arc, and knocks down over 80% of his free throws. Point guard Austin Richie is mostly a distributor, albeit one with serious turnover issues—his 29.4% assist rate is nearly matched by his 28.1% turnover rate.
Off the bench, 6'1" guard Jared Klein is a solid outside shooter with 11 steals already this season and, bizarrely, a 17.4% defensive rebound rate; he's also struggled with turnovers. The rest of the rotation plays limited roles and the Broncos don't have a true backup big—when they go to the bench, they also go small.
As stated above, the schedule hasn't exactly been a gauntlet. Along with USF, victories have come against NAIA squad Marygrove, Loyola Chicago, Maryland East Shore, High Point, and Oakland, with their lone loss at the hands of Cornell.
Four factors, with national ranks in parentheses:
Off. Reb. %
Major caveats apply due to strength of schedule; even without those, the numbers are very average aside from an ability to keep opponents off the offensive glass, something they probably can't replicate against a big, talented Michigan squad.
Also of note: Western's opponents are scoring right around a third of their points from three-point range, a very high rate, despite connecting at a 34.3% clip, which is only a little above average. This suggests that opponents are getting a number of good looks, so... hello, Nik Stauskas.
Hello, Nik Stauskas. Do what you do, kid.
Protect the glass. Western isn't a stellar shooting team, nor are they great defensively; just about the only way Michigan can lose this game is to allow Paul and Whittington to dominate the offensive glass and get a ton of second-chance points. Michigan is currently the third-best team in the country at preventing opponent offensive rebounds despite playing some big, athletic squads, so... yeah, they're probably gonna win.
Keep doing what you've been doing. I mean, yeah. (Until they lose, this is staying in the previews.)
THE SECTION WHERE I PREDICT THE SAME THING KENPOM DOES
HAI GUYS. So I've got this 1500 word ND preview in my drafts folder that somehow I did not publish last week. That's a sinking feeling right there. Apologies for anyone who felt abandoned. Moving on.
Image: last time Michigan hit up the Joe with a trophy on the line, success was experienced.
DeSalvo has been DeMolishing opponent defenses. HA!
When Michigan got only a split from Bowling Green on the final week of the regular season, that was annoying and ominous. The rest of the league didn't think it was ominous for them. They were wrong.
In the first round Bowling Green bussed up to Marquette and probably ended Northern Michigan's season by winning a series against a team that had swept them just three weeks earlier. It was no fluke, either: BG was about on par with Northern in shots in their 5-3 win Saturday and won 4-1 Sunday to clinch the series.
They took on league champ Ferris State the next weekend. Again, their opponent had swept them just three weeks previous. Total goals were 9-2. Again they won the series in three games. This one was a bit of a fluke. Both wins were in OT; on Friday FSU outshot the Falcons 56-34. BGSU fell behind 3-0 on Sunday before launching a stirring comeback. New hero Dan DeSalvo—who didn't even play against Michigan—added his 8th, 9th, and 10th goals of the CCHA playoffs as part of a natural hat trick that took BGSU from 3-1 down to 4-3 up, and through.
Unfortunately I was out of town for the untelevised BG series and can't offer any in-person evaluations to help refine the existing Puck Preview. That post spent a lot of time pointing out that BGSU was the worst team in the league by a good margin and apologizing for any jinxes this might stir up. From reports from people who were there it did seem like Michigan gave the Friday BGSU game away with a series of deflating turnovers late. Saturday Michigan endured nine penalty kills and still outshot BGSU 49-22. They couldn't score until five minutes had elapsed in the third.
That's about right: Michigan should bomb the BGSU net and win; if they get sloppy or enjoy a parade to the box DeSalvo might be able to make them pay.
Czarnik (yes that Czarnik) and Smith are Miami's goal engine
Sniper Reilly Smith (27-16-43) is one of three CCHA Hobey Baker finalists with MSU defenseman Torey Krug and Michigan's Shawn Hunwick. Two of those players were unanimous All-CCHA first team picks. The other is Hunwick. #gongshow
Anyway: Miami took it on the chin from Michigan in early February (Puck Preview), getting swept 4-1, 3-0 at Yost. At that juncture the Redhawks were outside of the NCAA tournament. Eight straight wins later they are playing for a one-seed at the Joe. Miami hasn't given up more than one goal in a game since the Michigan series, and while two of those games were against UAH the other six were against tourney aspirants, ND, OSU, and MSU. They are rolling. In the three series against serious opposition they've outscored their opponents 25-3.
Miami yanked Cody Reichard after the first period of their Friday game in Yost and has rode Connor Knapp since. He's played 8 of the last 9 games; the exception was a gimme against UAH. Knapp will get both games at the Joe unless he implodes. Since he's got a .943 on the year, don't bet on that.
Miami's finally playing like they were expected to at the start of the year; all due respect to Western Michigan but it will be a surprise if the Redhawks aren't in the final.
Michigan edged Western for the #2 seed in the CCHA tourney on a tiebreaker, one that became more important than expected when Ferris got bounced. Over the course of the season, Michigan has proven itself on a slightly higher level than the Broncos. Michigan had a +25 goal differential in CCHA play; Western was +11. WMU made up for it by winning all their league shootouts. Michigan won just one.
Michigan hasn't played Western since their awful November. Michigan got a split at Yost, losing 3-2 on Friday when Dane Walters scored with under a minute left. Michigan outshot WMU 36-25. The next night Michigan went into the third tied again; Bennett and Treais scored to put it away. The shot differential was flipped.
That was WMU's first loss of the year. While they cooled off after their hot start, they still find themselves tenuously in the tournament. They're 15th at the moment and will play themselves in or out over the course of the weekend. Getting swept is probably doom and a split is hair-splitting time.
The Broncos have something of a tough time scoring. Chase Balisy is their leading scorer with 12-22-34 and they've got three more guys with double-digit goals. I really liked senior captain Greg Squires's magic midget game when I saw them live but he's only got 6-11-17 on the year. Sparks-esque, that. Past their top line-ish WMU has guys a lot like Michigan's lower lines. Danny DeKeyser won the defensive defenseman of the year award in the league, FWIW.
Michigan Vs Those Guys
Tonight it's simple: keep it five on five, don't throw it up your own middle, and bomb their goalie until something goes in.
Tomorrow Michigan will get a stiff test from whoever comes through. I've tried to write something useful here and keep coming up with "play good at hockey you guys!!!" My brain has started its postseason hockey meltdown. I apologize. You have no idea what I'm talking about because of the same phenomenon.
The Big Picture
If you would like to be the committee go ahead: you are the committee. Sioux Sports has added up every single one of the 1.1 million scenarios still on the table and comes away with these facts under the (obviously faulty) assumption that all games are coinflips:
If Michigan wins the league they have a 75% chance to be the #2 overall seed and a 25% chance to be the #3 overall seed
If Michigan is swept at the Joe they still have a >50% chance to be the #2 overall seed, a 33% chance to be #3, and an 11% chance to be the 4. In just under 4% of outcomes in this coinflip-based scenario, Michigan loses their one seed.
Sounds good to me. Caveat: since Michigan's bad scenarios are ones in which teams just under them do well in their conference tourneys against lesser opponents, you should be more pessimistic than that… in the event of a sweep, anyway.
In my YATC fiddling I came up with one of the worst-case Michigan scenarios that dropped them to #5. Flipping one game with a worst-case split (beat non-TUC BGSU, lose to TUC) got them back to #3. A win tonight and I think Michigan has #2 or #3 locked down.
The win-all scenario is so clean because only one team matters: Duluth. If UMD wins the WCHA they'll pass Michigan for #2. If they don't, Michigan will hold on to their current spot. Does that matter? Probably not. I assume the committee will send the Bulldogs to Minneapolis despite the presence of the Gophers for attendance purposes, leaving Michigan in a near-empty building in Green Bay. (NCAA Hockey: we hate money, fans, and atmosphere!)
Things get messier in the event Michigan does not win the league, but there's a consolation prize: a lot of YATC brackets with Miami as CCHA champion feature them as the #4 overall seed with WMU and MSU as #4s. This was the scenario that led to Michigan's matchup against the Atlantic Hockey champion a few years back. That is a better draw despite The Hockey Horror making us hold our breath until a point where the game is comfortably in hand (if that ever comes).
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.
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.
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. 23Illinois 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’sweatherforecast 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.
(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. 23Illinois
Next, the Jump. Michigan should worry about: broken internet connections. Sleep soundly about: more room on the front page.
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.
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.
A few things: 1) I’m not going to change the X’s until Michigan loses. 2) Opponent Watch is moving to Tuesday next week. This is more for me than it is for you. 3) I’ve added a section devoted to tracking past opponents. 4) Michigan is not going to lose.
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, TomVH Ace.
About Last Saturday:
Minnesota 0, Michigan 58
The Road Ahead:
Northwestern (2-2, 0-1 B1G)
Last game: Northwestern 35, No. 24 Illinois 38 (L)
Recap: Northwestern QB Dan Persa (10/14, 4 TDs) finally returned to action last Saturday against Illinois. It’s hard to tell whether he was suffering lingering effects of his Achilles tendon injury leading up to the game, but Persa had five real carries -- mostly on zone-read keepers -- before he exited the game in the fourth quarter with pain in said Achilles tendon.
Despite having Persa’s arm back for the first time since Iowa last year, Northwestern insisted on sticking with the run. For two and half quarters this strategy was surprisingly effective. Persa’s four TD passes to bring the Wildcats ahead 28-10 were set up by a ground game that churned out nearly 5 ypc for two and a half quarters, which, if you’re not a spoiled Michigan fan, is really quite good. RB Mike Trumpy was the centerpiece of the ground game, gaining 63 yards on 12 carries, which, again, if you’re not a spoiled Michigan fan, is quite good. Unfortunately, he also had to leave the game with a leg injury, and reports are saying he’s lost for the season.
For about 40 minutes, Northwestern’s offense sparkled and shined. Then both Persa and Trumpy got knocked out of the game. By that point they were up by three scores in the third quarter, so it was hard to see how they might blow it.
Their secondary answered the challenge. The Wildcats left Illini receivers open all day and had no answer for WR A.J. Jenkins, who took advantage of some hapless defensive backs to haul in two long touchdowns, bringing his team to within a score. Jenkins’ 28-yard reception during the final minute also helped set up the winning Illinois touchdown.
Right now they are as frightening as: With a gimpy starting quarterback, an injured starting running back, and a defense that sometimes chooses not to cover people, they strike me as Purdue 2.0. Fear level = 4.
Michigan should worry about: Mental errors on the road. Also, Persa’s arm. There’s a good chance at least one of these things will happen, but both will have to happen simultaneously for a significant amount of time for Northwestern to pull out the win.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: There were a lot of questions during the press conferences about how Michigan will deal with Persa’s dual-threat capabilities, but in reality the threat of him running is far scarier to the his Achilles tendon than for an opposing defense.
When Michigan plays them: If Northwestern wants to be stubborn with their play calling, they will again try to establish the run with a lot of of zone reads. Michigan will be able to cheat and key in on the running backs because it would be stupid for Persa to run more than a handful of times. This will last about a quarter before the Wildcats realize that maybe getting 3 ypc isn’t a winning strategy, at which point they’ll likely air it out against a Wolverines secondary, which, thankfully, finally knows how to cover receivers. The Michigan defense will probably make some mistakes -- they’ll give up a couple bombs or a long run here and there -- and the running backs will have less room to wiggle than in previous weeks, but it’s hard to see this game being more worrisome than a Western Michigan/San Diego State redux, albeit against some bigger dudes and on the road-ish.