|WHAT||Michigan vs Utah Utes Of Utah (We're From Utah!)|
Ann Arbor MI
September 20th, 2014
|THE LINE||M –4|
|TICKETS||From 23 bucks for a real game? Wow.|
|WEATHER||Muggy, high 70s
70% chance of rain
We know very little about what Utah might be like this year; they opened the season against I-AA Idaho State (what's up Matt Gutierrez) and a hilariously incompetent version of Fresno State. Remember how Nebraska was in a dogfight with McNeese State? Yeah, they just blew the pants off of Fresno. The Bulldogs have three games under their belt and have given up over 50 points in each, and neither Nebraska nor USC has exactly covered themselves in glory in their other games.
So: I dunno man.
Run Offense vs Utah
Utah's DL is a bit wee
Utah may be tractable here. While hilariously incompetent Fresno State couldn't go anywhere, Idaho State moved the ball on the ground efficiently. Their top two backs combined for 34 carries and nearly 200 yards; they averaged 5.7 yards a pop. (It was ISU's horrendous passing game that prevented them from doing much: 4 yards an attempt.)
The Ute DL is undersized, rolling out a 5'11", 285 pound nose tackle and 3-4-ish DEs that run 266 and 276; it's unknown how they'll respond to a 2TE offense but their slot corner is 5'8", 178 so just folding him inside is going to be a bad idea. They either went with six guys when Fresno put two guys in the backfield or rolled a safety down.
Against the spreads they've faced so far Utah runs a lot of the 3-man-front-with-standup-DE I've been calling "30 slide" in the UFRs; that standup guy is 255, so when they slide down to a four-man front their SDE and three-tech both weigh less than Frank Clark.
Meanwhile, almost all of these guys are new: only two front-seven starters are back from last year's in-fact-excellent rush D, which finished 17th in the nation at 3.5 yards a pop. (This obscures some roller coaster action: one week after giving up 300 rushing yards to Arizona, Utah held USC's entire team to poor-damn-Toussaint output: 30 yards on 30 carries… in a game they lost by 16!)
Ace noted that even when they were stuffing hilariously incompetent Fresno State those guys weren't holding up too well:
Utah's undersized DTs can get pushed around quite a bit—on a play that stood as a testament to Fresno's inability to do anything right even when doing something right, they pancaked both DTs on an inside run, but failed to account for a single linebacker, managing just two yards even though both tackles were on the dang ground.
The best things these guys have going for them are the legitimately disruptive Nate Orchard (who's from the same high school Sione Houma and Bryan Mone are) and their nose tackle's spectacular name: Viliseni Faounuku.
You never know about mostly new football defenses but the overall picture here is encouraging.
On the winged side of the ball, Michigan is gradually working out the kinks in its zone-heavy scheme. Last week Michigan had a lot of success after some early stumbles and blasted out over six yards a carry. It was against a horrible opponent, but it still represented progress. Michigan's tailbacks hit some of the large holes this time out. Tiny flags were waved in response. Michigan mashed an undersized Miami line off the ball for the most part.
Presented with an opportunity to do something similar against the Utes Michigan is likely to take it. Those kinks will linger—expect Derrick Green to cut to the backside when he's got a promising hole at least once; it actually seems like Michigan can expect success against a Power 5 school.
Key Matchup: Michigan tailbacks versus RUN THERE WHY DON'T YOU RUN THERE. Improved in the last game; there should be similar opportunities in this one.
[Hit THE JUMP for the terrifying tower of tempo.]
Pass Offense vs Utah
Corner Dominique Hatfield is one of many position-switch starters
Here too we have little data and promising optics. Utah's secondary is green and patchwork. Ace:
Top corner Eric Rowe, a senior, spent his entire career to this point at free safety. In the spring, he split time between safety and corner, and at one point was listed as the starter at both positions.
The other starting corner, Dominique Hatfield, played wideout last year and was slated to be the starting Z receiver this spring.
Free safety Tevin Carter was a four-star Cal commit as a wide receiver in the 2010 class. He didn't stick there, stopping over at two different JuCos. He didn't play football last year and missed this spring with an injury before entering fall camp as the backup. He's now the starter.
Position switch starters are alarming. Offense-to-defense position switch starters are more alarming. Post-spring offense-to-defense position switch starters are the time when you call the national guard in to contain fan rioting.
Idaho State could do nothing with these facts; Fresno State passed for nearly 300 yards at a decent 7.1 an attempt despite being hilariously incompetent on the line for most of the game; they acquired three completions of over 40 yards.
Utah does have a staggering 11 sacks already, with seven coming in the Fresno game. Utah blitzes a lot and the Bulldogs sometimes elected to not block defensive ends on three-man rushes. This was an explosive combination. Expect that to continue against Michigan. The 3-3-5 originated as a way to compensate for undersized players with the element of surprise, and Utah is going to be coming from every imaginable angle on both run and pass to compensate for their general lack of size. Picking those up is half the battle.
Michigan hasn't thrown the ball that much so far except against Notre Dame, and that was a bad outing, with Gardner coughing up a metric ton of turnovers and Michigan squeaking to a 5.9 YPA with just one downfield shot all day, that to Devin Funchess. Funchess may or may not be available after injuring his ankle late in that meaningless blowout, and having him around is going to be a big deal. Do you put the converted FS or the 5'10 guy on him? Both seem like wrong answers.
Gardner has been a high YPA guy for his career and Michigan should have an advantage against that secondary if 1) Funchess plays and 2) Gardner is given time.
Key matchup: Mason Cole and Ben Braden against blitzes and Orchard. Both had plays on which Miami's star DE blew past them to Michigan's detriment; as the least experienced and most exposed pieces of the Michigan OL their ability to keep Gardner upright will be put to the test.
Run Defense vs Utah
As Ace noted in FFFF, this is going to be hairy because of one dread word: tempo. Utah is not as light speed as Indiana, but they get to the line fast and when they're not checking once there the snap often gets off with over 20 seconds on the playclock. And like that other guy who we don't talk about any more, Utah spreads to run. QB Travis Wilson, isn't exactly Denard at 6'7", but he has a Shane Morris level of mobility. He had almost 400 yards on the ground last year at 4.8 an attempt, and that's without bothering to remove sacks. He can go.
The consistency of the running game opens everything up for the rest of the offense. Wilson is a solid threat to keep on zone reads, and he's paired with a solid one-two running back rotation in JuCo transfer Devontae Booker and last year's starter, Bubba Poole. While Booker got the start and has better numbers this year, I liked Poole more in limited viewing—he turned a dead-in-the-water outside zone into a ten-yard gain with a couple nice jukes and finished his runs well.
The line is big and strong, especially on the left, and they make it hard on opponents by using their quarterback enough to make you account for him. They run the good ol' inverted veer quite a bit, and that's always a pain.
Add it up and Utah was a solidly above-average rushing offense a year ago at 5 yards a carry, and that's without a standout yard-machine star. This is going to look very familiar; it's the offense Michigan ran under the guy we don't talk about anymore. Add in the pressure of lining up right at pace and this going to be a challenge for Michigan.
Fortunately for Michigan, they seem up to it. Ryan Glasgow has been a revelation as a nose tackle in the first three games, the rest of the line is above average, and after some hiccups in the opener the linebacker tandem of Bolden and Ryan has been solid. They straight-up murdered the Miami run game a week ago, and more impressively they clubbed Notre Dame in the midst of disaster all around them—the longest carry by a Notre Dame back was six yards, and Notre Dame clunked to 54 total rushing yards.
As with most matchups against a spread offense, it greatly behooves a defense to have a DL that is consistently winning one-on-one matchups with the OL. Eating a double is okay as long as you don't let somebody slip to the linebacker level. So far, so good for Michigan—expect them to play it straight up with the occasional blitz/slant to muck with OL reads.
Key Matchup: Glasgow and Henry versus Utah's interior OL. If they can win that allows Michigan to hang back with the secondary, and that's going to be important because of…
Pass Defense vs Utah
Dres Andersen is a threat.
The prospect of Utah receiver Dres Anderson is an alarming one after what we saw Will Fuller do to the Michigan defense. He is on NFL radars, so we have scouting reports:
Anderson boasts impressive first-step acceleration and lateral agility to slip through creases and break away from the defense. He's frequently targeted on relatively simple passes like screens and as vertical threat but also runs pro-style routes (slants, comebacks, crosses, drags) that require more sophistication. He shows very good hand-eye coordination and body control to contort in space to make the tough reception, though his spindly frame puts him at a disadvantage on 50-50 balls.
Anderson put up a thousand yards last year and picked up where he left off in the Utes' first two games of 2014. He will be a challenge for… probably not Blake Countess. Raymon Taylor's knee injury is likely to keep him out for the next few weeks, but Michigan started futzing around with a lineup that had Pepper and Lewis on the outside with Countess reclaiming last year's nickel spot. With Delonte Hollowell having some struggles and Royce Jenkins-Stone almost totally lacking in experience but still deemed better than James Ross, Countess at the nickel seems like a good bet for Michigan's configuration against a pure spread outfit.
That would put Anderson in contention with Peppers and Lewis most plays. Michigan is going to find out if those guys are for real on Saturday.
The guy throwing it to Anderson and friends, Tyler Wilson, is wobbly. He had a nice 7.7 YPA a year ago but only completed 56% of his passes, which is very low for an outfit that uses a lot of wide receiver screens.
And the rather enormous catch here for the Utes is Wilson's interception rate. With 16 picks on just 237 attempts last year it stood at a gargantuan 6.7%; he threw six(!) in a loss to UCLA and was on a streak of five straight games having thrown a pick when he was relegated to the bench for the tail end of last season. Most of those interceptions were horrible decisions or iffy throws that saw the receiver tip it to a defender. Here are his first 14 from last year:
He has not thrown one this year in 38 attempts against low-level competition. How much that means is unknown. It seems doubtful his chuckin' tendencies are just gone, and if Frank Clark is bearing down on him, Ute fans are going to be clutching whatever's available in fear.
How likely is that? Well, Utah wanted to move their left tackle inside this year but that move did not come off. Clark's primary foe, then, is Jeremiah Poutasi:
Poutasi has struggled with his weight (he's reportedly down to 330 now) but is surprisingly quick and light on his feet. He does not possess ideal flexibility or length and struggles a bit with leverage but could emerge as a draftable commodity.
This is a guy Clark can win a lot of battles against, and should given his performance over the past year or so. Fresno's given up two sacks in each game so far; they were about average at ceding them a year ago and return three OL starters.
Key Matchup: Frank Clark versus Can A Defensive End Get Some Help Here? Whether it's coverage or DTs keeping to their lanes, it's time for someone to give Frank Clark the time to get home.
Ute kicker Andy Phillips is excellent, hitting 17 of 20 a year ago despite his field goals being considerably biased towards length. He was 9/11 from outside 40 and hit a 51-yarder.
Junior Tom Hackett is the Ute punter; he averaged an excellent 43 yards a kick last year and is at an unsustainable but impressive 51(!) through ten punts this year. Even more impressively, only one of Hackett's punts has even been returned. That went for one yard. Opponents only returned 19 of Hackett's 76 punts a year ago for an average under 5 yards a kick; the Ute punt team is elite; FEI had them 11th in the country a year ago and they're off to a national-best start this year. After field position was an issue against Notre Dame this veritably looms.
Ute kick returns were towards the bottom nationally a year ago and while Kaelin Clay took one back for a touchdown in the opener, it was against Idaho State. Don't expect that much danger here. However, punt returns were consistently good a year ago and are off to a good start. Michigan is amenable to providing them; hidden yardage might be a big Ute advantage here.
Key Matchup: YOU PUT THE BALL THROUGH THE UPRIGHTS
I hope that ribbon is for Most Demonic Eyes
- Michigan's OL keep turning around because the guy it turns out they were supposed to block is now way upfield of them.
- Anderson is hamblasting the secondary.
- Tempo tempo tempo wait what was I supposed to do?
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Funchess plays.
- Glasgow and Henry are clogging the Utah run game.
- Clark is making Wilson run around and make decisions.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 5 (Baseline 5; +1 for They Deploy So Quickly It Seems Unsporting, +1 for Look An Actual Team, –1 for Lollipop Guild Front Seven, –1 for Position-Switch Secondary, –1 for Interception Pile, +1 for Oh Right Our Turnover Pile, +1 for Four Point Spread Is Not Much Spread For A Home Game Against A Team That Just Went 5-7, –1 for I Think Everyone Is Overreacting To Notre Dame)
Desperate need to win level: 8 (Baseline 5; +1 for Boy I Don't Want To See The Recrimination Spiral If They Lose This, +1 for Especially If It's Because They Can't Deal With Modern Looking Football, +1 for They Can Still Have A Season In The Terrible Big Ten And I Just Want To Win Some Games, –1 for Lingering Notre Dame Ennui, +1 for Good Things Are Good)
Loss will cause me to... wander streets of Ann Arbor moaning "teeeeempo" at anyone who passes by, fade from vision, become Weird Tempo Ghost Of Ann Arbor.
Win will cause me to... WE'RE GONNA WIN THIS CRAP CONFERENCE AS LONG AS MICHIGAN STATE IS ABDUCTED BY ALIENS MIDSEASON
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
This game does not scare me. That is a terrible thing to think because when I think that Michigan inevitably folds in on itself in twelve different ways until they are an intricate origami turd. See: two weeks ago. But I'm looking at a team that just gave up five yards a carry to Idaho State and has a tiny DL and went 3-7 against I-A competition a year ago and throws a bunch of interceptions and I'm just… I know we are all piling on Michigan but this doesn't look like a real threat.
Two things are worries: Dres Anderson and what may be a massive hidden yards advantage. Oh, and a pile of turnovers and delay of game penalties at the worst possible time that make me want to die. Oh and Michigan going into shock on the field when someone snaps the ball with 30 seconds on the play clock. But if you look at the trenches this should be a win on both sides of the ball, and then you're talking about big outliers to get to a Utah win.
I am going to build in tempo stuff and punting stuff into the score prediction because that's going to hurt M; when people are having Queensbury rules faceoffs Michigan will look like the much better team.
I hate thinking like this.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Utah is almost 100 yards to the good from punt exchanges.
- Derrick Green goes over 100 yards with ease.
- People complain about Devin Gardner afterwards for dubious reasons.
- Michigan, 32-25