Opponent Watch: Week 10 Comment Count

BiSB November 7th, 2013 at 9:42 AM

About last week:


Everything the light touches is our kingdom. But the light only touches Ann Arbor.

Upcoming Opponents:

Nebraska (6-2, 3-1 B1G)

Last game: Nebraska 27, Northwestern 24 (W)

Recap: Had the Michigan game gone just a liiiiiittle differently, this would have been a frustrating result. Nebraska would have been Michigan's biggest remaining hurdle to a Leaders Victors  Legends  Bo (NNTB) Division crown, and pulling one out of their ass like this would have been rather disappointing. Instead, the world just sucks and everything is terrible, so what the hell, FAT GUY HAIL MARY.

Nebraska outgained Northwestern 472-326, but turned the ball over four times and found themselves down 3 when the above hilarity happened. They actually faced a 4th and 15 at their own 24 with under a minute left, and Ameer Abdullah took a dump-off and broke about 4 tackles to gain 16 yards.

Despite the victory, Nebraska’s quarterback situation is a bit of a crap shoot. Taylor Martinez has a strained everything, and didn’t play in this one. Excluding the Fat Guy Hail Mary, Tommy Anderson Jr. and Ron Kellogg III combined for 21/41 for 228 yards (5.6 YPA), one touchdown, and four INTs. Armstrong is more mobile (he gained 69 yards on 17 carries), but his arm was rather Acme Rocket-like; among his three turnovers, he threw one of the worst picks you’ll ever see with about two and a half minutes left deep in its own territory with the game tied.

All things considered, the offense was still very productive, but it’s hard to say if the turnovers can be extricated from that productivity given the quarterback situation. Martinez is reportedly out for the Michigan game, though, which is a significant advantage for Michigan; Nebraska is going to have to tip its hand based on which QB is under center. If Armstrong is out there, I think you’ll see Jake Ryan out there on the assumption that Nebraska will be going run-heavy, whereas if Kellogg is out there Michigan will almost certainly be in a nickel.

This team is as frightening as: Oh hell everything is frightening now, even if it isn’t objectively frightening. Fear Level = 6

Michigan should worry about: Ameer Abdullah. He’s is already over 1100 yards on the season (or about negative-23 Michigan/MSU games worth), and is averaging 7.1 yards per tote. He's a home run threat who can also be an effective every-down back. With Martinez out last week, Abdullah got 27 touches, and there’s no reason to believe that number will decrease this week.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: Nebraska’s Defensive FEI is 50th in the country… which is actually two spots BETTER than their Offensive FEI. They’ve put up some video game stats, but mostly against terrible defenses. They have played three defenses that are currently ranked in the top 93 in Defensive FEI (#23 UCLA, #30 Northwestern and #46 Minnesota), and have only averaged under 24 points per game in those three matchups. By comparison, they averaged 47 ppg against the #94, #95, #103, and #106 defenses and an FCS opponent. Michigan is statistically the best defense Nebraska will have faced this year.

When they play Michigan: Hurray for home games. Home games are good games. Home games don’t make me throw things.

Next game: @ Michigan

[AFTER THE JUMP: Poor Damn Northwestern]

Northwestern (4-5, 0-5 B1G)

Last game: Nebraska 27, Northwestern 24 (L)


Chi Chi's dead

When you feel like you've had it up to here / ‘Cause you mad enough to scream but you sad enough to tear

Right now Michigan fans are neither sympathetic enough to feel bad for Northwestern nor upbeat enough to take any joy in the schadenfreude. Instead, we just stare at the charred remnants of a season with awed befuddlement. We’re wandering through Pompeii, too overwhelmed by the impossibility of the situation to really put it in context. We understand that there are many individual losses, but the whole seems to so far exceed the sum of the parts. It’s hard to look beyond the forest fire to see the individual trees.

Northwestern is 0-5 in the Big Ten. They have lost five consecutive games. They have averaged just over 14 points per game over their last four games. They need to beat two of Michigan, Michigan State, and Illinois to even become bowl-eligible. Their once-potent offense is currently ranked 67th in the FEI, behind Michigan State, Minnesota, Troy, Air Force, and New Mexico.

And yet, despite all that, and despite Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian combining to go 8/21 for 81 yards (3.9 YPA) against Nebraska’s pass “defense,” Northwestern had a 3 point lead and a chance to stop the bleeding. A chance to right the ship. A chance to KNOCK IT DOWN.


Oddly enough, Northwestern’t defense seems to have made some strides in recent weeks. They largely shut down Iowa and Minnesota, and while Nebraska accumulated significant yardage, they were held to only 21 points for the first 60 minutes. It was just those last 0 seconds that killed Chi Chi Ariguzo.

This team is as frightening as: A wounded animal is dangerous. So an animal that has been dead on he side of the road for a few days must be extra dangerous. Fear level = 4

Michigan should worry about: Right now, honestly, I can’t think of a single thing. Even Michigan’s well-documented road woes don’t seem that scary, seeing as the 2011 game at Northwestern was one of the few quasi-impressive road wins of the Hoke era (plus, Ryan Field is a neutral site at worst). Maybe the bye week allows them some 80’s-training-montage-type leap in which they go from hapless to karate expert before next Saturday? Maybe Venric Mark rises from the grave and runs for a billion yards while simultaneously playing lockdown corner? Maybe A-Train fumbles?

Michigan can sleep soundly about: The Pat Fitzgerald magic seems gone.


Wait… wut??? (USA Today)

When they play Michigan: Disappointment Bowl.

Next game: BYE

Iowa (5-4, 2-3 B1G)

Last game: Wisconsin 28, Iowa 9 (L)

Recap: Add this one to the pile of evidence that the Math Club used to mercilessly bully Kirk Ferentz in junior high. Ferentz gave the Mathlete TWO candidates for Dumb Punt of the Week, punting on both a 4th and 3 from the Wisconsin 42 and on a 4th and 4 from the Wisconsin 35 (!). Yep, you read that right. He punted from the 35 yard line. With four yards to gain. Now, in Ferentz’s defense, punter Connor Kornbrath executed a very nice pooch punt down to the 8, which netted Iowa… 27 yards. Nothing like playing it hilariously conservatively in the face of all statistics when you are a decided underdog.

Iowa sort of hung around in this one, staying within a score of Wisconsin until about halfway through the 4th quarter. Jake Rudock sprained a knee, giving way to uber-green backup C.J. Breathard, who came into the game with exactly three career attempts. Breathard only completed 4 of 16 passes, but his 4.4 YPA was about the same as Rudock’s 4.5 YPA. Add that to Iowa’s 3.8 YPC on the ground, and you’re gonna have a stagnant time.

Defensively, Iowa had a very Michigan vs. Sparty kind of day; the defense held together for most of the day until it became abundantly clear that the offense wasn’t doing offense things, at which point it caved. Remove a 59 yard James White run on the last drive, and Iowa only gave up 3.6 YPC to a team averaging 287 yards per game on the ground (even with that run, they only gave up 4.8 YPC).

Iowa ain’t grand, but they are at least stable on both sides of the ball. Sometimes boring is better than the alternative, yaknowwhatImean?

This team is as frightening as: You know.


Fear Level = 5

Michigan should worry about: Iowa’s run defense has looked pretty stout. Michigan tends to try to run the ball on the road. Is this what an aneurysm feels like?

Michigan can sleep soundly about: Iowa’s offense looks like a good matchup for Michigan on paper. They run between the tackles, throw a lot to backs and TEs, and rarely challenge vertically (except for with TEs, which why not). They tempo a little bit, but not nearly enough to be problematic.

When they play Michigan: You have to watch this game. The whole thing.

Go grab a beer. I’ll wait.

You good? Good.

Next game: @ Purdue

I’m Out of Pithy Yet Amusingly Derogatory Nicknames for Ohio State (9-0, 5-0 B1G)

Last game: Ohio State 56, Purdue 0 (W)

Recap: Ohio State played Purdue. Ohio State scored all the points. Mathematically speaking, Ohio State scored infinity times as many points as Purdue. If this game lasted until the end of humanity, Purdue would still not be on pace to score as many points as Ohio State scored in the first minute (and Ohio State kicked off). Purdue scored on 0% of the plays they ran. I could go on, but I think you get the point. Ohio State > Purdue.

I know this section is supposed to talk about the Buckeyes, but “Club Defeats Baby Seal” doesn’t teach us much, so let’s just marvel at the statistical horrificness of Purdue. They were outgained 640 to 116 in this game. And ponder this for a moment: the Boilers haven’t  run a play from the red zone since September. I know I said recently that I thought Illinois was worse as a team, but that’s getting tough to defend. Unlike Purdue. Which is amazingly easy to defend.

This team is as frightening as: Ebola air fresheners. Fear Level = 9

Michigan should worry about: Ohio State is averaging 48 points per game. Michigan has only scored that many points against CMU and Indiana.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: Ohio State’s defense is only #38 in the country in S/P+ and #50 in total defense. They are vulnerable on the outside and deep, and they still don’t use their arms to tackle. If this is a shootout, Michigan might actually have a shot.

When they play Michigan: Home game home game home game home game home game home game home game home game home game home game home game home game home game…

Next game: @ Illinois

Objects in the Rearview Mirror:

Central Michigan (3-5 overall, 2-2 MAC)

Last game: BYE

Next game: @ Ball State

Notre Dame (7-2 overall)

Last game: Notre Dame 38, Navy 34

Recap: Notre Dame had to survive a serious scare from Navy, who led by a field goal until there were under four minutes left in the game. Notre Dame fans can not completely forget what it was like having Andrew Hendrix under center and can return to hating Tommy Rees.

Notre Dame remains Michigan's most impressive victory, and while they have hardly been world-beaters, it still holds up as a solid win. Their second-most impressive win is probably over Minnesota, though, so you'll probably want to root for the Irish to win pretty much win everything from here on out.

Next game: @ Pitt

Akron (3-7, 2-4 MAC)

Last game: Akron 16, Kent State 7 (W)

Recap: Akron is unstoppable. They have won 2 of 3, and will have a chance to get to 4 wins on the season when they play UMass in two weeks. So maybe they aren't as horrifically horrific as we believed in September. I might rank them as high as "moderately horrific."

Next game: BYE


UConn (0-7, 0-3 AAC)

Last game: BYE

(UConn remains horrifically horrific. At best.)

Next game: vs. Louisville

Minnesota (7-2, 3-2 B1G)

Last game: Minnesota 42, Indiana 39 (W)

Recap: Wow the Big Ten had some gut-punches this week. Minnesota had built, and blown, a 35-13 lead, and was clinging to a 3 point lead late in the 4th. Indiana had the ball on the Minnesota 9 with under 30 seconds to go, in ideal position to tie the game at worst. And then…

IU fumble

As a result, Minnesota already has seven wins in the bag, with a shot to get to 8 with a win over Penn State this weekend. Their last two games (Wisconsin and MSU) don’t look terribly promising, but I’m guessing Minnesota would take an 8 win season and run. The Jerry Kill situation is tough, but in spite of it (or possibly in part because of it?), the Gophers have made significant strides since GopherQuest '11.

The Gophers racked up 573 yards of offense. Philip Nelson - yes, Philip Nelson - threw for 298 yards on only 23 attempts. Their 42 points were as many as they have scored in a road Big Ten game since 2007. Indiana’s defense, man.

Next game: vs. Penn State

Penn State (5-3, 2-2 B1G)

Last game: Penn State 24, Illinois 17 (W)

Recap: That Penn State loss is looking uglier by the day. The Nittany Lions managed only 17 points at home against an Illinois team that has lost 17 straight Big Ten games, but managed to pull it out in overtime. I’ll just assume that Illinois followed Michigan’s lead and played for a field goal in overtime, even though Penn State had already scored a touchdown, because Tim Beckman.

Allen Robinson was Penn State’s leading receiver with 165 yards. Brandon Felder was Penn State’s second leading receiver… with 19 yards. In the alternate universe in which Robinson returned, Poochy-style, to his home planet before this season, Penn State would probably have 2 wins right now. They still would have beaten Michigan, though, because (a) Robinson wasn’t a huge factor in that game, and (b) alternate universes hate Michigan too.

Next game: @ Minnesota

Indiana (3-5, 1-3 B1G)

Last game: Minnesota 42, Indiana 39 (L)

Recap: Poor Hoosiers. That offense being paired with that defense is like a terrible formulaic mismatched roommate movie. The offense is the responsible roommate who pays the bills, cleans up the messes, and tries to guide the defense through life. The defense is the kleptomaniac serial arsonist who has been secretly plotting to kill the offense to collect the insurance money.

I probably shouldn’t be doing any programming work for the networks any time soon.

Looks like Indiana isn’t going to make a bowl game, which is a shame, because at least that offense would keep things interesting as the Big Ten is getting demolished during bowl season.

Next game: vs. Illinois



November 7th, 2013 at 9:58 AM ^

Would have beaten Michigan without Robinson? Forgetting that last bomb to set up the tying score, are we? Show me another guy on Penn State's roster (or pretty much in the entire big ten) who makes that catch? I think things feel worse than they are right now, as Michigan played like the better team in that one.


November 7th, 2013 at 10:07 AM ^

And Michigan wins... does it change the idea that this team isn't really that good? I mean it's OSU and then Wisconsin/MSU and then ... blargh... Frankly I'm not even sure MSU is that good. The MSU defense still hasn't faced a decent offense. Frankly they haven't faced a decent defense.

Perhaps I'm just too depressed.


November 7th, 2013 at 1:25 PM ^

Even if that pass is incomplete they have three more chances to advance the ball.  PSU was lucky to win.  If Stribling times his jump correctly, it's a pick -- game over.

But leading up to that play, it was not a well played game on our behalf.


November 7th, 2013 at 10:04 AM ^

Honestly... won't that just put us in a bowl that we may not be qualified for... Don't get me wrong, I'm all for utilizing the extra practices.... I'd just rather not utilize them for a shelling at the hands of an SEC team that is vastly more qualified. Let Notre Dame and Minnesota devolve into a tire fire as well...


November 7th, 2013 at 10:22 AM ^

They have a physical DL but a weak secondary. I'm bit worried they will control the LOS. Michigan defense will need a big game to stop the run! I'm worried about this one.

I have to say NE looks to be the better team. Though we have the home field so may be the offense will play better?


November 7th, 2013 at 12:32 PM ^

And yet when WE face Iowa Frentz will go for it relentlessly on 4th down, will try fake punts & field goals, will try reverses and every single trick play he has in the playbook.

And it's been that way for like eternity.  One style of play against all teams not named Michigan - a different coaching mindset against us.


November 7th, 2013 at 2:06 PM ^

Would Nebraska still be as big a threat as the Spartans? All it would mean if the beat us is that the winner of the MSU-Nebraska game would win the division. If Nebraska beats us and MSU that doesn't change anything in regards to how we played against MSU.  If Nebraska lost to Northwestern we'd still would have had to beat them or we'd both have 2 conference losses with head to head to them. And losing our second game to them means we couldn't win by having MSU beat them because MSU would stlll have one loss. 

I'm torn on the Northwestern bye. I have no idea if a win this weekend would have gotten the desparation off their back, or having the losing streak not end makes them wallow in the hail mary for another weak and just depresses them some more. Anyone still want Pat Fitzgerald as their coach? Texas? USC? Anybody?