Opponent Watch: Week 11 Comment Count

Heiko November 15th, 2011 at 3:39 PM

Finally, a post on Tuesday. November is championship football, and championship football requires championship opponent watching.

(Fear scale: 0 = Bye week; 1 = If Michigan loses to this team Lloyd Carr will announce his retirement a second time; 5 = Illinois any given year; 8 = Best in B1G, which may or may not actually be any good; 9 = National title contender somewhere in the SEC; 10 = Hold me, Ace)

About Last Saturday:

No. 24 Michigan 31, Illinois 14 (W)


The Road Ahead:

No. 19 Nebraska (8-2, 4-2 B1G)

David Swanson / Philadelphia Inquirer


  • Chattanooga, 40-7 (W)
  • Fresno State, 42-29 (W)
  • Washington, 51-38 (W)
  • @ Wyoming, 38-14 (W)
  • @ No. 7 Wisconsin, 48-17 (L)
  • Ohio State, 34-27 (W)
  • @ Minnesota, 41-14 (W)
  • No. 11 Michigan State, 24-3 (W)
  • Northwestern, 28-25 (L)

Last game: Nebraska 17, No. 12 Penn State 14 (W)

Recap: Nebraska shrugged off last week’s upset loss to Northwestern as well as the national scandal that has been monopolizing headlines to win a football game on the road.

Their rush offense steadily churned out a 17-0 lead midway through the third quarter before Penn State finally put together a cohesive touchdown drive. A Rex Burkhead (25 carries, 121 yards, 1 TD) fumble at the beginning of the fourth quarter gave the Nittany Lions a short field, so with the help of some trickery, Penn State was able to find the endzone again to cut the lead to 17-14.

That’s when the Huskers defensive front, led by LB Lavonte David, who had been quiet for most of the game, stiffened. Three times they stuffed Lions running backs for no gain on short yardage. 2nd and 1 turned into 3rd and 1 turned into 4th and 1, which ultimately led to a turnover on downs.

Miraculously, the Penn State defense was able to force a Nebraska four and out to get the ball back with 49 seconds remaining, but Nittany Lions QB Matt McGloin (16/34, 193 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs) had trouble finding receivers on the desperation drive, and his last pass under pressure fell incomplete.

Huskers QB Taylor Martinez had a pedestrian day, completing 13 of 26 passes for 143 yards and no TDs or INTs. He was also limited on the ground, carrying the ball 19 times for just 56 yards -- only one of those carries was a sack. He did manage the game well, however, and the offensive play of the game was his last-second option pitch to Rex Burkhead that went for a touchdown.

Right now they are as frightening as: The mounting sense of unknowing you get as you stare down the betting lines this week. 7.

Michigan should worry about: Option offense, which is something Michigan doesn’t really know if it can stop. Northwestern ran it successfully but then outsmarted themselves by abandoning it in the second half. Illlinois used it in limited quantities, and while Michigan stifled the hand-offs, the Scheelhaase keepers were effective and therefore worrisome.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: Numerous reports indicate that Nebraska’s offensive line is about as deep as Michigan’s, i.e. drowning is a hazard only for the very young or the very intoxicated. The Wolverines D-line play has been steadily improving since the bye week, so that matchup looks to be favorable.

Additionally, if you’ve ever watched Martinez throw … eesh. Imagine Denard passing, but instead of an arm he has a chicken wing. Expect to see Jordan Kovacs nuzzling the line of scrimmage frequently.

DE Jared Crick has been out with a torn pectoral muscle, so Mark Huyge at least can sleep a little better.

When Michigan plays them: Both teams are going to try to make each other take to the air, at which point it’s anyone’s guess.

Martinez thrives on the kind of passing game that made Denard a 2500+ yard passer last year -- as teams choke up on the run game, receivers find themselves wandering alone in areas of the field large enough to raise a horse. Michigan’s safeties have done a good job of not blowing these sorts of assignments or getting beat deep so far, but again, they haven’t been tested by a true option offense where the whole point is to get safeties to bite on play-action. Worry if the Wolverines can’t stop the Burkhead-Martinez tandem early.

As far as Michigan’s passing game goes, jump balls are probably not such a great idea. Nebraska boasts one of the B1G’s best cover corners in Alfonso Dennard, and the guy playing opposite him is not so bad either. The Wolverines’ passing game does seem to be more sophisticated than the Huskers’ and relies less on establishing the run game, so there’s that.

Ultimately, I wouldn’t be surprised to see both teams combine for six turnovers.

Next game: at No. 18 Michigan

(more after the jump)

Ohio State (6-4, 3-3 B1G)

Chris Russell / Dispatch

Last game: Ohio State 23, Purdue 26 OT (L)

Recap: The general feeling around the Ohio State blogowebs after this game was that the archaic offensive playcalling cost them the game. While OC Jim Bollman and the offense were undoubtedly major culprits -- I mean, going three-and-out seven times against Purdue, for real? -- the other problem was that the Buckeyes defense allowed the Boilermakers to gash them to a 10-0 lead in their first two possessions. It established a level of confidence for Purdue’s offense that they maintained throughout the rest of the game.

Ohio State gave up 363 yards to the Boilermakers and forced just three three-and-outs. This is the same defense that held Wisconsin to 342 yards and forced four three-and-outs. That’s inexcusable.

The Buckeyes climbed back into the game on a long catch-and-run by RB Jordan Hall and some fresh-out-of-his-rear-end plays by QB Braxton Miller (8/18, 132 yards, 2 TDs), who seemed to do better when the framework of the offense was crumbling around him.

Late in the fourth quarter, down 20-14, Miller connected with Hall again for the apparent winning score, but the PAT was blocked by Purdue DT Bruce Gaston’s heroic effort. Ohio State lost the overtime coin toss, and that seemed to deflate their last hope for a victory.

The Boilermakers topped the Buckeyes' field goal with a touchdown, and for the third time this season, fans stormed the field to celebrate the victory.

Right now they are as frightening as: An Ohio State team whose season now boils down to beating Michigan. 6.

Michigan should worry about: That.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: Ohio State first needs to learn how to score more points and do a better job preventing the other team from scoring points.

Also, field kickoffs.

Also, kick PATs.


Next game: No. 21 Penn State


Objects in Mirror:

Western Michigan (5-5, 3-3 MAC)

Last game: … was on a Tuesday, actually (Western Michigan 63, Toledo 66). So nothing’s happened since then.

Next game: at Miami (NTM). On Wednesday. Crazy.

Notre Dame (7-3)

Last game: Maryland 21, Notre Dame 45 (W)


Neither of you ain't got no alibi.

Next game: Boston College

Eastern Michigan (6-4, 4-2 MAC)

Last game: Buffalo 17, Eastern Michigan 30 (W)

Recap: Put the Eastern Michigan Bowl Eligibility Alert back on. They need one more win. Go Eagles!

Next game: at Kent State

San Diego State (6-3, 3-2 MWC)

Last game: San Diego State 18, Colorado State 15 (W)

Recap: San Diego State had a 2:1 time of possession advantage over Colorado State yet still needed a field goal in the final minutes to clinch the win.

Next game: No. 10 Boise State

Minnesota (2-8, 1-5 B1G)

Last game: Wisconsin 42, Minnesota 13 (L)

Recap: Either Minnesota has gotten a lot better or Bret Bielema finally learned that running up the score against a weaker opponent is bad karma.

Next game: at Northwestern

Northwestern (5-5, 2-4 B1G)

Last game: Rice 6, Northwestern 28 (W)

Recap: Northwestern racked up 533 yards of offense and nearly shut out Rice despite turning the ball over three times. Sadly, there was no Sam McGuffie sighting.

Next game: Minnesota

No. 17 Michigan State (8-2, 5-1 B1G)

Last game: Michigan State 37, Iowa 21 (W)

Recap: Michigan State took advantage of three Iowa turnovers to beat them handily at Kinnick. Unless Nebraska wins out and Sparty sparties one of their next two games (along with a handful of other possible but unlikely scenarios), Michigan State will go to Indy.

Next game: Indiana

Purdue (5-5, 3-3 B1G)

Last game: Ohio State 23, Purdue 26 (W)

Recap: See above.

Next game: Iowa

Iowa (6-4, 3-3 B1G)

Last game: Michigan State 37, Iowa 21 (L)

Recap: Iowa’s highlight reel from this game contains a spectacular one-handed catch by WR Marvin McNutt, and that’s it.

Next game: at Purdue



November 15th, 2011 at 3:44 PM ^

We beat Illinois 31-14 (not 31-21).   I demand that be changed before my jack-ass brother-in-law who lies about graduating from Illinois reads that and brags that they almost beat us.

Chippewa Blue

November 15th, 2011 at 3:49 PM ^

Mid-week football is really annoying from a fans standpoint but it's the only way us in the MAC get on TV this time of year. So all your tuesday and wednesday football viewing are belong to us

Six Zero

November 15th, 2011 at 3:58 PM ^

We'll get the best they can possibly offer, because as of Saturday night beating Michigan is the only possible thing that can save them from total meltdown.


*Yes, I purposely worded it that way, so you can go ahead and make jokes about the mothers of Buckeyes.  Carry on.


November 16th, 2011 at 8:52 AM ^

I said I would judge Fickell's one year experiment not on how our team prepared and played against Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan, but how it looked against Indiana, Purdue, and Toledo/Akron. Obviously he proved he's not ready to be our HC going forward. He will have the best Buckeye possible ready to show up in Ann Arbor, to which I look forward. It's gonna be a slobber knocker boys.


November 15th, 2011 at 4:05 PM ^

Taylor Martinez has an ugly throwing motion and is not very accurate, but the coaches still put him in situations where he can be successful. 13-26 isn't great, but it's better than anything Denard and/or Devin have done recently. Beating Nebraska comes down to solid play by the corners, which I am expecting because Floyd and Countess have been very good. Gordon/Woolfolk/Kovacs also need to have good games because they will be out safety valve   on play action passes and linebacker fails on option plays. Offensively, I'd rather not mess with UNL's corners to begin with. Establish the run with Fitz, run some misdirection. Force them to load the box so we can get some single coverage on the outside. Then take a shot against the side Dennard is not on. I think the screen game with Smith and Odoms could be a game changer for our offense, especially that throwback screen (Smith against ND)

I wonder if Borges opens up the playbook for this game or saves it for a special situation the following week. I think the BEST thing to do is to run some ridiculous trick play this week to keep Ohio State thinking next week. 


November 15th, 2011 at 4:16 PM ^

Nebraska owns the head-to-head against MSU. Correct me if I'm wrong about the tie-breakers but if Nebraska wins out, Sparty would only have to blow one of their next two games for Nebraska to go to Indy.


November 15th, 2011 at 5:12 PM ^

Eastern may be bowl elligible with a win over Kent State but I think they need to win both games in order to actually end up in a bowl.  All I can say is that I picked the right season to be photographing from the sidelines.   I wont be going to either next game (If I were, I think I would have went with the place from the Neil Young song).


November 15th, 2011 at 7:27 PM ^

For the love of gosh please let Borges pull his head out. Denard needs to run like a fat girl to Burger King. I am a district manager in Nebraska and will probably consider suicide if we lose. Please save me Borges, and I will take back everything I said about your shitty play calling at Iowa, MSU, and Illinois. If any of you see Borges in town slap him and say run Denard until he collapses or throw screens, or pitches n shit. Sorry I am rambling and my point is becoming a mess.


November 16th, 2011 at 10:08 AM ^

Both remaining games are winnable, but they'd both be upsets.

As their worst, Nebraska and Ohio State are inferior to Michigan.  On a very broad level, it seems they're more prone to mental breakdowns, resulting in inconsistency and letdowns.  I don't know if it's more on the team level or coaching level, but it happens.

It won't happen against Michigan, of course.  Michigan generally gets a team's best day, but Nebraska and Ohio State at their best have more talent.  The coaches would never say they're outmatched, but I wouldn't be surprised if they're preparing for these games with an underdog mentality.

The defense has matured so much in such a short time under Mattison.  He's on his toes as always, but I trust they won't lose the game for us.  Nebraska will probably score 3-4 touchdowns, and even an aimless OSU could be good for two TDs and maybe a field goal or two, just from sheer hatred of Michigan.  We will get scored on, but Mattison won't give them free TDs to break open the game.

What I'm really hoping is that Borges saved a few tricks for these teams that can be executed well enough -- like the bubble screen.  As with Notre Dame, we'll probably be behind in the fourth quarter and need at least 30 points total to beat Nebraska.  Against OSU he'll need to find some way to score 20 without giving up INTs that give those points back.  My big concern is that Borges can get overwhelmed.  When a talented, disciplined defense starts attacking his schemes successfully, his adjustments seem to get away from the team's strengths entirely, pressuring Denard to do things he doesn't do well.  That's what leads to the INTs.