Opponent Watch: Week 2

Submitted by BiSB on September 12th, 2013 at 10:36 AM

About last week:


The road ahead:

Michigan Sta…

Wait, we haven’t gotten there yet. We go in chronological order around here.

Oh, c’mon. Let me just talk about State first, then I’ll talk about the other dreck that comes between here and there.


DID YOU EVEN SEE THE STATE GAME? We need a real lede here. Throw some red meat up front. No one come here for my take on Akron

This isn’t Columbus. There are rules.

I hate you so much, disembodied bolded alter-ego. FINE, we’ll talk about…

Akron (1-1, 0-0 MAC)


Last game: Akron 35, James Madison 33 (W)

Recap: Michigan’s next opponent is, shall we say, not coming into the game riding a high. Despite not actually fielding a football team, James Madison took Akron to the absolute wire. The Fightin’ Dolleys scored with five minutes left, but missed the two point conversion. They then got the ball back with 1:19 left, and went on a 12 play drive to the Akron 27 before time expired. James Madison outgained Akron 498-356. Again, this was James Madison. Confirmed: Akron remains not good at football.

This team is as frightening as: I refuse to be That Guy who jinxes the upcoming game by labeling it a fear level = 1. Therefore, fear level = 1.07.

Michigan should worry about: Third-world hunger is a problem still, right?

Michigan can sleep soundly about: Akron football.

When they play Michigan: This game is a bit of a palate cleanser following the Notre Dame game. Which is fitting, because Akron has the defensive cohesiveness and overall consistency of a fine sorbet. PREPARE THE FRESHMEN.

Next game: vs. #11 Michigan

[AFTER THE JUMP: more dreck, then Sparty]

UConn (0-1, 0-0 AAC)


Last game: BYE

Recap: Like a small 9th Century coastal village on the Baltic Sea, UConn waited. The raiders had been coming more and more frequently of late, but the day grew short and the horizon remained empty. And as the sun dipped below the hills, the villagers breathed a sigh of relief. There would be no raid today. They celebrated, as if they had somehow repelled the invaders. Yet their excitement and bravado were tempered by an underlying sadness; a submission to the inescapable conclusion that though today brought no attack, it was simply a matter of time. Sleep would be restless, because soon the marauders would return. Soon indeed.

This team is as frightening as: Fear level = 2

Michigan should worry about: Sometimes teams need a wake-up call to get their crap together. Getting throttled by Towson could serve as just that wake-up call. Combine that with an off-week to gather their thoughts and put week one behind them, and UConn can regroup and come out firing next week. Beat Maryland, and they could carry a little momentum into the Michigan game.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: It took me the better part of a day to devise the tortured Picasso of a theory set forth in the section above.

When they play Michigan: The game will take place at either noon or 8:00. The AAC hasn’t decided on a kickoff yet, and won’t decide until this Saturday. I honestly wonder if they are trying to maximize eyeballs or minimize eyeballs. This game does not scream “showcase.”

Next game: vs. Maryland.

Minnesota (2-0, 0-0 B1G)

Last game: Minnesota 44, New Mexico St. 21 (W)

Recap: Minnesota ran the crap out of the football against a bad NMSU team, running for 342 yards at an 8 YPC clip. However, the defense wasn’t stellar, surrendering 356 yards and 21 points to a team that only scored 7 points against a Texas team that was so bad they just decided that Greg Robinson was their only hope. Minnesota hasn’t displayed any glaringly obvious weaknesses yet, but they also haven’t given great reason to hope that they will be significantly improved. Philip Nelson has been better than expected on the ground (he had 122 yards on 15 carries), but mediocre in the passing game (8/15, 127 yards and a pick, currently at 6.1 YPA on the season).

Minnesota might have played the weakest pair of opponents in the Big Ten, if not in college football writ large. On USA Today’s 1-to-125 rankings, Minnesota’s opponents are currently #120 and #121. So while Minnesota is 2-0, I don’t think anyone is really that high on the Gophers. A bowl game remains the goal. They will probably move to 3-0, as they take on FCS not-so-powerhouse Western Illinois.

Sir, you seem to have delivered the wrong schedule. This is addressed to Wisconsin. They’re the next one over.

This team is as frightening as: Scut Farkas. Able to beat up on smaller, weaker kids. Sometimes. Probably doesn’t have much of a chance against kids his own size, and there’s always a decent chance the little guy will just jump up and pound the everloving hell out of him. Fear level = 3

Michigan should worry about: Philip Nelson’s legs, I guess. He’s over 100 yards per game on the ground, and he actually looks kind of athletic. Not “athletic” athletic, mind you. More of a “hey, that middle-aged guy in the pick-up game has a decent jump-shot” athletic. But Michigan will at least have to account for him in the running game, which isn’t something they will have to do before this game.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: We’re worried about Philip Nelson’s legs? And THAT doesn’t let you sleep soundly?

When they play Michigan: Hey, it’s homecoming. Guys will swing swords around, because apparently that’s how we used to get pumped up. Old men will do backflips.

Next game: vs. Western Illinois

Penn State (2-0, 0-0 B1G)

Last game: Penn State 45, Eastern Michigan 7 (W)

Recap: The Christian Hackenberg is in full deployment. The true frosh has thrown 64 passes in two games. He’s completing 70% of them for over 9 yards per toss. He’s playing cupcakes, to be sure, but he’s showing flashes of being ahead of his years. He is also showing flashes of being a freshman, especially early in this game. He had a few very off-target throws in the first quarter, and then… well…

H/T @WorldOfIsaac

All in all, though, he looks good. Allen Robinson, of course, continues to be unstoppable. The running game picked up a bit in this game (251 on 39 carries), but Eastern gave up a bunch of rushing yards to Howard last week, so who knows. The defense continues to look solid, but the “it’s Eastern Michigan” caveat looms over the results like a giant unnecessarily-phallic water tower.

Let’s also give a little kicker love to Sam Ficken. You may remember Ficken as the guy who went 1 for 5 on field goals (and missed an extra point) against Virginia last year in a one point loss. He started the season 4 of 11. Since then, he has made 14 straight field goals, including a 4-for-4 start to this year. The Gibbons appears to be strong with this one.

This team is as frightening as: Still not really sure. There’s a pretty good chance Penn State will be 5-0 when Michigan arrives (likely also at 5-0), but how much are we really going to learn about them between now and then? The offense looks functional (though I’m still not sold on the offensive line). The defense has shown it can Dikembe Mutombo the various toddlers tossing cereal in its path. As such, they remain potentially a real team. But Syracuse played Penn State very tight, and Northwestern just took Syracuse to the woodshed. So, defer. Fear level = 6.5

Michigan should worry about: Hackenberg. Michigan just faced a pocket passer who, if given time and a reasonable pocket, can make things happen. Said quarterback threw for over 300 yards. Hackenberg has shown good patience for a freshman, and can probably take the underneath yardage the way Rees did.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: Tommy Rees was playing behind a much better offensive line than Penn State’s. Rees was also a senior with a bunch of starts under his belt. When Michigan arrives in Happy Valley, Penn State will have played Syracuse, Eastern Michigan, UCF, Kent State, and Indiana. A Greg Mattison-devised scheme will be a trial by fire for the kid.

When they play Michigan: So much Seven Nation Army.

Next game: vs. UCF

Indiana (1-1, 0-0 B1G)


Matt Kryger / The Star

Last game: Navy 41, Indiana 35 (L)

Recap: Aw man. I was JUST starting to believe in you again, Indiana. I am disappoint. Navy jumped out to a 24-7 first half lead, taking advantage of a red zone turnover and a turnover on downs. Indiana fought back late, but couldn’t make it back. The Hoosiers put up solid offensive numbers, but gave up 444 yards on the ground to Navy’s triple option.

For once, though, the opponent caveat cuts the other way. Navy isn’t a great team, but they are an outlier. There is only so much you can glean from triple-option teams, and especially the service academy triple-option teams. Michigan fans remember all too well how the Air Force game went last year. Struggling against Navy isn’t necessarily indicative of larger systematic problems; the system is designed to test the hell out of a few key aspects of a defense, and exploits them in ways that traditional offenses can’t. Still, that 444 does not bode well for the front seven, and the interior defensive line did not fare well.

This team is as frightening as: I’m gonna stay with 2009 Michigan. They just hit the late-season swoon two games in. Fear level = 3

Michigan should worry about: Nate Sudfeld. He completed 74% of his passes in this game for 363 yards and 4 TDs. He’s got 8 TDs against only 2 picks thus far. He also looks comfortable.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: Michigan still hasn’t lost to Indiana for a really long time. Plus, with the bye week between this game and State, there doesn’t seem like much of a chance Michigan gets caught looking ahead.

When they play Michigan: It will be decidedly less stressful than recent iterations.

Next game: vs. Bowling Green

NOW can I talk about Sparty?

One minute…

/grabs popcorn

Okay. NOW you can talk about Sparty.


Michigan State (2-0, 0-0 B1G)


THIS... IS... AWFUL...

Last game: Michigan State 21, South Florida 6 (W)

Recap: Part of the reason we made so much fun of Michigan State last week was because there was plenty of reason to assume Week 1 was somewhat of fluke. No Big Ten team could be THAT inept offensively. I figured Michigan State would regress toward the mean a bit, and while they would still be bad, but less comically terrible. Week 2 had to be better. It just had to be better.

It wasn’t better. In fact, it may have been worse. Michigan State’s offense scored seven points against USF. Their touchdown drive was 33 yards long, aided by a shanked punt. MSU’s QBs were 12 of 24 for 94 yards for a 3.9 YPA average. They played three quarterbacks, none of whom threw for more than 40 yards. To put this in proper context, let’s compare Michigan State’s production against USF to McNeese State’s production against USF the week before:




Rand McNally

McNeese St.

Points (offensive)



1st Downs



3rd down



Total yards



Passing yards



Completion %



Yards per pass



Rushing yards



Yards per rush




To compound matters, Western Michigan went out and lost to Nicholls State, a team whose only wins in 2011 AND 2012 came over Evangel, an NAIA team. As you may recall, State struggled mightily with the Broncos. So, let’s compare Sparty’s Week 1 production against WMU to Nicholls State’s production against WMU:





Nicholls St

Points (offensive)



1st downs



3rd down efficiency



Total yards



Passing yards



Completion %



Yards per pass



Rushing yards



Yards per rush



I know, I know. The transitive property of football isn’t a reliable indicator. But if it walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it could probably start at quarterback for Michigan State. And no, I didn’t abandon that idiom halfway through; “could probably start at quarterback for Michigan State” has now replaced the end of all idioms you know:

  • A penny saved could probably start at quarterback for Michigan State.
  • If at first you don’t succeed, you could start at quarterback for Michigan State.
  • You can lead a horse to water, and it could probably start at quarterback for Michigan State (forgive me, Adam Jacobi)

I have reached into the bottom of my bin of hyperbole, and have been found wanting. Words no longer describe this offense. Numbers are even straining against the enormous weight of this suckitude. Pretty soon we’ll be down to sounds and smells. MSU is averaging 3.4 yards per pass on the year. The only other team averaging less than 4.1, Virginia, played BYU and Oregon to reach those totals. MSU DE Shilique Calhoun has scored more points for Michigan State than has Michigan State’s entire offense.

And as if it could get ANY worse, the coaches don’t seem to have a clue how to fix it, or even how best to make do. The playcalling seems haphazard at best, and has the distinct flavor of “what the hell, let’s push this button and see what happens.” When they start to have success on the ground, they aren’t continuing with the ground game or being used to set up play action. Instead, they seem to say, “okay, we have some momentum, so let’s see if our quick horizontall passing game work now.” Michigan State is two games into their season, and their QB rotation is less set than it has been. Against WMU, they played two quarterbacks. Against USF they played three quarterbacks. This week, a fourth guy (Damion Terry*) is running with the 2’s in practice. This team is both flailing and stationary at the same time. I say again this week: woof.

The defense was, of course, stellar, despite a less-than-all-consuming day of run defense. But how long they can continue to carry the lifeless corpse of an offense around before they get a little tired.

*FWIW, some close to the program believe Terry will play soon, and I agree

This team is as frightening as: And now, the shocking twist ending: Fear level = 7.5.

Yes, yes. I know. I spent the WHOLE recap section talking about how terrible and beyond repair Michigan State is. And now you’re telling me I should be pretty afraid of them? Yep, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Sun Tzu teaches us that, “where if one who does battle with full force survives, and one who does not do battle with full force perishes, this is called deadly ground. On deadly ground, do battle.” In a year where State doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere rosy, there is one way to save their season: beat Michigan. The Michigan game is EVERYTHING in those types of years. And when that is the case, all bets are off. All stops are pulled. All doors are barred. Plus, that defense still exists.

Michigan should worry about: Ancient Chinese philosopher-generals, apparently.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: Said ancient Chinese philosopher-general could probably start at quarterback for Michigan State.

When they play Michigan: Michigan’s interior offensive line versus MSU’s tackles will be a huge, huge factor. Those DEs (Calhoun, Marcus Rush, and Denzel Drone) remain ferocious, but they have only been as successful as they have because State’s DTs have held up and haven't allowed anywhere for quarterbacks to step up. If they can get push, Michigan is in for a long day. If not, and Devin can break contain…

Next game: vs. Youngstown State

#23/15 (?) Nebraska (2-0, 0-0 B1G)


Textbook form. (Eric Gregory/Lincoln Journal Star)

Last game: Nebraska 56, Southern Miss 13 (W)

Recap: Nebraska changed things up this week, bringing a specialized unit of players dedicated exclusively to stopping the opposing team from scoring points. This group of “defensers,” as Nebraska has taken to calling them, held Southern Miss to 13 points and 284 yards, and returned two picks for scores. Southern Miss isn’t very good, but there is always something to be said for treating a cupcake like a cupcake.

Pollsters were of two minds on this game. The AP dropped them from #22 to #23, while the Coaches Poll raised them from #19 to #15. I’m not sure I remember seeing as large a disparity in poll position after a couple of weeks of football; usually a couple of games, combined with a healthy dollop of group-think, smoothes out differences this large. Bottom line: the jury is still out.

Odds are, though, that the jury returns a verdict on at least some counts this weekend, as UCLA comes to Lincoln to put those defensermen to the test. UCLA put up 647 yards against Nevada in a blowout win in Week 1. We’ll find out this week if Nebraska’s non-scoring-type guys are bad or terrible. I predict the latter.

This team is as frightening as: I’m sticking with 2010 Michigan here, too. Fear level = 7

Michigan should worry about: Taylor Martinez is the most dangerous quarterback not named Braxton on Michigan’s schedule

Michigan can sleep soundly about:

When they play Michigan: This scoreboard’s on FIYAAAAAAAAAAAH.

Next game: vs. #16/17 UCLA

#17/16 Northwestern (2-0, 0-0 B1G)

Last game: Northwestern 48, Syracuse 27 (W)

Recap: I’m not sold yet. But I’m getting pretty close. I didn’t see this game yet because ALL OF THE LIGHTS, but its sitting on my DVR awaiting confirmation.

Northwestern took on a Syracuse team that played a one-score game against Penn State and beat them handily. The offense was once again prolific, putting up 48 offensive points and 581 yards. They scored on touchdown drives of 62, 75, 75, 80, and 91 yards, and jumped out to a 34-7 halftime lead.

Northwestern may be one of the rare exceptions to the “if you have two quarterbacks you have no quarterbacks” rule. UTG Trevor Siemian threw for 259 yards with 3 TDs on 15 of 19 passing. That’s 13.6 yards per attempt. I be like dang. Kain Colter completed 15 of 18 passes for 116 yards and a score, but also ran 11 times for 87 yards.

It wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops for Northwestern. They struggled a bit on the ground, with non-QBs only picking up only 3.8 yards per carry on 31 attempts (Venric Mark was out, which helps to explain that). The secondary also remains… questionable. But at this point, they look like the only remotely complete non-Michigan team in the Legends.

They play small, easily bludgeonable mammals for the next two weeks (WMU and Maine), so we’ve gotten the last useful data on them between now and their showdown with Ohio State.

This team is as frightening as: Nebraska, if Nebraska had at least heard of the concept of “tackling.” Fear level = 8

Michigan should worry about: Northwestern seems to have developed offensive depth that didn’t really exist in the past.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: A competent-plus Northwestern could serve as a serious test to an Ohio State team that could really use one. FWIW, the game will be played at a neutral site, Ryan Field.

When they play Michigan: The winner is a healthy favorite to win the Legends

Next game: vs. Western Michigan

Iowa (1-1, 0-0 B1G)

Last game: Iowa 28, Missouri State (W)

Recap: /Narrated in Ben Stein voice.

Iowa played an American Football game against a team from Missouri State. Both teams played hard. Iowa won 28-14. They were very happy.

/End of Ben Stein voice. If you want. But it’s a fun voice, so you might want to stick with it for the rest of the Iowa section.

Missouri State is an FCS team that lost to Northwestern State already this year. Iowa had a boring, efficient day, outgained them by a bunch, scoring enough, and winning comfortably. Yaaaay Big Ten. Now a matchup with their arch-rival, Iowa State. Believe it or not, Iowa State has won 9 of the last 15 meetings. I’m sorry, did I say “believe it or not”? I meant “give the slightest crap or not.”

This team is as frightening as: A road trip to Iowa. It’s boring, it makes you hate life for a while, and if you’re not paying attention you can run off the road in embarrassing fashion. Fortunately, your odds of running into something substantial are pretty low. Just watch out for the giant noodle.

Fear Level = 4

Michigan should worry about: Iowa is 1-1. Which means Iowa is a .500 team. Which means they have roughly a 50-50 chance of winning a given game. Which makes their game with Michigan a toss-up.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: It appears I can’t math or statistics.

When they play Michigan: Ricky Stanzi throws for 700 yards, mostly to J Leman. This automatically triggers a six-year extension for Kirk Ferentz.

Next game: vs. Iowa State

Columbus Area School District (2-0, 0-0 B1G)

Last game: CASD 42, San Diego St. 7 (W)

Recap: In the absence of Braxton Miller, Kenny Guiton led the Buckeyes to a healthy 42-7 win over the team Brady Hoke used to coach. The team Brady Hoke used to coach is not quite as good as when Brady Hoke used to coach It, or nearly as good as the team Brady Hoke currently coaches. But Brady Hoke used to coach it, so it had to be destroyed.

This team is as frightening as: Commitment. Fear level = 8.5

Michigan should worry about: If Ohio State ever learns to tackle rather than hit, they could be damn effective.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: That is an unlikely occurrence.

When they play Michigan:

Hate hate hate hate hate hate hate hate.

Next game: at Cal

Objects in the rearview mirror

Central Michigan (1-1 overall)

Last game: Central Michigan 24, New Hampshire 21 (W)

Recap: Actually a better outcome than it appears; CMU was only a 3-point favorite. New Hampshire ain’t terrible. They still haven’t won any hockey hardware though. Cooper Rush threw for 326 yards and 3 TDs.

Next game: @ UNLV



September 12th, 2013 at 10:54 AM ^

Should be interesting to see if the UConn game is at night. While it seems like the AAC wouldn't want the primetime audience to see what looks like a mismatch, the game is likely the conference's best chance at a decent TV rating. If you don't think that matters more than the score of the game, you haven't been paying attention.


September 12th, 2013 at 11:00 AM ^

Least jumpy jump ever.

HOWEVA, I totally thought Seth wrote this until after I initially posted this comment and checked the byline, so I guess you're doing ok. Grumble grumble.

Decatur Jack

September 12th, 2013 at 11:06 AM ^

Although the one thing that bothered me was that you led the NW recap with "I didn't see the game yet."

Not a good way to start. I am now left wondering what games you did see and HOW MUCH CAN I ACTUALLY TRUST YOU


September 12th, 2013 at 11:13 AM ^

So unreliable.

If you're curious, I usually watch parts of most of these games, including a little bit of the NU/Syrause game. The only teams I haven't seen thus far are UConn, Akron and Iowa, partly because they haven't been available on my tv, and partly because I have a will to live.


September 12th, 2013 at 11:14 AM ^

Look at me, and just be honest. We all love you here. You're safe. Now, it was you, wasn't it? You are the middle-aged guy in the pick-up game with a decent jump shot, aren't you? No need to worry, buddy.It's ok.


September 12th, 2013 at 11:21 AM ^

Nebraska / UCLA could be an interesting game this weekend.  (I didn't see their second game but against Wyoming, the Huskers looked exactly like 2010 Michigan.) 

And like 2010 Michigan, the final score of this one could be 67-65. 


September 12th, 2013 at 1:56 PM ^

I find their QB issues especially amusing because all we could hear during the 2012 off-season was MSU fans Fred Jackson'ing Maxwell that he was "Cousins, but fast." Everyone on both sides should just come to the realization that Cousins was pretty darn good.  And replicating him is really darn tough.

Picktown GoBlue

September 12th, 2013 at 11:39 AM ^

Dolly Madison game on a crappy ESPN3 connection.  Akron only won because the JMU player with the ball on the last play only got 9 yards instead of 10 for a first down and a clock stoppage at the 27 to set up a quick field goal.  And Akron let him keep trying for what seemed like 18 seconds to get that yardage without going down to the field.

Roy G. Biv

September 12th, 2013 at 11:42 AM ^

We middle-aged guys who can hit the J are a dangerous lot.  It's fun to blow by a young guy running at you after you've lit him up a few times.  Of course, on the other end we do a lot of "switching" (euphemism for:  get beat every time).


September 12th, 2013 at 12:22 PM ^

'The Hoosiers put up solid offensive numbers, but gave up 444 yards on the ground to Navy’s triple option.'

''Dang, that's pretty good.''

--Manny Diaz


September 12th, 2013 at 12:55 PM ^

Exceptionally well written as always.

For all the laughter we're having at MSU's well-deserved expense right now I will absolutely guarentee you the team we'll play will look nothing like the team you're seeing right now.  They are more than happy to sit on plays and formations all season just to use them on us - even if it means potentially losing an earler game because of it.  Beating Michigan is worth 3 or 4 losses to Sparty and if you think for a minute they wont play like their very life depends on the outcome, you havent been watching many of our games lately.

Have fun with them now.  Expect a different team later.

Yinka Double Dare

September 12th, 2013 at 1:06 PM ^

Not only that, but their three cross-over games are Purdue, Indiana and Illinois.  Even though IU can score and Illinois looks considerably better than the corpse they were last year, that's still almost certainly the three bottom teams in the other division.  If they find any sort of offense, they'll be an annoyance in the West division due to their lucky schedule.