Opponent Watch: Week 3 Comment Count

Heiko September 22nd, 2011 at 11:53 AM

(Still tweaking, but I think I’m getting close to a winning formula. Again, 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.)

About last Saturday:

Eastern Michigan 3, Michigan 31


Ace and I played “Where’s Waldo/Brian?” from the press box.

Found him!

He’s so dreamy when he’s pixelated.

[Ed: I told you there was no one in my section.]

The Road Ahead:

San Diego State (3-0)

Last Game: Washington State 24, San Diego State 42 (W)

Recap: After escaping Army, San Diego State hosted Washington State and waited for the Cougars to lose, which they did. The Aztecs capitalized on three Washington State turnovers in the fourth quarter to turn what seemed like a tenuous lead into an 18-point cushion. San Diego State actually trailed for the entire first half and through most of the third quarter before Aztecs RB Ronnie Hillman converted a third-and-one at the goal line to finally put them ahead 28-24.

The Cougars, devastated by the loss of such a rare lead, imploded.

The play on which it happened should sound familiar. Seven plays into their next drive, the ball slipped out of Washington State QB Marshall Lobbestael’s hand a la Tommy Rees. On the following play for San Diego State, the Cougars defense allowed Hillman to break free for a 64-yard touchdown sprint. Game over. Lobbestael additionally tossed two interceptions to make sure his team fell well short of covering the four-point spread.

What we know about San Diego State is this: the defense has faced two mediocre offenses that are as one-dimensional as these dashes -- Army ran for 90% of their yards, and Washington State passed for 88% of their yards -- and has yielded on average three touchdowns and 400+ yards to each. (Cal Poly doesn’t count.) Rocky Long may have a funky scheme that’ll confuse some offenses, but as Ace points out, that defensive line is leedle. They are the bendiest of bendy defenses kept respectable by opponent turnovers, a significant number of which were just stupid. Yes, they’ve done enough in their previous two games to win. Against Michigan, they will need to do more.

The offense is a solid, well-rounded B+, good enough to attend a four-year college, marry a nice Christian girl, have three kids and a golden retriever named Chelsea, and also score multiple touchdowns against the Wolverines, which, miraculously, is a feat only Notre Dame has achieved so far. Think of the San Diego State offense as a less intimidating but less hilarious Irish offense. With a better quarterback. But worse wide receivers. And a running back who doesn’t fumble. But maybe a smaller offensive line?

Nevermind. Forget I said that.

Right now they are as frightening as: Their overall vibe strikes me as a well-coached Indiana. Fear level = 4.

Michigan should worry about: Containing Hillman. Michigan has enough talent on the defensive line to manage the trenches and keep inside runs to a minimal gain. Irresponsible linebacker play on the edge, however, will lead to 200+ yards for Hillman and a 20+ tackles for Jordan Kovacs. If Kovacs ends up being next week’s Alro Steel Ironman, you’ll know something went terribly, terribly wrong.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: Again, the scouting report. Knowing is half the battle.

If Michigan plays them next Saturday: The first quarter will be critical. Michigan will need to avoid falling behind early against a team that’s more talented than Western Michigan and more disciplined than Notre Dame. After the most sobering 31-3 victory ever, the Wolverines offense -- particularly the passing portion (particularly the Denard part of that passing portion) of the offense -- needs confidence that only a lead can provide. Also, the last thing the Wolverines can afford to give San Diego State is momentum, as they’re already playing with the following list of motivations:

  1. You stole our coach.
  2. He left us because he thinks you’re better than us.
  3. You think you’re better than us.
  4. You’re ranked, so everyone else thinks you’re better than us.
  5. He broke up with us via text message.

So. Let’s score some early points, yeah?

Next game: at No. 22 The University of Greener Pastures

(more after the jump)

Minnesota (1-2)

Last game: Miami (NTM) 23, Minnesota 29 (W)

Recap: Both Minnesota coach Jerry Kill and QB Marqueis Gray (11 of 21, 163 yards, 25 carries, 171 yards) made it through the entire game. It looks like they finally did something about the water boy who was seriously dropping the ball for the last two weeks.

Also, the Gophers won a game. Hooray.

Here’s how it happened: Minnesota returned a blocked punt for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, putting them two scores ahead of the Redhawks. Miami scored to come within five points, but a failed fourth down conversion on their last drive sealed a Gophers victory.

29-23? you say. What an odd score. Wherefore?

Both teams had missed PATs.

Yay Gibbons.

Right now they are as frightening as: A decent MAC team. Fear level = 3.

Michigan should worry about: CB Troy Stoudemire seems like a decent player.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: But one man does not a secondary make.

If Michigan plays them next weekend: The Michigan defense has yet to be tested by a dual threat quarterback (Alex Gillett doesn’t count), so this seems like a good opportunity to test some new defensive schemes without a real risk of losing.

Next game: North Dakota State

Northwestern (2-1)

Last game: Northwestern 14, Army 21 (L)

Recap: Northwestern QB Dan Persa was never going to risk reinjury to start against Army, but a lot of money went into his Heisman campaign in Chicago this summer, so the Wildcats had to keep investors mollified by listing him as “questionable” for as long as possible last week.

This was released a few hours before the game:

Haha nope.

I wonder how many weeks they can do this before people catch on.

Wildcats QB Kain Colter got the start again, but was limited in the passing game. He completed 12 of 23 passes for 89 yards and was pulled for third-string QB Trevor Siemian in the fourth quarter, who, in seven minutes of play, completed 5 of 7 passes for 105 yards and a touchdown. Sounds like there’s a new temp QB in town.

That the Wildcats defense let the Black Knights triple-option offense run wild for 381 yards was the other half of the problem. Army’s score would have been higher had it not been for a lost fumble and two missed field goals, one from 47 yards and the other from 25 yards.

Yay Gibbons.

Right now they are as frightening as: Minnesota. 3.

Michigan should worry about: A healthy Persa, but he is less worrisome than before because ...

Michigan can sleep soundly about: Sooner or later, Northwestern is going to drop the “Persa is kinda sorta ready to play!” charade and either clear him or hold him out for the season. Whenever that happens, a Persa-less Wildcats team isn’t scaring anyone, and a Persa-strong one is likely to be rusty.

If Michigan plays them next Saturday: Northwestern lost to Army, which lost to San Diego State, against whom Michigan is favored by a touchdown and a half. I know, I know, the transitive property doesn’t always work in college football, but without a 100% Persa, the Wildcats are squatting on Minnesota territory. Barring tragic mishap, the Wolverines should pass this test easily.

Next game: at No. 24 Illinois

No. 15 Michigan State (2-1)

Last game: Michigan State 13, Notre Dame 31

Recap: Michigan State lost to Notre Dame last Saturday. Several disturbing thoughts arose during this game:

  • Which team to root for? Both make me feel dirty.
  • Are we watching an alternate ending for the Notre Dame-Michigan game? I’m uncomfortable thinking about it.
  • Man, that Eastern game was unsatisfying. I want a brownie.
  • The Spartans look terrible. That means the Big Ten is weak!
  • Since when was Michigan State a benchmark for the Big Ten?

Everyone could see this game playing out several different ways, but a lopsided Spartan loss was the most rational outcome. The Irish are a good team. Yeah, self-inflicted wounds and turnovers and BKXplode and stuff, but they have strength up front on both sides of the ball and enough skill players to win.

Michigan State on the other hand has some serious deficiencies on its offensive line that many didn’t pay attention to because of leftover 2010 hype. Wins over Youngstown State and Florida Atlantic were enough to mask those problems a little longer, but with that O-line depth chart looking more and more like Michigan’s 2010 secondary, they were going to run up against a wall sooner or later.

Notre Dame’s defensive line = wall. Spartan running backs combined for 29 yards. That’s bad news when there’s no Denard Robinson to account for an additional hundred. The running game got so dire that Michigan State bailed out of it altogether in the second half. It almost worked, but then things like this happened:

That’s 13 passes straight passes [ed-M: all to Cunningham or an RB] in a 96-yard drive that ends in an interception on a first-and-goal at the 3. Look closely and you’ll find an Irish puntmuffin in there, too. For all the trouble Notre Dame went through to allow Michigan State back into the game, QB Kirk Cousins (34/53, 329 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) couldn’t deliver because his receivers were too busy drowning in an Irish sea of defenders.

Right now they are as frightening as: A kick boxer without legs. Fear level = 5.5.

Michigan should worry about: the Michigan State defense, which is still a decent unit.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: I have a theory about their Pro Combat uniforms.


After all, Master Chief is the quintessential Spartan.

If Michigan plays them next Saturday: Every year the announcers make a big deal about “Whichever team gets more rushing yards wins the game in THIS rivalry.” If that holds true this year, Michigan should win by a mile.

Next game: Central Michigan

Purdue (2-1)

Last game: Southeast Missouri State 0, Purdue 59 (W)

Recap: The Non-Game-of-the-Week award goes to Purdue. Wow. Really?

Hold on, let me check again.

Yep. Purdue. Cool.

Next game: Notre Dame


Iowa (2-1)

Last game: Pittsburgh 27, Iowa 31 (W)

Recap: Iowa coach Kirk “Lloyd” Ferentz Lloydballed the Hawkeyes into a 27-10 fourth-quarter hole against Pittsburgh before opening the playbook past page 1 so that Iowa QB James “Henne” Vandenberg could enter full robot mode and extract victory from the Panthers in surgical fashion. The victory after a 17-point deficit was the largest comeback the Hawkeyes have ever mounted. Vandenhenneberg finished 31 of 48 for 399 yards with 3 TDs and 1 INT -- a third of those yards and all three touchdowns came in the last 12 minutes of the game.

Iowa RB Marcus Coker != Mike Hart. He carried the rock 23 times for 86 yards (3.7 YPC) and a fumble. Also, Iowa missed two field goals in a row, which is another reason they were down so many points.

Yay Gibbons.

Right now they are as frightening as: A lite version of 2007 Michigan maybe? 5.5.

Michigan should worry about: Robot Vandenhenneberg.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: Spread quarterbacks not named Tim Tebow should be Kryptonite for 2007 Michigan lite. Also, half the calories.

If Michigan plays them next Saturday: Lloyd Carr was less likely to win close games in which Michigan was ahead, right? Michigan should try to trail by a field goal all game and then do some ninja stuff with Jeremy Gallon.

Next game: Louisiana-Monroe

Illinois (3-0)

Last game: No. 22 Arizona State 14, Illinois 17 (W)

Recap: Last week I said Illinois was like a large rock perched atop a steep hill. I also said not to touch it. I SAID NOT TO TOUCH IT!

So, Arizona State. You had to go ahead and touch it, didn’t you. Now look what you’ve done.


Right now they are as frightening as: Not as frightening as I’m making them out to be. They do get promoted to a fear level of 6, however.

Michigan should worry about: The defense, which is the main reason they’re scarier than before. They brought enough pressure to sack Sun Devils QB Brock Osweiler six times and get two interceptions.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: The offense, which is the main reason they’re not quite as scary as everyone is making them out to be. They totaled just 240 yards of offense and turned the ball over three times to boot.

If Michigan plays them next Saturday: Denard is slippery enough to escape pressure, but he’s not going to be effective against this defense until he’s able to connect with some receivers in single coverage to take advantage of their aggression.

Next game: Western Michigan

No. 11 Nebraska (3-0)

Last game: Washington 38, Nebraska 51 (W)

Recap: This game wasn’t about finesse. It wasn’t about toughness. It wasn’t about execution or being fundamentally sound or improving weaknesses on defense. It wasn’t really even about football. This game was about getting hammered at a bar, meeting up with the guy who pantsed you at your senior prom, and then laying into each other mano-a-mano behind a dumpster in a dark alleyway. An hour into it, you’re both bleeding all over the concrete, you’re exhausted, you can’t see out of your right eye, and who knows what the dental costs are going to be -- oh God, you have to go to work in the morning -- but when it’s all over and you have your knee on that little punk’s chest and your forearm pressed against his throat, you spit in his face and you feel right.*

Right now they are as frightening as: Charlie Sheen off medication.

Michigan should worry about: Playing fundamentally sound football. Nebraska’s good, but there are a lot of flaws they should have been fixing that aren’t fixed. Michigan will have to win the battle on things like turnover margin and special teams to have a good chance.

At any rate, that’s usually how other teams beat them.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: Expectations. Right now expectations are low for this game, which is good for Michigan. Nobody’s expecting the Wolverines to win, yet it is winnable. If they lose, at least it’s not a rivalry game that everyone gets their panties all in a bunch about. It’s the ideal win-meh situation for Brady Hoke.

If Michigan plays them next Saturday: Borges and Denard need to figure out a passing game (please figure out a passing game). If that happens, then a shootout sounds about right.

Next game: at Wyoming

No. 17 Ohio State (2-1)

Last game: Ohio State 6, Miami (YTM) 24 (L)

Recap: The highlight of this game was the fact that both teams were able to field players. /End topical humor.

The Toledo game was the dead canary many people ignored because a sample size of one wasn’t enough to convince anyone that Ohio State isn’t Ohio State, which isn’t supposed to be anything but good.

Time to take another look at that canary.

The Buckeyes had a lackluster passing day against the Rockets during week two, but Ohio State QB Joe Bauserman held onto his start against the Hurricanes … and got pulled after two three-and-outs in the 1st quarter for backup QB Braxton Miller … who threw an interception. The two rotated in and out for the rest of the game to combine to be 4 of 18 for 35 yards, and half of those completions occurred in the last 30 seconds of the game because Miami was already heading off the field.

Yeah, even Threetsheridammit was laughing.

Only one Golden Bobcat drive went further than 30 yards. During that drive, RBs Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall rushed 12 times before finally getting stuffed for a field goal. The other Ohio State field goal came after an interception that Miami QB Jacory Harris threw from his own 20.

Right now they are as frightening as: NCAA compliance (Oh snap!). 6.

Michigan should worry about: As is the case with Michigan State, there’s nothing glaringly wrong with Ohio State’s defense.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: Stacking the box and getting away with it.

If Michigan plays them next Saturday: They might finally be able to take that silly “X days since Michigan last beat Ohio State” sign off the wall at Schembechler Hall.

Next game: Colorado

*Presumably this is how Bo Pelini felt about it.



September 22nd, 2011 at 12:23 PM ^

MSU at only a 5.5, just a bit above SDSU?  Personally, I'm exponentially more scared of MSU.  Maybe because of the extracurriculars involved (bragging rights, the thought of losses in 3 straight years, etc.).  Do you factor those "extracurriculars" into the determination?



September 22nd, 2011 at 12:32 PM ^

I think we should all consider rooting for a ND-Nebraska bowl this year.  Pelini vs Kelly facial expressions would make that quality.  On one play you'd have Rees bomb one to Floyd, so Pelini would be bright red and screaming.  Next play Rees fumbles it away, so Kelly goes off.

The end of game handshake would likely end with at least six knife wounds.


September 22nd, 2011 at 12:59 PM ^

As long the offense does not commit a bunch of turnovers and DROB play reasonably well, we should be able to outscore them and win the game, no matter how our defense plays. Though if the defense plays reasonably well, it could be a 10 or more point victory.

ILLINI are playing much better this year than I had thought they would. I'm actually worried about losing this game on the road.


September 22nd, 2011 at 1:27 PM ^

You had me laughing out loud several times in my cubical. Once again, great job Heiko! I didn't follow this blog much in '08 so forgive me if this is an old term, but Threetsheridammit had tears coming out of my eyes


September 23rd, 2011 at 1:15 AM ^

Dear Leader's traditionally shaggy look is on full display in this fine stock photo:

No real frills here. But what if Brian tried out some contemporary "hair concepts" to spice up his image and appeal to a younger demographic?
Imagine Donald Trump hair, with lightning bolt blue highlights just because. Observe the difference:
pixelated brian
Such majesty in his visage! The stern locks and forehead point out to the great stadium.


September 22nd, 2011 at 2:26 PM ^

A loss by Sparty would be EPIC. I vote we start a rumor after this game that Mark Dantonio is seen with having dinner with JT and Gene Smith in C-bus, with the upcoming with the  'tragic hero game" next week, the meltdown would be biblical.



September 22nd, 2011 at 6:06 PM ^

I like that the "Jump" is back on the frontpage, as I like the discretion it affords me in deciding whether to read further, as it is designed to do.  However, I think it need never be used for this particular feature because it just means extra work for me (yes, one click is work.)  This is such a consistenly good segment it should get automatic full text treatment on the front page every week.  I like Heiko.  Will you be my Purdue game homecoming date?

oriental andrew

September 22nd, 2011 at 6:13 PM ^

I like this feature a lot.  Your writing style is great.  It's reminiscent of...  of...  Dang, who was that guy from minnesota who was a pastor or something who had a big ten blog who went over to aol fanhouse and did his weekly college football big ten previews in a similar writing style?  Mark something?  Anyway, it's like that.  (and no, I'm neither on drugs nor am I drunk)