Opponent Watch: Week 4

Submitted by Heiko on September 29th, 2011 at 9:36 AM

(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:

San Diego State 7, Michigan 28

This is how you get from “Rolling in the Deep” to “Someone Like You.”

The Road Ahead:

Minnesota (1-3)

Last game: North Dakota State 37, Minnesota 24 (L)

Recap: Minnesota lost to FCS North Dakota State last Saturday in a game where the Gophers were out-everythinged, which made coach Jerry Kill feel a lot of bad for a lot of people.

"Coach outcoached me, their team outplayed us and they deserved to win the game," Gophers coach Jerry Kill said, adding: "I feel bad for our students. I feel bad for the state of Minnesota. I feel bad for our fans, and I feel bad for our kids."

This didn’t make Brian’s This Week In Schadenfreude column probably because any decent human being would find it hard to derive any joy from Minnesota’s pain. They’ve lost to three FCS teams over the last five years. At this point you just feel bad for them.

If you insist on analyzing the game, you’ll see the key stat of the game is two turnovers -- both Gophers quarterbacks threw an interception each, and both interceptions were returned for touchdowns.

But it’s hard to see anything through the acrid smoke from the tire fire that was Michigan’s 2010 defense and is now Minnesota football.

The best part about Michigan playing a team in such pitiful state, however, is watching Hoke come up with reasons for why they’re a respectable opponent.

Reason 1:

Minnesota got beat by North Dakota State, which is as good a football team as -- you don’t want to schedule them, I can promise you that, because they are well coached and they are tough.

So they were beaten by a football team that is a football team. Fair. These things happen sometimes, I guess.

Reason 2:

“I think Marqueis Gray, their quarterback -- and they’re using two quarterbacks. I think he’s averaging right around a hundred [yards] rushing the football.”

And they have a quarterback controversy that involves a guy who can run. That’s probably cause for concern. For them.

Reason 3:

“I haven’t looked much at their defense yet. I know Royster, I think their safety -- what’s his name?” Kim Royston. “He’s a good football player. He sticks out. Linebacker 51 (Gary Tinsley) sticks out.”

He has no idea.

Right now they are as frightening as: Someone choking. A good, hard abdominal thrust might break a couple ribs, but ultimately it’s for their own good. Fear level = 2.

Michigan should worry about: Some average-to-good Big Ten team will inexplicably lose to them.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: It’ll probably be Iowa.

When Michigan plays them: Their coach’s health is a concern, and now Marqueis Gray stubbed his toe … We might finally get to see Devin Gardner play more than two snaps. Knock on wood.

Next game: at No. 19 Michigan

(more after the jump.)

Northwestern (2-1)

Last game: Bye

Next game: at No. 24 Illinois

Michigan State (3-1)

Last game: Central Michigan 7, Michigan State 45 (W)

Recap: A good way to feel better about your rickety offensive line is to run it against a one-win MAC team for 197 yards and a whole bunch of touchdowns. So that’s exactly what Michigan State did in this week’s Non-Game-Of-The-Week.

Right now they are as frightening as: It was probably too early to write off Michigan State after Notre Dame had their way with them, but this isn’t much evidence to convince anyone otherwise. 5.5.

Michigan should worry about: Nothing new. Michigan State’s defense remains stout, having held Central Michigan to 21 yards rushing and eight first downs.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: A good way to not feel better about your rickety offensive line is to run it against Ohio State’s defensive line. And that’s exactly what Michigan State is going to do on Saturday.

When Michigan plays them: Michigan State has a bye during week six, so its offensive line will have had two full weeks to lick their wounds after Ohio State’s defense has its way with them. I’m sure the Spartans have some wide receivers that can pretend to be tight ends pretending to be tackles.

Next game: at Ohio State.

Purdue (2-1)

Last game: Bye

Next game: Notre Dame

Iowa (3-1)

Last game: Louisiana-Monroe 17, Iowa 45 (W)

Recap: Iowa QB James Vandenhenneberg (21/31, 270 yards, 3 TD) had another spectacular game, albeit against a bottom-dwelling team from the Sun Belt. The Hawkeyes led 28-3 at halftime before easing up on the gas pedal to keep things interesting for the fans. But that didn’t last long as the Hawkeyes scored the final touchdown at the end of the third quarter after the Warhawks failed to recover an onside kick.

Iowa receiver Marvin McNutt caught seven passes for 100 yards, and RB Marcus Coker finally registered a 100+ yard rushing performance without fumbling. The Hawkeyes also committed just one penalty the entire game. It was Iowa’s most polished performance of the season -- too bad it was against Louisiana-Monroe.

Right now they are as frightening as: Remember when I said they’re like the stock market? Right now they are poised to peak in two weeks when they manhandle Penn State because Kirk Ferentz owns Joe Pa. But then they will crash in embarrassing fashion when they play Northwestern the week after that because Pat Fitzgerald owns Kirk Ferentz. Fear level = 5 +/-2.

Michigan should worry about: If Vandenhenneberg keeps this up, Iowa’s passing offense will be the best Michigan’s secondary will face all season, and their rush offense isn’t something to overlook as long as Coker doesn’t fumble.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: On fourth and two around midfield, up 14-0 near the end of the half, Kirk Ferentz will call time-out so that his punt team doesn’t get distracted by all the booing.

When Michigan plays them: Michigan will have learned how to stop third-and-15 run plays. Look out, Iowa.

Next game: Bye

No. 24 Illinois (4-0)

Last game: Western Michigan 20, Illinois 23 (W)

Recap: Though Western Michigan couldn’t ever find a ground game, QB Alex Carder (30/48, 306 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT) bombed the Illinois secondary en route to a 13-10 first-half lead. The Illini eventually figured out the best way to get Carder out of his groove was to keep the ball out of his hands, so they resorted to manball -- four of five Illinois second-half drives lasted ten plays or more. On their last drive, which resulted in their game-winning field goal, they ran the ball ten times in a row.

The Illini totaled almost 300 yards rushing. Impressively, both running backs had 100-yard days. QB Nathan Scheelhaase was solid, completing 14/20 of his passes for 133 yards and a touchdown. He did throw an interception, but it was inconsequential as it resulted from a desperation toss into the endzone right before halftime.

One noteworthy item is that Illinois, like Michigan, used the speed option to good effect. Their lone touchdown in the second half came from a Scheelhaase pitch to RB Donovonn Young.

Right now they are as frightening as: A large rock still. 5.5.

Note the angle of the slope.


This is much scarier, but Illinois isn’t there yet.

Michigan should worry about: Illinois’ defense is similar to Notre Dame’s defense. They have an imposing defensive line built to stuff the run.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: But like Notre Dame’s defense, there’s something fishy about their secondary, which allowed Alex Carder to have a field day. There may have been with the overall pass rush, but Carder got sacked twice during the game, so seemingly they got to him.

When Michigan plays them: Denard and Michigan’s receivers really need to get that passing thing worked out.

Next game: Northwestern

No. 9 Nebraska (4-0)

Last game: Nebraska 38, Wyoming 14 (W)

Recap: Nebraska played an uninspired game against Wyoming. The Huskers kept their offense vanilla, leaning primarily on production from RB Rex Burkhead, who carried the ball 15 times for a career-high 170 yards and 2 TDs. QB Taylor Martinez was so-so. He completed a little more than half of his passes for 157 yards and a score.

Nebraska clearly didn’t care about this game, and neither did anyone else.

Right now they are as frightening as: Hard to tell anything new from this game. They have a good rush offense. Their defense is good, but not as good as we thought it would be. Etc. Ask me again in a couple days. 7.

Michigan should worry about: The fact that this game is wedged between Illinois and Ohio State. I get that nobody thought Illinois was going to overachieve, but who thought playing Nebraska and Ohio State back-to-back at the end of the season (you know, when everyone’s injured) was a good idea?

Michigan can sleep soundly about: Nebraska’s defense is susceptible to the big play. Wyoming’s first touchdown came on a 48-yard touchdown -- the receiver caught a short slant pass and whoop-whooped a couple Huskers DBs before breaking for the endzone.

When Michigan plays them: Nebraska currently holds an edge over Michigan, but only just. That gap may widen over the course of October with the Wolverines’ depth being a concern. Or it may narrow, with the Huskers’ emotional fortitude being a concern.

Next game: at No. 7 Wisconsin

Ohio State (3-1)

Last game: Colorado 17, Ohio State 37 (W)

Recap: The diction is worse than the fiction.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Even though he's just a freshman and in his first autumn on a college campus, Braxton Miller played like a grizzled upperclassman.

Raise your hand if you hate the use of the word “autumn” more than you hate the overstatement.

Nobody? Just me? Aw.

Ohio State coach Luke Fickell handed QB Braxton Miller the starting job for the Colorado game after both of his quarterbacks combined to complete four passes against Miami. Miller threw for 2 TDs, which was great … but completed just 5 of 13 passes for 83 yards against a 1-3 Bison team that dangles in the bottom quartile of nearly every statistical category in the FBS. Grizzled upperclassman my ass-mar. I suppose his handoffs were spot on.

Miller also rushed 17 times for 83 yards, further relegating him to being Just A Guy as far as dual-threat quarterbacks go. Expect those numbers to fall against Michigan State.

So how did the Buckeyes win? Defense, turnovers, special teams, and because Colorado isn’t good. The Buckeyes limited the Bison to 76 yards rushing, forced two turnovers, and had a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

Right now they are as frightening as: A round peg trying to fit into a round hole that’s like two sizes too big. 6.

Michigan should worry about: Developing a balanced offense and limiting turnovers by the time they play Ohio State.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: Stopping a one-dimensional offense run by a freshman QB.

When Michigan plays them: If Michigan’s starters can survive the season, this should be a win.

Next game: Michigan State



September 29th, 2011 at 9:48 AM ^

The fact that this game is wedged between Illinois and Ohio State. I get that nobody thought Illinois was going to overachieve, but who thought playing Nebraska and Ohio State back-to-back at the end of the season (you know, when everyone’s injured) was a good idea


Ahh, so you're implying that OSU should've been a mid-season game.  For shame, Heiko!  


September 29th, 2011 at 11:02 AM ^

I believe he is implying Nebraska should be an early season game. The last three years we have a really easy schedule through mid october and arguably the hardest schedule in the Big Ten at the end of the season. That's why we start 5-0 and end up 7-6.

Six Zero

September 29th, 2011 at 9:52 AM ^

This game can tell us more about the team than we should probably admit.  Bottom line is, a good football team doesn't show mercy until the opponent is lying on the mat coughing up blood.

If we're really a Top 20 team, we destroy them early and often, and #7 gets at least four solid series under center once the fate has been sealed.  Saturday's a real chance to send a message to the rest of the conference, and squeaking out a weak one-touchdown victory will NOT be good enough.


September 29th, 2011 at 10:43 AM ^

We need to put a complete game together.  This team needs to prove they can actually do this to compete in the B1G.  I highly doubt we'll lose, but being able to crush them soundly will go a long way in taking the next step from the under-acheiving, incomplete teams of 09 and 10.


September 29th, 2011 at 3:49 PM ^

Agreed.  This is the next milestone in our Great March Forward.  We are at the stage of our supposed improvement where we should take care of business in a game like this.  

We are no longer required to let every single team hang around midway through the 4th quarter.  There are some teams we are actually better than.  We are now allowed to act accordingly.



September 29th, 2011 at 10:20 AM ^

This didn’t make Brian’s This Week In Schadenfreude column probably because any decent human being would find it hard to derive any joy from Minnesota’s pain.

I think Glenn Mason is still allowed to feel joy over this. He has just cause after all.


September 29th, 2011 at 2:06 PM ^

I wonder if Minnesota will ever swallow its pride and re-hire Mason? Sure they would look like complete dopes, but they already look like dopes for firing the guy in the first place.

It's hard to imagine now, but 6 years ago there were probably many Minnesota fans on the Interwebz making statements like, "I'm so sick of these 7 win seasons; we should be competing for the Big 10 championship! Mason needs to GO NOW!!!!!!!!"

Be careful what you wish for...


(Of course, the great/cruel irony in my post is that this is exactly what was happening at the end of Carr's tenure.)


September 29th, 2011 at 10:30 AM ^

I much prefer Hoke's treatment of supposedly "nobody" schools as talented squads. Bo did the same thing. I remember reading a story about him watching tape of Northwestern the night before the game by himself in his hotel room and then he suddenly realized that NU was good. He went around to all his players rooms and barked at them to go to bed because he didn't think they were ready to beat NU. We won by a margin >20.

Not that Hoke is the new Bo, but I think in treating those lesser opponents as greater opponents, it encourages our team to play hard from the get go. I think that's part of the reason we killed SDSU like we did, because the players went in thinking that SDSU was a great football team with an easy chance of beating them. (Honestly, I thought the same thing.)


September 29th, 2011 at 12:47 PM ^

Part of this might be to ensure we don't overlook Minnesota. He saw that we came out flat against Eastern because everyone expected it to be a cakewalk and to look forward to SDSU.  I think by doing this he gets the point in everyone's head that though this is Minnesota, this is B1G play and you can't take a week off to focus on someone else.

I like what he is doing with this tactic.


September 29th, 2011 at 10:32 AM ^

Glen Mason's Hot Wife courteously reminds you that there is only one "N" in Glen.

EDIT: And I remind myself that I am dumb and that this should be a reply to CRex.


September 29th, 2011 at 10:50 AM ^

I wish people would stop jinxing us with blowout expectations.  Lets get out of it healthy with a win.  That's 100% of what I want from the Minnesota game.

Question for Heiko:  I  was previous to your column totally ignorant of Adele, but having youtubed a bit I find her music to be very personal and very beautiful.  The journey from "Rolling in the Deep"  to "Someone like You"  by my interpretation is the journey from anger/resentment to sorrow/acceptance (and delusion?).  I am wondering whether you were referencing the journey of SDSU's players, their fans, your own journey, etc.


September 29th, 2011 at 11:05 AM ^

Could we get a brief recap of what the previous teams we've played did last week?  Not the full write-up / preview report, but just whether they won or lost and their current record?  Would be nice to get a gauge of our strength of schedule.


September 29th, 2011 at 12:12 PM ^

You can replace the red "X" with a Blue one (green if you must) for wins?  Maybe even a block M over their logo, you know, to represent that we came, we saw, we put one or more boots on their necks?

Impaler 19

September 29th, 2011 at 12:33 PM ^

I was going to ask for something like this as well.  I think it would look a little weird after we lose a game if there is no way to quickly distinguish between a win and a loss. 

With that being said, maybe Heiko does not have a plan to distinguish because he expects we will be undefeated. Maybe???


September 29th, 2011 at 12:31 PM ^

That picture of Hoke hugging his former player makes the constant "he gets it" jokes even more annoying.  Seeing the way his former players responded to seeing him after that game tells you something about the guy.  


September 29th, 2011 at 1:33 PM ^

". They’ve lost to three FCS teams over the last five years. "

So letting Mason go they went from potential B10 challenger (or at least a decent program) to god-awful. How'd that coaching change work out?

Anyway someone here once claimed Mason had po'd a lot of alumni and local HS coaches somehow.  I guess letting Mason go makes sense if that was true, but I don't recall why he was let go from Minny.


oriental andrew

September 30th, 2011 at 12:07 PM ^

I'm pretty sure it was intentional because, as we all know, the term "buffalo" in reference to the large roaming beasts indigenous to the plains of North America (and also to the forests in northern N America, ie, Canada) is a misnomer.  The accurate name for these creatures is, in fact, "bison" and I suspect Heiko was making a subtle allusion to that fact.