Opponent Watch: Week 5

Submitted by Heiko on October 6th, 2011 at 1:46 PM

A few things: 1) I’m not going to change the X’s until Michigan loses. 2) Opponent Watch is moving to Tuesday next week. This is more for me than it is for you. 3) I’ve added a section devoted to tracking past opponents. 4) Michigan is not going to lose.

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Yes.

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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 Ace.

About Last Saturday:

Minnesota 0, Michigan 58

Jug security.

The Road Ahead:

Northwestern (2-2, 0-1 B1G)

Last game: Northwestern 35, No. 24 Illinois 38 (L)

Recap: Northwestern QB Dan Persa (10/14, 4 TDs) finally returned to action last Saturday against Illinois. It’s hard to tell whether he was suffering lingering effects of his Achilles tendon injury leading up to the game, but Persa had five real carries -- mostly on zone-read keepers -- before he exited the game in the fourth quarter with pain in said Achilles tendon.

Despite having Persa’s arm back for the first time since Iowa last year, Northwestern insisted on sticking with the run. For two and half quarters this strategy was surprisingly effective. Persa’s four TD passes to bring the Wildcats ahead 28-10 were set up by a ground game that churned out nearly 5 ypc for two and a half quarters, which, if you’re not a spoiled Michigan fan, is really quite good. RB Mike Trumpy was the centerpiece of the ground game, gaining 63 yards on 12 carries, which, again, if you’re not a spoiled Michigan fan, is quite good. Unfortunately, he also had to leave the game with a leg injury, and reports are saying he’s lost for the season.

For about 40 minutes, Northwestern’s offense sparkled and shined. Then both Persa and Trumpy got knocked out of the game. By that point they were up by three scores in the third quarter, so it was hard to see how they might blow it.

Their secondary answered the challenge. The Wildcats left Illini receivers open all day and had no answer for WR A.J. Jenkins, who took advantage of some hapless defensive backs to haul in two long touchdowns, bringing his team to within a score. Jenkins’ 28-yard reception during the final minute also helped set up the winning Illinois touchdown.

Here’s Ace’s take for more detail.

Right now they are as frightening as: With a gimpy starting quarterback, an injured starting running back, and a defense that sometimes chooses not to cover people, they strike me as Purdue 2.0. Fear level = 4.

Michigan should worry about: Mental errors on the road. Also, Persa’s arm. There’s a good chance at least one of these things will happen, but both will have to happen simultaneously for a significant amount of time for Northwestern to pull out the win.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: There were a lot of questions during the press conferences about how Michigan will deal with Persa’s dual-threat capabilities, but in reality the threat of him running is far scarier to the his Achilles tendon than for an opposing defense.

When Michigan plays them: If Northwestern wants to be stubborn with their play calling, they will again try to establish the run with a lot of of zone reads. Michigan will be able to cheat and key in on the running backs because it would be stupid for Persa to run more than a handful of times. This will last about a quarter before the Wildcats realize that maybe getting 3 ypc isn’t a winning strategy, at which point they’ll likely air it out against a Wolverines secondary, which, thankfully, finally knows how to cover receivers. The Michigan defense will probably make some mistakes -- they’ll give up a couple bombs or a long run here and there -- and the running backs will have less room to wiggle than in previous weeks, but it’s hard to see this game being more worrisome than a Western Michigan/San Diego State redux, albeit against some bigger dudes and on the road-ish.

Next game: No. 12 Michigan

(more after the jump)

Michigan State (4-1, 1-0 B1G)

Last game: Michigan State 10, Ohio State 7 (W)

Recap: Anything funny I could possibly say about this game is summed up nicely by theozone.net’s Buckeye Watch. You should read it if you haven’t already. Here’s my favorite:

5:18 This is an opportunity for Braxton Miller to take this team and establish himself as the...Hahahaha...sorry, I just can't type stuff that I don't believe. This offense has zero chance to win this game without Sparty being more Sparty than they could have ever Spartied.

Sparty actually did Sparty as hard as they could, but their efforts weren’t enough to overcome a commanding 10-0 lead.

Having extensively scouted the Ohio State offense (they watched the OSU-Miami game), Michigan State’s game plan on defense was to blitz. And blitz. And blitz some more. They stacked the box the entire game and brought the house, allowing no room for a run game and forcing the Buckeye signalcallers to make reads and checks and deviate from their offensive scheme. They couldn’t, so the Spartans ended up collecting nine sacks and limiting Ohio State to a net of 35 yards on the ground.

On offense Michigan State looked better than they did against Notre Dame, but only by virtue of managing a couple more yards rushing. Their general problems on offense remained the same. The Spartans couldn’t rely on their run game to sustain drives, and they were impotent on third down (3/14, which was slightly worse than the Buckeyes’ 4/16). They did average about 4 ypc for the first three quarters before turtling in the fourth quarter, but the 1 ypc in the fourth quarter meant that they had been RPS+ing for most of those yards, i.e. Ohio State wasn’t really trying to stop the run. The Buckeyes defense eschewed pressure to focus on coverage, figuring that the only way they were going to score points was by getting pick-sixes, which they almost got a few times but dropped.

QB Kirk Cousins completed 20 of 32 passes for 250 yards, but threw two costly interceptions to his one touchdown. “Costly” is relative because with Ohio State’s quadriplegic offense, it meant only that Michigan State was getting the ball maybe 30 yards back in three plays.

Sure, Sparty might have some cause for celebration. After all, beating the Buckeyes in the horseshoe is something Michigan hasn’t done in a decade. Hurrah. Context aside, however, this game re-exposed all of the weaknesses that were first seen against Notre Dame. It maybe even highlighted a few more. Sparty would be wise to temper their confidence after such a thinly gilded win.

Right now they are as frightening as: A car that just got rear-ended. Because of the way cars are constructed and how rear-ending happens, the back bumper always has the advantage. Michigan State, being the back bumper that they are, won, remaining structurally intact for the most part. Unfortunately a lot of paint got chipped off and what’s underneath isn’t very pretty. They should also be careful to keep a foot on the brakes lest the momentum carry them into the back bumper of the car in front. 6.

Michigan should worry about: Michigan State’s defensive line, I guess. Shotgun snaps are a must. [Ed-M: also, they like to time snaps so let's throw that off some].

Michigan can sleep soundly about: Cousins pulled a Tommy Rees backward pass last game. I don’t know if that’s something to sleep soundly about but it’s worth at least a smile.

When Michigan plays them: Michigan State will do the whole make-Denard-beat-you-with-his-arm thing that competent teams with competent defenses generally try to do against Denard. With their D-line and linebacking corps, it’s going to make for some tough yards, especially if Denard’s passing ability tanks against Northwestern. Additionally, with two weeks to prepare for trick plays, misdirection, etc., the Spartans will be ready for a lot of the new offensive wrinkles (unless Borges has more up his sleeve (please have more up your sleeve)). For Michigan’s offense, this game will come down to execution rather than scheme.

Michigan State’s offense is less worrisome. Mattison will find ways to get winged helmets through their ticky-tacky offensive line. The Wolverines secondary, which performed reasonably well against Michael Floyd in week two, should be able to limit the Cousins-to-WR B.J. Cunningham combo to minimal damage.

Ultimately the key matchup is Denard vs. turnovers. Possession for possession, Michigan has the edge to score more points.

Next game: Bye

Purdue (2-2)

Last game: Notre Dame 38, Purdue 10 (L)

Recap: Purdue QB Caleb TerBush (10/15, 101 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) started over Robert Marve and threw an interception on the first play. Marve (9/22, 91 yards) came in during the second quarter and got nothing accomplished, which caused him to tweet angrily after the game about the coaching staff. The Boilermakers scored their one mercy touchdown during the last minute when trailing 38-3.

Danny Hope, on the obvious and the untrue:

"We didn't play well," Purdue coach Danny Hope said. "We didn't have any luck. We didn't match up well. We’re a better team than that.”

Purdue wins the honor of being on the wrong end of this week’s Non-Game-Of-The-Week. They are the first team on this opponent watch list to do so.

Right now they are as frightening as: A school where quarterbacks go to get injured or to suck. Fear level = 2.

Michigan should worry about: Any of the six other games remaining on the schedule before worrying about this one.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: Having a bye week and essentially a light scrimmage before hitting the road against Iowa.

When Michigan plays them: Purdue might keep things interesting for a quarter before I find something else more entertaining to stream.

Next game: Minnesota. Heh.

Iowa (3-1)

Last game: Bye

Next game: at Penn State

No. 24 Illinois (5-0, 1-0 B1G)

Last Game: Northwestern 35, Illinois 38 (W)

Recap: This was one of those games where the high final score highlighted defensive shortcomings rather than offensive prowess. Previously Illinois had been compared to a rock, and the conceit was based on the fact that while slow and unwieldy on offense (for a spread team, at least), the Illini had a fairly stout, unyielding defense. Then Northwestern came along and ruined that image by hanging four touchdowns on them through the third quarter. That was with Persa attempting just 14 passes.

Whereas the Wildcats blew the game via a crappy secondary, the Illini made almost as great an effort with irresponsible linebacker play. Those linebackers were surprisingly susceptible to misdirection and play-action even though Northwestern wasn’t really averaging a whole lot of YPC against them to begin with. I’m guessing what this means is that a lot of their earlier success was due to their linebackers overplaying the run. The Wildcats probably saw this on film and exploited this tendency, and they had success until both Persa and Trumpy got injured.

Offensively, the Illini still failed to impress. Their fourth quarter comeback was more the Northwestern defense losing than the Illinois offense winning. For most of the game QB Nathan Scheelhaase (21/32, 391 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT) seemed indecisive. When his receivers weren’t left completely wide open, he struggled to go through his reads and spent too much time patting the ball in the pocket. He got coverage-sacked a bunch of times, which, idunno, kind of defeats the purpose of the whole dual-threat quarterback thing.

At the end of the day, the Illini did squeak past Northwestern to preserve their unbeaten record, but this is the third game in a row they’ve won by a field goal, and I’m not sure they can really feel that good about either of the last two.

Right now they are as frightening as:

predicament

Those things are a lot less scary if you can get them to roll the wrong way. 6.

Michigan should worry about: A lot less than they were worrying about last week, but perhaps this:

Michigan can sleep soundly about: A dual-threat quarterback that doesn’t like to scramble sounds an awful lot like a single-threat quarterback.

When Michigan plays them: Michigan will need to use lots and lots of misdirection to keep those linebackers on their heels. Also, a 70-yard touchdown pass to Roy Roundtree on the first play wouldn’t hurt, either.

Next game: at Indiana

No. 8 Nebraska (4-1, 0-1 B1G)

Last game: Nebraska 14, Wisconsin 41 (L)

Recap: Nebraska kept this game competitive for about a quarter before Wisconsin decided to be all mean about it and score a touchdown on every possession. The Huskers came out strong, but the second they fell behind in the count, they panicked on offense and caved on defense. They looked an awful lot like the past two Michigan teams in November.

First of all, why was QB Taylor Martinez (11 for 22, 176 yards, 3 INT)  trying to throw the ball so much? Maybe Nebraska was allergic to third down or something -- it looked like they weren’t happy that their run game wasn’t getting a first down every two carries, so they stood their running quarterback in the pocket and forced him to pass in an effort to pick up those yards. It worked a couple times, but because either the Badgers defense was so good or Martinez is so bad at going through his progressions, what usually ended up happening looked more like a slowly developing quarterback draw. There was one series where they called this three times in a row, and as a result, Martinez was sacked three plays in a row.

Defensively, the Huskers simply got out-executed. Though they didn’t look out of position often, poor tackling plagued them the entire game. It may have just been Wisconsin being Wisconsin, but Nebraska seemed to always give up yards after contact. Most embarrassingly, for a such highly regarded defense that practices against a dual-threat quarterback every week, they couldn’t contain Badgers QB Russell Wilson to save their lives.

Something is seriously wrong with the Huskers. I can’t put a finger on what it is yet -- it probably has something to do with coaching or team chemistry rather than scheme or talent -- but it’s never a good sign when a team’s performance is strongly reminiscent of Michigan’s showing in the 2011 Gator Bowl.

Right now they are as frightening as: The dark horse American Idol contestant with the checkered back story and emotional problems. They’ll go far because of intrigue and ratings and stuff, but they won’t make it all the way, especially not if they keep breaking down in the middle of songs. Fear level = 6.5.

Michigan should worry about: Getting to November 19 in one piece, because currently this appears to be a favorable matchup for Michigan.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: The fact that Nebraska hasn’t slept soundly all week. 

When Michigan plays them: Michigan would be well served to use the strategy that teams used against them all last year: limit your own mistakes and wait for them beat themselves.

Next game: Ohio State

Ohio State (3-2, 0-1 B1G)

Last game: Michigan State 10, Ohio State 7 (L)

Recap: Everyone knows this by now, but let me reiterate: Ohio State’s offense was epically bad. Part of that was quarterback inexperience and the offensive line being generally confused and overwhelmed all game -- BlueSeoul’s game wrap lays it all out nicely. Most of the problem was in the playcalling and game preparation. One would have thought, given the passing struggles against Miami, that the coaching staff would have installed a couple plays that could keep opposing defenses from doing things like, idunno, loading the box and blitzing every single play. The Buckeyes had no such plays, electing instead to grind it out minus-three yards and a cloud of self-loathing at a time.

Let’s enjoy a little more schadenfreude, yes?

4:27 Third and twelve. Timeout Michigan State. They must need more time to stop laughing.

4:53 One-yard QB draw for Braxton Miller. OSU calls timeout with about 45 seconds to play. I don't think there's time enough for 62 more of those in order to score a touchdown.

5:58 Hall gets nothing. Loses two. And the crowd boos. I've just been handed the third quarter stats from an Ohio State staffer. I tell them that these stats must be wrong because Ohio State's stats haven't changed from the first half.

And so on. Teehee.

Right now they are as frightening as: The front bumper (see Michigan State). There are ways for Ohio State to avoid being in this situation -- like watching for the other guy’s brake lights or changing lanes, for instance -- but I guess those things are hard to think about when you’re figuring out how to drive stick for the first time. 4.

Michigan should worry about: Beating a 5-6 Ohio State squad won’t be very satisfying [Ed-M: Oh yes it will!].

Michigan can sleep soundly about: Beating an a 5-6 Ohio State squad won’t be very difficult.

When Michigan plays them: It’s strange to feel optimistic about this game, isn’t it?

Next game: at No. 14 Nebraska

Objects in mirror

But actually, they’re not!

Western Michigan (3-2, 1-0 MAC)

Last game: Western Michigan 38, UConn 31 (W)

Remarks: Since losing to Michigan, Western Michigan has gone on to trounce Nicholls State and Central Michigan, come within a field goal of Illinois, and beat defending Big East champ UConn. In short: the Broncos are turning themselves into a quality win for the Wolverines.

QB Alex Carder has thus far completed 129/185 passes (69.7%) for 1466 yards and 12 TDs and 4 INTs. His season QB efficiency rating is 153.4. Against Michigan it was 114.1.

Next game: Bowling Green

Notre Dame (3-2)

Last game: Notre Dame 38, Purdue 10 (W)

Remarks: Since losing to Michigan, Notre Dame pantsed Michigan State, gritted out an ugly win against Pittsburgh, and finally put together a mistake-free game to beat Purdue. As difficult as it is to root for the Irish, the Wolverines need them to keep winning and climb back into the rankings. Otherwise Michigan’s schedule until No. 19 Illinois contains only Michigan State as the lone fringe top-25 team, which doesn’t say a whole lot for the Wolverines’ No. 12 ranking when, just four spots ahead, Clemson is sitting undefeated with three wins over ranked teams.

Next game: Air Force.

Eastern Michigan (3-2, 1-0 MAC)

Last game: Akron 23, Eastern Michigan 31 (W)

Remarks: Eastern Michigan still has a winning record! Their other loss was Penn State, if you care.

Next game: at Toledo

San Diego State (3-1)

Last game: Bye

Remarks: Check back next week. They need a little more time to be emo.

Next game: TCU

Comments

Mengin06

October 6th, 2011 at 1:57 PM ^

" The Buckeyes defense eschewed pressure to focus on coverage, figuring that the only way they were going to score points was by getting pick-sixes"

Great line. It's funny because it's so true. Oh, I hope Ohio's incompetence continues through the end of November.

Six Zero

October 6th, 2011 at 2:07 PM ^

Lewan looks like a viking holding that jug.

Actually, I think Persa throws the ball all day long against us.  Pass to set up an inferior running game.  Secondary wins this game with competent play or sets us up to fail with mistakes.

I do think the coaches will have the boys geared up for the first road game.  White shirts and all that.

Just noticed the 'Hold Me TomVH' reference up there.  Miss that cat.

Beaverline1077

October 6th, 2011 at 2:55 PM ^

worst state ever and i have no idea what school that logo is from. Did tsio get downgraded to high school logos? If they keep losing maybe it should be considered lol.

JohnnyV123

October 6th, 2011 at 6:26 PM ^

I hate to get too confident before facing Michigan State or Ohio State. Remember that good defenses can make teams look inept and Michigan State and Ohio State still have statistically excellent defenses.

If you're looking for high scoring, Nebraska will probably be our most fun game to watch. They still have a great offense but anyone else who has a potent offense (Fresno State, Washington, Wisconsin) has had no trouble putting points on Nebraska but until Wisconsin also wasn't able to be stopped.

I believe Ohio State's O Line lost confidence in their QB situation entirely and stopped playing as hard making them look silly against MSU but that can still change if Miller or Bauserman step up. Still I don't know how as a Michigan fan you could have that low of a fear level against them looking at our recent history.

uminks

October 7th, 2011 at 12:03 PM ^

MSU...may be our toughest game of the season but I still think we have a chance if the offense can score some points! At the beginning of the season I thought this was a toss up but it now may be a tougher game to win on the road since sparty's defense looks better.

NE...will be a tough team to beat at home, but it is a home game and the NE quarter back has a tough time throwing accurate passes when NE is behind. Before the start of the season I thought this would be a loss.

IL...may be a tough road game.  I thought at the beginning of the season their defense would be more improved but we should score some points on them.  We may have a better chance for a road win here than I thought at the beginning of the season.

OSU...I'm more optimistic about a home win. I know the team will be really up for finally breaking the losing streak to OSU. I only wish we could play them next week since their offense may slowly improve. Before the season I thought this game may be tough to win even without Pryor.

Overall, I'm more optimistic about the team getting 10 or more wins.  We'll see how they play on the road at NU! The greatest improvement has been in the defense and will be the key to the remainder of the season, as long as they continue to improve weekly. I'm glad Borges is now playing to DROBS strengths