Opponent Watch: Week 7 Comment Count

Heiko October 19th, 2011 at 10:06 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, Ace, the last Anbender.)

About Last Saturday:

Michigan 14, Michigan State 28

That feels about right.

The Road Ahead:

Purdue (3-3, 1-1 B1G)

Last game: Purdue 18, Penn State 23 (L)

Recap: Try figuring out how many football scores it takes to get to 18. What is that, six field goals? Two touchdowns and two safeties? Now try to make 23.

Yeah, it was that kind of a game. Purdue was also inexplicably a couple missed kicks short of being tied with Penn State.

Not sure which team was still living in last week, but both were coming off statement wins -- the Nittany Lions’ of the “Kirk Ferentz owns us only most of the time” variety, and the Boilermakers’ of the “If the Big Ten were the solar system we would be Venus, which is still a lot better than that Kuiper belt object named Minnesota, formerly known as Pluto” variety.

Purdue’s running back duo carried the ball 13 times each with surprising effectiveness. Ralph Bolden averaged 7.5 ypc, thanks largely to a 39-yarder, and Akeem Shavers averaged 4.2 ypc. Against Penn State, that’s a pretty impressive accomplishment, although Ace’s FFFF next week will probably have something to say about the schematic advantage inherent in their offense. (Hint: they run the spread.)

The Boilermakers QBs, on the other hand, were unremarkable. Caleb TerBush completed 12 of 25 passes for 162 yards, 1 TD, and 2 INTs. QB Robert Marve attempted just five passes, one of which was an interception. Bench.

About Purdue’s defense -- that the Nittany Lions couldn’t seem to score points against them is more a testament to how derpy Penn State’s quarterback situation is rather than to how stout the Boilermakers are on that side of the ball. For the record, Purdue has the 30th ranked scoring defense in the country, which reflects some degree of competency, but that’s a ranking that’s about as tenable as Michigan’s No. 10 spot in that category.

Right now they are as frightening as: Michigan’s ability to defend an inconsistent spread. 4.

Michigan should worry about: Teaching the linebackers how to defend the perimeter -- you know, keep contain and stop outside runs, short passes, and bubble screens. Things that no one else ever seems to have a problem doing for some reason.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: Purdue doesn’t run the spread very well. How they managed to put together four scoring drives against a Penn State defense that held Iowa to three points is beyond me, but again, Ace’s FFFF should shed some light onto that.

When Michigan plays them: Fueled by an irascible disdain for the sale of snake oil, Purdue has outperformed in this game for the past several years. If you’ll recall, there was that last minute hook-and-ladder incident in 2008. Then in 2009 they came from behind to win by capitalizing on a missed Michigan PAT and surprise onside kick. Last year, despite being in the middle of the great torn ACL epidemic, the Boilermakers played Michigan so closely that as I tracked the game from an iPhone, I got mad at ESPN Mobile for doing a crappy job updating the scores.

So yeah, the Not-2008-or-2009-or-2010-ness of this year’s Michigan team could use a decisive win here.

Next game: No. 23 Illinois

Next, the Jump. Michigan should worry about: broken internet connections. Sleep soundly about: more room on the front page.

Iowa (4-2, 1-1 B1G)

Last game: Northwestern 31, Iowa 41 (W)

Recap: Despite getting shredded by Northwestern QB Dan Persa (31/40, 246 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) and allowing the Wildcats to convert 16 of 22 third downs, Iowa found enough firepower on offense/holes in the Northwestern defense to make big plays and win the game. The Hawkeyes were also able to make the Wildcats pay for a pair of turnovers and a failed onside kick.

With the victory, Iowa shook off a three-game losing streak to Northwestern.

Their fans also did this:



Right now they are as frightening as: Your average Big Ten team on any average year when the Big Ten is average. Fear level = 5.

Michigan should worry about: This team is erratic, and it’s tough to tell why they match up so favorably against certain teams and so unfavorably against others without breaking down film. Unfortunately, something tells me they’ll have an “on” day against Michigan.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: Their defense seems to be a lot softer than it has been the last couple years.

When Michigan plays them: Seems like the perfect opportunity to get them to do something like this:

Next game: Indiana

No. 16 Illinois (6-1, 2-1 B1G)

Last game: Ohio State 17, Illinois 7 (L)

Recap: By now most people already know about this: down 10 in the last couple minutes, facing fourth and three from the Ohio State 17, Illinois coach Ron Zook chose to … go for it. (If you’re confused as to why that’s completely stupid, let me explain. You need two scores, and it doesn’t matter what order they come in. 

If you kick an easy field goal here, you’ll need to recover an onside kick and then try for a touchdown. If you go for it here and eventually score a touchdown, you’ll still need to do the onside kick. If you fail the fourth-down conversion, you lose the game. Non-Zook game theory says you should kick the field goal.)

So there was that, but let’s be honest -- it’s not like that one call lost the game. The Illini had zero points until the last five minutes of the fourth quarter. The Buckeyes defense stymied Illinois’ offense all day, not even allowing them into field goal range. Actually, that’s a lie. They got to the 32-yard line at one point but elected, instead of going for it there or kicking the field goal, to punt.

Illini WR A.J. Jenkins, hindered by the inability to find himself completely wide open, had 8 catches for 80 yards.

Lastly, it’s not clear how their defense allowed Ohio State get away with passing just four times the entire game with only one completion. Not having an offense of their own probably contributed.

Right now they are as frightening as: A large, mismanaged rock. 6.

Michigan should worry about: They still have a big, aggressive front seven. And option plays, to which Greg Mattison says:

Uh oh.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: Ron Zook, their once and future coach.

When Michigan plays them: It’ll be another bizarre one, probably. With their level of Big Ten-iness on offense and defense, Illinois might look like the better team, but a questionable game plan (maybe they’ll try to run at Michigan’s interior line rather than around the edges) and even more questionable in-game decisions (Zook’s current trajectory has him close to challenging their own touchdowns) will keep Michigan in the game.

Next game: at Purdue

No. 14 Nebraska (5-1, 1-1 B1G)

Last game: Bye

Next game: at Minnesota

Ohio State (4-3, 1-2 B1G)

Last game: Ohio State 17, No. 16 Illinois 7 (W)

Recap: About that whole completing only one pass the entire game and still winning the football game thing -- Ohio State did it, thanks in large part to their defense, now at full strength, which forced three Illinois turnovers in the second half. Two of them were converted into touchdowns.

Buckeyes QB Braxton Miller returned to action after recovering from an ankle injury late in the Nebraska game last week. He had eight real carries, one of which was a 35-yarder, and he was also sacked four times, so he netted just 34 yards total. Those numbers don’t reveal whether his ankle is still an issue, particularly against the Illini defense, but at this point it’s clear that even a 50% Miller is better than a 100% Bauserman against any defense.

Ohio State’s win was unexpected if not downright impressive. Of the several games left on their schedule that can be considered tossups (Michigan and Penn State are the other two), this one probably leaned farthest toward a loss for the Buckeyes. Coach Luke Fickell has gone from not knowing how to call timeout to temporarily saving the program from armageddon, albeit against an opposing coach who can’t keep track of the score. Still, that’s progress. He has bought his team an opportunity to salvage their season and play for a respectable bowl game -- and even a chance to save his job -- which sounds like the perfect situation for Michigan to come in and completely ruin everything.

Right now they are as frightening as: I don’t know anymore. Fear level = ?

Michigan should worry about: Learning how to stop the run seems like a good idea.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: Because that’s all they’re going to do.

When Michigan plays them: It looks like a critical mass of doom and gloom required to blow up the program was not reached, and Ohio State is likely going to win more than two more games the rest of the season. Damn.

On the bright side, that means the matchup on November 26 carries more weight because of the ostensible bowl game implications and maybe even division championships on the line.

On the dim side, that also means that this Buckeyes team is going to be a lot harder to beat, especially with Michigan’s health and depth issues for the tail end of the season and its alarming inability to stop the run.

Next game: Bye

Objects in Mirror

Western Michigan (4-3, 2-1 MAC)

Last game: Western Michigan 22, Northern Illinois 51 (L)

Recap: After procuring a 15-7 lead over Northern Illinois midway through the second quarter, Western Michigan’s defense said, “Seeya,” and allowed the Huskies to rack up nearly 700 yards of offense en route to 44 unanswered points.

Next game: at Eastern Michigan

Notre Dame (4-2)

Last game: Bye

Next game: Southern California

Eastern Michigan (4-3, 2-1 MAC)

Last game: Eastern Michigan 35, Central Michigan 28 (W)

Recap: Eastern Michigan prevailed against Central Michigan despite being outyarded (449 to 429), outfirstdowned (30 to 18), and outpossessed (32:01 to 27:59).

Next game: Western Michigan

San Diego State (4-2, 1-1 MWC)

Last game: San Diego State 41, Air Force 27 (W)

Recap: San Diego State prevailed against Air Force despite being outyarded (419 yards to 410), outfirstdowned (26 to 20), and outpossessed (33:20 to 26:40).

Next game: Wyoming

Minnesota (1-5, 0-2 B1G)

Last game: Bye

Next game: No. 13 Nebraska

Northwestern (2-4, 0-3 B1G)

Last game: Northwestern 31, Iowa 41 (L)

Recap: Northwestern lost because QB Dan Persa’s Achilles tendon couldn’t handle another come-from-behind victory dance against Iowa.

Next game: Penn State



October 19th, 2011 at 10:14 AM ^

What happened to Ohio State?  Did they finally implode from the allegations and rumors of allegations?

EDIT NOTE:   I lost Ohio State in the camoflage of Nebraska's bye week.

And someone around here has pics from the Eastern Vs. Central game...:)


October 19th, 2011 at 10:31 AM ^

Can someone explain to me why the Zook decision was the wrong one?  The way I see it, you need a touchdown and a field goal either way.  They were in fourth and makable pretty close to the OSU goal line--that might be the best opportunity they have to convert the fourth down and score.  If they kick the field goal there, they might face down a 4th and 10 from the 33 on the next drive, but they would have to go for that much more difficult to convert play.  it seems like whenever you're down 10 and you know you're going to have to recover the onside kick, you should take the 4th down opportunity to go for it when it seems like you won't get a better one.  It's not like Illinois was moving the ball up and down the field.  If they kick the field goal and recover the onside kick, seems likely they're going to face something worse than 4th and 3 and be forced to go for it.

To take it to the extreme, if it were 4th and goal from the 2, no one would criticize going for it--that's your best chance to get the touchdown you're going to need anyway.  By kicking the field goal, you're "wasting" all of those yards you got within field goal range.  I don't see the benefit of doing the field goal first just because it's the easier one--you might only have one chance in the two possessions to get the TD, so when you have that chance, you need to take it.  You're going to have to convert the onside kick either way.

MI Expat NY

October 19th, 2011 at 11:19 AM ^

That's a fair argument.  I still think kicking is the right decision, though.  There was 1:15 or so on the clock, 4th and 3 from the 17.  If you make the first down, but don't score, You might burn another 25+ seconds and/or your remaining two timeouts trying to get the touchdown. Which still isn't guaranteed even if you get the first down.  Now you're down to 50 seconds or less, no timeouts to move 30 yards into reasonable field goal position.  

If you kick, you're taking a 34 yard field goal attempt, which is likely a chip shot and better than you'd get on your second possession if you went for the TD, and giving yourself 1:05 with two timeouts to move 55 yards for a touchdown.  

Neither scenario is easy by any means, but I'll take the one that prolongs the chance of winning and adds pressure to the team that's leading.  


October 19th, 2011 at 11:30 AM ^

I'm not sure I see how the time comes into play--you still have to cover about the same amount of yardage in the same amount of time, whichever order you do it in, right?  If anything, kicking it now means you'll have to gain MORE yards, because you don't have to get all the way back to the 17 in order to kick the field goal on the second possession if you go for it here.  I do see your "put pressure on the defense" argument--though it's really hard to measure how much that matters.

I agree with you that it's a fairly close call --what surprised me was that everyone is lambasting Zook (especially the announcers durning the game) for this decision as if it were the clearest call in the world to kick, when it seems pretty defensible to go for it.

MI Expat NY

October 19th, 2011 at 11:49 AM ^

I didn't explain it well, I guess what I'm trying to get at is teams seem to be better with time constraints when they're down one score and know exactly what they need.  I've seen way too many teams that need two scores take forever to score the first one.  I'd like to preserve as much time (and timeouts) as possible for that last drive, even if it means having to score a TD instead of a FG.  

I get what you're saying that at 4th and 3, it's a very makeable 4th down and if they kick they might be faced in a worse situation later.  But the other side of the coin is they might not face a fourth down on their subsequent TD drive, so why risk a game ending play when you have an extremely makeable FG and you need a TD and a FG anyway?

You're right though, the fact that everyone bashed him is a little weird, especially when it seems that most announcers are as clueless as old fogey coaches when it comes to end of game theory.


October 19th, 2011 at 12:04 PM ^

You're right in the that either way, Illinois was going to need several miracles to pull that game out aganist OSU, but passing up a very makeable field goal and prolonging the game to try and covert a 4th and 3 against OSU's tough D-line just seems foolhardy.  You had a chance to force OSU to play the full 60 minutes to ensure their win and instead you laid the game on the line with still over a minute to play when you didn't have to.

Sometimes the safe play is the right one.

Zook reminds me of the craps player who wins 6 pass bets in a row and rather than sticking with what's been working, out of the blue, throws his chips on the hard 8.


October 19th, 2011 at 12:25 PM ^

Time is roughly the same whether you kick or go for it: there is a slight edge to kicking in terms of field position, because you're probably not going to get the TD and then also drive inside the 20 unless their defense is derpy, but then kicking a game-tying FG is easier than trying for a game-tying TD because there really isn't an extra-tough FG defense you can bring out, something to match the Cover 7 thing that some teams will do against Hail Mary plays. Using up time to try for the TD here is the same as using up time to get the tying TD if you already kicked.

The really bad decision was the second-quarter decision to punt on 4th and 4 from the OSU 32. That's not a punting situation. Play for the first down, kick the field goal, or look for something in the end zone or close to it.

Punting on 4th and 5 at the 45, I guess that's OK, although if the Buckeyes' offense sucks then you shouldn't be as concerned about giving up the ball. 4th and 14 at the 42, punting makes more sense because of the distance you need for a first down. (If you're playing a team with a competent offense, punting makes less sense because they can more quickly make up the distance you gain from punting.)

What doesn't make sense to me is being a puntasaur through three quarters and then becoming Gamblor in the fourth. Except that it's Zook, so his lack of sense makes sense to me.


October 19th, 2011 at 12:07 PM ^

Purdue will probably be our best chance for a win.  I hope DROB can throw better so we can start running the ball. I'm sure Purdue will be stacking the line.

IL and IA on the road may be tough...but I think we can win one of these games.

NE at home will probably be our toughest game of the season, but I think we could pull off the upset at  home?

I hope we beat OSU this year.  They have a tough defense with an aggressive defensive line but their offense sucks!

If we play halfway decent, I  could see us going 3-2 for a final record of  9-3.  If we continue to have problems against aggressive stacked defenses then we may go 1-4. Though if we play exceptionally well we may end up 5-0! It will be interesting to see how the remainder of the season unfolds and hopefully we'll avoid a complete fold like the previous two seasons.


October 19th, 2011 at 4:23 PM ^

has won as many games as (and more BIG Ten games than) Northwestern and Minnesota combined, I feel like we are in for a dogfight and a risk of total implosion if we lose this game. Iowa and Illinois look legit, and OSU looks better than I thought they would at this point. 


October 20th, 2011 at 6:02 PM ^

You said:

Michigan can sleep soundly about: Ron Zook, their once and future coach.


I assume that's a knock on Carr/Hoke/Bo/Oosterban/Crisler/Yost? If it is, this is crazy. Carr may have shared a similarly conservative approach, but he won 122 football games to only 40 losses. That's a winning percentage of 75.3%. For reference, compare that to mgoblog hero/football revolutionary/aggressive, progressive, not-Carr Rich Rodriguez's 58.3% (overall) and 40.5% (at Michigan). 

For that matter, Zook is at 48.7% (overall) and 42.5% (at Illinois). All of his horse-shit calls (and they are horse-shit, let's make no bones about it) have led to him having a better winning percentage at Illinois than Rich Rod at Michigan. And I think we can all agree it's traditionally easier to win at Michigan.

So, fuck you.

It might be fun to harp on Zook for his apparent lack of a brain, but to compare him to Carr is roughly equivalent to going for it on 4th and 3 from the opponent's 17 when down 10 with just over a minute left. Again, fuck you.

Of course, you might not have been comparing Zook to Carr, in which case, your writing is shit and should be edited to read:

Michigan can sleep soundly about: Ron Zook, Illinois' once and future coach.