|WHERE||The Orange Bowl,
December 30th, 2016
|THE LINE||M -7|
Michigan and FSU are both vying to prove to the world that they are the top five team they were purported to be before the season, so the Orange Bowl has some stakes. You know the picture above, and you know that it came after Michigan beat a very good Alabama team in this game. Playoff or not, there will be a flaming spear in the field tomorrow and that means quite a bit.
Not that I have to tell anyone who's playing under Jim Harbaugh that.
Run Offense vs FSU
FSU has a good-but-not great defense prone to breakdowns. S&P+ has them 18th in the country overall; they're 31st against the run. FSU is relatively good at preventing "successful" plays and bad at preventing big ones. They rank 103rd in S&P+'s explosiveness metric, though the raw numbers are more positive. They're middle of the pack in the ACC at 20+ yard runs ceded.
A whole season picture may be excessively harsh, however. FSU was bombed in back to back games by Louisville and South Florida early in the season; since they've crushed various bad ground games and suffered the likes of North Carolina and NC State to squeeze out four yards a pop. Michigan's rush offense is 42nd in S&P+, not in the same class as UL (1st nationally) or USF (8th), and they can expect a struggle.
DT Derrick Nnadi drives the bus for FSU; his PFF +24 as a rush defender came in just 480 snaps. That's about 50% better than any of Michigan's diverse and sundry interior DL on a per-snap basis. FSU's production falls off after that, with a couple of guys around +10 and then some other folks who have scraped above zero. Brian Burns, a five-star recruit rushed to the starting lineup, is the weak point. This is because he is a 220 pound WDE.
The rest of the defense has been decidedly meh, especially with starting safeties Derwin James and Ermon Lane ruled out. LB Josh Sweat has been up and down, offsetting a solid run grade with dismal pass rush; fellow starting LBs Matthew Thomas and Ro'Derrick Hoskins are almost perfectly average. The secondary is poor in rush D, and with some young or inexperienced players trying to fill Lane's shoes there's a decent chance a run that reaches the third level finds air.
Getting there is rather the trick for a Michigan rushing offense that's scuffled late in the year. Michigan has two good OL in Mason Cole and Erik Magnuson; the remainder of the line has been sketchy at best. While FSU presents a couple weaknesses OSU didn't have, Nnadi is about as good as Iowa's Jaleel Johnson, and Johnson dominated his matchup on the interior.
Michigan will move the ball in fits and starts; expect some big plays and some second and thirteens.
KEY MATCHUP: BEN BREDESON versus A MONTH OF PRACTICE TIME. Best bet for Michigan is for Bredeson to get radically better a la a few players from last year's bowl game. Nobody else has the kind of upward mobility he does, and if Michigan doesn't get a better performance out of their OL than they did against OSU it's going to be a lot of grunting for little product.
[Hit THE JUMP for oh man this OL versus Michigan's DL]
Pass Offense vs FSU
Walker is coming for you
Absurd person DeMarcus Walker has 15 sacks on the year, a +40 PFF grade, and a fringe first round NFL draft grade. At a burly 6'4", 280, he's a strongside end that brings an incredible amount of pass rush and is hopefully a preview of what Rashan Gary will be next year. As far as this year goes, you're going to find out what it looks like when Taco Charlton goes up against Michigan's tackles in practice. Projection: not well for the tackles.
Nnadi and Burns are also impact rushers, though Burns's sack numbers (10) appear to exceed his current ability. He's +6.5 as a rusher to PFF and doesn't have the same kind of ancillary hit/pressure numbers that Walker or the various Michigan DL do. He looks to be feasting off of sacks Walker is forcing but not collecting.
Add it up and this is the #3 team in adjusted sack rate. Michigan's not bad at protecting—27th—and Wilton Speight has proven that he's got a knack for buying time in the pocket. It is still reasonable to expect Walker and company to disrupt a number of drives.
When Michigan can protect Speight they should have a good time. FSU is a bottom-tier ACC team when it comes to surrendering long passes—they're about Wake Forest's equal at 20+ and 30+; they're 95th in the PFF explosiveness metric. That was with Lane, a freshman converted WR who wasn't good but was significantly better than FSU's alternatives.
Top CB Tarvarus McFadden is a quality player with a Stribling-like PFF grade; Marquez White is a little better than average, and then things get hairy. Whoever ends up playing at safety or nickel corner is going to be a middling-at-best player who has to check Jake Butt or whoever Michigan throws in the slot. Grant Perry's absence will hurt, since he had a breakout bowl game and was productive against Ohio State. In his stead Michigan will look to one of their three freshman slot types or possibly Drake Harris.
Most of Michigan's offense will come through the air; it's critical for Michigan to get Walker thinking screen or run or draw and give whoever ends up with him the requisite amount of help. Michigan will look for a healthy Wilton Speight to have the same kind of eye-opening performance Jake Rudock had a year ago. The outcome of this game largely rests on whether Speight is the flamethrower he was after the bye week or the guy who clunked around against Iowa and didn't even attempt a deep ball against OSU.
KEY MATCHUP: EVERYBODY versus WALKER. Kori the Cord Guy will be involved in some protections.
Run Defense vs FSU
This is Dalvin Cook versus the world. Cook is, in a word, ridiculous. Youtube is littered with totally rad and unwatchable Cook highlight videos; here's a relatively demure set of highlights from this year's Clemson-FSU game:
If you let this man get the edge you will be lining up for an extra point block. He carries a +22.4 rushing grade from PFF and is possibly the best back in the country.
The problem for Florida State is everyone else. No FSU regular grades out positively as a run blocker other than left tackle Roderick Johnson, who's +5. The rest of the OL ranges from –11 to 0 save Cole Minishew, who we're projecting as a starting guard amongst considerable uncertainty. Nine different Seminole OL have seen at least 150 snaps; only Johnson and Minishew are positive, or anywhere near it. Center Alec Eberle is –14; RT Rick Leonard is –12, and both of those guys have racked up those numbers in 50-60% of FSU's snaps. There are OL playing for Rutgers who would press for playing time on this line.
Compounding matters is poor peripheral blocking. FSU's outside receivers are both in the red; TE Ryan Izzo is about even, and he's been hit with a bunch of holding calls.
So this might look oddly familiar. Michigan's played some electric scatback types saddled with terrible offensive lines this year. Games against Penn State and Maryland saw Saquon Barkley and Lorenzo Harrison struggle to find anything between the tackles. Barkley got a couple chunks on short passes, and Harrison beat Mike McCray to the edge for a first down here and there. FSU will probably emulate these teams. They'll attempt to avoid Michigan's defensive tackles at all costs and hit Michigan on the edges or try to exploit their linebackers in space.
The good news for Michigan is that Don Brown is familiar with Cook and Florida State. Last year's Boston College-FSU game was a great defensive performance that was, as usual, ruined by the BC offense. FSU gained just 217 yards; Cook was held to 3.6 YPC on 15 carries. Brown won't be caught out by the things FSU tries to do, except for the usual we-had-a-month-to-prepare stuff that both teams will be armed with.
QB Deondre Francois is an athletic guy who could help balance things out for FSU but the Seminoles are loathe to put too much more on his plate. FSU's called just 45 QB runs this year. That's about 4 carries a game. He might get Michigan for a chunk or two on a called play. He won't be JT Barrett.
Given the matchup between Michigan's DL and FSU's OL this should be an exercise in discovering how much Dalvin Cook can make by himself against an elite defense. Survey says: some. Cook's going to get stuffed a ton and end up in a very dangerous situation two or three times. Michigan needs to keep those latter events to 20 yards instead of 70.
One thing to watch out for here: Cook has fumbled six times this year, losing four.
KEY MATCHUP: MICHIGAN SAFETIES, INCLUDING JABRILL PEPPERS, versus 70 YARD COOK TOUCHDOWNS. If it comes to it, Michigan should repeat Dymonte Thomas's approach against Barkley: give up an extra ten yards to make sure you can live to fight again after a 30 yard chunk.
Pass Defense vs FSU
the past and hopefully the future
Chances are that when you turned on an FSU game this year you saw one of three things: 1) Deondre Francois getting obliterated, 2) a replay of Deondre Francois getting obliterated, or 3) a montage of various times during the game when Deondre Francois got obliterated.
This is slightly misleading. FSU is by no means a good pass-protecting line, but they're not totally horrendous. Francois got sacked 32 times this year; FSU ended up 85th in sack rate allowed. PFF charged FSU blockers with 24 hits above and beyond those sacks and 72 hurries. Francois dropped back 450 times this year, and got some form of pressure 29% of the time. This is about NCAA average. You remember Francois getting obliterated because the FSU games you turned on were probably Louisville and Clemson. Those elite pass rushes combined for 11 sacks.
Speaking of elite pass rush, here are Michigan DL PFF grades in that department: +20, +19, +17, +13, +10, +6, –1. Matt Godin is the only Michigan DL with 150+ snaps who doesn't have an excellent grade in that department, and Ben Gedeon and Mike McCray did a bunch of damage themselves. Michigan had 48(!) sacks, 69(!) QB hits aside from those, and 169(!!!) hurries.
That is 286 pressure events on 301 passes, and now we know that PFF will hand out multiple pressure events per play. Francois will be running for his life. Like Cook, he might be fumbling as he does it. He's put it on the ground eight times this year.
When afforded opportunities to do anything else Francois has an excellent receiving corps. #1 Travis Rudolph has been omnipresent for FSU this year, and if his raw numbers aren't amazing (53 catches, 798 yards) that's mostly because FSU spreads the ball out more thoroughly than anyone in the country. Seven different players have 30+ targets; Rudolph leads with 88. His 60% catch rate and 9.1 yards per target are both excellent. Funchess-esque Auden Tate is the deep threat and even more efficient; Jesus Wilson, Nyqwan Murray, and Kermit Whitfield are all interchangeable slot types. FWIW, Tate was spotted in a no-contact jersey a few days ago and may be dinged or unavailable.
Meanwhile, Cook pops up again here as a lethal threat. 10.7 yards per target is an insane number for a running back. He's got 31 catches on the season and figures to add another half-dozen tomorrow.
Michigan matches up well against this unit. They can expect to win most of the battles on the outside without help and the two primary safeties have been excellent in coverage against slots much of the year. Meanwhile, pass rush. The chief dangers are broken plays when Francois escapes the pocket and the threat of a screen, checkdown, or wheel route to Cook.
KEY MATCHUP: LINEBACKERS IN SPACE against DALVIN COOK AGAIN. Akrum Wadley and Saquon Barkley had a ton of success on quick throws. Michigan DL will probably search out Cook and chip him coming out of the backfield, slightly blunting the pass rush in exchange for what they hope will be the neutralization of FSU's top threat.
FSU is undergoing a #collegekickers period here. Freshman Ricky Aguayo was yanked from the Florida game after a miss (from 49) and a block; it looks like fellow freshman Logan Tyler is set to replace him. Tyler's 1/2 on the year but that make was from 53. Aguayo is 17/24 this year with a clear bifurcation. He's 11/11 from within 40 and 6/13 outside of 40; S&P+ has him slightly above average.
Tyler is also the punter. Typically Ruthless PFF Special Teams Grader has him –22.4 and this makes sense. Only about a quarter of his punts are returned but FSU is giving up 21 yards a pop on those 13 returns, with huge chunks ceded in multiple games. His net of 34 yards is Not Good.
FSU has gotten little from their return units aside from an 89-yard punt return TD against Charleston Southern; they have suffered the punt coverage follies described above and have been solid on kickoffs. Tyler puts two thirds of his kickoffs into the endzone.
Add it up and FSU is 125th in FEI's special teams metric, with punting both ways killing them—FEI disregards FCS games so the Noles don't get credit for that TD. Michigan is second. With Kenny Allen seemingly over his early-season slump Michigan should have a clear advantage here. How much of one depends on how many returnable punts Jabrill Peppers gets, how far away from him FSU defenders are, and if Michigan gets its hands on another punt.
KEY MATCHUP: AHHHH YOU PUT IT THROUGH THE UPRIGHTS.
- Dalvin Cook runs a wheel route.
- Dalvin Cook breaks contain on the edge.
Dalvin CookDeMarcus Walker is bearing down on Speight's blindside.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
Francois looks like Devin Gardner about halfway through the game.
Speight looks like a killer after another opportunity to regather himself and absorb some Harbaugh coaching.
The huge gap in special teams metrics pays off.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 5 (Baseline 5; +1 for Oh God Dalvin Cook, –1 for Don Brown Kind Of Owns Him Though, +1 for Oh God DeMarcus Walker, +1 for And Some Other Dudes, –1 for Harbaugh Bowl Motivation Edge Theory, –1 for Seriously, Rutgers-Class OL, +1 for Quasi Road Game, –1 for You Can Feel The Peppers Special Teams Play Coming.)
Desperate need to win level: 8 (Baseline 5; +1 for This Is An Important Bowl, +1 for When Do We Ever Play FSU?, +1 for So Are We A Top Five Team Or Not, +1 for Many Farewells Will Go Well Or Badly, –1 for Lingering Bitter Hangover).
Loss will cause me to... block/mute scathing hordes of #FSUtwitter.
Win will cause me to... get blocked by all of #FSUtwitter
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
A defensive game dominated by the respective DLs that will be hard to pry apart unless 1) Cook blows up and through 75 tackles or 2) Speight looks like unkillable robot Speight again. If neither happens this will be frequent punting and a lot of quarterbacks looking for help.
Michigan should have the edge there. Both pass rushes are killer; FSU has a below-average pass pro line versus Michigan's good one. Meanwhile FSU has been shredded on punt returns and does not have Michigan's punt block chops; they're also enduring turmoil at kicker. A field position game favors Michigan. Unless it doesn't in the low-sample, high variance world of special teams, but I can only project the past into the future no matter how many times that's seemed dumb.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Speight passes for 300 yards and looks like the kind of guy who can carry a young team next year.
- Francois is sacked 6 times.
- Michigan, 25-18