Michigan (4-1) vs
October 14th. 2017
|THE LINE||M –7.5|
|TICKETS||can be had|
|WEATHER||sunny, mid-70s, 0% chance of rain|
Indiana! You used to be #chaosteam and are now this weird mish-mash of stuff, featuring a Good Defense (22nd in S&P+), which is a shock, and a Bad Offense (76th), which is not. Ace filled you in on the details over the last couple days. Suffice it to say Indiana replaced Kevin Wilson with Mike DeBord, and subsequently added Nick Sheridan and Mike Hart as offensive position coaches. Those latter two might not be bad ideas, the former... uh.
Things are weird now. There's always one year where momentum from a successful previous staff forces you to keep doing what you were doing before, so the Hoosiers are still a high-tempo spread offense. Just not a very good one.
Expectations have changed from a frenetic arcade rumble to a rock fight, and nobody's happy about this. What am I supposed to do with all the Butters gifs I've saved to my hard drive now? /kicks rock
Run Offense vs Indiana
star Indiana linebacker Tegray Scales can only be cured by Tesamuel Tarly
This will be tortoise versus tortoise. Indiana is excellent at preventing long plays and substandard, but not terrible, in most other rushing stats. They've got a burly nose tackle who will try to hold up to doubles, a thumping middle linebacker in Tegray Scales, and run a conservative version of the 4-2-5 on early downs. Ace:
The linebacker level is where the plays really start getting made. Scales is a sideline-to-sideline demon, and while IU lost a quality ILB to graduation in Marcus Oliver, they have a worthy replacement in Chris Covington. I would've given Covington a star if not for a couple plays in coverage in which he appeared to blow an assignment. He was otherwise excellent. Like Scales, he's undersized and mobile; his best play came when he quickly beat a block and tackled in space on a screen pass that was otherwise going for big yardage.
Michigan has an advantage as the first real manball outfit Indiana has gone up against; if they can apply some force to the IU box safeties and undersized linebackers there will be gaps. Expect Michigan to continue with a majority of gap-blocked plays after those found success against Michigan State. Indiana isn't a blitzball outfit and will try to read and react and get Michigan in moderate distance third downs.
Output similar to that from the MSU game is likely, with Michigan steadily biting off small chunks of yards but struggling to break a chunk play. Whether or not they can manage a couple will go a long way towards deciding the game. They're not consistent enough to clobber their way down the field on 18-play drives.
KEY MATCHUP: JUWANN BUSHELL-BEATTY versus WHATEVER KEPT HIM ON THE BENCH. JBB was a clear upgrade on Ulizio on the ground when he came in, and with Ulizio struggling so badly in pass protection one wonders whether that was a bit of a mirage a la O'Korn. If Beatty can solidify the right side ground game that's a lot of beef to run power behind and the season projection changes a bit.
[Hit THE JUMP for MORE CUTTING EDGE GAME OF THRONES JOKES]
Pass Offense vs Indiana
the only thing that can cure Rashard Fant is oh god i don't know how to finish this sentence i've made a terrible mistake
Well, man, I just don't know anymore. The hope offered by John O'Korn's Purdue outing was swiftly taken away last week, and now a... good Indiana pass defense... is next up? Is... did I say that? Out loud? Aw hell naw. Ace, save me from this opinion!
[Rashard] Fant is technically sound, comfortable in both press man and off coverage, and handsy in a way that occasionally draws a flag (he picked up a hold in this game) but usually just makes it extremely tough to make a clean play on the ball. His style is reminiscent of Jourdan Lewis and his ability isn't far off.
A'Shon Riggins's injury means IU is down a good cornerback, but Andre Brown Jr.wasn't beaten in the spot snaps he saw against UVA, and he now has four starts under his belt. He's also facing Michigan's receivers. I don't expect M's wideouts to have much success on the outside.
Dammit Ace. Fancystats aren't quite as agog as our opponent-scouting-maven, but they're reasonably impressed. Indiana's 35th in success rate and 38th in explosiveness allowed. Virginia had—holy crap—3.7 YPA on 66 attempts. Penn State got up to 7. Which is still just meh for an opposition passing offense that is much better than Michigan's.
There's a clear dichotomy in Indiana's stats. They are mediocre on standard downs, and get no pass rush (124th). They kill it on passing downs and get to the QB (9th). Michigan needs to stay ahead of the chains on first down, because this offensive line picking up Indiana's blitz package looks unlikely. O'Korn might be able to be more comfortable in the pocket on standard downs but expect Michigan to run first and foremost, hoping to build on last week's performance.
When they pass: for the love of God can a receiver not named Perry do something? Kekoa Crawford, Donovan Peoples-Jones, and Eddie McDoom have combined for 39 targets and 13 catches. Or, failing that, just throw it to Perry 20 times. 30 times. However many times it takes.
KEY MATCHUP: GRANT PERRY vs LOOK AT GRANT PERRY HE'S OPEN FOR GOD'S SAKE. HE'S JUST STANDING THERE BY HIMSELF FOR SOME REASON.
Run Defense vs Indiana
just eight months ago
This should be the usual blowout. Indiana comes in with one of the worst rush offenses in the country: 99th in success rate, 105th in explosiveness, etc, etc. Leading rusher Morgan Ellison is a burly true freshman who's done some work against the likes of Charleston Southern. Against OSU—the closest comparable on Indiana's schedule to the Michigan DL—they averaged 2.1 YPC.
They did a little better against Penn State with 4.2 YPC, most of that after Penn State had jumped out to a big lead... and Indiana had flipped to freshman QB Peyton Ramsey, who provides a Lewerke-esque rushing threat Richard Lagow does not. Ace:
One major reason Ramsey has surpassed Lagow on the depth chart is he adds a running dimension his competitor completely lacks. Saquon Barkley housed the opening kickoff of this game and IU committed two first-quarter turnovers, so Penn State got out to a huge early lead (28-7) by the time Ramsey took over midway through the second quarter.
Despite the game situation, Indiana went from a pass-first offense to a more varied attack featuring Ramsey's legs on read options and QB draws. Ramsey is about as athletic as MSU's Brian Lewerke, though a little less shifty. He'll make you pay if you leave a lane open but he's not doing much more than heading straight upfield and sliding when defenders arrive. He gets a six.
Indiana uses him as a runner quite a lot—he has 47 non-sack rushes and 89 passes, and last week in his first action as a full-time starter he ran 16 times against Charleston Southern. Ellison also got 16 carries as Indiana trundled to 3.6 YPC against an FCS school.
Indiana will spread Michigan out and try to take advantage of six-on-six or even seven-on-six in the box, and while there's always the possibility of a breakdown they should mostly get slaughtered.
KEY MATCHUP: MO HURST vs HIS OWN UFR RECORD. Indiana has an interior line similar to MSU's.
Pass Defense vs Indiana
Cobbs is a true #1
This segment will be more interesting largely because of Simmie Cobbs. As anyone who watched Cobbs turn Denzel Ward into a corncob for the better part of a half in IU's opener against OSU knows, dude can catch some footballs. At a sinuous 6'4", Cobbs is a guy who's open even when he's covered and will provide a challenge for whoever is covering him.
Unfortunately for Indiana, Cobbs has kind of fallen out of the downfield offense due to QB and OL issues. His catch rate of 69% is very nice; a yards per catch of 11.2 is in the possession receiver range for a guy who is emphatically better than that. Indiana has not been able to activate him downfield sufficiently. Ramsey doesn't look like he's going to change that much. Despite a completion rate near 70%, Ramsey's averaging just over six yards an attempt.
Tight end Ian Thomas has picked up some of the slack there. Ace:
I was also impressed by tight end Ian Thomas, a redshirt junior who's solidified a TE position so weak last year that senior returning starter Danny Friend, listed at 260 pounds, was moved to offensive tackle over the offseason, the football equivalent of putting a player out to pasture. Thomas was one of IU's more effective run-blockers against PSU; he had one Wheatley-like block that caved in the backside of the line to open up a cutback on an inside zone, and they feature him as a blocker in frequently deployed split zone runs.
Thomas is also an excellent receiver. He's averaging 15.9 yards per reception while catching a shade under 70% of his targets. As those numbers indicate, he's much more than an underneath dumpoff option. He can work up the seam, and he can also haul in some really difficult catches:
<--------- Thomas was running this way and turned at full speed to catch this.
Thomas got leg-whipped in the knee against Penn State and sat out last week, but he's listed as probable for Saturday. If he's close to full speed, he's a major threat.
The rest of the IU passing offense has been dire. Their slot Luke Timian has 36 targets and is averaging 3.9 YPT, which is incredibly horrible. Donovan Hale, who is also a 6'4" downfield threat, has flashed some things in a Cobbs vein but had just seven catches this year and might be iffy to play here. Thomas and Hale both sat out the Charleston game. A true freshman is going to start if Hale can't go.
This is going to be a dink and dunk attack that tries to limit its OL's impact on the game. That early OSU game got out of hand when the Buckeyes adjusted to the quick fade routes Cobbs was killing it on; robbed of the ability to go get chunk plays based on a 1-v-1 matchup Indiana's OL got more involved and got killed. Indiana's sack rate is about average nationally largely because the Hoosiers are gameplanning around their OL.
This should feel like the MSU or Purdue games, where the opposition gets some stuff via gameplan and the occasional contested ball downfield that goes the wrong way but struggles to pass protect and execute cleanly enough underneath.
KEY MATCHUP: SIMMIE COBBS vs EVERYBODY. Cobbs is not just Indiana's biggest threat but a bellwether for emerging star Lavert Hill.
K Griffin Oakes has been around a million years, oscillating. In 2015 he was 24/29 and the #31 kicker in the country per Connelly. Last year he imploded, going 16/26 and finishing 110th. So far this year he's 5/5 on a bunch of long ones. He's not a lock, but I wouldn't expect him to miss anything from 45 in. Oakes is 50/50 on getting KOs to the endzone. Saquon Barkley housed the opening kickoff of the Penn State game, a fact which has zero relevance to Michigan.
Punter Haydon Whitehead—good lord, are these specialists or guys in an Ivy League a capella group?—averages 40 yards a boot and has given up only seven returns on 36 punts. A return opportunity is going to be a rare one.
Michigan will have to be more careful on punts than they have been so far this year. PR J-Shun Harris already has two return TDs. He's also lost a muff, so explosions are possible either direction. Kickoffs have been boring.
KEY MATCHUP: AHHHH YOU CONTINUE DOING THE THINGS YOU HAVE DONE SO FAR
- The ball is in the air headed towards a single-covered Cobbs downfield.
- O'Korn is MSU O'Korn, not Indiana O'Korn.
- The ball is in the air headed towards Not Grant Perry.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Indiana opens up with a zone stretch left.
- Michigan's able to grind 'em up on the ground for, yes, a second week running.
- Oakes and Whitehead perform the same song for the second straight year and the judges hate it.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 4 (Baseline 5; +1 for About Last Week's Offense, –1 for About Last Week's Defense, –1 for Mike Debord Versus Don Brown, –1 for LET ME REPEAT THAT: MIKE DEBORD VS DON BROWN, +1 for Spreads Creepin' Down Here Folks, –1 for Trench Battle Will Be A Blowout On One Side And Maybe OK On The Other, +1 for Anything Could Happen At QB.)
Desperate need to win level: 8 (Baseline 5; –1 for Offense In A Coma, It's Really Serious, +1 for I Mean We're Not Out Of It Yet, +1 for Oh God The Fanbase Meltdown, +1 for And Then I Have To Go On The Radio, –1 for I Have Accepted This Is A Rebuilding Year, +1 for Until The First Time Michigan Doesn't Convert A Third Down, +1 for Losing To Michigan Classic, Except Crappy Would Just Be Ugh).
Loss will cause me to... get 342 gloating twitter mentions from incognito DeBord family members, all of which I will CC Ace on.
Win will cause me to... attempt to talk myself into winning at Happy Valley.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
Indiana has a good defense. Michigan has a yowling maelstrom from the bowels of hell, and that should make the difference unless the football gods decide that they hate Michigan more than they hate Indiana, who they do hate quite a bit. Indiana has been smitten with turnovers like Michigan.
Cobbs will get his, but it'll be tough, and if Michigan can just punt to win their ability to move it on the ground in small increments should have field position tilt in their favor as they club out a win. Or they'll turn it over five times. One of the two.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Karan Higdon has a 100 yard game with a long of 15.
- Rashan Gary gets the sack denied him last week.
- Michigan twitter turns into a medusa of hissing when they show Debord in the box and then melts into a puppy when they subsequently show Mike Hart. They pretend Nick Sheridan didn't happen.
- Michigan, 19-9