Ann Arbor, MI
November 5th, 2016
|THE LINE||Michigan –31|
|WEATHER||sunny, about 60
0% chance of rain
Maryland! The Big Ten's less embarrassing cable subscriber grab hired Michigan defensive coordinator DJ Durkin this offseason and looks set to embark on a period of relative success. Maryland's recruiting has already improved radically—right now they're 14th nationally and look set to finish no worse than fourth in the league. The team, meanwhile, has stopped handing out interceptions to any defensive back or homeless man they encounter on the street. At 5-3, Maryland is obviously moving in the right direction.
They'll find out how much over the next three weeks. Since those three weeks are games against Michigan, Ohio State, and Nebraska the likely answer is "not nearly enough," but Rutgers awaits at year's end to provide the sweet succor of bowl eligibility.
This weekend not so much. Vegas has installed Michigan a five-score favorite.
Run Offense vs Maryland
LB Shane Cockerille used to be a dual threat QB, and is bad at both spots
This should be a preposterous blowout. Maryland is #127 of 128 D-I teams in S&P+ rush defense. They gave up 10 yards on 27 attempts in their Big Ten opener against Purdue. Since:
- PSU: 62 rushes, 372 yards, 6 YPA
- Minnesota: 48 rushes, 229 yards, 4.8 YPA
- MSU: 44 rushes, 270 yards, 6.1 YPA
- Indiana: 57 rushes, 414 yards, 7.3 YPA
In addition, Maryland has a 5 YPA, 200 yard day ceded to FIU. Just run the ball a bunch and eventually you will have between two and four hundred yards.
Despite all that above, PFF actually thinks that many Maryland run defenders are good, even great. They rotate six defensive linemen; PFF has all but one significantly positive against the run. DE Roman Braglio is the one exception, and he's only slightly negative.
Therefore the back seven is terrible, you assume, and this is... not actually correct. PFF has LBs Shane Cockerille –12.1 and Jermaine Carter Jr –5.8; everyone else is either around even or significantly positive. The Maryland run D, which has put up the numbers above, is collectively +33.1 per PFF numbers. So... that's bizarre.
I guess we'll find out how that can be the case on Saturday. Maryland's results are so consistently horrible that it would be a surprise if Michigan didn't replicate them; Seth didn't really think much of anyone except DT Kingsley Opara, who penetrates a ton and is super-easy to trap as a result. Maryland is good at stopping short yardage (20th nationally) but dead last in in adjusted line yards, so my working hypothesis is that Maryland's front seven gambles a ton—they get a lot of TFLs from their DL—and loses big when they don't get in the backfield.
Michigan's already faced a defense playing similarly: Illinois, which flung players at the LOS pell-mell and occasionally had that work. Michigan ran for 5.4 YPC when Karan Higdon cracked the code late. Maryland might play out similarly; they're worse, though, and are more likely to just get stomped early and late.
KEY MATCHUP: MICHIGAN INTERIOR LINEMEN versus PENETRATION FROM THE DL. They're going to penetrate; stay attached and push them past their spots and it'll be fine.
[Hit THE JUMP for OH MAN THIS LINE against MICHIGAN'S DL is a THING I SAY EVERY WEEK NOW]
Pass Offense vs Maryland
Hill is the top CB with Likely out
Star cornerback Will Likely was knocked out for the season a few weeks ago and will not participate. This is a major loss for the Terrapins because Likely was their best DB by some distance. The rest of the Maryland pass defense is... on the field. More we cannot say.
The combination of Maryland's rush defense and the opposition's quarterback situation has led to some absurd games, like Minnesota passing for 82 yards and winning by three touchdowns. Penn State had just 19 attempts for 8 YPA; Indiana had just 26 attempts despite getting 9.1 YPA. MSU threw just 24 times despite losing 28-17. Only Purdue, which is Purdue, took to the air early and often. Being Purdue, they gathered 3.7 YPA. There has been no opposition even slightly comparable to Michigan, which has a top-ten S&P+ pass offense and a quarterback in a virtual tie atop the Big Ten passer rating efficiency rankings.
For what it's worth, CB Alvin Hill is grading out well on PFF. The rest of the secondary is not. Nobody is a Demetrious Cox-level boat anchor but the rest of the starters are –1, –2, –3, in that range. You will be unsurprised to note that Maryland is third nationally in the S&P+ metric that measures explosiveness. Durkin is still putting that safety in Bolivia and keeping everything in front of his team.
The aforementioned Kingsley Opara is Maryland's only impact pass rusher on the line; Carter chips in a healthy amount from the second level. The other guys have been solid, though, so Maryland is pretty good at getting to the QB—29th in adjusted sack rate.
Given Maryland's to-date largely untested secondary and Wilton Speight's inconsistent play so far this year. A wide range of possibilities exists here. Speight is trending up and I expect him to continue doing so, and Michigan's play action game should be effective against a jumpy linebacker level. Maryland's about on the level of MSU and Illinois as an overall defense; I'd expect about the same overall results, which these days means completing about two-thirds of your passes for 8, 9, or even 10 YPA.
KEY MATCHUP: WILTON SPEIGHT versus WEEK THREE OF THE RUDOCKENING.
Run Defense vs Maryland
Does the Big Ten have an award for best player who can't go on a rollercoaster? They should. Lorenzo Harrison wins.
Michigan is likely to win this game easily, but this matchup will be tense throughout. It's the closest thing to an Ohio State preview Michigan's defense will face. Maryland runs an RPO-oriented spread and will try to misdirect and confuse Michigan as much as possible, but mostly in the service of getting the ball past the Michigan defensive line.
Maryland has been very good at this so far this year. Their top two backs are lighting it up. Combined, Lorenzo Harrison and Ty Johnson have 1199 yards already at a stunning 8.6 YPC. With Hills chipping in 280 yards himself and a couple of backs farther down the roster pumping out 6 YPC, Maryland has one of the most statistically impressive run offenses in the country. As a team they're 11th nationwide in YPC despite giving up a ton of sacks, a hair in front of... Ohio State.
Both Harrison and Johnson are little dudes. Harrison is an extremely little one at 5'8", but he's a darting inside runner who will take advantage of tiny or ephemeral creases.
Johnson's just under six foot and less explosive, but he's still got a bunch of shake to him.
With help from various backups and the QBs, Maryland has bombed many of their opponents, cracking five yards a carry against MSU and Indiana; they had a ridiculous 8.7 against Purdue.
Maryland has been held in check a couple of times. 38 rushes for 170 yards against Penn State is just okay, especially since that was during the middle of PSU's injury crisis at linebacker; the next week they could manage only 130 yards on 36 carries. Both of those games featured the backup quarterback, however. While Michigan's run defense is far better than anything Maryland has seen to date, you can say the same thing about Maryland's run offense. They're 18th in S&P+; Michigan hasn't played anyone better than mid-40s. This is an opportunity for Michigan to prove itself.
After LJ Scott burned Michigan several times in the open field, the Maryland backs pose a stiff test. Maryland isn't likely to have a ton in the way of fancy super scripted drives in the aftermath of a barnburning loss to Indiana, and they are a spread team that Michigan's 4-2-5 is better suited to face. Maryland will get some chunks; they are good enough to do so. Michigan should be able to bash them into a passing down with regularity, and once things get there they don't look so hot for the Terrapins.
This could be another near-200 yard day ceded at close to five a clip and we'll be looking at the OSU game with apprehension. It could be a total stoning and we'll be trying to fast forward to The Game posthaste. Either way it'll be the most interesting thing going on this Saturday. Expect a lot of Michigan's 3-3 front and corresponding anti-spread blitzes.
KEY MATCHUP: MCCRAY and GEDEON versus SCATBACKS IN SPACE. Squint and you'll see Curtis Samuel this weekend.
Pass Defense vs Maryland
Maryland backup quarterback Piggy
QB Perry Hills is the biggest reason Maryland isn't a trash fire this year, and it comes down to exactly one number: three interceptions. That's his season total. Maryland almost averaged that per game last year, and Hills was one of two primary culprits. His 2016 turnaround is nothing short of stunning:
- 2015: 50% completions, 5.6 YPA, 8-13 TD-INT
- 2016: 66% completions, 7.6 YPA, 10-3 TD-INT
Hills is in a dead heat with Wilton Speight for best passer rating in the Big Ten. Their S&P+ numbers aren't particularly impressive thanks to a slate of bad defenses and backup QB Tyrrell "Piggy" Pigrome—seriously, he goes by "Piggy". Hills missed Maryland's 31-10 loss to Minnesota; Pigrome threw for 4.4 YPA with two INTs. Hills also missed the second half against PSU; Pigrome threw for 3.1 YPA in his stead. If Hills had been healthy the whole year Maryland's passing offense would be ranked much higher in fancystats. With the injuries, 81st is a major step forward considering last year's debacle.
While they're a lot better than last year and Hills has impressive efficiency numbers they're not exactly good. They run an inordinate amount on both standard and passing downs and if you can get Maryland in long yardage the offensive line is a sieve. Maryland is 125th in passing down sack rate. Hills has gone down 19 times already this year.
Meanwhile the opposition has not been a murderer's row. All but seven of Hills's attempts in conference play have come against Purdue, Michigan State, and Indiana. (The other seven were against PSU.) Michigan is a bit of a step up from those three pass defenses.
Maryland targets three receivers of almost equal stature almost equally: DJ Moore is the deep threat with 14.3 YPC, Teldrick Morgan is the chain-mover, and Levern Jacobs gets a bunch of screens.
Maryland is completely unable to protect and will spend first and second down trying to run their way to a new series; they'll mix in quick-hitters and a bunch of stuff that will test the linebackers on slants and the like. This could look a lot like the Colorado game, albeit hopefully without the huge bust or two. Ideally Michigan has plugged those holes over the middle over the past couple months.
Hill should struggle, as all QBs do against this defense. If Maryland doesn't get away with the same level of holding MSU did a week ago he'll be swarmed under. Their best shot here is to hope to break one deep on first down play action.
KEY MATCHUP: TACO CHARLTON versus OFFENSIVE LINEMEN JUMPING ON HIS BACK WHILE SCREAMING YEEE-HAW.
Maryland's only attempted eight field goals on the year; junior kicker Adam Greene has hit six, mostly of the shorter variety. He has missed an extra point. Punter Wade Lees tends to hang 'em high and short; he's averaging just under 40 yards a kick and has only seen one touchback on 43 punts. He's allowed 13 returns, none of them significant. He's a good bet to limit Peppers's impact. On the other hand, Maryland really struggles to get the ball to the endzone on kickoffs. Nobody's done anything with their opportunities so far.
With Likely out most of the threat has dropped out of Maryland returns. They've done nothing all year. They do have a blocked punt for a TD, FWIW.
On the Michigan side of things, Kenny Allen hit a 44 yarder to everyone's great relief last week; he also put in a couple of chip shots. We are ready to tentatively suggest the #collegekickers period from the Wisconsin game has passed.
Punting remains the same: Michigan has been vulnerable on returns because they're using an old fashioned punt formation, but four blocked punts against spreads are an excellent silver lining.
This should be a push unless Peppers does something ridiculous.
KEY MATCHUP: AHHHH YOU PUT IT THROUGH THE UPRIGHTS.
- Maryland's scatbacks are be-bopping their way through the Michigan linebackers a la LJ Scott.
- Michigan's 3-3 front is still leaking yards with bad attack angles and the like.
- Cole can't handle the interior DL.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
Durkin leaves his safety in Bolivia against the Pepcat.
Hill's loping through the secondary after a trap, several times.
Kenny Allen hits a couple long field goals.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 3 (Baseline 5; –1 for Ye Gods, That Rush D, –1 for I Know Perry Hills Is Better This Year But He Can't Be That Much Better, –1 for I Dunno, Look At All The Numbers, Man, +1 for Legit RBs Against A Possible Weak Point, –1 for OL Is A Sieve, +1 for I Just Want This Number To Be Higher Than MSU.)
Desperate need to win level: 10 (Baseline 5; +1 for Some Stakes On This Season, Yessir, +1 for I'm Still Mad About Last Year's OSU Gameplan, +1 for Again I Must Point Out That Losing When You're Favored By Five Touchdowns Is Bad And Makes You Feel Bad, +1 for Playoff Ho, +1 for I Mean Come On This Is The Year)
Loss will cause me to... I take it all back, DJ, I'm sorry please forgive me. I know we've come to the end of the road. I just can't let go.
Win will cause me to... impatiently wait for the S&P+ rankings to update their OSU game projection.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
This should be a very comfortable win, per every number that has ventured an opinion. But don't be surprised to see Maryland get some chunks on the ground and end up moving the ball on two or three different drives. This is a step up from Michigan's previous competition on the ground. Those drives should end when Michigan makes a play and puts Maryland in a passing down, whereupon Perry Hills will be running for his life.
On the other side of the ball, Michigan will mash them and mix in enough Speight to get up and down the field with quite a bit of speed. The version of the Michigan offense with a B+, A- Speight has been extremely impressive the last two weeks; this could be another game in which Michigan doesn't punt for a good long time. And against this run D they won't be settling for field goals.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Two different Michigan backs go over 100 yards.
- Speight has 10 YPA.
- Michigan, 43-11