Note: had more planned for today but illness intervened and saw me sleep for 12 hours yesterday. So we'll see how it goes the rest of the day. Will be slightly light, unfortunately. Right: no respect, I tell you. Via Kevin Rozek.
|WHAT||#20 Michigan vs Michigan State|
|WHERE||Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, MI|
|WHEN||12:00 EST, October 3rd, 2009|
|THE LINE||Michigan State –3.5|
|TELEVISION||Nationwide on BTN|
|WEATHER||50s, 60% chance of rain|
Run Offense vs. State
The strength of Michigan's team goes up against the relative strength of the Michigan State defense. Numbers from games against I-A competition:
That's shinier than Michigan's defense has done so far. ND went for 154 yards on 30 carries against Michigan. But Michigan's rush offense sits at #8 nationally even after a comical parade of botched snaps and odd rules (intentional grounding counts as a sack in the stats and comes off your rushing totals) saw Indiana "hold" Michigan to 149 yards that were more like 220.
Still, Michigan's only gone up against one defense that should be of the approximate caliber of Michigan State and it was ND. Against ND, Michigan acquired 199 yards on 36 carries, 5.5 per attempt.
Will Michigan be able to replicate this? Points in favor:
State is scrambling on the DL. Four-star C recruit Blake Treadwell, a coaches' kid, got moved to DL and is set to lose his redshirt in this game:
"When it's time to play, it's time to play ... If he's ready to play and he can help us, coach Dantonio and coach Treadwell feel good about it," Narduzzi continued.
Spectacularly named Kevin Pickelman is "banged up"; starter Jerel Worthy is a redshirt freshman and kind of tubby, so he's prone to tire. Meanwhile, the Free Press was reporting that Dion Sims might be moved to DE for this game (wha?), but the reliable paper in Detroit says that's not the case:
"I don't know anything about that," Gill said. "Don't even search for that. He's a tight end in our offense and that's what he plays."
Non-Jones linebackers appear to be horrible. It's too bad the MSUFR folks just got up and running because then it would give some context to these numbers from the UW game:
Jebus in a handbasket going to church on Tuesday. This speaks of metric fail to me, and Dr. Detroit:
First, the scoring system is inconsistent. I gave points to Misch and Decker that I did not give to Jones, so the numbers are too positive. Second, the scoring system I setup is pretty much guaranteed to have LBs be in the negative. Every time a LB gets blocked, I scored that as a negative. Gordon and Misch got blocked a lot. This could be intentional. They eat up the blockers and Jones is then able to make a play. It would be really stupid for it to be intentional though. Misch did have a play where he avoided a blocker and made a tackle which leads me to believe they are not trying to engage blockers. Misch looks like he needs more experience and practice at avoiding blockers.
It's apparent that the MSU coaches are trying to replace Misch with true freshman and hyped recruit Chris Norman, but he's just not ready. the other OLB is Eric Gordon, who Dr. Detroit describes as a block magnet. If Michigan can get to Jones, the safeties are going to have to make a lot of tackles.
Michigan State will adjust to this year's big gasher to date. Our beloved zone counter dive was defended by Indiana and Michigan saw a steep decline in bighuge running plays. Only three Michigan rushes broke ten yards. Defending this like so…
…naturally opens up other things; Michigan will have to adapt and throw something out that's not a proven winner. I'm betting they will, but it remains to be seen whether that's going to be as much of a winner. My bet? An effective variant of the "Cut it up Tate" play where the H-back peels off and kicks out the contain LB, opening up copious room for Tate or, better, Denard.
David Molk is gone. From the snap issues to the presence of a non-starter in the lineup to the wholesale realignment of 3/5ths of the line, that's damaging. David Moosman got a few sweet blocks against Indiana but this Worthy guy is a bigger dude and may be tougher to handle. Or he may just get tired easily and not have the agility to keep up.
All told? Michigan will get its yards on the ground against a DT rotation that's thin and prone to tire and a linebacking corps that Michigan might not actually trade for. Rodriguez should prove his gashing bonafides.
Key Matchup: Schilling and Huyge against Jones. Getting Jones to the ground is how Michigan turns five yards into 50.
Pass Offense vs. State
Our pissed off play annotator has revealed something: even against spread personnel Michigan State generally sticks with a 4-3 package, using WLB Eric Gordon as a slot defender. This is in contrast to Michigan's other A-level opponent to date. Notre Dame stuck a safety directly over the slot and took away perimeter screens. If Michigan State stays in the same package they've been in so far, the slots should find themselves considerably more involved in the game plan.
Unfortunately for Michigan, Martavious Odoms is not Mike Floyd, but as we saw against Eastern this year and several times the year before, if you leave base personnel on the field and shade your linebackers halfway between the box and the slot (the "gray area," according to Rodriguez), Michigan will go to the slot guys with regularity.
There's the catch, though: last year Michigan State obviously spent a lot of time on the Michigan game and snuffed out Odoms' wheel routes with coverage packages that took it away. Threet had to come off it or throw horrible interceptions into it. I made the mistake of assuming Notre Dame would stick with two-wide packages against M and I'd like to not repeat that mistake. In the Wisconsin game, State did go to a nickel package on some passing downs. But to do that they lift a DL:
Michigan State had exactly zero plays with anything other than 3 LBs on the field. MSU defensively is either in a 4-3 Stack with the LBs 5 yards off the LOS, or they are blitzing. If I can pick it up that easy, so can everyone else. MSU will go to a nickel coverage. … MSU takes out a defensive tackle and adds a defensive back. Then sends a linebacker on a blitz.
Lifting Jon Misch, a former walk-on with all of ten tackles on the year battling for his job with a true freshman, is not exactly going to kill your defense. But so it goes.
Unless Michigan State shows something it hasn't so far, nickel packages will be 3-3-5s on obvious passing downs and Michigan will be up against the standard 4-3 against a spread, something that gave us all hives last year. And its giving MSU hives this year:
This is simply a bad defensive scheme and there is no excuse for continuing in this fashion.
Compounding matters was a vast lack of pressure on UW QB Scott Tolzien last week. He didn't get sacked and was hurried maybe a couple times in the process of going 15 for 20 for four touchdowns. This goes against MSU's previous marker, when they got better pressure on ND than Michigan did, sacking Clausen twice. Even then, MSU fans seemed discontent with the DL:
- Unfortunately it seems our defense will be an issue all season. The lack of pressure from the front 4 will continue to be an issue in the run and passing game. Add in that with the disappointing play of the secondary to date and we’ll struggle against good offenses.
On the other side of the ball, Michigan's had serious pass protection issues at right tackle, though.
As far as the rest of the offense goes, Tate Forcier remains a scarily-accurate rollout machine who occasionally does something idiotic because he's a true freshman, and the receivers remain largely pedestrian non-deep threats. Given the tendency of the MSU linebackers to suck up against the run and the absolute field day UW tight ends had against Michigan State, this might be the game in which Kevin Koger goes nuts; also, if Michigan State isn't prepared for the Carlos Brown wheel route and tries to defend it with Misch or Gordon, Brown's streak of plays that go more than 50 yards might continue. Protection, protection is the key.
Key Matchup: Perry Dorrestein versus Trevor Anderson or Other Michigan State DE. If Michigan can get some lawyaz blocked, there is the potential for much fun toying with the State secondary. This is questionable.
Run Defense vs. State
These are all sacks-removed, which significantly colors them. 5.1 YPC drops to 4, FWIW, if you include Wisconsin's two sacks. That's the whole point of removing sacks, but adjust your TV sets to take that into account. These numbers are obviously not great, especially when they've come against a collection of rush defenses as motley as the crew above. Though the total numbers don't show it yet because of wildly uneven schedules, whenever opponents have gone up against good rushing attacks they've crumbled. Arizona, a BCS team about on par with MSU this year, put up 246 yards against Central. Michigan hit Notre Dame up for 190 yards. And despite playing NIU, Fresno State, and Wofford along with MSU, Wisconsin is 73rd in rush defense. Fresno went for 179 yards on 39 carries, NIU 129 on 32, and Wofford(!) had 214 yards, though that was on 55 carries. The Woffordians must run some sort of crazy triple option because more guys got carries(10) than Wofford had passing attempts(7).
So MSU's run problems are real and the Wisconsin game improvement is at least partially an artifact of coming up against a seriously dodgy run defense. The other part is the steady fall of Caulton Ray down the depth chart in favor of Win-at-all-Costs Winston and freshman Larry Caper. Winston is either a smaller version of Brandon Minor or Jehuu Caulcrick with more burst. He runs through arm tackles, trucks people, and has good speed for his size but has zero wiggle. He runs in a straight line until tackled. This is probably good for Michigan's defense, which has been good about cutting off primary running lanes of late and terrible at controlling unexpected cutbacks. Caper isn't that different from Winston but has more jump; he popped outside Wisconsin linebackers a couple times and might actually be a better fit when it comes to attacking Michigan's defense. I'd be more worried about him, though as a freshman it's hard to give him a zillion carries when you're a passing team and his blitz pickups are, I assume, shaky.
In the Wisconsin game, State was running a lot of zone plays. This was odd to me after UFRing a couple of State games in which power off tackle plays were almost the only run play in the arsenal. Maybe it fits better with State's primary backs, as Winston is not a guy who goes anywhere except down if you make him bounce it outside, but as a one-cut mooseback he was decently effective against Wisconsin. The problem for MSU is that their linemen are mostly tubby guys recruited to blow people off the ball and MSU basically never got the nice playside DT reach blocks that are a staple of Michigan's stretch game. M linebackers should be wary of the cutback behind the center, where MSU did most of its erratic damage against Wisconsin.
One thing to note is that the Michigan State offensive line has been seriously banged up and is torn between getting starters back and putting what looks like a starting five on the field and dragging a true freshman on the field:
Henry Conway, a freshman tackle, made the team dress list for the Sept. 19 trip to Notre Dame, but has yet to play a snap this season. …Injuries to the line and the unit's difficulty to establish a consistent running game might create opportunities for Conway.
Starting left guard Joel Foreman didn't play against the Badgers because of an ankle injury. Tackle J'Michael Deane injured his leg earlier this season and also didn't play. Joel Nitchman, a starting center, moved to guard at Wisconsin, while John Stipek once again played center to help fill a void.
On the other side of the ball, Michigan has been pretty damn uninspiring itself, allowing an 85-yard touchdown to Indiana and turning Armando Allen into a massive threat. In the first four weeks of the season, Michigan has decided it's going to slant like hell, leave the linebackers back, and watch them screw up a lot. The slanting was a problem that got fixed; the linebackers are still a work in progress They have begun to screw up less often these days, but seeing a Caper bounceout like a couple that happened against Wisconsin is extremely easy. Winston might have a couple runs that crease the line; most of the time he's just going to run up into a bunch of dudes and go not very far.
Key Matchup: Caper versus Mouton/Brown on bounceouts. I think the problem with the State run game is a mismatch between the line's talents and those of the backs, and that Michigan's slanting, undersized, athletic line will be well suited to crush the zone plays Winston does well in. So then you've got the athletic guy versus linebackers dodgy at contain. I think this is where MSU gets any runs longer than ten yards.
Pass Defense vs. State
Yerrrrgh. For the record, Michigan State is not really the top passing offense in the Big Ten. Almost half of their passing yards against Wisconsin game in pure garbage time when Nichol came in with 5 minutes left in the game and Wisconsin up three touchdowns. Without that they fall all the way from 320 yards a game to 276 and are now the… uh… #2 passing team in the Big Ten, behind Northwestern. Hamburgers.
This almost can't go well. State has three excellent receivers, two of whom have the size and speed to get deep. Mark Dell showed an outstanding ability to adjust to deep throws against Wisconsin and caught a picture-perfect 20-yard-fade from Cousins for State's first touchdown. And BJ Cunningham had a spectacular touchdown reception of his own. Dion Sims and a vast array of other TEs—seriously MSU has like 4 or 5—look like field-stretching seam threats. And when Kirk Cousins isn't inexplicably throwing the ball directly to an opponent (he did this again versus Wisconsin) he's zinging darts. Sometimes the darts are thrown way too high and hard; sometimes they are deposited into the receiver's facemask.
There's just one hope, and it's the usual when your team can't cover a dead donkey: pressure. I do think there's some chance Michigan gets to the quarterback consistently. My stream of consciousness notes on the UW game have several instances of same:
no agility... roh? PI first down.
wisconsin gets to cousins, he throws terrible int. lots of UW pass rush so far.
max pro on third and thirteen still gets pressure, flushing cousins, sidearm dart (DO, 1) to dell on sideline for first(!). ooh went oob first.
zig route thrown behind with pressure. maybe not so good with pressure?
horrible lack of pickup on four man rush causes short hitch 3 yards
There was also an instance where Cousins scrambled out of the pocket and could have run for ten or so yards but instead attempted to rifle the ball and it went way out of the endzone. He is a pocket guy not comfortable on the move and if Michigan gets to him he will not respond well. My prescription for this game is TAH-NOO-TAH; I will cringe at any three man rush. If you're worried about screens spy with a DT.
Note: Roh? I mean it. Wisconsin had a true freshman OLB they were sending on edge rushes who was just going right around the MSU RT; his lack of agility was apparent. On passing downs where Roh can just unleash the eyebrows, he can get to Cousins.
Key Matchup: Pounding rain? If not that, yes, again, Brandon Graham versus the life that hates him very very much.
The special teams were huge for Michigan against Indiana but this figures to be an even matchup. Stone me for this heresy, but the punting battle should be about even. While Zoltan the Inconceivable has punted Michigan into the top ten in net punting with a 42.2 net average, Michigan State's guy is just a yard behind. Michigan should be more likely to get a decent return, FWIW: half of State's punt have been returned for almost nine yards each; fewer than a quarter of Michigan's have come back and opponents are average under six yards a return.
Michigan State has an edge at kicker, where Brett Swenson is excellent. Jason Olesnavage has been pretty good so far, going 3/4 on the year with a couple outside 40 yards, but missed a chip shot in the Notre Dame game.
Michigan combats that edge with an edge in kick returns, where they're 22nd to MSU's 52nd. Darryl Stonum has consistently been bringing kicks out to the 30 or 40 with the odd return that ends up on the opponent's side of midfield or in the endzone.
Key Matchup: It's rainy. HOLD ON TO THE DAMN BALL.
Glenn Winston cat is Glenn Winston cat.
- Trevor Anderson is zipping past Dorrestein when Michigan tries to throw out of the pocket.
- Tate's throwing arm explodes.
- Michigan is not getting to the quarterback.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- It rains like a mofo.
- Graham and Roh give Cousins no time to throw.
- Hello, Keith Nichol!
Fear/Paranoia Level: 6 out of 10. (Baseline 5, +1 for First Road Game For Many, +1 for Kirk Cousins vs CissokoFloyd, –1 Forcier vs DavisClark And That's Just One Last Name, +1 for Their Receivers Are More Likely To Make Sucky Secondaries Pay, –1 for They've Got More Chaos, –1 for Pucker, Pucker, Pucker, +1 for Weather Could Do Anything).
Desperate need to win level: 7 out of 10. (Baseline 5, –1 for Would Be Totally Understandable To Lose This One, +1 for But Really, Really Annoying, +1 for Would Make Dantonio's Offseason Bluster Laughable Psych-Out Stuff, Man, +1 for Not Winning Would Make For A Week Of Columns Praising a 2-3 Team So Dumb I Might Have An Aneurysm.)
Loss will cause me to... promise to myself I'll avoid columns of legendary stupidity this week, and then break that promise.
Win will cause me to... can you frame a post-game press conference? Someone let me know.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
There are too many wild cards—first road game, weather, Forcier's shoulder—in this game to have much faith in the prediction below, but, you know, strictures and conventions.
I'm really bothered by the line shift. Michigan was favored by one early in the week and is now a 3.5 point dog. Getting over 3 is kind of a big deal. What is it that the books see that's not apparent here? It is clear that Michigan and State are far closer than your average 4-0 and 1-3 teams, and the smart money isn't dumb enough to fall for Michigan State's offensive explosion against Wisconsin second-stringers, right?
I am disquieted, because I don't think State's schedule has been that much tougher than Michigan's relative to their performance. I-AA vs Eastern is basically meaningless. ND is the same except for home/road, and Western and Central may not be equal but one was a 24 point win and the other a loss in which MSU got outgained badly. And though Indiana at home is way easier than Wisconsin on the road, this Wisconsin team scraped by NIU and went to double overtime against a non-good edition of Fresno State, and oh by the way Michigan beat Indiana and MSU was basically blown out by Wisconsin until garbage time hijinks brought it closer.
The impressiveness of these games, IME: Push, push, M, M. So why the line swing? The only news during the week of relevance was the continued insistence that Tate Forcier would be totally fine. I don't get it, and I don't think it's meaningless, and that makes me nervous.
But I don't get it so let me forge ahead: I think Michigan's rushing defense is much better equipped to handle a Glenn Winston than a bouncy outside back and I believe the slanting issues against Notre Dame have been fixed, which means MSU's to-date moribund ground game shouldn't be much better than it's been so far. Cousins will tear Michigan apart but that line should crack enough to allow a sack or three and Michigan will get its share of stops.
On the other side of the ball, it all comes down to pass protection. I think they'll get their yards on the ground to the tune of at least 5 YPC and will do well enough in the passing game.
Finally, opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Brandon Graham never sacks anyone again.
- Minor and Brown about split the carries, with one going over 100 and the other coming close.
- Michigan pulls something out of the bag of tricks.
- Forcier does not get nervous.
- Michigan, 31-27.