Other stuff here: Ace FFFF!
|WHAT||Michigan vs Nebraska|
Ann Arbor, MI
3:30 PM Eastern
November 9th, 2013
|THE LINE||M –6.5|
|WEATHER||sunny, low 50s, 0% chance of rain|
Via Nebraska version of E3W, The Dailyer.
Liveblog: getting started around 3pm, presented by Marawatch. Former Mich. cornerback Brandon Williams will be present to talk about Go Blue Then And Now's latest efforts and what it's like to wear #12 for your entire career (since no starter has managed that since).
Take the Michigan ground game. Put it on the other side of the ball. This is the story of Nebraska's season: bogglingly utter ineptitude at stopping folks other than Purdue from running epic distances without much skill.
Now remove that team's starting quarterback but give them a Big Ten schedule reading Illinois, Purdue, Minnesota, Northwestern, and you have the Nebraska Cornhuskers: a good record against a terrible schedule and two uncompetitive losses to middling teams, with multiple close calls against bad ones.
Saturday is Michigan versus Funhouse Mirror Michigan, except Devin Gardner persists against all odds.
Run Offense vs Nebraska
After brutal disappointment last week Michigan finds sweet sanctuary in the form of the Nebraska defense, which more often than not has been ground into paste this year, often by the start of the second quarter. The Huskers opened the year by giving up 600 yards of offense to Wyoming, 219 of it on the ground. Since then they've done well against… uh… Purdue.
|South Dakota State||33||271||2||8.2|
(Omitted Southern Miss, FWIW, since USM is so bad I don't think games against them mean anything.)
Nebraska has been very good at getting to the QB, which somewhat obscures how bad they've been against actual rushes. I smashed some stats together from CFBStats to fix that issue. Here is the Big Ten against ground games:
Nebraska's been worse than Indiana over the course of this season, and basically equivalent to Purdue and Illinois. Moveable object, come on down.
Why is Nebraska so pliable on the ground? Ace:
their line got consistently pushed off the ball by Northwestern. The DEs weren't disciplined in containing the edge and the DTs couldn't get push. What this means for Michigan is a matter of considerable debate; if Borges decides it's time to go full spread-to-run, I think the Wolverines will have success getting Gardner and Toussaint to the edge. At the very least, this won't be a State-like massacre up front. …
The linebackers are a mess. This will be covered in more detail later—redshirt freshman MIKE Michael Rose made his first start against Northwestern and didn't fare well, getting out of his lane with regularity and eating blocks due to a lack of aggressiveness.
Ace highlighted a particular wow freshman experience on one of Green's rips up the middle:
A battle of blown assignments looms. That sounds pretty good to me after last week; when guys get out of lanes then it's more about seeing the opportunity and taking it more than anything else, and even if by this point Fitzgerald Toussaint would regard a gaping hole like a POW emerging into the sunlight after years of captivity, the second or third time he sees one he might do something other than gape open-mouthed in wonder.
But on the other hand. Michigan rushed for 23 yards on 20 carries against Michigan State, has struggled to put up mortal numbers against some very bad rushing defenses, and is currently spinning through interior linemen at an alarming rate. Nothing is working except murdering Devin Gardner.
I can't tell you I expect much better this week. Michigan was incapable of running from under center against the Hoosiers until a late breakthrough after the game was decided, and even then their YPC was solidly under Indiana's season average. Operating from the shotgun was effective, at least.
Michigan tends to cycle through several phases when they approach their rushing offense:
- WE ARE GOING TO MANBALL YOU
- High numbers of big sets get no yards at all
- well I guess we'll spread you out a bit but we don't like it
- Shotgun rushing is generally effective
- Weak opponent approaches
- WE ARE GOING TO MANBALL YOU
- repeat ad nauseum
This is a prime candidate for manball reset, as Michigan's coming off a game where they couldn't run in any formation and can thus vaguely justify gravitating back towards their desires. That would be bad except Nebraska may just shatter anyway. But still probably bad.
Key Matchup: Michigan busts versus Nebraska busts. QUIEN ES MAS BUSTO
[Hit THE JUMP for aw hamburgers]
Pass Offense vs Nebraska
If Michigan can't move the ball on the ground—50/50, really—and must focus on the passing game, things are going to get hairy. Nebraska's acquired 22 sacks this year—lots—and has been applying heavy pressure to the best teams on the schedule, which are… UCLA and… uh… well Minnesota, but Minnesota barely passed. And UCLA is starting at least two freshmen. So maybe Nebraska has had their numbers inflated by a parade of confused goobers who probably shouldn't be trying to pass protect before they're able to vote.
/checks Michigan's offensive line
Nebraska's sacks have come from everywhere, indicating a lot of blitzing being the source more so than #RIGHT2RUSH4, and that's what Ace saw:
The defense was pretty passive early on, and then they started sending safeties on run-blitzes and rushing five or six guys in obvious passing downs, and this worked quite well. Nebraska netted four sacks on 25 Northwestern dropbacks, and IIRC all of these came off the blitz.
Michigan got pickups against Indiana and generally did not against MSU; getting Gardner time to explore deep is very much in question. While Toussaint has been Poor Damn Toussaint on the ground, when he tries to pick up a blitz he's been a major contributor to Poor Damn Devin Gardner. Vincent Smith he's not.
The Nebraska secondary has been mostly good against a variety of terrible quarterbacks and a banged up Kain Colter:
- Brett Hundley, UCLA: 16/24, 294 yards, 12.3 YPA, 3 TD, INT
- Nate Scheelhaase, Illinois: 13/26, 135 yards, 5.2 YPA, INT
- Danny Etling, Purdue: 14/35, 5.3 YPA, TD, INT
- Phillip Nelson, Minnesota: 7/15, 152 yards, 10.1 YPA, TD
- Colter/Siemian, NW: 8/21, 81 yards, 3.9 YPA, INT.
Hundley gave them what for and Phillip Nelson got the same kind of YPA that service academies do because they never throw the ball; Scheelhaase, Etling, and NW's quarterbacks were boa-constrictored. Nebraska got at least three sacks in those three games, BTW.
Passing downs for Michigan figure to be variable. Nebraska's blitz packages have been effective; Michigan's pickups have not been. But no one on the Nebraska schedule has anything like Gallon/Funchess in their lineup save UCLA's deep, quality WR corps (familiar names include ND transfer Shaq Evans and on-and-off M recruit Jordan Payton), and that set of guys ripped Nebraska open.
Key matchup: Michigan's OL versus Devin Gardner's jersey. Clean. Clean-ish. Not black as Jim Tressel's soul. Please?
Run Defense vs Nebraska
Abdullah is a jet
First things first: due to a Black Knight-style list of injuries, Taylor Martinez has been declared out for Saturday. Since this is Nebraska, this is very much worth mentioning in the run defense section. Also out are starting guards Spencer Long and Jake Cotton; Nebraska does get tight end Jake Long (not that Jake Long) back from a hamstring injury suffered against Illinois.
The injuries have forced Nebraska to scramble on the OL, moving center Cole Pensick to guard to play against the Wildcats and debating whether to insert a senior utility backup instead. The impact on Nebraska's run game: minimal. Abdullah went for 127 on 24 carries against Northwestern.
Are you done throwing socks at the cat? No.
Okay. Here we go.
Martinez's replacement has generally been Tommy Armstrong, Jr., a redshirt freshman out of Texas who brings the same dynamic running ability and erratic passing that Martinez does. At least hypothetically. Before Nebraska's Hail Mary win against Northwestern last week, Armstrong's three starts had not seen him acquire more than 38 yards in any particular game, or ten carries. That changed against the Wildcats with 17 carries, but Armstrong still hasn't broken a carry of more than 15 yards so far this season and is averaging 3.9 yards an attempt.
Unfortunately, Nebraska hasn't really needed their quarterbacks to produce a ton because Ameer Abdullah is tearing people into little tiny pieces of sadness. Let's call them Toussaints. To a Michigan fan, his stats are boggling: 157 carries for 1108 yards, 7.1 yards a pop. He's gone over 100 yards in every game this year save the loss against UCLA, when he had 98. He's a big play threat who rips off a 20 yarder every game, again save UCLA. Here's his entire outing against USM:
You are advised not to let him get the edge, advised that that is sometimes easier said than done against the option, and exhorted not to let him run unfettered at a safety. His position at Michigan would be third string slot receiver. On the other hand, he doesn't break many tackles and doesn't run over defenders.
Nebraska also features Imani Cross, a thudding sophomore who is the power half of their duo. He's still averaging over five yards a carry, though his carries are clustered heavily in Nebraska's easiest games. The last couple weeks he's only acquired seven attempts; it's been all Abdullah. He probably won't have a major role.
The Nebraska offense is spread 'n' shred oriented with more pure old-school option elements. They'll run all manner of things, as you well know, and tend to test the outside with option pitches while using traditional zone reads as a more interior option. With Abdullah the main guy they're better at the former than the latter.
Michigan's defense held up well against Michigan State until a late collapse that was part getting burned by playcalls, part fatigue, part desperate aggression backfiring. Before that they'd held MSU to 68 yards on the ground, with Willie Henry and Frank Clark emerging into pocket-pushing threats. That is half-relevant against the Huskers, which bring a nose-tackle demanding style but one in which loaded boxes will be rare and the secondary much more involved on the edge.
I don't know how that will go, as Michigan hasn't faced anything approximating Nebraska's offense since last year, when Michigan did pretty well against the Cornhuskers before a similar story kicked in after Russell Bellomy's second or third interception. Minnesota is the closest approximation; Michigan by in large shut the Gophers down aside from a number of frustrating Mitch Leidner scrambles. Abdullah brings a much bigger threat on the edge, though. Minnesota's offense is more of a slightly modified shotgun manball approach instead of a Northwestern/Nebraska pitch-heavy thing. Countess and Taylor will have their run support tested, not to mention Thomas Gordon and Jarrod Wilson.
Key Matchup: Wilson/Gordon versus Abdullah in space. It's going to happen, and a tackle here or there is going to save or cede 30 yards.
Pass Defense vs Nebraska
throwing motion less wack, at least?
For all the crap Martinez gets for his throwing motion, he was one of the Big Ten's most efficient quarterbacks last year, with a 7.8 YPA and 23 touchdowns, albeit against 12 interceptions. Armstrong has been a step down, mostly with his Gardnerian interception rate: 6 on 75 attempts. He started off with a quality YPA against South Dakota State and Illinois; his last two starts (Martinez played against Minnesota) have been not so much:
- Purdue: 6 of 18 for 43 yards, 3 INT
- Northwestern: 15 for 29, 173 yards, 1 TD, 3 INTs
That latter game is 5.8 YPA with three picks and got him pulled for Ron Kellogg III and that's quite a bit better than his Purdue outing. Kellogg, a pocket passing senior walk-on, requires a near-complete departure from what Nebraska wants to do. Before last week he'd gotten only spot duty late in blowouts; against NW* he had 55 yards and an INT on 12 attempts before the Hail Mary. All four Northwestern interceptions where ugly it's-all-your-fault throws, and that figures to continue against a Michigan secondary that's verged on ballhawking this year.
The injury plague hits here, too, as starting receiver Jameel Turner has been ruled out for this one. Top WR Kenny Belly missed the Northwestern game but is expected to play this weekend, whether or not he's fully healthy. Nebraska does still have senior Quincy Enunwa, for various injury reasons Nebraska's leading WR, and freshman Jordan Westerkamp. Abdullah is also a frequent target out of the backfield.
Michigan hopes to see both quarterbacks since that'll probably mean Armstrong is struggling; either way expect Nebraska to be very conservative, keeping the ball away from the center of the field and being run heavy on non-passing downs.
Michigan will seek to put Nebraska in those passing downs, where they should be able to expect success. Coverage has been good-not-great and vulnerable to well-placed throws over the top, but Nebraska doesn't seem poised to make those what with backup quarterbacks and injured wideouts.
Pressure, a major bugaboo all year, is probably not coming without blitzes unless the rotating doors on Nebraska's line break down, but hey, they just might, and if there is an opportunity to blitz a guy this year it should be the freshman with six picks in his last two games.
Play action on standard downs will be a test. Nebraska's offense is very good about forcing your safeties to participate, and JT Floyd can attest that sometimes when you make a wrong read you get smoked over the top. Expect at least a couple incidents where option play action threatens to blow the defense to smithereens.
*[This blog awards "NU" to the winner of the NW-NU game, which is the UNL-NU game in the event of a NW victory.]
Key Matchup: Mattison versus Tommy Armstrong's brain. Every Michigan fan is pleading Mattison to fire up the blitzing against an inexperienced, turnover prone quarterback. Rattle the dude and the ball may become yours.
Nebraska always has a good kicker; they have a good kicker. Pat Smith is 7/8 on the year and was perfect on ten attempts last year. He does not have a big leg, with a career long of 46. Punter Sam Foltz is averaging 41 a pop and only eight of his kicks have been run back, for an average of seven yards.
There's nothing notable in Nebraska's kick return or coverage stats, but don't expect many opportunities for Norfleet: their KO guy is putting two thirds of his attempts in the end zone.
This probably shouldn't be a huge swing point unless suddenly-shaky Brendan Gibbons pops one off the wrong side of the upright instead of the right side.
Key Matchup: YOU PUT THE BALL THROUGH THE UPRIGHTS
- Devin Gardner gets hit so hard he folds in half, declares himself Grand Wazir of the Shia Caliphate, and orders the beheading of his offensive line while also offering up a pick-six.
- Abdullah's getting the edge on Michigan's safeties, who haven't seen anything like the guy so far this year.
- Michigan's rushing three on a passing down.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- A befuddled Tommy Armstrong sets his sights on linebacker chests.
- Michigan is moving the ball on the ground. (IMPORTANT: FORWARD.)
- Ron Kellogg the third has 20 passing attempts.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 5 (Baseline 5; +1 for Did You See That Last Week?, –1 for Which Thing, The Michigan Game Or The Hail Mary, –1 for Turnover Prone Backup QB Opponent, –1 for Injury Battered Offense In Other Ways As Well, +1 for Injury Battered NU OL Is Still Something I'd Swap For The Michigan OL In A Hot Second, +1 for Devin Gardner's Probably Going To Vomit Blood At Some Point This Year, –1 for Home Is Where The Lack Of Brutal Depression Is, +1 for Sort Of)
Desperate need to win level: 5 (Baseline 5; –1 for Ain't Winning Division, –1 for Ain't Going To Rose Bowl, –1 for Ain't Doing Any BCS Things And Lord Do You Even Want To, Really?, +1 for Soul Searching Mailbag Posts Are No Fun, +1 for It Would Be Nice To Actually Enjoy A Game This Year, +1 for Home Winning Streak)
Loss will cause me to... HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT NIK STAUSKAS SIR
Win will cause me to... pick through lava floes on Mount Pelini very carefully as I exit the stadium.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
In the moveable object/resistible force battle I tend to favor having a bath and pretending something else is happening. Teams will trade ugly TFLs with ugly gaping holes that result in big plays, so that seems to be slight advantage Michigan.
If Gardner's seeing the open guys downfield on obligatory max protect PA events, Michigan could/should hit some big plays, but that seems in question since covering Gallon but not Funchess works out quite well (MSU) but not the reverse (Indiana). Rawness is ever-more apparent as the season goes deeper, and Nebraska's strength on D is aimed at (one of) Michigan's prime weaknesses, so along with various run TFL Gardner's probably going to eat a number of drive killing sacks. Stops and starts and a point total in the mid-20s.
On the other side of the ball, Nebraska's going to be rolling the dice hard every time they try to throw the ball and will seek to avoid that. Their run game is significantly less diverse with Armstrong at the helm and Kellogg isn't going anywhere, so it's all about containing Abudllah. Survey says… middling, like always with this particular edition of the Michigan defense. That should be enough to keep things comfortably in Michigan's favor; wacky turnover seem to be about even in this one.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Michigan rotates a few backs through the lineup, gets decent production as Nebraska plays way softer than Michigan State, and still fails to crack 4 yards a carry for tailbacks… except for something that goes 50.
- Tommy Armstrong throws an interception to Devin Gardner, who throws it back to Armstrong, on the same play. Ron Kellogg III plays all-time QB the rest of the game. (Seriously: Armstrong and Gardner match each other in TOs.)
- Devin Funchess busts 100 yards receiving.
- Michigan, 25-19