|WHAT|| Michigan (5-2) vs
Ann Arbor MI
October 28st, 2017
|THE LINE||M –23.5|
|TICKETS||can be had|
|WEATHER||Low 40s, partly cloudy, 1% chance of rain, 10 mph wind|
Rutgers has gotten off the mat, sort of. They are riding a Bonafide Winning Streak, their first against Big Ten teams, after beating Illinois and Purdue in back to back weeks. They got outgained in both of those games, first by 20 against an Illinois team that is literally starting double-digit true freshmen, then by a whopping 250 against Purdue.
So... yeah. Off the mat. Sort of.
Run Offense vs Rutgers
Ross Douglas, linebacker. Yes that Ross Douglas.
Rutgers has an average-ish run defense that wants to bend but not break. They're top 20 in preventing explosive runs; they're 112th in tackles at or behind the LOS. They're in fact one spot behind Penn State in S&P+, which sounds terrible given Michigan's results Saturday. But I though the blocking was largely good and many plays were one guy away from being solid gains or even breaking big.
If I'm right and the run offense is a One Guy problem, dumb luck should see Michigan bounce back up to something like their Indiana output. That and progression for a line featuring one guy, Ben Bredeson, who is starting at the same spot he did a year ago. That's what it's about for the Michigan offense, no offense intended to Rutgers: they move guys on the OL, but the error rate remains so high that Michigan has trouble turning that ability into yards.
Meanwhile, the opposition. Rutgers's defense has finally shed Darius Hamilton. In his place they've got a burly 300 pounder who provides none of the penetration; junior Jon Bateky is sitting on half a TFL this year. Nose tackle Sebastian Joseph is also in the space-eating vein. Their edge guys on a front seven that teeters between a 3-4 and a 4-2-5 are
- Kemoko Turay, the looks-like-Tarzan-plays-like-Tarzan-because-Tarzan's-never-seen-a-football defensive end who's very tall and athletic but doesn't do much on a football field, and
- Ross Douglas. Yes. That one. The one who was a cornerback/running back/cornerback/safety at Michigan. He grad transferred and landed in the Rutgers front seven. He's listed as a linebacker at 5'10", 205.
I have no idea how this defense is even vaguely functional on the ground. Seth?
The defensive line is solid though. Longtime nose tackle Sebastian Joseph has emerged into a star and it really showed against Illinois’s awful guards. His backup, redshirt freshman Julius Turner, is a stout smart bugger who rotated in liberally and reminds me of Renes. The other DL rotate regularly through the basically interchangeable DT and SDE spots, and are all over 300 pounds.
Okay. The LB level is gross but it's tough to get to them sometimes. Meanwhile the back seven is very shaky, with those edge guys and a couple of sketchy-ish ILBs and safeties who aren't usually in your face. Rutgers might do what everyone does against Michigan these days and get in their face; that is not their preferred deployment.
This feels like a pretty good matchup since Michigan can likely cave in the Rutgers edges with regularity and their safeties are wobbly tacklers. But it's hard to bank on anything with this offense.
KEY MATCHUP: ONE GUY vs DON'T DO THAT. Michigan's run game is a man vs self situation right now.
[Hit THE JUMP for... man they photoshop cats into everything these days]
Pass Offense vs Rutgers
Turay is the tall guy
This is a very weird bundle of stats to parse. Rutgers's pass defense is good despite never getting to the quarterback. Like... ever. Rutgers is 125th in sack rate. They also give up their fair share of long plays, but they're 33rd in S&P+. Purdue and Nebraska averaged four yards an attempt. I don't get it.
Rutgers did get shredded by OSU and Washington. That I get.
Anyway, there's a bit of an injury crisis in the secondary. The Cable Subscribers' top cornerback, the oddly-named Blessuan Austin, is out for the season. In his place is Duncan Robinson, sort of: new nickel Zane Campbell is a fifth-year walk-on who spent the early part of his career at D-III Wesley College. He did not do well against Illinois. Rutgers is also scrambling through various safeties to find someone who can play; Jawuan Harris, who you may remember being Rutgers's top receiver last year, is on the verge of being a starter there.
So you've got that and a pass rush that is as close to nonexistent as possible and you're still sort of functional. That's impressive in its way, and appears to be a case of zoning everything and keeping it in front of you:
Rutgers usually rushed four, and often just three. When they brought a linebacker it was usually accompanied by the WDE dropping into coverage, and to little or zero effect. This may have been an Illinois thing—Joseph or someone would break through that line given enough time—but (sigh) you’ve seen our pass protection right?
Yes, I have. Michigan will be tested with the stunts they've had a hard time picking up all year and the near total lack of organic pass rush ability Rutgers possesses might not matter since a large portion of their problems are mental and another portion comes from the quarterback.
A team that sits back in zones doesn't sound like a great matchup for O'Korn, but when he was afforded time to throw against Penn State he did hit a number of shots against PSU's frequent zones. If Michigan can make Rutgers look like the #125 pass rush team in the country, O'Korn could settle down and be more Purdue than After Purdue. There are many ifs in there.
Another if: Brandon Peters. If Michigan is going to get their freshman out there, a home game in a low pressure situation seems like a good spot for it. Early scuffles will get the crowd grumbling, that's for certain.
KEY MATCHUP: MICHIGAN PASS PROTECTION vs THE COMICALLY EASY FIRST ENEMY YOU KILL IN AN RPG WHO THEN LEVELS YOU UP SO YOU ARE SLIGHTLY LESS UNDERPOWERED.
Run Defense vs Rutgers
Gus Edwards has a very good wyd face
Rutgers will come as welcome relief for a defense still licking their wounds from Saturday. The Cable Subscribers rank 117th in offensive S&P+, but this is largely because their pass offense is nonexistent. They've been decent on the ground, ranking 46th... somehow. All their peripheral stats are between mediocre and terrible. They are neither explosive or consistent; they get stuffed on short yardage almost half the time; almost a quarter of their carries go for zero yards.
Strength of schedule adjustments must be propping them up. The bad news for Rutgers is that Michigan is also a strength of schedule adjustment kind of defense, last week aside.
Rutgers has two main backs, both seniors. Gus Edwards is a strapping pounder listed at 235; Robert Martin is a couple inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter. Both guys have about the same results: 4.6 yards a carry and a fumble or two. Rutgers will also mix in some carries for their quarterback, whoever it is. Freshman Johnathan Lewis comes in as a wildcat guy, more or less: he has 25 carries and 12 throws this season. Giovanni Rescigno, who reclaimed the starting job before the Illinois game, is not quite as run heavy but he's not far off with 17 carries and just 30 attempts.
The resulting offense looks like your usual team of desperate misfits:
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Spread Borges circa 2011. Mehringer left an Urban Meyer spread that Jerry Kill is slowly transitioning to manball. For now, Ohio State’s base alignment—three-wide with a tight end offset and motioning—is still Rutgers’s base alignment, but the hybridization process has begun.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? A hybrid of inside zone, zone reads, and QB power. I counted 14 inside zone runs, 12 zone reads (including some Urban power stuff), and seven power runs, most of those QB power. Those three plays comprised 2/3rds of every snap in this game.
Spread and attempt to get five yards.
KEY MATCHUP: MO HURST vs (REDSHIRT) FRESHMAN RUTGERS CENTER. Yup. Welcome to the longest three hours of your life, dude.
Pass Defense vs Rutgers
Grant has just over two catches a game. That's how bad this unit is.
This has been a disaster for Rutgers and projects to continue in that vein. RU's attack is dink and dunk to an absurd extreme. Seven games in they have just 33 passes of ten yards or more, which is by far last in the conference. For perspective: Michigan has many, many problems here but still has 54 ten-yard-plus passes. They're damn near last nationally in passing explosiveness.
This has been good for their sack rate, which is sixth nationally, and terrible for most everything else. Rescigno's averaging 5.9 yards an attempt; previous starter Kyle Bolin was at 5.0, with six picks against three touchdowns. Lewis has a rather spectacular stat line: 12 attempts for 33 yards, 1.8 per, and two picks.
Unsurprisingly, the leading receivers are a tight end and a slot guy. With the exception of 6'2" senior Damon Mitchell's nine catches, it's slots, tight ends, and backs almost all the way down. There are a lot of little guys trying to juke you out here. First they have to catch the ball.
Jerome Washington is the tight end; he's averaging 8.6 yards a catch and you know exactly what that looks like. Janarion Grant, who you may remember as Rutgers Guy Doing His Part To Fire Brady Hoke, is the slot. He's a slippery guy who's trying to set an all time record for return touchdowns, and Rutgers has gotten him the ball just 16 times this year. That is barely over two touches a game for a guy you can throw screens to.
As a result of all that, Rutgers is extremely—extremely—unlikely to throw except when forced to. Seth charted their game against Illinois, which featured 20 first down runs and three passes. Rutgers runs 67% of the time on standard downs and that's a number from before the move to Rescigno. Bolin averaged around 27 attempts a game. Rescigno is at 15. They're not even dumping screens out much.
Maybe Rutgers has some things up their sleeve. It'll have to be something weird if Rutgers is going to get more than 150 passing yards. If I was Chris Ash I'd probably turtle and save all my stuff for a reeling Maryland outfit that could be your ticket to four wins, but the hate runs strong to Michigan. We'll probably see Rutgers try to pull off something goofy.
KEY MATCHUP: MICHIGAN vs TUNNEL SCREENS. Despite the near total lack of receptions for Grant you have to imagine that Michigan's previous weakness at defending screens will get tested again, because they're relatively easy to complete. Also DISCIPLINE vs TRICK PLAYS.
Kicker Andrew Harte is 4/6 on the year and must have missed a couple chip shots if he's 90th in average value per kick; kickoff guy Justin Davidovicz is only getting touchbacks on about 40% of his attempts. Punter Ryan Anderson hits a lot of boomers, with a 44-yard average. That might be a bit distorted because Rutgers isn't making him pooch much—or possibly ever. Washington got a punt return TD in the opener and Nebraska picked up 56 yards on 3 returns; nobody else has done much.
Janarion Grant is the main returner and remains dangerous as hell. He's got 9 returns this year for an 11 yard average and that's without a long touchdown. If Michigan can't get fair catches this could be a trouble spot.
KEY MATCHUP: AHHHH MAKE THE GRANT MAN FAIR CATCH
- Pass protection is still a disaster.
- Grant gets a returnable punt.
- O'Korn can't read seven and eight man zones.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Mo Hurst is literally throwing the center into running backs.
- It's third and long for Rutgers.
- Brandon Peters is the chosen one.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 2 (Baseline 5; –1 for Look, A Passing Game Less Functional Than Ours, +1 for Probably, –1 for No Really It Is Way Less Functional, –1 for Rutger, –1 for Starting Ross Douglas At OLB, –1 for Outgained By 250 Vs Purdue Is Not A Real Good Sign, +1 for Offensive Malaise Such That Rock Fight Could Happen, +1 for Janarion Grant, –1 for Everyone Else.)
Desperate need to win level: 10 (Baseline 5; +1 for Rutger, +1 for If You Think The Brady Hoke Comparisons Are Irritating Now Boy Howdy, +1 for Losing Four Score Spread Games Feels Bad, +1 for We Must Continue The Rutgers Is Hilariously Shut Out By Everyone Good In Their Division Streak, +1 for Magnets).
Loss will cause me to... quit, shave my beard, move my family to the Alaskan bush, convince myself I'm a bear, regrow beard, invent tonic that makes me grow fur like a bear, give it to everyone in the family, become bear, live out days as bear.
Win will cause me to... dunk ferociously on my small child.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
I mean. Michigan wins. Rutgers isn't going to go most of a game without a first down but a shutout is a 50/50 proposition.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Michigan's ground game gets on the same page on a number of plays and produces a number of solid, thumping drives en route to 5.5 sack-adjusted YPC.
- Mo Hurst has 3 TFLs and creates 3 more.
- Michigan, 25-1.