Other stuff: Lights have been installed. Mathlete preview gives Wisconsin a one point edge. The Wolverine Blog interviews Bucky's Fifth Quarter. Other People's Pressers returns. MZone's know your foe.
|WHAT||Michigan vs Wisconsin|
|WHERE||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI|
|WHEN||Noon Eastern, November 20th 2010|
|THE LINE||Wisconsin -4|
|TELEVISION||National on ESPN|
|WEATHER||Mostly sunny, mid 40s
10% chance of rain
Run Offense vs. Wisconsin
This preview chalks up the bleah results for Michigan against Purdue as an artifact of the weather and Michigan's confidence in their lead resulting in grand swathes of rock-rock-rock playcalling against eight man fronts. And even considering that Michigan is still the #9 rush offense, averaging 5.9 YPC. (They've fallen from that club of teams averaging over 6 but so did Oregon, leaving just Nebraska, Auburn, and Nevada.) The usual goes here about how it's awesome and so forth and so on.
A couple things might swing Michigan's performance Saturday to the good or bad: Taylor Lewan's availability—he was listed as "questionable" on the injury report—and the situation at tailback. Michael Shaw has spent most of the year hobbled and is also questionable with a concussion, but Vincent Smith has been more effective the past two weeks than he was early in the year. Fitzgerald Toussaint also saw a few snaps as he returns from a shoulder injury. Smith figures to get the bulk of the running back carries, and since no tailback has really distinguished himself the Shaw injury won't be a big deal.
Lewan's absence would be more problematic. Michigan would likely bring in Mark Huyge, who's started most games this year due to Lewan's youth and Perry Dorrestein's back. He's all right, but a clear step down from Lewan in all areas except taking penalties.
Wisconsin's run defense is its usual self, 25th nationally. They're giving up 3.8 YPC. Relevant game-by-game numbers:
(Indiana was omitted; the Hoosiers actually did pretty well—167 yards on 34 carries—but that game was all garbage time.)
That's… actually way more encouraging than I thought it would be. Wisconsin has given up at least 4.7 YPC to every I-A opponent and the closest thing to a spread 'n shred on the list—Purdue—has the best performance of any Big Ten team. The Boilers were within seven points of Wisconsin halfway through the fourth quarter, so those are real numbers for an injury-shattered offense. It appears the overall statistics conceal a run defense that can be had. This may be a reason the spread seems relatively small (and has plunged from –7 at open to –4-ish now) to most observers.
Pass Offense vs. Wisconsin
Even if we throw last week's whatever that was in the bin of muddy, wet games past and reduce its importance we're left with an increasingly wobbly, turnover-prone passing game. After starting the year insanely accurate Denard Robinson's come back to earth and departed the top ten in passer efficiency—he's down to #14. Large chunks of that were built on play action that opponents are figuring out. Not so much QB Lead Oh Noes, which remains effective whenever deployed, but Michigan's standard stretch-to-pass play action has seen opponents shoot defensive ends into the quarterback's face before the pulling guard can adjust. Denard's mobility has mitigated the problem but when you're asking your quarterback to make plays like this…
…it might be time to switch it up.
At receiver, Junior Hemingway is emerging into the primary outside threat. To date he's show surprising escapability after the catch. His hands aren't great but he can high-point deep balls if they're thrown in his vicinity. Roy Roundtree remains the #1 guy, all things considered.
The Badgers have good yardage numbers—26th—but like the rush defense a deeper look finds a team that's just okay. They're 51st in efficiency; last week the knocked Ben Chappell out of the game and the week before that they participated in their own Sean Robinson experience, but relevant opponents do exist:
That's… weird. Highly variable with the best performance against Pryor, who was in arm punt mode, and… uh… the worst against a Minnesota team that averaged over twenty yards a completion but completed fewer than half its passes. Stanzi, Threet, and Cousins all did essentially the same thing—it looks like this, too, is a Wisconsin secondary that can be had. JJ Watt is a great defensive end and a complicating factor but Wisconsin is only average at collecting sacks and Michigan is still in the top ten at avoiding them even after Ryan Kerrigan destroyed all comers.
Key Matchup: Hitting Wisconsin for big plays on rushing downs. To keep offensive efficiency in the realm it will have to be to keep pace with Tolzien, Michigan's going to need a cheap, long touchdown or two and of late those have come in the passing game.
Run Defense vs. Wisconsin
@ right: Wisconsin tailback James White. Probably.
Badger fatback John Clay is officially out this weekend, leaving Wisconsin bereft. In Clay's absence the backups only have 197 carries for 1227 yards this year. Wait. Goddammit.
Michigan will get a heavy dose of freshman James White, who missed the Purdue game and was limited against Iowa but seemed just fine last week with 144 yards on 19 carries. A lot of his production is against the who-dat section of the schedule but he also tacked on 99 yards (on ten carries) against MSU and 75 (on 17) against OSU. He's decidedly not a fatback at 5'10", 198, and while Ray Vinopal thanks John Clay's ankle profusely now Michigan has to deal with more speed and shiftiness.
Badger third-stringer Montee Ball hadn't done much against actual teams until the last two weeks when he put up 127 on Purdue and 167 on Indiana. Numbers put up on Indiana should be ignored but Purdue has Ryan Kerrigan and an average-ish run defense. One slightly encouraging thing for Michigan: last year Clay went ham on Michigan while Ball averaged 3.9 YPC.
Wisconsin is also down their starting center; they'll deploy senior Bill Nagy in place of Peter Konz. This, like the Clay issue, isn't likely to make much difference. Wisconsin's rushing offense is the same grinding thing it's always been. I won't bother with a full stat breakout but White and Clay averaged 4.7 YPC on 38 carries against Ohio State and 6.6 on 27 against MSU; Ball and Clay combined for 5.1 on 33 carries against Iowa. Those are the top three rushing defenses in the Big Ten that aren't Wisconsin or Penn State, who the Badgers don't play.
Michigan is not any of those defenses. They've flopped around from 4-3 to 3-4 to 3-3-5, swapped starters at five positions voluntarily and had to do so at three more because of injury, and gotten gashed by running attacks pro-style and spread. The one lingering hope for Michigan is that a combination featuring a full speed Mike Martin and Kenny Demens has not seen the field and it's possible Michigan held Martin out of last week's Purdue game just so he'd be healthy for the stretch run. If that's true and Martin returns to his defense-wrecking form of the first half of the season, Michigan might be able to make that backup center relevant and Demens could be free to scrape to whatever hole the Badgers go after.
If that's not the case—and after this long with a gimpy ankle it's unlikely Martin is fully healthy until the bowl game—expect a heavy dose of power plays, a lot of pulling guards, and a lot of runs that don't get stopped at the line and see everyone fall forward for four to eight yards.
Key Matchup: Martin versus his Ankles. Most important player on the defense in the game he's needed most. Saving that, Adam Patterson versus Please Don't Get Crushed Five Yards Backwards.
Pass Defense vs. Wisconsin
Photo not specifically chosen to make Tolzien look stupid in revenge for projected Michigan-looks-stupid passing tomorrow, but not complaining about it either.
If this is anything like last year's bombing you can just replace this section with a long string of expletives with "Tolzien!" interspersed at appropriate intervals. Scott Tolzien averaged 10 YPA, mostly on breathtakingly wide open passes across the middle, and things were sad.
This year he's done virtually the same thing to every opponent on the schedule. Small children and pregnant women who enjoy modeling the future should look away:
Yeesh. Aside from one terrible game against Michigan State, Tolzien has been robotically efficient. He hardly ever throws, but when he does it is complete and goes for a lot of yards. This is an artifact of having a running game with over 2100 yards to its name without requiring the assistance of the quarterback. This is the usual array of guys in single coverage getting open 20 yards downfield as the opponent's cover three tries to limit the damage and get them in a third down by stuffing the run; big chunks given up in the passing game are just part of life against Wisconsin.
Michigan… well… yeah. Not much pressure, not much coverage, lots of eight man drops and play-action bites, freshman everywhere, night terrors, etc.
Key Matchup: God, seriously? If the defenses on this schedule couldn't hold Tolzien to something less than around 8 YPA the key matchup is you versus the locked drawer with the gun in it. HA HA HA HA JUST KIDDING.
Um… so… key matchup. Let's go with Ezeh/Mouton/Demens/Gordon against play action. Last year Tolzien got to stand in the pocket and zip 20-yard routes right down the middle of the field with maddening consistency. We've seen Michigan get burned on this stuff from time to time this year—second and 22 for the Illini, anyone?—and this will be the a real test for Demens and Vinopal.
The usual when it comes to the kickers: massive field goal advantage, approximate draw with the punters with a slight edge to Hagerup since he's still carrying around a series of poor efforts from early in the season when he was wide-eyed and shanktastic. Wisconsin has a big advantage in returns, but their #28 ranking in punts is based on just 17 attempts, less than two per game. So whatever, that's five to ten yards for Wisconsin.
Kickoff returns are far more frequent and relevant. Where Michigan's happy just to get it back to the 20 they're regularly giving up returns to the 35 or worse. Wisconsin's not great at returns themselves but the numbers here are very silly, based solely on return yardage and not where you actually start your drive. Michigan figures to give up between five and ten yards of field position on every kickoff for and against.
Wisconsin's kicker is 13 of 17 on the year. Michigan's blah blah blah.
Key Matchup: STOP KICKING THE DAMN BALL
- Lewan is out, exposing Mark Huyge to JJ Watt for extended periods of time.
- Scott Tolzien completes every pass he throws.
- Denard's interception trend kills another scoring drive.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Purdue's spread 'n shred success presages similar for Michigan and what seems like a statistically overrated run defense.
- Mike Martin's back and healthy.
- Tolzien comes down with the yips in the state of Michigan or something.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 7 (Baseline 5; +1 for Oh God The Tolziening, +1 for One Loss Top Ten Team Versus Thoroughly Mediocre One, –1 for But Dude The Run Defense Can Be Had, –1 for Missed Extra Points Are A Girl's Best Friend, –1 for 5.1 YPC To Purdue Two Weeks Ago? Yes Please, +1 for Any Run Defensed For Less That Five Yards Is A Win, +1 for And I Don't Think Martin Is Full Go, And Ditto Lewan, +1 for Hurray Turnover Implosion Always)
Desperate need to win level: 8 (Baseline 5; +1 for Rich Rodriguez Job Reclamation Project, +1 for Locking In Genuinely Decent Season Given Everything, Exceeding Expectations, Getting Everyone To STFU About Rich Rodriguez, +1 for Seriously, The Getting Everyone To STFU Bit Cannot Be Overstated, +1 for STFU Already, –1 for This Is Not Really A Game Michigan Should Win, –1 for Expectations Basically Achieved, +1 for But Man It Would Be Nice)
Loss will cause me to... repeat "I expected 7-5" to myself a thousand times.
Win will cause me to... spin very fast in a circle with both middle fingers extended, hoping that the centripetal force can carry my gesture to haterz worldwide.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
You could make the case that Wisconsin is a hideously overrated team that scraped by Arizona State and Iowa because of missed extra points and was so thoroughly clunked by Michigan State they lost that game solidly despite being +3 in turnover margin and they've got like one win over anyone half-decent, that being Iowa… if they hadn't beaten Ohio State by 13. This throws a wrench in the plans a bit.
I do think the Vegas guys are on-point, as they usually are, because hidden in Wisconsin's rushing defense stats is a secretly mediocre unit. Hidden in the passing stats is a secretly mediocre unit. Michigan should move the ball at least as well as they did against Iowa and Michigan State, which is "quite well, thank you, now if you would please take this foot-ball before we do anything as dishonorable as score." Turnovers will tell the tale; if Michigan goes in at halftime with 230 yards and 14 points they're likely to have blown it already. I think they're likely to blow it.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Wisconsin leaves at least one deep safety back and the Michigan ground game ramps back up to its dirty levels past.
- Hypothetical third and longs for M go very, very poorly if Lewan does not play.
- Tolzien completes 75% of his passes.
- Wisconsin, 34-27.