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Dedicated to The University of Michigan Football & Basketball

Friday, October 14, 2011

Preview: Michigan State

We will be facing a team who is throwing traditional uniforms out the door and going with a combination of South Florida, Baylor, and doggie poo...

Who, What, When, Where, Weather:
Who: Little Bro (Line: Mich +2.5)
What: The Battle for The Paul Bunyon Trophy
When: 12:00 Eastern (ESPN)
Where: East Lansing
Weather: High near 57, 25-30 MPH Winds

I grew up in a quaint community nestled about 25 min from East Lansing and unfortunately grew up as the lone Michigan fan out of my entire group of friends. For the vast majority of my life, minus a hiccup hear or a hiccup there, this was never a problem and when football season came around they new their place and my disdain for Spartan fans was of the "LOL" type.

The year this all changed was 2001, at the devine age of 14 where true dislike, for an individual (in this case collective fan base) rivaling hatred can really seap into your being. You will all mostly remember this game as the TJ Duckett back of the endzone catch with no time left, infamously known as "The Catch", "Clockgate", or "Spartan Bob". For those of you "not in the know", Michigan should have won this game but the hometown Spartan clock keeper stopped the clock early on a Jeff Smoker spike allowing the Spartans one more play resulting in the afforentioned shenanigans.

I went to the game with my father, who had gotten us 2 tickets through my grandfathers company. We spent the afternoon tailgating with the partners of my grandfathers company (all sparties) enjoying the afternoon all in good fun. I was leaning along a fence near the stadium waiting for my dad to head into the game when not one, but two grown men came up to me (who I had never met or seen before), bent down to get directly in my face (close enough to smell rotten stench of cheap whiskey and Natural Light). These two "gentleman" thought it would be the right thing to begin shouting profanities at me along the lines of, "Hey kid, F*ck you and F*ck Michigan, go green!!!" All the while other green and white fans walked by laughing. I was an even tempered kid, brushed it off and thought I would have the last laugh before the day was over. But, the transformation from an "LOL Sparty" to complete unadulterated hate had started to begin.

Than the unthinkable happened and Michigan lost. On the way out of the Stadium I had my head down as distraught as I ever have been outside the loss of a loved one. At least 3 times I had groups of Guido wanna be bros, bump into me all the while pointing, laughing, and shouting go green in my face. Yup, the transformation to hatred was done screw, East Lansing. None of us will ever get the last three seasons back. Hell, I know even with a Michigan win on Saturday the only thing that will be heard from Sparty fans will be of the "Wait until basketball" or "What about the last three seasons" variety of responses. But, damnit we need this win not to prove just to Sparty who the real football power in the state is, but to prove that this Michigan team isn't the same team that we've seen the past 2 seasons.  So I'm done, I've prefaced my hatred for Little Bro, and promise this won't be a yearly thing. So onto the most rationalistic preview of this game I can let my Maize and Blue colored lenzes allow.

Offense vs. Sparty
Sparty's defense is ranked pretty darn good... Rankings? Scoring Defense ranks3rd ationally, 10.2 pts/gm. Total Defense, 173.4 yds/ gm: 1st nationally. The Rushing defense is ranked 3rd nationally giving up a mere 64 yds/gm. Against the pass MSU is 2nd nationally allowing just 109.4 yds/gm. Needless to say, on paper, holy crap, Michigan will have their hands full with this defense. However, especially this early in conference season, it's good to look and see at how these stats were compiled. I'd like to avoid using anything from games against an FCS school but, Youngstown State is 8th Nationally in FCS in total offense. Florida Atlantic, who supposedly is a Div 1 team, is 118th Nationally in total offense. Notre Dame is 20th Nationally. Lowly Central Michigan is 88th nationally. Lastly the mighty Buckeye offense moved up from 108th, last week, to 105th this week after their performance against Nebraska.

Now, save Notre Dame, all these offenses are garbage, you know it and I know it. But, to be fair Sparty did hold a very talented Notre Dame offense to just 275 yds on the road. Michigan will come into this one 26th nationally in total offense, 7th rushing, & 90th passing. But, what dominant defensive team has Michigan played to date? To say that this will be a telling game for both teams is a complete understatement.

At the end of last season the Spartans lost some key pieces to the defense, most importantly linebackers Eric Gordon, Greg Jones, and Strong Safety, Marcus Hyde. This years strength seems to fall on the Defensive Line, lead by NFL prospect NT Jerel Worthy and DE William Gholston who appears to be finding his groove in this, his sophmore campaign for the sparties. The Spartan defense was able to bottle-up Denard last season to the tune of 84 yds rushing and 3 interceptions. 2 of those being very costly ones in the endzone.

Last season, Michigan ran Denard quite frequently with zone stretch-runs and this season, it appears as though the designed runs are more power off tackle run plays. Gordon and Jones were phenomenal last season at filling the gaps in the zone stretch plays leaving nowhere for Denard to go. A major match-up will be Al Borges finding ways to get Denard out in space and keeping Jerel Worthy and William Gholston non factors.

As mentioned above, against the pass the Spartans are nearly just as good as they are against the run. Denard  has had moments of, "Wow didn't know you could do that" mixed with "Umm where were you throwing the ball" this season, the latter has happened more frequently. Minus the 3 INT's last week Denard showed improvement stepping up in the pocket and making good throws and did strikingly well against Minnesota. For Michigan to have any chance here Denard needs to show that continual improvement instead of the deep ball quacks that have plagued him this season.

If sparty is able to apply a ton of pressure I am worried about Denard's decision making but also think they will feel comfortable enough sitting back making Denard read the defense and throw a good ball against the zone something, he's struggled with mightily this season.

What To Watch For:
Denard " OHHH NOOOO'S" vs. The Spartans base defense. If we can keep the turnovers to a minimum and move the ball consistently, I believe that will start to open up some run lanes for Robinson and the backs on the edge. It'll be interesting to see if Sparty uses a spy on Robinson and if they do whom? I think this will be a game where if there isn't a pass Denard may be able to step up in the pocket with the defense sitting in zone and take off through open running lanes... I hope...

Defense vs. Sparty
The Spartan offensive line returns only 2 guys from last years running attack that crushed the Michigan D to the tune of 246 yds. 2 major factors this season are that, 1.) Michigan isn't running a 3-3-5 coordinated by Greg Robinson and State is using a makeshift line that hasn't pummeled really anybody on the ground this season. In the their non returning offensive line spots they have resorted to a Freshman JUCO transfer, Fou Fonoti, a spring ball position switch player in Dan France at Left Tackle (yeah, that's the guy protecting Kirk Cousins blindside), and lastly redshirt Freshman Travis Jackson.

Rushing the ball their only success has come against Non BCS schools. Notre Dame was able to pile up tons of yards on the ground, and Northwestern and SDSU were able to compile very respectable games on the ground so, like every other facet of this game this will be a very telling matchup for the Michigan run defense and the sparty rush offense. One big component will be the play of Kenny Demens plugging up the middle and Michigan being able to hold contain on the edges, which has been the crux of the Michigan defense to date.

While I don't think BJ Cunningham is half the man Michael Floyd is, he is still a very talented WR whom Kirk Cousins definitely relies on when nothing else is available. The glaring thing for Michigan is past Cunningham the WR's aren't very deep for sparty.

With the Michigan State offensive line being shaky, I'm looking to see Mattison dial up some blitz to get some pressure on Cousins to speed up his internal clock hopefully leading to some poor throws on his part. He hasn't been brilliant yet this year and it could only get better for Michigan if the front 4 can get pressure through this rag tag offensive line allowing Mattison to have his LB's and secondary play freely.

What To Watch For:
Michigan keeping contain. If Michigan can keep contain and keep the Spartan RB's bottled up inside the Spartan running game will look just as mediocre as they have all season. Making sparty put the game on Kirk Cousins back can only benefit Michigan here.

Special Teams vs. MSU
Kickoff and punt coverage is the key here. MSU has always hyped and dangerous speedster Keshawn Martin and if coverage continues to be shaky look for sparty to take one to the house. Having Hagerup for this one is big and I hope the wind doesn't become to much of a factor and he can boom some high bombs not giving Martin much of a chance for a return.

I'll say it once, and I'll say it again, but this game will be a very telling game for both teams on what they actually have. If Michigan wants to prove to the country this isn't the same team as the past 2 years, this will be their time to prove it. Brady Hoke has come in and put back an emphasis on this Rivalry. I do believe that this one will not be a shoot-out with the strengths and weaknesses on both sides basically coinciding one another. The last three seasons have caused me to fear road games to the point where I like to sit at home underneath a blanket and watch road games alone. But damnit, this cannot be the same team we've seen   the past 2 seasons and this sparty dominance has to stop at some point. I think realistically it's a toss-up but because I'm a homer, I am going with Michigan in a close one. Meeechigan wins.... 24-20

Friday, October 7, 2011

Preview Northwestern

Site Note: Sorry I have been absent all week and didn't get a recap of Minny up. I have had the most important job interviews of my life this past week and my spare time went to that. So, onto the wildcats...

Who, What, When, Where, Weather:
Who: Northwestern (2-2) Line: Mich (-7.5)
What: First Road Game Of The Season!!!
When: 7:00 p.m. Eastern/ 6:00 p.m. Central, for you Chicago folk
Where: Evanston, Ill, Ryan Field
Weather: Courtesy of NWS: @ game time, 61 and sunny.

Offense vs. Northwestern:
Rankings... Northwestern is ranked 99th in the country in total defense surrendering, 420 yds/gm. Against the rush they are 90th nationally, allowing 174.5 yds/gm, that's good for 10th in the B1G behind Indiana. The Wildcat defense is just a hair better against the pass... 85th nationally at, 245.3 yds/gm.

Statistically and on paper Michigan should have a major advantage when they want to go to the ground game.  Northwestern  was abysmal last year and until last week hadn't been necessarily impressive. Allowing 300+ yds a game to Army doesn't strike fear into me, no matter how many carries (75 carries/5.08 avg) it took Army to get there, because running is like... all Army does. Howeva, last week Northwestern held an Illinois running attack ,that before Northwestern was averaging 4.9 yds a carry, to a measly 2.16 yds/carry. I attribute that games success to a blitz heavy aggressive scheme and it being a rivalry game.

Denard & Co. are averaging 6.99 yds/carry at this juncture in the season. Since my job is to make predictions and try to sound smart, I don't think Northwestern has the the horses to slow this rushing attack down. Borges continues to add wrinkles and has realized that, shotgun is the way to go with these players. Fitz and Vincent continue to show, that not having 1 go-to back isn't that bad of a thing after all.

I mentioned above that the blitz happy defense was able to slow down Illinois last week, what I didn't however mention was that, by keying on the run, they opened up their defense to get torched over the top to the tune of, 391yds. This same secondary also allowed 375yds through the air to Boston College. The same BC that lost to Duke and Wake Forrest at home. Yes... I said Duke...

Now the Maize and Blue passing attack isn't one I am going to sit here and brag about by any means. I am hoping I can continue to sing his praises week in and week out, but man Al Borges, is learning how to use his pieces. Last week, Michigan moved out of the drop back timing passes and he allowed Denard Robinson to get comfortable with the Minnesota secondary sitting back. Northwestern was able to stop the ball when they were keying and blitzing on the run. Denard is a threat in his own right, and this should cause the safety's to come up in the box. If they do, look for Hemingway and/or Roundtree to have a few big catches over the top.

What To Watch For:
Al Borges playing to what Northwestern's safety's allow. If they come up look for Michigan to go over the top. If they play back, I really expect to see a run heavy day for the Wolverines, allowing them to control the clock and keep Dan Persa off the field. Speaking of Persa...

Defense vs. Northwestern
The Wildcat's have been without the preseason B1G offensive player of the year, Dan Persa, until just last week. So, it's tough to read much into their overall offensive statistics because even though back-up Kain Coulter hasn't played badly and is no slouch, but he's not the aforementioned Persa. Last week, Persa was 10-14 for 126 yds and 4 TD's.

Mike Trumpy, Northwestern's leading back just tore his ACL and is out for the year. This event leaves Persa, who let me mind you is coming off of a major achilles injury and was knocked out of last weeks game, and 3 dudes averaging  3.9 yds/carry, collectively to carry the rushing load. Coulter is the leading rusher on the team but, save a Persa injury, if he comes in the game the only reason would be to run the ball allowing the D to have a good idea how to stop it.

Will I have to come down from this cloud, I'm riding on the Michigan D? This defense seems for real and for all of the the things that seem to be pointing in Michigan's favor, Persa is a good QB and this offense was efficient all of last season with him in the game. This is one of those games where, I expect to be reminded that yes, we still have many areas for improvement. But, then again, I'm all like, they only put up 14 on Army. So far, Michigan has been able to mask their inefficiencies with timely turnovers. Minnesota would probably lose to Grand Valley this year for all we know, so I've had to remind myself to be cautiously optimistic with the stout performance of the defense last week.

The secondary will be tested. Persa was top 10 in the country in passer efficiency last season. So, because last seasons secondary horror is so ingrained into my mind, I am terrified of the possibilities of a good Persa and a short passing game. Getting pressure on Persa is going to be the key here. Thankfully, similar to the running game for NW the options here are slim past Jeremy Ebert who is definitely not a burner. Luckily for Michigan, Northwestern's offensive line though experienced, isn't good. Hopefully Mike Martin, Van Bergen, and the rest of the D-line are able to apply the proper pressure to allow the secondary to stay on the short passing game.

What To Watch For:
Michigan's front 4 applying pressure on Persa. Persa has only played 1 week so far this year, but like any quarterback if he's uncomfortable, I'd expect to see Ryan Lindley vs. Michigan version 2.0. I don't expect the running game to be a huge threat so it'll be the short passing game that Northwestern relies on to keep Robinson off the field. Pressure baby, pressure.

Special Teams v. Northwestern
Alright, Gibbons and Gallon have solidified the two biggest special teams concerns most fans have had over the last three seasons but, what is going on with our coverage unit? Brady Hoke has said it's getting worked on more extensively this week let's hope for that. No more long kick-off returns k? Thnx.

What To Watch For:

Vegas gives us 7.5 which means on a neutral field we'd be a 10.5 point favorite over NW. The Wolverine offense should be able to move the ball and depending on how Persa plays, unfortunately so could/should NW. At the end of the day, Michigan has Denard & Co. and like I couldn't have more of a man crush on our coordinators but both can adapt. With NW's running attack limited whatever passing attack they are trying to throw at us, I expect Greg Mattison to figure out by halftime. Those factors alone lead me to a Michigan victory. By how much, is difficult. It's a night game and NW will be amped up. It will be close until about half way through the 3rd quarter, where I think the Michigan's obvious advantages take over. Meeechigan wins... 34-24

Friday, September 30, 2011

Preview: Minnesota

Who, What, When, Where, Weather:
Who: Minnesota (Line: -20.5)
What: Big Ten Season Opener
When: 12:00 Eastern. Big Ten Network
Where: Ann Arbor
Weather: Hi 49: 20% chance of showers

Offense vs. Minnesota
The Gophers are 75th in the nation in scoring defense allowing 26.8 ppg to the likes of North Dakota State, New Mexico State!?, and Miami (OH). Their best defensive outing came in the opener against USC, which, what? The rush defense comes in at a respectable 32nd. But, something tells me that NDSU, NMSU, Mia (OH), don't pose the same rushing threat that Denard and Co. do. Which, is completely accurate Miami (OH) is 118th in the nation, NMSU is 109th, USC is only 67th, and NDSU is a 1-AA school, that was able to rack up 139 yds on the ground. I'm not convinced that their rush defense is prepared to be Denarded.

This rush defense was 90 something overall last season and no matter how good the overall number looks now, Michigan's rushing offense is 12th in the nation far and above what any opponent the Gophers have faced thus far. Denard is Denard, so I, through my maize and blue glasses, always expect great things. The running back by committee has been narrowed down to what seems like only two viable options and both have shown great things to this point. Look for Michigan's rushing attack to remind Minnesota where their place is. Having 2 starting DE's that collectively weigh less than 500 lbs will not help them, when Taylor Lewan bulldozes them.

Fortunately for Michigan's enigmatic pass offense the gopher pass defense is 108th nationally. It will be interesting to see if Michigan uses this to their advantage and works on developing a passing game to get Denard comfortable. Against USC, save a TD bomb, Robert Woods was able to get 17 catches mainly on short routes, as Minnesota did their best Michigan of the past 2 years impersonation, and gave receivers 7-10 yds cushion on every play.

Denard has looked uncomfortable in the pocket the majority of the season. I've thrown my opinion out there that Borges needs to maybe revert to the more simpler passing style of Rich Rodriguez's spread, at least early, to get Robinson comfortable and allow him to build some confidence. If there's a time for Robinson to throw effectively it has to be this weekend against the Gophers. Barkley chucked up 300, NMSU's Andrew Manley, threw for 288 and TD's and NDSU's, Brock Jensen went for 197 and only 5 incompletions.

Lastly, the experience in the secondary resembles one worse than Michigan's the past couple years.The experience consists of a converted WR and  guy with a handful of starts at CB. While the safety position, starts a guy that missed an entire season with a leg injury and a converted RB.

What To Watch For:
Michigan having an effective passing game, that isn't jump-ballpalooza. While, I don't think that the Wolverines will need a heavy dose of the pass to win this one, it would be nice going into the rest of the B1G schedule, feeling like their's something their that resembles a passing game. If the passing game still looks lost in the abyss look for Denard to scamper to another 125-150 yds.

Defense vs. Minnesota
The gopher offense comes in to this one 88th nationally. I can rehash the level of competition that's held this offense in check if I must but, NMSU, Miami (OH), NDSU... Minnesota's rushing attack is 48th nationally and for the majority, that offense has come from QB Marquise Gray, who is questionable to play this  weekend. Passing the ball the Gophers come in 97th nationally for 179.3 yds a game.

Gray has been able to pick yards just like how you'd expect a spread QB to pick up yds this year, broken plays and designed runs. The rush defense has gradually been improving and last week was able to keep the nations second leading rusher relatively in check. If Gray is unable to play it will be interesting to see where Minnesota tries to get yards on the ground. I was assume that they will try to attack the edges, as that's where Michigan's rush defense has been the shottiest the most this season.

Passing the ball, Minnesota has a weapon in Da'Jon McKnight and than nobody. Last week the secondary showed decent to good improvement blanketing the receiving corps from SDSU, and making NFL prospect Ryan Lindley look average. If Gray isn't able to go and true Freshman Max Shortell is in the game look for me to be even more excited about the apparent improvement of the secondary. Woolfolk should be able to sit this one out without any worries and Blake Countess can go ahead and be the first freshman corner to not look terrible at Michigan in first year since Donovan Warren.

The D-line stepped up big last week and helped make the secondary look better than they may or may not truly be and that trend of improved play should continue. Martin, VanBergen, and Roh showed last week just how disruptive they can be and Roh is playing some of his best football too date. With the inexperienced and not very good offensive line the D-line will be key.

What To Watch For:
Michigan being able to contain edge especially if Gray plays. This has been the most obvious glaring weakness for the D and if they can improve on locking that down that will be a good sign for the rest of the B1G season. The D is able to practice against Denard all the time, and not to take away anything from Gray, but he is no Denard, this should help the D here.

Special Teams:
Jeremy Gallon keep making me confident in you and Gibbons plese don't miss another field goal or this time I will start to worry.  One development to keep an eye on is the return of Will Hagerup punting. If he was able to win his job back this past week look for an advantage to Michigan in the field position game.

If Minnesota came into this game with their only loss being to USC, I'd be a little nervous just because B1G opener, yadda, yadda. But the fact of the matter is Minnesota is 1-3 and hasn't looked good against presumably weaker competition. Now I look at them like I did the Eastern game and expect Michigan to run away with this one. I say 34-14 Meeeechigan.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

About Last Night: Recap Brady Hoke's Former Team

"I'm sorry I left for my dream job in the middle of the night, but I am pointing so it's OKAY!"

The Big House... How you've changed and how you've managed to stay the same, I hadn't been back to A2 for football since, EMU 2009.  During the first half, I was trying to pinpoint why Seven Nation Army became the new ballad of Michigan football. Why wasn't "The Victors" ringing through the air on repeat, what has happened here? It wasn't until San Diego State's 2nd drive of the 3rd quarter that I realized how much the Big House was still the same... "Hey, down in front..."

Michigan had just recovered a San Diego State fumble, the stadium had gone into a commercial break and Pop Evil's atrocious Michigan song was playing. There was no action to be seen on the field. My eyes curled slowly around to peep over my shoulder, trying to mask my disdain, to see two elderly gentleman who glared at me as if I was stepping on their oxygen tank. Pondering what at all they could possibly want to see going down the field, I obliged their request and briefly smiled. This, was the Big House I remembered...

Two years of 4-0 starts that ended abruptly in league play have brought skepticism upon this 2011 team... For all of the things that are different, there are many things the same.

The highway to success this season, same as last, will be paved by Denard Robinson's legs. That's the same. The difference? Michigan's defense has showed itself this year to be, dare I say, reliable? A not great but supposedly good SDSU offense was held for the most part in check.

Denard's legs. That will be the key. His passing has continually been inconsistent and shotty the whole season. The 300 yd passing performance against ND is definitely the exception and will never be the norm this season, unless drastic improvement has happens. But, man, oh man, do those legs move. Chalk another point up to Al Borges. He has shown adaptability once again. Was that speed option we saw? Yes, yes it was. If Borges can find a way to keep the running game interesting for opposing defense while Robinson, finds whatever it is he's looking for in the passing game than I really like our chances heading into, B1G play.

The RB situation isn't resolved yet. I still like what Fitz brings to the table as an every down back, But, just like it has taken me a while to come around on Jordan Kovacs being undeniable, one can not simply deny Vincent Smith. The kid plays bigger than he is and is also able to squeeze through holes that no other back could squeeze through. With Denard's legs opening up plays for both backs I am quite okay with having 2 viable options.

The offensive line is really hard to talk about as well, Denard... He runs they look good. They didn't really allow much pressure getting to Robinson and MANball is becoming less and less a part of the offense so that's good.

Any and all WR performances can be extrapolated strictly from the ND game. If they've shown anything this past week it's that, they block and stay engaged in the offense even when the ball isn't coming there way. That's a good thing because from the looks of it all we are going to need them doing as much of that as possible this season.

SDSU came into this game averaging 38 ppg and 428 yds a game. Michigan held the Aztecs to just 7 points and jsut 368 yds of offense. The surprisingly good thing about this feat is that the D was able to hold SDSU when many of their possessions started in or near Michigan territory. The D was also able to continue their streak of timely turnovers, forcing 3, all from inside Michigan territory. Michigan defenses of the past 3 seasons would not be able to do such things, considering SDSU has an NFL prospect QB and one of the nations top rushers this is a well recognized feat. Can the defense continue to causing these timely turnovers consistently into league play? No... it won't happen. Yes this is a bummer but there are other things to hang your hat on.

CB depth!? We has it? I won't go that far, but it's better than I can ever recall it being. As soon as Floyd followed Woolfolk to the sideline, I was waiting for the ball to drop and for Ryan Lnidley to have his way with  the secondary. Highly recruited freshman Blake Countess came in and seemingly picked up right where the defense left off.

There are you are D-line, there you are. In my season previews I said, Michigan's best unit on the field defensively would be the D-line. 4 games into the season, I finally look kinda smart for say that. Mike Martin, was blasting into the backfield causing pressure on Lindley all afternoon. If it wasn't Martin, it seemed like it was VanBergen, if it wasn't VanBergen it was definitely Roh, who inched closer to my 12 sack prediction with another one. If William Campbell can continue to improve which, from my opinion is happening, this unit should be able to keep building momentum into B1G play and be a stronghold for the defense this season.

Special Teams:
Any kicker can miss a 40 yarder on any given Saturday. It just sucks that it happened to be Michigan's kicker, again not relieving any stress out of that position. One more miss and I'll be screaming for a switch to Wile or student body tryouts part 2. Jeremy Gallon is the best punt-return option we've had in quite some time and he's proved it. Now obviously with all special teams my emotions are week to week with them. Right now we've got a good thing going lets keep it that way.

Good Feeling To Take Home With You:
Through non-conference play the team is 4-0. I don't care how they got here or what the last 2 seasons say, I'd rather be here with this team than have any losses in our record. There's something about this team that I'm vibing with. The defense isn't perfect, but they are better and every guy is saying the right thing and it just feels like their minds and approach this year are in a better state than the previous undefeated starts. Every starter on this team has seen and undefeated start and they've all seen how badly they've gone. That experience I believe carries this team through this season and the B1G collapse that has plagued this team previous years won't happen again this go-round.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Preview: San Diego State

Preview: San Diego State University
Who: San Diego State (Line -10.5)
What: Brady Hoke left this school for ours fergodsakes
When: 12:00 eastern. Big Ten Network
Where: Big House
Weather: 67 40% chance of rain

Offense vs. Aztecs
The Aztec D comes into this match-up 80th nationally, allowing 383 yds/gm. The rushing defense is 99th in the country giving up 197 yds/gm. Passing the Aztecs look better, 36th nationally allowing just 186 yds/gm through the air. Those rushing numbers could be skewed as, Army compiled 407 yds on the ground against SDSU. Army is a triple option team and only being 1 of like 2 teams in the country that still runs that crazy scheme gives them a schematic advantage. Cal Poly doesn't count and Washington State was mostly held in check rushing the ball, they were also held in check against UNLV so there's that. SDSU runs that 3-3-5 thing we attempted to run on defense last year, but their coach Rocky Long actually knows how to run it. Michigan needs to run what they are good at because not doing so will make the 3-3-5 look like a plausible defense with zone-blitzes coming from places the O-line most likely won't be able to pick up.

SDSU's defense returns 5 from a defense that finished 44th nationally last season. Their glaring weakness that Michigan should be able to exploit is on edges where the Aztec roster has only 1 DE out of their top 4 over 250 lbs. Taylor Lewan should hopefully be bulldozing lanes all day. Does Al Borges line up under center or use that Denard Robinson guy like he's supposed to? I hope the latter. He seemed to get the hang of it last week and from what I saw had great play-calling with the succession of zone-read plays.

It'll be nice if Michigan can run the ball effectively, because I am getting agitated watching Denard learn footwork on the fly. Borges' new found love of the spread will hopefully filter into the passing game as well. I'd like to see more hitches, curls, bubble screens, and the things that made our passing game mildly effective last season. This season other than jump-ball bombs it has not been. Washington State was able to get big plays last week on the deep ball so if needed it appears that will be there for Michigan. I hope we don't need it. If it is, look for Junior Hemingway to have a monster day.

What To Watch For:
Taylor Lewan and Mark Huyge blowing up tiny DE's allowing Denard and presumably Vincent Smith to run wild.

Defense vs. San Diego State
The Aztec offense is lead by Sr. QB Ryan Lindley and Soph. RB Ronnie Hillman. Hillman was 10th in the nation in rushing and Lindley has a cannon arm. Lindley lost his top 4 WR's from last year thanks to the NFL draft, graduation, and injury. Hillman picked up right where he left off and is the nations second leading rusher. Michigan's defense just got gashed for over 4 YPC against Eastern and appears to only be able to stop 3rd down halfback draws against Notre Dame. Hillman scares me.. SDSU also returns 4 lineman  from last season as well.

The Michigan rush defense has had a tough time holding contain on the edges this season. Roh, Black, and whomever else line up at DE need to keep contain. The LB's have had a tough time being consistent and with a back like Hillman, keeping contain and gap coverage is more vital than normal. Did I mention this facet of the game really frightens me? Mattison has shown ample ability to be able to adjust on the fly this year so hopefully the D won't be getting gashed too long before we find a way to slow Hillman down.

Lindley is throwing a pedestrian 207 yds a game. As mentioned Lindley doesn't have the same targets he had last season and when you have the nations second leading rusher, ride that horse right? Michigan's secondary is better than they were a year ago if only because they couldn't get any worse. But for reals, they are noticeably better and are doing more than just standing and watching on the field. Michigan's major task here will be applying pressure. Eastern didn't throw the ball and Michigan adjusted well to Carder and Western but were in able to do so against ND. San Diego State's O-line is experienced and good but hopefully not as good as ND's.

What To Watch For?
Brady Hoke is a defensive guy and knows this offense better than any other coach in the country. Hopefully he can give Mattison some pointers. Mattison adjustments vs. Hillman running game will be the major match-up on the day. If SDSU is pounding the rock all day and getting big chunks it could be a long day in the big house. If Michigan is to even moderately contain SDSU I like our chances.

Special Teams:
Gallon has proven to be a solid punt-return man which is good. I'm not sold on Vincent Smith being the kick-off return man but the jury is still out. Kick-off and punt coverage is scary. Michigan is 1-1 on field goals right now. I don't care that it was a glorified PAT, after last season I will take it.
As always, Hold on to ball and please do not give up any crushing returns.

I hate myself as a fan sometimes and get extremely nervous for these types of games. Brady Hoke knows this team and is going to have a good idea of what they are trying to do. For this reason alone, I give Michigan the edge. Hillman and Lindley will move the ball for SDSU but so will Denard & Co. I like this one to be a little more high scoring and I think Vegas is crazy on giving Michigan 10.5. This hasn't been touched on yet, but the time change should have an effect on SDSU's performance. Here's to hoping Hillman is sleeping the whole game. I am going with 34-31, Meeeechigan.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

About Last Night: Recap Eastern Michigan

Brady Hoke & Ron English discussing the craziness that is Denard under center...

Do you think Brady Hoke is discussing how dumb he realizes MANball is here, when he has Denard Robinson at his disposal? Probably not here but, if Al Borges and Hoke haven't realized it by now than we are in for 12 games of ridiculously sloppy offensive first quarters. Where upon, by the end of said first quarter a bolt of lightning will strike Borges in the head reminding him we had to run Denard 29 times to beat Eastern. As inadequate as the defense looked on those first few EMU drives, the offense looked like Akron going against the Alabama defense. If you've allowed your mind to remember anything from Notre Dame that isn't the fourth quarter you'll remember all those early game drives that made you do nothing but face palm.

12 plays, 32 yds. Interception, Punt, Punt. Guh... Denard went on the rest of the game being Denard and Michigan won 31-3. Minus the first 2 opponent drives of games, I'm scarily allowing myself to pseudo-like our defense, which my reasoning I will discuss, but they've consistently shown enough this year to make me not hate them...

I have to call myself out. When this season started, I didn't predict that the minimal MANball, our offense would run would be a very difficult transition. I was... what's the word? Wrong, that's it, I was wrong. Power-I couldn't be run against Eastern. When Denard isn't tossing up rainbows to Junior Hemingway, he's looked shaky and I haven't done a statistical analysis but the structures of common knowledge would lead me to bet that, YPC is significantly lower than runs out of the gun. Running zone for 3 years straight doesn't translate into  man blocking well and I thought it would. Other than being tall, lengthy, and remotely fast, this is why I didn't play Offensive Line.

After 3 series of this MANball, I-formation stuff not working, Denard got to be Denard. Thus ensued Michigan racking up 376 yds rushing, because the threat of Denard, handing off, running, or throwing is much scarier to a defense than, him sitting in the pocket, frantically panting the ball, or handing it off to a running back going straight up the middle.

I mean you guys have all seen it too right? I can think of Vincent Smith's long run, the Koger TD pass, and the Dileo TD pass all prime examples of why Denard being the focal point of this offense needs to stay true for the next 2 seasons. Sorry MANball but you will have to wait while we have a, dreaded water bug as our QB. Kudos to Borges, because he's saw what was happening, realized how he's going to win games and strayed far, far away from whatever that is, that we try to run from under center from time to time.

Passing the ball has scared me. I feel like Lloyd Carr on 3rd & long every time their is a pass. Denard has taken steps backwards, and I don't know why. It'll be interesting to see if the passing game starts to reflect the running game and digs into the Rich Rodriguez playbook.

Why this defense always starts out slow is beyond me. The logical explanation is that Mattison is feeling the opponent out. Well, if that's the case... Stop feeling the opponent. Howeva, if you were to tell me that Michigan would be tied for 5th in the country in turnovers forced I'd have called you a liar. So if cupping a good feel on our opponents will lead to turnovers I'm all for it. The defense gave up 196 yds in first half (147 on first 3 drives) and Eastern only gained 236 on the day.

Let me be sentimental for a moment here. I love a defense that can adjust mid-game. It's like having a crush on the pretty girl and finally getting her. At first you're just infatuated and angry that it's not working out and then something clicks you change your approach and boom. You got the girl. Now, this is probably an exaggeration. Well, not probably, it is, we aren't that good yet. But, allowing that few points and that few amount of yards against anybody after the past 3-4 years was rewarding and the signs of an improving defense are there.

Eastern never really threw it so judging our secondary on the day is difficult. Thomas Gordon is looking better and better and that interception was smooth. Allowing outside runs to break contain is a concern on the DL. I like Jake Ryan to keep improving and hopefully the problems that have plagued him are coachable and he can hold that spot down.Craig Roh finally let the opponent know he was on the field and made some plays. My season prediction of 12 sacks is looking bleak but one can hope. Jibreel Black has also been a positive on the D-line, rotating in for Roh. Also, unless I'm my eyes are blind to what I hope to see, William Campbell has not looked bad when he's seen the field. Let us all hope this continues.

Greg Mattison is a great coordinator. He can, as they say, in the cool defensive circles, "adjust".

Special Teams:
Michigan has made 100% of their field goals. Jeremy Gallon can field punts and do something after catching all the while, I don't need to scream at the television for him to hold on to the ball. This is improvement.

Let's not squib kick at the end of the half ever again okay?

Good Feeling To Take Home With You:
Al Borges isn't going to regulate one of the greatest talents in America. He will play to his talents ie.) Denard. Something else Borges did very well, was setting up plays out of the zone-read. It was really nice on the Dileo touchdown pass to go back watch the game and see how the 3-4 plays ahead of that set that play up. The dude can call plays and at the end of the day if Denard is healthy he will let Denard be Denard to win games.

As Always, Go BLUE.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Preview: Eastern Michigan

Who, What, When, Where, Weather:
Who: Eastern Michigan: Line: Michigan -29
What: Baby Seal U, 3rd game
When: 12:00 Eastern
Where: Ann Arbor
Weather: 67 sunny

Preface: This is going to be short, just like how long I expect this one to be interesting which, won't be very.

Offense vs. Eastern:
If there was one defense in the country significantly worse than Michigan's last season it was Eastern. They also got killed by sub-level MAC teams. We looked out of rhythm and slow to get started next week, so we'll see what happens. If we don't crush here, that's shocking. We can obviously run the jump-ball pass play but past that, we haven't done much this season. It should be time for us to work on our simple plays that we need to be good at.

What to watch for: I formation Manball vs. not looking stagnant on offense. That's all we should need to run on this one. Look for guys like Devin to get some reps by the 3rd  qtr.

Defense vs. Eastern:
Eastern has run the ball well this year to the tune of 313 ypg. They have however done this against, Where are you and Who cares State of the FCS. Forgive me if I am not impressed. Our defense has been able to get timely turnovers which, wasn't our strong suit last year. We have better athletes and our front-four should finally be able to apply pressure without having to run crazy blitzes from all over the place.

What to watch for:
Front four vs. applying pressure. If we can't do this against Eastern, I will be worried for the rest of the year and the Big Ten season will scare the heebyjeebies out of me. Not letting the worst MAC team move the ball against us vs. PLEASE GOD NO.

Special Teams:
Make a field goal if necessary, catch the ball, and no big returns. That is all, carry on.

The line is 29 and that is a hefty one. Michigan has the talent and if they can exploit one team this season it needs to be this one. I'm looking for this one to lose my serious interest early Look for Michigan to win going away. I'm going with Michigan: 52-7.