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Friday, September 30, 2005

Run Offense vs. State

Mike Hart is expected to return but hamstring injuries are notorious for lingering. It's yet to be seen whether he has the same effectiveness he did in 2004 against the Spartans, when he cracked 200 yards. The Spartan run D is superficially much better than it was a year ago--as of right now they stand 23rd nationally--but they've played three spread offenses that don't emphasize the run much and have leapt out to huge leads in each of their games, forcing their opponents to pass. When opponents have run, they've done all right. Darius Walker averaged four and a half yards a carry. Hawaii picked up 152 yards on just 28 carries. Illinois got 141 on 33. The latter two are distorted by such huge quantities of garbage time that they're probably not very meaningful, but the upshot is that the Spartan D hasn't proven that they're an above average run defense.

Of course, Michigan hasn't exactly proven the inverse. They've been methodically effective against MAC foes but only had sporadic success against Notre Dame and Wisconsin. Mike Hart's return will make a difference but he can't make holes appear from nowhere. The reason Michigan's ground game has been disappointing has been threefold: Hart's absence, the offensive line disappointing, and the ability of safeties to creep into the box because of Henne's erratic performances. Hart's return only fixes what's behind Door #1.

I expect Michigan's running game will be good--if Hart gets the bulk of the carries he should clear 100 with ease--but not great. Michigan's going to have to convert a lot of third and four, third and five situations.

Key Matchup: Lentz, Kraus, and Henige versus Spartan DTs Domata Peko, Bobby Jones, and Brandon McKinney. If Michigan can beat the Spartan DT's back on a regular basis and pick up five yards on most first downs, they can afford some of the passing game's eccentricities. Converting on fourth and one would be good, too.

Pass Offense vs. State

Twice Michigan has played teams with extremely vulnerable secondaries and twice they have failed to exploit them and lost the game as a result. Against Notre Dame the offensive line, Steve Breaston, and Chad Henne shared the blame, but against Wisconsin it was all Henne, who was wildly inaccurate more often than not when asked to throw downfield.

(Y'all random pundits can shut up about Braylon Edwards, okay? Repeat after me: the loss of BE has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Chad Henne cannot hit an open wide receiver. What exactly do you think the thought process is here?

if (reciever == Braylon)

It mak-ah no the sense. It is the unspicy-ah meatball.)

Anyway. Brady Quinn threw 60 times for 487 yards and five touchdowns. Hawaii's Not Timmy Chang was 21 for 32 for 219 yards. Akron State was 31 for 52 for 293 yards. The secondary is basically the exact same as it was last year except the starter opposite Hayes is a guy who couldn't beat Roderick Maples out. Receivers will be open. Will Henne hit them? He'll hit his share, but 53% and one bad interception is not going to cut it.

Key Matchup: Chad Henne versus His Evil Twin. I mean, let's be serious. Jaren Hayes? Eric Smith? Ashton Watson? The Spartan secondary is a disaster zone. Michigan will have open receivers, but... well, you know.

Run Defense Vs State

Sure, Javon Ringer has played mostly versus crap teams, but he's averaging over nine yards a carry. He's got company: State finished last year 10th in the nation rushing the ball and now stands seventh. They're getting 30 yards a game from four different players: Ringer, The Pedestrian Jason Teague, Jehuu Caulcrick, and The Jesus himself, Drew Stanton.

I don't expect Jehuu Caulcrick to see much time save for short yardage situatons. He's a big, powerful back but given Branch, Watson, and the emerging David Harris on the interior and Michigan's obvious issues with keeping containment on rushers that want to bounce outside, it's clear that Caulcrick is the least effective person to hand rushing attempts to. Teague, Stanton, and Ringer will all carry it plenty, though, and probably to good effect. Michigan and the rest of the Big Ten were totally befuddled last year and appear to be equally confused in 2005.

There is much cause for alarm here. Michigan has used a base set with six in the box with frequency against three- and four-wide sets on non-obvious passing downs and gotten crushed on the ground by NIU, Notre Dame, and Wisconsin (though Wisconsin only used it a couple times). Michigan's going to have to find a better way to deal with that or the Spartans are going to roll down the field largely unmolested. The contain issues we've seen all season will be greatly tested against a highly effective spread option offense. The Spartans are going to roll up yards here if Michigan doesn't play very aggressively with its linebackers and safeties, but when they do that...

Key Matchup: Javon Ringer, The Pedestrian Jason Teague, And The Jesus versus Outside Contain (Or The Lack Thereof).

Pass Defense vs. State

"F***ing Quintana. That creep can roll, man."
"Yeah, but he's a pervert Spartan, Dude."
"Still, I have a simple system by which I rate Big Ten players: how much do I fear this particular person? Stanton is #1 on my list this year. That's got to count for something."
--mgoblog, 7/11/05

Right, so Stanton is completing 73% of his passes, has thrown 13 touchdowns to 2 interceptions, and is (unsurprisingly) leading the nation in passer efficiency. If I was afeared of him before, I find him downright stupefying at the moment. Sometimes there's a man... well, he's the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And Stanton is that man in John L. Smith's spread-run-throw monstrosity.

The good news is that Michigan's defense is probably better than any The Jesus has faced to this point in the season. Michigan's defensive line is showing signs of becoming the fearsome unit it has the potential to be with the dramatic emergence of Alan Branch and the continued fine play of Lamarr Woodley. The secondary has come together nicely; Grant Mason played out of his mind against Wisconsin, Morgan Trent has settled in to the nickelback position nicely, and the safeties appear to have a clue or two, if not the bone shattering hitting of one absent Ernest Shazor. And the linebackers can't possibly play as terribly as they did last year. Michigan's offseason recruitment of Steve Stripling and focus on the spread offense in the offseason should pay dividends. I wouldn't expect 700 yards. But I would expect to scream "Herrmann, you're out of your element!" several times during the course of the game. Michigan is not going to shut the Spartans down.

Key Matchup: Chris Morris and Company versus Alan Branch, Lamarr Woodley, and Please God Tim Jamison. Given time to throw, Stanton will kill us. We need +20 from these guys to have a chance.

Special Teams

Brandon Fields is the kind of punter who can give Steve Breaston a chance to do something. He's got a monster leg but is prone to outkicking his coverage or booting shanky line drives on occasion. Last year he attempted several driven, angled punts that were designed to keep Breaston in check but cost Michigan State field position when he screwed them up several times. With Breaston clearly out of sorts, expect the Spartans to take a chance and kick to him. At this point I don't expect it will burn them.

On the other side of the aisle, human jet engine Deandra Cobb and punt returner Agim Shabaj are gone. Senior WR Kyle Brown has taken over the return duties and done all right but isn't a huge threat. New Spartan kicker John Goss has only attempted 3 field goals... and 21 extra points.

Key Matchup: Single Covering Gunners And Not Blocking Them versus Goddamn Common Sense. This is self explanatory, right?


Let's go kitten power.

Cheap Thrills

Worry if...
  • Henne sails another couple balls five yards over someone's head.
  • Ringer gets the edge.
  • Just plain worry, okay?
Cackle with knowing glee if...
  • Stanton's arm explodes or whatever.
  • Rose Bowl Henne makes a miraculous return.
  • I dunno, man.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 10 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +2 for Stanton, +1 for Stanton's Revenge, +1 for It's In East Lansing, +1 for Has Anyone Seen Chad Henne's Brain?)

Desperate need to win level: 9 out of 10. (Baseline 5. -1 for It's Over Anyway, +5 for Eloi Eloi Lama Sabachthani.)

It's clubbin' time.
Loss will cause me to... puppies puppies kitten love happy puppies. Puppies puppies kitten love happy puppies. I am a beautiful starbeam that thinks football is a silly. I am not affected. I am an upright man with PRIORITIES and a MATURE OUTLOOK ON LIFE who puppies puppies kitten love happy puppies hold me.

Hold me, I'm so cold. Don't you think it's cold?

I think I need to club some baby seals.

Win will cause me to... assume that the miraculous turnaround was due entirely to kitten cuteness and reward the God Of Kittens by flooding this space with the most adorable cats you've ever damn seen.

The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict: No way, man. Game over. Game over, man. Our defense has held up well under fire from quarterbacks bent on inaccuracy but combine the guy with the top passer efficiency rating in the country with a running game perfectly poised to exploit the outside contain issues the Wolverines have had all season and it's foxhole time. Throw in our still injur-iffic offense and Chad Henne doing his best Sophomore John Navarre impression and a road game in East Lansing and we lose. I think we keep their offense decently in check and it's a close game, but we trail most of the way and go to 2-3.

Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
  • Gutierrez does not play.
  • We do really good job of slowing the Spartan offense down.
  • 28-24, Michigan State.