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Friday, September 08, 2006

Run Offense vs. Central

Michigan's grinding success running versus Vanderbilt (243 yards) may not be particularly meaningful but it is encouraging for a team that was totally awful a year ago. The new zone scheme has been discussed endlessly here, there, and everywhere. You know about it; I won't belabor it. Mike Hart had a consistent but relatively boring day, acquiring 146 yards on 31 carries. He missed a few cuts he should have made -- the hopeful theory is he was held out of most of fall practice to prevent injury and needs some time to adjust (this also may explain the thirty-one carries -- but also missed a few tackles that should have felled him. Backups Brandon Minor and Kevin Grady had one exciting, long ramble and a few less memorable carries. The offensive line crushed Vandy off the ball all day.

But, again, just Vandy. Oddly, Central Michigan's front seven represents a step up in the level of competition. The front seven from the MAC's top run defense in '05 returns nearly intact. The headliner is defensive end Dan Bazuin but several other players stepped forward and had good games against BC, most notably Bazuin's bookend Mike Ogle (first name found via entertaining "ogle central michigan" Google search), pictured felling Matt Ryan at left. Boston College's running game was squashed to the point that BC blogger Eagle In Atlanta has thrown in the towel on the running game this year:
The offensive line was the most troubling part of the game. First the good. The pass protection was pretty good and they worked well out of the no huddle and out of the shotgun. The problems -- where to begin? First Sheridan and Poles couldn’t block anyone when pulling. Sheridan was either getting blown up our running without purpose. (Get in front of someone!) Their struggles left AC and LV out to dry. Marten looked slow and weak at Left Tackle.
This is understandable despondency from someone who's just watched his upper-level ACC team squeak out a touchdown victory over a MAC team, but given the stats and accolades carried by the Central front seven a good part of BC's struggles were forced by the Chips. I don't expect us to run like we did against Vanderbilt; if we do that means something.

Key Matchup: Everyone versus everyone? With this zone game it's more a matter of guiding players places they don't want to go. It's hard to pin responsibility on one player. We could point out Tyler Ecker, who was erratic against Vandy.

Pass Offense vs. Central

If we block their rushers we'll torch them. The Central secondary was the team's glaring weak point last year and given Matt Ryan's monster game in the opener it appears to be ready to glare again. Receivers will be open all day; Henne has to find them and throw it to them. The offensive line has to pick up blitzes and stunts. There's little analysis to be had here.

Key Matchup: Rueben Riley and Alex Mitchell versus Bazuin and whoever. The vast majority of the pressure issues against Vandy were due to miscommunication on the right side of the line.

Run Defense Vs Central

This would be a terrfiying prospect under Jim Herrmann: a spread offense featuring a quarterback who can run. We'd be mentally preparing excuses for Monday morning, expecting this redshirt freshman to torch us for 80 yards or whatever, and trying to pass it off as not meaningful.

While it's too early to start building a golden idol of Ron English, things do appear to be looking up. Michigan just got done burninating that exact same sort of attack with a combination of aggression and intelligence not seen in these parts in a very long time. Central's shotgun spread attack will no doubt see a defense similar to that run by Michigan against Vandy. For much of the game that was a 3-3-5 with Shawn Crable playing a sort of LB/DE hybrid and Lamarr Woodley featuring as a penetrating defensive tackle at times. It worked. Outside of a few successful quarterback draws, Michigan bottled the Vandy running game with few problems, racking up 11 TFLs. It might be a stretch to expect a similar performance this time around, but something along those lines but less outright dominant is certainly a possibility. Michigan will bring the heat again.

Key Matchup: Shawn Crable versus Lingering Demons. He was outstanding against Vanderbilt, an entirely new player. Everyone would like to see him do it again before declaring him healed by the power of Michigan's faith healer.

Pass Defense vs. Central

Central's passing game is the usual spread melange of screens, screens, screens, and shots downfield when the defense has crept to within six inches of the line of scrimmage. LeFevour was 22 of 37 against Boston College but was not often pressured; when he was there were running lanes available for him to take.

Michigan, of course, swarmed the poor Vandy quarterback. They totaled six sacks and a further number of bone-rattling hits; Nickson hardly had time to throw all day. I would expect more of the same While Vandy's line was a mis-mash of experienced talent and question marks, Central has more experience (four of five starters) but no one who featured on an All-SEC team last year. Tackle Joe Staley has been invited to the postseason Hula Bowl and features on a few preseason All-MAC teams, but will have his hands full all day. The rest of the line seems like a typical MAC line: all right in its way but not prepared for 330 pound guys who can move like Branch.

Key Matchup: Woodley, Biggs, and Jamison versus Great Expectations.


Nothing of note.

Cheap Thrills

Worry (for Notre Dame) if...
  • Riley and Mitchell continue the hilarious clown antics into a second week.
  • The defensive line suddenly reverts to being mortal.
  • Henne doesn't clean up his mechanics after a few instances of pressure.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
  • It turns out that all those problems on the line really were eminently fixable miscommunication errors.
  • Charles Stewart or Morgan Trent has a big, I-can-cover-McKnight game.
  • Henne turns in an OSU-esque performance.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 2 out of 10. (Baseline 5; -5 for We've Never Lost To A MAC Team And Now Is Not The Time To Start, +2 for But Wait Central Seems Okay, +1 for I've Got A LeFevour And He's Better than Nickson; +1 for Bazuin EAT Riley, -1 for Kelly is &#*!ing Crazy, -1 for And Condoleeza Rice Can't Cover Manningham).

Desperate need to win level: 10 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +5 for It's A Team In Our State Named After A Portion Of Said State.)

Loss will cause me to... Good lord. Wake up and say "it was all a horrible dream," read the paper, find out that it's not, and then flee into the hills assuming the apocalypse is nigh.

Win will cause me to... shrug.

The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict: victory but an uncomfortable one. I expect the run game to be less consistently grinding and pass protection to kill a few promsing drives. I also figure Central will have a few more opportunities to score than Vanderbilt did after 350 yards against a consistently good BC defense despite making some stupid moves that cost them opportunities to add to that total. Michigan wins but does not cover.

Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
  • Jamison debuts and gets a sack.
  • Morgan Trent emerges as the starter opposite Hall.
  • 27-14; panic spreads like wildfire.