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Friday, September 29, 2006

Run Offense vs. Minnesota

Mike Hart ground out 4 yards per carry against a good defensive front despite running into stacked lines most of the afternoon. That's nice. Minnesota is not a good defensive front, which is nice, too. Purdue's two-headed running back racked up 166 yards on 25 carries, but Purdue is a passing team was running from shotgun spread looks and that weird pistol formation, so the results may not be applicable if we decide to plow ahead with our zone running game -- something Minnesota's familiar with -- into stacked fronts. Our line hasn't been creating creases very much, leaving Hart to attempt backside cuts where eighth guys (or un-cut DEs) are waiting in the weeds.

The result against Minnesota should be more of the same, especially since the Gophers are should be adept at avoiding cuts while Michigan is not adept at making them. The assumption: Minnesota will dare us to beat them with the pass, and we will run. Every once in a while we will take advantage of their aggressiveness but not frequently enough for the internet's tastes. Hart has a similar day to the one he had versus Wisconsin, except he picks up another 20 or 30 yards because of the downgrade in the defense he opposes.

Key Matchup: Mike DeBord versus Obvious Playcalling. If Minnesota stacks the line they're begging to have their corners ritually humiliated. Running into those fronts might keep the game close enough for wacky stuff to happen and bring on ignominious defeat.

Pass Offense vs. Minnesota

Year to date Michigan's passing game has been deployed sparingly but effectively, ranking 31st in the country in efficiency despite a spate of dropped balls and the occasional meaningless interception. Chad Henne's accuracy has vastly improved since the bad old days at the beginning of 2005. Meanwhile, Adrian Arrington is in the process of emerging into a reliable second option behind Mario Manningham -- who just emerged into a full-fledged #1 receiver himself. Steve Breaston provides a threat from the slot (yes, if he catches the ball) and Michigan has a trio of pass-catching tight ends they love throwing three-yard-outs to on third and eight. The main question is the protection, as Rueben Riley is still vulnerable at right tackle.

The bottom line: if Steve Davis is blocked, Minnesota will get shredded like wheat. Curtis Painter was given hours in the pocket but singlehandedly prevented Purdue from running up 45 or so by missing open wide receivers. Given Henne's improved accuracy to date, if Michigan receives the same amount of time to throw the results will be impressive. Purdue has a veteran line with no outstanding weaknesses, though -- not something that can be said about Michigan.

Key Matchup: Rueben Riley versus Steve Davis. Minnesota was blitz-allergic versus Purdue despite their obvious lack of pressure, no doubt because their faith in their cornerbacks is approaching nil. Davis appears to be their only way to get to the quarterback. Of note: Davis won the the battle handily a year ago.

Run Defense Vs Minnesota

Minnesota's bread and butter for years takes a step back, finally, with the departures of Laurence Maroney, Gary Russell, Greg Eslinger, and Mark Setterstrom. New running backs Alex Daniels and Amir Pinnix aren't chopped liver but neither are they potential NFL first-rounders, especially the 250-pound Daniels, a linebacker until recently. Pinnix is decent back used to zone cuts and with decent speed, but does not put the fear of God into you like Maroney did.

Sure, the Gophers are 8th nationally in rushing yardage, but they struggled against Cal, gaining only 109 yards on 32 carries versus a good front seven, but one that does not compare to Michigan's. Though opponents have been robbed of rushing yards by sacks and severe deficits, Michigan is the #1 rush defense in the country for good reason and should prove it again on Saturday. Twelve rushing yards might be a bit optimistic, but more than around 120 would be a surprise.

Key Matchup: Rondell Biggs and Lamarr Woodley versus Gopher tackles. The surest way to disrupt the perimeter running game of Minnesota is for your defensive ends to get upfield and cut off the corners. With Taylor, Johnson, and Branch on the inside matching up against new starters, if Biggs and Woodley can close down the outside more often than not Minnesota will be forced into third and long with frequency.

Pass Defense vs. Minnesota

I have a sneaking suspicion that Minnesota's excellent pass protection versus Purdue says more about the Purdue pass rush than Minnesota's line. Purdue's senior DE Anthony Spencer, the closest thing to a star their defense has, sacked Cupito twice by beating Minnesota tackles one-on-one. The Boilers' third sack was similar but from an anonymous DE whose name I don't recall. All three were instant pass rush Cupito had no chance to avoid. Given the rest of the Purdue line's performance in both phases of the game, it's safe to say they're not exactly stars in the making. I expect significantly more pressure from Michigan's beastly defensive line.

Minnesota poses a bigger threat in the passing game than Wisconsin did, figuratively and literally. They feature a trio of huge targets in 6'4" Logan Payne, 6'5" Ernest Wheelwright, and 6'6" Matt Spaeth, all of whom have the ability to fetch the jump balls that are a Cupito speciality. Wheelwright is the deep threat, with Payne being more a possession type (yes, he is white) and Spaeth being a tight end, but any and all are threats downfield. The catch? Cupito is still average at best, erratic with his accuracy and not particularly mobile. Against Purdue he was terrible. The chances of long drives featuring multiple third-down conversions from Cupito's arm are slim.

Key Matchup: Hall versus Wheelwright. Expect a few JBPHJBs (Jeff Bowden Patented Hopeful Jump Balls), all of which should be directed at Wheelwright. Michigan was fairly good on deep balls versus Notre Dame but let McKnight behind the defense on occasion.

Special Teams

Michigan has an advantage in the form of one Steve Breaston, especially since the Wisconsin game featured the best punt return setups Michigan has featured in the past year or two. The gunners were still being singled but the two guys Michigan drops off the line were getting back to effectively double team them more often than not, opening up a lot of room for Breaston to work his magic. Minnesota does have a good returner in SS Dominic Jones, who's averaging 11 yards a punt return and has a kick return touchdown this year, but he hasn't proven himself to the extent Breaston has.

Jason Gianni is a decent kicker who's made 17 of 24 in his career to date. Garrett Rivas is 8 of 9 so far this year.

Key Matchup: Breaston versus futile attempts to contain him.


This almost a double-digit spread, so no kittens. Especially because it seems weirdly low for a team that was killed in its one outing versus good competition and lost to Purdue, who is bad.

Cheap Thrills

Worry if...
  • We continue running into stacked fronts.
  • Our run defense suddenly looks mortal.
  • Henne reverts.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
  • Steve Davis is as invisible as he was versus Purdue.
  • Our offensive line starts shoving the Minnesota DL into Lake Michigan.
  • The playcalling takes what the defense gives us.

Fear/Paranoia Level: 3 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +1 for We Seem Allergic To The Metrodome; -1 for You Basically Have Wisconsin's Offense; -1 for You Definitely Don't Have Wisconsin's Defense; -1 for And You Lost To Purdue).

Desperate need to win level: 8 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +1 for Don't Blow It; +1 for The Jug is of Minor Significance; +1 for Our Opponent Is Not Good)

Loss will cause me to... attempt to implant some sort of mind-control device into Mike DeBord.

Win will cause me to... pray that Michigan State's annual stupid upset comes against anyone except us.

The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict: Minnesota has crushed three of the worst defenses in the country and been largely stoned by Cal, who are somewhere between good and very good when they bother to tackle people running outs. Michigan's defense is at least as good as Cal's, but hasn't seen a run offense that could potentially hurt them yet -- PJ Hill was never really a threat. The Gophers have a few playmakers in the receiving corps, something Wisconsin lacked, and will move the ball in fits and starts but this isn't Purdue.

Defensively, Minnesota is no good and will get throttled if Michigan diversifies its playcalling.

Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
  • Still many first-down runs into stacked fronts.
  • Arrington scores.
  • 30-10, Michigan.