So Central Michigan's competitive now. That must be weird, huh?
Yeah, the jury's still out of course (a 6-5 season and seven-point loss to a middle-tier ACC team at home does not a mid-major juggernaut make) but things are finally looking up. As a Central fan, the most positive sign is that there is now talent on both sides of the ball.
In some cases, somewhat young and raw talent and certainly not necessarily Big Ten caliber , but mixed with the right offensive and defensive system and some solid coaching, the kind of players who could get you to the cusp of the Top 25, knocking off a mid-level BCS conference opponent every now and then and in the mix for a bowl bid. Basically, all you can realistically aspire to as a fan of a MAC school.
Could you describe the Brian Kelly offense for us?
It resembles in many ways the "classic" spread offense that Michigan fans see several times a year against Michigan State, Purdue and Northwestern, but it is much, much more uptempo and frenetic (a term I've seen you use a few times, but which is apt). It would be uncommon to see less than 10 or even 15 seconds on the play clock by the time the ball is snapped on offense. The idea with the speed of the offense is to catch defenses off-guard on occasion and wear down opponents for later in the game.
Speaking of things Michigan fans see a lot of, CMU will run a lot of wide receiver screens and quick outs to its receivers, of course a staple of the spread offense. The running game was more or less forgotten until the fourth quarter of the Boston College game for some reason, but when running the ball, CMU will run a lot of draw and misdirection type plays. Seeing the QB line up under center and/or give a straight handoff is generally only used in short yardage and should be relatively easy to read defensively.
Every now and then you will also see some kind of crazy formation or bizarre play call that you likely haven't seen before. Kelly is not averse to pushing the limits of what constitutes a legal formation.
How would you describe the offensive line? Is it experienced? Good? Likely to be overrun by Woodley and company?
The offensive line is very solid and is somewhat atypical of offensive lines in spread offenses in that they can be physical at times if the situation calls for it (this is probably the last remaining legacy of the Mike DeBord Era at Central).
Still, it works because even the bruisers on the line, namely Joe Staley and Drew Mormino, are so athletic. Staley didn't give up a sack last year and will likely be an early-to-mid round draft pick in the NFL next year and Mormino is in his fourth year as a starter. Four of the five linemen return from last year.
All that said, they're not much of a match for the front seven of Michigan, though they will probably offer more resistance than Vanderbilt's OL did.
Where did Dan Bazuin come from? How did he slip through the cracks to Central Michigan (no offense)?
I wish I knew. I'd leave my day job and become an assistant coach/recruiter for a big-time program. When you're a fan of a mid-major program every so often you're blessed by the jocks missing out on one of the prettiest girls in the school to use a forced and fairly disturbing analogy. I don't even think Bazuin was injured in high school, which allows better-than-average prospects to make their way to the MAC from time to time.
As far as I know, it's part coaching and part luck (OK, mostly luck) that one of the best defensive players in the country ended up in Mount Pleasant.
How do you feel about the rest of your defense? How would you attack it if you were an opposing offensive coordinator?
The rest of the front seven is quite good actually. Some of that is because offenses are often so preoccupied with Bazuin and some of it is because there's more talent than your typical mid-major at those positions. There are four really solid linebackers who rotate in and out of the game, which means the defense is usually pretty fresh in the second half. It is not easy to run on Central, though I think you'll see Michigan have success doing it for the most part because of Michigan's superior athletes. As good as the front seven is, they're usually good for a couple of maddening big running plays a game and I don't expect this week to be any different.
Attacking the defense is easy -- throw, throw and throw. The further downfield the better. That was what Boston College did to good effect and I don't think Michigan will be any different. The only thing that is likely to get Michigan into any trouble moving the ball through the air would be Chad Henne completely misfiring downfield, but he should generally have enough time in the pocket where those throws will be few and far between. The defensive backfield is a source of continual frustration and it doesn't look like they're any better this year.
What's the *!ing craziest thing Kelly's ever done?
If you saw the Boston College game, you saw it. He's always been good for a couple "WTF?" moments in most games where he trots out some bizarre formation or gambles on fourth and two from midfield with a 7-point lead and 45 seconds left instead of punting. Still, that game-ending interception and going for it on fourth and eight from the Central 28 is pretty much beyond the pale, even for Kelly. It is exciting though, especially following Mike DeBord, who was about as exciting as vanilla pudding.
[I would have gone with "unflavored gelatin," myself. -ed]
Any thing else Michigan fans should know?
Based on what I've seen of Central in the last couple of years and what I saw of Vanderbilt the two or three times I've seen them the last couple of years, Central Michigan would probably beat Vanderbilt six or seven times out of 10 on a neutral field. What does that mean for Michigan fans? Eh, not much. But just like last week, don't be surprised if the Michigan offense and/or defense seems to struggle at times, even if the outcome of the game is probably never in doubt.
I don't know how useful of a warm-up Central will be for Notre Dame, but it should help Michigan considerably when it plays Michigan State and Northwestern.
Central's special teams are better than they've been in recent years, but a kickoff or punt return for a touchdown by Michigan would not surprise me. In fact, I'd probably bet on it. The coverage teams are sub-par, even if the kicking game is adequate by MAC standards.
Aaand some predictions:
Who wins, what's the score, etc?
Michigan, of course. Central would need everything (calls, bounces, Henne throwing 15 passes to Tacopants, Ron English morphing into Jim Herrmann, you name it) to break in its favor to be in a position to win. And even then might not be able to pull it out. I'll be optimistic and say Michigan wins, 38-17. That many points against what looks to be a very, very solid Michigan defense would be a not unacceptable result for Central fans.
How does Central's O do against the Michigan D?
I think Kelly is a good enough play caller and the talent decent enough that Central should be able to take advantage of Michigan's newfound aggressiveness from time to time. I don't necessary see any big scoring plays, but a typical Central touchdown drive is five or six plays for 65 yards in around a minute and half. I think they might get two of those. Still, the QB (regardless of who plays) is raw and the OL will probably be quite mangled by the time the fourth quarter rolls around. I honestly just hope no one gets hurt since Central plays arguably its biggest MAC game of the season next week against Akron.
How does Central's D do against the Michigan O?
Mike Hart will rush for around 120, probably only on 16-19 carries. The Michigan rushing game will be effective, but not devastatingly so. Bazuin will make two or three plays that make you wonder if he was even being watched, much less blocked.
Henne should be able to do whatever he wants in the passing game though. The size of the beating Central takes in the final score will be directly indicative of his effectiveness. If he completes 70-75 percent of his passes, it'll probably be ugly (five touchdowns). If he struggles at times, it might only be two or three touchdowns. If he completely poops his pants for some reason that I can't imagine, Michigan might only win by 10 or so.
Does Brian Kelly bite anything's head off?
You know what -- the guy's batshit crazy calling a game, no question about it -- but he comes off as almost somnambulate in most press conferences and interviews in discussing his rationale for certain decisions. The BC game was pretty typical. Being asked at halftime more or less if he was on crack to go for it on 4th & 8 deep in his own territory, he actually sounded almost convincing that it was the right decision. I am in awe at his insanity and will defend the guy to the death. For now.
[Count MGoBlog on the Kelly bandwagon, too. -ed]