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Monday, December 31, 2007

VEQ? Miscommunication, poor scheduling, and a post-Independence-Bowl -drinking-game induced screwup meant Orson and I did not hook up. And yes, I mean it just like that.

So, right. Tomorrow at 1 PM Michigan plays Florida. This is what we know:

Run Offense vs. Florida

Mike Hart's ankle injury seemed innocuous in the aftermath of the Purdue game, but quickly metastasized into a season-crippling disaster that lingered for the rest of the year. Though he played against Michigan State and Ohio State, he missed games against Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin and was ineffective even when in the game.

Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown were adequate to good against Illinois and Minnesota, non-factors against Michigan State, and swarmed under against Wisconsin; OSU had a steady diet of TFLs against a gimpy Hart and a lost offensive line.

Florida's 11th-ranked rushing offense appears to pose a stiff test, but a closer look reveals an inconsistent unit that benefited from a soft rushing schedule. Florida State was 96th nationally, South Carolina 101st, and a large portion of the rest of the schedule was Troy and Florida Atlantic and Vandy. Against teams in the same approximate range as Michigan's #44 ranking -- which is may be distorted postively by Michigan's run-pass distribution (56% run) but is also distorted negatively by Hart's extended absence -- this is how Florida did:

TeamRush Off
Att v UFYards v UFYPC v UF

(Note that QB and "team" carries were excised for everyone except Auburn's Kodi Burns and LSU's duo -- LSU uses a lot of option and QB draws even with Flynn in the game -- as Florida racked up a large number of sacks in certain games, distorting the totals. Team carries are almost always kneeldowns. Sacks are passing events and will be dealt with in another section.)

This concludes the pulse-bearing rush attack section of the Florida schedule. There is one dominant performance, one pretty good one, and three decidedly meh ones. I tentatively declare Florida's rush defense a paper tiger.

Will this matter given Michigan's downright dismal performances against Wisconsin and Ohio State? I lean towards no. Michigan's scheme has been void of new ideas since the Oregon game and is currently trying to make do with a terribly out-of-shape Alex Mitchell as a starter. Steve Schilling has also been ineffective most of the year, though more prominently in pass pickup, and Carson Butler is guaranteed to pick up one holding penalty and utterly whiff on three other blocks. There are too many points of failure, and Michigan's run offense is probably closer to the Tennessee-Auburn level than that of the three teams that seriously torched

Key Matchup: Mike Hart versus His Traitorous Ankle. I should have an actual matchup for the Ohio State game, but nothing will impact Michigan's run game more than the status of Hart's gimpy wheel.

Pass Offense vs. Florida

Ohio State preview:
This preview assumes that Chad Henne will play; if he does not please substitute "HEAD FOR THE HILLS! ONLY THE STRONG WILL SURVIVE!" for the text in this space.
Henne did play, but was obviously broken. If he remains broken you can feel free to change the channel at halftime. The current state of injury rumor suggests that this may be the case, but we won't know until Henne starts throwing. More ducks like the OSU game and it'll be a long day. If he's on, really on, like Henne at his apex, Michigan can keep it close and maybe pull it out with a bounce or two, but I don't think anyone's banking on that anymore.

This is where the Gator sacks come in: though they racked up huge numbers against Auburn and Kentucky above, Florida was actually pretty average at this: 58th nationally at just over two per game. UF has a couple of decent-to-good defensive ends -- as a true sophomore, Jermaine Cunningham is definitely promising -- but no one on the level of OSU terror Vernon Gholston. With some help for Schilling, Michigan may be able to forestall the Florida pass rush decently. This would allow them access to the Gator achilles heel, their crappy defensive backs. Every time people are surveyed about Michigan's preferred strategy in this game someone says "attack Florida's crappy defensive backs with your excellent receivers," and this makes sense around these parts, too.

The catch: Henne's shoulder was separated in the Illinois game and held together until Wisconsin, at which point he left the game and Michigan collapsed to two straight season-ending losses. Will it be better? Dunno. But I bet you can guess the next section...

Key Matchup: Henne versus his traitorous shoulder. Unless he's a lot better than he was against OSU, we dead.

Run Defense vs. Florida

Ohio State preview:
I'm looking for a way this won't be ugly and can't find one.
What do you get when you combine Armanti Edwards, Chris Wells and jean shorts?

Goddammit. The progenitor of the term "OMG shirtless," Tim Tebow went from uber-recruit to Heisman winner in two years. Michigan's rush defense has had two weaknesses this year: the zone read and interior running. Given this, Tim Tebow is hell in pads. Then there's Kehstan Moore, mighty mite Brandon James, and Percy Harvin.

Percy Harvin. Goddammit. Percy Harvin is also an uber-recruit, and every time I watch him play I'm reminded of this:

Considering that Ohio State's quarterback spent the day doing his best Jimmah Clausen impression and Tressel gave up on anything not totally predictable as soon as he got a two-score lead, Michigan did an okay job on Chris Wells aside from a 62-yard touchdown jaunt and several other trips into the secondary.


Key Matchup: Uh... Tebow versus cowering.

Pass Defense vs. Florida

This has been a pleasant surprise. Morgan Trent matured into a respectable corner and Donovan Warren has turned out to be worthy of his recruiting hype. Brandon Harrison had a fine year as the teams nickelback and even if the safeties weren't great they were fairly competent. A soft schedule helped, but Michigan still finished the year 13th in pass efficiency defense.

Problem: checking Florida's passing efficiency reveals a big shiny #1. Tebow is not just a runner but an excellent passer; his ability to be a one-man play action only heightens his crazy ninja football skils. Harvin is a terror here, too; three other Florida receivers have more than thirty catches. This is an advanced, diverse, and threatening pass offense that plays off the Florida run game to excellent effect. Maybe Michigan could find a weakness here if they took away said run game -- Florida is even more run-heavy than Michigan, rushing the ball on 58% of their snaps -- but that is extremely unlikely to happen.

Key Matchup: Trent/Warren on Harvin? Hard to pick out anything in particular here, as Brandon Graham stopped being a dominant pass rusher once teams started running at him constantly and there is no #1 threat for Michigan to shut down amongst the panoply of Florida wideouts.


Cheap Thrills

Worry if...
  • Henne looks un-improved.
  • The team looks listless. (IE: the team looks like it's looked most of the year.)
  • Mallett transfers at halftime.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
  • Uh...
  • Well...
  • We did hire Rich Rodriguez. And they'll probably talk about that. Cackle then.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 10 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +1 for Chrisanti Edwells, +1 for Yeah, We're Still Frickin' Gimpy, +1 for Not A Virtual Road Game, An Actual Road Game, +1 for And No One Cares, I Bet This Extends To The Players, +1 for Real Chance of Tennessee Replay).

Desperate need to win level: 2 out of 10. (Baseline 5, -3 for Who Cares?, -1 for I'd Rather Watch The 2005 Sugar Bowl, -1 for This Has No Bearing On The Future, +1 for I'd Like To See Hart Win Something, Anything, +1 for SEC Fans Are So Annoying)

Loss will cause me to... UFR WVU games.

Win will cause me to... UFR WVU games.

The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
We lose bad. This team has been disjointed and disinterested most of the year, and now they know they're in this bowl they don't deserve to be in against a team that's probably a lot better than them; the coaching staff is getting replaced wholesale, to boot.

And we're playing some sort of awful hybrid Michigan kryptonite, and it's a 100% road game, and it appears that one or both of Hart/Henne will not be 100%. Woo! Shoot me.

Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
  • 4 Michigan fans attend.
  • They're pretty pissed off.
  • Florida, 35-17.