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Friday, October 12, 2007

First, Alan Weymouth on the last game and the upcoming one:

Obviously, another flat week for Michigan. Alot of second and third string guys playing significant minutes and I think this had something to do with the problems we saw.

Defensively, we stayed out of the that godawful 3-3-5 alignment this week, and controlled the run game for the most part. Michigan tried to work on keeping contain and did a decent job for the most part...but Crable loves to freelance and doesn't always carry out assignments. I really don't like him at DE. Most of Eastern's yardage came from the QB run at the end of the game. We still showed some vulnerability to the zone read. and until our DEs carry out their assignments, we'll have those kinds of problems. I don't think we'll see alot of true Zone Read stuff this week, but with Illinois on the horizon...

I thought Slocum looked good. He drew alot of double teams for a guy who played his first game this week. Ezeh and Logan played pretty well. We're still not good at recognizing the draws, and that really needs to be fixed this week. We've improved a great deal on recognizing screens though. Ezeh in particular looked much better against all the screens. The secondary made a few plays this week, Trent with a couple of nice PBUs. Good tackling will be a must this week against Purdue, as they rely on alot of YAC.

Offensively I'm still shaking my head. Henne makes some of the dumbest throws I've ever seen. Is it just me, or is he still throwing the ball like Braylon is playing WR for us? Run game dominated. I liked Ortmann at tackle... I'd prefer Mitchell at guard and Schilling in the weight room. I have some real problems with Schilling. He's turned out to be a better pass blocker (generally) than run blocker which is opposite what we were told. He doesn't seem able to really get a lot of movement on his guy inside, and often gets knocked around a bit. The one sack was obviously Schilling getting owned by the EMU DT. We also had a few breakdowns in the protection scheme up front that nearly got Henne sacked as well. Most of this I blame on our interior 3. Boren is having trouble getting to those DTs in the A gap. I've always been told that these Zone blocking OLs should keep their shoulders square to the LOS, but Boren often ends up out of position here. Perhaps he doesn't quite have the quickness neccessary to play C. Might be one of the reasons we see some fumbled snaps here too.

I think we can run on Purdue. They've given up yards each week in the run game. The question will be, can we control the numbers in the box. If Henne doesn't start getting things together, Purdue could give us alot of trouble by shutting down Hart.

All in all though, this game doesn't worry me like the Illinois game. The Illini are on a roll, and we still aren't there defensively. We've got alot of work to do between now and then.

Run Offense vs. Purdue

Mike Hart's broken 100 yards in every game of the season so far and is a good bet to do so again. Purdue's unlikely to be as horrific against the run as the 2006 edition of the Boilermakers, but they might not be far off. Witness this remarkable stretch of the Minnesota-Purdue game. Minnesota takes the kick to open the second half, and...
Qtr     Team            TStart  StLn    Result  Plays   Yards   Time
3 Minnesota KO 15:00 34 TD 5 66 1:42
3 Purdue KO 13:18 20 TD 9 80 3:41
3 Minnesota KO 09:37 25 TD 7 75 2:27
3 Purdue KO 07:10 10 TD 10 90 3:43
3 Minnesota KO 03:27 12 TD 12 88 4:18
4 Purdue KO 14:09 36 TD 6 64 1:16
4 Minnesota KO 12:53 35 TD 10 65 4:03
The game was 24-3 Purdue at halftime; no meaningless TDs against token opposition these, except insofar as the Purdue defense represents "token opposition" even when it's trying hard.

Seven straight kickoffs, seven straight touchdown drives of significant length, four of them Minnesota's. The Gophers did large chunks of this on the ground, picking up 232 yards on 6.3 YPC, then promptly going out and rushing for under two YPC against OSU. It was less of a bloodbath against Ohio State, but the Wellses combined for 159 yards on 33 carries without breaking anything longer than twenty yards. The evidence points to a run defense that's still pretty crappy.

Mike Hart, meanwhile, leads the nation in yards and has worked himself back into the Heisman picture despite playing on a trainwreck of a team that lost to Appalachian State. Some of this is sheer mind-numbing repetition -- 44 carries against Penn State, 30 inexplicable ones against Northwestern -- but a large portion of it is just Mike Hart's ineffable ball of awesome.

One disturbing recent trend: Michigan's stretch game is getting overplayed to good effect by defensive tackles. Against Penn State, Northwestern, and Eastern Michigan, Hart was often forced to deal with tackles who had blown overmatched center Justin Boren into the backfield. Sometimes this was okay; sometimes a second player got penetration and killed Hart's carry. The predictability of zone-left-zone-right-zone-left-zone-left has allowed opponents to sell out against it and slant hard to whatever side the offensive line steps to. When Michigan has deigned to misdirect it has been extremely effective, but those instances have been few and far between against opponents Michigan apparently does not respect.

Most teams would look at a sluggish 4-2 Michigan team versus anyone who's 5-1, no matter how fraudulent, and file them in the "respectable" category, which would mean a heavy dose of play action and the zone counter stuff, and likely a big day for Hart. I remain skeptical, however, and think we might see more of the same unless Michigan finds itself down. The thing I'll be watching for early: can Purdue get any DL into the backfield? Michigan's gone up against some good ones of late, but early in the season this wasn't a problem against Oregon and ND, largely because the guys they had in the middle of their defense sucked. Purdue might be that bad -- a quick check shows 2 TFLs each for their starting DTs -- and Hart could rumble downfield at will even without the EXTREME TRICKERY of a counter or two.

Key Matchup: Justin Boren and Random Right Guard against DT penetration. This was the key last week and is also the key this week. Michigan's struggling badly against 4-3 DTs slanting into the backfield. Some of this is on DeBord, but some of it is on the offensive line. Michigan's tendency to rush for negative yardage (with a freakin' senior version of Mike Hart) has killed many a Michigan drive this year.

Pass Offense vs. Purdue

Would you believe that 34% of Notre Dame's total yards on the season were Jimmah and Evan Sharpley passing the ball against the Boilermakers? It seems impossible, but the two combined to go 34 of 52 for 377 yards and three of those "touchdown" things that everyone seems to be talking about Notre Dame not getting any of. (They also threw two picks between them.) Even if Joe Tiller called the dogs off up 23-0 at halftime, Notre Dame narrowed the margin to 26-19 in the fourth quarter: these were no mere garbage time feats of strength.

It's tough to tell how meaningful any other QB performance was. OSU's Todd Boeckman completed 58% for 200 yards and 7.4 YPA but threw three interceptions. CMU's Dan "I've Got A" LeFevour also went nuts, throwing for 364 yards on 54 attempts with two touchdowns to one interception, but Purdue led 31-0 at halftime and likely spent the second have in a leisurely prevent. The rest of the players on the schedule are awful. But so is Notre Dame, who promptly flew out to LA and won against UCLA with a whopping 140 yards of total offense, returning to glory and reclaiming the nation's worst offense in one fell swoop. Anyone capable of giving up 377 yards passing to them has to be a bottom-barrel sort when it comes to pass defense.

Meanwhile, Michigan is 83rd in passing efficiency but has some mitigating factors. True freshman Ryan Mallett started half the season (half of the Oregon game, all of Penn State and Notre Dame, and half of Northwestern) and while he shows promise he's also completing less than half his passes. Chad Henne wasn't much better in the soul-crushing opening 90 minutes of the season and managed to throw two ugly interceptions against Eastern Michigan, but is a senior with a track record that's mostly good at this point. Against Eastern and Northwestern he was efficient and accurate, which might not mean much against actual defenses; this is where we refer you to the 377 yards Notre Dame put up.

Henne had time in the pocket and sliced apart two middling secondaries; given that Purdue is 76th in sacks and might not have Cliff Avril, the only Boiler with more than one, he should have time. Given the 377 yards, he should have open receivers. This should, emphasis on "should", be a field day. It won't be given Michigan's general malaise this year, but the opportunity is there.

Key Matchup: Chad Henne vs Regular Inexplicable Decisions. Henne's thrown four interceptions this year, and all of them have been questionable to downright awful decisions. Michigan can't afford to kill another promising drive by throwing it into double coverage in the endzone.

Run Defense vs. Purdue

Purdue has faced two MAC teams currently ranked 100th and 113th in total defense, a I-AA team, and two virtual I-AA teams in Notre Dame and Minnesota. Against these teams, they've averaged 45.4 points per game. Against Ohio State, they trailed 23-0 late in the fourth quarter before picking up a garbage-time touchdown. OSU is second in total defense and first in scoring defense. Michigan, despite their performance against Oregon, is at neither of these two extremes.

This is a sizable unknown, especially because nominal Purdue starting tailback Jaycen Taylor is out and nominal Michigan starting linebackers Chris Graham and Johnny Thompson may or may not play; definite starting defensive tackle Will Johnson missed last week's game and may not be 100%, though he's expected to play.

One thing we're sure to see plenty of is the zone read and its misdirection-laden ilk, which torched Michigan in the first couple weeks of the season and has been intermittently effective since. The additions of Brandon Graham and, recently, Marques Slocum has given the Michigan defensive line depth it desperately needed, allowing tubby but effective Terrance Taylor to get a blow when he needs it and preventing offensive linemen from getting out too quickly on Michigan's crappy linebackers.

Kory Sheets is a fairly good Big Ten back and will slash his way for 3 or 4 yards per carry. Curtis Painter isn't John Navarre but neither is he Dennis Dixon; Michigan will have to watch for his scrambling and the occasional zone read keeper. CJ Bacher and EMU's Andy Schmitt had some sporadic success scrambling; Painter will probably find a similar number of opportunities to run.

Key Matchup: Taylor/Johnson/Slocum versus the interior Purdue OL. The linebackers will be confused and hesitant; the safeties will have to play back; the Purdue offense lives on shortish second and third downs... Michigan will have to get penetration from the DL to get the Boilers out of their offensive comfort zone.

Pass Defense vs. Purdue

For a brief recap of the season to date and how useless it is for making projections, please see "Run Defense." Curtis Painter's numbers were silly fantastic against a wide array of useless teams until meeting a brick wall in the form of Ohio State; Painter did rack up 268 yards and a touchdown but required 60 passes to do it, completing "just" 31. This seems to confirm this blog's preseason diagnosis of Painter as a scattershot passer with major accuracy issues likely to stop throwing so many balls to the opposition.

That theory will be put to the test against a Michigan secondary that's suddenly jumping routes, blanketing receivers, and making plays on a regular basis... against Northwestern and Eastern Michigan. Purdue has Dorien Bryant, Greg Orton, and Selwyn Lymon. They are way, way better than any group of receivers Michigan has faced since Oregon, and everyone knows how that went unless you blacked out from the pain sometime in the second quarter. (And if so, wow what a comeback! We won 45-32! Don't look this up anywhere!)

This could go in many different directions: we jump stuff that Painter throws to anyway, getting picked off, or they pick the right time for a double move and torch our potentially questionable safeties (or overthrow it by six yards); we lay off and they complete YAC stuff underneath; Warren blows a tackle and turns it into 20 yards. I don't know. I suspect both teams will alternate good plays with bad ones and this is mostly a draw.

Another potential issue: the Boilers have an outstanding tight end in Dustin Keller and Michigan's linebackers have been liabilities in coverage much of the year. Andrew Quarless is still waving his hand twenty yards downfield, futilely hoping Anthony Morelli will throw him the damn ball.

Key Matchup: Warren, Trent, and Harrison versus YAC. Michigan's been excellent about jumping the short routes at key times the past couple weeks, but against teams with mediocre receivers. Purdue has the ability to get any of its top three guys deep; Michigan will probably have to lay back more and tackle securely. All three corners have had issues with this at times, especially freshman Warren.

Special Teams

After a year of hideous performance, Purdue's Chris Summers has made a remarkable turnaround. He's 8 of 10 on the year after going 8 of 20 last year; Purdue has a major advantage at kicker.

Dorien Bryant returns both kicks and punts; senior receiver Desmond Tardy also chips in. Both Bryant and Tardy have kickoff return touchdowns, albeit against weak competition. Given Michigan's occasionally shaky coverage teams, this could be another problematic area.

Bryant is unlikely to get a significant opportunity on a punt return with Zoltan playing excellently; Purdue's counterpart is thoroughly average. A slight Michigan advantage here.

Key Matchup: KC Lopata, please don't suck.


Cheap Thrills

Worry if...
  • Another defensive tackle spends his day escorting Boren into the backfield.
  • It's AppSt redux in the zone read.
  • Henne throws another brainlock pick or two.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
  • Michigan's suddenly competent secondary sticks to the receivers like whoah.
  • We test out the Purdue secondary early and find it to be vaporware.
  • We kick a goddamn field goal or two.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 5 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +1 for Ack Spread Option, +1 for Ack Better Record, -1 for Very Likely A Fraud, This Team, +1 for But Then What Are We?, -1 for 34% Of ND's Total Yards? You Suck, -1 for Hart Will Tear Them Apart).

Desperate need to win level: 10 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +1 for Apparently This Team Is Close To Falling Apart At The Seams And A Loss Against Purdue Could Easily Be The Start Of An Ugly Death Spiral, Or At Least That's What Multiple Tipsters Tell Me, +1 for We Should Probably Emphasize That DEATH SPIRAL Thing, +1 for This Really Is A Hinge Game, +1 for Have I Mentioned The Death Spiral?)

Loss will cause me to... doodle "Brian Miles" surrounded by hearts on my trapper-keeper.

Win will cause me to... well... basically the same thing.

The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
Michigan is not a particularly good team, but Purdue's limp defeat at the hands of OSU despite three interceptions of Todd Boeckman -- a phenomenon that looks fluky as hell given Purdue's results against Notre Dame -- indicates that they aren't much of one either.

Michigan's offense is going up against what looks like a bad defense potentially missing its best player; the Boilers don't have the sort of defensive tackle capable of slashing into the backfield like Michigan's last three opponents, and Chad Henne appears to be back and functional against a team with little pass rush and a potentially wonky secondary. Let's not get ahead of ourselves -- Michigan is not a good offense and will stop themselves from time to time -- but 30-40 points is likely against this D given the number of opportunities Purdue's pass-mad spread will give them.

Defensively, I expect the corners to stay aggressive and the safeties to stay conservative. Michigan will give up a number of completions over the deep middle after play action suckers the linebackers up, plus a double-move or two against excessively aggressive corners and some short YAC-y throws against excessively passive ones. However, an array of Michigan pressure, the occasional jumped route, and the occasional Painter misthrow will force Purdue to punt after picking up a first down or three frequently.

Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
  • Hart: 35-208-2
  • We yield one ugly, long touchdown.
  • 32-27, Michigan.