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Big Ten power rankings: Week 3

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014


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Week 3 brought another horrendous performance for the Big Ten as a whole. The conference mustered only three wins in nine nonconference matchups and fell even further down the totem pole in terms of national relevance.

East Division
1. Penn State (3-0, 1-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Rutgers 13-10 This Week: Sat vs UMass (0-3), 4pm, Big Ten Network

Penn State kicked off conference play with a road victory, which can be difficult at any venue in the Big Ten. The offense struggled, managing just 13 points (all in the second half), but the defense stifled Rutgers and led the newest East contenders a 3-0 record.

2. Michigan State (1-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat vs Eastern Michigan (1-2), 12pm, Big Ten Network

The Spartans had an off week to prepare for their third non-conference game against Eastern Michigan. Michigan State will steamroll the Eagles and enter conference play as the favorite in the East.

3. Ohio State (2-1, 0-0) – Up 3
Last Week: Beat Kent State 66-0 This Week: Bye (9/27 vs Cincinnati)

Ohio State made a statement against an awful Kent State team, rolling to a 66-0 win. Unfortunately, a Virginia Tech loss to East Carolina at home makes Urban Meyer’s first regular-season loss in Columbus less forgivable.

4. Michigan (2-1, 0-0) – Up 3
Last Week: Beat Miami (Ohio) 34-10 This Week: Sat vs Utah (2-0), 3:30pm, ABC/ESPN2

Michigan jumps up to No. 4 on the list not as a result of playing well, but because of how much the rest of the division struggled. Miami (Ohio) stuck around for much of the game in Ann Arbor and Michigan struggled to move the ball against a team that hasn’t won in a calendar year.

5. Maryland (2-1, 0-0) – Down 2
Last Week: Lost to West Virginia 37-40 This Week: Sat at Syracuse (2-0), 12:30pm, ESPN3

Maryland took its first loss of the season Saturday when it surrendered 28 points to West Virginia in the first half and failed to dig out of the hole. Next week will provide another test as the Terrapins travel to Syracuse.

6. Rutgers (2-1, 0-1) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Penn State 10-13 This Week: Sat at Navy (2-1), 3:30pm, CBS Sports Network

Rutgers kicked off the conference season with a tough home loss to Penn State. The Scarlett Knights carried a lead into the 4th quarter of the game, but couldn’t close the deal.

7. Indiana (1-1, 0-0) – Down 3
Last Week: Lost to Bowling Green 42-45 This Week: Sat at #18 Missouri (3-0), 4pm, SEC Network

The last thing the Big Ten needed was another loss to the MAC just seven days after one of the worst weeks in conference history. But Indiana traveled to Bowling Green and couldn’t stop the Falcons’ offense, falling 45-42.

West Division
1. Nebraska (3-0, 0-0) – Up 2
Last Week: Beat Fresno State 55-19 This Week: Sat vs Miami (2-1), 8pm, ESPN2

Nebraska erased the memory of a near loss to McNeese State on Saturday, pounding Fresno State 55-19 on the road. Though their nonconference season hasn’t been pretty, Nebraska has a great chance to finish 4-0 when the Miami Hurricanes come to town this weekend.

2. Wisconsin (1-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat vs Bowling Green (2-1), 12pm, ESPN2

Wisconsin had a week off after bouncing back from a collapse against LSU. This Saturday, the Badgers will take on the same Bowling Green team that just topped Indiana, but expect this game to turn out much differently.

3. Minnesota (2-1, 0-0) – Down 2
Last Week: Lost to TCU 7-30 This Week: Sat vs San Jose State (1-1), 4pm, Big Ten Network

What? The Gophers are No. 3 in the division? Well, since four West teams lost on Saturday and Northwestern is still searching for a win, Minnesota’s loss on the road to TCU seems the most forgivable. Next up: San Jose State comes to town.

4. Purdue (1-2, 0-0) – Up 2
Last Week: Lost to #11 Notre Dame 14-30 This Week: Sat vs Southern Illinois (3-0), 12pm, Big Ten Network

Purdue surprised the entire country by pushing Notre Dame into the second half on Saturday. The Boilermakers stayed within one possession of the Irish throughout most of the game, but eventually the same group that lost by 21 to Central Michigan showed its true colors.

5. Illinois (2-1, 0-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Washington 19-44 This Week: Sat vs Texas State (1-1), 4pm, ESPNNews

Illinois finally got a chance to match up with some strong competition, and it didn’t go well for Tim Beckman’s group. Washington scored 44 points on the weak Illini defense and cruised to a 25-point victory.

6. Iowa (2-1, 0-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Iowa State 17-20 This Week: Sat at Pittsburgh (3-0), 12pm, ESPNU

Iowa managed perhaps the most unimpressive 2-0 record of the year with one-possession wins over Northern Iowa and Ball State. But on Saturday a winless Iowa State team marched into Kinnick and beat the Hawkeyes 20-17.

7. Northwestern (0-2, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat vs Western Illinois (2-1), 12pm, ESPNNews

Northwestern took a much-needed week off after starting the season 0-2. The Wildcats will look to get their first victory at home against Western Illinois on Saturday.

First Look: Utah

Monday, September 15th, 2014


FirstLook-Utah

Michigan bounced back from its embarrassing loss at Notre Dame with a 34-10 win over Miami (Ohio) on Saturday. It wasn’t dominant, though on paper it was. Three second-quarter turnovers kept the RedHawks in the game before Michigan pulled away in the second half. In the end, Michigan did just what it was supposed to do: win.

This week, a much more formidable opponent comes to town in the form of the Utah Utes. The last time Utah visited Ann Arbor they kicked off the short-lived Rich Rodriguez era with a 25-23 win. Could they do the same this Saturday? Let’s take a look at how Michigan and Utah compare.

Utah Statistics & Michigan Comparison
UtahMichigan Rank Defense Rank
Points Per Game 57.5 | 28.7 3 | 77 20.5| 18.3 4429
Rushing Yards 496 | 726 234 | 240
Rush Avg. Per Game 248.0 | 242.0 24 | 29 117.0 | 80.0 39 | 10
Avg. Per Rush 5.0 | 6.3
2.8 | 2.6
Passing Yards 619 | 583 441 | 518
Pass Avg. Per Game 309.5 | 194.3 29 | 100 220.5 | 172.7 56 | 22
Total Offense 1,1151,309 675 | 758
Total Off Avg. Per Game 557.5 | 436.3 14 | 59 337.5 | 252.7 35 | 7
Kick Return Average 41.5 | 18.4 1 | 92 20.3 | 19.6 T69 | 60
Punt Return Average 12.0 | 14.0 34 | 27 1.0 | 5.7 T19 | T58
Avg. Time of Possession 28:01 | 32:26 94 | 25
31:59 | 27:34
3rd Down Conversion Pct 52.0% | 44.0% 17 | 59
38.0% | 32.0% 67 | 34
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 4-26 | 4-31
T70 | T54
11-57 | 4-37
1 | T88
Touchdowns Scored 16 | 11
6 | 7
Field Goals-Attempts 1-13-6 0-1 | 2-2
Red Zone Scores (9-11) 82% | (10-10) 100% T71 | T1
(5-6) 83%(8-8) 100% T58 | T101
Red Zone Touchdowns (8-11) 73% | (8-10) 80% (5-6) 83% | (6-8) 75%

The obvious stats that jump out are Utah’s offensive numbers. The Utes have scored at least 56 points in each of their first two games, average 557.5 total yards per game, and do it with a balanced offense. In the Week 1 win over Idaho State, Utah passed for 351 yards and rushed for 238. In Week 2 against Fresno State, Utah passed for 268 and rushed for 258.

Now, before we go any further, let’s consider the level of competition Utah has faced so far. Idaho State, an FCS school, went 3-9 last season with wins over Dixie State, Western State, and Northern Colorado and finished second-to-last in the Big Sky Conference. Fresno State, on the other hand, went 11-2, but lost quarterback Derek Carr, their top receiver, and starting left tackle from an offense that carried them. Their defense ranked 86th nationally in points allowed and was expected to take a big step back this fall. Without a high-scoring offense, Fresno State has already lost to USC 52-13 and Nebraska 55-19, in addition to the Utah loss.

Schedule
Date Opponent Result
Aug. 28 Idaho State W 56-14
Sept. 6 Fresno State W 59-27
Sept. 20 at Michigan
Sept. 27 Washington State
Oct. 4 at #12 UCLA
Oct. 16 at Oregon State
Oct. 25 #17 USC
Nov. 1 at #15 Arizona State
Nov. 8 #2 Oregon
Nov. 15 at #16 Stanford
Nov. 22 Arizona
Nov. 29 at Colorado

So the success of Utah’s offense is likely inflated at this point, having faced a low-tier FCS team and an atrocious defense. But credit the Utes for not playing down to the level of competition.

Quarterback Travis Wilson, who had an up and down season in 2013, has played much better in early 2014, completing 63.2 percent of his passes for 223 yards per game, six touchdowns, and no interceptions. Against Fresno State, Wilson completed only 11 of 20 passes, but five of them went for touchdowns. His backup, Kendall Thompson, completed four of seven, and one of them was a touchdown. Four of those six touchdown passes were from at least 24 yards out. That’s pretty efficient. Eleven different players have caught a pass and only one, Kenneth Scott, has caught double digits.

The running game is averaging six yards more per game than Michigan’s, although Michigan has played one more game. Utah is averaging five yards per carry compared to Michigan’s 6.3. The Utes have a very diverse backfield with five players with between 15 and 21 carries through two games — including Wilson and Thompson — and only one back over 100 yards.

Defensively, Utah is slightly above average so far, ranking 44th in points allowed, 39th in rush defense, 56th in pass defense, and 35th in total defense. Fresno State passed for 283 yards, but was held to just 55 rushing yards on 40 attempts. However, Idaho State managed a much more respectable 179 yards on 44 carries (4.1 yards per carry).

One stat that is somewhat worrisome is that Utah leads the nation with 5.5 sacks per game (11 total). Michigan’s line has held up pretty well so far — compared to last year at least — but Utah will be a good test.

On special teams, Utah has attempted just one field goal, but ranks 11th nationally in net punting. Punter Tom Hackett is averaging 51.1 yards per punt with six of his 10 punts traveling over 50 yards. The return game currently leads the nation with 41.1 yards per kick return thanks to a 100-yard touchdown by receiver Kaelin Clay against Idaho State.

Utah hasn’t really been tested yet this season, nor have the Utes traveled away from Salt Lake City yet. Michigan will pose that first test, much like Notre Dame did for the Wolverines. Regardless, Michigan will be in for a battle and can’t afford to take Utah lightly. Michigan got away with several turnovers last Saturday, but Utah has the talent and ability to make Michigan pay if the same thing happens this Saturday.

Key Players
Passing Comp-Att Yards TD INT Long
Travis Wilson 24-38 446 6 0 61
Kendall Thompson 10-17 156 1 0 45
Rushing Attempts Yards TD Long Average/Carry
Devontae Booker 20 145 2 38 7.2
Bubba Poole 19 96 1 16 5.1
Kendall Thompson (QB) 15 78 1 15 5.2
Travis Wilson (QB) 15 49 1 17 3.3
Receiving Receptions Yards TD Long Average/Game
Kenneth Scott 10 134 3 36 67.0
Dres Anderson 7 195 2 48 97.5
Westlee Tonga (TE) 6 85 1 25 42.5
Defense Solo Assisted Total Tackles TFL-Yds Sacks-Yds
Nate Orchard (DE) 4 10 14 3-14 2.5-12 (1FR)
Eric Rowe (DB) 9 5 14 1.5-3 0-0 (1 Blk)
Hunter Dimick (DE) 5 5 10 2.5-15 2.5-15
Clint Shepard (DT) 4 4 8 3.0-3 1.0-1
Kicking FG Made FG Att Long XP Made XP Att
Andy Phillips 1 1 47 16 16
Punting Punts Yds Avg. In-20 50+
Tom Hackett 10 511 51.1 5 6
Full Stats

Stay tuned for more on Utah in the coming days.

M&GB staff predictions: Miami (Ohio)

Friday, September 12th, 2014


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Miami comes to Ann Arbor riding an 18-game losing streak, hoping to do what Toledo did a few years ago and what Akron nearly pulled off last year: pull off a MAC win in the Big House. Head coach Chuck Martin knows Michigan well and will have his team prepared. Could we be in for another huge letdown? Let’s take a look at our predictions.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Miami
Justin 42 17
Sam 54 6
Derick 52 10
Josh 42 17
Joe 44 10
M&GB Average 47 12

Justin: Martin will have a good game plan for Michigan, but lacks the talent and depth required to be competitive. Andrew Hendrix will test Michigan’s secondary and get a couple of big plays, but Michigan’s front seven will make its mark on an offensive line that has given up nine sacks through two games.

Devin Gardner will look for Devin Funchess early and often and also benefit from Jake Butt’s return. The running game will look much better than it did last week, but that still won’t give us any confidence in it beyond Saturday.

Michigan 42 – Miami 17

Sam: It can’t be that time again so soon can it? That feeling of impending doom at the start of every Michigan game? Well…I guess we will just wait and see. That sure worked out last season.

After a crushing 31-0 defeat at the hands of Notre Dame in a game that meant a LOT to Michigan Football but apparently didn’t mean much to Brady Hoke and this team, the Wolverines welcome the second patty-cake of the season to the Big House.

Miami of Ohio, they of the 18 straight losses (including 13 by double digits…but hey, they gave Eastern Kentucky a run for their money!!), will provide the competition(?) this Saturday in front of a crowd with plenty of leg room and not much reason to cheer.

Michigan will roll, because Miami is unspeakably terrible, but it won’t mean much. Even if they did lose, it probably wouldn’t damper Hoke’s outlook on the season, because, after all, the RedHawks are not in the Big Ten.

Anyway, expect to see much of the same as against Appalachian State. The offensive line will look wonderful, the secondary will be world class, and everything will be rosy again. Maybe that time will have to wait just one more week. I’ll take Michigan.

Michigan 54 – Miami (Ohio) 6

Derick

Michigan failed to show up for the biggest nonconference game of the season, and now it has to avoid any carryover as Miami (Ohio) comes to the Big House. The Wolverines were dominated in every facet of the game in South Bend, but should look much better against a winless MAC opponent. Michigan will blast the RedHawks on Saturday, but it won’t make up for the debacle last week. More importantly, will any major changes be implemented by Brady Hoke, who’s feeling the heat now?

Michigan 52 – Miami (Ohio) 10

Josh

Well, I hate to say it but I was right about Michigan’s potential struggles last week in the pass game, lack of run game, no pass rush and turnover Gardner showing up. Let’s hope my optimism against this week’s opponent carries over like my pessimism did last week.

Miami (Ohio) comes at the perfect time and should be a nice confidence booster heading into the Utah game (which I circled as a trap game heading into the season). Unlike Akron and UConn, Miami (Ohio) is actually pretty bad, 18-game losing streak bad. Coming off a loss to an FCS team I don’t think the RedHawks will put up much of a fight, though their passing game does concern me a bit with our depleted secondary. Hoke doesn’t talk about injuries (in case you haven’t heard) so who knows if Raymon Taylor and Jabrill Peppers are ready to go. They likely won’t run the ball so Michigan can commit most of their efforts to stopping the pass.

Expect Doug Nussmeier to get a little more aggressive than he was in weeks 1 and 2 and look to throw the ball over the top a few times to open up the defense. Devin Funchess is still a nightmare match up and he’ll come down with most jump balls so why not send him deep? Dennis Norfleet gave us glimpses (which is all he ever seems to give us) of what he can do in the slot and if the offense can establish a downfield threat it’ll open things up in the short and intermediate passing game, and run game. The Green/Smith combo should have a nice day but I doubt we’ll see the kind of numbers they put up against Appalachian State.

I don’t see Michigan suffering a ‘hangover’ from the Notre Dame debacle, though I question the “it was just one game” comments. Regardless, the Irish played very well last week and took advantage of all their opportunities via short fields and turnovers. No, Michigan didn’t play well at all but as much as I hate to admit it Notre Dame is very good team and should win nine or 10 games, so it’s not like Michigan just lost to Sisters of the Poor. That said, Michigan struggled with cupcakes last year and I think that is still very fresh in their minds. They will come in mentally ready and should roll over the RedHawks with relative ease. It won’t be an Appalachian State style rolling but Michigan is a 30-point favorite for a reason.

Michigan 42 – Miami (Ohio) 17

Joe

This is where we find out what this Michigan team is made of. We’ve heard all week long that this team has great leadership and will not get discouraged by last week’s shutout loss…it’s first in 30 years by the way. While I hope this to be the case, I am extremely skeptical. I need to see some MOXY and ATTITUDE from this group and see it early on Saturday.

With that being said, I feel the offense will be able to run the ball at will against an overmatched Miami squad. I can see both running backs going for over 125 yards and Gardner throwing for two touchdowns in this rebound game. Funchess will have his usual 100-plus-yard game and a touchdown by half. I am looking for a strong defensive performance with some early turnovers to get the momentum and crowd back into things. If Michigan is able to start fast, this will be a cakewalk. If Michigan struggles early, the Hoke teams tend to tighten up an keep things interesting for three quarters. I think this Wolverines group rebounds behind a strong running game and fired up defense. Michigan improves to 2-1 with a victory over the RedHawks of Miami.

Michigan 44 – Miami (Ohio) 10
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Links: 

For more coverage of this week’s game, see: Michigan-Miami (Ohio) game preview; a First Look at the RedHawks; our Week 2 Big Ten Power Rankings; this week’s BBQ/tailgate idea, Spatchcock RedHawk; a Q&A with Chuck LaPlante, the Miami writer for the MAC SB Nation site Hustle Belt; and this week’s Five-Spot Challenge. I also answered some questions for Hustle Belt.

Also check out game previews from MGoBlogMaize n BrewMaize n Blue Nation, and Touch the BannerMGoFish provides a list of Michigan targets visiting Notre Dame tomorrow. Also, roundtable predictions from Maize n Brew.

Michigan-Miami (Ohio) game preview

Friday, September 12th, 2014


Game Preview_Miami_banner

The last time Michigan faced Miami (Ohio) the Wolverines were beginning anew. Rich Rodriguez had taken over from Lloyd Carr and excitement surrounded the program, full of visions of sugar plums and high-flying spread offenses. The 2008 team opened the season with a 25-23 loss to a Utah squad that went 13-0 and finished ranked No. 2 nationally by the Associated Press. Rodriguez picked up his first win the following week against Miami (Ohio), 16-6.

Tomorrow when Miami comes to town, Michigan is in a much different spot. No longer are Mid-American Conference-level teams scared to step foot in the Big House. Since that 2008 win, Michigan is just 41-35 overall with a loss to Toledo and a near loss to Akron.

UM-Miami-small-final
Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 3:30 p.m. EST – Big Ten Network
Miami Head Coach: Chuck Martin (1st season)
Coaching Record: 74-9 overall (0-2 at Miami)
Offensive Coordinators: George Barnett (1st season)
Eric Koehler (1st season)
Defensive Coordinator: Matt Pawlowski (1st season)
Returning Starters: 15 (8 offense, 7 defense)
Last Season: 0-12
Last Meeting: UM 16 – Miami 6 (2008)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 5-0
Record vs MAC: Michigan leads 33-1
Largest win over Miami: 55-0 (1924)
Closest win over Miami:  16-6 (2008)
Brady Hoke vs Miami:  2-2
Brady Hoke vs MAC: 32-21

Miami, on the other hand, isn’t exactly the class of the MAC. The school that once sent Michigan its most beloved coach, Bo Schembechler, and is known as the cradle of coaches, is still searching for its next big-time coach. After three years of decline under former Michigan State offensive coordinator and Jim Tressell protege Don Treadwell, the RedHawks turned to Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin.

Unlike Treadwell, Martin isn’t a first-time head coach. He succeeded Brian Kelly at Grand Valley State in 2004 when Kelly left for Central Michigan and continued Kelly’s success, winning two national championships and setting a Division II record with 40 straight wins. In six years, he compiled a record of 74-7 before rejoining Kelly at Notre Dame in 2010.

In South Bend, Martin served as defensive backs coach his first two seasons before taking over as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2012 and 2013. The Irish weren’t exactly known for their offense those two seasons — they ranked 54th and 67th in total offense those two seasons — but the success was impressive enough to land his first Division 1 head coaching job.

Miami had a 10-1 season in 1998 under Randy Walker and a 13-1 season in 2003 under Terry Hoeppner, finishing ranked 10th nationally that season. But in the 10 years since, the RedHawks have had just three winning seasons. Michael Haywood put together a great turnaround in 2010, transforming a 1-11 team in his first season into a 10-4 squad in year two, but then he bolted for Pittsburgh, where he never coached after being arrested for domestic violence. Treadwell took over and went 4-8 in each of his first two seasons and started 0-5 last season before being fired on Oct. 6. Miami finished the season 0-12.

Miami opened this season with a 42-27 loss to Conference-USA favorite Marshall and then lost to FCS foe Eastern Kentucky 17-10 a week ago. Against Marshall, Miami fell behind 28-3 by halftime, but pulled within 28-20 at the end of the third quarter. The teams traded touchdowns in the fourth, but Marshall scored again to put it away with two minutes remaining. Against Eastern Kentucky, Miami dominated the game statistically, but had trouble finding the end zone. Miami scored on its first drive and held a 7-3 halftime lead, then widened it to 10-3 midway through the third. But EKU scored two touchdowns down the stretch to hand Miami its 18th-straight loss.

Let’s take a look at how Michigan and Miami match up.

Michigan defense vs Miami offense: When Miami has the ball

Martin’s offense will look similar to Notre Dame’s without the talent, though it certainly helps that he has one of his quarterbacks along with him. Andrew Hendrix spent four seasons at Notre Dame, where he played in 16 games in backup duty. He went 25-of-58 for 360 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions and also set the Notre Dame single game quarterback rushing record with 111 yards against Air Force in 2011. He graduated from Notre Dame last December and elected to follow Martin to Oxford for his grad-year season.

Chuck Martin knows Michigan well and will try to replicate what his former boss did last week (Miami University Athletics)

Chuck Martin knows Michigan well and will try to replicate what his former boss did last week (Miami University Athletics)

Despite being a former four-star recruit, Hendrix never could beat out Tommy Rees and Everett Golson in South Bend. Still, his familiarity with Martin’s offense makes him the best choice for the job this fall. And he has certainly been called on. Through the first two games, Hendrix has completed 49-of-101 passes for 677 yards, four touchdowns, and four interceptions. By comparison, Devin Gardner has only attempted 46 passes so far — three fewer than Hendrix has completed.

Miami’s offense currently ranks 18th nationally in passing, averaging 338.5 yards per game. Only 15 teams in the country have thrown for more yards so far and only four teams have attempted more passes. However, Miami has fewer touchdown passes than the other four, and only four of the 17 teams with more passing yards per game have fewer touchdown passes than the RedHawks.

With such an active passing game, Miami naturally has a pair of receivers averaging over 100 yards per game in senior David Frazier and redshirt sophomore Rokeem Williams. Frazier has caught 13 passes for 215 yards, but no touchdowns, while Williams has caught nine for 204 yards and one touchdown. They’re both decent sized receivers at 6’0″, 180 and 6’1″, 204, respectively. Then there’s 5’10″, 180-pound sophomore Jared Murphy, who has five receptions for 83 yards and a score, and tight end Alex Welch, who has six catches for 51 yards and a touchdown.

While the passing game is moving the chains, the running game is stuck in neutral. Miami ranks 116th nationally in rushing, averaging just 80 yards per game. Only eight teams in the country are averaging fewer, but none of them have attempted as many rushes as Miami has (74). Only five teams have fewer yards per carry than Miami’s 2.16.

Redshirt sophomore running back Spencer McInnis leads the team with 54 yards on 11 carries (4.9 yards per carry), while redshirt junior Spencer Treadwell has 47 yards on 10 carries (4.7 ypc). Hendrix has the most carries on the team (36), though if you remove sacks, his 27 carries for 40 yards are just 1.4 yards per carry. Receiver Dawan Scott actually has the most non-quarterback carries with 13, but has just 36 yards (2.8 ypc).

The line brought a combined 99 career starts into the season, but allowed 49 sacks a year ago. Already through two games this season, Miami has allowed nine.

Michigan offense vs Miami defense: When Michigan has the ball

Last season, Miami’s defense ranked 115th nationally in total defense, 113th in rush defense, and 106th in pass defense. So far this season, those numbers are far improved, but level of competition plays into that — namely, playing Eastern Kentucky. Miami ranks 60th in total defense, 55th in rush defense, 75th in pass defense, and 91st in scoring defense.

Quinten Rollins, a star for Miami's basketball team, is moonlighting at cornerback this season (Stephan Savoia, AP)

Quinten Rollins, a star for Miami’s basketball team, is moonlighting at cornerback this season (Stephan Savoia, AP)

Marshall put up 432 yards of offense in Week 1, 261 through the air and 171 on the ground. Marshall running back Devon Johnson ran for 151 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries (7.9 ypc), while quarterback Rakeem Cato completed 20-of-32 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns. Week 2 was a different story as Miami’s defense limited EKU to 280 total yards and just 82 on the ground.

The front four consist of redshirt sophomore defensive end J’Terius Jones (6’3″, 245), junior defensive end Bryson Albright (6’5″, 243), junior defensive tackle Mitchell Winters (6’5″, 285), and redshirt sophomore nose tackle Jimmy Rousher (6’2″, 288). Jones currently ranks third on the team with 11 tackles, second with 2.5 tackles for loss, and tied for the lead with two sacks. He also has a fumble recovery, while Albright has eight tackles and a sack.

Another Notre Dame transfer is featured on defense, grad-year senior outside linebacker Lo Wood, who played in 32 games for the Irish. He has eight tackles so far. The other outside linebacker is redshirt junior Joe Donlan, who has 16 tackles, 1.5 for loss, and a sack. Junior Kent Kern, a second-team All-MAC selection last season, is the middle linebacker and leads the team with 23 tackles, three for loss, and two sacks, and also has two pass breakups.

The secondary includes a converted Miami basketball player who ranks second in Miami history and 12th in MAC history in steals. Quinten Rollins switched sports and is now a starting cornerback and continued his penchant for thievery as the only player on the team with an interception so far this season. Opposite him is redshirt sophomore Jay Mastin, who has five tackles and half of a tackle for loss. The safeties are senior Jarrell Jones, who has 10 tackles, and redshirt sophomore Marshall Taylor, who has five tackles and two pass breakups.

The other third: Special teams

Junior kicker Kaleb Patterson has made 3-of-5 field goals with a long of 24 and one blocked. He has made 22-of-29 the last two years with a long of 52. Redshirt junior punter Christian Koch is averaging 44.3 yards per punt with a long of 60 and two downed inside the 20. Redshirt sophomore receiver Fred McRae IV is the main man in the return game, averaging 13.5 yards per kick return and 10.5 yards per punt return.

Prediction

There are a couple of scenarios coming into this game. One is that Michigan still feels the weight of last week’s embarrassment, has no confidence, and effectively lets Notre Dame beat them twice. The other is that Michigan shakes off last week’s loss, uses it as a spark, and devours a MAC snack. I think the later is more likely.

You can be sure Martin has spoken to Kelly this week to try to figure out how he was able to have such success last Saturday, but the fact of the matter is Martin lacks the talent Kelly had. Everett Golson played a flawless game and I wouldn’t expect Hendrix to do the same. Will he make some big plays? Probably. Especially if Jabrill Peppers is still out and Raymon Taylor can’t go. Michigan’s secondary is vulnerable right now and the Miami passing game will be a good test. However, this could be the game that gets Michigan’s pass rush going, given that Miami is allowing 4.5 sacks per game.

The Michigan offense will move the ball just like Marshall did, and while Miami doesn’t have anyone that can cover Devin Funchess, it would be nice to see Devin Gardner develop more cohesion with his other receivers. It would also be nice to see Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith put together a rushing performance more like Week 1 than last week. We certainly won’t see 350 rushing yards, but should hope for at least 200.

Michigan will be much more efficient than it was last week, and while Miami will make a few big plays, it will be too one-dimensional to really challenge the Wolverines.

Michigan 42 – Miami 17

Miami (Ohio) Q&A with Chuck LaPlante of Hustle Belt

Thursday, September 11th, 2014


Miami_Q-A_banner

Each Thursday throughout the season we collaborate with that week’s opponent blog to get some questions answered by the guys who know more about their team than we do. Last week, we talked to Ryan Ritter of Her Loyal Sons. This week, we partnered with Chuck LaPlante of the Mid-American Conference SB Nation site, Hustle Belt. He was kind enough to answer questions about the changes new head coach Chuck Martin brought about, why Andrew Hendrix throws so many passes, what match ups he’s most worried about, and more. You can follow him on Twitter at @laplanck.

1. In what ways have the team changed under Chuck Martin compared to the previous staff?

I think the best way to answer that question is to answer a related question, which is how Martin and his staff are different from Treadwell and Company. (I think the jury’s still out on how the team has changed after some practices and just two games.) Martin himself has an outstanding track record of success, both at the Division II level and as a coordinator at the Division I level. The man knows how to win, and he’s hired a staff that shares experience winning with him, either as former assistants or as former players. That was a big component missing from the Treadwell staff, where our offensive coordinator, John Klacik, was hired despite taking two years off of football after a fifty-plus-game losing streak as a Division II head coach. The new staff has a confidence about them that the old staff never did (even from day one), and I think we’ll soon see that reflected in the players.

Another refreshing change is Martin’s directness and willingness to take responsibility when things go wrong. If Miami lost by 42 points under Treadwell, he’d say something like, “I thought our game plan was solid, but we just need to execute better,” essentially throwing the team under the bus when his own schemes led to a 42-point beatdown. After last week’s loss to EKU, Martin took the blame himself, saying that he was responsible for not having the team prepared to face EKU’s game plan. It’s a refreshing change.

2. Andrew Hendrix has thrown over 100 passes in two games and has completed more passes than Devin Gardner has attempted. Two Miami receivers are averaging over 100 yards per game. Is that how Martin wants the offense to be, or is it a product of not being able to run the ball? And do you think it can have success against Michigan’s defense?

It’s a product of not being able to run the ball. Our offensive line is terrible; there’s no way to sugarcoat that. It’s a product of how bare Treadwell left the cupboard (his staff recruited skill positions well, but seemingly wouldn’t even try to recruit linemen), and of his aversion to any strength and conditioning for the players. To be sure, Miami can have limited success in a traditional running game — Spencer McInnis showed some good flashes last week — but the line just doesn’t have the power or stamina to keep it up for a whole game, which is why you start seeing Hendrix scrambling around and throwing it all over the field, or just taking it and running himself. There’s a reason so much of Martin’s incoming recruiting class consists of tight ends on the larger side; most of them will bulk up and shift to the line.

Can they have success against the Michigan defense? I think that if they avoid stupid turnovers (there were six last week; Miami would have beaten EKU if there were only, say, four), they’ll score points. I seriously doubt it will be enough to win, but there are yards to be had through the air.

3. After putting up 350 rushing yards and 52 points against Appalachian State in Week 1, Michigan’s offense failed to make it to Notre Dame’s red zone last Saturday and was shut out for the first time since 1984. Does Miami’s defense have enough talent to slow down Michigan’s offense or will it be more like Week 1?

The defense certainly won’t be shutting Michigan out, but I think it will provide more of a challenge than the Mountaineers did. Despite being outweighed man-for-man by EKU’s offensive line (again, thanks to Treadwell’s S&C program or lack thereof, Miami’s DL was outweighed man-for-man by the OL of an FCS school), the RedHawks held the Colonels to 82 yards. EKU got over 400 yards in Week 1 and averaged 200 yards a game on the ground last year. But this is a team that still has a big hole to climb out of. I expect a respectable showing that shows improvement in some phases of the game, nothing more.

4. What matchup worries you the most this Saturday and why? And is there a matchup where you think Miami has an advantage?

Devin Gardner versus the defense. Miami hasn’t looked good against a dual-threat quarterback since 2010, and although I do think the defense is getting better, I don’t see that changing by Saturday. Where does Miami have an advantage? Well, I’d take our AD, David Sayler, over Dave Brandon. But that’s not exactly on the field.

5. What’s your prediction and why?

Michigan, 37-17. If the RedHawks avoid turnovers, they can score a couple times. But Michigan is definitely the better team, and it will show.

Big Ten power rankings: Week 2

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014


Power Rankings_header

It was a dreadful week for the Big Ten as a conference, as the top teams crumbled against strong competition and the rest of the teams struggled against weak teams. Purdue and Northwestern both fell to MAC schools and Iowa barely escaped Ball State. Nebraska, Illinois, and Maryland were favored by multiple scores but all only won by a single possession. At night the conference’s supposed top three teams lost by a combined 64 points in a week that may have eliminated the Big Ten from playoff contention.

East Division
1. Penn State (2-0, 0-0) – Up 2
Last Week: Beat Akron 21-3 This Week: Sat at Rutgers, 8pm, Big Ten Network

What could be better than crushing Akron to move to 2-0 on the season for Penn State? How about learning that, after an offseason resigning themselves to literal championship irrelevance, the team will be eligible to play in the postseason after all? The news comes for a Penn State team that looks dangerous behind sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg and could make a run at the East Division crown.

2. Michigan State (1-1, 0-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to #3 Oregon 27-46 This Week: Bye (9/20 vs Eastern Michigan)

Very few teams in the country have the talent to beat Oregon on its own turf, and Michigan State is not one of those groups. But that doesn’t mean the Spartans can’t make a run at the first college football playoff. Losing by 19 points should never satisfy a fan base that hopes to support an elite program, but Michigan State certainly looked like the class of the Big Ten when it led 27-18 in Autzen.

3. Maryland (2-0, 0-0) – Up 4
Last Week: Beat South Florida 24-17 This Week: Sat vs West Virginia, 12pm, Big Ten Network

After demolishing James Madison in Week 1, Maryland still had everything to prove in its first year as a member of the Big Ten conference. On Saturday it was more of the same as the Terrapins went on the road and beat a South Florida team that finished 2-10 last season.

4. Indiana (2-0, 0-0) – Up 2
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat at Bowling Green, 12pm, ESPNU

Scheduling a bye may have been the best possible move for Indiana in a week when nearly every Big Ten powerhouse lost by more than 10 points. The Hoosiers go on the road to face Bowling Green this week before a big matchup in Missouri.

5. Rutgers (2-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Howard 38-25 This Week: Sat vs Penn State, 8pm, Big Ten Network

Following a huge road win in Washington State to bring in the new season, Rutgers struggled with Howard when it returned back home. In the end, four touchdown passes from Gary Nova was enough to move Rutgers to 2-0.

6. Ohio State (1-1, 0-0) – Down 2
Last Week: Lost to Virginia Tech 21-35 This Week: Sat vs Kent State, 12pm, ABC/ESPN2

Week 1 against Navy was just a fluke, right? Unfortunately for Urban Meyer, his team proved that notion wrong on Saturday night when Virginia Tech walked into the Horseshoe and stomped his Buckeyes 35-21. J.T. Barrett was 9 for 29 with three interceptions in what turned out to be a disastrous performance. Would Ohio State be the best team in the conference with Braxton Miller? It’s certainly possible, but without the former Heisman candidate the team is revealing massive holes at more than just backup quarterback.

7. Michigan (1-1, 0-0) – Down 5
Last Week: Lost to #16 Notre Dame 0-31 This Week: Sat vs Miami (Ohio), 3:30pm, Big Ten Network

In the final matchup with Notre Dame on Saturday night, Michigan proved how much a team can change over the course of a week. After a nearly perfect showing against Appalachian State in the opener, the team completely collapsed in South Bend. Doug Nussmeier’s offense posted the school’s first scoreless effort in 30 years while Greg Mattison’s ‘more aggressive defense’ sat back and let Everett Golson pick it apart like a thoracic surgeon. One loss can’t derail an entire season, but the 31-0 shelling fans witnessed Saturday is as close as it gets. Brady Hoke’s best road win in four seasons at Michigan is over an Illinois team that finished 7-6 after scraping out a victory in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in 2011. Nothing short of wins in East Lansing or Columbus should save this coaching staff.

West Division
1. Minnesota (2-0, 0-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Middle Tennessee 35-24 This Week: Sat at TCU, 4pm, Fox Sports 1

Minnesota’s presence atop the West Division standings says more about the rest of the conference than it does about the Golden Gophers. Minnesota has played two cupcake opponents at home, but through Week 2, beating those teams by double digits is enough to earn the top spot.

2. Wisconsin (1-1, 0-0) – Up 2
Last Week: Beat Western Illinois 37-3 This Week: Bye (9/20 vs Bowling Green)

Blowing a 17-point lead to LSU on the national stage almost came back to bite Wisconsin again, as it led Western Illinois just 9-3 at halftime. But the Badgers came back in the second half and scored 28 unanswered points and are the obvious favorite in the West Division.

3. Nebraska (2-0, 0-0) – Down 2
Last Week: Beat McNeese State 31-24 This Week: Sat at Fresno State (0-2), 10:30, CBS SN

Nebraska highlights a host of teams that struggled to beat inferior opponents on Saturday. McNeese State fought the Cornhuskers to the bitter end in Lincoln, losing by just a touchdown.

4. Illinois (2-0, 0-0) – Up 2
Last Week: Beat Western Kentucky 42-34 This Week: Sat at Washington (2-0), 4pm, FOX

Though Illinois beat Western Kentucky by only eight points, quarterback Wes Lunt has emerged as a leader of the offense. Lunt has thrown for 741 yards and seven touchdowns through his first two weeks.

5. Iowa (2-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Ball State 17-13 This Week: Sat vs Iowa State (0-2), 3:30pm, ESPN

Iowa was a popular pick to challenge Wisconsin for the West Division title at the beginning of the season, but two poor showings have buried that belief despite a 2-0 start for the Hawkeyes. Ball State nearly upset Iowa in Iowa City, but fell just four points short.

6. Purdue (1-1, 0-0) – Down 3
Last Week: Lost to Central Michigan 17-38 This Week: Sat vs #11 Notre Dame, 7:30pm, NBC

Former Michigan running back Thomas Rawls shredded Purdue for 155 yards and two touchdowns as Central Michigan absolutely rolled the Boilermakers 38-17 in West Lafayette. Purdue trailed the whole game and is clearly inferior to mid-level MAC schools at this point of the season.

7. Northwestern (0-2, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Northern Illinois 15-23 This Week: Bye (9/20 vs Western Illinois)

Two losses to start the 2014 season have left Northwestern with a 2-9 record since the middle of last season as the program continues to unravel underneath Pat Fitzgerald. The Wildcats are the only team in the conference without a win.

First Look: Miami (Ohio)

Monday, September 8th, 2014


FirstLook-Miami

Michigan suffered its first shutout in 30 years in a humiliating loss at Notre Dame last Saturday and now returns home to face a team riding an 18-game losing streak. Miami (Ohio) is in its first season under former Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chuck Martin. The Redhawks haven’t won a game since beating Ohio University 23-20 on Oct. 27, 2012.

A week ago, any thought of an upset sounded insane, but with last week’s loss in mind and last season’s scares against Akron and UConn, could Miami possibly have a chance to end its losing streak in the Big House? Let’s take a first look at Miami.

Miami (Ohio) Statistics & Michigan Comparison
MiamiMichigan Rank Defense Rank
Points Per Game 18.5 | 26.0 111 | T86 29.5| 22.5 T9168
Rushing Yards 160 | 450 253 | 207
Rush Avg. Per Game 80.0 | 225.0 116 | 39 126.5 | 103.5 55 | 36
Avg. Per Rush 2.2 | 6.3
3.7 | 3.1
Passing Yards 677399 459 | 353
Pass Avg. Per Game 338.5 | 199.5 18 | T86 229.5 | 176.5 75 | 35
Total Offense 837849 712 | 560
Total Off Avg. Per Game 418.5 | 424.5 T77 | 72 356.0 | 280.0 60 | 26
Kick Return Average 16.7 | 26.0 107 | 25 25.6 | 19.6 119 | 55
Punt Return Average 10.5 | 23.5 41 | 9 6.2 | 5.2 67 | 59
Avg. Time of Possession 36:42 | 31:36 4 | 44
23:18 | 28:24
3rd Down Conversion Pct 30.0% | 43.0% 109 | 66
20.0% | 38.0% T7 | T65
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 9-60 | 3-24
T122 | T66
7-28 | 3-25
T16 | T75
Touchdowns Scored 4 | 7
8 | 6
Field Goals-Attempts 3-51-4 1-1 | 1-1
Red Zone Scores (5-8) 63% | (6-6) 100% 113 | T1
(6-7) 86%(6-6) 100% T71 | T88
Red Zone Touchdowns (2-8) 25% | (5-6) 83% (5-7) 71% | (5-6) 83%

Miami has continued its losing streak so far this season, namely because of the 11 points per game scoring disparity. In Week 1, the Redhawks did manage to put up 27 points against a Marshall team that went 10-4 last season and is favored to win the Conference-USA this season, but last Saturday could only muster 10 points against an FCS school, Eastern Kentucky.

Against Marshall, Miami fell behind 21-0 early in the second quarter, but fought back to within 28-20 heading into the fourth. That was as close as they would get as Marshall won 42-27. Against EKU, Miami led 10-3 in the third, but the Colonels scored 14 straight to knock them off.

Schedule
Date Opponent Result
Aug. 30 Marshall L 27-42
Sept. 6 Eastern Kentucky L 10-17
Sept. 13 at Michigan
Sept. 20 at Cincinnati
Sept. 27 at Buffalo
Oct. 4 Massachusetts
Oct. 11 at Akron
Oct. 18 at Northern Illinois
Oct. 25 Kent State
Nov. 1 Western Michigan
Nov. 15 at Central Michigan
Nov. 25 Ohio

The Miami offense this season is extremely one-sided through two games, averaging 338.5 passing yards and just 80 rushing yards per game. The passing game ranks 18th nationally and only 15 teams have thrown for more yards so far, including future Michigan opponents Penn State and Michigan State. Quarterback Andrew Hendrix, a Notre Dame transfer, has thrown 101 passes (by comparison, Devin Gardner has thrown 46) and completed 49. Two receivers are averaging over 100 yards per game, though only one of them has caught a touchdown pass.

The running game on the other hand is a disaster, although not quite as bad as the numbers look because they’ve lost 60 yards on sacks. Take out the sacks and Miami is averaging a still bad but slightly more respectable 3.2 yards per carry. Hendrix has carried the ball three times more than any running back has, and sacks removed, is averaging just 1.4 yards per carry.

Defensively, Miami is giving up a touchdown more per game than Michigan and ranks about middle of the pack nationally. The Redhawks held Eastern Kentucky to just 280 total yards, but as we saw in South Bend last Saturday that doesn’t mean much when your own offense can’t score. Unlike Michigan’s, Miami’s offense actually rolled in that one, racking up 445 total yards, but managed just 10 points. The week prior, however, Marshall rushed for 171 and passed for 261 on Miami. Marshall running back Devon Johnson rushed for 151 yards and two touchdowns on 7.9 yards per carry.

One stat that really sticks out is the seven sacks that the Miami defense has recorded through just two games, four more than Michigan. Michigan’s offensive line has only allowed three, but didn’t provide Gardner much time to throw on Saturday.

This is a game that could be a bit closer than it should be if Michigan doesn’t shake off last week’s game quickly. You can bet Diaco will give his buddy Brian Kelly a call this week to learn how the Irish had such success moving the ball on Michigan last week and shutting down the Michigan offense. Notre Dame had much more talent than Diaco’s squad does of course, but Hendrix spent three years at ND and won’t shy away from the environment. He will test Michigan’s secondary, especially if Raymon Taylor and/or Jabrill Peppers can’t go, though I assume at least Peppers will be back. Michigan should win this one similar to the way it beat Appalachian State, but if Doug Nussmeier can’t fix last week’s problems, it could make for a very tense afternoon.

Key Players
Passing Comp-Att Yards TD INT Long
Andrew Hendrix 49-101 677 4 4 47
Rushing Attempts Yards TD Long Average/Carry
Spencer McInnis 11 54 0 13 4.9
Spencer Treadwell 10 47 0 15 4.7
Dawan Scott 13 36 0 13 2.8
Andrew Hendrix (QB) 36 7 0 13 0.2
Receiving Receptions Yards TD Long Average/Game
David Frazier 13 215 0 47 107.5
Rokeem Williams 9 204 1 41 102.0
Dawan Scott (RB) 6 53 1 15 26.5
Jared Murphy 5 83 1 40 41.5
Defense Solo Assisted Total Tackles TFL-Yds Sacks-Yds
Kent Kern (LB) 15 8 23 3-13 2-12
Joe Donlan (LB) 10 6 16 1.5-7 1-6
J’Terius Jones (DL) 7 4 11 2.5-4 2-4
Jarrell Jones (DB) 8 2 10 0-0 0-0
Kicking FG Made FG Att Long XP Made XP Att
Kaleb Patterson 3 5 24 4 4
Punting Punts Yds Avg. In-20 50+
Christian Koch 11 487 44.3 2 2
Full Stats

Stay tuned for more on Miami in the coming days.

M&GB staff predictions: Notre Dame

Friday, September 5th, 2014


StaffPicks_banner

One hundred and twenty-seven years ago, Michigan traveled to South Bend and taught a group of Catholics how to play football. Tomorrow, those two schools that share such history will square off for the final scheduled time. It could be ten years, it could be more before the two all-time winningest programs rekindle the rivalry, but both will be looking to carry bragging rights into the hiatus. Here are our predictions.

Justin

When I watched and re-watched Notre Dame’s season-opening win over Rice, I came away impressed with the Irish offense. Rice is a much better opponent than Appalachian State and Notre Dame didn’t have much trouble with them. Specifically, Everett Golson is a much better quarterback than when Michigan last saw him two years go. In that game, Golson went 3-of-8 for 30 yards and two interceptions before being replaced by Tommy Rees. He spent last season away from the program due to suspension, but used that time to work with quarterback guru George Whitfield and become a better quarterback. That was on display last Saturday when he completed 14-of-22 passes for 295 yards and two touchdowns, and rushed for 41 yards and three touchdowns. Those are Devin Gardner numbers.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Notre Dame
Justin 38 33
Sam 31 26
Derick 31 27
Josh 20 27
Joe 34 28
M&GB Average 31 28

Golson showed very good arm strength and touch on deep throws as his receivers routinely beat the Rice secondary. That won’t happen tomorrow and Michigan’s game plan would be wise to keep all receivers in front of them and force Golson to hit the quick throws, which is where his accuracy struggled last Saturday.

Rice was able to move the ball fairly well against the Notre Dame defense, especially through the air. The Owls ranked 103rd nationally in passing offense last season, averaging just 178 yards per game. Against Notre Dame, Rice threw for 226 yards and had a lot of wide open receivers. Brian Kelly chalked that up to miscommunication and said it has been fixed this week, but Michigan’s receivers are much, much better than Rice’s. Unless Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder can keep Gardner off balance all day long, Gardner will have a big day and lead Michigan to a close victory in a high scoring affair.

Michigan 38 – Notre Dame 33

Sam

Michigan versus Notre Dame doesn’t need much of an introduction. It’s one of the biggest rivalries in the world of sports, a matchup that almost always brings bright and loud fireworks. In two days, the two old-time rivals will go at it for the last time in the foreseeable future and for the all-time college football win percentage lead (ND currently leads by an unfathomably small margin)…as if this Saturday’s game to be played at night at Notre Dame Stadium needed any more hype.

So what should we expect? Fireworks, smoke bombs, firecrackers, and then some. There has not been a runaway victory in this game for quite some time, and I don’t expect one this weekend either.

I think we will see another decently high-scoring affair, with the Devin-to-Devin connection getting things going again early before Everett Golson leads the Irish back to within striking distance and maybe the lead. If Michigan’s offensive line can make ND’s defensive front look like Appalachian State (2014 version), the Maize and Blue will roll behind Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith again. It won’t be that easy, though. In the end, I like Michigan’s front seven to apply a good deal of pressure and Michigan’s offense to have one too many weapons on one too many plays for the shaky Irish secondary to hold up. Funchess scores two more while Amara Darboh finds the end zone for the first time in a Michigan win.

Michigan 31 – Notre Dame 26

Derick

It’s tough to draw conclusions from the performances of Michigan and Notre Dame last week, but two blowout victories have set up a battle between two teams that looked nearly perfect in Week 1.

Michigan showcased a revived rushing attack that crumbled to pieces during the conference schedule in 2013. A healthy Devin Gardner complimented the running of Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith with 13 completions on 14 attempts to round out an incredibly efficient offensive attack.

If Doug Nussmeier can maintain this level of productivity from his sophomore running backs, Michigan’s offense will be nearly impossible for any team to stop.

In the final meeting between the two teams, Notre Dame will struggle to stop that offense and Michigan will come out with a slim win.

Michigan 31 – Notre Dame 27

Josh

Saturday marks the end of a classic (albeit not very often) rivalry. To be honest, I don’t blame Notre Dame for backing out; they’ve lost six of the last eight and Michigan is getting back to being Michigan. With the move to playing five ACC teams every year the Irish don’t want too many good opponents on their schedule after all.

After last week’s showing I feel better about this weekend, though not much better. If this was a home game I’d be much more confident. However, it is not and Notre Dame Stadium is a tough environment. None of Hoke’s teams have shown the ability to win on the road against decent opponents and that is a big red flag for me heading in.

A lot of the college football pundits seem to think this will be a shoot out, I don’t think so at all. Michigan’s defense is much more aggressive than last year and has the athletes to play press coverage, which will allow the front four ample opportunities to create havoc for the running backs and Everett Golson. Michigan only had two sacks and two more TFL’s against Appalachian State, that just doesn’t cut it. The Irish front will be far bigger and stronger than App State was, presenting a challenge. Michigan should be able to hold its own but I don’t think they’ll generate much pass rush or fluster Golson too much. Lack of pass rush will allow the Irish will beat the Michigan defense deep a few times and they’ll put points up on the board. Maybe not a ton, but it’ll be enough.

Devin Gardner looked really good last week, making checks at the line for protection and switching plays. But can he do it again, and against a better team? I’d love to say yes but I really have no idea if he can be consistently good. Funchess is an unstoppable monster on the outside and odds are Notre Dame will double him so Gardner needs to find that second receiver. I think it’ll be Norfleet out of the slot. But if Norfleet can’t step up and Gardner keeps forcing passes to his No. 1 guy it won’t turn out well. For me it’s basically a coin flip over which Devin Gardner shows up but on the road and I have to lean towards inconsistent, prone to turnover Gardner.

The run game, while dominant last week against a weak opponent, still concerns me. Take out the big runs for Green and his yards per carry are a paltry 3.7, which for a man of his size and (alleged) skill is completely unacceptable. De’Veon Smith showed better and has better vision so I’d be willing to bet he gets the nod as 1a, but he still lacks game breaking speed so don’t expect him to hoof it for any more 50-plus gains.

The line had some trouble creating holes against App State and I think that’ll get worse against the Irish. Graham Glasgow will play and we’ll probably see yet another starting five on the line. These guys just can’t get enough time together to jell and if you don’t know what you’re gonna get from the guy next to you it makes your job all the more difficult. Mason Cole, while admirable and fairly technically sound last week, is still just a freshman and as we saw is clearly not strong enough yet. I think he’ll get abused more than once and that could spell doom for Gardner as he is not the best at making decisions under duress. I think the Irish sack him four or five times and force at least one turnover that leads to a score.

Until this team shows me they’ve made marked improvement, can be consistently good week to week and can beat a decent opponent on the road I won’t have much confidence in them. They beat App State like they should have now comes the first test of whether this team has come together and can get it done. I’m not so sure they have and Michigan ends this rivalry with a big fat L and the “Fire Hoke” bandwagon will warm itself up.

Notre Dame 27 – Michigan 20

Joe

The “final” showdown in the storied rivalry between Notre Dame and Michigan is set for primetime on Saturday, and this contest will not be without its fair share of storylines. Fresh off of easy wins and equally impressive showings for each quarterback, each of these teams will be put to the test.  The lingering question for me is this: Which Michigan team will show up on the road? Despite Hoke’s success at home (20-2), the Wolverines have struggled away from Ann Arbor and are a disappointing 7-11. If the offensive line can buy Devin Gardner some time while opening up holes for the duo of De’Veon Smith and Derrick Green to take some pressure off of him, Big Blue will play spoiler on ND’s home turf.  I have no doubt that Michigan’s defense and special teams will step up in this one and keep it competitive, therefore, the bulk of the responsibility rests on the shoulders of the offense. This game will not be decided until the fourth quarter, so enjoy some BBQ, a cold beverage, and a Wolverines victory.

Michigan 34 – Notre Dame 28

_______________________________________________________________________________

Links: 

For more coverage of this week’s game, see: Michigan-Notre Dame game preview; a First Look at the Irish; our Week 1 Big Ten Power Rankings; this week’s BBQ/tailgate idea, Irish Stout Pepper Beef; a Q&A with Ryan Ritter of Her Loyal Sons; and this week’s Five-Spot Challenge.

Also check out game previews from MGoBlogMaize n Brew, Maize n Blue Nation, and Touch the Banner. MGoFish provides a list of Michigan targets visiting Notre Dame tomorrow. Also, roundtable predictions from Maize n Brew.

From the other side, staff predictions from Her Loyal Sons. Spoiler: they all pick ND and most of them aren’t even close games. Also, a prediction from One Foot Down.

Michigan-Notre Dame game preview

Friday, September 5th, 2014


Game Preview_ND_banner

Although Michigan and Notre Dame have squared off only 41 times in 127 years, it has been a rivalry that just feels like it belongs in college football. But on Saturday night, when the two face off in South Bend in a nationally televised prime-time game, it’s coming to an end. And that’s a shame.

The two programs share so much in common and so much history. Michigan taught the game to Notre Dame in 1887 and won the first eight games of the series before ND finally got the best of their counterparts in 1909. It was that game that inspired one version of the story of how Notre Dame got its “Fighting Irish” nickname, when the Detroit Free Press labeled them the “Fighting Irishmen.”

Michigan canceled the scheduled 1910 rematch when it felt Notre Dame was using ineligible players, and it took 32 years and a feud between Fielding Yost and Knute Rockne, for Yost — who was then Michigan’s athletic director — to reschedule the Irish. The teams split a pair of games in 1942 and ’43, but then-Michigan coach Fritz Crisler carried on the disdain for Notre Dame, refusing to continue the series.

UM-ND-small-final
Quick Facts
Notre Dame Stadium – 7:30 p.m. EST – NBC
Notre Dame Head Coach: Brian Kelly (5th season)
Coaching Record: 209-72-2 overall (38-15 at ND)
Offensive Coordinator: Mike Denbrock (1st season)
Defensive Coordinator: Brian VanGorder (1st season)
Returning Starters: 9 (5 offense, 4 defense)
Last Season: 9-4
Last Meeting: UM 41 – ND 30 (2013)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 24-16-1
Record in South Bend: Series tied 9-9-1
Last Michigan Road Win: 2010 (0-1 since)
Last 10 Meetings:  Michigan leads 6-4
Last 5 Meetings:  Michigan leads 4-1
Current Streak: Michigan 1

Don Canham took over as athletic director when Crisler retired in 1968 and worked to resume the series. It finally did 10 years later and has been played in 30 of the last 35 years, producing great game after great game. Tomorrow will be the 31st, and while Michigan dominated the first part of the all-time series, the Wolverines hold just a 15-14-1 edge since 1978.

The two schools have similar stadiums — some say Notre Dame Stadium was copied off of Michigan Stadium, which was built three years earlier — similar academics, battle for the same recruits, iconic uniforms and fight songs, and stand first and second in all-time winning percentage. Close enough, in fact, that if Michigan wins tomorrow it will re-take the number one spot that Notre Dame recaptured at the end of last season.

Like Michigan, Notre Dame opened this season with a comfortable win last Saturday over a lesser opponent. Notre Dame’s opponent, Rice, wasn’t quite as bad as Michigan’s (Rice was ranked 62nd in USA Today’s preseason college football countdown, while Appalachian State was 119th), but the Owls did put up a fight for almost 30 minutes.

Rice pulled within 14-10 midway through the second quarter, but Notre Dame struck twice in the final three minutes of the half to break open a 28-10 halftime lead. The Irish then outscored Rice 20-7 in the second half to capture a 48-17 win. It was certainly a more impressive season opener than last season’s offensive dud against Temple.

Let’s take a look at how Michigan and Notre Dame match up.

Michigan defense vs Notre Dame offense: When Notre Dame has the ball

Last week, Notre Dame racked up 576 yards of offense against a Rice defense that ranked a very respectable 30th nationally in 2013. The Irish did it in a balanced fashion with 295 yards passing and 281 yards rushing.

Everett Golson is much improved since Michigan last saw him in 2012 (Joe Raymond, AP)

Everett Golson is much improved since Michigan last saw him in 2012 (Joe Raymond, AP)

Quarterback Everett Golson completed 14-of-22 passes for 295 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for 41 yards and three more touchdowns. When Michigan faced Golson in South Bend two years ago he was a first-year starter running a simplified offense designed to essentially prevent mistakes because the Irish defense was so good. Now, after a year away from the program spent working with quarterback guru George Whitfield, Golson is much better and more comfortable, and Brian Kelly is able to open up the playbook. And after a slow start last week it looked good. He’s a pass-first quarterback to be sure, but Kelly is able to use him on designed quarterback draws, which is how Notre Dame scored its first touchdown, and he’s a capable runner when the play breaks down, while keeping his eyes downfield.

One of the big questions the ND offense faced heading into the season was who would step up at receiver. Sophomore William Fuller and junior C.J. Prosise answered the bell in Week 1, both contributing big plays. Fuller led the Irish with four receptions for 85 yards and a touchdown. He raced past the Rice secondary for a 75-yard touchdown grab late in the first quarter. Prosise also showed big play potential, catching a 53-yard touchdown pass at the end of the first half. The duo had just 13 catches for 232 yards and a touchdown combined last season in spot duty. Prosise did have some catching concerns in the offseason and dropped what should have been a 55-yard touchdown on Saturday.

Converted running back Amir Carlisle caught two passes for 54 yards and shares the slot duties with Prosise, while sophomore Corey Robinson, the son of NBA great David Robinson, is a tall and rangy receiver at 6’5″ and caught one pass for 25 yards. Tight end Ben Koyack looks to be the next in a long line of great Notre Dame tight ends. The 6’5″, 254-pound senior caught three passes for 51 yards on Saturday. Aside from not having a go-to receiver like Devin Funchess, this receiving corps is much like Michigan’s: inexperienced, but plenty of talent.

The running game was somewhat of a committee last weekend as Kelly is still searching for the main ball carrier. Senior Cam McDaniel got the start and rushed eight times for 40 yards, but isn’t going to wow anybody. Sophomores Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston will likely earn the most playing time as the season goes on. They both rushed for 71 yards on Saturday, but Bryant did it on eight carries, while Folston carried it 12 times. Bryant also scored a  touchdown. They are Michigan’s version of Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith.

The offensive line had to replace its left side due to the departures of Zack Martin and Chris Watt and the two replacing them, Ronnie Stanley and Conor Hanratty, only had 17 combined starts entering the season. Center Nick Martin and right guard Christian Lombard are battle tested, but sophomore right tackle Steve Elmer has started just five games, including last Saturday. Despite the shuffling, these are still talented linemen and they paved the way for 6.7 yards per carry on Saturday and allowed just one sack.

Michigan offense vs Notre Dame defense: When Michigan has the ball

In Week 1, Notre Dame’s defense held Rice to 17 points, but there are some reasons for concern for those in South Bend. Rice passed for 226 yards and had a lot of open space that new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder will need to clean up before tomorrow.

Sophomore LB Jaylon Smith is an absolute star (Robin Alam, Icon SMI)

Sophomore LB Jaylon Smith is an absolute star (Robin Alam, Icon SMI)

The defensive line lost a very good duo in Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix, who are now playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Houston Texans. The leader of the line is now junior Sheldon Day, who started eight games last season and recorded six tackles, including one for loss, on Saturday. Nix’s replacement is 6’5″, 315-pound junior Jarron Jones, who started one game last season and recorded seven tackles and a field goal block against BYU a year ago. Sophomore Isaac Rochell is the other tackle, while junior Romeo Okwara and true freshman Andrew Trumbetti, an Under Armour All-American, will share the other end spot.

Under former defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, the Irish played a 3-4 defense, but VanGorder has moved to a 4-3. The star of the linebacking corps is sophomore Jaylon Smith, the top linebacker in the country coming out of high school in 2013. He started all 13 games last season and finished third on the team with 67 tackles and second with 6.5 tackles for loss and began this season on pretty much every defensive award watch list there is. He recored three tackles, one for loss, on Saturday. Middle linebacker Joe Schmidt is a former walk-on who has waited his turn and he led the team with eight tackles on Saturday. The third linebacker is sophomore James Onwualu, who converted from wide receiver where he started against Michigan a year ago. True freshman Nyles Morgan is another guy they are excited about and recorded a pair of tackles in reserve duty in the opener.

The secondary is where the concerns lie, especially without junior cornerback KeiVarae Russell, who started 26 games the past two years, but was involved in the academic scandal. Add to that the loss of fifth-year senior safety Austin Collinsworth, who sprained his MCL, and there’s not a lot of experience on the back end. Sophomore Cole Luke and fifth-year senior Cody Riggs, a transfer from Florida, started at cornerback in the opener, while junior Elijah Schumate and sophomore Max Redfield started at safety. Riggs is the most experienced with 26 starts under his belt while at Florida, but the other had just five combined starts prior to last weekend. Matthias Farley, who started eight games at safety last season and 11 in 2012, switched to corner and will have to lead the group. They will have their hands full with Michigan’s receivers, especially Funchess, who is a matchup nightmare.

Kelly attributed some of the secondary mistakes in Week 1 to miscommunications, something he said wouldn’t have happened had Collinsworth been in. Even so, Rice ranked 103rd nationally in passing a year ago, was missing its top receiver on Saturday, and still had guys running free most of the day. Michigan will present a much tougher matchup and unless VanGorder is able to keep Devin Gardner off balance with pressure, he could have a big night.

The other third: Special teams

Senior kicker Kyle Brindza has been around forever and ranks near the top of the Notre Dame record books in nearly every kicking category. He has made 45-of-60 career field goals, including 2-of-3 last week, and is an impressive 4-of-5 from more than 50 yards. He will also be handling the punting duties for the second straight year. Last season, he averaged 41.1 yards per punt, and last week he punted three times for an average of 48 yards.

The return game was underwhelming last season, but showed some flashes last Saturday. Carlisle handles the kick returns and averaged 24.5 yards per return, while Riggs and Bryant split the punt return duties and combined to average 16 yards per return.

Prediction

I was impressed with Notre Dame’s offense against Rice, but not as impressed with their defense. What I saw leads me to believe we will be in for an offensive battle tomorrow. VanGorder will try to put pressure on Gardner and keep him from having time to pick apart the secondary, so a lot will rest on the shoulders of Michigan’s line, which surrendered a million sacks last season but held up well in Week 1. Notre Dame will be a big upgrade in competition compared to App State, but the return of Graham Glasgow should help the interior. I see a big passing day in store for Gardner, much like a year ago. Either he recreates last year’s performance with Funchess playing the part of Gallon or Notre Dame doubles Funchess making for a big day for Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson, and Dennis Norfleet. They can’t stop them all.

On the other side of the ball, Michigan has a more talented and experienced defense than the Irish do, and that could make the difference tomorrow. Notre Dame’s receivers routinely beat Rice’s secondary and Golson didn’t have any trouble finding them. Michigan’s corners are going to play more press coverage and keep them from creating that much separation. I do think Kelly can take advantage of the aggressiveness of Michigan’s defense, especially if the linebacker issues we saw last Saturday aren’t resolved. Michigan’s defensive line will test the left side of the Irish line, so it will be up to the linebackers to contain Golson and keep him from making big plays with his feet.

When it comes down to it, I think the offenses are pretty equal and Michigan’s defense is better. This will be a back-and-forth game that stays tight throughout and will come down to whichever defense can make the big play. Gardner leads Michigan to a late lead, the defense holds down the stretch, the Wolverines take back the all-time winning percentage, and carry bragging rights into the series hiatus.

Michigan 38 – Notre Dame 33

Notre Dame Q&A with Ryan Ritter of Her Loyal Sons

Thursday, September 4th, 2014


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The past few seasons we have run a weekly feature called Friend vs Foe, in which we asked that week’s opponent blog to explain why their team will win that Saturday. We posted their response and had one of our writers answer the same question about why Michigan will win. This season, we’re changing it to simply a Q&A with the opposing blog as a way of making it more focused and getting some more questions answered. This week, we invited back Ryan Ritter of Her Loyal Sons to provide his thoughts. You can follow him on Twitter at @TXirish.

1. Are you sad to see the rivalry come to an end? Personally, I love the rivalry and wish it would never end, but I know some on both sides of the rivalry feel we each have other bigger rivalries. How do you feel?

In all honesty, yes, I am. I enjoy hate week, even if I do consider Southern Cal our biggest annual rivalry came. I won’t lie though, the prospects of being able to play teams like Texas and Georgia in the future early in the season is incredibly exciting so there will likely be moments were I won’t really miss the game that much.

Still, I’m hoping that college football will adjust to the point that schedules can get a bit more flexible, especially in the B1G. That nine-game conference slate makes out of conference scheduling nearly impossible, especially since Delany wants all conference games at the end of the schedule. Combine that with our eight-game “conference” schedule (5 ACC, Sothern Cal, Stanford, Navy), and something had to give. Michigan State and Purdue have caught the short end of this stick as well and I’m all kinds of shocked that Ohio State managed to squeeze us in (their future schedules are all kinds of ridiculous right now).

2. The recent suspensions didn’t have an impact in Week 1, but what’s your take on it? Will ND feel their absence more this week and as the season goes on, or is it really not that big of a deal?

Any time a starter goes out, it’s a big deal. Any time depth is lost, it’s a big deal. While Notre Dame thankfully has some talent to take over for the big losses, KeiVarae Russell (CB) and DaVarias Daniels (WR), Notre Dame does have some solid talent to fill back in. The Russell suspension looms largest, especially with safety Austin Collinsworth lost for most of the season to a knee injury.

I’m hopeful the academic investigation wraps up soon so we know the final verdict for all five players involved. Not knowing the length of suspension for each has been brutal.

3. How does the offense differ this season with Golson instead of Rees?

Night and day. Notre Dame under Everett Golson is the kind of offense that Brian Kelly wants to run. Kelly depends very, very heavily on his QBs and practically requires a dual threat for his offensive scheme to reach it’s full tempo.

The no-huddle is backed, and increased tempo is back, and the read option is back. Most importantly, Golson has the ability to extend plays for potential big gains as he did against Rice. To put it another way, you remember what Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner have done to us in the past? That’s what Golson can bring to the table.

4. Michigan moved the ball pretty well against ND last season and then fell apart the rest of the season. With only a handful of returning starters on the ND defense, do you foresee Michigan doing the same? What has changed with has the switch to the 4-3 and the new defensive coordinator?

Last season was such a weird outlier for Bob Diaco’s usual “bend don’t break” defensive scheme. Last year, he decided to blitz like crazy and contain of Gardner went right out the window at the worst possible times.

Ironically enough, Brian VanGorder brings that very style to the table for the Irish. In reality, what VanGorder has shown this season looked a lot like what Michigan threw at App State. You’ll see a lot of blitzes, lots of bump and run coverage, and possibly even the potential for some huge plays should things go awry with this young defense.

Despite the loss of so many starters, ND might surprise you, especially in the play of the front seven (I know I certainly was this past week). However, the secondary is the biggest question mark due to the injuries and suspensions. If there is an obvious potential weakness to exploit, it would be the secondary, in my opinion. And it really isn’t due to lack of talent, but more so because they are required to do so much and their mistakes are the most costly.

Will history repeat itself? I’m honestly not sure. While Diaco’s blitz-happy gameplan was completely out of character last year, VanGorder has the entire defense completely bought in to this style of play. Mistakes should hopefully be fewer, but if the Irish blow contain once again, it’ll be a long night.

5. Is there anything you’re particularly worried about in this matchup?

Two things. First, as I’ve mentioned multiple times, the Irish secondary. The second is how Everett Golson will react to the aggressive Michigan defense. If Golson can handle the blitzing attack, I think there is a very real potential that he could have one hell of a performance, the likes of which ND fans haven’t seen against Michigan in ages.

6. What’s your prediction? Who will win, score, and why?

I see two potential outcomes. The first is what we’ve typically seen the past few years: a one possession game that comes down to the wire.

The other outcome I see is the one in which Golson is able to exploit an aggressive defense much like Robinson and Gardner have done to ND in the past. In this scenario, the Irish win rather comfortably in a two possession game. Notre Dame, under VanGorder is actually able to pull of the blitzing attack that Diaco failed to do last season.

Now, this is the last time I’ll be able to predict this game for quite a while, so I might as well go full homer and go with the later: 34-20 Irish.