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Archive for the ‘Friend vs Foe’ Category

Michigan State Q&A with Chris Vannini of SpartanTailgate.com

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014


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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. This week, we partnered with Chris Vannini, writer for SpartanTailgate.com, part of the 247 Sports Network. He was kind enough to answer questions about the way Michigan State fans view Michigan at the moment, how the MSU offense got so good, what — if anything — Michigan’s offense can exploit on Saturday, and more. You can follow him on Twitter at @ChrisVannini.

1. Michigan State has five wins in the past six years, and is big favorites again this week. It’s got to be getting old, right?

It’s certainly something no one saw coming, having only happened once before, when MSU went 6-0-2 from 1956-63. Yet even in the build-up to this week, it’s clear more intensity is coming from one side, and that’s the MSU side. Now, part of that is certainly because of U-M’s struggles and a developing apathy amongst U-M fans, but this won’t last forever, so MSU fans are making sure they enjoy as much as they can.

2. But seriously, how do Michigan State fans view the current state of the Michigan program and Coach Hoke? With glee, with pity, or what?

More than anything, I think it’s a feeling of, “I told you so.” When Hoke came in and started cleaning up in recruiting, many stories were written about the second coming of a 10-Year War between U-M and OSU, especially after MSU’s 2012 struggles. But it turned out that was an anomaly, and a program that had developed players for five years continued to do so. No one is wondering if MSU can sustain under Mark Dantonio anymore. Years of top recruiting classes and fast starts followed by players not developing and seasons falling apart have taken away any benefit of the doubt U-M receives, while MSU is getting that benefit for the first time, as shown by their high ranking despite the Oregon loss.

3. Since Mark Dantonio took over, the Spartans have had great defenses and average offenses. What’s different about this season? How did the offense get so good, especially after how bad it was the first half of last season?

I’ve never seen a unit improve as much as MSU’s offense did throughout last season, and I don’t think I ever will again. Even MSU’s offensice coaches were surprised, because the offseason is typically when that development happens. With where things ended last year, and with all the skill players coming back (other than Bennie Fowler), we figured the offense could have to carry the team early in the season. But we didn’t see this coming, an offense that is on pace to be the most prolific in school history.

The passing game and Connor Cook continued where they left off, and Cook has played himself into NFL first-round pick consideration. Replacing holes on the offensive line was the question mark. They’ve dealt with some injuries, and aren’t as deep as a year ago, but the results have been promising. MSU is still a solid, not great, running team, and MSU has allowed the fewest sacks per game in the country. Cook has time, and he can find his bevy of receivers, especially Tony Lippett, who has gone from being benched early last season to being one of the best receivers in the country this year, catching everything.

4. By now, we’re used to a vaunted MSU defense, but it seems that MSU has taken a minor step back defensively so far this season. Michigan is actually allowing 0.2 fewer points per game and fewer rushing yards per game. Is there anything that Michigan’s offense has any hope of exploiting this week?

The biggest issue for this defense has been big plays, and it’s because the safeties have struggled. Kurtis Drummond has been inconsistent, and RJ Williamson and true freshman Montae Nicholson have been sharing time at the other safety spot. MSU has allowed 19 plays of at least 30 yards, which is No. 103 nationally. Unfortunately for the Wolverines, they’ve been really bad at getting explosive plays on offense. But it’s something most teams have been able to do to MSU this season. The defense as a unit has gone from “elite” to “good,” and the big plays are the biggest problem.

5. Where do you see Michigan State having the biggest advantage this week, and why?

I think it has to come down to MSU’s defensive line against U-M’s offensive line, as it did a year ago. Shilique Calhoun and Marcus Rush are both playing great on the outside, and Lawrence Thomas, Joel Heath and Malik McDowell have the tackles more disruptive than a year ago. I don’t expect minus-48 rushing yards, but I think Michigan will have trouble getting anything going on the ground, especially with Derrick Green out.

6. Finally, what’s your prediction and how will it happen?

I’m going to go with a 38-24 MSU victory. With the weather looking nice, I think both teams will be able to move the ball (yes, including U-M). MSU will be able to move up and down with the pass, and I think U-M will be able to hit some big plays. Everyone has done it to MSU this year. I don’t see why U-M won’t. But I think it’ll be MSU’s offense that’s the difference in this one, unlike years past.

Minnesota Q&A with JDMill of The Daily Gopher

Thursday, September 25th, 2014


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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. This week, we partnered with JDMill of the Minnesota SB Nation blog, The Daily Gopher. He was kind enough to answer questions about the stagnant Gopher passing game, whether Minnesota can run on Michigan’s defense, how Minnesota fans view the Michigan current state of affairs, and more. You can follow The Daily Gopher on Twitter at @TheDailyGopher and you can follow JDMill at @jdmill.

1. What’s up with the Minnesota passing game? Less than 100 yards a game? Only seven yards last week? What’s the deal?

What came first, the chicken or the egg? That’s kind of the deal with the Gophers. Do they not pass very often because the running game is so good, or do they not pass very often because the passing game is so bad?

If you ask the coaches, they will tell you that the running game has been working, so there hasn’t been a need to pass. I think the fans are a little bit more nervous. Take a look at the TCU game. The Gophers were forced to pass because they got behind early and the run game wasn’t as effective as needed. As such, Mitch Leidner threw 26 times, completing just 12 for 151 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions. Not. Pretty.

So while the coaches will tell you that if the running game is working there is no reason to pass, they have also admitted this week that they are going to need to be able to throw the ball more effectively to keep teams honest now that we’re hitting the conference schedule.

2. The running game on the other hand has been pretty good, especially David Cobb. Michigan’s rush defense has only allowed one of its four opponents (Appalachian State in Week 1) to rush for over 100 yards. Do you think Minnesota will be able to run on Michigan?

I do think we’ll be able to run a bit on Michigan, but we’ve been averaging over 230 yards rushing per game in the non-con, and I don’t think we’ll be able to do that against the Wolverines. The trump card, however, is quarterback Chris Streveler. With him behind center the Gophers have a true, fast addition that seems to be able to run the read-option pretty effectively. I could see a scenario where Minnesota puts up 150 yards rushing with at least half of that coming from the quarterback.

3. Minnesota also has a pretty good run defense, but three of the four opponents have thrown for over 250 yards. Michigan’s offense has had well-publicized problems against the only power-five teams it has played (Notre Dame and Utah). Do you think Minnesota’s defense can force Michigan’s offense into those same types of mistakes?

This is a defense that gives up a fair number of yards, but not a lot of points. The Gophers give up 122 yards per game more than Michigan, but we’ve allowed the exact same number of points. In fact, Minnesota has given up more yards than it has produced in three out of our four games this season so far.

The Gopher defense is opportunistic and that’s an important characteristic for a team that is going to struggle to throw the ball. The defense has given this team points and short fields, and I believe they will continue that trend and win the turnover battle with Michigan.

4. What’s your view on the current state of the Michigan program? Things are falling apart at the seams here, but what does it look like from the outside? And do Gopher fans enjoy seeing Michigan struggle like this?

Well, from the outside it looks like things are falling apart at the seams

I think the biggest eye-opener for everyone else in the conference was when Notre Dame took the Wolverines behind the wood shed. For me, anyway, that was just shocking. We expect Michigan to at least be competitive and they just didn’t even show up. And then to follow that up with the effort against Utah…well, you guys lived it so I won’t go on.

I’m hard pressed to say that Gopher fans enjoy it. I mean, I think schadenfreude is always alive and well in the B1G and Michigan has beaten the tar out of us for 45 years, so it certainly doesn’t hurt us to see this happening and I think Gopher fans smell blood in the water and a chance to get a trophy back. But the reality is that a competitive Michigan is good for the B1G, and I think deep down we know that.

The interesting piece of the puzzle here is that Brady Hoke is who many Gopher fans wanted as coach when Minnesota got Jerry Kill. The rumor is that Hoke turned down the job knowing that the Michigan job was probably in his grasp.

5. What’s your prediction, and why?

I REALLY want to predict a Gopher win here. I REALLY want to believe that Michigan is down on itself enough that Minnesota will be able to take advantage, dominate defensively, and do enough on offense to put up some points. In order for that to happen I think we’d be looking at a 17-10 type of game and one of the Gopher touchdowns would be from defense or special teams.

However, I’ve been around long enough to know that weird things happen to Minnesota when we play Michigan. Things fall apart for the Gophers. Michigan wakes up. Quarterbacks have career days against our defense. And knowing the history of this rivalry, my fragile psyche just won’t let me predict a Gopher win. To paraphrase the Gin Blossoms, if I don’t expect to much of the Gophers I might not be let down.

Michigan 24 – Minnesota 17.

Utah Q&A with Steve Bartle of Light the U

Thursday, September 18th, 2014


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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. This week, we partnered with Steve Bartle of the Utah blog, Light the U. He was kind enough to answer questions about the how Utah fans view Michigan, how new offensive coordinator Dave Christensen has changed the offense, how Utah can stop Devin Funchess, and more. You can follow Light the U on Twitter at @LightTheU and you can follow Steve at @bartle21_56.

1. When Utah came to Ann Arbor in 2008, Michigan hadn’t really begun its downfall. It was the first season of Rich Rodriguez and there was a lot of excitement around the program. Now, after six down years, do Utah fans view Michigan in a different light? How is Michigan’s prestige now viewed to those out west compared to six years ago?

No, I don’t think Utah fans view Michigan much differently since our last trip there, in fact, there is a great amount of excitement among the fans. You would think with the lack of success that Michigan has had recently, coupled with Utah joining the Pac 12 and playing in stadiums like The Rose Bowl and The Colosseum that it may not be as big a deal, but to fans its still THE Big House… One of the most majestic and iconic places in all of college sports. It’s still a BIG, big deal.

Not only that, but the fact that our athletic director chose to schedule a 1-1 with Michigan by taking a two-year break from our heated and hated rivals, BYU (and I’m sure you guys can relate to how big of a deal it is to take a break from an Independent Religious Institution rivalry), I think speaks volumes about how highly regarded Michigan still is, at least out here. Rest assured, while the Wolverines have struggled more than the sports world is accustomed, to Utah fans UM will always be a big name program with a target on its back.

2. Utah’s offense was average to slightly below average last season (66th nationally in scoring, 76th in total offense, 72nd running, 62nd passing) and scored more than 40 points just twice. It has scored 56 and 59 in its first two games this season and averaged 557 yards. Is there really a big difference, or is it a result of the quality of opponents played so far? In what ways has Dave Christensen changed the offense?

With six offensive coordinators in six years, there has been a good amount of change to Utah’s offense. One thing that Dave Christensen brings, more so than the others, is know-how. Christensen knows what he wants out of the offense and he knows how to get it, which is something we’ve lacked. The No. 1 thing Christensen preaches is ”ball protection,” he does not want to turn it over. The next big change is tempo. Christensen wants to score, and he wants to score fast. The first three possessions versus Fresno State totaled 17 points in only 5:49 of possession. Again, he knows what he wants and how to get it.

Honestly, the offensive production was probably a little bit of both. Make no mistake, the first two games were not very difficult. Idaho State is… well, Idaho State… and if you can’t put up that kind of produciton against them you probably don’t belong in a Power 5 conference. Most of us at Light The U thought that Fresno State would present a much bigger challenge than they actually did, but after three straight games of giving up at least 52 points to the opposition, its obvious they just aren’t very good either. So, of course, the quality of opponent begs the question of how legitimate this improvement actually is. An interesting thing to keep in mind though, the starters only played the first half of each game. The second unit kept up the offensive pressure in the second half and scored 14 of the 56 against Idaho State, and 21 of the 59 against Fresno State, which leads to my next point…

New offensive coordinator Dave Chrsitensen has the Utah offense rolling through two games (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

New offensive coordinator Dave Chrsitensen has the Utah offense rolling through two games (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

Utah has added more quality depth at the quarterback and skill positions. Something we’ve learned since joining the Pac12, is it’s one thing to have front line talent, and another to have talent in your second and third units. Depth is not only good in case of injuries, but also for production. Utah has been hurt by injuries the past few seasons, but it seems like we’ve added the necessary depth to be competitive among the “big boys.”

Probably the most important “addition” to the depth chart is 6’3”, 208-pound receiver Kenneth Scott. I say “addition” because he was a starter last year but is returning from a season ending injury that he suffered on the very first play of the season. A bigger, crisp-route-running, possession receiver, Scott has totaled 10 receptions for 134 yard and three touchdowns. Not only will he provide good production, but he’ll also keep defenses honest in defending Dres Anderson too. An explosive playmaker and statistically one of the best returning receivers in the Pac-12, Anderson is picking up where he left off last year with seven receptions for 194 yards (a 27.9 avg.) and two touchdowns.

Another good addition to the team is running back Davontae Booker. Part of a two-headed attack with Bubba Poole, Booker has been awfully impressive running the ball so far to the tune of 20 carries for 145 yards and two touchdowns. A typical running back, he has the ability to pound the rock up the middle or bounce it outside. Poole is more of a pass catching running back who thrives in space. Not necessarily explosive, Poole has an uncanny ability to create something and will consistently get 7-8 yards per touch.

All of this would mean little without mentioning the return of starter Travis Wilson. At one point, the thought was he would be forced to medically retire after discovering an intracranial artery injury, he was medically cleared in the summer and has returned looking much better. He is making better decisions, and has been pretty accurate with his throws. Much like Wolverine quarterback Devin Gardner, Wilson has struggled with consistency. Often locking on to one receiver and forcing throws into coverage last year, so far Wilson has thrown six touchdowns and 0 interceptions. If he continues to play like this, his improvement will be the biggest difference from last year.

3. Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner struggles when facing pressure, but has a huge target in Devin Funchess (he didn’t play last week, but hopefully will this week). Does Utah’s defense have anyone that can cover Funchess, and do they also have the ability to force Gardner to make mistakes? I saw that Fresno State passed for almost 300 yards against Utah two weeks ago. Is the secondary vulnerable?

Do we have the ability to get pressure on Devin Gardner? The simple answer is yes. Kalani Sitake, the defensive coordinator, has earned a strong reputation in big games and will be dialing up something special for the UM offense. Nate Orchard is the name you’ll want to pay attention to. He’s going to be all over the field, lining up at defensive end and linebacker. Not only Orchard, but Hunter Dimick, Jason Fanaika, and Pita Taumoepenu are going to be doing all they can getting after Gardner. Dimick and Fanaika are your typical defensive ends, whereas Pita is a 6’2”, 230-pound edge rusher that is just explosive and relentless in pursuit. Not only that, but Utah will rotate anywhere from four to six defensive tackles throughout the game to stay fresh and on the attack.

Ok, lets be honest, at 6’5″, 230-pound and 4.3-4.4 forty time, Funchess is a freak of nature. With his size and athleticism, I’m not sure there is a player out there that would be able to cover him alone. We’re going to give it a shot though, and the player that you’ll most likely see cover him is Eric Rowe. At 6’1”, 201-pounds and a reported 4.4 forty-yard dash, he possesses pretty good measurables. Even with those measurables, this is Rowe’s first season at cornerback after playing the previous three at free safety, Rowe has looked just decent in coverage. All I’m saying is, if I were Devin Gardner, I’d be throwing it to Funchess as often as possible.

The other cornerback you’ll see is Dominique Hatfield or “Domo”, who is also in his first season as a corner after spending last year at receiver. Domo is quite the natural, having only been playing on the defensive side for about a month, he has already taken over the starting spot opposite of Rowe. Even though he’s only been on the defensive side for a month, I can’t stress enough just how impressive he has been. Even though a majority of the 300 yards passing we gave up was against our second unit, Devin Gardner is a far superior quarterback to what we saw from Fresno State. So yes, I would say that our secondary is vulnerable, which makes it that much more important for us to get pressure on Gardner.

4. What matchup worries you the most? And what matchup do you feel Utah has the biggest advantage?

As I said previously, Funchess is a freak, and absolute match-up nightmare. He is my biggest worry, period. If he and Gardner find a rhythm, it could be a very long afternoon. Outside of that, Coach Hoke has talked about establishing the run and when you have Derrick Green, who is averaging 6.6 yards per carry, and De’Veon Smith averaging 7.9, yeah that is a big…no, a huge worry. Especially when our defensive line was called “soft” by Idaho State coaches, after we got torched by them for 179 rushing yards. We bounced back against Fresno State limiting them to 55 yards. We are inexperienced and somewhat light at defensive tackle, and that leaves me concerned. Basically, which rush defense do we see?

Our biggest advantage is in the passing game with Dres Anderson and Kenneth Scott. Michigan’s cornerbacks have not been very impressive so far, probably due to injuries to some key players, but it is what it is. Anderson and Scott have looked great, and are out to prove that they are the best duo in Pac-12. Besides those two, a key for Utah is getting a third pass catcher going. Westlee Tonga is a solid receiving tight end, but something I’m very interested to see is how much we get Kaelin Clay involved in the passing game this week. Clay, if you remember, was a SportsCenter No. 1 play for returning a kickoff and punt for touchdowns, he’s a very explosive athlete.

5. What’s your prediction? Who will win and why?

While this isn’t a conference game, this is an important game for both teams. For Utah, a road victory is something that has come few and far between. For Michigan, needing to re-establish themselves after that Notre Dame loss. While I don’t have the same access to Michigan, the vibe I get from Utah players is quite positive. There is a belief that hasn’t been there recently.

Drum roll please…

My prediction – Utah 31 Michigan 27

Trust me, I can easily see this game going the other way. Utah has not won a big game on the road in forever, and Michigan has a very solid home record versus non-conference opponents. Like I said, there is a belief at Utah and I’m totally sippin the kool aid. Now, outside of winning the turnover battle, priority No. 1 for Utah has to be stopping the run. I feel keeping Gardner in third-and-long situations plays to our strength, which is getting pressure on the quarterback. If Michigan establishes the run, all bets are off. Travis Wilson has to continue to take care of the ball, get it to his skill guys, and let them create.

This should be a very competitive and fun game to watch. Both teams have so much on the line. Ute fans are definitely looking forward to Saturday. Here’s to an injury free and very competitive game. Go Utes!

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

Thursday, September 11th, 2014


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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.

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.

Friend vs Foe: Kansas State

Thursday, December 26th, 2013


For the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl edition of Friend vs Foe we would like to welcome Jon Morse of the Kansas State SB Nation blog Bring on the Cats. Jon was gracious enough to answer some questions about how K-State fans view the matchup, the two-headed monster at quarterback, what has held the Wildcats back late in big games this season, where he sees advantages, and more. You can follow Jon on Twitter at @jonfmorse and the blog’s main feed at @BringOnTheCats.

1. How do K-State fans view this bowl game and the matchup? Most Michigan fans are apathetic towards it because this season has been a disappointment, it’s not a New Year’s Day bowl game, and K-State isn’t exactly a “sexy” matchup (no offense). I mean, we barely sold half of our ticket allotment. What’s the view from your side?

From the perspective of moving up in the bowl selection order, they’re pretty pleased, and while a good segment of the fanbase wanted a shot at the Huskers, nobody’s really complaining about K-State getting their first-ever meeting with Michigan. Ticket sales haven’t been particularly great from the Wildcat side of the fence either, but if we’re all being honest… well, almost NOBODY is selling tickets at a brisk pace this bowl season outside of some outliers whose destinations are able to break through the ceiling for fairly obvious reasons. (Auburn, Florida State, Michigan State, Texas, Alabama, and Oklahoma all seem to be doing fairly well, and it’s not hard to understand why each of those cases is bucking the trend.)

2. The majority of Michigan fans haven’t seen K-State play this season. Tell us about the offense, especially the two-headed monster at quarterback. What are their main strengths and weaknesses?

You’ll mostly be seeing Jake Waters at quarterback, and he’s the passer of the two. I’ll get back to him in a moment, because discussing Daniel Sams first lets me go back and explain how things work with Waters a little more easily. Sams is a tremendous athlete with a somewhat unorthodox running style. He can be very slippery and deceptive, and if he finds open space he’s going places.

The problem K-State has had is that when Sams is in the game, defenses are generally pretty capable of seeing what’s coming. Sams is not a terrible passer, but he’s not a GOOD one; he’s also had some turnover issues which haven’t corrected themselves (unlike with Waters). Worse, with Sams in the game the play-calling on running plays has been painfully transparent. Is Hubert on the field? If not and it’s a run, it’s almost certainly a Sams keeper.  If Hubert IS on the field, it’s almost always an option play, and Sams has shown little tendency to do anything other than keep the ball in that situation. These are not slams on Daniel Sams; it’s a scheme failure.

Jake Waters has thrown for 2,198 yards, 15 touchdowns, and nine interceptions this season (Ronald Martizez, Getty Images)

With Waters, Hubert becomes much more effective as a runner because defenses can’t key on the run. Further, Waters has major big-play capability in the air as long as his two deep threats are on the field. (In quite possibly the worst game of Waters’ season, both Tyler Lockett and Tramaine Thompson were out with health issues.) Waters did have a major problem holding onto the football early in the year. That seems to have fixed itself. He’ll still fall into stretches where he’s not throwing the ball well at all, however, and that’s prevented him from making a solid claim to be THE quarterback as opposed to just being the starter.

3. Similarly, tell us about the defense. Statistically, it seems like a pretty solid unit against both the run and pass and allows about three fewer points per game than Michigan does. Michigan hasn’t been able to run the ball, but had a great gameplan and executed almost flawlessly against Ohio State. Do we have a chance to move the ball and put up some points? Why or why not?

The K-State defense is schizophrenic. Getting pass defense out of the way quickly, they’ve been good against the pass all year. Baylor had three huge pass plays, but that’s Baylor; outside of those three plays, Bryce Petty was kept in check for the most part. Nobody else had a particularly wonderful day throwing the ball.

The run defense, on the other hand, has been maddening. Early in the season, it was a strength, and they were especially effective against Baylor, absolutely shutting down Lache Seastrunk. More recently, they were embarrassed by Oklahoma and even gave up a ton of real estate on the ground against Kansas — but in both of those games, Ty Zimmerman was standing on the sideline with crutches. It’s not often that a safety is the key to a team’s run defense, but in this case it’s accurate. Luckily, Zimmerman should be on the field Saturday.

You’re also, I’m sure, aware of Ryan Mueller, who is an extremely disruptive force. However, it’s possible Michigan can move the ball if we see Mueller tied up with Taylor Lewan and the rest of the Michigan line can control the other three Wildcat linemen. They’re not a bad unit, but Zimmerman’s absence wasn’t the only factor in the rush defense’s problems the final two weeks of the season. Oklahoma and Kansas both basically decided they were facing Jadaveon Clowney or something; their line game plans both leaned on “neutralize Mueller” as a basic principle.

4. You guys have just two wins over teams that finished the season with winning records, but were in every game in the fourth quarter, leading Baylor at the beginning of the fourth, leading Oklahoma State midway through the fourth, and trailing Oklahoma by just three at the beginning of the fourth. What has held the Wildcats back in those big games?

Turnovers, baffling play-calling on offense, and critical defensive failures on the final drive in two of those games may well have been the difference between 7-5 and 10-2. North Dakota State and Oklahoma State were the two failures; with the lead, the defense just couldn’t stop either team from getting into the end zone. A lot of that was that the bend-don’t-break philosophy only works if you don’t bend all the way down to the 10-yard-line; both teams used quick, short plays to move the chains rapidly rather than trying to go for the big play. We have no idea what the coaching staff was thinking against Texas, either; that was just a mess in pretty much every possible aspect of the gameplan.

5. What specific matchups do you see K-State holding an advantage, and what specific matchups are you concerned about?

I’m concerned about Michigan’s multiple-personality disorder. I didn’t get to actually see them very much this year, but my impression is that as the season’s progressed the offense has gotten less muddled while the defense has gotten less effective. The Wolverine team that showed up the first 23 days of November, I wouldn’t be particularly worried about. K-State would be able to move the ball, and Michigan’s offense didn’t appear to be any threat. If K-State can make a team give the ball up on downs repeatedly, K-State is going to beat them. The team that showed up against the Buckeyes terrifies me, however. That Michigan offense would wreak havoc on this defense, and while the defense the Wolverines showed against Ohio State is certainly one the Wildcats can light up… well, K-State’s just not built to win games that way.

IF, however, Michigan’s defensive flaws are on display Saturday, then K-State’s passing offense against the Michigan secondary could be very much an advantage. K-State’s secondary should be an advantage against the Michigan receivers as well, although I’m no less concerned about Jeremy Gallon even as I say that. And if Devin Gardner can’t go, that’s going to be a huge advantage in and of itself.

6. What’s your prediction and how will it happen?

Before I really started getting into what Michigan was like, I was foolishly predicting a 14-point win. That’s not going to happen, even with Zimmerman playing and Gardner out. But I do think that combination is going to make it very hard for the Wolverines to truly outplay K-State. I’m looking at something in the neighborhood of 31-24 Wildcats now.

It seems like its been forever since Michigan took the field and was one play away from upsetting the #2-ranked Buckeyes, dashing their national championship hopes. The offense was clicking on all cylinders and the line played inspired ball, the defense left much to be desired but I’m sure Greg Mattison will have his boys ready for Kansas St.

Unfortunately, it looks like Devin Gardner won’t be playing due to his turf toe injury, or as some have suggested, even worse. For those that do not know, turf toe is in fact a serious injury. It has ended NFL careers and for a more recent example look west to Nebraska and Taylor Martinez’s senior year. So that leaves us with the heir apparent, Shane Morris. The highly touted lefty with an NFL-strength arm and prototype size. Since we don’t know what to expect from Morris I’ll just touch on what I’d like to see from the offense and then shift gears for defense and touch on what they need to do for Michigan to win.

On Offense:

I’d really like to see the offensive line improve upon the OSU game. Yes, improve. They played inspired ball and it was their best game of the year but Devin Gardner bailed them out a lot with his mobility and quick releases. Morris, while talented, is not quite the athlete Devin is so the line will need to hold their blocks a little while longer to give the true freshman time and added confidence.

Sticking with the line, I’d also like to see some more aggression. Nastiness is paramount when playing offensive line and if Michigan wants to establish the run they need to be nasty. Make no mistake about it, these are very talented kids but they haven’t quite reached the level of nastiness that is required of Michigan lineman.

Devin Funchess and Jeremy Gallon have proved themselves this year, though Funchess could due without all the drops, so there’s not much else I need to see from them. Just give us the same old and we’ll be fine. Get open, create some mismatches and give Shane Morris some extra help.

Jeremy Gallon has a chance to set Michigan's single-season receiving records but will have Shane Morris throwing to him (MGoBlue.com)

KSU has some solid pass rushers on the edge, but the interior of their d-line is nothing to write home about. If Michigan can get some solid push up front and Green and Smith can get to the linebackers then the run game should put extreme pressure on the Wildcats. Not that their LB’s aren’t good, because they are, it’s just that they are rather small and Derrick Green and Deveon Smith are rather large. This could be the game we finally see the downhill, power run game break out big time.

Al Borges has been much maligned and, fair or not, he is the o-coordinator and will continue to be so we need to just deal with it and move on. It’s not that he is a bad coordinator (see: Cade McNown at UCLA and Auburn in 2004) it just seems at times he refuses to adjust his play calling to the talent on the field. That all changed against OSU. He got some screens and quick throws to keep the Buckeyes off balance and it opened up the run game and Michigan went wild, compiling over 600 yards of total offense. Kansas State doesn’t have the athletes OSU does but they are a very solid team with a Hall of Fame coach. If Al can adjust his play calling to put Shane in the best position to succeed then, win or lose, I’ll be pleased. From all accounts Morris is a smart kid who has made some great strides over the season. A full month of practicing as the No.1 quarterback should be good for his confidence but again we really have no idea what to expect.

On Defense:

Kansas State runs a two-quarterback system, somewhat similar to Northwestern. With one being the passer and the other the runner. Their option offense worries me a little with Michigan’s “bend but don’t break” style of defense which has struggled against mobile QB’s/option attacks. Kansas State has a very balanced attack so Michigan will need to be mindful of both the run and the pass at any given moment. Daniel Sams is less likely to pass, but he is a capable passer. The opposite holds true for Jake Waters.

Jake Waters likes to hold onto the ball longer than need be at times so Michigan needs to not only generate pressure but be able to stay in coverage the entire time too. Especially on Tyler Lockett, KSU’s version of Jeremy Gallon. If the front seven can flush Waters and/or make him hold on to the ball they can force him into some bad throws.

This puts more pressure on the safeties, be they Jarrod Wilson, Thomas Gordon, Dymonte Thomas, etc., to make sure NO ONE gets behind them. Michigan’s safeties have given up far too many 50-yard touchdown passes because someone was out of position and the receiver got behind them, if they want to win they cannot allow Lockett to do this. No big plays would be nice but I think Lockett is far too good to not make at least one big play, maybe more.

Daniel Sams will be called upon the run game, though he will toss it up a few times as well. He does not present the same challenge someone like Braxton Miller does (pass and run) but he will be a rested player when he comes into the game. Michigan needs to keep him contained while still being mindful of the deep pass. If they can limit his running ability and force KSU into definite passing downs, giving them the upper hand in play calling, Michigan should be able to win.

Both running backs, John Hubert (5’7″) and Robert Rose (5’4″) are diminutive, but not quite Darren Sproles. They aren’t game breakers but both are very solid players. Hubert will take the bulk of the carries but is not all that great as a pass blocker. If Michigan can exploit this weakness when Waters is in the game they can gain another advantage, if they maintain their pass coverage while doing so.

On Special Teams:

Field position, field position, field position. Matt Wile has been solid all year so if he can just keep it up he’ll be fine. KSU is not the kind of team you want to give short fields, their balanced attack is all the more effective in short yardage situations. If Michigan can make them drive long fields it will limit their scoring opportunities. If this game comes down to a long field goal to win it we might be in trouble as Brendan Gibbons is out, but in a pinch Matt Wile is good enough. I won’t mention our diminutive KR because every time I do he doesn’t quite take one to the house, it’s not that I’m being superstitious though. OK, maybe a little.

Prediction:

If Devin Gardner was playing and at least 80 percent healthy, Michigan wins fairly easily. With Shane Morris, I’m not so sure. Not because I don’t like him but because we have basically nothing to base it off except optimistic speculation. If the o-line can create holes for Green, Smith and Fitz to run through, I like our chances. If the run game cannot get going I don’t think we stand much of a chance. If the defense can keep Lockett from beating them more than once deep then I think we’ll be fine. If, however, we allow big plays like we did against OSU, it’s not going to end well for Wolverine Nation.

I have faith in Shane Morris’ arm and decision-making ability, plus we get Jarrod Wilson back so I see no reason Michigan can’t walk away with the win. It’ll be a good one and close throughout but I think Michigan pulls away late.

Friend vs Foe: Iowa

Thursday, November 21st, 2013


For this week’s edition of Friend vs Foe we welcome RossWB from one of our favorite fellow Big Ten team sites, the Iowa SB Nation blog Black Heart Gold Pants. He answers questions about Iowa’s late-game struggles, Michigan’s chances of running the ball, Iowa’s passing game, and where the advantages lie. He also gives his prediction. You can follow Ross on Twitter at @RossWB and the site’s main feed at @BHGP.

1. Iowa had fourth quarter leads or ties in losses to NIU, Michigan State, and Ohio State, but they’ve been outscored 78-44 in the fourth quarter. What has gone wrong late in games this season?

I think the biggest late-game problem for Iowa has been their offense.  It’s been pretty weak in the third and fourth quarters this year, especially in Big Ten play (the Purdue game notwithstanding… and all stats from games against Purdue this year should probably carry a caveat).  Iowa has really struggled to sustain drives and (more importantly) score points at the end of games this season, which is a bit of a problem when you’re tied or chasing a lead.  So Iowa’s best bet is definitely to build a big early lead and then hang on; if it’s a close game in the fourth quarter, I think it’s safe to say that Iowa fans are going to be very nervous.

2. Michigan’s lack of a running game the past few weeks (really all season, but especially the past few weeks) is no secret. Iowa ranks 24th against the run. Ohio State and Northwestern all had – and NIU to some extent – had success on the ground with mobile quarterbacks. Does Michigan have any hope running the ball this week?

There’s something there, for sure, especially with the running quarterbacks — sometimes Iowa does alright (they held Northern Illinois to 163 yards and Lynch to just 56 yards) and sometimes they don’t (Miller torched Iowa for 102 yards on the ground by himself).  But at the same time Michigan is ranked 98th in running the ball and that offensive line has been unable to get much of a push at all for the better part of the last three weeks — I think Iowa has a pretty shot at keeping Michigan’s ground game in check on Saturday.  I’m definitely more worried about Devin Gardner’s scrambles than I am seeing Michigan line up and run Fitzgerald Touissant (or whichever running back is healthy) between the tackles, though.

3. Tell me about the Iowa passing game. For those who haven’t watched Iowa play this season, is Jake Rudock a playmaker or more of a game manager? Michigan’s DBs like to play soft coverage to prevent big plays…can he make big throws or is he more of a dink and dunker? And for the love of God, please tell me all of Iowa’s tight ends are injured this week…

CJ Fiedorowicz leads a talented group of Iowa tight ends (IU Athletic Communications)

Game manager is probably a more accurate description of his play than playmaker.  He’s a deceptively good runner, but he’s certainly no Johnny Manziel or Marcus Mariota in the pocket — he’s no threat to break off a 50-yard run.  (He’s even less of a running threat after sustaining a knee injury against Wisconsin a few weeks ago, although that injury is not expected to keep him out of the game this weekend.)  As a passer, Rudock’s best attribute is probably his poise; he doesn’t let bad plays faze him.  He doesn’t have the most powerful arm, his accuracy has suffered in league play (which is why his completion percentage has dipped to 59.9%), and he’s thrown a few too many costly interceptions (9 so far, including several in the fourth quarter).  But he has a calm presence in the pocket and he’s capable of leading some very impressive scoring drives.  Consistency is his biggest issue, which is not too surprising for a first-year starter.

In terms of tight ends, I believe Iowa will have a full contingent of them available for this weekend.  Iowa’s top tight end, C.J. Fiedorowicz left the Purdue game a few weeks ago due to concussion-like symptoms, but he appears to have a clean bill of health now.  CJF caught touchdowns in three straight games earlier in Big Ten play and he’s grabbed at least one pass in every game this year.  Ray Hamilton and Jake Duzey are the tight ends behind Fiedorowicz on the depth chart, but they see quite a bit of action themselves (Iowa has even been running some 3-TE sets over the last month or so) and are both very capable pass-catchers.  Iowa’s tight ends are the most consistent part of their passing game (other than top WR Kevonte Martin-Manley), so I’d definitely expect to see them be involved quite a bit on Saturday.

4. Where do you see Iowa having an outright advantage over Michigan this weekend, and why? Are there any areas that you think Michigan has the edge?

This is a tricky question because in a lot of ways, it seems like Iowa’s strengths will be matched up against Michigan’s strengths.  Iowa’s strength on offense all year has been their offensive line and running game; unfortunately, it seems like Michigan’s front seven has been pretty solid this year (the Wolverines are 13th in the nation against the run, after all).  I think the biggest edge for Iowa may be their tight ends.  Iowa has a lot of good tight ends (C.J. Fiedorowicz, Jake Duzey, and Ray Hamilton will all see a lot of action) and they gave Ohio State some problems with their 3-TE formations; I think they’d be wise to try and attack Michigan the same way and try to open things up for their running game.

I think the biggest edge for Michigan might be in attacking Iowa deep; Iowa’s safety play has been pretty inconsistent this season and they’ve given up a lot of big plays through the air.  If I was Michigan, I’d send a few deep passes at Funchess and Gallon to try and exploit that weakness.  Other than that, the biggest advantage for Michigan is probably Devin Gardner’s scrambling ability; Iowa’s defensive ends sometimes struggle to keep contain if a QB is able to keep a play alive for several seconds (I still have nightmares of Braxton Miller turning the corner and hitting the afterburners).

5. What’s your prediction and how will it happen?

As recently as a few weeks ago, I didn’t hold out much hope for Iowa getting a result in this game.  But then Iowa showed promise against Wisconsin (on defense, at least) and a lot more competence against Purdue (competition caveats apply, of course).  After those games it was a lot easier to chalk up Iowa’s losses against Michigan State, Ohio State, and Wisconsin as the result of playing the Big Ten’s three best teams  in a five-week span.  No offense to the Wolverines, but they don’t seem to be on par with those teams right now.  After their bye week earlier this season, Iowa had one of their sharpest first half offensive performances of the season (against Ohio State); I think they come out clicking again on Saturday and this time they’re able to hold on in the second half.  IOWA 24, MICHIGAN 16

To me this game comes down to whether Michigan’s offensive line can open holes and protect Devin Gardner. Iowa’s offense is a low scoring, run-based offense that Michigan should be able to contain and hold under 20 points. The Iowa defense, however, poses some issues for a Michigan team that has not only struggled to move the ball lately but has been downright awful on the road the past three years.

I’ll be honest, I don’t like our chances in Iowa City but there is a reason the game isn’t played on paper. Let’s move on and take a look at what Michigan needs to do to come away with a road win.

On Offense:

Last game we saw some glimpses of decent offensive line play, so assuming that carries forward and they can at least be serviceable let’s look at the rest of the offense.

After Derrick Green's solid game last week he should see more time against Iowa (MGoBlue.com)

Move the ball on first and second, avoiding third downs as much as possible. Michigan has been just awful on third downs this season, some of it is physical but a lot is probably mental as well. Last week against Northwestern they moved the ball quite a bit (when they did move it that is) on first and second down. If they can get 5-6 yards on first and second downs then they won’t get caught in the dreaded third down on the road situation. How they can do this is beyond me, I just know they need to avoid third downs as much as possible.

Stick with what is working, not what you think might work. What I mean by this is exactly what it says. Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith were having success running the ball, but then they stopped and started passing it because the wind was at their back and Borges wanted to see if they could pass it. Don’t do that anymore. If the run game is working, keep running until they stop you. If the pass game is going then keep with it. A balanced offense is nice but if you can run down their throats all day (as Wisconsin once did to us under RichRod) then why would you try to do something else?

Keep the game manageable until the fourth quarter. Iowa hasn’t been all that good in the fourth quarter so assuming that trend continues as long as Michigan can keep it close through the first three they should be in good shape for the final stanza.

Take advantage of good field position. As soon as Northwestern shanked the punt and set us up at the 10 I turned to my brother and said ‘no way they get six, lets just hope for at least three and not a turnover.’ This is Michigan, act like it and put the ball in the dang endzone when you are in the redzone, period. If we see more wasted opportunities I fear the football gods won’t be as kind to us in Iowa CIty as they were in Evanston.

Forget the past. Michigan hasn’t been very good away from The Big House in Brady Hoke’s tenure. Championship teams do win at home, but they also win on the road in hostile environments. The pink of Iowa’s visiting locker room doesn’t exactly scream ‘scary’ but Iowa City is a tough place to play. If they can just go out and not let the crowd intimidate them and not think about their past struggles on the road it will go a long way to strengthening their confidence.

On Defense:

Stop the run. Mark Weisman is a bruiser and has some speed but he won’t be winning any 100 meter races any time soon. While Iowa does pass the ball they are a run focused team. Stop the run and play coverage. I say play coverage because Michigan has yet to show me a legitimate pass rush and Iowa has only allowd 9 sacks in ten games. Michigan has given up more than twice that in the past three games alone. If Michigan focuses on stopping the run but still playing good coverage to keep everything in front of them they should be in good shape.

Get third down stops and force them to punt. This should be basic and a given but this team has been anything but consistent all year so I feel it deserves mention. Get the defense off the field and get Gardner the ball as much as possible.

Don’t give up the big play. Again this has been an issue for Michigan. One or two big plays can lead to scores and ultimately determine the outcome. Likewise, one or two big stops can keep Michigan in the game, if the offense is stagnant, or seal it if the offense is clicking on all cylinders.

Keep it manageable until the fourth quarter and let Iowa give it away as they so often do.

On Special Teams:

Just keep doing what you’re doing. Special teams has been rather pleasant to watch, as far as punting and kicking field goals can be deemed exciting. Win the field position game and Michigan will help put itself into good situations.

Prediction: This team has struggled too much on the road for me to be comfortable heading in. Couple that with a lackluster offensive line and a good front seven for Iowa and I just don’t see Michigan coming out of there with a win.

Friend vs Foe: Nebraska

Thursday, November 7th, 2013


For this week’s edition of Friend vs Foe, please welcome Jon Johnston, Aaron, Mister Mike, and Husker Mike of the Nebraska SB Nation site Corn Nation. They have kindly answered some questions about what we can expect from Tommy Armstrong instead of Taylor Martinez, the comments made by Ameer Abdullah regarding Michigan’s “nasty” and “ruthless” fans, their thoughts on Bo Pelini’s job security, and more. They also provide their predictions. You can follow them on Twitter at @CornNation.

1. With Taylor Martinez out once again, can you explain the main differences between he and Tommy Armstrong? What can Armstrong do that Martinez couldn’t? In what areas are he not as good?

Aaron: Well, right now Tommy can run a lot better than Taylor. Martinez’s injury limits his mobility. To be honest, Armstrong struggles in the same areas that Taylor does. The main area of concern is throwing the ball downfield. He’s thrown six interceptions in his last two games (Purdue and Northwestern). But he can run. He has a lot of quick moves if his line can open up some holes for him.

Mister Mike: One word describes where Armstrong is different than Martinez: option. Armstrong is much better at running the lead and speed options than Martinez has been, and probably would ever be. He still has a lot of trouble making his reads in the passing game, but that’s some of what you get with a RS Freshman QB. I think that he’s made more accurate throws downfield and on time than Martinez did at this point in this career, but right now I’d say Martinez is the better passer, simply due to his experience.

Husker Mike: The option really is the only thing that Tommy Armstrong does better than Taylor Martinez. Martinez is a better runner (or at least he was against Minnesota) and is infinitely better in reading the defense. Which he should be as a senior, as compared to a redshirt freshman. Armstrong has a stronger arm, which could be a difference maker in 2015 or 2016, should Armstrong be able to beat out Johnny Stanton next season. If Armstrong finds himself flustered against the Michigan defense, senior Ron Kellogg will be there, splitting time. Kellogg is not a threat to run at all, but he knows the offense.

Tommy Armstrong's strength is running the option (Huskers.com)

2. Ameer Abdullah made some headlines by saying that Michigan’s fans are nasty and ruthless. From a Nebraska fan perspective, what do you make of this? Do you agree? Or did he mix up his Michigan schools?

Aaron: Not sure where he gets that from, but he did make the trip to Ann Arbor two years ago. “There’s always one in every family,” and every fanbase has a few bad eggs. Maybe he’s had to put up with a few of them.

Mister Mike: Meh. I don’t make much of it. Maybe just some BB material for the Wolvies and their fans.

Husker Mike:  As a fan of UNO hockey, I’m well aware of Michigan fans from the days of the CCHA and the cesspool that is Yost. Ameer Abdullah went easy on Weasel fans.

3. On a scale of 1-10, how safe is Bo Pelini’s job right now? How does the Nebraska fan base feel about him at this point, and with four tough games remaining how much room is there for that to change between now and the end of the season?

Aaron: Depends on who you ask. There’s a section of the fan base that wanted him out years ago and there a section that will be behind him forever. I think the general feel of Bo across Nebraska is that the program is kind of stuck in neutral. Some people fear that letting Bo go will cause the program to spiral downward (who do you replace him with?), but they also realize that we probably aren’t going to be elite with Bo at the helm.

Mister Mike: Agree with Aaron. Our fanbase is very divided over the issue, and fear is a big part of that. But right now, that’s the kind of staff we have. Pelini is a very polarizing figure and has done nothing to assuage that impression of him. On a scale of 1-10, I would say a 3 or a 4. There are undoubtedly some that would disagree with me, but quite frankly I think that’s an accurate statement.

The only way Pelini changes things is if he wins the B1G and goes to a BCS bowl. Again, there are people that would probably say that’s unfair, due to injuries, etc, but conversely it is his sixth year and if he wants to remain the coach at Nebraska, he has to show definite signs that his program is still moving forward. Winning the B1G and getting to a BCS bowl would go a long way towards accomplishing that.

4. For those that didn’t watch the game, what happened against Minnesota? Was it the right move to play Martinez, who clearly wasn’t 100 percent?

Aaron: Minnesota played well. We lost our anchor on the offensive line the previous game (Purdue) and I think Minnesota exploited it. On offense, they took notes from the Big Ten Championship game last year and ran some plays that Wisconsin had success with. Tight ends have killed our defense this year and Minnesota used them very effectively. They managed the game clock and were able to put points on the board.

Mister Mike: How much time do you got? Seriously. It was the 2012 B1G Championship all over again, except the score wasn’t as lop-sided. They used pre-snap shifts and motion to great effect and our team and staff had no answers for it. Except for Pelini’s go to answer: “we just have to execute better and make plays.” Limebeck found a weakness in our defense (our front seven) and exploited it over and over again.

We got flat handled on both sides of the ball. That’s bottom line.  There’s also been some controversy over how Martinez was handled by Bo leading up to this game, but personally, I think he should’ve been riding the pine.

Husker fans are divided on Bo Pelini

Husker Mike: Any questions about whether Martinez in the Minnesota game were answered against Northwestern when the backups threw four interceptions. Nebraska made a bunch of mistakes against Minnesota. Defense was a mess, as Mister Mike points out. The offensive game plan was a mess, holding Abdullah under 20 carries. Martinez’s rust was pretty low on the list of Nebraska’s issues in Minneapolis.

Jon Johnston: Nebraska lost to Minnesota because they looked at the Gophers the same way the fan base did… “ho hum, this is a walk in the park” and weren’t prepared or focused to play that game. Hell, our coaches weren’t even ready to coach. Congrats to Minnesota, who didn’t have those problems, and in fact, went down 10-0, acted like nothing was wrong, came back and won.

5. In what area(s) do you see Nebraska having an advantage this weekend? What about area(s) where Michigan has an advantage?

Aaron: Not sure, honestly. I don’t believe that either team is really that strong in any phase this year. I think I speak for both teams with this next comment. Depending on  which defense/offense/special team shows up, the game could go in many different directions. As I watch Michigan under Hoke, they remind me a lot of Nebraska under Pelini. A quick spark early on (Sugar Bowl), but starting to trend sideways. As an outsider, I view the Wolverines as a good program that runs things the right way and prepares kids for the future, but I don’t see them becoming an elite football program any time soon. Like Nebraska, they just don’t strike fear into me the way a really good team should.

Mister Mike: An advantage? Did you laugh as you typed that? Right now, this is a horrible match-up for Nebraska. You have a team in Michigan that runs a lot of power…a lot of heavier sets and they run it right at you. Add to that a mobile QB, a couple of all-stars at TE and WR, and a running back in Touissant who we better not forget about, and I think it’s going to be a long day for the Huskers. Some people may say that Borges is trying to fit square pegs into round holes on offense, but he’s honestly not going to have to get very cute this weekend. Your OL should be able to protect Gardner long enough for him to make his reads and complete passes. Oh…two words for you…”jet motion.” Remember them well, Grasshopper.

Husker Mike:  Actually, if Nebraska can get some receivers healthy, I think Michigan could be a decent matchup against Nebraska. Michigan is fairly inept running the ball (11th worst yards per carry average in the Big Ten), and only involves two receivers in their passing game. That doesn’t mean that Nebraska will win, though. Both teams have found ways to lose and look putrid doing it. It comes down to which team wants it more and outplays the other because both teams have underperformed this season. The key is what happens when Nebraska pressures Gardner. Mobile quarterbacks can burn Nebraska, and so if the Huskers can’t get to Gardner, it’ll be a big Michigan victory.

6. What’s your prediction and why?

Aaron: Nebraska’s defense is getting better, but they are also being asked to do more because of the injuries we’ve had on offense. You know about Taylor Martinez, but we also have a converted linebacker getting a lot of passing targets on offense, and we’ve seen a lot of our starters on the offensive line go down in recent weeks. In my opinion, all Michigan has to do this weekend is to play conservatively and try to bust up Nebraska’s offensive line to create opportunities. If Michigan can keep their turnovers down, they really shouldn’t have a problem beating Nebraska. If they get too aggressive, well, that’s when the Wolverines seem to make mistakes. They lead the league in turnovers. I see a low scoring game with Michigan coming out on top. Something like UM 24, UNL 10.

Mister Mike: Hoke is undefeated at home in AA and I really don’t see that changing this weekend. We’ve had some injuries (of course, every team deals with injuries and some have key players out just like ours, but I digress…) to Martinez, a couple of starters on OL, Kenny Bell, etc, etc…so I just don’t think we’re going to have enough “oomph” to overcome what Michigan is going to throw at us. I think the Wolverines cover the spread handily and probably by double digits. I’m thinking something like a 31-17 or something similar.

Jon: Two Michigan predictions? Gahahhh!!! We need one homer, dadgummit. I say Nebraska stuffs the Wolverine run game, picks off at least two Gardner passes, and Ameer Abdullah runs for 164 yards and three touchdowns. Nebraska 31, Michigan 30

Well, last week went about as poorly as it could have and Michigan is all but eliminated from Big Ten title contention. In addition to needing to win out we’d need MSU to lose all three of their remaining conference games. But just because the main goal is unattainable doesn’t mean the season is lost. We still have games to play and can still get to a good bowl game. Next up on the schedule is an interesting Nebraska team who, much like us, hasn’t looked like the older versions of themselves. So what does Michigan need to do to keep their home win streak alive and beat the Huskers? Let’s dig in.

On Offense:

Despite throwing a late interception last week Devin Gardner played well, especially considering he was hit or hurried on just about every passing play. He made much better decisions than he has in the past and took the sack instead of throwing up prayers that most likely would have been interceptions. It’s easy to blame the quarterback and sometimes it is his fault, but Gardner has made progress and he just needs to keep doing so, which is basically my point: Gardner needs to keep building off his progress and get a little better each game. Thankfully Nebraska’s defense is not the Blackshirts of old.

If Gardner can remain calm under duress (even though it won’t be anything like it was last week) and make good decisions Michigan should win this game. By good decisions I mean not forcing it or getting happy feet. Heck, even taking a sack instead of throwing up a bad pass is a good decision.

Kyle Bosch and Michigan's young offensive line look to rebound from a rough performance (MGoBlue.com)

Usually I talk about not turning the ball over, but I’m not even going to say he needs to not turn it over because apparently that’s too much to ask. Besides, I don’t think Nebraska is good enough to shut the door on Michigan even if Gardner does turn it over a couple times.

The offensive line has been much maligned, and for good reason. I hesitate to say the line needs to play better because they start two freshmen – one true and one redshirt – but the line needs to play better. On the outside looking in I see ‘deer in the headlights’ moments far too often. This may be an inaccurate assessment but it’s what I see. In all honesty, I don’t expect much out of this line but I do think if they can just play with a little more confidence they’ll be fine. If they can go out and just play, not think just play Michigan will be in good shape to win.

While it would be nice to see Fitz break 100 yards again I’m not so sure that will happen. What I do think, and this ties into last week’s piece about running more shotgun and pistol formations, is that we need to go back to the read-option, period. We’d all love to see new versions of Anthony Thomas, or for you old school folks like myself Tyrone Wheatley, but we’re not there yet. So in the meantime let’s not have RichRod syndrome and try to put square pegs in round holes.

Go back to 2010 and look at Denard Robinson’s passing stats, 2,570 passing at 62.5 percent. Yes he had 11 picks to 18 touchdowns, but the point is that the threat of the run allowed him to pass the ball well because the defense came down into the box to stop the run. Gardner is no Denard but he can scoot, so stop mixing in the read option and just go to it completely. I guess the theme of this is: NO MORE UNDER CENTER offense. If Al Borges can put aside his ego and just let these kids do what they do best, and it ain’t power football as much as we’d all like, then Michigan will win the game.

On Defense:

Well for starters Raymon Taylor needs to at least put a hand on someone and not let them run down the field 40 yards for a touchdown. Okay, that’s out of my system let’s move on.

Nebraska likes to run the ball, to the tune of 261 yards per game. Ameer Abdullah does most of the damage as he is already over 1,100 yards so far. Michigan needs to not only stop the run but be aware of the play action pass. I think I may have said this before but it deserves to be said again. Michigan has been susceptible to the big play all year. Part of that is the lack of a pass rush but the secondary deserves some of the blame too.

Hopefully they won’t see too many deep passes but the corners and safeties need to be careful about coming up to stop the run and leaving themselves vulnerable to the pass. If Michigan can prevent big passing plays while still keeping the run game in check (read: under 200 yards) then Michigan should win this one.

On Special Teams:

Again, win the field position game. This is something they did not do against State and it came back to bite them. Though it is not all the special teams’ fault. Norfleet is getting better with running north/south more and not dancing around so much and he needs to continue that. Short fields for us, long fields for them and we should be in good shape.

Friend vs Foe: Michigan State

Thursday, October 31st, 2013


It’s Michigan State week, and for this week’s Friend vs Foe we asked Chris Vannini of the Michigan State SB Nation site The Only Colors to answer a few questions about the upcoming game. He was gracious enough to provide his thoughts on his confidence level, Michigan State’s advantages, what Michigan will have to do to move the ball, and more. He also provides his prediction. You can follow him on Twitter at @ChrisVannini and the site’s main feed @TheOnlyColors.

1. On a scale of 1-10, how confident are you in this game, and why?

I’ll go with a 7. In a rivalry game with two good teams, you say a five. Add a point for home field and add a point for the fact I think MSU has more advantages than Michigan, and I get 7. That still means I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Michigan win.

2. Michigan State’s offense struggled through the first few games but has seemed to come alive recently. What has the difference been?

More than anything, it’s Connor Cook making throws. The offensive line has been the best in the Dantonio era and the receivers are getting open and making catches, which they couldn’t do a year ago. Now, it comes down to Cook. He made the throws against Iowa, Indiana and Illinois, but he didn’t against Purdue.

3. Following up on the previous question, what happened against Purdue? How were they able to hold the MSU offense to just seven points despite having a defense that allows 34.4 points per game?

MSU's offensive line has been great at pass protection, but Connor Cook's ability to make throws can make or break the offense (Matthew Mitchell, MSU Athletic Communications)

It was Cook’s throwing and Purdue’s punting (no, really). MSU’s yards-per-drive was among its highest in the past two years, but MSU’s average starting field position was its worst of the season. For a team that doesn’t get many big plays, requiring long drives to score, the longer they had to go, the more difficult of a time they had. But Cook did miss a number of wide-open guys, including one that would have been a touchdown.

4. What specific matchups do you see Michigan State having a big advantage in this week?

I do see MSU shutting down Michigan’s running backs. The Wolverines have had enough of a problem getting the backs going, and MSU is one of the best rush defenses in the country. If Michigan moves the ball on the ground, it’s going to be Gardner making something out of a pass play that breaks down.

5. Are there any specific matchups you’re worried about, where you think Michigan might have an advantage?

Similar to above, I worry about Gardner’s abilities to make plays out of nothing. He’s very strong and has a knack for breaking tackles and getting out when the pocket breaks down. If he can escape the pressure and make a few big plays, that will go a long way for the Wolverines.

6. Everyone knows MSU’s defense is one of the best in the country. It gave up 28 points to Indiana, and Michigan’s offense – when it doesn’t turn the ball over – can be even more explosive. What will Michigan have to do to have success against your defense?

They’re going to have to take care of the ball and make some of those big plays. Not many can dink and dunk down the field against this MSU defense. Whether it’s a bomb on a pass play or a big run from Gardner, they’re going to need to make some big plays, which MSU has been prone to giving up, due to its aggressive style.

7. What’s your prediction? Explain how it will happen.

I’m going 27-21 MSU. I think both teams will be able to move the ball at times, but MSU will be more slowly down the field, while Michigan will be all or nothing. A turnover or two from Gardner would go a long way.

Ah, Beat State week. I’ve never liked MSU but the contempt has grown into almost Buckeye proportion since the Rich Rod years and their recent rise to defensive supremacy. I respect what Pat Narduzzi has up there and I’d love to see our defense play that way (sans the cheap shots and overall dirty play) but I still can’t stand them.

This is, and will be, the best defense Michigan will come across all year, period. For an offense that hasn’t been consistent and at times has just been downright awful, this will be a big test. With that let’s move on to what Michigan needs to do if they not only want to walk away from East Lansing with a win over a bitter rival but also put themselves in the driver’s seat for the Legends division.

On Offense

Devin Gardner's ability to take care of the ball will determine Michigan's fate against MSU's top-ranked defense (MGoBlue.com)

Sparty is third best (yardage-wise) against the pass and they are tops against the run. Michigan has yet to show a serviceable run game and Gardner often gets happy feet and makes bad decisions in the face of pressure. This presents a difficult challenge. Not to mention State’s proclivity for defensive touchdowns. MSU likes to blitz and they often run a double a-gap blitz, which puts immense pressure on the center and guards – both of which are positions Michigan has not played well at this year. Graham Glasgow, Erik Magnussen and Kyle Bosch (or whoever else plays on the interior) need to bring their A-game. They don’t need to negate or stop these blitzes to be successful, they just need to buy Gardner or the running backs a little bit of time by slowing up linebackers Max Bullough and Denicos Allen.

Okay, assuming the interior of the line holds up their end of the bargain we’re still not in the clear. Gardner has to keep his poise and not make bad decisions. He needs to take the sack more often than not. Lost yardage is better than turning it over. Sparty has seen the tape and they will bring pressure and try to get Gardner to make bad decisions that lead to turnovers. If Gardner can play mistake-free football and get the offense into the end zone a couple of times Michigan will win. Michigan can probably win with 21 points, but they will be very hard to come by if Gardner loses his poise and starts turning it over. To reiterate, Garnder cannot turn the ball over against Michigan State’s defense. It wouldn’t be impossible to overcome but if Michigan wants to beat Sparty it needs to hold on to the ball.

On Defense

Luckily for Michigan, the Spartans’ offense is, well, offensive. They’ve found their quarterback in Connor Cook but they still struggle to put up points even against terrible defenses (see: Purdue). Cook is mobile enough to extend plays but I wouldn’t call him a threat to run. That said, Michigan will probably sit back and play their bend but don’t break style of defense. Sparty has been pretty good running the ball and that’s exactly what they will try to do Saturday. It’s not an unstoppable rushing attack but it is very good.

Michigan needs to stay in their assignments, wrap up with solid fundamental tackling and not give up the big play. If they do this they should be able to keep it a game. As with any team that pounds the run game Michigan needs to be aware of the play-action threat. Michigan has given up several big plays this year so the secondary needs to be careful not to peer into the backfield too often looking to make a big stop lest they get beat deep for a touchdown. If Michigan can just play average defense and not let anything get into the second level they should be okay against this State offense.

On Special Teams

Once again, field position will be paramount. Despite their less than stellar offense, if you give Sparty too many short fields they will score. And if Michigan needs to march 70-plus yards each time against a stellar defense they won’t put up 30-plus points. Michigan needs to manage the field position game and keep it in their favor. I wouldn’t expect Norfleet to be able to take it to the house but if he did it could be a huge, momentum swinging event.

Friend vs Foe: Indiana

Thursday, October 17th, 2013


For this week’s edition of Friend vs Foe we welcome Adam Johnson of the Indiana SB Nation blog The Crimson Quarry. He was kind enough to answer questions about how the Hoosiers got shut down by Michigan State last week, how IU fans view Michigan, where he sees advantages in individual matchups this week, and more. He also provides his prediction. You can follow him on Twitter at @johnsoad and the main feed @crimsonquarry.

1. Last week was strength against strength – Michigan State’s defense against Indiana’s offense – and they got the better of you. How were they able to slow down IU’s high-powered passing game?

This is going to sound like a homer answer, but I’m not certain Indiana didn’t slow down, Indiana’s passing game. Nate Sudfeld just didn’t have a very good game. He overthrew several open receivers on deep passes and in general had a case of happy feet that caused a lot of passes to sail on him. I guess the credit goes to Michigan State in keeping the pressure up on Sudfeld and never making him feel comfortable. Still, despite the relatively lack luster performance, Indiana was able to tack 28 points on the board.

2. From an IU perspective, how do you view the current state of the Michigan program? Having lost 17 straight times and 32 of the last 33, how confident are you that this might be the year to beat Michigan, given the way Michigan struggled to beat Akron and UConn and blew the game against Penn State – a team IU beat?

Michigan State's defense kept Nate Sudfeld uncomfortable all day last Saturday (Matthew Mitchell, MSU Athletic Communications)

The Michigan program is a bit of a mystery to me. Of course, I view them as a traditional power house program especially in conference, but they’ve certainly had their share of head scratchers this year. I don’t think anyone is super confident at winning but a lot are confident we have a good shot. The last two times Indiana and Michigan have met it has been shootouts that were probably closer than they should have been. Indiana is now in a position where they’re going to win more of those style games than they lose. If we can get this one into a tic for tack scoring battle, I feel confident of this one going down to the last possession or two.

3. Indiana’s defense gives up a lot of yards and a lot of points. How was it able to hold Penn State to just 24 points? Also, Michigan’s offense has struggled most of the season but still averages 39 points per game (23rd nationally). Can IU’s defense slow down Michigan or will this game be a shootout?

IU’s defense probably played to their ceiling with the talent they have against Penn State. They probably played close to their floor against Michigan State. We’re just hoping for something consistently in between. Michigan is going to put up points. That’s a given. However, Indiana does have it in them to string together a couple stops in a row. If they can force punts or turnovers in 2-3 consecutive drives there’s a good chance that the offense can put Michigan in a bad spot. But yes, it would be smart to take the over in this one.

4. What individual matchups do you think Indiana can take advantage of this week?

Most of the match-up pluses for Indiana are obviously going to be on defense. The entirety of the young Michigan secondary better be ready for an aerial assault. WR Cody Latimer and TE Ted Bolser are both going to be playing on Sundays next year and they’re smart receivers too. A lot of teams when the QB is flushed will run to the passer to find space. Indiana likes to leak receivers down field. I expect Indiana to have some roll out passes to tempt the young Michigan secondary to try and come up to the line to make a play while their man flies up field. It’s a big reason Indiana is top 10 in the nation in big plays. Sudfeld leaves the pocket and everyone on defense starts looking for that big play. Sometimes Sudfeld leaving the pocket is actually by design instead of him running for his life behind a nearly full 2nd string offensive line now.

5. What will it take for Indiana to win this game? What’s your prediction?

Indiana has to get some stops on defense. Not a ton, but some. I expect Indiana’s offense to come out and get a pretty good start. We’ll see multiple quarterbacks to keep Michigan on its toes and IU will put up points. The defense just has to get one or two stops a quarter to make it very interesting. Still, on the road in the big house I can’t confidently say that’s going to happen. I’m going to go with Indiana 42 – Michigan 52. A field goal might as well be a turnover in this game.

Well Michigan finally lost a game, but at least it wasn’t Akron or UConn. Hats off to Penn State, they deserved to win. Now we take a look at Indiana, a high-powered passing attack that annihilated Penn State 44-24 then proceed to fall to Michigan State 42-28 the following week. One thing we do know about Kevin Wilson’s team is they love to throw the rock. Let’s take a look at what Michigan needs to do to win.

On Offense

IU isn’t exactly a defensive stalwart but if you turn the ball over enough anyone has a chance (see Akron/UConn). Usually I’d rather not see any turnovers, but Devin Gardner is going to turn the ball over. It’s just a fact. In 11 games as a starting quarterback he’s only had one, yes ONE, turnover free game and has averaged more than an interception per game and has had several fumbles. That is completely unacceptable. Despite his propensity to turn it over he is still by far the best option at quarterback, so let’s move on. Since we cannot reasonably expect Gardner to not turn it over let’s say Michigan needs to not turn it over on their side of the 50 or in the redzone. I guess we could call this one, ‘not turning it over and putting the defense in a poor position’ for lack of a better phrase.

Next, Michigan must move the ball, no matter what that entails. I read a good deal about how Hoke needs to go back to the read option because that’s the only time this team has run the ball. And while it is a great point, that is not going to happen so I’m not going to say it should. What I will say, however, is that they need to find something that’s working to get the ball moving, period. If it’s the short passing game, screen passes, draws or some end arounds, whatever. If they move the ball good things, usually, happen. Now this is easier said than done because of the issues with the big uglies up front. Which brings me to my next point…

Jake Ryan and the rest of the defense will have its hands full with IU's high-powered passing game (MGoBlue.com)

The offensive line needs to play angry. Yes, we have an All-American left tackle and a senior right tackle, but they don’t look like a Michigan line at all. They need to stop thinking and just start playing. Don’t worry about the next play or about missing an assignment. Just go out, get angry and maul people. The game is won in the trenches, and if Michigan can own the trenches they will win.

On Defense

First off, Allen Robinson is a phenomenal receiver and Channing Stribling is a true freshman. That said, Stribling couldn’t have played better coverage than he did when Robinson set PSU up for 1st-and-goal at the end of regulation. He, and the rest of the secondary need to keep their poise because IU is going to throw it.

The Hoosiers can put up some serious points, to the tune of almost 42 per game. Michigan needs to bring their A-game if they want to walk away the victors valiant.

The defense showed a bit more moxie last week but they’ll need to step up their game if they want to keep IU out of the end zone. Nate Sudfeld isn’t a threat to run the ball but Tre Roberson is, and they both played last week. We don’t know which quarterback we’ll see Saturday but Michigan needs to be ready for either one. Last week against MSU they combined for 259 yards passing. I don’t need to tell you this but Sparty’s defense is better than ours, so Michigan needs to be ready to roll.

Pressure the quarterback, whichever one it is. Michigan hasn’t been all that great getting to the QB but they showed some promise last week. If they can keep that momentum going they should be able to harass IU’s quarterbacks all day. And they can do this by…

Bringing pressure and bringing it from all angles. If Michigan can keep IU guessing at where the pressure is coming from it should pay off with some bad passes and sacks. But the key is to bring pressure with five or six guys. Michigan’s defensive line is not good enough (at least we haven’t seen proof they are) to get to the quarterback without the aid of a linebacker or other blitzer. So keep blitzing away.

Special Teams

Win the field position game. Good returns and solid coverage are often overlooked but are almost always a major factor. The shorter the field the offense has to work with, the better the chances of winning. Same is true on the defensive side. The longer IU has to consistently drive, the less chance Michigan has of giving up a ton of points.

I hate to say it but Michigan needed to lose a game. They needed to get that “not apologizing for being undefeated” attitude out of their locker room. Sometimes losing is the best thing for a team, and I think that will hold true with Team 134. I’m not saying they’ll win out but I think they’ll come out with a newfound passion and purpose moving forward because of it.