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The Numbers Game: Despite disappointing finish, U-M showed drastic improvement from Year 1

January 18th, 2017 by Josh DeMille


(MGoBlue.com)

Previously: Is Don Brown’s defense high-risk? The numbers say noMichigan’s Harbaughfense will be more explosive in Year 2, Run game makes big plays in Week 1, While UCF loaded the box Michigan went to the air for big plays, Michigan offense doubles 2015 big play pace through 3 weeks, UM’s smothering defense narrows gap between 2015 D’s big play pace, U-M offense maintains big play pace versus tough Wisconsin D, Michigan out-big-plays Rutgers 16 to 1, Michigan’s big play stats continue to tell good news, U-M offense third most explosive, defense best at preventing big plays, MSU wins big play battle, Michigan wins the war, As big play defense falls back to earth, U-M offense continues to soar, U-M’s dynamic big-play offense stalls in Iowa loss, U-M offense, defense remain among nation’s best entering The Game, U-M big play offense fizzles, defense holds Bucks below average, Michigan big-play offense looks to bounce back vs susceptible FSU big-play defense

Despite losing three out of their last four games, by a total of just five points, Michigan made some big strides in 2016. In this last installment of The Numbers Game I hope to give you some optimism heading into next season, based on the increased offensive and defensive production from Year 1 to Year 2 and we’ll speculate on how Year 3 might look based on Harbaugh’s past.

Let’s get right into it. In the Orange Bowl, Dalvin Cook could not be contained, accounting for six of Florida State’s nine total explosive plays (five run, four pass). Add in a botched kick coverage and Michigan lost another game they should have won. Such is life. Back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time in over a decade is very good, though, lest we forget this was a 5-7 team two years ago.

Michigan didn’t manage an explosive play until the third quarter when Wilton Speight hit Ian Bunting for 21 yards on a 4th-and-4 pass. In total, Michigan notched just five total explosive plays (four run and one pass) for their second lowest output of the season. Only their three versus Ohio State was worse. That one can be chalked up to an injured quarterback and this one to Florida State doing what I was worried about the most: lining up DeMarcus Walker on the inside to take advantage of Michigan’s weak offensive guard play. I suspected Kyle Kalis would be exploited but it was true freshman Ben Bredeson who bore the brunt of the future NFL lineman’s wrath.

Regardless, Michigan finished the season with their two worst explosive play performances offensively, while giving up 17 to their opponents (OSU – 8, FSU – 9). Not exactly what we expected given how the season started but it is what it is. But as you’ll see, all is not lost.

Offensive big plays
Michigan offense – 2015 vs 2016 regular season comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 87 46 133 14.09% 3.71% 56
2015 47 48 95 10.49% -1.01% -3

For the year Michigan finished with 6.69 explosive runs per game (31st nationally) and 3.54 explosive passes (52nd) for a total of 10.23 explosive plays per game (30th). Their big play percentage for was 14.09 percent (35th).

After the hot 9-0 start to the season these numbers may seem a bit disappointing but when comparing them to 2015 the improvement is actually quite remarkable.

The 2015 offense averaged 3.6 explosive runs per game (116th) and 3.7 explosive passes per game (40th) for a total of 7.3 explosive plays per game (100th). Their big play percentage was 10.49 percent (97th).

Michigan improved upon every single offensive big play metric in a huge way, save for passing. But, if you’ll recall the piece on Harbaugh’s San Francisco teams you’d remember that from the year before Harbaugh to Year 1 with Harbaugh the passing game saw a decrease while the running game numbers took a giant leap. And the running game again took a giant leap in Year 2 with passing staying about the same. Remember, Harbaugh is a run-first guy, so we’re not likely to see huge numbers in the explosive pass department. Even his 2010 Stanford team with a returning starter in Andrew Luck averaged just 3.7 explosive passes per game.

In 2010 (pre-Harbaugh), San Francisco had 40 explosive runs and 36 explosive passes. In 2011, SF had 56 explosive runs and 28 explosive passes. Year 2 (2012) saw 81 explosive run plays and 33 explosive passes. The Niners went from 40 to 56 to 81 2010-2012. In Year 2, Harbaugh doubled the explosive run production from the year prior to his arrival.

Michigan’s explosive run numbers took a dip from 72 in 2014 to 47 in 2015, but then shot up to 87 total in Year 2. Progress is being made, and all with a Brady Hoke offensive line. To put in perspective how much of an improvement this is, the 10.23 total explosive plays per game this year is a 40 percent increase on the 7.3 from 2015. And the explosive runs increased by an astounding 86 percent.

Defense saw a similar theme in improvement. Although the numbers improvements were not as dramatic, the rankings were.

Defensive big plays allowed
Michigan defense – 2015 vs 2016 regular season comparison
Year Big Run Plays/gm Big Pass Plays/gm Total Big Plays/gm Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 4.38 2.08 6.46 10.38% 3.71% 56
2015 4.80 2.40 7.20 11.49% -1.01% -3

The Wolverines gave up 4.38 explosive runs per game (35th) and 2.08 explosive passes (3rd) for a total of 6.46 explosive plays per game (11th). Their big play against percentage was 10.38 percent (30th) and their big play differential was 3.71 percent (21st). Total toxic differential was 56, good for eighth on a per game basis. Three of the four playoff teams finished in the top six in toxic differential per game.

In 2015, Michigan gave up 4.8 explosive runs per game (53rd) and 2.4 explosive passes per game (13th) for a total of 7.2 explosive plays per game (24th). Their big play against percentage was 11.49 percent, good for 59th and their big play differential was -1.01 percent (88th). Their total toxic differential was minus-3, good for 75th on a per game basis.

The 2016 defense improved in every single big play metric and saw significant jumps in their rankings as well. But wait, there’s more.

Let’s talk about tackles for loss and sacks. Michigan had 88 tackles for loss in 2015, an average of 6.77 per game. In 2016, they had 120, an average of 9.23 per game and an increase of 36 percent. The sack numbers were even better. In 2015, Michigan had 32 sacks (2.46 per game). In 2016, they had 46 (3.54 per game), an increase of 43.7 percent.

The team rankings show just how much they improved. Sacks went from 31st in total and 32nd per game to fifth in total and fourth per game. Tackles for loss went from 38th in total and 42nd per game to third in total and second per game. Don Brown took this defense from middle of the pack in sacks and TFL to top five in both in just one year.

All but the offensive explosive pass play numbers were improved upon from Year 1 to Year 2. And given Harbaugh’s past record we weren’t expecting the pass numbers to waver much anyway. Remember, Stanford in 2010 (the 12-1 Orange Bowl champion year) averaged 5.8 runs and 3.7 passes. His best passing team in San Francisco (2012) averaged just two explosive pass plays per game. We’re right in the range we can reasonably expect given the roster. Of course, a guy like Brandon Peters or Dylan McCaffrey might add a new wrinkle and we could possibly see an uptick once they take over.

So what sort of improvement, if any, can we expect in Year 3? If Harbaugh’s history shows us anything it’s that this is likely going to be the norm for the offense: around seven explosive runs per game and 3.5 explosive passes per game. Does that mean the offense won’t improve? No, but at this point I don’t think we can expect another drastic improvement. As Harbaugh builds this roster in his image, perhaps we’ll see an uptick, but don’t look for Louisville type numbers (8.5-plus run and 4.5-plus pass). There were only two teams who averaged more than 12 explosive plays per game this season, so hovering around 10.5 keeps Michigan around the top-25 in that category.

The defense ended up right about where we expected, allowing 6.46 explosive plays per game. There’s not much room to improve upon that, or the sack and TFL numbers, from Year 2 to Year 3. But as Don Brown has more time to teach and implement his system we might see Michigan get into the under six explosive plays allowed per game range, which would easily be top five nationally.

So hold your heads up high, Michigan fans, the future is very bright. No, the season didn’t end like we expected, but Jim Harbaugh took a senior class that went 12-13 their first two years and went 20-6 with them, giving Michigan its second coach ever to win 10 games in each of his first two seasons and the first back to back 10-win seasons in over a decade. Until next season, Go Blue!

New in Blue: 2017 OT Chuck Filiaga

January 7th, 2017 by Justin Potts


(247 Sports)

Chuck Filiaga – OT | 6-6, 335 | Aledo, Texas (Aledo)
ESPN4-star, #14 OT Rivals: 4-star, #16 OT 247: 4-star, #13 OT Scout: 4-star, 15 OT
247 Composite: 4-star #14 OT, #98 nationally
Other top offers: Oklahoma, Nebraska, Alabama, Washington, USC, Ole Miss, Oregon, Auburn, Florida, UCLA

While Michigan awaits the decision of the nation’s No. 1 player, running back Najee Harris, the Wolverines received a commitment from another highly-touted guy on Saturday. Offensive tackle Chuck Filiaga pledged his commitment to Jim Harbaugh’s squad during the second quarter of the U.S. Army All-American game.

Filiaga is a consensus four-star recruit according to the four major recruiting services. All have him ranked similarly as 247 Sports ranks him as the 13th-best offensive tackle in the class, ESPN 14th, Scout 15th, and Rivals 16th. Nationally, 247 has him the highest as the 106th-best overall recruit in the class. Rivals ranks him 118th, Scout 125th, and ESPN 137th. He’s the 14th-best offensive tackle and 98th-best overall player in the class according to the 247 Composite.

The Aledo, Texas native chose Michigan over a top three that also included Oklahoma and Nebraska. He also held offers from most of the nation’s best, including Alabama, Washington, USC, Ole Miss, Auburn, Florida, Oregon, and more.

Scout lists Filiaga’s strengths as arm length, power and strength, and size, while noting his area to improve as technique.  Scout’s Greg Biggins expands on that.

“Two way lineman who could play on either side of the ball in college. We like him as an offensive tackle because of his length, long arms and athleticism. He has an ideal tackle frame, shows the feet to kick out and take on speed rushers but the strength to handle bull rushers as well. He is a talented defensive lineman and can get a push off the edge and moves around the line to take advantage of mismatches.”

Filiaga is the 27th member of the class, joining Andrew Stueber, Joel Honigford, Ja’Raymond Hall, Phillip Paea, Kai-Leon Herbert, and Cesar Ruiz as offensive linemen in the class. He’s the 13th commitment on the offensive side of the ball. National Signing Day is just three-and-a-half weeks away, on Feb. 1.

#11 Florida State 33 – #6 Michigan 32: Michigan resilient in comeback, but lets Orange Bowl slip away in final minute

January 1st, 2017 by Justin Potts


(Mgoblue.com)

Michigan, playing without Jabrill Peppers, who missed the game with a hamstring injury, dug itself a big first half hole, fought back to grab a late lead, but ultimately fell by one point to 11th-ranked Florida State in the Capital One Orange Bowl in Miami on Friday night.

Florida State took the opening kickoff and marched right through the vaunted Michigan defense for a 6-play, 75-yard scoring drive to make an early statement. The Wolverines got a break after they were forced to punt on their first possession of the game when FSU’s Noonie Murray fumbled Kenny Allen’s punt and Dymonte Thomas recovered at the Florida State 1-yard line. But the Seminoles’ defense held strong, forcing a 19-yard Allen field goal.

Florida State responded with a field goal of their own on their next drive and then forced two straight Michigan three-and-outs. On the first play of FSU’s next drive, Michigan’s coverage broke down and quarterback Deondre Francois hit Murray for a 92-yard touchdown to put the Seminoles up 17-3.

Final Stats
Michigan  Florida State
Score 32 33
Record 10-3, 7-2 10-3, 5-3
Total Yards 252 371
Net Rushing Yards 89 149
Net Passing Yards 163 222
First Downs 16 15
Turnovers 1 2
Penalties-Yards 4-37 7-65
Punts-Yards 8-379 6-207
Time of Possession 34:17 25:43
Third Down Conversions 7-of-20 3-of-13
Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-2 1-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 2-22 4-26
Field Goals 3-for-3 2-for-2
PATs 1-for-1 3-for-4
Red Zone Scores-Chances 4-of-4 3-of-3
Red Zone Scores-TDs 1-of-4 3-of-3
Full Box Score

By the end of the first quarter, Florida State was outgaining Michigan 201 to 22, despite Michigan having more time of possession.

The Michigan defense forced a three-and-out to start the second quarter and put together a 11-play, 59-yard scoring drive. However, after reaching 1st-and-goal at the FSU six, the Wolverines had to settle for a 28-yard Allen field goal to pull within 17-6.

Florida State answered with a 15-play drive to get that field goal back as Robert Aguayo connected from 38 yards out. Florida State took a 20-6 lead into the half.

In the first half, both teams had 34 plays from scrimmage, but Michigan managed just 83 total yards (2.4 yards per play) compared to FSU’s 255 (7.5).

But the second half was a different story. Michigan set the tone on the first possession of the half, marching 14 plays for yet another Allen field goal, this time from 37 yards out.

The two teams traded a pair of punts and Michigan linebacker Mike McCray made the big play the Wolverines needed, picking off Francois at the Florida State 14 and returning it for a touchdown. Wilton Speight’s pass for the two-point conversion fell incomplete.

Michigan’s defense held Florida State to just 15 yards on nine plays in the third quarter while pulling within five points. But FSU wouldn’t roll over, beginning the fourth quarter with a 7-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to take a 27-15 lead.

Two possessions later, Michigan’s offense found the end zone for the first tim in the game when Speight connected with Khalid Hill for an 8-yard touchdown.

Florida State took over with 5:22 remaining and the Michigan defense stood strong, forcing a three-and-out, and giving the offense the ball with a chance to take the lead. And they did just that. The Wolverines went 61 yards in just five plays, capped off by a 30-yard Chris Evans touchdown run to give Michigan the lead with two minutes to play. Speight hit Amara Darboh in the end zone for the two-point conversion, putting Michigan ahead 30-27.

But instead of forcing Florida State’s offense — which had managed just 82 yards in the second half to that point — drive the length of the field for a game-tying field goal, Michigan’s special teams allowed a 66-yard return up the middle to the Michigan 34-yard line. Four plays later, Francois completed a pass to Murray over Jourdan Lewis in the end zone to give Florida State a 33-30 lead. Michigan blocked the extra point try and Josh Metellus returned it for two points to bring the Wolverines within two, but the Michigan offense was unable to move into field goal range as Speight was intercepted to end Michigan’s chances.

Speight finished the game 21-of-38 for 163 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Evans lead Michigan with 49 rushing yards and the one touchdown, while Darboh lead the way with five receptions for 36 receiving yards. Ian Bunting caught three passes for 40 yards filling in for Jake Butt, who tore his ACL in the first half.

For Florida State, Dalvin Cook rushed for 145 yards and one score, while Francois completed 9-of-27 passes for 222 yards, two touchdowns, and one pick.

Michigan finishes the season at 10-3, matching last season’s record, while Florida State also finished 10-3. The Wolverines may fall out of the top 10 in the final rankings, but will look to bounce back next season when they open with Florida in AT&T Stadium on Sept. 2.

Game Ball – Offense

Kenny Allen (3-of-3 field goals, 8 punts for 47.4 average, 4 downed inside 20)
For the second straight game and third in the last four, Kenny Allen gets the offensive game ball. The Michigan offense struggled to move the ball at all in the first half and Allen kept them in it with two field goals and then tacked on another to start the second half. He also booted eight punts for an average of 47.4 yards, most notably a 61-yarder that forced Noonie Murray to try to catch the ball over his shoulder and fumble, resulting in the first field goal. Allen ends his career as one of the best kickers in Michigan history.

Previous
Week 1 — Chris Evans (8 carries, 112 yards, 2 touchdowns)
Week 2 — Wilton Speight (25-of-37 for 312 yards, 4 touchdowns)
Week 3 — Jake Butt (7 receptions for 87 yards)
Week 4 — Grant Newsome, Ben Braden, Mason Cole, Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson (326 rush yards, 0 sacks allowed)
Week 5 — Amara Darboh (6 receptions for 87 yards, 1 touchdown)
Week 6 — Khalid Hill (2 carries for 2 yards and 2 touchdowns, 2 receptions for 19 yards and 1 touchdown)
Week 7 — Wilton Speight (16-of-23 for 253 yards, 2 touchdowns)
Week 8 — Amara Darboh (8 receptions for 165 yards)
Week 9 — Wilton Speight (19-of-24 for 362 yards, 2 touchdowns, 3 carries for 16 yards, 1 touchdown)
Week 10 — Kenny Allen (2-of-2 FGs, long of 51)
Week 11 — De’Veon Smith (23 carries for 158 yards, 2 touchdowns)
Week 12 — Kenny Allen (2-of-2 field goals, 7 punts for 47.4 average, 5 downed inside 20)

Game Ball – Defense

Taco Charlton (5 tackles (2 solo), 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 quarterback hurries)
Michigan’s defense gave up some big plays, but played very good when needed in the second half to key the comeback. Mike McCray could have gotten this week’s game ball for his pick-six, but as I think about who made the most impact defensively, it has to be Taco Charlton. The senior defensive end was consistently in the FSU backfield, pressuring Francois, and getting to him once. He showed why he may be the first Michigan player selected in this spring’s NFL Draft, solidifying the hype on the big stage.

Previous
Week 1 — Mike McCray (9 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble)
Week 2 — Rashan Gary (6 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks)
Week 3 — Jabrill Peppers (9 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 kick ret. for 81 yards, 4 punt ret. for 99 yards, 1 TD)
Week 4 — Maurice Hurst (6 tackles, 3 solo, 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack)
Week 5 — Channing Stribling (2 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 pass breakups)
Week 6 — Taco Charlton (2 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 2 sacks)
Week 7 — Mike McCray (3 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, 1 fumble recovery, 2 quarterback hurries)
Week 8 — Jabrill Peppers (7 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 two-point conversion fumble recovery return)
Week 9 — Delano Hill (6 tackles (5 solo), 0.5 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions)
Week 10 — Chris Wormley (6 tackles (2 solo), 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack)
Week 11 — Ryan Glasgow (7 tackles (5 solo), 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble)
Week 12 — Taco Charlton (9 tackles (6 solo), 3 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks)

M&GB staff predictions: Florida State

December 30th, 2016 by Maize and Go Blue


StaffPicks_banner20152

Justin (3)

Unless Michigan’s offensive line has improved significantly over the past month, it’s going to be difficult to get a consistent running game against Florida State’s defensive front. As Josh detailed in yesterdays The Numbers Game, FSU is susceptible to the big play, so it’s likely that Michigan will move the ball in fits and spurts rather than with much consistency. And it’s also likely that it will be mostly through the air against a Florida State pass defense that has allowed half of its opponents to throw for more than 200 yards. Walker will probably wreck a drive or two, but if Wilton Speight is healthy after a month off he can carve apart the Florida State secondary.

Staff Predictions
Michigan    Florida St   
Justin 31 23
Derick 27 21
Sam 24 14
Josh 21 13
Joe 28 20
M&GB Average 26 18

Defensively, Michigan will have to stop — or at least slow down — Cook. We shouldn’t be too worried about Francois and the passing game beating Michigan’s top-ranked pass defense. But Cook will present some issues in the passing game out of the backfield. Michigan’s defense has had a knack for giving up big plays to running backs out of the backfield this season and Cook is the best they’ve faced this season. Don Brown faced Cook last season when he was at Boston College and held him to just 54 yards on 15 carries and two catches for three yards. If he can draw up a game plan to come close to repeating that performance Michigan will win. If the Michigan defense can stuff Cook on first and second down consistently, letting the pass rush loose on the porous FSU offensive line, it will be a big day for the Wolverines.

Overall, I see a game dominated by the defensive lines both ways, preventing either team from rushing consistently. Both teams will hit some big plays, but Michigan has the edge in the passing game and also on special teams. Expect a close game throughout with Michigan pulling it out late in the game.

Michigan 31 – Florida State 23

Derick (1)

Michigan routed Florida last season after a month of preparation, but Florida State is a tougher test in the Orange Bowl.

Michigan had an outside chance at the playoff, but now that it’s settling for a New Year’s Six bowl, how will it come out?

I think these are two of the best defenses in the country, with tons of NFL talent on both sides.

I think Michigan can at least limit Dalvin Cook and make enough plays in the secondary to pick up win No. 11 by a 27-21 score.

Michigan 27 – Florida State 21

Sam (3)

After narrowly missing out on a spot in the College Football Playoff, Michigan’s consolation prize is a trip to Miami to face the Seminoles of Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Something tells me that the crowd will not be overly kind to the Wolverines, but we’ll see how well the fan base travels south.

As for the matchup, there looks to be a case of strength versus weakness in Michigan’s pass rush facing a porous FSU offensive line, while Seminole running back Dalvin Cook could cause fits with his explosiveness in the running game. Wilton Speight’s health is still in question after gutting out a so-so performance against Ohio State a month ago, and a potent Florida State defensive line could cause more issues there.

If there’s one intangible for all bowl games, however, it’s the desire to be playing, and I don’t think Jim Harbaugh stands for anything less than full effort. With a star-studded senior class (and the biggest star of them all in Jabrill Peppers) playing in its last game in the Maize and Blue, I like the Wolverines to pull it out in a defensive showcase.

Michigan 24 – Florida State 14

Josh (1)

For me, Michigan is not in the playoff for one simple reason: they do not have a championship OL and if FSU wins that’ll be why. That lack of an elite OL could spell doom against the likes of DE DeMarcus Walker, who also lines up inside, and NT Derrick Nnadi. Mason Cole has struggled against the better NT’s Michigan has faced and Kyle Kalis has whiffed on far too many blocks to count (remember Walker lines up inside too). No team gets to the QB better than FSU (on a per game basis). However, oddly enough two of FSU’s three losses came to teams that aired it out on them. UNC put up 405 yards and Clemson 383. Clemson’s QB/WR combo is much better than Michigan’s, I’d give Michigan the WR edge over UNC, but not at QB. But what this does show is that if the OL can give the QB some time, FSU can be exploited through the air.

On the other side of the ball FSU brings in the best RB Michigan has faced all year, and one of the best in the country. His balance of speed, power, balance and vision is why he’s a surefire first-round pick. The key here is the edge, if Cook gets to the edge consistently I don’t like Michigan’s chances. He’s a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball. BUT, if Michigan can keep Cook somewhat contained and limit his chances for breakaway plays (read: MUST TACKLE) then Michigan will be in good shape.

Even better for Michigan’s chances is the fact that FSU struggles mightily to protect their RS Freshman QB, Deondre Francois. He gets hit and goes down a lot, 2.83 sacks per game, one of the worst in the nation. This bodes well for Michigan since they’ve spent quite a good deal of time introducing themselves to opposing QB’s and they themselves have one of the best front fours in the country. FSU has given up 2+ sacks in nine of eleven games against Power 5 teams, and 3+ in six of those, including 4 to BC and 6 to Clemson. Michigan has had at least 2+ sacks in eleven of twelve games, 3+ sacks in nine of twelve and 4+ sacks in six of twelve. They should have no problem getting to Francois multiple times.

If the Michigan OL can protect long enough and Speight is hitting the deep ball like he did the first 9 games, this should be a win, but if the Iowa or OSU version of this offense shows up, Michigan will head home with a loss. If FSU can force Michigan into 3rd and longs and unleash Walker and Nnadi on Speight it will be a long day. While the FSU run defense isn’t as stout as their pass rush, I’m not a huge fan of Michigan’s run blocking (in their 2-losses they were held under 100 yards AND under 3 yards per carry) so I think this game will come down to Speight and the OL pass blocking versus the FSU pass rush and coverage. Derrick Nnadi has to be double teamed, but that can become problematic with DeMarcus Walker also there.

Overall I think both defenses are the better units for each team, and better than the opposing team’s offense. However, I think the advantage Michigan’s defense has over FSU’s offense is slightly bigger than FSU’s defense vs. Michigan’s offense. That said, stranger things have happened and we don’t know how healthy Wilton Speight is.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Michigan will get to Francois four or five times. Where I pause is Dalvin Cook. He has 47 runs of 10+ in 268 carries, better than one for every six carries. Way more than anyone else Michigan has faced and Michigan has had some issues tackling this year, though they did a fairly good job bottling up Barrett/Samuels. It all boils down to whether Michigan can contain Dalvin Cook, and not many have. He’s had eight games of at least 120+ all-purpose yards and six of at least 179+, only three times was he held to under 6 yards per touch. The silver lining for Michigan? Both times Dalvin Cook faced Don Brown (at BC) he was held under 90 total yards, and just 57 last year.

Don Brown should be able to whip up a scheme to keep Cook in check, relatively, and the DL should have its way with Deondre Francois. The defense will do its job, this game will hinge on whether Michigan’s offense, the OL specifically, can get enough push for run game and give Speight enough time to survey the field. The OSU game left a bad taste in my mouth but this team is resilient and looking to go out on a high note, that and I don’t think FSU’s defense is as good as OSU’s.

It’ll be a very close game until the 4th when Michigan pulls away.

Michigan 21 – Florida State 13

Joe (6)

This is going to be a fun one to watch. I think this game boils down to 1 big matchup. The Michigan defensive front vs. FSU’s Dalvin Cook. This is most likely the best RB we’ve seen all year and can control the game if he gets going. I have confidence that he won’t as Michigan is healthy and itching to end the season on a high note. Michigan will control the clock and throw the ball often against a suspect FSU defense. Look for dominate performance along the lines with Michigan winning 28-20.

Michigan 28 – Florida State 20

Orange Bowl preview: #6 Michigan vs #11 Florida State

December 30th, 2016 by Justin Potts


(Dustin Johnson, Maize ‘n Brew)

Ten years ago Michigan entered the Ohio State game at the end of the regular season needing just a win to clinch a spot in the BCS Championship game. Ohio State won a shootout in Columbus, securing their own spot, but many felt the Wolverines deserved a chance at a rematch. However, Florida head coach Urban Meyer successfully lobbied for the Gators, sending Michigan to the Rose Bowl.

Quick Facts
Hard Rock Stadium – 8p.m. ET – ESPN
Florida State Head Coach: Jimbo Fisher (7th season)
Coaching Record: 77-17 (all at FSU)
Co-Offensive Coordinators: Randy Sanders (4th season)
Lawrence Dawsey (10th season)
Defensive Coordinator: Charles Kelly (4th season)
Last Season: 10-3 (6-2 ACC)
Last Meeting: FSU 51 – UM 31 (1991)
All-Time Series: Tied 1-1
Record in Bowls: First meeting
Jim Harbaugh vs FSU First meeting
Last Michigan win: 1986 (20-18)
Last Florida State win: 1991 (51-31)
Current Streak: Florida State 1
Florida State Schedule to date
Opponent Result
#11 Ole Miss W 45-34
Charleston Southern W 52-8
at #10 Louisville L 20-63
at USF W 55-35
North Carolina L 35-37
at #10 Miami W 20-19
Wake Forest W 17-6
#3 Clemson L 34-37
at N.C. State W 24-20
Boston College W 45-7
at Syracuse W 45-14
#13 Florida W 31-13

On New Year’s Day in Pasadena, Michigan played like a dejected team that would have rather been in Glendale and was embarrassed by USC, 32-18.

Tonight, Michigan faces a similar scenario, having been left out of a spot in the College Football Playoff. Rather than a semifinal in Glendale or Atlanta, the Wolverines face Florida State in the Orange Bowl in Miami. Like that 2006 postseason, this team has a wealth of seniors playing in their last game, but rather than a end-of-career Lloyd Carr at the helm, Michigan has an enthusiasm-unknown-to-mankind Jim Harbaugh keeping them focused.

Last year, after suffering a humbling home loss to Ohio State in the regular season finale, Michigan responded by throttling a Florida squad, 41-7, that many thought was the better team. This week, all the talk from the Michigan camp has focused on this being a business trip.

“As long as coach Harbaugh is here, any bowl game we ever play in will be a 100 percent business trip,” said senior tight end Jake Butt. “You won’t see a lot of messing around. I can guarantee you that. It’ll be that way again this year.”

Senior defensive end Chris Wormley echoed that sentiment.

“It worked last year,” defensive end Chris Wormley said. “We beat a team by 34 points, and I’m guessing they went out and got to enjoy Orlando a little more than we did. But we got the win, and that’s what we’re here to do.

“I don’t think I’d be wrong to say that I’d want to be at the beach. But at the end of the day, winning the bowl game is what we’re here to do.

“We didn’t come here to go to the beach. We didn’t come here to go bowling, or to sing karaoke. I don’t have a good voice anyway, so that wouldn’t be entertaining.”

In Thursday’s press conference, ESPN’s Janine Edwards tried to bait Harbaugh into a soundbite with a ridiculous question about players wanting to see bikinis, but he wasn’t biting.

“I don’t have any thoughts on that,” he responded to the first question.

“I don’t know about that. I don’t know anything about that. I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he responded to the followup.

And it awkwardly continued for three more followups.

It’s clear that Harbaugh is concerned with removing distractions and focusing singularly on the task at hand: beating Florida State to send the seniors off with a win and springboard the younger players into 2017.

Florida State, meanwhile, is looking for a fifth straight 10-win season after finishing the regular season with a 31-13 thumping of rival Florida. The Seminoles had an interesting regular season, getting blown out by 43 points at Louisville, but nearly knocking off No. 3 Clemson. They also suffered a bad home loss to North Carolina and only beat Miami, Wake Forest, and N.C. State by a combined 16 points. But they finished the season hot with four straight wins to climb back from 23rd nationally to 11th.

Let’s take a look at the matchups.

When Florida State has the ball

Florida State’s offense ranks 24th nationally in total offense (474.3 yards per game), 32nd in scoring (35.2 points per game), 38th in rushing (206.8 yards per game), and 29th in passing (267.6 yards per game). None of those numbers is outstanding, but advanced stats like the Seminoles much more, as S&P+ ranks the FSU offense sixth nationally.

The unquestioned dangerman offensively is junior running back Dalvin Cook, who ranks eighth nationally with 1,620 rushing yards. As we discussed on Monday, he’s accounted for 65 percent of the team’s rushing yards on 55 percent of the team’s carries. Remove quarterback from the equation and Cook accounts for 71 percent of rushing yards and 70 percent of carries. By comparison, Michigan’s leading rusher, De’Veon Smith, accounts for just 30 percent of the team’s rushing yards and 31 percent of the carries.

Cook eclipsed 100 yards rushing in eight of 12 games including eight of the last nine with a season-high of 267 yards against South Florida. He also topped 200 yards against Syracuse with 225 and ranked sixth nationally with 18 rushing touchdowns. He’s also a weapon out of the backfield as the team’s second-leading receiver in terms of yards with 30 receptions for 426 yards and one touchdown. His 35.5 receiving yards per game would rank fourth on Michigan’s team this season. He had two 100-yard receiving games out of the backfield, but his receiving production tailed off in the second half of the season when he averaged just 1.7 receptions for 13.5 yards per game in the last six games.

Behind Cook, sophomore running back Jacques Patrick has rushed for 348 yards and four touchdowns on 5.8 yards per carry.

Quarterback Deondre Francois is the team’s third-leading rusher with 189 yards and four touchdowns, though that includes the yards lost on more than 30 sacks. He has been much more dangerous through the air with a 60.6 percent completion rate for 3,128 yards, 18 touchdowns, and just six interceptions. The redshirt freshman had his two worst performances in the losses to Louisville and Clemson, completing just 24-of-53 passes (45.2 percent) for 387 yards, two touchdowns, and two picks. His next worst performance came against Florida’s third-ranked pass defense, which held him to just 138 yards, a touchdown, and an interception on 57.7 passing. Of the teams he had big games against, none ranks higher than 35th in pass efficiency defense. Florida and Clemson have pass defenses similar to Michigan’s caliber, so that bodes well for the Wolverines.

Junior Travis Rudolph is the team’s leading receiver with 807 yards and seven touchdowns on 53 receptions, nearly identical to Amara Darboh’s output this season (826 yards, seven touchdowns, 52 receptions). Rudolph had a monster game against Wake Forest with 13 catches for 238 yards, but averaged fewer than four catches per game in the other 11 games. Senior Kermit Whitfield has 33 catches for 372 yards, but has found the end zone just once this season, while sophomore Auden Tate leads all regular receivers with 16.4 yards per catch. He has 409 yards and six touchdowns on just 25 receptions. Senior Jesus Wilson is the other receiver of note with 30 receptions for 390 yards and one score.

The offensive line has been lackluster this season, ranking 108th nationally with 34 sacks allowed, which is nearly double the 18 that Michigan has given up. Junior left tackle Roderick Johnson is the best of the bunch as a first-team All-ACC performer each of the past two seasons.

When Michigan has the ball

Florida State’s defense isn’t quite as good as the offense. Charles Kelly’s squad ranks 29th nationally in total defense (357.2 yards per game), 41st in scoring defense (24.4 points per game), 38th in rush defense (131.2 yards per game), and 68th in pass defense (225.9 yards per game). But like the offense, the Seminoles’ defense looks much better according to S&P+ which ranks them 18th nationally.

There’s no question who the star of the defense is. Senior strong side defensive end Demarcus Walker leads the nation with 15 sacks and was a second-team AP All-American. He also leads the team with 64 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries. But he’s not the only stud on the line. Freshman weak side end Brian Burns has 9.5 sacks of his own, which is one more than Michigan’s leader, Taco Charlton. On the interior, junior nose guard Derrick Nandi has 5.5 sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss and 44 total tackles, which ranks fifth on the team.

Behind the line is a bunch of athleticism that hasn’t produced at a high level just yet. The linebackers are okay, lead by sophomore Buck linebacker Josh Sweat, who has 38 tackles, 10 for loss, 5.5 sacks, and a team-high six quarterback hurries. Will linebacker Matthew Thomas is the second-leading tackler with 62 and has 7.5 behind the line of scrimmage, while redshirt junior Mike linebacker Ro’Derrick Hoskins has 45 tackles, 3.5 for loss, and 2.5 sacks. Sam linebacker Jacob Pugh has the second most sacks of the linebacking corps with 3.5.

The secondary is the weakest link. Sophomore cornerback Tarvarus McFadden is a good corner with plenty of upside and makes plenty of plays. He lead the team with eight interceptions (which also leads the nation), 13 passes defended, and five pass breakups. He’ll be a touch matchup for Darboh and at 6-foot-2, 198 pounds he has the size to stack up. After McFadden, things go downhill. The other starting corner is senior Marquez White, who has 22 tackles, two interceptions, and three pass breakups. The safeties, sophomore A.J. Westbrook and junior Trey Marshall have a combined 86 tackles, three for loss, one sack, and seven pass breakups. Neither are more than average.

The other third

Freshman kicker Ricky Aguayo made 17-of-24 attempts this season with a long of 47, but was pulled in favor of fellow freshman Logan Tyler after missing two of three against Florida. Tyler hit 1-of-2 this season, though that one was from 53 yards out. Tyler is the team’s punter, averaging just 40.6 yards per punt. He has downed 11 of 46 punts inside the 20 with two touchbacks. He has only allowed 13 punt returns, but opponents have averaged 21.5 yards per return, so if Jabrill Peppers gets one that is returnable, it could be a game-changer.

Whitfield is the main kick returner, averaging 22.9 yards per return. Wilson is the main punt returner with an average of 17.2 yards and one return for touchdown.

Prediction

Unless Michigan’s offensive line has improved significantly over the past month, it’s going to be difficult to get a consistent running game against Florida State’s defensive front. As Josh detailed in yesterdays The Numbers Game, FSU is susceptible to the big play, so it’s likely that Michigan will move the ball in fits and spurts rather than with much consistency. And it’s also likely that it will be mostly through the air against a Florida State pass defense that has allowed half of its opponents to throw for more than 200 yards. Walker will probably wreck a drive or two, but if Wilton Speight is healthy after a month off he can carve apart the Florida State secondary.

Defensively, Michigan will have to stop — or at least slow down — Cook. We shouldn’t be too worried about Francois and the passing game beating Michigan’s top-ranked pass defense. But Cook will present some issues in the passing game out of the backfield. Michigan’s defense has had a knack for giving up big plays to running backs out of the backfield this season and Cook is the best they’ve faced this season. Don Brown faced Cook last season when he was at Boston College and held him to just 54 yards on 15 carries and two catches for three yards. If he can draw up a game plan to come close to repeating that performance Michigan will win. If the Michigan defense can stuff Cook on first and second down consistently, letting the pass rush loose on the porous FSU offensive line, it will be a big day for the Wolverines.

Overall, I see a game dominated by the defensive lines both ways, preventing either team from rushing consistently. Both teams will hit some big plays, but Michigan has the edge in the passing game and also on special teams. Expect a close game throughout with Michigan pulling it out late in the game.

Michigan 31 – Florida State 23

The Numbers Game: Michigan big-play offense looks to bounce back vs susceptible FSU big-play defense

December 29th, 2016 by Josh DeMille


Previously: Is Don Brown’s defense high-risk? The numbers say noMichigan’s Harbaughfense will be more explosive in Year 2, Run game makes big plays in Week 1, While UCF loaded the box Michigan went to the air for big plays, Michigan offense doubles 2015 big play pace through 3 weeks, UM’s smothering defense narrows gap between 2015 D’s big play pace, U-M offense maintains big play pace versus tough Wisconsin D, Michigan out-big-plays Rutgers 16 to 1, Michigan’s big play stats continue to tell good news, U-M offense third most explosive, defense best at preventing big plays, MSU wins big play battle, Michigan wins the war, As big play defense falls back to earth, U-M offense continues to soar, U-M’s dynamic big-play offense stalls in Iowa loss, U-M offense, defense remain among nation’s best entering The Game, U-M big play offense fizzles, defense holds Bucks below average

This bowl edition of The Numbers Game will be an abbreviated one. We already looked back at the Ohio State game and since neither Michigan or Florida State played a conference championship game we’re going to use the end of regular season numbers for our rankings. We’ll have an end of season edition too and do a look back on Year 1 of Jim Harbaugh versus Year 2 after Alabama beats Clemson, again, the title game.

We already covered Michigan’s full regular season numbers but here’s a refresher.

Offensive big plays
Michigan offense – 2015 vs 2016 regular season comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 83 45 128 14.71% 4.67% 59
2015 43 42 85 10.25% -0.70% -4

For the 2016 regular season the Michigan offense averaged 6.92 explosive runs per game (27th nationally) and 3.75 explosive passes (46th) for a total of 10.67 explosive plays per game (24th), a big play percentage of 14.71 percent (28th), and a total toxic differential of 59, good for 8th on a per game basis.

If you recall, the past two seasons have featured playoff teams that are excellent in the toxic differential number. This year was no different with Alabama, Ohio State, and Washington all being in the top four. Clemson was this year’s outlier at 31st. Michigan fared well in this metric (8th) but came up just short. Still, it bodes well going forward as they were 77th at the end of 2015. No wonder every NFL team with an opening is pining for Jim Harbaugh. But I digress…

Defensive big plays allowed
Michigan defense – 2015 vs 2016 regular season comparison
Year Big Run Plays/gm Big Pass Plays/gm Total Big Plays/gm Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 4.33 1.92 6.25 10.04% 4.67% 59
2015 4.67 2.25 6.92 10.95% -0.70% -4

Michigan’s defense averaged 4.33 explosive runs per game allowed (34th) and 1.92 explosive passes (2nd) for a total of 6.25 explosive plays per game (9th). Their big play against percentage was 10.04 percent and their big play differential was 4.67 percent (16th).

Sacks and tackles for loss

Michigan finished the regular season with 44 total sacks at 3.67 per game. Both rank second nationally. Their 114 total TFLs and 9.5 per game are both first overall. They are the only team to average over nine TFLs per game. They eclipsed their 2015 totals long ago and still have one game left.

Next opponent
Michigan & Florida State offense comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Off. 83 45 128 14.71% 4.67% 59
FSU Off. 91 50 141 16.08% 2.35% 37
Michigan & Florida State defense comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Def. 52 23 75 10.04% 4.67% 59
FSU Def. 62 46 108 13.61% 2.35% 37

Florida State is an interesting team. Their offensive line was much maligned in the passing game but they have a top five unit in overall explosive plays. Both units ranking in the top 21 individually with the running game ranking slightly higher than the passing. Both units are ranked better than Michigan.

The Seminoles average 7.58 explosive runs per game (17th) and 4.17 explosive passes per game (21st) for a total of 11.75 explosive plays per game (5th). They are one of only three teams to average at least 7.5 explosive passes and at least four explosive runs per game. West Virginia and Louisville (shocker, I know) were the other two.

They had an impressive big play for percentage of 16.08 percent (9th) and a total toxic differential of 37, good for 24th on a per game basis through the end of the regular season.

On defense, the ‘Noles weren’t quite as impressive, giving up 5.17 explosive runs per game (58th) and 3.83 explosive passes per game (103rd) for a nice even total of nine explosive plays given up per game (71st). If Michigan is to exploit FSU it’s likely going to be through the air, which is odd since no one got to the quarterback more this season (on a per game basis) than Florida State. FSU’s big play against percentage was 13.61 percent (96th) and their big play differential was 2.35 percent (36th).

As just mentioned, FSU was the best unit at getting to the quarterback, averaging 3.92 sacks per game but they tallied just 79 total tackles for loss, good for 6.58 per game. So what does this mean? They’re very good at pass rushing but likely not so good at stopping the run behind the line.

This game has the makings of a defensive struggle, with both teams fielding excellent units. FSU has the better playmaker, Dalvin Cook, but Michigan has several weapons with which to attack. Should be a good one. Go Blue!

Big Ten power rankings 2016: Pre-bowl

December 28th, 2016 by Maize and Go Blue


power-rankings_header

Each Wednesday throughout the season we will release our Big Ten power rankings. These are voted on individually by the five members of our staff and then each team’s ranking is averaged to reach our power rankings. As these are simply power rankings, they are based on each team’s performance to date, not what happened last season or what will happen in the future.

Previous: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4, Week 5, Week 6, Week 7, Week 8, Week 9, Week 10, Week 11, Week 12

*Black dash signifies previous week’s ranking

Big Ten power rankings – Pre-Bowl
Team Up/Dn Last Week This Week
1. Ohio State (11-1, 8-1) Even Beat Michigan 30-27 2OT CFP Semifinal – Fiesta Bowl
Sat. vs #2 Clemson (12-1, 7-1), 7pm, ESPN
2. Michigan (10-2, 7-2) Even Lost at #2 OSU 27-30 2OT Orange Bowl
Fri. vs #11 FSU (9-3, 5-3), 8pm, ESPN
3. Penn State (11-2, 8-1) Up 1 Beat #6 Wisconsin 38-31  Rose Bowl
Mon. vs #9 USC (9-3, 7-2), 5pm, ESPN
4. Wisconsin (10-3, 7-2) Down 1 Lost to #7 PSU 31-38 Cotton Bowl
Mon. vs #15 WMU (13-0, 8-0), 1pm, ESPN
5. Nebraska (9-3, 6-3) Even Lost to Iowa 10-40 Music City Bowl
Fri. vs #21 Tenn. (8-4, 4-4), 3:30pm, ESPN
6. Iowa (8-4, 6-3) Even Beat Nebraska 40-10 Outback Bowl
Mon. vs #17 Florida (8-4, 6-2), 1pm, ABC
7. Minnesota (8-4, 5-4) Even Lost at #6 Wisc 17-31 Holiday Bowl
Tue. vs WSU (7-5, 7-2)
8. Northwestern (6-6, 5-4) Up 1 Beat Illinois 42-21 Pinstripe Bowl
Wed. vs Pitt (8-4, 5-3)
9. Indiana (6-6, 4-5) Down 1 Beat Purdue 26-24 Foster Farms Bowl
Wed. vs Utah (8-4, 5-4)
10. Maryland (6-6, 3-6) Even Beat Rutgers 31-13 Quick Lane Bowl
Mon. vs Boston College (6-6, 2-6)
11. Illinois (3-9, 2-7) Up 1 Lost at NW 21-42 Season Over
12. MSU (3-9, 1-8) Down 1 Lost at #7 PSU 12-45 Season Over
13. Purdue (3-9, 1-8) Even Lost at Indiana 26-24 Season Over
14. Rutgers (2-10, 0-9) Even Lost at Maryland 13-31 Season Over

Heading into the heart of bowl season, Ohio State and Michigan hold onto the top two spots despite neither making the Big Ten championship game. Both face tough bowl games this weekend with Michigan playing 11th-ranked Florida State in the Orange Bowl on Friday night and Ohio State facing 2nd-ranked Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinal on Saturday night.

Penn State leapfrogs Wisconsin thanks to a 38-31 win over the Badgers in the Big Ten championship game. The Nittany Lions will try to continue their late-season momentum with a Rose Bowl win over 9th-ranked USC on Monday. Wisconsin, meanwhile, gets a no-win situation against 15th-ranked Western Michigan in the Cotton Bowl on Monday. Beat the Broncos and it just shows the difference in the level of competition. Lose to the Broncos and it’s a black eye for the program even though WMU is one of just two undefeated teams.

Nebraska, Iowa, and Minnesota hold onto the five through seven spots, though the first two are tied for fifth. Nebraska holds a one-game advantage in the standings, but Iowa throttled the Cornhuskers 40-10 in the regular season finale. They both get to face SEC foes in their bowl games with Nebraska seeing 21st-ranked Tennessee on Saturday and Iowa taking on 17th-ranked Florida on Monday. Minnesota beat Washington State in the Holiday Bowl this past Tuesday, but that was not factored into this week’s power rankings.

Northwestern and Indiana flip spots after regular season ending wins over Illinois and Purdue, respectively. The Wildcats upset Pittsburgh in the Pinstripe Bowl on Wednesday afternoon (not factored into this week’s rankings) and Indiana played 19th-ranked Utah in the Foster Farms Bowl Wednesday night.

Maryland held onto the 10th spot after topping Rutgers 31-13. They lost to Boston College in the Quick Lane Bowl on Monday night, though it also is not factored into this week’s rankings.

Illinois, Michigan State, Purdue, and Rutgers round out the rankings as the only four non-bowl eligible teams in the Big Ten. All four lost their season finale. They’ll look to rebound in 2017.

 

Tailgate Tuesday: Braided pork belly tacos with mojo slaw

December 27th, 2016 by GoBluBBQ


Tailgate Tuesday is our weekly contribution from our resident pitmaster, Joe Pichey from GoBlueBBQ. These tailgate recipes will be posted each Tuesday throughout the football season and will feature a variety of appetizers, main courses, and sides to help you be the king of your next tailgate. Lane’s BBQ, a Bethlehem, Ga. based BBQ company, sponsors this season’s feature by providing their killer rubs and sauces for use in the recipes. Buy them here. In addition, Fogo Charcoal provides charcoal to use in each recipe. Buy it here.

Previous: Cedar planked scotch eggs, Pork tenderloin sliders with grilled cheese, Chicken street tacosSausage and cheese poppers, Tomato pie, smoked corn pudding, Maple planked salmon, Sous vide steak and burgers, Bacon cream cheese, Brazilian style protein, O’Korn and cheesy jalapeno bacon dipSmoked sausage balls
Full Archive here.

As we approach the ORANGE BOWL, I start to get excited when I think about the endless options for our year end TAILGATE. I’ve reached out to FSU friends and Michigan family located in Florida for their thoughts. Almost to a man (and one woman) they recommended something with a CUBAN flare. And as soon as Justin mentioned MOJO, the deal was sealed. I love trying new things and firing up the grill for a new recipe. It always adds a little extra something for me when the outcome is unknown. Plus, I love the movie CHEF! If you haven’t watched it, give it a go. It’s a good one. This recipe has a few of my favorites in it and will definitely work its way into my tailgate rotation. It’s a Braided Pork Belly Taco topped with MOJO Slaw.

Ingredients

• Pork Belly (1-2 lb piece)
• Lane’s BBQ SPF 53 Rub and Signature Rub
• Tortillas

Mojo Slaw:
• 3 cups chopped purple cabbage
• 1 cup chopped carrots
• 1 shallot
• ¼ cup fresh orange juice
• ¼ cup fresh lime juice
• 3 cloves chopped garlic
• ¼ cup chopped cilantro
• 1/4 cup chopped oregano
• 1 TBSP cumin
• Dash of salt and pepper

Directions

Set your grill up for indirect heat and shoot for a temperature of 275 degrees. Anywhere from 225-300 will work on this one. Be sure to use your FOGO lump for this to ensure a clean and hot burn.

As the grill is heating up, take your sharp knife and slice the pork belly into three pieces, all joined at the top. Make sure not to cut all the way through at the top as we need this for braiding. It should look like a pork belly octopus.

Each strip of the pork belly should be equal in size and thickness. Once you’ve sliced into strips, take something heavy like a meat tenderizer or a cast iron pan and pound them lightly. We want to thin them out just a little to make the braiding easier.

Once they are thinned slightly, dust it with a combo of Lane’s Signature Rub and Lane’s SPF 53 Rub. This adds some heat and sweet and some fantastic color to the belly. Once seasoned, start braiding by taking the strips on the outside and folding over the middle strip. Continue this all the way until it is completely braided. Make sure this is braided somewhat tightly. Secure the ends together with butchers twine. A BBQ skewer would even work (and look a lot cooler).

Once the braid is ready, place it on the smoker and add a few chunks of pecan wood for smoke. This will smoke for anywhere from 4-6 hours depending on your grill temp. We are looking for an internal temperature of 200 degrees.

As the pork belly is smoking, we can assemble our MOJO slaw. Cut your purple cabbage into chunks along with your carrot slices. It’s easier to just buy the pre-sliced carrots in a bag. Chop up a half bunch of cilantro as well. I love extra cilantro in my MOJO so I added a little more than the recipe called for. Add your chopped veggies to a large mixing bowl and set aside. Now, add your OJ, lime juice, oregano, garlic, and cumin to a bowl. Mix and pour into your veggies. I don’t like mine super saucy, so I only added half of this mixture and saved the rest. If you like your slaw super wet, add more. Set in the fridge for at least an hour and allow the flavors to develop. After about an hour, you will notice a lot of juice in the bottom of the bowl. This is some tasty stuff.

Once the pork belly reaches 200 degrees internal, remove from the heat and tent with foil for 10 minutes. Once rested, slice into chunks and start making your tasty MOJO tacos. These things are addicting and didn’t last long. The MOJO flavors paired well with the spicy rub from Lanes. The slaw had a nice crisp bite to it and looks great with the purple coloring. I love me some purple.

Visit Lane’s BBQ to purchase their fantastic line of rubs and sauces. You can follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

Visit Fogo to purchase their premium lump charcoal. You can follow them on Twitter, Facebook, andInstagram.

After growing up in Michigan, Joe now lives in North Texas where he can barbecue year ’round. He cooks mostly on Big Green Eggs and some Webers and has competed in BGE competitions. When he’s not watching Michigan football, he also teaches BBQ classes at a local grilling store and does some catering. You can follow Joe on Twitter at @mmmgoblubbq and Instagram at @gobluebbq.

Five-Spot Challenge: Florida State

December 27th, 2016 by Justin Potts


Congratulations to Maizenblu62 for his first Five-Spot Challenge win of the season the week of the Ohio State game. His deviation of 252.2 narrowly beat boggie‘s 257.8. Maizenblu62 wasn’t the closest to any single question, but was consistent across the board. His prediction of 112 for Wilton Speight’s quarterback rating was second-closest, his prediction of 145 Ohio State first-half yards was third closest, and his guess if 85 was just five away from the uniform number (or combination) of Michigan’s first touchdown. He wins a prize box of product from our sponsors, Lane’s BBQCultivate Coffee & Tap House, and Chayder Grilling Company.

Grahambino, kashkaav, Michigan Mack, HTTV137, and saline_ian all correctly predicted that Khalid Hill (80) would score Michigan’s first touchdown. Sistersueblue was just two away from Jabrill Peppers’ all-purpose yards (69). koakley@BIGLOTS.COM was just 10 away from J.T. Barrett’s rushing yards (125), was the only one to correctly predict that it would take at least 60 minutes for Michigan to reach 20 points, and was only one away from Michigan’s longest rush (16 yards). TheZachster was the closest to OSU’s first-half yards (145, 49 away). Boggie was just two away from Curtis Samuel’s total yards (86). Michigan Mack was only 1.8 away from Speight’s quarterback rating (122.2). JD Mackiewicz correctly predicted that the longest field goal of the game would be 37 yards. Finally, Jaeschke and artayay were both just one away from Peppers’ longest return (44 yards).

The weekly results and season standings have been updated.

Michigan returns to action on Friday against Florida State in the Capital One Orange Bowl. Here are this week’s picks.

First Look: #11 Florida State

December 26th, 2016 by Justin Potts


Michigan may be one of the four best teams in the country, but just missed out on a College Football Playoff spot after losing two of their final three games. On Friday, the Wolverines have a chance to make a statement that they deserved to be selected.

When Michigan narrowly lost by three to Ohio State in the 2006 “Game of the Century” and didn’t get awarded a rematch in the BCS National Championship game they mailed in their Rose Bowl matchup against USC, falling 32-18 in a largely uncompetitive game. It’s hard to see Jim Harbaugh letting that happen with a senior-laden squad this season.

Florida State comes in with a 9-3 record overall and 5-3 record in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Seminoles lost by 43 points to Louisville in Week 3 and then suffered a bad loss at home to North Carolina, but played Clemson tough — falling 37-34 — and won their final four games, most notably a 31-13 thumping of rival Florida.

Let’s take a look at how the teams compare through the regular season.

Florida State & Michigan statistical comparison
Florida State | Michigan Rank Defense Rank
Points Per Game 35.2 | 41.0 32 12
24.4 12.5 41 2
Rushing Yards 2,481 2,679 1,575 1,401
Rush Avg. Per Game 206.8 223.2 38 30
131.2 116.8 38 13
Avg. Per Rush 5.1 | 5.0
3.7 3.1
Passing Yards 3,211 2,593 2,711 1,631
Pass Avg. Per Game 267.6 216.1 29 81 225.9 135.9 68 1
Total Offense 5,692 5,272 4,286 3,032
Total Off Avg. Per Game 474.3 439.3 24 46 357.2 252.7 29 2
Kick Return Average 21.2 18.6 52 108 17.9 21.0 13 | 74
Punt Return Average 8.3 15.6 59 | 8 21.5 7.3 127 57
Avg. Time of Possession 33:31 32:57 12 16 26:29 | 27:03
3rd Down Conversion Pct 46% | 44% 23 | 34
34% | 21.0% 16 1
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 34-279| 18-119
108 27
47-292 44-274 1 2
Touchdowns Scored 53 63
37 | 18
Field Goals-Attempts 18-26 16-21
12-17 | 8-16
Red Zone Scores (52-54) 96%|(58-64) 91% 1 | 15
(32-41) 78%|(17-25) 68% 29 2
Red Zone Touchdowns (41-54) 76%|(43-64) 67% (25-41) 61%|(11-25 44%
Off. S&P+/Def. S&P+ 40.4 36.1 6 26 21.0 | 5.1 18 1

Statistically speaking, Florida State is probably the second best team Michigan has faced this season behind Ohio State. That’s debatable, as a case could be made for Wisconsin or Penn State (now, not at the time they played) but the Seminoles do rank ninth in S&P+, ahead of Penn State (12th) and Wisconsin (16th).

Offensively, Florida State ranks 24th nationally in total offense (474.3 yards per game), 32nd in scoring (35.2 points per game), 38th in rushing (206.8 yards per game), and 29th in passing (267.6 yards per game). Although the running game as a whole is good but not great — statistically, it’s about equal to Maryland’s (averaging about a yard more per game) — it does feature one of the nation’s top running backs in junior Dalvin Cook, who ranks eighth nationally with 1,620 rushing yards.

Cook has accounted for 65 percent of FSU’s rushing yards so far this season. By comparison, Michigan’s leading rusher, De’Veon Smith, has accounted for just 30 percent of the Wolverines’ yards on the ground. Cook’s percentage is roughly equal to that of Smith, Chris Evans, and Karan Higdon combined.

Florida State had just four games in which they rushed for at least 200 yards during the regular season (Michigan had six). The Seminoles had a high of 478 rushing yards against USF’s 92nd-ranked rush defense and had 334 against Syracuse’s 108th-ranked rush defense. But they did close the regular season with 249 yards on 6.2 yards per carry against Florida’s respectable 35th-ranked rush defense.

As a whole, the FSU passing game is much better with nine of 12 games over 200 yards passing, five games over 300 yards, and one over 400. By comparison, Michigan’s passing game had eight, two, and zero this season. The season high of 419 passing yards came in a season opening win over Ole Miss. They also put up 372 passing yards on a season-high 11.6 yards per attempt against North Carolina’s 14th-ranked pass defense. It was by far the most passing yards the Tarheels allowed all season, about one-third more than the next closest, James Madison’s 286. UNC held seven of 12 opponents below 200 yards passing. Against a pass defense comparable to Michigan’s (Florida), Florida State managed just 138 yards on 15-of-26 passing with one touchdown and one interception.

One major area in which Michigan can exploit is the Florida State offensive line, which ranks 108th nationally in sacks allowed. They’ve given up nearly twice as many sacks as Michigan’s offensive line has this season (34 compared to 18), an average of almost three per game. Michigan’s defense ranks second in the nation in sacks, so count on defensive coordinator Don Brown to dial up some pressure on quarterback Deondre Francois.

Defensively, like offensively, the advanced stats like Florida State more than the traditional stats do. The Seminoles rank 29th nationally in total defense (357.2 yards per game), 41st in scoring defense (24.4 points per game), 38th in rush defense (131.2 yards per game), and 68th in pass defense (225.9 yards per game). None of those rankings is indicative of a top-10 team, but FSU’s defense ranks a more respectable 18th according to S&P+. Four of Michigan’s opponents this season — Ohio State (3rd), Wisconsin (5th), Colorado (11th), Iowa (12th), and Penn State (16th) — rank higher but it still means FSU has a very good defense.

It’s lead by the defensive line and most notably senior defensive end Demarcus Walker, who leads the nation with 15 sacks and ranks 18th nationally with an average of 1.5 tackles for loss per game. Fellow end Brian Burns has 9.5 sacks of his own, which is one more than Michigan’s leader, Taco Charlton. As a team, FSU leads the nation with 47 sacks — three more than Michigan.

But when the Seminoles don’t make it to the quarterback, they struggle to stop the pass. Six of 12 opponents have topped 200 yards passing and four of those topped 300 yards. One — North Carolina — threw for 405 yards, their third-highest of the season. Clemson had its second-best passing game of the season and best in terms of yards per attempts (14.0) against the ‘Noles with 378 yards. Michigan’s defense allowed two 200-yard passing games to Colorado and Maryland and none higher than the Terrapins’ 289 yards.

The rush defense is slightly better, having held six of 12 opponents under 100 yards rushing. They did give up 314 rushing yards to Louisville and 290 to USF in back to back weeks early in the season, but in their last eight games, their opponents topped 100 yards just twice with a high of 165 yards. They allowed just 77.4 yards per game over that span.

But that should be said with a caveat. In the last eight games of the season, FSU faced a lot of bad rushing offenses. Clemson’s 67th-ranked rush offense was the best they faced and the eight opponents averaged the nation’s 96th-best rushing offense. Those two that rushed for a combined 604 yards on 6.9 yards per carry? They rank 11th and 5th in rushing offense. Michigan’s running game isn’t quite on that level, but the Wolverine’s 30th-ranked rushing offense is considerably better than any of the final eight teams that FSU’s defense shut down.

Overall, Florida State is a dangerous team that should absolutely not be taken lightly. Just because Michigan descended on the Sunshine State and whooped the Florida Gators in last year’s Capital One Bowl doesn’t mean they’ll do the same to the Gators’ rival on Friday. Florida State is a more complete game than Florida was a year ago and they’re filled with young talent that will make the Seminoles a force to be reckoned with in the coming years. Michigan has the edge in experience and is probably the better team, but FSU has the athletes to make Michigan pay if they don’t come to play.