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Posts Tagged ‘Friend vs Foe’

Friend vs Foe: Penn State

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

This week we are pleased to have the tag team duo of Jared Slanina and Bill DiFlippo of the Penn State SB Nation site Black Shoe Diaries to answer some questions about the matchup, how Penn State fans view Michigan, their expectations during the sanctions, and more. They also provide a game prediction. You can follow them on Twitter @bflip33 and @JaredSlanina and the main feed @BSDtweet. Representing the good guys, like usual, is Josh on what Michigan needs to do to beat Penn State.

1. Michigan and Penn State haven’t played the past two years. Prior to the Rich Rodriguez era Michigan had your number with eight straight wins, but Penn State took advantage of the Rich Rod years. Now six years removed from the last time Michigan beat Penn State, how do Penn State fans view the Michigan program?

I think Penn State fans view Michigan as a rival. The weird thing about Penn State is we don’t really have a “rival” in the way that Michigan has OSU, Oklahoma has Texas, or anything like that. We have Michigan State, although nobody in Happy Valley views Sparty as anything more than a good team in the Big Ten. We also have Pitt, but we haven’t played them in 13 years.

With all that in mind, people at Penn State view two teams as “rivals”: Ohio State and Michigan. Of course, it’s dumb to think their hatred of us is reciprocated, because they have each other. But in our eyes, both schools are evil institutions that freely break NCAA violations and pay off officials to screw us out of games. Sounds like a rival to me.

2. What is the current mindset of Penn State fans about their program, having gone through what you did the past couple of seasons? Do most expect to still compete for the Big Ten title each year, or are they resigned to hoping to make it through the sanctions without getting hopes too high?

It’s a fairly even split between those who have lowered their expectations because of everything that has occurred the past two years, and those who still think Penn State should win every Saturday regardless of any type of circumstances. As far as the latter goes, I was shocked by the amount of Monday-morning QBs after the loss to Central Florida who thought that game could have been won if a couple things went differently. From what I saw, it was clear that Penn State was just defeated by the better team. Penn State is playing with 24 fewer scholarship athletes than their opponents, and have no B10 Championship or bowl game to play for. On the other hand, there are many like myself who support the team, hope for the best and look forward to seeing what happens in a few years once all the sanctions are behind us.

At just 18 years old, Christian Hackenberg has shown plenty of potential to be a star (Mark Selders)

3. What happened last week against Indiana? Most Michigan fans probably didn’t watch that game and most probably haven’t seen Penn State play yet this season. Fill us in on what went wrong against IU.

Things went wrong in every facet of the game so there’s not really one person or unit to place blame. The defense has trouble covering the perimeter and opposing offensive coordinators are starting to take notice. The secondary is inexperienced and has regular lapses in coverage, and will likely continue to struggle against teams with a solid passing game. Penn State whiffed on two field goal attempts thanks to a bad snap and allowing a second one to be blocked. Christian Hackenberg had a good game when you look at the numbers, but never got into a rhythm to keep the offense on the field. Hackenberg also set a Penn State record for most passing attempts in a single game, which has many Nittany Lion fans scratching their heads since Indiana has one of the worst run defenses in the nation.

4. Christian Hackenberg: is he the real deal? Five games into his career, what are his current strengths and weaknesses?

Christian Hackenberg is the real deal. He has regressed a bit in his past two games, but if “throwing for four touchdowns and more than 500 yards in two games” is regressing, then I don’t know if anyone can be too upset. His biggest strength is absolutely his poise. He doesn’t turn 19 until February, although you wouldn’t know that watching him. He looks comfortable and never lets the moment get to him, which at his age, is remarkable. He also has an excellent arm and is incredibly intelligent, you don’t come into college and pick up a system as complex as Bill O’Brien’s system in four-ish weeks without being a smart dude.

As for weaknesses, I am a Penn State fan, so he is perfect in my eyes. However, others have told me that he still has to figure out when to hold onto the ball and take a sack/throw it away, he isn’t the most mobile guy, and his accuracy has looked a bit iffy these last two or three games. Despite this, he should overcome every issue to win the Heisman this year, next year, the year after, and the year after that en route to three national titles and being selected by the Raiders with the #1 pick in the 2017 NFL draft.

5. In what area(s) do you see advantages against Michigan?

I don’t see many at this point as it seems Michigan has more overall talent and experience. The one advantage Penn State will have over any team is Allen Robinson. in my humble opinion, Robinson is the top receiver in the nation and will leave as the best all-time at his position at Penn State. Teams have struggled to cover him even though they know he will be getting the ball. He’s the complete package and is especially good at escaping the first one or two would-be tacklers. He’s a junior, but I’m pretty much assuming he’ll be playing on Sundays next year.

6. What’s your prediction? How will it happen?

I somehow convince myself that Penn State will win by the time the game kicks off, but that hasn’t happened yet with this game. I’ll say Michigan 31, Penn State 20. I think Penn State can keep it close with a few adjustments and the home field advantage, but Michigan will be good enough to take care of business and stay undefeated. I’m hoping Devin Gardener has one of his turnover-prone games, but Penn State has struggled to force turnovers this season so I just don’t see that happening.

After taking care of the Golden GOOOOphers (that was in my fake-Minnesotan accent) last week in the conference opener Michigan gets to head to Happy Valley to take on Penn State in a night game. Happy Valley is not an easy place to play and they will almost assuredly have one of their famous ‘white outs’ but they don’t play the games on paper for a reason. We’re going to shift gears from what we’ve been doing the past couple of weeks and instead of telling you what I’d like to see I’ll tell you what Michigan needs to do to win. Let’s get started.

On offense

Keep the play calling simple. Last week Al Borges and Co. broke out their KISS playbook, and I don’t mean the band. It worked. The run game got going early and often and Devin Gardner didn’t attempt a pass until the second quarter. Part of that was due to Minnesota’s consuming drive but it was also clear that Borges and Hoke wanted to take as much pressure off Gardner as possible. One can assume that PSU will look to bring pressure and rattle Gardner, making him leave the pocket and hope that Akron/UConn Gardner shows up and throws some bad picks. Michigan knows this will be coming so I’d expect them to come out and be ultra-conservative. If they can control the clock they shouldn’t have much trouble coming away with the win.

Keep Devin Gardner’s jersey clean. The change on the offensive line appeared to pay dividends but Minnesota is, well, Minnesota so we really don’t know how much of a difference it made. Regardless, if Michigan’s new line can keep Gardner upright (and in the pocket) he will have ample opportunity to pick apart a secondary that gave up 44 points and 336 yards through the air to Indiana. Yes, Indiana. No matter how far they may have come under Kevin Wilson it’s still IU football.

It will be important for Brennen Beyer and others to get pressure on the young Hackenberg (

Don’t turn the ball over. I’ll keep harping on this one all year. You win the turnover battle you usually win the game. In Michigan’s case they need to do a little more than just win it, they need to dominate it. PSU is a better team than Akron and UConn and turning the ball over on the road to a team who is probably a bit upset about losing to IU last week would be bad. As I mentioned, one can assume the Nittany Lions will be trying to pressure Gardner into making bad decisions, so it is of utmost importance that Michigan protect the ball.

On defense

Pressure the heck out of Hackenberg with the BLITZ. We’d all like to see the front four deliver some great pressure without them but they haven’t and without Pee Wee Pipkins the depth is shallow. So let’s dial up those NFL-style blitzes that Greg Mattison loves. We know Bill O’Brien is going to throw it, a lot. Hackenberg’s attempted at least 28 passes in every game with a high of 55. And, luckily for us, he doesn’t like to take off and isn’t really much of an athlete so sending five or six (or seven) probably won’t hurt us since he isn’t going to beat us with his legs.

Get off the field. As in lots of three and outs and/or short drives/turnovers. Getting the Nittany Lions’ offense off the field opens the door for time killing Michigan drives, giving fewer chances for Hackenberg to get into a rhythm. Bear with me with this analogy, I promise it makes sense. The only ‘defense’ that has been able to stop Peyton Manning this year is the other team’s offense being on the field. Now, Christian Hackenberg is no Peyton Manning (I’ll take him over Eli though) but he can’t hurt us if he’s not on the field.

On Special Teams

We’ve all been waiting for Dennis Norfleet to take one to the house since opening day 2012. Every time he touches the ball he’s always seemingly just one man away from taking it to the house. And every time he just can’t make it past that one guy. Now a return touchdown would definitely take the crowd out of it, at least for a time, but I think all we need is just a handful of good returns that set up great field position and aid in winning the field position game. I know, I know, that’s not very sexy at all; winning the field position game. But it’s an overlooked aspect that can have huge ramifications, especially for a game like this on the road. The coverage teams need to prevent big returns and the return teams just need to get some decent ones. Again, simple really.

It appeared as though Michigan got a bit of their swagger back last week and the shake up on the offensive line could be the beginning of something special but they will really get tested this weekend in Happy Valley. Shutting down a pretty potent Gopher rushing attack and lighting up the scoreboard was the shot in the arm this team’s confidence needed. Now all they need to do is carry it forward and keep it rolling. Michigan wins if they can get most of the above facets taken care of. Not turning it over may be enough on its own, but I’d like to see a couple more for good measure.

Friend vs Foe: Ohio State edition

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

For this week’s edition of Friend vs. Foe, we are proud to welcome Jason Priestas from the best damn Ohio State blog in the land, Eleven Warriors.  He will provide his perspective on how or why Ohio State can beat Michigan on Saturday. Remember, this is not an actual game prediction. It is an attempt to describe how or why each team can win from each side of the matchup.

The case for Ohio State
by Jason

As any fan of either team can tell you, records don’t mean a whole lot in this series. You can go back to 1969, 1973 or pick a random year during the John Cooper era to confirm this fact. Ohio State is 11-0, sure, but they’re the ugliest 11-0 team you’ll ever find. Whether it’s the comeback win over Purdue or the 49 points surrendered to Indiana, this team has warts and plenty of them.

Despite that, they’ve found ways to win.

I expect that to continue Saturday where they’ll be playing in front of a friendly home crowd and looking for a bit of redemption from last season’s loss in Ann Arbor.

It doesn’t hurt that Michigan’s best running back saw his season end early last weekend and Denard Robinson’s injury would be great news for Ohio State had Devin Gardner not emerged into the second coming Charlie Ward, but with Gardner, there’s at least the possibility of having a plan for defense. With Robinson healthy at quarterback, it’s pretty much mad libs on three.

I respect Borges and Mattison a great deal, but the edge at the top has to go to Urban Meyer in this game. I’ve heard Michigan fans try to insinuate that Hoke is on the same level as Meyer aside from that being hilarious, it’s not even close to being true. On one hand, you have a guy that has a pair of national championships, an .833 winning percentage and a 24-5 record in rivalry games. On the other, you have a guy that parlayed a near .500 mark at Ball State and San Diego State into one of the premier coaching gigs in the nation.

Ohio State is also largely healthy at the right time. Etienne Sabino, the senior heart of the defense, is back at linebacker after missing over a month with a broken leg. The rest of the defense, maligned for much of the season, has come into their own holding their last four opponents to an average of just over 20 points per game. That doesn’t sound like anything special, but considering their start, it’s monumental.

Ultimately, I’m going with the Buckeyes because they’re undefeated in alternate uniforms created as a cash grab by Nike.

The case for Michigan
by Justin

Prior to last week, my confidence level for this one wasn’t very high. Denard’s status was unknown and Devin Gardner had played well against Minnesota and Northwestern, but how much of that was his ability and how much was the opponent was up for question. But then the Iowa game happened and Denard not only played, but saw plays at quarterback, running back, and receiver and tallied 122 total yards, while Gardner looked cool and confident as the main signal caller. Of course, Iowa’s defense isn’t good, but the offensive variety and efficiency displayed was what Michigan fans have been hoping to see since Al Borges became offensive coordinator.

Following the game, safety Jordan Kovacs admitted that the defense had no answer for the newfangled offense all week in practice and knew it would work in the game. Gardner admitted the same, saying that every time Denard was on the field, the defense was so keyed in on where he was that it opened up other things. Many have wondered whether Hoke and Borges should have brought it out against Iowa instead of saving it for Ohio State, but it was important to work on it in a live game situation before doing so in the ultimate game and it also gives Ohio State a lot of looks to prepare for. As Chris said in yesterday’s MMQ, the offense the Buckeyes will likely face this week barely resembles the Michigan offense they have been preparing for all season.

Despite being undefeated, Ohio State’s defense has given up a ton of yards and a lot of points. It’s set up to defend the typical Big Ten offenses like Wisconsin, Penn State, and Michigan State, and the Bucks held those three to an average of just under 18 points. But against multifaceted spread offenses, Ohio State has been shredded. And this Michigan offense will be the best one they have faced. Gardner should be able to attack Ohio State underneath where he has been deadly accurate so far, and take some chances deep because the threat of Denard getting the ball in space anywhere on the field will keep the defense honest.

On the other end, this will be the best offense Michigan has faced all season, but perhaps Wisconsin provided the blueprint last week. The Badgers bottled up the explosive Braxton Miller, holding him to just 48 rushing yards on 2.1 yards per carry (65 yards, not counting sacks) and 97 passing yards. You can be sure that Greg Mattison will be focused on keeping Miller off the edge, forcing everything inside, and sending Kovacs in early and often to help out. Will it work? Sometimes, but a big play or two over top would not be surprising.

I just don’t see this one being a defensive affair either way. Both offenses are high powered and both defenses have holes. Ohio State’s has more and knows less about the offense Michigan will deploy, which is why Michigan can win this shootout that will feel similar to last year.

Friend vs Foe: Northwestern edition

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

For this week’s edition of Friend vs. Foe, we welcome Philip from the Northwestern blog Lake the Posts.  He will provide his perspective on how or why Northwestern can beat Michigan on Saturday. Remember, this is not an actual game prediction. It is an attempt to describe how or why each team can win from each side of the matchup.

The case for Northwestern

by Philip

If there is one thing you learn from watching Northwestern football it is that anything is possible on any given day. Except a Northwestern blowout win. Those just don’t happen. In Big Ten play this year, the Wildcats have proven that they can play with everyone on their schedule and that they cannot protect a lead in the fourth quarter. But you have to be good enough to build a lead in order to blow it – at least that is what the optimist in me says.

Northwestern had to do something and while the losses to Nebraska and Penn State still wake me up in a cold sweat, NU did some really nice things to get there that any defense has to be prepared to handle. This season has seen the emergence of Northwestern’s run game, something the team has not really had since Tyrell Sutton in 2005.

Venric Mark is this team’s biggest offensive weapon and his attitude has permeated through this rushing attack. He has already hit the 1,000 yard mark and has breakaway speed. Teams don’t punt to him anymore because his likely to break one at any time. He had an 80-yard run against Nebraska and two 50-yard runs against Minnesota. Despite his small size and speed, Mark is not afraid to dish out a hit and run between the tackles. Don’t be surprised to see him burst through a tiny crack between the hashes and burst forward or to get up from a pile and into a defensive lineman’s face. If you do not have your defense locked onto Mark he will score on you and score on you quickly.

That makes Northwestern especially dangerous in the option game. Kain Colter still does some every-backing here and there, but he is most effective when he runs the option with Mark next to him. Just the threat of Colter opens things up for Mark and the threat of Mark opens things up for Colter, who is a very good decisionmaker in the option and extremely slippery when he is out on the perimeter.

On the other side of the ball, the Wildcats defense is improved although still a little weak. The run defense has been solid all year and the defensive line and linebackers have been solid. So long as they are making tackles and not overly winded from an offense that cannot stay on the field. The secondary too is improved even though it continues to give up yards in chunks. But the communications issue and generally the deep passes are not there for opposing teams. Northwestern has long not been a team you can overlook, but now that is really true. There is a reason Northwestern is No. 24 in the BCS.

The key for the Wildcats is staying on the field offensively. That has been the offense’s struggle all year and it has led to disastrous results for Northwestern. Coming off the bye week, I suspect Northwestern will feel comfortable with its gameplan and come out with a lot of confidence in its run game led by Kain Colter, with easy passes mixed in to keep the defense off balance. There may be some Trevor Siemian sightings when Northwestern needs a long pass or Colter needs a breather. If he gets into any kind of rhythm passing, this offense becomes downright scary.

More importantly, if the Wildcats are able to sustain drives, the defense is good enough to hold down just about any offense and give the Cats a chance to win the game. If the Wildcats are unable to score points or sustain drives, the defense could get tired and that makes no lead safe.

The case for Michigan

by Justin

This is a game that concerns me probably more than it should, similar to how I felt entering last season’s matchup. Northwestern is probably a better team right now than it was last season and Michigan is arguably slightly worse. Michigan must win to stay in Big Ten title contention, while Northwestern can also say the same, although the Wildcats’ path to Indianapolis is much more narrow than Michigan’s.

The good thing is Northwestern’s strength – an explosive offense – feeds right into Michigan’s strength – a highly-ranked defense. The Wildcats rank 13th nationally in rush offense, averaging 236.4 yards per game, but just 113th in pass offense. Michigan’s pass defense ranks first in the nation, and likely will remain that way after Saturday, but Greg Mattison has shown the past two years the ability to slow down a one-dimensional offense. Against big, pro-style offenses like Alabama that are equally as dangerous with the run and pass, the defense is vulnerable. But when he can gear up to stop the run, the defense responds.

Kain Colter is a fantastic athlete, but the NW offense is similar to Michigan’s, relying heavily on the zone read, albeit at a faster pace. Mattison has done well to slow down these types of offenses, if not at first, but at least after making adjustments throughout the game.

Northwestern hasn’t yet faced a really good defense this season, and the two good ones it did face, Penn State (26th) and Nebraska (31st), resulted in losses. Penn State limited Northwestern to just 247 total yards (112 rushing), while Nebraska held NW to 180 yards rushing. Both are well below the season average. There’s no reason to think Michigan’s defense can’t do the same.

But where Michigan will win is on the other side of the ball. Northwestern’s total defense ranks 60th nationally and 35th in points allowed per game, giving up almost a touchdown more than Michigan. While the rush defense is respectable, the pass defense gives up 272 yards per game. Matt McGloin torched the Wildcats for 282 and Taylor Martinez did so for 342. This is where I think in this game, given the health of Denard Robinson, Devin Gardner might present the better matchup. It’s kind of blasphemous to say so, and I still think Michigan can win whether Gardner or Denard starts, but Gardner presents a better passing game, especially with Denard’s ailing throwing elbow.

Of course, no one outside of The Fort knows the status right now, so until I hear otherwise, I’m going to assume Denard will be the starter. If so, I believe he can have a game similar to what he did last year against Northwestern (337 yards and two touchdowns passing, 117 yards and two touchdowns rushing) and similar to Martinez’s performance a couple weeks ago.

I have a sneaking suspicion that we will see some Gardner regardless of Denard’s health, but expect a closely contested first half with Michigan pulling away in the second. It won’t be as high scoring ast last year’s meeting in Evanston, but there’s no reason Michigan should lose. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s game preview and staff predictions for a more in depth analysis.

Friend vs. Foe: Minnesota edition

Friday, November 2nd, 2012

For this week’s edition of Friend vs. Foe, we welcome Tom from the Minnesota SB Nation blog The Daily Gopher.  He will provide his perspective on how or why Minnesota can beat Michigan on Saturday. Remember, this is not an actual game prediction. It is an attempt to describe how or why each team can win from each side of the matchup.

The case for Minnesota
by Tom

If the question is, how or why can the Gophers win on Saturday, I think there are only a few perfect storm scenarios. I’ll give you three reasons why it is possible as long as you do not construe these as any sort of a prediction that such things will come to fruition.

First and foremost, Denard Robinson cannot be Denard Robinson. Or he cannot be playing at all. It is possible that the Gophers can compete or even win with a healthy Robinson, but in that scenario it would likely mean Michigan is beating Michigan with Minnesota taking advantage of critical mistakes.

Secondly I think it is really important to note the time of kickoff. Michigan has kicked off every game this year either in the evening for a nationally televised game or in the late afternoon. This will be their first 11:00 CST kickoff. The schedule of getting up a bit earlier, playing over lunchtime and doing this on the road may lead to a sluggish start for the Wolverines.

And lastly I can easily see Michigan looking past the Gophers. This isn’t really a trap game scenario with Northwestern on the schedule for next week, but I think Michigan thinks they can beat the Gophers in their sleep. And who can blame them? Last year’s 58-0 game may not have even been that close. The Gophers haven’t forgotten that score and I’m sure Michigan hasn’t either. I have been reading on a few different Michigan sites how the Gophers are better but the numbers really are deceiving and they really aren’t “that good.”

Nobody wants to have a let-down game and coaching staffs do everything in their power to avoid it, but it is human nature. After two consecutive weeks of getting yourself ready to play your best against Michigan State and Nebraska, it is only natural to take it a bit easy this week when you are facing what you believe to be an inferior opponent. The problem with this, for Michigan, is that the Gophers really are a better team and while they are not at the same level as Michigan the gap is closer.

Notice that none of my possible scenarios for a Gopher win involved player match-ups or areas that the Gophers can exploit. The Gopher defense is much better at defending the pass and with Robinson’s elbow Michigan might be more one-dimensional than they usually are. But even when you know what is coming you still have to defend it. Offensively the Gophers can move the ball when they don’t make mistakes. On the field the margin for error is incredibly thin for the Gophers. If they are to pull out a win and bring home the Jug I think Michigan will have to do what they can to increase that margin for Minnesota.

I’m not arguing that this game is a pick’em or that the Gophers are really in a great place to pull off an upset here. Michigan is the more talented football team, but my hope is that they believe that with all their heart.

The case for Michigan
by Justin

Following the disappointing loss to Nebraska last weekend, Michigan now finds itself needing help to win the Big Ten Legends division. Essentially, the Wolverines have to win all four of the remaining games and hope Nebraska loses one of its remaining games and it all starts with Minnesota on Saturday. If there’s one opponent you’d love to play coming off a loss and needing to get things going again for the stretch run it’s the Gophers.

As I showed in Monday’s First Look, the two teams’ offenses look fairly similar on paper. Michigan averages about three more points per game and is the better rushing team, but Minnesota is the better passing team. In terms of total offense, they’re about equal. But a couple of stats show the discrepancy between the two. Michigan converts 47 percent of its third downs, good for 23rd nationally, while Minnesota converts just 39 percent, which is 72nd nationally. Inside the red zone, Michigan has scored on 89 percent of its trips, while Minnesota just 77 percent. And Michigan has faced three of the toughest defenses in the country while Minnesota feasted on nobodies in the non-conference schedule.

Minnesota’s defense is solid against the pass (7th nationally) but very vulnerable to the run, giving up 178 yards per game which is 84th nationally. Three of the last four opponents have had 100-yard rushers against the Gophers, including Wisconsin which had two. Expect Michigan to continue that trend. Much like the Wolverines did against Purdue and Illinois, Denard and Fitz Toussaint will run often, and we may even see some more of Thomas Rawls.

Don’t expect Denard to pass much because he likely won’t need to, but do expect him to be a little more cautious with running out of bounds instead of taking a hit. As we saw last week, the biggest thing that could derail the rest of the season is Denard getting hurt for an extended period of time. He’ll have his share of big runs, but will likely defer to the running backs more than usual in an effort to avoid getting banged up in a game that shouldn’t be too difficult.

Minnesota’s only hope to pull out a win is for Michigan to come out lethargic following a demoralizing loss and in its first noon game (11am local time) of the season. But don’t expect that to happen.

On the other side of the ball, we don’t know a whole lot about freshman quarterback Philip Nelson, as he will be making just his third start. He struggled against Wisconsin two weeks ago, but looked good against Purdue last week. But then again, who doesn’t? His best bet is to try to beat Michigan’s corners deep a few times, which will likely happen, either with long completions or drawing pass interference penalties. But while it might get the Gophers a few big plays, it won’t be enough to sustain the offense against Michigan’s highly-rated defense.

Michigan will win convincingly and retain the Little Brown Jug for the fifth straight season. It won’t be like last year’s 58-0 romp, but it will be a win and keep Michigan in the Big Ten title hunt.

Friend vs Foe: Nebraska edition

Friday, October 26th, 2012

For this week’s edition of Friend vs. Foe, we welcome Jon from the Nebraska SB Nation blog Corn Nation. He will provide his perspective on how or why Nebraska can beat Michigan on Saturday. Remember, this is not an actual game prediction. It is an attempt to describe how or why each team can win from each side of the matchup.

The case for Nebraska
by Jon

Nebraska’s biggest problem has been turnovers. The Huskers are last in the nation in fumbles lost with 13. Eight have been lost at home. Two came at UCLA in a 36-30 loss, and another four at Ohio State as the Huskers were blown out.

Nebraska’s second biggest problem lurks in how to handle mobile quarterbacks. If you want to successfully disable a Husker fan, all you have to do is whisper “mobile quarterback” in their ear, then stand back and scream “TURNOVER!” and watch them collapse and curl up in a fetal position.

Yet all is not lost for Nebraska!

Nebraska has the best offense in the Big Ten, outpacing second-ranked Indiana by nearly 50 yards a game. The Huskers have a deep, talented set of running backs. Rex Burkhead may not play in this game, but Ameer Abdullah has proven to be a capable backup, rushing for 615 yards, seven touchdowns and a 5.86-yard per carry average. His backup is Braylon Heard, capable in his own right, a great balance of speed and power. Backs like Imani Cross, Mike Marrow provide power when needed.

The Huskers feature easily the best receiving corps in the conference. It isn’t just the speed of Kenny Bell, who’s currently averaging just under 21 yards per reception, it’s the depth of the unit.  Nine different players have caught a touchdown pass and five are in double digits in receptions. Quincy Enunwa is the physical, possession receiver, and Jamal Turner adds another big play threat to complement Bell.

While Denard Robinson gets more positive press because of his speed and agility, Taylor Martinez has proven to be the better quarterback. Despite his national reputation as an arm punter, he’s completed 67 percent of his passes with a 16-to-four TD to interception ratio. He’s still a thread on the ground as well, with six touchdowns, 403 yards and a 12.29 yard per carry average.

They’ve had two great comeback victories against Wisconsin and Northwestern, but one has to wonder with the great offense that we’ve had why we had to come back (see above turnovers). The Husker defense has seen better days, but they’ve had their moments.

Nebraska has yet to put together a full game, and they’ll need to play one to beat Michigan. At the same time, Michigan has displayed an ability to break down in fundamentals, so the same could be said for the Wolverines.

Bottom line – the game goes to the team with the fewest mistakes. That may sound like a cliché, but the margin between these two teams makes it paramount that the winner play a clean game.

The case for Michigan
by Justin

It’s no secret that Nebraska has trouble stopping, or even slowing down, mobile quarterbacks. That reality doesn’t seem to make sense since they have one of their own to defend in practice day in and day out. In the previous decade, it was Michigan that continually got torched by quarterbacks that weren’t statues, but those days are gone, in part due to Denard Robinson and in part due to going out and getting one of those really good defensive coordinator things.

In tomorrow’s battle for Legends division supremacy, whichever defense slows down the other’s rushing offense most effectively will win the game. It’s as simple as that. And because of that, Michigan has the advantage.

Taylor Martinez and Ameer Abdullah are very talented and dangerous, so Michigan’s defense will have to play like it has the last five weeks and not like it did the first two. While stopping the run is most important, Martinez cannot be overlooked as a passer. He has improved significantly from last season (67 percent completion rate compared to 56.3, 16 touchdowns and four interceptions compared to 13 and eight) and has a solid cast of receivers to throw to. The ‘Huskers have the conference’s third-best passing offense.

What it will really come down to is the Nebraska defense’s ability to stop Michigan’s run game. Michigan will look to do just what it did to Purdue and Illinois and just what Braxton Miller and Ohio State did to Nebraska a few weeks ago. It’s up to the ‘Huskers’ defense to step up, which it hasn’t shown it can do this season. Michigan won’t completely stop Nebraska’s high powered offense, but it certainly won’t surrender the kind of points opponents have been allowing. I just don’t see Nebraska’s defense having the manpower to stop Michigan.

As I said in yesterday’s game preview, it will be tough for Denard to have much of a downfield passing game because of the man coverage abilities of Nebraska’s secondary, so expect a big day for Devin Funchess on the rare occasion that Denard does put the ball in the air.

Michigan should be able to run for 250-plus yards while getting a few big plays in the passing game, and the Wolverines will force Martinez to try to continue his success in the air against the nation’s fourth-best passing defense. That’s the recipe for success for the Maize and Blue.

Friend vs Foe: Purdue edition

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

Fresh off the bye week, we are proud to feature Travis from the Purdue SB Nation blog Hammer and Rails. He will provide his perspective on how or why Purdue can beat Michigan on Saturday. Remember, this isn’t an actual game prediction. It’s just an attempt to describe how or why each team can win from each side of the matchup.

The case for Purdue
by Travis

Purdue is a team that I am still trying to figure out. It is one that is averaging 45 points per game but hasn’t really played that well offensively. The numbers are a little skewed because we have three defensive scores and we’ve played three pretty lousy defenses. We still have scored the most points of anyone against Notre Dame and had we not been dumb enough to bench a hot Robert Marve for three series against the Irish it probably would have been more.

For now, at least, the quarterback situation is settled. Caleb TerBush is starting and Rob Henry is playing a few wildcat snaps per game. Marve was in street clothes on the sideline last week. He has said he will try to come back and play this season, but no one really trusts his left knee. It is a shame too, because he was playing at a high level and it looked like he was finally living up to his hype.

Defensively I am not too concerned about giving up 41 points last week. Seven came from a blocked punt returned for a touchdown and six more as the result of a questionable penalty call that erased a fourth down stop. Marshall’s offense is also really, really good. They got the bulk of their points after we were already up by four scores and we were sitting back to avoid the big play.

I am most interested to see how our defensive line does against Denard Robinson. Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson each had pick sixes last week and Allen already has one against Robinson. I am confident in the secondary’s ability against the pass. We have a league leading eight interceptions as a team and Michigan leads the league in thrown INTs.

Kawann Short also has the ability to get after Robinson all day like Ryan Kerrigan did two years ago. Ultimately, it comes down to the Michigan offense. If nearly unstoppable Denard shows up you can beat anyone. If Notre Dame Denard shows up Purdue should win easily.

The case for Michigan
by Justin

Purdue has looked impressive in the early going this season, hanging tough with Notre Dame and blowing out its three cupcakes. As mentioned in Monday’s First Look, the Boilermakers have a top-40 offense that has been pretty balanced (32nd nationally in rushing and 43rd in passing) and high-scoring (42.5 points per game).

Two weeks ago, I questioned whether Notre Dame’s early season hype was simply a result of beating a Michigan State squad that was rated much higher than it should have been. I still think that’s the case despite Michigan losing to the Irish. In a similar vein, it’s hard to tell how good Purdue actually is. The Boilers blew out Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Michigan, and Marshall, but those are some of the worst defensive teams in college football. But against Notre Dame, Purdue held its own, at least on the scoreboard.

Quarterback Caleb TerBush has been steady and running backs Akeem Shavers and Akeem Hunt have averaged 5.4 yards per carry for what is currently the Big Ten’s fourth best rushing offense. Yesterday, Purdue head coach Danny Hope announced that quarterback Robert Marve and running back Ralph Bolden may return from injuries for the Michigan game, which will only enhance the Boilers’ offensive firepower. Michigan’s defense did well to stop Notre Dame, but Purdue’s offense is more balanced, so the Boilers should be able to score some points.

Where Michigan is going to win the game is on the offensive side of the ball. The game plan must get back to what Denard Robinson does best, and that’s a short passing game and using his legs. Purdue’s defensive front is good – 25th nationally with 11 sacks – and its secondary has been giving up chunks of yardage – 81st nationally in pass defense. Offensive coordinator Al Borges can’t sit Denard in the pocket and rely on him to make reads against a pass rush like he did against the Irish.

To beat Purdue, Denard’s going to have to throw the ball, but it needs to be more controlled. Notre Dame passed for 324 yards on Purdue and Michigan can certainly do the same. I think the key to this one is exactly like I said it would be for last week: a dink-and-dunk passing game early on with a long ball here and there to soften the defense before Michigan turns to the run game. If the game plan that was actually put into place last week is rehashed on Saturday, we’ll be in for disappointment. But after last week’s performance, I think even Borges has realized it’s time to just get to doing what we all know Denard can do and stop forcing him to be something he’s not.

Friend vs Foe: Notre Dame edition

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

This week, we are proud to feature Eric from the Notre Dame SB Nation blog One Foot Down. He will provide his perspective on how or why Notre Dame can win on Saturday. Remember, this isn’t an actual game prediction. It is an attempt to describe how or why each team can win from each side of the matchup.

The case for Notre Dame
by Eric

Offensively, Notre Dame is still a work in progress mainly due to new starting quarterback and redshirt freshman Everett Golson. However, there are plenty of weapons for the young quarterback to work with and an offensive line with a few really strong and tough players.

Overall though with a somewhat less explosive offense, the Irish seem more comfortable with Golson under center. There’s a sense that he can make plays on his own, but the whole offense isn’t as dependent upon his play as is usually the case with Brian Kelly’s quarterbacks. Notre Dame will lean a little bit more on the run, and keep things pretty simple for Golson in the passing game, and there seems to be growing confidence in the team’s ability to protect the ball (just 2 turnovers through 3 games), which is a welcome change from last year.

Defensively the Irish front seven has looked tremendous so far this season. They’re 23rd nationally in run defense despite playing Navy already, and tied for 7th in total sacks. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this is the most complete and dominant front seven the Irish have had in 10 or 15 years.

There could be problems for Notre Dame’s defense if somehow Michigan can protect Denard Robinson and they can exploit an Irish secondary that is suffering through numerous injuries. The green Irish corners have played well so far this season but they really haven’t been tested a whole lot through three games.

A lot must be said about Michigan’s ability to get up for this rivalry game and the fact that Brady Hoke has done a great job re-molding the Wolverines into a tough and physical football team. This says nothing of the playmaking abilities of Denard Robinson who still haunts Irish fans’ dreams with his near miraculous play the past two meetings.

With that said, Notre Dame has somewhere between a good and great advantage with their line play (particularly on the defensive line) and I think that’s a key advantage for the Irish this year. As much as last year’s loss to Michigan hurt, let us not forget that for three quarters the Irish were dominating in nearly all facets of the game.

As usual, I would expect a close game but this should be Notre Dame’s time to finally beat Michigan and break the 3-game losing streak to the Wolverines. It’s a home game, the Irish have been great defensively this season, and the third time should be a charm in defending Denard Robinson.

The case for Michigan
by Justin

Notre Dame looked awfully impressive a week ago in beating 10th-ranked Michigan State on the road. But this early in the season, it’s hard to tell how much of that is due to the Irish actually being one of the top 11 teams in the country or simply a case of Michigan State being overrated. That’s the problem with preseason polls. Until about midseason, or once conference play is in full swing, it’s hard to tell how good a team truly is. Early season wins and losses are overblown due to teams being ranked higher or lower than they are truly worthy.

That being said, it’s clear that Notre Dame is considerably better than the previous two or three seasons. Part of that is due to a defense that somewhat resembles Michigan’s last season: a dominant front seven and a young secondary. As Chris discussed in his Monday Morning Quarterback this week, the Irish defensive game plan against Michigan State was to load the box to stop the run and put pressure on the inexperienced Andrew Maxwell. And it worked. Notre Dame sacked Maxwell four times and held Le’Veon Bell to just 77 yards rushing.

Senior linebacker Manti Te’o is the Mike Martin of the defense – the leader who plays with aggression on every play. He’s well aware of Denard Robinson’s abilities, having faced him the past two seasons. While he and the Irish defense haven’t been able to completely stop Denard, the fact that the leader of the defense has two years under his belt defending him should not be overlooked. The old sports cliche – it’s hard to beat a team three times in a row – comes to mind.

The pressure Notre Dame put on Maxwell worked largely because it was able to capitalize on Maxwell’s inexperience and State’s passing game had no teeth to it. It’s going to be a little harder to do against Michigan because Denard is a third-year starter who has had considerable success against the Irish. Offensive coordinator Al Borges has done a nice job of balancing the offense and using the passing game so far. The 699 passing yards through first three games are the second most in a three-game stretch in Denard’s career.

The weakness of the Notre Dame defense is its secondary, which lost its top corner, Lo Wood, right before the season started, and starting safety Jamoris Slaughter to an Achilles’ tendon injury last week. While State’s passing game posed virtually little threat, Michigan’s is dangerous with the emergence of Devin Gardner and tight end Devin Funchess. Add Drew Dileo’s performance last week and the already proven Roy Roundtree and Jeremy Gallon, and Michigan now has more receiving weapons than it has had in years.

Notre Dame will surely use a similar defensive game plan as it did last week, forcing Denard to beat it with his arm. The performance of the offensive line will likely determine the game. If it can give Denard enough time to set his feet and find his targets, Michigan’s offense will be tough to stop. But if the Irish are consistently getting into the backfield and forcing Denard to make poor decisions, much like in the first three quarters last week, it could be a long day. That’s where the game will be won or lost. Look for a lot of quick passes on Michigan’s first couple of drives to try to soften up the defense and make room for Michigan’s trademark running game. If it works, Michigan wins. If Brian Kelly is able to kidnap the kids from Tuscaloosa to play corner and take away the passing game early, Michigan’s offense will struggle in a similar fashion as State’s.

Friend vs. Foe: UMass edition

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

For this week’s installment of Friend vs. Foe, we teamed up with Bob McGovern of the Maroon Musket. Bob will provide his evaluation of how or why UMass can win on Saturday. Remember, this isn’t a game prediction. It is an attempt to describe why or how each team can win from each side of the matchup.

The case for UMass
by Bob

The best way to write about UMass’ chances is to redefine what the word “win” means. In the literal sense, a win would mean that the Minutemen defied all odds, caught inexplicable breaks and pulled off what would be the biggest upset in the history of the Big House (yes, that includes Appalachian State). Under its new, realistic definition, a win would mean not losing by the spread (45.5 points) and scoring more than one touchdown.

In order to get a revised win, the Minutemen need to improve in all three major facets of the game.

The Minutemen come to Ann Arbor running a no-huddle spread attack, which is a far cry from the pro style set from years past. Possessions are quicker, the quarterback plays a larger role and there is little to no emphasis on the running game. The offense has gotten progressively better during the first two weeks, but UMass is incredibly young and has freshmen at quarterback, wide receiver and the offensive line. This will the the first spread that Michigan sees this year, and if UMass head coach Charley Molnar pulls a trick play or two (See: flea-flicker against Indiana), the Minutemen may put some points on the board. Other than that, UMass fans will hope that Michigan-transfer Mike Cox continues to improve at running back – particularly with getting open in the flats – in order to take some of the pressure off redshirt freshman Mike Wegzyn who has shown signs of maturity.

On defense, UMass has been adequate and awful. If the Minutemen plan to keep Michigan under 50, they will need to play their best game yet. Against Indiana, Tre Roberson had a field day on the ground and often found himself staring at vast swaths of open field. Denard Robinson is a far better athlete and will make the Minutemen pay if they afford him the same space. UMass will hope for a better push up front and more consistent play from Perry McIntyre and its linebacking corps. In the secondary, safety Darren Thellen is doing his best to keep the game in front of him, but inexperience at corner has reared its head time and time again this season.

In an odd twist of circumstances, the Minutemen have a punter battle going on. Incumbent Jeff Strait has essentially lost his job to JUCO transfer Colter Johnson, who had a decent game against Indiana. The punting shouldn’t be an issue, but if UMass gets close enough for a field goal, things could get ugly. Freshman Blake Lucas missed an extra point and a field goal against the Hoosiers, and kickoff specialist Brendon Levengood wasn’t much better last year. One of these guys has to separate himself as the team’s kicker or else everything inside the opposing team’s 40 will become four-down territory.

Michigan will win this game and should do so in convincing fashion. Realistic UMass fans would consider a three-touchdown loss to be a major victory for a team still searching for its identity. In order for this newly defined win to come to fruition, UMass will have to play its best game and hope that the laundry list of starting freshmen don’t get rattled by the pure enormity of the Big House.

The case for Michigan
by Justin

The last two weeks have been a challenge for Michigan defensively. First, going up against the nation’s best offensive line and a powerful pro-style attack. Then, facing the nation’s top rushing offense, a no-huddle triple option attack. This week, the defense gets some breathing room against what has been the nation’s worst offense through the first two games.

If anyone is expecting this to be a repeat of the meeting between these two teams from two years ago, think again. UMass is in its first year under new head coach Charley Molnar, who is transforming the offense to an up-tempo spread attack. But right now, he lacks the horses to compete.

In Week 1, the Minutemen put up just 59 yards of total offense against a surprisingly decent UConn defense. But it also gave up 37 points to the Huskies who managed just seven last week against N.C. State. In Week 2, the UMass offense fared slightly better, gaining 264 yards at six points, but it was against an Indiana defense that allowed Indiana State to rack up 387 yards and 21 points in Week 1. UMass allowed the Hoosiers to score 45 points.

In short, Michigan should thrive on both sides of the ball on Saturday, and there’s nothing schematically that will decide this. After two tough tests, the defense will get a chance to play Michigan defense and right the ship before heading to South Bend and beginning the conference slate. The offense, which was virtually shut down and vanilla against Alabama, and utilized Denard Robinson’s feet 20 times against Air Force, gets one last tuneup before the real test begins.

Look for more of the same from Denard, both on the ground and through the air this week, but expect the game plan to focus on getting Fitzgerald Toussaint back at the level he left off last season. Michigan will keep the offense pretty simple this week, so as to not show more than it has to to Notre Dame, and build a big lead before giving way to Russell Bellomy and the other backups in the second half.

Michigan will win convincingly. The only question is, will the Wolverines cover the 45.5 point spread? Just don’t expect Floyd Mayweather to bet on it.

Friend vs. Foe: Alabama edition

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

Welcome to the first installment of our new weekly series that will run throughout the season, Friend vs. Foe. In this feature, we will go head to head with a writer from a blog of that week’s opponent. The point isn’t to make a score prediction of the game, but rather for each of us to explain how or why our respective team will win.

For this week’s edition, we are privileged to have Todd from Roll Bama Roll. You might recognize RBR from the “Michigan Hate Week” post earlier in the week. However, that was just a fan post, not by the actual guys that run RBR. Todd is a good guy and they produce some great Alabama content. But head over to that thread for a good pregame laugh. I haven’t met enough Alabama fans yet to tell whether they all subscribe to that line of thinking, but I will say that that poster didn’t do his brethren many favors when it comes to fanbase perception. But I digress. Let’s get on with it.

The case for Alabama
by Todd

In football, most students of the game will tell you everything starts up front. The team that can control the line of scrimmage and impose its will on the opponent is usually the team that will come out on top. Nick Saban has built his success at Alabama on that principle, using big and surprisingly athletic linemen on both sides of the ball to establish the Tide’s dominance in games early and often. The same will hold true this year.

Four starters return on the offensive line, with consensus All-American Barrett Jones at center, and two ESPN preseason All-Americans in Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker at left guard and right tackle. While all the chatter from spring and fall is that Alabama is looking to ride the strength of returning QB AJ McCarron’s arm and a host of speedy young receivers, with this line and a stable of running backs that have two former five star recruits as backups there’s no reason to believe the Tide can’t be just as brutally efficient on the ground as it has the past few years and control the game with the same frustrating mix of power runs and play action that has worked so well. Given that Michigan’s defensive line lost three of four starters from last season and are facing the possibility of losing even more depth with Frank Clark suspended, the advantage is in Alabama’s favor.

On defense, the Tide loses starting NT Josh Chapman, but returns three players with starting experience and most of the backups that played significant snaps, while the linebackers return three key contributors in the middle. Trying to run between the tackles against that front won’t be easy, and if Fitz Toussaint is really sitting out the Wolverines will almost have to run wide. This could actually work to Michigan’s advantage. Alabama loses both starting outside linebackers from last season and is replacing them with a pair of untested underclassmen in Xzavier Dickson and Adrian Hubbard.

The early returns on their performances through spring and fall are promising, but Alabama lost a lot of experience at both outside spots and it does give Michigan an advantage should they want to utilize Denard Robinson’s speed and the “deuce” package to run wide against Alabama’s defense and put the pressure on the outside linebackers and secondary to keep contain. Staying disciplined and not allowing Robinson to create with his feet will be the first goal of the Alabama defense, and after having faced offenses like Florida, Auburn, and LSU’s over the last few years there’s plenty of experience against teams with mobile QBs.

Unless Robinson has the game of his life and Alabama is forced into a shoot out Alabama is still the better team. Questions about Robinson’s passing efficiency and the underwhelming production of his receivers coupled with inexperience and lack of depth make Michigan merely a good team with a lot of questions to answer. I expect this to be a fairly back and forth affair for the first half, but Saban and his staff have shown time and again that they are masters at in game adjustments, so look for the Tide to pull away late.

The case for Michigan
by Justin

Alabama’s biggest advantage coming into the game is its All-Everything offensive line against Michigan’s unproven defensive line. The depth chart that Michigan released earlier in the week included a surprise starter on the line: the presence of Quinton Washington at nose tackle and Jibreel Black starting at weak-side end. If that depth chart holds true on Saturday, Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison will be choosing size over speed, and I think that’s the right call. Remember, Mattison is one of the best D-coordinators in the game and Hoke’s specialty is the D-line, so this won’t be as big of a mismatch as people think.

Alabama returns just 36 percent of its receiving from a year ago. The top three receivers, including tight end Brad Smelley, are gone from a passing offense that ranked 69th nationally last season. ‘Bama fans are high on quarterback A.J. McCarron because of his performance in the BCS National Championship game, but it was also his second attempt at LSU in less than two months. His first was far less impressive. Michigan’s back seven is its strength with a pair of proven corners and safeties as well as smart and experienced linebackers. I’m confident that they can handle Alabama’s passing game. The key will be to stop the running game.

This is where the big defensive line comes in. I would submit that getting a ton of pressure on McCarron is less important than clogging the running lanes for Eddie Lacey, Jalston Fowler, T.J. Yeldon, and Dee Hart. If the Tide are able to completely control the line of scrimmage and run at will, they’ll put up points and win the game. If Michigan can neutralize the run game and force McCarron and his host of inexperienced receivers to make plays, then we’ll have a ballgame.

Michigan will score some points – I think somewhere in the range of 20 – so it’s up to the defense to force the Tide to kick field goals rather than punch it into the end zone. Jeremy Schelley attempted 27 last year (making 21) and Nick Saban leans towards the conservative side when it comes to scoring points. So stop the run and be stout in the red zone (which Michigan excelled at last year), and we could see a shocker on Saturday night.