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Posts Tagged ‘Michigan State’

Michigan State 14 – #7 Michigan 10: Turnovers, sloppy offense doom Michigan versus rival

Monday, October 9th, 2017


(Isaiah Hole)

With a storm promising 60 miles per hour wind gusts and torrential rain bearing down on Ann Arbor’s primetime matchup between the state’s two premier schools, getting out to a fast start was imperative to winning the game. While neither team featured much offense on Saturday night, it was Michigan State who beat Michigan to the storm and ultimately secured the 14-10 victory.

Michigan appeared to be getting out to a fast start, methodically moving down the field on the game’s opening possession mostly by running right at the Spartan defense. But as it has for much of the season, a promising drive stalled in the red zone and Michigan settled for a field goal to cap its 16-play, seven-minute drive.

Final Stats
Michigan  Michigan State
Score 10 14
Record 4-1 (1-1) 4-1 (2-0)
Total Yards 300 252
Net Rushing Yards 102 158
Net Passing Yards 198 94
First Downs 17 13
Turnovers 5 0
Penalties-Yards 7-53 11-81
Punts-Yards 7-298 11-430
Time of Possession 30:52 29:08
Third Down Conversions 5-of-17 2-of-14
Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-1 0-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 0-0 4-33
Field Goals 1-for-1 0-for-0
PATs 1-for-1 2-for-2
Red Zone Scores-Chances 2-of-2 2-of-2
Red Zone TDs-Chances 1-of-2 2-of-2
Full Box Score

The defense forced a three-and-out, and the Wolverines went right back to the ground game, picking up gains of six and five, but Ty Isaac fumbled at the end of an 8-yard run and Michigan State recovered at the Michigan 38. Six plays later, the Spartans took a 7-3 lead on a 14-yard touchdown run by quarterback Brian Lewerke.

After back-to-back Michigan punts, the Spartans got on the board once again, this time driving 83 yards in nine plays for a 16-yard touchdown pass from Lewerke to Madre London.

The Michigan defense made its typical halftime adjustments, gaining a big edge in field position, and it paid off on Michigan’s second possession of the half. A Michigan State punt from the back of their own end zone gave the Wolverines possession at the MSU-33, and four plays later Michigan scored its first touchdown of the game on a 1-yard Khalid Hill run to pull within 14-10.

But the storm hit a short time later and neither offense was able to move the ball the remainder of the game. John O’Korn threw interceptions on three straight possessions, but Michigan’s defense held Michigan State to seven straight three-and-outs, keeping the game within reach.

Michigan got one last chance on the game’s final possession, starting on their own 20 with 34 seconds remaining. O’Korn found Karan Higdon for a 15-yard gain and another 15 yards were tacked on for a late hit. On the next play, O’Korn found Eddie McDoom for what would have been a big play, but McDoom dropped the open pass. O’Korn connected with Higdon again for 18 yards, stopping the clock with five seconds remaining at the MSU-37. O’Korn heaved a prayer into the end zone as time expired, but the ball was batted down and Michigan State earned its eighth win in 10 tried against the Wolverines.

Michigan out-gained Michigan State 300 to 252, but that’s no consolation in defeat. The Wolverines managed 102 rushing yards, but only 2.6 yards per carry — the first time in 24 tries under Jim Harbaugh that they lost despite rushing for 100 yards or more. The Isaac fumble was a major turning point early in the game as Michigan was averaging a respectable 4.5 yards per carry on 13 carries prior to that. But Michigan averaged just 1.7 yards per carry the rest of the game.

Higdon led the way with 65 yards on 5.4 yards per carry, but Michigan inexplicably only gave him 12 carries. Instead, in blustery and rainy conditions, the playcalling put the ball in O’Korns arm 35 times, something Wilton Speight has done just three times in 16 games and Jake Rudock did just three times in 13. That may be the most damning statistic for an offense that has regressed in each game this season.

It’s clear that there’s a reason that, until his injury, Speight was the starter despite his early-season struggles, and that with Tarik Black out for the season with injury the offense is full of young talent, but lacking in established playmakers. It’s also clear that for those reasons and more, the offensive coaching staff is lacking in confidence in its offense’s ability to move the ball and find the end zone. Something has to give as the schedule only gets tougher from here on, or Michigan could be looking at four or five losses.

It’s gut-check time and everyone from walk-ons to Harbaugh has to take a long look in the mirror and decide what kind of season they’re going to have. Speight is reportedly done for the season with three cracked vertebrae. Is O’Korn the best option to keep Michigan in contention for the Big Ten title? Or is it time to give Brandon Peters or Dylan McCaffrey a chance to build on the future?

Personally, I ride with O’Korn as long as the title is within reach. But he’s going to need upperclassmen like Isaac to take care of the ball and experienced receivers like McDoom, Grant Perry, and Kekoa Crawford to catch open passes. Offensive line issues that have plagued Michigan for years won’t get fixed this year, but Harbaugh and staff need to devise a way to overcome that. With the nation’s best defense, the offense doesn’t have to be great. It may not even have to be good. Slightly above average would probably do the trick. But can Harbaugh, Tim Drevno, and Pep Hamilton attain that? The next two weeks will be telling.

Game Ball – Offense

Karan Higdon (12 carries for 65 yards, 5.4 yards per carry, 2 receptions for 33 yards)
In a game in which Michigan showed little ability to move the ball consistently — save for the first possession of the game — Higdon was the one offensive standout, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. He had rushes of six and three yards on that opening possession, but Chris Evans was the more featured back on that drive with five carries for 20 yards. Midway through the third quarter, Higdon had four straight carries that went for five, six, six, and six yards before a holding penalty on Mason Cole set the offense back to 1st-and-20. Two plays later, O’Korn was picked off. Often the only back that could gain positive yards, that Higdon got just 12 carries while O’Korn threw the ball 35 times is a big miss by the coaching staff.

Previous:
Week 1 – Quinn Nordin (4-of-6 field goals, 2-of-3 from 50-plus)
Week 2 — Ty Isaac (20 carries for 133 yards, 6.7 yards per carry)
Week 3 — Donovan Peoples-Jones (2 receptions for 52 yards, 2 punt returns for 104 yards and 1 touchdown)
Week 4 — John O’Korn (18-of-26 for 270 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, 5 rushes for 12 yards)

Game Ball – Defense

Maurice Hurst (8 tackles — 6 solo — 2.5 tackles for loss)
The game followed a similar trend for Michigan’s defense this season. It’s susceptible to a few big plays early in the game, but Don Brown makes halftime adjustments and shuts down the opposing offense in the second half. Michigan State managed just two first downs the entire second half — both on their last possession — and 66 yards on 30 plays in the second half. Hurst was a big part of that, stuffing the Michigan State running game with 2.5 tackles for loss, and drawing high praise from MSU center Brian Allen after the game.

Previous:
Week 1 – Devin Bush (7 tackles, 5 solo, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks)
Week 2 – Tyree Kinnel (9 tackles, 8 solo, 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception return for touchdown)
Week 3 – Chase Winovich (9 tackles – 3 solo – 2 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 quarterback hurry)
Week 4 — Chase Winovich (6 tackles — all solo — 4 tackles for loss, 3 sacks

#7 Michigan vs Michigan State game preview

Saturday, October 7th, 2017


(Isaiah Hole)

Note: Work sent me to Atlanta and Charlotte for the week, so my writing time has been sparse. I had planned to write the game preview on my flight home, but Southwest’s in-flight wifi had other plans. So here I am at midnight on Friday night, fighting a cold and a lack of sleep, so this will just be a brief one this week.

Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 7:30p.m. EST – ABC
MSU Head Coach: Mark Dantonio (11th season)
Coaching Record: 110-60 (93-43 at MSU)
Co-Offensive Coordinators: Jim Bollman (5th season)
Dave Warner (5th season)
Co-Defensive Coordinators: Mike Tressel (2nd season)
Harlon Barnett (3rd season)
Last Season: 3-9 (1-8 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: UM 32 – MSU 23 (2016)
All-Time Series: Michigan 69-35-5
Record in Ann Arbor: Michigan 34-19-3
Jim Harbaugh vs MSU 1-1
Last Michigan win: 2016 (32-23)
Last MSU win: 2015 (27-23)
Current Streak: Michigan 1
Michigan State schedule to date
Opponent Result
Bowling Green W 35-10
Western Michigan W 28-14
Notre Dame L 18-38
Iowa W 17-10

The tide has begun swinging back to Ann Arbor in the state’s biggest rivalry and Michigan State fans are struggling to come to grips with the loss of the bragging rights they have enjoyed for much of the past decade.

They were the biggest beneficiary of The Great Experiment that Michigan undertook when it hired Rich Rodriguez in 2008 to transform Michigan football and then swung the pendulum in the opposite direction with Brady Hoke after just three years.

When Rodriguez started deemphasizing recruiting the top players in the state of Michigan Mark Dantonio welcomed them with open arms and took the upper hand in the rivalry. Hoke came in and won his second attempt — 12-10 on a last-second field goal — but lost the other three.

Jim Harbaugh reestablished the Wolverines as the premier destination for the state’s top recruits, securing commitments from the top two in the 2016 class, then the top six and seven of the top eight in the 2017 class. In his first season, Harbaugh had a big win over the Spartans secured until a fluke botched punt in the closing seconds handed MSU their seventh win in the last eight seasons. In 2016, Michigan finished the job, topping Michigan State 32-23 in East Lansing, a game that was closer than it should have been, but given the recent history, it was a welcome win.

Now, after a loss that should have been a win, and then a narrow win, the pattern would say a resounding win is in the cards for Harbaugh. Michigan is, after all, coming off a bye week, which means they had an extra week to prepare.

But as we all know, nothing is guaranteed against Michigan State. Dantonio has mastered the art of playing with a chip on their shoulder, especially when it comes to playing Michigan. It simply means more, and Spartan players are constantly reminding us that they do a little extra every day to prepare for Michigan.

Prediction

Michigan State has already matched last season’s win total and looks good on paper. But when you dig a little deeper, you realize that they’ve beaten a bad Bowling Green team, a Western Michigan squad that isn’t close to the darling it was a year ago, and a so-so Iowa. The one good team MSU has faced, Notre Dame, pounded the Spartans, 38-18.

Their leading rusher is quarterback Brian Lewerke, who is averaging 6.5 yards per carry. But their rushing offense is right about on par with Michigan’s, averaging about three yards more per game. It’s not going to scare a Michigan defense that leads the nation against the run — especially with a pair of running backs (L.J. Scott and Gerald Holmes) who are averaging less than 3.8 yards per carry. The passing game isn’t much to be concerned about either, averaging just 208 yards per game in the three games that it wasn’t playing from behind all game. I’m not worried at all about Michigan’s defense stopping the MSU offense. They’ll have success for a couple of drives, like Purdue did, but when the scripted plays run out, the Don Brown defense will take over.

What I am worried about, however, is Michigan’s offense moving the ball consistently. This certainly isn’t the Pat Narduzzi defense, but it is more solid that it was a year ago. Iowa managed just 19 rushing yards on 25 carries last week, and Michigan hasn’t shown that it can run the ball consistently yet this season. The Wolverines have done well at big plays via the run, but those are hard to rely on, especially when you’re getting stuffed at the line. But Michigan State’s defense is allowing more than four big runs (10 yards or more) per game, so there is hope.

Where I see Michigan having some success is in the air — that is, if the rain holds off. If it rains throughout the game, it’s anyone’s guess. But if not, it will all depend on whether the offensive line can keep John O’Korn clean, of course. I see a big game for tight ends Zach Gentry and Sean McKeon. Michigan State’s defense will try to keep O’Korn out of rhythm, but he’ll find comfort with his tight ends and finish with a nice passing number.

The forecast currently calls for a 35-50 percent chance of showers throughout the game with thunderstorms starting later on. If they hold off, I think Michigan wins comfortably, but not in a blowout. If the heavens open up, we can pretty much just flip a coin. I’ll make my prediction based on a mostly dry ballgame. Michigan is the more talented team and will win a relatively low-scoring affair.

Score Prediction: Michigan 23 – Michigan State 9

The numbers game: U-M defense still better than 2016 heading into MSU showdown

Friday, October 6th, 2017


(Isaiah Hole)

Previous: U-M offense lagging behind 2016 big play pace but defense allowing fewer; O’Korn leads U-M with six big plays in relief in Week 4;

After a bye week Michigan is back at it this week with a night game (yes, night game) against Michigan State. A team who, sadly, has already equaled their 2016 win total. They went 3-9 in case you forgot. I’ll never miss an opportunity to point that out.

After five weeks (but just four games) the Michigan offense comes in averaging 5.5 explosive runs per game (53rd nationally), 4.25 explosive passes per game (27th), and 9.75 total explosive plays per game (40th). Their big play percentage is 13.88 percent (40th).

After five weeks in 2016 Michigan had played five games so I decided to compare them at that point, instead of 4 games. Through 5 weeks they were averaging 7 explosive runs per game (25th), 3.8 explosive passes (42nd) for a total of 10.8 explosive plays per game (20th). Their big play percentage was 14.52 percent (30th).

Michigan has regressed, so far, compared to last year’s team through this point, except for the passing game, ironically, which is up almost a half play more per game. Call me crazy but I have a feeling the pass game numbers may actually improve by season’s end with John O’Korn at the helm.

On defense, they’re allowing 2.75 explosive runs per game (8th) and 2.75 explosive passes per game (49th) for a total of just 5.5 explosive plays per game (15th). Their big play against percentage is 9.52 percent (32nd) and their big play differential is 4.36 percent (27th). Their total toxic differential is 17, good for 22nd on a per game basis.

The 2016 team was allowing 4.2 explosive runs per game (47th) and 1.6 explosive passes per game (4th) for a total of 5.8 explosive plays per game (18th). Their big play against percentage was 9.57 percent (35th) and their big play differential was 4.95 percent. Their total toxic differential was 31, good for 7th on a per game basis.

All in all, this year’s defense has very similar stats to last year’s defense, and I expect that to continue.

Michigan’s 4.5 sacks per game is tops in the nation and their 8.5 tackles for loss per game is 7th.

Michigan’s big play leaders through 4 games
Name # Big Runs # Big Rec. Total Average Gain (Yds) Big Play %
Ty Isaac 10 0 10 24.0 17.54%
Chris Evans 6 1 7 20.5 12.77%
Karan Higdon 4 0 4 17.0 8.25%
Tarik Black 0 3 3 35.7 27.27%
Zach Gentry 0 3 3 33.0 50.00%
Grant Perry 0 3 3 28.0 23.08%
Donovan Peoples-Jones 1 1 2 40.5 50.00%
Kekoa Crawford 0 2 2 31.5 28.57%
Sean McKeon 0 2 2 26.50 20.00%
Nick Eubanks 0 1 1 48.0 50.00%

Ty Isaac leads the Wolverines with 10 total explosive plays, all runs, for 240 yards. Chris Evans comes in second with 6 for 123 yards. Tarik Black and tight end Zach Gentry are tied with three explosive pass plays each with Black’s 107 yards just edging out Gentry’s 99 yards. Unfortunately for Michigan, that is all Tarik Black will total this season due to injury. Sean McKeon, yet another tight end, is 2nd on the team with two explosive pass plays for 53 yards. With just one game under his belt it’s hard to tell if Gentry and McKeon will continue to be favorite targets for O’Korn. However, if I were a betting man I’d put my money on one of Gentry or McKeon to lead this team in explosive plays per game.

Michigan’s 2017 big play scoring percentage
Drives With Big Play Drives w/Big Play and Score Big Play Scoring Pct
Offense 22 15 68.18%*
Drives With Big Play Drives w/Big Play and Score Big Play Scoring Pct
Defense 16 7 43.75%*
*A drive with a big play typically yields points 75% of the time per recent NFL study

For the year, Michigan has had 22 drives on which they’ve recorded a big play and have scored on 15 of those, good for 68.18 percent, which is slightly below what it should be. You should score on about 75 percent of drives on which you have a big play.
The defense is fairing well allowing just 7 scores on 16 drives with big plays for 43.75 percent. Only Air Force scored on more than 50 percent of their big play drives.

Michigan has yet to record a garbage time big play. The caveat is that there has hardly been any garbage time opportunities save for the last drive or two. The defense has allowed one garbage time big play.

Next opponent
Michigan offense vs Michigan State defense
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Off. 22 18 40 13.88% 4.36% 17
MSU Def. 18 13 31 10.16% 1.65% 7
Michigan State offense vs Michigan defense
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
MSU Off. 12 8 20 8.51% 1.65% 7
UM Def. 11 11 22 9.52% 4.36% 17

Michigan State comes into this game averaging 4.5 explosive runs per game (80th), 3.25 explosive passes per game (59th) for a total of 7.75 explosive plays per game (84th). Their big play percentage is 10.16% (92nd).

Their defense is allowing three explosive runs per game (16th) and two explosive passes per game (12th) for a total of just five explosive plays per game (9th). However, the eye test says this defense is definitely not as good as MSU defenses of the past and probably not as good as these numbers indicate either. Their big play against percentage is 8.51 percent (19th) and their big play differential is 1.65 percent (56th). Their total toxic differential is just 7, good for 55th on a per game basis.

You can throw all the records and stats away for this one. But Michigan presents a unique challenge with O’Korn having very limited Michigan tape to study. Don Brown will have his defense of rabid hyenas ready to roll but Michigan’s offensive line still gives me heartburn, especially knowing Michigan State will be coming strong with their double A-gap blitz. Should be a good, close game. Go Blue!

Tailgate Tuesday: Jalapeno balls

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017


Tailgate Tuesday is our weekly contribution from our resident pitmaster, Joe Pichey from GoBlueBBQ. Joe has limited time this season, so we will be tag-teaming the weekly recipes. 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. Gentry’s BBQ, a Orlando, Fla. based BBQ and catering 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.

PreviousGator kabobsSteak tacos nortenos with bacon fat flour tortillasBrisket burnt endsFried pork tenderloin sammy with fire roasted green chile jam and savory corn casserole; Smoked onion dip
Recipe Archive

For the second straight week I give you an appetizer as our Tailgate Tuesday recipe. This one is a spin on the classic “Atomic Buffalo Turd” or “ABT” as those in the BBQ world like to call jalapeno poppers. This is basically that, but inside out.

Ingredients
10-12 jalapenos
8 oz cream cheese, softened
8 strips of bacon
Panko
Stone ground yellow cornmeal
Gentry’s Smoke Stack BBQ Rub
Oil for frying
Directions

I had a bunch of leftover jalapenos from my garden that were going to go bad a couple weeks ago so I sealed them in the foodsaver and tossed them into the freezer. Over the weekend, I decided to put them to use. This can obviously be done with fresh jalapenos, but that’s all I had at the moment. Start by slicing them in half and removing the seeds. Put them onto a cookie sheet along with your cream cheese and toss into the smoker for a little bit with whatever type of wood you prefer. I used a mix of oak and hickory for this.

I let these go for about an hour and a half. There’s not really a set time to smoke for this recipe. Just give it a look and use your best judgment based on the cream cheese. If it’s starting to melt, it’s done. You want to get a nice smoke coating on it.

While it’s smoking, fry up your bacon and chop into little pieces. After the jalapenos are done smoking, dice them up into little pieces as well. Place the smoked cream cheese, jalapenos, bacon, and a few shakes of Gentry’s Smoke Stack BBQ Rub into a bowl and mix well until they are all combined. Put the bowl in the fridge for a few minutes to firm up a little bit.

Now it’s time to heat up your oil. You want it to be nice and hot. In a separate bowl, mix your panko and stone ground cornmeal. Note: You can also use flour and eggwash mixture as your breading, but I wanted a crunch to it, so I went with panko and cornmeal. Now, take your jalapeno bacon cream cheese mixture out of the fridge and one at a time, scoop some into your hand and roll it around to make a ball. Roll it into your panko mixture and then drop carefully into the hot oil. These don’t take long to fry…only a few seconds, so don’t go anywhere. After a few seconds, remove and set on a paper towel to cool.

They make a nice, spicy appetizer for any tailgate or homegate. Just make sure your guests know what’s in them before they bite into one!

First Look: Michigan State

Monday, October 2nd, 2017


Michigan opened Big Ten play with a 28-10 win over Purdue, dominating the Boilermakers in the second half after trailing 10-7 at the break. Sitting at 4-0, the Wolverines got a bye week this past Saturday to get healthy and work out any issues that plagued them over the first four weeks.

This week, Michigan returns to action against bitter in-state rival Michigan State. The Wolverines finally got the best of their rival last season and will look to make it a streak on Saturday. Let’s take a look at how the two teams compare through the first third of the season.

Michigan State & Michigan team stats comparison
Offense Defense
Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank
24.5 95th 31.5 58th PPG 18.0 21st 13.5 8th
750 737 Rush Yds 384 277
187.5 48th 184.3 50th Rush/Gm 96.0 16th 69.3 1st
4.5 4.3 Rush Avg 3.1 2.2
968 892 Pass Yds 609 536
242.0 60th 223.0 72nd Pass/Gm 152.2 9th 134.0 4th
1,718 1,629 Total Off. 993 813
429.5 52nd 407.3 73rd Total Off./Gm 248.2 5th 203.3 1st
24.0 31st 17.6 104th KR Avg 27.2 116th 15.9 14th
5.7 75th 13.5 20th PR Avg 5.0 48th 2.8 25th
34:37 6th 33:18 18th Avg TOP 25:23 26:42
49% 12th 35% 94th 3rd Down% 27% 12th 19% 3rd
6-26 39th 12-69 109th Sacks-Yds 9-58 52nd 18-125 1st
13 13 TDs 9 6
2-3 (67%) 11-13 (85%) FG-ATT 3-3 (100%) 4-7 (57%)
11-16 (69%) 119th 12-13 (92%) 28th Red Zone 6-8 (75%) 29th 5-6 (83%) 63rd
9-16 (56%) 4-13 (31%)  RZ TD 5-8 (63%) 3-6 (50%)
OFEI/DFEI
28.0 66 32.5 39 S&P+ 20.1 16 12.6 2

Michigan State has already matched last season’s win total just four games into the season. The Spartans opened with a pair of cupcake wins over Bowling Green (35-10) and Western Michigan (28-14) before laying an egg at home against Notre Dame, falling 38-18 in a game that wasn’t really that close. They returned to the win column with a 17-10 victory over Iowa last Saturday.

This Saturday will be Michigan State’s first trip away from East Lansing this season, and although it’s only about 70 miles, the Big House presents different beast than the friendly trash tornado confines of Spartan Stadium.

Michigan State’s offense has been middle-of-the road nationally in terms of moving the ball — though better than Michigan’s — but has had trouble scoring, averaging a full touchdown per game less than Michigan does. Granted, Michigan has scored three defensive touchdowns and a special teams touchdown. The Spartan offense has scored 12 touchdowns and its defense has one. Comparatively, Michigan has just nine offensive touchdowns, so MSU’s offense has found the end zone more often. But even when you throw out defensive and special teams touchdowns, Michigan’s offense has still outscored MSU’s 87-78 thanks to 11 made field goals by Quinn Nordin.

MSU is averaging 187.5 rushing yards per game, which is essentially the same as what Michigan is averaging (184.3). Two Spartans have more than 200 rushing yards, but the leading rusher is quarterback Brian Lewertke, who is averaging 62 yards per game and 6.5 yards per carry. L.J. Scott, who nearly reached 1,000 yards on 5.4 yards per carry in 2016, is managing a meager 3.7 yards per carry so far this season. While the 48th-ranked rushing offense is above average, it did most of its work against Bowling Green and Western Michigan, rush defenses that 117th and 79th nationally. Notre Dame’s 64th-ranked rush defense held the Spartans to 151 yards and Iowa’s 57th-ranked rush defense held them to just 88 yards on 40 carries. Michigan has the nation’s best rush defense, allowing just 69.3 rushing yards per game.

Lewertke is leading a passing game that ranks 60th nationally, averaging 242.0 yards per game. It did most of its work while playing from behind against Notre Dame. In the other three games, Lewertke averaged just 27 pass attempts, but against Notre Dame he threw the ball 51 times, gaining 35 percent of his 963 passing yards on the season. Michigan State trailed 28-10 early in the third quarter and 35-10 midway through and ran just 12 rushes compared to 28 called passes in the second half. In the other three games, State averaged just 208 passing yards, which would rank 82nd nationally.

Defensively, Michigan State has been much closer to the defense that carried the Spartans through the early part of this decade than it was last season. They currently rank 21st nationally in scoring defense (18.0 points per game), 16th in rush defense (96.0 yards per game), 9th in passing (152.2 yards per game), and 5th in total defense (248.2 yards per game).

But the Spartans haven’t exactly faced good offenses yet this season. Only Notre Dame (30th nationally) ranks among the top 90 in total offense. Bowling Green ranks 103rd, Western Michigan 91st, and Iowa 102nd. And we know how that Notre Dame game turned out.

Still, Michigan State’s defense held Bowling Green to just 67 rushing yards and Iowa to just 19(!) rushing yards on 25 carries. Now, 19 yards is a remarkable statistic (Michigan held Florida to just 11 in the season opener) but Iowa’s offense has only eclipsed 164 yards once all season and it was against North Texas, so the Hawkeyes don’t exactly boast a potent rushing attack. Iowa did, however, top 200 yards passing — the only team to do so against Michigan State so far this season.

Overall, Michigan State is a solid team this season. They’re not as good as they were when they were taking advantage of the Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke years, but they’re much better than they were a year ago. They’ll be a tough test for a young Michigan team that features many players playing in the first big rivalry game of their career. Both teams feature very good defenses and so-so offenses, so expect a defensive battle on Saturday night.

Comparing the Big Ten’s returning production from 2016: Defense

Monday, August 28th, 2017


(Dustin Johnson)

A few weeks ago, we outlined the returning offensive production throughout the Big Ten, which showed that last year’s Big Ten champion, Penn State returns the most production in the conference and Michigan finds itself just inside the top half. Today, we take a look at the defensive side, which will show a much different story for the Wolverines.

A year ago, Purdue returned the most defensive production, but finished just 91st nationally in total defense, going just 3-9 overall. Conversely, Michigan returned the fourth-fewest defensive production and finished with the best defense in the nation, and Ohio State returned the second-fewest and finished with the nation’s sixth-best total defense.

The story was different in 2015 as Ohio State entered that season with the most returning defensive production and backed it up with the conference’s third-best defense.

So what does this year have in store? Let’s take a look at the Big Ten’s returning defensive production. At the end, we’ll tie it all together with the offense to see if there are any indications of who will capture the Big Ten title this December.

Defense

Returning defense
Team Percent Returning 2016 Total Defense Rating
Maryland 78% 77
Indiana 78% 45
Iowa 74% 23
Rutgers 72% 97
Wisconsin 71% 7
Penn State 71% 37
Ohio State 69% 6
Northwestern 67% 60
Nebraska 59% 30
Purdue 59% 91
Minnesota 53% 21
Michigan State 51% 32
Illinois 46% 61
Michigan 40% 1

As a whole, there is more returning defensive production throughout the Big Ten than there was a year ago, which is contrary to the other side of the ball which seems less offensive production returning than there was in 2016. Like last year, a weak defensive team leads the way in returning production as Maryland brings back 78 percent if its 77th-ranked defense. The Terps went 6-7 overall and 3-6 in the Big Ten in D.J. Durkin’s first season at the helm, but look to improve on that with their top three tacklers, top five in tackles for loss, and four of their top five sacks returning. They’ll have to create more turnovers if they want to see improvement, as Maryland forced a Big Ten-worst 12 turnovers last season and only seven of those are returning.

Indiana brings back the second-most production for the second straight season and there might just be something there for once. The Hoosiers improved significantly from 120th in 2015 to 45th in 2017 under Tom Allen, who became the head coach when Kevin Wilson was fired this offseason. In the first few seasons of Wilson’s guidance, defense was an afterthought to the electric offense, but Allen changed that last fall. It’s a safe bet to assume the Hoosiers will be more defense-oriented under Allen, especially with the pieces he has coming back, most notably linebacker Tegray Scales, who lead the Big Ten with 126 tackles and 23.5 tackles for loss. Safety Jonathan Crawford, who lead the team with seven takeaways, and corner Rashard Fant, who lead the Big Ten with 20 passes defended, are also welcome returns.

Top returning Big Ten defensive linemen by production
Name (Yr.) Team Tackles TFL Sacks
Gelen Robinson (Sr.) Purdue 61 8 5
Dre’Mont Jones (RS So.) Ohio State 52 4 0
Jesse Aniebonam (Sr.) Maryland 46 14 9
Sam Hubbard (RS Jr.) Ohio State 46 8 3.5
Matt Nelson (RS Jr.) Iowa 43 6.5 5.5
Kingsley Opara (5th) Maryland 41 11.5 3

Iowa, Rutgers, Wisconsin, and Penn State each return just over 70 percent of their defenses this fall. The Hawkeyes have 74 percent of the nation’s 23rd-best defense returning, most notably linebacker Josey Jewell, the Big Ten’s second-leading returning tackler. Iowa’s defense really tightened the reigns during the second half of the 2016 season, allowing just 16.2 points per game over their last five, but they were destroyed by Florida, 30-3, in the Outback Bowl. And now they return seven starters including the entire linebacking corps, which figures to be one of the best in the conference.

Rutgers returns 72 percent of its defensive contributions and eight of 11 starters, but the Scarlet Knights still have a long way to go. In Chris Ash’s first season, the Rutgers defense ranked 97th nationally in total defense and 116th in scoring defense, giving up 37.5 points per game. Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, and Penn State beat Rutgers by a combined 224-0 — an average of 56 points allowed. Ash was Ohio State’s defensive coordinator prior to taking the job in New Brunswick, so a betting man would be wise to expect an improvement over last year, but just how much is the question. Nearly the entire back seven returns, in addition to Michigan transfer Ross Douglas, who may win a starting job as a hybrid linebacker.

Top returning Big Ten linebackers by production
Name (Yr.) Team Tackles TFL Sacks
Tegray Scales (Sr.) Indiana 126 23.5 7
Josey Jewell (5th) Iowa 124 6 1.5
Jermaine Carter Jr. (5th) Maryland 110 9 6
Shane Cockerille (5th) Maryland 108 8 3
Tre Watson (RS Jr.) Illinois 102 4.5 0
Trevor Morris (Jr.) Rutgers 102 3.5 1

Wisconsin and Penn State both return 71 percent of their defensive production from 2016. Whereas the Badgers posted one of the nation’s best defenses — seventh in total defense and fourth in scoring defense — Penn State was an above average defense, ranking 37th in total and 47th in scoring. Wisconsin has to replace T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel at outside linebacker, though Garret Dooley got significant playing time while Biegel was injured a year ago. The inside linebackers, Jack Cichy and T.J. Edwards, are among the Big Ten’s best. The biggest losses in the secondary were safety Leo Musso and cornerback Sojourn Shelton, who accounted for 10 of the team’s 28 takeaways.

Penn State somehow came out of nowhere to win the Big Ten last season after starting the season 2-2 including a 49-10 blowout loss at Michigan. Now, with the most offensive production returning from what became an explosive offense, the Nittany Lions are in great shape in 2017 if the defense improves even slightly. Six starters return along with 71 percent of the defensive production. Free safety Marcus Allen lead the team with 110 tackles a year ago and he’s back to lead a secondary that has some questions marks. Penn State has a strong linebacking corps returning with Jason Cabinda and Manny Bowen bringing back 149 tackles 12.5 for loss, and three sacks.

Ohio State and Northwestern return 69 and 67 percent of their defensive production, respectively, but Ohio State featured the nation’s sixth-best defense and Northwestern had an uncharacteristically bad 60th-ranked unit. The Buckeyes bring back six full-time starters including most of their front seven. Dre’Mont Jones, Sam Hubbard, and Tyquan Lewis lead what most pundits are calling the best defensive line in the Big Ten — though Michigan’s should have something to say about that — while Jerome Baker and Chris Worley return at linebacker. The main question mark is the secondary which returns only free safety Damon Webb, but has a lot of talent filling in.

While Northwestern’s total defense wasn’t great in 2016, it’s scoring defense ranked 24th, giving up just 22.2 points per game. The Wildcats lost three games that its defense played well enough to win and that was the difference between a good season and a mediocre season. Now, seven starters return including three from the line and three from the secondary. Safety Godwin Igwebuike lead the team with 108 tackles last season, while fellow safety Kyle Queiro and cornerback Montre Hartage return. The three combined for 11 takeaways a year ago. Nate Hall is the only returning starter at linebacker, and Pat Fitzgerald will have to find a replacement for Anthony Walker, who was one of the Big Ten’s best linebackers in 2016.

Nebraska and Purdue both return 59 percent of their defensive production. The Cornhuskers return six starters from the nation’s 30th-best total defense and 33rd-best scoring defense. Most of the secondary returns to form what should be one of the Big Ten’s best secondaries this fall. Only four teams nationally allowed fewer passes per game of 20-plus yards than Nebraska’s 2.2, and most of their interceptions return. Safeties Aaron Williams, Joshua Kalu, and Kieron Williams and cornerback Chris Jones combined for 234 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, and 12 takeaways and all are back for more.

Top returning Big Ten defensive backs by production
Name (Yr.) Team Tackles TFL Takeaways
Marcus Allen (Sr.) Penn State 110 6 2
Godwin Igwbuike (5th) Northwestern 108 6 3
Brandon Snyder (RS Jr.) Iowa 85 3 5
Patrick Nelson (RS So.) Illinois 75 2.5 1
Jonathan Crawford (Jr.) Indiana 71 0.5 7
Tony Fields (Sr.) Indiana 70 0.5 2

Purdue also has six returning starters, but its defense ranked 91st nationally last season and 117th in scoring. It wasn’t quite Rutgers bad, but it was close, giving up 38.3 points per game. Defensive tackle Gelen Robinson is the conference’s top returning defensive lineman in terms of production with 61 tackles, eight for loss, and five sacks. Linebackers Markus Bailey and Danny Ezechukwu should form the strength of the defense, while a pair of additions to the secondary — T.J Jallow from East Mississippi Community College and Josh Okonye, a grad transfer from Wake Forest — will add some depth to an inexperience secondary.

Minnesota and Michigan State return 53 and 51 percent of their 2016 defensive production, respectively. Both ranked in the top 32 nationally last season, but the Gophers are breaking in a new head coach. Landing P.J. Fleck, who took Western Michigan to a New Year’s Six bowl, was a big coup for the program but he has to replace about half of his defensive production and six starters. Michigan State, meanwhile, felt the sting of losing defensive coordinator, falling from 25th in scoring defense in 2015 to 61st last season, allowing 27.8 points per game. To make matters worse, the MSU defense lost its best player, Malik McDowell, to the NFL and the team has been dealing with arrests and suspensions all offseason.

Illinois and Michigan return the least production this fall with the Illini bringing back 46 percent and Michigan just 40 percent. Illinois had just the 61st-best total defense and 94th-best scoring defense in Lovie Smith’s first season last fall. The former NFL head coach was known as a defensive minded coach and he added former NFL cornerback Donnie Abraham to his staff this summer. Linebacker Tre Watson is the fifth-leading returning tackler in the Big Ten and safeties Stanley Green and Patrick Nelson are good pieces to build around.

Michigan had the nation’s best defense in Don Brown’s first season running the unit and most expect a big dropoff this fall. The Wolverines lost 10 of 11 full-time starters, eight of which were drafted, including Heisman Trophy candidate Jabrill Peppers. But although it seems hard to believe, this year’s defense figures to be faster and more athletic than the one that was made up of Brady Hoke recruits a year ago. Replacing Peppers will be no easy task, but that’s a spot that Brown has proven he can mold playmakers to succeed in throughout his career. Rashan Gary is a popular pick for a breakout season on the line and a host of young but talented defensive backs are ready to step in. The Wolverines may not lead the nation in defense in 2017, but the dropoff won’t be as big as many expect.

Conclusion

Since we began analyzing returning production four years ago, the eventual Big Ten champion fell within a very similar range when offensive and defensive returning production numbers were plotted on a chart. Ohio State, Michigan State, and Penn State all fell within the grey oval in the chart below.

As you can see, no teams fall within that zone this season, but the closest are Rutgers and Wisconsin. It’s a pretty safe bet that Rutgers won’t win the Big Ten, but Wisconsin has a very real chance to do so. If the Badgers were in the East they’d have a tougher road, but they’re the clear favorite to win the West with a favorable conference slate that has them traveling only to Nebraska, Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota. They host Northwestern, Iowa, and East crossover Michigan.

The Badgers have approximately the right mix of returning production on both sides of the ball to make a run at the Big Ten title, and if the past three years hold true they very well may do so this December.

Comparing the Big Ten’s returning production from 2016: Offense

Monday, July 17th, 2017


(Sean M. Haffey, Getty Images)

Independence Day has come and gone, which means fall camp kicks off in a couple weeks and college football season will be here before we know it. While Michigan doesn’t have quite the hype it had entering last season the Wolverines still find themselves ranked in the top ten in most preseason publications.

It’s time to kickoff our preseason coverage with a look at how each team in the Big Ten compares in terms of returning production. It’s certainly not the end all be all when it comes to determining how each team will fare, but in the three years that we’ve been tracking this, it has produced some interesting results. All three years, the eventual Big Ten champion returned nearly the exact same mix of offensive and defensive production.

In 2014, Ohio State returned 60 percent of its offense and defense and won the conference. In 2015, Michigan State returned 54 percent of its offense and 67 percent of its defense — roughly 60 percent overall — and won the league. Last season, Penn State returned just under 60 percent of its total production and, you guessed it, won the Big Ten.

Could that sweet spot hold true again this year? We’ll get to that, but let’s start with the offense.

Offense

Returning offense
Team Percent Returning 2016 Total Offense Ranking
Penn State 90% 49th
Northwestern 81% 73rd
Purdue 74% 80th
Ohio State 71% 31st
Indiana 64% 56th
Michigan 62% 58th
Illinois 61% 123rd
Rutgers 53% 128th
Wisconsin 50% 89th
Maryland 50% 95th
Minnesota 47% 107th
Michigan State 39% 75th
Iowa 30% 121st
Nebraska 22% 90th
Returning scoring offense
Team Percent Returning 2016 Scoring Offense Ranking
Penn State 88% 21st
Northwestern 82% 87th
Purdue 73% 101st
Ohio State 67% 13th
Michigan 65% 11th
Illinois 63% 122nd
Indiana 62% 88th
Minnesota 54% 63rd
Wisconsin 53% 67th
Rutgers 52% 127th
Maryland 50% 88th
Michigan State 38% 104th
Iowa 30% 95th
Nebraska 20% 79th

Penn State joins last year’s Nebraska, 2015’s Ohio State, and 2014’s Maryland as the teams with the most returning offensive production from the year prior. But that’s not necessarily good news for the Nittany Lions. None of those three won their division that fall as Nebraska finished third in the West at 9-4, Ohio State went 12-1 but finished second behind Michigan State in the East, and Maryland finished third in the East at 7-6.

Like Ohio State in 2015, Penn State is the returning Big Ten champion and only has to replace its top receiver. The Nittany Lions return the Big Ten’s top passer, Trace McSorley, and the second-leading rusher, Saquon Barkley. The pair accounted for nearly 5,500 yards of offense and 54 touchdowns in 2016. James Franklin will have to find a replacement for receiver Chris Godwin, who was drafted 84th overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after leading the team with 982 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns. But Gesicki is the leading returning tight end in the conference with 679 yards and five touchdowns a year ago and rising seniors DeAndre Thompkins and Saeed Blacknall combined for nearly 800 yards and four scores in 2016.

Top returning Big Ten quarterbacks by passing production
Name (Yr.) Team Comp/Att (%) Yards TDs
Trace McSorley (RS Jr.) Penn State 224/387 (57.9) 3,614 29
David Blough (RS So.) Purdue 295/517 (57.1) 3,352 25
Richard Lagow (5th) Indiana 253/438 (57.8) 3,362 19
Clayton Thorson (RS Jr.) Northwestern 280/478 (58.6) 3,182 22
J.T. Barrett (Sr.) Ohio State 233/379 (61.5) 2,555 24
Wilton Speight (RS Jr.) Michigan 204/331 (61.6) 2,538 18

After Penn State, Northwestern returns the second most offensive production with 81 percent of its offense and 82 percent of its scoring offense back for another year. The Wildcats finished fifth in the Big Ten West with a 7-6 overall record and a 5-4 conference record and their offense wasn’t the strength, finishing 73rd nationally in total offense and 87th in scoring.

Quarterback Clayton Thorson is the fourth-leading returning quarterback in the Big Ten after throwing for more yards (3,182) than any other sophomore in Northwestern history. Running back Justin Jackson lead the Big Ten in rushing last season, averaging 117.2 yards per game, and he’s back for his senior season. Like Penn State, Northwestern has to replace its top receiver, Austin Carr, who was far and away the Big Ten’s leading receiver a year ago. His 1,247 yards were 252 more than the next best. Junior Flynn Nagel is NU’s leading receiver with 447 yards and two touchdowns.

Top returning Big Ten running backs by production
Name (Yr.) Team Rush Att. Yards TDs
Justin Jackson (Sr.) Northwestern 298 1,524 15
Saquan Barkley (Jr.) Penn State 272 1,496 18
Rodney Smith (RS Jr.) Minnesota 240 1,158 16
Mike Weber (So.) Ohio State 182 1,096 9
Akrum Wadley (5th) Iowa 168 1,081 10
Ty Johnson (Jr.) Maryland 110 1,004 6

Purdue returns the third-most offensive production with 74 percent of the nation’s 80th-best offense and 73 percent of the 101st-best scoring offense coming back. Redshirt sophomore quarterback David Blough was one of the lone bright spots for the Boilermakers, who went just 3-9 overall and 1-8 in the Big Ten. Blough lead the conference with 279.3 passing yards per game and finished second with 25 passing touchdowns. His 517 passing attempts were 38 more than any other conference quarterback despite playing one fewer game.

Ohio State is an intriguing story this fall, returning the fourth-most offensive production from last season with 71 percent of their total offense and 67 percent of their scoring. But the big addition that isn’t shown in the returning production statistics is the offseason hiring of offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, the offensive guru who was Indiana’s head coach the past six seasons. His hiring was music to the ears of OSU fans who had become increasingly angered with Ed Wariner and Tim Beck’s erratic play calling.

Wilson will install his tempo-based spread attack into an offense that returns more than two-thirds of its production and that could be a scary thing. The Buckeyes do have to replace Curtis Samuel, who finished third on the team with 771 rushing yards and lead the team with 865 receiving yards, racking up 15 touchdowns in the process, but with Mike Weber returning from a 1,000-yard freshman campaign and J.T. Barrett back for another season behind center, Ohio State should take a step forward on offense this fall. The only question mark is at the receiver position where tight end Marcus Baugh is the leading returner with just 269 yards and two touchdowns.

Top returning Big Ten receivers by production
Name (Yr.) Team Receptions Yards TDs
Nick Westbrook (Jr.) Indiana 54 995 6
Malik Turner (Sr.) Illinois 48 712 6
Mike Gesicki (Sr.) Penn State 48 679 5
D.J. Moore (Jr.) Maryland 41 637 6
Jazz Peavy (5th) Wisconsin 43 635 5
Troy Fumagalli (5th) Wisconsin 47 580 2

Indiana, Michigan, and Illinois all return about the same amount of offensive production — in the low 60 percent — but Michigan stands out among the three for a couple of reasons. Whereas Michigan and Indiana both ranked about the same in total offense last season (Indiana 56th, Michigan 58th), Illinois had the nation’s 123rd-best offense. And Ohio State’s gain was Indiana’s loss with regards to Wilson. The Hoosiers’ offense is sure to take a step back under new offensive coordinator Mike DeBord.

Michigan, meanwhile, returns quarterback Wilton Speight — the first returning starter at the position since Harbaugh has been in Ann Arbor — and also returns plenty of experience at the running back position. Chris Evans is slated to assume the starter role which he shared with De’Veon Smith a year ago. Evans showed flashes of brilliance as a true freshman and now looks to expand that into a full season this fall. Receiver is the main question mark for the Wolverines after losing Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson, and Jake Butt to the NFL. But there is plenty of young talent ready to step up.

The next level of returning offensive production includes Rutgers, Wisconsin, Maryland, and Minnesota, who each return around half of last season’s production. Rutgers had the nation’s worst offense and second worst scoring offense last season, so they won’t factor into the discussion. Maryland had four different quarterbacks who passed for at least 200 yards last season and returns two of them, but also returns a 1,000-yard rusher in Ty Johnson. Minnesota has to replace quarterback Mitch Leidner, who passed for 2,169 yards and rushed for 366, but brings back the third-leading returning running back, Rodney Smith, who rushed for 1,158 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Wisconsin is the team that could be poised for another run at a Big Ten title this fall with solid talent returning. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook will take the reigns fully this fall after sharing with Bart Houston. The redshirt sophomore completed 58.6 percent of his passes for 1,262 yards, nine touchdowns, and seven interceptions a year ago. He has two of the Big Ten’s top six returning receivers to throw to in Jazz Peavy and tight end Troy Fumagalli, who combined for 1,215 yards and seven scores last season, but does have to find a replacement for Corey Clement in the ground game. Bradrick Shaw rushed for 457 yards on 5.2 yards per carry and the Badgers add Pitt transfer Chris James, who averaged five yards per carry in 2015.

A trio of usual stalwarts bring up the rear in terms of returning production as Michigan State, Iowa, and Nebraska have the least returning this fall. The Spartans found themselves in the same position last year and their total offense went from 73rd nationally in 2015 to 75th in 2016, while their scoring offense fell from 60th to 140th. They do have running back L.J. Scott back, but have to replace their top four receivers and quarterback Tyler O’Connor. Brian Lewerke figures to start the season behind center, but Dantonio’s offense has as many question marks as any team in the conference.

Iowa brings back just 30 percent of its total offense and scoring offense, both of which ranked among the Big Ten’s worst in 2016. Quarterback C.J. Beathard, running back LeShun Daniels, and receiver Riley McCarron are all gone, but Akrum Wadley does bring back his 1,081-yard, 10-touchdown performance.

Finally, Nebraska has just 22 percent of its 90th-ranked total offense and 20 percent of its 79th-ranked scoring offense returning. The Cornhuskers have to replace quarterback Tommy Armstrong, their top two rushers, and three of their top four receivers. Redshirt junior Tanner Lee and redshirt freshman Patrick O’Brien will battle for the starting quarterback position and head coach Mike Riley will have to find playmakers everywhere to step up.

It’s shaping up to be an interesting Big Ten race this fall, at least as far as offenses are concerned, with a lack of top-flight quarterbacks and not many household names returning. The rich seem to be getting richer as Penn State and Ohio State have the clear advantage offensively. If the Nittany Lions can continue the torrid offensive pace that they closed 2016 with they’ll be a force to be reckoned with, and if Kevin Wilson can improve the Buckeyes’ offense, we could be looking at a two-team race.

Stay tuned as we take a look at the returning defenses later this week.

M&GB Scouting Files: 2017 UM hoops commit Isaiah Livers & MSU commit Xavier Tillman

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017


(Crystal Vander Weit, Kalamazoo Gazette)

A couple weeks ago, I was able to watch 2017 Michigan signee Isaiah Livers play for the third time in his senior season at Kalamazoo Central before he moves to Ann Arbor for the next few years.

In the first two outings I was able to catch, Livers and his Maroon Giant teammates completely outclassed the competition to the tune of a 71-36 blowout at Portage Northern and a 93-51 massacre over Loy Norrix. Livers showed flashes of potential, but watched from the bench in the fourth quarter in both lopsided contests.

Last Friday, however, was different, as the undefeated Grand Rapids Christian Eagles made the trip down U.S. 131 to close out the regular season at Central (boasting a not-so-shabby 17-2 record themselves). Christian, led by Michigan State big man signee Xavier Tillman, Oakland wing signee James Beck, and 2018 Division-1 guard prospect Duane Washington Jr., entered the game ranked No.1 in the state by MLive, and they lived up to that ranking, pulling out a 53-51 overtime nail-biter over the home team.

Enough of the game stories, though. On to the scouting! For a refresher, you can check out my scouting report on Livers after the Portage Northern game. This report will include stats and scouting for the Loy Norrix and GR Christian games, as well as a brief scouting report on Tillman as well.

Isaiah Livers vs. Loy Norrix (93-51 W):
16 points (7-of-9 FG, 2-of-4 3pt.), 8 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, 1 steal, 0 turnovers, 1 foul. DNP 4th quarter

Isaiah Livers vs. GR Christian (53-51 OT L):
10 points (4-of-11 FG, 2-of-4 3pt.), 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 blocks, 3 steals, 2 turnovers, 4 fouls

There is no questioning Livers’s potential. He has good size right now at 6-foot-8, 205 pounds and should be able to tack on a few more pounds of muscle to his frame, but there’s certainly room for improvement. Let’s break down some positives and minuses

Strengths

1. Shooting:
In my first game scouting Livers, the senior did almost all of his damage inside the arc, missing his only two three-point attempts. Against Portage Northern and GR Christian, however, the Mr. Basketball finalist showed why John Beilein and company consider him a can’t-miss prospect by pouring in four threes on eight attempts and using his smooth and consistent stroke to knock down a couple midrange jumpers as well.

Livers uses his plus size and a quick enough release to shoot over the defense, and when he’s feeling it, he can be lights-out. Livers drained two threes in the first quarter of Central’s victory over Loy Norrix on his way to 10 points in the opening stanza and another seven points in the first quarter of the loss to Christian, including a triple and a couple pretty jumpers. In those two games combined, the wing prospect was 7-of-9 from the floor and 3-of-3 from deep in the first quarter.

This should correlate well to his projected future role as a microwave off the bench in his early time as a Wolverine. To earn run under Beilein, especially as a freshman, a player must knock down open shots, and Livers has the knack to come out firing – and on fire – from the get-go. We’ve all seen what happens when a designated sniper can’t find the bottom of the net, too – Ibi Watson was supposed to have that role this year, but is just 1-of-18 from three-point land and hasn’t played meaningful minutes since mid-December. If Livers can come in right away and just knock down shots, he should earn 5-8 minutes as a freshman.

2. Athleticism:
Livers’ size and shooting make him an intriguing prospect, but his athleticism is what could make him a very good college player. Livers threw down a couple monster dunks over Loy Norrix, skied for an impressive late offensive rebound over GR Christian, and had a couple springy blocks in both games. He’ll never be the fastest guy on the court, but his physical skills and quickness in short spurts give Livers a leg up and some potential positional flexibility.

3. Hands:
An underrated part of any college prospect is the ability to reliably catch passes without bobbling the ball, particularly for big men. And while Livers will not be a post player in college, it is still important for shooters to be able to catch and release without a hitch. Livers is also able to use his quick hands and length to cause some havoc on the defensive end, anticipating passes and knocking the ball loose to lead to easy transition buckets or at the very least create more possessions for his team. In the three games I scouted Livers, he registered eight steals to just three turnovers.

Weaknesses:

1. Rebounding:
In talking about what Livers will bring to Michigan, Beilein repeatedly mentions the prospect’s need to get better on the glass, and I could not agree more. While often one of the biggest (and probably the most athletic) players on the floor, Livers shows very little desire to bang on the boards. He had one impressive offensive rebound against Christian, but the majority of his boards were of the defensive variety that essentially fell into his hands.

I caught Livers just watching with his hands on his sides far too often when a shot went up – little desire to box out, little desire to go up and get it. I don’t think he’s a prima donna, but he needs to be more gritty on the glass.

2. Aggressiveness:
In total, I saw Livers play approximately 72 minutes of basketball across three games (foul trouble limited his time against Christian). In those 72 minutes of action, Livers made it to the free throw line a measly three times – all against Portage Northern.

I’ve already detailed Livers’s lack of aggressiveness in the rebounding department, but his unwillingness to drive into the teeth of the defense in search of contact is equally worrisome for a guy that projects as a 3 or 4 in Michigan’s system.

Christian’s best player on Friday night was Beck, and partially because he was able to get to the free throw line a handful of times. Livers was content to shoot from the outside and defer to his more willing teammates. On at least one occasion, the lack of aggressiveness likely led to a crucial turnover against Christian, as Livers opted to hold onto the ball for too long and then retreat when a double team closed in as opposed to taking it right at them and drawing contact.

I like Livers’s handles for his size (room for improvement, but not a glaring weakness), but he needs to trust them enough to drive past the three-point line and into the paint, where he can use his size and athleticism to finish in close.

3. Defense:
I’m going to disagree slightly with Ace Anbender’s take from his recent MGoBlog post on Livers. Livers’ athleticism allows him to be a passable defender at the high school level, but you can spot areas where a college offense could take advantage of him. I think Livers plays fine help defense and shows flashes of being a decent shot-blocker right now, but I attribute that more to his size, length, and athletic advantage at the high school level. His on-the-ball defense leaves a bit more to be desired, however.

Livers doesn’t slide his feet well enough on defense, forcing him to defend at an angle rather than perpendicularly when his opponent gets a step on him, which eventually got him into foul trouble in the most important of the three games I watched. Livers needs to get lower to the ground defensively and make sure he uses his long arms to his advantage by cutting off the drive before it happens. Some added strength will also help on this end – Beck threw down a dunk in Livers’s grill early on in the Christian game.

Current Comparison:
While disagreeing with Ace on Livers’ defense, I think he’s spot on when it comes to comparing the 2017-18 freshman to a current Michigan player – it’s D.J. Wilson all the way. Like Wilson, Livers has plus size, length, and athleticism, and can stretch a defense as a bigger wing. He’s also fairly lanky and will have to put on some weight while needing some improvement on his ability to drive the ball as well. For comparison’s sake, let’s make a quick chart to show how I think Livers and Wilson stack up with each other as high school seniors (based solely on Wilson’s film at the time):

Isaiah Livers D.J. Wilson
Shooting X
Rebounding X
Passing X
Blocking X
Ball-handling X
Aggressiveness X
Agility X
Athleticism X X
Hands X

 


Xavier Tillman – PF | 6-8, 270 | Grand Rapids, Mich. (Grand Rapids Christian)
ESPN4-star, #11 PF Rivals: 4-star, N/A 247: 4-star, #22 PF Scout: 3-star, 29 C
247 Composite: 4-star #18 PF, #86 nationally
Other top offers: Indiana, Purdue, Ohio State, Iowa, Virginia Tech, TCU, Illinois

Xavier Tillman vs. Kalamazoo Central (53-51 OT W):
9 points (4/8 FG, 1/3 FT), 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 blocks, 3 steals, 5 turnovers, 4 fouls

Before seeing Tillman or Livers play, if you were told that the game you were going to watch featured two 6-foot-8 guys with one going to play for Tom Izzo and one going to play for John Beilein, you would know within a second of walking into the gym which prospect was which. Livers is tall and slender with a polished jumper. Tillman is a bulky and plodding 6-foot-8 big man who won’t dare take a shot beyond the free throw line – even in shootaround.

Once game action hit, however, I was disappointed in Tillman’s overall game at this point. He has good size and a wide body, but got winded very quickly and was frequently the last man up and down the court. Offensively, he has very little polish to his inside game, and failed to demand the ball even when matched up with much smaller defenders in an open post. Tillman actually entered the half with zero points on 0-of-3 shooting (including a missed dunk) and just one rebound before picking up a few buckets on pretty easy layups off the glass in the 3rd and 4th quarters.

The Grand Rapids native did not display many post moves, and while he is certainly physical down low, powerful on the glass, and showed good help defense, Tillman was rather careless with the ball and simply not fast enough for the Big Ten game at this point. Luckily for Izzo, Michigan State should have plenty of big men returning to give Tillman the chance to develop with a redshirt year. The high school senior picked up a couple fouls due to a lack of foot speed and getting winded, and needs to get in shape and get quicker. The closest comparison to Tillman on the Spartan roster currently is clearly Nick Ward, but Tillman lags behind Ward at the same time in their respective developments in just about every department.

Big Ten power rankings 2016: Pre-bowl

Wednesday, December 28th, 2016


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.

 

New in Blue: 2017 WR Donovan Peoples-Jones

Thursday, December 15th, 2016


(Brandon Brown)

Donovan Peoples-Jones – WR | 6-2, 193 | Detroit, Mich. (Cass Technical)
ESPN4-star, #4 WR Rivals: 5-star, #2 WR 247: 5-star, #1WR Scout: 5-star, #4 WR
247 Composite: 5-star #1 WR
Other top offers: Ohio State, Michigan State, Florida State, Florida, Alabama, Clemson, LSU, USC

Yesterday, Michigan pulled in four-star receiver Tarik Black of Cheshire, Conn. Today, Jim Harbaugh bolstered his receiving corps even further with a commitment from the top receiver in the country, Donovan Peoples-Jones. The Detroit Cass Tech star pledged his commitment to the Wolverines live on ESPN2 on Thursday evening.

Peoples-Jones is a five-star according to 247, Rivals, and Scout, and a four-star according to ESPN. Scout ranks him as the top receiver in the country, Rivals second, and Scout and ESPN fourth. All four have him among the top 32 overall players in the nation with 247 ranking him the highest at eighth. Rivals ranks him 13th, ESPN 27th, and Scout 32nd. According to the 247 Composite, he’s the top receiver and the 11th-best overall player in the 2017 class.

The 6-foot-2, 193-pound receiver committed to Michigan over a top five that also included rivals Ohio State and Michigan State, Orange Bowl foe Florida State, and 2017 season-opening opponent Florida. He also held offers from most of the other national powers, including Alabama, Clemson, LSU, USC, and Stanford, to name a few.

Scout lists Peoples-Jones’ strengths as body control, elusiveness with catch, and speed, while listing his area to improve as strength. Scout’s Allen Trieu raves about his potential.

“Exceptional athlete with above-average size, but top notch speed, explosiveness and outstanding leaping ability. Shows the ability to make tough grabs downfield with defenders on him, and has excellent body control and ball tracking skills. Must still get stronger and continue to polish his route-running, but has all of the physical tools to be a go-to receiver in college.”

Peoples-Jones joins Black and Brad Hawkins as receivers that will head to Ann Arbor in 2017. He’s the 22nd player in the class and the 10th on the offensive side. He doesn’t have quite the size of Black, but there’s a reason he’s rated higher across the board. While Black projects to be more of a possession receiver, Peoples-Jones has a chance to be a star go-to receiver. Together, they form a great receiving haul that will challenge for playing time after the loss of seniors Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh.

With two in the fold this week, Michigan will hope for more good news when five-star offensive tackle Isaiah Wilson announces his commitment at noon Eastern tomorrow.