Monday, January 11, 2010

When Carcajous Start a New Adventure

Today the WCA blog reaches the end of its own road. I certainly had a blast with the blog this last year.

When Carcajous Attack! was my first attempt at sports blogging, and despite going it alone these past 12 months, I actually learned a great deal. I sincerely appreciated all of the comments from followers this past year, as well as the many considerate links extended to my stories by so many of my fellow Michigan sports and football bloggers. It was really cool to see other people reading and responding to some of my views, observations and ideas.

Let me say that it is not easy to run a meaningful sports blog on Michigan football, not to mention Michigan athletics. Not many people end up accessing and reading the thing in first place. And to get the hits, writing interesting and unique stuff can be challenging and a lot of work. There were days and weeks where I didn't feel like I was getting together sufficient content in the first place. Often times work and family life got in the way of contributing more.

So for 2010 I've decided to explore a new method, expand my horizons, and improve the exposure of my work. I'm taking my Michigan Wolverine football addiction - or affliction, if you will - over to the Maize N Brew Blog, which has been providing excellent content on Michigan athletics for several years now, including my own main area of obsessive interest: Michigan football.

I'm really looking forward to writing alongside Dave and the entire cast of great writers of the Maize N Brew crew this year. It should be a lot of fun. And I figure if my writings go downhill, I'll still have a new group of colleagues as a support group to help me improve my personal coping skills with things like 3-9, Michael Rosenberg, 5-7, and whatever the 2010 Michigan football season may have on tap!

Of course, it is now mid-January and the dreaded "dead period" is almost over. Michigan football recruiting, Spring Game 2010 preparations, Coaching Changes, Position Battles, Pre-Season 2010 Predictions, Way-to-Early Opponent Previews, and of course Michigan schedule analyses will all be coming up on deck soon. If you enjoyed some of my past writings from the WCA blog, please be sure to visit and bookmark Maize and Brew blog going forward.

Thanks again for everyone's support of When Carcajous Attack!. It was a lot of fun.
See you over at Maize N Brew!


Hail to the Victors!
Let's Go Blue!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Shiny New Racing Wheels On Your Offense? So what.

I think Rich Rodriguez and Calvin Magee have done the right things offensively this year. The pieces appear to be in place for the Michigan offense to take off in the future: three talented mobile quarterbacks (Forcier, Robinson and incoming frosh Gardner), experienced and quick slot receivers (Odoms, Roundtree and Grady), talented wide receivers (Stonum, Hemingway), an improved offensive line (Molk, Omameh, Schilling, Huyge and Dorrestein) and a deep stable of promising running backs (V. Smith, M. Shaw, M. Cox). Yes, the Michigan pass blocking still stinks to high heaven, but the quarterbacks in place at least have the skills to try and escape. You heard it here first, but I think Michigan is going to be a 450+ ypg offense in 2010 and will again be ranked highly nationally in rushing offense.

Obviously, more attention will be applied to the defensive side of the ball and recruiting going forward. Michigan is giving up a ridiculous 400 yards per game ON AVERAGE, and 28 points per game ON AVERAGE. I think Rodriguez understands the gravity of the situation. Yet, at other times, I seriously wonder. The horrendous Michigan defense of 2008 just got a whole lot worse in 2009.

The thing is, Michigan doesn't need just a good defense, or a good enough defense or a passable defense. If Big Ten titles and Rose Bowl invitiations are even remotely important to Michigan's football program anymore, then the defense needs tons of attention: Better coaching, better football players and, after back to back losing seasons, Herculean efforts on the recruiting trail.

Michigan football is basically a 1972 Chevy Nova beater. Rodriguez is the 17 year old owner, who had 400 bucks cash back, and decided the priority was to get the mag wheels and racing tires first, then renovate the engine and the exhaust much later. This is OK. But it's still a Chevy Nova beater that he doesn't dare take to the drag race competitions. Unfortunately, it's already "later" for Rodriguez.

Michigan will never compete for a Big Ten championship again, let a lone a .500 football season, unless it starts playing some semblance of Division I defense. I don't have to take readers on an excursion to Obvioustown here, but OK, why not?

Let's consider for one moment, just who in the hell has been winning all these Big Ten titles the last 10 years and how there defenses have, you know, performed.

Rich Rodriguez and staff might be surprised to learn that it's not a fucking coincidence that the Big Ten champion fields not just a "good defense", or a "passable defense".

No. They field the BEST defenses in the conference full stop! Penn State and Ohio State, for example, have been demonstrating rather consistently the best team in total defense and often the best scoring defense as well. For Michigan it can be no different.

You either have this feature, or you don't. Sure, those mag wheels may be shiny and bright. They might even look cool too. But until the engine gets ported and the exhaust gets modified, that vee-hicle of yours isn't going to win races.

Big Ten Defensive Leaders
Yrds/GmPts. GameBig Ten Champion
2009Ohio State - 258Penn State - 11.6Ohio State
2008Penn State - 263.9Penn State - 12.4Ohio State, Penn State
2007Ohio State - 225.3Ohio State - 10.7Ohio State
2006Wisconsin - 243.5Ohio State - 10.4Ohio State
2005Ohio State - 275.3Ohio State - 14.8Ohio State, Penn State
2004Wisconsin - 275.9Wisconsin - 14.6Iowa, Michigan
2003Michigan - 287.3Michigan - 15.9Michigan
2002Purdue - 317.5Ohio State 13.1Iowa, Ohio State
2001Michigan - 301.64Michigan - 17.5Illinois
2000Michigan State - 318.3Ohio State - 18.0Michigan, Northwestern, Purdue

There are very good reasons for Michigan's defensive ineptitude at linebacker and the secondary, most of them having nothing at all to do with Rich Rodriguez. Some of the issues are so serious, that Rodriguez's and Greg Robinson's options are also limited in what they can do in the time they have.

After last year's 3-9 debacle, there's been almost too much emphasis on rectifying the offensive side of the ledger that Michigan. Rodriguez must now pay much closer attention in the off-season to the defensive side of the game (defensive staff coaching efforts, player development, and defensive recruiting), or this grand but brief experiment at Michigan will close out not just poorly, but with non-conclusive results as well.

There. The excursion to Obvioustown is over.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Random Reactions to Penn State Loss

I watched the game from beginning to end on Saturday. Then I slept on it. I had to. I didn’t look at anything on Sunday because, well, quite frankly I was ready to jump off of the nearest bridge following Michigan's 25 point loss at home to Penn State.

That sounds really bad, except for the fact that the nearest bridge to my house is at my neighbor's house. It's a little Japanese stone garden bridge with a gnome or troll or something guarding the entrance. Or maybe it's just a miniature windmill. I forget. Anyway, at it's highest point this bridge is only about 6 inches from the ground.

The Bridge of Sorrow

Michigan is now 5-3 this season and looking as shaky as they ever did on both sides of the ball. Actually, there were times during the Penn State game that I thought the Michigan defense played fairly well. Then I realized that PSU's tailback Royster did rack up 100 yards and quarterback Darryl Clark had a “field day” through the air with 230 yards and 4 (!) touchdowns courtesy of the Michigan defense.

The Nittany Lions outplayed Michigan in every facet of the football game, except maybe punting. This was a good Penn State team. Not unbeatable, but a good opponent. From a mental toughness standpoint, Michigan's response was an emphatic "not ready". They're just not. They're either too young, too inexperienced, or not talented enough at certain positions. I don' t know. If they were ready, then they certainly wouldn’t be handing a 6-1 Penn State team with free interceptions, fumbles, safeties and penalties all on a silver platter with pretty garnishes on the side in front of a nationally televised audience.

Michigan was thoroughly and decisively out gained offensively yet again. When this happens, the options for football teams are limited. You either:

a.) play out-of-your-mind awesome scoring defense, or

b.) play out-of-your-mind effective offense, scoring touchdowns like a mother on every offensive possession, forcing the UM regents to contemplate procurement of a more robust stadium scoreboard, or

c.) both

Instead the opposite occurred Saturday.

Why do we feel so shitty about the 10-35 loss to Penn State Saturday?

Two reasons really.

One, this was the most decisive loss for Michigan all-season, and the worst loss since the 7-42 drubbing in Columbus in 2008.

Two, I’m thinking it’s the yards per play statistics.


On Saturday Michigan had its worst yards per play output of the 2009 football season with only 3.42 yards per play.

So, uh, when was the last time Michigan had aYPP stat outcome below 4 yards per play?

You’d have to go back to the 2008 football games against Ohio State (3.0 YPP), Northwestern (3.22) and, of course, the lovely Utah game (3.22).

All were losses.

All of the sudden it's as if Michigan football fandom collectively realizes all at once that ending this football season 6-6 or 7-5 looks all the more probable (and delightful?) as the irrational expectations of Michigan’s 2009 football season following the 38-34 in-yo'-face victory over Notre Dame crashes to the ground at 9.8 meters per second.

Penn State 35, Michigan 10

On Offense

Rushing Attack:

Michigan rushed for 110 yards against the best rushing defense in the Big Tenon Saturday. Penn State typically surrenders only 79 yards rushing per game. So are these 110 yards by Michigan an accomplishment of some measure? I guess so. But it is still 109 yards well below Michigan’s season game average.

Penn State’s defense - obviously consumed with indignation for WCA's public critique of their bakery basket football schedule - effectively "owned" this blogger by allowing the Wolverines only 10 points - pretty much in alignment with their 8.7 per game average allowance this year.
Meanwhile Michigan star tailback Brandon Minor had only 48 yards in this game on 12 carries and then got….wait for the surprise everybody!…...injured. I claimed in the off-season that Michigan has probably one of the most talented stable of backs in the Big Ten right now with Brandon Minor, Carlos Brown and Michael Shaw, plus incoming freshman Vincent Smith.

I still stand by this claim. But one deciding factor that will likely prevent 2009 Michigan from ever achieving the 2002 West Virginia’s Wonder Year 9-4 turnaround is this: The inability (or unwillingness) to ride one or two of these running backs on a consistent and dedicated basis into glorious sunsets of victory. The experienced offensive line and talented running backs are competitive advantages upon which Michigan has been unable to fully capitalize in Big Ten play this year. Rich Rodriguez and Calvin McGee probably would if they could, but the UM offensive line, while improved, is probably just not good enough. The serious knee injury to center Dave Molk throws an unneeded wrench into an offensive machine that never ran full-throttle in the first place. Most importantly, the incessant fragility of running backs Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown has affected Michigan’s rhythm, play calling and level of aggressiveness in football games more than ever. How great was it that Michigan marched down the field with authority on that first drive to take a 7-0 lead, only to see it never repeated again in regulation?

Michigan has played games poorly this year and still won. Michigan has also played games poorly and lost. So now it's time to ask when will Michigan win a Big Ten game by playing extremely well? If there’s an opportunity to do just that, it would have to be next week when the worst team in the Big Ten conference, Illinois, hosts Michigan in Champaign. If the game against the Retreating Illini is not a decisive victory for Michigan, then seriously folks, head for the mountains. I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that if Michigan wins Saturday, it will not be in decisive fashion. It cannot.

Passing Attack:
After Michigan’s first two games versus Western Michigan and Notre Dame, I was happy.

Really happy?

Yeah, pretty happy.

Not just because Michigan was 2-0. Forget that noise. No, I was happy because the Michigan passing numbers were not only improved from the year prior, but they were “revealing”. Alright, that’s maybe a little too dramatic. What if I had just said that Michigan’s passing numbers “slid nicely into alignment with the concept of what Michigan’s offense would surely become in the future: a read spread option offense with surprising balance!” Wow! What a change that would be! Talk about exciting to watch and difficult to defend! In those first two games Michigan rushed and passed for about 200 yards. Brilliant! Try to stop THAT oncoming locomotive, Big Ten Conference!

Unfortunately, since the Notre Dame game the Michigan offense has lost its center and went wayward. Some of blame goes to the freshman quarterback play. Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson are both confident and young. We remember the mistakes, but they've both made just as many or more great plays. They’re only going to improve in the coming years. They’ve got tremendous skills with great upside (more upside than any other Big Ten quarterbacks right now, in my view), but still have a long way to go in order to learn all the intricacies of this offense, to develop wider and deeper field vision, and to accrue more patience. More competition is on the way next fall. I am not worried about Michigan’s quarterback situation because it's only going to get better.

Some of the blame goes to the offensive line. They’ve done better at run blocking this year than last, but the pass blocking still needs a ton of work, and/or bigger players with better technique in the future. Tate Forcier passed for only 140 yards, was sacked 5 times, completed only 43% of this throws, including one INT, and made several mental errors versus Penn State on Saturday. The Nittany Lions are one of the better defensive teams in the conference along the defensive line and linebacker positions. The next best defensive teams in conference, unfortunately, still remain on Michigan’s slate: Wisconsin and Ohio State. Michigan has a lot left to prove along the offensive front line, particularly with Dave Molk’s absence.

The area of greatest disappointment in 2009, in my view, is at the receiver positions. I do believe Michigan has some talented players with a lot of promise here like Martavious Odoms, Kevin Koger and Kelvin Grady. What’s surprised and disappointed me most has been the statistical output of senior Greg Mathews and junior JR Hemingway thus far this season. Mathews and Hemingway work on the outside, but are both 4th and 5th in receptions respectively for Michigan this season. This makes sense to some degree as the slots are utilized more frequently on many quarterback read progressions. But Mathews and Hemingway (and anyone else who happens to line up outside the slot positions like Darryl Stonum) have been largely underutilized this year by Michigan's play-calling staff. As a result, the versatility and potency of this year’s spread offense has diminished to a great extent. Michigan’s best games passing were 223 and 225 yard performances against Indiana and MSU respectively. Michigan can do much better in the passing department. They will have to in order to defeat the upcoming conference opponents.

In my view, Michigan’s success over the next 4 games lies almost entirely with the offensive performance. Offensive balance is going to be very important. This team should be averaging about 200 yards on the ground and 200 yards in the air each game. Obviously, this is not happening right now. Until it does, I think we can expect opponents to out gain Michigan offensively on a regular basis. This will have an unfortunate and adverse affect of charging the Michigan defensive unit with preventative duties for which it has repeatedly proven itself largely ill-equipped.

A Word About Turnovers
At this point last season, Michigan was recovering from it’s 4th consecutive loss to MSU at home 21-35. After 8 games in 2008, the Wolverines already had thrown 12 interceptions and lost 13 fumbles. The numbers in 2009 are much less: 9 interceptions and 8 lost fumbles. Fewer turnovers certainly have helped Michigan this fall. However, the common denominator has not changed: Michigan is still not a good enough defensive and offensive football team to commit turnovers and still win football games.

I fear the savage turnover lesson from 2008 may rear it’s ugly head yet again over the next two games against underperforming, yet capable, football teams like Illinois and Purdue.

On Defense:
Michigan’s defense is pretty much a dead-ringer to last year’s 2008 defense.

That bad?

Well, kind of. Michigan is giving up 5.2 yards per play so far in 2009. They gave up 5.3 at this point in 2008 (after 8 games). In terms of yards per point, however, Michigan is slightly better this year forcing opponents to travel 20.4 yards versus 17.3 in 2008 for every point scored.

After 8 games, we know how good Michigan is defensively. Many Michigan fans lie awake at night pondering ridiculous questions like if only Brandon Graham and Donovan Warren both had younger identical twin brothers, or if only they could be cloned two or three times over just like the first stormtroopers in Star Wars Episode II.

The outlook for Michigan over the next four games is unfortunately pretty dire. This is because there there's little evidence to suggest we should not expect more of the same, i.e.:

1.) Surrendering 364 yards total offense on average

2.) Wolverine secondary getting torched for 230 yards passing on average and allowing approximately 130 yards rushing in every game.

3.) Surrendering 24 points per game, gaining 1 interception per game, and ½ of a recovered fumble per game.

4.) Handing out 2 turnovers on average per game offensively

5.) Giving up huge touchdown plays and improbable 3rd down conversions.

Combined with unpredictable performances by this quarterback-centric offense, this is a bad recipe all around for Michigan.

Some emerging players on defense for Michigan:

DE Brandon Graham 15 TFL and 5.5 sacks (alas a senior)
CB Donovan Warren 47 tackles, 3 INT, 7 pass breakups (NFL draft likely)
LB Obi Ezeh (junior) 62 tackles, 22 solo
LB Stevie Brown (senior) 47 tackles, 28 solo
S Jordan Kovacs (walk-on extraordinaire) 50 tackles, 24 solo

DE Ryan van Bergen (29 tackles, 3 sacks), DT Mike Martin (29 tackles, 1 sack) and DE Craig Roh (22 tackles, 2 sacks) have all grown this year as well with their on field performances.

So is there any good news?

Perhaps there is. The league’s most effective passing offenses are out of the way. Three out of Michigan’s next 4 opponents are below average throwing teams (Illinois, Wisconsin and Ohio State). All are predominantly average-to-above average rushing teams.

7-5 is certainly a possibility for Michigan. 8-4 is also possible. At the same time, the Penn State game outcome indicates loudly and clearly Michigan fans need to ready themselves for the possibility of 6-6.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

When Carcajous Attack Lions!

Preview: Michigan vs. No. 13 Penn State, October 24, 2009 – Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Michigan

When You Crave Irrational Exuberance On A Level That Only Brett Musberger Can Deliver:
“And we’re here LIIIIIIIIIIIVE again in the BIG HOUSE in Ann Arbor, Michigan in front of yet another record crowd here this late Saturday afternoon to witness the 15th HISTORICAL (!!!!!) meeting between the Wolverines of Michigan and the Nittany Lions of Penn State! Welcome everybody!

Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions are now 6-1 and 2-1 in the Big Ten after shutting down the mighty Minnesota Gophers at home last weekend 20-0. To find Penn State’s only blemish on their record this season you’d have to go back to that frustrating evening home loss to Big Ten leader Iowa right here on ABC!! That game included three uncharacteristic Penn State interceptions, 1 lost fumble, and a blocked punt for an Iowa touchdown. It might interest fans on both sides of the field today to note that Penn State and Michigan have faced one common opponent this year: The Iowa Hawkeyes. The final results of those contests were the same, yet they were also somewhat different. Penn State lost at home to Iowa by 11 points, while Michigan lost to those same Hawkeyes on the road by only 2 points.

Meanwhile, the Michigan Wolverines of Rich Rodriguez are 5-2 and just 1-2 in Big Ten play. Michigan is a younger team than Penn State. They’re still struggling to find their identity this year ever since that upset win over Notre Dame earlier this year in this very stadium. As a result, everyone is asking the same question week after week: How improved is Michigan really? That question will be answered today against Penn State. While it’s true that the Wolverines absolutely bashed the daylights out of lowly Delaware State 63-6 here last Saturday, no one has forgotten the two straight Big Ten conference defeats against Michigan State and Iowa by relatively small margins only a few weeks ago.

Will this contest of Big Ten Gladiators(!) go down to the wire here again today?!

Let’s find out, shall we?”
This football game is important for Michigan for the following reasons:

1. Joe Paterno has been the head coach at Penn State since 1966. Very few college football teams have achieved a winning record against the Nittany Lions on Paterno’s watch. Of the short list of football teams that do have all-time winning records against Penn State, (which includes Oklahoma 2-0, Alabama 8-4, Ohio State 12-8, UCLA 2-1, Wisconsin 7-6, for example) Michigan has a fantastic record : 10-4 record all-time against PSU. This includes 9 straight Michigan wins between 1997 and 2007. Since the first meeting in 1993 Michigan has won these contests rather decisively with an average margin of victory of 4.7 points. (average score 23.3 to 18.6). Penn State’s lone victories over UM in Michigan Stadium date back to the Clinton administration: 1994 and 1996.

2. Beating Penn State would even out Michigan’s conference record at 2-2. A UM victory would also likely place the Wolverines in a ridiculous 6-team tie for 3rd place in the Big Ten with all 6 teams having 2 conference losses by the end of action Saturday. Indeed, carcajous are known to wreak havoc on their surroundings.

3. Michigan started strong against unbeaten and No. 3 Penn State last year, but ultimately were manhandled and humiliated 17-46 on national television for their 5th loss of the season. Rodriguez and the Wolverine seniors will definitely want to dish out some payback this weekend - in spades, if they can be so mustered.

4. A victory over 13th ranked Penn State would give Michigan a 6-2 overall record, 100% certainty of landing a bowl bid in 2009, and a good chance of returning once again to the national rankings.

Three Great Reasons to Wipe That Ridiculous Smile Off Of Your Face:

1. Nittany Lion Tailbacks Evan Royster
"I'll drag you to the end zone this time. But next time the fare is $2.50"

Evan Royster is sort of Penn State’s version of Brandon Minor. Royster is 6-1 and 209 lbs. The main differences are that Royster is far more resilient to injury, he actually possesses good speed and agility to juke would-be tacklers out of position rather than just bowl them over. He’s also becoming a more dangerous receiver as of late for Penn State. Brandon Minor has caught 1 pass all year long for 1 lousy yard. Royster has 8 catches for 114 yards (14 yards per catch) and 1 TD. Royster is a runner first, however, averaging an impressive 5.8 yards per carry and 92 yards per game behind a questionable offensive line. He has 4 rushing TDs after 7 games. If opponents want to beat Penn State, then they have to emulate what Iowa did successfully against Evan Royster. They held him to just 69 yards rushing and kept him completely out of the end zone. The result of this effort placed greater urgency and pressure on quarterback Darryl Clark to throw and run the ball himself in order to win, which he would have done more or less successfully, if it hadn’t been for the 3 drive-killing interceptions. With Royster running the ball on par at 5.8 yards per carry, this frees up Clark and the rest of the PSU offense to do 5 or 6 other offensive plays extremely well. Michigan has had difficulty stopping the run in general this season, though they had some success at times against mainly pass-centric offenses like MSU and Iowa recently. The Wolverines have certainly not faced a power back with the size and speed of Royster this year. PSU’s offensive line has performed slightly below expectations this fall. Controlling the line of scrimmage and Evan Royster will be priority No. 1 for Michigan this Saturday.

2. Nittany Lion Quarterback Darryl Clark
"Oh, wide open..."

A year ago in Beaver Stadium, Penn State’s quarterback Darryl Clark punched in an average day at the office against Michigan. He wasn’t amazingly accurate throwing the football. He hit on 18 of 31 passes (58%) for 171 yards and only 1 TD. He didn’t set the world on fire rushing in that game either, as he had 9 carries for 45 yards (5 ypc) and two 1-yard touchdown runs.

In fact, ever since this guy took over for Anthony Morelli at the position, it’s never really been about what Darryl Clark does to opponents on his own. Sure, Clark is a decent runner. He’s even become a better passer (62% accuracy YTD) this year. No, it’s more about how Darryl Clark forces opposing defenses to keep their heads on a swivel all the time, and account for ALL of the other offensive weapons that Clark “activates” by just being present under center. Galen Hall uses Darryl Clark like a chemical enzyme to create hesitation in Penn State’s enemies. Even with a significant decline in wide receiver speed and talent in 2009 compared to the year prior, we can still see how just a little hesitation is all Penn State really needs to score a lot of points and gash opponents easily for hundreds of yards.

In terms of quarterback footwork, timing, throwing mechanics, and fakes, one would be hard pressed to find a better quarterback in the Big Ten right now than Darryl Clark. At midpoint of the season, he already has over 1,600 yards passing. His receiving targets may not be spectacular, but 6 different Nittany Lions have 11 catches or more, and 5 different ones have found pay dirt this season at least once. With the exception of perhaps the Iowa game, it is fair to say that Clark has not been pressured very much this season. This is partly due to reasonably good offensive line play against a schedule of opponents that can be closely compared to bakery goods you’d find in the Hostess aisle of your local grocery store. It’s probably not a coincidence that the toughest opponent Clark has had to deal with this year (Iowa) just happened to be the same team that blanketed him for only 19 yards rushing and nabbed 3 interceptions.

3. Penn State’s Linebackers and Secondary
Penn State's Linebacker Sean Lee
Penn State has the number one scoring defense in the nation going into this football game. They have given up only 8 points per game. This fantastic statistic is almost certainly the product of combining Akron, Temple and Syracuse with just a smidgeon of Eastern Illinois, all in Beaver Stadium. The Nittany Lions will now face the No. 1 scoring and rushing offense in the Big Ten in Michigan (even when we subtract out Michigan’s blood-curdling statistics of the Delaware State game). Michigan will be the most run-centric, yet strangely versatile offensive opponent that the Nittany Lions have faced all year. Even Iowa, which was primarily a drop-back passing team, did find surprising success with their walk-on tailback Adam Robinson who collected 88 yards rushing, 14 of them on a rumbling, stumbling touchdown run in the 4th quarter against PSU’s apparently exhausted defense.

Penn State’s linebackers, Navaro Bowman, Chris Colasanti, Sean Lee and Josh Hull are some of the better defenders in the Big Ten at their positions. They will be as good as or better than what Michigan State and Iowa put forward against the Wolverines in recent weeks. The Penn State secondary of cornerback A.J. Wallace, and safety Nick Sukay is not as good as the Iowa Hawkeyes’ secondary in terms of takeaways, but they’ve given up the fewest passing yards (163 per game) in the league (while playing frosted cupcakes with rainbow sprinkles!) and only 3 passing TDs all year. PSU has collected 8 interceptions so far after 7 games.

When Carcajous Attack! On Offense:
Michigan Senior Wide Receiver Greg Mathews
It’s weird. Michigan is 5-2 (4-2 in my view, because DSU was really just a scrimmage), but they’ve been out gained offensively by every opponent save Western Michigan and Eastern Michigan this fall. That’s not good. It also answers the question whether Michigan has “turned the corner” offensively with Rich Rodriguez read spread option offense. They really haven’t yet. But with the young players and speed Michigan has assembled at the skilled positions, they are approaching that corner very soon. Michigan needs a big game offensively in order to beat Penn State on Saturday. The Wolverines’ offensive strategy must emphasize balance. Michigan’s rushing offense reasserted itself to some degree during the road game to Iowa with 3 rushing TDs and 195 yards on the ground. They had way more success than PSU had against the same defense, and on the road to boot. Unfortunately, the Michigan passing game has been stalled somewhat over the last 4 games, largely due to Tate Forcier’s shoulder problems and the obvious hesitancy of Rich Rodriguez and Calvin Magee to let backup Denard Robinson chuck the ball downfield. To beat Penn State and come close to equaling the Nittany Lions own offensive output, Michigan must get the ball successfully to the edge with the slot receivers, and more importantly to the outside wide receivers ten yards plus downfield on a regular basis. Only in this way can the PSU middle be adequately softened for the death strikes of Shaw, Brown and Minor up the middle and over the ends. For this reason I say that Tate Forcier and his receivers Greg Mathews, JR Hemingway, Kevin Koger and Martavious Odoms are the key to victory Saturday. The Michigan receivers must have exemplary performances. The PSU DL and LBs are very good. Without good receiver performances, the pressure will be way too high on Tate Forcier and the Michigan running backs to do it all themselves. The potential return of starting center David Molk from injury is a positive development for Michigan’s running and passing attack Saturday.

When Carcajous Attack! On Defense:
Stevie Brown: Linebacker Speed to Counter PSU's Own Spread and Shred

The fact of the matter is, Michigan’s defense isn't very good this year. So every time we enter this chasm of despair together, well, do we really want to go into it with Penn State on deck? I guess we must. Yes, we’ve observed some defensive improvement at times versus Michigan State and Iowa. I love Brandon Graham and the rest of the guys on defense. They’re playing their hearts out right now. But let’s not pretend that Michigan opponents haven’t had their way with the Wolverines Saturday afternoons this year, because they have. Yes, it was nice to see Michigan hold Iowa and their non-rated, walk-on tailback from Des Moines to just 83 yards rushing. Every time I want to do a celebration dance about something good like that, I get smacked in the face with a two by four from the other side of the equation. You know, like the 284 yards passing drummed up by “Bad Ricky” Stanzi. Reasons for optimism are easily shattered just like so. I mean, if Ricky “I’m not Chuck Long” Stanzi can throw for 284 yards and Kirk “Molasses in Wintertime” Cousins can cut upfield for 10 yards per carry on this Michigan defense, then I make no apology for what I’m about to say here: Darryl Clark is the best quarterback Michigan’s defense will have faced this year. Better than Clausen. Better than Cousins. And eleventy billion times better than Stanzi. Based on the evidence of past performance, Darryl Clark will have a very good day running and passing against this Michigan defense. A “field day”? Well, I ask readers, what evidence do we have to suggest otherwise? This will be the first fully-fledged run-centric spread offense Michigan will have played against. Even if the Michigan defensive line plays out of their minds and pressures or sacks Clark with any frequency, the Michigan linebackers have been so frequently out of position to make a play, it just isn’t funny anymore.

So the one ray of hope for Michigan on defense, it seems to me, is if the Wolverines can somehow stuff the running success of star tailback Evan Royster. If that can be achieved some how, some way – and I must draw your attention to the capital “I” on the “If” - then the entire Penn State game plan rests on Darryl Clark’s shoulders. And as good as Darryl Clark can be both running and passing the football, he has not delivered well when it’s all on his shoulders alone for a full 60 minutes, particularly in away games when Penn State is ranked and favored to win.

The Last Time:
On October 18, 2008 third ranked Penn State crushed Michigan 46-17, handing Rich Rodriguez and his first Wolverine team their 5th loss of the season. Nittany Lion tailback Evan Royster tore Michigan’s defense to shreds with 174 yards rushing and 1 TD. Darryl Clark passed for 171 yards and 1 TD before the PSU scrubs played out the rest of the game. Returning from a long bout of injury, Michigan’s Brandon Minor rushed for 117 yards and 2 touchdowns in the game. It was a humbling and embarrassing loss for Michigan football and more than your average triumphant result for Penn State because they had closed the book on Michigan’s 9 game winning streak in the series.

What to Expect
I joke about Penn State’s cupcake schedule this year. Actually both teams coming into this game have had a comparable “easy time of it” up to now: PSU’s opponents thus far are 24-21, while Michigan’s opponents are an equally unimpressive 23-22 to date. However, there is a case to be made that Michigan has been more frequently and thoroughly tested than Penn State to this point of the season. Michigan has played some pretty decent opponents in Iowa, MSU, Notre Dame already. While PSU’s best opponents so far have been definitely Iowa and possibly Minnesota. Conversely, Michigan has played two awful football teams in EMU and Delaware State, while Penn State has played Akron (1-5), Syracuse 2-4, and a clearly psychotic and derailed Illinois squad (1-5). I just think Michigan enters this game with a much better idea of how good and bad they really are.

This is probably going to be Darryl Clark’s and Evan Royster’s last game against Michigan this Saturday. Clark is like 35 years old or something, and graduates this fall, while Royster is so going to get drafted. Nobody knows how good the PSU offensive line really is. In my view, it’ll probably play on a scale somewhere between the Iowa and Minnesota performances, which means unimpressive by PSU standards, but holy sh&t definitely bad news for Michigan’s defense. Then again, semi-competent offensive line play by opponents usually does spell out the words “bad news” for Michigan’s defense. Or maybe it spells out the word “Touchdown!”.
I forget.

Despite minor improvements by Michigan’s defense over the last two games, I don’t believe there’s much to prevent Darryl Clark from throwing for over 300 yards and 2 TDs in this game. Royster should have a decent game as well with over 100 yards on the ground and 1 TD at least.

Offensively, I’m convinced that Michigan is going to have good success against the Nittany Lions on the ground, despite a good PSU DL and LB corps. Michigan should easily surpass Iowa’s 21 points scored. But here’s the problem for Michigan: The defense can’t stop big plays from happening (ever), and the passing game has been floundering. Tate Forcier says he’s 100%. I’m not buying it. I expect to see plenty of miscues, hanging on to the ball way to long, sacks, and possibly an interception or two. The key question for this game boils down to how frequently Tate Forcier manages to connect on passes +10 yards downfield with his main receivers Odoms, Mathews, Koger and Hemingway. I recommend avoiding AJ Wallace.

Past Michigan performance in this category of downfield passing instructs us to ignore the possibility entirely. But if these downfield connections do occur Saturday, then I think Penn State is in trouble on many levels, because such success won’t just open up a can of other things that could destroy PSU. It probably would open up an oil drum full of things that could destroy PSU. If there’s no downfield passing game for Michigan on Saturday, then the Wolverines will be relegated to a more simplistic attack, and have serious problems either keeping up or separating from PSU (if UM has the lead).

This then leads us to questions about new offensive plays or trick plays for Michigan. Now I’m sure Rich Rodriguez, Calvin Magee and Greg Robinson have a number of cool plays they’d just love to throw at Old Man Paterno on Saturday. They might even catch PSU by surprise on one or two of them. But will it create enough confusion and delay for other things to really open up offensively or defensively for Michigan? If there’s a time for Michigan to demonstrate new weaponry, it would be Saturday.

I think we can expect PSU and Michigan offenses to march up and down the field on each other and the game with relative impunity as the clock quickly approaches 00:00. Michigan really doesn’t play Big Ten football games any other way. Just to make us all feel at-home about this concept of winning and losing football games by a butthair, Michigan fans can also fully expect ABC’s Brent Musberger to relentlessly spout off groan-worthy anecdotes of the glorious Big Ten upsets of yesteryear, JoePa, Mario Manningham, yaddayadda.

After about three hours of predictably horrid defense against big Penn State offensive plays, the score will somehow remain very close, like Michigan 27, Penn State 28, with precious few seconds left to play on the clock.

Then, in the end, on to that “Field of Gladiators!!!” described by Mr. Overdidit (Musberger), a 6 foot, 5 inch, 212 lbs senior field goal kicker trots on to the field for Michigan.

Olesnavage 3, Lions 0.

WCA Prediction: Michigan 30, Penn State 28

We Will Not Score Before It’s Time

"Just like we talked about at halftime, Tate!"

"Right coach. No more field goals. Only touchdowns"

The Michigan Wolverines football team in 2009 has so far proven to be a 1st and 4th quarter football team offensively. Here are Michigan’s points scored by game quarter so far this season*:

UM Offense '09

Game Quarter1st Qtr2nd Qtr3rd Qtr4th QtrtOTTotal
% of Total35%22%14%29%0%100%

This is actually kind of a good thing because it shows that Michigan typically starts out football games pretty strong, which can boost the confidence of the entire team.

The Wolverine defense has been spectacular in the 3rd quarter of football games this year while being consistently awful in the 2nd and 4th quarter. Below we see UM opponent points scored by game quarter*:

UM Defense '09

Game Quarter1st Qtr2nd Qtr3rd Qtr4th QtrtOTTotal
% of Total24%37%6%29%4%100%

On average Michigan is being significantly outscored in the 2nd quarter of games by their opponents.

Since the defense tends to “open up the floodgates” in the 2nd quarter (37% of opponent points scored), they probably garner the greatest attention by the UM coaching staff at halftime (Greg Robinson, Rich Rodriguez, etc.). What I'm imagining here is an appropriate level of woodshed conversation or ass-chewing followed by a team rally around the whiteboard.

If this is happening, and we look at the above numbers, we might be tempted to ask this question:

If UM opponents are scoring 61% of all of their points in the 1st half, then why wait until half-time for the talking to?

Well, whatever is being "changed" or said at half-time probably can’t be done before kickoff because the coaching staff doesn't know 100% what kind of crap the opponents are going to pull and what tactical adjustments or reversals need to take place. I guess we should just sit back and be grateful that whatever “it” is, is taking place at half-time in the Michigan locker room. I mean, feast your eyes on that 3rd quarter opponent scoring will you. Michigan has given up 9 points all year long in the 3rd quarter.

Come to think of it, judging from the team’s 3rd quarter performance, the Michigan staff might also wish to light a torch under the hineys of the Wolverine offensive players at halftime as well.

If there's a time for Rodriguez and Magee to break out the Howitzers offensively, it'd definitely be the 3rd quarter, not the 4th. This would certainly ease the pressure off of an already shaky defensive situation. Doing so would probably keep team confidence higher and for a longer duration, not to mention allow Michigan football fans to regrow their fingernails some.

* = The Delaware State numbers are removed above, because from a statistical point of view due to the low strength of the opponent, the numbers are not very indicative.

Michigan AD Bill Martin to Retire

An interesting development here. Bill Martin will retire September 4, 2010.

What's going on?

Running with the Devil

At WVU the tailbacks would sometimes line up 1 yard back to the right or left of the quarterback in the shotgun. Sometimes they're lined up parallel side-by-side with the quarterback. It looks to me like WVU would run or throw out of such positions.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

When Carcajous Attack Hornets!

Preview: Michigan vs. Delaware State, October 17, 2009 – Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Michigan

When You Crave Irrational Exuberance On A Level That Only Brett Musberger Can Deliver:

“We’re here LIIIIIIIVE in the Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan in front of what may not be 100,000+ fans in the stands here for the first time since 1975!! We’ll soon see! This will be the first meeting ever between these two schools on the gridiron. Delaware State is only the second FBS opponent to play Michigan in this great stadium. The last FBS team to come in here, you might ask? That was Appalachian State, and they shocked a 5th ranked Michigan team 34-32 back in 2007 during Lloyd Carr’s final season here…and what a great game that was!!! Well, although Michigan is 4-2 now and coming off two straight road defeats against likes of Michigan State and Iowa, the probability of a third straight defeat of Michigan appears to be very remote indeed. Delaware State is 1-3 and ranked 7th in the 9 team Mid-Eastern Athletic conference. The Hornets lone win came on the road against a decent Hampton team (3-2) by a score of 21-6. Delaware State has some talented players, but they’re going to have to fight and claw with every fiber of their being just to avoid getting pulverized by a Michigan football team that is favored to win by something like 5 touchdowns today!”

This football game is important for Michigan for the following reasons:

1. This is essentially a scrimmage game for Michigan, but it is not meaningless. A win over the Hornets places Michigan at 5-2, just one victory away from a .500 season and almost certain bowl eligibility.

2. The DSU game should allow Michigan to experiment with some new plays and sets offensively and defensively. It should also provide Michigan’s 2nd and 3rd string players with ample playing time in the 3rd and 4th quarter.

3. From an experience, talent and player rating standpoint, Delaware State really has no business sharing the same field with Michigan. Though Michigan is 0-1 versus FBS football teams in the modern era, Delaware State is not a national champsion ship caliber team like Appalachian State was. The Hornets would need to play a perfect game themselves and then at the same time call upon an avalanche of help from the Wolverines to pull off an unthinkable road upset.

4. Michigan should get to rep and then rest it’s starters in this game. The Wolverines can then sit back and watch the other Big Ten teams bash each other over the head with a shovel this weekend.

Three Great Reasons to Wipe That Ridiculous Smile Off Of Your Face:

1. Hornets Quarterback Anthony Glaud (if healthy)

Delaware State Quarterback Anthony Glaud

In 2008 Delaware State had a spectacularly-named senior quarterback, Vashon Winton, who was almost single-handedly responsible for 99% of the Hornets’ offense, throwing for 1,321 yards and 8 TDs, and rushing for 486 yards, including 10 rushing TDs on his own. When Winton graduated, the full weight of responsibility guiding DSU to move the ball in 2009 shifted over to junior quarterback Anthony Glaud. Glaud will be the first truly mobile quarterback that the Michigan defense will face this year. While Glaud is certainly not Armanti Edwards, his moves and escape skills make him a dangerous and rather essential weapon for Delaware State’s offense. After only 4 games Glaud’s passing exploits include connecting on 65 of 113 throws (58%) for 578 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. His rushing stats are no where near Vashon Winton’s. Glaud averages only 2.3 yards per carry and has scored only 2 rushing touchdowns. Glaud’s forte is throwing more than running, which has lead to problems. He’s already been sacked 5 times for -28 yards this fall. Unfortunately, word around town today (Thursday) is that Glaud is hurt and may not be 100% going into this game with Michigan. His backup is Nick Elko who first played last week in the loss to Bethune-Cookman. Elko was 5 of 15 for 39 yards and 1 INT.

2.) Delaware State’s Awesomely-Named Wide Receivers and Running Backs
I don’t know, man. I just like these guys because they all seem to have really cool names like: Darius Jackson, Larrone Moore, Zacharri Charles and Eric Jones. Each of these DSU wide receiver dudes has over 10 catches this fall, but only 1 has caught a touchdown pass: Zacharri Charles. OK, so what’s the big deal? Isn’t this the part where we all yawn, shake our heads, grab a beer and turn the channel to the OU-Texas or USC-Notre Stain game instead? Hell no! What I’m trying point out here is that Delaware State offensively went from a run-oriented, QB centric team to a pass-first QB centric team this year with Anthony Glaud. DSU definitely spreads the ball around to different playmakers on offense. These four receivers are averaging 7.5 yards per catch and have contributed 517 yards of DSU’s total offense so far. These receivers ARE Delaware State’s offense!

Tailback Tahree McQueen, 5-10, 190+ pounds of Hornet Sting

DSU’s running backs - one of them possessing perhaps the coolest name of all -Tahree McQueen, and Jason Randle, are the Hornets’ leading rushers. However, they’ve only contributed 328 rushing yards and 1 touchdown after 4 games. McQueen is small but packs a punch at 5-10, 194 lbs. and a 4.8 yards per carry rushing average. His accomplice, Jason Randle, is the Hornets’ fullback. Randle is of similar stature to McQueen, and wears the unlucky No. 13 on his back. It’s unlucky for opponents as Randle has literally dragged tacklers along for 152 yards this fall, at a 4.1 yard per carry clip and scoring 1 of DSU’s 4 total rushing touchdowns this year.

3.) DT Fabian Dunn, DT Tyron Hurst and LB Mike Gable
I’m not saying these guys will be busy on Saturday. In fact, if they are busy in any way shape or form, then I’m sorry, but Michigan has some serious issues to work out before facing Penn State’s defensive line next week. If this game pans out as it should, then the only Delaware State players making tackles at all should be the cornerbacks and free safeties. In some ways, this has already been the case for DSU this season as two defensive backs, Avery Grant (25 tackles, 3 TFL) and Jerome Strums (23 tackles) are ranked pretty high on the tackle action already. The reason I mention the DT’s Dunn and Hurst is because both have done well to get backfield penetration against spread offense opponents this fall and both have registered 2 sacks so far.

Defensive Tackle Tyron Hurst

The best defensive player for DSU, however, is senior linebacker Mike Gable who seems to be omnipresent on the football pitch with 30 tackles, 2 TFL and 1 sack. If Michigan’s offensive line gets to the second level frequently versus DSU, particularly to Mr. Gable, then it will be “off to the races” on a regular basis. While the DSU offense has struggled to put points on the board all year, the Hornets’ defense has done a relatively good job against sub-par FBS opponents in scoring defense, allowing only 16 points per game.

Mike Gable says: "Have your epinephrine at the ready."

When Carcajous Attack! On Defense:
Michigan’s secondary gave up 601 yards passing in the last two games against largely passing offenses of MSU and Iowa. Michigan’s defense also gave up about 25 points in each game on average (which is sort of par for Michigan this season). In terms of rushing defense, Michigan had its best performance since the Western Michigan game, allowing Iowa only 63 yards rushing. Most interesting perhaps was Michigan’s improved ability to apply pressure on the quarterback and get sacks (2) against what many believe was the best offensive line in the Big Ten and the entire Midwest last Saturday. Something appears to be churning on defense for Michigan. I’m not sure what the results are going to be in the end, but with Woolfolk and Warren now at corner, more man and press coverage should yield some better results for the Wolverines. Michigan’s horrendous safety and linebacker play observed thus far this season should take a siesta break this weekend at least to some degree.

Michigan Cornerback Donovan Warren

Michigan’s talent and speed advantage over DSU is so great, it will be disappointing if the 2nd and 3rd string Wolverine defensive lineman are not getting significant pressure on Glaud and stuffing the Hornets’ rushing attack convincingly. Delaware State has repeatedly struggled to move the ball, and has shown a great deal of difficulty getting into scoring position. However, I for one will not be surprised one iota if two things happen:

1.)Anthony Glaud somehow has a remarkable day throwing the ball against Michigan's LBs and secondary on Saturday.

2.) MSU quarterback Kirk Cousins rushed for 11 ypc and 75 yards, and so does Anthony Glaud.

The Michigan defensive ends and linebackers will be challenged to contain Glaud. The Wolverines defense should get some nice preparation work in for Penn State's mobile quarterback Darryl Clark next week.

When Carcajous Attack! On Offense:
With the exception of David Molk’s leg injury and Tate Forcier’s mild concussion, Michigan is going to be pretty much at full-strength on Saturday. This means tailbacks Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown likely return to the lineup. There will be frequent trucking over hapless defensive backs, not to mention ridiculously long touchdown runs. I don’t mean to be flippant or disrespectful of the DSU football team. I’ve already mentioned above that they do have some play-makers on defense. But Michigan’s worst opponent this year by far this fall was Eastern Michigan, and the Wolverines won that game handily 45-17. Delaware State would call themselves fortunate to lose by such a margin this Saturday.

Minor Trucking Co.
The Last Time:
There never was a meeting between these two schools before and I doubt there ever will be again. Michigan fans should enjoy the offensive fireworks of Brandon Minor, Carlos Brown, and Denard “Shoelace” Robinson in this one and then stick around at half-time to watch two amazing marching bands.

What to Expect
Michigan is going to score over 40 points in this game, but not much over 50. We’ll see a lot of great plays by Brandon Minor, Carlos Brown, Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson, as well as the Michigan defense (sacks, INTs), etc. as things might get way out of hand by the third quarter. We should expect some new plays and greater emphasis on the downfield passing game. In this game Greg Mathews, Junior Hemingway and Martavious Odoms should give nice performances. Mathews and Hemingway have been very quiet over the last 5 games. That needs to change not only in this game, but in preparation for bigger contests in the coming weeks.

By the 3rd quarter the Michigan scrubs will get significant playing time and things should get slightly more interesting.

For those of you who said they never want to see Nick Sheridan take another snap from center at Michigan ever again, well….I’m sorry.

WCA Prediction: Michigan 48, Delaware State 3

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Back to the Future: Second half of Rodiguez’s Year 2 Finish at West Virginia

Rich Rodriguez’s second Michigan Wolverines football team is currently 4-2 in 2009. Michigan has lost two consecutive conference road games against Michigan State and Iowa by 6 and 2 points respectively. There are now six games remaining on the Michigan schedule including some tough contests against Penn State, at Wisconsin and Ohio State.

How did this compare with Rich Rodriguez’s second year of “magical improvement” at West Virginia in 2002? How did the Mountaineers finish?

Interestingly during Rich Rodriguez’s second year at West Virginia in 2002, the Mountaineers also started 4-2. This included 3 decisive wins, 1 close win and 2 decisive losses:

Tennessee-Chattanooga (decisive win by 49 points)

East Carolina (decisive win by 20 points)

Rutgers (decisive win by 40 points)

Cincinatti (close win by 3 points)

Wisconsin (decisive loss by 17 points)

Maryland (decisive loss by 31 points)

Coming off a disasterous 3-8 campaign in 2001, with a 4-2 record at midpoint of the 2002 season Mountaineer fans probably didn’t know what kind of team they had on their hands. With 6 games left in the regular season, Rodriguez’s Mountaineers would face three ranked foes: No. 1 ranked Miami (FL), at No. 13 Virginia Tech, and at No. 24 Pitt. West Virginia proceeded to go 5-1 over these last 6 games with 3 decisive wins, 2 close wins and 1 decisive loss:

Syracuse (decisive win by 27 pts)

Temple (decisive win by 26 pts)

Boston College (decisive win by 10 pts)

Virginia Tech (close win by 3 pts)

Pitt (close win by 7 pts)

Miami (FL) (decisive loss by 17 points)

This was how a 4-2 team finished 9-3 and landed in a Dec 28th bowl (Continental Tire Bowl). Rodriguez's 2002 Mountaineer team lost that game by 26 points to Virginia 22-48.

With Michigan’s remaining schedule, it might be tempting for Michigan fans to make the following equivalencies:

2009 Delaware State (W) = 2002 Syracuse

2009 Penn State (W) = 2002 Pitt

2009 Illinois (W) = 2002 Temple

2009 Purdue (W) = 2002 Boston College

2009 Wisconsin (L) = 2002 Miami (FL)

2009 Ohio State (W) = 2002 Virginia Tech

9-3. Wouldn’t that be something?

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Michigan Difference - Part 2: Taking Inventory After Game 6

I wanted to do a post-game Iowa post-game write up, but I’m entering crunch time for a series key projects this week. More than this I'm still recovering from a serious bout of post-game depression and a shameful drunken stupor only 24 hours ago. Sean over at Michigan SportCenter blog does an excellent, quarter-by-quarter summary of Saturday night’s events in Iowa City. Also, Dave over at Maize N Brew offers a great run-through of the game as well. Highly recommended reading. Man, does Iowa owe Michigan a team-signed “Thank You!” card for all of those turnovers (5) and coverage mistakes, or what?

Well, OK. So the 2009 Michigan football season is now half-baked. If you had told me back in August that the Michigan Wolverines football team would be 4-2 after 6 football games, I would have said that you too were “baked”. Like a space cake. Yeah, probably one of those hashish-laden donuts or something.

Anyway, here we are. Four and freaking two! Woo-hoo!

Thanks to this strong start, and with teams like Delaware State (1-3), Penn State (5-1), at Illinois (1-4), Purdue (1-5), at Wisconsin (5-1) and Ohio State (5-1) on the cold fall horizon, Michigan might very well secure bowl eligibility by or before the November 7th contest against Purdue, if all goes well. An upset by Michigan over one of the three conference leaders (Wisconsin, Ohio State and Penn State) certainly isn’t out of the question either.

Taking another look at Michigan’s numbers in 2009 compared to 2008 after 6 games played, this is what we know:

The Michigan Difference - First 6 Games

Rushing Yds1229784445
Passing Yds102796562
Yards Per Point11.6117.35-5.74
Fumbles Lost 511-6
Avg Time of Poss.26:44:1026:27:5016 min 20 sec

Offensively After 6 Games
  1. Michigan has scored 85 more points than 2008, and is scoring almost 14 points more per game (2 TDs more) this year: 33 points per game in 2009 vs. 18.8 points per game at this point in 2008.
  2. Offense has rushed for 445 more yards and passed 62 more yards than during same six game time frame in 2008.
  3. Wolverines are averaging 85 more yards per game than 2008.
  4. Michigan has run 20 more plays than it did during the first 6 games of 2008.
  5. Offense is now gaining 1.1 more yards for every play it runs than it did during the same 6 game time frame in 2008.
  6. Michigan is scoring .20 more points per play that it runs than in 2008.
  7. Michigan’s offense is far more effective in 2009 than 2008 in that it must travel less distance on the field in order to score points: 5.74 yards less for every point scored, to be exact.
  8. It goes without saying that fewer team turnovers makes winning games easier and losing far less likely. Michigan has 8 fewer turnovers in 2009 that it did over the same number of games in 2008.
  9. Though time of possession is quickly becoming a less relevant statistic in the modern game of college football (if don’t believe me, ask Wisconsin, which had the ball over 42 minutes against Ohio State last weekend and still lost. By 18!), Michigan is holding on to the ball far longer than 2008: 16 minutes and 20 seconds more over the same number of games in 2008. Not a surprise considering better offensive effectiveness, fewer turnovers, and rather poor defensive performance.
The Michigan Difference - First 6 Games

Pts Allowed147149-2
Yards Per Point19.3119.120.19
Fumbles Recovered48-4
Avg Time of Poss.33:15:5033:32:10-16 min 20 sec

Defensively After 6 Games

  1. Michigan’s defense is only nominally better against the score in 2009. They’ve given up only 2 fewer total points than at this point in 2008, and average giving up about 25 points per game.
  2. Michigan’s defense is giving up 40 more yards per game than this point in 2008.
  3. Michigan opponents are enjoying 2.8 more plays per game and therefore more opportunities to gain first downs and score points. This means allowing 17 more plays over the same time frame in 2008.
  4. Michigan is giving up about one half yard more per play than 2008.
  5. Michigan remains more stingy against the score than in 2008, allowing .03 of a point less than same time period of 2008.
  6. Michigan is about the same as 2008 in yard per point category, forcing opponents to travel about 19 yards for every point they score.
  7. In the turnover category, it’s a wash. Michigan’s defense has 4 more interceptions than at this point last year, but it also has 4 fewer fumble recoveries. The delta at this stage on defense forcing turnovers is zero.
  8. Opponent average time of possession is decreased by 16 minutes and 20 seconds per game in 2009.
And That All Means What Exactly?
It means that at mid-season the 2009 Michigan Wolverines football team are going to continue playing football games on the edge, losing games by the width of a butthair one weekend, while vanquishing foes by the same micronic measure the next.

Nobody is safe. This Michigan football team simply cannot be trusted.

Sure, they'll give up tons of yards through the air and even on the ground at times. They even give up quite a few points per game. When the Wolverine defense isn't handing out free huge big plays on third-and-long to lull you into a sense of false security, then they're actually holding opponents to field goals. What's really different this year is that the offense can score from anywhere and at anytime on the football field and there are 9 to 10 different guys who are more than vaguely familiar with the endzone. The special teams are more or less rock solid except for punt returns, and the Wolverines have two quarterbacks that can inflict major property damage running or passing. We'll continue to see Michigan games going down to the wire (4 of the last 6 certainly did). Nobody celebrate until the clock says "00:00".

Michigan has two decisive wins (WMU by 24, EMU by 28), two close wins (ND by 4, Indiana by 3), two very close losses (MSU by 6 in OT, Iowa by 2), and no decisive (or bad) losses.

The “no bad losses” part is important (and not a little bit unexpected) when we consider that Michigan was 3-9 last year with their only wins coming against 7-6 Wisconsin (bowl team), 2-10 Miami and 7-6 Minnesota (bowl team). Five of Michigan’s 9 defeats last year were by 14 points or more. In 2009 Michigan is outscoring opponents by about an average 8 point margin per game.

Offensively speaking, Michigan’s offense has regressed since the Eastern Michigan game in both points scored, yards gained and most notably in 3rd down success rate. Such statistics do not bode well for the Wolverines in the more competitive games down the road vs. Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State where frequent 3-and-outs means picking up the Michigan defense with a Dust Buster at the end of the game.

Defensively speaking, Michigan has struggled to stop just about every opponent from gaining tons and tons of yards. Michigan opponents can pretty much decide for themselves how they want to move the ball on Michigan and end up with 400+ yards total offense by game end. Only Illinois’s defense is more pathetic right now in total rushing and passing yards surrendered per game. This is very worrying at midpoint of the season considering Michigan’s most prolific offensive opponents to date have been Notre Dame and Michigan State. Actually, and it sounds really sort of strange to say this but, the best offensive team Michigan plays next might very well be – of all teams - Purdue. Against the score Michigan’s defense leaves a lot to be desired: 7th in the league, surrendering 24.5 points per game.

Things to Look for Games 7 through 12

1. New offensive plays
If there’s an opportunity, I recommend WCA visitors go and check some of the video highlights from WVU football seasons between 2002 and 2007. Check some of the formations utilized (particularly two-back sets), and some of the fakes run by Pat White. It’s not only impressive to watch, but it’ll make you salivate about Michigan future with Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson. I submit to you that after 6 games Michigan is no where near having installed Rich Rodriguez’s playbook.

Maybe 30-40% max. There’s a lot more to install. Most of this is due to having two true freshman at quarterback who must learn and perfect the functional pieces first and run them at full-speed with 100% confident of position and timing. That takes time to achieve. We did see some new plays instituted in the Iowa game including some speed option pitchouts by the quarterback to a trailing tailback that gained good yardage every time. I think we can expect to witness more full-fledged triple option plays, slot option pitch plays, and counter run plays involving slot backs.

More INTs and Improved Defensive Press Coverage on the Edges
The truth is, there are far less talented secondaries in the Big Ten than Michigan’s right now. That’s right. This is not to say that Michigan has a “diamond-in-the-rough” situation right now in the defensive backfield. Michigan has massive deficits in speed and talent here which must be shored up with better recruiting. However, Donovan Warren and Troy Woolfolk are fine cornerbacks and truly do belong opposite each other at that position. As for the safety positions, well, every man and his dog knew it was going to be a long season with plenty of “you’ll-gouge-your-eyes-out-kid!” 3rd-and-forever conversions along with a healthy helping of WTF wide open downfield flies for six.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Michael Williams is a only sophomore who was on special teams most of last year. He can hit like UCLA’s Don Rogers at times, but he’s still learning his role and coverages. He’s not very fast, but should improve his coverage skills with on the job training. The other safety, Jordan Kovacs*, has been freaking everywhere on the playing field this fall. If he can put some meat on his bones and learn to stop making ridiculously weak arm tackles at times, then I really like where this kid’s career may be heading at Michigan. I swear, if Kovacs wraps his arms every time when tackling, there’d be a buckeload more TFL for the Wolverines this year.

(Sidebar *: Frankly, I don’t give a goddamn if Jordan Kovacs (or anyone else) is a walk-on or not. I’ve read a number of dismissive comments from Michigan fans about Kovacs on other blogs coming from Thurston Howell III-types suggesting the words “Michigan walk-ons” comprise of an oxymoron, equal to something along the lines of undesirable Michigan State enrollees, or disease-ridden filth. I say bullshit, Skippy, Buffy, or whatever your yacht-driving, down-in-front whining, fondue-eating parents call you. Kovacs is physical. He’s smart, and he just happens to be leading the damn team in tackles for the last 4 football games. He’s not fast, yet the kid seems to be on every freaking tackle. He’ll earn a scholarship from Rodriguez this season and a degree from Michigan. I don’t get it. What’s not to like?)

More Downfield Passing Yards to the Outside Receivers
Even Rodriguez pointed to this in today’s press conference. Greg Mathews and JR Hemingway have been completely underutilized this year, and that is a shame. I’m sure they’re getting open more often, but you can only connect so many times with young kids operating at quarterback trying to make all their reads in a matter of nanoseconds and not royally screw stuff up. I expect quarterbacks coach Rod Smith to show greater emphasis on this in coming weeks as Michigan displays more of it’s playbook, and while Forcier and Robinson improve the speed and progression of their reads.

Improved Rushing Numbers
Once Dave Molk returns at center for the Illinois game (my best guess), watch out for greater nastiness along the Michigan front wall. For the next two weeks, however, I expect more regression in the running game and sub-par performance (i.e. less than 200 yards rushing per game).

In 2002, West Virginia rushed for 38 touchdowns. Thirty-freaking-eight, people! And seventeen of those mo-fo’s were delivered personally via express service from then starting Mountaineer tailback Avon Cobourne who must have possessed an X-Men-like force-field or something to ward off injuries that year. Unlike “Wolverine”, Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown are not mutants. They do not have an adamantium exoskeleton and does not possess any other such wizardry. Come to think of it, if Minor had his own X-Men role-playing card, it would no doubt state “Not A Mutant, Plus 100 for Speed, Plus 2,000 for Battle Damage-Wield, and Minus 1,000 for Longevity”

Brandon Minor: "Well, I do run as though my exoskeleton is made of admantium."

Yet, you’ll find no joy convincing Big Ten opponents that both aren’t great running backs for Michigan. Unfortunately neither Minor nor Brown has been “reliably durable” during their entire Michigan careers. Not a knock on them. It’s just the way it goes sometimes. I do expect Rodriguez to try and make hay while the sun shines and as long as these two fine players occupy the Wolverine roster. They’ll be used as much as possible. Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown in a two back set? Alright…but just this once!!

Why I Bought An Entire Crate of Pepto-Bismol and Keep An Open Bottle on Ice
Injuries. Christ. This is something I've worried about a lot this year more than any other. Ever. The Big Ten slate only gets tougher. The weather gets colder and the surfaces get more slippery. We’ve seen a troubling regression offensively with center David Molk out. When he returns, it will make a difference. When Brandon Minor is healthy, Michigan plays better and opponents get trucked. But not much else has changed about this Michigan team on the injury front. Thankfully there have been few injuries on the defensive side of the ball. If there ever are injuries at linebacker or the defensive secondary over the remaining 6 games, then fly away little sparrows. Fly far away.