Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Elsewhere in the B1G: No. 21 Wisconsin 80, UW-Platteville 51

File photo (Fouad Egbaria)

The Wolverines opened up their season against a vastly overmatched Concordia squad last night, eventually leaving the floor with a 117-44 victory. Although much of the preseason focus has been on the Wolverines and Spartans this season, this is the Big Ten; several other teams will be in the mix for title contention this season.

As usual, one of those teams will be the Badgers, who began their season tonight against UW-Platteville in the Kohl Center for an exhibition tune-up before taking on St. John's next Friday in Sioux Falls.

Bo Ryan is faced with the task of replacing multiple key pieces seemingly every year, and yet the Badgers always seem to turn out all right. The 2012-13 UW squad went from a mediocre 6-4 start to a 4-seed (and a first round bye). This season, the Badgers have to replace Jared Berggren, Mike Brusewitz and Ryan Evans in the frontcourt.

However, UW returns rising star Sam Dekker, Ben Brust and Traevon Jackson at the point, not to mention Josh Gasser from injury.

Dekker, Gasser, Jackson, Brust and Frank Kaminsky got the start for the Badgers tonight; given the aforementioned departures, the Badgers will need big minutes from Kaminsky this season. In any case, this will certainly be a backcourt-oriented squad this season.

Due to technical difficulties, I missed the first 4:30 or so. Platteville gained a 12-11 lead early.

RS Jr. Duje Dukan came in for Dekker at the first break. Naturally, Jackson pushed it in transition and hit Dukan in the corner, who nailed the open trey. I say "naturally" because Dukan is, of course, 6'9'', continuing the UW tradition of big guy three-point shooters.

The 6'7'' freshman forward Nigel Hayes also entered the game early; he took a bad jumper from the left side and then failed to convert on a second chance opportunity around the rim. The same competition caveats brought up re: Michigan's exhibition yesterday apply here; it's difficult to tell what to expect from certain guys after a game like this. With that said, given the lack of much proven frontcourt production, the Badgers will have to rely on the freshman Hayes and fellow freshman (and fellow Ohioan) Vitto Brown.

As far as backcourt reserves go, freshman Bronson Koenig is an interesting prospect. At 6'3'' 190 pounds, the freshman offers up some solid size at the guard spot. Also at the guard spot, 6'3'' freshman Jordan Hill joins the fray.

Platteville hung tough for about the first 10 minutes, but after Hayes reeled in a rebound off a missed Kaminsky three and put it in, the Badgers boasted a 29-18 lead.

Given the guard-heavy nature of this squad, some wondered if this iteration of UW basketball would like to push the pace more than it has in the past. The commentators mentioned this, but even though this was just an exhibition, the Badgers found quite a bit of success in transition, running the floor with nice spacing and hitting the open man at the right time.

Now, I don't expect the Badgers to play like Louisville or anything this Big Ten season, but don't be surprised if they do attempt to get some mine some easy buckets in transition.

Dukan had a bit of a rough sequence in which he was slow to help after Platteville executed a nice backdoor pass; on the ensuing offensive possession, Dukan threw up a rough shot on the block. It seemed like he expected a foul, but there didn't seem to be much contact.

The Badgers went into the half up just 37-30. UW's three-point shot would not fall in the first 20 minutes, as the Badgers shot just 1-for-11 from beyond the arc, including a pair of misses at the end of the half when Platteville switched to a zone.

Wisconsin shot just 33% as a team last season, good for 7th in the Big Ten and 225th nationally, so it's not as if they shot the three well last season either. Gasser shot a tremendous 45% from three back in 2011-12, and Brust has shot exactly 38.9% each of the last two seasons. If those two can fill it up from downtown, whatever contributions the Badgers can get from bigs like Kaminsky and Dukan will be gravy.

As with yesterday's post, I'll skip the second half narrative and jump to miscellaneous observations via bullet.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Exhibition No. 1: No. 9 Michigan 117, Concordia 44

NB: Just like last season and the season before, most of my basketball writings will go up at Maize n Brew. With that said, I'll still be putting some stuff up here, starting, well, tonight. 
With Mitch McGary on the bench in street clothes and the Wolverines taking on Concordia, an NAIA squad, in an exhibition contest, the stakes were about as depressed as Eeyore on a bad day.

Then again, it is a sign of the times that someone such as myself, who has always held college football aloft as the apex of amateur athletics, is legitimately excited about such a matchup. The game itself might not have meant anything, but it does mark the beginning of the next installment of the John Beilein era. On the heels of finished runner-up in 2012-13, the Wolverines have several questions to answer before the real question--Can they do it again?--can be addressed in earnest.

The Final Four run has etched itself in the minds of Michigan fans everywhere; once the afterglow of that campaign started to fade, the logical array of questions bubbled to the surface. No Trey Burke? Tim Hardaway Jr.? What about Derrick Walton? Can Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson III and Caris LeVert take the next step? Can Spike Albrecht run the show full-time? 

And so on. Although the final outcome of these sorts of games is generally immaterial, it is worth watching just to see how various lineup combinations play together, whether the ball is ultimately being scored or not.

Michigan began with a starting five of Albrecht, Robinson III, Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford and Nik Stauskas. At the 16:27 mark, Walton, Max Bielfeldt and LeVert subbed in (Stauskas and Robinson remained in).

It wasn't a particularly great start for Albrecht; he missed an open layup in transition and also turned it over on another possession in which Michigan mostly stood around. He did take a charge down on the block before being subbed out.

Elsewhere, Stauskas started things off with a familiar sight: him driving hard to the rim and going to the line after not quite being able to throw it down. Upon hitting his patented corner three, Stauskas had scored seven of Michigan's first nine points.

Abotu four minutes into Walton's shift, Concordia brought a little full-court pressure. Walton took the ball up the right side, saw two defenders beginning to collapse on him, and left his feet to lob a doomed pass well past No. 21 Zak Irvin. In case you needed reminding, Walton is a true freshman, and he will likely make those sorts of mistakes early on in the season.

Stauskas got into the double-digits in scoring after nailing his second trey of the game, executing a seamless shot fake and one dribble left into an effortless stroke from the the left wing. Level of competition caveats aside, there probably shouldn't be any concerns about the added muscle affecting Stauskas's shot.

Despite not playing a perfectly clean game, the Wolverines jumped out to a 30-9 lead just about 12 minutes into the game, partially aided by nine Concordia turnovers. Stauskas once again put the ball on the floor, taking it from the corner and ripping through challenging defenders into an uncontested layup.

For the sake of history, let it be known that Walton tallied his first points with about 7:12 to go in the half. The freshman buried a three from the left wing, then added two more buckets in the span of about 30 seconds. Shortly thereafter, Walton lasered a no-look pass to a wide open Jordan Morgan under the rim for an easy two and dropped another easy dime to LeVert in transition. After committing a careless turnover earlier, Walton had clearly picked up some confidence during this later stretch in the first half.

Michigan went into the half up 60-19, with an eFG% of 89%. Five Wolverines tallied seven or more points in the first half. Stauskas and LeVert led the way with 12 points apiece. Not that this means anything at all, but Michigan scored at a clip of 1.71 points per possession in the first half (Concordia was at 0.56 PPP).

Also of note, late in the half Beilein rolled out a lineup of LeVert-Stauskas-Morgan-Irvin-GRIII, with LeVert running the point. There have been rumblings about the potential for LeVert to run the show some this season, so perhaps that is the lineup we'll see when he does.

Miscellaneous Minutiae, 10/29/13

Well, here we are: Michigan State week. Hopefully the Wolverines got their rest and ate their Wheaties during the open week, because a win this weekend will take nothing less than their best effort:

  • This is old news as if this posting, but tight end A.J. Williams has been suspended for this Saturday's game. Legal ramifications aside, I'm honestly not too sure how big of a loss this is for the Michigan offense. As a blocking tight end, Williams hasn't exactly been a great blocker, and not having Williams at Borges's disposal might curb the desire to run power into the teeth of the Spartan front seven. In any case, Williams's absence means you'll see a lot more Jake Butt and Jordan Paskorz. 
  • Minnesota's 35-24 victory over Nebraska this past Saturday was as big of a win as the program has seen in some time. With that said, the Gophers head to Bloomington this weekend, where they'll have to contend with a truly fearsome Hoosier offense. Defense and David Cobb have been enough to carry Minnesota to victory the past two weeks; they'll likely need to make a few more plays through the air if they're going to keep up with Kevin Wilson's offense. 
  • Speaking of the Hoosiers, Indiana defensive coordinator Doug Mallory (brother of Michigan secondary coach Curt Mallory) is tuning out the criticism re: his defense's performance. Also at the same link, Tre Roberson might get the start this weekend over Nate Sudfeld. 
  • Michigan basketball opens up its exhibition season against Concordia tonight (7 ET). Perhaps it is a sign of the times that I am looking forward to watching this and am even devoting an iota of attention to it during a week leading up to Michigan-Michigan State on the gridiron. Regardless, the only thing worth paying much attention to is the various lineups John Beilein will trot out. If you get the chance to watch, Beilein hopes that you'll get to see a lot of the freshmen out there tonight. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Miscellaneous Minutiae, 10/22/13

Hey, would you look at that, we're just one week away from the start of Michigan basketball. Ah, I remember that Final Four run as if it were yesterday.

  • Bucky's 5th Quarter talks about Adam Miller, one of the few positives for the Badgers hockey team this past weekend out east. 
  • Joel Stave's accuracy continues to be an issue; he badly underthrew a wide open Jared Abbrederis deep on Saturday for what would have been a touchdown. To be fair, it sounded like there was a pretty stiff wind in Memorial Stadium. Also at that link, Chris Borland should be ready to go for UW's next game against Iowa (the Badgers are off this week). 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Shameless Self-Promotion Time: Indiana

Little late linking this today, but my recap of the Indiana shootout--note to self: if I ever start an indie country band, call it "The Indiana Shootout"--went up at Maize n Brew this morning.

Overall, the tackling was a concern but I'm not sure the defensive issues in this one should be anything to seriously worry about the rest of the way. Indiana will continue to be a special case in this way as long as Kevin Wilson is in Bloomington, I'm afraid.

Offensively, Michigan destroyed a bad Indiana defense, but did it better than any of Indiana's previous opponents, so that's something if you're looking for some relativistic comfort.

In any case, the bye week is once again coming at a good time. Devin Gardner took some big hits on Saturday, and he'll have a chance to heal up before Michigan attempts to solve Michigan State's monstrous defense. That will be a tall order, but Al Borges and Co. will have an extra week to figure out a plan for that.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Badgers stave off second quarter surge, roll to victory as Gordon crosses 1,000-yard mark

After watching the relatively low-scoring Minnesota-Northwestern game at noon and Michigan's high-scoring monstrosity after that, I was looking for something in between from Wisconsin-Illinois. Given the final score, I suppose it technically was that.

The Illini looked to recover from the drubbing they took in Lincoln two weeks ago. At 3-2, a bowl game was still very much on the Illini's radar, especially with several winnable games remaining.

The bad news for Illinois is that the Badgers absolutely pasted Northwestern last week, spending most of the game without the services of Jared Abbrederis. Illinois would have to play its best game if they were going to prevent Melvin Gordon and James White from carving them up like Ameer Abdullah did in Lincoln.

Tim Beckman's squad stalled on offense after taking a 15-yard penalty. The Badgers forced a punt, then went on to score on their first drive for the first time since the second game of the season against Tennessee Tech.

After James White punched it in from two yards out, Melvin Gordon dashed into the end zone on a score of his own of 26 yards. With an early 14-0 deficit nine minutes in and any pregame esprit de corps in the stadium having evaporated, the Illini had to find answers fast.

On the ensuing drive, Nathan Scheelhaase mishandled an end around pitch from one of his wide receivers. Wisconsin's Ethan Hemer recovered the fumble, giving Gary Andersen's offense a short field. On third & goal, Joel Stave went to play action, hitting tight end Brian Wozniak a yard into the end zone. Very quickly, this game took on the feel of a Bielema era blowout of Indiana.

Once again, Bill Cubit's offense fell behind, this time looking at another 3rd & 13, which Scheelhaase couldn't complete. Through four offensive possession, the Illini had -11 total yards.

The Illini got their first good news of the game, however, finally stopping Wisconsin on third down. On the ensuing Illinois drive, Aaron Bailey took a Wildcat carry for 12 yards, their best play of the game thus far. Scheelhaase picked up another first down with his legs. On the next play, Scheelhaase bought time, rolled to his left and hit a receiver for a 20-yard gain.

For the first time, the Illini were on the move and looking good. Nonetheless, the Badgers took a 21-0 lead into the second quarter.

The long Illini drive ended with just a field goal, but the Illini added to their total with a touchdown score on their next drive, mostly via a 51-yard strike to Steve Hull, who badly beat Wisconsin cornerback Darius Hillary. The Illini cut the lead to 21-10, and were finally finding success, not coincidentally after UW's Chris Borland left the game with a right leg injury.

Wisconsin went back to its bread and butter on the ground, marching 75 yards in 10 plays, capped by a Gordon one yard plunge.

Scheelhaase continued to show improvement, tossing a 39-yarder to Ryan Langford to bring the Illini to the UW 4. On 2nd & goal, Illinois once again brought in Wildcat QB Aaron Bailey. Bailey took a half step forward, stopped, and hit a wide open Matt LaCosse in the back of the end zone.

After digging itself a 21-0 hole, the Illini regrouped admirably. Heading into the half down 28-17, the Illini offense and defense had much more to be positive about in the second quarter. Whether or not the Badgers would continue to struggle on defense without Borland in the second half remained to be seen; however, the Illini were beating UW through the air deep, not exactly Borland's domain.

The Wisconsin secondary was a problem against Arizona State and Ohio State, and it didn't fare so well in the second quarter tonight either.

Michigan knocks off UNH in overtime, 3-2

Amid all the great football today, I decided to pay the $10 on the UNH website to watch the game online. After taking a 1-1 tie last night, the Wolverines once again went to overtime tonight; this time, Tyler Motte, who scored Michigan's lone goal yesterday, gave Michigan the 3-2 win in overtime.

Alex Guptill notched Michigan's first goal--assisted by Nieves and PDG--in the first period on the power play. In the second, Guptill was initially credited with another power play goal, but it looks like it was eventually credited to Luke Moffatt (assisted by PDG and Nieves).

The pace picked up down the stretch in the third period, and both Zach Nagelvoort and Michigan's blue line were equal to the challenge. UNH had several opportunities to put the game away in regulation, but Nagelvoort stood tall.

It's probably a little early (and slightly unfair) to call for Nagelvoort to assume injured Steve Racine's starting role, but he was pretty impressive tonight from what I was able to catch, even though he didn't really get that much work, especially early on. Additionally, he didn't concede a goal last night after coming in for Racine in the third period. Tonight, Nagelvoort tallied 22 saves, including eight in the third period.

Either way, this was a tremendous pair of results for this young team, on the road against the No. 13 team in the country. With Wisconsin taking another rough loss tonight against BU and MSU again losing to UMass, the Wolverines come out of this weekend looking pretty good.

Michigan returns to Ann Arbor next weekend, where they'll face BU on Friday and a struggling Lowell squad on Saturday.

Michigan-Indiana: Halftime Numbers and Notes

Yeah, this one should have been a noon game. Back in the day (i.e. the early 2000s), this would have been a comfortable Michigan rout on ESPN Plus. This game might end up that way, but the Wolverines are up just 28-17 heading into the half.

  • Michigan was nowhere near ready to play defense on IU's long touchdown score to Cody Latimer. In back-to-back weeks, Michigan's defense hasn't exactly responded too well to any sort of uptick in tempo. 
  • Running from the shotgun on Michigan's first touchdown drive was a sight for sore eyes. The drive went 56 yards in 5 plays, with Toussaint rushing for half of those yards. 
  • Before anyone extrapolates wildly, it should be noted that Indiana's defense is atrocious. 
  • Jeremy Gallon took what was basically a bubble screen 70 yards, setting up Michigan's second score. Again, IU is very bad defensively, but Michigan is much more likely to find success when it spreads people out. 
  • On a 1st & 10 late in the first, Gardner had all day to throw. Unfortunately, he threw it a half second too late, and Jeremy Jackson was not able to reel the ball in on the right sideline. 
  • Derrick Green showed a nice burst on seven yard carry that closed out the first quarter. To start the second, he showed some nice feet, moving left and cutting niftily back to his right to pick up seven more. 
  • On more than one occasion, Gardner didn't handle IU pressure too smoothly, especially the play in the second quarter when he was slow to get up. 
  • IU's two scoring drives lasted just 1:03 and 1:21. 
  • Yes, that should have been a holding call on A.J. Williams. You win some you lose some. 
  • Jeremy Gallon's first half stats: 8 receptions, 170 yards, 1 TD. 
  • Team stat comparison (via ESPN): 

Gophers capitalize on Northwestern mistakes, steal 20-17 victory in Evanston

A picture of Chicago, because Northwestern is its team, of course

With both Northwestern and Minnesota coming off of back-to-back losses after 4-0 starts, this one would be a step back from the abyss for one team and one fewer fingertip on the ledge for the other.

Mitch Leidner got the start for the Gophers, looking to build upon an encouraging start against Michigan (the score of that game notwithstanding). On the first drive, a third down completion for a first down was wiped out by a penalty. On the next play, 3rd & 12, Northwestern's Ibraheim Campbell set the tone.

Leidner scooted out of the pocket, much like he did against Michigan, heading down the right side. A few yards short of the first down line, Leidner lowered his shoulder in an attempt to run Campbell over. However, as is often the case, Campbell was having none of it, stopping Leidner short on a hit that was reminiscent of Alabama safety Vinnie Sunseri's clocking of Thomas Rawls in last season's Michigan-Alabama game.

Northwestern answered with a three-and-out of its own, a sequence which just about equaled a win for the Gophers. Minnesota picked up the first first down of the game, an 11-yard completion to Drew Wolitarsky. On the next play, Leidner overshot a wide open Maxx Williams in the middle of the field, who had nothing but open space before him.

A couple of drives later, Minnesota elected to run it up the gut on 3rd & 6, perhaps a response to the Minnesota defense's success to that point. Unfortunately for the Gophers, that conservatism was a little premature.

The Wildcats' third drive took eight plays to go 72 yards, capped Stephen Buckley rushes of 33, 11 and 3 yards (the last for a touchdown) and a 12-yard Christian Jones reception. Northwestern was aided by sloppy Minnesota tackling--particularly on Buckley's 33-yard romp down the left side--but the offense, without the services of Kain Colter (save for emergency situations) or Venric Mark--hummed along nonetheless.

Heading into the second quarter down 7-0 and having amassed just 44 yards, the Gophers desperately needed a stop in Northwestern's next offensive series. The Gopher defense bent but did not break; Trevor Siemian led the Wildcats down to the Minnesota 35 before eventually taking a sack on 3rd & 5.

The Gophers had done an admirable job thus far defensively, but the offense would have to generate some points. Minnesota had some success on designed Leidner runs and had that play action look deep to Williams that fell incomplete; the Gophers would have to go that well again if they were planning on cracking Mike Hankwitz' NU defense.

For the Minnesota coaching staff, however, it wasn't nearly enough, as Philip Nelson entered the game in the second quarter. The Gophers went to the ground, however, and hit it hard. After some strong running from David Cobb and Donnell Kirkwood, Minnesota dialed up another play action. This time, Nelson hit Derrick Engel for a 29-yard score to tie the game. It appeared that Minnesota had found its offensive formula for success.

Shortly thereafter, Ra'Shede Hageman picked off Siemian, but the Gopher offense was not able to capitalize on the error. Minnesota then forced an NU three-and-out and called timeout to stop the clock with 1:52 to go in order to give the offense another shot, the same thing UConn did against Michigan a few weeks ago; it's never a good sign for the favorite when the underdog feels good enough to do that.

Nelson hit Wolitarsky over the middle on 3rd & long to keep the drive alive and put the Gophers near field goal range. Minnesota handled the situation poorly, however, letting quite a bit of time run off the clock. Naturally, Minnesota's 44-yard field goal attempt went wide left, and the two teams headed into the half tied at 7-all.

All in all, like the Michigan game, the first half was a win for the Gophers, who mostly stifled the Mark- and Colter-less offense and found some offensive rhythm of their own in the second quarter.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Breaking Points: Indiana Edition

Given the Jekyll and Hyde nature of the Indiana football team--and the fact that I covered some of the personnel and basic statistics yesterday--this post will be a little shorter than usual. Anyway, on with the points:

Devin Gardner vs. mistakes. Again, insert bit about this continuing to be a point of concern for the rest of the season. Michigan is halfway through its season and Gardner has been turnover-free in just one game, which was in part due to the nature of the game and the conservatism of the gameplan.

Against a team with a high-octane offense like Indiana, turnovers are death, especially because the Hoosiers aren't very good defensively on their own. If the Hoosiers force turnovers of the "make plays" variety, there's not much to be done. However, Gardner cannot gift wrap them points via turnover, i.e. Penn State's first two touchdown scores set up by Gardner interceptions.

Running power vs. pulling the plug. Any discussion of offensive playcalling, in my mind, starts with the acknowledgement that Al Borges knows infinitely more about offensive football than I or anyone else typing away on the Internet.

With that said, there is a basic point that anyone can glean from last Saturday's performance: when is enough enough? Now, it must be noted that a number of Michigan's obvious power runs came on the clock-killing drive at the end of regulation, so perhaps the 27 carries for 27 yards thing is being perceived slightly more harshly than it should be (of course, it was still very bad any way you slice it). You would think that a Michigan team could run for at least one yard on even the most obvious of running situations (e.g. clock-killing drives), but that is no the case for this iteration of Michigan football.

If you're looking for a little early litmus test for the Michigan State game, consider this: the Spartans had two 90+ yard rushers against the Hoosiers last Saturday. Jeremy Langford had 109 yards on 23 carries and three touchdowns, while Delton Williams had 92 yards on 12 carries.

Big Ten fans gave MSU a lot of flak for its early offensive ineptitude, but the Spartans ran the ball with ease against a bad IU defense (i.e. an expected outcome for a divisional contender). I admit that this is incredibly reductive thinking, but with MSU on the schedule two weeks from tomorrow, if Michigan doesn't come close to matching the aforementioned rushing output tomorrow, concern levels will be high.

Ordinarily, you'd like to see at least 5.0 YPC against Indiana. This year, I think most people would accept three yards a pop, which of course is a sign of the times. Either way, it's now or never: if Michigan can't get the ground game going against Indiana, then the UConn game will go down as Michigan's best non-CMU rushing performance of the season.

Michigan defense vs. substitutions. Kevin Wilson's offense is not quote the second coming of the 2008 Oklahoma Sooners just yet, but it's absolutely a dangerous offense. Although the Hoosiers certainly have good skill position talent, tempo is the vehicle by which IU finds its success.

Against Penn State, Michigan was seemingly unprepared to handle the Nittany Lions' intermittent usage of an up-tempo, no huddle offense. Well, that's pretty much going to be the whole game. If the Michigan defense can avoid giving up its usual first possession long drive, that would be a major early boost of confidence.

Indiana's offense is not invincible, and while Michigan's defense is not as good as Michigan State's, the Wolverines do have the players to disrupt the IU offense to force some punts.

Devin Funchess vs. the IU secondary. Simply put, Funchess should have a monster game. Indiana's linebackers are not impressive, and the secondary is what you'd expect an Indiana secondary to be (although, as I mentioned yesterday, Tim Bennett is somewhat of a playmaker at corner). Funchess should be able to go over the top once again, while Gallon should be

I could be going crazy, but it seems like Michigan's put away the Gallon throwback screen play this season; perhaps that could be because it became gradually less effective last season. Nonetheless, that's a play I could see having some success against IU (think last year's Illinois game).

Michigan OL vs. pass protection. All of the focus is on the run blocking these days, but it's not as if pass protection has been perfect. More often than not, Michigan's best plays have been Gardner making like Second City and improvising as a byproduct of pass rush pressure.

Despite being a bad defense overall, the Hoosiers are surprisingly competent if you look at sacks alone, in which they are ranked 53rd in the nation. That's not exceptional or anything, but they've got the ability to get to the quarterback. Indiana notched three sacks against Mizzou; Georgia managed just one more, four, in their matchup against Gary Pinkel's squad.

However, IU only tallied one sack apiece against Penn State and Michigan State. Nick Mangieri (3.5 sacks) and John Laihinen (3.5 sacks), both defensive ends, are IU's leaders in sacks. Lewan and Schofield should be able to hold down the fort at the ends, but, as always, the question is whether the center can hold, or if mere anarchy will be loosed upon the Michigan backfield.


Michigan is a 9-10 point favorite depending on where you look. Quite honestly, I have no idea what to expect this week. That is an uncomfortable place to be.

Indiana has some nice weapons on offense; Tevin Coleman is probably the best tailback Michigan has seen thus far. If the linebackers don't fill and/or get blocked or the safeties find themselves daydreaming, Coleman can take it to the house before you can say Petoskey.

I foresee the first half being a real shootout. I don't feel confident that Michigan's defense will be immediately ready to handle IU's pace. Once again, I'll say that if IU's first drive ends with a field goal, that's a victory.

Usually I have some sort of vaguely reasonable rationale for my score predictions, but this week's is just a thread pulled from the yarn ball of immense uncertainty. Score: Michigan 38, Indiana 31. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Michigan basketball No. 9 in USA Today Coaches Poll

The Wolverines hit the hardwood again on Oct. 29 for an exhibition game against Concordia. Michigan will enter that game with a shiny No. 9 ranking, per today's release of the USA Today Coaches Poll.

In a moderately weird coincidence, Florida, Syracuse and Kansas--three teams Michigan beat in the tournament--sit right ahead of Michigan in succession. Preseason basketball polls might mean even less than their football counterpart, but I just thought that was an amusing coincidence (and that is no commentary on its accuracy).

Elsewhere in the Big Ten, Ohio State checks in at No. 10, Bo Ryan's Badgers at No. 21 and the Hoosiers at No. 24. The conference doesn't appear to be as strong as it was last season, but it should still be one of the most difficult leagues in the country once again.

Kentucky nabbed the top spot in the rankings, with Michigan State at No. 2. Louisville, Duke and Arizona round out the top 5. Michigan takes on Sean Miller's Arizona squad on Dec. 14 at the Crisler Center. Of course, Michigan will also travel to Durham to take on Duke at Cameron Indoor for the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Dec. 4.

The nonconference schedule is formidable, and the Wolverines will once again be breaking in a freshman point guard. Nonetheless, those games against Duke, Arizona, Florida State/VCU and possibly even the trip to Iowa State will certainly help the freshmen get into the swing of things. I'm not sure any of those games will prepare Walton et al for what they'll see in the Big Ten, but the level of competition will be high.

If you're expecting another 16-0 start, you're likely to be disappointed. However, it should be another exciting season of basketball in Ann Arbor and Big Ten country as a whole. Football is king, yes, but basketball is not too far behind these days.

Indiana Hoosiers: Numbers and Notes

Since I don't have anything planned for today, I figured I'd take a basic look at some statistics and personnel before writing Friday's general preview.

At quarterback, Nate Sudfeld leads the way for the Hoosiers. Sudfeld is 118/192 on the season (61.5%), with 13 touchdowns and six interceptions. Sudfeld is throwing for 8.35 yards per attempt.

Of IU's three BCS opponents (Missouri, Penn State and Michigan State), Sudfeld had two of his worst performances in there (Mizzou and MSU).

Missouri: 21/39, 229 yards, 1 TD, 3 INTs

MSU: 14/30, 137 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs

Of course, we know what IU did to Penn State, which makes last weekend's Michigan loss even stranger.

PSU: 23/38, 321 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT

Against the Spartans, IU had some early success, but it wasn't a product of Sudfeld's arm. On the Hoosiers' opening drive, Tevin Coleman took a carry 64 yards to the house on the fourth play of the game. After that, the IU offense didn't have much success until later in the second quarter after recovering an MSU fumble. In fact, it was backup quarterback Tre Roberson who drove the Hoosiers from the MSU 41 to the end zone.

Sudfeld did come back and connect on a 53-yarder to Shane Wynn, part of a 7-play, 72-yard scoring drive on IU's opening possession of the second half.

With that said, against the best defense IU had faced to date (and probably the best defense it will face all season), Roberson got more run than he did against any other opponent, throwing a season high 17 times. What does this mean for Saturday? Well, IU's QB situation continues to be potent but less than settled; I wouldn't be surprised to see Roberson once again featured a good deal, whether Sudfeld struggles or not.

At tailback, Tevin Coleman is a guy with the ability to break a long one at any time. Coleman has amassed 557 yards on 91 carries this season (6.1 YPC).

Ignoring the Indiana State, Navy (which was a loss, by the way) and Bowling Green games and things get less rosy for Coleman. However, he's still broken some long runs against Big Ten foes the last two weeks, including a 64-yard romp against the Spartans last weekend, no small feat. Against PSU, Coleman rushed for 92 yards on 20 carries, which would qualify as just decent against a not spectacular PSU defense if not for his supplementary seven receptions for 55 yards.

Against MSU, however, Coleman did nothing outside of the one long run; he finished with 79 yards on 15 carries. Remove the one long gain and he managed just 15 yards on 14 carries. Of course, that was against Michigan State; Michigan's defense is closer to PSU's level than it is MSU's.

Regardless, Coleman is a big play threat with receiving ability. From my limited viewing, he seems like Bill Belton if Belton didn't have to share the rock with Zach Zwinak.

Backup/once starter Stephen Houston 230 yards on 35 carries; 155 of those yards came against Bowling Green. Houston did not carry the ball a single time last Saturday against the Spartans. At 6'1'' 230 pounds, Houston is the thunder to Coleman's lightning, although he hasn't really done much against any team other than Bowling Green.

At wide receiver, 6'3'' Cody Latimer leads the way with 35 receptions, 544 yards and three touchdowns. Unfortunately for the Michigan secondary, his numbers aren't the product of a breezy opening trio of games. Latimer had two of his three best games against Mizzou and PSU, and although he managed just 58 yards on seven receptions against MSU, he did get in the end zone.

Kofi Hughes is a familiar name here; he has 22 receptions, 316 yards and four touchdowns of his own. Hughes stands at 6'2'', making for a pretty formidable pairing with Latimer.

Tiny slot receiver Shane Wynn has 342 yards on just 18 receptions this season, plus four touchdown scores. He has 53- and 68-yard receptions to his name against MSU and Mizzou, respectively. Michigan will have its hands full covering Latimer and Hughes on the outside and Wynn in the slot.

Defensively, the Hoosiers are not very good, as you'd expect. While Indiana put up more points on the Spartans than any other team thus far this season, they also gave up 42 points.

How bad are they? Well, this just about sums it up:
On defense, it’s a bit of a different story. Indiana struggles against the run in particular, allowing 217 yards per game. Not really much better against the pass, so it’s no wonder the 456 yards of total offense it allows ranks 105th nationally. And it’s giving up 32.8 points per game. 

MSU, with an offense dormant for much of this season, torched the Hoosiers for 42 points and 473 yards. 

Looking for a way to improve? Try getting off the field on third down. Indiana’s foes are converting 44 percent of their third downs and moving the chains at a rate of 25.2 per game, 118th out of 123 FBS teams. 
Like most up-tempo spread teams, defense isn't exactly a priority. With that said, even the worst defenses have guys making plays here and there.

For Indiana, that seems to be cornerback Tim Bennett, who, according to that last link, leads the nations in PBUs (14). He is also tied for the team lead in tackles (45) with linebacker David Cooper.

Indiana is tied for 53rd in sacks (12). Backup defensive end John Laihinen leads the way with 3.5 sacks. Nick Mangieri, a starter at defensive end, has 2.5 sacks of his own (and leads the team with 5.5 tackles for loss).

For what it's worth, Mangieri and fellow starting end Ryan Phillis are both listed at 260 pounds, so I'm not sure which one is the SDE and which one is the WDE. It seems like Mangieri is the weak side guy, but I don't know that it matters either way.

If Michigan is going to run power against any Big Ten foe, it has to be against these guys. At defensive tackle, IU does have three 300+ pound players in the two-deep (Alex Todd, Adarius Rayner and Ralphael Green), but that size obviously hasn't helped them much in stopping the run.

Indiana's linebackers are bigger than I imagined they'd be--in fact, they're on average five pounds heavier per guy--but from what I've seen they seem to be your typical, not too athletic or speedy Indiana linebackers. I distinctly remember Kain Colter shaking David Cooper out of his shoes on a zone read play last year, which is actually not that embarrassing because Colter does that to a lot of people.

In any case, Michigan (i.e. Devin Gardner) can run around these guys and Devin Funchess will have a fairly comfortable time going over the top of them.

In the secondary, redshirt senior safety Greg Heban is third on the team in tackles and has a team high two interceptions.

That's about it for now. The book on Indiana is pretty simple: explosive offense, no defense. However, Michigan's propensity to turn the ball over becomes magnified against a team that can bury you with points like Indiana. Although Indiana was aided by Spartan turnovers, they did put up 28 on them. I'd have to guess they'll put up close to that or slightly more against Michigan.

The Hoosiers have serious talent at the skill positions; they don't have a player of the caliber of Allen Robinson, but the Latimer-Hughes pairing is formidable. Coleman is a big play waiting to happen and the quarterbacks are effective, depending on whichever one is hot that day, or even in a particular quarter.

I'll probably say it again tomorrow, but this is Michigan's most important contest against Indiana in a long time (possibly ever). A loss would be disastrous, a signal of some very difficult times ahead. Michigan's ability to regroup and execute will be tested this Saturday in the Big House.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Miscellaneous Minutiae, 10/15/13

Somehow we're already halfway through October...time flies when you're having fun!:

  • Speaking of hockey, this is yesterday's news but tickets for this year's Big Ten hockey tournament in Minneapolis this March are on sale

Monday, October 14, 2013

Michigan hockey jumps to No. 5, joins Minnesota, Wisconsin in top 5

Given the nature of college hockey, the rankings are fairly fluid and don't seem to mean a whole lot on a game by game basis. With that said, after an impressive 2-0 start for the Wolverines, Michigan jumped up to No. 5 in the polls.

Forward Alex Guptill returned from a suspension that saw him miss the opener against Boston College, notching two first period helpers against RIT in the 7-4 victory.

Joining Michigan in the top 5 are Notre Dame (No. 4), Minnesota (No. 3), Wisconsin (No. 2) and Miami (No. 1). So far so good for the Big Ten hockey conference. Ohio State and Michigan State are in the receiving votes category, with three and one, respectively.

Michigan returns to the ice this Friday, once again on the road, when the Wolverines will take on the 1-1-0 New Hampshire Wildcats. New Hampshire was up on Minnesota, 2-1, about halfway through the game on Saturday, but two Gopher goals later in the second period saddled the Wildcats with the 3-2 loss. That's not much to go off of, but it does prove that they are dangerous (they're currently No. 13 in the country). A split on the road this coming weekend would be a solid accomplishment.

Shameless Self-Promotion Time: Penn State

Michigan fell to 5-1 on the season after a brutal but not exactly unexpected loss in Happy Valley. If you still have the stomach for it, I wrote about it over at Maize n Brew.

Al Montoya posts shutout in first start of the season

The Penn State recap will be linked to here tomorrow morning, but in hockey news, Al Montoya notched a shutout tonight for the Winnipeg Jets, blanking the New Jersey Devils in a 3-0 victory. Highlights are here:

Montoya stopped 24 Devils shots while New Jersey went 0/5 on the power play. Elsewhere, blue liner Jacob Trouba led the Jets in TOI with 26:36 of ice time, his highest total of the season thus far. Despite the fact that he's 19, it's crazy to think that that guy was playing college hockey last season.

With the Wolverines moving to 2-0 on the young season--after a 7-4 victory against RIT Saturday night--things are looking pretty good in the Michigan hockey universe.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Initial Reactions: Michigan-Penn State

Pictured above: me between 5 and 9:30 yesterday

I'm working on my game recap for Maize n Brew--the worst kind, i.e. the one you don't want to write and people don't want to read--but for now the above will have to serve as a placeholder for my thoughts. 

Last night's game was a maddening confluence of every possible negative outcome ever, and Michigan didn't lose until the 4th overtime period. 

Quite frankly, if I was upset I probably wouldn't be making awful Photoshops. We knew Michigan was a fairly mediocre squad, even at 5-0, and one loss in a tough road environment doesn't really move the needle much. Last night's game was frustrating for so many reasons, but it was a loss that Michigan deserved, if you believe in a team ever "deserving" a certain outcome. 

Michigan will have its hands full against an Indiana squad that can and likely will score some points. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

No. 18 Michigan-Penn State: Halftime Numbers, Ruminations, Predictions

Some numbers and observations at the half:
  • Michigan started the game with a pair of third and longs; the first ended with a punt, the second with an interception that gave Hackenberg and Co. a short field. It was a nice play by the PSU corner, Jordan Lucas, but Gardner has to take some of the blame for another one of those types of picks on the outside. 
  • Toussaint's first two runs (for a combined -7 yards) to the left side looked like he was actually being snowed under by a blue and white avalanche. His third rush went for a nice gain of 12, but that was pretty much the last solid thing Toussaint did in the half. 
  • Devin Funchess as wide receiver is pretty fun. PSU safety Adrian Amos somehow let Funchess glide right by him. Gardner waited, allowed to step up after Toussaint ushered his man behind Michigan's quarterback. After tossing a brutal INT, Gardner tossed a perfect pass to an admittedly wide open Funchess for a 59-yard score. 
  • None other than Jake Ryan made the stop on PSU's ill-fated 4th down attempt in its own side of the field. Unfortunately, Michigan was not able to capitalize on the error in Bill O'Brien's judgment. 
  • After forcing PSU to punt, Gardner ran Michigan down to the PSU 25. Gardner fumbled (and recovered) on 3rd & 1, and Kyle Kalis jumped on the next play as Michigan tried to go for it on 4th down. 
  • Spreading PSU out and just letting Gardner go was Michigan's best play in the first quarter. Enough with the first down stretch plays, for they are not working. 
  • Gardner's second interception, this time to Anthony Zettel, led to another PSU touchdown on a short field, as Jesse James beat Jarrod Wilson up the seam for a 20-yard score on the drive's first play. 
  • Jehu Chesson had a key drop on 3rd and 8 in the second quarter. 
  • In the pass rush department, Frank Clark tallied what was basically a coverage sack; nonetheless, he made the play. On a second and 8 in the 2nd quarter, Mario Ojemuedia showed some nice burst to close on Hackenberg on the edge, pressuring him before he ultimately threw incomplete. 
  • PSU's Allen Robinson was a non-factor, but tight end Jesse James beat Michigan up in the seams and wide receiver Brandon Felder reeled in two touchdowns as well, the second one on a seemingly completely lost Courtney Avery. 
  • PSU's C.J. Olaniyan had a huge series late in the half, with a key tipped passed destined for Devin Funchess and a strip sack of Gardner a couple of plays later. 
  • Gardner stats: 6/12. 88 yards (59 came on the Funchess touchdown), two interceptions, one fumble, 47 yards rushing. 
  • Toussaint: 11 carries, 6 yards (long of 12). Take away the long gain and Fitz averaged -0.6 yards per carry. 

All in all, it was an utterly brutal half for Devin Gardner. Michigan is providing zero holes for Fitzgerald Toussaint, but, then again, perhaps the Wolverines shouldn't be running on first down. 

Get it out of your mind: Shane Morris is not getting in this game unless Michigan is losing by a lot, 2008-style. 

On the bright side, the Michigan run defense has looked good, so there's that. Penn State managed just 2.2 yards per carry, but short fields and Hackenberg's connection with Felder and James were enough to send PSU into the half up 21-10. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Breaking Points: Penn State Edition

No. 18 Michigan heads to Happy Valley to take on the Penn State Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium, where the Wolverines have lost the last two times they've visited; of course, those two visits came during the Rich Rodriguez era.

On the surface, you would think a game against a team that just lost to Indiana by 20 would be a slam dunk, but, once again, I get the feeling that it won't be. I wasn't quite right on my 31-13 prediction for the Minnesota game, but at least I got Minnesota's point total right. Take away that Blake Countess pick six and my prediction was pretty close to spot on, which of course means absolutely nothing.

The oddsmakers have the Wolverines as just a 3-point favorite, a week after Michigan was a 19-point favorite against then 4-1 Minnesota. Will the game be that close? It will if Michigan fails to do a few things with consistency:

Devin Gardner vs. mistakes/road environment. One week of mistake-free football won't erase what happened during the Akron and UConn games. If Michigan is going to coast through this one into the second half with a lead of any size, Gardner cannot gift the Nittany Lions points and/or great field position. Penn State's defense has not been tremendous of late, giving up 34 to a speedy Central Florida team and, of course, 44 to Indiana's up-tempo spread bonanza.

However, Penn State is still 18th in total defense, given that their other three opponents were Syracuse, Eastern Michigan and Kent State. This is not a vintage Penn State defense, but playing at home against Michigan always has a way of motivating Big Ten foes. Gardner has played in the Horseshoe, at Nebraska (as a wide receiver) and saw time at quarterback against Michigan State in 2011, so the environment shouldn't be a complete shock to him.

That said, his ability to get the team on the same page when the crowd turns up the volume will go a long way toward limiting the sorts of basic errors he's made to date. Playing Minnesota at home during homecoming and then playing in Beaver Stadium are like going to the opera and then catching a Metallica concert.

Pass protection vs. PSU pass rush. The Nittany Lions don't have an elite pass rush on paper, but they are tied for 47th in the country in that department with 11 sacks on the season.

On the bright side for the Wolverines, PSU doesn't seem to have a single pass rushing specialist. The Nittany Lion defense has 11 players credited with at least half of a sack; No. 91 Da'Quan Jones and No. 84 Kyle Baublitz are tied for the team lead with two sacks apiece. Both are seniors and both play tackle. Chris Bryant, Graham Glasgow and Kyle Kalis will have a tough task ahead of them, even if PSU's numbers don't show it. If Gardner is getting pressure up the middle, you'll probably see a few big losses on sacks as Gardner scrambles to the edges, or, worse, an interception or two.

On that note, Jones leads Penn State in tackles for loss with 6.5 to date. For a squad historically known for its linebackers, Jones is the defensive player to watch on this PSU defense. Once Michigan recruiting target C.J. Olaniyan is second on the team with 4.5 tackles for loss from the defensive end spot.

Offensively, it's difficult to get much going if your interior OL is getting bull rushed and swim moved with even semi-regularity. Combine that with the road game environment and an early sack or a turnover could send Gardner spiraling back into the dark place he was in against UConn for most of that game.

UCF and Indiana exposed the PSU defense, so it's not as if it will be impossible for the Wolverines to successfully attack this group. However, the defensive line (especially Jones), is active and capable of making plays in the backfield, which Michigan hasn't exactly done a good job of preventing thus far. Also, as sad as it is to say, I don't know if Michigan has the same offensive firepower, speed-wise or pace-wise, as UCF and IU, respectively.

Blake Countess (and safety help) vs. Allen Robinson. Simply put, if Allen Robinson has a game like he had against Indiana last week, Michigan will be in big trouble. As much as Michigan fans might not want to hear it, the gameplan might just have to feature a lot of that soft, Cover 2 shell we've seen much of this season.

Michigan should be able to get into the upper 20s in points. In order for that to be enough, Michigan will have to limit the big plays when the Penn State offense is on the field. Conservative defense is not fun to watch, but it has been effective for Michigan. Hackenberg has thrown just four interceptions in five games, but he is still a freshman. The odds are good he'll give Michigan a pick at some point.

In the meantime, especially in the first half, don't be surprised if Michigan is giving up lots of yardage. You won't have a fun time watching it happen, but as long as those seriously threatening long drives end with field goals or punts once PSU crosses midfield, Michigan will be okay.

Tight end Kyle Carter is a distant second in the receiving department, with 11 receptions for 147 yards. Wide receiver Brandon Felder has 16 receptions for 135 yards of his own. QB Christian Hackenberg has thrown eight touchdown passes to date, five of them going Robinson's way. Sophomore receiver Geno Lewis is the only other receiver with a touchdown score; tailback Bill Belton has the other two.

Like the Joel Stave-Jared Abbrederis connection in Madison, you pretty much know where Hackenberg is going to go with the football. As always, stopping it is easier said than done. But, if Robinson has a merely "good" day as opposed to transcendent, I don't know if Penn State has enough receiving talent to test Michigan's at times leaky non-Countess corners.

The tight ends, Carter included, haven't showed up much on the stat sheet, but Hackenberg will look to them. Big time recruit Adam Breneman has just five receptions for 49 yards to date, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him get a target or two. Coverage up the seams will have to better than it was on scoring plays against Akron and UConn. In general, Michigan did have a little bit of trouble checking Minnesota TE Maxx Williams, which might not mean anything going forward but is something to think about.

Rushing offense vs. PSU run D. Much of the focus is on the quarterbacks, what with Hackenberg showing promise as a freshman and Gardner having his struggles. However, the ground game will be key; this is still the Big Ten, after all.

As far as run-stopping linebackers go, middle linebacker No. 40 Glenn Carson leads PSU with 39 tackles, 3.5 for loss. Mike Hull and Nyeem Wartman have 15 and 14 tackles, respectively. Joe Kerridge vs. Carson will be a battle to watch.

Both teams boast top 20 rushing defenses, with Michigan at No. 9 and Penn State at No. 20. I wouldn't expect either team to have a 100-yard back on Saturday, but that doesn't necessarily matter. If Fitzgerald Toussaint can put together a Minnesota-esque (or, better yet, a UConn-esque) performance, that should be enough to take the playmaking burden off of Gardner's shoulders.

Of course, Michigan will need to block to make that happen. Brian has talked about this at MGoBlog this week, but it remains to be seen whether Michigan's strategy of putting Michael Schofield next to Taylor Lewan--essentially tipping run in the process--can work against teams with a little more defensive oomph than Minnesota has.

I'm not sure if there any counters available with this look, or if Michigan will just try to mash their way to a few yards per play with this look and hope for the best. Either way, Michigan needs probably 70-80 yards from Toussaint for it to be a relatively successful evening on the ground, plus whatever magic Gardner can produce on scrambles and miscellaneous designed runs.

Rushing D vs. PSU rushing O. On the other side, Penn State has had offensive line struggles of its own but the numbers show the Nittany Lions having a trio of capable backs. Zach Zwinak is the feature back, having carried the mail 84 times for 369 yards (4.4 YPC) and eight touchdowns. He has a long of 38 yards; he's not a big play threat, but if Michigan's playing the generally conservative gameplan I expect they will, I wouldn't be surprised if he chips away at the Michigan defense to the tune of 70-80 yards of his own on 15-20 carries.

Bill Belton has a bit more speed to his game (he returns kicks and punts, as well); he's got 284 yards on 43 carries, good for 6.6 yards a pop. His long of 51 came against Eastern Michigan, however, and he was held to just 31 yards on 10 carries against Indiana. Belton is a pass catching threat, though, so the Wolverines will have to be cognizant of him in the flats and on wheel routes.

Sophomore Akeel Lynch has nice numbers too (35 carries, 270 yards, 7.7 YPC), but he didn't play against Syracuse and managed a combined 39 yards on eight carries against UCF and Indiana. That's not bad, but it doesn't seem like he'll be a major part of the gameplan.

In short, with Ondre Pipkins out for the year, Quinton Washington will need to have a big game up front if Michigan is going to prevent Zwinak from eclipsing his season average YPC of 4.4. One thing is for sure: Penn State will run the ball. The Nittany Lions have a run-pass split of 64:36, which accounts for Hackenberg's 55 attempts against Indiana. The PSU offense will likely have to approach equilibrium against Michigan, but with a freshman quarterback and a pair of serviceable backs, Penn State will look to run first before taking its shot downfield to Robinson, especially if Gardner struggles early on.

Once again, I find myself feeling not incredibly confident about beating a team that just took a pretty brutal loss. Michigan has blown out much better PSU teams in Happy Valley than this one, but this doesn't have the feel of a blowout, let alone a moderately comfortable win.

I expect Michigan to have some first quarter struggles. The Wolverine defense always seems to bend and ultimately break on the first drive of the game; if the Wolverines can keep PSU out of the end zone if that happens again, they'll be in good shape.

Michigan won't have consistent success on the ground, but, this game will be won or lost by the quarterbacks, with the ground games serving as ancillary components.

Michigan probably can't match Indiana's passing output or UCF's balanced offensive attack, but I don't think they have to in order to come away with a win. This game will be close, but I'm going to roll with the idea that Gardner's turnover-free performance against the Gophers was the turning over of a new leaf. Score: Michigan 28, Penn State 23. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Tim Hardaway Jr. hits preseason game-winner

In basketball news, Tim Hardaway Jr. buried a nice corner jumper on an inbounds play for the Knicks, which ended up being the game-winner:

THJ scored 16 points on 6/10 shooting (3/5 from beyond the arc) in 25 minutes, good for a eFG% of 75%. Preseason caveats aside, it was an encouraging performance for Hardaway, who will obviously have a much harder time finding minutes than Trey Burke will in Utah.

Hardaway sits behind both Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith on the shooting guard depth chart, but Shumpert is still more of a defensive stopper than a pure scorer and Smith is notoriously streaky. On nights when Smith's shot isn't falling, maybe THJ can steal some minutes by hitting the glass and assuming Steve Novak's old role as the guy who hits open corner threes in transition and on the secondary break.

Meanwhile, Burke was 5/14 from the field in 26 minutes on Tuesday, adding three assists to one turnover. Burke's Jazz take on Portland tomorrow night.

Miscellaneous Minutiae, 10/10/2013

One of these days it's going to start feeling like fall. For now, links will have to do:
  • I know people in the blogosphere like to make fun of the journalism one-sentence paragraph, but "Then they will try to destroy each other" sounds like a line, if slightly altered, meant for Ivan Drago. On a side note, it's too bad Michigan never showed interest in Allen Robinson during his recruitment; hindsight is 20/20, obviously, but it would be nice to have a guy like that in your receiving corps (and that is quite an understatement). 
  • Also from Bucky's 5th quarter, a mid-season diagnosis hopes for improvement in the pass rush and wide receiving departments. 
  • Urban Meyer says the "pass defense is very alarming right now." The Buckeyes are off this weekend before heading back to the Horseshoe to take on Iowa on Oct. 19. 
  • Sippin' On Purple's Rodger Sherman on why to hate Wisconsin. Although Michigan has not fared well against the Badgers post-2005, I can't find it within myself to hate or even dislike them; actually, I'm somewhat of a fan. Criticize their offensive style on the gridiron on the hardwood all you want, but I enjoy watching them play, and Madison is one of the best college towns around. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Graham Glasgow, "Walk-on"

Brendan Quinn has a piece on Graham Glasgow's role as a former walk-on turned starter that I found interesting for a couple of reasons.

For some reason, a stigma still exists vis-a-vis the notion of the walk-on and such a player's ability to contribute at the BCS level, let alone start. Often, such concerns are in fact valid. If you are Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Alabama, and so on, if a walk-on is playing, it is generally preceded by a string of negative events, namely injuries or under-performing scholarship players.

However, slowly but surely Michigan has built up a bit of a reputation as place where walk-ons can thrive. Some places, like Nebraska in its heyday, made a living from this; Michigan is not quite there yet.

With that said, after former walk-ons like Will Heininger and, of course Jordan Kovacs became useful players (in the former's case) or invaluable (in Kovacs's case), it might be time to dial down the level of concern the next time a walk-on receives hype during spring and fall ball.

Now, with Glasgow having five starts under his belt, we can add one more point to this body of data that slowly approaches confirmation of the idea that walk-ons do not imply disaster.

This process of gradual acceptance is not unlike the slow journey Glasgow described regarding his quest to see the field:
“One good performance isn’t going to change a perspective or a view of you, so you just day-in and day-out perform and maybe, like, impress the strength coaches at first and have them in the ear of the offensive line coach,” he said.
And then the line coach tells the offensive coordinator, who tells the head coach.
“It just accumulates and accumulates to the point where you can finally make a jump or get a chance,” said Glasgow, whose accumulation occurred toward the end of last year, when his play at center impressed line coach Darrell Funk.
Also, I found Taylor Lewan's quote interesting, even if he might just be saying it to lend further credence to Glasgow's move to center:
“Graham's always, since spring ball, been a lot better at center than at guard,” said left tackle Taylor Lewan. 
The offensive line has been far from perfect, but even those most cynical about the concept of a former walk-on starting at guard/center for Michigan would do well to remember that Glasgow is just a redshirt sophomore who only appeared in five games last season.

Glasgow is not David Molk yet, and he may never be. Then again, who would've thought Jordan Kovacs would turn out to be the best Michigan safety in many years after his performance against Indiana in 2009?

As unsatisfying as it may be to hear for the average fan, progress is a slow-moving thing. The same thing applies for Michigan at the guard spots, where the Brobdingnagian Chris Bryant and Kyle Kalis continue to learn the way.

The Michigan offensive line's improvement, more than any other part of this Michigan team, will determine whether or not the Wolverines can win eight games this season or 10+. Upon Glasgow's move to center, however, early returns are encouraging.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Miscellaneous Minutiae, 10/8/13

Who would've thought the Atlanta Falcons would be 1-4 and the New York Jets would be 3-2 at this point in the season? I'll admit I had my doubts about Geno Smith after the way in which West Virginia tanked in the second half of last season*, but he looked like an NFL quarterback last night (albeit against a struggling Atlanta team).

*Of course, a majority of the blame for that falls on the WVU defense; you can't score 40+ points every week.

Anyway, enough about the NFL and on to the college links:

  • Rodger Sherman talks about Northwestern's unique situation heading into Madison this week, facing an unranked squad as an underdog. Given what happened in Tempe, the Badgers really shouldn't be unranked, and the line reflects that; the Badgers are 10-point favorites against the ranked Wildcats. 
  • This is yesterday's news, but I haven't mentioned it in this space: Jake Ryan might play this Saturday at Penn State. Of course, I'd imagine his snap count will be closely monitored. It will probably take two or three games before he gets back into the swing of things. Luckily for Michigan, the schedule is fairly accomodating (on paper, at least). 
  • Do you like bowl games? Are you a fan of a non-BCS conference team? Would you like to make a trip to the Bahamas? Should I continue to write this bullet as a series of questions? No, no I should not. Anyway, if you answered yes to any of those first three questions, this might be of interest to you
  • Lake The Posts is frustrated about the amount of scarlet in the Ryan Field stands this past Saturday. Given Northwestern's record, College GameDay's presence and the amount of marketing that went on for this game in Evanston, I have to admit I was somewhat shocked to see that much scarlet in the crowd. Michigan fans are known for making Ryan Field home, but I'm not sure I've seen Michigan fans dominate Ryan Field like Ohio State did on Saturday. With that said, there's that whole "not everyone wants to wear maize" thing, which perhaps distorts my perception of Michigan crowds at Ryan Field over the years. 
  • I'm not sure Minnesota was "in the game" until the 4th quarter--I'd say it was basically over when Michigan scored to start the second half--but I do agree that Mitch Leidner showed promise for the Gophers (Star Tribune). 
  • Also re: Leidner, the Leidner-Maxx Williams connection might be Minnesota's best shot at any sort of passing game going forward, especially in the red zone (St. Paul Pioneer Press). 
  • Josh Slagter of MLive looks at Penn State by the numbers. I still have to give the slightest of edges to Jared Abbrederis over Allen Robinson as far as the best receiver in the conference goes, but Blake Countess et al will have their hands full trying to slow down the Hackenberg-Robinson connection on Saturday. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Around the Big Ten: Week 6

With only half of the conference playing football last week, the Week 6 Big Ten slate was a bit more action-packed. Five conference games took place this past weekend, including big wins for Michigan State and Ohio State on the road and Nebraska and Indiana at home. Michigan's 42-13 win doesn't qualify as "big" so much as it was one small step toward a righted ship. In any case, on to the games:

Michigan 42, Minnesota 13. There's not much use saying too much here (see the previously linked Maize n Brew recap). The game was close for a little while due to the molasses-esque pace, and then it very quickly became not so close. Fin.

Penn State 24, Indiana 44. Penn State is not exactly the Penn State of old, but that doesn't make this score any less strange to look at. The Nittany Lions entered the fourth quarter down just 21-17. Penn State missed an opportunity to get on the board early when its first drive stalled at the Indiana 26 on 4th & 5. Christian Hackenberg later hit Allen Robinson for a 46-yard touchdown to tie it at 7-all in the second quarter. Indiana added two more field goals before the half to take a 13-7 lead into the break. All in all, holding Indiana to just 13 points is a solid accomplishment, and Penn State would need a few more big strikes to Robinson to come away with a victory.

Of course, that last sentence was all theory, as it did not play out that way. Hackenberg did hit Robinson again, this time for a 26-yard score, but the Hoosiers answered back via a Tevin Coleman 44-yard run. Penn State added a field goal in the third, but, once again, the Nittany Lion defense gave again, this time on an 11-play, 75-yard IU touchdown drive.

Thus, on PSU's next offensive drive, Bill O'Brien elected to go for it on 4th & 2 from PSU's own 33. The Hackenberg attempt fell incomplete, and the Hoosiers summarily scored on its second play from there. To make matters worse, Penn State's Eugene Lewis fumbled the ensuing kickoff, allowing the Hoosiers to start from PSU's 9-yard line. Another touchdown score made it 42-17 (the Hoosiers later added a safety).

The Nittany Lions got decent production from tailback Zach Zwinak (17 carries, 72 yards), but getting into a passing contest with a freshman quarterback against Indiana is not ideal. Hackenberg threw a whopping 55 times under the circumstances, completing 30 for 340 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Had the defense (and later the special teams) not thoroughly failed Penn State, people might be talking about Hackenberg's excellent performance on the road and Allen Robinson's monster day (12 receptions, 173 yards, two touchdowns).

Indiana is not a good football team overall, but they can score against most Big Ten defenses. I'm not sure Michigan can duplicate that sort of offensive production against the Nittany Lions, who will almost certainly put up a better defensive performance this Saturday at home. On the other hand, Michigan will have to be ready to check Allen Robinson and prevent Zwinak and company from chipping away at the now Pipkins-less front seven.

Once again, it's a sign of the times that I'm worried about a game against a team that just lost to Indiana by 20.

Jump for the rest of the Big Ten slate. 

Shameless Self-Promotion Time: Minnesota

My recap of Michigan's 42-13 rout of Minnesota went up this morning at Maize n Brew. In retrospect, I think I allowed the first half to disproportionately affect my thinking; even when the game was "close," it really wasn't. Michigan wasn't completely horrid in any aspect of the game save for third down defense on Minnesota's touchdown drive. Zero turnovers was the biggest positive takeaway from this past weekend.

In any case, as unimpressive as Michigan has looked at times, 5-0 is 5-0, and two more very winnable games are coming up before Michigan's second open week. After that, the tough part of the schedule begins, when Michigan faces Michigan State, Nebraska, Northwestern, Iowa and Ohio State. Assuming Michigan wins the next two, a 3-2 record or better in the final quintet of games would make for a decent season. I'm not sure if a 6-2 conference record wins Michigan the division, but they've got as good of a shot as the other three contenders, especially if at least two of those wins come against teams from the Northwestern-Nebraska-Michigan State group.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Breaking Points: Little Brown Jug/Homecoming Edition

After spending the bye week focusing on the rest of the Big Ten (and simultaneously trying not to think about the Akron and UConn games), Michigan will returns to the Big House this Saturday for its Big Ten opener (and Homecoming).

The Gophers, on the other hand, ran through their weak nonconference schedule with ease, only to drop its own conference opener against Iowa last week in disappointing fashion. In the 23-7 loss at TCF Bank Stadium, the Gophers rushed for just 30 yards on 27 carries (40 yards on 18 if you remove QB Philip Nelson's numbers). For a Minnesota squad without much serious receiving talent, if you shut down the ground game, you're in business. After the Gophers ran a pass-heavy spread-type offense for some time, a return to this sort of ground-based football seems appropriate to me.

So, what will be the key matchups heading into this one, as the Wolverines look to cover what seems to be a generous 19-point spread? Once again, the same things will likely continue to pop up all season:

Chris Bryant vs. jumping into the starting lineup. This will be Bryant's first meaningful game action, which would be encouraging under ordinary circumstances. As it stands, Bryant is getting the start out of necessity, what with Jack Miller struggling at center, forcing a Graham Glasgow move to that spot so Bryant can slide in at left guard. How Glasgow adapts to the center position is another story entirely, but, at minimum, Bryant should bring quite a bit more run-blocking oomph at the guard spot (and it's not as if Glasgow was particularly bad at LG anyway). Assuming Bryant is truly healthy and ready to play, if he can give Michigan a boost this week, perhaps the Michigan ground game will start to trend upward at just the right time.

Michigan front seven vs. Minnesota ground game. Simply put, whether it's Philip Nelson or Mitch Leidner in the game, this will be a classic Big Ten "stop the run" game, written without a hint of snark. It's difficult to get a feel for what Leidner can really do in the passing game, given that he's only played against Western Illinois and San Jose State (12-for-20, 176 yards, 60%, 0 TDs, 0 INTs). Nelson, on the other hand, has struggled, completing just 50.8% of his passes and throwing four interceptions to just two touchdowns. For all of the consternation about the UConn game, the Wolverine defense actually held the Huskies passing game in check (Chandler Whitmer passed for just 5.0 yards per attempt); Greg Mattison's side of the ball will need another performance like that if the Wolverines plan on its first comfortable victory since the Central Michigan game.

At tailback, Donnell Kirkwood has been limited by an ankle injury since the opener, and carried the ball just three times for six yards against Iowa. Kirkwood had a decent 2012 season; if healthy, he could be a challenge, but not unless the quarterbacks offer any sort of relief. If Kirkwood can't go, Rodrick Williams Jr. (5.8 YPC) and David Cobb (5.8 YPC) will carry the mail. Cobb is 5'11 225, whereas Williams Jr. is 5'11 235. In short, expect several Desmond Morgan thumpacolypses.

Lastly, whether Nelson or Leidner (or both) enter the game, both will carry the ball quite a bit themselves. In five games, the two signal carries have carried it 42 and 46 times, respectively.

Devin Gardner vs. mistakes. This will continue to be a point of concern for the rest of the season. Without entering the discourse of what his confidence level must be like after Akron and UConn (and even the Notre Dame pick six if you'd like to include that), Gardner must have a clean, relatively mistake-free game. Despite having explosive DT Ra'Shede Hageman, the Gophers are just 108th in sacks, with six in five games. Gardner will have time, but time has often been Gardner's enemy. As spectacular as Gardner's touchdown strike to Drew Dileo was last season against Minnesota, I'll take some conservative dinking and dunking before any wild, desultory scrambling. At the same time, that is who Gardner is as a quarterback, and asking him not to improvise is like trying to bottle up the wind.

Iowa's Jake Rudock went 15-for-25 for 218 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Quite honestly, this would be an encouraging line for Gardner, especially if he connects on a big play or two like Rudock did.

Hageman vs. non-Lewan offensive linemen. Hageman is a defensive tackle but is a type who will probably do some moving around on the line. With that said, I wouldn't be surprised to see him lined up on the edges, although I'd bet not against Lewan. So, whether it's Schofield, Kalis, Glasgow or Bryant, if Michigan is going to avoid another parade of 2-yard losses, they must account for Hageman's quickness. He hasn't had an especially dominant season to date, with only one sack to his name, but he is tied for the team lead in tackles for loss (5.5). Given the smack talk that has gone on this week, Hageman will be looking to prove himself and up his stock against a name brand like Michigan (if you're into that line of thinking). I usually dismiss that sort of thing, but, after all, these players are people, not automatons derived from meticulous calculus.

Jehu Chesson vs. incorporation into the offense. There is a minor undercard of a story for this week, but Chesson's incremental incorporation into the swing of things should hopefully take another step forward this Saturday. With all due respect to Jeremy Jackson and Joe Reynolds, Michigan is much better served with Chesson on the field. He took a leap forward in that department against UConn, but wasn't quite able to make those plays downfield. The Gophers gave up a couple of big plays against Iowa, including a 74-yarder to Damond Powell. This Saturday will be another opportunity to build up some trust with the coaches--he's already proven himself as a surprisingly effective blocker--as the Wolverines start to approach the challenging part of the schedule.

Other than that, Michigan is a better football team, and the Iowa game last week shed light on the weaknesses of this Minnesota squad. If Philip Nelson is tearing Michigan up through the air--and I feel like I've said this thirty times this season already--then run for cover.

Minnesota's only somewhat productive receiver is the 6'2'' 187-pound senior Derrick Engel, and even he has just 12 grabs thus far (160 yards, 1 touchdown). Assuming Michigan locks down on him like they should, I don't know where the receiving production will come from for Minnesota.

Roll your eyes if you must, but if Michigan runs the ball with any success and stops the run, then they do have a pretty good chance to cover that spread. On the heels of the Gophers' 16-point loss at home against Iowa, maybe I'm being a bit pessimistic, but I need to see Michigan put it together for a whole game against an overmatched opponent before I can start to breathe easy again.

It's a bit strange to think that Gardner's debut came against Minnesota last season, and that a year later against that same team, there are more questions than answers regarding his play. Saturday will provide the first of many opportunities to beat back the ghosts of Akron and UConn.

I think Michigan looks much better than it did against either of those teams, but isn't quite what it was against Notre Dame. Score: Michigan 31, Minnesota 13. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Don't Know What You've Got

Little Brown Jug. #UMFootball

Source: Dave Hogg

For Michigan fans, the Minnesota series has been one of spoiled comfort marked by occasional hardship, hardship in the sense that a loss stands out like a flamingo among a waddle of penguins. In the grand scheme of things, Michigan's three losses against the Gophers since 1967 are kind of like getting comfortable on the couch to watch something on Netflix, only to realize your computer is about to die; you'll have to get up and plug it in. Sometimes you don't make it, as Jason Giannini has kicked your power cord out the window.

In my 24 years, the Wolverines have lost the Little Brown Jug just once, in 2005. Despite coming off of a big victory in East Lansing against the then No. 11 Spartans, the Wolverines were just 3-2 heading into the Minnesota game. Even so, the Wolverines still had a shot at winning a Big Ten title, despite stubbing their toe in Madison two weeks prior.

The year before, Henne and Hart's freshman season, the Minnesota game once again went down to the wire. Chad Henne struggled, tossing two interceptions in the third quarter. If I remember correctly, backup QB Clayton Richard even came into the game for a series, although the box score says he didn't throw a pass, and my vague memories of that day nine years ago shakily confirms that fact.

The Gophers collapsed down the stretch that season, but headed into the Big House with a shiny 5-0 record (Michigan was 4-1, its lone loss coming in South Bend before Mike Hart was Mike Hart).

Eventually, Henne led one of many comeback drives to come in his Michigan career. With 3:04 to go, Henne marched the Wolverines 67 yards to a score, capped by a 31-yard strike to pre-pitch-the-ball Tyler Ecker. As a sophomore in high school making my first trip to the Big House as a person old enough to remember and acknowledge the significance such a thing (I hadn't been since I was a little kid), the victory was the greatest sporting event I had seen live at that point. Then again, I was a Chicago sports fan growing up in a post-MJ world.

I didn't really understand what the Michigan fans of 1986 and and 1977 felt when the Wolverines lost the Jug, but I would find out the next season.

So, back to 2005. Steve Breaston returned a kickoff 95 yards for a score early in the second half to put Michigan up 20-13. However, a 13-play, 61-yard Minnesota drive tied things up with six minutes to play in the third quarter.

In the 4th, Garrett Rivas missed a 34-yarder that would've given Michigan the lead with about eight minutes to go. The miss would prove costly, not that you need reminding.

With Minnesota seemingly content to just run the ball and kill the remaining couple of minutes of clock, Gary Russell busted a 61-yarder as the Michigan defense seemed to collapse like a slowly deflating bouncy castle. I often wonder what was going through Russell's mind when he saw all that space before him. Is this real? Is this happening? What is the meaning of life? If a Michigan safety falls down in the forest and no one is around, does he make a sound? 

Only five seconds remained. Unlike Rivas, Minnesota PK Jason Giannini booted his 30-yarder through the uprights. On the ensuing kickoff, Steve Breaston was not able to duplicate his third quarter magic. The Wolverines lost ownership of the Jug for the first time since Jim Harbaugh wore the winged helmet.

In an altogether disappointing season--one that still ended with a shot at the Big Ten title when Ohio State came to town, mind you--that loss still sticks in my mind more than a relatively inconsequential loss should. The Notre Dame game was simply bad football against what turned out to be a solid Fighting Irish squad. The Wisconsin game can easily be chalked up to playing at a venue like Camp Randall during Barry Alvarez' swan song in Madison. The Ohio State game was crushing for the simple fact that it was Ohio State, and Michigan had the game in its hands late.

With all of that said, there's something about losing the Jug in the way that they lost it, my sarcastic hardship analogy notwithstanding. It was nonsensical, avoidable, and truly unbelievable, and not in the colloquial sense of something happening that could be believed if you think about it for just a little bit.

As painful as it is to lose the Jug, every event has its equal and opposite reaction; in no place is this more tidily accurate than in sports.

Think of how the Gophers felt in 2005, or in 1986 when they upset the undefeated, No. 2 Wolverines in the Big House. If you cannot muster the energy to care for the Jug from Michigan's vantage, think of what it means for the other side.

Back in 2004, when I didn't quite understand the meaning of the Jug, and how this could be considered a "rivalry" game at all, what I did understand was that Ecker's touchdown score was a great thing, something I'd seen and experienced live. I remember him catching the Henne bullet, shrugging two tacklers and rumbling down the left sideline--right from my perspective in the end zone--and into the end zone. The crowd roared for perhaps the first time all game. For a 14-year-old, waking up at 6 a.m. is never part of the plan; at certain points in the first half, I felt as if I might fall asleep.

I also wondered why no one was standing, but that is a gripe for another day.

As with all things, once you have it, you must keep it, lest you find out what it is to go without. Despite having won 16 in a row coming into the 2005 game, one less sent the Jug back to the Twin Cities.

The Jug is truly a supernatural thing, for with it comes the power to roll up 16 seasons into one, to negate a long steady march in one fell swoop.

Although Michigan's contests against the Gophers since 2003-05 haven't been particularly competitive, that doesn't mean that the game hasn't accrued value over time. Michigan enters this game a 19-point favorite, and Wolverine fans hope that is a reasonable assessment.

But, the Jug knows nothing of point spreads or favorites and underdogs or AP polls or relative numbers of All-Americans.

All the Jug knows, in the darkness within its painted exterior, is that it must be awarded, to one or the other. It isn't the Lombardi Trophy or the Stanley Cup, nor does it pretend to be. On Saturday, both of those crowning achievements of their respective sports will mean very little to me, because I want the Jug to stay in Ann Arbor, almost as much as I don't want it go.

In case you need one more external reason to care, remember Glen Mason in 2003:
"I'd just like to see the thing before I die."