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Monthly Archives: October 2009

CancerKicker

I don’t have much in the way of content today — Illinois is really bad, Michigan is mediocre, and we should win — but the above came in the mail today. Again, I encourage you to head over to Multiple Myeloma for Dummies and order a bracelet or two (or more) to support former Michigan kicker Phillip Brabbs’ fight against cancer. I can’t imagine what he’s going through right now, but he’s taking the time to personally sign each note that goes out with the bracelet — honestly, I was moved just opening the letter. Even if you’re not the bracelet-wearing type, order one so you can claim to own some Brabbs-signed swag.

I’m out for the weekend. Go Blue!

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Kovacs, and whoever else plays safety, needs to keep the ball in front of them.

Jordan Kovacs, and whoever else plays safety, needs to keep the ball in front of them.

I hate to even do this, but before I hit the keys for Saturday, it’s time to look back at last week’s game:

  1. Get pressure on Darryl Clark — Michigan recorded two sacks against Clark, and the defense actually did a solid job of getting in his face most of the afternoon. The breakdowns in pass defense don’t fall on the shoulders of the defensive line, just the linebackers and secondary (and possibly the coaches as well).
  2. Make a big play in the return game — Didn’t happen. Even with Carlos Brown returning kickoffs, the team couldn’t muster a return longer than 26 yards on a day when the offense desperately needed the good field position.
  3. Punch it in — Two scores (one TD, one FG) in four red zone chances is simply not going to cut it against a team as good as Penn State.
  4. Slow down the pass rush — Penn State sacked Forcier five times, and Michigan got nothing going in the screen game.
  5. Get off the field — Michigan didn’t do terribly on third down, limiting Penn State to 5 conversions on 15 chances, but it wasn’t exactly a stellar effort, either. The Wolverines put forth a strong effort early, giving the offense several chances to make it a game, but fell apart late. The first touchdown of the second half came on a 3rd and 9 from the 11-yard line, and Penn State converted three third-downs on their last drive to really milk the clock before hitting a field goal.

Well, that was ugly — at best, Michigan gets a 2/5 on the day. Let’s move on to Illinois:

  1. Run, run, run — Michigan still has the 9th best rush offense in the country, and Illinois’ run defense gives up over 185 yards per game (101st nationally). The Wolverines need to get back to doing what they do best on offense — running the zone read successfully and basing everything else on that success. I expect to see a lot of touches for Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown, and expect a 100-yard day out of at least one of them.
  2. Keep the Illini off the board early — I’m sure Illinois will be very geared up for an opportunity to knock off Michigan for their first FBS victory of the season, especially at home in a late afternoon game on Halloween. Michigan couldn’t stop their offense last year, so if Illinois scores early, it may just give them the confidence to play far above their level of play so far this year. If the Wolverines can stop the Illini early, and maybe force them to switch up quarterbacks a couple times, it’s likely that Illinois will play like the 113th-best scoring offense in the country.
  3. Show me something, safeties — Michigan has spent the last several weeks unsuccessfully trying to mask the weakness at safety, even going so far as to essentially turn Donovan Warren into a deep cover guy last week while subbing Boubacar Cissoko in for Mike Williams (and moving Troy Woolfolk back to safety) on third downs. With Cissoko gone, Michigan doesn’t have that option anymore, so Williams and Jordan Kovacs will have to show a better ability to keep the play in front of them and play their assignment. If the safeties can’t improve from their disastrous performance last weekend, it could be a long day for Michigan’s defense.
  4. Get the outside receivers involved — No Michigan outside receiver has more than 15 catches (Greg Mathews, and seven of those came last week), and both Junior Hemingway and Darryl Stonum have essentially disappeared as the season has wore on. Hemingway practiced this week and should be good to go after that scary collision with Warren last week. Tate needs to get the ball to these guys — the whole point of the spread offense is to spread the field vertically and horizontally (duh). Without any threat from the outside guys, the vertical threat becomes moot, and the offense bogs down. I’d like to see at least five catches out of one of the outside receivers, and for all three to get involved in the offense.
  5. Just go for it — This game is a must-win for Rich Rodriguez and his staff at this point. Illinois is so bad that a loss would be catastrophic for his public perception, and a sign that the 4-0 start was a whole lot of luck. I’d like to see the coaching staff pulling no punches on this one — empty the bag of tricks, go for it on fourth down, fake a punt, slip an onsides kick in there somewhere, whatever it takes to give this team a spark. If the team loses while sitting back, I’ll go bananas. Please don’t make me go bananas.

It’s about time for a victory, and if Michigan doesn’t get one here, I don’t know where they’re going to find one. Michigan 34, Illinois 17.

Juice Williams and the Illini have struggled mightily to put points on the board.

Juice Williams and the Illini have struggled mightily to put points on the board.

This week’s edition of The Numbers Game looks at how well Michigan measures up to the Fighting Illini. Big chart? Yes, please.

[table id=14 /]

*Strength of Schedule taken from CBSSports.com's rankings

Legend:

Difference between 0-10 in national rank: Push
Difference between 11-25 in national rank: michiganlogothumb
Difference between 26-50 in national rank: michiganlogothumbmichiganlogothumb
Difference between 50-100 in national rank: michiganlogothumbmichiganlogothumbmichiganlogothumb
Difference greater than 100 in national rank: michiganlogothumbmichiganlogothumbmichiganlogothumbmichiganlogothumb

The Upshot:

Uh, that’s a lot of M’s? I said last week that it was rare to see a statistical breakdown paint such a clear picture of a game as the breakdown between Penn State and Michigan. Well, this week’s breakdown paints an even clearer picture: Illinois is very, very bad. They’ve won exactly one game this season. That game was against Illinois State. The closest they’ve been to a victory against an FBS team is 10 points (they’ve lost 24-14 twice, against MSU and Purdue). They can’t score, and they can’t defend. They can’t even put together a decent return (although, for some reason, they can cover kickoffs).

Simply put, if Michigan loses this game, than all of a sudden the howls of discontent that sounded after the Penn State game gain credence. I still maintain that they were not legitimate last week, but if we lose, somebody needs to be held accountable. The 2009 Illini are even worse statistically than the 2008 Wolverines and the 2007 Fighting Irish. I fully expect a bounce-back victory, and a resounding one at that. Anything less will be very, very disconcerting.

Rank Team Delta
1 Alabama
2 Florida
3 Texas
4 Boise State
5 Iowa
6 Cincinnati 1
7 Southern Cal 1
8 TCU 2
9 LSU
10 Penn State 3
11 Oregon
12 Georgia Tech
13 Oklahoma State 1
14 Virginia Tech 1
15 Ohio State 2
16 Pittsburgh 5
17 Utah 2
18 Houston
19 Miami (Florida) 11
20 West Virginia 3
21 South Carolina 3
22 Arizona
23 Mississippi
24 Central Michigan
25 Notre Dame
Last week’s ballot

Dropped Out: Brigham Young (#16), South Florida (#20), Kansas (#22), Texas Tech (#25).

Moving Up (and In): Not a whole lot of upward movement this week. I think I was underrating Pitt earlier, so they rise five spots (and will inevitably drop a game and make me look like a fool). Penn State also impressed me last week (obviously), so they rise a few spots — that one loss to Iowa looks better by the week.

Moving Down (and Out): Miami takes a big hit after losing to Clemson, a game they really should’ve have dropped after the insane schedule they had early in the season. I thought they were better than that. BYU, USF, Kansas, and Texas Tech all exit the poll after losses. I’m now angry I included TT in the first place, as they got blown out by a pathetically bad Texas A&M squad.

Games Watched: Michigan-Penn State, Alabama-Tennessee, Texas-Mizzou, USC-Oregon State

Justin Feagin, Sam McGuffie, and Boubacar Cissoko are just three of the players now gone from the Class of 2008.

Justin Feagin, Sam McGuffie, and Boubacar Cissoko are just three of the players now gone from the Class of 2008.

Michigan’s 2008 recruiting class was the #10 overall class in the country according to Rivals.com, and was supposed to breathe some life into the program after a sub-par recruiting effort in 2007. The 24-man class boasted 17 four-star recruits, YouTube sensation Sam McGuffie, some very quality prospects snapped up on signing day, and even an athlete projected to play quarterback. On my old website, I projected individual player outcomes from the class based on numbers from the previous decade of Michigan recruiting — these projections now read somewhere between side-splittingly hilarious and profoundly sad. The class is down to 17 men. The casualties are as follows, in order of exit from the program:

  1. Taylor Hill, 4*, No. 21 OLB — Just a couple days after Michigan’s season-opening loss to Utah, Hill decided to transfer closer to home, landing with hometown Youngstown State, an FCS team.
  2. Marcus Witherspoon, 4*, No. 20 OLB — Witherspoon could not qualify academically at Michigan, and transferred to Rutgers. He has yet to play for the Scarlet Knights, and has battled a shoulder injury that required surgery last October.
  3. Sam McGuffie, 4*, No. 10 all-purpose back — We all know the story of McGuffie, who came in with great fanfare and had a breakout game against Notre Dame in 2008, but battled multiple concussions and transferred to Rice in January of this year.
  4. Dann O’Neill, 4*, No. 10 offensive tackle — O’Neill announced his intention to transfer in June of this year, and officially made the move to Western Michigan in July, stating that he thought Western was a better fit for him.
  5. Kurt Wermers, 3*, No. 37 offensive guard — Wermers transferred to Ball State in July, and made some very critical comments about the coaching staff on his way out. Soon after his transfer, it was revealed that Wermers was academically ineligible. I will withhold further comment.
  6. Justin Feagin, 3*, No. 41 athlete — Feagin was dismissed from the team in late July for “violating team rules”. Those “team rules” turned out to be attempting to buy cocaine from a friend in Florida. Feagin attempted to transfer to Appalachian State, but was not admitted due to academic and legal concerns.
  7. Boubacar Cissoko, 4*, No. 4 cornerback — Cissoko was kicked off the team today for violating team rules after missing team meetings and class.

It is far too early to judge the Class of ’08, as many of the players from that class have yet to find an opportunity to see the field. However, it’s tough to feel optimistic about this class. Of the 17 players still on the team, only Darryl Stonum, Kevin Koger, Michael Shaw, and Martavious Odoms (and maybe J.T. Floyd, if you’re being generous) have had a major impact on the field. There’s not really any one person to pin blame on here — I don’t really think anybody saw this coming, and I don’t know how they could have. However, the lack of depth in the ’08 class, coupled with the thin ’07 class, could really hamper Michigan’s development over the next couple years.

Cissoko "missed class, missed workouts" according to his high school coach.

Cissoko "missed class, missed workouts" according to Thomas Wilcher, his high school coach at Cass Tech.

Well, Michigan’s depth at secondary is now even thinner, as the Detroit Free Press is reporting that Boubacar Cissoko has been dismissed from the team:

Sophomore cornerback Boubacar Cissoko has been kicked off the Michigan football team, his high school coach, Thomas Wilcher of Detroit Cass Tech said tonight.

“He missed class, missed workouts,” said Wilcher, who said he spoke to a U-M assistant coach and Cissoko today.

I don’t have a lot to add to this one — Cissoko was given ample opportunity by the coaching staff to get his act together, and in the end, he didn’t. It’s disappointing, since despite his struggles this season he has a lot of talent and could have been a major contributor down the road. Hopefully, he’ll land on his feet somewhere and learn from his experience at Michigan. Wilcher put it much more bluntly, saying, “Now he’s got to make something, because he blew it.” He certainly did.

Hopefully Michigan can get some players to step up at corner, because the depth chart is in dire straits now: If Donovan Warren leaves after this season, the Wolverines will only return Troy Woolfolk, J.T. Floyd, Justin Turner, Teric Jones, and James Rodgers (who just switched over from receiver) at the cornerback position. In other words, it’s time to start begging Warren to stick out his senior season.

Forcier has struggled against some very stout Big Ten defenses.

Forcier has struggled against some very stout Big Ten defenses.

A few weeks ago, I took a look at how Tate Forcier compared to other notable true freshman quarterbacks through five games. His stats compared favorably to pretty much everyone, including Chad Henne. Now that Michigan has hit the toughest part of their schedule, Forcier has seemingly taken a step back, at least in terms of numbers (I think the notion that he has “regressed” to be laughable — he went from playing against MAC teams and Indiana to Penn State and Iowa. The fact that he is not putting up the same numbers is not a surprise). First, let’s take a look at the numbers through five games, and then we’ll see how Tate — and the rest of the notable freshmen — stack up through eight games (NOTE: added Robert Griffin III, who should’ve been included in the first place):

[table id=1 /]

And now, these same players’ stats through eight games:

[table id=12 /]

*Record reflects only games in which the quarterback participated.

The first thing that jumps out at me: the quarterbacks seemed to regress towards the mean (now, what the mean exactly is for a true frosh QB, I have no idea). Forcier and Henne both dropped significantly, with Pryor and Griffin having very minor regressions, while Stafford and Quinn saw their stats improve after terrible starts. Through five games, the above quarterbacks had an average passer efficiency rating of 121.55. After eight games? 117.77. Now, this is a tiny sample size, so it’s very tough to take much away from this, but a slight regression makes sense: most of these QBs (Clausen and Quinn being the exceptions) play in major conferences, and the extra three games come in the heart of in-conference play, while the first five games are mostly comprised of non-conference games, which tend to be easier.

The other things to take away? Despite two pretty terrible games sandwiched around a one-drive cameo against Delaware State, Forcier still is in the clear upper echelon on freshmen quarterbacks. With the exception of Juice Williams, all of these quarterbacks became all-conference level performers by their final seasons (with the jury still out on Griffin and Pryor, of course). Stop freaking out, people. We still have a very talented freshman quarterback — but he’s just that, a freshman quarterback.