Sunday, October 07, 2012

Suck it, Vegas

When I was a junior in high school, I took a possibly unhealthy interest in Drew Brees because he was so amazingly good; he was throwing (based on memory) about 100 passes a game and completing about 80 of them for about 50 bajillion yards, in the process taking an average-ish Purdue team to an Outback Bowl via sheer awesomeness.

Michigan's fifth game that year was against a Purdue team that was ranked 10th entirely because of its Brees-iness and hadn't yet been established to be average-ish. I was pretty concerned; a 38-12 win later, I was ... umm ... slightly less concerned. It was not really competitive at any point, and I don't think I've ever been concerned about Purdue at any point since then despite a couple random losses and a couple fortunate wins. Purdue is Purdue.
. . . . . 

My typical game-week routine goes something like this: reading the MGoBlog UFRs on Tuesday/Wednesday, counting the hours until the game starts on Thursday, imbibing some preview-type materials on Friday, getting that I'm-kinda-concerned-about-this-game feeling sporadically throughout the rest of Friday, planning how to avoid work long enough to consume the entire game without interruption Friday night and then sleeping until as close to game time as possible Saturday morning.

This week's schedule went something like this: Watching the entirety of Season 8 of "The Office" on Tuesday and Wednesday, working a lot on Thursday, briefly perusing the MGoBlog preview on Friday, feeling no concern whatsoever about the possibility of losing at any point Friday afternoon/evening, getting up at the usual time Saturday morning, watching Michigan State come back from 17 down to beat Indiana (?!?) and then coming to the realization that "oh hey the game starts in like 20 minutes." I was unconcerned.

The line was Michigan -3 despite Michigan being one stupid play against Notre Dame from being in the top 15 and Purdue being a seemingly mediocre team with a resume consisting of a somewhat-comparable loss to Notre Dame, a 10-point win over a crappy version of Marshall and a lot of very meh numbers. I didn't get it.

I was right.
. . . . .

That was ... like ... satisfying? Yeah, that seems about right. One of the things that ceased existing for about four years was the gratification that comes with watching Michigan just kick the crap out of a vaguely competitive Big Ten team. Beating Purdue by five touchdowns in a game that was 21-0 when Purdue got its second first down? That's kicking the crap out of a vaguely competitive Big Ten team.

It was over after Michigan's first possession, a nine-minute, 17-play touchdown drive on which it became clear that (a) Al Borges used the bye week to remember that the veer should be the offense's base play, (b) Denard was throwing the ball pretty accurately and (c) Michigan's O-line was flat-out better than Purdue's front seven. Fact: Any game in which Michigan has the better line play and commits to the read-option run game from start to finish is going to end with Michigan ahead. IT'S SCIENCE.

The first drive featured 10 veer-based plays and a couple perfect throws on a third-and-7 and a fourth-and-8; the second featured five, the first of which was a 38-yard Denard run to the Purdue 25, and a third-and-11 completion to the Purdue 1 that basically established that the Michigan offense was gonna do whatever it wanted.

There's been some debate on the Michigan-centric interwebs about why Denard can go for 235 yards in the same game in which Fitz Toussaint finishes with 19 on 17 carries; in other words, Y U SUCK TOUSSAINT? His numbers this year are thoroughly unimpressive: Even without playing against Bama (DUI suspension), he's averaging 3.3 yards per carry and has now had two games with almost exactly a 1.0-per-carry average. Not good.

But here's the thing about those two games (Air Force being the other): Denard put up a cumulative 453 rushing yards (!) in those games. And here's a very brief explanation of why (note the playside defensive end, the nickel guy shifted out over the slot and the deep safety):

That was Denard's 38-yarder, BTW. And here's another example, this time with Jeremy Gallon coming across for the veer mesh (he's at the top of the screen here along with two Purdue guys keeping contain):

There is no possible way the jet guy is getting the corner there; there's also no possible way a Denard keep on that play is getting held under five yards. No chance.

Aaaand the money shot (this would have resulted in maybe one yard for Toussaint but instead resulted in 59 yards for Denard, who's accelerating forward from the 36):

That's not a recommendable way to defend Michigan but is what Purdue chose to do and what Air Force chose to do and what some other teams will, for some reason, choose to do. That's also why Toussaint getting totally shut down equals Denard going ham and why the veer option should be the base play when the guy taking snaps is the best running quarterback in the history of ever. Keeping an extra linebacker and/or safety on the interior to limit Denard is gonna result in giving up the edge sometimes, which is why Toussaint went for 4.5 yards a carry against a legit Notre Dame front seven; the alternative is the pictures above. I'm fine with the alternative.

Other things I'm fine (or more than fine) with: the designed Denard draw on third-and-5 from the Purdue 7 on the first drive, the three bubble screens to Gallon that reminded Purdue to keep a nickel guy out there while Denard ran wild and Denard's accuracy when given time to throw. All three of Michigan's meaningful touchdown drives included a third- or fourth-and-long completion that was an effectually perfectly thrown laser on a pattern that took some not-insignificant amount of time to develop. Said completions also were aided to some extent by the minimal pass rush generated by a complete lack of blitzing and a couple mediocre ends, so it's possible that Purdue just had zero idea of what to do against Denard. Still ... I mean ... yes plz.

More of all that stuff would be ideal. May Denard get protection and may Al Borges have long-term amnesia for the next two months and remember nothing other than the Purdue results and the Notre Dame results, the latter of which otherwise shall never be spoken of again. Denard + veer + interior protection = win.

As for the defense, Greg Mattison FTW. Purdue's actual drives in the first half went as follows: three and out, three and out, first first down of the game followed immediately by a fourth-down pick six, seven-play drive (aided by a terrible review of what should've been an incompletion) that resulted in a field goal, three and out. The only touchdown was on a 36-yard drive after a Michigan fumble on botched mesh point when it was 28-3. At no point did Purdue's offense produce any sort of consistent yardage/momentum, as evidenced by this hilarious stat: The short-field touchdown notwithstanding, it was a hook-and-lateral at the 2:01 mark of the third quarter that gave Purdue more first downs than Michigan had touchdowns for the first time in the game. No joke.

All the stuff I felt better about after the Notre Dame game I feel, um, more better about now. The Purdue running game did absolutely nothing (2.2 yards a carry) and the passing game went for a terrible 4.5 yards an attempt, a number pretty indicative of the standard 4-yard-hook-followed-by-an-immediate-tackle play. Again: At no point did Purdue's offense produce any sort of consistent yardage/momentum. Michigan didn't generate much of a pass rush outside of Jake Ryan's typical awesomeness, but it wasn't really necessary since the coverage was good to excellent and the front six (Michigan spent most of the game in a nickel look) needed little to no help to make the running game irrelevant. Quinton Washington and Will Campbell have become reasonably effective (gasp!) on the interior,  the linebackers are looking more like the linebackers of last year than the linebackers of the first two weeks of this year and the secondary has suffered minimally (if at all) from Blake Countess' knee destruction a few weeks ago. I like. I like very much.

I also like having a punter averaging 49.3 yards a BOOM, a kicker who's automatic from 42 yards and in and a borderline-elite kick returner who will score at some point this season, preferably in a game in which it'll matter. Woo special teams!

Anyway, the defense: It's improved to something resembling good. Michigan is now 19th in yardage and 37th in scoring after giving up roughly 100,000 cumulative rushing yards and 400 points against Bama and Air Force, with most of that statistical improvement coming from games against an average Notre Dame offense (lol Miami) and an above-average Purdue one. And outside of Nebraska and Ohio State, there's not an offense on the remaining schedule that's any more intimidating/effective than either of those two. I'll actually be surprised with finishes worse than 30th in either category, although that's of little importance in the big picture.

What's of a lot of importance: the two games following next week's should-be obliteration of Illinois. The division's gonna be decided by the Michigan/Michigan State/Nebraska Round Robin of Death that will be held in its entirety on October 21 and October 28, and considering what I just saw from Purdue and what I've seen all season from Wisconsin, the winner of that thing is going to the Rose Bowl. I'd prefer it'd be Michigan, obvsly.

I like Michigan and Denard and Rose Bowls. I like those things together even more.


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