Get The Lowdown On Big Blue With MGOBlog

In the sports blogosphere, Brian Cook is somewhat of a legend. In the college football blog world, his Michigan blog – MGOBlog is the gold standard by which all other blogs are measured against. He tends to cover the opposing teams better then th opposing teams’ blogs do. Such was the case with his downright slamming of our coaching staff while breaking down game tape of our game at Penn State – check it out here. We’re thrilled to have Brian back here at LTP to share some insights on the intriguing match-up between the ‘Cats and Michigan. Let’s dive right in to it…

LTP: Devin Gardner vs Denard Robinson – With the Wildcats stellar rush defense and relatively weak (but vastly improved if VanHoose plays) defense, I would think we’d rather be facing Denard as crazy as that may seem. Put yourself in our shoes and tell us who we’d rather play? Also, what’s your thought on Denard’s playing time this Saturday.

MGB: Denard. While Gardner had a pretty good day against Minnesota, it was one heavily aided by an irregularly spectacular outing from the WRs. Meanwhile, Michigan was under 100 yards rushing on the day before a garbage time fourth and one carry broke long. Even if Gardner can be relied upon to be better in the passing game–debatable since the guy has been a wide receiver since September–Michigan’s rushing game starts and ends with Denard.

Denard’s struggled attempting to transition to what Borges wants but has been relatively fine after the ND game caused everyone to pull their horns in. It’s tough operating behind Michigan’s erratic offensive line.

LTP: The ‘Cats have been dinged up badly in the secondary this year, despite the unit improving pretty dramatically. We played pretty soft on the corners for the first half of the game and I expect more of the same on Saturday. How will Denard or Gardner make us pay if we employ this approach?

MGB: They probably won’t much. Michigan doesn’t like the WR screen game and the quick passing game is tough for Michigan to execute consistently because their wide receivers are small and the QBs not very accurate. It’s been frustrating when opponents like ND have laid way off the WRs and stacked the box without Michigan taking the free yards on the outside, and I don’t think that’ll change.

LTP: From a stats standpoint, the ‘Cats and Wolverines are pretty damn similar. We’re both atrocious in passing, but boast very solid running games. We’re both above average in rush defense, but the big disparity is obviously pass defense, where you’re #1 in the entire country. Break down the reasons you’ve been so effective against the pass.

MGB: Michigan hasn’t played a single competent quarterback other than AJ McCarron, and McCarron spent 3/4ths of that game handing off after Michigan fell behind huge. Other opponents: Air Force, UMass, Notre Dame, Purdue, Illinois, Michigan State, and Minnesota. Taylor Martinez is by far the best QB Michigan has faced.

So the pass D is pretty illusory. What isn’t illusory is that Mattison’s blitz packages often get free rushers while rushing just four and that Michigan rarely gives up big plays thanks to their utterly reliable safety duo. The corners look like they can be had on deep stuff somewhat but no one has managed to hit their fly routes yet.

LTP: Top three surprises to you this year.

MGB:  1. The defensive tackles. Everyone thought they’d be a wholesale disaster, but they’ve been somewhere between serviceable and downright good. I don’t think I’d swap DT pairings with more than two or three teams in the league; before the season that number was nine or ten.

2. The veteran linebackers have come on after fighting tooth and nail to keep their playing time early. Desmond Morgan is rounding into an all conference player.

3. Everyone expected Jake Ryan to take a major leap forward, but even so he has exceeded expectations. He’s a beast, currently leading the B10 in TFLs and grading out like a boss when I do my PBP breakdowns.

LTP: Top three disappointments.

MGB: 1. Interior offensive line. Michigan flipped a guard out to tackle and lost Rimington winner David Molk. The replacements have been underwhelming to say the least.

2. Denard and Borges not finding more common ground in year two.

3. Fitz Toussaint isn’t getting much help from the line but he’s not generating much on his own either.

LTP: I’m assuming you’ll have a spy on Colter – who will it be? Break down the weak spots, if any, on your defense that you expect us to exploit.

MGB: Michigan doesn’t have a super fast WLB type and loves to zone blitz so it will change based on the playcall. Sometimes it’ll be the ILBs, sometimes it’ll be the DEs fading off the LOS. Michigan is more of an “anything can happen” defense than something you can just point to and say this guy will do X, this guy will do Y.

The weak spot is corner, where Michigan has a senior with only okay athleticism and a sophomore who will blow zone coverages from time to  time. The nickelback is decent and experienced, which offsets some weakness in the starters. Also, Michigan does not have a great solution at weakside DE right now, so pass rush organically generated from the front four is rare.

 LTP: Finish this sentence. Northwestern wins on Saturday if they prevent __________ from ___________

MGB: Michigan’s linebackers from flowing to the ball. Given the pass offense NW has–Nebraska is NU this year, remember–if Northwestern is going to put up enough points to win it’ll have to be on the ground, and Michigan’s linebackers are flowing clean thanks to a bunch of Mattison slants. Get to them and you’ve got a chance.

LTP: Match-ups you like and match-ups you loathe.

MGB: I like the Michigan defense matching up against the NW offense as a whole. They’re a lot better on bubble screens and the like this year, their scariest issue is corners getting beat over the top, which the Wildcats don’t seem poised to exploit, and they’ve seen a lot of spread ‘n’ shred offenses already. The only non-Alabama team to put up more than 13 points on Michigan was Nebraska, who had 23 with field goal drives of 2 and 5 yards. I’ll be surprised if the Wildcats crack 20.

I loathe Michigan’s rushing offense against anyone. Minnesota is atrocious–they’ve given up at least 6.4 YPC in all Big Ten games except Michigan. Michigan averaged 4.0 (if you chop out garbage time) or 4.7 YPC (if you leave it in). That sucks. Michigan’s flirting with changes on the OL. Those changes consist of inserting a redshirt freshman center or a 6’1″ walk-on. It’s going to be a grind.

/shakes fist at Rodriguez recruiting four OL over two years, two of whom were off the team within a year of showing up; a third is out for the year

LTP: Predicitions?

MGB: A grim struggle that Michigan grinds out eventually, but does not cover. 23-14.

LTP: Thanks for the insights, you actually offerred quite a bit of confidence until you got to the predictions. Seriously, great stuff and we appreciate the time and effort.

  • pfoley

    Dude is good with his analysis, but he consistently and completely forgets that Michigan gave up 25 to air force.

    • Doug

      I think he just thinks it doesn’t count because Air Force is an option team. (Dear Mick McCall, Please, for the love of God, run the option every play this week until Michigan proves they can stop it. Thank You. -Doug)

      • If Northwestern came out with an option spread that might be a pretty effective offense against this team, since it essentially put pressure on the true sophomore WDE platoon (Frank and Beyer) and Jake Ryan to play assignment ball. Options tend to work better against younger ends, and in this case would probably neutralize the best thing Michigan’s defense has going for it as far as star power, which is Jake Ryan: Viking Mode.

        That said, Michigan was more expecting this out of Nebraska, who are basically Northwestern with more talent and whom Michigan played recently. Air Force on the other hand was a dedicated Flexbone/I-form Triple-Option team we played immediately after Alabama. The coaches admitted that was more on their defensive gameplan–and not enough time to prepare for a dedicated strange offense–than the players themselves. It’s not really that applicable to this game, except those afore mentioned sophomores whose edge responsibility can maybe be tested. That doesn’t have to just be option–our guys are good because they’re well-coached and instinctive, but not particularly fast–Mark is capable of getting the corner on them.

  • cebpd

    Northwestern always wins 1 game a year that they shouldn’t, against a solid team. MSU/Illinois aren’t solid teams. Michigan is pretty solid. NU shouldn’t win this game. It’s the NU law of relativity. Need I say more?

    NU in a Cardiac Cat Thriller.

    • Dave

      We also consistently lose to one bad team. Our losses this year are to solid teams and Michigan and MSU definitely aren’t bad teams. If we lose to Illinois that would be extremely depressing.

      I think this might be the first year where we just beat teams worse (or close) to us and lose to teams that are better (or close) than us.

  • nwujames

    I hopped over to the MGOBlog. I have to say that it looks like the tide for NU is turning with respect to the how we’re perceived outside the NU community. All the comments were around the various threats NU posses tomorrow.

    Just a few years ago we’d be scheduled for everyone’s homecoming games, and even when we were doing well, I’d catch remarks about “it’s just Northwestern.” More and more it seems like people are getting the message – we’re the real deal. And, I think we’re just getting better.

    Check out a funny post over at the Campaign Room (I think they need more than Campaign with how their season is going….):

    It’s not at all lost on me that an NU alum had to correct their grammar. :)

    • Hudie

      I wish I could agree…
      I had dinner with 2 U-M fans last weekend, and they both couldn’t remember the last time NU made a bowl game.
      They were shocked when I said we’ve made it four years in a row.

    • Ace and Heiko are younger, but Brian and I are both old enough to have been shaped dramatically by the mid-’90s and the 2000 game. We’ve been overtly and overly respectful to Northwestern since before Pat Fitzgerald. About the gloomiest thing we’ve said about you guys in my years is that some of your recent secondaries were comparable to some of our recent secondaries (not a compliment).

      • nwujames

        Much appreciated. Cheers! :)

  • GreenLantern

    If you haven’t read MGoBlog’s recap of NU’s season and in particular the PSU game, go read it (the link at the top of this article). Great analysis, and has me very fired up for a big game tomorrow.

    • Technically speaking, that was not Brian, but Ace the guy he hired to cover recruiting and basketball.

      Michigan fan here, but you guys are impressive and I’d like to think the third best (eligible for postseason) team in the conference. Granted, in this year’s Big Ten that doesn’t mean much. Terrible luck tomorrow, but good luck the rest of the way.