Friday, October 3, 2014

Lazy Man's Michigan Preview: Rutgers

This song has been running through my head all week.

I've been struggling all week with how to approach this post. Like most Michigan fans I've gone from pissed to appalled to utter flabbergasted this week.

I've had numerous discussions about, what SBNation has been calling The Michigan Mess this week. It's been terrible. The nice thing is I haven't had to defend the school or position or anything. Even the Ohio State fan in my office (it's Vegas there aren't many B1G folks around) we've both agreed it's bad.

Bottom line is, I'm pissed.

I'm pissed that Dave still has a job after he bus-tossed his head football coach.

I'm pissed about how he handled yet another PR crisis. I work in advertising and PR. I know what "defining the brand" is all about. The handling of this situation by Dave has certainly not been a Master's class on how to handle a crisis. It's down right embarrassing.

I'm pissed Hoke still has his job. Although I've come around to that fact that he's done at the end of the year and it doesn't do anyone any good to have him gone at this point. Insofar that he doesn't play anymore concussed players.

Pissed!

I'm not going to tell you anything you don't already know about the situation. These things tend to work themselves out one way or another.

Now Brady Hoke takes his 2-3 football team on the road. Where he is not good. There will be a bit of a spot light on East Rutherford Saturday night. Let's see how it plays out.

Michigan Wolverines (2-3, 0-1 B1G) @ Rutgers Scarlet Knights (4-1, 0-1 B1G)
High Point Solutions Stadium, Saturday, 10/4 7:00 pm ET BTN

Offense
I was just going to have this section say "Don't play only 10 concussed players", but that seemed disingenuous. Although true, I decided to have an actual perspective on it.

Gardner is back. Which is good. Despite his turnover proneness, he can make plays. And this offense needs plays. The good news is Rutgers defense is just 65th in defensive FEI rankings. That's a few slot above Purdue.

For perspective, Michigan's opponents are ranked as such: Appy St (118), ND (10), NTM (92), Utah (9) and MN (16). Michigan is ranked 25th. So for as good as we feel Michigan's D is, their three losses have come against better defenses. We are going to find out if the offense can only be successful against really crappy teams or against average teams. We now know it won't move an inch against a good one. Let's see where they stack up against a middling one.

Rutgers is 10th in the conference in rush defense and 13th in passing. There is a chance here for the offense to have success. That said they are second in tackles for loss. Look for Nuss to try and get Smith/Green going early and use quick passes and screens to keep the heat off Gardner.

Defense
The Rutgers offense is just kinda "eh?" They sit in the middle of the conference in scoring, total, rushing and passing offense. And with QB Gary Nova's fondness for throwing to the other team, the defense should once again look to keep the Wolverines in the game.

Michigan is last in the NCAA in turnover margin with over -2 per game. They have yet to recover a fumble. Some of that is luck. But man, can someone put a helmet on the football? For the record Rutgers ranks 101st in the same category. There's a chance.

The defense is going to have to win games for this team. And until they start generating more turnovers, the L's are going to continue to pile up. (It goes without saying that the offense has to stop turning it over.)

Special Teams
Here's some good news Michigan is second best in the conference in per punt yard average. And is actually 21st in the country. How great is that? Great right?

Yeah Hagerup.

Then you look at opponent punt returns and see that Michigan is 114th in the nation and dead last in the conference. Giving up 15.25 yds per return. I'm not sure if this will cause me to scream louder or not at all if I see another punt from the 37 yd line. You go get that 20 yards of field position!

Yeah Dinosaur Punt!

Rutgers is middling on special teams. But I believe this will be a close game so special teams will have an impact. I just don't know if it'll be positive or negative for the Wolverines.

Can you feel the confidence oozing?

Prediction
As difficult as it was for me to get this thing out, I've been dreading this part the most. Michigan is 4-13 the past three years* against winning FBS schools. They are 4-10 on the road. They opened as a 3 point dog but somehow people have moved the line a full point to 2. Not to mention they have been enduring a PR shit storm all week (#ThanksDaveBrandon). Things are not rosy.

But college football is weird. We're talking about 18-22 yr old kids. Remember how emotions shifted your outlook during those years? Maybe the team will rally behind their certainly-fired coach? Maybe this unlocks that "toughness" Hoke has been preaching since day one? Or maybe they'll get down early and totally collapse? I just don't know.

What I do know is I've debated all week whether or not to actual sit down and watch this game. I can't tell you the last time I missed a game. I've come to the conclusion that I just can't stay away. I love it too much. That's what's really killing me right now. I wrote my seven weeks column on Sunday, that I'm tired. And I still feel that way. But I won't be bailing on this team.

That said, I just can't pick them to win. I can't. Even with Rutgers being mediocre across the board. I don't know where this offense is. Prove me wrong boys.

Rutgers 17 - 15


*I'm not counting 2011 anymore. If we are going to blame Rich Rod recruiting for all the badness the last four years, we are not going to give credit to Hoke for Denard's awesomeness. And yes I'm writing this as Arizona is beating Oregon in Eugene (jabs pencil in eye).

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