Drew Hallett of Maize & Brew stops by today. Y'all know the drill -- you can catch my answers to his questions over on MnB. He answered these poorly written questions from me. Follow him on twitter here.
Indiana football vs. Michigan Q&A: Jake Rudock is the key to Wolverine success on Saturday
Drew Hallett of SBNation Michigan blog Maize 'N Brew stops by to chat about football-sports and HARBAUGH stuff.
1. Okay, I'm presuming y'all weren't expecting much out of the Harbaugh regime in Year 1. But seasons change, goalposts get moved with early success. We won't say the playoff's out of the question, but you're certainly on the backfoot with two losses and might need some help. What result this season makes the fanbase look back and call this a great year?
Before the season, most prognosticators picked Michigan to finish 8-4. I was a bit more bearish and opted to go with 7-5. So you would think that Michigan fans would be content with an 8-4 season. However, because Michigan sits at 7-2 and has played like a top-15 team for much of this season, I think most fans would be disappointed with 8-4. After Michigan State's last-minute collapse at Nebraska, fans have their eyes on Michigan winning out and representing the Big Ten East in the Big Ten Championship Game. However, even if Michigan loses to Ohio State and finishes at 9-3, they'll look back and call it a great year all things considered.
2. We've all heard about this Michigan defense -- It's the best in the nation according to S&P for a reason. This season vs. last -- what changed? How much of this is Brady Hoke's players vs. DJ Durkin's schemes? Who gets credit?
Both Brady Hoke and D.J. Durkin should receive credit.
For all of his faults, Hoke and his staff were great recruiters, at least when it came to evaluating defensive players, and hauled in the sixth- and fourth-best classes in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Also, it was Hoke that transformed the 81st defense in 2010 per S&P+ into a top-25 unit with virtually the same players in 2011. And, under Hoke, the Wolverines consistently fielded excellent run defenses. Pass defense? It was vulnerable.
However, when Hoke tried to remedy this by shifting Michigan's coverage to a press man scheme last season, it blew up in his face. Michigan corners not named Jourdan Lewis couldn't jam receivers and permitted free releases too often. This allowed teams like Notre Dame and Rutgers (Gary freakin' Nova) to torch Michigan through the air. Some wondered if Michigan just didn't have the right personnel to run a press man scheme and the staff failed to recognize it, while others thought it was an indictment on the staff's ability to teach the scheme. I leaned towards the latter since Michigan's cornerbacks coach hadn't taught the position before.
Durkin's arrival confirmed that. He stuck with the press man scheme, and, along with coaches Greg Jackson and Michael Zordich, both of whom instructed NFL defensive backs for years, taught it to Michigan's corners. And there was significant improvement across the board. Lewis is having an All-American-type season, Jabrill Peppers is a weapon as a hybrid-space player, and former reserves like Jeremy Clark and Channing Stribling have performed well. All four demonstrate excellent trail technique and aren't beaten clean often. As a result, Michigan's pass defense has soared up from 45th to 13th in S&P+, making the defense great in both facets.
So you could say that Hoke started the puzzle, and Durkin added the final piece to complete it.
3. Flip to the other side of the football. This team hasn't been known for it's offense, but Jake Rudock & Co. are seemingly rounding into form in recent weeks. You're coming off a 49-point performance against Rutgers. What does Harbaugh's offense have to do to duplicate that in Bloomington?
Can we fly Rutgers' defense out to Bloomington tonight? No? Dang.
Michigan needs last week's version of Jake Rudock to catch the flight to Bloomington. This offense goes as far as he goes, which, yes, probably applies to most offenses. Nonetheless, I say this because Michigan's ground game is pedestrian. It's not excellent. It's not terrible. It's not explosive. It just is. Some of this is because the offensive line misses too many assignments and the running backs don't always see the open cut-back lane. However, some of this is also because defenses are bringing their safeties close to the line of scrimmage, so, even if a run is executed properly, the safeties can crash down hold it to a minimal gain.
Those safeties won't back up until they respect that Rudock can burn them over the top, and he hasn't made them pay once yet.
So it falls on Rudock. If he can't hit the bomb, he must connect on the short and intermediate stuff. Before last weekend, it wasn't a guarantee that he would. There were times when he seemed hesitant in the pocket or unwilling to trust his receiver to make a play on a 50-50 ball. I think he was spooked after he threw five interceptions in the first three games and still was trying to become more comfortable with a new playbook.
However, last weekend, Rudock finally looked confident. I re-watched the Michigan-Rutgers film and graded Rudock's throws. Of the 26 he tossed, which includes one that drew a PI on the Knights, 22 were thrown in the proper spot, and a few were NFL-type throws that he fit into tiny windows. I must also note that only two of these passes traveled more than 20 yards in the air. Almost all of them were to receivers that were running short and intermediate routes and generated lots of yards after the catch. Some of that was due to play design -- Rutgers had never seen a slip screen before apparently -- and some due to typical Rutgers biffs in the back.
This is why Rudock threw for a career-high 337 yards against Rutgers. Was this just because Rutgers was on the other side of the line of scrimmage? Maybe. I don't know. But Indiana doesn't exactly have a stellar secondary. So, if Rudock can drop back and hit those intermediate routes again, Michigan will be in business.
4. Simple question: Jake Rudock -- NFL quarterback or nah?
Nah, for the reasons I just explained. Jake Rudock is serviceable, and that's all Michigan needed after the catastrophe that Michigan experienced at the position last season. I don't want to speak ill of Devin Gardner because he was a good quarterback that gave it all he had, but I'm 99.7-percent positive that his time spent behind that sieve of an offensive line led to a football form of PTSD. And, if Shane Morris wasn't better than Gardner then, that was ominous. So Rudock has come in and made Michigan's offense mediocre across the board, which is all Michigan has needed because the defense and special teams have been fantastic all year.
5. Indiana. Don't know how much you've had a chance to watch #CHAOSTEAM, but this is a football team that's been able to weird it up against big time opponents this season. Having seen Indiana's previous close calls in these games, is there anything here as a Michigan fan that makes you nervous about this one?
Oh, I've watched my fair share of #CHAOSTEAM this season, and I know that I can count on Indiana to make my fall Saturdays more entertaining that I expected. And, as much as I don't want that to be the case this fall Saturday, I have a feeling that it might be. There are a few reasons why I'm nervous about Michigan-Indiana:
First, Indiana has a track record of sticking with quality teams through the first three quarters before things begin to disintegrate. The Hoosiers did it with Ohio State, Michigan State, and Iowa. In fact, if I recall correctly, in its five Big Ten games, Indiana is minus-two in scoring margin in the first three quarters and minus-64 in the fourth quarter. So it doesn't seem likely that Michigan will make this a laugher. I think it could be dramatic.
Second, it's on the road. Now, Memorial Stadium isn't known for being the most hostile atmosphere, but Michigan has had its troubles away from Ann Arbor. The loss to Utah in Salt Lake City in Week 1 is understandable, but Michigan was sloppy in its win against Maryland and needed a goal-line stand to escape an upset in Minneapolis. And, given how Michigan's been on the road in recent seasons, anything is possible.
And there is a third reason, but I'll save it for my answer to Question No. 7.
6. Okay, fill in the blank. Michigan's biggest strength can be found at the _______ position? Why?
Defensive line and defensive tackle in particular, though injuries may have an impact on how the unit will perform tomorrow. Not only does Michigan have top-end talent on the defensive line, the depth along that line has been the biggest reason for its dominance against the run (second in adjusted line yards) and pass (22nd in adjusted sack rate). At defensive tackle, the Wolverines have been able to rotate Ryan Glasgow, who's a former walk-on that's developed into one of the Big Ten's most consistently disruptive interior linemen, Willie Henry, who had a recent four-game stretch during which he totaled 7.5 tackles for loss and six sacks, and Maurice Hurst, Jr., a redshirt freshman with an explosive first step off the snap. At strong-side defensive end, there is Chris Wormley, who has 10 tackles for loss and four sacks, and Taco Charlton, who likes to bull-rush offensive tackles into the lap of their quarterbacks. And, at BUCK, which is Michigan's hybrid defensive end-linebacker, Royce Jenkins-Stone has filled in admirably for Mario Ojemudia, who suffered a season-ending Achilles injury against Maryland. Michigan has been able to rotate all of these guys, so they remain fresh and can give 100 percent on every snap. By the fourth quarter, offensive lines have had enough.
However, injuries are taking their toll on the defensive line. Bryan Mone, who was a projected starter before he broke his leg in fall camp, and Ojemudia are done for the season, and Matt Godin, who has played well at tackle in limited snaps, has missed most of the past two games. Michigan has survived this, but Glasgow injured his shoulder against Rutgers -- and I don't know if Michigan can survive that. The severity of the injury is unknown, but Glasgow has been seen walking around with his arm in a sling. At this point, it seems unlikely that he'll be able to go tomorrow. Glasgow has been Michigan's most consistent force up front, dominating center after center. If he can't play, not only does Michigan lose one of its best players, it loses the depth that makes the line so special. Michigan will try to compensate by shifting Wormley inside to the 3-tech at times and giving Charlton more snaps at strong-side defensive end. Either way, it's something look for on Saturday.
7. Okay, now a weakness. If Indiana wins on Saturday, how's it going to happen? Give us hope or something.
If Indiana beats Michigan, there'll be three reasons why. First, last week's version of Jake Rudock stayed home in Ann Arbor, while Bad Rudock wasn't able to exploit Indiana's suspect secondary. He'll be hesitant in the pocket, he won't trust his reads, and he'll miss open receivers running slants and crossing routes underneath. This will cause Michigan's offense to sputter. Second, Indiana wins the turnover battle. Michigan is minus-three in that department this season, while the Hoosiers are plus-five. And there's no greater equalizer than turnovers. And, third, because Michigan's defensive line may not be at full strength and able to rip through a very good Indiana offensive line to pressure Nate Sudfeld, Sudfeld may have time to survey the field and find open receivers downfield. Sudfeld won't find much, if any, success if he tests Jourdan Lewis, but Michigan can be exploited elsewhere, particularly in the middle of the field. If Sudfeld hits a few big passes, you never know.
8. Alright, pick a winner, give me a score, all that good stuff.
If you couldn't discern from my responses, I've been somewhat nervous about this game all week. Michigan is a 13-point favorite, but I think the Hoosiers will cover. I don't know what precisely is causing my angst, but it's a combination of this being a road game, the odds Jake Rudock can put together back-to-back gems, Indiana owning the best offense that Michigan's defense has faced this season, and Ryan Glasgow's shoulder injury.
However, does that mean Indiana will pull off the upset? I don't think so. I think this will be like many #CHAOSTEAM games before it. The Wolverines and the Hoosiers will go back and forth through the first three quarters before a Wolverine -- I'll guess Jourdan Lewis -- intercepts a fourth-quarter pass from Nate Sudfeld to set up a score that hands Michigan a double-digit lead that it won't relinquish. Michigan 35, Indiana 24.