Friday, September 19, 2008

Michigan State Keys to Victory

As my new job has limited the amount of time I have to commit to blogging, I liked the way my Michigan keys to victory post went last week, so I'm going to make it a weekly installment here, replacing my perviously verbose and far-reaching posts of my student days.

So, here are my three keys to victory over the hated Spartans tomorrow, where I will be basking in the glory of yet another Irish win tomorrow early evening (Sec. 120, Row 17 Seat 13).

Shut down the run.

More so than probably any game this season, if I had to pick just one key to victory, this is it.

Michigan State this year, unlike years past, is a one-trick pony.

There is no Plaxico Burress, Devin Thomas, or Charles Rogers in the wide receiving corps. Hoyer is no Drew Stanton. And even the mighty Ringer no longer has Jehuu Caulcrick to soften up the defense.

Shut down Ringer, and down go the Spartans.

Establish the running game.

Although we are more than capable of beating the Spartans with an underperforming running game, beating them at their own game will do several things for us. (1) It will open up passing lanes for Clausen, creating the opportunity for the big plays off of play-action. (2) It will wear down the Spartan defense. (3)It will keep Ringer off of the field. (4) It will take the hostile crowd out of the game by slowing everything down.

Win the field position battle.

Arguably our best unit on the team is our special teams coverage units, and going against a running team like the Spartans, field position becomes critical. I don't expect the Spartans to cough up the ball like their Ann Arbor cousin/wife did last week, but if Bruton and Anello can work their magic and limit returns, and we can execute good enough on offense to win the field position battle, we will win this game on the backs of the explosive potential of our offense.

So there you have it, my three keys to victory. When I sober up on Monday, I'll be back to show you all how amazingly prescient and wise I am.

Until then, I'll be incommunicado, as I have to go into East Lansing, imbibe heavily, and help kick Spartie's pasty white little ass.

The Night before Battle

All was quiet along the front lines. The troops moved about with a quiet confidence and sense of purpose. Just below them, in the valley of Lansing, lay their prey - the Spartans. Known in lore for their toughness in battle, their greatest moment is a moment of defeat at the hands of a greater opponent.

The Irish hordes waiting to descend upon the morrow are a young and rowdy lot, full of youth and vigor. Some pace nervously, while others ready their arms for tomorrow's fight. While General Weis holes up in his tent drafting battle plans with his advisors, the field general Clausen wanders through the troops, an air of confidence about him that belies his relative youth.

In fact, there are precious few veterans among the troops marching into battle. There's grizzled old Crum, staunch defender and hard hitting warrior. There's Bruton, the quick and agile ranger that can outflank any opponent. Crazy old codger Kuntz, who scares his teammates as much as the opponent, and stalwart Turkovich, man beast who stands like a rock against all comers.

All of the members of this ragtag know the challenge set before them. The mighty Ringer, he of the stomping of mighty Florida Atlantic and Eastern Michigan and the wily Hoyer, he of the fair to middling pass attack, will be difficult foes.

But they are ready for the task at hand.

They know this battleground, and have emerged victorious before. They have vanquished this enemy before on their home turf. They are not the same army of old, slow and plodding, with weak defenses and archaic offensive firepower.

Equipped with the latest weapons of battle, a faster force with quick strike capabilities prepares to unleash a campaign of shock and awe on the unsuspecting Spartans in the valey down below.

Sleep well tonight, Sparta, and enjoy your dinner and wine.

For tomorrow you dine in hell.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Michigan Sucks. Postgame edition.

In a rare moment of prescience, I hit the nail squarely on the head in my preview post:

Win the turnover battle

I'd be willing to wager a substantial amount of money that the team that wins the turnover battle tomorrow will win the game. In a defensive struggle, it's often the interception or fumble recovery that makes the difference between winning and losing. I want to see our running backs do a better job of holding on to the ball, and Jimmy be patient in the offense, as Michigan will not give him a lot of opportunities for big plays.

Okay, so I was 100% right about winning the turnover battle, as Michigan's butterfingers was definitely the biggest difference in the final score of the game, with Notre Dame scoring a whopping 28 points off of turnovers (counting the turnover on downs). I was wrong about Michigan not giving up the big play, but our backs did do a better job of holding on to the ball, not losing any fumbles in a sloppy, slippery mess.

Be sound in the kicking game

This game could very well be decided by a field goal. I'm concerned about our long snappers, as we face a tough choice between a snapper who is inconsistent and one that is consistent but undersized. I'm gaining more confidence in our kickers, but they need a clean snap and hold to have a shot at success.
Our coverage units have been very good, and I think that Anello and Bruton may be the best gunner tandem in the country.
We've been very good at blocking kicks the last few years, but that was largely due to the presence of Trevor Laws inside. I'd like to see somebody step up to the plate and get some pressure on the kicker in crucial situations.

The game turned into a good old-fashioned butt kickin pretty quick, but the kicking game was certainly crucial to our success. That tandem of Bruton and Anello made kick returns a nightmare for Michigan, as they couldn't seem to field a kick cleanly, and when they did, one of our gunners was blasting it out of their hands. We didn't need our field goal kicker, as we were extremely efficient at converting red zone appearances into touchdowns.
We did have a mistake on a fake punt, but other than that, I think we could call ourselves sound in the kicking game on Saturday.

Play shutdown defense on first down.

Too many times last week we let the Aztecs gain substantial yardage on first down, setting up long drives. I'd like to see a more aggressive stance on first down, giving up the occasional longer play in favor of shutting down the Michigan offense more often than not. With the system that Michigan plays in, 2nd and 3rd and long situations really limit their options on offense.
Also, their lack of a mobile QB should let us really pin our ears back and go after the QB when we force them into passing situations.
We CANNOT let them establish a ground game.

I broke it down, and looked at every first down Michigan had in the game. Then I broke them apart into two groups: when Michigan gained a first down (or scored a TD), and when Michigan was held on downs (punt, turnover, and field goal attempts).
The average yards on first down when Michigan converted? 5.7
The average yards on first down when they didn't? 1.27
If you average in the interception return by Gray as -41 yards instead of 0, that average drops to -2.45 yards per play.
Moral: sucess on first down leads to a better success rate at killing drives.
Quirk: We were 7 for 13 stopping Michigan from converting when we held them to less than one yard gained on first down. We were only 4 for 12 when they gained more than one yard on first down.