Preview: Minutemen vs. Michigan

So who thought we'd be 2-0 after the first two games?  Who thought Denard Robinson would be the runaway early Heisman favorite, account for more yardage than most NCAA teams as a whole, and general electrify everything in his vicinity?  If you've still got your hand up, you're either clairvoyant (in which case, why are you reading this blog?  Don't you know what's going to happen?) or a liar, which is just fine by me because, as the great English novelist and historian Anita Brookner once claimed: "any man with such obvious and exemplary charms must be a liar", and by god if you're going to be so baldfaced about your predictive capacities, then you probably look damn good doing it.

Nevertheless, Michigan heads into this weekend ready to face 1-aa opponent Umass.  Remember what happened last time we played a 1-aa team?


Well, yeah, I guess that did happen, and I guess that Delaware State counts...Let's go back to the last time that Michigan played a 1-aa ranked team:


There's a paperclip right there on your desk that would probably do a pretty good number on your eyes after watching that.  You know.  If you have to.  If you've recovered, let's go to the jump and get into a Umass team that I doubt you know very much about.

Umass Football History:

Umass is a 1-aa (excuse me...division 1 FCS) team.  This does not mean that they are incapable of putting up a game against Michigan.  For proof...well...you saw the video above.  Also look to James Madison executing not only Virginia Tech's chances at a fun season, but Boise State's chances at a National Title.  That's right.  A 1-aa team ended not one, but TWO Div. 1-a seasons.  That takes a trick.* 

All kidding aside, Umass did win the FCS championship in 1998, and made it to the championship game as recently as 2006, where they lost to Appalachian State.  We can commiserate.  In fact, Denard Robinson comes in for a specific comparison to a certain Quarterback from that game:

"Just recently, we played Armanti Edwards from Appalachian State in the national final game a few years back in 2006 when I was here as the offensive coordinator," Morris said. "[Robinson] is that type of guy, he can run [and] he can throw. Obviously, I think Robinson is at a particular level just with his overall speed and his throwing ability than Armanti was when we played him. I think he was only a true freshman when we played him at that point in time. He’s got all those skills and probably reminds you of those guys and that’s a scary reminder."

According to the Umass Wikipedia page, they have sent a number of players to the NFL including such luminaries as Greg Landry, Marcel Shipp, and Milt Morin.  If you had to look those guys up you would probably lose on Stump the Schwab, but be in otherwise good standing.  I have no idea who they are either.  Umass did play in the Tangerine Bowl, apparently, in 1964 where they lost to East Carolina.  Ah the heady days of Umass Football tradition.

* In addition to this victory, there have been 5 other FCS victories over 1-a teams:  Jacksonville State over Ole Miss (49-48, 2OT), North Dakota State over Kansas (6-3), South Dakota over Minnesota (41-38), Gardner-Webb over Akron (38-37), and Liberty over Ball State (27-23)

Umass Football Today

Offense

Perhaps a little more relevant to Saturday, Umass comes into the Big House with a 2-0 record, and carrying a nice #15 ranking in the FCS coaches poll.  To date, they've played William & Mary, and Holy Cross, defeating them by 27-23 and 31-7 respectively.  William & Mary, at the time, was carrying the #4 ranking in FCS before Umass put up 438 total yards on the well respected W&M defense.  Of the 438 yards, 215 were on the ground, and the Umass attack averaged 4.1 YPC.  Of course, they also had 5(!) fumbles that game - only 1 of which was recovered by W&M.

The player primarily responsible for the rushing attack is Jonathan Hernandez, the 22 year old Junior checking in at 190 lbs.  He is averaging around 5 yards per carry, and over the course of the last two games has just over 200 yards on the ground.  Spelling Hernandez is equally competent John Griffin, a slightly larger back at 210 lbs.  A senior transfer from Northeastern, he's gone for 187 total yards this year, averaging 4 YPC.

With a very solid rushing attack, Umass will likely look to pound the ball early at the Michigan defensive line.  If there was an area of concern against Notre Dame, it was the ability for Armando Allen to get into the 2nd level fairly consistently.  The gameplan for Umass must include limiting the opportunities for Denard Robinson to leave them crispy, and the first step to that end is to establish a solid run game. 

 

Blocking up front for the Minutemen will be a fairly young offensive line, but not one without some pedegree.  Last season, the Minutemen sent Vlad Ducasse to the New York Jets as their 2nd round pick.  Replacing him is Nick Speller, a 6'5" transfer from Syracuse. 

"Is it a hole to fill? Will we miss Vlad? Absolutely,'' UMass coach Kevin Morris said.

"But you've got to move on, or it will drive you crazy. This is not the pros, where you might have a guy for six or seven years.''

Bring up Brandon Graham to any Michigan fan, and you'll probably get the same face that Kevin Morris had on when he stated that quote.  The line is actually a mesh of several transfer players including the aforementioned Speller, as well as Center Greg Niland and RS Freshman Anthony Dima, coming from Northeastern and Hofstra (who dropped their football programs) respectively.

The offensive line has been capable in their first two starts, paving the way for a fairly impressive 4.5 yard per carry rushing attack, and allowing only 2 sacks.  However, they simply haven't seen the kind of athlete that Michigan is going to throw at them.  Center Greg Niland is actually a converted tackle, and I don't envy him going heads up against Mike Martin.  While the three-man rush from Michigan is frustrating at times, I do not see that changing against Umass; the front 3 should get pressure. 

Picking at our secondary will be Umass Quarterback Kyle Havens, a pro-style senior from California.  He has been the Umass starter since last year, where he went for 1908 total yards, throwing 9 TD's but 15 INTs.  His completion rate was 55%.  Caveats on small sample size, etc. but this year he looks vastly improved, completing 64% of his passes, and throwing 3 TD's without turning it over once.  My guess is that, with pressure, Havens might be prone to reverting to his old ways - and that there might be a few turnovers in him.  With time, however, I can see scenarios in which we leave an open man for him to find.  He's probably not going to be one of the better QB's we face this season, but with a secondary as razor-thin and inexperienced as the one we have, every quarterback we face has a chance.  He also gave us this beauty of a quote, where I'm not sure if he's trying to convince the reader or himself.  Probably both:

"This game is not that different at all. It's just another game, in a bigger stadium...We're playing another college team. A very good college team, but it's not like we're playing, well, the New England Patriots.''

Does Tom Brady still have eligibility?  Somebody check.

As far as receivers, Umass has Anthony Nelson, who appears to be on the same page as quarterback Kyle Havens, bringing in 13 catches and a TD so far this year.  He also returns kicks.  In addition to Nelson, Kyle Havens will also no doubt be looking for Emil Igwenagu, the 6'1" Tight End.  After seeing what Rudolph did to us last week, it will be paramount that we actually cover Igwenagu.  You know.  With defenders.

Defense

Attempting to stop the Denard show will be a bunch of who-dat type players, lead by linebacker Tyler Holmes, who had this to say about the BeDreadlocked One:

"Me personally, I feel a running quarterback is the hardest to defend because you can have perfect coverage and he can make a play off of athleticism," Holmes said. "Robinson seems to be a very athletic kid so I really don’t have that much experience with running quarterbacks. We got to play Justin Thorpe from [James Madison] last year. He was a duel-threat quarterback. I’m just very excited for the opportunity that’s in front of me."

Good attitude, which is to be commended.  Otherwise, however, I foresee a long day for the Umass defense.  There is reason to hope, however, if you're a Minuteman.  In 2006 Umass held Armanti Edwards to just 81 yards on the ground, which - if replicable against Robinson - would be a victory for the unit.  The stat, however, does come with a caveat - App State tailbacks gashed Umass for 184 yards.  If Notre Dame lined up and said "We'll stop the tailbacks, Denard will have to beat us" I expect the scheme from Umass to be the exact opposite.  They will try to stop Denard, and put the onus on the tailbacks.  This is not a joke question:  will they be able to do either?

Homes again:

"I don’t know if you can stop him," Holmes said. "He’s a great player. I think he has 800 or 900 yards of total offense in two games, so it’s really just believing in our schemes and I believe our coaches are going to come up with a good gameplan and we can hopefully just execute that. Hopefully, we can get 11 guys to the ball. He seems to get out in space a lot, so if we can rally to him, maybe it would work to our advantage."

That quote doesn't exact ring of confidence, but the Umass defense has been excellent so far this year - holding opposing offenses to under 200 yards per game this season.  You can't tell me every single Umass defender won't be aware of what 16 is doing in the shotgun, and won't be scared to death that he might take off.  This will likely lead to more than a few plays where Robinson does his little "two steps forward" play fake and zips one to an uncovered Roundtree as the linebacker tries to figure out which was he's going.  If the defense sells out to stop Denard, then my guess is that he has the most passing yards of his career to date.  I also do NOT expect him to be carrying the ball 28 times this game.  If he does, then the score is likely to be a lot closer than we want it to be.

Special Teams

Hold on to the damn ball.  Also, Hagerup needs a better day.  Umass punter is not good, averaging only 33.9 yards per kick.  He's also had one blocked this season.  Of course, Hagerup is averaging 39 yards per kick, including some ugly one's against ND.

Final Prediction

Michigan wins early and easily, final score somewhere in the neighborhood of 45-13.  Denard only plays the first half.  We see significant Gardner, and Tate gets his first series of 2010.  Mouton kills somebody, Cam Gordon rebounds to have a nice, confidence building outing, and Kovacs gets an INT.

Key Matchups to Watch

Mike Martin vs. Umass offensive line: if he's blowing up double teams, you can giggle a little if you want.

Scheme vs. Robinson:  If the defense is selling out to stop him - and they should be - will he make the right reads to get it to his tailbacks?

Kicking game vs. unmitigated disaster:  It would be nice to make one, right?  right?

House #1, a 3 bedroom colonial near a noisy street vs. House #3, a 3 bedroom ranch in a nice neighborhood, but with higher property taxes:  A matchup probably for the ages, will the Yearling Family opt for the 3 bedroom split level, or the ranch in the swanky part of town to accommodate their growing family?

Gametime Drink of Choice

This being the early game, I'll be drinking a Bloody Mary, and I'll make it however spicy I want it, thank you very much.  There's only 2 types of people in this world - those who drink their Bloody Mary as spicy as they can, and those who think that listening to their bootleg copy of Lillith Fair 1999 is acceptable behavior.  Your move, dear reader.

Alternate Programming

Your DVR'd house hunters episode, featuring the lovely Suzanne Wang.  If you're married, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

Inanimate Object Threat Level

After last week's Red Advisory, we bring it back solidly into the green because, should there be a loss, there won't be a world left to feel threatened.

Recommended for Survival

Watching the BTN piece on Brock Mealer prior to kickoff.

Elsewhere

Minutemen vs Wolverines coverage

Minutemen vs Wolverines preview

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