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MnB Staff Roundtable Week Ten: Knights of Ni(ew Brunswick)

Michigan avoided another debilitating loss in the final seconds of a game, and grew that steel spine some more in time to face Rutgers. The MnB crew discusses the win in Minneapolis, what Rutgers might do, and why the Big Ten doesn't call targeting.

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If you're Jim Harbaugh do you start -- for wildly different reasons -- (1) Rudock this week and (2) Drake Johnson this week

Fish: 1. Yes. Even though Rutgers shouldn't be too big of a problem, if Rudock is healthy, he should remain the started. But as soon as the game is in hand, I'm bringing in Speight to finish out the game. 2. No. I love Johnson's mentality and skillset but I still think he's a couple weeks away from getting back to where he was vs OSU last year. Also, Drevno said DeVeon Smith was healthy and I believe he's proven that he should be the #1 back until further notice. That being said, I hope The University of Drake Johnson gets plenty of touches.

Zach: Yes on both. Rudock, assuming he is good to go (and it sounds like he is) is the guy that gives Michigan the best chance to win both Saturday and the rest of the season. As for Johnson, I think this would be a great week to give him the lion's share of work in the backfield. DeVeon Smith is still banged up and could use a lighter workload against the last true cupcake game on the schedule.

Drew: 1. Yes, if Jake Rudock is healthy, which he seems to be given that he's practiced all week. Rudock has had his struggles and Wilton Speight fired that game-winning touchdown pass, but Rudock still gives Michigan the best chance to win. As Fish said, Michigan should start Rudock and then remove him once Michigan has a comfortable lead against Rutgers, which it should late in the third quarter or early in the fourth. 2. It doesn't matter. I believe that De'Veon Smith and Drake Johnson will split the carries this weekend, and the staff will ride the hot hand after halftime.

Nick B: De'Veon vs. Drake is an interesting topic for me. On the one hand, you'd want De'Veon to be healthy as possible for the Penn State and Ohio State games. And, of course, Drake is awesome. On the other, Rutgers' defense is exactly the kind of unit De'Veon would have a field day against. I'm sure De'Veon will want to play, and if he's earned snaps based on production all week long, the staff will probably give that to him.

Quarterback? I'll just throw my hands up in the air instead. I've gotten very disenchanted by Rudock, but neither are world-beaters.

Peter: Yes to Rudock. He gives the team the best chance of winning any given weekend, so Harbaugh needs to stick with him. That being said, Speight did seem to get things under control after being on the field for a little bit last weekend. One thing I found very interesting about Speight--and not on the field, per se--was our community's reaction to his performance. There was almost no one who didn't absolutely kill him in the comment section, but then do an about-face and stroke him and talk about how good he's going to be; just an interesting turn in a very short period of time. As for Johnson, I think he's going to play no matter what, so worrying about whether he starts or not is pointless.

The defense gave up some yards to the Gophers. Would you switch any personnel around this week to experiment?

Fish: I honestly believe it was just a bad game for the defense (oh how Rich Rod would have loved to only give up 26 points in a "bad" defensive showing). Though the biggest difference between the shutouts and the last two games has been the BUCK position. Since Mario Ojemudia went down, there's been a whole in the defense. Royce Jenkins-Stone has been struggling a bit so I'd like to see Lawrence Marshall get some run.

Zach: I think the only thing I'd do is move RJS back over Ross for playing time at Buck. Ross isn't quite big enough and RJS has played well since Ojemudia went down.

The one place where a move might be something worth exploring happens to be one of the spots Michigan is light at: safety. Delano Hill has had a couple bad plays in the last two games after being largely untested early. Dymonte Thomas still has all the athleticism in the world but you can tell watching him play that he is still more of an athlete playing safety than a safety who is athletic. Michigan's depth chart is such that one of these two must play next to Jarrod Wilson. Hopefully Hill and Thomas clean up some of these issues as the season winds down, but this is the only place on the defense that gives me pause right now.

Kevin: The corners did well enough and made some plays, but Leidner was just plain lucky on some of those throws. Durkin doesn't have other options at safety opposite Channing Stribling and Jeremy Clark right now unless he wants to try Wayne Lyons in this exact game. More troublesome was Desmond Morgan whiffing on numerous tackles and getting beat in pass coverage by a tight end or receiver. They've got to get that sorted out.

Drew: James Ross III did fine in his first stint at BUCK, but Royce Jenkins-Stone is the better option there. Ross doesn't have the size or frame to play in a three-point stance on the line. There were times when Minnesota ran the ball and a Gophers blocker -- whether he was a lineman or a tight end -- was able to toss Ross aside like a rag doll. That doesn't happen with Jenkins-Stone, who has filled in for Mario Ojemudia very well. Other than that, no other personnel changes are needed. The biggest issue was that Michigan couldn't locate the football when it was in the dark sky, which is why Minnesota completed three fortunate passes. That's not a personnel problem.

Nick B: Aaah! That sounds like a Brady Hoke solution. No, Jim Harbaugh will just keep coaching his guys. He's been experimenting a lot already.

Peter: There's a great INXS song (sorry, Zach Travis, I just have to get one in here) called Don't Change--Springsteen does a really good cover; check it out on YouTube. Anyway, Harbaugh needs to follow that advice and leave things alone. Just because the team has one (cruelly) substandard performance doesn't mean that the entire scheme/plan needs to be scrapped. It's still a good defense, and people just need to settle down.

To be blunt: does Rutgers pose any threat to this Michigan team? Yes I'm aware we thought Minnesota would also be easier, but how will the Wolverines do this week?

Fish: Of course. It's college football. However I believe Michigan's defense rebounds at home and has a great game. Though the score could be a little closer than most think with so many questions surrounding the offense.

Zach: I've sat through too many Michigan games where a team I claimed had "no chance" ended up giving me a three-and-a-half hour ulcer by keeping things close, so the answer is always: anything can happen.

That said, Rutgers looks to be without its best (only?) offensive weapon in Leonte Carroo, the rush defense is suspect, and the game is at home. I don't think Michigan has to do a lot to win this game. It'll have to do something, though, and with this offense that isn't always a sure thing.

Drew: Not really. With Leonte Carroo, Rutgers has the Big Ten's most explosive receiver. Without him, their offense is a wreck. In their last two games without Carroo against very good defenses in Ohio State and Wisconsin, the Scarlet Knights scored only 10 offensive points. And Carroo is questionable to compete tomorrow, so, even if he does, he shouldn't be at full strength. There'll always be a concern if Michigan scores enough points, particularly given the current health of Jake Rudock, but Rutgers has one of the worst defenses (No. 116 in S&P+). Michigan should be fine.

Nick B: Well, I'll put it this way: I think our offense can find a groove and some confidence against their defense. And with the kind of defense we have on the other side, that's really the only question.

Peter: I, too, have been burned by the "they have no chance" frame of mind, but I really don't believe Rutgers stands a chance. It's a home game for Michigan, and they'll probably come out and make up for what happened against Minnesota.

Think about Minnesota's final sequence of plays. Given that situation would you have done anything different?

Fish: Of course. Minnesota had 19 seconds and only ran 2 plays. I'm not sure if they were so confident in that back door throw to the releasing tight end that they didn't think they needed more than one play but that quickly backfired. And then the final play, just kick the field goal. Michigan had their backup QB in the game and Minnesota was moving the ball well. Overtime would have done them well.

Zach: I'll play devil's advocate here: I feel bad for Tracy Claeys after that. He hasn't been a head coach before, he did a helluva job getting his team ready and finding ways to beat Michigan on both sides of the ball, and it all goes to hell because he makes one mistake in not realizing that the clock will run after a couple minutes of waiting on a replay. There were probably 10,000 things going on, and that just happened to be in the top-10 of things he needed to nail to get the win. I've almost fallen over trying to put a shoe on in a hurry while trying to remain standing on one foot, so I'm not exactly in a place to criticise.

That being said, those last 19 seconds were sooooooo dumb. What would I do in that situation? Literally anything other than that.

Kevin: I actually think they made a critical error when taking a timeout after Michigan took the lead. To not expect a two point conversion try there is baffling. I don't fault them for calling a play to put the ball in the hands of their jumbo quarterback who had been awesome up to that point but I honestly think they weren't prepared for what to do if it didn't work. If only they'd had an extra timeout to use to ponder whether to knock in a field goal...

Drew: Don't forget that the game clock runs after after a long review and waste 12 seconds of the 19 seconds on the clock shifting from a goal-line formation to an empty shotgun set. That was mind-boggling and robbed the Gophers of one or two additional shots at the end zone. Minnesota has one timeout left. Go for the QB sneak immediately. If it fails, call timeout, regroup, and think about a pass play that works in such a situation. If that fails, you still have time for another play, and, at that point, you can call either a run or pass. And, with regards to going for it on the final play, there's an argument Minnesota should have kicked, but, when you're a half yard away, go.

Nick B: I agree with Zach, I felt bad for Claeys at the end. I did not want Minnesota to lose in the most heart-breaking way possible, and that's what ended up happening.

And to build on Kevin's point, I think the way Minnesota slowed down at the end contributed to Michigan's D-line catching their breath and getting ready for those final two plays. You need to go power once or twice, or have a play circled at the bottom of the play sheet for a situation like that. And the Gophers didn't.

Peter: Other than the clock management, they were in the same situation Michigan was in against Ohio State a couple of years ago. If you're pretty much having your way with the defense, and you have one foot to go, you gotta go for the win...especially at home. And I, too, feel badly for Tracy Claeys; he did an admirable job filling in for Kill before, but I think the moment got just a little too big for him. I hope that the Minnesota athletic department and the fans don't hold that one sequence against him, giving him no shot at getting the gig on a permanent basis.

Big weekend of football so what're ya watching?

Kevin: Every year, late in the season, Notre Dame stumbles against an inferior opponent, and this week they get Pitt on the road. Pat Narduzzi was coaching those MSU teams that destroyed the Irish.

Fish: I'll be watching the SEC national championship (Alabama vs LSU) to see who the CFB committee puts at #1 in the next playoff rankings. I'm also interested in seeing how Ohio State looks with Cardale running the show again.

Drew: Alabama-LSU and Michigan State-Nebraska. The first one is obvious. The second one because, despite Nebraska losing to Purdue and the odds that Connor Cook will throw for a kajillion yards against the Huskers' secondary, night games in Lincoln can be very interesting.

Nick B: Florida State-Clemson! I've been a casual Clemson fan since around the time they beat Ohio State, and FSU has a lot of stuff to figure out.

Peter: I'm not sure if I'll watch anything before Michigan, but I will definitely watch to see how Minnesota does against Ohio State. I think I know the answer, but I'll watch anyway.

Extra point! What is targeting and why doesn't the Big Ten know?

Kevin: Funny that Michigan was involved with targeting no-calls while playing Minnesota two years in a row. This season the NCAA amended how targeting can be called on the field, with the option of using the review booth to determine severity of the penalty and if the player should be ejected. Golf clap for that, but the rule doesn't appear to go both ways. Rudock was hit in the chin and neck area before the hit that knocked him out of the game, but nothing was called, and the officials didn't go to the replay booth to determine whether targeting occurred.

Short version of the rule:

No player shall target and initiate contact with the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent

Targeting is still in the eye of the beholder, despite the rules empowering an official to have a second chance to make the correct call.

Fish: Targeting is a way to take a team's leading tackler out of their 2nd biggest game of the year. So, yeah, the Big Ten knows how to do it very well.

Zach: You know, I thought it was bad when they first introduced this and created the situation where the call was overturned, but the 15-yard penalty wasn't. Little did I know, that was just an ancillary outrage next to the fact that targeting is apparently wildly different things to different people. I figure in about 10 years the NCAA will finally get comfortable with this rule and the even implementation of it.

Such a progressive, functional institution the NCAA is.

Drew: Targeting has become the block-charge debacle of college football.

Nick B: I have absolutely no idea! I do love watching the referees, though, instead of football. More!

Peter: The answer is that *no one* knows what the hell targeting is other than a giant cluster[bran muffin] of a rule. No more really needs to be said, does it?