Red Letter Games

When Dave Brandon fired Rich Rod, he laid out his measures for evaluating coaches. One of those measures was the coach’s record in “red letter games.”

“If you want to be successful at Michigan, you better win more than your share of those ‘red-letter games.’”

Brandon identified the follow opponents as red letter games*:

Notre DameWisconsin
Michigan StatePenn State
IowaOhio
Any Bowl Opponents 

*Nebraska wasn’t in the conference at the time he made his comments but I can guarantee they would have been included in the list of schools if they were.Brady Hoke

Michigan has yet to play its bowl game but Brady Hoke’s 3 year record in "red letter games”, including Nebraska, stands at 7-11 (3-9 the over the last 2 seasons). Now that’s certainly better than the 3-15 record posted by Rodriguez but significantly below Brandon’s standard. As we sit at the end of year 3, the measures of success move from individual season analysis to multi-year, trend analysis.

Does that mean it’s time to fire Hoke? Not necessarily, and based on Brandon’s press release earlier in the week it does not sound like that’s going to happen anytime soon. What it does mean is that Brady Hoke, and by extension Michigan, is failing at one of the key trend measures in evaluating success.

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Nebraska Preview

What to watch on offense

Bo Pelini is in his 7th year at Nebraska and the natives are growing restless. Despite bringing a level of stability to the Huskers, Pelini has lost at least 4 games in each of his 6 seasons at the helm. Off Coor. Tim Beck enters his 3rd year after serving as the RB coach at Nebraska the period 3 years. Thanks to the presence of Taylor Martinez, Nebraska has mainly employed pistol based spread attacBPelini - ES k offensively. Injuries to Martinez have allowed the Huskers to experiment with pro-style schemes and plays that were previously unavailable.

Taylor Martinez has been the face of the Nebraska offense for going on 4 seasons. By virtue of sheer number of starts Martinez was already Nebraska’s career leader in passing yards heading into the season. Martinez has experienced an injury plagued season, missing 4 of the team’s 9 games so far. Redshirt freshmen Tommy Armstrong has done an admirable job filling in, going 4-0 as a starter but does have more interceptions than TDs.

Ameer Abdullah rushed for 1,100 yards a year ago and returns to lead a rushing attacked that is ranked in the top 15 in the country. The Huskers lost longtime stud Rex Burkhead but haven’t lost a beat with Abdullah and the powerful Imani Cross. At 6’1 225 cross brings an added power dimension to an offense that is built on moving the pile and between the tackle runs.

The Huskers return their top two receivers in Kenny Bell and Quincy Enuwa, both of whom are now upperclassmen. Bell led the team in receptions, yards, and TDs a year ago though Enunwa has emerged as the go to WR so far this season. Redshirt freshmen Jordan Westerkamp is average 13yds per reception this season, though he only has 14 catches on the year.

Nebraska has made its reputation based on the play of its offensive line and takes great pride in the unit. The Huskers lose LG Seung Hoon Choi and center Justin Jackson but return as many as 8 players with game experience. Tackle Jeremiah Sirles was 2nd time All-Big 10 a year ago and returns to lead a unit that is while plagued with injuries, has been very effective so far this season.

Best Offensive Player

Ameer Abdullah- Abdullah is the player that makes the Husker offense go. While not the biggest player at 5’9 190, Abdullah is adept at finding holes and has surprising inside running power to go along with his outside and break away speed. Abdullah has already gone over the 1,000yd mark and is on pace to finish with well over 1,500yds.

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Michigan State Preview

What to watch on offense

Mark Dantonio is in his 7th year at Michigan State has finally brought something to Sparty that they haven’t had in a long time, consistency. After years of mediocre and losing seasons the Spartans have reached a bowl game in each of Dantonio’s 6 seasons. The Spartans added co-offensive coordinators but have maintained the same power running attack that Dantonio’s teams have been known for throughout the years.

After 2 seasons the Spartans are still searching for a QB to replace Kirk Cousins who posted a 28-12 record as a starter. Longtime heir apparent Andrew Maxwell gave way to Connor Cook shortly after the season started and has posted better than average numbers. The Spartan passing game is still a weak spot despite the presence of WRs Bennie Fowler, Aaron Burbridge, and Macgarrett Kings Jr.

After losing La’Veon Bell to the draft Sparty has turned to junior Jeremy Langford to carry the load at RB. Langford, who like many of the backs on the Spartan roster, didn’t see a ton of carries behind Bell has blossomed into playmaker at RB. At 6’0 206lbs, Langford is tough to tackle and has a great mix of speed and power.

The Spartan’s offensive line was decimated by injuries a year ago and while they lose their best linemen, they return the services of seniors Travis Jackson and Fou Fonoti. Returning 4 players with starting experience, though this is one of the smallest offensive lines the Spartans have had under Dantonio weight wise.

Best Offensive Player

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Grading The Performance: UConn

The Good

The Defensive Line– For the first time all season the defensive line put forth a dominant performance. In the wake of the Akron game, Greg Mattison vowed to get back to basics with the defensive line and the players responded. The off season hype machine on Frank Clark was enormous and through the first three games of the season was more bark than bite. Clark had a monster game against the Huskies however, accounting for 5 tackles and 2 sacks. Jibreel Black also had a strong game from his defensive tackle position and was a match up nightmare for the Huskies all night. The defense has the potential to make major strides if the Wolverines can get this kind of performance out of the defensive line for the rest of the season

The Bad

The Offensive line- While the QB position is often the most important, everything cascades from the offensive line. If the offensive line struggles, so too does every offensive position. QBs and RBs magically look unstoppable when the offensive line does its job. Michigan is simply not getting winnable production from its offensive line. Running lanes are few and far between, and pass protection is spotty at best, especially against the blitz. While there is an injury issue, you know things are bad when Taylor Lewan struggles to protect the edge.

The Ugly

Devin Gardner above the neck- Devin is a broken QB at this moment. His confidence is shot, he’s playing scared to make a mistake, and he doesn’t trust his teammates to do their jobs. Turnovers were a big issues coming into the game and things just got worse against UConn.  Between the constant pressure and turnovers DG has become a head case. He’s anticipating pressure even on plays where there isn’t any because he flat out can’t trust the line to keep him upright and bails before plays have time to develop. Thanks to the interceptions, and now what is likely constant emphasis on not turning the ball over, Devin has become gun shy. He’s so afraid to make a mistake that he hesitates, which ironically causes even more mistakes.

Grades

QB: F

A high throw to Gallon, an underthrow to a covered Joe Reynolds, and fumble on a QB sneak nearly cost Michigan the game. Devin was erratic for much of the night and very easily could have turned the ball over 5 or 6 times.

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2013 Game Preview – Connecticut

What to watch on offense

Paul Pasqualoni previously served as the head coach at Syracuse, compiling a 107-59 record along the way. Pasqualoni has led previous teams into the Big House before, including 1998 squad that upset the Wolverines led by Donovan McNabb. A defensive coordinator by trade, Pasqualoni has handed the reins of the offense over to TJ Weist who previously served as the offensive coordinator at Western Kentucky. Weist employs a traditional pro-style offense that currently ranks 104th in the country.

The good news for the Huskies is that they return a veteran QB with 12 starters under his belt. The bad news is that QB threw more interceptions than TDs during his 12 starters. Junior College transfer Chandler Whitmer threw for over 3,000yds at the JUCO level before arriving at UConn. Whitmer threw for 2,600yds a year ago but posted a 9-16 TD-INT ratio. The Huskies get the benefit of returning their top receiver from a year ago in Germy Davis and pair him with Boston College transfer Shakim Phillips.

A season ago the Huskies were led in rushing by the diminutive Lyle McCombs who ran for over 900yds. McCombs returns and has been the primary ball carrier for UConn this season.

UConn returns 4 of 5 starters on an offensive line that struggle to both protect the QB and generate running lanes. The good news for UConn fans is that there is no where to go but up and the Huskies do benefit from the return of the Penn State transfer Alex UConn Pasqualoni FootballMateas who missed 7 games a year ago thanks to injury

Best Offensive Player

RB Lyle McCoombs- At 5’8 170lbs, McCoombs scares no one climbing off the bus but he is an electric player in the open field. Despite weaknesses and injuries plaguing the o-line, McCoombs still managed to make 2nd team All-Big East.

Head Coach: Paul Pasqualoni-3rd Year

Off Coor: TJ Weist-1st Year

Def Coor: Hank Hughes-1st Year

2012 Record

5-7

Returning Starters

Offense-8

Defense-5

Key Losses

TE Ryan Griffin

LG Ben Masters

LB Jory Johnson

LB Sio Moore

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