Site note. Had some issues getting and converting the game this week—my UFR process is byzantine—so UFR will be delayed until Thursday/Friday. It's a bye week, be chill.
Reminder. This is what Michigan wore on Saturday:
I hadn't seen a good shot of the sleeves, which miraculously manage to make the whole ensemble seem even dumber-looking. If you run across a picture from this game in five years you are going to laugh at the clown uniforms like people laugh at that one year a bunch of teams wore stormtrooper shoulders.
The MZone points at a prescient slippery slope prediction and says get used to it. Michigan's the first team to get their Arena League on twice in one year—even the pro combat victims only have to put up with it once.
How does this happen again? There will be a fuller discussion in the UFR of this, but it is absolutely maddening to see MSU time those double-A-gap blitzes with Molk's head going down and never get a check or read in their face. Molk on this:
"They did jump our snap count," Molk said. "They knew us, they knew how we played and how our plays were going to start."
Michigan State's Trenton Robinson originally told The Wolverine on Saturday his team could anticipate Molk's snaps because he bobbed his head down, then back up before he hiked the ball. …
Molk said Michigan recognized this during the game, but could not adjust because of the crowd at Spartan Stadium.
"Making an adjustment came down to our ability to communicate, and with the crowd noise, it sort of covered that," he said. "It puts us into a tough situation, and something we have to react to, and we weren't ready to react. They got us, no doubt."
During the game? They've done this the last three years! For Michigan to have no answer to the instant A-gap blitz into the fourth quarter is a massive, inexplicable coaching failure. Not once did Michigan block that, not once did they bring Molk's head up to reveal the blitz and then check into another play. There was no one in the center of the field for a dozen snaps and Michigan didn't use this at all.
Upside: At least this blows up the halftime adjustments meme. Downside: it's been replaced with the "Michigan State was tougher" meme, which even Molk is repeating. I guess that's the effect of an offseason in which every other word out of Hoke's mouth was "toughness." I'm not seeing it. I'm seeing MSU outcoach Michigan for the fourth straight year. It's not toughness when no one has an angle to block the same linebacker five times.
Boo-boo, line edition. Via a pouty-looking WCBN sports director hanging out in Sweden:
Taylor Lewan limping around campus with a giant boot on his left foot/ankle. Looks uncomfortable.
Somewhere on the coaching film there is evidence Gholston swept the leg. Of this there can be no doubt.
Obligatory Gholston-Dantonio statement. Anyone who's surprised that MSU is ham-fistedly taking a page from the Gene Smith playbook by declaring Saturday's events an "isolated incident" in an attempt to keep a starter on the field hasn't been paying attention. Dantonio's established a pattern. Ending a kid's hockey career with a sucker punch doesn't get you kicked off the team, every year there's a posse of 20 guys getting together to beat up some engineers, etc. etc. etc. This is the way he wants his program. End of story.
Bielema don't care. I've been annoyed with the program's public reaction to the above, possibly because it seems like they're lying through their teeth for better PR. This doesn't make me right, it just makes me annoyed. In contrast, Bret Bielema is a guy who gets his digs in:
"We'll do our talking with our pads and we'll do it between the whistles."
This is the only guy in the league who was able to call Tressel the asshat he was instead of going with that tragic hero/tragedy business that Carr and Dantonio did or refusing comment like everyone else. He also runs up scores like there's no tomorrow—it's clear he's something of an asshat himself, but these days I'll take any public figure who says what he thinks instead of what someone says he should think because it looks prettier in the paper.
Ain't hearing you about a deranged prosecutor. In the aftermath of the personal-foul-fest over the weeked the WSJ assembled their number-crunching team and came up with a list of the dirtiest rivalries in college football as measured by personal fouls of a late/unnecessary hit variety. A number are expected. One in particular is not:
|RIVALRY||PER GAME||BIGGER OFFENDER|
|Duke-North Carolina||5.2||N. Carolina 69%|
|UCLA-Southern California||4.8||UCLA 54%|
|N. Mexico-N.Mexico St.||4.6||N. Mexico 65%|
|Michigan-Michigan St.||4.0||Michigan St 80%|
|C. Michigan-W. Michigan||3.8||Western 58%|
|Brigham Young-Utah||3.6||Utah 61%|
|NC State-North Carolina||3.4||N. Carolina 59%|
All of those are competitive series save North Carolina bludgeoning Duke annually. Maybe they're just mean dudes at UNC—they're the only team to show up twice.
Of course, this pretends the personal foul stuff is a two way street, which it isn't in certain cases. On a per team basis your winners are:
- UNC (vs Duke)
So… yeah, UNC hates Duke a lot. Either that or it's impossible to not get personal fouls for unnecessary roughness when you've got a lot of illegally acquired future NFL players and they've got eleven mewling kittens.
The fresh take NOTline*. Magazine writer Chris Jones came up with a fresh take that really adds to the sporting zeitgeist: you shouldn't say "we" when you are identifying the team you root for because you are not on the team. Awesome, dude. Thanks. For your troubles SBN's Andrew Sharp effectively compares you to Whitney.
Sharp has ten reasons a fan might break out the we but doesn't hit the reason I do it periodically: it is a convenient linguistic trick. If I am discussing the Michigan-Michigan State game and wish to refer to the teams by words shorter to read and type, I can either continually re-introduce the team names and briefly refer to whichever one is the most recent antecedent as "they." That's potentially annoying and confusing. The other option is to dump them entirely in favor of "we" and "they," which clearly indicate who is who while preventing constant repetition of already established facts—that we are indeed talking about Michigan and Michigan State.
It would take a fun-hating mutant whose super power is pedantry to object to this, which is why someone who works for a newspaper or magazine writes this column every three months.
Trouba: pretty good. Hockey 2012 D commit Jacob Trouba is good, first round good. As of late he's pushing his way into the top half of the first round:
Defenseman Jacob Trouba (U-18 U.S. national team development program): He is most likely to land in the top 10 picks and could crack the top five if he keeps progressing. He's 6-1 and 170 pounds, and he can skate well, fire the puck with authority and show a physical presence.
Boo Nieves, LW, Kent HS
Nieves has rocketed up the charts after showing off his stuff with USA at the Ivan Hlinka on top of several favorable viewings last season. Nieves is a skilled, offensively productive center who has the potential to grow into his body. He has great hands and displays a real high level of skill. He also has better then average skating, utilizing a smooth stride that provides him with a top gear when required.
He's still not in ISS's top 30.
Comment truth. Let me pull this out from the depths of the game column comment thread:
With our personnel, I think most people would want Rodriguez running the offense. They would just want him to stay far, far away from the defense.
The dirty little secret is this: This game was the cost of doing business, by deciding for a full scale switch from the head coach - who didn't earn himself a 4th year based on results, everyone settle down - on down, rather than just going after the massive problem that was the defensive coordinator and staff. Now, in the long term it was probably the right decision, but in the short term, we have set ourselves up for frustration. …
[discussion of last year's game vs this year's game with focus on field position and yardage]
So reality is this: Because Rodriguez was defensively incapable, he lost his job. In turn, Hoke was hired and he brought in Mattison, a guy who has proven - along with having a more experienced secondary - to be one of the best hires in college football. He also brought in Borges, who isn't the proper fit for our offensive talent. It's not his fault and as has been stated, won't be a problem in 2 years time. But this year, we're going to have to suffer through another flawed season, which to me is incredibly frustrating given that a spot in the Big Ten title game is there for the taking.
That is exactly where I'm at. We had to deep-six Rodriguez and the coaching hire appears to be working out about as well as anyone could have hoped, but burning Denard's career in an offense he's not suited for is killing me. Shades of gray exist.
Etc.: Basketball ranked 20th by Rivals. Smart Football on combining quick passes with runs and screens—this is like extending the zone read concept to linebackers downfield. Michigan Monday in case anyone thinks the Sparty == Dirty meme is restricted to homers. Lake the Posts also jumps in with outrage(!).
(Fear scale: 0 = Bye week?; 1 = If Michigan loses to this team somebody’s going to get fired; 5 = 2010 Illinois; 8 = Best in conference/will play in a BCS bowl; 9 = National title contender; 10 = Hold me, Ace, the last Anbender.)
About Last Saturday:
Michigan 14, Michigan State 28
That feels about right.
The Road Ahead:
Purdue (3-3, 1-1 B1G)
Last game: Purdue 18, Penn State 23 (L)
Recap: Try figuring out how many football scores it takes to get to 18. What is that, six field goals? Two touchdowns and two safeties? Now try to make 23.
Yeah, it was that kind of a game. Purdue was also inexplicably a couple missed kicks short of being tied with Penn State.
Not sure which team was still living in last week, but both were coming off statement wins -- the Nittany Lions’ of the “Kirk Ferentz owns us only most of the time” variety, and the Boilermakers’ of the “If the Big Ten were the solar system we would be Venus, which is still a lot better than that Kuiper belt object named Minnesota, formerly known as Pluto” variety.
Purdue’s running back duo carried the ball 13 times each with surprising effectiveness. Ralph Bolden averaged 7.5 ypc, thanks largely to a 39-yarder, and Akeem Shavers averaged 4.2 ypc. Against Penn State, that’s a pretty impressive accomplishment, although Ace’s FFFF next week will probably have something to say about the schematic advantage inherent in their offense. (Hint: they run the spread.)
The Boilermakers QBs, on the other hand, were unremarkable. Caleb TerBush completed 12 of 25 passes for 162 yards, 1 TD, and 2 INTs. QB Robert Marve attempted just five passes, one of which was an interception. Bench.
About Purdue’s defense -- that the Nittany Lions couldn’t seem to score points against them is more a testament to how derpy Penn State’s quarterback situation is rather than to how stout the Boilermakers are on that side of the ball. For the record, Purdue has the 30th ranked scoring defense in the country, which reflects some degree of competency, but that’s a ranking that’s about as tenable as Michigan’s No. 10 spot in that category.
Right now they are as frightening as: Michigan’s ability to defend an inconsistent spread. 4.
Michigan should worry about: Teaching the linebackers how to defend the perimeter -- you know, keep contain and stop outside runs, short passes, and bubble screens. Things that no one else ever seems to have a problem doing for some reason.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Purdue doesn’t run the spread very well. How they managed to put together four scoring drives against a Penn State defense that held Iowa to three points is beyond me, but again, Ace’s FFFF should shed some light onto that.
When Michigan plays them: Fueled by an irascible disdain for the sale of snake oil, Purdue has outperformed in this game for the past several years. If you’ll recall, there was that last minute hook-and-ladder incident in 2008. Then in 2009 they came from behind to win by capitalizing on a missed Michigan PAT and surprise onside kick. Last year, despite being in the middle of the great torn ACL epidemic, the Boilermakers played Michigan so closely that as I tracked the game from an iPhone, I got mad at ESPN Mobile for doing a crappy job updating the scores.
So yeah, the Not-2008-or-2009-or-2010-ness of this year’s Michigan team could use a decisive win here.
Next game: No. 23 Illinois
Next, the Jump. Michigan should worry about: broken internet connections. Sleep soundly about: more room on the front page.
Some things that are inevitable are impossible to call until they happen. Like that Google AdSense would eventually find the perfect sponsor to reach the massive and growing audience of Michigan/cat readers. Or that Michigan would eventually run a fake from the FB dive.
It's 4th and short. Michigan has cut MSU's lead to 7 and has the ball on the MSU 9 with a little over 6 minutes to play thanks to a State fumble on its own 32. Michigan has already converted a 4th and 1 on this drive (the ZR where Denard pulled it after his RB was already being tackled). A fumbled snap, a short pass to Koger and a dead-on pass to Gallon at the sticks for 11 yards (had Michigan challenged the spot we would have gotten it) later it's 4th and inches. Then everything goes wrong:
Somewhere in Michigan, a cat is being abused.
Do you wish you would have called a running play on the fourth and one? “No. I liked the play. If we execute the play, Koger’s in the endzone. We don’t make a block that we need to make, and that’s part of it. That play’s been very successful for us. It’s a nice complement to the dive. We just didn’t execute it.”
WE DON'T MAKE A BLOCK THAT WE NEED TO MAKE
Before the snap the TE on the top of your screen (Moore) is looking inside for the snap and misses the CB start his blitz. By the time Moore is out of his stance the CB is already past him. The fake doesn't work because the corner is coming from the edge and knows exactly who has the ball.
IF WE EXECUTE THE PLAY
There was more than just the missed assignment. MSU's strongside end managed to hit both Watson (the TE) and Koger (the H-Back), which occupied Koger long enough to throw off his route. By the time Denard was on the ground, Koger still hadn't made it out of the backfield, and had picked up a safety escort.
BUT THE DIVE-FAKE WAS SET UP!
How many times in a short situation has Michigan come out in the I, shifted the RB outside, then run a FB dive? Eventually there was going to be a wrinkle off of this. Such a wrinkle was primed like a Guitar Hero Star Power Meter. Or was it?
Here's all the goal-line dives this year:
- 4th and 1 from WMU's 19. Toussaint gets 3 against the 3-4 defense.
- 2nd and goal from WMU 1. Well defended but Toussaint just barely gets the nose of the ball to break the plane.
- 3rd and goal from ND 3. ND stuffs, Hopkins fumbles, Denard picks it up and runs in unmolested.
- 3rd and goal from EMU 1. Because it's EMU they are slow to react and Toussaint leaps over the pile.
- 2nd and goal from Minn 1. Michigan gets a yard.
- 1st and goal from NW 1. Wildcats spot the play, meet Toussaint's leap, stopped just short.
- 2nd and goal from NW 1 (the next play). Toussaint doesn't jump, they stop it.
In Star Power terms this is Note-plink-plink-plink-plink-plink-plink = U No Haz Str Pwr.
DeBordian thinking would tell you a fake off the dive is perfectly set up. MSU knows the dive by heart. They're even tempting Michigan to run it by shifting the alignment. There's a hole to the left of Molk that either Toussaint or Norman will get to first. This is Man-Ball at maximum chest hair.
Because of Molk's block (he's 3/4 of the way to a seal before anyone else is out of their stance) and Toussaint's athleticism, the dive probably would have worked. It would depend on the spot, and be close.
The point is a fake off this thing was as incredibly surprising as a DeBordian waggle. MSU had seen it defended, and knew just like the rest of us that a fake was eventually inevitable. Their answer: blitz the corner in case of a keeper and having Norman shoot the hole they left.
IT'S THE WRONG OFFENSE AT THIS MOMENT
I am totally fine with the FB dive and its variations this year. It is a staple of power offenses, and except in terrible, cat-abusive situations, saves Denard from taking hits. Saves him, for example, for those times you're down a score and deep in your opponent's territory late in the 4th quarter against a rival with a three-game streak against you.
What caused this…
That was the dumbest goddamned $%&*^-*$#*ing #&!$brained dip*&%$ mother*(%$ing horse_+$# goat-&^%t &%$*y-infested $%^&stick playcalling I have ever &*$ing seen in my life.
…wasn't any of the execution problems. It was conceptual. Hoke and Borges are betting that MSU sells out against the dive—never mind the plinking—and he can use that to take an easy touchdown. This is the opposite of correct, the equivalent to Weis throwing a bomb on 2nd and 10, and giving Tate and company an extra 28 seconds for the comeback. It's throwing away a huge advantage for the advantage of surprise. It's making lemonade when God gave you apples and an apple crusher.
Every second the quarterback is moving backwards or isn't facing the line of scrimmage is a second that the quarterback isn't going to be running forward. Even if it was properly blocked. Even if Koger wasn't held up by a great rush by MSU's end, it's a terrible play call because it leaves Michigan's biggest weapon—Denard Robinson's legs—in the garage, while trusting Denard's arm (not good in a garbage tornado), Koger's catching (iffy all day), and Michigan State to not play disciplined defensively (between the whistles they were fine).
I haven't changed my opinion about these coaches: we have awesome coaches and I'd rather have them than any other person who's coached in this state the last four years. But that was a terrible, terrible call.
[Guh. Google image search for "rugby punt" and one of the first images is Zoltan making his very bad decision against Michigan State. Thanks for nothing, BWS.]
Rugby punt responses.
What do you think about having an up man for punt returns when we play against a rugby style punter? How many times have we seen 25 - 30 yard punts turn into 50 yard net results because it was impossible for one man to cover enough ground to catch the ball. If we had an up man he could immediately start moving toward the side that the punter runs toward and would be in position to fair catch many of these 30 yard floaters. I actually like a two man return set up for all punts but it certainly seems to make sense against the rugby style. My nomination for up man is Drew Dileo - great hands, dependable and seems to have an unflappable field presence.
All the best,
Jerry in Ibiza
Against traditional punts putting a second guy that far back could be an invitation for the opponent to run a fake. You could get away with it for a few games but once opponents plan for 9-on-11 you're asking for trouble.
That problem doesn't exist with spread punting*. Fakes there are invariably the punter taking off after he sees the opponent bug out downfield, something the returning team can prevent with three or four guys. So… yeah, I've been in favor of a second returner for a while now. The combo of spread with rugby style punting means returns are infrequent and the best you can hope for is to field the thing on the fly and hope to get lucky—having a guy a closer to the roll side who's 30 yards deep could save you dozens of yards of field position.
In the last year of the Rodriguez regime we actually saw something like that in the open practice. Michigan came out with three returners, one at normal depth in the middle of the field and two guys outside of him closer to the line of scrimmage. Never actually saw it in a game, though, and the punting was so terrible in that practice that we never even saw it return in practice.
I doubt Michigan ever does something like this—using the old-style punting is indicative of a regime that's not particularly innovative on special teams.
*[Rugby punt googling also turns up a coaching video on the thing calling it "shield" punting and enumerating its many advantages:
The traditional punt formation has only two gunners. Everyone else is tasked with protecting the punter until the kick is off, which means they lose time they could be using to go after the returner. The basic shield punt formation allows for much better coverage by spreading out seven gunners on the line of scrimmage with three defenders protecting the punter.
The shield punt is a simple formation that results in your opponents giving you fewer looks and allows you to minimize practice time spent on punt coverage. Your athletes have limited assignments which translates into quick learning and fewer reps in practice.
Seven gunners, man.
BONUS RANDOM Australian team logo:
Is that a location or a description? ]
One of about a dozen emails about why we couldn't do anything against MSU.
Denard, Borges, and the o-line are rightfully getting a lot of heat after Saturday's loss. How much of the blame should go on the wide receivers? MSU loaded up the box and dared UM to beat them through the air. They manned up on the wide-outs and sent the house. I remember a few plays Denard missed open guys, but on most passes the receivers were blanketed. On one pass over the middle, Denard stepped up into the pocket and threw a bullet to Roundtree. The pass was slightly to Roy's left, but instead of sliding his feet, he just reached for it, and the ball glanced off his hands. The best way to stop a team from blitzing is to beat man coverage. On the Roundtree TD, it took a near perfect throw to fit the ball in there.
Clearly MSU didn't respect our wide-outs' ability to beat man coverage. This is the first game I think we missed Stonum's speed. He had that huge catch and run to jump start the team 2 years ago against State. He also got the offense over the hump last year vs. (gulp) UMass. Hemingway is a good position guy, crafty after the catch, great on jump balls, but he's no burner. What impact do you think Stonum might have had on Saturday's game?
PS - why no more bubbles? On the Denard pick 6, UM had 3(!) on 2 and didn't throw it. I don't think we're stretching the field enough horizontally anymore.
I have many of these arguing that various things were wrong with the offense, so if this isn't yours, apologies for not replying—I did read it and will go into UFR looking for it.
As for the wideouts, it seemed like the wind was also screwing with them. Michigan State suffered a half-dozen drops to go with Roundtree's. That's more evidence passing was not the best idea on Saturday.
Did they get open and if not was that their fault? It's hard to tell. While the WRs weren't open on that disastrous three-play sequence in the second quarter, other players were. If the QBs throw to the hand-wavingly wide open guys we're not having this conversation. On other plays they may not have been open because Michigan ran three guys deep into cover three. There was a shocking lack of short routes to exploit MSU's constant double-A-gap blitzing.
Just last week the WRs brought in seven iffy passes from the QBs against Northwestern, and while they aren't Edwards, Avant, and Breaston issuing those guys the blame when they hardly got a hand on the ball is goofy. The QBs and Borges were the main issues.
RE: bubbles. I don't know, man. Argh. They looked open all day. That's a symptom of a larger issue: lack of constraints in general. The base didn't do anything in large part because MSU was cheating it and Michigan had nothing to punish the cheating. It's possible they did but couldn't execute it—Meyer thought the pick six was a slant that a WR did not run.
Ticket wait list: not so good.
So I decided after many years to get my own tickets, expecting to go on a waitlist for end zone seats, maybe take a couple years or more for my name to come up.
I read the online info and sent an email to the ath dept to clarify.
To sum up what I learned, I'm told that I have the opportunity to make a donation of $500 to be on the interest list for this year. Key points: 500 minimum donation, but no guarantee of getting tickets. $500 puts me on the list for this year only. If I don't get them this year, then I need to cough up another $500 to try again next year. Or just donate a large enough amount move higher up the list. It's all about points. More points move you up the list. My degree is worth 5 points, which I could buy for a mere $500.
I told them to tell pass along my dislike to DB.
This is bizarre given the many stories floating around on the internet stating that over the past half-dozen years or so you could jump the season ticket wait list with a donation of $100, $150 at worst. To reiterate, this is next year's home schedule: Air Force, UMass, Illinois, MSU, Northwestern, and Iowa. You could pay $500 for the privilege of being on the wait list, or you could take your 500 bucks, scalp every game, and have enough for a Wii left over.
I'll be fascinated to see how this works.
Since there has been much criticism and analysis of the various systems deployed by current and former coaches, I am just curious: what is your ideal offense? As in, if you were to become an offensive coordinator, what would the personnel look like and which current system would it most resemble?
Oregon. Oregon has the whole toolbox: power, inside zone, outside zone, constraints on all of those, the zone read, and a downfield passing game that is often a blitheringly open touchdown factory. There are a number of other systems that I wouldn't mind—I like Oklahoma's "have an NFL first round QB throwing to NFL first round wideouts" strategy—but the tiebreaker for me is Oregon's ability to manipulate the tempo of the game in their favor.
Oregon can play lightning fast when they have the opponent off balance, which keeps the opponent off balance. If they were to hypothetically be behind in a game, the up tempo nature of the system helps them there, too. If you're trying to kill a game it's nice to have a rushing attack well over seven yards a carry. And finally being really good and playing fast makes you less vulnerable to weird stuff because you're putting more possessions in the game.
Oklahoma's air-raid derived passing spread is also quite lovely but seems more vulnerable to vagaries in quarterback talent. Oregon made Jeremiah Masoli an all-conference player.
We will make an exception this time.
I graduated from UM Law in 2006 and consider myself to be a huge Michigan fan. I went to Yale as an undergrad and was in an a capella singing group (I know, I know) called the Baker's Dozen. Through some weird circumstances, I found out last year that from the early '60s until the late '80s, my group sang and recorded "Hawaiian War Chant."
As you would imagine, or, I would hope, can at least understand, I freaked out and immediately found and purchased a copy of an album from the 80s that contained the song. In the meantime, an alum of the group sent me the attached mp3 which is a recording from the Baker's Dozen's 1960 album.
My wife's about to have twins, so I figure the only logical thing to do is to send the girl to Michigan and the boy to Yale where he'll join the same group and revive the song. That's not a weird plan, right?
Here is one without the other:
Someone in the readership will no doubt find a 60s a capella version of Temptation now. This is what the readership does. It is a machine.
[ED: Make that three parts. Coming Friday: “What does ‘Michigan Man’ mean anymore,” and “What’s next?”
If you live under a rock, John Bacon was embedded in the program the last three years and has written a book about this. It is called Three and Out.]
First, thanks to everyone for your interest, including some 400 readers asking more than a thousand questions. (And big thanks also to Brian for sorting through all those questions and combining them into the most popular categories.) I was not surprised to see they were very smart and often got beyond the surface of the situation, frequently forcing me to re-think the whole thing, when I thought I was long done thinking another thought about the last three years.
3. Were the "fit" issues real?
One of the central questions that came up in various forms was the “Fit, or Lack Thereof,” as Brian reduced it.
I’ll start by working backward, from the final seconds of Rodriguez’s regime. On January 5, 2011, the assistant coaches, staffers, and yours truly were all sitting in the coaches’ meeting room, when Rodriguez walked in, laid a file down on the table, and said, “Well, as expected, they fired me.” He later added, “It was a bad fit here from the start.”
And in many ways it was. I’m not certain it had to be.
People who were living in Ann Arbor in 1968 can tell you about the last outsider to take the reigns: Bo Schembechler. His predecessor, Bump Elliott, was a former Michigan All-American who was smart and humble, with an urbane, conservative manner. He didn’t yell at his players, he rarely swore, and if you said you were hurt, that was enough for him.
When Schembechler’s crew arrived with their wives sporting beehive hairdos and stiletto heels, some Michigan insiders took to calling them “The Ohio Mafia.” The players quickly learned the new guy yelled, swore, grabbed your facemask and literally kicked you in the ass. If you were merely hurt, not injured, but didn’t want to practice, you got left behind when the team plane took off.
Instead of turning his back on the new regime, however, Elliott embraced them, hosting parties for their families and introducing them to important people around town. He did not allow players to come to his office in the Athletic Department to complain about the new guy, either. And when Schembechler delivered what today would be an unforgivable comment about changing “Michigan’s silly helmets,” Elliott, Don Canham, Fritz Crisler and Bob Ufer quietly taught him Michigan tradition.
And, to Schembechler’s credit, he was wise enough to listen, and even seek out their help.
When Michigan upset Ohio State that year, they gave Bump Elliott the game ball, and there was not a dry eye in the room.
That’s Michigan at its best. The last three years were not.
Rodriguez had never been to Ann Arbor before his first press conference, and it was clear he had not prepared, nor been coached – a noted contrast to Brady Hoke’s introduction, when his rehearsed lines won over many doubters.
To cross this chasm, neither Michigan nor Rodriguez did enough, soon enough. I believe Rodriguez should have learned more about Michigan faster than he did, but I also believe he received little guidance. Readers will likely be struck by how often Rodriguez invoked Michigan’s traditions – the helmet, the banner, the rivals – when he talked to his team. And he could have helped his cause by reaching out to sympathetic Michigan groups like the M-Club, filled with loyal supporters who could have helped him when trouble hit.
Both sides of this marriage could have learned a lot from the other. Rodriguez could have gained the kind of polish Michigan usually applies to its players and coaches, much as it did for the initially rough-hewn Schembechler. And Michigan’s famed arrogance – occasionally succumbing to rank snobbism during the Rodriguez regime – could have been softened with some of Rodriguez’s down-home friendliness.
I suspect both sides have learned a great deal since, manifest in Michigan’s almost universal support for Brady Hoke. He isn’t exactly Bump Elliott, either, but he’s been accepted as a true “Michigan Man.”
(More on that Friday.)
4. What was so hard about the transition?
Everyone knows the transition was poorly handled – but it was actually much worse than you think, marked by a lack of preparation, communication, and transparency, not to mention severe undermining of the process and the candidates. It resulted in the famously unified Michigan football family fracturing before Martin named Rodriguez Michigan’s next coach – and it only got worse afterward. For his part, Rodriguez naively assumed he was walking into the same program Schembechler had created.
Rodriguez also made a crucial miscalculation: He honestly believed that the bigger the program, the less time the head coach has to deal with peripheral duties like connecting with former players, alumni and fans – when the opposite is true. The head football coach at Michigan, Texas or Alabama, is, in a very real sense, the leader of that school.
That said, it’s worth remembering: Michigan was hiring Rodriguez, not the other way around. It is the employer’s job to set their employees up for success, and at that central task, Michigan failed badly.
But I still believe that nothing would have helped more than Bo Schembechler continuing to lead the family. When he passed away, Michigan lost more than a coach. It lost its spiritual leader – and five years later he has still not been replaced.
If there were any doubts before that Bo did more than anyone to keep Michigan football at the top, even long after he retired, his absence erased them for me.
5. PRETTY MUCH THE Q: Who does John Bacon blame for the last three years?
I know: you want to know what happened to the defense, and who is most to blame for the disappointing last three seasons.
It’s not hard to identify a handful of contributing factors, all of which were necessary, but none sufficient to guarantee failure. We have a dozen variables in both cases, but no control group, so it’s ultimately impossible to be completely certain what, precisely, was the most important straw.
Nonetheless, if I don’t feed the bulldog something I’ll probably get my hand bitten off, so here goes.
Let’s start with the defense. When people ask if the shockingly poor performance was the result of inheriting weak talent, transfers, a stretch of freak injuries, youth or coaching, I say: Yes. It is simply impossible for your defense to drop to 68th then 82nd then 110th without all those factors playing a part. But the hardest to tease out is coaching.
We do know a few things, however. Failing to get Jeff Casteel was much bigger than probably anyone realized at the time. Bill Martin failed to pony up a few more bucks and a guaranteed contract to get him, while Rodriguez—who would not come to Michigan without Mike Barwis and the promise of a million-dollar weight room—was apparently willing to leave without his defensive coordinator. If he could do it again, he would probably insist he wasn’t coming to Michigan without his trusted defensive coordinator.
After that, Michigan never gave Rodriguez sufficient bait to get his top choice to replace Casteel. When Scott Shafer and Greg Robinson arrived in Ann Arbor, they inherited a staff of strangers who had been loyal to Rodriguez for years. Shafer and Robinson are both decent guys who’ve been successful elsewhere, but it clearly didn’t work at Michigan.
At the end of the day, however, the head coach is responsible for his team’s performance, and that obviously includes defense.
Likewise, there was no shortage of variables contributing to Rodriguez’s demise. The long list includes: the horrible transition; his Honeymoon from Hell (including overblown PR problems over buy-outs, departing players, and even shredded papers); his 3-9 debut; the Free Press feature and subsequent NCAA investigation; the string of four crucial losses in the middle of 2009 and three in middle of 2010; and the final Bust. Obviously, some of those are on Michigan, and some on Rodriguez.
The Rodriguez reign was fatally damaged by two main causes: the harm done by detractors inside and outside the program, and his own missed opportunities – from PR problems to those seven lost match points in 2009 and 2010, any one of which would probably have been enough to deliver him to a new era when he could focus more on football than survival. In particularly, I believe the 2009 game against Illinois, which blew up when Michigan failed to score on a first and goal from the one-yard line, marked the Continental Divide of the Rodriguez Era.
So, it’s not true that Rodriguez had no chance. He had seven. It is true, however, that his chances were greatly diminished by detractors inside and outside the program.
Assigning blame essentially boils down to weighing the factors above. But on one crucial point – really, the most important of all – there is absolutely no shade of gray whatsoever. Rodriguez, his staff, and his players (after the 2008 team graduated) worked extraordinarily hard to win every game.
Some powerful insiders, however, were working just as hard to see them fail. That is not a matter of degree. It’s a clear-cut, black-and-white difference – something I have never seen in all my years researching Michigan’s long and admirable history. But the people who suffered the most were the least to blame: the players.
As former offensive line coach Greg Frey told me, while driving to Mott Hospital one night, “I think about guys like Moosman and Ortmann and Brandon Graham. Man, those guys work their asses off. They care about their teammates. They stayed. They get pushed aside in all this, and that’s all right? That’s sad.”
When Angelique Chengelis of The Detroit News asked Ryan Van Bergen how it felt to see hundreds of alums returning to support the new coach, he said, “You know, it’s kind of unsettling… It’s great they’re back, but it’s kind of, where have they been the last two or three years? We’ve still be wearing the same helmets since they were here.”
Who deserves how much blame can be debated. Who was working against the Wolverines, and who suffered the most because of it, cannot be calculated.
This week on Weekday Warriors, Joe Bolden does it all for Colerain, the Harrison duo strikes again, and several Wolverine commits contribute to dominant defensive performances as the playoffs loom across the Midwest.
TN OL Blake Bars
Montgomery Bell (3-5) had a bye last week.
This week: The Big Red play at McCallie on Friday.
OH LB Joe Bolden
Bolden had two fourth-quarter scores—a one-yard rushing touchdown and a six-yard receiving touchdown—to go along with a team-high 7.5 tackles and a sack to lead Colerain to a 28-7 victory over Lakota East. The two touchdown's were the first ever for Bolden as a varsity player:
“All I know is that we practice, practice and the line got a great push and I wasn’t stopping until I got in the red,” Bolden said of his first touchdown. “It was a unique feeling.”
Bolden, who is committed to the University of Michigan, also led Colerain in tackles with 7.5 and recorded a sack.
“It was a big night for Joe. What a great way for him to go out in his last guaranteed home game,” Colerain head coach Tom Bolden said of his nephew. “It was a special night for him, but it was a special night for all these seniors and not just Joe.”
This week: The Cardinals (7-1) travels to Hamilton on Friday at 7:30.
MI OL Ben Braden
Rockford put up 27 second-half points to blow open their game against Hudsonville, winning 44-14 to improve to 7-1 on the season.
This week: Rockford looks to cap off their regular season with a road win at Jenison on Friday at 7.
OH DE Pharaoh Brown
Brown was part of a defense that held Lakewood to just 124 total yards in a 20-0 shutout win for Brush.
This week: The Arcs (3-5) host Parma on Friday at 7.
MI TE Devin Funchess
MGoReader blue22 watched Harrison take down Lake Orion, 28-7, reporting back that Funchess recorded two receptions for 25 yards and a touchdown to go along with a strong defensive performance:
He was also playing LB, though he was matched up as a corner in nickel sets which I didn't know he did. There he had a tackle and an absolute monster of a sack.
All in all, Funchess looked bigger than pretty much everyone out there.
This week: Harrison (8-0) looks to finish with an undefeated regular season at home against Farmington on Friday at 7.
OH S Allen Gant
Gant recorded an interception as Southview held Anthony Wayne (that's a high school, not some dude) to just 79 total yards in a 36-14 victory.
This week: The Cougars plays at Springfield on Friday at 7.
MI DT Matt Godin
Godin texted that he finished with seven tackles and a sack, but Catholic Central dropped their first game of the season against Catholic League rival Orchard Lake St. Mary's, 14-13, due to a missed PAT.
This week: The Shamrocks will get an immediate chance for revenge, as they face off against OLSM for the Catholic League title in Saturday night's Prep Bowl at Ford Field. Kickoff is at 7.
UT FB Sione Houma
No stats are available for Houma from Highland's 22-0 loss to Salt Lake City East to wrap up their regular season.
This week: MaxPreps shows no more games scheduled for Highland, though I assume they are awaiting their playoff draw.
MI LB Royce Jenkins-Stone
Cass Tech dropped their second game of the season to Crockett, 14-9, in the semifinals of the Detroit PSL playoffs. No stats were available for RJS.
This week: The Technicians (5-3) will play Renaissance on Thursday at 4 for the chance to lock up a playoff spot.
OH OL Kyle Kalis
St. Edward dropped their second game in a row, a 17-10 loss to St. Xavier, after starting the season 6-0.
This week: Things don't get easier for the Eagles, who host Cincinnati Moeller on Saturday at 2. I'll be there covering the game, which also features Moeller wideout and Michigan recruit Monty Madaris.
Lots on Magnuson, and a Jarrod Wilson EEEEEE moment after things go jump.