This is a personnel-oriented look at the season's opponents. The game-week previews will be more matchup based. Last year's stats are presented with projected starters in bold and departed players in italics.
UConn's QB situation was fluid last year, with both opening day starter Zach Frazer (formerly of Notre Dame) and Cody Endres going down with injuries during the year. Though Endres's final stats were far more impressive, Frazer's strong run to end the year saw him named the starter for spring. Both guys are experienced (Frazer's in his fifthth year, Endres is a redshirt junior) and battle-tested.
|UConn QBs 2009|
|UConn QBs Rushing 2009|
As you can see, both are pure pocket guys. Frazer may be experienced but he looks like one of the less threatening QBs Michigan will go up against. A comparable from last year: Frazer was 12 of 25 for 141 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT against the Notre Dame team that Forcier shredded (23/23, 240 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT, 70 rushing yards).
Jordan Todman and Andre Dixon split carries last year, with Todman having slightly more success. Both earned secondteam all-conference honors. Todman's back this year as a junior. Dixon has departed. With little experience behind him, Todman should get the lion's share of the carries. Robbie Frey should get a few touches himself, as he's shown his speed on kickoff returns and a 54-yard TD run against Rhode Island last year.
|UConn RBs 2009|
|Anthony Sherman (FB)||1||3||3.00||0|
UConn did pick up USC transfer DJ Shoemate, who is immediately eligible and may get a dozen carries as a power back. UConn runs it a lot: last year almost 60% of their plays were on the ground.
UConn returns the vast majority of its receiving corps, but loses the top two performers in Marcus Easley and Brad Kanuch. Easley had an outstanding senior year, and was responsible for a ton of the success Connecticut QBs had - which helped him go in the fourth round of the NFL Draft. Kashif Moore will probably replace him as the team's deep threat, but his loss should be substantial. If there's to be a significant step back from UConn's offense, it will probably be because they can't stretch the field as well as last year.
|UConn WRs 2009|
|Ryan Griffin (TE)||23||272||11.83||0|
|UConn WRs Rushing 2009|
UConn's offensive line returns intact except for the tackles, depending on whether you consider LT Dan Ryan a starter (he started the first few games for UConn before going down with injury). The Huskies were 39th in rushing last year and improved over the year with some lineup changes, but were only 64th—essentially average—in YPC. They were 45th in sacks allowed.
The interior of the line should be impressive. The starters, from left to right, should be mostly the same as last year, going Mike Ryan—Olivier or Kuraczea—Petrus—Hurd—Masters. Zach Hurd was first team All-Big East last year.
Lindsey Witten was by far UConn's best player in the front four, racking up as many sacks as the rest of his linemates combined and earning first team All-Conference honors. He's gone, but sophomore Trevardo Williams should be ready to step into a starting role. Sophomore Jesse Joseph returns as the other bookend. In the middle, redshirt juniors Kendall Reyes and Tywon Martin return. UConn's rushing defense was slightly above average last year, and it should improve this season with their line starters maturing into upperclassmen.
For the record, they held mobile quarterbacks (Boo Jackson of Ohio, Robert Griffin of Baylor, Jarrett Brown of West Virginia depending on how you classify him) to meager rushing totals early in the year, but Zach Collaros of Cincy and BJ Daniels of South Florida had decent (or ridiculous, in the case of Collaros) days against them. Season-long fatigue? Opponents seeing something on film?
|UConn Defensive Line 2009|
Senior Greg Lloyd is considered a DE on the spring roster, though he started last season at MLB before getting injured at the end of the year (he missed the final two games, but still made second team all-conference ). He may step up into the DE role vacated by Witten, allowing others to step up. Scott Lutrus moved from strongside linebacker to middle linebacker in Lloyd's absence, and will start spring of his redshirt senior year in the middle. Lawrence Wilson led the team in tackles from his weakside spot, and returns as a redshirt senior. He was first Team All Big East. Jory Johnson started at strongside backer when Lutrus moved, and will probably start there.
|UConn Linebackers 2009|
|Mike Cox (DE)||10||0||0|
The Huskies were subpar in pass defense (#85 in efficiency, #88 in yardage), but what do you expect when they're dealing with the untimely death of one of their best DBs halfway through the year? Sophomore safety Jerome Junior returns, as does redshirt sophomore corner and tongue-twister Blidi Wreh-Wilson. Classmate Dwayne Gratz will probably step into the starting role vacated by Robert McClain (a second-team all-conference selection, drafted in the 7th round of the NFL draft), and redshirt junior Harris Agbor will probably start at the other safety spot.
|UConn Defensive Backs 2009|
|Jonathan Jean-Louis (RB)||3||0||0||0|
MGoUser lfj75 put together a diary looking at UConn's performance against spread offenses last year. The takeaway: UConn was shredded on the ground by spread offenses (Baylor, WVU, Cincinnati, and South Florida) and excellent against conventional teams. Some of that has to do with the opposition. Other than Pitt all the conventional rushing attacks on the schedule are terrible. Meanwhile, Dion Lewis and his backup combined to average 6.6. YPC on 32 attempts. Since all the good rushing teams on UConn's schedule put up big numbers, the moral of the story may be that UConn's rush defense (45th nationally) is a mirage based on poor competition.
A newspaper profile of WR commit Shawn Conway mentions some trouble he got into recently:
“All my dreams came true when I got my scholarship,” he said. “I felt comfortable up there right away with the staff and the players, a lot of whom I already knew. It’s a natural fit. They make me feel at home and I’m excited for the chance to play in the Big Ten.”
Unfortunately, Conway encountered a setback in his journey. In April, he was suspended from school as a result of disciplinary reasons. He is trying to put that situation behind him and learn from his mistakes.
“I did something really, really stupid and I had to pay the price,” he said. “It should have never happened and I take responsibility for that it did. But I learned from the situation and now I’m past it and moving forward”
This won't be a surprise to people who keep their ear to the ground, as rumors about Conway's trouble have been flying around since late May, when the high school paper (of which there can only be one: it's called the Highlander) published an article about an anonymous student who'd been caught breaking into lockers on tape.
Internet buzz suggested that was Conway and a couple of independent sources confirmed it; now that Conway's been quoted saying he "did something really, really stupid" it's better to put two and two together instead of let that vague problem float out there to get Freeped. The stupid act is the one detailed in the Highlander. The article itself says that the secret being maintained by the principal (who cited the usual FERPA concerns) was of the open variety:
“I mean, when someone is involved in a disciplinary situation, then it really would be violating their privacy to discuss it at all,” Piper said. “Because they have been disciplined, they have a right to have that not made public around the school.” …
However, the secret is out.
Word of the suspension and the video tape quickly spread throughout the Seaholm hallways since the incident was captured on tape April 21.
The article goes on to describe a "tall African-American male" taking approximately 50 dollars from a locker… you get the point, and you draw a line from A to B. At this point it's common knowledge around Seaholm and since it's time to publicly acknowledge it in the Oakland Press it seems appropriate to disclose the nature of the offense since it's a two on the Richter scale.
As long as Conway stays on the straight and narrow this shouldn't impact his status with Michigan, and since he's had an improbably tough upbringing (parents divorced at four, mother sent to prison at ten, now the legal guardian of his coach) some sympathy is in order. Anything else and I imagine Conway will join the ranks of Kelly Baraka since a guy who can't keep it together for a year is not someone college coaches like to take chances on, but for now he's fine.
This has been a conflicted public service announcement.
6. Roy Roundtree is tackled at the one yard line
Early in the third quarter of the 2009 Illinois game, Michigan is leading 13-7 when Tate Forcier hits Roy Roundtree on a seam up the middle. The safeties are out of position and Roundtree sets sail for the endzone, Terry Hawthorne in tow. Hawthorne tackles Roundtree at the goal line; the play is initially ruled a touchdown but correctly called back on replay. Four attempts from the one are stoned; instead of being up 20-7 Michigan is up 13-7. From there the defense gives up 31 points to a terrible team, causing mass chaos.
This, unlike everything else on the list, was not something that directly lost a game. It's actually a great play, a strike down the middle of the field that set Michigan up with a first and goal from the one. Michigan's chances at winning the game went up after it, also unlike everything else on the list. In now way should Roundtree be held responsible for getting tracked down at the one after seventy yards. Sometimes the other guy is just faster than you.
It was what happened afterward that enshrines this play in Michigan infamy. Up until the exact moment Roundtree's knee hit the turf Michigan was on track to recovery from the 3-9 season. Preseason projections of a 7-5 and a crappy bowl game were well within reach, as Illinois was sure to pack it in after going down 20-7 early in the third quarter and Purdue was flailing around. Michigan's losses had been acceptable: a whitewashing at Penn State was ugly but the other two were at MSU in overtime and at Iowa in a two-point game. Big deal, first and goal, let's put it in:
That happened. Then the defense caved in, allowing 31 second-half points.
In the aftermath, this blog got locked down, I talked about how my soul-dong had been crushed, and Rodriguez's job came under serious threat for the first time. If this year is the end for Rich Rodriguez—and Michigan sets off on another awkward transition—the beginning of that end was right here.
5. Spartan Bob
Michigan State scores a last-play touchdown to beat Michigan after the home timekeeper freezes the play clock early. Larry Stevens is roped to the ground like a pig in a poke, too, but… yeah. The cheat was blatant enough for ESPN to break it down frame-by-frame and declare Michigan hosed. State "wins" 26-21.
Once back at the dawn of time I was playing Tecmo Super Bowl against my brother. As it is with brothers, games were intense, unsporting things in which I, the older, invariably prevailed. Once, though, I called the crazy reverse flea-flicker play deep in my own end in an unusually tight game. My brother tackled the receiver at about the two, but after he'd pitched the ball back to the quarterback. Tecmo Super Bowl glitched spectacularly, though, and did its little ditty as it declared my receiver to have taken a game-sealing safety.
Enraged, I immediately hit reset.
That was this play-type substance, except the glitch was an intentional act and life, as of yet, has no reset button. Compounding matters is that Larry Stevens was spectacularly held—a primary reason Jeff Smoker had eons of time to find TJ Duckett. End result: rage like has never been seen before or again in a certain rental house belonging to a friend of a friend on Plymouth. As a blubbering Bobby Williams wept through a post-game interview I swore little demons into existence as I declared my eternal hatred of the man. Eventually I stormed outside so I would not be kicked out.
In football, you might not get justice all the time—see the 2005 Alamo Bowl, please—but at least when you don't there is the tiny consolation that the gibbering sack of incoherence that robbed you of justice didn't mean it. This is something wholly different.
4. Nick Sheridan hurls a wobbly duck in the general direction of four Utah defenders
With under a minute left in the first half against Utah, Nick Sheridan drops back to pass and, under little pressure, lofts a mortar that four Utah players have a better shot at than the best-positioned Michigan receiver. Brandstatter groans "oh, no, Nick." Utah intercepts it and punches it in a few plays later.
This did end up in a rankling Utah touchdown that extended the Utes' lead to 12; that touchdown would end up being the winning points after Michigan scratched its way to a competitive second half. So it was a game-losing play.
But that was small potatoes compared to what the play represented. First of all, the whole idea was preposterous, a terrible throw into triple coverage in a situation where caution was a priority. Worse than that was the back-foot windup Sheridan deployed to chuck an artillery shell 30 yards downfield. Such was its accuracy that any of three Michigan receivers could have been the target-like substance; such was its pace that if one Utah secondary member didn't pick it off another one would have found it gently tickling his fingers as it nuzzled its way into the crook of his arm.
As Michigan Stadium settled into a halftime funk, the hivemind thought: we are so fucked. In one searing instant Sheridan erased all the foolish hopes Michigan fans had that their walk-on quarterback could be anything approximating functional and exposed the vast talent deficiency that's driven Michigan to the bottom of the Big Ten. If there was ever an oh, shiiiiiiiiiit moment for Michigan football, this was it.
The next week this ran through my mind as I told WCBN that the upcoming Notre Dame game was "critical for bowl eligibility." It wasn't but only because that wobbly-duck-induced panic was so, so right. There were probably worse things that happened in 2008, but as the indignities piled on each other numbness sets in; the Sheridan interception was the knockout blow. The rest was just kicking a man on the ground.
3. Anthony Thomas fumbles for no reason whatsoever against Northwestern
Leading Northwestern 51-46 in the craziest game ever played by the Wolverines, Anthony Thomas bursts through the Wildcat defense for a game-clinching first down, then drops the ball without being touched. Northwestern recovers and scores to win.
I didn't actually see this play live. Michigan was playing Michigan State back when the CCHA was the Big Two and Little Ten and if there was anything I hated more than Ron Mason's brand of energy-sapping anti-hockey it was how unbelievably good Ryan Miller was. Michigan State games at Yost were pure bloodsport, so I headed out. The final quarter of this game is the only Michigan football I've missed since my enrollment.
This was a good thing, because when I finally found out what had gone so terribly wrong with the force sometime during the first period I was in disbelief. Michigan needed a first down to seal the game. Anthony Thomas broke through the line and could have guaranteed a Michigan victory merely by falling over. Instead he dropped the ball without a Northwestern player so much as touching him, allowing the unstoppable Wildcat offense the opportunity to win the game. If I had actually watched this live I probably would have died. Even though I never had the raw emotional experience of it, finding the clip was a sickening experience. There should be "I Survived The Anthony Thomas Fumble" t-shirts.
The costs were severe. Michigan finished in a three-way tie atop the Big Ten with Purdue and Northwestern, sending the Brees-led Boilers to the Rose Bowl. There they lost to the 10-1 Washington Huskies. Michigan had to settle for a Citrus Bowl date against Auburn.
2. Shawn Crable blocks the outside guy
The Horror: trailing 34-32 with hardly any time left on the clock, Chad Henne throws a hopeless moonball to Mario Manningham that Manningham actually comes down with, setting up a makeable field goal. That field goal is blocked because Crable and Greg Banks split like a cheap zipper, allowing an opponent to run unimpeded at the kicker.
I'd already started my exit from Michigan Stadium before the moonball that set Michigan up with an improbable final attempt at evading the biggest upset in the history of college football*. I was disgusted and given the situation, the slight chance of winning the game was less of a priority than not getting stuck in the Stadium longer than a nanosecond after it ended. So I watched the final drama from the aisle.
I didn't even know that an Appalachian State guy had picked the ball up and started trucking for the endzone until Tuesday. I was already stalking my way home.
*(At least for the next few weeks, anyway. Before the season was out not one but two bigger dogs rose up and overcame. Syracuse and Stanford, we thank you kindly.)
1. Shawn Crable goes helmet to helmet on Troy Smith.
Ohio State, 2006: Michigan trails by three late in the fourth quarter of a game with no defense and finally manages to get Ohio State into a third and long. Troy Smith drops back, but can't find anyone. Smith gets pressure and bugs out, flushing up out of the pocket and scrambling uselessly on third and forever. Shawn Crable comes up to knock him out of bounds; in doing so, he bashes Smith helmet to helmet, drawing a 15-yard flag that extends the Buckeye drive. OSU would score a game-clinching touchdown.
The previous play has much to recommend it as the worst thing that's ever happened to anyone outside of a Lars Von Trier movie, and, yes, even if Crable pulls up Michigan is a long way away from actually beating Ohio State. Michigan's last ditch touchdown drive that allowed them an onside kick required a terrible fourth-down pass interference call to be successful and for much of that drive Ohio State's strategy was to give up yards as long as it bled the clock. Up only three, OSU would have been considerably less accommodating unless Jim Herrmann was pulling a Mission: Impossible stunt on the opposing sideline.
But if you're looking for a moment at which Michigan ceased being Michigan, this is it. Ohio State had evened, then tilted the balance of the rivalry their way in the first few years of Jim Tressel's tenure but a Michigan win in Football Armageddon would have made it 2-3 in the Tressel era with the all-important Biggest Game Ever in Michigan's corner. They would have put up more of a fight against Florida if only because the left tackle was Jake Long and would not have been a turnstile all night. In some extremely abstract sense Bo's death would have been avenged, or something. The five hours I was stuck in Columbus afterward, waiting for a man not named Skeeter and wondering if I was actually going to strangle him with my bare hands, would have been almost pleasant.
None of that happened. The next three things to happen to Michigan football were another uncompetitive Rose Bowl against USC, The Horror, and the Post Apocalyptic Oregon game. The Bo era had persisted through a couple coaching changes, 8-4 malaise, and the Year of Infinite Pain; it ended at the same time I crumpled to my seat in the OSU student section.
That play against Ohio State(2007) … a John Navarre pass deflects off the bottom of Braylon Edwards's foot and is intercepted by USC in the 2004 Rose Bowl (2003) … Hayden Epstein misses a 27 yard field goal against UCLA in a 3-point loss (2000) … KC Lopata misses a 27-yard field goal against Toledo in a three-point loss (2008) … Steven Threet throws a 100-yard pick six in that same game (2008) … Washington blocks a would-be game-clinching field goal and returns it for a touchdown (2001) … on the next play a Navarre pass is batted skyward by a Michigan receiver and Washington returns that for a touchdown, too (2001) … Marquise Walker drops a sure touchdown during Michigan's storming second-half comeback in the 2001 Edition of the Game … John Navarre promptly throws a game killing interception afterwards (2001) … Tennessee's Jason Witten outruns the entire Michigan secondary at some point during the 2002 Citrus whitewashing (2001) … Braylon Edwards is called for offensive pass interference against OSU (2002) … Chad Henne wings an interception directly at a ND safety when he had Avant open for a touchdown (2005) … Henne fumbles on a QB sneak from inside the one in the same game (2005) …virtually any defensive play during the Post Apocalyptic Oregon Game (2007) … Tate Forcier chucks a terrible interception in overtime against Michigan State (2009) … Denard Robinson chucks a terrible interception on the last drive against Iowa (2009) … Mike Williams lets a deep post behind him on third and thirty-seven in the same game (2009) … Forcier gives Ohio State a free touchdown to start the 2009 Game (2009) … and then throws five interceptions (2009).
Sorry this is late, I had a lot going on today. Here's the weekly update.
6'1", 210 lbs.
Jones is coming up to Ann Arbor with his father this weekend. This could be a huge visit for Michigan, as Kellen appears to moving towards a decision. I asked him about the visit and if an announcement might soon follow:
I can't wait for the trip. As far as a decision, I'm going to let God make it for me. If he tells me it's the right place, then it's right. I plan on making my decision in early August before my season.
I wouldn't expect a commitment on the spot, but I wouldn't rule it out either. A visit to his dad's favorite school could seal the deal for Michigan.
5'9", 160 lbs.
All Purpose Back/Cornerback
Los Angeles, California
While most of the recruiting sites list Thomas as an all purpose back, a lot of people think he'll move to corner in college. Currently committed to USC, Thomas has been open about possibly taking visits to other schools. Michigan was among that list of possible destinations.
I'm not decommitting from USC, I'm just looking around. I haven't planned anything yet, but Michigan is a school I'd like to see. If I do come out there it will be on an official.
I asked him where his interest came from, and what Michigan might have to do to get his attention:
They have great facilities and history with their defensive backs. They don't really have to do anything. I don't have an offer yet, but I want to see the facilities and everything.
He doesn't yet have an offer from Michigan, but if he tells the coaches he'll visit if they offer, they'll offer. This isn't a strong indicator yet if he's going to visit, so we'll have to see how this plays out. USC isn't doing themselves any favors right now.
6'2", 210 lbs.
I said this in another thread, but I'll say it here again: I spoke with Karlos Williams a few weeks ago about Michigan. For those that don't know, Karlos is currently committed to Florida State. He' also one of the top safeties in the country. I told Karlos that what we spoke about was off the record, so I didn't report anything, but now he's given some interviews at the Gridiron Kings that had the same information, so it's time to spill the beans.
Karlos said that he has interest in Michigan, and is looking at coming up for an official visit to the Iowa or MSU game. If he does come up he won't be by himself. He has been talking to a group of Florida kids, one of them being TE Brandon Fulse, about visiting Ann Arbor. If Michigan gets off to a good start, there's a real possibility this trip could happen.
At Gridiron Kings Karlos played on the Southeast team, which was the winning team and it also happened to be the same team as Demetrius Hart and Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix. I asked him if anyone was talking to him about any schools:
Dee (Hart) and Ha Ha (Clinton-Dix) are tremendous talents. We all actually talked about schools the entire time we were there. Everybody has their school and they're going to make their decisions. We've talked about playing together, and it's just one of those things where we can all play together, or go our own ways.
So… they could play together, or they could not play together. I then asked him if any Michigan talk down there had maybe helped their chances, or made him think a little more.
Of course it's always positive, but I am thinking of taking the official.
It sounds like some things said are helping him make his travel plans. A little side note: there has been a lot of scuttlebutt from around the Florida area about Michigan and growing interest from athletes down there. If Michigan starts off the season right, then we could see a big shift in the recruiting picture.
- OL Tony Posada will be making his announcement within the next couple weeks. I've heard it could be later this week, or it could be the middle of August. It seems to get moved every day, but it should be coming soon. As long as Florida doesn't offer Michigan is in front. Posada has publicly stated his decision has been made for a while.
- OL Chris Bryant just took a visit with his parents, and everyone loved it. He's going to talk things over with his parents before making any decisions. In my opinion Michigan is a clear leader, and will probably be hearing from him soon.
- RB Justice Hayes is announcing his decision on July 30th at 11am. Most people believe his choice to be Notre Dame. I am one of those most people. If he picks Notre Dame, it doesn't mean it's completely over. He is a similar case to DeAnthony Arnett. in that they are both Michigan fans. Again, if Michigan comes out hot it could pique his interest.
- As MGoShoe noted, RB Dee Hart had a great GK tournament himself.
This one goes to 11 despite my intention to make it a top ten list because I wrote them up piecemeal and at some point after too much effort had been put into each to throw any away I realized I had an extra item. This is obviously fate, so here they are.
These are ranked by gut because you can't put a number on the special sort of misery football can inflict. How to rate high on thie list:
- Represent a major missed opportunity. Games from the Year of Infinite Pain do feature prominently but towards the end of the list because reversing any one of them means you went 8-4, which BFD.
- Be an easily preventable error. Sometimes bad stuff happens. Sometimes you do it to yourself.
- Be the obvious start of something terrible; some individual plays on the list were moments when it became clear a large number of plays later were going to be very bad.
And now on with the hairshirts!
11. Unblocking That Field Goal
Dusty Magnum lines up for a 38 yard field goal on the last play of the 2005 Rose Bowl. Michigan charges hell-bent after the kick and gets two players in position to block the thing, but the ball manages to split Ernest Shazor's arms, taking a deflection off his elbow. The slightly redirected ball squeezes through Prescott Burgess's hands and through the uprights. Michigan loses 38-37.
A lot of these moments to come are going to be events that cost Michigan some opportunity in the future. This one was simple: if Shazor's dive takes him an inch to the left or right, Michigan wins one of the classic Rose Bowls of all time and I don't spend a couple hours making "The Five Stages of Vince Young" in a South Park character generator.
Despite that, the play is mostly notable for how close Michigan came to doing something that is hard to do, does not involve a Michigan player or coach making a terrible decision*, and did come at the end of a classic someone had to lose. I don't know… it just doesn't rate compared to the rest of the stuff enclosed herein. Losing a close Rose Bowl is hardly the worst thing that's happened to Michigan in the last ten years.
*(Michigan did not attempt to save itself any time in case the field goal was good but Mangum was somewhat shaky and Vince Young was unstoppable the whole night; if Texas was willing to take a 38-yarder I would have been happy enough to let them if I was coaching.)
Late in the 2005 Minnesota game, Jim Herrmann lines up LB Prescott Burgess as a DE opposite the Gopher right tackle. With face-crushing tight end Matt Spaeth also to that side of the field, a 230 pound linebacker who's never played DE is one-on-two versus the best run-blocking line in the conference. Herrmann's playcall is a blitz from the other side of the field that sucks the safety on Burgess's side back into a centerfield position, and a simple off-tackle run goes for 60 yards, allowing Minnesota to kick a game-winning field goal.
Unquestionably the dumbest single playcall any Michigan coach made during the last decade. Michigan was tied with Minnesota 20-20 when Lamarr Woodley decapitated Gopher quarterback Brian Cupito. Minnesota ran a couple times with the backup quarterback, punted, and got the ball back after Michigan's drive stalled out. Stuck around their own 20 with around three minutes on the clock, Minnesota runs twice more, petrified of letting backup and redshirt freshman Tony Mortenson do anything other than hand off.
Mortenson's career numbers: 14 of 39 for 179 yards, 1 TD, 3 INTs. At the time his most extensive run had come in an 0 of 4 performance against Florida Atlantic. Since Cupito has gone out Minnesota has run six straight times. It's third and ten. Minnesota is clearly playing for overtime and will just run it off tackle and punt. An injury to Willis Barringer has forced true freshman Brandon Harrison into the free safety spot, where he pairs with true freshman Jamar Adams.
Jim Herrmann decides to put Burgess in as a down lineman in a nickel package, lines him up on the strong side of the formation, and blitzes away from Burgess. The rest is Gopher history:
Burgess ended up ten yards downfield and still couldn't get off his block, but that was not exactly his fault.
In the long run this did not matter since Michigan stumbled to 7-5 in and though they could have easily won three more games, this one included, they could easily have lost three more. Herrmann would be shipped off to the NFL after the season, clearing the way for Ron English to give everyone the wrong idea for ten games. Speaking of Jim Herrmann's failings during 2005…
9. Carr punts from the Ohio State 34
Leading 21-19 in the dying minutes of the 2005 Game, Michigan has a first down on the Ohio State side of the field. Two runs to bleed OSU's timeouts get nowhere. They're followed by a six-yard WR screen that uses the last OSU timeout. On fourth and four from the OSU 34, Carr brings out his kicker to do the fake-kick-actually-punt thing, which goes out of bounds at the OSU 12.
Of all the awful math-spurning things I ever saw Lloyd Carr do this was the worst. Ways in which it was a terrible idea:
- The clock was hovering around three minutes and OSU had no timeouts. If you get the first down the game is essentially over. If you give the ball back OSU is not under any serious time pressure. Indeed, they scored and Michigan had 20 or so seconds to respond.
- Michigan's defense had crumbled on three separate score-or-die drives earlier in the year, four if you count the one Michigan had ceded to OSU just moments ago. On each they had played soft, ensuring that when the opponent scored Michigan would have no opportunity to respond.
- OSU was down two points and only needed a field goal.
- The fake field goal punt was so obviously coming that OSU put a returner back. If the punt had been slightly better that guy was off to the races.
- You spurned the opportunity to get a first down on third down for a more makeable fourth down so you could take away OSU's meaningless final time out.
Instead of taking a solid shot at ending the game, Carr chose 22 yards of field position that Michigan gave back in three plays by playing soft. I shorted out in the aftermath. Under pressure Carr reverted to the sort of call that hadn't been right since 1979 and it cost Michigan its best shot to put a dent in this agonizing OSU winning streak.
8. Pitch it to Breaston!
Michigan's attempt to replicate The Play is 15 yards from working when Tyler Ecker runs directly into a Nebraska defender on the sideline instead of pitching the ball to Steve Breaston, a man with a plan in the open field. Panama.
We end our Year of Infinite Pain trifecta with this:
I actually ended up at a tailgate that Tyler Ecker was at once, and all I could think was "why didn't you pitch it?"
Michigan was really, really good in 2003. John Navarre had molted from an inept flamingo into a laser-chucking flamingo. Chris Perry made one of those senior-year explosions you always hope will happen but almost never does. Braylon Edwards announced his presence. The defense featured Marlin Jackson, Ernest Shazor before he went up in smoke, Pierre Woods before he went up in smoke, and Lawrence Reid before his back imploded. (Unsurprisingly, the yardage defense would sag from 11th to 33rd the following year.) They were good.
But it all blew up on special teams. A grad assistant named Jim Boccher was placed in charge of it; by the end of the year he'd be in real estate and (probably) therapy. Things first went poorly against Oregon. Oregon blocked an Adam Finley punt for a touchdown. A fake punt attempt ended in a fumble. Oregon returned a punt for a touchdown. Despite getting a special teams touchdown of its own on a blocked chip-shot field goal, Michigan gave away ten points on special teams in a four-point loss.
That could have been random fortune, but what happened against Iowa was not. Boccher was an eager beaver who was actually ahead of the rugby punt curve that has spread through college football; stodgy Michigan was one of the first teams to try this high school thing out. The announcers openly wondered what the heck was going on. The intervening years have proven that it's a good idea if you can do it right.
Michigan could not, and was immediately reminded of why it liked being stodgy. Iowa almost blocked a punt, then almost blocked another one, then deflected a third; Michigan was fortunate that the deflection was partial. Along the way Michigan had given up a 43-yard punt return to Ramon Ochoa that set up a nine-yard Hawkeye touchdown drive. When Rivas wandered out with five minutes left in the third quarter, the whole stadium could feel it coming, and it did: Iowa finally returned one to sender, setting up a one-yard field goal drive. Michigan lost by three despite outgaining Iowa 463-295.
Boccher sought other opportunities before Michigan fans had the opportunity to seek him; the 2003 team would go undefeated outside of games in which their special teams cost them at least ten points until meeting USC in the Rose Bowl. That was the year in which USC got booted from the title game despite being #1 in both polls; if Michigan's special teams hadn't imploded so spectacularly an undefeated Michigan would have featured in the national title game against an Oklahoma team that had just blown the Big 12 title against Kansas State; Kansas State got blown out by an OSU team that Michigan had just handled. Competency on special teams could have resulted in a national title.
Tomorrow: The top six. Wear a cup.