"Jim's a tough guy and you can see his personality is all over this football team," Fitzgerald said.
Michigan lacks that one pure dirty scorer. There's no Cammalleri or Comrie or Hensick on this team, nor is there a senior duo like Kolarik and Porter. The best player on the team is probably Carl Hagelin, a guy who dumps in his share of goals but gets them via dint of hard work and speed more than stickhandling through a phone booth and roofing it in close. Caporusso (right) is probably going to end up being the top scorer, and while he's talented he seems a step down from the Hobey types mentioned above. His main skills are getting himself open in dangerous positions and a deadly accurate close-range wrister that allows him to take advantage of the opportunities he gets from there.
The best guys in terms of stickhandling might actually be a pair of defensemen. According to the Daily, Berenson would like to get his freewheeling defense corps more involved in the offense this year. Yost saw signs of that last weekend,with both Langlais and Burlon putting on the pirate hats and sallying forth into the offensive zone. Langlais's ability to zip through traffic and set up the power play was reminiscent of the last guy to wear #7—Hensick—at certain points, and he was clearly looking to yo-ho-ho into the offensive zone when the opportunity presented itself. I've probably made this comparison before, but Langlais is a near clone of Eric Werner, another undersized swashbuckling defenseman who thrilled Yost with his offensive abilities.
Burlon, meanwhile, isn't quite as flashy but is ultra-composed on the puck and has an excellent shot. With those two in the lineup, Michigan will probably deploy two defenders on the top power play unit for the first time in a very long while. BONUS: the offensive dropoff from those two to Kampfer and Summers isn't particularly steep, either. What Michigan lacks in pure death scoring from the forwards they can probably make up for with defensive contributions.
Freshmen. Bullets on the new kids:
- Everyone's been calling AJ Treais a less dynamic version of TJ Hensick and that was borne out. In Hensick's debut as a Michigan player he zipped all over the ice and lit a pair of exhibition opponents up for something like five points; Treais didn't quite get that and he wasn't as dynamic but displayed hints of that kind of ability. He'll probably be stuck on the third line this year, but second power-play unit time awaits and he could hit 20 points.
- Chris Brown is a big, physical dude who needs polish. He tried the old trick where you get position on the defender and then ride in front of him across the net for a scoring chance, but instead of going across the net he went directly into the back of it. He was a second-round pick, but that's way less exciting for the college team in question when you're 6'2"; NHL guys go for size over immediate impact with regularity. Brown was good about putting the body on folks and had some flashes of offensive competence; tough to tell this early but a Ryznar or a Nystrom might be a good comparable.
- Kevin Lynch didn't do much I observed. Judgement withheld.
- I didn't notice Lee Moffie much, either, except for a few instances where he showed good poise with the puck. Another Kampfer? He's a bit bigger. He'll probably see a fair amount of healthy scratches this year, as he's the seventh defenseman.
- The two walk-ons, Jeff Rohkemper and Lindsay Sparks, didn't do a whole lot. I liked Sparks better, he seems quick and eminently capable of being an annoyance on the forecheck. He had some pop in junior, too.
Lines? The official hockey twitter threw out the following lines for Sunday's game against Windsor:
- Wohlberg, Caporusso, Czarnik
- Lebler, Treais, Winnett
- Hagelin, Lynch, Brown
- Rohrkemper, Ciraulo, Vaughan
During the season, Rust will draw into the lineup somewhere, bumping someone on the top three lines onto the fourth. Before the weekend I would have assumed this was a lock to be Lebler, but Lebler looked surprisingly good for a guy who's mostly been an end-of-roster grinder thus far.
The fourth line will be whoever the top-nine refugee is plus a blender of Glendening, Ciraulo, Vaughn, Sparks, and Rohrkemper. I'm betting on Glendening to play most of the games and everyone else to rotate, drawing in when injuries and whatnot happen.
That is a lot of depth. The nominal second line here is really the third line; a top line like that above backed up with something like Hagelin/Rust/Brown and a third line of Winnett/Lynch/Treais is a lot of scoring depth, and that's not even considering the defense, which was scratching an NHL draft pick last year and is currently Summers-Kampfer-Langlais-Burlon-Llewellyn-Pateryn. I am confident in all of those guys, though I'm not a big fan of Llewellyn's tendency towards unnecessary roughing penalties, and then you've got a scholarship kid on the bench. In all places except goal, this is the deepest Michigan team in a while.
The Blues Brothers. Okay. Okay: seriously. Okay. Remember that one guy who was really, really into Kid A in college and whenever you'd go over to his room, Kid A would be on and at first it was cool and then eventually you just dreaded it because God who wants to listen to Kid A again? I, sadly, am at that point with "Can't Turn You Loose." Ever since Jack Johnson left and Superfan sold out and there was no alpha dancing dog, the second period dancing thing has been a chaotic mess**. Then at the end of the season two years ago the entire student section started dancing, which would have made for a really cool end-of-year tradition. Instead, it happens every second period and then the students demand more and the band is playing "Can't Turn You Loose" for like ten minutes straight.
Sure, everybody loves Kid A*. But sometimes it's a little too much, proto-emo kid. You make me want to go hang out with that guy who's always watching The Breakfast Club and mouthing the lines.
*(Except me. Never got the whole Radiohead thing.)
**(In the long long ago, there was just one guy who danced. Usually it was Superfan. When Superfan was not there it fell to either 1) guy in a ridiculous costume or 2) most humorously fat guy in the section. Then Jack Johnson came along and his dad did it to the delight of all other than Jack Johnson; after Johnson left about eight different people tried to take the mantle, one of whom was just a complete failure and would not listen to reason, thus causing the long descent into Unapproved Behavior. The unwritten law, now discarded, of Can't Turn You Loose is this order:
- Jack Johnson Sr
- Frankenberry costume or penguin costume guy.
- Other humorously attired student.
- Guys dressed up like Blues Brothers
- Biggest, most ungainly guy in the section is drafted.
At no point should anyone who has ever worked for WOLV dance. YES I TAKE THIS VERY SERIOUSLY.)
Other band note. Major plus points for playing Temptation—all of Temptation—and Hawaiian War Chant in the first intermission. The You Can't Have One Without The Other duo is criminally underused across all Michigan sports and should be implemented whenever and wherever possible. Hopefully they continue that all season.
Minor ding: probably shouldn't play the Victors right before the team comes out, because then you're just going to have to play the Victors again.
2011 Recruitin'. High-end forward commit Lucas Lessio's playing at St. Mike's—the program that provided Cogliano, Caporusso, and Burlon to Michigan—in the OPJHL, but saw his OHL rights traded to another team that might have a better shot at him. The Wolverine's Bob Miller points out an interview with Lessio conducted after that trade. He's not headed for the OHL:
"I just love it there; I fell in love with it when I went to watch a game three years ago," said Lessio. "My heart's been set there probably ever since." …
"I try not to see these two seasons as an opportunity to relax knowing where I will be in two years," Lessio informed. "I always try to work hard at everything I do because if you work hard, even in practice, that's how you'll get better. Working hard should be your number one priority and then the rest of the things will fall into place so that's my number one priority when I go out there every game."
Rest of the article is worth a read; apparently Lessio just pulled out a version of this baby:
Miller also suggests that Austin Czarnik, the Michigan State decommit and last year's NTDP U-17 points leader, could be headed to an arena near you in the not particularly near future:
Heard this evening that a certain forward may who recently de-committed from wearing green and white may just wind up wearing maize and blue in the end. Cough...Austin Czarnik...cough. Info was second hand, but from a knowledgeable source.
Czarnik is one of those 5'8" puck wizards Michigan has a rich history of deploying to entertaining effect, and would be a great pickup to go with Lessio in the burgeoning 2011 class.
If you can help out finding articles on any of the commits, e-mail me, and I'll try to include your contribution. This week, I didn't make it to any games, but I might be able to make it to one game for next week. If you want up-to-the-minute updates of the games I attend, follow me on Twitter @varsityblue.
MI QB Devin Gardner
The University of Michigan-bound signal caller was impressive, throwing for 132 yards on 7-of-13 passing and running for 95 yards on 15 carries.
But - except for one dazzling fourth-quarter dash that electrified the stadium - the Wolves defense kept Gardner from putting on a one-man highlight show.
This week: Inkster (3-2) @ Muskegon Catholic Central.
|Devin Gardner 2009|
|East Kentwood||L 33-52||19||30||389||3||1||63.33||12.97||10||102||2||10.20|
|St. Edward||W 14-7|
|Highland Park||W 27-22||9||16||127||2||2||56.25||7.94||11||74||2||6.73|
|Bay City Central||W 27-20||7||13||132||1||0||53.85||10.15||15||95||1||6.33|
SC QB Conelius Jones
Last week: Spartanburg loses to Gaffney, 7-14. Jones was 18-30 passing for 184 yards and one interception. He ran 21 times for 60 yards and the Vikings' only touchdown.
This week: Spartanburg (2-4) @ Byrnes.
|Conelius Jones 2009|
MI RB Austin White
The Spartans had 222 yards rushing led by White’s 133 on 28 carries.
White also had 3 catches for 34 yards in the game.
“As long as we keep winning I don’t care how many times I carry the ball,” White said. “The team is working hard. To be around these guys is a great feeling. We’ve come such a long way since the beginning of the season. It’s exciting right now. We didn’t change a lot in the second half. People just started making plays. We’ve been focusing on making plays. I think we’re going to be the kind of team to pound it down their throats. That’s the kind of team we’re developing into.”
This week: Stevenson (4-2) @ South Lyon East.
|Austin White 2009|
|South Lyon||W 37-0||8||173||3||21.63||0||0||0||-|
TX RB Tony Drake
Last week: Skyline rocks Molina 65-0. Drake had only 1 carry, but it went for 54 yards and a touchdown.
This week: Skyline (4-0) @ Richardson.
|Tony Drake 2009|
|Plano East||W 45-19||15||167||1||11.13||0||0||0||-|
|Lake Highlands||W 42-27||19||226||2||11.89||1||6||0||6.00|
LA Slot WR Drew Dileo
Last week: Parkview Baptist loses to Dutchtown, 15-24.
Godberry’s touchdown was set up by a 32-yard punt return by Drew Dileo...
The Eagles, ranked No .3 in 3A, were led by Brandon Johnson who had 53 yards on 11 carries and Drew Dileo who had 24 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. Dileo added 32 yards receiving on three catches.
The Dileo Statistical Notebook is almost getting robust enough for a...
Chart. Look for one next week.
This week: Parkview Baptist (4-1) v. Northeast.
MI WR Ricardo Miller
Last week: Pioneer blasts Monroe 41-6. Ricardo had 3 touchdown catches.
This week: Pioneer (5-1) v. Huron. Apparently this game is some sort of big deal.
|Ricardo Miller 2009|
|Arthur Hill||W 58-20||1||20||0||20.00|
OH WR Jerald Robinson
Last week: Canton South loses to Northwest 8-28.
Jerald Robinson had six catches for 60 yards and a touchdown.
This week: Canton South (1-5) v. West Branch.
MI WR Jeremy Jackson
Last week: Huron defeats Saline 32-20.
Gleichert directed the credit to his blockers, saying "our offensive line just played the best games of their lives. I'm going to give all credit to the O-line. They played an amazing game."
Senior wide receiver Jeremy Jackson, who caught eight passes for 132 yards and a touchdown, agreed.
"When the line blocks, everything goes well for us. They're firing off the ball real hard and on each and every play they're coming off with a purpose," he said.
"That makes the run and pass really easy."
Jackson photo by Lon Hordowell of AnnArbor.com.
This week: Huron (2-3) @ Pioneer. Apparently this game is some sort of big deal.
OH WR DJ Williamson
Last week: Harding defeats Bishop Tonnos 48-7.
This week: Harding (4-1-1) v. St. Ignatius.
OH OL Christian Pace
Last week: Avon Lake defeats Midpark 35-7.
This week: Avon Lake (3-3) v. Berea.
OH DT Terry Talbott
This week: Wayne (3-3) @ Fairmont.
PA DE Ken Wilkins
Last week: Trinity falls to Chartiers Valley 12-30.
This week: Trinity (1-4) v. Belle Vernon
PA DE Jordan Paskorz
Last week: Hampton defeats Indiana 35-20.
This week: Hampton (3-2) @ Knoch.
OH LB Antonio Kinard
Last week: Liberty defeats Champion 21-7.
This week: Liberty (4-2) v. Lakeview.
OH CB Courtney Avery
Last week: Lexington wins 47-7. Avery missed the game with his ongoing ankle injury.
This week: Lexington (3-2) @ Salado.
OH CB Terrence Talbott
This week: Wayne (3-3) @ Fairmont.
WI P Will Hagerup
Last week: Whitefish Bay defeats Grafton 32-0.
This week: Whitefish Bay (5-1) @ Homestead.
2011 OH CB Greg Brown
But the Little Giants big blow came when Foos threw a 66-yard TD strike to Greg Brown (8 catches, 121 yards) during a 74-second, second-period scoring frenzy as 3:37 remained in the first half.
This week: Ross (4-2) @ Marion Harding.
|Greg Brown 2009|
|Benedictine||W 28-21 (OT)||6||99||1||16.50|
|Findlay||L 40-43 (3OT)||8||121||1||15.13|
TX RB Stephen Hopkins
Last week: Marcus had a bye week.
This week: Marcus (3-1) v. Lewisville.
|Stephen Hopkins 2009|
|Plano West||W 35-25||28||128||3||4.57|
|Tyler Lee||W 17-7||22||118||1||5.36|
FL S Marvin Robinson
Last week: Lake Region had a bye week.
This week: Lake Region (0-4) v. Ridge Community.
New shirts! The MGoStore is rocking two new shirts. One of them is pretty obvious. The other is, er… not. Click either for link:
Yes, the back of the Cone shirt says "leave ya twisted with chalk around ya body" in tribute to Cone rapping up a storm. WOOOOO. Get 'em while they last. Shoelace will be around for a bit, of course. Cone will be in our hearts forever but since it's kind of doubtful he gets a fifth year you probably want to scoop those bad boys up ASAP.
NOTE for folks who live in Ann Arbor and hate the idea of paying shipping costs: MGoShirts are available at Underground's retail space on South U. My cut there is the same as the one online, for people super concerned about the cash flow here. (This does happen.)
Outback Bowlin'. Orson Swindle would do well to avoid this vein-popping Zook special, but you're not Orson so here's the Wolverine Historian version of the 2003 Outback Bowl:
Part Two awaits in the lightbox.
I don't know if this is good or bad. Justin Turner was credited with a special teams tackle on Saturday, but that did not actually happen:
MSU corrected the official boxscore Sunday to show Jonas Mouton in on the tackle, and Turner, the No. 2-rated player in Michigan's 2009 recruiting class according to Rivals.com, remains eligible to redshirt.
So he's probably going to redshirt, and JT Floyd is going to start. Hurrah for good roster management? Boo because of thin secondary depth and the oddity of having such a highly-rated guy on a redshirt track? You make the call.
Also of indeterminate benefit. Rodriguez is going to take a look at linebackers who aren't Ezeh or Mouton (both of whom are at least making a number of good plays to go along with their terrible horrible not good ones in the UFR I've gotten to):
Yeah, every job is up for grabs every week,” Rodriguez said. “It sounds like coach speak, but our guys know they have to play at a certain level. Jonas (Mouton) and Obi (Ezeh) have played very, very hard. … I think Jonas is a very active player, and Obi has played solid, as well, but we can all play better.” …
"You take away a couple of those scramble plays, their big third and long passes, and it was a pretty solid effort,” Rodriguez said. “But you have to count those. Those are part of the whole deal. … We've got to be more consistent I think is the word in all three phases, particularly defensively."
"Player X has played very hard" is an excellent backhanded compliment. FWIW, I don't think anything will come of the starting jobs potentially coming open given Fitzgerald's shaky cameo and Leach's meh performance in the Eastern game. At least Mouton, who does appear to be blitzing a lot more recently, has guru-approved (and obvious) athletic ability. Leach doesn't.
As long as we're talking about the possibility of walk-ons busting into the starting lineup, let's highlight this bolded bit from yesterday's press conference recap:
Mike Williams wasn't 100% going into the game, but taking him out for Kovacs was a substitution issue, not an injury issue.
IE: Kovacs is just playing because the coaches think he's better. Williams got yanked quickly, too, right after he failed to get out on a short zone when Michigan was running three-deep and gave up a 15-yard hitch on Michigan State's endless drive. I didn't even think that was his fault, FWIW, as he was tasked with faking a blitz and had no chance to get out there; with Warren playing in the parking lot that play was super easy. FWIW, Kovacs has turned in a couple of impressive tackles so far. He's probably a disaster in coverage but Michigan is using him as downhill run-stuffer, something he seems capable of.
Family values, but on the tee-vee. Elliot Mealer will feature on that ESPN newsmagazine show E:60. You know, the one with jump cuts of Jeremy Schaap. Details:
Sports leader ESPN has followed the Mealer and Richer families for a year documenting how each family dealt with grief while moving ahead with their lives. On Tuesday the segment will air for the first time on ESPN and ESPN HD on a program called E:60 at 7 p.m.
"I first got contacted really early in the morning after I had just spoken at a FCA event at Napoleon High School," explained Elliott Mealer, a senior at the time of the accident that claimed two lives. "We talked it over as a family and all agreed that this could be something that could bring a positive light to the accident and everything after. As a little kid you always dream about being on ESPN and I guess in this sense it is bittersweet. I really wish I didn't have a story to tell but the fact of the matter is I do."
Worth examining, yes, I talk like Yoda for no reason mmmm.
Oh noes! You probably remember the nonstop caterwauling from Notre Dame fans in the aftermath of the referees getting Armando Allen's screen non-touchdown right. I wonder if they will take up arms and demand justice from the Big East replay officials on behalf of Washington:
That knee you see on the ground is Robert Hughes's. His entire body, and therefore the ball, is outside the endzone at this moment. This is the two point conversion that Notre Dame got to go up three, and without it they would have lost 30-28 in regulation. The lack of a review here is inexplicable. It was obvious the instant NBC cut to a replay of the play. CONSPIRACY
(Also, people: download a torrent and get a frame from that instead of taking pictures of your TV.)
Etc.: This is not Mark May pantomiming Lou Holtz performing fellatio on Jimmah, but it kind of looks like it is. Barwis porn migrates to web comics. Braves & Birds is confused about how to feel about the game Saturday.
Right: on WTKA from 4-6. Which is now. TUNE IN RIGHT NOW FOR LINDA FROM GRAND BLANC YOU WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.
- There were no new injuries coming out of the Michigan State game that will keep guys out of practice this week. In existing injuries, David Molk is out of his walking boot, and started lifting light weights again yesterday. Mike Williams wasn't 100% going into the game, but taking him out for Kovacs was a substitution issue, not an injury issue.
- Donovan Warren is a very intelligent player. Rodriguez said, "Some of our guys need to follow his lead as far as how he prepares for games." A bit of a calling-out, it seems. At the other corner position, JT Floyd and Boubacar Cissoko are still competing.
- The offense struggled in part because they didn't have the ball a whole lot in the first half. 1 mistake here and there was enough to destroy a drive. Missing Molk drops the intensity of the line a little bit. The team wasn't sharp, and they needed to be in order to win. The receivers usually don't drop that many passes, and they need to improve their concentration. The Stonum touchdown helped them get some momentum going for the offense, which sparked the comeback.
- Tate's leadership is improving from week to week. That's the sort of thing that comes in games, and can't be earned as much in practice. He was a little nicked up in the game, but he warmed up as the game went along. When asked if he's more poised than most freshmen, Rodriguez answered "No question." He'll be a little limited in practice today, but should be full-go for the rest of the week.
- The defense has tackled well most of the year, but there have been times that they haven't been able to make the tackles. Rodriguez isn't sure if that's a matter of their conditioning wearing down, or breakdowns in technique. The defensive line is the most consistent unit on the defense from game-to-game. As far as linebackers, Rodriguez said every position is up for grabs, but praised the play of Mouton, Ezeh, and especially Brown. "We can all play better," he said, meaning that it wasn't just the linebackers that are the problem.
- They've been doing the rugby punt for a number of years. Zoltan had the option to run or kick on that play, and for the first time, he made the wrong choice. "We need to make sure our guys understand the parameters."
- Iowa has one of the best front sevens on defense - particularly the front four - that Michigan will see this year. It should be a big challenge for the offensive line. They have to step up their intensity in Molk's absence.
- In the team's workouts this morning, everybody came in motivated. They know they must have great practices this week and keep on improving. The team was hoping for a great season, and the loss hurt because of all the work they put in.
- Mike is friends with David Molk, and he can tell that it's killing Molk to not be able to play. He was finally able to lift today, and was happy.
- It helps Martin to play next to Brandon Graham. He's a great athlete with good experience. He motivates the defense on the field, and keeps them pumped up between plays. He never said anything about it, but he was clearly upset to not have a sack on the year until finally getting one against the Spartans.
- Going against Iowa is tough because the Hawkeyes have a great defense. Since the Michigan offense might struggle, the defense will have to step up. Martin likes night games, because he's not much of a morning person.
- The long touchdown was a big play for the team, and for Stonum personally: "It was a big play for me. I let the team down with two fumbles earlier, so I needed to step up and make a big play for us."
- There hasn't been an adjustment to the way Tate throws the ball this year compared to the guys that they had last year. The only difference is that he keeps his eyes focused downfield to make a play, even when he's scrambling. The receivers have a lot more confidence this year, which has led to big games for JR Hemingway (Western Michigan), Greg Mathews (Notre Dame), and now Stonum.
- Stonum loves night games. That's all you play in Texas high school football.
- The offense can only ask the defense to do so much, because the offense has to capitalize when they have the opportunities. The defense has put them in position to win three times now, and they jut couldn't pull it off against Michigan State for the third win. Offensive rhythm is important for the team, and the run game drives that. Though he watched the film three times yesterday, Mark couldn't tell where the issues came from. State was just firing off the ball better.
- The difference between last year's losses and this year's is confidence. This year's team has it, though it was a little shaken by the first loss of the year.
- Molk is a leader on the line, so losing him is drastic. There are still plenty of capable guys, so losing one player is no excuse for a performance like Saturday's.
- Ortmann has never played at Iowa, nor even been in their stadium. They are a good defense, and it should be a tough challenge. Regardless of how long the trip is, each game should be treated like a business trip by the players. Ortmann doesn't like night games, because it allows tension to build all day, especially from the younger players.
- He's kicked well this year. The weather on Saturday made it tougher, but he was still able to kick pretty well. Too bad he didn't get a chance at a game-winner at the end.
- On game-ending drives, it helps to focus on how many times he's been successful. It's easy to say that you just need to concentrate, but to do it is tougher. The guys on the team really help him deal with that. A lot of guys tapped him on the helmet going into OT, knowing that everyone else is confident in you helps.
Old Mailbag Updates
On old spellin' guy:
Regarding the emailer who asked about Old Michigan Spelling Guy last week, I can confirm that both OMSG and Superfan were in attendance for Homecoming against Indiana. OMSG did the cheers, and Superfan just wielded his cowbell (feel like I should say "of Truth" or something after that).
I didn't know about either of these guys 'til this year; I've normally sat in the southeast corner prior to this year. But I saw Superfan doing these cheers against Western and knew what the emailer was talking about. Where OMSG has been for the other games is beyond me. But since they sat next to each other, Superfan would probably know if asked.
So… he's fine, workin' his magic. On the thing that isn't people shaking keys:
Brian,As a sort of answer to the question about the 3rd down student cheer.I had student tickets from 04-08 and I was at the WMU game also in the student section. I don't really know what to call the cheer, it really just started last year. The band broke out some new (at least I don't remember hearing it before last year) song they play on 3rd downs. As they play it the band director and some of the band sticks their hands out and shakes their hands and fingers, which is why some of the students have picked it up and started doing it along with them. I've noticed that some of the students still pull out the keys and some do the little hand wiggle thing, it's kinda split. I'm not sure what the motivation was for the new song and hand thing, it surprised me a little last year when I saw it the first time. If there was some sort of message to the students last year about doing the new cheer I missed it somehow. As far as I know, the students that started doing it just picked it up from seeing the band do it.Jesse
As I’m assuming you’ve heard by now, that cheer has been used by the Marching Band for decades. I was in the MMB starting in 1993 and we used it back then. And we use it as part of our cadence to and from the stadium. Now, you may be correct about when it was picked up by the football team and then the fans. I remember some of the football players picking up on it late in my tenure (93-97) when we’d do a practice performance for them in the fall. Whether it was specifically 1997 or not I don’t know.
Anyway, thought I’d pass that along. The band usually does the “Great to be….” And “Go Michigan, Beat the XXXX” cheer as part of every game’s cadence.
Adam R. Cole
New Items, But Slightly Old
Brian – I'm sure you are no stranger to this complaint - is it just me, or does Pam Ward's announcing just crawl under your skin and annoy the **** out of you? Her ad hoc commentary is so pointless, is, at best, pawned from the media guide, and sounds no different than what you would imagine to hear if you ever decided to watch a college volleyball game or gymnastics tournament. She can't offer any meaningful insight on football strategy. Her announcing actually made me madder and more hostile while watching the "survivorfest" vs. IU last weekend. She does not belong in a football booth. Is there any way we can get ESPN to permanently put her on Northwestern duty (except, of course when we play them)?
I'm with you. It's not that Pam Ward is a woman, it's that she's terrible. The difference between Ward and McDonough, who was terrific in a game just as crazy, was striking. McDonough injected the game with more drama; his "DROPPED!" on Savoy's drop was outstanding, as was the rest of his call. Ward has this crazy ability to suck energy out of a play. On Indiana's 85-yarder, well…
She doesn't start talking about the play until Willis is ten yards downfield, and when she does it's "Wow, big run out for Darius Willis. Willis down the left sideline. Nobody's going to catch him." She can't sound excited. That's why she's on nooners on ESPN2, I guess. It's Michigan's job to make this irrelevant by getting good enough to get out of that timeslot or hammer their opponents to the point where Ward's lack of excitement mirrors the game.
While I've seen most of the team improve compared to last season, I'm mystified by the punt return. I've got know-it-alls around my section yelling for Mathews head after all his fair catching, but could it be this new fangled punt formation that is affecting the statistics? I know Michigan is using the same type of coverage and while I still think Space Emperor is the reason why our punt coverage is good, could it also be the formation?
I don't care much about Mathews calling a lot of fair catches since he's had little opportunity to actually make any returns. The problem has come when Mathews doesn't field punts. He gave up about 50 yards of field position against Eastern Michigan and failed to field one punt against Indiana that should have been easily acquirable.
Fielding the punt seems about all you can do these days. As you noted, the spread punt formation now sends six players downfield immediately, severely reducing the ability of opponents to get good returns. A brief trip to the spreadsheet to compare 2000's stats with 2008's indicates there's some meat to this theory: In 2000, 46% of punts were returned with team averaging 10.1 yards each. By last year, the spread of the spread punt formation had seen punt return percentage drop to 39% and return average drop a full yard to 9.1. Since there are still a bunch of teams running old-school formations, those numbers underestimate the increased efficiency of the spread punt formation at least somewhat. Anecdotally, I think the difference is considerable.
As returns drop, "catch the damn ball" becomes an increasingly important part of being a good punt returner. Mathews has done that, except when he hasn't, and I'm fine with him back there.
Side note: I'm sick of fair catches. I'd like to see the NCAA institute the NFL rule; in the NFL you can have an illegal man downfield on a punt. I assume that rule is the only thing preventing the widespread adoption of the spread punt in the NFL; the numbers prove its efficacy.