In the unorganized morass that is my non-Thunderbird inbox there is one email labeled “URGENT!” by its sender and it points to this article, specifically the headline:
Wolverines plan to play 3 QBs in opener, coach Rich Rodriguez says
Though this has since been changed to "Michigan Eyes Quarterback Shuffle" without any mention of the previous 50-point bowel-destroyer—as is the wont of media organizations whose OMG HITS editors go too far with their provocative headlines, see "Win at All Costs" and Detroit Free Press—you can see the remnants of the original in the title tag. (Unless this, too, has been altered without notice by the time you read this.)
Though Rodriguez dismisses the "if you've got two, you've got none" axiom about binary quarterbacks—ie, the only valid digits are 0 and 1—surely if you've got three you've got none. And that goes double when one of the three completed 16 of 49 in the last two games of last season and looks like Billy Bob Thornton just got done cutting his hair in The Man Who Wasn't There.
Doctor Saturday, however, points out that the headline does not match the quote in the article:
beware the extreeeeemely misleading headline hitting all the wires Sunday that suggests Rich Rodriguez may rotate three quarterbacks in the Wolverines' opener against Western Michigan. That header is based on a teasing throwaway line -- "Maybe we’ll have three starting quarterbacks," Rodriguez said. "That would be neat." -- from the bottom of an obligatory media day story whose first 23 paragraphs focus exclusively on freshman's Denard Robinson's totally quirky habit of playing with his shoelaces untied.
Rodriguez's statements, in fact, have a distinct air of noncommittal football coachspeak (which obviously):
"Until we play a game and see how they perform under game conditions we won’t know for sure if anybody solidifies the starting role," Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez declined to identify a frontrunner. Asked if he's seen separation from the three candidates, he said, "Some days, and some days I don't."
And the most recent post on this blog contains a full-fledged debunk from Tim Sullivan on the matter:
The "all 3 QBs will take snaps" AP article floating around is really disingenuous. The only time Rodriguez mentioned such a thing was a joke that all 3 would play at the same time. While it wouldn't surprise me if all three guys took some snaps against Western, this current talk is really much ado about nothing.
Okay, panic averted, especially given the AP guy's previous unreliability* and the half-retracted headline above.
When asked if for the opener, there’s a good chance each of the three quarterbacks (Sheridan, Forcier, Robinson) will take snaps, Rodriguez’s answer was, “Yes. Yeah. In what order and how many (snaps) I couldn’t tell you. Right now all three of them look like they’ll play in the opener.” I gasped.
I pinged Tim again and he recalled that quote as referring to the entire season, but he didn't want to call Greg a liar and neither do I. The totally reliable Angelique Chengelis also has the same quote but adds a disclaimer Greg left out: "Again, it's two weeks out. There is a lot that's going to happen in the next two weeks."
So what we have here is both an object lesson on the multifaceted nature of perception and awareness—yea, verily our lives are not that different from those of the common housefly even if we've evolved away from the compound eye—and what appears to be an admission by Rich Rodriguez that the freshmen are not clearly superior to a guy who was Not Good a year ago.
I still think this is complete horsecrap coachspeak and Nick Sheridan's time as a starter has expired, by the way, but the quote is the quote, unless it's not. Here's another quote, with the bold mine:
"We've gotten it out of some of the young quarterbacks, Denard and Tate (Forcier) and even Nick (Sheridan). Nick has improved his play, and some of the new guys (and) the new freshmen have come on."
"Even our redshirt junior." Compound eyes and all that. Could the official site please start posting full transcripts?
*(Assumption: unnamed AP reporter is Larry Lage since he's the local AP guy who covers Michigan stuff. 1) Lage got on the radio a couple weeks ago and claimed he "did not buy" Michigan's home-and-home with UConn was a real thing because it had only been reported by the UConn Rivals site. At that point it had made it into originally-sourced pieces in Connecticut newspapers, IIRC, and anyway anyone with their ear to the ground couldn't help but have heard from someone who it was. 2) Remember the "Get a life" kerfuffle towards the tail end of last year? It was Lage who sliced a detailed answer from Rodriguez on how he deals with fans into the most unflattering two sentences he could and thereby ignited Yet Another Dumb Media Firestorm. Moral: take AP stuff on Michigan with a grain of salt.)
Meanwhile in Denard Robinson. I am somewhat less certain that Tate Forcier is the once and forever starter than I was on Wednesday when I told a bar full of people "there are no people not named Tate Forcier" but it's not Sheridan that's caused the wobble. It's Denard Robinson, the real focus of the story that started the above hubbub and this year's "you may remember me from such Mountaineers as" target.
QB coach Rod Smith:
Offensive coordinator Calvin Magee said Robinson is bigger than Pat White was when he came to West Virginia as a freshman, and quarterbacks coach Rod Smith said Robinson's speed compares favorably to White's.
“I don’t want to blow him up, but he’s fast," Smith said. "He’s fast. It’s fun to watch because when he breaks through - and I love Pat to death, but I’m not so sure this kid - he’s fast. They’re close."
Indeed, the official site's "Letters from Camp" has a lot of stuff like this:
• Robinson scored on a 58-yard run around the left side of the offensive line.
• Quarterback Denard Robinson had a pair of plays over 40 yards, including a 45-yard TD pass to receiver Greg Mathews in the two minute drill.
• Quarterback Denard Robinson accounted for four touchdowns at practice, scoring a pair of rushing scores and tossing two TD strikes.
• During a third down drill, Robinson escaped from the pocket and had a long 72-yard touchdown run down the right sideline.
• The practice session ended as Robinson tossed a 78-yard touchdown pass to tight end Brandon Moore down the right hash mark.
And Fred Jackson's gotten all McGuffie on him, with bonus sad type of program under Carr quote:
"I promise you this, there ain't nobody in the country who can catch him," Jackson said. "In my 18 years here, I've never seen a kid that fast. Nowhere. And I've seen some fast kids on other teams, (but) I've never seen anybody that fast.
"I mean, it's scary. Every time you miss him in practice, strike the band up, it's a touchdown. He's going to shock a lot of people."
This time last year that hype was going to a kid now at Rice. Jackson might not have been totally wrong—since McGuffie had his moments and if he hadn't gotten his face crushed could have been a change-of-pace back or a slot receiver—but the "I've never seen a kid like this!" gambit doesn't work if you use it every year.
At the very least, Robinson will get a snap or a drive or a package from game one and will be given an opportunity to show whether or not "Denard Robinson is made of dilithium" translates to games.
Rich Rodriguez (video available from MGoBlue here).
- The coaching staff has a pretty good idea where they are at this point in the preparation for the season. They aren't ready to play a game yet (who in the country really is), but the staff is confident that they'll be able to get ready for WMU in the next two weeks.
- More players have bought in to the system than had at this time last year. It's not that the players weren't trying to buy in last year, they just now know what is expected of them, and the coaches know more about what each player is capable of.
- The 2nd-year jump may be partially attributable to the fact that a lot of young players have gotten time in the first year of his coaching tenure. Last year's team was very inexperienced offensively, which led to some of the struggles. He feels good about the progress this year's team has made, but he also felt the same way last year.
- Last year must be used as a learning experience. They know what players they have, and how to get the program from where it is to where they want it to be. It's not happening as fast as he wants, but the path from point A to point B is now visible. Within the next two recruiting classes, the roster should be built up to where they want it to be. For now, early playing time is a big draw for recruits.
On Saturday's scrimmage (MGoBlue notes):
- There were both explosive offensive plays and also some defensive stops. Part of the inconsistency has to do with a lack of depth.
- All 3 QBs took reps with the first team, though Sheridan was the first guy out there (not necessarily the best, mind you). The guys have different skill sets, but all will learn the whole offense.
- The QB situation should be settled by the first game, but probably not long before it. Note: The "all 3 QBs will take snaps" AP article floating around is really disingenuous. The only time Rodriguez mentioned such a thing was a joke that all 3 would play at the same time. While it wouldn't surprise me if all three guys took some snaps against Western, this current talk is really much ado about nothing.
- It's hard to tell where your team is when you're playing only your offense against your defense. Rodriguez reiterated his desire to have a preseason scrimmage.
- Rodriguez likes to be able to play 20-22 guys on defense, but he's not sure if they have enough depth this year to be able to do that.
- The LBs at the top of the depth chart are good, there is just very little depth. Ezeh, Mouton, Demens, and Stevie Brown are pretty good, but the remaining depth is almost all freshmen.
- Jason Olesnavage and Brendan Gibbons are leading the pack at kicker. Bryan Wright and a freshman walk-on (apologies, as I didn't catch the name. I believe it was Kris Pauloski) are behind the first two.
- He's not worried about establishing one running back. The best guys will play, and the offense needs at least 3 guys.
- Odoms and Mathews are looking to be the primary punt returners, with Cissoko the main man on kickoff returns. Some freshmen are involved in the battles, and simply catching the ball would be an improvement from last year.
- Warren, Cissoko, Floyd, Teric Jones, and JT Turner are the main corners, with walkon Tony Anderson behind them. There isn't great depth there. Still no word on whether Witty will get in (note: this isn't a good sign, most likely).
- Koger and Webb are both much better than they were last year. They should see some increased passes coming their way.
- The Offensive line has stayed healthy, which is a huge improvement over last year. There's a bit of a battle at right tackle, and David Moosman can back up Molk at center. All three freshman OLs (Lewan, Schofield, Washington) will eventually be outstanding players for Michigan.
Greg Robinson has a good plan and lots of experience. He understands what certain players are and are not capable of. The team will play against a variety of different offenses, so being able to defend both power teams and spread teams is important. And what a better transition to...
- The decision to come to Michigan was an easy one - "It's Michigan." He and his wife have felt comfortable from the beginning.
- The 4-3 Under is similar to the USC system, but there are some different tactics used than Pete Carroll's squad does. Robinson's scheme has more of a 2-deep flavor, while USC typically has a single-safety or 3-deep scheme. While Carroll is developing more Cover-2 elements, it all depends on what the opponent will try to do.
- Stevie Brown will be able to match physical play just fine, despite being a former safety. He's also an advantage when the field is spread.
- Brandon Graham has a future playing in the NFL, and Mike Martin is a physically gifted player. When his fundamentals develop, he'll only get better. Depth on the DL, however, needs to develop - a process that started in the offseason.
- JR Hemingway will probably be one of the best big-play guys this year, so not having him last year was a big blow.
- Je'Ron Stokes will start out as an outside receiver - not a slot.
- The wideout group practices their blocking technique as much as they do any other aspect of playing the position. They block as often as they catch or run routes.
- Coach Frey doesn't like setting concrete expectations. They pigeonhole you into a ceiling, and give an excuse to stop pushing yourself once you hit the expectation.
- Players are more comfortable in the system this year than they were last year. There is more competition, which allows everyone to push themselves.
- Steve Schilling is a good player and person. He moved to guard to help the team, because they needed him more at that position.
- Players are more comfortable in the system this year than they were last year. There is more competition, which allows everyone to push themselves.
- Mark Huyge had a good camp last year, but got hurt and missed 5-6 weeks of the season. That helps explain his seemingly-sudden emergence as a factor at tackle.
- All the redshirt freshmen are athletic, and hard workers. The mental game might be the hardest part, as they have to learn that making mistakes is OK as long as you understand and correct the issue.
Information from the players will be coming up later this week.
Right, so if you go to Canada for a weekend you are advised not to leave your laptop on top of your car overnight, especially if it’s going pour down rain for a brief period of time. After an array of panic-inducing STOP blue screens of death that boded very ill for my laptop, my season preview, and my sanity, I have managed to extract the most critical bits of information from my PC and get them onto an external hard drive. I have learned a very valuable lesson about backups and making them extremely convenient so you don’t fall off the wagon after a while.
A new laptop is being lovingly assembled in Malaysia. In the meantime, which is unfortunately scheduled to last a week into the season, I am using all-purpose backup PC, which is old and slow. It also needs to be whipped into usable shape after a long layoff. Also I’m behind after three days sans internet and a three-hour delay on my plane flight back from New York. Upshot for readers: slow day today. Bear with me as I put the gun back in the drawer.
BLOGPOLL NOTE: Due to this and a number of login issues I wasn’t able to address for obvious reasons the poll will be delayed until Wednesday.
SIDE NOTE: the laptop currently in a hospital bed with an extremely erratic pulse has not only been on for basically two straight years but it’s suffered a vast array of indignities. The fan’s been tetchy for a while. When I took it to New York I dropped it, hard, shattering a hinge but leaving the functionality of the thing uncompromised. Now it’s gamely whispering all my data onto its will after being rained on and almost dying. I’m thinking of nicknaming Junior Hemingway “Dell Vostro 1500.”
This is the final for preseason. Changes from draft:
- Dropped UCLA, on whom I was being irrationally exuberant. Even if they improve markedly from last year, that doesn't necessarily mean they'll be one of the 25 most deserving college football teams.
- Added Kansas in place of UCLA (though I moved them a couple sots back). They were a decent, not great team last year, and they return most of the pieces from a strong offense, and nearly all of the defensive line, to go along with the entire secondary. I have trepidation about their offensive line (must replace 3 starters, and a couple guys might be changing positions) and their linebackers (no starters return), but what team in the back end of the poll doesn't have a few question marks?
- Bumped Oklahoma State up, both because I had underrated them slightly I think (even if they have to replace 5 starters on defense, a mediocre defense still had them achieving at a high level least year), and because some of the teams ahead of them were overrated (i.e. the Miami Hurricanes, who also moved behind Iowa).
- Moved North Carolina into the poll, at the expense of Notre Dame. I didn't originally want to include the Irish in the poll at all (because they certainly haven't done anything to deserve over the past couple years), but couldn't think of a better team to slot in. UNC provided that. The change in that area caused a lot of things to change very slightly (i.e. Boise State moved down a bit).
- A couple more minor changes, though nothing bigger than moving a team up or down a spot.
When I originally filled out my ballot, it didn't seem like there were enough teams for 25 spots. Now, I feel like I have too many, and felt guilty leaving off an outfit like Nevada. All we can do is bide our time until Actual Football kicks off (10 days!) so we can see which teams really deserve their spots.
Arkansas 2 - Michigan 0
Before getting into some of the details of the game, it would help to refer back to the season preview that FormerlyAnonymous wrote last Sunday. The biggest thing to note, is that this Michigan's first home game in 2 years. Last year the team played at local high schools and even the occasional baseball outfield. While this facility is very temporary (the "locker rooms" are those portable buildings used as construction offices), the team appeared to really appreciate having a true home pitch with a grand stand and lights. I got there about five minutes into the game, and the stands were almost totally full, with about one third of the fans rooting for Arkansas. After the game I asked Coach Ryan what it was like to have his first true home game at Michigan:
Michigan has given us a great place to play. I want to thank the administration for providing us this wonderful venue. It is great to be able to play at home, at night and in front of our own fans. I just wish we would have played well.
I'll get to the last part in the second, but the Athletic Department really did put some money in a facility that will be replaced in year. The amenities are spartan (port-o-potties, mobile hot dog cart), but the field itself is amazing. Walking across it, I felt like I was walking down a fairway of a Country Club that should have thrown me out. It's just about the nicest patch of grass I've ever seen.
On the actual game, Michigan started out fairly well. They were able to move the ball and control the flow of the game. Most of the action was kept in the Arkansas end of the pitch with Michigan getting two decent shots on goal and three corner kicks. While the team was playing fairly well, there were a number of missed opportunities, either passes out of range of the cutting player, crosses that didn't get far enough into the box and players losing individual battles against the defenders. Coach Ryan described it:
I don't think we attacked like we meant to score a goal. I think we did very well getting up from the back into the final third, but then we wanted to go back again. I am very disappointed that we didn't take the kind of risks to score goals.
Despite the opportunities, Michigan wasn't able to get a goal. In the 36th minute, Arkansas got a mini break and got a rare opportunity in the Michigan zone. Kaily Anders ripped a shot from 30 yards that just snuck in under the crossbar. To me, that really seemed to change the game, and Coach Ryan agreed:
...I think the game really changed when they scored that first goal. I think the girls were shocked since they were playing better at that point and Arkansas gained some momentum.
From then on, Michigan never really had any momentum, and just let Arkansas dictate the rest of the game. In the 77th minute, Arkansas got another goal, and Bill Martin, who had been taking in the game with his wife, decided the game was basically over and took off. To all you resolute Michigan fans that stay through the entire game, the Event Staff person I was standing by made sure to jovially call Mr. Martin out on it. The game was effectively over at this point. There was one late free kick about 25-30 yards out which stood out to Coach Ryan when I asked him about set pieces after the game:
[Our set pieces] were terrible. We had one there near the end where we didn't even get the ball past the defensive line and they countered us off it.
One of the lone bright spots was the play of the two freshman starters, Eunnie Kim on the left wing and Holly Hein at center forward. Kim had a really nice shot attempt in the second half that elicited a nice diving save by the Arkansas keeper. A lot of action seemed to go to her side and she handled herself very well even in some physical plays in her first collegiate game. Hein's play was not as obvious to me in the middle. She had some nice balls to start breaks, but Ryan said she needs to be used more. Like a talented post in basketball, a good center forward needs to have quality ball touches in order to make an impact.
Coach Ryan was very obviously upset by the play of his team. I asked him what needed to change in order for the team to become successful against Valparaiso and into the future, and he didn't really lay out a rosy picture:
Mental toughness, grit. If your playing scared of Arkansas, your going to be scared of every team in the Big Ten. We're either going to have to toughen up or wait until we get players that are tough enough.
This isn't going to be a quick turnaround, especially when Ryan only had two scholarships to hand out. With the new facility coming next year (Ryan claims it will be one of the best in the region) and five scholarships coming available, we should really be able to see Ryan's vision come to fruition. As of now, despite being in his second year, he doesn't have many of his players and some of the players he inherited aren't really suited to what he wants to do (any parallels you can think of?). In 2010, we should see the plan coming together, and in 2011 this will be Coach Ryan's team, and if they are not competing for a Big Ten title, it is all on Ryan.
Note: Michigan played Valparaiso today, winning 2 - 1, despite only scoring one goal. Valpo went up 1-0 early with the equalizer coming on an own goal when a ball was served into the box and headed into the goal by the defense. The winning goal was scored by Kristen Goncalves who beat the goalie on a 1 on 1 after a long pass from midfield by last year's goal leader Amanda Bowery. Maybe these are the types of risks Coach Ryan was talking about.
Michigan Men’s Swimming: A History
After going on a rampage last month and writing ridiculously long posts about swimming related topics, Brian has asked me to try and raise some awareness for the Swim Team through weekly posts. And so I begin on this journey, hoping to foster interest in the sport and create a rabid fan base that packs 110,000 into Canham Natatorium (knowing full well that the fire marshal will be called).
Unbeknownst to many, the Michigan Men’s swimming and diving program is one of the most respected and prestigious varsity sports that the University has to offer. Since it’s inception in 1921, the program has racked up an astonishing 18 National Titles, while only employing 9 different coaches. The 86 seasons of Men’s swimming have produced many outstanding and unparalleled accomplishments, from NCAA individual and team championships to Olympic medalists and world record holders. Of the 9 coaches that have been employed by the University, 6 have coached for less than 5 years. While those 6 briefly tenured coaches certainly did leave their mark on the program, there were 3 coaches who oversaw 75 years of Michigan Swimming History. The fact that those 3 coaches succeeded at such a prominent level for an average of 25 years each, is simply astounding. Now, I don’t want to go too much in detail on the coaches here for hopes of keeping this post a respectable length however, for those interested, expect a full post on Michigan Swimming’s Coaching History to be out soon.
While success at Michigan is synonymous with the storied football program, Michigan swimming is the epitome of domination, never finishing less than fourth in the conference (excluding the first year of “conferences” when Michigan finished 6th). Over its history, the Men’s team has achieved a record of 613-118-6 for an 83.6% winning percentage. In addition to this overall record, Michigan has gone 404-57-4 in Conference for an 87.3% clip. Now take a second to comprehend that. Michigan has won more than 80% of its meets. If you had bet money on Michigan winning the conference every year, you would have been right nearly 40% of the time, an astounding number especially given the consummate depth of the Big Ten. Michigan has, on average, won a national championship every five years, although most of this success was achieved during the Matt Mann coaching era (this includes unofficial national titles which Michigan won prior to the inception of the NCAA Championship Meet), resulting in 18 national titles, a record that no other varsity sport can claim. (Note: In addition, Michigan is the only school that can boast three coaches who have won NCAA championships in Swimming)
In an era where rankings mean everything, to both player and fans alike, the swim team’s unmatched success has gone unnoticed by the majority of the alumni, except for the brief moments during which the team walks across the football field to honor their accomplishments (a tradition that I was able to take part in before the Illinois game). The swim team’s worst NCAA performance was 25th with the second worst performance being 17th. The team has finished in the top 5 an astounding 48 times. Now all you football fans out there, think about that. How excited would you be if the worst the football program ever finished was 25th? What if that was a year that they went 9-0 overall and won the Big Ten? That is how successful Michigan swimming is; success that unfortunately and unrightfully goes all but unnoticed, buried beneath a magnanimous group of high-profile, high-revenue programs.
Much of the allure of the more high-profile sports (football, basketball, hockey) has been generated through the emergence of hated rivals. The Michigan-Ohio State football rivalry pushed both programs into the main stream, with the rivalry growing to be arguably the best in all of sports. The Swimming program is not without its own notable adversaries. Unlike many of the traditional varsity sports, though, Michigan’s main rival has been Indiana, who we have managed a respectable 41-29-2 (58.3%) record against. Another of our main rivals, one you might recognize, is Ohio State, who finished 2nd in the NCAA Championships five of the eleven times Michigan won. Despite their reputable history, the record that they compiled while competing against Michigan was anything but illustrious. To date, Michigan has compiled a 63-11-2 (84.2%) record against Ohio State. While they may have been good, we were better.
As for the rest of our big ten rivals:
Indiana: 41-29-2 (58.3%)
Iowa: 28-2-0 (93.3%)
Minnesota: 36-2-0 (94.7%)
Northwestern: 38-4-0 (90.5%)
Ohio State: 63-11-2 (84.2%)
Penn State: 6-0-0 (100%)
Purdue: 54-0-0 (100%)
Wisconsin: 43-4-0 (91.5%)
*(Our last meet against Illinois was in 1989 before their team was cut from the budget)
Now those are some good numbers, against quality opponents. I say this only because I intentionally left out Michigan State until this point. If you’re a Sparty you might want to look away, you probably won’t take kindly to this part:
Michigan State: 79-5-0 (94%)
The first meet between the two instate rivals was held during Michigan’s inaugural year and from that point on Michigan achieved a dominance that Mike Hart would have been proud of. In doing research on State’s swim team (I wanted to have stats to back up my statement of their ineptitude) I was unable to locate a team history. I think that is a statement in and of itself that MSU hadn’t even compiled a history for a team that has been competing since 1922. The following is slightly biased and is targeted towards a very recent timeframe (due to my affiliation with Michigan sports and my age), however, Michigan State swimming has managed to flounder, despite the popularity of swimming in the Midwest. To put it simply, despite a lot of fast swimmers coming out of Michigan, there have only been handfuls that have attended State… over 86 years. Some of this is due to inferior facilities which can severely damper a recruits interest, although Michigan’s doesn’t rival the modern aspect that some, such as Tennessee have recently achieved. More importantly, if you are a fast swimmer you go to Michigan. It’s as simple as that.
Now that I’ve gone on my Sparty rant, I have realized how long this post is getting. For that reason I will cut it short, with a few ideas fresh in my mind for future posts (Coaches, Olympic tradition/famous swimmers & divers, Recruiting, and a Current update of the swim team). If there’s anything in particular you guys want me to write about just let me know. I understand that Swimming and Diving is not one of the sports that everyone follows, however I hope that by sharing my enthusiasm for the sport and our program in my continued posts, I may be able make fans out of you.