I'VE HAD JUST ABOUT ENOUGH OF YOU SONNY
Well, that was a thrilling weekend full of, uh, games that were over midway through the second quarter. Nonetheless, congratulations to all the conference champions except Penn State. (I keed, I keed: no congratulations to Tulsa, either.)
Anyway, try to fit links to your penultimate ballots in between the flames from PSU fans down here.
Eight Years In the Making!!!
Two Storied** Programs Face Off For The First Time In Twenty Years
CHARLES WOODSON VERSUS ERIC CROUCH!!!***
Michigan! Nebraska! OMG
EL PAAAAASO!!!! EL PASO! SAN ANTONIO, HOME OF MEXI-MANU, THE MODERATELY SIZED ENCHILADA!!!
ENJOY**** THE DISTANTLY RELATED GRANDNIECE ONCE REMOVED OF THEM ALL
YES I NEED TO WORK ON MY HEADER TAG CSS!!!!!
*(offer not valid in the 21st century)
**(did you hear the one about firing Frank Solich to hire Bill Callahan?)
****(and by "enjoy" I mean "tolerate".)
Programming Note: Further UFR technical delay. I promise promise promise they go up Monday and Tuesday.
Yeah, stuff's going on this year, but it's safe to say that at 7-4 this season is functionally over. Personally I'm less interested in the dying embers of this year than the promise of 0-0 and a healthy Mike Hart, and since we're in a bit of a dead spot the thoughts of MGoBlog return once more to the beginning.
What follows is an assessment of the losses to graduation on offense and an evaluation of their projected replacements. Defense coming soon.
TE Tim Massaquoi
In A Nutshell: Despite being named All Big Ten as a junior, Massaquoi was never a star. Big, somewhat athletic, and a good blocker, he was a useful piece but his tendency to drop catchable balls (with or without a cast on) was a major flaw.
Replacing him... probably: Fifth year senior Tyler Ecker, who saw just as many snaps as Massaquoi did this year and was the nominal starter by year's end. Ecker is a better receiver but an indifferent blocker. Mike Massey and Carson Butler will play when Michigan has two TEs in the game (and they will probably do so with frequency, le sigh).
Net Effect: Probably more productive on the surface. Without Avant's steadying influence Henne will be looking around for a possession guy. Ecker is the one player on the team who seems to have his confidence already; his catches should shoot up as the undisputed starter. It remains to be seen how effective he'll be as a blocker. By the end of the year, though, my first preference was to see Ecker on the field instead of Mass.
LT Adam Stenavich
In A Nutshell: Michigan's best offensive lineman last year with no competition. Stenavich exceeded expectations, shutting down every defensive end he opposed this year. Offensive linemen are like defensemen in hockey: you only notice them when they screw up or dominate utterly. One who appears so rarely in obsessive play-by-play breakdowns of football games must be doing a very good job. The caveat is that Michigan's injury explosion at right tackle caused anyone with a badass DE to line him up opposite poor Rueben Riley for maximum mismatch potential. Thus, Stenavich did not oppose Penn State's Tamba Hali or Notre Dame's Victor Abiamiri. Even so, he was a rare light of consistent competence on a line short of that quality.
Replacing him... probably: Fifth year senior Mike Kolodziej. Kolodziej has a modicum of starting experience--a few last year before Long took over or when Stenavich pissed on something he shouldn't, a few this year when he wasn't busy having a mysterious tingly illness--and should be okay in pass protection, though he will probably be a step back from this year's edition of Stenavich. Everyone says he's not much of a run blocker (his playing time was far too sparing to get a read on it myself), but if he can just keep opponents away from Henne that's enough for me.
Net effect: This departure is by far the most worrying. Whereas some spots have capable backups poised to take over and others are losing distinctly average (or worse) incumbents, there's a potential for a serious dropoff here.
LG Leo Henige and RG Matt Lentz
In A Nutshell: Reasons #2 and #3 why Michigan's offensive line was a huge disappointment this year (reason #1, of course: Jake Long's uncooperative ankle). Henige and Lentz were below average Big Ten guards largely incapable of pulling, blocking in space, or driving back even the lesser defensive tackles in the conference.
Replacing them... probably: Fifth year senior Rueben Riley and redshirt sophomore Alex Mitchell. Riley has bounced around the starting lineup the past two years, from tackle to left guard to center back out to tackle. Once he gets settled in at one position and plays it (likely left guard), he should be somewhere between adequate and good. Many, including myself, were down on his performance in Long's stead this year but he did largely neutralize Penn State's demonic Tamba Hali in one of the year's more surprising overachievements. He's a good player.
Mitchell is being pushed as the gem of the 2003 offensive line class and is clearly in line to start at whichever spot is not occupied by Riley. He did get a not-insignificant amount of time with the starters this year due to injury and looked like a freshman, but there's great hope he can mature into a mauler.
Net Effect: Can't be worse. Michigan started rotating Riley in at guard after Jake Long returned, usually after a couple series wherein Lentz or Henige screwed something up badly. Riley has almost two full years of starting experience, one at left guard in Michigan's 2004 line. He'll be fine. The rumblings about Mitchell are very positive, and he did see some time this year.
WR Jason Avant
That's some Matrix stuff right there, kids.
In A Nutshell: Sticky-handed, more athletic than credited, and ultra-reliable year after year, Avant was Michigan's go-to receiver after the departure of Braylon Edwards. His ability to catch things out of the reach of mere mortals saved Michigan's bacon in more than one game. If Chad Henne had just been average most of the year, Avant would have come close to matching Moonbeam's numbers. He'll be badly missed.
Replacing him... probably: Some array of Mario Manningham, Antonio Bass, Steve Breaston, Adrian Arrington, Doug Dutch and Laterryal Savoy. Savoy and Arrington are the tall, striding types who may play much like Avant, but it's obvious that Michigan is grooming Bass and especially Manningham for starring roles. Expect Avant's catches to spread out to a few different receivers next year, likely Tyler Ecker and Manningham. There's no shortage of talent at the position, but Henne will have to be more accurate next year, since no one bails out a quarterback like Jason Avant bails out a quarterback.
Net Effect: You mean other than severe mental distress when it hits home that the official binky of MGoBlog is plying his trade elsewhere? Michigan's receivers will be just fine. They've been just fine forever--can you think of a year in which Michigan didn't have at least one guy who is obviously one of the best in the conference--and with Manningham, Breaston, and Bass will certainly be so next year.
Yes, every third down drop will make me pine. There might be some yearning when a wide receiver screen is blown up because of bad blocking. But Michigan's stocked up on top-100 receivers over the past couple years--no fewer than four are sophomores--this is not an area of concern. New Math and all that.
Michigan loses two important players, one servicable platoon member, and two anchors... in the "drag you to the bottom of the ocean" sense. That's not much damage, especially when you consider that there are obvious players to step forward in all cases. Michigan should be able to maintain its level of offensive efficiency despite its losses.
Penguins: notoriously anti-semitic.
Of course, maintaining the offense's "efficiency" is about as desirable as being pecked to death by penguins. Penguins who've heard that putting testicles in soup means increase virility. And they've heard that you gave Mario Lemeuix cancer. And that you're a Jew. Look: these are some pissed off penguins, and they're coming for your balls. I
don't exactly what you said, but next time you think about mouthing off outside the weather station you'll feel the void between your legs that reaches down into your very soul and you'll modify your anti-Penguin screed into something a little more balanced, I assume. Because when I get the hell off this glorified iceberg I'd better have all my components in working order or you'll think this impending castration-via-penguin is a stroll in the park. A stroll in the fleebing park.
Er. I... uh. Yeah.
The upshot is that there's no reason to expect Michigan's departures to negatively impact the offense much. Mass and Avant have capable replacments; the guards weren't any good; losing Stenavich versus retrieving Long and Hart is a net win. That's a long way from saying that Michigan's offense is going to have the sort of explosion it was supposed to this year, but if it doesn't it will be more due to Bad Henne than anything else.
NSFMF on that Outback thing. The Northbrook Star(?) has a mention of the Big Ten bowl picture that does not jive with previous speculation:
[Big Ten Commisioner Jim] Delany, who thinks Ohio State will receive a BCS bid, sees Wisconsin and Iowa headed for the two bowl games in Florida (Capital One in Orlando and Outback in Tampa) while Michigan will be going to the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio. Northwestern, Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan all tied for third in the Big Ten.
The presumptive opponent there would likely be Oklahoma.
#&*#$ @#*!*%#@! Jeff Tambellini's been called up to the Kings, where he's been placed on a line with fellow last-second-bolter Mike Cammalleri. This is a mindbending event for Michigan hockey fans, especially when they say stuff like this:
"When I was trying to recruit him to come to Michigan, I kept telling him we'd play together," Cammalleri said. "I told him we'd be on the same line and how great that would be."
Said Tambellini: "Then he took off."
Tambellini signed with Michigan, but by the time he got to Ann Arbor, Cammalleri had gone pro. He was drafted in the second round by the Kings in 2001 and signed in July 2002.
"He got me to come there, then I never saw him again," Tambellini said, laughing. ...
"Well, I did the same thing to Andrew Cogliano," Tambellini said.
Argh argh argh argh argh. I have no ill will towards either--three years is above average for players of their ability--but, well, you know. Mmmm. Salty Wound.
They stick it in everybody. Right, so I might post on the Pistons from time to time in the months ahead, because I love me my Pistons. Fair warning and an excuse to link to a couple items. I missed this the first time around on ESPN.com, but Todd Boyd summarized Detroit's attitude towards your Sacramentos of the world with impressive acuity:
Say what you will about Detroit. At this point, you can't say anything worse than what's already been said. We stopped paying attention a long time ago, anyway.
We take all the negative and turn it into our armor. As Rip Hamilton said after beating the Heat in the closing seconds of the East finals, "That's what we do!"
Some creeping Scoop-like prose but still worth your time.
Also, I referenced this blog once before but it bears repeating: Detroit Bad Boys exists and should be patronized with your web traffic. I appreciated his recent MSM sniping; you'd probably like the recurring "Sheed Said It" feature.
Meanwhile, Johnny of RBUAS brought out the knives in his post about University High, the diploma mill that just got exposed in the New York Times. And here I thought "University High" was just another way to say "Ohio State."
In the aftermath of the frightening NIU game, I promised a guest post from Jon Chait about the defense and its decline. This was delayed by a series of performances appeared to be at least acceptable--17 points versus Notre Dame, 23 versus Wisconsin, 23 versus Minnesota--coupled with the spectacular implosion of the offense, which made criticism of the other side of the ball seem silly in comparison.
Recent events, though, reveal a pattern that do merit said guest post, and Jon has kindly provided it...
With the season finished, we can now see that the basic arc of the defense was cast at the end of 2004. Carr decided that the problem on defense was our propensity to give up big plays, and so we designed our defense to stop them. So our base defense became a three-deep zone.
For those of you who don't follow these things, a three-deep zone is just about the most conservative defense you can run. Most zone defenses have two deep safeties. The three-deep, obviously, has three. It makes it hard for the opposition to complete a long pass, and it assures that you have lots of containment to prevent long runs. If you're watching on TV, you can usually recognize it by seeing the strong safety move toward the line of scrimmage before the play, and the cornerbacks retreat.
The downside is that, compared with a two-deep zone, you have one-fewer defender against shorter passes and running plays. Few teams at the college level use a three-deep zone as a base defense. It's just too easy for the offense to stick to underneath patterns and play 11-on-8. It's especially weak on the perimeter, where the deep retreating corners allow outside running and short outside passes.
The defense we saw against Northern Illinois is the defense Carr and Herrmann planned to use throughout the season. It's a defense that basically let our opponent move the ball at will.
Now, the result against NIU was such a disaster that we had to use change-up defenses. You could see this when we were tied, and especially when we were behind. After the first drive against ND, we played far more aggressively, and enjoyed phenomenal success, holding a potent offense to just 10 points and 168 yards after the opening drive.
But the coaches kept it in their mind that the key was not to allow big plays, and they kept trying to run the three-deep zone. We used it mostly or exclusively on the first drive of almost every game, and almost always got torched. (Sometimes we were bailed out by opponent mistakes, like dropped passes, at MSU, or fumbles, at Northwestern.)
Only after it failed would we start mixing up our defensive calls. And, of course, when we got a lead at the end of the game we'd go back to soft zones.
Now, you might say that the defense improved over last year. I'm not so sure. It's true that our points per game yield was down. But a lot of this improvement came not because we got more stops, but because we made our opponents take longer to score, and thus limited our own offensive opportunities.
I haven't tried to gauge the entire season this way, but compare the 2004 and 2005 Ohio State games. In 2004, the defense allowed OSU to score 30 points (plus seven on a punt return.) In 2005, the defense gave up 25 points. But in 2004, the Michigan offense had 15 possessions, compared with only 10 in 2005 (of which one came with only 24 seconds left, and hardly counts as a possession.) The 2004 defense forced Ohio State to punt six times, the 2005 defense only twice. Is this an improvement? I don't think so.
That's why the fact that Carr talked after the OSU game about the fact that we gave up too many big plays is so discouraging. The obvious problem is that we gave up too many long drives, and had too few sacks, QB hurries, and three-and-outs. As long as big plays is the metric they use to gauge the defense, we're going to be mediocre.
First... technical difficulties other than 404 Whiskey Not Found have forced the further delay of the UFR for Ohio State. I will get it up as soon as I possibly can, probably late this week.
Yeah, so that EDSBS post clearly hammered a big ol' nerve. You've got my addendum, Mark Hasty's addendum to my addendum, SMQ's nod to the good things ESPN does, an EDSBS follow-up, the original post's comment thread (now at 225 replies and counting), plus links from everywhere under the sun. Even Good Old Heismanpundit chimed in, citing Rich Eisen as "reason number 53" to dislike ESPN. Eisen, of course, left for the NFL Network a while ago. How's that gang thing doing again?
Snark and anger aside, the larger point here is the vile things being said are interesting from a higher perspective. I doubt many people go around posting thousands of words about why HGTV sucks. Not so ESPN. Why is this so? No doubt it has something to do with the nature of sports fandom, which is prone to over-the-top invective. But also there was a golden age during the Dan & Keith / Dan & Kenny years when ESPN really was man's best friend. Now it's just a dog in a lot of highly visible, infuriating ways. SMQ's post and the Raftery-McDonough tandem I had the pleasure of listening to last night serve to remind that what ESPN does well it does very well and invisibly. We take our sports information explosion for granted now, as we should: it's a commodity just like any other piece of news off the AP wire. What was revolutionary 20 years ago is now old hat; ESPN's response to that was to freak out and attempt to grab whatever eyeballs it could via whatever means it deemed necessary, which is hurtful to people who were emotionally invested in it. This investiture is an impressive accomplishment, as creating users who care about you is both difficult and critical. ESPN did that with a run of innovation and brilliance once exemplified by the "This is Sportscenter" commercials which now linger on as a taunting vestige of glories past. Personally, I feel jilted. ESPN sexed my demographic up and then started two-timing me with the soccer moms.
The problem boils down to the following.
1) Read this post on the blindness of passion. I'll wait.
2) ESPN 1997 == Apple, if you pretend I'm a Mac person. I was an ESPN person.
3) ESPN 2005 == Microsoft. Monopolistic, bloated, evil-smelling corporation that I've turned against for doing nasty things; all positives minimized, all negatives emphasized.
Thus, well, this...
Speaking of ESPN being all bad and stuff. I have a coworker who often talks about a previous job where he added the sentence "I will give a dollar to anyone who reads this" at the end of long emails or slide sets. No one ever came to collect their dollar.
I bring it up because I read Scoop Jackson's latest column and it's clear he is following the same policy after ending it by quoting... wait for it... wait for it... it's totally worth it... Rent. Yes, that Rent, the foofy musical favored by unicorn-loving livejournal preteens nationwide. Seriously:
So when asked how the last 365 has affected, again, the most important basketball player in the "bombs over Auburn Hills" and the aftermath of it, the most important professional basketball player alive today, you have to sing these rented words to yourself:
"Five-hundred, twenty-five thousand, six-hundred minutes. How do you measure a year? How do you measure the life of a man?"
The mind... boggles! Does he have jammies? Does he read Anne McCaffery religiously? Does he wear sweatshirts with Pooh on them? America demands answers!
Golden Tornado has a smurfin' interesting post on the inaugural Super ACC season as interpreted via the lens of said Smurfs. It is, as they say, smurftacular.