10/29/2007 - Michigan 34, Minnesota 10 - 7-2, 5-0 Big Ten
If you could create some sort of time vortex that inverted the order of the quarters in the Minnesota game Saturday, there would be no complaints from even the grumpiest Michigan fans out there. After an insane decision to rotate David Cone and Nick Sheridan at QB and two atom-sized white dudes at RB on the open series, Carlos Brown jets for an 85 yard touchdown, Ryan Mallett lays in a perfect strike to Mario Manningham, and the rout is on. It's 21-0 at halftime and eventually 34-0 before Mallett offers Minnesota a free touchdown and the Gophers get a late, meaningless field goal. Order is restored, Michigan squashes all comers and everyone goes home happy, even wizard's sleeve Tim Brewster, as Michigan's final drives would have been tepid three-and-outs.
This did not so much happen. I didn't actually read this week's game thread -- it's 926 comments long! -- but I did get this email about it from Matt K:
I wanted to drop you an apology for the flame war that took place in the game comment thread. I got pretty pissed off at something that was said and unleashed a barrage of f-bombs and inappropriate insults. I know you like to keep that stuff to a minimum. I know you'll end up deleting the posts, but please don't ban me. It won't happen again. I won't comment for a few days and will come back with a clean mouth and without the anger.
I would put the ETA on this little contretemps at two seconds after Mallett fumbled away the aforementioned free touchdown, staking Minnesota to a 10-0 lead. I can sympathize. In the stands at Michigan Stadium, I swore like a sailor and mentally prepared myself for The Horror II.
Michigan ran off 34 straight points and 500 yards from that point, Minnesota 0 and about 100. Michigan's last useless throw to Andre Criswell vaulted them to 561 yards, eight past Minnesota's season average. After the game, I accepted a chiding for my lack of faith. I'm betting that simultaneously frequent game thread commenter Magnus called various other frequent game thread commenters wizard's sleeves for various slurs, profanities, and gypsy curses uttered whenever anything went wrong during the game.
I was annoying; Matt was annoying; Magnus was annoying. We are all united in this. All of us reasonable people are really two completely insane people coming to a compromise. One of them, sports id, is Mike Valenti (MAKE PLAYS!). The other, sports hope, is that guy who predicts 12-0 before every season and then is totally unperturbed when things go wrong when they should be angrier than anyone. Unadulterated, both are irritating. So let's stop, maybe? Let's take immediate aftermath venting for what it is and let it go; I promise to not let gunmetal skies, Appalachian State, and the comical ineptness of an opponent or two ruin the last days of Hart and Henne and Long and (very probably) Manningham.
- This game meant nothing given all the backups in and the hideous performance of the Minnesota quarterback. The only two takeaways, IMO: a reinforcement of our issues with the interior run and what should be a final dispelling of any Manningham-related discontent.
- I swear to God I sat directly in front of Gloria from Miscellaneous T. Same irritating New Yawk accent, same complete inability to grasp simple concepts -- her husband explained that the teams switched endzones after the first quarter, then had to explain it again after the third -- and the same (projected) inability to stop talking. It was alternately amusing and awful. They were going to the Gandy Dancer after the game; I debated whether to tell them it was the most overrated restaurant in town and suggest the Earle, eventually deciding against it. The specter of a long conversation where she completely failed to understand me was too much.
- At halftime, a various men set up something that looked like an oversized metallic dandelion, then exhorted the crowd to cheer the oversized metallic dandelion, then took the OMD to the sideline without offering either an explanation or compensatory pyrotechnics. We booed them as they left the field. Why? Because eff them, that's why.
Does anyone have any idea what this was all about? The theory batted around was that they were measuring noise levels, but why and for what? And why at halftime when nothing in particular was going on?
- Oh God, every dire and awful item about Ryan Mallett's preparation consisting of playing MarioKart and listening to Bob Marley seemed horribly true in the first half. The free touchdown, screens winged to Tacopants -- Tacopants has never done screens before -- and Mallett's now-standard running-around-and- maybe-doing-something- awesome-but-probably-just-getting-sacked act... all horrible. Even the long completions were overthrown balls upon which Manningham and Arrington made superb catches. (This is less of a criticism, since said balls were a bit long and outside -- the place to miss if you're going to miss -- and they were completed; any ball thrown that far downfield and completed is by definition a decent throw.) I pined for, in order: Tom Brady, Chad Henne, Steven Threet, David Cone, Nick Sheridan, myself, and Richard Nixon's corpse, almost reaching Jimmah Clausen before Mallett did something, anything right and definitively proved himself better than Jimmah. Then in the second half he bombed and bombed and bombed and hey, that's pretty good. The most deeply schizophrenic performance by a Michigan QB in a long time.
- Greg Mathews looks like he's going to get his shin broken on every punt return.
- Weekly complaints about special teams: Zoltan dropped three punts at the five. All of them made it to the endzone. Not once has a Michigan gunner flagged down one of the many opportunities Zoltan The Inconceivable has provided to pin opponents deep. More evidence of disjointed coaching on special teams, yes? ZTI ended up so disgusted that he booted a second-half punt into the endzone, saving the crowd the trouble of hoping.
- At this point it looks like Michigan is going to have a bonafide tailback rotation in 2008 for the first time since Anthony Thomas took over for Clarence and Howard in 1998. (Unless you'd like to count the brief Askew-Perry here, but IIRC that was short-lived due to injury.) Grady, Minor, and Brown are all likely to receive carries, and probably for most of the year.
- Another day, another disturbing inability to stop read option dives. At least with Mendenhall and Jonathan Stewart you could console yourself with the idea those guys would be playing in the NFL before long. This Bennett kid? Not so much. Fortunately, it looks like we're done with the damned spread option until the bowl game; unfortunately it's doubtful that Michigan's weakness against the interior rush is limited to just one particular play.
- I don't know if the pass interference call on Warren was legit, but even if it was that sort of tough in-your-face defending bodes extremely well for his future. Draped on the receiver, he found the ball and made a play on it. The recruiting hype on him, at least, was 100% accurate.
- Brandon Harrison has come into his own as a detonator of screen and option plays.
Game column around 1-2 PM.
It's MSU week. That can only mean one thing: MAKE PLAYS!
- Michigan State: 3:30, ABC
- Wisconsin: noon, ESPN.
- OSU: noon, ABC.
No more BTN, and an opportunity for Hart to show his wares for a sadly unlikely Heisman run. If only Matt Ryan's complete suck had lasted four more minutes... or VT had rushed like four or five guys.
He's a winner. On the last play of the Minnesota game, David Cone rolled out and threw an eight-yard pass to Andre Criswell, who ran up the sideline for like 20 yards against Minnesota's crappy defense. Tim Brewster's reaction:
"I don't know what went into their thinking on it," Brewster said. "But obviously I think it was a disappointing thing. Maybe somebody will ask [Michigan coach Lloyd Carr] what he was thinking."
I have an exclusive interview with Lloyd Carr that reveals all.
MGoBlog: So why did you call a meaningless eight-yard pass instead of a meaningless three-yard run on the final play of a 34-10 blowout?
Lloyd Carr: To brand Tim Brewster deep with the mark of shame. He will go to the end of days with the knowledge that his team gave up a first down trailing by 24 with no time on the clock. I am remorseless, without pity, the destroyer of all that opposes me. Bow down, Brewster. I am your God.
MGoBlog: Super! WHY DID YOU PUNT ON FOURTH AND FOUR AGAINST OHIO STATE TWO YEARS AGO?
Lloyd Carr: That's a stupid question.
"I just shook hands with him and went about my business," Brewster said. "But I think he knew that I was thinking about the last play and maybe what his thought [process] was."
Oh, yeah, Minnesota's got themselves a winner here. Two words: wizard's sleeve. Glen Mason must be laughing his ass off.
Come back plz. Henne and Hart... available? Maybe. Carr:
"I'm optimistic that both of them will be ready to go," Carr said after Saturday's game. "But, as I've said in the past, it's day-to-day. I know that both are much, much better than they were a week ago. We'll see how the week goes."
So... probably, I guess.
First and what? He threw a what? Varsity Blue takes a look at the first down playcalling against the Gophers, which featured 22 runs and 6 passes. Those passes:
1. Incomplete pass to Moundros (0 yards).
2. Pass Interference (15 yards).
3. Mallett lost fumble (-4 yards, returned for touchdown).
4. Mallett scramble (7 yards).
5. Mallett sack (-16 yards).
6. Manningham Touchdown Bomb (40 yards).
Not exactly pure awesome, although you don't really expect Mallett to say "hey, here's a free touchdown" on a regular basis. Meanwhile, Minor and Brown plowed the Gophers... eventually. I plead small sample size.
A toothpick, some gum, and a shoelace equals... this potential starting lineup for Michigan basketball:
Don't read too much into it, but the starting lineup for Michigan's closed scrimmage at Kent State Saturday was Ron Coleman, Zack Gibson, K'Len Morris, Jerret Smith and DeShawn Sims.
Videos. Wolverine Historian presents the '97 MSU game:
Woo rainy 3:30 start.
One night only. Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer author Warren St. John will be signing books and such at Nicola's at 7 PM tonight; he's also the editor of a new Guide To Psycho Fan Behavior with contributions from Mssr. Swindle. So, like, go.
Nobody charged with anything. A bit odd to see this headline from the News...
Manningham not charged with felony
...as you could technically run that headline every day for every player on the team: "BJ Opong Owusu not charged with felony." But whatever. Within we finally get resolution on that mysterious traffic stop over the spring:
Manningham, 21, the Wolverines' leading pass catcher, could have been charged with a two-year felony because a few tablets prescribed to a teammate were found on him during a traffic stop in Monroe County last April 25.
Prosecutor William Nichols announced today he has decided no warrant against Manningham will be issued. Nichols did authorize misdemeanor charges for a small amount of marijuana found on two other people in the car, Johnny Sears, then a cornerback for U-M, and Deion White, 17, who apparently has no connection to the program.
Manningham's vicodin was borrowed from a teammate after his offseason surgery; he had a prescription for it but unwisely decided not to get it re-filled. So no big deal. A potentially larger deal is the obvious Driving While Black nature of the arrest:
In southern Monroe County, not far from the state line, an unmarked car pulled up behind the Cadillac. In it were at least two agents from OMNI, a coalition of city police, county sheriff's deputies and state police troopers aimed at interdicting drug trafficking. The agents, returning from an assignment in another county, just happened on the Cadillac.
Because the Cadillac had Mardi Gras beads dangling from the rearview mirror and may have been going 10 mph over the speed limit (the unmarked car wasn't equipped with radar), and one occupant wasn't wearing a seatbelt, the agents radioed ahead to the Monroe County Sheriff's Department to send a marked vehicle to make a stop.
For reasons that are unclear, the sheriff's deputy searched the three young men and the car. Sears and White had a small amount of marijuana secreted in their clothing, less than the amount found in one joint.
It gets even more awesomely civil-rightsy:
The three young men were arrested and transported to a nearby State Police post, where a decision was made to strip-search Manningham and Sears while White was handcuffed to a stair railing.
At the risk of allowing the political to intrude in a strict no-politics zone: outrageous. Black men + Cadillac == stop, obviously illegal search without probable cause followed by strip search. Wheee!
Hartbrownminorchart... is up at Genuinely Sarcastic. Improvement from Boren, tough days from Ciulla and Schilling. This was also my reaction to what looked like an honest-to-God zone read late:
The "WTF" on Carry #29: Um...it looks like a zone read. If Chad Henne ever runs the zone read play out of the shotgun again, Lloyd Carr and Mike DeBord should be institutionalized ASAP. I'm not kidding. Zone read?! Are you serious? GTFO with that garbage.
Seriously. Oddly enough, we've seen Purdue come out and run a zone stretch against us this year. I suspect what's happening here is that the scout team puts in all these plays to prep for an opponent and the head coach says "hey, why don't we use that in the game." The usual result: second and thirteen.
Sans Gisele; still pretty good:
Demolition. Jon Chait eviscerates Weis at Slate; BGS -- cited by Chait as a representative slice of Irish nuttery -- responds with 3000 words that's mostly bluster and spin about how wonderful the first two years were under Weis. Just one thing:
However, I would like to see the naysayers point to another coach who, without any relevant previous head coaching or college coaching experience, lead an incredibly high-profile team to levels of comparable achievement.
Could this be because "incredibly high-profile" teams don't get shot down by their top choice and have to settle for someone who's never been a college coach at all? Naysayers can't point to another coach who has led someone to "levels of comparable achievement" -- two fradulent BCS bids in which they were as competitive as Air Force would have been -- because no high-profile team has been dumb enough to hire a total wildcard.
This is obviously the Irish nadir, as Weis has recruited well, but anyone arrogant and stubborn enough to make the "missteps" Weis has and run off the kids he has is unlikely to do anything but fail in the long term.
First, Alan Weymouth on the last game and the upcoming one:
A really good win for us at Illinois, with Hart and Henne injured to varying degrees. The way the game began, I worried that our team might tank, they had every opportunity to do so, but continued to battle. I give the game ball this week to Ron English and the defensive staff, for keeping those guys together when it looked like it might get ugly.
Run Offense vs. Minnesota
It's difficult to overstate how bad the Minnesota defense is. So let's try some analogies.
If the Minnesota Defense was a presidential candidate:
If the Minnesota defense was an Atari game:
For seriouses, the Minnesota defense is approaching truly epic levels of suck. They are dead last in total yardage and 109th in scoring defense. But the rush defense is the strongest aspect of what defense they have -- see also "most disciplined Ron Zook teams" -- at a sunny 94th nationally. Heck, they only give up 5.2 yards per carry and held North Dakota State under 400 yards. I hear the North Dakota State team is comprised of actual bison, so that seems pretty good. This could be quite a battle.
Key Matchup: Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor versus falling over untouched in the backfield 30 times.
Actually... no. Down this road things like Ball State happen. Revising:
Key Matchup: Boren and Schilling versus penetration. Boren's gotten much better in recent weeks while Schilling seems to have regressed; throughout the year the two kids have been at fault for most of the missed blocks, though, and progress would be nice to see going into the closing stretch.
Pass Offense vs. Minnesota
The Gophers are no better here than they are against the run, currently 113th in pass efficiency defense and 119th -- dead last -- in pass yardage defense despite playing a comical parade of nonconference creampuffs. They've benched a senior cornerback in favor of a third true freshman in the secondary; this will be the worst secondary Michigan has faced by far.
Meanwhile on the defensive line, Willie Van De Steeg, 2006's lone bright spot with ten sacks, has been out or limited much of the season. His availability remains in doubt; even if he goes he will not be 100%. Without him, Minnesota has had no pass rush whatsoever. They have just six sacks in e
ight games. Any Minnesota player who lays a hand on a Michigan quarterback should be given warrant to celebrate like he's a Notre Dame quarterback completing a pass.
Much hinges on Henne's availability. He remains questionable with a shoulder separation; given Minnesota's general putridity Michigan is unlikely to risk his health. Expect Mallett and a maximum of 20% first down passes, many of those safe, as Michigan shuts down and tries to pound out a victory without getting anyone hurt or giving Minnesota life via interception.
Key Matchup: Mallett versus The Unbearable Boredom Of Repeated Handoffs.
Run Defense vs. Minnesota
On the other hand, the Gophers' offense has made an impressive transition from Glen Mason's grinding power game to one of those damn spread things. Minnesota is currently doing better on the ground this year (36th, 4.8 YPC) than they did last year (42nd, 4.3 YPC), although those numbers will slip considerably once they face the defenses of Michigan, Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin. (Well... maybe not Wisconsin.)
Running back Amir Pinnix is no Maroney or Barber but he's not bad, either. He's been limited in several games recently -- there was a four game stretch with at most five carries -- and has split time with Duane Bennett and Jay Thomas. A potential monkeywrench: Gopher QB Adam Weber has 401 rushing yards this year. He's averaging more than 10 carries a game as Minnesota uses him to exhaustion.No one back is crushing the competition, but each averages at least 4 YPC. It's a decent, if inept opponent fattened, rushing attack that attacks Michigan's traditional weaknesses.
Michigan, meanwhile, has struggled mightily against the zone read all year long. Though Rashard Mendenhall was held under 100 yards, that was only because Illinois limited to 18 carries. On those carries he picked up 85 yards and was rarely brought down anywhere near the line of scrimmage unless Illinois was pinned inside its five and lined up in a come-and-get-me power set. Michigan's linebackers continued their struggles. One bright spot was quarterback containment: save one 23-yard Juice Williams scramble when Michigan suckered freshman defensive tackle John Ferrara on the zone read, Illinois quarterbacks were reduced to handoffs and pitches. The option was contained; Mendenhall was the only real threat.
Key Matchup: The Usual: Michigan linebackers versus hesitancy, fullback blocks, misdirection, and inability to get off their blocks.
Pass Defense vs. Minnesota
Redshirt freshman Adam Weber has performed adequately, if not well, (58%, 6.6 YPA) thus far but for one niggling detail: boatloads of interceptions. Weber has 15 already against a wide selection of the worst defenses known to man. He a loose cannon at this point in his career, not particularly accurate or sane. Weber's YPA and sack numbers (Minnesota is 5th in the country) indicate a ton of screens, short passes, and three-step "drops" (scare quotes because Minnesota operates a shotgun spread), throws he should be more accurate on. General expectation: Curtis Painter last year.
You may recall enormous wide receiver Ernie Wheelwright, the brobdingnagian revelation as a freshman who never progressed despite looking like a walking blueprint of an NFL pro-bowler. He's gotten better and could be the target of a Patented Jeff Bowden Hopeful Downfield Jump Ball or three, but the #1 reciever for the Gophers is sophomore Eric Decker, well on his way towards IGWWR* status. (With the carnage at Iowa and the recent emergence of Decker and awesomely named Logan Payne, the question has to be asked: did Minnesota hijack the secret Des Moines lab where these guys are genetically engineered?) In the brief glimpses I've seen of Decker, he's basically Payne: sneaky fast, sure handed, and a heady hard working guy who has a mind for the game and just coincidentally happens to be white.
I repeat myself, but: since exiling Stevie Brown to the bench and Johnny Sears to a Cheech & Chong marathon, the Michigan secondary has emerged into a solid unit. Freshman Donovan Warren blew a coverage last week and linebackers jumping little flare routes opened up a number of underneath routes for Illinois wide receivers, but most things longer than a few yards were well covered. Meanwhile, Michigan is 12th nationally in sacks largely because of Shawn Crable and Brandon Graham. Minnesota won't provide many opportunities to add to that total. Solid tackling on short routes and properly reading screens will be key. Put Minnesota in third and long and it's punting time.
*(inexplicably great white wide receiver)
Key Matchup: Donovan Warren versus WR screens. Warren's been a dodgy tackler thus far. Minnesota will probably try to exploit this with their bubble screens.
Kickoff coverage could be frustrating again. Minnesota has a kick return touchdown from Jay Thomas, albeit one against Florida Atlantic, and is currently 18th in kick return average. (They do get to practice it an awful lot.)
Minnesota punter Justin Kucek kicks it deep (almost 44 per) but often outkicks his coverage. Michigan has no one capable of exploiting that; expect a number of 10-yard Greg Mathews returns. The Gophers have only attempted four field goals all year, missing half.
On the Michigan side of things, Zoltan The Inconceivable continues to hypnotize opponents into muffed punts and roughing the kicker penalties. He launched a 67-yarder with no return last week, and the only thing holding down his average are the many times he's been asked to drop balls inside the ten, something he does with consistency. Hail Zoltan.
KC Lopata might not be Mike "Ted" Nugent, but indicators are his initial might stand for Kicking Competency, something not found during the mercifully brief Gingell era. He's been all right on a series of short field goals.
Key Matchup: Michigan kick coverage versus Thomas, et al. It's been awful so far this year.
Twenty-four point spreads do not warrant kitten talismans.
- Hart and Henne don't play... and neither do Carlos Brown, Brandon Minor, or Ryan Mallett. Or Jake Long. Or KC Lopata. Or Zoltan The Inconceivable.
- Michigan keeps getting gashed up the middle on the zone read.
- Every kick return ends up on the Michigan side of the field.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Michigan doesn't turn the ball over four times.
- Our linebackers start reading and reacting quicker.
- The Brown/Minor combo starts looking very doable for 2008.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 1 out of 10. (Baseline 5; -1 for Hey, They Lost To A I-AA Team, Too, +1 for Ack Spread Option, -1 for They're The Notre Dame Of Defense, -1 for No, Seriously, They Really Are That Bad, +1 for Complete Absence Of Vaunted Stars Is Likely, -1 for They Hired A Tight Ends Coach, -1 for The Notre Dame Of Defense, People).
Desperate need to win level: 10 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +1 for This Would Be More Humiliating Than Appalachian State, +1 for I Am On Record Saying Firing Mason Is Really Stupid, +1 for The Jug(!), +1 for If We Lose To This Team We Are So Screwed For The Rest Of The Season, +1 for Oh God, The Kittens, The Horrible Kittens)
Loss will cause me to... look, I was in Phoenix visiting my grandmother. I couldn't have smeared anyone's car with goat feces, and I have no idea what you are insinuating. No, this isn't a bomb. Yes, it's red and composed of sticks and ticking. It's an egg timer. What?
Win will cause me to... WOOO SUCK IT MINNESOTA WOOO NOT SO HOT WHEN YOU'RE NOT PLAYING ON ICE, HOSERS!
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
It's not often a schedule f
eaturing a I-AA team and Eastern Michigan offers up an opponent clearly worse than both, but this is it. The worst defense in the country keeps getting younger and more befuddled. Michigan could probably call out the play it's running before every snap and still pick up 5 YPC. Inexperience and error on the part of the backfield will probably submarine a drive or three; Minnesota might back into another stop or two. Michigan should go up and down the field otherwise.
Offensively, Minnesota actually has a chance to move the ball. Weber will carry it more frequently than either Illinois quarterback did, and given Michigan's general weakness against rushing quarterbacks -- one admirable job of containment does not overthrow years of problems -- there's a distinct possibility of two or three frustratingly competent drives from the Gophers, though a couple of them are likely to end in interceptions. Michigan's defense isn't as good as Ohio State's, but it's rapidly developing into something that's not far off. Some crumbs here and there but no real danger.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- No Hart, no Henne, no Manningham.
- No problem.
- 38-14, Michigan.