1/1/2010 – Michigan 14, Mississippi State 52 – 7-6, 3-5 Big Ten
Amongst the many many things posted over the weekend that could have been posted at any time in the last three years was one odd bit of history that's apropos: a letter drafted for Nixon to read in the event that Neal Armstrong and company were to die on the moon because the lander wouldn't leave.
Men in charge of things make difficult decisions and live with the consequences of their actions even if they result in reading the thing William Safire wrote for you about two men watching at their oxygen gauges count down in an airless wasteland.
Back in the summer of 2008, when we were a happy-go-lucky band of mountain yodelers with flowers in our pockets and caviar dreams, I finished up that year's preview with that picture of Don Canham staring down a thicket of microphones as Bump Elliott searched for a sandwich and Bo exuded his Bo-like confidence. I've referred to it ever since, and here it is again:
Lives were not literally at stake above, but even so it's hard to imagine Nixon adopting an expression that more perfectly sums up the feeling of someone who's made a big decision and now has to watch someone else execute. At the end of that post this is what I said:
We are all Don Canham now. Rich Rodriguez comes in with a wildly successful pedigree but promises to finally tear down the culture of Bo’s program, to replace it with something uncertain. This has caused apprehension in some, joy in others, and disdain verging on hatred in a select group.
The program risks changing into something people drift away from because it has drifted from them, or, worse, something that you only wish you could drift away from. It also promises fireworks and fun and victory and a feeling that’s something other than that thing we’ve felt so much before. Other fanbases go through this every five or ten or fifteen years; for us it’s been 40.
I could welcome it, I guess, or celebrate it, or proclaim inevitable dominion over the land. But I don’t feel like it. Nor do I feel like fretting over imaginary scandals future. Like Canham, I just hope it works.
I don't think it has. A game somewhere around expectations would not have moved the needle enough for slight support for Rich Rodriguez to morph into a call for firing, but I turned the game off before the third quarter was over and when I felt remorse and turned it back on a few minutes later Mississippi State had put up another touchdown. It was not around expectations, except in the ways that it was by not being around expectations in a depressing direction. Before the season I thought 7-5 would do it but now at 7-6 with every loss a blowout and three of the wins last-drive nailbiters, Michigan's progress seems minimal at best. But for the opening week, this is the worst seven-win season imaginable.
If I'm slotting Rich Rodriguez into the picture above he's on the right, and it's time to look for the guy on the left again.
On the likelihood of a change. Still nothing definitive but everything that enters the inbox adds to the circumstantial pile of evidence suggesting we're done. If Harbaugh escapes Michigan's clutches Michigan is in a bad spot because of the "process" and how much time it's left them in the event they do not immediately transition to a new coach, but having no serious options other than Rodriguez is probably the only scenario in which we don't see a change.
As to when, Tom says he's hearing there's a team meeting tomorrow at 7 PM that was scheduled before the bowl game. If that's now be a wake we'll hear about it soon after. There are unconfirmed third hand reports about coaches saying goodbye, which could mean anything from the obvious canning of Greg Robinson to a wholesale broom.
Also, while some players have been publicly supportive, a lot of parents have jumped ship and have met with Brandon expressing frustration at goings-on on the defense. Some players may have been "lost" by the bowl debacle as well.
On recent Harbaugh panic. The Big Lead probably doesn't know shit and even if he turns out right he got lucky because he's just randomly saying things people email him without even a cursory check. However, Adam Schefter is serious business and this is foreboding:
Schefter on ESPN: "Now, there is a real feeling around the league (Harbaugh) would prefer be in the NFL."
On the other hand, "a real feeling" is far from definitive and Schefter was just reporting that Harbaugh was leaning towards Michigan with the same strength—coaching change stuff is "fluid," and by fluid people mean "batshit."
On Brady Hoke. "Not an option."
On Plan B. The Plan B name in the event Harbaugh escapes is probably Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald actually makes quite a bit of sense as a young guy with a spotless media profile who runs a spread offense Denard would feel at home in. He hasn't put together a monster team or anything but recovered from a shaky start in the aftermath of Randy Walker's death to go 9-4, 8-5, and 7-6. Not exactly Harbaugh and another guy who'd be leaving his alma mater for greener pastures, but Michigan is not in a great spot right now.
He's pushing you away :(
FL RB Demetrius Hart, the consensus top recruit in Michigan's class of 2011, announced today that he has decommitted, and will instead give his pledge to Alabama. This move has been rumored for a few weeks, and has now come to fruition.
This situation sucks, but there are a few things to keep in mind. You can't praise the "OMG SNAKE OILZ!~!~!~!~!~!~!" Rich Rodriguez used to land the likes of Roy Roundtree and Jibreel Black without realizing that sometimes, what goes around comes around.
On the other hand, perhaps the most annoying part is that the school gaining from Michigan's loss is Alabama, where it's likely he'll be kicked off the team in a couple years to make room for the Next Big Thing within a couple years anyway. See - they're already getting started making room for him!
This is unlikely to be the only decommit in this class, even once the coaching situation is settled. For all recruiting classes - but this one especially - it's probably best to wait and see how it all plays out.
Have you been outside today? I wouldn't recommend it. It's cold. It's gray. It's just windy enough to ring the side of the road with ice, and penetrate your jeans so that when you get back inside somewhere, a good thigh rub will be in order. You're used to this: it's Winter in Ann Arbor.
But for a moment yesterday it wasn't. For a moment, the sun came out and it was 50 degrees. For a moment, Michigan's defense was attacking plays and the offense was rolling down the field and into the end-zone. For a moment, Michigan led 7-0. For a moment, I remembered watching the UConn game, when the ice laid down by Woolfolk's injury and Turner's departure was thawed by the revelation of Denard.
Then the sun disappeared. The temperature dropped. The wind picked up. Michigan's defense reverted to its season-long status as a minor inconvenience to opponent scoring, and Michigan's offense became an experiment to see how many ways they could find to make Roundtree drop a 4th down pass without the viewers switching to Penn State/Florida. And so the vicious, three-year winter of Michigan football continued in its lazy, hazy way, finding new jackets to penetrate and souls within to crush.
To pretend like there wasn't something beautiful about the Rich Rodriguez era is to say there was never any reason yesterday to be outside. The moments of joy have been fleeting: the overtime Tatefest against Illinois, two comeback victories over Notre Dame, UConn. Each sparse day in the sun we took for a sign of Spring. This is because we are Michigan, one of the great programs, and the great programs know greatness will return the same way the inhabitants of Earth know the snow can't last forever.
Tomorrow night Stanford will play Virginia Tech, and we'll see if whatever Jim Harbaugh has done to the Cardinal could beat the closest analogue to Lloyd's last Michigan team you'll ever find. Later in the week Dave Brandon will ascend the podium of Gobbler's Knob, pull out a prognosticating marmot, and tell us whether he sees Rich Rod's shadow. Either way, this winter isn't going to be over until our defense has the talent and structure and experience to stop somebody, which will take a lot more than six weeks on anybody's calendar.
Is it possible that the winter of our discontent can last forever? Well, sure, it's theoretically possible. But it would also take a major climatic shift for that to happen, because Michigan's place in the college football solar system is backed by a huge national audience, a ridiculously wealthy alumni base, the biggest stadium in the country, and an axis set by Yost when the universe was still young. Plus our helmets have wings.
On the other hand you can bet this winter still has at least one more good storm left in it. If you're going to survive it with your soul intact, I recommend a thick coat.
On Faith, Science & Business
I have a rough memory from something in college where we discussed three different paradigms of thinking. The trick was to identify which type your audience is and use his kind of reasoning: if you have a "believer," then discuss agreed-upon moral precepts; if it's a pragmatist make analogies to previous "successes," and follow these proven-successful decision-making processes; if it's a scientist, make the case with data and then argue against yourself until you've shown you can exhaust rebuttals. Nobody is just one or the other, but you're probably aligned more toward one and/or against one.
For the Believers:
Blazefire came in with a short essay on faith in leadership, specifically one's head coach.
During a sermon, a pastor once said that when you ask God for something, there are three possible answers; Yes, No, and Wait. I couldn't argue with this statement. That's logical for a request made of anyone or any being. The requestee can either say "yes", and provide, say "no" and refuse to provide, or say "wait, maybe later", and put something off till a later time. The implication of all this was to help understand God's answers, so on and so forth. That isn't really the part that hit me as far as the game and the program are concerned. The part that hit me was in the answer "wait".
For the Pragmatists:
Thanks to iawolve, we get a peek into how David Brandon's mind may be working given his experience as CEO of a private firm, from the point of view of another who has been through that same gauntlet and learned similar lessons. A few conclusions:
What does this all mean? It means Brandon spent 1999 through 2004 (IPO) under the management of Bain Capital. He survived the gauntlet and remained the CEO post-IPO for another 6 years. He would be a person that believes in:
- Pay for performance
- Strict monitoring of progress
- Taking chances by changing the status quo in order to achieve results
- No surprises
For the Scientists:
You've met Enjoy Life: author of your weekly in-season looks at college football's sabermetrics, as well as turnover tracking. This week, in true scientist's form, he calls his own work generally useless because, well, that's what the numbers say:
Uh yeah, we have all been wrong (myself included). I started looking at turnovers (TOs) in detail after the 2008 season when Michigan went 3-9 with a turnover margin (TOM) of –10. I wrote a series of diaries that concluded double digit TOs were caused primarily by the skill & experience of a team and not primarily by luck. Thus, good teams tend to have positive TOMs and poor teams tend to have negative TOMs. This is basically the opposite of believing that TOs are a primary factor in determining whether a team is good (i.e. winning record) or poor (i.e. losing record) – sorry, Phil Steele.
Previews That Didn't Say We'd Get Clobbered
At this point it's not all that helpful, but two hours before kickoff yesterday, jamiemac of Just Cover Blog finally hit "post" on this masterpiece, which previewed the smart money on the Gator Bowl. Jamie's conclusions gave warning that something ugly was possibly about to unfold, noting that RR has not been covering the spread in Big Ten play, and noting a likely (extant?) motivation question for Michigan.
When judging this Michigan team, you have to take into account their mental state with the coaching situation swirling around. We've seen West Virginia and Miami look like they'd rather be a million other places than playing with their coaching situation. But we've also seen Maryland rally around their deposed coach and play lights out. We also saw Oklahoma State send off their offensive coordinator Holgerson with a great effort, despite him splitting a lot of time between places in the bowl run-up, because the players were genuinely happy for him. None of the Michigan players know who is coaching them next year. But, they know who is coaching them this year. It's Rodriguez. As a fan, I'm proud at how the coaches have handled this situation. That will carry over to their players. I think the Wolverines will play hard for this coaching staff. This will be a lot more like the Maryland effort and nothing like we was with the Canes and 'Neers. At least that's what I keep telling myself.
Yes, then we got curb-stomped.
Still, though its shelf life was short, considering I didn't get last week's DD out until Tuesday so is my list of contenders; this is your Diarist of the Week.
Also written on deadline, BlueSeoul, on advice from counsel, gave us a final preview of the Gator Bowl based on his analysis of each game:
Well, maybe those last two were different, but it didn't matter. Based on the results, you'd have to say that Tressel has been a master when it comes to The Game.
If RR were going to make one of those for the gator bowl, it should read something like this:
- Stop #28
- Stop Relf with run blitzes
- Pressure Relf up the middle on passing downs
- Don't let Relf pull the ball down on a scramble and head up the middle
- Yes, this means designed draws too! Especially on the designed draws!!
- For god's sake, if you have to choose between going after Relf or someone else, go after Relf!!!!
- Seriously, RELF!
Apparently, he forgot "CATCH THE DAMN BALL" and, uh, "play football."
Michigan Paintball: This is serious. Michigan, in our quest to be better at everything, now competes in Paintball. It ain't varsity, but team member heffman has the lowdown on the team's successful start.
Michigan Men's Ice Hockey: For a brief moment this week, "CC" on this blog meant "Colorado College," not the other thing. During this time I managed to score tickets to see Michigan defeat CC at the Joe and replace that ugly green banner with a maize and blue one. Of course, I need not have gone through the trouble, since CC alum denverblue managed to preview the thing down to the color of Jaden Schwartz's bloomers.
Next week we'll let you know who's Michigan's head coach, and talk about how much longer this winter will last. Until then, maybe just stay indoors.
Usual post-disaster measures have been implemented: you need to be a "basic user" (100 points) to comment and "trusted" to start yet another redundant thread. Kitten:
Happy New Year!
Liveblog Chaos Mitigation Post taco taco taco. Also apparently six Mississippi State starters have a "stomach virus" important enough to mention on ESPN.
Michigan has the worst field goal kickers in the country and will use them only when facing preposterous situations like fourth and goal from the fifteen. One of MSU's kickers is basically a Michigan kicker but he was replaced and the new guy is 9 of 11. [shakes fist at sky.]
The punt games are a wash. MSU is 28th in net punting; Will Hagerup and co are a couple yards off of that but it's not a big enough difference to expect it will matter. MSU was decent at punt returns but Bumphis has all but one on the year so that's a question mark for them; Michigan will just fair catch it. Kickoffs are also a wash, though Michigan gave up a KR touchdown against OSU in their last game.
Key Matchup: DON'T ALLOW A DAMN TOUCHDOWN
- The first triple option pitch is so open it's not like there's anyone to blame.
- No one knows how to run a 3-3-5 still.
- Someone calls a halftime press conference.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- We're all like "oh, right, Mike Martin is a beast, I forgot."
- A healthy Denard is zinging accurate balls hither and thither.
- Greg Robinson's beaver makes frequent appearances for whatever reason.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 5 (Baseline 5; +1 for We're Playing The Illinois Offense Again, –1 for But Denard Is Healthy And So Is Odoms And So Isn't MSU's Best WR, +1 for Mississippi State's Defense Will Not Be As Accommodating As Illinois, +1 for Burn The Gardner Shirt Or Run Wildcat If—When—Robinson Gets His Ding, –1 for Chris Relf's Erratic Throwing Is Defense-Invariant, –1 for Healthy Mike Martin, +1 for Mad Cowbell Disease)
Desperate need to win level: 8 (Baseline 5; +1 8-5 Is Undeniable Progress, –1 for That Might Not Matter One Whit Anyway, +1 for The Faint Memory Of January Happy Events Is Like Motes Of Dust In A Room Half-Remembered, +1 for The Slight Chance It Might Impact Our Ability To Watch Denard Finish His Career Here, +1 for I Just Want To Win A Damn Game, –1 for I Know It's Over And Oh It Never Really Began But In My Heart It Was So Real, +1 for Seriously, Win.)
Loss will cause me to... sigh and brace for a press conference.
Win will cause me to... smile and brace for a press conference.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
I hate this section because predictions are stupid. I always have. That's why the bolded text is whining. I want Michigan to win so I think Michigan will win. I fear Michigan will lose so I think Michigan will lose. You see that behavior in the BlogPoll: the most irrationally exuberant voters are always from some team doing well at that second with caviar dreams and the most irrationally negative voters have just watched their puppy run over and loathe everything. I'm caught between the two, and don't really know what to expect in a game that seems like a replay of the Illinois game. The Illinois game turned out to be rather close.
A couple other blogospheric predictions have dispensed with the idea that predictions are anything other than hopes, with Blue Seoul declaring…
I hate making predictions, especially when the two teams are close. So instead I'll just put what I hope happens.
…and BWS saying…
This is probably a homer's prediction, but I don't like picking against Michigan when a game looks not only winnable but more or less like a coin flip
…and I'm here to tell you that I don't know what's going on, man. I want Michigan to win, so I'll predict them to win because I can, in defiance of Vegas and the vague hope it matters. I'll spare people the talking myself into it bit.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Demens is still aligned like an idiot would align him and MSU counters are highly effective, but Martin's presence makes the interior inverted stuff mostly ineffective.
- Michigan has two fifty-yard-plus touchdowns.
- Michigan gives up two fifty-yard-plus touchdowns.
- Michigan, 31-28, with Justin Meram erupting from the locker room with ten seconds left to boot a 200 yard field goal.