the season has truly begun now
We join the action with Michigan up 7-2. Jerrett Smith finds Coleman for a backdoor hoop; Udoh comes in and hits a couple soft jumpers in the lane, picks up a block, and a foul. There's a Harris three in there somewhere. Michigan leads 16-6.
7:19 PM. Dang. Udoh faces up and knocks down a 12-footer. This McCauley guy is pulling Sims out and driving on him. TV timeout 18-10. Notes:
- NC State's second leading scorer is out with a hamstring injury, leaving NC State with five, count 'em, five scholarship players. Yikes.
- Also: Engin Atsur reminds me of a GSI I had named "Emre Enginarlar," who was a fave-rave of ours.
- Epke Udoh... kind of a badass so far.
- Yay Brad Nessler.
- Brent Petway has his number shaved into his head. I don't know how to react to that. It's like he thinks it's 1992.
- Sidney Lowe is NC State's coach. this is causing constant confusion.
Sims abandons his man to double, gets caught way far away, and his dude hits an open jumper. Smith almost tosses teh ball away. WOOOOOOOO PETWAY ALLEY OOP. Nice rebound from Udoh. Abram gets Coleman an open three; miss.
Harris travel bleah. Five TO already.
7:26 PM. WOOOO PETWAY BLOCK. WOOOOO PETWAY BLOCK. WOOOOOO. We can't hit shots on the other end to extend the lead, though. Udoh screws up a rebound, allowing a freshman who looks six to get an and one -- missed the continuation.
Nessler's a little obsessed with Petway... they're in a zone, we're befuddled. Harris jacks up a prayer that misses; Sims cleans it up. 22-14 at the eight minute break.
ESPN 2's bottom line has a countdown to Monday Night Football. I hate Monday Night Football. I hate the implication that I live for Monday Night Football. Tuesday is not six days away from Monday. It is four days away from Saturday, and Saturday does not "tide me over," you college-football-hating communists. In conclusion, please die.
7:33 PM. Lexus doesn't have a sale. They have a "sales event."
Hey, look, Danny Ainge.
Tough turnaround post basket by NC State. Abram miss... followed by crap offensive foul on Sims. Makeup call on the other end. 23 NBA teams have scouts in the building... this is what they call a working holiday. Smith lets his man get open for a three. They can't score, now only up three. Harris bricks a three. Grant goes right around Smith, and Amaker takes a TO.
I love how they're talking about NC State hanging in there like they're playing UConn or something. I know they're supposed to be terrible, but really... as soon as they went to the zone our offense collapsed. And turnover is followed by turnover. Smith AIRBALLS a jumper. Brutal.
Petway another huge block, but it sets up a lucky three. Turnover. Smith gets called for a blocking foul and we hit the break down by two. We haven't scored since the zone got put in. I think the reason I usually hate college basketball is that I spend most of it watching Michigan. Also, the kiddie-pool three point line is ridiculous. And the shot clock is way too long. And the refs are terrible. And the timeout problem is even worse in college. So never mind.
7:40 PM. They go back to man-to-man and Smith drives for a layup. Why go away from the zone? Petway gets a steal but get it poked way. Udoh block falls to NC State. Lucky basket.
Petway tips out a rebound, Ben Wallace Style, and gets a a feed from Smith for a basket... we get a three in our face nad miss one of our own. Smith almost turns it over. Smith is getting torched every time down. Airball from Coleman. This is infuriating. Five scholarship guys, missing their star player, picked last in the ACC, up five with the ball.
7:48 PM. Great. They come down, drive through the lane like we don't exist, and our final shot of the half comes after the whistle. NC State goes into the half up seven.
I don't want to overreact, but we're going winless in the Big Ten, missing the NIT, and Amaker should be fired at halftime. I hate basketball.
7:51 PM. "This team has the potential to make the Final Four." - Digger Phelps. Um.
8:04 PM. Second half starts with two bricked threes and a bricked Sims post move. Plus an open three knocked down on the other hend. NC State up twelve. Turnover. Brutal Petway foul on the other end.
Note: no Michigan free throws in the first half.
Sims bricks a turnaround. Finally something positive: transition opportunity leads to Harris free throws. Aaand that's a loose ball foul they didn't call, I hate you NCAA refs. Udoh in for Sims. More points for NC State, more bricked threes for Michgian. Udoh called for a foul on what looked like a clean block.
Petway knocks down a jumper... rubber rim. ANOTHER open three goes down for Nc State. If this gets to 20 I quit.
Now I'm rooting for it to get to 20 so I can get on with my life.
8:12 PM. Since NC State's best player went out they've outscored Michigan 44-18.
Harris hits a jumper. Offensive rebound for McCauley, then a wide open dunk. Near turnover. DeShawn Sims bricks a jumper. Drive for NC State pushes it to 18. Bricked three... now 2 for 14. One more NC State hoop and I can quit. Foul!
The tension! The horrible tension!
First one's down. Second one's down! NC State by twenty! WOOOOOOOOO.
8:20 PM. Heath Ledger is now macking on Julia Stiles in "Ten Things I Hate About You."
THIS IS WHAT YOU'VE REDUCED ME TO, TOMMY AMAKER.
I'll let you know how it goes.
Note: I've never gotten the idea of All-Whatever teams with two running backs. Teams don't play two running backs. They play a fullback or a third wide receiver or maybe a tight end. Given spreadmania in the Big Ten, the first team offense has three wideouts. A fullback is on the second team.
Also: offensive linemen are broken down by position, which was stupid in retrospect.
Also also: MGoBlog feels sorry for Notre Dame. Since the Irish aren't in a conference, they can't get all-conference level recognition. In the spirit of the season, I've decided to share the Big Ten awards with ND. All deserving Irish players are included.
1. Troy Smith, Ohio State.
I don't want to talk about it. Fortunately, I don't have to since this is obvious.
2. Chad Henne, Michigan.
Wasn't asked to do much -- new Michigan offensive coordinator Mike Debord apparently gets a series of painful electric shocks whenever he calls a first-down pass -- but was efficient when called upon. His strike rate on bombs was exceptional this year and his overall accuracy was similarly improved after an uneven sophomore year. Henne is maturing into the player Michigan fans thought he'd be after an impressive freshman debut, though he was clearly a step behind Smith during The Game.
1. Mike Hart, Michigan
He's little, he's impossible to tackle, and he never fumbles except for that one time he did. But even that wasn't charged against him. Stupid rule, but we'll take it. The backbone of the Michigan offense, Hart led the nation in carries, finished seventh in yards, and drove Michigan up from the ashes of 7-5. He won't win the Doak Walker, but goddammit he should win something. Invent it. The Mike Hart: for being exactly like Mike Hart.
2. Tony Hunt, Penn State
Yes, he was badly outgained by Wisconsin's PJ Hill, but Hill had the following advantages:
- a quarterback
- an offensive line.
You will agree with me that these are important things to have in the game of football, yes? Hunt was the Penn State offense, such as it was. With Anthony Morelli completing a whopping 54% of his passes, teams could tee off on Hunt on anything that looked remotely like a running down. This they did, but Hunt dragged them five yards forward anyway. I went into the year thinking Hunt was average at best, but come out of it with a respect for his pounding style and yeoman service to a lost cause. Without him, Penn State reverts all the way to their 2003-2004 nadir. If you're handing out a "most valuable player" award in the Big Ten... well... Troy Smith still wins. But Hunt is second.
2. BranDon Snow, PSU
I love fullbacks, and place one on this team despite their rapidly fading relevance. Snow was the thumping hammer for Tony Hunt's junior and senior years, when Penn State's running game emerged to rescue it from the bowlless depths of seasons past. Like Kevin Dudley, Snow turns linebackers into a white-hot furrow of snapped limbs and smoke, and that deserves a "shout-out," as the kids say with the hippin' and the hoppin' these days.
1. Mario Manningham, Michigan
Missed three games and was used sparingly in another two after midseason knee surgery, but you can't overlook 19.5 yards per catch and 9 touchdowns, all of them deep balls that Manningham hauled in with a breathtaking gracefulness. Or maybe that last bit is just me. He's inexplicably, remarkably good, physically imposing in no way. The magic is in his routes, which get him yards past befuddled defensive backs, and his hands, which cradle over-the-shoulder bombs like they're kittens. Kittens of Wolverine joy.
1. Anthony Gonzalez, Ohio State
IS BETTER THAN TED GINN. Okay? Okay? It's a testament to Troy Smith that the Buckeyes spread the ball around so much that four receivers ended up with around thirty catches, but it did depress the chances of said receivers getting flashy postseason awards. Well, not here. Gonzalez is fast, smart, and sure-handed, and it was he -- not Ginn -- who turned in the year's best highlight reel moment from the Buckeye wide receiving corps when he turned a short dig route into a WOOP WOOP WOOP thirty yard touchdown against Iowa. Also, he didn't drop like five passes versus Michigan.
1. Dorien Bryant, Purdue
It's a shame that Purdue only has one defensive player who doesn't suck in all the ways you can suck (DE Anthony Spencer), as a Purdue team with a competent defense would have been a fun, dangerous team to watch the rest of the Big Ten play. Bryant was the unquestioned center of that danger, a waterbug of a wide receiver who was Steve Breaston's good twin over the course of his four years as a Purdue starter.
2. Logan Payne, Minnesota
He's big, kind of lumbering, and white, but kind of good and fast and stuff. Where did Logan Payne come from? No one knows. Where is he going? The middle rounds of the NFL draft. The most unsung offensive skill player in the Big Ten, Payne ended up fifth in receiving yards per game playing in a run-dedicated Minnesota offense. He's a dedicated blocker on the edge, quick enough to take a long handoff six or seven yards, and irritatingly good at getting open in zone coverage. This was supposed to be Ernest Wheelwright's spot, but Payne was the focus of the Minnesota passing game.
2. James Hardy, Indiana
Much debate here. Hardy's numbers came in great bursts against certain crappy secondaries (Iowa, Michigan State) but were interspersed with caverns of nothing production against real teams. Still, Hardy had to deal with bracketed coverage, a freshman quarterback, and the general Indiana-ness of Indiana and still played a huge role in most of Indiana's five victories.
1. Matt Spaeth, Minnesota
I've had a throbbing mancrush on the brobdingnagian Spaeth since his sophomore year, when he spearheaded Minnesota's perimeter rushing game with vicious abandon. He slowly became a viable option in the passing game; this year he was a weapon in both the run and pass games. I won't soon forget his down block on Tim Jamison when the Gophers played Michigan: he came in motion and then blew Jamison onto he ground like he was a child. Result: 20 yards for Amir Pinnix. Plus he catches and stuff. Farewell, O Mighty Spaeth.
2. Travis Beckum, Wisconsin
...was a linebacker a year ago. This year, he's the Big Ten's second-leading receiver. Saddled with receivers named "Swan" who play like that irritating Asian stereotype from the always-unfunny MadTV, John Stocco had to find someone to throw the ball to. Someone turned out to be Beckum, a hyped defensive recruit a couple years who found an application for this athleticism on the other side of the ball. Beckum has hands and the ability to stretch linebackers down the seam. He's a mismatch waiting to happen and Tyler Donovan's favorite target in 2007, guaranteed.
1. Joe Thomas, Wisconsin
...will be a top five draft pick. Crooshed silly defenders en route to 1500-yard PJ Hill season. Yielded zero sacks. Uh, yeah.
1. Jake Long, Michigan
...will return for his senior year (please?). If he doesn't, will be a first-round draft pick. Michigan ran "zone left" on seemingly half its snaps a year ago, and Long was a major reason why.
2. Mike Otto and Sean Sester, Purdue
The Boilermakers threw a remarkable 505 passes this year. Curtis Painter was sacked only 17 times, largely because the veteran Purdue offensive line walled off opponents like whoah. (Also slightly because Purdue didn't play Michigan or Ohio State.)
Well... crap. I don't know enough about offensive lines and I haven't watched games closely enough to really tell you. So this is sketchy guesswork.
1. Adam Kraus, Michigan
I have watched a lot of Michigan games and observed the interior line play. Kraus has been solid in both pass and run protection. Occasionally he'll miss a block, but that happens to everyone, and when he does it's usually one of those playside nightmares against a slanting DL.
1. TJ Downing, Ohio State
2. Mike JONES, Iowa
2. Kyle Cook, Michigan State
On the theory that the coaches know what they're doing.
1. Doug Datish, Ohio State
2. Mark Bihl, Michigan
Again, coach agreeance by default.
Woo! Interior linemen! So hard!
So much of what is said and published about who should go to the national title game is political. In my world, this is what "political" means:
political. adj. fancy pronunciation thing
- willfully ignorant of the whole picture.
- an argument that cherry-picks only the facts beneficial to your argument and discards those that are harmful.
The only way to determine who should go to the national championship game is to look at the resumes of the contending teams top to bottom. No whining about "unfair" or "deserves" or blah blah rematch. If Michigan had the best season, it goes to the BCS championship game. Did it?
|#1||ND, 37-17||@ ND, 47-21||LSU, 23-10|
|Advantage: Michigan's win over Notre Dame was 34-7 in the first half and 34-14 at the half. At the end of the third quarter it was 40-14; Michigan also was on the road instead of at home. Florida was at home, outgained by LSU and benefited from five Tiger turnovers and a safety on the second-half kickoff. (Note that Michigan also ended up +4 in turnover margin, but was only plus one by the time the game was out of reach. They also dominated in terms of yardage.) LSU's a better team than Notre Dame, but I think Michigan's performance was the most impressive.|
|#2||@ Ark, 50-14||UW, 27-13||(neutral site)Ark, ???|
|(Note that this scenario assumes a Florida victory over Arkansas, though a relatively narrow one.) Advantage: USC. If you assume that Arkansas and Wisconsin are approximately equal -- or even if you assume UW is the better team -- a 50-14 road stomping trumps a solid home victory that was close into the second half. It should be noted that there were a lot of mitigating factors on the USC blowout. Arkansas, more than any other team in the country, has improved since their opener. Human swiss army knife Darren McFadden was dinged. Casey Dick was unavailable. But... uh... 50-14. On the road. If Florida wins the SECCG by 21 that'll be a better victory given Arkansas' improvement, but that isn't likely. To put it mildly.|
|#3||Cal, 23-9||@ PSU, 17-10||@ Tenn, 21-20|
|Advantage: Comparative scoring is always a dangerous exercise, but Cal bombed Minnesota while Penn State needed a fortunate pass interference call in overtime to win. The polls also suggest that Cal and Tennessee are better than Penn State. I believe them in this instance. So PSU is out. We're left with a two-touchdown victory over Cal at home versus a one-point victory over UT on the road. UT bombed Cal. Call it a tie, and that's being generous to Florida.|
|#4||Nebraska, 28-10||@ Minnesota, 28-14||Georgia, 21-14|
|Advantage: This is where the bottom drops out for Michigan. Minnesota is 6-6, got waxed by Cal, and generally impressed no one in an off year. Neither Nebraska or Georgia is a powerhouse but Nebraska's 9-3 and heading to the Big 12 championship game and Georgia is 8-4. Advantage Trojans here, as Nebraska was really never in the game while Florida allowed a late Georgia comeback to make it interesting.|
|#5||Oregon, 35-10||Iowa, 20-6||SoCar, 17-16|
|Advantage: These are all equally mediocre opponents, though both Oregon and South Carolina are 7-5 instead of Iowa's 6-6. USC hammered the Ducks, while Michigan struggled all game and Florida needed a miraculous three blocked kicks to scrape by the other USC. Two points Trojans.|
|OTHERS||UCLA, Arizona State, Washington State, Washington, Arizona||CMU, Indiana||Kentucky, So Miss, 'Bama|
|Advantage: USC. None of the above teams are exactly world-beaters but all are at least half-decent. USC has five of them, Michigan two, and Florida three. Two points Trojans.|
|JUNK||Stanford||Ball State, Michigan State, Northwestern, Vanderbilt||Western Carolina, Vanderbilt, Central Florida|
|Advantage: One team USC played is worse than 5-7. One team! While most big time universities have three or four automatic wins built into their schedule, USC had one. No late-season Ball State or Western Carolina. Two points Trojans.|
|LOSS||@ Oregon State, 33-31||@ Ohio State, 42-39||@ Auburn, 27-17|
|Advantage: Michigan, obviously. But the gap here is not quite as severe as it seems. Oregon State ended up 8-4 and USC had a chance to tie with a two point conversion, where Michigan and Florida needed a miracle to come back in their losses.|
Well... there you have it. Michigan has a narrow advantage in "best win" but after that it's all Trojans until you get to the loss category. They clearly lost to the least intimidating opponent, but unlike their competition they battled back and had a chance to tie at the death. Also, OSU benefited from a panoply of freak plays: a punt return touchdown, USC turnovers, etc. I think the most astounding thing about USC is this: they played one team worse than 5-7. When they rolled on to the field this year, all but one of their opponents was capable of beating them.
If you really think that Michigan's Notre Dame win was superlative enough to override USC's season of wins against solid opposition and that their Oregon State loss was an unforgivable sin, you can make a case for Michigan. But let's give it up, guys. USC's tiebreaker is Arkansas and Nebraska versus our Vanderbilt, Central Michigan, and Ball State. They took on two above-average BCS teams. We took on the worst team in the SEC and two MAC teams, though one of them happens to be okay this year. Set aside the Michigan fandom and look at the big picture: if USC has this season and does not make the NC game, no one will ever schedule anyone again. It's time to take the bullet.
Let's go Bruins!
(Side note: how excellent does a four-team playoff look this year? Way.)
Saw a lot this weekend: A&M-Texas, Arkansas-LSU, USC-ND, bits of Wake-Maryland, WVU-USF once it was clear WVU was in trouble, Florida-FSU, Clemson-South Carolina, BC-Miami. Let's hear it for spreading games out over three days.
- I've decided Wisconsin goes no further forward than the tail end of the top ten until their bowl game. Their best win is Penn State. After that... Purdue? Thanks to their embarrassing nonconference schedule and missing OSU, we have desperately few data points on Wisconsin and it would be the height of conveyor-belt mania to stick them above Arkansas or Notre Dame just because they happen to play more than one good team in a year.
- Wooo LSU! Okay: I've been a skeptic all year, but with everyone else losing and LSU claiming a couple quality wins, they bounce way up.
- The rest seems pretty standard to me, except maybe the PSU vote at #25. But whatever.
I'm out until Monday. There will be some posts on the Fanhouse, but I make no guarantees as to their Michigan relevance.
Guest post from Jon Chait here on the field conditions, which I overlooked in the game recap. They were pretty awful in person, where you could see the downfield coverage try not to fall over. I neither endorse or un-endorse Jon's viewpoint.
It's astonishing to me that all the commentary about the Michigan-Ohio State game has missed what seems clearly to be the dominant factor of the game: the shoddy field conditions, which crippled both defenses.
Before anybody accuses me of simple Michigan homer-ism, let me concede a couple points:
1. Ohio State made its best effort to create a playable field
2. Ohio State outplayed Michigan and won fairly
3. There are plenty of good reasons to avoid a rematch in the title game - for one, it's impossible to know with any precision which two teams are best, so providing an interesting match-up ought to be an important consideration, and rematches are generally less interesting.
Nonetheless, the most popular argument against a rematch is that Michigan "had its chance." That argument loses much of its force if you consider just how badly the field distorted the game November 18.
For those who don't know, Ohio State had had to completely re-sod its field twice this year, including once in November. The latest re-sodding obviously did not take root, which should not be a surprise for the Midwest in November, and the result was a loose carpet of grass that provided very little traction. It was a lot like running on a rug that sits on a hardwood floor. You can run straight pretty well, but if you try to change direction quickly you're likely to fall.
Why did this hurt the defense? Because offensive players know when they're going to cut, and they can get their bodies under control before planting. Defensive players, who have to react instantaneously, can't keep up. The result was a farce. Neither team could cover anybody. Neither defensive line could get any penetration against the run, or generate any pass rush. (If neither lineman can move quickly, the result is a stalemate, which benefits the offense.)
Most sports reporters and fans missed the full extent of this distortion for a simple reason; it produced lots of scoring, and most sports fans think high scoring means a great game. But the results make it pretty clear that the scoring was grotesquely inflated by the field. These were pretty universally regarded as the two best defenses in college football. Yet Ohio State scored more points against Michigan than it did against all but three opponents. Michigan scored more offensive points against Ohio State than it did against anybody. Mike Hart averaged more per carry against OSU than he did against all but two opponents. And so on. That wasn't a football game, it was a video game.
There were some ways in which offensive players were hurt. Chad Henne overthrew a sure touchdown pass to Mario Manningham because Manningham couldn't get out of his break at normal speed. It's probably no coincidence that the shifty Anthony Gonzalez, OSU's leading receiver, had less yardage than straight-line speed demon Ted Ginn.
Did the field benefit Ohio State vis a vis Michigan? I think it probably did, though you could argue the point. The Buckeyes had more experience playing on a shoddy field (and Michigan's 11 point second half margin would suggest that getting used to the field helped.) Turning the game into a shootout probably suited OSU's style more comfortably than Michigan's.
But the point is not which team benefited over the other. The point is that the game itself was massively distorted by the field conditions. For a comparison, in 1950 Michigan and Ohio State played a famous game in a blizzard, and Michigan won 9-3, with a blocked punt for a touchdown, despite not gaining a first down. As Ohio State's alumni magazine recalled, "The snow, wind, and insecure footing made the game a mockery - an imitation of football only by a stretch of the imagination."
Now, the terrible Ohio State field last Saturday did not distort the game as much as the 1950 blizzard did, but it distorted it quite a bit. The fact was simply obscured because it was the defenses rather than the offenses that primarily suffered. Michigan certainly deserved to win the Snow Bowl in 1950, but you can't say the game proved a lot about its superiority to Ohio State.
The same is true, to a lesser but still very significant degree, of last weekend's Turf Bowl. If Michigan and Ohio State were to play on a decent field, the game would like nothing like the one that took place on November 18. Ohio State would have an even chance - perhaps a slightly better than even chance - of winning. But there would not be anything like 81 points or 900 yards of offense. It would be, in other words, a far more fair contest of which team is better.