I'VE HAD JUST ABOUT ENOUGH OF YOU SONNY
Ballots and comments re: ballots go here.
I didn't want to say it because I love the guy, but since Jason Avant said it himself, I'll talk about it:
"I lost the game on third-and-(8)," Avant said after Michigan's 23-20 loss to Wisconsin on Saturday night in its Big Ten opener. "I dropped the ball. ... That was the biggest play of the game, and I dropped it."
He's at least partially right. The three-and-out followed by the long UW field goal drive was a key turning point in the game. But it wasn't all on Avant. Vijay's pointed out something that I think is very enlightening: the way Carr coaches leaves no room for error. The 1st and 10, 2nd and 6, 3rd and 3 (or eight) style means that you have to execute 10, 12, 15 plays successfully to score. When Carr's forced out of that and has to score relatively quickly, it often happens. The margin for the offense in this game was even more razor-thin because of Henne's inaccuracy and the inability of the line to push the UW DL off the ball on short yardage. Thus no points in the second half except off the flea-flicker. Thus 260+ yards of offense in the first half and only 13 points to show for it. Thus kittens with high-powered sniper rifles.
IBFC weighs in with some stuff a little more off the cuff than his usual "this is the final word on the subject and I win because I am awesome" posts, so I can disagree some without being obviously wrong. Read his first and then return to this response, point by point.
- Forget whether he misses Braylon Edwards or not, he is just simply playing significantly worse football than last year. Yes, amen. The receivers are open and Henne just isn't hitting them. There is the occasional dropped ball, but there was the occasional dropped ball with Braylon, too.
- I suspect that we grossly overrated our offensive line. And that's what Tom thought, too. He appears to be right. We've got two 5th year senior guards and a fifth year senior tackle who have crushed the MAC opponents on their schedule but have only been sporadically effective in the run game. I was astounded to find that Martin had like 91 yards on 18 carries, because it certainly didn't seem like that.
- The return of a favorite Michigan script. Okay, agreement here. Where's the beef?
- ...we are learning what a complete and total fraud the entire off-season Terry Malone hype campaign was. Okay. I haven't gone over the tape for Wisconsin yet, but I don't think this is necessarily the truth. People are always complaining about the playcalling in every loss and usually the wins that don't include 30+ points, but at some point you just have to step back and say that perhaps Malone is doing the best he can with a limited set of tools. Down Mike Hart and Jake Long and with an erratic-at-best Henne, all Malone can do is call something and pray. When Avant drops a key third down pass... well, what can you say? He was open, the throw was there, and the man with the most reliable hands in the universe drops the ball. That seems like the summary of the year to me: a good script ruined by Joel Schumacher (OMG BAT NIPPLES). Eventually that's on the coaches, but I'm still in Malone's corner for the moment.
- someone watch our punt returns and explain to me what Hood and Stewart are doing? Hell if I know. It's ridiculous. We never double the gunners and we don't attempt to block punts. We set up neither the block nor the return, and unless the punter launches a 55 yard bomb, Breaston is catching the ball with someone in his face instantaneously. It's inexplicable and maddening.
This is what we call "zeitgeist": No longer are people finding the site by searching for "SHIREEN SASKI NUDE"; no, now it's "lloyd carr michigan football fire." I miss the days of lustful college hockey fans.
Press conference contains news, film at eleven:
- On Jeremy Van Alstyne and Mike Kolodziej's injuries: "I don't expect either one of them back this week. I want to make this clear. Jeremy, the reason he didn't play ... is he's fought a hamstring injury all fall. It had nothing to do with his effort. That wasn't part of his deal. Mike Kolodziej, there are some tests being taken, and we just have to wait and hope things will work out so he can come back."
- On Doug Dutch's health: "He's back and ready to go."
- On whether he expects Zoltan Mesko to redshirt: "Yes."
- On Jake Long's status: "Day to day. He's more than day to day, but he's working at it." [I've actually got a source on this one: he's still on crutches, so I wouldn't expect him any time soon. He's not "day to day." Also the source reports that Long and Kolodziej are A) very large, B) sweet and deferential, and C) Have strange athletic department people drop by every day to make sure they're in class. -ed]
I love the new Harris poll because it makes the BlogPoll look really good in comparison. The inaugural edition features votes for Illinois (who lost to MSU by like 80 billion), Bowling Green (who lost to Boise State by like 80 billion), Syracuse (Syracuse?) and Idaho (IDAHO?!?!?!) MDG has all your indignation needs met over at his blog:
Who ever voted for Idaho, should have his dick removed.
Another indication of failure: Michigan is still in it, at #25. The AP had the good sense to boot us.
Dear SI On Campus "Link Master": Love the page. It's wonderful, etc. One thing: your "THREE BLOGS YOU MUST READ(!!!)" links are not permalinks. Since you're just linking to the front page of a blog, often people click it and get whatever the latest bullshit about kittens is instead of what you actually linked to. Just a helpful critique.
In BlogPoll News... We've added a pair of bloggers that cover teams previously unrepresented: Around The Oval is a tOSU blog and Golden Tornado is a Georgia Tech blog. Welcome, gentlemen, just don't vote for Idaho.
Also! Congratulations are in order for the fine lads of Football Outsiders, who have been hired by FOX to work their statistical mojination in the big time. Aye, 'tis well deserved. (HYYYAARRR!)
Henceforth and herewith, let it be known that this is no longer a Michigan sportsblog. It's a happy kitten love blog!
OMG SOOOO CUTE!!!
OMG ON A PIANO! Can't you feel your disappointment and hatred just melting away?
OMG. O. M. G.
No kitten! Bad kitt--... good kitten. Good kitten KILL THEM ALL KITT--
This wasn't the way it was supposed to go. It was supposed to be something like what happened to Big Ten Wonk: start a blog, operate it with verve and panache, and the team nearest and dearest to your heart will repay your affection and devotion with a remarkable season, going something like 37-2 or whatever.
Check and check.
Well, Michigan's got the -2 part done already, but the 35- bit looks like it will take them the better part of eight to ten seasons to reach. Let it be declared that this is the low ebb of Michigan athletics in my cognitive memory, which dates to the late 80s. Nothing good has happened since the end of the Northwestern game last year. Michigan was humiliated by an average-at-best Ohio State team, then blew a 10 point fourth quarter lead against Texas. The basketball team either beat up women or broke critical portions of their bodies or both and limped through another year of miserable failure. The hockey team blew a 3-0 lead in the second round of the NCAA tournament and then lost its best player to the NHL at the last moment, blindsiding teammates, coaches, and fans... again. This football season has two scintillating victories over MAC teams and then two other events which are strangely absent from my memory.
All told, you have a football team that's lost its last four games against non-MAC competition, a hockey team whose mythical aura of tournament-crushing was punctured in a major way and now limps into this season sizably reduced in stature, and a basketball team whose persistently hilarious incompetence is a source of black humor, scorn, and little else. The soccer world has a term for that one magical year when everything comes together and championships and cups flow like Guinness in Dublin: annus mirabilis. Michigan is currently undergoing the theoretical opposite of that--annus terriblus, maleficus, Stephen A Smithicus, whatever--and it is Not A Good Time. It is Too Little Fun. If Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer is to be believed, all across Michigan men are testosterone-depressed weenies--the birth rates in the state will plummet nine months from now.
I'm not one to panic. This has happened before; Michigan's 2003 team lost to Oregon and Iowa early in the year and then didn't lose again until the Rose Bowl. The key difference between that team and this one, however, appears to be that the 2003 team was good. Both losses were due to a horrendous special teams meltdown that was largely fluky. The 2005 team appears to be bad. What appeared to be an unrepeated offensive meltdown against Notre Dame has revealed itself to be no such thing. Chad Henne has gone backwards (and unless you think Braylon was 11 feet tall and/or Stretch Armstrong, he wouldn't be much help). The interior of the offensive line completely failed to push back the 200 pound 10th graders Wisconsin ran out there to play on the DL. Steve Breaston can be found on the proverbial milk carton. Our running backs are fumblers.
This is usually the point in the year during which Carr does his best Wayne Fontes impression and pulls Michigan's ass out of the fire, but... yeah. Not so much. Unless a miraculous turnaround arrives right freakin' now, MSU is going to beat us, and since we haven't held any running back that's opposed us under 100 yards you have to figure the Minnesota game will be a dogfight at the very least. At this point the Alamo Bowl looks like an appealing proposition.
So, rather than list all the things I was completely and totally wrong about, I'll save you all some time and just list all the things I was right about:
- Drew Stanton is the best QB in the Big Ten.
- Indiana is bad.
- The Gang of Six is a crappy idea.
Safe to say that the only people in the blogosphere who have managed to be wronger than me have been the "Gang of Six, er, Two... er... Probably Just USC" (BTW: USF 45-14 Louisville? QED, MFer) but I would trade that--even though the OMG BLOGGERZ set would be intolerable--for a football team that wasn't squandering every advantage it ever had.
The proposition that Lloyd Carr is somehow responsible for Max Martin's fumble or Henne's slide to "maybe better than Michael Robinson" still has a faint patina of ridiculousness, but 0-7 is incrementally harder to justify than 0-6, especially since the script seems so similar: domination of the first half but no reflection of such on the scoreboard, turnovers, conservative offensive playcalling (questionable in this game--did you really want Henne's Random Pass Generator hurling the ball downfield), and a late defensive collaspse == uptick in knife sales across the Wolverine diaspora. Remember kids, cut down the artery, not across.
There will be no "Fire Carr?" ponderings here since it's a moot point: he's not going anywhere until he chooses to do so. You can't fire someone with his track record unless you can get someone like Bill Callahan, and, my friends, The Great One is busy beating Pitt 7-6. But I'm tired of this, like everyone is, and at this point I'd probably greet Carr's retirement with renewed optimism towards the program. At least, I will if this damn pill bottle's lid won't come off.
Trackbacks and comments about the action this weekend go here. How about that Army-ISU game?
Run Offense vs. Wisconsin
Michigan will probably run early and hope to have enough success to turn that "early" into "early and often." The statistics imply that this is suicidal, but they're extremely flattering to a UW front seven that will be getting its stiffest test of the year in this game. Wisconsin's yielding under 40 yards a game, but that's due in large part to Omar Jacobs being busy throwing for 458 yards and Temple being Temple. To their credit, the Badgers did shut down a UNC team that had a middling ground game in the ACC last year. Michigan's ground game has methodically crushed its MAC opponents--think Star Wars trash compactor scene--but was only okay against Notre Dame. Michigan gained over 4 YPC but that was greatly aided by a 30 yard reverse.
Injury woes have beset both teams. Michigan is down its best running back, tight end, and tackle; Wisconsin has lost a starting defensive tackle and its best defensive end, Jamal Cooper. This appears to be advantage Michigan, as the Wolverines have capable replacments in Max Martin, Kevin Grady, Tyler Ecker, and (hopefully) Mike Kolodziej while the Badgers are scrambling on the defensive line. A 225-pound true freshman steps into the starting lineup with Cooper out and the coaches may actually play OT Joe Thomas at DE if the need arises.
Expect to see Max Martin start; the uncertainty and youth at defensive end combined with budding star Nick Hayden at DT means that outside appears to be the place to go and the high-stepping, slashing Martin is the back to go there. Kevin Grady and Jerome Jackson will rotate in, sooner rather than later if the sweeps and stretch plays aren't working against the Badger D.
Key Matchup: TE Tyler Ecker and FB Brian Thompson versus Badger OLBs Dontez Sanders and Andy Crooks. If Ecker and Thompson can seal the somewhat undersized Badger linebackers they should have the edge when they want it, but neither has proven themselves to be a Dudley-level blocker.
Pass Offense vs. Wisconsin
If things had gone to plan against Notre Dame, this would be a glaring mismatch and evil cackling would substitute for serious analysis in this section. Wisconsin was absolutely torched by Jacobs for those 458 yards and 5 touchdowns and didn't do much better against North Carolina, ceding 281 yards and escaping a 300 or 350 yard day only because of several untimely drops by the Tarheel receivers. Cooper's loss is a big blow here as well as he was clearly the team's best pass rusher at this point in the season. Wisconsin starts a true freshman opposite senior Brett Bell, has lost the quietly spectacular safety play of Jim Leonhard, and has no surefire pass-rusher without Erasmus James and Cooper. They're vulnerable.
However--and unfortunately for small children in my immediate vicinity--the Notre Dame game did not go as planned. Chad Henne was pressured repeatedly by Irish blitzers. Late in the first half he got rattled and early in the second he threw the game in to the waiting hands of Tom Zibikowski as Michigan went down to dismal defeat. Presumptive deep threat Steve Breaston is the functional equivalent of Featherstone from Unnecessary Roughness at this point. Ruben Riley has definitively proven that as a tackle, he makes a fantastic guard.
So I won't say something as potentially stupid as "the real question here is how brutally Henne dissects the Notre Dame secondary," but I will tentatively assert that Michigan should be able to throw effectively against the Badgers as long as Henne keeps his cool and his line keeps his jersey relatively clean. Someone needs to step up opposite Avant this week--whoever the second WR is will be opposing a true freshman who's been annihilated so far this year. There's no time like the present.
Key Matchup: Mike Kolodziej versus Mysterious Tingly Illness. Michigan needs Kolodziej to return and keep the pressure off of Henne, who performs worlds better when he has faith in his pass blocking. Riley had trouble against Eastern Michigan. Whoever gets thrown out there in place of Cooper is probably at least that guy's equal.
Run Defense Vs Wisconsin
Falcon defense feels like a kitten!
Brian Calhoun's early season romp through the dandelion fields of Bowling Green and Temple is meaningless--those two teams may have the worst run defenses in I-A--but his performance against North Carolina is another matter entirely. 171 yards against any half-decent BCS team in your first game against a real defense is something to take note of, and take note we the watchers of the Big Ten have. Calhoun repeatedly darted through holes that didn't seem to be there, hitting the Tarheel secondary with authorita. In general he looks like a slightly bigger version of Anthony Davis with one major difference: he has a tendency to wear helmets and pads instead of street clothes when the game rolls around. He's good.
That combined with Michigan's struggles against similarly darting backs Garrett Wolfe and Darius Walker have led many to regard this game ominously, but I think the run defense is coming around. Walker ripped off a lot of his longer runs in a three wide set which Michigan chose to oppose with six guys in the box--there's small chance of a similar formation drawing a similar reaction given Alvarez's propensity for grunting pig-sooey ball and Stocco's general shakiness. Towards the end of the game when Notre Dame was going to run and Michigan knew it, Walker was stuffed repeatedly. David Harris is a night-and-day improvement from Scott McClintock at middle linebacker and the new starters on the outside are beginning to settle in and play solid assignment football. The run defense is going to be okay.
Calhoun will get some yards, maybe even 100 of them if Alvarez keeps feeding him the ball, but 170 is unlikely and a 200+ yard downfield romp is out of the question, especially with safeties who have shown a tendency to tackle things. Wisconsin will probably 'win' this battle, but it won't be a blowout.
Key Matchup: Gabe Watson vs. Lloyd Carr's doghouse. Watson apparently caught 90% of the flak from the first, awful game against the Huskies and has found himself playing strictly backup minutes in the last two despite the fact that he has a higher rate of making plays than starter Pat Massey and erstwhile starter Will Johnson (replaced by Alan Branch this week)... combined. If Carr continues to short his playing time because Watson is fat and happy instead of slightly less fat and mean, he's cutting off his nose to spite his face, especially given Massey's tendency to crumple at the line of scrimmage at Watson's tendency to drive his blocker three yards backwards.
Pass Defense vs. Wisconsin
I've gone on record suggesting that John Stocco is the crappiest crapperback in all of crappyland, but he's not a total incompetent and can hurt Michigan if they get caught expecting run when Wisconsin passes. Brandon Williams, Jonathan Orr, and Owen Daniels are all at least competent and Williams and Daniels may actually be rather good--it's hard to tell in the Badger offense. That said, there's a lot of uncertainty on the offensive line outside of Thomas and Raiola and time the pass will probably be limited if the line performs anything like it did against North Carolina, when Stocco was repeatedly hurried by a probably-not-great UNC defensive line. Given the play of Alan Branch, Lamarr Woodley, and (fingers crossed) Tim Jamison plus a surprisingly competent Wolverine secondary, it is extremely inadvisable for the Badgers to put themselves in obvious passing situations. They will not go well for the home team.
If they're throwing on first and ten, second and five, and third and three, however, they can and will be effect
ive, especially with play action given the fact that Michigan has to respect Calhoun's running. Owen Daniels is probably going to be a bit of a thorn given the Michigan linebackers' inexperience and that Calhoun guy. He'll be open, and if Stocco can hit him a few times Wisconsin will have something going. The threat of the run will be what opens up an effective passing game for Wisconsin. It won't be consistent enough to roll up and down the field but Stocco won't be completing 30% of his passes for 2 yards each.
Key Matchup: SLB Prescott Burgess/MLB David Harris vs. TE Owen Daniels. As mentioned above, Daniels is a threat over the middle on play action.
Each team has a big return against a team that doesn't really count--Brandon Williams against Temple and Steve Breaston against Eastern--and has some moderate threat in the return game plus solid but unspectacular kickers. This is a push.
Key Matchup: Michigan's Historic Special Teams Idiocy vs. My Continued Sanity. The common thread of the road opener loss thing has been OMG DISASTER special teams. If it happens again, expect this blog to abruptly change from something fairly erudite and witty into insane ranting about how football should eliminate special teams altogether and possibly tar and feather anyone who tries to block a kick.
I still don't believe in them, if you must know.
- Kolodziej does not play.
- It looks like another day of light duty for Watson.
- Michigan's contain problems continue to burn them--Calhoun is the kind of guy who can exploit that.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Martin gets the corner a couple of times early.
- Wisconsin can't seem to avoid second and ten.
- Someone not named Avant starts catching some passes.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 6 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +1 for road opener, +1 for sort-of-night game, -1 for historic lack of Barryball success v. Michigan, +1 for injuries, -1 for their injuries.)
Desperate need to win level: 10 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +1 break this road opener thing, +2 we can't go 2-2, +2 we can't go 2-2 going into East Lansing.)
Loss will cause me to... er. I'd stay away from the immediate vicinity of any campus belltowers.
Win will cause me to... start panicking about Drew Stanton.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict: Victory. But not an easy one.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Calhoun gets 80-90 yards.
- Ecker has another 6-7 catches.