"Being a sports fan is largely about having to cope with losing."
--Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer, (omg. buy it.) Warren St. John
This isn't going to be about credit or saying "good game" or even owning up to incorrect things I said earlier. That's for later. Now is about pain. It's about helpless incomprehension. It's probably about death, too, since apparently everything is.
I didn't really ever "decide" to do this blog thing. It just sort of started it, and now I find myself here, very far away from any place I thought I'd be. I think cocaine works like this. And, like cocaine, I now find myself having to do something extremely unpleasant because my addiction demands it. My big cathartic Rose Bowl wrapup was something like "ugh, talk more later," which I never did. That was fine because no one read the blog (not that there was a reason to then). Now, given that people actually seem to read this, I am in a nasty spot. I have to write something; I would rather crawl in a hole, avoid the Internet for six days, and show up at the Eastern game.
So you get this. It's about pain. What else would it be about?
"Few players recall big pots they have won, strange as it may seem, but every player can remember with remarkable accuracy the outstanding tough beats of his career."
--Confessions of a Winning Poker Player, Jack King (as told by Mike McDermott in Rounders)
As a good but fundamentally flawed poker player I can vouch for this statement. No particular winner stands out as a golden cow to worship, but bad beat stories, I've got a few. (Omaha with bottom set on a 9-5-3 against a preflop raising maniac who managed to catch the nine and five spares on has AAxx and the runner-runnered a flush; Omaha again, massive preflop raising capped off by me and my AAxx. Flop a flush draw, guy pots in front of me, raise all in, catches runners to make two pair. I could continue if you like but I've made my point, and confused and bored probably 98% of you.) Now I have one more.
I've touched on similar topics before: we are wired to know pain, and feel it, and fear it, and remember it. So when we find ourselves in the silly, unnecessary position of feeling pain over sporting events we remember what caused the feeling above all else, especially if it violates our models of the way thing generally work. If the events are evil and unexpected of they are new information that's desperately important to recall so that we do not find ourselves in a similar situation once again.
But, then, life is also built around meaningful action--all this learning is directed at changing behavior--which is horrifyingly absent from spectation. So the newly terrible experience dredges up the past experiences, combines with the helplessness of it all, and reinforces the previous experience (we quite literally learn only by repetition, though the rep count can be "1"), stripping away all the incidental, varying data and leaving behind the constant: a tiny white-hot ball of dread in the mind that feels like it's somewhere in the stomach, reaching up into your throat with its wicked black talons.
If something vicious and painful reoccurs regularly, that is.
"To a Michigan fan, every Irish loss over the past ten years has been due to an unfortunate, ridiculous confluence of unlikely events: fumbles, ridiculous refereeing, blocked punts, hilarious deflected passes, etc. It doesn't matter if it's true or not (though it is): that's what it feels like."
--Me, like two days ago.
And so it is again. A deflected pass caught for an Irish touchdown. Two laser-guided smart bombs that Breaston could not catch. Four offensive starters out. And then the end of the game, a hair-tearing, son-disowning thing. Hope proffered and quickly snuffed out, each EKG-blip of life followed by a droning flatline more terrible than the last. The end of that game was a parody of each soul-crushing loss, the kind of thing Joe Ezterhaus would reject as unrealistic (and desperately lacking girl-on-girl action). It was calculated for maximum psychic distress.
Some part of me acknoweldges the fact that if Brady Quinn could throw an accurate pass longer than six yards we probably wouldn't have been close enough to even make a painful run at the end and might be inclined to rationally approach the game, but it's a small part that must content itself with screaming into the wind, which does not listen and would not care if it heard.
That's why I wrote the way I did on BGS, because that's the way it's felt amd that's the way I am, a roiling cauldron of emotions. I strive for total transparency here. You get what I think, what I feel. This has its ups (I rather liked the top ten sporting moments posts) and downs (repetitive, useless sophistication bashing). So believe me when I say there seems something cosmically unfair about games against Notre Dame. They've been historically cruel. That sort of thing drives you slightly insane after a while--or completely bats in the case of Buckeyes under Cooper. I mean no disrespect to the university or the program, and while I lace them with jokes I would hope you notice that my own beloved team is no stranger to the same treatment.
I now am coping with the fact that one of this year's twelve precious babies was born stunted and malformed. If you're looking for schadenfruede, here it is: As the game ended, I sat with my head in my hands as the last seconds ticked off the clock. I walked silently from the stadium. My friends and I drove home silently. Thinking about the events of the game makes my fists clench. Food tastes like sawdust. If you would like to take this opportunity to taunt... well, I see you already have, which places you firmly amongst those bound for the very maw of Satan upon your earthly demise. If you are the kind of fan who knows about this site, cares about BGS, and would go so far as to post comments, you're a diehard. You know what myself and other Michigan fans feel like, and you choose to kick us when we're down. May it be visited upon you a hundredfold--you know exactly what you do. At BGS they celebrate the victory by posting pictures of our coach and taunting me instead of, oh, I don't know, talking about their team. Congratulations, guys. Your team won, but while your coach is large you have proven yourselves to be very small.
(Analysis later... there will not be a big EMU to-do and I don't plan on going over the game tomorrow so it may be somewhat late-ish.)
Turn it to ESPN and watch Pitt bungle their way against Ohio. 7-7 with 9 left in the first half.
Update: Holy balls. Ohio wins 16-10. Pitt's one touchdown is the return of the opening kickoff; Palko gets pick-sixed twice by the same guy, including in OVERTIME to end the game. Pitt is teh SUX0R.
I heard from a fairly reliable source that Kolodziej is hurt and won't play much, if at all.
I can't guarantee it and haven't verified it with anyone else (thus, I'm not posting it at my place), but I thought I'd let you know it's a possibility.
A contentious Rivals thread, er, used to indicate the same thing before serious rejiggering. That bumps up the probably-independent source count to three (originator of panic on GBW, Tom, this Rivals guy who confirmed the T.Mass injury, which, by the way, was reported as a broken arm by WDFN this morning): I would expect Ruben Riley to start at right tackle tomorrow.
Contrast. While I studiously avoided casting aspersions on Notre Dame, the school, sticking to a just-the-facts approach noting that the football team hasn't been very good the past few years (with, granted, some exaggeration for humorous effect), whoever penned the BGS masterpiece that spent more time on stuff even Strom Thurmond's world-wandering-wraith thinks is really dated could not, spending approximately 80% of his time implying that things that happened decades ago show that Michigan is a foul place indeed. The need to impugn the dignity of the school and program itself is disappointing:
A quick look at the history books reminds us why the Skunkbears [been hanging with OSU fans?] have a wing unto themselves in our Hall of Shame. ... his cowardice was enshrined in UM's schedule for all to see. ... Fear of Notre Dame was a powerful talisman, institutionalized by Yost, and the cowardice and consternation towards Notre Dame oozes out of Ann Arbor even to this day. ...
Yost was but the first in a litany of men of low character to hold the reins at UM. ... Gary Moeller was frustrated that he couldn't pick Notre Dame up, drink it, and then drive into a ditch. ...
In the end, perhaps we do owe the Skunkbears [juvenile nickname count: 2] a few more tokens of thanks. ... Michigan's villainous spell in the Midwest, ...
Congratulations, guys, for not being able to swallow the bile for even a mere 1,000 words. Cue Domers commenting that it's all true and Michigan is home for anti-Catholic bias and mentioning Kinesiology and claiming that Notre Dame is a magical fairyuniversity compared to evil cheating Michigan in 3... 2... 1...
MSM hiya: Hey, everyone at the Detroit News got dramatic headshots. Unfortunately for Wojo, his kind of makes him look like a stroke victim. Or a zombie. Or (you know the drill) a zombie stroke victim. Wojo picks Michigan 38-34. He also picks 119 total points in the Hawaii-MSU game. The Freep has an article on Woodley that Bruce Feldman pointed out. Feldman also predicts four TFLs for Woodley tomorrow and a 38-27 victory. I'll take it.
ND blog Bare Down has collected a few article from the other side of the aisle. Among the interesting things are a Quinn article and a Teddy Greenstein article that quotes shamed ex-head coach Lou Holtz:
"It's not Michigan anymore," Holtz said Thursday. "They don't tackle the way Michigan did before. I know Lloyd Carr is a good coach and has a good staff, so maybe it's [a lack of] talent. They don't control the line of scrimmage with their front and they don't get as much pressure on the passer. Fundamentally, they're not as good."
Damn. (Aside: Holtz sure got yappy quick for a guy who talked up Navy constantly.)
Eeyore says... we lose. About as surprising as myself saying we win. We both hope I'm right.
Still feeling my way on this game preview thing. Format suggestions appreciated.
Run Offense vs. ND
Don't even start on last year. Michigan's interior line is entirely different. It's stable. Two fifth year seniors with a ton of experience flank Adam Kraus, who's new but played well in his first game. More importantly, neither David Underwood nor anyone of his ilk will even approach receiving a handoff this year. Mike Hart, Kevin Grady, and Max Martin are night and day from last year's motley collection of pre-Hart misfits. Michigan will have an effective running game against an Irish front seven that looks good... but not that good.
I would have felt much better about this without the Long injury, but I still think that Michigan has a major advantage here. Notre Dame has a good starting four on the defensive line but you usually need more than that in today's game. Michigan's methodical disassembly of NIU--8/10 on third down in the first half--leads me to believe that they can sustain long, grinding drives against the Irish defense. That'll will pay dividends in the fourth quarter, especially if the Wolverines bring their tailback depth to bear.
Key Matchup: Mike Hart versus Possible Mysterious Injury. Further word on the little ball of wonder indicates that Hart is "dinged." As excited as I am about Grady and Martin, Hart and his never-fumble, always-positive ways would be a great deal of help against the Irish. A Grady/Martin coming out party would set nerves aflame given Grady's fumble in his first game and persistent reports that Martin has ball security issues.
Pass Offense vs. ND
The question here is going to be how brutally Henne dissects a fragile and inexperienced Notre Dame secondary. The answer will depend heavily on how much pressure Notre Dame gets on him. If he gets hit exactly once like he did against NIU, expect similar results: 66% on completions, a few touchdowns, and no interceptions. While Notre Dame did hold Greg Lee pretty well in check after an early 39 yard touchdown, the guy starting opposite Lee is a 5'7" walkon--Pitt has zero or perhaps negative depth at WR. Notre Dame could afford to roll coverage towards Lee all day.
Even without Adrian Arrington and Tim Massaquoi, the Irish will have no such luxury against Michigan. Jason Avant emerged as the Braylon-apparent last week and though Steve Breaston only caught 3 passes for 22 yards (a slip screen was lateral an therefore labelled a run) last week he was mere inches away from three long touchdown receptions where he had beaten his man by two to three yards. Any questions about the explosion that was absent for most of last year were answered. Tyler Ecker is almost as good as Massaquoi and Carl Tabb, Doug Dutch, and Mario Manningham will all get opportunities. Michigan probably has six guys better than Pitt's #2. If Henne is as poised, intelligence, and decisive as he was against NIU--two bad reads all day--ND will be on their heels from the get go.
Key Matchup: RT Mike Kolodziej versus DE Victor Abiamiri. Abiamiri is the best pass rusher the Irish have; Kolodziej is the man thrust into the departed shoes of Jake Long, a very good pass blocker (if somewhat lacking with the run-mauling thing). If Kolo can keep Abiamiri away from Henne on his own, his linemates can pick up blitzes and Henne can play surgeon all day.
Run Defense Vs ND
A strong point a year ago (in general, not the ND game specifically) now looks tenuous given the 200+ rushing yards given up to NIU and Carr's fiery reaction in the aftermath. The starting NT is now Gabe Watson OR Will Johnson. Lord only knows who the free safety is after those Yards After Mundy last week, though Brandent Engelmon was quietly effective at SS. The linebackers are questionable.
Notre Dame absolutely crushed the Pitt defensive line en route to 275 yards rushing, but there's a night and day difference between the fancy-dressed rodeo clowns the Panthers were forced to resort to and Gabe Watson and company. Er, as long as they don't play like they did against NIU. Which they shouldn't. One bad game should not override the fact that this is a potentially great run-defense DL. The problems are in the linebacking corps. ND has a road-grading FB or two and Scott McClintock is not the kind of guy who can take a guy like that on and win. David Harris has little experience but keeps 'winning' the MLB job and getting injured--he's listed #1 on the depth chart. He or John Thompson need to step up and stop Walker when holes emerge on the line. While Chris Graham had a good day against NIU Burgess lost contain on a regular basis, letting the speedy Wolfe hit the outside with regularity.
Key Matchup: Burgess & Graham versus RB Darius Walker. Walker has good vision and some shiftiness in his game. Last week Michigan lost contain on a regular basis. If they do that again Walker will crack 100 yards with ease, especially given the terrific run blockers they have on the edge in RT Mark Levoir and TE Anthony Fasano.
Pass Defense vs. ND
I have little idea what to expect here. It's safe to say that the Notre Dame passing game should be improved from last year--every relevant player returns--and there's no Marlin Jackson in the secondary for Michigan. Notre Dame has three or four (potentially) good receivers and Michigan has major questions at cornerback. The decision to stay in a base defense the entire game and not rotate the corners at all looks especially strange in light of the fact that Michigan is definitely going to have to play redshirt freshmen Morgan Trent and Charles Stewart against a veteran offense. Blooding them against NIU would have made sense, but Trent was in for only a few plays at the very end of the game and I didn't see Stewart at all.
Brady Quinn started the season well but had an easy time of it against Pittsburgh's defense, wretched last year and looking possibly worse this year. Michigan will provide a stiffer challenge, one that Quinn will probably meet quite well. He is talented, very experienced, and comfortable with his options, especially Fasano. Michigan will need to get heat on him to keep him in check--and watch out for 53 yard screen touchdowns.
Key Matchup: Pierre Woods/Tim Jamison/Shawn Crable/Jeremy Van Alstyne vs RT Mark Levoir. Pressure from the spot opposite Woodley will be key.
Michigan is one proven returner up on the Irish. Whenever Breaston is healthy and given opportunities, he takes games and OMG BREAKS THEM. He was not given much opportunity against NIU--returning on kickoff and no punts--but as mentioned before, he looks to be Backstreet's back and all that stuff. Rivas is Rivas. Ross Ryan is an improvement on Neinberg and had one very nice 41 yard punt with good hangtime. If he can keep that up (and given the fact that I saw Zoltan The Inconceivable freaking murdering several balls pregame, I think that's likely) ND's return game will be largely neutralized.
However, you can make the same case for the Irish. Punter DJ Fitzpatrick is one of the nation's best and probably won't serve up any balls that have Michigan Stadium cheering a touchdown before it even wobbles its way into Breaston's arms. Still, given the track record of Stevie Wonder, there's a good chance Michigan wins the special teams battle.
Key Matchup: DJ Fitzpatrick versus Hang Time. Fitzpatrick is one of the nation's best punters and can keep Breaston in check as long has he stays away from nasty line drives.
I don't believe in them, if you must know.
- Abiamiri starts dominating Kolodziej.
- Similar gashes start opening up in the defensive line.
- Henne's deep ball is off.
trong>Cackle with knowing glee if...
- The defensive line returns to stuff-the-interior goodness.
- The run game works early. Grinding ND's thin defense to dust will be much easier.
- A few early blitzes find success.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 7 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +2 for defensive performance against NIU, +1 for ND-Pitt game, +1 for injury rumors flying around, -1 for home game, -1 for general lack of Irish depth.)
Desperate need to win level: 10 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +1 for It's ND, +2 for Stop Him Now, +1 for What the Hell Was That Last Year, +1 for Three Home OOC Games We Better Make Good.)
Loss will cause me to... break out in hives that spell out "OH NO WHAT IF HE IS A GOD AMONGST MEN"; start carving blowdarts for use on Jim Herrmann.
Win will cause me to... immediately start wishing a two-week injury on Brian Calhoun.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict: That Michigan wins. After last week's display I'd be surprised to see Walker under 100 yards, but that goes for Hart, too, and Michigan should have an easier time defending the Notre Dame passing attack than vice versa--Hall and Woodley are better options on the Michigan D than any the Irish have--plus a decided special teams advantage in the personage of one Steve Breaston, as long as we force a punt or two (five turnovers again would also be acceptable).
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Notre Dame will not crack 400 yards offense.
- Steve Breaston catches something and runs a long way to a happy place.
- 38-24, good guys. Subtract 4 points each for no Hart/no Kolo.
So, yeah, it's article exchange time with Blue-Gray Sky. I have a post on the Michigan-ND rivalry from the Wolverine perspective over there (includes me nearly beating children up!). They've got this over here. Enjoy but, uh, forgive them their somewhat humorous opinions re: national splendor. It's been a tough 12 years...
Dear Michigan fans,
That time of year is upon us once again, when the two titans of midwest football clash in what's shaping up to be yet another epic battle. There's something extremely powerful surrounding this mostly-annual grudge match; we fight over local and national dominance, we fight over the top spot spot in all-time winning percentage, we fight over recruits. ND-Michigan has featured some of the best games in college football over the years, with legendary names like Hamilton and Oliver, Ismail and Howard, Carter and Brooks and Mirer and Gillette spilling across the headlines. Interestingly enough, despite the proximity -- Ann Arbor is just a scant 175 miles from South Bend -- Notre Dame and Michigan aren't really the dominant rivals in each other's worldview. Notre Dame has its traditional, and longer-running rivalry with Southern Cal, and Michigan's stalking horse has always been Ohio State. That's not to say ND-Michigan is taken any more lightly by its fans; on the contrary, the emotions run just as high. But the matchup is special: I would say that Michigan and Notre Dame are less rivals and more Enemies. Bitter, bitter enemies.
ND-Michigan more often than not features a battle of nationally-ranked opponents, and often goes right down to the wire. And unlike other grudge matches that often serve as a capstone to a team's season, the Notre Dame-Michigan affair is always right up front, usually kicking off the season. A win can catapult the victor to an undefeated season; a loss can sink a team's hopes right out of the gates. Off the field, we pit our rich traditions against each other in a never-ending argument over who's got the best academics, the best colors, the best uniforms, the best marching band, and the best fight song.
In a way, Notre Dame owes Michigan a debt of gratitude. It was a group of Wolverine players who first taught the game to a Notre Dame club way back in 1887. From those humble beginnings, both programs rose to national fame and fortune. So, we give thanks to Michigan for passing down the game that has defined us so, and we are grateful.
But we owe Michigan more than our gratitude. We owe UM our scorn, for they have earned it.
A quick look at the history books reminds us why the Skunkbears have a wing unto themselves in our Hall of Shame. Shortly after the halcyon days of 1887, when players shared the game in a collegial competition, you tried to kill us. Once Notre Dame beat Fielding Yost's "point-a-minute" champions (after 8 consecutive losses to the Wolverines), Yost took the fledgling Irish program off Michigan's schedule. The humiliation ran deep; as if simply dropping the Irish wasn't enough, Yost fought tooth and nail to keep the burgeoning ND program out of the powerful Western Conference, worried that the upstart immigrant school would damage the reputation of what is now the Big Ten. Yost blackballed us, and encouraged others to do the same; for 34 years, his cowardice was enshrined in UM's schedule for all to see. Like a deranged, Munchausen-by-proxy mother (look it up), you tried to smother us in the crib when our program was in its infancy. Fear of Notre Dame was a powerful talisman, institutionalized by Yost, and the cowardice and consternation towards Notre Dame oozes out of Ann Arbor even to this day.
Yost was but the first in a litany of men of low character to hold the reins at UM. Fritz Crisler's "bias" (ahem) toward ND is well-known, and, like his predecessor, again dropped the Irish from his schedule for thirty years after a loss. Bo Schembechler sat idly by, for years, as three different Irish coaches won National Championships, while he was busy losing Rose Bowls; Bo was driven crazy with the notion that ND might enter the Big 10 and end his biannual trips to Pasadena. Gary Moeller was frustrated that he couldn't pick Notre Dame up, drink it, and then drive into a ditch. These also-rans were over-shadowed by true coaching legends just down the road from them: legends like Rockne, Leahy, Parseghian, and Holtz, who racked up championship upon championship as Ann Arbor stewed.
In the end, perhaps we do owe the Skunkbears a few more tokens of thanks. If Yost hadn't taken his ball and gone home, perhaps we would now be in the Big Ten, and our idea of football excellence would entail two or three losses per year and a trip to the Rose Bowl twice a decade. But instead, you blackballed us, and tried to choke us out of existence. You should have finished the job. We survived, and because too many teams were under Michigan's villainous spell in the Midwest, we were forced to look elsewhere to find quality opponents. And we did. We scheduled and played the nationwide champions of the day: Army, Southern Cal, Georgia Tech, Stanford, and many others. We criss-crossed the country, we were Rockne's Ramblers, taking on all comers, what tho' the odds. In doing so, we won national acclaim, respect, and the hearts of countless Americans. It was Michigan's attempt to stamp out a budding rival that created the nation's most popular and successful football program, the University of Notre Dame's Fighting Irish.
This is why we don't approach the Michigan game with the same tradition-laden respect, the pomp and circumstance, or the "contest of equals" honor reserved for the Southern Cal game. Rather, like Inigo Montoya closing in on the six-fingered man, we come with a singular focus. We are Notre Dame Football. You tried to kill us. Prepare to die.
[Editor's note: This is how I envision the way Notre Dame fans perceive time: 1887-1993 â€“ Ten Billion Years; 1993-Present â€“ What are you talking about, it's still 1948.]
Er... moving on. Yeah. Fell off the wagon yesterday. Haters Anonymous here I come.
Sorry, Tim. But I think the Massaquoi Heisman run will have to wait a year.
Maybe that Woodley guy is okay. Bruce Feldman($) points out this article on NIU LT Doug Free, who spent last Saturday battling Lamarr Woodley. Free is apparently a candidate to go in the first round next year (though, disturbingly, the only source cited is CFN).
The stat sheet implies that Free had good day against Woodley but by my count Woodley made 7-8 nice plays to 2 negative ones despite only getting the one tackle. If Free's really all the article makes him out to be he'll probably be the best tackle Woodley goes up against this year; his production should increase from here on out.
Michigan alum and big-baller journalist Jon Chait will be guest posting sometime next week about the disturbing decline of the Michigan defense, but he checks in now with a rebuttal to a strange assertion from the Blue-Gray Sky:
[Mike from] Blue-Gray Sky previews Michigan from a Notre Dame perspective. He professes from the beginning that he's going to offer up reasons "hopefully less obvious than Michigan's much discussed difficulties on defense" why Notre Dame will win.
Among the reasons:
Scot Loeffler's presence provides Irish fans some comfort when faced with an older, wiser Chad Henne. Granted, Henne will benefit from having a year's more experience than he did the last time he faced Notre Dame. However, Loeffler has also had that same amount of time to screw up Henne's mechanics. As Michigan's season progressed last year, Henne appeared to show signs of developing the patented Loeffler Low Release Point(tm). Recall that this was the technique that led to 6' 6" John Navarre rifling passes into the shoulder pads of opposing defensive linemen with amazing frequency.
Well, that certainly IS less obvious than the fact that Michigan's defense has become consistently horrible. In fact, it's a non-obvious factor in the same sense that "Michigan may win because Charlie Weis is prone to die of malnutrition during the game" is a non-obvious factor.
Set aside the fact that Michigan fans and insiders -- including those who want to see assistants like Jim Herrmann dismembered by a wood chipper and felt the same way about previous assistants like Mike DeBord -- agree that Loeffler is immensely effective. Set aside also the fact that QB recruits rave about his ability to give them coaching tips during summer camp that produce massive and immediate improvement, or that Tom Brady has credited Loeffler, then a graduate asistant, with doing more than anybody else to promote his development. Let's focus on John Navarre.
Before Loeffler could ruin him with his crazy passing technique, Navarre was a slow, inaccurate, low-rated recruit who was not offered at quarterback by his home state Wisconsin. After Wisconsin offerd him at defensive end, he committed to Northwestern. Only after Michigan was spurned by its top-tier QB recruits did it go after Navarre, who decommitted in the wake of Gary Barnett's defection. Here is Navarre's completion percentage by year:
Here is Navarre's yardage by year:
If Loeffler causes Chad Henne to regress the same way he caused Navarre to regress, Irish fans better be plenty worried. (Amen! -ed)