The nutty Michigan coverage isn't so much about Harbaugh as it is a signal to the Big Ten that Fox wants to party.
8/30/2008 – Michigan 23, Utah 25 – 0-1
Every rational thought in your head suggests that the whole walk-on or freshman-the-coaches-are-panicked-about at quarterback, the line of baling wire and the occasional confused chicken, and freshmen everywhere at the skill positions will combine to yield an offense worthy of Yakety Sax, but until you actual see the damn thing in action you can hold out hope it will be otherwise.
We have seen it in action. It could have gone better. At least we have an incredibly direct metaphor all around us:
This program is under construction with a completion date around 2010. This is going to be a tough year. If you’re prone to hysterics you should do everyone a favor, watch something else, and annoy everyone on the Project Runway message boards with your all-caps posts. Get over it.
If you’d told me the final score before the game I would have been disappointed but not particularly surprised and wouldn’t have budged much from the preseason prediction. Unfortunately, a raft of unusual events obscured a much grimmer picture, especially in the first half. That was a near-worst case scenario. The offense was as bad as everyone feared; the defense was far worse than anyone expected in the first half. Without the latter unit’s second-half turnaround, I would be halfway to the Yukon and my new life as a gold prospector this morning. As it is, I think a bowl game is unlikely since it will probably require a 7-5 record.
But I’m here and we can talk about the game some. The best part was the warmups, and I mean that only somewhat sarcastically. Seeing the 100-some men in winged helmets go “HOO HOO HOO” whilst pivoting was a weird kind of thrill, as was the Barwis-led Circle of Death. This is not your father’s Michigan football, (TINYFMF) etc.
The second best part was Rodriguez’s inability to cope with the idea his team sucked. I also mean that only somewhat sarcastically. TINYFMF was best displayed on Michigan’s last play of the first half, when Nick Sheridan dropped back on third and long and lofted a ball on an ICBM trajectory. Everyone in the stadium knew it would be intercepted the moment it left his hand.
Lloyd Carr would have called a fullback dive and punted. Michigan would probably have escaped the first half with a manageable five-point deficit, and the defense and special teams excellence in the second half would have been enough to pull it out. The entirety of halftime that “22” for Utah rankled. That touchdown looked completely decisive.
So maybe that was a stupid call. Having your walk-on hurl a ball skyward is asking for it. But I vastly prefer the expectation your player can come through in an important situation to the fear he won’t. That tendency is probably going to hurt this year, when expecting any quarterback to do anything except soil himself is a bad bet, but when Michigan is good they’ll go through each series with a mind to score points; they should blow the doors off opponents who can’t cope. Carr’s formula was a recipe for 9-3, 9-3, 9-3, 9-3. Rodriguez will go through more swings based on how much talent he has at his disposal. Eventually, this will be a good thing.
There’s not much more to say: they kind of suck. I don’t know who any of them are. I hope they get better.
- Boy, did I hate the 4-3 Michigan started out in during the first half. That’s a guarantee of zone coverage or a hideous mismatch between first-time starters at linebacker and slot receivers. For the most part it was the former, which the first-time starters at linebacker were terrible at, and Michigan got shredded on a wide array of routes designed test the weakest part of the Michigan defense. It failed.
- Do you ever get the feeling people are prepared to criticize in a particular way even if reality conflicts with them? I’ve seen a lot of rabble rabble about “Rodriguez needs to adapt the offense to his players” in the aftermath of a game in which Michigan threw 60% of the time.
- I bet you could have gotten good odds on “boy, I wish Rodriguez had run more” as a common complaint before the game. That was perhaps the most disturbing development, as it speaks to a total lack of faith in the offensive line.
- Stevie Brown was victimized repeatedly, giving up the 50-yard pass on third and twenty that led to Utah’s first touchdown. I think he was responsible for the coverage on the score right before the half. He did jump another endzone route and bat the ball to Ezeh.
- Feagin? I mean… he couldn’t have been worse.
- The holding and pass interference penalties should be set aside in a description of Utah mistakes, as Michigan forced those errors out of the Utes with a torrent of pressure and wild hopeful downfield jump balls. One of these will serve Michigan in good stead for the rest of the season.
- This would be the point during a game coached by Carr where I would bemoan the zone-tipping, ineffective 4-3 Shafer came out in for the first half; this is considerably more difficult when you have scarcely less information about the football team than the actual coaches do. I’m not sure how you’re supposed to get a grip on whether your defense can handle a spread offense in its base set when you’re going up against that in practice every day. Or how you’re supposed to figure out what you can do on offense when everyone’s a freshman and even the folks who aren’t played in a totally different system.
If ever a coaching staff could be forgiven for flailing about with the wrong players, it was Saturday. The halftime adjustments were encouraging.
You can comment on the post if you like as we wait for the WLA to arrive, should be around 3. Excelsior! Or Yakety Sax, we’ll see.
This picture evidently has a grip on me.
It was the centerpiece of the letter from the editor in Hail To The Victors 2008 and the desperate, searching column following the Post Apocalyptic Oregon Game. And why not? It’s perfect for this place and time.
On the right, Bump Elliot, fired/resigned/retired but at the press conference introducing his replacement. He looks like he wants a sandwich and is thinking about asking that guy off camera if he could get one, but he knows that losing to Ohio State 50-14 is not the kind of thing that helps the sandwich acquisition process.
On the left, Bo Schembechler. He looks like Bo. He is obscurely confident, staring at something. Maybe it’s a wall. Maybe he’s thinking about making that wall the best damn wall that wall can be. Maybe it’s a pair of pants, and Schembechler is devising a motivational method that will get the pair of pants to tailor itself into the best damn pair of pants it could be. It is not a sandwich, or Bump Elliot would be looking over there. It is probably not an elephant or a meerkat or any sort of African land mammal. Other than that we don’t know.
In the middle, Don Canham. In marked contrast to the men flanking him, Canham is sporting an expression of crystal clarity. Staring off into the middle distance, he draws his mouth tight and hunches forward. “God, I hope I didn’t screw this up,” he thinks. In a moment he’ll speak into the thicket of microphones in front of him, introducing the man to his right and hoping against hope that this man from Miami of Ohio can beat back the Buckeye menace. Together they will build an empire.
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.
Here goes nothing. Go Blue.
Tomorrow the gentlemen of the Wolverine Liberation Army will be guiding the nouveau open thread, which will take the form of a Cover It Live chat/liveblog type thing. The action starts at 3 PM. Please don’t feed the WLA to a woodchipper.
A tentative schedule for the season:
- Game column
- Monday Recruitin’
- UFR: Offense
- On Notice Board (The return!)
- UFR: Defense
- Injury Wrangling
- Cover It Live chat (biweekly)
- Opponent preview
- Cover It Live “open” thread
There will of course be news and Unverified Voracity and all that sprinkled in, and UFR may get bumped back a day on certain weeks.
As is traditional, the mondo Michigan preview (this year: 17,212 words) prevented me from putting together a full-fledged opponent preview. Usually this is against a team that doesn’t make me regret the lack of a preview until something horrible occurs, but this year Utah is legit and you deserve some preview action I can’t provide. I suggest The Only Game That Matters and Varsity Blue.
A few TV items. Three things of note follow.
If you have Dish and live outside of the Big Ten footprint, they just yanked your BTN. An emailer, uh, emails:
After being all cocky about being the first guy to have BTN in the lineup last year on DISH, I just noticed that DISH has dumped BTN except in Ohio, MIchigan, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and "sections of Pennsylvania and Indiana". As a California alum, this sucks pretty hard. I have already complained to DISH, but I thought you might want to help mobilize mgoblog nation to get on their case. Thanks!
Class of '98
David followed up with Dish and found this out:
So, last year, the BTN was added to the base package. Now, I had to upgrade to the "Plus" package ($5/mo. for the music channels) and then add the big sports package for another $5.99/mo. I was assured by the operator that I could get it in LA, despite the footnote on the program guide. So, it appears to be available for about $11/mo. Very frustrating.
Unfortunate, and pricey, but heroin doesn’t come cheap.
A note on the “reverse mirroring” policy mentioned in yesterday’s mailbag: no, it doesn’t apply to ABC night games. MSU fans in Chicago are screwed since the powers that be decided to put Clemson-Alabama on this weekend instead of MSU-Cal.
This affects Michigan less than most other teams since they refuse to play night games at home, but there’s occasionally a regional ABC roadie that would not be available except on Gameplan. Your best bet in that situation is to get Gameplan for the weekend, which I believe costs twenty bucks.
And a protest from commenter Ninja Football about my dissing of sopcast yesterday:
I take exception with your disparaging remarks about Sopcast. I was forced to use it for a variety of games and for other events throughout the past year, and as long as you know what you're doing it isn't so bad. There is always the chance of the guy changing the channel, but if you find the right site and "reputable" (HA!) streamers you can be assured that won't happen. Saying it's "fraught with peril" immediately makes people think of viruses and crashing computers, and while it can at times be frustrating, it's better than reading about the game in the paper two days later.
If that’s all you’ve got and you want a live stream, I guess it’s worth a try. If anyone finds some reliable streams or wants to go so far as set some up themselves, let me know and I’ll pass the information on.
It’s in. Marques Slocum will not go into the night without a plaque, dammit:
Godspeed, Marques; I hope you eat Mark May and take his place someday.
How to act. Three separate Michigan blogs inform you how to act on gameday. Varsity Blue has the student section covered:
If you are sitting below row 80 and hear a cow bell and say anything related to the Christopher Walken sketch on SNL lampooning "Don't Fear the Reaper" by Blue Oyster Cult, I hate you. Freshman year it's acceptable and funny for the first few games. Beyond that, seriously, that sketch was on like 8 years ago.
Just as in the student section, refrain from getting plastered at the tailgate. And if you do, stay at the tailgate. If not, that drunk feeling in the first half will turn into a hung-over feeling in the 2nd half. Your head and your fellow seat mates will thank you.
If you are in the student section, try not to get drunk enough so that to keep your balance you have to shove the people in the row in front of you over and over again.
I only have one request: when the PA announcer says “welcome to Michigan Stadium,” don’t boo MAC teams and the like. “We’d like to extend a warm Michigan Stadium welcome to… Toledo!” should not be followed by rampant booing. I would prefer the booing to be restricted to actual rivals: ND, MSU, OSU.
Wait, also: if you wear a shirt with “Buck The Fuckeyes” or any sort of letter inversion shtick please castrate yourself. Possible exception: “Iuck the Fllini.”
Well, the situation is very fluid, you see. OSU defensive tackle Doug Worthington will not be suspended for the Youngstown State game after picking up a DUI. This is no doubt acceptable to the folks who thought Kevin Grady should be executed after his wild night of being passed out behind the wheel of his Denali.
As soon as Steve Breaston took his talents to the NFL the return game imploded. Raise your hand if you’re surprised. Dammit—I have to raise my hand since I gave this a “3” last year, too.
Sure-handed, slow Greg Mathews was the primary punt returner with a little Donovan Warren mixed in; the duo was terrible, ending the year 79th. Mathews has been relieved of those duties this year and the job is tentatively Warren’s with slot electron Martavious Odoms pushing from behind. This should improve with two of the best athletes on the team taking up the reigns; hopefully the increased walk-on program will help fill in some gaps on special teams.
Kick returns were even worse. Michigan was 110th as Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor alternated runs directly into defenders. Freshman tailbacks Sam McGuffie and Michael Shaw have been mentioned as likely starters here, though it may take a game or two to blood them before they assume the roles. Shaw and McGuffie are fast as hell and there should be a rebound here, too.
After inexplicably sitting for a good portion of the season, Kickin’ Competency Lopata came on and hit 11 of 12. He’s basically Garrett Rivas, short on leg strength and dodgy outside 40 yards but a machine inside 40. This qualifies as a pretty good collegiate kicker.
I hate to say this about beloved Space Emperor, but Zoltan was quite conceivable in his second year as a starter. Though he was Michigan’s best player against Ohio State with 12(!) punts for 551(!!!) yards—almost 46 yards each—in his other outings he barely averaged 40 yards a kick. He was 53rd in average yardage and had almost 60% of his punts returned (that’s a lot). He was a Space Prince at best.
Here goes the standard “consistency” bit: if Zoltan can sustain the sort of performance he turned in against Ohio State he’s a Ray Guy candidate and likely winner. He’s always had ridiculous punter-get-drafted upside.
Special Teams in Summary
Kicker should remain static; the return game should improve, possibly significantly as Rodriguez continues to pack the roster with players like those guys named “Moss” who used to play for Miami. Zoltan should be at least average and if he can find consistency to be consistently consistent could be the Heisman winner. You heard it here first, Beanie: Zoltan The Inconceivable is coming for your trophy.
The theory of turnover margin: it is nearly random. Teams that find themselves at one end or the other at the end of the year are highly likely to rebound towards the average. So teams towards the top will tend to be overrated and vice versa. Nonrandom factors to evaluate: quarterback experience, quarterback pressure applied and received, and odd running backs like Mike Hart who just don't fumble.
|2007||Int +||Fumb +||Sacks +||Int -||Fumb -||Sacks -|
|0.15 (41st)||14||15||2.46(33rd)||14||13||2.17 (67th)|
In marked contrast to lat year’s TO margin heuristic—which foresaw a plunge from 4th nationally to something still positive but far less spectacular and may have presaged some of Michigan’s difficulties—there’s not much to see here. I expect this to be solidly negative this year what with the n00b quarterbacks and the line and the no Mike Hart, but Scott Shafer’s GOT what plants CRAVE so it could be around even again. Don’t think it will have a major impact.
Position Switch Starters
Theory of position switches: if you are starting or considering starting a guy who was playing somewhere else a year ago, that position is in trouble. There are degrees of this. When Notre Dame moved Travis Thomas, a useful backup at tailback, to linebacker and then declared him a starter, there was no way that could end well. Wisconsin's flip of LB Travis Beckum to tight end was less ominous because Wisconsin had a solid linebacking corps and Beckum hadn't established himself on that side of the ball. Michigan flipping Prescott Burgess from SLB to WLB or PSU moving Dan Connor inside don't register here: we're talking major moves that indicate a serious lack somewhere.
Two weeks ago John Ferrara was a backup defensive lineman. Today he’s pushing David Molk for a starting job on the line. Even if he doesn’t see the field the lack of confidence in Molk is apparent.
You could throw Brandon Harrison in here, as last year he was kind of a corner and this year he’s going to be the strong safety, but Harrison’s bounced to and from safety his entire career and will likely find himself in that familiar spot over the slot receiver. His responsibilities aren’t likely to change.
Toney Clemons is listed behind Martavious Odoms; his presence at slot receiver despite being way too tall for the Lollipop Guild—it is a guild!—indicates an obvious lack of depth there.
An Embarrassing Prediction, No Doubt
Rock bottom can be pretty low when you’re shoehorning a bunch of guys into a system they weren’t recruited for and you’ve had a ton of attrition at a couple key spots. Michigan is flirting with disaster on the offensive line and at quarterback. An injury or general suckage by one or more of the five new guys they’re counting on at those positions could send the offense into an epic tailspin.
The defense and some random plays from the exciting skill position players should keep Michigan afloat; games against the two MAC schools, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue, and Michigan State should all be at least reasonably winnable even in the worst case. 4-8 seems like the bottom-bottom.
There’s only one game that looks utterly unwinnable—Ohio State—at the moment. There’s no way the offense doesn’t blow two more, though. 9-3.
I am heartened by the idea that Rich Rodriguez’s offense doesn’t place much emphasis on 15 yard outs or deep bombs or seam routes. I am further heartened by the media’s near-exclusive focus on offense and players lost when compiling their preseason guesses. And I’m delighted by the idea Michigan beat actual football teams last year with Mike Debord calling plays for Ryan Mallett.
Not heartening is game against a Mountain West team that would be a pick-em on a neutral field, though the Vegas wiseguys initially set the line at M –7 before everyone bet it down. Nor is it heartening to miss Iowa and Indiana in a year that it would be really nice to dodge Wisconsin and Illinois. But that’s life.
For a glimpse at what this offense might be like I go back to the Year of Infinite Pain, 2005. With Jake Long injured the line was a patchwork assemblage of mediocre talent. Leo Henige had no knees and he started the whole year. The receiving corps was one sure-handed possession guy (Avant), one slot bastard par excellence (Breaston), and one zippy freshman (Manningham). This year those guys are Mathews, Odoms, and Stonum with potential bonus contributions from Clemons, Hemingway, Savoy, and Robinson. Mike Hart was out or limping most of the year; Kevin Grady and Max Martin took turns fumbling before Jerome Jackson finally took the reins.
The big advantage that team had was Chad Henne even though that was the year Tacopants reeled in something like 150 balls. Any illusions 2005 Chad Henne was a realistic ceiling for Michigan’s quarterbacks this year went out the window as I watched the turnover abortion that was the NC State-South Carolina game. We have no idea how bad it can get. Yet.
Still, 2008 wins by a significant margin at the skill positions, is close to a push on the OL, and has a significant advantage in playcalling, scheme, and proximity to Mike Barwis. I think a comparable season is realistic, and while that’s not good at all—55th total offense, 45th scoring—it’s not a disaster zone.
Meanwhile, the defense returns eight-ish starters from a defense statistically superior to 2005’s meh unit. They have also “enjoyed” their proximity to Mike Barwis. Scott Shafer seems a rising star in the defensive coordination business, a maniacal blitzer instinctively aware of the little game theory details that are the heart of gameday coaching.
It’s reasonable to expect improvement both statistically and actually, which would make this team better than 2005’s 7-5 record, especially because that Notre Dame team was 9-3 and this one won’t be and a bowl game against Nebraska is included in that record.
That’s the idea, anyway.
|9/6||Miami (OH)||Probable Win|
|9/13||@ Notre Dame||Tossup|
|10/18||@ Penn State||Probable loss|
|11/1||@ Purdue||Probable win|
|11/8||@ Minnesota||Probable win|
|11/22||Ohio State||Probable loss|
Take all the “probables” with a grain of salt except OSU, Minnesota, and the MAC schools. I didn’t want to write “tossup” eight times.
Really, the answer here is “hell if I know.” There are too many variables to predict anything at a level resembling confidence. I have enough faith in the defense and the little bastards carrying the ball to think the team will be towards the upper end of the reasonable range. 8-4 is the pick.
Let’s get it on.