Okay, seriously: I addressed this on Friday but did not fully understand the depth of Charles P. Pierce's mania re: Tom Brady getting screwed by Michigan. He's the guy with the book out on how Brady is basically, like, football Jesus, except LOL better. On Friday I knocked him for calling Michigan's coaching "incompetent." Now he's doing this thing at Slate where two guys send letters back and forth and he can't get through one without dropping something about how Tom Brady was basically, like, tortured and stuff by Lloyd Carr. It was like Abu Ghraib.
Article one has a throw-in phrase completely irrelevant to his point:
His entire competitive personaâ€”which he fashioned on his own, without a lot of help, especially at Michiganâ€”is based upon being a vital part of something bigger.
And then this:
And he did that believing, with the fundamental conviction that most great athletes have, that he was a better quarterback than the guys who had the advantages over him, whether that was Drew Henson at Michigan or Drew Bledsoe in New England. That's a difficult feat of locker-room diplomacy, but he managed it well on both occasions, particularly at Michigan, where he really did get a raw deal.
Article two further reminds us that Tom Brady overcame political machinations so staggering they boggle the mind to get anywhere near the NFL:
One of the things that first bound Tom Brady to Belichick was the fact that the latter runs as close to a pure meritocracy as there is in the league. After what Brady went through at Michigan, where his progress as a starting quarterback was consistently retarded by off-field politics that would have embarrassed Machiavelli, that kind of system was exactly what he was looking for.
(Such transparent crap: Brady was drafted by the Patriots. What he was looking for was "a team that wanted to draft him." And the Patriots meritocracy was so pure that the only way Brady got in a game was for someone to explode one of Drew Bledsoe's lungs. This stuff is worthy of deranged message board posters.)
Article three manages to avoid mentioning how Michigan dipped Brady's toes in acid before each game, but only because it mostly discusses contracts and kickers. Brady only shows up in one sentence.
So what do we make of all this? I'm not inclined to read books that only purport to be non-fiction, especially when they're no doubt filled with details of Lloyd Carr's daily meal of breakfast burritos made from the souls of dolphins, but we can observe the overall tone of Pierce's book from a statement his correspondent made in his initial salvo:
Brady's career arc lays waste to the clinical approach that dominates personnel evaluation in our most bureaucratic and CW-driven sport. Your book demonstrates that old sporting tropes like "character" and "perseverance" actually can matterâ€”if the athlete applies them to himself. What surprised me is how much material you found in the short life of a suburban kid whose toughest choice growing up was whether to hit a 3-iron or a 5-wood. This isn't an indictment of your portrait of the athlete as a young man, but I kept waiting for Brady to race into a burning building to rescue a litter of kittens.
Ah. It all becomes clear. To use the terminology of the dead-end sports-scribe, Pierce is a "fanboy," specifically a Tom Brady fanboy. He thinks that Brady's success in the NFL is because of character and perseverance instead of, say, his incredible ability to read defenses and accurate arm. You could read that sentence as "Pierce is dumb about sports," if you're so inclined. And you are. To prop up his idea that Brady's character and perseverance saw him through, he invents tragedy (the "material" referred to in the above quote) in the form of Michigan's "incompetent" coaching. No matter that literally every school in the nation looks up at Michigan's record of putting quarterbacks into the NFL. So he got a "raw deal" at Michigan which somehow explains his low draft status. No matter that in his two years as a starter he racked up approximately 700 attempts to Drew Henson's 150, a portion of those in garbage time. So Brady's progress as a starter was "consistently retarded" at Michigan. No matter that he was All Big-Ten both years and led Michigan to an Orange Bowl victory.
It would appear that the only thing here consistently retarded is Charles P. Pierce for Tom Brady.
(Note that Peter damn King apparently writes completely fictional columns that should not be cited.)
- Well... it's a guess. Florida's struggles are reaching a point as epic as those USC has undergone and the Trojans may be finding their stride. Florida's big wins keep getting devalued -- looks like the SEC is just as crappy as everyone else this year -- while USC's keep rising in value.
- Meanwhile, Arkansas continues to take names and kick ass. Is Darren McFadden impersonating Tim Tebow or vice versa? I don't know. I do know that is one large, agile, fast mofo and Arkansas is riding high. It's hard to believe this is the same team that squeaked by Vandy and Alabama and was stomped by USC -- who I have ranked one spot behind them... hmmm, might have to change that -- but whatever. Houston Nutt's gone from the hot seat to his choice of fine Arkansas livestock.
- Rutgers... that feels about right, right? These Big East games are having the overall effect of shooting the three BE contenders up in my poll, because it's hard to actually watch Steve Slaton and think "oh, it's just the level of competition." Dude is fast no matter who he plays against. Since he is fast, respect for everyone goes up? Or maybe it's just that everyone else keeps losing, especially to Maryland?
- #9 Wisconsin I am deeply uncomfortable with, but they handled their KSU equivalent in Iowa, albeit narrowly, and they didn't lose to the Arizona equivalent (Purdue? Minnesota?).
- I guess I can stop ripping on Texas and Auburn now. And you can clear a place for the Thorpe award on Leon Hall's shelf after the Texas secondary got burnt all toasty for the second time in the past month, this time in a loss.
- Why yes, spots 22-25 are totally unsatisfactory and I considered voting for Southern Mississippi because I like SMQ, Duke because I like Steve Spurrier, Michigan State because I like coaches who slap themselves, and Army just to get off a "ND goes for the Commander-In-Chief's trophy" joke. But I didn't. Because I am mentally strong.
Watched: Michigan-IU, OSU-NW, some of UF-SoCar, very end of Arizona-Cal, Texas-KSU, Iowa-Wisconsin, bits of Purdue-Illinois (feel the Big Ten excitement!!!), Rutgers-UL.
This may hurt my street cred, -- as a youngish former student and Michigan devotee I should by all rights be scrapping for endzone tickets like my late-twenties peers -- but due to familial connections and a line of checks made out to the athletic department unbroken since 1958 I have the rare privilege of being close enough to the tunnel to hear the team emerge for their pregame warmups, since I am also the sort of fan who gets twitchy if not in my seat 45 minutes before kickoff.
I am not close enough to make out every word of the rhythmic chant that accompanies them out of the locker room, but one thing does come through loud and clear, one question and one answer.
And so. Here we are, on the cusp of the biggest football-related event in any of our lives. Good is 11-0. Evil is 11-0. Good is #2. Evil is #1. I am a wordy, analogy-laden person and words and analogies fail. This is like what? Nothing. This can be described how? With some gaping, useless jaw-movements sans audio and a defeated shrug.
There is no possible way to make this game more intimidating or more important. Coming off the disastrous Year of Infinite Pain, Michigan has resurrected itself in astonishing fashion. The waltzed into Notre Dame and delivered a BEAT DOWN of epic proportions. They've dominated every game this year except... uh... Ball State. They're 11-0, one of the best teams in the country and should be finishing up their season against some team they're favored against. But this is not so. Fate has conspired to place the only team in the country ranked higher than them as the last obstacle. It has also conspired to place it in Evil's stadium at a time when -- whether it's just luck over a small sample size or actual "owning" -- Good is 1-4 versus Evil in their last five matchups.
In short: that's no moon. It is a veritable Death Star of a game, implausible Jerry Bruckheimer style. The last step is less a step and more a sheer cliff, but no matter
Let's get it on.
Respect and love.
Awards and stuff: Woodley is a finalist for the Lombardi along with Justin Blalock, Quinn Pitcock, and Paul Posluzny (the Lombardi is sort of a stupid award that's open to linemen from either side of the ball and, for some reason, linebackers.) Chances he wins seems sort of good. Posluszny is saddled with a crappy team and neither Blalock or Pitcock plays a sexy position like DE or tackle. Relatively sexy, anyway. Work with me.
Leon Hall is a semifinalst for the Thorpe. At first glance he seems a shoo-in for finalist status along with Texas' Aaron Ross and Bad Reggie Nelson of Florida, though if the voters are really stupid people who only read fawning media profiles and low-level boxing recaps they may jam in Tom Zbikowski's name for no reason.
Irritatingly, David Harris was passed over for Butkus finalist status in favor of James Laurinitis, Posluszny, and Patrick Willis of Ole Miss. Henne is a semifinalist for the Davey O'Brien but won't win it (nor should he).
It will not die. The MZone points out that this new book on Tom Brady contains this little snippet:
This is the journey Tom Brady has taken on. It began in a family wherein the spirit and documents of the Second Vatican Council mean as much to his development as any playbook. It moved along to college, where the whims of incompetent coaching nearly brought it to an end.
Note that that "incompetent coaching" did these things in the four years Brady was at Michigan:
- Won two BCS bowls.
- Turned Brian Griese from a preferred-walk-on to a third round pick and multi-year NFL starter.
- Won a national championship.
- Got Tom Brady into the NFL.
Pierce's book is a hagiography, as everything written about Brady is, that must blame someone other than Brady for the fact that he didn't enter the NFL on a golden palanquin held aloft by seraphim. Somehow the fact that Drew Henson was around and seeing the occasional series has balooned into a fictional alternate reality where he was relegated to the bench (Brady started all 25 of Michigan's games in '98 and '99), wasn't allowed to throw even when he got in (Brady set a Michigan record for attempts, though John Navarre would later break it), and that Charlie Weis is responsible for turning Brady from a sixth round pick into Football Jesus (Brady was an outstanding, clutch quarterback for his entire term as Michigan's starter; also, Charlie Weis is fat).
Kapsner, a backup quarterback during his four years with the Wolverines, said the Michigan coaches essentially ignored Brady in 1996 and '97. In 1998, Drew Henson, as a freshman without taking a snap, moved ahead of Brady, then a junior, on the depth chart.
Hartman combines spin and utter fiction in one tidy sentence. In 1996 and 1997, Brian Griese was an established starter with an NFL future. Brady was a redshirt freshman/sophomore with no on-field experience. There isn't a program in the country that would have played him. In 1998, Henson started zero games. There was something of a competition designed to keep Henson pleased but by the time the season got serious, he was on the bench.
The notion that Tom Brady was a nobody, the Rodney Dangerfield of Michigan quarterbacks, before becoming everyone's fave-rave makes a terrific story. But it's just a story. If you choose to tell it you may as well add in some radioactive biker mice from Mars, because those are pretty cool, too, and just as true to life.
Fantastic FO article on rush distribution in the NFL that I'd love to see applied to college, where there are no doubt differences. Upshot: while the NFL rushing average is 4.1 YPC, a small number of long runs distort that. The most likely outcome for just about any back crossing the LOS is a whopping two yards, which has all sorts of fantastic implications for cursed "ball control" strategies. Of the backs picked out of the pile, our own Mike Hart is more Mike Anderson than anyone else, IMO.
Rod Gilmore is a lawyer. This is hard to believe if you've ever heard him broadcast football -- though admittedly less difficult than imagining erstwhile partner Trevor Matich with a law degree or, indeed, a cerebrum -- or write ESPN columns. Embarrassing error($) not excused by "it's just a blog":
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema's antics in the Penn State game Saturday is evidence of coaches who don't care about players. I couldn't believe what he did.
Pedantry? Perhaps. But I can't stand me some subject-verb disagreement. Also note the trademark Gilmore finger-wagging paternalism and offense-taking at a completely innocuous slight. What is it with wispy-mustached ESPN "talent"?
Indiana is a fine football team worthy of our respect.
Run Offense vs. Indiana
Running the ball was the one thing Michigan fans could not complain about after the Ball State near-fiasco, as a trio of Michigan backs racked up over 300 yards. Michigan finally got its backs loose into the secondary, getting 20+ touchdown runs from Jerome Jackson, Mike Hart, and Brandon Minor. Meanwhile, Indiana features the nation's 100th-ranked rush defense. They give up 4.6 yards per carry; they're also missing a starting linebacker. This has the potential to be just about as ugly (for the opponent) as the Ball State game was, especially if Indiana safeties react to Manningham like Ball State's did: freaking out and running backwards at the snap.
If Indiana adopts a similar posture -- and given their massive troubles in the secondary, it seems likely -- Michigan will grind away against an undersized front seven ill-equipped to deal with... well, anything really. Michigan will likely run on 80-90% of their first downs again and I'll mutter something under my breath about expectation and deception and ugly statistics as Michigan rumbles towards another win. Pay me no mind, I'm just like that.
Key Matchup: Interior offensive line versus penetration. We're going to be predictable, and the line is going to have to deal with a lot of small guys slanting playside. Blocking them is going to be tough.
Pass Offense vs. Indiana
...is likely to be voluntarily MIA despite the tantalizing numbers put up by opposing pass offenses. Indiana is 116th in pass efficiency defense and is coming off a week where they allowed Brian Cupito(!) to throw for 378 yards on just 33 attempts. Along the way he picked up four touchdowns, too, as Indiana gave up 63 points to a Minnesota offense that's a mere shadow of last year's. The Hoosiers are also 108th in sacks, averaging just over one per game. The invitation is wide open: throw throw throw throw. We probably won't, much.
What we will do is work Manningham back into the swing of things. He saw 8-10 snaps last week, running nothing but fly routes that cause the aforementioned safety freakouts. He was targeted once while double covered. It was overthrown. This week he'll see most of the meaningful offensive snaps, according to Carr, and will no doubt be targeted frequently to get his timing back and shake off any potential rust. With the wretched Indiana secondary awaiting him, he won't have to deal with tight coverage and should have a big day.
Also potentially returning are tight ends Tyler Ecker and Mike Massey. Massey's only been gone a couple weeks but Ecker left after the first play of the Minnesota game; Michigan will endeavor to get those guys a few touches as well. Carson Butler will rotate in as well.
Key Matchup: Everyone versus Traitorous Hands. Everyone except the seldom-targeted Greg Mathews has dropped at least one ball so far this year. Henne's been accurate; too often his receivers have let him down.
Run Defense vs. Indiana
Indiana does run quite a bit -- 341 carries -- but their runs don't go anywhere. They're 88th in the country and their leading rusher is quarterback Kellen Lewis with... wait for it... 333 yards. Nominal starter Marcus Thigpen has been banged up in recent weeks but is expected to play. Not expected to play: their starting left tackle. Thees, not so good. Ball State managed the most success anyone's had on the Michigan defense since Amir Pinnix almost cracked 100 by spreading Michigan and finding small gaps in the line. Expect Indiana's "finesse" (read: crappy) offensive line to try the same thing. They'll try to misdirect us by using Lewis as a run threat, get us confused, and get someone to miss an assignment. This will probably happen at least a few times, but there will be TFLs in spades to make up for it and eventually the Hoosiers will find themselves in third and long.
Key Matchup: Harris/Burgess versus Misdirection. If they get out of position we could get gashed.
Pass Defense vs. Indiana
Lewis has emerged as the starter and can be thought of as Troy Smith lite if you're so inclined, but he's not anywhere near the passer Smith is. That's to be expected, as Smith has three years of experience on Lewis. One thing Lewis has that Smith does not is 6'7" James Hardy, the man who singlehandedly threw Iowa's season into the Pit of Despair. Hardy has nine touchdowns, seven of them in just two games: the aforementioned Iowa victory (three) and Indiana's demolition of Michigan State (four). Against Ohio State he was held in check with four catches for forty-five yards. He's a deep threat and a hard man to stop along the sideline.
It will be interesting to see if Michigan matches anyone specific on Hardy and, if so, who. Morgan Trent's been excellent in deep coverage (despite the referees' strange insistence on calling nonexistent pass interference calls) but dodgy at best underneath. Hall has been an all-around standout when targeted, though that's been infrequent. Michigan may use Hardy as a test case for the MGoBlog-supported hypothesis that Trent's speed can neutralize Ted Ginn. Or they may just let him roam free against whoever he'd like to line up against.
Key Matchup: Hardy versus Whoever. He's their best player and only playmaker.
Another interesting test for Football Armageddon, Indiana's return teams are excellent. The Hoosiers rank in the top 25 in both categories. Marcus Thigpen has three KO return touchdowns and ranks fourth in the country in average. Michigan has been suspect at times (specifically, Central Michigan and the opening kick versus Penn State). Tracy Porter, the punt returner, has a touchdown in only seven return attempts. Amazingly, Indiana has only gotten 13 chances to return a punt this year. That's all you need to know about the Hoosier defense, I guess.
Key Matchup: Coverage teams versus Whatever You Do to Be Good At Coverage. I don't pretend to understand the ins and outs of covering kicks, but I would very much like to see two things: good Whatever You Do and some Mesko kicks that do not have 75-yard Ginn Return Touchdown written all over them.
No kittens; 19 point spread.
- Johnny Sears and Charles Stewart appear with the game still in doubt.
- Our receivers continue to drop third-down conversions.
- Mario looks off or gimpy.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- A couple of Henne bombs find their way into Manningham's hands.
- Kellen Lewis is chased by angry defensive linemen.
- We look crisp.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 3 out of 10. (Baseline 5; -1 for You're Indiana, +1 for They Were Ball State, -1 for That Is Not A Defense It Is A Point Yielding Machine, -1 for Fresh(man) Meat).
Desperate need to win level: 10 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +5 for Eff It, We Must Go To Columbus Undefeated)
Loss will cause me to... gibber, blubber, and faint.
Win will cause me to... AAAAAAHHHH FOOTBALL ARMAGEDDON.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict: Well, we win, though Indiana is a team worthy of our respect and admiration that I would like to make very clear does not suck at all, not even a little bit, except on defense.
Right, that defense: it's not good at all in either phase of the game and will likely cede a number of big plays either on the ground or through the air. I do assume DeBord will go for Manningham deep if it's available since getting him some game reps and a touchdown or two will make everyone breathe easier heading into Football Armageddon. So the playbook should inch open a tiny bit until midway t hrough the third quarter when we have a six point lead and Carr brings in the backups and runs zone left for the rest of the game.
Indiana's offense has the opportunity to hit us for a few big plays, but trying to run Lewis with frequency is going to get him Branched eventually. I expect a lot of sputtering, one or two long completions to Hardy, no ability to line up and run, and etc. etc. etc. Basically the same thing Michigan's done to everyone since day one.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Breaston touchdown. I have to be right about this eventually. (Take four.)
- Henne has fewer than 20 attempts.
- 30-13, Michigan. (Indiana cover! Look at the respect!)