...now that you mention it. No doubt others have/will touch on the general unpossibility of Vince Young, but it bears repeating: um, dude. Seriously. Bullets, baby!
- Our long national nightmare is over. No offense to the USC players, who seem as blameless as college kids with inexhaustible sources of hotties willing to do anything and access to vast quantities of alcohol can be, but no one without a direct tie to the school was rooting for them thanks to ESPN's general insufferability in regards to the Trojans. Now it can be told: there is no doubt that the 2005 Trojans are the greatest one loss team in the history of college football. And proud we are of all of them.
- Can we shut up about Mack Brown now? Blah blah blah never win big game blah blah blah never beat OU blah blah blah never does anything with all his talent... totally bleeding ridiculous given the state the program had fallen to under Mackovic and the powerhouse Sooner teams that kept Texas down for so long. That's what they said about Tom Osborne. Look: winning national championships is hard. No matter how much goddamn talent you have. Football is a game where it's near impossible to get through a season without having at least a few games balance on a razor's edge. Look at USC, undoubtedly the best team ever: a desperate sneak against ND, a squeaker against Fresno, a late rally against Arizona State, and a loss to Texas. A few plays here and there and they could have ended up 8-4.
Can't people just accept that not everything is ordained from on high by talent and skill?
- Also can we learn our lesson? All talk about "greatest ever" anything should be banned after that ESPN fiasco. Who knows? No one. Who can prove anything about anything? No one. So can we stop the inane assertions of the finest performance, best quarterback, best game ever? I don't care. It was a great game. Vince Young is a great player. That's enough.
- A blessing and a curse. The game reasserted the case for replay in no uncertain terms, even though it did not work flawlessly. A couple of plays--the Vince Young pitch and a linebacker's near interception--were not reviewed, but several critical ones were and there were a couple overturned calls that were critical to the game. The infamous Jim Augustine--the man who blew the Chad Henne "fumble" in the MSU game--was the review official, so you knew there would be screwups but on balance the game was improved by its presence. Any Penn State fans want to check in with elaborate conspiracy theories about how the Witvoet crew was conspiring against Penn State tonight?
- Speaking of insufferable. By the way, Fouts, the refs were checking with each other to see whether Bush had stepped out of bounds on his leaping touchdown in order to get the call right, not because they "don't see anyone like Reggie Bush in the Big Ten," you smarmy ridiculous-bearded hippie.
- Thanks, Keith. Fading, sure. But, like Johnny Cash a few years back, anyone focusing on his momentary confusion from time to time and harping on his declining form is missing out on the last days of an inimitable voice that the world will soon be poorer without. Much poorer.
So... is it September yet?
1/3/2006 - Michigan 63-70 Indiana - 10-2, 0-1 Big Ten
Yeah... so that's why I sort of hate college basketball. When you are me and shamelessly parochial in your sporting interests, most of your viewing time is occupied by watching the teams you support. The opponent changes but one team remains a constant, though the uniforms flip from home to away on a regular basis. When I take all the drawings that form my impression of this particular sport and animate them into a flipbook of This Is... NCAA Basketball(!!!) the signal that emerges from the noise is heavily influenced by the one team my viewing revolves around.
What do I see? Turnovers. Awful passes. Stupid decisions. A bonus ten seconds wherein college teams get to sit around doing nothing in particular. Big guys camping out in the lane, rendering driving useless. A three point line better suited for sixth graders. Scores reminiscent of offensively proficient lacrosse. Sun Belt-esque refereeing. In contrast, my opinion of the NBA must be hilariously divergent with that of the general populace since my chosen team therein plays a brilliantly effective, efficient, and intelligent brand of basketball. But what can you do? My brain has all this data. It has to do something with it.
I spent a large portion of the Indiana game cursing the stupidity of everyone on the floor, though I hope you'll agree it was not totally outside the realm of reason. Michigan hung around Indiana largely on the strength of Graham Brown rebounding everything and... um... good defense I guess (except when it wasn't), but there was no point during the game where it felt like Michigan could assemble any semblance of offense aside from the occasional three pointer when Indiana forgot that Michigan was capable of little else. Eventually I started hoping that Michigan would start jacking up contested three pointers, since the alternative was a contested two pointer or a turnover. Grim. And totally expected, just like Courtney Sims finding himself opposed by a mean man who fights for position and ending up neutralized.
Perhaps this is an overreaction to an abberrantly bad game, but let's be serious: if you were to pick any game from the Amaker era against reasonable competition and peg the under/over on turnovers, 20 would not be a totally implausible estimate. 16 would probably get you even money. Why is this? I don't know. Amaker seems set on running a motion offense he doesn't have anywhere near the personnel for. As I understand it, the motion offense relies on big men who can pass competently and shoot from outside the post. Michigan has no post who can do the former and only Chris Hunter is capable of the latter. It requires every player on the floor to be able to read each other's intentions and make intelligent cuts for easy baskets. Michigan tends to throw the basketball out of bounds several times a game because intentions may as well be ancient Sumerian cuniform to them. The similarities between the basketball team and football team are depressing: the expectation is for the position.
Special ITYSO Bonus!
By the way, that thud you just heard was Courtney Sims officially falling off the All-Wonk Team. (The guy's a one-man assault on the very concept of stats: he looks good on paper because he stockpiles inordinately beautiful numbers against inferior opponents.)
This here blog in the preview:
There's no questioning Sims' shot blocking and post ability, but he has shown little fire or competitiveness in his first two years at Michigan, often getting dominated by players with half his physical gifts but twice his determination. Sims got shoved out of position far too much for a player with his size and skill, failed to rebound effectively, and often disappeared for long stretches at a time, especially when matched up against high-quality opposition.
Grim satisfaction? Sure. Would I rather be wrong in this case? Sure.
Basketball coming up this afternoon. For now, Big Ten Wonk has a recap par excellence for you.
Joey would undoubtedly refer to this as "peep game" but my flaccid indie band tendencies prevent me from knowing what in the sam hell this means. In any case, even though you undoubtedly do not care about the Edmonton Oilers in the slightest, I must point out "Covered In Oil," undoubtedly the finest blog anywhere. I mean:
Man, if you had told me a month ago that Ty Conklin would be between the pipes for the Oilers first shutout of the season, I would have called you a filthy little liar and slapped you right in the mouth. Then, I probably would have felt bad for overreacting and bought you a caramel Drumstick or something, guilt-ridden but resting assured that my point had nonetheless been made. That point being Ty Conklin is bad.
Huzzah, etc. One of the best things about this whole "college football blog community" thing that magically happened is that I know various southerners--probably based in Atlanta and wondering if they should drink whiskey or Drano after the Sugar Bowl--peruse this space on a regular basis and regard any and all hockey posts with puzzlement and bemusement. Yes, kids, when water gets cold it turns into something hard and slippery.
Er. Anyway, you may now continue your dirt-track racing careers.
Introspection and bitching from around the web. Alamo Farce fallout was truly radioactive. Commisseration occurs from various places on the ref screwjob. Paul Westerdawg:
Worst officiating ever. At least when Al Ford and his crew killed the Dawgs in 1999 vs. Tech, they didn't have instant replay as a resource.
Yeah... Michigan got f***ed pretty thoroughly. Having to burn two timeouts for replays ended up costing them big time, and the circus that was the final play was just a fitting end to an all-around ass-raping by the semi-trained monkeys from the Sun Belt.
Every coach knows that if players do run onto the field during a play, the penalty is harsh. Nebraska's entire team ran onto the field during the game-deciding play -- yet not a single yellow flag. That's spectacular officiating ineptitude. Maybe the Sun Belt Conference zebras working this game were anxious to head to the locker room and didn't care about doing their jobs properly. Whatever the explanation, "Sun Belt Conference officials" will now be synonymous with incompetence, while "Alamo Bowl" will now be synonymous with botched game supervision.
Back at the Michigan ranch, Johnny freaks everyone out by quoting "Hurt," but makes it clear in his lead that killing yourself... eh... could possibly be avoided...
Please, open the garage door before you start the car, untie yourself from the train tracks, spit the mouthful of bleach into the sink, drain the bath before you toss in any appliances, and fire that .38 into the sky, for another voice of delirium commands your attention, and like you it has absolutely no idea what has just happened. So gather round, pop the last of your 12 dollar New Year's Eve champagne, because calamity of this caliber loves company.
...but only because then there won't be anyone to bitch to. I sort of expected Joey to ignore this advice and post a recording of his grisly demise at the hands of a shotgun blast, but he lives(!) and posts something aptly titled "Make It Stop." Indeed. Stop, don't git it git it. Etc.
Vijay, more mature than the rest of us combined into Bitchy Whiny Blogger Voltron, has emerged from a private cocoon of sorrow with a State of the Program Address which I'll respond to later; it deserves fuller consideration since it'll be the topic du jour for the duration of the offseason.
I did this. Before when I ran across dumb internet things and created derived dumb Internet things with them, they died quietly. Now they liiiiive... on the blog!
Alamo Aftermath, y'all. Caution: it sucks.
As expected, the walkon-laden Wolverines got waxed by CC in the GLI. They did manage to squeak by Michigan Tech with a third-period rally to finish third, again. The good news is that the split did not heavily impact Michigan's PWR ranking, which remains a surprising third. How is this the case?
Michigan has played a ridiculous schedule to date. Michigan has a Teams Under Consideration (abbreviated TUC and defined as anyone with an RPI of > .500) record of 6-6-1, which is fairly good. Of note is the sheer quanitity of TUC games, though: fully 13 of Michigan's 19 games to date. That coupled with the CCHA's much stronger performance (more on that later) out of conference has buoyed the Michigan RPI to third in the country--and the PWR is really just an RPI adjustment scheme.
The good news for Michgian is that the CCHA continued it's strong nonconference play during the holiday tournament season. Ferris State was credited with a tie by NCAA rule after losing a shootout to BC in the Denver Cup, then beat DU in the consolation game to take home a 1-0-1 record against two teams that would have laughed Ferris off the ice last year. UAF swept UAA. UNO won against Alabama-Huntsville and Yale. Previously inept BG went 3-1 against a nonconference selection of eastern teams, including a win over PWR #4 St. Lawrence. Northern and Western both ate it versus Wisconsin, but just about everyone is doing so thus far. With nonconference play just about over, the CCHA appears to be the premiere conference in the country to computers who can't actually see WCHA teams play.
To say this is a surprise is an understatement. The CCHA has gone from the ECAC + Michigan to a conference with 5 teams--Miami, Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska-Omaha, and Lake State--in the top 14 of the PWR (14 is generally the cutoff since the CHA and Atlantic Hockey teams get autobids) and the first two teams out--Ferris State and Alaska-Fairbanks. No fewer than nine CCHA teams are TUCs. That probably won't last when conference play arrives--expect at least one and probably two teams to drop from the TUC ranks--but in any case, Michigan is almost certainly going to end the season with the nation's toughest schedule. That will buy the Wolverines a significant amount of leeway when the tournament is seeded.
Meanwhile, Jack Johnson is public enemy #1 in Canada after cheap-shotting Canadian Steven Downie after a late game EN goal gave Canada a 3-2 win in the group stage of the WJC. After exchanging slashes, Johnson gave Downie an elbow which was either vicious or glancing, depending on how you feel about A) the USA and B) the University of Michigan, and got booted. I didn't see the play in question and thus can't comment, but both Jack and Andrew Cogliano did. Jack:
"I saw the way Downie had played all game and I knew he was a player who played with an edge," Johnson said. "We exchanged slashes, I saw him skating toward me and I was trying to be prepared. I didn't want to put a guy out of the tournament, but I didn't want him to pull anything on me."
Johnson said he didn't connect with the full force of his elbow/forearm, and Kyle said video supports that. "It wasn't like his head snapped back," Johnson said.
Canadian centre Andrew Cogliano, who is Johnson's teammate on the University of Michigan team, had a different view.
"I don't think he should have done what he did and I think he should have been punished," Cogliano said of the third overall pick of the Carolina Hurricanes last summer.
"He's a top defenceman and he's going to be an NHL player some day, but I think sometimes he has to control his emotions. But that's him and that's what kind of person he is."
The incident prompted a flood of bitching from Canada, which is amusing given that the guy on the receiving end of the glancing/vicious elbow crosschecked a teammate in the face after he refused to be hazed and some guy named "Bertuzzi" is going to be playing for Canada in the Olympics, but expecting a Canadian to be rational about hockey is like expecting ninjas to not flip out and kill stuff. Second chances for all! Unless they're American!
Johnson was not suspended and assisted on Phil Kessel's opening goal against the Czechs in the USA's 2-1 victory yesterday. Tonight the US takes on Russia in a semifinal at 11 PM; if you have Comcast it should be somewhere on your (free) Center Ice package. Canada plays Finland in the other semi; a Canada-USA rematch for the gold would be straight dope, especially given the whole Downie debacle.
Exhale about those forwards for next year as Michigan picked up a commitment from the USHL's Trevor Lewis. They also picked up an '07 commitment from Lewis's teammate Aaron Palushaj. Michigan College Hockey has an article on the pair (and a teammate heading to Vermont):
Lewis, a native of Murray, Utah, will join the Wolverines for the 2006-07 season. He is currently leading the Buccaneers in goals (19) and points (35). He is also second on the team and in league with a plus/minus rating of +20.
"This was one of the toughest decisions of my life," said Lewis of his decision to go to choose Michigan. "All of the schools that recruited me (Boston College, Maine, Minnesota, Ohio State) have outstanding hockey programs, but my gut feeling was to go to Michigan."
During the Buc Bowl, when scouts from all over the country came to scout the USHL talent, nearly every scout and coach noticed Lewis' play. Head Coach Regg Simon said that he took about 100 calls about Lewis after the three-day tournament.
... and this snippet from Hockey's Future ...
9. Trevor Lewis, C
Ht: 6'1 Wt: 195 Shoots: Right
Born: January 9, 1987, Murray, Utah
Des Moines Buccaneers
Des Moines has yet another player in the top 10 in center Trevor Lewis. Similar to Nodl in that he had an underwhelming rookie season in the USHL, at least statistically, Lewis has made a major impact in 2005-06 as one of the leading goal scorers in the USHL. After 19 games Lewis has 12 goals 13 assists, tied for fifth in the USHL with Nodl. Lewis has good hands and a hard shot, but a lot of his goals come down to hard work and a willingness to venture into the crease and take a beating from opposing defenseman. This is even true on the penalty kill, where Lewis as a USHL-leading four shorthanded goals.
Lewis is not just a goal scorer though. He's a crisp passer with good vision and can use his speed to create space. At 6'1 195 pounds, Lewis has decent size, which he uses both offensively and defensively. Like Okposo, Lewis is a st
aple on the Des Moines penalty kill, a testament to his commitment to a solid two-way game. Lewis also has a physical edge, be it the occasional open-ice hits, finishing his checks along the boards, or even dropping the gloves. Leading by example, Lewis is one of Des Moines' alternate captain.
Lewis will be joining Okposo and Buccaneer goaltender Brian Foster on Team USA for the Viking Cup. An older '87, Lewis was barely eligible for the team, and he may still be a longshot to be drafted in the new seven-round draft. However, an NHL team looking for a player with a good combination of speed, skill, awareness and effort, who has a few years of college hockey to develop, may look to Utah's best prospect yet.
INCH had a Buc Bowl feature its own self and it contained this brief, tantalizing scout quote:
"This kid's amazing. He's the total package. He competes, he has a nose for the net, he's physical, and he has the ability to finish."
Miller also offered something on Palushaj:
From Paul Shaheen's Research on Ice:
Formerly with Honeybaked, Palushaj has six goals and 21 points in 26 games thus far for the Bucs, who keep playing impressively and presently stand 19-5-4 (OTL).
"He's a deceptively strong player," said one scout ROI ran into while watching this year's Great Lakes Invitational in Detroit. "He may not look like a great skater, but he has a very good shot, can pass, and knows how to find people. He has all kinds of upside."
There's also some more in this thread. So yay and stuff. Michigan is likely done with the '06 class and is waiting on Pat Kane's word to wrap up '07.
Yeah, this one's shorter.
Steve Stripling. This may be in direct conflict with the whole run-defense-bad thing, but I think the defensive line showed much promise. Stripling can't make Massey four inches shorter and thirty pounds heavier or turn Gabe Watson from a teddy bear into a pitbull, but under his tutelage Alan Branch went from freshman role player to breakout star at both DT and DE, Lamarr Woodley improved his TFL and sack numbers despite missing about a quarter of the season, Shawn Crable became useful, and Tim Jamison flashed major potential in his limited time.
A first glance at the sack numbers is not impressive (Michigan finished with only 24) but as noted in the OSU preview, the imposing Buckeye defense got most of its sacks from non-linemen--they blitzed extensively. Michigan was allergic to the blitz, getting only six sacks from linebackers and defensive backs all year. The first year of the "actual defensive line coach" era was a success, and a line like Jamison-Branch-Taylor/Johnson/Slocum-Woodley should get a ton of pass rush without having a big sign that says "RUN HERE" between the DTs.
Freshman wideouts. Mario Manningham and Antonio Bass can play, and play they did with unprecedented frequency for freshmen wide receivers at Michigan, Manningham in particular. The New Math finished the year with six touchdowns, one short of Anthony Carter's Michigan record. Bass played the occasional snap at running back, wide receiver, and quarterback, even completing a wounded duck to Jason Avant against Iowa. Both are faaaaast and are the leading candidates to replace Jason Avant's catches next year.
Ross Ryan. If Ryan has been around for four years already, what was Troy Neinberg doing kicking off? Neinberg's kicks usually landed somewhere between the ten and the five; Ryan's usually ended up five yards deep in the endzone. We all enjoyed Neinberg's science-dork body flying downfield a lookin' to pop someone, sure, but surely Ryan's kickoffs did not drastically improve over the span of a single offseason three years into his collegiate career, so why give up the field position? Who knows?
Ryan's punts, a testament to how overrated gross punting yards are as a statistic, were also a welcome breath of fresh air. They were all about 38 yards long, high, and unreturnable, a welcome change from Adam Finley's 45-yard bullets that were touchdowns in waiting. The difference is stark:
|Tendency To Launch
Balls Eight Yards Into
(Disclaimer: the Ginn fumbles are a major source of noise in favor of Ryan, but just look at the return percentage, and even before the OSU game Ryan's return average was about half of Finley's.)
They were ugly, dying quails that no one will mistake for NFL production any time this century, but they worked. A salute to Ross Ryan! (You know your team's in trouble when the punter comes in for a salute.)
The interesting case of Shawn Crable. Strange that Pat Massey's deployment as the world's least effective DT would come in the same year when Crable, a guy who's even lankier than Massey, gets deployed as a standup DT on passing downs (and even the occasional run play) to great effect. Several Crable stunts got pressure on the quarterback in fairly short order, he batted down a number of passes, and the one time they tried to run at him he dashed around the lumbering guard assigned to block him and made a tackle for no gain--one more play against the run than Massey had all year. Crable now has a role and a future.
Fourth and short is go time. That aspect of Carr's game coaching skillz did improve vastly, even if it backfired from time to time (like fourth and goal against Wisconsin). Henne even badgered Carr into letting him QB sneak it on fourth and short from his own 40 on a drive that ended with what appeared to be a game-sealing field goal. Let it be said that Carr's football thinking is evolving as time passes, however glacially it may be.
Hell, you know. The worst part of the whole Alamo Fiasco was watching Avant go out like that. I hope you won't think ill of me if I say that there aren't any players leaving other than Avant that I will think about next year (unless it's to think "wow, this new guy is much better than X"). It'll be strange not seeing #8 out there.
I probably missed some... any thoughts, commenters?
Many... most... hell, all Michigan fans have skipped right to the wailing and gnashing of teeth thing in the immediate aftermath of the Merry Alamo Farce and the Season of Infinite Pain, calling for everyone from Carr to Herrmann to Mike Gittleson to the kittens to me(!) to be fired. The indictment against me reasonably stated that Michigan has lost five or more games every year since this blog's inception--food for thought.
However, I think before heads roll (at least in the Kids in the Hall "I am crushing you" sense) we should review the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that brought us to this low point in our collective sporting lives. Herein and forthwith, the 2005 Enemies List.
Worst Book Report Ever. EVER!!!
An unprecedented, mind-flaying bouquet of injuries. Michigan got about 1.5 fully healthy games between Jake Long and Mike Hart, two guys who were running neck-and-neck with Lamarr Woodley for the title of best player on the team in the preseason. Long's backup, Mike Kolodziej, woke up tingly and unable to move one day, forcing natural guard Rueben Riley out to right tackle, where he attempted to ward off edge rushers with two broken thumbs. Leo Henige, already limping around on knees from hell, broke his leg. Adam Kraus missed the last few games with another knee issue. Tight end Tim Massaquoi broke his hand and then missed most of the last two games of the year with... yet another knee issue.
And that's just the offensive line. Steve Breaston wasn't right early in the season, missing the MSU game. On defense, exactly one defensive end (Pierre Woods) avoided missing a chunk of the season. A cheap chop block knocked Rondell Biggs out for a number of weeks. Tim Jamison had a sprained shoulder that lingered several games into the year. Lamarr Woodley's mysterious arm issue caused him to miss two games and sit out critical portions of the OSU game. Jeremy Van Alstyne missed the first half of the season. In the secondary, Ryan Mundy went out for the year with a nerve injury. Both Willis Barringer and Brandent Englemon missed large portions of the season simultaneously. WLB Chris Graham contracted a case of Rueben Riley's broken thumbs. Morgan Trent missed the Alamo Bowl.
Uh, yeah, I think that had something to do with it.
Stupid coaching decisions. The Minnesota game was lost when Jim Herrmann called a stupid defense that left inconsistent linebacker Prescott Burgess lined up as a defensive end opposite mammoth Minnesota TE Matt Spaeth. Burgess lost contain and an irrelevant blitz from Jamar Adams from the other side of the field drew Brandon Harrison to the center of the field, leaving no one between Gary Russel and Michigan's demise.
Time and again this year Michigan found itself leading narrowly heading into the final minutes of the game with the ball in hand, changed its playcalling in an attempt to grind out the clock with a terrible running game, and punted with an opportunity to strangle the game. Six times this year Michigan failed to close out a game it was leading in the fourth--often by two scores. Overtime against Iowa and a miraculous last second against PSU meant that Michigan managed to pull out two of those blown leads (and you can't really blame the coaching decisions for the result of the Alamo Farce) , but... six times! I think that's fair evidence that Michigan's "sit back and let 'em screw up" strategy is totally out of place in today's offense-oriented college football world, especially when teams must score or die and use fourth down to do so. The days of dominant Michigan defense are over; Carr has not adapted his strategy.
Henne failing to live up to expectations. More balls whizzed two yards in front of open receivers than I care to remember. His mindblowing interception to Tom Zbikowski was a nail in Michigan's early season coffin; his inability to hit Jason Avant on a corner route plagued Michigan all year; his haircut did remain hilarious. At times he played well, often right before or after doing something Stooge-worthy, but he was nowhere near the All Big Ten performer many expected him to be. It's no exaggeration to say that he was the main reason Michigan lost to Wisconsin.
(DISCLAIMER: Obviously Henne has a world of potential and is only a sophomore. If he ends up throwing straight and reading coverages better, look out and stuff.)
Totally useless guard play. Henne's performance came with a ready-built excuse. Maybe if I was paying as much attention last year as I did this year I would have regarded the loss of David Baas much more ominously. Without Baas, fifth year seniors Leo Henige and Matt Lentz were exposed as intimidating-looking revolving doors. The Notre Dame game featured a bevy of blitzes up the middle that turned Henne into a jittery incompletion machine. Fourth and goal from the one against Wisconsin was stuffed when Henige was shoved backwards into a pulling Lentz, leaving Kevin Grady tasked with plowing through two guys at the point of attack. Ohio State... well, our longest run of the day was 8 yards from Alijah Bradley on a "who is that guy" play.
Hart's absence hurt the run game, certainly, but even when we had him it was clear that he was working with scraps. Anything that would prompt this assessment after the MSU game...
More concerning is the run blocking, which was awful. Yes, awful. It was possibly the worst run blocking coupled with a 200 yard day from the accused team's running back in the history of NCAA football.
...has to be deeply broken, right? The surprising performance against PSU stands as an aberration in a season of massive disappointment.
Run defense charitably described as "nonexistent." Last year the run defense was, despite appearances, very good if you replace Mundy and Shazor with non-ciphers. Running against Michigan was a generally futile exercise in 2004 aside from an 80 yard touchdown run per game. This year, not so much. Not so any. If you remove games against hapless IU and EMU and combine the three-headed MSU backfield into one person, Michigan allowed eight of ten tailbacks it opposed to exceed 100 yards. Only Northwestern's Tyrell Sutton and OSU's Antonio Pittman failed to beat that milestone, and in Sutton's case it was more due to a lack of trying: Northwestern totalled only 17 rushing attempts the entire game. (Yes, Northwestern got 110 yards on those carries.)
- Gabe Watson underperformed. We has still good, but he wasn't an All American.
- ...and thus he couldn't make up for Pat Massey. If only Massey played as purty as he talked. He's 6'8", and there's a reason you've never heard of a 6'8" DT before: every play someone gets under this hypothetical giant's pads and drives him five yards backwards. Massey's only contribution this year was pursuing on screens.
- Chris Graham was a nonfactor. The official winner of the 2005 Grady Brooks Memorial "Practice Field Superstar Award," Graham took bad angles, couldn't shed blocks, and totally disappeared from the UFR reviews after the NIU game except fo
r brief cameos generally accompanied by something like "AAAARGH CONTAIN CONTAIN WHY GOD WHY GOD."
- Prescott Burgess was the Henne of the defense last year, alternating good plays that get NFL scouts clinking glasses of baby blood together with moments even his momma can't condone. His inconsistency combined with Graham's poor play to make bounceouts a guaranteed 15 yards.
- Grant Mason couldn't replace Marlin Jackson's run support, though to be fair it's hard to support the run when you're lined up ten yards off the line and moving backwards at the snap. The hidden damage of Michigan's Cowardly Lion act in the secondary this year was in all those outside runs that the linebackers actually strung out properly but went for seven or eight yards anyway because the corner was late.
This is the magic formula for suck.
Mind-bendingly awful refereeing. No one likes it when the referees come in for a bitchslapping, but it must be said. The Alamo Bowl was a total screwjob, and the lack of review on the first-down sneak against Notre Dame before the fumble was costly. Michigan did receive a slight edge from the blind mice against Iowa (as discussed here), but the ludicrous calls almost evened out in that one and the resulting edge (two bad PI calls) did not result in Michigan points. In total, Michigan was totally robbed of one game and was badly hurt in another, to say nothing of the "fumble" against Michigan State.
(Penn State fans should reserve their bitching for JoePa, who got two extra seconds put on the clock with three minutes left in the game just like Lloyd.)
So what does it all mean?
Just like every other fanbase in the world, Michigan fans (at least those who bother to post on message boards) have fractured into two equally insane groups. The RCMB would call them "Demand Excellencers" and "Sunshine Blowers"; EDSBS broke them down into the St. Fandrew and Master Shake genres.. The Master Shakes declare that Michigan was OMG 3 plays from 4-7 and no bowl this year; the terribly-scarce St. Fandrews (hi deanwerner!) declare that Michigan was OMG 3 plays from 10-2 this year. Well... yeah, that's what happens when you play 7 games that are decided with under a minute left to play. Unless you are a gigantic lucksack like the 2002 Buckeyes, you lose half and win half. If you were to take this Michigan team and have them play this season over and over again against the same teams, what would their final record be? Probably around 7-5. This was a crappy, frustrating football team that deserved most of what it got.
But not all of it. Said outrageous fortune descended heavily upon Lloyd Carr this year, playing up every weakness of his (a tendency to reward hardworking, useless players, terrible late game management skillz, a charming inability to phony his way through press conferences after getting jacked by referees) and minimizing the positives. The plagues of injuries and simian referees were at least a standard deviation above the norm.
I don't see how the coaches can be blamed for the offense's implosion. Chad Henne's lack of progress was crippling in early losses against Notre Dame, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. That combined with the injuries wracking the running game to grind the OMG Michigan Scoring Machine to a halt. We were left with a team incapable of running or passing due in large part to the players Michigan were forced to put on the field. In response Terry Malone went WR-screen mad, which kept Michigan afloat until late in the year when teams had scouted the screens and our general inability to do anything else. There's much complaining about the lack of creativity displayed by Terry Malone, et al, but what exactly are you supposed to do when your guards can't block, your two best players are out, and every clever route you pop someone open on sees Henne wing it yards wide of the helplessly open receiver? I still like Malone. I like the obvious change in Lloyd's fourth-and-short strategy. I like the adjustments that attempted to take advantage of our leetle fast guys at WR without putting undue stress on Henne's erratic accuracy. I don't see a way that Michigan's offense could have been anything other than crappy given the execution of the players in all phases of the game. You have to be able to do something right to set up the other phase of the game--Michigan could consistently do neither, thus the bupkis.
The defense, on the other hand... I think my judgment may be excessively biased by my anger at the killer play against Minnesota. That one incident and its cosmic stupidity color every thought that crosses my synapses about the defense. How could you put yourself in that position? Minnesota is trying to kill the clock, has some redshirt freshman that Glen Mason is clearly terrified of, and is in third and eleven... let's blitz a safety! Let's make the entire defense on the strong side of the formation Prescott Burgess and Grant Mason! Look at all the exclamation points!!! I'm pissed!!!
Seriously, I am. I think that play is representative of two major failings in the Michigan coaching staff. They don't understand math, and they expect players to play like they should, not like they do. In two bullets:
- Math: dude. Seriously. Punting on fourth and four against Penn State when a first down kills the game. Continually playing soft on end of game drives. And deciding that you were going to leave one area of the field extremely vulnerable to a big play when it's the only way you can lose in regulation. All these fly in the face of simple probability... the punt most obviously. What are the chances of making a fourth and four? Well, third and four is about 45%. You make it, you win. Thus unless your punt almost halves your opponent's chance to score, it's the wrong move. But the coaches think "our defense should hold them" and then when they don't they get to sit at press conferences, pissed off and confused that anyone would even ask about the strategy they employed.
- Playing like you "should": The infamous summary for this attitude is "the expectation is for the position," which is nice to say and dumbtarded in practice. You can expect Prescott Burgess to perform well when you line him up at defensive end opposing two separate giant, angry, runblocky Minnesota hulksters all you want, but that doesn't mean an inconsistent linebacker who is allergic to the idea of containment is actually going to perform well. Said another way, "the expectation is for the position" is "we put players in a position to fail because gameplanning is hard and stuff." Michigan's attitude that we will out-athlete you without any of that thinkin' stuff is getting anachronistic right quick. The offense does seem to adjust when faced with personnel deficiencies, but the defense defies them to matter... until they do. The flip side of this is a refusal to take advantage of a player's abilities if they don't fit into the scheme of the defense. (A side note: the unique, creative, and effective deployment of a strange player like Shawn Crable is the exact antithesis of this attitude, so "the expectation is for the position" has exceptions, especially when you're a 6'6" lighting bolt with chicken legs and there isn't a position for you to be expected at.)<
It's been pointed out here and elsewhere that Michigan hasn't ceded less than 28 points in a bowl game since magical 1997, and I wonder if that has something to do with Michigan's bullheadedness lending itself to being scouted into the ground when teams are given ample time to prepare.