"Northwestern fans can be both heartened and disheartened by the loss to Minnesota just like how nineteenth-century resurrectionists were heartened when they pried a heart from a freshly-buried corpse and then disheartened it when they sold it to a disreputable anatomist."
“We’re not going to talk about injuries and I might as well bring that out now. And some of that is because you can say something about something and then you’re wrong. Everybody heals a little differently, and the other thing is for our kids. I want to make sure we’re doing a good job protecting them.” — Brady Hoke, 9/17/14
Regardless of how you felt about the on-field performance, what Brady Hoke did in putting an almost certainly concussed Shane Morris back on the field was reprehensible and, if you believe the first job of a head coach is to protect his own players, worthy of a firing. The fact that Hoke let Morris stay on the field as long as he did in the first place—when Morris, at one point, waved at the sideline while needing a lineman's support to stand—was awful enough; to ask Morris to re-enter that game was beyond the pale.
A national television audience just saw every reason why they shouldn't send their football players to Michigan.
An ornery crowd filtered in slowly, with the "attendance" of 102,926 such an obvious farce much of the crowd booed when it was announced. Booing, in fact, was a theme on the day. It started early, when a couple inside running plays netted little. When Minnesota entered the tunnel with a 10-7 halftime lead, the boos rained down again.
By the time Morris lost a third-quarter fumble when he simply dropped the ball in the pocket—the press box announcer flatly stated "fumble not forced by anyone on Minnesota," afterward—the student section had moved on from boos to chants of "Fire Brandon." For the uninitiated, that would be in reference to Dave Brandon, Michigan's embattled athletic director.
The first half proved competitive, at least, if not at all interesting. Michigan punted on their first three drives, Minnesota on their opening four; provided stellar field position by the defense, the Wolverine offense tallied their first red zone trip and touchdown against a Power 5 team this season on a nifty ten-yard scamper by De'Veon Smith. The Gophers answered just two minutes later, however, with a ten-yard scoring run of their own when quarterback Mitch Leidner ran untouched around the corner off an inside run fake.
Minnesota added greatly to the fan unrest when they marched 92 yards in 2:17 to end the half with a Ryan Santoso field goal. Then the floodgates opened in the third quarter. Minnesota forced Michigan to punt from deep in their own territory, allowing the Gophers to "drive" eight yards in seven plays for another Santoso field goal, putting them up 13-10. Two plays later, Theiran Cockran tipped a Morris pass to the flat, and it fluttered right to Gopher LB De'Vondre Campbell, who brought it back 30 yards for an easy touchdown.
After the Morris fumble on the very next drive, Leidner ended a five-play drive with a little flip-pass to Maxx Williams for a one-yard score. What had been a 10-7 game just 4:32 earlier morphed into an ugly 27-7 blowout. When Morris was finally pulled, Devin Gardner entered the game and immediately engineered a touchdown drive, capping it off with a three-yard run, defiantly standing as two defenders collided with him upon entering the end zone. During that drive, Gardner lost his helmet for a play, necessitating either a timeout be called or a backup enter. While Russell Bellomy also grabbed his helmet, Morris went in.
On what would ultimately be Michigan's last drive, another woeful three-and-out (their seventh of the game) from the shadow of their own end zone, Devin Funchess also went down injured, and left the field with a noticeable limp. When the game mercifully ended shortly after Michigan punted, still technically down just two scores on the scoreboard, Funchess and his teammates limped to the locker room; Morris left the field on the back of a cart.
"I didn't see that. I can only answer for me," said Hoke, when asked if he noticed Morris looking wobbly on his feet.
If that's the best you've got, Brady, it's best if you let someone else protect the players.
By Heiko "My Name Does Not Lend Itself To Nicknames" Yang
Hello. So sorry about last week. From the feedback that we received, Mr. RoUMel and I realized that we needed a change in tactics after we both predicted a loss and negatively influenced the outcome of the game. You may not know this, but here at Punt-Counterpunt our number one priority is balance. Accuracy, while valued, is secondary. Last week we violated our first principle in favor of the second, so to atone for our error, we have decided that both of us will predict Michigan wins.
I assure you this is not disingenuous in any way whatsoever. I have been following the developments regarding the football team over the past week and analyzed them critically. My conclusion is that Michigan will be victorious today for the following reasons:
1. Changing quarterbacks is the appropriate remedy. Although this kind of move typically results in less favorable outcomes among most programs and we have no evidence to support that Shane Morris is in any way better than Devin Gardner, it is better than doing nothing. As we say in medicine when we take the Hippocratic Oath, “first do something,” because we all know that you can’t cure someone of a deadly illness by standing around.
Think about it like this: if Michigan had Ebola and the experimental drug were unavailable because he’s in San Francisco coaching the 49ers, what would you do? Brady Hoke’s expert recommendation is to give antibiotics, and I concur. No, it does not make sense because Ebola is a virus and antibiotics are for bacteria, but at least you would be doing something. And really, what’s the worse that could happen? If an Ebola patient lives long enough to develop C. diff diarrhea, you congratulate them for surviving Ebola.
2. Attendance will be kept above 100,000 at all costs. Yes, even if it means bundling tickets with Coke products or flat-out giving them away. Sure, there may be negative consequences of this in the long term, but at this juncture Michigan cannot afford to think about the long term. There is an immediate need for resuscitation. If your patient is bleeding out and you can’t stop it, you give them blood immediately, end of discussion. Try to match their blood type? No time. The only blood available was obtained from the black market? Don’t care, give it! But this is Michigan, fergodsa—? No, this is West Africa, and if the patient lives long enough to discover they have viral hepatitis or HIV, you congratulate them for surviving Ebola.
3. We have no idea what’s going on inside Schembechler Hall. Michigan is still abiding by its policy of keeping secrets and providing non-information regarding their personnel and game plan. This is highly advantageous because it allows the staff the freedom to focus and do whatever they want without daily criticism from fans and outsiders. It’s like admitting a patient and then not updating the family about anything until the patient is either cured or dead. If dead, you cite HIPAA as a reason for not divulging the fact that you gave antibiotics and unmatched blood. If cured, you congratulate them for surviving Ebola.
Michigan 5, Minnesota 4
By Nick RouMel
I have never felt this low, nor sensed this much despair. Even the RichRod years felt like a temporary blip, and hope for the future remained alive. But now … Wolverine Nation is in disarray, mean, ugly, and divided.
I was astounded last week at the comments Punt/Counterpunt generated. Heiko and I each picked a home loss. The reaction was swift and negative. “Disgusting.” “Yellow.” “Fire both of these idiots for these predictions.” “Fucking awful.” “Dong punch.”
Although I snickered at that last one, the feedback did sting. I don’t usually get such negative reaction to my writing, except in my day job from opposing counsel and judges - but I digress.
One comment in particular stuck with me: “What a fucking copout.......that's a coward's way to look at this game. So, if we lose then you can say "We told you so."”
Well, yeah, that’s the point of predictions. And despite what many readers may surmise, by and large our columns reflect our true feelings. Nor do I ever root against the Wolverines just for the satisfaction of an accurate call, nor get any joy if it comes true. But lately it has been very difficult to be optimistic.
That all changes this week. No, I don’t think our sick team is out of the woods, but I do feel we’re well enough to beat the Gophers. Forget how bad I may feel about criticism – if you’re a player or coach, it has to be a thousand times more brutal. Every time you pick up the paper, turn on the radio, or browse the internet, the inescapable message is that you’re all worthless bums.
I think this criticism has fired up the team. While I don’t generally ascribe to the philosophy illustrated below…
… there is something about the “us against the world” attitude that sometimes inspires extraordinary effort and motivation.
I am also hoping for a little personnel change to make things interesting. From the beginning of the season, I had advocated for Shane Morris to play quarterback. This is not to say anything against Devin Gardner. He is a gamer and a real talent, and I don’t think Morris is necessarily better. But my thinking has been, if you have two talented players, why keep one on the bench? Can you imagine a pro set with Morris at QB, Funchess and Gardner spread wide, the fast little guys in the slot, and a healthy Jake “One of the Butt Sisters” busting yards in the middle?
Not to mention Green, Smith and Hayes churning out those gaudy 6-plus yard averages behind a good offensive line. With the solid defense that we have, all we have to do is minimize mistakes and bonehead plays to be competitive in every game.
As such, Minnesota doesn’t stand a chance, regardless of who is behind center. I have to believe that we have done hit bottom – and that we start climbing out today.
Yes sports fans, my name is Counterpunt, and I make predictions. Dong punch this, suckas:
MICHIGAN 24, MINNESOTA 10
I scrapped the original question because there's a burning one out there:
Gardner or Morris? Who should start, who will start?
Ace: Before the press conferences this week, I'd still have gone with Gardner—despite his awful performances against Notre Dame and Utah, I think he still gives Michigan the best chance to win. We've seen him at his best—and playing at his best while overcoming injury and a horrendous O-line—and that best is right up there with any college QB, while Morris has yet to show much other than similarly inconsistent, turnover-prone play in his short time on the field. If this team needs to win now, and to save Brady Hoke's job they clearly do, I think Gardner is the play unless he's so broken physically/mechanically that it's impossible for him to scrape his ceiling. (I'm about 80% there on thinking this is the case, by the way, but last year's Ohio State game lingers in my mind as a strong counterpoint—remember, that performance came out of nowhere, and he had a broken foot to boot.)
That said, the way this has been handled publicly makes me believe Morris will be the starter—why not dispel the speculation if there isn't going to be a change?*—and at this point I think they have to go with that. Most fans believe Morris will be the starter and most are ready for the change now whether or not they were on board; if they head into the Big House thinking that way and Gardner is announced as the starter, there are going to be boos directed at that decision—which is basically booing Gardner, probably the person associated with the football program who least deserves that treatment—and that's just not going to help anything. I understand the reasoning behind putting Morris in—he's the future, the present option isn't going so well at all, and he gets the chance to learn on the fly in a game setting and hopefully improve before our very eyes—but it's a huge risk for Hoke if he goes there, especially if he sticks to his word that he won't rotate QBs.
Playing Gardner comes with its own risks, of course, but the biggest risk is still playing a QB with this career stat line: 36/67, 340 yards (5.1 YPA), 0 passing TDs, 4 interceptions.
*Since the most common response I've seen to this is "so Minnesota has to prepare for Gardner," I'll note that there's no way in hell Minnesota isn't preparing for Gardner—and Morris, too—no matter what Brady Hoke says in a press conference.
[jump for the rest of us]
Devin, I'm sorry about Funchess. Everybody liked him. I'm sorry.
Red or Blue. A week after a program-shattering loss turns fandom into an election year, with wins taking the place of electoral votes. This year's ballot has close races in quarterback, head coach, and AD, as well as referendums on blocking style, tempo, and punt formations.
On Saturday night those races appeared decided when everybody departed with eight minutes left of a two-score game against an opponent Michigan was outgaining. They'd seen the jewel of Rich Rodriguez's recruiting wasting an NCAA gift of a senior year in a new offense that still treated him like Tom Brady, so shell-shocked by years of abuse that any peripheral motion triggered desperation.
Then Shane, and the interception came, followed by the rain, and you could count the Hoke supporters by picking out the few hundred dots of blue or yellow between the blob of red. Everybody else looked at the scoreboard, looked at the radar, and recalled Michigan huddling—huddling!!!!—and calculated the obvious move. The 98,000 empty seats were a consensus: Hoke probably has to go, and Dave Brandon absolutely has to go first. The moment was stark, but it couldn't last, because stupid hope and the will to support your team is stronger than your brain's ability to store information it doesn't want.
The fanbase needs to have this conversation, and the diaries did just that. ST3 posted a curtailed Inside the Boxscore wherein his kid's quotes provided the subheads:
"Another huddle? Really?"
* Seriously, my son actually said that. I don't think he reads MGoBlog, and I hadn't said anything about tempo or huddling. So if a 9-year old can watch Utah succeeding with pace, watch Michigan plodding along, and gets exasperated at the huddling, why can't Brady figure this out?
Jhackney got home and thought about spiritual cleansings and what kind of coach doesn't wear a headset:
Dave Brandon is a whiz at marketing and salesmanship and Hoke is a whiz at clapping his hands while keeping his ears the same color tan of his face and running a clean program. There needs to be a coach that is involved in at least one side of the ball. Saban would mutilate your skull with his championship rings if you tried taking his head set away.
Every coach has inherent flaws—Nick Saban is an offensive dinosaur and doesn't care about his players beyond what they can do for him. It's whether the good things overcome those flaws. Hoke makes his program worse by willfully ignoring fundamental developments like the spread offense, tempo, the shield punt, and game theory. He and Mattison make it better by running it clean, recruiting excellent players and people, and building a strong defense. Like with political candidates, everybody's flawed; it's whether their angels or demons will come out ahead.
Best and Worst saw the fruit of Hoke's demonic seeds:
No, what killed my optimism about this team and this staff, about this program as it is currently stumbling through another shitty year, is how absolutely true-to-form it is to the dreams of the men in charge.
[…lights out on the Titanic.gif]
Ron Utah made the obvious comparison: we are experiencing a reverse Rich Rod. I'll add Bill Martin reversed to Dave Brandon and liken it to the classic two-party problem. Martin and Rodriguez alienated the crucial top of the fan pyramid with their Whiggish football ways, an inability to commit to a defensive faith resulting in total bedlam. Brandon went the other way; his Tory pandering alienated the students (SaddestTailgateEver on another little hoarded thing) and entitled alumni (dnak438 on his noodle exchange with Brandon) while Hoke's offense and special teams have repeatedly been derailed by dogma trumping sense.
Given most of the week to calm down, jmdblue wrote that he'd rather give Brady one more term to work things out while the upstarts drown themselves in their own corruptions. Unless someone can convince Colin Powell to run.
Etc. Alum96 reviewed the 2012 recruiting class to see if there was a development issue. If you don't compare against other schools though it means nothing, since most recruits don't play to their star rankings. Average size of each B1G team's offensive line starters. GIF about punting. Regular stats make M look good (see: outgained ND and Utah).
|WHAT||Michigan vs Minnesota|
Ann Arbor MI
September 27th, 2014
|THE LINE||M –13|
|TELEVISION||ABC/ESPN reverse mirror|
|TICKETS||From 18 dollars. Soon they will cost as much as the original jug.|
|WEATHER||mid 70s, clear
0% chance of rain
Image via MVictors
Minnesota is probably not real good. They've got quarterback issues up the wazoo, they lost 30-7 to a middling-at-best Big 12 team, they completed one pass last week. They are, in short, a Big Ten team. So I'm sayin' there's a chance.
Run Offense vs Minnesota
Cameron Botticelli exists
With Shane Morris probably starting, about which more later, Michigan figures to lean heavily on its ground game one week after it blorped out just over three yards a carry against an undersized and probably not very good Utah team. Since Michigan doesn't incorporate the quarterback as a runner you have to account for regularly, that means a lot of stacked boxes without recourse to actually-threatening play action and a lot of meh. Michigan had two runs that weren't meh against Utah: one pin and pull zone and a power play that Derrick Green cut back when a Utah DT went blorp himself. It was ugly.
They go up against a Minnesota defense that we have little data on. They crushed SJSU last week; SJSU employs GERG and can be safely discounted as a relevant data point. The week before TCU ripped them for 6.3 yards a carry but on only 27 attempts; Middle Tennessee had a respectable 4.4 yards a pop on 43.
FWIW, last year the Gophers were highly variable leaning towards bad, allowing 4.5 yards a carry overall. Six of their Big Ten opponents went over 180 yards while averaging at least 4.4 yards a carry; the exceptions were Northwestern and of course Michigan. Remember how we were all mildly intrigued by tackle over? Yeah, that was 3.2 YPC, the worst performance against the Gophers last year by any Power 5 school. Only Northwestern was within a yard.
So that's depressing.
This year Michigan seems better, at least most of the time. Minnesota has a reasonable case they will be as well, with three of their defensive linemen returning along with their best linebacker. It did not show against their one competent opponent, and Ace looked at a game where they were playing a team that employs GERG. Yes, on the other side of the ball. It does not matter. So who knows?
Key Matchup: Michigan OL versus slants and stunts from Minnesota. Michigan had a hard time IDing them against Utah and Minnesota brings a similarly smallish but mobile front that will attempt to mess up Michigan's gaps.
[Hit THE JUMP for they fart, and sludge / sludge, and fart / fart fart fart, sludge sludge sludge / the Sludgey And Farty Show!]
About Last Week:
Melanie Maxwell/Ann Arbor News
I went back.
I don’t know why I went back. The pluie de grâce had so mercifully released us all from any sense of obligation. Despite being the most literal example possible, there would be no talk of “fair-weather fans” after this one. Long after the weather suggested we leave, and even longer after our souls begged us to leave, Carl Grapentine demanded that we leave. Eventually I emerged from the rain at the Blue Tractor. I partook of food and drink with friends. We spoke about it as the most dispiriting game we had ever attended, which is a high (and ever-rising) bar to clear. We listed the things we would rather do than watch any more of that game. We spoke of our kids and our jobs and our lives. We had moved on.
And then we went back.
From even before we slogged up the Stadium stairs until the moment I write this, I have been trying to figure out why. No sane person would do this. I have a home with dry clothes and warm blankets. I have a television that displays other, better football games. I have two dogs that love attention and never turn the ball over. I have a loving wife and a fun little toddler and a brand new baby girl. Game traffic had cleared. The game was over in all but the most technical sense. There was nothing preventing us from escaping to a more comfortable place, both physically and mentally.
But we went back.
Maybe we went back because we thought, deep in some deranged recesses of our waterlogged brains, that Michigan could actually win that football game, or at least that something would happen that we would have been glad to have seen. Maybe it was to support the players. Maybe it was to collect the ultimate Fandom Endurance badge: the kind of ultimate trump card that can be played when speaking of the trials and tribulations of Michigan Mandom. Maybe I am secretly a football hipster (see: the fact that I write about the Big Ten every week). Maybe it was sheer morbid curiosity; surely as Rome burned, some Romans remained on the seven hills overlooking the city and observed in awe the awesome downfall. Maybe I went back because I really, truly love the Big House, and the actuarial tables tell me there are only 400 or 450 home games left before I am no more.
But I think I went back because I wanted there to have been a reason. I went back because I couldn't stand the prospect that I could watch a football at Michigan Stadium and walk away feeling like there hadn't been a reason. But sitting here a week later, I can't tell you why I was there.
We keep coming back. But the reasons are becoming harder to find.
The Road Ahead:
Minnesota (3-1, 0-0 B1G)
Last game: Beat San Jose State, 24-7
Recap: 1 for 8. Seven yards. Zero touchdowns. One interception. Against a GERG defense. And a 17-point win.
As you can tell, from the lede, Minnesota completely abandoned any hint of a running game. Chris Streveler is many things, but he is unlikely that he will wrest the “Unstoppable Throw-God” title from Trevor Siemian any time soon.
Minnesota only passed for the total distance of a pretty makeable putt, but they rushed for 380 yards on 58 carries. David Cobb rushed for 207 yards, and Streveler tacked on 161 yards at 8.9 yards per carry. They mixed in all of the usual dual-threat running game stuff, including traditional zone read, inverted veer, belly, and QB lead/iso.
In theory, they are a really favorable matchup for Michigan. Who wants odds.
This team is as frightening as: A very, very poor man’s 1990’s Nebraska. Fear Level = 0*
Michigan should worry about: Maxxxxxx Williams. He’s averaging 18.3 yards per catch, and has two of Minnesota’s three receiving touchdowns. Michigan’s safeties haven’t been fantastic, and we still haven’t seen all that much from Michigan’s linebackers in coverage, so Maxxxxxx could be a problem.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Maxxxxxx only gets the ball through the air. Which… yeah.
When they play Michigan: WHO WILL START FOR EITHER TEAM? THE INTRIGUE IS SO EXCITING.
Next game: @ Michigan (Minn +12, which, wow?)), 3:30 Saturday, (ABC/ESPN2)
*Fear is for the living.
[AFTER THE JUMP: We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.]