somehow we're only 124th
Split out wide for most of the game, Devin Funchess set career highs in receptions and yards. [Photo: Bryan Fuller, MGoBlog]
After two ugly victories against overmatched opponents, Michigan entered their game against Minnesota with a reshuffled offensive line and a pressing need to placate the fanbase by not playing down to their opponent. After a slow start, they did just that, scoring 28 second-half points en route to a 42-13 homecoming victory.
The natives were restless during a plodding first half in which the two teams combined for just eight real drives (the Gophers ran out the last 1:25 of the half), due mostly to a 16-play, 75-yard march by Minnesota—during which they converted five third downs—that saw them tie the game at seven. That came after Jibreel Black forced a fumble by Gopher quarterback Mitch Leidner on the game's opening possession; James Ross recovered and the Michigan offense capitalized with six runs in six plays, covering 35 yards and capped by an eight-yard Fitz Toussaint touchdown.
The ensuing Gopher drive ate up most of the first quarter, allowing them to not only knot up the score, but keep it close for the rest of the half. This was "old time Big Ten football" in the worst sense—slow-paced, run-heavy, and not particularly effective. Four consecutive punts followed, and the heated battle for field position eventually went in Michigan's favor—after Matt Wile's 55-yard boot was downed by Dennis Norfleet at the Gopher one-yard line, Minnesota was forced to punt it away from the nine, and Drew Dileo took a line drive kick well into Gopher territory. Four plays later, Devin Gardner hooked up with Devin Funchess—who spent most of the game lined up at wide receiver—on a post route for a 24-yard touchdown with 1:25 left in the half. Fitting the general tenor of the game, Minnesota decided to forego any chance at points, running twice and carrying three timeouts into halftime.
If that seemed questionable at the time, it looked more so after Michigan drove 75 yards in nine plays to open the second half, bolstered by an improved running game and the emergence of Funchess, Giant Wide Receiver. The first four plays of the drives were runs of 14, 5, 8, and 9 yards; a 21-yard back-shoulder throw to Funchess set up a two-yard Derrick Green touchdown to cap the drive. The Gophers could only respond with a field goal to cut the Wolverine lead to 21-10; that would be the closest they'd get for the rest of the game.
Much of the credit for that can go to Funchess, who finished with seven catches for 151 yards—both career highs—and set up a late Gardner touchdown run with a 46-yard grab on the right sideline. Even though the numbers don't bear it out, the running game looked improved as well; though Michigan averaged just 3.2 yards per carry as a team, Fitz Toussaint (right, Upchurch) had an impressive 78 yards on just 17 carries, adding a second touchdown run from 12 yards out to give Michigan a 28-10 third-quarter lead that proved insurmountable. Chris Bryant, the new starter at left guard, proved adept as a puller, which allowed Michigan to run the play they'd like to (eventually) make their offensive identity: power.
Most importantly, considering the troubles of the last two games, Michigan didn't turn the ball over once, the first time they've done so since their 58-0 win over these same Gophers in 2011, Brady Hoke's first season at the helm. After looking flustered against UConn, Devin Gardner was very sharp, connecting on 13 of 17 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown while showing a calmness in the pocket that wasn't present in previous games. Gardner wasn't needed much as a runner, carrying the ball just seven times for 17 yards and a TD; in a game like this, that's just fine.
While the defense had trouble getting off the field on third downs, allowing Minnesota to convert on 8 of 15 chances, they were otherwise solid; the Gophers mustered just 281 total yards on 4.5 yards per play and couldn't score a touchdown after their second drive. The inside linebacker duo of Desmond Morgan and James Ross combined for 19 tackles, making it tough sledding for any Minnesota run up the gut. While the Wolverines had trouble covering Gopher TE Maxx Williams, who finished with 54 yards and a touchdown on five receptions, the rest of the Minnesota passing offense generated just 91 yards. While the Gophers missed a couple chances for big completions late, Michigan made up for that when Blake Countess stepped in front of a Leidner throw and returned it 72 yards to complete the scoring with just 1:19 on the clock. The biggest concern on that side of the ball going forward may be the health of nose tackle Ondre Pipkins, who was carted off the field with a left knee injury; he's a critical backup behind Quinton Washington.
Despite the close calls and consternation from the nonconference slate, Michigan now sits at 5-0 and 1-0 in the Big Ten, and after two harrowing wins over bad teams the Wolverines beat Minnesota in a wholly acceptable fashion—the slow pace masked a dominant effort until the game broke open late. In the end, Michigan scored five touchdowns on eight offensive drives, with the defense adding a sixth for good measure while forcing Minnesota to fight for every yard. It wasn't pretty in any aesthetic sense; the score, however, speaks for itself.
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Something's been missing from Michigan gamedays since the free programs ceased being economically viable: scientific gameday predictions that are not at all preordained by the strictures of a column in which one writer takes a positive tack and the other a negative one… something like Punt-Counterpunt.
By Nick RoUMel
Issues of NCAA reform are bubbling to a head. John Bacon assessed the problem and some of the solutions just for recently. As for paying players, he suggests that this would not fix the underlying problem, but simply requiring feeding the greedy college football monster with even more money. As a starting point for discussion, Bacon proposes re-imposing what had been a long-time ban on freshman eligibility, as a means to eventually force the NFL and NBA to stop using colleges as their minor league program.
I too have railed against the business and corporate aspect of college football in this space, and come off as curmudgeonly to some. Sometimes I wax fondly about the old days, but I’m realistic enough to know those days are gone. We have created a situation that makes a lot of people filthy rich and leaves many players feeling used. If they’re real lucky, they leave college with a college degree, good memories, and bodies largely intact as they pursue alternate careers.
There is one thing about the old days, however, I do not like. Which leads me to the Minnesota Gophers and their coach Jerry Kill, who happens to suffer from epilepsy. In the old days, epileptics were often shunned, segregated with the insane or even imprisoned. This was part of the generally abysmal way our society has often treated people with physical, mental, or emotional conditions. We have progressed to the point, I would hope, that we don’t want to do such things anymore.
Except for Minnesota Star-Tribune columnist Jim Souhan, who suggested that the Gophers should fire Coach Kill in part because “No one who buys a ticket to TCF Bank Stadium should be rewarded with the sight of a middle-aged man writhing on the ground.” I’m not sure if this opinion is grounded in the historical shutting away of “defectives,” the entitlement of fans and networks to be not be distracted from the business of college football, or both. But it is an opinion that I find abhorrent.
If Coach Kill has just one more play in him than Akron’s Coach Bowden or UConn’s (now fired) Coach Pasqualoni, then maybe he will beat Michigan and temporarily shut up his ignorant critics. I do know that the Wolverines have been playing like amateurs lately, rather than the paid performers some wish they were. After today’s performance, you might even see a few of our players fired.
MINNESOTA 23, MICHIGAN 21
By Heiko Yang
The beauty of amateurism is you can’t get fired from a job you’re not being paid to do. For example, if Devin Gardner throws back-to-back interceptions in the first quarter, he’ll probably get benched, and if he keeps regressing he’ll probably no longer be the starter. As much as that sounds like being fired, the important distinction is that he’ll get to keep his scholarship, and that sounds like a good deal to me. Being a backup might actually be a better life plan. After all, the fewer snaps Gardner takes, the more likely his body will be intact when he leaves with his Master’s degree to pursue an alternate career.
That pretty much sums up why I don’t see any reason to give athletes more than what they’re already getting. A scholarship essentially says, “Your education is free as long as you play this sport, even if you end up being awful.”* If current athletes feel like they’re being exploited for generating revenue they’ll never see, there’s a really simple solution: start sucking. Being relegated to the practice squad doesn’t make that degree any less free.
That’s the kind of job security a guy like Jerry Kill could really use right now, but he has no amateurism clause to hide behind. Yes, the Star-Tribune columnist’s jab at Kill is callous and reprehensible. Unfortunately, he’s technically correct. Unlike Gardner, Kill is actually getting paid to do his job. Lots. If he becomes unable to do that job, he probably shouldn’t get paid anymore. To be clear, there’s a thing called common decency that says we shouldn’t be jerks to a guy who’s suffering from epilepsy, but when millions of dollars are involved, there’s no such thing as a medical hardship. Even Urban Meyer knows that.
The rabbling for NCAA reform has indeed reached a crescendo recently, and I have to tell you: the portrayal of a grave class struggle between the haves and have-nots, the suits and jerseys, is disingenuous. It’s not like players are poorer than they were 20 years ago. Deep down I think we just hate looking at Mark Emmert’s side-part, which I swear to God becomes more and more perfect every day.
We try to pin the bastardization of our beloved pastime on money and corporatism, but we have only ourselves to blame. We love amateur sports so much that we do everything in our power to corrupt it. Especially as Michigan fans, when we consider the thick wads of cash we indiscriminately throw at anything that’s blue with maize stripes, we should be thankful our football program didn’t end up like USC or Miami.
Don't get me wrong. There are plenty of changes we can make to preserve amateurism and tradition in college football as well as improve athlete education and safety. I hope the latter get implemented soon so I don’t have to feel so guilty every time someone forgets to block Frank Clark. But ultimately, I don’t think college athletes should be paid. Even though all we want is to give them money, that part of it should stay untouched. I mean, I would hate to give Nick a reason to think he can go around firing any of our players.
Not that he’ll feel compelled to, because Michigan will win comfortably.
Minnesota 10, Michigan 35
*[unless you’re at Alabama.]
I forgot I promised Brian to do a post about this before I went ahead and launched it in Guess the Score. Anyway, meet my favorite shirt we've ever made except maybe the Space Emperor ones. Zoom? Zoom:
To relive the excuses hit the jump. To order the shirt hit the link. We're going to preorder a bunch of these for people who'd like them in time for the game.
please Tiny Jesus, bless this goalie with your holy save percentage
This was a mess for the first 30 games last year, and was so immediately. Michigan blew a two goal lead in the opener, falling to RIT in overtime as Jared Rutledge gave up 5 goals on 26 shots. Four of those goals were somewhere between weak and horrible. Steve Racine backstopped a 7-2 win the next night, and the rotation was on in earnest.
Both struggled; to my eyes, Rutledge was a roving assemblage of holes just waiting to burst open. When he moved across the crease it was like portions of his body just phased out. Racine looked much more solid, but was a little snakebit and had one or two WTF breakdowns per game.
Both guys puttered along with ugly save percentages until a 4-1 loss to Western spurred Red to try the old "put in a 5'6" walk-on to spur the team to greater heights" gambit. Adam Janecyk entered. The team shut out Western the next night, and thus embarked Tiny Jesus Quest 2.0. That, like almost everything else last year, failed. It turns out that there's only one Shawn Hunwick.
Michigan turned back to Rutledge for a pair of wins against utterly inept Michigan State—a team that had bombed him for 7 goals back in November—and a humiliating 13-goals-allowed weekend at Notre Dame before finally, mercifully re-inserting Racine for his first start since December. Racine let in six goals on 60 shots as Michigan swept OSU. The next weekend Michigan held Ferris to two goals in two games. Northern got four. And so forth and so on. By the end of Michigan's somewhat stirring run to the CCHA final, Racine had gone ten straight games without giving up more than three goals and had just about forced his season-long save percentage over .900. His SV% over Michigan's 9-1-1 run to finish the season was .921—very good.
The Difference. Michigan's save percentage the rest of the season was an abominable .873. The difference that would have made:
GOALS ALLOWED, HYPOTHETICAL SEASON-LONG SUCK: 143
GOALS ALLOWED, HYPOTHETICAL RACINE .921: 89
It's kind of a big deal that Steve Racine is the guy he seemed like in the last ten games and not the guy he seemed like in his first 12. Is he? I have no idea. Goalies can go entire NHL seasons without establishing a true performance level. You only get reliable this-guy-can-play data by extending your data over two or three years. Anyone telling you anything about Racine definitively is having you on.
Racine's big, Michigan has a recent pedigree of developing goalies, and the good bit was at the end. If he's not getting jerked around—and he will be allowed to sink or swim until at least midseason—hopefully he's closer to the end bit than the starting bit.
Backups. Rutledge fled back to the USHL for a breather year, and while Michigan is holding the door open they've added Zach Nagelvoort in this class and possible draft pick Hayden Lavigne in the next. The door is open, and crowded, and if Rutledge wants to play I don't think he's coming back.
This year, Nagelvoort is the guy. We've actually got a hello post for him because he committed back in April and there was actual data on him—most hockey commits don't get pub here because the posts on them would consist of "this is his name, that's all I know." Nagelvoort is a lot like Racine, as he had a blazing year-end run after a midseason trade (he was stuck behind another D-I goalie), going 8-1-1 with a SV% of .957. His season-long SV% was .936. He's a flier with very few games under his belt and probably won't play much unless Racine struggles.
While I can't predict the outcome of a few question marks, here are a the things I'm relatively confident I can project:
The give-a-damn level will skyrocket. GAD level started to incline when Copp was installed as the top line center, and now he's got an A. With some less committed folk out the door and JT Compher and Tyler Motte in, Michigan will have one backchecking, two-way, effort player on the ice at all times.
Mac Bennett is going to blow up. A senior with a ton of talent, he'll be given ice time levels rarely seen in Yost Ice Arena. He'll anchor the top pairing and power play, rush the puck with much greater frequency, and be All Big Ten, easy.
Pain and woe will be the watchwords of the second defensive pairing. The third pairing will probably be fine with many options and Mike Szuma holding it down against checking lines. But the options on the second pairing include two mediocre players and two freshmen with decent, but not great, profiles.
The power play will suck. Who's got the talent to run it? I don't see anyone. Last year it was "let Trouba shoot"; this year it's back to the salt mines.
5x5 scoring depth will be good. Michigan won't have a blazing top line that kills all comers but they will be solidly positive as their two-way work helps. The second line should be solidly above average, and they'll get nice production out of Motte or Kyle or Moffatt as you go down the roster. It'll have to be, because only Bennett projects to offer a lot of points from the defense.
This will be a rebound year. Well yeah.
How much of a rebound depends heavily on Racine and the two relatively ready freshmen defensemen. If Racine is a barely-above-.900 guy and Downing and De Jong are better suited to the bottom pairing, it's an NCAA bubble team fighting tooth and nail to get a bid. If Racine is a .920 guy and Downing/De Jong can solidify the top four defensemen, Michigan will cruise into the tournament as a two or strong three.
M did not do themselves many favors with a brutal schedule, and will start off sloppy and shaky. The BC opener, to be played without Guptill, is a Bad Idea, and Michigan's record won't impress too much early. Once they get into the rather easy Big Ten section, they'll win enough games to be a three-seed going into the NCAA tournament.
When we last met, Jeremy Gallon had rocket boots...
...and Devin Gardner made that "run around forever until somebody gets open" thing work out pretty, pretty well:
Also, Jake Ryan single-handedly destroyed a reverse. Get well soon, please.
[For a veritable stampede of GIFs from Minnesota games past, hit THE JUMP.]