further adventures in Jed York being unsuited for his position
9/14/2013 – Michigan 28, Akron 24 – 3-0
What was the worst thing about the events that took place in Michigan Stadium on Saturday? There are dozens of candidates vying for the crown. A selection:
That moment when Taylor Lewan was down. Almost picked up the very cute small child in front of me and threw it onto the field. Hey, don't judge me. It could have popped on an Akron helmet and stopped Fitzgerald Toussaint for a one-yard loss. It would have been in no danger of anything except padding its stats.
Small children stopping Fitzgerald Toussaint for one-yard losses. Akron's line consists of a six-year-old, ten-year-old, a guy named Bob who they found walking into the game, and an actual scholarship athlete who chose Akron and is therefore so crazy he insists everyone calls him "Pope Licentiousness III." Fitzgerald Toussaint averaged under four yards a carry against them, and about 80% of his first down runs resulted in second and eleven.
That pick-six. Not digging that M starts every game in an 0-7 hole.
All of it. An obvious contender.
The ruination of an entire Saturday of college football. Don't know about you, but that sapped me so much that I could barely remain awake after it and looked at the other games dully before falling asleep just into the second half of Purdue-Notre Dame. I missed the Wisconsin-Arizona State madness as a result. Never has a win felt so much like a loss.
The severe correction in season expectations. Michigan plays Akron straight up; Notre Dame executes a stirring fourth-quarter comeback to top a team that beat Indiana State thanks to a trick kickoff return on the first play of the day. I liked it better when Michigan had solidly defeated a team obviously headed for ten wins because of its overwhelming talent, and was not the equal of one of the worst teams in college football.
The repudiation of the idea that events follow from other events and can be projected with any certainty. Just because something happened before does not mean it is likely to happen again. Devin Gardner can beat Notre Dame nearly singlehandedly and lose to Akron nearly singlehandedly. Michigan can look like the best team in the Big Ten for two weeks and play a dead-even game with a team that has gone 1-11 the past three seasons and hasn't beaten a I-A opponent since November of 2010. At any moment the laws of physics that bind our component molecules together could catastrophically alter themselves, turning us all into rapidly disintegrating collections of atoms that suddenly hate each other. (IE, how you felt in the fourth quarter.)
My adorable nine-year old niece experiencing her first Michigan game one seat away from me. Sometimes it is nice to take the pressure building inside your head and throw some of it into the atmosphere via colorful expectoration of words. In this manner, you vent dangerous levels of pressure to the atmosphere. When the best you can muster is an under-your-breath "Jesus Christ," your inner control panels look like Chernobyl instead of Fukushima, and you can hear the BEEP BLORP BEEP BLORP as you try not to fall over.
MGoNiece reports that the game was "fun" and "exciting," and not "three hours during which I learned many new words that make my mom cry and that Uncle Brian is possessed by Satan." MGoNiece remains as pure as the driven snow, at all costs.
How familiar it all felt. The first time I thought "this can't be happening" in Michigan Stadium, Michigan was losing to Northwestern. That Northwestern outfit would win en route to their first Rose Bowl in forever, but they walked in overrated pretenders to my 15-year-old self. They were not. Over the course of the game my attitude shifted from annoyance to disappointment to concern to chest-clenching-panic. Back then I kept thinking "how can this happen?"
Here we are again, following up a Notre Dame win with a severe expectations check that bodes unwell for the season. In 2010, a 42-37 win over UMass was an early indicator that Michigan had the worst defense in the history of the program. This one promises a year of quarterbacks given time to complete PhDs in the pocket and far too many "my bad" blocks.
Now our best hope is that contender a little farther up the page: that causation has failed and we're just coasting along on the universe's sufferance. Michigan will come out against UConn and turn them into gray paste, because that's what the random number generator says next Saturday. That's the ticket.
I don't think "how can this happen" anymore. Not after 10-7 over Utah or 24-21 over SDSU or that Ball State game or The Horror or Toledo. I think "not again." I thought I was done thinking "not again" for a while. Apparently not. I'll be over here, trying to keep all my molecules from fleeing into space.
This is Akron's perspective:
At 1:40 you can see that the pick intended for Gallon is just a horrible read; with the corner sinking the crossing route to Funchess is the obvious throw. The deciding play from the first row of the student section.
He's going to have to start putting some good things that happen to the other team if he can only get up to seven minutes by including Akron not executing the snap correctly.
[After THE JUMP: a first-ever for Epic Double Point, and a lot of complaining.]
Taylor Lewan and Devin Gardner
As leaders of this team, what was your message to your teammates after this game?
Lewan: "It was embarrassing. Gotta give it to Akron. They played a hard-fought game. We didn't prepare. This is on the seniors, this is on the leadership of this team, and extremely poor, poor leadership. Especially on my side. Being the one offensive captain on this team, I put that offensive performance on myself. Devin [Gardner] didn't have enough time to throw. Our running backs didn't have enough holes, and that's my fault. That's my fault."
Gardner: "I mean, he pretty much said it all. I talked to Tom Brady and he talked about being the best quarterback for the team, every time out in practice and in the game. I was not the best quarterback for the team today. Like [Lewan] said, it's embarrassing, and we're going to respond. We won the football game, and we're going to respond, I can guarantee you that."
Don't mind me I'm just here in the back corner minding my own business
You stress turnovers so much. Was this a good game to remind your team what can happen if you lose the turnover battle?
“Well, I think it is in a lot of ways. Number one, give Akron a lot of credit. Their kids came in here like most Mid-American Conference schools, they come in here to win the football game and played to win the football game. They coached it that way, they played it that way. You know, they did a nice job. I told Terry [Bowden] that, and I told Chuck Motta that. They did some things defensively that were a little different, but things that we should be able to overcome to a certain extent, but we didn’t. What was your question?”
Was this a good reminder for what could happen --
“Oh, turnovers? The upset is always in the mind of the favorites. Any time you don’t take care of the football, and I don’t care if we’re playing Saline High School. Or you know, the Super Bowl champions, whoever that was, you can’t turn the ball over. That is number one. Turnover margins will kill you as a football team. The other thing? Penalties. Fitz [Toussaint] got 50 yards of rushing wiped out because we fundamentally didn’t block properly and we held guys. That can’t happen because, you know, that’s 50 yards of rushing. That’s the rhythm of the game. That and then we had a couple balls thrown over our head. I think two of them were defended decently well, and you have to give people credit. It was a good ball, it’s where it needed to be, it was a good catch, but still there’s still too many of those that hit the post and two-deep, and we should have been in better shape but we weren’t. From the coaches first, and me first, we have to do a better job. I mean, you can’t win championships with those mistakes.”
This afternoon in front of a late-arriving, non-sellout crowd at the Big House, Michigan faced off against an Akron team that went 1-11, 1-11, and 1-11 in the last three seasons, started the year with a 38-7 loss to UCF, spent last weekend getting outgained and nearly outscored by FCS James Madison, and is considered the worst team in the FBS. This was a game to work out the kinks in the playbook, get in some good reps for the backups, and give a good show for the fans who probably paid $5 for a ticket from their friend who likes to sleep in on Saturdays.
At first, it looked like all would go as expected; Michigan forced an Akron punt on their opening drive, and after Fitz Toussaint rushed for a two-yard loss, Devin Gardner completed five consecutive passes, capped by a 48-yard toss to Devin Funchess, who outran the entire Akron secondary en route to the end zone.
Concern started to grow when Michigan's next drive netted zero yards. The first quarter ended with the score at 7-3, Wolverines; surely, Michigan would pull away any time now.
Then Brendan Gibbons missed a 45-yard field goal to start the second quarter, snapping his streak of 16 consecutive makes. After the defense forced a three-and-out, the Wolverines drove deep into Zips territory, only for Devin Gardner to fumble away the possession on a speed option—a play in which Fitz Toussaint had a clear touchdown if Gardner would've pitched. The defense again picked up the offense, as Blake Countess intercepted a Kyle Pohl pass and returned it all the way to the Akron 20-yard line. Any time now...
Three plays later, Gardner forced a pass into coverage that Akron's DeAndre Scott intercepted easily. The Zips were able to mount a plodding drive that oozed into Michigan territory; after taking a delay of game on fourth-and-one, however, Robert Stein's 45-yard field goal clanged off the left upright. Any time now...
Two plays later, Gardner threw the ball to a well-covered Jeremy Gallon; Akron's Justin March came away with the interception. Luckily for Michigan, only 29 seconds remained on the clock. Stein's 55-yard attempt with 0:05 left in the half went wide left, and the Wolverines were happy to kneel out the clock and regroup at halftime. Any time now...
The second half began inauspiciously, with the Wolverines gaining just one yard on three plays before a Matt Wile punt. Akron's ensuing possession went 75 yards in eight plays, ending in a 28-yard touchdown from Pohl to a wide-open Zach D'Orazio, who went unmolested up the seam as the linebackers failed to get depth on their drops and the safeties couldn't close the gap. Akron 10, Michigan 7. ANY TIME NOW...
Devin Gardner bounced back from his turnovers and gave U-M fans a brief respite from PANIC on the next possession, scoring on a 36-yard inverted veer keeper—for seemingly the first time all day, Michigan got great blocking up front, and Jeremy Jackson guaranteed the score by wiping out three Akron defenders downfield. The defense held up their end, too, forcing another three-and-out, and the Wolverines took a 21-10 lead when Jehu Chesson took his first career reception on a crossing route, broke through a few (poor) tackling attempts by the Akron secondary, and jetted into the corner of the end zone. After Michigan came up with another stop, disaster averted, right?
Wrong. Two plays into the fourth quarter, Al Borges tried to set up a screen pass on third-and-9. Facing heavy pressure, Gardner sidearmed a horribly ill-advised throw directly into the arms of Justin March; as noted earlier, March plays for Akron. He waltzed 27 yards untouched into the end zone. ANY TIME NOW...
Michigan's next drive went nowhere, and Wile didn't help matters by booting a 35-yard punt—not even among his two worst on the day—to set up the Zips on their own 39. A 43-yard pass from Pohl to L.T. Smith set up Akron at the Michigan seven. The Wolverines caught a huge break two plays later, when Pohl threw a play-action pass right to Jarrod Wilson (above, Upchurch). Wilson smartly took a knee in the end zone, giving Michigan the ball on the 20. Time to run out the clock, yes?
Well, not quite. Fitz Toussaint started the drive with a 16-yard run, but his two ensuing carries netted a lone yard. After Gardner's third-down pass to Gallon came up just short of the sticks, Wile shanked a 22-yard punt. The Zips went on an 11-play march down the field, and after getting stuffed twice at the goal line, scored the go-ahead touchdown when they spread the field—Pohl rolled right and found receiver Tyrell Goodman all alone. 24-21, Akron. 4:10 left on the clock. Full-blown PANIC.
Gardner went back to what he'd done best all game, run the football, taking off for a 35-yard gain to move Michigan into Akron territory on the next possession. He found Gallon on the sideline for a 20-yard gain on the very next play, and Michigan got another first down when Gardner's throw to Jake Butt in the end zone drew a pass interference call. Toussaint found a big hole on the left side of the line and took advantage for a two-yard touchdown on the next play. 28-24, Michigan. 2:49 left. Now was the time, yes?
Well, kinda. First, Pohl found Jerrod Dillard for a 24-yard gain, and the Zips moved into Michigan territory two plays later when Blake Countess jumped offsides on a blitz. A 19-yard run by Conor Hundley on third-and-five gave the Zips a first down at the Michigan 27. Despite a holding call moving them back ten yards, Akron kept pushing downfield, with Pohl finding Smith all alone at the 11-yard line after escaping the pocket. Another pass to Smith gave Akron a third-and-one on the Michigan two as the clock ticked down to 0:15. An ill-advised toss play to Jawon Chisholm moved the ball back two yards; the Zips burned their final timeout. Fourth down, five seconds left, ball on the Michigan four.
Greg Mattison dialed up a heavy blitz, and Pohl's desperation pass found only fieldturf, perhaps helped by a missed holding call in the Michigan secondary. The time had finally come, with zero seconds on the clock. Michigan 28, Akron 24, The Horror II narrowly avoided.
In the end, Michigan outgained the worst FBS team outside of Georgia State by seven yards—seven very critical yards, as it turned out. Gardner's 248 passing yards and 103 rushing yards were offset by his four turnovers, including his second pick-six in as many games. The offensive line struggled to open up holes against a very small Akron defensive front. The defense, for their part, allowed far too many passes over the middle and couldn't muster a good pass rush until the game's final play; they gave up big plays, too, as both Raymon Taylor and Jourdan Lewis were beat for big gains over the top.
"This is an embarrassment," Taylor Lewan said after the game. Even with the victory, there's no argument here.