Blake Countess, Jake Ryan, Jehu Chesson
Blake, earlier this season I remember talking to you about the secondary being a strength. Are you guys still confident that the talent’s there? I mean, you guys have given up some big plays now and then. Are you still as confident in the secondary as you were four or five weeks ago?
BC: “Oh, no doubt about it. We’re a group that’s growing just like the rest of the team and we definitely have the talent to do it. It’s just about getting better every week and proving it, but absolutely. My confidence in my secondary has not wavered at all.”
Coach Hoke has been taking a lot of heat, obviously. What do you guys talk about in the locker room? Do you guys rally around him a little bit at this point?
JR: “Yeah, I mean, we’re just trying to stick together as a team. You know, we can’t let last week affect us. We’ve got to hold our heads up and move on. It’s Big Ten season.”
[Ed. Totally inaudible, sorry]
JR: “You can’t listen to that. You know, you can’t be affected by that. You just have to block it out and, you know, these people don’t know what we’ve done behind the scenes. They don’t know what we’ve done in Schembechler Hall, but we’re just going to keep taking those necessary steps forward that we need to take to improve every single day.”
Does it tick you off, though? When you read the tweets or…
JR: “You can’t- I don’t go on the message boards and read all that stuff. You can’t do that. That’s just people’s opinions.”
[More after THE JUMP]
Alex Malzone (#12) to Grant Perry (foreground) is arguably the top passing combination in the state. [Ace Anbender/MGoBlog]
Dave and I once again found ourselves at Wayne State last weekend, this time for a Catholic League rivalry tilt between Birmingham Brother Rice and Warren De La Salle. After a slow start against an aggressive Pilots defense, Brother Rice pulled out a dramatic 28-21 victory after a 31-yard pass from Michigan commit Alex Malzone to Michael Roney set up the game-winning one-yard TD run by Bobby Dixon III in the waning minutes. The win kept the defending state champion Warriors undefeated this season (5-0).
Brother Rice ran just 15 offensive plays in the first half, as De La Salle's defense put Malzone under heavy fire and their offense ate up nearly a quarter's worth of time. The Warriors finally put it together offensively on their last drive of the first half, which Malzone capped off with the first of his three touchdown passes on the evening, an absolute dart to slot receiver John Garry on a six-yard slant that he fit into a small window.
From that point forward, Malzone took over, spearheading three second-half scoring drives with plenty of help from his top target, senior receiver Grant Perry. Malzone finished 14-of-20 for 203 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions, with Perry catching seven of those passes for 103 yards. Michigan preferred walk-on commit Jack Dunaway led the Brother Rice defensive effort with seven tackles (by my unofficial count) with three TFLs.
[Hit THE JUMP for exclusive video highlights and scouting on Malzone, Dunaway, Perry, and a trio of De La Salle standouts.]
Coach, can you talk about the tempo of the offense? Is it where you want it to be at this point?
“Obviously we’d like it to play a little faster. Right now our focus is playing right. Execution. We’ll worry about tempo later, and I think like we’ve said before we want to control the tempo of the game on offense, whether that’s to slow the game down or speed the game up.”
Doug, Brady said he’ll have a decision tomorrow on the starting quarterback. What’s going into that decision?
“Well, I think there’s a lot that goes into the decision of who plays quarterback and both guys have done an outstanding job of preparing and practicing and competing. It’s what we’ve talked about all along at every position on our team; we want to have competition and we want to compete and challenge every day.”
Whichever one is in there, I assume the turnover message has to be reinforced.
“Definitely. I mean, you start from base premise of what we talked about fro day one that we continue to talk about every day and until we get it right we’re going to continue to struggle. It’s the turnover margin. You can’t win football games when you lose it. It’s the one telling statistic in all of football over time. You lose the turnover margin week in and week out and you’re going to struggle to have a good football team.”
Doug, I guess at this point not knowing who the quarterback’s going to be what positives do you see? What could you do differently if Shane Morris were your starter?
“Well, I don’t know that you say you start all over and change your offense. No. You do the things that play to Shane’s strengths and Shane’s obviously a talented guy. Got a lot of arm strength. He is a young player like a lot of our players and learning, and Devin does- they both are similar in a lot of their style. Both you can see can make plays with their feet. Both have really good arms, and we feel really good about either one of those guys.”
[Hit THE JUMP for more]
I got a pile of email, so this is really long and still leaves out a number of missives. Apologies if yours wasn't selected.
A fairly comprehensive coaching-firing email.
I got a lot, obviously. This one touches all of the bases.
I'm currently operating under the following two assumptions:
1) Brady Hoke is done unless Michigan at least wins at least the Big Ten East with wins over both rivals on the road, which currently seems about as likely as two nuclear missiles turning into a sperm whale and a bowl of petunias and one of them telling our coaching staff how to coach offensive football before they plummet to earth.
I don't think it is that cut and dried yet. If Michigan goes 7-1 in the Big Ten with a loss to MSU and ends up 9-3 and going to the Citrus Bowl or something, that is a weird way to get to what people expected before the season. I think any 8-4 record is a hard sell that might induce a decision that we all hate and 7-5 is 100% dumped. (This is not what I'd do; unless he runs the table before the OSU game I would give him the Earl Bruce pre-Game firm handshake. This is what I'm guessing the athletic director would do.)
But yeah, going 7-1 in the Big Ten seems about as likely as the bowl of petunias thing. I am thinking "oh no, not again," tho—we solved it! The bowl of petunias is a Michigan fan.
2) That Dave Brandon will make a comically inept hire of either a warmed over retread with a tenuous connection to the past (Cam Cameron!), a mediocre young coordinator with a tenuous connection to the past (Scott Loeffler!), or a flashy idiot who must be great in interviews even though he's a moron coaching a football team (Lane Kiffin!)
Given that, how long would it take to set up and execute a reasonable search committee for a new athletic director? And is there any chance at all the university leadership acts decisively to remove the fundamental problem? It seems like the answer to those questions are too long and no at the moment.
The timing is bad. Schlissel just got in and has no frame of reference, so is he going to make a serious move? Does he even care about it, or is it something that's 11d on the agenda at a random meeting? And is he going to do it now-now-now, like he'd probably have to?
The answers to these questions are probably no. I think we're stuck with Brandon. If Michigan did make a move now there are a number of obvious candidates: Jeff Long is Arkansas's AD, Brad Bates is Boston College's, Warde Manuel is UConn's.
Long hired Bobby Petrino when Petrino bugged out on the Falcons, and then replaced him with Bret Bielema. Both are impressive hires from a football perspective and odious from a "you want me to root for THIS guy?" perspective. Manuel hired Turner Gill at Buffalo, was handed interim basketball coach Kevin Ollie (who then hired himself by winning a lot), and executed a logical search when UConn replaced Paul Pasqualoni, first trying to grab Pat Narduzzi and then going with Notre Dame DC Bob Diaco.
And while we're contemplating the fundamental horror of being Notre Dame, is Hoke Davie, Willingham, or Weis? Seems to me he recruits like Weis and coaches like Willingham, which is somehow worse than either of those guys. Or at least more frustrating.
Davie. His recruiting is better than Willingham and he's not a deliberately offensive, off-putting goon. Davie was an amiable man who couldn't organize a footbaw team.
Of course the real problem is that there really doesn't seem to be an upwardly mobile candidate at the right level to actually go after. I mean obviously you'd take a shot at Sumlin, but no way A&M doesn't match that offer. Which sort of leaves you hoping the Ravens' front office semi-criminal dickishness makes John Harbaugh quit and then you hope you can outbid like 15 NFL teams who would immediately jump at the shot to hire him. Not a great situations. Only name I can maybe come up with at a realistic level is Craig Bohl, who is unfortunately 56 and in the first year of his new job at Wyoming. That juggernaut he built on North Dakota State is impressive though.
Basically I think we're doomed. Are we doomed?
It looks fairly doomy, but we were all laughing about Ohio State's coaching search when they settled on the previously-obscure Jim Tressel. There are guys out there. You mention Bohl, who I have also wikipedia-stalked to my disappointment. Michigan may as well take a run at Sumlin types, but realistically any SEC school is going to match the money, and if you're crushing it in the SEC what is the motivation to move?
There is a name out there that I think might work: Dan Mullen. He made a previously awful team competitive in the brutal SEC. Nobody's been able to win much of anything at Mississippi State in 20 years—Jackie Sherrill had one ten-win season in 1999 and was otherwise bouncing between 8 and 3 wins. The Bulldogs have gone from winning a quarter of their SEC games under Sylvester Croom to winning 42%, and they've gone to four straight bowls for the first time ever. That's a James Franklin-like resume.
Mullen grew up in Pennsylvania, so he'll have some useful recruiting contact, he's 42—good long term upside if he works out—and he was Urban Meyer's OC for Florida's run of dominance there. He just beat LSU on the road. If Mississippi State goes 9-3 or better this year he'll be a very attractive candidate.
The problem is that Florida is going to be looking as well and I have bad feels about competing with them given our current situation and Florida's proximity to bounteous talent.
[After THE JUMP: more stuff like this, and an Ondre Pipkins Q.]
The Jug in Context
On the Halloween Day that Michigan student manager Tommy Roberts walked into a Minneapolis earthenware store, college football's power structure was in flux. Under instructions from Yost, Roberts paid 30 cents (about $9.17 today) for a 5-gallon Red Wing jug, and huffed it back to the stadium. Whether or not the dastardly Gophers were planning on spiking the Wolverines' water supply for that meeting of Western titans, they'd be thwarted.
Suspend, for a moment, all later meaning that would be attached to any programs, persons, or ceramics named above, and focus on what this vignette tells us about the game in 1903. For one, it suggests teams were capable of putting things in each others' drinking water. For another, it doesn't at all seem like Yost was confident his team, which had outscored opponents 550-0 in 1901, 644-12 in 1902, and heretofore 390-0, could simply waltz into Minnesota and win without every caution and attention paid to detail. The Jug game wasn't a friendly between old academic institutions; we were monsters and they wanted us to die.
|Click for big. This page is just one of the hundreds of treasures in Kenny and Jon's book.|
The Big Ten (actually Nine) in those days was colloquially "The West," with all connotations of "Wild- " intentional. This was the upstart league, and to the old guard in the East, the things the Big Nine were building on were abhorrent. Not only were lower academic standards widely tolerated for athletes, but those athletes were also given enticements like free scholarships and food, thereby undermining the authenticity of "collegiate" sports.
Travel was another point of contention: how could students be students if they were taking train rides to California over a month after the season was supposed to have ended? The modern equivalent of the 1901 team's Pasadena adventure would be Team 135 flying to India for Valentine's Day. Except if there was a good chance the players would get killed in the process: the fear of travel was justified because train accidents were common at the time. The same paper that proclaimed Minnesota's 6-6 "victory" announced that Purdue's team was in a train wreck that claimed the lives of 14 players (17 people overall).
Kenny Magee is one of those guys you will meet if you start hanging around the program. The former U-M chief of police, security consultant and magician is known on this site as the proprietor of Ann Arbor Sports Memorabilia, a sports collectible (and magic) shop under Afternoon Delight on Liberty. The store is only a fragment of the greatest Michigan memorabilia collection this side of Bentley. When they opened the Bo Museum last summer, most of it was Kenny's stuff.
When I first met Kenny he had Eric Upchurch and me into his store for an afternoon to shoot images for the cheapest ad I ever sold for this site (resulting gif at right). A few weeks later Kenny called me and said I had to come in again and see his latest find. Now resting beneath the painting of Denard's accidental Heisman pose was an imperfect replica of the Brown Jug, apparently created by Minnesota in the '40s. Dooley (MVictors) did the primary inspection, but I got to add to the lore when I pointed out the fake had displayed the scores of the two 1926 contests incorrectly.
This find was the genesis of Kenny's foray deep into Jug lore. Dooley's comprehensive article on Jug myths, which we ran in HTTV 2013, provided the basis of what became a book on the Jug and the Michigan-Minnesota rivalry. Kenny's co-author Jon Stevens is a guy about my age who's been in and around the program in various capacities exactly that long.
Institutions tend to collect people like this. The thing is so great itself that some people will structure their lives around it. Folks invited inside will keep coming back until they're found something to do there, and they'll do that thing for a lifetime with impossible passion, and their kids will grow up knowing nothing else.
Perhaps the most devastating aftereffect of Dave Brandon's (perhaps soon to be finished) tenure here will be how many of these program people were driven away, and not accidentally. John U. Bacon is both a Michigan professor and the single most credible journalist to cover this team; first relegated to the Drew Sharp dunce seats for publishing Three and Out, Bacon has now been kicked out off the press box entirely. Bruce Madej literally invented the now ubiquitous position of sports information director; he was so effective at communicating Michigan to the fanbase that the program survived 40 years of Bo, Mo, and Lloyd's antagonism to the press without the press hating the program back. Jon Falk was the living embodiment of Michigan's institutional heritage, accessible to every player to ever need a reminder of it, but if you stand in the way of something Adidas wants to do, you can pack your trunk right now. No, that trunk stays.
The Rise and Fall of Empires
The Western Conference (Big Ten) of the early 1900s was the SEC of its day, willing to sublimate all other considerations besides winning, creating new monster programs and birthing new traditions near newly populated industrial centers by wantonly violating the artificial limitations created by the old guard to prevent it. Conversely, the Ivies (which doggedly held out for another 40 years before making their association official) were the era's Big Ten: old powers with immense institutional advantages they were actively squandering by holding out for their version of morality.
Despite the conspicuous 6-6 tie in the midst of a season of blowouts, the 1903 national championship was shared between Michigan and Princeton. You could throw a dart at an East Coast sports columnist and spill as much contempt for the Wolverines as blood, though little of the vitriol remains today. In the next 30 years Michigan and Minnesota built themselves into powerhouse programs while the Ivies drew an arbitrary moral line at considering athletic ability in admissions, and dwindled for it.
The East was still far ahead in monetization, which at the time meant packing more people into stadia. Harvard Stadium, the first modern concrete facility in college football, was in its inaugural season the day Roberts bought the Jug, and Penn began converting their wooden Franklin Field to a permanent structure that season. "The Game" (not That The Game) was affixed in 1900 as the last on the schedule by Yale and Harvard organizers who realized the rivalry could pump interest in the entire season.
Yost realized something fundamental about this sport: they'll take you as seriously as you take yourself. He made it his mission to control or at least influence anything that could touch his football program. He built a stadium expandable to 100,000 seats and his team walked the Earth as if they deserved to play in front of that many. The Yale Bowl opened to a capacity of 70,896 and Princeton's Palmer Stadium seated 45,750 when they opened in 1914, but the Midwest schools at the time were maxing out at 30,000 (Ohio Stadium was built for 72,000 but was typically half-empty).
A Book About the Jug
Kenny's book: Recommended method of purchase is to get it direct from Kenny. His shop's below Afternoon Delight, at 255 East Liberty in Ann Arbor. Or email him. Or find him at a signing, the next being at MDen this week. Also available on Amazon and kindle.
If you're from Michigan you've seen Arcadia books (Old Woodward, history of the Tigers, etc.) before at museum shops, etc. This is one of those: a few pages of backstory for each chapter, and then lots of images, many from Kenny's and Bentley's collections, and many from Minnesota's. There's the newspaper article above, and photo of Conley and his crew in '64 breaking a four-game losing streak, and lots and lots of photos of the great men who've played in this rivalry, from Bronco Nagurski to Ryan Van Bergen.
Reading it in context of this season and this era of college football, it came off like a history of the Roman Empire written in the years after Constantine. Remember when we marched into barely civilized lands, covered ourselves in glory, and shipped the treasures home? Remember when we embraced the new religion and reconstituted as an Eastern-focused superpower? Remember when we didn't spend as much time talking about how awesome Rome was because we were so engaged in making it so?
Now it's Tuesday before a Jug game with as much meaning to the national landscape as a Harvard-Princeton matchup in 1964. The Michigan Stadium I'll visit is itself a highly leveraged brand; the teams facing each other will both operate on dogmatic principles long since cast wayside by programs far more willing to push the established lines of righteousness, be they managing the gameclock or ignoring NCAA's unenforced Title IX rules and outdated ideals of athletes as "just students." And here I am, slowly becoming one of those people whose life is defined by attachment to an institution that revels in its history while missing the most important lesson from it.
Strip off the paint and the scores and the logos and what you have is a clay jug we bought because Yost would burn in hell rather than let an advantage slip by. Fielding wouldn't pass muster at a lineup of "Michigan Men." He was an epic asshole who stood out in a period when assholes were highly tolerated. It's important to me that Michigan stands for more than that. But if Michigan and the Big Ten are to avoid the fate of the Ivy League, they'll have to operate on the same principle that every successful program ever has: First, you win.
“Hello, everybody. I almost didn’t make it today. I was kind of busy over there trying to get ready for this next one. Somebody had to tell me to come but it’s good to see everybody. Go ahead.”
Greg, the run defense remains a strength. I know that the secondary needs some work, though. Overall, what’s your assessment of your defense through four games?
“I don’t look at four games. I always look at the last game. We didn’t win. There’s a point when you become- and that’s our goal, to become a great defense, is you do whatever you have to to win. You do whatever you have to. And that in a lot of places means don’t even let them get in the end zone in any way. Am I proud of these guys? I’ve told you from day one I really like these guys. I mean, I like how they work. I like what they bring to the meeting room every day. I like what they bring to the practice field. I like how they compete. Do we do it perfect all the time [and] have we? No. And do we have to keep working to do that? Yes. Until we do whatever we possibly have to do to get the win then we haven’t totally reached the mark.”
Coach, I’ll have you comment on a couple of things. One, the breakthrough on producing a score on defense, but then the drive that they had coming out of the second half.
“Getting the score, that’s a guy playing hard in practice every day. That’s a guy doing the things [he needs to]. That’s a guy improving, Willie Henry. That was a guy making a play that he had to make a play and we’ve talked about him, too, [and] what he’s done since the day he got here. His improvement. Becoming mature, practice habits, all that and that’s great to see that happen for him. Same thing for Frank [Clark]. That sack he got was a big league sack. Those things happen because you work hard and you practice hard.
“Coming out in the second half at half time…they got us on two plays that were corrected immediately after that happened. It’s a shame that I didn’t see it quicker. It’s a shame that I didn’t do something after the first time to eliminate- it was the exact same play that scored a touchdown on it and that’s where maybe I need to see that quicker from what happened and stop that one touchdown and, again, that’s my job. But they adjusted then and that’s how they got there. That’s what happened after [the] half.”
Jake Ryan had a career-high 13 tackles. He has an unorthodox way of doing things sometimes but gets the job done. Talk about the essence of Jake Ryan as a defensive force.
“Well, Jake and Joe [Bolden]. I’ll put them together. Your linebackers in this defense have got to make a lot of plays because you’re getting very good play out of the front in front of them. When the front demands double teams and when the front does what they’ve been doing then there are so many times when a linebacker, if he does what he’s supposed to do with his footwork, with his keys, with his recognition, is there with nobody blocking him. Now make the tackle. And their effort, Joe and Jake, their effort, their toughness, their playing what I consider linebacker, that’s been good and we’ve got to keep getting better.”
But Jake in particular. I touched on his unorthodox manner sometimes in getting the job done. Can you talk about him in particular?
“I don’t know what unorthodox is. To me, it’s when the ball carrier has the football and you tackle him, you’re playing linebacker. Sometimes they’re not picture-perfect tackles. Sometimes you may not be perfect with your footwork, stepping down and all of a sudden coming back. Jake’s been unorthodox since the day he got here. You know, that’s Jake and that’s why I love him but I can’t say it enough: Joe being in there with him, Joe doing what he’s doing- I mean, I don’t know what you had him for tackles but I had him the same way with pretty close. And we’ve just got to keep them both doing what they’re doing and it’s the front that’s helping them do that.”
[After THE JUMP: playing euchre, wrestling Hoke, and other tales of a 30-year friendship]