The nutty Michigan coverage isn't so much about Harbaugh as it is a signal to the Big Ten that Fox wants to party.
So, yeah… No real reason not to have written one of these for Minnesota except, well, it was Minnesota and I missed most of the game. I caught the torrent of the game a couple days later, but by then who wants to read stale comments that have been regurgitated by 20+ MGoBoard posts? Nobody, that’s who. Including my wife, who’ll read anything I write because it is at least tangible and justifies the amount of time I spend with my “internet friends.”
In my defense, the major plot lines that emerged against the Gophers continued this week, so if you want just read this twice and consider yourself covered.
Best: Knowing is half the battle
One of the seminal television shows of my youth was G.I. Joe, which taught me that (a) snakes are bad, (b) super-secret special operations units eschew traditional uniforms for chest-barring fatigues that better highlight your guns and massive chest tattoo, and most importantly (c) many useful life lessons through their “Knowing is half the battle” PSAs at the end of programs. While the show itself focused on a world that defied physics, geo-political boundaries, and anything approximating political correctness, the messages contained in these PSAs were far more relevant to younger children: be kind to others and don’t judge them, don’t lie, don’t go into stranger’s cars, and stop-drop-and-roll if you catch on fire.
While the individual messages varied, the key takeaway from them all was that difficult situations were far less daunting once you knew the proper way to respond. Knowledge, in other words, made the unknown less scary because it provided context, a touchstone from which to measure the circumstance logically.
One of the major concerns that’s been voiced in the brief time Brady Hoke and Al Borges have been on campus was how Borges’s West-Coast-centric philosophy would mesh with Denard’s skill set (I count myself firmly in this group). But I think the greater issue, or at least the one that has been transitioning to the forefront of these debates since Notre Dame or so is “how will the offense look after Denard, especially at quarterback.” Everyone knows what you get with Denard, but due to his surprising durability the past couple of years (until Nebraska), we never had to contemplate a world in which Denard could not play. The future was always ahead of us, but it was hidden behind dreadlocks, offensive records, and the reality that #16 was the best option come Saturday. 2013 was just a calendar you’d pick up in February for $3 at Meijers.
Sure, people spoke of Shane Morris coming in next year and starting as a true frosh a la Henne, or Bellomy taking ahold of the mantle while Devin grew into the WR position. But these felt like complaints whispering in the ether, even after the ND game when (at least to me), a louder contingent of fanbase began to turn on the most prominent holdover of the RR era. But nobody knew how this offense would function without Denard at the helm, and that scared people a bit. You’d seen glimpses at the end of blowouts and when Denard would step out for a couple of plays, but certainly nothing definitive.
And then Nebraska happened. All of a sudden, we saw a vision of the future, and it was 3 INTs, 2.4 YPA, and double-digit yards in a half sans penalties. In other words, it scared the S**T out of people. If Bellomy really was the #2 QB behind Denard, then just how abysmal was Devin Gardner, a former 5* QB who people figured was moved to WR because his athleticism filled a need on the squad and would be the top QB option next year? Was he really worse than that? Nobody knew, at least outside of Fort Schembechler, and that terrified everyone. It was knowledge, and it seemingly confirmed the doomsday scenarios running through everyone’s minds.
But then a funny thing happened – Gardner had a chance to practice at QB for a week and the coaches gave him a chance at Minnesota, and he played pretty well. He threw the ball on time, had some nice touch, and while he definitely had his cringe-worthy moments, he also did this. And he followed that up with another solid game against Northwestern, warts and all, and the knowledge we had been missing for years was finally starting to fill out. While it is still an imperfect portrait, fans now have a far better idea of how this offense will look going forward after Denard, and it doesn’t look like the QB position will revert to the SheridanThreetDamnit! of 2008.
This isn’t a cartoon and nobody knows if this present remain persistent in the future, but at least now people have something to hold onto going forward, something to keep them grounded. And that’s worth quite a bit.
[ED: JUMP WITH US]
Jordan Kovacs and Kenny Demens
Kovacs: “Coach Hoke let me know early in the week that I’d be wearing No. 11. He asked me how I felt about it, and of course I felt it was a huge honor. I’ve worn 32 for quite some time. I think I’ll always be 32, but I think it’s a great opportunity to recognize our legends. That’s the approach I have. I did a little research on the Wisterts and I actually had the opportunity to meet Albert yesterday, and he said that when he was first given 11, he was just so humbled and so excited, and it was a huge honor for him. He said he prayed before every game that he put it on that he’d be worthy enough to wear it, so that’s kind of my approach. It’s a huge honor and I just hope I’m worthy enough to wear it.”
Kenny, were you 100% assigned to Colter on those last few plays, and what was it like to be able to make that play at the end?
Demens: “Well I just have my reads. The coaches, they give us bullets to come out with and to make that play, I just felt so proud of myself, but not for me, but for my teammates. The defense, we didn’t play as well as we wanted to, and just to come up and make a play and to finish strong how we did, it means a lot.”
Here are some photos from the game. I was disappointed that I didn't get a better shot of the Roundtree catch. I happened to be looking through my 400mm lens at the time. The play ended up happening in front of me and what you see here is the only part of the play that ended up in the frame.
The Catch 2.0
The Funchess TD
Kovacs's pass break up
The full gallery:
All photos are creative commons licensed. Feel free to contact me if you have any comments or questions. email@example.com
ALL THE OFFSIDES not included.
Also from-the-stands reaction to the final play:
“All right, let me ask [you] a question. Who started writing the article before the game was over?”
[Multiple hands are raised.]
“Yeah. Exactly ... I should have picked you out.
“Obviously we’ve got a lot that we didn’t do well, but we did do well when you win the football game. I thought it was two teams that played hard. I have so much respect for Pat and how he runs his program and how his guys come to work every day and how they come to play. We knew it would be a dog fight. We missed way too many tackles. You’ve got to give Kain Colter some of that respect, because he made us miss him. We have to do a better job there. I think offensively, moving the ball pretty consistently. Still need to rush for more yards from the backfield, which means we still have to continue to improve up front. How we’re blocking the line of scrimmage. We missed a couple cuts, but Devin did a tremendous job really managing everything, staying into the game, extending some things, and then his athleticism obviously helped in some of the first downs -- we were seven of 10. That’s all I have to say.”
Is that the kind of game where you just say you find a way to win and build off that?
“Well, yeah. There was a lot to build from and a lot to learn from. Our seniors play their last game at Michigan Stadium next week. That’s significant and if we want to send them out the right way, we have to play better. That always starts with the coaching side of it. That has to be paramount for us.”
Can you talk about the concentration on Roundtree’s catch and then Demens’s tackles to win the game in overtime?
“Yeah, and Roy really I think on a couple balls had really great focus and great intensity in what he was doing. The last tackle there, I think number one I like the call that Greg made because it was one where we may have talked them into running the football because of some of the space inside. And then Kenny just did a nice job of really working inside out to the ball, where maybe a little earlier we were maybe getting too far ahead of it.”
How much do you believe that your team’s experience in tight games in the past helped today?
“Yeah … I think that’s a great question. I think when you look at them on the sideline and you communicate with them and talk to them, never a doubt that they weren’t going to win the football game in my opinion. I think all that helps. I think experiencing anything in life helps you get through it the next time. I think the same thing [applies] in the game of football.”
What did Devin improve between game 1 and game 2?
“I don’t know if I could do that right now. I think he managed the game well. I thought he had two throws that probably weren’t the best throws. Did a nice job getting rid of the ball in the end zone. He made some good decisions.”
How differently do you run your offense with Devin in there? What strengths do you try to use?
“I think the biggest thing is there’s a little more two-back. There’s a little more vertical run, there’s a little more power play to some degree, lead play, iso … From that standpoint, there’s still the zone read and all those things from the gun, too.”
What were they doing on third down to have so much success, and how did you come up with stops late in the game?
“Yeah. What were they doing? I think they converted and they were a little more accurate in some of their throws on their seven routes -- smash routes. We needed to do a little better job in the seam part of our defense when they were throwing it. And I think he scrambled at times, and either we missed a tackle, which we did a couple times on a scramble, or we didn’t force the ball enough as far as when you talk about your lanes and compressing the pocket from the outside to the inside.”
Resolve of your team?
“These kids have been great. It didn’t surprise me. It really didn’t surprise me that -- there were 18 seconds left when they punted the ball or something like that. Dan Ferrigno did a nice job all week because they would rugby punt if you want to call it that -- it wasn’t a full on rugby -- but lining up Gallon where he lined him up, because that’s where, if you charted a year of punts, that’s where they were going if they rugby punted, and it was perfect. It got us great field position and got us the throw.”
Take us through Devin’s pass to Roundtree. Was that his first read? Second read? What was he looking at?
“Well I really can’t describe it at all for you, but we knew we had to get to a certain point on the field. We knew from the 35, 38 in is where we wanted to kick the field goal, tie it up. And it just so happened that the post part of the route, the combination was where we needed to hit it, and Devin threw it well, and Roy made a football play.”
If Devin somehow could not have continued in the game, would Denard have played?
“Maybe. He was dressed, right?”
What has Roy done to step up?
“I think Roy’s been like that. Roy’s always been focused. Prepares well and gets himself ready for a game.”
Have you seen a change in him the past two weeks?
“No, not really.”
You said you missed a lot of tackles, but from a schematic standpoint, how were you trying to stop Northwestern?
“Well scheme-wise was really good. I thought Greg and the defensive staff -- you’ll go back and look and [say], ‘Maybe I should have run this more,’ or whatever it might be, but I thought scheme-wise, especially some of the things we were doing -- I’m not going to explain them, obviously -- it was very effective. It kind of got them into one formation. When you can get someone into one formation or two formations, then you don’t have all the other problems.”
Just to follow up on Denard --
“Day to day.”
He didn’t do much in warmups.
“Day to day.”
If you were in our shoes, wouldn’t you have started writing the story before the game ended?
“No. Because of those kids. No way. My wife just asked me that on the way in. ‘Did you know you were going to win?’ I said 'yes.'”
They had a lot of success running outside --
“Perimeter of the defense. Need to play better on the perimeter of the defense. Need to get off blocks better.”
Were you surprised they went away from that late?
“No, because I think he got beat up a little bit there for a minute. Siemian’s a very good quarterback, but he’s not the same quarterback. Then when he came back, they went to their bread and butter on the fourth down play. Tried to go option again.”
Talk about how hard Fitz ran and what the offensive line needs to do to help him?
“We have to finish on blocks better combination-wise, to answer the second part first because that one I can remember. I really thought they were getting some movement. Probably not as much as we would like, because it never is, and I did think he ran extremely hard. You could hear football on the field.”
Would you say this win keeps your Big Ten title hopes alive?
“Well. We can’t worry about what other people do. We have to worry about what we do. We got Iowa.”
When Denard is healthy enough to come back, what do you do with the quarterback situation?
“I think that’s something we’ll figure out.”
Faith in Brendan Gibbons to make that kick and the job Drew Dileo did to pick that ball off the ground?
“Well, that combination’s a pretty good combination. You know, they work so much together because we kick every day, but they’re two -- and don’t tell Gibbons I ever said this -- two football players.”
Devin was in a lot of pressure situations. What did you see out of him in terms of commanding the huddle?
“Well he’s realy done a nice job and always has. I thought the way he’s gone about his business, the maturity and the growth has been, I guess, expected.”
A referee makes an arbitrary approximation of the spot of the football as Kain Colter is brought to the turf. A couple of guys dressed like crossing guards then take out an extremely precise ten-yard chain. The referee, staring at the football like it's the bottom line of an eye chart, determines that the play has resulted in a first down by the smallest of possible margins. For all intents and purposes, the game is over, decided by an educated guess made at breakneck speed.
Football is the worst.
The contest continues, however, and Michigan sells out against the run for a stop. For a moment, it looks like Jeremy Gallon could provide a miracle as he briefly breaks free after fielding a line-drive punt, but he's tackled at the 38.
18 seconds remain. No timeouts remain. Little hope remains.
But then the backup quarterback hucks the football to the impossibly-skinny senior receiver, improbably left in single coverage, and this wisp of a man somehow bats the oblong projectile out of the air and controls the ricochet, an absurd feat of concentration and athleticism that brings 110,000 despondent humans screaming to their feet in elation.
Football is the best.
From that point, victory feels strangely academic given the prior proceedings. Brendan Gibbons, Keith Stone cool, splits the uprights from 26 yards out for the tying field goal. Three plays after Devin Gardner finds Roundtree again to give Michigan first-and-goal on the opening overtime possession, he fakes a give to Fitz Toussaint, breaks contain, and lopes into the end zone unimpeded. Northwestern can only get within two yards of that blasted first-down marker on their subsequent series before Kenny Demens stonewalls Tyris Jones in the hole on fourth down.
The stadium erupts, again hopelessly in love with the greatest game known to man. Michigan 38, Northwestern 31, football forever.