Watch Michigan lose to Michigan State on Saturday was frustrating and somewhat difficult to put into perspective. We want to believe that the coaches are capable of understanding the strengths and weaknesses of their players so the players can successfully execute. We also have to have the right players. It seems that we are still not where we want to be in terms of talent, coaching and understanding. How far away are we before we have the right combination?
Let's just get to the big question first. Michigan is still staring at the crater where their senior class is supposed to be, and reeling from Rich Rodriguez's inept offensive line recruiting. The 2011 class is also not spectacular, as it was a few in-state true believers, Blake Countess, and guys with little recruiting profile thanks to Rodriguez's sinking profile and Michigan giving Hoke three weeks to pile ten guys in. The talent on this team is mostly underclass.
That will not be the case on next year's defense. A projected starting lineup:
- DL: Clark (Sr), Beyer (Sr), Pipkins (Jr), Henry (Rs So)
- LB: Morgan (Sr), Ross (Jr), Ryan(Sr)
- DB: Countess (Rs Jr), Taylor (Sr), Wilson (Jr), J. Clark (Rs So)
This defense is an okay unit still beset by personnel issues. Snaps at NT not given to Quinton Washington against MSU went to… Jibreel Black. Yup. 250-pound Brennen Beyer is now the starting SDE. Before that the existence of Black was the only thing separating the situation the SDE and 3TECH positions from the one Michigan is dealing with at guard: one sophomore with a middling recruiting profile (Bryant on OL, Heitzman on DL) and a pile of freshman who are still freshman no matter how touted. I expect Michigan's defense to take a significant step forward from good but not great to maybe great next year.
The situation on offense is much more frightening. Michigan hasn't been able to move snap one away from Fitzgerald Toussaint, which is an indictment of Michigan's recruiting or development or both there. Michigan hasn't had a QB who wasn't massively turnover prone since Borges arrived, and there are zero seniors on next year's OL. Does a starting line of Magnuson-Bosch-Glasgow-Kalis-Braden featuring four sophomores and a junior who is a former walk-on entice? No.
Michigan's probably a 9-3 team next year and then you're putting all your eggs in Shane Morris's basket at QB the year after. So… not for a while.
[After the JUMP: oh good the "when can we fire this guy" tag is back. Yost: not really Yost.]
Seeing Denard grimace and swear is akin to seeing Santa remove his fake beard and take a long pull from a flask. Something's gone horribly wrong and perhaps it's time you stopped believing in certain things—like the possibility of a Big Ten title or the existence of Santa Claus.
[After THE JUMP: More cursing! More sadness! But also basketball!]
So there was a new Bacon book this year. We need to review this book. I'm going to do this with the expectation that you have either read it already or are going to. You should. It is a Bacon book. You are reading MGoBlog; either you are a person who appreciates Bacon or else a visiting Sparty looking for more trolling fodder, in which case help yourself to the board where I promise you there's plenty. Or better yet, read some Bacon—you're in the Big Ten; this concerns you too. And he says the Red Cedar is nice.
This is not a negative review, even though I have a tendency to focus on the "needs work" aspects—I'm the guy who walked out of The Return of the King after five years of unmitigated Peter Jackson man-crushing and complained that there were too many endings. So apologies to John U., who's higher in my esteem than Mr. Jackson and just about everyone whose quotes aren't emblazoned on a wall somewhere, for the plurality of minuses below.
More Bacon. Ever since Bo's Lasting Lessons, the chance to devour a new Bacon book has been somewhat of an event around these parts. As a Michigan fan it would be tough to follow the unparalleled access and insight into the Rich Rod program accomplished with Three and Out, specifically because that unvarnished snapshot was so starkly antithetical to Dave Brandon's meticulous staging of his Michigan show: You knew at the time that no true journalist would be allowed to see behind the bunting again, so it should only come as a mild disappointment that there is little about the Michigan program in this book that you didn't already know.
Fourth and Long: the Fight for the Soul of College Football is four unequal looks at four 2012 Big Ten programs, or four and a half if you count a mini-treatment that Michigan State and Mark Hollis receive as host of an Ohio State road game. In order of detail:
- Penn State from the point of view of its players, former players, coaches, and equipment managers as they find themselves taking the brunt of the Penn State Awful Thing, and the NCAA's and PSU brass's callow responses to it.
- Michigan from Bacon's own point of view of its fans, as those fans interact with Brandon's corporate-itude.
- Ohio State from the P.O.V. of Urban Meyer as he goes from win to win trying to get Zach Boren to like him, and
- Northwestern as the paragon of virtue.
Bacon set out, as is evident from the title and made clear throughout the book, to examine these four schools from different points of view (players, AD, head coach, and president, respectively), and use the findings to determine if any of the Big Ten's current models for college football are sustainable for college football in general. In it he consistently finds players and fans who "get it" while the people in control seek new and better ways to milk it.
But he could only use what he got from each school. With Ohio State the access was mostly restricted to Urban on game days. He brushes against tatgate but doesn't get into the cars or any other "everybody knows, nobody can prove" things—you have to appreciate that Bacon will never accuse somebody without proof (especially considering he's an avowed Michigan fan talking about Ohio State) but it's really hard to talk about college sports and the competitive problems therein without admitting there are relative bad guys. The Gee quote—"I hope he doesn't fire me!"—is in there in reference to the bloated role of college football head coach in America. The closest he comes to pointing out OSU's exceptionalism in this regard is when addressing the carrying off of Tressel after last year's Game:
"The Buckeyes do not run a renegade program, but they once again demonstrated they don't seem to care if their actions make others think they do."
This isn't a complaint; Bacon handled a sticky situation about as well as he could. With Northwestern he got some key interviews, particularly with Pat Fitzgerald, but no warts (this could be because they don't have any).
With Michigan Bacon was outside looking in, so he used some of the Bacon-usual suspects—Carty, the dueling barbershops, the public comments of James Duderstadt and Don Canham, Brian Cook of MGoBlog, etc. There's also an inside look at the Mud Bowl, and most interestingly, a candid interview with Michigan's band director about Send-the-Band-to-Dallas-gate. I was more intrigued by the comments made by Bill Martin on the corporatization of NCAA football, which I'll come back to. The whole Notre Dame saga is covered. Except for the band's comments most of this is old news to you.
The result is a book that's 52% about Penn State trying to survive 2012, with a bunch of stuff thrown in about some other schools and corporations to underscore a point made clear without leaving Happy Valley.
[After the jump: it's just, like, my opinion man.]
Since this game was televised, I'll make this relatively short and sweet—Michigan held a commanding lead for practically the entire game, though they failed to dominate Wayne State to the same extent that they eviscerated Concordia in the first exhibition. Given the amount of lineup shuffling, that's not of particular concern. Once again, here are some assorted thoughts from an exhibition blowout.
THE TWO-BIGS LINEUP SHOULD BE PUT ON HOLD
Michigan once again started both Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan, though this time it was freshman Derrick Walton getting his first career start (of many) instead of Spike Albrecht. Simply put, it didn't look like the two bigs lineup is going to work against real competition pending the return of Mitch McGary. Early on, the spacing on offense was poor, and Morgan looked uncomfortable trying to defend on the perimeter. That didn't change much when they trotted out similar lineups later in the game.
If tonight's game is any indication, Michigan is going to start Glenn Robinson III at the four sooner or later, and until McGary returns it may very well be Horford, not Morgan, who starts alongside him. After playing 22 minutes to Morgan's 14 in the opener, Horford once again got the lion's share of the minutes at center—25 to 14, despite having four fouls to Morgan's one. Neither player factored in much offensively and each fared pretty well on the boards; Horford's ability to block shots (two tonight) may be what's giving him the edge.
CARIS LEVERT AT THE POINT, ON THE OTHER HAND...
When Horford picked up an early foul, Michigan put out a lineup with Caris LeVert running the point and Spike Albrecht playing off the ball. This immediately resulted in an open three for Albrecht after a drive-and-kick from LeVert, who looked very confident in both his shot and ballhanding ability tonight, finishing with 16 points (5/10 FG, 5/7 FT) and three assists against just one turnover. I really liked this look, which allowed Michigan to get Albrecht on the court and take advantage of his shooting while hiding him a bit defensively—it's tough to pick on the 5'10" guy when there are four 6'6"-or-taller defenders disrupting passing lanes.
As you can see above, LeVert even showed off a go-to move, breaking some ankles with the crossover in this one.
NO WORRIES ABOUT SCORING
Tonight wasn't a great one for hopes that Robinson (right, Fuller) is going to create a ton of offense off the dribble; he scored 15 points on 10 FGAs but had difficulty getting into the lane on his own, with one notable exception that seemed more of a defensive miscue than anything else. He does appear more confident in his three-point shot, however, even though he knocked down just one of three attempts tonight.
More importantly, it doesn't look like he has to create offense for Michigan to score. Nik Stauskas led the team with 17 points, hitting 2/4 threes and looking equally effective inside the arc; encouragingly, he laid in a tough and-one on a fast break through heavy contact, something he had difficulty doing last year. LeVert, once again, seemed able to reach any point on the floor he wanted.
Then there's Zak Irvin, who looks ready to take GRIII's place as the Guy Who Scores A Quiet [Double-Digit Point Total]. Despite playing just eight minutes in the first half, Irvin paced the team with nine points, hitting three triples; he'd finish with 13 on 5/8 shooting in 19 minutes of action. One of his second-half makes was a pretty dribble-drive to pull-up jumper; when called upon, he looks comfortable creating his own shot. While fellow freshman Walton shot just 1/4 from the field, he hit 4/5 free throws and drilled a corner three to accompany a 4:2 assist-to-turnover ratio; like LeVert, he worked his way to the inside with relative ease to create offense for others. Walton also had his second Burkeian halfcourt steal in two games. If that becomes a patented Michigan point guard move, I'm totally okay with it.
- The perimeter defense could still use work. Wayne State's Bryan Coleman hit 3/5 first-half threes and had 17 points at the break; while he cooled off in the second half, he still found himself with several open looks against Stauskas and Robinson, primarily.
- On the other hand, the transition defense was great—Wayne State finished with zero fast-break points, and Michigan communicated very well while getting back on D, a very good sign for such a young team.
- For the second straight game, Max Bielfeldt struggled to defend the glass while playing center against an undersized team, grabbing zero rebounds in nine minutes of action while also having his fair share of issues defensively. If this is what he's playing like come conference play, he may not have a spot in the rotation, since he isn't a guy who's going to add much offensively.
- Mark Donnal is almost certainly ticketed for a redshirt, as he didn't play until garbage time once again, then immediately forgot to box out on a free throw and committed a foul—that's probably the last we see of him this season unless injuries hit in a major way.
- Welcome back, Ann Arbor Airshow. I missed you dearly.
- Devin Gardner is still "beat up." He'll probably practice tomorrow, though.
- The offensive line is young. Reacted poorly to the environment and didn't play their technique well in pass protection.
- Running back needed to protect better, too. Fitz is the best pass protector on the team, so it looks like they're out of options. This-may-or-may-not-be-significant-alert: De'Veon Smith was removed from the travel squad for vague reasons.
- AJ Williams will be back Saturday. Drew Dileo should be back as well.
- Hoke doesn't think Taylor Lewan should be suspended for the facemask thing. Says it's "unacceptable" but if it were suspension-worthy he'd have suspended him already.
- Keith Heitzman injured his hand last week in practice, so he didn't travel. He may take a while to come back.
- Willie Henry played a good game. He'll probably get more playing time moving forward.
- The last two long busts were because of a mismatch in personnel, which got them run over.
“You know, coming off not the way you want to start the five-game stretch, the meat of your schedule, Saturday is something we’re all disappointed with and everything that we have to do from a coaching standpoint and a playing standpoint. Obviously it was evaluated and we all need to do a better job, and that’s just a part of it. We had some opportunities we didn’t take advantage of during the course of the football game, and that’s a credit to them. We’ve got to do a better job. Offensively, we have to get Devin a little more of an opportunity because there were plenty of them down the field. Execution’s a part of that. Always is. When you’re sliding protections or whatever it might be. Defensively, I think our defense kept us in the football game for a long time with bad field position. Needed to make some stops more in the second half. Didn’t get that accomplished. Some third downs. The score right before the half is never a good score. And then them taking the ball for six minutes or five minutes to start the second half even though they got the field goal. Again, it’s posessions. Trying to get possessions. We had a really good day yesterday, which is a really good thing. The attitude of our team, they came in and worked like heck on the evaluation part of it, and we’ll work like heck out in practice. That being said … ”
Heiko and Ace try to come up with the saddest song in the world. Also they drink post-game.
It could have been worse? How, exactly? Probably not. Poor damn Toussaint. Some swearing about poor f-ing Toussaint and Gardner.
Held up, and then as these things go collapsed at the end. Just apologize to the gypsy, Jourdan Lewis. Field position battle lost. It's a B unit, and has been a B unit all year.
TALKING BIG TEN WITH JAMIEMAC
Gut-punch Saturday for the bottom of the Big Ten, including Jamie's Hoosiers. Jamie had a real bad weekend. Real bad. Penn State's looking pretty awful, so Michigan's loss there rankles further. Ohio State… nevermind.
"Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life," Monty Python
"Across 110th Street."
"Blame It On The Tetons," Modest Mouse
"Dreadful Selfish Crime," Robert Earl Keen
The usual links: