this week in unintentionally grim-sounding recruiting headlines
A quick tour around heartfelt pre-OSU posts in the Wolverine blogosphere before they all expire:
Like many things in life that end broken, this started with good intentions all around.
Rich Rodriguez watched from the sidelines while Michigan avenged Carr and desecrated the Tebow Temple. Chad Henne dropped redemption from the sky into the waiting hands of Adrian Arrington and Mario Manningham. Mike Hart fumbled and laughed and Michigan were The Victors.
I dreamed of spread offenses and 70 point thrashings, a wild new Michigan built for the Mayan Apocalypse, slaughtering the Big Ten with lightning from the Yost Ages, standing atop the Big Ten as the world ended.
It was spitting down rain all morning, and it only picked up for gametime. I took one last lap around the stadium I'd always known.
If there was any justice in the world, they'd have won last year, so I didn't have high expectations. Not with Mike Hart hobbled and Chad Henne barely able to lift his arm and guys not named David Harris at linebacker. And so we yelled and screamed and Beanie Wells had 172 carries and Mario Manningham dropped 18 passes or something and Ohio State won an excruciating 14-3 game.
It wasn’t until 2004, my freshman year, that I really paid close attention to the Michigan football team (i.e., emotional investment). Before every game that season, I signed on to AIM and left an away message up: “Chad Henne, lead us to victory.” And though it worked a few times that year, it never did for the one that counted.
And for the last five years of my life, the week before Thanksgiving has been one of cautious anxiety. 2006 was devastating.
These are family values: wagons circled, debris, numb to the great outrage, taped ankles and a fuck you if you're not with us; look me in the eye and know that eventually this will all pass. They'll remember this day when they're old and sit on dusty sofas dozing in and out of consciousness. You lost a lot but not your dignity. And you realize that it wasn't just about winning but about patience and faith that it would get better.
|WHAT||Michigan vs #10 Ohio State|
|WHERE||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI|
November 21st, 2009
|THE LINE||Ohio State –12*|
|TELEVISION||Nationwide on ABC|
|WEATHER||About 50, mostly sunny|
Run Offense vs. Ohio State
Michigan's faced four good or better rushing defenses this year and the overall trend is not great:
Iowa's the worst in that bunch at #43. Michigan's incredibly hot start has fallen off with injuries of varying severity to Molk, Brown, Shaw, Dorrestein, and Minor; the worst two of those will play a major factor Saturday as Molk and Minor will watch from the bench.
Ohio State, meanwhile, has crushed all comers. They are #4 in rushing defense, though it should be noted that there aren't a whole lot of great rushing offenses in the league. Wisconsin had the closest thing to a good day, averaging 4.1 yards per carry on 38 attempts, but from the stats the bread-and-butter wasn't working particularly well: John Clay eked out 59 yards on 20 carries. Wisconsin got up to 4.1 with peripheral contributions from Tolzien scrambles and a number of successful carries from David Gilreath. Also Wisconsin's rushing offense is nothing like Michigan's. The closest analogue on Ohio State's schedule is Illinois, which managed to grind out 3.6 YPC excluding sacks.
Ohio State is probably going to make the same bet Wisconsin did by trusting their defensive line to beat the Michigan offensive line, which will allow them to put six guys in the box, take away the bubble, and still keep two deep safeties. If Michigan's going to move the ball at all they'll have to get the creases they couldn't against Wisconsin or break out some new-fangled stuff that gets Ohio State moving away from the ball. And it might be tiny, zippy Vincent Smith leading the way. Carlos Brown might be more likely to break a long one, but I think I'd rather have the guy who can turn –4 yards into 4 against a defense that's not likely to let a big one break. So… true freshman n00b against #4 rushing defense in the country.
Key Matchup: Fancy Schemes vs Fundamental Stuff. Michigan's line is going to get overrun; it'll take a major tactical victory—one that may not even be possible given the personnel—to get a bunch of yards.
Pass Offense vs. Ohio State
Michigan's taken some steps forward the past two weeks as Tate Forcier has performed well against decent-to-good defenses:
His efficiency rating the past two weeks would be top 15 nationally extrapolated over the entire season, which is something you absolutely can't do but hey it's fun to pretend you can. Stat magic or no, those numbers and those performances represent a significant improvement over an eh Illinois game and poor outings versus Iowa and Penn State. Maybe those were injury-induced? More likely they were freshman-induced; Forcier noted in a press conference that the proverbial slow down occurred somewhere in the Illinois game and since then he's shown it.
Michigan still has issues elsewhere: they have no real deep threat, though they did pop a couple guys open against Wisconsin and had some success bombing it late against Illinois, and can't pass protect worth a damn. Against Wisconsin Michigan resorted to a ton of max-protect schemes where the line would slide one way and tailbacks would pick up DEs/blitzers to one side; this worked but limited Forcier's options significantly. A repeat performance is in order against a ravenous Ohio State defense; when Michigan attempts to hit it deep there will be seven guys blocking.
For Ohio State's part, they've also obliterated opposing pass offenses except against Purdue, where Joey Elliot was 31 of 50 for 280 yards. Can Michigan imitate Purdue's quick-strike dinky attack? Actually… yeah, maybe. Forcier's an accurate short passer who can throw on the run and Roy Roundtree has emerged into a serious option in the middle of the field since Martavious Odoms came down with a knee injury. Greg Mathews is reliable, Hemingway is a good leaper, and when Koger isn't dropping easy passes he's making spectacular ones. With Ohio State struggling a tiny bit in short zones and man-to-man with their nickelback, Michigan might be able to move the ball from time to time by having Forcier zip it around the field. Someone or something will blow up consistently enough for this to be a sputtering sort of game plan, but Michigan's probably got to start here, attempting to pass to set up the run.
Key Matchup: Forcier versus Not Getting Nervous. Big game for the kid here; he's made significant strides the past two weeks and if he can put together a good game against this defense as a true freshman there will be something to get excited about going into 2010.
Run Defense vs Ohio State
Let's repurpose a table from last week that purported to show Michigan was decent against traditional running attacks:
[Note: QB/WR runs excised for tighter focus on 'rock' style running.]
John Clay went for 156 yards at 5.8 a pop; so much for that. The reason Michigan was pretty decent against the above three teams except when tackles were been missed or overrun was that they are not good at rushing; Wisconsin is. Ohio State's rushing offense is close to Wisconsin's statistically without the benefit of playing Michigan (yet), and it's coming on of late:
Michigan, meanwhile… well, you know. The defensive line is playing valiantly but one side of it is desperately undersized and the linebacker support is almost nonexistent. It's a really bad rushing defense, and chances are Ohio State may have noticed this. Expect them to pound and pound and pound until they crack through.
The edges will be under threat. Last week Wisconsin lined up in big sets that had Brandon Graham tucked inside tight ends and then attacked the outside time and again, exploiting Roh's youth, Brown's lack of size, and Smith's total uncertainty. With Terrelle Pryor and little in the way of pounding backs, Ohio State's best attacks will be to the outside; given the success of Juice Williams on simple veer plays that Michigan hasn't shown any ability to defend in two years Pryor figures to get his share of opportunities to run past linebackers nowhere near the, you know, ball.
Something similar to the Wisconsin game is in store: a number of good plays turned in by the defensive line followed up by crushing linebacker/safety errors that throw it all away.
Key Matchup: Linebackers showing up in the right hole/maintaining the correct option responsibility. Hey, it could happen.
Pass Defense vs Ohio State
Last week's prediction of doom over the middle may have gotten the main target wrong by picking Garrett Graham instead of Everyone, but it was on-point as far as the doom bit goes. Michigan can't cover anyone over the middle of the field, and when they go to man the safeties can't cover anyone anywhere.
But Michigan is going up against Jim Tressel, a guy who packed up shop after getting a two-score lead and threw the ball twice in the second half of the 2007 game. And his quarterback is erratic Terrelle Pryor, and almost the only way Ohio State can lose the game is by ending up –2 or worse in turnover margin, and really if I was him I'd just avoid anything remotely dangerous until you feel threatened, which probably doesn't ever actually occur. Terrelle Pryor's line from the Illinois game might be illuminating: 8 of 13 for 82 yards. Also, Ohio State never, ever throws to the tight end. So… yeah, Michigan might do okay here if the corners stick to the receivers and Pryor isn't permitted much time. They might also give up two 60-yard touchdowns, but first they'll have to make Ohio State throw.
When they do throw there's a fair chance that Brandon Graham makes Pryor eat turf. Though Ohio State is above average in sacks allowed that's because they've only thrown 261 times. Chances are that Pryor just runs up a gaping hole in the middle of the field, but, hey, you know. Whatever helps.
For his part, Pryor has been frustrating and inconsistent all year. He's 57th in passer efficiency—behind true freshman Forcier—and alternates NFL ropes with arm-punts. If—when—Michigan leaves guys wide open because they're freaking out about play action he can hit guys up, but every time he drops back to throw there's a chance of disaster. Actually… that goes for both teams.
Key Matchup: Making This Exist versus Not Making It Exist.
Ohio State's punt returns are average. The kick returns, though infrequent, have been pretty decent thanks in large part to a kick return touchdown in Ohio State's bizarre win over Wisconsin (note: after UFRing the UW game—offense is coming like Sunday or something—I think Wisconsin is obviously the best team in the league this year but for Tolzien's tendency towards interceptions). Punting is meh, and the starting kicker is out so we don't really know anything about the kicking game.
Michigan, again, should have a solid edge here, but as we've seen that's just not enough to overcome shortcomings elsewhere.
Key Matchup: CATCH THE DAMN BALL.
Abuse your kids' future psyches for Michigan == fame.
- The offensive line is as overrun as it appears they'll be.
- Michigan starts a freshman walk-on against Ohio State…
- …and he's not the most overmatched defender on the field.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Pryor is arrested for BEING IN A BAR before he is 21.
- Fairies drop from the sky and turn the Ohio State defensive line into eggplants.
- I'm banking on the fairies.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 10 out of 10. (Baseline 5, +1 for We Won't Run, +1 for We Won't Pass, +1 for They Won't Pass… +1 for Because They Won't Have To, +1 for ).
Desperate need to win level: 10 out of 10. (Baseline 5, +5 for Duh.)
Loss will cause me to... well, it will be over.
Win will cause me to... rush the field, probably. For real.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
Thematically, this reminds me of the 2007 game a lot. In that one, Ohio State was not particularly confident in their quarterback but was in their defense, especially with Chad Henne's shoulder not containing his arm and the offensive line's failure to exist. So they just ran and ran and ran and eventually Wells broke a big one and that was it.
Michigan's better on offense than that team was if only because their quarterback is functional but they're way, way worse on defense. There should be more scoring but the final result will be the same: a game that Michigan is vaguely in for a half before a couple things break down, at which point they trail by two scores until time runs out.
Finally, opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Smith is the primary ballcarrier and ekes out 80 yards.
- Graham is sackless because Pryor throws like 15 times.
- I have lots of fun listening to the people around me.
- Ohio State, 30-14
I was standing in front of a big group of people in a bar in midtown New York City, and I knew that the year before I had wandered in in a suit and told them that this would be an off year for Michigan football because the quarterbacks were probably bad and the offensive line probably worse. That sounds right from 10,000 feet, but I'd splashed an Alamo Bowl logo up at the end of the presentation when I should have put up a map of Tajikistan underneath the title MOVE HERE IMMEDIATELY.
So I had a slide at the beginning that noted some of the things I'd been very wrong about the year before, and I noted my errors, asked for forgiveness, suggested that football was a crazy game, and promised them less than I'd promised the year before but more than they'd gotten. That seemed to go okay.
Around here, I asked Paul to splice together a bunch of highlights and set it to a song that seemed particularly apropos and posted it on the eve of the season. To call it hopeful sells it short. A bunch of good plays strung together that ignores last year's woe is hopeful. One that acknowledges them and then flashes to color when the good stuff kicks in is closer to an explicit promise.
It's not a surprise that as the season has dragged along, the team an increasingly unrecognizable piece of roadkill grinding away the remnants of a jaw along the highway of the Big Ten, that more than the occasional comment or email references "Sometimes When You're On" as a source of gallows humor. Sometimes there's no humor and the emailer is just lamenting the hope that has transubstantiated into misery. That's considerably worse.
Kennedy is dead and I'm sitting here telling anyone who will ask "things are going to be all right" and now, finally, it's not working. And deservedly so.
In 2002, I was in Ireland for the summer. I'd graduated from undergrad and had a chunk of money saved up from summers spent interning at engineering firms and my girlfriend of over a year had broken up with me in slow motion and I thought I'd have an adventure. I planned on working. A friend of mine had spent a chunk of time in Ireland working IT when jobs were available for anyone with working knowledge of a screwdriver, but the Celtic Tiger had imploded dramatically with the rest of the tech world in 2001 and I was reduced to wandering around wondering why the hell I needed a resume to pick plates up and put them other places. Surely there was some sort of spatial reasoning test that could be done on the fly.
So I didn't work. I rented a room in a Galway house shared by a bunch of marine biology students—when The Abyss was on TV, the rig-envy was palpable—and screwed around. One of the things I did was watch every game of the World Cup, because why the hell not? Ireland was in it after a famous upset of Holland, not that I knew about this, or how infrequent Irish World Cup appearances are, at the time. I got up at eight in the morning—impressive to me, at least—to watch them tie Cameroon in their first match.
The second match day was a huge, nerve-wracking one with the US taking on Portugal and Ireland staring down the Germans and freaking Oliver Kahn, the robot goalie. Kahn would become a personal sporting bête noire over the course of the tournament, a man worthy of his last name. He would win the Golden Ball as the tournament's best player, the only time in World Cup history that the award has gone to a goalie. And his team didn't even win. He was good.
The USA could really use a win in their first match; Ireland just needed a draw with Saudi Arabia the last game on the schedule.
I debated heading down to the pub at eight in the morning, but eventually decided against it mostly because it was a twenty minute walk. But the US scored, and scored again, and scored again, and with the game 3-1 at halftime and my house abandoned I said "screw it" and spent halftime scurrying downtown. I watched Jeff Agoos score a spectacular own goal while nursing a pint of cider* in a moderately full pub. The USA won and that was well and good. For everyone else, it was a small moment of schadenfreude in before the main event.
So here's the main event: Ireland goes toe-to-toe with the Germans, putting more shots on goal but unable to crack Kahn. In the 19th minute enormous robot striker Miroslav Klose puts the Germans up, but from that moment on they're on the back foot. Ireland presses to no avail. Kahn seems everywhere. He makes three insane saves to keep Ireland off the board. I loathe him. I hate his incredibly German hair, and his insane excellence.
Then it's gone. Ninety minutes are over and they're just kicking it around in stoppage time. Ireland has made their desperate substitutions, sticking creaky old Niall Quinn, a 6'4" battleship of a target forward, out there in the vague hope he can get his head to the ball. In the 92nd minute some defender boots the ball upfield as people do at the end of the game when there's no time and no hope. Quinn finds this ball and flicks it down to an onrushing Robbie Keane. That bastard Kahn is out, though, out fast and in position and Keane has to shoot after one touch and the shot actually deflects off that fucking bastard Kahn…
You have no doubt experienced some variety of sports pandemonium in your life, but you probably haven't watched an entire country take the day off to drink next to the river. In the immediate aftermath I remember hugging some guy who looked like he was from Pakistan. I was instantly recognizable as an American, so maybe that made sense. Ever since, I've rooted for Kahn in his losing battle against preening Jens Lehman, and maybe that makes sense, too.
On Wednesday, Ireland missed the World Cup on the most flagrant handball since Diego Maradona.
It has not been a good fall. Since Michigan scraped by Indiana, the team they are vying with for outright possession of the Big Ten cellar, I haven't watched Michigan beat any team that plays at scholarship parity with them in two different sports. Football hasn't beaten a I-A team since September 26th. Hockey is currently languishing at 4-6 after consecutive sweeps at the hands of Miami and, of all teams, Michigan State. In that series, Corey Tropp scored in a game that finished 3-2. Hell, the one hockey game I've listened to on the radio this year was the dismal 2-0 defeat against Fairbanks to open the year.
It's been hard for me. In the past my strategy when sports were more pain than they're worth has been to disconnect as much as possible, but that's obviously not possible any more. So I've seen everything that's happened the last two years somewhere between four and eight times.
But it's been hard on everyone else, too. Johnny emerged from his slumber to write something beautiful about Brandon Minor…
On Saturday he will be there. Maybe not on Thursday or on Friday, but you don’t prepare for the deranged violence.
…and this is how life repays him:
David Molk (knee)
Brandon Minor (shoulder)
He sent me one of the semi-annual IMs we exchange to ask me what percent chance I put on Minor playing. I said "I don't know," and that was that. This is life at the bottom.
Everyone who's joked or not joked about "Sometimes When You're On" is hurt because their expectations have not been met, because they hoped for more. I've played a role in that, and for that I'm sorry. There are days when two minnows come up against world powers and win, or tie their asses off, though. When I went to RBUAS I saw that Jake and Mike and Chad had given way to a new era, however brief it will be:
A beautifully futile gesture. Johnny had the old guys up there forever, and it wasn't hard to figure out why. But what I said after the Notre Dame game still holds, even if it's cast in a different light by the events that followed: this is Michigan now. Though they're still plainly deficient, they'll be there Saturday. I don't know if things are going to be all right anymore. But I'll be there, too, and God help anyone who talks about "heart" within earshot.
Saturday contains itself. For three hours, let hope bloom, and think about the consequences afterward.
*(Don't judge me. It was before noon and somehow Bulmers has this marvelous nutty tinge if you get it from the tap in Ireland. I've had the stuff stateside and it suffers far more than Guinness does.)
Yes, there's an OSU preview coming.
|WHAT||#15/16 Michigan v. Houston Baptist|
November 20th, 2009
|THE LINE||No line, junkie|
Michigan will probably come out with the same lineup they played last game: Darius Morris at the point, Laval Lucas-Perry at guard, Manny Harris and Zack Novak at forward, and DeShawn Sims in the middle. Stu Douglass will replace LLP at the first substitution.
With the quality of team HBU appears to be (more on that in a moment), Michigan will probably be able to get lots of subs into the game. It may not mean multiple minutes for Eso Akunne and Josh Bartelstein, but Beilein has a big tournament coming up next weekend, and should try to build a bit of depth.
Matt Vogrich, Stu Douglass, and Zack Gibson will probably get a bunch of time. If Ben Cronin is healthy, he can be the biggest guy on the court by 3 inches. Anthony Wright will probably get some time for a 10-man rotation, but he hasn't played well so far.
For the Wolverines, this should be little more than a tuneup for the Old Spice Classic next weekend.
It's hard to know exactly how good teams are this early in the season, but early returns on Houston Baptist say they're pretty bad. The Huskies have only played South Alabama, Sacramento State, and Rice, and have lost all three games (two on their home court).
The majority of their problems have been on offense, where they're 300th in efficiency (again, don't read tooooo much into the rankings this early in the season). They turn the ball over on more than a quarter of their possessions, and they can't shoot the ball, especially from long range, where they've made fewer than 9% of their shots(!). They also have 13.1% of their attempts blocked.
Defensively, they've been good defending the three-point line, holding opponents to 19% shooting. They've also been above-average in holding opponents from making 2-point buckets.
So, with three games under their belts, Houston Baptist has looked like a very bad offensive team, and a decent defensive team. The Wolverines will be the most talented team they've seen yet by far.
This is definitely a team that won't give Michigan matchup trouble with size. The Huskies' most used players have been post Mario Flaherty (their tallest player at 6-9), 6-6 forward Andrew Gonzales, 5th-year senior guard Wendell Preadom, and guard Michael Moss. Those guys have played more than 3/4 of available minutes, and nobody else has played more than a third.
Ach: this one is late for no reason other than I forgot to post it yesterday. In keeping with our "you can't have one with the other" theme of late, Jamiemac of Just Cover appears but we forgo an Ohio State blogger on the premise that even if they tried really hard they couldn't be anything other than annoyingly condescending given the state of things.
Long, and mostly concerned with 2010 and basketball so timeliness is not a huge issue.
Links of use:
University of Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez announced Thursday (Nov. 19) following practice the four permanent captains elected for the 130th team in school history. Linebacker Stevie Brown (Columbus, Ind./Columbus East HS), defensive end Brandon Graham (Detroit, Mich./Crockett Technical HS), punter Zoltan Mesko (Twinsburg, Ohio/Twinsburg HS) and left tackle Mark Ortmann (Klein, Texas/Klein HS) were selected by their teammates as captains of the 2009 football team.
“Our players have selected four student-athletes who represent our program at the highest level both on and off the field,” said Rodriguez. “Stevie, Brandon, Zoltan and Mark have played at a high level all season and received the greatest honor that a player can receive, selection as captain by your peers. They, and our other seniors, will lead us into Michigan Stadium Saturday to play the greatest rivalry game in college football.”
Brown joins Graham as a defensive captain. He is the team’s leading tackler with 73 stops and is second with eight tackles for loss, both career highs. Brown has also contributed one sack, one forced fumble, one interception and four pass breakups. He has started all 11 games at linebacker and will see action in his 50th career game when U-M faces Ohio State.
Graham is the most dominant defensive lineman in the Big Ten, racking up a league and NCAA-best 21 tackles for loss. He has 8.5 sacks on the year and has contributed at least one quarterback stop in six of the past seven games. Graham has recorded a career-best 57 tackles, two PBUs, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. He has also contributed on special teams, blocking two punts and returning another for his first career touchdown. An All-America candidate, Graham is second all-time at Michigan in sacks (27.5) and third in tackles for loss (51).
Mesko is one of the nation’s top all-around student-athletes, excelling on the field, in the classroom and the community. He leads the Big Ten and is sixth nationally in punting with a career-best 44.7-yard average this season. A semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award for the second straight season, Mesko has punted 46 times for 2,054 yards. He had 16 fair caught, 15 boots of 50 yards or better and 13 downed inside the opposition’s 20-yard line. Mesko is a finalist for the Lowes Senior CLASS Award, the Danny Wuerffel Trophy and has been named to the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team. He earned CoSIDA Academic All-District IV first team honors and is top candidate for Academic All-America honors.
Ortmann has started all 11 games at left tackle and helped anchor the Wolverines’ offense that is rated top in the Big Ten in scoring (31.3 points per game) and is second in rushing offense (195.8 avg.). He has started 24 contests and played in 35 games during his career.
The captains will lead the Wolverines against No. 9 Ohio State Saturday (Nov. 21) at Michigan Stadium. The 106th meeting will be televised nationally by ESPN on ABC at noon EST.
Following is the team’s injury report for the game against the Buckeyes:
David Molk (knee)
Brandon Minor (shoulder)
Doubtful (25 percent chance of playing)
Mike Williams (ankle)
Probable (75 percent chance of playing)
Martavious Odoms (knee)
Most obvious captaining ever, but good for them. I really wish Brandon Minor could, like, play against OSU. They've appreared to have left injured people off the report, but the coaches have never listed someone as out and then played them. Damn.