Yeah, so, I wrote this today:
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Scene: a futuristic computer room, ringed with terminals and transparent screens. A single, long-haired blogger dude stands in the midst, wearing an electric glove, wired with electrodes, and manipulating data. Suddenly the man stops, and waits. A small, coral-colored ball emerges from a tube in the ceiling, bearing a cryptic imprinted message:
Scene: an outdoor dining table behind a palatial country club. A fifty-ish man in corporate chic [DAVE BRANDON] snaps a slice of Negihama roll from the hip of a nude prostitute, prompting a giggle.
PROSTITUTE: Are you ready for me, Ralph?
DAVE BRANDON: Actually, you can just call me “Dave.”
The shadow of approaching guest [RICH RODRIGUEZ] darkens the foreground.
DAVE BRANDON: What now? Rodriguez. And what, may I ask, is it I can do for you today?
RICH RODRIGUEZ: Well as you know, our defense ain’t been ‘zacly what people expect.
DAVE BRANDON: You don’t say. And this is my problem becauzzzz? [exchanges glances with sushi-bearing prostitute]
RICH RODRIGUEZ: I’s just hopin’ maybe, if I could get a little bit-a more money--
DAVE BRANDON: More money? MORE money?
RICH RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, well, see, there’s this guy I know, Jeff Casteel—
DAVE BRANDON: I see. So you want ME to give YOU more money so you can hire “some guy you know.” [making air quotes] Great plan, southern man.
RICH RODRIGUEZ: That’s basically the gist of it. But we was top ten at West Virginia.
DAVE BRANDON: Okay. But you gotta ask me nicely. [Prostitute smiles again.]
RICH RODRIGUEZ: Say what?
DAVE BRANDON: You gotta ask me nicely. You come here, asking me for more money to spend on your spread offense and your ‘traditional’ white road uniforms. You gotta ask me nicely.
RICH RODRIGUEZ: Alright then. Pretty please, can I have money to hire Jeff Casteel?
DAVE BRANDON: Ha ha. Let me give you a little advice, so you know. In times of economic uncertainty, never, ever fuck with another man's livelihood. Go have fun, now? You know fun, time of your life? And don’t ever come back here. [Brandon and prostitute laugh diabolically}
Scene: a rural linebacker farm in the rolling Virginia hills, west of Baltimore. The aging proprietor [GREG MATTISON] stares excitedly as the beak of a new hatchling pokes through its shell. Above the incubator, a strip of masking tape says “Hybrid Space Player.” Suddenly, the barn door swings open, to reveal a lone figure [BRADY HOKE]—corpulent, with bare arms in winter.
GREG MATTISON: No, no, no, no sir. Can’t use him, don’t want him, couldn’t afford him if I did.
The figure [BRADY HOKE] approaches.
GREG MATTISON: I heard all about you and Dave Brandon. Me though, I’m retired, don’t want none of that. But you’re welcome to come in, have a beer, and play some euchre.
Scene moves to dim living room. A flickering old CRT televisions set murmurs in the background, children sleep among cookie crumbs and empty soda bottles. Two men [GREG MATTISON and BRADY HOKE] slide the coffee table against a wall.
GREG MATTISON: You sure you want to do this? I was All-American, remember?
BRADY HOKE: [slurred] I’m taking you down this time, biy-atch.
The men begin wrestling. Much furniture is smashed. Camera pans around to capture championship trophies from the Florida Gators, Baltimore Ravens, Michigan Wolverines. GREG MATTISON eventually gains the upper hand.
GREG MATTISON: You coach that team, Brady, and you’ll FAIL! You’ll fail, god dammit! Dave Brandon is no particular friend. He’d put you in the wall today if he could get Harbaugh tomorrow.
BRADY HOKE: [Out of breath] But I need this, Greg. I haven’t got anything else.
Scene: The Big House, Ann Arbor, Michigan--a roaring football stadium at night, fans waving yellow pom-poms and chanting along to piped-in techno music. Down on the field, DEVIN GARDNER confidently steps into the Michigan huddle. A voice [AL BORGES] crackles on his helmet mic.
AL BORGES: Maverick, this is Ghost Rider. Take angels 10-left-three-zero.
DEVIN GARDNER: Roger.
Looks up at teammates
DEVIN GARDNER: Angels 10-left-three-zero. Jeremy, you got him?
JEREMY GALLON: Roger.
DEVIN GARDNER: Okay—you hook’em. Jehu will clean’em and fry’em.
Players line up in a shotgun formation.
DEVIN GARDNER: Contact, 20 left at 30! Nine hundred! Nine Hundred! Set, hut!
Players begin running, pads begin popping, Gardner throws a pass to Jeremy Gallon. Gallon catches it, spins off two defenders, and scores. Crowd goes absolutely wild. Meanwhile, Jehu Chesson blocks three defenders into a pile, then stands over them.
JEHU CHESSON: “Watch the birdie!”
Snaps a Polaroid. Scene fades
Scene: Jubilant locker room. Sweaty Michigan football players gather around Head Coach BRADY HOKE, clap and sing “The Victors.”
BRADY HOKE: I’m really proud of the way this team practiced, this team executed. Enjoy this one. But we’ve still got ten more to play—
Hoke pauses momentarily, as a grinning DAVE BRANDON shuffles through the crowd
BRADY HOKE: So yeah, I want’chall enjoy this one, then we’ll be right back to work tomorrow morning.
A cheer goes up from the players, who begin turning away…
DAVE BRANDON: One more thing, well done, gentlemen. You really kicked some ass tonight.
Slight sighs are heard from the annoyed players.
DAVE BRANDON: In this big game that we play, life, it's not what you hope for, it's not what you deserve, it's what you take. I'm Dave muthaf*kin Brandon, a master of the muffin and author of the “Avoid the Noid” advertising campaign for Domino’s Pizza. No I wasn’t an All-American when I played here for Bo Schembechler. But I was able to become an All-American at business, because I learned one thing: Respect the cock! And tame the cunt! Tame it! Take it on headfirst with the skills that I will teach you at work and say no! You will not control me! No! You will not take my soul! No!
You will not win this game! Because it's a game, guys. You want to think it's not, huh? You want to think it's not? Go back to the schoolyard and you have that crush on big-titted Mary Jane. Respect the cock. You are embedding this thought. I am the one who's in charge. I am the one who says yes! No! Now! Here! Because it's universal, man. It is evolutional. It is anthropological. It is biological. It is animal. We... are... men!
Players stand in stunned silence.
Scene: Michigan LSA student SAGAR LATHIA enters the Arcade Barbershop and takes a seat in an empty barber’s chair as the door creaks shut behind him.
SAGAR LATHIA: How's it going, Luther?
LUTHER: Another day, another dollar, captain.
SAGAR LATHIA: You gotta play them as they lay.
LUTHER: What goes around comes around.
SAGAR LATHIA: Can't beat 'em, join 'em.
LUTHER: At least I got my health.
SAGAR LATHIA: Well, then you got everything... See you tomorrow, Luther.
LUTHER: Not if I see you first.
SAGAR LATHIA: Sometimes you gotta say, "what the fuck." Make your move. Luther, every now and then, saying "what the fuck?" brings freedom. Freedom brings opportunity, opportunity makes your future.
Scene: Big House for early game vs. Akron. Quiet hum from crowd as Michigan offense breaks huddle.
DEVIN GARDNER: Red 90! Red 90! Hike!
Gardner receives shotgun snap, drops back to pass. Pressure comes up middle. Gardner retreats, spins, reverses field, and is blind-sided by an Akron player. Gardner throws ball—but the wobbly duck lands right in the chest of an Akron player and is run into the end zone for a TD. Gardner lies on turf, mystified.
Scene: luxury suite above Michigan Stadium. DAVE BRANDON grabs telephone receiver and lifts to ear.
Scene: Michigan sideline. A phone rings. A team manager answers and bring the phone to BRADY HOKE.
BRADY HOKE: Consider yourself in Contempt!
GREG MATTISON: [standing beside BRADY HOKE] You don’t have to answer that question.
BRADY HOKE: I'll answer the question! [Into phone] You want answers?!
Scene cuts back to Brandon’s luxury box
DAVE BRANDON: I think I’m entitled!
Back to sideline
BRADY HOKE: You want answers?
Back to Brandon’s luxury box
DAVE BRANDON: I want the truth!
Back to sideline
BRADY HOKE: You can’t handle the truth!
Scene: a classroom in Mason Hall on University of Michigan campus. A female professor jots information on the white-board, then looks up.
PROFESSOR: Excuse me, Mr. Lathia, is there something wrong?
SAGAR LATHIA: Yes ma'am, the data on the coaching search is inaccurate.
PROFESSOR: How's that, Mr. Lathia?
SAGAR LATHIA: Well, I just happened to read Dave Brandon’s actual itinerary from “The Process,” and he never actually met with Miles. Never offered Harbaugh the job.
PROFESSOR: Where did you see this?
SAGAR LATHIA: Got it from John U. Bacon.
PROFESSOR: From who?
SAGAR LATHIA: John U. Bacon. I would introduce you to him, but then Dave Brandon would have you fired.
Scene: Road game at Penn State. White-out, fans yelling hostile obscenities. Michigan trailing on the scoreboard. Nervous-looking DEVIN GARDNER approaches the huddle.
DEVIN GARDNER: Twenty-one right Bogey on three.
JEREMY GALLON: What? Again? It hasn’t worked the first twenty-six times we’ve run it.
DEVIN GARDNER: It’s what the man said. Twenty-one right Bogey on three. Readee-break!
Michigan offense steps to line against Penn State defense, which has inserted extra defensive tackles. The wall of defensive humanity nearly blocks out the lighting.
DEVIN GARDNER: Set…hut! Hut! Ready….hut!
[DEVIN GARDNER] takes snap, retreats into backfield, shoves ball into running back’s arms. The back is promptly swallowed by several tacklers before reaching the line of scrimmage. Dispirited Michigan players walk back to the huddle.
AL BORGES: Dang-it. Okay, Maverick, let’s go Angels 10-left-three-zero.
DEVIN GARDNER: Roger that.
Gardner faces offensive teammates, gives play. Unit lines up in shotgun formation.
DEVIN GARDNER: Red 90! Red 90! Hut!
Slo-mo shot as shotgun snap approaches. DEVIN GARDNER catches snap. Heavy breaths and foot-falls. DEVIN GARDNER retreats one step, camera pans to primary read. JEREMY GALLON is open in seam.
DEVIN GARDNER: It’s no good.
Camera closes-in on [JEREMY GALLON]
JEREMY GALLON: God dammit Maverick!
Camera follows Gardner’s eyes as he moves to secondary read. DEVIN FUNCHESS is open on sideline.
DEVIN GARDNER: It’s no good!
DEVIN FUNCHESS: God dammit!
Penn State defenders arrive. Gardner slammed to turf, ball comes out. Penn State players rejoice as crowd erupts into frenzy. A crumpled Gardner sits motionless on the field.
Scene: an austere, tropical barracks. Banana rats scurry as hooded figures slip into a darkened room. Inside, a rotund figure of a snoring man [AL BORGES] heaves upon the bunk. Suddenly, the figures pull a blanket tight over the man’s chest; a pure grey bar of soap is shoved into his mouth, and the man is pummeled repeatedly with oversized macaroni noodles.
AL BORGES: Whaahhh—[choking sounds as soap enters mouth]
The beating continues for several seconds
HOODED FIGURE: Get an identity, fat man!
The figures rush out of the room as AL BORGES passes out.
Scene: anti-septic military-style interrogation room. Young lawyer [SAGAR LATHIA] in dress uniform enters the room. five hulking men, each wearing a jump-suit marked with a non-eligible number, immediately rise and salute.
SAGAR LATHIA: [timidly] At ease?
The men sit. SAGAR LATHIA sits at folding chair across the table.
SAGAR LATHIA: So, can we start with what happened?
TAYLOR LEWAN: Sir! What happened when, sir!?
SAGAR LATHIA: Well, I understand the five of you beat a guy with noodles—
TAYLOR LEWAN: Sir! It was a ‘miscommunication,’ sir!
SAGAR LATHIA: A miscommunication?
TAYLOR LEWAN: Sir! That’s what we call it. A ‘miscommunication,’ sir!
SAGAR LATHIA: Well, I’m just trying to understand—
TAYLOR LEWAN: Sir! Must protect the brand, sir!
SAGAR LATHIA: The brand?
TAYLOR LEWAN: Sir! Yes, sir! Must protect the brand. That’s our code, sir!
SAGAR LATHIA: Who put you up to this?
TAYLOR LEWAN: Sir?
SAGAR LATHIA: You better tell me. I’m the only friend you’ve got.
TAYLOR LEWAN: Sir! I am on specific orders not to disclose that my commanding officer, Dave Brandon, instructed me to perform the miscommunication, sir!
SAGAR LATHIA: …
Scene: DEVIN GARDNER meets with BRADY HOKE on an isolated path along the Huron River.
BRADY HOKE: What I’m about to tell you is classified—could end my career. I loved coaching that Denard, even if he wasn’t a pocket-passer. You're a lot like he was. Only better... and worse. He was a natural heroic son of a bitch that one.
DEVIN GARDNER: So he did do it right.
BRADY HOKE: Yeah, he did it right... Is that why you play the way you do? Trying to prove something? Yeah, Denard did it right. We were in a rebuilding phase. There were walk-ons and freshmen like fireflies all over the roster. His ulnar nerve was hit, and he was wounded—he could have not dressed. But he stayed in it, won three games before Nebraska got him.
DEVIN GARDNER: How come I never heard that before?
BRADY HOKE: Well, that's not something the Athletic Department tells fans when a player belongs in a spread offense, isn’t ‘Manball’ enough.
DEVIN GARDNER: So you get it?
BRADY HOKE: I get it. What's on your mind?
DEVIN GARDNER: My options, sir.
BRADY HOKE: Simple. You've already acquired an undergraduate degree. You can soldier on in our pathetic offense, or you can quit. There'd be no disgrace. Last year’s offensive line was hell, it would've shook me up.
DEVIN GARDNER: So you think I should quit?
BRADY HOKE: I didn't say that. The simple fact is you feel responsible for Notre Dame and you have a confidence problem. Now I'm not gonna sit here and blow sunshine up your ass. A good quarterback is compelled to evaluate what's happened, so he can apply what he's learned. On the field there, we gotta push it. That's our job. It's your option, Devin. All yours.
DEVIN GARDNER: Sorry to bother you on a Sunday, sir, but thank you very much for your time.
BRADY HOKE: No problem. Good luck.
* * * * *
Scene: a ceiling panel slides open in a bright, institutional storage closet. Motion-detecting lasers criss-cross the room at odd angles, and alarmed panels cover the floor. A lone computer terminal sits unoccupied at a desk built into the wall. Suddenly, SAGAR LATHIA drops from the ceiling. He almost strikes the floor, but spreads-eagle inches above it. SAGAR LATHIA moves through the air to the computer terminal, pulls up a screen that says “COCA-COLA TICKET PROMOTION,” and inserts a USB drive to download the data. A lengthy status bar appears on the screen while the data is slowly copied.
Meanwhile, outside the room, DAVE BRANDON speaks with [ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT WORKER].
DAVE BRANDON: How many tickets have you sold today?
ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT WORKER: Fourteen hundred, sir.
DAVE BRANDON: Very good. How much is that?
ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT WORKER: Well, with the Coca-Cola promotion, that’s twenty-eight hundred dollars. More importantly, we can keep our streak of 100,000 fans alive.
DAVE BRANDON: Whatever. You know what I say? If it ain’t broke, break it—that’s what I say. So go ahead and break that streak.
ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT WORKER: Whatever you say, sir. Don’t want to be fired like every other person I used to work with.
DAVE BRANDON: Yeah. Hey, didn’t those skywriters give us a half-off coupon for our next purchase? I think $2,800 ought to cover it.
ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT WORKER: I think the coupon is in the storage room, sir.
DAVE BRANDON: Well don’t just sit there. Bring me skywriting coupon!
Camera returns to storage room. SAGAR LATHIA finishes downloading marketing plan data and is pulled back through ceiling, just as ATHLETIC DEPARTMENT WORKER opens the door.
Scene: Ornate banquet room at Detroit’s Downtown Athletic Club, for annual Michigan Football Bust. Team, dressed in suits, has finished its meal and is looking to podium. Camera pans room to see several players carrying or wearing medical equipment, DEVIN GARDNER in full-body cast with oxygen tank. BRADY HOKE exits podium to moderate applause, as DAVE BRANDON steps to podium.
DAVE BRANDON: And I just want to thank Brady for the wonderful job he’s done. Really, really wonderful job. But you know, 7-5 really is not Michigan Football. I mean, let’s face it: you men are shit. What? Yes: you men... are... shit. Horrible, heinous, *heinous*, terrible football players. That’s you. Fuck this bullshit. What is it that we need? We need Michigan Men! You see what I'm getting at? What’s your problem, anyway? “Mommy wouldn't let me play soccer... and Daddy, he hit me, so that's who I am, that's why I do what I do?” We will not apologize for who we are. Michigan will not apologize for what it needs. I will not apologize for what I want! And that’s why I’d like to introduce the new head coach of the Michigan Wolverines—
Just then, SAGAR LATHIA and JOHN U. BACON rush into the room
JOHN U. BACON: Stop!
DAVE BRANDON: What the hell is this?
JOHN U. BACON: Stop, this man [points to SAGAR LATHIA] has something to say.
DAVE BRANDON: I’m outta here.
GREG MATTISON: [rises from the back of the room]: You're not going anywhere, Brandon. DTs, guard the Athletic Director.
DAVE BRANDON: Am I being charged with a crime? Is that what this is? I'm being charged with a crime? This is funny. That's what this is.
SAGAR LATHIA: You brought in Special K and left the band at home. You paid pilots to skywrite “Go Blue” over an empty Spartan Stadium. You masterminded the general admission fiasco. You undermined Rich Rod and botched the hire of Brady Hoke.
DAVE BRANDON: Son, we live in a world that has college football, and college football has to be played by men wearing uniformz. Who's gonna do it? You? You, hockey boy? I have a greater responsibility than you could possibly fathom. You weep for our tradition, and you curse the rawk muzak. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That the loss of Michigan tradition, while tragic, probably won games. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, wins games. You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me in that luxury box, you need me on in that luxury box. We use words like brand identity, brand equity, sub-brand, and brand loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent marketing something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very revenue that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a pom-pom, and wave it to piped-in techno. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to.
SAGAR LATHIA: Did you order the miscommunication?
DAVE BRANDON: You’re goddamn right I did!
Audible gasp arises from the team and boosters in attendance
DAVE BRANDON: I'm gonna rip the eyes out of your head and puke into your dead skull, you messed with the wrong AD!
BRADY HOKE: I think you’re in deep shit, Brandon, I guaran-damn-tee you.
DAVE BRANDON: You have no idea how to run an athletic department. All you did was weaken The Team today, Lathia. That's all you did. You put Rose Bowl berths in danger. Sweet dreams, son.
SAGAR LATHIA: Don't call me son. I'm a Michigan student, and an officer in the LS&A student government. And you're fired, you son of a bitch.
Scene: Schembechler Hall. Square-jawed John Harbaugh stands at a podium, beside an academic-looking man [BRAD BATES] in a muted blazer. Cameras flash as BRAD BATES steps to the microphone bank.
BRAD BATES: I’d like to announce some exciting new changes for Michigan Football. We thank Brady Hoke for his distinguished service as the head coach; he’ll be staying on with the athletic department as an advisor and assistant euchre and wrestling coach. We’d like to welcome John Harbaugh, most recently of the Baltimore Ravens and the son of former Michigan assistant Jack Harbaugh, as our new head coach. And we’d like to extend our congratulations to Devin Gardner, who has made a full recovery from his injuries and was drafted 199th overall by the New England Patriots. Thank you, and Go Blue!
In another thread, I offered to post an e-mail exchange that I had with Dave Brandon about a year ago at the beginning of last season. I should probably explain that when it first happened I was too mad to think about posting it, and we were in the midst of a season, then prompty forgot about it during the off-season, when I should have posted it. But now Dave has pissed us off again, and with any luck we will be bidding him adieu soon, so it now seems relevant again.
So, to set the stage: it is the Friday before the 2013 season opener. Michigan had a big stupid Kraft noodle in Michigan stadium. The natives were restless, even MGoShoe. The noodle itself didn't upset me, but rather the slow creep of advertising into the stadium. So although I didn't think that my opinion meant all that much, I figured that I would let the Athletic Department know how I felt. I wasn't expecting a response at all, and I figured that if I did get a response, it would be some boilerplate like, "Dear X, thanks for your feedback and for your continued support of Michigan football! Go blue!" Instead I got snark.
I sent the same e-mail to Dave Brandon and to Brian Townsend:
Dear Mr. Brandon/Mr. Townsend,
As an alumnus and supporter of the University, I was upset to see in the Michigan Daily (http://www.michigandaily.com/
blog/game/football/8-new-) that the Athletic Department is apparently planning to allow Kraft Macaroni and Cheese to advertise inside the grounds of Michigan Stadium. advertisement-blocks-big- house-view-29One of the attractions and important traditions of the stadium experience, in my view, is the lack of advertising. Please do not allow this trend to continue. I would rather pay higher ticket prices than to be subjected to large orange plastic noodles and other such nonsense that significantly detract from my experience.Many thanks in advance and Go Blue!Yours sincerely,[my name]Associate Professor, [my department in the humanities, my university, which is in the AAU]
Dave's response (or perhaps someone in his office?):
[My first name],
I received your message and I am sorry you are "upset" over a noodle.
Clearly, this is a very troubling matter for you.
Perhaps the lesson here is for you to be careful not to believe everything you read. There was an event at the Stadium Friday and this promotional piece was included. It was removed at the conclusion of the event.
I suggest you relax and enjoy the football game today!
Dear Mr. Brandon,Thank you for your timely response. I am not upset about a noodle, however, but about the possibility of advertising in Michigan Stadium on game days now and in the future.I suggest that you drop the condescending tone.Go Blue!
Thanks for your very helpful input!!Much appreciated!!Dave
Brian Townsend's response:
[My first name],
Thanks for your feedback. Your message was heard.
We are looking forward to another exciting weekend in Michigan Stadium. Go Blue!
Dear Brian,Thank you! I was at the Notre Dame game (UTL II) and it was magnificent. I was very impressed with all the work that the Athletics Department does to make the games so enjoyable and seemingly effortless. I know that they are not effortless, and I want to let you know how appreciative I am of all your hard work!Go Blue!
Thanks [my first name]. We appreciate your compliment!
I was upset about Brandon's response. It made me feel more alienated from the University that I love, actually. But here's the thing: it's just really, really stupid of him. He can think one of two things:
- This guy is an idiot.
- This guy is a reasonable person with strongly-held feelings about the University.
If (1), then the best thing is not to reply at all or to send some canned response: "Thanks for your passion! Go blue!" If (2), then the same, or something conciliatory: "Thanks for letting us know you feel, the opinions of fans and alumni are important to us" blah blah blah. I would have been satisfied with that. The only other time I e-mailed the AD about an issue, I received a very conciliatory note saying something like, "Thanks, we are already talking about this internally and we appreciate your input."
What does Dave Brandon gain from picking a fight with an alumnus?
I also think that his response was disingenuous, however. The fact of the matter is that the Kraft noodle was in Michigan Stadium for a promotial event, sure. But that promotional event -- cleverly called "W.O.W. Friday" -- is actually all about football (here's the official description of it). So it's not any old promotional event, but actually one directly tied to the football team and program. And despite the promotional tie-in, they charged $10 a person for access to the stadium! It wasn't even free!
It sounds like other people have had similar experiences to mine, perhaps even worse ones? I'd be interested to hear what other people have to contribute.
My first game at the Big House was, like it is for many people, my freshman year. I’d grown up in a Michigan State house through the 90s, I was a Cubs fan, my high school football team went 0 and 9 my senior year. I was pretty accustomed to sports pain, or so I thought. Here I was coming to Michigan, the winningest football program and so things would be different. And for part of that game, watching from all the way up in Row 96, it looked like I was going to be right. Things didn’t quite go as planned in that game against Utah in 2008, and they didn’t go much better 6 years later, and as I sat in the upper concourse waiting out the rain delay I had a moment to reflect on where things have come since then and what has changed.
From a program standpoint, it’s hard to pin it. Is it the play calling? Is it lack of player development? Is it blown assignments? Lack of execution? A young line that’s still learning and has busts just often enough to make Gardner skittish? Is Gardner still living in fear of the ghosts of last season? And if so who could really blame him? Fortunately for me, that’s not an analysis I’ve undertaken to dissect. There are people much more qualified to speak on the state of the team and the staff than I.
From a fan experience, however, it’s lamentably easy to pin it. And after the third straight home game with a sub-sellout crowd, the students wanted those on the field to understand it as easily as we did. Immediately after the home attendance was announced (a 103k figure that no one around me believed was accurate for even a second) the students started a cheer. Quiet at first but soon growing to include much of Section 26 as well as surrounding sections.
“FI-RE BRAN-DON” clap clap clap clap clap “FI-RE BRAN-DON”…
In a game that will likely see some subset of the coaching staff placed in the crosshairs, the students wanted to make it abundantly clear that they had one person in particular they want gone. And to be fair, I’m, ordinarily one of the last to jump on the “fire someone” bandwagon. I was in the “give RichRod one more year” camp. Until today I was in the “we’re not going to fire Hoke” camp, and truthfully, I’m still not quite ready to declare that the sky is falling. Basically since the get-go, however, I’ve wanted Brandon gone. As much as we harp on “this is Michigan” and “it’s gonna be Michigan again” and every other thing about “being Michigan” every single game, the athletic department continues to demonstrate that it doesn’t have a clue what it means to “be Michigan”.
Up until the rain delay, I was pretty confident that I wouldn’t have much content to fill this out with. — The real people seats above the student section stayed empty the whole game #ThanksDaveBrandon. The student section by and large was on time #ActuallyThanksMichaelProppe. And the student section stayed mostly intact until we were forced to leave our seats. — Then the content flood began. We walked from Row A all the way to upper concourse to take shelter. We talked with friends from other seating groups and tried to take stock of the weather and how long a delay we were expecting. As the time wore on, and lightning kept flashing, and Grapentine did his level best to make each further delay somewhat interesting, we were getting tired and thirsty, and looked for a spot to sit down. By this point there were maybe 60 people in the upper concourse. Maybe. And the athletic department had already literally locked up folding chairs. Locked them to the fence so that people could not sit down in them during a 2.5 hour delay. Trying to sit somewhere, we asked if we could sit in some of the chairs that were currently going unused. The event staff person obliged and unlocked them for us and we started to sit down. No sooner did we unfold the first chair then we were told by Jim, another event staffer working in the upper concourse, that we could not use those chairs. We asked why. He said it was a handicapped section and—unfathomably, despite the 20 or so people already sitting in chairs much like these, despite them being unused, and despite them being unlocked expressly so that we could use them—we were not allowed to.
This is what the Michigan fan experience has become with Brandon at the helm—a, probably otherwise kind, old man telling the kids they can’t sit down. It’s not that they’re evil or poorly intentioned, it’s that at a fundamental level they just don’t get it anymore, or in some cases they never did. The athletic department has prioritized branding over winning, profits over performance, gimmicks over actually addressing issues raised, and as a result has driven the students—much of the lifeblood of the stadium experience—away. I recall a quote from the athletic department a year or so ago regarding the severe drop in student ticket sales where it was asserted that the students not buying tickets were the ones unlikely to show up anyways. Keeping an eye on the section above the student section through the first three games of this season it has become readily apparent that no one is going to show up for those seats anyways. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get students to take those seats back? I guess we’re trying that with $40 single game tickets that students are unsurprisingly not jumping through hoops for. I know his years at Dominos likely didn’t prepare him for husbandry metaphors but the adage “you can shear a sheep many times but you can only skin him once” comes to mind, and Dave just doesn’t know how to shear.
Consistency. It may the most talked about word in Michigan football right now. It's what Coach Hoke says is holding us back. It's what Coach Nussmeier says is holding us back. It's what the players say is holding us back.
They're not wrong. While many here on the board (myself included) may have underrated both Notre Dame and Utah, it's clear that we also overrated Michigan. Once again, we find our offense is unable to do anything against a good-but-not-great opponent.
In 2014, Michigan is currently ranked #94 in scoring offense. This figure is glaring not only in its ineptitude, but also because we have already faced the two worst defenses we'll see all season in App. State and Miami (NTM). We are 97th in TFLs allowed. We are #128--dead last--in turnover margin. Yes, Notre Dame and Utah are pretty good, but App. State and Miami (NTM) are terrible.
There is a glaringly bright side: Michigan's defense is #8 in the country. It appears that while our CBs aren't the lockdown, interception-machines we hoped for, they are at least adequate and are paired with a run defense that is absurdly good. Lewis and Peppers look to be capabe and constantly improving. That said, in the red zone against Notre Dame, Utah, and even ASU and NTM, TDs came far too easily. It's a very, very good defense. Good enough to win a B1G championship. It's not yet an elite defense that can cover for its offense's sins.
What's so awful about this state of affairs is that we were just here.
In 2010, Michigan finished the season ranked 107th in the country in scoring defense. We were 93rd in sacks and #109 in turnover margin. The level of incompetence of that defense is an almost perfect match for the 2014 offense. While we could argue all day about whether or not the 2010 offense was as good as our 2014 defense is, the point is that both units were very good, but not elite enough to paper over the struggles of their counterparts.
The opposite comparisons don't stop there. Rich Rod was famous for his stubborn adherence to a set of defensive principles that didn't seem to fit his players or his matchups. Brady Hoke continues to run under-center play action passes despite his O-line's inability to block the plays, even against high-pressure, blitzing opponents like Utah. Rich Rod was a revolutionary, schematic genius on offense, Hoke is a players' coach that understands old-school, championship defense. Rich Rod was almost buttery soft--crying in press conferences and summoning Josh Groban as a motivational tool; Hoke is all about MANBALL and "physicalness" or "physicality" or whatever. Rich Rod seemed oblivious to Michigan's past, Hoke seems firmly cemented to the 1990s in virtually every way. Rich Rod's teams improved a bit each year, Hoke's seem to take a step back each season.
I could go on, but the point is clear: Hoke, in coaching terms, is almost the perfect opposite of Rich Rodriguez.
I have not given up hope that this offense can turn it around and be good enough to allow this defense the chance to win a B1G Championship. I will root as hard as I can for Michigan on every down of every game we have left on the schedule. But I feel like I've seen this movie before--or rather, I've seen the opposite of this movie before--and it's hard not to feel like I already know the ending.
The only question that remains is one of consistency: will Dave Brandon judge Brady Hoke's incomptence the same way he judged Rich Rod's? Because if this season finishes it appears it is destined to do, the only logical conclusion is another "process" from the AD...or perhaps another "process" for an AD.
With the prospects for UM's team very dim, most of my focus this year will be on individual players (bravo J. Lewis!) go forward in 2014 i.e. who can help the next staff in 2015. There was an interesting question on our lack of NFL players/players development (a common theme) posted yesteday in the cluster**** that followed the game so I am going to piggyback on 2 pieces I wrote in April now that we are 4 games into 2014 and look back at our 2012 recruiting class and sort of do a "now" vs "then" analysis. This is what people do when they look at NFL drafts 3 years after the fact - which I find interesting.
This is not too in depth on each player since we know their names and their general impacts but at this point these are our juniors and RS SO so we have an idea of how their career will go, allowing for some variance. I only did the top 15 players or so - as a lot of players are not impactful at the bottom of the class.
Please note I am not a sunshine grader - a 5 star should be a step below Peppers level; very impactful early, a splash player, a conference stud. A 4 star should be a front line starter, etc.
2012 was a very important class - a highly ranked (7th at Rivals) and large one and the bedrock for Hoke's supposed success - i.e. the team that was "going to be competitive with Alabama in 2015 and 2016". As you read this list of contributors it just adds to the "where are our NFL players?" and "are these guys being developed to compete with the Oregon's, Bamas, Texas A&M, FSUs" etc. How many would legitimately play for those teams?
It is not encouraging - I see maybe 2 players who would be on their way to be stars in the SEC (Henry, Funchess), and a handful of guys who would start for a mid tier SEC team. And a whole lot of guys who have regressed or are not going to be contributing in any meaningful way as they go to their RS JR and SR years in 2015. Our two 5 stars are not impactful players who other teams have to worry about in year 3 of their career. That's just not good enough for a 7th ranked class.
My 2 earlier pieces if you are curious and want to get away from EMO land were:
Just going to rank everyone together, offense and defense
- Devin Funchess - new rank: 5 star. 2012 rank: 3/4 star. The only clear superstar on the team; with a pro style QB like a Cook or Hackenberg this guy would be bringing fear to all and being talked up like an Amari Cooper nationally. An immediate starter at TE, where he was a poor blocker, but eventually moved outside to a position he thrives at. Barring miracle will be gone in 2015 - sad face.
- Willie Henry - new rank: high end 4 star. 2012 rank: 3 star after thought tossed into the class late. Again I am not a sunshine blower who is giving Henry a 5 star. He has the chance to be a 5 star as a JR and SR if he continues his current path. For a guy thrown into the class on the week of signing date I believe, he has surpassed his much heralded signing class mate Pipkins and is a sky is the limit type of player as only a RS SO. Should be the rock star of the 2015 DL.
- Joe Bolden - new rank: 4 star. 2012 rank: 4 star. A "late bloomer" in that he didnt show much in flashes his first 2 years but the game seems to have slowed down for him and at this point is a very productive player. Should be the defensive leader on the LB corps in 2015.
- Jarrod Wilson - new rank: 4 star 2012 rank: 4 star. Some might think this is a sunshine grade but compare to classmate Jeremy Clark for example. He was a starter in 2013, and the rock of the safeties coming into 2014. Not a star but a decent starter - unfortunately injuries in 2013 and 2014 continue to haunt. Should retain starting role in 2015 barring some Joe Bolden type offseason surge by a peer.
- James Ross III - new rank: low 4 star (?!) 2012 rank: 4 star. I'm confused. This grade would be easy to give in any month before August 2014 I might be a sunshine blower on Ross III todau. Not sure what is happening here- from 2nd leading tackler on team last year to a spot player. While the 2 LB set seems to be the base formation of UM defense, Royce Jenkins Stone seemed to displace him versus even Miami of OH at SAM. Lack of bulk hurts and maybe by end of year this is downgraded to 3 star but cannot imagine his talent just disappeared like that. Confused about role in 2015.
- Ondre Pipkins - new rank: high 3 star 2012 rank: 5 star. Some will dispute my current rank and maybe injuries played a part but early 2013 I was not seeing a disruptive force - Malik McDowell is playing DT at MSU and Ive seen more splash plays from him in 3 games then Pipkins had in a year and a half. Yes even v Oregon, McDowell was impactful. Maybe Pipkins comes back and turns into a force but at this point a 3 star and a walk on are starting at DT and he is a rotation player maybe not 100% healthy.
- Erik Magnuson - new rank: high 3 star 2012 rank: high 4 star. Perhaps an unfair ranking since OL take more time to judge and he was the "best of the worst" of underclassmen OL in 2013. Not getting a "Lewan type talent" vibe from him as we felt from Lewan early in his career - i.e. uber talented but mistake prone. Seems "solid" and will be a decent Big 10 player. Best OL in this class it seems but its a low bar right now. Most likely also playing out of position (guard vs his natural tackle) due to lack of guards on team. Ranking could improve in 2015.
- Jehu Chesson - new rank: 3 star 2012 rank: 3 star Blocking machine that has yet to really put it together as a WR. Advertised as spped merchant - do not see that in actual games. That could be due to the QB not finding him but if he was a true speed demon TV analysts would remark more often how open he was as he made the DB look like molasses. That said, one of the best WR blockers seen in my time, and a hell of a special teams player. Seems destined for 3rd/4th WR role.
- Dennis Norfleet - new rank: 3 star 2012 rank: 3/4 star A sort of glue player with no real home. Mostly a special teams player and now a converted slot WR who does not get that many touches. For a player obtained on the last day of the recruiting cycle he has been an asset. But sometimes his lack of vision and lack of straight line speed stops him from being what UM fans wish he was to be IMO. That said a flash here or there in 2014, hopefully more growth in 2015.
- Chris Wormley - new rank: 3 star 2012 rank: 3/4 star. I came into the year super high on Chris Wormley. Thought he and Henry would be the 2 breakout stars on the DL. I was half right. An ACL held him back early in career - he came on late last year to make some splash plays that excited me but thus far this year, barely noticable. Due to size and ability to create TFL in 2013 still holding out hope this comes together for him in 2015. But right now a role player.
- Amara Darboh - new rank: 3 star 2012 rank: 3/4 star. This is a difficult grade - he won the starting job in 2013 before injury felled him. Has been quiet in 4 games aside from explosion vs a very bad Miami OH defense. Maybe in 6 weeks he will look like a major contributor. Maybe not. For now he is all about potential v production. This is a grade based on hope.
- Kyle Kalis - new rank: 3 star 2012 rank: 5 star With all the caveats of "can't judge an OL too much too early" this is up there with Terry Richardson as a major disappointment at this moment. Lauded as the "most college ready" OL we had - struggled mightily in 2013 and displaced as starter in 2014 either by injury or by a walkon. Has never looked like a "plus player" in his time yet. MSU starts a walk on at LT named Jack Conklin from the 2012 class who gave up zero sacks last year in pass protect at a tougher position; so its not impossible to ask for decent from this age of OL. Hence based on peer group, I am not going to say its unfair to judge him in year 3.
- Ben Braden new rank: 3 star 2012 rank: 3 star I've put him behind Kalis only because in the sh****** that was 2013 OL he never was even put in the rotation despite being handed a guard role in spring. He never took to it and obviously would not displace the two 2013 tackles. From people who watch OL a lot closer than me, he is one guy who they worry about the most in the first 4 games. Still have hope here for 2015 since he is a first year starter.
- Jeremy Clark new rank: 3 star 2012 rank: 3 star. No idea what Jeremy Clark is right now, seemed to have lost the competition for starting safety to Delano Hill in camp but injury thrust Clark into the role. Looked good versus App State but ... its App State. Seems to be a solid player but hard to tell. Maybe in 8 weeks we move him up 6-7 spots in this ranking, just too fresh of a prospect at this point to evaluate. Great size if he puts it all together
- Royce Jenkins Stone new rank: 2 star 2012 rank: 4 star Came in with a loaded offer sheet and was supposed to be 1A and 1B with Ross III. Rarely saw the field first 2 years on defense. Was supposed to be a camp star ala Bolden this spring and fall but with the SAM position eliminated thru much of the first 4 games has seen spotty playing time. When he did he has not graded well on UFR (-3 vs Miami OH if my memory serves) Hard to expect much from hin in 2015 which is already his senior year.
- Matt Godin - new rank: 2 star 2012 rank: 3 star He plays a little here and there. Did so in 2013 as well before an injury late. Sort of an emergency role player as best as I can tell. Not sure if there is any real upside in 2015 other than becoming a better emergency role player.
- AJ Williams new rank: 2 star 2012 rank: 3 star. Sort of a filler type guy at TE who does not catch the ball. His blocking is questionable. Jake Butt and Funchess both passed him quickly when given a chance and a converted DE now competes with him for time. With Bunting arriving in 2015 expect even less of a role go forward.
EDIT - I missed Mario Ojemudia in this list - I will insert him at rank 9.5 between Norfleet and Wormley. New rank: 3 star 2012 rank: 3 star . A backup DE who is not particularly impactful at this point, and rightfully stuck behind Frank Clark. 2015 role will be a starter by default as Taco Charlton, Henry Poggi, and Lawrence Marshall are the only other DEs currently on the roster slated to return.
I have not ranked Sione Houma as I am unclear of his impact or future; I don't notice him during game days, frankly not sure if he is playing much. Others can weigh in.
The following are not ranked - they have had little to no impact in their time at UM. I will therefore tag them as 2 star type of players as a bunch. At this point any meaningful contribution in 2015 forward will be a surprise.
- Terry Richardson - 2012 rank: 4 star
- Tom Strobel - 2012 rank: 3/4 star [never discussed as even a depth DL player]
- Blake Bars - 2012 rank: 3/4 star [never discussed as even a depth OL player]
- Allen Gant - 2012 rank: 3 stars
- Drake Johnson - 2012 rank: 2 stars [4th on current depth chart with 2 high profile 2015 recruits coming]
Last, no longer with the team
- Kaleb Ringer - 2012 rank: 3 star
Note: This gets saucy.
Worst: Death of an Optimist
People who have followed this diary know I'm a pretty optimistic guy.
But I'm done. I'm done with this season, with this coaching staff, with this whole f'ing show.
It isn't the losing; teams lose games. Utah isn't a good team, but neither is UM, and this was one of those games, like ND, where the breaks of the game are zero-sum; "good" plays require the other side to have a "bad" ones, but those constructs aren't always tied to the overall qualities of the two teams. In other words, while Utah's punt return for a TD is because Brady Hoke is a dinosaur with his head up a slightly less-evolved dinosaur's ass, a college kicker connecting on a couple of 50-ish FGs in a rain storm is just kinda ¯(ツ)/¯.
But I'm getting off track. I'm not a fan of hypoerbole, but this is the Mississippi State game for RR times a hundred. Last year's MSU game was horrible but it was expected given how poorly the offensive line looked and how tough MSU's defense turned out to be. But Utah isn't a good team defensively, or at least isn't the type of defense that should be able to hold UM to 3 points offensively. It isn't the points that matter, though, because that would be comically simple and depressing. Both Idaho St. and Fresno St., two teams with a combined 2 wins in 7 tries between them, scored more points against this Utah team, and both of those games were on the road. And it isn't the yardage or statistics, as UM outgained Utah on the ground, took fewer penalties, dominated TOP for most of the game, and for long stretches looked dominant defensively. Like against Notre Dame, the team played better than the numbers on the scoreboard.
So maybe this is just another bad break, you say. And maybe Utah is poised to go off on another undefeated, fantastic season, and Michigan was just the first of many unlikely victims. And honestly, that mindset would have been me a couple of weeks ago. But things have changed. No, what happened Saturday is more than a bad loss, because those happen to good teams all the time. And it wasn't just that the f'ing winningest team in f'ing college football history, with a 5th-year QB and a 1st-round WR and oodles of talent up and down the roster (young as it may be), couldn't score more than 3 points against f'ing Utah. No, what killed my optimism about this team and this staff, about this program as it is currently stumbling through another shitty year, is how absolutely true-to-form it is to the dreams of the men in charge. Which brings me to my next point...
Worst-est: This is Michigan Football
For Dave Brandon and Brady Hoke, this is the perfect embodiment of football. No, not the losses, but that's secondary. To both of them, this brand of Michigan football is a perverse homage to a bygone era in football when men were men and you won because of grit and heart and having institutional advantages over smaller programs due to years of recruiting tactics, demographics, and inertia. It's stupid punting formations, always huddling without any sense of urgency, the 100k attendance record, and wringing every last possible dollar out of a fanbase that for decades was all too happy to do so if you stroked its ego and won 8 or more games a year. The Michigan that we all see on the field isn't what most of us want, but it's what the hive mind in Schembechler Hall thinks is good for business in Ann Arbor, and so nobody with the power to change it wants to right the boat. And that's a f'ing tragedy, because the lights are going out and Jack ain't coming to put UM on a door until the rescue party arrives.
Michigan isn't what it was, and "what it was" was never how a certain subset of the fanbase, including apparently this administration, remembers it. I know it is blasphemy to question the "fabled" history of UM football, but since the 1940s Michigan has been the definition of a high-level "plugger", the type of team that won games by showing up and beating the teams they should and losing to the teams they should by following a simple script. And yet as the game kept changing, Michigan remained its anachronistic self, buffered somewhat by this conference's stupidity-sealed bubble that talks about competing nationally while the University of Kentucky out-recruits everyone not named Michigan, OSU, or Nebraska and hiring every mediocre MAC coach with a pulse while the rest of college football laughs and points.
And when the fanbase seemingly had had enough of being run off their own field by a bunch of fowl, and the administration took a shot on a guy who helped bring about the current age of the sport and won everywhere he coached, a bunch of faux sentinels of the "good days" cut off his legs at every chance and sat back as a combination of self-inflicted wounds and the rotten core of a dying program ending his run. RR's failure as a head coach at Michigan is one thing; you can be a good coach and not be a good fit at certain places. But Brandon and his cohort didn't view Rodriguez's ousting at UM simply as a bad fit, but instead as "proof" that this new-fangled version of college football, where smart guys try to take advantage of inefficiencies in the game and implement offensive and defensive systems to do so, is just a fad and the good old days of swinging your member around on the sidelines and expecting the opposition to be scared off are back. Instead of trying to find another good coach and help him with the PR element, Brandon did what he learned as a one-time CEO of a mediocre mass-market pizza maker (acquiring the position only because his investment firm was trying to flip Domino's for a short profit) and hired a guy for a short-term PR bump and to goose the bottom line without considering the long-term ramifications for the program.
And that gets us to Brady Hoke, the last guy in the room when the music stopped. Hoke seems like a perfectly nice human being (when not talking to the press) who was a mediocre head coach before he came to UM (though I do think the under-.500 record part is a dumb metric) and who rode some nice pieces to an 11-win season before reverting to what he is; a guy who isn't very aware of modern college football and doesn't care much for what he has heard. Brian keeps referring to Hoke and Brandon thinking the ideal football was played in 1997; to me, that's being generous. That team may have been conventionally similar to past units, but for one year Carr recognized he had great talents in guys like Woodson, Griese, Tuman, Thomas, Ray, etc. and put them in positions to succeed. Hoke looks at a team with a 5th-year QB who can outrun most defenders and who has a physically dominant WR and tries to nut up for 3 yards a carry after bleeding 30 seconds from the game clock. He's not an idiot (the guy has forgotten more football than I've ever known), but he is stubborn, myopic, and as beholden to his "system" as any coach; the problem is his system should have been buried with hair metal and New Coke when its expiration was hit.
And sadly, even if Hoke and Brandon are gone at the end of the year, I don't see how things really change around here. Michigan isn't going to try to get an up-and-coming AD with a focus on fan appreciation; they'll just hire another suit who talks about brand management, synergy, and "keeping true to tradition" while everyone else in college football politely nods in public and laughs in private. And best-case scenario (for some) Michigan gets a Harbaugh or a Harbaugh-type, which means UM probably wins for a couple of years behind a dynamite recruiter before he pisses off enough people (or gets enticed back to the NFL) and then we start this song-and-dance again.
So I guess that's the state of Michigan right now: a degenerate looking for his next quick fix, afraid to venture outside of his comfort because it might mean truly having to change. Michigan is no longer the "leaders and the best", but a f'ing punchline to discussions about antiquated football and how the new guard of college football teams are making their mark. This is Michigan, and it ain't going to change anytime soon.
Worst: The Offensive Playcalling
I'm not going to crap on the offensive players too much because (a) I'm not a fan on picking on college kids when they are clearly competing, and (b) they didn't do THAT badly. Yes, there were a distressing number of TFLs, and the offensive line looked out of sorts at times, but many of the issues felt like miscues more than an inability to perform. Devin Gardner was off all day, Funchess seemed limited by a lingering ankle injury that was totally worth the 4-yard gain he picked up against Notre Dame when Michigan was losing 31-0, and nobody else seemed able to catch the ball or get open downfield. Green ran well when he made a decisive cut, but struggled at times with decisions and being asked to run parallel to the line against a small-but-fast Utah front 7. It was a bad performance, but it felt in large part due to the playcalling.
Man was this an awful game to watch from a coaching perspective. It reached its nadir when Chris Spielman loudly pointed out that Michigan showed absolutely no sense of urgency in the 4th quarter despite, you know, being within 2 scores of a lead/tie. He kept using this word "tempo" and "speeding up the game" as if this coaching staff had ANY FUCKING clue what that meant beyond that fact that it was what "pussies" used when they couldn't play football. Every play was stare at the sideline for the signal, huddle up, walk to the line, act like you are going to check into something else when the only playcall was to slam your collective dong into the doorjam again, run the clock down to near 0, then repeat. It was playcalling for appearances instead of purpose; Brian equated it to looking like you were playing football when you really weren't trying to. Today was worse than when it happened against ND because at least there the game was out of reach and I suspected that the staff didn't want it to get any uglier by taking more risks with a young team on the road. But this was was a home game against a meh opponent that Michigan was absolutely still in; a TD score at any point in that second half turns that into a very real game and maybe changes the outcome. But the offensive playcalling stunk of quitting, of trying to keep the boss happy. It was disheartening and frankly offensive to the fans, and one more middle finger to everyone from guys whose arms should be tired by now.
Michigan never tried to throw deep, or if they did it was only after botched play-action passes that needed eons to set up and left Gardner eating well-timed blitzes in the gut or throwing into quad coverage because the captain has turned on the "THROW TO FUNCHESS" sign in the cockpit. Maybe with Funchess being hurt they lacked a deep threat, which is sad but could have been mitigated somewhat with the type of slants, crossing-patterns, picks, etc. that other teams have in their arsenal. When it became apparent that parts of the line weren't going to be able to hold up against Utah's until-this-game mediocre pass rush, nobody on Michigan's sideline thought to turn the playsheet over and try to throw from the shotgun to at least give Gardner a chance to see the rush and survey the field. Norris and Orchard were living in the backfield for most of the game and Michigan's response was apparently to keep running their base offense and, I don't know, hope they get tired. I stopped keeping count of the number of 2nd-and-longs and 3rd-and-longs that Michigan set on fire with draw plays and short throws to the outside, and for every nice playcall (e.g. the pitch for the 1st on 4th down), there were absolutely boneheaded ones (Gardner's scramble on the failed 4th down conversion where Michigan had 1 blocker for 3 Utah defenders).
Now, I recognize that some of the struggles were in execution versus playcalling; Nussmeier and Hoke aren't calling in for Williams to whiff on a block or for Funchess to short-arm the catch on Gardner's first INT. I'm sure Gardner has been instructed to work through his progressions, but in this game it seemed like it was 1-and-scramble. And I'm willing to cut Nussmeier a bit more slack because, well, the guy has only been here for 4 games and it is hard to un-teach some bad habits. But Borges is gone and the same stupid shit keeps happening, and this feels more and more like a mandate from Hoke, or at least a desire to run the most inefficient offense imaginable.
Worst: About Those "Hidden Yar..."
Worst: You Stupid Ass, Stop Punting Like it's 1970
So yeah, you know how Brian talked about "hidden yards" in the preview against Utah and how Michigan's punting formations have bitten them in the ass since Hoke showed up? Well, Utah took one to the house to take the lead in the 2nd quarter and finished with 83 yards in returns. Michigan? They finished with 3 yards, with a long of 9 that was basically Norfleet making a bunch of guys miss. I don't think it made a huge difference in this game, but it remains one of the MANY embarrassing elements of this coaching staff.
Best: The Defense Deserves Better
Under Rich Rodriguez, it was trendy to say that Michigan's offense deserved better than the historically bad defense they had, and while that wasn't 100% true it did feel like the offense suffered somewhat by the defense being unable to get off the field. Well, under Hoke it feels like the tables have turned; the defense has become one of the better units in the country while the offense has regressed tremendously. Outside of an RPS 67-yard pass in the first quarter, Michigan's defense was sufficiently dominant in the first half. It scored on an INT and constantly harassed Utah QBs, including a tombstone piledriver the likes of which you usually only see in bingo halls surrounded by Juggalos.
Even as the game progressed and Utah pulled away, the defense kept Michigan in it. Utah had three total drives over 54 yards on the day, ending in a total of 10 points. The two second-half FGs were just great kicks; when a college kicker puts 48- and 50-yarders through the uprights with yards to spare in a driving rain storm, you just have to shrug and move on. Plus, both of those scoring drives came after offensive turnovers, one on downs and the other on Gardner's second INT.
For the game UM held Utah to around 2 yards per carry, 35% on 3rd-down conversions, and under 300 total yards despite facing 69 plays. They had 11 TFLs, including 3 sacks. The unit still lacks a dominant playmaker, but it is rapidly-improving and has shown it against a couple of good offenses. Put this unit with IU's offense and the Hoosiers are winning this conference in a walk. Though it is unlikely in the event of a coaching change, it would behoove Michigan greatly to keep Greg Mattison and the bulk of this defensive staff together, especially if it means they can move Manning out of the secondary and into a better fit.
Frank Clark continued his great season with his first sack, and if he continues to play like this he'll be hearing his name in the first couple of rounds of the NFL draft. I thought Jourdan Lewis played really well, getting to breakups and generally keeping up with Utah's WRs. Countess looked comfortable at Nickle, and Jake Ryan looked as disruptive as we've seen all year. Willie Henry had his fat guy TD, and was able to get a push inside that really disrupted Utah's entire offense for long stretches of the game. It was a performance worthy of a win, and my lagging hope for this team rests squarely on the defense keeping them in games against the dreck of the conference coming up.
Worst: Can You Have a QB Controversy When Everybody Struggles?
Gardner looked like a mess after that first quarter, but Morris didn't look any better when he came in the 4th quarter. Gardner was throwing late all day, and got Funchess crunched a couple of times on balls that shouldn't have been thrown; you are seeing what 3 OCs in 5 years (and no real QB coaching) can do to a guy. Part of the blame should fall on him for repeating the same mistakes, but it's hard to imagine that Gardner would have to go on an impressive hot streak to come close to approaching the numbers he put up last year, one that many Michigan fans consider a disappointment.
Morris showed a bit of life and still has all the tools to be a top QB, but it's been 2 years and the game still seems to be flying by him a million miles an hour, and next year I guess he'll just have to figure it out on the job, because there is nobody waiting in the wings to step in unless Malzonne comes in like a house of fire. If you want to throw in the towel on the season then I guess you give Morris more reps and see what happens, but based on Hoke's press conference he seems set on the farce that Michigan can still compete for conference titles and will roll with Gardner to the end. Gardner still feels like the best option, but at this point I'm not sure it matters.
Worst: Michigan Screwed Michigan
One of the seminal moments in modern wrestling history was the night that the "Vince McMahon" character became an on-screen entity during the infamous "Montreal Screwjob". The Cliffnotes version is that then-WWF/E champion Bret "The Hitman" Hart had agreed to sign with WWF/E's main rival WCW, and before leaving Vince McMahon wanted Hart to lose the title to "The Heartbreak Kid" Shawn Michaels. Now, Hart and Michaels did not get along for a variety of reasons, chief amongst them the fact that Michaels was a notorious asshole at the time and Hart came from the old-school wrestling Hart family. Hart had absolutely no desire to lose the belt to Michaels, and had told Vince he'd drop it to anyone else. Making the matter even more difficult was the fact that the next PPV was Survivor Series in Canada, Hart's home country and a place where he is a beloved son. Varying accounts note that both sides had agreed on a screwy finish to the match such that Bret retained against Michaels but he would lose the title shortly thereafter.
During the course of the match, Michaels locked in Hart's signature sharpshooter submission hold. This is a common trope in wrestling, and typically doesn't lead to a finish in the match but instead simply some added drama. Yet, as soon as Michaels had locked in the hold and the referee started asking Hart if he submitted, McMahon called for the bell and informed everyone that Hart had tapped and awarded the title to Michaels. Mayhem ensued, with Hart trying to kill people in the ring and beating up McMahon backstage. Hart left for WCW shortly thereafter and only semi-recently made peace with the WWF/E. For his part, McMahon became one of the most hated/beloved heels in wrestling history, and helped kick-start the Attitude Era that was the last boom period for professional wrestling.
So why bring this up here? Well, because the story morphed from McMahon screwing over Bret Hart to Hart doing it to himself by failing to evolve and work with the direction wrestling was going. Hart was a popular champion but not a transcendent one, and while his in-ring work was top-notch he wasn't pushing PPV gates and merchandising enough to justify his salary. He was poached by WCW as much to piss off McMahon and weaken his promotion than because WCW felt Hart would be a huge star for them; though his career was cut short following a concussion during a match with Goldberg it wasn't a smashing success after the initial excitement of the move. Hart wasn't a dinosaur by any means, but like Michigan he seemed always a bit stuck in the past, a little too earnest and milquetoast for an entertainment medium that was moving closer to the edge of raunchiness. It didn't mean he couldn't be successful, but the ceiling was there for him.
I know this is repeating stuff from above, but Michigan put themselves in this position by ignoring most of the changes that have been going in college football for the past 10-15 years. They are scared of change not because they are afraid of failure as much as they are afraid of ever having to explain WHY something didn't work. Hoke would rather stand there in front of the press and say they didn't "execute" or "make enough plays" to win instead of saying he tried something new and he believes in it even though short-term results are poor, because with the prior you can harken to the past and at least say you were doing your job. But try something new, anything new, and you have to justify why, and my gawd is that impossible right now for this group of guys. Maybe Hoke and the team will rally; again, this is a terrible conference and they could lose to MSU and OSU and still finish with a decent bowl game. But the past ain't coming back, and the longer this school keeps its head in the sand about it the more irrelevant they will be.
I'm calling this a best because Minnesota can't throw the ball and is even less creative offensively than Michigan; Michigan will probably win this game and Hoke will be able to stand at the podium and spout off about "heart" and "resiliency". But this season is already lost, and the sooner it is put out of its misery the better.