Quick programming note: I was traveling for the first half of this game, so outside of some radio coverage and phone updates I missed the first half. I did catch it on DVR, but skipped around when it became clear that about 1/3 of the half was Minny running a 16-play drive. I was back in the saddle for the second half.
I also apologize for the overly-effusive tone I’m going to take with this recap. After Akron and UConn, I’m just happy to write about a win that didn’t come down to the last drive. Please pick up your complimentary salt shakers before proceeding.
This is undoubtedly a pretty hacky way of saying this, but UM's 42-13 win against Minny was one that didn't feel nearly as one-sided as it looks on paper. On one hand, at no point did UM seem to be in danger of losing the contest; the only reason the score was so close at halftime was because UM had 4 drives that whole half and Minny wasted about 1/3 of it on a single TD drive that would have had the same effect as a Cialis for every announcer born between the years of 1930 and 1970. UM went the whole game without a TO, which is some type of record, and UM turned both Gopher TOs into 14 points. UM had 67 more yards, basically matched Minny on the ground, and averaged over 6.6 yards per play to Minny's 4.5 ypp. Outside of UTL II, this was the most complete performance by the team this season, even with the major caveat that Minnesota isn't really that good at football.
At the same time, unstoppable Minny Tebow Mitch Leidner averaged 6.9 ypa with a TD and added 66 yards on the ground, and Minnesota as a whole was able to move the ball semi-effectively all day; they drove deep into UM territory a couple of times in the 4th quarter but kicked FGs instead of TDs. Linebacker coverage continued to be an issue, as TE Maxx “The Extra ‘x’ is for Extra Max” Williams caught 5 passes for 57 yards and a TD and was consistently able to get separation. And two weeks after the defensive line seemingly awoke with 4 sacks against UConn, UM was limited to a single sack (by MGoForgottenSon Cam Gordon), and 3 QB hits.
Excuse me while I turn over this broken record, but the team remains a work in progress, and this most recent performance was a perfect embodiment its highlights as well as its lowlights. It remains a team that can beat a semi-competent football team by 29 with only 8 drives, but also let you see the numerous seams that can burst at any moment.
Best: “Inaccurate” Devin Gardner
I’ll get into the gong show that was the announcers in a bit, but Gardner had an incredibly efficient game throwing the ball. True, he was “bailed out” a couple of times by his receivers in the same way THAT EVERY QB SOMETIMES GETS BAILED OUT FNHJSADKFNSADKJFNSAD…sorry, got a little heated there. While he’s never going to have Taylor Martinez’s exquisite form on the long ball, Gardner still displayed a bit of happy feet that caused some balls to sail on him (a third-down incompletion that flew over Dileo’s head was pretty egregious) and/or hang up. [To his credit, he also had a beautiful throw to Funchess in the 4th quarter that set up a TD] Against a team with mediocre corners like the Gophers, his receivers were able to make adjustments and pull in catches reminiscent of Carr’s last game. Still, 13/17 for 235 and no turnovers is a certifiable revelation after the past couple of weeks, and credit to Borges for compressing the playbook a bit and running a fair number of 2 and semi-3 receiver plays so as to minimize the pressure Gardner was under. Listening on the radio, the announcers noted that UM’s protection schemes kept Devin clean for most of the game (only 1 sack), and Minnesota only hit him 2 other times. Just like I thought it was silly to read too much into his struggles the past couple of weeks, I’m not going to proclaim this performance a turning point in Gardner’s season, but one hopes that player and staff are getting more comfortable with each other and that results in the type of playcalling that maximizes the potential for an offense that has the ability to score on anyone.
Worst: Heel Announcers
There is a subset of visitors to this blog who find it inconceivable that people like professional wrestling, and references to it drive them to the comments to comment on how they gave up reading as soon as they saw it. So for those people, feel free to skip to the bottom (you’ll only miss one semi-logical diatribe and maybe 1/2 a joke).
Growing up, part of what made professional wrestling so much fun/infuriating to watch was the heel announcers like Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, Larry Zbyszko, and Jesse Ventura, who simultaneously trumped up the virtues of guys like “Ravishing” Rick Rude and Curt “Mr. Perfect” Henning while also pointing out the numerous logical inconsistencies that exist in the wrestling universe. [My favorite being Heenan pointing out the stupidity of fans chanting “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” in a match between Canadian-born Bret Hart and kayfabe Japanese sumo wrestler Yokozuna.] In a medium that relies so heavily on arm-wavingly-obvious black and white knights, these announcers were the ultimate trolls on the mic, trying to convince 8-year-old me that a finger to the eye was accidental and manager interference didn’t occur while absolutely going (rightfully) ballistic when Hulk Hogan or Sting did the same thing and the crowd cheered.
Well, listening to this game on ESPN2 was about as much fun as listening to Michael Cole do anything during a match. By my rough calculations, the announcers droned on about Devin Gardner’s “poor” accuracy for 8.5 quarters of the game, and complained about a 30-yard completion to Gallon because it was behind him. Of course, later in the day the ESPN ticker pointed out that Gardner has the second-best QBR line of the day (94.2), and that included QBs who played against Temple, Georgia State, and Colorado. I know announcers wants to add drama to events that organically lack it, and Gardner clearly had some issue throwing the ball at times. But you could have left the door and some commentors from RCMB and Bucknuts could have taken a turn on the mic without people noticing a difference in quality. I suspect ESPN doesn’t care one bit, but when UM fans are clamoring for Spielman (who is fantastic) and Mason or Herbstreit (less so), you know you’re having troubles in the booth.
After finally conceding that Devin Funchess is mostly an oversized WR and not much of a TE, he exploded for a 7/151/1 TD line and showed just so scary he can be during the conference slate. He definitely needs to become at least a competent blocker to assure his time on the field, but his frying pan-sized hands and superior speed destroyed a Minnesota secondary has had a rough go of it already this year. Seeing how well Indiana cut up the PSU secondary this week, one can only hope that this type of performances by Funchess (and hopefully the rest of the receiving core) will continue.
Best: Offensive Line Optimism++
So yeah, I’m not an offensive line guru, and as noted above there was definitely a focus on increased protection, but it sure felt like the changes to the offensive line were for the positive. Glasgow handled the snapping duties pretty well, with only one exchange issue I noticed, and the amount of inside penetration seemed markedly down from the past couple of weeks. Bryant didn’t break anything, and Borges moved Jake Lewan around quite a bit to help establish the run, particularly at the start of both halves. While the stats were still unimpressive overall (3.3 ypc), Fitz was able to average 4.6 ypc and, more importantly, only had 1 negative run. Considering about a quarter of his runs against Akron resulted in negative yardage, this can only be considered a massive improvement. Just as important, the running performance was generated about as “organically” as you can expect given the personnel, with Devin only running 7 times for 17 yards (including the one sack) and a TD. Again, it is only one week, but the offensive line play was demonstrably better than the past couple of weeks, and even if that only grades out to average I’ll take it.
Best: So That’s What Linebackers Do
In the linebacker section of HTTV, Brian and co. were effusive about this unit being a strength of the defense even before Taylor Ryan returns from injury. It’s a unit with established players, some real depth, and the most likely place to see the words “heady”, “gritty”, and “disruptive”. But for the first 4 weeks of the season, it was a unit that seemed a bit out of place, facing quick-striking passing attacks that picked away at coverages and limited Mattison’s ability to unleash his second-wave rushers from the second line. But in this game, Minnesota seemed more than willing to test out the front seven early on, and even with some minor breakdowns I thought they acquitted themselves well. Morgan and Ross combined for 19 tackles, including 10 solo, and also recovered a fumble. Beyer added 4 more solo tackles, and as noted earlier Gordon picked up the one sack on the day. Coverage remains an issue that, frankly, may just be a weakness that won’t disappear without turnover and maturation, but overall it was a good day by a unit that was playing left-handed for large portions of the season.
Supplementary Best: Man in Black
(I know that’s super corny. Deal with it).
Special kudos should go out to Jibreel Black, who forced a fumble and who seemed to hold his own against a determined Minnesota offensive line. He’ll never be a great defensive tackle, but his speed inside has been a pleasant surprise this year, and as a long-time fan from back in the RR years I’m happy he’s having a good final season. I’m also less down on the defensive line in general despite limited pressure because Minnesota’s offensive philosophy was clearly designed to not force Leidner to hold the ball for long, and perhaps my expectations have been ratcheted down enough such that this felt like a competent performance. So, yea?
Worst: You can love your knowledge-All the things you learned in college
You know you can't go on kicking yourself
Until you’re more sore and you can never be warm.
And through the darkest hurts of the MRI's
That eats away as if the sun burst from the sky.
Due to my extreme Alt-Nation-y musical preferences, I’m not one to usually talk about my favorite bands because, well, I’ve seen High Fidelity and am totally fine being a square. But one of my favorite songs is College by Rogue Wave, a song seemingly crafted from the leftover crumbs of Simon and Garfunkel’s I Am a Rock. It’s seemingly-depressing lyrics about the largely-immutable characteristics of people and the cracks in even the most cultivated veneers are dressed up in catchy beats and and clean melodies. It’s either one of those songs where an artist experiments with the genre and listener’s expectations to craft something memorable, or they decided they had some lyrics and melody and what the hell, let’s throw them together and see what happens.
So what does this have to do with Michigan football? Well, my initial take was in reference to the still-undisclosed (at the time of this post) injury suffered by Ondre Pipkins late in the game, a game that was well in hand and that came, seemingly, due to an innocuous collision. Shortly thereafter, Kyle Kallis also went down with a less-serious injury, but still a reminder that injuries can happen at any time. Given UM’s shallow depth at certain positions, injuries take on greater significant and, unsurprisingly, a vocal group of fans tend to emerge decrying the “negligent” nature of leaving guys out there when the outcome is decided. I was going to argue that (putting on Herm Edwards hat) football is a violent, unpredictable game, the minute you play not to get hurt, that’s the minute you are most vulnerable, so players and coaches are hard-wired to suppress those concerns whenever possible. Not that it was requested or even necessary, but I was going to call for the exoneration of the coaching staff with any injuries that might come from this game, and for others to not worry about it.
Of course, that’s a bunch of crap. Not the part about the coaches and injuries – that’s the nature of the sport and it certainly wasn’t abnormal to leave in some players even with the game decided, especially when the limited depth means you only have a couple of players who could conceivably play those downs anyway. No, my issue with this initial take was the tone, that I was somehow clear-eyed and objectively viewing the proceedings without a gnawing, festering sense of doubt and dread lurking just below the surface. For the first time in what felt like eons (or, if you are a Gregorian calendar fan, 3 weeks), the team was playing pretty well in all three facets, and so ofcourse important people started to get hurt against freaking Minnesota. This may be one of the less impressive 5-0 outfits you’ll see in football, but it is still an undefeated team and as such my illogical fandom expects this team to go 13-0 every year. Injuries aren’t supposed to happen, and when they do all of those lost games and missed opportunities because Henne can’t move his shoulder and Antonio Bass tears up his knee come rushing back. Ugly wins sting more than blowout losses, and the Horror and the last play of the Alamo Bowl run on infinite loops in my brain. One should never stop, for it is bat country.
In my day-to-day operations I consider myself pretty even-keel and thoughtful, an “educated” man with an appropriate worldview, capable of understanding that two teams matriculating a piece of leather up and down a field doesn’t mean much compared to wars, disease, economic collapse, and the rest of the human condition’s underbelly. But every Saturday in the fall, I devolve into the type of guy who watches youtube clips of famous motivational speeches from movies, who cries out for every phantom hold and missed pass interference, who only knows that the other team is full of cheaters, thugs, and idiots, and who wants nothing more than a victory and a “Hail to the Victors” as a nightcap. I love my admittedly one-sided relationship with UM and its football team, but it has definitely helped to expose the inner lunatic that resides in me (and I presume in a significant portion of its fandom).
Worst: Big Turrible
By gawd was that a depressing weekend in conference football outside of the UM game. Michigan State and Iowa rock-fought to a 26-14 final that was every bit as painful as it sounds, and Nebraska beat another one of those schools from the Great Plains that feels like it was made up by a video game’s random-name generator, but not before giving up 17 first-quarter points. Indiana pantsed PSU, proving that neither team is particularly good at defense but at least IU can score, and gave UM fans hopes of a nice 3-week lead-up to the first meaningful game of the conference slate in East Lansing. And to top it off, NW totally unexpectedly and without precedent blew a late lead to OSU, giving us all another week of undefeated talk out of Columbus for what may be the least impressive 18-0 run in the history of college football. I know people continue to question how good UM is, and I guess the answer is “not great, but have you seen these other guys?” No teams other than Clemson, Stanford, and Oregon have really looked dominant all year (apologies to FSU and Louisville), but even the best teams in this conference look a clear step or two behind the leaders in the other AQ conferences besides the AAC. On one hand it means UM will probably finish with a better record than I initially expected, but on the other hand it portends a pretty ugly bowl season.
Overall, both teams looked good but not elite (top ten). For those who did not see the game, Northwestern lost the game when they fumbled the snap on a 4th and 1 late in the 4th qtr in Ohio territory down 3 points with around 2 minutes remaining.
Offensively, Carlos Hyde is the best RB in the big ten. He was unstoppable in this game and is why Ohio won. Braxton Miller was dangerous when breaking containment. We should consider using the "Alabama vs Denard" defense against Braxton to keep him in the pocket. Braxton was inaccurate and forced some throws when in the pocket and much more comfortable running and throwing on the run.
Defensively, they had major issues in the secondary. Northwestern receivers were routinely wide open and would routinely break the first tackle after a catch. They had an okay pass rush and was okay stopping the straigth ahead run.
Offensitvely, Vendric Mark is tlikely the second best RB in the big ten. Northwestern throws him bubble screens, lets him return kicks/punts and a lot of speed options. Trevor Simien was the QB most of the way and was very accurate when given time in the pocket. However, he seemed unable to recognize/handle the blitz in several key situations.
Defensively, they're Northwestern. Their defensive line was pushed back, they couldn't tackle Hyde, and Braxton missed a lot of open receivers. They did have an okay pass rush and forced a few of the Ohio turnovers.
A warm start to October! Feeling a lot more like August actually, with warm temps, humidity, and the chance of rain/storms. A very slow-moving warm front is just to the north of us (M-59 area), causing SE Michigan to remain in the summer-feel weather. Another weaker warm front will move up from the Ohio Valley later today and will keep rain chances in the forecast. While most of Saturday looks to be mostly cloudy and dry, there will be scattered showers possible and it's a day to keep an eye on the weather. The main threat of any passing storms will be heavy rain, but wind gusts and small hail can't be ruled out. The chance for rain/storms increases in the evening, and for those traveling-Sunday will be a cloudy, rainy day. I'll be at this game, and can't wait to cheer my heart out! Happy Homecoming!
A couple years ago we had wind and temps making it feel like 30 degrees - not the case this time! Overnight lows remained in the mid 60s, so that's where we start the day for you early at 'em tailgaters. Overcast to mostly cloudy skies, a decent chance for rain/storms continues from the overnight, and calm winds greet you this morning, with the main issue being fog. Fog may be dense in some areas, so if you're out on the roads early getting those last minute tailgating supplies, you may need to give yourself a few extra minutes. Into the low 70s we go for lunch, with a SSW wind at 5-8mph (a light breze, leaves rustle a bit), keeping mostly cloudy skies.
Although that chance of rain is small, we keep it around for kickoff. Warm out there, with the temperature approaching 80 degrees! Still a good amount of clouds, and we're not getting rid of that rain chance either. There may be a rumble of thunder in there as well. Winds are out of the SSW at 10mph (leaves and small twigs blow about).
Just a gentle breeze at the half with winds about 7-10mph. Mainly clouds, and the pesky chance of rain. Still very warm though as we slowly drop into the upper 70s.
Looking at mid 70s and mostly cloudy walking out of those gates, with SSW winds back to about 5mph. Rain chances increase for the evening, and don't rule out a thunderstorm. Mild temps ahead for the night-even by midnight we're still at 69 degrees, and only getting down into the mid 60s for overnight lows- so you can keep that tshirt on if you're headed out late to celebrate! Heading towards sunrise Sunday, we'll turn overcast and the rain/thunderstorm chances become much more likely.
Enjoy the game, and let's keep that Little Brown Jug where it belongs!
Christina Burkhart is a meteorologist for NBC/ABC in Traverse City, MI. She grew up in Ann Arbor and associates Saturdays with Michigan football. Go Blue!!
I was at the UConn game and although the game itself has been analyzed and covered in great detail, I did not see much in the way of observations of what it was like in the stadium. Below are bulletpoints of the experience.
· This isn’t Ann Arbor! There was no traffic at all getting to the stadium, we drove right up to the front. Also, we were able to park at the stadium for 15 bucks! The drunk college students in Ann Arbor would be disappointed in how little they charged. Interesting overheard fact – the stadium was built at an old airport, we drove in on the tarmac. The stadium inherited all fifty million traffic cones from the airport and all of them were laid out in the parking areas.
· There is what appears to be the world’s largest Cabela’s next to the stadium. There were even signs directing people to the stadium or Cabela’s. I kept asking if people wanted to stop for cheese bread from Cabela’s – until someone finally figured out I thought it was a chain Italian place not an outdoors store.
· This is Ann Arbor! The percentage of Michigan fans walking into the game from outer parking lots was close to 90%. All of the UConn fans made fun of Michigan because they were so outnumbered, including a drunk girl who said Michigan “sucked her weenie.” She seemed confused.
· UConn played to its audience – both inside and outside at the merchandise stands, you could buy Michigan gear. There was one booth outside the stadium selling Michigan shirts right under the sign that said this is Husky Country. I don't think they fully appreciated the irony. The UConn band played the victors as well.
· Unusual for a home college game – you could buy beer at the stadium. This is because it is off campus for UConn. According to UConn student, the Patriots were originally going to play there, but backed out and UConn took over. All the concessions were really cheap – and a good mix, you could even get a funnel cake or cupcake!
· Not a bad stadium for only holding 40,000, although with the temporary seats added just for this game it looked like a cross between a high school stadium and a real stadium like the big house. It looked like Michigan fans outnumbered UConn fans in the stadium as well. The temporary added seats, in the endzone, where we were siting, was almost 100% Michigan fans. The most annoying part was, since the seats were added, they checked the tickets like crazy, making it hard to get in and out of the section.
· The benefit to only 40,000 seats – we were close to the action. It was great to see and Michigan drove toward us in the fourth quarter. It was a great angle to see Morgan’s INT and return. The downside – security would randomly stand in our way and we couldn’t see at the goal line.
· It was a good mix of Michigan fans, both young and old, looked like lots of families. A lot of Michigan gear, including a lot of shirts I had never seen before. Vamos Azul shirts were especially popular. There was also an Elvis sitting in the bleachers. The only non-Michigan fan that I saw was a girl in a UConn shirt who was bawling and carrying nachos. We were all curious as to what her deal was. Also odd, the girl behind us broke her foot? And had to be carried up and down a couple of time at the game, and didn’t ask to sit at the number of handicap seats that were open in front of us.
· The biggest downside in the stadium– no information anywhere – the video/reply board was behind us and there was only three little information bars around the stadium and two of them usually had adds on them. I was using twitter to see down and distance for most of the first half.
· The UConn fans started to get a little chippy at the end of the first half and for much of the second half. There were also a number of Ohio State fans – who I guess were there to see if Michigan would lose? One random guy in a Michigan state windbreaker seemed to follow us around as well.
· There were a ton of games between the plays – students tried to kick field goals, throw footballs into a hole, trivia, they played follow the football under the three helmets, they threw t-shirts into the stands, all during timeouts.
· They were stuck in the 80s – they played Guns and Roses, Def Leopard, and a whole lot of 80s rock during the game. Every third down of Michigan’s the PA would play welcome to the jungle. It got old.
· It was weird to see a grass field. Any stop in action there were kids out there fixing it.
· This was a huge game for UConn – they honored past captains of the UConn football team, as well the 2013 woman’s basketball team with Geno Auriemma. Ray Allen and Donny Marshall were also on the field and spoke during breaks in the game.
· At one point they showed Derek Jeter on the video board – and everyone booed. More Red Sox fans than Yankees fans in Hartford I suppose, and I am assuming he was showing his Michigan pride and not UConn spirit. His lady friend did not look pleased to be there.
· They showed their video highlight of past seasons…it was a DJ Hernandez TD. No mention of his current coaching position and certainly no mention of his brother, Aaron.
· They were not equipped to deal with getting the largest crowd ever at the stadium (42,000 how cute) out of there- we sat in the parking lot for 30 minutes without moving. It was a long game, but we still didn’t make it home until 2 am. Unclear if Cabela’s would have been open but we were really craving cheese bread
WHAT'S INSIDE THE JUG
(Click the Image to See Full Size Version)
Now, for the record... no, not really. I think we come out awful big in this game, and make quite a statement that most of the sportswriters are rightfully cautious to believe.
Michigan big, with or without magic.
THE BLOCKHAMS™ runs (typically) every week here at MGoBlog and on its official home page. Also, don't forget to check out the Friday Fun, my weekly single panel comic based on trending Michigan events, available on Twitter and the home page every Friday.
This week's miniprogram. as always, let me know if any questions or comments. only changes this week were on the O-Line with the Bryant-Glasgow-Miller switch, not sure who to plug in at second LG. hopefully it won't matter.