to play football, not to play trumpet
I received this from ex-lawyer now novelist Jon Rowe. He lives in Kona but is a UM and Stanford grad. A UM fan.
1. 1982, The Stanford Band game. Jack London famously said there are only three archetypal plots: Man against Nature, Man against Man, and Man against Himself. But that's just because Jack London never saw the Stanford Band in action. Even Stanford's then-recently-departed brilliant Head Ball Coach Bill Walsh could not have drawn up a special teams play to stop that 1982 Cal last-second kick runback in the "Big Game," given that Stanford's Eleven were up against not only Cal's eleven special teamers, AND Nature, AND themselves -- but Stanford was also up against the entire badly-dressed horn section of the Stanford Band. Not since Thermopylae have such valiant defenders been so badly outnumbered.
2. 1993, Leon Lett's "Muff." This one was straight out of Greek Tragedy. Up 14-13 with less than 10 seconds to play, Dallas's Heraclean Leon Lett rose up like a Pillar of Stone, and swatted Miami's pathetically mortal FG attempt to the ground -- arguably not as hard as stealing the girdle of the Amazon Queen, or gashing your eyes out after learning you've married your mother, but still, no easy feat for mortal man -- yet instead of just letting the dead ball lie on the frozen tundra and heading for the presser, all-too-mortal Leon Lett attempted to "recover" the dead ball (a recovery which would have served no purpose in the game), yet unfortunately Leon slipped on the snowy field just after fatally touching the ball, thereby transforming his brilliant apparent game-saving block into a "muff" which Miami recovered and, after sagely calling timeout with three ticks let, Miami kicked the game-winning FG. Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory ...
3. 2013, Auburn returning Bama's missed FG. This classic meltdown had more of a Biblical feel. Last play, game tied, Bama's on Auburn's 41, the normal call is a "Hail Mary" (a football term coined after uber-religious Roger Staubach claimed he "said a Hail Mary" just before heaving an improbable 1975 last-play game-winning bomb for the Cowboys, who preferred then, as now, to be called 'God's Team'); but in 2013, Nicky Saban, after consulting the Oracle that presumably resides somewhere within the four national championship rings cluttering his fingers, decided to attempt a 58-yard FG. Like a college kicker is going to hit a 58-yarder? Yeah, right. But what I really liked about this play, besides Nicky looking like a Fool, is that Gus Mahlzan was so QUICK to send in his best returner in, to field what he knew would be a short FG attempt, and then send that swift messenger out against Bama's FG team -- i.e., Bama's worst tacklers -- to deliver the Biblical Bad News straight to Nicky: Pride Goeth before the Fall.
4. 1999 Baylor v UNLV. Speaking of "pride goeth before the fall," in 1999 Baylor was up 24-21 on UNLV, Baylor had the ball on UNLV's one-yard-line, and there was time for just one more play; but instead of taking a knee, Baylor elected to try to run up the score on the Runnin' Rebs -- but fumbled, and the Rebs picked that fumble up and ran it back 99 yards for the victory. Hard not to see the Hand of God in that one.
5. 2002, Black Saturday. This game-ending piece of hubris is another "pride goeth before the fall" play that probably deserves to be #1 on this list of gut-wrenching ways to lose, except it involved a bunch of redneck hillbillies that no one outside of Georgia and the Carolinas cares about -- and only rednecks could possibly be THIS dumb. With seven (7) seconds left, Furman scored a touchdown which made the score Furman 15, Appalachian State 14. Instead of, say, attempting to KICK an extra point -- or just plain falling on the ball -- the Furman boys went for two (presumably to rub salt in the wounds of their hated rivals, the App State Mountaineers). But it turns out, under the Rules of Football, if an attempt to kick an extra point is blocked, it can be advanced by the defense and, if they reach the opposite end zone, they get one point -- but if a two-point conversion attempt is intercepted, as Appalachian State did to Furman on that "Black Saturday" in 2002, the intercepting team can advance the ball, and if they reach the opposite end zone, as App State did that dark day, they get two points, and win on the last play, 16-15. OUCH!
6. 1978, The Holy Roller. Ye Olde Oakland Raiders lacked the grandeur of the Greek and Biblical heroes; yet the Raiders' thugs brought a special creativity to bending the rules -- 'cheating', in plain English -- that was very refreshing. The Raiders' finest moment (well, except when the Raiders made the various and sundry plays that necessitated the NFL adopting rules against spearing, leg-whipping, clothes-lining, chop-blocking, taunting, and excessive use of 'stickum') was when the Chargers were up six points in 1978, but with the Raiders knocking on the door at the Chargers' 14, yet with time for just one last play; and the Chargers tackled the Raiders and brought them to the ground, not once, not twice, but three times -- yet each time the various and sundry Raiders' ball carriers (Stabler, Banaszak, Caspar) keep FLINGING the ball towards the end zone just before they were tackled, in transparently obvious intentional forward fumbles, until Caspar finally fell on the ball in the end zone for the game winner. Holy Roller, Batman. But the Holy Roller game was probably just the God of Karma settling debts with Al Davis for the Raiders' gut-wrenching defeat in:
7. 1972, The Immaculate Reception Game. As a Raiders fan, I can't bear to talk about this one. Look it up, and weep.
8. 1978, The Miracle At The Meadowlands. Stop me if this one sounds familiar, 2015 Michigan fans. Giants are up 17-12 on the Eagles, 31 seconds to play in the days when the play clock was 30 seconds, Giants have the ball on their own 26, Eagles are out of timeouts. Giants just have to run one play -- heck, they can just fall on the ball -- and then claim victory over their second-most-hated-foe, before heading for the presser. But instead of taking a knee, the Giants attempt a simple hand-off to their future Hall of Fame tailback, Larry Csonka; only Csonka fumbles, and Herman Edwards of the Eagles picks it up and runs it back for a touchdown. Does that sound familiar?
9. 2015, UM v MSU, The Miracle at the Big House. UM's up 23-21 with ten seconds to go on our 40-something, UM punter fumbles the 4th-down snap, could have just fallen on it and there's no way Sparty could get its FG unit on the field in time (much less make such a long kick), and it's doubtful Sparty even had enough time to line up and heave a Hail Mary, but instead our punter tries to pick it up, and then Sparty picks it up and ... oh, I can't even complete this sentence, unless I get 50 years of counseling.
10. 2005 UM/Nebraska Alamo Bowl. Nebraska's up 32-28, but UM was on the verge of winning the game with 7 laterals on the last play, only the refs apparently had a flight to catch, so they didn't bother enforcing the rule against 37 Cornhuskers wandering onto the field of play, even while the last play was still going on ... [Not that I'm bitter, but ....]
If you are coming here looking for rants, I might have a couple but I’m remarkably, I don’t know, accepting of yesterday’s insanity. Probably one of those grief stages. So fair warning (unless you are a referee in this game – for you, I’ll make an exception).
Best: A Broken Heart Mended
I was 13 when Kordell Stewart ripped UM’s heart out. For some reason I thought I was younger, but maybe that was just because I was a late convert to UM football in that respect. I cheered on UM because they crossed the family TV screen most Saturdays, but I was a Pistons (and, honestly, an NBA) fan at my core. I went to a couple games a year, voraciously read box scores each morning during the season, and consumed as much content as possible about the NBA. If I had any football fandom in my body, it was for Barry Sanders, tragically dragging the Lions along with his brilliance under a baggy dome.
College football was just a thing that was on, the white noise machine of fall Saturdays. I cheered UM because of their ubiquity and prominence locally. I cheered because of the uniforms, the pageantry during the Tournament of Roses before the Rose Bowl, and the fact that they always seemed to win. My dad had gone to UM but never wore that connection on his sleeve, and I was still a bit too young to care about academics and job prospects, the objective metrics that led me to attend UM. Hell, I’m not even sure when we got ESPN on cable (and chances are had I stumbled upon it, it wouldn’t have been football). No, my relationship with UM football was one of convenience and detachment, where I would cheer because UM was usually winning or losing in conventional manners, and I knew enough about the sport to accept that at face value.
Until that play. I still remember sitting with my dad on the coach in the living room, just watching it unfold. My Dad assumed the game was over; it was 70+ yards to the lip of the endzone, and while Stewart had a cannon this was an era before the internet, before on-the-field Statz and talking heads, before constant replays and trips to the video archives between timeouts, so there wasn’t much in the way of foreshadowing. You knew about the Flutie Miracle, The Miracle in the Meadowlands, and The Band on the Field between Cal and Stanford, but it always felt distant and unimaginable, moments of affliction that deeply wound the participants but are mostly macabre blips in everyone else’s memory. Those plays happened to them, not us.
So it felt almost like a fait accompli that UM would win the game after Colorado’s last-gasp attempt, with (I’m guessing) most in the stands wondering if Stewart would even be able to get the ball to the endzone. It seemed impossible to contemplate anything more. And then the ball sailed from his arm like a rocket, and you could tell even the camera man was caught a bit off guard. He just kept panning, panning, panning into the endzone, and then a bunch of limbs reached out like a preacher’s chorus praising the gods of football, and the ball caromed into the waiting arms of Michael F’ing Westbrook, and then it was over.
And at that moment, even though it took a couple of more years for me to fully realize it, I became a UM football fan. You can’t have your heart broken like that, to see your guys lose a game because of celestial forces and cold physics, and not have that feeling wiggle its way into your rib cage and never leave. From that day forward, I always made sure to check the box scores every Sunday morning, to track the AP polls, to know how the Wolverines did. I started to get annoyed with the 8-4 seasons, the seemingly annual underperformance, and then the ascendant ‘97 season hooked me forever. I was in the stands when Notre Dame nearly drove the field with no timeouts in 1999, unable to catch my breath. I watched them lose to Purdue and Northwestern in heartbreaking fashion in 2000, and then 2001 with the damn Clockgate against MSU. And when I graduated and moved away, I still followed the team, yelping uncontrollably after Braylonfest, losing my mind after the New Math game, and giggling myself silly when ND left Gallon all alone in 2011. The 2006 game against OSU, Horror, everything that transpired under RR and Hoke (including the heartbreaking 2009 loss to MSU), and now this game all fell on the other side of the ledger.
I know people want to frame this as a curse, some lingering bad juju from the clusterfuck hanging over the program since Bo died, but I don’t think that’s it. Every game, both in the micro level and in the macro sense, creates fans and keeps them there. And this element of fandom is a zero-sum game; for every breathtaking win there must be a heartbreaking loss, only the names and faces change. They come about organically, and sometimes the most fertile soil is littered with shitty outcomes. But you can’t root for something and be surprised when they don’t come out on top all the time, and while I’m going to try to frame this as a sign of good things to come, of a team that is growing into something special and a future that is brighter today than it was 2 months ago, that’s not going to take the sting away, and it shouldn’t. But you don’t win all those games without a couple of tough losses, and sometimes you’ve got to wade through some foul stuff in order to come out better on the other side.
Worst: Leave Blake Alone!
Objectively, that last play was terrible. It was a series of small disasters that snowballed into an improbably loss. It was a low-ish snap that O’Neill couldn’t get ahold of, resulting in the ball being bobbled. UM, knowing his tendency to run to the right before booting the ball, shifted the shield in that direction but left nobody on the back side to handle the 4 MSU rushers from that direction. Had there even been one blocker extra on that side, I wonder if MSU is able to get to Blake quite that quickly. Once the ball was snapped, the offensive line started running down the field to cover the punt even though it didn’t appear MSU had anyone returning it, leaving even fewer players back to hold up the rush. Then, in his attempt to at least get the ball off, O’Neill kicked the ball right into the arms of the MSU defender, who then stumbled his way to the endzone. As others have noted, O’Neill probably should have fallen on the ball and just given up the field position, since MSU still would have had time for maybe 1 or 2 more plays with about half the field to go. But in the heat of the moment, it’s hard to fault a kid for trying to make a play.
Ultimately, it was the play that cost UM the win, but it wasn’t because of any single player. It was just a bit if bad luck at the worst possible time. And while the vast majority of the fanbase responded positively toward O’Neill, it must be stated again that if you think calling for a kid to be deported or kicked off the team, or sending him Twitter-muscle shade, or anything else that prompted Jim Hackett to send a formal letter to the fans and students to lay off of O’Neill, well…
Best: Rationalize away Merrill
ST3’s always-excellent column touched on some of these points, but this was a game far closer than the yardage would lead you to believe. You skim the narrative being put forth by the MSU faithful today, the argument for why MSU won wasn’t because they got the flukiest f*ing play in recent memory but because UM got incredibly lucky because the MSU offense was unstoppable and MSU’s defense was demolishing UM’s attack.
Now, MSU’s passing game was pretty solid (328 yards, 8.4 ypa, 1:0 TD:INT) in aggregate, but Cook still completed less than 50% of his passes, and 74 of those yards came on a busted play to FB Trevon Pendleton. Yes that play happened, but it was also an extreme outlier that goosed the numbers a bit. Throw that out and you have far more pedestrian numbers (254 yards, 6.9 ypa), furthered buoyed by some questionable penalties that kept MSU drives going (the 12 men on the field penalty was correct; the extremely questionable Lewis holding call where the receiver fell into the official that wiped out a pick, the targeting atrocity on Bolden, and the personal foul on Henry for tackling a player before the whistle was blown all felt like missteps) and some great catches by Burbridge. Some fans will argue that Cook was let down by his other receivers (most notably Kings) due to some drops, but that’s the equivalent of arguing “the computer is cheating” whenever your game of Madden mirrors reality a bit and mediocre WRs drop balls. To Cook’s credit, though, he made some great throws in tight windows, and while I still wouldn’t trust him to run my NFL franchise, he played well enough against UM.
By comparison, I thought Rudock had a fine game. He played the game like a QB whose team had the lead for virtually the entire game and knew that the worst thing he could do was give MSU a short field with a bad throw. He completed 60% of his throws for around 6.7 ypa and kept the sheet clean, while lofting a couple of nice balls to both Darboh and Chesson to come back to for completions. In fact, 7 of his 15 completions were for 1st downs (to Cook’s credit, he had 13 for first downs as well, but he also threw the ball 14 more times than Rudock). He continues to struggle throwing the ball deep, jarring in this game due to MSU’s poor corner play, though at some point you have to wonder if there’s a bit Luis Mendoza in his main deep threat, Chesson, who has amazing speed but just has never seemed able to harness it properly as a receiver (obviously he’s had a bit more success on returns and designed runs). But as Brian and others have said, if this is the Rudock UM gets this season, they should win every game except OSU, and until the last 10 seconds, he did more than enough to get this team the win.
MSU never established the running game (yes they had injuries to the offensive line and Jack Allen was out, but MSU has struggled all year on the ground), with the top 3 backs averaged about 2.7 ypc, which was less than the 3.5 ypc picked up by Smith and Houma, the two leading rushers for UM. For the game, UM had more and better rushes than MSU, and that includes knocking off 15 yards for O’Neill’s final punt play. Michigan scored in all 5 of their red zone trips while MSU only scored on 2 of them, missing two FGs and turning the ball over on downs. In fact, MSU failed to convert 4th downs 4 times in this game, only one of which would be considered required (the seemingly last drive on 4th and 19). Hell, dad they lost this game, people would have questioned Dantonio’s decision to call a pretty obvious fake punt that was stopped and UM turned into a TD.
As for defensive dominance by MSU, that doesn’t ring all that true either. MSU scored on 3 of their 12 drives (I’m excluding the end of the half and the last blocked return), while UM scored on 5 of their 13. UM had 3 sacks for 29 yards, matching MSU, and while UM had two less TFLs, theirs resulted in more lost yardage than those by MSU (7 to 9 TFLs, but 37 yards compared to MSU’s 23). MSU had one more QB hit, but UM had 10 (!!) pass breakups, including 6 by Lewis. The teams had basically the same 3rd-down conversion rate (MSU was 3/12, UM 4/15), and UM converted more in the 2nd half (3/10) than MSU (1/6).
The reason MSU had so many more yards compared to UM had largely to do with special teams decidedly going in UM’s favor (along with MSU’s poor conversion rate), with O’Neill averaging 44.6 yards on 7 punts, highlighted by the field-shifting 80 yarder in the first quarter, and pining MSU inside their own 20 two more times. By comparison, MSU averaged 37 yards on 5 punts, including one touchback. And as for returning said kicks, UM pantsed MSU mercilessly, with Peppers and Chesson picking up 154 yards on 7 returns while MSU snagged 54 yards on 4 returns. It all added up to UM starting on it’s own 38 while MSU had an average starting drive on their own 22 yard line. So yeah, that’s where your 150-ish difference in yardage mostly came from; UM didn’t need to go as far to score, so they didn’t.
MSU played well enough to win; UM suffered by not converting a couple more of those redzone trips into touchdowns, and that ultimately cost them at the end. But don’t for a second believe that MSU “deserved” to win this game because the people making the arguments fear basic math. It was a close game that went against UM due to the most freakish of plays possible, nothing more and nothing less.
Meh: Offensive Line Expectations Ticked Down
Yes this is MSU, and yes they again appeared to have a jump on a number of snaps (the 3 goal line runs capped off by Houma’s TD in the 3rd quarter all featured MSU players jumping the snap successfully), but I thought the offensive line did struggle at the point of attack, especially in the running game. MSU’s defensive line is the obvious strength of their unit, and it played well, consistently getting pressure and clogging up the running lanes. Thomas, who I still think is more a uniform stuffer than an elite talent, was second on the team with 7 tackles and held the edge well when UM (illogically) attacked it. I’m sure there were bad cuts by Smith that led to some stops, but like in the Utah game, you can see the deficiencies that submarine the rushing attack against elite defensive lines. Luckily, there aren’t a huge number of those lines left on the schedule, with OSU seemingly being the only sure bet to reproduce this level of disruption.
As for passing downs, it’s harder to tell because Rudock seemed willing to take a couple of sacks instead of throwing the ball downfield. Calhoun was consistently getting pressure and MSU got a couple free runs from their LBs, but it wasn’t the demolition we’ve seen in years past. Rudock appears to have all of his ribs and soul intact, which is a marked improvement for UM signal callers in this rivalry. And as noted above, the passing game was reasonably efficient even though the screen game, which might have loosened up the pressure a bit, was lacking. Overall, it felt like a decent performance by an average line but perhaps not the step forward fans had hoped for coming into the game. At the same time, it wasn’t a huge setback, it was just a reality check that this year’s rushing attack won’t approach the best units under Harbaugh’s various regimes.
Best: Jourdan MF Lewis
Nothing was more entertaining than seeing MSU fans complain about Lewis “mugging” Burbridge throughout the game on his way to 6 pass breakups and a pretty decent effort against MSU’s sole real passing threat. Lewis, of course, is just playing the same type of physical, grabby defense MSU introduced to the conference some years back, just perhaps at a better level than either Waynes or Dennard every did. Being a shutdown corner doesn’t necessarily mean that the guy you cover never catches a ball, especially when the opponent doggedly targets him because they literally had no other competent options (Burbridge was targeted 19 times in this game).
Instead, it means making it as difficult as possible for the offense to consistently complete passes to your side and limiting the damage when they do, and Lewis did that in spades. Even though Burbirdge finished with 9 catches for 132 yards, he only had 3 catches after halftime, and at least two of them were just great plays by him despite great coverage by Lewis. Lewis was also the victim of a pick play in the 2nd quarter (I believe) that Brandstatter called out immediately when it happened. Overall, he played like the All-American he’s being touted as and performed well in a tough matchup against a good receiver.
Best: Defensive Line Expectations Ticked Up
I know MSU had some injuries on the line, but I thought the defensive line, in particular Wormley and Henry, were great in this game. The front 4 recorded 3 sacks, held MSU’s rushing attack in check, got consistent pressure on Cook even when the Spartans left extra blockers in, and generally played like the dominating unit they’ve seen this whole year. They were also active in the passing lanes, with both Wormley and Henry recording pass breakups as well. I await Glasgow’s score in the UFR, but he seemed to hold up decently against a solid MSU interior, and both Jenkins-Stone and Hurst had some nice TFLs in there as well.
Will OSU give them problems? Probably, but even then I’m not sure we’re going to see Elliott plowing past them like he has against most other units. This remains a terrifyingly-good unit, and one that you hope will largely return next year to go along with the return of Mone and (fingers crossed) some high-end defensive tackle recruits. I’m certainly intrigued about next year under this coaching staff.
Best: Peppers Army Knife
Peppers was deployed everywhere possible in this game, and he excelled at all of them. He flipped the field with some great punt returns, had a great 28-yard pass/run play to set up a TD, and did well the couple of times MSU challenged him. He’s obviously still not a finished product, but the strides he’s made in these six games definitely give some credence to the “Woodson” comparisons that seemed a little far-fetched at the start of the year.
Worstest: These F*ing Guys
By the time they went to the review booth for the third time on UM’s goal line run, you could hear the announcers lose their patience (and for the record, I could understand the argument that Houma’s momentum was stopped, but he played to the whistle, which allowed him to score). And even at that point, the refs had a handful more dubious calls to make (Henry’s drive-extending PF, Jake Butt’s probably-a-catch that would have kept a late UM drive alive, Shelton’s “two guys are saying he’s out, but let’s trust the idiots in the booth” catch along the sidelines). The Bolden ejection was terrible in real-time and looked even worse on the numerous replays, as the refs initially tried to frame it as Morgan head-hunting when in fact Cook baseball slid in, then compounded the error by ignoring Conklin clearly throwing Bolden down on top of him. It was a terrible call, an inexcusable call, and yet not all that surprising given how the season has gone in terms of referee miscues.
I understand that being a referee is a thankless job; jagoffs like me freak out every time you screw up and don’t recognize when you get it right. But at the same time, you can’t make a series of illogical calls throughout a game and just chalk it up to “human error” and whatnot when you ALSO try to correct every possible call using video replay. In a game like this between two evenly-matched teams, one team losing its leading tackler due to a dubious call while the other received a fifth of their first downs by penalties is insane, especially when neither team is particularly known for being penalty-prone. And the thing is, this isn’t a Kings-Lakers situation where there might have been actual bias involved; it was just a series of terrible calls without reprieve. And as grown-ass adults who are tasked with calling a game as well as possible, this officiating crew failed, and it failed hard. It didn’t cost UM the game; that’s a fool’s argument to make, especially given how the final play turned out. But it doesn’t make the clown show we all watched any more palpable.
Best: A Week Off
On the one hand it sucks that UM is going to have to wait 2 weeks to wash the taste of this loss from their mouths, but on the other hand it should mitigate any hangover that could linger against the Gophers. UM played like the top-15 team they have shown thus far, and while they certainly shouldn’t have been in any national title talk, they looked a hell of a lot closer to MSU than they had coming into the year. That’s progress I’ll take.
I’m not sure about next week. I might do a mid-season recap, take a break, or something in between. But in a blink of an eye, there are only 5 more games left on the schedule, with the bowl game being the 6th. And I’m going to try to enjoy the last couple weeks as best as possible.
Watching Blake O'Neill yesterday remined me of a Rose Bowl Game in the late 1980's. I think it was Arizona State. I was lucky enough to attend and wound up sitting behind Bo's wife. She was accompanied by a number of graduate assistants. It was near the end of the game and it was slipping away. In the heat of watching the frustrating ending of that game, Mrs. Schembechler remarked that one of the most difficult things for Bo was that at the end of the day, no matter what, he had to place his fate into the hands of 18,19 and 20 year old kids. It struck me that although Bo appeard demanding and rigid, hewas really one of the most patient guys on the planet. I realized that the great coaches are teachers first and must be willing to suffer the mistakes of their charges in order to allow them to grow and improve. They forgive these mistakes, but they also remember them.
I am certain that Harbaugh is a great coach. I am also certain that he is a great teacher. He did not go crazy at the end of yesterday's game, although the apparent magnitude of the error seemed unprecedented. He likely knows that a simple run play and turning the game over to his defense for one play might have worked better. He will be harder on himself than on O'Neill. He will forgive O'Neill (and hinmself) but he will remember. Be certain, this will never happen again to either O'Neill or Harbaugh.
25 years ago, I was a junior at the University of Michigan. I went to the Michigan-Michigan State game that year. I ended up sitting right on the goal line, about 15 rows up. This, of course, was the game where MSU got away with tackling Desmond Howard in the endzone on Michigan's two point conversion attempt. Michigan ended up losing 28-27. I wandered around the stadium and the parking lots and Ann Arbor in a daze, occasionally yelling at random people, "They tackled him in the endzone!" 25 years later, I still don't handle defeats very well, but at least I've stopped yelling at random strangers. This is going to be a little (or a lot) shorter than most weeks, because I really need 2 weeks off.
Burst of Impetus
* The rules of the game have changed over time. I remember when, at least I think I remember, you could have 12 men on the field on defense as long as you got back to 11 before the ball was snapped. Even today, you'll see defenders hurrying off the field trying not to get flagged for having too many men on the field WHEN THE BALL IS SNAPPED. On MSU's 2nd drive, they were facing a 3rd and 5. Michigan was flagged for 12 men on the field and MSU converted without having to run a play. In fact, IIRC, Kody Kieler fell over and came out for an injury before the next play was even run.
* Later on the same drive, MSU was facing a 3rd and 18. The drive was apparently stopped, but the officials called Jabrill Peppers for holding. What I saw was the MSU receiver run into the official, fall down, and then Peppers ran over the Spartan because he fell right in front of Peppers. I'm not sure how that is a holding penalty. A 10 yard penalty on 3rd and 18 should result in a 3rd and 8, except MSU got an automatic 1st down on the play. I don't recall holding giving you an automatic 1st down, I thought that was reserved for personal fouls of the 15 yard variety. These two plays kept the Spartan drive alive, allowing them to keep the ball for 16 plays, drive 70 yards, and take 8:05 off the clock. They didn't score on the drive, but they took the starch out of our offense by keeping them on the sideline for more than half of the 1st quarter. It's hard to get in rhythm on offense when you are stuck on the sideline.
* In the second quarter, Joe Bolden was whistled for a targetting foul for being blocked into the Spartan quarterback. Let's just pretend we didn't notice Conklin's hand grabbing the back of Bolden's jersey. So instead of MSU being assessed a 10 yard holding penalty, they gained 15 yards and didn't have to face a 3rd down. Later in the drive, Royce Jenkins-Stone was held by the back of his jersey, opening up a lane f or LJ Scott to waltz into the endzone.
* Late in the third quarter, with the play still going, Willie Henry jumped on one of his fellow defenders to "finish the play." The refs called a personal foul on Henry. I guess they didn't think it was sportsmanlike for him to land on his teammate. Instead of 4th and 3, MSU had another first down via penalty.
* With Michigan leading by two scores and less than 10 minutes to play, MSU completed a 74 yard pass to their fullback. Michigan fans around the country wondered what we had to do to finish off these guys. It was like a bad horror movie where the villain keeps getting back up for more. At the end of the Terminator movie, Arnold is apparently blown up when a gas tanker explodes, only to emerge from the fireball, minus his flesh, but robotic skeleton fully intact. At the end of T2, the Terminator is frozen solid, shatters, and is disbursed across the factory floor, only to slowly reassemble and continue the attack. Yes, I'm comparing MSU to a heartless, soulless, robotic killer, programmed to do only one thing - terminate Michigan's football lives.
* The last 10 seconds of the game.
The Two Jakes
* Jake Rudock was once again, 2 for 3 on my efficiency metrics, going 15 for 25 (60%, passing, but just barely) with zero turnovers, but missing on the YPA by averaging 6.7 per attempt.
* Early on, someone said my YPA was not sufficiently difficult. I checked the stats this week and saw about 84 QBs average at least 7 YPA. There are 128 FBS teams, give or take, so that doesn't seem like a high bar. However, I want my efficient QB to do this AND this AND this. Of all those QBs, only 60 throw for 60% or more with 7+ YPA and 1 or fewer TOs per game. I'll take that. Either you are efficient or you are not. If ~1/2 of the QBs pass my test, I'd say my WAG at efficiency is close to the mark.
* Rudock clearly needs to hit some deep passes to het his YPA up. I don't want to say bad things about the players after a game like this, but on one of the deep routes, Chesson heads towards the center of the field before breaking it deep. That could be the difference in a completion versus a ball that is 1 yard too long.
* Jake Butt caught one pass for 4 yards and had a tackle. He was also just a couple yards late in tackling the MSU special teams player on the last play of the game.
* Butt would have had another catch, except he was clearly interfered with, only it wasn't called. He also caught a ball off the turf that was originally ruled a catch only to be overruled. The replay official did not overrule the 2nd call. I thought his hands were under the ball, in which case it is OK for the ball to touch the ground as long as the ground doesn't dislodge or move the ball around in his hands. Butt clearly thought he made the catch. I hate the replay system. It may be better than the alternative, but it's not perfect. How can the replay official not overturn the Butt call, but he can see clearly that the Spartan receiver's toe was still touching the ground when he made the catch at the sideline, even though both officials at the scene emphatically ruled it not a catch? You're telling me there's not the slightest chance his toe was maybe a centimeter off the ground by the time he caught the ball?
Root Tree Runners
* After distributing the ball to various and sundry blocky-catchy types in prior weeks, Rudock completed half of his passes to wide receivers (not including the one he caught himself.) After using the backs and tight ends so effectively, this game saw Williams get 2 passes, Butt caught 1, and Smith and Higdon each had one.
* Aside from one 27 yard gain from Houma, De'Veon Smith was the ground game, gaining 46 yards on 19 carries. Not great, but his runs did set up the play action passing game that sort of worked sometimes. I thought they tried to run him outside far too often instead of attacking up the gut of the Spartan defense. It seemed like Smith was most effective (and by that I mean the few times he got 5 or 6 yards) when we were blasting straight up the middle. I could be wrong.
Tacos and Peppers
* Peppers had his best game statistically so far. He caught 2 passes for 35 yards, returned three punts for 48 yards, 3 kickoffs for 81 yards, he had 2 tackles, and he got called for holding for running into a player who had fallen down running into an official.
* Desmond Morgan had 8 tackles. Our leading tackler on the season, Joe Bolden, had 2 tackles before he was thrown out of the game for being held and thrown into the Spartan QB.
* Jourdan Lewis had 7 tackles and 6 BrUps as he was repeatedly targeted since he was guarding State's best receiver. I guess I would call this matchup a draw. I was surprised that Michigan didn't try to mix up the defensive looks more. I thought they might be able to bait Cook into one of those high lob passes and have the safety come over to pick it off. But the safeties were selling out to stop the run game, as we saw on State's 74 yard pass.
* Michigan had 7 TFLs, 3 big sacks, and 10 BrUps, as they continue filling up the rest of the defensive stat sheet. The only thing missing was a turnover. Give State credit, they protected the football.
* Kenny Allen was 3 for 3 on field goals. The problem with settling for field goals is sometimes the other team gets TDs. The spartan kicking game is in such disarray that they didn't even try a FG. Instead, they went 0 for 4 on fourth down. The team on the short side of that stat usually loses. Oh well.
* Net yards per punt was 44 for Michigan and only 23.6 for MSU. That's 2 first downs difference on every exchange of punts (or would that be 4 first downs, 2 when we punt and 2 when they punt?) That explains why even though MSU outgained Michigan 386 to 230, it didn't seem that lopsided to me.
* I'm just going to put up the first down stats here and let you guess what point I'm trying to reinforce.
High pressure in the plains and a trough - think of it as a stretched out area of low pressure - to the north near the straits will keep us under northwesterly wind flow and keep that rain chance lingering. We look to be dry most of the day with some sun, but a rogue shower isn't out of the question. Dress in the maize & blue layers for this one - it'll be chilly!
A frosty start to this Saturday! We do have a freeze warning in effect until 9am, so if you're headed out early, expect to see some on the grass before that sun warms us up a bit. You'll want the hot coffee and the crockpot meals for this one - we start the day around 30 degrees, edging into the low 30s by mid-morning. With NW winds around 10mph (leaves blow about), it'll feel more like 25 degrees with the wind chill (did we skip Fall or what?!). As we approach lunchtime, that's when we start to see the low 40s. That's also when the wind picks up - tie down the tent and put the rock on the napkins! Winds will be up to 15mph and gusting in the low 20s (this is when you'd see white horses on the water, tree branches sway), and it'll make it feel like we're still in the low 30s. Partly cloudy skies to clean up that tailgate before the game, and we're up near 45 degrees.
Some clouds to start the game and 49 degrees. We do keep that chance of a stray shower in the forecast, but if it does rain it won't last long. Steady winds will be out of the NW at 15mph, still gusting in the low 20s. That will keep the wind chill hovering right around 40 degrees.
Some sun and some clouds by the halftime show, with the chance for a rain drop or two. We'll have temps drop just a couple degrees, so we keep the mid 40s for the second half. You'll start the notice the gusts decrease, but steady winds will remain about 15mph. This is probably going to be one of the halftime shows you spend getting hot chocolate!
Low 40s leaving the game, with a decent amount of clouds. Good news is - winds start to die down. If you're headed out to dinner, they drop to 10mph, staying out of the NW, by the time you're finished. You'll definitely want the jacket - dare I say winter coat - if you'll be out later! Temperatures fall to the upper 30s late-night (wind chill low 30s) with partly cloudy skies, and you'll be out for that last celebratory brewski, we're hitting that freezing mark (wind chill 25 degrees). Time to come home Paul Bunyan!
Christina Burkhart is a meteorologist for ABC in Flint, MI. She grew up in Ann Arbor and associates Saturdays with Michigan football. Go Blue!!
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Last week was busy, so I’ll wrap in the results from the past two weeks into one column. Hard to believe that many teams have already played half their games, but time flies when you’re having fun.
In the last two weeks:
Florida pulled off a signature home upset win over Ole Miss – not only did the Gators notch a win over a top 5 opponent, it was a commanding victory devoid of much suspense: UF led 25-0 at halftime and the rest of the game was effectively garbage time.
They also managed to avoid a letdown the next week on the road against Missouri and now hold a two-game lead over the rest of the SEC East. Unfortunately their starting quarterback was suspended for a year by the NCAA and they have to go to Death Valley to face LSU this weekend.
Meanwhile Georgia, the pre-season favorite in the SEC East, has had a disappointing past two weeks: the Dawgs welcomed Alabama to Athens for the first time since the now-infamous blackout game and, once again, were overly gracious hosts as the Tide dominated in a 38-10 win.
Alabama notched a generally non-descript win over Arkansas – even after the win over Tennessee, the Razorbacks have four losses already with trips to Ole Miss and LSU coming in November, it’s hard to see a path to a better season than last, which isn’t ideal in what was supposed to be a breakout year.
Georgia followed their big loss to Bama with a trip to Tennessee (who were coming off a tough loss to Arkansas themselves) and the Vols flipped the script – instead of suffering a brutal comeback defeat, UT responded to an early deficit and won due to their best offensive performance this season – Josh Dobbs, Tennessee’s QB, was seriously unleashed in the running game for the first time.
In a game that sort of flew under the national radar two weeks ago, Texas A&M defeated Mississippi State to remain undefeated – the Aggies are surprisingly 3-0 in conference play (the only other undefeated SEC West team is LSU) and the John Chavis hire looks like one of the best off-season coaching moves in the league this past spring.
Steve Spurrier retired – truly one of college football’s most iconic coaches. We’re gonna miss him.
[Hit the JUMP for more on the CFB landscape]