Quick scheduling note – I meant to get this out on Sunday, but then a megastorm named Sandy up and broke my heart (and large swaths of NYC’s infrastructure), and so I’m just now getting around to publishing. I’m sure you were all waiting with bated breath.
In the immortal words of our benevolent leader, “so, that happened.” It was either equally as bad as it looked (offense) and yet deeply encouraging (defense) depending on your predilections, and maybe both if you take the long view of what it means for the team. Throw in the ramifications it has both for the Legends Division (or Leaders, Coastal, Not-Plains State, or whatever dumb name they’ve plopped on a $10 bumper sticker) as well as the Rose Bowl bid, and Saturday’s game may be the defining moment for the program this year. Or Nebraska could gack away a game or two against PSU and MSU and it would be nothing more than a speedbump on the way to a 4-loss Big Ten team playing a pissed-off and rested USC or Oregon in Pasadena. BIG TEN!!!!
Worst: Lowered Expectations
The funny thing is that, despite all evidence to the contrary, I never envisioned a world in which Denard Robinson would miss significant playing time since he arrived on campus. I think that is due in large part to the fact that in 2009 and 2010 there was always a competent starter/backup in Tate Forcier around to fill in, and the couple of times he went out last year it never felt like it changed the outcome of the game (unless you think 4th-and-22 is a good down and distance to catch MSU guessing). With Tate and Gardner, the feeling was always that both of them could do a rough approximation of Denard in this offense in a pinch, or at least an offense that could be successful given the talent on the field. Backup Tate was the reason UM beat Illinois in 2010, and Devin showed enough last season to remind people why he was one of the most coveted dual-threat QBs coming out of HS. There were options in the event Denard went down, even if they weren’t optimal.
But when the year started, we knew Gardner was going to focus primarily on being a WR (though he was “still prepared” for QB in a pinch…apparently as long as that pinch didn’t actually happen during a game), leaving the depth chart a RS freshmen and the football version of Everlast (I mean this in the best way possible – I LOVED Everlast in HS) to assume the mantle if Denard went down for more than a series.
Before this game, Bellomy had taken about a dozen snaps, none meaningful, and so it was hard to get a bead on how he, and more importantly the offense, would perform with him as QB1.
Well, after 8-ish drives for about 50-ish non-penalty yards, we now have an idea about how a non-Denard offense will perform against a competent defensive unit. Again, small sample sizes and mid-game switch caveats apply, but without Denard this offense is just not that good. The offensive line struggles to get holes open for the RBs, who have trouble making guys miss, while WRs have a hard time getting separation from DBs that are above-average but certainly not shutdown. And if they do get open, the balls lack some velocity and may lead them into bigger hits from safeties and linebackers.
It, in a nutshell, is the type of offense people saw in 2008, but without the soothing sense of growing pains and more the realization that the talent is either very young or a poor fit for the system the team wants to run. It should be competent against poor defenses, which helps with NW, Minny, and to a lesser extent OSU coming up, but it means the defense and special teams have to be on the top of their games to keep the score close. It makes everything harder, which should be distressing since this was the same outfit that hasn’t scored a TD against a defense with a pulse in 10+ quarters.
Last week I said that beating MSU didn’t tell us that much about this team except that it was probably better than a 4-4 team. This game didn’t tell us much about how this team would fare with Denard at the helm for a full game, but it did illuminate just how quickly the bottom can fall out if he isn’t on the field.
Best: Current Expectations
What everyone needs to remember (and that includes the me from the section above) is that Denard isn’t out for the season; he apparently is fine and ready to go for next week. In a night game against a bunch of fired-up Cornhuskers with basically their season on the line, Denard was still moving the team down the field relatively successfully and was in a position to take the lead when he was knocked out. Given how the defense was playing at that time (and how they played well into the second half), it is safe to assume that the score wouldn’t have ended 23-9 if he had stayed in the whole game. And Nebraska isn’t as bad as some of their defensive metrics would lead you to believe – they played some cupcakes in the OOC besides UCLA, but so far their B1G slate has been nothing but bowl-quality teams. That housing by OSU also looks slightly better when you consider 14 points came on a TAINT and a punt return TD.
The defense kept UM in this game far later than most expected when Bellomy took over, with the 3rd quarter ending with UM only down 7 points. It was the type of game where the road team steals it at the end, but the team came up a bit short. But looking ahead, only OSU has an offense that should be able to move the ball against Mattison’s defense, and even that might be a bit of a stretch given how Miller struggles throwing the ball. Minnesota and Iowa have decent defenses on paper, but neither is a world-beater and both have struggled to slow down any of the above-average offenses they’ve faced this season. So right now, despite some bumps on the road, this year’s team still has as good a shot at making it to the second B1G game as anyone in the division.
This is the worst Dude…Where’s My Car homage EVER!
Best: Sonic Youth
While I am loathe to say that any season is “lost” when a team still has a chance to make a BCS bowl game, I always felt that this year was going to be way heavier on the transitional pains than last year’s, when everything seemed to turn up aces for Hoke and there were a number of older playmakers on both sides of the ball to give this team an extra gear. As many had predicted, all of the fumble recoveries and arm punt receptions had to swing the other way, and so while a possible Rose Bowl bid should never be besmirched, 2012 felt like the year where the differences between the past and present regimes would become most obvious, the oil and water least likely to integrate.
One silver lining, though, is that it means the younger players will get ample opportunities to see the field. And while the results have at times be mixed, it is clear that the foundation is being laid for this version of Michigan football to be what it will be going forward, especially on defense. Beyond the obvious (Jake Ryan, Funchess, Taylor, Clark), kids like Jenkins-Stone and Ojemudia (especially with a really athletic interception this game) have shown flashes with limited playing time, which bodes well for the future. Sure, there are still holes at the skill positions and pass rushing is apparently running security on the Enterprise, but unlike in years past you can see the succession of players and how they’ll fit into the systems being employed. And with Hoke having earned a longer leash, there is less fear of these players being square pegs for some successor’s round holes.*
* And yes, that looks way weirder in print than in my head.
Best: Great Garrett Rivas They’ve Got Kickers
In 2010, UM’s kickers were a combined 4 of 14 at field goals, for an astounding 28.6%. The long that year? 37 yards. And the long for the Gibbons was 24 yards. Fast forward two years and UM has hit 13 of 15 FGs for 86.7%, and both Wile (48 yards) and Gibbons (52 yards) have hit career-longs from distances that actually feel appropriate for that designation. In a game of inches, having guys who can put the ball through the uprights from distance in high-pressure situations may well have already punched UM’s ticket to a good bowl game, and at the very least gives the team hope once the ball crosses the opponents 40.
Worst: Hold Onto the Damn Ball
One of MGoBlog’s favorite memes (well, besides Lloyd Brady/photoshopping and cats) is Brian’s imploring punt returners to not allow the football to leave their possession until the whistle is blown.* We all laugh now because, for the most part, the returners DO seem to hold onto the ball at a reasonable clip, even if it means fair-catching a ball inside the five and letting it roll/fumble to the 2, which totally didn’t happen this game ever.
Unfortunately, it appears that whatever afflicted the kicking units didn’t so much recede as migrate to the WRs and TEs, which historically have displayed great hands. This year? Whether its been receivers failing to locate the ball, holding on in traffic, or just plain drops, there have been an alarming number of catchable balls that have not been reeled in. Heck, here are the updated UFR numbers from MSU.
The numbers don’t look horrible, but it gets wonky around moderate difficulty
(only 59%). By comparison, here’s last year’s numbers (sans Va Tech)
That’s 79% for moderately difficult, and based on how Brian grades out these throws those are the ones that we saw against Nebraska and, frankly, are the types you expect to see against a good pass defense. Those windows are small and safeties are closing in, so if the ball reasonably close the receiver needs to hold on. This isn’t an indictment of the current receiving core, but just evidence that lots of drives are stalling out because those “tough” catches from last year are being missed.
As to who IS to blame for this deficiency at WR, we’ve heard all the arguments. Personally, I put some blame on RR because he wasn’t getting the #1 receivers that any offense needs, even one predicated on shorter drops and more YAC. Some falls on the transition, which hurt recruiting and led to Hoke focusing more on the defense his first class because (a) it was an area of weakness, and (b) when in a pinch, I’m sure he found it easier to sell the side of the ball he knew more about. But a non-zero amount of blame falls on Hoke and Borges, though, because while there are legitimate reasons for last year’s recruiting to have a limited skill position haul, this year’s crop, while promising in terms of sleepers, is basically Treadwell or bust. This feels disturbingly like the RR-Pryor dance, and while QB is way more important than WR in terms of recruiting, it still looks like a position of need relies too heavily on nabbing an elusive target. I know that’s part of recruiting, but with Roundtree leaving and Gardner likely moving back to QB, I worry that these numbers may continue into next year.
Also, regardless of who is WR next year, the pox that apparently is on every ball Bellomy throws needs to end. Sacrifice chickens in the locker room if you must.
I ask Jobu about Smith interception, ball full of fear. I offer cigar, rum.
*If for some reason you need a refresher, check out the 2009 “hype” video, in which it almost feels like the ball is repulsed by the colors maize and blue.
Best: Referees and Replays
The storyline that seemingly was pushed under the rug for those about Michigan’s offensive impotence, Denard’s injury, and Nebraska’s swarming defense was the almost-comical officiating at various points in the game. The highlight was of course the 45 yards of penalties on the one second-half Michigan drive that led to a score, including the “life bird” of penalties, the 15-yard “sideline bitching” penalty that Bo Pelini earned after calling the refs “BASS-Bowls!” for a questionable personal foul. There were leading penalties on hits that were questionable, multiple out-of-bounds late hit penalties that wouldn’t have gotten the ambulances on the field, and a couple of pass interference calls that got both fanbases riled up.
And as it applies to replays, the burden of proof that must be met to uphold or reverse a ruling apparently ranges from a misdemeanor to what you need to overturn a Constitutional amendment. I totally support the idea that replays are used to “get it right”, but at some point it is a game with ambiguities, and no camera angle or shot-by-shot review will make that any easier. Balls move a little when a guy is diving onto the ground, and figuring out “control” and “possession” is by its very nature open to interpretation. I guess it is a collateral cost for trying to get it right, but it is still annoying to see Roy Roundtree seemingly make a great catch yet see it overturned because some of the ball hit the ground while another part is clearly under his arm and secure against his body.
Worst: Borges’s sense of “The Moment”
We have discussed Al Borges as an offensive coordinator, and my position remains that he seems competent with elite talent and not wholly innovative without it. He’ll be fine when Michigan if fielding NFL teams; he will probably be underwhelming until they do.
But one point that has driven me crazy is his seemingly lack of all sense for “the moment.” In Bill Simmons’s Book of Basketball, he mentioned that for all of Clyde Drexler’s abilities on the court, he may have been the worst “great player” at properly responding when the time called for a momentum-changing play. His best example was Drexler trying to hit a “response” three against Jordan and the Bulls in the Finals after Jordan had drained another three during that dominant run in Game 1 of the 1992 Finals. He air-balled it horribly, and it further deflated a struggling Blazers team.
With Borges, it seems to be his inability (or stubbornness) to vary up his play-calling when being creative or unorthodox is the best option. Witness the numerous times he’ll have the offense line up under center with 1 WR option on the goal line, even though the defense is terrified of Denard in space trying to get to a crease. I won’t kill him for the Bellomy play-calling because there wasn’t much he could do once it became clear that Fitz and line could not get one extra yard, Bellomy couldn’t get the ball to the receivers before the 9000 blitzing Cornhuskers got to him, and if it did leave his hand the receiver would spike it into the ground with the hate of a thousand suns.
But for the past two years, it is clear that Borges has a plan for this offense, and it was based on the presumption that he would call his play and the defense would react. When that works, you get Illinois and Purdue 2012; when it doesn’t, you get ND 2012 and VaTech 2011. That approach will never change, and while it will probably get UM’s offense to a consistent level we haven’t seen since the mid-2000’s, it also means that those serendipitous “RPS +3” will be few and far between.
Best: Power of Denard
Not that this needed to be said, but that Denard Robinson kid is pretty good at football. We have simply become accustomed to his brilliance, witnessed by the fact that in about 1 1/2 quarters his offense generated about 170 yards; the team finished with 188 for the game. He covers up so many sins for this line, running backs, and receiving core, and the offense has subconsciously become so reliant on his playmaking, that everything just crumbles when he isn’t in there. Even last year with Gardner, a player with similar abilities on paper, the differences in how the offense functioned were jarring. Blocks are longer with Denard, receivers find those few extra steps to get open, and the backs at least get a chance to hit the line without 2 LBs in the hole.
I was one of the most vocal proponents of Tate Forcier when the great Tate/Denard debate broke out in 2010. Sure, Tate had played well in spurts in 2009, but it sounded like Denard had pulled ahead of him coming into the season. Still, I held strong to the argument that Tate should keep the spot because of his past accomplishments and the fact that he “looked” more like a QB. I want to think that it wasn’t because of anything backward and myopic in my thinking of the QB position* but because Denard just seemed too raw, too much an athlete who could out-run the opposition and had a good arm but lacked the abilities to harness those abilities in a coherent, consistent offense. 2 years later, he’s basically the one reason the offense is able to move the ball and gives me the mental chubby I haven’t felt since Barry Sanders was taking hand-offs.
He gives this team a chance to win every game, and no matter how this season ends, his spot in my mental Hall of Fame has already been spoken for.
* I have always liked mobile QBs provided they knew what how to keep their arm under control. Woody Dantzler, Tommy Frazier, and Eric Crouch were three of my favorite QBs in college.
Prediction for Minnesota: The FEI Forecast for this Saturday is Michigan 24 – Minnesota 19 with just a 61% Probable Win Expectation for Michigan. If Denard is able to play most of the game, I don't think it will be that close. Michigan's offense has been excellent (3.8 PPPo) against poor teams (AFA, UMass, Purdue, Illinois) but has really struggled (0.90 PPPo) against every good team (Alabama, ND, MSU, Nebraska). In 2011 this was not the case as M scored about the same versus poor teams (3.7 PPPo) but was much better (2.2 PPPo) against good teams (ND, MSU, Nebraska, and Iowa). That said, Minnesota would be classified as a poor team (sorry Goldie).
Fremeau Efficiency Index: Not much movement in the overall FEI or DFEI but the OFEI went from #40 to #56 (no surprise there). In the detailed chart below, GE represents the raw data for FEI before adjustments for opponents. M is ranked #34 in GE and overall FEI is #36. This seems about right since M has lost 3 of the 4 games to their highly ranked opponents.
The S&P Ratings (Also from Football Outsiders) is a play based analysis (rather than possession based) and M is ranked #12 overall, #16 in offense, and #16 in defense.
The FEI is a drive based analysis considering each of the nearly 20,000 drives each year in FBS college football. The data is filtered to eliminate garbage time (at the half or end of game) and is adjusted for opponent. A team is rewarded for playing well against good teams (win or lose) and is punished more severely for playing poorly against bad teams than it is rewarded for playing well against bad teams.
National Rankings: The rankings for offense and defense are based on scoring (yardage statistics are inherently flawed). These are simply raw numbers without any adjustments for opponent, garbage time, or anything else. The data is from TeamRankings and includes only games between two FBS teams.
FEI Details: Here are the FEI numbers for Michigan and their opponent ( Football Outsiders FEI ).
Cumulative PPPo is 2.4 for the offense and 1.5 for the defense. M finished 2011 outscoring opponents by almost a 2:1 margin with PPPo for offense of 2.9 and defense of 1.5. The 2 charts show the raw data for offense and defense with the number of possessions adjusted for "kneel downs" at the half or end-of-game (maximum deduction = 2).
Using Scoring Offense and Scoring Defense National Rankings for the past 5 years (FBS AQ teams only), this table shows the percentage of teams that finish the season with a +WLM and a +5 WLM. For example, teams that finished in the Top 40 in both offense and defense had a 100% chance to be +WLM and an 82% chance to be +5 WLM (9-4 or better).
So I was playing my favorite older video game recently, Left 4 Dead 2, and as I was slaughtering the endless horde of zombies, it got me to thinking about how the zombies from the game can be compared to Michigan’s football schedule this year, with each type of zombie representing an opponent we faced or will face.
For those of you that haven’t played L4D2, it is a 4 player co-op zombie survival shooting game that takes place in a world overrun with an infection that turns everyone into zombies. Aside from your traditional run-of-the-mill zombies, the infection has turned some zombies into special infected zombies that have various powers and abilities. In L4D2 there are 8 types of mutant zombies and 5 varieties of uncommon zombies. The zombies in the game actually match up very well with Michigan’s schedule for 2012, as you’ll see below. (Author’s note – yes I know that in the game they’re called “infected” not zombies, but zombies sounds better and it’s Halloween so deal with it)
Alabama: The tank.
The tank is the toughest zombie in the game. It is enormous, strong, and extremely hard to take down. Think the Incredible Hulk if he were a zombie. That is Alabama in a nutshell, the NFL team playing in the NCAA. Bama is an unstoppable dominating force, and unfortunately unlike the tank, we can’t throw Molotov cocktails at it to slow it down.
Air Force: The jockey
The jockey is a zombie that is small and annoying. It gets it’s name because it hops on your back and steers you into trouble, such as right off of a ledge. Air Force is also small in size, compared to other football squads, and having to prepare for their triple option is annoying. Also, having this game right after Alabama was Dave Brandon’s way of potentially steering us into trouble.
UMASS: The common zombie
Common zombies are easy to kill, dispatched with one well placed bullet. Baby seal of 2012 UMASS was this, extremely easy to dispatch.
Notre Dame: The smoker
The smoker is a zombie that ensnares you from a distance and slowly chokes the life out of you. This is what ND’s defense does, choking the life out of its opponents. Also, watching Denard throw 4 straight interceptions slowly choked away my will to live as well.
Purdue: The clown uncommon zombie
The clown is an amusement park clown turned into a zombie. It is the stuff of nightmares, with a big red clown nose, but the same level of defense as your ordinary common zombie. This was Purdue this year, a team that had the appearance of maybe being scary, but in reality had no defense. Plus the clown nose reminds me of their coach’s mustache.
Illinois: The hazmat suit uncommon zombie.
Just like the clown zombie, the zombie in a hazmat suit is just a regular zombie with a goofy appearance, but once again no defense above a common zombie. There are three reasons I liken this zombie to Illinois’ football team this year. The first is because the hazmat suit makes the zombie fireproof, something Tim Beckman probably is since it is his first year. The second is that the zombie has no defense, just like UI football. And last, the hazmat suit is a good metaphor for UI football in general, because you need a hazmat suit to deal with the stench that is the Illini this season.
Michigan State: The charger
The charger is like Juggernaut from X-Men, it will batter into you over and over. MSU RB Le’Veon Bell is the charger in a nutshell, a human battering ram that MSU uses to run over their opponents. Fortunately, MSU didn’t use him to batter us down as much as they used him earlier in the season.
Nebraska: The boomer
The boomer is a zombie that pukes all over you, attracting other zombies to rush you in a horde. When Denard Robinson got hurt playing against them, I totally wanted to puke myself. Plus, Nebraska’s blitzes that swarmed our backup QB Bellomy are similar to the horde rush that happens in the game when the boomer hits you.
Minnesota: The construction worker uncommon zombie.
The construction worker zombie has earplugs in, so he cannot hear things that would otherwise draw the attention of normal zombies. Minnesota is normally a team that would barely draw our attention as well, so I thought this was fitting. Hopefully Denard will be healthy so that we can crush MN just like one would easily dispatch this zombie in the game.
Northwestern: The hunter
The hunter is a zombie that can pounce on you and trap you if you are unsuspecting and do a lot of damage to you if you are not prepared. With Northwestern’s crazy offense, this game can be a trap for Michigan as well as NU can put up a lot of points on us if we are not prepared for them.
Iowa: The riot gear uncommon zombie.
This zombie was a riot gear wearing cop that turned into a zombie, making him much harder to kill as he is bulletproof from the front, but he has just as much offense as your run of the mill common zombie. This is Iowa this season: a better than average defense coupled with an extremely weak offense.
Ohio State: The witch
The witch is a zombie that is extremely powerful offensively, capable of taking down your character extremely quickly if you are not able to take her out first. That is Ohio State this year, a powerful offensive attack, but not their customary strong defense from years past. When I was originally outlining this post, before the Nebraska game, I was going to also allude to how the witch can be gone around and ignored while you still reach your objective (the Big Ten title game) but now that we’ve got a loss against Nebraska we have to go through Ohio State as opposed to around it, which is more dangerous.
Ok so that was what I was thinking as I was playing L4D2. Happy Halloween everyone, I hope you enjoyed reading!
Offense and defense rankings based on total numbers and straight averages can be misleading at times. If a team plays opponents with strong rush offense but weak pass offense, the team's pass defense stats might look better than what they really should be. This is something Michigan was being accused of due to the fact that much of our "bad" defensive games came against strong rushing teams (Alabama and Air Force).
One way to mitigate this "effect" would be to not look at the totals and average numbers, but compare the game output against the average output the opponent has produced against all opponents. This produces numbers that show you how good your performance was compared to all other team that your opponent has played. It is more useful comparative method than using just total numbers.
So, exactly how does it work?
Here are the stats for Michigan so far this year:
|Opponents||Rush Net Total||Pass Yds Total||Total Yds||Pts||Avg Rush Total||Avg Pass Total||Avg Total Offense||Avg Scoring Offense|
|Average All Opp||145.1||145.9||291.0||17.3||196.0||194.7||390.7||27.5|
|Opponents||Avg Rush Off Diff||Avg Pass Off Diff||Avg Total Off Diff||Avg Scoring Off Diff|
|Average All Opp||-24%||-24%||-26%||-39%|
The first four columns of stats represent the actual stats from the game played against Michigan. The second set (of four) columns are the average output of that team against all opponents this year. The
last set (of four) columns second table are the differences in percentage of actual game stat versus the total year averages.
As you can see from the table, Alabama produced their average offensive output against Michigan while Purdue and Illinois barely produced about half of their normal offensive output.
By averaging all of the averages, we find that our defense is reducing our opponents' normal offensive output by about 25%, while only allowing only 61% of their normal scoring output.
Sounds pretty good, but how does that compare to rest of NCAA?
I didn't have enough time to calculate the differential averages for every team in NCAA, but I did the analysis for top 10 Pass/Rush/Total defensive teams and all of Big Ten (plus ND). I did not include stats against FCS opponents. Here it is ranked by total offense differential.
Few things that stand out:
- Alabama, LSU, and Florida St defense stand above the rest
- Michigan and Michigan St defenses stand above the rest of B1G
- Michigan is pretty good at both run and pass defense
- Ohio St pass defense is HORRIBLE!
- BYU defense is much better than I thought
- Many of the defenses highly ranked in one (pass or rush) only because they are so horrible at the other (I am looking at you Arizona St, Stanford, Nebraska and Oregon St!)
- Notre Dame is living on borrowed time - their scoring differential is MUCH higher than what rest of the defensive differentials would indicate
I do believe converting straight up numbers to percentages makes it much easier to compare between pass/rush and between different teams. I hope most of you find this useful. If I get enough upvotes, I will do the same analysis for offense as well.
This will be the first time sharing a wallpaper with MGoBlog. I have made a few in the past but only shared with family, who of course all bleed Maize & Blue. Hope you all enjoy.
I wanted to go with a history theme for the Minnesota game. I know as of recently there has not been much of a rivalry between the two schools, Blue winning 19 of the last 20 meetings. Minnesota has had its streaks in the series as well and the history of the jug is intriguing to me. I chose players for the wallpaper based on personal preference of course but also because each was a great at their own time. I added a subtle little "pass & catch" order to the players showing that the honor of winning it has been passed from Team #30 down to Team #133.
In the last 5 years, I've made it to every Big Ten school (and ND) for an away Michigan Football game. As you’ll see, the Nebraska trip was quite unique. I hope Nebraska fans that visit Ann Arbor leave with an equally positive experience when they visit us.
Putting aside the Wolverines for a moment, the Nebraska football community is no doubt the most prideful, classy, hospitable and kind (in my observation anyway) of all B1G teams. While they don't have a decades-long history of matchups with other B1G football programs, I don't think they would change much if they did. They would still be a great example of how a fanbase is supposed to support its football program and welcome visiting fans.
Below are examples of how they do things:
- Checking in to the hotel (Fairfield Inn – not fancy), the hotel manager offered to give us his number in case we got lost while exploring downtown Lincoln. (Come On Man, I Have A Smartphone)
- Friday night, while at dinner, several groups of people stopped at our table, welcoming us to Lincoln and wishing us luck the next day for the game.
- After dinner, at a campus bar, students went out of their way to welcome us to Lincoln and say "Good luck tomorrow" with a smile. (This is when I start thinking Where Am I?)
- On the walk back to the hotel Friday night, a group of ladies stopped us on the sidewalk and said greeting visiting fans is always a highlight for them and it is "like seeing a celebrity". (Now thinking: Is This Just A Well-Executed Prank?)
- Saturday before the game, we walked all around the stadium and nearby tailgates for about 7 hours. This part deserves sub-bullets:
o About 75% of tailgate parties we walked by asked us to stop and chat with them. 50% offered us food or beverage.
o One tailgate we decided to stop at was run by Tommie Frazier. Yes that Tommie Frazier. His name is on the stadium. Not knowing who he was (all he said was "I used to play here"), we talked to him for about 15 minutes, discussing the ongoing stadium renovations, where various campus/athletic buildings were located, where the best tailgates are, etc. The only reason I know that he wasn't just another guy with a tailgate is because as we were saying goodbye, the Nebraska gymnastics coach walked up and said Tommie's name aloud.
o Another tailgate lot we walked through had all the party buses and RVs in it. A converted school bus stood out as a great piece of fandom and as we were walking by, the door flung open and we were invited inside to drink beer and watch the early games. We sat there for about an hour, totally spontaneously, and shared stories about how both teams think they would have demolished the other if they had played against each other in 1997.
o The last tailgate lot we walked through ended up being about a 3 hour stop. Our plans to go to a bar for pregame dinner were abandoned. One guy demanded we have a blue jello shot with him from the batch that he made in honor of Michigan. A few parking spots away we did several shot-skis. We accepted invitations to eat food from several different grills and slowcookers. All the discussions taking place in these three hours were about football and beer. No taunting or yelling or animosity or complaining of any kind. I never heard a negative remark about either team or their corresponding players. I was in a sea of red and I wanted more. (Is This Real Life?)
- During the game, a Nebraska fan sitting opposite the aisle from us bought us a Runza (a baked pastry filled with meat) from the vendor walking the aisles (yes they have those). He didn't speak a word to us the whole game except when he said "Welcome to Lincoln, this [Runza] is for you" while indicating it was a local delicacy of sorts. It was delicious. (I Didn't Know I Wanted That, But He Did)
- After the game, our section was among the last to file out due to the gate location, and the Nebraska fans walking down the steps with us were interested to know if we enjoyed our time in their city despite the ugly game. We said yes, and they wished us safe travels home.
It got to the point where the sincerity and hospitality were equal parts overwhelming and humbling. I highly recommend you visit this place. I'm still wondering if everybody that visits has such a great experience or if I was just lucky. Either way, this is how Football Saturday should be. I'll likely cheer for Nebraska whenever doing so doesn't conflict with cheering interests that are advantageous for Michigan.