"Jim's a tough guy and you can see his personality is all over this football team," Fitzgerald said.
This is my weekly feature to look back at summer previews, get egg on my face, look over what Michigan did, and then project the rest of the year as we get more real time data. Last week's taking stock report can be found here.
Prelude: I did season previews on most UM opponents - I skipped UNLV and Rutgers out of boredom, and OSU out of fear. The rest are below
Let's begin with a look back at my summer comments about Oregon State
I opened my OSU (NTOSU) preview with:
The other OSU is going to suck this year. And most likely will really suck. UM could probably not have lucked into a better Pac 12 opponent and aside from a few P5s ala Kansas could not have found an easier warm up game in the Power 5 conferences.
The Beavers are basically the MSU of forty years pre Dantonio. A plucky team with limited depth that every so often puts together a good squad that gives big brother some troubles here or there and catches the national attention in "rivalry week" but otherwise operates in anonymity in a podunk town ..... This is not one of those plucky years.
The team lost a NFL talent senior QB (who had a decent - not great - year by Pac 12 QB standards) and loses 9 of 11 starters off a near Indiana level defense (80ish in both FEI and S&P+ last year).
I ended that same preview with:
UM should win and win big. Even with all our questions on offense. The Beavers are an offense whose strength (running) plays into UM's perceived defensive strength. They look like they will probably be starting a true freshman in his 2nd game. And if not a RS FR who has never played. The returning offensive starters must learn a whole new offensive system and UM fans will remember how ugly that looked in 2008 at times. The defense should be Indiana-ish. Oregon State will be coming off a game hosting awful Weber State (2-10 last year) - that might be their highlight of the year with the Pac 12 going to a 9 game schedule. The Beavers should be stuffed in AA.
Considering the lack of real game data I am happy with these predictions.
These were my views of the matchups this summer:
UM rush off v OSU rush def - Adv: UM. Just nearly impossible to guage the Oregon State defense - while down the road I expect the Beavers to have a good defense with the combo of Andersen and Sitake this is not down the road - this is now. Should be a great game for UM to work on their run game after what will be a very tough Utah defense in week 1.
UM pass off v OSU pass def - Adv: UM. See comment above - Rudock is a 3 year starter and will be going against a bunch of green defensive players. One hopes one of the secondary WR guys gets some confidence this game and begins a breakout season to join Butt and Darboh as actual threats.
OSU rush off v UM rush def - Adv: Wash. If UM can limit the run game this should be a very ugly score line. That said I do think Woods does get his yards even as the Beavers break in a new playbook. UM rarely truly stuffs a good RB in MSU fashion - usually they can limit them to a good degree. It also helps when your HC benches a star RB (thanks Kevin Wilson). I don't expect any benching of Woods.
OSU pass off v UM pass def - Adv: UM. We have zero intelligence on the Beavers QBs as they haven't played a minute of a real game. Coming into the Big House in game 2 of their careers I don't expect much - Andersen and Baldwin will probably try to run nearly every 1st down and try to keep their QB in 2nd and 6 and 3rd and 3 situations. One danger zone is sleeping on Funchess sized Villamin - when your whole day is spent crowding the line you can fall into a lull and you have to assume OSU tries to throw over the defense a few times.
Generally solid although I gave Oregon's rush offense too much credit. It was bad too. I had noted if UM could limit Oregon's run offense - which I felt would be their only offense - the score line would be ugly. True.
OSU's defense was as bad as expected and undersized (I hadn't realized how small the DEs in the 3-4 were in the summer). Unfortunately no secondary receiver outside of Butt or Darboh had a breakout game but part of that was it was not really necessary in the second half. Villamin did look scary physically (3 catches, 26 yds) but you need a QB who can deliver the ball to him - OSU doesn't have one.
I didn't see much reason to change my views in last week's stock report after the week 1 rousing victory over 2-10 in 2014 FCS Weber State.
My view is Oregon State is the worst or 2nd worst Pac 12 team and is being served on a silver platter to UM. They are going through an offensive transition that mimicks UM 2008 - going from pro style to spread concepts without spread players. Their hastily put together class has a freshman QB dual threat they are going to throw out to UM. It should be similar to what happened when Indiana tried that last year. And Indiana and Oregon State's defenses probably won't be too dissimilar. Oregon State stood head to head with a 2-10 FCS level team in week 1 thru the 3rd quarter before pulling ahead. If UM does not show a competent offense in this one I'd be worried about a lot more M00N games the rest of the year. I expect our defense to maul the Beavers and hold them to mid teens.
OSU did even less than I thought they'd do on offense. UM basically did what I expected on offense.
I expect my predictions to look far less prescient in the future.
A Look at Michigan
After that fugly first defensive drive, UM held OSU to zero points and about 115 yards net of that horrid punt that was credited to the defense as a 48 yard loss. I'll take 1 football field + 15 yards over 3+ quarters anytime. Defensively my concern this year are QBs who can - you know - actually throw the ball consistently and strife our back 7 (well 6 - Jourdan Lewis does not get strifed). Luckily for UM very few teams on the schedule have much competence at QB. While fear snuck into the heart of many UM fans going into this game due to a "running QB" this was still a low rated true freshman in game 2 of his career in an offense full of players who knows crap about spread as everyone is learning from the ground up. (See Michigan 2008) The UM defense did what it needed to do although it OSU's offense plays straight into UM's strength (rush defense).
Offensively, UM still lacks explosion. That dude who writes Monday reviews of Michigan games for the O Zone noted the lack of explosion in UM's running game thru 2 games.
Michigan rushed for 225 yards on 48 carries (4.7 avg), but the longest carry was just 19 yards. The Wolverines are one of just 13 teams in the nation who do not yet have a carry of at least 20 yards, and their six carries of 10+ yards is 106th in the nation.
It is what it is folks - Deveon Smith is not going to gallop for 30 yards very often, if ever. Even against shit defenses. This will hurt vs competent defenses ala MSU, OSU, Minnesota, Utah. It won't matter much vs the swiss cheese variety.
I was dissapointed at the lack of non TE/Darboh/RB targets in the passing game. I mean I realize we are TE central now but if you can't find some deep seams vs Oregon State or UNLV types it seems difficult to project it happensing vs MSU and OSU defenses when we actually need to do it. There were 18 completions in this game and only 3 went to a non TE/RB/FB/Darboh. Rudock looked solid but still turnover prone - which will haunt UM vs better teams. I am surprised how turnover prone he has been.
On the positive side it looked like Stanford - albeit vs a horrid defense - out there in the 2nd half. Pound the ball, supplemented by throws to TEs, followed by physical mauling, and even a throw to AJ Williams. TOP was dominant in the second half but against a quick strike offense that won't matter much - TO ratio is far more important to me long term. And we lost that one again.
Not going to get giddy about this game as it was "as expected" but after 7 years of "as expected" not happening we'll mark this one as a positive step, and note our surprise that Ben Braden is great enough to start for Ohio State. If Michigan can pound a decent defense like Minnesota into submission in the 2nd half in a similar fashion mid season, I'll be much more tickled.
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY RANKINGS
Basing games on WHEN they are played and WHERE this was my general view on degree of difficulty for each opponent coming into the year. And now my adjusted views (that will be adjusted again!) after week 3. Again this is not how good the team is in a vacuum but how they match up vs UM.
|Week 2||Week 1||Preseason|
|11||Oregon State||Oregon State||Oregon State|
- Minn (+1) - For the second week in a row I am not moving Minnesota up so much based on Minnesota but based on other teams around them faltering (or about to falter). As I look ahead to Utah - who I moved Minn past - I see a lot of doom in the Utes future (more on that below). So this is a bit of a pre-emptive strike. Utah is about to embark on a month of hell while Minnesota plays 2 MAC teams, Purdue, and Northwestern. It is going to be difficult to judge Minnesota much until that Nebraska game 2 weeks before Michigan. I've been negative on Mitch Leidner as a QB so let me give him some credit for this week when he went 23/45 for 233 yards and 2 TDs. That % still sucks but hey in Big 10 QB terms 233 yards is like 400 in the Pac 12. Let me say I am also confused Jerry Kill allowed his QB to throw 45 times. Some dude you'd expect to sit next to in accounting class named Drew Wolitarsky had 9 catches for 114 yards. Guyz, Drew from accounting had 10 catches all of last year. Rodney Smith had a 2nd good week at RB (21 carries, 108 yds) and it looks like Minn is on its way to replacing David Cobb in a competent way. Look it was Colorado State but if this offense can have any sort of pulse through the air I have to upgrade the Minnesota risk assessment. CSU had a bad time passing with its new QBs and star WR out with injury but did well on the ground with 172 yds. We won't learn anything new the next 2 weeks about Minnesota so we'll get more data when they play Northwestern in 3 weeks.
- Rutgers (+1) - Rutgers lost to a quite bad Washington State team in the waning seconds, and after the game indefinitely suspened their best player. The Rutgers game is at home for Michigan. But I still moved them up 1 spot in my "degree of diffuculty rankings". That is how bad Maryland looked. I don't expect Rutgers defense to be all that but it's impossible to really judge a defense after playing Washington State. Their QB threw nearly 70 times aka a normal week at WSU. WSU's defense is so bad it's all difficult to judge opposing offenses but a key this year for Rutgers is to find a replacement for Gary (Super)Nova and Chris Laviano has looked competent thus far (23/29 204 yds). That's nothing special but competent in the Big 10 means you are a top 5 QB in the league. Also I'd like to note DO NOT KICK TO JANARION GRANT (6 kick returns, 195 yards, 1 TD, 32.5 average...... on top of 2 punt returns for 58 yards, 1 TD, 28.0 average). If you are keeping track at home that is 2 TDs on kick returns. Peppers - start doing this.
- Utah (-1) - Utah lost its QB and best defensive player (Hunter Dimick) to injury and still won. Their DBs had another 2 INTs. While I realize Utah wins close games and doesn't blow people out I fear for Utah's future based on their schedule in the Pac 12 South and their crossovers with Oregon and Cal. The QBs on these teams are frightening and if UM had this schedule I'd be in the turtle position. Kessler, Goff, Adams, Solomon, Rosen - those are all guys who can crush a defense, even a solid one like Utah's. Wilson sounds like he will be back for Oregon but it was an arm injury - and Dimick I don't see any update yet. Utah is ranked top 25 right now but in a month they won't be - after Fresno State Utah meets Oregon, Cal, Arizona State and USC. I could see Utah losing all 4 of those. Cal plays Texas this week and I expect Goff to open some eyes nationally as Zaire did. I don't think Utah is any worse than PSU, Northwestern, or BYU so it is difficult for me to push them down farther than those teams even if they are 3-4 in a month from now. That might speak to how crappy the Big 10 is below the top few teams.
- Maryland (-1) - In my season previews I said Maryland was the one team that the UM fanbase way overestimated this year. They lost their NFL talent at WR, lost their starting QB (who was also their top rusher), and when not playing teams that sucked last year (incl PSU and UM) were destroyed (Wisc, OSU, MSU). I did think Caleb Rowe would be their starting QB which gave them hope (instead it has been the ineffecitve Perry Hills) but they had potential for 5 wins this year from what I saw on paper. But one of those wins was vs Bowling Green. Which did not happen - not only did they lose they were blown out. Now Bowling Green is not bad - they gave Tennessee a good battle through 2+ quarters but it is one thing to lose and another to get crushed. And that was with Will Likely returning YET ANOTHER KICK FOR A TD. WHY DO YOU TEAMS KICK TO WILL LIKELY. I SAID THIS SUMMER DON'T KICK TO WILL LIKELY. I SAID LAST WEEK DON'T KICK TO WILL LIKELY. JOHN BAXTER - DO NOT KICK TO WILL LIKELY!!!!!!!!!!!! Outside of Likely, Maryland is garbage. Bowling Green threw for 500 yards and 6 TDs. Then they ran it for 200 more yards. Their defense sucks and their offense sucks. But hey they have good special teams - DO NOT KICK TO WILL LIKELY!!!!!!!!!!! Maryland plays what looks to be a half decent USF team next week and then follows it with West Virginia, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Iowa, Wisconsin, and MSU. Which is why I said they'd probably be a 5 win team (they finish with Rutgers and Indiana). They now are in risk of not even hitting that. (Update - i see Caleb Rowe has been named starter for next week)
- OSU - sleepwalked through a Hawaii team. Will continue to sleepwalk until they play MSU.
- MSU - "Oregon is garbage!" comments here. While not a vintage Oregon team this will still be a team that outscores most of their opponents and probably ends up 9-3ish so a good opponent. And they will get better - Adams has been with that team a whole month. Obviously a gift wrapped overthrow by Vernon Adams preserved the win, but MSU was in the national spotlight and beat a "brand" team in an exiciting back and forth affair and well all that sucks. MSU in a vacuum is different than MSU matched up vs UM. I just hate the matchups on the lines as UM's strength (DL) is MSU's strength (OL) and UM's potential weakness (OL) is MSU's strength (DL). #Harbaugh and all but you need to beat MSU thru the air without a lot of turnovers and with some big chunk plays and thus far Rudock has not shown that ability. And our ability to run on MSU's D will be .... challenged. UM will probably need a few big plays in special teams (which is possible considering MSU's issues there) and MSU to cough the ball up a few times. Rivalry game and all but on paper this still looks like a bad matchup based on each team's weaknesses and strengths.
- BYU - BYU beat a quality Boise State team on the road in the closing seconds. This makes then 2-0 in their guantlet of Neb, Boise, UCLA, and Michigan. I don't care how it was done - it is still an impresive feat. New QB Tanner Magnum is still an unknown but he has a huge arm. Take out the 84 yard bomb early in that game and he went 16/27 for 225 yds. That's still a 60% completion ratio which in Big 10 QB terms would make him aweeeesome. He did suffer some TFLs/sacks. Adam Hine did manage 93 yards on 19 carries which is a solid 4.9 per. Coming into the year finding a running game not named Taysom Hill was a question for the offense. Defensively we know what BYU is - solid rush D with awful pass D. Ryan Findley threw for 300 yards but tossed 3 picks which killed Boise. This game feels like one both defenses will neutralize the others and it's going to be Jake Rudock vs Tanner Magnum. I don't know who to take in that situation. I expect BYU to lose to UCLA this week but I won't be moving them down as BYU has the type of QB to stress UM's weaknesses.
- PSU - PSU beat the Buffalo Bulls by 13 at home. If you are a PSU fan right now you are where UM fan has been for years - just happy it was not another disaster. Hackenberg looked PTSD with 14/27 for 128 yards. That's an awful 4.7 average. PSU reshuffled its OL and gave Hackenberg some time. The running game looked decent as Saquon Barkeley ran 12 times for 115 yards. (9.6 ave with 33 yard longest) Barkley is a (sigh) highly rated freshman RB who probably is going to wrest the job away from Akeel Lynch in the first month on the job. Cant take much more out of this game as the opposition is weak.
- Northwestern - For the second straight week the peanut gallery shall yell: "Why you no move up Northwestern after beating Stanford impressively at home and crushing tomato can in game 2?" I said last week I will wait until this week's game with Duke before judging Northwestern and I am sticking with it. An impressive win vs a now solid program in ACC country and I'll be moving Northwestern up. Remember, this team beat Wisconsin last year on their way to a garbage year. Newbie QB Clayton Thornston only threw 16 times but he only needed to throw 16 times - this was Eastern Illinois. Surprisingly star RB Justin Jackson was held to a 3.5 ypc average. The story is the NW defense which has now given up 6 pts total this year. Duke has played nobody and given up 7 pts thru 2 games.
- Indiana - Indiana scored 17 pts late to beat Florida International 36-22. Indiana is who we thought they were. Keep an eye on Jordan Howard who is Tevin Coleman's replacement. He has had 2 monster games vs nobodies. Indiana plays Western Kentucky next week which is actually a half decent team for a non P5.
- UNLV - see below
My fear for UM in 2015 is explosive offenses and/or competent QBs as our defense is prone to issues in space and our offense is not built for track meets. i.e. a crap team like Washington State would scare the crap out of me as a UM opponent. Hell Bowling Green would scare me to death. As the first few weeks have played out the schedule has turned more into UM's favor in this regard. UNLV has a decent QB but his hamstrings look to be an issue. Maryland had what looked like a decent QB who
the coach thus far has refused to play will finally get a start this week. BYU had a QB who is UM's nightmare for 25 years - he is out with injury. Sackenberg might be broken. Northwestern's QB is a newb. Most of the other Big 10 teams have Big 10 QBs. That's not a complement. We'll see how Laviano develops and Sudfeld is Sudfeld.
Unless Caleb Rowe turns a whole lot of stuff around at Maryland and John Baxter decides to channel Bo and kick to Rocket IsmaIl 2.0, Michigan has a very manageable month going into MSU. Pending a Northwestern blowout of Duke, BYU feels like the main challenge in the coming 4 weeks.
Michigan is currently a 34 pt favorite vs UNLV. Even accounting for the dumb money that puts money on brand teams this should be Michigan's easiest game of the year although UNLVs QB - if healthy - will pose more danger than Oregon State's. If Blake Decker can play the whole game UNLV probably can put up some points on Michigan's defense. If he cannot play, this will be ugly. The backup QBs looked Russ Bellomy'ish last week for UNLV vs UCLA. (4/15 for 4 yards, with a pick 6... oh and a fumble). Unless something wacky happens this should be like playing Eastern Michigan.
I haven’t been this happy to write a recap since, I don’t know, UTL II? Yeah, let’s go with that.
Best: Reasonably Excited!
I know, this was the JV game of the Battle for Mid-Sized States with Coastlines or whatever ESPN tried to turn this particularly random scheduling quirk into, and I know that the upper-echelon of the conference as it were (OSU, then some distance away MSU, then some farther distance away I guess Minnesota and Wisconsin) is still between outrageously and significantly better than the Wolverines, and I know that Oregon State doesn’t have a QB on the roster who played a down of college football before the season started, and I know that it’s one of the youngest teams in the country and not particularly talented youth to boot, and I know that whatever gypsy or witch Al Borges insulted back in the 90’s who subsequently cursed all of his QBs hasn’t broken her spell despite him leaving UM 2 years ago, and I know that we’ve seen the running game look this good against undersized defensive lines only to be exploited (like it was last week) against defenses who can push back, and I know that the pass rush is still really inconsistent (witness only 2 sacks, one by Morgan), and I know that the linebackers remain adventures against small guys, big guys, really any guys in space or in coverage, I know that the corners not named Lewis still have major question marks that probably won’t be answered/exposed until BYU, and I know that the offense still took about a half to get anything resembling coherency and that isn’t going to work against more competent offenses, and finally, I know that beating a pretty bad Pac-12 team isn’t going to be substantially change the outlook for the season for any reasonable fan…
I’ll take it. I’ll take it because this was the type of win you always wanted to see out of those old Hoke outfits, not the nail-bitters against UConn(!) and Akron(!!) where the offense looked like it was shot with the Devolution Gun. I’ll take it because it felt like the team embodied its offensive and defensive philosophies, not just pay them lip-service while flailing around for anything that works. I’ll take it because after that first drive, Michigan’s defense stiffened and held OSU to 84 total yards of offense, including 2 drives that went backwards (I don’t count the Tacopants punt and the kneel down to end the first half; it’s 4 if you count those). I’ll take it because Michigan had three more 10+ drives that ended in scores, and probably would have had more such drives in the second half if the field didn’t shift steeply toward the OSU side of the field and UM had great field position. I’ll take it because while Rudock threw another pick, it (a) late in a blowout, (b) a defensible throw in that he was trying to hit Butt and threw it a bit too inside after Butt seemed to settle into his spot a bit early, (c) featured a good play by the LB to jump in front of the pass, and (d) came after a 13/16 stretch in which Rudock looked much more comfortable throwing the ball. I’ll take it because Smith, Green, and Isaac, and the offensive line just ground down a P5 defense for 224 yards with a long of 19. I’ll take it because the A. J. Williams caught a long pass for the first time in what seems like forever, Ian Bunting had some nice catches, Darboh continued his ascension to #1 WR, and 9 guys caught passes for the second time this year, which happened twice all of last year and never as fluidly. I’ll take it because Chris Wormley has been a revelation on the defensive line, recording another 3 TFLs and giving the line the type of dual-prong rushers you need to generate an organic/disruptive pass rush as well as contain the running game. I’ll take it because, even with Jourdan Lewis out for the second half due to a potential concussion, the pass defense steadied itself after a rough first quarter and gave up a total of 30(!) yards the rest of the game. I’ll take it because the special teams turned the game around to end the 2nd half (though obviously the OSU long snapper did most of the work) despite getting screwed earlier in the drive by a wonky, at best, roughing the kicker penalty on the OSU punter. I’ll take it because searching for “Jim Harbaugh freak out” is WAY more fun than “Brady Hoke freak out” (which features Brady Hoke half-hugging Brian Kelly and a half-dozen pictures of him looking like he’s in various stages of passing a massive bowl movement). I’ll take it because UM won comfortably despite the referees doing their best to muck up the game (they apparently thought they were in East Lansing and the other Oregon team was playing). And, finally, I’ll take it because UM looked better than they did last week, better as the game progressed, and at the end looked like a team that bulldozed over a mediocre Pac-12 team like a Jim F*ing Harbaugh team SHOULD from now until forever!
Best: Like Novacaine
I know I use this video all the time, but it perfectly encapsulates how good offenses should work. I know you read and hear all the time about dynamic offenses that roll with a million different formations and playcalls; I've been a proponent of those types of offenses as the natural evolution of collegiate offenses and a system I'd kinda hope UM had been able to make work with previous coaches. But I’ll admit that a lot of those complaints are about window-dressing or presentation; a good offense, at its core, looks like every other “type” of good offense, whether it be spread, Air Raid, triple-option, run-and-shoot, MANBALL, etc. It’s about executing the plays you are best equipped to run with consistency and reasonable effectiveness.
And while you definitely should adapt as the game dictates, it also means running your offense sometimes in spite of individual results if you are confident that the final outcome will be a net positive. That’s what Hoke’s offenses struggled from as the years went on; he’d run plays X until the defense wised up, then switch to plays Y, but always seemed concerned about going to back to plays X if it made sense to, even if Y seemed to be working. It’s why we saw tackle over for most of the game against Minnesota instead of trotting it out periodically and using it as an occasional constraint for his “base” offense.
At some point in the 1st half, UM had 17 yards rushing. The line couldn’t sustain a push, the RBs weren’t getting much yardage beyond the line, and even little screen passes were being blown up for minimal gain because Mason Cole, for example, basically got flipped over by an OSU linebacker. But to his credit and as proof that Harbaugh is a masterful offensive technician…he didn’t really change anything. He just kept pushing forward with Smith, asked Rudock to make safe-ish throws, and trusted that an undersized OSU defensive line would start giving up ever-bigger holes for Smith to rumble through. And, ultimately, it did. A defense that had completely nullified the OSU offense helped, but the offensive performance felt organic and persistent in a way that hasn’t existed for years in A2; save for when Drake Johnson was the lead back at the end of last year, a Michigan rushing attack hasn’t looked close to this natural since 2011. And looking at the bulk of the upcoming schedule and assuming a natural improvement as the players become more comfortable with the new offensive playcalling, I don’t see too many teams that will be able to completely disrupt the general offensive flow. I know “most teams won’t be able to stop UM from running forward with the ball” is pretty faint praise, but I’ll take it after 2 games of another coaching regime.
Worst: You’ll Probably Still Want Someone to Drive You Home
Not to be a downer because I thought the running game executed really well against OSU, but this remains an offensive line with major question marks both at positions you expect (Braden) and not (Cole has been less-than-stellar thus far, at least in run blocking). Oregon State has both a young and not particularly defense, and still it took Michigan nearly a half of football to establish consistent running lanes. And even when they did execute, at times it felt more a by-product of an overmatched Beaver defense than fantastic play by the offensive line. In particular, I remember one of the longer Smith runs in the 4th quarter featuring Braden pulling across and into the second level. Instead of crushing the LB/safety waiting for him, he kinda just, I don’t know, fell on the defender and that allowed Smith to break outside a bit, but also slowed him a down enough to let other defenders tackle him.
I know that Braden is very tall and leverage becomes a major issue when trying to block guys half a foot or more shorter than you, but I saw a number of instances where the offensive linemen did “enough” right things for a positive, and that simply isn’t going to work against better defenses. I fully expect them to improve, and the improvements even since Utah, opponent quality acknowledged, were encouraging. I did think Braden handled the pass rush better, and Smith and co. ran through gaping holes not only because they saw them but also because they were sustained and, in some instances, carved out of the defensive line exactly how the play call asked for it. But I still see it being tough sledding against teams like Minnesota, MSU, OSU, and, maybe, PSU on the ground. I don’t expect there to be another 27-for-27 or what happened a couple years ago against MSU, but this remains a semi-fragile running game that isn’t going to necessarily carve up defenses the way it looks like they will the remainder of the OOC season.
Best: Getting Closer
As ST3 noted in his always-good Inside the Boxscore, Jake Rudock doesn’t need to be a world-beater for Michigan to win. Jake Rudock doesn’t have even be a gunslinger or a “playmaker” in the Denard/Gardner-before-broken-soul mold. Jake Rudock just has to be Iowa Jake Rudock, or more definitely:
My definition of efficient is 7+ YPA, 60+% completion percentage, and no more than 1 turnover per game. He was at 6.9 YPA and 69%, but he turned the ball over twice (1 INT, 1 fumble.) We're getting there.
We are getting there. I’m more bothered by the fumble than the INT, because as I noted above the INT was late in a blowout and just felt like ongoing growing pains for the offense. But the fumble was because a LB came in unblocked on a delayed blitz and, for whatever reason, Rudock either didn’t see him, failed to throw to the hot route, or just throw it at someone’s feet. He’s a 5th-year senior, and he played for Iowa last year behind a suspect offensive line; getting rid of the ball before you get hammered by an unblocked defender shouldn’t be “new” to him the way it seems to be whenever, say, Connor Cook feels the faint breeze of a defensive end’s outstretched fingers grasp within 2 feet of his face.
Anyway…beyond the fumble I thought Rudock looked pretty good once the running game established itself and drew in the safeties a bit. Unlike last week’s game when it seemed like every downfield threat was double-covered, this week you could see Oregon State start to cheat up a bit, and that opened up throws to guys like Darboh and Bunting with room for yards after the catch. That’s what a good running game does for a QB; it opens up the field and forces defenses to guess more than they like, which almost always favors skill players on offense. The deep passing game remains a bit of an enigma, but if Rudock can be deadly accurate within 15 yards and those little bubble and WR screens stick and remain effective, that might be enough against most of the defenses they’ll see this season.
Best: I’ll Happily Admit Defeat
At the beginning of the year, I was down on Amara Darboh as a #1 receiver, likening him to a #2/#3 who plays as a #1 by default. While I’m sure he’ll have trouble against some of the better corners in the conference, I am pleasantly surprised how good he’s been thus far. He isn’t a burner, but he’s quicker than I remember from last year, and his upper body strength coupled with that speed has really helped him maximize the WR screens and crossing routes that have been big gains for the passing attack. I also suspect he’ll be a solid downfield blocker if/when the running game starts breaking off those longer runs you kind of expect will start happening any game now.
As for the rest of the receiving core, just remember that both A. J. Williams and De’Veon Smith had 20+ yard receptions a week after both dropped critical passes. If Harbaugh and co. aren’t careful, I’m going to stop clutching those pearls around my neck on every 3rd down, and I’m not sure if I’m ready for that.
Best: The Line Was Drawn Here; They Went No Farther
With the exception of that first drive (and let’s just assume I say that before everything else going forward in this diary), the defensive line played a great game. Chris Wormley is a revelation at defensive tackle/end, and really has given this defense an identity along with Glasgow and Henry on the front line. It still lacks an elite pass rusher, but except for what I assume are the elite running games (OSU, maybe MSU and Minnesota), I don’t see this line giving up much on the ground consistently and, more promisingly, giving more teams trouble in the passing games than in years past.
I remain…surprised that Lawrence Marshall hasn’t gotten really any meaningful playing time after the preseason hype, and (sadly) it’s not because Ojemudia or RJS is performing above expectations on the weak side. BYU will be a test because even if Mangum lacks Hill’s explosive running ability and seems to be balancing on that razor’s edge between competent and self-sabotaging at times, he can absolutely throw the ball if given time. My hope is that someone emerges to provide even token pressure from the position by then.
Worst: Still Not Sure About the Second Corner
This is a light Worst because, again, under 100 yards over the last three quarters, with virtually nothing in the air. Yes, OSU was starting a caravan of people who hadn’t thrown a down of college ball, but that’s still an accomplishment. I thought the TD on Lewis was just a really well-thrown ball that Jarmon was able to haul in after getting a step; it happens. That it was at the end of a bad drive probably made it sting a bit more than normal, but other than that Lewis looked great until he was knocked out with the concussion. I assume he’ll be back next week, but they might just keep him out as a precaution, as I doubt UNLV will test UM much especially if their QB Decker is out.
As for the man opposite Lewis at corner, that remains a mixed bag. After Villamin burned Stribling for a couple of early receptions, Clark came in and, I guess, did a bit better on a failed 4th down conversion. Peppers also got a bit of a run in there as well, but the 2nd corner spot remains in flux. It might behoove the defense to keep Lewis out/use him sparingly and let the other guys get some game experience and see if anyone can really stand out, as right now any offense with more than one semi-competent WR is just going to attack that second spot mercilessly. Luckily this is the B1G so half your schedule has, at best, one competent receiver, but you’d still hope someone, anyone, would have locked down that spot in the event that it becomes an issue.
Meh: The Men in the Middle
I’ll admit I never can get a good read on LB play during a game. Some games I think everyone is going great and then you look back and you see a bunch of missed tackles. Other times it seems like every tackle is happening 3 yards after the line and they grade out as above-average because the defensive tackles aren’t holding up well. And coverages are especially hard based on the camera angle, as sometimes the zones put LBs in no-man’s land where conceding 5-6 yards is how you want the play to end.
As usual, Desmond Morgan hit people and they stopped. He also did a pretty good job flowing to the ball on those jet sweeps and QB runs that OSU relied on to move the ball. Bolden got better as the game went on, and he showed a nifty set of hands picking up that fumble from Bolden. He still seemed slow to react on some plays, especially early on when OSU was finding success testing the edges, but again, he helped hold a P5 team under 150 total yards of offense. Ross and Gedeon also got some time and played well enough. I remain a bit scared about the linebackers going against BYU and that ilk, but it’s not like Maryland, UNLV, or NW are loaded offensively. Like the rest of the defense, the LBs are growing into the schemes and showing incremental improvements, so let’s assume they keep that up.
Best: That’s Why You Give Long Snappers Scholarships!
I know some people joked about Scott Sypniewski getting a scholarship as primarily a long snapper, but after watching the OSU snapper rocket two increasingly-terrible throws back to his punter, the first leading to an illogical “roughing the kicker” penalty to extend a drive, and the latter a Tacopants special that led to a late UM score on the same drive, there is value in making sure the guy setting up your punter is good at, you know, doing that with a football.
I’m assuming everyone saw that sequence toward the end of the half, but for those who didn’t here’s a brief recap. OSU was forced to punt on 4th down, and on the punt the snap was high and to the right a bit, causing the OSU punter to bobble the ball before running pretty far to one sideline and getting the ball off. He was then bumped into by Clark, leading to (a) the refs calling a “roughing the kicker” penalty that netted OSU a first down, and (b) Jim Harbaugh absolutely losing his mind on the sideline.*
So the drive continued and OSU had to punt again because they basically used up all their bag of tricks on that first drive and were running into various walls offensively after that. On the next punt, UM made sure to not even fart in the general direction of the punter, and he was able to pin UM deep in their own territory with about 1:30 left in the half. But that punt was called back after an illegal formation penalty on OSU, so on the subsequent play the OSU long snapper sailed a ball a good 10 feet over the punter and 30-ish yards deep, resulting in UM getting the ball back at the OSU 3 yard line. It was a 90+ yard swing, and let UM go into the half up 10 and really helped salt the game away.
* As a brief aside, it was nice to see a coach ride the officials a bit. Hoke never did that, and while I don’t believe that referees consciously do “make-up” calls, I do believe that they are human and hate being yelled at by a crazed man in a baseball cap. Over time, they will subconsciously want to stop that crazy man from yelling at them and, as a result, make calls that appease said crazy man. It won’t work all the time, but it never hurts.
Worst: These Refs, Though
I’ll keep this brief – OSU had nearly as many first downs due to penalty (3) as they had rushing (4) or passing(5). Their only first down in the second half came on a facemask penalty against UM, and UM recorded nearly as many penalty yards (105) as OSU recorded total yards (138). Beyond the punter penalty I spoke of above (I always thought a punter was “live” outside of the tackle box), the refs also missed a number of obvious PIs on OSU (including one in the endzone on Darboh that would have been a TD) while also calling a dubious PI on Peppers in the first half. I get that UM was sloppy at times, but how UM went from 3 penalties on the road to 10 penalties at home against a team they were killing for most of the game was just infuriating.
Best, I Guess: Snack on Danger, Dine on Death!
So yeah, I missed a wrestling reference last week, but I couldn’t help myself after the past couple of weeks. Against Utah last week, Booker tried to hurdle a UM defender and was instead depositing on his head and shoulders by Joe Bolden. Last year, Utah’s Travis Wilson tried something similar, and, well…
So in this game, Seth Collins tried to, I don’t know, fly over the UM defense. It didn’t work and he wound up being crunched mid-air by either Bolden and/or Desmond. It was nasty, dangerous, and continuing this weird tradition where opponents set themselves up for variations of the Doomsday Device popularized by the Legion of Doom
I’ll give you a brief synopsis of the Legion of Doom. They started off as the Road Warriors (Animal and Hawk) in the old territory days of professional wrestling, these hulking bodybuilders who worked super-stiff (i.e. in the world of fake fighting, it’s when guys don’t really hold back on their punches/kicks/slams etc.), were underrated athletes (in particular Hawk, who moved amazingly well for a big guy) and had a great look. Over the years they evolved into, well, Mad Max-style brutes with shoulder spikes, snarling, barely-coherent promos, and a reputation for just demolishing guys. They were known as the Legion of Doom in the WWF/E, and became some of the biggest draws of that era. Oh, also, if you were ever in an arcade in the early 90’s and walked by the Wrestlefest cabinet you heard their catch phrases. They were dumb, cheesy, and 100% in your wheelhouse if you were a young kid who loved professional wrestling.
Over the years their gimmick got a bit stale, drugs and alcohol problems took over, and they kind of fell apart. Hawk passed away at the age of 46 from a sudden heart attack, the guy the WWE tried to semi-replace Hawk with before his death (Droz) wound up breaking his neck in a freak in-ring incident a couple years later, and Animal still kicks around on the indy circuit and will pop up on Raw every once and a while. Everything in this paragraph can be said for about 80% of the wrestlers from the 80s and 90s, I know. Oh, also, Joe Laurinaitis (Animal) is the father of famed Ohio State LB James Laurinaitis.
This should also not surprise you at all.
Anyway, my point is that wrestling is fake, yet college football players still seem to think throwing themselves in the air is going to end well with 225+ lb men trying to knock them out of said air. The LOD wrecked guys for years so that you can watch them on youtube; you don’t need to try to recreate modern-day beheadings for a couple more yards.
Best: Runnin’ Rebels
I predict UM scores many points, accumulates many yards, and my entire diary is full of animated gifs of professional wrestling and raccoons on little bicycles.
To satisfy my own curiosity I took a look at the interception that Jake Rudock threw at the beginning of the 4th quarter against Oregon State. Here's what Harbaugh said about the play:
And the interception, didn't like that. He's got to have a wider vision of the area he's throwing. He locks into the receiver there. We had that intercepted in practice too, so I kick myself for calling that play.
Let's begin with the setup. Here's the initial formation, just as Grant Perry starts to come in motion (click to embiggen):
As the ball is snapped, here's the formation (Perry is lined up behind the RT):
The play seems to be a triangle concept to the boundary, with a backside post. Perry will run a horizontal route the flat; Butt will run a snag; AJ Williams will run a 12-yard out. The idea is to stretch the defense horizontally and vertically. Here is my attempt to draw it up:
As a general matter, against a Cover Two defense the quarterback will have a high/low read of the quarterback; if he sinks back he can throw it to the inside receiver in the flat; if the cornerback drops he will throw it to the corner route behind the cornerback. ...
Against a Cover Three defense, the cornerback should take away the corner route by dropping into the deep third, but the snag/mini-curl and the flat should put a horizontal stretch on the flat defender and one of the two should be open.
But Oregon State isn't playing zone: they're playing man. The safety to the field (top of the screen) blitzes, while the other safety basically stays where he is.
Here's how the play develops:
From what I can tell -- and I have no football background so any suggestions would be very welcome -- Rudock should be throwing either to the WR at the top of the screen (Drake Harris, I'm almost certain) or to AJ Williams, since Butt and Perry are covered. A perfect throw to Butt -- low and outside -- would have been successful, but only for a handful of yards. Drake Harris, on the other hand, is running a post route with no safety help over the top, whereas AJ Williams is about to break open a split second after Butt turns around. Throwing to Butt only makes sense if his man drops deeper to cover Williams, which he doesn't.
Without the all-22, it's hard to tell -- but my impression is that Rudock's mistake was that he predetermined the throw pre-snap, despite the fact that Oregon State played a defense that Butt's route wasn't designed to beat.
If want to see video, I used MGoVideo: it's at 36:38 in the video for the second half.
It is often said that the most improvement for a football team occurs between the first and second games of a season. The University of Michigan football had an extra two days to improve, and it showed on the field. However, I'm sure Ira J Harris Coach Jim Harbaugh is not too happy about all those penalties. Fifth year senior Jake Rudock had some issues in his first game, tossing three interceptions. Fifth year blogger ST3 made more than his fair share of mistakes last week as well, giving short shrift to the defense and completing forgetting to include the Burst of Impetus. That's my thing, man. That would be like Brian not posting an intangible cat photo or not posting his bolded alter-ego's comments. I will try to rectify that with the game 2 boxscore analysis.
Defense is a tough thing to cover. The go to stat is tackles, but that can be problematic. If the tackles are taking place 10 yards down the field, is that really a good thing? Sports Illustrated had an interesting article about tackles in their pro football preview issue. Things I learned from the article include:
*Late arriving players can get assists for just piling on after the initial tackle has been made
*Misidentifications happen routinely as the official scorers have to make a decision in real time
*The number of assisted tackles varies widely from team to team. Some official scorers are really stingy, only giving assists on 7% of plays, while some give assists on 44% of plays.
*When in doubt, some scorers just give tackles to the team's leading tackler, or wait for the mass of bodies to disperse so that they can give the tackle to the last man to get up.
I was motivated by that article to try my hand at recording tackles for Michigan. I figured this would be the game to try this since I expected Michigan to control the game and keep the number of plays OSU ran to a minimum. I was right about that. I gave myself an advantage of being able to rewind plays and watch them in slow motion. I was able to catch up to the game in real time during commercial breaks. Since I was watching the game by myself, I didn't annoy anyone with this, but I don't recommend trying this while other humans are present.
Since tackles are so hard to decipher, SI reports that one team records, "defeats," defined as tackles for loss, 3rd down conversion stops, and forced turnovers. I also tracked these as well as QHs, since I've never agreed with the boxscore QH numbers. Enough preamble, lets get on to the link.
Retroactive Burst of Impetus
* Obviously, the pick-six was huge, but it didn't crush Michigan's spirit or take away our momentum. It just made it that much harder to come back and win the game. Any of the 5 well talked about passing plays (3 INTs, 2 missed bombs) contributed more or less equally to the loss. Having set up Utah for the bomb and then missing a sure TD took some of the starch out of the Michigan attack. If one of those hit, we could very easily be 2-0 today.
Burst of Impetus
* It's very rare that a couple of back-to-back special teams plays swing field position by 95 yards, but that's what happened at the end of the 2nd quarter. While I felt Michigan was in control of the game at that point, the scoreboard finally caught up with my impression and OSU wilted in the second half.
* Gary Anderson gets the boneheaded coaching decision of the game for two peculiar calls he made around that sequence. First, on 4th and 3, he didn't even try to get Michigan to jump offside. He just gladly accepted the 5 yard delay penalty. Whenever your opponents are happy at your decision, you probably have made the wrong decision. Then, with 17 seconds left, he called timeout to allow his defense to get set. Belichick showed in the Super Bowl how sometimes it's better to let the offense hurry to get something called than to call timeout and let them get organized.
The Two Jakes
* For those that missed the reference last week, The Two Jakes is a Jack Nicholson movie from the early 90's that's a sequel to the more well-known movie, Chinatown. I've never seen The Two Jakes, but I did watch Chinatown this summer. Considering it's such a well-known movie, I was not impressed.
* My hope for this year is that Jake Rudock be an efficient quarterback. He doesn't need to win games by himself. My definition of efficient is 7+ YPA, 60+% completion percentage, and no more than 1 turnover per game. He was at 6.9 YPA and 69%, but he turned the ball over twice (1 INT, 1 fumble.) We're getting there.
* Jake Butt had a more quiet afternoon than last game, with 4 catches for 25 yards, a tackle, and 2 yards rushing on 0 carries. The astute reader will realize that his yards per carry is infinite, NAN, or undefinable, take your pick.
Good Things Come in Threes
* Three running backs caught passes, three tight ends caught passes, and three wide receivers caught passes.
* Darboh and Butt were again the most active pass catchers with 4 receptions apiece.
* Darboh, Bunting, Smith, and Williams each had a long reception of 20 or more yards.
* De'Veon Smith made some believers out there. He runs so hard. His long gain was only 19 yards so he earned every one of those 126 net rushing yards, 4, 5, and 6 yards at a time.
* Living out west, I get to see the Utahs, BYUs, and other teams that regulary have fullbacks like Sione Houma. I've been waiting for him to bust out ever since he arrived. Those quick hitting bursts up the middle are so much fun to watch. Houma went for 20 yards on 2 carries.
Tacos and Peppers
* I had Michigan with 6 TFLs to the boxscore's 7. I missed Delano Hill's TFL for a 1 yard loss. I actually credited Wormley with 3.5 TFLs as I shared Royce Jenkins-Stone's TFL between the two of them. I also split Ojemudia's TFL between him and Ryan Glasgow.
* The second "defeats" category is 3rd down conversion stops. I had Michigan getting 7 of those and I had two more defeats for 4th down conversion tackles. Morgan and Hill had two of those each. The other 5 were spread among 7 players. If there's a theme, it's that everyone contributed, you know, that whole, "The Team, The Team, The Team," stuff.
* The third "defeat" is forced turnovers. Taco Charlton got credit for that in the boxscore, but upon a second viewing of the play, I gave credit for the forced fumble to an OSU lineman's fat ass. Fumbles are random.
* I had Wormley with 3 QHs. I gave one to Godin and one to Morgan. My definition of a QH is when then defender hits the QB when he is trying to throw such that he can't throw in his normal motion and with his normal follow through. The boxscore gave 1 to Morgan and 1 to Henry. At least we agreed on one.
* For tackles, I had Bolden leading Michigan with 7, same as the boxscore, but I gave him 6 tackles and 1 assist to the boxscore's 4 and 3. At least I disproved the "artificially inflate the leading tackler's stats by giving him tackles when you can't figure who made the tackle" theory, for one week.
* I agreed with the boxscore on Wilson and Morgans' totals, but again disagreed on solos versus assists.
* We each credited 20 players with tackles, but I gave Willie Henry's tackle to #31, whoever that is. I gave out 57 tackles to the boxscore's 50. I must have been in a generous mood. Keeping track of tackles is tough.
* I had Jabrill Peppers with 37 tackles. I must be buying into the hype. J/K.
* Michigan ran 74 offensive plays to OSU's 53. There were 25 punts, kickoffs, FGAs, and XPs. 25/152 is roughly 1/6 of the game, so again, when someone says special teams are 1/3 of the game, politely correct them by stating that special teams are actually 1/6th of the game.
* Oregon State returned one of Michigan's 3 punts for 3 yards. I pledge my allegiance to our new punting Overlords.
* Not that it matters, but UofM had 38:01 time of possession to OSU's 21:59. Yes, I picked the right game to track defensive stats.
* Michigan had 12 rushing first downs, 4x more than last week.
* The defense held OSU to 1 of 11 on third down conversions.
* Much is being made of OSU only gaining 138 total yards in the game. To be fair, they have a "TEAM" rushing line of -51 yards due to the punting fiasco. Even taking that into account, OSU was held to under 200 yards total offense, which is pretty good.
* Kickoff time was 12:06. That's early for the Beavers. The common wisdom is that west coast teams struggle with early eastern start times. The exact opposite happened as OSU only played reasonably well in the first quarter. Once Michigan woke up, it was game over for the Beavers.
WHAT ARE THOSE?
* As I was watching the ESPN gameday show, I noticed a particular sign over Desmond Howard's left shoulder. It was a drawing of a duck's feet with arrows pointing at them, with "WHAT ARE THOSE?" written on the sign. The average viewer likely didn't give this a second thought. I, however, having spent the summer coaching my son's little league baseball team, immediately made a connection. Numerous times during every game this summer, the boys would point at someone's shoes and yell, "WHAT ARE THOSE?" and they'd all laugh and go on with their lives. I still don't know what the exact meme is - I asked my 10 year old son about this and he said something about it being a vine or something - but I found it funny that my 10 year old and a spartan student have the same maturity level.
* The young UofM fan may have found themself looking at Michigan's classic helmet during the game and asking themself, "WHAT ARE THOSE?" They are helmet stickers, and having grown up in the helmet-sticker-era, I welcome their return. Team 136 in general, and De'Veon Smith in particular, earned a whole bunch of them in Game 2.
Quite the switch temperature-wise from last week's game! Behind a cold front and sitting in a big, cold trough (think of it as a stretched out area of low pressure), Michigan is stuck with chilly temps and northerly winds - relatively breezy ones at that. It'll feel like a fall football game! Grab the extra layer for this one - and if you miss the heat just looking at the forecast, next week is warmer! We're also at the time of year when our Great Lakes are warm, so cool air coming across will give us the slight chance for a passing lake effect shower surviving its way across the thumb. Let's bring home a W for the home opener!
Brrr!! Grab the hot coffee and the crockpot for this early tailgate! You'll definitely want something warm to start the day, or at least a koozie to put the frosty beverage in! With partly cloudy skies overnight, temps have dropped to the upper 40s. We'll see a little sun to start the day, that helps warm things up a tad. By mid-morning we'll have temps in the low 50s, N winds around 10mph (leaves and small twigs blow around), and a chance for a sprinkle or two.
Cloud cover increases towards the start of the game, but at least we'll be up into the 60s walking to our seats! 62 degrees for kickoff, with lots of clouds and a chance for rain - it's a small chance, but it's there. Winds continue to pick up as well, remaining out of the N at closer to 15mph (loose papers blow around, small branches move in the breeze) so you may want to keep the hoodie with you into the stadium.
We're starting to feel more of those wind gusts now - up into the low 20s with steady N winds at 15mph (this is high enough to see white horses on a lake). Decent amount of clouds are staying with us, along with the slight chance for rain. Temps by the half are only going up by a degree or two from the start.
Low 60s walking out of the gates, and deciding where to go to celebrate the win! Clouds hang on through the rest of the afternoon and into the evening. We also don't get rid of those breezy northerly winds until around dinner, then they start to die down. We say goodbye to the rain chances and start to see the cloud count go down around then too - letting temps drop quickly. If you'll be out late, we're looking at upper 50s for the mid-evening, and 50 by late-night. If you'll be out til last call, bundle up! We drop to the upper 40s with partly cloudy skies and light winds. Let's go blue!
Christina Burkhart is a meteorologist for ABC in Flint, MI. She grew up in Ann Arbor and associates Saturdays with Michigan football. Go Blue!
(I don't know if I should post this. But I had to write it. I promise content to come that is more in line with the Jamie Mac you have come to know and love, but humor me on this one......)
I don't remember anything about last year's Maryland game. I only remember leaving.
A few times this offseason, the game's details were brought up in conversation, but every play-by-play morsel was news to me. I do recall the substitute public address announcer for Carl Grapentine being 10 times more excited for every first down than anybody else in the crowd, but nothing else. It was the final home game of one of the most miserable Michigan seasons most of us can remember, and given some of our more recent times, that's actually saying something. Despite Michigan's losing season, we trekked up to Ann Arbor from Toledo for one more tailgate. Part out of duty, part out of respect for the players, and part out of the fact that that's just what fans do. Only half of us actually attended the game. I was part of that group. We spent most of the first half wondering around the sparse crowd and sitting in different seats throughout the stadium just to stay warm and entertained. How many times can you so openly seat jump at the Big House? Wait, let's not talk about that.
As halftime approached, we had had enough. The weather was cold. The football was miserable. Most of the rest of our crew was at a bar. It was time to join them. I was fine with that until we were actually about to leave the stadium grounds. While my friends hustled out to flag a cab on Stadium Boulevard, I froze, not wanting to pass through the exit gates the way Archie Moonlight Graham didn't want to cross over the first baseline in the movie Field Of Dreams. Moonlight knew he would not be able to play ball on the Field of Dreams anymore once he crossed over that baseline. And I was afraid that once I left Michigan Stadium, I would never return.
I've always had on again, off again migraine issues throughout my life, but in 2012, the headaches began to get bigger and more frequent. Blood pressure medication soothed the issue for awhile, but by the spring of 2013 the migraines were not only back, but they had found another gear and often came accompanied by violent nausea. Here is how a typical day would play out. I'd have a slight headache. I would get on the phone with a customer, and the headache would mushroom to the point where I couldn't talk anymore. When the call ended, I'd rush to the bathroom to puke. This is not normal behavior. Of course, I'm seeing a doctor through all of this, but the medications just weren't working and causing frustrating side effects (gout, puffed up extremities, even more severe headaches). Eventually the problem was identified. My kidneys were failing, partly through high blood pressure and partly through the fact that that is sometimes what happens to the body as we age. Shit happens and you just have to deal with it. I got myself a kidney specialist and rather quickly she was able to administer a proper medicinal routine that stopped the headaches and, while it didn't fix the kidney functions, it kept them from getting worse. As 2013 ended, I had dodged the dialysis bullet.
But the good health did not last. By spring, I was getting constant stomach aches that felt like somebody was always kicking me in the belly. At first, I thought it was just a changing-of-the-seasons sort of virus and did not think anything of it. But I couldn't shake it. And it was getting worse. I could not eat anything. Most days, a single bite of food disgusted me. At the same time, I was somehow always in the bathroom with differing degrees of diarrhea. The foods I could stomach were going straight through me. It was weird, scary and confusing. It was like I had a little bit of every possible eating disorder known. By August, I was not much of a functioning human being. Since I could not nourish my body, it was tough to get very far into the day without significant rest. I was regularly going to bed before sundown because I lacked the energy to do anything else. Of course, I was also up in the middle of night for endless hours in the bathroom. Months were spent going through rounds of specialists, tests, and proddings until finally they figured out all I had was Crohn's Disease. Very treatable stuff. By the middle of September, I had new medicinal regimen to take care of this and instantly began feeling better. So much better, that I might have partied a wee bit too hard during the Miami tailgate.
But those good times lasted shorter than the good health at the beginning of the year did. By the end of September, my body began inexplicably falling apart. This was not a slow devolution either. It happened overnight. And I don't know how to fully explain the conditions I felt without doubling the size of this post. Nobody wants that. I'll try to be brief. Major breathing issues, chest pains, sweats. I struggled walking to and from our tailgate to the stadium during the Minnesota game. I couldn't walk more than a couple of blocks without having to stop. As the next week went on basic household chores and walking up the stairs in my house proved too much. Is this what dying feels like? Unbeknownst to Brian and Ace, I almost didn't make it through our podcast the morning after the Rutgers game. I was scared. I spent the rest of the day with my phone in my hands, expecting to call 911 any second.
By Monday, I could not wait any longer. I checked myself into the emergency room, assuming I was having some sort of cardiac arrest. So did all the doctors, given my condition. As it turns out, that wasn't the case. We were back to that unfamiliar place of having something major wrong with me, but having no clue what it was. I stayed in the hospital that whole week, unable to walk down their hallways without passing out, complete basic breathing tests and baffling another new team of doctors. As it turns out, my body had rejected the medication they had put me on for the Crohn's. And by rejecting it, I mean the medications gave me a serious of strokes that were increasing in number and strength. I mean, come on universe. Really? So off that medication I went, new medications were prescribed and I was released the day before the Penn State game, which I obviously did not attend.
During all that, we also did a routine kidney ultrasound that uncovered a small spots on the left kidney. To find out more, we did MRIs and a very invasive procedure (for men) to find out more. And when that procedure struggled to identify it, we did it again. Eventually, the verdict was a tumor, albeit a tiny one, at least for the time being. The decision was to monitor it over the winter and see how it progresses, but phrases like renal cancer and organ removal all of sudden were on the table. Maybe it wouldn't grow and this was a false alarm? But I knew better based on the last couple of years that whatever the worst case situation was, that we were going to at least flirt with it.
So as we left the Maryland game last year, I had doubts about everything. Health issues had been piling up and the specter of something even worse loomed. I knew if things truly did go south over the next few months, I might not make it back here. While my friends hailed a cab, I just could not leave. I needed a moment. I gathered myself by the Victors Colonnade monument and took a deep breath just to level myself. I said a prayer and a thanks to my grandparents, who have long since passed, but who first brought me to the Stadium during Anthony Carter's freshman year. And I took another deep breath and let the memories of all the good times at this place and in this town wash over me. If I were to do a top-10 personal moments of every year type of retrospective, most years it would be hard to push at least one memory from the UM home schedule off the list. I just always have such a good time at tailgates and games. It was like that as a child. It was like that as a teen. It was like that in my 20s. It was like that in my 30s. And it is like that now in my 40s. But was this this final chapter? Eventually I noticed my friends piling into the cab and I hustled to join them. As we disappeared into the Ann Arbor night, I looked back a few times until the stadium lights could no longer be seen. While I wondered if I would ever return, I tried not to let my friends see how much I had been crying.
Obviously since I am writing this, there is a happy ending. But not before clearing more hurdles. The symptoms I was told to look out for began showing themselves by the end of March. We quickly moved up follow up appointments that weren't scheduled for another six weeks. The tumor had almost tripled in size and it was clear it wasn't benign. Life moved pretty quickly at that point. After coming up to Ann Arbor for a second opinion, I decided to have the surgery in mid-June at the University of Michigan Health System's Oncology Center. Before I knew it, the day of the surgery arrived. We removed the tumor and about half my kidney in the process. I am cancer free. But I still have stomach issues. And I'm now trying to fight suboptimal kidney performance with less than 2 kidneys. Its unclear what the long-term future holds on that front, but so far everything is holding up great.
It was a hard summer of post-op recovery. Truthfully, it's been a long, hard, lonely three years. Often, the depression encountered with these ups and downs have been as difficult as anything else to overcome. And I have plenty of days where I'm still fighting that off. What pushes me forward most days is realizing that life is a ride and that there are millions of people out there whose health struggles are much worse and more challenging to overcome than mine. I honestly don't know how people with more aggressive cancers manage it. In every waiting and recovery room that I've been in these recent years, I have found people with harder struggles, higher hurdles and scarier diagnoses. Inspirations, all of them. You all know or will know somebody who has to go through these kinds of struggles. Be there for them. Rework your schedule and make them a priority. They need your support and companionship, even if it looks like they're doing alright.
As I write this today, I feel as healthy, athletic and optimistic as I have in three years. Maybe there is another shoe out there ready to drop, but I don't care. All I want now is solid run of good health so I can reconnect with old friends, make new friends and just have some fun. I've been slowly making the social rounds and even gone on a couple dates. I've dusted off an old manuscript that I going to finally figure out how to publish and I'm going to start writing again. I actually went to a concert a few weeks back, an activity that seemed unheard of for most of the last several years. I feel like I am back. And tomorrow, I'm going back to Michigan Stadium.
It's not the return that's making the headlines this week. But it's been the only return I've cared about since last November.
Go Blue. Beat Oregon State.