And the game rolled on. Denard left, Denard right, Denard up the middle. Molk opening up a hole, Webb making a block, Odoms shoving a cornerback downfield. Block, block, block; tackle, tackle, tackle; most decisively, win. I was thrilled, ecstatic. But strangely: saddened. Why? Because I found myself with one simple wish: for Bo to have seen it.
I don't know how he'll put it years from now when he's looking back on it, but I think it is safe to say: these past few years have been some kind of waking nightmare for Coach Rod. One damned thing after the next. Accusations of the loss of tradition, assertions of cheating, and the stark reality of losing. Mostly, the losing, probably; but the other things, well, they didn't help.
There were those who got confused over what a Michigan Man was. They thought it meant "descended from the Bo coaching/playing tree". A bad, awful definition, failing the most simple of tests. Yost? By this definition, nope. Crisler? Sorry. And thus, Coach Rod? No chance. He wasn't from Bo. He wasn't of Bo. And thus, from the hills of West Virginia, Coach Rod was the dreaded Other. He was a charlatan, a simpleton, a snake-oil salesman. He was no Michigan Man.
His practices were too tough, there was too much cursing, yelling; they're driving the players off. Where are the family values? But remember this: it is said that for Bo's players, game day was a relief; it was the practices during the week that killed them, that they were afraid of. By the time they got to the game, well, that was the easy part*.
Practice Makes Perfect
On Saturday we saw something that had long been lost in Michigan Stadium. A level of toughness and execution we haven't seen too often this past decade. I remember seeing it once, in 2002, when Iowa came in and blew us off the ball in a humiliating 34-9 loss. And again when Oregon came and dismantled us in 2007. And I remember thinking: when did they start doing that to us? Shit, it used to be the other way around. Maybe we saw glimpses of it from time to time (OSU 2003 comes to mind), but that was the exception that proved the rule. Something from the old era was lost, missing, gone.
So this is what Saturday really was. Not just a win. Not something for Coach Rod to get the media monkeys off his back. Yes, it will do that (for a time, until the next loss), but that's not what was important. Because what Saturday represented was much more. Yes, the form was different: the spread and not 3-yards-plus-dust-cloud. Yes, the emphasis was different too: more offensive-minded than defensive, perhaps. But there was a critical sameness: tough, hard-nosed football. Block. Tackle. Execute. Bo-style football. The basics. The essentials.
There is a story Bo tells in John Bacon's book**. It is about how Bo felt after the 6-6 season. Maybe the game was passing him by, he thought. He went to some clinics taught by one of the young hot-shots of the time. The hot-shot, as Bo tells it, described all the new schemes they were using on defense. But one coach had the presence to ask, "If your schemes are so good, why did you give up so many yards last year?", to which the hot-shot replied, "Well, we probably didn't spend enough time practicing tackling." Blocking and tackling, that's what the game is about! It reinvigorated Bo. And that is what we saw Saturday. And it reinvigorated us all.
There were a number of milestones this past Saturday. One of the best debuts by a U of M QB ever. The first time in 21 years, as told touchingly by Michael Taylor on WTKA this morning, that an African-American took the helm of our beloved team. The first win of the season, and perhaps the first real win of the Coach Rodriguez era.
But make no mistake. There was really nothing new here. This was a Michigan Football renaissance. Emphasis on "re", as in again. A re-birth. Of what Bo created here long ago, what he first shouted to the world with a stirring 24-12 win.
The 1969 Upset of the Century
I don't believe in God, or Heaven. I don't think Bo was up there somewhere looking down on the game. But I do wish he could have seen it. Because when that hole opened up courtesy of Molk and company, and Webb came across to seal off the UConn linebacker, and Denard burst through on his way to the endzone, it wasn't some fancy new offense or scheme that did it. It was the blood of a hundred young men who don the Maize and Blue each week. It was the sweat they put in on each long, hot, grueling summer day. It was the tears they cried when Brock Mealer reached for the the banner and touched it, ever so gently.
It was goddamned Michigan Football. From a Michigan Team, coached by a Michigan Man (in the truest sense).
And Bo would have loved every minute of it.
Those who stay...
* From the excellent reminiscing of "Those Who Stay" by Curt Stephenson. Not particularly well written, but a fun read nonetheless.
** Pretty sure this is where I read it. May also be in Albom's book. Both should be read, of course.
It took absolutely zero numbers to know that Denard was very very good against UConn Saturday. We could easily just leave the conversation there, but then I wouldn’t get to use my handy database this week, and really, what fun would that be.
First games are very hard to put into perspective right away. We really have no idea if we played against the future Big East Champions or a mediocre team from a mediocre conference. To solve this, I took two independent approaches. The first was to just strip out the strength of opponent factor and compare it to other performances regardless of opponent. The second way is to add the games from this weekend into the database as if they were a part of last season and use the 2009 adjustment factor.
Not to spoil all the fun but if you don’t want to read on, I’ll make this real easy. Those of you who follow me on twitter already saw that Saturday was the best performance by Michigan quarterback that I have on record, which is almost every game since 2003.
On The Ground: +12 PAN
Without adjusting for competition for anyone, Robinson’s day on the ground was the best rushing game by a Michigan player in my database. It was .01, basically tied with, ahead of Mike Hart’s 2004 game against Illinois when we went for 231 yards on 39 carries.
It was the third best rushing performance of anyone under Rodriguez as a head coach. Only Pat White’s +14 against Pitt in 2005 and Kay-Jay Harris’s +16 against East Carolina in 2004 were better.
It was the third best ground performance by a Big Ten player, the 27th best of any quarterback and the 90th best overall, including many performances against teams much weaker than UConn.
Through The Air: +9 PAN
+9 through the air is a very good day by itself, even without the spectacular +12 on the ground. In fact, the unadjusted +9 is 15th among Michigan passers. Ahead of him are 10 Henne games, 2 Navarre games and Forcier’s first two games of last year.
In his three years under Rodriguez, Pat White had four +9 performances, as did Rasheed Marshall.
Putting it All Together: +21 PAN
Looking at the total performance, Dernard cracks the top 200 performances list that is dominated by heavy passers. When accounting for competition, Denard still comes up 7/11 PAN (7 passing, 11 rushing). Only three BCS conference players had ever done that before Denard on Saturday. Brad Smith and Jake Locker each did it once while Vince Young managed the feat three times.
Getting First Downs
Maybe the most impressive thing about Denard’s day was his ability to get first downs, especially on third down. Excluding the final run out the clock drive, Robinson was good for 12 first downs rushing. Only two QB’s since 2003 have ever topped that and 12 is good for top 50 including running backs.
On third down, Robinson’s seven rushing conversions were the fourth most since 2003. His 11 overall conversions were top 20.
All the talk about Denard Robinson getting injured in the near future got me wondering how other mobile QB's have been handled, and how frequent injuries occur. These are my findings:
Michael Vick - Virginia Tech(1999,2000)
Carries: 262 Yards: 1,318 TD: 18
Michael Vick averaged about 12 carries per game and missed 2 games out of 22 possible career games due to injury. He carried the ball over 20 times on 1 occasion(23)
Vince Young - Texas(2004,2005)
Carries: 322 Yards: 2,129 TD: 26
Vince Young Averaged 13 Carries per game and did not miss any games due to injury. He also carried the ball over 20 times on 4 occasions (20,21,21,25)
Troy Smith - Ohio State(2003,2004,2005,2006)
Carries: 293 Yards: 1,168 TD: 14
Troy Smith averaged about 8 carries per game and did not miss any games due to injury. He never carried the ball over 20 times.
Josh Nesbitt - Georgia Tech(2007,2008,2009)
Carries: 504 Yards: 2,069 TD: 25
Josh Nesbitt averaged about 14 carries per game and missed 3 games out of a possible 38 due to injury. He carried the ball over 20 times on 10 occasions (32,28,27,26,23,23,22,21,21,20). He played all 14 games of the 2009 season despite carrying the ball an average of 20 times per game.
Tim Tebow - Florida(2006,2007,2008,2009)
Carries: 692 Yards: 2,947 TD: 57
Tim Tebow Averaged about 12 carries per game and never missed a game due to injury. He carried the ball over 20 times on 7 different occasions (27,27,26,24,22,22,20)
The most significant QB's to this study are QB's that played under Rich Rodriguez in his spread option system:
Rasheed Marshall - West Virginia(2001,2002,2003,2004)
Carries: 491 Yards: 2,040 TD: 24
Rasheed Marshall averaged about 11 carries per game and missed 1 game due to injury. He carried the ball over 20 times on 2 occasions (21,20).
Pat White - West Virginia(2005,2006,2007,2008)
Carries: 684 Yards: 4,480 TD: 47
Pat White averaged about 14 carries per game and missed 2 games as a 4 year starter. He also carried the ball over 20 times on 13 different occasions (27,24,24,23,23,22,22,22,21,21,21,20). I think it is also of note that Pat White is around the same height and weight as Denard Robinson.
You can be a mobile Quarterback and get a lot of carries without being sidelined with injuries. It does not matter what conference you play in. Mobile QB's will get dinged up in a similar fashion to running backs but there is no reason to believe because a mobile QB carries the ball a lot he will fall victim to massive injuries and die.
It is also of note that a QB who is mobile is less likely to be injured as seriously as a pocket passer. Pocket passers are prone to injuries, especially on blitzes where they do not see the hit coming, get taken out at the legs, or are not mobile enough to elude a blitz. Mobile QB's get out in space, and are able to elude blitzes, they take more head on hits, but are less prone to devastating blind side hits that plauge pocket passers.
How this applies to Denard Robinson:
Obviously Denard should not carry the ball 29 times a game. Rich Rodriguez has already stated that this will usually be lower. However, having a couple games where he carries the ball a lot does not guarentee doom. If anything a game like this early in the season will be good for the entire offense. Teams will prepare for Denard with his feet, and play action should open up, as well as running lanes for the running backs. The beauty of the spread offense is, one day your QB can carry the ball 29 times for 200 yards, and the next week, burn you in the air with play action and read option hand-offs.
Now that cupcake week is mostly over, it's on to week 2. But first
Week 1 Recap
While Minnesota versus Middle Tennessee was bad, it wasn't Kansas v. North Dakota State bad. The Turner Gill era at Kansas does not start well. Your winning team had 163 yards of total offense and 13 penalties and won 6-3 in a three field-goal game. Wow. And, uh, so Arizona isn’t as bad as I thought, go figure.
Week 2 Lineup
Still not a lot of clarity about quality of competition after week one, so this week still won't have much focus on talent levels. This is a big week for Sparty, as Michigan State gets the “Good Seats Still Available” award for scheduling Florida Atlantic at Ford Field, for some reason. Florida Atlantic beat UAB by one last week, but State did a decent job against Western Michigan to take an early lead in the Michigan Directional School Cup. But still, expect lots of fans to come dressed as empty seats for this one.
In other Michigan directional school action, Eastern Michigan plays Miami (NTM) in what must be a rivalry game? Winner gets Toledo (the city, not the school) or something. Seems odd for two non-divisional MAC schools to play so early. EMU lost to Army on three turnovers, and Miami(NTM) wasn't exactly cannon-fodder to Florida, but since they both put up 212 yards of total offense, Florida wasn't its usual self either. Miama got intercepted four times, while Florida fumbled three.
Wisconsin gets the “Cupcake of the Week” award for playing a San Jose State team that got pounded by Alabama by 45 points last week (and SJ St. gets a “Glutton For Punishment/Cash” award). Wisconsin ran 50 times for 278 yards against UNLV, and expect more of the same. SJSU managed 7 first downs, one field goal, and 175 total yards of offense against Alabama. They almost tied on time of possession!
The “Somebody’s Gotta Win” game of the week is Louisville versus Eastern Kentucky. Louisville lost to Kentucky last week, while E. KY got a thorough drubbing by Missouri State. I'd expect a win from Louisville, but who knows at this point.
As every one knows safety Avery Walls was in town this past weekend for the game against U Conn. He was on an official visit with his brother, and this was his third time in Ann Arbor. He did not commit, which was not surprising or disappointing. No one felt that he would make his decision this fast.
This was however his first time in Ann Arbor for a game atmosphere. "The game was great, and the visit went great," he said. Staying for a couple days also gave him a chance to talk with the coaches more in depth, and get a feel for them. "I had a great talk with all the coaches, and Coach Hott did a great job of taking care of me and my family," Avery said.
Walls is expected to take an official visit out to Oregon on October 2nd, and one to Cal on October 9th. With that being said Avery has seen a lot of good things at Michigan, and this visit was something he really enjoyed. "This visit helped Michigan a lot. I'm going to be watching their next few games," he said.
There have been rumors that Michigan may lead for Avery, and I wouldn't doubt those rumors at this point. We all know with recruiting though, anything can happen.
Here are highlights from his first game of the season this year:
The game was obviously a success, and that has resonated through with the recruits in attendance. Here's a look at how this past weekend's visits went, and some reactions to the game from recruits. There's not many quotes from the first three, because I only spoke with them briefly, and Avery Walls is still in Ann Arbor.
5'8, 190 lbs.
We'll just start off with the update you've been anticipating. Demetrius Hart decided not to commit this weekend. He came up with his uncle, teammates Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix and Nick Patti, as well as Tom Shaw (his trainer).
I will tell you that I thought this would be the weekend he would end his recruitment. I know this was a very good visit for him, and there's still no reason to believe that anything has changed as far as where he ranks Michigan (which is number one).
I don't have any deep meaningful quotes from him, but I did talk to him briefly. He's graduating early, so he has to make his decision soon. I wouldn't be surprised if he took a few more visits to other schools, and came back up to Ann Arbor for the MSU or Iowa game. Disappointing that nothing happened this weekend, but definitely a positive weekend for Michigan with his recruitment as a whole. Just stay patient.
6'2, 190 lbs.
I spoke with Ha'Sean before the visit took place. He told me that he didn't want the visit publicized too much, and if it got out there that he was coming he might not go. As we all know it was reported everywhere that he would be in Ann Arbor, and he still came. Maybe he doesn't browse the interwebs, I'm not sure.
Anyhow, speaking with a few people about him makes me feel like he's pretty solid with Alabama. That's not to say that it would be impossible to sway him, it would just take quite a bit to do that. If Demetrius makes another trip up to Michigan and Ha'Sean were to come with him, there would be reason for excitement. I've been told that there may be some teammates (possibly former as well) trying to persuade him to go north. We'll just have to wait to see how it plays out.
5'11, 185 lbs.
Avery's visit will last until today (Monday), so we'll have to wait a little bit for an update on the visit. I wouldn't expect a commitment from him, but if the visit blows him away it's not out of the question. I have a feeling that Michigan is in the driver's seat. This is his third trip to Ann Arbor.
This time he brought his brother with him to have him see what he's been talking about. He will continue to take his planned official visits to Oregon on October 2nd, and Cal on October 9th. He wants to make sure he's found the right fit and I think taking those official visits is important to him. Again, be patient. Michigan is a good spot.
- AJ Jordan - 2011 wide receiver from Trotwood, Ohio was in attendance. He thought very highly of the game and atmosphere, and will eventually take an official visit in Ann Arbor. Wisconsin is barely in the lead right now, and this visit has helped to close that gap.
- Danny O'Brien & Matt Godin - 2012 defensive tackles and best friends! They both had an amazing time at the game. Danny said, "(Mike) Martin is a beast. The defense looked good. Me and Matt both had a great time, it was an awesome game." They both REALLY like Michigan, but it's still early. O'Brien already has offers from Tennessee and Michigan.
- Nick Patti - 2012 quarterback from Dr. Phillips in Orlando, Florida. This was Patti's second time up to AA, and it was a good one. "It was great for me, I loved it. It's hard not to like it there," he said. Tom Shaw (who trains Nick, Demetrius, Ha'Sean, Karlos Williams, etc.) accompanied Nick on the visit, and also had a favorable view. "Tom (Shaw) said he thinks it's a fantastic opportunity if it's presented to me."
- Anthony Zettel - Anthony always enjoys himself at Michigan, and this game was much of the same. I've said this before, but Anthony is now waiting until the end of the season to make his decision. He's waiting to see how Michigan's season turns out, and if there ends up being a coaching controversy. This win is one step closer to landing him.
- The general feeling among the recruits was that this was a great win, and it was an exciting game. The crowd played a big factor too as some recruits said it was so loud they couldn't hear the person next to them at some points. Denard is not only a fan favorite, but a recruit favorite as well. His performance stood out to everybody, and had all the recruits talking about how exciting he is to watch.