a terrible blight on our fine country
Will Cameron Gordon bring balance to the force? Will Vlad the Impaler ever transition from psych to sang? Is Marvin the Marvelous Marvel just an empty OMG shirtless? Do 40-times matter at all? Will Misopogon exhaust his annual allotment of rhetorical questions before this deck is even finished? I dunno, but I was seriously freaking about about free safety, man, so I dipped into UFRs of yore and found….hope?
This series has had a strange, long ride. It began with a long thought about the time fall practice began: Is Michigan going to be okay at safety?
As the defensive backfield began to take shape, as two more jarring losses at cornerback destroyed both the brightest spot and brightest hope before the season even began, the functional hope that sparked this diary was violently disposed of. As Michigan's 2010 secondary takes the field today, the same words are forming on the tongue of every observer: "This can not possibly go well."
Let's let the fat lady sing first, shall we?
The Baseline Revisited:
Part I gave us a rundown of Michigan deep safeties of recent memory (spreadsheet). Part II compared the performances of those aforementioned safeties, after attempting to describe this "Not a true 3-3-5" defense we would supposedly trot. It was at this point that our Hero Journey descended into darkness.
What happened was Steve Sharik, resident MGoBlog X's and O's guy, who took one look at my useless description of a Virginia Tech-like 1-High Quarters thing, spat something, then grabbed me by the scruff of my Misoponeck to the nearest bar, sat me down across from a blogger with an intense interest in hamburger, pulled out a stack of play sheets, and attempted to explain to me why this was absolutely insane.
Understand this: I am no more capable of football at an engineering level than my fiancée is of understanding why there are more castles in Wales than England proper. You see, to me, there's no way to look at a Welsh castle without going into Edward I, the expectations of a Plantagenet king, the atrocities he committed, his massive popularity among the regular English, and the huge debts he incurred thanks to the expenses of contemporary warfare, which in turn changed the nature of Parliament and set the Anglophone world on its path toward republicanism – that these symbols of the subjugation of Wales were also, indirectly, the cause of its liberation. At the end of this wrong-side-of-the-road trip and my meaningful explanation, Misopogal's summarizing question was, simply, "so the king from Braveheart was a bad guy?"
Since our last episode I attended my first corporate leadership seminar, which for the uninitiated is exactly like in The Office except everyone is taking it as seriously as Michael, and when they make that joke about 'remember when you were a 30 and thinking about Eminem all the time,' there's no camera for you/Jim to look into and make a "what the fuck" face (Pam isn't actually invited to these meetings).
However, when you get past the bullshit, what they're essentially trying to teach this crowd is that everyone has certain innate attributes, and that these don't ever change. The way to be an effective manager is to focus on employees' best attributes and try to line these up as best you can with the attributes needed for their respective positions.
This is the kind of thing that we sports fans should know better than anyone, though we convince ourselves every player we root for is a potential DaVinci. Obi Ezeh probably doesn't wake from his slumber. Likewise, Mike Hart knows no other way to than forward, and Chad Henne will never be bothered by things that can hurt him, and Brian will never be truly happy unless Michigan is good at football. The mind, like the body, has attributes, and these don't change all that much.
My mind wraps itself around stories, characters, and consequences. To understand an X from an O takes a lot of staring and patient explanation. Sharik's brain, obviously, gets this stuff, and he clearly has a passion for teaching it. But what I was looking for was a synthesis, a "Longshanks = bad?" summary.
In case you can glean more than I, the other occupant of our table, the one engrossed in his burger and fries, came away with this:
When Steve Sharik explained how you defend four verticals in the three-deep coverage Michigan would love to play all year if they can get away with it, he made it clear such a move was how you draw it up but not how it plays out much: frankly, three deep, one-high coverage sucks against four verticals. You know how a bunch of Michigan's passing plays in spring and fall came when the quarterbacks nailed the slot receivers in between levels in zone coverage? That's what happens, Larry, when you meet a stranger in the alps by playing exclusively one-high coverage.
Sharik may be proud of that student. But no matter how much he wore down his pencil, for me, it was all very confusing and not very relevant to my burning question: "What, exactly, are the attributes that would make a functional free safety for Michigan?" So I asked that directly, and Sharik said:
Pressed by time and progressively more urgent buzzes signifying "when r u gonna be home?" texts, the Coach finally gave up on trying to get me to understand more than "when Kovacs is here we're fucked this way; when he's there we're fucked that way," and coughed up a free safety desired attributes list. In order of importance:
Herein, finally, lies the explanation behind why Englemon and his daily 1-0-1 UFR score was more effective than Mundy, and why there's a possibility we are not totally fucked. Ideally, we would want a hard-hitting guy with lightning quicks, and whatever swiveling hips are. Without those attributes, the free safety is going to be less than. They are all important, and the better or worse of each will determine the effectiveness of the player. Since Sean Taylor isn't available (for reasons including Miami commit, expired eligibility, NFL experience having compromised amateur status, and not being alive), the question is really which player has the right total measures of the above, and can he shore up what was a gaping hole in a paperwise better defensive backfield overall.
If this functional competence starts with good instinct, we can identify this with observations like "is always around the ball" or "has a nose for the play." Speed is a 40-time. Intelligence is "knows the playbook inside and out," or "picks things up quickly," and experience is time in program/starts. Tackling and fundamentals are whatever Jordan Kovacs has in spades. Nastiness is "lays the lumber" and "really physical." These are all heuristics – if you want fact, watch the next 12 games.
Let us now search for competence…
What we're praying for in 2010 is anything resembling 2005-'07, minus getting shredded by a Pac Ten school (and an FCS school) in the process.
The 2010 opener depth chart lists Cam Gordon, Jared Van Slyke and Vlad Emilien as the free safeties. It lies. Van Slyke, the walk-on, is injured. Really, the man backing up Jordan Kovacs, Marvin Robinson, is the silent 2nd string man.
These are the guys who could actually play:
For each I will try to provide a matrix of their potential. The ratings are on the star scale. The average can be applied to a star rating, then adjusted in your mind based on the player's level of experience. If a lot of this is familiar, it's because Brian wrote his secondary preview before I got this out, and his was much better.
For the matrices, I assigned arbitrary weights for each skill on a 10-percent linear progression. Instinct is multiplied by 1.2, Speed by 1.1, Intel by 1, Fundamentals by .9, Nastiness by .8, then they're averaged for the rating.
1. Cam Gordon – 6'3, 207 – RS Fr – No. 4
Starting experience: None
Game experience: None
Year in program: 2
By now, I hope you know his story. Cam Gordon was recruited as a receiver when gurus said he made a much better linebacker. He redshirted in '09. Nobody mentioned (non-linebacker-y hybrid) safety, let alone deep safety, until the Spring hype machine went balls over him.
ESPN had this to say on his defensive projection:
"You would never now he was a flashy wide receiver when watching him pursue the football as a hybrid safety/outside linebacker. He chases plays down with good range, burst and intensity."
Instinct seems to be the attribute most often referred to since Cam's takeover of free safety. Tom VH came in with the following in his spring tidbits:
"Cameron Gordon is the most surprising for everyone. His name keeps coming up. I’ve heard that he tackles well and has really good coverage skills. The people I’ve talked to say he’s just a natural ball hawk. Good decision to move him to safety.
This is a giant leap from his recruiting profile, where Brian said his defensive upside was Prescott Burgess. But the reports of "natural" and "ball hawk" have been unanimous and must be believed. If they're wrong, well, look at the other metrics: there's nothing there to justify anything, right?
Speed is not so good.
The same ESPN quote finished with this:
"Top-end speed is a question mark and he does lack great initial burst with ball. That said, Gordon is a great athlete with coveted physical skills to develop as a college player."
Recruiting sites had his 40 times conspicuously absent, but Gordon told Sam Webb he ran a 4.6 at 6'3 and 215. This came in for three FAKE(!)s in Brian's Hello!: post, and isn't good safety speed to begin with. Since Cam is now Barwisized to 10 lbs. under his junior weight and 30 lbs. under his senior weight, and the coaches made him our free safety, I am going for broke and imagining he runs a 4.6. That's not so good.
Intelligence is another low point, at this point. Even being careful not to read too much into things like "chews gum during Sam Webb interview," he also came in for some academic eligibility concerns, and those were coming from Michigan State:
"Also, most early updates on Gordon stated that he was pretty set on playing WR in college, and most experts/teams seem to think his future may be at S/LB. Also, there were whispers about his ability to qualify academically. For one, or both of those reasons, he has very few big time offers."
Gum-chewing and Ebonics are red herrings based in cultural bias; worry that he may not be academically acute enough to play for Mark Dantonio is a red flag.
Even if he doesn't read at a Brandent Englemon level, reading offenses can come with experience; Gordon, in his second year with Michigan, his first on the defense, and having been a late-comer to safety in high school to boot, has none. Optimism on this front may be found in a Spring quote from Woolfolk:
Cameron Gordon has lots of natural ability, and is very good at reading his keys.
But this sounds a lot more like another instinct quote.
Fundamentals have been up and down. He is called a good tackler, but then apparently lost that in the Beanie Bowl fall scrimmage. Concerns about fundamentals are also based strongly in the late switch to safety in high school, and then repeating that switch in college. For this one, I just throw up my hands and call "3."
Here's Sam Webb in his recruiting profile for the Detroit News (now offline)
"At 6-2 and 215 pounds, he has impacted a number of games with bone-jarring hits while playing linebacker or strong safety."
Now tipping the scales at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, and still capable running the 40 in the 4.6 range, Gordon is a bone-jarring presence in the Viking secondary.
Sam Webbs are unanimous: Cam jars bones.
In Gordon's own words, after the fall practice when tackling suddenly became an issue, Cam himself claimed it was going for too many big hits.
“We were in position to make plays - I was in position - but we didn’t wrap up,” Gordon said. “I think we were all a little excited, especially us young guys to show what we could do and we had a breakdown in fundamentals. But those are easily correctable mistakes.
“Something Coach [Tony] Gibson said to me after our scrimmage was, ‘Cam, every hit doesn’t have to be a big hit.’ That’s a key for me and for all the guys. Any tackle is a good tackle. I don’t have to level somebody because in the stat book they all count the same way. I’ll get better and we’ll get better.”
All told, we have a lot of promise. He's not like Englemon. He's actually like nothing we have seen in a long time. Instinct plus hits but not very fast or smart is a combination that has been lacking entirely since 1997. Best guess, he's a really young Jamar Adams. Best hope, he's the other Safety Named Taylor.
2. Marvin Robinson – 6'2, 200 – Fr/Fr – No. 3
3. Vladimir Emilien – 6'1, 204 – So/Jr – No. 5
Instinct: COMING SOON
Speed: Neither of the options ahead are fast: Robinson was a Scout 4.6. Cam was as well. Both were told "you're an NCAA linebacker, son" by recruiting services. But Vlad Emilien is, probably because of injury, really slow.
After last year's Spring Game I tried to put a picture pages together for the board showing the long Carlos Brown touchdown. What had stood out to me then was the first time I had seen Vladimir Emilien directly involved in a play, and how quickly Brown put unbeatable space between himself and our backup free safety:
2009: Carlos Brown runs right by him:
Then, this year, it happened again.
2010: Rountree's Not-Good-Enough-To-Avoid-Dong-Punching Speed is Warp 5 compared to the Impaler:
Note that Rountree catches the ball at the White Team's 32, with Emilien right on his heels on the 31. By the time they've gone 8 yards, Rountree's burst of speed has added another entire yard toward the end zone, and a yard away from the hash as well. By the time they're at the 50, Emilien is trailing by another yard. For comparison, Teric Jones on this play made up about 5 yards on Rountree, running right by Emilien in the process.
I was hopeful after I saw the 2009 Carlos Browning of Vlad that it was simply his knee injury still bothering him, and that he would be 100 percent by fall. Apparently, the speed has not improved/returned, at least since the Spring Game. This isn't a huge surprise. From ESPN via Brian's hello post:
Pass coverage is solid from both three deep and halves coverage. Makes a good break on the pass and times the interception well even though leaping ability is questionable. Physical when separating the receiver from the football. Emilien is a very good athlete that is a real competitor and gives super effort every play. Needs to keep working on strength and tackling techniques. He is a better strong safety candidate than free.
In other words: he's not very fast.
This was buried, by the way, in an interview he did later (linked in Brian's 2009 recruiting post but the link is now dead):
WHAT I DO TO STAY IN SHAPE: "I'm a workaholic; basically all I do is train, train, train. I wake up at 5 a.m. and go train. I run track, too, so I'm trying to keep myself in shape for that. I lift weights. Go on the track and do a couple of 400s to keep my endurance up. I run a couple of 110s, because that's what they run in college. I've got to get used to the college life and make sure my speed is up."
Supposedly before the torn ACL, his speed was listed by Scout as 4.5. This, in Scout's FAKE FAKE FAKE 40-yard-dash world, is slow-safety, fast-linebacker range.
That's not to say he's useless. When the field shortens, and deep coverage is less of an issue than plugging up lanes, stopping anything that slips through the linebackers, and making sure receivers in the end zone are all wrapped in nice warm blankets.
Intelligence: COMING SOON
Fundamentals: COMING SOON
Nastiness: COMING SOON (but you know already).
Brian sees Emilien's precipitous fall down the depth chart and cites Turner-level worry of a bust. I see a clear speed deficiency related to a knee injury that can take three or four years to recover from. As you can see, if he can recapture that speed, Emilien has some tools to be effective.
I am very much rooting for the guy, especially because that deep safety (free? hero?) position is the most worrisome on the team for me, and also because workaholics deserve to be rewarded in sports, and a cursory search reveals the main thing to like about Emilien: he works fucking HARD, man! But it seems, just from these two plays, that Vlad is not fast enough at this point to be a viable deep safety option, especially when the ball's in Michigan territory.
The Attribute Matrix
Based entirely on my observations, and completely subject to argument, here's a quick-try matrix of all the safeties profiled in this series.
|Jamar Adams '07||4||4||4||4||2||3.68|
|Brandent Englemon '06||3||2||5||5||2||3.38|
|Troy Woolfolk '09||3||5||3||3||1||3.12|
|Willis Barringer '05||3||3||5||3||1||3.08|
|Ryan Mundy '06||2||5||3||3||2||3.04|
|Cam Gordon '10||5||2||1||3||4||3.02|
|Brandon Harrison '05||3||3||2||4||2||2.82|
|Marvin Robinson '10||3||2||1||4||4||2.72|
|Jordan Kovacs '09||3||1||3||5||1||2.60|
|Charles Stewart '08||2||3||5||1||1||2.48|
|Vlad Emilien '10||2||1||3||2||5||2.46|
|Steve Brown '08||1||4||3||1||3||2.38|
|Mike Williams '09||1||2||2||1||2||1.58|
|Mike Williams '08||1||2||1||1||2||1.38|
Baseline for pessimism: I was pretty generous with the hype. It could just be the Michigan staff trying to make me feel good. Also, the top projection I can imagine for the backups if Cam goes down is between Brandon Harrison as a freshman and Kovacs's disastrous moonlight there last season; since Kovacs is being pushed by, but has so far held off, Robinson for a position that better fits both of their skill sets, this is probably accurate. Vlad, probably because he's not fully healed, would be a 2008-level disaster. Nobody will be as bad as Mike Williams. Also, for those 3rd and longs, there's no speed option available, what with Teric Jones moving back to running back.
Baseline for optimism: Cam Gordon's 2010 season ends up competent-ish. It's not going to be close to Englemon, let alone Adams. It's not going to be as effective as Woolfolk at free safety last year. It's probably going to come in similar to Ryan Mundy in '06, which was the weak point of a very good defense. But instead of Mundy's frustrating inability to cover a guy despite all the athletic ability one could ask for, we will see Cam in perfect positioning yet beat by talented receivers and tight ends, and competent downfield quarterbacks. It will be sad. On the other hand, we will also likely see more competence against the run than there's been in a very long time.
"Bend but don't break" is a bad characterization. Rather, Gordon will center a defense that gives up few long runs but gets scored on about 50 percent of the time because it cannot stop the passing game. The good news is, to really exploit us, you need a strong-armed QB and some good receivers, and some of the teams on our schedule don't have that.
But you never know. As these guys take the stage, they look like a slow, fat old lady that's going to make a mockery of a show that prizes "studs." Maybe once they open their mouths, we'll be dreaming a dream. And maybe Susan Boyle was such a hit because these things are so rare as to be beyond comprehension. Given the luck at this position in my lifetime, I feel we deserve a little miracle.
Dear Michigan Fan,
I write to you right before the kickoff of the 2010-2011, my words might not be the ones you want to hear but have to be said anyways.
Thank you for being faithful to my cause, thank you for being there 110,000 strong at every home game, thank you for traveling for 10 hours to see me play away. Thank you for crying when I lose and for partying all around town when I win. We have many memories together, good and bad, whether it be Bo’s speeches, the comeback against Iowa in 1997, A-Train’s fumble against NorthWestern or Phillip Brabbs’ field goal against Washington. They are all moments that make our relationship stronger and that make us bond the way we have bonded in the past and the way we will keep on bonding in the future. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.
Friend, you have been angry at me recently and I don’t really know why? is it because there are less W’s? If so is our relationship one of self-interest? I truly thought you loved me for my inner soul and not for materialistic and cosmetic things, I thought you love me for what i mean to do and not just what I succeed at doing.
Well, don’t blame anything on the coach or the players, the university or yourself, there is nothing wrong, the spirit of this team is still there, I know it. Did you see Threet running against Wisconsin in 2008, did you know that he is actually a pocket passer!! Did you see Tate trying and trying and trying last year, did you see Rich crying? Did you see that Notre Dame game, or the attempt to comeback against MSU or Iowa? Yes we do not always succeed, but it will come back, sooner or later, so don’t give up on me not today or tomorrow. Win or lose we are all Wolverines at heart, feisty and fighting till the end.
Don’t worry about that missed tackle today, and don’t worry about that broken protection, none are intentional and in return I will give you much more glory in the future, just give me a real chance to prove it and cheer for that team as much as you can.
As for the coach, give him a chance, he really needs you and his players need him, so if anything lets all stand united against all those who doubt us and lets prove forever that we are all Maize and Blue and not just Wal-Mart Wolverines! And no matter what happens today next week or in November stand by me.
Go Blue and Hail to the Victors,
The Heart and Soul of the Michigan Football Team
Once more unto the Big House, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our Wolverine dead.
In the offseason there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of the band blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the wolverine;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with MINOR RAGE;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o'erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O'erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill'd with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On, on, you noblest Wolverine.
Whose blood is fet from fathers of tradition!
Fathers that, like so many Schembechlers,
Have in these parts from morn till even fought
And removed their pads for lack of argument:
Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you call'd fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to win. And you, good yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in Michigan, show us here
The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
That you are worth your tuition; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry 'God for Rodriguez, Michigan, and Saint Schembechler!'
(Sorry I didn't keep the iambic pentameter, I'm a math major, not english.)
With UConn knocking on our door and with the with the wolverines preparing for another big debut, I cannot but think that our current record is 0-0 and the sky is the limit. Yes, I do believe that probabilities kick into action at this stage, but that in no way means we should look at the cup as half empty rather than half full.
Michigan has a chance and its a pretty good one this year, these kids have proved that it is possible to make something out of nothing and the 2008 team is the embodiment of that. I live in Jordan, that is a 13 hour flight from Ann Arbor, I thought I wanted to go watch a game to see who this new coach is, and how he will lead our team, and I did, I decided to watch his first Big 10 opener, THE Wisconsin game!!
Michigan was down big in the first half, I was sitting next to my friend’s dad, who bleeds and lives for the Maize and Blue, he looks at me and says “Nasser, should we just leave?”, I could never leave a Michigan game, I have to wait for that final whistle, so my answer was, “sir, we stay, and we see history either way, either Michigan has its worst loss ever or it has it biggest comeback ever, either way we’re watching history in the making!” So we stayed and we watched and we won, and we cried and I will always thank the likes of Threet, Mathews, Brandon Graham, McGuffie, and off course Rich Rod for that memory. The true hope that I had going into that game was to see the wolverines win, but really, you remember what that team was made of, freshmen, transfers and walk-ons. I’m not even sure we had enough scholarship players to field a team. But who cares, those players played their hearts out and won. In 2009, I saw these things in many of the new players, Tate wanted to win so bad, Robinson works so hard to make it, those DBs bleed Maize and Blue and the same applies to everyone else on this team. They signed up for a roller-coaster ride and they are having the time of their lives.
I’m not the ultimate optimist, but I’d love to be, but the real reason I am writing this is to bring up an important point. Rich Rod is bringing out the best in Michigan ( I know what a lot of people will say, Winning is what is best at Michigan!!) But Michigan really is about heart, about pushing the limits and making miracles happen, yes we might lose a game or 2 or 9 in the process, but that should in no way shoot down our pride and the pride of a great great program. And should in no way belittle a coach who really is putting his heart and soul into this job.
He is not intentionally losing and he’s not stupid that he doesn't know the formula for winning, its just that everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Think about it, he takes over and a bunch of players leave the team, including a future Heisman candidate at QB, an All-American OL, a bunch of great receivers and an All-Star graduating class. Michigan was going to walk into rebuilding mode regardless of a change of coach, add to that the extra player attrition and are left with something that resembles a 1-AA team, I’m pretty sure that if we would’ve played App State again in 2008, that with the players we had on the team they would have actually had a better poll of talent, and THAT was Rich Rod’s inheritance.
So as to stay focused on what is to come, and more hopeful than many, I go back to that Wisconsin game and believe with every little beat in my heart that Michigan today can still be a miracle team and Rich Rod can bring out the heart in those players. In no way can I boldly predict whether or not Michigan will win today, next week or in November, but I will tell you this, I am pretty sure those players and that coaching staff will die just for a W, and those my friends are the true Michigan men.
Hail to the Victors and GO BLUE
http://nmajali.deviantart.com/gallery/#/d1n6brq (Players celebrating after the final whistle)
For months leading up to, and including my freshman year at Michigan, I was obsessed with Fight Club. The summer before that first year I would watch it 2-3 times a day. It wasn't a demented obsession with a dark movie that kids with LiveJournals tend to have but, instead, an odd fascination with the themes and ideas it explored. Plus it was violent (within reason), the acting was awesome, the soundtrack was great (Pixies!!11!), whatever.
I ended up writing one of my first college papers on the transfer of novelistic themes/ideas into cinematography, music, acting, etc. The class was "The History of the Novel" and when the syllabus came out and I saw we, literally, were going to be reading and discussing estate ledgers that described what books people owned, I knew I had to find an odd topic to survive.
While facing the beginning of the season and facing an opponent like UConn immediately I feel that exact same type of skepticism and hope that, by the end, what looks potentially bad could be spun into something that resembles something mildly familiar. What's more, the themes of that movie with the plight this fanbase faces makes for odd bedfellows.
For the last ten years, the Michigan fan base became compliant. It bought into reserved play and 3 yards and a cloud of dust. We bought into our own legend as much as we bought into the conservative efforts that encourage complacency and consistency over taking chances and striving for an individual, unique method of victory. This was capped in a season where our complacency ultimately stood out in the form of ruminating that life insurance pays triple (or 1AA) if you die on a business flight (or OOC game).
It was time for a change. We met a charming man who dressed funny and spoke of a new way of life. We disposed of all of our worldly pro-styles belongings and dove forward into a new way of life. And got the crap kicked out of us. Again. And Again.
In 2008 something we never expected to happen... happened. And our fearless leader? You had to give it to him: he had a plan. And it started to make sense, in an everyman sort of way. No fear. Instead, he reminded us: Shifting offenses isn't a weekend retreat. It's not a goddamn seminar. Stop trying to control everything and just let go! LET GO!
And let this spread offense take its place in the Michigan halls of lore.
We bought in though. While everyone around us questioned our motives for this and scorned us for the blood on our shirt, we still felt enlightened: that there was something bigger for us down the road. The fan base even began beating upon itself when accused of impropriety, all as a manner to get by towards an eventual outcome. And when the team followed up 2008 with 2009...
I am Jack's complete lack of surprise.
We knew there might be tough times but there had to be something at the end. Familiar faces of our past came and went, all in the sake of the cause. While we may not have been running around with ski masks, change requires sacrifice. You wanna make an omelet, you gotta break some eggs. Its name... was undefeated MAC record. Its name... was MSU dominance (or at least in two year blocks). Its name... was national relevance. Lou Holtz ripped on us on ESPN. Lou HOLTZ! No, I didn't quite catch that, Lou. Still not getting it. Ok, I got it. Shit, I lost it.
People asked us how we could put up with it. HOW CAN YOU NOT FIRE HIM?! And you know what we did? We got in everyone's hostile little face. Yes, these are losing seasons. Yes, I'm comfortable with that. I am enlightened. Tell them, the liberator who destroyed my concepts of Michigan football has realigned my perceptions... The mainstream media, with all of its good intentions, has become the little scratch on the roof of your mouth that would heal if only you could stop tonguing it, but you can't. If we could ignore it, we could go on. But does it reveal something true about ourselves, about this, that we are too blind to ignore? Our local columnist... a predator posing as a house pet.
Over the past two years we, as Michigan fans, have discovered that we are not, in fact, unique snowflakes. In fact, after 8-16, for all intensive purposes we are the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the Big Ten.
Do not get confused. If enlightenment comes at the sacrifice of such a burn on the hand - so be it. At worst, we now know we are tangible - that Michigan is not Michigan but... human. We are all part of the same college football compost heap.
And by season end, we will find out if our pursuits to overturn the credit structure and return the Michigan balance to zero were the fruitless efforts. Because, like it or not, we are the space monkeys shot into space and Rich Rodriguez is our Tyler Durden. You ask me? I believe he'll bring us through this. As always. he'll carry us - kicking and screaming - and in the end we'll thank him. For the wins.
But the main post is... when people ask you about your fandom and how you can still cheer for Michigan with all of your heart and soul tomorrow... tell them this: You met me at a very strange time in my life.
I have a confession to make. It’s early afternoon on First Game Day’s Eve and I’m completely hammered. No worries though, both of the people on my floor who haven’t cut out early have no clue. No one does. All they see is the normal me, the guy that strives to be level-headed, logical, and mostly stoic except for when dramatic effect warrants a reaction…or when I’m really mad. So, yeah I guess I’m not stoic at all, whatever, forget that part. They see the kind of guy who writes longer-and-more-rigorous-than-any-report-he’s-ever-been-paid-to-write diaries explaining why, if you just look at the data, things just won’t be that bad and maybe even OK. What they can’t see is that the suppressed side of me, the Mr. Hyde Id that balances the Dr. Jekyll super-ego, is stammeringly, staggeringly, rockstaringly HAMMERED drunk on maize and blue kool-aid.
Since around the middle of the second quarter of Wisconsin v. Michigan 2008, my MGoPsyche has been in all out Sportscenter Y2K Emergency mode. You know yours has been, too. The lights go out, the back-up generator kicks in, a roid-raging
Mr. Hyde Mark Macguire is bashing a hapless keyboard with a baseball bat as if it were a detractor who is wrong on the internet, and a crazed Dr. Jekyll Charlie Stein with a maize and blue tie cutting of circulation to his brain screaming “follow me, follow me to freedom!” yeah, that commercial precisely illustrates the mgoboard any time any news event has happened since 2008, probably sooner than that.
Well now, on this First Game Day’s Eve 2010, my inner Hyde will no longer be contained and he’s saying, “you’re dumb, Jekyll, Michigan’s winning 10 this year.”
Who’s coming with me?
That’s crazy, right? We have two quarterbacks therefore we don’t have one, we don’t have a running back, our linebackers run around the second level as if they were herding cats, and our secondary sucks. Look at the data, Hyde. When your team has a defensive outlook that bad and plays in a BCS conference, 6 or 7 games,8 if we’re lucky…that’s all we can expect. But, what about Missouri 2008, Tennessee 2007, UCLA 2005, and Wisconsin 2005? Here are some table points on each of those teams:
|QB||5||3rd Year Starter (Chase F. Daniel, Sr). Followed up gaudy numbers as a 1st year starter in 2006 with gaudier numbers as a second year starter in 2007.|
|RB||2||New starter on a pass-heavy spread offense|
|WR||4 or 5||Returned leading receiver Jeremy Maclin (80 catches, 1055 yards, 13 TDs) and solid TE (Chase Coffman).|
|OL||3||Return 3 starters from previous season including both tackles. New starter at center.|
|DL||3||Return 3 starters but lost anchor at NT (Lorenzo Williams).|
|LB||2||Returned 3 starters from a unit that was frequently exploited in underneath coverage.|
|DB||a shaky 2||Return 3 starters (CB, FS, SS) from a unit that gave up a ton of yards through the air in 2007. Think Michigan or Michigan State circa 2009.|
|QB||5||4th Year Starter (Eric Ainge, Sr). The former rivals.com 4-star recruit posted a spectacular year in 2006 with a passer rating of 151 with a 67% completion rate on 350 attempts (!) for almost 3000 yards with 19 TDs against 9 INTs.|
|RB||3||Returned a platoon of three meaningful contributors including the explosive LaMarcus Coker, Montario Hardesty and Arian Foster. The group rushed for 1300 yards in 2006 with Coker accounting for 696 yards on 108 carries.|
|WR||2||Lost top 3 receivers from 2006 including Braylon-esque Robert Meachum (71 catches, 1300 yards, 11 TDs).|
|OL||3||Return 3 starters from previous season.|
|DL||2||Must replace both tackles from a unit the ending 2006 ranked 72 against the run.|
|LB||3 maybe 4||Returned 2 starters including Jerod Mayo.|
|DB||2||Replace both cornerbacks and the free safety. Had 5-star true freshman Eric F. Berry.|
|QB||3||3rd Year Starter (Drew Olson, Sr). Solid year in 2004 with a passer rating of 132.|
|RB||5||Returned Leading Rusher (Maurice Jones-Drew: 1007 rushing yards on 160 attempts and 146 all-purpose ypg in 8 games in injury shortened 2004 season). On pre-season Maxwell Award watch list.|
|WR||3 or 4||Returned Receiving TD leader and pre-season All-American Tight End Marcedes Lewis. Solid, veteran corps of wide receivers.|
|OL||4||Return 4 starters from 24th ranked offense in 2004.|
|DL||3||Return solid veteran group including sack and TFL leader (DT Kevin Brown).|
|LB||4 or 5||Returned 3 starters including pre-season All-American ILB Spencer Havner (Greg Jones level LB).|
|DB||2||Returned SS and 2nd leading tackler Jarrad Page. New Starters at FS and CB. Lost 2004 first-team All-Pac-10 CB (Matt Clark).|
|QB||2||2nd Year Starter (John Stocco, RS-Jr). Stocco was god awful in 2004, posting a passer rating of 109.|
|RB||3||New Starter (Brian Calhoun, Booker Stanley).|
|WR||3||Veteran Corps (Brandon Williams, Jonathan Orr, Owen Daniels).|
|OL||2 or 3||Returned Center (Donovan Raiola) and Left Tackle (Joe Thomas). Three new starters at other 3 positions on the OL.|
|DL||2||All new line returning 3 total starts from 2004.|
|LB||3||Veteran group with 29 starts returning from 2004.|
|DB||2||1 returning starter from 2004.|
The common thread running between each one of those teas is the fact that they all had terrible secondaries, and it showed on the field. Despite that, despite getting unmercifully torched defensively, they all won 10 games in their respective seasons. In Wisconsin’s case, they got outgained in EVERY GAME and usually by way over 100 yards. Those are thourough ass kikcings, y’all. Yet, there they are with a 5-3 Big Ten record en route to 10 wins.
Teams outperform their statistics every year, tell me that Michigan can not. Go ‘head.
Can I get a hell yeah?
Here’s the thing that makes life so interesting. The theory of evolution claims: only the strong will survive. Maybe so, maybe so. But the theory of competition says: just because they’re the strong doesn’t mean they can’t get their asses kicked. Thats right.
See, what every long-shot, come-from-beyond-underdog will tell ya is this: the other guy may in fact be the favorite, and the odds may be stacked against you; fair enough. But, what the odds don’t know is this isn’t a math test. This is a completely different kind of test. One where passion has a funny way of trumping logic.
So, before you step up to the starting line, before the whistle blows, and the clock starts just remember, out here, the results don’t always add up. No matter what the stats may say and the experts may think and commentators may have predicted, when the race is on, all bets are off.
Don’t be surprised if someone decides to flip the script and take a pass on yelling ‘uncle’. And then suddenly, as the old saying goes: we’ve got ourselves a game.
Follow Me. Follow Me to Freedom!
All of us—rivals, apologists, detractors, optimists, pessimists, and “realists” (pick a side, pansy—we all come to mgoblog because we have something in common: we’re obsessed with Michigan. We’ve spent nine months analyzing and rationalizing and consoling and infighting amongst ourselves as we descend upon the internet like thunderhead of locusts devouring every shred of any and every bit of information for insight into Michigan Football.
When the season ends, logos and pathos will have to cope with the exact same record. Your particular tact is merely a pre-coping mechanism. Well, Logos sucks. Logos tells you to consider the consequences before you have the time of your life. Logos tells you that the party wont be worth the hang-over. Logos tells you to make peace with never walking again. Fuck logos. Gimme pathos. Heaps and heaps of pathos. It’s time to let Mr. Hyde out the box. It’s time to descend upon all these assholes mounted up on our maize-and-blue, rainbow-maned
pegasuses pegasi flying unicorns, with blood shot eyes in a Zima induced psychosis. It’s time to lose our voices even if it means that we have to rip out our larynxes and throw them on the field*.
Blessed be the tie that binds us. Blessed be the Michigan Wolverines.
*a bit much? nah.
I had originally planned on unveiling a hype video that I’ve been working on for the last week and a half or so here but the swarm of MGoLocusts has already sniffed it out. Well done, MGoBlog. Aywho, at the risk of being accused of spamming the board, here it is in case you didn’t see it.
[Author EDIT: despammed]
I guarantee you that no one on our team is cowering in the corner, begging, hoping, pleading for 7 wins.