it's a major award
Best: Go Blue
After the game, one of the ESPN sideline reporters caught up with Devin Gardner and asked him about the game, in particular him playing under macro (his coach likely being fired, the "boycott", the general discontent of the fans) and well as micro pressure (ankle injury, tough PSU defense). After the usual player-speak of "I had to to be out there", "The team still believes in me/each other", "It's good to get the win", and the always-badass "I can hurt later", he talked about looking forward to playing MSU in two weeks and ended the conversation with the most loaded "Go Blue" I can remember.
I don't need to go into the gory details about Gardner's time at UM; you've heard these stories numerous times before, "hot takes" about his failings and odes to his greatness are legion in these parts: He's a winner except when he's throwing crippling INTs or struggling to hold onto the ball under intense pressure, or a maddeningly inconsistent QB who never learned how to play the position due to a revolving-door of disinterested/ill-equipped offensive coaches and whose success typically comes from being a better athlete than the guys chasing him and/or a healthy bit of luck sprinkled with defensive incompetence. He's off-the-charts when it comes to feelingsball and playing hurt, but through 7 games this year he's throwing more INTs (8) than TDs (6), and his team is 3-4 with one semi-competent win. He's everything you want in a QB but with just enough rough edges and blemishes that you can't enjoy it. He can wear whatever hat you want, can both prove and invalidate any argument, and at all times fit into a narrative without being attached to it. Heck, against Miami I called him "Chaotic Neutral", and even now I'm not sure if that should be considered a compliment or a condemnation; it's probably just a statement of fact.
But what I think we all forget about these players are that they are human. Yes, they're "human" in the way that they can hear the boos, maybe feel a little under siege with the tempest engulfing the program, and all the other discussion points we've heard these past couple of weeks regarding the way fans are interacting with the program. But when I say they are "human", I mean they are human in the sense that they are so absolutely too old for this shit and just want to win games and move on to the next challenge. Like everyone reading this blog, at some point in your life every take has been taken, every thing you need to bring has been broughten, and every question has been answered. You are done with it because this is life and you need to move on, and leave the hand-wringing and intense discussions to those on the sidelines.
When Gardner said "Go Blue", he said it like a man who had just endured 3 hours of teeth pulling without Novocain, a QB who played on a bad leg for over a quarter while consistently pulling Mike Hull and the rest of the PSU defense out of his teeth. He was a semi-movable target out there, and PSU took every chance they had to tee him up. It's fashionable around these parts to talk about "soul" dong punches after a bad series or a tough loss, but that's all metaphorical and for effect, as a case of the "grumpies" and drinking a bit too much is pretty self-inflicted. As the announcers reminded us seemingly every free second in the fourth quarter, Gardner finished the OSU game last year with effectively a broken foot, and has endured numerous other undiagnosed/unreleased injuries in his 2+ years as QB1; his soul dong probably hurts after losses, along with his ribs, ankles, shoulders, and every other part of his actual body. He was hurting, but the pain was in service to a goal that was met, so it at least felt validated. It was pain leaving the body for at least a moment, replaced with the healing light of victory.
He also said "Go Blue" with a hint of resignation, or at least an understanding that for as long as he can physically stand, he's the best chance this team has to win this year. We talk about looking toward the future seasons and player development, but that's the perspective born from the one-way relationship of fandom. I'm 33 years old; I'll be a fan of Michigan football until the day I die because the only expiration on my fandom is my beating heart. As fans, we don't get replaced if we don't cheer loud enough, or run out of eligibility after 4 years. We can decide how much we care about the program and the team, and can look to the future secure in the knowledge that while the names on the jerseys will change, our seats in front of the TV or in the stadium won't. But for Gardner, he's got (at best) 6 more games donning the maize and blue, and he's going to do whatever it takes to win each and every one of them, depth chart and future coaching changes be damned. And after seeing guys like Morris and Bellomy struggle immensely to even complete a pass, he's the last line of defense between UM being competitive against the rest of the teams on the schedule and being nothing more than the winningest Baby Seal U in the Big 10.
And finally, that "Go Blue" had the distinctive tone of "F**k You" that usually is reserved for B-Rabbit against Papa Doc. And yeah, it had a bit of the cliche "FU to the doubters/the haters", "nobody believed in us", "how you like dem apples?" that you see in every movie and every NFL Films "mic up" of a defensive player in the huddle. Gardner, more than any other player save maybe Taylor Lewan, has been the lighting-rod for the team's struggles under Hoke, and even though that's part of the deal with being the QB it still must be draining to read and hear people (mostly anonymously) question your heart, your talent, you ability to win. So yeah, winning a tough game under the lights is a metaphorical middle finger. But it also had the distinctive F U tone to the world, to the gypsies that keep taking down players, to the incompetent play reviews and tipped passes, to cornerbacks phasing in and out of Earth-2 on long passes down the sideline, to 27-for-27, to everything bad that has happened over the years. It's Gardner looking out over the sea of fans, the joyous look on the faces of his teammates reveling in their first win in nearly a month, into the cameras of the media finally not probing for dissension or escapees from the sinking UM ship but to chronicle a gutsy win, and feeling that he survived. It's Gardner telling the world "I'm still Fucking Here, this team's still Fucking Here" and meaning it.
Go Blue. Go MF'ing Blue!
Best: Semi-Competent Win
Last week I considered it an improvement that Michigan lost to Rutgers in a semi-conventional manner, as opposed to being thoroughly outclassed in embarrassing fashion like they had against Minnesota, Utah, and Notre Dame. So consider this a slight improvement on that performance helped by the random number generator giving UM the win. The team finally beat a Power 5 team, and even though you could fill a dump truck with caveats about that fact, it was still a good win and a nice way to go into the break before the real "meat" of the schedule kicks in.
Best: Second-Half Defense
Watching PSU's first two drives felt like a portal to watching UM's recent offensive struggles, where the unit seems to be chugging along until they get 20-30 yards out and then everything bogs down and they leave with FGs (if that) instead of TDs. Under RR, MSU in 2010 jumps to mind, and under Hoke pick your loss the past couple of seasons. PSU was using tempo effectively, seemed to discover some semblance of a running game with a lot of sweeps and delayed runs inside (helped by some suspect tackling), and Hackenberg was throwing the ball quickly and effectively to Hamilton and James. But once they got to the red zone, Michigan's defense stiffened enough to hold PSU to field goals, and you could sense that UM had taken PSU's best punches in the first half and they were kinda out of options after that. In fact, after Gardner's INT gave them great position to take the lead at 13-7, PSU didn't have a drive longer than 27 yards the rest of the way, with 3 drives winding up in negative territory.
It helped that PSU seemed unable to block anybody for more than 3 seconds and absolutely played into Mattison's blitz-friendly schemes, but any time you hold an offense to under 100 yards in a half you have (a) fallen through a wormhole and are playing 2013 Michigan, and (b) done a pretty good job on your defense. And yes, I know this is a Penn State team showing the effects of sanctions, but Michigan was without a number of defensive players themselves and reeling from giving up 404 yards to Gary Nova, so 214 yards of total offense given up is something I think everyone will take.
Meh: The Almost Hail Mary
I know the general sentiment was that Hoke should have just let the half run out when PSU was facing 4th-and-1 from their own 39 instead of letting them line up for a Hail Mary, but I honestly didn't have an issue with the call. If anything, I wished he had called a TO after the previous completion and saved a couple of seconds. PSU had shown themselves unable to keep Hackenberg clean for more than a couple of seconds, and the threat of a 60+ yard completion seemed minimal especially if Michigan planned on bringing 4. If PSU elects to punt, then you give yourself a chance on a return (as unlikely as that is given the dinosaur punting formations) or you can pin your ears back and go for the block, because at best that moves PSU forward a bit but takes time off the clock. If Franklin decides to throw it up, then a million things can happen, most of them either inconsequential or bad for PSU, and would give you another chance to rattle a QB who had come up holding his arm earlier in the series and was a little jumpy due to breakdowns in protection.
Yes, there's a chance you get Kordell Stewart'd, why the heck not try to squeeze another possession out in a game (Michigan gets the ball to start the half) that was shaping up to be a defensive struggle.
Best: Thanks For (Fake) Punting
Another week, another dumb attempt at a fake punt. Last week it was Rutgers calling a good fake and then executing a throw that may still be in the air. This week it was PSU running the most obvious fake punt run (at UM's 37! Seriously!!) and UM sniffing it out almost immediately. This decision came on the heels of the previous game between MSU and Purdue, where MSU failed on their fake punt on their own 29 and Purdue turned what was a semi-comfortable 14-point game to a way-less-comfortable 7-point game.
I get the desire to extend possessions and capitalize on the general malaise and predictability of B1G teams, but when they blow up they do so spectacularly, and for once UM seems to be the beneficiary.
Best: I'm Calling Shotgun
They showed this last week as well, but it felt like Michigan's offense operated far more heavily out of the shotgun this week than in earlier games, and it absolutely helped to keep Gardner (reasonably) clean. PSU isn't known as a great pass-rushing outfit, but Gardner was only sacked 3 times, and one was basically Gardner tucking the ball and running. They even tried running the ball a bit out of the formation with Smith and Hayes, and while the results weren't great by any stretch, it did seem like the offense moved the ball most effectively when Gardner has a chance to survey the field and keep an eye on the rush.
This new approach clearly helped the passing offense, as both Funchess and Darboh made a number of nice catches within the offense, with Darboh keeping drives alive in the first quarter and Devin snagging a lob-ish pass for a TD because, well, being 6'5" and super-fast lets you do that. As for Gardner's INT, it was a combination of him trying a bit too hard to get the screen set up to Smith and Braden failing to keep his hands on Zettel. Had Zettel been engaged with Braden (it was clear that he was reading the screen by that point), he probably wouldn't have been able to get his hands up. It's a tough situation for everyone, but it was as much a great, athletic play by Zettel as it was a failure by the offense.
Of course, having proved its efficacy this week, I fully expect UM to go under center exclusively against MSU, maybe with a sprinkling of the triple option where every run is Gardner into the line.
Norfleet broke the Michigan record for kickoff return yardage in this game, and while it still remains frustrating to watch him nearly break so many returns back there without actually scoring, it's a testament to his abilities that he's been able to set the record after only 2.5-ish years of playing time. Yeah, the usual jokes about "he's had lots of opportunities" (a record 86 attempts so far) is obviously an indictment of the team's struggles these past couple of years, but for the first time since Breaston was manning the kick-off team it's felt like UM has a weapon back there (I know Stonum took one back against ND). Hopefully one of these returns will hit pay dirt.
Worst: Stop Trying so Hard
First off - it wasn't 27-for-27 (31-for-64 is, I guess, an improvement) and the team won, so take this complaint with a grain of sad, "I guess this is where we are that averaging 2 ypc is a victory" grain of salt. But it was annoying to watch the running game struggle against a statistically-stout PSU rush offense the way it did. I understand that Smith's and Hayes's first goal was to minimize negative yards, and they largely accomplished that (only 7 lost yards on the day) while not turning the ball over or otherwise endangering the offense.
That said, I'm starting to get a little bothered by the backs in this offense struggling to read holes that ARE there and seemingly looking for the homerun instead. In particular Smith always stutter-stopped before diving into the line, robbing him of momentum and turning maybe 3-4 yard runs into 1 or 2-yarders because the defense flowed to him. This is an extreme frame of reference I know, but having watched Barry Sanders growing up I've seen backs probe the line at multiple points, looking for that glimmer of daylight. But that's shoot one of the top 5 running backs in the history of college and professional football doing that, with an elite combination of speed and balance as well as an incredibly low center of gravity. Smith bouncing at the line may look like Hart, but Hart was also able to squeeze in between blockers and scrape out a couple of yards where none were there. If Smith is going to receive the lion's share of the carries going forward, he's going to need to continue to take the yards the defense is giving him and be more decisive in his cuts. I hope he'll get there this year, but given Fred Jackson's recent track record you have to wonder if it will happen behind this line.
Worst: Not Very Sneaky
In recent games, Michigan's response to 3rd- and 4th-and-short downs is the "up-tempo" QB sneak. Objectively, it's not a bad playcall when you have an athletic, tall QB who can also audible out and run to the corner if necessary. But I have two issues with its deployment in games. First, if you do it EVERY DOWN, teams figure it out, and this line (and Miller in particular) isn't designed to bulldoze tackles and linebackers back the requisite yard or two you need. Second, trotting it out when you need 2 or 3 yards is probably more than you can expect in any context. I'm all for using a quick play to catch the defense off-guard in situations like this, but a little diversity such as a Gardner run to the outside or a quick pass to the TE would do wonders to keeping it effective.
Worst: Inanity of the Announcers
I know that ESPN is all about narratives and storytelling during a game, but these announcer went that extra mile and just started rambling about inconsequential and/or irrelevant stories about the "issues" surrounding Brad Hoke and Michigan when a f'ing game was going on. Save that for the video packages and bumpers coming out of time outs and halftime, but a couple of times Gilmore would just start talking about the boycott, protestors, Morris's concussion, whatever in between downs and it felt like there was someone in his ear feeding him lines.
In particular, the story he relayed about being in the elevator with Franklin and a Michigan "fan" before the game and the fan telling Franklin that he wanted PSU to beat UM so that they could fire Hoke. Not only was that the type of story that really didn't serve a purpose (I'm sure that a fan who said he/she supported Hoke and wanted to beat PSU wouldn't have warranted a mention), but it simply reiterated a tired story that didn't need "dramatic, real-life" examples to drive home. Michigan was 2-4, there had been protests on campus, people were talking about "boycotting" this game for whatever that amounted to, etc. Michigan's tire fire has been one of the leading stories in college sports for weeks now; there have been a wealth of examples already as to the dysfunction. To their credit, as the game progressed these non-sequiters shifted away to other topics (I particularly liked the sarcastic claim that Ole Miss/Miss St. deserved the SEC "respect" rub because of their storied histories and tough OOC games), but it was still maddening to be watching the game and listening to the worst parts of sports radio.
Also, for the person in that elevator...
Worst: WTF Elevator Person!
You are the worst. Absolutely the worst. I don't give a shit if you are unhappy with the state of this team. Trust me, most people are. But when you are in the elevator with the head coach of the other team, don't tell him you are rooting for his team to beat "your" team. Not only is that incredibly disrespectful to the team and makes you look like a dumbass - you might as well pick another team to root for in you want the current one to lose. But it is also INCREDIBLY near-sighted in a practical sense. Michigan's athletic department and coaching situation can charitably be defined as a "tire fire", and losing more and more games does nothing more than throw shit on that burning graveyard of rubber. So now you've got a combination of burning shit AND rubber to deal with, which will absolutely make it even less appealing to the small number of head coaching candidates likely available at the end of the year. Recruits are going to continue to leave in droves, fan support will dwindle, current players will be demoralized and attrition may take place, and Michigan's battered reputation nationally will only get further dinged.
I can't change your opinions about the current football team, and frankly it isn't worth my time. But at the very least, keep your damn mouth shut and lie about it in situations like this. Think about it as practice for the time in a couple of years when you tell your friends you've been a "true" Michigan fan and never stopped rooting for them, you ass.
The Washington Generals of football, the Fighting Bye Weeks, will be town. I'm predicting a close win for the good guys.
As for MSU, I don't know man (sorry Brian). They're probably the best team in the conference. They also have struggled to put away teams not playing in the MAC this year. The defense looks good but no other-worldly, but this game has been circled for weeks and I suspect MSU will be juiced up for it. IU might be the beneficiary of this, as MSU's secondary has looked shaky and they could well be looking past the Hoosiers, so who knows if Michigan will be going to East Lansing to face a reeling Spartan squad or not. Regardless, it'll be a slobber-knocker, and right now I don't see how UM emerges victorious unless they play a near-perfect game.
As the saying goes, it's always darkest before the dawn, and things have gotten pretty dark around here. Recent events have motivated students to protest on the Diag and in front of the President's house. There have been daily discussions of boycotts, and numerous coaching change threads have blotted out the sun. When darkness is all around, what can one do to restore hope? Should we accept our fate and wallow in the depths of mediocrity? Or should we boycott games, kickoffs, or concessions? Should we question the team's spirit, the coaches' intelligence, or the athletic department's priorities? Should we complain that things were better in our day? Should we cry metaphorical tears at the loss of our Michigan? Games started at 1pm when I was a kid and they should always start at 1pm because Bo said so. Should we blame all our problems on noodles, ticket prices and Special K? I don't know about you, but when things are bleakest for me, I make light of the situation.
As a result, I decided mid-week to change up the format and give out light-related awards for this game, regardless of the outcome. I really didn't know what to expect from this game, except that there would be lots of punting. Unlike our previous opponents, I was a little familiar with Penn State, having watched them play against UCF and Rutgers. From that, I knew their offensive line was struggling, and Anthony Zettel is really, really good. In a match-up of two good defenses and two suspect offenses, we were treated to exactly what everyone expected. But how often does that occur?
Boxscore link: http://www.mgoblue.com/sports/m-footbl/stats/101114aae.html
Flash of Impetus
* I decided to Google "burst of impetus" so I could contrast that to today's award, the "Flash of Impetus." The first two links Google returned were to my diaries of Sept. 25, 2011, and Oct. 2, 2011. So that was no help. Simplifying the search to just "burst," I learned that a burst is an explosion. This makes sense in the context of Doug Nussbaum, sorry, Nussmeier's (darn espn announcers) focus on explosive plays. A week after Rutgers exploded all over our defense, the biggest unknown coming into the game was would Christian Hackenberg have enough time to replicate the Champagne Super Nova from the prior week. Mattison dialed up the pressure and eventually broke Hackenberg. At first, there was a flash of impetus, as a Penn State receiver dropped a pass that Delonte Hollowell scooped up and returned for an apparent touchdown. My heartrate didn't budge, as I was sure that was coming back. Why that replay took any more than 2 seconds is a question for another day. So like a flash, the impetus was there and then gone.
Burst of Impetus
* A definition for impetus is, "the force or energy with which a body moves." So technically speaking, the burst of impetus is an explosive play that moves a body. A body in motion tends to stay in motion, so these plays propel the team forward. In prior weeks, we thought Willie Henry's fatboy TD could be a burst of impetus. But the team didn't respond. There was a flash of excitement, and then nothing. In this game, on a play late in the 3rd quarter, the defense pressured Hackenberg, drew a holding penalty, and forced him to make a poor decision, lofting a ball that Jourdan Lewis intercepted. From then on, the rout was on as Michigan tallied the next three scores and turned a 13-10 deficit into an 18-13 victory. Hey, in this game, a five point advantage is huge.
* It was recently announced that three inventors won the Nobel Prize in Physics for their invention of the blue light emitting diode. As this is the top prize in physics, we will give this award to the top performer of the game, the defense.
* The defense held Penn State to 54 yards rushing on 35 attemps for a 1.5 yard average. Penn State was limited to 214 total offense yards on 68 plays, for an average gain per play of 3.1.
* The defense forced 5 punts, did not give up a fourth down conversion on three attempts, and tallied one critical turnover.
* Allow me to share my "cool story bro" story. Back when I was a student at UofM, I gave a paper at the Materials Research Society Meeting in Boston. This meeting had somewhere around 30 parallel sessions going on at the same time (hence, the word parallel.) Some of the more popular topics, like silicon, were granted the larger meeting rooms. Folks like myself who were studying compound semiconductors (like indium phosphide) got to speak in a closet in front of 15-20 people. At this conference, I overheard talk that Shuji Nakamura was giving an invited talk. He is one of the three fellows who just won the Nobel Prize. So I wandered over to that session's conference room. It was a little larger than a closet, but the interest was extraordinary for a compound semiconductor talk. I'm talking standing room only at a technical conference. This guy was already a rock star. This was over 20 years ago, when gallium arsenide was still regarded as the technology of the future ("...and always will be" is how that joke finished up.) Now, everyone's phone has a GaAs power amp and gallium nitride based blue LEDs are ubiquitous. At that time, no one thought a blue LED was possible because the defect density in gallium nitride materials was extreme, and defects cause non-radiative recombination, etc. So halfway through the talk, Nakamura pulled out an array of green LEDs (the pre-cursor to today's blue LEDs) and powered them up. The brightness was more intense than anyone thought possible. The audience was shocked, awed, and amazed. He explained how they were motivated to generate all LED traffic signals, and the green LED was the only thing missing. I had a feeling I was witnessing the future. And now, more than 20 years later, Nakamura has rightly earned his Nobel Prize. I was a witness to this due to my attending the University of Michigan. Damn right, I'm proud to be a Michigan Wolverine.
* When a quarterback is on, he's described as throwing lasers. Devin Gardner was 16 for 24 passing for 192 yards. His long pass was a 43 yard arc that was anything but laser-like, but Devin Funchess stepped in front of the defensive back, bobbled it a bit, and then strode into the endzone for a touchdown.
* Gardner also ran 10 times for 18 yards. Of interest, Gardner ran for 121 yards last year against Penn State. This year, through the first six games, he had run for only 131 yards. If the goal was to run Devin less to protect his health, that strategy has failed miserably as he looks as beaten up after 7 games this season as he did after 12 last season.
* I watched Auburn play Mississippi State before our game. Both teams feature a dual-threat QB. I couldn't help but think as I watched that game, "THAT! That is what I want from our offense."
Quantum Cascade Laser Award
* A photon is a single quantum of light, and so this award goes to #1, Devin Funchess.
* Funchess led the receivers with 7 catches for 69 yards and 1 touchdown.
Quantum Dot Laser Award
* What's smaller than a two-dimensional quantum well? The one-dimensional quantum dot, so this award obviously goes to Michigan's smallest player, Dennis Norfleet.
* Norfleet caught one pass for 24 yards, but it was a huge play. The game had settled down into a defensive struggle, and it sure looked like overtime beckoned. Gardner was able to complete one pass downfield to Norfleet and put us in FG range.
* Norfleet also returned two kickoffs for 52 yards and set some sort of record for kick return yardage, but that's not something I want to focus on because of what it implies.
Phosphorescent Light Bulb Award
* The phosphorescent light bulb I'm thinking of is that curly tube like one that replaces the common household incandescent bulb. You know, the one that looks totally out of place.
* Jake Ryan led the team with 10 tackles. He had three TFLs and a sack.
* I'm starting to get used to those compact fluorescents. Jake may be getting used to playing MIKE. We'll find out in 2 weeks.
* The defense tallied 11 TFLs, six sacks, and 2 QHs. I did notice a couple times Hackenberg was able to shake off a potential sack. I hope we practice sacking this week and next. The scout team QB better be needing some serious hot tub time is all I'm saying.
Neon Deion Award
* For the defensive back who played most like shutdown corner, Neon Deion Sanders. I contemplated not giving this out, but Jourdan Lewis did have one huge interception and was credited with 5 tackles. (That's about 4 more than Neon Deion averaged in his career.)
* I watched the end of the Minnesota-Northwestern game (yes, I watched a lot of football yesterday) and Minnesota's defensive backs had more BrUps in the 4th quarter than I think Michigan's had all year. For the game, Minnesota had 6 BrUps. SIX BrUps! Raymon Taylor was credited with Michigan's only BrUp.
* Quick tangent, I've been banging the Gopher drum all year. They are now 5-1 and face Purdue and Illinois next. They scored on a 100 yard kick return that was exceptionally blocked. Norfleet isn't going to bring one all the way back until the 10 guys in front of him execute their assignments. I'd take Minnesota's DB and special teams coaches any day. Gee, I wonder if there was some way to make that happen...
The Phoebus Cartel Award
* IEEE Spectrum has an article about the Phoebus Cartel and their efforts to engineer a shorter life span for the incandescent lightbulb; what we refer to today as planned obsolescence. This award is given to the awful coaching decision of the game, and will be given retroactively as follows:
Vs. Utah - punt with 10 men on the field and give up a punt return TD
Vs. Minnesota - start Shane Morris over Devin Gardner
Vs. Rutgers - hurry-up at the end of half to give Rutgers more time to score
Vs. Penn State - call a timeout with 3 seconds left in the half to allow PSU a risk-free opportunity to throw a Hail Mary. Seriously, what are the odds that we intercept the ball and return it for a score versus Penn State throwing a successful Hail Mary to their 6'7" tight end with their QB who has a rocket arm? Fortunately, we didn't get burned by this decision.
* Goes to the program most in need of shining a flashlight in all those dark corners. As bad as things are in Ann Arbor, this award goes to Penn State.
Debbie Boone, "You Light Up My Life" award
* Debbie sings, "And you, light up my life. You give me hope, to carry on."
* The winner of this award is Team 135. Carry on, men.
I haven't posted here in weeks*. My younger brother is a current player and there is no doubt this season has taken a toll on him and his teammates in a way that is hard to put into words. It has been a difficult time to be a Michigan fan, no one will disagree with that.
My family has forged strong relationships with some of the other families over the past four years and the prevailing conversation, especially this week, is the complete lack of support and borderline malignant behavior of alumni players towards this current team.
The most striking example is from last week, where several families of current players were paired up with player alumni for the Rutgers game. All I have heard today is stories of complete disdain directed from alumni to the current players. Before, during, and after the game. To the point that players families decided to drive back to Michigan instead of staying with former players in New York.
The contradictory behavior from former players like Desmond, who support the players publicly and then trash them privately, to their families faces, is disheartening. The elephant in the room is the constant support for the incompetent coaching staff from the aforementioned players who lay blame at the feet of the players who want nothing more than to play and win for Michigan.
The program is in shambles. Bo is not coming back and it's time to move on. The cult like adherence to tradition and "this is Michigan" is the very reason we are plummeting towards rock bottom. We don't need another Bo or another Michigan Man, we need a competent, forward thinking administration who will take advantage of the massive institutional advantages Michigan provides.
I support these players and Michigan. I hope the current administration will do what it takes to build a winner for the next generation.
If you think a boycott of kickoff or booing will change things for the better, then I support you. Just know it kills the players to hear booing, even if the vitriol is directed at the coaching staff.
Whatever happens tonight or the rest of this season.
*it felt like years since I last posted, thanks for the correction!
Waking up to some frost and temperatures in the low 30s! They'll rebound quickly, jumping to the mid 40s for lunch, and mid 50s in the afternoon - a touch below normal for this time of year. Winds are light all day, out of the north at 5-7mph (just enough to feel the breeze on your skin). Tons of sunshine throughout the day, so it's a good tailgate to wear the hat and sunglasses to!
Chilly is the name of the game! (and hopefully win) 49 degrees at kick off, with temps falling fast through the 40s as the first half goes on. Winds are out of the NNE at about 6mph - it's just barely enough to rustle the leaves, but is enough to give a wind chill to make it feel a couple degrees cooler. We start the game with mostly clear skies.
A few clouds here and there, but a lot of stars under those lights! If light shows aren't your thing, maybe this is a good time to get a hot chocolate! 43 at the halfway point, with a light NE wind at maybe 5mph making it feel like 40. Temperatures will fall further, so the second half may be a good time to break out those hand warmers!
Dropping into the upper 30s walking out of those gates to the car, with a very light and variable wind. Starry skies will carry on the remainder of the night. Heading out late to celebrate? Hopefully you grabbed the coat - it'll be cold! Temps down to the mid 30s by last call with a light east wind. It won't be much of a breeze, but enough to create a wind chill to the low 30s. Let's make it a good one under the lights boys. C'mon 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!!
DISCLAIMER: This post has not been endorsed or even read by the Mgoblog staff. Seth (who I like and respect quite a bit), at least, will disagree with it…I know that everyone has their snowflakes about this topic, but I hope the mods will indulge me.
That out of the way, here goes: There are some bad arguments being put forward as to why there shouldn’t be any form of protest tomorrow. Those arguments should be abandoned. This doesn’t mean a protest is a good idea. But those contemplating protesting should decide on their actions by focusing on the correct issues.
First, the bad arguments:
A protest will hurt the players
Yep, it will a bit. But this issue is whether the cost is worth the possibility of the desired benefit.
No one believes, strictly speaking, that you can never hurt the players if hurting the players means not supporting them to the best of your abilities. If anyone did believe that, they would have to condemn the actions of the following people: those who have ever not attended a football game when they could have, those who have ever not attended any Michigan sporting event (or student event) when they could have, those who have left any Michigan event early when they didn’t have to, those who have ever booed at a Michigan event, those who have ever failed to cheer as loudly as possible at a Michigan event, those who have failed to use available funds to support the athletic department. All of those people have hurt the players or students in the sense that they have failed to support them to the best of their abilities. “Do not hurt the players” is not a moral rule that can never be violated so long as, again, “hurting the players” means not supporting them to the best of one’s abilities. We should at least be able to agree on that.
Further, there will always be people telling you in any context that you should not dissent because there will be collateral damage from your dissent. People might be arrested, traffic will be stopped, business will slow down, people will be inconvenienced, etc. There is always a price to dissent, because dissent creates disorder. And disorder always turns over someone’s apple cart. This doesn’t mean any given protest is a good idea, of course, but it does mean the statement “Your protest will cause bad thing X” should not stop you in your tracks. You still have to weigh the price of your action against its downsides.
Will the cost of protesting be worth the possibility of the desired benefit? I’ll get to that later.
You should trust the powers that be
This argument is one of the biggest reasons I’m posting this. I beg of you to make a cursory review of history (recent or otherwise) and ask yourself whether it seems wise to always assume that people in charge will make everything work out in the end. Upon such a review, the notion quickly becomes laughable. (I don’t want to get into details, because I don’t want to wade into politics.)
Our system of government and our civil society only function if you think critically about the decisions made by those in power. I wish that didn’t sound so heavy-handed, overly-serious, and nagging, but it’s true. The stakes here are obviously very small, but taking the attitude of “I will always trust those in power” is a bad habit to get into even with regard to minor matters such as this. Again, I don’t want to get into politics, but I very much hope that people on all sides of our nation’s political divide can agree that the man behind the curtain is not always your friend. To assume otherwise is to surrender your dignity as a free person (again, apologies for the heavy-handedness, especially given the very small stakes here – feel free to think of me as a pompous ass).
Sports aren’t serious enough to merit protesting
This isn’t an incorrect argument, in my opinion, but you can’t hold this position and also think sports merit paying $100 (or more) to go to a game so that you can spend three hours (sometimes in bad weather) yelling and screaming while total strangers try to carry a ball across a line more often than their opponent does. If protesting sports is absurd, then so is fandom itself. Having a bad AD is a first world problem, but attending a Michigan game is a first world indulgence.
Fans should just shut up
Any given player or coach is a much bigger part of Michigan football than any given fan. That is beyond debate. But the fans collectively are vital. The players and coaches wouldn’t have a Big House to play in if it weren’t for the fans.
Fans should be civil and judicious when voicing displeasure, but we do have the right voice it. Ours should be a mutually beneficial relationship with the football program, and we are permitted to act when that breaks down. Otherwise we are the program’s indentured servants.
Protesting shows that you don’t care about the team
It shows the opposite. You wouldn’t bother protesting if you didn’t care. I would never protest anything to do with my local pro team, because I don’t care if it disbands.
I am sympathetic to the idea of protesting because I care very much for Michigan football. The same must be true of anyone else who is sympathetic to the idea (this is not to say the unsympathetic don’t also love the program).
There are other ways to signal your displeasure
This is true, but not showing up to a game is the most powerful message a fan can send. It shows that you’re willing to stop spending money on tickets, because surely you’d be willing to do that if you’re willing to purposefully miss part (or all) of a game that you did pay to see. And ticket sales are far and away the most powerful medium through which fans communicate with the program. You can love the team or loathe it, but what the athletic department counts is your money.
Moving on from the bad ideas, here are a few final thoughts in question and answer form:
So, Mr. High-and-Mighty Jerkface, are you saying we have to protest?
Nope, you can do whatever you want as far as I’m concerned. You are free!
What about the cost vs. the possible benefit of the protest?
The central question is whether a protest might cause President Schlissel and/or the Regents to hold onto Brandon longer than they otherwise would have because they don’t want to create the perception that they can be pushed around (or cause some similar “bunker mentality” effect). The very minor hit the protest will make to the players (or recruiting) is nothing compared to the damage that would be done by letting David Brandon decide whether to retain Coach Hoke and, if necessary, hire the next coach. Years of empty seats and losing will be much worse for future players than fans missing part or all of a game will be for this year's players.
I was not at President Schlissel’s fireside chat, and I don’t have much of a sense of him. I have even less of a sense of the Regents (they are all mammals, right?). So I’ll leave it up to others to decide whether the protest is more or less likely to have the opposite of its intended effect. The answer to that question would determine whether I would protest.
This post has angered me. How can I make an ad hominem attack against you?
That’s easy. First, I’m just some guy on the internet. Second, I didn’t even go to Michigan! I’m just a guy who grew up loving Michigan because his parents went there...I hope what I've written above speaks for itself.
Well, I hate you.
That’s okay. I understand. Here are two lemurs for your troubles:
Coaching Candidate: Mark Stoops ~ Bloodlines Strong, HC Experience Lacking; Could a Strong 6 Weeks Cause Surge?
Last week we took a look at a handful of candidates, among them Doeren, Jones, Graham (compared him to Sumlin), and Mullen (whose star has risen dramatically in 2 weeks). We also looked at how Franklin and Strong would look as candidates if this was 9 months ago. Earlier this week we took a close look at the "Beilein like" Gary Patterson. Let's now look at darkhorse candidate Mark Stoops.
Normal caveats apply:
- I am not an AD nor do I have a full time staff to focus on one of of the most important decisions over the next decade. These are superficial reports based on raw data. If I were an AD I'd be doing a lot of on the ground work on each of these people's backgrounds starting from their playing days on forward to every coaching stop.
- Past results do not guarantee a damn thing. But that is all we can go on.
- These are not necessarily my top candidates (read: Jim Harbaugh) but people we could get and are interesting and not "Sumlin, Shaw, Gundy redux"
- I believe an elite level coach gets results within 2-3 years, by results I don't mean 11-2 but improving a bad program or maintaining a good program
- W/L record is not the be all and end all - what Gary Barnett did for Northwestern is more impressive than what a lot of coaches have done at USC or Bama or Texas over the years. Spurrier went and won at Duke for example early in his career. Or just see John Beilein.
- Adjust everything for conference, level of competition, and ability to get recruits
- I don't care about systems - a good coach will coach up players. It's about the Jimmy and Joes not the X's and O's.
Next candidate.... Mark Stoops, age: 47
Summary: Mark Stoops is currently the head coach at the University of Kentucky, which like Michigan is a basketball school.
/not s (damnit)
Much like his 2 older brothers in CFB, Mark rose up the defensive ranks before landing his first HC gig. Mark is the 4th and youngest brother in a line of Stoops hailing from Youngstown, OH. Most famous in the family is the 2nd oldest brother, Bob Stoops who runs the excellent program at Oklahoma. While not quite as revered as Saban and Meyer, Bob is widely considered a top 10 coach in the nation who maybe doesn't win the big one as often as his fan base would like.... but 99% other fan bases would kill for.
Bloodlines are a positive thing to have but not a guarantee of any success. Arizona found this out with the hiring of Mark's older brother (and Bob's younger) Mike. An 8 year stint in the desert left Mike Stoops with a 41-50 record and a lot of mediocrity. (Mark was his DC for a long portion of this reign in the desert) So you can't just throw a Stoops against a wall and expect them all to stick.
But back to Mark. He has focused on the DBs his whole career even when a DC which I like because in the modern game the DEs and DBs usually make or break your defenses. His first major stint was DB coach for 3 years at Miami, followed by his move to Arizona for brother Mike, and then over to FSU for Jimbo Fisher before landing the Kentucky job.
Big 10 footprint? A major asterisk here. Much like Dan Mullen, until the Kentucky job, much of Stoops Midwest exposure was due to nothing more than being born in the area. Which doesn't help you one bit in terms of relationships with HS coaches. However, I am going to raise a large caveat with Stoops v Mullen. Stoops is from Youngstown, OH which is not only a key football area of the state but not too far from neighbor PA. (2 birds, 1 stone) Further, Mark's oldest brother (and deceased dad) coached in the Youngstown area for decades so the Stoops name means something in this region unlike Mullen. So that - combined with his last 2 years at Kentucky does give him some of that footprint.
Recruiting? Kentucky's classes had ranked 60ish in the few years prior to Mark's arrivals in 2013. But in his 2 years there Stoops has pulled down the 29th and 17th ranked classes. That's at Kentucky fergodsakes. Yes, he does have the conference to sell but let's repeat - this is Kentucky fergodsakes; these are better rankings than Dan Mullen has been recruiting at Miss State in year 4-5. And keep in mind he only had 3 MONTHS to put together the 29th ranked class after Joker Phillips forgettable reign. Now... do we ask HOW Stoops put together such classes? (I see you Hugh Freeze) Well this is your own Pandora Box to open; I have no idea of course. If he is doing it clean - it would be impressive.
Now to the main question - can this guy have great success as a head coach? It's an open question and much like Doeren you wish he had 1 more full year in a Big 5 conference before making an assessment. But frankly we don't have that time here since we have an opening in 2 months (allegedly). We need to make a determinaton by December 2014. 2013 was a horrid year for UK football - but it was horrid in 2012 before Stoops came as well. Early returns on 2014 are promising but certainly inconclusive. And maybe they will remain inconclusive at the end of the year. But as we go through the Tier chart of potential coaches: (i) Hail Mary Harbaughs (ii) Miles (iii) Patterson - Mullen - Graham types ... you might find yourself facing the fourth tier. And of that tier - pending what happens in the next 2 months, the Wolverine nation may cast our eyes at the youngest Stoops.
Here is what Stoops faces in the weeks ahead after a beating of a baby seal this weekend:
- @LSU (a very young team, especially offense which is not up to par with traditional LSU teams)
- Miss State (I see you Dan Mullen - Miss State could overlook this game after a ton of SEC West clashes)
- @Missouri (Indiana already beat them this year)
- Georgia (Tennessee played them very evenly...and they may have lost Gurley)
- @Tenn (see Georgia comment, and they played a pedestrian Florida team equal)
- @Louisville (Petrino has them right where Charlie Strong left off)
Is this an easy schedule? Hell no. But is this as bad as it would have looked 2 years ago or 7 years ago? No. These are not vintage versions of Georgia, LSU or Tennessee. Miss State is still a TBD team who will be emotionally spent by the time they visit Kentucky. Missouri was beaten by Kentucky's half-brother Indiana. So what does Stoops need to accomplish in the coming 2 months? I don't have a number in stone but 3-3 in that group of games without getting blown out by more than ~14ish in any losses would be a good start. It would mean hiring a guy who had a very sad record as a HC but whose trendlines were all going in the correct direction. 2-4, or 1-5 with a few blowouts? Then it's much more difficult to make the case.
Recent (10 years) coaching background
- 2004-2009: DC/DB at Arizona
- 2010-2012: DC/DB at FSU
- 2013-2014:: HC at Kentucky
Analysis: Not a job hopper but definitely a man who got some breaks due to his name. Was a coach for DBs at Miami (YTM) very young, and graduated to DC at Arizona under his brother by his late 30s. Success was gradual there but eventually a solid defense was built, leading to a switch over to FSU where he took over a bad defense left over from Bowden's last "mail it in" year and turned it around in 2 years. That led to a promotion to one of the bottom 3 jobs in the SEC.
Caveat for results ----> (a) nothing exists in a vacuum (b) as a coordinator you can benefit or be penalized if your HC is good or bad or average (c) injuries or graduation can change your results dramatically in any 1 year. This is the type of stuff you'd research as an AD staff on every potential candidate.
I will break down his results at 3 time frames - DC/DB at Zona, DC/DB at FSU, HC at Kentucky.
(1) DC/DB at Arizona
After Mike Stoops spun out of Oklahoma and into his own gig at Arizona he brought younger brother Mark over to run his defense. The defense was bad when the Stoops arrived and Mark was able to incrementally improve it step by step over time. Nothing came overnight however. Here is how the defenses of Mark Stoops compared to the prior year (2003).
|W/L||Tot Off||Tot Def|
As always, I penalize Big 10/ACC defenses for playing a lot of sluggish, less than talented offenses while I give a bonus to Big 12/Pac 12 defenses for playing more sophisticated air attacks (with a lot more NFL type QBs at the helm). So what we find with Stoops is gradual improvement over time and by year 5-6 he had a mid 20s Pac 12 defense which translates (IMO) to a mid teens Big 10 defense. Considering the type of recruits Arizona gets that isn't bad.
(2) DC/DB at FSU
As Jimbo Fisher took over for Bobby Bowden, Mark Stoops was hired as DC. Much like Lloyd Carr, Bowden probably wasn't going at 100% in his last year. The once excellent Mickey Andrews defenses - chock full of NFL talent - disappeared in 2009. It is a wonder to imagine that FSU could post a 100+ defense but that is what happened. Here is how Stoops did in his 3 years versus the prior year in 2009.
|W/L||Tot Off||Tot Def|
Frankly, this is the most encouraging part of the Mark Stoops resume. Yes he was given a lot of prime time talent but he didn't waste it. In 2 years the total defense ranking went from 108 to 4. And 2012 was just as good. With a HC you'd like to see excellence on one side of the ball and unlike the Arizona stint you can clearly see an elite defense here - again with the caveat FSU recruits top 5 almost every year.
(3) HC at Kentucky
I prefer to have much more data in terms of offensive / defensive statistics and major win/losses for a head coach candidate but there is not much to go on with Mark Stoops. There is little we can analyze at Kentucky as 2013 was a horror show at 2-10 with the only wins versus 2 baby seals. That was the same record as Joker Phillips had in his last year in 2012. Losses were constant, although a few were at least not blowouts. That's about all the praise one can give. Offensive and defensive rankings in 2013 were likewise horrid.
We do know what system he wants to run offensively and thats "Air Raid" with OC Neal Brown. Brown is a baby at 34 years old who was OC at Texas Tech under Tommy Tuberville before returning to his home state to coach with Stoops. If Stoops leaves they might just offer the HC job to Brown so who knows who the OC would be at Michigan - an important point for a defensive oriented HC.
2014 has started off better with a 4-1 record, however 2 of those wins are baby seals. Kentucky lost a heartbreaker to a mediocre Florida in OT, beat Vanderbilt 17-7, and beat 3-3 South Carolina 45-38. Four of the five games have been at home. The meat of the schedule awaits, although as written above for a SEC schedule it's not impossible.
It's going to be difficult to evaluate Stoops even on these last 7 games and in a perfect world we'd have 1 more year (year 3) to analyze Stoops...but we don't have that opportunity.
Mark Stoops is a darkhorse candidate that may emerge if Kentucky can put in an impressive end of year ... and a lot of more prominent candidates are not interested in the Michigan job. Of course, impressive by Kentucky standards is not the same as for most schools. No matter how he finishes this year he'd have a losing record as a HC and very little HC experience but he has been around the block in 3 solid programs prior to Kentucky so is not a newbie on how to coach. All the intangibles line up well - of course the main intangible (can you win big as a head coach?) is going to be mostly a mystery. But outside of that "minor" issue the intangibles of age, recruiting prowess (if "clean"), pedigree, ability to do well on 1 side of the ball, and OH connection are all positives. Yet you can see with his brother Mike that those things don't guarantee you anything. But at least Mark would be recruiting a region his name has more recognition than where Mike was recruiting.
You'd be buying a trajectory as a HC more than a great history with Mark Stoops. This of course assumes UK doesnt blow up in the coming 2 months (i.e. 1-5 or 0-6). Stoops wouldn't be option A or B (barring a 7-0 run to end the year) but of the C class candidates - if and when it got to that - he'd be someone I'd be more interested in than many names thrown around.