"Jim's a tough guy and you can see his personality is all over this football team," Fitzgerald said.
I also think that my post is complimentary to Jamiemac's incredible post (http://mgoblog.com/diaries/harsh-message), but I had already finished my post, so I figured I'd throw it up anyways.
Looking back on the preseasons expectations thread (http://mgoblog.com/diaries/season-predictions-poll-projections-fan-expec...), the consensus was that most would be happy with Rich Rodriguez and the shape of our program if we were bowl eligible at the end of the season. This would have shown significant improvement over last year's debacle and it seemed as though this would enough to keep the masses happy.
Early Season Elation
After our first 4 games starting at a surprising 4-0 many adjusted their expectations skyward even though 2 of the games were close against mediocre competition (ND who barely wins every game and Indiana who is 4-5 (1-4 Big Ten play) and with Tate playing with fire-but somehow not getting burned-on many plays. His "guts" and "moxie" proved to be too much for every team and he seemed to have that "it" factor that many of us thought that we lacked. I think that the extremely lofty expectations especially by the ESPN hype machine only helped inflate our egos even more that "Michigan was back!"
Teams had more data points against our team and could key in on our weaknesses. They knew what to expect from our freshmen as they weren't unproven commodities anymore. I think that it is always easier for first year players to play well in the beginning of the year for two key reasons. Not only do expectations start to get the better of them after the early season honeymoon, but opposing coordinators can now plan against these youngsters and their lack of versatility and game experience. Note that it seems as though the season has taken its toll on Tate as he appears banged up.
Some have said that our offensive line has lost a lot since Molk has been sidelined with the injury. I would have to agree with them-his injury has really set back our offense and our team as a whole. I think that it is no surprise that our team has slid in his absence.
As far as the Illinois game goes...yes, Illinois is not a very good team this yea. But who thought that their team would be this bad? No one. This was a sleeping team that needed one play to really get its confidence. The goal-line stand was that one play.
It's not like Juice Williams is a bad player, or that Illinois has no weapons. Some at the beginning of the season were saying that Benn and Williams were the best tag team in the league and that Illinois would have one of the best offenses in the Big Ten. How they fell this far... well, I really have no idea. I haven't paid enough attention to their team. Illinois blogs lack the flair of our humble home. And if these past few weeks in the conference have taught us anything, it's that anyone can beat anyone in the Big Ten. Think Purdue beating OSU and then a few weeks later Purdue getting curb stomped by Wisconsin. The game would not have gone nearly as poorly (and, dare I say, we would have won easily) if we had scored on that goal-line series, or if Roy Roundtree were a few steps faster.
But as they say shoulda, coulda woulda. Someone even said that this was one of the worst losses by a Michigan team ever-and all that I can say to that is you must have a very short memory. Off the top of my head Oregon I, Iowa (same year as Oregon I), Oregon II, App State.
We are a young team that is prone to wild swings in play. To give up on coach Rod, our team, his system at this juncture is, in my opinion, ridiculous and short-sighted. I'm not saying that you cannot question the man and his play calling, because I would have liked to have seen a QB sneak on that goal-line series but anyone saying that I-Form was not the correct formation to run there is treading on shaky logical ground.
Signs of Progress
This team has made great strides in tackling, the offense has looked infinitely better than last year, the defense is showing signs of life, and when we can hang onto the ball in special teams, it's one of the most exciting units we've had in a long time. When was the last time we blocked a punt, or returned a TD on special teams?
Some people were even saying that our team cannot make half-time adjustments and again how quickly they must forget the beginning of the year where we made great adjustments at half time (particularly on the defensive side of the ball).
There were several generic comments that I wanted to call out-but here are 2 of many after the game that I wanted to call out that should NEVER be uttered by a supposed Michigan fan:
1. "Dick Rod" - This is your coach, this is what buckeyes, WV fans who are butt hurt, people who hate him call him. This should not even be in your vocabulary.
2. "He'll probably cry in the press conference because he knows he f'ed up the best job that he'll ever have"-no comment needed
These comments are getting out of control. Question the man's play calling, his coaching, or his decision making but it is NEVER acceptable to personally attack coaches or players. Grow up.
Finally, Rich Rodriguez is a good coach. Anyone saying "this isn't the Big Least this pussy type of offense will never work here he is in over his head" has apparently never seen the progression of coaches throughout college football. Urban Meyer was from Utah (not even a BCS conference... and I wouldn't say that he is over his head) Jim Tressel was from Youngstown State (Not even a FCS school). So to say that "this isn't the Big Least" is the most ridiculous thing to say and makes you look like an idiot (especially when the Big East looks like a better conference this year than the Big Ten). He has a great pedigree, great resume and there is absolutely no one that we could get that would be a better coach for any team. If we fired him he would be snatched up before we could even find another coach.
There is nothing that this team and program needs more than continuity. We need to recruit our asses off (especially on defense). If you think that we will be able to recruit at all if RR would be fired, think how much negativity would surround our program. Opposing teams wouldn't even have to negatively recruit against us. With 70% of the team as underclassmen it is unfair to not give him time until they mature.
In summary, let's keep in mind the big picture. RR isn't the anti-Christ, this program needs continuity or else we will suffer the fates of other teams that changed coaches frequently and never really found their footing for years (see ND). He didn't forget how to coach, turnovers were never an incredible problem under RR at WV, so what is the problem here?
I don't really know but I have the confidence in RR to know that he will sort it out.
I personally think that it speaks to the depths of the decline that our program had fallen to in the past few years. If or when a normal amount of players on the team are upperclassmen and we have these types of seasons, by all means I'll think that enough is enough. But right now, I think that the team needs and deserves our support now more than ever.
Go Blue, Always!
Yesterday's second half was the worst blow to a Revolution since:
A. The Winter of Valley Forge
B. The Seige of Vicksburgh
C. The Alamo
Well, it cant be the Alamo because thats what last week's game was. So that makes it either Valley Forge or Vicksburgh. And, really, right now, on the first day of November in Year 2 of the Rodriguez Revolution, it's hard to determine which is the more apt historical marker in light of yesterday's outcome and ensuing aftermath. It could be either one right now. A clear cut TBD.
If it's Valley Forge, its a cold harsh reminder of how long the struggle will be, yet a fact of life towards the eventual birth of a super power. If its Vicksburgh, its the beginning of an end, one that could be as drawn out with an ensuing upheaval and Reconstruction period that ultimately would set the program back farther back than any of us can possibly imagine.
Clearly, I hope its the former. Sadly, I can no longer expect that. I remain convinced Rodriguez can get it done in a big way here at Michigan. I am now, however, dubious that he can survive the noise that will envelop the program in the wake of the Illinois loss. The critics had been put away, but they seize on losses like this with the reactionary temper of a hyperbolic spastic hopped up on an eight ball. Those critics must be RIGHT becasue their OUTRAGE is LOUD and ANGRY and this is UNACCEPTABLE and they WONT TAKE THIS ANYMORE because this is not MICHIGAN FOOTBALL.
Well, I have two words for those hyperbolic reactionaries today.
Oh, and another sentence.
Go cheer for another team for awhile.
You should have left years ago. Let me clue you in on a dirty little secret: Your precious Michigan program has been fooling people for an entire decade. Any reference to It as contemporary elite program is rubbish. I hate to throw out the real F word, but they have been frauds for a long time now.
Do you want to know why your bowl streak didnt die sooner? The difference between some of the teams earlier this decade and 2008 is some got to sit next hot rollers while one sat next to an all-star cooler.
The 2004 team was the luckiest team in program history. 2005 might have been the second luckiest, despite its Infinite Pain lore. The 2005 team 's 7-5 record was much closer to the program's true identity, record wise, than the seasons immediately before and after it. The famed 2006 team almost lost to Ball State. In the tenth game of the season. A MAC team. With a losing record. Hokalicious!
Come on, we're talking about the same program that lost to Appalachian State in 2007. Even with an all-time group of upperclassmen, the program lost that game, were woodshedded by an Oregon team, and scored just three points against OSU. Not once that whole regular season did they play like a club worthy of even begin ranked. Those uppclassmen had been holding the program together by the skin of their teeth for years.
In the wake of their mass departure after the bowl win over Florida, the program was left with a stark reality nobody bothered to notice: The program had no depth. Ann Arbor claimed to be a place for the leaders and the best. But, instead, it had become a place where recruits went to get get slower and weaker. Folks, that was Michigan's reputation. And it was earned. Michigan was a fraud. That was the perspective from the outside looking in. But, it's easy to be blinded by reality when genuflecting at the church of Hart, Henne and Long.
A team with some all-program caliber players sprinkled throughout the roster almost lost to a woeful MAC team and did lose to a FCS school in embarassing fashion during their final two seasons in Ann Arbor. So, we're melting down in shock, horror and ALL CAPS because the team meshed virtually entirely of freshmen, sophomores and mid-level upperclassmen recruits left in their wake actually did lose to a bad MAC team and a terrible Big 10 team during their first two years? Really, you're surprised by this development? Folks, this is not 'what out of left field' looks like.
This stretch of poor seasons was a long time coming. It took an incredible amount of luck that it didnt happen sooner. And if you cant like Michigan in the bad times, then why do you like Michigan even at all? If you're not up for the long climb to the top, then I dont know what to tell you. If you're not aware of the mediocrity every other past elite program had to wallow through while it reinvented itself before it could become elite again, then crack open some college history books.
This 2009 team is basically where we all thought it would be back in the summer. We all, myself as much as anyone, let our minds get filled with big things this season after that September start. Maybe something like a nine win season could be in the offing. I am discouraged by the outcome yesterday, but certainly not disillusioned with where we are as a program today. Eight days ago, I was stoned enough on Maize and Blue bud and the Power of the Forcier to think the we were about to turn a corner. Today, I have been reminded just how long and hard it will be to take a fraudelent program and turn it into a super power in the current world of college football. And, make no mistake, that is indeed the charge of Rodriguez and he--or anyone else for that matter--aint doing it overnight.
When faced with the reality of yesterday you have to go back and remind yourself where you thought the team was in the summer. I hoped they could find seven wins on the schedule. I also said during one of our WLA Lives in August that I didnt like our chances to win any of the four road games this season. Part of my initial excitement about the Notre Dame win is that it opened the door for a bowl season that didnt include a win in any of these road games. I thought having QBs with the right skill set would enable a big improvement. But, I figured getting all your snaps from true freshmen QBs with this team would probably be enough to really limit the improvements as measured in the black and white world of wins and losses. The defense scared the crap out of me, especially if we had to do any lineup shuffling past our original first string. Can we kick a field goal? Or field a kick?
If you had told me back in the summer that Brandon Minor would be on pace for less carries, yards and scores than last year; and that our freshmen QBs would account for twice as many turnovers as TDs in Big 10 play; and that the defense, more youthful that last season, would be every bit as big play vulnerable and seive like as last years; and that walk ons would emerge as starters with lineup shuffles in the secondary virtually every week; and that after close to half a season of a return game that was impeccable, it would return to last year's lost fumble per game form......well, if you told me all that, I think I would have promptly scheduled and left for a three month Sabbatical to Australia or something.
But, if you had told me all that, and promised a winning record after nine games, I would have made that deal. And, here we are, with a winning record in November. Take it, or leave it.
Now, I had some issues with how Rodriguez handled the game yesterday. He coached poorly. The team has had no offensive identity the last couple of weeks, and its the burden of the coaches to cultivate that. I am surprised we're this confused about how are rushing carries are being distributed. And, I blame him for not being able to rally the kids yesterday in the second half. That goal line stand should not have been the knockout punch it so obviously was. They were unable to coach the kids up and Rodriguez personally seemed as stunned as the players after the touchdown was overturned.
Hearing him in the postgame presser talk about how he felt it was a TD reminded me of Mike Davis bucking for a 17-win Indiana team to make the tournament after a 25-point opening round loss to Minnesota in the Big 10 Tournament by pleading 'we were the fourth place team.' Yeah, they dont even have a color for fourth place ribbons, Chief. And, in case you needed to be told, when I get flashes of Mike Davis based on something you did, it is most definetly not good. No question.
So, Rodriguez has a big chore ahead of him and a lot that he has to achieve between now and the end of the season. He needs to get these kids back playing with confidence and an identity on offense. He cant let November spin out of control the way the second half spiraled last weekend. He has to recharge Forcier and get him back to early season form. He needs to establish some momentum of what a good-looking Rodriguez team will look like in the future. We'll see.
But, I'm not going to let one step back with what is still the youngest team in the Big 10, freak me out to the point, where I will back off on the sentiment that Rodriguez can get it done here. I remain certain of it. Maybe we ought to let him have a season with a legit returning QB before we even begin to dole out grades on his tenure? kthxbai.
I want to end with just a glimpse of what a more TL;DR answer would be to the question I see spread by some persistently loud posters around here dismayed at Rodriguez and wondering where the accomplishments are. Sink on these numbers, with all rankings per Rivals.
In 2005-07, Michigan brought in 23 five/four star players. Only 13 remain with the program. Eleven of those recruits came from the 2005 class, so that's just 12 five/four star recruits in our jr/sr classes right now.
In 2008-2009, the two seasons where Rodriguez had to get them to sign on the dotted line, Michigan brought in 31 five/four star recruits, with 26 still on the roster that are either sophomore, redshirt freshmen, freshmen or redshirting.
Rodriguez is stockpiling talent. Replinishing the lifeblood of a program that had received guru approvals in the past thanks in large part to brand name alone. It might not be a very savvy or seasoned team right now. I would even grant that it's not a very well coached team right now, either. But, the program has at least twice as much talent in the underclassmen ranks as it does in the upperclassmen ranks. These kids intend on being here for awhile. I hope the coach that brought him here gets the same chance.
Let It Grow. It will pay off. We'll come get you when we're in full bloom. I promise.
I thoroughly believe that whichever quarterback learns the read option first and can run it to near perfection first will be the starting quarterback in years to come. It is the basic running play of our offense. I don't care if that player is Tate Forcier, Devin Gardner, or Nick Sheridan; if that quarterback can run the read option so we are getting 4+ yards just about every time, they will be the starter.
I think we all know that neither of our freshmen quarterbacks has been able to make the reads quick enough to run the play yet. Is this because they haven't had enough time to practice it yet? Maybe. However, I think the bigger issue is the ability to execute a fake hand off. A good fake hand off does two things: it forces the DE to make a decision to go after the running back or the quarterback instead of sitting in a comfortable spot to stop either outcome and it gives the quarterback an extra split second to read that DE.
To illustrate this, I have compiled several Picture Pages for different read options from different teams around the country. Several things to keep in mind:
- These are to illustrate why the fake hand off is important...not the read option itself
- Because of this, these are all QB keepers
- These plays are not identical; will, therefore, not have the same results; and are not intended to be directly compared with the results of our play.
- These are to illustrate why the fake hand off is important
Also, all of these images, aside from the Michigan vs. EMU game, were taken from ESPN360 or YouTube videos so they aren't perfect quality, but they still get the point across. I will try to post video for some of these later.
Illinois vs. MichiganIllinois ran the read option perfectly on the first drive against Michigan. The net result was a 27 yard gain.
As you can see they have a RB on either side of Juice Williams, two WRs up top, and a TE outside the LT. It is important to note where that the backfield is lined up around the 12 yard line.
After the play starts, the RB runs behind Juice as he begins the fake hand off to the left RB. The OL blocks right and the TE goes out for a pass leaving Brandon Graham to defend as the unblocked DE. Donovan Warren begins his coverage of the TE, but keeps his eyes on the exchange.
You can see that Juice still has his hands in the RBs gut. They are a full yard ahead of where they started the play at. Brandon Graham is forced to choose which to go for and he picks the running back. Donovan Warren has moved down field in coverage but still is keeping his eyes on the exchange. Jonas Mouton has started to move inside to go after the RB.
Juice pulls the ball and he is already 2 yards up field from where he started the play. Brandon Graham is out of position for the play. Donovan Warren is 10 yards up field from Juice. Mouton is still in position to make a play but...
The LT is able to get a block on Mouton and Juice is to the LOS with lots of field in front of him. Donovan Warren has come back to make the play, but he has to guard against the option.
Donovan Warren correctly plays contain and takes away the option, which springs Juice into the open field, at which point it is a foot race. He is forced out of bounds after going 27 yards on the carry.
Had the option not been in this play and all other things being held equal, Donovan Warren would most likely have tackled Juice after a gain of about 5 yards, which is what you hope for every time this play is run.
Michigan vs. EMUI looked through a couple of drives for Michigan in the Illinois game and I couldn't find a traditional read option play. I am convinced at this point in the season that the coaches have removed this responsibility from the QBs and will look to install it again next year. I did see a fake hand off, but the line moved with the quarterback keeper instead of the hand off, which tells me that this is not what I am looking for.
So to get a good example, I went back to the last game that I downloaded: the EMU game.
This is our traditional 4-wide read option. Tate is lined up at the 48.5 yard line.
Tate pivots on his right foot and fakes the hand off. The ball never even makes it to the gut of the RB; he essentially just taps the ball to the side of the RB and then keeps. The DE is going for the RB right off the bat (so maybe this isn't the perfect example, but just wait).
The OLB sees Tate keep the ball and breaks to the outside. This doesn't allow our RT to seal him to the inside, which would allow Forcier to break free.
Instead what happens is Tate has to cut back to the inside. If he is able to get by this block, he is open for a first down, but the OLB gets a shoestring tackle and Tate goes down for a small gain.
Now that we have seen the good and bad of what I am referring to, let's take a look at some more examples of good fake hand offs from teams around the country.
WVU vs. USF
Notice that Brown, WVU's new QB, is lined up around the 29 with 4-wide Trips right.
Before the snap, a WR goes in motion for the end around. You can hardly tell, but the ball is in mid-air at this point.
Brown's right foot makes it up to the 27 yard line before he pulls the ball. The DE bites on the fake and rushes in for the RB. The LBs are starting to come in to stop the dive as well. The safety is starting to come in for run support, but he is far enough out that the fake actually puts him in better position to make the play. Meanwhile, the end around and fake are forming into a nice option as well.
Brown makes it to the LOS and the safety has a nice contain on him. He pulls up and begins the pitch to the WR.
The WR has a block down field and all of the other players are now out of position to tackle him. The blocked CB ends up forcing him inside and tackling him to save the TD, only after he gets a first down though.
Had Brown not had the second option to pitch the ball, he most likely would have headed for the sideline and been out after 4-8 yards.
Same game, other team:
BJ Daniels is at the 37 yard line. It is hard to tell but the ball has just reached his hands.
You can see that BJ Daniels is two yards ahead of where he took the snap from before he pulls the ball. The WVU LBs bite on the fake even though they see this every day in practice.
BJ Daniels gets into open space with no one left to defend him other than the safety 8 yards up field. Chalk this one up as another big gain.
Oregon vs. CalThis will be the last one. I tried to find some footage of Tim Tebow's fake, but I couldn't find any and I am sure all of you have seen enough of him anyway.
Here, Masoli is lined up around the 14 yard line with the RB about a yard behind him on his left, trips right, and the TE lined up outside the LT.
Masoli pulls the ball about a yard and a half ahead of where he took the snap from. The DE is waiting for the play to develop.
Masoli gets outside of the DE and is tackled by the safety for a 4-5 yard gain.
This is what the average play should look like when the Defense reads the play properly and is in position. The other plays are what happen when one person on defense makes a mistake. The one thing that all of the plays from other teams have in common is a great fake hand off. The QB needs to sell the DE to get him to bite on the play and/or give himself enough time to make the correct read.
Like I said, I think the Michigan QB who is able to do this the best will be our starter. From what I have seen so far, Tate is on his way to being able to make these reads, but he lacks the ability to sell the fake. If he can do this, I think he will continue to be our starter. However, if Denard Robinson or Devin Gardner can learn this before him, I don't know if a Big10 defense will be able to continuously stop this especially with their speed and play-making abilities.
From 2008 through today, our teams have led us to feel pretty much every possible emotion that we would ever feel towards them. We've been elated by championship runs, magical seasons, and incredible victories. We've been shocked, disappointed, and angered by terrible seasons, heart-breaking losses, and record setting futility. We've even felt the nagging frustration of general mediocrity, something that is unusual for us, considering the rather bipolar history of our teams.
From 2008 through today, Michigan football has a record of 9-13. Michigan basketball has gone 27-26, Michigan hockey has gonef 48-18-4, the Tigers have gone 160-164, the Red Wings have gone 121-71 (I count OTL's as L's), the Pistons have gone 85-70, and the Lions have gone 1-21. Without weighting the games, our teams have a combined record of 451-383-4, good for a winning percentage of .541. Giving equal weight to each team's winning percentage, the overall winning percentage of our teams is .479. These numbers are somewhat interesting. When treating each win equally, our teams have made us happy the majority of the time. When treating each team as equal, our teams have disappointed us the majority of the time. I would do a more in depth analysis on the numbers here, but for one thing; when we think about it, they mean crap.
When 2008 began, our outlook on our teams was generally good. We had an uncertain optimism towards Michigan football, with Rodriguez about to take the reins, and high expectations for Michigan hockey, the Tigers, the Pistons, and the Red Wings. We accepted that Michigan basketball would be a multi-year rebuilding process and we had a somewhat apathetic expectation that the Lions would suck and continue to suck. The year started off great, with Michigan beating Florida in the Capital One Bowl, a great send off for Lloyd Carr. Michigan Hockey and the Pistons did well, advancing deep in their respective playoffs. The Pistons did as well as we could have reasonably hoped, while our hockey team lost a heartbreaker to Notre Dame in the Frozen Four. However, we received a nice consolation prize, with the Red Wings cruising through the playoffs to win the Stanley Cup.
After that, we endured several months of pain. The Tigers, with a lineup that many thought would score 1000 runs, flopped and finished at the bottom of the Central, while Michigan Football endured its worst season of the modern era. Then a highly touted Michigan hockey team began the season with a dismal start, having a terrible first half to the season. And throughout it all, we watched the Lions, with a horrified fascination, finish a record breaking 0-16 season, including one memorable play where Dan Orlovsky infamously safetied himself.
The winter ended our agony, as we enjoyed the Michigan Basketball team's magical run to the NCAA tournament. Meanwhile the Michigan Hockey team rebounded and became a one-seed in the NCAA tournament and the Red Wings rolled through the regular season. It would have been perfect, if not for the frustrating mediocrity of the Pistons that marked the end of their run among the NBA's elite teams.
The spring brought a number of painful losses, as the Pistons were swept in the first round of the playoffs, Michigan Hockey lost a shocker to Air Force in the first round of the NCAA tournament, and the Red Wings lost a heartbreaking game 7 in one of the most exciting NHL playoffs in history.
The Tigers followed this up by be surprisingly good, taking control of the division over the summer and driving towards a likely playoff bid. Tigers fans were overjoyed to see Brandon Inge selected to the All Star game, which seemed fitting for a team leading the division through the help of a number of unlikely players. Then Michigan football started, and we were treated to one of the most exciting games in Michigan history with a win over Notre Dame. Overjoyed, fans looked forward to a great season of Michigan football and a playoff bid to the Tigers. Even the Lions provided some fun, by finally winning a damn game.
This all changed in one week. It began with a heartbreaking loss to MSU and the Tigers dropping a series to Chicago, forcing a one game playoff against the surging Twins. Then the Tigers lost to the Twins in spectacular fashion, blowing multiple opportunities to win the game on the way to a loss in the 13th inning. Meanwhile, Michigan hockey began the season by losing to Alaska and we lost to Iowa the week after. This funk by our teams has yet to end. The hockey team has been shaky, the Lions have continued to lose, and our football team was just blown out by Illinois.
Now, as I write this at 1:30 in the morning after watching one of the most atrocious games I've ever seen out of a Michigan football team, I wonder why it is that we surrender our emotional well-being to these teams that so often disappoint us. I am still simultaneously depressed and angry about losing such an awful game to such an awful team and I know that this will persist for at least the rest of the week. And it's not as if this situation, this streak of disappointing performances, is unusual. Our teams will generally disappoint us, because we will always hope that our teams will do better than what we can reasonably expect from them. So why is it that we let ourselves care so much? Why do we look to something as inconsequential as the result of a football game as a source of elation or despair?
The answer is certainly up for debate. My personal thought is that loyal fans root for their teams with fervor because doing so allows fans to take pride in their teams' accomplishments. Suffering with the Michigan Football team when they lose to Illinois will makes it possible for a loyal fan to feel a legitimate sense of pride whenever they beat Ohio State. This is a good thing, because for Michigan football fans' true loyalty generally lies with something more broad than the team itself. For instance, when most people root for the football team, they are really supporting the university, an institution that they are apart of. Others support Michigan for different reasons that are more akin to the professional teams that they support. Most Tigers fans, for instance support the Tigers because they represent the city of Detroit, or more broadly, the state of Michigan. Others root for the Tigers because their parents brought them up rooting for the Tigers, and thus rooting for the Tigers is an extension of the bonds that they feel with their parents.
The point here, and the reason I am posting this after a blowout loss to a terrible team, is to note that rooting for a team is an expression of our loyalty to something greater than the team itself. Furthermore, the thing that we are loyal to is generally something that we value greatly (using myself as an example, I greatly prize my affiliation with the University of Michigan). Therefore, if you allow the pain you feel in the aftermath of a loss to turn you away from supporting your team with the same fervor that you did before, then you are to an extent betraying your bond to whatever it is that causes you to root for your team.
Happy Halloween, everyone!!! What are you going to be dressed up as? Me? My costume is all set. I'm dressed up as a Chalk Eating Mother Fucker this week. I know, I know, you wont recognize me as usally I have my money wagon hitched and locked in on underdogs. But, hey, it's not Halloween if you dont change idtenties for at least one day. Man, looking at myself in the mirror, this is a pretty scary costume. Hopefully, I wont scare any gambling karma away.
We're standing solid with a 26-19-1 record with four weeks to go. Let's do this, people. And, if chalk makes you quesy, then maybe this Diary is not for you.
Indiana at Iowa, noon, ESPN. Lines, Iowa -17, O/U 47
I hinted at it in the MGoPodcast, but this Iowa team is beginning to remind me a whole lot of the 1997 Michigan and 2002 Ohio State teams. Big 10 historians know the significance of those teams.
Now, this does not mean I feel the 2009 Hawkeyes are as good. Hardly. There is no transcendent player like Charles Woodsoon on the field for Iowa. There is no game changer like Maurice Clarett on offense.
But, both those clubs and this year's Iowa club seem to share the same mentality about how to manage games and play mean, physical football. Like those past teams, this year's Iowa team seems both charmed and comfortable playing in tight, defensive games. The championship teams had no panic when falling behind in a game. Iowa not only has no problem playing from behind, but almost seem to prefer it the way their defense amps up once they've spotted some points. Like those teams, nobody gave Iowa a chance at any bigtime postseason honors, but when the final month rolls around, they're one of the few unbeatens left. Neither of those past teams played pretty ball, preferring instead to punch you in the face, turn the game into a brawl and let their no frills, efficient offense do enough to win games. Does that sound familir, Iowa fans?
The 1997 Michigan and 2002 OSU teams fascinated me each week those seasons with how they found a way to win each week. For the last six weeks I have been just as fascinated by this Iowa team. I love this team. A lot. I have no problem predicting them to run the table through the end of the regular season. But, there chances too a big hit this week as some serious injuries hit the Hawkeyes. A rash of injuries is one thing neither of those classic Big 10 clubs had to deal with. But, I think Iowa takes a strong first step towards that goal with a three-touchdown win over Indiana tomorrow afternoon in Iowa City.
As mentioned, Iowa enters this game pretty banged up, with RB Aaron Robinson and OL Dace Richardson both out for the rest of the regular season. Robinson had been a steady replacement to all-everything Shonn Green and Richardson, finally living up to his recruiting hype, had been plowing people over all season. Trying to overcome those issues might keep this game close at the start, but in the end I think the Hawkeyes lay the wood to Indiana.
The Hoosiers have looked solid on offense at times this year. But, the one time they played a dominant defense--Ohio State--they had problems doing anything. Expect the same against Iowa. The Hawkeyes just make other QBs look bad and I dont think Ben Chappell escapes with his game intact. The Hoosiers have been good at not turning the ball over this year, but I think they will face more pressure tomorrow than ever before this season causing some giveaways. Their O-Line is big, but I dont think they contain Iowa's defensive line, which I think is the single most dominant positional unit in the Big 10 this season.
Indiana does have some recent success against Iowa, beating them twice during the lull period in Ferentz's tenure. But, the Hawks got their mojo back last year and promptly rolled the Hoosiers 45-9. This year, Iowa is better and playing at home.
The Pick: Iowa -17.......Under Ferentz, the Hawks are 38-21-1 ATS at home. We'll take our chances with those numbers.
Penn State at Northwestern, 4:00, ESPN. Lines, PSU -16, O/U 47
This will be another blowout. Nobody has been scoring on Penn State all season long. Say what you will about the level of their OOC competition during the season's opening leg, but they've given up just 10 points in the last two weeks against Big 10 teams. Defensively, they have really allowed only four touchdowns in non garbage time all season. I cant help but think another systematic dismantling will happen this weekend in Evanston. It will look exactly like PSU's last two games.
I like the game of Wildcat QB Mike Kafka. He can move the team down the field, but he's also been turnover prone. I dont know if the Cats have enough weapons to keep drives moving against Penn State. Drives will be killed off by Kafka picks. Kafka is bucking for a spot somewhere on an all-league team, and I think how he fares against the PSU defense is one of the key matchups tomorrow across the Big 10 schedule. I like his chances to get some things done early in this contest. In the will get knocked around a ton and have much trouble finding the end zone as Minnesota and Michigan did. He will, however, have as easy a time finding Navarro Bowmann as the LOLphers and Wolverines did.
PSU has been sneaking around in the weeds all season, listening to people disrespect them on account of their schedule. Watching them the last two weeks, they seem to have turned it up a notch in attempt to quiet critics. Like me. I am not 100 percent sold, but I do submit the following as truth: They are playing better football now than they were at the end of September when Iowa beat them.
I have ragged on Clark, but, man, did he throw well last week. He'll have another solid game against Northwestern. The Wildcats are banged up in the secondary with S Brendan Smith and CB Sherrick McManus nursing injuries and not 100 percent. That does not bode well for NW. PSU and Clark have been hot lately with 5 TD passes, no picks and 230 yards on average through the air in their three October big 10 games. I expect him to add to those numbers without much in the way of negative stats. Also, Evan Royster will go for 150 total yards and score twice. They will be +2 in TOs. They will romp.
The Pick: Penn State -16.....Do you like trends? If so, then try these numbers on for size: PSU is 15-4 ATS in October and 5-0-1 as double digit road chalk. Meanwhile, the Wildcats struggle when times are good as their 16-34-1 ATS record following a win would attest. Worried about a look ahead to next week's game with OSU? Maybe. But, the defensive front seven should really knock around the Wildcat offense way too much for it to be effective. If you like totals, this could be an Under game. I see Penn State winning 30-7 in a workmanlike performance.
Purdue at Wisconsin, noon, ESPN2. Lines, Wisco -7.5, O/U 53
This will be the most exciting Big 10 game of the day, not involving Michigan of course.
I think Purdue might be the most improved team in the league from the perspective of what we expected back in August compared to what we know now. They have been in every single ball game this year, taking high octane teams like Oregon and Notre Dame down to the wire and famously upsetting Ohio State. Personally, I think they're primed to go on a late charge to a possible bowl game. They buried themselves with a 1-5 record, but the Boilers are way more equipped than, say for example, last year's UM squad that buried itself and didnt have the gas or personnel to go on a late season streak.
They will pull off the outright upset as long as the turnover battle is even. But, that's the problem with Purdue. As far as TOs go, they are as close to 2008 UM as we have in the league this season. Hard to imagine the active pass rush of Wisconsin not forcing a turnover or two. But, Purdue has a very solid front four and pass rush as well. Have you been noticing how Scott Tolzien has been faring when he was smacked in the mouth against OSU and Iowa. He became a INT machine. Now, Purude is no OSU or Iowa. Actually, they're better than OSU (Zing!). Seriously, I think they can do enough defensively to force turnovers and keep that TO margin even. The difference in this game is which all-league candidate pass rushed--Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan or Wisconsin's O'Brien Scholfied-creates more havoc in the backfield and forces more QB panic, indecision and giveaways
The Pick: Purdue +7.5.....I think this game, like most of Purdue's this season, will go down to the wire. I could see both teams scoring a lot of points too, so the over is worth a look. While I think we could see an upset here, I am sticking with my MGoPodcast call of a Wisco win, but Purdue cover.
Michigan State at Minnesote, 8:00, BTN. Lines, MSU -3, O/U 46
A lot of my analysis for this game begins and ends with the following sentence: Eric Decker is out for the rest of the season.
For Minnesota that translates into a big 'uh-oh.' We've seen that the Gophers have not improved at all on offense from last year. Despite more experience and some nice-looking, on paper at least, other playmakers, they have not evolved from their one-trick pony offense of Weber to Decker. Now, they will be forced to do so. If they cant pull it off with any sort of aplomb, then they're staring at a 4-8 record. Yes, that includes the South Dakota State game. If that happens, will Tim Brewster change coodinators again on both sides of the ball?
As for Michigan State, the season has been heartbreak city one after another. Four losses by a combined 19 points. To teams with a combined record of 25-5. So, to beat MSU this year, you had to be a really good team and still need some final minute magic to get it done. Ok. Well, Minnesots is not a good team. And, no last minute heroics will be available to them.
I like this MSU team. It might rub my fellow UM fans the wrong way, but the Spartans are good. And young. My only concern with them is their possible emotional fragility after ripping defeat from victory's hands last Saturday night. I think Dantonio has them focused, however. I think they rip the Gophers from start to finish. They bring so much more to the table than the Gohpers do. A better playing QB, a more established set of WRs to stretch the field, a competent running attack and a more physical defense.
The Spartans really remind me today of the program back in its Perles heyday of the late 1980s. Back then, MSU would put up 8-3 and 7-4 records virtually every year. All their losses, however, would be to high end teams, like Notre Dame, Miami, Michigan and USC teams that were in national contention. The program peaked in 1987 with a Big 10 title and Rose Bowl Championship spearheaded by the likes of Lorenzo White, Bobby McAllister, Andre Rison, Percy Snow and Tim Moore. Their OOC slate that September was USC, at Notre Dame, Florida State. Whoa.
While the Perles years never climbed those heights again, they remained a factor in just about every Big 10 race the rest of the way. A typical MSU season during that era would involve a heartbreaker to ND just as painful as UM's losses were to the Irish, one or two more close losses, a to-the-death Michigan game that could go either way, then a sprint to the end with a flurry of wins all culminating in an impressive performance in the Sun Bowl or something like that. From 1987-89 the winner of the MSU/UM game went to the Rose Bowl. You could make a case MSU was the #2 program in the Big 10 after Michigan during this time. They're sneaking their way back to the level. Look out.
They beat the Wolverines a lot. In the nine-year period from 1986-1993, MSU went 3-5 against Michigan, their best stretch against UM anytime during the last 40 years. Michigan also went 6-1-1 against Ohio State during that same stretch, won six Big 10 titles, four of them outright and won a pair of Rose Bowls. What was that you were saying about the programs cant ever be good at the same time? Frankly, I like a quality MSU program. I think he helps sharpen Michigan's edge and going through an intense hate week in the middle of the season gives the team invaluable experience when going through the hate week that really matters. That resume I ripped off above. None of it happens if Michigan's record is half as good as it was against OSU. The ends--a good MSU team--justify the means. Commence neg-banging.
The Pick: Michigan State -3 (-120).........I cant shake the feeling that MSU stands at the front end of one of those late 1980-like runs to close the season, beginning Saturday with a big win over a Gopher team thats heading in the wrong direction. If they pull off a late season streak, the Spartans could end the season with four straight wins to put themselves in the mix for a Jan. 1 bowl. Games against Purdue and Penn State to close November will serve, to me at least, as a litmus test of whether or not Dantonio can get the program close to those heights from that era 20 years ago or not.
Michigan at Illinois, 3:30, ABC. Lines, Michigan -7, O/U 52
I dont have anything new to say that wasnt said in Brian's preview of this game, in the comment thread after that post or anywhere else on the site where the game has been broke down all week.
Two months ago, Illinois was -7 in this game. Now, it's Michigan giving a touchdown. On the road. With two freshmen quarterbacks that have been turnover machines for most of this month. What could go wrong?
Nothing. Michigan is going to run, run, run and then run some more. Look for five carriers to have at least half dozen touches today. It's a testament to just how bad the Illini have been this year that this line has swung a remarkable 14 points in less than 60 days. Seriously, how stoked would you be if you were savvy enough to grab the Wolverines in this one during the summer. Or how grouchy you'd already be about the weekend if you backed the Illini in August.
We're not sure what we have in Michigan, are we? With the narrow loss to Iowa City it looked like the Wolverines were ahead of schedule. But in the beatdown at home to Penn State last week it looked like the destination was as far away as it was last year for Michigan. This tug of war is driving all of us fans up the wall. I've been coping by taking long runs and reading college basketball magazines. But, that's just me.
We are, however, pretty sure what we have in the Illini. And, its not a good football team. They cant score points. They cant stop the run. They're furiously reshuffling their QB position as the Juice Williams era comes crashing and burning to an end. Oh, and Ronn Zook remains there coach. I feel like I say that every week. They have not covered a spread all season. They have not beat a Bowl Subdivision team all season. They've averaged just 11.33 points per game in those contests.
Michigan will have way too much offense in this one. They'll jump out to an early lead and, unlike the Purdue game last season (which I compared this game to on the MGoPodcast), the Wolverines wont let them back in the game. Michigan will look as good in this game as they have all season long.
The Pick: Michigan -7.......I've never been shy about playing the beloved Wolverines. I wont lie, though. I am not to keen on laying this chunk of road chalk with a team playing freshmen QBs who have yet to win on the road. A safer bet might be the Over because if this game does happen to get out of Michigan's control, because you know it wont be because the score is 17-13. Might as well profit on the roller coaster ride.
Rush Offense vs Illinois
Michigan O +4 (7th) vs Illinois D -4 (112th)
After two rough games against Indiana and Michigan State, Michigan's running game has bounced back nicely, albeit in losses, the last two games.
Game - Rush+
Meanwhile, in Big 10 play Illinois has been gashed three times and had decent games relative to competition against both Ohio St and Indiana
Game - Rush+
If Michigan is going to have any chance of getting to 8-4 on the season and making more than the basic step forward this year, they are going to need to dominate this matchup. There won't be a bigger advantage on the schedule this year and things should and have to come together here.
Pass Offense vs Illinois
Michigan O +0 (54) vs Illinois D -2 (88)
This matchup won't be a huge advantage for Michigan but it will be very interesting to see how Michigan manages the play calling and the run pass splits. The one thing that shouldn't happen is interceptions. Only two teams in all of 1A have gotten less value out interceptions than Illinois. Illinois has only produced 3 points of value from picks, which is a full 2 TDs less than the average 1A team. Any picks on Saturday will be a major disappointment.
Rush Defense vs Illinois
Michigan D -1 (90) vs Illinois O +0 (51)
If Illinois has one advantage this week, this is where it's at. The good news for M is that they are coming off their best performance of the season, posting a +4 against a very good Penn St rushing attack.
Game - Rush+
Illinois is also coming off a very solid +4 rushing game and has posted positive values in three of its five Big 10 games this season.
Game - Rush+
If this game gets too close for comfort, it will probably be because Illinois has found an opportunity to exploit the Michigan rush defense.
Pass Defense vs Illinois
Michigan D +3 (29) vs Illinois O -5 (110)
For all the painful big plays given up by Michigan's past defense this year, the totally of their efforts have stayed surprisingly strong. Through four Big 10 games, Michigan's pass defense has played better than average against the passing games of all four teams.
Game - Pass+
With 4 games that graded out well but didn't feel like they went well, this week presents an opportunity. Illinois has posted 2 solid games, 1 bad game and 2 total disasters against Michigan state and Ohio State.
Game - Pass+
With Illinois bringing out their third QB of the season on Saturday, you would think that would favor Michigan but with as bad as the Illini passing game has been this season, it's hard to imagine it getting worse.
For the second straight week, the Big 10's fastest paced offense will face one of the slowest. After taking on Penn State's grind it out pace last week, Michigan will face an Illinois offense that averages nearly 20% fewer possessions per game. Despite the bad loss, Michigan was able to get the number of drives they wanted last week, I would look for them to do the same again this week.
Michigan +1.1 (25) vs Illinois -0.9 (70)
Michigan should have a solid advantage over Illinois on special teams on Saturday. The kicking game and kick returns both slant heavily towards Michigan. The punt teams are virtually identical while Illinois has a slight advantage on kickoff coverage. The way to tell that Illinois is not good on special teams, however, is that they are significantly worse than Michigan on punt return, even when accounting for fumbled returns.
Going through this preview, Vegas must know something about Michigan or Illinois than I do because I have a hard time seeing this as a touchdown game.
Michigan 35 Illinois 14
Elsewhere in the Big 10:
Indiana 3 Iowa 26
Michigan St 25 Minnesota 24
NM St 0 Ohio St 31
Penn St 33 Northwestern 3
Purdue 20 Wisconsin 28