Last year there was excitement about the new regime, but this year there was more: we were coming off the 3-9 season, there were revelations of possible NCAA violations, and of course the game itself and how it would play out as we were starting a freshman on a still very young team. Despite the negativity surrounding the program the past week, the feel of the crowd was positive, together; a force to drive and motivate the team in solidarity. In '08 the feel was more of positive expectation of seeing what we were accustomed to seeing, a victory. Despite the newness of the program's direction, we're 'Michigan' and we will overcome any newness; we were there to see the team win as they always had.
The acoustics are clearly improved from last year. Even in '08 the sound 'signature' was noticeably louder than in year's past, but this year the sound reverberations throughout the stadium were even more impressive, creating an aura or a blanket above the stadium. Our seats were behind the goal posts so it must of been even louder towards the center of the stadium. When the cheerleaders were leading us through the spelling of "Michigan" around the stadium, a split second after the section across from us said their letter, an echo of their yell reached our ears.
Game play, especially on the offensive side of the ball was sharper in '09 than in '08. The men knew where to line up. Last year, there was this 'hurry up, times running out' feel to play as players shuffled in and out and simply were unsure of where to line up. Last Saturday it was like clockwork as player platooned in and out and everyone set up with plenty of time on the game clock to spare. In the second half we were lined up so fast I was unsure how were were going to stand around for 15 to 20 seconds to bleed the clock. Throughout the game, Western's defense was unprepared by the efficiency of our offense, consistently moving around and often not set for the next play before it began.
From the first series, execution in '09 was there; the ball was thrown to a receiver 'in space', allowing him either to adjust to move up field or simply keep on going. Last year Nick and Steven used up precious time getting the ball out to the receivers that resulted in little to no space for them to adjust to the next phase of the play. We easily ran 3 maybe 4 plays last Saturday in the time it took us to run two last year.
On the first series we had a 3rd down play that Tate had to scramble to get the first down, shifting and running past three Bronco defenders to get to the first down marker. Last year, that play wouldn't have made it to the first down and probably would have been a loss of yardage. Several times Tate as well as Denard made great plays with their running ability that last year would have resulted in little, no, or even loss of yardage.
The amount of successful plays ran in '09 were significantly greater than in '08. Last year there was so much sputtering, so much inconsistency and confusion that few 3rd down conversions were made. In the stands we couldn't get past starting to cheer the team on, constantly hoping for a first down. Last Saturday there was instant gratification as Tate moved the team down the field quickly for a TD. it was like an IV shot of adrenaline almost from the first play of the series that built upon itself with each successive play, each play for yardage, each first down, culminating with a score. A flow was established and maintained.
The defense looks so much better prepared in '09 than in '08. With the offense struggling last year, the defense was quickly back on the field. It doesn't matter how conditioned you are, you remain on the field much longer than the offense, you are going to get gassed. Confidence wains, the heat on the field gets more oppressive, there is less continuity. Last year, Coach Scafer was placed in an almost lose lose situation: the defense was on the field entirely too long, often placed in a disadvantageous positions, and often on back on the field almost as soon as they left it. Being a new guy in a year of 'newness', Scafer could not adjust to this environment and failed often. This year Coach Robinson's experience and knowledge has the defense more focus and attuned. Throughout the entire game it acquitted itself well. It was great to see the defense bring pressure while at the same time keeping the receivers well covered, which often times didn't happen last year.
Offensive line play is significantly improved; this year we racked up 242 rushing yards while only gaining 36 last year. There were penalties attributed to the unit but aside from that they blocked well, opened up holes for the RB's, and gave the QB's time to throw.
Turnovers were significantly reduced, 3 last year to 1 last Saturday. In '08 the turnovers were a result of pressing and trying to force things, feelings that were not apparent last Saturday. Ironically, the only turnover coming against Western Michigan this past Saturday was a Sheridan pick on a play were he was trying to press the issue.
Last year's game felt chaotic and pressed; folks left the game confused and concerned about the team. This year, the opener was glorious and people didn't want to leave; with 5 minutes left in a game that was well in hand the stands were still full of people. Last year there was nearly a civil war about to erupt concerning Coach Rodriguez, this year with a couple moments left in the first half the crowd erupted in heartfelt chants of "Rich Rodriquez!!!" that resounded throughout the stadium.
The comparison between the starting games of this year and last reveals dramatic improvements between the two squads. Nuances and procedures of the offense have been learned this year and the squad doesn't struggle to simply line up and run the play, they actually can get to the execution portion of the play and get things accomplished. Defensively, the unit looks stout; although it is arguable that last year's squad had more talented personnel, this year's defense looks to be more effective.
The well documented second year turn around expressed by teams under coach Rodriguez can now be understood more clearly when reflecting upon these two games. It appears the '09 squad is prepared to have similar year two success.
The bottom line: UM swept, 25-19, 31-29, 25-20. You can read about it at http://mgoblue.com/volleyball/article.aspx?id=184662. UM beat Tennessee, host Xavier, and ND in the three-day tournament, and are now 5-0 on the year.
Couple of observations from the match:
1. Juliana Paz is a beast. You know how when you watch women’s team sports and there’s often one or two players who just play differently from everyone else (struggling not to use the phrase “play like men”)? That’s Juliana. She’s got a nice vertical, a whip of an arm swing, and is super intense.*
2. On that note, the whole team is very intense, especially Megan Bower. She has the look that was once written about in a theme song for a boxing movie. I liked how she encouraged her teammates but also didn’t suffer foolish plays gladly. She got after her teammates, and I’d wager that they don’t want to get on her bad side.
3. The other terminator on the team is Alex Hunt. She’s a lefty, but plays on the left side (I think she follows the setter Zimmerman). I found this strange, since lefties are usually more effective on the right side. Maybe her blocking isn’t up to snuff, I don’t know. Anyway, she hits what people call a “heavy ball.” Very little rotation on it, and in fact her arm swing isn’t particularly impressive, but she really drives it.
4. Lexi Zimmerman, the setter, is a lot of fun to watch. Very athletic, but also very clever with the ball. She had 4 or 5 kills on dumps to the middle of the floor, but also 2 or 3 more on shots to the deep right corner. I thought her left-side and middle setting were only average, but she's among the best I've seen at flicking it to the right side. She set a back slide in the first game off a really tight pass that made the crowd gasp. Also, her two left-side hitters really make her look good (Paz hit .385 on 39 attacks and Hunt hit a ludicrous .458 on 24 attacks).
5. It was an interesting match in that UM didn’t overpower ND at the net, especially in terms of blocking. I’d say blocking was the weakest part of UM’s game. Attacking, digging, and especially passing are where UM gets it done. I would say that the only phase of the game in which UM clearly outplayed ND was in passing, with Zimmerman’s athletic ability a close second. In other words, the ND setter was probably better at just delivering a hittable ball to the outside, but she wasn’t nearly as able to improvise off a poor pass. So, with UM’s overall better passing and Zimmerman’s ability to make something out of a poor pass, UM usually had better scoring opportunities on every play.
Finally, I would encourage people who live in A2 (and other B11 towns) to go to some matches this year. The team is a lot of fun to watch. Paz, Hunt, and Zimmerman are truly worth the (likely very low) price of admission.
I’ve seen a few matches at Cliff Keen over the years when the team wasn’t very good. I hear good things about how raucous it’s been lately, and the quality of the team this year (and last, of course) should only serve to feed the fans.
* I also may or may not be more than a little in love with her.
1. "Last weekend, the Free Press published a report about the University of Michigan football program that was a month in the making, based on interviews by reporters Michael Rosenberg and Mark Snyder with former and current players and a detailed review of rules governing the sport."
Yes, this groundbreaking/earth-shattering expose' took a grand total of ONE month to form. This is basically an admission that no work was done to examine the opposite side of things (WVU's clean compliance records, the widespread opinions of current and former - HA see what I did there? - college coaches and players such as Herbstreit, Tressel, et. al., the 99% of current M players and their parents who DON'T think there is any problem with what is going on).
2. "Rodriguez said he would no longer ask players to report for duty on Sundays."
As stated by RR this week, last year players came in on Sundays and had Mondays off, and this year they will have Sundays off and come in on Mondays. Anger makes no mention of this - his implication seems to be that RR feels like he got caught so he is ceasing activities on Sundays to try and atone for his wrongdoings or soothe the worries of his dectractors.
3. "The backlash has included threats against Rosenberg and Snyder. One gem from the fanatical fringe: 'I'm a person of strong moral conviction ... however, I wish nothing but pain and death to you.'"
Also: "Rosenberg is primarily a sports columnist but, like many columnists, is also an excellent reporter. In columns, he's been critical of Rodriguez, as some cyberspace conspiracy theorists point out."
This is a textbook response from someone who cannot refute the claims being made by the other side - you see it all the time in politics: Ignore the 99% of people who have legitimate, logical points and questions and instead focus on the far extreme fringe who say something really dumb and easily refutable. And while you're at it, slap a good ol' ad hominem on it for the cherry on top.
4. "At the annual media day event where reporters mingle with players made available by the coaches, two freshmen on scholarship freely answered questions about the team's off-season programs, including workouts. You can question, as some have, including the father of one freshman, whether we should have quoted them."
That is totally not the issue at all. There is absolutely nothing wrong with quoting freshmen, and no one has argued this. The issue that we fans have is that their quotes were taken and used in such a way that upset Hawthorne and Stokes and motivated them to go to their coach and ask him what they did wrong. When the question about how hard they were working was asked, whichever writer asked it conveniently failed to mention that he was going to use their words in a story alleging that the UM football coaches broke NCAA rules and that the program could suffer possible sanctions as a result.
After reading this half-ass counter-punch, it is painfully obvious as to why the original article got out in the first place - Snyder and Rosenberg's editor is just as clueless as they are.
1) Play 60 minutes. The defense was awesome in the first half, and not bad in the second half. My concern, however, is that we don't have the depth to exchange blows with a tougher opponent for 60 minutes.
2) Continue to excel in one-on-one situations. Aside from Warren losing his cool towards the end of the game, I thought that both he and Cissoko (i.e. Floyd Simmons) did an excellent job of covering receivers. Moreover, I noticed that even Stevie Brown was hanging with receives he was assigned to cover. And, to top if off, they all tackled well. This positive trend needs to continue against ND.
3) Better blitz packages. Against WMU,I think we generated most of our pressure because our DL was superior to their OL and by bringing an extra line backer. It worked, but I'd like to see some more complex blitz packages against Jimmy Claussen, who will probably be better prepared than Hiller was. I think GERG was holding back, but let's see what he's got for us next week.
1) Personnel: MINOR RAGE and 'Lace. Ok, this key is really made up of two points. First, Props to Brown and Shaw for picking up nice yardage, but neither of them possess Minor's ability to rack up yards after contact. Not even close. Even though yesterday's numbers were good, MINOR RAGE is a significant upgrade and will really help us against ND.
Second, I think its clear that DRob needs to get on the field even when Tate is running the offense, and also that DRob needs to do more than just run the QB draw.
2) OLine improvement. I didn't think the OL played well enough to control the line of scrimmage against a top DL. Not sure how good ND's DL is, but the OL needs some work.
3) Offensive rhythem and play calling: We need to see if our offense can put together the long drives. Also, I think RichRod was holding back on the play calling, as we didn't see much yesterday. Do people agree with that?
Finally, I want to point out the obvious, so... Tate will be critical the our success. I likes his accuracy and patients, and he even looked good with his back to the play on the play action TD to Koger. Two unanswered questions: Is he tough enough to run against better athletes? Second, I don't think he was seriously pressured at all yesterday - he was able to run away from the little pressure that WMU got on him. What happens when Tenuta dials up a big boy blitz?
To do our college loss; and if to win,
The fewer fans, the greater share of glory.
Rod's will! I pray thee, wish not one fan more.
By Bo, I am not covetous for rank,
Nor care I who doth rise upon our loss;
It yearns me not if men my colors wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet glory,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, brothers, wish not one more fan.
Rod's peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one fan more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Wolverines, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this season,
Let him depart; his transfer shall be made,
And fare to Lansing put into his purse;
We would not lose in that fan's company
That fears his fellowship to lose with us.
This day is call'd the feast of Rich Rod.
He that survives this seasons, and comes home whole,
Will stand taller when this day is nam'd,
And rouse him at the name of Rich Rod.
He that shall live this year, and see old age,
Will yearly on the season opener toast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Opening Day.'
Then will he strip his spirit and show his scars,
And say 'These wounds I earned on Saturdays.'
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages,
What Wolverines did that day. Then shall their names,
Familiar in our mouth as household words-
Tate the King, Hemingway and Matthews,
Koger and Shoelace, Graham and Roh-
Be in their righteous moves freshly rememb'red.
This story shall the good fan teach his son;
And opening day shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we Wolverine fans;
For he to-day that cheers this team with me
Shall be my brother; be he formerly a state fan,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And Wolverines everywhere who missed the game
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their fanhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That cheered with us upon Rich Rods day.
- Our chances for a New Year's Day bowl rest on the health of Mr. Forcier. He was everything this offense needs at QB and really lit the fire under this offense. None of the other quarterback options looked ready to lead this team IME. Robinson looked great with his feet and roped a couple of short passes well, but he looked tentative late in the game and doesn't keep his eyes downfield when on the run. Sheridan and The Coner were abysmal, as was expected I think. I do think that RR was right in testing every option in the second half. It only further demonstrated that we have a clear #1 though.
- Our defensive starters are pretty darn good. The defensive line got great pressure on the Western QB and when our starting D-Backs were in Michigan was very effective in stopping a potent passing attack. JT Floyd demonstrated what kind of dropoff there is when starters are pulled. Donovan Warren looks much happier but needs to focus his energies better. I was impressed with the gameplan, even when we were playing off of the receivers and giving up short dink-and-dunk passes. While frustrating, this style was completely appropriate for the situation: big lead, only way to lose was to allow big plays. I didn't even really notice our safties which is probably a good sign.
- I can't really tell from this game how good our O-Line really is. I do think it is safe to say that they have picked up nicely from where they left off last season. When every single running back that touches the ball is impressive, that speaks volumes to the play of the linemen. Of course I do think that our backs were solid as well. I was especially impressed with V.Smith running hard through defenders for tough extra yards.
- The fundamentals were there. Great tackling, route running, downfield blocking, coverage by linebackers, not fumbling punts... What A RELIEF! I am very up on GERG and the rest of the coaching staff. This was a well prepared team despite all of the possible distractions.
- Zoltan Mesko really is from Space. And he wants every football here on Earth to eventually be there for him when he returns.
Every game on the schedule looks winnable now. This doesn't mean that I expect to win every game, but 8 wins sure looks doable. We need the kind of coverage we saw early in this game against ND and we need the D-Line to murder Jimmah! as a result. I love how vanilla our offense was in the second half against Western and expect that RR has many more tricks up his sleeve for Fatty Weis and Co. Add Wisky and Illinois to the probable wins, they looked terrible. Oh, and Iowa too for that matter.
I hope that everyone was able to enjoy this game and that everyone made it home safe and sound. Have a great week.