national champs baby
Michigan Now Just an Average Program
By DREW SHARP • FREE PRESS COLUMNIST • October 18, 2012
When Michigan and Michigan State face off this Saturday in Ann Arbor, it will be a meeting of two programs going in opposite directions.
While Mark Dantonio has established consistency and attitude in leading the Spartans to a 4-1 start, the sheen on Rich Rodriguez's back-to-back Big Ten championships and 2011 National Championship appearance has obviously worn off.
The sounding bell for Michigan's trip back to mediocrity was last week's debacle at Indiana, which dropped the Wolverines to 3-2 and 1-1 in the Big Ten this year.
That the legendary Wolverine program could fall to the perennial bottom-dweller of the Big Ten is anathema in Ann Arbor.
This latest loss may be the worst in Michigan's history. Appalachian State, which has won every NCAA Division I Football Championship since, was a good team that snuck up on them, while Toledo in 2008 could be chalked up to the inevitable attrition of instituting a brand new offense. Indiana, however, was a clear sign that the NCAA has caught up -- and passed by -- Rich Rodriguez's spread offense.
The Hoosiers knew everything the Wolverines were going to do before they did it. They pounced on every football. They showed up intense and ready to play, something that cannot be said for Rodriguez's squad.
Even when the Rich-Rod era was reaching its apex -- before Nick Saban's Crimson Tide proved in Miami that high-tech SEC football is far superior to the cavemen of the Big Ten -- the end of the Spread Option was in sight, as Ohio State limited Michigan's vaunted running game to just 86 yards.
The losses this year are a reflection of a team falling apart. We've heard grumblings from players about disjointed leadership in the locker room. Their motivation has been called to question. The resounding victory over an overrated Notre Dame team is a forgotten memory. This was the real Michigan, failing epically when not showing off for a national audience.
Now, with Superman Sam McGuffie and Tate Forcier playing in the NFL, Michigan has struggled to find offensive life against real defenses. And Rodriguez has taken the heat for this latest embarrassment, with many Michigan faithful ready to move on without him. Following the loss this year to Indiana, the website www.firerichrodriguez.com reported a record number of hits.
Coaches, it seems, have a short shelf life in today's win-now environment.
In that paradigm, MSU's Dantonio, who took over the program way back in 2006, is the exception. Dantonio, who won a national championship at Ohio State in 2002 (something Rich Rodriguez has never accomplished), has stuck around by preferring substance to flash. Under his direction, Michigan State has focused on building its foundations with a power running attack and a tough, in-your-face defense, and with a win in the Big House Saturday, could emerge as the new power in the state.
Michigan State has had a decided edge in the battle for in-state recruiting in recent years, holding a 3-to-1 advantage in Top 20 in-state talent. Dantonio has eschewed the exotic speed demons of Florida that Rodriguez favors, instead choosing to build his team by establishing strong relationships with in-state coaches. The dividends of this long-term investment are now paying off, starting with State's home-grown 'lighting' and 'thunder' tailback duo of Edwin Baker and Austin White. This week, they hauled in yet another highly regarded athlete, gathering a commitment from the Free Press' No. 13 in-state recruit, linebacker Damien Hirst of Birmingham Seaholm.
The recruting differential tells the story: in-state high schoolers are already looking at Michigan State before Michigan even extends an offer.
It starts Saturday. If the Spartans can roll into Ann Arbor and dispatch Rodriguez's flailing Wolverines, it could signal the beginning of the end of Michigan dominance in this state, and a return to the days of Biggie Munn and Duffy Daugherty, when Spartans dominated the rivalry and competed every year for the national title.
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With all the negativity flowing through the message boards these days, I thought it would be a good time to focus on something positive--Zoltan's mind bullets of awesomeness. This season, we're 2nd in the NCAA in net punting, averaging 43.08 yards per exchange. As I contemplated the omnipotence of our space emporer, I got curious as to how the new rugby punt was influencing our stats, so I did a little digging through the NCAA archives:
2006: 57th in net punting, 39.72 avg yards per punt, 34.92 net yards
2007: 48th in net punting, 41.10 avg yards per punt, 35.87 net yards
2008: 2nd in net punting, 44.98 avg yards per punt, 43.08 net yards
Unsuprisingly, we see an increase in the number of yards Zoltan is kicking the ball as he progresses throughout his career. However, the BIG increase is in the net yards, which means opponents are averaging fewer yards per return. In 2006, oponnents averaged 4.8 yards per return, in 2007, 5.23 yards per return, and in 2008, 1.9 yards per return.
I'm a huge fan of the rugby punt, because it does 2 things:
- It allows you to show a potential fake on every punt, and take it if it's there, as we did in the ND game
- Because the return team must defend the potential fake on every play, they can't sell out on the block or protect the return as much
I believe our large net punting increase is the cause of both our new style and Zoltan's mind bullets. Even the increase in raw kicking distance could be the result of more punts that roll because the returner can't make a play thanks to the increased time for the gunners to get downfield.
Of course, this is much too tiny of a sample size to make any real conclusions. If there was a listing of teams that have used the rugby punt over the past few years we could do some real analysis to assess its effectiveness. One caveat of the above numbers is that we don't do the roll-out rugby punt on every punt, so maybe the improvement is due simply to Zoltan Himself. Thoughts?
Our season is going down the crapper and you can't even bitch about the coaches because its their first season, their players are too young - not overly talented - don't fit the system, and they have an impeccable track record of success at the highest levels with other institutions.
All that's left is to watch the games, stew in the humiliations, and attempt to parse legitmate and usable critisisms from the blah blah blah for use in hunting scattered bread crumbs on the trail to "Michigan will be back."
Of all the big knocks on this staff out there at the moment, the one that seems to have a shred of legitimacy is the "at least we should see some improvement" refrain. Problem is, offensively at least, I don’t know where you could look in this toxic dump and recognize improvement if existed. There are so many breakdowns play after play, you wonder if its even possible to evaluate the coaches. But there a few areas I think require some explanation.
For example, has anyone figured out Brian's consistent critique of the coach’s use of that formation where Matthews is covered up and therefore ineligible, which is always a running play?
I haven’t heard anyone complain about this yet, but why do we continue using Minor/Grady in the backfield or as the h-back with McGuff/Shaw? The foundation of a run game is obviously blocking people. Moundros is our best run blocker. Isn’t it elementary that the coaches get him more involved in this capacity? I’m not talking about new plays or schemes, just put him on the field over Minor/Grady.
This came to me when re-watching the Toledo game and seeing those two really whiff on some blocks. 19 times out of 20, hell maybe more than that, they aren’t the player touching the ball when they are in with the super back. The decoy effect is non-existent. Minor has actually thrown some decent blocks this year, but to me it doesn’t make sense to take the best blocker on the team out in these situations and get nothing in return. I understand that the big back needs some touches to keep defenses honest and that Minor/Grady are likely to do more with those touches, but they take so much off the table from a blocking perspective that the offense would be better served living with the results of giving those touches to Moundros so he can play more.
If Minor and Grady are going to continue playing along side McGuff/Shaw, then can Moundros take snaps away from the TE? There are no words to describe our TE blocking. I saw Butler get in for a single snap against Toledo and whiff so bad on the man standing directly in front of him, I am now legitimately scared that Butler is being controlled by gangsters. And sitting him for the season is only going to piss those guys off. RR needs to throw him off the team and start his own investigation ASAP so that we can self report and hope for the best. If we wait for them to drop the dime on Butler after the fact our NCAA punishment will be much worse.
I have noticed RR keeping the TE in more to help with the run blocking, which is a logical move. There’s nothing in the spread rule book which says you can’t have 6 guys run blocking at the line of scrimmage (I don’t think). The two most glaring problems I see with UM’s run blocking is that Molk can’t hold at the point of attack in the middle without a double, and the tackles can’t hold the point against ends on plays outside. Its maddening to see a guard or tackle shoot past an unblocked DL into the second level, and to watch that unblocked guy make the tackle. But the reason that unblocked guy is making the tackle ½ the time is because our playside blocker(s) are getting owned causing hesitation/improvisation by an RB who can’t break a tackle in the backfield unless his name is Minor, but then you deal with the 25% chance of a fumble. Adding a TE to the line is going to bring another dude into the box, but it allows you to double more at the point. I’d rather see our backs getting hit at the LOS by a nosey saftey on busted plays than 4 yards in the backfield. But again, its not even worth it if you use anyone on our roster with a TE next to their name. So why not use Moundros in that capacity when he’s not lining up as the big back? In all seriousness, I think we could also do worse than using Ferarra as a tackle eligible.
These are a couple of things which have been aggravating me, along with our LB zone drops (what ever happened to using Chambers as an LB? Does Thompson need to be on the field against a Toledo team which has not only abandoned the run, but is going empty backfield?).
I know I said I wouldn't do it, but file these suggestions under know-nothing fan bitching about coaching I suppose. Incidently, if anyone out there can tell me specifically why these are stupid observations it would make me feel a lot better.
Here I go. This is my first Diary entry and I am a little nervous as I feel I am not pithy enough to hold a candle to most of you. I am sorry if I use too many camas or paragraphs. Just grip tight with me and try to relate.
I never went to UM, my parents never went to UM so I have no "real" ties. However, my passion for UM was instilled at a very young age as I can remember in the 80's my Dad hauling the large stereo speakers(which were larger than me....you know the ones) out onto the front porch every fall Saturday to blast the UM Band's pre-game tape. I knew at that very moment that I had no other choice but to be a fan. Then as I grew, the culture of UM grabbed and pulled me tighter. Grandpa had season tickets every year from a friend/alum who lived out of state and could not make games. My first game was when we played Long Beach State and Jaime Morris ripped off a huge run with only one shoe. I will never forget those events in my spiritual UM growth.
This is why I bother writing. There are few things in life that grab onto you and you never can shake. Whether its a girl, job, faith etc. UM's culture of success has that grip on me. I cannot explain it.
I attended a college other than UM.(smaller private institution) I played football at that college. I love that place and would send my kids there. But every Saturday I catch myself jonesin' for the Michigan kickoff and therefore feel like I am cheating on my alma mater. I cannot explain it. There is that grip again.
This season has been, by far, the most intriguing one of my 28 years of existance. Yeah, really...no seriously. However, not ONCE have I thought that the next game might not get better or maybe they will click, not ONCE have I thought that there is another team to watch, not ONCE have I thought that the flamers out there might be right. They WILL click and there is no other team out there to watch and all the flamers can eat @#$% when we are in the top 10 for years to come. As has been stated many times around here in the last 6 weeks; THIS IS NOT YOUR FATHER'S UM. Just as MgoBlog is the new generation of sports information(thanks Brian), the 2008 UM football season is the dawning of a new football generation in AA.
I may have the rose colored glasses on, but I am excited as hell to see what the next 5 years and beyond have to offer. This transformation isn't going to happen overnight. This is offensive transition is like teaching Japanese to a group of Mexicans who are enrolled in English as Second Language 101.(I got nothin') Anyway, you get my point. Give it time.
Most of you who are still reading this are saying, "Dude, we get it, there have been 42 diary entries like yours already....Brian, why did you let this get through". This entry got through because it is a cross section of why Brian writes this blog. Or because he doesn't proof them, one of the two.
To those of you who are true fans and disagree with the fact that this will get better, just stop. Re-evaluate why you are a fan.
The last 30 minutes of my life was spent for one reason. When the Ninja football comes alive, my seat on the wagon will be warm. And I WILL be standing up in front of all you lame-asses cheering those fast, sneaky little bastards into the endzone. I might even throw a paper airplane made from the cheap programs.
(Before anyone mentions it, I do understand that 4 is not the correct number of deadly sins, nor are any of these except wrath actual deadly sins. Oh, and booing. The Church's position on that is clear. )
WRATH Some people are pretty upset about Toledo, and some people are pretty upset about the people that are pretty upset about Toledo. I think it's way too early to say that RR should get fired like some people are, but can't we be just a little bit mad at him anyway? It's not a stretch at all to say that RR got outcoached in the Toledo game- even in our "rebuilding" state we should have way more talent than a team that isn't even good in the MAC. Anger at RR doesn't necessarily mean he should be fired (he shouldn't), and accepting the loss doesn't mean that we shouldn't be a little steamed up about it. I was mad at Tom Brady when he fumbled, it didn't mean I didn't like him or that I thought he wasn't still a great player. And it didn't mean that it didn't wear off. There is a difference between a passing disappointment at RR for losing to Toledo, a loss which should never, ever happen, and hating him for all time. I'm mad we lost to Toledo, I still think RR will be a good coach. Being mad at a coach you still like is not impossible.
DESPAIR I really don't think we can blame Michigan fans for a small measure of this. We have a bad team, and it is very likely that we have the worst Michigan team since at least 1967. Certainly that is cause for some despair whatever our prospects may be for the future. And since we haven't been so bad for so long, I don't really think it's that weird that fans would be charged up about this. Certainly, however, one can have a fair amount of bad feeling about this season without "giving up forever" or wanting RR's head or aything like that. But being mad that we have the worst team in (at least) 31 years doesn't mean you're a bad fan either. You can still support the team, and watch every minute of every game, like I will, and still be mad about it at the same time, like I will. There is a difference between being mad about it and hating everything for all time. Just a note here: last year I held for dear life to the hope that whatever happened "at least we weren't Notre Dame." I just don't see how we can say that anymore.
BOOING I have read all the People Against Booing at Michigan Stadium comments, and they've convicned me. It's college, we should just Cheer for Our Team and Be Happy About It. One thing that convinces me is the distinction between a college and pro ahlete. Whatever we may say about the underhandedness of some NCAA programs, pro athletes are being paid for their trouble, and so I don't feel at all sorry for them when they get fired, yelled at, booed, whatever. But I do think that college is different and we should just support our school. So I buy the No Booing argument for college. For the pros, though, I just want anyone that is thinking pros should be insulated from booing to think for a moment about Juan Gonzalez. When he came to Detroit he had every excuse in the book for not playing. He didn't even try. He didn't even PRETEND to try. I would boo Juan Gonzalez and never look back no matter where I saw him. I would boo him at RiteAid. If I saw Charles Stewart at RiteAid I would buy him some Gatorade and wish him good luck. I think the crux is that you expect criticism for your JOB, because you are getting paid for it. And when you get paid for something you receive that salary in exhange not only for services, but also for personal comforts and conveniences you may have to forego. No one expects never to be criticized at or about their job, no one expects their job to always be awesome and comfortable. For example, I work for the government, and not a day goes by that we don't get shelled by somebody in the newspaper, on TV, by random weird people outside the building protesting strange things we don't even do (which is really exactly the same as booing, all they do is make noise), or whatever else. Sometimes we deserve it, sometimes we don't. But I deal with it (because really, who cares?) for my paltry salary, so I feel no sympathy for pro athletes and their millions. If getting pulverized by a longhorn is an "occupational hazard" for ranchers, can we really defend pro athletes simply being booed? Somehow people defend Terrell Owens, but when a window washer falls of an 80 story building people say "man, dangerous job." But that's exactly why it doesn't work for college, it's not their job yet, no matter how high profile it may be. As long as we have the distinction between the NCAA and the NFL, then the college kids to me are different. The way I see it, if you are gettng paid for it, it's criticism, if you aren't then it's personal.
I will disagree with myself just long enough to offer one thought that goes against my argument to see what people think about it. In 1997 against Iowa, Tim Dwight returned a punt for a touchdown right before halftime, giving Iowa a solid lead going into the half. A distinctly uncomfortable crowd booed a bit as the team went off at half. But, when they ran back on the field for the 2nd half however, all you heard was cheering- and loud cheering at that. Not a soul grumbled. Maybe I am off base here, but it seemed to me that the rebuke of the crowd followed by "re"affirmation really affected the team. Can a slight rebuke, followed by reaffirmation serve as a reminder? Can a crowd collectively say "you've done badly but we still belive in you?" I think I've already put myself in the no camp (for college) but am curious what others think. I am not suggesting anything so silly as that a team doesn't realize that they are behind at halftime, or that Coach Carr wouldn't have lit into them in the locker room either way. It's not like the crowd is actually reminding the team of anything, but helping to reinforce what the team might know. But sometimes even if you know a situation you need a reminder. It's not like you don't know that your homework is due, but are you more likely to do your homework after your teacher yells at you? I think you are. The teacher isn't yelling at you because you didn't know it was due, the teacher is yelling at you to reinforce to you that you should do it.
HOPELESSNESS I'm getting less and less hopeful about next season. For the moment, I'm going to leave the offense out of it- I understand they're obviously a huge part of that but I think they can't help but be at least a bit better. At least there are some talented players- whether those players become good is of course a matter of question but at least there will be possibilities. What I am concerned about next year is the defense. We will be losing 3 (maybe 4) defensive line starters. This is the strongest unit on the team, and it will be all new people next year. It can't help but be a bit worse, even if it is talented. There is little suggestion our current starting linebackers are getting better, and so far the young linebackers have not forced their way into the lineup. I am very worried that the linebackers will not be any better next year, but it is certainly safe to say that they will not be better enough to make up for the loss of all of those linemen. You have to be good up front to win football games, and we just aren't going to be good up front on D next year. Just based on that alone, I think we have a very mediocre year next year, and even that assumes that other things actually go well.
non-Michigan note: I went to a Navy game recetly, which was cool for a variety of reasons, mostly that the left guard can drive an aircraft carrier, and that instead of championship years they post battlefields on the stadium facade, and that I had 10 seats to myself, but mostly it's the thunder chicken flyover:
I am a contrarian. Always have been and always will be. Consider that we live in a country that elected Dubya twice, and it's not surprising that the general public can be way off base time after time.
Warren Buffett says to be greedy when others are fearful, and he, like myself, is buying stock these days. Whenever I hear the pundits raving about the Great Depression Part Deux and see downward facing red arrows running rampant, I pull out my wallet again. Right now, my Ameritrade account is looking pretty grim. A year or so from now, that won't be the case.
I'm sure it's not difficult to see where I'm headed with this. After Toledo, we were bombarded with headlines about people calling for Rodriguez's head and "first MAC loss ever" and "what happened to Michigan football?" Even our intrepid leader Brian Cook was formulating his plan to build a bomb shelter. But in the words of the immortal Lee Corso, as "acronymized" by Brian, NSFMF. Let's consider last week's embarrassment one more time. Take away the early pick-six - a small mistake with a drastic consequence - and we probably maintain a one to two possession lead the entire game. Not that we should just dismiss that interception outright - it certainly indicates our QB's penchant for brain farts - but we should rest assured that most of his inevitable future mistakes will not lead to immediate 14 point shifts. Further, if Lopata makes that field goal to tie, there's a good chance we win in OT, which would change "the sky is falling" to "Michigan has a close call."
We are now seeing Michigan as a twenty to thirty point dog in some future games. I submit that, but for a few fluke occurrences, these spreads would be half of that. Now I certainly am not saying that we're going to beat Penn State or even that the game will be close. What I'm saying is that the perception of Michigan as being the equivalent of a mid-level MAC school is inaccurate. Have we forgotten the second half domination of Wisconsin? I believe this team still has it in them to play solid football and to be competitive with just about any team in the country. When this team will start to click, no one knows. But mark my words - it will happen this season. There are more wins remaining for Michigan in 2008. Maybe even some big ones...