Let me preface this post with the following: I grew up a Michigan fan. I did not know how much I loved the U until I attended in 2002 and how much of an awkward choice it would be to graduate in three years but for the fact that, upon graduating, I missed it so much. Further, I'm applying in about two weeks to return to Ann Arbor for grad school (x3) in order to finish my education where I began and where I loved.
I have never cared this much about Michigan football.
To the point it is honestly screwing up my life.
When Rich Rodriguez was hired I was ambivalent and optimistic. He had the pedigree and he is a strong voice, albeit a bit "don'tchaknow." 3-9 was rough but I got over it looking at the team and looking at the uphill battle the coaches (and team) faced in such a year.
4-0 was amazing. The pep in my step and all-around joy of seeing success was amazing. Somewhere in there I realized that by hitting bottom I had suddenly cared so much more about this team. Somewhere in the failure and ridicule I realized I too had put myself against the wall and decided I would love this team more than I had before, when it was easy.
"ALL IN" seemed a bit easy to fall into when your team goes 3-9 and you've followed long enough. It was more a rallying cry (publicly) for those fans who enjoyed the ride and had been dissuaded. PR at its best. But I was happy to see myself (and the alumni) fall in. Because this is Michigan. And we love Michigan.
Somewhere after the MSU game my heart broke. I had an awful 3-4 days and was kind of scared if it was just a dose of genuine, gosh darnit depression or if I cared that much. The Iowa loss clarified. I love this team so damn much that their loss genuinely loses me. I can only fathom what it means to be a player. But as the losses have piled up, it, to a degree, has become closer of an experience.
God am I happy for Brandon Graham. Good for him. To avoid a year of professional football so as to be the voice of this team... to say that UM would beat MSU in such a down season simply because SOMEONE had to be a voice, regardless of rationale, to keep that team through practice and into the game... my local alumni group practically broke the bar (literally) when he scored his touchdown against Delaware State. Not because he had achieved a milestone (which he had) but for the fact he had returned and deserved every f'ing stat possible. For God's sake he should return a punt return and throw on an awkward down just because, dammit, he came back. And that means something.
The losses have been rough. I drove 20 hours to Michigan to spend my birthday in sleet and poor football watching PSU stomp Michigan because this team means something to me. And it was awful and my heart broke as the tackles did and Michigan fell deeper into the pit that has fortuitously developed after Illinois. And don't get me started on Illinois because I drank way too much to anger-f@#k the demons that emerged from that game.
But the Purdue game just happened. And the Defense under GERG really stood up... the first half. And the second half happened and there was freshman and youth and blocking the receiver when the quarterback is 5 yards past the line of scrimmage and is scoring andohmygodhewaspastthelineofscrimmagetackletackletackle. And my heart broke. And I was an a-hole to my wife on the phone when she checked in on me and I quickly scrambled to make sure this team, that I love, doesn't affect my personal life. The answer to making that not happen isn't clear. But not many answers are clear. Except finding out just how much love for this school... and team... is healthy. And in that, I guess it's a growing experience... much like this team is going through.
I guess why I made this diary is simple. For those of us All In, the road is narrow and uphill. The likelihood is 5-7 and the off-season is going to be months of looking at checkbooks and wondering "why did I spend $50 to drink at the bar and watch non-Siller shred us in November." This is difficult and not even close to the experience of overcoming kneeshoulderelbowhead like Forcier or any player is facing. But the fanbase has its own wounds. And they're licked (that's what she said).
I guess what I'm trying to say is the games have been lost and the faithful are hurting. The bandwagon who chose Michigan over MSU/CMU/EMU/GVSU/NMU/SMU/Toledo/FUOSU probably aren't as injured. But we are. And who knows if RR will be around in 2012. Or 2011. Or 20#$. But this will matter. Because you know whether sports mean enough to you or whether they're a Saturday. For me I have to find the healthy level to love this team. As I saw SEC fans cheer Purdue on simply because enough UM fans cared to show up, I knew this pursuit of glory despite bs would be uphill and callous. Sacking up is an understatement. But going Valenti on this team answers ZERO problems. We will find our own way to adjust but rallying around HR PuffnStuff will do nothing. Instead we have to find our own niches and work within them.
Not going to a bowl may be tough. Beating Wisconsin or OSU to go to the InsightPizzaKmartBestBuyOMGChuckyCheeseBowl will be epic. And some of us will deserve it and others won't. Complain all you want but it won't avoid fumbles, it won't avoid drops or picks or a game of inches. It will only help or hurt your ability to love this University.
As much as it hurts, I still love this University. And I will love this team. Even when it loses. Because I have to.
Because I Go Blue.
I encourage you to do the same.
First, I think we have to tip out hats to Purdue. They fought hard (as did we). That onside kick call was brilliant and took some stones to do it. Purdue made more big plays than we did and that's why they beat us.
Second, despite the loss, we did look better overall than we did the past several weeks. Yes, there were many horrible mental mistakes on defense (anyone surprised?), but there were some positive signs, too. The offense continues to gel, Tate continues to gain confidence and cut back on some (but not all) of his mistakes, and it was good to see our young receivers making crucial plays.
Third, RichRod was wrong not to kick the field goal on 4th and 10. And not in hindsight - it was wrong no matter the result. Hopefully he learns from that mistake and won't do it again.
And finally, and perhaps most importantly in the current "climate," regarding RichRod: It's pointless right now to talk about his future with the program. He's not getting fired anytime soon. He is what we have. Our confidence in him has been rattled, but it will be largely up to him whether we can turn things around. I hope he succeeds and will be cheering hard for him to do so.
[EDIT: I wrote this before I heard about Danny Hope's dick move after the game (discussed in the comments). While I still tip my hat to Purdue's outplaying us, I'm sure the team and RichRod will remember that gesture when preparing for our next game with them. And I believe RichRod will show more class than that we he gives his payback.]
Well, Michigan has pissed away another game and has now lost five straight conference games (turnover = touchdown; onside kick = touchdown; missed extra point and field goal = loss). The defense gives up big play after big play while the offense can no longer be counted on to make the big play with the game on the line. This team finds a way to lose.
Can anyone really say victories over Wisconsin and Ohio State are possible at this point? Be rational, right?
So what is the Michigan fan supposed to think - in a clam and rational manner - if this team loses seven straight conference games, has a losing season, and misses out on a bowl game?
I am not advocating firing the coach and starting over. I do not think that is the answer. But what I would like to know is what all of these "calm down this is what we expected" folks think at this point.
Because I did not expect this team to compete for a Big Ten title or beat high caliber teams. But I sure as heck expected this team to not get crushed by Illinois and choke a game away against Purdue when they had a two touchdown lead at the half.
It seems likely to me that this team is going to have to improve just to be mediocre next year given the defense. And if the offensive line doesn't get substantially better how are we going to outscore everyone?
Maybe it is my fault for not realizing that Michigan would need three years to be competitive - not national but in the conference - again. Feels like this program is a lot farther behind than I thought.
I cant believe its already the first Saturday of November. The season has gone by in a blink of an eye. The Big 10 has divded into two groups: Iowa, PSU and OSU. And everyone else. Two of the former could still make the BCS, which could help the huddled middle class of the laegue. There is so much to shuffle out, but the league could have eight bowl eligible teams. Right now, the leagueis in contention to lead the country in teams finishing 6-6. That second BCS bid could let them all go bowling. But with two midmajors bucking for a spot, Notre Dame cruising to a 10-win season and possible contenders from the ACC and Pac 10 getting a rare at large for thier leagues (I would say USC, Miami, for example, could easily get at larges if they win out and dont win their leagues), the Big 10 could easily get shut out. Meanwhile, a mean chase for the Motor City, er Little Ceasars Pizza Bowl, will also play out. With that in mind, onto this week's picks:
Wisconsin at Indiana, noon, BTN. Lines: Wisco -11, O/U 54.5
Here's a list of all-time moments in Indiana-Wisconsin series history: The 1992 classic in Bloomington with the Hoosiers wheezing to a 10-3 win. The best play of the game was an 80-yard punt. It didnt matter as we swapped whiskey shots on a sun soaked October southern Indiana afternoon. Afterwards we went an amazing barbecue post game tailgate. One of the best football Saturdays I ever had while down there, the moments of which we dont have time for here. I was 20. Sigh; the 1999 tilt, where a group of us fellow Hoosiers took in the game from the Treasure Island sports book during a Vegas weekend. With the emerging threat of Antwaan Randle-El on our side, we were rather bullish on the Hoosiers that day catching points against the Badgers in a shootout, so we all took IU and the Over 56. Three hours and eleventy billion yards by Ron Dayne later, we were praying that the Badgers could at least cover the Over for us by themselves. They did. 58-0; the 2001 clash where, despite an All Big 10 performance the whole year out of Randle-El, IU entered the game winless. Gordie, my college roommate back in the day, was so disgusted with the compentecy of the Cam Cameron era that he bet the house on the Badgers who were laying something like two touchdowns. Indiana played the best game I've seen out of the program and won 63-28. We toasted the Hoosiers and mocked Gordie by downing Irish car bombs into the night; watching him do the same thing the following year in 2002 and seeing IU pull out another upset, abeit this one in a closer fashion, 31-28. So, you might as well keep an eye on this game so you don't miss the magic.
The Pick: Indiana +11.......Jonathan Clay is going to have a monster day. But, I dont think the Hoosiers shrink here. Their defensive front will confuse Badger QB Scott Tolzien into enough mistakes to give the Hoosiers a shot. A year after being non competitive in every game, the Hoosiers have outplayed their opponent in seven of nine games, IMHE. Badgers have had some trouble this year matching up with good receivers and unlike Purdue last week Doss and Belcher wont drop everything thrown to them. IU is one of the best in the nation at the turnover game, something I like in a home dog catching double figures. Am I betting with my heart? Maybe, but that heart is 4-1 ATS when going to the window with the Hoosiers this year. So, Indiana is the reliable football progam and Michigan can't win a Big 10 game? Good grief. What's next? Michigan's basketball team ranked in preseason poll and the IU hoopsters at the bottom of the standings? Wait, what?
Illinois at Minnesota, noon, BTN. Lines:Minny -7, O/U 54
The two most impressive Big 10 teams from a week ago meet up in this one. Dueling gambling trends knock heads as well with the 7-3 ATS road dog Illini going up against the 13-3 ATS against teams with a losing record Gophers. Hey, its the 89th and 108th scoring offenses vs the 76th and 73th scoring defense. Ron Zook vs Tim Brewster. That's some hot Big 10 action. I wish we could wager on things like 'will Pam Ward be broadcasting this game?' or 'will this be a Sam Rosen game on the BTN?' I think the Book would be surprised how much action they could get there.
The Pick: Minnesota -7......yeah, I dont trust the Illini are back. I like the way the Gophers have played at home this year. They'll jump on the Illini early. Illinois will have trouble with Weber's passing. The ball hawking Gopher defense will create a couple key turnovers and might even score. Gophers will be in control most of the game and pull away late to win by more than two scores.
Northwestern at Iowa, noon, ESPN. Lines: Iowa -15.5, O/U 45
Iowa's roller coaster ride in their surprising pursuit of a National Title meets up with a Northwestern team that has actually beaten the Hawks in three of their last four meetings. With a possible look ahead to the Buckeyes next week, are the Hawkeyes primed for an upset? Hey, anything is possible when the ball is in Ricky Stanzi's hand. In the end, I dont think Iowa trips up here. In fact, they get this done by three touchdowns. They were lucky last week to cover the big number, but this week they're legit in earning it. Northwestern can move the ball through the air. Kafka might be the best passer in the Big 10. But, look for Iowa to dominate the field position game as there's a big difference in the punting games in the Hawks favor. I dont trust any QB in the Big 10 to drive long fields consistently against Iowa. Kafka can fall into sloppy tendencies, too, so eventually he might give Stanzi Ball a run for its money. The Wildcats scored just 13 points against PSU and I dont think they get too much more here. Iowa pays back Northwestern in a big way.
The Pick: Iowa -15.5.........If the Hawkeyes are at home, I'm playing them. I have always had a love affair with Iowa due to a four-year span beginning with the Brad Banks era where I seemed to nail everyone of their games. They printed money at Kinnick Stadium. The last two seasons, highlighted by the nation's second longest winning, have been like having a steamy affair with an old flame. I'm on them today and I look forward to their defensive line thrashing Kafka into his worst day of the season.
Purdue at Michigan, noon, BTN. Lines: Michigan -6, O/U 53.5
I share everyone else's fascination with this pointspread, even though I said on the podcast it would probably be around five points. Who really needs nearly a full touchdown to be goaded into betting against Michigan the way they've played? Are we to believe there is such a clamor of people going to the window that the odds needed to be jacked up this high to stem the tide of Wolverine money? Apparently, because that's what happened. When some of the first off shores posted lines late Sunday night and into Monday morning, I saw a number of places, notably caribsports, pinnacle and sportsbook, had Michigan favored by 3.5. I am in a weekly football pool that includes a handful of college and NFL games and the proprietor of the pool grabs Monday lines from an offshore and sends the pool. This game is 3.5 on that sheet. But, then before you know it shot up to 6 points. That's a huge surge of steam towards Michigan. You know who usually bets a ton of money, enough to move the line, that early in the week? Wiseguy types who rake in every week betting the games. Interesting. Of course, many of those same folks will all be investing in Purdue on the late line in attempt to win a juicy middle with a four or five point Michigan win. Thats why they call it gambling. Anyway, for my tastes, I dont think you can lay a lot of points with a defense like Michigan's that can be scored on with any play from anywhere on the field. I think there should be a lot of points, so after two weeks of Unders, expect the Over to cash in a Michigan game. And, if you can, put some chips on the Over for total combined turnovers. Holy hell, these teams perfected the art. Everyone around here likes to say its Michigan 2008 all over again. Except, Purdue has actually stolen the disguise as well. Hard to imagine less than 5 giveaways in this one.
The Pick: Purdue +6......I love going to games. But, if I have to leave depressed by their effort, or see black and gold clad fans snapping photos of the scoreboard like they're at Disneyland, then I might as well profit. And, if the Wolverines come out and play their best game of the season and win this one easy, then I consider this money well spent.
Ohio State at Penn State, 3:30, ABC. Lines: PSU -5, O/U 39
A heavyweight fight. Last year's game was a bloodbath. This will end being one of the more physical games played this season. Frankly, I think Penn State is way more equipped to succeed and win in that type of game. They strike me as the type of team who can win anywhere in any style of game. Ohio State looks like a team that might fold if he gets caught in the mouth. Penn State will come out swinging, eventually landing enough blows en route to winning this game by at least a touchdown. Not a lot of points will be on the scoreboard. Both defensive lines have serious matchup advantages against their opposing offensive lines. But, the I think the PSU DL will inflict a lot more lethal damage on Pryor than the OSU front will cause Clark and company. The Beavers are running smooth on offense. Clark is putting together a fantastic senior season proving doofus doubters like myself wrong. Pryor is a turnover and incompletion machine. I'm not sure I trust him to lead his team to touchdowns against good teams, let alone winning a game. I think he's going to get to know Navarro Bowman and Jared Odrick real well tomorrow. He might even complete a pass to one and hand the ball of to the other. But, he might ditch both of them altogether and toss loving kisses to Sean Lee all day. Take the Under wherever you can on Pryor's stat line.
The Pick: Penn State -5........the home team has gone 10-6 ATS since they've been league rivals with PSU covering four of the last five on this field. Buckeyes breaking in a new kicker. Points will be so hard to come by in this one that its hard not seeing that being a negative impact on OSU.
Tomorrow, be as loud as you can at the game. As loud or louder than you were at the Notre Dame game. Let this team know that we love and support it. I almost blacked out at the Notre Dame game from screaming and stomping my feet and clapping. The blue hair next to me had ear plugs in and was still covering his ears and giving me dirty looks. Give our team the advantage.
Reasons to love this program and look forward to the future:
1) We went from a quiet stadium to one of the loudest in the conference. People at the MSU and Iowa games, commented that it was no where near as loud as the Notre Dame game at Michigan Stadium.
2) This team is supposedly 16 scholarships short of the limit, which is a huge disadvantage. This shortage will eventually be filled and when this gap is filled, some will be quality players and starters.
3) We have the most players in the BigTen with 3 or more years of eligibility left. This means that in 2011 and 2012 we will most likely have the most experienced team in the league, which will set us up for a run at the Rose Bowl at that time.
4) For all of the whining about 3 star players in this years recruiting class, I see some solid players getting added to an already strong foundation. Some of our recruits are lights out amazing. Would you trade any HS QB in the nation for Devin Gardner? I see about 4 guys in this class with the potential to be future all conference players (Gardner, Marvin, Miller, Hagerup).
5) The media has attacked coach Rod and he is still standing with the control of his team. The media has invented BS stories (shredding papers), used unethically written stories written by someone who publicly admitted that he wanted Rod fired (hours), printed mountain out of a mole hill stories without doing any research to disprove the crap (Tiller) and etc.... All while giving our in-state rival's coach all of the benefit of the doubt on everthing blowing the positives out of proportion.
6) This team is better than lat year and will be even better next year. How many players do we actually lose of note? Brandon Graham, Warren, Minor, and Brown. Well, we have a lot of young talented RBs and Brown and Minor are injured enough that I don't think we will miss much of a step at that position. Sure we will miss Graham, but the Dline could actualy get stronger. Lolata and Campbell were 2 highly sought after recruits and will be playing. Martin is a beast and will be back. I think Roh will improve and VanBergen is a solid contributor. Warren leaving would be rough, but we have Woolfork, Floyd and Turner still here.
7) The QB play should only get better and we will have 3 options next year -- someone will rise to be a solid performer.
If any of you think that I am over optimistic....I got negbanged for saying that I thought we would finish 5-7 before the season and picking MSU to win after the 4-0 start.
If you are the type of fan who booed Navarre and are now ripping on these kids, feel free to consider changing allegiences to another team. This team will develop into a great team if we give it time and support. No one can develop a winner with the media and the fans against it...no one. Stand behind the team and coaches win or lose tomorrow.
Michigan Rush Offense: +2 (20)
Purdue Rush Defense: -1 (78)
After rough outings versus Indiana and Michigan State, the rushing attack seemed closer to back on track after 2 solid performances against very good defenses in Iowa and Penn State. And then last week. Last week would have been an outlier even for a bad rushing offense. After adjusting for Illinois' weakness against the run, Michigan rated out a -11 for the game. Of the 896 matchups between 1A teams Michigan's performance on Saturday ranked as the 887th best, only 9 teams have had a worse game this year on the ground than Michigan had last Saturday.
Game - Rush+
Purdue, meanwhile has had everything from a +5 against Northwestern to a -8 in last week's debacle against Wisconsin.
Game - Rush+
The way these two teams have been playing, this could be anything from a huge advantage for M or Purdue, or it could be a total draw. There doesn't appear to be much consistency to either of these units.
Michigan Pass Offense: +0 (58)
Purdue Pass Defense: +2 (42)
Ready for more inconsistency? Since Big 10 play started the Wolverines have bounced back and forth between positive and negative:
Game - Pass+
Unfortunately, this week is slated for a negative game.
Even excluding the fantastic performance against Mr. Schematic Advantage and crew, Purdue's defense has been consistently solid in Big 10 play, with only one significantly negative performance on the season against Northwestern.
Game - Pass+
It does not appear that there is much in the past several games that indicates Purdue being a team Michigan can significantly exploit through the air.
Michigan Rush Defense: -3 (102)
Purdue Rush Offense: +0 (50)
Michigan's rush defense hasn't been nearly as good as their rush offense, but the ebb and flow of the season has mirrored very closely.
Game - Rush+
Bad games against Indiana and Michigan State, solid games against Iowa and Penn State and a disaster against Illinois. The magnitudes are different in some cases, but directionally these two units have been intertwined for the whole Big 10 season.
Purdue had been consistently bad going -4 or -5 against ND and its first three Big 10 foes before posting a +5 against Illinois and a +1 against Wisconsin last week.
Game - Rush+
This appears to be as good of a chance as Michigan is going to have to shut down a running game the rest of the season. With that said, the performance against Illinois indicates that if Michigan does not step up their game, this could be another negative performance for what has so far been the worst unit for Michigan this year.
Michigan Pass Defense: +2 (37)
Purdue Pass Offense: +0 (62)
For Michigan in the passing game, it all comes down to the big plays. When they haven't been giving up gashes in the passing game, this has surprisingly been one of the best units in the Big 10, however, you can't take away those plays and the reality is that for all of the patchwork going on, this group has held its own.
Game - Pass+
Purdue has really been all over the map on the season with great games and terrible games alike.
Game - Pass+
Big games against Ohio State and Northwestern were offset by really bad games against Wisconsin and Minnesota. How Purdue's passing attack fares could swing the game as there has been 4 touchdowns worth of variance in their performance this year in Big 10 play alone.
Both Michigan and Purdue are currently top 20 in both expected points per game and total drives per game. This could be a fast paced up and down game since both teams have packed the possessions so far this season.
Purdue and Michigan are both in the bottom 20 on turnover spread on the year, virtually tied at -25 points on turnovers this year. What's surprising for Purdue is that they are 13th in the country, generating +32 points off of opponent turnovers on the season vs Michigan's defense at +7. That gap is made up with Purdue propensity for throwing picks. Only four teams have been hurt worse by picks than Purdue's -41.
Michigan +0.7 (33)
Purdue: -2.3 (94)
An average 3 point swing on special teams is a huge one for Michigan. Let's see if Michigan can get a few big plays this week and justify the use of the term "bright spot."
Michigan 31 Purdue 26
Illinois 17 Minnesota 31
Northwestern 7 Iowa 27
Ohio State 14 Penn State 21
Wisconsin 35 Indiana 17
Western Michigan 28 Michigan State 38