This Michigan team reminds me of a team on which I played my senior year of college. The circumstances were a little different. It was our coaches fourth year, and had already produced an undefeated regular season and a trip to the Div 3 national quarter finals. However, the senior class that led us to that point in my sophomore year was one of the most talented group in the history of the program. The junior class was also very good, but by the time I was a senior there were only 13 players left in my class. Of those 13, only about half saw significant playing time. We started 5-0 against some weak competition. We played the eventual conference champion in week 6 and lost 33-31 after we missed a 40 yard field goal on the last play of the game. This is where the comparison really starts. The rest of the year we really struggled. Everything was a grind. We thought we had put bad moments behind us, but they obviously lingered. I do not remember having a bad week of practice, but we just could not seem to get it going in games. Our QB was inconsistent and struggled with his confidence. Over the last 5 games, we went 1-4. Occasionally, I think about that season and try to figure out what happened, because we had the players to win the conference. I think it came down to two things:
- We never got over the missed field goal. I think it lingered with many of our younger players, and we just could not pull ourselves out of it. We would have good weeks of practice, but when games came around, there was just couldn't put together any consistency especially on offense.
- We did not have many seniors on the field. It has been my experience that seniors play with a sense of urgency that younger players sometimes lack. When there are a good number of seniors on the field, this rubs off on everybody else.
I think Michigan is in a similar spot right now. They are in a grind offensively, and are struggling to find a rhythm. Threet has been inconsistent, and at least to me, does not look like he is throwing the ball with confidence right now. In fact, the whole offense lacks confidence right now. There seems to be indecision from the O-Line on who to block on zone plays, Threet doesn't seem to pull the trigger quick enough, and the backs don't seem to be finding the hole. I actually think the D has been ok.
The point of the story is that the juniors, sophomores, and freshmen from my senior went on to win or share the next 3 conference titles. The QB who struggled that year was Gagliardi Trophy finalist his senior year. (Div 3 Heisman) Those underclassmen did not give up on the system, they only became more determined. Was it bad coaching that led to that one bad season? I don't think so. Should those underclassmen have given up on our coach? Obviously not. All these things that look wrong on Saturdays are being drilled every day in practice. They are running the zone over and over again, because its what they practice. The coaches, who all have a track record of success, believe its what will work on Saturdays. Eventually, it will start working. It may not be this year. I think the offense will probably look good in spurts the way it has most of the season. But every time you think about the struggles of this Michigan team, you think about those young players that are getting experience, and not ever wanting to go through a Toledo loss ever again in their Michigan football career.
I hope some people find my experience relevant. I'd like to finish the post with a passage from Bo's Lasting Lessons.
"Hey. You can take any coach you want - I don't care if it's Woody Hayes or Ara Parseghian or Joe Paterno, all giants - and you can pick apart their career and find that, sure, they lost some games, probably a few they shouldn't have. Every one of those three guys won a national title, but every one of them had losing seasons, too - usually when I was on their staff, it occurs to me! And these are some of the best coaches the game has ever seen. What does that mean?
I'll tell you what it means: Nothing!
Everyone's got critics. And if you're in charge, you're going to have more than the people working for you. Well, I had 101,001 critics every Saturday, and millions more watching on TV - screaming at me to pass more, to blitz more, to go for it on fourth-and-one more from our own 40-yard line. Let me tell you something: I fundamentally did not give a damn what the press, the administration or the alumni thought about my coaching. Fritz Crisler said it best. "If you're winning," he said, "you don't need them. And if you're losing, they can't help you."
So, you block them out!"
Over the last few weeks, I’ve spoken to a number of people
who’ve been wanting to place blame on the success – or lack thereof – of Michigan’s football team
this season. Those who are casual football fans or network pundits blame Rich
Rodriguez – his spread offense is too big of a change for a pro-style team.
Those who know a bit more about Michigan football blame Lloyd Carr – he left
the cabinet dry with only two starters returning on offense and plenty of
out-of-shape players. But who is really to
blame? To take a logical look at the situation, let’s start from a novel place.
Check who exactly makes up the Michigan
offense, and then let’s start looking at blame.
Capital One Bowl Starting Line-Up:
Skilled Positions: Mario Manningham(jr); Carson
Butler(jr); Chad Henne(sr); Mike Hart(sr); Mike
Massey(sr*); Adrian Arrington(sr*)
Line: Jake Long(sr); Adam Kraus(sr); Justin Boren(so); Steve
Schilling(so); Alex Mitchell(sr*)
* Still had remaining eligibility
Initial 2008 Starting Line-Up Before Transfers and Early
Departures (accounting for 3-receiver set):
Skilled Positions: Mario Manningham(sr); Carson
Butler(sr); Ryan Mallett(so); Brandon Minor(jr); Greg Matthews(jr); Adrian
Line: Jeremy Ciulla(sr); Mark Ortmann(sr*); Justin
Boren(jr); Steven Schilling(jr); Alex Mitchell(sr)
Actual Starting Line-Up For Toledo (Using 3-receiver set):
Skilled Positions: Greg Matthews(jr); Kevin Koger(fr);
Steven Threet(fr); Sam McGuffie(fr); Toney Clemons(so); LaTerryal Savoy(jr)
Line: Perry Dorrestein(so); Mark Ortmann(sr*); David
Molk(fr); David Moosman(jr); Steve Schilling(so).
Okay. So screw “returning starters” – of which we only
started one. Let’s look at “projected starters” – players who were in the
pipeline to start but never ended up starting. Three. Three. That’s it. Yes, those who aren’t here all have their
reasons, but the fact of the matter is that we had one returning starter on offense in the Toledo game, and three people starting who would have started the day after the
Capital One bowl.
So who's to blame? You can't fault Rodriguez and his staff for coming into a program which has a roster looking like that of a low-tier Mountain West team. He's doing his best with what he has - which, as we can see, isn't much. You can't fault Lloyd Carr because although we wouldn't have had the Hart, Henne, and Longs of the world returning, we would have had a blue chip QB, a decent (read: non-sieve) offensive line, and some legit playmakers at the skilled positions. It would have been a down-ish year anyway. You can't fault the players - they didn't ask to get put in a starting position without the experience, skill, or surrounding talent to succeed. They're getting their asses busted by Barwis as the toll to merely strap on the winged helmet.
So who's to blame? Blame yourself. If you're looking to place blame here, blame yourself for taking your school's football prowess for granted, for having out-of-this-world expectations for the first year of a regime change, and for not studying your team enough to know that your expectations were out-of-this-world. We have a starting quarterback who backed up Reggie Ball at Georgia Tech (who had a 44% completion percentage in his senior year). Half of our skilled players were playing in their high school homecoming games at this time last year.Our line... it's porous at best, filled with inexperience and a lack of top-notch skill.
I've quoted Bo before in this space, but I'll do it again, "When your team is winning, be ready to be tough, because winning can make you soft. On the other hand, when your team is losing, stick by them. Keep believing." Stop being soft. Take some lumps. Keep wearing your Michigan apparel. Keep loving our tradition, our University, and our team. If you want to jump ship, I'll pack your bags for you, but don't come back when this team - and this program - rights itself. Don't boo this week when you were cheering after the Wisconsin game.
To sum things up, I turn to Mike Hart on how it feels to represent a team during tough times:
"I don't regret anything at all. I'm glad I'm on this team. This is my team. I'm the leader of this team. It's crazy to say, but deep down at the end of the [Oregon]
game, I was telling myself, 'I wouldn't rather be on any team right
now. I wouldn't rather be getting paid.' It's going to test me as a
person, a player and a leader. I've never been a part of something like this in my life. It's going to test me, and it's going to make me a better
person. I know we can turn this around. At the end of the season,
when I look back and we come out with a great record, I'm going to say, 'Don't ever quit."'
Mike Hart is the leading rusher in Michigan football history. This is quite an achievement considering how storied a program Michigan is. In his career, Hart rushed 1,015 times for 5,040 yards. In 2004, he set a record for most yards ever by a Freshman with 1,455 yards. These are rediculous numbers. Mike Hart is and will always be an icon to Michigan Football. This season has been hard for Michigan, expecially coming off a stunning upset loss to Toledo. Who? What? It is at times like this the Mike Hart must be rememberd. A day after Michigan got beat by Toledo, Mike Hart got his second touch as an NFL football player (first touch since week 1) on the Indianapolis Colts. Be it that it only went for 2 yards and he actually fumbled on the play, it was still a large step in Mike Harts profesional football career. Don’t worry about the fumble the Colts recovered. The Colts went on to crush the Baltimore Ravens 31–3. I have been following Mike Hart on his journy from the college ranks to the NFL. I have been reading his blog. He has been fighting hard on special teams for 5 weeks now and it is good to see him get another touch, no matter the situation it was in (being that Jo Addai went down). He is still searching for his first special teams tackle. I know Michigan fans take pride in their history and their players and Mike Hart is certaintly someone worth taking pride in. So, on this weekend when Michigan is down in the dumps because they lost to some team from Toledo, lets give a shout out to Mike Hart. I am encouraging all of you to give him a shout out on his blog and tell him how much you appreicated his time at Michigan and that on weekends like this he is missed. Here is to Mike! Cheers!
So I have two things that I really need to say something about:
#1: I sit in Section 16 at Michigan Stadium for every home game. I have a buddy that likes to paint his body/face for the games and when necessary he gets really into the game and tries to help the team. At the beginning of the Toledo game he stood up for one play in a primarily sitting section and an old guy 2 rows back told him to sit down. He wanted to yell at the guy but I told him to just sit down and not say anything back. I told him why pick a fight in the Toledo game when maybe during the MSU game in a couple weeks he could turn around and say, "I sat down for you the entire Toledo game so maybe you can stand up for this game." My buddy agreed and sat down. Then in the 4th quarter when we were trying to come back the section starting at field level began to stand and so my buddy stood up again for one play and at this point the stadium was getting as loud as it could for Toledo and the old man then yelled to sit down again. So my friend now turned around and told him we were at a football game and not a polo or croquet match. I kind of laughed and then my buddy sat down and said, "sorry but I had to say something." I told him he was in the right there. I always knew why we were a quiet stadium but I got to experience first hand the problem.
#2: Ok this has more to do with play calling. In the Illinois game we had the ball on the 1 yard line and McGuffie was left in to try to run the ball in and we lost yards. Then we gained a couple back on the next play with Threet keeping the ball on a shotgun snap but he didnt get in after the replay. So then I am thinking either put Kevin Grady in or QB sneak the ball. What do we do? A halfback sweep with McGuffie and get stopped. And then on 4th and half a yard we had to throw the ball to score the TD. I couldn't believe we didn't do a QB sneak but I just figured it was a one time problem. But then during the Toledo game we needed one yard and instead of doing a QB sneak we hand the ball off 4 yards behind the line of scrimmage and get stopped. Now I do not claim to know as much as the coaches and I still really like the off season hire but can anyone tell me the reason we do not QB sneak when we need a yard or less? To me it makes no sense to run backwards 3-5 yards after the snap to hand the ball off especially when our line is not that great. It just makes more sense to take the snap and more or less fall forward. One friend of mine told me that we didn't QB sneak because we don't want our QB to get hurt but I don't buy that because we run an offense where the QB gets alot of carries.
If anyone has any insight into the QB sneak thing please let me know because I would like other points of views because that is driving me crazy.
9 Years….Let that sink in, 9 years it has been since Michigan lost to the Big Eleven’s Blue Headed Step-Child Penn State. It ends this week. This is the Saturday that the Big Eleven’s resident octatarian steps up and puts the bitter memories of the last 9 years behind Penn State.
¨ The phantom 2 seconds on the clock in 2005…
¨ The phantom foot in bounds by Steve Breston in 2005…
¨ Refs calling Tony Johnson OB in Ot in 2002...
¨ Anthony Morelli era
¨ Crush the hearts of psu fans everywhere
You can make fun of Jay Paterno all you want, god knows I have, however between he and Galen Hall the PSU offense is running on all cylinders. Someone somewhere in the booth is calling some great plays and they have more talent on the field this year than Michigan. So as I said before, Joe is going to let everyone off the leash this weekend and the starters are not going to sit in the 4th quarter. Joe will run it up and the final score will be in the area of 63-14 the same way we trounced OSU in ’94. Have fun on the road trip Michigan fans, you might have more fun at a Detroit Lions game.
I believe this game will be closer than the Illinois game. I give us a 25% chance to win, a 50% chance to prove me right, and a 25% chance it turns out that I've unknowingly been smoking one of Mario's old blunts.
We have owned PSU. I've had a decade of sheer enjoyment watching the hopes of a PSU family member rekindle each year, only to be extinguished by consistently superior Michigan teams. What started out as "Wait till next year, we're going to be better and beat you", soon turned to "Look, just don't give me a bunch of crap about it, you're probably going to beat us again b/c we're not very good this year." It has been wonderful. Granted, this is probably the year that the dominance ends; but those thoughts, entrenched by the depths of time, will be in the backs of both UM's and PSU's minds. If it's close for a while, deja vu will play a role.
Also, despite the opportunity to exact revenge for years worth of beat-downs, I think they'll be looking past us. They have NC hopes that go through tOSU next week. We, needless to say, just want to beat whoever's in front of us.
I believe (seem to be fewer of those daily) that our team will improve as this season goes on. It continues to amaze me that there are so many calls for change already. It's as though we're wondering why an 80 year old guy who had double knee replacements 3 days ago isn't ready for the Boston Marathon yet. We ARE NOT EXECUTING the basics with regularity yet offensively. Personally, I think we have gotten a little better each week, despite continually having multiple O-line adjustments, different WR/slot groups due to injury/suspension/illness, different attempts at finding a "change of pace" back who won't fumble, switching QBs etc. I completely discount the Toledo game - my diary - my perogative - due to a "perfect storm" of the above reasons (as well as key D personnel being out too).
Defensively, Illinois lit us up by executing the spread as well as anyone could the week they played us. I challenge PSU to even match it. Obviously we need to give up fewer big plays, and play better assignment football. I think we will see that our coaches CAN actually make adjustments, and that the D (hopefully healthy too) will look much better on this "re-do" against PSU's spread.
It's crazy to think that new coaches, with new players, new systems and "inadequate" (for said systems) personnel can completely adjust over the coarse of a timeout, halftime talk, even one week-long practice. That's why they call it "rebuilding", not "pre-fabbed homing". Give it time; and here, in the beginning, while it's roughest, set yourself some resonable expectations.
I still say we have a shot. I guess you can call me a fan. Guilty.
On the blue/maize Prozac: UM wins 27-24;
Marios's blunt: UM loses 38-24.