The nutty Michigan coverage isn't so much about Harbaugh as it is a signal to the Big Ten that Fox wants to party.
I was taking my son to visit colleges last weekend and since we were at Stanford, we took in the USC game. Some general and disorganized observations (and obviously personal opinions):
The USC and Stanford band contrast was awesome. I am the first to admit, I'm not a band guy. Much like competitive cheerleading, I appreciate the dedication and talent but its just not my thing. However the dichotomy was fun to watch. The USC band is huge and takes the field methodically to that tune that they play over and over at games. They take themselves so seriously. The Stanford band, in what seem to be smoking jackets and fishing caps, along with various members poorly dressed in X-men costumes, scattered onto the field into formations with the theme that was basically, "How George Bush can screw up in his remaining days in office."
I thought that the contrast made the USC band look ridiculous, but admittedly I am a fan of irreverence. I am sure that Stanford has a fight song, but it seems to be replaced with Free's "Alright Now" which they play after every score, accompanied by their dancing tree mascot.
The crowd was at least half USC fans. If there is such a phenomenon as 'Walmart Wolverines', there has to be a much larger contingent of 'Target Trojans'(OSTTE). Most appeared as though they had never set foot near the USC campus. They had many annoying traditions (verbal trumpet noises and goofy hand gestures). I had no stake in the game but given the above, and my love of the underdog, I pulled for Stanford.
As far as the game, Stanford totally outplayed USC in the first half in every phase of the game except kickoff coverage. By the end of the 3rd quarter USC had pulled even in pass and run yardage. Ultimately, they had too much talent for Stanford. I left fairly unimpressed with USC. My impression of Harbaugh's team is that they are well coached. I have not been a fan of his public statements and he was not ready for a stage like Michigan, but I think someday he will be a player. I hope, of course, that we are then several years into the RR reign of awesomeness. Rich will then turn the program over to coach Hart who then gets a chance to stick it to old man Harbaugh for his past sins.
I was hoping to see a repeat of last year and it certainly was no SEC experience, but it was a good time.
I was able to talk with Michael Rosenberg, the Detroit Free Press columnist and author of War As They Knew It, at an event here in Columbus back in September. And after our chat Michael was gracious enough to agree to answer some questions via email. I figured Ohio State Michigan week would be a good time to take him up on that offer. I posted Ten Questions to him regarding his book (see above) over at Collected Miscellany, but wanted to focus more on football in this set of ten.
So here they are:
1. How did the rivalry between Bo and Woody change Michigan football?
Michigan is the all-time wins leader, all-time win percentage leader and plays in the greatest rivalry in college football. So naturally, Michigan fans like to think the program has been one of the best in college football since its inception. That is largely true, but in the 1960s, Michigan State surpassed Michigan on the field and in fan interest. If Bo had not succeeded and MSU had hired a fabulous coach to replace Duffy Daugherty, who knows what would have happened?
Bo put Michigan football back at the forefront of college football, where it has remained ever since. He also gave the rivalry incredible life - even if you didn't care about Michigan or Ohio State, you knew Bo and Woody. It created a momentum for Michigan football and the UM-OSU rivalry that has never really abated.
2. Is it fair to say that Michigan has underachieved in the years following the 1997 National Championship?
No, I don't think that's fair. Michigan never had a losing season, won an Orange Bowl, played in three Rose Bowls and won several other January bowl games in that period. Were other programs better? You might be able to find five or six. You won't find 10. So I don't think "underachieved" is a fair term.
3. What do you think is behind the apparent weakness of the Big Ten when compared with SEC or Big XII? Is this just a cyclical thing with recruiting, etc. or has the Big Ten lost its edge in fundamental ways?
I think it is cyclical. Contrary to popular opinion, the SEC is not far ahead of every other league every year. The Big Ten held its own in bowl games against the SEC. That's just a fact. People concentrate on the national-title games and ignore all other evidence.
Having said that, I do believe the Big Ten is down this season. Almost every program is in transition in some way. Let's see where the league is in three years.
4. Was hiring Rich Rodriguez a mistake in your opinion?
I don't know yet. I think it's a strange fit and Rich should have won more games with the talent he had this year. I think he has given himself a thin margin for error with some of his actions. But I also think he is a bright coach who has a great track record, and of course he deserves time to turn this around.
5. What was his biggest mistake and what has been his best decision so far?
His biggest mistake was not settling that lawsuit against West Virginia. He got very little out of fighting it, except some embarrassing depositions involving him and his agent and bad publicity (some deserved, some not). It just wasn't worth it. He dug his heels in, and Bill Martin encouraged him to do so, instead of finding a way to end the ugly mess. I don't see how anybody can look back and say it was worth it for him.
As for his best decision, that's hard to say right now. Rich is sticking by his gut, though: recruiting who he wants, implementing his system, doing everything exactly as he wants to do it. I would say (and I think he'd agree, actually) that his best decision probably won't be clear until two or three years down the road. Maybe it's the decision to recruit somebody or a hire he has made that will pay off later.
6. How long do you think it will take for him to build a competitive program?
It was a competitive program when he showed up. It should have been more competitive this year, though obviously there are talent issues. I think it's reasonable to expect a winning season next year and contention for a Big Ten title in year three or four. I don't see how this team contends for the league championship next year with a freshman quarterback and so many losses on defense.
7. Has the Ohio State dominance of late reduced the luster of the Ohio State rivalry?
The rivalry has always seen stretches like this. Bo once went four years without beating Ohio State. It happens. I don't think the rivalry is in any danger of going away or losing importance. It has always been incredibly important in Columbus, and if anything, OSU's dominance has made it more important in Ann Arbor.
8. When was the last time Michigan was this big of an underdog going into The Game?
As far as I can tell, the answer is 1934. Michigan was 1-5 entering the game and had scored 15 points all season. Ohio State won 34-0. This shouldn't surprise anybody - it's rare to see Michigan this bad, Ohio State this good and the game in Columbus.
9. If you had to pick one early indicator of a possible Michigan upset, what would it be?
Um ... an extra week of eligibility for Tom Brady? I really don't know. Michigan's best chance to win a battle is with its defensive front. If that happens, and U-M forces Terrelle Pryor into some freshman mistakes and the Wolverines make a play or two on special teams ... stranger things have happened. But not many.
10. If they were to pull off the upset, where would it rank in terms of the rivalry?
I checked the history, and couldn't find one instance when a team as down as Michigan faced a team as good as Ohio State, especially on the road - and won. This would be the biggest upset in the history of the rivalry.
Warning: Long post
So, one thing that a lot of us have noticed is that Michigan has had a tendency to give up big plays this season. Our defense has been pretty good until the 3rd and really long situations in which they implode or when they miss key tackles.
I wanted to go back and quantify what I have seen this season, so I started out by looking at the number of yards for the touchdowns scored this year against us. I found the following numbers for the season so far (if they are off, it is because I counted them in notepad)
18 rushes for
16 passes for
18 fgs (I didn't bother with yardage because it doesn't help prove my point)
What I found disheartening was that half of passing TDs against us are for 20+ yards and just under 1/3 are from the opponents' territory. While that isn't exactly where we would like it to be, that alone won't cause problems in our season.
So, I spent a couple hours on ESPN looking at the play by play to determine how many of those scoring drives contained 20+ yard plays or where they started in Michigan territory to set up the TDs and FGs. I am going to count assisted points as points in which they got a 20+ yard play or started in Michigan territory due to a fumble/int on the scoring drive. I am doing this based off of turnovers and long plays because those have been our weekness this year. Long returns, safeties, punt blocks, etc are not counted because I am assuming that they are more random than due to problems in our systems.
55 yard pass on 3rd and 19 to set up a 8 yard run
21 yard pass on 2nd and 16 to set up a field goal
39 yard pass on 3rd and 7 to set up a field goal
Int to start at MICH 37 to set up a 19 yard pass
25 yard pass on 3rd and 5 to set up a field goal
39 yard pass on 3rd and 7 to set up a field goal
Fumble at Michigan 11 to set up a 2 yard run
Fumble at Michigan 14 to set up a 10 yard pass
48 yard pass on 1st and 10
60 yard pass on 2nd and 8 to set up a 1 yard run
Fumble returned for TD
46 yard rush on 3rd and 1 to set up a 5 yard run
20 yard pass on 2nd and 17 and
29 yard pass on 1st and 15 to set up a 22 yard pass
Fumble at Michigan 27 to set up a field goal
Fumble at Michigan 27 to set up a field goal
46 yard pass on 3rd and 1 to set up a 6 yard run
57 yard pass
77 yard pass
21 yard pass on 2nd and 12 to set up a 2 yard run
50 yard rush on 3rd and 2 to set up a 1 yard run
Fumble at MICH 16 to set up a 2 yard run
23 yard pass on 3rd and 13 to set up a field goal
Interception a MICH 40 to set up a field goal
Interception for TD
PSU (Safety, blocked punt points not counted as assisted)
44 yard run
25 yard pass on 2nd and 7 and
21 yard rush on 1st and 10 to set up a 1 yard run
Fumble at MICH 19 to set up a 1 yard run
80 yard pass
23 yard pass on 3rd and 16 to set up a 61 yard pass
64 yard rush on 1st and 10
44 yard pass on 3rd and 12 to set up a 4 yard pass
Interception at MICH 40 to set up a 7 yard pass
Purdue (3-3-5 game, points from fake punt not counted)
23 yard pass on 1st and 10 to set up a 2 yard run
35 yard pass on 1st and 15 to set up a 7 yard pass
20 yard pass on 1st and 10 to set up a 28 yard pass
26 yard rush on 3rd and 6 to set up a field goal
21 yard rush
20 yard pass on 1st and 10 to set up a 17 yard pass
53 yard pass
As you can see for yourself, only 3 teams managed to score touchdowns on us on drives that did not start in our own territory due to turnovers or long plays due to breakdowns in our defense. So far this season, only 78 points on such drives have been scored on us which is about 7 points per game.
I am not saying that those teams would not be able to score on us, but I am saying we handed over almost all of the points this season. If our defense were somewhat competent this season and we assume that teams only score half of the assisted points due to us holding them to field goals or them scoring half of the TDs (you can think about it however you want to), then the scores look something like this:
Utah 23-15 W
Miami (NTM) 16-3 W
ND 17-17 W (because we played better than them)
Wisconsin 27-15 W
Illinois 24-20 L
Toledo 10-6 W
PSU 35-17 L
MSU 21-21 L (because they played better than us)
Purdue 41-38 W
Minnesota 29-3 W
NW 14-10 W
I know this isn't the most scientific piece of evidence, but all of a sudden, those close losses become close wins, and those beat downs become close(r) losses. We would be 8-3(5-3), which is where I think a lot of us expected us to be at the end of the season.
Next season, with our offense having a full year of maturity and our OLine gelling a lot more than this year, I expect our turnover margin to be much closer to 0 and hopefully in our favor.
I am also hoping to see Graham, Martin, Campbell, Van Bergen, Ezeh, Mouton, Warren, Cissoko, Stevie Brown, Brandon Smith, and Woolfolk in a 4-2-5 so that we can hopefully try to minimize the long yardage plays.
*Speculation from here on out*
Looking to the schedule next year, I hope to see wins against Western and two other "cupcakes", a win against another blowhard ND team at home, a win against Indiana, and a win against MSU without Ringer to start the season. Considering the way this season has gone I may be entirely wrong, but I would bet that we make it to 6-0 next season. Possibly 5-1.
We then are at Iowa with a Senior Shonn Greene. With momentum from the 6-0 start, I expect a win here, but it is iffy. 7-0 or 5-2, I bet 7-0
We then have a Bye before hosting PSU. I think we might pull a win here because we are at home, JoePa will probably retire, and Clark will be gone. It could go either way. 8-0 or 5-3, I bet 7-1
Illinois. Juice Williams = Senior, Benn = Sophomore, Dufrene = 5th year senior, @Illinois. Loss. 8-1 or 5-4, I bet 7-2
Purdue at home, they will be rebuilding, revenge. Win. 9-1 or 6-4, I bet 8-2
Wisconsin, @wisconsin, revenge, still no quarterback and only a running game. Could go either way but most likely theirs. 10-1 or 6-5, I bet 8-3
OSU, @home, they graduate almost an entire team. Could go either way, but I bet in our favor. 11-1 or 6-6, I bet 9-3
So, anyway, I think next year we see some real improvement. I hope that they stick with the 4-2-5, and that improvements will limit the long yardage plays that have killed us this year. I also hope that our offense can play 4 quarters like they play in the first quarter of most of their games, but more importantly, I hope that we don't hand them the ball in the redzone. If all or most of these hopes come true then I think RR will have a lot more breathing room by the end of next year.
Wolverine fans: as Thanksgiving approaches, let us be sure to take a moment to remember our fellow Michiganders who are not so fortunate this time of year.
Times are clearly tough in parts of the state, and while our 3-8 record may be depressing, we need to take a moment to put it in perspective…particularly in light of the tough times Michigan State graduates face…
Lacking more content to meet the 200 word minimum: I close with these sacred words:
...And Saint Attila raised the hand grenade up on high, saying, "O Lord, bless this Thy hand grenade that with it Thou mayest blow Thine enemies to tiny bits, in Thy mercy." And the Lord did grin and the people did feast upon the lambs and sloths and carp and anchovies and orangutans and breakfast cereals, and fruit bats and large chu...
And the Lord spake, saying, "First shalt thou take out the Holy Pin, then shalt thou count to three, no more, no less. Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out. Once the number three, being the third number, be reached, then lobbest thou thy Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch towards thy foe, who being naughty in my sight, shall snuff it."
Since going to the 4-2-5 set the defense looks like they're playing with a chip on their shoulder (which they should be).
The 4 DL seem to be paying dividends by getting more pressure on the QB which resulted in the 3 INT's in the past 2 games while giving up less than 100 yards rushing in each game.
The defense will have 6 days to devote a way to stopping Wells but can they do it? Everyone reading this blog knows that Wells is getting the ball at least 25 to 30 times, Shafer knows it, RR knows it and so does the defense but can they contain Wells enough to make Pryor throw the ball? That's 6 days worth of film, technique, blitz packages, stunt packages and practices dedicated to stopping 1 person. With all of that preparation and knowing what OSU is going to do, can they stop Wells from running directly through the middle of the defense?
If they contain Wells and Pryor has to throw the ball I like UM's chances of staying close into the 4th quarter. Pryor has 10 TD passes, 3 INT, and 6 rushing TD in 11 games this year. If you eliminate his padded stats in the Troy and Northwestern games his stats are 3 TD passes, 2 INT and 6 rushing TD in 9 games. I would much rather make Pryor throw the ball to win rather than seeing Wells put up 200+ yards (again).
The offense may have Freshmen at a majority of the positions but there aren't any excuses for the defense. I want to see Feagin throw the ball at least 1 time and I don't care if it's incomplete but you can't let someone stack 9 in the box against you. I want to see a steady dose of Minor, Brown, Shaw and only use Sheridan when absolutely necessary. Let Mesko pin them deep and dear God keep Odoms away from the punts.
After setting records this year for all the wrong reasons I have to believe there is a nasty rage building up in that defense and hopefully we see it this weekend. I also have faith in the running game that they will find a way to get it done against OSU. Keep handing the ball off to Minor, Brown, and Shaw and UM could make sure OSU is playing in Florida rather than Pasadena.
In a season full of disappointment, and a comedy of injuries and errors, one thing has stuck out to me: Michigan's offense has disappeared for long stretches in almost every game. This lack of scoring has absolutely killed Michigan and in many ways explains, or at least illustrates, their inability to win games they were in a position to win. The offense has rarely played well for more than a half and has played particularly bad in the third quarter.
Here is the breakdown:
Utah: no points in 2nd or 3rd quarter
Miami (OH): no points in 2nd or 3rd quarter
Notre Dame: no points 3rd or 4th quarter
Wisconsin: no points 1st or 2nd,
Illinois: no points in 2nd or 3rd quarter
Toledo: no points in 3rd or 4th quarter
Penn State: no points in 3rd or 4th quarter
Michigan State: no points in 4th quarter
Purdue: scored in every quarter
Minnesota: scored in every quarter
Northwester: no points in 3rd or 4th quarter
So in 8 games this year Michigan has gone two or more quarters without scoring a point! How can you expect to win ball games if you take half the game off on offense from a scoring perspective?
Here are the points but quarter:
1st: 92, 2nd: 51, 3rd: 34, 4th: 65
Clearly this team struggles mightily in the third quarter. Almost half of the yearly output (14 pts.) was in one game (Purdue). In only 4 of 11 games this season have they scored at all in the third quarter.
Here are some options for why this is happening:
- Coaching: opposing coaches are figuring out Michigan's schemes and coming up with ways to stop them while Michigan is unable to adapt.
- Talent: Michigan simply doesn't have the talent to compete and this talent is winning out in the later half of the game.
- Inexperience: in pressure situations young players make more mistakes and thus we lose important scoring opportunities.
This is not an exhaustive list, obviously, but these seem like the main culprits. And it also seems clear to me that in reality it is a mix of all three.
I think the lack of talent and experience has led to both inconsitent play and to a limited play book. As opposing teams figure out what we are doing and shut it down, the coaches are not able to enlarge the play book or get more creative because the players are not able to handle it. Critical mistkaes and turnovers have also plauged Michigan this year and this has taken away key scoring oppertunities as well.
I am not a Xs and Os guy, and I didn't take the time to chart every drive, but have ing watched the game it was clear that the offense has simply been unable to move the ball for long stretches of time. The scoring numbers reflect this and it has meant the difference between being competitive and getting blown out and between narrow loses and wins.
It Michigan is to have a prayer of winning on Saturday they will need to find a way to be consistent and not take a couple of quarters off. It the above pattern holds it will get ugly.