well that's just, like, your opinion, man
WEEK 3 IN THE BIG TEN: REPORTS FROM THE EYEWASH STATION
As we are aware, the Big Ten has not exactly gotten out of the gate this season at a blistering pace. Just this past weekend, for example, Rutgers chokes away a lead against a Penn State team that seemed to be forever 3rd and 6, Iowa had the impudence to lose to Iowa State and saddle them with the CyHawk trophy, Indiana loses to Bowling Green, Minnesota gets curbstomped by TCU, Kent State really had Ohio State on the ropes for a few precious seconds when their bus parked across two spaces in the parking lot…and so on. Let’s just say that the explanation for all this probably sounds a lot like this:
So, let’s embark on a discussion of where Michigan sits after three weeks, and again, we’re going to rely a little more on a discussion format here as averages still don’t mean much at the moment. Still, for what it is worth, here are Michigan’s summary averages and where they sit with regards to the conference as a whole:
Scoring Offense – 28.7 points, 9th
Scoring Defense – 18.3 points, 5th
Now, 10.4 points in the positive for a differential may not be impressive to some, but slap a minus on the same number and you can be Purdue. Just saying.
Total Offense – 436.3 yards, 5th
Total Defense – 252.7 yards, 1st
The defense has definitely been doing its job. Actually, we’ve been gaining 2.1 yards more than our opponents so far on average on a per play basis, which is excellent.
Rushing Offense – 242 yards, 3rd
Rushing Defense – 80 yards, 3rd
On one side of the run game, a huge turnaround. We have made 44% of last year’s entire net rushing in three games. We’re also quite good at stopping the run so far too.
Passing Offense – 194.3 yards, 12th
Passing Defense – 172.7 yards, 3rd
Cumulatively for pass defense, we’re 52-93 for 518 yards total, good for a 55.9% completion percentage and about 5.6 yards per attempt. When we’re doing the throwing, it’s 48-73 for 583 yards overall, good for about a 65% completion percentage and about 8.0 yards per attempt.
Other notes – Michigan’s 1st down differential is quite good, averaging 6.1 more first downs than our opponents (all three of them, I know) to date, and our 3rd down conversion differential is 12.1% in the positive, so we win that battle too. Indeed, we’ve managed to allow only 31.8% of all third downs so far against us to be converted.
Here are some of the summary stats for the conference to date. Again, average of three numbers, strength of conclusions, grumble grumble…
I hope you saved some space on your plate for these #HOTTAKES.
Worst: Cue Up Morrissey
I'll get this right out up front; I am not nearly as down about this game as seems to be the general consensus. I'm a bit of an optimist at heart, but a 34-10 win where UM more than doubled the yardage of the opposition (while holding them under 200 total yards) and never being seriously challenged save for a random 5-minute spurt in the 2nd quarter in which everything that could go wrong did just doesn't get my blood boiling. Yes, the team looked out-of-sorts at times, and obviously this isn't one for the Gardner archives, but reading my Facebook feed and the comments on the internet, you'd think UM had just lost to MAC teams like so many conference brethren.
I do think there is a subset of the fanbase that must disabuse itself of the notion that Michigan can just impose its will on teams and the opponents will oblige by pulling their collective tails beneath them and scurrying away. The announcers of the game (who I thought did an immensely better job than last we heard BTN announcer/bitter OSU WR Joey Galloway and Beth "EMPhasis on the wrong syLLAble" Moowins) mentioned a couple of times that Miami wasn't "afraid" or in awe of UM. Now, maybe Angola was taken aback by the mere presence of the Dream Team in 1992, but a D1 team comprised of players from the same region should absolutely feel like it can compete, especially when the opposition is giving away possessions and clearly not at the top of its game for stretches of the contest. I know I'm harping on a seemingly-meaningless point, but the part of the Michigan internet echo chamber that drives me most crazy is the chicken little mentality that has existed for decades (and yes, this existed well before 2007). It wasn't pretty all the time, and there are definitely lingering issues (i.e. clock management at the end of halves, Gardner's skittishness and WR lock-on, coverages issues in the secondary), but this team looks light-years ahead of where it was last year in its third game against Akron, where they gave up 418 yards and needed a last-second stop at home. Michigan largely dominated an overmatched team saved for a string of bad luck in the 2nd quarter, and attempts to make it more meaningful or representative of the rest of the season feels like a fool's errand.
Best: Apparently They Listened
Last week I said that I thought it would behoove the coaching staff to pick one of the two key backs and give him the bulk of the carries for a game or two just to build some cohesiveness and see if Green or Smith could be the "feature" back in this offense. Well, after some chatter this week that Smith was seen gingerly walking around campus, Derrick Green was given 27 carries this game and turned in a pretty solid performance, averaging 6.2 ypc and 2 TDs. That average is both impressive (his long was only 27 yards, so it wasn't goosed by some massive run through the secondary) and a bit troubling (you kinda hoped the former #1 RB recruit could have broken a big run against a turrible Miami defense), but overall Green looked better as the game progressed and made some nice cuts and reads throughout the day, including what I believe was his long run where he went left then cut back right to burst through a massive hole on the backside of the play. Perhaps most promising was the fact that he ran thru contact far better than in the past, falling forward and getting those couple of extra yards good backs should always eek out. While I understand the value of multiple backs being interchangeable parts in the rushing attack, it does seem to help when a back can get into the flow of the game and run multiples series without being swapped in and out. While I'd still love for either Green or Smith to have that extra speed element that can turn some of these 10+ yard runs into 50+ yard TD runs, at this stage the rushing attack looks lightyears better than it did last year, when TFLs were abundant (only 2 this game, for a total of 3 yards) even against the dregs on the schedule (Akron had 7 for 21 yards).
Meh: Chaotic Neutral Devin Gardner
Gardner had an average performance, one that probably was a bit worse than I'm making it out to be (his mechanics seemed out of whack at times and a couple of his throws, including the INT, were a result of locking onto the WR and not setting his feet in the pocket) but also one not nearly as bad as the Russell Bellomy Special people are making it out to be. Coming on the heels of last week's second-half horror show, it was a bit disheartening to see Gardner throw another bad INT on a pass that led to Chesson getting sandwiched between two Redhawks. Also, and this is somewhat hard to tell from the sideline camera angle, but it felt like Gardner sensed breakdowns in the pocket that weren't there, leading him to scramble around and make off-balance throws where stepping up or shifting position slightly would have been sufficient. But unlike in years past, he halted the scuttling in the second half, and that wide-open TD to Butt that really broke the game open and settled everyone down. I saw some people complain that Gardner nearly blew that wide-open pass, but that type of throw actually seems harder than it looks precisely because of how open Butt was; as a QB, you are conditioned to expect a certain level of coverage on your receivers, and when a guy is that blindingly wide open it seems to catch lots of QBs by surprise and takes them a moment to adjust.
Overall, Gardner's numbers were fine (14+ yards per completion, 2 TDs, running when appropriate) and he seems to have found another weapon in Darboh that will help complement Funchess when he gets back. It was a workman-like performance, and coming off last week's game it was a welcome return.
Worst: ChadTomDrewJohnJimDenard HenneBradyHensonNavarreHarbaughRobinson Jr. Ain't Walking Through That Door
You always hear that the best position on a team is the backup to the "leader", whether it be QB, goalie, PG, etc. While the starter plays every game and exposes his failings on a daily basis, the platonic ideal of that player tends to manifest themselves in the form of the backup, who rarely sees the field and thus does nothing to dispel the notion that he would be superior to the incumbent even though in most circumstances, you know, he would probably be the starter if he actually was better.
Now, Gardner's problem isn't most people thinking Shane Morris should be the starter; beyond the "give reps to the future" camp, I haven't seen many people arguing Morris is better than Gardner right now at QB. What I do see, in veiled references and wistful posts, is the idea that Gardner is somehow demonstrably worse than those QBs who came before him, that if you put any of a dozen former QBs in his spot they would be world-beaters. To me, this mindset is the combination of whitewashing the past while stubbornly ignoring the realities of the present that you typically only see when you talk to Baby Boomers.
Look at Tom Brady's college stats, then remember he had future NFL Offensive ROY Anthony Thomas as the feature back, throwing to future 1st rounder NFL pick David Terrell and 3rd-rounder Marquise Walker, and was protected by All Big Tens Jon Jansen and Steven Hutchinson, with Hutch being one of the best 2-3 guards in the history of the program. Henne always had Hart and a cadre of NFL-quality WRs to throw to, from Braylon to Manningham and Breaston, and had future #1 overall tackle Jake Long covering his backside every year.
My point isn't to disparage the past accomplishments of players; Drew Henson could have been a transcendent star at UM if he had stuck around, and guys like Jim Harbaugh played in a different era but were absolutely deserving of the accolades they received. But they weren't world-beaters, and virtually all of them played on better teams, with better supporting casts and far more coherent offensive philosophies and coaching stability, than Devin Gardner. And they all had their flaws; guys like Henne and Navarre were notorious for locking onto their safety blankets (usually Braylon or Walker) and willing the ball to them, coverage be damned. Most QBs do that at various points in their careers, and anyone who has watched an NFL game with Calvin Johnson, Randy Moss, etc. in the lineup knows that this behavior isn't confined to the college game. Brady emerged somewhat as a senior, but he seemed like the definition of a game manager throughout his career, with his last game against Alabama being so memorable because of how against-type it was compared to the rest of his career.
Barring an epic turnaround, Gardner won't go down in Michigan lore as one of the great ones; not enough record-breaking runs like Denard, too strong a perception that he throws interceptions and misses receivers be respected as a passer. And games like this one do nothing to dispel these notions, but that's an issue more for the viewer than the realities of Devin Gardner's tenure at QB for Michigan. He's a good QB who probably won't ever be great, and that's fine; you have to go pretty far back in the history books before you'd find someone who would fit that designation at UM. But the constant strawmen he's compared to, and the needless nit-picking that seems to follow his every performance, is both an unnecessary exercise in rabble-rousing and a disservice to a pretty good player.
Best: Depth at Wide Receiver or
Worst: Is That Depth Only Interchangeable?
It was great to see guys like Darboh, Chesson, and even a brief appearance by Canteen get some focus in a passing attack that still seems to be figuring out what to do with the players available. Darboh clearly established himself as the starter across from Funchess, and he looked sufficiently athletic enough to punish teams who single-cover him, at least with the ball in his hands (that first fumble was due as much to ball security as a good tackle by Miami). Chesson couldn't pull in a gorgeous pass from Morris in the endzone when the MU corner swiped his arm, and he was the intended receiver who got crunched on Devin's tipped INT, but he his holding off some decent players for his spot and is also contributing on special teams. Norfleet didn't catch a pass but had a great kickoff return to start the game and his 21-yard run on 1st down in the 3rd quarter gave Michigan great field position that they ultimately squandered. Even Jungle Beats got in on the action, and looked like he could be a playmaker as the season progresses.
At the same time, it was a bit disheartening to see the passing offense remain a bit stagnant, at least in terms of downfield threats. Darboh averaged a shade over 14.5 yards per catch, and that included a 26-yarder that featured quite a bit yac tacked onto a short slant/crossing route. The longest completion of the day was on Butt's TD, which required absolutely every Miami player to not keep their eyes on a big Butt as it passed them by.
Given how the offense seems adverse to throwing downfield consistently even when Funchess is available, my inclination is not that Michigan has a bunch of possession receivers but that they aren't being asked to stretch the field. So far Nussmeier seems content to take a couple shots down the field a game but mostly focus on getting the ball out to his playmakers and asking them to make yardage after the catch, highlighted by the multiple WR screens and quick outs we've seen for three weeks now. Hopefully as the season progresses we'll see a more diverse passing attack, but at least so far it does look like UM has playmakers outside, in the slot, and at TE.
Best: The Charmeleon'ing of the Offensive Line
I was a bit too old for the whole Pokemon craze, but having two younger brothers and playing a fair bit of Super Smash Brothers I was exposed to enough of the mythos to make this reference kinda work. The Pokemon creatures, both as a homage to the growth patterns of many inspects as well as a shameless money grab to force fans to purchase ever-more "intense" versions of the same basic character, "evolve" as they gain more experience in battles and, I guess, in life. So like a mild-manner turtle named Squirtle can become the weaponized Blastoise simply be practicing and becoming more attuned to its skills and abilities, it feels like the offensive line is becoming more proficient and cohesive every week. Yes there were breakdowns, but the running game didn't get overly bogged down after some early struggles, and as noted earlier it felt like Gardner's scrambles were as much a response to phantom pains from past rib-crushings than Miami consistently getting pressure. As always, competency is the end-goal this year, and this unit is going to struggle against some of the better lines on the schedule, but this felt like another battle won by the line, and every week they are gaining the experience necessary to take the next step in its evolution.
I'm sure the rush defense is going to struggle at some point this year, but its been three weeks in a row now where opposing offenses are getting absolutely stoned running the ball. Excising the one 1 sack by Beyer, Michigan held Miami to 46 yards on 23 carries, or a very tidy 2.0 ypc. The longest run of the day was an 8-yard scramble by Andrew Hendrix, and at no point did Miami seem capable of getting a consistent push against the front 7. Both Bolden and Ryan looked more comfortable out there, though it still feels like Ryan is wasted in the middle given his disruptive abilities as a pass rusher, and Thomas was in to snuff out some runs as well. It continues to be a bit troubling that the team isn't recording buckets of TFLs, but its a minor quibble considering Miami had a total of 8 first downs all day, and most of those came on their two short-field scoring drives.
Best: All Those Penalties
One of those underrated stats that "smart" football minds used to lord over was the number of pass interference flags certain WRs would accumulate over the season. The logic is that a PI is at least as good as a completion; it typically means the defender had to bail out on whatever he normally does and resort to cheating to stop a long completion from occurring. Certain receivers tended to draw those flags more than others, and identifying them and their disruptive tendencies helped both defense as well as the offense because you could design plays that would isolate those players against corners and try to draw flags at key moments.
The corollary on the defensive line should probably be the false start, especially at the tackle spots. When you have a great pass rusher, your tackles know they need to get whatever jump they can in order to compensate, and as a result they'll try to "cheat" on quick counts to get that extra half-step before contact. In this game, it seemed that the Miami line was so worried about guys like Clark, Henry, and Beyer that they had 4 false starts plus one delay of game that immediately followed the first false start. Though they only recorded the one Beyer sack, Clark was consistently putting pressure on Hendrix, and had the line kept containment on a few plays they probably would have record 2-3 more sacks (one play in particular seemingly featured the entire line chasing Hendrix as he fled the pocket; you probably don't want to see that on a 4-man rush). It feels like the sacks are going to be there at the end of the year, and in this game the disruptiveness along that line just manifested itself in all the laundry being thrown by the refs.
Worst: Holding's Still a Thing, Right?
Each team was called for one hold in this game, with Michigan's coming on the last, meaningless drive. That seems about 100 short considering how overmatched Miami's line looked at times and how frequently a UM defender was thisclose to dragging down Hendrix or tackling a back behind the line, only to see that player escape for a minimal gain or throw the ball away. There is undoubtedly some bias in this view, but it felt like after the flurry of self-inflicted wounds by Miami to start the game, the referees seemed to let up a bit. Listen, just because Miami is screwing up before the play doesn't mean they aren't equally dumb during the play. It's the same mentality that led to the "press coverage or die" popularized by MSU and the Seahawks; nobody wants to call a penalty on every play, so accept some bad calls for the overall success rate you get by grabbing and holding. It didn't really matter in the end, but it was annoying to watch in real time.
Meh: The Secondary
I've never sat in on coaching meetings nor do I know the exact formations being taught by the coaching staff, but watching the game it felt like the corners were still struggling with the intricacies of the coverages being called. A number of times there were Miami receivers in the gaps between 2-3 Michigan defenders, with a corner trailing behind and a LB twisting around, trying to locate the ball. On one of those Bolden made a nice 1-handed deflection that probably would have been a nice reception without it, and an early 3rd-and-14 pass to Rokeem Williams was open between 4 Michigan defenders that Hendrix just underthrew. Again, some of these "mistakes" could have been designs of the defense that Miami simply countered; even bad teams can get you in a bad formation or find a hole in the coverage. And the defense was still down Taylor and Peppers was getting his first sustained time on the field, so some growing pains are to be expected. But I agree with Brian that the secondary still seems to be getting the intricacies of the defensive scheme down, which is usually a big enough problem if it wasn't also compounded by having the coach learning it for the first time as well.
Worst: Clock Management and Coaching or
Worst-er: Bitching about Clock Management and Coaching
Everyone complained about the slowest 4-minute drill to end the first half, and the decision to punt at the Miami 37 after a delay of game on 4th-and-1 were cringe-worthy, but I'm comfortably numb at this point to these brain farts with Michigan football, and would argue that this stuff happens to every team from time to time. Yes, great teams usually don't waste oodles of time in a close game huddling and then running clocking-killing runs from midfield, but Michigan is so far away from being a "great" team that "not screwing this up and getting somebody killed" beats out "throwing it for a pick-6 because your first-year WR runs the wrong pattern" even if the latter probably nets you more points over time.
I know fans want this team to be less derpy about clock management, but for better or for worse this is how Michigan has played for decades now. At some point you'd hope that the coaching staff pushes the envelope a bit and picks up the pace, but at the same time all coaching staffs have their blind spots, and when UM is back to consistently winning 10-11 games a year I'll start worrying about these wasted opportunities. It's probably a bit defeatist and unproductive, but no more so than the weekly complaints about it.
Best: One of These is Not Like the Others
Though the NCAA.com hasn't updated the stats for the week thus far, it is safe to assume that Michigan has one of the weirder profiles in college football. They sport one of the top defenses overall, especially against the run, and have a decent rushing attack (top 30-ish) and an emerging passing game. The kicking game is a little meh, but it isn't an atrocity either to the scale it was under RR. Michigan has outscored its opponents 117 to 55, and that is with the potential outlier of ND's 31-0 whatever that was. And yet, the team has a turnover margin of -7, with only some of that explained by poor ball security or bad throws. I know Michigan has been snakebitten in the turnover department for years now (save 2011), but it feels like that will have to rectify itself, especially given how strong the defense has looked overall. Provided the running game isn't a mirage and the line continues its solid play, that should take some pressure off Gardner and thus allow him to pass under less duress, and at some point you have to think Clark, Ryan, etc. will start creating turnovers in droves. Heck, Lewis's INT was a result of Hendrix being under pressure and throwing a floater up short. This team probably deserves to still be 2-1, and with a bit more luck, who knows?
Best: Cradle of Fandom
Usually during rivalry weeks around these parts, people talk about how they came to be a fan of the Wolverines. Many of the stories features tales of family members taking them to games as youths, or plopping down in front of the TV and catching a big game on national TV, or being inducted into the Michigan family before they even opened their eyes.
Me, I came to be a Michigan football fan by a more circuitous, or at least a less conventional, route.
Growing, my sport was basketball. Loved watching it, loved playing it, everything about the hardwood interested me. My favorite book was a compendium of the 50 best basketball players based on whatever criteria that ended up with Kendall Gill and just-out-of-college Christian Laettner.
|I'm as surprised as you are, Christian.|
Hell, I even bought Bill Laimbeer's Combat Basketball, even though I played it for about 5 minutes total. Now, I wasn't conventionally "good" at playing the game of basketball, but it remains one of the few competitive sports that comes with both single-player and multi-player compatibility out of the box; you can shoot alone on your driveway or join a pickup game seamlessly. My father's first passion was basketball, and some of my fondest memories involved playing horse with him as he taught me the hook shot and how to square my shoulders when taking a jumpshot. And growing up in the shadow of the Fab 5 era cemented my love for the game, though weirdly not for the University. Sure I loved the fact that my local college team was winning games with flair and had future pros up and down the roster, but you could have switched them with Central and I wouldn't have batted an eye.
Football was a different beast for me; while I had briefly played it as a youngster, it just didn't stick. My dad had attended Michigan and would watch the bowl games and the major rivalries on TV, but it wasn't a religious experience for him the way it seemed for other families. So it wasn't until 1995 when I attended my first UM football game, with my friend and his father, against the Miami (NTM) RedHawks. And as weird as it is to say nearly two decades later, that was when I probably became a true Michigan fan.
It was one of those beautiful fall days you always remember every football Saturday being even though most probably weren't. I had never been to Ann Arbor, so the hour-plus drive from Royal Oak, MI was a blur of highways and weird farm country. We parked a couple blocks off State Street (probably off Packard, but who knows) and walked down beautiful tree-lined streets to Hoover, then into the stadium. It seems like most Michigan fans have their first stadium experience in one of two ways; as small children taken by family, where everything is overwhelming and you don't really grasp it at the time, or as (relatively) jaded college freshmen who are impressed but have enough life experience and have many other things on their mind (e.g. getting acclimated to college life, classes, parties, etc.) that the full impact of the surroundings is muted.
Well, and this will sound like hyperbole, that was the moment I figured out I wanted to go to the University of Michigan. It's simplistic and over the years I obviously learned more about the school and how it fit into my future plans, but that day, sitting in those stands watching UM put away a plucky Redhawks team that felt eerily like this game (UM was never truly threatened, but that Miami team was pretty good at 8-2-1 and certainly had enough playmakers to keep up), I became enchanted with the football team, the stadium, the school, and everything that encapsulated. And that team UM finished with 4 losses, part of a 4-year streak in which the Wolverines finished with 4 losses each year, that ended in 1997.
I guess the reason I shared this story is that for all the complaining and consternation people around here have about the "direction" of the program, marketing efforts, ticket pricing and attendance, and all the other minutiae that occupies the days between gameday, it helps to remember that for lots of people, the magic isn't gone and the experience of being in that stadium on a crisp fall day is one that can have profound influence on their lives. Hell, the reason I was even there was probably because Miami was a "poor" opponent and tickets were readily available; earlier that year the 100k attendance record nearly ended when Memphis showed up. I'm not saying yesterday's game will lead to someone adopting the Wolverines as the University as his/her own, but part of me hopes that another generation of fans does.
Best: Bring on the Utes
It's fashionable to talk about Utah being a dangerous team, and I'll admit that Dres Anderson (who is one of my college football fantasy WRs) looks pretty good so far this year. But the two teams they have beaten are a combined 1-5, with that one win being Idaho St.'s "not as close as the score indicates but still not a good sign when the other team doesn't even have a logo on ESPN" win over Chadron St. The Utes have had a week to prepare, but Michigan will be a massive step up in talent compared to Utah's schedule so far, and while last year's Utah team upset Stanford and lost a nailbitter to ASU last year, it was otherwise handled pretty handily by the good teams on its schedule and only had a 7-point win over BYU on the road. It will be a tougher test that UM probably wanted when they scheduled this game years ago, but it also feels like a good barometer for the team's potential this season. I expect Utah to be able to move the ball at times, but Wilson is no Golson and if Michigan can cut down on the inexplicable turnovers, I think they'll emerge with a win.
Preface: are things like they used to be?
Game day in Ann Arbor is an experience steeped in tradition. Nevertheless, the stadium experience, and with it the student section experience, has necessarily evolved, even just within my 6+ years in the NW corner. So to kick things off, here are some rapid fire questions/answers:
Flasks? Yup, though I will add that, at least in the lower sections, most students appear to have gotten less tolerant of drinking and drunkenness from other students. If you’re being positive and happy drunk, great we love you. If you’re incessantly bitching about the team, complaining about the players, generally being negative and happen to stumble into me, I’m getting event staff. And I wouldn’t be the only one.
Marshmallows? Uhh honestly I haven’t seen this in any season I’ve been there…
Beach balls? Have seen them recently, didn’t today.
Cow bell? Depressingly not yet this season. Other students reading this: we must fix this if nothing else
Travelling band? Nope (and I don’t think they have for a year or so but I’m not sure). Definitely remember being entertained by that in years past
International student experience: Very little experience here. I can say that in my section down in the row A area there aren’t very many (if any) international students. For the CMU game last year there were a small handful nearly first in line in the student queue, though from talking to them they were under the impression that the game started when the queue opened….
Engaged? Yes, mostly. It’s hard to compare to past years given that the Row A experience is a little different than that in Row 96… But the students are certainly no less engaged than any other segment (and for better or worse they booed the punt decision just as much as everyone else)
The clock finally wound down to all zeroes in what was a rather strange game at the Big House. We cheered as the team ran over to the stands and then back down the tunnel., the small handful of us that remained down by the railing packing up while trying to ascertain from the stadium police what on earth the rope sectioning off the field from the sidelines was for. Apparently it is for preventing a field rush. This year. Against Miami. With a chem lecture’s worth of people left in the stands. Ok. We turned to the people behind us,
“Have a great weekend.”
“See you next week.”
There, that right there is in a nutshell the problem that we had last year in the student section. We hear every week “how great it is to be part of something that is the team,” but the team is something considerably more than just the 11 young men in winged helmets on the field at any time. It is more than the full roster, the coaches, trainers, student managers and everyone else who could by any definition conceivably purport to be affiliated with the program. Or at least it was supposed to be. The team is supposed to be something that unites every single person wearing their maize and blue in that stadium, or watching it on TV, or listening on the radio, or running around with their fingers shoved in their ears until they could watch the game they’d
taped TiVo’d later. The team is the group of people in the stadium around you, who over the course of 6–8 games you got to know—those people who were as much a part of your game day experience as the people you chose to sit by. And last season the athletic department forgot that.
Given what we’ve heard or been able to read between the lines about much of what went wrong last season: lack of upperclassmen leadership, lack of cohesion on the line, or the many other instances of lacking “the team”, it seems only fitting that that disconnect spread deep into the fanbase. Instead of creating an element of the team, general admission pitted students against each other for the best seats in the stadium. The result was often ugly: students trying to sneak in late to get better seats, students yelling at each other, anger and hostility, lack of team.
This year things seem different. Is everything hunky dory in the student section? No. You still get the occasional person drunk to the point of falling on you, trying to usurp your seat, and degrading the fan experience for everyone around you. Fortunately event staff can deal with that pretty readily (especially if this person is in the wrong seat—as is often the case because, listen man, reading is drunk when I’m this challenging). But in spite of that, the cohesive, friendly, spirit seems to be back; at least in the superfan rows.
Unfortunately there’s been some lingering damage. As we all are aware with the recent struggles on the line, poor decisions from the past can linger for far into the future. During GA, the bottom of the student section was ill-prepared to correctly do the wave, or, for that matter, nearly any cheer. I naively thought that bringing seniors and grad students back down to the bottom would fix the problem. As today’s rather unfortunate attempts to start the wave while only up by a touchdown, and the subsequent inability to start the wave in the waning minutes of the 3rd quarter once we were up by 14, demonstrated, that isn’t quite the case. This year’s seniors haven’t had a decent wave experience or even good wave leadership in two years. Last time it went well they were in row 60; they had no part in starting it.
We can bring that experience back. It’ll take some effort and some creativity. We’ll have to re-teach them. It’s doable. It’ll be challenging, but for the fan experience, it needs to be done.
Seating Policy in Review—Take 2
So honestly, after last weekend, I expected to be writing about how we’d tailed off quite a bit from last week, how students had filtered in, but outside of student fans weren’t there before kickoff. Well by and large that wasn’t the case. While many, many seats stayed empty throughout the stadium, the student section filled in by and large on time, and to no worse a percentage than the stadium as a whole. 102,824 will make *every* section look empty. For what it’s worth, the new policy does seem to motivate students to show up on time, even after a dispiriting loss, even against an overmatched opponent. What the policy doesn’t do is motivate students to come in the first place, and to stay to the bitter end.
The first of those lies entirely on the athletic department. When our attendance is dropping to levels not seen since 1995, and student ticket sales dropped to less than ¾ of last year’s, it’s time to look long and hard about the experience we are providing for the students. Asking students who often have little if any income, many of whom are taking on thousands of dollars in debt, to pay increasingly outrageous prices for a lackluster home schedule is unsurprisingly going to result in a small, less effective student section. Not to mention less engaged alumni down the road. From those I’ve talked to who are on the new Football Student Advisory Council, it seems like the athletic department is now listening. Sometimes slow to act, but listening. Vendors selling $2 bottles of water in the student section: fantastic idea. Allowing people to again bring in unopened bottles of water or empty reusable bottles would be significantly better, and obviously the ticket prices are the big one, but it’s a start.
The second point is on us. It’s a culture thing and it’s sad to say that it’s changed as much as it has. I remember riding the bus as a freshman reading a Daily article (I didn’t know any better back then) that was discussing at length the tradition of students staying until the bitter end. No matter what happened on the field, no matter how bleak things looked, those who stayed, well you know. And those in my year really seemed to live that. Our first season was the fan crucible of 2008. We were rewarded with the Wisconsin comeback. We had our resolve tested with the rain, snow, sleet, and locusts for the Northwestern game. We were kicked in the metaphorical nards rivalry game after rivalry game. But after 2008 we were committed. We watched the team slowly crawl back to some modicum of relevance and it felt like our commitment and loyalty had paid off. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case for those who started in years after us. The seniors today weren’t on campus for RichRod. They didn’t experience that. They’ve had the opposite experience. They came in as freshmen and we won a BCS bowl. Since then we’ve underwhelmed. I have to imagine that, paired with that underwhelming performance, past classes (mine included) failed to adequately instill in the younger students the same rabid fandom that kept me at the 2008 Northwestern game to the end, and brought me from row 96 to row 14 in freezing rain despite numb everything. We were absolutely convinced in 2011 that the pain was over, our fandom had been vindicated. Michigan was back. We told the younger students about staying at games and cheering Michigan on to greatness. It appears that we may have missed the operative clause: “no matter what”. That too is changeable. It’ll be a slow process of growth back into “the team” but it’s doable.
Bringing back the student experience is not an overnight thing; we need to give them something to believe in. And with a team that has met its share of struggles and with an athletic department that seems more interested in the bottom line than the student experience, for all too many it’s hard to find that. Nevertheless change is possible. In my freshman year I attended my first UM BB game. They gave us free transportation, tickets, pancakes and a t-shirt just to get us to show up. They did what was necessary to get students there despite the underwhelming performance of the team. Since then we’ve been conference champions twice, have gone to the national championship game, and have won 6 of the last 9 against once dominant MSU (who had won 18 of the 21 games prior to the most recent 9). That basketball team got back to greatness because everyone was committed to doing what was necessary to bring it back. If the football team does make it back it will be because of the same reasons. If we want the student fan experience to come back to greatness, we of course need commitment from the students, but most critically we need the athletic department to let go of the processes that aren’t working, to stop focusing on things that should never have been the goal, and to do what is necessary to ensure that Michigan fans are not only part of the largest crowd watching a football game, but that that crowd has the best experience of any crowd anywhere in America, throughout the season.
I'm not going to lie, there's some strange goings-on in Boxscore land. Last week, Michigan outgained Notre Dame and nearly had as many first downs, yet was blown out on the scoreboard. This week, Michigan was statistically superior to Miami (NTM), yet, midway through the third quarter, I'm sure more than a few Michigan fans were having flashbacks to Akron. Miami's coach nearly had an aneurysm when they just barely missed a long pass. He believed they were in the game. Had that connected, well, it didn't so no need to go there. But that's not all. On MGoBlog's recap, Ace delved into the boxscore. Great read, but that's my thing, man. J/K. Brady Hoke even brought up some stats in his press conference. Numbers are flying everywhere. Today, I tried to find the boxscore on MGoBlue.com and notice they've moved it, reformatted it, and stuck a Chick-fil-A add right in the middle of it. Hey, MGoblue.com, haven't you heard, Chick-fil-A's not open on Sundays.
You may have noticed I changed the title. That's because I'm insanely busy this weekend, and I don't feel like diving into a Michigan-Not that Miami boxscore. I don't care how many Eagles fly overhead, this is just not a "Wow" event. It did get me to thinking back to simpler times. In the 70's and 80's, when Michigan had a stinker on the schedule and there was a threat to the 100,000 streak, we had something called "Band Day." High School bands from all over the tri-county area would be brought in to fill up the endzone seats. I'm talking about bands from Livonia, Novi, Romulus, and even from as far away as Troy. Prior to the game, all those bands would fill up the field and play one or two songs, and then march back to their seats. I always enjoyed the colorful pageantry that was Band Day. I say, if you are going to stick us with non-wow-events like Michigan vs. Not that Miami and there are ~10,000 empty seats, at least bring back Band Day!
Boxscore link: http://www.mgoblue.com/sports/m-footbl/stats/091314aaa.html
Burst of Impetus
* The saddest part of this game is that Norfleet's kick return to start the game wasn't sufficient to firmly plant the impetus on our side. Numerous turnovers made this a game for 2 1/2 quarters.
* I think there was a sequence of plays where we may have turned the corner on this running game and left 2013 in the rear-view mirror. With 7:24 to go in the 2nd, Michigan was tied 10-10 with Not that Miami. A pass to Darboh brought the ball to Miami's 40 yard line. After that, Gardner was sacked for a 7 yard loss. I was thinking, "seriously?" My hope is that what happened next is the harbinger of good things to come.
- Green, Derrick rush for 27 yards...
- Green, Derrick rush for 11 yards...
- Green, Derrick rush for 8 yards...
- Green, Derrick rush for 1 yard to the MU0, TOUCHDOWN
Run game established, at least against the Miami's of the world.
* Gardner was 13 for 20 for 184 yards and 2 TDs. He seemed to do well in the absence of Funchess. This could be good in the long run if he's able to build chemistry with Darboh, Chesson, and Butt.
* Jake Ryan had 6 tackles and 2 QHs and may be starting to get a feel for this MIKE thing.
1 and 2
* One week after I questioned what the coaches were seeing in practice to give Derrick Green the nod over De'Veon Smith, Green showed all of us. His vision was much better than last week, and I don't think this is a question of the opponent. The hole is there, and he either hits it or he doesn't. Against Notre Dame, he didn't. Against Miami, he did, over and over again to the tune of 137 yards on 22 carries. My guess is, Green was much more relaxed going against Miami, knowing that they are vastly inferior to Michigan. This allowed him to play with more confidence and his performance improved as a result.
* Smith looked a little slow to me, perhaps he's got a boo-boo. He had a couple negative carries on slow developing east/west type runs. I'd much rather they pound him inside and put him in attack mode. He recovered from a slow start to tally 44 yards on 9 carries for a healthy 4.9 YPC.
* Miami did not score 24 points. They only scored 10 because we gave them a short field due to turnovers.
* Joe Bolden led Michigan with 7 tackles, and he had one nice pass breakup.
* The defense is still not filling the boxscore in the dot categories, but we did get 5 QH's, 1 FF, 1 INTC, 2 BrUps, and 1 sack.
* Miami was held to 1 rushing first down and only 33 net yards rushing. I sense a trend developing...
* Miami only recorded 3 TFLs all game long; the two wide runs with Smith and the sack, for a total of 10 yards. I so hope this is no longer a thing worth discussing as we move forward.
* What look was Miami going for with their helmets? I can't decide if it was warmed-over vomit, or electrified vomit.
* We need Butt. A healthy Butt adds another dimension to our offense.
* Christian Kock punted 8 times for 301 yards. You know how when you apply for a personalized license plate and the DMV has someone review your request to make sure there's nothing offensive about it? Maybe we should do the same thing with peoples' names.
* M. Wamulumba recorded 1 tackle for Miami. Didn't Kid Rock sing a song about him? The lyrics went something like this, "Bawitdaba da diggy diggy Wamulumba da bang da bang." I think the Pewamo-Westphalia High School band played it at Band Day in '92.
In the aftermath of yesterday's game, I've seen a number of people claim that Shane Morris was "perfect" in his limited playing time. True, he was 0 for 2 passing, but both throws were dropped by their targets. I wanted to break down each passing play and see if his throws were as good as advertised.
The situation: 2nd and 7, ball on the Miami of Ohio 34
The play: Morris rolls out to his left...
...and throws to Keith Heitzman, who is fifteen yards downfield and five yards from the nearest defender:
The ball arrives precisely at the area directly in front of Heitzman's chest where one generally prefers to catch things.
Unfortunately, he fails to do so, and the ball passes through his arms, and bounces off this thigh.
CONCLUSION: Excellent throw to wide open receiver, pure drop.
The Situation: 1st and 10, ball on Miami of Ohio 23
The Play: Morris rolls out to his left again:
I'm pointing out these rollouts because I've seen some people claim that Shane Morris demonstrated a better pocket presence than Devin Gardner. Not so: two passes, two rollouts. Pocket presence: UNDEF.
Morris fires deep to Jehu Chesson in the end zone, who has a couple steps on the defender. Note the separation in this frame.
However, the throw is a bit behind, and Chesson has to put on the breaks. The defender closes the gap, and as the ball arrives, he has one arm on Chesson's back, and brings the other down, brushing off his face mask and settling in between his chest and his arms.
As he falls to the turf, Chesson actually does have the ball secured between his bicep and his forearm, but the impact with the ground jars it free to fall incomplete.
CONCLUSION: This throw was not terrible, but neither was it perfect. It was a bit behind the receiver, which gave the defender the time to close the gap and make a play, which he did well. A more accurate throw would have given the defender no chance.
On the day, Shane Morris had one excellent throw to a wide open receiver who dropped the ball, and one slightly off target throw which forced the receiver to try and bring it in with a defender in his face. It would be foolish to try to draw any sweeping conclusions from two pass attempts, but at a minimum claims of "perfection" should be put to rest.
Short & sweet today because I'm doing it from my phone thanks to being in the middle of moving! An upper level disturbance will move out of the Great Lakes Saturday, bringing some morning showers & clouds before more later-day sun as high pressure moves in. Chilly all day with temps staying a good ten degrees below normal, & a bit breezy. Really Mother Nature, seriously? It's September!
If you're up real early you may see some rain! (icymi -Because of the rain there are restrictions on tailgating at the golf course) Temps will hover right around 50 degrees early on around sunrise. Overcast skies with a couple sprinkles will be what we wake up to, with winds out of the north at about 8mph. Heading into mid-morning and early afternoon, we see a little decrease in the cloud cover. That'll help us get into the mid 50s for lunch, but winds will pick up too. Tie down the tent! Winds will be out of the NNW at steady 17mph, and gusts possible to 30mph (branches will sway, empty garbage cans may tip over).
Still hanging on to some clouds by the time we reach kick-off, and sitting at 61 degrees. Winds will start to drop, and although they will remain out of the NNW we'll mainly get rid of the gusts and steady winds are around 13mph.
Temps stay steady through the end of the first half, and seeing some sun between those clouds. Winds are down to 10mph, out of the NW. The temperature will drop during the second half so you may want to have the extra layer handy!
Still keeping some clouds in the sky to end the game, with a light NNW wind. We'll drop to 55 degrees, and enjoy it- as the cloud cover goes down, the temperature will fall quickly. We'll be in the mid 40s for the late night, and if you'll be out for last call, expect to walk out the door and be hit with 42 degrees! Go Blue!!
Christina Burkhart is a meteorologist for ABC in Flint, MI. She grew up in Ann Arbor and associates Saturdays with Michigan football. Go Blue!!