rundown of Michigan's riser
I'm a grad student at Illinois and finished being an undergrad at Michigan. People ask me from time to time whether I was cool with going to Illinois considering the ongoing Michigan-Illinois rivalry, which I was completely unaware of. Apparently Illinois fans think they have a rivalry with Michigan. One random fellow in a video store told me something along the lines of "we don't like those colors in here". (These are the exceptions, not the rule, over my year here. The remarks also seem to be mainly a way to start a conversation, not a threat or anything.)
My question is, have other Michigan fans had similar experiences going to Big Ten schools that are not Ohio State or Michigan State? And how would you all define a rivalry?
For instance, I'd say that we only have "rivalries" with Ohio State, Michigan State, and Notre Dame, in that order. Does this one-sided definition of rivalry come up a lot for other schools?
Yes, USC-Illinois turned out to be a terrible game but probably any team that was picked to face USC in the Rose Bowl was going to get blown out. That year, USC lost to Dennis Dixon and had their seemingly-annual loss of focus when they lost to Stanford. However as Michigan knows from experience, USC is always focused in the bowl games.
The first question we can ask is whether Illinois was deserving of one of the BCS at-large spots. The answer to this is actually a fairly strong yes. Here's how it broke down (according to BCS rankings):
#1 OSU and #2 LSU were in the championship game
#3 Va Tech was slotted for the Orange Bowl
#4 Oklahoma for the Fiesta
#7 USC obviously for the Rose Bowl
#9 West Virginia was the Big East champion (but not tied to a bowl)
#10 Hawaii was automatically an at-large team.
So, there were 3 at-large spots to be filled with the following eligible teams:
#11 Arizona State
#14 Boston College
Only one of Georgia/Florida and one of Missouri/Kansas could get picked. So that left Arizona State, Illinois and Boston College fighting for one spot. As Black Shoe Diaries talked about, http://www.blackshoediaries.com/2009/5/30/893422/prepare-yourself-for-po... it is completely reasonable to pick Illinois over those other teams.
Now the Rose Bowl could have taken another team, but it wouldn't have been Georgia since the Sugar Bowl was certainly going to be lobbying to keep an SEC team. That means they were deciding between Kansas, West Virginia, Hawaii and Illinois. Any bowl game is going to avoid Hawaii at all costs so the Rose Bowl is down to Kansas, West Virginia and Illinois. Here are their results against AP-ranked and other notable opponents and what their OOC schedule was:
|Team||Wins vs Ranked||Losses vs Ranked||Other Notable Opponents||Non-Conference Schedule|
|Kansas||none||#7 Missouri 36-28||None. They didn't play Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma||Central Michigan, SE Louisiana, Toledo, FIU|
|West Virginia||#20 Cincy 28-23||#23 USF 21-13||Lost the last week of the season to Pitt 13-9||Western Michigan, Marshall, Maryland, East Carolina, Mississippi St,|
|Illinois||#1 OSU 28-21, #18 Wisconsin 31-26||#7 Missouri 40-34||Beat Penn St (receiving votes team) 27-20||Missouri, Western Illinois, Syracuse, Ball St|
So Illinois had the best and second best wins of the three teams. They also had the best loss (or at least tied with Kansas for the best loss). Kansas only had one loss, but they literally did not play any good teams except for losing to Missouri. None whatsoever.
Also, Kansas and West Virginia lost their last games of the regular season while Illinois beat Ohio State and then creamed their rival Northwestern 41-22.
So, although we know in hindsight that the Rose Bowl should not have picked Illinois ("we should have had hindsight"), it actually was a reasonable pick at the time.
We can bitch about the offensive ineptitude all season - but most of us have prepared ourselves for that. We're also prepared to lose some football games. Heck, we're even coming to realize and prepare for freshman mistakes like bad routes, lack of blocking by skill players, and fumbles. But what I am NOT prepared for is a veteran defense giving up 500 yards and 45 points. They can't blame that on the offense this week. Only the late Odoms fumble was an example of the D being put in a bad spot. Otherwise the offense got them a lead and Zoltan pinned Illinois deep on most occassions. This loss was ALL on the defense.
Let me preface this entry by saying that I don't have a lot of football knowledge when it comes to specific formations, plays, or strategies. There are no doubt plenty of readers who can comment on those details and we'll get some more insight in the UFR. I was at the game and sitting in the fourth row, so my perspective may also be skewed with regard to what was actually happening.
That being said, I was frustrated by what I perceived to be a "prevent" defense being implemented consistently against Illinois in obvious passing downs. My definition of "prevent" is when you rush only three guys and drop 8 into a soft zone. I don't care if those three guys are Lawrence Taylor, Reggie White, and Derrick Thomas - when you have 5 offensive lineman blocking three rushers you're going to fail more often than you succeed. Against Illinois there were too many replays where I saw one of their offensive lineman looking around for someone to block and not finding anyone.
The fact is, Juice Williams is not a great passing QB. I'm sure ILL fans will point to his stats against Michigan to argue that point. But the guy completed only 50% of his passes. The fact that 13 completions went for 300+ yards is on the defense. Whenever he was pressured, he fired as inaccurately as Threet does on most occassions. But when he had all day to sit around looking for a receiver, he picked us apart. Like the DL analogy above, I'm convinced that a good pass rush will create an All-Pro corner out of a mediocre one. I don't care if you have Woodson, Law, and Jackson as your DBs - if they have to cover for a long time and the QB has a chance to read the defense, they'll lose most of the time. And that's what you saw on Saturday (in my opinion).
The 3-man rush, which I associate with "prevent" looked to be a failure on Saturday. I was told that Shafer loves to blitz.....but where was it? I know you take a risk when you blitz against a 5-wide formation with a running QB. But was that risk greater than letting Juice F-ing Williams pick you apart from an easy chair inside the pocket? I think we all realize that the defense has to create a turnover or two to compete against tough teams. How do you expect to get a turnover if you're rushing three and sitting in a soft zone?
That's my gripe - the defense blew the game and I thought they failed both in strategy and execution. Even a Henne-Hart-Manningham offense is going to struggle to overcome 45 points and 500 yards of offense. I thought Michigan should/could have scored 31 points - counting the 4 points that Lopata missed and the wide open miss of Odoms running down the middle of the field. Scoring 31 points with this young offense is pretty good....and we would have still lost by two touchdowns thanks to the defense.