I'VE HAD JUST ABOUT ENOUGH OF YOU SONNY
This isn’t for you, it’s for me.
The maxim you always hear surrounding hate is that it stems from broken love, that the same fire necessary to burn with unbridled animosity emanates from the same spot in one’s heart that you once left open and accepting. Great novels and a whole bunch of songs have been written about the debilitating power of love and respect as it turns to anger and betrayal, grinding salt and bile into the fresh fissures of the aorta. It is poetic and divine, blind to race or creed, man or woman; the “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” of being.
And it’s all crap, at least when you apply it to sport.*
The reason most fans “hate” other teams is because they “hate” losing to people they know, whether personally or as archetypes. I have never loved or particularly cared for most of UM’s rivals despite the fact I actually attended MSU for law school. When some school like Wisconsin or Illinois talks up a budding rivalry and bad blood with the Wolverines, I could not care less because it’s all relative and irrelevant at the same time. People don’t like losing, and if you keep losing to a team a bunch of times you come to hate that feeling. Replace that team with another and the hatred remains the same even though the target has changed.
UM fans hate to lose to Notre Dame because they represent the same blue-blooded traditions and faded glory, the same time-honored notions of scholar-athletes battling it out for school and pride and definitely not for financial gain. Perhaps on some level, it is also because the academic standings of those schools attract individuals cognizant of somewhat-arbitrary scholastic rankings and the “prestige” that can be derived from them. And, well, they’ve been around so long that at some point, you just get sick of seeing them year after year.
With Ohio State and Michigan State, the distaste comes from all of the regional, historical, and national implications found to varying degrees with the Fighting Irish, but also in part because of the cultural differences found at those schools. Whole stadiums could be filled every Saturday by the strawmen we create about our opponents; as fans it is the most natural way to look at the opposition, incredibly shallow in depth but immensely wide in breadth. With UM, the arrogance is the calling card; Buckeyes and Spartans call out UM fans for their “wine and cheese”, their haughty sense of superiority derived from endowments and famous alumni and the “Michigan Man” ideology that supposedly runs through the blood of every Wolverine. They point out the sanctimony in questioning the intelligence and morality of players on the other teams despite the fact that UM was likely recruiting them at some point, and wonder how it is possible to whitewash away all those sins as soon as a player steps foot in Schembechler Hall. And they point out that for all the stirs and echoes of past wins, it hasn’t been pretty recently.
OSU feels like the jock who broke the rules and got away with it largely unscathed, the guy who sweeps the leg even though he probably doesn’t need to. Ohio State has the tradition and resources to stand amongst the giants in the sport, and yet they keep bringing in liars, cheaters, and hypocrites who tweak the rules just enough while winning in every way possible. And perhaps most aggravating for UM, OSU appears to just be “better” than the Wolverines right now, and probably have been for nearly a decade. As UM has undergone a series of painful, largely self-inflicted transitions, OSU just continues on with few hiccups despite far more serious upheaval.
But at least with OSU, it feels like they’ve “earned” that right to be better than UM, given their prior accomplishments and their consistency. In this tortured analogy, they are the dickish prep kid with the nice car who gets the girl; MSU was Ducky. It’s a program with a losing bowl record, virtually no national profile, and a fanbase characterized as a mix of Juggalos and Ax body spray aficionados. It is the very model of a mediocre program, with the status quo being that MSU cared way more about beating UM because they almost never did, and that all of the “little brother” comments were appropriate-if-sophomoric shots at a program and school that was always tugging on the coattails of UM, never able to keep pace. It almost didn’t matter if you hailed from Novi or New York City, Charlevoix or Chicago; if you were a UM student you saw MSU as the collection of brosephs and meatheads (and whatever the female equivalents are) that you tried to escape while in high school. You beat them in the classroom, in the boardroom, and on the football field, and with such regularity it was hard to drum up anything stronger than a slight snicker and faux outrage whenever asked about them.
But that’s changed recently, at least on the football field. While I foresee this being a bit of an apogee for MSU given its so-so recruiting and significant turnover after this season, the fact remains that MSU has dominated this series the past 6 games (going 5-1 and losing that one game on a last-second FG). It is MSU with the consistent identity, the staunch defense and opportunistic offense, the team that gets most of the breaks and tends to win going away. It is the UM fans that yearn for those victories, who treat a game that used to be a semi-emotional speedbump into a major touchstone and measuring stick for the program. And perhaps most surprisingly, the hatred that was once seemingly directed unilaterally now flows both ways, more full with vinegar and vitriol than most can remember. It’s a bit sad in a way that the gap has closed this much between the two schools on the field, but at least now the animosity feels earned.
* I’m sure there are soccer fans who’d argue about national and club rivalries that are born from turncoats, geographic proximity, and broken dreams, and hell Pakistan and India play cricket with missiles pointed at each other. But I’d argue that animosity exists outside of sport; the field or pitch merely provides a sanctioned analog.
Worst: You know, they cancelled the O.C. late as well
This point isn’t going to be sugar-coated: I’m done with this offensive staff. I’m sure the UFR will point out areas where the right playcalls were made but failed because of execution issues (I remember at least two passes in the 3rd quarter where Gardner missed Funchess wide-open, even though at least once it was because he was under heavy pressure). But at some time, the writing is on the wall even if it isn’t totally that Borges’s fault. It has been nearly three years and the team is as schizophrenic and discordinate as ever on the offensive end, and I’m tired of the “wait until next year” refrains that grew stale under Rodriguez. And at least with Rodriguez, you had a high-octane offense with a clear identity that has worked at every other stop.
True, Borges got a bad hand when he showed up at UM, inheriting a playmaker and not a QB with Denard, a guy who couldn’t run his offense and who had few targets to throw at period. He rode it out as best as possible, but it was a bad fit masked by the early success the team had in spite of it; that 11-2 season with memorable wins over ND and OSU gave people the false hope that the talent and coaches could make it work despite the mismatch. Last year happened and everyone realized Borges and Robinson weren’t a good fit, but the expectation was that Gardner would be a better match at least in the short-term. The offensive line, though, has betrayed them the past two years, and the progression and maturation people expected has been, at best, minimal across the board.
Given the right talent, I’m sure Borges could field a productive offense, but that looks to be 2-3 years in the future. In the meantime, this team loses its best WR as well as its best slot threat, its two best linemen, and its only seemingly competent RB. There are some bright spots, but there doesn’t seem to be anything approximating a rainbow on the horizon. What killed RR was his historically poor defenses; outside of the IU and ND games, this offense has been historically bad, and something needs to be done beyond max protect and stacked lines against Minnesota. This is a bit morbid, but at some point you need to Marissa the situation before everyone gets hurt.
Al Borges isn’t a visionary, and there a dozens of coordinators out there who could score 60+ points against IU and, I hope, more than 28 against Akron and 24 against UConn with far less hassle and a bit more coherence. With weeks to prepare, he called a listless game that featured slow-developing running plays, long passes despite heavy pressure, and a continued belief that he’ll make this work if he just keeps slamming his head against the wall. Well, that wall isn’t going anywhere, and all we have is a headache.
I understand that loyalty in a program is hard to break, but this is also a competitive system in which under-performance can’t be allowed to remain unaddressed. Players have been moved in and out of the starting lineup because they haven’t performed “up to the position” while in uniform; it’s time for the guys making those decisions to be held to the same standard.
Worst: Downs and Distances
Here are some downs and distances from this game:
|3rd and 20|
|4th and 21|
|3rd and 18|
|4th and 24|
|2nd and 30|
|3rd and 29|
|4th and 48|
|3rd and 24|
They had three drives of more than 50 yards, two of which ended in FGs and the third in Gardner’s interception. For every other drive combined, UM ended with –7(!!!) yards of total offense. That’s right; with two weeks of preparation and countless promises to adapt, UM produced the worst offensive performance any of us will probably ever see out of the Wolverines. They punted or turned the ball over on downs with 4 or fewer plays 8 times this game. After Raymon Taylor’s interception of Cook late in the 3rd quarter, UM’s subsequent drive resulted in –21 yards of offense and, according to ESPN’s official boxscore, was the end of the game despite there being a whole quarter to go. And honestly, I don’t think that was a misprint.
That isn't an implosion; that's f'ing Katamari on a football field. And we've seen enough of that particular output the past couple of years for a lifetime.
Best: I still have no idea about this defense
I know the numbers weren’t pretty in the end, but MSU gained 153 of their 394 total yards of offense on those two final drives when the game was effectively over. They forced a punt or turnover on 6 other drives, and were victimized a bit by some fluky plays that could have ended drives. It was a competent defensive performance and, if the offense had been able to do virtually anything, probably would have been enough to win the game.
Mattison remains an enigma, and like Al Borges is working with a sub-optimal collection of players. Still, his insistence on 3-man rushes was alternately appropriate and maddening; there were a half-dozen instances where MSU WRs were wide open despite dedicating 8 players to defend against the pass. At the same time, it’s a unit that recorded 1 sack all game, and it came from a corner blitz where Ross and Avery met at the QB. Frank Clark played pretty well in run defense, recording 2.5 TFLs among his 9 tackles, but only hit the QB once and was generally unable to generate much in the way of sustained pressure. Black and Washington were quiet, and given Black’s abilities rushing the passer I would have liked to see him get a chance despite his obvious limitations against the run. Jake Ryan is working his way back in, but this remains a unit of B+ players, and that doesn’t hold up throughout the game.
Langford ended the day with 120 yards but 62 of those came on the last drive. I thought the linebackers played reasonably well, though again it was an ugly game where guys were getting open but Cook just missed them sometimes, while at other times he was able to loft a ball over 4 guys into the only open spot on the field.
Taylor had the lone interception on a nice read but was also the leading tackler with 12, which is okay if you are playing Indiana but not so good when Connor Cook is barely completing 50% of his passes. The rest of the secondary was alternately in great coverage and allowing Bennie Fowler to beat them down the field only to be overthrown because, again, Connor Cook. While some people will cry out for his removal as well, I’m willing to give him a bit more rope simply because I’ve seen strides made from this unit and, outside of IU, they have been above-average all year. Furthermore, Mattison has a track record far more accomplished than others on this staff, and given the recruits coming in it is hard to argue that the defense will not improve as the younger players mature.
I hated it when Mike Hart brought up familiar relations between the two schools, and since then it has only gotten more juvenile and asinine. I get poking fun at a rival, but one would hope that these two fanbases could have created something more creative, more thoughtful and meaningful than insults based on who got out of their metaphorical mother’s uterus first. It all came to a crescendo toward the end of Saturday’s game, when the Spartan faithful began chanting “little sister” in a tone that can best be described a mix between Nelson Muntz and Law & Order: SVU. In one sense it’s dumb to argue that fans have gone too far because of some chanting considering you could go about a billion times farther, but this also feels like a cycle that needs to be broken and not perpetuated by guys who weren’t even in HS when it started. People complain about the ND rivalry taking a hiatus and how that might diminish hostilities needlessly; I’d be fine if UM and MSU skipped a year or two so that both fandoms could look in the mirror and figure out something, anything better than these infantile sayings.
Best: MSU’s Defense is REALLY Good
I was a non-believer of sorts because I thought MSU hadn’t really played a good offense save ND and IU, but this is a terrifyingly-good defense that should pose major issues for OSU in the conference title game. Though it lacks elite athleticism, it plays with the type of precision and consistency you expect from a well-coached squad, and outside of a couple of plays UM could do absolutely nothing against it. It will look demonstrably different next year when many of its best players graduate and (I suspect) Narduzzi moves on, but it should remain a solid unit going forward as long as Dantonio is at the helm. That said…
Worst: Penalties were turned off, apparently
My gawd are those corners reliant on the referees not throwing flags. I get there is some physicality expected on passing routes, but there was not a single pass interference call (sorry Brian, you were off by 1) made despite Funchess and Gallon carrying corners down the field like they were f’ing Ents. I’m not saying the game would have been totally different with a couple of flags, but ND’s 4 PIs against MSU were a major reason they were able to move the ball semi-successfully down the field. Even my wife, who is 19-and-a-half months pregnant (perhaps slight exaggeration) thought it was pretty egregious, and she has a parasite inside her trying to steal all of her iron.
Worst: Poor Damn Devin and Fitz – The Duet
Gardner had a decent enough game when he wasn’t getting murdered by MSU’s pass rush, which recorded 7 sacks and 7 more hits. He completed about 52% of his passes for 210 yards, averaging about 7.8 ypa and having a couple of drops by his receivers halting drives. His rushing total was marred by losing 46 yards on sacks and that horrible snap, and the hits ultimately led to his removal with (one hopes) a relatively minor injury. Seeing him be lifted off the field, mud caked on his jersey while clearly wincing in pain, and then running another play was a bit heartbreaking, even though he nearly blew a third-down conversion by pulling up early. It wasn’t heroic, but anyone who questions whether or not this kid is trying his best out there needs to step away from the keyboard.
As for Fitz, what can you say? MSU has the best rushing defense in the country by a mile, and they showed it again this game. He only ran the ball 8 times, but limited the TFLs to one and generally took what the defense gave him. In a different game perhaps he could have produced better results, but I kind of doubt it. His senior year will likely be remembered for returning from a gruesome injury to play behind a young, under-performing line and getting beaten up in the process. As noted, I could have done without the public comments, but he’s clearly soldiering on and at this point, I don’t think you can expect much else from him.
Worst: What about Hoke?
I’ll keep this brief because this is totally speculative: he’s earned himself some leeway with the recruiting and the early wins, but there needs to be some changes made to this program going into next year. As noted earlier, I think the offensive system needs to be overhauled with a new coordinator, and that includes hiring a dedicated QB coach and not being so tied to a single vision despite mounting evidence it isn’t going to happen with the players available. The defense is a work in progress but one that feels like it has potential given continued recruiting and player maturation. Mattison is not above reproach, but enough smart people swear by him that there has to be something there. And outside of Ohio, this team still feels like the favorite against Iowa, NW, and Nebraska, and that’s 9 wins with a possible bowl win. Let’s not throw a parade or anything, but given how this season has unfolded it isn’t horrible. Plus, given what happened with RR, this program needs some stability even if it is somewhat mediocre.
Best: The Next Two Weeks
Looking at the schedule, what once looked like a hellish November now seems positively bearable. Nebraska can’t stop anyone, and NW can’t stop the saddest song from playing in an infinite loop. Neither is a gimme win, but I’d be a bit disappointed with even a split. Much will rely on Gardner being healthy and the offense continuing its Jekyll and Hyde home/road split, but luckily UM won’t have to play a team like MSU again this year, and just typing that makes me a little sadder. Ah well, I’ve gone this far.
Seriously, why is he at MSU? He should have been hried away long ago. He is seriously producing an alabama level defense with 3 star players. There is no way he should be at MSU right now. Imagine if he had the recruits that he could bring in at USC or Texas. He would have an NFL level defense. Thoughts?
Now that I'm back in the states and am able to attend the games, I've seen some pretty disturbing things; the "you suck" chant (Just chant the damn Down Number, if we stuff them on 3rd down, chant "4TH DOWN!", if we stuff them on 4th down, chant "1ST DOWN!"), nearly losing to Akron, nearly losing to Uconn, actually losing to Penn St. But I do love football, so I'll try to get tickets to saturday's game in E. Lansing. I must be a glutton for punishment.
What that means is I won't be able to get on here and bitch about the game until several hours after it ends. So this diary is to get all my bitching out of the way beforehand. I'm not a psychic and all predictions are guaranteed to be incorrect. So if I betray any pessimism, consider it a chance for the team to prove me wrong.
Things that will probably happen before the game:
1. I will have to ask about 20 people before I can get a good price on a ticket.
2. Someone will bring up Dickhead Gholston. Which doesn't matter much since he's long gone.
3. Someone will bring up Dickhead Narduzzi's quote about "60 Minutes of unnecessary roughness". Which does matter because that's how his defense plays.
4. MSU's Band will bring out their fake wolverine mascot.
5. MSU fans will be annoying. Conveniently forgetting anything that happened earlier than 5 years ago.
6. I might refer to the Sparty mascot being gay, not that there's anything wrong with that, and how if he wants to marry Brutus, they could elope during the Rutgers game.
Things that will probably happen during the game:
1. We will not be able to run conventionally. Period. Unfortunately, Max Bullough seems to be the real deal. Remember 27 yards on 27 attempts? This game could be that bad, at least on a yards-per-carry basis. Hopefully we won't have as many attempts. I'd be ecstatic if we threw the ball 60 times and rushed 15. That ain't gonna happen.
Denard Devin will be good for at least 3 turnovers, probably two picks and one fumble. And he'll have two or three sacks, at least one of which is caused by his reverse spin and loses 15+ yards.
3. Funchess will make an amazing play, and then we'll be frustrated the rest of the game as he mysteriously disappears.
4. The Sparty defense will be jumping our snap count and we'll take major tackles for loss because of it.
5. Devin will rush for at least 80 yards and two TD's.
6. Gallon will get 100 yards receiving.
7. Spartan players will take cheap shots that aren't flagged.
8. One of our offensive linemen will get injured.
9. MSU will put together annoyingly long drives because we won't be able to stall their running game on 3rd down.
10. MSU fans will be annoying. Some fat idiot will yell "CHEATERS" whenever a flag is thrown. A brazenly foulmouthed pre-teen will get dangerously close to being slapped by me. That's just how they raise their kids.
11. Jake Ryan will save the day.
Things that will probably happen after the game:
1. Bipolar coordinator love will swing to the defensive side, Mattison will again be a genius and Borges will be on the hot seat. This will of course have everything to do with playing MSU instead of Indiana and not actual merit. (But yes, if we can UPGRADE Borges after the season, we should.)
2. Both fan bases will be upset with the referees. MSU will have about 4 pass interference penalties called against them, 3 of which spartans will think are ridiculous. Meanwhile I'll be able to freeze-frame 8 other instances that should have been called P.I. or defensive holding but weren't.
3. MSU fans will argue that any personal fouls called on them or other dirty plays that weren't flagged were somehow justified. Insert your own non-sequitur here. I'm partial to the idea that you should always beat up frat boys while wearing ski masks, because you know, "they had it coming".
4. If MSU wins, they'll probably win the division. If we win, I'll complain about how the division title is determined by conference record instead of division record since we'll probably lose to Ohio and have our only two losses being to the other division.
5. Win or Lose, something will be set on fire in E. Lansing.
6. MSU fans will be annoying.
Points of Quantum Uncertainty:
(aka, things that will swing the game)
1. Weather. The forecast calls for 40% chance of rain. With our dependence on the passing game and pass blocking, I'm guessing the more moisture, the worse for us.
2. Connor Cook's passing. Somewhere between 3.5 yards per attempt and whatever the hell that was last week will probably determine the game.
3. Al Borges the mad magician vs. Al Borges the stubborn coach looking for a new job. Self explanatory. (If you see Fitz catching wide open swings and screens, it could be a good day.)
4. The refs. THROW THE DAMN FLAG.
5. MSU Defensive scoring. We'll probably turn the ball over a few times. But will those be turned directly into TD's or will Mattison get a chance to make Connor Cook look like Andrew Maxwell?
1. Our basketball team looks good.
2. I hate cold weather.
3. I hope they didn't screw up Ender's Game.
4. I'm gonna do a Native American dance for sunshine and clear skies on Saturday. So like, an 'anti-rain-rain dance'.
The Detroit papers have been pretty much in lockstep the last two days, leading with quotes from Lewan and Schofield about UM getting bullied during recent games between the teams and the need to be tougher this year. Wojo also considers this theme in today's column.
There's a lot to be said on the topic (and MSU fans are saying some of it on message boards and in comments right now). But. . . simple question: will such rhetoric prove productive for Michigan, psychologically or otherwise, for this or future games?
Despite its weak offensive output, MSU has only one loss this year, mainly due to its aggressive, physical defense. However, MSU's aggressive, physical defense has led them to becoming the 117th worse NCAA team (out of 125) for penalty yardage [70 yards/gm].
At ND, MSU's aggressiveness on defense led to numerous key defensive penalties which gave away the game to the Irish.
After the ND game, MSU AD Mark Hollis made an inquiry to Big Ten officials regarding the penalty calls against the Spartans. Mark Dantonio was quoted by the Detroit Free Press as questioning whether the penalty calls against his DB's reflected a change in standards for pass defenders. Many media members questioned the calls against MSU. In MSU's most recent home game vs. Purdue, MSU was only called for 2 penalties for 14 yards.
I think the key determinant in Michigan's upcoming game at Michigan State will be whether the refs fairly call MSU penalties, especially for pass interference/defensive holding and roughing the passer. If Big Ten officials continue to experience a "backlash" effect and exhibit reluctance to fairly call MSU penalties in East Lansing, it will doom Michigan's chances for a big road win. In addition, excessively rough play by MSU (as has occurred in past match-ups) could also result in injuries to Michigan's key players.