this week in unintentionally grim-sounding recruiting headlines
100% worst thing ever
10/30/2010 – Michigan 31, Penn State 41 – 5-3, 1-3 Big Ten
these were the same pictures used in the very first Greg Robinson post and were named –fail1, –fail2, –fail3.
A few years back my fiancée (then girlfriend) and I had one of those conversations that draw out over two weeks. You have them when the other person's position is so bizarre and unbelievable that unlocking the reasoning behind it is important if you're going to hang around this person for a long time—because it's possible the reasoning goes something like "I'm a stabby person who stabs you in the stab places."
The argument was about the narrative of overarching, capital-P Progress that the world is or is not making. I, the engineer, pointed to various statistics that all point in the right direction. She regarded all of it as different paths to the same thing: misery for all but a few. A Foxconn factory is just a handy place to jump off, and they take even that away from you.
I don't think we ever came to a satisfactory conclusion despite the lingering threat of stabbing, but I don't think we have to anymore. Since that conversation the world's financial system exploded, the economy fell into a deep and lingering malaise that figures to last most of a decade, and Greg Robinson was hired to coordinate Michigan's defense.
The worst part has been the illusion. Actually, the worst part has been the actual progress. The worst part has been a combination of the illusion and the progress. The worst part has been a combination of the illusion and the progress and the relentless losing.
The illusion: two straight years Michigan has leapt out to a hot start only to see all the supposedly quality wins evaporate. A thrilling win over Notre Dame devalued as the Irish collapse into a heap of laughable crap. UConn goes from team on the verge of a Big East championship to a team that can't even keep its head above water in a horrible conference. Indiana is still not a surprisingly good, competitive version of Indiana. It's just Indiana. Then there is losing, and not competitively.
The actual progress: Michigan has the #1 yardage offense in the Big Ten by a huge margin. The gap between Michigan and #2 Ohio State is considerably bigger than the gap between Ohio State and #7 Iowa. The prophesied Rodriguez Leap, which did happen last year, happened again this year. Rodriguez is what he was sold as.
That progress looked like enough to get Rodriguez through 2010 into a prove-it 2011 until some walk-on shredded Michigan for 28 first-half points. If Progress means not being Minnesota, Michigan is failing. At some point last night the extremely depressing score was 31-10 and the ticker scrolled to the OSU-Minnesota game, which was also 31-10. The Gophers managed to hold Penn State to a mere 33 points and caused them to punt an astounding six times. Michigan did it twice. A comprehensive description of the ways in which Michigan's defense failed last night is impossible, but here's an attempt: Penn State scored 24 points against Kent State, 22 against Temple, 13 against Illinois, and 44 against Youngstown State… with their starting quarterback.
Youngstown State is a 3-6 I-AA team ranked 94th in total defense. They are the closest comparison to Michigan's D amongst Penn State's opponents to date.
Greg Robinson should be fired. Tomorrow, yesterday, bring in Gary Moeller, bring in anyone, don't care. He should never have been hired, just like Jay Hopson and apparently Scott Shafer. At the time of his hiring he was a decade removed from his last sustained success, fresh off driving a respectable Syracuse program into Washington State territory. As a head coach, he sounded like an idiot. His team played like he was an idiot. Michigan hired him and has gotten exactly what they deserved.
The worst part other than the illusion and the actual progress and the relentless losing is that this was obvious at the time:
Anyway: being a stunningly incompetent head coach does not necessarily mean one is a stunningly incompetent coordinator. Numbers will have to make that case. Go, numbers, go!
Year Team PassEff Rush Scoring Total 2008 Syracuse 101 101 101 101 2007 Syracuse 109 108 104 111 2006 Syracuse 81 110 72 107 2005 Syracuse 37 97 67 57 2004 Texas 31 16 18 23
I'm a little stressed out by that. Robinson walked into a good situation at Texas* and managed not to screw that up, then went to Syracuse, where he had an average defense on a horrid team (1-10), which he then proceeded to crater for the next three years. Before his brief, star-making turn at Texas—again, for doing nothing more than treading water—he presided over one of the worst defenses in the NFL, getting fired after three years. The last actual success you can plausibly attribute to Greg Robinson came during his tenure as the Denver Broncos' DC, when his defenses were top ten in the NFL and a significant aid in Denver's back-to-back championships. Since then it's been abject failure save the one year in Texas.
Now it's even more blitheringly obvious. Syracuse is 6-2 despite Doug Marrone having R-U-N-N-O-F-T huge swathes of Robinson's leftover pack of unmotivated jackaninnies and while Scott Shafer's defense has gotten bombed in a couple games and is severely overrated because of games against two terrible I-AA schools and the worst I-A school (0-9 Akron, 56-10 losers to WMU and everyone else), the last two weeks they've allowed 7 and 14 points in road games against West Virginia and Cincinnati. Neither of those teams is good at offense, but neither is Penn State.
Greg Robinson is a terrible football coach. Hiring him was literally the dumbest thing Rich Rodriguez could have done, and he did it. Hiring Jay Hopson to see him leave two years later was a terrible decision, as was whatever the fiasco was with Shafer. The rot on defense goes deeper than Robinson, though—Michigan has insisted on being "multiple" this year, to what purpose is unknown. Week after week Michigan plays teams that sit in a 4-3 with a two-deep shell and play defense adequately enough for this Michigan team to be headed for a New Year's Day Bowl; Michigan has not maintained the same system year-to-year during the Rodriguez era, largely because the leftover guys on the staff are all 3-3-5 guys and they keep insisting that these DCs who have never run the system become One of Us. Braves and Birds nailed this problem when he compared it to Tommy Tuberville's zombie offensive assistants submarining Tony Franklin and eventually Tuberville himself.
Michigan's addiction to the 3-3-5 is causing them to do the exact same thing Rodriguez rejected as dumb his first year when he installed the spread because that's what he knew how to coach—they're shoehorning a coach into a system when that coach doesn't even know how to properly align his middle linebacker. At left, Michigan's horrible defense. At right, West Virginia's excellent 2007 D:
Kenny Demens finally moved further from the LOS in the second half of the Penn State game. The supposedly attacking, slanting, different-front-making defense has been a passive heap of quivering goo coached by someone who clearly doesn't understand what the system he is running is supposed to accomplish. Robinson's been put in a terrible position, but he has no track record save blithering idiocy and there is no reason to retain him.
As for Rodriguez, well, hell. The are four games left, for one. Michigan is #4 in total yardage nationally and isn't scoring at an insane pace only because the special teams and defense have been beyond terrible. The special teams were not a problem before this year and really the only problem this year has been the kicker*, which is a thing that just happens sometimes in college. If they overhaul the defensive coaching by either bringing in an actual 3-3-5 guy like Jeff Casteel—who may be in need of a job after the season—or toss the Tuberville saboteurs overboard and bring in a Serious Man, I'd be willing to see where the Denard Robinson era ends up.
*(Willing to bet that by year's end Michigan isn't giving up any yards on an average exchange of punts; kickoff returns have been bad but that's an incredibly minor facet of the game—an average team is gaining one more yard per attempt than M.)
Change please. How many terrible decisions does Jeremy Gallon have to make before he loses his job at returning things?
Also: gararagagagargh Vincent Smith third and two. Hopkins's fumble was not his fault; Robinson put the ball in his shoulder. (I'm surprised he handed the ball off high—if Smith was in the game Robinson's handoff would have been in Smith's facemask.) Shaw can't be healthy, Cox is not healthy, Toussaint is not healthy… it's actually possible that Angry Michigan Running Back Hating God has been more wroth than Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God this year. The tailback situation is so bad that even Fred Jackson has gone no sugarcoat:
“We have to play better,” Jackson said. “Let’s call a spade a spade. We’ve got to play better. We’ve got plays there to be made and we’re not making them, I’m talking from the running back position.
“We have to play better.”
This is different from Jackson's usual approach of calling a spade a fantastical thousand-story casino in the clouds.
DerpBord. The circumstances behind hiring Greg Robinson are eerily similar to those behind the re-hire of Mike DeBord after his "no mas" faceplant at Central Michigan, down to the seemingly more competent guy being pushed out due to unconfirmed but widely speculated conflict. One dollar Robinson is assistant (to the) linebackers coach in the NFL next year.
The Ron English Effect. The next defensive coordinator (or next head coach, depending) is in line for a mega Ron English Effect, wherein some guy takes over a crew of players returning a ton of starters and looks like a genius for improving them when all he really did is not prevent his players from aging normally. In 2006, Ron English inherited Alan Branch, Lamarr Woodley, David Harris, Prescott Burgess, Shawn Crable, and Leon Hall and looked like a genius. The next year absent all those guys save Crable he was bombed into oblivion during The Horror and Post-Apocalyptic Oregon Game.
Anyway, next year's DC gets every starter back save Mouton, Rogers, and Banks, adds Troy Woolfolk, and should have a healthy Mike Martin. He could pick his teeth and look SMRT.
Martin doom. It's clear by now that Martin's injury is the dreaded high ankle sprain and we probably won't see him play effectively the rest of the season. Hurray.
Aw, hell, it's just variations of this with either equal or slightly less tolerance for Rodriguez's terrible choices on the defensive side of the ball. I do like the Hoover Street Rag saying the "shields are down." That's about right. Zook is loading his photon torpedoes.
Shirtpocalypse. So if you've gone to the MGoStore you've noticed that there isn't much of it left. This is why:
We have been ordered to remove many MGoStore designs by the University of Michigan. They feel that these designs violate NCAA compliance rules as well as certain University trademarks. As a thank you for your support of Brian, MGoBlog, and the MGoBlog Store, receive 10% off any purchase at www.moesportshops.com by using the code: mgoblog10
Thank you for your understanding and support and we appreciate your patience as we figure all of this out and continue to provide you with unique apparel. Go Blue!
This is extremely frustrating, but Underground sells licensed apparel and has no choice but to comply. It's not quite as bad as it looks since they threatened but did not actually C&D a number of designs that were pulled yesterday, including stuff like "Worst State Ever"; these will return shortly. Anything player-specific, no matter how oblique, is out unless it's an officially-licensed #16 jersey. We can't do anything but stew about it, unfortunately. Sorry for the lack of warning.
The one thing you can do is take pictures of those stupid t-shirt stands (you know, the ones with "MICHIGAN DRINKING" shirts) that ripped off several MGoDesigns when they have player-specific merch and send it to the U. They deserve pain, too.
Big Ten Hockey less a possibility, more a certainty. Barry Alvarez, always the first guy to tell the world about potentially seismic changes in conference realignment, on Wisconsin's position:
“I don’t know the logistics — how long it takes to get out of a league, all of that — but I sense that we will move in that direction,” UW athletic director Barry Alvarez said Thursday.
Madison.com also cites a source close to the process saying the same thing:
“There’s going to be Big Ten hockey,” assured a source with intimate knowledge of the process, adding that 2014-15 is the target point for introducing the new league although he said “it could happen sooner than that.”
A six-team league would presumably play 20 conference games, leaving 14-16 nonconference games for the defectors to spread out amongst former league-mates. A ten-team WCHA featuring Denver, Colorado College, and North Dakota would still be a power conference, and a nine- or ten-team CCHA (depending on whether they reconsider Alabama-Huntsville) would still have new arenas and elite coaches at ND and Miami to guarantee themselves respectability. Hopefully any move to Big Ten hockey will make an effort to preserve existing programs with scheduling agreements and guaranteed home games for the Ferris States and Northern Michigans of the world; the last thing college hockey needs is more programs folding.
One thing that's being kicked around that you probably won't see: Notre Dame in the BTHC. The Big Ten is not going to throw Notre Dame a bone if they don't have to, and making that move would further damage the leftover CCHA schools I assume everyone wants to protect. I bet Michigan still has a home-and-home with them most years, but they aren't going to be in the conference.
Everything you ever wanted to know about Steve Breaston in two questions. Via the Arizona Republic:
Question: Do you have any hidden talents none of your teammates knows about? You know, like can you play jazz flute?
Breaston: I can write. I'm a writer. I post a lot of stuff on my fan page on Facebook. Oh, and I can bend my thumb behind my knuckles like this. Look.
Q: Pretty cool, but that's a little creepy. Did you have some sort of freak accident as a kid or what?
A: No, no. My thumbs are just like that.
Also, Breaston's favorite baseball team is Pittsburgh. Jeez.
Optimism from Massachusetts. Except not really:
Q: What's the best case/worst case scenario for UMass? In other words, what needs to happen for the Minutemen to win? How does a blowout happen?…
A blowout seems more plausible. UMass hasn't faced a good dual-threat quarterback in a while, and if Robinson gets going early, things could unravel fast. The Minutemen can't afford to turn the ball over. Naturally, if they can avoid falling behind early, their confidence goes up. An early hole could drain their belief in their ability to win pretty fast.
It's so nice to have people saying things like this, even if they're a I-AA beat writer.
Etc.: The MZone's Know Your Foe returns! This is just like when we used to go to bowl games! FSD talks to Denard's mom, who says he runs like Grandpa, which is a terrifying thing to think. Tom reports that 2011 OL Chris Bryant and his 2012 teammate Jordan Diamond will be unofficial visitors tomorrow. I will remind you about this again but Phil Brabbs is having a fundraising event in Chicago for the Indiana game.
I have terrible news: David Brandon's pimp hand has badly malfunctioned and is now marching, Godzilla-style, on the greatest rivalry ever in the history of ever. This morning he showed up on WTKA to discuss Big Ten divisons and said this:
SAM WEBB: If you are making the decision, are Michigan and Ohio State in the same division?
[pregnant pause in which Brandon struggles valiantly against the malfunctioning pimp hand's electrosteam power source. "NO," he stammers. "MUST… NOT… SUBMIT." He feels like he's trapped in an episode of Star Trek, playing Kirk in any one of the dozens of episodes in which something in his brain compels him to evil. Sweat breaks out on his brow; he begins to tremble. The shaking increases in intensity, threatening to break out into violent convulsions! At any moment David Brandon's existential dilemma will come to a head! Things are afoot—
A twitch. Two twitches. Now a facial tic. All is silent. An unnatural calm descends.]
DAVID BRANDON: …No.
[Deep in a bunker underneath a Kenosha corn field, Barry Alvarez allows himself the deep rumbling bass laugh only the blackest hearts can muster. Yes. All according to plan.]
SAM WEBB: And why? [Ed: …GOD WHY?]
THE UNSPEAKABLE THING THAT POSSESSES THE BODY OF DAVID BRANDON: Because we're in a situation where one of the best things that could happen … would be the opportunity to play Ohio State twice.
He said he has received only a couple of e-mails from people worried about the possibility of moving the Michigan game to earlier in the season. Whether those – and other critical opinions expressed on the Internet – are reflective of the broad fan base is impossible to know, Smith said.
"I know one thing for sure - that we're going to play (Michigan) every year," Smith said. "We may end up playing the last game of the year, or not. I just don't know that yet."
The "not" scenario will only come to pass if the two teams can play again and the Big Ten is trying to avoid the farce of a best-last-one-out-of-two scenario. And with both ADs at Michigan and Ohio State trying to prepare the fans for a soft landing, it's clear which way this is going: the stupidest possible way.
ONE: It is extremely unlikely that Michigan and Ohio State would ever actually score a championship game rematch. Splitting the two teams is a pointless exercise in hoping that once every ten years you get another one. This is no longer the 1970s.
TWO: Michigan's year-end opponent: Michigan State? Boy, that will fire up everyone on Rivalry Week: "It's Michigan! It's some team that's been within a game of .500 every year since SEC schools started recruiting black kids! On ABC!"
THREE: Whatever damage the rivalry sustains because of the split is going to vastly outweigh the piddling slice of extra revenue Michigan and Ohio State will get from a 1/12th split of the incremental bump the Big Ten Championship Game gets because maybe once every ten years they'll get to pit Michigan against Ohio State.
FOUR: Dennis Dodd thinks this is the way to go. QED.
Not that this matters. Apparently it's done. Get ready for Michigan-Ohio State sometime in October, not even playing for a division or anything, because the "TV people" really want it. Do I need to remind you about Mark Shapiro?
SO DID EVERYONE HAVE FUN LAST NIGHT CAN I GET A HELL YEA
YEAAAAAAAHHHHHHH GIVE ME A FUCKIN' OTTER
THE DEPTH CHART AT CORNER
1. DONOVAN WARREN
2. TROY WOOLFOLK
3. TLOY WOORFORK
4. JUSTIN TURNER
5. DEMAR DORSEY
6. BOUBACAR CISSOKO
8. THIS GUY WHO TILTS HIS HEAD IN A NON-CONFIDENCE INSPIRING WAY
9. RICHARD NIXON
HE DOESN'T EVEN KNOW WHICH HATS ARE UGLY YET
12. NIXON AGAIN
13. JAMES ROGERS
…WAIT, SERIOUSLY, SAMMY DAVIS JUNIOR?
Unverified Voracity Should Have Signed With Barca So They'd Pay For The HGH Shots It So Desperately Needs
SON OF A. 2011 forward recruit Lucas Lessio is now headed to the OHL, which sucks. I assume he's doing it because he doesn't want to move to the USHL's footprint or play in Junior B in his draft year. This is bad. Worse: Michigan's 2011 class is now Alex Guptill and they have to replace nine graduating seniors.
It's not quite as bad as it sounds since this year's team is going to be the deepest I've ever seen, but they are going to need four or five additional players and have scant time to add them in the accelerated world of college hockey recruiting. This might be what Red's three-year contract is about. We're having a JoePa problem.
At this point Michigan will be scouring the USHL for late-emerging and possibly older players to fill in the gap before the 2012 class, which does have a couple of high-end commits already, arrives.
LOL WUT. So here's Kenny Chesney hanging out with Desmond Howard and… um… some guy at Newsterbaan:
Unfortunately, this means two things: the creepy country dwarf is going to be involved with college football again this fall despite his epic fail last year, and Michigan is going to be involved with this fiasco. Whenever music gets involved with the Rich Rodriguez era terrible things happen.
Of all the lousy ways to save a buck. The general reaction to the AD's stealth decision to ban all water bottles, sealed or not, from Michigan Stadium…
WATER BOTTLE POLICY
All bottles (including all types of water bottles) are prohibited from being brought into the stadium. There are newly installed water fountains located throughout the concourse and complimentary cups of water are available at each concession stand that has soda dispensing ability.
…has met the same sort of reaction that Clark Griswold's boss got when he offered his employees the Jelly of the Month Club for Christmas bonuses, and I'm with the mob. Either the "complimentary cups of water" are soda-sized and the ban on bringing in bottles is an exercise in forcing people to wait in line pointlessly or they're little teeny cups that will be an unsuccessful attempt to make it seem like the ban is not the brainchild of some soulless MBA looking to maximize revenue efficiency.
I have a question in about this decision and am hoping the answers aren't unconvincing boilerplate about terrorism and people sneaking in drinks, but we'll see.
Vintage. 1966 is not a common year for footage to come from, but here's some stuff for the history mavens:
The point is probably that we're even discussing it. Genuinely Sarcastic launches a self-defeating argument about the amount of success Michigan and Michigan State have had in state. The numbers in summary:
Since 2008, the head to head scoreboard is Michigan 11, Michigan State 9.
Since 2008, Michigan has offered 38 in-state prospects, landing commitments from 16 of those 38 (42.1%).
MSU, on the other hand, has offered a staggering 73 players in-state. Of those 73, they've landed 38 (52.1%).
Same as it ever was except for some seriously pissed off you guys coaches at Renaissance and Southeastern, one of whom is now employed by Michigan State. That Michigan blogs are even putting the effort into State's recruiting, which remains as Motor City-tastic as ever* says all it needs to. Nothing's changed on MSU's side of the ledger—they mostly go .500 and hired a coach who went basically .500 before he arrived at State. It's Michigan that's concerned about their place in things.
*(Lawrence Thomas is a big get; to Rivals the rest of MSU's recruits are three stars, and not even high three stars: one player gets a 5.7 and the rest are 5.6 or worse, with three unranked players and a two-star. Michigan isn't burning up the charts yet but they are killing State, as they did last year and the year before, etc. Three of Michigan's four 5.6-or-worse guys (Sousa, Fisher, and Kellen Jones) are likely to move up.)
Scatterplots. If there's one thing Michigan State bloggers like more than bad recruiting it's not writing up a Worst Plays of the Decade list. But if there are two things, it's not writing up a Worst Plays of the Decade list and scatterplots. Here's a scatterplot of the Big Ten according to Football Outsiders' clunkily named F+ (they should call it deathbacker), which is basically an efficiency metric that adjusts for schedule strength, garbage time drives, and all the little details that can make PPG or YPG misleading. You will not be surprised:
Michigan's offense was slightly below average and their defense was… significantly less eye-rending than I'd have guessed. I expected them to be hanging out with Indiana and Illinois on the Island of Token Resistance. The guessas to why that happened: Michigan missed three of the five crappy teams in the league: themselves, Northwestern, and Minnesota. Their schedule difficulty was probably the toughest in the league, especially since Minnesota had by far the worst offense in the Big Ten.
Etc.: If you didn't get enough of the worst plays of the decade, The Wolverine Blog would like to bring your attention to the Post-Apocalyptic Oregon Game. I'm going to go listen to some Morrissey now. Pre-Snap Read, which is apparently the guy who did the season preview for the NYT last year doing the same thing independently, ranks Michigan a job-saving #37th and says the team is "ready to take the next step," by which he means "first step." Who is Zoltan Mesko? Baby don't hurt me, no more.
6. Roy Roundtree is tackled at the one yard line
Early in the third quarter of the 2009 Illinois game, Michigan is leading 13-7 when Tate Forcier hits Roy Roundtree on a seam up the middle. The safeties are out of position and Roundtree sets sail for the endzone, Terry Hawthorne in tow. Hawthorne tackles Roundtree at the goal line; the play is initially ruled a touchdown but correctly called back on replay. Four attempts from the one are stoned; instead of being up 20-7 Michigan is up 13-7. From there the defense gives up 31 points to a terrible team, causing mass chaos.
This, unlike everything else on the list, was not something that directly lost a game. It's actually a great play, a strike down the middle of the field that set Michigan up with a first and goal from the one. Michigan's chances at winning the game went up after it, also unlike everything else on the list. In now way should Roundtree be held responsible for getting tracked down at the one after seventy yards. Sometimes the other guy is just faster than you.
It was what happened afterward that enshrines this play in Michigan infamy. Up until the exact moment Roundtree's knee hit the turf Michigan was on track to recovery from the 3-9 season. Preseason projections of a 7-5 and a crappy bowl game were well within reach, as Illinois was sure to pack it in after going down 20-7 early in the third quarter and Purdue was flailing around. Michigan's losses had been acceptable: a whitewashing at Penn State was ugly but the other two were at MSU in overtime and at Iowa in a two-point game. Big deal, first and goal, let's put it in:
That happened. Then the defense caved in, allowing 31 second-half points.
In the aftermath, this blog got locked down, I talked about how my soul-dong had been crushed, and Rodriguez's job came under serious threat for the first time. If this year is the end for Rich Rodriguez—and Michigan sets off on another awkward transition—the beginning of that end was right here.
5. Spartan Bob
Michigan State scores a last-play touchdown to beat Michigan after the home timekeeper freezes the play clock early. Larry Stevens is roped to the ground like a pig in a poke, too, but… yeah. The cheat was blatant enough for ESPN to break it down frame-by-frame and declare Michigan hosed. State "wins" 26-21.
Once back at the dawn of time I was playing Tecmo Super Bowl against my brother. As it is with brothers, games were intense, unsporting things in which I, the older, invariably prevailed. Once, though, I called the crazy reverse flea-flicker play deep in my own end in an unusually tight game. My brother tackled the receiver at about the two, but after he'd pitched the ball back to the quarterback. Tecmo Super Bowl glitched spectacularly, though, and did its little ditty as it declared my receiver to have taken a game-sealing safety.
Enraged, I immediately hit reset.
That was this play-type substance, except the glitch was an intentional act and life, as of yet, has no reset button. Compounding matters is that Larry Stevens was spectacularly held—a primary reason Jeff Smoker had eons of time to find TJ Duckett. End result: rage like has never been seen before or again in a certain rental house belonging to a friend of a friend on Plymouth. As a blubbering Bobby Williams wept through a post-game interview I swore little demons into existence as I declared my eternal hatred of the man. Eventually I stormed outside so I would not be kicked out.
In football, you might not get justice all the time—see the 2005 Alamo Bowl, please—but at least when you don't there is the tiny consolation that the gibbering sack of incoherence that robbed you of justice didn't mean it. This is something wholly different.
4. Nick Sheridan hurls a wobbly duck in the general direction of four Utah defenders
With under a minute left in the first half against Utah, Nick Sheridan drops back to pass and, under little pressure, lofts a mortar that four Utah players have a better shot at than the best-positioned Michigan receiver. Brandstatter groans "oh, no, Nick." Utah intercepts it and punches it in a few plays later.
This did end up in a rankling Utah touchdown that extended the Utes' lead to 12; that touchdown would end up being the winning points after Michigan scratched its way to a competitive second half. So it was a game-losing play.
But that was small potatoes compared to what the play represented. First of all, the whole idea was preposterous, a terrible throw into triple coverage in a situation where caution was a priority. Worse than that was the back-foot windup Sheridan deployed to chuck an artillery shell 30 yards downfield. Such was its accuracy that any of three Michigan receivers could have been the target-like substance; such was its pace that if one Utah secondary member didn't pick it off another one would have found it gently tickling his fingers as it nuzzled its way into the crook of his arm.
As Michigan Stadium settled into a halftime funk, the hivemind thought: we are so fucked. In one searing instant Sheridan erased all the foolish hopes Michigan fans had that their walk-on quarterback could be anything approximating functional and exposed the vast talent deficiency that's driven Michigan to the bottom of the Big Ten. If there was ever an oh, shiiiiiiiiiit moment for Michigan football, this was it.
The next week this ran through my mind as I told WCBN that the upcoming Notre Dame game was "critical for bowl eligibility." It wasn't but only because that wobbly-duck-induced panic was so, so right. There were probably worse things that happened in 2008, but as the indignities piled on each other numbness sets in; the Sheridan interception was the knockout blow. The rest was just kicking a man on the ground.
3. Anthony Thomas fumbles for no reason whatsoever against Northwestern
Leading Northwestern 51-46 in the craziest game ever played by the Wolverines, Anthony Thomas bursts through the Wildcat defense for a game-clinching first down, then drops the ball without being touched. Northwestern recovers and scores to win.
I didn't actually see this play live. Michigan was playing Michigan State back when the CCHA was the Big Two and Little Ten and if there was anything I hated more than Ron Mason's brand of energy-sapping anti-hockey it was how unbelievably good Ryan Miller was. Michigan State games at Yost were pure bloodsport, so I headed out. The final quarter of this game is the only Michigan football I've missed since my enrollment.
This was a good thing, because when I finally found out what had gone so terribly wrong with the force sometime during the first period I was in disbelief. Michigan needed a first down to seal the game. Anthony Thomas broke through the line and could have guaranteed a Michigan victory merely by falling over. Instead he dropped the ball without a Northwestern player so much as touching him, allowing the unstoppable Wildcat offense the opportunity to win the game. If I had actually watched this live I probably would have died. Even though I never had the raw emotional experience of it, finding the clip was a sickening experience. There should be "I Survived The Anthony Thomas Fumble" t-shirts.
The costs were severe. Michigan finished in a three-way tie atop the Big Ten with Purdue and Northwestern, sending the Brees-led Boilers to the Rose Bowl. There they lost to the 10-1 Washington Huskies. Michigan had to settle for a Citrus Bowl date against Auburn.
2. Shawn Crable blocks the outside guy
The Horror: trailing 34-32 with hardly any time left on the clock, Chad Henne throws a hopeless moonball to Mario Manningham that Manningham actually comes down with, setting up a makeable field goal. That field goal is blocked because Crable and Greg Banks split like a cheap zipper, allowing an opponent to run unimpeded at the kicker.
I'd already started my exit from Michigan Stadium before the moonball that set Michigan up with an improbable final attempt at evading the biggest upset in the history of college football*. I was disgusted and given the situation, the slight chance of winning the game was less of a priority than not getting stuck in the Stadium longer than a nanosecond after it ended. So I watched the final drama from the aisle.
I didn't even know that an Appalachian State guy had picked the ball up and started trucking for the endzone until Tuesday. I was already stalking my way home.
*(At least for the next few weeks, anyway. Before the season was out not one but two bigger dogs rose up and overcame. Syracuse and Stanford, we thank you kindly.)
1. Shawn Crable goes helmet to helmet on Troy Smith.
Ohio State, 2006: Michigan trails by three late in the fourth quarter of a game with no defense and finally manages to get Ohio State into a third and long. Troy Smith drops back, but can't find anyone. Smith gets pressure and bugs out, flushing up out of the pocket and scrambling uselessly on third and forever. Shawn Crable comes up to knock him out of bounds; in doing so, he bashes Smith helmet to helmet, drawing a 15-yard flag that extends the Buckeye drive. OSU would score a game-clinching touchdown.
The previous play has much to recommend it as the worst thing that's ever happened to anyone outside of a Lars Von Trier movie, and, yes, even if Crable pulls up Michigan is a long way away from actually beating Ohio State. Michigan's last ditch touchdown drive that allowed them an onside kick required a terrible fourth-down pass interference call to be successful and for much of that drive Ohio State's strategy was to give up yards as long as it bled the clock. Up only three, OSU would have been considerably less accommodating unless Jim Herrmann was pulling a Mission: Impossible stunt on the opposing sideline.
But if you're looking for a moment at which Michigan ceased being Michigan, this is it. Ohio State had evened, then tilted the balance of the rivalry their way in the first few years of Jim Tressel's tenure but a Michigan win in Football Armageddon would have made it 2-3 in the Tressel era with the all-important Biggest Game Ever in Michigan's corner. They would have put up more of a fight against Florida if only because the left tackle was Jake Long and would not have been a turnstile all night. In some extremely abstract sense Bo's death would have been avenged, or something. The five hours I was stuck in Columbus afterward, waiting for a man not named Skeeter and wondering if I was actually going to strangle him with my bare hands, would have been almost pleasant.
None of that happened. The next three things to happen to Michigan football were another uncompetitive Rose Bowl against USC, The Horror, and the Post Apocalyptic Oregon game. The Bo era had persisted through a couple coaching changes, 8-4 malaise, and the Year of Infinite Pain; it ended at the same time I crumpled to my seat in the OSU student section.
That play against Ohio State(2007) … a John Navarre pass deflects off the bottom of Braylon Edwards's foot and is intercepted by USC in the 2004 Rose Bowl (2003) … Hayden Epstein misses a 27 yard field goal against UCLA in a 3-point loss (2000) … KC Lopata misses a 27-yard field goal against Toledo in a three-point loss (2008) … Steven Threet throws a 100-yard pick six in that same game (2008) … Washington blocks a would-be game-clinching field goal and returns it for a touchdown (2001) … on the next play a Navarre pass is batted skyward by a Michigan receiver and Washington returns that for a touchdown, too (2001) … Marquise Walker drops a sure touchdown during Michigan's storming second-half comeback in the 2001 Edition of the Game … John Navarre promptly throws a game killing interception afterwards (2001) … Tennessee's Jason Witten outruns the entire Michigan secondary at some point during the 2002 Citrus whitewashing (2001) … Braylon Edwards is called for offensive pass interference against OSU (2002) … Chad Henne wings an interception directly at a ND safety when he had Avant open for a touchdown (2005) … Henne fumbles on a QB sneak from inside the one in the same game (2005) …virtually any defensive play during the Post Apocalyptic Oregon Game (2007) … Tate Forcier chucks a terrible interception in overtime against Michigan State (2009) … Denard Robinson chucks a terrible interception on the last drive against Iowa (2009) … Mike Williams lets a deep post behind him on third and thirty-seven in the same game (2009) … Forcier gives Ohio State a free touchdown to start the 2009 Game (2009) … and then throws five interceptions (2009).