Special Teams: Bit of a mixed bag, just not in the way you expected.
This is the final edition of the 2011 Preview Review, focusing on special teams and Brian's "stupid predictions"—his term, not mine. Instead of breaking it down in the categories I've used in the two previous posts, I'm just going to go prediction-by-prediction for this one, since there's obviously less to cover here.
First, however... never forget:
This picture, encapsulating the gawd-awfulness of Michigan's 2010 attempts to split the uprights with a football, prefaced the preview section for kickers. The general assumption, given said gawd-awfulness, was that highly-touted freshman Matt Wile would step onto campus and immediately take over the starting job. Instead, three photos of post-shank Brendan Gibbons graced the top of the "kicker" section ("Rating: 2?"), followed by this caption:
WHAT THE BALLS WHY IS THIS MAN'S PICTURE HERE
It was a legitimate question. Gibbons went 1-for-4 in the 2010 regular season, lost his job to Seth Broekhuizen (3-for-9), then put a fitting cap on RichRod's final season by completely biffing a 35-yarder in the Gator Bowl. Optimism, well, was justifiably absent:
The idea of Gibbons hitting the field again gives me hives. At least this time around there's another option, though it's an option that lost out to Brendan Gibbons. Guh.
I always punt on kickers I haven't seen play but the chances Michigan has come up totally incompetent on two straight scholarship guys is low. Either Gibbons has gotten a lot better or they're trying not to put too much on Wile's plate.
So, of course, Gibbons goes out and hits 13 of 17 field goals, then cements himself in Michigan lore by drilling the game-winner in the Sugar Bowl while thinking about brunettes. By midseason, I wasn't even hiding my eyes when Hoke sent out the field goal unit. Gibbons improved dramatically; I won't attempt to figure out why—kickers are weird—but the stark contrast in reactions between Hoke and Rodriguez when the kicking game went to hell isn't a bad place to start.
The aspect of the kicking game that purported to be rock-solid was punting, where Wile was supposed to hold down the fort for four games until Will Hagerup made a grand, Zoltan-esque return from suspension.
If he manages to get through September without immolating his career, Michigan will have one of those punters color commentators call a "weapon" whenever he strolls onto the field. In Hagerup's case this is almost not hyperbolic.
Brian gave the punters a rating of "3, then 5" with the expectation that Hagerup would put behind him the early struggles of his freshman season and punt like the guy who averaged 44 yards per boot in Big Ten play. Instead, he wasn't even the best punter on the team: Wile averaged 42 yards per punt, while Hagerup managed just 36. Hagerup still started for most of the season, but when he shanked punts for 26 and 24 yards in the Sugar Bowl, Wile came on in relief and again performed better. Michigan finished the season 109th in net punting, a bitterly disappointing effort from a unit that was thought to be a strength.
Less surprising were Michigan's struggles in the return game, where Jeremy Gallon's contined presence at punt returner after finding every conceivable way to fumble in 2010 was deemed "inexplicable." There was one mission, and one mission only:
Gallon and the kick returners? Ask again later. I'm not expecting miracles. Just HOLD ON TO THE DAMN BALL.
There were no miracles. Gallon averaged a hair over ten yards per punt return as the Wolverines finished 53rd nationally in that category. Martavious Odoms and Vincent Smith handled most of the kick return duties; both were underwhelming, and Michigan was 117th in the country, averaging just 18.4 yards. Fumbles were notably absent, however, and thus the masses were placated.
Now we delve into the "Heuristics and Stupid Prediction" portion of the preview. Brian again recounted RichRod's "weird evil turnover juju," then predicted that Michigan would experience a much-needed regression to the mean after finishing -10 in turnover margin in 2010, in large part due to a competent defense and experience (say what?) at quarterback.
If Robinson remains healthy Michigan should improve significantly. The defense has to suck less and Robinson's responsibility should improve rapidly relative to players more than a year removed from being novelty freak shows. I'm afraid that Robinson is just a fumble-prone guy—Mike Hart didn't need experience to hold on to the damn ball—but the interception rate should dip considerably.
On the other side of the ball, a defense that rushes more than three players and has Martin, RVB, and Roh should get back to at least average in sacks. The center of the Gaussian distribution here is probably –3 turnovers on the year; even that would be massive improvement.
Robinson's interception rate, unfortunately, did not take a dive, but that didn't stop the Wolverines from vastly exceeding those expectations. Michigan finished +7 on the year, jumping from 109th to 25th in the national rankings.
The part you all want to see, however, is the final, "stupid" prediction. Before the ultimate unveiling, Brian put forth best-case and worst-case scenarios. Your nightmare season:
There's no bottom if Denard and a couple of other key defensive players are hurt. Leaving the worst-worst case out, a relatively healthy Michigan has no business losing to WMU, EMU, Minnesota, or Purdue at home.
San Diego State, Northwestern, Illinois are all losable but Denard should be able to snake at least one of those. 5-7 is the floor.
Obviously, none of that happened, because this website is not devoted to pictures of kittens. As for the best-case season:
The schedule is fairly soft, with no true road games until Michigan State (the game at Northwestern will be at least half M fans) and both Penn State and Wisconsin rotating off. If the offense maintains its current level of productivity and Mattison mediocres the defense real good, the only game that still seems entirely out of reach is Nebraska.
That's not to say Michigan can reasonably expect to win all games in reach. Taking more than two from Notre Dame, Michigan State, Iowa, and the Akron State Golden Bobcats seems to be irrational optimism. 9-3 is about all you can reasonably hope for.
Take out what ended up being overblown faith in Nebraska and understandable skepticism about the defense being anything better than mediocre and this is essentially what happened. Hooray for besting the "best-case" scenario. Less hooray for overrating Iowa and seeing them beat us anyway.
And finally, Brian's actual prediction:
I add it up and I come up with eight wins and change. Assume one irreplaceable player is annihilated and that comes back down to an even 8-4. Unlike last year, when I predicted 7-5 but thought 6-6 was more likely than 8-4, I think Michigan is more likely to surprise to the positive until such time as we have another Woolfolk ankle explosion pity party.
Some commenters have suggested that the exactingly specific predictions in the previous posts today suggest I'd be predicting something better than 8-4, but I think turnovers, while getting much better, will still be in the red. Though the special teams issues can't be as bad they will still be a problem that could kill Michigan in a close game.
Robinson, Martin, Van Bergen, and Demens all survived the season without significant injury; dodging those potential bullets cannot be understated in its significance. Throw in Michigan's turnover reversal, a defense that surprised even the most irrational optimist, and a competent kicking game—plus the implosion in Columbus—and you get a 10-2 regular season, landmark victories over Notre Dame and Ohio State, and a (completely fluky) Sugar Bowl triumph over Virginia Tech.
Please predict 10-2 this time around, Brian. That's how these things work, right?
1/3/2012 – Michigan 23, Virginia Tech 20 (OT) – 11-2, 6-2 Big Ten
Michigan got outgained better than two to one and probably squeezed the last bits of magic out of Brady Hoke's rectal horseshoe, but it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter until the Very Serious bullets that have no time for sentiment, the Very Serious bullets that didn't feel deeply guilty for not including Junior "Junior Megatron" Hemingway amongst the hallowed group of seniors who maybe could have sort of made Michigan itself again… except insofar as "again" is inappropriate to apply to a program that has not exactly made a habit out of winning BCS games doing so. The Very Serious Bullets were not ready to declare war on God for smiting David Molk—OF ALL PEOPLE DAVID MOLK—in the moments before the culmination of his career. And screw that. Screw a Very Serious bullet. Also logic, and reason, and causality, and all the other things that had no bearing on which team walked off the Superdome field happy.
This is what matters: Molk standing on the sideline watching the first offensive series and the feeling in his gut as he watched the last 60 minutes he'd wear the uniform evaporate. Logan Thomas saying something like "damn I'm tired" or "damn you're tired" to Ryan Van Bergen in the second half after yet another play on which a broken Van Bergen harassed—but did not sack—the brobdingnagian Tech quarterback. Mike Martin slicing his way into the backfield to put Tech into another third and long. Hemingway's hands finding the three inches of space needed for a touchdown. Confetti, the right confetti, and ugly shirts, and Chris Fowler talking to Junior Megatron, and people smiling.
What matters is that when Brendan Gibbons was asked what he thought about before the winning kick, he said "brunette girls" because Brady Hoke told him that's what he should think about.
This is not the best Michigan team ever assembled. It's not the most dominant. You know a lot of it was assembled by smoke and mirrors and Jon Falk's super-secret loose-fumble-magnet gloves. You're not eyeing that Alabama game next year and thinking "those rednecks are in for an… education. [YEAAAAAAAA]."
You, cold-eyed realist who gravitates to this place, are going to tell work colleagues who went to universities other than your own that Michigan deserved to win this game in no way whatsoever. And then your shit-eating grin is going to drive them from you.
I haven't watched the NFL in going on a decade now except in somnambulant Thanksgiving not-give-a-craps, but this holiday season happened to coincide with weekends and I was a guest without remote privileges. I caught a few last week. Amongst other exercises in vacuous non-speech, I ended up watching Aaron Rodgers make his publicist very proud after he respectfully dispatched Generic Opponent and then said things about his teammates.
The things he said were not so very different from what we usually get in college—like the game itself, public relations in the NFL is metal refined from NCAA ore—but in college things are rawer, emotions felt instead of managed. The brutal look on Danny Coale's face after his redemption was overturned is evidence enough of that.
The stakes in these games come from the stories of the players, and we get a relatively honest look at them over the course of their four years. After what must have been a crushing loss, The Key Play took to the internet not to light up coaching decisions or instant replay or VT's offensive line but to do this:
That team made me proud.
No we didn't win. I'm sure a lot of y'all are pissed about some play calls. I am. More carries for Logan. More carries for Logan. More carries for Logan. More carries for Logan, especially on short yardage situations. But this wasn't the Orange Bowl last year. We didn't get our balls beat in. We didn't get throttled. We didn't get out-coached. We didn't get out-played. No one punched us in the throat... And that's why it hurts.
I have an ache in my chest right now too painful for words to describe. We came sooooooooo close, but failed. That's a strong word, but it's accurate--we failed. We came to play. We came to fucking play this game.
That comes from Coale, a guy pressed into service as a punter who was asked to make a weighty decision and failed. A guy who was a centimeter away from redeeming himself by staking Virginia Tech to a seven-point lead as tall as Everest who then had his anguish revisited time and again by ESPN as Michigan positioned themselves for the identical field goal Tech had just missed.
VT fans love Danny Coale even if they hate the way his last game played out. He is why they care, even if their memories are bittersweet. God, have we been there. Entire generations of Michigan seniors came and went without beating Ohio State.
For the first time in a long time, we don't have to eulogize. Michigan beat OSU and won a
bowl BCS game for the first time since the 1999 season. Martin Van Buren was president of East Rhodesia and logic gates were chiseled onto rocks the last time a group of Michigan seniors went out like this:
Or a season ended like this:
Yeah, the game was the definition of a "yes, but…" experience. In the cold-eyed light of the offseason it will dampen expectations for next year. So what? Virginia Tech fans are thinking of Danny Coale this morning.
I'm thinking of Martin and Koger and Hemingway and Molk and Van Bergen and how there is no thought of what could have been, no thought of opportunities missed or goals fallen short of. Just that they stayed, and they made a BCS bowl, and they were champions of it. In the end, the seniors of Team 132 got what they came for. Now they will break the last link on the chain and tell those who follow they can make it anew.
NOT VERY SERIOUS BULLETS
Smooth. In the same fashion friend of blog Jerry Hinnen said "yes, thank you, finally" to someone dubbing Oregon's shinybits in the Rose Bowl "Destro helmets," I welcome the comparison of brunette-loving, Scott-Van-Pelt*-.38-Special-comparison-inspiring, suddenly-nails kicker Brendan Gibbons to Keith Stone:
Psyching himself up for NAILS
hangin' w/ Mister Cooper
Well done, unknown Iowa fan who knows iawolve, well done. After a season in which Gibbons has been sarcastically exhorted to put the ball through the uprights in all caps and with question marks, it is only right to break out some H tags in tribute:
GIBBONS: YOU PUT IT THROUGH THE UPRIGHTS!
Yea, and it came to pass that the season preview gave the kicker spot at least a 3 next year. Now please stop probably deserving false start penalties.
*[SVP is reminiscent of the Dan & Keith ESPN heyday. He is capable of making me enjoy an hour of Sportscenter. Like Gus Johnson and Alton Brown, he is a rare being of pure awesomeness that can exist in a lowest-common-denominator setting. SVP for president.]
Further evidence. Via BWS:
Nike shirts: making you glad your school is Adidas even if they did dress the team like the bumblebee girl from "No Rain" this year. If you thought copping a Def Leppard lyric was gauche, you did not see the Fiesta postgame.
Nike is now run by the immature cheese from Cheez-It commercials.
Stop complaining about being passed over. Mathlete:
For all the K St fans upset about the Sugar Bowl snub, Michigan won this one in honor of you, can't imagine winning 10 games like that
Kansas State did play in the Sugar Bowl. They were wearing Michigan's uniforms.
This is why you're Sparty. LeVeon Bell:
UofM proud that they had 8 home games, didn't play Wisconsin OR Penn St, AND lost to us? Yall can beat a average VA Tech team, be proud then
Sparty being Sparty. Just like this guy wearing green and white in the endzone where Gibbons nailed the winner:
I hope you enjoyed the last few years, guys.
VERY SERIOUS BULLETS
ALL RIGHT NOW WE HAVE A TALK. Holy pants the offense. This was the third time this year Michigan's offense was just beyond terrible; they lost the other two but horseshoed themselves the Sugar Bowl.
It was imperative that Michigan establish something VT had to react to, but they never did. Their big tactical innovation for this game was a not-very-spread formation with a TE, a tailback, and Odoms in motion for a jet sweep fake. That worked on the first play of the game when Odoms got the edge and then hardly ever again. I don't understand Michigan's emphasis on running to the perimeter against a defense like VT's that thrives on getting their safeties to tackle in space.
Meanwhile, Michigan receivers got zero separation all night, allowing VT to tee off on the run with impunity. Michigan needs an athleticism upgrade there.
It's apparent Borges wants to put guys in the box instead of spreading them out, forcing the opponent to respect the horizontal aspects of the defense, and then making you tackle and fill one on one; maybe that will work against a VT when Shane Morris is throwing to LaQuon Treadwell. It did not here.
Robinson likely shares some responsibility but it's hard to tell since the Sugar Bowl shorted replays for more commercials. I did notice a late third down and medium on which Robinson tried to fit it in a nonexistent window to Koger when Gallon was breaking open underneath. But mostly it just seemed like there was never anything there. It's one thing if the opponent is beating a block. Against VT it seemed like there was always an unblocked guy fitting the run and no one was ever open. Hard to move the ball like that.
Interior DL FTW. We in the M blogosphere may have been excessively optimistic about the offense but man did we peg the other side of that matchup: VT's crappy interior line pass protected well but could not get RVB or Martin blocked to save their lives. Wilson got hacked down at the line time and again, got some yardage outside when Michigan's run support on the edges was missing. Logan Thomas was not pressured much and picked Michigan's secondary apart with lethal accuracy.
This is kind of why I am worried about next year: taking away Martin and Van Bergen is going to be huge, and the rest of the defense is short of guys who seem like certainties to be players at their level next year. I've got Ryan and Kovacs and then…
Mattison's going to earn his money next year if Michigan treads water defensively despite returning eight starters.
Holy Van Bergen. Not only did RVB play every snap, and play well, he was injured early in the game and ended up like this:
"My foot just feels like rubber,” Van Bergen said after the game. “I couldn’t plant on it or anything like that.
“It actually went down, like parallel to my chin when I was in a pile. The next time I was trying to plant, I was trying to overcompensate for it, and I put it the other way and got chopped, so my toe was coming up to like the top of my ankle.”
Can we retroactively make him a captain? I'm serious. If the Bentley doesn't list RVB as a captain I might have to hack their site so it does.
Richt'd… right? Hoke game theory bits were a mixed bag. By decision:
- Fake FG near end of first half. Yes, it was a called fake. The problem was that a big chunk of the team didn't get the call, including Dileo's intended receiver, thus resulting in the Yakety Sex that was the deflected long-snapper reception. Hoke's verging on the territory where all go/kick situations on which there's a reasonable debate seemingly decided in favor of the kick will be expected to be fakes, thus depressing the EV of faking. At this point he's going to have to kick some dumb field goals if he's going to get that back.
- FG at end of first half. I was okay with it. A fair chunk of the reason it's a good idea to go for it on fourth down in those situations is the crappy negative-value field position it leaves your opponent in if you fail. When the half is ending that's not a factor, and given the way that half played out I was not super confident Michigan would punch the ball in from the two.
- Sending out the punt safe team on the fake punt. Obvious move given the situation and one that paid off when Coale pulled a Zoltan-vs-MSU miscalculation on the rugby option. If you're going to go there you should put it in the hands of your huge QB, not rely on a converted WR to make a high-pressure decision he's never made in a game before. This bullet is more about Beamer than Hoke.
- Not calling TO in an effort to get the ball back at the end of regulation. Also okay with that. Immediate TO sees you get around 35 seconds when the ball is kicked off; given Michigan's offense to that point in the game and season-long crap kickoff returns that did not seem like it had much value. Calling TO has a slight chance of flipping the opposing coach's thinking towards going for it, or at least it might if this wasn't Frank Beamer.
Richt-ing it in OT. It wasn't a full-on Richt. Richt idiotically threw away two downs to attempt a 42 yard field goal with a kicker who had been 6 of 16(!!!) from 40+ that range this year. Hoke/Borges at least shaved a meaningful five yards* off the attempt and went with a guy who was at that point 11/15 on the season. Given the way Michigan's offense had been moving the ball (not at all with plenty of OH SHI— near-INTs), the equation is significantly different than when you've got Aaron Murray. While I was a little annoyed they didn't flip it out to the WR and his massive cushion, I wasn't livid at the thought process.
Still, man… let Denard run the ball with the extra blocker in a spread formation and instructions to keep both hands on the ball. Upside is greater there.
The theme here is when your offense can't pick up two yards to save its life, old-timey decisions are correct. When the game is going to end with a score worthy of 1950, playing 1950s-era football is the move.
*[The Mathlete's preview post contains an apropos FG success graph showing a whopping 15% difference in success rate between a 42 yard field goal (around 55%) and a 37-yarder (around 70%) for an average D-I kicker, which I'd say Gibbons is. Same difference for a bad one, FWIW. It's only when you've got a Kaeding or the like that playing as conservatively as Richt did makes even the slightest amount of sense.]
The not quite catch. Someone on the twitters put it best:
Here it is:
It's incomplete because the tip of the ball hits the ground and it shifts in his arms when it happens. The ball has the potential to slide through his upper arms when it impacts the ground; ground aids catch; not a catch.
VT fans and players are pissed off and I can understand why. Again, they should remove the uncertainty here and say the ball hitting the ground equals no catch until you have made the proverbial "football move." That is a bright line rule that removes the controversy from plays like this and the 49% Hemingway touchdown against Iowa and the 48% Coale TD above. If it swings the game a bit towards defense that may not be a terrible idea these days.
More on the fake FG. I thought surely the refs had missed an illegal man downfield, but it does appear that when the pass is thrown Michigan linemen are within three yards of the LOS:
Whatever the screwup was it looked like VT had that well covered. Hoke's going to have to shelve the fakes for a while.
Countess. Hoo boy was that a rough ride for him. I hope you caught that first bubble screen of the second half—after Countess let his guy get to the sideline Mallory lit him up. He got burned on a double move that Thomas overthrew, generally could not match up with the extremely talented Jarrett Boykin*, and was a problem on both outside Wilson runs and a variety of 7-8 yard bubble screens.
*[Another way in which Beamer handed this game to M was continuing to run the ball when your QB is completing 70% of his passes for almost 8 YPA. M loses if Beamer pulls the Carroll and tells his OC to call no runs in the second half.]
Bubble screens. Ain't saying nothin'.
Woolfolk took a short video in the locker room and posted it to the twitter:
It's not 90 degrees off, it's artistic.
Comment of the week from beenplumb:
Go back to last year and tell us that our defense and kicker would win us a BCS bowl and try not to get punched in the face for lying.
Diarists are too hungover to chip in just yet. Seth did excellent work on the no catch in OT, but that's on the front page so you probably know about it already.
Players. Ryan tweets some photos from the field. Roh with the dudes I promised to name my firstborn after*:
Roundtree and… uh… I don't know.
This is a disturbing moment. Who is that dude?
Blog substances, local. BWS bullets:
Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen, and perhaps more importantly, the Virginia Tech offensive line, were as advertised. The interior of that offensive line is dysfunctional. Martin and Van Bergen were three yards into the backfield on basically every running play. The only reason they can pass block is that they keep retreating into Logan Thomas, at least long enough for him to zip a pass to one of his many wide receivers. I have no idea how a team with an offensive line that bad can win 11 games.
In a way, this is how the 2011 season had to end for Michigan. At the end of the Rich Rodriguez era, Michigan was a great offfense and then a smoking heap of wreckage. The defense was unconscionably bad. The special teams were barely above that level, most notably because the Wolverines could not kick a field goal. Michigan did dumb things like not knowing that a blocked field goal is a live ball. The turnover rate was terrible. This year was a palate cleanser in every way. In the end, Michigan won a game despite the offense being completely stymied. The Wolverines won by being good on defense, very good on special teams, and smart enough to avoid the mistakes that killed their otherwise superior opponent.
Blog substances, national. EDSBS:
It was a complete mess in so many ways, and in so many different ways than the other BCS games thus far. the numbers were appalling in their own unique way: Michigan had 184 yards of total offense, got doubled up by VT in terms of total production, had 12 first downs to Virginia Tech's 22, and still ended up covered in maize and blue confetti watching Junior Hemingway losing his shit gloriously when Chris Fowler asked him about the long path to getting here. This is not a very good Michigan team, but they are a very good Michigan team.
That should make sense if you've watched this team dodge bullets and narrowly avoid putting the car in the ditch on so many occasions this year, or come back against Notre Dame, or hold on despite doing almost everything they could to lose a late lead to Ohio State, or in this game scratch, claw, and somehow hold a more productive Hokies team in check until the final and inevitable kicking mistakes. This team was more fun than any other team Brady Hoke will ever have because they were not supposed to have eleven wins, and could not conceivably have piled them up like this. This team is the pound dog that saved your family from the fire. They are the college car that would not die no matter what you put in its gas tank. They are the party that came out of nowhere on a Tuesday night, and resulted in no hangovers.
Easily one of our favorite teams of 2011, and not just because we like calling Brady Hoke "Ol' Pizzafarts."
Bill Connolly breaks down the numbers:
4: Tackles for loss by Michigan's Jake Ryan. Michigan's defense played the bend-don't-break routine to perfection. They allowed five yards per play and seven trips inside their 40, but they forced five field goals and a turnover on downs at their four. Part of the reason for the success was that Ryan (must not make Sixteen Candles reference and reveal that it is one of my favorite movies of all-time ... must not make Sixteen Candles reference and reveal that it is one of my favorite movies of all-time ... must not make Sixteen Candles reference and reveal that it is one of my favorite movies of all-time...) was always around to make a big play. Ryan, Jordan Kovacs and Desmond Morgan combined for 22.5 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss, and Michigan as a whole severely limited Tech's big plays. Just force them to keep inching down the field and eventually force a fourth down.
All of that sentimental bunk about Brady Hoke returning Michigan to its meat-eating essence or whatever, well, it actually worked out that way. It worked out far beyond the expectations of the most observant pilgrims of Oosterbaanian lore. No one in August was going out on a limb for a 7-6 outfit with no defense transitioning to a new coaching staff. As collapse-prone as the Wolverines were after fast starts under Rodriguez, no one was going out on a limb for them in early November, after losses at Michigan State and Iowa seemed to leave them back at square one. Since then, Michigan is 4-0 with wins over Nebraska, Ohio State and now Virginia Tech and abides in a state of Bo-like balance. Those who stayed fended off a fourth quarter Hokie rally to complete the circle.
I enjoyed this comment after the post:
This game proved that there is no pride or character in the big ten. When the only way you can win a game is by cheating and you are proud of it . I guess no one should surprised by the level of scandal in the conference. the attitude of the only real harm in disgusting behavior is being held accountable and the ends always justify the means is as base as it gets. to be beaten on the field as thoroughly as Michigan was on the field and be proud of a win that was a gift from whomever controlled that officiating crew is banal. That kid caught the ball everyone who has seen the replay from the angles available knows it including the replay officials and all of the Michigan coaching staff. ESPN made the staement that the only thing that matters is the final score. They and their Mid east Ohio valley values may be the real problem here.
Tom Fornelli has a format that demands he put words after the bullet HOW MICHIGAN WON. He begins "This is not an easy question to answer."
This was beyond weird, and exhausting to decipher. The Hokies controlled play, and had an apparent 20-yard touchdown pass in overtime overruled by replay. That gave the Wolverines their shot, and they took a BCS bowl victory and improbable 11-2 record with it.
Working as rapidly as possible on game post. ETA this afternoon.
Brendan Gibbons doesn't always make game winning field goals, but when he does he's thinking of total babes.
Total smoking hot babes. That clip was the one that prompted Scott Van Pelt to ask if that was Michigan football or .38 Special, BTW.
Junior Hemingway postgame:
General highlights from Parkinggod:
More highlights, interviews, and oddities after the jump.
THE MODERATOR: Welcome to the official postgame press conference for the 2012 Allstate Sugar Bowl.
We'll begin with Michigan head coach Brady Hoke. We've been joined by Denard Robinson, Junior Hemingway, and Brendan Gibbons.
At this time I'm going to turn it over to Coach Hoke, a few thoughts on the game, and we'll open the floor for questions.
COACH HOKE: You know, thank you. It was a great college football game. Two teams who played extremely hard, two teams that played for each other. I think Virginia Tech and Coach Beamer, they did an excellent job, when you look at how they defended us a little bit and then offensively and then you look at the Michigan Wolverines and how our guys stayed together, complemented each other.
We talked about playing 60 minutes of Michigan football. We played about 63 and a half, I think. So I'm just real proud, real proud of our seniors, real proud of how they took this football team last January and molded it and did a tremendous job.
And we always have a tremendous legacy of Team 132 that a lot of teams are going to have to try and match up to.
THE MODERATOR: We've been joined by Ryan Van Bergen.
Q. Brendan, it hasn't been a great Bowl season for kickers. You see him miss, and you go up. Just talk about what's going through your mind at that point and how good it felt?
BRENDAN GIBBONS: It felt good to go out there. Coach Hoke and the whole Team 132 had faith in me the whole season. Coach puts us in situations, two-minute drill every Thursday practice.
And it just felt good to make the kick for the team to help the seniors go out in a good way.
Q. Junior, you seemed to get very emotional after the game. What was behind all the emotion, just the victory? Was there something else? What does it mean to get the two touchdown catches and the victory?
JUNIOR HEMINGWAY: From the beginning when the coaches first came in, you know, we had to buy in and the seniors had to get the rest of the team to do the same thing, Team 132.
It was just a hard-fought season. And to go out there and do it for the underclassmen who now have a Sugar Bowl championship under their belt and for us to leave with the Sugar Bowl championship, it just shows our hard work, our determination, our resilience. And that's where most of the emotion came from.
Q. Coach, I'm curious: What do you think this win means for the program? Is Michigan back?
COACH HOKE: I was asked that the other day. Michigan never left. And some people may have thought that way, but Michigan never left. What it means is that we've got a group of guys, especially a group of seniors, who won 11 football games.
And it's only the fifth team in the history of 132 years of Michigan football to win 11. And so it's a significant task.
And these guys have grown as a team. We've grown as a football team and a staff, and there's a lot of love and respect that we have for each other.
Q. Denard, how do you describe the way this game went, just from your perspective?
DENARD ROBINSON: I feel like this was a team that didn't quit and we just kept fighting. We held everybody accountable for what we had to do to win.
Q. Ryan, Brady's talked throughout the year about what this season has meant to the seniors and he's in a way dedicated this year to seniors. Can you talk about what it meant for you ending it with so many challenges in losing Will and all that?
RYAN VAN BERGEN: We've had times where we had to face adversity throughout this whole season, and it kind of comes full circle for the seniors. Like you talked about, we faced a lot of adversity since we've been here.
This game was kind of just, you know, a microcosm for what happened to us so far as a senior class, and it's been an amazing turnaround for this year, and I think the seniors left an amazing legacy.
Team 132 will be the fifth team in Michigan history to have 11 wins. That's significant when you play in a program that has the tradition that Michigan has.
So we couldn't be more proud as a senior. I couldn't be more proud of the guys that we got the opportunity to lead. It's a full team effort. And we just stayed strong all season. It's a marathon.
Q. Brendan, did you know it was good when you hit it? How did you celebrate when you were absolutely sure?
BRENDAN GIBBONS: I thought it was good when I hit it. Felt good coming off my foot. How did I celebrate? I just wanted to celebrate with my teammates, and it felt good to celebrate with them.
Q. Denard said earlier in the week he wasn't second-guessing himself, whether he made a mistake throwing the ball to Junior Hemingway. After he throws that pick looking for Junior earlier in the game, goes back in the corner, I guess, what kind of confidence does Junior instill in you and what kind of confidence does Denard instill in you and your performance today?
COACH HOKE: I've always had confidence in both of these guys. And when you have a big target and a guy who has great timing, which I think is part why Junior makes a lot of those catches, and has a big body and bodies some people out of the way.
And so we've always had a lot of confidence in that combination and sometimes you are going to make plays. And you've got to have guys who can make those plays, and when they're the ones doing it, you feel pretty good about it.
Q. Junior, talk about your two catches.
JUNIOR HEMINGWAY: The first one, the play was called. I forgot what the play was. It was corners. So I saw how the DB was playing. I broke it off in front of him. I seen Denard getting ready to throw the ball, but I didn't know who he was throwing the ball at. He threw it up and, number one, didn't play the ball good. I caught it. I heard the safety coming over I didn't know if he was going to take me out or what. Snatched the ball in there, ran it in for six.
And the second one, it was an all-go play and I got behind the safety, and I was thinking in my head: Please, Denard, throw this up, please, I want you to so bad.
And he threw it up. He threw it up. And I made a play on it.
Q. Coach, a lot of people question the selection process for this game and said that maybe the teams weren't worthy. What do you think that the result of the game and the way that it transpired says about that proposition?
COACH HOKE: Well, you know, people always are going to have an opinion, and that's part of the beauty of college football, part of the beauty of the BCS and all that kind of stuff.
And I can tell you that team we played tonight is a pretty doggone good football team. And I think we're a pretty good football team.
So people are going to have their opinion. We just happen to disagree with them.
Q. Brady, a couple of things kind of related maybe. If somebody had told you you weren't going to have 200 yards of offense in this game and only have the ball for 23 minutes, how much trouble do you think you would have been in? And can you talk a little bit about what David Molk went through to even be on the field?
COACH HOKE: Well, you know, I'll answer the second question first. David, he's a warrior. He's a captain on this football team. He tweaked his foot during the pregame. And our trainers did a tremendous job, our doctors.
And he has a lot of pride in Michigan and he has a lot of pride in this offense. And so it means a lot to see him come out there and perform like he did.
What was the first question?
Q. Getting it done without offense …
COACH HOKE: Well, you know, you never know what you're going to get in any game. We just gotta be able, when the time's right and when either side of the ball needs to make a play, and we've done that through the course of the year.
The defense caused a turnover. We got a great turnover on the kickoff, their kickoff return, which was a big part of it. But to be honest with you, you know, you really -- points on the board. And that's what's at the end of the day. We had more points.
Q. Brady, you've been resistant, reluctant, throughout the year to qualify whether or not this season has met or exceeded your expectations for this season. Now that it's over, can you qualify if the season lines up with what you expected?
COACH HOKE: We go in with the expectation to win the Big Ten championship. And that won't ever change. Winning ten games or more are part of that expectation. So we didn't reach that goal. But I can tell you this group of guys got us a heck of a lot closer than we were before.
Q. Brendan, what was going through your mind as Virginia Tech calls time out and it's overtime you're lining up that kick and thinking about lining up that kick? What was going through your mind before the kick in overtime, during the timeout and all that?
BRENDAN GIBBONS: Brunette girls. Every time we were like struggling in kicking, Coach tells me to think about girls on a beach or brunette girls. So that's what we did. Made the kick. (Laughter).
Q. Brendan, I'm curious if maybe thinking about those brunette girls you may have false started on that kick. Replays appeared to show that you jumped a little early. Do you feel you might have beat the snap coming out there?
BRENDAN GIBBONS: I moved a little bit. Not really. But it's kind of like my false step approach. So Glanda and Drew did their job and I did mine to win the game.
Q. Denard, after giving up two field goals early, what helped you change to get the offense going?
DENARD ROBINSON: We knew the defense was stepping up making big plays. It was time for the offense to step up and make plays, and that's what we did.
Q. Coach, out there Al talked about how this really wasn't about execution, it was more about will. In some ways is it even more satisfying for you as a coach?
COACH HOKE: I think you're right. And Al's right. It was about will. When you play a game like that and we're both -- both teams are getting after each other -- and I can tell you down on the field it was physical. You could hear. And guys were playing football, and you could hear football. And so it was a physical game.
The one thing that's great about this football team is they've continued to stay together. And they've continued to complement each other. And that's exciting. And that's why we've won 11 games.
Q. Ryan, obviously in the crutches, just what happened in the end?
RYAN VAN BERGEN: I got stuck under a pile and my foot got bent down in an angle, so my foot was parallel with my shins, so that was an awkward angle. That was early in the game, and that was bothering me. I had a cut block actually fold it the other way. So I was just trying to battle it off.
This was my last game. Unless I saw a bone, I was going to try to stay in and fighting that off. The guys behind me, they filled the role really well. Jibreel Black did a great job at the end of the game.
Q. We talked about after the Ohio State game what this senior class means to you. After a game like this, a win like this, how are you going to remember them? How are you going to remember the team and how they set the foundation for your first year?
COACH HOKE: These guys have left a mark and one that -- I can tell you, the senior class, we'll always remember and always be proud to say that we had the privilege and the opportunity to coach them.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
(FastScripts by ASAP Sports)
News bullets and other important items:
- Kovacs did everything during practice yesterday, should be good to go. [Ed: From what I've heard from various sources, Kovacs can play and wants to play, but the final word has to come from the trainers.]
- Hoke is also hopeful that Lewan will be able play on Saturday.
- Barnum is in the worst shape of the three.
Opening remarks: “I thought we had a good practice yesterday, which is always positive. We’re playing a football team’s that a good football team. Plays well at home. I think they’re 59-12 or something over the last 10 years. We’ve got to do a good job with the environment and the communication on both sides of the ball. Play with great composure and play with poise and then play physical football.”
What do you remember about the venue that makes it so tough? “It’s just tight. The bench is tight. Probably similar to East Lansing but this even seems tighter. [The fans] are on top of you, which is good, and they’re fanatical about their team.”
Now that Carvin Johnson has left, are there other guys that will need to fill into that position? “Not really. We’ve had a number of guys -- when we started that’s probably one of the deepest slots we were at to be honest with you. I think with the progress that Blake’s made, I think that’s helped when we’re able to put Troy over there.”
(Denard says that Jeremy Gallon can dunk, too.)
News bullets and other important items:
- Cam Gordon is healthy, but conditioning might be a problem at this point.
- Troy Woolfolk is fine, so stop asking.
- Fitz Toussaint will return for EMU.
- Ricky Barnum is clear starter at left guard.
- Will Campbell will get more playing time.
- Freshman RBs may play depending on how things go.
- Justice Hayes is lining up as a receiver on scout team at times.
- Brendan Gibbons is still primary placekicker, with Wile/Paulowski handling long FGs.
- No redshirting decisions made yet.
- Blake Countess looks likely to be a contributor at some point.
- Saturday is Hoke's 100th game as head coach, but it ain't no thang.
"Let’s not be sticklers on what’s morning and what’s not."
Opening remarks: “We’ve got a lot of work, and I’ve said that before, and you guys say, ‘Yeah, right,’ but we have a lot of work to do as a football team. Tuesday, yesterday, was an okay day. I didn’t think it was a great day. A lot of that was the mental things of game planning. It always seems to happen that way. Every Tuesday is not near as good as Wednesday and not near as good as Thursday, because you tweak your plan a little bit, and you’ve got to have something that your kids, number one, can execute and perform well, but at the same time, you want to take advantage of some things that you want to from your opponent.
“Eastern is a very good football team. I’m talking about how they play the game. You can tell Ron’s done a great job in his footprint on that program. I’ve known Ron for a number of years, and his toughness that they want to have as a team is evident. If you look at 331 yards per game, I don’t care who you’re rushing the ball, if you’re averaging that, that’s pretty significant. So they’re blocking pretty well up front. There’s a number of guys that have spent time here in Ann Arbor on that staff who are very good coaches, and guys who understand and have a philosophy on how you play the game of football. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. We’ve got to play much better. We have to have some improvement as a team if we want to reach our goals, so believe me. We’ve got full attention on what Eastern Michigan does."
What’s practice like during game week, re: position drills, scrimmaging, etc.? “Tuesday and Wednesday are big work days -- big physical days and we’re going to compete against each other in some of the drills because of the speed and the look that you want. You break up part of practice to get a good switch of personnel so you can get a look at the plays that you have to defend and the defenses that you want to try and block. The kicking part of it – we do coverage teams on Tuesday, return teams on Wednesday, and do them both on Thursday. All those things, as you look at your opponent, you’re trying to put the best plan together.”
Does Eastern’s emphasis on the run help you shore up things up front? “I don’t know if it helps. I think they’re very good with formations. I think they leverage defenses pretty well. I think they do a nice job in and out of personnels and formations to leverage a defense. It all goes back to the same thing on defense -- you have to play with your eyes, and you have to make sure you’re honed in on what that key is -- that key at every position so you can react in the proper manner.”
Has Cam practiced this week? “He practiced yesterday, ran around, did some things. My biggest concern right now for him is his conditioning level because he’s missed a lot of time. I think we’ll get through that, but right now he’s available.”
You’ve talked about improving from week one to week two. What did you do better against Notre Dame, and how do you plan on continuing that trend? “I think there’s a lot of truth to that, and then you've got to continue to be championship teams, you’ve got to continue every week. A lot of that comes from the mental process of how you prepare, and that’s what we as a team have to do a good job of -- the way we prepare every week.
“I think we did some good things on third downs in the second half from a defensive standpoint. I thought we adjusted well offensively at halftime. When you look at some of the runs Denard had, and how Al changed up some blocking offensively to expose it a little more and help it. So there was good reaction from what Notre Dame was doing. I thought that was a good part. I think kickoff coverage was good.”
Do you expect to get Fitz back for Eastern? “Yeah he should be. He did everything yesterday, so we hope to.”
Taylor Lewan got pissed off yesterday because someone told him that the running backs didn’t really do much in the run game. What does O-line have to do to allow RBs some consistency? “You have to be better at the point of attack. You have to finish if you’re combination blocking, make sure you get up to the next level, make sure you’re getting the movement that you want on the line of scrimmage. There’s multiple things, because there’s perimeter people you have to count on harassing the guys from the secondary so your bigger plays can come from that. I think Taylor and all those guys have a lot of pride, and it’s good to hear that.”
Did you think Vincent Smith made a bigger difference in the passing game than rushing game? “I couldn’t tell you that. I think we have to block better. That’s where the game starts, so it’s like everything else. It’s all of us, coaches, players, and everybody.”
What does Vince bring on third down? “He’s tough. He knows what he’s doing, he’s tough, he’s not afraid to put his face on somebody, and he’s good out of the backfield. Catches the ball well. I like that little guy.”
Is there ongoing competition at left guard (Barnum vs. Schofield)? “I think Ricky has probably cemented himself decently to some degree in there, but if he practices badly or plays badly, then it’s nice to have a little bit of an option with Mike.”
Have you given any thought to Saturday being your 100th game as a head coach? “No.” Does it mean anything to you? “Not really.”
You referenced improvement on third down stops. Overall number isn’t very good yet, but is there a common theme in what worked on those plays? “I would think a couple things -- number one, we’ve got to challenge a little more in the back end. That would be first. We let some runs that were … I think there were one, two … three runs on third downs that broke because of one reason or another that we’ve got to execute better.”
Mike Hart’s going to be on the opposite sideline. What’s your relationship with him like? “I know Mike. I wasn’t here when Mike was here, but I have a lot of respect for Mike, and what he did for Michigan. I know him well enough. He’s a good man, and I like the heck out of him.”
If the opportunity arose, would you welcome him back to Michigan? “I think all of those guys are welcome back.”
After you get done with a noon game, do you spend the rest of the night looking at other teams? “Well, I’ll take the laptop home and first thing I’ll do is watch what we did, and then there’s usually next opponents on there gamewise, and may look at that a little bit.”
Are you going to give Will Campbell more playing time? “Yeah, in fact I asked him -- I guess I’m a little naïve -- I said, ‘Is that the most you’ve ever played?’ and he said, ‘Yes,’ and I said, ‘Really?’ I guess I should have known that. He did some good things in there. I think he’s gaining a little bit more confidence. He is a guy that can help us an awful lot if we can get the consistency and the improvement.”
Has lack of PT lit a fire under him in practice? “I think he just is -- I think we all get to a point that he’s settled in a position, number one, and I think that helps on a daily basis on what you do from a fundamentals and technique side. I think that part of it is real positive for our football team, and positive for him.”
Just makin’ sure … Is Troy limited at all in practice? “No. He did everything yesterday. I really like where he’s at in a mental state right now.”
Michael Floyd got his yards, but JT had him one-on-one and did a nice job considering it was against Michael Floyd. What did he do well? “I think JT’s improved. I think he’s got a long way to go, but I think he’s done some things better. I think he has the confidence level you want to have as a corner, without being too cocky. I think that’s an important part of it. There’s a lot of plays in there where he’s got to play a little better, too.”
Can you talk about your depth at linebacker position? “I think with Mike Jones, and Hawthorne being healthy, Fitzgerald and Desmond being healthier than he was Week One, that helps. Brandin’s still trying to get himself back. Cam, we’ve talked about, he’s an outside linebacker. Kenny’s done a pretty good job. I would say we’re okay. We’re not the deepest group anywhere, to be honest with you.”
Lots o’ guys playing at the WILL position during the last two games. How much of that is just rotating them, and how much is just trying to find a clear starter or two? “Some of that depends on what defense you’re in. If you’re in a nickel or dime package, who’s out on the field, or if you’re in our base package. So with what Western Michigan wanted to do, it was more of a nickel/dime kind of setup [with their four-wide formations]. But [with Eastern Michigan] rushing the ball for 331 yards a game out of two base personnel groups, you’ll be a little more with your base defense.”
Does it help having stability in the middle with Kenny Demens? “I always think it does. You have a guy who has experience, you have a guy who’s pretty sharp when it comes to making the calls, setting the front, and adjusting at that level, so yeah. Kenny does a good job, and J.B. does a good job when he’s in.”
Will you consider playing your freshman RBs? “Maybe.” What will that depend on? “It will always depend on how fast they learn, maturity-wise, and all those things.” Have they caught up a little more? “I think they’re okay. Depending on where we get, they may play.”
What have you seen from them? “I think Rawls is a strong runner, he’s got good vision and pretty good balance. He’s got a pretty good burst. Justice is a guy who’s got great quickness. Catches the ball well. He’s doing a lot of things for us now on our look teams, sometimes lining up as a wideout, just because of numbers, and he’s matured.”
You’re not Kirk Ferentz, so you’re probably not going to take a knee on third down just to kick a field goal, but how important is it to get a couple attempts in the next couple games to get to the meat of the schedule? “I don’t know if it’s as important as we all may think. I think we’re kicking everyday. [Gibbons] is going up to the stadium everyday. He’s shown good consistency. We’ve come at him everyday. We put pressure on him, and I think right now he’s hitting the ball pretty well.”
Is that still one of those things where you don’t really know how well he kicks until you get into a game situation? “It’s like anything else in life. I don’t know what’s going to happen ten minutes from now. I don’t worry about that.”
It looked like Wile was taking a few practice kicks during the Notre Dame game when it looked like the FG attempt would be longer. Is Wile still handling long field goals? “I would say him or Paulowski. Either one of those two guys. They to have a little bit of a stronger leg.”
How were the players mentally yesterday? “They were pretty good that way. I think your Tuesday, no matter what -- because of a couple wrinkles here or there, and they are students also -- they come in here and they have to focus on this part of it now, and some do a better job than others.”
Any scholarships for walk-ons? “Bum. Bum bum. Bum. Um … I don’t think so. I think we’ve renewed some that were given a year ago.” No one new? “No.”
Any redshirting decisions? “You know, not really. We’re not going to be afraid to play freshmen, obviously. The best player's going to play. They’re still learning to some degree, but from the fundamentals standpoints, if they’re the best, they’ll play.”
How do you get more out of your return game? “Gotta block better. The punt return that Gallon had the other night was huge, when you look at field position, but on the kickoffs, we have to do a better job of picking guys up. I think our vision was okay back there as far as the return part of it. We just have to be more consistent staying on guys longer.”
Is Countess putting himself in a position to contribute? “I think so. I think he will.”