9/5/2009 – Michigan 31, Western Michigan 7 – 1-0
Melanie Maxwell, AnnArbor.com
Towards the end of the third quarter, a guy in the row behind me started grumbling about Michigan's offense being boringly ground-based. By the fourth, cramped quarters had given way to roominess. After it was over, I was disappointed that Michigan's first-half outburst gave way to a near-scoreless second half and thought Michigan should have given the kids a little more rope via which to test their skills.
In short, it was a typical game against a MAC opponent. At least it was for a given, thoroughly inaccurate definition of "typical." Michigan's seldom had an easy time of it against anyone since the Carr era started flagging. MAC or MAC-ish opponents since 2004:
|2008||Miami Of Ohio(NTMOO)||W 16-6|
|2006||Ball State||W 34-26|
|2005||Northern Illinois||W 31-17|
|2004||Miami Of Ohio(NTMOO)||W 43-10|
Over last five years, Michigan has been just as likely to be in an actual game (6) with a supposed tomato can as the expected blowout (6). (I am counting the '07 EMU game as an actual one, as it was 16-14 halfway through the third; the others need no justification.) Hell, even in 2006—when Michigan was a Crable helmet hit away from driving to the national championship game—Ball State had first and goal with an opportunity to tie late in the fourth quarter. In no way is a 31-0 halftime lead typical in the recent history of Michigan football except against Notre Dame.
It was just a MAC team, but think of how good those words sound rolling off your lips. Just a MAC team. Couldn't be expected to cope with our freakishly accurate quarterback or our freakishly speedy quarterback or the zippy skill position players who seemed bountiful and endless. Couldn't be expected to cope with Brandon Graham or Craig Roh or Mike Martin. No chance. Just a MAC team with a quarterback who might go in the first-round of the NFL draft and four-fifths of its offensive line back. No chance.
Yes, okay, there remain plenty of concerns. There were folks that the MAC team could cope with. These were the backup quarterback—and think about how good it sounds to have the identity of that person be utterly uncontroversial, no offense to said backup—and any cornerback not named Cissoko or Warren. Oh and any defensive end not named Graham or Roh. Or… well, you get the idea. The defense is paper-thin and can fall off a cliff with a single injury. So can the quarterback position until such time as Denard Robinson develops into something a more than a beautiful freakshow.
But today there is a thread about Michigan on every opponent message board across the internet where some guy says "looks like all that extra practice paid off lol."
Last year, the Utah game was an opportunity to radically reassess Michigan's immediate future. It was far uglier than the final score, and I remember going on WCBN—which BTW I will be on at around 5 today—and telling the assembled folk there that the Notre Dame game would be "critical for bowl eligibility," whereupon we mused ruefully about how far Michigan had fallen in such a short period of time without anyone coming close to realizing how optimistic we still were.
The one piece of good fortune coming from that game was the handy metaphor:
Every rational thought in your head suggests that the whole walk-on or freshman-the-coaches-are-panicked-about at quarterback, the line of baling wire and the occasional confused chicken, and freshmen everywhere at the skill positions will combine to yield an offense worthy of Yakety Sax, but until you actual see the damn thing in action you can hold out hope it will be otherwise.
We have seen it in action. It could have gone better. At least we have an incredibly direct metaphor all around us:
This program is under construction with a completion date around 2010.
This program is still under construction, and the completion date is still 2010. But those shabby exposed girders are now sheathed in brick and lightning, shiny in the afternoon sun. As the season goes on we'll undoubtedly see the unfinished parts within brought to the surface. There's no insulation, and if you peer into the windows you can still see the girders that were plain to all last year.
For now, for right now, it's reassuring to look up and see a modern version of Yost on the way. Through controversy and people with ill-considered protests Michigan comes, echoing the past with a back-to-the-future offense and West Virginians in charge and beautiful brick arcs and, Angry Michigan BLANK-Hating God willing, a point per minute.
- Man, JT Floyd looked like he'd have no chance of ever being a legit Big Ten corner on that bomb. I watched him go from two steps ahead to two steps behind the Western WR and immediately shivered at the safety depth. Maybe I'm leaping to too many conclusions from one play, but I see a safety move in his future.
- Also, and you are going to hear this thought a half-dozen times in this space over the next week, but: man, that Western touchdown was a bummer for a lot of reasons but none more foreboding than its extreme resemblance to the one-man-route Golden Tate touchdown from last year's Notre Dame game. Cissoko's health and Michigan's ability to ignore the Notre Dame ground game will be key.
- Brandon Graham must be livid he doesn't have a sack. Or three.
- How dumb does last year's "Rodriguez refuses to adjust his offense" meme look now? Michigan used a thousand different formations, including intermittent deployments of the I-form and a heavy dose of 2 TE ace sets. He's been presented with solutions and has gone in search of the problem.
- You know, if Michigan compliance is right and they can release a detailed report about offseason activities that results in zero and Michigan does pull out of its steep dive, it's possible the Free Press will be directly responsible for dissolving the gap between Michigan fans and Rich Rodriguez, which would have to go in the Alanis Morrissette Ironic Hall Of Fame. (Note on the linked article: claims that students chanted "keep united" after the game, which would have been awesome if it was true. It wasn't, though: it was "beat the Irish.")
- No, none of the things in that song are ironic, which makes the fact that the hall of fame is named after her ironic. Obvs.
- I think everyone needs to go back into that thread posted by that guy who said Craig Roh would start and posbang him like whoah. Also, I was backing two recruits out of proportion to all reason this year: Roh and Vincent Smith. Remember this when the predictions I make in the future are all hilariously off base.
- Wait just one more before we return to your regularly-scheduled wrongness: I'm telling you about Drew Tate, man. That first touchdown, where Forcier moxied his way away from a defender and then signaled Hemingway to go deep, was vintage Tate. Hopefully it will be vintage Tate again.
- Similarly, Sheridan's interception was a perfect demonstration of the difference between the two QBs. With the safety pulled up, Sheridan actually had plenty of room to hit Mathews in the back of the endzone if he floated it a bit; instead he attempted to rifle it and the ball was undercut.
- I twittered this but if you weren't around: I saw someone carrying around a sign that said "In Rich And Staff We Trust." This is banner fail.
This this was interesting from Touch the Banner:
In the second half, WMU quarterback Tim Hiller started getting rid of the ball quicker. He found a rhythm and started hitting underneath passes to his receivers. Greg Robinson might be served well by disguising coverages on the outside, changing the look from cover 2 man to a cover 2 zone. Suddenly, instead of driving the cornerback off with his initial burst, that cornerback is sitting underneath the quick hitch to the outside. A couple well orchestrated disguised coverages might be just enough to make Hiller think twice, which would give Brandon Graham, Mike Martin, and the rest of the defensive line enough time to get to the quarterback.
Michigan's defense in the opener seemed very simple. There was little rotation down-to-down. Michigan went the whole way in the same 3-4/4-3/4-2-5 hybrid thingy, occasionally rotating in a backup on the defensive line (this was done per series, so the series Graham was out he was just out except for a couple of third downs, IIRC) and yanking Cissoko for Floyd once things got out of hand. Everyone else played almost every snap. So it seemed like Michigan wanted to get their guys doing a limited number of things well; I assume they'll expand on that as the season goes on.
Also, by the time Hiller got going the game was out of hand and I can understand the impulse to shelve the exotics with Notre Dame coming in next week.
The Diag asks if Kelvin Grady has stolen Odoms' job, which probably not but he seems a viable option. I was surprised Roundtree was invisible—only came in with the Conescrubs at the end—after his spring game; even Laterryal Savoy and James Rogers got more run.
Part one of the all-singing all-dancing season preview.
This is literal and metaphorical. Yesterday I got up at eight and shut off at some point between at 3 or 4 AM. I've spent the last two days discussing probably nonexistent NCAA violations instead of putting the final touches—read "writing the last third of"—this year's season preview. In the last year and a half I've spent one summer rolling my eyes and beating back an incredible wave of idiocy about Rich Rodriguez shredding every last bit of information on the West Virginia program and another attempting to explain to pastors and civilians the odd circumstances that led to a 3-9 season at hallowed Michigan. In between, hallowed Michigan went 3-9. None of it was particularly enjoyable.
I'm tired of reading obvious bullshit and having to explode it. I'm tired of filing particularly annoying articles in the folder where I keep the stuff to unearth and laugh at later. I'm tired of explaining and debating and debunking never getting around to the statistical work I did the first couple years of the blog's existence. I'm tired of oscillating between anger and uncertainty, apathy and sadness. I wanted to become unmoored from the static existence that was late-era Schembechler football, but it turns out the current is mostly undertow.
Most of all, though, I'm tired of this backup laptop, its half-gig of RAM, erratic wifi, and maddening inability to understand that I've plugged it into the damn wall. Seriously. Hurry up, Malaysia.
Rich Rodriguez is tired, too. He stood in front of a room of cameras and reporters yesterday and the first thing he said was "I don't usually have notes, but…" and then he sort of trailed off and fumbled with some paper and for a moment it seemed like he forgot how to read or just had to stare at the paper and wonder what had happened after Pat White injured his hand against Pitt, how he had gotten here and what a mistake it had been.
There was nothing for it, though, so the words formed themselves and stumbled out. Time goes one direction, at a constant rate.
As you might guess from the title, I write one of these every year. Last year's documents the whole sordid Rodriguez-defection-West-Virginia-hissyfit in elaborate detail—it comes complete with a Shot At Love With Tila Tequila reference—before wandering around to Michigan's prospects going into 2008 somewhere about 80% of the way through. It was that kind of offseason. This offseason was that kind of offseason, too.
Though the outlook was "grim," good God I had no idea how accurate this statement would turn out to be:
Michigan’s going to run out on the field and play like they’re one of those teams trying to make inferior talent work.
Yes, yes they did. Not so much with the working, and sometimes not even so much with the trying, but by God yes the running and the inferior talenting. "Great fun" it sounded like. Great fun it was not aside from a couple improbable plays against Wisconsin and an impossible afternoon against Minnesota.
The final paragraph was half-right:
It’s going to be a fiasco. It’s going to be ugly and tantalizing and dispiriting and awesome. I can’t wait.
Fiasco, ugly, dispiriting: check. Those other two qualities are pending.
A brief tour of the depths my mind sunk to when it wasn't turning in 200-word game columns featuring Henri, The Otter of Ennui:
DESPAIRING ASSERTIONS ABOUT THE STUPIDITY OF INFORMATION FLOW
Rich Rodriguez takes some time to talk about the internet's depressing tendency towards mocking and anger in some depth. The media takes the three sentences sure to generate the most outrage and create the dumbest image of Rodriguez, and the internet responds with mocking and anger.
I mean… what can you even say here?
IMAGINED CONVERSATIONS IN THE STYLE OF THE BIG LEBOWSKI
We've been frantically trying to reach you, EBay.
Where are my goddamn wins, you bum?
Well… we, I don't…
They did not receive the wins, you nitwit! They did not receive the goddamn wins. OUR STREAK WAS IN YOUR HANDS.
This is our concern, EBay.
EXTREMELY LOW-GRADE ASSAULT BEEFS
A couple rows above me, a middle-aged man stood on a bench and booed and booed.
He was angry. I was angry.
I stooped to pick up whatever flingable bit of detritus I could find, seized upon an empty water bottle, and chucked it at the booer. I missed,* lightly damaging an older man a row behind him. But I did get his attention. And the old guy looked like he was on The Other Side, so eff him.
WHATEVER THIS WAS
Fear/Paranoia Level: 0 out of 10. (Fear is the mindkiller. Fear nothing anymore; in your despair you find the freedom only the forsaken can experience.).
Desperate need to win level: 0 out of 10. (Needs lash the soul to the rack of imperfection. You need nothing. You experience all things, and all things experience you.)
It was a tough, apathetic year in which the main goal of the blog was to yell at people I thought were stupid or shortsighted, which is, I imagine, like getting in a knife fights against an endless army of Skip Bayless clones. There is a certain grim satisfaction to the work that must be done, but eventually you end up covered in viscera and no closer to making the world a less annoying place.
The team, meanwhile, left or sucked or sucked and left with a few notable exceptions. They looked lost, caused my brain to fritz out as per above, and drove poor Johnny into a malaise that saw him pop up infrequently and then only to level a complaint we all felt at some level: this isn't my team anymore.
This, as did everything last year, caused a small internet war to break out. People were booers or bottle-tossers, skeptics or believers. Michigan fans probably put more time into flaming the hell out of each other than any fanbase has in history. But nothing is good for unity like a war.
I had a hard time parsing out the emotion I felt yesterday, a melange of anger, skepticism, selfish pathos, scorn, more anger, and something strange. And then I'm on the radio yesterday and I think of something. I signal to John Bacon that I have something to say and once Wayne Drehs finishes up his thought I say it. I don't remember it exactly what I said but I remember the thought.
Rich Rodriguez is a fundamentally artless person.
I have winced at many a Rodriguez press conference. Corny jokes about the Lion King, awkward phrasing, distinct lingering unflattering accent, typical coaching banalities, etc etc etc. Basically all the cultural things that differentiate Rodriguez from Carr are negative to me except insofar as he doesn't tolerate 350-pound starting offensive linemen who just quit the team a few weeks ago. That I'm with. It's just all the peripherals that I'm leery of.
This is some part of why portions of the local media have gone bats lately and a major source of ammunition for the little guy with a pitchfork who sits on your shoulder and whispers "doooooooooooom… doooooooooooooom" into your ear. But it was incredibly helpful yesterday when Rodriguez was trying to work through his statement. Because not for a moment did it cross my mind, or apparently the minds of even the most cynical observers, that Rodriguez's emotion was not genuine. The Free Press folk immediately scurried back to their cave to write an editorial that opened with "The issue is not how much Rich Rodriguez and his fellow University of Michigan coaches care about the young men who play football for the Wolverines."
Lloyd Carr might have handled that differently, been snappy or angry or more aggressive but one of the things that became clear as his tenure lengthened is that a journalist that unfairly attacked one of his players would find himself between a grizzly cub and his mother. The most important thing to Carr was the making the kids under him happy and successful. Though Rich Rodriguez has different ideas about what qualifies, yesterday it appeared that went for him too. For the first time (and possibly the last time), Rodriguez reminded me of Lloyd Carr. I want the head coach at Michigan to react like that when his reputation is threatened.
So this is bizarre after everything. But this year one of the many, many reasons I want Michigan to win—you try hitching a career to your favorite team—will be a new one. I'll be rooting on a personal level for Rich so he can have a press conference during which he can make an awkward comment about all this with a smile on his face, and I can wince inwardly at it.
You know, I liked Justin Feagin. As a guy thousands of miles away from the man in question and limited to assembling things other people wrote about him, I had just more than zero to go on, but I liked him anyway. He played both ways at a tiny school and smiled big and innocent on signing day and said things that seemed different and bouncier than your average bouncy, meaningless quote from a guy on or around the greatest day of his life.
He said this about Terrelle Pryor's potential addition:
"What if he does go to Michigan? Shame on me if I sit back and think he's better than me. If he wants to play quarterback, we'll have to fight each other for the job. If I win the job, then I'll know I beat out the No. 1 quarterback in the nation."
And I wrote this:
this is one of the recruits in this class I'm baselessly excited about in defiance of recruiting rankings and reason. If you're so inclined you can see Feagin doing squats until two in the morning in his quotes. … Feagin sounds like the kind of guy who will thrive under the pressure of the Rodriguez regime and is clearly a high caliber athlete.
This is going to be a pretty stupid statement, but I like the kid's quotes a lot.
Apparently, the ability to give a good quote to a local preps reporter is not highly correlated with success on the field or off. Not giving a good quote to the police when you don't have to might be more valuable. This is noted for the future.
I know what some of you are thinking. I thought it, too, albeit briefly, when the news first broke: An event like this would have never happened under Lloyd Carr's watch. And that's almost certainly true. Lloyd Carr was and is a uniquely gifted and genuine man whose priority has always been the peak mental and emotional acuity of the players under his watch, and I know I am not alone in expressing my gratitude for his immaculate representation of a university that likes to think of itself as superior to all others.
But this is not reality. An enraged Chitownblue, prompted by the idiotic diary that inaugurated the 200-words-or-more era, rounded up a dossier of 29 Michigan arrests of various sorts under Lloyd Carr. Lloyd recruited Kelly Baraka and Eugene Germany and Carson Butler and Chris Richards and Johnny Sears and Will Peterson and another, more internet famous felon chased from the team:
Even Lloyd, whom we would like to believe incapable of such an oversight, could only sit with folded hands as opposing fanbases across the country laughed at the dismissal of defensive tackle Larry Harrison, who was charged with four counts of sexual delinquency and suspected in 16 more. Harrison endangered fewer people than Feagin, certainly, but the fact remains that Rich Rodriguez does not stand alone among Michigan coaches who have seen a felonious embarrassment take place on his watch.
I'm not even sure Feagin endangered anyone. He admitted to getting into some trouble in high school, but the crime here—if he actually gets charged with one—is taking $600 from some burnout and promising to get him cocaine, then not getting him cocaine. The endangerment came when the burnout had his great arson idea. The offense clearly warrants dismissal, but as far as disgraceful acts committed by Michigan football players go it's somewhere between Germany running from the cops (and getting caught!) and Carson Butler's St. Patrick's Day Nerd Massacre*.
Meanwhile at Michigan State, a guy who put a Spartan hockey player in the hospital and was sentenced to six months in jail got an early release so he could make Michigan State's first practice. This is the way a sane person, in this case AnnArbor.com's Dave Birkett, reacts to the juxtaposition of these events:
…one coach took the proper actions with his troubled player and one coach took an unnecessary gamble for reasons I can’t explain. Sure, everyone deserves a second chance, but that second chance doesn’t have to be at the same school where you committed such a major offense.
So of course Michael Rosenberg's latest article is headlined "Win at all costs a poor formula for Rodriguez." This is because Rosenberg has completely lost his shit about Rodriguez, as detailed in this space before. Last summer Rosenberg threw together a pastiche of assumptions, omissions, and flatly incorrect statements and titled it "Embarrassing ordeal reveals ugly truths about U-M coach Rich Rodriguez"—the ordeal in this case being the lawsuit over Rodriguez's buyout—that permanently submarined his credibility about Rodriguez.
This one is no better. He cites Rodriguez's recruitment of Pat Lazear at West Virginia, who got ten days in jail and a suspended sentence for his role (driving) in an armed robbery (FWIW, the weapon was a BB gun), as evidence Rodriguez will take anyone not wearing an orange jumpsuit. He does not mention the Winston thing which hey pick out which quote here is about Lazear and which is about Winston…
"[Assistant Coach] and I have researched [Player's] entire situation over several months," [coach] said in a statement released by the school's athletic department. "We have talked to a number of people, and after a thorough review, I am reassured that [player] will be a successful student-athlete and a positive member of our university community. We are eager for him to join the [Mascot] family."
"[Player] has done everything that he's been asked to do from a judicial and a team standpoint. He has paid the penalty for his actions -- publicly, legally and athletically -- and he worked hard to maintain his academic eligibility while doing so. We regret the entire incident, however at this time it is important that we support [Player] socially, academically and athletically. He still has a lot of work to do."
…functionally identical except in Michael Rosenberg's eyes. Lazear, by the way, is entering his third year at West Virginia on the Academic Honor Roll. He has not been in further trouble.
And then there's this on Willie Bueno's statement that he didn't know of any trouble with Feagin:
Should Rodriguez have known about Feagin's transgressions? Well, Bueno said Monday that he didn't know. But frankly that raises questions about Bueno, and it shows the importance of relationships for college coaches. They have to really know the communities where they recruit, and they must be sure that coaches and administrators are informed and honest with them.
Christ. Rodriguez talks with Willie Bueno, who says Feagin is a good kid without issues because he apparently believes it, and it's up to Rodriguez to "be sure" that this guy isn't lying to his face. Feagin mentioned a couple of issues in high school that "nothing came of"; as a juvenile he wouldn't have a record unless something extremely serious went down. Nothing did, so even if Rodriguez checked up on that supposed record it would come up clean. Rosenberg suggests that Rodriguez should assume every coach is a liar and undertake investigations of everyone so that a bad apple doesn't arrive. This is obviously infeasible. Hell, Lloyd Carr made that mistake at least 29 times in his career.
To date Rodriguez has dealt with two DUIs (Grady and Stonum) and one coke-deal-that-wasn't in a year and a half. [UPDATE: There was also the Cissoko-yells-at-cop incident, a disorderly conduct.] Michigan doesn't even register on the Fulmer Cup scoreboard (2008, 2009—if Feagin gets charged with something Michigan will get points above their current one), and Rodriguez racked up fewer points in his last two years at WVU than Carr did over the same timespan at Michigan. The numbers say Rodriguez's recent behavior record is better than Lloyd freakin' Carr's, and the guy who just got out of jail and walked on to a Michigan State practice field say that there's one strict program in-state but it's not run by the guy who's an Upstanding Football Coach. But because Rodriguez doesn't stare at you really hard and talk the right way, he's running a renegade program. Right. Rosenberg's just another Drew Sharp now.
Meanwhile, Justin Feagin's transferring somewhere where he'll give a good quote and smile and maybe this time he'll come through on those. But probably not. It's tough to defy your surroundings.
*(The listed in approximate order: Baraka (weed), Sears (weed + performance in The Horror), Germany (possibly joking cell phone theft coupled from dumb running from police), Butler(assault), Chris Richards (assault, B&Eing his own dorm room), Peterson(assault + theft), Harrison.)
6/28/2009 – USA 2, Brazil 3 – Confederations Cup Runners Up
Note: yeah, this is Off Topic, but 1) this is also way more interesting than anything else going on at the moment, 2) I reserve the right to wander off the reservation in the hard offseason, and 3) I'm slightly tired of recruiting-recruiting-recruiting. Aren't you? Coming up tomorrow: Wednesday Recruitin'!
Here's Clint Dempsey holding the "bronze ball" bestowed on the FIFA-approved third-best player at the Confederations Cup. Here is a brief list of the folks Dempsey finished in front of:
- That white guy on South Africa
- Everyone on Brazil not named Kaka or Fabiano
That is an impressive array of players to beat out. And yet Dempsey looks like he's auditioning for The Hangover 2 or Fully, Completely Baked. This is because the United States has just found out that there is a way to lose to Brazil 3-2 and feel agonized, that, yes, there is such a thing as crashing out for you who thought yourself immune.
Sitting there in the aftermath of Brazil's comeback was one of the strangest feelings I've had as a sports fan. To demonstrate: I was going to put an adjective on "comeback" there and considered both "stunning" and "inevitable." Words literally fail. Maybe there's something in German for it. Schiessenkopffrauballsdammit: the feeling you have when the incredibly improbable thing you dreaded and feared comes to pass, just like you knew it would. (See: 2005 Ohio State game.)
That was the nature of this deeply bizarre tournament. Bludgeoned and discarded in the first games, the United States retroactively justified my friend's terror that the Honduras game would not end with a result and that this would surely put the Nats in an honest-to-god World Cup qualification dogfight—in CONCACAF! Late in the dire Brazil drubbing, another friend asked me what we should do and I succumbed to pure reactionary talk-radio blithering: "Fire Bradley," I muttered, and said no more.
From that moment on the US put together the most brilliant two-and-a-half game run in probably their entire history: 3-0 over Egypt, 2-0 over Spain, and 2-0 over Brazil. Yeah, they were on the back foot for about 60 minutes of the Spain game, but dos a cero is dos a cero. If only soccer finals were 45 minutes long. (While we're at it: if only soccer finals were 45 minutes long and banned people fluent in Portuguese.)
They are not, and we are left with our schiessenkopffrauballsdammit.
I don't have any other soccer team. The nearest MLS team are in Chicago and Columbus and Toronto, none of which I can root for on geographical principle. If I was to pick up one of the big four in the EPL I might as well just go the whole nine yards, buy a Yankees hat, USC jersey, Duke shorts, and Lakers shoes, and shoot myself.
But what's the point of rooting for Fulham? Good job lads, you didn't get sent to purgatory… this year. European soccer is structured such that you can either pick the Yankees or the Toledo Mud Hens. The Mud Hens have as much of a chance at winning the World Series as Wigan has of winning the Premiership. But Wigan fans don't seem to mind. Win some games, lose some games, sing about Emile Heskey emerging from a radioactive lagoon during a terrible thunderstorm, end of story let's get a pint.
On the other hand, even the lowliest American franchise has aspirations to greatness. A few years ago the Penguins were awful enough to get like three consecutive top-three picks. The Patriots were a laughingstock for most of their existence. The Spurs were some random team in San Antonio before Tim Duncan arrived. The Cardinals won the World Series despite being like four games above .500. Everyone can strive. Even Clippers fans eagerly await the day Donald Sterling dies. "Look at the Blackhawks!" they say before returning to Bill Simmons' annual fantasy football draft-stravaganza. This is a blessing and a curse.
The curse section is provided Brian Phillips on the outstanding Run of Play:
I'm more interested in seeing the run through this tournament, and the Spain game above all, as something to celebrate for its own sake, without thinking about next year or whether it's safe to nudge up my expectations. I'm sure I'm not alone in that, but partly thanks to Bradley's understandable emphasis in his postgame remarks, so much of the coverage has skirted the "what does this mean?" question that I've spent most of the last 24 hours wanting to take an anchorperson by his lapels and scream "We #$*%ing BEAT SPAIN! Doesn't that matter more than abstract 'potential'?"
Yes, because it probably doesn't mean much in the scheme of things. Spain and Brazil showed their quality, and while it's great the US beat one and took the other to the limit, what that says is that the US can scrap with teams better than they are. The World Cup group is going to have between one and three teams better than the Nats, and there will be scrapping.
This is foreign to the national state of mind. The United States does not scrap except maybe in rhythmic gymnastics and kayaking and other things dreamed up by commies trying to get up to par in gold medals. When the US decided to get super-serious about soccer, they dreamed up "Project 2010," which was supposed to "ensure the US Men's National team was a legitimate threat to win the World Cup by 2010," emphasis mine because WTF? Win? We are Americans, and it doesn't matter if we have the resources of the Kansas City Royals. We have Yankee dreams.
So what the Brazil game was was a chance. A stupid, improbable chance built on equal parts grit, skill, and astounding luck; a chance to slay two giants back-to-back and scramble up to the pinnacle of world football for somewhere between sixty seconds and a day before the ground gave way and it was back to Grenada and Haiti. So I appreciate *#$&ing beating Spain but also feel like Dempsey above, holding a trophy he had no right to expect and thinking of what might have been.
- So a major reason this post exists was the large influx of soccer emails into the inbox. Aaron Rennie's contribution: "The first half was like the best blowjob you've had in your life; the second was discovering you got it from a dude." Funny, but it's not like I started questioning which team I was rooting for later. I have my cool group of local friends because a couple people knew I liked soccer and needed someone to watch it with and joined up with us; I feel I owe Arriaga II, God of Soccer, a tribute.
- You know, I had bought into Harkes' gratuitously negative take on Dempsey in the Egypt match—when I deigned to tweet about the 3-0 win, I mentioned Dempsey had been "terrible" or "awful" or something like that—but then I re-watched the first half a couple days ago and saw him set up the US's two best scoring opportunities of the first half with incisive passes. There really needs to be a Nats UFR.
- …which might fall to me, actually. I'm seriously considering starting up a USMNT blog with a couple friends (so that the burden on me is not extensive enough to hamper MGoActivities, of course). Name suggestions welcome.
- I wasn't thrilled with Bocanegra at left back but that might have something to do with the fact he was coming off injury and playing against Spain and Brazil; he was clearly less overmatched than Bornstein. Bocanegra-Demerit-Onyewu-Spector/Cherundolo should be the backline going forward, with Hedjuk around to come on as a lead-protecting substitute and all around insane hairy guy.
- Bornstein, meanwhile, might see his spot yoinked by Edgar Castillo, the Texican left back who appears frozen out of Los Douchebags' plans. That would make the USA 2/2 on grabbing newly-eligible defectors.
- Argh Rossi.
- Actually read some insane Big Soccer criticisms in the wake of the first couple matches directed at Howard because "the book" on him had become clear: shoot miraculous 30-yarders. When that's all they can say about you…
- What happens when Ching is available? Davies ran around and did some stuff and scored an Eckstein goal and had that gorgeous assist to Donovan. But Jozy's not much of a holding or linkup forward right now. He is a beast who is fast and huge and could conceivably function as a Charlie Davies who ate a steroid-laced power mushroom. Ching and Jozy worked very well together before Ching's injury, and then you get to bring Davies' pace off the bench.
- Similarly, once Edu and Jermaine Jones start pushing for central midfield slots the competition will be as brutal as it gets on the US National Team. Clark might get pushed to the bench even after turning in a very strong Confederations Cup; he's not likely to go without a fight.
- Side benefit: you've seen the last of Kljestan against teams outside of CONCACAF. (Or I'll die.)
- Jozy watch: Villareal just sold Nihat. He was injury-plagued and not a consistent starter, but maybe that opens up space for Altidore to be a consistent substitute?
- While we're at it, Dan Levy has an excellent article at TSB on ESPN's impact on the Future we're trying so hard not to consider at the moment.
I'd love to get all up on my high horse about this undeniably douchy move by Thad Matta…
When Cameron Wright got off the phone with Ohio State men's basketball coach Thad Matta on Tuesday night, the junior guard from Benedictine knew he was not going to fulfill his dream of playing basketball for the Buckeyes. …
While recruits in football and basketball backing out of non-binding oral commitments isn't unusual, this wasn't a case of a kid changing his mind. Ever since OSU assistant John Groce, the primary recruiter for Wright, left to become the head coach at Ohio last June, Wright said contact from the Buckeyes had been sparse, and the call from Matta on Tuesday led to the final parting.
"I was definitely going to stick with Ohio State," said Wright.
…except I'm pretty sure Michigan did something subtler but similar with DeWayne Peace and Jordan Barnes, football recruits of yesteryear who decommitted in a fashion something less than voluntary. Peace had a conversation like this at some point:
Michigan: We'd like you to play defensive back.
Peace: Didn't I tell you I wanted to be a receiver?
Peace: Excuse me, I have to call Kansas.
Barnes, meanwhile, cited a wholesale lack of contact from the Michigan staff when he decommitted.* (He would later end up at Oklahoma State.) In both these cases Michigan didn't actually call up and say "you can't come here anymore," which makes their actions fractionally less douchy than those of Matta, but it's basically the same thing: whoops, can I have that scholarship back?
This might not be a trend yet, but it will be one soon, and then it will just be a fact of life. It's inevitable what with recruiting schedules moving so far forward, especially in basketball. Wright committed a year and a half ago(!). In the interim he went from highly touted to anonymous three-star. If you're a Michigan basketball fan you're probably thinking "I sort of wish Amaker had the balls to do that with Jerrett Smith," which assumes that Amaker would actually have replaced Smith with someone better but whatever. I feel you.
What's inevitable is also totally unfortunate, though. Wright's depressed final quote isn't going to be showing up in any annoying commercials starring violin-playing Asian soccer virtuosos:
"At the end of the day, it's all a business."
I thought the entire point was that it wasn't, in fact, a business. Upon this rests the entire near-fiction, not to mention the NCAA's tax-exempt status: that, in the end, the best interests of the student-athlete are paramount. That once you tell this Wright kid he can play basketball at Ohio State, he gets to unless he fails social studies six times or gets so high he can touch the sun.
As a fan I'd meet this news with two different emotions. One: hurray, it's more likely the team will be good. Two: boo, it's going to be harder to cheer for them when the ghost of Cameron Wright is sitting next to the walk-ons in a Cleveland State jersey. Everyone has a different balance there; mine slants heavily towards #2.
So it's good to be a fan of a university that did not actually run Jerrett Smith off, at least not before he got to campus. Smith's now a bench player at Grand Valley State after being booted for failing to meet standards set by Beilein. This also happened to Kendrick Price. Their removal from the team was not voluntary, but that seems fine as long as the standards are uniform and don't include things like "be useful on the court." Given the continued presence of Anthony Wright (before the Oklahoma game, at least), it's safe to say this isn't one of the standards.
Rodriguez's dance with the decommits hews closer to a line I'm uncomfortable with but still ends up on the right side of the line. If you don't think a kid can contribute or doesn't fit in your offense, it's best to tell them and let them make up their own mind. It's better to find out Michigan thinks you're a defensive back before signing day, after all, and unless you're being dishonest about that—which we'll never have any way of knowing—that's probably a net benefit. Peace is now a receiver at a place he'd rather be.
Barnes' case is murkier but there, too, Michigan let the guy make up his own mind. They helped along by making him feel unwanted, and while I'd prefer it if Michigan waited long enough to make sure they really wanted everyone they offered that kind of scrupulousness would put them behind the eight-ball, and as long as you don't actually yank the offer the kid's making a choice.
Do I have a larger point here? This is where the larger point goes. I don't know. I was just going to turn this into a UV bit and then it ended up pushing 1000 words, so you've read to the end and I should have a point.
I guess it's this: I don't want Michigan to be the sort of program that can pull what Matta just did. While I'm fine up to a point with the occasional moral compromise required to stay atop the shifting sands of Lemming-era recruiting, Rodriguez's tendency to shotgun offers out and let God sort 'em out later seems like a strategy that will lead to more uncomfortable situations not unlike a middle school dance: one party is desperately trying to extricate themselves from a situation they didn't think through before they checked the box that said "yes I like you."
*(I can no longer find a link for this, unfortunately. I have referenced it before, though. At the time of the decommit there was an Indy Star article that was pretty blunt about it.)
3/27/2009 – Michigan 0, Air Force 2 – End of Season
Naurato (left) and Lebler; Ariel Bond from the Daily.
Well, at least I don't have to make a tedious case that the way the NCAA hockey championship is determined is close to a random number generator. Reality has done that for me. Yost Built summarizes the chaos over the weekend:
-3 #1 seeds are out.
-3 #2 seeds are out.
-The only remaining #2 was down 4-2 with 40 seconds left in regulation. They scored with .8 seconds left to send the game into overtime.
-That wasn't even the latest a goal was scored to send a game to OT as UNH popped one in against North Dakota with .1 second left and won in OT.
-Cornell scored with 18 seconds left in regulation to beat Northeastern.
-A game was won in double OT on a shot that went through the net.
Hell, Michigan's loss against Air Force wasn't even the craziest thing to happen. Notre Dame got behind Bemidji State 4-0 and ended up losing 5-1. Literally the only team that adhered to expectation was BU, the sole one-seed to make the Frozen Four.
Today we stand at the edge of history, with Bemidji State—a team whose conference will cease to exist as soon as it is eliminated, if, you know, anyone bothers to do so before they win a national title—ticketed for the Frozen Four. Michigan outshot Air Force 44-13 and lost. In their next game, the Falcons were denied in double overtime by the above-mentioned shot that went through the net and was subject to a tortuous ten-minute review before it was declared a game-ending goal.
If ever there was a time for this particular youtube embed, this is it:
Does all this make me feel better? Well, yeah, kinda. When the misery was all Michigan's, it was weekend ruining. When Jeff Jackson (and the rest of the favored planet) can empathize, eh… that's single-elimination playoff hockey.
Travis Turnbull, who was this close to murdering a half-dozen people over the past couple months, probably disagrees.
I was actually planning on doing something else on Friday but the looming possibility of knife-twisting overwhelmed all. At this point I care about the hockey team as much as I care about football—for which you can blame/credit the back-to-back Yost regionals earlier this decade—and there is no point at which a football team finds itself at the mercy of the fates like college hockey teams do during the tournament.
Maybe this is an effect of the limited information we have in football. There are so few games that teams become their results; "deserved" doesn't enter into it. Teams become legendary because they win all their games, or in some cases win all but one and get lucky, and then that it. They exist as their body of work.
Hockey teams have a body of work, which is thrown into the pairwise blender and spat out somewhere else and then they show up and hope. I've mentioned this before: pucks bounce. And sometimes a seemingly harmless shot from the half-boards finds the millimeter of space the opposing goalie provides, and sometimes your first-round draft pick defenseman and senior captain gets walked and sometimes the team you're rooting for seems bound and determined not to score any goals that don't bore a hole through the opposing goalie and then you scream profanities and go mope until you fall asleep.
So ends Michigan's 2008-09 hockey season, and dude: lame. I wish I had something more enlightening to say about it, but when you outshoot the opponent by more than 3-1 and lose there's not much you can say except "goddammit."
Berenson himself drops the strange results from 97 (when Michigan had one of the great college hockey teams of all time and got bounced) and 98 (when a shell of the 97 team got hot in the tourney and won a national title) whenever someone puts a microphone in his face and asks him about his chances. I can almost rattle off his speech verbatim by this point: "the best team doesn't always win" etc, etc, etc.
But even if the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune are old hat by now, this one had to be incredibly disappointing. Michigan was up 2-0 in the CCHA championship game, looking to extend their streak in non-controversial games to 21-1. Ninety minutes later the scoreboard reads Michigan 1, Opponent 7 and the season is over without anything to mark its passage.
The picture above says it all: what the hell was that?
- Man, that second goal was a killer. It's two-on-two coming into the defensive zone and Mitera steps up in a completely insane way, creating an unnecessary two-on-one. If he's been on the ice a month you have to play him and hope; I don't think that play happens if Mitera has another season of experience behind him instead of rehab.
- Well… next year. Primary flight risks are Summers, Palushaj, and Caprusso. If you made me guess I'd say Palushaj is gone and the others return. Seniors are Mitera, Turnbull, Miller, Fardig, and Naurato. (Also Sauer.) No offense to any of those guys, but that's two fourth-liners and two third-liners who occasionally got sucked up into scoring lines for physical presence along the boards and so forth and so on. Lebler and Winnett should be able to step into those roles, and then you've got a probable second-round NHL draft pick at power forward plus the U18 team's leading scorer.
The team should be very good again.
- Turnbull spent his last couple months in a Michigan uniform seriously pissed off (which was not entirely outside the bounds of reason), from the misconducts in the Ferris game to a wide variety of incidents with referees. I don't know why or anything, but it's worth noting.