"Rodrick Williams Jr.'s 10-month old, 2-foot-long savannah monitor named "Kill" gets the RB some strange looks when they go for walks together."
Editor's note: sorry this is late. I thought I'd published this around 11 AM, but evidently I didn't hit the button.
9/26/2009 – Michigan 36, Indiana 33 – 4-0, 1-0 Big Ten
Tate Forcier dropped back to throw and Martavious Odoms broke open and Forcier lofted it. I swear to you that on an overcast, steel-gray day a sliver of light slipped through the clouds to linger on the object's parabolic, causing its rain-slicked surface to glitter as it reached its apex. It started to come back down, and Odoms slowed fractionally, allowing the Indiana safety—
Aw, hell. Indiana? No offense to a program the evidently warranted more respect than Vegas or this here blog offered in the run-up to the game, but passages of soaring majesty get ruined when a Hoosier is mentioned. Since Wangler-to-Carter, when Indiana was 8-4, moments of glory against Indiana only come in one form: oh thank God we didn't lose to Indiana.*
So, yeah: thank God we didn't lose to Indiana.
Since we didn't, we should all just breathe a sigh of relief, recalibrate expectations back down a little bit, and move on. Michigan's not at a point where any win against any Big Ten team is one to freak out about. The freshmen quarterbacks remain freshmen and it's becoming clear that the defense has about the same raw talent level that last year's offense had. The only thing keeping them from plunging off a deep, dark cliff is the fact that no position on defense is as singularly important as quarterback is on offense.
A couple may be as undermanned, though. Indiana's potentially-crushing, one-play, 85-yard riposte to Tate Forcier's first attempt at fourth quarter heroics exposed the secondary's talent deficiency in a way even starker than Michigan fans were treated to against Notre Dame. At least when Michael Floyd and Golden Tate and Jimmy Clausen were running wild you could point to torched opponents past and recruiting rankings and drooling NFL scouts. Seeing an Indiana freshman zip past not only the walk-on safety gamely pretending he doesn't run a 4.8 but the scholarship, potentially-starting cornerback not named Donovan Warren was alarming. If JT Floyd is going to play corner in the Big Ten he's going to do it ten yards off the line of scrimmage.
This is how bad it is: I'm not even mad at Floyd when a player gets vastly open or he commits a silly, unnecessary pass interference penalty. I'm mad at Tyrone Willingham, metaphorically. It's inconceivable that Michigan would find itself in this situation. There is exactly one junior and no seniors at both safety and cornerback. The 2007 class provides three of the four starters and has lost Artis Chambers. 2006 saw the only two defensive back commitments (Brown and Mouton) move to linebacker. The 2005 class was Brandon Harrison (decent but did not redshirt), Johnny Sears, and Chris Richards. The recruiting malpractice everyone saw on the offensive line last year returned with a vengeance. Hell, even the 2008 class is looking like a disappointment: Brandon Smith is a linebacker; Cissoko and Floyd have been the weak link on a defense that's played three walk-ons extensively. Very little of that is Rodriguez's doing.**
The parallels between this year's secondary and last year's offensive line, on and off the field, are striking, and it's not like linebackers not named Stevie Brown are helping out much. Michigan's recruiting was wildly deficient in more than one area and will be an anchor going forward, basically until such time as the roster is full and the creaky last few Carr classes are no longer weighing down the top of the roster.
We should forestall complaining about Robinson and Tony Gibson and even Jay Hopson, who I've complained about personally, if somewhat obliquely, because there are excellent reasons why their units are performing poorly that have nothing to do with whether or not they can coach. Gibson was the guy who turned Ryan Mundy from a guy with an uncomplimentary stat (Yards After Mundy) named after him into an NFL draft pick. West Virginia's pass efficiency defense in the final few years of Rodriguez's time there: 28th, 63rd, 30th, 20th. There's plenty of evidence that Rodriguez isn't dealing with morons here, and plenty that suggests late-era Carr recruiting was. I'm stashing the torches and pitchforks away, hoping that the rest of the season follows a trajectory similar to that of the offense last year: baby steps towards respectability in the midst of crippling talent deficiency, followed by a second year of growth.
As always, this should be okay. It takes time to dig out from all the reasons 3-9 occurs.
*(The Hoosiers have had a few respectable teams in the intervening years, but Michigan either blew them out, lost to them (once), or missed them. Closest thing to a close win against a respectable team was '91, when Indiana was 7-4-1 and M won 24-16.)
**(Smith and Floyd did commit to Michigan after Rodriguez was named head coach but those players were widely considered locks for months before the coaching transition took place. And please note the criticism here is not necessarily of Smith (or Mouton or Brown) but the recruiting practices that failed to take their likely moves to linebacker into account. Floyd, for his part, might be a functional safety if he wasn't needed at corner.)
- You know, I was sort of coming around to the piped in music but no more. I should never have said anything negative about the band, I take it all back, I believe the piped-in music to be an abomination, and curse anyone who voted in favor of said abomination during this site's earlier poll. The end of the first half was close to my idea of hell, with the evil homunculus responsible for the ear-piercing noise pollution blasting something stupid in-between every play. During the video review, I found myself so enraged at the piped in music that I fruitlessly gave the bird to the idiot playing Bob Seger at painful volume. I went to a concert later that night and the volume level there was considerably less ear-damaging.
It's just unpleasant to hear a probably-terrible song at volume levels 130% of what the speaker system can actually handle. Turn it down. Turn it off. Stop alienating the people who really care about Michigan's traditions and stop catering to the folk who can't distinguish Michigan Stadium from an ECHL arena. It does not help anything.
In fact, it actively stops cheers. The students were chanting "Go Blue" at each other during one point and the evil homunculus played over it. The evil homunculus plays AC/DC over what used to be a bass drum pounding out a beat to which the stadium chanted "Let's Go Blue." It has gone from somewhat tolerable to Michigan State in four weeks, and must be destroyed. I'm disappointed but not entirely surprised that the marketing wing of the Michigan athletic department would be so deaf to tradition. Mostly, I'm appalled. Piped-in music is a disaster and should be stopped immediately. (Note: MVictors mentioned it too, though Greg's not as ready to draw and quarter people. That is because he is soft. I am the Dwead Piwate Woberts, I have come for your souls.)
- Didn't expect the official site to out a guy on the 85-yard Indiana touchdown but here you go:
On Indiana's 85-yard touchdown run to take the lead in the fourth quarter, defensive tackle Ryan Van Bergen came off the field distraught after a blown assignment. He was taken aside by defensive coordinator Greg Robinson and then sat on the team bench with his head sagging. "You flush it and you come back and play," Robinson yelled down the line. "You don't need to be a hero."
As I recall it I watched a 215 pound Indiana tailback outrun not only a walk-on safety (depressing that guy has to play but understandable) but a scholarship cornerback; if Van Bergen had problems he wasn't the only one. Also, Van Bergen was the backside defensive tackle… it's hard to imagine what his assignment was that could have prevented Indiana from running outside the other OT.
- Interception or not, why the hell did Indiana throw at Donovan Warren? Why the hell would anyone throw at Donovan Warren the rest of the year? Opponents have now lost two close games because they threw at Donovan Warren. Sooner or later they will stop doing this, I think.
After the game, Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Robinson confirmed that Cissoko’s absence was a coach’s decision. “Yeah, it was,” Robinson said. “I thought, J.T., at first, was a little nervous but as the game wore on he grew more and more comfortable and did a good job, really held his own.”
I thought that Cissoko had gotten pulled because he had picked up an injury. He did come out for a play or two earlier, and when an Indiana receiver ran straight past him without so much as a head fake I figured it was a hamstring pull or something. Apparently not. Er. That's not good. I'd rather there was some explanation for Cissoko getting smoked other than… well… you know. Not being good at football.
- Attn: Tate. Plz stop doing this plz:
It reminds me of Ryan Mallett and makes me want to die a little. Please continue all of your other activities except running around in the pocket too much.
Maize 'n' Brew has some Zapruder-quality "I took pictures of my TV" stills of the aforementioned Warren interception. They make a decent case the call was correct, if spectacularly close and improbable. I'm waiting for the HD video before I make any proclamation either way.
Doctor Saturday notes that Michigan and Notre Dame aren't exactly establishing themselves dominant powers in the wake of their entertaining week two matchup:
the question after Indiana's 467-yard, 33-point barrage Saturday is "Who isn't going to put up huge yards on the Wolverines?" The Hoosiers -- dead last in the Big Ten in every significant offensive aspect last year -- went on long marches and hit big plays alike (an 85-yard touchdown run and a 56-yard completion to set up another score) and might have been on their way to more points if the officials had seen Donovan Warren's clinching interception differently on IU's final drive. The Wolverines are 89th nationally in total defense and 92nd against the pass, slightly worse than last year's numbers for the year and significantly worse than their 2-2 start in September. There is no comparison between the offenses, but the progress of the Michigan D (or lack thereof) puts a real crimp in the prospective rise in the Big Ten. The fact is, resetting expectations after the first month, neither of these teams has put much separation between preseason expectations and their prospects for the season.
It's hard to dispute; even if Michigan's offense is ahead of preseason projections I don't think anyone had them giving up almost 500 yards to Indiana on defense. Michigan may be slightly ahead of what seemed like a universal 7-5 preseason consensus, but it's mostly because they've turned one coin-flip game in their favor and the Big Ten has looked slightly more moribund than even their recent standards.
Mike DiSimone has his weekly comprehensive picture roundup.
9/12/2009 – Michigan 38, Notre Dame 34 – 2-0
When Michigan headed in at the half down only three because of a confluence of events I saw splattered across "Life on the Margins" in the near future, I wrote the game off. When Michigan turned first and goal from the one into a missed field goal, I wrote the game off. When Armando Allen ran the ball into the endzone and Clausen did his fey little "butt dance," to steal a term from MVictors, I wrote the game off. When LaTerryal Savoy dropped the touchdown pass* that would have given Michigan the win, I was annoyed.
Some things, among them faith and love, reveal themselves only after they form, when some other event makes it clear you have had powerful emotion X about object Y for an indeterminate amount of time. Love tends to brew a long time and reveal itself in spectacularly inopportune fashion. Faith… well, if you let X equal faith and Y equal Tate Forcier, the process is considerably expedited. For the author it came to its enzyme-aided conclusion sometime between Junior Hemingway's second touchdown against Western Michigan and the wild bumper-car rollout that ended in a dart to Savoy and first and goal.
When, exactly, is impossible to tell. Like Denard Robinson, attempting to observe it changes it. But here it is rewarding us with all sorts of dopamine and serotonin and other whatnot on this finest Monday of all Mondays in a fairly long time.
What is up, faith. I am feeling goooooooood.
Rich Rodriguez had spent twenty years earning a little faith as his teams performed, time and again, above their talent level. But the instant he decided to extract himself from what seemed like a poisonous relationship with the rest of the West Virginia athletic department, all of it evaporated.
Almost from the instant Rodriguez arrived on campus the media—first from West Virginia and then locally—painted him as a mercenary, a swearing robot, a rube. It's been covered here a thousand times before so let's just focus on the giant flashing insanity: Rodriguez took a metric ton of crap for breaking his contract, something literally any coach who's ever moved jobs has done. Something that the contract has explicit buyout provisions for. Something that universally-loved John Beilein did one year earlier.
When 3-9 followed the amplitude went up by an order of magnitude, culminating in the Free Press hit job the nation knows and loves. Faith did not exist except in battered, weary pockets. This pocket wavered. It would be impossible not to.
In this space I've alternately mocked and panicked at the idea that external forces or internal dissent could strangle the Rodriguez era in the crib and set Michigan on much the same path Notre Dame has traveled these last 15 years. The parade of inept coaches, inept coaching searches in the frequent interregnums, and mostly unrelenting failure during the brief periods in which the school is not searching for a new inept coach could easily have happened here. Michigan was in the process of chaotic, inept coaching search number one when WVU athletic director Ed Pastilong and Pat White's thumb dumped one of the premiere coaches in college football in Bill Martin's lap and Martin jumped at it without thinking it over.
The public reaction since threatened to undo that stroke of fortune and set Michigan into the spiral that consumed South Bend. The danger was that all those sneering generalists who glanced over from their NBA game to snort "lol" and moved on would actually impact Michigan's ability to reason.
Did it? Will it? It's impossible to tell. Rich Rodriguez and Tate Forcier plan on making the question moot, and have already gone a long way towards doing so.
This is Michigan now, a strange collection of 3.8 GPA kids from New Jersey and Arizona and locals who grew up loving Michigan and kids with dreads from poor, broken places mostly in the south who have one way to get out. Receivers who score game-winning touchdowns and almost lose their cool before apologetically handing the ball to the referee, sir. Woop-gone cuts when the defensive end beats you to the corner in cover zero. The fetishization of work to the point where the S&C coach is the target of adulation so intense that you can call something "Barwis Porn" and not be 100% joking. Hype videos and piped in music. Shotgun hurry-up and quarterbacks slipping by linebacker kill shots. The circle of terror, chest bumps, awkward press conferences, a tear here and there. This is it. This is block-M Michigan.
It's not all great. But take it from a guy who remains a programmer in spirit: life is tradeoffs. Give Rich Rodriguez six dwarves, some baling wire, a walk-on safety from Curtice, Ohio, and someone to spatter paint all over everything and we're good. This is a program of moxie and MacGuyver.
While Terrelle Pryor labors in an offense that has him throw 25 times and run nine against USC, previously run-manic Rich Rodriguez has taken his collection of half-man-half-velcro tight ends and pounding fullbacks and moosebeast tailbacks and forged them into a machine that, for two games at least, is the explosive equivalent of his White-Slaton heyday. He has integrated this crazy wheeling Jackson Pollock of a quarterback to the tune of 70% completions, five touchdowns, and one interception in his first two games in college. In the process he's made the men who looked at twenty years of wildly successful offenses, wildly successful programs at every level of college football and saw nothing but an inflexible, lucky hick look like fools.
He's repaid the faith shown him by his team, by the guys who stayed and waved their arms madly and jumped up and down last week when the students took up a "Rich Rodriguez" chant and did not stop until most of the stadium was doing it. They stayed, and they're on their way, and it doesn't take much faith to say: this is Michigan now.
via reader Nick Stratton
*(It would turn out to be tipped but from the stands all I saw was a ball hit Savoy between the eight and the two and ricochet away; the crowd's reaction was such that I thought Notre Dame had somehow intercepted it for a split second.)
BULLETS THAT CHANGE DIRECTION SIX TIME A SECOND
- 10,000 cocktails to the guy working the replay board who got the Armando Allen screen touchdown on the board almost before the play was over, thus causing the stadium to explode and Rodriguez to take a timeout that would eventually save Michigan four points. Those four points were the final margin of victory and while there's a chance the replay would have come down on its own, the quick thinking of that guy made it inevitable. Someone ferret out this guy's name so he never has to buy a drink in town again.
To really discuss what's wrong with Weis I have to dig into the poker metaphors. If Carr was a weak-tight calling station—a guy who doesn't take many risks and can be easily dissuaded from taking them—Weis is a loose-aggressive donkey—a guy who just bets and bets and bets and rides it. The LAG (loose-aggressive) is a better player, much tougher to win against, but is prone to huge, fatal mistakes. So the problem with that second-and-ten bomb was not that Weis threw, it's the sort of throw he called for. Running or whatever strips Michigan of its timeouts and has relatively little value compared to a first down. A first down just about ends the game. I had a perpetual frustration with Carr's playcalling in similar situations because it was run run run punt almost without fail, or possibly run run third and ten pass punt. So a slant or a hitch or some sort of high-percentage pass that can break for a first down is a great call.
The bomb is going all in with a middle pair after you get a couple overs on the flop. (I was in the World Series of Poker once!!!) It might work. But if it does, it's not because you're a good poker player.
Weis is a guy who thinks "they'll never see my 4-6 unsuited coming." And he thinks it all the time. I know, I know: Gus Hansen exists. The thing about poker on TV is that it throws out all the "boring" hands and therefore disguises Hanson's insidious brilliance. I've seen all of Weis's hands. He's not Gus Hansen. I mean, even if you're going to throw that, why throw it against Warren instead of the guy you've been torching all game?
- On the other hand: I haven't seen anything from Rodriguez yet that makes me think similar thoughts. I have instant go-punt reactions on all fourth downs and get very upset when the coach in question defies an obvious one and haven't been very upset with Rodriguez yet. He may call a hotel a "ho-tel" but he's a better poker player than Carr or Weis. Even when Michigan was up eleven, it seemed like they needed one more touchdown to win, and it appeared Rodriguez thought the exact same thing.
- Speaking of Beilein: there have been persistent rumors that Beilein and Rodriguez have a frosty relationship, but one of the things I caught as I watched the team leave the field was the two coaches meeting around the forty yard line and sharing a deep, lingering man-hug. I don't think that rumor holds much water anymore.
- I'd been bitching about Forcier thinking he's in high school on many of his runs. Often he had an opportunity to cut upfield for solid yardage but instead tried to pop outside a corner or safety and turned it into a three-yard gain because he can't just outrun members of the opposition secondary anymore. (There's a play in UFR last week where I question whether a similar incident was a good idea.) So, yeah, a little smug on that touchdown run after I went WOOOOO a lot.
- Cissoko… man. I've seen a fair number of people defending him but he was bad. Maybe I'll think different after the UFR but the guy got torched. Hopefully that's an effect of going up against two crazy good receivers and a quarterback who wasn't so terrible himself. I don't think so, though. He was lost.
- I really hope I see even more holding than they called on UFR because Clausen had all day basically all day. I vastly underestimated the pressure he'd face; when he did get pressure he just chucked it OOB. So I was kind of right about that.
- Brandon Minor is way better than any other back on the roster. Q: why did Michigan go away from the up-the-middle gashing that worked so well in the third quarter? Notre Dame was clearly vulnerable to runs that went directly at them but did well against the stretches.
- Warren, on the other hand, basically lived up to the hype this blog perpetuated.
- It's amazing how vastly different real live Notre Dame fans are from their internet fanbase. The worst thing you can say about them is that a disproportionate number look like they're huge Steve Miller Band fans. The worst things you can say about Notre Dame fans on the internet would take thousands of words to describe.
Charlie Weis caused the potato famine, says one Irish fan. Also check the Chips shirt.
MVictors wasn't in the press box for this one and thanks God for that stroke of luck. Also check the spectacular Brandon Graham mugging picture and the guy in the comments who claims Armando Allen called the student section "faggots" to draw his flag. Can anyone in the front of the student section confirm that?
Central Michigan beat Michigan State on a 42-yard field goal with 3 seconds left. As the game’s final minute ticked away before the start of the game here, news media in the press box gathered around televisions to watch.
Central Michigan initially missed a potential game-winning 47-yard field goal, but got to try the kick again after Michigan State was penalized for being offside. The announcement of the penalty that set up the game-winner prompted clapping and an announcement in the press box.
“Cheering is not allowed in the press box,” the announcer said, “but it is right now.”
Something something pride something fall.
I grabbed a bunch of complaining from ND Nation in anticipation of a flush, which did happen.
It was with some trepidation that I agreed to be on Mitch Albom's show last week during the jihad reaction*. But I figured, hey, what the hell, the worst thing that happens is some guy listening thinks I might be worth reading. So I go on, and express my point of view. Albom asks some pointed but fair questions, and I hang up. Fine. But the next 30 minutes or whatever are then dedicated to the proposition that I am just an example of Michigan fans "circling the wagons"; none of the points made are actually addressed. Instead I am dismissed as the Google Master from the MGoBlog… by Mitch Albom of the Free Press.
While the rest of the planet has moved past the idea of true objectivity, grizzled newspapermen still cling to the idea that a fact is a fact and the manner of its presentation and the context its surrounded with have no impact on how that fact is received. Albom asked me "do you think the writers of this piece have an agenda?" in a fashion that made it clear that this would be the journalistic equivalent of crossing the streams. Sure, they heard tell some guys down yonder tried it once but that's why there's this big smoking crater and everyone's kids have three heads.
I responded "well, agenda is a loaded word" because the context I was in—hey there you go—but my immediate thought was of course they have an agenda. Albom might as well asked me if I thought the reporters were robots. (A man without an agenda @ right.) People who are not robots have agendas, motivations, desires, and so forth and so on. They want to be tall and have hair and people who read their writing who can actually remember what the writer identifies himself as. Or they want a shiny prize. Or they want to jump off a sinking ship.
The most obvious and universal agenda to want your work to be important. I'm always annoyed when I've got this cool theory that the stats don't bear out. I then have to actively remind myself to present the full story when I (usually) try to make my case anyway. Most recent example: rugby punting reduces long returns. There's a natural tendency to ignore or downplay things that detract from your argument, especially when you've put a ton of work into it. Everyone wants their work to be meaningful.
So no one gets away without having their motivation examined anymore. No one. Jim Carty just put up an interesting post about "faith-based reporting," which is the idea that increasingly the people in the room at press conferences are working for GBW or the Wolverine or this site and make little pretense about being generally in favor of Michigan winning football games. Unsurprisingly, I disagree with large swaths of it (around 50%) but no section more than this one:
The suggestion that Rosenberg shouldn't have worked on the piece is nothing less than bunk, as I've covered above. He's a terrific journalist - just recruited to contribute for SI.com, incidentally - and one of the most fair people I know. Nothing he's written in the past would be cause for him to be removed from this piece. The suggestion that the Freep somehow took advantage of the freshman because it didn't fully brief them on their full agenda is similarly silly.
That's gone, man. The days when people could be expected to take it on faith that the reporters in question were noble just-the-facts truth-seekers, ma'am, has been steadily evaporating for 30 years and boiling off since the people formerly known as the audience started firing back. I do not care what people who personally know the guy think. I automatically suspect bullcrap in all ways that fit into conventional narratives or wishful thinking too easily, whether it's LOL NC$$ hates SEMO or Andrew Maxwell casually outing MSU on the MSU official site. There is no way I'm exempting a columnist who's regularly deployed false assumptions in the pursuit of Rodriguez or a newspaper that headlined said columnist's ill-researched Justin Feagin column "Win at all costs poor formula for Rodriguez." Carty interprets the Deadspin post defending Rosenberg's objectivity as legitimate; I don't see how anyone who's followed the Free Press' inflammatory headlines and snotty opinion pieces can come to that conclusion. A preposterously long breakdown of said article is at the foot of this post. I've thrown it behind the jump because it's tedious.
My base assumption is that unnecessary lack of transparency is always in the service of concealing dishonesty. And there are plenty of instances of concealment or outright dishonesty in the article in question:
- Misrepresenting quotes from two freshmen. Even leaving aside the questionable ethics of asking players questions about a piece you're planning without disclosing the unusual focus of the piece, the quotes from Hawthorne and Stokes are flat misrepresentations of what they said. At no point did they say any of the activities were "required," and in fact literally everything they list can and likely will fall under the NCAA definition of a noncountable hour. The problem with quoting the freshmen is not that they were not briefed on the agenda of the piece but that quotes were blatantly misrepresented.
- Providing anonymity for flimsy reasons. I'd be surprised if a single current player is one of the anonymous sources providing damning quotes. It's certain that at least some of them come from departures. And there are no potential repercussions for a departed player outside of what happened to Toney Clemons at Colorado, who was told "don't do that again" and directed to release a statement that made him seem like less of a dip. That is not sufficient justification for anonymous quotes in a story that you think makes a case for major NCAA infractions.
- Cloaking the distribution of current and former players. Even if you provide anonymity to the departed players, there's no reason to cite ten people interviewed for the story, drop the bombshell of "current and former," and not clarify whether or not the only current players in the story are the aforementioned duped freshmen. There is zero reason to not put "current" or "former" between the words "anonymous" and "player" after the anonymous player drops a damning quote.
- Ignoring the extremely obvious context. As previously stated, "everyone does it" is not a moral defense (which, IME, is unnecessary) but it's certainly a technical one.
In a media environment where you are always (rightfully) under suspicion it's imperative to show how the piece came together, to forthrightly address reasonable criticism, and provide the primary-source data that you used to construct the story.
The Free Press did none of this. Worse than that, there are sections of the story that are clearly disingenuous. That kills your credibility. That goes double when you are on record as the sort of extreme Rodriguez skeptic that would trot out a host of weak sauce in a column that slams Rodriguez for doing literally the exact same thing John Beilein—who you've never said a discouraging word about—did when he broke his contract. It goes triple when you couldn't be bothered to do the simple legwork of calling Justin Feagin's high school coach or checking his juvenile record before launching a broadside at the sort of kids Rodriguez is bringing into the program. (And don't give me that "I'm not saying, I'm just saying" stuff. Couching your work in disclaimers doesn't change the thrust.)
There was a way to go about this in a fair manner: disclose the names of the transferred kids. Clarify where the damning quotes are coming from. Provide appropriate context (45 hours a week) for the allegations. Don't misrepresent quotes from kids you're about to hang out to dry.
I've heard a lot about how I'm a Michigan fan. I've heard a lot about how I identify myself as Brian. I haven't heard one word about the actual content of my criticisms. Eventually, it becomes clear the lack of response is because they simply don't have one.
*(For the record: this isn't my jihad. The whole jihad bit is a reference to the first Jihad, which was way closer to an actual jihad. It was launched when an incredibly credulous West Virginia reporter announced that Rich Rodriguez had shredded every last document concerning West Virginia football.
I mean, really, which side here is a technologically deficient society bitter about its fading glory and hugely resistant to change? That's what I thought.)
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.)