Ryan Van Bergen
This is not the greatest press conference in the world; this is just a tribute.
Does Hoke talk a lot about ‘feeling players’? “A little bit, yeah.” What did he say about feeling a player’s impact? “Um, as far as whose impact?” Anyone’s impact. “Oh he just talks about everybody doing their jobs. Everybody making sure that they do their job and make sure they’re aggressive about it, and when he says impact, I think he’s just talking more about toughness and mentality that you bring to the game.”
You scored a defensive TD against Wisconsin a couple years ago. What’s it like watching Herron score? “It’s just really exciting, especially for Brandon, to have that opportunity. When you score on defense, it’s something that’s unexpected. It’s just such a big bonus for a team, when your defense is giving you twelve points, you’re going to win a lot of football games. We’re pretty excited about it, and we’re going to build off of it.”
Mattison said, ‘We’re not going to sit back.’ How much do you enjoy playing aggressive defense? “It’s fun. We’ve been excited about it for a long time. Coach Mattison is an aggressive-style coach. Once we figured what [Western] was doing offensively, we tried to attack them. One thing we have to do better though is we have to improve our four-man rushes. Coach Mattison can’t call a blitz to get after quarterbacks -- we have to go put pressure on them ourselves and help out our DBs. It was fun, but at the same time we have a lot to do.”
What do you have to do specifically to get better rush? “Up front we need to get off our blocks quicker, and execute our moves. That’ll come. That was the first game.”
What’s Hoke like on the sidelines? “Passionate. He’s got a lot of energy. You can really feed off of him. He’s got enough energy for everybody on the team. He knows when to be tough, and when to come over and tell you in a calm manner what to do. He’s got a really good feel for everybody and all the players and their attitude."
Was it hard to get consistency on the D-line with all the substitutions? “No, no, not at all. [Western] came out with a no-huddle. Hats off to them -- we didn’t know they were going to do that. So the coaches did a really good job of rotating. I think we probably played 7-8 guys on the defensive line. We needed that. It was 120-130 degrees on the field I heard. If we weren’t rotating, it could have gotten ugly really fast. We need that rotation, and coach wants to get more guys in. He wants us to be able to go full tilt when we’re in the game, and I think we were more productive because of it.”
Is there a night game you’ve played in that stands out? “Night games -- they’re fun as far as atmosphere and stuff, but the thing that people don’t realize is how much it sucks when you’re waiting around in a hotel. We wait around in a hotel before the game, so you’re sitting in your hotel room. Coach is trying to keep you occupied, but you’re waiting to play a football game, watching other football games in your hotel room. That’s a big wait when you’re getting up at nine o’clock and you’re not leaving to go play until five. But it is a good experience.
“One that comes to mind is when we went to play Iowa in their stadium. That was pretty cool. It just seems like the fans are just that much more into it when the lights are on. I don’t know why, but it does seem like it’s more electric.”
You didn’t give up many big plays. What went well? “We had some good things happen as far as we’ve been trying to limit big plays, because that’s been an Achilles heel of our defense for the last couple years, but we definitely need to improve. There are things that they did, and we knew they were going to come after us with certain schemes, and we didn’t stop them. There has to be some adjustments made. We had some good things, but we had a lot of room to improve, and luckily we got in to watch the film yesterday, so we can start working on that.”
How did you find out you were an honorary game captain? “Coach Hoke told me, I wanna say Friday? I think? He told me Friday. It was a big deal. It’s a very big accomplishment for me to go out there with those guys. A lot of players have told me they look up to me as a captain and a leader. I was excited. It was a really, really cool experience."
Does Hoke give out any individual honors, e.g. helmet stickers a la Bo? “Not really. Coach Hoke is a big advocate for ‘the team, the team, the team.’ The individual awards don’t mean anything if your team’s not winning. The emphasis on the team has really helped our guys come together and helped our chemistry. Presenting individual awards isn’t going to be in Coach Hoke’s -- that’s not in his personality. Unless I’m wrong and maybe something else comes, but right now I don’t think there’s anything lined up like that.”
Where do you rank the Notre Dame rivalry compared with MSU or Ohio? “It’s a big deal. We’ve been playing each other a long time. The history goes back. I think Michigan was actually the ones who taught Notre Dame how to play football, if you look at the history. They were supposed to go to Evanston and play Northwestern, but we went down to South Bend and taught Notre Dame how to play football. I think that’s how it went down. It’s a big deal. This goes back so far, and there’s so much history. That and we’re so competitive in terms of most wins in college football. I know they take it very seriously, and we take it very seriously. It’s exciting to be able to play in it."
Did you watch the end of the ND-USF game? What did you think of their offense? “Luckily for ND, they have two very talented quarterbacks. They had their hiccups, but it was their first game. They’re going to get into their zone, and they’re going to start playing well, and we have to be prepared to see both [quarterbacks]. No, I didn’t see the end of the game. I wanted to, but nothing against NBC, but I did not like the program they had on while the rain delay was on, so I was like, uh, I’m just going to watch the other ones. I did not see the TV copy. I will watch the film copy though.”
Talk about Notre Dame’s O-line. “Big. Notre Dame’s got some big offensive linemen. Their biggest one, though, I wanna say his name’s Charles Stewart, I’m not sure. He graduated. He was their left guard. He was like 370, a really big kid. Their right guard, Trevor Robinson, I think is his name. He was a kid that Michigan recruited, and I was his host when he was here. Their center’s really good, too. He’s been there for two years, I think, and very experienced. Their interior line is really experienced. I think they have younger guys on the outside, but they also have a year of experience underneath their belt. So they’re going to be a good test for us as far as a defensive front and where we are in comparison to other teams, because Notre Dame’s offensive line will be as good as any we’ll see.”
(more after the jump)
(Ryan Van Bergen, David Molk, and Denard Robinson will be up tomorrow morning.)
- Cam Gordon and Troy Woolfolk will play next Saturday
- Fitz remains starting RB
Press Conference (filmed)
"It is a holiday, but in your profession -- in our profession -- you really don’t have holidays, but that’s okay."
Opening remarks: “As far as last Saturday, it was good to win. The weather is -- you can never anticipate what happens -- but it was good to win a football game, and we think we learned a lot team-wise when you look at where we need to really improve. It was good to get out and obviously play someone else besides yourselves because we did that for four weeks. There’s a lot that we can learn from the film, there’s a lot that we can continue to learn from the film and improve on, and hopefully we’re gonna make a big improvement because the test gets much bigger this week.
“This is a great rivalry game, and one that we’re excited about obviously. There’s some other things that go along with this game this year with playing at night, the first night game, and the throwback uniforms, and all those things, but the one thing we talked about as a team is we can’t get caught up and distracted. The field’s still going to be 120 yards long when you include the end-zones, and 53-point-something yards wide, and so that’s not going to change. That’s where our focus has to be and how we prepare this week to play our best football and make a lot of improvements.”
Talk about the injuries to Troy Woolfolk and Cam Gordon. “Troy, he just sprained his ankle—his other ankle. It felt better yesterday. I think emergency-wise, he could have gotten back in Saturday. He’s doing a good job, and Paul Schmidt, our trainer, is doing a good job treating all those things. Cam, he tweaked his back earlier in the week, felt better but still just didn’t feel good enough. There was no sense for us to try and put him out there where he could prolong the recovery process, I would say.”
Anyone else? “No.”
Do you anticipate them starting this Saturday against Notre Dame? “Yeah, I do.”
You didn’t allow very many big plays of 20+ yards. How would you evaluate your safeties? “Obviously I think Jordan played a terrific football game, when you look at his production and the things that we asked him to do. I thought he played very well. He did miss one tackle in there, but he played well.”
“Marvin was getting his feet wet a little more in game-atmosphere kinds of situations, there’s a lot with the communication we need to have more of back there. He’s got to be more vocal -- he’s not a real vocal guy anyway.
“I think Thomas [Gordon] played well, but there’s some things that I know that he wasn’t satisfied with that he needs to improve upon, but he’s had a tremendous camp. We asked him to do a lot because when Troy went down, he moved into nickel in that situation. I think we were okay there. I think there’s a lot that we need to do a heck of a lot better this week.”
ND’s QB situation is kind of up in the air. How does that affect how you prepare? “To me, it doesn’t change anything in our preparation. With the style of offense that Brian runs, I think they’re very talented. [Notre Dame] will make the decision that’s best for the team, and we can’t worry about that. I don’t think it changes the offense in any way at all.”
What’s the most memorable Michigan-Notre Dame game you’ve been involved in? “I was here kind of in those odd years. We played Washington two years and we didn’t play [Notre Dame]. And then we played UCLA two years and didn’t play [Notre Dame]. I think [what was memorable] in the ‘97 year was when [Notre Dame] was inside the red-zone three times, and defensively [Michigan’s] guys stood up and didn’t let them get any points.”
Earlier last week it didn’t look like Herron or Avery were going to start. But then they played a lot. How come? “Some of it has to do with what kind of defensive set we were in. Courtney was the third corner coming in. Troy goes to nickel, Courtney comes on the field. I don’t think the [depth chart] played a part in it. Just what subgroup you were in. The other one was when Cam started hitching up with his back a little bit, we had to get another guy with some experience some reps in the design of the defense that we were in, and I kept going back with that because it depends whether we’re in the dime or nickel or base, where we line up -- but that was the only reason.”
You have countdown clocks for MSU and Ohio. Is Notre Dame on a different level? “Those are Big Ten conference games, that’s always part of it. In-state rivalries and obviously the rivalry on the last Saturday in November is special. [The Notre Dame rivalry] is important as anything. This has always been a game where … I remember Coach Schembechler always talking about, you always get a gauge on where you’re at as a team, because it’s always going to take a national spotlight, and it is an environment where you have expectations of how your guys are going to play.”
Is there one thing you were really happy with from Saturday? “Well, there’s probably a lot of things I was very unhappy with, but we’ll leave that for later. But here’s what I thought: Rushing for 190 yards in three quarters of game -- that was a good thing. I think that once Greg Mattison and the defensive staff made some adjustments [with] the pressure on the quarterback … The man coverage, we have to be much better this week because of the talent that Notre Dame has. But I thought there was a flow to the game then. Herron takes the ball back, and we come back out, and it’s a three-and-out. So we were starting to get some flow and momentum.”
Can you elaborate on what else you need to improve? “We have to play better run defense, we have to play tighter coverage in zone, we have to be able to pressure the quarterback with four guys at times, or with three guys at times from a defensive perspective. We had some missed alignments that were based on communication that you can’t have, or lack of communication.
“From an offensive standpoint, we took care of the football, which was big and always will be big. But there were a couple decisions that we need to make better, and we have to do a better job staying on blocks down the field because there were several opportunities for other bigger plays in the run game. Our routes, where [receivers] broke a couple of them off early -- the receivers have to be more disciplined within the scheme, especially when you’re in the timing phase of your game.
“And then the kicking game -- our kickoff coverage will get a lot of attention from where we place the ball on the kick to how we get off blocks going down the field. So that’s huge. Obviously we’re going to give a lot of attention to PAT and field goal protection on the inside. You can’t get knocked back, and that was part of the one that got blocked. A big part of it was because we got knocked back too much. Another problem was that the snap was too high. It took Gibbons a little longer to approach the ball because of that.
“I could go to the punt team, I could go on and on … kickoff return -- better decision than taking the ball out of the end-zone, getting on guys a little better, I mean this could be a marathon, but I don’t have the time for it, and neither do you.”
Will we see some different personnel in kickoff coverage? Well you could. It’s competitive, and you’re evaluated, and if we’re not doing the job we think we need to have, from a competitive standpoint, because part of getting off blocks is getting competitive, and having an intensity of what you’re doing. That part of it, believe me, was addressed yesterday and will continue to be addressed this week. There could be some different faces on there. It’ll be a fun week, we’ll put it that way.
Do you feel like D-line led the defense? “I think we played okay. We weren’t – you guys have heard me talk about ‘hearing football.’ You also want to feel guys during the course of a game. I felt number 32 during the course of the game. An impact. To some degree, I thought J.T., you could feel him out there a little bit. I never felt our front like we need to. Not to be specific – I think we played okay, but I think we need to play at a higher level and a higher standard.”
You ran 39 offensive plays. Was that enough to answer some questions or are there still some things for which you need to see more in order to evaluate? “I think it’s a little bit of both. I think there are some things that are still out there. Talking to Al and the offensive staff, there are some things we didn’t get to in the offense that maybe we would like to have gotten to a little more. We also saw some things that we wanted to get done, too.”
(more after the jump)
WMU Postgame Presser Transcript: Jordan Kovacs, Brandon Herron, Denard Robinson, and Fitzgerald Toussaint
Jordan Kovacs and Brandon Herron
Kovacs and Herron are in serious mode.
What did you think about the two TDs you scored? Herron: "For one, I want to thank God -- Jesus Christ my lord and savior -- and I also want to thank my team. This is a team effort, this is about a team, and I thank a lot of my teammates because we all work together as one. This is not about me all. This is about the team."
What happened on the INT? Herron: "Jake Ryan tipped the ball, and I was just looking up, and my legs just carried me. and I grabbed it, and then I just -- I remember Aubrey [Pleasant], our GA, he tells us, 'Any time you get an interception, run it back to your sideline.' So after I caught the ball, I just looked straight ahead --obviously no ball security whatsoever -- but I was just trying to get to the endzone."
Did it change the game? Herron: "Yes and no. It did change the game, but obviously you can have a score or you can run it in, and a lot of teams that lose a game ... so it was just a well-fought game that we just weren’t trying to give up. We were just trying to pound them, each and every play."
Did you feel like defense needed to make a play because of WMU's success earlier in the game? Herron: "Yeah, well this is our first time playing defense under coach Mattison. A real game, so it was a little shaky at first. We were struggling with the communication a little bit. We talk about poise and having that poise, so we just needed to sit down and just have that poise and just talk. We have to be able to communicate if we want to be a good defense."
Kovacs, how are you being used differently? Kovacs: "It’s a completely different scheme. I think we’ve got some more blitz packages that give me the opportunity to come down in the box and try and make a play."
How do you feel about blitz call, and can you describe your hit on Carder? Kovacs: "When you get the blitz call, you’re thinking, 'I gotta come hard and I gotta make a play.' I gotta give a lot of credit to the defnese. That was a defensive effort. I think the front did a great job of disguising it, and we had great coverage, and I just came clean and made a play."
How close do you feel to playing defense the way coaches want to play? Kovacs: "We’re getting there. It was shaky at first no doubt, but I think that this film will be pretty good to look at, so we can improve before next game."
Talk about how much more effective the defense was when you blitzed. Kovacs: "I think you gotta give a lot of credit to Western. I think they came out with a great scheme, but we kind of settled in, and we got some blitzes we hit home with, and I think Brandon’s play was a big gamechanger for us, so we did turn it around after a couple drives."
What was the reaction when game was ended? Herron: "Yeah, I wanted to continue to play. We still had a job to do."
Defense played better after lightning delay ... what did the coaches tell you? Kovacs: "I mean, we just kind of settled in I think. I don’t think that we did change too many things. I think we came out at halftime with a better scheme, and we just executed, and we played hard"
How did you spend that time during the delay? Kovacs: "It’s different. I’ve never been here during a game like that. Just kind of relaxing in the locker room, we just kept quiet and stayed focused, and we honed in."
Was it difficult to keep game mentality with start/stop? Kovacs: "I've never been through anything like that. I think we traveled up the tunnel several times. I’ve never done that before."
Hoke said he didn’t feel very good about D. What’s is his major concern? Kovacs: "I think we didn’t do a good job first few possessions. They were running the ball on us. We still have a lot of areas to improve in, and we’re going to do that with this film, and we’ll be ready by next week."
Did you do anything special for HC’s first victory? Kovacs: "We do what we do after every victory, and that’s singing 'The Victors.' "
Does this feel like any other win, or do you feel a little empty inside? Kovacs: "I mean, it’s different, but we’ll take it. It’s a win. A win is a win, and we’re happy with that.
Either of you on the kickoff team? Kovacs: "Both of us." Herron: "Obviously our kickoff needs to improve, which we’ll focus on that tomorrow or whatnot. We kind of let things get away from us a little bit."
Kovacs, have you ever hit a quarterback that hard? Kovacs: "That was my first one I guess. Herron: "It was loud, too."
How much of an emphasis is put on creating turnovers? Kovacs: "I think not only coach Mattison but coach Hoke emphasized that. That’s one of our team goals is to win the turnover battle because if you do that you’re likely going to win the game. That’s something we strive to do as every team does."
Did the mood change when Woolfolk went down? Kovacs: "We’ve got a lot of guys that can step up and play. It’s tough to see a guy like that go down again, but at the same time we knew somebody else was going to have an opportunity to step in and play. We have some experienced guys at corner."
Herron, how do you build off your performance today? Herron: "It’s just about taking one day at a time, with the involvement of my teammates. Like I said, we have to work together. This is not about an individual. This is about a team, and the team coming out here and practicing everyday and trying to get better, this is what it’s about."
When was the last time you scored a TD in organized football? Herron: "I’ve never scored a touchdown -- well, I take that back. It was probably in eighth grade when I was playing running back. Coach Jackson was not the coach." Tee hee. "It’s been a while since I’ve been in the endzone."
When you got INT, what did you see in front of you? Herron: "I saw the left tackle, then I thought he hit me, but after I got past him, I didn’t see anybody else."
What were you feeling at the 10-yard line? Herron: "Gassed."
In endzone? Herron: "Obviously my teammates jumped all over me, so that took everything out of me as well. But with the love and help of my teammates, that carried me back to the sideline."
Talk about your position switch during camp. Herron: "I was just playing my new position, the WILL and the dime. This is something I had been practicing all camp, so it was my new position."
During the fumble recovery -- did ball just come to you? Herron: "First of all, I want to thank Kovacs, but it was a call where we saw -- I can’t put it out there – but we made a check, and I ended up coming off the edge, and Kovacs got free. I don’t think the ball rolled my way. I think I went to go get the ball, and then just ran it into the endzone."
[Ed-M: emphasis mine. Eeeeeeee!]
Did you think about falling on it? Herron: "No. I just -- I don’t know. [It was] something that just happened in the moment, and [I] just picked it up and just took off."
Can you talk about anticipation of the night game next week? Herron: "I think the night game is going to be crazy. I think our fans are looking forward to next week, so with that being said, against Notre Dame, especially wearing our throwback jerseys, it’s going to be amazing next week."
What were the conditions like before the rain? Herron: "Oh, it was hot. I was drained coming off the kickoff and then having to go [play] defense. But having that camp, it mentally prepared us, and like Coach said, we’re going to have adversity. It just matters how you get through it."
Denard Robinson and Fitzgerald Toussaint
Denard and a guy who has more rushing yards than Denard.
Ever been through a game like that before? Denard: "No."
It looked like you wanted to stay out there before the second break. Denard: "We were ready to go. We were ready to keep playing, I mean, we get to play against somebody else! So we were ready to play."
What was your reaction to finding out you won the game? Denard: "When coach Hoke told us we won the game, everybody got quiet. It was like, 'Seriously?' Everybody wanted to play still."
How would you assess your performance? Denard: "I still got some learning to do, but I gotta do better. I thought I did all right."
How come there was so much shotgun and spread in the beginning? Denard: "Coach Al called all the plays, and I was ready. That’s all."
Fitz, talk about your emergence as starting RB. Toussaint: "I think it all started at the beginning of the week, we were still all competing, we still all need to work. We had to work on a couple things, and we had make sure everything was good with timing. We were just competing. I actually found out when I was taking more reps with the ones."
Can you describe the breakout run? Toussaint: "I was just running to daylight."
Any former michigan running backs get in touch with you to talk to you about the tradition or responsibility of your position? Toussaint: "No, sir."
Denard, what's it like handing off to Fitz? Denard: "I don’t want to juice his head too much. Fitz is probably one of the best running backs I’ve played with. When he gets the ball, he runs hard and he makes guys miss. He’s fast. He’s a good back."
What’s it mean for you to get two TD’s out of defense? Denard: "That felt good. I was kind of bored on the sideline. But I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it. I’m pretty sure he felt the same way, we were ready to get back on the field, and when we saw B. Herron take it to the house we were like, 'Ahh' and we were rooting on the sidelines, but then it was like, 'man I want to get back on the field.'
"But we enjoyed it. We enjoyed it."
Does this feel incomplete not finishing the game? Denard: "Yeah it feels different. Everybody wanted to go back out and finish the game, but it is what it is."
How did you spend your time during the first delay? Denard: “We treated it like a halftime, and everybody was just getting focused and getting ready for the game.”
How many of old (spread) plays vs. new (manball) plays were there? Denard: “I thought it was 50/50. We did both, and I enjoyed it.”
Is that kind of balance what you expected? Denard: “I didn’t know what to expect. We were just excited and ready to play. Weve been working on all plays, so whatever they threw at us, we had to be ready.”
Fitz, you’ve been injured a whole lot. How does it feel to finish an entire game (sort of)? Toussaint: "It’s still a little new for me. It’s a new experience for me. I just want to stay healthy and continue to keeping pushing on with my teammates, and keep the unity."
So they really didn’t tell you you were starting until Friday? Toussaint: "I mean, I kind of had a clue, but it was announced [on Friday]."
Denard, talk about Alex Carder? Denard: "He’s a great quarterback. He’s probably one of the top quarterbacks in the nation. I enjoy watching him play."
You were the third leading rusher on the team today. Is that ideal? Denard: "Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I enjoy seeing [Fitz] running the ball, and Mike Shaw get the ball, and Vince. I love seeing those guys getting out in space and making people miss."
How do you feel about short gains vs. long runs? Toussaint: "We just chip away until we get a long one. Credit to the offensive line, who keep doing their job, and eventually it’ll come."
When do you start preparing for Notre Dame? Denard: "After tomorrow, we’ll watch film on the game, and get ready for Notre Dame."
You've had some fast starts in the past but then fell off toward the end of the season. Why is this year different? Denard: "I don’t want to compare last year to this year. This is a new era, and we just want to keep going and win for Michigan."
No more pictures of multiple dudes we've never seen play at media day. No more projecting things from a spring game performance. No more first-year starters, walk-ons, underclassmen, uncertainty, or woe. No more charts about how some guy was pretty good for a freshman.
There is only one person we are going to talk about this year.
On a paper-thin roster lacking in stars Denard Robinson stands alone. For all the fretting about a lack of playmakers on the offense, basically the same set of guys finished 8th in total yardage last year and better than that in the advanced metrics that try to account for variations in schedule strength and opportunity.
Denard is an offense worth of playmakers himself.
|HE RUNS||HE THROWS|
|he runs draws!||whippy, live arm!|
|the ur lead draw||zings to covered 'Tree|
|no soup for safety||zips one in|
|darting past hands||slant rope|
|"that's six"||tight window|
|also six||nails Grady|
|part of good UW day||plausible deep!|
|he runs power!||gorgeous deep ball|
|shoestring tackle||deep corner|
|barely run OOB||steps back to bomb|
|he improvises!||the heave|
|zipping by the MLB||back shoulder toss?|
|weaving read keeper||developing touch!|
|actual scramble||gorgeous floater pass|
|he zone reads!||down in the hole|
|keeper W TE assist||beauty soft fade|
|wide open corner||qb oh noes!|
|he jukes !||fake bubble doom|
|Wisconsin TD||blindingly wide open|
|four missed tackles||cover zero in the alps|
|WOOPS Calabrese||dart to Hemingway|
|WOOPS a safety||when bad is really bad!|
|he punts!||gets 'Tree killed|
|Pooch punt||The X is for XTREME|
When it was all said and done Denard Robinson had shattered a half-dozen team and NCAA records. This is the kind of thing that gets you on All-America teams, so a bunch of different organizations put him on All-America teams.
These organizations go back to the days when passing was for communists and every team was led by a quarterback with more rushing attempts than passing yards. They should be used to the Fraziers and the Crouches that show up on their lists.
They are, but Denard was something else, something that caused the Football Writers Association of America to dump the word "running" from the previously very explicit "running back" spot so they could cram Robinson on their first team next to LaMichael James and Kellen Moore. Denard's 2010 was spent redefining what one man can do.
That was damn near everything. Robinson was the nation's fourth-leading rusher with 1702 yards on 256 carries; he shattered the I-A record for rushing yards by a quarterback. Vincent Smith was second on the team with 601 yards. Denard was 20th in passer efficiency with 2570 yards on 291 attempts, 18 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. He averaged just under 20 carries per game in addition to all his passing attempts, got knocked out of damn near every game, watched Tate Forcier lead comebacks against Iowa and Illinois, and listened to every pundit in the world say the offense must not rest entirely on his shoulders lest we break him.
Do I even need to tell anyone this? Recapping Denard Robinson's 2010 is like reminding you about the time you fell out of an airplane. You remember. It was exhilarating, terrifying, and is etched into his memory forever. I probably don't need to tell you this. But here are some fun highlights anyway.
THE TOP FIVE THINGS DENARD ROBINSON DID IN 2010
5: I'M FROM TECMO BOWL, SORRY
4: WOOP WOOP SCORE
3: RANDOM LONG DRAW TOUCHDOWN THAT IS ALL RLDTDS
2: MAN UP CRAB
1: DENNIS BERGKAMP DENNIS BERGKAMP DENNIS BERGKAMP
That felt nice. Now to this year's business.
WE CAN MAKE HIM BETTER
Denard has spent the offseason working really hard and smiling at people. What are the areas in which Denard can improve? There are some. Really. There are three.
It's okay to scramble. This would be a much better example if it wasn't a spectacular long touchdown but sometimes your negative Denard Robinson highlight is also a spectacular long touchdown. Raise your hand if you had a slow-motion "nooooo" moment the instant Denard cocked his arm to throw that one pass to Junior Hemingway against Illinois.
Well done, well done YOU'RE DENARD ROBINSON AND THERE'S NO ONE WITHIN TEN YARDS OF YOU JUST RUUUUUUN.
Borges has been harping on this since his arrival. The latest version:
"If nobody's open, the broken play is probably the hardest play to stop in college football, any football," Robinson said Wednesday during a break in the Wolverines' preparations for their opener Saturday against Western Michigan.
He had been asked if he's been encouraged to scramble if the read isn't there.
Reading between those not-so-subtle lines, the answer was a resounding yes.
Hopefully we see some movement forward with the legs when Denard breaks the pocket.
If you miss, don't miss so spectacularly. Robinson's never going to be Ryan Mallet when it comes to zinging it in between levels in the zone, and that's fine. His accuracy isn't as thrilling as it seemed in his first couple games, and that's fine, too. It's still pretty dang good. Here's his UFR chart:
|2009, All Of It||1||7||6(2)||3(1)||4||4||-||-||?||-||44%|
Those numbers are slightly south of Chad Henne but not by much. But we start having issues when Denard not only misses but misses by a country mile. Many of his interceptions were like this:
LOL WUT. The chart shows he was performing at a near-Henne level when it came to downfield accuracy last year, but it doesn't show this:
That success rate has to be wrong.
It's not wrong, it just doesn't weight passes based on how damaging the particular inaccurate ball is. Against MSU, Denard threw the following balls not to his receiver:
- Endzone interception #1 on route Roundtree had two steps on. [Zero points]
- Wide open Stonum on fly route about 20 yards downfield that's airmailed. [Three points]
- Hitch to Odoms on second and nine from the 11 that would have been first and goal. [Zero points]
- Endzone interception #2 on slant that Hemingway was open on. [Zero points]
- Covered slant zinged over Grady [Zero points]
- Bubble too far in front of Roundtree. [Seven points]
- Other interception on route where Grady had plenty of room to the inside of the field but the ball was way, way too far outside, allowing sinking corner to react and intercept. [Zero points]
How big of a deal is it to throw a bubble screen a step in front of a receiver? One unit of big deal. How big of a deal is it to throw a makeable 20 yard touchdown over someone's head on third and three? Two, three units of big deal. How big of a deal is it to throw endzone interceptions when you have open receivers? Five units of big deal.
Denard had too many units of big deal per miss last year. This is because he was one year removed from being a novelty freak show.
He will get better. Robinson's decision making is always going to be easier than your average quarterback because he doesn't get a heavy rush and can use his legs as the world's most deadly play action fake. He's just got to throw it to the guy.
That Denard managed to finish 20th in passer efficiency despite being 84th of 100 qualifying QBs in interception rate is testament to how deadly the offense is if he can just throw straight. Hopefully Borges's focus and Denard relentless workrate cuts down on the throws that are Pryor armpunt specials. He just needs to miss less badly.
Shift the ball outside and when you get hit hold onto it like whoah. Robinson's turnover issues are not limited to the passing game. Michigan lost 14 fumbles last year, tied for 15th-worst in the country. Though I'm not sure how many were on Denard since he was the offense it's safe to say a high proportion of them were his. His ball security needs to be improved.
Also he could get out of bounds if they've got an angle on you.
Chris at Burgeoning Wolverine Star had an intuition about Robinson's effectiveness that he put into numbers. Those numbers bore his intuition out spectacularly. It's about Denard on passing downs. You'd expect he was less effective, but how much less effective is impressive and sobering:
||Passing Downs||Season totals|
|QB runs (YPC)||19 (7.9)||256 (6.6)|
|Scrambles (YDs)||5 (31)|
When robbed of his legs Robinson went from lethal to slightly better than 2008's Threet/Sheridan combo and their 5.1 YPA. A freshman Tate Forcier hit the NCAA mean of 7.2. Last year Michigan was an offense that had to stay ahead of the chains like those old Nebraska options teams. Third and long was over.
He'll do better this year. He remains a guy who gets his yards because the opponents are so focused on his legs that they do stuff like you see in the highlight clips above. I've trashed Gerry Dinardo for some goofy tweets about Michigan needing to run power to help the defense, but his analysis about the offense is hauntingly on the money:
"If you put Denard under center and you don't run designed quarterback runs — and I'm not sure whether they are or not — I think you become very easy to defend. They don't have a dominant tailback, Denard's not a typical under-the-center, drop-back or play-action quarterback, so I'm not sure where the offensive explosion is going to be generated.
"I think we've just watched this in Columbus when Terrelle Pryor is underneath the center and doesn't have a designed run, they struggle. So I think as you continue to put (Robinson) under center, if he's not moving the ball, and you put him in the shotgun, it's the same as last year — nobody can tackle him even if you don't block everyone you're supposed to block.
"What happens if you're not as explosive with him under the center as you are in the shotgun? You're going to revert back to some of the things they've done the last couple of years."
This is what I was talking about when I described my fear they would turn Robinson's legs from a threat you have to account for on every play into a nice bonus. Unless Michigan gets a bust-out year from one, possibly two, skill position players, the only thing on the offense that will force opponents to cheat is Denard Uber Alles. You either build your offense around that and roll the dice on Denard staying healthy or you degrade the offense's effectiveness until you need Superman to stop being Clark Kent and get in the damn phone booth.
This is an incredibly tricky balance. The instant Denard gets dinged everyone will moan that they're relying too much on him. Every drive that sputters because Denard is not deployed at maximum threat level will cause people to moan they're not relying enough on him. If Michigan had a defense that could give the offense some cover they could play it conservatively. Instead they have a tire fire Greg Mattison is valiantly hosing down.
If Michigan is going to keep Denard upright without sabotaging their offense, they will have to get progression from Denard as a passer even when he can't threaten a run. Running power with these running backs and this line isn't going to cut it.
When Denard inevitably gets banged up, Devin Gardner will be the guy flinging his helmet on and handing off a couple times. He filled that role in the first few games of 2010 before Tate Forcier reasserted himself in the backup role, whereupon Gardner came down with an extensively documented back malady en route to a medical redshirt. A recent NCAA policy change means we don't know if he actually got it or not, but that's a worry for 2014.
Gardner's action consisted of ten passes, seven of which were complete for 85 yards and a touchdown, and seven rushes for 21 yards and another TD. Everything except one negative four yard rush was against Bowling Green.
His other appearances on the field have been in a couple of spring games and the fall scrimmage/punting demo. In them he's looked kind of horrible. Disclaimers about practice apply, but I haven't seen what the usually glowing reports about him are talking about. I place equal faith in my lying eyes observing practice and someone else's lying eyes observing practice, so that's a push. If pressed into service this year he'll be an obvious downgrade; next year is when he'll be truly serviceable.
The third guy on the roster is Russell Bellomy, who is a true freshman. All knowledge about him is encapsulated in his recruiting profile. Unless disaster hits the two guys in front of him he'll redshirt. He's a raw, athletic thrower who's kind of like Tate Forcier if Forcier had played baseball during his summers instead of hanging out with Marv Marinovich. That's good and bad.
Good news: I took pictures today. Bad news: I left my card reader at home.
- No one is seriously injured
- Mike Jones had pneumonia the other day, but was better today
- Fitz still has opportunity to earn start over Shaw this week
- Gibbons is solidly starting at placekicker, unless it's a long field goal, in which case Wile or (Kris) Pauloski might kick
- There will be an intense practice late Friday night
- There will be no Victors Walk
- Kick/punt returner situation is fluid (obviously)
Press Conference (this part was filmed)
"Finishing fall camp on Saturday morning, I think we were very productive in what we wanted to get done. You're never going to be satisfied, it's never going to be as good as you'd like it to be, and that's just part of being competitive. I think we developed as a team, I think we became closer as a team. I think when you look at us as a team, we're excited to get going and to have that first opportunity. We're guaranteed 12 opportunities, and we've made that known to our players. We want to play obviously 14, but the 12 opporutnities we have, we start with the first test this weekend."
"We voted on captains last night as a team. I think our players understand that our seniors will always be our leaders, and the three guys, with Mike on defense, Kevin Koger and David Molk on offense, have demonstrated an ability to lead. I think they all three bring a lot to our football team, when you look at the leadership roles that they'll play, and you look also at the roles from a production standpoint."
"Western Michigan is a well-coached, disciplined, tough football team. I've had a little bit of experience with Coach Cubit and how his teams play, offensively and defensively."
Offensively, QB Alex Carder is good. He's as impressive as anybody with 30 TDs, >63% completions. WR Jordan White caught 94-96 balls a year ago, challenge for Michigan secondary. LT Anthony Parker spearheads a big, physical O-line. They have some Juco transfers. Defensively, D-line has everyone coming back. Secondary is one of the better ones in MAC, very aggressive and like to attack the football.
"We're excited. We're not near ready to play, and I'll probably say that on Friday. We're not near ready to play, but we get to play, and that's a good thing. We get to see our first test, where we're at as a team and as a program, and to get out there and not beat up on each other, but you get to play with somebody else."
Looks like there are lots of "ORs" on the depth chart. What gives? "I just think there's great competition. At the running back, Fitz has done some good things, Mike [Shaw] has done some good things. Vince Smith's a guy we talked about being a third-down back for us for multiple reasons, but I think there's some great competition there. I think with JT and Troy, when you look at Courtney Avery ... Blake Countess is a young guy who's played pretty well ... Raymon Taylor ... all those guys are competing, and Greg Brown. I would expect JT and Troy would be the guys who would start the football game, but when we get into the nickel, then we get into the other situations."
Why is Will Heininger starting? "More than anything else, it's his experience. We like what Nathan has done. He's practiced very well, played well, been productive, but Will at the same time has done a great job -- Will Heininger -- but the other guy who has come on a little bit is Will Campbell. That will be fluid anyway because we want to play six guys during the course of the game so we can keep guys fresh and keep them healthy."
Any questionable players healthwise? "Healthwise we're in great shape. As good as you can be coming out of fall camp. We had a pretty physical fall camp, so I'm pretty pleased. Mike Jones had a little bit of a fever and pneumonia the other day, but I just saw him on the way here in fact, and feels pretty good."
Does it help that you've played against Western? "I don't think it helps, because you've got to go back to the tape you had from a year ago. First games are always a little bit different as far as when you start to study. Do you take the last four games, (or) do you take the first three from a year ago to see what they taught within their offense and defense? And then the last three games as far as when you start breaking an opponent down and looking at it.
"I really am impressed when you watch them play on the tape. Being a defensive guy, I'll always look at more offensive film of an opponent than I do defensively. I'm very impressed with Carder and how he handles this offense."
I'm writing some fluff about you coming out of the tunnel. Can you give me a some fluff about coming out of the tunnel? "It's a special place, being at Michigan. I'm sure that we'll be very humbled. But at the end of the day, we're playing a football game, and our consistency as coaches is important, so we'll move pretty quickly. I'm hoping we get to the sidelines the right way, and you're always as a new staff, you're doing things different. When we go to dinner on Friday night, we'll practice at 5 o'clock on Friday night, and all those things are different than what has been done in the past, so those things we'll all be worrying about until the game's kicked off."
Roundtable (this part was not filmed)
This is what Hoke sort of looked like when I took a picture of him.
Western has no idea what you're going to do. Is that an advantage? "They're a good football staff, and I'm sure that they got a hold of all the San Diego State film they could from an offensive perspective. I think defnesively it's always a little harder getting NFL film. I'm sure they've been able to see remnants of what we're trying to do."
RB's still have to prove themselves? "I think they all do, not just the running backs. We want to evalutate them every day, and if a guy doesn't meet the standard or expectation that we need to play with -- it could be any position -- if he doesn't meet that standard, then we gotta find someone else."
Do you evaluate players differently between practice and games? "I don't think so. I'm a big believer in that when you prepare and when you practice, you're going to play that way. So if we've got great intensity getting to the football (with the) eleven guys defensively, (or if) our wide receivers are sustaining blocks and harassing corners, we expect that to be done during practice. That's a demand that we have because I believe you have to play like you practice."
Will you give both kickers a shot in the game? "Right now, Gibbons is going to handle the field goals, and if we get into a long field goal situation, I think Wile or Pauloski would be next in line for that. Matt will kick off, and Matt's going to punt."
What's the range for Gibbons vs. Wile? "When you start getting over, I dunno, I would guess from my observation, 43-44 (yards), som'n ike that, Matt's just got a little ... I don't know if it's a bigger leg, a better leg ... he's got the opportunity to hit the ball more cleanly. Everybody attributes and compares it to golf -- and I can't tell you about golf, if you've seen me golf you would know why -- and it's kind of the sweet spot he hits it with."
How much has the offense changed from the spring re: Denard? "I think his knowledge of what we're trying to do as a whole package [has increased], and I think there's still some things Al hasn't added to the mix. I think his grasp of it is at a higher level than it was in the spring. I think when you put that together where he doesn't have to think as much, and now he can be settled in his fundamentals and techniques. I think that's where the growth has come, and then his growth being a leader, and that maturity level, is at a higher place."
Is the offense what you envisioned when you first came in? "That depends. I think the basic plays of a pro-style offense are a big part of it. The play-action game, all those things. There are some things out of the spread that we're obviously going to stay with, that kind of overlap a little bit with how you want to block at the point of attack and those things. We're still going to line up and run the power play a bunch."
Do you tell Denard the same things you tell a normal QB about getting out of bounds? "I think it's the same. You don't want him to take needless shots, and we wouldn't want Devin to either. We want to be aggressive and always know where the stakes are, but we don't want a guy to take needless shots if he can help it."
Most coaches play freshmen during a coaching transition because they recruited them. You're playing older guys. Is it because you value experience? "I think that's an important part of it, to some degree. Believe me, if we thought those younger guys were at a point where the older guys weren't better, the younger guys would be playing. I think we're growing with some youth, and probably more so on the defensive side of the ball. There are some guys who have a better chance to play than on the offensive side."
I'm going to ask a convoluted question about the guys who started last year. They worked to earn these spots collectively, maybe, you think. Hunger, winning, Michigan. ? "I hope they're hungry, first and foremost. I mean, this is a competitive game, this is the winningest program in college football, so I hope they understand those expectations that we have as a team and we have as a program. Um, you know, I think ... when you ... and I don't know if I understand the other part of your question."
Basically, I mean, the starting lineup, more or less, are guys that started last year, and yet, it wasn't handed to them, collectively, you know. "I think we had good competition, I guess that's what I would say. I think we had good competition, and it's easy to see. Our depth on both sides of the ball up front aren't exactly where you'd like it to be, and that's okay, because it's always an expectation for who's playing the position. It doesn't matter if they're a fifth year guy or a guy who's a true freshman, you've gotta play to a Michigan standard."
Were some of those decisions made during the scrimmages? "Everyday they're evaluated. And it doesn't matter if they're in the weight room ... I talk to Aaron everyday. Every night I talk to him and (ask), "How'd he do there?" Because you're looking for an attitude. You're looking for a team attitude first. And if a guy goes in there and doesn't do what he needs to do to help his teammates, then we're going to have a problem with it.
"It all starts there, and obviously when you're in those situational things that you do with the football aspect of it, you're expecting them to play at a fast level and a fast tempo with an enthusiasm for the game."
Is Van Bergen locked in at DT? "He's one of those guys who can play a lot. He can play in sub defense, he can be over the center, which [he] is at times. I'm talking about nickels and dimes and those kinds of things. He can do that, and he can swing back out to the 5 (-tech). Ryan brings a lot of intelligence to the game, and being an older guy who's been around football a lot, it really helps him out and helps our team out."
I'd like to ask another question that you will answer in a non-informative way. You haven't played a game yet, but you've been here seven months. Do you ... feel like the transition has been what you thought ... Has there been more you thought you would have to change? Or less? Or ... ? "Uh. It's about what you would think it would be. I mean, you know, it's, it really just ... trying to, you know, have a focus on what Michigan's all about, and starting there. You know, and, uh, I don't know if it's any different or not."
But History? And Tradition?? "Well, I think that's important, I mean, that's an important accountability that we have."
Thank you. That was a productive series of words.
You have four punt returners with "Or" next to their names. You gonna make up your mind or not? "It probably will be fluid. I wouldn't be surprised that we probably had two guys back there and switch them for punts to see who we think may be the best playmaker out of it."
You got any superstitions or rituals? "I would not share them with you if I did."
You doing the Victors Walk? "No."
But you said in Chicago you would do it. "Nope."
Could Fitz Toussaint still win the job this week? "Sure. Sure. No question."
Do you get nervous close to gametime? "My nervousness only comes that we're dottin' all the i's and crossin' all the t's. We talked as a staff -- number one, (we have to) have a great plan for (our players). And that's our responsibility, that we have a plan on both sides of the ball, in the kicking game, that's going to help these guys be successful. That's what you think about constantly. Did we cover this? Have we covered this enough? Taking a safety from a punt formation with 13 seconds left on the game, you know, what's the punter do? There's a lot of different ways you can do it.
"I don't know if it's a nervousness, because once we're here on Saturday, it's fun."
Do you meet with the captains? "I meet with the seniors every Sunday and every Thursday, so they'll be part of that group obviously. Captains, I'll meet with them periodically when I feel there's a need."
Countess and Clark made the two-deep. What'd they do to impress? "Frank is a guy we think can do something in those nickel and dime packages. Blake has got an opportunity to be a very good corner here. Very good feet, and he's got some make-up speed that corners need to have. He's tough. Both of them are tough. I think they both, from a defensive mentality ... we don't want to overload them so that they go out there and have paralysis by analysis. We want them to be able to go and play the game ...
"I like them, I'll put it that way."
Will it take some time to see the whole Brady Hoke system? "I think it always does. I've done this at two other schools. Every week's a learning experience. When I say that I'm going back to every week, how we travel. We're playing at home, but it's still, we're going to the Campus Inn, and how we meet, and all that stuff, it's a learning experience every week. The sooner that we feel ... I don't want to say comfortable, but that's basically what it is ... then the faster we'll start playing and then the more physical we'll play football."
You talked about corn chowder last week, are there other traditions -- "CLAM chowder."
Are there any other traditions that you've brought back, or that you're bringing, that are important to you this week? "We practice later on Fridays. There will be a little more intensity to it than maybe other programs have had, because I'm a big believer in that mental practice that we'll have. You have to have an intensity in how you do it, because then you're going to play fast. At the end of the day, you have to play fast in this game. I don't know what else."
(David Molk, Mike Martin, and Kevin Koger notes will be up later. [Ed: probably tomorrow morning.])
It was the best time I'd ever had at a Chili's. Nothing whatsoever distinguished it from an average visit to Chili's. The beer was light American lager. The chicken was a bit dry, the cheese the usual half-step up from stuff you'd get in a great red-labeled cube. The waitress was a cheerful slab of the Midwest, and the bill was perfectly reasonable. I grinned and laughed and fought off bouts of body-encompassing tiredness.
An hour or so before I'd sat in Notre Dame Stadium as everyone else filed out. Once they were gone the next twenty minutes were filled with intermittent bursts of laughter. Those weren't enough, so I punched my friend in the arm. The punching and the laughing were good, as they forestalled a short circuit.
When the band marched out, we thought that was our cue. I grabbed one of the souvenir mugs as we exited. When I got home I crudely carved "28-24" on it with a steak knife. It's in the closet. Our walk back was half-accompanied by the band. We met a goodly chunk of my family walking the other way, exchanged excited greetings, and then went about the business of getting out of town. We got to the Chili's just as the adrenaline wore off and the stomach reasserted itself.
A few minutes before everyone filed out Denard Robinson zinged a skinny post to Roy Roundtree on third down and finished the job himself. In the first half Robinson had snuck through a crease in the line, found Patrick Omameh turning Manti Te'o into a safety-destroying weapon, and ran directly at me until he ran out of yards.
He knelt down to give thanks, and that felt inverted.
The next morning sun poured through huge windows in Goshen, Indiana, as I collected items for that week's Video of All Varieties. I'll usually watch some but rarely all unless I'm trying to suck the marrow out of a particularly savory victory. Notre Dame 2010 was one of those. I watched Martin and Van Bergen and others talk in the tunnel afterwards. I watched the highlights, watched the presser, got to Denard, and…
So this thing you dared not hope for starts to coalesce just from the things that happen on the field, and then yesterday morning I was struck by a sense of profound gratefulness when I watched the MGoBlue video of Denard's postgame presser:
I love how he smiles all the time and wears his heart on his sleeve and goes "AHHHH" when someone mentions Roundtree blocking for him and seems about as amazed as everyone else as what he's doing. I love how he drops to one knee after he scores in a way that seems genuine in a way I couldn't comprehend until I saw it. I love that if you ask him he'll sign your forehead. I was going to let my skepticism overwhelm, to wait until it was obvious that 2010 was not going to be 2009, but I lasted two games. I'm in the tank again.
Though Denard turned out to be human (somewhat, anyway) I am still in the tank for him. This offseason a small child in New York City wrote Denard about what it means to be a leader and Denard sent a letter back with a picture:
I need this person to be successful. This is such a relief.
It's no secret I've been one discontent blogger ever since the Mississippi State game transpired. In retrospect a lot of my criticisms don't make sense. I thought Michigan should keep Rodriguez after the Ohio State game and fire him after the bowl; I ripped David Brandon for not firing Rodriguez before the bowl if he was going to do the deed. I knew Denard Robinson was the most awesome dude ever and I still assumed he'd transfer. When I interviewed people for the Tim/Tom opening I asked each of them if they disagreed with something I'd written in the past year or so and asked them to argue about it with me; seven of the ten sought tactful ways to remind me that I'd posted "We Are ND*" above the press release announcing Hoke's hire. One just said I'd embarrassed myself with my pettiness. This turned out to be less useful of a question than I'd hoped since by that point I agreed.
That discontent is an overreaction to a real thing. We're going to get the last great Rodriguez blowup in about a month when John U Bacon's Three And Out hits shelves. It's going to put an inbred culture on display. If Michigan doesn't learn from these three years they'll eventually find themselves right back where they were in 2008, obviously behind their greatest rival with nowhere to turn.
Meanwhile, the athletic department has done an about face from the open Rodriguez days back to a culture of paranoia. I kind of liked it when Rodriguez reached out in a futile attempt to win hearts and minds; now it seems we've returned to the days when the fans were tolerated at best.
In place of openness we get marketing. I am increasingly worried that Michigan is drifting towards the bread-and-circus model you see not just in pro sports but at Michigan State, Ohio State, and especially Penn State where the allegiance of the diehards is taken for granted and the fringes are courted with fireworks and rawk music. I fear the day that Brandon unleashes the fandom bread bowl upon us.
I hate that I hate parts of the stadium experience now and fear those moments will expand rapidly. Never has Notre Dame fandom looked so rational. In this environment there's a risk you disconnect from the program in small or large ways. I've talked to a lot of people for whom that's the case. I don't know—maybe it's just getting older.
Denard overwhelms all reservations. He is pure. He grew up poor in a place infinitely far away from the manicured lawns and Whole Foods of Ann Arbor but came to Michigan because they said he could play quarterback. He says he never thought about leaving when Rodriguez was fired. Michigan is never going to recruit anyone like him ever again.
And there are so many guys like him on the team: Vincent Smith, who is 5'6" and is featured in every insider email I get as the scrappiest grittiest toughest guy the coaches love. He's from Pahokee, which may not exist in five years and will never, ever have another kid commit to Michigan. Roy Roundtree and his Donald Duck impression. Ricky Barnum, whose mom was really sick when he was a freshman and who thought about transferring but stayed. Ryan Van Bergen, who committed to Carr and stayed through Rodriguez and wondered where the alumni had been the last three years. Craig Roh, who runs up and down the stairs in Haven Hall if he gets to class early. David Molk, who drops f-bombs in press conferences that no one minds. Taylor Lewan, who has a mustache tattooed on his finger to impress the ladies. Troy Woolfolk and his werewolf alter-ego. Jordan Kovacs, student-body walk-on. Kevin Koger, twitter handle "KogerNotKroger."
Lewan, Van Bergen
There are no Pryors here. Each of these guys has endured the last three years of crap more gracefully than the university or I have and is still here, trying to set right what started going wrong a long time ago. Whatever reservations I have about the program and its direction are overwhelmed by a fierce desire to see these kids win. Rodriguez may not have been able to keep half the kids he recruited, but the ones who stuck around… man. Denard is their king.
In the course of doing this every year I look at the previous year's preview; last time around I linked to a couple of fantastic pieces. You should read Orson's again just because you should. The piece by Brian Phillips on Pele and David Foster Wallace's Federer essay, though, is relevant to our interests.
In the midst of describing one of these Federer Moments where sport allows us to transcend the limitations of our own bodies, if only vicariously, DFW circles round to the cancer-stricken nine-year-old ceremonial coin-tosser at Wimbledon, William Caines. This is going to be one long blockquote without a paragraph break. I think it's important, though:
I’ve always wondered what Wallace meant by circling back around to talk about William in the middle of what is for the most part a genuinely happy-seeming celebration of Federer. The image of the cancer-stricken child seems to have no part, that is, in the enthusiasm that motivates the essay, and yet the edge of unease it introduces brings a powerful and not unreligious strain of skepticism into the pseudo-theology of Federer. Clearly no athlete and no delight in sport can answer the “big, obvious” question about what could possibly justify a tiny child suffering a devastating physical illness. If Federer is there to reconcile us to the fact of having bodies, Wallace hints, then the reconciliation he offers has limits and outside those limits is a large and unanswerable despair. I called the awareness of this despair “not unreligious” because while it may seem like a mere challenge to belief, a sort of renegade anti-Federer atheism, the feeling that seems to follow it into the essay seems to me to have more in common with the longing for bodily mortification that is often a weird corollary of profound religious experience. That is, if we begin with a sense that something is intolerably wrong, and the power of Federer or Pelé is to make us feel that that thing is actually right (or at least tolerable), then William introduces a larger sphere of consciousness in which we realize that the reconciliation was flawed and the thing is actually wrong and intolerable after all. But that second, larger wrongness, as I read it in Wallace’s essay, and this may be unfair, because again, William is only a tiny grain of doubt within what is generally a really positive piece of writing—that second, larger wrongness doesn’t stem from an apprehension that the reconciliation Federer offers is false, it stems from an apprehension that the reconciliation Federer offers is incomplete, that it doesn’t go far enough, it doesn’t stick. It only lasts a moment, and then you’re left not knowing when God will take you up again, which is an anxiety that actually bubbles up at times in the writings of the saints. And that seems to be a condition in which a heightened consciousness of mortality, one that may well express itself as a yearning toward suffering and breakdown, is hard to escape.
If we are being very generous and very convincing, DFW-level, Brian-Phillips-level convincing, this is Denard Robinson in the Michigan zeitgeist. Something is intolerably wrong and the Denard reconciliation is incomplete and we are going to have to accept that, like the Hart reconciliation was incomplete, and just take the Denard Moments as they are—as parts of an imperfect whole. Our compensation for the things that have happened is just this, the last few words of the thesis statement of the Federer article:
…just look at him down there. Look at that.