"I love it that Ivy League coaches are coming to our camp and Big Ten coaches are coming to our camp. South Florida is coming. We've got about 70 schools that are coming to our camp."
How much can Devin Gardner benefit from the change in OCs? Quite a bit, it appears.
Before new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier entered the coaching ranks, he was a Walter Payton Award winner (best I-AA player) as a quarterback for Idaho under the tutelage of John L. Smith and Scott Linehan before playing five seasons in the NFL and one in the CFL. After retiring as a player following the 2000 season, he spent two years as a quarterbacks coach in the CFL before taking the same position at Michigan State for his old coach, Smith.
Ever since, Nussmeier's coaching responsibilities have included working with quarterbacks, and like Al Borges he'll serve as his own QB coach at Michigan. While that arrangement didn't work out so well for Borges—who, notably, didn't have the playing pedigree of Nussmeier—there's a lot of evidence to suggest it'll go a lot better this time around. Here's a look at each of Nussmeier's coaching stops, starting with MSU, and how his quarterbacks fared under his tutelage.
Michigan State (QB Coach, 2003-2005)
John L. Smith hired Nussmeier in 2003, Jeff Smoker's senior year following a junior campaign in which he was suspended the final five games for substance abuse-related issues.
Below are the numbers for Nussmeier's starting QBs at MSU, including the years immediately prior to and following his time there. What we see from his time at East Lansing will come up again at future stops:
|2002 (Smoker, Jr.)||114||203||56.2||1593||7.8||13||10||133.4|
|2003 (Smoker, Sr.)||302||488||61.9||3395||7.0||21||14||128.8|
|2004 (Stanton, So.)||141||220||64.1||1601||7.3||8||6||131.8|
|2005 (Stanton, Jr.)||236||354||66.7||3077||8.7||22||12||153.4|
|2006 (Stanton, Sr.)||164||269||61.0||1807||6.7||12||10||124.7|
Smoker's senior-year numbers don't leap off the page, but they do exhibit one trend in Nussmeier's quarterback coaching: when he takes charge, interception rates fall. While Smoker threw 14 picks in 2003, he did so on 226 more attempts than he had in any other season, and his 2.9% interception rate was a career best.
Drew Stanton's numbers are muddled by injuries in each of his three seasons as the starter; even so, the huge strides he made under Nussmeier from his sophomore to junior seasons are apparent—his completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdown rate, and overall efficiency all improved even with a significant uptick in attempts. Perhaps even more indicative of Nussmeier's skill with QBs is Stanton's huge dropoff when his coach moved on—not the last time this would happen after Nussmeier left a job. Stanton's quote to Angelique Chengelis after Michigan hired Nussmeier really stands out after looking at the numbers:
“Doug Nussmeier is everything as advertised and more,” Stanton told The News Wednesday night. “He has an unbelievable approach to the game that demands a lot out of his players but also has a way of making every day fun. He represents what college football should be all about. He’s going to make a great head coach some day, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without him. I was literally in tears when he left my junior year at Michigan State.”
Are there mitigating factors here? Absolutely. Smoker's lost 2002 season makes it difficult to parse out how much of his senior-year resurgence was due to coaching, while Stanton's injuries in his sophomore and senior seasons (remember LaMarr Woodley?) impacted his performance in those years. Stanton's outstanding junior year is still hard to ignore, however, especially once it's put in the context of Nussmeier's other coaching stops.
[Hit THE JUMP for Nussmeier's other stops, including Marc Bulger's Last Stand and the transformations of Keith Price and AJ McCarron.]
DEPARTURES IN ORDER OF SIGNIFICANCE.
- LT Taylor Lewan. Four year starter took all kinds of heat for performance of Michigan OL as if he was able to play four positions at once or he had some sort of deficiency in his Leadership Aura and was not communicating enough Leadership to the rag-tag interior line. Was in fact the same player he was as a junior—a great one—and NFL draft slot in the first round will reflect this.
- WR Jeremy Gallon. Michigan's all-time single season receiving yards record is now his, so at least I was right about one thing in the preseason. Short, but good at fades; eviscerated Notre Dame; eviscerated Indiana; eviscerated Ohio State; best pound for pound WR in country not named Lockett.
- RT Michael Schofield. Overshadowed by Lewan his entire career but emerged into a complete run/pass tackle as a senior. I know there was so much pressure up the middle that there were fewer opportunities than normal for tackles to biff, but when's the last time you remember Schofield getting beat by a pass rusher? That one time he miscommunicated with Toussaint doesn't count. I mean straight-up beat. It's hard to remember. Will be missed; will be drafted.
- WR Drew Dileo. Sticky-fingered Louisiana gnome sort of epitomized 2013 with ill-time drops, but was a reliable chain-mover and special teams tool. Will miss calling him "sticky-fingered Louisiana gnome" because obviously.
- RB Fitzgerald Toussaint. Final game saw him receive two carries; entire career one long comedown from explosive junior season; horrible, horrible pass blocker. Had mostly been replaced by end of year.
- WRs Jeremy Jackson and Joe Reynolds. Little-used backups were good program guys but should be replaceable.
I may have reused these pictures. The numbers may be a give away.
- QB Devin Gardner. Chaos machine seemed to reduce interceptions as season went along, but how much that perception changes if some guys catch some passes in their guts is up for debate. Excellent YPA despite having most of his body ground into paste by year's end. Should take step forward as senior; still major X-factor.
- WR Devin Funchess. For the love of God, world, stop pretending this man is a tight end. Looking at you, Big Ten awards committee. Michigan's second-leading receiver with 49 catches for 748 yards and six TDs; works just fine as a jumbo WR, thanks. Hands issues late after fine start to career. Go-to WR next year.
- OL Graham Glasgow. Only returning OL to have and hold a job all year; had some struggles after move to center; has the size and athleticism for the major college level of competition, as ESPN is wont to say; will play somewhere but Michigan probably hoping Patrick Kugler bounces him out to guard.
- TE Jake Butt. Site tagline does not refer to him. Productive freshman season saw him add 45 pounds and catch 20 balls for 235 yards; was probably M's best blocker at the spot; 15 more pounds and he is the dual threat Borges has wanted from day one.
- OL Erik Magnuson. Entered on second line shuffle of year and stuck; now obviously moving out to tackle and must be quality, because options other than him are scanty indeed.
- OL Kyle Kalis. Recruiting sheen severely reduced after painful redshirt freshman season saw him benched, supposedly for an undisclosed ankle injury. Performance even before that was middling at best. But was FR OL.
- OL Kyle Bosch. True freshman showed some promise; showed a lot of true freshman business. Momentarily replaced Kalis but then lost his job to Kalis once again. Tentatively penciled in as a starter
- WR Jehu Chesson. Nominal starter hardly targeted in first few games and then saw Funchess eat his job; did grab 15 balls for 221 yards and crushed a few dudes, whether it was on special teams or after the catch. Probably still the #3 WR with Amara Darboh's return but a promising freshman year should see him eat up some of Gallon's targets.
- TE AJ Williams. Blocking TE seemed to regress after freshman year; could not block. Major issue needs repairing STAT.
- FB Joe Kerridge. Your primary blocking back. May be drafted as pass protector again, but hopefully not.
WHAT'S NEW, OR CLOSE ENOUGH, ANYWAY
Kugler and Braden may step in
One or two or three guys on the offensive line. At this instant your leaders on the offensive line are probably Magnuson-Bosch-Glasgow-Kalis mentioned above and Ben Braden at RT, but that is the shakiest depth chart in the history of the concept. Magnuson is the only certainty, as Michigan isn't going to trust anyone else to be their left tackle a year after Braden went from sure starter to ghost because he didn't have the foot quickness to hack it at guard. Glasgow is also pretty safe, as he didn't get pulled from the lineup last year and can play any of the three interior spots.
Everyone else is 50/50 at best with Michigan getting five guys off redshirts and having a few veterans also competing. Will Patrick Kugler be the man from day one at center? Will Chris Bryant get it together? Will David Dawson beat someone out whether it's at guard or right tackle, where I've heard they expect him to compete? The answers to these questions will start trickling in during spring and not have a full resolution until Michigan's first offensive snap… if then.
A dang running back who can run the dang ball, again. I'm lumping Michigan's four returning tailbacks into the "new" category for reasons both obvious and hopeful:
- Drake Johnson tore his ACL covering a kick after two carries.
- Justice Hayes had two carries last year; De'Veon Smith had 26.
- Derrick Green did get 83 carries, normally enough to put him into the returning category, but with so many of those doomed by the OL in front of him and the hope that he goes from kind of plodding to the lean brute that impressed recruiting analysts, those 83 carries don't mean much.
For the third straight year Michigan will be looking for anything that works on the ground other than Denard Robinson, and what Michigan can expect from its tailbacks is still in doubt.
"The single greatest catch I've ever seen in person" –Devin Gardner
African refugee wide receivers, again. Amara Darboh's debut was delayed by a foot injury suffered late in fall camp; this year he should debut as something between an uninspiring chain mover and Jason Avant (but fast)! Darboh had buckets of practice hype after a series of spectacular catches put him on everyone's lips in press conferences. He was clearly ahead of Chesson at the time and probably still is after Chesson had a decent but not paradigm-shifting debut.
And we can throw in Chesson here, too: he figures to absorb a lot of snaps not just from Gallon but Dileo, Jackson, and Reynolds. With Gallon's targets spreading across the offense he'll get a shot to be an impact player he didn't this year.
Dennis Norfleet, for pants' sake. I swear on this bible factory that if Michigan can't find a productive role for Dennis Norfleet in this offense I am going to break every rule in the factory of bibles I have just sworn upon. This does not mean bringing him in motion every time he's on the field. It means looking at him as a slot receiver instead of a tiny bouncy freak show, which okay yeah he is but seriously people just imagine what West Virginia would do with the guy and do it.
More TE-ish guys. Khalid Hill and Wyatt Shallman come off redshirts and should bring blocky/catchy/runny aspects to the guys on the field who aren't WRs or RBs, whatever you'd like to call them. With Butt and Williams aging and hopefully improving, Michigan might have some options here to do tricky things, particularly in the redzone. If any of them can block.
WHAT'S ROD STEWART 1972
Gardner to Funchess. This was Gardner to Gallon last year. This year it is pretty obvious what replaces that: Devin Funchess blew up after his move to WR, taking end-arounds and leaping over people both before and after he acquired the ball. They even threw him a couple fades late in the year when it occurred to them that maybe that was a good idea.
Unfortunately, after a very strong start to his career in the catching department drops became an issue around the Michigan State game. The overall picture is still a guy with very good hands and a huge catching radius, though.
He's already the Big Ten's second-leading returning receiver, behind only Hoosier Cody Latimer, and Latimer plays in a light-speed offense that inflates basic counting stats. With a full season at WR and Gallon off to the NFL, a thousand-yard season is a certainty. The only question is at what point television accepts the fact that he's a wideout.
What happens if Gardner gets injured, at least relative to usual. Michigan seems to have itself a legit backup QB in Shane Morris for the first time in forever.
Passing weapons writ large. There is some projection in saying this, but it doesn't seem like Gallon's departure is going to leave Gardner bereft of options. He's got a #1 guy ready to step into that role and then you've got Darboh, Chesson, Butt, Norfleet, and possibly contributors from either the three-man 2013 class or Drake Harris/Moe Ways/Freddy Canteen in 2014. Five veterans plus six young options looks like a lot of options to me.
WHAT'S ROD STEWART 2013
Pass protection. This was horrendous and doesn't figure to get a lot better with both tackles out the door. Magnuson still needs to add 15-20 pounds to hold up against bull rushes and the question mark at right tackle is highly ominous. Maybe I'm making too much of Braden's swift disappearance from the two deep in fall, but… man, to swiftly disappear from that two-deep would seem to bode unwell. If it's not Braden then it seems like Michigan is trying to shoehorn a guy who would be better at guard into the RT spot, whether it's Dan Samuelson or David Dawson or even Bosch. Add to that continuing uncertainty on the interior and it's easy to see Michigan QBs get harassed as much as they were this year.
The seeming certainty that there will be three (or more!) brutal clunkers from this unit. Three years in and Borges's crew has thrown up at least three horrendous games a year, every year, as whatever mad scientist stuff Borges throws at the wall backfires spectacularly when his team can't execute the new stuff and can't execute anything else because the offense is a chameleon from game to game with the exception of throwback screens.
How far they have to go and how much time they have to do it in. Discussed more in the next section, but it seems like the best case scenario next year is improvement by default that gives us little insight into what Michigan should do going forward. Regression to the mean should see Michigan uptick in many categories in which they set dubious records. Hooray, but if Michigan is 70th in TFLs allowed in year four that just puts us in an uncertain netherworld. Your options here:
- Michigan has a near repeat of last year. PRO: No uncertainty here as everyone is put on a donkey and ridden out of town. CON: Michigan has a near repeat of last year.
- Michigan is below mediocre on the line, but not a completely unwatchable tire fire. PRO: Manage to avoid stabbing other eye out. CON: No idea whether to stay the course and hope for further improvement in year five or move on after third consecutive mediocre at best season.
- Michigan is good! PRO: Michigan is good. CON: Drugs are expensive.
It's hard to see anything definitively good happening next year.
WHAT'S HEISENBERG ROD STEWART UNCERTAINTY
The offensive line can't be worse, right? This is a repeat from last year, because the offensive line was worse and now the offensive line is losing two NFL tackles. This year… they literally cannot be worse. Michigan finished 123rd of 123 in tackles for loss allowed and turned Devin Gardner into hamburger. So we've got that going for us. The offensive line can't be worse, because they're already at the bottom.
Okay but can they be massively better? That is the real question here. Michigan has to be vastly better on the offensive line next year or it's firing time: for Funk definitely, for Borges definitely, and after (hypothetically) three straight years of non-Denard utter incompetence on the ground probably Hoke.
And… yikes. Frankly, writing this bit makes me think they should just throw everyone over right now because how can you go from that to average in one year while losing your two best guys? These kind of reclamation projects are two-year deals, usually, and that's if they get reclaimed at all.
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD CAN ANYONE OTHER THAN DENARD ROBINSON PICK UP THREE FEET ON THE GROUND? This is also a repeat from last year, because the answer was NO FOR THE LOVE OF GOD NO. For perspective, Michigan rushed for 3.9 yards a carry in 2008, with Brandon Minor leading the way at 5.2 yards a pop. Last year, Michigan had 3.3. This rushing offense was tons worse than the 2008 outfit despite having some very threatening weapons on the outside. No offense to Nick Sheridan, Steven Threet, Greg Mathews or Martavious Odoms, but in terms of loosening up a defense… uh… does this sentence need to continue? Nope. It ended right there.
Michigan must have a function running back for the first time in three years or it's head-lopping time.
Can Gardner get his interceptions down to a reasonable rate? You'd think this would improve what with experience and not getting annihilated all the time, but 1) he might get annihilated all the time, and 2) we saw with Denard that sometimes guys just don't get better at taking care of the ball as they acquire experience. This is pretty much another do or die here for Borges: have one of your quarterback show major improvement or GTFO.
MANDATORY WILD ASS GUESS
Oh hell, I don't know. Things should get better on the ground and the pass protection won't be great… could be just as bad. Gardner's experience and a lot of options in the passing game should result in something more tolerable than 2013. How much and how much impact that has on the wins and losses I just don't know anymore man.
I'll take "inappropriate file photos" for 1000 [Bryan Fuller]
The most important bit out of Hoke's latest presser will not please you:
Hoke: Devin Gardner held out of practice again today. Still using crutches
— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) December 16, 2013
Hoke wouldn't go as far as calling Gardner questionable for the bowl game. But doesn't sound like a total certainty right now.
— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) December 16, 2013
Hoke probably wouldn't call Gardner questionable if he had been eaten by a dinosaur and was listed by the athletic department as (OUT—Time Traveling Velociraptor Attack). For this exercise we are assuming Michigan is issuing injury reports, and yes that's less realistic than Time Travelling Velociraptors.
If Gardner doesn't play in the bowl game, it's hide yo' kids time.
[4:08 PM] Ace: on the plus side, this could silence all the shane morris truthers.
[4:09 PM] Brian Cook: "plus side"
Hey kids. The Michigan Theater's hosting a premiere of a documentary that may be up your alley tomorrow at 7. It's a documentary about a not-very-good Indiana high school basketball team:
It's getting excellent reviews, and was put together by Ann Arbor/Michigan folk, including Davy Rothbart of FOUND. And you can get in free(!) just by mentioning MGoBlog at the box office. It does not get better than that. Except maybe going 9-3. That would be awesome.
Anyway: Thursday, 7, Michigan Theater, an Indiana basketball team. There are also showings in Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids; mention the blog and you'll get in free there as well.
"DEAL WITH IT" –Dead Hawk to itself.
IMPORTANT. Here is a story from Don Cherry that he posted on twitter.
1) A big beautiful hawk was killed on North Sheridan Way Service Road last night. How can anybody kill a beautiful bird like that?
2) The bird had to be seen. I can understand, although sad, when I see a squirrel killed on the road, the way they dart in and out .
3) But this hawk did not know how to time it when to get out of the way of as a car comes. Sad. I love hawks. They always look so cool as
4) they sit on a tree like they should be wearing sun glasses.
Sometimes multi-part tweets seem like nouveau free verse with their accidental breaking points and garbled syntax, and this one culminates with the image of a Hawk Cop keeping his eye out for you. Serve and protect (mice not included). Sometimes twitter is great. Other times it's MACK BROWN IS DEAD (I'm not dead yet!).
Also not dead yet. There were reports from campus that Devin Gardner was wearing a sling to classes during the year, and at the bust yesterday he shows up on crutches and in a walking boot.
I FEEL HAPPY
Is there any part of Devin Gardner that is not broken? Is it even possible to judge Gardner's junior year, given that for most of it he was a broken assemblage of bones grinding against bones entirely other than the ones they were supposed to grind against*? For the love of God can someone protect this man?
Hoke says Gardner's issue is turf toe. This will prevent him from practicing this week but won't affect his availability for the bowl, because Devin Gardner is quarterback Rasputin.
*["Hey, tibia, fancy seeing you here. Aren't you supposed to be hanging out with, oh, what's his name? Femur? The big fellow."
AHHHHHHHHHH IT BURNS
"Yes, well I imagine it must. You seem to be getting smaller and there are many more of you."
I AM DISINTEGRATINGGGGGGGGGGGggggggggg
"Strange folk, those leg bones. Don't you think so, ulna?"
Here is a weird thing on Wednesday. Michigan finishes their first-half schedule with a game against Ferris State tonight, for some reason. Ferris is off to a hot start itself, currently 4th in the RPI (Michigan has dropped to fifth since we last checked, just because other team have won games and leapt up) and 13-2-2 overall. The Bulldogs haven't really played anyone outside their conference, splitting against Colgate and St. Lawrence and beating Mercyhurst, but they are scoring tons of goals and are 10-0-2 in the new WCHA.
Center Ice has a preview for you; sounds like there's going to be a lot of pressure on the Michigan defense to escape a heavy forecheck. That is suboptimal. Should be a good one… on a Wednesday. For some reason.
Here's another weird thing. Brennan Serville will return to the lineup tonight. He's displacing Mike Chiasson, leaving converted forward Andrew Sinelli on the ice. Sinelli's played pretty well since moving back to defense. He's small but his puck skills are above average for the position and he's a good skater with relatively good pop for a guy his size. I've noticed him more than Chiasson, certainly, and while Serville is still a mistake factory he's much better with the puck on his stick than Chiasson, and Michigan's going to need to move the puck against Ferris's aggressive forecheck.
Here's yet another weird thing. Michigan is legendarily averse to post touches, something I've been fine with for the most part. Michigan's personnel hasn't lent itself to dumping it on the block and letting someone try to score, and that's not Beilein's wheelhouse, so okay. But with Mitch McGary rounding into shape, Beilein asserts that we might see more than 1% of Michigan's possessions feature a large man on the block:
For those calling for post-entry plays, Michigan coach John Beilein tossed out a modicum of hope on Wednesday morning.
“I think everyone should stay tuned to that because that’s been a process,” Beilein said in an interview with “The Michigan Insider” show on WTKA-AM (1050). “But sometimes we stay away from it, sometimes it frustrates us, sometimes it’s been good to us.”
One of the primary guys calling for post entries has in fact been Sam Webb, who asked the question that led to that answer. Personally, my prescription for success is running a ton of pick and roll with McGary, Stauskas and LeVert. Michigan's gone away from the P&R a lot this year without Burke and the results have been… iffy.
Here's a usual thing that is still a little bit weird. Remember last year when I kept saying that Michigan was just unbelievably young? And that this would get much better the next year even with the departures of Burke and Hardaway? About that.
And that's likely to drop as the season goes on and McGary sucks up more of Horford and Morgan's minutes. This is significant improvement on last year, in fact—their experience number was 0.73—but when you're so far down the list you have to improve more than that to make any real headway.
Not particularly surprising aside: the nation's least experienced team is Kentucky. Kansas is third. Kansas has lost three of their last four and Kentucky is 8-2 with losses to MSU and Baylor and a best win over Providence. It is hard to be young, sometimes, even when you have guys on your roster NBA teams are slavering over.
QWASH speech issues. Quinton Washington's speech was the highlight of the bust, as he opened up about the speech issues that had been the thing politely not mentioned about him ever since his recruitment:
"Coming here, it was hard for me to even pick up a phone," said Washington, who has struggled with speech problems his entire life. "I couldn't order at a restaurant."
Five years ago, Quinton Washington couldn't order food.
This is a problem when you are 300 pounds. Read the whole thing; Washington is a fine example of the reasons you root for the kids inside the uniforms instead of just the uniforms.
Etc.: Michigan is +3.5 against K-State, which sounds about right. I mean okay yeah Michigan blew a late lead to the NTDP, but I mean… Luke Dwyer was in. I'm not bothered. 23 minutes of Jeremy Gallon highlights. RIP Don Lund. Doesn't sound like any juniors are exploring the NFL draft.
According to Brady Hoke, the coaching staff will return intact next year:
"I anticipate (this) staff (to be back)," Hoke said after attending a UAW/Ford Child Identity Program event at Ford Field.
Asked again, if he does not anticipate any staff changes for the 2014 season, Hoke responded with the following: "Correct."
And so will Devin Gardner, guy who sent me that one email about how he could transfer and not sit out a year.
"He'll be back," he said.
12/1/2013 – Michigan 41, Ohio State 42 – 7-5, 3-5 Big Ten
About a dozen people asked me during and after the game about how they should feel, and all I had and have is a shrug. I don't know, man. I know this is the part of the blog where I come up with The Big Feel (uh… working title) about what happened on Saturday, and I'm as jumbled as anyone else.
How are you supposed to feel after coming up one play short against an undefeated Ohio State team that was favored by three scores? How about when that makes you two of the last 13 against the Great Satan? How are you supposed to feel after watching whatever that was on offense since the Notre Dame game* turn in the second-most yards Ohio State has ceded in 123 years? After watching the mostly valiant defense turn into the Indiana outfit that necessitated the footnote in the previous sentence?
Football's ridiculous. There's that. We can all agree on that after the football gods cooked up the worst possible torture imaginable for Harvey Updyke, who is 100% at fault for the way the Iron Bowl ended. That is the only thing that actually makes sense about football, a 109-yard field goal return to beat the #1 team in the country. Football is ridiculous.
For me this is a giant ball of frustration. Sometimes you come out on the wrong end of a classic and that sucks but it's still pretty much okay because of the context of the game and the fact that you got to experience it. The 2005 Rose Bowl is the best example in Michigan's recent history. This aspired to that status, but was doomed from the start because of one question.
People will say things about rivalries and sure, I believe that after watching Michigan State play Michigan for the past half-decade. There is no amount of rivalry that bridges this gap:
IOWA, 7 BIG TEN GAMES AGAINST NOT MICHIGAN: 4.9 yards per play allowed, in a pack just about tied for second in the conference behind MSU.
IOWA VS MICHIGAN: 158 yards ceded at 2.8 per play.
NEBRASKA, 7 BIG TEN GAMES AGAINST NOT MICHIGAN: 4.8 yards per play allowed, also in the pack. (Yes. Nebraska's defense was actually kind of good in Big Ten play.)
NEBRASKA VS MICHIGAN: 175 yards ceded at 2.8 per play.
OHIO STATE, 7 BIG TEN GAMES AGAINST NOT MICHIGAN: 5.0 yards per play allowed, third member of pack**.
OHIO STATE VS MICHIGAN: 603 yards ceded at 7.4 per play.
One of these things is not like the others. It's the one that doesn't make you want to listen to Pearl Jam like you're 15 and a girl just laughed at you. If Michigan does anything like what they did in this game against Nebraska, Iowa, and Penn State, they're 10-1 and shaking their fist at Michigan State's defense as the reason this game won't result in a rematch. In that context, a battle of top ten teams that goes down to the wire inside the wire, sure, classic away aw shucks it only hurts when I think about it, it's on. Which BCS bowl are we going to?
After the nine games between Notre Dame and Ohio State, that's a bit fanciful.
When Dave Brandon's not making ludicrous comparisons to Nick Saban and throwing Mike Martin, Denard Robinson, and Martavious Odoms under the bus, he's pointing out that Michigan is just two… three… four plays away from being Super Awesome Team. Anyone with eyes can see that they are three rather improbable ones away from being 4-8. Michigan was a yard away from losing to Akron, needed Desmond Morgan's best Woodson impression to beat UConn, and executed the only successful fire-drill field goal in the history of football to get to overtime against Northwestern. Fate has been kind and cruel in equal parts this year. This is a 7-5 team that finished with a losing record in conference because it deserved to.
That sucks. Putting on the fireworks against Ohio State to end the season is better than taking a steel-toed boot for three hours, but you watch them run play action that curls Jeremy Gallon back to Gardner off of that bubble-iso look and the mind argues with itself about whether it should say "hooray" and wave a little flag or "did you not want to win the Iowa game?" and wave a pitchfork.
You wonder how much earlier this progress could have come if Michigan had settled on a few simple things to start the season instead of trying to run everything that had ever been drawn up on a napkin. Or how much time they set on fire by running that gimmicky tackle over stuff that was dead as soon as it was put on film. How is it that these pieces can be assembled to put up 41 points against ND and OSU and zero (approximately) against the rest of the schedule?
Actually winning the game comes with a big old bucket of redemption. Coming that close and coming up short… well, ask Devin Gardner.
“I threw an interception to lose the game,” Gardner said, his voice low and barely audible. “There’s not much else I can say.”
This is a person who just completed 70% of his passes for 450 yards and in the press conference after he's like me on the benches after the game, keeping my head down and trying not to hear the Ohio State fans around me. Hurting. In his case, both physically and mentally. All I've got on the former part is a sore wrist from bowling, but man did I feel that other bit at the same time he did.
This is a moral victory. It stops a large chunk of the bleeding, likely solidifies the recruiting class, and gives Hoke more stable footing going forward. And he's going to be here. It is much better than getting your head stomped.
But the thing about moral victories is that they aren't, you know, victories.
*[Indiana just gave up nearly 500 yards passing to Danny Etling. Indiana is rookie mode, and is set aside.]
**[Wisconsin at 4.8 without a Michigan game is the fourth member; Michigan is next in a tier by itself at 5.4, but then again it didn't get to play its offense; FWIW, Penn State's defense was meh at 5.7 and Michigan got 4.7 per play.]
Brady Hoke Epic Double Point Of The Week. At one point late in the game, Gardner scrambled out of the pocket, found himself alone with a defensive back, and faked a throw to absolutely no one. This got him a first down and what looked like a sprained ankle. He managed to limp back to the huddle, whereupon I felt Michigan should just run the ball because their QB needed some time to not be dead. They threw it; Gallon was wide open on a corner route; Gardner missed it badly. Because he was dead.
When not dead, he turned in a superlative performance despite being pretty much dead. Devin Gardner is tough. Yes.
Honorable mention: Gallon and Funchess are pretty good you guys. The offensive line had a pretty good day not just by their standards but by the standards of average-ish D-I teams everywhere.
Epic Double Point Standings.
2.0: Jeremy Gallon (ND, Indiana), Devin Gardner(ND, OSU)
1.0: Desmond Morgan(UConn), Devin Funchess(Minnesota), Frank Clark(PSU), Matt Wile (Nebraska), James Ross (Northwestern)
0.5: Cam Gordon (CMU), Brennen Beyer (CMU)
Brady Hoke Epic Double Fist-Pump Of The Week. In a game that was more about holding serve than field position, Michigan somehow stripping Carlos Hyde as he GRRAAAHHHHed his way towards another first down was even more important than a turnover usually is. That got Michigan back on level terms after being down a break, as it were, and provided the frenetic finish.
Honorable mention: Gallon screen goes for 84, announces that Michigan is not going to roll over dead. De'Veon Smith rumbles for 38 yards, looking like he did as a high schooler what with dudes bouncing off of him and such. That thing with Gardner pump-faking at air. Fight!
Epic Double Fist-Pumps Past.
8/31/2013: Dymonte Thomas introduces himself by blocking a punt.
9/7/2013: Jeremy Gallon spins through four Notre Dame defenders for a 61-yard touchdown.
9/14/2013: Michigan does not lose to Akron. Thanks, Thomas Gordon.
9/21/2013: Desmond Morgan's leaping one-handed spear INT saves Michigan's bacon against UConn.
10/5/2013: Fitzgerald Toussaint runs for ten yards, gets touchdown rather easily.
10/12/2013: Devin Funchess shoots up the middle of the field to catch a 40 yard touchdown, staking Michigan to a ten-point lead they wouldn't relinquish. (Right?)
10/19/2013: Thomas Gordon picks off an Indiana pass to end the Hoosiers' last drive that could have taken the lead.
11/2/2013: Clock expires.
11/9/2013: Nebraska muffs a punt through no action of Michigan's.
11/16/2013: Michigan executes a clock-running last-second field goal to get the game to OT.
11/23/2013: 404 file not found
NEW! MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK. At the fine suggestion of a reader, this goes to the worst, most ANGAR-inducing thing in the game. Because double birds will live forever.
Your inaugural Epic Double Bird: Devin Gardner's "fumble" that was reviewed and confirmed after about three seconds when he looks clearly, obviously down.
[AFTER THE JUMP: Throw it up at the tall guy, FIGHT, defensive implosion, further double-birding at the replay official.]