“On the offense last year, they had great spacing. That’s what I remember. Great spacing, great shooters, like Nik Stauskas, who’s not there right now. But they always have someone to fill the roles. They have a cutting offense, kind of hard to guard.”
11/20/2010 – Michigan 28, Wisconsin 48 – 7-4, 3-4 Big Ten
During my illustrious high school quiz bowl career* I ran across a question about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, the Tom Stoppard play about a couple of bit players in Hamlet. It started off "the first 47 words of this play are 'heads,'" at which point someone else rang in and answered. Later I'd find out via the miracle of DVR that the reason the first 47 words of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead are "heads" is because one of the characters flips a coin over and over again. It always comes up heads. Rosencrantz or Guildenstern—it's unclear who is who for the duration—arrives at the conclusion that they are "within un-, sub-, or supernatural forces."
This weekend I'm scanning the message board for threads to terminate with extreme prejudice when I run across something from Mgrowold about the events of Saturday's second half:
Wisconsin then proceeded to run the ball 32 out of 33 times in the second half of today's game. As I sat in the stadium it occurred to me that if a running play was "heads" and a passing play was "tails" then the Badger's play calling went something like this: heads, heads, tails, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads and then heads.
Wikipedia describes Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead as an "absurdist, existentialist tragicomedy." This is Greg Robinson rubbing a beaver on Kenny Demens's face in the midst of a game where the Michigan defense gave up 560 yards and Scott Tolzien's only incompletion was a James Rogers interception, his third in two games:
At this point the column writes itself.
Apparently this is not literally true and now I have to put words down.
This is disappointing; you always hope if you really, really nail it in the first couple paragraphs you can watch the words appear as if by magic and then you won't have to seriously think about what happened in a game where Wisconsin punted once for the second consecutive year. Not accurate.
Obviously that was awful. Michigan had no answer to Wisconsin's series of basic "hai guys we're Wisconsin" runs. They went back to the same stupid 3-3-5 with Kenny Demens lined up two inches from his nose tackle's butt that got Michigan obliterated against Penn State. Wisconsin's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern second half was immensely, grindingly depressive but did have a secondary effect: it mostly absolved the improbably young secondary from blame. The front seven/eight aren't universally freshmen and should be able to hold a team under, I don't know, 350 yards of rushing.
I said my bit on the job status of Rodriguez and Robinson already. Michigan put up 28 that would have been 31 if not for a missed 30 yard field goal. That's on par with Wisconsin's worst performances of the year—Michigan State put up 34 but got a punt return touchdown, Iowa put up 30. The defense was the same incoherent mess it's been the whole year. It was more depressing than I expected, but at this point whatever, right?
Saturday reinforced both positions. Our defensive coordinator literally rubs small stuffed animals on people's faces. Denard Robinson broke the I-A record for rushing yards by a quarterback and is the first guy in history to have 1500 rushing yards and 2500 passing yards in the same season. Michigan is the most dichotomous team in at least the last decade of college football, and while I won't be horribly upset if Rodriguez does get the axe I still think the best thing for the next year or two is to see what happens when Denard Robinson is an upperclassman and the defense isn't starting four freshmen and three more sophomores. Michigan did manage to achieve the modest goals set before it, albeit in unimpressive fashion.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are boyhood friends of Hamlet summoned to a castle undergoing chaos. They've got no idea what's going on, are used as pawns, stumble around cluelessly, and end up hanging by their necks until they are dead. Woefully underprepared and doomed from the start, their deaths are both unfair and unavoidable. The third act is set on the boat they take to England and their deaths; they discover the letter sent with them says to execute Hamlet, then discover the Hamlet's fateful switch.
Much of the last bit is devoted to a discussion of how the pair can be so important as to necessitate their execution. I wonder if that's how Rodriguez felt as he watched the half of his team he delegates to someone else ground into a fine dust, like Jeff Casteel had switched his defense with one that read "execute this man."
*(We were actually pretty good, the Wisconsin/Iowa of Michigan high school quiz bowl at the time. We'd own most teams we played but would consistently lose close games to Salem, CC, DCD, and a Henry Ford Harrison team that had lucked into the National Geography Bee winner. We prided ourselves on not having uniforms, at least.)
Existentialist, Absurdist, Tragicomic Non-Bullets
Jeremy Gallon special teams error limit: determined. It is ten billion. I'm obviously on the tolerant side of the scale when it comes to coaching errors (outside of obvious game theory errors, about which I have an Al Qaeda level of zealotry) but JESUS GOD RICH RODRIGUEZ WHY DID YOU LET JEREMY GALLON RETURN KICKS AND PUNTS FOR TEN GAMES.
On the bright side, Michigan's kick returns finally seemed like a net positive aside from the Gallon fumble. Which aaaaargh. The strange thing about those returns was that Wisconsin seemed to be putting them exactly where they wanted—right along one sideline—and still gave up big returns seemingly every time.
A note on how meaningless the NCAA's official kick return stats are: in one game Michigan went from a horrendous debacle to essentially average. They're 67th now. I'll ping Brian Fremeau for his fancy stats at the end of the year to see what the actual damage was in the kick return game.
Small move towards Pulaski. Hey: surprise onside kick that absolutely should have worked but for two Michigan players whiffing on opportunities to recover. Since Wisconsin was going to score anyway, the only tactical error was not doing this two additional times. Also, the last one was not a surprise but it was beautifully executed by the kicker. Maybe that's what they've been practicing all year.
If Roy Roundtree drops a sure first down the next pass will be batted skyward and intercepted 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Fact. Please stop doing this, Roy.
First half struggles. The offense didn't score in the first half due to a confluence of events. Event the second: field goal kicker durrr combined with coaching durrrr about the field goal kicker durrrrr. Event the first and many other bits: Robinson couldn't throw straight. Wisconsin shoved guys up to the LOS and dared Michigan to throw deep. Michigan threw deep. Robinson missed guys by yards and yards, including an open Vincent Smith on that third and six that eventually led to field goal durrrr.
In the second half Robinson hit a series of bombs, forced Wisconsin to back off, and Michigan went TD, TD, TD, fate induced post-Roundtree INT, TD. Again, the design of the offense is excellent and while Robinson's lack of accuracy is now an established issue this level of performance with two seniors on the field is remarkable.
God, this was awful. I hate to embed this and inflict it on the public at large, but this was awwwwwful:
I'm actually a fan of Old Hat Creative's work with Michigan's hype videos but Notre Dame fans would laugh at this treacly debacle. Athletic department: I will write sentimental stuff with 10% of the schmaltz for free. I will pay you if this is the alternative. Guh.
Things that were good. A fond farewell to drum major David Hines Jr., whose backbend will remain legendary, and various other band seniors. The MMB bounced back from a year in which they forced Carl Grapentine to say "the clown who laughs outside as he cries inside" and deployed a series of accessible halftime shows that did not involve various operas of the 19th century. The Wizard of Oz halftime was good, Lady Gaga translates to marching band in a shockingly effective fashion, and the hockey band just played the old Hockey Night in Canada theme. Thumbs up.
Bret Bielema: still a huge jerk. This isn't a surprise from a guy who saw one of his special teams scrubs attempt to injure Steve Breaston and then pretended it didn't even happen, but Bret Bielema said his team sent "a message" by chop-blocking one of Michigan's linemen on that first-half drive that didn't end in a touchdown. You know, that one.
I should start regularly linking Mike DeSimone's comprehensive picture galleries, which collect everything shot on a game-by-game basis and act as a crutch here.
I made this facial expression at the exact same time!
Joe Stapleton says he feels sorry for Rodriguez. On RR's postgame mini-rant about the exceptional youth in the secondary:
It's an excuse and reality. As much as I would like to say it, the biggest problem with the defense isn't the abjectly awful coaching of defensive coordinator Greg Robinson (Though it certainly doesn't help — as gaudy as Wisconsin's offensive numbers were, they could have been a lot worse if the Badgers would've taken advantage of the WIDE-open middle of the field through the air). It's the youth in the secondary.
Some say, without thinking, that this is Rodriguez's fault. He should've recruited more (and better) defensive backs. Here's the thing: he had defensive backs. They all just kinda ... left. That, or they got injured.
I'm at the point where losing Vlad Emilien, no matter how not good he may have been, is a strike against you, but by in large most of the departures were ordained like a post-Roundtree drop INT. Wojo's column is along the same lines as this one.
AnnArbor.com runs a poll of their own about RR's job security; the ones run around here earlier in the year by The White Tiger are more extensive but MGoBlog actively discourages people from the militant wing of the fanbase from participating so the numbers at AA.com are probably more representative. They've got 3300 votes in with 41% saying boot him, 22% saying "one more year," and 33% saying "I support him." A very strange 2% of people took the time to vote "I don't care." That's a majority saying keep him but it's vastly short of the 81% who voted "keep him" at 7-5 in the poll around these parts. (Michigan had yet to play Illinois and Purdue when that poll was deployed.)
Across various blogs the reaction seems to be mostly "not surprised." Touch The Banner:
This is a game that I expected Michigan to lose. Almost everyone did. That's not to say that I wasn't frustrated by some of the things that the coaches and players did - and the offensive production in the first half was somewhat embarrassing - but ultimately, this outcome is what most educated observers foresaw.
TTB does say the constant use of Vinopal as a blitzer was stupid, which yeah. Burgeoning Wolverine Star:
Wisconsin is that good. It's not surprising, then, that Michigan struggled so mightily against an oversized, veteran unit that is unquestionably the best outfit in the Big Ten. That doesn't make Michigan's complete inability to stop the run or their general defensive incompetence any less disappointing, but it does mitigate it somewhat.
My prediction--Wisconsin 45-28--and similar ones around the blogosphere was closer than the Vegas spread (-4.5 Wisconsin). We knew we were outmatched, plain and simple. Too many things had to go our way and JJ Watt's self-tip and pick was not one of them. The disparity between Wisconsin's physicality and Michigan's, uhhh, collection of 18-year-old biceps was worlds apart. I'm sort of glad the game flew by.
The Hoover Street Rag busts out Jefferson's inaugural address in a plea for people who think one side or the other of the Rodriguez debate is full of idiots. MGoFootball peruses the board for choice bits.
Notes from Rich Rodriguez's Monday meeting with the press.
Shaw - "We'll see what he can do, and test in the next couple days, and see if he can go Saturday. Hopefully he'll be able to play..."
Martin and Mouton "We're hopeful that both can play." They'll be evaluated tomorrow and Wednesday.
"Perry would have been the starter, but Perry is still not 100%." He'll be the starter if healthy. "I'm hoping this week he'll be all the way back."
He has sent in some plays to the conference office each week, but this week he's going to follow up with them a bit more. "After this game there were more questions, I guess."
Personnel & Purdue
You try to project positions for guys when you recruit them, but some continue to grow when they get weight training, and they go through a progression. A couple more guys might move in bowl or spring practices - corner to safety, safety to OLB, etc. Probably would have moved more guys earlier if the team had stayed healthy.
Craig Roh will stay at DE. He's around 250, he'll continue growing and get up to 265. "I think putting his hand down makes him a lot more comfortable and that makes us better... Craig was a defensive end in high school, but he was athletic enough that we thought he could play some linebacker - and we still do."
Cam Gordon will stay at box safety. "He's a physical guy, he's a bigger guy." Not as much room to cover closer to the line of scrimmage. "We know that he's going to keep getting better, but the thing I like about him is he's a guy that loves playing football."
Denard can scramble to extend the play, but whether you choose to run or throw, it needs to be a good decision. He just had some bad moments in the last game. "I don't think he's hit a lull, he just had some bad moments in the last game... He was having a tough day, but in the last drive, he was the difference." QBs pooch punting: "Prior to this game, they were really pretty good at it."
Vincent Smith - "He's probably been the most consistent back we've had" not just running, but blocking and catching, too. "It has been almost a year since he tore his knee" and is looking faster. Each week he's getting speed, strength, and confidence back.
Michael Cox - "He's been a little bit banged up, but really it's been the other guys" that have kept him off the field. Toussaint can provide "a little spark" as he continues to get healthy.
Patterson and Sagesse played well. Talbott, Ash, and Wilkins are doing a nice job in practice. They'll be helped by the extra 15 practices with a bowl game.
Ezeh - "He was solid, he was OK. I thought Obi made some good plays close to the line of scrimmage." Fitzgerald was decent as well, as was Moundros filling in for Jonas Mouton. Even though Purdue has been struggling all year on offense, the backups should be commended for how they stepped in.
Vinopal - made a couple mistakes, but mostly kept things in front of him. "He's gonna keep getting better."
Carvin Johnson - "Really excited about him. Again, he's another true freshman that right now can play both safety positions."
Avery is a competitive guy, wants to get better. "I don't know if anybody in the country is playing as many freshmen or first-time starters as we are on defense." They'll get through growing pains, exciting for the future.
Kicking situation will be competitive in practice. "Seth has been kicking better in practice, but he didn't kick well on Saturday, so we'll see what happens this week in practice."
Hagerup has been better on kickoffs, part of the problem with coverage on kickoffs is they don't want their young guys starting on D and special teams, because they'd get worn out. "Our depth on special teams has been affected as much with the injuries as anything else."
Didn't play well, weren't ready to play for the conditions. "They had something to do with that, but we just didn't handle the conditions well, take care of the ball well, we were just kinda off-rhythm the whole day."
Both teams need to practice with wet conditions. The conditions were a factor in both teams' turnovers. "It was one of those games that I was glad we got 'em, because if we didn't, we would have been in trouble." Defense scored for the first time this season, made some key third-down stops.
On failed 4th down (Hopkins). "That was a product of execution. That should never happen."
Declined the penalty and let Wiggs kick the 43-yard FG because he was kicking with the wind and had enough leg to hit it either way, and Michigan would have still had the lead, FG or no.
Kerrigan "Some of it was he's a really good player, and some of it is we didn't play very well at times against him." He's an All-Conference-type player.
Last home game in the Big House is a big deal for the seniors. "We don't have a big senior class, but the guys that we have have been through a lot." Some things will be planned throughout the week.
Wisconsin "They're certainly a top-5 football team, there's no question about that." They made scoring every possession look easy. Wisconsin deflated Indiana and Chappell got hurt, which led to Wisconsin getting rolling and everything went downhill. "I don't know if any coach intentionally goes out and does it, it just happens." Throwing at the end is the coach's preference, but with the backups in, you can't ask them not to try.
Wisconsin is a bit different by being the only true power run team in the league. "You have a wide variety of both offense and defensive schemes anyway." It's pretty balanced, so you have to be able to defend all variety. Their offense all starts with the running game. "They'll come downhill at you, and they're very big up front." Nearly everything they do - bootlegs, play-action - comes from the run game. People make a big deal about playing a power run game after facing several spread teams. It's tougher to go the other way. "It's a little bit of an adjustment, and our guys will prepare for that this week."
Wisconsin's going to run the same plays whomever the starting RB is. "Clay's obviously the biggest one." Get to them quickly, don't let them get a head of steam. "Especially if you're undersized a little bit, like we are in spots, it's going to be tough."
On JJ Watt (above, right): "I think he's an All-American, in my opinion." Watt plays inside more than Kerrigan.
Beating Wisconsin or OSU would be a great signature win, but more importantly for the guys on the team who want to have success. They've stayed focused, and are ignoring outside negativity.
Will talk about the home finale throughout the week. A couple special things in practice for the seniors. "Probably have one or two of them come up and talk about their experience."
When they get introduced on Saturday "the greatest achievement you can achieve as a college student-athlete is going through your senior year." Speaks to the sacrifice you've made for the team and University. "The guys who are no longer around didn't make that same sacrifice, and these guys have. And they should be honored for making it."
Motivation and focus has been good all year. "I would think it'll be easy to motivate for these last two weeks, considering what's at stake for us."
RR thought the program would be further ahead by this point. "You find out what you have, and do what you can with what you've got, and move forward." The goal is to be the best program in America, and they're moving toward that.
Spending more time with the D. "Just a little bit more on Sundays, and maybe watch a little bit more in practice." Been doing the same amount of 1v1 repetition. "What we've done more this year is getting, say, our second offense, and having them run the opposing offense a bit more in practice." They have fewer guys available for scout team.
Talk about the offense not being a fit for the Big Ten is just talk. "I'm hoping that there's enough positive momentum and positive talk that all the negative stuff that's been out there gets pushed aside a bit." Progress is being made. "It's almost been par for the course" to hear negative talk, but they can't let it affect them. As long as you believe in the system and your people, you can keep pressing forward.
11/6/2010 – Michigan 67, Illinois 65 (3OT) – 6-3, 2-3 Big Ten
At the risk of convincing everyone that the first impossibly apropos moppet was fiction, let me tell you about this impossibly apropos moppet a few rows in front of me.
He was about ten. He was wearing a number seven jersey and when he took his hat off for the national anthem his hair was staticky. Before the game he was hopping up in down in an attempt to burn off nervous energy, and when Michigan ran out to touch the banner his mind was blown. He exclaimed "this is so AWESOME" as only a ten-year-old boy can. The words forced themselves out in self defense—if they hadn't the pressure would have given him an aneurysm. I know what that excitement is like. I remember getting a Nintendo.
I can't imagine what his mind is like four fighter jets, three overtimes, 132 points, and one last-play win later. He's probably sitting at his desk right now, mouth slightly ajar and drooling, involuntarily twitching out the words "so" and "awesome" as the rest of the class learns to count to 15 in Spanish. Plans to put him on ritalin have been temporarily shelved. His father has been asked "what did you do to the boy?"
The father can only shrug and say "talk to Ron Zook, Rich Rodriguez, and Greg Robinson."
What can you say about a game like that? You can say it was entirely appropriate for Special K to play the Bed Intruder song. Yes. Michigan and Illinois just went Rasputin on that barn. They burned it, then they napalmed it, then they nuked it, then they shot up the radioactive wasteland for the hell of it, then they poisoned a flat expanse of glass with holes in it, then they dug it up and threw it into the river for it to drown. And then it was halftime.
While the kid was getting the football equivalent of heroin in his eyeballs it seemed like the rest of the stadium was strangely muted once it became clear that touchdowns were more like baskets than goals. Any individual event was far less important in a game that would last until mid-day Sunday.
I was with them. I still remember thinking "that's 30% of the points we need to win" after Michigan's first touchdown in the 2006 Ohio State game. I was raised on three yards and a cloud of dust, and while I could not be more grateful that Michigan's offense now has run plays beyond "zone left" and "zone right," this style of football is all frisson. It piles up and up and up. It's amazing, but when you're not ten your mind only has so much to give before it gets complacent. Things don't build up, they just happen. So when Roy Roundtree scores on the first play of the game you're happy but you're also wondering how they're going to blow it.
The answer was "in all ways possible with a special emphasis on running back wheel routes." But they kept setting things right until Jonas Mouton leapt over a cut block and Craig Roh stunted inside and Nathan Scheelhaase finally had nowhere to go but down. My reaction to this was very strange. After feeling dampened most of the day I cracked and hugged my fiancée—making her annual pilgrimage—long and hard and relieved. So relieved.
This team isn't good at all but I love it. If Craig Roh gets to class early he runs up and down steps in his spare time. Roy Roundtree does a Donald Duck impression and wakes up hungry. Tate Forcier's gone from sulking on the bench and "out" to leaping around like a madman after leading a comeback win over Illinois and coming somewhat close to the same against Iowa. And then there's Denard, and the most put-upon man on the planet, and I just want them to succeed because it will make them happy.
A lot of sports fandom does degenerate into rooting for you in that sad Nick Hornby way. While I'm not anywhere near sports Buddhism, more and more prominent among the millions of reasons I want Michigan to win is because of how it will validate all this crap they have to put up with.
Even if that goes with the territory at Michigan, what's gone on the last three years long ago crossed the line from disappointed and upset to nastily personal, on everyone's part.
Almost everyone, anyway. After the game we're walking up the bleachers and the kid's right in front of us, trying to show his father his hand. His father seems to acknowledge the hand, but not enough for the kid's taste. "I'm never washing this hand again," he says. "Denard gave me a high five." He wears an Adidas wristband like the players. He doesn't care about anything other than Michigan won and I touched Denard and this is awesome. I think about White Noise, a Don DeLillo book I don't actually like that much* about the paralyzing fear of death driving middle aged academics literally insane, and how the only moments of respite in the book are thanks to the presence of an infant named Wayne or Warren or something.
So Saturday was awesome, and this is my favorite bad team ever, and goddammit I'm going to their nondescript bowl.
*(The moment in American literature when ironically capitalizing marketing messages to assert that the background radiation of advertising has become our national discourse has mercifully passed—David Foster Wallace got away with it a few times but only just, and not always.)
Non-Bullets, Amazingly Long
Head injuries. Michigan's bombing Illinois with Denard and pulls him because of a headache and some concussion-like symptoms in a game that is almost make or break for Rich Rodriguez's career. And he could even see:
"Certainly for his safety, you're not going to put him back out there," Rodriguez said. "I'm not a doctor, so I can't tell you where he is, but he had a smile on his face and he was talking, but obviously, you're going to be precautionary.
"Anytime you get hit there and you've got some headaches, you're going to watch that."
Is there anyone who's been unfairly demonized more than him? "Win at all costs." Right.
(HT: the Wolverine Blog.)
Skill position contributions. My takeaway from the offense other than "duuurrrr" was that's what it looks like when the skill position players are adding yards of their own. Vincent Smith made a lot of great glide cuts on the zone stretch, spun through a couple tackles, and had his best day as a runner at Michigan. Junior Hemingway's sideline rain dance created another touchdown from 15-20 yards, and Roy Roundtree was finding epic YAC. That's something we've been missing most of the year save for Stonum's screen touchdown against UMass, which is UMass and was not the #15 defense in the country entering the game.
Stretching it. Speaking of the stretch: it came back. Michigan had gone almost exclusively to an inside run game earlier in the year, and that worked well enough, but I think part of the issue with getting Denard some zone keepers has been that move away. The stretch makes it tough on the backside defensive end because if he's going to tackle the tailback on a cutback he has to flow down the line hard. On all the inside zone stuff Michigan's been running he can hang out and do whatever and still have a decent chance of making a play. That's why Michigan has been blocking the backside guy all year and probably why I'm always a little frustrated by Denard never keeping the ball.
They brought it back for Illinois and I'm pretty sure what I'll see in the UFR is an ass-kicking day from David Molk. On Michigan's last touchdown they went to the stretch on second and goal from the five. Corey Liuget, who is an all-conference type of player, shot into the backfield; Molk walled him off and eventually sent him to the ground. There wasn't a hint of a hold on the play, but a frustrated Liuget did the flag motion thing to the referee and just stood there exasperated as Michigan celebrated a touchdown that came on a gaping hole from the five because Liuget had just gotten owned.
The stretch also seemed to revitalize Vincent Smith, who had the opportunity to make darting cuts past traffic and find the creases as they developed. I'll be interested to see how it holds up on film.
End of half game theory stuff. Reverse on the kickoff was a beautiful playcall because in that situation if you get hammered for a loss you can probably just run the clock out. A perfect time for that call and one that got Michigan in scoring position with a minute on the clock. That's a win.
In retrospect, the decision to kick was not so much. I didn't think about this at the time so I'm not blaming anyone else for not thinking about it either, but with Michigan's defense and 42 seconds (IIRC) on the clock the argument for going for it is a lot stronger than it would be with 12, because if you get it you're robbing Illinois of the opportunity to get that last possession in. Even if you don't get it, most coaches will just head to the locker room if they get the ball on their own 15.
Defensive moves. While the defense remained horrendous, it wasn't nearly as horrendous as it was against Penn State (and Matt McGloin did just bomb Northwestern for 35 points despite Robert Bolden playing the first two series, so that performance was only 90% completely awful). PSU had 41 points on nine real drives; Illinois had 45 in regulation on 16, many of which started in advantageous field position after Michigan turnovers and one Hagerup punt from his endzone.
Moving Craig Roh back to defensive end seemed to pay immediate dues, but Michigan kept flipping between three and four man lines with the fourth guy on the line either Obi Ezeh or JB Fitzgerald. Illinois ran right at that and had good success—that was the setup on the first and twenty option that went the distance, though I'm pretty sure the culpable party there was Mouton. Anyway, Cam Gordon looked a lot better in his second game at spur and you can tell the difference in tackling technique between him and Ray Vinopal—Vinopal uses his arms. Sweet.
Gordon looks like a much better fit as his current position. He was surprisingly adept at blitzing—he'd get the edge on the Illinios tackle and come around to flush Scheelhaase a few times.
Demens, yo. Another thing that will have to wait for the tape but: I'm pretty sure Kenny Demens had a great game unless he blew a lot of coverage (which is possible). The number of runs that were heading outside the tackles for what looked like big gains until they were suddenly cut down by Demens after he cut through a block seemed like it was around a half dozen.
Not a controversy but not a clear cut thing either. I was thinking this myself but Adam Jacobi already wrote it and blockquoting is easy:
Forcier is clearly not Denard, but the fact remains that Forcier is good enough that he should be spelling Robinson periodically throughout Michigan's game regardless of Robinson's health. Michigan has two starting-quality quarterbacks, and as Robinson's accumulation of minor injuries demonstrates, they clearly need to use them! It's just up to Rich Rodriguez to use both on his own terms, rather than waiting for Robinson to get knocked out of the game first.
The frequency of Denard Robinson dings has seen Forcier enter most games this year, with extended relief appearances in the fourth quarter of the Iowa and Illinois games. When Forcier comes in Michigan generally punts quickly (or Forcier yakety saxes an unforced fumble). Forcier gets his feet under him a bit later and things are fine. It may be time to put Forcier in on the regular, say two or three drives a game. This would reduce wear on Robinson, have Forcier ready to play each week, throw defenses a curveball, and lessen the chances a desperately-needed Forcier lights out for somewhere else after the season. The offense doesn't seem quite as good when Tate's in there but the difference isn't vast and the benefits are tangible.
Special K, I hate you. The level of odiousness from Special K was exceeded by a factor of 100 on Saturday when he played "Let the Bodies Hit the Floor" and "Down with the Sickness." We've gone from minor league hockey to WWE. Thanks, Special K. This is the no-BS one thing that makes me think the Brandon era will be something other than a success: he hasn't taken this guy and put him in stocks on the diag.
Some photos from an Illinois guy. AnnArbor.com has an extensive collection as well.. Purdue blogger guarantees victory over Michigan. The Hoover Street Rag riffs on A Better Son/Daughter. Doc Sat's take:
If for some reason you were kidnapped by maniac who forced you at gunpoint to make sense of Michigan's roller-coaster season in 12 words or less, you'd probably settle for something like this: The offense is unstoppable. The defense is horrible. Denard Robinson got hurt.
If you hadn't seen a single one of the Wolverines' first eight games, that would pretty much bring you up to speed coming into today, except for one minor detail: Against a string of respectable competition over the last month, you could also add "Wolverines lose."
And a random video of the Michigan drumline:
There's another one on the tubes as well.
An finally, Maize n Brew headline:
Hallelujah!!!! Holy S@#%
Hey, remember when Michigan won games and people put lots of video on the internet? Me neither. But apparently they do. There's an SD torrent up already.
This week's headliner is Roy Roundtree being fantastic, as per usual:
The official site's highlight reel necessarily leaves out almost everything, but if you're looking for a quick primer on about 20% of the scoring here it is:
Wolverine Historian put together an extensive clip package that's after the jump.
Tim caught the on-field celebration:
Tim's photo gallery:
The halftime show was epic (and was recapped by the Hoover Street Rag):
This is an official petition for the band to have their insane wildcat tackle fake Brutus every week. For twenty minutes straight.
More interviews, highlights, and random bits after the jump.
Where I'm at. The previous "when can we fire this guy" post?
(illustration via reader Brian Louwers)
I promised I wouldn't talk about Rich Rodriguez's job status until the season was over but apparently I'm going to. I blame everyone.
Too many posts in the Fire RR vein argue things no one is disputing. This one titled "The Buck Stops at Rodriguez," argues that a head coach is in charge of his program. This is not very enlightening. Neither is restating his record. We're all aware of Rich Rodriguez's record. We watched it. Saying "but this happened and I was sad" means you're answering the wrong question. You're answering the question "what will make me feel better?" Sometimes you're answering the question "who would have been the best choice for 2008?"
These are the questions I'm interested in:
- Which football coach will give Michigan the best record in 2011?
- What about 2012?
- What about 2015?
You hire a coach for the long term. I think you fire a coach for the short term, though, and the point at which you boot the last guy is when you think the next year isn't going to meet a reasonable minimum threshold of progress. I completely understand people who have hit that point. You can save your comments about how he needs to go—neither I nor anyone else cares to hear it for the one millionth time in the last three days. It's an understandable position. If Rich Rodriguez is cut loose after the season and Jim Harbaugh comes in I will not be in the streets with a bullhorn.
But I wouldn't endorse that move (at least not right now), because I think the answers to questions one and two are conditionally "Rich Rodriguez."
Upperclass Denard: How Does It Work?
Michigan has a unique talent on its hands in Denard Robinson, and they've acquired a mobile offensive line, slot receivers, and tailbacks to complement him. Some of these players can easily transition to another scheme. Stephen Hopkins can I-back with anyone. The outside receivers are just outside receivers. Taylor Lewan is going to hate donkeys in any scheme.
Others can't. The gaggle of tiny waterbug types—including Dee Hart, though he probably won't end up at M if there is a change—are going to be marginalized. I'm not sure how well the offensive line will hold up in an offense that prizes power over movement. Michigan isn't going to be able to materialize an excellent fullback and tight end depth out of nothing.
And then there's Denard. He could move to receiver or tailback, I guess, or more likely transfer, or you could bring in a spread guy, or you could try to keep Magee, or you could just ride with the guy who has already made Denard the all-time leading QB rusher in the Big Ten, will make him the all-time leading QB rusher in NCAA history, and turned Pat White into one of the best quarterbacks in college football before that. One of the "Smiths or MGoBlog" posts contains an argument I've made before:
For everyone that wants RR gone, I submit a short rebuttal.
1 Oregon 8 2488 2095 625 4583 7.3 572.9 2 Oklahoma State 8 1471 2747 615 4218 6.9 527.3 3 Nevada 8 2407 1754 584 4161 7.1 520.1 4 Michigan 8 2204 1943 563 4147 7.4 518.4 5 Boise State 7 1500 2111 473 3611 7.6 515.9
This team (could) return 22 of 24 starters next year. The #4 offense in the country will return every skill position player except Martell Webb and the offensive line should improve even with losing S. Schilling. The 2011 schedule is set up for a Big 10 Championship. Rodriguez will finally have experience and depth at his disposal on offense. No freshmen(even redshirt freshmen) save possibly Hart will see the field. Don't you want to see what could become of this offense and the stars it could attract with stability up top? If you broom RR then what? If you bring in Harbaugh, Denard is either gone or a slot back. I have no idea how much attrition you get but this offense has been molded by RR for 3 years, it will not be as good.
I think that's indisputable: you will lose offensive firepower by making a change. Over the course of his career Rodriguez has established he is standard deviations above the mean as an offensive coordinator. Criticisms about the offense exist but are limited to suggesting that this group featuring two seniors and a sophomore quarterback isn't really the fourth-best offense in the nation because they're not scoring enough. That's true—Michigan is only 19th in scoring offense—but the blame for that rests largely with a defense that doesn't force turnovers (or punts) and the nation's worst kicker situation. If you adjust for all the vagaries that make straight yardage and scoring statistics unrepresentative, pile on a strength of schedule factor, and average it all out this is not, in fact, the fourth best offense in the country:
Michigan is still ranked #2 nationally in rushing and #3 overall in Points Above Normal but the game scores are coming down.
While Michigan's performance over the last three games is not that good, it would still be top 25. If you're wantonly throwing that much data away to make that your conclusion you've just gone Nanking on math for little reward.
Whatever you lose had better be made up for by better play from special teams and defense, but if we're rebooting the defensive coaching staff what does it matter who's doing ninja stuff on the other side of the ball? Unless Anonymous New Coach, who we'll call "Jim Harbaugh" for simplicity's sake, brings in someone who can play instantly the only way that will happen is by bringing in a better defensive staff. Michigan can do that without disrupting something that looks like it's going very right on the other side of the ball.
The obvious argument against that is Scott Shafer, Jay Hopson, and Greg Robinson. That's why the conditional case for bringing RR back rests on either 1) grabbing Jeff Casteel, probably in the event of a Bill Stewart firing, or 2) clearing everyone (or almost everyone) out, bringing in a defensive coordinator with a track record of established recent success on the college level, and giving him carte blanche to bring in the people he wants to bring in. This will be expensive but I hereby volunteer a dollar from each Michigan season ticketholder to make it happen.
The Convincing Argument Against
I AM SO PUMPED ABOUT THIS SMOOTHIE I'M THINKING OF
I AM TOTALLY GOING TO KICK THIS SMOOTHIE'S ASS
WHAT IS YOUR DEAL, BANANA AND WHEATGRASS?
i hope i'm not having an aneurysm—YEAH SMOOTHIES
Recruiting, basically. Rich Rodriguez is chased around by a horrendous narrative caused by a lot of losing and a lot of other stuff. Jim Harbaugh has to deal with a DUI and some self-serving statements about Michigan's academics—these don't live up. If Michigan goes 9-3 next year under Harbaugh, people are delighted. If Rodriguez does it there remain many, many grumbles. Michigan can throw away the last three years and start over.
Even if this reduces expectations short term, the narrative is totally different and recruits might be more amenable to jumping on board. Fuzzy Dunlop, who amazingly does not have a tennis ball avatar:
Many of those saying the defense is not Rodriguez's "fault" miss the essential point. It doesn't matter whose fault it is. What matters is who has the ability to rectify the situation. And we are fast approaching the point where Rodriguez will no longer have that ability (if he ever had it).
The defense sucks. Let's say it's not Rod's fault. Fine. So how does he fix it? Get great defensive recruits? If we lose out, or eke by Purdue, what makes anyone think the good defensive recruits will be rushing to come to Michigan this year? Perception becomes reality -- our defense is perceived to be a joke, with terrible coaching -- this is not a situation talented players are going to rush into.
He gets a little more negative than I am but the point is valid. Unfortunately, at some point the baggage in your past becomes an active detriment to your future. Rodriguez is either already there or one season from it.
The Gibson Issue
Defensive backs coach Tony Gibson is a lightning rod for criticism because the secondary is a disaster zone and the internets have it that he and Rodriguez have a Clinton-Blair style "special relationship," with all the charges of cronyism that brings. Even Michael Rosenberg is making that argument after years of blithely ignoring the DerpBord era. (Q: What's the difference between a Free Press columnist and a message board poster? A: Editors.)
Unfortunately there's no statistic you can point to that definitively says he's good or bad but the vague outlines provided by the NCAA's site aren't exactly damning:
|Pass Eff Rk||28||63||30||20||45||47||8|
That's not great aside from the bizarre first year (West Virginia was terrible at run defense so teams just ran) but it's consistently above average. In six years Gibson had three players drafted, one of them (Ryan Mundy) a guy who transferred away from Michigan because he wasn't going to get playing time. That's about one per slot he was in charge of, assuming that the spur and bandit were not his responsibilities. The rest of WVU's team saw eight guys drafted across nineteen spots.
None of this is definitive but it's at least an indication that Gibson isn't the anchor certain FFFFFUUUUUUU sorts make him out to be. The debacle here could be a coaching issue, but Occam's razor suggest it's talent (and attrition). Cbuswolverine put up a diary looking at the experience of the top five and bottom five secondaries in the country with the expected results—everyone but LSU averages at least 3.5 years on campus, and LSU is at 2.75. It is possible that Tony Gibson is a huge problem, but even if he was we wouldn't know. His reputation as a great recruiter is commonly stated, but we have even less data on that.
I put in a Mathlete request for a fancy math version of the above statistics that would adjust for schedule strength and maybe parse out the sacks in the three years they're available.
The Most Insane Thing Ever Said About Me
It's days like this that I envy Brian.
What I'd Do At 7-5 Or 6-6, Probably—I Mean If We Lose By A Billion In Three Games, Probably Not, But Let's Just Say If The Season Plays Out Like It Looks It Will
I'd fire Robinson. Then I'd bring in Casteel if he's available post Stewart firing or broom most of the defensive staff and bring in someone making SEC dollars along with two other established position coaches, and then I'd give Rodriguez 2011 and hope like hell. Michigan's in a bad spot either way, but at least Ivan Maisel's with me.
Yeah, that's right: Ivan Maisel.
Other bits: for folks complaining about the O/D coaching breakdown, Touch The Banner surveys the Big Ten and finds that literally every team in the league has four defensive assistants and all but one (Purdue, which has a dedicated ST coach) has five offensive assistants, or would if they hadn't fired their head coach already. Maize And Go Blue is here:
Wojo on matters:
Rich Rodriguez didn't fire or demote his defensive coordinator Monday, and to some, that's a sad surprise. Frankly, I'm not sure it makes a big difference.
Greg Robinson has done a poor job, and his position certainly should be in jeopardy. But full accountability sits where it always sits, where it now shifts uncomfortably — on the coach.
10/30/2010 – Michigan 31, Penn State 41 – 5-3, 1-3 Big Ten
these were the same pictures used in the very first Greg Robinson post and were named –fail1, –fail2, –fail3.
A few years back my fiancée (then girlfriend) and I had one of those conversations that draw out over two weeks. You have them when the other person's position is so bizarre and unbelievable that unlocking the reasoning behind it is important if you're going to hang around this person for a long time—because it's possible the reasoning goes something like "I'm a stabby person who stabs you in the stab places."
The argument was about the narrative of overarching, capital-P Progress that the world is or is not making. I, the engineer, pointed to various statistics that all point in the right direction. She regarded all of it as different paths to the same thing: misery for all but a few. A Foxconn factory is just a handy place to jump off, and they take even that away from you.
I don't think we ever came to a satisfactory conclusion despite the lingering threat of stabbing, but I don't think we have to anymore. Since that conversation the world's financial system exploded, the economy fell into a deep and lingering malaise that figures to last most of a decade, and Greg Robinson was hired to coordinate Michigan's defense.
The worst part has been the illusion. Actually, the worst part has been the actual progress. The worst part has been a combination of the illusion and the progress. The worst part has been a combination of the illusion and the progress and the relentless losing.
The illusion: two straight years Michigan has leapt out to a hot start only to see all the supposedly quality wins evaporate. A thrilling win over Notre Dame devalued as the Irish collapse into a heap of laughable crap. UConn goes from team on the verge of a Big East championship to a team that can't even keep its head above water in a horrible conference. Indiana is still not a surprisingly good, competitive version of Indiana. It's just Indiana. Then there is losing, and not competitively.
The actual progress: Michigan has the #1 yardage offense in the Big Ten by a huge margin. The gap between Michigan and #2 Ohio State is considerably bigger than the gap between Ohio State and #7 Iowa. The prophesied Rodriguez Leap, which did happen last year, happened again this year. Rodriguez is what he was sold as.
That progress looked like enough to get Rodriguez through 2010 into a prove-it 2011 until some walk-on shredded Michigan for 28 first-half points. If Progress means not being Minnesota, Michigan is failing. At some point last night the extremely depressing score was 31-10 and the ticker scrolled to the OSU-Minnesota game, which was also 31-10. The Gophers managed to hold Penn State to a mere 33 points and caused them to punt an astounding six times. Michigan did it twice. A comprehensive description of the ways in which Michigan's defense failed last night is impossible, but here's an attempt: Penn State scored 24 points against Kent State, 22 against Temple, 13 against Illinois, and 44 against Youngstown State… with their starting quarterback.
Youngstown State is a 3-6 I-AA team ranked 94th in total defense. They are the closest comparison to Michigan's D amongst Penn State's opponents to date.
Greg Robinson should be fired. Tomorrow, yesterday, bring in Gary Moeller, bring in anyone, don't care. He should never have been hired, just like Jay Hopson and apparently Scott Shafer. At the time of his hiring he was a decade removed from his last sustained success, fresh off driving a respectable Syracuse program into Washington State territory. As a head coach, he sounded like an idiot. His team played like he was an idiot. Michigan hired him and has gotten exactly what they deserved.
The worst part other than the illusion and the actual progress and the relentless losing is that this was obvious at the time:
Anyway: being a stunningly incompetent head coach does not necessarily mean one is a stunningly incompetent coordinator. Numbers will have to make that case. Go, numbers, go!
Year Team PassEff Rush Scoring Total 2008 Syracuse 101 101 101 101 2007 Syracuse 109 108 104 111 2006 Syracuse 81 110 72 107 2005 Syracuse 37 97 67 57 2004 Texas 31 16 18 23
I'm a little stressed out by that. Robinson walked into a good situation at Texas* and managed not to screw that up, then went to Syracuse, where he had an average defense on a horrid team (1-10), which he then proceeded to crater for the next three years. Before his brief, star-making turn at Texas—again, for doing nothing more than treading water—he presided over one of the worst defenses in the NFL, getting fired after three years. The last actual success you can plausibly attribute to Greg Robinson came during his tenure as the Denver Broncos' DC, when his defenses were top ten in the NFL and a significant aid in Denver's back-to-back championships. Since then it's been abject failure save the one year in Texas.
Now it's even more blitheringly obvious. Syracuse is 6-2 despite Doug Marrone having R-U-N-N-O-F-T huge swathes of Robinson's leftover pack of unmotivated jackaninnies and while Scott Shafer's defense has gotten bombed in a couple games and is severely overrated because of games against two terrible I-AA schools and the worst I-A school (0-9 Akron, 56-10 losers to WMU and everyone else), the last two weeks they've allowed 7 and 14 points in road games against West Virginia and Cincinnati. Neither of those teams is good at offense, but neither is Penn State.
Greg Robinson is a terrible football coach. Hiring him was literally the dumbest thing Rich Rodriguez could have done, and he did it. Hiring Jay Hopson to see him leave two years later was a terrible decision, as was whatever the fiasco was with Shafer. The rot on defense goes deeper than Robinson, though—Michigan has insisted on being "multiple" this year, to what purpose is unknown. Week after week Michigan plays teams that sit in a 4-3 with a two-deep shell and play defense adequately enough for this Michigan team to be headed for a New Year's Day Bowl; Michigan has not maintained the same system year-to-year during the Rodriguez era, largely because the leftover guys on the staff are all 3-3-5 guys and they keep insisting that these DCs who have never run the system become One of Us. Braves and Birds nailed this problem when he compared it to Tommy Tuberville's zombie offensive assistants submarining Tony Franklin and eventually Tuberville himself.
Michigan's addiction to the 3-3-5 is causing them to do the exact same thing Rodriguez rejected as dumb his first year when he installed the spread because that's what he knew how to coach—they're shoehorning a coach into a system when that coach doesn't even know how to properly align his middle linebacker. At left, Michigan's horrible defense. At right, West Virginia's excellent 2007 D:
Kenny Demens finally moved further from the LOS in the second half of the Penn State game. The supposedly attacking, slanting, different-front-making defense has been a passive heap of quivering goo coached by someone who clearly doesn't understand what the system he is running is supposed to accomplish. Robinson's been put in a terrible position, but he has no track record save blithering idiocy and there is no reason to retain him.
As for Rodriguez, well, hell. The are four games left, for one. Michigan is #4 in total yardage nationally and isn't scoring at an insane pace only because the special teams and defense have been beyond terrible. The special teams were not a problem before this year and really the only problem this year has been the kicker*, which is a thing that just happens sometimes in college. If they overhaul the defensive coaching by either bringing in an actual 3-3-5 guy like Jeff Casteel—who may be in need of a job after the season—or toss the Tuberville saboteurs overboard and bring in a Serious Man, I'd be willing to see where the Denard Robinson era ends up.
*(Willing to bet that by year's end Michigan isn't giving up any yards on an average exchange of punts; kickoff returns have been bad but that's an incredibly minor facet of the game—an average team is gaining one more yard per attempt than M.)
Change please. How many terrible decisions does Jeremy Gallon have to make before he loses his job at returning things?
Also: gararagagagargh Vincent Smith third and two. Hopkins's fumble was not his fault; Robinson put the ball in his shoulder. (I'm surprised he handed the ball off high—if Smith was in the game Robinson's handoff would have been in Smith's facemask.) Shaw can't be healthy, Cox is not healthy, Toussaint is not healthy… it's actually possible that Angry Michigan Running Back Hating God has been more wroth than Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God this year. The tailback situation is so bad that even Fred Jackson has gone no sugarcoat:
“We have to play better,” Jackson said. “Let’s call a spade a spade. We’ve got to play better. We’ve got plays there to be made and we’re not making them, I’m talking from the running back position.
“We have to play better.”
This is different from Jackson's usual approach of calling a spade a fantastical thousand-story casino in the clouds.
DerpBord. The circumstances behind hiring Greg Robinson are eerily similar to those behind the re-hire of Mike DeBord after his "no mas" faceplant at Central Michigan, down to the seemingly more competent guy being pushed out due to unconfirmed but widely speculated conflict. One dollar Robinson is assistant (to the) linebackers coach in the NFL next year.
The Ron English Effect. The next defensive coordinator (or next head coach, depending) is in line for a mega Ron English Effect, wherein some guy takes over a crew of players returning a ton of starters and looks like a genius for improving them when all he really did is not prevent his players from aging normally. In 2006, Ron English inherited Alan Branch, Lamarr Woodley, David Harris, Prescott Burgess, Shawn Crable, and Leon Hall and looked like a genius. The next year absent all those guys save Crable he was bombed into oblivion during The Horror and Post-Apocalyptic Oregon Game.
Anyway, next year's DC gets every starter back save Mouton, Rogers, and Banks, adds Troy Woolfolk, and should have a healthy Mike Martin. He could pick his teeth and look SMRT.
Martin doom. It's clear by now that Martin's injury is the dreaded high ankle sprain and we probably won't see him play effectively the rest of the season. Hurray.
Aw, hell, it's just variations of this with either equal or slightly less tolerance for Rodriguez's terrible choices on the defensive side of the ball. I do like the Hoover Street Rag saying the "shields are down." That's about right. Zook is loading his photon torpedoes.