This one goes to thirteen because we aren't dead yet. Again, a combination of overall impact with a heavy emphasis on how awesome that moment was—if eligible the Donovan goal against Algeria would be the perfect candidate. #13 is admittedly valedictory.
Michigan State, 2007: Mike Hart scoops up a Mallett fumble and conjures a first down from air.
If Mike Hart did anything other than run for thousands of yards at Michigan it was pick up blitzers on the most famous Michigan plays of the decade. There weren't any Mike Hart runs on this list because the guy always got caught from behind and Michigan's offense was set up to get its big plays from the passing game for the duration of his tenure, but Hart will block on three of the top four. This had to be rectified, but how? There was that eight yard run against Penn State, but that lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. It was in the first half, for one.
How about this rescue instead?
This may be the most Mike Hart play of Mike Hart's career. Ryan Mallett's come in the game for one play after Chad Henne limped off, and Mallett does what he always did, which was fumble. Michigan's about to be facing a second and forever even if they get the ball back when Hart pops out of the pack, ball in hand. He then jukes one Spartan out of his shorts and plows over two more for a game-changing first down. He then heads to the sideline because he's so injured he shouldn't even be in the game.
2003 Illinois: Steve Breaston fields a punt on one sideline and glide-cuts his way all the way across the field, juking six separate Illini before finding a seam and setting sail for the endzone. NOTE: Unfortunately, I can't find this in an embeddable form. It is 15 seconds into this Breaston highlight reel. Picture not relevant.
…was the name message board posters sarcastically bestowed on Steve Breaston as he redshirted and reports of his practice exploits became progressively more ludicrous. "Freshman you've never heard of fails to live up to epic practice hype" is perhaps the most common fall storyline across the country, and Michigan has had more than its fair share of epic busts from Grady Brooks to David Underwood to Kevin Grady. The nickname was a shield against disappointement
When Steve Breaston took the field, though, he somehow managed to exceed the expectations built up over the offseason. This return was the crowning glory; after a half-season full of almosts where he'd get tackled at the five or have something called back on a penalty he didn't need, he waited and waited, making two of those looping back-cuts that would become so familiar and exploding up the sideline.
For the most part teams stopped punting to him after this play, and though he remained amongst the country's most dangerous returners for the duration of his career he never quite recaptured the magic of the first two-thirds of his freshman year. At the moment he did this, though, he could do anything.
11. Ernest Shazor just killed a guy. No, seriously, he's dead
Purdue, 2004: Michigan has a narrow lead in the dying minutes but Purdue wins with a field goal and is driving. Dorien Bryant, then merely a freshman and not yet the Brooks Bollinger memorial eighth year senior, grabs a ball over the middle and starts picking up tons of YAC. Purdue is already in field goal range when Brandon Williams grabs at Bryant's feet, sending him into the air. This is where Ernest Shazor murders him. Bryant coughs up history's most understandable fumble; Leon Hall recovers, ending the game.
I've seen a lot of murderous hits in football, but they're mostly for show. Football's violence is a thrilling, sometimes sad sideshow to the main event; only rarely does the sheer intimidating force of a guy running directly at another guy matter immediately. Not so here. This hit turned a very likely loss into a sure win and ranks as the most CLICK CLICK BOOM play of the decade.
After the hit Shazor evaporated, providing only theoretical resistance against the first terrible appearance of That God Damned Counter Draw in the Michigan State game, about which more later, and entering the NFL draft early only to be passed over entirely. Despite being dead Bryant would go on to be probably Purdue's finest receiver of the decade, though I'll leave that judgment to the Purdue blogs' decentennial glazomania.
This play is lower than I expected because the feelings were more relief and frustration at the defense. A close call against a Purdue team that wasn't at all good (7-5) nearly derailed Michigan's season. Other plays in crappier seasons were fraught with less expectation and more enjoyable, like for instance…
10. The Blip
MGoRetro: We're From Phoenix
Wisconsin, 2008: Donovan Warren breaks up a slant, sending the ball on that parabolic trajectory that screams interception but often ends up hitting the turf. In this instance, Johnny Thompson is in the right place in the right time, catching the ball and picking up a defense's worth of escorts.
Exactly one good thing happened in the entirety of 2008, and this was it. Michigan had just gotten a touchdown thanks to a supremely ill-timed Wisconsin blitz that set Brandon Minor free. One play later Michigan would be in the lead:
Michigan would add another touchdown thanks to a 60-yard Steven Threet read option keeper and hang on for dear life, surviving a two point conversion that tied the game thanks to an illegal formation penalty and stuffing the second attempt.
At the time, the win over a top-ten Wisconsin team seemed like an indicator that even in this season of transition and quarterback incompetence something of Michigan would persist. It seemed super important, and then Toledo blew everything to hell.
9. Chad Henne robot apotheosis
Michigan State, 2007: Chad Henne completes his transformation from inept and injured to flawless robot incapable of understanding pressure by shouting "reprise" and pretending Mario Manningham is Braylon Edwards, completing an improbable Michigan comeback.
I'd somehow managed to get tickets on the 50 yard line in the Michigan student section at Spartan Stadium, and things were tense. Some unlit-cigar-chomping State fan was in my seat and insisted it was his seat to the point where he called the cops over so they could look at my ticket and shrug. He'd eventually switch places with a few Michigan fans outside of the section. At some point early in the second half a woman who looked like she watches a lot of Jenny Jones turned around and screamed something incomprehensible but very angry. She proceeded to do this every five minutes until someone figured out the thing she was saying was "Art Fag U," at which point the guy standing next to me went off about how bigoted that was whenever given an opportunity for the rest of the game, which was every other play.
Meanwhile on the field, Michigan was busy blowing a 14-3 lead in the immediate aftermath of Mark Dantonio's "pride" comments. They gave up three straight touchdowns while managing only one play of significance, a hopeful downfield jump ball that Mario Manningham came up with. With seven minutes left in the fourth quarter, Michigan was cooked.
In my head, this is when Hart went over to Henne and slapped him really hard. Michigan State backed off their coverage and Michigan marched down the field for a touchdown, dodging the Mallett disaster above, got the ball back, drove some more, and then decided to inflict the maximum amount of pain by joining the Braylon Edwards Historical Reenactment Society:
This is why Michigan State bloggers won't ever delve into their version of the Worst Plays of the Decade. As bad as you thought that was, Michigan State's edition would be typed equivalent of the Hurricane Katrina Valenti rant.
8. "I Saw Cover Zero"
MGoRetro: Moxie and MacGyver.
Notre Dame, 2009: leading 24-20 early in the fourth quarter, Michigan faces a 4th and 3 in the no man's land where field goals are dodgy and punts get you put on the Worst Plays of the Decade list. Michigan goes for it, calling a bootleg pass for Forcier. Notre Dame's Stephen Filer cuts off the angle, so Forcier breaks his ankles and cuts up into the wide-open middle of the field.
This could have been one of Forcier's scrambles on the game-winning drive or the touchdown that won the game or Charlie Weis's decision to call a 40-yard fly route during Notre Dame's attempt to kill the game—miss you, big guy xoxo—but for sheer impact it's Forcier rewarding Rich Rodriguez's ability to do math:
Forcier's moxie would see Michigan through another two games of desperate fourth-quarter action before disintegrating in overtime against Michigan State and the fourth quarter against Iowa. In this it's similar to the Thompson interception, where early-season hope gave way to the cruel reality of the situation and the opponent turned out to be something less than they were supposed to be.
7. A Knee On The Ground
Citrus Bowl, 2007 season: with 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Chad Henne takes a snap and falls to the ground.
The definition of bittersweet.
Michigan had just finished racking up 91 yards of offense against Ohio State, so of course they come out in a shotgun spread attack and put up 41 points on Florida en route to yet another bowl victory over the SEC. Every downfield strike conjured forth a cauldron of mixed emotions: immediate joy. Fist-shaking at the general bloody-mindedness of the universe. Depression about the missed opportunity represented in Chad Henne's healthy shoulder. An entire extra layer of confusion about Mike DeBord. It was like being 15 again, like being 15 again and stuck in a never-ending afterschool special.
But when Henne kneeled and Marques Slocum, of all people, was the first to get Lloyd Carr up on his shoulders, well… IT IS VERY DUSTY IN HERE RIGHT NOW. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOUR AIR FILTERS. I have allergies, you know. Severe allergies.
At some point you just have to let that frustration go and accept the program for what it is, accept Carr for who he is, and say thanks. He did hole up and punt with a six point lead against Tim Tebow, but how could he go out any other way?
Thanks to three exceptionally useful videos put out by MGoVideo now you can take in the performances of all three Michigan quarterbacks during the spring game in about 15 minutes. Bonus points for the awesome audio selections.
Standard caveats about spring apply, but it's still amazing to watch Denard's development.
Advertising note. If you live in Michigan (or, more accurately, if your ISP does) You may have noticed a banner for the Women's Football Academy rotating along the right side of the blog. They've purchased some ad space in support of the blog and I'd encourage anyone who is a qualified for the Academy (read: a woman) to check it out. As with many things related to the football program these days, the proceeds go to an excellent cause.
Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon: 'Change is in the wind'
Poem to date:
I create the future
Change is in the wind.
That is all. Oh: peanut gallery request for Dave Brandon Poetry Slam image to go with what promises to be an electric ongoing feature.
CEASE INSANE DIVISIONAL SPLITZ KTHX. If the Big Ten expands, Michigan and Ohio State will be in the same division:
"I think what’s probably most important is that you play them every year,” Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said Tuesday from the Big Ten spring meetings. “For us, it’s always been at the end and that’s always had a great buildup and excitement to that, so you would think that would be part of the conversation. But there’s a lot of factors in play. I have not put a lot of thought into it.”
Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith said that issue is “very important” to him.
“At the end of the day when I look at things quantifiably, I’ll determine how hard I jump on the table,” Smith said. “But I can’t say for sure how high a table I’ll jump on. I have to wait and see.”
I have no idea what the hell Smith means by that but I'm sure if it's translated from Buckeye it means "beer fire bad. Michigan-Ohio State rivalry good." Bloggers still creating wildly impractical expansion scenarios—losers—can cut out the ones where Michigan and Ohio State do not play every year.
Getting way ahead of ourselves. Penn State rotates off the schedule next year along with all nonconference road games. (Also Purdue.) Minnesota and Northwestern return. The resulting schedule looks… well, it looks as easy as these things get short of moving to the WAC:
2011 Michigan Football Schedule
|Sept. 3||Western Michigan|
|Sept. 10||Notre Dame|
|Sept. 17||Eastern Michigan|
|Sept. 24||San Diego State|
|Oct. 8||at Wisconsin|
|Oct. 15||Indiana (Homecoming)|
|Oct. 22||at Michigan State|
|Oct. 29||at Iowa|
|Nov. 19||at Northwestern|
|Nov. 26||Ohio State|
Eight home games, no Penn State, OSU and ND at home: that will be a put up or shut up type of schedule.
I don't understand why people keep falling out of the boat when I push more in. Hardcore Michigan recruitniks will have a vague recollection of Star Jackson, the dual-threat quarterback who was briefly on Michigan's radar during Rodriguez's first-month quarterback scramble that landed Justin Feagin and whiffed on Pryor, BJ Daniels, and everyone else. Jackson was committed to Alabama and stayed committed despite the Michigan offer. Today, he's announcing a transfer.
As far as Crimson Tide transfers go this one is near the bottom on the sketchiness scale: Jackson was third-string after spring practice and the Tide have hyped incoming freshman Phillip Sims joining the team this fall. Quarterbacks have a hair trigger these days when it comes to transfers. Even so, it takes a robot to say this with a straight face:
"We hate to see any player leave the program, but quarterback's kind of a unique position where one guy can play, and we have a lot of competition there right now. Greg's the starter coming back, AJ has done a fantastic job of improving, Phillip Sims came in at mid-semester and showed a lot of promise this spring."
Alabama oversigned by ten this February. Yes, again. They have six more guys to go. Jackson battled an academic suspension in spring, and given the state of the depth chart you have to wonder how invested Alabama was in getting him through that.
Now: which offensive lineman who isn't panning out will get a medical scholarship?
This is a problem? Apparently the one person on the planet with both a deep personal animosity towards the San Diego State football program and a connection to Michigan is Tate Forcier:
Honestly, San Diego State is a team right in my backyard and they didn’t show me any love or attention. Coach (Chuck) Long didn’t pay much attention to me, which was surprising because I showed some interest in them.
Son of a bitch. Grab the influenza and burn the boats: there's an indigenous group of homicidal, gold-hoarding polytheists to beat by at least three points.
Actually: maybe David Underwood also hates SDSU. Maybe he blames it all on them.
Zinger. Rodriguez speaking about the ACC's Big East raid, which happened while he was the coach at WVU:
“I think it caught a few institutions off guard and it probably institutionally taught a few lessons that, hey, we better be prepared for that the next time,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t know all the factors, but I’m sure there’s a few more buy-ins and buy-outs and things like that. I know all about buy-outs."
Zing! Wait, he zinged himself. Someone at this to the list of Rodriguez Humiliations that will be read over the loudspeaker before every game this fall.
Etc.: Even more python parsing of MGoBlog reveals that the words "Harbaugh," "mom," and "penetration" have each been deployed exactly 128 times. Isn't that was the Les Miles rumor? So much for python. Maize n Blue Nation gets detailed on the new turf. Beilein is heading overseas with the team if they can work something out.
Should we be depressed watching this draft seeing very limited Michigan players taken? I mean I know we haven't been a good football team lately, but I look at a guy like Donavan Warren. Couldn't SOMEBODY have told him he wasn't ready for the pros? Unless I'm way wrong and he is ready? I just wanted to get your thoughts on when it makes sense for a junior to declare early. It seems to me that if you aren't a lock in the first 3 rounds, it's just not worth it. I could be wrong on this, that's why I'm asking your opinion on it.
Chris: if you are surveying the recent history of Michigan football and deciding that this year's NFL draft is the reason to be depressed, you are the modern day equivalent of one of those guys on the cross singing "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life."
As far as Warren goes, I touched on it briefly when Mark Carrier went to the well and declared the Michigan Warren signed up for "wasn't there anymore," but to expand on it: there were a lot of different factors that went into Warren's unwise decision to declare. Conventional wisdom held that Warren was looking at three years and out from the moment he stepped on campus. All the coaches he signed up to play for were broomed. Then he got a mid-round-at-worst grade from the NFL Advisory Committee—basically a "lock for the first three rounds." His decision was an expected outcome. The unexpected bit was not getting drafted.
FWIW, when all this was going down I did get the impression that Rodriguez thought Warren was not ready for the pros:
Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said in a radio interview Monday he wishes cornerback Donovan Warren would have got more information before declaring for the NFL draft.
"I probably would have preferred to wait until I get the NFL advisory committee information back, which I have not gotten back yet," Rodriguez said on WDFN 1130-AM. "I don’t know if he talked to enough people yet or not, but he feels he has. I kind of wish he got a little bit more information so he would have been sure before he made his declaration."
He took off anyway. It happens from time to time—remember Shantee Orr?—but less frequently when you haven been placed in a situation someone else chose for you.
I had a discussion w/ Jon Chait about the 2 QB system. I personally feel that it is a bad idea but I don't necessarily always agree with the platitudes spun on ESPN ("if you have 2 QBs it means you have none"). Is there any evidence of a 2 QB system really being bad? Jon brought up the Leak/Tebow duo and the 1982 Miami Dolphins. Certainly 2 teams in 25 years is not much of a success rate but I was hoping you or Mathelete might have some more detailed data.
I could probably dig up some evidence that two QB systems are less effective than your average one QB system but that's a lot of effort to state something logically obvious: the chances of having one excellent quarterback are low. The chances of having two are vanishingly small. Therefore, playing two quarterbacks means you do not have an excellent quarterback. QED.
HOWEVA, this assumes that quarterback excellence comes in one shape, something that was 100% true for the duration of the Carr regime. The shape was a 6'5" fixed artillery piece 50% as white as We Are ND.
that's really, really white
When Carr experimented with his Henson-Brady platoon, that was something he'd promised Henson to prevent him from signing an enormous baseball contract. Even that petered out as Michigan began to realize what it had in Tom Brady. They were running the same stuff with both, so it made no sense to go with the guy who wasn't a crazy accurate cold-blooded senior.
The situation in 2010 is a lot closer to Leak/Tebow (minus the hellacious defense) than Brady/Henson. Michigan's two quarterbacks are radically different players. In that case it makes sense to use them in different situations. On third and one, Denard is a better option. On third and fifteen, Tate is. On first and ten it will depend on who the opponent is and how the quarterbacks are playing that day.
I have a feeling that by midseason it will be clear one or the other is the starter, but I also think both QBs will see snaps in every game this year.
I was wondering if you could help me understand something. How does this deal between ESPN and SEC affect the amount of Big 10 games that are televised on ABC/ESPN/ESPN2? In terms of football, is the SEC really getting that much more coverage on ESPN compared to the Big 10 on Saturdays (the Big 10 doesn't really play games any other day of the week too often)?
Up until now, I have been able to watch tons of Big 10 games on these channels (I live in Boston), but now I am afraid that they are going to be playing more SEC games and I will only get the 1 game at a time I get on the Big 10 Network. Everything I read makes it sound like ESPN bought the broadcasting rights to all these SEC football games and other athletic events and that they will be dominating the ESPN airwaves, but if it started last fall (2009), I sure didn't notice a difference because they still played pretty much every Big 10 game not on the Big 10 Network (Indiana vs. Minnesota aside).
Any ways, just wondering if you have any insight on this.
The SEC deal has no impact on the Big Ten/ABC contract. ABC always gets first choice of Big Ten games every weekend, then ESPN, ESPN 2, and the BTN have a complicated system in which they alternate the second pick. The BTN gets two or three opportunities to go second—which is how they scooped up the M-MSU game in year two of the network, causing mass panic at the prospect it might not be on television in the state.
In fact, the much-hyped SEC deal is now coming in for local criticism because MLS and women's basketball have more pull than SEC gymnastics. The net effect has been to move the crappy SEC games from Raycom syndication (the ironically beloved "three Daves" setup) to the obscurer reaches of the ESPN dial (U and Classic). Since Big Ten games were never played on those networks, the impact on the conference is nil. I don't think the SEC pact actually does much of anything for the league other than fill their pockets: ESPN isn't going to stop televising good Pac 10/ACC/Big 12 games.
The Big Ten's ABC/ESPN deal is even better than the SEC deal in one critical respect: it mandates that any regional broadcast is "reverse mirrored" on another channel. End result:
The Boilermakers appeared on National or National/Regional Television for every game (12) [ed: thanks for the game count protip, marketing droid!] during the 2009 season. Boiler Up!
11:20 AM May 5th via web
That's really cool for Purdue. It is also true for every Big Ten team, even Indiana. There is no such thing as a Big Ten football game you cannot get nationally. The genius of the Big Ten network is matched by the genius of the reverse mirror. Whoever got that inserted into the Big Ten TV contract earns his keep.
BONUS: how huge is the ESPN/SEC contract going to look in 15 years? Not very huge. The Big Ten is already matching or exceeding it and their deal with FOX includes profit-sharing that has already kicked in. When not speaking publicly, Jim Delany is a ninja.
Brian,It seems to me that if we are going to poach from the Big 12 -- it makes the most sense to make a play for Texas as taking 2 teams from the conference makes its demise all but certain and could push Texas into the SEC or Pac-10.If we are going to be Machiavellian a la Notre Dame, it makes no sense to pursue two decent Big 12 schools when doing so pushes the crown jewel (athletically, academically, and demographically) into a rival camp. Thoughts?Relatedly, what is the basis for the comments that the TX legislature would only permit that if the Big 10 took A&M too?Thanks for humoring me.-Name Withheld
Daddy, would you like some sausages?
I don't know what the basis for the TX legislature road block meme is Austin seem like the active sort and I buy it. Besides, A&M is a fine school in its own right.
Anyway: I'm with you. It's been universally agreed that Texas is the biggest fish in the pond. The problem with Texas is that it's geographically isolated from the Big Ten and beholden to a state legislature that somehow finagled perpetually useless Baylor into the Big 12. They've got power and they're nosy enough to use it.
But if this 16-team Big Ten is actually going to transpire, is that relevant? If the Big Ten grabs five teams they can lop off Missouri, Nebraska, Texas, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma in one enormous western surge. Big Ten Manifest Destiny seriously reduces the geographic implausibility and provides the Big Ten the most sheer intimidation possible. If we're putting the Big Cthulhu on the table, I don't see why the Big East has to be involved at all, or Notre Dame for that matter. It makes more sense to dismember one conference in its entirety.
I know that Oklahoma's academic standing has been widely declared a nonstarter for the Big Ten's ivory tower types. If that's the case, grabbing Colorado or Kansas has almost the same effect—Texas tentacles—with considerably less chewing tobacco at conference meetings.
Exactly what happens between now and August? I really mean EXACTLY, not just "they do some conditioning and stuff". Someone out there (football coaches or maybe former players) must know the answer.
I can't give you an all-caps EXACT answer, but I did ping Tyler Sellhorn for a moderately detailed one. Without further ado:
While school is still in session, the program can require attendance at conditioning. When school lets out the players voluntarily submit themselves to The Church of Barwis, take 4-6 credit hours of summer school (so that most players, i.e. general studies majors, can take a minimum full-time courseload during the year and still be on track to graduate), most student-athletes will spend a week at home, and then Fall camp starts in August. Also, the quarterbacks and defensive leaders are usually encouraged to organize skeleton passing sessions as well, but as we know too well now, coaches are not permitted to even witness said seven-on-seven sessions.
That is not an exactly, but a general overview that should answer less curious minds than Marc71.
Thanks to Mr. Sellhorn.
Bubbly. AnnArbor.com catches up to a smiling Brandon Graham after his selection by the Eagles:
Rarely have I been so happy for a Michigan player. After the last two years, Graham deserves every good thing that can possibly happen to him. I hope he learns how to fly.
(Also: can I take a moment to tout how useful UFRs have been in tracking Brandon Graham's impact? I was a little worried that BG was outperforming Woodley, but there he is in the top half of the first round after the NFL saw how unblockable he is.)
Denard-o. Gerry DiNardo has lost more football games than you've ever watched, but he's still on the television so people ascend to his yurt high up in the Indiana mountains to beseech him for his wisdom. Last year his wisdom was "Denard Robinson is going to start at quarterback," which is a strong indicator as to why he's lost more football games than you've ever watched. DiNardo single criterion for choosing a starting quarterback is "is it vaguely possible this kid was named after me?" By no other measure was Robinson a plausible starter in 2009.
In 2010 things are different. Denard Robinson is still named after Dinardo, though:
"I think it has to be Denard Robinson," he said. "If you think about the way Rich Rodriguez became so successful at West Virginia it wasn't with a drop-back quarterback that threw 50 times, even though that approached worked for him some as an offensive coordinator. He wants to play the game that Denard plays, with a greater emphasis on the running attack than the passing attack. He wants to have that guy that can tuck the ball and make you miss even when the blocking isn't perfect, that can make you miss even if he misreads the read-option, and from everything I've seen, Denard Robinson is that guy.
"In college football nowadays, defenses, as much as they try to practice this, cannot tackle in space. From the earliest age, you're not coached to tackle one-on-one without help. The instruction is always about rallying to the ball and then for your defensive backs to use the sideline as their friend. But when you're stuck in a one-on-one situation, against an athlete like Denard Robinson, most of the time you're going to be left grasping for air.
"So when I see what he can do, and then I see what Forcier did last year - to me there is no comparison for where this offense wants to go."
I'm not sure he's right that Rodriguez is dedicated to running 75% of the time, but his other points are solid. The bit about defenses being unable to tackle in space could be the operational philosophy of Rodriguez's entire offensive system. Tate missed reads on the option plenty last year—most of the time, it seemed—and while he was slippery enough to evade lumbering defensive ends he wasn't fast enough to turn his frequent missed reads into anything more than a few yards. A prime example from the Illinois game:
It's possible Robinson can turn this into another couple yards, or even break something long (although probably not on this particular play). A quarterback who can get that extra couple yards is an extremely dangerous option. For all Forcier's flaws, he was an effective runner. If you cut out the copious sacks Michigan gave up last year (24 for 184 yards), he averaged 4.7 YPC. (This is slightly optimistic since Robinson probably took a couple sacks, so you may want to mentally adjust that to 4.5 or so.) A version of Denard Robinson that can run the zone read and throw well enough to keep linebackers honest will obliterate that.
Keeping the linebackers honest will take some doing, but the nice thing about being Denard Robinson is that when you go to play action, it's time to cheat like a mother for all but the best defenses. I don't think Ohio State is going to be particularly vulnerable to a raw sophomore like Robinson, but I also don't think Illinois or Purdue has much of a chance to stop him.
Merrill rising, talkin' smack. Incoming defenseman Jon Merrill saw his stock slip slightly over the course of his final year with the NTDP, but a strong U-18 tournament (where the US is obliterating all comers) has seen Merrill's stock pop up into the rarefied air of a potential top ten selection once more:
At the beginning of the tournament Gudbranson had the inside edge as the potential top defender to be selected this year, battling it out with Windsor's Cam Fowler, but the gap is closing. The play of Merrill, along with the struggles of the Gudbranson-led Canadian team, may have catapulted Merrill into that coveted position and certainly into the overall debate.
Coming into the tournament many even felt Forbort would likely be ranked and selected ahead of Merrill, and even though Forbort has looked strong, the abilities that Merrill has showcased so far during this tournament have pushed him ahead in the eyes of many scouting circles. Merrill is a tall and lanky player with a lot of room to build on his frame. He has tremendous speed and has extremely good intelligence with and around the puck. Merrill has been the kingpin of the US's powerplay and quarterbacks it tremendously well.
Merrill will jump into Michigan's top four on day one and I'm betting he'll be on the top powerplay and top pairing by midseason at the latest. He was also interviewed by McKeen's, and because he's going to play in college he was asked to justify his existence. He did so with aplomb:
I think a lot of guys make the argument that the CHL (Canadian Hockey League) is the most similar to the NHL in style of play, and you play a lot of games, and things like that, but you’ve got to look at it from my perspective. I’m 18 years old. If I went and played in the CHL, there’s 15 and 16-year-olds, 17-year-olds, in the league. There’s top-end 18 and 19-year-old guys, too, but if you go to college, everyone’s older than you. I’m a freshman in a bigger, stronger, faster game, and you get up for every game, because you only play 35, 40 games, or whatever it is. Every game is a big game. Whereas in the CHL, you’re playing in Sudbury on a Tuesday night, and how do you get up for that, you know?
Tuesdays in Sudbury is a best-seller by Bizzaro Canadian Mitch Albom, but not a particularly attractive option compared to playing outdoors in front of one million people, give or take nine hundred thousand.
Nothing on Moffatt, unfortunately. He has just one assist for a rampant USA. The U18s are the last opportunity to put it out there for NHL scouts and he's not drawing a whole lot of notice. Hopefully he'll slide in comfortably—a mid-round NHL draft pick is usually a good player—but an instant impact is unlikely.
Side note: please don't read anything about Jack Campbell. It will make you sad.
(Interview HT: Michigan Hockey Net.)
About the one million people. Sales for Cold War II have been ridiculous so far:
General ticket sales began Wednesday, netting 14,700 purchases by 4 p.m., according to an athletic department spokesman. When added to the that seats have already been sold or committed to by season-ticket holders, former players and other groups, officials announced Wednesday that close to 80,000 tickets have already been sold.
"This has just taken off. You knew it would when you have something this special at the Big House - the first time ever, maybe the only time ever," Berenson said in a statement. " Everybody wants to be there. I think we'll be sold out before we know it. It'll be a tough ticket to buy."
With the original Cold War still the all-time hockey attendance record, the question at this point is not if this December's game will break it, but if the record shatters with enough force to match the destructive power of a bear dropping a bomb into a volcano.
Probably not. But it will be close, yo.
Cancer, again. Chris Perry's arrest was a family thing in which something went down with a cousin, possibly because Perry's mom is terminally ill with the cancer she was battling when Perry played at Michigan. Irene Perry is the main reason Chris didn't transfer a couple years into his career. Best wishes, for whatever that's worth, to the Perry family.
A Thing About Denard And Tate
The new official picture of "Denard Robinson is made of dilithium." Via MVictors.
Yet more on the quarterback situation because that's all anyone is talking about: it seems to me like the correct stance to take in the aftermath of Denard going 9/11 for 191 yards and three touchdowns in the air is to declare Game On. But only that.
I've seen a ton about how Denard is just a better fit for Michigan's offense and Rodriguez has wanted Pat White 2.0 since he got here and Tate is doomed because of the zone read and basically disintegrated over the course of the season and is probably going to transfer as he is destined to by his genetic heritage. I've also seen a lot of people saying "now wait just a minute" to the Forcier doomsayers, and I'm with them:
- Forcier had a midseason lull but two of his best games of the season came against Purdue and Wisconsin. Against UW he was 20 for 26; against Purdue he was a lot closer to 50% but suffered a ton of drops. His trajectory is not straight down. He even looked good against Ohio State when not offering up one of his hair-pulling, soul-destroying turnovers.
- Forcier's main problem on the zone read was making good decisions or fakes. These were made more difficult by the defense focusing on the run game because Forcier's ability to make decisions in the pocket was limited. He pulled the ball way too much, didn't let the fake "ride" a la Juice Williams, and faced down a defensive end as a result. He then juked this guy 80% of the time and picked up positive yardage. If the defense is sufficiently focused on the tailback and Forcier develops his fakes as much as Denard develops his passing, he can be an effective zone read alternative.
- Last year's offensive line was very shaky on the right side, which led to a lot of justified scrambles.
Tate is not out of it by any means, and since the two quarterbacks are so different it looks like the backup will get a large number of snaps anyway.
What the spring game (and spring in general) did was stand the horse race on its nose. Robinson looked better on Saturday. He looked better in the clinic scrimmage, when he was live and splitting first team reps with Forcier. He looked better over the entirety of spring, which is the reason he was afforded the easy matchup Saturday. One 97-yard touchdown to Roy Roundtree might not mean much, but 15 practices does.
The ones-vs-twos is a big deal, but maybe not as big a deal as the few remaining Denard skeptics—still clinging tight to that Betamax stock—have made it. Last year Robinson was having a Man vs Himself battle. Seeing him develop to the point where you need to see a Man vs Man conflict is immense. Hopefully by this time next year we're sending him off to fight Icelandic volcanoes.
Running Backs Are Indeterminate
Another source of persistent unexpressed disagreement in the last couple days: a steady pessimism about Michigan's tailback situation. I haven't seen anyone say "hey how about that run defense"; the assumption is a lack of big runs from the tailbacks means Michigan is going to be putting out some crappy tailbacks next year. I don't think that's necessarily true. Vincent Smith had a tantalizing cameo last year, and he did nothing of note in the spring game. A few carries here or there isn't a whole lot to draw conclusions about, and even so there were a couple of nice runs from Cox.
Michigan isn't going to have the best back in the conference or anything but they've got enough of a stable to have a good running game. And what would a discussion of the tailbacks be without Fred Jackson proclaiming something the best ever?
“I think I’ve got the best blocking tandem, I didn’t say running back tandem, but best blocking tandem I’ve had,” Jackson said. “I’ve got three or four guys that based on the pictures and movies, how you want to see it done. It’s more than I’ve ever had at one time.”
Never change, Fred.
Hell I if know. I'm planning something resembling a UFR and will be able to tell you more after that, but probably not that much with Martin and Woolfolk out and the first-teamers going up against second-string offensive lineman and not blitzing and etc. etc. etc. It's clear this isn't going to be a vintage unit. Latest hint from Woolfolk:
"We're mostly just focusing on zones, which is easier than playing man," said Woolfolk. "But I would like to go back to doing more man coverage and stuff. It's easier, but pertaining to the players we have on defense, that probably makes it easier for us to play. Keeping it simple allows us to play more instead of thinking too much and slowing down. It allows us to react and get to the ball faster."
My hope for the defense is something relatively stout against the run and functional enough in the secondary to force opponents into long drives if they want to score. Average would be fine.
Video Of All Varieties
Highlights and errata:
Here's an ebullient Denard Robinson in the locker room:
"Ebullient" as defined by answers.com: "zestfully enthusiastic." There's plenty more in a diary from Boyz in the Pahokee. TYT has posted an SD torrent; MGoVideo is planning an HD one tomorrow. There is also a browser-crippling version of the latest Inside Michigan Football.
A zillion photographs
If you want more photographs than are crammed into this post, boy howdy are you in luck. AnnArbor.com has a flickr set, as does the Daily. MVictors and Maize and Blue Nation also file photoposts. MnBN found the letters from the top of the press box:
They're outside sections 2 and 44. It's too bad they couldn't find someplace a little more prominent, but at least they're still around. Also… isn't the S the wrong way?
Quarterback Stuff From Teammates
"He’s really been working on his technique," Roundtree said. "All the quarterbacks have, but Denard has really been working on his technique, his touch on the ball instead of throwing it so hard. And this year it shows so far what he did."
More Roundtreee on Robinson:
Roundtree said Saturday actually was Robinson's "second-best" practice of the spring.
"Last scrimmage (a week ago), he did really well," Roundtree said.
Thus both clinic observers giving the starting QB nod to Denard after that scrimmage. Of note: that was not a strictly ones-vs-twos setup like the spring game. In that scrimmage both Tate and Denard got extensive reps with the first team against various first and second team defenses, and Roundtree thought he did better than he did on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Van Bergen's full LAZERZ quote:
"I think Denard has probably made the most progression. I think he's developed a whole new aspect of his game as far as making great reads and making great throws.
"His throws are on lasers now. He's not throwing balls up for grabs. He's putting them right on receivers, and I think the fact he can scramble while looking downfield is really something that's helped him because last year when he pulled it down, he was going to run. But this year, he's got his eyes downfield, and they're making even bigger plays. He's dangerous. I think he's probably made the most progression, but I think they've all done really good things."
In the future, Denard Robinson will still be made of dilithium; his arm will be made of lasers.
There were plenty of folks who sat out Saturday with injuries of some varieties, including five or six possible starters. The good news is that only walk-on DE Will Heininger will see his injury last into the season. There had been some uncertainty about Vincent Smith but the latest on him is that he should be "fully recovered by preseason camp." If that holds up he's probably your opening-day starter barring a summer renaissance from the rest of the depth chart.
The rest of the injuries range from minor dings to stuff that happened a long time ago horrific bone breaks that just provide an opportunity to work on your standup. Troy Woolfolk's comedic alter-ego:
"I’m going to introduce you all to something," Woolfolk said. "Y’all know me, myself, Troy, but I have a split personality named T-Wolf. When I’m on the field, T-Wolf comes out. T-Wolf doesn’t know how to cry, that’s only a trait that Troy does. Right now, this is Troy. T-Wolf, he’s crazy and I can’t bring him out all the time, I only let him come out on the field. T-Wolf doesn’t have that ability to cry, so that would never happen."
Knock on wood and all that but sounds like everyone should be ready to go for summer conditioning. The most damaged Wolverine may actually be RB coach Fred Jackson, who got stepped on by Kevin Koger. Maybe:
"Supposedly, I'm the one who broke his foot - supposedly, though," Koger said. "It was a 86 on film, but there's no name on the back (of the jersey). So it could have been any 86."
Purdue's spring game saw the Boiler debut of Miami transfer and presumptive starting quarterback Robert Marve. Marve was meh:
Robert Marve talked about "putting on a show" for the fans. Quite simply, he didn't...But how could he with this format? He threw a couple of good balls (for instance, a long pump and go to Cortez Smith for the longest TD of the game), showed the burst of speed that Hope had bragged about...but never got into rhythm for multiple reasons...and just plain missed on quite a few throws. But, he does have an arm.
Iowa's spring game was a Carr special: sparsely attended and no different than a usual practice. Ohio State offensive line is in flux and Pryor didn't have a great day statistically but Buckeye Football Analysis is pretty sanguine about things.
A poster attempted to ferret out what's going on with UConn but didn't come up with much outside of the usual "is this good or bad" stuff.
As always: exploit your kid for youtube fame and I post.