"What (Michigan coaches) told me is that they're focusing on point guards right now, but if anything opens up, they'll definitely come back on and recruit me as hard as they were," said Towns
2006 penn state
11/12/2011 – Michigan 31, Illinois 14 – 8-2, 4-2 Big Ten
In a distant place a long time ago they played a football game in a dark and remote land. The opposing team's coach was a confused person who thought he had a pretty good team. Michigan scored a couple touchdowns but couldn't put the game away; at some point during the second half the confused coach's confused offense finally put together a touchdown drive to narrow the game, and I felt… irritated. Annoyed. Peeved.
This was a strange feeling to have about a suddenly close football game Michigan should have put away already, because every damn game Michigan lost against teams not named Ohio State could be described as "a suddenly close football game Michigan should have put away already." Despite this I was not casting about for pearls to clutch or pre-perforating my garments for easy rending when the time came. I was worried about the stats. This was odd.
Then: near interception, four-yard out, incomplete, incomplete, ballgame. Instead of a roar there was but a flat, damp squeak as Michigan landed the final clubbing blows and emerged from the lion's den with a rug in tow. There are no arguments about this game. No two seconds, no questionable heels or holding calls or other fantasies about if this or that. There is no "if". Michigan has still not been threatened this year. No opponent has moved the ball except when fortunate or permitted to. Its dominance is unquestioned by the foes it leaves battered in its wake. Sometimes -- and I know this is hard to believe -- seven points is a very large lead indeed.
Yeah, that game.
Of all the magical things that Greg Mattison has done since arriving in Ann Arbor for a second tour of duty, making me think about the 2006 Michigan defense a year after… that is hard to top.
2006 happened a century ago. I looked it up. The top songs were "I Want A Girl (Just Like The Girl Who Married Dear Old Dad)" and "Down By The Old Mill Stream." Long-distance communication was conducted by banging rocks together and hoping to startle a pigeon in a way that communicated "happy birthday" instead of "everyone is dead of typhoid again lol." Football games were played between competing sawmills and textile factories; a strict limit of two cattle per offensive line was still controversial. People in Alabama were accused of over-bovining. Craggy men who remembered the invention of writing like Joe Paterno, Jim Tressel, and Lloyd Carr roamed the sidelines. People did not reflexively talk about real good times.
2006 was a long time ago. The ten-volume history of the intervening century is a narrative of relentless, soul-crushing decline on defense.
This summer the UM Club of Greater Detroit invited me to their kickoff dinner. There I sat on a roundtable with Greg Dooley of MVictors and Angelique Chengelis of the Detroit News as various guys with nametags peppered us with questions.
These things always have a pattern: I start out nervous because I'm just this guy, really, and there's a chance someone asks "why should we listen to you?" Since my response is necessarily "I have this blog… it's on the internet!" it's not a question I look forward to. These concerns are a little more pressing when the room is full of people who look like they still get newspapers home-delivered.
But the questions remain hypothetical because I start talking about these things and it turns out that doing what I do on a weekly basis fills your head with esoteric knowledge about all things. Denard Robinson was 84th of 100 qualifying quarterbacks last year in interception percentage. That sort of thing is just in my head, ready to be dispensed. After my head pops open and I start depositing THE KNOWLEDGE like the world's least appetizing Pez dispenser, there is a groove of confidence.
I mention it because there was one question from an elderly gentleman with a pleading edge I still remember. It was about the defense and why anyone would think it would get better. I was already on the record that this was an eight or nine win team; Dooley and Chengelis were pessimists. They cocked their heads and passed the mic.
I said that if you had only watched every play from the last three years over and over you would know. You would not know but feel the mass incoherence, the week-to-week changes, the insane personnel decisions (Demens, Roh as a LB, moving Woolfolk to corner in 2009, Cam Gordon as FS). That if you felt this thing having a guy the Ravens had coordinating their defense could only result in instant, massive improvement. At the very least they would have a plan*.
Though I believed it, as I was saying it it seemed like a reckless thing to tell people. If…that, or anything like it, happens again people will remember someone told them it was going to be all right, and then it wasn't. I hoped I wasn't telling them about the rabbits.
This was the point last year where everyone wrote off JT Floyd. It was the logical thing to do.
Twelve months later Floyd is holding AJ Jenkins to five yards a target and jumping a short route for a shoulda-been pick six for the first time since… God. A century ago. Time is working funny again. Greg Mattison has a phonebooth time machine he sent the secondary back to Charles Woodson's childhood in; they have emerged with ZZ Top beards, children, and skills.
This is a foundation for the future. Wrapping this motley crew of walk-ons, freshmen, people who were totally incompetent last year, Mike Martin, and Ryan Van Bergen into a top 20 defense is a QED achievement no matter the quality of the opposition. The level of coaching required to go from that to this is a constant Michigan can build its program on.
Last year the quality of the opposition didn't matter. Matt McGloin had the above to throw at, and he did. This year Michigan has been average at worst after Mattison figured out he didn't have Ed Reed. Some days they stroll off the field and if you squint you can just convince yourself the last century never happened. You can envision a future where Michigan isn't wondering about its place in the world.
*[Then I told everybody that Denard Robinson's turnover rate would drop like a stone. One out of two isn't bad. ]
There's also the Illinois POV. In their world Illinois wins 14-0 in a thrilling game lasting exactly 1:30. Parkinggod highlights miss the first drive thanks to ESPN sticking with the PSU press conference, but prove that Michigan's everything-is-wonderful POV still goes ten minutes.
Meanwhile, Desmond Morgan is fabulous.
Borgeswatch. 95% thumbs up. As it transpired I was frustrated with the lack of play-action after Illinois started selling out on the run game, but I forgot about the wind. I much prefer that to being reminded about it every 40 seconds like we were against Michigan State. I wonder if Scheehaase's propensity to wing it wide on Jenkins out cuts was due to the wind. While he's not the most accurate guy in the world he seemed particularly off Saturday.
It may have taken two harsh wakeup calls but at least Borges got the message. Run/pass breakdowns in the three windtastic road games against teams with secondaries:
- MSU: 39 passes, 28 runs
- Iowa: 21 passes, 28 runs*
- Illinois: 16 passes, 47 runs
The Gardner package also went away after its momentum-killing outing last week.
A large chunk of getting that play distribution was getting the running game to work. I don't know all of how or why that happened yet, but giving Toussaint the ball 27 times instead of two is part of it; using enough outside runs to get creases on the inside zone is part of it; making Denard a threat is part of it.
While Denard only managed 3.5 YPC on his 11 attempts it's hard to imagine what turned the #15 rush defense** into Swiss cheese if it wasn't Illinois paying too much attention to 16. This was clear on the first drive of the game. Watch the free safety who would be tackling Toussaint after ten yards but for one Denard Robinson:
By the time that dude realizes Denard does not have the ball Toussaint is gone. A similar screwup does not happen if Michigan is operating from under center.
Since I'm usually at games I'm not often able to participate in the internet zeitgeist to the extent I was the past couple weeks. Last week I was in line with everyone being real mad. This week I was surprised by the amount of heat Borges was taking for stuff that wasn't his fault at all. When Denard fumbles and Michigan misses a field goal or Huyge gets destroyed by Mercilus and Denard doesn't see the guy coming right at him, that's not on the OC. The reasons Michigan didn't score touchdowns in this game seemed to be out of Borges's hands.
*[Not counting the final three drives. I did move the two sacks, the fumble, and one Gardner scramble. I made similar adjustment to the other two games; they may be off by one or two but you get the idea.]
**[15-ish. Illinois's sacks distort that. Still a very good unit.]
Fourth and one. The 5% thumbs down, very down, was the fourth and one from the Illinois one yard line. If you're not willing to throw it when you spread them out and they don't spread out…
…I don't think you can do the wacky thing. Those guys to the top of the screen are late arriving and have no idea what they're doing. If you're going to swinging-gate them like this you've got to be able to take advantage of what they give you.
That fourth and one continues a couple trends: speed option and Borges getting cute. I wouldn't have minded it if they had lined up in one of those massive Tebow sets and tried something like this, but going without so much as a tight end in this spot is asking for trouble. The snap didn't help but I don't think it mattered much.
The immediate aftermath. Hoke calmly pointed his defense onto the field:
You are experiencing an unusually calm sensation. Which reminds me:
EPIC HOKE DOUBLE POINT OF THE WEEK. I'm terribly sorry that I inaugurated this thing and then immediately forgot about it. It returns this week because of one man being so ridiculous I thought I should have some sort of special award… oh wait I do.
Your Illinois winner: JT Floyd. AJ Jenkins may have gotten his requisite eight catches for 100 yards but Scheelhaase had to work for it. At one point they showed some Jenkins stats and noted that he had five catches… and fourteen targets. According to Adam Jacobi he ended with eight on 20. That's 5 YPA throwing to a guy who may be the best WR in the Big Ten.
Even that undersells Floyd's day. The deep ball that took Jenkins's stats from mediocre to decent was zone coverage in the middle of the field Floyd was not directly responsible for (and it came after Scheelhaase was given all day). When involved Floyd was all over double moves and jumped a third and short pass for the interception that sealed the game with a little help from Gardner and Odoms.
Even Magnus thought he was "okay for once." WHAT MORE CAN ONE MAN DO?
Honorable mentions go to Al Borges (for his gameplan and getting in on the pointing his ownself), David Molk, and Fitzgerald Toussaint.
RETROACTIVE EPIC HOKE DOUBLE POINTS.
- Michigan State: Ryan Van Bergen, for being the only person to have a good day. HM: None.
- Purdue: Fitzgerald Toussaint, for making the tailback spot a plus for the first time in forever. HM: Mike Martin.
- Iowa: Mike Martin, for being GET IN THE CAR Mike Martin. HM: David Molk.
EPIC DOUBLE POINT STANDINGS.
2: Denard Robinson (Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan), Brady Hoke (San Diego State, Northwestern)
1: Jordan Kovacs (Western Michigan), David Molk (Minnesota), Ryan Van Bergen (MSU), Fitzgerald Toussaint (Purdue), Mike Martin (Iowa), JT Floyd(Illinois).
Weekly bubble bitchin'. Only Ron Zook could send his team out with two deep safeties and three guys tight over WRs against a team that hasn't run a bubble all year:
That's nuts. That's one reason you have that play in the playbook. If they take it away by alignment they've opened something else up. Usually not by putting five guys in the box—that's a Zook special.
What I really meant by posting "We Are ND" after Hoke hiring. I meant that we'd ride a soft schedule to an iffy BCS berth and get our faces crushed. If Michigan wins out—obviously a big if—that could happen. A 10-2 Michigan team will be second in the Big Ten pecking order since everyone other than the champ will have three losses.
Michigan will then be in competition with…
- Boise/Houston. Houston's 11th in the BCS standings and will get an autobid if they remain in the top 12. Boise's actually a spot in front of the Cougars still. One or the other will get a bid. All they have to do is finish in the top 16 since the Big East winner is going to be below them.
- Alabama/LSU/Arkansas. The SEC will get a second bid.
- Stanford/Oregon. If those two win out Stanford will probably get a bid.
- ACC runner-up: a two-loss Clemson or Virginia Tech.
- Oklahoma or Oklahoma State.
Michigan's a lock to beat out a team coming off an ACC championship loss, but one-loss versions of Stanford or Oklahoma State would be tough—Jerry Palm has an all-at-large matchup of those two teams right now. If OU loses Bedlam that would also be tight.
Not making it would be just as well. I'd be happy playing Georgia in one of the infinite Big Ten/SEC matchups. I like nine wins and I cannot lie.
Special teams: actually a positive. FEI's not the only advanced stat rankings system purveyed by Football Outsiders; there's also one called F+. Last week F+ integrated special teams data for the first time; Michigan dropped from 17th to 25th. The special teams… eh… not so good.
This week they were. Matt Wile put five kickoffs in the endzone, Jeremy Gallon averaged 15 yards on four actual punt returns, and the missed field goal was off by about a foot. The only downer is Will Hagerup's persistent mediocrity. He averaged under 35 yards a kick and Michigan is now 112th in net punting. Even if you exclude all the coffin corner stuff from the MSU game he's averaging just 37.7 yards a kick. Wile was doing significantly better during Hagerup's suspension.
Unfortunately, it's likely Gallon's momentary renaissance and the Wile bombing are effects of the opponent and the wind. Illinois's punting is also in the triple digits.
Derp du jour. Seeing some revival of the "we can't run Denard because he won't last through the season" meme, which… like… guh. He's missed a series last week and the last quarter and a half this week because he banged his hand on a pass-rusher's helmet. Twice. The first time he was back in after a series. The second time he could have come back in if necessary. Cancel the spread offense.
Denard's lasted through the bulk of the Big Ten season and with Nebraska and Ohio State left on the schedule, restricting his carries in case he gets hurt is nuts. What are you saving him for?
BONUS: Devin Gardner did two things and Michigan's offense went from racking up yards (and shooting itself in the foot) to not doing the former (and getting short fields). There is no QB controversy. If Michigan makes a 39 yard field goal and Borges doesn't get too cute on the goal line it's 24-0 at halftime and we aren't having this conversation.
Let's stop talking about this.
A permanent feature. Hoke on his decision to go from the one:
Michigan reached the Illinois 1-yard line in the second quarter and went for it on fourth down. Robinson lost 4 yards on the play.
Hoke was asked if going for it in that situation will be the norm. "Pretty much," he said. "And the defense bailed me out."
Desmond Morgan decleater. Don't hate me but I thought that was a missed cut by the RB, who had a lane outside the block. /ducks
dnak puts the defensive performance in a graph (graph):
Left axis is as a percentage of historical worst—ie, last year. That's right: Michigan's scoring defense is brushing up against '06.
Inside the Box Score on Martin going uber:
Mike Martin lead us with 9 tackles. That’s right, an interior defensive lineman lead us with NINE tackles. I’m going to miss that guy. He also got half a sack and 2 QHs. Roh also had 2 QHs. We were QH’ing Scheelhaase all game long.
That's three straight games he's crushed the opponent. Moving towards what we all thought he'd be this year. Too bad it will be tough to crack the All Big Ten team with Short, Still, and Worthy also tearing up offensive lines.
Hoke for Tomorrow brings yet another reason to laugh at Ron Zook:
Ron Zook is a bad coach, this is known. It is remarkable how bad he is though, when looking at his record after bye weeks. Over the past 4 seasons (2008-2011) Illinois has had 6(!) bye weeks, with two in both 2009 and 2010. Their record following these bye weeks? 0-6:
2008: Lost to Penn St 38-24
2009: Lost to OSU 30-0, Lost to Cincinnati 49-36
2010: Lost to OSU 24-13, Lost to Fresno St 25-23
2011: Lost to Michigan (woot!) 31-14
That is epic fail. Ron Zook should be fired.
Bye weeks aren't actually helpful, but come on.
2010:: Total: 8, Scoring: 25, FEI: 2
2011:: Total: 40, Scoring: 37, FEI: 17
Our youthful inexperience has been replaced by transitional inexperience - so we still are inconsistent and turnover-ridden.
The FEI is most indicative I think - we went from an O with the potential to be great (if we had any kind of ST and D) to one that is just very good. I think after Borges was hired, this is sort of where we expected to be offensively - a step back, but not disastrously.
2010:: Total: 110, Scoring: 107, FEI: 108
2011:: Total: 16, Scoring: 5, FEI: 17
Mattison == Awesome. Last year, I said that I thought our D played worse than the personnel. Nevertheless, even if they were being outcoached by say, twenty teams in FEI, and the extra year of experience is good for another twenty teams - Mattison still improved the baseline by about 50 ranks. The defense is now as good as the offense.
Keep in mind that FEI adjusts for schedule strength so a realistic benchmark for an average BCS offense is not 60th. I just chopped out all the non-BCS teams and an average offense is 48th. That's actually lower than I would have guessed. Unfortunately for Michigan, their lack of success has been highly concentrated.
Unwashed blog masses. Via Adam Jacobi, Junior Hemingway scored an imaginary touchdown:
Ron Zook can probably make this happen.
Illini blog A Lion Eye has a habit of taping himself when things are actually going on. This seems like a bad idea in general and for an Illinois fan in particular, but it is entertaining. A partial transcript:
So there's two twenty-four left. We just got the ball back down… what is it… 31-14? And I… I really have… I'm like "oh, what's my emotion? What am I going to record?"
Uhhhhm… dead inside? That doesn't sound right. But it's kind of a… I don't know. I guess the only way to describe it is—oh, and a sack.
I recommend the whole thing not necessarily for the schadenfreude (of which there is plenty) but because it's reassuring that we're not jaded. You may think you're jaded after the last century, but you have no idea. I mean: "I'm just normal right now."
The HSR decides to quote F. Scott Fitzgerald a lot:
"Life is essentially a cheat and its conditions are those of defeat; the redeeming things are not happiness and pleasure but the deeper satisfactions that come out of struggle."
I think we can all agree that yesterday's game was a classic example of "left wanting". Though Michigan had a two score lead, on the road, against a team that considers Michigan its arch-rival*, it still felt like all of the missed red zone opportunities were going to come back to haunt Michigan, because we're taught that when you don't put the boot on the throat, it will cost you. Except, it didn't.
Refs. They obviously made a decision to only call holding if the offensive lineman actually removed the jersey of rusher. And on the play where Avery picked up the ball and scored the touchdown, they made three bad mistakes on a single play. The unholy trinity: 1. It wasn’t a fumble in the first place, that’s somewhat forgivable. 2. If it was a fumble, Avery was clearly on the ground (and thus down) when he picked it up, but they gave him a touchdown. 3. They didn’t adjust the clock after the play was reversed, should have been 19 or 20 seconds left instead of 14.
Hoke even complained about #3 and got nowhere. That is almost inevitably a call the refs give coaches.
My first impression was one of doom and gloom, but, the more I think about it, maybe it's not so bad. Michigan put up 31 against a formidable defense, more than any other Illinois opponent save Northwestern (qualifier: yeah, those are some bad offenses on their schedule, but it's all relative at this point). This is of course not even mentioning the inopportune turnovers and the Illini's general inability to move the ball, additional reasons to not feel so bad about things. Obviously you can't just take turnovers out, but Michigan could have very easily scored in the 40s, on the road, against a pretty good defense.
There was a lot of the doom and gloom on the internets, which I don't get. Michigan failed to put up 24 in the first half on the #6 defense in the country by shooting itself in the foot. While that's frustrating, it is so much worse to have a performance like Iowa where the offense is neither scoring nor moving the ball. Sometimes bad things happen. Michigan outperformed Illinois's yardage average by 80 despite playing in adverse conditions.
BWS is eeee Mattison:
Mattison is installing this defense a lot like Rodriguez or Borges installed their offense. Week by week, Mattison introduces a new formation or coverage scheme to the defense--usually only one. Early in the season, it was a basic stunt move intended to overwhelm one side of the offensive line. Against MSU, he debuted an A-gap zone blitz. Purdue: nickel blitz. Iowa: crowding the line of scrimmage. Michigan's base defense is a 4-3 under, man-coverage look that Mattison can slowly and effectively build upon. While he doesn't go back to the cookie jar in later weeks, the hope (and my expectation) is that when Michigan plays Ohio
State, they'll have an arsenal of blitzing plays that can be deployed in unison, creating a defense that is as unpredictable and consistently effective as the constantly tweaked offense under Rodriguez.
Mainstream media type persons. The Daily's Stephen Nesbitt gets a a slice of life from the field:
As Floyd started crossing the turf toward the tunnel to the visitor’s locker room, he saw Illinois wide receiver A.J. Jenkins approaching him. The receiver-cornerback duo had battled all game long.
Floyd pulled up at the goal line.
“Heck of a game, man,” Floyd told the All-American wideout. “I think you’re a heck of a talent.”
Jenkins, in his orange No. 8 jersey, gave a big smile and tossed the same compliment back at Floyd — Michigan’s No. 8.
“Make sure you go get the rest of the (defensive backs) and give them some trouble the rest of the season,” Floyd said as he stepped away.
Chengelis on the diverse and sundry contributions:
Senior defensive lineman Mike Martin led the team with nine tackles. Linebackers Desmond Morgan and Kenny Demens had eight and seven tackles, respectively, and senior Ryan Van Bergen had 2.5 sacks.
Safety Jordan Kovacs forced a fumble, and Thomas Gordon made the recovery, his fourth of the season, and cornerback J.T. Floyd made a pivotal interception in the fourth quarter on a third-down play at the Michigan 40-yard line. He returned it 43 yards and Michigan converted into a touchdown to make it, 24-7.
That is many contributions. Kovacs's in particular was a MAKE PLAYS moment, putting his head on the ball after Michigan had found its line creased and forcing a turnover. That fumble was forced in a way that some of the previous ones haven't been.
Daily on Mattison's reaction:
“That was a Michigan defense,” Mattison said like a proud father figure, admitting it for the first time all season. “They played as hard as they could, they did whatever they had to do. Without a doubt, that was a Michigan defense.”
The Michigan football team had just won the game on defense, holding Illinois to 30 yards, including minus-14 first-half rushing yards, before ultimately allowing 14 points and just 214 yards of offense en route to a 31-14 victory on the road.
“They’re Michigan Men,” said an emotional Mattison. “We talk about it all the time, that there’s a standard at Michigan and you’ve got to live up to that, and you're judged by it. We haven’t come to that final point where you win the game on defense, and we said, ‘This is your last away trip to do it.’ I couldn’t be more proud of this group of guys.”
Podcasting. No podcast this week due to a fiasco involving a flight to Ireland out of Chicago and the MGoFiancee's unwise decision to leave her passport in Ann Arbor, but I do appear on the latest edition of the Solid Verbal. My bit is at around the 23 minute mark.
Blood Battle. Michigan's annual contest against Ohio State to see which school can donate more pints of blood* is awwwwn. Hit up their website for details. Michigan won 2449-2350 last year—I should put up a ticker that says 1343 DAYS SINCE OHIO STATE BEAT MICHIGAN AT BLEEDING. Ain't got no other tickers to put up.
BONUS: There's an organ donor challenge going on too, and Michigan is winning that too.
*(Attention OSU fans: cutting yourself with a broken bottle in a bar fight and oozing all over your Busch Light totally counts this year.)
Penn State past. MGoVideo's put together every snap videos from the '97 Judgment Day demolition:
There's also the 2006 defense. WARNING: watching these videos may make you powerfully nostalgic for defenses that have people on them who play football.
Lack of Cox explained. If you've been wondering why Michael Cox can't get a snap this helps explain it:
Rodriguez disclosed Wednesday that running back Michael Cox has had “a knee issue” for the past few weeks, and that his growth and practice has been limited.
He probably won't play much the rest of the year since he was a guy who really needed the practice reps for mental sharpness—Rodriguez said something about him needing to know the whole playbook before he sees the field. Also there are three guys in front of him. With Mike Shaw healthy and Stephen Hopkins easing into more playing time snaps are going to be fought for tooth and nail.
Also, Devin Gardner's back injury is still hampering him but they will bring him to Penn State in case there is an emergency.
Bolden yes no question? Robert Bolden was go, then he was no go, and now he's go?
Penn State freshman starting quarterback Rob Bolden has passed his Wednesday test intended to determine whether he is over effects from an apparent concussion suffered on Saturday at Minnesota.
Probably not. Penn State insider types (and Bolden's dad) are saying that Bolden has not practiced since the Minnesota game. There's little chance a guy who can't practice Wednesday will be ready to go Saturday, or prepared even if he is. Bolden's mom:
"He really wants to play against Michigan -- his heart is just going to be really broken since he can't," Williams said from her home in the Detroit suburb of Southfield, Mich. "He failed that concussion test Sunday, which is not good.
"I think it's best for him if they sit him down this week. Hopefully, he can play next week [Nov. 6 against Northwestern]."
Beating Penn State without Bolden would cheapen the victory but right now the program needs a win of any variety, cheap or not. Also, did I mention that DE Jack Crawford is still out? That leaves Penn State starting either that freshman DT or a really bad veteran or stuffing lightweight pass rusher and doghouse resident Sean Stanley into the starting lineup. If Penn State goes with the DT Michigan should tell Robinson to keep it every time he tries to keep contain.
At least one thing has not gone horribly disastrously wrong. FO's Brian Fremeau has finally done the thing that I always thought should be done with punting stats: measured the average result of punts from every yard line on the field and ranked teams by how much above or below they are that break-even line. Michigan's standing in that advanced measure:
|Punt Efficiency Top-10||Punt Return Efficiency Top-10|
|5||Florida State||-.129||22||5||Michigan State||.270||37|
|10||South Carolina||-.095||19||10||Fresno State||.233||33|
Fremeau doesn't provide a link to a list of all I-A teams so we can't find out exactly how terrible the punt returns have been but… dang. Fourth nationally is a huge difference from the conventional net yardage measure, in which M has dragged itself up to 44th after starting the year in triple digits thanks to Will Hagerup's nervy start.
I wish Fremeau would provide an alternate measure that assumed an average number of punts per game and approximated how many points per game being 13% better than average is worth—my slightly educated guess is it's around a field goal. Net punting average is about 37 yards. 13% of 37 yards is about five yards, and this Advanced NFL Stats post estimates that a season-long four yard advantage in field position is worth 2.8 points per game. Michigan's yardage difference is bigger but punts are less frequent, so… yeah. Will Hagerup is worth two or three points a game.
Meanwhile, Michigan is a shiny 120th in field goal efficiency, which is bad.
Ufer. A couple days ago was the anniversary of Bob Ufer's death in 1981.
Etc.: If you need a photo of the band, or six billion of them, there is an official site dedicated to doing so. Hey, Michigan Hockey Scheduler guy: don't put a home hockey game smack dab in the middle of a football game, thanks. This MZone post about college fooball coaches's Halloween costumes is horrifying. MNB compares Michigan players to characters in the Wire. Demerit: somehow gives Snoop to someone other than Jeremy Gallon. Merit: members of the secondary are Namond, Randy, Michael, and Dookie.
6. Buffalo Stampede
2003 Minnesota: trailing 14-0, Michigan has driven to around midfield. John Navarre chucks a WR screen to Steve Breaston, who throws it back to Navarre. Forty yards later, we all have beards and Michigan is within seven points.
At some point in the 2003 Minnesota game I needed to get off the couch after something enraging had happened. I was on it with my girlfriend at the time and she sort of ended up on the ground as I executed my plan. The couch was low to the ground, she was unharmed, and in the aftermath the incident seemed funny. At the time all I could do was clench and unclench my fists.
Michigan would eventually deploy an all-shotgun offense in the fourth quarter that shredded Minnesota for 24 points and win the game on a Garrett Rivas 33-yarder, but at the time it was grim. It would have been more grim but for the trick play of the decade:
In the aftermath a friend immediately called me screaming "WHAT." It wasn't a question. It was just "WHAT." That. From seven year's distance it appears to be the slowest, most awkward touchdown convoy in school history.
Eventually it was key in Michigan's comeback win and Rose Bowl berth but really it's just here for its sheer improbability. It was one thing to run the transcontinental with Drew Henson; doing it with John Navarre—and getting a touchdown out of it—is pure audacity. This, by the way, is why Minnesota bloggers will never do a Worst Plays of the Decade list.
5. In ur base killin ur d00dz
MGoRetro: Pit Bull.
Penn State, 2006: it's second or third and long or something again, can't remember, doesn't matter, and I'm back in the pocket and I know I'm going to die. My offensive line has proven itself entirely hypothetical at this point. So I'm going to die, and it's not going to have any purpose. But this time I actually get a faint semblance of protection and I manage to find an open receiver—I'd forgotten those even existed—and I hurl it out there. And if Alan Branch hadn't driven his facemask into my shoulder and run through my tiny hoo-man body and left me in a concussed heap on the ground I would have gotten to see a first down. Which would have been nice.
But then I might have had to play the rest of the game instead of getting an emergency cup of pudding repurposed from JoePa's stash. So, yeah. I could go either direction, as long as it's 180 degrees from wherever Branch is going.
When Michigan fans are (unwisely, these days) attempting to tweak their Penn State coworkers this play, and the iconic image from its aftermath, is their go-to option. That's a meaningful statement when you've got most of a decade's worth of gloating to choose from, including another play on this list.
As for the significance of the play, Penn State had bounced back from its early decade malaise in a big way in 2005, going 11-1 with the only loss featured a bit higher on this list. By the time the PSU game rolled around in '06 it was obviously the only thing standing between Michigan and a 1-vs-2 matchup against Ohio State at the end of the season. Michigan's last four opponents would all finish with losing records; the only road game was against Indiana. When Anthony Morelli got blasted out of the game the decks were clear.
More than that, though, Alan Branch being in ur base is emblematic of the first ten games of 2006, when the Michigan defense was 1997 all over again and things were, briefly, back on course.
4. "Oh, wide open"
MGoRetro: Quod Erat Demonstrandum
Notre Dame, 2006: Late in the first quarter, Michigan and Notre Dame are tied 7-7 after exchanging terrible interceptions when Chad Henne drops back to pass and launches one deep. Pat Haden breaks the suspense before the cameraman can catch up to a streaking Manningham by declaring "oh, wide open." When Manningham finally appears he is running under a perfectly thrown ball, all alone.
Michigan entered the 2006 game uncertain of its place in the college football universe after a frustrating 7-5 season this blog nicknamed the "Year of Infinite Pain," if only to highlight how sheltered the Michigan fanbase has been in the aftermath of the last couple years. And if Alan Branch sending Anthony Morelli to his happy place was emblematic of Michigan's run to Football Armageddon, Mario Manningham getting ten yards clear of the nearest Notre Dame cornerback was the moment the Year of Infinite Pain became part of the past:
Manningham would score twice more on deep balls as Michigan leapt out to a commanding lead. They didn't look back until the second quarter of the Ohio State game.
Michigan State, 2004: Braylon Edwards skies over yet another Michigan State defensive back, tying a game in which Michigan trailed by 17 with under nine minutes to go.
Braylon Edwards was the most frustrating great player in Michigan history, prone to terrible drops on easy throws and legendarily not "on the same page" as Lloyd Carr. But he was great, and never greater than the last eight minutes of regulation in the 2004 Michigan State game. If they gave out Heismans for a single game, they would have had to give Edwards two for this one.
It almost wasn't anything, though. In this game Michigan was driving in the third quarter, down 17-10, when Edwards fumbled around the 20. He was creeping towards the goat side of the ledger when DeAndra Cobb ran That Goddamned Counter Draw again and outran Ernest Shazor to the sideline and the endzone. But when you're down 17 with under eight minutes left, what is there to do other than chuck it up and tell the onside kick team that they should try really hard?
I remember many things about that game. I remember being cold as hell as the game dragged on and the heat fled from the stadium. I remember going over to a friend's house afterward and being told by his roommates that they had actually left immediately after the DeAndra Cobb TD. I remember another friend telling me that a State friend of his had turned the game off as soon as Michigan hit the field goal to get within 14—he didn't even wait for the onside kick. I remember turning around and jovially telling the State fans behind me that it was good that MSU missed their last-second 52-yard field goal attempt to win after a terrible PI call, because if it had gone in there was no way they were getting out of the stadium alive. But mostly I remember the shadows that gave the whole enterprise an otherworldly feel. It's without question the best game I've ever been to.
The pick here is the game-tying touchdown, as at that point victory seemed inevitable and the comeback was complete. Without it, the others are just coulda-been plays like the Mike Hart touchdown in the Horror.
2. Phil Brabbs is absolutely not going to make this field goal
Washington, 2002: Phil Brabbs hits a 44 yard field goal as time expires to beat Washington.
I've interacted with Phil Brabbs a little bit since he came down with cancer and I've read his blog and am wearing his bracelet, so I have a little insight here. The bracelet says DOMINATE and his blog has pictures of him DOMINATING various things from hospital ice cream to IVs to chemo drugs. Sometimes he makes his adorable children DOMINATE things. He's kind of like anthropomorphized Brawndo. So I'm betting that when Brabbs strolled onto the field after a preposterous sequence of events set him up with a potential game-winning field goal in the 2002 season opener, he was totally psyched to dominate himself some 44-yard field goal.
In this, he was utterly alone.
I'm sure his parents and wife tell him that they just knew he'd hit it, but after a career debut in which he missed 36 and 42 yard field goals badly enough for Michigan to send out Troy Neinberg on a 27-yarder that he shanked, no one in Michigan Stadium thought a 44-yard field goal with no time left on the clock was going in. This includes those nearest and dearest to him. I was just hoping it went forward.
Naturally, Brabbs did this:
Though Washington would end up one of the country's biggest disappointments at 7-6, they entered Michigan Stadium a top ten opponent. The moment the kick actually went through the actual uprights and everyone looked at the guy under the crossbar to make sure they hadn't hallucinated it, then looked at the other guy under the crossbar to make sure the first guy hadn't been hallucinating too, promised grand things. (That would fall apart in a ridiculous loss at Notre Dame in two weeks.)
1. The New Math
MGoRetro: The New Math.
Penn State, 2005: With one second on the clock, Mario Manningham catches a deep slant to beat Penn State 27-25. 86 = 1, as Michigan State would learn in 2007.
Why is this number one? It didn't end up mattering, and it was already clear it wouldn't since Michigan was already 3-3 and headed nowhere in 2005. It was the end of a classic game that swung dramatically from one side to the other, but other games were better and meant more.
I think it's that :01 on the clock, the knowledge that that second was precarious, fought for by Lloyd Carr after the clock ran after a Michigan timeout, preserved by Steve Breaston's best Tyrone Butterfield impression, and ironically Joe Paterno's fault for getting his team an extra two seconds on what they thought was their game-winning drive. Michigan was living on borrowed time. It seemed like they'd been given a chance to go back and right wrongs. Scott Bakula was at quarterback.
Meanwhile, Michigan was locked in an existential crisis unknown for decades. The 1984 season could be written off as a fluke since Jim Harbaugh's broken leg threw everything into disarray and Michigan bounced right back afterwards; 2005 was entirely different. Michigan had never been 3-3 in my recollection. My brother and I spent a large chunk of the game being bitterly cynical about everything. We felt justified about it after the killer Henne fumble/botched extra point for two combination. We'd collectively decided to dull the pain by withdrawing emotionally. This was working for a while, and then the team decided to give the middle finger to the cosmic middle finger, getting off the mat twice. The culmination:
In the end, the game served as a reminder that bitterness is no fun, faith is rewarded, the kids on the field are more resilient than we are, and sometimes they can let us borrow some of that. A lot of the plays on this list were diminished by subsequent events in which Michigan failed to live up to the promise they had in that one moment, but this one has been magnified by the awful last couple of years. It promises a light at the end of the tunnel.
Drew Henson bootlegs his way into the OSU endzone to seal the win (2000) … Chris Perry puts the OSU game beyond doubt with a slashing bounceout TD to make it 35-21 (2003) … Breaston returns a punt for a touchdown against Indiana … Northwestern … Illinois … etc … Manningham's worm after the ND game (2006) … Chris Perry punches it against Penn State in to seal a win in Michigan Stadium's first OT game (2002) … Ron Zook seals the Outback Bowl by calling a reverse pass that Victor Hobson intercepts (2002) … Alain Kashama beats the Sex Cannon to a fumbled ball in the endzone, finally fulfilling four years of Canadian Reggie White hype (2002 Outback) … Jacob Stewart picks off Asad Abdul-Kaliq in the Buffalo Stampede game and returns it for a touchdown (2002) … Garrett Rivas finishes the Buffalo Stampede game with a field goal (2002) … Chad Henne hits Tyler Ecker for a game-winning touchdown against Minnesota and executes nailcoeds.exe (2004) … Braylonfest Part I … Braylonfest Part II … Braylonfest Part IV … Brian Thompson recovers an onside kick, greatly aiding Braylonfest parts II through IV … Jason Avant's catch against Northwestern (2003) … Marquise Walker's catch against Iowa (2001) … Jerome Jackson pops through a nonexistent hole against Iowa to establish himself useful, then scores the game-winning TD (2005) … the snap sails over Jimmy Clausen's head on the first play of the game (2007) … Michigan cracks open the Battle of Who Could Care Less against Illinois with a reverse pass (2007) … Manningham outruns Justin King to tie Penn State (2005) … Mike Hart drags Penn State tacklers for five of the most impressive eight yards of his career (2005) … Lamarr Woodley kicks off Yakety Sax (2006) … Prescott Burgess returns a Brady Quinn interception for a TD(2006) … Mike Hart levels Sean Lee on a blitz pickup (2007) … Arrington's catch against Florida (2007) … A ludicrous Ryan Mallett decision—pitch it backwards to Carson Butler as he's being sacked—works out (2007) … Steven Threet takes off on a 60-yard jaunt against Wisconsin (2008) … Denard Robinson fumbles the first snap as Michigan's quarterback and WOOPs his way for a touchdown (2009) … Darryl Stonum returns a kickoff for a touchdown against Notre Dame (2009) … Forcier hits Greg Mathews on a circle route to win against Notre Dame (2009) … Tate Forcier hits Martavious Odoms on a perfect seam for the game-winning points against Indiana (2009) … Forcier's mansome final drive in the rain to tie Michigan State (2009) … Brandon Graham demolishes Glenn Winston (2009) … Brandon Graham demolishes Everybody (2009).
A major reason this series came together is the tireless effort of Wolverine Historian, who put together video for almost everything on the list. Also a hat tip to parkinggod, who had HD of last year's ND game, and akarpo, who helped out with some of the clipping last year.
|Fully eight in the box with the ninth rolled up tight. Still, this might have worked. Mitchell(+1) gets Alford cut nicely on the backside â€“ all those guys in the box make a cutback unwise, though. The real problem is Long being stood up at the POA, driven back a yard or so, and then having his man disengage to make the tackle at the LOS.|
|Crowd rattling? (Massey -1)|
|Probably the difference between PSU and other defenses: Sean Lee, a sophomore linebacker, reads this very quickly, getting out on Butler and preventing much in the way of YAC. Nice, accurate throw by Henne under some pressure. (CA, 3)|
|Henne's second or third read and a well-covered one at that. Accurate, well timed ball gets a first down. (Nominal DO, 3)|
|Batted at the line. Intended for Arrington on a short out; Michigan had flooded the zone with Hart and the two TEs to suck the defense in... looked like if complete this was eight to ten. Reason the ball is batted is a corner blitz right into the throwing lane. Nothing you can do about it on a three-step drop like this. Henne's choices were to chance the BA or take a sack. (BA, 0 â€“ Arrington)|
|M40||2||10||Ace 3-Wide||Penalty||-5||Butler||False start|
|Argh. Ecker, where art thou? (-1)|
|I heart Hart. Dan Connor reads this and comes up to fill at the LOS. This should go for 0, but Hart jukes him out of his jock and gains 8. (CA, 3)|
|M43||3||7||Ace 3-Wide||Pass||2||Butler||Short out|
|I think we missed a pick here as Connor is not impeded by the wideout's route at all. As a result, Butler is tackled immediately. (CA, 3)|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 9 min 1st Q.|
|FB shuffle to the weak side from Oluigbo; Penn State is shifted to that side. At the snap, five Lions come forward, three of them getting penetration. Hart bounces outside where Poz is waiting; he cuts up past him, turning a two-yard loss into a no gain.|
|M19||2||10||I-Form Twins||Pass||Inc||Butler||Shallow cross|
|Henne's hit on the arm as he throws; ball ends up hitting an offensive lineman. Butler was open on the cross, as Breaston and Arrington had run off the coverage underneath. (BA) ...whoah. The replay shows that this is definitely a fumble. Henne's arm is coming back when it's knocked out of his hand. The resulting forward motion of his arm sort of shot-puts the ball forward, but it's well out of his hand before the arm comes forward. Oluigbo, who let the pressure in, recovered it, so not a huge deal in the long term but still a missed call.|
|No one open initially and pressure comes from the outside. Henne steps up in the pocket and decides to take off... probably had time to survey the field and try to find another open receiver but it's hard to blame him. (TA)|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 0-0, 4 min 1st Q. Williams fumbles the ensuing punt and Michigan gets the ball back.|
|Jay Alford â€“ who we're running away from â€“ dominates Bihl(-1), driving him all the way back to Hart and tripping him near the LOS. If Alford doesn't make this play Poz is closing to attempt a tackle but chances are Hart gets four or more if he successfully jukes him. Don't quite understand why Arrington doesn't come in and seal the LB, leaving Hart to deal with a flimsy corner instead of Poz.|
|O47||2||9||Ace 3-Wide||Run||3||Hart||Zone left|
|Long again has trouble dealing with his man. The outside is open here but for the penetration ceded by him. Hart decides to cut it up and burrows for three or so... he might have been able to get the corner anyway, but probably not.|
|From our seats in Beaver Stadium we saw this come wide open; so did Henne. We then saw Henne miss Arrington by a couple yards. Bleah! (IN, 0)|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 0-0, 3 min 1st Q. Penn State isn't loading the box or anything, they're just making excellent plays in the run game.|
|M25||1||10||I-Form||Pass||15||Breaston||Deep cross (2)|
|Epic time; Henne stands in the pocket and fires downfield to Breaston, open between three zone defenders. Breaston makes a tough catch downfield, as the ball is behind him a bit. (CA, 2)|
|...I guess, as it's hard to tell. Ed Johnson is completely unblocked. Hart cuts past him to prevent a five-yard loss and dances through three more guys, two of them getting blocked, before getting closed down by the rest of the PSU defense.|
|M41||2||9||Ace 3-Wide||Penalty||-5||Mathews(?)||Inelig. Man|
|Six yard out to Mathews (CA, 3) is erased because he lined up on the LOS and was thus covered up by Breaston.|
|M36||2||14||Ace 3-Wide||Pass||15||Arrington||PA Slant (2)|
|Token fake to Hart; this slant is not a bang-bang three step drop but rather a delayed one that allows the middle of the zone to get cleared out. Henne finds Arrington wide open for seven to ten yards; Arrington feints his way up the field for the first down, picking up a block from Mathews on the way. (CA, 3)|
|O49||1||10||I-Form Twins||Pass||11||Breaston||Slip Screen (2)|
|Well done by Breaston. Arrington blocks the inside guy; Breaston bolts past the outside guy. Momentarily searching for balance after getting his legs tangled with the flailing arms of the defender, he can't put a move on the safety and score. (CA, 3)|
|Excellent coverage from King â€“ we were screaming for PI on him for disrupting Breaston's route. Breaston lays out but the pass is just off his fingertips. (CA, 1)|
|Henne has Breaston open farther downfield for what looks to be a probable first down. He takes the short TE route; Butler catches it, breaks a tackle, and creates good YAC. (CA, 3)|
|O31||3||3||Ace 3TE||Run||6||Hart||Zone left (2)|
|Michigan overloads the line with three-count-em-three tight ends, two on the left side. They run there and there's finally a crease, this between Kraus and Long. Key seal block from Massey.|
|Hart motions out of the backfield like he did on the long reception versus Minnesota. Penn State sends six; they're momentarily picked up. Breaston's slant and go doesn't fool King, in superb coverage. With the oncoming rush and the coverage, I think Henne's just getting rid of this ball. (TA)|
|Breaston wide open on an out that he would easily turn up for a first down; Henne overthrows him. (IN, 0)|
|O25||3||10||Ace 3-Wide||Pass||25||Arrington||Post (2, 3, 4)|
|Duuude. Penn State drops eight; Henne lures the safety towards the middle of the field by looking right, then comes back and fires a dart into Arrington's hands. (DO, 3)|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 7-0, 11 min 2nd Q. Seriously badass throw completes the drive.|
|Well... this play works but no thanks to the guys trying to block the PSU DTts, who both end up four yards in the backfield. Hart his running to their left anyway, cuts back behind the line as there are no DTs left... maybe that's why you don't get four yards in the backfield against the zone. Some Shaw â€“ Tim or Jim â€“ is unblocked on the backside and makes the tackle after seven yards.|
|PSU sends a run blitz right before the snap. It's well blocked in the middle but with the extra players attacking there's nowhere to run.|
|O42||3||2||Ace 3TE||Run||6||Hart||Zone left|
|Essentially the same play we ran for the other third and short conversion, overloading the left and then going there. Thompson and Butler both stick their assignments, as does Kraus on the second level. Hart has an easy time of picking his hole and getting the first down.|
|O36||1||10||Ace 3-Wide||Pass||27||Arrington||Post (2)|
|A virtual replay of the touchdown down to the yardage gained. (DO, 3)|
|O9||1||G||Ace 3TE||Run||3||Hart||Zone left|
|I guess it's not surprising that there are nine guys in the ol' box when we're on the nine. Play is well blocked, but neither Poz nor Connor will stay engaged. They both come off their blocks and the combination â€“ a Poz missed tackle forcing Hart into a diving Connor â€“ keeps this gain at three yards.|
|Pass batted at the line; Breaston was probably going to get nailed the instant he caught it anyway. (BA)|
|O6||3||G||Ace 3-Wide||Pass||Inc||Massey||Um.. fade?|
|Pass through Massey's hands; definitely caught by Ecker, who's a couple inches taller and has shown better hands. (CA, 2)|
|Drive Notes: FG, 10-0, 5 min 2nd Q.|
|M20||1||10||Ace 3-Wide||Run||3||Hart||Zone left|
|Seven in the box versus this three-wide set. Mitchell gets Alford cut â€“ we seem to be doing this better of late â€“ giving Hart a lane up the middle. Connor, unblocked, meets Hart a yard after the LOS; Hart does his thing for three more yards.|
|Alford not cut this time but overruns the play. Hart cuts up behind him. Butler ignores the DE, who flies upfield before changing direction, trying to bear down on Hart. Hart powers through his arm tackle and is into the second level, where Butler and Mitchell have picked up blocks. Hart could be stopped for about four but Riley plows into him from the back, causing him to fall forward.|
|Long lined up at guard.|
|Only six guys on the line. Probably Butler's fault.|
|Butler had two steps on the nearest defender and could have sailed for big yardage, but Henne's way high. (IN, 0)|
|M26||2||15||Ace 3-Wide||Run||15||Hart||Draw (2)|
|Actually have them thinking pass, probably the first time a defense has done that all year. Six in the box and the DL goes for a pass rush. By the time Hart's to the line one LB is engaged and Riley's getting out on the other. Result: gaping hole.|
|Play disrupted by penetration from Ed Johnson. We go to the short side of the field so there's no chance to get the corner once Hart's immediate path is blown up. Kraus(-1) the one victimized.|
|Pursued on the waggle, Henne lofts a weak ball out towards Breaston that lands at his feet. (IN, 1) Play would have gone for very little because of the weak throw anyway.|
|Well... a good job by Henne to roll away when he couldn't find anyone open downfield and find Butler open at the sticks, but overthrown. (IN, 0)|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 10-3, 11 min 3rd Q. Don't want to be too harsh on Henne, but he sailed a ball that could have been a really big play and overthrew Butler to snuff this drive out.|
|M31||1||10||I-Form Twins||Run||-1||Hart||Lead Draw|
|Not a good play from the OL. Bihl(-1) is beaten by Johnson, forcing a too-soon cut from Hart. The delay allows the rest of the DL, only slightly blocked, to coverge.|
|M30||2||11||Ace 3-Wide||Pass||5||Arrington||PA Cross|
|Draw is faked. I think Butler's seam is supposed to draw Connor back but this it does not do. He closes, preventing any YAC. (CA, 3)|
|Alford goes between Riley(-1) and Mitchell, getting quick pressure that he shouldn't with two guys to block him. The resutling pass from Henne is a little bit in front of Arrington. His diving attempt at the catch comes up short. (CA, 1)|
|Drive Notes: Punt,10-3, 6 min 3rd Q.|
|Kraus(-1) badly beaten by Ed Johnson, forcing Henne to scramble... surprised this wasn't a sack, actually. Good awareness to turn this into anything positive. (PR)|
|Nice hole here â€“ we've got 'em creased again â€“ but for Johnson coming loose and closing Hart down after he gains a small chunk of yards. Kraus(-1) couldn't keep him sealed.|
|Pass could be thrown a lot better. As it is, Arrington has to dive down and grab it. (Marginally CA, 1)|
|Giant roar of disappointment from the Michigan section after this play, as he had Butler streaking open 25 yards downfield. (BA) Can we keep Jay Alford out of the passing lanes?|
|O45||2||10||Ace 3-Wide||Pass||24||Breaston||Stop (2)|
|A late blitz from Poz catches Hart off guard. Henne starts to move, then finds Breaston, flicking it out to him. You know who this reminds me of? John Navarre. In a good way. King isn't close enough to Breaston to make an immediate tackle, and that's bad news versus Stevie B. (CA, 3)|
|O21||1||10||Ace||Run||20||Hart||Zone right (2)|
|So awesome is Mike Hart. Awful that this isn't a touchdown. Anyway: Butler blocks out the DE and Johnson hideously overruns towards the frontside, leaving a cavernous hole behind. Hart cuts back, breaks the tackle from Scirroto, and drags the corner seven yards to the one.|
|O1||1||G||Ace 3TE||Run||1||Hart||Zone right (2)|
|Thompson(+1) comes in motion to the short side as the third TE. He blows back the corner, letting Hart walk in.|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 17-3, End of 3rd Q.|
|Eight in the box. Hart's cutback lane filled by the eighth guy, forcing a cut upfield into Poz for a few.|
|It looks like Hart has a big hole for a moment, but Johnson comes free from Kraus(-1) and Breaston(-1) whiffs his block, turning what looked like a wide open lane into nothing. Hart makes what he can.|
|Simple slant to Breaston at the sticks turns into a big chunk of yards when King whiffs the tackle, setting Breaston free in the open field. (CA, 3)|
|Victimizing King again. Wide open and Breaston makes a good cut upfield for as many yards as possible. (CA, 3)|
|We fake a slip screen that we totally should have ran for a ton of yards. Instead, a draw to Hart again snuffed out by Johnson as Kraus can't get him pushed or sealed.|
|Going to the well one too many times, as the linebacker is jumping this route, ignoring the TE's seam. There's still a window for a short completion but Henne wings it wide, forcing Breaston to break up a potential interception. (IN, 1)|
|Not sure what Henne's looking at, because he has Breaston wide open for the first down â€“ DB is turned completely the wrong way â€“ but refuses to throw, instead scrambling out and getting tackled for a loss. (BR)|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 17-3, 10 min 4th Q.|
|Outside is sealed well this time. Long holds his man off and Butler gets out on Poz. Breaston(-1) tries to chop Connor but fails miserably. Hart still has enough momentum and room to go for five.|
|Kraus driven back by Johnson, and Butler can't handle the DE. Grady cuts it up, meeting an unblocked Lee at the LOS.|
|Breaston is the first read in the flat. Play is designed as a bit of a pick, but Arrington's route doesn't come close enough to Breaston's defender to interfere with his man coverage. Henne comes off to Butler, decides he's covered, and scrambles. (TA)|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 17-3, 4 min 4th Q.|
|M20||1||10||I-Form 2TE||Run||-1||Hart||Zone left|
|Butler(-1) can't handle Shaw, who penetrates, bangs into Oluigbo, and then tackles. Extremely disappointing, as a Butler block yields a big chunk of yards.|
|M19||2||11||Ace||Run||23||Hart||Zone left (2)|
|Crease between Bihl and Long with the second level completely blocked. One problem: Riley hasn't obstructed Alford at all. It's another one of those play-side blocks that are really difficult. He bears down on Hart and impacts him... but just because Riley hasn't done anything yet doesn't mean he can't grab Alford's arm, preventing him from wrapping and springing Hart for a huge gain.|
|Connor blitzes, bringing the second level to Long; Long, standing stock still, meets Connor and shoves him back four yards. There's a crease as a result despite nearly every Lion starting the play in the box.|
|Penn State sends the house. A linebacker drives Mitchell back; a single-blocked Alford does the same to Bihl. Poz, unblocked, meets the play in the backfield.|
|Right on the money, dropped. (CA, 3)|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 17-10, 2 min 4th Q.|
After reviewing the tape, what do you think about Henne's performance?
Let's bring in the helpful chart for reference:
(Now with explanatory legend.)
Obviously, Henne threw a lot more in this game than he has in any other this year, and he did it in a difficult environment against a good defense. It's reasonable to expect the numbers to be a little uglier. And that they are, with a full 15 attempts in the negative categories compared to but 19 in the positive ones. You may remember that at his nadir last year, Henne hovered just below the 50% mark, but that was after we stripped out batted passes and pressure. With four deflected balls -- none of which were truly Henne's fault -- and one Alford-induced scramble removed, Henne's ratio is 19:10. That's not bad at all.
Still, I wish that his accuracy was better. He had Arrington open a few times and either missed him entirely or forced him into a tough catch. He missed an open Butler a few times and winged a sure first down over Breaston's head. He turns two of those inaccurate passes into completions and I'm raving... but his accuracy left a little to be desired.
On the other hand: do you know who he reminds me of right at this minute? John Navarre midway through his junior year. That's when Navarre started doing things like moving up in the pocket to buy himself time and make the correct audibles and look safeties off before firing critical third-down lasers. And that's when you, the fan, sat back and thought "is this really John Navarre? Really really?" The Arrington touchdown and the scrambling Breaston completion are things he would not have done a year ago. He's gone from stari ng down receivers to teleporting safeties with his eyes. He's making second and third reads with regularity. He's getting there, and fast. The best evidence of this: the one timeout Michigan took on offense was because DeBord never got the call in, and Henne spent the entire game calling two plays and checking at the line in front of 110,000 people who hate him. He's come a long way.
And the receivers sans Manningham?
- 0 = totally uncatchable
- 1 = difficult catch worthy of Avant.
- 2 = tough-ish catch.
- 3 = aaaaargh if dropped.
Both Breaston and Arrington came through with big nights. Breaston's drop at the end prevented Michigan from running out the clock, but other than that he was very good. Michigan did something they hadn't managed to do so far this year: get him the ball moving at a good rate of speed upfield. The results were two plays that he turned moderate gains into 25-yard chunks. With Michigan's ever-increasing confidence in Henne's ability to probe the middle of the field (Arrington has been a post machine), I expect to see more of these routes as we go along. If Breaston can hang on to them consistently that'll be a useful weapon going forward.
Also of note: Butler was targeted a whopping seven times. He had the misfortune to be the primary victim of inaccurate or batted Henne passes, but twice he was wiiiiide open behind the Penn State linebackers.
Can you believe Hart ended up with over 100 yards?
No, not really. Penn State got gashed -- 15 on a draw, 20 on that ridiculous "I'm Mike Hart" run, 24 on Michigan's final drive -- and gave up just under half of Hart's yards on three carries. It seemed like Hart was dancing past defensive tackles in the backfield all night and setting up an inordinate number of 2nd and 9 or 2nd and 10. And then: 112 yards at the end of the night. Go figure.
What does it mean for Ohio State?
We have to be worried about Johnson and Alford's play against the interior of our line. Johnson was just killing Kraus whenever we tried to run at him. Alford was less consistently disruptive but turned in a few plays of his own. Quinn Pitcock and David Patterson are neck-and-neck with Branch & Taylor and the PSU duo for honors as the top DT pairing in the conference (and probably the nation); if they disrupt the interior of the line as much as Johnson and Alford did our offense may sputter.
One thing I am confident of: the OSU linebackers aren't up to the standards of Connor, Poz, and the surprisingly heady Sean Lee. Neither of the former would stay blocked, often disrupting run plays that looked sure to go for big yards. From what I've seen from OSU and from what the stats suggest, the new linebacking corps is vulnerable. I also doubt OSU has a corner the caliber of Justin King (when the ball is in the air -- guy tackles like Grant Mason), though it's hard to tell when the only threatening wideout I've seen them oppose has been saddled with an utterly green Colt McCoy.
More on OSU later, of course.
With Mitch King out, the safeties dinged, and really slow guys everywhere, Iowa seems ripe for the picking. They've got a guy from Nebraska -- if you know what I mean -- playing cornerback. James Hardy toasted that guy so frequently that he's getting checked for skin cancer. Whenever Antonio Pittman decided to bounce outside, there wasn't a Hawkeye within five yards of him. They'll play tough and hardnosed, but unlike past years there isn't a single player on the defense who seems like a good bet for the NFL. Michigan will move the ball.
|Tape I have misses the first two plays from scrimmage.|
|M45||3||5||Base 4-3||Pass||10||Shallow cross|
|Zone blitz from the wide side sends Crable and Harris, dropping Biggs off into coverage. It basically works, getting Harris in unblocked. Morelli gets a pass off before being leveled. Butler is a step and a half in front of Graham, who stepped towards the receiver crossing the other way. One guy versus two receivers = open. (pressure +1, cover -1)|
|M35||1||10||Base 4-3||Pass||2||PA Dumpoff|
|Crable(+1) blitzes again. He's in like a shot, past the OL and immediately in Morelli's face. He manages to get a pass off to Hunt, who's tackled immediately by Adams(+1). (Pressure +1)|
|M33||2||8||Base 4-3||Run||4||Shotgun draw|
|OL gets good push but no creases between Taylor and Branch. Hunt powers forward for a few. Reminsicent of his runs versus Minnesota.|
|Dropped by the WR, otherwise he's open in front of Harrison for a first down. Harrison(-1) was held inside far too long by the play action fake, which was not particularly convincing with the TE releasing immediately. (cover -1)|
|Drive Notes: Missed FG, 0-0, 11 min 1st Q.|
|You'd think this would work with Hall eight yards off the LOS and retreating on the snap (OMG Herrmann!) but no, it doesn't. Outstanding play by Hall(+2). (CA)|
|O26||2||8||Base 4-3||Run||2||FB Dive|
|Uh... okay. Matt Hahn up the gut. Taylor(+1) and Chris Graham(hi! +1) combine to stuff it in the hole.|
|Crable sent as a fourth rusher. Morelli has a moment, but hesitates and starts scrambling out as he sees Crable(+1) starting to come loose. Hall(+1) right with Norwood. (cover +1, TA)|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 0-0, 6 min 1st Q. A little bit of happy feet on Morelli's part on that last play.|
|O17||1||10||Base 4-3||Run||-2||Off tackle|
|Branch(+1) drives his man into the backfield and is held, drawing a flag. Burgess(+1) and Woodley(+1) drive past blockers and make a TFL. Michigan accepts the holding call.|
|Awww, come on now. We're only rushing three guys and this screen picks up eight? Woodley(+1), one of the rushers, actually doubles back to make the tackle downfield. (CA)|
|O16||2||10||3-3-5 Stack||Run||2||Off tackle|
|Branch(+1) again into the backfield; Biggs(+1) closes off the outside. Hunt is forced into a sea of bodies, picking up two.|
|Morelli rolls from the pocket, finding Norwood open in front of Trent(-1, cover -1). Short by like an inch. Stung by a failed sneak last week, PSU punts.|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 0-0, End of 1st Q.|
|O20||1||10||Base 4-3||Pass||15||PA Out|
|Trent(-1) again picked on, giving a big cushion to Williams and missing a tackle. Adams cleans up. (cover -1)|
|They run; guess who snuffs it out? Alan Branch(+1), disengaging from his block even though he's well sealed and closing down a running back.|
|O38||2||7||Base 4-3||Pass||-12||Sack (2)|
|Tim Jamison(+1) is basically unblocked, closing off the outside. He doesn't go wild and shoot past the quarterback, though, closing in sensibly. As Morelli tries to step up Taylor(+2), who's blown past his blocker, explodes into the backfield and sacks Morelli. (pressure +2)|
|Woodley(+3) powers through the tackle and croosh silly bug man with ball. (pressure +2)|
|Drive Notes: That's Damn Right It's a Punt, 7-0, 9 min 2nd Q. Fourth and 33.|
|O14||1||10||Base 4-3||Pass||-9||Sack (2)|
|Uh, yeah, blocking Woodley(+2) with Tony Hunt is not a good idea. He powers through the attempted cut, sacks, and strips Morelli. Only a hugely fortunate bounce prevents this from being a game-killing turnover. (pressure +2)|
|Perfect example of how defensive tackles never, ever get any credit no matter how damn good they are. This is a draw against six guys in the box, and neither linebacker is touched because Branch(+1) and Taylor(+1) both occupy two guys the entire play. Burgess makes the stick and Musberger talks about our awesome linebackers. BRANCH FOR HEISMAN.|
|Utterly BS PI call on Trent on a ball that's eight yards past the receiver. To boot: this contact is completely wussy and incidental. Words cannot express the contempt I have for this call. (IN)|
|Defended decently by Trent. (CA)|
|Actual successful run play! Reason: Jamison(-1) is irresponsible. He's doubled on the edge by Brown and a TE so he decides to spin inside. Corner = ceded.|
|Taylor(-1) caves on this play, eventually getting pancaked five yards downfield. With a DT giving that much ground there's a crease for Hunt.|
|Biggs(+2) defeats the right tackle much like Woodley did on his first sack, driving inside of him and into the quarterback. Morelli had time to throw... but not much. (cover +1, pressure +1)|
|Ack. A very late developing, slow screen lets everyone get into their zone drops. Play was going for a first down as soon as Hunt released but Mundy's (-1) foolish attempt to hurdle a blocker instead of get outside and force the play back into pursuing defenders probably resulted in 15-20 Yards After Mundy.|
|Morelli half rolls, finding Norwood open in front of Trent. The pass is short-hopped. (IN)|
|Dropped by Quarless. Adams(+1) had good coverage and was going to hold this to 3 or 5 yards. (cover +1)|
|Crable-Woodley stunt picked up well by the PSU OL, opening up the right side of the field for Morelli to roll into. He does and finds an open Norwood. Can' reall blame Mundy(+1) for the coverage, as it was a zone. He reacted quickly enough to prevent YAC. (pressure -1, cover -1)|
|Burgess(+1) does well to stand up his blocker and disengage to tackle. Taylor, doubled, is blown off the line but Hunt goes the other way. Branch almost had him at the LOS.|
|Trent(-1) badly beaten. Biggs(+1) was coming and would have had another sack if we had good coverage. (cover -1, pressure +1)|
|Uh, okay. Branch(+1) bursts through the line into the backfield. Hunt cuts up past him; Harris and Taylor are waiting (+1 each).|
|Trent(+1) has Williams locked down this time. Woodley(+1) battles through a block to pressure Morelli, forcing him to throw it away. (TA, cover +1, pressure +1)|
|Brandent Englemon(+2) breaks on the ball, knocking it down. (cover +1)|
|Drive Notes: FG, 10-3, EO 1st Half.|
|We stunt past some trap blocking here â€“ our rock, their scissors. Woodley(+1) into the backfield, drawing the attention of a guard and allowing Graham(+1) to come unblocked and make the TFL.|
|Play action to Hunt. Levi Brown decides not to block Jamison for some reason â€“ we're not even threatening a blitz that might cause PSU to shift its protection -- leaving Hunt alone trying to block him. He easily sidesteps Hunt and makes the sack. (+1 Jamison, pressure)|
|O15||3||19||3-3-5 Stack||Pass||24||Deep out|
|Harrison blitzes from the corner. A Jamison-Branch stunt gets Branch(+1) free. He buries Morelli and ends his night, but not before he manages to get off a quail of a pass that somehow finds its way to an open reciever. Johnny Sears(-1), replacing Trent, is victimized. Unless Morelli keeps his brain in his left shoulder, this is not anywhere close to a flag. (pressure +1, cover -2)|
|Hall(+1) reads this and closes off the outside; Burgess(+1) ges through a blocker and pounds Williams.|
|O39||2||10||Nickel||Run||4||Zone read keeper|
|Burgess and Harris are weirdly passive on this play. If they had been more aggressive they definitely could have closed this down for no gain, and with Clark just in the game you have to figure run.|
|Harrison(+1) gets a hand in, breaking up the play. Clark was late, staring his receiver down. (cover +1)|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 10-3, 7 min 3rd Q.|
|O21||1||10||Base 4-3||Pass||-7 + 15||Sack|
|Crable(+2) blitzes into the backfield like a shot, taking Clark down. Taylor(-1) picks up a dumb personal foul for falling on Clark after the play.|
|Hall makes an immediate tackle. (CA)|
|Branch(+1) is on the quarterback far too quickly for this screen to get set up. The throw from Clark is panicked and inaccurate. Hall(+1) has going to crush this for a loss if complete. (pressure +1, cover +1)|
|Biggs(+1) unblocked on the backside as PSU rolls the pocket away from him. Clark hesitates a moment and is lost. (pressure +1)|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 10-3, 4 min 3rd Q.|
|Both DTs doubled again â€“ Taylor(-1) driven back as a result. This allows the guard to get out on Harris. Hunt has a hole until Mundy(+1) fills smartly.|
|They're double-teaming the crap out of Taylor, but this time Branch(+1) and Woodley(+1) drive their men back and converge at the LOS.|
|Clark's pass is ill-advised and overthrown, as Trent(+1) has excellent coverage. Butler is forced to take an offenisve PI to prevent a pick. (cover +1)|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 17-3, 13 min 4th Q.|
|O20||1||10||Base 4-3||Pass||1||Shovel pass|
|Biggs(+1) avoids a pulling guard and closes the shovel pass down quickly. Will Johnson(+1) also there to help.|
|Nice throw and catch. Decent but not great coverage by Trent.|
|Johnson(+1) gets enough penetration to disrupt the pulling guard, leaving Harris unblocked at he LOS.|
|We miss the first bit of this play because we are checking out Lisa Salters as a PSU basketball player. When we come back, Clark is scrambling out of the pocket for a few yards, then getting pounded. He leaves the game. (cover +1)|
|Crable(+1) reads the quarterback's eyes, stops reacting to an underneath route, and gets in the passing lane here, deflecting the ball and nearly intercepting it. Nice play. (cover +1)|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 7 min 4th Q.|
|O47||1||10||Base 4-3||Run||5||Pitch sweep|
|At this point in the game we're set up for pass rush with wide splits on the DL and only a few guys in the box. Williams gets the pitch and has some room; Jamar Adams reads and fills nicely but his tackle is lame: a shoulder block that manages to trip Hunt up. Wrap up! [/spielman]|
|Hall(+1) plays this coverage very tightly, wrapping up and tackling Williams short of the first down. (cover +1)|
|I'm not sure who to blame. They set this up nicely, but we're only rushing four. Crable gets chopped, as does Harris. He's into the secondary. Harrison and Mundy are converging from the left, Adams(-1) overruns the play, allowing a cutback lane. Sears, Harrison, and Adams all dive at Hunt's feet, but no dice.|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 17-10, 3 min 4th Q.|
|Jeez. First of all: how did Brandon Harrison not sack Ciancolo? He comes in unblocked, but runs right by the QB, who's not moving. He then plows into the back of an OL and goes down like a ton of bricks. Pure slapstick. Then: how does Jamar Adams not intercept this pass? It's right in his hands. (+1 for the Adams PBU, cover +1)|
|Mundy(+1) in good coverage and makes a quick tackle.|
|Hall in better position than the wide receiver, who tackles him to prevent a pick. No flag this time. (Hall +1, cover +1).|
|Pass to a double-covered Norwood is well over his head. (cover +1)|
|Drive Notes: Turnover on Downs, 17-10, EOG.|
No kidding. 184 total yards of offense, two quarterbacks woozy on the sideline, and only a persistently irritating vulnerability to screens standing in between Michigan and complete domination.
Was it really that dominant a performance?
Well... while a good portion of the sack parade was impressive Michigan play, a few times Penn State either didn't block anyone or put themselves in a position where Tony Hunt was trying to cut a defensive end. And once Morelli went out so did 80% of the Penn State playbook. Michigan did get more pressure than they did against Michigan State and Minnesota but not drastically more. The mobility of Stanton and Cupito's ability to make quick throws on three-step drops turned sacks into hurries and fourth and 33 into (occasional) first downs. Penn State's wobbly offensive line and immobile, inexperienced quarterback doomed them to failure from the start. Neither Iowa or Ohio State will heistate to move their quarterback and both schools have more experienced offensive lines. I wouldn't expect a repeat.
|Woodley||9||9||Two sacks, another TFL, and consistently strong against the run.|
|Biggs||6||-||6||Wasn't blocked on one sack but the other was impressive.|
|Taylor||6||3||3||Good, but got blown back a bit when doubled.|
|Branch||7||7||Didn't appear much on the statsheet but has made running inside impossible virtually all year.|
|Johnson||2||2||Had a couple nice plays in the third quarter.|
|Jamison||2||1||1||Definitely relegated to Biggs' backup now, but that says more about Biggs than Jamison.|
|C. Graham||2||-||2||Seems healthy again.|
|Hall||6||-||6||Have come around: he's really, really good.|
|Englemon||2||-||2||Important PBU in the endzone.|
|Trent||2||3||-1||Tough game early. Got pulled in favor of Sears on the possession Morelli got knocked out on.|
|"Pressure"||15||1||14||Uh... yeah, when you get seven sacks and don't blitz all that frequently this is what you see in this category.|
|"Coverage"||13||8||5||Shaky when Morelli was in the game. After he left, the hesitancy and questionable arm strength of his replacements allowed Michigan to close on receivers.|
The screen difficulties should be charged to the linebackers and safeties but assigning specific blame is hard for me. Also, the linebackers didn't get much in the way of plusses because Penn State didn't run that much, Michigan didn't blitz that much, and a huge percentage of PSU's throws were easy-to-read outs. With the DL crushing the run and pass game nearly by itself, all the linebackers had to do was flow to the ball and tackle. This they did.
As noted above, "coverage" was dodgier than it appears. Both Clark and Rudy stared down their receivers badly, allowing players to break on obvious routes. When Morelli was in there were problems with cornerbacks not named "Hall."
OMG Defensive Line.
Seriously. What more is there to say? Can we point out that Rondell Biggs has five sacks and is playing at an all-conference level himself? He is the easy winner of the Bennie Joppru award (given to the most inexplicably great senior) this year, one of those three-star no-hopers that panned out in a big way. Preseason we were all screaming for Jamison; now that looks about as silly as "Iowa... #2!"
But that second corner spot...
Looks much shakier than it did after the Wisconsin game. Charles Stewart was torched when pressed into service versus Minnesota, and when Morgan Trent came back from a completely non-fictional hand injury his game slipped versus Michigan State and Penn State. Johnny Sears was inserted for one third-quarter drive in Happy Valley and ceded a third and 19 completion on a desperate, looping pass from a freshly concussed Anthony Morelli.
It's not a huge deal... but it's a weakness.
I know we shouldn't be looking ahead, but does anything here have bearing on the OSU game?
Probably not, sadly. Penn State's offense resembles OSU's in no way whatsoever. One thing: Hall's continued high-level of performance is encouraging. I expect him to see a lot of Gonzalez. Trent has the speed to deal with Ginn and his weaknesses on breaks are matched by Ginn's less than amazing routes. I think we match up decently well there except for one niggling issue: our nickelback is 5'8" and their slot receiver, whoever he is, is well over 6'.
And what does it mean for Iowa?
I don't know what's happened to their offense. Drew Tate's off, their receivers are pedestrian, and their starting running back is wounded. Freshman WR Dominique Douglas and left tackle Dace Richardson are also questionable for the game this weekend. Iowa's flipping their offensive line around, trying to find a combination that actually works. It all implies more doom for an opposing quarterback... but NSFMF!
Iowa has the potential to pose a threat if they can find a competent wideout or two. If Tate plays like he did last year, he'll find open territory on the side of the field not occupied by Leon Hall. Our linebackers are sometimes vulnerable to Spaethian tight ends like Scott Chandler. Backup running back Damien Sims is a little darting guy very capable of turning the corner, unlike just about everyone else we've faced so far this year. Penn State is probably going to be the outlier for quarterback annihilation this year and Iowa will get some yards. Probably.
I hope Young doesn't play much, not because I am worried about Iowa but more because I'm interested to see what Sims can do against the Michigan defense. The closest thing to a scatback we've seen this year is Amir Pinnix, and while his big chunks of yards were more due to clever formations convincing us to misalign ourselves than any perimeter weakness, Antonio Pittman is a faster, more nimble player than Hunt or Hill.
10/14/2006 - Michigan 17-10 Penn State - 7-0, 4-0 Big Ten
"WE'RE PENN STATE...
AND THEY'RE NOT."
-Beaver Stadium scoreboard during pregame chintzfest
"If you put a pit bull in a ring with a chihuahua, don't expect the chihuahua to win."
-Chafie Fields, former Penn State wide receiver, after the game
It's polite to respectfully clap for a fallen opponent has he makes his way from the field. It's good etiquette, etiquette of course being a sophisticated structure of lies designed to ease social interaction. Things in our section being a little touchy, I lied with my hands as Anthony Morelli jogged groggily off the field. But my eyes danced in blood.
Watching Michigan's defense gore Penn State quarterbacks was the closest I've come to watching gladitorial bloodsport. I now have some insight into the animal pleasure of a prone, wounded opponent. Unlike Derrick Williams' freak injury last year, the parade of bewildered quarterbacks wandering off the field asking for pudding was very much the doing of large angry men in winged helmets. It was... well, not right but correct that Morelli was literally knocked into next week, if not further, by Branch. Reportedly, he asked the trainers who attended to him whether his last pass had been completed. Somewhat miraculously, it had been.
Furthermore, it was correct that his backup suffer under siege for a quarter before getting crushed by David Harris and Lamarr Woodley, making way for some guy the Michigan students aptly dubbed "Rudy" no doubt picked fresh from the residents of Paternoville. Once the fluky events that conspired to place an emphatic exclamation point on the Michigan defensive line's complete-utter-total dominance of an entire football game occurred, our mental histories rearranged themselves so that they were inevitable. How could one man possibly endure an entire game of that?
The man sent out to try could not and neither could the man sent in his stead. Thus in just seven quick games, a Michigan defense faced a cornered team driving for the game and I felt nothing but irritation at the two screen passes that had allowed the Lions the faint heartbeat they possessed. The residual terror from the Year of Infinite Pain -- which had me somewhere between "alarmed" and "panicked" into the fourth quarter of a *$&#ing BEAT DOWN against Notre Dame -- had receded.
Then: near interception, four-yard out, incomplete, incomplete, ballgame. Instead of a roar there was but a flat, damp squeak as Michigan landed the final clubbing blows and emerged from the lion's den with a rug in tow. There are no arguments about this game. No two seconds, no questionable heels or holding calls or other fantasies about if this or that. There is no "if". Michigan has still not been threatened this year. No opponent has moved the ball except when fortunate or permitted to. Its dominance is unquestioned by the foes it leaves battered in its wake. Sometimes -- and I know this is hard to believe -- seven points is a very large lead indeed.
Penn State learned that Saturday. We rolled through the undulating hills, slowly bridging the gap between Beaver Stadium and I-80. In the brief windows of radio clarity provided by high points or fortuitous angles or small eddies in the general bloody-mindedness of the universe, once excitable Penn State partisans glumly pondered the future of the program. Fields uttered the above quote and several others along the lines of "this is a tough conference" and "we aren't playing Temple." His cohosts muttered in agreement. Resignation hung thick in the air.
Only the increasingly deranged callers -- the hour being late and the liquor steadily disappearing -- seemed to remember that once upon a time that scoreboard exhortation would have been something other than hollow and humorous. Once upon a time they were Penn State. Last year seems just as far away for them as it does us, a dream that we've woken up from into harshly different realities. 8-0; 0-8. A transposition makes all the difference.