a terrible blight on our fine country
2013 outback bowl
1988: M 28, Alabama 24
Something's been missing from Michigan gamedays since the free programs ceased being economically viable: scientific gameday predictions that are not at all preordained by the strictures of a column in which one writer takes a positive tack and the other a negative one… something like Punt-Counterpunt.
NOW ON THE ROAD!
PUNT/COUNTERPUNT TRAVEL DISPATCHES
12/30/12 – Dateline: Chattanooga
No two words make a vacation more festive than “Chattanooga, Tennessee.” Punt and I settled here last night into a hotel, after a mere 600 miles of driving, abbreviated by two social visits and swirling Kentucky snow. We lulled ourselves to sleep watching Sparty in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, and awoke early for the 570 remaining miles to Tampa, with a breakfast stop at the Marietta (Ga.) Diner, a destination recommended by “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.” Nothing like a Greek omelette with grits, especially when served by Bulgarian beauty Tatyana, prompting Punt to comment, “Isn’t immigration wonderful?”
Punt occasionally converses with me, but directs most of his comments towards other drivers, offering insightful observations about their lane usage, lack of turn signals, and general inattentiveness to the roadway. I am in the passenger seat, my mobile office cluttered with laptop, jet pack, Blackberry, iPod, and our GPS companion (Sari), who did not even bother with a “good morning” before brusquely directing us back to I-75 from the hotel. Car travel has its own rhythm, the hum of the tires over the undulating highway, sunlight and shadow through the Georgia Pines. We are then rudely interrupted by Sari’s snappish direction to turn right on South Marietta Parkway, Southeast – then sending us in a pretzel-shaped series of turns before landing in the parking lot of the diner. I suspect Sari’s irritation stems from her resentment over the success of her much more famous sister Siri, the voice of the iPhone, but who am I to psychoanalyze the disembodied female voices of electronica.
Far more genial is our UM talisman, “GnoMie,” content to be wrapped in a UM blanket in the back seat for most of the trip. We had been planning to arrive in Tampa by late afternoon, but after Punt’s expansive tour of the Atlanta metropolitan area in search of a car wash, I have revised that to evening. In the meantime, we roll down I-75, the sun continues to shine, Sari is blissfully silent, and even Punt seems momentarily content with his fellow drivers.
On to the predictions.
[ED: hey guys congrats on purchasing one of the most embarrassing things you can own as a Michigan fan look forward to your ski-jumping wolverine dispatch soonest.]
It’s been many a year since Counterpunt and I have taken to the roads to attend a Michigan bowl game. Not since the ’84 Sugar Bowl vs. the Auburn “War Eagles.”
When Counterpunt propositioned me with the prospect of attending the Outback Bowl, I figured, why not? Unfortunately it was too late to get a reasonably priced airfare, so this became a true road trip—me gassing up the Rav 4 for the 1000+ mile trip to Tampa.
After many miles, stops to see friends of Punt and Counterpunt, associates of Counterpunt, and attempts to see “clients” of Counterpunt—vetoed by yours truly—and getting served breakfast by a Bulgarian bombshell named Tatyana - we finally arrived at our destination. It now time to turn to the reason for our travels.
I’m having a hard time deciding how this game is going to go down. Some people are of a mind that Michigan has little to fear, that South Carolina is a predictable offense, and that Mattison will have had time to come up with the defensive scheme from Hell. But the Gamecocks are ranked #10 in the nation, are a top tier team in the all-powerful SEC and have the “Old Ball Coach,” Steve Spurrier, running the show. Hmm, who do I pick?
I think it’s clear that Michigan has more to gain from a win than South Carolina. They need to keep their momentum and return the Wolverines to the upper echelons of college football. My heart bleeds Maize ‘n’ Blue, but my head says:
MICHIGAN 26, SOUTH CAROLINA 31
My mind is still boggled at Seth’s detailed analysis of this contest (“Hokepoints Previews South Carolina” 12/27/12), fueled by six hours of watching Gamecock football, which is about 5 ½ more hours than my total bowl viewing thus far. I come at this game with a far less scientific mindset, tending to break down in adolescent laughter every time I see the word “Cocks.” But here goes my take on Michigan’s noble battle with the evil SEC and cocky Steve Spurrier.
On the offensive side of the ball, I trust Al Borges about as much as Ronald Reagan trusted Mikhail Gorbachev; but if Borges utilizes Gardner and Robinson to maximum effectiveness, we should be able to neutralize Clowney’s disruptive domination. The Lewan/Clowney matchup is much anticipated, but even an All American will need some help against that beast, and Borges may have to utilize a blocking back to assist in this regard.
Defensively, without J.T. Floyd in the lineup, we may have some difficulty handling Carolina’s speedy Smurf-outs; but on the whole, I am less concerned with our ability to contain the ‘Cock offense than I am with intangibles like turnovers and special teams.
On the whole, I believe the circumstances are ripe for Michigan to go out on the winning side, which will certainly make the ride home a lot more pleasant. Who knows; if Punt is sufficiently elated, he may be inclined for a return to the Marietta Diner, and ask Tatyana if she wants to come live with him in the melting pot of Ann Arbor.
MICHIGAN 23, ‘COCKS 13
|WHAT||Michigan vs South Carolina|
Everybody Loves Raymond Stadium
Tampa Bay, FL
1:00 PM Eastern
January 1st, 2013
|THE LINE||South Carolina –5.5|
|WEATHER||partly cloudy, mid-70s, minimal chance of rain|
Again this preview assumes that Denard Robinson is basically a wildcat guy when he lines up at quarterback now. Hoke just reiterated that Gardner will start and Robinson will play "some quarterback," and by "some quarterback" he means "wildcat guy."
Run Offense vs South Carolina
This was two things against Ohio State: Denard Robinson and disaster. Stripped of the one back with any credentials to his name by a gruesome injury to Fitzgerald Toussaint, Michigan all but abandoned any thought of running the ball with the men misnomered "running backs" in the first half, and then proved the wisdom of that decision—if not the wisdom of their second-half playcalling—by getting stuffed almost literally every time they touched the ball after halftime.
The results were grim. Vincent Smith and Thomas Rawls had ten carries between them for a total of 14 yards. Rawls gained a total of two yards on five carries while turning in this career lowlight:
That is likely the point at which we remember Rawls hype deflating entirely as he's relegated to Kevin Grady duty for the rest of his career.
It's not like Rawls is alone in that department. Toussaint followed up a breakout 2011 (1041 yards on 187) by dropping almost two yards from his per-attempt average, going from 5.6 a pop to 3.9. Vincent Smith managed 2.8; Rawls is actually at the top of the heap with 4.2 thanks to a couple of garbage time runs against Purdue and Illinois. When Rawls was forced into the lineup in earnest this November, the results were ugly: 32 carries, 57 yards, less than two yards an attempt. I'd be more receptive to the argument that Rawls saw a lot of short yardage carries that artificially depressed his YPC if he wasn't a major reason he saw so many of those carries by failing to get any YAC on the goal line.
Anyway. The failure of the Michigan running game is comprehensive. The interior line can't block, the tight ends are too young, the tailbacks miserable. Except…
In this context Denard Robinson's season is nothing short of miraculous. His historic season has been obscured by injury and interceptions, but here it is: 1166 yards on 154 carries, an average of 7.6 per despite missing games against Minnesota and Northwestern. That will be a record dating back to at least 1948 (100 carry minimum) if he keeps it above Ty Wheatley's 7.3.
Meanwhile no other player on the roster can grind out half of that outside of garbage time. It is time to shake our fists at the fickle whims of injury and Rich Rodriguez's offensive line recruiting, with a bonus shake at the motley collection of tailbacks on the roster.
ok one more
Ok. Now, the opponent.
South Carolina's got shiny numbers that are a bit distorted by their rampant sackage. They're 16th nationally, giving up 119 yards a game. Removed 40(!) sacks for 253 yards and opponents do get up to 4.0 yards a pop. This is a good run defense, yeah, but it's not on the same level as Alabama, Notre Dame, MSU, or OSU (when OSU isn't giving up 70-yard touchdowns). The defensive tackles are not pocket-crushers, the safeties like to shoulder-block people down after they get first downs and stand over them like idiots, which might be an asset when Denard breaks into the secondary if any of them have the chutzpah to try that against 16.
Is it going to matter? Probably not. In the game of "can Michigan run a football with Not Denard," bet on "no." Can Michigan effectively integrate Denard into a 20-carry presence if he's not playing quarterback? Well…
Key Matchup: I wonder if two months is enough time for Borges to figure out how to put Denard and Devin on the field at the same time. Denard's great; he can't beat out 10 guys going for him on the snap; just Percy Harvin the guy already and stop holding up a huge sign that says RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN RUN when Denard is at QB. Also you can probably run Gardner some since it's the last game of the year.
[HIT THE JUMP for CLOWNEY THE DRAGON]
Hey. Life rolls on. Thank you to those who have expressed condolences.
One of the running jokes on the podcast this year has been theorizing that the athletic department has someone specifically dedicated to trolling me. Evidence: "In The Big House" did not return until after the nonconference season had convinced me it was gone, and Michigan waited until the last possible moment to change Jordan Kovacs away from #32. Taken with the deployment of Denard and Devin against Ohio State, this is strong evidence indeed.
If they are deep enough inside that they knew what I was writing up this morning and chose that hour to release the latest in the ever-growing line of uniformz, I am terrified because the sleeper agent is probably me.
Anyway. We knew this was coming because Michigan's promise after they announced the Alabama uniformz was that they would not screw with the jerseys during the regular season. They are here. If you have not been on the internet, here they are:
They finally screwed with the helmet. Also Ramzy pointed out that there seem to be four different shades of yellow on this thing.
Yes, yes, the kids love it, which is why Alabama and USC are struggling to recruit these days. It is possible the kids are not quite so stupid as that meme thinks they are and make decisions based on things other than wearing goofy alternates a couple of times a year. Your assertion as to what the kids love does not seem to have much bearing on where they go to school. Alabama did not need fancy duds to annihilate Michigan earlier this year.
What gets me is that many iconic uniforms are not being futzed with, including the aforementioned teams plus Texas, Florida State, Penn State, and Oklahoma*, but the people running those athletic departments must be wrong and the man who brought us pasta inside a bread bowl must be right. I do not agree that this is necessarily the case, Kids Love It Arguer Guy.
I mean, the brand-manic NFL has strict restrictions on third jerseys, with many of the teams deploying them once or twice… ever. NFL teams are prohibited from wearing alternates in the Super Bowl, and only the Chargers have ever deployed them in a playoff game, probably because the Chargers' alternates are themselves a great tradition revived from the 1960s.
It's no real loss if Michigan looks dumb playing in Tampa, but I'll be sad if Michigan plays a Rose Bowl in anything other than classic Schembechler blue. And if you wouldn't want to wear it at the Rose Bowl, why would you want to wear it anywhere?
I promise to write another version of this post in August when alternate uniforms for the ND game are announced, because it is tradition, and tradition is important. #thisguygetsit
*[All of those teams have largely if not entirely opted out. Oklahoma wore some all-whites that were roundly panned in 2009 and scrapped the concept, and Texas altered their helmets to honor Darrel K Royal this year but that's a whole different thing everyone should be okay with. IIRC Alabama did have some sort of subtle houndstooth thing in one game. In each case any uniform alterations were one-offs or close to it, not Michigan's parade.]