somehow we're only 124th
The pride of Ann Arbor Pioneer High School. [Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]
It's a new day. Sort of.
There was plenty to celebrate in the first Michigan game of the post-Brandon era. The Wolverines thoroughly dominated Indiana, more than doubling their total yardage and earning the team's first double-digit win since the Miami game.
Devin Gardner set a season high in passing yardage. Amara Darboh posted the best day of his career. So did Ann Arbor native Drake Johnson, who rushed for 122 yards and two scores in his first extended action at running back. The defense shut down the nation's leading rusher, IU's Tevin Coleman, and even forced a pair of turnovers.
There was plenty of bad that was familiar, too. Gardner tossed an ugly interception and narrowly avoided a pick-six when the game was still competitive. Brady Hoke bungled basic clock management at the end of the first half, robbing Michigan of a chance to score before the break. The Wolverines punted from the Indiana 43 on a fourth-and-short. And, of course, the entire game came with the caveat of facing an IU squad with a miserable defense and a depleted depth chart at quarterback.
Oh, and the announced attendance of 103,111 was met with a mixture of laughter and boos; perhaps the program sold that many tickets, but on a chilly afternoon in Ann Arbor, there certainly weren't that many seats filled.
On this day, though, the good should be the focus. With Jake Butt suspended for the game for a violation of team rules, reserve tight end Keith Heitzman was able to record his first career touchdown on an improvised shovel pass from Gardner (pictured above).
Injury also created opportunity in the backfield. With Derrick Green out for the season and De'Veon Smith in and out of the game with a dinged up ankle, Johnson got 16 carries—14 of them in the second half—and he salted away the game, playing kitty-corner from where he starred in high school at both football and track. Johnson, who'd seen mostly special teams duty in his time at Michigan, showed off that track-star speed by breaking multiple runs into the Indiana secondary.
Darboh broke the century mark on nine receptions, scoring from 12 yards on a hard-thrown post from Gardner to give Michgian a 17-0 lead that would stand as the halftime score. He and Devin Funchess combined to reel in 16 of Gardner's 22 completions; no other Wolverine had more than one.
The defense dominated an Indiana offense sorely missing injured quarterback Nate Sudfeld. They got some help from IU coach Kevin Wilson, as well. Wilson benched Tevin Coleman after he put the ball on the turf twice, losing the second on a recovery by freshman Bryan Mone. Indiana couldn't generate any offense without Coleman, who'd finish with a season-low 108 yards—must be nice—on 27 carries; his mark of four yards per carry was well below his season average of 8.8.
The Hoosiers also insisted on running much of their offense from the Wildcat, which Michigan had dead to rights for most of the game. Jake Ryan recorded 2.5 TFLs among his team-high 11 tackles; fellow linebacker Joe Bolden had two TFLs of his own as M repeatedly shot gaps into the IU backfield. Any hopes Indiana had of getting back into the game were dashed when Ryan Glasgow sacked IU QB Zander Diamont, stripped the ball, and came up with the recovery in the third quarter; Johnson got the corner for his first touchdown on the ensuing drive.
The final yardage read Michigan 404, Indiana 191.
Hoke refused to address questions about Dave Brandon's resignation in the aftermath of the game, and that felt right. Today was about the team on the field, and while the opponent wasn't a strong one, they were able to ignore this week's distractions and take care of business. That alone was an impressive feat.
Jack Miller, Yukon Cornelius, Amara Darboh
Jack, the offense didn’t score a whole lot but some people noticed the difference between last year against Michigan State and this year in terms of the offensive line holding its own. Was progress made there or does the frustration about not scoring that many points overwhelm that?
JM: “A little bit of both probably. There was some progress, especially when you compare it to the season before against Michigan State. We did a much better job picking up some of their blitzes, those type of things, and were able to move the line of scrimmage a little bit more than we did last year. Obviously the way it turned out kind of put a damper on it.”
With a record of 3-5 and just four games left to play how do the goals shift? How does the focus remain on just one game at a time? Also just kind of talk about the coaches message at this juncture in the season.
JM: “Being 3-5 it almost becomes easier to just take it one game at a time. When you’re winning you’re thinking of the big picture probably a little more. You’re thinking of what’s to come. When things aren’t going your way necessarily you buckle down and all you can really do is focus on the next game. That’s where we’re at. That’s the coaches’ message. That’s kind of been our approach throughout the season.”
BB: “Yeah, I’d agree with that. All of our focus has shifted to what’s in front of us: Indiana. The next game, that’s what we’re focused on.”
AD: “Yeah, both of those guys said it best. Just focused on Indiana right now and focused on practicing and trying to get better.”
Brennen, the way Michigan State was able to run the football…does that give an incentive to control an Indiana team that runs the ball also very well?
BB: “Yeah, they have a great back back there, their leading rusher. We definitely- we watched the State film and we’re going to have to learn from our mistakes. Definitely bring it in practice this week and be ready for that run.”
[More after THE JUMP]
FORMATION NOTES: Another very gun-heavy outing for Michigan, with nothing particularly unusual about the way they lined up. Penn State spent most of the game in a straight 4-3 of various varieties. Late they went to an eagle front for a couple plays:
Note that Miller has guys to both sides of him. That erases any chance Michigan can double on the interior and exposed Miller to a DT he could not deal with physically. Michigan responded to this with a pin and pull that worked on the next play.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: No Magnuson still, so line still Cole/Glasgow/Miller/Kalis/Braden. Jake Butt seems to be getting as much time as he would have without the knee injury by now; Williams still hanging on to quite a bit of PT in Hill's absence.
At RB it was all Hayes/Smith with Green sidelined; WRs were as per usual with a little bit of Canteen.
[After THE JUMP: struggling forward.]
10/11/2014 – Michigan 18, Penn State 13 – 3-4, 1-2 Big Ten
OONTS OONTS OONTS OONTS
Songs designed for da club have one over-arching theme: tonight. Buy another drink, raise it to the sky. The OONTS OONTS commands you. Feel the beat. The beat is inside you. Tonight is going to be a good night, says the worst song ever written. The people around you accept this and so do you. Your sky-drink is empty. You are commanded to buy another. The OONTS OONTS doesn't care if you vote or do your homework or wake up tomorrow with a gremlin jackhammering at your temple. It commands you to see only what is in front of you now.
What is in front of us now is a lady named Victory. She is… well… she's a little ragged. Makeup's smeared; eyes are a little twitchy; you don't want to know the Vegas over/under on how many times she will throw up in the cab. Because she will do that, in the cab. Because there is going to be a cab.
Tonight, we go home with Victory.
Michigan put it all aside. There is no one to credit here; I found out a long time ago that pushing large groups of people in a direction is impossible. To lead is to find yourself at the head of a tidal wave hoping it won't notice your tiny course corrections. The people are the direction.
And except for a third of the student section that was momentarily absent because of malice or apathy—impossible to tell—the people showed up, were as into it as can be expected of people watching two cows rub against each other threateningly, and were happy to win.
After the game a section in the south endzone unfurled a section-wide FIRE BRANDON banner; that was about right. Michigan fans have for the most part held their fire on players, held their fire for the portions of games in which Michigan can win. When things get out of hand or are just intolerably incompetent on the staff's part, they let their feelings be known. They have in fact been as good as an enormous amorphous mass of pissed-off people can be at aiming before firing.
They're still mad, because they should be. This kind of win over this kind of team is just more of the same, and the athletic director's futile gestures towards humanity are the definition of too little, too late. But tonight is tonight and tomorrow can be dealt with later.
Devin Gardner put it all aside. A guy who'd been moved to wide receiver because the coaching staff thought more highly of Russell Bellomy. A guy whose ribs are a fine paste after last year. A guy who got benched for Shane Morris because the coaches had lost faith in him. There is a guy to credit here.
He's going to be a footnote, now, no question. All hopes and dreams of being a towering colossus have fled. He won't have Navarre's redemption story, and unless something deeply bizarre happens he won't have an OSU win. Ten years down the road mention Devin Gardner and most Michigan fans will wince involuntarily and offer sympathy.
This is especially cruel on the heels of his predecessor. Denard was a tragic hero but he got his OSU win, his BCS bowl, and anyone still trying to be disappointed with him after what happened when he left is certifiable. Ask a Michigan fan about him in ten years and it's different. A lot different.
But that's tomorrow, and tonight the guy who's had his leadership questioned since he arrived is going full Novak on his sideline to WIN THIS FUCKING GAME. He limped out on the field because that's just what he does. Probably can't even throw right unless several different areas of his body are telling him to go to the spa immediately. Rod Gilmore's screaming that he shouldn't be in the game because Rod Gilmore is incapable of telling a head from a leg—not that we are at all surprised by this revelation—and Devin Gardner is just like I put my heart in this shit.
Heart only gets you so far. It gets you to a narrow win over a Penn State team starting a broken vacuum and a Teddy Roosevelt biography at guard. We appear to have a vicious all-day hangover scheduled in two weeks. But that's for tomorrow.
Tonight, we are in a cab and squinting and feeling pretty okay, because we've got something to hang on to.
DEVIN GARDNER I PUT MY HEART IN THIS SHIT POINTS OF THE WEEK.
1: Devin Gardner.
2: Dennis Norfleet.
3: Devin Gardner again.
[After THE JUMP: don't start thinking about tomorrow. Oh no we did.]
News bullets and other items:
Derrick Green broke his clavicle and is out for the season
No update on Jabrill Peppers or Desmond Morgan, which only means they haven’t been ruled out for the rest of the year /waves world’s tiniest flag
The coaches spoke to the Big Ten about Amara Darboh’s catch that was ruled an incompletion. Hoke doesn’t seem to agree with what they were told, but said there’s no reason to dwell on what can’t be changed
Shane Morris is practicing
“Alright, thanks for coming out. Number one, on Saturday I thought our guys were united. I thought they played hard together. I thought they fought, and sometimes that doesn't guarantee you anything but their effort as a team was something I was proud of, and I was proud of those kids. I know I said that on Saturday, but that hasn't changed. Sometimes fighting alone doesn't get a victory, but I think we need to change those results and execute a little better, coach a little better. It always starts with me and us. There was some good progress that was made and we want to really emphasize those things.
“Yesterday we didn't practice and that was already determined we weren't going to. We got back at– I don't know. I got home at 4:15 so I'm sure they got home late. We wanted to give them rest because rest will help you heal. We had good meetings yesterday. I think from the standpoint of corrections and emphasizing the things we want to see repeated I think were important.
“You know I don't talk about injuries unless a guy is going to miss the year, and unfortunately that's what Derrick Green – he broke his clavicle late in the football game. Nice run on our sidelines, but Derrick's attitude is very good. He knows there’s an expectation of him to help coach those young guys and coach guys and be integral and what we’re trying to get done. And so we are going to miss him, but DeVeon and Justice Hayes and Drake Johnson are three guys who need to step up, and two of them are guys that have a lot of game experience and played a lot of plays, so [we] feel good about that. And we’ll miss Derrick, but this is like anything else in competition in sports; the next man's got to stand up.”
[After THE JUMP: try to read the tea leaves]
10/4/2014 – Michigan 24, Rutgers 26 – 2-4, 0-2 Big Ten
Growing up, you latch on to whatever hipster sketch comedy troupe is of the moment and think they just understand everything. If this is no longer true, I submit that this is why The Youth are going to be The Downfall Of Our Society.
Anyway, as I was pupating there were two: The State, which you may have heard about around here because of the tacos sketch, and Kids In The Hall. The Kids In The Hall defined my main problem in two minutes amongst other terribly funny things, but the thing about them is that their sketches frequently came with this air of unquenchable sadness. Like this thing I retweeted last week that I'd never actually seen before:
Half their sketches were just absurdity; the other half were the kind of thing popular amongst the adolescent-cry-for-help-amongst-the-clutches-of-suburbia crowd I was a part of.
I still think more highly of them than I do things like American Beauty. That's why I went back and edited the previous sentence to make the crowd the active thing instead of them. A large part of why is "Having An Average Weekend."
"Having An Average Weekend" was the theme song of the Kids In The Hall. They'd use it whenever a commercial break was incoming or outgoing paired with black and white shots of the hoi polloi of Toronto, and every time I watched a KITH episode I just wanted those interstitials to last forever.
I struggle to explain why. I actually bought a Shadowy Men On Shadowy Planet album because of this feeling the combination of the instrumental and those cinema vérité shots had on me, in between sketches about crushing your head. All those songs were boring. I even find the full version of Having An Average Weekend a little bit boring. In the context I found it was arresting. And I didn't even know the name of the song at the time.
When I found out… hoo boy.
Football happened, in the usual way.
The Kids In The Hall were awkward. SNL had Eddie Murphy, even The State had Michael Ian Black and actual girl Kerri Kenney. The Kids In The Hall were painfully awkward Canadians, girls not allowed. Not because of the usual reasons, because all of them were terrified of girls. So they were sad funny bastard teenagers who got on TV, being absurd about life.
This is a good answer!
I submit to you that when things look pretty bleak that the thing to do is laugh. This goes double for things you have no control over. I spent Saturday yelling at my friend to not pull a Dave Brandon by going to get a Little Caesar's "pretzel crust pizza," which he did anyway to the regret of all.
Instead of sauce this thing has nacho cheese. With cheese on top. I know that sounds like it could be magnificent, but once you add in the Little Caesars you may as well be eating an oil spill. I was impersonating that one guy in the athletic department who must have pled with Brandon "don't do this, please don't do this!" He did it. It was terrible, but it was funny.
We watched the rest of college football burn until 7:20, then dully took in the game. Each day we shovel fuel. We work in silence, etc.
I've gotten a lot of emails about how to stay positive in the midst of the towering blackness. One: I do not understand why you would ask me this question. I do not seem like a good person to answer. Phil Brabbs would be a good person. Two: life has been given to you in a context where you are evolutionarily programmed to both die and really really not want to die. The only thing to do at a funeral is laugh.
Really. I mean, not the funeral-funeral—have some decorum!—but the bits before and after that are the real thing. I was just in high school when my grandfather died but after he was in the ground his wife and children and those of us old enough to also be there sat around, talking about all the dumb and funny stuff he used to do in the present tense. And laughing.
Saturday we bought Combos and actual non-Little Caesars' food and watched college football burn down. Despite the funeral in the middle of it, we managed to have a pretty average weekend.
[After THE JUMP: if you're going to call me out just do it.]