11/8/2014 – Michigan 10, Northwestern 9 – 5-5, 3-3 Big Ten
College football is for remembering. It stands alone in its brevity—even the NFL has you play your division-mates twice. Every year you play a team and then you have glory or death until next year. You can pick any game of remote interest and your friend will say "oh, THAT game" because it is also lodged in his brain.
This happens in other sports but as you add in more and more games, more and more of them are thrown down the memory hole. Hell, even last year's highly memorable basketball season has a number of events in it that I couldn't tell you anything about without looking it up. We beat Stanford? I guess we did.
In football the only things that disappear like that are the tomato can games. Others are notable only in the context of some guy's career. If I say "the Jerome Jackson game" you know it's that Iowa game Michigan won in overtime. "That one time Alain Kashama did something" was the Citrus Bowl win over Ron Zook's Florida. There are of course the titanic battles whose aftershocks rattle down the centuries, and depressing blowouts and fun blowouts and etc.
And then there's this game. This game will also rattle down the centuries, for… reasons. You will poke your buddy and say "hey man remember the M00N game," carefully enunciating the zeroes, and your buddy will either laugh or give you a sharp punch on the arm, depending on his mood.
Immortality comes in all kinds of ways.
FFFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUU [Bryan Fuller]
Well, I'm in this to be entertained. And I cannot deny that Saturday was highly entertaining.
By the time the teams had exchanged boggling turnovers at the end of the first half I was giggling. The field goal block sent me into chuckles. The fumble of off Funchess's hip got me up to a guffaw, and when Northwestern followed a boggling Gardner interception by going backwards 30 yards and punting into the endzone I had to lie down and remember to breathe.
It was disappointing when M00N ceased being a potential final score, but at least it came on a terrible error—a muffed punt. Anything skillful breaking the deadlock would have been unjust. My wife was peeved, because she is not a True Fan™ and wanted to see a 0-0 regulation. I kind of did, too. Not every day you see something like that.
It is every day that Michigan finds itself in a football game hardly recognizable as sports. When you bring up the M00N game to your buddy you will probably be making a point about the descent into unwatchable dreck that was the last two years of the mercifully short Hoke era.
This is Hoke's version of RichRod's gloriously futile 67-65 win over Illinois. Both games were narrow, pyrrhic victories over bad opponents punctuated by two-point conversion stops. Both showed off the abilities of the team's good unit against an overmatched opponent and the total lack of ability of the team's miserable unit. And both were the same kind of delirious fun that sees you wake up naked in a haystack the next morning, with no idea where you are or even what month it is. Or where your hair is.
Nothing about that Illinois game changed Rodriguez's trajectory, and this won't move any needles either. Michigan's been plunged into a disaster of their own making and shows no signs of climbing out. That they've encountered a couple of teams even more BIG TEN(!) than themselves of late says more about the league than this outfit. It's no surprise that the other two teams Michigan's beaten in Big Ten play faced off in one of the ugliest games of the year immediately before M00N.
At least we've got a symbol now. Any time anyone wants to reference how far Michigan's come since they led the nation in TFLs allowed and somehow got worse the next year just needs two letters and a couple zeroes.
[After THE JUMP: but what if Hoke wins out?]
When you’re grading film on Devin Gardner how much do the near-misses, the picks that maybe should have been, factor into that and how much do you talk about that?
“A lot. I mean, that’s always part of the evaluation. You want results but you’ve got to be process-oriented when you play the position. We’ve got to be on the right side of the field and have our eyes in the right place and our feet and timing and all that factors in, so any time we look at a pass play we look at all the factors that play into it whether it was a successful or not-successful play and why.”
Do you feel like you got away with a couple on Saturday?
“Well, I think there was a couple that I’m sure they felt like they should have had and obviously we look at it as well. Why were we there? Was it timing wrong or on the wrong side of the field, did we made a poor decision? The biggest thing is that goes back to communication and we talk all the time in our room [that] you’ve got to be open in communication because if I don’t know what he’s seeing then I can’t help him, so you’ve got to tell me what you see, what happened, what played out in your mind so now we can paint the real picture of what happened and get it corrected.”
How much extra does game performance count in terms of evaluation as opposed to practice? I’m thinking particularly in this instance of Drake Johnson.
“Well, I think obviously any time you play a game the goal is to play well and the best players in games are the guys you want to play. Now, that being said we evaluate practice every day. Guys challenge and compete and usually it’s very rare that you have a player that does not practice well that plays well.”
Does what he did give him maybe an extra look in terms of more snaps going forward?
“Well, I think that when you talk about Drake and what he accomplished it goes back to everything we talked about in the development of players and it’s kind of similar, it is very similar- I look back at where Derrick Green was at. We talked about right before he went down he had two very good weeks of practice and really kind of started to develop, and you look at Drake, once Derrick got injured the last two weeks he had two outstanding weeks of practice. Had the opportunity this week, did some great things, and [we’re] really excited about what he brings.”
To piggyback on what you were talking about earlier, how did Devin grade out? How would you evaluate him in that game?
“Devin did some really good things and he did some things we need to correct. Obviously 22/29, completed some balls, did some good things, two touchdowns, obviously the one interception we’d like to have back and there were a couple other decisions but he did some good things and he did some things that we corrected.”
[After THE JUMP: Talking about Drake, Darboh, and the Devins]
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.]
Bow wow wow yippee yo yippee yay
Bow wow yippee yo yippee yay
video via the mgoboard
Bow wow wow yipp—GOTDAMN
Dennis Norfleet is a national treasure. Devin Funchess is terrifyingly good at football. Much, much more from this game—including multiple Devin Gardner Aneurysms of Leadership and the referee's priceless reaction to Brady Hoke's inexplicable end-of-half timeout—follow after the jump.
[AFTER THE JUMP, ONE STADIUM UNDER A GROOVE]
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.]
Throw out the records. Ignore the lack of offense. Forget that Penn State's offensive line looks eerily like Michigan's 2013 O-line.
Michigan won a game tonight in front of a packed house of genuinely excited fans, and it felt damn good. Maybe not for much of the game, an ugly slog in which the two teams combined for just 470 yards of offense, several Wolverines went down with injuries—including Devins Gardner and Funchess—and both coaching staffs seemed intent on out-bungling the other, but come that final drive, it felt like Michigan football should.
The stars of this game, without a doubt, were on defense. The Wolverines limited PSU to just 214 yards, with a paltry 65 in the second half after Michigan came out a little flat against the run. Six different Wolverines accounted for the team's six sacks. Jourdan Lewis came up with a critical second-half interception when the defensive front nearly got to Christian Hackenberg again, forcing an ill-advised throw across the field. Mike McCray anticipated a fake punt and displayed tantalizing athleticism in hawking Grant Haley to blow it up two yards behind the line.
When Penn State needed a field goal to tie with 3:44 left, the defense came through with their biggest possession of the night, as Jake Ryan and Frank Clark sacked Hackenberg on consecutive plays to force the Nittany Lions into punt formation from just outside their own goal line. PSU coach James Franklin bizarrely called a timeout to avoid a delay of game—one that would have cost his team about half a yard—before making the correct call to take a safety and go for an onside kick.
What happened next perhaps made up for the blown call at the end of last week's Rutgers game. Penn State recovered the initial kick, but a questionable flag for offsides negated it, and Blake Countess fell onto the ensuing re-kick without any trouble to effectively end game.
In feelingsball world, however, the star of this game was Devin Gardner, who recovered from a bad interception and an ugly-looking ankle injury to engineer the game-winning field goal drive. Gardner's numbers didn't look great—16/24, 192 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT—but without him on the field for two second-half drives, the offense looked helpless with Russell Bellomy at quarterback. Gardner may be inconsistent—yes, often infuriatingly so—but there's no question he's by far the most capable leader of this offense, and it showed most tonight during his brief absence.
Devin Funchess scored Michigan's lone touchdown of the evening in the first quarter, somehow chasing down a Gardner moonshot and snatching it away from PSU safety Ryan Keiser, who looked like he was preparing to field a punt—after a bobble, Funchess secured the ball and streaked towards the home sideline, arms raised in triumph.
That turned out to be the only touchdown the Wolverines would need, with Matt Wile providing the decisive points on field goals of 45, 42, and 37 yards.
Granted, the running game proved non-existent, the offense remained relatively ineffective, and Brady Hoke gifted Penn State a Hail Mary attempt at the end of the first half by inexplicably taking a timeout with three seconds left on the clock. Those are concerns, to be sure, but they're concerns for another day.
Tonight, we celebrate. Hail to the victors, valiant.