"Rodrick Williams Jr.'s 10-month old, 2-foot-long savannah monitor named "Kill" gets the RB some strange looks when they go for walks together."
11/30/2014 – Michigan 28, OSU 42 – 5-7, 3-5 Big Ten
In one of last year's season preview posts I wondered if Michigan was going to end up on the wrong side of the war after Hoke's hire. I got piles of crap for this take from people waving Stanford anecdotes around. I think a lot of people read "pro style can't work" when what I'm saying is "it's clearly less likely to." I'm not going to turn my nose up at Jim Harbaugh no matter what he wants to run. Wing-T? Yes, sir.
Anyway: the crux of that argument was that if you think running a spread makes your defense soft when you have to play Wisconsin, the corollary to that is that if you're not preparing for spread elements daily you will struggle when you go up against them. For the most part this held true during the Hoke era (if I say "tempo" you will dive under a couch), and never more so than against OSU.
Statistically, Michigan has had a defense somewhere between good and terrific under Greg Mattison. Ohio State looks at that and says naw:
- 2011: 34 points, 376 yards, about two feet from another 70 yards and game-winning points.
- 2012: 26 points, 396 yards. A decent performance, year one of Meyer.
- 2013: 42 points, 526 yards. An obliteration.
- 2014: 42 points, 416 yards. Seven of those points are via a defensive TD.
These were all slow games featuring a lot of running and a lot of Michigan dawdling. This year's version of The Game had just nine OSU possessions, which is the practical minimum. Anything played at a Pac 12 pace would have been ugly.
Michigan had a vaguely acceptable performance once in four years, and two of those games featured freshman OSU quarterbacks who weren't even supposed to be the starter preseason. Hell, this game featured an eighty yard drive led by the third string QB.
The whole "Big Boy Football" thing is all the more galling since OSU has consistently ground Michigan into paste without bothering to throw the ball much. OSU QBs have thrown an average of 20.5 passes against Michigan in the Hoke era, and I'd guess about a half of those were screens and easy stuff in the flat. With most of the rest downfield bombs, OSU's offense avoids turnovers while simultaneously being lethally efficient. If the spread does get your QBs hurt more often—something that's been hard to confirm with numbers—that's not something that has affected Ohio State. Cardale Jones came in and sealed the game.
OSU is running twice as much as they're passing against Michigan and averaging 6.1 yards a carry. These are Rodriguez-at-WVU type stats, the kind that blew me away when I was looking at his track record after his hire.
The funny thing about the Danielsons of the world is that they're old school RUN THE DANG BALL types, but they manage to sidestep the fact that forcing the defense to account for a running quarterback is the best way to run the ball. I can think of no better way to make this point than a chart from back in 2008 that compared Michigan's YPC in year one of Rodriguez to the previous seven years of Lloyd Carr:
Threet and Sheridan and no linemen and they still ended up above average. Michigan would easily top 2006 from 2009 to 2012. Lloyd Carr could talk about running the ball. His teams couldn't do it, at least not well.
I want to run the ball. I want to run an offense that doesn't ask the QB to make complicated reads, but rather asks him to make a decision about one guy. Hoke was a mistake for a thousand reasons, but prime amongst them was his "we're gonna run power" crap after he'd never been able to do that anywhere else.
Michigan spent the 2011 game running the inverted veer wrong and they still put up 40; that this had no impact on his approach speaks volumes about Hoke's lack of quality as a coach. Bo made the shift to a modern passing offense when he had to. Saban is grudgingly moving in that direction: I was watching the Iron Bowl on Saturday and Herbstreit made multiple references to how Alabama was now a no-huddle team. They found themselves down multiple scores in the second half and ripped off five straight TDs in short order.
The game moves; move with it or die. Michigan chose hidebound traditionalism on the field and whiz-bang idiot modernism in the pageantry. The former is a natural reaction after you get burned. The latter is a natural consequence of hiring a pizza marketer.
But can we learn? I would like to learn. Rich Rodriguez blew it here, and he learned. He dumped his defensive staff, got Jeff Casteel back, and is headed to the Pac-12 championship game with a freshman QB after having beaten Oregon in back-to-back years. This is our opportunity to do something right this time.
Unfortunately, Michigan's current coaching staff is going on recruiting visits today when they should be taking a day with a bottle of scotch before polishing up the old resume. I have no idea what they're supposed to say on these visits.
RECRUIT: Aren't you guys getting fired?
COACH: Almost certainly.
RECRUIT: So why are you here?
COACH: I'm like a corpse still twitching. Held in this hellish no-place, I pine for my soul's release and reincarnation as the offensive coordinator at a D-II school.
COACH: You said it.
Florida knows what's going on; Tulsa knows what's going on; Illinois knows what's going on. Michigan doesn't. Comparisons to Nebraska are invalid. Michigan's not 9-3, and no one is going to be blindsided by Hoke getting axed.
Poke the Russia Today outlet in the Michigan e-sphere and you'll hear that it's about Doing Right By The Staff and that it's about Keeping The Pressure Off Harbaugh; neither of these explanations make any sense. That coach doesn't want to be on that visit. He wants to be looking for another job. Harbaugh speculation does not start with, or even focus on, Michigan in NFL circles.
I can't see a reason to drag it out, but here we are, dragging it out. The guy in charge may be competent but he has no track record. We're stuck here hoping this guy is actually qualified and that things turn out for the best. Maybe it will. Forgive me if I have a tendency to look on everything this department does as a mistake.
That's' going to be a tough habit to break, but here's a suggestion: act like a collection of people instead of a committee for once and acknowledge that there's no good way for this to go down. The first major Brandon warning sign was when he infamously took two days of meetings to fire Rich Rodriguez when that was a fait accompli.
[After THE JUMP: offensive line ups and downs, clock lol, etc.]
11/22/2014 – Michigan 16, Maryland 23 – 5-6, 3-4 Big Ten
A version of this game happened in 2008, when a Michigan team headed for 3-9 had a dismal, rainy home finale against a bad team. That was Northwestern; Michigan blocked a punt for a touchdown but lost anyway. I spent halftime attempting to warm my hands on a pretzel heater.
It was tolerable because of its novelty. That team provided an opportunity for Michigan fans to demonstrate the vast depths they would go to in order to support their team. It wasn't fun, exactly, but it felt like a transitory period, a cost gladly borne for the promise of ass-kicking modern football to come. Merit badges were awarded to the hardy souls who stuck it out.
I don't have to tell you how that worked out.
I know I've referenced that game many times before as we've struggled to deal with Michigan's broken offense over the past couple years, but the similarities to the Maryland game are striking enough to bring it up again. While the weather wasn't nearly as bad, the slate-gray sky was highly familiar. So too the mutual Keystone Kops antics, what with receivers deciding it was that year EA's NCAA Football series decided that the way to balance their broken game was to have WRs drop half the passes they got their hands on.
So you naturally think about that game before and compare your mental state then and mental state now. The only thing I've got at the moment is relief I don't have to do that again. Humorous exclamations about how "we do this for fun!" are so 2008.
Michigan had built up piles of fan goodwill over their 40 year bowl streak; after Schembechler's arrival there were years Michigan wasn't great, but none in which they were actively bad unless their starting quarterback's leg broke. They started tapping that in earnest in 2007, and now it's all gone. I didn't want to go to the Maryland game even a little, but I did. I have a personal streak at stake here. And they fired Dave Brandon.
But there was no silver lining. The depths of my fandom have been tested; there's a bottom there. I'm fed up with ticket prices and the cookie-cutter inanity imposed on a Michigan Stadium experience that used to be unique.
CAKE [Bryan Fuller]
There are bits and scraps of it left. I got bizarrely misty when they did the Blues Brothers cake, because it was a thing that was ours and still existed as what it had been since my youth. I was at Yost for the final game of whatever hockey season it was when the "Can't Turn You Loose" dancing extended from the most humorously overweight guy in the section to everybody. It was a thing that some people decided to do and they keep doing it.
Then that student section sat near-silent for the rest of the game because every space that wasn't filled with actual football was crammed with noise. It was especially jarring since the most interesting football on in the noon window was Manchester United-Arsenal, full of everything but Pitbull being piped in at deafening levels.
That's where we are right now, fighting a losing battle against the spreadsheet people. Jim Hackett may be a nice guy and vast improvement on Brandon, sure. Not much has happened to indicate that he's anything but another spreadsheet person making the columns add up and importing what passes for creativity at other places.
I don't know what's about to happen. I mean, I do: Ohio State is going to punch Michigan's delicates in and Brady Hoke's going to get fired. I don't know what happens after that.
During the last coaching search I used logic and common sense to declare that Michigan would not hire Brady Hoke because he was so transparently unqualified, so I can't do that again. Even if I was so inclined the fact that an interim AD is going to make the most important hire in the department would prevent me. Michigan is determined to do it weird in the ways they shouldn't and do it conventional in all the ways they shouldn't.
But whatever. It's over, and it ended in the way it probably had to: a sodden mess of football about as interesting as a pile of dirty laundry. Hopefully there's something to care about next year.
There is not going to be a UFR. I'll go back and get the relevant parts over the offseason but I am going to have a real Thanksgiving instead of one where I spend the first half of it in a bedroom putting up a post; it was just going to say the same stuff you already know anyway.
This fourth down was on Gardner [Upchurch]
I don't know what I expected dot gif. The same pattern of ludicrous errors part XVIII. Roughing the kicker, a block in the back on a punt return touchdown, dropped passes, penalties, throws nowhere near the target, an inability to deal with tempo or mobile quarterbacks—none of it was surprising. It's not even infuriating anymore. It's just the way it is.
Cripes, Funchess. His lack of GAF has been clear for big chunks of the year—I still go back to that bubble screen that was a likely touchdown if he blocks his guy at all—and it's getting more prominent as we near the end of the year. The dropped passes are epidemic, and they don't even try to use him as a blocker anymore.
It'll be interesting to see if any of this impacts his draft stock. I bet 1) it does and 2) not nearly enough to induce him to return for his senior year. This feels like a situation similar what went down with GRIII, where it might be a good idea for the guy to come back to establish himself an elite talent but the guy is clearly done with college.
The offensive line is kind of okay now. There was a period in the second half where Michigan was blowing the Maryland DTs off the ball on every single play; occasionally Maryland would get Michigan in the backfield with a blitz allowed by the fact that M really didn't want to throw but anything that ended up neutral on the RPS scale was a nice gain for Michigan. Even excluding the fake punt, Michigan went for 5.5 YPC.
That's not unusual for a putrid Maryland D, but Michigan bested MSU, OSU, and pre-Diamont Indiana. They didn't hit Wisconsin numbers or a rampant Syracuse(?), but they looked quite functional. Darrell Funk is going to get run out of town on a rail like the rest of the coaching staff but the improvement this year is real. With literally everybody back next year they could be good-ish.
Mad about carry distribution. I've seen a lot of ANGAR about the carry distribution since Johnson was picking up big chunks. That's one of the few things that I'm not
incensed bitchy and eye-rolling about in the aftermath. Hayes picked up 6 YPC on his six carries and while Smith only had 2.8, he was the short yardage/goal-line guy and played much better than Johnson against Northwestern. Overall the run game was highly effective, and only the usual slate of derp and the broken Devin Gardner prevented actual offense from occurring.
this was not tempting apparently [Upchurch]
I will be
mad snarky about this. I know Funchess was dropping balls left and right but how on earth do you go an entire game with a 6'5" WR against "5-7" Will Likely and not, like, try to use that fact? Everyone got peeved at one goal line play, and I'm with you. I would like to extend that peevishness past that specific series and apply it to every damn time this inept offense didn't punt the ball to Funchess 40 yards downfield.
When is the last time they tried a plain old bomb down the sideline at Funchess? I know it can't actually be the Notre Dame game but it feels like the Notre Dame game.
Seriously though. How do you rush for 240 yards on 44 carries, plus a 52-yard fake punt, and score 16 points?
Defense. The usual: pretty good against the run, though CJ Brown's QB stuff was highly effective because Michigan still regards that as cheating (or maybe it tends to be effective), highly iffy against the pass especially in the middle of the field, late collapse.
Brown's 6.9 YPA on 24 attempts isn't great, but you have to take the fact that Maryland was down two of its top options at WR and replacement slot Jacquille Veii dropped at least four passes. If Maryland WRs actually caught the ball this could have been significantly uglier.
It's clear that opponents have IDed the slot and TEs running against M LB/S types as a major weakness and targeted it.
The demise. Grimly appropriate that Maryland should get its key play on their go-ahead drive thanks to a fake bubble screen that went over the top. The end came thanks to a concept that's been around since Rodriguez's first year that Michigan could not deal with, nor successfully replicate except once against Miami(NTM). When they tried to imitate successful offenses they did it poorly because they were bad at coaching, and then blamed the concepts.
* How do you lose when you outgain your opponent 398 yards to 312 yards? The answer is simple. Not-so-special teams (and turnovers, and failing on fourth down twice.)
* Maryland's fourth FG attempt is not in the boxscore because Jourdan Lewis roughed the kicker. On the very next play, Jourdan Lewis failed to keep contain and Maryland scooted in for a touchdown.
* Michigan's high point on the day, a 52 yard fake punt, was more than offset by a touch in the back penalty that resulted in Michigan losing 70 yards of field position, oh, and a game-deciding touchdown.
Yes, there have been meager signs (mostly on defense, but also with the offensive line) that this program was playing better, especially given the fact that Indiana has since nearly upset PSU and held tough against OSU on the road, while Northwestern upset Notre Dame and then demolished Purdue to, improbably, set up for next week’s intra-state battle with the Illini as a battle of two teams playing for their bowl-game lives. They weren’t dominating wins, but if you squinted you could see something faintly resembling progress and improvement, and maybe with a new QB and some healthy running backs next year Michigan might be on its way “back”.
But all along, this team kept displaying the same numerous flaws that absolutely, positively shouldn’t be happening 50 games into a coach’s tenure. The offense remains painfully predictable, to the point that pointing this out is equally reflexive. The defense, while certainly the stronger unit during Hoke’s tenure, continues to play at a B+ level, seemingly never figuring out how to handle anything approaching tempo or a mobile QB. Barring a Biakabutuka-esque performance against OSU, Michigan won’t have a running back break 600 yards total on the season, and for the second year in a row won’t have one even sniff 1,000 yards total. Hell, Melvin Gordon and Tevin Coleman are going to significantly outrush this team as a whole, and that’s after dropping 292 yards rushing on Maryland in this game. Devin Gardner went from pre-season All Big-10-ish player to a guy who’ll probably not throw for 10 TDs on the season, and one of the best runs of the year was a 52-yard run by a FB on a fake punt. Timeouts continue to be called or saved without any regard for reality, and the team long ago ran out of feet to shoot with dumb penalties, incorrect number of players on the field, and turnovers. Oh my gawd the turnovers, King.
Sap's Decals nails Gardner:
DEVIN GARDNER – To me, New 98 is the LaVell Blanchard of the Michigan Football Team. Great kid. Smart kid. Face of the program for the past few years. Much like Blanchard, Gardner has been caught in the middle of a coaching change during his career. Caught in the middle of a program trying to find its way. Caught in the middle of a university trying to figure out what kind of identity they want their football team to have. Much like we do when looking back on the career of Blanchard, I’m sure we will say much the same for Gardner: “Oh, the Gardner years! Tough kid. Never quit. Never gave up. Sad that his record wasn’t better.”
So, things happened yesterday. A few of them good, some of them meh, and most of them bad. For Michigan, it was yet another in a long line of games everyone would just rather forget.
Brady Hoke knows what's coming. You can just tell. Nothing will happen before the Ohio State game, but its over. This is the end for Hoke at Michigan.
You know it's bad when newspaper folk don't edit out your uhs and ums:
A self-inflicted mess, toward the tail end of a self-inflicted disaster of a season that can't end soon enough, with a head coach who has only gotten worse every year he's been in charge.
Another game that made little sense, and more talk afterward that made even less.
"We just didn't, uh, execute at times when we had opportunities, and, uh, at times we did," Hoke said Saturday night. "We had some mistakes in the kicking game that, uh, obviously hurt us as a football team. Some of those were very aggressive mistakes and you appreciate that kind of effort and aggression. At the same point, we've got to be a little smarter.
"If that's the right word for it."
11/10/2014 – Michigan 86, Wayne State 43 – 0-0
Hey: basketball. I took in the exhibition, which exhibited various things I'll now detail.
I hope this was just nerves. Freshmen had a rough shooting night with the limited exceptions of Doyle and Dawkins, none more so than Chatman. He airballed his first two threes, took a bad, contested long two, and bricked a THJ-style pull-up long two; he did hit a three late.
On the good side, his other bucket was an impressive drive to the basket with a finish that made a lot of people look at their buddy so they could do this:
He also added four assists and led the team in rebounding with six; he also looked capable of switching on the perimeter at least as effectively as GRIII.
Shooting was never a strength for Robinson—he developed an elbow jumper he was proficient at but hovered around 30% from three—so even if Chatman isn't a great threat from deep Michigan won't be backsliding too much. And Beilein believes he can coach up anyone's three point stroke.
DJ Wilson. Wilson's going to be an interesting case this year. He's skinny as all git out but with his size and hops he's going to be much better at altering shots than anyone on last year's team other than Horford. Michigan has been playing him mostly at the 5 with occasional forays at the 4, and while Doyle's lingering ankle thing has something to do with that you get the feeling that when opponents have a lanky dude in there Michigan is going to counter with Wilson.
I could have sworn Wilson hit two late threes but the box score only gives him credit for one. Foot on the line? Either way he mitigated some of the freshman shooting questions by hitting those late.
Aubrey Dawkins. Skinnier version of GRIII. Can shoot some, 6'6", athletic, not going to create much. Had some issues dribbling.
MAAR. Or "Rahk." Rahk appears to be Beilein's favorite way of saying Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman without taking up nine syllables, and it has its appeal.
Anyway, MAAR has a much better handle than the rest of the freshman and is your third point guard. He had a nice take to the hoop that he followed with a layup that was way too hard; he had a second drive on which he'd gotten an angle to the bucket when his handle betrayed him and the ball looped out of bounds.
He ended up not hitting a shot; early yet.
Center fight. There are four options: Mark Donnal, Ricky Doyle, DJ Wilson, and Max Bielfeldt. I expect Doyle to emerge into a clear starter, with Donnal giving him a breather. The lack of pick and pop game with Donnal on the court says somethin' about somethin'.
Doyle is both one inch taller and somehow way bigger than Donnal. He seems to have considerably more defensive upside. He's also finished much better around the basket in the two glimpses we've seen of him this fall. Donnal has been a below the rim Morgan type without Morgan's crazy efficiency; Doyle is finishing with both hands easily because he's got those super-huge hands and long arms that allow him to gently deposit the ball on the glass from whatever angle is called for.
This person looks like a person who will finish around the rim. [Fuller]
Wilson will rotate in at the 4 and the 5 depending on matchups and how Chatman's seemingly mercurial shooting stroke is going.
The returning folks. All looked pretty good minus some uncharacteristic three-point foibles (Irvin, Walton, Albrecht, and LeVert combined to go 3 for 12) that we can ignore because we have full-season samples for all those guys in which they hit 40% from deep.
I got this [Fuller]
LeVert looked ready to take on the alpha dog mantle passed down from Burke to Stauskas and now to him. He's taking the late clock shots; his length and ability to get to good spots on the floor mean these are usually okay shots.
Irvin was much more active on the boards, hauling in five rebounds in 29 minutes, and even had shots from within the arc(!). On the podcast we discussed how Irvin needs to be a "three AND" guy this year, whether that's perimeter defense or rebounding or sometimes venturing inside the line. So far so good.
Walton was hampered by a scary-looking injury that turned out to be a cramp; he was very assured on the ball and got to the line seven times—would have been eight if not for the injury.
The rotation. Until such time as one of the freshmen gains enough trust to be put out there in pressure situations, expect the main backcourt sub to be Spike. Beilein's always kept a short bench and Albrecht's utterly reliable with the ball in his hands. This is Beilein's favorite thing. He'll spot Walton for eight minutes a game and then Michigan will have ten or so minutes with both points on the floor, leaving 5-10 minutes for MAAR and Dawkins to scrap over.
A lack of flow. You know it's early and you've got a bunch of freshmen when your guards have to keep yelling at the posts to screen for them. Michigan used its time on offense inefficiently, with several incidents where plays had to be reset because of poor spacing and miscommunication.
In particular, there was one play featuring DJ Wilson where Wilson had two obvious opportunities to drift to the three point line in the corner and either force someone out of the middle or get a good shot. Instead he hung out 15 feet from the basket and neither option opened up. He was far from the only culprit, but that stood out as a moment where I may have been more familiar with Beilein's system than freshman X—I blinked a couple times because I couldn't understand what Wilson was doing.
Beilein seems pretty frustrated right now:
"We don’t have a very good package in, and I’m trying to figure out how that’s happened,” Beilein said. “We held things back today so it’s not on film, but it’s not very far right now. We’re creeping along. We’re moving in the right direction, but it’s really slow.”
He added, “It’s my biggest quandary every day, is whether we can move forward faster. We spend so much time on defense, because we realize that shots aren’t (always) going to drop. It’s hard to believe that we went to Europe and we aren’t further along and we’re not moving as quickly as I would have in past years.”
This team isn't appreciably younger than either of his previous two, which were amongst the youngest in the country. Hopefully they get it figured out before the preseason tourney rolls around.
How to stay good
Michigan endured yet another talent exodus this offseason and has to regress from last year's all-time Kenpom offensive efficiency record. To maintain their elite level they're going to have to make it up in other places. Here are a few candidates.
Rebound some low-hanging fruit. Michigan's rebounding production out of the 3 and 4 spots last year was not impressive. 6'6" PF Glenn Robinson had a 6% OREB rate and an 11.5 DREB rate; 6'6" SF Zak Irvin had a 3.3% OREB rate and a 7.7 DREB rate. Irvin was in fact the least likely guy on the team to get a defensive rebound—even Spike Albrecht beat him out.
A selection of 6'7"-ish forwards in the Big Ten last year:
- Troy Williams, IU: 8 OREB and 15 DREB
- LaQuinton Ross, OSU: 7.5 and 17
- Terran Petteway, NEB: 3 and 15
- Shavon Shields, NEB: 5 and 16
- Jon Ekey, ILL: 8 and 15
- Aaron White, Iowa: 7 and 19
- Melsahn Basabe, Iowa: 12 and 23
- Branden Dawson, MSU: 13 and 21
- Denzel Valentine, MSU: 5 and 18
(Should be noted that the Nebraska guys' OREB rates are a reflection of a team-wide allergy.) It isn't too hard to find guys with much better production. While Dawson and White are rebounding specialists who find a lot of their value as players in what happens when a shot caroms off the rim, no one is going to mistake Williams, Petteway, Valentine, or Ross for D-oriented role players.
Michigan can seriously beef up production here, and so far so good. Chatman led the team with six rebounds; Irvin had five.
Block some dang shots. Michigan had vanishingly little shotblocking on the team last year. Michigan was 308th nationally, and this contributed to their very bad two-point D.
The freshmen promise to change that. Wilson is long and bouncy and once Doyle settles in it's easy to see him getting his share of swats. His arms are oversized. Michigan had six blocks in this game, albeit against a highly undersized opponent. If Doyle and Wilson can block some shots, alter others, and convince drivers to pull up because of the first two items, that goes some distance towards repairing last year's conference-worst two point D.
Get some steals. Steals are great. Open-court turnovers lead to transition opportunities on which Michigan is deadly. Michigan had eight, with the sneaky Spike Albrecht picking up three.
Stay in front. We all love Nik Stauskas but his defense was never a strong suit; meanwhile Robinson was not awesome laterally and gave up some inches to most of the guys he was checking. Replacing Stauskas with Irvin could be a major upgrade—too early to tell yet—and having athletes like Chatman and Wilson who are close to GRIII's level while also being significantly longer should help the D recover from its swoon into the triple digits on Kenpom.
Hooray basketball. Hooray not being scoreless 30 minutes into the game.
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?]
11/1/2014 – Michigan 34, Indiana 10 – 4-5, 2-3 Big Ten
This happened. The end. [Eric Upchurch]
Sometimes there's a game that does not have anything to say about it. This was that game. Michigan won 34-10, the same score they beat Miami (Not That Miami) by, and it felt a lot like a replay of that throwaway nonconference game.
The opposing offense wasn't going anywhere unless Michigan busted something. Michigan's running game alternated between frustrating lack of holes and lanes so open you could drive a truck through. The defensive backs could have spent the entire afternoon reading The Economist and sipping Kermit tea and nothing would have changed. Indiana had eight attempts. This game was almost literally none of their business.
Michigan thudded out to a 17-0 lead with the help of a couple fumbles that somehow benched Tevin Coleman, and then the game was over. Indiana turned a Gardner interception that ended up inside the Michigan ten into a doinked field goal. Thereupon a giant pig descended from the sky to proclaim the game state.
Brady Hoke knew it, so he ran the ball a couple times to end the first half instead of attempting to score.
I knew it, so I wasn't even a tiny bit peeved by that. Devin Gardner had just demonstrated the only way Indiana was going to get back in the game by not quite giftwrapping a pick six. Just before that Gardner had not quite giftwrapped another pick six. Michigan could have run the ball on every remaining down and won, and it was cold and I have to UFR these things. Run that clock down. Fine by me.
Everyone in the crowd knew it, so an awful lot of them left at halftime.
Non-student areas weren't a whole lot better. [Bryan Fuller]
At this point I'm not blaming anyone. It was cold, Michigan is playing for a berth in the kind of bowl where the gift bags include broken Swatches from 1985, and the game was already decided. I stayed because I write these columns and your soapbox is a little higher if you stayed like a True Fan™. I am enjoying the extra centimeter right now. Mighty fine view it's providing.
The game being what it was, about the only thing of interest over the weekend was a smattering of pissy comments from current and former players.
Desmond Howard decried Michigan's "mob mentality" on Gameday. Taylor Lewan called the Daily's Alejandro Zuniga a "moron" after Zuniga's appearance on BTN. Drew Dileo used air quotes around 'loyal' en route to stating that Dave Brandon and Brady Hoke weren't the problem—causing responders to respectfully ask what, then, the problem might be. Elliot Mealer referred to "the muggles that attend the University of Michigan" suddenly knowing something about the athletic department. Shane Morris provided a shout-out to the few students that made it to the end of the game and helpfully informed the ones who didn't that Michigan won.
It's like they went to bed and universal suffrage happened overnight.
INT. HOUSE OF COMMONS
A raucous scene, as a bill has just come up for vote. Enter AN ASSORTMENT OF LORDS.
EARL OF MEALER
Good heavens, what are they doing?
HOWARD, DUKE OF HEISMAN
They seem to be voicing their opinions.
MARQUIS DI LEO
EARL OF MEALER
Say, you, boy: what is all this ruckus?
The bill of attainder is up for vote; these are
final arguments before a decision is made.
Also, I don't think 'boy' is the preferred nomenclature.
HOWARD, DUKE OF HEISMAN
You have the vote? What nonsense!
MARQUIS DI LEO
/frantically dips snuff
EARL OF MEALER
Disaster! Woe! Surely we will topple like saplings in a typhoon!
HOWARD, DUKE OF HEISMAN
How long has… this been going on?
Approximately 600 years?
MARQUIS DI LEO
HOWARD, DUKE OF HEISMAN
WHY WEREN'T WE TOLD?!
We assumed you knew.
EARL OF MEALER
Our doom is at hand! Flee! I'll die on the squash courts if I can make it!
/exit MEALER, HOWARD
MARQUIS DI LEO
MARQUIS DI LEO
Michigan fans always had the vote; never before had they been pressed so hard as to think about using it. When there's an epic wait list you can find another team and the edifice doesn't notice. Not so much anymore.
The ironic thing about all of this is it's actually the students—sorry, "muggles"—leading the way towards positive change. Brandon implements the worst possible version of general admission; Mike Proppe's CSG negotiates a more sensible arrangement that provides better seats to better fans. Brandon blames the new policy for the drop in attendance instead of prices; Bobby Dishell's CSG negotiates a 40% slashing of ticket prices. El-Kilani's petition laid out the case against Brandon concisely and far more authoritatively than any defenses mounted by the House of Lords, which generally amount to "nuh-uh, you don't know."
It is true that we don't know the face Brandon showed to the student-athletes. I do know that one day he got in front of his department and quizzed them as to who their customers were. The answer: "student-athletes." So he probably acted like a human to them.
That's not enough when he is a six-foot phallus to everyone else. You just don't know that unless you're outside the program, looking at a 150-dollar ticket that you could have had for 20 bucks, watching grim quasi-football that means nothing in the freezing cold. Bon Jovi is playing, for some reason.
Here's the thing. This is a large group of people. Every large group of people is basically a bell curve. Michigan has pushed the prices up to the point where they're going to hit the downside of that bell curve without serious change.
That's a disaster that cannot be allowed to happen. Maybe it won't be for the people in the program right now, or the people who have been through it. It is one for the people who are thinking about 30 years from now, who are thinking about what it's going to be like for their kids.
Michigan, the program, can do little to change the group of people. They will remain the same people. They can only change themselves to fit the people. Step one is firing the coach, because the crushing blow to season ticket sales that results from his retention is unacceptable. Also he is not good at coaching.
Step two is not being dicks to people outside the program. I know y'all learned it from Brandon. Unlearn it. The next AD is going to be just as fantastic to increasingly pampered student-athletes without being loathed by everyone else on the planet. The Al Bundy patrol talking down to a fanbase on the edge of deserting in droves is hilariously out of touch. Michigan revenue vs Michigan performance. QED.
It's time to stop interpreting "The Team The Team The Team" as a moat between 115 players and 113,000 fans.
[After THE JUMP: hawt babes, and why are you trying to be a fey English twit]
10/25/2014 – Michigan 11, Michigan State 35 – 3-5, 1-3 Big Ten
Mark Dantonio is a crazy mofo. This is his great power: he can be offended at anything, forever. Mark Dantonio free-solos Mount Outrage every year. Michigan tried their damndest to not give him anything he could latch onto this time around, repeating the same praise over and over again until even the perpetually bored media noticed that this week's pablum was even more insipid than the usual business.
Then they put a thing in a field.
Fueling Dantonio's never-ending rage at the concept of Michigan is unwise but probably irrelevant. If hate moved spaceships Dantonio would be scowling at little green men circling Alpha Centauri instead of East Lansing. Dantonio is still pissed off at something Mike Hart said seven years ago; a dumb stunt with a railroad spike is a power mushroom when you're already big and skrong.
On the other hand, apologizing after is a pretty good summation of where both programs are. Michigan got the pounding everyone expected and then said "sorry for spoiling for field sir" as they slinked back home. Scott Farkus threw a snowball in our face and we apologized to him for being in the way.
Putting a thing in a field and then woofing about it isn't poor sportsmanship. We should know what poor sportsmanship is: punchin' people. Trying to hurt people. This series has seen plenty of that of late, on both sides. No one apologized after.
Apparently the standard for self-abasement has plummeted, though. So we get another statement. The latest in a never-ending series of PR gaffes. The chance anyone brings the spike thing up after the first round of LOL Michigan articles is zero, unless Michigan brings it up again. They of course do because Michigan refuses to learn Don Canham's first maxim—don't make a one-day story into a two-day story.
Thus more public emasculation for Brady Hoke. Dave Brandon seems to be deliberately trying to make his football coach look like the nation's most clueless goober. By the Maryland game he'll be wearing a beanie and a KICK ME sign. The crowning glory will be an Ohio Stadium weeping piteously at his imminent departure; Hoke will be dressed in nothing but a barrel and suspenders. The press conference afterwards will take place over a dunk tank.
I dunno man, I know this is some feelingsball right here but I can't help but think this is a big part of the problem. Hoke's response to the bullies asking him why he keeps hitting himself is "it's all in the statement." The team responds like their head coach. The man refuses to defend himself, either from his incompetent athletic director or his rivals laughing at him. The team gets plowed by the hint of adversity. Fight is almost totally absent.
When someone gets mad at your spike stunt, the correct answer is F--- YO COUCH. That is Dantonio's answer to everything. Would you like some baklava, Mark? F--- YO COUCH.
Michigan likes to talk about being a Big Boy. Before last year's Ohio State game Brandon said Michigan is "going back to hard-nosed, big-boy football." Whenever a journalist asks Hoke about the internet hordes clamoring for his head he says "it's a big-boy business."
You know who doesn't talk about being a big boy? Big boys*. People who talk about being a Big Boy wear short pants and ask their moms for a quarter so they can buy candy. Big boys don't look at yet another plate of crap and eat it with a sigh of disgust. At some point, big boys stand up for their dignity.
I don't see anything like that. I see the same mealy-mouthed coachspeak week after week, the same covering for his inept boss. Of course Dave Brandon's watching film with him.
Maybe that makes him a "great guy," as per the last possible defense of Hoke. I don't see it. He may be a nice guy; "great" at least requires you to have as much backbone as Ralphie in A Christmas Story.
*[Except Big Boi, who is contractually obligated to say his name several times per minute as per the Rappist Identification Act Of 1985.]
[After THE JUMP: not much, honestly.]