...says Denzel Valentine of Big Ten Tourney favorite MSU, which is 5-7 in its last 12 games. Cumong, man.
9/8/2012 – Michigan 31, Air Force 25 – 1-1
It's been a long time since the first game of Michigan's football season wasn't at home. It was 1998. Michigan headed to South Bend to get annihilated by Autry Denson and the option in the opening game of their title defense. The box score lo these many years later is horrific:
Michigan Notre Dame First downs 24 19 Rushed-yards 38-150 55-280 Passing yards 322 96 Sacked-yards lost 3-29 0-0 Return yards 6 14 Passes 28-44-0 4-10-1 Punts 2-31.0 2-44.0 Penalties-yards 4-30 5-32 Time of possession 29:46 30:14
Michigan led 13-9 before four straight ND touchdowns turned it into a laugher. Michigan got blown out despite outgaining the opponent by 100 yards and allowing the opposition to complete all of four passes. They fumbled all of the balls. They stopped none of the options. That game was 36-13 before Michigan tacked on a cosmetic touchdown at the end.
This was the Michigan-ND rivalry in the 90s. If all you know about it is 38-0, "oh, wide open," and Michigan ripping Irish hearts out in the last 30 seconds, you are fortunate. I know better because I was in college then.
The next week I sat, despondent, in the student section as a group of resilient (and probably drunk) guys in front of me chanted "Cross is Boss" in the waning minutes of Michigan making a blowout loss to Donovan McNabb and Syracuse look pretty on the scoreboard. Donovan McNabb was in college once. I said it was a long time ago.
Walter Cross went over 100 yards that day, all of it racked up long after the game had been decided. Syracuse, too, had murdered us with the option.
Saturday started strangely blank. I wrote this thing two years ago about the opening of football season that I already kind of wrote back when far fewer people were reading this blog and have to force myself not to write again every Friday before Michigan starts playing football again:
I can say that most of the time I like that I find football important. It gives life a rhythm. I think my favorite part happens on the first day of the new year, when I file into the stadium an hour early. It's still mostly empty then. You can spread out in the sun. In my mental picture of this my seats are high up in the corner so I can take in the whole vast breadth of the stadium. Perched there, looking down and across, the future stretches out across the horizon. Anything seems possible, and the wait is over.
I hadn't felt a lack of possibilities since 1998, when Michigan was not going to repeat as national champions even before Donovan McNabb showed up. I went in at the usual time and sat in the usual spot and felt… not that. It turns out getting hammered 41-14 in your opening game restricts dreams of future glories quite a bit. It's like having New Year's Day on the eighth, a week after you found out you're not getting a promotion. You found this out because your boss stapled it to a bobcat he mailed to you. The stitches still itch.
So when the band rolled out, it was weird. I did the thing with the clapping and the raising of the fist. The voice in the head that has been going ermagerd fortbaw ermagerddddd the last 13 years was not there. Alabama had taken it, ripped its pigtails out, stomped on it, and returned it to me. They said "what?" confrontationally. They asked if I was going to do anything about it. I said "no, sir." It sat in the corner, petting itself, maybe whispering ermagerd fortbaw, maybe not. It was hard to make out.
Two plays later, Denard Robinson ripped through the line, cut directly towards me, and was one on one with a safety with an angle. An angle and no chance in hell. Turbo was engaged, and Denard shot into space with the same breathtaking speed he showed after fumbling a his first snap against Western Michigan.
ermagerd ermagerd ermagerddddddd
On the first play of the second half, Denard ran 50 yards in one shoe, making a cut on his sock.
Cross (@ right via MDS) was a freshman that year. He must have thought a hundred yards in his second college game was a hell of a start. Must have thought he would be watching other guys take the meaningless carries pretty soon. But Cross never cracked a hundred yards again. He'd only match the ten carries he had against the Orangemen three more times. Once a year Michigan would blow the doors off the worst team in the Big Ten; Cross would dust himself off to pick up 40 or 50 yards as the stadium emptied and walk-ons made their moms proud.
I liked him, though. I remembered Cross Is Boss whenever he'd hit the field, and how those deranged guys in front of me were taking whatever they could from the game in front of them. If the only thing it offered was an opportunity to ironically root for some guy to rack up more meaningless yards than had ever been gained by a guy in a winged helmet, that's what they were going to do. I was still sitting on those seats as Michigan fell to 0-2, but I was less despondent. Cross was boss. If those guys could be okay with life, I could maybe be too.
So, yeah, Michigan's definitively not elite. The defense got torn up by a triple option team, and the offense got stoned against Alabama, and I guess I'll be okay with that, because if some dudes in 1998 can carve some fandom out of Walter Cross, how can you not be excited about Denard Robinson's final games in Michigan Stadium?
Fortbaw. Let's get it.
Things That Still Aren't Bullets
Honorable mention: Funchess, Gardner, Joe Bolden, James Ross, Jake Ryan(?).
EPIC DOUBLE POINT STANDINGS:
1: Denard Robinson (Air Force), Jeremy Gallon (retroactively awarded for Alabama game).
Welcome, freshmen. Not really. Hey, remember when this was finally the year when Michigan didn't rely on freshmen all over the place? Yeah… nyet. Michigan rolled out not one but two true freshman ILBs (James Ross and Joe Bolden) on Air Force's penultimate drive—the last one they actually used their offense on. Hoke would later say Bolden played so much because Colerain, his high school, ran the option, but even so… man.
Meanwhile, Ondre Pipkins, Mario Ojemudia, and Keith Heitzman (a redshirt freshman) saw plenty of time on the defensive line and Jarrod Wilson was the guy who came in when Michigan went to nickel. You make shake your fist at Rodriguez's last couple of recruiting classes now.
It wasn't that bad on offense, where the only freshmen to get a lot of playing time were AJ Williams and Devin Funchess. The former is like okay, we'll deal, and the latter was going to play early on damn near any team in the country.
not having shoes is the coolest now (Upchurch)
FUNCHESS. I try not to get all I told you so because I have occasionally not been right about things—like those three solid years when I thought Rodriguez was going to work out—but dang I told you so. Not that this is any great scouting feat on my part. Pretty much everyone who went to that open practice and saw a 6'5" guy with freaky long arms getting sent deep on wheel routes thought "holy crap" to himself and wrote about it on the internet.
I'm not sure if it was wheel one, wheel two, or not-a-waggle deep bomb that was the turning point, but by the time it was over Funchess had 106 yards receiving and was the first guy out of everyone's mouths in the postgame. It doesn't take a keen eye to think that guy has potential.
In Funchess we saw the beginnings of Michigan's Swiss Army Offense. They lined him up as an H-back and sent him on a wheel against a linebacker, who had no chance because he was too slow. They sent him deep against a safety, who had no chance because he was too small. That's the stuff Borges has spent years doing instead of figuring out how to tweak a read option, and in Funchess we saw the future.
Also the present.
…and introducing Chasing Jim Mandich. Is this too early? No. For one, I'd rather put up pictures of Bo and Mandich 20 times than, like, four. For two, it's the internet. This is how we do. Suck it, guy on twitter who told me to calm down and that it was just one game. WOO!
Jim Mandich is Michigan's all-time tight end receiving yardage leader with 1494 yards. After posting Michigan's first 100-yard receiving day by a tight end since Jerame Tuman did it in 1997, Devin Funchess has 106 yards receiving and needs 1389 to pass Mandich. At his current pace he needs just over 26 more games to do so.
That was the best thing, now the worst thing. Fitzgerald Toussaint: eight carries, seven yards. Commence offensive line panic. Do not hold any in reserve. If you end up in a cornfield wearing nothing but a traffic cone holding a sign that says "AIR FORCE DEFENSIVE LINEMEN ARE 260 POUNDS," this is about right, give or take a jockstrap.
I don't know, man. Live I didn't see anything Toussaint could have done except collapse in a pile of bodies. When Carl Grapentine forgot to turn off his mic and told the stadium "they can't do anything with that" after Michigan set another down on fire by running from under center, he was only telling everyone in the stadium what they were already thinking. Most of those plays went right, we're already nervous about Schofield… conclusion… yeah.
NORFLEET. hey drew dileo what's up you're all catching this ball wrong yoinkkkkkkk now I'm going to run over here bad idea getting tackled bouncing back not getting tackled running back over here different way different direction funnnnnnnnn I am the NORFLEEET zip that was like two guys oops here's like three guys awwwwww now I'm on the ground oh drew dileo you look sad let me apologize I am the NORFLEET this kind of thing just happens sometimes go with the flowwwwwwwwwwww
Denard accuracy. Seemed pretty good, right? The interception was zinged too hard—I'll give him a pass on the "high" bit because Vincent Smith—and the third down Gardner catch-that-wasn't was short. But those are MAs in UFR jargon, and if you put college football in your head all Saturday you'll see plenty of quarterbacks make similar errors. The only throws into coverage were a couple at the end of the half when you may as well force it.
I've seen some complaints about Denard not seeing open guys. I'll check for that as far as is possible given the tape, but if the costs of the Borges transition are an inability to make tiny run game adjustments the payoff tentatively appears to be an ability to put the ball where Denard wants it to be, most of the time.
It helps when you're throwing to Funchess and Gardner, too. The Funchess touchdown was short, but given the target that's what you want to do. As long as that guy is jumping for the ball it doesn't matter that you made him slow up, because he's winning that battle every time.
Crazy enough to work? Air Force's combination of triple option with Oregon's tempo and a pro-style-esque formation blizzard was fun to watch in the same way Nebraska's double pitch was last year… except it was far less fun because instead of one seemingly indefensible play it was dozens of probably defensible ones that weren't.
Q: think that could work at a major college level? Georgia Tech is doing it in the ACC, yes, but I think the option + jet tempo combo would be absolute hell to play against if the guys getting the ball were Denards and Norfleets instead of 5'7" academy guys. It was kind of hell to play against even against guys who are going pro in blowing things up. You're getting gashed, you have to substitute to keep guys fresh, you are freaking out and guaranteed to let some guy run free for a 70-yard score…
worst waldo. Upchurch
…unless he bobbles the ball and falls over.
Maybe it wouldn't work against Alabama but pair that Air Force offense, personnel and all, with a quality defense and you're winning nine games in the Big Ten. Falcon total offense against BCS-ish foes the last three years:
- 2012 Michigan: 417
- 2011 ND: 565
- 2011 TCU: 416
- 2010 Oklahoma: 458
- 2010 TCU: 231
- 2010 Utah: 411
- 2010 GT: 287 (in a 14-7 win)
So unless you also run a flexbone triple option or are the 13-0 2010 TCU team that finished first in total and scoring defense and won the Rose Bowl by holding Wisconsin to 19 points (on 385 yards, FWIW), Air Force is going up and down the field on you.
You'd need a lot of breathing room to get that up and going, granted. Troy Calhoun just tweaked the thing Fisher DeBerry had been doing for decades. Implementing it from scratch would be painful at first, but if you're an Illinois or Minnesota or Rutgers or Cal, it might be worth a shot. I'd loathe it if Minnesota gradually became Air Force++ and Michigan had to deal with it annually. Therefore someone should try it.
Calhoun's just 46. If someone can pry him away from his alma mater, I promise to praise that coaching hire up and down. He even releases his Coaches' Poll ballot weekly.
Does that make you feel better? Those ND/TCU/Oklahoma numbers are just like ours. ND finished last year 30th in total D, 18th FEI. TCU was 32nd, 42nd FEI (schedule issues). Oklahoma was 53rd, but a shocking 4th(!) in FEI.
FEI has Air Force's offense 33rd and 32nd in 2010 and 2011, respectively. Last year's mark was better than Georgia, VT, Michigan State, Iowa, Auburn, and Florida State. With guys who are going pro in going Mach 3. This just happens when you sign Air Force up, even when you don't do it the week after playing Alabama.
"No, not really" -you. I hear you. All the rotation and getting zero out of the defensive line and freshmen and etc. What if I bring up last year's game #2 against Eastern Michigan?
We had all of those happen on Saturday. Nowadays "non-Martin" DTs are all of them, so expand that slice of the pie. The coaches worked some things out. They've got a virtual bye next week against UMass, so they'll have two weeks to prep for Notre Dame—this time State takes the bullet and we get the rebound.
I'm hoping we see some progress against the Irish, who couldn't run at all against Purdue and got Everett Golson sacked five times. Yeah, no Cierre Wood, but Purdue's rush defense was appalling last year.
It doesn't look good but hold out a couple weeks before hitting the panic button.
Also, Alabama couldn't run on WKU. LA LA LA NOT LISTENING
Marmot, city. I've heard from a number of people that Air Force mistimed a lot of their plays and ended up having Arena-style guys running at the line of scrimmage before several plays. Here's TTB:
The officials were terrible. Terrible. Air Force's first touchdown should have been called back for illegal procedure. Quarterback Connor Dietz tossed to A-back Cody Getz, who beat everyone to the edge. In the meantime, the wing started moving forward prior to the snap like he was in the CFL and chopped down safety Jordan Kovacs, who was responsible for the pitch. Without that forward momentum, Kovacs - Michigan's best open-field tackler - very well could have stopped Getz before the goal line. Later in the game, Air Force converted on a key third down when both the quarterback and the running back - who were in a shotgun formation - started moving to their right before the ball was snapped . . . and a slot receiver was already in motion. So three guys were moving prior to the snap, and the play was allowed to stand. Those were obvious, blatant non-calls and each one could have had a significant impact on the outcome of the game.
It was hard to tell if that was the case from my vantage point, but the refs did miss a really blatant illegal motion on an AF third and long conversion late. They had a guy moving, and the tailback took off before the snap, and no one noticed. I know they're military, but this is not 'Nam. There are rules.
Adventures in Special K. One: no "In The Big House." That is also two through six hundred. NO POP EVIL~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~!!!!!!!atatatat.percentsign.asterisk.
Given how much they ran that into the ground last year, that's either a sign of that thing's merciful departure from our world or Special K's greatest ever troll. I wouldn't put it past him, the scourge.
Instead, Special K put on that Flo Rida song that is not at all about blowjobs, wink wink nudge nudge:
Is that the kind of thing we want to be exposing the youth to? The guy is seen using a Windows phone in that video.
Injuries. Brennen Beyer has a "knee strain" according to Hoke, which means he has anything from a fairy tickling his patella to a Turkmeni flaming crater where his knee used to be. Other than that, Michigan didn't get it too hard from all the cut blocks. Ash's issue seems like a one-week thing, and no one else is publicly injured.
Helmet numbers. I don't miss them.
Paging 2011 Jeremy Gallon. 2010 Jeremy Gallon has started returning punts again. Please report to the maize and blue courtesy phone.
Number stuff. The first Kovacs bullet has been dodged, and I think if they were going to give him someone else's number they would have done it right away. They probably aren't changing a senior captain's number in their second or third opportunity to do so. So, hurrah. Ryan's as good a choice as any, but I was hoping they'd put it on a receiver since Oosterbaan was famous for catching Bennie Friedman's passes and 47 is a distinctive number for a wideout.
Ron Kramer's 87 is next. Hopefully that ends up on a tight end. I'm rooting for Not Funchess because 19 is not a number I have strong associations with yet.
Air Force didn’t turn the ball over, but they only went 2 for 5 on fourth down. They missed a field goal, and were stopped on a fake field goal. That’s six points. That’s the margin of victory. Ugh.
Michigan missed chances to get off the field, giving up frustrating first downs on third and medium-to-long time and again. Brady Hoke missed a great chance at points to end the first half with some terrible clock management, ending up with a TO in his pocket. With Michigan up 14-3, Vincent Smith missed a chance to extend Michigan's drive and possibly their lead by tipping an accurate third-down pass from Denard up for an easy interception; Air Force would score a TD and keep it close for the rest of the game.
Photos and such. Galleries from Maize and Blue Nation…
Media with the main and the stream and the Theo. Funchess named freshman of the week, Denard offensive player of the week by Big Ten. Denard Robinson had more total offense than Michigan did. Michigan up to 17th in the AP. Devin Gardner's still a quarterback in his mind. Give it four more games. Also the media refuses to call people by their last names. That's what they're for! They're names!
Michigan struggled early against Western Michigan and especially Notre Dame, and wasn't exactly pretty against Eastern Michigan. But it improved.
It shut down San Diego State the following week, then shut out Minnesota the one after that, and the Wolverines were in business.
The key to that success was simply getting better every week, especially on the defensive line, and Hoke sees the same thing happening this year.
"I would say there's a uniqueness to the offense, and the schemes -- but at the same time, we're a work in progress," Hoke said. "Quinton Washington is getting better every time he plays. Ondre Pipkins is getting better every time he plays. Keith Heitzman ... Mario Ojemudia ... Frank Clark, having him back.
"We're a work in progress."
Meinke also gives Toussaint a D+, which come on man that guy could have been Barry Sanders and gotten 15 yards on those attempts. BOO THIS MAN. Also, this may be a typo or it may be that DENNIS NORFLEET IS TOO FAST FOR VERBS
Dennis Norfleet is who we that he was
So there's your answer, Michigan fans.
Denard Robinson still is Denard Robinson. And so are the Wolverines.
On days like this, that'll be enough. Just barely enough, maybe, but Robinson, with a little help from his friends, did manage to beat Air Force, 31-25, before a crowd of 112,522 in the home opener at Michigan Stadium.
A week after getting thumped by top-ranked Alabama (then No. 2), the Wolverines needed a late fourth-quarter stop Saturday to avert an even bigger disaster. And they needed every bit of Robinson's dual-threat ability, as the senior quarterback actually managed to account for 101 percent of Michigan's offense.
With 208 passing yards, Robinson is now just 12 yards behind ex-Michigan great Tom Brady for sixth on the school's all-time passing yardage list. Brady had 5,351 career passing yards as a Wolverine.
Brady only started two years, but even so…
Larry Lage gets in another holy crap:
He had his fourth game with at least 200 yards rushing and trails only Mike Hart's school record by one. His 426 yards of total offense ranked fifth in school history, trailing four of his own performances.
Blogz! The flyover:
MVictors has some bullets:
The two Devins: Added to the postgame press conference hall of shame was the fiasco around the media trying to figure out how to address individual questions to Devin Gardner or Devin Funchess, as the Two Devins were trotted out to meet the press at the same time. The Wolverine’s Michael Spath asked the first question and intentionally addressed the question to “Devin” as a joke, but that didn’t help matters. More than a few times the players had to ask for clarification as to whom the question was addressed and it got silly. “The old one,” was offered up at one point to clear up the confusion, making Gardner, who was trying to be a bit stoic, crack up. Props to WTKA’s Steve Clarke who directed the final question to “Number nineteen”. I was going to direct mine to “number square root of 144”.
No one asked why they love bucket hats. Get with the program, media. Get with the program, Heiko.
MVictors also has helmet stickers Hoover Street Rag:
Air Force looked exactly like I would want to see a group of my nation's future military leaders look like as a football team, disciplined, focused, moving quickly, attacking the enemy's weaknesses, and fighting to the last man. They gave Michigan all they could handle and earned the respect and admiration of hopefully every Michigan fan. I had joked earlier in the week that "It's hard playing against Air Force because you can't boo freedom*", but I stand by it. Air Force, along with Army and Navy, are America's teams. Every one of those players made the choice to not only become an officer by going the Academy route. Every one of them has taken on the additional responsibility of being a football player at the Division I level, above and beyond what is asked of them. It was the same reason that I found it so hard to be angry when Air Force beat Michigan in the opening round of the NCAA Hockey Tournament in 2009. The cadets did an outstanding job and I am proud of their service to our country.
I agree with all of that save the "hard to get angry after the 2009 Air Force hockey game."
9/1/2012 – Michigan 14, Alabama 41 – 0-1
[ED: I retreated into humor; Ace, being there, didn't have that option, and wrote a thing that is closer to the game column thing than this.]
So I've spent a lot of time thinking about this, and have concluded that Michigan's biggest tactical error on Saturday night was not leaving Jerryworld ten minutes into the first quarter and wandering around Dallas until they'd had enough random encounters to go up several levels. Once Michigan had unlocked special abilities like Mystic Separation and acquired the Arm Of Elway, they could have returned to the field and resumed playing on a more even basis.
While this would take about three years and pose several logistical difficulties, there can be no debate this would have been a preferable to the solution Michigan's dunderheaded coaches decided on, viz., not running away at top speed apologizing profusely. By not fleeing to practice their skills on, like, bats and stuff, they ended up losing the game.
Worse, they ended up continuing the game, thus forcing a great many people to watch it. At no point did Al Borges deploy the EMP weapon he must have spent the offseason perfecting in lieu of figuring out what Denard Robinson is good at. So the broadcast continued unabated, except apparently in DC where DirecTV was on the fritz. (Wolverines in our nation's capitol: keep yourselves quarantined. You may be all that's left of us once the PTSD kicks in. You must continue to tell others of our sacrifice.)
As mentioned, a better strategy would have been to exit at top speed while splicing K-Pop videos into the feed.
One of 67,200,113 things that would have been preferable to watching football on Saturday night
But hey, I'm just a guy on the internet. Maybe I haven't thought this through. There are multiple strategies for successfully executing a game like Saturday's.
INVENT A TIME MACHINE. The classic. Go back to the point at which this game was agreed upon and describe to the decision-makers what the consequences will be. Unfortunately, in this case the only part of "nationally televised debacle on par with Chernobyl" that will be heard is "nationally televised," and nothing will change.
DRINK! Not working.
DRINK MORE! Nerft veruking erngerghf.
AFTER IT'S OVER, TELL PEOPLE YOU SUCK AND WILL PUT MORE SUGAR IN YOUR SAUCE. I'm not sure what the analog of putting more sugar in your sauce is but it's probably putting more MAN in your BALL down BY THE RIVER. This move was successfully executed by the guy who replaced the guy who only hears "nationally televised" at his old job and may be replicated here once the guy who only hears "nationally televised" has been safely quarantined in a relatively meaningless BS government job like governor.
Sorry, world, that you think we suck. We're going to try not to suck any more, and look, here's some guy who works for us. Very middle America, this guy. Puts garlic on the uniforms. How cool is that?
GO LIMP. Jesse Williams may believe you are rotten and wander off in search of salmon.
GIVE THE BALL TO A 5'8" SLOW GUY OVER AND OVER. Scratch this one.
The weird thing about doing this and being this age is that you feel stuck. I did not know I was doing this when I started doing it and have felt grateful for my continued obsession it as various other people ranging from 30-50 have reported back on their waning interest in Michigan football, previously their alpha and omega. There's nothing sadder than the thing you used to think is amazing.
What I felt on Saturday was an intense jealousy of Orson/Spencer, who had a child a couple years back and is having another one. We're getting there, but not quite yet due to PhD things. It would have been nice to have a child to look at halfway through the second quarter and know with 100% certainty that what I was looking at was just a game that did not really matter.
I know this, or at least knew it. (I do not know this and never knew it even a tiny bit.) Now that the career is the game it is hard to figure out what's a reasonable response from a human, what's my response, and what's my response augmented by the fact that I've doubled down on fandom. All of it seems out whack, and never more so than on Saturday when a guy I've met a half-dozen times now, mostly at NYC Alumni Club events, was there. He's one of those magical guys who somehow makes a career out of writing stuff for Spin and the NYT Magazine and magazines that start "New York" and may or may not have additional bits in their name. He's been pitching an article about me at these organizations. He was taking notes.
At halftime I bellowed "THAT'S BECAUSE YOU'RE NOT RUNNING DENAAAAARD" at the television. I knew that this was probably not wise with a man taking notes in the room, but only after I did it. There it was anyway. I'd already spent the entire first quarter telling myself not to say anything on twitter until the die had truly been cast.
So, I feel stuck, you know? I'm 33 now, the age when Jim McManus had his Age of Miracles and went to the World Series of Poker to write about it for Harper's, married and not disjointed and blessed by the cosmos. It's a hell of a football game to watch that makes you wish this stuff didn't have such a hold on you, but the first time I looked at the clock and boggled at how much time was left was in the first quarter.
It'll pass, I'm sure. It's just a hell of a football game to do that do you, to leave you blank and unthinking until you laugh in a way that frightens even you.
Bullets we need for this post so you can't use them, find others
The takeaway. DENNIS NORFLEET WOOOOOOOOOOO. He looked fast! And returned some kicks a moderate distance! And got lit up by Dee Hart! And Fred Jackson doesn't think he can play!
Some other stuff that's not about Norfleet for some stupid reason follows.
Obligatory uniform opinion. Highlighter yellow emphatically not getting fixed, so the shoulder things combine with the pants to give off a blinding aura. If that was the goal—maybe Alabama won't even be able to look at us!—okay. I'm guessing it's not. Meanwhile, Alabama just wears their uniforms because they're Alabama. Their brand seems to be surviving.
At least Michigan got the helmet numbers right, amirite?
Blown out. I debated just posting the Hoke presser and saying "Hoke's voice is all you need to know about this game."
Obligatory Borges stuff. Guh. The best thing you can say is that once you're down 31-0 you might as well get out of there without getting anyone hurt. When the opponents are saying stuff like this…
“I thought with the running back being out, I thought (Robinson) would’ve got more touches, because he’s a playmaker, he’s a good athlete, good player,” said Alabama linebacker Nico Johnson. “And I don’t know, it was a shock.”
…you totally outsmarted them. And yourself. Mostly yourself. Any hopes you may be harboring that this will all work itself out and Denard's legs will be the primary engine of the offense are looking pretty sickly at the moment. At least we've been here before, and Borges has retreated to plot anew. Usually he comes back with "hey, this guy can run."
The only rationale I can think of that makes any sense is that Borges believed flat-out that Michigan could not run at all and wanted an offense predicated on that. I don't know how much I buy that given Alabama replacing a number of starters and football coaches' general self-belief, but the numbers are clear. From Bill Connolly:
In 2011, Michigan ran the ball 74 percent of the time on standard downs (national average: 60 percent), 40 percent on passing downs (national average: 33 percent). Despite pro-style intentions, the Wolverines catered to Denard Robinson's strengths for the most part and kept things run-heavy, especially when Toussaint caught fire late in the year.
Against Alabama on Saturday, though, the gameplan was quite different. In the first quarter, Michigan ran just five times on 11 standard downs (45 percent) and just once in six passing downs (17 percent). These are Air Raid percentages.
If Robinson has 30 carries against Air Force I'll again descend into the Walter White laugh. (Spoilers, obviously.)
Would have been nice to see what Robinson could have become in an offense that catered to—or even bothered to use—his primary skill. (Everything else would have been terrible, of course.)
Yeah, yeah, Robinson had reads and could have kept the ball blah blah. Planning to get Robinson carries when Alabama's defense decides not to put a guy on him on the read option is not a winning strategy.
Gardner WR stuff. Gardner probably took more snaps at WR than anyone else and looked like a 6'4" version of Darryl Stonum from 2008. He consistently looked over the wrong shoulder on deep stuff and his routes were crap. But he scored a touchdown and could have had a couple more long gainers if he wasn't going up against yet another Alabama cornerback from hell. Gardner didn't get an opportunity to catch that opening slant thanks to that Milliner kid and had a few more potential long completions broken up by the Alabama secondary. Milliner raked one out; a few others never got there.
Once Gardner's away from a 6'2" junior who was a five star and the #2 CB in his class to Rivals, he'll do fine. Unlike Stonum 2008, Gardner did find the ball even if it looked ugly as he did so.
Roundtree. The first interception was debatably interference as Milliner shoved Roundtree to the ground on his route. Penalty or not, that sequence should make Roundtree's shortcomings as an outside receiver clear. He is not big enough, strong enough, or athletic enough to compete with standout corners. His assets are about as wasted as Denard's, though at least in Roundtree's case it's clear he's on the outside because of a lack of other options.
The ground game. Hard to get a grasp on anything, obviously. Michigan was overwhelmed; Toussaint would not have done much better. Aside from one Vincent Smith run that Alabama lost contain on, Michigan got jack on the ground. I can ask questions all day: why was Rawls going east-west? Why was misdirection hardly attempted? Did Michigan come into the game with more than one running play?
It doesn't really matter.
Bubble screens. They existed, and they got eight yards each, and they were Michigan's best plays that weren't chucking it deep. Gallon looked very good on both; there's no reason not to keep going to it when the defense is giving it to you.
In case of Lewan emergency. Move Schofield to left tackle (where he was pwned on his first play), Omameh to right tackle, and bring in Burzynski at right guard. In case of Lewan emergency, we are dead dead dead dead dead dead.
Defense. Ask again later. I stopped paying close enough attention to tell you anything interesting after the first quarter.
The Countess injury is of course a major blow; with Talbott out the door earlier their CB depth has gone from excellent to shaky before game two. Webb says($) expect Raymon Taylor to pick up the slack. The line was always going to get pounded. Somewhat disconcerting to see a lot of James Ross out there unless Michigan had also just packed it in and was screwing around with getting some experience.
Freshmen. Maize and Blue News has a comprehensive recap. Other than Ross (and NORFLEET) the most prominent freshman contributor was Jarrod Wilson, who stepped in as the free safety in the nickel package as Michigan moved Thomas Gordon down to nickel. Pipkins looked like he got some push on a few plays, too.
We did not see much from Chesson and Darboh, but if Roundtree keeps playing like he is that won't last.
Your winner for dumbest burned redshirt: Royce Jenkins-Stone.
Well, at least this isn't particularly unusual. Various recent Alabama scores:
- 2011 Citrus Bowl: Alabama 49, MSU 7
- 2011 Arkansas: 38-14
- 2011 Florida: 38-10
- 2011 Tennessee: 37-6
- 2011 Auburn: 42-14
- National title game: 21-0 over LSU, LSU never crosses midfield.
Other than Georgia Southern, no team has put up more than 14 points on Michigan since Cam Newton's Auburn outfit.
Michigan is getting Raped right now. I bet Jerry Sandusky is proud lol
Get your yuks in now.
At least it wasn't the most embarrassing thing to happen over the weekend. This GIF of Kentucky fans is destined to go head to head with Rollerblading Raptors Mascot someday:
Don't forget the guy in the bottom corner and the dude left hanging at the top right. This is a gif as complex and layered as Yankee Enthusiasts and will in time take its place in GIF Valhalla.
Inside the Boxscore returns:
Morgan had 8 tackles, but they were all assisted tackles, which epitomizes the game. In all of the one-on-one matchups, we lost. Bama was just more “-er” than us, bigger, stronger, faster, tougher. I avoided watching Bama last season because I hate that “ESS EEE SEE” crap, but there’s no denying how good they are.
As does Hoke For Tomorrow:
I turned off the TV after Bellamy's first career pass attempt/interception and made my way quietly upstairs to bed. The rest of the family (wife, 5yo son, 1yo daughter) had long since decided that a good night's sleep was a better option than watching Michigan get smeared across the turf in Texas. I didn't feel any bitter emotions really, mostly concern for the collective knees of Taylor Lewan, Blake Countess, and Brandon Moore. I guess the Rich Rod years knocked all of the conceited sense of entitlement out of me for real.
Hinton is gloriously reborn and his article is mostly about Alabama, because obviously. The bit on Denard:
That said, Denard Robinson did not look like a quarterback on the verge of turning the corner as a passer. On one level, it's hard to judge a guy who's being consistently hit and hurried by a defense as relentless as Alabama's, which seems to have an answer for everything on almost every play. But Robinson was well below the Mendoza line tonight in terms of completion percentage (11 of 26), and his two interceptions in the first half were about as ugly – and as costly – as they come.
The first he simply put up for grabs, recklessly lobbing a jump ball in the direction of a receiver who had already been shoved off of his feet and out of bounds by Tide corner Dee Milliner, who found himself all alone to gather in the pick; Eddie Lacy scored three plays, extending 'Bama's lead to 21-0. On the second, Robinson stepped up in the pocket and drilled the ball directly into the chest of linebacker C.J. Mosley, who jogged in for an icing score that pushed the lead to 31-0. In both cases, Robinson had no idea what he was seeing when he put the ball in the air, and seemed more interested in getting rid of it under pressure for the sake of getting rid of, whatever the cost on the other end. Michigan fans have seen that before; all indications tonight are that they'll be seeing it again.
I think that The Hoover Street Rag is not correct:
We have a choice as fans. We can sulk, we can lament, we can shake our fists in anger. But I don't think we will.
That would be nice.
In the second quarter, with Michigan trailing 24-0 and backed up inside their 10-yard line, Kirk Herbstreit was talking about Michigan's non-existant running game. The camera panned up to Al Borges in the coordinator's booth. After relaying the upcoming 3rd down play, Borges shook his head in disbelief and rubbed his face. It was the unmistakeable look of someone who had run out of answers, like working your way through a maze and finding only brick walls.
Al Borges deserves some blame, but not much. Michigan wasn't going to be able to run the ball in this game. I predicted that Michigan would rush for fewer than 100 yards; the final tally was 69, despite having one of the most electrifying players in the country at quarterback. Yes, Denard Robinson probably could have run the ball more, especially before he got dinged up. Would it have made much of a difference? Probably not. Where Robinson really could have made a difference was in the passing game. He had lots of open receivers early in the game, but he's just as erratic as ever in the passing game. He kept throwing deep (inaccurately), and completed just 11/26 passes. The offensive line did a decent job of pass blocking, but if Michigan has to rely on Robinson to win the game with his arm, they're going to struggle.
Erratic, maybe, but I saw a lot of accurate-enough passes that would have been complete if not for Dee Milliner and other members of the Alabama secondary.
Wojo wrote a column. Maize and Brew did a thing. MGoRecruiting returns from the dead to pine for the spread 'n' shred. MLive now TWIS-ing their own readers. Big House Blog is not thrilled with Brandon. Me, I say that whenever you can get less money to play thousands of miles from campus against a team that's signed an extra recruiting class of players over the last five years without getting a home game in return, you have to do it.
At least the server held up, amirite?
3/16/2012 – Michigan 60, OHIO(!!!) 65 – 24-10, 13-5 Big Ten, end of season
I'm about to paint with the kind of broad brush that had a couple people call me kinda racist after I asserted that Illinois DT Corey Liuget and I probably didn't have a lot of common life experiences, but here goes anyway.
A guy on the internet asserted that there seemed to be a big gap between serious Michigan hockey fans and the rest of the Michigan fanbase in their reactions to Michigan's frustrating loss to OHIO(!!!) on Friday, and man do I see that. I did the usual kick-the-cat, drink-the-whiskey thing in the immediate aftermath, but then it was just… fine. It sucks for the guys, especially Zack and Stu, but they don't put up banners for getting to the Sweet 16. They do for winning the league, and Michigan did that.
The disappointment from the tournament is real, and I feel what Dylan evidently did after taking that punch in person…
In the present, the retrospection and drooling about the future can wait. This one hurts and there’s no sugarcoating it.
…it's just not viscerally there for me. The guys leaving brought Michigan from a program that hadn't been to the tournament since my dad was wearing his preposterous multicolor neon ski jacket to one that had been there three of four years, from a program that hadn't won the league since Joe Paterno was only kind of old to a sleeping giant with the alarm blaring in its ear. Their story is not Brandon Graham's. Their story isn't even Mike Martin's or Ryan Van Bergen's. It's better.
So, yeah, it's a downer. But if you've been trained in the fu of an April gut punch as well as Michigan hockey fans have, it ranks below… almost everything. Certainly the Nickelback goals and the Air Force horror and the black, burnt grass of an OT loss in the championship game. The hockey team is rarely facing a wall of doom in the bracket that promises to end things well short of the ultimate goal.
The loss doesn't erase the previous 34 games, or the previous hundred and change that saw Douglass set a record for the most games played in a career and Novak near it. The story of the outgoing guys is one of construction and triumph in the face of doubt. DJ Cooper going ham doesn't change that. Novak and Douglass have the luxury of exceeding all expectations, still and always.
As for the game itself, Michigan was never a team that could go into an opening-round game with the outright expectation of victory. Kenpom had 'em by five and then the Bobcats and Michigan combined to do this:
The statistical outliers are what truly decide any game. DJ Cooper, a 31% three point shooter, hitting three-of-six NBA range triples. Or TJ Hall, a 27% three point shooter, knocking down a critical second half three, his only shot of the game. Add in Michigan, the ninth best two point shooting team in the country, missing nearly a dozen layups and Ohio, a 68% free throw shooting team, hitting 15-of-17 freebies.
Don't forget Ivo Baltic canning two or three fadeaway 15-footers with Novak's hand in his face. Yeesh. There is your ten-point swing.
There are teams featuring very long forwards and centers who can rely on their arms to dissuade opponents from that ability, teams that get second chances on a ton of missed shots, teams that are just so much of one thing or the other that an OHIO(!!!) can't hang with them unless the probabilities swing two or three standard deviations against them. Michigan was never that team.
They were the best mid-major in the country, per Mark Titus, and when the other team was chuckin' it real good there was always the chance this happened. It did, and if we're executing Real Talk neither Michigan getting hammered by OSU in the Big Ten tourney nor the early NCAA exit was unpredictable given the nature of the season. Evan Smotrycz was the second-most-credible post player on the team for the entire Big Ten season. Tim Hardaway Jr. took more threes than anyone else on the team by a good margin and hit 28% of them. I mean, come on.
I tried to warn us. We didn't listen!
None of that changes the narratives of the seniors or the trajectory of the program. Michigan just graduated two universally-beloved program builders and going-pro-in-something-other-than-sports icons who will get a banner sometime next fall. They welcome three top recruits and get a couple of guys off redshirts; collectively they should transform the program from scrappy overachieving underdogs to a full-on Big Ten power program.
After the cat was kicked and the whiskey consumed, it's hard to find something to brood on. If Beilein wasn't about to give his team an extreme talent makeover, we could complain about an artificially low ceiling. If Michigan hadn't broken its Big Ten title drought we could complain about our beloved program builders leaving without anything to mark their passage.
Neither of these things are true, so it seems the thing to do is salute the departed and look to the very near future. Godspeed, men taken from Valpo and Harvard. The last word goes to Novak:
"…coming in, personally, I was the fat kid from Indiana.
"And (we were) able to make three NCAA Tournaments, win the Big Ten in a year when it was the best conference in the country and win a lot of games. You have to keep things in perspective."
The downer bit. I did find it very frustrating that Michigan never switched to a zone for extended periods of time. Michigan's initial forays into zone did give up open looks from three, but given Michigan's crap defense all night it seemed like it couldn't be worse than the man to man. Whereas most of Michigan's shortcomings seemed to be necessary adaptations to their limitations, the man-to-man insistence was one of those things that makes you wonder long-term.
Only slightly, though. Beilein has dumped his 1-3-1 already and adopted a bunch of ball screen sets. He's not exactly a stick in the mud. It was just a little surprising to see Michigan get cut up like that without a response.
It is possible that the coaches thought they were fine if they would just rotate better. Novak got caught in the paint time and again when he was one pass from the ballhandler and seemed to be a major reason OHIO(!!!) found itself with open looks from three.
Other downer. Michigan was down three late for about three straight possessions and the offensive devolved into… actually, this may be my memory playing tricks on me. The late-clock offense did feature Burke twice pulling up from three when a big switched onto him, but it also got Novak a corner three and Smotrycz yet another layup Michigan somehow did not convert:
Burke finished the year shooting 35% from three and those were pretty easy to get. That might be the play given that you're down three.
Final numbers. A shooting profile of Michigan's returning contributors:
- Burke: 75% from the line, 49% from 2, 35% from three.
- Hardaway: 72%, 54%, 28%
- Smotrycz: 78%, 53%, 44%
- Morgan: 51%, 62%, N/A
Novak was the most efficient guy on the team, hitting 86/56/41 and having the lowest turnover rate but he and Douglass were also in the "limited roles" category on Kenpom. Michigan isn't replacing guys who did the heavy lifting on offense. To maintain their offensive efficiency they'll only have to get few extra shots generated by Burke, Stauskas, Hardaway, et al.
Returns. Speaking of "returning contributors," Burke and Hardaway said they'd be back in the aftermath:
"No, I'm coming back next year," the [Hardaway] said after Michigan's 65-60 NCAA Tournament second-round loss to Ohio on Friday. "I'm coming back."
Burke, who earned the co-Big Ten Freshman of the Year award this season and finished the year as the team's leading scorer, was right in step with his teammate.
"I'm definitely coming back," he said. "I'm just going to learn from this loss and get ready for next season."
Those are emotional postgame sentiments that may or may not hold up over time. Still, Hardaway is not much of a threat to leave after struggling with his shot most of the season and Burke probably has to be an All-American sort to get a lock first-round grade at his height. It doesn't seem likely either will change his mind, especially with the lockout backlog clearing up.
IT'S NOT MAGIC IT'S CHANCE. Arglebargle argle:
Late-game magic escapes when it matters most
Glarb glarb glarb.
Are we really talking about this? Yeah, Smotrycz turned the ball over when Michigan put him in a crappy situation with seven seconds left. He'd also put up 15 points on seven shots before that. We really need Daily article and message board threads defending the kid because e-loons are on his jock? Sometimes I hate people. Sometimes is almost all the time.
Butthurt. One thing this has really driven home is how amazingly butthurt OSU fans are about Brady Hoke calling them Ohio. It drives them nuts. Their reaction to this whole upset was as if it was some kind of vindication.
And yet they use "TSUN" constantly without recognizing the irony. Even operating under the assumption that many OSU fans are only technically human, that's surprisingly dumb.
Suddenly next year
Stauskas, Robinson III, McGary
As this season wraps up, eyes turn towards next year. Michigan loses Stu Douglass and Zack Novak; they bring in freshmen Mitch McGary, Nick Stauskas, and Glenn Robinson III. They also get bigs Max Bielfeldt and Jon Horford off of redshirts.
Though Novak was regarded as more integral to the team his absence is going to be easier to cope with. His minutes at the 3 and 4 will be fiercely contested by four or five players. Douglass's role as the go-to perimeter defender and secondary ballhandler… um. Michigan's best bets are Stauskas's nasty crossover immediately translating to the college level or a leap forward from Carlton Brundidge. Both are possible. Neither seems especially likely. If Michigan ends up with an unexpected scholarship dollars to donuts they scour for a backup at the one, whether it's the Italian kid with the 'fro or a grad-year transfer. If it's a grad-year guy, Beilein might sidle up to Max "My Name Is On Several Buildings At Illinois" Bielfeldt and delicately broach the idea he could pay tuition next year.
If that doesn't happen, one man's minute breakdown next year:
- Point guard: Burke 35, Brundidge 5.
- Shooting guard: Stauskas 25, Vogrich 15
- Small forward: Hardaway 30, GRIII 10
- Power forward: Smotrycz 20, GRIII 15, Bielfeldt 5
- Center: McGary 15, Morgan 15, Horford 10
Center is up in the air. McGary could come in and establish himself as a 30 minute guy, in which case I'd bet that sucks up most of Horford's minutes. Christian and McLimans probably won't see the light of day.
That's an 8-9 man rotation with spot minutes from a couple other guys—Michigan's bench minutes should reach the middle of the pack.
Michigan is suddenly huge. If Michigan actually sees the playing-time breakdown above, Michigan's average minute will go to a guy just under 6'6". (Assumptions: Stauskas and GRIII are listed at 6'6", McGary 6'10".) That's a five and a half-inch(!) difference from this year's roster, and that could be a conservative estimate. McGary and Smotrycz may see more time than estimated but probably not less; rosters do things like list Douglass at 6'3" and Burke at 6'1". With that conversion rate, guesses at 6'10" for McGary and 6'6" for GRIII may be an inch or so short.
That will take Michigan's effective height from –1.1 inches, good for a mid-major-ish 250th, to +4.4, which should be top ten nationally. That is whiplash-inducing. It's also pretty good company. Three of the four one seeds (all but MSU) are in the top 12 along with a two (Duke), a couple of threes (Baylor, FSU) and a four (Indiana). And… uh… Illinois.
Even if it's not a guarantee, height is strongly correlated with both offensive and defensive efficiency. This year's Michigan was about the third-best team you could put together with two guys over 6'5". That ceiling—one so harshly experienced by fellow first round upset victim Missouri—is about to lift.
Michigan's suddenly deep at places that aren't point guard. Assuming one of Robinson or Hardaway can handle some minutes at the two, they'll have two reasonable bench options for every spot on the floor except point guard. When Hardaway is broken, Michigan can put him on the bench. When he's hot they can ride him. They can effectively threaten playing time in a way that they could not last year.
Someone's going to lose out at center. The above minute breakdown at the 5 may be realistic over the course of the season, but when it comes down to crunch time they'll probably go with two guys unless severe foul trouble intervenes. That guess seems like the weakest above.
Can anyone spot Burke? Everyone on the roster has a reasonable backup or two except Burke, whose only support is a seldom-used guy who came in as a shooting guard who can't really shoot. It was a very bad sign for Brundidge when Eso Akunne was drafted to take over point guard opportunities early this year.
I know there's a lot of time for the guy to develop but I'm not seeing it. Maybe there's a system in which a 6-foot guy who could get to the basket in high school but doesn't seem to have the handle to do it in college could be effective, but it's not this one. Add in a scary asthma incident that kept him out of a few practices and prevented him from traveling to Michigan State and his prospects of serious playing time get slimmer still.
Should we play a ton more zone? Length is commonly associated with being good at playing zone. Michigan will have lots of it next year.
Also, a quick survey of the backcourt options reveals nothing even resembling a shut-down on-ball defender unless we want to hand that job to Burke. Since Burke is going to be heavily relied on to run the offense, I'd rather not do that. Other options are Stauskas, Vogrich, and Hardaway. None of them figure to be even above-average, let alone shut-down. While Michigan figures to have a lot more shotblocking next year to cover up for that deficiency, consistently allowing penetration is a recipe for open shots and bad defense.
So… zone, whether it's a 2-3 or a resurgence of the 1-3-1, seems like something Michigan might look at. The argument against it is that you should focus on your existing system and get better at it; the football team has amply demonstrated that changing your D every year is not a recipie for great success.
Can Bielfeldt play? The plan at the beginning of the year was to redshirt and Michigan stuck with that even when Horford went down. This would be ominous except Bielfeldt had some tendinitis issues that sounded relatively severe. Also, big men develop slowly and unpredictably and getting a fifth year out of them is often a much better idea than flinging spare minutes at them when they're an overwhelmed freshman.
Bielfeldt is a wide guy with a good jumper who Beilein says is a "tremendous" rebounder and good in short spaces. This is him:
“Long and bouncy, Max is not,’’ Mathews said. “But in the right program, he could be ultra productive. Because good big men are hard to come by.
“He’s a throwback. He’s gonna bang. He’s gonna be physical. He’s gonna draw contact. He’s gonna set a hard pick. He’s gonna pop and hit an open jumper. He’s gonna be able to guard their 4, their big who is posting up back to the basket. He can get in there and guard that guy. Sometimes, 6-10, long and bouncy doesn’t guard those big, husky bodies inside.
“But Max can do that.’’
I'm not exactly sure where he fits. He's probably not big enough to play as a 5 in college and if he doesn't have a three-pointer it's going to be tough for him to contribute enough on offense to supplant Smotrycz or Robinson.
Hardaway: the usual? Please bounce back please bounce back please bounce back.
Is Nick Stauskas finally the ludicrous 45% three point shooter Beilein has been craving forever? Would it be nice, yes? I speak like Russian contemplating this. Da.
Almost 10 minutes after their final games in a Michigan basketball uniform, Zack Novak and Stu Douglass emerged from the Wolverine locker room one last time — and neither one of them quite knew what to do.
Douglass, eyes puffy and red from the tears that welled inside them moments earlier, and Novak, wearing an emblematic bruise on his cheek and bump across the bridge of his nose, walked a lonely hallway inside the bowels of Bridgestone Arena to meet with the media one final time.
"I don't know," Douglass said in a somber tone. "I just didn't think this would happen today."
With that, Novak and Douglass were gone.
It was the end of an era of low expectations for the Wolverines. And that's the kind of ending so many Michigan fans have been anxiously waiting for, isn't it?
Five years after John Beilein arrived to begin another tedious rebuilding effort in Ann Arbor, it's safe to say, as departing senior Zack Novak did following Friday's loss, "The foundation is set in place."
From the new-and-improved basketball facilities on campus to the stable coaching situation to a more-energized fan base, that's hard to argue now, even in a cramped postgame locker room choked with disappointment.
3/09/2012 – Michigan 2, Notre Dame 1 (OT) – 22-11-4
3/10/2012 – Michigan 3, Notre Dame 1 – 23-11-4, advance to CCHA semifinals
This weekend Michigan will make its 24th straight trip to Joe Louis Arena for the CCHA semifinals. The program hasn't recruited a kid who was alive the last time Michigan was absent for going on a decade now. The last 21 of those years, Michigan has followed up the Joe with an appearance in the NCAA tourney. Since they responded to their ugly November with a 16-3-2 tear to end the year they'll make it 22 in two weeks. The only people who remember a time when these streaks were not active are the old men in Yost not quite old enough to forget.
That is incredible consistency. Just look across the lake and find future Big Ten foes Wisconsin and Minnesota if you want to chalk it up to recruiting. Both those teams select who they want, like Michigan, and have rosters littered with NHL draft picks, like Michigan. They're both working on a tourney streak of zero. Michigan State is also in that situation. (Since Rick Comley left the roster stacked with AARP members instead of future NHLers, that's a different argument.) Those are three of college hockey's glamour programs and they have one bid between them the last three years.
A lot of the vibe around Michigan's program in recent years has focused on how the team has only turned two of those 21 bids into national championships, but that's a conversation for the flat blank day the day after your soul shrivels up when a puck goes in the wrong net and hides inside its lonely crevasse for 52 more weeks of winter. In the immediate aftermath of Michigan punching out Jeff Jackson's eighth-place, college-hockey-NIT-bound Irish and Ferris State blowing it against Bowling Green it's time to give thanks for consistency.
Notre Dame was supposed to finish first in the league this year unless Miami did; they took their great talent and legendary coach and shiny new arena and finished one game above .500. Ferris State actually won the league this year; they took on the worst team in the conference and lost. Neither will be at the Joe. Michigan will, because Michigan always is.
It would be one thing if that was because they always had some ludicrous talents on the team. In recent years this hasn't really been the case. They don't have a lights-out scorer. Their top guys in PPG tied for 94th this year. They've made a transition from firewagon hockey to a more defensive style; they coped with the total implosion of their power play. The big star last year was either a defenseman who never hits anyone or a lightning-fast Swede better known for his defense than his offense. Their big star this year is their goalie.
Michigan has transitioned into a new, monstrously tight-checking era of college hockey without missing a beat. They've all but locked down a one seed after that terrible awful vertiginous November showed us a picture hardly anyone remembers: April without Michigan hockey.
I've got a few Illinois fans on my twitter feed and their mournfulness yesterday as Selection Sunday played on without the Illini was striking as I pondered Michigan's 24 and 22-year streaks. We've been there ourselves, as Michigan's 2008 season spiraled into the dirt and Bo's bowl streak went up in flames. As the basketball program embarks on a baby streak of their own and football gets back up to speed, let's take a moment and give thanks for the unchanging excellence in Yost.
Things happen. Your goalie flames out or some guy leaves school and you're left with a guy from the club team and a mop Jon Falk said you could borrow you call "Lee Moppie" because all hockey nicknames consist of putting "—ie" at the end of someone's name. Moppie sees way too much time and gets stuck in his own end because it's a mop and you lose a bunch of games. Even Bo's bowl streak was a flimsy thing when Harbaugh went down.
It is at this point that your program lays down for a breather, and you find out that the only thing worse than the horrible deflating feeling in April is one in March or February or November. But not for us, not yet.
It was really too bad this one wasn't on TV. It was the game of the year, no question, and up there as far as Yost all-timers go. Obviously not at the level of tourney games; other than that it's competing with Ryan Miller-era games against MSU and that BC game when Jack Johnson shot the goalie's helmet off.
Hunwick on his last game at Yost:
The flag. It's above. It's fabulous. They'll have to figure out exactly when to deploy it since their current idea conflicts with the "who cares" bit during player introductions, but it is awesome. They'll figure it out. Aaron Ward paid for most of it, which is also awesome. Also, Taylor Lewan pled for the Arizona state flag—which the student section deployed when Moffatt got a penalty just to show it off—to make an appearance at Michigan Stadium this fall.
I want more flags. All of the flags!
That's more like it, Notre Dame goalie situation. CenterIce has a diary breaking down the Michigan goals and came away from the weekend with an impression similar to mine:
Watching the highlights I was very surprised by how the scoring played out for us. I could not see anything televised because of my location, but it was very strange to see an entire series of lucky bounces and soft goals.
Michigan had a bunch of legit scoring chances they rang off the posts (three of them in the first OT Friday); everything else was soft.
Even though Summerhays wasn't exactly awful—he did give up just over 2 GAA—most of the goals he gave up were soft-ish, none worse than the harmless dink Phil Di Giuseppe managed to slide through his five hole:
If you let something in through the five hole at that angle from that tight, you have earned the "it's all your fault" in the aftermath.
Meanwhile, Hunwick was just about flawless. He had no hope on ND's Saturday goal, on which Jon Merrill didn't realize he had a two-on-one situation down low and went after a puckhandler emerging from the half-boards, leaving the back door wide open. The Friday goal came after a long period of Notre Dame pressure featuring several grade A stops from Hunwick; finally he could not react fast enough when ND found an open guy in the slot on a pass that came from behind the net.
Meanwhile, the all-Gongshow goalie gave up ten in a three game series against BGSU. Well done, hockey gods.
Notre Dame. Good? Bad? ND is such a confusing team. I think I was right to be very much against playing them in the second round, as they dominated large stretches of the first game and could have/should have put it away. Hunwick was ridiculous, and Michigan was much better in the OT. Michigan was much better on Saturday; even so my impression from watching ND play four times this year is that they should be easily in the tourney.
The goalie thing is a big, big problem. You could tell the body language on Saturday night was "here we go again." If they just had an average goalie I'm guessing they're well above the bubble.
Top line re-emerges. They had a little bit of a quiet spot there. That's over after Brown got the winner Friday and Wohlberg's top-quality snipes Saturday. They were dominant for stretches on the cycle, as well.
Now that Glendening and Di Giuseppe are getting some goals it seems like Michigan has two solid scoring lines for the tournament with the potential for some bonus stuff from Moffatt, a Lynch, etc.
The main problem left. The power play is just horrendous. They could not even get the zone on Friday night, and while they fixed the problem somewhat Saturday they still ended up 0/7 on the weekend. There's an obvious lack of dipsy-doo on the team that is a problem. Michigan has never in my memory played two defensemen on the PP, and I remember many years where the solution to getting the zone on the powerplay was "give it to Hensick."
This year the guy most likely to get the zone on the rush is… Mac Bennett, probably, and he does it by beating a guy as he leaves the defensive zone. When an opponent is lining four up across the blue line like ND was he doesn't have the puckhandling to make guys back off.
I don't really have any answers here. I'll just be over here massaging my temples for the next two minutes.
Sparks. : ( Scratched again and with no points in forever it's hard to make the case he should not be. I just thought that line was so close to putting in a half-dozen goals once he returned to the lineup. Oh well.
MFan in Ohio has been ably summing up the situation on the message board. Michigan actually dropped after Friday night's action thanks to a weird confluence of factors seemingly designed to play up the PWR's flaws: a bunch of not very good teams won or lost to fall above or below the .500 RPI mark that makes teams a TUC. They did this in just the right fashion for Cornell's TUC record to be momentarily very good, and Cornell took its comparison from Michigan based on that and the 3-4 games they've played against common opponents. Cornell is almost 300 points back in RPI.
Order was restored on Saturday, and with just one weekend left you can run scenarios out the wazoo. The worst-case chalk scenario (all higher seeds win except M going 0-2 at the Joe) still sees Michigan finish second; the worst-case-period scenario (UMD, BU, Miami, and Cornell win conference tourneys) sees Michigan finish in a three way tie for fifth. If Michigan beats BG in the semi they'll finish in a tie for third.
Upshot: Michigan has to both blow it as hard as possible and have every opponent within striking distance do as well as they can to lose the top seed.
As far as draw goes, I have no idea. One set of results sees Michigan drawing #4 seed Cornell in the first round; others have Cornell a strong two. The PWR is a jittery thing.
It does seem like Michigan has a solid shot at getting another Atlantic Hockey champ despite not being the #1 overall seed. For that to happen, the following must transpire:
- Two CCHA teams must be one seeds
- Two CCHA teams must be four seeds
- Michigan must be the highest-ranked CCHA team
In that case the committee has no choice but to match the CCHA teams up against the other folks and hand the not-very-good AH champ to Michigan. Your wicked hangover from that one year Michigan played Air Force suggests this may not be the absolute best thing in the world, but… well, yeah.
That is likely to happen if Miami beats Michigan Saturday. It's a consolation prize.
As far as the league goes: Miami, Michigan, and Ferris are solidly in. Ferris and their all-world goalie gave up a billion goals to BGSU and ended up not making the Joe; they're a solid two seed. Western Michigan and State are on the bubble. Both are in unless there is a bid stolen.
One will make it unless two bids are stolen this weekend; that team will be State unless WMU wins the CCHA. In that case State can be knocked out with a single stolen bid.
3/1/2012 – Michigan 72, Illinois 61 – 22-8, 12-5 Big Ten
If you were in a really, really good mood in June and thought of Tim Hardaway Jr's sophomore season, you probably envisioned him tossing in three-pointers like he's casually skipping stones across Lake Michigan, rebounding like he's a bouncy Zack Novak, and maybe developing enough of a handle to attack the rim when people close him out hard.
Instead you got… not that. Instead you got every preview of every Michigan game having a section on Hardaway that is the verbal equivalent of:
You got not that until yesterday, when Hardaway flung in 25 points on 7 shots and secured an array of bouncy, mansome rebounds en route to holding Illinois to six offensive rebounds in 31 opportunities. Oh, and Michigan won a road game by double digits. This is what you envisioned last summer when you closed your eyes long enough for Denard Robison-related daydreaming to pass.
That didn't happen so much but Trey Burke showed up on a mission to discredit scouting services and picked up most of the slack there, so that was okay. Michigan muddled through to its best record in a long, long time. Hardaway lingered, though, a hovering sad inexplicable what-if and source of indigestion whenever he rose up for a three-pointer that had a 26% chance of going in.
We spent the season waiting, mostly winning but mostly frustrated. Every flash of effectiveness was dissected for repeatability; every clanged shot was a re-descent into depression. The last time this team played Illinois, Hardaway had an efficient game that fluttered hopes:
When Tim Hardaway Jr. got an open-ish look from three early, he passed it up. He faked, got past the closeout, and took an open look from the elbow. He missed. He got another midrange jumper a minute later, which he missed. A minute after that he got an open look from three, and the building kind of moaned.
It was a complex moan. It acknowledged the fact that this was a very good shot and that if you are Tim Hardaway Jr. and you're not going to take this shot you probably shouldn't be on the floor at all and while there may be some basketball teams who could afford to bench Tim Hardaway Jr., Michigan is emphatically not one of them. It also loathed everything about the preceding sentence because none of it meant Hardaway was at all likely to make it. It was a richly subtextual moan. Given enough time and processing power, Ken Pomeroy could calculate Hardaway's shooting percentage from it. He would find it is not high at all.
Hardaway made it anyway. The building thought maybe basketball would bring it flowers.
He then proceeded to… well, defy easy classification. Tim Hardaway Jr, this is a five game stretch in your sophomore year:
There's some frustrating wobble in there what with the 0-fer from three against Purdue and the Ben Wallace free throw shooting against Northwestern. There is also the 25-points-on-7 shots outing last night, two other extremely efficient games, an obvious uptick in turnovers, Hardaway's second double-double of the year, and the same 42% shooting from deep that carried Michigan to a shock tourney bid last year.
This chart reminds me of the NCAA hockey tournament. IE: it terrifies. If Hardaway is off, Michigan is capable of losing to anyone in the tourney, literally. The Ben Wallace FT game saw them go to overtime with Northwestern, currently the last team in on many brackets. If he is on, daggers rain from the sky and Michigan can take down just about anyone.
Michigan has no choice but to deal with this. They have one and a half backups and the fourth-shortest bench in the country. If Hardaway isn't producing, there's nowhere to turn. We've got little to go on either way. As Hardaway bounces up from a pretty horrendous year he settles back into a funk for back to back games, then surges.
Riding him is being at sea in a storm. When he rises up for his first-three pointer in Columbus or Pittsburgh or Nashville against an autobid from a small conference, every Michigan fan from the eight-year-old who thinks Trey Burke is the greatest point guard in history to John Beilein himself will watch the flight of the ball, thinking please, please, please.
Burke + Hardaway == um. This will not be an original thought, but finally finally finally Michigan got good, efficient performances from Burke and Hardaway at the same time. No one else did much offensively but it did not matter because the top guys had an 80% eFG% and were 10 of 10 from the line even before Illinois started fouling tactically late.
That is going to be tough to beat; that is far from guaranteed. Who would have thought Anthony Wright would be the guy holding Michigan in against Blake Griffin a few years back?
Just Burke. Very, very smooth last night, pushing the ball when it needed to be pushed and ruthlessly punishing high-screen switches with easy step-up three-pointers. Long term that's his future—he won't get better than last night but will have more nights like that. Exception: as he learns the intricacies of the Beilein offense he'll increase his assist rate and maybe edge up his two-point shooting because fewer of his attempts will be heaves late in the shot clock.
Smotrycz. He managed to foul out in 14 minutes and has a lot of people down on his potential contributions next year. Two things:
- Big men develop slowly and unpredictably.
- Smotrycz is badly miscast as a center and will benefit more than anyone else on the roster from the additions of McGary, Horford, and Bielfeldt to the lineup… unless Bielfeldt turns into a Draymond Green-style four, in which case he's screwed. Chances of that next year are low.
Next year he should be able to take Novak's role in the offense and on defense, something he's better suited for. He may be a bad matchup in certain situations and get lifted, but—holy pants—next year Michigan will be able to do that by inserting GRIII, McGary, or Bielfeldt at the four. He will not have to take on Adreian Payne, Jared Sullinger or Meyers Leonard next year, and thank God for that.
Jalen Rose is one divisive guy. I was not a fan of his color commentary last night and tweeted something out about it. In the next ten minutes that tweet received an avalanche of support, criticism, and hur hur jokes about racism. Say what you want about Rose, but he moves the needle.
Of course, the thing I say about Rose is that he moves my needle in the wrong direction. The contrast between Rose and Bardo was obvious: Bardo was a pro; Rose sounded like he'd won a fan contest to call a game.
It wasn't all bad. Rose consistently made an excellent point about players trying too hard to take charges or block shots when they should just be annoying presences to contest shots, and he backed it up every time he should have. I bet he's a lot better when he's not covering a Michigan game.
Injuries. Smotrycz and Morgan were both dinged but it doesn't sound like anything serious:
"I hope they're all right," Beilein said. "Both of them had little stingers, (Morgan) in the shoulder and (Smotrycz) to his hip.
Losing either one would obviously be a disaster sans Horford.
“Having a winter break right now, Tim has used every bit of it,” said Michigan coach John Beilein. “He's been in the gym like crazy. Just looking at his shot, we've been watching the video tape, seeing any different type of quirks that maybe he could work out. He's such a student of the game, so he's really worked at it.”
I'm not sure what it is about playing Illinois, but it has for whatever reason brought out the very best in THJ this season. He was just about as efficient as you can possibly be, and his shot was crisp, clean, and confident. Bacari Alexander will now be given the task of using whatever psychological tropes he can muster to convince THJ that they are playing Illinois before every game from here on out. John Gasaway says:
It's hard to disagree. This Michigan team has, by varying combinations of Trey Burke, Beilein sorcery, TRUE GRIT, and Bacari Alexander motivational ploys, manufactured a 22-8 record with THJ struggling for long, bleak stretches of conference play. Imagine, oh imagine, what this team can accomplish with a THJ circa the end of last season added to the fold.
A Lion Eye is depressed; A Lion Eye is always depressed. A Lion Eye reminds me of me two years ago.
Hardaway is interviewed at Grantland:
Your dad was an NBA All-Star. Did you grow up playing against him? At what age could you beat him?
Yeah, when I was a kid we played a seven-game series every Saturday. I used to go to open gym to play with my friends and teammates, and I'd get there 30 to 45 minutes early so I could play one-on-one against my dad. When I reached ninth grade, I was finally able to beat him. He'd win the seven-game series, mostly, but I knew if I got two or three wins I could tell everybody that I'd beat my dad one-on-one. That's when I knew he was done.
But even when I started beating him regularly, he wasn't mad at all. He'd still teach me things I could get better at. To this day, I go up to him and ask him for advice about what I need to work on, and he always does a great job helping me out. That's not to say there wasn't a lot of trash talking when we played one-on-one.
What kind of trash talk, specifically?
I can't say. I can't say!
Asked whether this is his last year at Michigan, he says "I'm not sure" and "I can tell you I don't plan on leaving." I'm guessing he's around for at least another year since he's probably not a first-rounder after this business.
The NYT has an interesting article up on the variations between basketballs making life difficult on road teams. Bo Ryan is specified as a guy who uses a weird ball that causes problems for visitors; this made me think of a recent Daily article on Michigan's odd choice of ball:
“I just have a long association with The Rock,” he said. “I used it way back to LeMoyne and also at the Division-I level. I’ve used The Rock, I think, all the time. They have a good product.”
Though many teams choose to stick with their school’s sponsor for their choice of ball, Michigan passed over Adidas in favor of The Rock — a brand from Anaconda Sports.
“It feels very much like the Wilson, which we use in the NCAA Tournament,” Beilein said. “That’s why I like it.”
In fact, the NYT article seems like an rehash of the Daily article what with its frequent referencing of Wisconsin's unusual deployment of Sterling basketballs and focus on the home/road effects. Zinger not contained by NYT for obvious reasons incoming:
But if Michigan fans are worried about the Wolverines’ play without The Rock in the postseason, there is good news. On Dec. 10, Michigan put up a season-high 90 points in a victory over Oakland at the Palace at Auburn Hills.
The ball? Wilson. The same brand used for March Madness.
Hardaway Hardaway Hardaway Hardaway.
Or is that "Hawafty"?