Michigan 75, Detroit 64. Michigan 5-4 (0-0 Big Ten)
At halftime, this game was looking like it might be just the latest in a series of disappointments in this young basketball season. Detroit led the Wolverines 36-33, and Michigan couldn't make a defensive stop to save their lives. If you had told me that it would be Michigan's defense that would carry the second half, I would have laughed in your face. The team put in a great defensive effort in the second half though, and the Wolverines were able to capitalize and get the 11-point victory.
Zack Novak, despite a poor day offensively, came away with a huge block on a transition play for the Titans. Manny Harris and Deshawn Sims carried the offensive torch for Michigan, and it was the first game in a while that they were both able to really get going at once. Manny finished with 27 points, and was a single rebound away from the double-double.
The outside shooting is still not where it should be, but 33% from behind the arc was a definite improvement over the past few weeks. If the defensive intensity can continue over the rest of the season, Michigan may have turned an important corner today. When opponents don't score, Michigan can keep games close and the shooting will come around eventually.
- Deshawn Sims was spectacular today. He scored 23 points on just 12 shots. Defensively, he was a little weak in the first half, but he was one of the guys who really turned it on after halftime.
- Rough day for freshmen. Darius Morris and Matt Vogrich both get very little run. Vogrich was in for just a minute, and still managed to commit a turnover. Eso Akunne was the best freshman on the court.
- The rotation was really small today. 5 players played 30 minutes or more, and only two other guys (Morris and Zack Gibson) had double-digit minutes.
- As mentioned above, the shooting was much better than it has been lately, but there's still some room for improvement. Stu Douglass and Zack Novak are just going to tear up the nets at some point.
- Michigan outrebounded the opponent(!) but didn't force too many turnovers (7). Bizarre day, given the style that the Wolverines usually play.
- How in the world did Detroit land two transfers from Indiana? That should be a pretty good team in the near future.
"He knows we need him. That's something we talked about, and he just picked it up." Manny Harris, on Deshawn Sims's defensive effort in the second half.
"I think we're just a step slow right now... We've gotta be a little bit quicker." Zack Novak, on the team's defensive struggles this season.
"I just timed it up. You didn't know I could do that, I bet." Zack Novak, on his shot block in the second half.
"We've kinda been trying to play out of what we're capable of. Just stay solid. Stay solid on defense, don't gamble, run the offense. Just do what we've been practicing for the last 2 months." Stu Douglass, on how the team can improve its play.
"I just don't wanna be part of the losing side of that conversation." Deshawn Sims, on playing in-state opponents.
"Down three at the half, I think the guys felt a sense of urgency." John Beilein, on the defensive renaissance in the second half.
"Usually the last thing that comes to young players is defense, not just individually, but also off the ball." John Beilein, on giving freshmen onl limited playing time.
The Wolverines have this week off to take their exams, and then have a date with Kansas on Saturday. The Jayhawks are the consensus #1 team in the nation, and Michigan will need a small miracle to come home from Lawrence with a win.
11/21/2009 – Michigan 10, Ohio State 21 – 5-7, 1-7 Big Ten
Well… that could have gone worse.
Unlike last year, it is possible to construct an alternate universe in which Michigan wins the game. This universe contains 80% fewer crippling Forcier errors; not much else is different. Like last week's admission of crippling ennui after game 11, this is progress of a sort. The sort is still "not very fun progress at all," but it's progress.
Better than the slight competitiveness: now it's over and we don't have to watch the team/roadkill grind its jaw away any more. The focus turns to getting some cornerbacks and other assorted defenders, reviewing what happened, and waiting for what will be a telling 2010.
There should be no more stupid rumors that Rodriguez is getting fired. Bill Martin immediately announced that Rodriguez would be the coach in 2010, which like duh. CRACK REPORTERS then attempted to detect weaselly out words in the Martin statement and got a flat denial. There will be no more stomach-churning on-field events or stupid rumors that Forcier and Robinson are transferring. Maybe that latter is optimistic given the flimsy justifications for transfer rumors to date, but since Forcier and, oddly, Vincent Smith, have clearly denied any transfer intentions recently there's little that could convince them to leave other than Devin Gardner showing up in fall—not even spring—and proving himself God. Which isn't likely to happen.
There will be some sort of NCAA announcement that has a 1% chance of crushing Rodriguez, a 10% chance of actually increasing the heat he is under with the people who decide his fate, and an 89% chance of being either nothing or minor enough that it won't make a difference in a year or two when the wins and losses are likely to make the decision.
And then this two-year period of misery and flailing about will be over. Even if you are a tinfoil hat who wants Rodriguez fired yesterday and thinks the team will be just as bad next year, at least that won't be as bad, because the last half of the season will be talking about the next coach. More likely than that is that a non-freshman, non-walk-on quarterback and 16-19 returning starters and some consistency at defensive coordinator and progress everywhere and roster not operating 14 scholarships short see Michigan get off the mat.
The long dark of the offseason is merciful now and steadily builds to a yes or no answer in 2010. Or, more likely, a "maybe" answer leading to a surely definitive 2011. Either way, this unpleasant limbo existence has ended. Patience is a virtue because it is incredibly frustrating and painful, and we don't have to be patient any more.
- Big post-game news is that Donovan Warren has tentatively announced his return. There is some wiggle in as long as Warren is going to put his name in for an evaluation, but unless that evaluation comes back more positive than he's been told it will he should return for his senior year. That's obviously huge, and may allow Woolfolk or Justin Turner to slide to safety next year.
- In other corner news, Adrian Witty is qualified($) and will be on campus in January. Nice to see Michigan stick with the kid, and hopefully he can contribute. He was just a two-star but Michigan liked him a lot.
- You will not believe this but I will say it anyway: Michigan's corner depth chart might be a little crowded next year. Young, but crowded. Both starters return, Justin Turner will get in on the action, and then you have Witty, Avery, and Talbott coming in with potential/probable commits from Cullen Christian and Tony Grimes coming up. That's suddenly five-deep in scholarship players (Floyd and Teric Jones also exist). Some of those guys will get bumped to safety, surely.
- Many people are talking about the Ohio State fans who showed up en masse. I didn't think it was much worse than 2007, especially not in my immediate proximity. Two years ago there was this pack of Git-r-dones a few rows behind me that would literally say "ain't nothing wrong with that" after every four yard Wells run; this year there were scattered OSU fans but nothing as concentrated and annoying.
But it was worse, and this has caused a lot of muttering about season ticket holders who gave up their seats. I don't think that's the case thanks to an excellent diary on the situation:
…the Athletic Department has been "banking" all of the non-renewed season tickets. With those "banked" seats, the Athletic Department plans to be able to do the aforementioned aisleway widening, handrail additions and (hooray) widened seat-numbering, with a minimum of inconvenience and movement to existing season ticket seat holders. … In the meantime, it means that the Athletic Department has larger numbers of individual and/or package tickets to sell.
If you had wanted to conduct an experiment at the time of the OSU game, all you had to do was ask to see the tickets of any of those OSU fans; I have every presumption that in most cases, the tickets held by Buckeye fans would surely have been small and white, not the larger color photo-background tickets that go to season ticket holders.
This problem will be less and less of an issue in the future, as season-ticket assignments within the bowl get settled after renovations are completed.
… And, for people in Columbus, the Michigan game is the biggest day of the year. They smelled blood in the water this year, and many of them made the effort, got the tickets, and came north. Do not for a moment think that ticket brokers missed an opportunity to purchase a package of tickets that included Eastern and Delaware State, simply to get ahold of OSU tickets, and sell them in Columbus. Those tickets, the package tickets, are quite likely part of the "bank" of tickets that the Athletic Department is holding only until 2010 or 2011, for the completion of the stadium renovations.
This is definitely what happened: brokers snapped up the publicly available tickets and when game time rolled around the double-digit favorites are naturally more inclined to pay the premium to get into the stadium. There were some traitorous bastards who need to be hung by their figgins, but most of it was just Michigan fans not buying available tickets. Which means everyone complaining about how the stadium looked on TV has scarlet and gray on their hands.
Vincent Smith is your tentative 2010 starter after averaging 4 YPC on eight carries to Michael Shaw's 1 on 7. Smith also had three catches and Michigan's only touchdown on a sweet juke after Forcier scrambled himself into and out of trouble and threw back across his body…
…which was awesome but it's pretty easy to draw a straight line from that to Forcier's endzone interception, which was a slow-motion "nooooooooooooooo" moment if I've ever experienced one. The instant Forcier looked to the left side of the field I felt a disturbance in the force, and my main concern was that the guy not score a defensive touchdown.
Forcier in toto: is it crazy for me to suggest that I thought that was sort of an encouraging game? Five turnovers are horrendous and he made some terrible throws into coverage but he also made a number of outstanding plays; if he has the usual leap from freshman to sophomore and cuts down on the errors there's so much playmaking potential there that he could be crazy outstanding. There is also the possibility that he never calms down and he just makes killer mistakes, but most guys get a lot better as they age, especially folks who played crappy high school ball, as Forcier did.
Why the hell doesn't Michigan have That God Damned Counter Draw in its arsenal? Michigan is now a shotgun team that uses a metric ton of rolling pockets and in my experience TGDCD is 80% touchdown, 20% fail. Ohio State didn't even mean to call it and they scored on it.
Anyone talking about "class" re: Mike Shaw's pre-game run-in with some Ohio State player should probably look on his own rhetoric about how hating Michigan because some crazy dead bastard hated Michigan is part of his soul, man, and consider the logical twists and turns taken to arrive at the conclusion that bumping into mortal enemy and then woofing represents a character flaw.
Every time Terrelle Pryor morphed from arm-punter into terrifying tank on the edge, I thought to myself "Jim Tressel is an idiot." He isn't. He is self-evidently a fantastic football coach. He has gotten six straight wins over Michigan—though it's not like Michigan's made it hard the last three tries. But virtually every criticism leveled at Tressel about his neolithic Pryor offense is true. OSU's scoring offense is the zone read, and Tressel didn't even bother hauling it out except on like two drives, one of which was the quick first-half touchdown. The risky scoring offense is running your tank of a QB on the edge, and instead Tressel spent large chunks of the game in the I neutralizing Pryor's legs. What a waste.
MVictors was on the field and got some shots, including one of Brandon Graham walking for senior day. Senior day side note: much better logistically this year than before, with the seniors walking under the banner. Previously they had them along one endzone, which was weird.
11/14/2009 – Michigan 24, Wisconsin 45 – 5-6, 1-6 Big Ten
Well, I finally broke: I've checked out emotionally. This happened last year, too, and the game columns from the on were pleas for something else to do and grim, brief recaps of the latest indignity. It's progress of a sort that it took eleven games for the team to TKO any interest in what might happen the rest of this year, but it's not a fun sort of progress.
A serious thematic analysis of the Wisconsin game is pointless. Michigan's defense is exactly as horrifying as it's been all year. Everyone wants to fight each other in the liveblog. When the MGoPosse assembled to record this week's podcast, Paul said "at least we didn't muff a punt" and I responded "they didn't punt." (It turns out they did punt once in the first half, and Junior Hemingway misjudged a short one, almost fumbling it.)
Today I'll go on the radio and say the exact same things I've been saying all season to people who say the exact same things they've been saying all season. Here I could either repeat the assertion that firing Rodriguez after two years is idiotic or the description of what this season turned into in the third quarter of the Illinois game. Nothing has changed, and there's nothing to say when the team is turning in uncompetitive loss after uncompetitive loss.
There is an increased chance that sometime today I will read or hear something that cause my entire body to crumple and my head to thump audibly on the desk. So I guess that's different. Not different: for the second straight year the Ohio State week is only welcome because after it there won't be this unpleasant thing that happens every Saturday. The Notre Dame game seems like another decade.
- Surprised that Mouton and Ezeh got the whole game after their backups played at least as well as they did against Purdue. I guess there were huge busts by both Fitzgerald and Leach, but… um… right.
- Seriously: after Wisconsin completed their sixth or seventh big gain over the middle because Ezeh and Mouton were hugely out of position on zone drops, I was begging for the backups. No dice. The prospect of starting these guys next year is not fun.
- I'm betting the adjustment Wisconsin made to their running game was to start doubling defensive linemen for real and leaving the linebackers to their own devices, or down-blocking them on their slants and getting outside where the linebackers are on their own. Michigan was shooting into the backfield a ton early.
- Poor Brandon Graham: if Michigan would just cover anyone for two seconds he would have an incredible number of sacks this year. It wasn't Graham who had the most frustrating non-sack on Saturday, though. Stevie Brown came free up the middle on a third and five in the third quarter and Tolzien nailed a wide open tight end for a first down. That turned into the drive Wisconsin used to go up three scores, salting the game away.
- Vincent Smith is now your tentative leader for the starting tailback job next year, though that title figures to be a ceremonial one in a sea of options. I know Shaw's had the occasional nagging injury but I think he's just beat him out, fair and square. My favorite play from Smith was the screen he took past three or four defenders in the first half. He was one desperate hand-wave by a Wisconsin safety away from
a touchdowna long run that looks like it should be touchdown but disappointingly ends short of it. He's got skills. There was one out that was incomplete that anyone else on the team would have caught by virtue of being bigger than a marmot, though.
- Brandon Smith seemed pretty mediocre on the edge. I know he didn't make any of the huge, obvious mistakes that Mike Williams did, but Wisconsin isn't the sort of team that puts you in the backfield unblocked to make a huge, obvious mistake. I bet a lot of the outside running Wisconsin did will be on Smith somehow.
- I did think Wisconsin was the grabbiest line Michigan's played against all year. Wisconsin's first drive saw Graham held twice on long completions, and while they got a number of calls later they just love getting their hands outside the shoulder pads. Default disclaimer whenever officiating as mentioned: would not have changed outcome of the game, would merely have led to more second-and-twenty conversions. Maybe I should thank the refs for mitigating the damage I would have done to my forehead and the sidewalk if I watched another guy wide open over the middle.
Warning: post rated PG-13 for f-bomb drop.
11/6/2009 – Michigan 1, Miami 3 – 4-3, 2-1 CCHA
11/7/2009 – Michigan 36, Purdue 38 - 5-5, 1-4 Big Ten
11/7/2009 – Michigan 1, Miami 5 – 4-4, 2-2 CCHA
In the aftermath of The Horror, my coping strategy was to shut off the blog—which was then still on Blogger and subject to the chaos of Haloscan's free-for-all—to avoid any emo suicides and watch The Big Lebowski. (Kittens would show up Monday.) Yes, I am one of those annoying people who thinks The Big Lebowski is the pinnacle achievement of western civilization. I haven't gone to a bowling alley dressed up like Saddam Hussein or the police chief of Malibu, at least.
I didn't do this for any reason related to football. I just like the movie. It makes me laugh to beat the band. I'd never thought there was any sort of overarching philosophy in the movie worth starting a religion over. I was in a mood to reflect on the underpinnings of my life, though.
As the movie unfolded I belatedly realized—or maybe it just seemed way more relevant given my mental state—that the Dude is a spectator throughout. At no point in the movie does the Dude actually take an action without being badgered into it by Walter.* Even the cabbie who likes the Eagles ends up taking a decisive action at the expense of our hero. By the end of the thing, Lebowski's rug is gone, apartment destroyed, car burned to a crisp, and friend dead because an inexplicable series of events he had almost nothing to do with.
My girlfriend says that the reason there is not an academic paper about the Dude's shocking lack of "agency," as the smart kids say, is that it is "too obvious to be interesting." So, too, are the parallels to Michigan fandom**.
I didn't intentionally configure my hair to match the Dude but it does and goddamn if big, incompetent misery factory Walter isn't a good stand-in for Michigan athletics at the moment:
(Sorry about the Turkish(?) subtitles. Woo inadvisable copyright claims.)
"Everything's such fucking travesty with you" was my weekend.
I'm worn out after the last two weeks of football and the fiasco at Yost this weekend; when Miami scored to make it 4-1 with maybe 15 minutes left in the third period I reached a breaking point and just left. Other scenes from earlier this week: some guy tells me not to swear so much in front of his kids at the Friday Miami game, I get in a verbal fight with some guy who wants Rodriguez fired and is complaining about Tate Forcier, cousin of mine gets in separate verbal fight after the game when a different guy is yelling "you suck" at Forcier as he runs off the field, and an adorable child in the row behind me at the Saturday Miami game screams "Mich-i-GAN" the whole game—which was cute the first 50 times.
I've got no real analysis of either team other than they're both worse than I thought. I'm burning out after two years of almost unrelenting misery, and looking forward to football season being over for the third straight year. I mean, when Michigan was down to Purdue in the second half, some fan ten or twenty rows behind me kept shouting "they've got no heart" over and over again as the guy in the row in front of me called for Rodriguez's firing. Having a conversation about Michigan football right now is trying to remember that episode of GI Joe where Destro finds a secret ninja manual in a volcano*** that allows him to kill people with precisely-applied touches: if you can just remember where the red dots are you can spare everyone a lot of pain.
I'll address the question I've gotten in a thousand different forms the past couple weeks—"when can we fire this guy?"—in a separate post. It's been that kind of era.
*(The movie opens with a couple guys peeing on his rug because someone else's wife owes money to Jackie Treehorn. The Big Lebowski directs him to make a ransom drop. Walter screws up the drop despite the Dude screaming at Walter not to screw it up. Walter leads the Bay of Pigs invasion of Larry Sellers's home. Jackie Treehorn invites him to his beach party, so he goes. Maude directs him to show up at her place and directs him to sleep with her—"love me". When the nihilists confront the dude for his three dollars, Walter re-enacts Hill 368 as Lebowski attempts to throw money at Amie Mann's boyfriend.
About the only action Lebowski takes in the movie is telling Brandt that he can have a rug.)
**(Freudian slip: spelled that "fandoom.")
***(This may not be the right character, or even the right cartoon.)
- I wonder if the gameplan on offense was specifically designed to piss Joe Tiller off. Probably not. But dang Roundtree is going hold onto his spot in the lineup when Odoms gets back. He is a Purdue wideout in all ways: physically limited but precise, fearless over the middle, and a guy the quarterback clearly trusts.
- Mouton got pulled for JB Fitzgerald after his (-3, cover –3) on Purdue's first drive but re-entered in the second half; Leach got yanked for Obi Ezeh late, too. So much for the hope that either of the two backups could prove clearly superior to the guys who started the season.
- Carlos Brown had one carry. Injured? Or doghouse after Illinois? Not that I mind: Minor is clearly superior when healthy.
- Omameh played RG the whole game and Dorrestein never came in. If guys like Brown and Dorrestein aren't even on the injury report, why bother having one? Not even "probable"?
- Related: it was really frustrating how many times it seemed that Purdue's offensive line had gotten blown back and Bolden would pop through a hole after taking a circuitous route around a mess. I bet there are some major minuses for the LB corps on the UFR.
- That damn rollout play was shades of the Toledo game. Surely there's an adjustment that can be made there, isn't there?
- Warren doesn't seem good enough to go to the NFL this year anymore. He was mostly a spectator as Purdue complete a ton of routes in front of him.
- With Banks out, Sagesse slid over to act as RVB's backup and Campbell got 20-30 snaps as Martin's backup. He seemed to do a little better.
- I would have gone for it on fourth and ten, too. Michigan had one, maybe two more possessions and needed eight points. Kicking a field goal there only helps you if you get the ball back and score a touchdown, events that seemed unlikely given the defense's performance to that point. It think it's a close decision because it was long yardage and a field goal is a defensible option, but I would have gone for it. That's a real gray area.
- I did have a problem with how much time Michigan took on their final touchdown drive. Scenarios there in the event of a touchdown:
You get two: If you hurried up, Purdue has three or so minutes on the block. If you didn't, Purdue has two. Either way they have an opportunity to drive for the win; the minute there doesn't make a big difference.
You don't get two: If you don't hurry, you've got one timeout and two minutes left and have to try an onside kick and get the ball back with 30 seconds when that fails. If you do, you can kick it deep and hypothetically get the ball back with 1:30 needing only a field goal.
Michigan should have been in jet tempo on the final series, and should have thought about throwing for the touchdown instead of running for it.
- Michigan breaks out the triple option—though I bet the dive is not a read yet—for the first time all year and gets a negative play and a crippling fumble out of it. Two initial thoughts: how is that fair when we haven't run that in the history of Rich Rodriguez, and if Purdue can defend it why the hell can't we?
- The Higgs boson theory from the Purdue preview might be publishable after Michigan lost to Purdue because the kicker missed an extra point in the same game he hit a 51-yard field goal.
Danny Hope introduced Rich Rodriguez to Zack Reckman, the Purdue lineman who got suspended in the wake of the Jonas Mouton Suspension fiasco, in a pissy drama that promises to make future Purdue games more interesting. MVictors has the relevant audio clip from the post-game press conference where Rodriguez complains about the incident.
Obligatory "take" I will bring strong: short of slapping yourself, press conferences don't matter. People use them to support/hate a coach they already support or hate because of on-field events. Nothing from Rodriguez's press conferences has ever made me think he was more likely to succeed or fail at Michigan. It is just talking, and that's a skill that a lot of coaches don't have.
As for the act itself: bush league, but I like bush league. It makes things spicy.
MVictors also reproduces an interesting statement from the officials who did the game about what went down on the crazy Carlos Brown lateral review:
What was the interpretation on the fourth down review with the forward lateral? What was it that the replay official saw?
TODD GEERLINGS: “The replay official saw that the ball, when it left his hand to the point where it touched the receiver’s hand, was clearly forward from the 13 to the 12 yard line. That’s why we had an illegal forward pass from the spot of that pass.”
Who called for the review?
GEERLINGS: “The booth called for the review and I announced that on the field prior to. The coaches on the field were trying to but Purdue did not have a challenge left so they couldn’t have. They were trying to but just as I got the buzz on the pager, I just turned to Purdue and said ‘We got it’ but I think people thought they had challenged it. They were trying to, but they did not.”
This is great. I haven't seen it on tape yet but given the lack of bitching it's probably the right call, and having some clear explanations for what happened in the heat of a critical moment is a much better way to go about defusing potential controversy's than the SEC ham-handed—nay—Delany-esque handling of its ongoing and never-ending refereeing fiascoes.
There's a press conference torrent, too.
10/31/2009 – Michigan 13, Illinois 38 – 5-4, 1-4 Big Ten
To paint with broad strokes, I probably don't have much in common with 6'3", 290 pound black guys from Miami who think it's a good idea to play for Ron Zook. Our worlds are unlikely to intersect at a Lil Wayne show or the Ann Arbor Film Festival. Cory Liuget has probably never thought to himself "that reminds me of a Morrissey song." Of late, I think that all the time.
But at around 6:30 on October 31st, 2009, we both felt like we had been punched in the dong. In Liuget's case, this is because he had been punched in the dong:
In my case, and probably in yours, you had not actually been punched in the dong unless you had decided at some point that going outside with your buddies and punching each other in the dongs was preferable to watch the metaphorical dong-punching that started when Roy Roundtree's knee hit the ground at the one yard line and has not, to my knowledge, stopped. If you managed to miss this play and its aftermath because you were outside getting punched in the dong, congratulations: this is the one and only time when your decision-making skills will ever be regarded above average. Punch yourself in the dong in celebration.
Liuget got off easy. He was wearing a cup. My soul-dong has no cup, and it's taken a mighty battering in the last couple of years. Weary, bepunched, bruised, bepunched some more, the soul-dong cries out: why, gods who dictate which ghostly shadow genitalia get the full America's Funniest Home Videos treatment, have you chosen these dongs for maximum severe extreme punishment?
In the end, it doesn't matter. It just hurts when you don't move carefully.
You probably think I'm done with this riff on dong-punching. You get the dashes and the topic changes and then the topic comes back around to the previous item by the end of the column, with maybe some more dashes indicating where you should be prepared to shift thoughts. This, surely, is where a sentence can go by without the author mentioning someone getting punched in the dong.
No: the dongs. They are punched. This is what Michigan football has been since about the instant Drew Henson decided to take millions of dollars from the Yankees: the constant struggle to get your dong punched in new and interesting ways. Super-recruit quarterback leaves before senior year: kapow. New, wholly obscure Ohio State coach from I-AA is the anti-Cooper: tiger PUNCH. 2005: E. Honda hundred-hand-slaps your jibbly bits. 2006: more of a Tekken unblockable thunderfist with a huge-long windup that you think is going to be awesome until you fail to dodge the full testicle-crushing force of the blow and end up flat against the wall. 2007: Jack Bauer finds the bomb, finds it's a ridiculously tiny nuclear device, and decides to screw with you by placing it in the appropriate place before the Horror. 2008: A hundred E. Hondas hundred-hand-slapping your scrotum for three straight months.
2009 can be seen above: SURPRISE! You, Corey Liuget, think your dong is unthreatened late in a game you've turned into a blowout. You are wrong, and E. Honda shows up 75% through the damn thing just to give you dangly punishment.
As per usual.
Here we are, gingerly attempting to sit down without having any part of our anatomy brush up against other parts of our anatomy. Things just got raw, yo. Every place on the internet that didn't immediately repeal the first amendment(!!!) is burning.
I've been watching the same stuff everyone has for 1.5 years and here's where I am: it's blindingly obvious that some portion of the suck is Rodriguez's doing. After that huge reversal of fortune you have to back down from any previous stances you have about the program, its progress, and etc etc etc. That is a game-changing event. That game turned "Rich Rodriguez flames out in three years" at Michigan from a laughable notion to a possible one. Distantly possible, but possible.
I'm not sure what the suck is and how much can be laid on the current coaching staff. The Shafer hire was a poor one. Past that, the last couple years have featured four quarterbacks that were either freshmen or walk-ons, a disaster of an offensive line, and a defense that actually saw two walk-ons start against Illinois because they were preferable to the alternatives. I don't know if that's Jay Hopson's fault or just crappy luck that you're starting a guy who would never see the field because the options behind him are so poor.
I still think we aren't anywhere near the point at which we can chuck out Rodriguez's stellar previous track record. That is not an accident. The previous coaching staff was responsible for The Horror and was attempting to position Mike DeBord as a legitimate in-house candidate, so it's not like the vast program-killing screwup that is the defensive recruiting is an huge outlier in judgment.
On the 70-yard touchdown that put Illinois in the lead for good, two players were largely responsible: Leach got dragged out of position expecting a stretch and Kovacs took what he thought was a good angle but was not because he is a freshman walk-on. There are a lot of problems with the program that no one could deal with.
Rodriguez will be back next year with a mandate to get to a mediocre bowl, and he'll be under pressure to produce a serious team in year four. My confidence that he'll do that is waning. There's not much that would improve the situation; as we've seen the last two years, program continuity is a huge factor in any football team's success. Firing Rodriguez before he's thoroughly proven he can't make it work here is going to make the previous suffering in vain.
That's where I am. If you're elsewhere, fine, I can understand that after the huge reversal the past couple weeks. Before the 2008 season I dug out that picture of Bo and Canham and Bump Elliot and placed the fanbase in the center of it:
We are all Don Canham now. Rich Rodriguez comes in with a wildly successful pedigree but promises to finally tear down the culture of Bo’s program, to replace it with something uncertain. This has caused apprehension in some, joy in others, and disdain verging on hatred in a select group.
The program risks changing into something people drift away from because it has drifted from them, or, worse, something that you only wish you could drift away from. It also promises fireworks and fun and victory and a feeling that’s something other than that thing we’ve felt so much before. Other fanbases go through this every five or ten or fifteen years; for us it’s been 40.
I could welcome it, I guess, or celebrate it, or proclaim inevitable dominion over the land. But I don’t feel like it. Nor do I feel like fretting over imaginary scandals future. Like Canham, I just hope it works.
I still hope it works. It's getting harder to think it will. Next year will tell the tale.
- Michigan should prepare for an Ortmann suspension. Omameh is probably the guy who draws in, but he's been practicing at right tackle. Ricky Barnum is the nominal backup left tackle if the Baby Seal U game is an indication, but I don't think he's left tackle material; the real backups at tackle are redshirting.
- Michigan's losing their composure, yes, and it's clear there's a cultural divide on the team between guys like Odoms, who know from rough, and Carr holdovers who still seem pissed that this is what they got when it's not what they signed up for.
- Holy hell: turnovers. I'd mentioned this before but here's a useful diary post from Enjoy Life on Rodriguez's turnover history. It's ridiculous:
Aside from the ugly first year, West Virginia had a positive turnover margin every year of Rodriguez's reign, with double-digit years four out of six tries. It's not the system, and it's not the weather as it applies to the system—it gets cold and rainy in West Virginia, too. It's freshman quarterbacks and terrible defense.
- Also holy hell: what a disaster Mike Patrick is. One: if our starting center was actually named "Mossman" he would a superhero capable of enmeshing opponents in his velcro-like grasp and Michigan's offensive line wouldn't fail to pass block against a terrible team that had no pass rush coming into the game. This was not an error. He and equally idiotic Craig James called him "Mossman" at least six times.
Two: you just knew as soon as the goal line stand happened that the rest of the game would be Patrick and James going Favre on Terry Hawthorne tracking down Roundtree, and this they did, often failing to even describe the play in front of them in favor of yet more rapturous praise for Hawthorne. They should find whatever pasture they've put Maguire in and put Patrick in it, too. And then shoot it into space. It will be like the Little Prince!
Three: this is not Patrick's fault but after a couple games on ABC that were beautifully directed, this one missed a half-dozen plays.
- Mike Williams had edge responsibility time and again against Illinois and blew it when he wasn't getting blocked into the bench. He was spectacularly bad, just as he was against Iowa. I find it hard to believe Vlad Emilien is worse, and since he's played on special teams recently he's not getting a redshirt. Wonder if we see him a little bit more the rest of the season.
- It's really obvious why they moved Woolfolk to safety in spring now. What a terrible feeling it must have been to watch these guys play in spring practice and know you were going to die in the fall.
- Kovacs makes sense because there are literally no scholarship options at his spot other than Emilien and project true freshmen, but what is with Leach getting on the field in front of Fitzgerald or Demens? I'd say it's a failure to develop talent on the part of Hopson, but he's also the guy coaching Leach. All I know is that it's very bad when you have major recruits (Fitzgerald was just outside top 100 lists and Adam Patterson was a top-50 player) idling behind walk-ons.
- What happened to Shaw? Undisclosed injury?
- The offensive line's pass blocking is the biggest problem with the offense right now. Every week I go into UFR expecting that Forcier will have all these terrible scrambles and there's maybe one or two instances where it was optional. In all other cases, someone is bearing down on him. The line is getting crushed in the protection metric. I hope this is an effect of losing Molk more than anything else; also, Michigan doesn't have any options other than freshmen behind the starters now.
- I got emails from people asking why they couldn't post stuff on the blog. How do you attempt to post something on the blog without reading the single paragraph post at the top of it that says you can't post? And should this be taken as evidence that the people in question should not be allowed to post anyway?
- LVSC's initial opening line for the game: M –7. Vegas loled and set it at 3.5. But… hey… 3.5 point favorites! WOO MOTOR CITY.
10/24/2009 – Michigan 10, Penn State 35 – 5-3, 1-3 Big Ten
In my memory I have one hazy previous version of that thing from Saturday: I remember James Whitley was returning punts. He'd put a few on the turf here and there already but people were still in the "that's not enough data" phase and willing to give him a chance. On this day, whatever day it was, it was a little wet and Whitley fumbled. And fumbled again. And fumbled again. He finally got yanked and I think his replacement fumbled. I don't remember the opponent or the final score but I do remember that Michigan fumbled 12 times on the day and the stadium had 110,000 people in it who would have set a world record for most eye-rolls at an event if only someone was tracking it.
I don't know if it's a self-preservation technique for my brain, but Saturday's game is almost as hazy as that decade-old debacle. I have to squint to remember anything more specific than a single play on which a tight end drops a pass that Denard Robinson fumbles to a Penn State player who throws to a ridiculously wide open player that a linebacker is attempting, and failing, to cover. On the extra point, David Moosman snaps it through the endzone or something. I think the brain is attempting to prevent itself from getting bashed against the wall. I think the brain is wise to do this.
As the man says, mama said there'd be days like this.
When Michigan had just beaten Notre Dame and it seemed like the Irish were a team destined for an easy BCS bid instead of one that will win or lose on the last play against anyone except Nevada, hopes bloomed across the Wolverine diaspora. Personally, I remember contemplating an Alamo or Outback with Tim on the giggly post-Notre Dame podcast, and that was an explicitly keep-your-pants on sort of prediction.
How are everyone's pants now? Firmly adhered to various bits of your anatomy, I'm guessing. Stayin' there for at least two weeks. Waiting for Michigan to outgain an opponent in a conference featuring letters other than M, A, and C before relaxing to non-tourniquet levels.
So, yeah, Penn State was kind of a comedown. At this point it's undeniable: Michigan isn't good. Though well removed from the nuclear apocalypse they were last year, this is probably the second- or third-worst team at Michigan in 40 years, give or take a 2005 or 1984. That's disappointing after the mirage of the first few games, but it's not surprising. The reasons why have been detailed in this space and many others, before the season and during it: freshman quarterbacks, new defensive coordinator, terrifying defensive depth chart. Preseason predictions of 7-5 factored in the idea that Rodriguez was a good coach in a big hole.
And though Michigan's on pace to meet those expectations, it was the sort of weekend where I studiously avoid the internet for a day afterwards and am then immediately, repeatedly reminded of why when I break the boycott the day after. Many caps, much emotion, etc. I've got a few emails in the inbox from folks who annoyed the commentariat and got neg-banged under the 20-point threshold at which you can start your own threads, most of which say I can kiss the ass of the user in question*. You've been on the internet. You know. It's always the last thing that happened that will always keep happening forever.
Your personal level of outrage depends on how much blame you apportion to Rodriguez, Carr, Bill Martin (for handing a Carr team to Rodriguez), and/or general bloody-minded fate, and how quickly you think 3-9 turns into a good football team. Ugh. Isn't it tedious to go through this again? Anyone who's read this blog for a while knows it falls—or at least attempts to fall—on the ruthlessly logical side of things, adds this latest game to the pile of data, shifts its opinion a little bit, and continues believing that Rich Rodriguez is a good coach put in a really tough situation.
As Michigan progresses further into the Rodriguez era the amount of blame that can be laid at the feet of people other than the head coach decreases. It's not to the point where much of it is Rodriguez's fault, in my e-pinion. There are many teams that have looked bad with freshman quarterbacks and many more that have looked atrocious starting five underclassmen, one of them a walk-on, on defense. Michigan is in the middle part of the curve here, and if you're pointing to extreme outliers like Paul Johnson and complaining you are purposefully shutting out data that disagrees with your thesis and—well, and here we go again. I argue against the legions of people on the internet who don't like it when Michigan loses and have poor impulse control, the reader agrees for a bit and then gets annoyed that this column is wasting its time on that sort of thing, etc etc etc. We did this last year. A lot.
This is the first time we've done it in 2009, eight games in, and that represents progress of a sort. The progress on the field is equally obvious: hack out the game against Baby Seal U and Michigan is averaging 80 more yards per game than they did last year; they've only gotten throttled once. They haven't lost to a 3-9 MAC team. They beat a team with a winning record. They aren't going to be 3-9 themselves. By the standards of Michigan past this is a disaster of a year, but the only relevant team in relation to this one is 2008. This year is not evidence Rodriguez is a bad coach.
*(Seriously, multiple negbang victims have deployed "kiss my ass" in their emails. Does this signify that most of the victims are of a certain age? I can't imagine anyone under 30 telling someone to do that; the kids these days are more likely to break out the heavy artillery. One very tenuous suggestion that the older you are, the less patience you have. Which, obviously.)
- Rodriguez bitches, I've got a few:
I'm fine with deploying Robinson, but Michigan has to be more flexible with him. The difference between second and nine, when a Robinson run is still a plausible threat, and third and nine, when it isn't, is obvious: second down is an open seam that Koger (argh) drops; third down is a horrible interception. Bringing Robinson in is fine—he was effective, the third and long was the result of a penalty and a drop—but once it's a passing down, Forcier's got to come in.
Aigh spike. I thought the running plays that got Michigan down to first and goal were plausible; I was iffy about the call on first and goal, and disliked the second-down call, but understand that at that point you're really operating at speed and split-second decisions aren't always correct. From the three with the clock running and no timeouts my instinct is to pass because one way or the other the clock stops afterwards. After fumbling, though, a spike with 13 seconds left is pretty maddening. If you're going to run the ball, you have to have a pass play ready to go that you can just call.
I still think that Rodriguez's game theory stuff is pretty good, far better than Carr's; at least the mistakes he makes are of the quick-decision, (usually) slightly-too-aggressive variety. He didn't punt from the freakin' 33, as JoePa did Saturday and Carr did plenty.
- Did anyone else have a strangely positive impression of the run game after it was all over? The box score is illuminating: Brown, Minor, and Robinson combine to average 4.3 YPC; Forcier ends up with ten yards on 14 carries because of a lot of sacks. Brown also had a 20 yard run called back for an illegal formation. I'll take that against Penn State; the main problem with the run game this year has been an inability to get Minor and Brown more carries. They should be combining for 35 carries, not 20.
- Bonus: that was accomplished with Molk missing all but three plays.
- Meanwhile, Royster had 100 yards but averaged just 3.1 YPC after his 41-yard opener, which I'm pretty sure will be a huge screwup by Jonas Mouton. That's the defense's MO: pretty good physically, doesn't get pushed around consistently, prone to massive breakdowns.
- I don't think Forcier was nearly as bad as the numbers. He got crushed by drops, which were legion and extremely important. Third and long conversions clattered to the turf after bouncing through people's arms. Those are something close to turnovers in terms of overall negative impact on the game.
- Also close to turnovers: turnovers. Note that this site's suggested that turnovers are largely random but there are two things that consistently cause them: pressure and inexperienced quarterbacks. Michigan's got plenty of the latter. I expected Michigan to move towards the middle this year but remain somewhat negative. They've not done the former. They're 105th in turnover margin at almost –1 per game.
- Obi Ezeh's job might be coming under threat. Multiple times in the second half he was pulled for Fitzgerald, first for just one play and then for a few; each time Hopson pulled him aside and explained various things to him. I don't really blame him for the Quarless touchdown; what the hell was Michigan doing send him in man coverage on Quarless without safety help? Was there supposed to be safety help? I don't know.
- Robinson's tendency to send six or even seven guys on third down is catching up to Michigan. There was the first Moeaki touchdown, on which Iowa had a playcall specifically designed to burn an all-hands blitz, and then there were a couple instances against Penn State where an all-hands blitz was easily anticipated and exploited; Graham Zug was the main beneficiary. That was the main thing that got him open. Careful what you wish for, I guess.
- What in the hell is with Donovan Warren playing ten yards off the line of scrimmage? Penn State had eight free yards whenever they ran a long. I was iffy on Robinson when he was hired. While I'm willing to give them a chance and it's obvious that there's almost no way this defense could be good, stuff like that and the bubble screen mania against Michigan State are really disturbing. I have no idea what you could be running in which it's a good idea to play your top cornerback so far off the LOS that you're giving Penn State second and two.
- Not that anyone affiliated with Penn State will notice, but they were the recipient of some questionable calls. Didn't matter, obviously.
- Cissoko returned and Michigan showed its first semblance of a situational substitution all year: on obvious passing downs he would replace Williams and Woolfolk would drop back to safety.
- Speaking of Williams: he's basically the only scholarship player left at safety, and I know he was a four-star but you can't just point to one high-rated recruit and claim things should be better; recruits don't always pan out. To really be assured of talent at a position you need two or three high-rated guys, or at least veterans.
- The play on which Donovan Warren was shoved into Junior Hemingway needs to be a penalty. As we saw, it's dangerous as hell. Kick catch interference should extend to people you're blocking into the returner.