also duty-free guys falling over and grabbing their shins
1/27/2011 – Michigan 61, Michigan State 57 – 12-9, 2-6 Big Ten
left two Melanie Maxwell, AnnArbor.com
A couple years ago Michigan fans were wondering if they really had something or if an unexpected win against UCLA was just a one-off when they took on Duke in Crisler arena. Michigan won that game, and the moment I remember most was Zack Novak holding his follow-through an ostentatiously long time. He'd just hit a three pointer to push Michigan well in front that sent Crisler into honest-to-God hysterics. It was an ungritty thing to do, but if anyone can justify a little flash now and then it's Zack Novak.
Yesterday Novak had what can only be described as a leadership aneurysm. It was the grittiest twitchy, alarming fit anyone's ever had. MSU fans rushed to put it on the internet the better to mock him by:
This worked out about as well as painting "1,181" across your hairless, AXE-laden chests.
You know this, but: 6 of 8 from three, 19 points, six rebounds, two assists, a steal, and various dogged things that don't show up in the box score but contribute to the bottom line. In the aftermath of the game David Merritt tweeted something about how if you question Zack Novak's importance to the team you "don't understand team sports*". That and math.
Because Michigan followed up a series of promising performances against elite teams with road duds against Indiana and Northwestern, beating Michigan State won't mean anything outside of the thing itself. Michigan's not likely to get even an NIT bid because of the win. Before my fiancée fell asleep for the second half she remarked that even though Michigan was in front "they make everything seem so hard," and they do.
Michigan is aimless. The announcers kept talking about Michigan taking a lot of time off the shot clock like that was a special strategy for this game when they're almost as slow (327th) as they are young (337th) and played at the exact same pace against South Carolina Upstate. When it's going well they're "deliberate," but to my eyes it's a team that doesn't really know what it's doing. They're forced to improvise when time gets low after chucking it around the perimeter for 20 seconds. It's almost exactly what Amaker teams did down to pulling the big out of the lane to provide a low-threat passing option as the ball cycles around the three point line.
The most eye-opening section of the season was the first half against Northwestern, when the Wildcats team ran a series of intricate cuts that opened up Michigan's defense for a rain of open threes and drives into the lane against mis-positioned defenders:
Michigan gets a lot of that from Darius Morris but Northwestern gets it from all over. Morris has an astronomic assist rate but if you compare the teams there are seven(!) Wildcats between him and Stu Douglass, Michigan's #2 guy. Despite the hype about Beilein, right now Michigan's offense boils down to "do something, Darius."
Fortunately for Michigan, Darius Morris has proven pretty good at not only that but twisting down the lane and getting awkward shots to fall. He was somehow 5 of 8 from inside the arc despite his teammates assisting on zero of his buckets; most of those were Dion Harris-style "well, someone has to put it up" buckets while swarmed in the lane. Combine that with near 50% three-point shooting and a you've got the recipe for an upset.
You don't have something sustainable to go back to the rest of the season.
Michigan's going to get better the rest of the way, but it might be hard to tell because of noise. They'll probably even get better more quickly than more experienced teams. IE, all teams. They still won't be very good. That's okay. Beating Michigan State at Breslin hasn't happened since I was a freshman in college—JESUS—and while it's very Sparty to say they can pack it in the rest of the year and there will still be some satisfaction from the season, it's also true. As a self-contained thing it is the best of all basketball things.
In the larger picture it's just one of those games when Colton Christian hits an 18-footer as the shot clock expires. They happen. Where this game gives hope is for the offseason, when Zack Novak will call for a captain's practice and the his teammates will remember he was the man who sprayed gore all over the Breslin Center and showed Michigan State it was theirs.
*[He also mentioned that he used to throw "Office" quotes back and forth with Douglass.]
Non-bullets and whatnot
Not a vintage MSU team. At some point in early in the game a goofy white guy did something bad and I was about to kick something when I realized he was playing for Michigan State. Late in the first half I was wondering why the goofy white guy never came off the floor when the announcers mentioned his name, which was a different name, and I looked at their numbers and they were different too and it dawned on me that there were two goofy white guys who only did bad things splitting 40 minutes of playing time. One of them was an elf who bakes cookies.
It was at this point hope dawned.
Novak and Stu as reasons for Beilein hope. They're obviously better than Smotrycz on a possession-to-possession "oh God, what was that?" level, and I'd throw in Hardaway and his addiction to chucking up not-very-good shots in there too. Novak and Douglass were just as shaky as freshmen. Douglass had the same disease Hardaway does. Now they have the best eFG% on the team excepting easy-bucket machine Jordan Morgan. Douglass was a conscience free gunner his first couple years; now his usage rate is in the "limited roles" category and his three point percentage is a point short of 40%.
If Hardaway and Smotrycz can advance at the same pace they can be those guys plus three inches each. I'm relatively serene about Beilein's bulletproof status because his recruiting's improved tremendously, the team would be a lot different if Robin Benzing and Ben Cronin hadn't flamed out, and it's at least worth checking out what will happen next year when experience goes from almost dead last nationally (337 of 345) to approximately middle-of-the pack. If you add a year of experience to everyone they'd be in a huge multi-way tie for 126th, but that's generous because Michigan will play Burke and Brundidge.
Beilein's already earned next year, and when they take the inevitable step forward in '11-'12 he'll get year six, and that's got at least a decent chance of working out.
Tim Hardaway, Jr., please report to the lost and found. We have found your conscience. Please re-insert it and stop leading the team in three-pointers attempted despite only hitting 30% of them. He's got a higher percentage of shots while he's on the floor than Morris does, which is kind of amazing. Michigan would be better if he got that usage down to around 20%. I'm sure, like Stu, that he'll learn.
The strange thing about Smotrycz. Does anyone else think his best defense is played in the post? This isn't really a compliment—he's probably the worst defensive player on the team, constantly getting lost. But when Michigan goes tiny they have him defend the five and I can't remember thinking "this has to stop" during any of those long stretches.
Seriously. Someone at The Only Colors complained about my characterization of the streak guys as "meatheads." Seriously?
You can seriously look at those guys and envision them doing anything other than slather each other in AXE as they recite "Sex Panther" quotes back and forth to each other before heading out to a kegger where they are totally going to get laid, or at least slapped?
This has something to do with the juggalos post in the aftermath of the football game this fall, but here I was just making an observation about five guys with spotlessly hair-free chests whooping like monkeys. Michigan has meatheads enrolled. I met plenty. It was not a shot at anyone except the jinx-bringers.
Also, seriously: juggalos in Ann Arbor last fall. Seriously. Never been that bad, even when OSU fans were 30k strong for the 2009 Game. This is because the OSU fans who showed up were the kind that went to the game instead of just hanging out for an opportunity to take out their insecurities. Dozens of Michigan fans have told me this, a good chunk before the post even went up.
1/21/2011 – Michigan 2, Alaska 0 – 16-6-4, 13-4-1 CCHA
1/22/2011 – Michigan 4, Alaska 3 – 17-6-4, 14-4-1 CCHA
"We had a lot of guys playing hard, but our team didn’t play as well it needed to.”
I've been going to Yost for a long time and I don't think I've ever seen Michigan outshot on consecutive nights, let alone by the margins they were outshot this weekend. And yet they still won. They won because Shawn Hunwick was both awesome and fortunate—at least three pucks sailed harmlessly through the crease behind him on Saturday—and Alaska demonstrated that they are the sort of team that scores two goals a game even when the other is dead-set on making a pile of errors.
I swear Michigan athletics is designed to make me look bad. A week after suggesting this set of defensemen was a near-flawless machine they coughed pucks up left and right, failed to check guys screaming through the slot, and gave up an epic number of odd-man rushes. On Saturday Alaska had a 2-on-0 thanks to Mac Bennett blowing a tire at the blue line. They didn't score. That was kind of the weekend.
Even Merrill broke character to join in. Of all people, he was the guy headed to the box to give Alaska a minute of 5-on-3 with five minutes left in the weekend and the game in the balance. His slash was pretty dumb. That was also kind of the weekend.
Michigan's last loss was courtesy of back-to-back dumb 5-on-3s ceded to Michigan State. Michigan's penalty kill is really bad this year. The building was braced for a red light. But then Chad Langlais dove to chip a puck out of the zone off the faceoff, Rust and Hagelin played with the puck for thirty seconds, and by the time the Nanooks got set up in the zone they'd spent 80% of their 5-on-3. Ten seconds later it was over, Yost was on its feet, and Michigan had swept an Alaska team that had gone two years since coming out of a weekend without a point.
Today varsity is two points clear of Notre Dame with a game in hand. They've won nine of their last ten and dropped the one in overtime. They're one Ferris State win away from a one seed. But this week the amalgam of parts that add up to more than they should individually looks like a ramshackle jalopy ready to fall apart. Hopefully this can serve as a wakeup call, rather than actual losses foretold by Saturday's performance.
Non-bullets of escape
Strategery Q. Should Alaska have pulled their goalie during the 5-on-3? I don't know, but I think I would have. You're not going to get a better chance to score and the chances a three-man group can break out against six skaters seems incredibly low.
Adding to the uneasiness. The only even-strength Michigan goal of the weekend that wasn't a point shot came from Scooter Vaughn directly off the draw. (Rust's goal was a deflection from Moffie.) Michigan's defensemen can really pick them out from the point but I doubt that's sustainable.
Moffie, yo. Lee Moffie had a three game goal streak and picked up an assist on that Rust goal when another point shot of his was deflected in. And he didn't seem responsible for much, if any, of the scary defending on Saturday.
Greenham FTW. After Michigan's first goal on Friday a student chucked a small plastic ball on the ice. Moments later, Carl Hagelin was decked as he skated by the Alaska bench. A scrum ensued, followed by one of those interminable referee conferences where they take ten minutes to give everyone matching minors.
In this window of time Alaska goalie Scott Greenham attempted to flip the ball back into the crowd. His first attempt was unsuccessful and drew boos. The second worked, but Greenham had miscalculated: he put it back where it came from. Whoever caught it chucked it right back on the ice. Greenham sighed demonstratively and set about trying to flip the thing over the boards on the other side, but couldn't. He eventually hit it to Rust, who put it over in one, causing the crowd to blow up and Rust to celebrate like he'd just won the Stanley Cup.
It was the best interminable referee conference ever.
Speaking of interminable referee conference. How does Michigan come out of that with an unsportsmanlike bonus penalty to Carl Hagelin? He took a penalty for getting nailed. Other frustrations from the refs:
- not immediately waving off the hypothetical Alaska tying goal for goaltender interference, and then not giving Alaska a penalty for running Hunwick over.
- watching two Michigan sticks cleaved in half right after Merrill had gotten out of the box for his slash and calling neither.
I thought the reffing over the weekend was actually pretty good, but those were weird/frustrating.
Yost bits. A couple of student cheers that were memorable: shutting up the Alaska parents section after their third goal with a "Sarah Palin" cheer and chanting "where's our candy?" at a linesman who had flipped them some the night before.
Pairwise bits. Bits flipped somewhere in the PWR and Michigan now slides behind Boston College. They're sixth. This is probably because Ferris dropped under .500 in RPI and Michigan lost their shiny TUC record against them. That's enough to flip the BC comparison.
For an example of how volatile the PWR is, especially at this point, RPI was mentioned as the #16 team in the preview. After the weekend they're up to 8th. Swings all over the place.
I did take a look at a couple of the comparisons Michigan is losing right now and it does seem possible that they would be able to pass some of the teams in front of them without passing them in RPI. They will not win the North Dakota comparison without heaven and earth moving, but they would win comparisons with BC and Denver if Ferris was still a TUC; the UMD comparison would be very much up for grabs with a narrow margin in the common opponents category making the difference.
1/1/2010 – Michigan 14, Mississippi State 52 – 7-6, 3-5 Big Ten
Amongst the many many things posted over the weekend that could have been posted at any time in the last three years was one odd bit of history that's apropos: a letter drafted for Nixon to read in the event that Neal Armstrong and company were to die on the moon because the lander wouldn't leave.
Men in charge of things make difficult decisions and live with the consequences of their actions even if they result in reading the thing William Safire wrote for you about two men watching at their oxygen gauges count down in an airless wasteland.
Back in the summer of 2008, when we were a happy-go-lucky band of mountain yodelers with flowers in our pockets and caviar dreams, I finished up that year's preview with that picture of Don Canham staring down a thicket of microphones as Bump Elliott searched for a sandwich and Bo exuded his Bo-like confidence. I've referred to it ever since, and here it is again:
Lives were not literally at stake above, but even so it's hard to imagine Nixon adopting an expression that more perfectly sums up the feeling of someone who's made a big decision and now has to watch someone else execute. At the end of that post this is what I said:
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 don't think it has. A game somewhere around expectations would not have moved the needle enough for slight support for Rich Rodriguez to morph into a call for firing, but I turned the game off before the third quarter was over and when I felt remorse and turned it back on a few minutes later Mississippi State had put up another touchdown. It was not around expectations, except in the ways that it was by not being around expectations in a depressing direction. Before the season I thought 7-5 would do it but now at 7-6 with every loss a blowout and three of the wins last-drive nailbiters, Michigan's progress seems minimal at best. But for the opening week, this is the worst seven-win season imaginable.
If I'm slotting Rich Rodriguez into the picture above he's on the right, and it's time to look for the guy on the left again.
On the likelihood of a change. Still nothing definitive but everything that enters the inbox adds to the circumstantial pile of evidence suggesting we're done. If Harbaugh escapes Michigan's clutches Michigan is in a bad spot because of the "process" and how much time it's left them in the event they do not immediately transition to a new coach, but having no serious options other than Rodriguez is probably the only scenario in which we don't see a change.
As to when, Tom says he's hearing there's a team meeting tomorrow at 7 PM that was scheduled before the bowl game. If that's now be a wake we'll hear about it soon after. There are unconfirmed third hand reports about coaches saying goodbye, which could mean anything from the obvious canning of Greg Robinson to a wholesale broom.
Also, while some players have been publicly supportive, a lot of parents have jumped ship and have met with Brandon expressing frustration at goings-on on the defense. Some players may have been "lost" by the bowl debacle as well.
On recent Harbaugh panic. The Big Lead probably doesn't know shit and even if he turns out right he got lucky because he's just randomly saying things people email him without even a cursory check. However, Adam Schefter is serious business and this is foreboding:
Schefter on ESPN: "Now, there is a real feeling around the league (Harbaugh) would prefer be in the NFL."
On the other hand, "a real feeling" is far from definitive and Schefter was just reporting that Harbaugh was leaning towards Michigan with the same strength—coaching change stuff is "fluid," and by fluid people mean "batshit."
On Brady Hoke. "Not an option."
On Plan B. The Plan B name in the event Harbaugh escapes is probably Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald actually makes quite a bit of sense as a young guy with a spotless media profile who runs a spread offense Denard would feel at home in. He hasn't put together a monster team or anything but recovered from a shaky start in the aftermath of Randy Walker's death to go 9-4, 8-5, and 7-6. Not exactly Harbaugh and another guy who'd be leaving his alma mater for greener pastures, but Michigan is not in a great spot right now.
12/11/2010 – Michigan 1, Akron 2 – 17-5-3, season over
Because my one true soccer allegiance is to the USMNT, Friday's game against Akron was familiar. It followed the same script that Nats games against world powers do: show up, try really hard, get a lot of quality defending in emergencies, take advantage of one opportunity to score, spend most of the game trying to get the ball, and eventually lose.
At some point in the second half John Harkes said Akron "looked like a professional team" and the crowd gathered to watch couldn't even muster up a Cam Newton joke. We could only sigh in agreement and wait for the inevitable. If an Akron player had broken someone's foot it would have been the spiritual successor of last year's USA-Holland friendly in every way. Instead it was just 90%.
When the Yanks haven't followed that script it's been because they nicked an early goal, survived an avalanche of pressure thanks in large part to heroic goaltending, and maybe grabbed another on a counter. Michigan got only the first, and go out to superior competition. The Zips won the national title against an undefeated Louisville team and I bet there's some Zip fan out there thinking "how did we only put in three goals this weekend?" The road from MAC fan with MAC perspective to Brazilian is short indeed.
As for Michigan, no one can be disappointed with the run that saw them rip off an undefeated streak that took them to the Big Ten title and the final four after taking a 7-1 beating from this Akron team midseason. Michigan loses only a few players here and there and actually looked better after they took off senior Alex Wood for freshman Fabio Pereira; with the Saads returning and what I'm told are top-notch recruiting classes the last two years forming the bulk of the team this edition of "new Michigan sport to care about" should go better than the baseball team, which is still okay but failed to maintain its Fetter/Putnam/Abraham era national relevance and is now just another good mid-major.
That's for later, though. Right now I know why I got so annoyed with all the "be our kicker" jokes unleashed at Justin Meram throughout the year: he's got a little bit of magic in him, the kind of thing that Denard Robinson brought to the football team and has been frustratingly absent at Yost for a couple seasons. When the ball is at his feet, something awesome is or could or will and has happened.
That should mean something other than "I wonder if that guy can hit a 35-yarder." I hope that in ten years I remember him like I do Mike Comrie, as the guy who cemented a fandom. He opened a door; here's to Saads and Brazilians and Basically Eckstein and Steve Burns walking through it.
Blame-y section. So Akron really, really deserved to win that game but the frustrating part is that since Michigan did an excellent job limiting their opportunities, if not their time on the ball, they only had a few truly quality chances. They put most of them directly into Blais's chest.
With the Meram zinger that game was there for the taking, and the main reason they didn't take it was Blais. Getting beat near post on a shot as far out as Kitchen's equalizer is on the goalie, and while the second goal was a massive marking failure a ball that lands well within the six yard box is one that Blais has to come for. He made a good diving stop on a deflected ball late but when you can plausibly take the heat on both opponent goals you've had a bad day.
Additional impressions. It was hard to get a ton out of the game with the liveblog—I always forget how splitting your attention makes it hard to remember anything—but I thought Opare was a close second to Meram as Michigan's MOTM. He was clearly the smoother of the two central defenders and by the end of the game I had begun to have some confidence he could deal with even the rampaging Akron offense.
I think Michigan's failings largely laid with the other three defenders and Shaw, who were all okay to good defensively but could not cope with the Akron pressure and ended up chucking long balls or just giving the ball away. Michigan's offensive players are not large and against a top-quality opponent they're going to have to play through the midfield, but the linking play was extremely poor. Wood probably had a hand in that since they went away from him and to Pereira, as well.
The lady doth. Presented without comment:
Defender Zarek Valentin, who also played for the Bucks, said the Zips' victory should counter the losing image of Northeast Ohio.
"People think about Akron, they think about LeBron James and that whole fiasco," Valentin said. "This provides a good spirit on our campus."
The future. The only starters Michigan loses are the two outside backs, Wood, and Meram. It seems clear they'll go with Pereira to replace Wood. Tennant seemed like JAG to me and Michigan should find someone okay to replace him. Quijano and especially Meram are major losses; Michigan maintaining their current level will be a matter of finding reasonable replacements and having the rest of the team step forward as they enter sophomore and junior years. I'm not up on soccer recruiting enough to know how likely either of those things is—I tried, but I couldn't find much of anything.
12/11/2010 – Michigan 5, Michigan State 0 – 10-5-4, 9-3-1 CCHA
Michigan State is bad at hockey.
12/10/2010 – Michigan 1, Ak—
Oh, all right.
Michigan State is really bad at hockey, bad to the point where it seems like the next time their program is anything better than decent it will be under their next coach. While I find this 80% delightful the other 20% is depressed that the grand terror of a game against Ryan Miller* has been replaced by the usual mild discomfort when a crappy CCHA team comes to town against a Michigan team capable of blowing it against a crappy CCHA team.
So the only differences between this game and Michigan's series against BG earlier in the year are the size of the crowd, my annoyance at the State band, and my lingering antipathy for Rick Comley for his non-handling of the Kampfer incident. I have a sense of how Ohio State fans must feel about Michigan football's struggles now.
As a result the Big Chill lacked the grandeur of the Cold War despite being bigger and having more fireworks and an equal amount of appalling pregame musical guest. The thing on the ice was no longer #1 versus #4. Ryan Miller was not there, nor was Mike Cammalleri or a half-dozen other guys currently plying their trade in the NHL. Midway through the second I wished Michigan had scheduled Notre Dame or Miami, because if Michigan State's going to return a big chunk of their allotment anyway we should at least have a hockey game worthy of 113,000.
If you're going to schedule a team that's hanging out with Bowling Green in the conference slums, though, you should at least chop them up into tiny bits and serve them as hors d'oeuvres to the assembled throng. Michigan did, leaving the crowd's biggest reaction to come at the tail end of a 5-0 game when the most important thing was holding on to the shutout. This year it appears symbolic acts will be the only important ones, and in ten years when this happens again and they dig out the record books for outdoor games past that zero will read "Comley" to me, and I'll remember that weird period when Michigan State was horrible.
Non-bullets got very cold towards the end
A lovely touch. This is the opposite of Cal playing Chariots of Fire on their scoreboards after Washington pulls off a last-second win: event organizers forced Michigan State to sit through the fireworks in the cold after losing 5-0; when they tried to leave halfway through they were prevented.
A fishy number. The stands were almost full, but with the top end of one endzone was sparsely populated I'm a little dubious about the Guinness-endorsed 113k since it seems like a football game would have hit that this year. I've assumed Michigan counts every last person in the building for football, but maybe not.
Hey, that looked intentional. First, highlights:
The Rust-to-Merrill goal was a two-on-two rush that resulted in a pretty goal, something Michigan fans haven't seen much of this year. The rest of the goals were also intentional but born more of hard work finding rebounds or just shooting—the slick passing to get someone open has not been a regular feature.
Celebrations. On the reel above you can see Carl Hagelin either attempt to saw off his arm at the elbow or play the world's least tiny violin after his first goal, but they missed a celebration in the third wherein the team assembled to kick an extra point. This has apparently been lost to history.
The road ahead. Notre Dame and Miami split two weeks ago, leaving the three-way race at the top of the league very tight. Michigan would be ahead in hypothetical baseball standings as they're a point back of Notre Dame with a game in hand and one clear of Miami with two in hand, and their schedule is looking pretty easy down the stretch:
- The GLI features State, an MTU team that's lost ten straight, and a 7-5 Colorado College team. Michigan should meet CC in the final.
- Games against very bad CCHA teams: Three more against MSU.
- Games against mediocre CCHA teams: two against Ferris (home and home), two against OSU (home), two against WMU (home), two against NMU (away)
- Games against good CCHA teams: two against Alaska (home)
- Series of the year: two against Miami (away)
The CCHA is the three teams at the top, LSSU, MSU, and BG at the bottom, and then a mass of five teams that are tough to differentiate. Miami has to play both ND and Michigan again, but Michigan has already gotten its series with ND out of the way—advantage teams that aren't Miami. Michigan also has a ton of home games. They'll have to get a bit better in goal and score more goals they mean to if they're going to win the league, but they've put themselves in good position.
Unfortunately, without tearing through the back end of the schedule Michigan is probably locked out of a one seed with their mediocre OOC performance. Hockey puts inordinate emphasis on OOC.
A rule not so good. Michigan State did score, though. They put in a power play goal when a puck deflected high off Hunwick and fluttered to the goal line to be batted in, but a nanosecond before that happened Hunwick fell into the net and knocked it off. While the refs got the call right, it was totally unfair: you definitely scored, you didn't do anything to get the net off, and you still get nothing. They should probably change it so that if your goal is imminent when the defense knocks the net off you still get it.
Merrill actually doesn’t remember the first goal. He closed his eyes when he shot it and the next thing he knew, he was mobbed by teammates. Everything else is a happy blur.
Not recommended for drivers, as your blur will not be happy.
*(I have superficially hated many opposing athletes but Miller stands out as the guy I hated only because he was so unbelievably good. He did nothing but save everything.)
11/27/2010 – Michigan 7, Ohio State 37 – 7-5, 3-5 Big Ten
The Ohio State game has the power to make whatever happens in it seem like Michigan's season in microcosm, and so the overriding theme of the 2010 season is looking up at the scoreboard at halftime to see Michigan on pace for about 500 yards and about twenty points. Michigan had 238 yards and seven points this time around and instead of a competitive game we got the usual.
The last couple weeks the "loss will cause me to" bit has been "repeat I expected 7-5." That kind of mantra to keep your boiling rage under control has been necessary and less than effective as Michigan has fallen behind massively against good opponents and shown little ability to get up, causing the chattering class to rush to their keyboards so they can point out the lack of progress after Saturday. In the Game-as-microcosm sense, it's true. Last year Michigan was an opponent that got Tresselballed to death. This year they weren't good enough to pose the vague threat. They made Tresselball into things like 98 yard touchdown runs (save an iffy holding call after ninety of those yards) and 85 yard kickoff return TDs.
In the larger scheme it's not. In the nonconference Michigan traded Eastern Michigan for UConn, who may have lost to Temple but is also a game away from the Big East title, and traded home for road against Notre Dame. The conference record of the two teams not on their Big Ten schedule (excluding the game between the two) is 4-10. Last year it was 7-7. They got two more wins. Last year their average yardage differential excluding the Baby Seal U game was –57 yards. Even if you hack out this year's most lopsided game against Bowling Green—something that's not fair to the 2010 team because of the schedule upgrade—this year they're +18. That's a huge swing.
And yet. Today even the most insanely patient Michigan fan feels zo unzatisfied.
This is the point where some sort of post from the summer that took a cold-eyed look at what Michigan had and what it would have in 2011 and set a baseline—what's that? It's Some Sort of Post From The Summer's music!
I know it's my role as the crazy fan blogger to demand the head of the coach when he fails to live up to my crazy expectations, but if we're seriously talking about an 8-4 regular season "not being enough" for Rodriguez to get a year four Michigan should have just fired him already. If this ends up being an 8-4 team the Mathlete's luck chart will have Michigan considerably on the happy side of the ledger. …
"This is still Michigan" is demonstrably false. Even in year three this remains a desperately young team with major holes in the secondary and no upperclass quarterbacks. Rodriguez's responsibility for the state of the state of the roster is limited to the absence of Terrelle Pryor, or any marginally acceptable option at quarterback from his first two months on the job, and a couple of would-be-sophomores Rodriguez did not add to the end of his first full recruiting class. You can wave your hands and say "Michigan! Rabble rabble rabble!" all you want but if you dressed these guys up like Generic State University people would expect them to go .500. …
My personal measuring stick for Rodriguez: yardage parity and a winning record. I would be displeased with 7-6 but willing to grit my teeth and give Rodriguez a shot in 2011, when he will return both specialists, every starter on offense save Steve Schilling and all but three starters on defense. That will seem exceptionally kind to many, I know, but literally no coach in the country could take the leftovers after Mallett's transfer and do anything other than flail as Rodriguez has.
2008 was a complete waste. To me, this is year two for Rodriguez, and 2011 is when I expect rubber to meet road.
That was before Troy Woolfolk blew up and Vlad Emilien and Justin Turner lit out. (While not having Emilien around is grating apparently Michigan just came up craps with Turner, who is heavily rumored to be out at West Virginia and headed DII; since this was a guy with an OSU offer it was not apparent this would happen.)
There are arguments that 7-5 is not good enough because this was the most unsatisfying 7-5 possible, and, yes, it was. Michigan's record in close games is 3-0, 4-0 if you want to count the Purdue game (UMass does not register since it featured an unrecovered onside kick). They fell behind massively in every loss and never had a chance to drive for even a tie in the second half of any. I've said before that if Rodriguez is broomed and Harbaugh installed here my reaction will be "meh" quickly followed by "what about Denard?" Because this is Michigan football Rodriguez will take Clemson to the BCS four times, but even that certainty doesn't dull the shine on Harbaugh.
But it's pretty hard for me to go back to what I thought before the season, see what it is, see what we got, and think Rodriguez didn't put himself in position for Put Up Or Shut Up 2011. Barely.
Non-Bullets of Something Or Other
Well, that was horrible. Awful refereeing plagued that game. There were the two inexplicable OSU personal fouls after TDs—the first I thought was for the dive but that was a legit dive with two guys coming at him—the iffy penalty on the 98-yarder, a terrible holding call on Steve Schilling, and a non-review of what seemed clearly like a non-interception followed immediately by a review of an OSU non-fumble that screwed Michigan both incompetent and competent.
Also, Michigan got called for "encroachment" before the snap, on offense. Can that even happen? WTF?
Well, that was horrible. Darryl Stonum emo 2010:
Well, that was horrible. Mmmm Seth Brokhuizen rugby punt. Kicker Nick Sheridan? Kicker Nick Sheridan. Not his fault he's seeing the field. Save us Justin Meram. Anyone.
Well, that was horrible. Michigan got what seemed like its first procedure penalties of the year from someone other than Taylor Lewan when Je'Ron Stokes and Jeremy Jackson picked up five-yard penalties. Jackson's wiped out a 30-yard gain and led to Michigan's only three and out of the first half.
Well, that was horrible. At least we won the "don't look retarded" game. 2-0, baby!
Well, that was horrible. Further adventures in hating Michigan fans:
Well, that was horrible. God… Roy Roundtree… not all of those were easy, but… arrrrrrgh.
BONUS psychoanalysis note: since everyone does it I might as well offer a protip so the evaluations are less annoying. If you're going to respond to something I say by discovering the way in which my brain is broken, you should say "excessively skeptical of using emotion in decisions and too fond of numbers."
Wind-down, offseason, bowl, etc. note: I am burned out. I'm not making any promises about UFRing this game. I might, I might not. This week is going to be relatively light and then we'll start talking about bowl stuff and whatnot, with an eye towards what will or will not happen with Rodriguez. I'll have something up this afternoon about what I've got, which isn't definitive at all but exists.