10/16/2010 – Michigan 28, Iowa 38 – 5-2, 1-2 Big Ten
When Michigan needed a stop to get the ball back with a chance to tie and plenty of time on the clock they failed to get it, twice. The second time Michigan cut off Iowa's routes past the sticks, forcing a dumpoff to Adam Robinson. Courtney Avery was there.
Last year at this time Avery was in high school. He played quarterback, and basically only quarterback. Plans to have him play his college position were thwarted by an injury. In a presser earlier this year, Rich Rodriguez said in any situation short of the Bohemian Crapsody that is this secondary, the entire freshman defensive back class would redshirt. But File Not Found, man. File Not Found.
Avery did that thing you see above. It doesn't appear that he even touched Robinson, something Crapsody-projected starter Richard Nixon probably could have managed. My immediate thought was watching baseball highlights on Sportscenter during the Dan and Keith glory days. Dan Patrick's signature strikeout call: "the whiff."
And so Michigan football falls into that old incredibly fun debate for the next two weeks before the Penn State game quiets it, one way or the other. Rodriguez proponents point to the shocking lack of talent in the back four and say it's not his fault; Rodriguez opponents point to the same thing and say it's his fault.
They're both sort of right, sort of wrong. Boubacar Cissoko has 99 problems but what to do on a Friday night is no longer one of them. Troy Woolfolk was struck down by Angry Michigan Secondary Hating God. These are cosmically decreed absences from the secondary.
On the other hand, it's hard to look at the addled underclassmen out there with cornerback Nick Sheridan and not wish Rodriguez had sucked a little face to get Donovan Warren or Justin Turner or Vlad Emilien to stick around. Emilien departed the Michigan secondary in an effort to find playing time. Something is not quite right with your roster management when you lose the only non-freshman free safety on the roster.
As he left he said something along the lines of "I'm the best safety on the roster."* He probably isn't, but this is the point at which a desperate Michigan would give it a shot anyway. They did with Kenny Demens and found out that Obi Ezeh is not the best MLB at Michigan; maybe that would have happened with Emilien. Instead there is a walk-on-sized true freshman and air backing up Cam Gordon and Michigan will ride and die with another guy who obviously shouldn't be on the field this year.
This is what Michigan football is these days—trying to figure out which incredibly inexperienced player has the least business being on a Big Ten two deep, let alone field. My vote is for James Rogers, but I get it if you're arguing for any other member of the secondary not named Kovacs. Srsly. Pick one.
Of course, Avery's mistake was as far from an isolated an incident as possible. The reason it's emblematic of the game is that you could have picked a dozen other players if their incident had happened right at the end. Another field goal was blocked, with a bonus: team walks off field still featuring live ball, Iowa returns it a goodly distance. The Taylor Lewan Drive Killing Penalty and its sequels. Two(!) kickoffs sailing out of bounds. Facemask calls. A –4 turnover margin. It's all very grrraaarrgggh. The people on the internet who say "THAT'S COACHING" are saying "THAT'S COACHING."
Maybe it is, but how would anyone know when freshman quarterbacks are waving at Adam Robinson's feet? In one very limited way it would be nice if this was a Tim Brewster situation where galaxy-spanning incompetence met a total lack of a track record and firing the guy was obvious. That's not this. We have very good reasons to expect what is happening to happen but don't know if it's ever going to stop.
*(to someone in the media, but not to the public at large.)
To repeat. We've got five additional opportunities to find out whether or not the mistakes were just one (er… two) of those days or a systemic issue—or, more likely, a systemic issue less severe than it seems this instant—so no job talk. I will say that my position at the start of the year was that 7-5 was the expected result and that would be good enough for me since 2011 sets up as a perfect prove-it year, and that I don't see why that would change. If they can get a half-decent defense they should blow up.
Iowa's defense may have been something of a paper tiger but even so Michigan came up ten yards short of its season average against the #4 total defense in the country; they're now #3 in total offense. They have two seniors who start and three on the two-deep. As long as they don't tank the rest of the season that seems like a good enough reason to give it a shot in 2011.
Crap, I guess that's job talk.
Kenny! After two three-and-outs featuring Kenny Demens at middle linebacker, Obi Ezeh returned to the field to start the third drive. On his first play he was humiliatingly owned by an Iowa OL, getting pancaked as Robinson whizzed by for his first real gain of the day. I started complaining to everyone in the vicinity about Ezeh's presence as Iowa marched down the field; Demens returned as Iowa neared the redzone. Ezeh's Michigan career is for all intents and purposes over, and Demens is the new king of everything.
How did he do? I don't actually know yet, but if you take out the three Robinson runs (14, 8, 5) when Ezeh was in the game Robinson rushed for 116 yards on 28 carries, 4.2 per. That's not terrible and for the most part it was done without Mike Martin, who missed the entire second half and was not effective when he did play in the first.
Last I said I was rooting for an inexplicable personnel decision here and it looks like that's the case: Demens is considerably better than Ezeh. That's a nice boost for the rest of the season and the next couple years. If Demens was really Ezeh's equivalent or worse we'd be facing down MOTS or freshmen at MLB next year; instead it looks like we'll get the upperclass years of a decent recruit who's already an obvious upgrade.
Ezeh epilogue. I will remember him as that guy from Memento.
Khoury! The most encouraging part of the game was Michigan owning the Iowa DL despite playing most of the day without Molk and a chunk of it without Lewan. Michigan averaged 4.8 YPC on the ground despite not breaking a run longer than 15 yards, gave up just one sack, and saw its quarterbacks go 30/44.
The lack of long runs is a function of the Iowa gameplan, which left six-ish guys in the box most of the day and gave Michigan a numbers advantage, but Michigan took advantage of that against a massively hyped DL. They did it without their starting center. At this point they've established themselves one of the best units in the conference.
Tate! Hell of a relief appearance there, and more indication that keeping Forcier in the program is an important offseason task. Also: pretty sure they ran the midline option for their last touchdown.
Lewan sad face. It's a good thing that late false start was on Schilling; if it was on Lewan blood vessels would have burst all over Michigan Stadium. I don't have to remind you of the three crippling penalties that ended Michigan drives, because you were doing your very best not to unleash a torrent of boos at the kid.
On the upside, I hear that Clayborn did nothing when Lewan was in the game; if that proves true on tape you can ramp your Lewan==Long hype up to maximum.
Turnover damage metric. Tate's last desperate chuck on third and nineteen == 0. Not completing a pass in that situation is almost a turnover anyway.
Robinson's interception == 2. It was third and ten and he didn't have underneath options apparently; in that situation a deep INT is basically a punt. The problem was with how terrible the throw was. When the receiver can't even get over to tackle that's a problem.
Vincent Smith fumble, First Forcier interception == 8. Guh.
Hagerup. At least the punting issues have resolved themselves spectacularly. Hagerup averaged 50.3 yards a kick and yielded no return yards. Net punting is now above average. It's just everything else that's terrible.
Photo I was looking for found at Mets Maize, which focused in on that same moment as the tale of the game. BWS recap is a little down on RR's playcalling with Denard in the game; I just see third and okay turned into third and long by Lewan penalties. With Denard, Michigan is a team on a schedule, like option teams. Getting off that schedule is very bad. I should dig out my old third down code after the year so we can see the big red bits from third and seven out.
Meanwhile, In Rod We Trust kicks off its post like I wanted to:
Something, something, realistic expectations, something, something, glass half-full, something something, more experience needed, something, something, witch hunt commence, something something, life goes on. Something, something, not 2009.
While it could have ended there, it continues. Meanwhile in the News, John Niyo says "OMG 2009," something only a Penn State win will fix. The Ann Arbor News launches "moxie" to describe Forcier's day.
I hate it when he is sad, and not just because I feel the same way.
10/11/2010 – Michigan 17, Michigan State 34 – 5-1, 1-1 Big Ten
This just popped into my head in the same way a chorus of angels singing hosannas delivered calculus to Newton: they were probably Juggalos.
There were two of them, and they were walking south down the train tracks just east of the stadium as Michigan State bled the final minutes off the clock. I was in the midst of a stream of mostly Michigan folk who'd had enough—my breaking point was the running into the kicker penalty—moving east with the intent of hitting State Street and parts beyond after following the pathway between the field hockey stadium and football's practice field.
I don't remember much in the way of Juggalo-identifying characteristics except the hats. They were those oversized baseball caps with an enormous, off-center Old English D surrounded by graphic frippery I'm pretty sure designers call "grunge." They were carefully placed on the head, maybe 15 degrees from straight. This has been scientifically determined to be the angle that communicates maximum defiance.
The hats, man. These were the hat equivalent of chrome skulls, because apparently the best way to destroy your credit rating is to buy a bunch of chrome skulls. Maybe this is an urban legend but it's too good not to be true: men in a tall building somewhere have determined that credit card purchases of chrome skulls are inevitably followed by default, and will cease lending money to people who make them. If defiant hat angles left a paper trail these guys wouldn't have been able to get a loan in Zimbabwe.
The rest of it was just a way of confirming the hats. These were guys who had thought to themselves "wait, how do fuckin' magnets work?" They may have been blazed out of their minds at the time but no one can tell the difference any more. The reader will be utterly unsurprised to find out that as these guys approached the intersection with the Michigan fans one of them shouted "who's the little brother now?"
You. Still you. Always you.
Someone in front of me who was either a really pissed off 6'5" guy with a beard or the living manifestation of my id got into it with them. I get why. I mean, you're an adult with a family and a dishwasher. You've never thrown a rock at Tila Tequila. And these guys—who almost certainly didn't even go to the game because they couldn't afford it given the hats, the time and the direction they're walking*—start talking shit to you.
After the path to State Street intersects the tracks it jogs right to give the football field room. So there is this stream of slowly-moving Michigan fans including me and id guy separated from the Juggalos by just a few feet and a fence. For what was probably only a minute but seemed like forever, then, I'm listening to the back and forth between these guys. It's the usual—id guy is repeatedly asked where he went to school until he defiantly points in the direction of campus and says "here," then says his major is "FINANCIAL MATHEMATICS!!!" when pressed.
That was Saturday: financial mathematicians screaming at Juggalos, and the Juggalos winning. The State meathead directly behind me literally said "bitch! fuck you!" whenever MSU tackled Denard Robinson for less than five yards. On Friday, Tim came back to his apartment to find a trail of blood leading to a passed-out State meathead who'd broken in. The same guys who clumsily spray-painted a bedsheet in 2008 to declare their glorious victory over the worst Michigan team in 50 years reprised their genius. As I walked home every glassy-eyed Stiffler that passed me upped the amplitude of my anger/depression cocktail. Jesus, they were everywhere. They came to Ann Arbor cocky and stupid and left cocky and stupid. Enduring it was brutal. In their eyes, that was probably the point.
That's why Mike Hart's comment cut to the quick so much that three years later it's still the first, last, and only thing on the Juggalo mind. If coaching doesn't work out, Hart should start a consulting agency that visits bitter people on their deathbeds and devises things to say that just stick, nagging, sitting on your shoulder and telling you that's really not okay.
As for the current Michigan program, they took a grim step back against Stiffler U and are now poised on the edge of the same cliff no one knew they were falling from until the Illinois game last year. It is really hard to step back and say "it's just one game" after that travesty at Michigan Stadium, both inside and out, but long experience has taught me that gritting your teeth and just getting on with it is better than screaming the name of your major to the world at large.
*(The tracks are mostly fenced and anyone walking down them at that point is coming from well north of the stadium.)
This guy. I'm about to double this guy's yearly traffic but oh well—this is exactly what I am talking about in blog post form:
And FUCK ROBINSON because it was more than him, Michigan State BEAT THE SHIT out of Michigan across the board, offense, defense, special teams, YOU NAME IT. WE BEAT THE YELLOW BELLY ASS UP AND DOWN THE FIELD.
I feel bad for the MSU fans I know, all fine people who don't own SHAGGY 2 DOPE jerseys, and the guys at The Only Colors but Christ, man. Normal-ish MSU fans were outnumbered ten to one.
Forgotten kindness. I meant to mention this in the aftermath of the Notre Dame game but it slipped my mind until the events of the weekend made me wish I was on the road in South Bend instead of at home against Michigan State: ND fans really are the nicest in the country. There are always Those Guys. In South Bend we had one in the row in front of us a few seats over who kept looking back at us and doing the usual dumbass fan taunting routine. The ND fans around us made fun of him for it. ND spawns the kind of pathology that makes ND Nation the most unintentionally entertaining message board on the internet but the vast majority of the fanbase are just nice people sad about their team.
With Weis gone, I'm not rooting against them in an active way until they're threatening for BCS bowls.
Also something I've forgotten to mention a lot. Drum major David Hines, Jr., probably has the best pregame back bend I've ever seen, and since I remember when the drum majors went from taking off the hat only for big games to doing it all the time, that's probably an all-time record.
This was always going to happen. People complaining about the defense, and there are many: WTF, are you surprised? Are you? Did you sit down at the beginning of the season and look over the post-Woolfolk secondary depth chart and think to yourself "boy, this looks like an average unit we've got right here?" This was already always going to happen last year, when the Decimated Defense Diaries and a simple count of available upperclassmen would have revealed that there was a giant gaping dropoff from the legitimate first-stringers Michigan had at maybe 8 or 9 positions to the second string. Then Donovan Warren, Justin Turner, and Troy Woolfolk departed Michigan's thinnest position. This was entirely predictable:
Plugging the enormous hole at safety would be great, but even if you make the reasonable assumption that Gordon/Kovacs/Robinson is going to be way better than Williams/Kovacs, the massive downgrade at corner means you're probably just treading water. Treading horrible, polluted, razor-blade-filled, despair-laden water.
The defense is off from hopeful expectations in that post but the reason is obvious. The depth chart is what it is.
The doom. I never thought Denard Robinson's problem throwing the ball would be a refusal to take off and run after the timer in the head expires. On all three interceptions he should have just run after he sat in the pocket for two or three beats. The second one was just death—pump-fake, hesitation, slant on the goal line? Guh. I think we all expected Denard would have some issues throwing the ball but three huge mistakes in one game is fatal unless you're going up against a team making those mistakes back at you. Michigan gained 263 yards in a half and had ten points from it.
FWIW, Touch The Banner suggests Denard's first two interceptions were just poor throws against man coverage. I haven't had the benefit of replay yet.
The frustration. The game's killer sequence occurred when Jordan Kovacs tackled an MSU TE three yards short on third and ten only for MSU to catch a break on a false start. On the ensuing third and fifteen Michigan couldn't tackle Keshawn Martin after he caught like a five-yard hitch and they converted. The ensuing touchdown drive was the distance that put Michigan in desperation mode. That's a ferret-puncher right there. Makes you want to go find a ferret, and punch it.
Also you can add many drops, a hopeless MSU pass getting deflected to a receiver, and another missed field goal.
Punt? I know you're down seventeen and it looks grim but a comeback isn't totally out of the realm of possibility… until you punt with like seven minutes on the clock. Apparently Rodriguez owned up to that as a mistake afterwards.
Long runs. I'm going to have a lot of fun figuring out the basic off-tackle runs that Michigan State hit for touchdowns. I'm just hoping Ezeh was not involved so that someone else can come in for the tsking. I do know that on the second one the right side of the line was Patterson and JB Fitzgerald at DE, which got run directly at and did about as well as you would expect. That one's probably on the DL at least somewhat. I'm sure Cam is at fault, too, because I said I like him and he would be important and that he was really good at filling on run plays. This is how the world works.
Cam also had an opportunity to undercut a receiver and intercept a long pass that he did not take; I believe that drive was the one on which MSU ended up in third and thirty-two, so it didn't end up mattering much.
The usual Vincent Smith complaining and counter-complaining and etc. You probably don't want Smith ever getting another third and one carry whether you're on Team Smith or Team Whoever Else. I couldn't believe Michigan 1) went with another inside zone to a back who almost never gets one yard after contact, let alone yards, and 2) didn't get it. Hopkins may have fumbling problems but at some point Michigan's fail on third and one is just as damaging.
Also, the difference between Smith and Shaw was painfully apparent and relevant on a run during one of Michigan's early drives when he broke into the open field with nothing between him and the endzone and got tackled by a linebacker coming from the inside. Shaw probably scores there; Michigan got a field goal on that drive IIRC.
Silver lining. Hey, Penn State looks winnable!
10/2/2010 – Michigan 42, Indiana 35 – 5-0, 1-0
When you want to watch ESPNU in Sedona, Arizona, you go to this place called "Sticks and Steaks." To get there you drive past a massive tourist art complex with a faux-native name, a sign exhorting you take advantage of Angel Lightfoot's magic healing crystal expertise, and an enormous, profligate fountain in the middle of the damn desert. Whatever Sedona's purpose was when someone said "screw it" and set up camp in 1902 is gone, replaced by a talent for taking money that was jammed into old ladies' bank accounts and circulating it through the economy again.
Inside this place you'll find TVs, horse betting, and a motley collection of people who would rather be home for three and a half hours on Saturday. In front of me there were a couple peeved Texas fans watching their team get punked by Oklahoma. Behind me there was a Wisconsin guy who asked if I was wearing my lucky Michigan tie. (I wasn't: I'd neglected to bring one and had to drive back to the next town over and stop at their outlet strip mall to get one.) A couple of old women who didn't care about football ate there; as they left one of them said they'd gone to Indiana and was surprised the game was even that close.
I think it was an attempt to comfort me, as I'd spent the hour they were there pulling my hair back over my skull and swearing under my breath. Sometimes not so under my breath, too. I said something about how IU's quarterback was outlandishly good and hoped it was true.
I do not have to tell you this but I will anyway: that game was bizarre.
In the aftermath it stands as a tribute to how useless time of possession is. Michigan's put-upon defense actually got better in the second half of their 98-play version of Ishtar, and it turns out that a touchdown scored in three plays is worth just as much as a touchdown scored in 14. We have sufficient evidence now to declare this finding statistically significant. So that's nice.
In progress it felt like dying from a thousand paper cuts only to be brought back with the crashing thunder of paddles, conscious and fully aware you were about to do it all over again. The opponent holding the ball for 42 minutes might not mean much statistically, but it does make most of the game an agonizing slog.
As a result, records were set across the Michigan fanbase for "most muted response to a 70-yard touchdown." Such a thing wouldn't have been possible even four years ago. I remember thinking to myself "that's 25% of the points we need to win" after the first drive of the '06 Ohio State game, and I was delighted through a whole commercial break. I grew up with angry cold Midwestern football where touchdowns were hard-earned things only somewhat less rare than goals in soccer. Each one was a major step towards your goal, and punting a guy down inside their ten was tantamount to getting the ball back on the fifty.
Now a touchdown is just holding serve. When Denard fumbled the snap on the one I thought "this is going to be a 99-yard touchdown drive," and then it was a 99-yard touchdown drive. It's disorienting, and as Indiana is driving down the field again you can't even figure out who to scream at because no one's in the same zip code as the receiver, and you hate everything about everything because this is MICHIGAN we don't do things like this.
On the other hand, "this is MICHIGAN" also applies to an offense that could end up loaded with NFL talent and still come nowhere near this one. Michigan still has Denard and its blitzkrieg of an offensive line and a bunch of wide-receivers who draw straws to determine who gets this week's monster day. One day when the defense is capable of covering guys here and there, Michigan will club people. At the moment it's about having the ball last.
I got somewhat demonstrative during all of this, which is why the Wisconsin guy asked me about my tie and the Indiana woman offered a ham-fisted attempt at comfort. People found me entertaining as I alternated between brief flashes of happiness and long stretches of sports Tourette's, I guess. I probably would have too.
As I was leaving this other guy who I hadn't even noticed added his bit, jovially saying "Hey, you survived." I had. They had, unlike Texas or Wisconsin or Indiana. The Texas folk hadn't even made it past halftime. The fiancée, still able to engage in small talk beyond grunts and squeaks, asked who he was rooting for. He said "USC, but they don't play yet." When they did, they lost to Washington for the second straight year. There are worse things than getting bombed for 480 yards by Ben Chappell even if it doesn't feel like it at the time.
Stop it. I've defended the three man rush but good lord you have got to be kidding me. I defended the 3-3-5 but that's when I thought it would be used to create a wide variety of four-and-five man fronts with unpredictable blitzing. Michigan probably rushed more than three guys 10% of the time in the second half, and when they did that it was four. I can't support having Craig Roh and using him in zone coverage on every snap.
What's worse was the inane substitution pattern. Every Indiana run in the second half was a wasted down, and probably would have been a wasted down even if you replaced Banks with Roh and brought in a cornerback. One of this defense's few assets is the pass rushing ability of the outside linebackers, but Michigan is going out of its way to avoid using it.
Stop it, but the clock. I would have thrown a shoe at the TV if Michigan had botched time management at the end of the half like Indiana did. How do you get inside the 20 on that drive with a minute or so on the clock and end up with four seconds on third and goal? Indiana let the clock run from 13 seconds to 9 after a first and goal play before calling timeout, which meant they'd just blown an opportunity to run a fourth down. They got the TD anyway, but that was a sequence worthy of Les Miles.
Speaking of decisions like going for it on third there…
How Denard Robinson is like multi-way callers in a limit hold-em game. There is a phenomenon in limit hold-em called "schooling" where a bunch of weak players who call a lot of hands they should ditch accidentally make their play close to right, frustrating more experienced players with a strong hand they'd like to get heads up with.
I think about this every time an opposing coach defies his inner Lovie Smith and goes for it on a fourth-and-Romer down against Michigan or eschews a half-ending field goal attempt in an effort to score the seven it's obvious they'll need to keep up with Denard. Michigan has now faced 15 fourth down attempts on the season, which is double the next-highest total in the Big Ten and triple the average*. They've converted nine of these, turning a bunch of drives that would have been punts or field goal attempts against a less terrifying offense into touchdowns.
The difference is that the coaches' decisions are statistically correct, not just less wrong. Which is not so good for Michigan. Bill Lynch did manage to punt from the Michigan 42 on fourth and short, which just goes to show that it is the nature of all coaches to play it safe. I'm hoping as we get into the stodgy section of the schedule we'll see more insane decisions to punt when Michigan scrapes together a stop. Someone can tell Mark Dantonio and Kirk Ferentz and Joe Paterno that they should go for it, but what are the chances they listen? Maybe 40%?
*(FWIW, I disagree with the author's assertion that the reason Michigan's opponents are exceeding their yardage season averages when they play M is because Michigan is the "red-letter" game on the schedule. It's just because Michigan's defense sucks.)
Same thing on our side of the ball. Michigan should have gone for it on fourth and one in the second half; instead they sent Forcier out to pooch it. I'm fine with the pooch punting in general, as it's impossible to return or even catch one. Michigan netted 39 yards on Forcier's attempt, which would be good for 23rd nationally as a season-long average.
But punting in that situation? No thanks. When your offense is tearing through the opposition like M's offense was that Mathlete chart about correct decisions swings way towards going for it there.
Part of the problem may be the apparent lack of faith in Michigan's bigger backs. Cox didn't appear at all and Hopkins was just used as a blocker; when Vincent Smith is your best TB option (blocking or running) short yardage is less of a certainty. I'm still not a fan of Smith this year despite the long run against IU. He didn't have to do anything except run through a gaping void and run through an attempt to tackle him from behind. He's reliable, but having him at tailback is like having Greg Mathews on punt returns.
It could not be clearer that Michigan doesn't need much time to score.
But what the Wolverines do need is the ability to keep their defense off the field. This defense is young, and it's still learning, and without the Michigan offense, its flaws would be that much more evident.
The Daily's Joe Stapleton also offered something along those lines.
Anyone who's read this blog for longer than a couple weeks knows the general outline of what's to come but whatever here goes: a touchdown is worth seven points no matter how long it takes to score, and having an offense that rips down the field in three or four plays against Indiana is not a bad thing. Against better defenses those opportunities will be much rarer. And what is Denard supposed to do, anyway? Kneel down at the 20?
It's the defense's job to get off the field. The offense is a thing to score points with. Was it good that Roy Roundtree got caught at the three? Not so much. If Michigan wants to bring TOP closer to even they'll have to get much better or blitz like madmen, but since that's a stupid goal to have they should only do the latter if it also makes it more likely they'll get stops.
Slight mitigation. One effect of Michigan's rapid-fire touchdown drives was to inflate Indiana's opportunities. Both teams had twelve bonafide drives in the game. That's 50% more than the opener against UConn; Michigan would have expected to give up 23 points if they'd faced eight IU drives. Which is still terrible, but maybe slightly less so than it seemed.
I was in transit yesterday so no VOAV; apologies. Here's the Michigan defense highlight reel:
Something slightly longer from WH:
In non-video items: a serendipitous sideline photo gallery. Michigan's ridiculous "on pace for" numbers. Mike DeSimone has resumed his incredibly useful photo collecting. Wow, Les Miles. Wow Denard from the Indy Star:
There are certain moments that reveal a potential Heisman Trophy winner's essence, and that came on that final five-play, 73-yard game-winning drive that sealed the 42-35 victory.
"Shoelace'' has got my Heisman vote, and it would take an act of God to make me change my mind.
ESPN's Heisman watch says it's "Robinson and everyone else":
Now it's just getting ridiculous. I mean, at some point shouldn't we stop being amazed? We've seen it for five weeks now. Shouldn't we be used to it? I'm talking, of course, about Michigan QB Denard Robinson, and the answer is no. We haven't seen this type of college football playmaker since … Barry Sanders?
Postgame GERG-RR stills from MVictors are… not so happy. Ace asks if we're jaded already. I'll talk about this more in a bit but despite the stuff about the three-man rush above, complaints like those of BWS…
The real story is that Greg Robinson's defensive schemes do not work. No longer is this a question of defensive talent or improper personnel. No, sadly, this is far more systematic: Greg Robinson's schemes Do Not Work.
I've been advocating a man coverage package for the last three weeks. Robinson has shown it sparingly. Not that I'm more qualified to run this defense, but Robinson's inability--or maybe stubbornness--to show new looks is far and away the most disappointing aspect of this season. Play after play (and now game after game), teams are running quick slants and seven-yard hitch routes and absolutely shredding Michigan's defense. And it's not that the defense looks athletically overmatched. They look unprepared and poorly coached.
…are kind of ridiculous. James Rogers cannot change direction. Jordan Kovacs cannot cover people man to man. There are massive personnel deficiencies that need covering up.
9/25/2010 – Michigan 65, Bowling Green 21 – 4-0
It's been a long time since this has happened, but in the aftermath of a 721-yard outburst against a I-A opponent there's no grand emotional narrative arc to relate. Last year there was a sense of relief after the Western game; the Eastern game was a reminder that sometimes Michigan plays teams obviously worse than they are and beats the pants off them and isn't that nice but sometimes the quarterback goes down and that's not nice at all. The Bowling Green game was that minus a loss to a 3-9 MAC team the year prior—i.e., a pleasant nothing in which crappy special teams play was just an opportunity to rack up more yards on offense.
There was a bout of slight indigestion when it was 21-14, but in the aftermath of an offensive performance in which Michigan scored 9 touchdowns on 11 drives (and kind of scored two more on the drives that technically came up empty) complaining about that would miss the forest for the trees. I mean, Michigan took the admonition to "STOP KICKING THE DAMN BALL" from the preview literally. I can't even make yet another impassioned plea against I-AA games since Bowling Green is part of the MAC, as I did after last year's silly offensive yardage number. So let's just get to the bullets.
Well, one thing first: Tate Forcier seems pretty level-headed for a guy the internet spent most of eight months deriding as an immature quitter bound to transfer ten seconds after Denard stepped on to the field against UConn and he declared himself "out" in the aftermath.
Somehow he's still here. He could have gone. He could have put in his papers like LaLota or Turner and spent a redshirt year somewhere else and preserved a year of eligibility and had three years to compete on a two-deep that doesn't feature Denard Robinson. But he's here, picking up small children in #16 jerseys after going 12 of 12 and running around on broken plays despite being obviously gimpy.
TATE: "Hey, kid. The offense scored a touchdown on every drive I had a part in."
SMALL CHILD: "Hold me up higher so I can see Denard."
My fiancée starts rooting for the other team whenever they are obviously overmatched, something that happened seven minutes into Saturday's game. She made an exception when Forcier rolled on the field. After the game he said he loved Michigan and would never go anywhere. You can't blame him if that turns out to be untrue, but I hope he stays around. I've got a feeling Michigan is going to need him.
NON-BULLETS TOLD THE PUNTER TO GET SOME COFFEE
Denard. Fine. Jumping higher than mortals for no reason late in a blowout:
Would have liked to see him get a couple more drives and finish his day with 200 yards rushing on ten carries just on the off chance he leads Michigan to enough stunning shootout wins to hit up the Heisman ceremony with a serious chance to win, but the important thing is that he's healthy. If he doesn't stop doing this, however, I am going to die with worry.
Number two. IME, Forcier. Gardner was certainly impressive downfield but on first glance seemed to make a ton of mistakes running the zone read and even when he did get some room displayed a nasty tendency to cut everything outside like he's still in high school, turning 6-8 yard gains into 2-3 yard gains. Forcier was crisper despite his status as Michigan's nominal #3.
Devin Gardner redshirt conspiracy. Yes, I am a one man Rubicon when it comes to this: Forcier was warmly welcomed by the crowd and got another big cheer when he came off the field late, then spent the postgame press conference saying things about how he will never, ever transfer. If that is true, that could be huge for the 2014 Wolverines because it might provide an opportunity for Gardner to redshirt next year. I want my fifth year senior Gardner, dammit.
Have I been advocating for this publicly? Someone gave me a shout out on the twitters when Michigan debuted a punt formation featuring three returners, so I must have been crabbing for it at some point.
I've been grumbling vaguely about the necessity for a second returner in this space for a while, but when Michigan came out in their new punt return formation on Saturday I was livid at myself for describing exactly what Michigan should do against spread punt formations during my Thursday WTKA appearance… during the commercials. Doh.
Anyway, the situation:
- The spread punt formation has virtually erased punt returns.
- Spread punting is almost impossible to fake out of as long as you rush the punter and cover the outside guys on the line.
- A single punt returner is insufficient in an era of line-drive rugby kicks.
The response I suggested (in the commercials) and Michigan implemented exactly:
- Two cornerbacks line up over the outside guys and cover/block them.
- Six guys charge after the punter on every snap to prevent fakes and maybe block a couple punts.
- Three returners are spread across the field so that Michigan fields almost every punt and maybe gets a return or two.
A friend of mine also pointed out that since punt coverage guys are focused on the returners, not the ball, having multiple guys back there has the potential to confuse them. If the ball's coming down to Dileo and Gallon's moving upfield like he's going to field a short one, the coverage team has an unpleasant choice between splitting their duties between all three guys and teaching their guys to look up and find the ball, forcing them to take their eyes off their destination and possibly exposing them to killshot blocks.
The results in game one of the experiment were encouraging. Michigan fielded all but one punt and got some of those return things—what are they called—oh yeah—yards. Dileo looked as smooth as promised, fielding punts and making one or two guys miss before getting tackled.
I don't think Michigan can pull off the triple return threat against a conventional formation since it would be vulnerable to fakes, but against spread punt teams they should use it all the time.
The other thing I was advocating for was the deployment of a Wolverine Heavy package and we sort of saw one near the goal line. Koger and Webb lined up as H-backs, there was a tailback, and Michigan ground forward as you might expect. That's not quite Heavy, in which there are two tight ends, two H-backs, and no one in the backfield except a tank, but the flexibility provided by the H-backs should make short yardage hard to stop; I'd like it if M put one of the TEs on the line and brought in McColgan.
Corner what. The third and final thing Michigan debuted was a dime package in which the MLB and one of the DEs come off the field in favor of two additional cornerbacks on passing downs. JT Floyd dropped back to deep safety with Gordon; Kovacs stayed underneath. This also gets a thumbs up assuming the freshmen corners can cover people. This is not certain, but it's hard to imagine them being worse at it than Roh or Ezeh, no offense to either.
Here's a confusing thing: Cullen Christian has practiced with the ones in warmups two of the last three weeks. I thought he was going to start against Notre Dame because of it. But when Michigan brought in its dime it was Talbott and Avery getting the PT; Christian alternated some with Rogers. The first bit implies that Christian is the #3 corner; the second implies he's the #5. Maybe the freshmen have different responsibilities in the dime package and they're working the players in at different positions until they learn both.
Running back mess, verdict, no verdict. Shaw continues to look like the best tailback available. As long as he's running hard and finding the lanes, something he's done a much better job of lately, he's the #1 guy. Smith was okay but as the games pass it seems more and more indisputable that he's lost some burst after the ACL surgery and probably won't be full strength until 2011.
Of the four backups, Cox seemed the most impressive in limited time since Toussaint's runs came on vast, gaping holes in the line. Also, he got run down by a MAC linebacker. What's up with that, Fred Jackson? (A: he's still wearing a knee brace and is not 100%. People of twitter: I was joking.)
Preview: 2011. Late in the game we got answers to obscure personnel questions:
- What position does Brandin Hawthorne play? Spur.
- What position does Steve Watson play? Defensive end.
- Who is the primary backup at guard? Ricky Barnum.
- What's the deal with Kenny Demens? Oh, there he is.
Michigan also got a preview of its 2011 offensive line when Perry Dorrestein "got a hangnail or something." Taylor Lewan was entrenched at left tackle so Huyge came in to play on the right, and Michigan lifted Steve Schilling for Ricky Barnum. That is 99% likely to be your '11 starting OL down to the positions: Lewan-Barnum-Molk-Omameh-Huyge. They got lifted for backups on the next drive.
9/17/2010 – Michigan 42, UMass 37 – 3-0
Well… at least it wasn't as grim as it looked a with about a minute before halftime, when my head was in my hands and I could feel the cave feces covering my body as I wished for a merciful death. Maybe an albino salamander would crawl down my throat or something. Then the offense did a large number of very fast things and the defense managed to stop the UMass offense like once or twice and then they managed to not quite blow it at the end.
And so here we are. If you ever wanted to know what it would have been like if Michigan had made that field goal at the end of The Horror you have your answer: not at all good but approximately a trillion times better than the alternative. The stanktastic defensive performance was exactly what Michigan fans feared was going to happen after every defensive back within hailing distance of the two deep exploded, except worse. I kind of expected Wisconsin might put up 37 points on a series of long, grinding drives. Not so much a team that launched a stirring comeback to nip William & Mary.
That combined with the pratfall by UConn against Temple and Notre Dame's admittedly delicious overtime punking leaves an uncomfortable taste in the mouth. Last year around this time I was surveying the outlook after Michigan got significantly outgained by Indiana but escaped by the skin of their teeth. The game column was sarcastically titled "The Soaring Majesty!":
Since we didn't [lose], we should all just breathe a sigh of relief, recalibrate expectations back down a little bit, and move on. Michigan's not at a point where any win against any Big Ten team is one to freak out about. The freshmen quarterbacks remain freshmen and it's becoming clear that the defense has about the same raw talent level that last year's offense had. The only thing keeping them from plunging off a deep, dark cliff is the fact that no position on defense is as singularly important as quarterback is on offense.
Michigan didn't win a game against a non-seal opponent the rest of the year. It was this much fun: no fun.
This is the point where I take a finger, insert it into the collar of my shirt, and make an uncomfortable facial expression David Letterman has mastered and is impossible to Google. (What do you type, "Letterman shirt uncomfortable"? "Letterman neck trick"?)Just imagine you're wearing a tie and your boss has called you into his office during a period of right-sizing and you're a big vaudeville buff. It's like that.
It's like that because of the following facts:
- Jonathan Hernandez had 114 yards on 26 carries with a long of 15.
- John Griffin had 96 yards on 17 carries with a long of 19.
- Kyle Havens went 22 of 29 for 222 yards with a long of 19.
That is a complete demolition at the hands of a I-AA team without even blowing it big. UMass got two short fields when Michigan had a punt blocked and Cam Gordon fumbled an interception, but even dropping those out of the equation UMass drives went FG, punt, TD, punt, TD, fumble, punt, TD, INT; both of the short field drives started around the 25 and ended in Michigan's endzone. And at no point did they get a cheap touchdown due to a secondary implosion. They just ground down the field as if Michigan was the I-AA team. Given the level of competition, it's probably the worst defensive performance of the Rodriguez era, and that's saying something. If not for the Post-Apocalyptic Oregon Game we'd be reaching back to Bump's days to find something worse. The parallels to last year are scary.
I can tell you to look at the yardage and feel better, which still works for me to some extent. Michigan still didn't outgain a BCS opponent until the Purdue game in 2009 and they have a demolition of UConn to their name. I can tell you to look at what Purdue and Indiana and Illinois are doing and count to seven that way and then rely on someone else (MSU? Iowa? Penn State?) getting Denarded for the eighth win that would officially exceed expectations, and that helps too. I can point to Iowa's 2009 season, which started out with a one-point win over Northern Iowa in which the Hawkeyes were outgained and had to block two(!) field goals on consecutive plays to avoid the killer upset. Four games later Iowa survived 24-21 against Arkansas State; they ended the year by whipping Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
All of these things say football is weird and last weekend was probably an aberration and Michigan's defense will be bad but probably not that bad. But it's hard to shake the feeling of deja vu. We jumped out of a plane and went WOOOOOO because everything is fast and fun and now we're trying to ignore the feeling that the parachute might have transferred to West Virginia. Again.
But at least there's Denard, right? Right. The silver lining to all of this is that he's going to have insane stats because Michigan's got no choice. That's the ticket.
Pulaski time. This has been kicking around message boards and my head since I was annoyed that Michigan threw the ball on third and six early in the game and then whiffed another field goal: given the situation, should Michigan emulate that Arkansas high school team that never, ever punts? Consider:
- The offense is pretty awesome, making a successful fourth-down conversion worth more points than it would be if it was still 2008.
- The defense is pretty terrible, making the loss of field position from an unsuccessful conversion less of an issue than it would be with a defense more likely to stop the opponent. A good defense is more likely to get you the ball back approximately where you booted it from; Michigan's is likely to get you the ball back via kickoff.
- Will Hagerup spent the ND game shanking balls into the stands and dropped a snap against UMass, getting his punt blocked.
- The field goal kickers are 1 of 4 and Rodriguez is openly pleading for any student, clueless or not, to try out.
So… yeah. When the Mathlete did a study with his enormous database of plays he concluded that 1) your defense has no impact on the decision (something I disagree with) and 2) that if your offense is good the light is almost always green:
Maybe some of the Mathlete's assumptions are wrong there (he gives an across-the-board 10% increase in conversion percentage) but even an average offense should be going on fourth and medium anywhere near midfield; Michigan is looking considerably better than average.
I'm hoping Rodriguez starts playing with going on fourth down in mind. If anyone was ever going to test the limits of Romer-ian game theory it would be this Michigan team. It's NCAA '11 time.
Probably no need to get alarmed for next week at least. Bowling Green is 1-2 with losses to Tulsa and Troy with a win coming last week over Marshall. In that game, Marshall's QB chucked four interceptions, two of which were returned for touchdowns. MGoUser BGwolverine13 has some information on their season to date. It sounds like the starting quarterback will sit out this week after suffering a concussion, which is doubly bad for BG since their rushing offense is currently 111th nationally at 2.7 YPC.
Is it sad that we're talking about this? Yes.
Yeah, pretty much.
What happened? Michigan's first two opponents went down to defeat over the weekend, too, seriously damaging their value when it comes to projecting the future. You probably know what went down in the MSU-ND game, but UConn losing to Temple 30-16 hurts.
How did that happen? Well, the Huskies did outgain Temple by 34 yards. (WOO!) They went from 16-14 up to 27-16 down via a fumble return touchdown and a four-yard touchdown drive after a big punt return. Zach Frazer appears to be pure awful (4.8 YPA) and their defense grim in all phases. Temple RB Bernard Pierce had 169 yards on 26 carries and his long was just 38; UConn is not good.
Meanwhile, the ND-MSU game was as dead even as you would expect an overtime game to be. Michigan State ended up outgaining ND 477-461, with the final 29 yards for MSU coming on the trick play that's going to make TWIS so fun this afternoon. Notre Dame's defense was thoroughly gashed by land and sea, giving up 203 yards on 43 carries and allowing Kirk Cousins to complete 23 of 33 passes. ND ran Armando Allen just 13 times despite the fact he is very good and was picking up 5.5 yards a crack; Dayne Crist was 32 of 55 for a bunch of yards, one INT, and 4 TDs. The teams had 13 possessions each.
Conclusion? Michigan State is about Michigan's equal and the game will be a shootout nailbiter.
Goals met? On defense obviously none. On special teams obviously none. Jeremy Gallon is on a streak of five straight terrible decisions on difficult punts to field and should either be replaced or given a return buddy who hangs out ten yards in front of him and fields the crappy ones.
On offense, we did see the healthy and productive return of Junior Hemingway. Taylor Lewan got in and was reportedly mauling people, which okay I-AA team but still that's an encouraging sign when your freshman tackle gets in to replace a guy who's played well so far. And Michael Shaw put up some of those yard things that Denard always gets. We did not get to see Cox, Toussaint, or Hopkins, unfortunately. (Toussaint may still be injured. He dressed but was only participating in some drills before the game.)
The one important thing that Michigan seemed to establish is the existence of a Denard deep ball. UMass was playing tight man coverage most of the day and Denard went deep twice to beat it, hitting Kelvin Grady on a deep seam and Stonum on a fly route. Both balls were well thrown. If you add that to the rest of the stuff Denard can do, hoo boy.
A note on the interception: he had Roundtree open for a touchdown but did the same thing he did against ND where he threw the ball on a line, allowing a safety to come underneath it and deflect it to the guy running a step or two behind Roundtree.
Lloyd-ballin' it note. Hated the third and one iso to Vincent Smith, though not getting it wasn't Smith's fault since there was an unblocked guy tearing in from the edge. But the whole advantage of having a running quarterback is that you get that extra blocker, which seems most useful on third and one. Michigan should have a version of Gator Heavy where Koger, Webb, and whichever RB they think is the best blocker line up to the same side of the formation and they just Tebow their way forward.
The Hoover Street Rag tries to maintain calm:
Now, all of the said, consider, if you will, where a Michigan fan might be standing right now. Since September 1, 2007, you have seen your team play 40 games. In that time span as of this weekend, you have seen your team win as many games as they have lost. Twenty Saturdays up, twenty Saturdays down. Twenty times happy, twenty times sad. You have seen hope crushed in the waking moments of a new rising sun. You have seen hope's corpse taken out back and burned repeatedly. You've seen redemption come from unlikely sources. You've seen a cold night in Champaign. You've seen a darn near miracle in Orlando. You've seen a comeback like nothing you've seen before in Ann Arbor. You've seen another quarterback in orange and blue leave flame trails behind him like a time-traveling DeLorean. You've seen a walk-on save the Jug. You've seen a freshman led an unlikely comeback in a shootout. You've seen all hope die on four chances from the one. You've seen an invasion of red into the Big House. You've seen a sophomore do things we only thought that other teams did to Michigan. You've seen 20 wins and 20 losses.So maybe this is why Saturday's performance doesn't bother me. It was a win. The gap between "survives upset bid" or "gets a scare from an FCS school" and losing is a chasm visible from space. We've been on the other side of that chasm, or perhaps more accurately at the bottom of it.
"We were terrible on defense," Roh said. "We just didn't look like we were prepared to play and we didn't make adjustments during the game.
"I promise you'll not see another game like that from us again."
From Roh's lips to Tebow's ears.
9/11/2010 – Michigan 28, Notre Dame 24 – 2-0
The Daily's Sam Wolson.
Sometimes even the corner of the endzone is a perfect vantage point to see something, and we were right on line to see Dayne Crist heave up what looked like a punt in the general direction of a covered Kyle Rudolph. We saw Cam Gordon take the wrong angle, backtrack desperately to take a futile swat at the ball, and twist his body around as quickly as possible to chase Rudolph. From there it's a dull haze as Notre Dame stadium erupted. The public address announcer, normally as staid and even-handed as Carl Grapentine, finished relating the details by exclaiming something about the rainbow Providence had directed to appear above the stadium at that exact moment.
Michigan fans are no strangers to this sort of thing. Ask anyone who's been around the block a couple times about Notre Dame Stadium and you'll get a recounting of injustices cosmic and otherwise perpetrated on not only Michigan but the idea of free will. Find them in a quiet moment in the dead of winter and get a couple drinks in them and you might hear a rigidly controlled statement about how the things that happen to Michigan's football team in South Bend make the speaker just… I don't know… unsure about certain things. Doesn't matter if they're religious or not. If they are, it's the existence of a just and loving God. If they aren't, it's the absence of a wrathful one. Either way the intensity with which your conversation partner is focusing on the rim of his glass will be unsettling.
The last time I went was 2002. Michigan fumbled four times, committed ten penalties, missed a 32-yard field goal, gave up a safety on a Courtney Morgan holding call, saw a Carlyle Holiday fumble at the two ruled a touchdown, and lost when Navarre's first pass on Michigan's last-ditch drive was batted directly to a Notre Dame defender. Michigan lost 25-23; in their previous two outings Notre Dame hadn't scored an offensive touchdown. I wrote two things about it in the aftermath:
- An Every Three Weekly article titled "John Navarre Blamed For Offense, Defense, Kicking Game, Iraq, 9/11, Everything Else."
- The other half of the infamous article exchange with Blue Gray Sky, in which a small child utterly defeats me by saying "good game, mister" as I attempt to trudge my way home.
The thesis statement of the latter:
To a Michigan fan, every Irish loss over the past ten years has been due to an unfortunate confluence of unlikely events: fumbles, ridiculous refereeing, blocked punts, hilarious deflected passes, etc. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not (though it is): that’s what it feels like. It feels like Michigan has nothing to gain and everything to lose, and everything gets lost on a biannual basis.
When Kyle Rudolph crossed the goal line the thing I thought was not an unprintable string of expletives. It was "of course."
Before the season a reporter from the Hartford Courant called me up for a story he was doing on the UConn game, probably because he saw me as a way to tap into the zeitgeist of the Michigan fan. As these things usually go, he only used one sentence from a fifteen minute conversation. This left out what seemed to me like the most interesting bit of the conversation, where he asked what I thought Michigan football stood for, what made it special and unique.
I had no answer to this. I said "that sounds like a question a Notre Dame fan would love to answer"—which caused the reporter to laugh a little more heartily than objectivity would approve of—and then launched into a narrative that won't be unfamiliar to anyone who's been around here a while. The post titles say it all, really: "Empire of the Fallen." "You Were Killed By A Bear And I Am Sad."
I told the guy that my inability to answer that question any more was kind of the point. The thing that was is dead, having expired from natural causes after a long illness. The thing that replaced it wasn't really anything except incompetent.
Basic understanding of the Michigan zeitgeist is understanding that now there is no answer to the question. Advanced understanding adds that until the Horror there was no program in the country with a more confident answer to it, and puts the two together to find a large number of sad pandas.
And then with 40 seconds left Denard Robinson stared down a blitzing, unblocked Manti Te'o and fired a dart to Roy Roundtree for fifteen yards on third and anything but a field goal attempt. Michigan had done its best to gaffe its way out of it like this uniquely frustrating rivalry demands, but after that it was academic. You try to stop Denard Robinson from going two yards, or seventy-two, or eighty-seven.
The rainbow was not Providence, except insofar as Denard Robinson might be it. It was the Shoelace bat signal, or rather one of many Shoelace bat signals: Flagpoles. Trees. Corned beef sandwiches. Damn near anything. Once summoned not even the vast historical juju of Notre Dame Stadium can do anything about him.
So this thing you dared not hope for starts to coalesce just from the things that happen on the field, and then yesterday morning I was struck by a sense of profound gratefulness when I watched the MGoBlue video of Denard's postgame presser:
I love how he smiles all the time and wears his heart on his sleeve and goes "AHHHH" when someone mentions Roundtree blocking for him and seems about as amazed as everyone else as what he's doing. I love how he drops to one knee after he scores in a way that seems genuine in a way I couldn't comprehend until I saw it. I love that if you ask him he'll sign your forehead. I was going to let my skepticism overwhelm, to wait until it was obvious that 2010 was not going to be 2009, but I lasted two games. I'm in the tank again.
That feeling Johnny identified in 2008 when it became clear that neither we nor Michigan had any idea what it was any more is obliterated. I've got an answer for the Courant now: Michigan is receivers blocking like tiny mountain goats 40 yards downfield because it matters, because if you set Denard free he'll go "AHHHH" at you afterwards. He'll smile and it will seem like the sun is poking through dark clouds, scattering colors in a circle all around you.
BULLETS ARE NO LONGER BULLETS
They're annoying. Now bold section titles. More room. Easier blockquoting. Win.
The unsung hero: Shavodrick Beaver, the backup at Tulsa. Does anyone else remember the sick feeling in your stomach when you found out that Michigan had lost a desperately-needed QB recruit to Tulsa? Funny old world, isn't it?
Denard is like a video game, but to Google it's NBA Jam:
HT to reader Apoorva Bansal.
Crist return. We were only getting the usual scattered texts that actually got through but by halftime it was clear that Crist had some sort of head injury that prevented him from seeing out of one eye. I laughed at my friend's concern that Crist might come back in the second half, reasoning that a head injury severe enough to keep someone out of a half of football is severe enough to keep someone out of a game of football. But lo, Crist rose after this:
Q. What play was it that you got dinged up on and what happened?
DAYNE CRIST: Just running the ball, just took a hit kind of on the side of the helmet. I had trouble seeing out of my right eye after that. Tried to get back into focus. …
Q. Was it your vision?
DAYNE CRIST: Just kind of dazed a little bit and couldn't really see out of my right eye. But that was really it.
How would you feel if Michigan's coach had done that after everything we've heard about concussions the past couple years? Apparently they "did the tests" on the sideline and determined he didn't have one, but it's hard to be comfortable with that decision when it's a debate about in what particular way Crist's brain was messed up.
Ref argh. There have been a lot of complaints about Michigan's many penalties and the lack of ND holding calls—especially after Mike Martin described Chris Stewart getting a "warning"—that I can't comment on yet since I haven't seen the tape, but we saw this live since our endzone was the one it happened in:
What is it with Notre Dame getting free touchdowns on a balls they fumble at the one? No one from Michigan jumped on it, unfortunately, or a review would have been uncomfortable for the home crowd. What happens if a player fumbles into the endzone and it just sits there forever? Does anyone know what the result would have been? You can't claim an inadvertent whistle ended the play until after the ball is out. Commenters seem to think it would have been ND's ball at the one.
Tailback argh. Thirty yards rushing is not so good for all your tailbacks, though as we'll see below Fred Jackson thinks Notre Dame made a bizarre decision to put it all on Denard's shoulders. I'll reserve judgment until I see the tape since the corner of the endzone isn't a great vantage point to draw conclusions, but with a couple of less challenging games coming up it seems like its time to pull the other three kids out of mothballs and see what they can do. Tousssaint's Mike Hart and Chris Perry except fast, after all. That sounds okay.
Flagpole argh. One thing that did not factor into my decision as to which tickets I'd use and which I'd give to my friends: whether or not the flag would be 1) in my LOS and 2) at half-mast. It was kind of hard to see stuff inside the 20 on the far side of the field; people twenty rows higher were probably steamed about Al Qaeda in a way they'd never thought possible.
Denard implosion argh. In the aftermath of another OMG Robinson day the questions about his durability continue. I think they're slightly overblown since Robinson takes way fewer hits from the pocket than most quarterbacks, and hits in the pocket to a stationary target are always the most dangerous. Even so they're not entirely so, which means Robinson should see a reduced workload over at least the next two weeks and hopefully three as Michigan tries to find some confidence in the backup quarterbacks and find a tailback. If it comes down to it, though, you have to put the ball in his hands when it's do or die.
The truly terrifying thing about Denard Robinson is how often he was one downfield block from being gone like he was on the 87-yarder. These blocks got missed way too often, but I guess it's a lot harder to make them when you don't have any idea where the runner is going to be.
Game theory stuff. I agree vigorously with this message board thread about how the Rudolph touchdown was a blessing in disguise since any Notre Dame touchdown drive of actual length would have pulled so much time off the clock its hard to see Robinson leading a drive to win. He can execute a three-minute drill now (obviously), but with one and a half minutes I keep going back to those seams to Roundtree in the third quarter. The first was thrown directly at a linebacker when lofting it was a touchdown; the second was lofted and would have been a touchdown except it was considerably overthrown.
Giving up a 95-yard touchdown is obviously bad, but I think the play once Rudolph is behind the secondary and around the 35 is to let him score. Michigan didn't do this intentionally, but they did prevent the same sort of agonizing touchdown drive they gave up against Wisconsin and Ohio State in 2005, where they soft-shell their way down the field and allow the opponent the opportunity to score for the win with vanishingly little time left.
While we're on the topic, Kelly's decision to go for it from the three at the end of the first half has come in for rampant bashing by Notre Dame fans because it didn't work out but to me it seems like one of those decisions that's so close there's no right or wrong answer. We happen to have a huge database of one-shot plays from the three because that's where two-point conversions are attempted from. The expected value of a field goal from there is basically 3 points. The expected value of going for it is 45% of 7, or 3.15 points… if you assume an average defense and offense. Michigan does not have an average defense but Notre Dame's offense while directed by a third-string walk-on is probably even further below average, so in terms of pure points expected I'm betting Kelly gave up a little when he went for it. On the other hand, when you're down 14 points and you might not get many opportunities to score because you're down to the third-string walk-on you take variance where you can; you should be willing to give up some expectation for it. My gut feeling was that I was unhappy with the decision to go, which means it's probably the right call.
Yardage bit. This has been noted elsewhere, but what a bizarre game. Over 1000 yards of total offense but a winning score of just 28 and 18 punts. In a game where yardage was dead even Michigan was +3 in turnover margin and barely won. This happened because they lost about 40 yards of field position on punt exchanges, missed two field goals, got away with giving up the bomb at the end of the first half, shot themselves not in the foot but the head with penalties, and intentionally gave away 50 yards on Notre Dame's final drive.
So… yeah, Michigan functionally outgained ND by 50 since they weren't trying to stop those first two passes to Floyd, which makes the second week they did that against a BCS opponent. That didn't happen until the Purdue game last year.
Defense? Caveats about the backups in the first half apply but the defense managed to hang in there. Cam Gordon is going to come in for some huge minuses in UFR, but the rest of the defense can't be blamed for 200, maybe 250 (Jones phantom TD, Rudolph TD, long pass @ end of first half, final drive) of ND's 500 yards. Given the number of drives in this game holding ND to 24 points is an accomplishment. After Crist came out of the locker room and led ND right down the field twice I thought we were doomed, but the D got a stop after first and goal and then got five straight stops after. Say what you want about rushing three but I'm pretty sure all three picks were thrown into a three-man rush when the QB could not find anyone open. I'll be adding a "players rushed" tracker to UFR to see if the thing everyone hates actually hurt M.
Field goal argh silver lining. Rodriguez may be forced to do mathematically correct things on fourth and three from the 25.
AnnArbor.com slideshow. Genuinely Sarcastic column makes a good point about Cam Gordon and a box safety spot: ideally that's where he'd be. Doctor Saturday says "at some point you begin to run out of perspective, and adjectives." HSR took video of postgame celebrations. Wolverine Historian has a three-part set of highlights up. USA-Algeria-style bar explosion video from NYC's Professor Thom's. MVictors bullets. The Daily ranks the greatest individual performances in Michigan history, slotting Denard #4 behind three guys who killed Ohio State singlehandedly.
MGoReader scores tickets at face when ND opens up wheelchair seating to the public, sits next to Brock Mealer, and gets told this story:
He told me and a couple of nearby patrons a story about Denard: last week, before the game, he asked our QB if he ever thought about cutting off his dreads in case someone tried to pull him down (a la Polamu). Denard's response?
"If they ever catch me, they can have 'em."
Amongst the great many articles using the above picture and declaring Robinson to be hotter than the surface of Mercury but deploying the same stats and quotes as all the others is Mike Rothstein's from AnnArbor.com, which quotes to Fred Jackson about all those carries:
Notre Dame (1-1) offered no choice. With the defensive fronts the Irish presented, it was Robinson’s ball to carry over and over again….
“A lot of times, his reads tell him to give the ball to the running backs,” Jackson said. “But this game, they were forcing him to run it. They were probably trying to beat him up. But he’s too quick to beat up.”
That's an… interesting decision on the part of the Notre Dame coaches there.
I missed a few of Ryan Terpstra's postgame videos. Here's Jordan Kovacs: