good luck with that
Long. Splitting into halves.
It's a trend: Michigan spring games have returned to their sleepy past, meaning little and failing to reveal Savior Quarterback Who Will Save Us. This is a good thing, since the titanic importance of spring games under Rodriguez was symptomatic of a program drunkenly staggering from one rickety support to another.
It would be nice if Michigan could put together an actual game like you see at OSU, ND, and many SEC schools. Maybe next year.
Anyway, highlights to remind you of some of the things chattered about below:
The most important thing that happened yesterday was Hoke muttering something about Jake Ryan's return timeframe:
"I'm not a doctor, but possibly middle of October. Some people react differently."
That would be excellent. The critical bit of Michigan's schedule is… well, all of November, when they play State, Nebraska, Northwestern, Iowa and OSU, ie: the top half of their division, Iowa, and The Game. The only games before November that look competitive are against Notre Dame and Penn State, and Penn State should start dropping off what with their sanctions.
Ryan may even be back for that one, which is on the 12th. Indiana and a bye week follow, so Ryan may not just be back by the important bits of the schedule but established. As far as devastating season-ending ACL injuries to your best player on defense go, I like this one more than I expected I would.
Meanwhile, Blake Countess and Fitzgerald Toussaint both warmed up like nothing untoward had happened to them. (Neither was taking contact.) Countess's injury is far enough in the past that it's reasonable to expect that. Seeing Toussaint out there was a moment of shock for me. He didn't take any contact but if he's out there running five months before the season he will certainly be available in fall, which is when those soccer players who had the same injury came back anyway.
Devin Gardner Looked Good
this picture feels goooood (Eric Upchurch)
If Denard Robinson hadn't gotten hurt, this would have in fact been a Big Deal, as Gardner would be an heir apparent with no track record except his performance in the three previous spring games: awful, awful, and awful. With five starts dwarfing all spring data in importance, it's not a big deal. It is nice. Precisely nice.
In this one he did throw his traditional pick six to a linebacker he doesn't see coming underneath a receiver (Desmond Morgan dropped this one); aside from that he was 11 of 15 for about 140 yards, picking up where he left off in the fall. That's a very large jump from last year, when Gardner's performance had everyone buzzing about how Russell Bellomy looked like a plausible backup and let's just move Gardner to wide receiver already.
Here's the part you'll see about six more times before the opener about how if you extrapolate Gardner's statistics out to a full season you get some crazy numbers: 60% completion percentage, 9.7 YPA, 29:13 TD:INT, and nearly 3200 yards passing. That would be a Michigan record for TDs and brush up against John Navarre's 2003 season for yards. It would also vie for the best YPA season in the era when offenses throw the ball more than ten times a game—Jim Harbaugh hit 9.9 in 1986*.
Those numbers are a touch flattering since they include the bail-out against Northwestern and a couple of long touchdowns generated more by the defense screwing up than Gardner doing anything amazing—thinking primarily of Roundtree against OSU here. But then again we're talking about a guy who had been playing most receiver before being thrust into the starting job against Minnesota and a statline assembled against a set of defenses that were collectively pretty good. Pass efficiency Ds for the five Gardner opponents: 23rd (Minnesota), 33rd (Northwestern), 75th (Iowa), 29th (OSU), and 34th (South Carolina). At most one of those is a flailing patsy, and even the dismal Iowa defense was a far cry from MAC snacks not named Central Michigan.
Anyway: Gardner's calm demeanor and accuracy is another chunk of evidence to put on the pile. Maybe a small one, sure.
*[Rick Leach had a whopping 11 YPA in 1979, but only threw the ball 130 times. Yes, he only threw 130 times when he had Anthony Carter as an option. Football has changed.]
Running Backs: Wait Until Fall
With Fitzgerald Toussaint now certainly on the list of running backs not participating on Saturday who will be major threats for playing time, any conclusions drawn here are likely to be about the guy getting two carries a game behind Fitz and Derrick Green or DeVeon Smith. But it is spring, when we display our most colorful obsessions in an attempt to win mates. Let us proceed.
Going by the substitution patterns it seemed like Justice Hayes was tentatively your starter. He took advantage of this situation to average 0.5 YPC on two carries. Drake Johnson picked up less than a YPC himself, leaving Thomas Rawls and Dennis Norfleet to pick up the only real gains of the day by a tailback.
Both of those backs were going up against primarily backups. Usefulness: not assured. I mean, in one of the longish Rawls runs above he breaks a tackle from Terry Richardson, who's still about a buck fifty soaking wet. In the other a walk-on SAM gets crushed inside and the corner is open for days.
It will surprise no one that I thought Norfleet looked good. In the run featured at 2:10 in the highlight video he's behind mostly walk-ons and facing mostly starters. Black beats up Blake Bars and forces Norfleet away from blocking. Norfleet slips behind that block so fast that RJS has no shot at him, then he jukes Jeremy Clark out of his jock—and this is important for any coach but especially one Brady Hoke—to go north-south. On his other quality run (sadly not included in the highlights) he did the same thing: threaten outside so he could cut north-south and finish his run.
(@ right: Upchurch)
They did include the blown up zone stretch, and on that one you can see he just doesn't have a chance as Keith Heitzman rips through a block and forces Norfleet outside into Cam Gordon. He probably should have just eaten a two yard loss instead of testing Gordon.
Here's the thing though: Michigan didn't show a snap of pistol or much of anything, really. You know Al Borges loves his throwback screens, especially when he's got a guy as mobile as Gardner threatening the other side of the field. Who do you want grabbing those? Obviously Norfleet. Okay maybe Hayes, but we haven't really seen anything from him in that regard yet. Whoever gets that role has got to be plausible enough as an inside runner and blocker to not be a flashing throwback screen signal. I think we saw a couple things from Norfleet that bode well in that regard.
It's harder to get excited about Rawls given what we saw from him last season. Norfleet has the advantage of being a new toy, at least when it comes to getting carries in the backfield.
Receivers: Are They Supposed To Be A Problem?
Jeremy Gallon is going to catch a billion passes this fall, lots of them hitches, some of them hitch and go, some of them comeback screens. It's not so much the frequency with which Gardner targeted him on Saturday that makes me say this but the ease of the connection. When Gardner's throwing at Gallon it just seems easy.
Gallon reminds me of that moment after Braylon's departure when Michigan tried to establish Breaston as a deep threat. This was a rousing success until the moment Breaston had to bring in a ball over his head. IIRC he dropped it literally every time. But by God he was open.
Gallon is like that. His change of direction is elite, and Michigan is going to go hitch hitch hitch seeya this fall. By God, Gallon will be open. The difference: Gallon can actually catch downfield. His stature always makes him a tough target—see that corner route Gardner zinged well over his head—but we've seen him make a bunch of tough catches. Hell, he's even effective on fade routes in the endzone, a development that is still mindblowing even months afterwards.
Upshot: don't care if he's small, Gallon is a legit #1. Hell, he was fourth in the league in receiving yards last year despite operating in a Denard-centered offense for most of it. Let's have more Fun With Extrapolation: Gallon's hypothetical stats if Gardner was QB all year: 81 catches, 1330 yards.
Meanwhile, the guys surrounding Gallon will be fine. Drew Dileo didn't do much in the spring game but we've established who he is: a sure-handed slot guy who will find the foot of space he needs to convert on third and six. Devin Funchess should be a much bigger factor in year two. This is a proverbial weapon:
Darboh looked good finding a 30-yard fade on the first play from scrimmage; Jeremy Jackson made some plays. They'll have 4-5 solid options to go with a great #1. As points for concern go, this one doesn't register with me.
As for the second-year guys, Darboh seems a bit ahead of Chesson; both will play. You can see why Chesson redshirted last year when you get him next to Darboh, as Bryan Fuller did:
Still a bit of a Caris LeVert vibe from Chesson. They might have to protect him against jams by having him off the line, that sort of thing. Darboh looks like that won't be a problem.
I can't tell you I noticed a lot of details live, but one thing did jump out: Graham Glasgow seems to be making a serious push for playing time. He got plenty of snaps with the ones at both guard spots and center. He was the nominal starter at left guard over Ben Braden; at the very least it seems like he'll be the first interior lineman off the bench in the event a starter is hurt. He's their utility infielder.
The rest of the line seems set, with Kyle Kalis taking a large majority of the first team RG snaps and Jack Miller the same number at center. It is vaguely possible the arrival of Patrick Kugler or emergence of someone down the depth chart upsets the order of things, but I think that's your interior line: Glasgow OR Braden, Miller, Kalis. Joey Burzynski seems to have dropped back from the group with serious playing time prospects. Chris Bryant was well down the depth chart but did get on the field some. He could emerge if the injury is still holding him back.
Performance was a mixed bag. Michigan seems to want to pull Kalis to Lewan on a lot of plays. Good in theory; not entirely executed in practice. For example, at 1:10 in the highlights above you get a replay of last year's MLB misidentification: Michigan wants to run power behind Lewan with Kalis pulling; Michigan blitzes the A-gaps; Miller doesn't read this and sets up to block nobody; an unblocked Ross meets Johnson in the backfield, with Morgan unblocked right behind. Braden got smoked by Black for a sack a bit later.
Michigan yanked Lewan relatively early. Michigan put Erik Magnuson out there, and he did just okay. Pass rush was a lot easier to get with Lewan out of there (surprise!). Given the push Braden is making at guard I bet that any Lewan injury—knock on wood—sees Schofield flip to LT with Braden moving to RT and Glasgow drawing in at guard, if he's not already on the field. Michigan prefers a best-five-guys approach over any specific positional backup.
Defense in a bit.
You can decommit from Purdue all you want, Russell Bellomy, but Perry the ACLephant will find you and destroy your ligaments.
Michigan redshirt sophomore quarterback Russell Bellomy has suffered an ACL tear in spring practice, TheWolverine.com has learned and U-M has confirmed.
Bellomy is currently the only scholarship quarterback on the roster other than Devin Gardner. Shane Morris arrives in fall, and just about can't redshirt unless Michigan is going to throw a walk-on out there in the event of a Gardner ding.
Michigan's depth chart is really feeling the absence of a quarterback in last year's class. One per year, every year, is what Michigan wants to do from now on; let's hope they do so.
WEEKS OF BREATHING IN A PAPER BAG HAVE PASSED BEFORE OUR PROTAGONIST FINALLY RAISES HIS BLOODSHOT EYES FROM THE TABLE WHERE HIS FOREHEAD HAS POUNDED A DISTURBINGLY DEEP GROOVE OVER THESE LAST, TERRIBLE HOURS. A RAGGED BREATH, and then…
CAM GORDON INNNER MONOLOGUE: YALL READY FOR THIS
IT COULD BE WORSE. Hello Cam Gordon, you senior you. You guy who has been playing SAM or its rough equivalent since Rich Rodriguez executed the last of his ill-fated in-season defensive rearrangements. You four-star athlete kind of without a position previously, now a strapping 233 pounds who saw plenty of time last year. You fellow who was getting a level of spring praise that might mean something even before this incident:
"Jake [Ryan] and Cam [Gordon] -- Cam’s had a tremendous winter. It will be exciting and fun to see the different things that we might be able to do with both of them on the field. Jake is one of those guys with his hand on the ground can rush the passer sometimes. It gives us some things that we can do.”
Can Jake and Cam be on the field at the same time?
You're going to be okay, you Cam Gordon senior you.
IT COULD NOT BE WORSE. aaaaaah not Jake Ryan, destroyer of all things.
What with the 16.5 TFLs and the 4.5 sacks and four forced fumbles and being the leading tackler in both solo and assist terms and also playing pass-rush DE quite a bit on a team that badly needs pass rush.
Damn you, cruel fate!
I GUESS I HAVE TO TALK ABOUT SOMEONE MOVING TO SAM NOW. Less than ideal, this, but there was always a hole behind Gordon and Ryan in the SAM pecking order that got worse when it turned out that none of the four guys from last year's freshman class seemed big enough to hack that spot. Brennen Beyer started there, was moved to WDE last year to platoon with Ojemudia and Clark, and added a couple pounds only as Clark hulked up to 277. Gordon now has no backup save true freshman Mike McCray, and WDE has three or four plausible bodies in the aforementioned three and early-enrolling, 265-pound Taco Charlton.
Beyer or Ojemudia, likely Beyer, is headed to the other side of the line.
WHAT ABOUT NICKEL PASS RUSH. Well… Hopefully Clark can make a leap. Even in that case, Michigan lifted the NT and moved the SAM down to that spot. Gordon has experience doing that; he has not produced. Ojemudia may step into that role, or Charlton. Freshman edge terror in the nickel package is a spot at which freshman errors are not that lethal if said freshman is also turning in the proverbial Plays.
COULD THE DUDE RETURN? It was about this time last year that Branden Dawson tore his ACL and he returned in time for Michigan State's basketball season. Will Heininger tore his ACL on March 30th and dressed for six games the following season, but did not play until November 20th, the week before OSU. That season started in November; that sport does not feature guys trying to cut-block you except when you play Wisconsin. ACLs are no longer yearlong injuries… but this one is cutting it too close to count on the guy at all.
If you can get him back, you might as well play him. IIRC his redshirt was not injury related. You may as well put him on the field since it'll take another catastrophic injury for him to get a sixth year.
BALLS. balls balls balls
Jake Ryan is out indefinitely with a torn ACL suffered in Tuesday's practice.
[NOTE: in transit to DC today for Q&A thing Thursday, so light day from me.]
We need some elephants with adamantium blades coming from their hands. This exists:
The enemy of my enemy is my friend, and I need some lambchop-possessing awful cartoon unholy wolverine-elephant combinations stat.
On your TV! Black and Blue, the Willis Ward documentary, will be on your television if you're in Detroit. Channel 7, 1 PM, Saturday. Yes, this is unfortunately timed with the Arkansas basketball game overlapping. Set your DVRs.
Where many coaches just show up from the MAC. The Big Ten has pants and pants of money. Leg-sleeves stuffed with cash. And…
Purdue Football Coaching Search: Butch Jones Leaning Towards Colorado
…that about says it all. I know that Purdue is maybe not the best example but the current Big Ten coaches are:
MAC OR MAC-ISH HEAD COACHES: Beckman, Kill, Hoke
NOT EVEN MAC: Hope (fired)
BIG EAST HEAD COACHES: Dantonio
COORDINATORS: Wilson, Bielema, O'Brien, Pelini
POSITION COACH: Fitzgerald (thrust into the job early by tragedy), Ferentz
URBAN MEYER: Urban Meyer
People, stop hiring MAC coaches who get hot for a couple seasons. Anyone can get good in the MAC (except Eastern why do you have football Eastern), and the MACtion nature of the league means that whoever is good is good because of chaos. Hoke at least had a couple years of turnaround at SDSU to his credit.
Also, there is one coach in the league who came in with BCS-level bonafides, Meyer, and he had extenuating circumstances that removed him from his previous job. This year is not a great example because I can't think of anyone who leaps off the page as an excellent coach Purdue should try to poach, but in the past five to ten years no midlevel Big Ten school has even approached a decent hire. I mean, yeah what about Sonny Dykes:
Sonny Dykes- Where art thou?
Sonny Dykes, my number one choice, seems to be staying pretty quiet during this whole process. I haven’t heard his name mentioned for Tennessee or Arksans or even NC State despite early murmurs those were his preferences. His team turned down a bowl game because they were hoping for a better offer. If that’s any indication of how Dykes negotiates someone may get a bargain of a coach. Cal seems to be the front runner for him at this point but with the coaching carousel you never know. I’d still like to see Burke take a shot at him and use the extra money for a hot shot defensive coordinator.
Is Cal going to outspend a Big Ten team for Dykes? Adding Rutgers and Maryland will change that. Sure.
Next up for Purdue: maybe Darrell Hazell because Hazell has one year in which his team came out on top of MACtion and two as a head coach. Conference, I roll my eyes at you.
Burnin' the shirt, burnin' the shirt. Well so much for Caris Levert the redshirting guy. Michigan put him out there against Bradley and will continue playing him. This means bad news for Matt Vogrich, who went from a starting, if minor, role to a few minutes late:
"(The plan is to play him) six to eight or six to 10 (minutes per game)," Beilein said Monday. "I don't know if that's always going to happen, it depends on what's going on late in the game.
"That was our intention, that's why we made the move to put him in the top eight -- we're still going to stay with a top eight or nine (guys in a rotation), and he's in there."
With Albrecht and McGary definitely part of that rotation, Levert's addition just about kicks Vogrich out of meaningful PT.
How do we feel about this? Vogrich was off to a poor start this season, but he has been able to provide sporadic gritty grit off the bench in past years and knows how to work a back-door cut. I'm less incensed about burning redshirts in basketball, where the really good players don't stick around four years, let alone five, and anyone on the floor is contributing in a way Sione Houma wasn't when he covered kickoffs that were going into the endzone anyway.
If Levert is worth a couple points a game, I'd say go for it. We haven't seen much to indicate that he is yet, but the buzz has been consistent. If they can really use him as a "defensive stopper," I'll be surprised but that's what Beilein says and Beilein draws a lot of water in this town.
Everyone was injured and now it can be told. Taylor Lewan's shoulder you didn't know was hurt is fine now, which hurrah because Clowney. Gardner's ankle you didn't know was hurt will be fine by the time bowl practice starts. Denard's elbow you knew was injured is still coming along:
Robinson was asked Monday if he's been throwing at all.
"I'm not throwing how I want to throw," he said. "I'll get there eventually."
He didn't indicate what has kept him from throwing the way he'd like.
"I don't know right now," he said. "Got to keep going, keep trying and keep getting treatment."
Nate Brink is not returning and this is apparently still news despite the fact that he walked on senior day. Stood, really, but you know what I mean.
The discussion: Which team is the nation's most talented?
Ford: …the team that may have the most talent in the country, in my book, is Michigan. The Wolverines currently have five players ranked in our Top 100. Kentucky is the only other team to have as many Top 100 players.
Right now, point guard Trey Burke is the only Michigan player ranked in our top 30, but Glenn Robinson III and Tim Hardaway Jr. both have the ability to crack the first round of the NBA draft. Freshmen Mitch McGary and Nik Stauskas are further down the list, but both have a real shot at getting drafted down the road.
That's in part why I believe Michigan is a Final Four team and may give Indiana a run for the No. 1 spot by the end of the season.
/spins in chair whistling strangely
Adopt-a-Bundesliga. I mentioned this on the podcast a few weeks ago and I am still kicking the idea around: I kind of want to adopt a Bundesliga team, because the Bundesliga is a place where people think like this:
Among Germany's well-organised supporter groups is Kein Zwanni (Not Twenty), a campaign to keep tickets cheap. Its spokesman, Dortmund fan Marc Quambusch, said: "You have to keep tickets affordable so poorer and young people can have the experience of being football supporters. German football has a special relationship with supporters because we are the owners of the clubs; people do feel that very emotional sense of belonging and the clubs do listen to the fans. I feel we need to really value what we have."
Watzke is a confirmed adherent to the Bundesliga rule that its clubs, with the historic exceptions of Bayer Leverkusen, Wolfsburg and more recently Hoffenheim, must be controlled "50% plus one" by their members. The other 33 of the 36 clubs, including Bayern Munich, which is 82% owned by its member-supporters, cannot be bought by a single person from outside, like the Premier League clubs, but instead are democratically answerable to their members.
An indication of an "emotional sense of belonging" is what the Big Ten's leadership got from fans once they announced they'd be adding Maryland and Rutgers, and is what they are busy throwing away right now in pursuit of ever-greater dollars without bothering to ask first. Ask anyone. They just did it.
That article is on Dortmund*. Dortmund fell in to debt and is coming off consecutive league championships by digging out and buying young players and building something. The entire league is organized like the Packers with exceptions grandfathered in; meanwhile the Packers setup is banned by the NFL with Green Bay grandfathered in. One gives you Dan Snyder. The other does not.
*[Dortmund pros: successful, opportunity to root against Jermaine Jones. Yellow overlaps with Michigan somewhat. Cons: somewhat of a carpetbagging thing to root for defending league champion, their yellow seems a little off. ]
The average household already spends about $90 a month for cable or satellite TV, and nearly half of that amount pays for the sports channels packaged into most services. [Emphasis added.] Massive deals for marquee sports franchises like the Dodgers and Lakers are driving those costs even higher. Over the next three years, monthly cable and satellite bills are expected to rise an average of nearly 40%, to $125, according to the market research company NPD Group.
So far, people seem willing to pay. But the escalating costs are triggering worries that, at some point, consumers will begin ditching their cable and satellite subscriptions.
“We’ve got runaway sports rights, runaway sports salaries and what is essentially a high tax on a lot of households that don’t have a lot of interest in sports,” said John Malone, the cable industry pioneer and chairman of Liberty Media. “The consumer is really getting squeezed, as is the cable operator.”
That is an unsustainable model that will erode. The Big Ten has hitched its entire wagon to that instead of things without an immediate return like, oh I don't know, an emotional sense of belonging. They are following the lead of newspapers, most of whom have abandoned any long-term strategy for slowly milking what profits can be made—except newspapers did not have a choice.
At this point I just don't care about the Big Ten expanding. I had my rage, and now I don't care what happens. That's where I am, and that's dangerous for the pointy-haired bosses. I'll watch, I'm committed to that, but there's a continuum here.
Here is a libertarian-flavored argument from Mother Jones's Kevin Drum about this whole business that GTP linked and I agree with, no polo.
No link just a thing I am thinking. The best example of the milking behavior is the Big Ten ruining things by making more of them. The two examples I'm thinking of:
- Splitting Michigan and Ohio State in the hopes of getting a rematch the next week.
- Cramming four Big Ten bowls onto New Year's Day, cheapening the accomplishment.
Instead of NYD being a litmus test for a good season it is now highly likely 8 and 7 win teams get there annually, and then who cares.
Yes, I am thinking about living under a highway overpass. Let's think about something happier.
Also other key plays. I love how on the last one you can hear the entire arena moan disgustedly before Stauskas even gets the ball. They know it's going in.
Etc.: Nebrasketball beats USC to give the Big Ten a little bit of a schedule bump. I watched the first 15 minutes or so and came away amazed at how bad the Trojans were. They have a guy with above-average usage (Jio Fontan) shooting 24% from 2!
Hagerup profiled. Baumgardner on the Bradley game, which I was fine with them playing. I'd rather have Michigan go to MVC schools for RPI and competitive purposes than beat up on the SWAC. Beard on the freshmen. MGoUser club_med looks at overtime games and eventually concludes that how you get to overtime—by blowing a lead or coming back—does not affect your chance of winning.
Late fades after being up big are the best problem to have but I would prefer it if they were fixed.
11/17/2012 – Michigan 42, Iowa 17 – 8-3, 6-1 Big Ten
M. Ward – Helicopter
A couple years ago Carl Hagelin lasered a wrist shot off the post and in directly in front of my seats at Yost. It was senior day; there was a second left in overtime. I saw the puck rise all the way and knew its path was true. In the aftermath I wrote about a kind of envy I have for old-timers who have only their burned-in memories of these titanic events:
…while I've been craving video boards at Yost for years there's something beautiful about not having the thing you just experienced altered by someone else's perspective. Since the Werner goal isn't on youtube no one can tell me he wasn't wielding a scimitar, wearing an eyepatch, and screaming "hhhhhyarrrrr" as he swashbuckled towards the net. I'm pretty sure the unicorn he was riding was named Steve.
Those days are over but thanks to Carl Hagelin Yost got one last opportunity to walk out of the building buzzing about the thing that just happened in your head, and only your head.
I feel aftershocks of this when I'm on the radio with Craig Ross and the topics get twisted around to 1970s basketball refereeing and Craig gets a little frothy and a guy calls in to froth a bit with him. I love this. You don't even know. I have no idea how much of it is accurate but I've double-checked my brain with Youtube enough by now to know that the things we have in our head are a lot further from the untrammeled gospel than it seems.
When you have this presented to you directly, it's unsettling. You think you remember everything about these blazing moments in your sports fandom and it turns out not to be so, and you wonder about all the other things you may not have right. Before anyone could check their brains, the tower in your head could go unchallenged.
A part of me wishes that Denard turning Tanner Miller into a chasing ghost was gone, extant only in all of us who saw it, slightly different but equally validating and valedictory and satisfying in all of our heads. I mean obviously not, this would be terrible, I can recite Keith Jackson's call of Charles Woodson's OSU punt return (Woodson's got one block… he's got another block… one more and he's gone!) from memory and hear the three separate roars from the crowd without even cuing it up. Obviously not. Despite the memorization I just watched Charles Woodson return that punt eight times. This site is dedicated to archiving the events and the feelings behind the events. Obviously not.
But… maybe a little. If that was just there and gone, well, seeing that would be something. Like watching Tom Harmon. Like experiencing the rage of playing Indiana in a dusky, mustachioed 70s basketball arena where television was just a rumor and your brain the only repository of a precious thing—the life you lived.
Midweek, Michigan fans were facing down the prospect of ceremonial snaps. Walter Smith was exhumed to reassure us that life goes on even after you lose what should be the culmination of your career to a busted limb:
"It still haunts me today to not play your senior year," said Smith… "To work that hard at something and have that happen is devastating. It could have led me the wrong way."
It was not particularly reassuring. At some point I thought I realized I'd seen the last of it, and I started thinking one of the things stuck in my head that calls itself forth at times: "And I sat down on the grass, on the burnt grass, on the black, burnt, dirt and grass, and I can admit this now: I wept. I cried big, old, giant tears."
Because memory is unreliable I had to plug it into Google and got two hits and realized that this was the Robert Earl Keen story I'd warped into a column about Michigan hockey losing the national title game two years ago after staying up all night editing my now-wife, then-fiancée's dissertation. I did this just now, and read it, and yeah. This is what I felt when I thought about the black burnt dirt and grass:
At some point Michigan is actually going to win another goddamned national championship and some of this will be redeemed. Not all of it, though. Shawn Hunwick is never going to do that again, and nothing's ever going to match the Swedish flag and my complete failure to get people to replace all words in the goal cheer with "bork" when Hagelin scores. Things come and go; this one has gone and I'm stunned at how much I miss it already.
Except the stunned part, because obviously not stunned more like openly dreading forever.
Denard got a ceremonial snap, and ran for three yards, and then got another, and ran for four yards. Collectively they are the Michigan fanbase's favorite first-quarter plays to set up third and three ever. It became clear that we had been granted a reprieve from the future.
The sun was out, shining on Michigan's present and future as each senior took a bow. Vincent Smith hacked down men much larger than him and scored on a throwback screen. Jordan Kovacs took a quarterback escaping into space and turned it into a tackle for loss. Roy Roundtree was Worst Waldo open for a touchdown.
And on another option play, Denard eschewed a pitch that was there, accelerating outside of Thomas Rawls to the corner, where he faced down an Iowa safety. One juke later, he was tearing down the sideline. A hundred ten thousand took it and put it in their memory. I was there. I saw it. I can tell you about it, but it's something you have to experience for yourself.
As the day descended into a blissful victory lap, Denard audaciously reversed field for another big gain en route to exceeding 100 total yards on 15 touches. On each play, you could feel the stadium burst with anticipation. Please give me one last thing to have here. He did, twice, and the cloud that dogged Walter Smith evaporated.
After, I walked down to the tunnel and watched him go, young and old alike reaching down for one last moment.
Maize and Blue Nation
I was there. I saw it. Let me tell you about it.
Eric's gallery is on the front page a few posts back.
Photos from MVictors pregame:
JT Floyd's daughter
Brock Mealer looking pretty dang ambulatory
Maize and Blue Nation's gallery includes a great shot of the captains walking off the field after the game:
And Robinson looking on at Gardner being interviewed:
Brady Hoke Epic Double Point Of The Week. You can no longer be denied, Devin Gardner: 18/23, 314 yards, six total TDs. I be like dang. More about Iowa being the worst thing ever a bit later; setting that aside, it's remarkable that Gardner throws an out and you're just like "this is extremely likely to be on target and moving fast when the WR catches it." His accuracy and comfort with the offense grows weekly, and when he needs to have his legs bail him out those are still around.
Honorable Mention. Jeremy Gallon (133 yards receiving without getting a gift long TD, let's not think about the punt), Roy Roundtree (gift long TD but hey 83 more yards), Denard Robinson (8.1 yards a touch), GERG Davis (your QB completed 19 of 26 passes for 7 YPA), Jordan Kovacs (I just like Jordan Kovacs), Will Hagerup (did not wander off to Ypsilanti at halftime, wondering if he should transfer to a school at which he would see the field).
Epic Double Point Standings.
3: Jake Ryan (ND, Purdue, Illinois)
2: Denard Robinson (Air Force, UMass)
1.3: Jeremy Gallon(Alabama, 1/3 Minnesota), Drew Dileo (Michigan State, 1/3 Minnesota), Roy Roundtree (1/3 Minnesota, Northwestern)
1: Craig Roh(Nebraska), Devin Gardner(Iowa)
Brady Hoke Epic Double Fist-Pump Of The Week. It must be Denard Robinson juking Tanner Miller to the ground. Yes. All of the that.
And then he felt he was being unfair so he ran out of bounds.
Honorable mention: Denard reverses field on dinky flare pass, Gardner to Gallon for a juggling 50 yard catch, Roundtree goes Worst Waldo on third and seventeen, Vincent Smith throwback screen for old times.
Epic Double Fist-Pumps Past.
11/10/2012: Mattison baits Fitz, Kenny Demens decleats Northwestern, game over.
11/17/2012: Denard WOOPS Tanner Miller in Big House finale.
Iowa caveats apply. Large Iowa caveats apply. Several plays were comically wide open as Iowa's secondary was ruthlessly exposed for the clown college it is. Only the incompetence of Big Ten passing attacks obscured it previously. Meanwhile, Devin Gardner is now eligible for social security after one particular goal-line passing play.
Late in the game, Iowa quit. Caveats apply. Large ones.
Let's ignore all caveats! Holy pants. The combination of the Devin Gardner-oriented slick passing game with spicy deep bombs combined with Denard Robinson carrying the ball to annihilate Iowa's defense utterly. Michigan scored touchdowns on their first six drives and were going in for another when Micah Hyde made a pretty badass interception on what would otherwise have been first and goal for Michigan.
Gardner's accuracy is getting creepy—a couple of underthrown deep balls were short only because their targets were so vastly wide open that the only way to not score a touchdown was to miss them, and the corner routes he's throwing are consistently on the money. This was the third straight game he hit Gallon in the numbers on a deep bomb—on this one Gallon had a guy draped all over him and still brought it in.
More than that it seems like Gardner just has a certain je ne sais quoi about him. The scrambles are a big part of this. There's more to it, though. In this game just having the patience to sit and wait a million years on that play where he could was an asset, and then he had that brilliant improvisation fling at Roundtree…
…that caused Dave Pasch to manically exclaim he was "JUST TOYING WITH THE DEFENSE!!!" He was.
As we go along here I'm moving away from thinking things like the yakety sex touchdown against Minnesota are not sustainable items you can count on to keep your offense going game in, game out. Gardner has kept a ton of drives alive with his scrambles and his ability to adjust on the fly—neither of which are Denard assets.
Horrible defenses all, yes. Inability to run for two yards without a quarterback involved, yes. Still.
Inability to run for two yards without a quarterback involved. …looked like it might be going away as Toussaint popped a couple nice gains—one of them on a real live successful option pitch from Denard—but then Toussaint sustained extreme damage and it was back to the salt mines. Rawls, Hayes, and Smith combined to acquire 35 yards on 13 carries, 2.7 per. Yeah, a number of those were short yardage. Still, a long of eight yards was acquired, and that was when the entire Iowa defense freaked out about Denard only to get the counter pitch in their face. Runs on which offensive line blocking was relevant topped out at six yards.
This is just something that must be accepted. Michigan is not going to get much of anything up the middle against Ohio State, and must be able to throw effectively. It'll be interesting to see if Ohio State tries to match John Simon up against Michael Schofield or lets the Lewan/Simon throwdown go down. Either way, Whoever Versus John Simon is the single most important positional matchup in the game.
Rawls hype level descending. Not very far from a low baseline since the Purdue blip up was only a couple carries, but descending. To me he seems very Kevin Grady so far and it's hard to see him getting anything against that DL and OSU's speed to the outside. I don't know what they can do about it, though. Smith is the same thing, more likely to make a man miss and far less likely to grind out YAC.
Hayes and Norfleet clearly don't have the coaches' trust, which is unfortunate because the role Michigan needs to fill when they go to that Fritz package is the darting outside guy who can tightrope the sidelines no problem when he gets that counter pitch or juke a defensive back when he gets the option. I have the feeling that sometime next year one or the other will get an extended run, do well, and leave us all wondering why they couldn't get on the field in 2012 (probably because they can't block).
Meanwhile, while I'm not writing off Rawls the trendline there is not heading towards anything more than a short-yardage guy. A short yardage guy that bounces it way too much.
Nefarious Ohio State plans. Michigan has not called more than a couple runs for Devin Gardner yet aside from short-yardage run/pass rollouts that have turned into half-scramble/half-intentional-run touchdowns. The reason has been obvious: if Gardner goes down Michigan is rolling with a one-armed Denard and Russell Bellomy. This has been a logical thing to do.
I think they have to break the seal on that in the Game.
I'm not suggesting Gardner takes off 20 times or anything, but some dose of Gardner/Denard inverted veer action seems like a big opportunity to hit something big. The problem with working Denard into the gameplan as a not-quarterback is that he basically can't block for reasons of inexperience and elbow, so how do you work around that limitation? To date, Michigan has given him the ball and used him as a decoy.
They'll continue doing that, but it's time for the Denard/Devin Mesh Point. By making Denard the tailback and running the veer, they either get Denard on the edge without contain or option someone off, thus blocking someone with Denard without actually blocking someone with Denard. Add in the potential for play action off that look and you've got my #1 must have thing for OSU.
Toussaint damage. I am probably not informing you of anything you do not know when I say he has broken bones in his legs and is done for the year. A reader pointed out this study done on 31 soccer athletes that saw the subjects with twin fractures return to competition an average of 40 weeks after their injury, which would be just before next season.
If he can't get back in time for 2013, he should be able to apply for a sixth year. His first redshirt was due to a shoulder injury.
Citizens for Dileo. If a ball is thrown at Drew Dileo and hits the ground, it is pass interference and should be an automatic flag. Now please let the man return punts.
Could have gone better. Iowa's touchdown drive was pretty alarming. And even if Vandenberg was making all the three yard passes, it's a little disappointing when the opposing QB goes 19 of 26. Some of that was inexperience, some of it scheme—on a late third and four Michigan moved Gordon down late and used him as a man defender on a TE out successfully; previously they were using linebackers making tougher run/pass reads.
HOWEVA, I don't think I'm as down as Hoke was after the game. Guy seemed downright dispirited by a team that barely scraped over the 300 yard mark thanks to a jerky onside kick and 22 meaningless yards before halftime. Iowa went three-and-out on four of their first six drives. If the ref doesn't throw a terrible roughing the passer flag on Jordan Kovacs, they would have been facing fourth and eleven at the 32 on their field goal drive. By the time they put together the 81-yard-drive that rescued their yardage from the abyss it was 42-10 and Kovacs and others were cooling their heels on the sideline. Iowa is bad and having them do anything is bad; I'm not really sure they did much of anything other than throw it at their tight end.
Weisman coming back was a big help for them. The difference in quality between that guy and Garmon was obvious, and he still only managed 3.9 YPC.
The game in a nutshell. Michigan third down conversions: 9/12 with two of those failures subsequently converted on fourth down by Devin Gardner. Iowa: 6 of 14 and 1 of 3 on subsequent fourth downs.
worst roughing the passer ever (Upchurch)
Godspeed, Kovacs. I may get all blubbery about Denard but if Devin's going to do the things he seems like he is doing, Kovacs might actually be the guy I miss more next year in on-field terms. Do you people remember that Michigan used to give up huge long touchdowns all the time? Like, weekly.
Kovacs's utter reliability has turned Michigan into a defense that essentially never gives up anything without a chance to redzone you to death. He is literally the best safety I have experienced as a Michigan player, walk-on be damned, status be damned. All hail Kovacs.
Iowa tight end cloaking device. I like it much better when Greg Davis is operating it because the end results are decidedly non-Moeaki. Mattison likely has something to do with it.
Weekly Devin Gardner lookalike photo. Not necessarily a thing, but after Hipster Devin last week it's a thing this week because…
…because it's a thing.
Brady Hoke FTW. Moments that make you think "boy I'm glad that guy isn't Michigan's coach" are flying fast and furious these days, what with Minnesota's leading receiver bombing Jerry Kill in a 4000-word tumblr post by way of announcing a transfer and Bret Bielema punting from the Ohio State 30 and Mark Dantonio punting on fourth and medium down three with three minutes left—a decision that slashed his team's chances by a third.
It is impossible to conceive of the first thing happening under Brady Hoke. Jerry Kill seems like a decent guy and doesn't have the opportunity to tell his side of the story, but it's hard to picture anyone on Michigan's team even having a side of the story. I mean, Hagerup interaction post-OSU-atrocity. QED.
And while I wouldn't put it past Hoke to freeze up in the heat of the moment (everyone does sometimes) his game theory decisions are near-perfect in two years at Michigan. Saturday, Michigan faced fourth and goal at the one, sent the kicking team out… and called timeout because Hoke was like "wait I am Brady Hoke." While the ensuing touchdown turned out to be unnecessary, it was the right move and it paid off.
Usual statement of preferred policy: all freshmen get to buy tickets; after that you have to show up by kickoff at half of the games to renew.
Iowa: home of the hyphen. Iowa's moved from Inexplicably Great White Wide Receiver—who now makes his home in Minneapolis when he's not bombing Jerry Kill and leaving—to Somewhat Good Hyphenated Name Guy. They're multiplying now: Iowa iced Kevonte Martin-Manley, Henry Krieger-Coble, and Louis Trinca-Pasat this weekend.
Ace instant recap:
In a way, it was fitting.
Denard Robinson's Michigan Stadium career did not begin according to script. It started with a fumbled snap, then became something magnificent.
It ended with him unable to throw a football, but still very able to take the Big House's collective breath away.
Steve Bigach had 3 tackles. I bring this up because his name is a perfect metaphor for the BIGGG TENNNNN this year. BIG ACK! (Hey, bonus points for me for working in a cat photo.)
Best: Those Who Came and Stayed Will Always Be Champions
I know that everyone has talked up last year’s seniors as epitomizing Bo’s “Stay and Be Champions” motto, but I’ve always felt this Senior class has been given a short shrift considering the environment that existed when they decided to come to UM. The 2011 class came to UM with a fair bit of uncertainty, what with a coaching change and a shift in offensive and defensive systems, but they all arrived on campus in a world where UM hadn’t missed a bowl game since Nixon was in office and had only one .500 record over that span. Like everyone, they figured UM would, at worst, suffer through a “down” season of 8 wins before challenging for more titles.
But we all know how that played out. And not only did the team struggle on the field, but off it players questioned Rich Rodriguez’s leadership and allegations of improprieties bubbled up before the season. Their reality was a program coming off the worst season in their history, with an embattled coach and a media ready to burn him at the stake. Few offensive and defensive stars could be found on the roster, highlighted by the fact that UM had two players taken in the 2009 draft and 3 in 2010, with one of them being a punting Space Emperor.
[AFTER THE JUMP: all of the links all of the links]