to play football, not to play trumpet
About a month ago the series of posts about the last decade of Michigan football struck upon the worst 11 plays the program suffered through since everyone started wearing those sunglasses with zeroes in them on New Year's Eve. The commenters were united in their opinion of these posts:
I was with them. But it seemed not only wrong but impossible to evaluate the last decade of Michigan football without enumerating the many offenses we have suffered. The story of the aughts was Roman decline. Skipping straight to Mario Manningham with one second on the clock would have been fiddling in the ruins.
It's about seven AM on the first game week of the 2010 season. Since I am a blogger and was an engineer before that, the last time I was up this early I was 19, in the second and last of the nepotistic internships I spent the first couple summers in college fiddling away at. My mom did the driving, so she set the schedule, and I spent a couple summers groggily pawing for an alarm clock with an "6" in the hour column and sulkily resenting how useless caffeine was for me. Mornings make me stabby.
But I'm up and the feed reader's here. This is what it provides around 7 AM on August 30th, 2010:
- Yost from the M-Zone unearths himself after two years of retirement to photoshop Jim Delany, David Brandon, Gene Smith, and Gordon Gee onto the horsemen of the apocalypse.
- UM Tailgate commemorates ten(!) years on the internet by reminiscing about old times when there were bowl streaks existed and no one wondered if the coach would get fired.
- Maize and Go Blue emerges from long hibernation itself to survey the state of the program, addressing the "constant ridicule" he is "bombarded with."
- In the aftermath of last night's Mad Men, GIF PARTY deploys this, in which we are Ken Cosgrove and Pete Campbell is the universe:
- The AP has another story on the one thing that seems to generate good press about the program: a Christmas Eve car crash in 2007 that killed people near and dear to Elliott Mealer, tore his rotator cuff, and paralyzed his brother.
It's been a ragged, weary summer, one that followed a frustrating collapse and a false but panicky NCAA apocalypse and the crater of '08 and I feel like I've been talking about how tired and frustrated and burned out I am for years now—the first sentence of last year's Story was "I'm tired"—which only makes the conversing about how it's tough out there for a Michigan fan more tedious and wearying and makes you want to go idle your time away on anything other than, say, the Ohio State UFR, missing for the second consecutive year. What felt like diagnosis and honesty last year now just feels like whining.
A brief survey of themes from last year's game columns:
I've got no real analysis of either team other than they're both worse than I thought. I'm burning out after two years of almost unrelenting misery, and looking forward to football season being over for the third straight year. I mean, when Michigan was down to Purdue in the second half, some fan ten or twenty rows behind me kept shouting "they've got no heart" over and over again as the guy in the row in front of me called for Rodriguez's firing. Having a conversation about Michigan football right now is trying to remember that episode of GI Joe where Destro finds a secret ninja manual in a volcano*** that allows him to kill people with precisely-applied touches: if you can just remember where the red dots are you can spare everyone a lot of pain.
EMO WHINING WITH MORRISSEY TITLE
A serious thematic analysis of the Wisconsin game is pointless. Michigan's defense is exactly as horrifying as it's been all year. Everyone wants to fight each other in the liveblog. When the MGoPosse assembled to record this week's podcast, Paul said "at least we didn't muff a punt" and I responded "they didn't punt." (It turns out they did punt once in the first half, and Junior Hemingway misjudged a short one, almost fumbling it.)
EMO WHINING CONSISTING ENTIRELY OF MORRISSEY LYRICS
Is a time
Which I must
Put out of my mind
Oh, one fine day
Let it be soon
She won't be rich or beautiful
But she'll be walking your streets
In the clothes that she went out
And chose for herself
THE GENESIS OF THE OVERUSE OF "DONG" ON THE MESSAGE BOARD WITH MORRISSEY REFERENCE… AND WHINING!
To paint with broad strokes, I probably don't have much in common with 6'3", 290 pound black guys from Miami who think it's a good idea to play for Ron Zook. Our worlds are unlikely to intersect at a Lil Wayne show or the Ann Arbor Film Festival. Cory Liuget has probably never thought to himself "that reminds me of a Morrissey song." Of late, I think that all the time.
But at around 6:30 on October 31st, 2009, we both felt like we had been punched in the dong. In Liuget's case, this is because he had been punched in the dong:
In my case, and probably in yours, you had not actually been punched in the dong unless you had decided at some point that going outside with your buddies and punching each other in the dongs was preferable to watching the metaphorical dong-punching that started when Roy Roundtree's knee hit the ground at the one yard line and has not, to my knowledge, stopped. If you managed to miss this play and its aftermath because you were outside getting punched in the dong, congratulations: this is the one and only time when your decision-making skills will ever be regarded above average. Punch yourself in the dong in celebration.
It is evidently my opinion that Morrissey sums up Michigan football of late better than anything else, and, well, yeah. Fey, petulant, wildly schizophrenic, once part of something great and now stuck in a self-loathing rut, extremely likely to fumble anything it's carrying if hit by a 250-pound linebacker, Michigan is Southpaw Grammar/Malajusted-era Morrissey to atomic precision.
But then there are the Mealers, who don't so much put the above rending of fishnet shirts in perspective as obliterate the petty concerns of everyone who pays into the fandom industry just so their boring lives can sometimes feel titanic. Elliott's mother from that AP article above:
"I questioned why I missed my opportunity to go to heaven," Shelly Mealer said Sunday night in a telephone interview as her voice cracked with emotion. "Still, I have my moments wondering if I can do this. But I know I'm here to take care of the boys because my husband always was the one who led us in his positive and optimistic way."
Elliott Mealer still feels a sense of regret and guilt for offering his girlfriend the outside seat in the back the car because she was feeling ill.
"It could've been prevented, I guess, and it could've been me," he said softly. "It's kind of a difficult thing to think about."
Elliott's brother Brock was told he'd never walk again and the "best he could hope for" was for the pain to go away in time.
Right now it's easy to be the world's most cynical man ("I don't always drink beer, but when I do I make sure to remind everyone it's made from rice and by Belgians"). This site's already thrown up Henri the Otter of Ennui and packed it in with the site slogan, until recently "nevermind, PANIC aaaaeeieieie," and every hot seat list has Rich Rodriguez foremost on the chopping block. The secondary preview begins with "what's the point of anything?" Penn State fans with short memories are making each other's dangly bits tingle by speculating about whether Michigan will ever come back. I just told that New York audience that I don't think Rodriguez is going to make it.
Brock Mealer's going to walk, though. On Saturday he's going to get up and walk under the MGoBlue banner in an act of defiance aimed at no one in particular. From the outside, what happened to Elliott Mealer and his family looks like an event that would physically and emotionally cripple anyone it happened to. It's orders of magnitude beyond any of the things I—we—have felt sorry for ourselves about over the past couple years. Something in them was resilient, though, and with the aid of this staff they'll reclaim a small part something they thought lost on Saturday.
They can—probably already have—transfer this to the people around them. As I said about Manningham :01:
In the end, the game served as a reminder that bitterness is no fun, faith is rewarded, the kids on the field are more resilient than we are, and sometimes they can let us borrow some of that.
For both us and the team it's time to put away the eyeliner and walk.
6. Buffalo Stampede
2003 Minnesota: trailing 14-0, Michigan has driven to around midfield. John Navarre chucks a WR screen to Steve Breaston, who throws it back to Navarre. Forty yards later, we all have beards and Michigan is within seven points.
At some point in the 2003 Minnesota game I needed to get off the couch after something enraging had happened. I was on it with my girlfriend at the time and she sort of ended up on the ground as I executed my plan. The couch was low to the ground, she was unharmed, and in the aftermath the incident seemed funny. At the time all I could do was clench and unclench my fists.
Michigan would eventually deploy an all-shotgun offense in the fourth quarter that shredded Minnesota for 24 points and win the game on a Garrett Rivas 33-yarder, but at the time it was grim. It would have been more grim but for the trick play of the decade:
In the aftermath a friend immediately called me screaming "WHAT." It wasn't a question. It was just "WHAT." That. From seven year's distance it appears to be the slowest, most awkward touchdown convoy in school history.
Eventually it was key in Michigan's comeback win and Rose Bowl berth but really it's just here for its sheer improbability. It was one thing to run the transcontinental with Drew Henson; doing it with John Navarre—and getting a touchdown out of it—is pure audacity. This, by the way, is why Minnesota bloggers will never do a Worst Plays of the Decade list.
5. In ur base killin ur d00dz
MGoRetro: Pit Bull.
Penn State, 2006: it's second or third and long or something again, can't remember, doesn't matter, and I'm back in the pocket and I know I'm going to die. My offensive line has proven itself entirely hypothetical at this point. So I'm going to die, and it's not going to have any purpose. But this time I actually get a faint semblance of protection and I manage to find an open receiver—I'd forgotten those even existed—and I hurl it out there. And if Alan Branch hadn't driven his facemask into my shoulder and run through my tiny hoo-man body and left me in a concussed heap on the ground I would have gotten to see a first down. Which would have been nice.
But then I might have had to play the rest of the game instead of getting an emergency cup of pudding repurposed from JoePa's stash. So, yeah. I could go either direction, as long as it's 180 degrees from wherever Branch is going.
When Michigan fans are (unwisely, these days) attempting to tweak their Penn State coworkers this play, and the iconic image from its aftermath, is their go-to option. That's a meaningful statement when you've got most of a decade's worth of gloating to choose from, including another play on this list.
As for the significance of the play, Penn State had bounced back from its early decade malaise in a big way in 2005, going 11-1 with the only loss featured a bit higher on this list. By the time the PSU game rolled around in '06 it was obviously the only thing standing between Michigan and a 1-vs-2 matchup against Ohio State at the end of the season. Michigan's last four opponents would all finish with losing records; the only road game was against Indiana. When Anthony Morelli got blasted out of the game the decks were clear.
More than that, though, Alan Branch being in ur base is emblematic of the first ten games of 2006, when the Michigan defense was 1997 all over again and things were, briefly, back on course.
4. "Oh, wide open"
MGoRetro: Quod Erat Demonstrandum
Notre Dame, 2006: Late in the first quarter, Michigan and Notre Dame are tied 7-7 after exchanging terrible interceptions when Chad Henne drops back to pass and launches one deep. Pat Haden breaks the suspense before the cameraman can catch up to a streaking Manningham by declaring "oh, wide open." When Manningham finally appears he is running under a perfectly thrown ball, all alone.
Michigan entered the 2006 game uncertain of its place in the college football universe after a frustrating 7-5 season this blog nicknamed the "Year of Infinite Pain," if only to highlight how sheltered the Michigan fanbase has been in the aftermath of the last couple years. And if Alan Branch sending Anthony Morelli to his happy place was emblematic of Michigan's run to Football Armageddon, Mario Manningham getting ten yards clear of the nearest Notre Dame cornerback was the moment the Year of Infinite Pain became part of the past:
Manningham would score twice more on deep balls as Michigan leapt out to a commanding lead. They didn't look back until the second quarter of the Ohio State game.
Michigan State, 2004: Braylon Edwards skies over yet another Michigan State defensive back, tying a game in which Michigan trailed by 17 with under nine minutes to go.
Braylon Edwards was the most frustrating great player in Michigan history, prone to terrible drops on easy throws and legendarily not "on the same page" as Lloyd Carr. But he was great, and never greater than the last eight minutes of regulation in the 2004 Michigan State game. If they gave out Heismans for a single game, they would have had to give Edwards two for this one.
It almost wasn't anything, though. In this game Michigan was driving in the third quarter, down 17-10, when Edwards fumbled around the 20. He was creeping towards the goat side of the ledger when DeAndra Cobb ran That Goddamned Counter Draw again and outran Ernest Shazor to the sideline and the endzone. But when you're down 17 with under eight minutes left, what is there to do other than chuck it up and tell the onside kick team that they should try really hard?
I remember many things about that game. I remember being cold as hell as the game dragged on and the heat fled from the stadium. I remember going over to a friend's house afterward and being told by his roommates that they had actually left immediately after the DeAndra Cobb TD. I remember another friend telling me that a State friend of his had turned the game off as soon as Michigan hit the field goal to get within 14—he didn't even wait for the onside kick. I remember turning around and jovially telling the State fans behind me that it was good that MSU missed their last-second 52-yard field goal attempt to win after a terrible PI call, because if it had gone in there was no way they were getting out of the stadium alive. But mostly I remember the shadows that gave the whole enterprise an otherworldly feel. It's without question the best game I've ever been to.
The pick here is the game-tying touchdown, as at that point victory seemed inevitable and the comeback was complete. Without it, the others are just coulda-been plays like the Mike Hart touchdown in the Horror.
2. Phil Brabbs is absolutely not going to make this field goal
Washington, 2002: Phil Brabbs hits a 44 yard field goal as time expires to beat Washington.
I've interacted with Phil Brabbs a little bit since he came down with cancer and I've read his blog and am wearing his bracelet, so I have a little insight here. The bracelet says DOMINATE and his blog has pictures of him DOMINATING various things from hospital ice cream to IVs to chemo drugs. Sometimes he makes his adorable children DOMINATE things. He's kind of like anthropomorphized Brawndo. So I'm betting that when Brabbs strolled onto the field after a preposterous sequence of events set him up with a potential game-winning field goal in the 2002 season opener, he was totally psyched to dominate himself some 44-yard field goal.
In this, he was utterly alone.
I'm sure his parents and wife tell him that they just knew he'd hit it, but after a career debut in which he missed 36 and 42 yard field goals badly enough for Michigan to send out Troy Neinberg on a 27-yarder that he shanked, no one in Michigan Stadium thought a 44-yard field goal with no time left on the clock was going in. This includes those nearest and dearest to him. I was just hoping it went forward.
Naturally, Brabbs did this:
Though Washington would end up one of the country's biggest disappointments at 7-6, they entered Michigan Stadium a top ten opponent. The moment the kick actually went through the actual uprights and everyone looked at the guy under the crossbar to make sure they hadn't hallucinated it, then looked at the other guy under the crossbar to make sure the first guy hadn't been hallucinating too, promised grand things. (That would fall apart in a ridiculous loss at Notre Dame in two weeks.)
1. The New Math
MGoRetro: The New Math.
Penn State, 2005: With one second on the clock, Mario Manningham catches a deep slant to beat Penn State 27-25. 86 = 1, as Michigan State would learn in 2007.
Why is this number one? It didn't end up mattering, and it was already clear it wouldn't since Michigan was already 3-3 and headed nowhere in 2005. It was the end of a classic game that swung dramatically from one side to the other, but other games were better and meant more.
I think it's that :01 on the clock, the knowledge that that second was precarious, fought for by Lloyd Carr after the clock ran after a Michigan timeout, preserved by Steve Breaston's best Tyrone Butterfield impression, and ironically Joe Paterno's fault for getting his team an extra two seconds on what they thought was their game-winning drive. Michigan was living on borrowed time. It seemed like they'd been given a chance to go back and right wrongs. Scott Bakula was at quarterback.
Meanwhile, Michigan was locked in an existential crisis unknown for decades. The 1984 season could be written off as a fluke since Jim Harbaugh's broken leg threw everything into disarray and Michigan bounced right back afterwards; 2005 was entirely different. Michigan had never been 3-3 in my recollection. My brother and I spent a large chunk of the game being bitterly cynical about everything. We felt justified about it after the killer Henne fumble/botched extra point for two combination. We'd collectively decided to dull the pain by withdrawing emotionally. This was working for a while, and then the team decided to give the middle finger to the cosmic middle finger, getting off the mat twice. The culmination:
In the end, the game served as a reminder that bitterness is no fun, faith is rewarded, the kids on the field are more resilient than we are, and sometimes they can let us borrow some of that. A lot of the plays on this list were diminished by subsequent events in which Michigan failed to live up to the promise they had in that one moment, but this one has been magnified by the awful last couple of years. It promises a light at the end of the tunnel.
Drew Henson bootlegs his way into the OSU endzone to seal the win (2000) … Chris Perry puts the OSU game beyond doubt with a slashing bounceout TD to make it 35-21 (2003) … Breaston returns a punt for a touchdown against Indiana … Northwestern … Illinois … etc … Manningham's worm after the ND game (2006) … Chris Perry punches it against Penn State in to seal a win in Michigan Stadium's first OT game (2002) … Ron Zook seals the Outback Bowl by calling a reverse pass that Victor Hobson intercepts (2002) … Alain Kashama beats the Sex Cannon to a fumbled ball in the endzone, finally fulfilling four years of Canadian Reggie White hype (2002 Outback) … Jacob Stewart picks off Asad Abdul-Kaliq in the Buffalo Stampede game and returns it for a touchdown (2002) … Garrett Rivas finishes the Buffalo Stampede game with a field goal (2002) … Chad Henne hits Tyler Ecker for a game-winning touchdown against Minnesota and executes nailcoeds.exe (2004) … Braylonfest Part I … Braylonfest Part II … Braylonfest Part IV … Brian Thompson recovers an onside kick, greatly aiding Braylonfest parts II through IV … Jason Avant's catch against Northwestern (2003) … Marquise Walker's catch against Iowa (2001) … Jerome Jackson pops through a nonexistent hole against Iowa to establish himself useful, then scores the game-winning TD (2005) … the snap sails over Jimmy Clausen's head on the first play of the game (2007) … Michigan cracks open the Battle of Who Could Care Less against Illinois with a reverse pass (2007) … Manningham outruns Justin King to tie Penn State (2005) … Mike Hart drags Penn State tacklers for five of the most impressive eight yards of his career (2005) … Lamarr Woodley kicks off Yakety Sax (2006) … Prescott Burgess returns a Brady Quinn interception for a TD(2006) … Mike Hart levels Sean Lee on a blitz pickup (2007) … Arrington's catch against Florida (2007) … A ludicrous Ryan Mallett decision—pitch it backwards to Carson Butler as he's being sacked—works out (2007) … Steven Threet takes off on a 60-yard jaunt against Wisconsin (2008) … Denard Robinson fumbles the first snap as Michigan's quarterback and WOOPs his way for a touchdown (2009) … Darryl Stonum returns a kickoff for a touchdown against Notre Dame (2009) … Forcier hits Greg Mathews on a circle route to win against Notre Dame (2009) … Tate Forcier hits Martavious Odoms on a perfect seam for the game-winning points against Indiana (2009) … Forcier's mansome final drive in the rain to tie Michigan State (2009) … Brandon Graham demolishes Glenn Winston (2009) … Brandon Graham demolishes Everybody (2009).
A major reason this series came together is the tireless effort of Wolverine Historian, who put together video for almost everything on the list. Also a hat tip to parkinggod, who had HD of last year's ND game, and akarpo, who helped out with some of the clipping last year.
This one goes to thirteen because we aren't dead yet. Again, a combination of overall impact with a heavy emphasis on how awesome that moment was—if eligible the Donovan goal against Algeria would be the perfect candidate. #13 is admittedly valedictory.
Michigan State, 2007: Mike Hart scoops up a Mallett fumble and conjures a first down from air.
If Mike Hart did anything other than run for thousands of yards at Michigan it was pick up blitzers on the most famous Michigan plays of the decade. There weren't any Mike Hart runs on this list because the guy always got caught from behind and Michigan's offense was set up to get its big plays from the passing game for the duration of his tenure, but Hart will block on three of the top four. This had to be rectified, but how? There was that eight yard run against Penn State, but that lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. It was in the first half, for one.
How about this rescue instead?
This may be the most Mike Hart play of Mike Hart's career. Ryan Mallett's come in the game for one play after Chad Henne limped off, and Mallett does what he always did, which was fumble. Michigan's about to be facing a second and forever even if they get the ball back when Hart pops out of the pack, ball in hand. He then jukes one Spartan out of his shorts and plows over two more for a game-changing first down. He then heads to the sideline because he's so injured he shouldn't even be in the game.
2003 Illinois: Steve Breaston fields a punt on one sideline and glide-cuts his way all the way across the field, juking six separate Illini before finding a seam and setting sail for the endzone. NOTE: Unfortunately, I can't find this in an embeddable form. It is 15 seconds into this Breaston highlight reel. Picture not relevant.
…was the name message board posters sarcastically bestowed on Steve Breaston as he redshirted and reports of his practice exploits became progressively more ludicrous. "Freshman you've never heard of fails to live up to epic practice hype" is perhaps the most common fall storyline across the country, and Michigan has had more than its fair share of epic busts from Grady Brooks to David Underwood to Kevin Grady. The nickname was a shield against disappointement
When Steve Breaston took the field, though, he somehow managed to exceed the expectations built up over the offseason. This return was the crowning glory; after a half-season full of almosts where he'd get tackled at the five or have something called back on a penalty he didn't need, he waited and waited, making two of those looping back-cuts that would become so familiar and exploding up the sideline.
For the most part teams stopped punting to him after this play, and though he remained amongst the country's most dangerous returners for the duration of his career he never quite recaptured the magic of the first two-thirds of his freshman year. At the moment he did this, though, he could do anything.
11. Ernest Shazor just killed a guy. No, seriously, he's dead
Purdue, 2004: Michigan has a narrow lead in the dying minutes but Purdue wins with a field goal and is driving. Dorien Bryant, then merely a freshman and not yet the Brooks Bollinger memorial eighth year senior, grabs a ball over the middle and starts picking up tons of YAC. Purdue is already in field goal range when Brandon Williams grabs at Bryant's feet, sending him into the air. This is where Ernest Shazor murders him. Bryant coughs up history's most understandable fumble; Leon Hall recovers, ending the game.
I've seen a lot of murderous hits in football, but they're mostly for show. Football's violence is a thrilling, sometimes sad sideshow to the main event; only rarely does the sheer intimidating force of a guy running directly at another guy matter immediately. Not so here. This hit turned a very likely loss into a sure win and ranks as the most CLICK CLICK BOOM play of the decade.
After the hit Shazor evaporated, providing only theoretical resistance against the first terrible appearance of That God Damned Counter Draw in the Michigan State game, about which more later, and entering the NFL draft early only to be passed over entirely. Despite being dead Bryant would go on to be probably Purdue's finest receiver of the decade, though I'll leave that judgment to the Purdue blogs' decentennial glazomania.
This play is lower than I expected because the feelings were more relief and frustration at the defense. A close call against a Purdue team that wasn't at all good (7-5) nearly derailed Michigan's season. Other plays in crappier seasons were fraught with less expectation and more enjoyable, like for instance…
10. The Blip
MGoRetro: We're From Phoenix
Wisconsin, 2008: Donovan Warren breaks up a slant, sending the ball on that parabolic trajectory that screams interception but often ends up hitting the turf. In this instance, Johnny Thompson is in the right place in the right time, catching the ball and picking up a defense's worth of escorts.
Exactly one good thing happened in the entirety of 2008, and this was it. Michigan had just gotten a touchdown thanks to a supremely ill-timed Wisconsin blitz that set Brandon Minor free. One play later Michigan would be in the lead:
Michigan would add another touchdown thanks to a 60-yard Steven Threet read option keeper and hang on for dear life, surviving a two point conversion that tied the game thanks to an illegal formation penalty and stuffing the second attempt.
At the time, the win over a top-ten Wisconsin team seemed like an indicator that even in this season of transition and quarterback incompetence something of Michigan would persist. It seemed super important, and then Toledo blew everything to hell.
9. Chad Henne robot apotheosis
Michigan State, 2007: Chad Henne completes his transformation from inept and injured to flawless robot incapable of understanding pressure by shouting "reprise" and pretending Mario Manningham is Braylon Edwards, completing an improbable Michigan comeback.
I'd somehow managed to get tickets on the 50 yard line in the Michigan student section at Spartan Stadium, and things were tense. Some unlit-cigar-chomping State fan was in my seat and insisted it was his seat to the point where he called the cops over so they could look at my ticket and shrug. He'd eventually switch places with a few Michigan fans outside of the section. At some point early in the second half a woman who looked like she watches a lot of Jenny Jones turned around and screamed something incomprehensible but very angry. She proceeded to do this every five minutes until someone figured out the thing she was saying was "Art Fag U," at which point the guy standing next to me went off about how bigoted that was whenever given an opportunity for the rest of the game, which was every other play.
Meanwhile on the field, Michigan was busy blowing a 14-3 lead in the immediate aftermath of Mark Dantonio's "pride" comments. They gave up three straight touchdowns while managing only one play of significance, a hopeful downfield jump ball that Mario Manningham came up with. With seven minutes left in the fourth quarter, Michigan was cooked.
In my head, this is when Hart went over to Henne and slapped him really hard. Michigan State backed off their coverage and Michigan marched down the field for a touchdown, dodging the Mallett disaster above, got the ball back, drove some more, and then decided to inflict the maximum amount of pain by joining the Braylon Edwards Historical Reenactment Society:
This is why Michigan State bloggers won't ever delve into their version of the Worst Plays of the Decade. As bad as you thought that was, Michigan State's edition would be typed equivalent of the Hurricane Katrina Valenti rant.
8. "I Saw Cover Zero"
MGoRetro: Moxie and MacGyver.
Notre Dame, 2009: leading 24-20 early in the fourth quarter, Michigan faces a 4th and 3 in the no man's land where field goals are dodgy and punts get you put on the Worst Plays of the Decade list. Michigan goes for it, calling a bootleg pass for Forcier. Notre Dame's Stephen Filer cuts off the angle, so Forcier breaks his ankles and cuts up into the wide-open middle of the field.
This could have been one of Forcier's scrambles on the game-winning drive or the touchdown that won the game or Charlie Weis's decision to call a 40-yard fly route during Notre Dame's attempt to kill the game—miss you, big guy xoxo—but for sheer impact it's Forcier rewarding Rich Rodriguez's ability to do math:
Forcier's moxie would see Michigan through another two games of desperate fourth-quarter action before disintegrating in overtime against Michigan State and the fourth quarter against Iowa. In this it's similar to the Thompson interception, where early-season hope gave way to the cruel reality of the situation and the opponent turned out to be something less than they were supposed to be.
7. A Knee On The Ground
Citrus Bowl, 2007 season: with 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Chad Henne takes a snap and falls to the ground.
The definition of bittersweet.
Michigan had just finished racking up 91 yards of offense against Ohio State, so of course they come out in a shotgun spread attack and put up 41 points on Florida en route to yet another bowl victory over the SEC. Every downfield strike conjured forth a cauldron of mixed emotions: immediate joy. Fist-shaking at the general bloody-mindedness of the universe. Depression about the missed opportunity represented in Chad Henne's healthy shoulder. An entire extra layer of confusion about Mike DeBord. It was like being 15 again, like being 15 again and stuck in a never-ending afterschool special.
But when Henne kneeled and Marques Slocum, of all people, was the first to get Lloyd Carr up on his shoulders, well… IT IS VERY DUSTY IN HERE RIGHT NOW. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOUR AIR FILTERS. I have allergies, you know. Severe allergies.
At some point you just have to let that frustration go and accept the program for what it is, accept Carr for who he is, and say thanks. He did hole up and punt with a six point lead against Tim Tebow, but how could he go out any other way?
A series covering Michigan's aughts. Previously: obsessive ESPN image breakdown.
This is a fairly standard pick-your-team exercise covering the 2000-2009 seasons. One note on the methodology: instead of considering careers we will consider individual years.
There are only two real options since Michigan saw two players occupy seven of the ten available starting slots and was robbed what should have been rampaging senior campaigns by Drew Henson (signed away by the Yankees) and Henne (constant injury). They are Navarre's first-team All Big Ten performance in 2003, the—sigh—last time a Michigan QB actually beat Ohio State, or Henne's junior year, when he could hardly be blamed for an Ohio State loss in which he guided his team to 39 points.
Season totals for those two years:
Very little to choose from. Both ended up losing to USC in the Rose Bowl in games of approximately equal competitiveness (not very), though Navarre's trip seemed more doomed by fate—one USC touchdown set up by a ball bouncing off Braylon's heel and ricocheting directly to a defender—than Henne's.
The edge is Navarre's if only because of that attempts number. Michigan '03 relied far more heavily on his arm than Michigan '06 did on Henne's, passing 47% of the time to '06's 37%. Yes, Chad Henne threw less than 40% of the time in 2006. That just goes to show the Lloyd Carr ideal: have a defense so ridiculous that you can grind out low-risk touchdowns against everyone not named Notre Dame and Ohio State. It did work once, and it almost worked in '06.
Digression over. Your shocking winner is John Navarre, a guy who was utterly and unfairly loathed during his wobbly sophomore year—during which he should have been watching Henson, anyway—to the point where it was hard to figure out where his transition from liability to asset occurred. Whenever it was, it was before the 2002 Ohio State game. Michigan spent that running into the line for nothing on first and second down before deploying Navarre to pick up the third down with a laser-accurate pass to Edwards, Joppru, or Bellamy. Edwards lost a critical touchdown on a questionable offensive pass interference call and Navarre was blasted from behind on what should have been the game-winning drive. Michigan was only able to get down to the OSU 30 before they had to take a shot at the endzone with the last seconds on the clock. My friends and I wrapped arms around each other during the timeout, and I thought he could do it.
Second String: Henne (2006).
The obvious runner-up. Other candidates are inferior seasons by the above two quarterbacks, Henson's eight-game run as Michigan's starter in 2000, and then the horrible last two years. Since Henne concluded his career during the MGoEra we can turn to a column written after the '07 Michigan State game for a summary of how he played:
I first thought "Chad Henne is a robot" a long time ago.
It was the middle of 2004. A then-freshman Henne strode onto the turf at Michigan Stadium facing a four point deficit against Minnesota. The ball was on the Michigan thirteen; the clock read 3:04.
Five plays and 56 yards later, Henne zeroed in on Z45 Part A Subsequence C Tight End Tyler Ecker, Rabbit-Hunting Mormon, crossing in front of a Minnesota linebacker; various servos and hydraulics kicked in. Henne flung a pass into Z45PASCTETERHM's outstretched arms, declared GOAL COMPLETED, and initiated nailcoeds.exe.
This weekend, now-senior Chad Henne strode onto the turf at Spartan Stadium facing a ten point deficit. He was 6 for 19 for 83 yards at that point, 47 of which came on a single bomb to Mario Manningham. The clock read 7:35.
Henne had been awful. Whether it was the unpredictable wind or his separated shoulder or some combination of the two doesn't really matter. He had been missing open receivers all day, flinging balls into the turf or the sideline or taking sacks he didn't have to. He and Brian Hoyer were locked into a duel to see who could torpedo his team's chances more thoroughly; Henne was winning. In the Michigan section, faith was running low. On the Michigan State sideline Jehuu Caulcrick was exhorting the Spartans to remember this moment, the moment they beat Michigan.
Caulcrick forgot one thing: Chad Henne is a robot.
On the last two drives he was 12-14 for 129 yards, flinging wide open outs, finding Mathews on a critical third and long, and looping perfect touchdown passes to Greg Mathews and Mario Manningham. He was ruthless, precise, and busy calculating digits of pi deep into the millions. He has a heart of nails and lungs made from old tires; his hair consists of pipe cleaners cropped short and his bones are discarded pipes. You have to whack him in just the right spot at just the right time to get his late-model Soviet guidance chip to seat itself in his shoddy southeast Asian motherboard.
Excellence was good, man.
A bloody fight here. Your candidates:
|Anthony Thomas '00||319||1733||5.4||18||68||17||271||15.9||1|
|Chris Perry '03||338||1674||5||18||63||44||367||8.3||2|
|Michael Hart '06||318||1562||4.9||14||54||17||125||7.4||0|
|Michael Hart '04||282||1455||5.2||9||34||26||237||9.1||1|
|Michael Hart '07||265||1361||5.1||14||61||8||50||6.3||0|
Close statistically with Perry's herculean, 51-carry Michigan State game pushing him past the two main contenders in terms of carries. Perry was much more frequently used in the passing game, though a 70-yard screen TD for Thomas against Ohio State made him more explosive. Thomas surpasses everyone else in terms of yards and has a significant edge in YPC, but as we're about to see a large part of that has something to do with the preposterously stacked 2000 line, which currently has four NFL starters and one Hall of Famer. Hart and Perry never had that luxury.
Perry wins here, though, for the silverware. This is in addition to the Doak Walker:
The Bo Schembechler Most Valuable Player of the 2003 football team, Perry was a finalist for the Heisman Memorial Trophy, placing fourth in the balloting. He led the Big Ten with 128.8 rushing yards per game and was named the 2003 Big Ten Conference Offensive Player of the Year and the Chicago Tribune Silver Football Award recipient as the Big Ten's MVP.
It's brutally hard to leave out Mike Hart, but the methodology here favors the one supernova season over Hart's four (three and half) years of merely being awesome. Perry's gliding cuts and Navarre's addiction to him as an outlet win.
Second Team: Mike Hart (2006)
I know by the stats this is Thomas, but the stats don't reflect Hart's remarkably ability to glue the ball to his ribs when not inside the five against Florida and the infamous Northwestern game Thomas gave away without even being touched. Hart couldn't quite stay healthy enough to get past Perry, and that very reason makes me want to crumple up this post and start over with a career-focused outlook but it's postin' time and this is pushing 3000 words and the monster must be fed, so here he is and we're all a little bitter at Chris Perry for winning the Doak, but only just today. Hart, too, came in for summarizing in a game column, this one after the '07 Penn State game:
Mike Hart does not care. He does not care that he is the size of Toad and runs about as fast as Richard Nixon, who is dead. He does not care that Michigan ruined everything the first two games of the season as he rode a bike on the sideline. He does not care that some people think he should shut up. He does not care that his legs are on someone else's legs and there is no possible way he can worm the ball to the goal line. It takes someone like this to pull you back from despair and ennui, to turn emo week into something other than emo year.
Mike Hart does not care what came before.
All he cares about is getting there.
Third Team: Anthony Thomas (2000)
Okay, Thomas did fumble against Northwestern but he also put up 1733 yards by RAGING his way directly at defenders. The original Brandon Minor, Thomas was briefly an NFL star before his inability to change direction without bouncing off something caught up with him.
Kevin Dudley (2004)
Dudley was the inspiration for this description of the fullback's job that still lingers on as one of phrases I'm proud to have turned:
Minus Dudley, last year's fullback spot was manned by a motley crew of confused squat guys more likely to whiff entirely than crush a linebacker into a white-hot furrow of snapped limbs and smoke.
For this, and his ability to create that furrow, he gets the nod.
Braylon Edwards(2002-4, pick a year), Mario Manningham (2007), Steve Breaston (slot)(2006)
It's a brutal competition when a guy who went eighth overall in the NFL draft and another guy in the midst of what will be a productive 10-year NFL career don't make the first team, but Michigan was blessed with a ridiculous wealth of options. Since the team has moved to a spread system and even before that used a three-wide formation as its base for virtually the entire Breaston era, we will include him as the prototypical slot ninja.
The first winner is obvious. For all his problems catching simple slants, Braylon Edwards remains the second most terrifying receiver to ever put on a winged helmet:
This is not up for debate.
The second outside receiver slot is a war between the junior years of David Terrell and Mario Manningham. The stats:
Like quarterback, there is little to choose from. One small push in Manningham's direction: he rushed for 120 yards on 19 carries; Terrell had two rushes for 12 yards. (Terrell's team played one fewer game than Manningham's did, but Mario was suspended for the EMU beating in '07, so they're even as far as playing time goes.)
Both labored through iffy quarterback situations, with Manningham saddled with about four games' worth of Ryan Mallett and another four games in which Chad Henne's shoulder was essentially nonfunctional. Despite this he lit up the heart of the Big Ten schedule, going six straight weeks with more than 100 yards receiving and at least one touchdown, with the high point a five catch, 162-yard performance against Minnesota. He was shut down in the Ohio State game that year as Michigan chose between a one-armed Henne and a then chicken-brained Mallett, but rebounded to post 131 yards of total offense and a touchdown in the Citrus Bowl against Florida.
Meanwhile, Terrell was saddled with a freshman Navarre through the bulk of the nonconference schedule. That didn't matter much statistically, as he put up at least 82 yards and usually just around 100 in the games Navarre was forced to play in, but it didn't help. When Henson returned it was a steady diet: about six catches, approximately 100 yards except for the Penn State game, one win over Ohio State and a bowl nuking of Auburn (34 yards a catch on four receptions and a touchdown).
The verdict: Manningham by a nose, who had fewer opportunities to make an impact in Michigan's injury-stricken '07 offense and added more production on the ground than Terrell did. This is a reversal from the All Carr team, FWIW.
Finally, Steve Breaston is included as a slot receiver on my first team since Michigan fullbacks were increasingly situational players as Michigan moved to a modern passing offense, and then a spread, as the Henne era progressed. Dudley was the last true fullback to be able to claim anything approximating a starting job, and even before that there were a couple years in which BJ Askew was the team's top FB. Over the course of the decade the third receiver got more playing time than the FB.
Anyway, the third receiver goes inside one of the outside guys in a place called the slot and the man who defined the position at Michigan in the aughts was all-purpose ninja Steve Breaston. Nicknamed "Black Jesus" before he even saw the field by cynical messageboarders wary of his massive practice hype giving way to a skinny version of Grady Brooks, Breaston took all of one game to establish himself a threat, returning four punts for an average of 26 yards against Central Michigan. By the Illinois game he'd set a team record for punt return yardage despite having two long touchdowns called back on irrelevant penalties; subsequent opponents refused to kick to him. As a kick returner he took one to the house for the first time since the 80s against Minnesota, returned virtually every kickoff to midfield in the '05 Rose Bowl, and set up The New Math Henne-to-Manningham connection with another return to midfield against Penn State the next year. Steve Breaston went to work immediately.
As a receiver Breaston was the inspiration for the UFR receiverchart, which was a direct response to people complaining about Breaston's hands. They weren't necessarily wrong—the Year of Infinite Pain kicked off in earnest with a 17-10 loss to Notre Dame in which Breaston got open deep twice and dropped sure touchdowns—but the chart did its job, showing that Breaston's hands were an overrated flaw. His best year was '06, and while he never recaptured the magic of his freshman year in the return game that was largely because teams stopped punting to him (and Michigan, infuriatingly, refused to double the gunners). Only Anthony Carter, also the guy preventing Braylon Edwards from being the bar-none most terrifying Michigan receiver of all time, stands between Breaston and the title of Michigan receiver you'd pick to throw a bubble screen to if your life depended on it.
Second Team: David Terrell (2000), Jason Avant(2005), Marquise Walker (2001)
Terrell was just discussed. No one else quite matched his productivity save Marquise Walker, and when Walker and Terrell shared the spotlight Terrell was the man.
Avant, meanwhile, is the player I'd pick if someone was holding a gun to my head and said he'd pull the trigger unless Michigan converted this third and five. I still remember the fourth and two pass at the end of the 2004 Ohio State game that clanged off Braylon's hands, and remembering that I really, really wish that ball had gone to Avant. Here's why:
At some point during 2005 Avant dropped a third down pass that hit him in the hands, and that more than anything was an indication that it just wasn't Michigan's year.
Avant also might be the nicest guy to ever play for Michigan—up there with Brandon Graham. The only person who can't root for Avant is Christopher Hitchens.
Walker was a combo of Avant and Edwards, blessed with Edwards's leaping and Avant's ability to make the spectacular catch but cursed with Avant's lack of electric speed and Edwards's tendency to drop routine balls. It seemed like the latter flaw was something that popped up after he sustained a brutal hit early in his senior year; after that the footsteps got in his head and he alligator-armed a couple passes per game. That may have been a result of his increased deployment; once Terrell left for the NFL he went from 49 catches in a supporting role to 86 as the man in Navarre's bumpy sophomore year. He did do this:
And that alone is worthy of mention.
There is no competition. Joppru came from nowhere to become John Navarre's safety blanket, a big white Minnesota version of Avant before Avant was around. By the time he'd finished his breakout senior season he'd set a Michigan record for tight end receptions that still stands and worked his way into the second round of the NFL draft. The Texans took him, whereupon he tore his ACL in training camp every year.
Second Team: Bill Seymour (2001)
It wasn't a good decade for tight ends. Seymour was a steady two-year starter that didn't get injured all the time, have meat for brains, or fail to pitch it to Steve Breaston. He wins basically by default.
Jake Long (2007), Steve Hutchinson (2000), David Baas (2004), Jon Goodwin (2001), Jeff Backus (2000)
The first three are cake easy. Jake Long was dominant and became the first pick in the NFL draft. Hutchinson went in the first round to the Vikings and is in the midst of a Hall-of-Fame NFL career. Baas won the Rimington award. All were All-Americans their senior year. Lock, lock, lock.
The right side of the line is trickier. We're not distinguishing between right and left tackles because players tend to move to the left as they get better, we're just trying to assemble the best possible team. So we'll flip Jeff Backus from left to right tackle and put him opposite long. Backus was first round pick of the Lions and has started 144 NFL games, all with the league's most sad-sack franchise. At Michigan he was All Big Ten two years running and won the Hugh Rader award as Michigan's best lineman those same two years, sharing it with Hutchinson and Mo Williams on 2000's ridiculously stacked line.
The other guard spot is something of a downer compared to the All-Americans surrounding him, but Jon Goodwin was All Big Ten in 2001 and, unlike a couple of other ABT recipients later in the decade, seemed to deserve it. He's still in the NFL with the Saints.
Second Team: Adam Stenavich (2005), Adam Kraus (2006), David Brandt (2000), Steve Schilling(2009), Mo Williams (2000)
Williams is the most obvious, another member of the insanely stacked 2000 line who is still in the NFL. Sharing a best lineman award with Hutchinson and Backus is no shame, either. Stenavich is next, a two-time All Big Ten selection. This blog caught the end of his career and found it to be pretty good. He edges out Mark Ortmann, another good-not-great left tackle. The interior is something of a mess. Brandt, the final member of the insanely stacked 2000 line, gets a tentative nod over Dave Pearson and David Molk's freshman(!) year; Kraus and Schilling are the best of an uninspiring bunch, with Kraus's 2006 better than his '07.
Note: I've never gotten the idea of All-Whatever teams with two running backs. Teams don't play two running backs. They play a fullback or a third wide receiver or maybe a tight end. Given spreadmania in the Big Ten, the first team offense has three wideouts. A fullback is on the second team.
Also: offensive linemen are broken down by position, which was stupid in retrospect.
Also also: MGoBlog feels sorry for Notre Dame. Since the Irish aren't in a conference, they can't get all-conference level recognition. In the spirit of the season, I've decided to share the Big Ten awards with ND. All deserving Irish players are included.
1. Troy Smith, Ohio State.
I don't want to talk about it. Fortunately, I don't have to since this is obvious.
2. Chad Henne, Michigan.
Wasn't asked to do much -- new Michigan offensive coordinator Mike Debord apparently gets a series of painful electric shocks whenever he calls a first-down pass -- but was efficient when called upon. His strike rate on bombs was exceptional this year and his overall accuracy was similarly improved after an uneven sophomore year. Henne is maturing into the player Michigan fans thought he'd be after an impressive freshman debut, though he was clearly a step behind Smith during The Game.
1. Mike Hart, Michigan
He's little, he's impossible to tackle, and he never fumbles except for that one time he did. But even that wasn't charged against him. Stupid rule, but we'll take it. The backbone of the Michigan offense, Hart led the nation in carries, finished seventh in yards, and drove Michigan up from the ashes of 7-5. He won't win the Doak Walker, but goddammit he should win something. Invent it. The Mike Hart: for being exactly like Mike Hart.
2. Tony Hunt, Penn State
Yes, he was badly outgained by Wisconsin's PJ Hill, but Hill had the following advantages:
- a quarterback
- an offensive line.
You will agree with me that these are important things to have in the game of football, yes? Hunt was the Penn State offense, such as it was. With Anthony Morelli completing a whopping 54% of his passes, teams could tee off on Hunt on anything that looked remotely like a running down. This they did, but Hunt dragged them five yards forward anyway. I went into the year thinking Hunt was average at best, but come out of it with a respect for his pounding style and yeoman service to a lost cause. Without him, Penn State reverts all the way to their 2003-2004 nadir. If you're handing out a "most valuable player" award in the Big Ten... well... Troy Smith still wins. But Hunt is second.
2. BranDon Snow, PSU
I love fullbacks, and place one on this team despite their rapidly fading relevance. Snow was the thumping hammer for Tony Hunt's junior and senior years, when Penn State's running game emerged to rescue it from the bowlless depths of seasons past. Like Kevin Dudley, Snow turns linebackers into a white-hot furrow of snapped limbs and smoke, and that deserves a "shout-out," as the kids say with the hippin' and the hoppin' these days.
1. Mario Manningham, Michigan
Missed three games and was used sparingly in another two after midseason knee surgery, but you can't overlook 19.5 yards per catch and 9 touchdowns, all of them deep balls that Manningham hauled in with a breathtaking gracefulness. Or maybe that last bit is just me. He's inexplicably, remarkably good, physically imposing in no way. The magic is in his routes, which get him yards past befuddled defensive backs, and his hands, which cradle over-the-shoulder bombs like they're kittens. Kittens of Wolverine joy.
1. Anthony Gonzalez, Ohio State
IS BETTER THAN TED GINN. Okay? Okay? It's a testament to Troy Smith that the Buckeyes spread the ball around so much that four receivers ended up with around thirty catches, but it did depress the chances of said receivers getting flashy postseason awards. Well, not here. Gonzalez is fast, smart, and sure-handed, and it was he -- not Ginn -- who turned in the year's best highlight reel moment from the Buckeye wide receiving corps when he turned a short dig route into a WOOP WOOP WOOP thirty yard touchdown against Iowa. Also, he didn't drop like five passes versus Michigan.
1. Dorien Bryant, Purdue
It's a shame that Purdue only has one defensive player who doesn't suck in all the ways you can suck (DE Anthony Spencer), as a Purdue team with a competent defense would have been a fun, dangerous team to watch the rest of the Big Ten play. Bryant was the unquestioned center of that danger, a waterbug of a wide receiver who was Steve Breaston's good twin over the course of his four years as a Purdue starter.
2. Logan Payne, Minnesota
He's big, kind of lumbering, and white, but kind of good and fast and stuff. Where did Logan Payne come from? No one knows. Where is he going? The middle rounds of the NFL draft. The most unsung offensive skill player in the Big Ten, Payne ended up fifth in receiving yards per game playing in a run-dedicated Minnesota offense. He's a dedicated blocker on the edge, quick enough to take a long handoff six or seven yards, and irritatingly good at getting open in zone coverage. This was supposed to be Ernest Wheelwright's spot, but Payne was the focus of the Minnesota passing game.
2. James Hardy, Indiana
Much debate here. Hardy's numbers came in great bursts against certain crappy secondaries (Iowa, Michigan State) but were interspersed with caverns of nothing production against real teams. Still, Hardy had to deal with bracketed coverage, a freshman quarterback, and the general Indiana-ness of Indiana and still played a huge role in most of Indiana's five victories.
1. Matt Spaeth, Minnesota
I've had a throbbing mancrush on the brobdingnagian Spaeth since his sophomore year, when he spearheaded Minnesota's perimeter rushing game with vicious abandon. He slowly became a viable option in the passing game; this year he was a weapon in both the run and pass games. I won't soon forget his down block on Tim Jamison when the Gophers played Michigan: he came in motion and then blew Jamison onto he ground like he was a child. Result: 20 yards for Amir Pinnix. Plus he catches and stuff. Farewell, O Mighty Spaeth.
2. Travis Beckum, Wisconsin
...was a linebacker a year ago. This year, he's the Big Ten's second-leading receiver. Saddled with receivers named "Swan" who play like that irritating Asian stereotype from the always-unfunny MadTV, John Stocco had to find someone to throw the ball to. Someone turned out to be Beckum, a hyped defensive recruit a couple years who found an application for this athleticism on the other side of the ball. Beckum has hands and the ability to stretch linebackers down the seam. He's a mismatch waiting to happen and Tyler Donovan's favorite target in 2007, guaranteed.
1. Joe Thomas, Wisconsin
...will be a top five draft pick. Crooshed silly defenders en route to 1500-yard PJ Hill season. Yielded zero sacks. Uh, yeah.
1. Jake Long, Michigan
...will return for his senior year (please?). If he doesn't, will be a first-round draft pick. Michigan ran "zone left" on seemingly half its snaps a year ago, and Long was a major reason why.
2. Mike Otto and Sean Sester, Purdue
The Boilermakers threw a remarkable 505 passes this year. Curtis Painter was sacked only 17 times, largely because the veteran Purdue offensive line walled off opponents like whoah. (Also slightly because Purdue didn't play Michigan or Ohio State.)
Well... crap. I don't know enough about offensive lines and I haven't watched games closely enough to really tell you. So this is sketchy guesswork.
1. Adam Kraus, Michigan
I have watched a lot of Michigan games and observed the interior line play. Kraus has been solid in both pass and run protection. Occasionally he'll miss a block, but that happens to everyone, and when he does it's usually one of those playside nightmares against a slanting DL.
1. TJ Downing, Ohio State
2. Mike JONES, Iowa
2. Kyle Cook, Michigan State
On the theory that the coaches know what they're doing.
1. Doug Datish, Ohio State
2. Mark Bihl, Michigan
Again, coach agreeance by default.
Woo! Interior linemen! So hard!
...this guy definitely had to add that tiny apostrophe and obviously-not-centered E after a Northwestern fan pointed out that "Michigan Your Next" isn't English. Ladies and gentlemen, Ohio State fans!
CSTV is doing this "Battle of the Blogs" thing where Michigan and Ohio State bloggers tackle certain topics. Main page is up; my thing goes Friday.
In which I take aim at Michigan Monday. Passages of interest:
What worries me on offense? Basically, 1995 and 2003. I'm worried about Michigan coming out and being able to run the ball at will. Usually, when the game is in Columbus, I have no fears about Michigan's running game. Don't get me wrong, I don't see Mike Hart busting out like Tim Biakabatuka or Chris Perry, but the thought of Michigan getting five yards on first down every time concerns me.
Weird. The thought of Michigan running on every first down gives me hives; he's concerned about the rush defense. I do think there's reason to be concerned, FWIW, as the Buckeyes have given up quite a lot of yards per carry when opponent running backs are suffered to possess the ball, but I wouldn't expect an OSU fan to be worried about what's honestly been a pretty meh running game.
If Troy Smith gets time to throw, Michigan's secondary is vulnerable. The Wolverine safeties don't necessarily excel in pass coverage and the corners can only do so much. Leon Hall is a very good corner, and when he feels challenged, he always steps it up. Again, if Troy Smith gets time to throw, Michigan will have no favorable match-ups in four and five-wide situations. And that's why Michigan has to get to Troy Smith. If they don't, it's going to be nearly impossible for them to win.
I've addressed this before, but the persistent belief that the Michigan secondary is way vulnerable is also weird. And I agree: if Troy Smith is allowed to sit in the pocket with only one or no extra blockers in, we're screwed. But that's like saying that scoring points is a good idea. Uh... duh. For what it's worth, if OSU doesn't pressure Henne it's going to be almost impossible for them to win.
What about Michigan's passing game, you ask? Honestly, I'm not too concerned about it. Obviously, the screens concern me. In this game, they'll always concern me. But as far as the downfield stuff goes, I'll believe Michigan can have success with it when I see it. Of course, there's always the chance that Michigan has been saving something. Perhaps they'll choose to use the middle of the field more this week than they have in the past. Who knows. I feel the Ohio State secondary matches up very well with the Michigan receivers. The Buckeyes have three very good starting cornerbacks and two very good safeties. Without knowing how effective Mario Manningham is going to be, I think the Ohio State pass defense definitely has the advantage in this one. And don't forget, the Buckeye defense is averaging two interceptions per game.
See, to me something like "the Buckeye defense is averaging two interceptions per game" is a giant red flag, since interceptions are almost always someone on the offense's fault and are totally fluky unless a quarterback is hit while he throws. As a general rule, turnovers are a function of the offense's competency to avoid them, not the defense's ability to force them -- again, with the exception of quarterback pressure. Michigan is very good at avoiding turnovers.
Also: if he doesn't want to believe Manningham is healthy, that's his prerogative, but given everything we know about the nature and extent of his injury, plus the snaps he's taken in the last two games it's silly to assume he can't play. Wishful thinking. Nowhere in his column does he mention Alex Boone's status, and he didn't even play versus Northwestern. (Not that I think his injury will be an issue. The Bucks say he'll be fine, so I believe them.) Manningham is also fine, otherwise Michigan wouldn't risk him before the game -- that would be insane.
He revisits this later:
Receiver Mario Manningham. I won't be convinced he's healthy until I see it. What made him so good before his injury was his ability to cut and separate from the defender. I'm not sure he can do that as well as he needs to against Ohio State's secondary.
Seems like wishful thinking, IMO.
He's going to play most of the game this week due to Ohio State's spread attack. Ask your local Michigan fan how they feel about that. Assuming you know a Michigan fan that knows who Harrison is.
Well, you know, I wish he was like Justin King or whatever, but Harrison's been okay.
Braves & Birds takes a look at the MNC contenders and their average yards per play on both sides of the ball. Conclusions:
In addition to all the other factors that make this weekend's tilt exciting, Ohio State and Michigan look to be two very evenly-matched teams, especially when you take into account that Michigan puts the brakes on its own offense when leading more than your average college football power. (An unprovable assertion, I know, but I've watched a lot of football and I feel pretty comfortable in saying that no one employs the Milton Berle approach more than Michigan.) Michigan is a little better on offense, Ohio State is a little better on offense, and they both have wild card returners who can alter the balance of the game.
Notre Dame has no business being in the national title discussion. Against a relatively unimposing schedule, their defensive numbers are signficantly worse than those of any other national title contender and their offensive numbers are not nearly enough to make up for the shortcoming. USC should bury Notre Dame, especially if the USC team of Saturday night that can run the ball and play defense is the USC team that shows up on November 25. Furthermore, Notre Dame would either be there against a team that beat them by 26 in South Bend or in place of that team with the same record.
Amen. Lord knows what voters will do -- they have West Virginia in front of a Louisville team that beat them by two scores two weeks ago -- but I think they'd be hard pressed to dump the Michigan/OSU loser below ND given the BEAT DOWN in September. OSU would be more likely to fall than Michigan, IMO, since a potential OSU loss would be at home, the Buckeyes' primo win over Texas has recently lost some luster, and the computers are already turning up their noses at OSU's Wisconsin-free schedule.
Stadium & Main has more on the rematch thing.
I guess I should have pointed this out sooner... damn. Anyway, for much of the year the top result on Google when you type in "F*** Michigan" (sans stars) was my anti-Buckeye diatribe from last year. Something must have gotten rejiggered; now it's third. Damn.
BON busts out their "Under The Hood" series for Michigan-OSU, providing a complete statistical overview well worth your time. I also have to link anyone who busts out the time-tested and true "Charts? Charts." Charts!
Initial conclusion: approximately equal teams. Michigan slightly better on resume.