fair point that
By Heiko Yang
This feels like Michigan State all over again. All week we’ve been reading about the opponent’s mediocre bits: its offensive line is no good, its secondary is prone to busting big plays, and the only way Penn State going to come close to winning is if its quarterback can consistently make NFL throws while its defensive line plays lights out.
Once again, I have a terrible feeling that this is going to be the outlier game where everything somehow clicks for the opponent. After being in Beaver Stadium for whatever the hell you want to call the 2013 game, I can confidently say that a vulnerable Michigan team is totally the kind opponent Penn State would get up for. There’s an unspoken rivalry here, too. The two teams have had a lot of interesting history over the past two decades, and if you think about it, there’s currently more parity between them than there is between Michigan and its other rivals.
Beyond that, a win for the Nittany Lions would go far to validate James Franklin’s tenure in Happy Valley. It would his first win over a ranked team while at Penn State and also his first over a perennial conference powerhouse (if we ignore the last decade or so. Womp womp.). Being able to hang this trophy on his mantle would be a great way to divert attention away from his numerous clock management gaffes and the gradual Algernoning of Christian Hackenberg.
But let’s be clear. Nothing short of a Shane Morris-like debacle would do anything to affect Franklin’s job security. There’s no shame in losing to a 12th-ranked Michigan team when your roster is as deep as the lyrics to a Carly Rae Jepson song at nearly every position. Franklin is playing with house money so long as the repercussions from the Sandusky scandal linger, and that’s really what scares me about him and this team. It’s never a good position to be in when the guy sitting across the poker table puts you all in with someone else’s chips.
At least Michigan is better equipped this season to deal with the things they can control. At this point 27 for 27 feels like a distant memory, even if the run game hasn’t gotten that much better and could easily reproduce that outcome against Penn State’s defensive line. It’s comforting t know that we might actually throw a screen when defensive backs line up 15-yards off our receivers. It’s also nice to know these days that both Channing Stribling and Jourdan Lewis are behaving less like waves and more like particles. That was the difference maker two years ago and it’s possible that it will be the difference maker once again.
I don’t know. I can’t bring myself to predict a victory, and I learned a few days ago that certain members of the MGoCrew are heading to Happy Valley today to attend the game in person. I can’t fathom why. We did something two years ago there to anger the football gods -- maybe it was the urinating outside the port-o-potty, or maybe it was the taunting of the waitress on her birthday. Either way, I can’t imagine that a return visit would inspire them to look favorably upon Michigan, and for that reason I’m going to call this game a loss.
Michigan 23, Penn State 24
By Nick RoUMel
Heiko, you are going to get flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. Why would you taunt a waitress on her birthday? Was she reciting Carly Rae Jepson lyrics? (By the way, I for one happen to appreciate the dark irony of “Call Me Maybe.”)
I believe in karma. You will get yours. One day a waitress will avenge the memory of her taunted friend. A beer on your head, Dr. Yang!
I remember when Penn State joined the Big Ten and taunted its new siblings, boasting that it would run away with every conference title. I gloat to this day that Northwestern has just as many titles as the Nits. (By the way, I love calling Penn State the Nits, another name for head lice.)
We have had some great games with them, beating them about ten straight times at one point, having their number like Holly Holm vs. Carly Rae Jepson. I remember when Michigan went into Beaver Stadium in 1997 to face the #2 Nits, and won 34-8. I savored beating them in ’05 for their only loss. Heck even B-Ho beat them last year. They are reeling, on the ropes.
But I do understand where Punt is coming from. The tale of our beloved Wolverines is one of two teams: the disciplined one that plays to their fullest capability, compared to the Keystone Kop team where every offensive lineman has his own internal start clock, the defense misses tackles, and we somehow let mediocre teams claw us within one inch of our death.
What to make of Michigan? They’ve probably done a little better than expected, on the whole. Pundits ranged between 9-3 and 7-5. Add a bowl game and no matter what happens the rest of the season, our waves and particles are still bouncing around in the same tight little prediction box.
Yet some have gone too far. Like Punt, I cringe a little when fans have already tucked Penn State, Ohio State and Iowa in the win column, sneak us into the playoffs, and end the season with Carly Rae Jepson crowning us national champions, with some wry and ironic words of praise at the victory podium.
But I refuse to believe that this James Franklin team, as directionless as an iPhone without Maps, whose most impressive victory is … Rutgers? Army? Maryland by one point? …is going to threaten us. Because Christian Hackenberg is about as scary as that adorable three year old toddler on Hallowe’en dressed up as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle with the fake muscles and six pack that you are too stingy to give a full sized Snickers bar to, because CVS had a sale on “fun sized” bars and you ate all the Kit-Kats and only gave out Milky Ways and Three Musketeers because nobody, I mean nobody, eats those unless they are all that’s left and they’re desperate for chocolate and have no pride or willpower whatsoever and probably have the munchies anyway.
MICHIGAN 24, PENN STATE 20
I don't know what Heiko is talking about either –ed
By Heiko Yang
Having Indiana on the schedule is a lot like having the Goosebumps books on your third-grade teacher’s bookshelf. They’re frequently entertaining and occasionally good for a cheap scare, but you’re pretty sure there’s nothing there that would cause any kind of lasting damage.
True to form, all season long Indiana has played out the recurring plot where they threaten to upset good teams late in the fourth quarter only to blow it by abruptly returning to ineptitude. It’s like that time Goku and Vegeta fuse to beat the evil dragon but then run out of time just as they’re about to deal the final kamehameha.
Against Michigan, though, I have a bad feeling. I guess I usually have a bad feeling about Michigan games, but I’ve been feeling pretty leery about this particular game for some time. I don’t know why Vegas has such a lopsided line favoring Michigan by almost two touchdowns. On the road this season Michigan hasn’t scored more than four touchdowns total. Meanwhile, Indiana has been averaging just a point shy of that in each their losses to Ohio State, Michigan State, and Iowa. My feelingsball take is I don’t expect Michigan to run away with this one unless something bizarre happens. Speaking of, I’m going to go ahead and say that neither their 29-7 loss to Penn State nor their 55-52 loss to Rutgers makes any sense to me, but then again I didn’t watch either of those games because I don’t hate myself.
But what about Michigan’s shut-down secondary vs Indiana’s pass offense? Or Harbaugh’s fancy manball offense vs their flimsy front?
These matchup advantages don’t seem to make much of a difference as often as we hope, especially against competent coaches, which I think Indiana has. Underdogs can benefit from known mismatches, too. Similar to the way the Indiana basketball team knew two years ago to put a point guard on Nik Stauskas, there are ways the Hoosiers football staff can game plan around Michigan’s strengths to force the Wolverines into making difficult compromises in their own game plan.
I’m also not giving Indiana enough credit here. They’ve got offensive playmakers Michigan certainly has to account for, and their spread attack is more sophisticated than anything the Wolverines D has seen all season. Additionally, their defensive weaknesses don’t seem quite on a Rutgers level of incompetence (although they did lose to Rutgers, because football is complicated).
Michigan will probably struggle out of the gate, and an empty possession on offense paired with a quick strike from Indiana would be doom for a team that relies on maintaining early momentum. The Wolverines will need a lot of luck to avoid falling into this kind of hole; I just don’t know if they’ll find that in Bloomington.
Michigan 27, Indiana 30
By Nick RoUMel
Heiko has tried mightily. Giddy from reading Goosebumps, he has nearly convinced himself that today’s contest will actually resemble a football game. I suspect there were fits of giggles as he wrote his column, solemnly analyzing the matchup as if there were something to worry about.
There is not. Not ever. Michigan is 54-9 lifetime against Indiana. They have not lost in 28 years, when they fell to an 8-4 Hoosier squad that also crushed #9 Ohio State and featured the durable and dangerous Anthony Thompson at tailback. Since then it has been all Michigan. I mean, even RichRod and B-Ho beat Indiana, although the 2009 game saw the Hoosiers score the most points they ever had against a Michigan team, 33. That record stood until 2010, when the stalwart RichRod defense gave up 35, a record that would be unbroken until the very next time Indiana played Michigan, in 2013, when B-Ho’s disciplined D held them to 47 points and a mere 572 yards of offense.
It is actually quite telling that other than the 1987 game - the only one Indiana has won in the last 48 years - their most memorable battle was the 1979 homecoming contest in Ann Arbor, when they were coached by Lee Corso who had the audacity to believe he could play toe to toe with the Wolverines. That he did, until the final play of the game, when Johnny Wangler hit Anthony Carter on a 45 yard touchdown pass that had Bob Ufer going ape-s*** crazy in the broadcast booth. The clip is de rigueur every time Michigan plays Indiana:
(Did you know that the horn Ufer beeped so happily was actually from General Patton’s World War II jeep? A fact I did not know until writing this column.)
Does anyone really think that these 2015, Harbaugh-led Wolverines are going to let Indiana even come close to sniffing victory, like a skanky perfume sample in the middle of a magazine is supposed to make you fantasize about a date with somebody like Vera Farmiga?
I think not. Outside of a few random Nate Sudfeld passes, Indiana will be lucky to sniff its own armpit. Their evening is going to be about as fulfilling as Tom Waits taking himself out on a date, as he describes so forlornly in “Better Off Without A Wife:”
Yes Wolverine fans, hit the easy button. This one’s in the bag.
MICHIGAN 56, INDIANA 10
By Heiko Yang
Sometimes you get burned.
In medicine, everyone has stories about “that time I missed diagnosis X because I was so sure it was diagnosis Y.” Earlier this year I missed a retroperitoneal bleed because I was utterly convinced that my patient’s back pain was a routine case of muscle spasms from straining to get out of bed (he was not in the best physical shape). I coolly presented my findings as “benign” and “unremarkable” only to watch in horror as the senior resident ran her hand over the subtle but sinister-looking bruise tracking along the patient’s flank.
It was one of the few moments in medical school where quitting seemed like a good idea.
The reaction is pretty natural, I think. Misdiagnosis happens, but at a tertiary center like Michigan, a lot of times Y is some weird life-threatening thing while X is garden variety, so you just feel a little silly and move on. But when it’s the other way around, especially if you don’t catch your mistake and something horrible happens to your patient*, you feel like you no longer deserve to be a doctor. The negative reinforcement is so powerful that there’s even an acronym for it – IGBO, or “I Got Burned Once” – because it’s actually kind of a healthcare problem. Costs increase and routine problems become more complicated by doctors who recommend unnecessary tests and interventions because they have PTSD from the last time they missed the rare but scary diagnosis. You better believe I’m going to think “retroperitoneal bleed” every time a patient on a blood thinner complains of back pain, and it’ll be a conscious effort to resist the urge to scan every one of them.
Last week Michigan’s defense got burned. Minnesota got lucky and hit a few big plays in the first half, which put the Wolverines on their heels for the rest of the game and gave the Gophers the opportunity to hit even more big plays. The way everything played out made it a little easier to appreciate the overused adage about the secondary having a “short memory.” They have the unenviable position of being almost always culpable for the big 20+ yard gainers, and letting those mistakes influence how they play the next down usually just leads to more mistakes. The signs and symptoms of IGBO were rampant throughout the secondary. It felt like they were still reliving the last big play on every snap.
I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that Michigan’s secondary is relatively inexperienced. Half of the major contributors – Hill, Thomas, and Clark – are new. I’m optimistic about this. With more and more experience, they’ll learn to spend less time dwelling on their mistakes as they eventually adopt the cool poise of seasoned veterans. In the short term, however, the fact that Michigan won should help eliminate the hangover from last week’s poor performance and hasten the return to form this week. Instead of the 3rd-and-17 conversion or Channing Stribling’s bust on the double move, the last big plays they remember from this game should be the goal-line stand and then racing to the opposite sideline to reclaim the jug.
Oh, and they’re playing Rutgers. That should help, too.
Rutgers 3, Michigan 31
*Don’t worry, that patient ended up doing okay. It’s a good thing they don’t let medical students make any real decisions.
By Nick RoUMel
IGBO. Just “once,” Heiko?
I’m not sure how I feel about a profession whose practitioners will admit to only one mistake. We lawyers screw up all the time, whether it’s missing a shortened statute of limitations buried deep in the fine print of an employment application from 20 years ago, or bungling strategy on the verge of victory that’s the legal equivalent of Minnesota’s final 19 seconds last Saturday.
On the other hand, we lawyers wrote the U.S. Constitution while doctors were still curing people with leeches. (But when you look at how people still argue about what the Constitution means over 220 years later, maybe we screwed that up too.)
One mistake we can all agree on: Rutgers does not belong in the Big Ten. It still baffles me why the conference honchos thought it was a good idea to expand the conference in this fashion. Rutgers? Nebraska? Maryland? I’m sure the addition of these three red-clad teams also relates to one of our founding fathers - or in the vernacular, “It’s all about the Benjamins.”
Today one of those outliers engages in noble battle with a team from Michigan, the heartland of the conference. On paper this is a mismatch. The favorites, despite some heart stopping moments, have are a strong team that has exceeded a lot of expectations. The underdog is already on the verge of a losing season and is playing today with an air of desperation.
However, we do know they can move the ball and score points; it’s their defense that’s a question mark. One advantage they have is that the favorite may be overlooking them. It’s the worst kind of trap game.
I feel pretty strongly about the upset. And frankly, nothing will make me happier:
BIG RED 33, MICHIGAN …. STATE 28
Whoops, did I make a mistake? Well at least no one got hurt!
Let’s try again. The good guys win, but not so convincingly:
MICHIGAN 28, SCARLET KNIGHTS 20
By Heiko Yang
So I just started interviewing for residency. I’m applying into urology, which matches earlier than most other specialties (insert penis joke here). All my interviews have been squeezed into a tiny month-and-a-half span (insert penis joke here). A lot of them happen on weekends, so unfortunately that means I’m going to miss every Michigan game from now until Ohio State. Alas. Maybe I’ll suck it up and pay for in-flight wifi, but I’m worried about … a weak stream? Secondary to insufficient bandwidth? Yes, we will go with that for now. I need to work on my penis jokes.
Michigan is going to win tonight. I think we can all agree on that, contrived punt/counterpunt format or not. Minnesota might put up a fight, but the reality is it’s hard to get over the loss of a head coach mid-season. Yeah, interim coaches at Illinois, USC, and Maryland and have been dealing just fine if not better than their predecessors. And yeah, Tracy Claeys has been in this situation before. But the Gophers’ situation is different. This isn’t a heroic coordinator rescuing a mismanaged program. Jerry Kill was a good coach, and his loss is going to sting until they can find a new permanent guy to rally the troops.
The real battle in this game is more of Michigan’s offense vs. finding itself. At least, that’s what I’m going to be looking at when I watch the full game replay tomorrow morning. We’re eight games into the season, and there’s still not much you could say the offense is particularly good at. Most other offenses have an established thing by now, even if there are glaring flaws elsewhere. Michigan State has Connor Cook and Aaron Burbridge. Penn State has a running back. Ohio State has track stars. Even Michigan under Al Borges had an identity that could scare the bejeezus out of opponents, whether it was the long balls or the Denard scrambles. Acquiring Jim Harbaugh has taken a lot of the derp out of the play calling, but at this point Michigan really needs to find a shtick in order for the offense to help win games.
I want that shtick to be tight ends and fullbacks. The playmakers are there. Jake Butt has already declared himself a weapon in the passing game, AJ Williams has not only adopted Jeremy Gallon’s invisibility cloak but is also “running faster” these days, and I feel better about Sione Houma carrying the ball than most of the active tailbacks. It’s probably the hair, but that’s beside the point. Michigan doesn’t quite have the raw talent at the quarterback, receiver, and tailback positions to develop further, so tapping into the potential of blocky-catchy types might be the only way to make a major leap.
Besides, nothing says November in the Big Ten like 22-personnel formations on every down.
Michigan 31, Minnesota 10.
By Nick RoUMel
This game has all the anticipation of a urology exam.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m sure Heiko would be the kind of urologist who tries to make that kind of thing fun. You know, tell corny penis jokes and talk about Michigan football, until his patient says, “Say, aren’t you the guy who writes for MGoBlog? You know, the one who’s always wrong?”
I love that Punt and Counterpunt are a doctor and a lawyer. It makes our rivalry a little more lively, along with that whole new school/old school thing and our divergent predictions. I don’t usually tolerate lawyer jokes, but one of my favorites involves a doctor and a lawyer on an airplane. (If the doctor were a urologist, you could insert a “snakes on a plane” joke here…)
So anyway, the doctor and lawyer find themselves seated next to each other, and it’s a little uneasy at first, especially when the doctor finds out that the lawyer tries medical malpractice cases. But after a few drinks they loosen up and appear to be getting along and finding things in common. The doctor gets up to go to the bathroom and says he’s going to get coffee from the flight attendant, and the lawyer says “bring me one too.”
When the doctor gets up, the lawyer sees he had taken off his shoes. Surreptitiously, the lawyer picks up each shoe and lets loose a big, wet loogie in each one. He sits back smiling at his own cleverness, just as the doctor returns with a couple of coffees. They each sip from their cups for a while, and then the doctor smiles and announces, “I’d like to propose a toast: to getting to know each other, to a new era of mutual respect, to the end of professional animosity ... no more spitting in shoes, no more peeing in coffee.”
Gee, that joke even has a urology aspect to it.
On to football, finally. (Can you tell that I’m not excited by this game?) Michigan is a two touchdown favorite on the road against a 4-3 team. With Coach Jerry Kill’s resignation, that could either be demoralizing for the Gophers, or incite the type of “Win One For The Gipper” mentality that perhaps helped USC upset Utah last week, on the heels of the distressing news regarding the dismissal of their alcoholic coach.
Michigan is also coming off media embarrassment, enduring endless replays of the Michigan State Miracle and memes of stunned fans, and a bye week that deprived them of the opportunity to start putting all that behind them. Our performance on the road is still a bit of a question mark. I’m not supremely confident, but I don’t think anyone on this team wants to deal with the airplane ride home after a loss, especially with Coach Harbaugh in their face spitting loogies.
So Michigan will avoid a second consecutive year of juglessness - but just barely. (Insert jug joke here…)
MICHIGAN 17, MINNESOTA 16
By Heiko Yang (with Bryan Mackenzie channeling MARK DANTONIO)
Mark Dantonio walks into the locker room moments before kickoff. He scans the young men before him as they fall silent. The stadium trembles around them in anticipation of battle.
“We've been here before,” he begins dourly. “Every time these jokers show the slightest hint of a pulse, they declare themselves ‘back.’ Remember 2010, when Michigan came in ranked and feeling all Big Brother-y? How'd that work out for them? Or when they managed to eke out that one 12-10 win? How did that Return to Awesome turn out in the next couple of years?”
Laughter and jeering fills the locker room.
“They've got their khakis and their hype and their national respect. Media outlets spell their coach's name correctly. And that's cool. It's probably always going to be that way. People see Harbaugh doing the stuff that worked a couple of generations ago and get all excited. But at the end of the day, these are the same players we beat the hell out of over the last two years. This defensive line that everyone is drooling over? It's the same line we busted up for 219 yards rushing last year. This ‘new and improved’ offensive line is the same one against which we've racked up 20 tackles for loss over the last two games. Shilique, are you scared?”
“No sir!” Shilique Calhoun puts on a menacing grin.
“So now we've won 30 of our last 33 games,” Dantonio continues matter-of-factly. “We've beaten Ohio State and Baylor and Stanford... and oh, right, Michigan... and now we're supposed to be intimidated by some new guy because they've shut out three crappy offenses in a row? We're supposed to be cowed by 110,000 wine-drinking hipsters? Tom Brady ain't walkin' through that door. Instead, they've got a guy who Iowa - IOWA - thought was too conservative.”
Another round of raucous laughter. Dantonio motions for silence.
“We might not win this game,” he says, his tone measured now. “There's no hiding that we're beat up. Jack's ankle is basically a toppled Jenga tower. There were six guys in the secondary's position group meetings this week, and only three of y'all were old enough to shave.
“But that’s not an excuse. The people in that stadium don’t need any more reason to convince themselves that we're going away. They've thought that before, too. They’ve predicted it every year since we started beating them.”
Dantonio pauses dramatically as the anticipation builds.
“… But they never learn, do they? Today let’s show them that we’re here to stay. And let’s remind them one more time that pride comes before the fall.”
With a forceful “Spartans!” and a flourish of helmets, the Michigan State football team heads for the tunnel.
Michigan State 14, Michigan 13
By Nick RoUMel
The muffled sounds of the band and the crowd could be heard outside the locker room. Inside, not a word was said as Coach Harbaugh surveyed his young men. They sat, winged helmets on their laps, waiting. They wore the maize pants and blue jerseys of Michigan tradition: none of this bumblebee crap. For 88 years Michigan teams had run through that tunnel wearing the same thing. So they would again, in a few minutes. But first Coach had a few things to say.
“I’m going to tell you what we will not do today. We will not be intimated. We will not play scared. We are not the same team that apologized for poking a one inch hole in their precious turf. We are the 2015 Michigan Wolverines.
“We will not embarrass ourselves or lose our cool. If one of their players decides to try and screw off our quarterback’s head like a bottlecap, we will not retaliate and get a stupid penalty. We will respond by winning.
He paused and glared. “We will play with integrity, and we will pay with intensity. We will protect the ball, and protect each other. These are the fundamentals you learned in pee wee football. You will not forget them today. You will block, tackle, and run on every play until the whistle blows and the ball is in the referee’s hand.
“You will FINISH. You will not quit until your opponent is knocked to the ground, cleared out of the way, or left behind. If you block one man to the ground, you will find another. If you are knocked down on defense, you will get up, chase the play and tackle the runner. If you have the ball, you will cradle it to your body and move. You will not go down if one man grabs you, or two, or three. You will churn your legs and propel your body and you WILL NOT QUIT.
“When you run through that tunnel, there will be 110,000 people going crazy for you. So you can go a little crazy for them. Those people in that stadium –”
Coach Harbaugh paused. “I went to high school across the street. I left, then returned for college. I left again, for a long time. People said I would never return. But I was called back.
“Look around at your teammates. Most of you had never set foot in Ann Arbor until you were recruited here, and you may never return to live. But remember this: the University of Michigan will never leave you. So today, give a nod of respect. Show this town, show this University, show those people – who are here for you, and believe in you - why you came here. Why you chose to wear the Maize and Blue. And why Michigan is not only the greatest University in the world, but the best damned football team in the state.
“Put on your helmets. Wear your uniform with pride. Respect its history, and this great Michigan football tradition. Some say Michigan football is back - but I tell you that it never went anywhere. It was always here: right here in this locker room, out there on that field, and in the hearts of those fans who are about to go crazy for you.
“Now follow me through that tunnel. We got some ballin’ to do.”
MICHIGAN 31, MSU 0
By Heiko Yang
Let’s review the last four times Michigan played Northwestern:
2011 – Michigan 42, Northwestern 24. Michigan struggles to run the ball against an aggressive Northwestern front seven and falls behind early to Chicago’s Heisman Candidate but compensates by hurling bombs to Rich-Rod smurfs. The effectiveness of this offense enrages the football gods, who sentence Michigan to downfield impotence in future seasons. Devin Gardner fills in admirably after an ominous arm injury sidelines Denard Robinson in the second half and scores on a designed waggle run to the right pylon.
2012 – Northwestern 31, Michigan 38 (OT). Michigan trades blows with Kain Colter and unstoppable throw-god Trevor Siemian, but Gardner’s second game as full-time starter after Denard’s right ulnar nerve finally betrays him sees Gardner throw a critical interception deep in the fourth quarter. Down three points with less than a minute left to play, the Michigan defense forces a punt on 4th and 19 at midfield, which Jeremy Gallon returns 34 yards for a rare Michigan special teams coaching victory. This sets up Roy Roundtree’s circus catch and a Brandan Gibbons field goal for overtime. Northwestern proceeds to act like it’s never seen the Gardner waggle, Greg Mattison deploys Jedi mind tricks, ball game.
2013 – Michigan 27, Northwestern 19 (3OT). The saddest competitive game of football ever played (until next year) that will be remembered forever for the 3-second-drill field goal for a 9-9 tie that Michigan pulls off at the end of regulation without being penalized, shockingly. Other things happen that are of note: Pat Fitzgerald has a sad after a punt goes for seven yards. Michigan nets positive rushing yards for the first time in three games. Northwestern decides to field 11 guys all named “Courage”; Courage completes 66% of his passes for 159 yards and an INT before getting sacked on the final play of triple overtime, at which point Fitzgerald has another sad.
2014 – Michigan 10, Northwestern 9. #M00N.
If anyone had a claim to most cursed Michigan opponent, it would be Northwestern. That is some bad juju. Losing to the 2011 Michigan? Fine. Chalk it up to poor timing to play Michigan while Brady Hoke hadn’t yet run out of golden poop. Losing to 2012 Michigan? That’s like having managed to strike down the Balrog but then getting snared by its whip as it’s falling into the depths: horrible luck, although you probably shouldn’t have let your guard down. Losing to 2013 Michigan is like coming down with strep throat on a snow day, and losing to 2014 Michigan is like not finishing your antibiotics and oops now you have rheumatic fever.
You could say that the recent series has been a constant refrain of “Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)” where Michigan is Annie Oakley and Northwestern is Frank Butler. No matter what the Wildcats do, the Wolverines find a way to trump it. 2015 is no different. Northwestern’s “top-ranked” defense is bested by Michigan’s defense in advanced stats and eye test. The Wildcats boast one shutout; the Wolverines have two. Michigan’s plodding and inconsistent offense seems ever so more robust than whatever Northwestern has. Pat Fitzgerald is a master tactician with a fiery sideline presence? I would like you to meet Jim Harbaugh.
The streak will continue, and without the boneheaded coaching decisions that have made the last four contests closer than they should have been, today’s result will at least be less painful to Northwestern fans. This won’t be another Michigan game that got away; this will be the one they never had in the first place.
Northwestern 3, Michigan 28
By Nick RouMel
It was 1978. My friend Bruce and I had graduated from UM and had the same plan: travel the country. We loaded my ’73 Pontiac Catalina and decided our first overnight stop would be Evanston.
There was supposed to be a youth hostel somewhere on campus. We came upon a group of co-eds. There was something odd about them, but we couldn’t place it. We asked directions of one. She looked at us and said nothing. We asked another – silence.
Eventually we found our destination and a party, some knock-off of Otis Day and the Knights. Learning we were from Michigan, there was some awkward football conversation. The Wolverines were headed to their third straight Rose Bowl; the Wildcats were destined to do even worse than their previous two 1-10 seasons, finishing 1978 without a win. Football was, to them, a joke. Maybe that’s why the silence – except on the dance floor.
It was 1995. Punt Classic and I had scored passes to the press box for a tilt against Miami of Ohio. It was our first trip to this Valhalla, featuring free doughnuts for us real journalists. It was also former walk-on Brian Griese’s first ever start, replacing an injured Scott Dreisbach who had led Michigan to a 4-0 start. Griese engineered a lopsided victory, which was only significant because that same Miami of Ohio team had beaten our next opponent, Northwestern, earlier in the season. We figured Northwestern would be a tuneup.
The 1995 Northwestern team was somewhat improved, however. Gary Barnett was in his 4th year as coach, and though he was coming off three seasons in which he’d not won more than three games, he opened ’95 beating Notre Dame on the road. They blew a big lead against Miami the next week, but won their next two games handily, and came into Ann Arbor with a little swagger, led by the triumvirate of QB Steve Schnur, tailback Darnell Autry, and a sparkling linebacker named Pat Fitzgerald.
Counterpunt was worried. I saw a once in a lifetime, Brigadoon-type season.
I wrote about a shocking upset. I wrote about the press box atmosphere, and concluded my article, “I see the press corps eating their doughnuts in stunned silence, unable to believe the final score: Northwestern 19-Michigan 16.” I was off by three points, as Griese had a horrid, turnover-filled day that could not overcome Tshimanga Biakabutuka’s 205 yards (on his way to a Michigan record 1818 yards in a season). Northwestern went on to the Rose Bowl; Michigan lost three more, ending the season losing in the Alamo Bowl to Texas A&M.
I worry that Jake Rudock will have one of those Brian Griese lines: 14-34-96-0-2, and a fumble. If he does, our defense will not overcome that.
Back to those silent co-eds. We learned at the party that it was a sorority rush ritual; they were not allowed to speak to anyone, much less two skinny, frizzy-haired lost souls from Ann Arbor.
Silence all around, except in Evanston.
NORTHWESTERN 14, MICHIGAN 13