the season has truly begun now
2/26/2014 – Michigan 77, Purdue 76 (OT) – 20-7, 12-3 Big Ten
If you're wondering where I was last night on twitter, I was studiously avoiding it because I was in Auburn Hills watching Lydia Loveless refuse to stop playing music when the rest of you were watching Michigan play Purdue. Lydia Loveless is a machine built to play country music some people are now describing as "cowpunk."
There was no encore, just the increasing irritation of her band as the set went on and on and on. She gave them a break to play a couple songs by herself, and then eventually it became clear the show was over about three songs after she had clarified they had time for just one more. Then after the end of the set she asked the guy behind the bar if being out of time meant they had to stop. To his immense credit, the guy made a combo shrug/thumbs-up motion. Lydia Loveless donned a jacket and drafted her pedal steel guitar bandmate to cover
- Katy Perry's "Teenage Dream."
- An Eagles song that I don't recall lyrics from but sounded enjoyable despite it being the Eagles.
- One Direction's "They Don't Know About Us."
These were all transformatively great. It was insane, worrying—I asked the MGoWife if someone would have to tackle Lydia Loveless off the stage for the show to end—and ultimately awesome.
So I watched the Purdue game despite not watching the Purdue game, and then I watched it again. The second time only moved the swearing from the entertainment to the viewer, and concluded more strangely.
It did not start strangely. It started like it always starts, with Michigan falling in a well. They have something like a 98% chance to hang a banner at the end of the year and they have ended up in double-digit first half holes in five games running. This has to be some sort of record. Someone sic a sports bureau on the combination of conference championships and consecutive games with double-digit deficits.
I'll be over here deciding not to throw a glass of whiskey either at the cat, or the TV, or going outside and throwing it as far as I can manage in the hopes it will turn into a CERTIFICATE OF MENTAL TOUGHNESS that will self-replicate 12 times and flit away into the hands of the Michigan basketball team. Perhaps then, assured that their grit and determination in the face of adversity has been demonstrated to the point of official, gilt recognition, they will f---ing stop it.
I don't know about you, but when the basketball team you are hoping wins gets down that much, the ensuing trudge back (if there is one) is an exercise in irrational hatred of everything. The OSU and MSU games were fine, as ten-point hole was ephemeral. Michigan quickly achieved near-parity and went from there. This one was an extended exercise in rolling around with a straight jacket on. I don't need them to play better or win more. I just need the points to be more evenly distributed across the 40 minutes of play. (I need them to play better and win more. More, always more.)
But hey, they won. On the backs of Glenn Robinson, Jordan Morgan, and Spike Albrecht, just like everyone expected.
Robinson in particular played a complete game the likes of which he has not put together in a long time: 17 points on 13 shot equivalents, eight rebounds, three assists, and one turnover. He generated a good number of his shots himself, against a defense that was amped up and aggressive on the perimeter.
I've made no secret of my frustration at Robinson's game this year. He hasn't seemed to add anything; meanwhile LeVert and Stauskas are entirely different players. His rebound rates are pedestrian at best. (He's currently tied with Derrick Walton in DREB rate.) I am still suspicious of his awareness on defense—his dude, Rapheal Davis, had five offensive rebounds one game after multiple MSU baskets were directly attributable to Robinson not getting back in transition.
And then sometimes, Lottery GRIII appears. Sometimes he elevates for a jumper that cannot be contested because getting your hand in his face would require cutting it off and throwing it at him. Sometimes there's a lob in the direction of the basket and he continues ascending after he makes the catch. Sometimes, though. Just sometimes.
At Michigan's time of need they knew Purdue would overplay Stauskas and that they should try to hit something over the top, because they needed one measly point and they had 2.9 seconds to get it. They drew up a lob pass with Spike screening GRIII's guy, and executed—barely.
The pass was a rainbow that managed to get over an outstretched hand but took its target a step too far outside, a step too far towards the baseline. Robinson took a power dribble as he landed from the catch to reset his feet; he did not gain the requisite distance as Spike's defender came in to harass him. It looked grim.
But there are people who can make a One Direction song sound poignant, and there are people who can catch alley-oops and hang there, untethered. Some people can leap from behind the backboard outside the paint and still be in the air five feet later, just where they need to be as the clock strikes zero.
Gotta shore up that free throw defense. If you screamed "MISS ONE FOR CHRIST'S SAKE" sometime in the second half with a Boiler at the line, you are not alone. The worst FT shooting team in the Big Ten hit 17 straight to open before the final, fateful miss; Michigan was a couple of shots behind their season average at 17/25. When all was said and done that was the difference between an extremely annoying but eventually comfortable win and TERROR IN CENTRAL INDIANA.
That business is just luck, pure and simple. At one point Stephen Bardo chalked it up to Purdue's "focus." Stephen Bardo could show up at a casino and praise the little old lady at the slots for her mental toughness when she hits a jackpot.
The hand of fate. A lot of these early holes seem like a series of completely random misses and makes. Michigan fell down against MSU early because Denzel Valentine hit a 30-footer and a running transition 3 while Michigan's generally excellent three point shooting put up a bunch of bricks; here Purdue gave up a half-dozen quality looks from three early and Michigan started 1/7 behind the line.
Meanwhile, Terone "Ann Arbor's All-American" Johnson hits his first four. Purdue isn't quite the crew of bricklayers they were last year but they're still 9th in conference at making threes and 11th at taking them, and at one point Michigan was 1/7 from three while Purdue was 5/10. Things returned to normal for the Boilers by the end; Michigan, not so much.
A very distributed night. If it was hard to pick out anything in particular anyone was doing right, that's because Michigan spread everything out. Six players grabbed offensive rebounds; five had at least three assists; six guys had at least eight points. Robinson and Morgan were your best players in terms of efficiency, but everyone was setting up everyone for shots so it was a team effort to get to 1.12 PPP despite shooting 6/23 from three.
Call it, for pant's sake. Heard today from someone who talked to a MAC assistant. Refereeing came up and he said that refs have a really tough job because they do all kinds of games for all kinds of conferences and they're told to call games differently based on what conference they're in. It will not surprise you that the Big Ten tells people to let things go way more than others.
This is cold comfort to Nik Stauskas today, I'm assuming. By the end of the game he was plunging into the lane and missing layups badly because he wasn't getting hammered on them. The standard of refereeing shifted dramatically from Sunday, when Bill Raftery deployed "nickel-dimer" a half dozen times in the first half, to Wednesday, when you had to ride over a guy's foot with a lawnmower to get a call. Unless it's Jordan Morgan, who will be told to stop bleeding all over the court and get up.
Just one of those nights. I had almost no problem with the shot selection aside from a couple of possessions where LeVert dribbled around for 15 seconds and hoisted one; Robinson also had a couple of nononoYES long twos. The 23 attempts from behind the arc were almost entirely great looks, because Purdue gives up great looks from three quite a bit. They're dead last in conference by some distance at permitting three point looks.
The crappy shooting got in Michigan's head. There was one transition opportunity on which Caris passed up an open corner three from the run-away-I-know-it's-good spot, whereupon Michigan turned the ball over. I exclaimed "SHOOT THE BALL"; the TV informed me that John Beilein had just exclaimed "SHOOT THE BALL" and I felt better.
Spike! Kept Walton stapled to the bench despite the terrifying prospect of a Spike-vs-pick-a-Johnson defensive matchup, and it paid off. He grabbed a rare two-point bucket, stole the ball twice, set up Morgan for two of his OT flushes, and had one bad ass alley-oop to Robinson.
Walton didn't do much other than shoot some threes against the persnickety perimeter defense of the Johnsons; Spike was better able to find shots for his teammates. "Luxury" doesn't begin to cover Albrecht's status on the roster.
anecdotal comparison demonstrates that the best basketball player ever, Michael Jordan, was considerably better than the best baseball player ever, a chimpanzee named Carl who led the 1883-1884 Erie Mudjacks with a .546 batting average.
Question about randomness in sports that evolved into a very long answer with rants about how to fix hockey.
Hey MGoBlog team,
I'm of the opinion that individual games in any sport are decided by a combination of four things: player athleticism, player skill, player/coaching strategy, and chance. If you want you could also pull refereeing out of the chance bucket to make a fifth. Do you think this is a valid and relatively complete model and if not how would you change it? A related question is which of the five major sports (football, baseball, basketball, soccer, and hockey) relies most on chance to decide the outcome of a single game? How does that affect the fan experience?
My answer is basketball and hockey as the most reliant on chance, which I think negatively impacts my ability to get too caught up in the outcome of those games. That could be because I'm relatively ignorant of the strategy and skill elements in those games though, which is why I seek your most esteemed opinions.
Those four things cover just about everything, though athleticism and skill are sometimes difficult to parse out from each other.
As far as randomnesss goes, basketball in fact seems like the sport least impacted by chance, especially at the NBA level. The best NBA teams win something like 80% of their games, and teams that good generally plow through four rounds of playoffs without issue. A whopping 14 of the 20* teams with the best regular season win percentage in NBA history went on to win the championship. Two that didn't (the 96-97 Utah Jazz and 1995-96 Seattle Supersonics) lost in the finals to teams ahead of them on the list.
Meanwhile, no baseball team in a much longer history has touched an 80% win rate and only five of the 14 teams that Wikipedia references made it through much shorter playoff structures. Also, eight of them played before WWI. Baseball is the king of randomness. They've done studies and everything.
And when you think about it, it makes sense. Basketball is structured as 60-90 random trials worth 0-3 points for each team. That's a lot of trials. Baseball has nine. Football has 10-12, though that's a bit different because those trials are a lot less independent of previous ones. Hockey defies this sort of categorization. But just think about the MAXIMUM THUNDERBOLT LEVEL possible in any particular sport as a proxy for randomness:
- A man makes a three pointer and is fouled for four points out of 100.
- A goal is scored!
- A grand slam!!
- 105 YARD INTERCEPTION RETURN TOUCHDOWN!!!
Despite the high thunderbolt rating of the top football plays, the sport as a whole is less random than hockey and baseball, primarily because each play has an impact on the one that follows it in a way that doesn't happen in sports with less memory. You can load the bases in baseball and come away with nothing; ripping off a 30-yard run in football is always worth something.
Soccer also defies this analysis, as goals rank high on the thunderbolt scale but soccer Cinderellas are exceedingly rare. When Cypriot club APOEL made the final 16 of the Champions League a couple years back there was a veritable tizzy; they were immediately bashed out by Real Madrid 8-2.
And that makes sense, too. The structure of the game is such that good teams always have the ball and bad teams give up on the idea of competing on equal footing, instead preferring to pack everyone in front of their goal in hopes of a tie or a fluke goal. Outmatched teams regularly get outshot 10-1, compared to 2-1 in hockey. Hell, when Barca comes to town even teams backed by Russian plutocrats have a tendency to park the bus and hope for fortune.
Your randomness rankings, then, from least to most random:
It's a wonder they bother to play baseball instead of just guessing what color the ump is thinking about.
College basketball is quite a bit more random than the NBA, primarily because the game is shorter, possessions longer, and three pointers more readily available. Michigan just lost a 55 possession game in which the opponent went 8 of 13 from three primarily because one guy was unconscious. If that was an NBA game it would be the middle of the third quarter and they would have a chance to right the ship.
But overall, college basketball still spits out the "right" team enough that it's satisfying to me. The playoff structure very rarely sees top teams not reach the Sweet 16 and even more rarely puts a true interloper into the Final Four. Meanwhile, the single elimination nature of it makes any team vulnerable. March Madness straddles the line between unsatisfyingly random (baseball) and boringly rote (the NBA) almost perfectly.
I am with you on hockey, though. I find myself increasingly discontent with 2-1 games in which goals are mostly a matter of which plinko ball makes it all the way through the mass of bodies. Watching MSU and Michigan play in the GLI was illuminating, as Mickey Redmond took some time to compare MSU's defensive strategy of packing all six players in or near the crease to the current NHL vogue, then complain about how the game was better when people were checking guys on the points. The game has shifted such that save percentages added in with the number of shots that don't get to the goalie means that maybe 1 of 50 point shots does anything useful.
Meanwhile, the single elimination format that works so well in less-random basketball is a complete disaster in college hockey. Hell, the addition of the shootout and the loser point in the NHL has made even the 82 game regular season(!) way less predictive than you'd think. This then bleeds into the playoffs, where 8 seeds beating 1 seeds is commonplace. While it's somewhat controversial, these days statisticians struggle to find meaningful differences between most NHL goalies.
As a result I'm in favor of rather radical changes that would help teams who dominate in shots and attack time win more games, starting with expanding the net by approximately as much as goalies have improved in the last 20 years. Nine of the top ten save percentage marks in NHL history have been posted in the last five years. The only guy in the top 35 to post his mark before 2000 was Dominik Hasek, who owns five seasons in that range. There isn't a season older than 1993 in the entire top 250. This kind of goalie dominance makes hockey unsatisfyingly random.
I prefer a world were everything that goes off the post now is a goal. This gets goalie save percentages back down to a place were .900 is pretty good, differentiates the goalie pool, and makes standing around waiting for a hail of rubber a worse idea. Then gradually introduce Olympic ice in new buildings, do something to fix the wreck that is the offsides rule**, and maybe futz with goalie pads so they're more like they were back in the day—heavier, harder to cover your five-hole with, more cumbersome.
Death to plinko hockey.
*[I'm setting aside the 1946-47 Washington Capitols from Wikipedia's list since that season was considerably shorter than a regular NBA season, and it wasn't even the NBA yet.]
**[Current position: allow play to continue as long as the offsides player immediately moves to tag up at the blue line. Any other action by the player brings a whistle. There's no reason for rushes to get broken up because a guy is one foot offsides.]
With Dileo departing, an overlooked change that will take place next year is at holder. Who do you think will assume this role? My preference would be Norfleet or Peppers since I could see them executing some razzle dazzle that would lead to me dumping marinara sauce on my head in joy.
I have bad news, Mike: it's almost certainly going to be Kenny Allen, the backup punter, with an outside shot of one of the backup quarterbacks.
Dileo was uniquely qualified to be the holder because he secretes a sticky substance from his fingers that gives him super catching powers. Peppers and Norfleet are unlikely to be in Dileo's class in that department, so Michigan will replace him with someone who takes a ton of snaps as part of his daily routine. This is the way of the world.
Yeah, that change will limit Michigan's ability to fake field goals. Michigan will probably just go for it instead, which is fine.
Was wondering if you could project who you think the starting CB will be next season. I may be in a minority but I was really impressed with Jourdan Lewis.
It's going to be tough for Lewis to fight his way past either incumbent starter, especially with Jabrill Peppers arriving on a cascade of hype, torrent of praise, and all other water-related-muchness of thing.
First, the incumbent starters. I know both Raymon Taylor and Blake Countess had issues with Tyler Lockett. This puts them in good company, as everyone who played a healthy Lockett this year got shredded. Overall Michigan finished 47th in yards per attempt and in a big pile at 23rd in interceptions despite having a mediocre-at-best pass rush. Countess and Taylor acquired ten of the seventeen interceptions, nearly all of them great plays instead of fortunate deflections. The eyeball test was pretty kind to both when in non-Lockett situations. (Also non-Indiana-tempo'd situations, which are a problem but one of a different sort than not being able to cover dudes.)
Meanwhile, the freshmen behind the starters were game but did give up a ton of yards in big chunks, whether it was because they phased out of reality or irritated the wrong gypsy. I don't think either starter is getting passed.
Then: Peppers. Historically, guys like Peppers have a breaking-in period of about half a season before emerging into a starting job late in their freshman year. Woodson, Hall, Countess, Jackson: all followed this path. With Michigan short on boundary corner types that seems like the most likely path for Peppers as well, starting the year as the third corner and gradually displacing Taylor as the season plugs along.
This doesn't leave much room for Lewis or Stribling this year. Michigan's corner depth is such that 247 is reporting that redshirt freshman Ross Douglas has been flipped to tailback despite being 5'10" and 180—the opposite of the rough and tumble brawler Michigan seems to want. While I expect both sophomores to get spot duty, a breakthrough is unlikely this time out.
11/10/2012 – Michigan 38, Northwestern 31 (OT) – 7-3, 5-1 Big Ten
College sports are a rich-get-richer kind of operation. American pro sports reward their best teams with crappy draft picks and salary caps that make it hard to keep successful operations together. Yes, successful operations can keep their heads above water for periods, and the Lions can be awful for 50 years. A relentless gravity still pulls everyone towards .500.
In college, success adds to success. You can tell recruits they'll go to the Sugar Bowl and the Rose Bowl instead of, like, Nashville or wherever. Your pile of money is larger than someone else's pile of money and you can put up buildings where every brick is an XBox. You can point to some guy making millions in the NFL and promise recruit X will as well. You can tell recruits that you're not going to be fired and replaced by some guy from the Sun Belt, unlike every other school recruiting Derrick Green. The more you win, the higher your draft picks are.
Gravity has no place in college sports, just entropy. Entropy: the tendency of things to move from ordered states to disordered ones. Entropy: the gradual decline and fall of the Carr era. Entropy: Greg Robinson. Entropy: Northwestern football. With 18 seconds left there's a fifty-yard pass on the way, and things are about to get disordered.
I mean, what can you say when your glorious victory is so clearly a gift from the cosmic random number generator? I have seen many things in my time as a sports fan. None of them have been an opposing safety taking a pass that is about to sail into the turf 10, 20 yards further downfield and flailing at it in such a way as to send it into the arms of the Michigan receiver he'd battered to the ground, gently. Feather-like. After all of that… easy.
Meanwhile, that event had been immediately preceded by a Northwestern fourth-and-one conversion on which the ref had to make sure every chain was ramrod straight and get his nose down to the field level before awarding the Wildcats a first down they probably didn't get but could not be overturned from above. Fitzgerald Toussaint's only decent run of the day ended with a bizarre pop-up fumble. Trevor Siemian came in and tore Michigan's secondary to shreds.
I like it better when the randomness is under a nice ol' narrative. When it's in your face so spectacularly, it's like the gods of math are taunting you for daring to care about anything they have their fickle fingers in. Go home, get a pen, and root for Fibonacci psuedo-randomness, they are saying. What you are doing is the equivalent of rooting for 3, they say. The number. The literal number. Woo 3. Go 3. You are so much more prime than 4. That's so 3! Oh god those people who like 4 are just animals. They poop in coolers, you know, and drive trucks. They're so… divisible.
Stripped of the narrative bit the mind goes back to a game of partial information, high stress, and plain evidence that worshipping the gods of math gets you nowhere. Big stacks matter in tournament poker, too. With many chips you can lean on people, play with the numbers on your side, and force people to decisions for all their chips. You get to be the gorilla. You get the good recruits.
Back in the day when laws were unclear and jerks hadn't yet banned online poker by attaching a rider to a bill about port security, I played a lot. I was pretty good. I played online satellites until I'd gotten a buy-in to the World Series of Poker, and went. I made the second day in rough shape, and started repairing my busted stack by chopping off preflop raisers. While I'd risk more, I'd be in fewer hands, give off a tight image and get 5-6 blinds instead of 1.5. I would have no illusions about whether I should GTFO if someone played back at me. It was working, and I caught a couple hands. I was on my way to day three.
I'd done this to the guy to my right two or three times already, and his frustration was evident the last go-round. He raised preflop again, and I looked at kings. Long story short, we ended up all-in, he turned over aces instead of anything else, and I did not suck out. Short-stacked after, it was a matter of time.
Brady Hoke hasn't had kings, but he has sucked out, and sucked out, and sucked out.
With 11-2 and a BCS win in the rear view, Michigan picked up the kind of momentum that saw them lock down a top-five class by March. Getting there took a series of desperate heaves to Junior Hemingway. This year the heaves have been a little less desperate but twice Michigan has had 18 seconds and needed big chunks of yards to set up do-or-die field goals and got them. They're not getting every break—see refs in all Nebraska games—but with a combination of skill and fortune Hoke is building quite a stack for himself.
The latest chip is a 2013 starting quarterback out of nowhere, a guy who had looked basically awful in any extended playing time before Denard's elbow injury forced Devin Gardner into the Minnesota game. And even if Saturday was too transparently chaotic to go down as an all-timer, it's another step through this rough patch as Michigan waits for the large, mean cavalry to arrive.
In the meantime let's all just stay here on the floor breathing heavily and slathering narrative over the terrifying randomness of the universe.
Football looks hurty sometimes, and by sometimes I mean all the time.
Also, here's Gardner chucking that TD to Funchess:
Brad at Maize and Blue Nation had a day with his shots. He's the guy who grabbed the shots that lead the post and then this is pretty great too:
Also, nightmare fuel!
Full gallery here.
The News got a great shot of Gardner:
That's Bryant in the extremely large track jacket BTW.
Brady Hoke Epic Double Point Of The Week. Roy Roundtree, come on down. Not only did you spawn a strange and likely short-lived meme when the Larrys, about whom more later, made a bizarre joke about how he would be better at catching the ball if his name was "Squaretree"—because square things are good at catching I guess—but you also put up 139 yards receiving, including the game-saving deep miracle. Also on 'Tree's docket: a beautiful corner route catch, getting run over on third and seventeen, and a critical hitch-and-run in OT.
Honorable Mention. Devin Gardner (at this rate will be Vince Young by next year, too bad about plateaus and such), Jeremy Gallon (hitch/bomb/punt return/let's ignore those other punt return opportunities), Kenny Demens (a close, close #2 with back to back OT TFLs).
Epic Double Point Standings.
3: Jake Ryan (ND, Purdue, Illinois) deytikerjerbs
2: Denard Robinson (Air Force, UMass)
1.3: Jeremy Gallon(Alabama, 1/3 Minnesota), Drew Dileo (Michigan State, 1/3 Minnesota), Roy Roundtree (1/3 Minnesota, Northwestern)
1: Craig Roh(Nebraska).
Brady Hoke Epic Double Fist-Pump Of The Week. NEW NEW NEW NEW NEW
This must be awarded to the play that spawned it, which is Demens decleating Northwestern to end the game. In the future awarded to the BOOM YES play of the week.
Honorable mention: Kenny Demens stones Northwestern on third and one too, Treezy to the rescue, Devin Gardner kind of balletically flings a ball way high except it's to Devin Funchess so it's on the money, Jibreel Black forces a Colter fumble, Jordan Kovacs implodes Colter's back.
Epic Double Fist-Pumps Past.
11/10/2012: Mattison baits Fitz, Kenny Demens decleats Northwestern, game over.
Our hipster quarterback. WHICH ONE OF THESE DUDES IS DEVIN GARDNER
you've probably never heard of me
Probably the one on the left. PROBABLY
Open contempt. Northwestern fans were pretty hype on Nick Van Hoose as the cornerback who might rescue their secondary from its overwhelming Northwesternness; Van Hoose did not play. The Northwestern secondary was overwhelming in its Northwesternness.
This manifested on second down after second down when Michigan generally followed up a one yard run by going with a 2TE I-Form set and throwing a hitch in front of a helpless cornerback, or a corner at a helpless cornerback, or a hitch and go well past a helpless cornerback. I get pretty irritated when Michigan, which cannot run from under center even a tiny little bit, goes OOPS POW SURPRISE PLAY ACTION on obvious passing downs, but in this game it worked because every hitch route came with either a first down or some YAC baked in.
I have no idea why Northwestern didn't just bracket Michigan's single WR hard and dare Michigan to make them pay by getting to the second level—something it seemed they were four or five blocks from on every play. But they didn't. So, yeah.
RUUUUUUUUUUUU—oh you are nevermind. IIRC, Michigan did not have any called runs for Gardner except the goal line rollout (and that did have a pass option). He got sacked once. That means his seven other rushing attempts were all scrambles. That's more than Denard has acquired in eight games. They were also effective—an average pickup of almost seven yards without any of those coming on fruitless third and longs.
Yeah, that is Vince Young-like. The combination of effective deep balls and a willingness to take off is potentially deadly. Covering four verts and containing Gardner seems hard, and add in dumpoffs to space players like Norfleet and Hayes, and that's a nice recipe. Hopefully Michigan explores that once they don't have to minimize QB impact at all costs.
[UPDATE: After checking out the Gardner errysnap video, Michigan did have another called QB run in a goal-to-go situation that went for five or six yards, so six scrambles.]
not always pretty, but so far so good / Upchurch
Air check. We should erase the desperation bomb to Roundtree, which was a throw Gardner had to attempt, missed, and got a miracle deflection to complete it. That excised, Gardner was 15 of 28 for 8.3 YPA, two touchdowns, and a turrible interception. Add in the scrambles and that's good in a vacuum. Your context: Gardner was playing a poor defense minus its best cornerback and on an offense that can't run the ball even a little.
Those probably balance out, leaving Michigan with a good performance from a guy who'd been playing WR two weeks ago and has eligibility next year. That is huge.
Unlike last week, I can't remember anything particularly outlandish that happened to alter Gardner's stats since we've already set aside the desperation heave at the end of the game. Gardner actually lost a long completion to Jerald Robinson, and there was nothing on the order of Roundtree, Dileo, and Gallon going all circus for their QB in the Minnesota game. When Gardner missed, it wasn't by much. Minnesota was some good throws interspersed with a lot of shaky ones on which the receivers were great; Northwestern required a lot less heroism from the WRs.
You'd expect rapid improvement from a guy getting almost his first extended playing time and transitioning back to reps at QB from reps at WR; Gardner leapt even that high bar.
Y'all be jumpin'. Michigan has now pulled opponents offsides five times in two weeks with Gardner under center, with Northwestern threatening to go three or four more times.
That's a credit to Gardner's hard count and evidence of how much more comfortable Borges is with an offense that operates from under center. To run those freeze plays you have to be under center quickly enough to try it and then try something else if it doesn't work, something that has not often been the case for most of the year when Michigan was struggling just to get plays in. Against Northwestern, how often did you think "GET OUT OF THE HUDDLE" to yourself? For me, it was zero times. That's down a half-dozen from most games this year.
SIDE NOTE: I've seen a lot of credit going to Gardner for having the awareness to fling those fades when guys go offsides. That's a misunderstanding of what's going on. The way it works is this:
- Gardner huts his hut real hard, and then waits.
- Guy jumps or does not jump.
- If guy jumps, Mealer snaps it, free play.
- If guy does not jump, Michigan checks into something else.
So if Gardner gets the ball he knows someone is offsides and he has a free play and just throws the fade. He only gets the ball if he has a free play. The credit should go to Borges and Mealer.
SIDE SIDE NOTE: Yeah, Michigan did try to do similar things under RR from the gun. Bizarrely, what seemed to happen is that Michigan would get a guy to jump but he would get back before Michigan could snap the ball, leaving Michigan to burn a down on a low-percentage play.
Hello, Fitz. Not that Fitz. Hey, three broken tackles en route to a touchdown on a nothing dumpoff: that is a play. I enjoy Fitzgerald Toussaint making plays. he also picked up a bunch of bonus yards on his 50-yard inverted veer give, and then fumbled. That's his first fumble, right? I guess he gets a pass for it. Even Mike Hart finally broke.
A tip, I say, a palpable tip. Did anyone else notice Michigan removing AJ Williams for Devin Funchess on the third and goal in OT, and think to themselves "rollout to Funchess's side"? Lo, it transpired, and Northwestern covered Funchess but had no one else on the edge once a playside LB tried to shoot inside Omameh and got walled off.
I require more Dileo. Michigan finally had enough of seeing punts hit the ground and put Dennis Norfleet back there in place of Gallon; Norfleet let the next punt hit the ground. Dileo fair-caught the next one. Meanwhile, balls are being tossed at the thus-far ineffective Jeremy Jackson and Jerald Robinson as Dileo watches from the sideline. I humbly request more targets for Dileo, who gets separation and catches passes, instead of larger receivers who do neither of these things
Maize and Blue Nation
Kenny Damn Demens. Remember when he was getting lined up two inches behind a nose tackle on a three man line and obliterated by guards releasing clean? Yeah. Demens isn't going to be a guy who makes every #25 in the future wear his name on the chest, but any time he walks into a bar for the rest of his life sporting that mustache of his someone is going to be like "CONSECUTIVE TFLS TO WIN 2012 NORTHWESTERN" and buy him a beer, and I love it when that happens. See also: Jerome Jackson, 2005 Iowa.
Demens did get beat by Northwestern's #1 WR on their last touchdown, but that's an RPS thing and a function of Michigan's LB slide plus Northwestern consistently gashing Michigan on the corners. Projected % of Michigan fans instantly reminded of Chris Graham against Anthony Gonzalez: 37%.
So sexy. Michigan came out with a a weird three man line featuring Jibreel Black as the NT that all but begged Northwestern to run up the middle on their fourth down, with the results noted above: Ryan gets cut off by the backside G, Black shoots playside of the tackle and forces a cutback on the handoff NW was baited into, BOOM.
That was exactly the plan:
“The last tackle there — number one, I like the call that (defensive coordinator Greg Mattison) made because it was one where it may have talked (Northwestern) into running the football because of some of the space inside,” said Michigan coach Brady Hoke. “And then Kenny just did a nice job of just working inside out to the ball, where maybe a little bit earlier he was maybe getting too far ahead of it.”
Michigan's defense finally got gashed, but man did they dial it up at the end.
Will it happen again? Ohio State is going to be checking out the Northwestern film quite a lot, but I'm not sure they have a Mark-like back to hit that edge. They've got a couple thumpers who will challenge tackling skills more than speed.
Linebacker switching. I didn't notice this live but a lot of people have said Desmond Morgan had a rough game, which seems logical since after a couple weeks of limited linebacker swapping we saw a lot of James Ross, including on the final two Northwestern drives. Ross was the guy who came an inch away from stuffing the Northwestern fourth and one. I'll get to the bottom of what went down in the UFR.
Pipkins comes on. Also receiving a lot more PT: Ondre Pipkins, who had a rough few plays against Minnesota before getting the hook. Again not sure why but probably based on Northwestern being one of those hurry-up outfits that puts a heavy demand on opposing defense's depth. Insert usual desire to be a team that puts that kind of pressure on the opponent.
Getting edged. Michigan's really got to do something about their option scheme, probably. I'll have to check it out to see if it was much different than what happened against Air Force.
Oblig. Kovacs number switch bitching.
Me = Dude (obvs)
Car = Kovacs
Flame = #11
Nihilists = Brandon (obvs)
He's still JKovacs32 on twitter, at least.
“I’ve worn No. 32 for quite some time, I think I’ll always be No. 32,” Kovacs said
Yes. Dammit that needs to be the walk-on-who-plays number. Does no one understand how to make things? /wireseason2
Oblig. game theory bit. Big points to Pat Fitzgerald for going for it on fourth and short with around three minutes left. That is a spot in which it's easy to go NFL and derp your way to shrugging postgame coverage, but the obvious play is going. One yard and you've got the other team trying to complete a 50-yard miracle to tie. Punt and even Michigan's languorous two-minute drill still has time to ease down the field.
Northwestern got it by a few molecules thanks to what seemed like a favorable spot, albeit not one that is ever going to get overturned by the Big Ten's milquetoasty replay officials. (After the Penn State TD debacle they are now the Rod Gilmore Memorial Big Ten Replay Officials.)
Fitzgerald gives back about half of those points on the punt. You hate variance if you are Northwestern punting the ball back with 25 seconds left. NW…
- took a delay of game penalty instead of using a timeout
- ran out their rugby guy to bash a line drive into Gallon's chest
- got a net of 11 yards as a result
Rugby punts are generally effective but tend to be more unpredictable than regular stuff: shanks are easier, and if the returners are positioned correctly they get an opportunity like Gallon got. The play there was to take a timeout and hang one in the air to force a fair catch. The upside of that is about equal to the rugby punt and the downside is nil.
Michigan didn't really face any major decisions. They could have taken a shot at the endzone after the Roundtree completion but chose to kick. The difference between that decision and the end of last year's ND game was one second on the clock and a timeout, which they had against ND but not here. The Roundtree completion took six seconds, and it's easy to see that last one slip off the clock for any number of reasons.
FWIW, Michigan played their TOs right by taking all of them immediately once they were facing do-or-die time on defense.
Git R Done, for values of R that equal racism. If you don't follow me on twitter you missed the saga of the Larry The Cable Guy clan in my immediate vicinity, a group of redneck yahoos that said a lot of things like "LEZ GO CUMONG" and "GIT EM CUMONG," which was annoying when they did that really loudly after a four yard run—now my hopes are all up and it's second and six—but mostly harmless.
That ceased on a Norfleet kickoff return on which one of them screamed "run like you stole it" and I was processing the I am somewhat uncomfortable with the racial overtones that statement displays thing when one of them almost certainly dropped the n-word. I looked at the MGoWife, and she looked at me to confirm, and then I just really hoped that it wouldn't come up again because if that happens a second time, well… words will be exchanged and I'm trying to panic myself to death at a football game thanks, please let's not get in a screaming match.
It did not come up again. Hurrah. There's no real lesson here except it's not very fun to be surrounded by Larry the Cable Guy.
BONUS BONUS BONUS: a Larry next to me left after the Gardner INT, which lol. I moved over because there was a tall guy in front of me… directly into the path of a woman with four pom-poms whose thought process in relation to those was:
I bet if I shake these really hard they're invisible.
If only, lady. If only.
* NW ended up with 431 total offense yards. That's the same amount that Alabama,
the greatest team ever assembled, a pretty good offense, had against us. I never would have guessed that Alabama and NW would be equivalent at anything. After the Alabama game, I wrote, "If we can hold everyone else under 431, I’ll be happy." NW didn't get more than 431, so I'm not unhappy, I'm just confused.
* Thomas Gordon led us in tackles with 11, not a good sign. Demens and Morgan were next with 9 apiece. Considering Mattison substituted freely with the LBs, that's a lot of tackles.
I bumped Best And Worst but in case you didn't click through:
…this week’s game definitely felt like the first one to showcase Al Borges’s “preferred offense.” It was a number of shorter passes, a dedication to running the ball with the RB, and play-calling that couldn’t fall back on a Dilithium-fueled QB if the first and second reads were not open. Minnesota showed this a bit in the first quarter, but that game felt over at halftime and so I’m not sure what you could glean from it except that the offensive line still couldn’t get a push inside.
Does it need to be said much more than that? Inches decide ball games, particularly close ball games. Against Nebraska inches separated Northwestern from a clinching interception and a devastating blown lead and loss. Against Michigan, those inches mattered even more.
You can slake your schadenfreude needs if you're weird and hold some sort of grudge against Northwestern at the SoP postgame thread.
Blog stuff. The Ann Arbor Chronicle has a photoessay documenting everyone recording the football game. Meta.
not actually photos of the Roundtree catch
KENNY DEMENS – He didn’t play a perfect game but he did make the tackle of his life – TWICE! It’s a play and situation you dream of as a kid growing up playing Pop Warner Football. Demens not only made the big stop to win the game on 4th Down, but he also made the stop the play before on 3rd Down! OUTSTANDING!
Michigan struggled on defense in this game for a number of different reasons. Jake Ryan and Frank Clark both lost contain frequently which gave Northwestern big gains on the ground. In addition, and I think Mattison figured this out before the fourth quarter, but Michigan was defending the speed option in an unsound manner. The playside linebacker was always playing the quarterback, forcing a pitch to the running back who had nothing but blockers in front of him. I think Mattison assumed his corners and safeties could get off of their blocks on the outside the help contain the rushing attack, but Michigan's corners aren't very good at doing this. By the fourth quarter, Michigan started forcing the runs back inside.
I cannot agree with Maize and Blue Nation about this:
The running game. It showed signs of life this week. I think the more pro-style offense that Gardner runs suits Michigan better on offense. We're still trained to run the spread-option, but I don't think it's working for Fitz. He's a downhill runner. I really like that Rawls can come in and compliment Fitz...although, it might be the other way around, actually. I thought the line blocked better this week. Hoke stayed with the same lineup he's had all year across the line, so it was encouraging to see the interior especially, play better.
Michigan got a 50-yard gain on an inverted veer give—blocking not relevant unless you're a WR—and 41 yards on six Gardner scrambles. They also lost six yards on a Hayes jet sweep that's now scouted by opponents. Their other 23 carries went for 49 yards. Death. If Michigan finds itself trailing against OSU there's going to be a point at which it'll be time to run the quarterback from the shotgun even if it's Gardner and the backup option is Jack Kennedy. Michigan just can't move the ball on the ground without the numerical advantage provided by using the QB.
U-M Student Section Sucks
And I thought the key play nonsense was bad.
The empty seats are past the point of ridiculous now. Michigan has been reduced to having its football players make videos begging fans (read: students) to show up on time for the games. WTF?! This isn't Ball State. Bo's probably rolling over in his grave.
I'm not sure what more can be done since the athletic department already instituted the points system. But seeing all those empty seats up there after the game starts is a slap in the face to Hoke and the Michigan players.
That should be "30% of the student section sucks." 70% of them are there. The solution is to give out t-shirts.
FWIW, the key play thing has not been done in probably ten years.
It wasn't a perfect day. The Toussaint fumble was maddening, but a great play by the Wildcat defense. Special K remembered where "In The Big House" was on his hard drive. There weren't enough holes in the offensive line to run through, things of this ilk.
But it was sunny, warmish for a November day. Al Wistert got a tremendous ovation from the Michigan Stadium crowd, the MMB put on a funny show, Devin Gardner continued to look good, Roy Roundtree remembered that he's a heck of a receiver, Gibbons is still money, and in the end, Michigan was victorious, Really, that's more than we should be able to ask for from the football gods. After all, you need to stay humble.
Warmish? High standards over at the Hoover Street Rag.
For Michigan, it's never over until the last pass is thrown, and tipped, and cradled, and caught. For Devin Gardner, same thing — it's not over even when others think it is.
Nothing is over for the Wolverines, and it's just getting started for Gardner. How many times can a game, or a season, or a young career twist? Gardner was a receiver a couple of weeks ago, hoping to be a quarterback again. Now he's directing a team contending for the Big Ten title.
The Daily on Brady Hoke's magic:
The last time Brady Hoke and Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald were at Michigan Stadium together was Oct. 7, 1995.
Hoke was a first-year defensive line coach on the home sideline. Fitzgerald was Northwestern’s burly junior middle linebacker, wearing a white No. 51 jersey and terrorizing Michigan quarterback Brian Griese.
With the Wildcats leading 19-13 and just 1:40 remaining on the clock, Griese and the Michigan offense were 41 yards from the end zone facing a third-and-15. Fitzgerald had ended the previous drive by tipping a pass out of harm’s way.
Nesbitt FTW; great great angle there. Hadn't even thought about it. Also Estes on not saying sorry.
Gardner saying the right things:
Gardner on Denard Robinson : "This is Denard's team, and this is always going to be Denard's team. He's done way too much for two games to change that."