"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
No Twitterverse this week. Instead, we shall plumb the depths of our collective sadness.
We live in some the headiest of times of modern Michigan fandom. The basketball team is coming off a NCAA runner-up season and it is bringing in another bumper crop of highly-ranked recruits. Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison are in the early stages of assembling some sort of Megazord. Michigan’s facilities are new and shiny and fantastic. But to move to the future, it is important to understand the pain of the past.
So, with a few weeks before anything actually happens in the sports world, this seems like a good time to try to answer a simple, cathartic question: what was the worst moment to be a Michigan fan?
Like the Highlander, there can be only one. So I guess this is our search for the Lowlander. Use whatever criteria you wish, but bear in mind what we’re trying to determine. We’re limiting the competition to the 1990’s and on. Obviously crappy things happened before that, but many of us can’t remember too much farther back. The events in question have been divided into four regions:
- The Daggers Region: It was there. It was so close. WE COULDA HAD HIM, MAN. And then... lightning bolt blue screen of death.
- The What-Could-Have-Been Region: The quantum mechanical gateway to an alternate universe in which we were showered with glory and the heavens rained Pop-Tarts and pleasing music played throughout the land.
- The Well-That-Was-Thoroughly-Unenjoyable Region: These were the games or events that hurt your soul from start to finish. Nothing about them was pleasant. Hope was crushed consistently and repeatedly, and then The Fates really went to work on you.
- The General FML Region: Generic embarrassments. A catch-all for the stuff over the years that still has you saying, "ugh, don't even get me started on ______"
We’ll cover the first two regions this week, and the other two soon enough.
I’ve included some concise arguments for and against the thing in question being the worst thing ever. As a palate cleanser, for each entry I’ve also included a comparable event that went Michigan’s way. The wonderful Yang to the craptastic Yin, if you will. When you’re done reading, Vote HERE: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/99RQK2Y.
Again: read. THEN VOTE. Then cry a little.
Are you ready for this? I mean, we’re gonna pick at some serious wounds here. Okay. Let’s do this. (after the jump)
Recently, Football Study Hall provided a spreadsheet of epic length to anyone who wanted it detailing not only catches and yards for the 2005-2011 seasons, but "targets"—ie, the number of times a guy had the ball tossed in his direction. FSH did this for all of D-I. I sliced out the other 119 teams to focus on Michigan.
This data spans a fascinating period in Michigan history:
- 2005-2007 are the last three years of the Henne era, except 2007 is a third Henne, a third Mallett, and a third injured Henne who shouldn't be playing but Mallett is insane.
- 2008 is the Threet-Sheridan disaster.
- 2009 is mostly Forcier.
- 2010 and 2011 are mostly Denard, with 2010 RR's best shot at a great offense and 2011 the first year of Borges.
Here's the interesting stuff that came out.
YARDS PER TARGET
The top 20 (min 10 targets). Bet yourself a dollar you can guess #1:
|11||2007||Carson Butler Jr.||25||20||9.8||12.3|
You win a dollar from yourself. Junior Hemingway is the king of yards per target. Not only does he share the #1 spot with Martavious Odoms, he also finishes #6 and #8. It's too bad this data doesn't go a couple seasons further back, allowing us to have a YPT battle royale between Hemingway and Braylon Edwards.
The other thing that jumps off the page is the impact of the spread. The only pro-style WR to crack the top ten was Mario Manningham's 2006 season. Tyler Ecker also made the top ten but on just 15 targets; he made his hay by catching 80% of his limited opportunities. Also, Roundtree does very well to show up at #18 despite being the target of dozens of screens. That target number is off the charts.
This is expected, since the spread came with a huge shift towards running the ball. Passes are naturally more likely to go far when you run 70% of the time.
The bottom 20:
|48||2006||Carson Butler Jr.||32||19||5.4||9.1|
This is mostly sparsely-used tight ends and tailbacks with the notable exception of the top three receivers in 2008 and their 200 targets between them. Also I would like to note the presence of Tim Massaquoi towards the bottom of the list. This is not his fault. Massaquoi broke his hand in 2005. Michigan kept throwing the ball at him.
Note that two of the worst yards-per-target guys—the 2008 versions of Odoms and Mathews—show up in the top 10 here. Guys, I'm beginning to think that Michigan's 2008 offense wasn't very good.
Manningham's 2007 year is a clear winner here, with Jason Avant's 2005 a distant second yet distant from the #3. In context, Avant's stats scream "guy who will be a possession receiver for 20 years in the NFL": Michigan went to him all the time, never threw him screens, and he still checks in with a terrific catch rate.
Also catch Roundtree's 2011: bad. His production fell off not only because he was targeted less frequently but because his catch percentage plummeted from 67% to 39%. No screens, no easy TDs, a lot of doubt about whether he can take over Hemingway's downfield duties.
[NOTE: The spreadsheet erroneously listed Sam McGuffie as the #1 player here with 39 catches on 39 attempts… in 2010. The spreadsheet is right, in a way: those are McGuffie's numbers from his 2010 season at Rice. McGuffie still finishes #1 for his 2008 season, a 19 of 22 campaign.]
Unfiltered, these are of debatable utility since all of the guys at the top are small-sample size guys. Tailbacks, tight ends, and slots dominate. Let's limit it to players with at least 30 targets in a season and see what we get. The "rank" is rank amongst everyone. There are 59 seasons in the DB.
|33||2006||Carson Butler Jr.||32||19||59.4%||9.1|
I highlighted it this time. Roundtree's regression from 2010 to 2011 was enormous. He went from the #5 player in this sample to second-worst.
In other news, Adrian Arrington's 2006 was secretly great. And when you combine the catch rates with the yards you have a dead heat between Mario Manningham '06 and Junior Hemingway '11 as the best season in this time frame, with Avant's '05 drawing an honorable mention for moving the chains.
MOVING THE CHAINS
There are two subsets provided in the data, with attempts split into "standard downs" and "passing downs." Passing downs can come on second and long but using them as a proxy for third and let's-not-run isn't going to introduce too many distortions. The top 20 security blankets:
|19||2006||Carson Butler Jr.||19||12||63.2%||12.4%||19.6|
You get a dollar for betting that you should throw it to Jason Avant on third and medium, too. Only low-usage versions of Arrington and Roundtree bested him on catch percentage and they were far less-frequently targeted; Arrington's 7.4 YPC further implies that some of those completions were well short of the first down.
Avant has a combination of catching the ball and maintaining a great YPC that makes it totally unsurprising that he's a solid NFL player and a little wistfully sad whenever I compare yet another incoming WR to him when I know deep in the soul of my heart that there's no way Freshman X will be half as good.
BONUS: Steve Breaston would like you to take your criticisms about his hands and shove them up where Bill Hancock's head is.
4/7/2011 – Michigan 1, North Dakota 0 – 29-10-4, national championship berth
[Ed-M: M 2, NoDak 0 if you count the empty-netter but it felt like 1-0]
42:40: The first time I looked at the clock. You'll note this is still in the first period. At this point I was a bit uncomfortable with the way things were tilted and wanted them to get to the locker room to regroup so they could get back on the relatively even footing it seemed they'd grasped. I mean, North Dakota seemed better but there was a bit in there where this looked like a plausible hockey game.
40:59: Ref gives Michigan embellishment call as player tries to hop around defender to grab the puck. Furious.
40:00: Exhale. Pop on twitter to complain about Rust's elbowing call. Think back to the 2003 Yost regional final when Mark Mink turned a harmless shorthanded CC turnover behind their own net to a wrap-around goal. Remember shouting "you haven't done anything all year but I FORGIVE YOU" at Mink. Half wince at persistent complaints about amount of playing time handed over to Ben Winnett over the years, half take credit for goal since universe tends to say "oh YEAH" at blog assertions.
39:30: This isn't going well. Already.
36:55: Derek DeBlois is headed off the ice when the puck approaches the bench; he hesitates for a second, looks like he's going to play it, and then continues. They call too many men.
34:55: Michigan kills another power play without really letting North Dakota get set up. That's their third; at no point has UND looked dangerous.
35:00: Still not going well at all.
33:03: Ref fails to call a matching minor on a Sioux slash. Power play.
29:50-ish. Hunwick robs Chay Genoway as he plunges into the slot, Eric Werner-style. He receives a cross-slot pass. A pass that goes from one prime shooting area from another is completed and Hunwick makes the save with his body. He's outside the crease as he does this.
29:05: The point at which I look at the clock and say "over half this period is gone" with sudden relief and realize I have been looking at this hockey game as the world's longest penalty kill since the 42:40 mark. I admit this to myself now. We are going to look like Wayne State against Colorado College the night before Mink scores the goal that forgives all: lined up on the blue line like men being executed for treason.
25:00-ish: Gregoire turns Langlais and comes swooping in on net right-to-left. He's on his forehand and has the entire net; Hunwick slides with him and stones him.
24:12: Hunwick drinks water. A friend who sits in the end zones at Yost told me that Hunwick is finicky about his water. Whenever a ref comes by to drink some his body language reads "why do you have to be like that?"
20:00: Exhale. Type "shitshitshitshitshitshitshit" into twitter because at this point analysis is impossible. I'm pretty sure Clare isn't playing much and there have been points when the fourth line has gotten trapped in its own end against the Frattin line that I can remember now but it's fight or flight.
18:00: Ten percent.
16:00: Twenty percent.
15:51: Frattin plays in on Malone as Glendening gets beat around the corner. Hunwick goes for a poke check and gets it; I realize this about five seconds later since the animal terror had been focused on the area behind Hunwick where the puck would pop out as the inevitable, devastating five-hole goal was scored.
I think about how I've seen this story before.
In 2004 Boston College was bombing Al Montoya but Michigan was hanging on to a one-goal lead thanks to goals from Mike Brown and Andy Burns—basically Winnett, except Burns was a defenseman scoring his first of the year. After a hectic nine-minute stretch without whistles in which Michigan finally started playing BC even, Michigan gave up a goal off an offensive zone faceoff. Whole self deflated, etc. BC won in overtime; shots ended up 42-15 BC.
12:33: I am being hunted. A shadow passes to my right as I scurry, tiny legs whirring through wildflowers. The shadow is getting larger.
10:01: AAAAAIIGH FRATTIN—HUNWICK!
I have no idea where the puck is but I don't care because it's not in the net. Air Force did this to us. God, we were good that year.
When I came home my then girlfriend had someone over. I said nothing, went into the bedroom, and closed the door. She silently brought me a glass and some whiskey, and I thought she was as wonderful as anything could be in a universe of total blackness.
9:32: Nothing much is happening righ—DON'T EVEN THINK THAT
8:50: Merrill holding call. This is all my fault.
6:50: Merrill comes out of the box without North Dakota getting much more than a point shot, but Michigan gets stuck in their end just as the penalty expires and is clearly gassed. I remember a game against Maine in which Michigan was down to five defensemen, one of whom was a walk-on, but not like Hunwick is a walk-on. Like a walk-on walk-on. They mostly played four guys. Mike Komisarek was a giant, a future pro who was unbelievably good, but by the end of the game he could barely move, and Maine put the Comrie era to bed.
The puck slides to the blue line, but not out. The linesman doesn't see it that way. Good linesman. I take back everything bad I've ever said about offsides.
5:00: Seventy five percent.
4:00: Now counting in minute increments. At 3:14 I decide there are three minutes left. I hate that 2:37 is still three minutes. 2:16: two minutes. Kill one power play. Come on.
1:13: Goalie gone. "Get it out," someone screams. The puck does not get out.
57.5: A pass slithers out from behind the net and manages to avoid the mess of sticks and skates camped out there. This memory does not require a refresher from wikipedia because it's terrifyingly recent: UMD just scored into a wide-open net against Notre Dame on this exact same pass. Hagelin throws himself at the shot and blocks it. The puck turns heel and ends up right back on Trupp's stick. He walks into the slot and lets it loose; Pateryn has thrown himself at this one and the puck deflects into the corner. It's thrown back out into the same spot on the ice, where Trupp waits; Hagelin has recovered and chucks the puck into the other corner.
44:1: UND recovers and throws a couple passes around the perimeter. The second one is one-timed; Hagelin is again there. He blocks it. Puck turns back into an American hero by somehow lying directly at Hagelin's feet after the block. He's attacked by the defenseman who just fired it; Hagelin evades him; Michigan breaks to center ice three on two; Hagelin passes it over to Caporusso as another Sioux player comes up to stop him; Louie does the same when the last remaining defender approaches him at the blue line; Scooter—of course it is Scooter—slides the puck into the empty net.
Someone tries to shake my hand or something and is hugged.
I didn't want to lead the post with this but there was quality work done on the board last night, most of it inspired by this guy:
[click for big]
Usually bird-flipping maniacs don't look like accountants. Our previous experience tends more towards lawyers:
Two things to note:
- Louie Caporusso giving him the bird right back—I didn't even know you could do that in a hockey glove.
- See the guy in the white giving a death stare that moves from Scooter to the bird-flipper? Yeah, if you watch the Winnett goal that guy flips off Winnett. North Dakota fans: classy.
Complete this photoshop espectacularrrrr.
Hell Yes Bullets
Random guys who played well unexpectedly. Luke Moffat had as much of a game as you can have as a third/fourth liner in a game where you're pinned in your own end most of the time. Melrose was all about Rust, and with reason. Moffie was not exploited—he went with Frattin in the first period and tied up his stick, turning what looked like it was going to be a dangerous chance into a weak shot Hunwick had no problem with.
Rust. RUST. I think we're getting a sense of just how silently good he is. Michigan's late-season renaissance has come with Rust logging huge minutes against top lines and it doesn't seem to matter who's on his wing. A win tomorrow makes Shawn Hunwick a legend and it should probably make Rust one too—Schwartz, Frattin, and UNO's big guns have little to show in three nerve-wracking games. If UMD says the same tomorrow he instantly becomes the most underrated Michigan player in the last decade.
Ref complaint. Seriously, the reason people say "keep your head up" is so you can get hit in the head with someone's shoulder, and calling a charge on Michigan after an obvious charge on North Dakota makes me want to die, not to mention a trip on the goalie late in the game that was totally ignored. Yost Built heard it was Scott Hansen from HE and immediately said "that's the guy who waved off the Ryznar goal in Buffalo"—so, yeah, basically any time Michigan gets a HE crew they will have screwed Michigan at some point in the past.
ESPN non-complaint. Melrose was all about North Dakota last night and people were all about ripping Melrose, but he was right. This was a "sometimes the best team doesn't win situation" and it was obvious on the ice. Kudos to Michigan for doing what they needed to but asking Melrose not to marvel at the Sioux is asking him to turn a blind eye to reality. Red agrees:
“I’ll tell you, they’ve got to be stunned,” Berenson said. “I know we were in '97. We were stunned. There’s so much momentum built up in your season. They rolled through the season, they rolled through their playoffs, they rolled their playoffs, they rolled through the first regional.
“But they’re stunned. They can’t believe it. They’re going to second guess themselves.”
Michigan just beat '97 Michigan. That team was stacked, and saying so doesn't make you a bad dude.
Also, I love Gary Thorn so much.
Gurrrrrgh. Someone retweeted Lee Moffie apologizing for nailing some dude in the crowd:
I followed Moffie since that's entertainment right there, and then it suggested I follow "ajtrea23," which is obviously AJ Treais even if the number is messed up, and I clicked through. Treais's bio:
University of Michigan 13'. The Andover High School 09'. A less dynamic version of TJ Hensick.
My spidey sense told me to Google this and sure enough:
Tell Winnett I'm so so sorry.
The highlights in non-picture format:
Yost Built on the flipper:
didn't you feel like that when Andrew Volkening shut us out 2-0, despite the Wolverines outshooting Air Force 43-13? Didn't you feel like that when Ryan Miller beat us 1-0 in a game that we outshot Michigan State by a 31-13 count?
This is how it feels to have the goalie that makes opposing fans do...well...that.
Sioux fans are going to think about this game--this season--for the next decade as the one that got away. This is going to be their 1997. The year their team was near unbeatable during the year, actually unbeatable for the 2 1/2 months heading into the tournament, and that damn tiny walk-on goalie slammed the door on them.
Shirtpocalypse. So if you've gone to the MGoStore you've noticed that there isn't much of it left. This is why:
We have been ordered to remove many MGoStore designs by the University of Michigan. They feel that these designs violate NCAA compliance rules as well as certain University trademarks. As a thank you for your support of Brian, MGoBlog, and the MGoBlog Store, receive 10% off any purchase at www.moesportshops.com by using the code: mgoblog10
Thank you for your understanding and support and we appreciate your patience as we figure all of this out and continue to provide you with unique apparel. Go Blue!
This is extremely frustrating, but Underground sells licensed apparel and has no choice but to comply. It's not quite as bad as it looks since they threatened but did not actually C&D a number of designs that were pulled yesterday, including stuff like "Worst State Ever"; these will return shortly. Anything player-specific, no matter how oblique, is out unless it's an officially-licensed #16 jersey. We can't do anything but stew about it, unfortunately. Sorry for the lack of warning.
The one thing you can do is take pictures of those stupid t-shirt stands (you know, the ones with "MICHIGAN DRINKING" shirts) that ripped off several MGoDesigns when they have player-specific merch and send it to the U. They deserve pain, too.
Big Ten Hockey less a possibility, more a certainty. Barry Alvarez, always the first guy to tell the world about potentially seismic changes in conference realignment, on Wisconsin's position:
“I don’t know the logistics — how long it takes to get out of a league, all of that — but I sense that we will move in that direction,” UW athletic director Barry Alvarez said Thursday.
Madison.com also cites a source close to the process saying the same thing:
“There’s going to be Big Ten hockey,” assured a source with intimate knowledge of the process, adding that 2014-15 is the target point for introducing the new league although he said “it could happen sooner than that.”
A six-team league would presumably play 20 conference games, leaving 14-16 nonconference games for the defectors to spread out amongst former league-mates. A ten-team WCHA featuring Denver, Colorado College, and North Dakota would still be a power conference, and a nine- or ten-team CCHA (depending on whether they reconsider Alabama-Huntsville) would still have new arenas and elite coaches at ND and Miami to guarantee themselves respectability. Hopefully any move to Big Ten hockey will make an effort to preserve existing programs with scheduling agreements and guaranteed home games for the Ferris States and Northern Michigans of the world; the last thing college hockey needs is more programs folding.
One thing that's being kicked around that you probably won't see: Notre Dame in the BTHC. The Big Ten is not going to throw Notre Dame a bone if they don't have to, and making that move would further damage the leftover CCHA schools I assume everyone wants to protect. I bet Michigan still has a home-and-home with them most years, but they aren't going to be in the conference.
Everything you ever wanted to know about Steve Breaston in two questions. Via the Arizona Republic:
Question: Do you have any hidden talents none of your teammates knows about? You know, like can you play jazz flute?
Breaston: I can write. I'm a writer. I post a lot of stuff on my fan page on Facebook. Oh, and I can bend my thumb behind my knuckles like this. Look.
Q: Pretty cool, but that's a little creepy. Did you have some sort of freak accident as a kid or what?
A: No, no. My thumbs are just like that.
Also, Breaston's favorite baseball team is Pittsburgh. Jeez.
Optimism from Massachusetts. Except not really:
Q: What's the best case/worst case scenario for UMass? In other words, what needs to happen for the Minutemen to win? How does a blowout happen?…
A blowout seems more plausible. UMass hasn't faced a good dual-threat quarterback in a while, and if Robinson gets going early, things could unravel fast. The Minutemen can't afford to turn the ball over. Naturally, if they can avoid falling behind early, their confidence goes up. An early hole could drain their belief in their ability to win pretty fast.
It's so nice to have people saying things like this, even if they're a I-AA beat writer.
Etc.: The MZone's Know Your Foe returns! This is just like when we used to go to bowl games! FSD talks to Denard's mom, who says he runs like Grandpa, which is a terrifying thing to think. Tom reports that 2011 OL Chris Bryant and his 2012 teammate Jordan Diamond will be unofficial visitors tomorrow. I will remind you about this again but Phil Brabbs is having a fundraising event in Chicago for the Indiana game.
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.