9/8/2012 – Michigan 31, Air Force 25 – 1-1
It's been a long time since the first game of Michigan's football season wasn't at home. It was 1998. Michigan headed to South Bend to get annihilated by Autry Denson and the option in the opening game of their title defense. The box score lo these many years later is horrific:
Michigan Notre Dame First downs 24 19 Rushed-yards 38-150 55-280 Passing yards 322 96 Sacked-yards lost 3-29 0-0 Return yards 6 14 Passes 28-44-0 4-10-1 Punts 2-31.0 2-44.0 Penalties-yards 4-30 5-32 Time of possession 29:46 30:14
Michigan led 13-9 before four straight ND touchdowns turned it into a laugher. Michigan got blown out despite outgaining the opponent by 100 yards and allowing the opposition to complete all of four passes. They fumbled all of the balls. They stopped none of the options. That game was 36-13 before Michigan tacked on a cosmetic touchdown at the end.
This was the Michigan-ND rivalry in the 90s. If all you know about it is 38-0, "oh, wide open," and Michigan ripping Irish hearts out in the last 30 seconds, you are fortunate. I know better because I was in college then.
The next week I sat, despondent, in the student section as a group of resilient (and probably drunk) guys in front of me chanted "Cross is Boss" in the waning minutes of Michigan making a blowout loss to Donovan McNabb and Syracuse look pretty on the scoreboard. Donovan McNabb was in college once. I said it was a long time ago.
Walter Cross went over 100 yards that day, all of it racked up long after the game had been decided. Syracuse, too, had murdered us with the option.
Saturday started strangely blank. I wrote this thing two years ago about the opening of football season that I already kind of wrote back when far fewer people were reading this blog and have to force myself not to write again every Friday before Michigan starts playing football again:
I can say that most of the time I like that I find football important. It gives life a rhythm. I think my favorite part happens on the first day of the new year, when I file into the stadium an hour early. It's still mostly empty then. You can spread out in the sun. In my mental picture of this my seats are high up in the corner so I can take in the whole vast breadth of the stadium. Perched there, looking down and across, the future stretches out across the horizon. Anything seems possible, and the wait is over.
I hadn't felt a lack of possibilities since 1998, when Michigan was not going to repeat as national champions even before Donovan McNabb showed up. I went in at the usual time and sat in the usual spot and felt… not that. It turns out getting hammered 41-14 in your opening game restricts dreams of future glories quite a bit. It's like having New Year's Day on the eighth, a week after you found out you're not getting a promotion. You found this out because your boss stapled it to a bobcat he mailed to you. The stitches still itch.
So when the band rolled out, it was weird. I did the thing with the clapping and the raising of the fist. The voice in the head that has been going ermagerd fortbaw ermagerddddd the last 13 years was not there. Alabama had taken it, ripped its pigtails out, stomped on it, and returned it to me. They said "what?" confrontationally. They asked if I was going to do anything about it. I said "no, sir." It sat in the corner, petting itself, maybe whispering ermagerd fortbaw, maybe not. It was hard to make out.
Two plays later, Denard Robinson ripped through the line, cut directly towards me, and was one on one with a safety with an angle. An angle and no chance in hell. Turbo was engaged, and Denard shot into space with the same breathtaking speed he showed after fumbling a his first snap against Western Michigan.
ermagerd ermagerd ermagerddddddd
On the first play of the second half, Denard ran 50 yards in one shoe, making a cut on his sock.
Cross (@ right via MDS) was a freshman that year. He must have thought a hundred yards in his second college game was a hell of a start. Must have thought he would be watching other guys take the meaningless carries pretty soon. But Cross never cracked a hundred yards again. He'd only match the ten carries he had against the Orangemen three more times. Once a year Michigan would blow the doors off the worst team in the Big Ten; Cross would dust himself off to pick up 40 or 50 yards as the stadium emptied and walk-ons made their moms proud.
I liked him, though. I remembered Cross Is Boss whenever he'd hit the field, and how those deranged guys in front of me were taking whatever they could from the game in front of them. If the only thing it offered was an opportunity to ironically root for some guy to rack up more meaningless yards than had ever been gained by a guy in a winged helmet, that's what they were going to do. I was still sitting on those seats as Michigan fell to 0-2, but I was less despondent. Cross was boss. If those guys could be okay with life, I could maybe be too.
So, yeah, Michigan's definitively not elite. The defense got torn up by a triple option team, and the offense got stoned against Alabama, and I guess I'll be okay with that, because if some dudes in 1998 can carve some fandom out of Walter Cross, how can you not be excited about Denard Robinson's final games in Michigan Stadium?
Fortbaw. Let's get it.
Things That Still Aren't Bullets
Honorable mention: Funchess, Gardner, Joe Bolden, James Ross, Jake Ryan(?).
EPIC DOUBLE POINT STANDINGS:
1: Denard Robinson (Air Force), Jeremy Gallon (retroactively awarded for Alabama game).
Welcome, freshmen. Not really. Hey, remember when this was finally the year when Michigan didn't rely on freshmen all over the place? Yeah… nyet. Michigan rolled out not one but two true freshman ILBs (James Ross and Joe Bolden) on Air Force's penultimate drive—the last one they actually used their offense on. Hoke would later say Bolden played so much because Colerain, his high school, ran the option, but even so… man.
Meanwhile, Ondre Pipkins, Mario Ojemudia, and Keith Heitzman (a redshirt freshman) saw plenty of time on the defensive line and Jarrod Wilson was the guy who came in when Michigan went to nickel. You make shake your fist at Rodriguez's last couple of recruiting classes now.
It wasn't that bad on offense, where the only freshmen to get a lot of playing time were AJ Williams and Devin Funchess. The former is like okay, we'll deal, and the latter was going to play early on damn near any team in the country.
not having shoes is the coolest now (Upchurch)
FUNCHESS. I try not to get all I told you so because I have occasionally not been right about things—like those three solid years when I thought Rodriguez was going to work out—but dang I told you so. Not that this is any great scouting feat on my part. Pretty much everyone who went to that open practice and saw a 6'5" guy with freaky long arms getting sent deep on wheel routes thought "holy crap" to himself and wrote about it on the internet.
I'm not sure if it was wheel one, wheel two, or not-a-waggle deep bomb that was the turning point, but by the time it was over Funchess had 106 yards receiving and was the first guy out of everyone's mouths in the postgame. It doesn't take a keen eye to think that guy has potential.
In Funchess we saw the beginnings of Michigan's Swiss Army Offense. They lined him up as an H-back and sent him on a wheel against a linebacker, who had no chance because he was too slow. They sent him deep against a safety, who had no chance because he was too small. That's the stuff Borges has spent years doing instead of figuring out how to tweak a read option, and in Funchess we saw the future.
Also the present.
…and introducing Chasing Jim Mandich. Is this too early? No. For one, I'd rather put up pictures of Bo and Mandich 20 times than, like, four. For two, it's the internet. This is how we do. Suck it, guy on twitter who told me to calm down and that it was just one game. WOO!
Jim Mandich is Michigan's all-time tight end receiving yardage leader with 1494 yards. After posting Michigan's first 100-yard receiving day by a tight end since Jerame Tuman did it in 1997, Devin Funchess has 106 yards receiving and needs 1389 to pass Mandich. At his current pace he needs just over 26 more games to do so.
That was the best thing, now the worst thing. Fitzgerald Toussaint: eight carries, seven yards. Commence offensive line panic. Do not hold any in reserve. If you end up in a cornfield wearing nothing but a traffic cone holding a sign that says "AIR FORCE DEFENSIVE LINEMEN ARE 260 POUNDS," this is about right, give or take a jockstrap.
I don't know, man. Live I didn't see anything Toussaint could have done except collapse in a pile of bodies. When Carl Grapentine forgot to turn off his mic and told the stadium "they can't do anything with that" after Michigan set another down on fire by running from under center, he was only telling everyone in the stadium what they were already thinking. Most of those plays went right, we're already nervous about Schofield… conclusion… yeah.
NORFLEET. hey drew dileo what's up you're all catching this ball wrong yoinkkkkkkk now I'm going to run over here bad idea getting tackled bouncing back not getting tackled running back over here different way different direction funnnnnnnnn I am the NORFLEEET zip that was like two guys oops here's like three guys awwwwww now I'm on the ground oh drew dileo you look sad let me apologize I am the NORFLEET this kind of thing just happens sometimes go with the flowwwwwwwwwwww
Denard accuracy. Seemed pretty good, right? The interception was zinged too hard—I'll give him a pass on the "high" bit because Vincent Smith—and the third down Gardner catch-that-wasn't was short. But those are MAs in UFR jargon, and if you put college football in your head all Saturday you'll see plenty of quarterbacks make similar errors. The only throws into coverage were a couple at the end of the half when you may as well force it.
I've seen some complaints about Denard not seeing open guys. I'll check for that as far as is possible given the tape, but if the costs of the Borges transition are an inability to make tiny run game adjustments the payoff tentatively appears to be an ability to put the ball where Denard wants it to be, most of the time.
It helps when you're throwing to Funchess and Gardner, too. The Funchess touchdown was short, but given the target that's what you want to do. As long as that guy is jumping for the ball it doesn't matter that you made him slow up, because he's winning that battle every time.
Crazy enough to work? Air Force's combination of triple option with Oregon's tempo and a pro-style-esque formation blizzard was fun to watch in the same way Nebraska's double pitch was last year… except it was far less fun because instead of one seemingly indefensible play it was dozens of probably defensible ones that weren't.
Q: think that could work at a major college level? Georgia Tech is doing it in the ACC, yes, but I think the option + jet tempo combo would be absolute hell to play against if the guys getting the ball were Denards and Norfleets instead of 5'7" academy guys. It was kind of hell to play against even against guys who are going pro in blowing things up. You're getting gashed, you have to substitute to keep guys fresh, you are freaking out and guaranteed to let some guy run free for a 70-yard score…
worst waldo. Upchurch
…unless he bobbles the ball and falls over.
Maybe it wouldn't work against Alabama but pair that Air Force offense, personnel and all, with a quality defense and you're winning nine games in the Big Ten. Falcon total offense against BCS-ish foes the last three years:
- 2012 Michigan: 417
- 2011 ND: 565
- 2011 TCU: 416
- 2010 Oklahoma: 458
- 2010 TCU: 231
- 2010 Utah: 411
- 2010 GT: 287 (in a 14-7 win)
So unless you also run a flexbone triple option or are the 13-0 2010 TCU team that finished first in total and scoring defense and won the Rose Bowl by holding Wisconsin to 19 points (on 385 yards, FWIW), Air Force is going up and down the field on you.
You'd need a lot of breathing room to get that up and going, granted. Troy Calhoun just tweaked the thing Fisher DeBerry had been doing for decades. Implementing it from scratch would be painful at first, but if you're an Illinois or Minnesota or Rutgers or Cal, it might be worth a shot. I'd loathe it if Minnesota gradually became Air Force++ and Michigan had to deal with it annually. Therefore someone should try it.
Calhoun's just 46. If someone can pry him away from his alma mater, I promise to praise that coaching hire up and down. He even releases his Coaches' Poll ballot weekly.
Does that make you feel better? Those ND/TCU/Oklahoma numbers are just like ours. ND finished last year 30th in total D, 18th FEI. TCU was 32nd, 42nd FEI (schedule issues). Oklahoma was 53rd, but a shocking 4th(!) in FEI.
FEI has Air Force's offense 33rd and 32nd in 2010 and 2011, respectively. Last year's mark was better than Georgia, VT, Michigan State, Iowa, Auburn, and Florida State. With guys who are going pro in going Mach 3. This just happens when you sign Air Force up, even when you don't do it the week after playing Alabama.
"No, not really" -you. I hear you. All the rotation and getting zero out of the defensive line and freshmen and etc. What if I bring up last year's game #2 against Eastern Michigan?
We had all of those happen on Saturday. Nowadays "non-Martin" DTs are all of them, so expand that slice of the pie. The coaches worked some things out. They've got a virtual bye next week against UMass, so they'll have two weeks to prep for Notre Dame—this time State takes the bullet and we get the rebound.
I'm hoping we see some progress against the Irish, who couldn't run at all against Purdue and got Everett Golson sacked five times. Yeah, no Cierre Wood, but Purdue's rush defense was appalling last year.
It doesn't look good but hold out a couple weeks before hitting the panic button.
Also, Alabama couldn't run on WKU. LA LA LA NOT LISTENING
Marmot, city. I've heard from a number of people that Air Force mistimed a lot of their plays and ended up having Arena-style guys running at the line of scrimmage before several plays. Here's TTB:
The officials were terrible. Terrible. Air Force's first touchdown should have been called back for illegal procedure. Quarterback Connor Dietz tossed to A-back Cody Getz, who beat everyone to the edge. In the meantime, the wing started moving forward prior to the snap like he was in the CFL and chopped down safety Jordan Kovacs, who was responsible for the pitch. Without that forward momentum, Kovacs - Michigan's best open-field tackler - very well could have stopped Getz before the goal line. Later in the game, Air Force converted on a key third down when both the quarterback and the running back - who were in a shotgun formation - started moving to their right before the ball was snapped . . . and a slot receiver was already in motion. So three guys were moving prior to the snap, and the play was allowed to stand. Those were obvious, blatant non-calls and each one could have had a significant impact on the outcome of the game.
It was hard to tell if that was the case from my vantage point, but the refs did miss a really blatant illegal motion on an AF third and long conversion late. They had a guy moving, and the tailback took off before the snap, and no one noticed. I know they're military, but this is not 'Nam. There are rules.
Adventures in Special K. One: no "In The Big House." That is also two through six hundred. NO POP EVIL~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~!!!!!!!atatatat.percentsign.asterisk.
Given how much they ran that into the ground last year, that's either a sign of that thing's merciful departure from our world or Special K's greatest ever troll. I wouldn't put it past him, the scourge.
Instead, Special K put on that Flo Rida song that is not at all about blowjobs, wink wink nudge nudge:
Is that the kind of thing we want to be exposing the youth to? The guy is seen using a Windows phone in that video.
Injuries. Brennen Beyer has a "knee strain" according to Hoke, which means he has anything from a fairy tickling his patella to a Turkmeni flaming crater where his knee used to be. Other than that, Michigan didn't get it too hard from all the cut blocks. Ash's issue seems like a one-week thing, and no one else is publicly injured.
Helmet numbers. I don't miss them.
Paging 2011 Jeremy Gallon. 2010 Jeremy Gallon has started returning punts again. Please report to the maize and blue courtesy phone.
Number stuff. The first Kovacs bullet has been dodged, and I think if they were going to give him someone else's number they would have done it right away. They probably aren't changing a senior captain's number in their second or third opportunity to do so. So, hurrah. Ryan's as good a choice as any, but I was hoping they'd put it on a receiver since Oosterbaan was famous for catching Bennie Friedman's passes and 47 is a distinctive number for a wideout.
Ron Kramer's 87 is next. Hopefully that ends up on a tight end. I'm rooting for Not Funchess because 19 is not a number I have strong associations with yet.
Air Force didn’t turn the ball over, but they only went 2 for 5 on fourth down. They missed a field goal, and were stopped on a fake field goal. That’s six points. That’s the margin of victory. Ugh.
Michigan missed chances to get off the field, giving up frustrating first downs on third and medium-to-long time and again. Brady Hoke missed a great chance at points to end the first half with some terrible clock management, ending up with a TO in his pocket. With Michigan up 14-3, Vincent Smith missed a chance to extend Michigan's drive and possibly their lead by tipping an accurate third-down pass from Denard up for an easy interception; Air Force would score a TD and keep it close for the rest of the game.
Photos and such. Galleries from Maize and Blue Nation…
Media with the main and the stream and the Theo. Funchess named freshman of the week, Denard offensive player of the week by Big Ten. Denard Robinson had more total offense than Michigan did. Michigan up to 17th in the AP. Devin Gardner's still a quarterback in his mind. Give it four more games. Also the media refuses to call people by their last names. That's what they're for! They're names!
Michigan struggled early against Western Michigan and especially Notre Dame, and wasn't exactly pretty against Eastern Michigan. But it improved.
It shut down San Diego State the following week, then shut out Minnesota the one after that, and the Wolverines were in business.
The key to that success was simply getting better every week, especially on the defensive line, and Hoke sees the same thing happening this year.
"I would say there's a uniqueness to the offense, and the schemes -- but at the same time, we're a work in progress," Hoke said. "Quinton Washington is getting better every time he plays. Ondre Pipkins is getting better every time he plays. Keith Heitzman ... Mario Ojemudia ... Frank Clark, having him back.
"We're a work in progress."
Meinke also gives Toussaint a D+, which come on man that guy could have been Barry Sanders and gotten 15 yards on those attempts. BOO THIS MAN. Also, this may be a typo or it may be that DENNIS NORFLEET IS TOO FAST FOR VERBS
Dennis Norfleet is who we that he was
So there's your answer, Michigan fans.
Denard Robinson still is Denard Robinson. And so are the Wolverines.
On days like this, that'll be enough. Just barely enough, maybe, but Robinson, with a little help from his friends, did manage to beat Air Force, 31-25, before a crowd of 112,522 in the home opener at Michigan Stadium.
A week after getting thumped by top-ranked Alabama (then No. 2), the Wolverines needed a late fourth-quarter stop Saturday to avert an even bigger disaster. And they needed every bit of Robinson's dual-threat ability, as the senior quarterback actually managed to account for 101 percent of Michigan's offense.
With 208 passing yards, Robinson is now just 12 yards behind ex-Michigan great Tom Brady for sixth on the school's all-time passing yardage list. Brady had 5,351 career passing yards as a Wolverine.
Brady only started two years, but even so…
Larry Lage gets in another holy crap:
He had his fourth game with at least 200 yards rushing and trails only Mike Hart's school record by one. His 426 yards of total offense ranked fifth in school history, trailing four of his own performances.
Blogz! The flyover:
MVictors has some bullets:
The two Devins: Added to the postgame press conference hall of shame was the fiasco around the media trying to figure out how to address individual questions to Devin Gardner or Devin Funchess, as the Two Devins were trotted out to meet the press at the same time. The Wolverine’s Michael Spath asked the first question and intentionally addressed the question to “Devin” as a joke, but that didn’t help matters. More than a few times the players had to ask for clarification as to whom the question was addressed and it got silly. “The old one,” was offered up at one point to clear up the confusion, making Gardner, who was trying to be a bit stoic, crack up. Props to WTKA’s Steve Clarke who directed the final question to “Number nineteen”. I was going to direct mine to “number square root of 144”.
No one asked why they love bucket hats. Get with the program, media. Get with the program, Heiko.
MVictors also has helmet stickers Hoover Street Rag:
Air Force looked exactly like I would want to see a group of my nation's future military leaders look like as a football team, disciplined, focused, moving quickly, attacking the enemy's weaknesses, and fighting to the last man. They gave Michigan all they could handle and earned the respect and admiration of hopefully every Michigan fan. I had joked earlier in the week that "It's hard playing against Air Force because you can't boo freedom*", but I stand by it. Air Force, along with Army and Navy, are America's teams. Every one of those players made the choice to not only become an officer by going the Academy route. Every one of them has taken on the additional responsibility of being a football player at the Division I level, above and beyond what is asked of them. It was the same reason that I found it so hard to be angry when Air Force beat Michigan in the opening round of the NCAA Hockey Tournament in 2009. The cadets did an outstanding job and I am proud of their service to our country.
I agree with all of that save the "hard to get angry after the 2009 Air Force hockey game."