to play football, not to play trumpet
Now that I'm back in the states and am able to attend the games, I've seen some pretty disturbing things; the "you suck" chant (Just chant the damn Down Number, if we stuff them on 3rd down, chant "4TH DOWN!", if we stuff them on 4th down, chant "1ST DOWN!"), nearly losing to Akron, nearly losing to Uconn, actually losing to Penn St. But I do love football, so I'll try to get tickets to saturday's game in E. Lansing. I must be a glutton for punishment.
What that means is I won't be able to get on here and bitch about the game until several hours after it ends. So this diary is to get all my bitching out of the way beforehand. I'm not a psychic and all predictions are guaranteed to be incorrect. So if I betray any pessimism, consider it a chance for the team to prove me wrong.
Things that will probably happen before the game:
1. I will have to ask about 20 people before I can get a good price on a ticket.
2. Someone will bring up Dickhead Gholston. Which doesn't matter much since he's long gone.
3. Someone will bring up Dickhead Narduzzi's quote about "60 Minutes of unnecessary roughness". Which does matter because that's how his defense plays.
4. MSU's Band will bring out their fake wolverine mascot.
5. MSU fans will be annoying. Conveniently forgetting anything that happened earlier than 5 years ago.
6. I might refer to the Sparty mascot being gay, not that there's anything wrong with that, and how if he wants to marry Brutus, they could elope during the Rutgers game.
Things that will probably happen during the game:
1. We will not be able to run conventionally. Period. Unfortunately, Max Bullough seems to be the real deal. Remember 27 yards on 27 attempts? This game could be that bad, at least on a yards-per-carry basis. Hopefully we won't have as many attempts. I'd be ecstatic if we threw the ball 60 times and rushed 15. That ain't gonna happen.
Denard Devin will be good for at least 3 turnovers, probably two picks and one fumble. And he'll have two or three sacks, at least one of which is caused by his reverse spin and loses 15+ yards.
3. Funchess will make an amazing play, and then we'll be frustrated the rest of the game as he mysteriously disappears.
4. The Sparty defense will be jumping our snap count and we'll take major tackles for loss because of it.
5. Devin will rush for at least 80 yards and two TD's.
6. Gallon will get 100 yards receiving.
7. Spartan players will take cheap shots that aren't flagged.
8. One of our offensive linemen will get injured.
9. MSU will put together annoyingly long drives because we won't be able to stall their running game on 3rd down.
10. MSU fans will be annoying. Some fat idiot will yell "CHEATERS" whenever a flag is thrown. A brazenly foulmouthed pre-teen will get dangerously close to being slapped by me. That's just how they raise their kids.
11. Jake Ryan will save the day.
Things that will probably happen after the game:
1. Bipolar coordinator love will swing to the defensive side, Mattison will again be a genius and Borges will be on the hot seat. This will of course have everything to do with playing MSU instead of Indiana and not actual merit. (But yes, if we can UPGRADE Borges after the season, we should.)
2. Both fan bases will be upset with the referees. MSU will have about 4 pass interference penalties called against them, 3 of which spartans will think are ridiculous. Meanwhile I'll be able to freeze-frame 8 other instances that should have been called P.I. or defensive holding but weren't.
3. MSU fans will argue that any personal fouls called on them or other dirty plays that weren't flagged were somehow justified. Insert your own non-sequitur here. I'm partial to the idea that you should always beat up frat boys while wearing ski masks, because you know, "they had it coming".
4. If MSU wins, they'll probably win the division. If we win, I'll complain about how the division title is determined by conference record instead of division record since we'll probably lose to Ohio and have our only two losses being to the other division.
5. Win or Lose, something will be set on fire in E. Lansing.
6. MSU fans will be annoying.
Points of Quantum Uncertainty:
(aka, things that will swing the game)
1. Weather. The forecast calls for 40% chance of rain. With our dependence on the passing game and pass blocking, I'm guessing the more moisture, the worse for us.
2. Connor Cook's passing. Somewhere between 3.5 yards per attempt and whatever the hell that was last week will probably determine the game.
3. Al Borges the mad magician vs. Al Borges the stubborn coach looking for a new job. Self explanatory. (If you see Fitz catching wide open swings and screens, it could be a good day.)
4. The refs. THROW THE DAMN FLAG.
5. MSU Defensive scoring. We'll probably turn the ball over a few times. But will those be turned directly into TD's or will Mattison get a chance to make Connor Cook look like Andrew Maxwell?
1. Our basketball team looks good.
2. I hate cold weather.
3. I hope they didn't screw up Ender's Game.
4. I'm gonna do a Native American dance for sunshine and clear skies on Saturday. So like, an 'anti-rain-rain dance'.
There was a big deal made among our fanbase about how few plays we ran against Minnesota, 52. I was curious to know what bothered some of my fellow fans as to what bothered them so much about this number. Clearly the number is skewed a bit as Minnesota ran a 9+ minute drive early that ate up a ton of the clock. But still 52 is far less than the 75, 80, 90+ that some of the top programs in the country are able to run week in and week out. We did manage to snap 82 times against PSU, but that did include 4 OTs and a rather harried, crazy game as well.
I recall thinking at the beginning of this year while watching the first few games of the football season that Thursday night (including MSU) that I hadn’t really seen a team huddle that entire night. I was then a bit relieved to see our offense against CMU also participating in this no-huddle idea (I'm quite certain we no-hudddled or I guess it could have been considered just a quick huddle) . I think the relief was more of a macro “keeping up with the Joneses” idea than anything more specific or tangible. Now I know exactly the reasons why I think a no-huddle, faster paced strategy is not only optimal, but required to be successful in this day and age of college football.
Here are my various points/thoughts on why I believe this strategy is so effective, and conversely when not used why it is such a huge detriment.
1. Defensive substitutions – when you control the pace on offense you will control the pace of defensive substitutions/adjustments as well. This is even more important when playing us this year as our DLinemen seem to rotate in/out of a game nearly every play. The funny thing to me is that the very reason that we probably do this is to keep our guys fresh. But I would argue that having them play a down then immediately have to sprint off the field, or sprint onto the field then have to play a down actually tires them out more than if they just ran a play, stood there, then ran another play.
2. Another poster pointed out the differences between how Oregon runs a practice and Michigan. Our practices are slower paced with much more instruction. Theirs are fast paced with fast repetition. I would assume Oregon probably runs twice as many plays in any given practice as we do. This seems like an important advantage to me over the course of a season as the offense should become much more comfortable to a player with increased repetition, like with almost anything in life. I believe someone else pointed out that Washington has also picked up on this idea and I can only imagine those two teams are not alone.
The two items above are specific advantages to running a fast paced offense. But there is really another more important aspect to this. And to me the no-huddle aspect is far and away the most important.
I have always been annoyed when Peyton Manning comes to the line and spends 15 seconds barking out “Omaha” and other shit. Sometimes he’s actually changing the play just prior to the snap and other times it’s all just BS to get the defense to overthink and maybe change their call. But regardless of his intention he does this before almost every snap and uses up most of the play clock each time. What this does is gives him the last play call option against the defense every single time.
Similarly to how I feel watching Manning I get very frustrated watching NW line up quickly before every play then the entire offense looks over to the sideline. Their offensive coordinator is squeezing every drop of advantage out of each situation by calling the most optimal play based on down/distance/time/score and most importantly how the defense is set up. This is the poker equivalent of always playing from the button. This is a HUGE advantage.
Michigan and Borges however seems to have gotten away from the no-huddle idea that I was so relieved to see in the first game of the season against CMU (at least I believe we did some no huddle against CMU). When you break the huddle with the play clock quickly winding down it takes away every single advantage that teams like NW have created for themselves. Devin has zero time to make any real adjustments based on the defensive set, not to mention costly delays of game or burning costly timeouts to avoid them.
Here is a screen shot I saw posted somewhere of an OT play against PSU.
It was mentioned that this was a run to the short side of the field. So assuming that this was: a) not photoshopped, and b) a run to the short side of the field then, ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? What play do you think NW would run if they came to the line and saw this being offered by the defense? I’m sure they would have about 20 seconds to decide what to do and it sure as fugg wouldn’t be a run to the short side.
I really like Brady Hoke. Early on he showed some balls periodically by going for it on short 4th downs where most likely Carr would have punted. I also thought RR was a real bonehead regarding a lot of the things that he did both on and off the field. But I don’t know man, we seem to have regressed right back in the Carr/Debord years on the offenseive side of the ball. RichRod might have been a lot of things, but from an offensive pace and strategy standpoint I was very satisfied. I don’t want to go around calling for people’s heads, but Beilein made the decision after I believe his third year to make some major changes because he was not happy and look how that turned out for our bball program.
With every other item where we struggle with the game couldn’t we at least get to a no-huddle or quick huddle most of the game and give our offense some sort of advantage to make up for everything else? If this was done against CMU then why can’t Borges just turn it back on again so he can opt to have Devin throw the ball to one of the two WRs standing all by themselves when the defense lines up like they did above? That is just absurd to not even give yourself the option to do so in those circumstances.
Due to time constraints the past couple of weeks, I caught only parts of the Purdue and Illinois games. Luckily, what I saw made a post like this unnecessary, unless you think “Best: Everything”, “Best: I’m Kirk Herbstreit and I like to jinx Purdue” and “Worst: Moar Fitz rushing” embodies deeply thoughtful analysis.
Plus, I was kind of saving up for this MSU game. The first two weeks of the B1G season looked like tuneups to start the season, with MSU being the unofficial beginning of “Run for the Roses” in Pasadena, and nothing transpired during those first couple of games to change that opinion, at least in UM’s eyes. MSU, though, stumbled to start the season, and were definitely looking to dig themselves out of a Sparty-inflicted hole that included tough loses to OSU and Iowa. And so a rivalry game + MSU reeling + “William Gholston isn’t a jerk, he’s just misunderstood” = a fertile ground for highlighting the waxing and waning of UM’s first victory in the history of this series.*
* This series having started in 2008, one year after Microsoft Encarta and the Mayan calendar apparently arrived in East Lansing.
UM was only 1-4 against Dantonio heading into this game, and for all of the negative press the guy gets here and across the greater UM blogosphere, he’s turned a mediocre State program into a consistent winner, something it hasn’t been since, I don’t know, the 1950’s. Seriously, check out these season records from 1950 to 2011. People around here complain about UM not making a bowl game for 2 years; MSU had won 10 games only twice in the past 60+ years before Dantonio glared his way onto campus.
And it wasn’t just the losing to MSU that drove people crazy, it was how. Sometimes they won in dramatic fashion in OT after UM made a miraculous comeback; other times it was a dominating performance on the ground. Almost always, though, MSU had the better team AND found a way to confound not only the Michigan players, especially Denard Robinson, but also the coaching staffs. There’s a reason that the game previews for 2010, 2011, and 2012 kept pointing out that MSU was successfully jumping the snap on virtually every play, yet it kept happening. Or how MSU found a way to consistently gash the UM defense for yards on the edges despite everyone knowing that MSU’s gameplan was taken from the 1959 game program.
So beating MSU needed to happen to not only restore order back to the world, but also to validate the notion that the program was back on its way to the relative dominance most people remember from the 90s/00s. The OSU win last year was a nice step in that direction, as was the bowl game, but beating OSU is rarely presumed when the season begins; beating MSU is far more the norm. And while I’m sure many fans are loathe to admit it, this iteration of UM football needed to beat them to dispel the notion that Dantonio was plated in some impenetrable Wolverine armor (a similar feeling seemed to have set in on Notre Dame until this year). He’s been cut by Hoke and Co., and once that happened that tightening you have in your chest when MSU takes the lead late will hopefully disappear.
* I know this is a super-tired reference. The “good job, good effort” kid was the next in line.
I’m sure this is a bit of coach-speak, but it is also something that needed to be said. Since, oh, the Eastern Michigan game, I don’t think most people saw MSU as a legitimate Big 10 championship team. The offense was too crippled by a porous line, poor WRs, and a somewhat-shaky QB to keep pace with teams like Wisconsin, UM, OSU, and Nebraska. The Iowa game cemented their ceiling for the year at 7-8 wins, even with an elite defense.
Outside of the Alabama game, though, UM’s ceiling was never defined. Notre Dame was a tough loss but one that felt more self-inflicted than the team meeting a superior opponent. Purdue and Illinois proved only that UM was probably as good as Louisiana Tech and and Marshall. MSU, frankly, was not going to validate UM’s season, but only give them another breakpoint from which to calibrate their potential.
And that’s what Hoke encapsulates in this statement. He recognizes that MSU is a rival and the game mattered, but this wasn’t the season. Nebraska and OSU will be tougher opponents, and the near-certain B1G title game and (hopefully) the Rose Bowl bid will be far more emblematic of Michigan’s 2012 season. Last year expectations were such than an MSU win would have been one to hang the team’s hat on; this year, they’re another 4-4 team that gave UM their best shot and came up a little short.
Worst: “Rivalry” game?
Listen, I can totally get behind belittling MSU’s fans. I was at school there for 3 years, and I witnessed two riots, one “celebration” of a hockey championship during a season in which tickets to games were very available, and thousands of instances of drunken 40-year-olds hitting on college girls outside of dorms as the men’s belies jiggled under super-tight “Go Green! Go White!” shirts they picked up from the local Quality Dairy. It is a school that prides itself on making boxes*, having “awesome parties with hot chicks!”, and being able to count, and while the people there are not as bad as you think, comparisons between the two schools tend toward the Blue Team.
That said, the oft-repeated refrain from UM faithful that MSU isn’t a “rival” is just silly. Sure, OSU remains UM’s most consistently-excellent foe, and 30 years ago the Notre Dame and Michigan clashes typically featured top-10 programs shooting for a national title. But MSU is the other major program in the state, and really the only one in the footprint that features two public schools that (at least ostensibly) draw from the same high schools and communities (Purdue and Notre Dame and Illinois and Northwestern feature the whole private/public differences and the related non-geographically draws). In my high school class of around 160 kids, we had 3 who went to UM and about 40 who went to MSU. At other schools, the numbers were a bit closer, but the fact remains that if you go to either university, you are more than likely to have spent years of your life cohabitating with peers on the other side.
For Michigan fans, beating MSU feels like it should; despite EVERY MSU student claiming he/she was accepted but declined/never wanted to apply/”totally loved MSU the minute they walked on campus and never thought Ann Arbor was anything special”, you secretly felt most of them wanted to go to UM but couldn’t. It also poked a weird hole in the meta-argument that the “jocks” went to MSU and the “nerds” went to UM (which never made sense since it’s not like either team is comprised of the general student body). For MSU, beating UM was a clear rebuttal to all the crap I spewed above; a tangible instance of MSU beating UM in something that both schools’ fanbases cared about. This wasn’t a “our Particle Physics major is better” or “our mascot is cooler according to Playboy.com”, but a win for MSU and a loss for UM.
The point is that it matters to both sides, and anyone mouthing off about how beating MSU didn’t matter, that they are not UM’s rival, is just displaying his/her naivety and/or unfounded arrogance. And while I definitely see this year being the end of MSU’s “dominant run” in the Big 10, they will remain a key opponent for championship game and bowl bids under Dantonio. MSU ain’t going anywhere, and trying to ignore them or minimize their threat doesn’t impress anyone.
* I know that packaging engineering is more than making boxes, but that ESPN special a couple of games ago didn’t help to dispel that idea.
Worst: Still with the unimaginative offensive schemes?
Al Borges seems like a nice guy, and I definitely see how the offensive skill players he inherited don’t mesh with the play-calling he prefers to call. Denard is great for the offense that RR runs, where his feet lead the way and defenses worry about gap control and QB Oh Noes! for 4 quarters. Under Borges, he’s an oval-ish peg trying to fit into a parallelogram-ish hole. He’s not super-accurate, the WRs he throws to are either too small, too slow, or too inexperienced for complete optimization, and the dominant tailback and massive linemen are either in red shirts or still playing HS. It’s like owning a 3DO in 1994 – it looks really cool on paper, but the controls don’t work the way they should and the pictures on the game boxes always look cooler than the games themselves.
That said, this offensive ineptitude against anyone with a top 50-ish defense needs to end. 2011 Notre Dame and Nebraska are the only decent defenses that Michigan really scored on, and even with those two performances there were a myriad of factors beyond “offensive efficiency” that led to those outbursts. It’s gotten to the point that I’d rather the team spot opponents 10-15 points just to get Borges out his routine and let up on the reins a bit.
Everyone knows about the much-bemoaned I- and screaming “multiple TEs in on the line so we are clearly running”-formations, but it’s also the option runs that are almost never options and a vertical passing game that can charitably be described as “adventurous” at times. It’s a mindset that calls for plays that he knows his team just cannot execute the way he wants, and while I get the argument that he needs to run what he knows, it is infuriating to see this team get stymied in the red zone or go three-and-out repeatedly with offensive play calling that only calls on Denard to run 6 times in the second half before the final drive. The Denard Borges Fusion Cuisine is like a restaurant in an airport – it looks good because you are starving and have a 2-hour layover with the only other options being a Sbarro’s and one of those airport bars where businessmen from Des Moines hit on the “mature” female bartender who also doubles as the short-order cook. Chop the menu in half, sprinkle in a bunch of designed runs and screens to keep Spartan Pride from killing him on gap blitzes, and wait until Shane Morris is a Sophomore.
Best: This is how we do it!
On the other end of the coordinator spectrum stands Greg Mattison, whose work restoring the validity of “Greg” after Mr. Robinson, Mr. Williams (I’m ignoring the superfluous G), Mr. Davis, and Mr. Brady tried their best to ruin it deserves serious nomination come the off-season. In 2010 Michigan was ranked 110th in total defense, above a bunch of directional schools and below such juggernauts as Rice, Duke, and Baylor. Today? They’re 10th. That’s not just impressive, that’s damn near a miracle. Every time a see Jake Ryan burst through the line to snag a QB in the backfield or J.T. Floyd break up another pass attempt, I involuntary pull one of these:
Yes, this is the same video. No, I won’t apologize for my love of mid-90’s R&B. You’re just lucky I couldn’t think of anything catchy/appropriate for Next.
Say what you will about MSU’s offense this year, they still had one of the better RBs in the country in Bell, a competent QB, and the laser-focus to circle the Michigan game on the calendar and pull every goofy play they can out for it. Yet, outside of two drives that netted MSU 170 yards (helped in part by a fake punt that accounted for almost 30 yards), they record 134 yards over 9 more drives and barely broke 300 yards for the game. Bell, who was used as the human battering ram that in years past gashed the Wolverines, had a quiet 68 yards and nothing longer than 8 yards. Maxwell threw a pick and a TD and never looked super-comfortable out there, and his repeated failed attempts to pick on Floyd at the end of the first half should shock anyone who remembers watching this only a couple of years ago.
Michigan won yesterday because the defense is a legitimate threat, and that transformation is due in large part to Greg Robinson (and Brady Hoke) making it so.
(Of course, this raises the questions surrounding why big-time coordinators were apparently “out of budget” under Carr and RR, but that’s for another day. Minnesota, let’s say.)
Best: Poor Sinead O’Connor
Everyone likes to say that Brenda Gibbons’ fondness for brunettes powers his cold-as-ice heart as he kicks yet another game winner. Personally, I think he derives his power from hair follicles in general, their faint aroma wafting by his nostrils as he lines up a half-dozen yards behind the ball. 2 years ago he was 1 for 5 in FGA, with a long of 24. In other words, a shade over an extra point. Two years later, he’s 10 of 12 with a long of 42 and a couple of game winners to boot. Someone needs to be in Columbus at the end of the season with whatever machine they use to fumigate Abercrombie & Fitch with their “cologne” and make sure whatever subconscious memories that are triggered in Gibbons are ready to go.
Worst: Recidivism on the rise in East Lansing
Usually the MSU-UM game coincides with the yearly East Lansing work-release program. I leave it to the reader to
bunch of convicts
to see what I am referring to.
Best: Liveblog Moderators are people too.
A redundant but totally necessary thank you should go out to the posters who moderate these liveblogs. I’ve yet to moderate one, as my proclivity to immediately approve anyone who references TMNT or “No Fear” t-shirt slogans would bog down the proceedings immensely, but watching the feed yesterday made me happy that no matter how many whiny posts go through, there must have been literally millions that didn’t. To imagine the horrors these men and women must endure every Saturday and yet function for the rest of the week is truly shocking, and they have my gratitude. Of course, that and $2.99 would get you a commemorative “I Was There” pin from the 2011 B1G championship game, but at least it’s something.
Adam Rittenberg in the Big 10 Blog outlines how Michigan's offense is "probably" going to look next year. In case you missed it, it's going to be a little spread 'n' shred, a little read option, a little west-coast, and a little power-running.
Basically, we have all these spread people and we don't know what to do with them so we're going to do it all until we get guys better suited to us and our style of play.
This began as a reply to Misopogon's post, but I thought it warranted some Board banter.
One of my biggest frustrations last year was Denard's unwillingness to tuck the ball and run on designed pass plays. Some people seem to be putting that on Denard, but I don't think that's accurate. Rich Rod was an avowed control freak and didn't seem to tolerate any deviation from his schemes or play calls. Did we ever see one of our quarterbacks audible during RR's tenure? I feel like Rich even said something about this a few years back, along the lines of, "If we execute, we don't need to audible."
Denard is such a lethal runner, he should have been taught to take off as soon as his first and second reads weren't wide open. But it seemed like our coaches were telling DR that "If it's a pass play, you're passing. End of story." Doesn't make sense to me, but if the coaches were giving DR the green light to scramble, we would have seen that happen more often as the season progressed and Denard became more comfortable in the pocket. Instead we saw more defenses recognizing that Denard will never run on a designed pass play, and so our passing game became less effective and Denard's YPC fell.
So after a year of screaming at the TV, watching Denard search in vain for receivers on 3rd and 7 when there was nothing between him and the first down marker but open space, I'm excited to see him in a new offense that forces defenses to respect (and fear) his scrambling ability, even on plays where he doesn't take off in the first two seconds.
Don't know if Borges will do this, but it was pretty clear that scrambling on designed pass plays was verboten in RR's offense.
I acknowledge I was a bit underwhelmed with the hiring of Brady Hoke, but I really like what he is doing to build his staff. Mattison was a major coup. While I was at first skeptical of going back to Lloydball, I really think that Al Borgess has it right on how to win in the Big 10 (we have clearly seen for 3 years what does not work).
There is a new video interview with our new OC posted today.
In case you missed it, here are the key points:
- You win with toughness, this game is "not for the faint of heart"
- likes the offense - strong line, backs are "solid" and receivers "galore".
- Plans to use Spring practice to assess what formations work best with the talent
- Will demand great effort and run every play like it is your last
- Premium on execution ..."everything is done wiht maticulous execution"
After seeing these interview the last couple days, I am getting genuinely optimistic. First, these guys are all geniunely happy to be here and clearly see this as a destination job. They all think the world of Brady Hoke. (Mattison is only coming here because of Brady). Lastly, they seem to really know how to win in the Big 10.
After being a skeptic, I am looking forward to the meticulous execution (maybe no more stupid penalties on first and goal from the 5) and toughness. If we have to sacrifice a few 500yd offense days against NC, for a few more W's against the Big 10, I am all for the new regime.