At press time, Harbaugh had sent Michigan’s athletic department an envelope containing a heavily annotated seating chart, a list of the 63,000 seat views he had found unsatisfactory, and a glowing 70-page report on section 25, row 12, seat 9, which he claimed is “exactly what the great sport of football is all about.”
For a variety of reasons, this is going to be a (relatively) short edition of this diary. I’ll try to touch on a couple of points, but the fact that this wasn’t Horror II: Electric Boogaloo is all most UM fans hoped for.
Best: They’re Learning
I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.
I never thought UM would have any trouble against Appalachian State. Though 2007 was a mere 7 years ago, even at glacial-pace UM there have been wholesale changes to the football program and its view of the sport’s landscape that it might as well have been 70 years.
Chief amongst these changes has been a necessary expansion in how the program views the college football landscape. Though they still sometimes talk about it with dismissive tones, the coaches today recognize that up-tempo, spread-style offenses are viable and gameplan accordingly, unlike in 2007 when the lessons of Troy Smith in The Game were ignored due to pride, stubbornness, or idiocy, only to be ruthlessly duplicated by proto-Denards Armanti Edwards and Dennis Dixon to start the season.* That doesn’t mean UM can’t be beaten by such a team (OSU did it last year with a variant), but at least now the defense seems suitably equipped to respond, unlike when Johnny Sears was trotted out and led to this prescient outlook from Brian before Oregon came to town.
[Oregon] Will shred us. Our linebackers are clueless, we're going to spend the entire game in a nickel against four and five receiver sets, and the Ducks' talent level is vastly higher than Appalachian State's. Only errors from Dixon will keep us from playing Purdue 2006 opposite them; thankfully Dixon is the kind of guy who makes tons of errors. I figure the preparation levels will be better, but I also don't buy that Michigan can not be prepared to defend 21 instances of a basic running play. The defense sucks.
And that’s the thing – the ass-kicking by Oregon, had it not been preceded by the Appalachian upset, may not have been enough to force the types of changes we saw in the intervening years. Oregon was a major college program, from a power conference, and UM faithful could have waved their hands and justified the loss due to Oregon’s “gimmicky” offense combined with D1 talent. UM had been blitzed by good teams before, and this probably wouldn’t have been viewed as nothing more than a bad day and a bad opponent. But when a body-bag game rises up and Weekend at Bernie’s you, change went from a luxury to a necessity.
That 2007 loss will forever remain a prominent footnote to UM’s history, but I believe it set into motion the type of maturation and evolution that was necessary for the next stage of Michigan football to take shape. It begat RR, which led to Forcier, Denard, and Gardner, and even when Rodriguez was fired the influence of the spread lingered in Hoke’s first couple of seasons. Though the offense itself appears headed to more heavy artillery, with rocket arms and galloping trees replacing super goats, the defense has the types of players you need to compete against a far wider array of offenses than years ago.
This ASU team is a shadow of the program that came to Ann Arbor years ago, but what it embodies hasn’t, and the fact UM dominated them without breaking a sweat shouldn’t be overlooked.
* And from a personal standpoint, I had watched UM struggle against mobile QBs for years, from Donovan McNabb at Syracuse to Jarious Jackson at Notre Dame. While it can be said that players like McNabb could make most teams look bad defensively, it felt like the coaches were the British taken aback by the colonists using clever ambushes and non-traditional tactics to defeat them. Lloyd Carr and co. ascribed to the rules of engagement, and at times it seemed they were incapable of responding if you didn’t follow suit.
Best: Snake on an ATV
I know I’m getting the reputation around these parts as the guy who writes about professional wrestling too much, and I’m honestly trying to cut down on the references because they lead to tangents, but just when I think I’m out of the woods…
Can I get a Hell Yeah!
But honestly, it was fun to hear him talk about football on Gameday, and getting Lee Corso to share a drink on screen is the second-most enjoyable moment I’ve had watching Lee in years. We all know the first.
Best: Ghost Hunters
So before I started writing this diary, I was trying to think of other famous upsets and if there was some parallel between teams getting their “revenge” later on. I’m thinking Chaminade over UVa in 1982, Temple over VaTech in 1998, and the like. I know that teams can’t erase upsets, but perhaps future domination helps to ease the pain from that historic misstep, a balm to soothe the burn.
What I realized, though, is that those upsets aren’t stains as much as they are ghosts. UVa has beaten Chaminade, and Virginia Tech slipped by Temple a couple of years later, and yet I had to look those up games for 10 minutes while I remember both of those upsets (along with James Madison over the Hokies in 2010 and Stanford beating USC in 2007 before we all realized Harbaugh was a dickish genius) like they were yesterday. These losses linger because there is no way to exorcise them, and that’s kind of the beauty of college sports. These upsets aren’t malevolent spirits out to desecrate the affected institutions; they are simply a reminder that on any given Saturday one team can find those couple extra inches** and win the game. And what happens before and after is meaningless for them to remain a part of the teams’ fabrics. App St. will always have that win and UM will always have that loss, and that’s okay.
So I was never bothered by Brandon signing up for this game again. UM shouldn’t “run away” from the past, as if everyone will just forget about the biggest de-pantsing in college football history if the victim always wears a belt and suspenders. I can accept that a better opponent could have been scheduled based on results on the field, but that was never the argument. UM’s now evened up their series with the Mountaineers, and if Brandon wants to schedule them again in the future because it’s an easy win and fills up the stadium, by all means do it.
** I know it’s cliche, but I still love that scene. Dumb movie overall, but that’s a great bit of delivery.
Best: Oh Yeah, The Game
We’re a thousand words into this thing and I haven’t really talked about the specifics of the game. Well, there’s a reason for that – this was a blowout from the opening whistle. UM was up 35-0 at halftime despite not playing amazingly well, holding the Mountaineers to under 100 yards of total offense and a couple first downs (including a penalty-assisted one due to Frank Clark laughing at the mortal construct that is the “punt shield”). Gardner had a great first half (though he had a little arm-punt action on his second TD), going 13/14 for 3 TDs (all to Devin Funchess), and after some early struggles the running game pumped out 350 yards on the ground at nearly 10 ypc. Both Green and Smith broke 100 yards rushing, and the offensive line opened up holes and kept the QBs pretty clean through. Funchess proved his worthiness of the #1 jersey to people who seemed unnaturally infatuated with a number previously worn by a guy with a pretty extensive “Legal issues” section to his Wikipedia page, pulling in 7 catches for 95 yards and generally looking like a first-round draft pick.
Like all games, there were definitely some minor issues. Jake Ryan The defense let up a bit in the 2nd half when Mattison liberally inserted 2nd- and 3rd-teamers and eschewed even token pressure on many downs, and Morris looked every bit the part of a backup still trying to match his physical tools with the mental elements of the game at the collegiate level, but those are minor nits. This was the type of performance you expect from a good team against a below-average Sun Belt squad, and regardless of opponent it was nice to see heading into South Bend next week.
Best: They blocked people!
I’m definitely not an offensive line guru, so I defer to the experts in this estimation, but overall it felt like a positive step for the offensive line marked by a number of lingering issues that will be there for most of the year. The inside of the line struggled early on getting a significant push, and while that can happen from time to time it was still jarring to see guys like Miller and Burzynski get pushed back with (relative) ease. Mason Cole is a true freshman, and while his potential showed he also suffered from the usual struggles of a first-time starter, including giving up an early sack of Gardner. As the game progressed the line definitely seemed to be more in sync, and both Smith and Green showed much-improved running form in no small part due to the fact that they didn’t have guys in the backfield every time the ball was snapped.
Make no mistake about it – as Brian noted in his season preview, mediocre is the bright, shiny beacon in the distance for this year’s line, but it wasn’t a trainwreck and considering this was a team that couldn’t get 100 yards from any of its backs against CMU last year, I’ll take this as a positive. Next week against Notre Dame should be a stiffer test, but that defense looked a little shallow even before the suspensions, so perhaps the not-Morrissey times will keep going in South Bend as well.
Best: The defense
On one hand you’d hope a defense comprised almost exclusively of top-rated players and/or experienced returning starters wouldn’t struggle shutting down a mediocre offense, but on the other it was extremely gratifying to watch UM give up one long-ish run to start the game and then basically close the door on Appalachian State until the contest was very much decided. The box score only shows 2 sacks and 2 more TFLs, but the line was constantly pressuring App St.’s QB and bottling up their running backs in that first half.
The secondary wasn’t tested much, but even with some meaningless drives in the 2nd half that helped to inflate the numbers it held App. St. to about 50% completion percentage and under 4 ypa. It looked like a “vintage” Michigan defense, and the logical maturation of the unit that held up pretty well last year until they played OSU. They really do have 3-4 corners who could be starters on most teams in the conference, and Thomas getting some serious run in the 2nd half was nice to see even though it seemed like the defense was in a bit of a shell. Also, that punt block was McCray was pretty awesome, with Gedeon’s rather athletic return for a TD punctuating a great day by the defense. Just another couple lottery tickets I know, but the young guys looked solid out there.
Overall, it looked like a defense that can win games provided the offense is at least competent, and right now it is probably the 2nd-best unit in the league. Time will tell how they’ll hold up against the more explosive outfits in the conference, but I can definitely see why people were calling it a potential top-10 unit in the preseason.
Best: 100a and 100b
I know people want there to be a clear #1 RB, but right now (a) I don’t think either player has distinguished himself sufficiently to warrant the bulk of the carries, and (b) I don’t think it really matters. Smith definitely looked shiftier and sturdier while Green continued that unnerving trend of going down on less contact than you’d expect, and on Gardner’s first run of the year it sure seemed like he was expecting Green to be there and not running the opposite direction. So it’s a work in progress. But having two backs who can produce at a high level is perfectly fine for this offense. Both are young and still developing; in a perfect world one would have red-shirted last year. I would be fine if UM continues to play a backfield by committee as long as everyone continues to average over 10 yards per carry.
Worst: Just Stop Talking
I’m happy I wasn’t the only one who noticed, but my gawd were the announcers vapid and useless. Mowins was trying out there, but sometimes a lot can be said by saying very little, and telling me that jerseys have numbers on both sides and that throwing passes to wide-open players is a good sign for an offense are probably best left unsaid. Though it was nice for her to wax poetically about Union Hall, that historical landmark on UM’s Brooklyn campus where well-to-do “alternative” parents can play Bocce and talk about their lives before they became saturated with urban beekeeping and baby DJ’ing. She probably felt like she had to compensate for charisma vacuum Joey Galloway, who probably would have had more fun taking selfies and trying to color inside the lines than actually call a football game.
Quick diatribe: I remain flabbergasted that former athletes keep getting recruited for on-air speaking roles based on whatever minimal “name recognition” they have from their playing days. I know Troy Aikman has become a competent announcer, but this was me for years listening to him call a Cowboys-Eagles game.
They rarely bring meaningful insights to the proceedings, and for every Spielman or Collinsworth you get a dozen Robert Smiths and whoever that former Northwestern DB who can’t string two sentences together. Not to make light of the situation, but lots of these guys stopped playing in part because their bodies were breaking down and they had suffered untold cranial injuries. At their best most of these guys were average public speakers, yet every year we keep putting suits on them, handing them a hot mic, and expecting them to be great orators. There’s a reason Robert Smith isn’t a doctor like he always said he would be, and while that’s probably in large part due to him being a f**king pretentious goober, the concussions probably didn’t help. It’ll never change, but one of these days I hope executives wake up and just let people who know about football talk about it and not try to shoehorn in these human props in 3-piece suits.
Worst: You ate my last Fig Thing
I’m pretty down on Notre Dame, even with their solid win over Rice. It looks like a team with talented starters and a huge chasm to the backups. Golson is a weapon, but I just don’t see the playmakers like they had in years past, and the defense is replacing NFL draft picks with question marks in the front 7. It will be close because these games tend to be, but UM should enter this game the favorite regardless of ND’s pre-season ranking.
What makes this a worst is that this is the last scheduled matchup for the foreseeable future between these two programs, and the fact it is should bother fans of college sports beyond the two fanbases. I understand the logistics of why Notre Dame backed out of the last years of the pairing, and neither program has been as dominant as they once were, but it remains one of the more “fun” rivalries in college sports, the right mix of distaste and respect that leaves you enjoying a win without worrying about some fan doing something crazy. I’m sure it will be just as fun playing Virginia and Duke in September.
Anyway, let’s hope the game is as entertaining as past meetings, and that UM one more great win.
This summer, I found myself riding a bullet train through the French countryside on my way to Paris. I must have been the only one on the train who was wondering why it had to be traveling so fast. The reason I wanted that train to slow down was that I was reading Bo' Lasting Lessons, by Bo Schembechler and friend of the blog, John U. Bacon. Read stories about Michigan football or wander around the Louvre looking at centuries-old artistic treasures? I prefer the former.
In prior seasons, I've tried to have a recurring theme running through the diaries. The first season was based on stupid things B1G Network announcers said during games (does anyone else remember, "trash cans full of dirt?") The second season I did this, it was more of the same, but sadly, the B1G announcers didn't provide as much material. Perhaps my season 2 diaries are best characterized by having an unhealthy focus on uniformz. Last season was my own version of Memories from my Father. For this season, I picked up a few things from Bo's book and will format the diary accordingly.
But before we get to the links, (yes, I'm adding the play-by-play link because that has MOAR numbers, and if there's anything I like more than reading 43,000+ words about the upcoming season, it's numbers from actual games) let's set the scene by comparing the competitors. On one sideline, we have:
Devin and Devin
Space, bitches, space
On the other sideline, we have:
Lamb and Lamm (lambs being led to the slaughter? Yes, exactly that.)
Dada and Bobo. Say what you will about App State, their roster overflows with NOTY candidates, and I haven't even mentioned Simmsy McElfresh or Johnny Law yet. Osvaldo Sombo made a tackle. Everybody Sombo!
Trail, bitches, trail
I wore my Space t-shirt a week ago in front of my 9-year old, and realized he's not quite ready to see daddy wearing t-shirts with bad words on them. We reached a compromise. I can wear that shirt if I put masking tape over the "b-word."
* Bo treated seniors differently than the rest of the team. He gave them perks such as first class seats on flights for road games, but expected them to be leaders in return. So we'll discuss the seniors first.
* Gardner was 13 for 14 for 173 yards with 3 TDs passing and no turnovers.
* Jake Ryan's move to Mike is a work in progress, but he did have three tackles, a TFL and a QH.
* I get the feeling Frank Clark may have been trying too hard. He picked up a ridiculous penalty for jumping the shark, I mean, the shield.
* Delonte Hollowell had 1 pass break up and Ray Taylor had one tackle. The numbers weren't there, but you can't make tackles when the guys you are covering aren't targeted because they are covered well. All the DBs played really well. Jourdan Lewis was in textbook blanket coverage all afternoon.
* After not starting (lemon-time!) Desmond Morgan led the team with 6 tackles.
* Brennan Beyer had a tackle and a QH.
* Wile missed a FG from 48 yards that would have been good from 50, or 55, or 60. That kick was curving in and just needed a little more room.
* Hagerup punted once for 46 yards. I thought it had a low trajectory, possibly setting up a return, but Chesson was down there in a hurry. Chesson as a gunner is a good memory from last season.
* Joey Burzynski started. The running game really took off when Kalis replaced him. Sorry Joey, but it's true. He might be able to play B1G football at his size, but not when he's next to another smaller lineman like Miller.
* What do you call a cow with no legs? Ground beef. Yep, my son is still telling that joke. What do you call Michigan's rushing attack? Ground beef, at least for one game. Smith and Green are both listed at 220 pounds. They were running with more aggression to my eyes. Pick a hole and go, and they went.
* Green, Smith, Funchess, and Gardner were the stories of the game. Gardner and Funchess were expected. Getting 100+ yards each from Green and Smith was a nice surprise, considering we were missing Glasgow, starting Burzynski, and starting a true frosh at LT. Have we figured things out, or is Appy State that bad? Time will tell.
* Green had a long run of 62 and Smith had a long of 61. It was almost a, "whatever you can do, I can do better," type situation. Both were caught from behind. They may lack the home run speed of a Denard or Wheatley, but I'd be happy with a bunch of doubles and triples this season.
* I'll have to re-read Bo's lasting lessons to get the quote, but I remember him saying something about feeling good if the offense could score 24 points because he felt his defense wouldn't give up that many. Appy State scored two late, meaningless TDs.
* 26 players recorded defensive statistics, so pretty much everyone Brian wrote about in the season preview.
* I'm not really going out on a limb here by thinking the heroes of the defensive UFR are going to be Willie Henry Jr. and Jourdan Lewis. Each player only had 3 tackles, but Henry was such a disruptive presence on the line, and Lewis was running step-for-step with whoever he was matched up against.
* After last season, I thought I would spend some time looking at TFLs. I don't recall the exact numbers, but I think we averaged around 9 or 10 TFLs given up per game last season. In our first game of this season, against a weak Appalachian State defense that gave up 350 yards of rushing to Michigan and their questionable offensive line, we still gave up six TFLs. I'm aware that sentence makes no sense.
* Of the six TFLs, one was a sack and one was a pass to Canteen. So we really only had 4 of those awful TFLs from the running backs. Two of those were from Green and two were Hayes, and the combined yardage lost was only 6 yards.
* I like Green and Smith, but put me in the Smith camp for who should be the 1A. In addition to Green's 2 TFLs, he also had three carries that gained no yards. Smith's shortest run was for +2 yards. I just think Smith is a little more decisive at this point and is more likely to gain some positive yards. But it's still early. The nice thing is that it appears both are running like veterans and have left the tentative play typical of freshman behind them.
The Team, The Team, The Team
* Mike McCray blocked a punt that Ben Gedeon returned for a TD. If the LB depth chart proves to be too difficult to crack, perhaps Ben would make a good fullback. J/K.
* He's going to be good. He ran up on a punt and prevented App State from getting the frustrating extra yards from the roll.
* Peppers was covering a guy, and I thought, "Oh great, there's an 8 yard completion," only Peppers covered 4 yards before the receiver turned upfield and limited the play to four yards.
Beth MOwins School of JournAlism
* I Attended the Beth MOOOwins school of jOUrnalism this sUmmer. According to Beth, the key to doing play-by-play is to randomly Over-anunciate your vOwels. That's the key to doing a Beth MOwins imitAYtion. Just blAst the occAsional vOwel at mAx vOlume. Especially the O's, she loves her O's.
* What does Joey Galloway bring to the game besides extreme narcissism?
* Early in the game, Beth shared this surprising gem with us, Devin Funchess' jersey has the #1 on it, on the front AND the back. Amazing. All this time I thought players had different numbers on the front and back of their uniforms, the better to trick the opposition.
* Thanks to Beth for pointing out Michigan's famous Union Hall. Brought back a lot of memories. Good old Union Hall.
They're joining the sun belt along with Georgia Southern in 2015. One year after the replay. Go figure?
Prepare for plenty of Michigan references as part two of the FCS
semi-finals kicks off after the commercial break. Villanova plays Appalachian State.
Delaware in the finals. some other team pointed out by a commenter below.
As the dust settles from this weekend, I can't help but think I know how the Domers feel. They are in absolute and total shock. Everyone told them they had the better team. They spent weeks preparing and did everything they were supposed to do to walk away with a victory. They were the ones that were supposed to be celebrating as time ran out. But somehow one guy on the field just didn't get the memo and messed everything up. It happened to us in The Horror. It also happened to us in the Rose Bowl against Texas.
I do not feel bad for the Irish, I am enjoying their pain. But I definitely know how they feel. And I have a big smile on my face because I am certain this is not the last time I will see that look of utter helplessness and shock on the faces of an opponent.