"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."
The depth is there, as the potential for multiple breakout campaigns up front defensively for Michigan this season.
Michigan's defensive line wasn't the team's problem in 2014, and it likely won't be in 2015 either.
But, can this group take the next step and turn into an actual force in the Big Ten, as Mattison believes it can?
Up front, things are rock solid. But there is something to address here, as the depth behind those front three need to begin proving themselves to avoid a drop-off in 2016.
For now, though, the middle of D.J. Durkin's defense is in experienced hands
A lot has been made on the board lately about the struggles of the Michigan defensive line. My question is about disbursement of coaches and how it impacts player development. When Jerry Montgomery left for Oklahoma we hired Roy Manning to coach linebackers and the joke was consistent prior to Montgomery leaving that he was in the Beyonce coaching position. However, with Mattison have DC responsibilities and Hoke having HC responsibilities and no dedicated D-Line coach are those players getting enough individual or position group attention to develop like other positions or am I overthinking the importance of having dedicated position coaches?
Warning - long post but I think it's important to lay out the facts of our DL, so have tried to place a thought process that can do so below. If this is the wrong place to post a long piece, mods please move to "diary".
First let me say I am a Michigan fan and alum so while you may feel free to downvote at will, most of what I present below will be facts, even if they are taken as negatives. Second, this is only partially driven by the Akron game so it's not a knee jerk response as much as a view of what has transpired these first 3 games; notably the 1st and 3rd but after watching Purdue's DL do quite well with Notre Dame until it wore down in the 2nd half, it also is driven in part by the Notre Dame game.
The knee jerk reaction is its on the players here. Obviously both our lines are substandard versus what a championship quality team has. I am not speaking "champions of the midwest" which nowadays is like crowning a junior varsity beauty queen, but something similar to what would give UM a fighting chance first a top 2-3 type SEC team (or Oregon or whomever is a great team that year). I am hearing the "fire Funk" chants by some on these boards but the talent of UM's offensive line is in the 2012-2013 class outside our 2 elder tackles. Funk may be great, poor, or a very average coach. I don't know. He will have a ton of raw clay to work with and his work will become clear in 2014-2015 when these kids hit the field en masse. The pedigree of the OL kids of 2012-2013 classes is very high, so we will see what the staff creates out of them ... but not this year as only the first wave (Kalis) has hit the field. Miller is a 2011 kid, and Glasgow fergodsakes is a walkon. But if you are the one(s) denouncing Funk's coaching for the OL, you should be equally denouncing 2 of the 3 biggest names on the staff for the DL - that is Mattison and Hoke. Arguing for one to be dismissed for the lack of production without equally arguing for the other 2 is a bit silly when both units are a fail versus championship quality. My larger point is it is WAY TOO SOON to judge either.
Now on to the talent portion. After these tough outings by our 2 respective lines, I am looking to the future and wondering what we have. And how it compares to our 2 Midwest football power peers (insert Midwest football power joke here) - ND and Ohio. Again, the OL classes of 2012-2013 look to have a lot of talent and while surely some will not pan out, there is a lot of raw clay to work with. But on DL? We have issues. These are young players. When young players are very good they flash. I am not looking for Mike Martin or Brandon Graham as juniors. I am looking for a "hey player ABC looked a lot like Brandhon Graham on that play... oh snap player ABC just screwed up on the next!! oh well he is a RS freshman". We can see that sort of thing happening with Kalis because... he is Kalis. We see that sort of thing happening with J Ross because... he is good. I have seen no one do this of the younger players on the DL. And that makes me worried.
Stars matter to a degree. More important to me really is offer sheets. When other powers come for a kid, that means that kid is really showing. This is where you insert the JMFR meme - yes we all know every so often you hit on a 3 star (or 2) and he blows up. We wave our muppets and every time another 3 star arrives we say MIKE HART! JAKE RYAN or heck Kovacks of walk on fame. But let's be real, if hoarding 3 stars with the hope 70% because JMFR was the way to go, this would be Alabama's way. You need to hoard 4 stars and try to get a 5 star every few classes to build a championship (even Big 10 championship team) contender that has staying power*. *=Wisconsin. With that said the long a$$ preface of this post is over and I offer you a comparison of what OSU is recruiting and has in house on the DL versus our DL. And yes I know DL has been their strength in recruiting but aside from a few kids like Strobel, Pipkins, Wormley - we are nowhere near their level. (Mario and Taco are good midwest recruits but still below what OSU is recruiting). Some of our kids have what I'd call "MAC+" offer sheets: MAC teams + Illinois or Purdue or Indiana etc. Maybe one will turn into Jake Ryan, but asking a bunch to do that is silly. So before we get on Hoke and Mattison's case - consider the clay they have to work with. Compare it to OSU's clay... or what Funk has with the OL. It's a major issues. p.s. I did not do as extensive of a look at Notre Dame but did look at 4-5 of their players inclusive of Nix and Tuitt and the offer sheets mirror OSU.
This is where you give me the meme about how OSU's defense is not impressive and giving up tons of points to Buffalo and Cal. To which I say, OSU's defense is as young as ours. The entire DL is brand new. They have some experience in the LB (less than ours) and DB (about same as ours) They will only get better. And scary better if recruiting (stars!) matter in the coming months and next year (at the DL).
Below is a side by side comparison with major offers from each player - I won't list all, but you should get the idea of caliber of teams recruiting each kid:
OSU just lost 3 DL players, 2 real studs + Garret Goebel
- Simon - ND, Nebraska
- Hankins - Bama, Florida, UM, Oklahoma, Wiscy
- Goebel - UM, ND, Tenn, Wiscy
Huge losses - this would be like losing Martin + Graham off the same line plus say a 3rd very good college level player. How do they replace it? Folks it's sick - this is essentially the 2 deep for the current OSU squad. And these are all Pipkins age - or younger other than Bennett.
- A. Washington - Bama, FSU, Miami, UM, ND, USC
- Noeh Spence - Bama, Florida, Georgia, LSU, UM - yada yada (think "Hand")
- Tommy Schutt - Florida, Miami, UM, ND, Penn State
- Jamal Marcus - Clemson, Florida, ND, South Carolina, Vandy
- Joel Hale - Florida, UM, Penn State (this is 1 of their 2 WORST recruits by offer sheet)
- Michael Bennett - UM, ND, Penn State, USC, Stanford
- Steve Miller - Florida, UM, UCLA, Nebraska (this is 1 of their 2 WORST recruits by offer sheet)
- Michael Hill - Bama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, LSU, UM, S. Carolina, Vanderbilt
- Joey Bosa - Bama, Auburn, Florida, FSU, UM
I call these all national offers - these would be MIDWEST powers (ND, UM, OSU + SEC offers. There are 2 - Miller and Hale who you could argue only have a SEC offer due to Urban and Florida... but that is it. The rest are not Midwest recruits but national top end recruits. If 3 fail to develop they still have an entiring starting DL + 1 extra that do.
Again please do not take this as a criticism but real recognize real. Here are our kids. Pipkins is a national recruit, and Stroblel is a bit behind. Wormley has a OSU offer but there is no SEC type offer.... then it drops to Taco + Mario... then it drops off the map. So if like OSU 3 of our players below don't develop... and it's the wrong 3, we essentially have a MAC+ type DL. One that can be neutralized by MAC OLs. Which frankly is what is happening. I did not include Ash, Q. Wash, Black or Frank Clark for obvious reasons as they are upperclassmen... or in Clark's case, recruited for a diff position. I also did not include Glasgow for obvious reasons but the mere fact he (bless him) is pushing for playing time is saying something. I know i know - insert Kovacks meme here.
- Pipkins - Bama, Florida, OSU, Oklahoma, Tenn
- Wormley - OSU, MSU, Illinois, Indiana (without the OSU offer for an in state kid, it is not as impressive looking)
- Strobel - OSU, Nebraska, Wiscy, Stanford, MSU, Vandy (a nice top end Midwest recruit...but lacking SEC interest outside Vandy)
- Ojemudia - Stanford, MSU, Illinois, Iowa
- Charlton - ND, Nebraska, UCLA, Tenn, Iowa, Illinois
- Heitzman - Vandy, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana + a lot of MAC schools
- Godin - Wiscy, MSU, Vandy, Missouri, Illinois
- Henry - Illinois, Louisville, Pittsburgh + a lot of MAC schools
Takeaways: Pipkins must hit. Realistically OSU has 6 Pipkins right now across their DL at ends and tackles. They have the luxury of 1-2 not hitting. We do not. Strobel must hit. He is the 2nd best recruit by offer sheet, but it lags behind all but maybe 1 OSU recruit. From there when you lay the offer sheets side by side UM lags, and not by a small amount. This is the current reality. Obviously coaches are addressing this in the current class - Mone and Marshall are nice starts but they are similar to a Strobel or Wormley offer sheet. We need to start hitting on the elite - the McDowell and Hand and down the road the Cornell and other similar.
Sorry for the length of the post but as I bang my head against the wall wondering why I am not seeing the flashes out of the young DL like I am seeing out of a James Ross or when I watch OSU give up tons of scores to Cal... but still see those flashes from their DL players, I resort to reality. The above is reality. We are way behind OSU's level of DL recruits. I can only imagine what Hoke and Mattison could do with the clay Urban has on the DL. We need MOAR high level clay. Otherwise I am worried our 2014 complaints won't be too different than our 2013 complaints.
I know you feel, John…
Worst: Totally Meta
To let you in a bit on how the sausage is made with one of these posts, I usually sit down with my laptop during the game and play around in the liveblog while taking some really cursory notes. While I’m sure I could figure out how to watch lineplay and defensive adjustments intricately in order to make really astute observations about particular players, there are lots of people here at MGoBlog who do a great job with that level of detail and, frankly, I doubt I’d be able to add much. No, the Best and Worst is all about a layman’s observations of a game, with (I hope) a bit of humor, some fun long-form ideas, and insufferable references to wrestlers and 90’s television shows.
Well, usually my notes take on a bit of a narrative as a game progresses; I inevitably start ordering comments into Offense, Defense, Special Teams, Coaching, etc. buckets, so by the end I’ve got my talking points, as they are, laid out. Given the opponent, I figured they’d be succinct and pretty general; it’s hard to derive too much from a blowout.
Well, by the last 4 minutes of the game, my notes spanned 2 pages typed and, if my keyboard was both sentient and possessed the necessary funds to file documents with a court, would be Exhibit A of a battery suit brought against me. People joke about how typing “OMFG” or “ROFL” negates the emotion you are attempting to convey, like telling someone how funny something is instead of actually laughing. But part of the reason you use these shorthands, though, is because “nfsakjf528095353u55b25jewrnijrggrehjigh3u04u-421” followed by your dog fleeing the room is hard to convey in words. So yeah, based on my notes…
Worst: Goliath has Fans Too
I’m usually not one to complain too much about announcers except if they go full Spielman and openly root for one team over the other, but the announcers were extremely excited about the possibility of Akron beating UM. And that got me thinking; seemingly everyone loves the David vs. Goliath matchups that end with David victorious. At first blush, it totally makes sense; David represents the everyman, overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds with character, ingenuity, and guile. To root for David is to root for the human spirit and the impossible dream. Rooting for Goliath is like rooting for the house in blackjack.
But here’s the thing; being “Goliath” is not free of context, nor is it purely a “you vs. them” dynamic wherein everyone agrees how the story should end. In other words, Goliath has fans too, and in most cases they don’t view themselves as the bully, the victor, the unstoppable force OR the immovable object. Goliath is just a guy who is blessed with some physical advantages that he honed with rigorous training and passionate loyalty to a cause. In the eyes of Goliath, he’s entering into fair combat against another warrior who just happens to be smaller than him and who wields a slingshot. He’s not Razor Ramon or Vince McMahon, “heels” personified who want nothing more than to ruin the face’s day. No, He’s not the “bad guy”, unless “being tall and strong” and winning most of the time are dastardly traits. He is the Big Bad because the only lens used to view him is as the seemingly unattainable or antithesis model, the personification of David’s shortcomings.
So saying you love David vs. Goliath games is really saying you like to see the big guy lose not necessarily because you have a rooting interest in David or against Goliath, but because you don’t want to be reminded that not everyone has David’s problems. On some level, you hold Goliath’s strengths and accomplishments against him, believing something must be cosmically wrong to explain his winning ways, and that a loss will somehow right this off-kilter universe.
But that really isn’t fair to either party; Akron is just a bad FBS program trying to find its footing and UM is the winningest program in college football history. UM has all of those wins because, for most of its existence, it has fielded talented, well-coached teams that beat other ones on the football field. Akron, not so much, but that isn’t because of something UM did. And, humorously, the tables are turned in the other “football”: Akron has been one of the best college soccer teams for years now while UM is the “upstart” that scored a major 1-0 upset over the Zips a couple of years ago during an otherwise poor season.
I’d say millions of people partook in today’s game in some way (live, TV, radio, internet, etc.), and a significant number of them are probably fans of UM football. They wanted to see UM win for any number of reasons, and few if any thought Akron winning would be a “good thing”. Russians certainly didn’t think losing to the US at the Olympics was a good idea, nor are Phi Slamma Jamma fans clamoring for Lorenzo Charles (RIP) memorial jerseys, and I’m guessing Lloyd Carr isn’t sending Armanti Edwards holiday cards. Had Akron pulled off the win, it would have been heralded as a huge upset both for the year as well as historically, and people who “like” upsets would have another moment to cheer about. But for the fans of Goliath, David is just the guy who got lucky, and no amount of culturally-endorsed schadenfreude will change that.
Today’s game ended with Goliath winning, though it was obviously closer than expected. The narrative is that Akron gave UM all they could handle, and that in a game of inches UM got lucky that Akron came up a bit short. But it was a game that both teams had a chance to win, and this time Goliath benefitted from a missed opportunity; history hasn’t always been so kind. I’m certainly not going to complain.
Worst: It’s a Win? (as said in the voice of Ron Burgundy)
Yeah, I’m not going to be one of those people who says it would have been a better “learning experience” if they had lost; I’m a results-based grader so a win is always better than a loss. That said, this is up there with narrowly beating Indiana and Illinois under RR and a turrible 10-7 win against 5-6 Utah in 2002 (a game I attended and apparently blocked from my memory until now). And unlike those games where you could at least point to one element of the performance being a positive, it isn’t really hypoerbole or “ESPN talking head”-ole to say UM was beat in all three phases of the game.
Best: It’s a Win
But it’s a victory for UM, and 3-0 is 3-0. Just ask MSU, whose offense finally eclipsed the defense is scoring 3 games into the season. Teams have bad games, and for all of the hell the players are likely to have rain down on them by the coaching staff this week, it would be immensely worse if Saturday’s game had ended with an “L” on the schedule. This game probably ratchets down the expectations a notch if you saw UM as a top-5 outfit, but otherwise it was a close shave for a team with top-15 talent. Given the number of massive upsets this year, it could have been far worse.
I know the Internet is the ultimate echo chamber for cynicism, and this blog’s particular composition only accentuates that property, but just like was a need to pump the brakes a bit after the ND game, this game doesn’t not necessarily mean you need to stock your panic room quite yet.
Best: I don’t want…your life!
One of the more underrated moments in Varsity Blues is the “hungover” game played by the West Canaan Coyotes after Mox, Tweeder, Billy Bob, Wendell, and Lance spent a night at the Landing Strip Gentleman’s Club*. Hungover and clearly off their game, they lose in embarrassing fashion and Bud Kilmer turns to threatening Mox about his scholarship to Brown if he doesn’t shape up and fall in line.
In no way am I insinuating that UM’s play against Akron was caused by every starter heading off to Deja Vu in Ypsi Thursday night, but it clearly looked like a team that was out of sorts from the outset. UM did force a 3-and-out on Akron’s first drive and followed it up with the long TD by Funchess, but for most of that first half the offense looked lost and the defense held tough but couldn’t generate much of a pass rush. And once the 2nd half began and Akron made some adjustments offensively, the defense struggled to keep them off the field. Plus, Gibbons missed his first kick since Purdue and Matt Wile shanked a couple of punts, resulting in an average of 33 yards per kick despite “booming” one 54 yards. As a couple of people noted (including Ace), if it was against any other team but Akron, UM probably would have been run off the field. But still, just a disorienting performance.
Of course, Notre Dame also had a pretty off performance against Purdue, so who knows where everyone was last night.
* I know this is saying a great deal in a movie where James Van Der Beek is a Texas QB, literally every play is either a bone-shattering tackle or a 50-yard TD (seriously, watch the clip and you’ll see 4-5 NFL Blitz-style flying tackles), and a HS team is allowed to basically coach itself once Jon Voight leaves at halftime – you’ll notice no assistant coaches take over or are even on the screen, but the most unbelievable part of that movie is a HS health teacher moonlighting as a stripper in a city of, oh, 10,000 people in Texas and NOBODY notices until some HS kids see her act. I mean, that club looked packed on (I’m guessing) a weekday night, and early on the movie establishes that Miss Davis must be making decent money from her dancing in order to afford a Mustang convertible, so it is clearly a popular place. Yet her double life remains a mystery both before and after this night. Simply unbelievable.
UM averaged 5.5 ypc* and 8.3 ypa** while holding the Zips to 3.6 ypc*** and 6.3 ypa**** which look good on paper, but as the astute reader might have picked up, those little *’s aren’t just looking for a party to crash; they are massive caveats. First the rushing: Gardner averaged 10.3 ypc on his 103 yards, showcasing the game-breaking speed that can turn a collapsing pocket into a 36 yard TD. Fitz recorded 71 more yards on 19 carries, but didn’t crack 4 ypc against the #80 rushing defense in the country. And while I initially thought he was the recipient of some bad luck out there due to penalties on runs, the only one apparently was a holding penalty by Gallon on a 3-yarder. Of his 19 carries, 7 were for losses and 8 were for minimal gain (though one was the TD). He recorded 65 yards on 4 other carries, and added a nice 27 yard reception to goose the numbers up a bit. On most runs he was engulfed in the backfield or had trouble locating holes either because they weren’t there or a momentary hesitation closed them too quickly. I’ll get into my feelings about the line play later, but this was not a banner day for a guy who has played reasonably well this year given the obvious issues in front of him.
As for that 8.3 ypa, that is .7 ypa below Akron’s 114th-ranked pass defense, and came with a 53% completion perctange and 3 INTs, including a horrible screen-ish pass that was returned for a TD. Nobody other than Gallon caught more than 2 passes, and while Funchess had a nice day on paper with a TD and 65 yards on his two catches, one was a 48-yard TD run that was aided by some poor angles and tackling by Akron, a theme they continued on Chesson’s only catch (and first of his career) on the day, a 33-yard TD where he was pinballed toward the endzone by an Akron defender. Criminally underused Drew Dileo was held without a catch, so hopefully this week Brian will be able to release that particular Kraken.
The defense did marginally better, holding Akron to about their season average rushing and about a yard less passing, but those numbers were put up against UCF and the zombified remains of the 4th President of the United States, er, eponymously-named FCS James Madison University. And Akron had 4 drives longer than 45 yards, including two 11-play drives that ended with a TD and the final drive, as well as a 5-play drive that ended with Wilson’s INT in the endzone. UM could not get Akron off the field in the 4th, including giving up a number of long completions and “they only need 5 yards for the first down, let’s give the slot receiver a 10-yard cushion” plays.
So yeah, statistics should be trusted only as far as they can be thrown, which against UM’s defense today is apparently both quite far and with minimal coverage.
Okay, okay, that’s a little mean. But it was pretty bad out there.
Worst: Push it!
So you know how earlier I mentioned that statistics sometimes lie? Well, a big reason why UM’s running game struggled was the continued inability of the offensive line to consistently block for anyone. Against Akron, Fitz had 15 carries that resulted in either lost yardage or minimal gains, and a significant number of them were because one or more Akron defenders were in the backfield rather quickly. It remains a team that is strong on the edges (though both Lewan and Schofield missed a couple of blocks) and “maturing” or “weak” (depending on your viewpoint) in the middle. Akron didn’t seem like it was doing anything special defensively, yet they always seemed to have the number’s advantage at the point of attack. And while they only recorded a single sack, Gardner was harassed most of the day by the line without excessive use of blitzes or disguised coverages. I’m not expecting major changes on the line next week, but this is a team that can’t consistently get 4-5 yards a pop on the ground without the QB getting involved, and that is not a sustainable situation during the conference season unless Devin remains healthy throughout, which would be a minor miracle.
As for the defensive line, to say the “Right to Rush 4” mantra needs to be redefined would be an understatement. A unit with a decent amount of hype heading into the season failed to register a sack on 49 attempts, though the defense was credited with 8 QB hits. Still, it took an all-out blitz to get pressure on the QB to end the game (reminiscent of the Points-a-Palooza some years back), and when your undersized tackle (Black) is your most consistent pass rusher against a MAC team, that isn’t good news. I guess the jury is still out on Frank Clark, but at this point the judge expects to hear a verdict by the end of lunch. It certainly didn’t help that Mattison seemed reticent about using more than 4 linemen to get pressure, and as a couple of people noted in the Liveblog the stunting was glaringly obvious, but again you shouldn’t have to overly gameplan for a team coming off a 1-11 season.
Best: Times are Changing
Now, I know I just spent a couple of sections dumping on Akron and minimizing their influence on today, but they deserve quite a bit of credit for playing UM to a standstill. Maybe 25-30 years teams like Akron are just happy to be playing in the Big House and are overwhelmed by the moment, but in today’s college football ecosystem everybody believes his team can beat anyone else. For even with Akron’s fallow history, it is still an FBS team with D1 players on it, and given the exposure and resources available to virtually all such programs nobody should be surprised they didn’t just wilt as soon as The Victors played. Terry Bowden may have looked like he ate his daddy Bobby before the game, but he’s still got a career record of 142-75-2 (including 47-17-1 while at Auburn), and certainly knows how to beat teams like UM. They played solid, largely mistake-free football and took advantage of UM’s miscues. They played like a major college football team, and this game should be yet another reminder that “MACrifices” isn’t a reality in today’s football landscape.
Best: Tackling, and the Lack Thereof (part deux)
Last week I mentioned how refreshing it was seeing the other team (in that case, ND) miss some crucial tackles while UM largely wrapped up quickly. Well, count both Funchess’s and Chesson’s TDs as beneficiaries of some dodgy tackling by the Zips. By comparison, UM typically tackled guys at contact, though Jourdan Lewis had a pretty bad “tackle” of Pohl as he rushed for a first down late in the game. There were also the coverage issues with the corners and linebackers, especially in the middle of the field where D’Orazio was seemingly open all day. This definitely felt like a gameplan limitation, at least initially, but it was troubling that late in the game receivers were able to get open in the secondary with players trailing them by 2-3 yards.
Worst: Hitting Reset
Last week I waxed poetically about Gardner being a modern-day unstoppable video game QB, UM’s answer to Michael Vick circa Madden 2004. He was like UTG Trevor Siemian crossed with a mongoose, and it was glorious. Like Vick in the game, it just felt unfair to have him on your team, and to talk about him in front of your vanquished opponent is to welcome scorn and possibly some shoving.
Well, against Akron people saw the other side of the videogame analogy: when the computer “cheats” and everything that could possibly go wrong does. Suddenly, your all-world QB can’t complete a pass except to the other team, your RB can’t get a yard beyond the line of scrimmage, you are getting called for penalties on any positive play, and even digital Texas’s GERG thinks you are playing too soft defensively. By the time a defensive end houses an interception off a screen pass, you’re diving for the reset button while cursing Alan Turing and his stupid face.
Of course, in real life that’s just the third quarter of the game, and you still have to watch and hope that somehow, someway your team figures it all out enough to pull out a victory. Against Akron, Gardner and the offense did just enough in the end for the win, and on a seemingly snakebitten game they can lick their wounds and give it another shot.
Best: Even YMRMFSPA had Bad Games
So the Vince Young analogies have been trotted out for Devin since his game against Northwestern, and with his improvisational skills, strong arm, and galloping strides it is hard not to see a bit of the college star in him. Unfortunately, Gardner also showed the same characteristics that drove Texas fans crazy early on in Young’s career, with 4 turnovers, including a TaINT, and some happy feet that resulted in missed receptions and poor throws. If you check out Young’s gamelog from his first full season, you’ll see the same tantalizing mix of promise and growing pains: 5 TDs against no turnovers against Texas Tech following 8/23 for 86 yards against Oklahoma and 3/9 with 2INTs against Missouri. After those games, people we calling for Chance Mock to play at QB, and if that name doesn’t ring a bell it’s because he didn’t do anything to make people forget about Young. People in A2 forget this because of the game Young had against the Wolverines in the Rose Bowl, but Young finished with a 12:11 ratio on the season and had some tough performances even in wins. The next year he emerged as a breakthrough player and led Texas to the title.
I’m not saying Gardner is going to do that, but this game was a reminder of how fickle and infuriating the maturation process can be at times, and that the same player can have a stinker like today AND a performance against ND without there being anything wrong with him. I suspect he’ll play better next week, but regardless of his performance it won’t change this past game or how the future plays out. Every game is another data point, and sometimes you don’t realize there are outliers until time and distance it provides have given you some perception. Gardner wasn’t a Heisman winner after last week and he’s not a bum after this one, but instead a work in progress like the rest of the team.
I’m wheeling out my extra-tall soapbox now, so if you don’t want to hear my complain about fandom in general and UM followers in particular, feel free to skip to the next section.
What has always driven me crazy about the fandom in sports is the moralizing and dime-store psychoanalysis people place on players’ motivations. A team plays well and people lionize the “heart” shown by the winners while questioning that of the loser. Every down and distance becomes a Greek tragedy played out with a pigskin, and we want to equate higher meaning with 3rd-down conversions and missed blocks. But that’s the thing – it’s just a game, and teams win and lose, players play well or poorly, for reasons that have nothing to do with their moral fiber or ability to “lead” men.
Both during and after the game, there was a contingent of fans who tried to make the game a referendum on these players. They questioned the leadership displayed by Taylor Lewan apparently not getting the line “up” to block, as if Kalis, Miller, and Glasgow would have held their blocks if only they had cared more. Gardner threw INTs not because he made a bad read or had a bit of bad luck, but because he wasn’t a leader out there and his receivers didn’t have confidence in him. And in the postgame, when both Lewan and Gardner said they promised a better effort next week, people on the blog questioned their motives and suggested they had “heard this before” and UM still lost, proving that fans shouldn’t operate heavy machinery following a game because their blindness will undoubtedly cause accidents.
Sports were oftentimes used as stand-ins for battle both in real life as well as in narrative devices; we speak of “warriors of the gridiron” and its bond with iconography of good vs. evil and right vs. wrong is hard to ignore. But in the end, sport is just a game, with winners and losers according to the rules of the contest. To try to derive some greater meaning from it, to look deep into a man’s soul on a 3-yard run at the end of the game and hope to identify his humanity, is a foolish exercise. I know people will continue to act this way long after I’m cold and in the ground, but I still hope that one day sports will be treated as the athletic contests they are, not the day of reckoning some yearn for them to embody.
Best: Quick Hits
A couple of points that aren’t really worth their own sections:
- I thought the secondary played okay, though the middle of the field was open seemingly for days at a time. They also seemed to line up yards off receivers that didn’t seem able to really beat them in a race. And to Akron’s credit, a couple of long receptions were the result of good throws; the one where I believe Taylor was beaten down the sideline in the 4th quarter by Smith was a great throw as much as any failure by the coverage. That said, surprised Lewis got the nod over Stribling out there, especially given the size differences.
- Al Borges called a decent enough game in my opinion, though he seemed afraid of running the veer too much early on even though Akron had no answer. The inability of the line to run block certainly didn’t help; when UM needed yards late in the game they ran directly behind Lewan, which was obviously a positive but not great news for your inside running game.
- I remain puzzled that Hoke did not go for it at 4-and-1 on UM’s 45 early on in the 4th quarter. The numbers say putning is the right call, but one yard with Gardner in the gun seems quite doable. I’m not a big fan of “momentum”, but getting a yard there gives UM a fresh set of downs and doesn’t put the ball on the foot of your admittedly-skittish punter who proceeded to shank the ball anyway. Plus, I believe this was right after Akron nearly blocked the last punt.
- Norfleet appears to have lost return privileges at least on punts, with Dileo back there in the second half. That feels about right; I know Norfleet has shown great potential, but he continues to make the routine catches scary and still doesn’t seem to have a great sense of how to handle returns. And with Dileo back there, it allowed the BTN announcers to talk about how he can run in space. Because if there is one element of Dileo’s game we can ALL agree on, it is his blazing speed in space.
Best: Release the Hounds
The good news is that the UConn Huskies are an absolute tire-fire and UM should be rather motivated heading into the Cabella’s parking lot er Husky Stadium next week. I hope for everyone’s sake it is a short game and next week’s recap is “Best: Everything.”
OSU's D-line may be that team's biggest strength. Our offense has struggled to get production from our running game all season. Perhaps this conundrum places the question of Denard and Devin and who plays under/behind center the next two weeks in a context for productive discussion.
My thinking is that Borges has to be looking across both of our next two games to figure this out, hoping--if Denard is on the mend--to learn a lot from next week and Iowa. There are signs that both our passing and running game are developing under Devin Gardner, but if Denard can play you want him on the field. (Denard IS yards!)
Could these things suggest we might see a mix of QBs, with Denard getting some looks at running back? (Could featuring him in this way be useful to him when draft time comes?) To what extent is it necessary to "go with what got you to the dance," and not change things up for an O line that has sometimes looked confused? What's necessary to win? What's possible under these circumstances?
That's not your mother, it's a MAN BABY!
Alabama defensive tackle Jesse Williams has made waves since arriving in Tuscaloosa from his homeland of Australia, standing out with his unique look and big personality as well as his performance on the field.
The latest feat from Williams that has fans buzzing came in the weight room on Thursday when the 320-pound lineman reportedly bench pressed 600 pounds.
To give that achievement some perspective, former Memphis star Dontari Poe, the top bench press performer at this year's NFL Combine, maxed out at 500 pounds on the bench press.
This was all over twitter recently, and I didn't see it posted anywhere. That's one strong dude. It's going to be one heck of a trench battle for the Michigan offensive lineman.