After the first game of the season I made a somewhat negative comment on this here blog and someone responded with, "what did you expect?" That exchange stuck with me. What does it mean to have an expectation? Google can't even figure it out. The first definition is, "a strong belief that something will happen." The second definition is, "a belief that..." So did I strongly believe we would go 10-2 at the beginning of the year, or was that just a belief that it could happen? I don't like to expect 8 win seasons. Why should I root for a team that I expect so little of? (I already have the Lions for that.) This is my team and my school. I want the best for them. If they fail to live up to expectations, we'll just work that much harder and try again. But we should never settle for mediocrity, nor should we expect it.
I've been asking myself, are my expectations realistic, or are they more "best-case scenarios," or my hopes for the season. I was conditioned by my first 36 years of life to expect 9+ wins per season, the occasional Big Ten championship, and to see a team that while maybe didn't win every game, at least was competitive in every game. After all, the ball can take some funny bounces and there is an RPS-aspect to every game. But the Michigan football team was well coached and controlled what they could - putting 11 men on the field, limiting penalties, making tackles, executing blocks, etc. The last seven years sorely tested the expectations I had built up over three decades.
Initially, the team failed to live up to my expectation as a 5th year senior quarterback coached by a QB guru, threw 3 interceptions in one game after throwing only 5 all last season. In the next two games, the team met my expectations by handling inferior opponents at home. In the fourth game against a ranked opponent that had demonstrated competence playing against serious competition, Michigan far exceeded even my lofty expectations, winning 31-0. I expected Maryland to score on us. I expected a close game, heck, they beat us in Ann Arbor last season, and this Michigan team hasn't traveled very well the past few seasons. But this season isn't last season, and that was proven yet again yesterday. Michigan far exceeded my expectations by blowing out the #13 team in the country and recording their third consecutive shutout. My son is 10 years old. The last time Michigan recorded 3 consecutive shutouts, I was 10 years old. A time when my expectations for Michigan football were being formed.
Burst of Impetus
* Is it possible to win a game in the first 13 seconds of action? With this Michigan defense, I'm going to say yes, yes it is. The opening kick return for a touchdown by Jehu Chesson set the tone for the rest of the day. Late in the 2nd quarter, Northwestern had an 8 play drive, granted they only gained 20 yards, but 8 plays is a lot against our defense. On the next drive they eked out a first down and started looking a little comfortable on offense. Then, Jourdan Lewis basically pick-pocketed the NU receiver and returned the ball for a touchdown. Had NU been able to score at the end of the half and score to start the 3rd quarter, maybe you could convince yourself they had a chance. Heck, the past 3 years, we've seen Michigan have trouble with the first and last 5 minutes of a half. But this season is not last season. Do you know what these two plays have in common? It's play-makers making plays. After writing 57 diaries about boxscores, far too often I've seen games decided not by the overall statistics, but by a few plays here and there. The Utah game to start the season is a prime example of this. They got the pick-6 in a 7 point game. Against NU, we got the pick-6 and the kickoff return, but we also dominated in every aspect of the game. When you can do both - make the big plays and dominate the down-to-down action - you've got the makings of a special team.
The Two Jakes
* For the first time this season, Jake Rudock met my arbitrary efficiency metrics with 74% completion percentage, 7.8 yards per attempt, and no turnovers. See, all we need is an efficient QB and we can beat top 20 teams by 38 points. I don't need greatness at the QB position, efficiency is sufficient.
* Jake Butt caught 3 passes for 40 yards with a long of 32. He was overshadowed by...
A.J. Williams, Receiving Threat
* A.J. led the receivers with 4 catches for 48 yards. Exhibit A in the case for Harbaugh's coach of the year nomination is this stat line. He takes guys that Brady Hoke struggled to put in positions to succeed and makes them significant contributors to the team. Other examples include Braden, Clark, Poggi, Houma, and Strobel. And the list just goes on and on. And he knows how special teams are supposed to work.
* Rudock spread the wealth again among 7 receivers. 7 passes went to TEs, 7 went to WRs, and three went to Smith.
* 9 players and one TEAM made carries in the game. Surprisingly, it was Derrick Green who led the team in carries with 12 followed by Smith with 8 AND Karan Higdon with 8.
* De'Veon is clearly the lead back, but I'm starting to think it doesn't matter who gets the next carries. Joe Kerridge got a 34 yard carry. Five player had long runs of 10 or more yards.
Tacos, Peppers and Captain Morgan
* I'll give Northwestern some credit; they did make our back 7 relevant. Safety Jarrod Wilson led the team with 7 tackles followed by linebackers Morgan and Bolden with 6 each.
* Michigan recorded 8 TFLs with Willie Henry leading the way with 2.5.
* A couple weeks ago, I noted that Michigan had 6 BrUps, a huge number. Well, against Northwestern, Michigan had 5 QHs, an equally huge number. I've been doing this for awhile and I don't recall ever seeing that many QHs.
* Peppers led the way with 3 of Michigan's 5 BrUps. Like I said before, play-makers making plays.
* Michigan ran 69 plays to NU's 58. There were 27 special teams plays. 17.5% of the plays were from special teams, or roughly 1 in 6.
* Michigan punted five times. Northwestern returned zero for zero yards.
* Michigan also kicked off seven times. Northwestern returned four of those for a total of 75 yards. Jehu Chesson returned NU's only kickoff for 96 yards and a TD. I'd say that's a win for us.
* Michigan gained 21 first downs to NU's 13.
* Net yards rushing was 201 for Michigan and only 38 for NU.
* Both teams came into the game allowing roughly 20% on third down conversions. Michigan went 7 of 14 while holding NU to 2 of 13.
* Michigan had the ball for 37:05 to NU's 22:55. Like DJ Durkin said after the game, a shutout really is a team statistic. The other team can't score if they don't have the ball, and they can't get in field goal position if the special teams are working and the offense isn't turning the ball over.
WHAT ARE THOOOSE?
* Those are robots and nutrients. You look confused, so let me explain. I didn't think I'd have one of theeese, or more properly, one of thooose, this week, until I turned on the MSU-Rutgers game. During every televised game, in an attempt to maintain the facade that college sports are integral to the academic mission (have I gotten that cynical?) the television network will show commercials for the two competing institutions. During the Michigan game, they showed Prof. Jessy Grizzle's robot. I know and like Prof. Grizzle, and I'm sure his robot is really cool, but it seems like they've been highlighting his research for several years now. Surely, there must be other interesting things going on in Ann Arbor?
* Fast forward to the Spartan game. The MSU commercial promoted a faculty member from their environmental engineering department and his work separating nutrients from cow manure. It was 30 seconds of cows and cows' manure footage. Great big machines were shoving rivers of cow manure towards a nutrient separation system that separated the 90% of manure that is water from the nutrients. The commercial ended with the professor suggestively taking a drink of yummy, recycled, nutrient separated cow manure water. I don't understand how they think that the average high school student watching at home is going to see that and get excited about applying to MSU. It's like they know they are Moo U and they have decided to double down and own their ag-based, academic mission. I have numerous friends and family members who root for sparty. If it was any other week, I probably would have skipped this section of the diary, but you know, there's a somewhat important game coming up on Saturday. Regardless of the outcome, my expectation is that we'll go back to our high technology jobs working with robots, while they will go back to separating nutrients from manure. Have I sufficiently beaten this to death? Yeah, I suppose so.
Hoops season starts soon and we're all very excited about that. John Beilein is a genius! We're ranked #7! We're coming off a Final Four! OMG Shirtless Sophomores! We have good reason to be upset about yesterday, and the overall play of our 6-2 team but I personally believe in the big picture. "Fire Hoke" and drawing negative conclusions about his regime's trajectory is unwise at this juncture. Allow me to describe -- using parallels to our current hoops coach who is figuratively walking on water in AA these days.
Beilein was hired in 2007 to replace a "sexy" name who didn't get the job done. Nobody was really excited about the hire because we struck out on Pitino [EDIT: Pitino was 2001. In any case, Beilein wasn't a super exciting hire with his "White Guy" reputation and preverbial "ceiling"]. Hoke, 2011, and Harbaugh and it's the same. Beilein had to re-recruit Harris and Sims and we struggled to a 10-22 record. His second year was charmed and we overacheived to an NCAA Tournament win. Hoke had to re-recruit Denard and others and we overachieved to a Sugar Bowl win. At this juncture, Hoke is ahead of schedule. Both coaches/teams fell back down to earth in the following season and fans are rightfully disappointed.
In Beilein's following season (2010-11), we started 1-6 in Big Ten play before the light went on and we upset MSU in East Lansing. It's been a consistent increase in production ever since. This isn't Hollywood so the parallels aren't perfect (we got smoked yesterday and Lewan didn't have an anueysm of leadership), but we're 6-2 and have some opportunities to wake up. In any case, we're still a year ahead of schedule according to the "Blueprint to BUILDING a Program" by John Beilein.
Now, Beilein made some coaching changes (Hello: Jordan, Meyer, and Alexander) that helped him out. I'm not saying Hoke does or doesn't need to make a few changes, but we're still figuratively playing with a couple Novak's and Douglass' at some skill positions, but while others (like the guards) have Darius Morris talent before the transformation.
The worst thing Hoke could have done was apparently expidite expectations with the Sugar Bowl. Have some perspective; remember Beilein's long road. We're recruiting better than ever. He's united the alumni and we love how he does things the "Michigan way". We've enjoyed some success on the field and I promise we'll get to play MSU (1-2 isn't ideal, but better than 0-3), OSU (1-1), and ND (2-1) again.
My opinion is that we should continue to support Michigan. We're obviously not where we want to be, but these things take some time. Tough to coach ourselves to a win when the interior O-Line literally gets crushed within 1 second on every play.
Should this be a diary? Is this too long? Are my paragraphs not up to the "MGoBlog Pulitzer standard?" Who cares. Step away from the cliff, anxious Michigan fans. The last time we gathered our pitchforks coaches negative recruited the hell out of our coaching stability and we got a Josh Groban appearance we'd all like to forget.
[This started out as a board post, but obviously got way too long. Hope there are a few other folks as excited as me for a Michigan sport where we still own fools mercilessly!]
Other excited folks / Detroit News
Michigan's softball team returns to action this afternoon with a pair of games against Southern Illinois & Houston. As always, expectations are high at the start of the season for us, being one of the elite teams nationally, and still the only team East of the Mississippi to win a National Title.
Last year, UM won the Big Ten championship for the third year running, but the playoff run came to an end all too early in the super-regional, dashing hopes for a second National Championship. This year, Hutch and the team have been clear that the goals (Big Ten & National Titles) are the same as always.
Ranked #8/#11 in the preseason polls, the Wolverines will have a lot to do in order to climb those mountains. Last year, Michigan was led by a large senior class and steamrolled the competition for much of the year, invoking the mercy rule on 19 separate occasions, en route to a 49-8 (18-1 Big Ten) record.
Those seniors have gone however and the roster is packed with 7 freshmen looking to prove themselves. Other younger players like sophomore pitcher Stephanie Speierman will be called on to step up as well, with players like star pitcher Nikki Nemitz, power hitter Maggie Viefhaus, and others no longer in Ann Arbor.
Despite the youth, however, Michigan does not lack for senior leadership. Pitcher Jordan Taylor and first-base/power-hitter Dorian Shaw are both on the pre-season Player of the Year watchlist, and will need to take a leading role if this Michigan team is to succeed.
Last year, Dorian Shaw lead the way for Michigan in the home-run department, going deep 21 times. One of those shots broke the letter A on the now-rechristianed "lumni Field" scoreboard. And while Nemitz was the senior pitcher on staff, Taylor led the way for much of the year, going 26-4 with an ERA of 1.44. The highlight of her year came in April when, on the 10th she tossed 5 perfect innings as Michigan mercy-ruled Minnesota 9-0. Not two weeks later, Taylor was on the mount again, and once again was perfect through 5, as UM mercy-ruled PSU 8-0.
The Wolverines in softball are the sort of team that does not rebuild, but reloads. A strong class of freshman recruits lead by sure-fire All-Americans like Taylor and Shaw will be a tough matchup for any team they face. The seniors will be looking to put the stamp on some great careers with a fourth straight Big Ten Title and some National hardware as well, and the younger players will be looking to make names for themselves on one of college softball's biggest stages. Let's go BLUE!
So I left the Big House disappointed again today. But one thing popped into my head again and basically got confirmed by the play on the field more than it has been all year. This isn't Rich Rodriguez's fault.
This teams perception in relation to RR is distorted. BIG TIME. A million intelligent opinion pieces, Chart & graphs can't explain to those who don't want to hear the truth exactly what the truth is, so its almost impossible and completely exhausting after all these months trying to do so. The most frustrating part after today is how so many cannot see the big picture just by common sense!!?
Michigan Wolverine Football just put 36 points on the board today. AAAAAAND they did it against Purdue. Not a power house. When you put up 36 on a team like Purdue you should win. In college football 36 points, especially in the Big 10 is a win a large majority of the time. But it wasn't. And it wasn't in the Iowa game at Iowa when we put up 30 (that could've been almost 50), And it barely was against Indiana when we put up another 36. Hell we were about to roll on sorry ass Illinois until the goal line stop and subsequent easy Illini TD that changed the game immediately after. . . What I am getting at is that this defense is as bad as everyone with a football brain has been telling you that it is, but most of you won't listen.
I don't give a motherphuck if you dreamers who are making little wishes either out loud or to yourself on the side of your beds at night could get Kelly or even Meyer to leave Florida for christ sakes, NOBODY, absolutely NOBODY is going to win with a D as bad as this. And if you would open your eyes, you would see this isn't anywhere near the team of last year on offense. RR is getting this program headed to where he said he would offensively. Yeah they shit the bed in a couple games this year bad, but they are VERY VERY young AND run by a teenage kid who is one of only 5 true freshman starting at this level in 2009. As far as I am concerned we need to really just use common sense and realize that the problem isn't Rich, its what he has on the field on D. Has he made a few mistakes? Yes, all great coaches do. Has he done a good job? I don't see how you can argue truthfully. Because if you put a semi-decent secondary in we are seriously 3-4 wins better right now. We beat MSU. We beat probably beat Iowa. We definitely beat Purdue & Illinois last week.
A friend of mine sent me a text after the game today & it said- "2 words Bryan Kelly" - SERIOUSLY????!!!! Ok then lets say we get Kelly. Unless hes a 5 star safety or can be in 3 places at the same time then whats he going to do?? How is he going to coach walk ons and depleted talent levels to wins? Hes not. He won't. He can't.
My original diary: http://mgoblog.com/diaries/realistic-2009-prediction
Midway through the season, I can see that calm objectivity is helpful in making predictions, and now can see that its equally helpful in keeping things in perspective during the whirlwind of emotions in a college football season.
Looking at the predictions, I'm 5/6, with my one incorrect prediction being a win against Notre Dame when I expected the Irish' offense to outscore us. Without Forcier's heroics, I would have been correct. Looking forward, my fear of Illinois' offense seems unwarranted, while my dismissal of Purdue as a threat seems hasty. I stand by my prediction of an upset at home against Penn State, as well as my predictions against Wisconsin and Ohio State.
The point? We're still on course for a 6-6 or 7-5 regular season record. So if we do end up there, keep a level head and understand the progress we've made this season and don't be THAT GUY that complains about a late season collapse. Rodriguez has this team on track, and Michigan will be kicking ass with him at the helm for the forseeable future.