"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."
I’m not a superstitious person, but it’s fun to pretend that there are signs, or that ordinary objects can possess special powers. For example, I often break out the M boxer shorts for big games. Our track record hasn’t been so good in big games recently, so I left the boxer shorts in the dresser drawer for this game. There were two signs that if I were the sort to believe in such things, portended a bright future for the Michigan football team.
First, prior to the game I was listening to my Johnny Cash Pandora station. Out of nowhere, the station started playing “Jambalaya”, by Hank Williams. So what you say? Well, this past weekend I posted a diary comparing M football games to Iron Maiden songs, picking out particularly relevant lyrics. The lyrics to Jambalaya?
Jambalaya, a crawfish pie and a fillet a gumbo…
Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou…
The reason this song stood out besides the obvious connection to New Orleans, the Sugar Bowl, and the hope that we’d have big fun at the game, is that my mom would sing this song whenever she cooked Jambalaya. That seems reasonable, except that she wasn’t from the south and never sang any other songs while cooking that I recall. It’s as if something was preparing me from an early age for this year’s Sugar Bowl.
I hope I’ve established the musical connection. Well, the second sign that occurred was the National Anthem being sung by one of the actors from Mad Men (one of my favorite shows) while accompanied by a clarinetist. As a youth, I played the clarinet (until a bizarre badminton accident claimed three of my teeth, but that’s a story for another day.) How often have you seen someone play the National Anthem on the clarinet? For me, the answer was none, until this year’s Sugar Bowl. So as you read through this thoroughly depressing set of stats, remember, that none of these numbers matter except the final score, because this was all preordained. You can’t argue with the signs.
Burst of Impetus
- It’s been awhile since the OSU game, so let me remind you what this section is all about. Basically, it presents the big momentum changing plays of the game. The biggest play was the first 4thand 1 where we stopped VT. Instead of them kicking the FG to go up 9-0, they went for the kill. Martin, Van Bergen and Will Campbell came up with a huge stop. That stopped their momentum.
- Of course, that wouldn’t have meant much if we couldn’t get anything going offensively. When VT got hit with a roughing the punter penalty, it gave us some momentum which allowed the 45 yard TD pass later in the drive.
- At the end of the game, the impetus was swinging back and forth like a tennis ball at Roland Garros (that’s the clay surface where points take forever, as opposed to Wimbledon where it’s one and done.)
Trash Cans Full of Dirt
- I went through the play-by-play link and looked at Virginia Tech’s third and fourth down plays. They converted third downs of 1, 8, 9, 12, 13, and 20 yards. Their average third down conversion was on 3rd and 10.5 yards to go. We stopped them on third down and 3, 3, 4, 5, 5, 7, 7, 11, and 20 yards to go. So the average down and distance to go when we stopped them was 3rd and 6.1. That seems just a little backwards. It’s even weirder on fourth down, where we stopped them twice on 4th and one, but they converted 4th and 11.
- So why did VT have more success on longer down and distance plays? I think the rush suffered from Van Bergen’s early injury and the fact that Thomas is one big dude. His ability to see over the rush was key to finding the open receivers. On third or fourth and short, they tried running and we lived up to the “Trash Cans Full of Dirt” nickname earned in game 1 I believe. On one 4th and one, they tried a QB sneak right into the center of Martin, Van Bergen, and Will Campbell. That was the initial burst of impetus that started turning things around for us.
- 20 players show up in the defensive stats, including 4 tackles for Elliott Mealer. I believe those actually belong to Frank Clark, unless Elliott became a special teams monster without me noticing.
- Kovacs lead the team with 11 tackles, followed by Morgan and Martin with 10 apiece. While I like the balance (a DB, an LB, and a DL) I don’t like having three guys with double digit tackles. We couldn’t keep VT off the field, and when we did stop their drive, our offense couldn’t sustain anything, leading to a large discrepancy in total plays: 76 for VT and 52 for UofM.
- We had 8 TFLs, half of those were by Jake Ryan for an insane 36 yards. He mixed up his TFLs quite nicely, one stopped a fake punt, one was for 22 yards, (hey, if a back wants to run backwards for 22 yards, I say let him. Just be sure to tackle him when he turns around) and one was a classic, “Jake Ryan hates ankles as much as Taylor Lewan hates donkeys” QB sack. I’m sure he leads the team in ankle tackles and it’s not even close. The dude must have some strong hands. (Since I talked about signs in the intro, I watched 10 minutes of “16 Candles” over break. Our Jake Ryan has now replaced the Jake Ryan as my favorite Jake Ryan.)
We Haz Special Teams
- I was going to move this section all the way to the top in honor of us out-Beamerballing Beamerball, but Martin and Van Bergen deserve top billing.
- JB Fitzgerald gets credit for a forced fumble on a kickoff that turned into three points. That play was one of many that were key to getting us to overtime.
- Gibbons, a veritable Van Bergen Mini-Me, was good from 24, 37, and 39 yards. My wife is a brunette, so I’m right there with you Brendan.
- After a rough start for Hagerup, Wile came on to do the punting and averaged 43.7 yards. He also drew a roughing the punter penalty that kept a drive alive and lead to 7 points. Wile had a long of 58 yards, which is what I expect from dome punting. I don’t know why, there is no wind in a dome, it just seems like guys are always killing the ball when punting in a dome.
- After the punting section, they list returns and credit Elliott Mealer with a 7 yard interception return. I’m pretty sure this is a typo and this INT belongs to Frank Clark. Perhaps the stats guys were partying a little too hard after the win. I don’t blame them.
- This was one of those rare games where we reverted back to the original meaning of the word filthy. Denard had 13 carries for 13 yards. He was only 9 of 21 passing with one INT, and several other close calls.
- Touss ran 13 times for only 30 yards. What surprised me was that Touss didn’t get a carry until our 7thoffensive play. I thought we would try to establish him early, since he finished the season as a productive third of our offense (1/3 Touss, 1/3 Denard running, 1/3 Denard passing.) Instead, we saw all sorts of long developing plays, mostly run to the outside, that gave VT’s speedy defense time to react. I think the MANBALL, power up the middle stuff would have worked better, but the Molk injury certainly hurt.
- Another thing missing from the game plan were screen passes - a good counter to an aggressive defense. We tried the one to Vincent Smith. Denard bounced the pass and we never went back to it.
Big John R. Studd Referee Section
- My brother called at halftime and I complained about the refs. He said, “what do you expect from Sun Belt refs?” or something to that effect. While he was just kidding, I took him at face value because they didn’t have a clue.
- All I ask for is consistency. Sometimes DBs were allowed to grab jerseys, and sometimes they weren’t. Every time they missed the hands to the face penalty.
- I think they missed two false starts on Gibbons, but whatever.
- The referee was Jay Stricherz. When I googled him, the first hit said, “Good thing Riley didn't have the crew of referee Jay Stricherz, which has regularly dispensed flags like penny candy off parade floats.“ Apparently, I’m not the only one who has a problem with Jay. It looks like they are a Pac 12 crew FWIW.
- Junior Hemingway. That’s all I got for this section.
- To be fair, 8 players did catch passes, including Jareth Glanda.
- We wore yet another new uniform. I’m so over this by now. I will say that the uniforms the VT cheerleaders were wearing were the ugliest things I’ve seen all season.
- 5G Frank Clark was the only hexadecimalist to register, breaking Matt Cavanaugh’s streak. I think they just lumped all the special teams tackles under Elliott Mealer.
- The announcers were Brad Nessler and Todd Blackledge. I barely paid attention to them. I was a little surprised that was the first UofM game they did all season.
Random, as Yet Unnamed, Bullets
- I put VT in the “respected opponent” column, unlike say, an MSU or ohio, but I’ve got to say this about the halftime university commercials: our walking robot could kick their walking robot’s ass. And I’m not just saying that because I know Prof. Grizzle and he’s a class act. Did you see the commercials? Our robot is practically running while their robot is taking these little baby robot steps.
- Writing these diaries in the middle of the week is painful. If I'm going to do this again next season, I demand we get a Friday or Saturday Bowl Game.
- So the main question everyone is asking is, how do you win a game when you get outgained by 193 yards. Well, we had one turnover to their two, and we stopped them twice on fourth down. That’s a +3 in the extended turnover stat. Even if you assign 40 yards (the average net punt) to each of those, we’re still trailing by 73 yards. The answer is, I just don’t know*. And you know what, I don’t care. We’re Sugar Bowl Champions, and that’s all that matters. And now it’s time to have big fun on the bayou…
* I do know, we scored two touchdowns, and they kicked a bunch of field goals. You’ve got to score TDs when you get the chance. Also, they roughed our punter, which continued our drive. That's basically a negative turnover for us. And even though I bashed the refs, we picked up another ~40 net penalty yards.