Part of me just wants to wallow in despair and ice my soul dong, but at the same time I just can’t overcome the urge to post my thoughts about the past couple of months in UM football. And since I’m more an REM fan than a Smith’s, this post is sprinkled with a couple of my favorite tunes’ names.
**NOTE: Depending on your office culture, there might be a few NSFW-ish memes here. Nothing epic or pornish (sorry), but you’ve been warned.
Shiny Happy People
After the Purdue game, my feelings about the team were shared by a bulk of the UM community – namely, .
Or, in words, excited about being 7-3, dreaming of possibly splitting with Wiscy and OSU, and finally ending the constant speculation swirling around RR and the team’s coaching staff. Sure, it felt like a bit of a smokescreen – this team was still worked over by MSU-Iowa-PSU that left me with a bad case of the – but I definitely felt that with Robinson and co. putting up record-breaking offensive numbers the season had taken on a feeling.
Plus, the wins, the offensive resurgence, and the uptick in recruiting they brought pointed to something greater – a sense that UM fans no longer needed to worry about rogue newspapers flailing about with half-cooked exposes, of turning on your television and seeing some smug talking head on ESPN crow about the “fall of Michigan” and how Rich Rodriguez was “definitely” on the outs, of scrolling through the blogs and Twitter with baited breath lest another player on the 2-deep tears tendons in his knee, fails to make the grade, or simply wants to leave. For the first time in 3 years, fans could finally look in the mirror and say .
Losing My Religion
…er, Ann Arbor, reality did not mesh with this dream scenario of a return to normalcy for fans of the Maize and Blue. While the offense had made definite strides under RR, the defense under this dapper gentleman had badly regressed even from the historically-bad standards of the previous two years. By any metric, this was one of the worst defenses in college football, and watching them every week made me so….
Yeah, I conveniently overlooked the fact that in order for there to be an historic 67-65 win over the Illini UM had to give up 65 points (!!!111!!11!!) in the process, or the fact that the Purdue ’s were calling key screen passes between their 3rd and 4th QBs. And yeah, Wisconsin and OSU still outclassed UM from a talent standpoint and would provide the staunchest tests yet for this fledgling offense, but still, nobody had really shut down UM’s offense yet, and when the game gets up to the 30-40 point range anything can happen. So really, what was wrong with a little bit of homerish optimism in an upset?
What's the Frequency, Kenneth?
I don’t (and won’t) need to recap what happened in gory detail, but let’s just say that phrases like “ that was a horrible series for the offense” and “GERG, ” were frequently typed, tweeted, uttered and sworn over those last two weeks. At some point during the second half of the Wisconsin game, I thought that jewel thieves were breaking into my house and had simply ed a single run play and set it on a loop on my TV to distract me. And if that shellacking wasn’t enough of a wake-up call to the UM faithful that this team was not ready for prime-time, the demolition by OSU the following week drove the point home that if you are an above-average offense against UM’s defense. Fans were left feeling , though not so much because of the defense’s shortcomings (by that point, nobody expected anything from the unit), but because the offense suddenly went from to .
And despite the mountain of factors and valid arguments explaining why this team was going to struggle against elite competition, and in spite of the very positive fact that it was going to be playing a NYD bowl game against a legit SEC team for the first time since…well, the last time they played a NYD bowl game against a legit SEC team, one couldn’t ignore the reality that it was another year of against marque teams not named Notre Dame while the fanbase yearned for a season .
Despite the thumping at the end of the season, at least this season had an expiration date beyond Thanksgiving, and after the past two years that felt like a win. Of course, this was all overshadowed by the rumors surrounding RR’s potential termination and the deafening silence coming from AD David Brandon on the matter beyond “I’m evaluating the team as a whole.” This led to a clear distinction amongst fans – one side felt that and Brandon either relieve RR of his coaching duties or publicly support his continued employment, and the other side that felt rushing to a decision was too reactionary and that a more measured approach was necessary. All would acknowledge, though, that the uncertainty surrounding the program had an adverse effect on recruiting, as everyone was , hide your recruits from other schools poaching them. Committed kids like Dee Hart started to look elsewhere while recruits like Zettel chose other programs (at least in part) because they weren’t sure if RR was going to be there next year, and frankly it was hard to blame them.
Of course, this led to an unrelenting number of commentators and pundits creating
Even venerable MGoBlog, wasn’t immune, leading the creation of the CC tag for posts about a potential coaching change as a means of identifying at least some of the rampant speculation surrounding the head man for the Wolverines. And this level of confusion/misinformation wasn’t limited to traditional media sources; while bloggers called for their readers to , it was clear that nobody knew what was going to happen to the Michigan program, and that probably included Brandon. It was enough to make
What made the situation even worse was the poor planning that had seemingly been put toward a potential coaching search by those in the UM family, with the groupthink being that that Harbaugh was the guy and he would jump at the opportunity to coach his alma mater despite evidence that UM wasn’t the most attractive offer on the table. For all the UM fans had taken in recent years from Notre Dame’s schizophrenic coaching decisions, the botched handling of the situation so far by the AD left me wondering if this wasn’t that far off.
Hey, remember that bowl game UM was going to play? Remember how everyone was excited that the team would have 15 more practices to prepare, and how it would allow the coaching staff (especially GERG) to focus on a single team and really prepare for everything, possibly leading to the type of competent defensive effort this team hasn’t displayed since UConn to start the season (the only other time when the staff had over a month to prepare)? It wasn’t rocket-; you made the Bulldogs pay for blitzing on offense and brought the pressure on defense. Honestly, a brain-damaged Capuchin monkey with a smartphone could have figured that out. Yeah, about that…
. Okay, maybe that’s a bit too crude. It wasn’t quite prison-shower-scene style, but more like …. UM was dominated by the Bulldogs in a way that was more shocking than even what Wiscy and OSU had done in previous games because while those teams were a combined 22-2 and 2 of the best 7-8 teams in the country, MSU was a very beatable SEC team that (thanks in large part to MGoBlog’s obsessive analysis) had clearly defined faults that could be exploited.
Yeah, apparently this was all news to the coaching staff. After the first quarter the offense couldn’t score (thanks in no small part to the realization that even chip-shot FGs were full of ), and the defense was thrashed AGAIN with minimal resistance. It was the worst bowl loss in UM history, yet another chink in the once-impenetrable armor that surrounded the University of Michigan football program. And more than the just the numerical domination, watching this team being manhandled by the Bulldogs was just embarrassing – the team looked ill-prepared and lost at times out there, everyone waiting for Denard to just carry the team to a victory that wasn’t going to materialize. It was a fitting end to another season for the Wolverines, and to many signified the final nail in RR’s coffin.
It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)
After the Gator Bowl debacle, everyone braced for the announcement concerning the future of the program and where RR fit in. Most expected him to be fired, though a few held out hope (the author included) that he would be retained for another year to see how this team would perform with all the returning players. Plus, given that it was now about a month from Signing Day, it would be incredibly trying on a new coach to assemble his assistants, reach out to current commits AND snag some blue-chippers in a couple of weeks.
Harbaugh still looked like the leader in the clubhouse, with Brady Hoke and a gaggle of longshot , and the sentiment remained that once the job opened up to lead the Wolverines, Harbaugh would welcome the opportunity. I mean, it’s not like this transition wasn’t hammered out between the OSU game and January 1st.
Maybe the first clue that the power of Brandon’s might have been overstated a bit came from the frequent reports that Harbaugh was not sold on returning to UM; that he was weighing options in the NFL and even returning to Stanford. Then came tweets and articles from Fox Detroit and Michael Rosenberg that RR was fired, even though there had been no official word and wouldn’t be for at least one more day. This was an obvious formality and not a stay of execution for the Rodriguez era, and on Wednesday Brandon officially announced the termination.
Bang and Blame
So now a “national coaching search” begins on January 5th - ಠ_ಠ – and we are left again wondering what went wrong under RR and if this program’s recent instability was a blip or if it will be forever.
Personally, I think the key factor in the coaching search needs to be less about bringing in a “Michigan Man” – that anachronistic alliteration that makes Brady Hoke a legitimate candidate – and more on finding a coach who can work with the talent already in place and who understands how to run a defense/hire a competent DC. RR’s inability to find a non-Casteel Castell at Michigan, or at least allow a competent DC run his system, was the main force behind his .
The next coach, whether it be Harbaugh, Miles, Patterson, or whomever, needs to step into this situation and adapt quickly, hopefully winning along the way. Because what this whole experience has taught me is that despite our claims to the contrary, the average UM fan isn’t ly different than fans at other elite schools – they expect to win and have incredibly thin skin when they don’t, are largely resistant to change except if it works immediately, and are only as patient as is necessary before a “better guy” pops up.
Brandon put himself in this predicament by removing RR before a replacement was in place, so the pressure is squarely on him to deliver. Whether he does is open for debate, though my pessimism should not be dismissed as mere. Until proven otherwise, I view Brandon as an unknown commodity as an AD, and how he handles the next couple of days and weeks will define his tenure for years to come. Based on his business acumen and UM’s historic success, I am confident that Brandon will bring in the and return this program to national prominence, but if I’ve learned anything these past two months it is that such logical arguments are
Due to a cornucopia of issues the past couple of weeks, I couldn’t post a recap of the Illinois or Purdue games until this week. But in honor of ending two-year losing streaks to programs and/or coaches that sorely were in need of some comeuppance, I bring you this weekend’s win in West Lafayette, plus other notable games, as told in movies all about desert best served cold.
The Little Engine That Couldn’t
Coming of an emotional and record-setting performance against Illinois that netted the Wolverines the all-important 6th win, all the talk was about UM’s prolific offense slicing through the Purdue defense like a through, um, a porous defense. Not only was Denard, Tate and co. riding a wave of momentum after dropping 67 on the Illini the week prior, but the sheer number of injuries suffered by Purdue’s defense over the year led most observers to conclude that only those with a (or at least a fond distaste for his ACL) would ever decide to line up in the Boilermaker’s secondary. On offense, Purdue’s once-competent stable of QBs had been reduced to one guy with a sliced finger throwing/hurling dump-offs to the 4th-string QB after UM Justin Siller limped off the field with a, you guessed it, lower-leg injury injury. Plus, Danny Hope and his Moostache was riding a two-game winning streak against RR and UM, highlighted by some infamous trash-talking/detachment from reality -ed from Roy Roundtree’s *shocking* decision to choose a team and school he liked (UM) over one he didn’t (Purdue), as well as RR’s gall to point out that players not wearing the Maize and Blue should be suspended for bad behavior on the field. Against that backdrop, it came as no surprise that UM was looking for against the Boilermakers, and more than a few UM faithful were hoping that the team left a or 40 on Purdue’s scoreboard in the process.
Justifying the fears of some that Purdue should not be for granted despite their glaring flaws, Purdue forced a Denard fumble on UM’s first drive and was poised to capitalize. UM fans, burned so often by this team’s penchant for playing down to the competition, were at the when the Craig Roh burst through the line and slapped the ball from Dan Dierking’s gritty grasp and Cam Gordon oh my go…oh my go…run! run you beautiful little freshman run! to the endzone for a defensive touchdown. UM quickly followed that up with another touchdown after a shanked punt and all seemed right in the world.
But then the skies opened up like a from the heavens, turning an already-cruddy field into soup and the ball into (apparently) the slipperiest pigskin ever used in organized football. The teams proceeded to combine for another 8 turnovers, 4 each, as neither offense was able to sustain any momentum. Denard returned the defensive TD favor with a 94-yard interception return by Ricardo Allen, and this prompted Chris Martin to ramble on incoherently for 5 minutes about stuff not related to the continuing play on the field. Ryan Kerrigan, pulling off his best Brandon Graham circa-2009 impression and sprinkled with the right amount of Tebow divinity, was a , continuously harassing UM’s QBs to the tune of 4 sacks and at least 1 forced fumble. Neither Tate nor Denard were overwhelmingly effective in the sloppy conditions, and the offense kept giving short fields to Purdue. And yet, the on the defense never gave in, holding Purdue to FGs and turnovers where even a single TD could have led to calamity. The teams kept trading possessions without much scoring, as UM maintained a healthy but certainly not safe lead late in the game.
In the 4th Quarter, Will Hagerup boomed a 72 yard punt deep into Purdue territory, which Purdue’s offense inside their own 10 yard line. After a couple of stalled drives, UM marched down the shortened field for a TD by Hopkins, making it a 2-score game that was effectively a for Purdue’s comeback hopes.
The immediate response to this game spoke volumes about the toll the last few seasons have taken on the fanbase’s psyche. Some fans, including one Rogaine-deficient writer, called for RR’s head after another 5-turnover affair, while others pointed to the team’s 7-3 record and the improved play of the offense as signs of life. Legitimate questions were raised about this team’s inability to HOLD ON TO THE DAMN BALL and Denard’s current passing ability, and a similar performance against Wisconsin or OSU will render swiftly RR’s offense from terrifying to . Still, while it took a to sit through this game, it was the type of game that UM used to always win under past regimes and yet was one that has eluded RR so far; a messy, field-position contest where the offense does just enough and the defense holds the fort. Yes, Purdue’s ineptitude on offense helped, but the game never felt in doubt and, for a fan who lived through the past couple of years, that is enough. The players, especially on defense, should be this week, and hopefully that confidence will translate to improved efforts the next two weeks.
Now having vanquished two of the more nagging thorns in UM’s recent history, fans may be left wondering to whom they should direct their pent-up anger and rage toward now? Should they re-double their focus on Tressel or Dantonio? Perhaps set out on a new crusade to (metaphorically) Plaschke for his idiotic tweeting about Denard? Personally, I’ve decided that with bowl eligibility assured and some stability finally being in place for my beloved but recently-maligned alma mater, it is time to enjoy college football in the fall, reconnect with friends and loved ones, and become a better person filled with love in his heart and a hop in his step. Oh yeah, and also keep hating on Cam Newton and the rest of the SEC. Those guys are still jerks.
And As For the Rest of the Weekend
* I can only presume that the Hoosier football team was holding Bret Bielema’s favorite windbreaker and/or Packer’s Cheesehead for , as he thoroughly demolished Indiana 83-20, including scoring 45 points in the second half (including one FG late in the 3rd quarter). Give me back my stuff! indeed.
* Texas, continuing its season-long hangover from last year’s MNC loss, were shellacked by Oklahoma St. 33-16 in a game that wasn’t even that close. At least Texas fans can take a in the fact that this loss won’t even break the top-5 worst losses for the season.
* Finally, the Wildcats of Northwestern scored another impressive win in its inexplicable rivalry with Iowa, taking the lead with a very late TD pass from resident Dan Persa who, as the gods demand, immediately tore approximately 1 million tendons in his ankle and is done for the season. It’s a major blow to Northwestern’s fortunes, yet proves that the Angry Purdue ACL Hating God is not afraid to turn its jaundiced eye to the rest of the Big 10 after it ran out of victims in West Lafayette.
In honor of Halloween and the equally-traumatizing game yesterday, I bring you this week’s recap as told classic scary movie posters. As always, I welcome comments and criticisms of my movie choices (and especially with scary movies, I will sometimes consider the acting quality in addition to the actual conduct when determining the level of terror associated with it)
The Horror in Happy Valley
Coming off two straight home losses and still smarting from last year’s demolition at the hands of the Nittany Lions, Michigan entered Happy Valley the day before with a mission: to exorcise last year’s and win that all-important 6th game and become bowl eligible after two straight losing seasons. And PSU seemed like a willing partner in this bit of history, as the Lions’ numerous injuries turned once-intimidating Beaver Stadium into a veritable . Not only that, but UM fans were expecting their resident Denard Robinson and the rest of the team to benefit from the rest afforded by the bye week. All pointed to a UM victory, which probably should have been a clue that this game was not going to be .
The first two drives were an of what lay ahead, as UM’s questionable play-calling on third down led to a quick three-and-out, followed up by the first (of what turned out to be many) long, soul-crushing drives by PSU. Led by their ginger, walk-on of a QB, Penn St. roared out of the gates, scoring TDs on 4 of their first 5 drives as Michigan’s defense couldn’t stop with a well-timed stop. To make matters worse, a seemingly fell over the offense, as it failed to generate sustained offense beyond two scoring drives, the futility highlighted by a muffed kick return by Jeremy Gallon that the Wolverines deep in their territory. Staring at a 28-10 deficit and PSU getting the ball to begin the second half, UM fans were in .
The situation only got worse as Penn St. took the opening kickoff of the second half straight down the field and tacked on a FG, ballooning the lead to 31-10 and sending even the most faithful fan into a of questions about this coaching staff and this team, highlighted by the lament of “where was this you call a defense and why doesn’t UM have one?” The team seemed , and the two most pressing question became whether this team would win another game all year and if brought on by copious amounts of alcohol would make the game more palpable.
But then a funny thing happened – the offense began to move down the field quickly, scoring on 3 straight drives and pulling within a TD late into the 4th quarter. Suddenly, one could hear of Wisconsin in 2008, when the plucky Wolverines stormed back and ripped victory from the of defeat. All the team needed was one stop, one PSU mistake. And despite a decent return on the ensuing kick-off, PSU was set to start from their own 35 when a went through every UM faithful’s spine: there was a flag on the play, a personal foul penalty that tacked on 15 more yards to the return on the eventual game-deciding FG drive. The offense tried valiantly to score on the next drive, but as a 4th down pass fell to the ground all hope of a comeback was .
That is the question on everyone’s lips once the lights went out in Happy Valley. Behind a beat-up line and a walk-on, first-time starter at QB, Evan Royster ran around, over, and thru UM’s front with little resistance while Matthew McGloin shredded the secondary with impunity. While poor defensive performances were certainly not to followers of this team, the ease by which PSU moved the ball was truly a . And the offense’s performance, despite some success in the second half, was a of the past few weeks – struggling to score until the team fell behind by double digits, then moving the ball reasonably well as they tried to come back.
So now the familiar questions about the coaching staff have returned; will to coach another year, or will to redemption be littered with more casualties. With Saturday’s game representing completion of the middle third of the season, this team’s future will likely be decided in the Horseshoe, as UM ends the season in Columbus against the Buckeyes. Winnable games against Illinois and Purdue loom the next two weeks, and Wisconsin comes to the Big House to end the home slate in three weeks. Will the for RR and/or GERG’s heads continue to get louder until it is a , or what fans the past three games is simply a rough patch for a maturing team poised to make a strong run to end the season? I don’t think anybody knows, even if they might claim a about how the season will end.
And Because You Read This Far, Some One-Liners About Other Games This Weekend
* The MSU Spartans, saddled with expectations for the first time since the Reagan administration, walked into a in Iowa City, as the shook off last week’s tough loss to the Badgers and demolished Sparty 37-6. indeed.
* I could make a snarky comment after Notre Dame’s heartbreaking loss to Tulsa and the even more painful loss of Crist for the whole season, but considering what happened to them this week my thoughts and best wishes go out to them instead.
Due to the not-overwhelming-but-still-pleasant response from last week’s Bruce Willis montage, I figured I would try this week to both recap the season so far in UM football, plus this past week’s prominent games, with one of America’s most storied thespians. Please feel free to comment away on the quality in the, um, well, comments section.
The Season So Far, or as I like to call it, the 6+1 Degrees of Kevin Bacon Recap
After two disheartening seasons, the talk at the end of last season was that Rich Rodriguez needed to start winning or else it would be the
for him in Ann Arbor. Reports during the offseason pointed to the offense making strides even while the defense suffered from a lack of depth and a dearth of talent at key positions. All was relatively quiet until
could be felt emanating miles away in a nondescript building in Detroit. This rumbling was caused by the furious digging of one misguided newspaper’s attempt to generate headlines (and relevance) by “exposing” the deep-rooted NCAA violations going on in Schembechler Hall. RR was characterized as a criminal guilty of
for what amounted to a couple of extra hours of stretching and some tangential football personnel watching unofficial practices and weight sessions. Undaunted by reality, pundits and reporters across the various media streams let loose with a flood of chest-thumping and invectives about the “transgressions” going on under RR,
with false accusations and fears of the
being handed down by the NCAA. The Internet’s reaction was, perhaps unsurprisingly, split, with some treating these accusations as gospel while others accused the media of being actors in a conspiracy that would make the
investigations seem like child’s play.
But as we all remember, not much came of it. Despite the accusations and rabid media treatment, the truth ultimately came out, leaving everyone with the impression that the author of the “expose” was just a
, and soon the focus turned to RR
with Denard Robinson as the starting QB. Perhaps not surprisingly, the message boards and radio stations were a veritable
of individuals questioning the wisdom in this move. But on a
day in the beginning of September, Robinson and the rest of the Wolverines cast aside the tumultuous
and blasted Connecticut. Next came Notre Dame and another epic performance by Robinson, as the sporting world began to wonder if he was UM’s
And as the team raced out to a 5-0 start despite games that would leave no fans
there was a sense that this season would not be the like the two previous, that UM was back as a national power.
Unfortunately, the last two games have tempered these expectations, as it became clear that this team, gutted by injuries, transfers, and other player departures, was lacking in
especially on the defensive side of the ball. The pundits and opposing fans, so quiet during the 5-0 start, are back out in full force, questioning whether RR will ever be able to win at UM. From their high horses,
apparently so clear that even the smell of hypocrisy cannot reach them, they have already begun the countdown to RR’s demise, even with nearly 1/2 a season to still be played.
for this team is probably somewhere between the 5-0 start and the 2-game losing streak.
this season is already a success. With youth dominating both sides of the ball, UM still features one of the most dynamic offenses in the country and a defense that, well, only sometimes drives me to nearly jump into a
Every Saturday so far
is filled with an optimism, a sense of possibility that was missing the past two years. It is the air UM fans used to take for granted, and even though this season probably won’t ever by confused with some of the
seasons of years past, it is hard not to see a bright future for this team no matter how much of a UM-hating
you may be.
This Week’s Games
It was a weekend of upsets,highlighted by the third #1 team in a row to fall to a ranked opponent. This time, the Oklahoma Sooners were knocked off by one of the
in the Big 12, Missouri. With yet another #1 falling, it begs the question how the BCS will shake out at the end of the year, especially with non-AQ teams like Boise St. and TCU
beneath an invisible glass ceiling by the BCS computers and pollsters [Ed-M: Not to mention a schedule that's not...how shall we say...
* Coming off a 3-game win streak and winds in South Bend once again filled with a
of a Return to Glory, spirits were high at Notre Dame as they welcomed the Midshipmen of Navy. 367 yards on the ground and a thoroughly dominating 35-17 win by Navy a couple of hours later, the college football world was reminded that anyone trumpeting the reemergence of the Domers as a national power was simply
* Other major upsets this weekend included
at two former stops for Greg “touch of GERG” Robinson as Iowa State besting Texas for the first time (!!) in team history, while a Scott Schafer-led Syracuse defense (!!!) held West Virginia to 14 points in a stunning 19-14 win. As with politics, I will leave the
discussion about the team’s defensive performance to others.
* In other games of note, both Iowa and LSU suffered from
at the coaching position, as questionable coaching decisions by the Mad Hatter and Kirk Ferentz late in their games may have cost them wins against Wisconsin and Auburn, respectively. Senator Tressel went
against Purdue after last week’s demoralizing loss to the Badgers, drubbing the Boilermakers 49-0. The only disappointment was that the Vest didn’t break out this routine on the sidelines late in the game. Hey, hey! What's this I see? I thought this was a party. LET'S DANCE!
Mark Dantonio and Michigan State continued their unlikely run toward a Big 10 title and MNC berth (!!!!) as they rallied late against Northwestern, who blew the upset even though the Spartans once down 17 points. With only Iowa likely standing between MSU and a perfect season, I will now fill my body with
lest I be subjected to even more Sparty gloating.
* To no one’s surprise, the first game in which the Minnesota Golden Gophers were
after the dismissal of Tim Brewster ended rather badly, with Penn State earning its first Big 10 win rather handily despite being outgained by 80 yards. Perhaps a eccentric former Texas Tech coach will be walking the sidelines next year, though in that case I would like to see a name change to the Golden
A home game is now in the books as Michigan downed the IPFW Mastodons for a three game series sweep. Michigan brought the offense, collecting 47 hits for 30 runs. IPFW was the bad team that was expected, and our players didn't disappoint, at least on offense. Pitching had some less than stellar moments, but in the end, the guys that got into trouble kept the losses to a minimum.
Game by game review, series thoughts, and a look at Tuesday's Eastern Michigan game follow: