At the risk of convincing everyone that the first impossibly apropos moppet was fiction, let me tell you about this impossibly apropos moppet a few rows in front of me.
He was about ten. He was wearing a number seven jersey and when he took his hat off for the national anthem his hair was staticky. Before the game he was hopping up in down in an attempt to burn off nervous energy, and when Michigan ran out to touch the banner his mind was blown. He exclaimed "this is so AWESOME" as only a ten-year-old boy can. The words forced themselves out in self defense—if they hadn't the pressure would have given him an aneurysm. I know what that excitement is like. I remember getting a Nintendo.
I can't imagine what his mind is like four fighter jets, three overtimes, 132 points, and one last-play win later. He's probably sitting at his desk right now, mouth slightly ajar and drooling, involuntarily twitching out the words "so" and "awesome" as the rest of the class learns to count to 15 in Spanish. Plans to put him on ritalin have been temporarily shelved. His father has been asked "what did you do to the boy?"
The father can only shrug and say "talk to Ron Zook, Rich Rodriguez, and Greg Robinson."
What can you say about a game like that? You can say it was entirely appropriate for Special K to play the Bed Intruder song. Yes. Michigan and Illinois just went Rasputin on that barn. They burned it, then they napalmed it, then they nuked it, then they shot up the radioactive wasteland for the hell of it, then they poisoned a flat expanse of glass with holes in it, then they dug it up and threw it into the river for it to drown. And then it was halftime.
While the kid was getting the football equivalent of heroin in his eyeballs it seemed like the rest of the stadium was strangely muted once it became clear that touchdowns were more like baskets than goals. Any individual event was far less important in a game that would last until mid-day Sunday.
I was with them. I still remember thinking "that's 30% of the points we need to win" after Michigan's first touchdown in the 2006 Ohio State game. I was raised on three yards and a cloud of dust, and while I could not be more grateful that Michigan's offense now has run plays beyond "zone left" and "zone right," this style of football is all frisson. It piles up and up and up. It's amazing, but when you're not ten your mind only has so much to give before it gets complacent. Things don't build up, they just happen. So when Roy Roundtree scores on the first play of the game you're happy but you're also wondering how they're going to blow it.
The answer was "in all ways possible with a special emphasis on running back wheel routes." But they kept setting things right until Jonas Mouton leapt over a cut block and Craig Roh stunted inside and Nathan Scheelhaase finally had nowhere to go but down. My reaction to this was very strange. After feeling dampened most of the day I cracked and hugged my fiancée—making her annual pilgrimage—long and hard and relieved. So relieved.
This team isn't good at all but I love it. If Craig Roh gets to class early he runs up and down steps in his spare time. Roy Roundtree does a Donald Duck impression and wakes up hungry. Tate Forcier's gone from sulking on the bench and "out" to leaping around like a madman after leading a comeback win over Illinois and coming somewhat close to the same against Iowa. And then there's Denard, and the most put-upon man on the planet, and I just want them to succeed because it will make them happy.
A lot of sports fandom does degenerate into rooting for you in that sad Nick Hornby way. While I'm not anywhere near sports Buddhism, more and more prominent among the millions of reasons I want Michigan to win is because of how it will validate all this crap they have to put up with.
Even if that goes with the territory at Michigan, what's gone on the last three years long ago crossed the line from disappointed and upset to nastily personal, on everyone's part.
Almost everyone, anyway. After the game we're walking up the bleachers and the kid's right in front of us, trying to show his father his hand. His father seems to acknowledge the hand, but not enough for the kid's taste. "I'm never washing this hand again," he says. "Denard gave me a high five." He wears an Adidas wristband like the players. He doesn't care about anything other than Michigan won and I touched Denard and this is awesome. I think about White Noise, a Don DeLillo book I don't actually like that much* about the paralyzing fear of death driving middle aged academics literally insane, and how the only moments of respite in the book are thanks to the presence of an infant named Wayne or Warren or something.
So Saturday was awesome, and this is my favorite bad team ever, and goddammit I'm going to their nondescript bowl.
*(The moment in American literature when ironically capitalizing marketing messages to assert that the background radiation of advertising has become our national discourse has mercifully passed—David Foster Wallace got away with it a few times but only just, and not always.)
Non-Bullets, Amazingly Long
Head injuries. Michigan's bombing Illinois with Denard and pulls him because of a headache and some concussion-like symptoms in a game that is almost make or break for Rich Rodriguez's career. And he could even see:
"Certainly for his safety, you're not going to put him back out there," Rodriguez said. "I'm not a doctor, so I can't tell you where he is, but he had a smile on his face and he was talking, but obviously, you're going to be precautionary.
"Anytime you get hit there and you've got some headaches, you're going to watch that."
Is there anyone who's been unfairly demonized more than him? "Win at all costs." Right.
Skill position contributions. My takeaway from the offense other than "duuurrrr" was that's what it looks like when the skill position players are adding yards of their own. Vincent Smith made a lot of great glide cuts on the zone stretch, spun through a couple tackles, and had his best day as a runner at Michigan. Junior Hemingway's sideline rain dance created another touchdown from 15-20 yards, and Roy Roundtree was finding epic YAC. That's something we've been missing most of the year save for Stonum's screen touchdown against UMass, which is UMass and was not the #15 defense in the country entering the game.
Stretching it. Speaking of the stretch: it came back. Michigan had gone almost exclusively to an inside run game earlier in the year, and that worked well enough, but I think part of the issue with getting Denard some zone keepers has been that move away. The stretch makes it tough on the backside defensive end because if he's going to tackle the tailback on a cutback he has to flow down the line hard. On all the inside zone stuff Michigan's been running he can hang out and do whatever and still have a decent chance of making a play. That's why Michigan has been blocking the backside guy all year and probably why I'm always a little frustrated by Denard never keeping the ball.
They brought it back for Illinois and I'm pretty sure what I'll see in the UFR is an ass-kicking day from David Molk. On Michigan's last touchdown they went to the stretch on second and goal from the five. Corey Liuget, who is an all-conference type of player, shot into the backfield; Molk walled him off and eventually sent him to the ground. There wasn't a hint of a hold on the play, but a frustrated Liuget did the flag motion thing to the referee and just stood there exasperated as Michigan celebrated a touchdown that came on a gaping hole from the five because Liuget had just gotten owned.
The stretch also seemed to revitalize Vincent Smith, who had the opportunity to make darting cuts past traffic and find the creases as they developed. I'll be interested to see how it holds up on film.
End of half game theory stuff. Reverse on the kickoff was a beautiful playcall because in that situation if you get hammered for a loss you can probably just run the clock out. A perfect time for that call and one that got Michigan in scoring position with a minute on the clock. That's a win.
In retrospect, the decision to kick was not so much. I didn't think about this at the time so I'm not blaming anyone else for not thinking about it either, but with Michigan's defense and 42 seconds (IIRC) on the clock the argument for going for it is a lot stronger than it would be with 12, because if you get it you're robbing Illinois of the opportunity to get that last possession in. Even if you don't get it, most coaches will just head to the locker room if they get the ball on their own 15.
Defensive moves. While the defense remained horrendous, it wasn't nearly as horrendous as it was against Penn State (and Matt McGloin did just bomb Northwestern for 35 points despite Robert Bolden playing the first two series, so that performance was only 90% completely awful). PSU had 41 points on nine real drives; Illinois had 45 in regulation on 16, many of which started in advantageous field position after Michigan turnovers and one Hagerup punt from his endzone.
Moving Craig Roh back to defensive end seemed to pay immediate dues, but Michigan kept flipping between three and four man lines with the fourth guy on the line either Obi Ezeh or JB Fitzgerald. Illinois ran right at that and had good success—that was the setup on the first and twenty option that went the distance, though I'm pretty sure the culpable party there was Mouton. Anyway, Cam Gordon looked a lot better in his second game at spur and you can tell the difference in tackling technique between him and Ray Vinopal—Vinopal uses his arms. Sweet.
Gordon looks like a much better fit as his current position. He was surprisingly adept at blitzing—he'd get the edge on the Illinios tackle and come around to flush Scheelhaase a few times.
Demens, yo. Another thing that will have to wait for the tape but: I'm pretty sure Kenny Demens had a great game unless he blew a lot of coverage (which is possible). The number of runs that were heading outside the tackles for what looked like big gains until they were suddenly cut down by Demens after he cut through a block seemed like it was around a half dozen.
Not a controversy but not a clear cut thing either. I was thinking this myself but Adam Jacobi already wrote it and blockquoting is easy:
Forcier is clearly not Denard, but the fact remains that Forcier is good enough that he should be spelling Robinson periodically throughout Michigan's game regardless of Robinson's health. Michigan has two starting-quality quarterbacks, and as Robinson's accumulation of minor injuries demonstrates, they clearly need to use them! It's just up to Rich Rodriguez to use both on his own terms, rather than waiting for Robinson to get knocked out of the game first.
The frequency of Denard Robinson dings has seen Forcier enter most games this year, with extended relief appearances in the fourth quarter of the Iowa and Illinois games. When Forcier comes in Michigan generally punts quickly (or Forcier yakety saxes an unforced fumble). Forcier gets his feet under him a bit later and things are fine. It may be time to put Forcier in on the regular, say two or three drives a game. This would reduce wear on Robinson, have Forcier ready to play each week, throw defenses a curveball, and lessen the chances a desperately-needed Forcier lights out for somewhere else after the season. The offense doesn't seem quite as good when Tate's in there but the difference isn't vast and the benefits are tangible.
Special K, I hate you. The level of odiousness from Special K was exceeded by a factor of 100 on Saturday when he played "Let the Bodies Hit the Floor" and "Down with the Sickness." We've gone from minor league hockey to WWE. Thanks, Special K. This is the no-BS one thing that makes me think the Brandon era will be something other than a success: he hasn't taken this guy and put him in stocks on the diag.
If for some reason you were kidnapped by maniac who forced you at gunpoint to make sense of Michigan's roller-coaster season in 12 words or less, you'd probably settle for something like this: The offense is unstoppable. The defense is horrible. Denard Robinson got hurt.
If you hadn't seen a single one of the Wolverines' first eight games, that would pretty much bring you up to speed coming into today, except for one minor detail: Against a string of respectable competition over the last month, you could also add "Wolverines lose."
First, today is a great day. Second, I agree that Tate should play a little each game. At this point, he's the better passer, and I don't think defenses can adjust quickly enough to the way he runs the offense. Finally, looks like an all-out great day for the band.
It's a small distance from the upvote arrow to the downvote arrow.
That game was like good sex with a bad person. In the "during," you enjoy it. Afterwards, you wonder what has happened to your standards, but maybe you were coming off a bad dry spell, so it was worth it. In the end, it beats not getting laid.
Love the analogy....I keep thinking to myself what this place would have been like had the tables been reversed on the points after T.
It is like very little has changed, but I just feel so much better than I did a week ago. Actually, a lot has changed. We are bowl eligible, 15 extra practices and I have another great Michigan Stadium moment to relive forever.
Watching the replay on the last touchdown, Molk is just incredibly quick on this play. Leguet is lined up to Molk's right. Molk snaps the ball and before Leguet comes out of his stance, Molk has moved across Leguet, so that Leguet is now on his left. He then easily walls him off the play.
Yes, it was Mouton that whiffed on the long TD run.
Forcier is a clear change of pace QB. IMO the game plan totally changes when he come in. It seems like when Denard is in 1/3 of the plays are just Denard runs. When Forcier is in, it seem like those runs turn into quick throws. They are two very different QBs but both are very good in their own right. It would be nice to see Forcier not suck on his first drive every time though.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but i think I read that at least some of those Denard runs are planned that if anything goes wrong (bad snap, missed read, missed route, etc.) Denard is told to just run forward. So any broken play turns into a QB keeper up the middle.
or uh, Duder, or El Duderino if you're not into the whole brevity thing.
not only sheds blocks, but he tracks down ball carriers sideline to sideline. I thought he played very well. Avery. and RV were as expected, but they made some nice tackles. Given the turnovers, and field position issues, I thought our defense played much better than against PSU.
While Brian makes a good point regarding the fg attempt in the first half, I didnt like the call to attempt either one. I think we know what we have with our defense, and kicking game this year, and it is not going to change. We need TDs. Expecially on 4th and 1. Illinois was not showing they could stop us for no gain. Hopkins averaged 9 yards a touch. The second attempt was even more frustrating because we had 2nd and 4, and should be thinking 4 down territory.
I will take the win, and here is to building some momemtum in November. Its been a while since I was excited following a football Saturday in November.
I understand and agree with you about not wanting to kick the field goals. I was not happy about them either. However, kicking the field goals in those situations is what real football teams do (ok, maybe not the one at the end of the half necessarily). How much of kicking them could be an effort to get the young players to have the right mindset about how the game should be played? If you want them to get better, then they should experience football the way it should be played. Don't get me wrong, with this team the "Stop Kicking the Damn Ball" theory is valuable. Just offering a different perspective.
isn't done because it's how the game should be played, it's done because the vast majority of coaches coach not to be fired. They will always make the conservative decision because they feel they will be evaluated on the decision and not on the results ... this is why you get teams who punt inside the opposition 40, teams that try 18-yard FGs, that kind of thing.
Up until several years ago, teams settled for FGs because that's what other teams did. More and more coaches are looking at it differently, though ... I think there are more than a few coaches who are willing to make aggressive decisions now, and for the most part, they're having more success, in part because they're realizing the same things we read here: possession is valuable, more points are better, and that should be your goal on each drive.
What a "real" football team does, or should do, is what gives them the best chance to win in each situation, and more often than not, that won't involve the FG unit.
His first turnover--completely unforced error--hands Illinois the ball inside the 30 and gift-wraps them the lead. Not to mention he had an easy TD throw there. Shit happens but that could have lost the game. The next series is a punt. Then we get the game-tying TD. Then a late INT gives IL a chance to make a play and get in FG range with their amazing kicker. If our D doesn't stand tough on the last 3 series we lose, and it's almost entirely on Tate.
In OT, he made a number of terrible decisions and missed easier checkdowns, forcing things into the endzone. Hemingway's TD catch was a FREAK occurrence. It hit the defender in the head. The defender had a very easy INT to end the game. We got lucky. This cannot be stated enough. If we don't get this break we go back to MSU 09 OT where Tate threw the OT INT to seal the game.
I'm glad we won, but it was in spite of Tate, not because of Tate.
Denard threw for over 300 yards in 3 quarters, and that's with 2 clear hit-you-in-the-hands drops. He helped Roundtree set a Michigan record. Denard would have pretty easily set a single game passing record if he would have stayed in.
NOT GOODT ENOUGH
Plays like the first play of the game do not happen without Denard playing the QB position. Tate had a killer fumble, killer INT and a near-game-losing INT. His passing game decisionmaking is equally questionable or most likely worse that Denard's, particularly with trying to do too much with every play. He bails out of the pocket way too much. He is a walking fumble waiting to happen based on the way he holds the ball when he scrambles. He is not in the same universe when it comes to running the ball, so it doesn't open up the ZR nearly as much. He is not a home run threat.
Tate is a very capable backup and that is all. Thank God the coaching staff is able to see this.
One was a batted ball that had Jordan-esque hangtime. Great defensive play really. And there was a ball that Denard threw to Roundtree (over the middle, i think it was the 2nd TD...) where the ball was thrown behind Roundtree, but it was perfectly placed, bc if it was on target, it might have been picked. Deliberate? Not sure, but kudos anyway.
Tate also threw a pick and fumbled (and lost the ball) on his first possession... (Which by the way, I'm so impressed with how he bounced back anyway... such confidence!)
forgotten what it's like to have a lucky break because we simply never get them. What near game-losing INT you ask? Um, the one you just described. This wasn't a PBU - it hit the defender in the head. IL had this route covered so well that Junior was acting as the DB here and had the amazing awareness to catch the ball off the defender's helmet. This means if the IL defender gets his hands up, it's an uncontested INT and we lose. And no one and I mean NO ONE would be arguing for Tate to get more time. Thank God we came away with the win and are able to argue about it regardless - I'm more interested in good outcomes than being right.
And it's not always results that matter. Tate's INT could have cost the game. They had time to throw a 20-30 yard pass and hit another FG with their automatic kicker. Thank God they didn't. Tate's killer fumble in the first snap necessitated the long tying TD drive that he engineered. Thank God he had the skill to pull it out.
These are not strong arguments in favor of using Tate more when we have Denard. I'm glad we have him as our backup, however.
You're exhibiting post-PSU UNACCEPTABLE style anger, except we won the game. And that's an important distinction you're missing - Tate did show a lot of guts, and since he was the QB who put the points on the board and we had more, he did win us that game. Warts and all. He made some great throws and decisions you're dismissing
No one wants to take your Denard away, put the gun down
Your analysis of Tate is amazingly off. "A very capable backup and that is all?" He would start for, conservatively speaking, at least 6-7 other big !0 teams, and that many in most BCS conferences. Without injury last year, he would have had one of the top freshman QB seasons we have seen. He was directly responsible for our winning 4 games last year. you are right about one thing--there is and should be no QB controversy on this team--Denard is the starter on merit and on potential. But your dismissal of Tate is ridiculous.
"We can't overestimate the value of computers: yes they are great for playing games and forwarding funny emails, but real business is done on paper. Write that down."
How do you figure he starts on 6 or seven big ten teams? You are blowing how good you think Tate is out of proportion here.
He most certainly doesn't start at: Iowa, OSU, MSU, Indiana, NW, Ill., Wisc and obviously not UM.
He likely wouldn't start in Minni either as they have a senior starter. That 6-7 you conservatively speak of is more like 1 or 2. He would likely start at PSU and Purdue but they wouldn't even be sure things.
Tate is a capable backup but I can say that I feel the exact same way when he is on the field this year as I did when Denard was on the field last year. I know he was capable of good things, but most times I am too scared to watch.
I am not opposed to him getting a few snaps a game, but dismissing how careless he is with the ball is every bit as ridiculous as the Cpat.'s dismissal of Tates abilities (I actually don't think he is being ridiculous as much as he's being right on the nose with his analysis).
Shouldn't have used "conservatively" but the point
still stands. He is better, objectively, than the QB's at NW, and Illinois-not sure how you could disagree with that. and a senior starter at Minn? Um, so? Having said that, you are right the my number was too high. However, I don't "dismiss" his fumbling, I didn't address it. In fact though, Denard has been just as careless with the ball the last few games as Tate ever was. We agree to disagree here, but I think its silly to consider Tate a capable backup, he is in fact an excellent QB for this offense anywhere in the country. But Denard should start of course.
"We can't overestimate the value of computers: yes they are great for playing games and forwarding funny emails, but real business is done on paper. Write that down."
Some of what you are saying is why it would help to give Tate a few drives a game. If he knows he is gonna get some time, he can prepare more for it and get more comfortable out there. Should limit his mistakes when he's suddenly needed if Denard gets hurt. Plus it might keep Denard from getting hurt quite as much, since he won't run as many times.
How many games has Denard played the whole thing, and not gone out for at least a series? One or two? He does keep getting banged up. Brian's idea is not to replace him, but save a little wear and tear on him, so he doesn't get as banged up, and you control more when Tate goes in. Plus, if they know they have to deal with it, it drives defenses nuts because they have to not only prepare like crazy for Denard, but for more traditional passing attacks. And there are only so many practice hours in a week. That has been shown for sure this week...
b/c you don't list Denard's errors as well. They both missed easy checkdowns, RR will need to correct that. The Hemingway TD was broken up by the defender and the ball bounced our way for once. Made up for the 3rd & 18 perfectly thrown ball into single coverage that Hemingway let bounce off his facemask.
Tate made some risky throws and needs to improve, but he's really good. We didn't win in spite of him. Denard is getting better every week though - he's putting more and more touch on the ball each game. Denard's incredible, Tate's really good. The question of who plays is obvious. But the secondary question of spelling that starter - who's been banged up in nearly every game - is an interesting one.
agree here. Tate, while a good QB, still has the same issues as he had last year.
He is impatient in the pocket
He throws into tight coverage way too often
He goes for the huge play too often, especially when there are guaranteed yards elsewhere.
That said, Tate is a great scrambler, great at evading rushers. He is a better runner than probably given credit for. He is a better pure thrower than Denard.
Even if the offense with Denard is stalling. It is hard to take him out when he can go the distance on any given play, with his legs or arm. In retrospect Denard didn't have that great of a day on the ground. But it seemed like Illinois almost dared him to beat them with his arm and he did it.
I wouldn't be opposed to seeing Tate sprinkled in a little. I just think you have to be very careful about the timing of it.
I think his scrambling ability is a moot point because he has shown the propensity to drop the ball while doing so, when no one is even near him.
Also, this whole Tate is the better passer thing is getting a little bizarre. I have never seen Tate throw a good deep ball. Denard doesn't do it much, but his deep ball has far more zip and is as accurate as Tate has shown thus far. Plus he can throw it deeper than Tate. As far as accuracy goes, I know Denard has been inaccurate at times but Tate showed that same characteristic many times last year and continues to do so this year. So my question is, how do people think he is soooo much better passing the ball then Denard? I don't get it.
That wasn't a freak play, it has happened before. You must have a short memory. It happens because he is careless with the ball and isn't as likely to happen to anyone, because most other players know how to secure the ball while running. Tate has shown numerous times that he doesn't.
How about improving its record against the Big Ten teams? If Michigan wins this game this week, it will have two attempts to win 8 games in the regular season... There is no way this team is any less motivated this week. Way too much at stake... plus RR hates Purdue's d-bag coach.... or am I projecting again?
If anything, I think getting the bowl game monkey off our back will make us play better, not worse. We get to breathe a sigh of relief, play a bit looser, force things a little less, and go out there and have fun. Denard is at his best when he's having fun.
Now with 100% less South Bend, 100% more Washington DC.