9/12/2009 – Michigan 38, Notre Dame 34 – 2-0
When Michigan headed in at the half down only three because of a confluence of events I saw splattered across "Life on the Margins" in the near future, I wrote the game off. When Michigan turned first and goal from the one into a missed field goal, I wrote the game off. When Armando Allen ran the ball into the endzone and Clausen did his fey little "butt dance," to steal a term from MVictors, I wrote the game off. When LaTerryal Savoy dropped the touchdown pass* that would have given Michigan the win, I was annoyed.
Some things, among them faith and love, reveal themselves only after they form, when some other event makes it clear you have had powerful emotion X about object Y for an indeterminate amount of time. Love tends to brew a long time and reveal itself in spectacularly inopportune fashion. Faith… well, if you let X equal faith and Y equal Tate Forcier, the process is considerably expedited. For the author it came to its enzyme-aided conclusion sometime between Junior Hemingway's second touchdown against Western Michigan and the wild bumper-car rollout that ended in a dart to Savoy and first and goal.
When, exactly, is impossible to tell. Like Denard Robinson, attempting to observe it changes it. But here it is rewarding us with all sorts of dopamine and serotonin and other whatnot on this finest Monday of all Mondays in a fairly long time.
What is up, faith. I am feeling goooooooood.
Rich Rodriguez had spent twenty years earning a little faith as his teams performed, time and again, above their talent level. But the instant he decided to extract himself from what seemed like a poisonous relationship with the rest of the West Virginia athletic department, all of it evaporated.
Almost from the instant Rodriguez arrived on campus the media—first from West Virginia and then locally—painted him as a mercenary, a swearing robot, a rube. It's been covered here a thousand times before so let's just focus on the giant flashing insanity: Rodriguez took a metric ton of crap for breaking his contract, something literally any coach who's ever moved jobs has done. Something that the contract has explicit buyout provisions for. Something that universally-loved John Beilein did one year earlier.
When 3-9 followed the amplitude went up by an order of magnitude, culminating in the Free Press hit job the nation knows and loves. Faith did not exist except in battered, weary pockets. This pocket wavered. It would be impossible not to.
In this space I've alternately mocked and panicked at the idea that external forces or internal dissent could strangle the Rodriguez era in the crib and set Michigan on much the same path Notre Dame has traveled these last 15 years. The parade of inept coaches, inept coaching searches in the frequent interregnums, and mostly unrelenting failure during the brief periods in which the school is not searching for a new inept coach could easily have happened here. Michigan was in the process of chaotic, inept coaching search number one when WVU athletic director Ed Pastilong and Pat White's thumb dumped one of the premiere coaches in college football in Bill Martin's lap and Martin jumped at it without thinking it over.
The public reaction since threatened to undo that stroke of fortune and set Michigan into the spiral that consumed South Bend. The danger was that all those sneering generalists who glanced over from their NBA game to snort "lol" and moved on would actually impact Michigan's ability to reason.
Did it? Will it? It's impossible to tell. Rich Rodriguez and Tate Forcier plan on making the question moot, and have already gone a long way towards doing so.
This is Michigan now, a strange collection of 3.8 GPA kids from New Jersey and Arizona and locals who grew up loving Michigan and kids with dreads from poor, broken places mostly in the south who have one way to get out. Receivers who score game-winning touchdowns and almost lose their cool before apologetically handing the ball to the referee, sir. Woop-gone cuts when the defensive end beats you to the corner in cover zero. The fetishization of work to the point where the S&C coach is the target of adulation so intense that you can call something "Barwis Porn" and not be 100% joking. Hype videos and piped in music. Shotgun hurry-up and quarterbacks slipping by linebacker kill shots. The circle of terror, chest bumps, awkward press conferences, a tear here and there. This is it. This is block-M Michigan.
It's not all great. But take it from a guy who remains a programmer in spirit: life is tradeoffs. Give Rich Rodriguez six dwarves, some baling wire, a walk-on safety from Curtice, Ohio, and someone to spatter paint all over everything and we're good. This is a program of moxie and MacGuyver.
While Terrelle Pryor labors in an offense that has him throw 25 times and run nine against USC, previously run-manic Rich Rodriguez has taken his collection of half-man-half-velcro tight ends and pounding fullbacks and moosebeast tailbacks and forged them into a machine that, for two games at least, is the explosive equivalent of his White-Slaton heyday. He has integrated this crazy wheeling Jackson Pollock of a quarterback to the tune of 70% completions, five touchdowns, and one interception in his first two games in college. In the process he's made the men who looked at twenty years of wildly successful offenses, wildly successful programs at every level of college football and saw nothing but an inflexible, lucky hick look like fools.
He's repaid the faith shown him by his team, by the guys who stayed and waved their arms madly and jumped up and down last week when the students took up a "Rich Rodriguez" chant and did not stop until most of the stadium was doing it. They stayed, and they're on their way, and it doesn't take much faith to say: this is Michigan now.
via reader Nick Stratton
*(It would turn out to be tipped but from the stands all I saw was a ball hit Savoy between the eight and the two and ricochet away; the crowd's reaction was such that I thought Notre Dame had somehow intercepted it for a split second.)
BULLETS THAT CHANGE DIRECTION SIX TIME A SECOND
10,000 cocktails to the guy working the replay board who got the Armando Allen screen touchdown on the board almost before the play was over, thus causing the stadium to explode and Rodriguez to take a timeout that would eventually save Michigan four points. Those four points were the final margin of victory and while there's a chance the replay would have come down on its own, the quick thinking of that guy made it inevitable. Someone ferret out this guy's name so he never has to buy a drink in town again.
To really discuss what's wrong with Weis I have to dig into the poker metaphors. If Carr was a weak-tight calling station—a guy who doesn't take many risks and can be easily dissuaded from taking them—Weis is a loose-aggressive donkey—a guy who just bets and bets and bets and rides it. The LAG (loose-aggressive) is a better player, much tougher to win against, but is prone to huge, fatal mistakes. So the problem with that second-and-ten bomb was not that Weis threw, it's the sort of throw he called for. Running or whatever strips Michigan of its timeouts and has relatively little value compared to a first down. A first down just about ends the game. I had a perpetual frustration with Carr's playcalling in similar situations because it was run run run punt almost without fail, or possibly run run third and ten pass punt. So a slant or a hitch or some sort of high-percentage pass that can break for a first down is a great call.
The bomb is going all in with a middle pair after you get a couple overs on the flop. (I was in the World Series of Poker once!!!) It might work. But if it does, it's not because you're a good poker player.
Weis is a guy who thinks "they'll never see my 4-6 unsuited coming." And he thinks it all the time. I know, I know: Gus Hansen exists. The thing about poker on TV is that it throws out all the "boring" hands and therefore disguises Hanson's insidious brilliance. I've seen all of Weis's hands. He's not Gus Hansen. I mean, even if you're going to throw that, why throw it against Warren instead of the guy you've been torching all game?
On the other hand: I haven't seen anything from Rodriguez yet that makes me think similar thoughts. I have instant go-punt reactions on all fourth downs and get very upset when the coach in question defies an obvious one and haven't been very upset with Rodriguez yet. He may call a hotel a "ho-tel" but he's a better poker player than Carr or Weis. Even when Michigan was up eleven, it seemed like they needed one more touchdown to win, and it appeared Rodriguez thought the exact same thing.
Speaking of Beilein: there have been persistent rumors that Beilein and Rodriguez have a frosty relationship, but one of the things I caught as I watched the team leave the field was the two coaches meeting around the forty yard line and sharing a deep, lingering man-hug. I don't think that rumor holds much water anymore.
I'd been bitching about Forcier thinking he's in high school on many of his runs. Often he had an opportunity to cut upfield for solid yardage but instead tried to pop outside a corner or safety and turned it into a three-yard gain because he can't just outrun members of the opposition secondary anymore. (There's a play in UFR last week where I question whether a similar incident was a good idea.) So, yeah, a little smug on that touchdown run after I went WOOOOO a lot.
Cissoko… man. I've seen a fair number of people defending him but he was bad. Maybe I'll think different after the UFR but the guy got torched. Hopefully that's an effect of going up against two crazy good receivers and a quarterback who wasn't so terrible himself. I don't think so, though. He was lost.
I really hope I see even more holding than they called on UFR because Clausen had all day basically all day. I vastly underestimated the pressure he'd face; when he did get pressure he just chucked it OOB. So I was kind of right about that.
Brandon Minor is way better than any other back on the roster. Q: why did Michigan go away from the up-the-middle gashing that worked so well in the third quarter? Notre Dame was clearly vulnerable to runs that went directly at them but did well against the stretches.
Warren, on the other hand, basically lived up to the hype this blog perpetuated.
It's amazing how vastly different real live Notre Dame fans are from their internet fanbase. The worst thing you can say about them is that a disproportionate number look like they're huge Steve Miller Band fans. The worst things you can say about Notre Dame fans on the internet would take thousands of words to describe.
Charlie Weis caused the potato famine, says one Irish fan. Also check the Chips shirt.
MVictors wasn't in the press box for this one and thanks God for that stroke of luck. Also check the spectacular Brandon Graham mugging picture and the guy in the comments who claims Armando Allen called the student section "faggots" to draw his flag. Can anyone in the front of the student section confirm that?
While we're on MVictors, nice catch from the NYT:
Central Michigan beat Michigan State on a 42-yard field goal with 3 seconds left. As the game’s final minute ticked away before the start of the game here, news media in the press box gathered around televisions to watch.
Central Michigan initially missed a potential game-winning 47-yard field goal, but got to try the kick again after Michigan State was penalized for being offside. The announcement of the penalty that set up the game-winner prompted clapping and an announcement in the press box.
“Cheering is not allowed in the press box,” the announcer said, “but it is right now.”
Something something pride something fall.
Doctor Saturday's takes on Michigan State, Michigan, and Ohio State are fantastic.
I grabbed a bunch of complaining from ND Nation in anticipation of a flush, which did happen.