I did not make this headline up
So, yeah… No real reason not to have written one of these for Minnesota except, well, it was Minnesota and I missed most of the game. I caught the torrent of the game a couple days later, but by then who wants to read stale comments that have been regurgitated by 20+ MGoBoard posts? Nobody, that’s who. Including my wife, who’ll read anything I write because it is at least tangible and justifies the amount of time I spend with my “internet friends.”
In my defense, the major plot lines that emerged against the Gophers continued this week, so if you want just read this twice and consider yourself covered.
Best: Knowing is half the battle
One of the seminal television shows of my youth was G.I. Joe, which taught me that (a) snakes are bad, (b) super-secret special operations units eschew traditional uniforms for chest-barring fatigues that better highlight your guns and massive chest tattoo, and most importantly (c) many useful life lessons through their “Knowing is half the battle” PSAs at the end of programs. While the show itself focused on a world that defied physics, geo-political boundaries, and anything approximating political correctness, the messages contained in these PSAs were far more relevant to younger children: be kind to others and don’t judge them, don’t lie, don’t go into stranger’s cars, and stop-drop-and-roll if you catch on fire.
While the individual messages varied, the key takeaway from them all was that difficult situations were far less daunting once you knew the proper way to respond. Knowledge, in other words, made the unknown less scary because it provided context, a touchstone from which to measure the circumstance logically.
One of the major concerns that’s been voiced in the brief time Brady Hoke and Al Borges have been on campus was how Borges’s West-Coast-centric philosophy would mesh with Denard’s skill set (I count myself firmly in this group). But I think the greater issue, or at least the one that has been transitioning to the forefront of these debates since Notre Dame or so is “how will the offense look after Denard, especially at quarterback.” Everyone knows what you get with Denard, but due to his surprising durability the past couple of years (until Nebraska), we never had to contemplate a world in which Denard could not play. The future was always ahead of us, but it was hidden behind dreadlocks, offensive records, and the reality that #16 was the best option come Saturday. 2013 was just a calendar you’d pick up in February for $3 at Meijers.
Sure, people spoke of Shane Morris coming in next year and starting as a true frosh a la Henne, or Bellomy taking ahold of the mantle while Devin grew into the WR position. But these felt like complaints whispering in the ether, even after the ND game when (at least to me), a louder contingent of fanbase began to turn on the most prominent holdover of the RR era. But nobody knew how this offense would function without Denard at the helm, and that scared people a bit. You’d seen glimpses at the end of blowouts and when Denard would step out for a couple of plays, but certainly nothing definitive.
And then Nebraska happened. All of a sudden, we saw a vision of the future, and it was 3 INTs, 2.4 YPA, and double-digit yards in a half sans penalties. In other words, it scared the S**T out of people. If Bellomy really was the #2 QB behind Denard, then just how abysmal was Devin Gardner, a former 5* QB who people figured was moved to WR because his athleticism filled a need on the squad and would be the top QB option next year? Was he really worse than that? Nobody knew, at least outside of Fort Schembechler, and that terrified everyone. It was knowledge, and it seemingly confirmed the doomsday scenarios running through everyone’s minds.
But then a funny thing happened – Gardner had a chance to practice at QB for a week and the coaches gave him a chance at Minnesota, and he played pretty well. He threw the ball on time, had some nice touch, and while he definitely had his cringe-worthy moments, he also did this. And he followed that up with another solid game against Northwestern, warts and all, and the knowledge we had been missing for years was finally starting to fill out. While it is still an imperfect portrait, fans now have a far better idea of how this offense will look going forward after Denard, and it doesn’t look like the QB position will revert to the SheridanThreetDamnit! of 2008.
This isn’t a cartoon and nobody knows if this present remain persistent in the future, but at least now people have something to hold onto going forward, something to keep them grounded. And that’s worth quite a bit.
[ED: JUMP WITH US]
Quick scheduling note – I meant to get this out on Sunday, but then a megastorm named Sandy up and broke my heart (and large swaths of NYC’s infrastructure), and so I’m just now getting around to publishing. I’m sure you were all waiting with bated breath.
In the immortal words of our benevolent leader, “so, that happened.” It was either equally as bad as it looked (offense) and yet deeply encouraging (defense) depending on your predilections, and maybe both if you take the long view of what it means for the team. Throw in the ramifications it has both for the Legends Division (or Leaders, Coastal, Not-Plains State, or whatever dumb name they’ve plopped on a $10 bumper sticker) as well as the Rose Bowl bid, and Saturday’s game may be the defining moment for the program this year. Or Nebraska could gack away a game or two against PSU and MSU and it would be nothing more than a speedbump on the way to a 4-loss Big Ten team playing a pissed-off and rested USC or Oregon in Pasadena. BIG TEN!!!!
Worst: Lowered Expectations
The funny thing is that, despite all evidence to the contrary, I never envisioned a world in which Denard Robinson would miss significant playing time since he arrived on campus. I think that is due in large part to the fact that in 2009 and 2010 there was always a competent starter/backup in Tate Forcier around to fill in, and the couple of times he went out last year it never felt like it changed the outcome of the game (unless you think 4th-and-22 is a good down and distance to catch MSU guessing). With Tate and Gardner, the feeling was always that both of them could do a rough approximation of Denard in this offense in a pinch, or at least an offense that could be successful given the talent on the field. Backup Tate was the reason UM beat Illinois in 2010, and Devin showed enough last season to remind people why he was one of the most coveted dual-threat QBs coming out of HS. There were options in the event Denard went down, even if they weren’t optimal.
But when the year started, we knew Gardner was going to focus primarily on being a WR (though he was “still prepared” for QB in a pinch…apparently as long as that pinch didn’t actually happen during a game), leaving the depth chart a RS freshmen and the football version of Everlast (I mean this in the best way possible – I LOVED Everlast in HS) to assume the mantle if Denard went down for more than a series.
Before this game, Bellomy had taken about a dozen snaps, none meaningful, and so it was hard to get a bead on how he, and more importantly the offense, would perform with him as QB1.
Well, after 8-ish drives for about 50-ish non-penalty yards, we now have an idea about how a non-Denard offense will perform against a competent defensive unit. Again, small sample sizes and mid-game switch caveats apply, but without Denard this offense is just not that good. The offensive line struggles to get holes open for the RBs, who have trouble making guys miss, while WRs have a hard time getting separation from DBs that are above-average but certainly not shutdown. And if they do get open, the balls lack some velocity and may lead them into bigger hits from safeties and linebackers.
It, in a nutshell, is the type of offense people saw in 2008, but without the soothing sense of growing pains and more the realization that the talent is either very young or a poor fit for the system the team wants to run. It should be competent against poor defenses, which helps with NW, Minny, and to a lesser extent OSU coming up, but it means the defense and special teams have to be on the top of their games to keep the score close. It makes everything harder, which should be distressing since this was the same outfit that hasn’t scored a TD against a defense with a pulse in 10+ quarters.
Last week I said that beating MSU didn’t tell us that much about this team except that it was probably better than a 4-4 team. This game didn’t tell us much about how this team would fare with Denard at the helm for a full game, but it did illuminate just how quickly the bottom can fall out if he isn’t on the field.
Best: Current Expectations
What everyone needs to remember (and that includes the me from the section above) is that Denard isn’t out for the season; he apparently is fine and ready to go for next week. In a night game against a bunch of fired-up Cornhuskers with basically their season on the line, Denard was still moving the team down the field relatively successfully and was in a position to take the lead when he was knocked out. Given how the defense was playing at that time (and how they played well into the second half), it is safe to assume that the score wouldn’t have ended 23-9 if he had stayed in the whole game. And Nebraska isn’t as bad as some of their defensive metrics would lead you to believe – they played some cupcakes in the OOC besides UCLA, but so far their B1G slate has been nothing but bowl-quality teams. That housing by OSU also looks slightly better when you consider 14 points came on a TAINT and a punt return TD.
The defense kept UM in this game far later than most expected when Bellomy took over, with the 3rd quarter ending with UM only down 7 points. It was the type of game where the road team steals it at the end, but the team came up a bit short. But looking ahead, only OSU has an offense that should be able to move the ball against Mattison’s defense, and even that might be a bit of a stretch given how Miller struggles throwing the ball. Minnesota and Iowa have decent defenses on paper, but neither is a world-beater and both have struggled to slow down any of the above-average offenses they’ve faced this season. So right now, despite some bumps on the road, this year’s team still has as good a shot at making it to the second B1G game as anyone in the division.
This is the worst Dude…Where’s My Car homage EVER!
Best: Sonic Youth
While I am loathe to say that any season is “lost” when a team still has a chance to make a BCS bowl game, I always felt that this year was going to be way heavier on the transitional pains than last year’s, when everything seemed to turn up aces for Hoke and there were a number of older playmakers on both sides of the ball to give this team an extra gear. As many had predicted, all of the fumble recoveries and arm punt receptions had to swing the other way, and so while a possible Rose Bowl bid should never be besmirched, 2012 felt like the year where the differences between the past and present regimes would become most obvious, the oil and water least likely to integrate.
One silver lining, though, is that it means the younger players will get ample opportunities to see the field. And while the results have at times be mixed, it is clear that the foundation is being laid for this version of Michigan football to be what it will be going forward, especially on defense. Beyond the obvious (Jake Ryan, Funchess, Taylor, Clark), kids like Jenkins-Stone and Ojemudia (especially with a really athletic interception this game) have shown flashes with limited playing time, which bodes well for the future. Sure, there are still holes at the skill positions and pass rushing is apparently running security on the Enterprise, but unlike in years past you can see the succession of players and how they’ll fit into the systems being employed. And with Hoke having earned a longer leash, there is less fear of these players being square pegs for some successor’s round holes.*
* And yes, that looks way weirder in print than in my head.
Best: Great Garrett Rivas They’ve Got Kickers
In 2010, UM’s kickers were a combined 4 of 14 at field goals, for an astounding 28.6%. The long that year? 37 yards. And the long for the Gibbons was 24 yards. Fast forward two years and UM has hit 13 of 15 FGs for 86.7%, and both Wile (48 yards) and Gibbons (52 yards) have hit career-longs from distances that actually feel appropriate for that designation. In a game of inches, having guys who can put the ball through the uprights from distance in high-pressure situations may well have already punched UM’s ticket to a good bowl game, and at the very least gives the team hope once the ball crosses the opponents 40.
Worst: Hold Onto the Damn Ball
One of MGoBlog’s favorite memes (well, besides Lloyd Brady/photoshopping and cats) is Brian’s imploring punt returners to not allow the football to leave their possession until the whistle is blown.* We all laugh now because, for the most part, the returners DO seem to hold onto the ball at a reasonable clip, even if it means fair-catching a ball inside the five and letting it roll/fumble to the 2, which totally didn’t happen this game ever.
Unfortunately, it appears that whatever afflicted the kicking units didn’t so much recede as migrate to the WRs and TEs, which historically have displayed great hands. This year? Whether its been receivers failing to locate the ball, holding on in traffic, or just plain drops, there have been an alarming number of catchable balls that have not been reeled in. Heck, here are the updated UFR numbers from MSU.
The numbers don’t look horrible, but it gets wonky around moderate difficulty
(only 59%). By comparison, here’s last year’s numbers (sans Va Tech)
That’s 79% for moderately difficult, and based on how Brian grades out these throws those are the ones that we saw against Nebraska and, frankly, are the types you expect to see against a good pass defense. Those windows are small and safeties are closing in, so if the ball reasonably close the receiver needs to hold on. This isn’t an indictment of the current receiving core, but just evidence that lots of drives are stalling out because those “tough” catches from last year are being missed.
As to who IS to blame for this deficiency at WR, we’ve heard all the arguments. Personally, I put some blame on RR because he wasn’t getting the #1 receivers that any offense needs, even one predicated on shorter drops and more YAC. Some falls on the transition, which hurt recruiting and led to Hoke focusing more on the defense his first class because (a) it was an area of weakness, and (b) when in a pinch, I’m sure he found it easier to sell the side of the ball he knew more about. But a non-zero amount of blame falls on Hoke and Borges, though, because while there are legitimate reasons for last year’s recruiting to have a limited skill position haul, this year’s crop, while promising in terms of sleepers, is basically Treadwell or bust. This feels disturbingly like the RR-Pryor dance, and while QB is way more important than WR in terms of recruiting, it still looks like a position of need relies too heavily on nabbing an elusive target. I know that’s part of recruiting, but with Roundtree leaving and Gardner likely moving back to QB, I worry that these numbers may continue into next year.
Also, regardless of who is WR next year, the pox that apparently is on every ball Bellomy throws needs to end. Sacrifice chickens in the locker room if you must.
I ask Jobu about Smith interception, ball full of fear. I offer cigar, rum.
*If for some reason you need a refresher, check out the 2009 “hype” video, in which it almost feels like the ball is repulsed by the colors maize and blue.
Best: Referees and Replays
The storyline that seemingly was pushed under the rug for those about Michigan’s offensive impotence, Denard’s injury, and Nebraska’s swarming defense was the almost-comical officiating at various points in the game. The highlight was of course the 45 yards of penalties on the one second-half Michigan drive that led to a score, including the “life bird” of penalties, the 15-yard “sideline bitching” penalty that Bo Pelini earned after calling the refs “BASS-Bowls!” for a questionable personal foul. There were leading penalties on hits that were questionable, multiple out-of-bounds late hit penalties that wouldn’t have gotten the ambulances on the field, and a couple of pass interference calls that got both fanbases riled up.
And as it applies to replays, the burden of proof that must be met to uphold or reverse a ruling apparently ranges from a misdemeanor to what you need to overturn a Constitutional amendment. I totally support the idea that replays are used to “get it right”, but at some point it is a game with ambiguities, and no camera angle or shot-by-shot review will make that any easier. Balls move a little when a guy is diving onto the ground, and figuring out “control” and “possession” is by its very nature open to interpretation. I guess it is a collateral cost for trying to get it right, but it is still annoying to see Roy Roundtree seemingly make a great catch yet see it overturned because some of the ball hit the ground while another part is clearly under his arm and secure against his body.
Worst: Borges’s sense of “The Moment”
We have discussed Al Borges as an offensive coordinator, and my position remains that he seems competent with elite talent and not wholly innovative without it. He’ll be fine when Michigan if fielding NFL teams; he will probably be underwhelming until they do.
But one point that has driven me crazy is his seemingly lack of all sense for “the moment.” In Bill Simmons’s Book of Basketball, he mentioned that for all of Clyde Drexler’s abilities on the court, he may have been the worst “great player” at properly responding when the time called for a momentum-changing play. His best example was Drexler trying to hit a “response” three against Jordan and the Bulls in the Finals after Jordan had drained another three during that dominant run in Game 1 of the 1992 Finals. He air-balled it horribly, and it further deflated a struggling Blazers team.
With Borges, it seems to be his inability (or stubbornness) to vary up his play-calling when being creative or unorthodox is the best option. Witness the numerous times he’ll have the offense line up under center with 1 WR option on the goal line, even though the defense is terrified of Denard in space trying to get to a crease. I won’t kill him for the Bellomy play-calling because there wasn’t much he could do once it became clear that Fitz and line could not get one extra yard, Bellomy couldn’t get the ball to the receivers before the 9000 blitzing Cornhuskers got to him, and if it did leave his hand the receiver would spike it into the ground with the hate of a thousand suns.
But for the past two years, it is clear that Borges has a plan for this offense, and it was based on the presumption that he would call his play and the defense would react. When that works, you get Illinois and Purdue 2012; when it doesn’t, you get ND 2012 and VaTech 2011. That approach will never change, and while it will probably get UM’s offense to a consistent level we haven’t seen since the mid-2000’s, it also means that those serendipitous “RPS +3” will be few and far between.
Best: Power of Denard
Not that this needed to be said, but that Denard Robinson kid is pretty good at football. We have simply become accustomed to his brilliance, witnessed by the fact that in about 1 1/2 quarters his offense generated about 170 yards; the team finished with 188 for the game. He covers up so many sins for this line, running backs, and receiving core, and the offense has subconsciously become so reliant on his playmaking, that everything just crumbles when he isn’t in there. Even last year with Gardner, a player with similar abilities on paper, the differences in how the offense functioned were jarring. Blocks are longer with Denard, receivers find those few extra steps to get open, and the backs at least get a chance to hit the line without 2 LBs in the hole.
I was one of the most vocal proponents of Tate Forcier when the great Tate/Denard debate broke out in 2010. Sure, Tate had played well in spurts in 2009, but it sounded like Denard had pulled ahead of him coming into the season. Still, I held strong to the argument that Tate should keep the spot because of his past accomplishments and the fact that he “looked” more like a QB. I want to think that it wasn’t because of anything backward and myopic in my thinking of the QB position* but because Denard just seemed too raw, too much an athlete who could out-run the opposition and had a good arm but lacked the abilities to harness those abilities in a coherent, consistent offense. 2 years later, he’s basically the one reason the offense is able to move the ball and gives me the mental chubby I haven’t felt since Barry Sanders was taking hand-offs.
He gives this team a chance to win every game, and no matter how this season ends, his spot in my mental Hall of Fame has already been spoken for.
* I have always liked mobile QBs provided they knew what how to keep their arm under control. Woody Dantzler, Tommy Frazier, and Eric Crouch were three of my favorite QBs in college.
Due to time constraints the past couple of weeks, I caught only parts of the Purdue and Illinois games. Luckily, what I saw made a post like this unnecessary, unless you think “Best: Everything”, “Best: I’m Kirk Herbstreit and I like to jinx Purdue” and “Worst: Moar Fitz rushing” embodies deeply thoughtful analysis.
Plus, I was kind of saving up for this MSU game. The first two weeks of the B1G season looked like tuneups to start the season, with MSU being the unofficial beginning of “Run for the Roses” in Pasadena, and nothing transpired during those first couple of games to change that opinion, at least in UM’s eyes. MSU, though, stumbled to start the season, and were definitely looking to dig themselves out of a Sparty-inflicted hole that included tough loses to OSU and Iowa. And so a rivalry game + MSU reeling + “William Gholston isn’t a jerk, he’s just misunderstood” = a fertile ground for highlighting the waxing and waning of UM’s first victory in the history of this series.*
* This series having started in 2008, one year after Microsoft Encarta and the Mayan calendar apparently arrived in East Lansing.
UM was only 1-4 against Dantonio heading into this game, and for all of the negative press the guy gets here and across the greater UM blogosphere, he’s turned a mediocre State program into a consistent winner, something it hasn’t been since, I don’t know, the 1950’s. Seriously, check out these season records from 1950 to 2011. People around here complain about UM not making a bowl game for 2 years; MSU had won 10 games only twice in the past 60+ years before Dantonio glared his way onto campus.
And it wasn’t just the losing to MSU that drove people crazy, it was how. Sometimes they won in dramatic fashion in OT after UM made a miraculous comeback; other times it was a dominating performance on the ground. Almost always, though, MSU had the better team AND found a way to confound not only the Michigan players, especially Denard Robinson, but also the coaching staffs. There’s a reason that the game previews for 2010, 2011, and 2012 kept pointing out that MSU was successfully jumping the snap on virtually every play, yet it kept happening. Or how MSU found a way to consistently gash the UM defense for yards on the edges despite everyone knowing that MSU’s gameplan was taken from the 1959 game program.
So beating MSU needed to happen to not only restore order back to the world, but also to validate the notion that the program was back on its way to the relative dominance most people remember from the 90s/00s. The OSU win last year was a nice step in that direction, as was the bowl game, but beating OSU is rarely presumed when the season begins; beating MSU is far more the norm. And while I’m sure many fans are loathe to admit it, this iteration of UM football needed to beat them to dispel the notion that Dantonio was plated in some impenetrable Wolverine armor (a similar feeling seemed to have set in on Notre Dame until this year). He’s been cut by Hoke and Co., and once that happened that tightening you have in your chest when MSU takes the lead late will hopefully disappear.
* I know this is a super-tired reference. The “good job, good effort” kid was the next in line.
I’m sure this is a bit of coach-speak, but it is also something that needed to be said. Since, oh, the Eastern Michigan game, I don’t think most people saw MSU as a legitimate Big 10 championship team. The offense was too crippled by a porous line, poor WRs, and a somewhat-shaky QB to keep pace with teams like Wisconsin, UM, OSU, and Nebraska. The Iowa game cemented their ceiling for the year at 7-8 wins, even with an elite defense.
Outside of the Alabama game, though, UM’s ceiling was never defined. Notre Dame was a tough loss but one that felt more self-inflicted than the team meeting a superior opponent. Purdue and Illinois proved only that UM was probably as good as Louisiana Tech and and Marshall. MSU, frankly, was not going to validate UM’s season, but only give them another breakpoint from which to calibrate their potential.
And that’s what Hoke encapsulates in this statement. He recognizes that MSU is a rival and the game mattered, but this wasn’t the season. Nebraska and OSU will be tougher opponents, and the near-certain B1G title game and (hopefully) the Rose Bowl bid will be far more emblematic of Michigan’s 2012 season. Last year expectations were such than an MSU win would have been one to hang the team’s hat on; this year, they’re another 4-4 team that gave UM their best shot and came up a little short.
Worst: “Rivalry” game?
Listen, I can totally get behind belittling MSU’s fans. I was at school there for 3 years, and I witnessed two riots, one “celebration” of a hockey championship during a season in which tickets to games were very available, and thousands of instances of drunken 40-year-olds hitting on college girls outside of dorms as the men’s belies jiggled under super-tight “Go Green! Go White!” shirts they picked up from the local Quality Dairy. It is a school that prides itself on making boxes*, having “awesome parties with hot chicks!”, and being able to count, and while the people there are not as bad as you think, comparisons between the two schools tend toward the Blue Team.
That said, the oft-repeated refrain from UM faithful that MSU isn’t a “rival” is just silly. Sure, OSU remains UM’s most consistently-excellent foe, and 30 years ago the Notre Dame and Michigan clashes typically featured top-10 programs shooting for a national title. But MSU is the other major program in the state, and really the only one in the footprint that features two public schools that (at least ostensibly) draw from the same high schools and communities (Purdue and Notre Dame and Illinois and Northwestern feature the whole private/public differences and the related non-geographically draws). In my high school class of around 160 kids, we had 3 who went to UM and about 40 who went to MSU. At other schools, the numbers were a bit closer, but the fact remains that if you go to either university, you are more than likely to have spent years of your life cohabitating with peers on the other side.
For Michigan fans, beating MSU feels like it should; despite EVERY MSU student claiming he/she was accepted but declined/never wanted to apply/”totally loved MSU the minute they walked on campus and never thought Ann Arbor was anything special”, you secretly felt most of them wanted to go to UM but couldn’t. It also poked a weird hole in the meta-argument that the “jocks” went to MSU and the “nerds” went to UM (which never made sense since it’s not like either team is comprised of the general student body). For MSU, beating UM was a clear rebuttal to all the crap I spewed above; a tangible instance of MSU beating UM in something that both schools’ fanbases cared about. This wasn’t a “our Particle Physics major is better” or “our mascot is cooler according to Playboy.com”, but a win for MSU and a loss for UM.
The point is that it matters to both sides, and anyone mouthing off about how beating MSU didn’t matter, that they are not UM’s rival, is just displaying his/her naivety and/or unfounded arrogance. And while I definitely see this year being the end of MSU’s “dominant run” in the Big 10, they will remain a key opponent for championship game and bowl bids under Dantonio. MSU ain’t going anywhere, and trying to ignore them or minimize their threat doesn’t impress anyone.
* I know that packaging engineering is more than making boxes, but that ESPN special a couple of games ago didn’t help to dispel that idea.
Worst: Still with the unimaginative offensive schemes?
Al Borges seems like a nice guy, and I definitely see how the offensive skill players he inherited don’t mesh with the play-calling he prefers to call. Denard is great for the offense that RR runs, where his feet lead the way and defenses worry about gap control and QB Oh Noes! for 4 quarters. Under Borges, he’s an oval-ish peg trying to fit into a parallelogram-ish hole. He’s not super-accurate, the WRs he throws to are either too small, too slow, or too inexperienced for complete optimization, and the dominant tailback and massive linemen are either in red shirts or still playing HS. It’s like owning a 3DO in 1994 – it looks really cool on paper, but the controls don’t work the way they should and the pictures on the game boxes always look cooler than the games themselves.
That said, this offensive ineptitude against anyone with a top 50-ish defense needs to end. 2011 Notre Dame and Nebraska are the only decent defenses that Michigan really scored on, and even with those two performances there were a myriad of factors beyond “offensive efficiency” that led to those outbursts. It’s gotten to the point that I’d rather the team spot opponents 10-15 points just to get Borges out his routine and let up on the reins a bit.
Everyone knows about the much-bemoaned I- and screaming “multiple TEs in on the line so we are clearly running”-formations, but it’s also the option runs that are almost never options and a vertical passing game that can charitably be described as “adventurous” at times. It’s a mindset that calls for plays that he knows his team just cannot execute the way he wants, and while I get the argument that he needs to run what he knows, it is infuriating to see this team get stymied in the red zone or go three-and-out repeatedly with offensive play calling that only calls on Denard to run 6 times in the second half before the final drive. The Denard Borges Fusion Cuisine is like a restaurant in an airport – it looks good because you are starving and have a 2-hour layover with the only other options being a Sbarro’s and one of those airport bars where businessmen from Des Moines hit on the “mature” female bartender who also doubles as the short-order cook. Chop the menu in half, sprinkle in a bunch of designed runs and screens to keep Spartan Pride from killing him on gap blitzes, and wait until Shane Morris is a Sophomore.
Best: This is how we do it!
On the other end of the coordinator spectrum stands Greg Mattison, whose work restoring the validity of “Greg” after Mr. Robinson, Mr. Williams (I’m ignoring the superfluous G), Mr. Davis, and Mr. Brady tried their best to ruin it deserves serious nomination come the off-season. In 2010 Michigan was ranked 110th in total defense, above a bunch of directional schools and below such juggernauts as Rice, Duke, and Baylor. Today? They’re 10th. That’s not just impressive, that’s damn near a miracle. Every time a see Jake Ryan burst through the line to snag a QB in the backfield or J.T. Floyd break up another pass attempt, I involuntary pull one of these:
Yes, this is the same video. No, I won’t apologize for my love of mid-90’s R&B. You’re just lucky I couldn’t think of anything catchy/appropriate for Next.
Say what you will about MSU’s offense this year, they still had one of the better RBs in the country in Bell, a competent QB, and the laser-focus to circle the Michigan game on the calendar and pull every goofy play they can out for it. Yet, outside of two drives that netted MSU 170 yards (helped in part by a fake punt that accounted for almost 30 yards), they record 134 yards over 9 more drives and barely broke 300 yards for the game. Bell, who was used as the human battering ram that in years past gashed the Wolverines, had a quiet 68 yards and nothing longer than 8 yards. Maxwell threw a pick and a TD and never looked super-comfortable out there, and his repeated failed attempts to pick on Floyd at the end of the first half should shock anyone who remembers watching this only a couple of years ago.
Michigan won yesterday because the defense is a legitimate threat, and that transformation is due in large part to Greg Robinson (and Brady Hoke) making it so.
(Of course, this raises the questions surrounding why big-time coordinators were apparently “out of budget” under Carr and RR, but that’s for another day. Minnesota, let’s say.)
Best: Poor Sinead O’Connor
Everyone likes to say that Brenda Gibbons’ fondness for brunettes powers his cold-as-ice heart as he kicks yet another game winner. Personally, I think he derives his power from hair follicles in general, their faint aroma wafting by his nostrils as he lines up a half-dozen yards behind the ball. 2 years ago he was 1 for 5 in FGA, with a long of 24. In other words, a shade over an extra point. Two years later, he’s 10 of 12 with a long of 42 and a couple of game winners to boot. Someone needs to be in Columbus at the end of the season with whatever machine they use to fumigate Abercrombie & Fitch with their “cologne” and make sure whatever subconscious memories that are triggered in Gibbons are ready to go.
Worst: Recidivism on the rise in East Lansing
Usually the MSU-UM game coincides with the yearly East Lansing work-release program. I leave it to the reader to
bunch of convicts
to see what I am referring to.
Best: Liveblog Moderators are people too.
A redundant but totally necessary thank you should go out to the posters who moderate these liveblogs. I’ve yet to moderate one, as my proclivity to immediately approve anyone who references TMNT or “No Fear” t-shirt slogans would bog down the proceedings immensely, but watching the feed yesterday made me happy that no matter how many whiny posts go through, there must have been literally millions that didn’t. To imagine the horrors these men and women must endure every Saturday and yet function for the rest of the week is truly shocking, and they have my gratitude. Of course, that and $2.99 would get you a commemorative “I Was There” pin from the 2011 B1G championship game, but at least it’s something.
Note: I take this format directly from Brandon Stroud’s Best and Worst of Raw over at With Leather. I love what he does there, and figured it would be a nice style to recap both the OOC schedule and, going forward, each game in the schedule. As with everything on the Internet, reader beware.
So the past five weeks were interesting. UM currently sits at 2-2, with one blowout loss, one blowout win, and a split in games that could charitably be described as “competitive” and uncharitably described as “Big Tehnnn footbah!” The David Brandon Memorial “Millions of Dollars” bowl was what everyone expected once it transformed from that big travel date in the sky to Guards in The Longest Yard’s fantasy it was in reality. Air Force was the workman-like win that service academies typically extract from good teams, and UMass reminded everyone that we should all be happy that they root for a team with First World Football Problems and not a school whose claim to athletic fame was being the other other school John Calipari screwed over after leaving.
And then there was Notre Dame, which absolutely felt like those times in video game football when the computer says “you are NOT going undefeated this season with Brody Boss as your QB of New Mexico State” and your players do everything short of digitally pooping themselves on the field for 4 quarters. For shorthand purposes, I shall refer to this feeling going forward as pulling a “Rooting for Jimmy Clausen.”
But with Purdue coming up next, I figured it would be worth a brief look back at these first four games and highlight the soul-lifting positives and dong-punching negatives as I saw them.
Best: Yeah real Out-Of-Conference Games!
It is a not-so-dirty secret in Ann Arbor that UM almost always treated the ND game as the SUPER HUGE DEAL! game every season, so they rarely tried to schedule another tough opponent before conference play. Sure, you’d get your Baylor/Virginia/Syracuse/mid-level Pac-10 team here and there, but those blockbuster matchups were simply not that common. Whereas in recent years OSU scheduled USC, Texas, and Miami (YTM [when they were supposed to be good]), and various SEC teams were welcoming unassuming programs to the Thunderdome to be pulverized, UM seemingly built its out-of-conference slate around beating leather-helmet enthusiasts who are tears-of-sadness photogenic and who just like to hang out with the guys, bra.
So when it was announced in 2010 that Team 134 would be traveling to JerryWorld to face the good-but-not-yet-terrifying Alabama Crimson Tide the general consensus was “Good, hopefully Rich Rodriguez will have the team ready” coupled with “finally UM is playing a legit team in the OOC schedule.” That was also a more innocent time, when Greg Robinson was a bit more GERG and less interpretive dance/motivational animal rubbing-er.
|This can never be unseen|
But for once, it felt like UM was trying to maintain at least the notion that it would play anyone anywhere anytime, that it measured itself against the best programs in the country. And sure, it was going to carry with it the big-game taxes and costs to see it live, but finally UM would be part of a marquee non-conference game that didn’t include Tom Hammond receiving Pez every time he mentioned the ghosts of Notre Dame past.
|My Coldwell Banker rep sure seems happy today|
Worst: So THAT’S why people don’t schedule SEC teams
The sense when the game was announced was that there is no way Alabama would be as good as the year before when they won the national title, and the narrative of SEC dominance felt like the unholy lovechild of marketing by ESPN and the Power of Tebow, and not, you know, stone-cold reality. But as the years progressed and Alabama kept schooling fools and Michigan did not, then they switched coaches, it became clear that this wasn’t going to be fun.
Of course, there had been rumblings previously that Alabama might up to something, what with the wings of hospitals being filled with former recruits who didn’t quite pan out or signing 135 (!!) recruits since 2008 even though natural matriculation, the NFL draft, and math made that number still too high to meet the NCAA scholarship regulations. And it wasn’t like Saban was pulling a Houston Nutt and crashing his motorcycle while getting a…er, just grab-bagging kids in droves with no regard for ability or need. He was pulling in 4* and 5* kids, and then putting them on special teams because the 5* kids ahead of them were still producing/not suddenly being deemed unable to play sports again.
Best: Are you not ENTERTAINED!
One of the time-honored traditions for most major-college football teams is to schedule “Baby Seals” to play in home games before the regular conference season begins. The goal is to snag a couple of easy wins, get the starters some game-like practice without injury, and to send the alumni and fans home happy after a nice day game. And heck, maybe it will be a bit entertaining.
So that’s why teams typically schedule these Seal teams, comprised of fervent, KISS Army-like followers of British pop/soul musician Seal Henry Olusegun Olumide Adeola Samuel, their anthem a throaty “You’re never gonna survive…unless you get a little crazy!” and their uniforms adorned with a vibrant roses on a gravestones…
Wait, that’s not right. Fans of Seal would be more into the other game of football, and anyway their leader seems like he’d rather memorialize the game and not necessarily participate. No, apparently Seal teams are a crack team of Navy special forces (like the varsity of version of the Midshipmen, but with more guns, less hair, and the most OMG Shirtless-ness of the elite military forces).
Okay, wrong again. Apparently Baby Seals are teams that programs schedule because the talent disparity between the two programs is so significant that there is NO WAY that the Seal could EVER beat the BCS squad.
A great example this year was UMass, the past home of 16-year (!!) NBA star Marcus Camby and current home of former UM victory cigar Mike Cox. While UMass had given the Wolverines all they could handle a couple of years ago, it was clear from the first snap of the game that UM was a significantly better team than the Mintemen and that the only issue would be if Denard Robinson scored more points for UMass than they did on offense. It was the type of victory people need to see more often before it becomes routine, even though there is NO REASON why UM fans should ever be worried about losing to them. Right?
Anyway, it was the type of game where offensive players scamper untouched 5-10 yards past the line, where receivers are constantly blanketed and overmatched offensive linemen are being crushed left and right by future NFL DTs and DEs, and a couple of cheap scores shouldn’t cloud the severity of the beating dished out.
Worst: The other foot
Now, you probably thought that last paragraph above was referring to the UMass game, and it was. But I could copy and paste that text, and really the whole last section save for my weird Seal-based non-sequitur, and it would be a 100% recap of watching the Alabama game. UM was Baby Seal’ed as much as any UM team I’ve ever seen, though I’ll admit to being 10 and definitely not into sports when UM played Florida State. The worst game I ever saw UM play in person was against Iowa in 2002 because it wasn’t a fluky game where UM shot itself in the foot as much as Iowa just blew them off the field (check out the drive chart). Maybe Oregon in 2007 was worse, but that team was shell-shocked so it wasn’t surprising that a pumped Ducks team (which definitely stay together when they play together) with tons of talent beat them badly. I’m sure I’m missing an ND game in there somewhere, and Brian seems to have a thing about the 2007 OSU game, and anyone with knowledge before 1995 or so feel free to add in the comments below.
This has to be photoshopped, right?
But this Alabama game is the worst beating I’ve seen UM experience. It wasn’t that Alabama was the better team on the day, or that they played UM so well. I have watched UM enough, especially during the RR years but even during those down Carr and Moeller years, to know that sometimes this team just isn’t as talented as its competition.
This was different, though. In all previous butt-whoopings, UM at least looked like they COULD have beaten the opposition on a different day. But against Alabama, there was no reality, no world in which Michigan could have beaten that Alabama team. And that includes a reality in which both Michigan’s and Alabama’s players are clowns made of candy and Jim Tressel is a Doozer who built Cowboy Stadium with pixie sticks. I try not to use hyperbole very often, but Alabama UMass’d UM more than UM has UMass’d a team in recent memory (okay, maybe not Delaware St., but go with it). It was a sobering sight to see Al Borges look at his play sheet, throw up his hands in disgust, and just run the ball out of the I-form and punt. And it showed that while Brady Hoke is pointing UM in the right direction, maybe college football has morphed so much in the past half-dozen years that anyone who doesn’t recruit 120 kids and pays NFL-like salaries to state employees is going to be some precious sea animal to be mowed down by the couple of teams that are willing to play fast and loose with the spirit of college athletics.
|Couldn’t find an excuse to put this picture in anywhere else – a bear with chainsaws for claws|
Best: USA! USA! USA!
I was going to make this a Worst because I’m never a fan of playing the service academies. First, they are about as true a “student-athlete” as you’ll find in the FBS – they are not that big, they are not that fast, they all love engineering and science and stuff, and they are definitely Going Pro in Something Other Than Sports. So beating them feels like the varsity team beating a really motivated and disciplined intramural team, if said intramural team was full of smart guys and not brosephs who wear their Oak Red Division II championship t-shirt every time they get their swell on.
Second, they are actually pretty good at football, or at least are resourceful and schematically-unique enough that they can catch even good teams off guard. At least one of them is always a top-5/10 outfit running the ball, they almost never take bad penalties, and their defenses are those annoying blitz-heavy-at-weird-angles schemes that can rattle an offense that knows it probably won’t be getting the ball that often. It’s actually fun to watch them play football except when it is against your team and they are driving for a game-tying score despite having 5’ 9” WRs and linemen significantly smaller than Billy Bob from Varsity Blues.
Finally, it just feels Notre Dame-y to play them, in the sense that certain teams derive some weird morality boost by playing a service academy. To listen to some people describe these matchups, playing Army or Air Force is to Support the Troops® and show why America is great, whereas it always struck me as an easy win on the schedule. It’s not like dropping 50 on them in Dublin was going to make them feel any better as they hunted for Sean Connery or defended Andre Braugher (and yes, I need to stop watching so much TV). It’s equivalent to acting as if Vanderbilt, Northwestern, or Stanford’s football teams are full of geniuses who are also good at football, instead of academically rigorous schools who field football teams that may have a couple of smart guys sprinkled in with guys who are largely indistinguishable from the rest of college sports.
So there are a bunch of reasons why playing service academies is a dumb idea…
EXCEPT I just can’t get over how much fun it is to see them on the field and see the respect fans everywhere give them. I’m no Mitch Albom or Gregg Easterbook, but I love seeing names like “Service” and “Freedom” on the back of jerseys, see the cadets in the crowd jump up and down in perfect unison, and remind myself that football is still pretty much a game and even though it drives me crazy when Al Borges doesn’t throw a f’ing LAZER screen against Alabama nobody is going to permanently scarred as a result. I’m not going to go watch the Columbia University Lions play the Princeton Tigers every weekend (though good seats were DEFINITELY available), but sometimes it is refreshing to watch a mid-sized David battle a slightly-larger Goliath for an afternoon, provided that Goliath doesn’t, you know, lose.
Worst: I was into Groundhog Day back when it was just looking at a land-beaver getting out of a hole.
It has been my goal on this site to never disparage a college kid when he does something bad on the football field. I hate yelling at 22-year-old kids for screwing up in a position where I would turtle as soon as the ball was hiked. So I’m not going to call out Denard for the 5 turnovers against Notre Dame because there are various reasons why the ball was turned over, and not all of them are on his shoulders.
That said, after he threw interceptions on consecutive passes in the second quarter against Notre Dame AND gained a first down running the ball on three straight plays, you just knew that as soon as he rolled out to throw the ball bad things were going to happen. I love the chutzpah Denard has shown over the years, the fearlessness and supreme confidence in his abilities that helped him pull wins out of his butt and give the team hope after going 3-9. But at the same time, he has the problem every other college QB has – he has his safety valves, his “break on pressure” switches that lead him to lock onto Tacopants 50 yards down the field and just say
Or find the slot receiver triple covered and try to phase the ball through two of them into his arms. And yeah, UM QBs have been doing that since the beginning of time (John Navarre practically tethered his large intestine to Marquise Walker when he was being pressured), but this team doesn’t have the elite-type WRs those guys had, so they don’t usually get separation and can’t jump over the coverage and save him unless they are Baby Megatron.
Now, I don’t think you put any kid in that position if you can help it. The coaches should have had him keep running the ball until Notre Dame found a way to stop it. Then give the ball to Fitz, or a short dump-off to Funchess, or anything else that has a tiny chance of being turned over. Everyone knew he was a little rattled and that is fine; give him a series to get his feet under him again even if it ends with a punt. The defense was keeping the game close and Tommy Rees was under center on the other side of the field. Trust me – the game wasn’t over.
And I guess that will be Denard’s legacy at UM – a preposterously athletic kid who tried to play QB in an offense that is just too risky for some people’s tastes, who put up numbers but also seemingly came up a couple short when he needed them most. Even if the team wins out, he’ll be defeated against Penn St. and Wisconsin for his career, 1-3 versus MSU, and 2-2 against an OSU team that is itself in transition. He’ll have the career yardage mark but also the career interception record; the most rushing yards but also a disturbing number of fumbles. He’ll be a memorable figure in UM history, the epitome of the good and bad that occurred when UM tried something new for the first time in most of our lifetimes.
Barring Al Borges and Brady Hoke getting seduced by the siren song of Dana Holgorsen, the next 6.02X10^23 QBs are going to be majestic rocket-armed missile launchers who look down a crashing DE and thread three needles to get the ball to a 6’5” TE donkey-busting a DB down the sideline. And they’ll make all the correct reads (even when they don’t) and have just enough wiggle in the pocket to get time in the pocket (except when they can’t). And that will be glorious, if a bit sad. I happen to like little guys who make me smile every time they touch the ball.
My favorite dumb line (outside of, you know, this one) from the best dumb movie about football, perfectly embodies what the rest of the year holds for this team. At 2-2, nobody is thinking of a backdoor shot at some national title chase, nor were those wins or Notre Dame loss filled with any defining thru-line regarding how this team will play going forward (except, maybe, that the defense will be better than expected). But with 8 games to go in the conference slate, this squad can still put together a pretty nice season. Sure, they’ve got to beat OSU in the Horseshoe and Nebraska at the Astrodome North, and MSU looks like they will cobble together a gameplan wherein Bell runs the ball 90 times and they win by 3, but nobody is going to run away with this conference. Robinson may have games like 2012 Notre Dame at times, but he also has games like 2011 Notre Dame, 2010 Notre Dame, and 2011 Ohio State where he is the most dynamic player in the country. So starting with Purdue on Saturday, if this team plays like it is capable of, it has a chance at going from 3-9 to a conference championship in 4 years. That' isn’t just amazing, that’s heroic.
(Jebus, I need to update my Netflix queue…)
So provided this doesn’t stamp my ticket to Bolivia, I’ll be back with another installment after the Purdue game.
So this was something I wanted to do since about the first MSU game, but a combination of grad classes and not wanting to jinx anything conspired to delay me until today. But with an NCAA Tournament-clinching win against the Waffling Webers and [insert OSU results], I figured it was high time to recognize the magical run by the most inspiring UM team since 1997 in the only way I knew how – through a schmaltzy montage of posters from basketball movies and TV shows. Call it a retroactive .
After last season’s cosmic nad-kicking as the team well woefully short of expectations and lost both Manny Harris and Deshawn Sims to the professional ranks, hopes were not high for this year’s Wolverines as they embarked on an offseason European tour. Not only had the team lost approximately 99% of its scoring from last year, but the best most pundits could say about this club was that they might be able to “grit” and “hustle” their way to double-digit wins if they could steal a couple of wins against the likes of Harvard and Oakland over the pre-conference schedule. That’s right – credible thought was given to UM’s prospects being tied to the unlikely scenario of slaying both Tommy and the Fightin’ Amakers and the school I passed on my way to Meadow Brook to see “Weird Al” Yankovic in concert when I was in high school. So yeah, this was not expected to be a banner year for Beilein’s crew.
But a funny thing seemed to happen over the summer. and all the sights – this team figured out how to play together. Darius Morris emerged as a legitimate leader at the point, role players like Novak returned with 100% more gruis, coeur, and zähigkeit, and a faint buzz could be heard surrounding this ho-hum 3* freshman with the famous father who once made a cameo on .
Of course, there is a big difference between playing international ball in exhibition games and competing against legitimate NCAA teams, and after a couple of cupcakes to start the season UM battled a Syracuse team in the Legends Classic. UM played them tight throughout, ultimately falling 53-50 after leading 31-29 at halftime. While some saw this close loss as proof that the team was better than preseason expectations, others argued it was an aberration against a disinterested opponent, a characterization that gained support from a subsequent loss to “meh” UTEP in the consolation game. And to make matters worse, UM was going to travel to NCAA tourney-quality Clemson as part of the ACC-Big 10 Challenge. The conditions were ripe for the wheels to come off, and yet they didn’t.
Displaying the type of mental toughness and, um, s that belied their experience, the team took care of Clemson and followed up that with a 7-game surge that put them at 10-2 entering league play. Sure, the wins weren’t against elite competition (though Oakland did make the tourney and Harvard probably should have), but considering how low expectations were coming in it was a pleasant surprise.
Of course, any optimism garnered from this hot start was extinguished by a 1-7 stretch to start the season, punctuated by shellackings at home to Purdue and at Wiscy. But those were top-10 teams the thinking went, so the losses were at least expected. But during this streak, there were also 19-point losses to the battling Jamie Macs…I mean and the Northwestern “Just as good as Brown” Wildcats. These were not juggernauts draining bucket after bucket against UM, and the general sentiment that the 10-2 start was a red herring and this was an NIT team if they could steal a couple of wins gained purchase with the UM faithful.
But part-and-parcel with all of this doom and gloom was a faint ember of hope kept alive by close losses to top-5 teams OSU and Kansas. A team like UM, playing without an established inside presence and streaky, young shooters, had no business taking the JayHawks to overtime or making OSU sweat for every bucket. And while the Wolverines shot pretty well against the Buckeyes, neither game would be thought of as a fluke in the classical sense – they were games where good teams find a way to stick around against elite squads and nearly steal a win. But as Jesse Ventura used to say “close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades”, and 1-6 to start B10 play was close to the bottom of the B10 standings. If UM had any hope of postseason play, they needed to from this losing streak and right the ship immediately.
To do so, though, they would need to beat Tom Izzo’s MSU squad at the Breslin Center, a veritable house of horrors for UM since its opening. Even though the Spartans had failed to live up to their preseason #2 ranking, in East Lansing was still thick with anticipation, smugness, and AXE body spray of another MSU victory against the Wolverines.
It has often been said that you don’t see the true mettle of a team until it has overcome adversity, when it is has succeeded in the face of imposing odds, when it has emerged victorious of competition. On a day when nobody would have blamed the young Wolverines for folding in hostile territory, Darius Morris showed Sparty that to the tune of a 17-4-8 line while masterfully running the offense, and Zack Novak went all and scored a season-high 19 points to go along with 6 boards, in a 61-57 upset.
As UM basketball fans, we are all conditioned to be immensely reticent when it comes to the cagers; years of false starts and false hopes under Amaker and Ellerbe have conditioned us to remain stoic and, frankly, a little pessimistic regardless of the magnitude of the victory. Having lived through the car wreck that was the last few Ellerbe years and the growing pains of Amaker’s first two years, I had watched this team devolve from a consistent NCAA tourney team to a squad that lost to Western Michigan two years in a row. Two years ago, upsets against top-10 squads Duke and UCLA were met with a "let’s not blow it” mentality as the year progressed and the team slid into the NCAA tourney.
But it was impossible to underplay the importance of this win for both this season and this team. This might not have been a vintage MSU team, but UM still went into Breslin and beat MSU straight-up; no lucky bounces or last-minute tip-ins. UM was the better team that day, and gave a performance nobody expected coming off 6 straight losses. It was as if the Wolverines had pulled a on the Spartans, stealing the resolve and confidence that usually flowed from veteran squads and imbuing this team with it instead.
You know the rest of the story – UM went on a 7-3 tear, with two of those losses by a combined 3 points, and this team emerged as a legitimate NCAA-caliber team. Jordan Morgan showed he had the to compete down low against rugged competition, and the bench continued to evolve as Evan Smotrycz found a little bit of his shooting stroke. Novak, constantly undersized and outmuscled by PFs throughout the season, disproved the notion that by making the key defensive play against Minnesota and grabbing big rebounds amongst the trees every game. This was still a dangerously-shallow crew, but it played like a team and bought into Beilein’s system in a way no other team had. And nobody grew more as a player than Hardaway, who scored in double figures in every game and was the catalyst for wins over Iowa, Indiana, and Minnesota, playing and being absolutely unconscious at times from beyond the arc.
Riding this wake of momentum, the Wolverines welcomed the Spartans to Crisler to end the regular season. Both teams were nursing legitimate NCAA hopes, and some viewed this matchup as a “bubble buster” for the loser. All the talk leading up to the game was the MSU that had been to two straight Final Fours would emerge, that the Wolverines had a nice run but that there was no way Sparty was going to lose twice to UM in the same season. Statistics, efficiency metrics, and even our own eyes be damned, the perception was that MSU would find a way to win this game.
Looking back, of course, all of this bluster and worry seemed foolish. UM raced out to a 33-25 lead, and while MSU made a couple of runs late in the second half, the Wolverines never relinquished the lead. Every time Kalin Lucas or Durrell Summers made a play, UM answered with a nice feed from Morris to Morgan for a dunk or Hardaway taking the ball into traffic and making MSU pay at the foul line. s Smotrycz and Vogrich provided a nice boost from the bench, and as the game wound down and Morris scored some nice
on a coast-to-coast layup as time expired, even the most jaded UM fans couldn’t deny that this team was special. That still might not translate to an NCAA bid, though, and that was why the BTT was essential.
In the first game of the tourney, UM was pitted against a far more experienced and taller Illinois team, with both teams knowing that a victory would punch their respective tickets to the tourney. At the half Illinois held an 11-point lead, and there were some (me included) that thought maybe the magic had run out on the season one game too soon. But as they had done all year long, this team just kept battling. Led by an always-underrated defense, the Wolverines stormed back in the second half, outscoring the Illini by 16(!) to win 60-55. In the immortal words of Rasheed Wallace, , and it was saying UM was going to be in the NCAA tournament. A close loss to #1 overall seed OSU did little to damper this optimism, and the only surprise on Selection Sunday was UM earning an 8 seed as opposed to the 10 or 11 seed most expected.
It has been an amazing season so far by the Wolverines, one made sweeter by the low expectations and the realization that this team is positioned to continue this resurgence well into the future. A masterful coaching job by Beilein, he guided a young squad through myriad of potential landmines and is recruiting the type of high-end recruits that will be needed to sustain this success going forward. Any doubts about his coaching ability were laid to rest this year, and hopefully for good.
But perhaps the most important product of this magical run is that it let a large portion of the UM faithful, those scarred by the Ed Martin scandal and the subsequent dark years, to believe again in this team. That might sound sappy, but even the tourney bid in 2009 felt like a tease after the team stumbled through a mediocre season last year. But this team is different, this coach is different, and this program is different than it was since Steve Fisher walked the sidelines; it is a healthy program with a bright future, free of the cancers that plagued it for over a decade. I don’t know how the team will fare against a schizophrenic Tennessee squad or a third-round clash with mighty Duke, but what I do know is that UM is back as a basketball school, and saying that after all these years is .
Over the past few weeks, the University of Michigan football team has undergone some rather significant changes at the top, with Rich Rodriguez relieved of his position as Head Coach and replaced by former San Diego State head man (and former UM assistant coach) Brady Hoke. Trying to wrap one’s head around the events and motivations behind this momentous shift can be daunting for a fully-functioning adult (or daytime sports-radio host), let alone the most impressionable and innocent amongst us – the children. Thus, here is a guide with some helpful answers for addressing the coaching change to your littlest of loved ones.
Why was Rich Rodriguez fired as Head Coach of the Wolverines?
Well, there are many reasons why – mostly because he didn’t win enough, especially against UM’s little brother (MSU), that old man who always wants you to mow his lawn but then pays you a nickel (PSU), the fat guy next door who is always working on his car in the driveway in only his undershirt and the music turned up very loud (Wiscy), and especially that kid at the playground who always beats you up the jungle gym but who also eats paste (OSU). He looked really fast and strong when he played against the smaller kids in the park, but when the bigger kids showed up he always was pushed around and didn’t look nearly as good. Also, his defenses were really bad, he didn’t always pick the best kids to be on his team before the season, and used bad words like “fudge”, “shoot”, “mother fiddler”, and “read option.” Some of the local kids got him in trouble by telling everyone that he was a cheater even though that wasn’t true and they were just being jerks, but he still got a bar of soap in his mouth and now everyone has to go to bed a half-hour earlier for the next 2-3 years. Finally, some people wanted him to look more like the Wolverine’s father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and creepy grass-eating uncle, even though none of them looked the same either.
Why didn’t the Wolverines give him more than 3 years? They gave that nice man who coached the basketball team 6 years.
Very good question. Mostly because, again, he didn’t win enough games. Also, people care more about football than basketball, and that nice man looked a little like a young Will Smith and dressed like a singer in the band Color Me Bad, a band your mother/father and I used to love listening to about 9 months before you were born.
So who decided to fire Rich Rodriguez?
David Brandon, the current Athletic Director and a former player for the Wolverines. He was also the former CEO of Dominos Pizza.
Can we have pizza for dinner?
Not tonight; I already made roast beef and broccoli. Maybe this weekend. Don’t make that face!
Is David Brandon a good guy? You said he should pull his head out of his a...
Don’t you say that! Yes, sometimes when a person gets really angry, he or she may use bad words to show how angry they are, but you shouldn’t.
David Brandon is a good person who maybe made a couple of mistakes. He’s only been on the job for a couple of months, and so it is hard to tell if he is really a good Director or maybe just good at being a boss as a company. We will know more in a couple of years.
And no, it is not possible physically possible to do what Mommy/Daddy said. Unless you are a writer for a local newspaper, in which case that is the only way they can do their job.
So who did David Brandon replace Rich Rodriguez with?
Brady Hoke, a former assistant coach at Michigan as well as Head Coach at San Diego State University and Ball State. Now stop laughing just because I said “ball.”
Doesn’t Brady Hoke play for the Patriots?
No, you are thinking of Tom Brady. He once played at Michigan, back way before you were born and when the coaches kept wanting a baseball player to play instead of him. They were dumb. Also, Brady Hoke was the guy who brought Tom Brady to Michigan from California.
Is Brady Hoke a good coach?
An important lesson you will learn as you grow up is that words don’t always mean the same thing depending on who or what you are talking about. For example, I “love” you (and your brother/sister/wife/husband where appropriate), but I also “love” Michigan football. When I say I love you, it means I’d do anything to keep you safe and healthy. When I say I love Michigan football, it means I like to watch them beat other teams and sometimes when they don’t I throw things around the house and call people “bassbowls.”
The same can be said about Brady Hoke being a “good” coach. He’s definitely not a bad one – he’s won 47 games and had recent success at both schools before leaving them. Also, he is well-respected by other coaches, has a reputation for being good at getting good players to play for his team, and has a plan about how he wants to run his team. Also, he really wants to coach the Wolverines.
But at the same time, he also lost 50 games and is really old, like older than mommy/daddy. He’s never played with the big kids before, so we don’t know if he’ll be able to keep up. He says he wants to play the game differently than how Rich Rodriguez played, but people aren’t sure if he’ll be able to right now, since the players he has on his team all wanted to play like Rodriguez. Finally, some people worry that he’ll be like the old guy that coached the Wolverines before Rich Rodriguez, only worse.
So I’m not sure if Brady Hoke is a good coach, but I do know that he is a different coach than Rich Rodriguez, and sometimes change is good.
Do people like Brady Hoke?
Oh yeah, lots of people like him. Everyone who writes for the newspapers like him, especially since he is not like Rich Rodriguez at all. Lots of people who like the Wolverines all like him because he reminds them of other coaches they liked, kind of like how our puppy reminds you of Bo, our other dog who went to that farm up north to live on. The one with all the rabbits and squirrels to chase.
Now, there are some people who don’t like him as much, but they are just grumpy people who sit in their parents’ basements all day and type on the computer. They complain about him being not that good at his job and something we call a “safety option”, a word you’ll hear when you are applying to colleges and I have you fill out applications to schools you don’t want to attend, like that school Uncle Murray attended in the middle of the state. None of them ever talk to girls, they smell because they don’t take baths, and only eat pizza and drink pop all day.
Can I be one those of people who doesn’t like Brady Hoke?
No, no matter how awesome that sounds. Almost all of them grow beards and like soccer, and unfortunately (pick one: we have a medical thing that doesn’t allow us to grow beards/you are a girl and facial hair doesn’t look right on girls).
Were they are any other people who coach have been the coach for the Wolverines?
Great question! According to Mr. Brandon, the only person he wanted was Brady Hoke, even though everyone knows he was fibbing and yes, fibbing is wrong and don’t you do it. But sometimes when you are older, you need to say stuff that isn’t totally true so that you don’t look dumb or mean in front of others. It’s like when Aunt Belinda asks me if she looks fat in her wedding pictures and I say she looked beautiful, even though I’ve told you before she looked like Shrek in a dress.
But no, I’ve heard that Brandon asked a couple of other people if they wanted to coach the Wolverines, but all of them said they already had play dates lined up. Jim Harbaugh, a former player for the Wolverines who is also a successful Head Coach at a school with a tree as its mascot, decided he wanted to coach in the National Football League. He may have told Brandon that he planned on coaching the Wolverines and then used this to get a better job, which is something we call “leverage.” It’s how daddy/mommy got that new flat-screen television after he/she stumbled on my Google search history.
Brandon also apparently asked Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern University, but he liked his job and didn’t want to move. He might have also asked Les Miles at LSU, but he’s even older than Brady Hoke and likes to chew grass like the cat does when she’s sick.
Did David Brandon do a good job looking for a Head Coach?
I always tell you that if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Well, this is an exception. David Brandon royally screwed up this search, like how I forgot to pick you up after band practice a couple of years ago and Susie’s mom saw you walking alone in the rain and drove you home. Except, I don’t think David Brandon can take every Wolverine fan out for ice cream and then buy you tickets to see Space Chimps. Of course, he might be able to give everyone a free pizza.
Brandon said he was going to look everywhere for the best coach, but then he only looked at people in his Wolverine phone book plus the guy next door. People probably won’t care that much as long as Brady Hoke turns out to be a good coach, but people also don’t like being lied to when everyone knows you are doing it. That’s a good lesson for you know. Also, always wash your hands after you use the bathroom and don’t accept candy from stranger. Unless they give you Snickers – then they are just really nice people with great taste.
Will the Wolverines be better with Brady Hoke as the Head Coach?
Nobody knows for sure. They were REALLY good last year at scoring points and REALLY bad at stopping the other guys from scoring them. They should be better at stopping teams because all of the players on defense are older, and the really fast guy on offense with the dreads is coming back and should be good. So they should be at least as good as they were this year, and will probably win a couple more games next year.
In the future, though, I’m not sure if the team will be better. We’ll have to see, especially as Hoke brings in more players that he wants and play the way he wants. My guess is that they’ll win games but will disappoint me enough most years that I’ll be making many trips to the store to refill the bottles of adult drinks I keep in the dining room.