Note: Longish post – TL;DR – bad comedy; why no news on planes! - to save you the trouble. Also, probably won’t be relevant in 2 hours.
To say that the past couple of weeks have been tumultuous for the University of Michigan and its football team would be a massive understatement. After a disheartening loss to Mississippi State on New Years Eve, fans of the program were subjected to days of uncertainty and innuendo regarding the future of the program, culminating the in the firing of Rich Rodriguez after three rocky years. Since then, we have seen promising replacements turn down the program’s overtures and either remain where they are or move on to other opportunities. We witnessed a number of high-profile recruits switch allegiances in the wake of RR’s removal and the subsequent uncertainty of his replacement. And throughout these travails, we have heard about how the coaching carousel has affected the coaching staffs both here and at other schools, unsigned recruits, the athletic department, and most importantly, the fans.
But in the furor over this most public chapter in the storied history of Michigan football, true victims and their travails have fallen through the cracks. Their pain is as real and notable as anyone else’s these past months, and yet nobody has lent them a voice to be heard. What follows are their stories.
James Jackson, proprietor of Ann Arbor Torch & Pitchfork, Inc.
“We’ve actually been in Ann Arbor longer than people think; my dad opened up our first office on Packard after Gary Moeller’s 1993 season,” said Mr. Jackson, as he looked out over downtown Ann Arbor from his expansive new headquarters on Division St. Occupying office space in the building affectionately called “Goolge A2” (due to the search giant’s ubiquitous logo on the building’s façade), Jackson reminisces about his company’s genesis from a mom-and-pop location for disgruntled UM fans to obtain mob-specific weaponry to the thriving factory of fan angst that employs over 100 people in Michigan, including some notable alums in the Detroit newspaper industry, as well as satellite offices in other major college towns.
Mr. Jackson credits his father, Mike Jackson, for first realizing Ann Arbor Torch and Pitckfork’s (AAT&P) enduring mission: “When the going gets tough, the tough get fiery sticks and pointy farm equipment.” While this is clearly a metaphor, Mr. Jackson acknowledges that college football fans are generally both the most loyal and irrational people one will ever meet, at least when it comes to analyzing the current state of their favorite program. When the team is winning, fans can be expected to fill the stadium every Saturday, buy bushels of merchandise, and follow the team religiously to road and bowl games (except, Mr. Jackson noted, MSU’s fairweather football fans). But when the team struggles, even if only compared to the fans’ sometimes-irrational expectations, “it can be one huge ‘Critter Fritter’ of a situation,” borrowing a term from a bumper sticker sold by AAT&P “Who’s fault is this Critter Fritter?”.
For example, Mr. Jackson remembers sales tripling after Michigan started the 1998 season 0-2 following the 1997 National Championship. At the time, AAT&P was struggling to pay its suppliers due to extremely slow sales during that magical championship run, with most customers buying the bare essentials (single torch stick, single posterboard and black marker, a pocket-sized trident, etc.) “in case Carr does something stupid like throw on 3rd-and-4,” in Mr. Jackson’s words. That season had been so harmonious amongst the fanbase that Mr. Jackson feared a new era of logical appreciation and rationality was permeating the UM faithful would spell the end for his fledgling shop.
“I thought I’d have to go back to my first job, which was as an actor who dressed up like an affluent gentleman at parties,” Mr. Jackson said, with a hint of sadness in his eye. When asked if Mr. Jackson got the idea for that occupation from a Simpson’s episode, he responded “oh great, you’re one of those guys” and quickly changed the subject.
“We were able to weather that 1997 season by the skin of our teeth, but after that Syracuse loss we never really struggled to keep the lights on. No matter how good the team looked, there was always a steady stream of people who would stop by on Monday, even after a win, to pick through our famous Nits section.” Though the actual Nits change weekly, they typically embody the lifeblood of any irrational argument provided by the customers:
- Sheets with offensive and defensive play calls that should have been made instead of the ones actually run (helpfully broken down by quarter and situation)
- Obscure jerseys of players not receiving much playing time who “totally should instead of that stupid” S/RB/WR/QB currently occupying the position. Includes players whose eligibility expired in 1999
- Box scores from rivals highlighted with the results from players and/or coaches who should be at this school “except the dumb coach ran him off” or “dumb school didn’t let him in because of his grades/test scores/juvenile record.”
“We plugged along for most of the 00’s under Carr with few ripples, save for the Critter Fritter created by Henson’s arrival and subsequent benching behind Brady. After those consecutive losses in ‘99 to MSU and Illinois, we actually ran out of torches and had to resort to wrapping 2x4’s with the Sports Illustrated 1997 Championship Recap special.” But tension soon dissipated as UM went undefeated the rest of the year, and business remained steady until The Horror and the subsequent shellacking by Oregon in 2007. “That point,” Mr. Jackson said, with a barely-disguised twinkle in his eye, “is when things really took off for us. The Monday after the Appalachian State game, there was a line around the block. We actually had to hire additional help to service all of the customers. And when we debuted our Henne vs. Mallett reversible dartboard, we knew we had hit a nerve in terms of fan apathy.”
But the true motherlode came with the hiring of Rich Rodriguez, an “outsider” to the program who was clearly not the first choice of the fanbase or, for that matter, a portion of the Michigan athletic department. “This,” Mr. Jackson said as he thrust his arm about his expansive office with floor-to-ceiling windows, flat-screen televisions, and mahogany furniture, “is all because of RR. When he arrived in Ann Arbor, sales went from steady to astronomical. Before the guy even coached a game on the UM sidelines, we were back-ordered 6 months on everything in the store – that includes the limited-edition pitchforks personally autographed in crayon by both Mike Valenti and UM’s own Drew Sharp.”
Mr. Jackson would not confirm specific sales numbers over RR’s three tumultuous years, but did acknowledge that the RR’s tenure coincided with dramatic growth for his company. One interesting trend Mr. Jackson noticed was that, unlike past years, business remained brisk regardless of the level of success on the field. “A vocal contingent of people clearly did not care whether or not RR’s team experienced success or failure on the football field – they wanted to march around in groups with flaming torches and pointy sticks, and to hell with reality.”
Top sellers during this time included “Make your own DC” kit with real recruiting violations and feathery GERG-style hairpiece, t-shirts emblazoned with “Start the other guy at QB”, a copy of “Family Matters” season 2 DVD signed by the entire Boren family, and framed copies of the Detroit Free Press’s expose on practice violations, player abuse, and baby-eating by RR and his staff.
Sales peaked following the Gator Bowl, but with the inevitability of RR’s firing “everybody wants to save their money until the next coach is selected,” lamented Jackson, who noted that his greatest fears were laid to rest when Jim Harbaugh decided to take the head coaching job with the San Francisco 49ers. “I’m sure people would have grown tired of Jim once he lost a couple of games, but with all the talent that was returning next year it might not have happened as quickly as we liked. Plus, people love Jim around here, which probably would have allowed him to go 8-4 without a total meltdown.”
“I just hope Brandon hires the replacement coach soon, because the longer he waits the fewer shopping days people will have before National Signing Day, which is when our sales naturally drop off as people finally realize that there are other successful sports at UM. Rent isn’t cheap, and we were planning on making an IPO in 2011. We don’t need much; pitchforks are always in style.”
When asked who he’d like to see succeed Rodriguez, Mr. Jackson paused for a moment before saying “based on an order we have pending for a Mr. B. Cook, probably Brady Hoke. He’s just Lloyd enough to annoy the fans who liked the direction RR was taking the program, but still unproven enough to bug the fans who expect UM to go 13-0 every year. Les Miles would also work, but the whole grass thing kind of weirds me out.”
As for what the future holds for AAT&P, Jackson spoke of continued expansion in the SEC, where sales have skyrocketed in Gainesville, Baton Rouge, and Athens. Closer to home, he expects sales to grow in Happy Valley as news of Paterno’s quest to defeat the sun in terms of longevity shows no signs of ending, and he might even open another branch in Columbus of all places. “We’ve had brisk business down there for years, but with the Pryor era failing to live up to expectations, I expect sales to exceed even those in Ann Arbor soon.”
Vincent Torino - Novelty t-shirt seller at corner of State and Hoover
“I’ve been selling shirts at this corner for over 10 years,” says Mr. Torino, wearing a Michigan wool cap with two bluetooth headsets sticking out from each ear. “From ‘Rudy Sucks’ to ‘Wuck Fisconsin’ to our recent bestseller ‘Shoelace16’, I’ve been trying to meet the needs of drunk frat boys and ironic kids of alums since the beginning of the millennium.”
Mr. Torino, “but you can call me Vinnie”, comes from a long line of vendors capitalizing on the fervor surrounding the UM program. His grandfather was once the official pickle seller during games when Fielding Yost roamed the sidelines, and his father sold knockoff football jerseys out of the back of his 1975 Ford LTD station wagon near what is now Elbel Field.
Even Vinnie’s mother was involved in the family business in a tangential way; according to Mr. Torino, his father met his wife while selling merchandise at a road game in East Lansing. “Dad said Mom was the most beautiful woman he ever saw, but she also dressed like a woman who ‘wasn’t a stranger to the old end-around’ as he used to say. That’s where the idea for ‘East Lansing is a woman of ill repute’ shirt came from – a fun little jab at Mom, rest her soul.”
When I asked how business was during Rich Rodriguez’s tenure at Michigan as compared to Lloyd Carr’s reign, he noted the biggest difference was the shift in focus in the nature of his merchandise under both coaches. “With Carr, it was all about the players – ‘I’ve good a Woodley’, ‘Bow Down Little Brother!"’ and ‘Robot Henne Maximize!’ were huge. I tried to sell bumper stickers saying ‘My other vehicle is a Carr’, but they never really took off. Maybe a little too ironic.”
“But with RR, it was all ‘In Rod We Trust’ and a three-wolf moon spinoff with Mike Barwis’ head as the moon. Sure, we had brisk sales with Zoltan Mesko’s space emperor line as well as the iconic shirts for Tate’s ‘Behold the power of the Forcier’ and Denard’s ‘Shoelace16’, but everyone loved the fact that RR’s name could be spun into a genetalia reference. Again, my market is mostly drunk people; it doesn’t need to be particularly clever for them to fork over $20.”
This sales bump from the coach’s line was especially important because some of the cherished models were running on fumes. “Everyone has ’Muck the Fuckeyes’,” Mr. Torino noted, “but when you haven’t won the Game recently, fans aren’t inclined to keep spending money. Also, Notre Dame’s continued irrelevance has really hurt. Do you realize ‘Rudy’ came out in 1993? They haven’t done anything since, and so I haven’t been able to generate any new material”
But with Rich Rodriguez’s departure and the subsequent uncertainty surrounding the new coach, Mr. Torino has found himself in the unusual position of “hedging” on the new Wolverine leader with his designs. He noted that he originally had orders in for “I have a Hard-buagh!” shirts until Jim Harbaugh signed with the 49ers, and has since been printing “Got Grass?” and “Miles of fun” (with an outline of Les Miles’ face) in anticipation of the LSU coach being named to the top spot. “I also had a couple dozen ‘I’m Yoked for Hoke’ shirts drawn up, but they just looked dumb. They’ll be sent along with the Harbaugh shirts to the American Red Cross, where they’ll be given to people in developing countries like they do with the loser’s shirts from the Super Bowl.” When asked why he doesn’t just sell them as novelty shirts, Mr. Torino said, “I like the idea of an alternate universe where the Patriots went 19-0, Butler beat Duke for the NCAA title, and Brady Hoke was the head coach at the University of Michigan.”
“I just hope that whomever David Brandon selects as the new head coach is good for business,” noted Vinnie. “Hell, who am I kidding? I sell t-shirts to drunk kids. All I have to do is mess around with the word ‘fuck’ and they’ll fork over the cash. Man, this is the life.”
BRADYPET, the Mgoblog server
“I hope Brian knows how hard I’ve been working,” the words appeared in the terminal window as I sat down with BRADYPET, the Dell PowerEdge server that hosts the MGoBlog site, “and how bad I feel about not being able to support upvotes right now.”
BRADYPET is actually the second server to maintain the site since the Haloscan days; the first was HENNEBOT, which was irreparably harmed by the traffic influx following MSU’s overtime victory against UM in 2009. BRADYPET was brought in shortly thereafter because she featured 32 GB of RAM, 2 TB of hard-drive space, 8 hot-swap banks, advanced bandwidth throttling, and had a track record of “knowing her way around Drupal.”
“Brian and I don’t talk about HENNEBOT much anymore, except that their relationship was one of convenience, while ours is one of mutual respect and scalability,” noted BRADYPET, who trumpeted that she hadn’t needed anything more than a BIOS update in nearly 2 years, “though Brian did mention he was looking at adding another rack, but only if I felt comfortable with it.”
Traffic at MGoBlog has always been steady, BRADYPET noted, and though it spiked at times the past few years, she was always able to handle it with minimal downtime. Sure, the “lockdown” phases for the site after disheartening losses in the past helped, but BRADYPET noted that those were more content-based than usability. “I can handle anything the community throws at me. Brian does respect my sensibilities, though, so that is why he limits posts at times – I can’t un-see what everyone writes.”
Without naming names, BRADYPET noted that “the worst offenders pop up after rivalry games – rival fans sign up with their student e-mail addresses, post ignorant articles with so many grammatical flaws that my spellchecker throbs for hours, and then never come back.” And then there is the negging, which “really hurts my soul. So many posts, so many d-bags, so much anger. It makes me want to throw, to throw, to throw – 503 – Service Unavailable.”
Ten minutes later, I was finally able to get BRADYPET back online. “I’m so sorry – this is what the coaching search has done to me. I can not even maintain simple connectivity with web users.” BRADYPET stated that the sheer number of hits the site received after the Gator Bowl “scared me like a grandmother trying to use her webmail but instead stumbling onto porn site hottmail.com.”
And once RR was fired, “I just couldn’t keep up. Brian said he would protect me, but it was too late. He disabled logins, but that just made people angrier. They just hitting refresh, refresh, refresh – dear God, the number of packets being sent and lost. Just carnage; pure, sad carnage.”
While the the spike has dissipated somewhat, the near-constant stream of insider knowledge and updates about the future coach “has been a strain. Everyone is creating threads about the same topic, then responding to each of them with the same post. It is just madness at times. And then you have Brian’s posts with links to Twitter accounts – Twitter! Have you ever tried to communicate with Twitter? Bunch of ruffians!”
“And don’t get me started about flightaware.”
When asked if she had a preference about the future coach, BRADYPET responded that “I really could care less, because at least then the number of visitors would drop. I guess, standing on my ethernet cable, I’d say Brady Hoke. Not because I think he’d be a good coach, but because if Les Miles was signed those TigerDroppings visitors would flood over here as well, and those people are crazy! Have you seen their animated gifs – supporting those monstrosities would kill me with bandwidth demands.”
As for what the future holds, BRADYPET said she’s looking forward to a break once the new coach is selected, “maybe host a couple of Cover It Lives for the basketball team, maybe go shopping at newegg for some more RAM. I also wouldn’t mind viewing some more Japanese girl-band pop videos with Brian, but I’m saving those for a special occasion.”
Part of me just wants to wallow in despair and ice my soul dong, but at the same time I just can’t overcome the urge to post my thoughts about the past couple of months in UM football. And since I’m more an REM fan than a Smith’s, this post is sprinkled with a couple of my favorite tunes’ names.
**NOTE: Depending on your office culture, there might be a few NSFW-ish memes here. Nothing epic or pornish (sorry), but you’ve been warned.
Shiny Happy People
After the Purdue game, my feelings about the team were shared by a bulk of the UM community – namely, .
Or, in words, excited about being 7-3, dreaming of possibly splitting with Wiscy and OSU, and finally ending the constant speculation swirling around RR and the team’s coaching staff. Sure, it felt like a bit of a smokescreen – this team was still worked over by MSU-Iowa-PSU that left me with a bad case of the – but I definitely felt that with Robinson and co. putting up record-breaking offensive numbers the season had taken on a feeling.
Plus, the wins, the offensive resurgence, and the uptick in recruiting they brought pointed to something greater – a sense that UM fans no longer needed to worry about rogue newspapers flailing about with half-cooked exposes, of turning on your television and seeing some smug talking head on ESPN crow about the “fall of Michigan” and how Rich Rodriguez was “definitely” on the outs, of scrolling through the blogs and Twitter with baited breath lest another player on the 2-deep tears tendons in his knee, fails to make the grade, or simply wants to leave. For the first time in 3 years, fans could finally look in the mirror and say .
Losing My Religion
…er, Ann Arbor, reality did not mesh with this dream scenario of a return to normalcy for fans of the Maize and Blue. While the offense had made definite strides under RR, the defense under this dapper gentleman had badly regressed even from the historically-bad standards of the previous two years. By any metric, this was one of the worst defenses in college football, and watching them every week made me so….
Yeah, I conveniently overlooked the fact that in order for there to be an historic 67-65 win over the Illini UM had to give up 65 points (!!!111!!11!!) in the process, or the fact that the Purdue ’s were calling key screen passes between their 3rd and 4th QBs. And yeah, Wisconsin and OSU still outclassed UM from a talent standpoint and would provide the staunchest tests yet for this fledgling offense, but still, nobody had really shut down UM’s offense yet, and when the game gets up to the 30-40 point range anything can happen. So really, what was wrong with a little bit of homerish optimism in an upset?
What's the Frequency, Kenneth?
I don’t (and won’t) need to recap what happened in gory detail, but let’s just say that phrases like “ that was a horrible series for the offense” and “GERG, ” were frequently typed, tweeted, uttered and sworn over those last two weeks. At some point during the second half of the Wisconsin game, I thought that jewel thieves were breaking into my house and had simply ed a single run play and set it on a loop on my TV to distract me. And if that shellacking wasn’t enough of a wake-up call to the UM faithful that this team was not ready for prime-time, the demolition by OSU the following week drove the point home that if you are an above-average offense against UM’s defense. Fans were left feeling , though not so much because of the defense’s shortcomings (by that point, nobody expected anything from the unit), but because the offense suddenly went from to .
And despite the mountain of factors and valid arguments explaining why this team was going to struggle against elite competition, and in spite of the very positive fact that it was going to be playing a NYD bowl game against a legit SEC team for the first time since…well, the last time they played a NYD bowl game against a legit SEC team, one couldn’t ignore the reality that it was another year of against marque teams not named Notre Dame while the fanbase yearned for a season .
Despite the thumping at the end of the season, at least this season had an expiration date beyond Thanksgiving, and after the past two years that felt like a win. Of course, this was all overshadowed by the rumors surrounding RR’s potential termination and the deafening silence coming from AD David Brandon on the matter beyond “I’m evaluating the team as a whole.” This led to a clear distinction amongst fans – one side felt that and Brandon either relieve RR of his coaching duties or publicly support his continued employment, and the other side that felt rushing to a decision was too reactionary and that a more measured approach was necessary. All would acknowledge, though, that the uncertainty surrounding the program had an adverse effect on recruiting, as everyone was , hide your recruits from other schools poaching them. Committed kids like Dee Hart started to look elsewhere while recruits like Zettel chose other programs (at least in part) because they weren’t sure if RR was going to be there next year, and frankly it was hard to blame them.
Of course, this led to an unrelenting number of commentators and pundits creating
Even venerable MGoBlog, wasn’t immune, leading the creation of the CC tag for posts about a potential coaching change as a means of identifying at least some of the rampant speculation surrounding the head man for the Wolverines. And this level of confusion/misinformation wasn’t limited to traditional media sources; while bloggers called for their readers to , it was clear that nobody knew what was going to happen to the Michigan program, and that probably included Brandon. It was enough to make
What made the situation even worse was the poor planning that had seemingly been put toward a potential coaching search by those in the UM family, with the groupthink being that that Harbaugh was the guy and he would jump at the opportunity to coach his alma mater despite evidence that UM wasn’t the most attractive offer on the table. For all the UM fans had taken in recent years from Notre Dame’s schizophrenic coaching decisions, the botched handling of the situation so far by the AD left me wondering if this wasn’t that far off.
Hey, remember that bowl game UM was going to play? Remember how everyone was excited that the team would have 15 more practices to prepare, and how it would allow the coaching staff (especially GERG) to focus on a single team and really prepare for everything, possibly leading to the type of competent defensive effort this team hasn’t displayed since UConn to start the season (the only other time when the staff had over a month to prepare)? It wasn’t rocket-; you made the Bulldogs pay for blitzing on offense and brought the pressure on defense. Honestly, a brain-damaged Capuchin monkey with a smartphone could have figured that out. Yeah, about that…
. Okay, maybe that’s a bit too crude. It wasn’t quite prison-shower-scene style, but more like …. UM was dominated by the Bulldogs in a way that was more shocking than even what Wiscy and OSU had done in previous games because while those teams were a combined 22-2 and 2 of the best 7-8 teams in the country, MSU was a very beatable SEC team that (thanks in large part to MGoBlog’s obsessive analysis) had clearly defined faults that could be exploited.
Yeah, apparently this was all news to the coaching staff. After the first quarter the offense couldn’t score (thanks in no small part to the realization that even chip-shot FGs were full of ), and the defense was thrashed AGAIN with minimal resistance. It was the worst bowl loss in UM history, yet another chink in the once-impenetrable armor that surrounded the University of Michigan football program. And more than the just the numerical domination, watching this team being manhandled by the Bulldogs was just embarrassing – the team looked ill-prepared and lost at times out there, everyone waiting for Denard to just carry the team to a victory that wasn’t going to materialize. It was a fitting end to another season for the Wolverines, and to many signified the final nail in RR’s coffin.
It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)
After the Gator Bowl debacle, everyone braced for the announcement concerning the future of the program and where RR fit in. Most expected him to be fired, though a few held out hope (the author included) that he would be retained for another year to see how this team would perform with all the returning players. Plus, given that it was now about a month from Signing Day, it would be incredibly trying on a new coach to assemble his assistants, reach out to current commits AND snag some blue-chippers in a couple of weeks.
Harbaugh still looked like the leader in the clubhouse, with Brady Hoke and a gaggle of longshot , and the sentiment remained that once the job opened up to lead the Wolverines, Harbaugh would welcome the opportunity. I mean, it’s not like this transition wasn’t hammered out between the OSU game and January 1st.
Maybe the first clue that the power of Brandon’s might have been overstated a bit came from the frequent reports that Harbaugh was not sold on returning to UM; that he was weighing options in the NFL and even returning to Stanford. Then came tweets and articles from Fox Detroit and Michael Rosenberg that RR was fired, even though there had been no official word and wouldn’t be for at least one more day. This was an obvious formality and not a stay of execution for the Rodriguez era, and on Wednesday Brandon officially announced the termination.
Bang and Blame
So now a “national coaching search” begins on January 5th - ಠ_ಠ – and we are left again wondering what went wrong under RR and if this program’s recent instability was a blip or if it will be forever.
Personally, I think the key factor in the coaching search needs to be less about bringing in a “Michigan Man” – that anachronistic alliteration that makes Brady Hoke a legitimate candidate – and more on finding a coach who can work with the talent already in place and who understands how to run a defense/hire a competent DC. RR’s inability to find a non-Casteel Castell at Michigan, or at least allow a competent DC run his system, was the main force behind his .
The next coach, whether it be Harbaugh, Miles, Patterson, or whomever, needs to step into this situation and adapt quickly, hopefully winning along the way. Because what this whole experience has taught me is that despite our claims to the contrary, the average UM fan isn’t ly different than fans at other elite schools – they expect to win and have incredibly thin skin when they don’t, are largely resistant to change except if it works immediately, and are only as patient as is necessary before a “better guy” pops up.
Brandon put himself in this predicament by removing RR before a replacement was in place, so the pressure is squarely on him to deliver. Whether he does is open for debate, though my pessimism should not be dismissed as mere. Until proven otherwise, I view Brandon as an unknown commodity as an AD, and how he handles the next couple of days and weeks will define his tenure for years to come. Based on his business acumen and UM’s historic success, I am confident that Brandon will bring in the and return this program to national prominence, but if I’ve learned anything these past two months it is that such logical arguments are
Due to a cornucopia of issues the past couple of weeks, I couldn’t post a recap of the Illinois or Purdue games until this week. But in honor of ending two-year losing streaks to programs and/or coaches that sorely were in need of some comeuppance, I bring you this weekend’s win in West Lafayette, plus other notable games, as told in movies all about desert best served cold.
The Little Engine That Couldn’t
Coming of an emotional and record-setting performance against Illinois that netted the Wolverines the all-important 6th win, all the talk was about UM’s prolific offense slicing through the Purdue defense like a through, um, a porous defense. Not only was Denard, Tate and co. riding a wave of momentum after dropping 67 on the Illini the week prior, but the sheer number of injuries suffered by Purdue’s defense over the year led most observers to conclude that only those with a (or at least a fond distaste for his ACL) would ever decide to line up in the Boilermaker’s secondary. On offense, Purdue’s once-competent stable of QBs had been reduced to one guy with a sliced finger throwing/hurling dump-offs to the 4th-string QB after UM Justin Siller limped off the field with a, you guessed it, lower-leg injury injury. Plus, Danny Hope and his Moostache was riding a two-game winning streak against RR and UM, highlighted by some infamous trash-talking/detachment from reality -ed from Roy Roundtree’s *shocking* decision to choose a team and school he liked (UM) over one he didn’t (Purdue), as well as RR’s gall to point out that players not wearing the Maize and Blue should be suspended for bad behavior on the field. Against that backdrop, it came as no surprise that UM was looking for against the Boilermakers, and more than a few UM faithful were hoping that the team left a or 40 on Purdue’s scoreboard in the process.
Justifying the fears of some that Purdue should not be for granted despite their glaring flaws, Purdue forced a Denard fumble on UM’s first drive and was poised to capitalize. UM fans, burned so often by this team’s penchant for playing down to the competition, were at the when the Craig Roh burst through the line and slapped the ball from Dan Dierking’s gritty grasp and Cam Gordon oh my go…oh my go…run! run you beautiful little freshman run! to the endzone for a defensive touchdown. UM quickly followed that up with another touchdown after a shanked punt and all seemed right in the world.
But then the skies opened up like a from the heavens, turning an already-cruddy field into soup and the ball into (apparently) the slipperiest pigskin ever used in organized football. The teams proceeded to combine for another 8 turnovers, 4 each, as neither offense was able to sustain any momentum. Denard returned the defensive TD favor with a 94-yard interception return by Ricardo Allen, and this prompted Chris Martin to ramble on incoherently for 5 minutes about stuff not related to the continuing play on the field. Ryan Kerrigan, pulling off his best Brandon Graham circa-2009 impression and sprinkled with the right amount of Tebow divinity, was a , continuously harassing UM’s QBs to the tune of 4 sacks and at least 1 forced fumble. Neither Tate nor Denard were overwhelmingly effective in the sloppy conditions, and the offense kept giving short fields to Purdue. And yet, the on the defense never gave in, holding Purdue to FGs and turnovers where even a single TD could have led to calamity. The teams kept trading possessions without much scoring, as UM maintained a healthy but certainly not safe lead late in the game.
In the 4th Quarter, Will Hagerup boomed a 72 yard punt deep into Purdue territory, which Purdue’s offense inside their own 10 yard line. After a couple of stalled drives, UM marched down the shortened field for a TD by Hopkins, making it a 2-score game that was effectively a for Purdue’s comeback hopes.
The immediate response to this game spoke volumes about the toll the last few seasons have taken on the fanbase’s psyche. Some fans, including one Rogaine-deficient writer, called for RR’s head after another 5-turnover affair, while others pointed to the team’s 7-3 record and the improved play of the offense as signs of life. Legitimate questions were raised about this team’s inability to HOLD ON TO THE DAMN BALL and Denard’s current passing ability, and a similar performance against Wisconsin or OSU will render swiftly RR’s offense from terrifying to . Still, while it took a to sit through this game, it was the type of game that UM used to always win under past regimes and yet was one that has eluded RR so far; a messy, field-position contest where the offense does just enough and the defense holds the fort. Yes, Purdue’s ineptitude on offense helped, but the game never felt in doubt and, for a fan who lived through the past couple of years, that is enough. The players, especially on defense, should be this week, and hopefully that confidence will translate to improved efforts the next two weeks.
Now having vanquished two of the more nagging thorns in UM’s recent history, fans may be left wondering to whom they should direct their pent-up anger and rage toward now? Should they re-double their focus on Tressel or Dantonio? Perhaps set out on a new crusade to (metaphorically) Plaschke for his idiotic tweeting about Denard? Personally, I’ve decided that with bowl eligibility assured and some stability finally being in place for my beloved but recently-maligned alma mater, it is time to enjoy college football in the fall, reconnect with friends and loved ones, and become a better person filled with love in his heart and a hop in his step. Oh yeah, and also keep hating on Cam Newton and the rest of the SEC. Those guys are still jerks.
And As For the Rest of the Weekend
* I can only presume that the Hoosier football team was holding Bret Bielema’s favorite windbreaker and/or Packer’s Cheesehead for , as he thoroughly demolished Indiana 83-20, including scoring 45 points in the second half (including one FG late in the 3rd quarter). Give me back my stuff! indeed.
* Texas, continuing its season-long hangover from last year’s MNC loss, were shellacked by Oklahoma St. 33-16 in a game that wasn’t even that close. At least Texas fans can take a in the fact that this loss won’t even break the top-5 worst losses for the season.
* Finally, the Wildcats of Northwestern scored another impressive win in its inexplicable rivalry with Iowa, taking the lead with a very late TD pass from resident Dan Persa who, as the gods demand, immediately tore approximately 1 million tendons in his ankle and is done for the season. It’s a major blow to Northwestern’s fortunes, yet proves that the Angry Purdue ACL Hating God is not afraid to turn its jaundiced eye to the rest of the Big 10 after it ran out of victims in West Lafayette.
Note: If you find this even marginally funny, please tell me and I will continue them for the rest of the season.
I was going to create a Choose Your Own Adventure for this whole season, but then I realized the team was 5-3 and trying to rewrite history is better left for crappy movie adaptations of good books and romantic comedies. So starting from last Saturday’s loss to Penn St., you and YOU ALONE are in charge of how this season ends!
(okay, not really, but this is totally epic sounding. In fact, the only impact I’ll have on this season is if UM loses to Purdue, at which point I will recreate the following clip, but with GERG in the role of Will Ferrell.)
You are standing in front of your TV, mouth agape as a walk-on QB playing in his first game for PSU helps to shred UM’s defense along the way to a 41-31 loss in Happy Valley. Your wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/husband has gone into the other room to “check my e-mail” and “see about going out to brunch” with her/his parents on Sunday. Your dog, a loyal companion through it all, has spent the last hour trying to rest at your feet but is constantly interrupted by your loud and profanity-laced mood swings as the second half of the game played out. The chances that he will chew apart one your shoes while you sleep is approximately equal to the 3rd-down completion percentage by PSU this evening.
With the night still young, you have a couple of options. If you…
A) Give in to your growing ennui and curl up in the fetal position on the couch and watch reruns of Say Yes to the Dress with your wife/girlfriend, GOTO ENNUI.
B) Rage against the world by grabbing all of the alcohol from your refrigerator, including that novelty six-pack of Thanksgiving-style beer your uncle gave you in 2008, and dump it all into a bucket and chug away, GOTO BLINDER.
C) Fire up the laptop, jump on mgoblog.com, and go through every new Board and Diary post and blanket agree/disagree with the sentiment, GOTO ADDICT.
After watching the third straight episode with the “cliffhanger” about whether the girl will be able to afford her dream dress (hint: she can, even though it “totally” breaks her budget), you realize there is more to life. You look into your loved one’s eyes, see a bright and beautiful future filled with laughing children, romantic trips, and unicorns with rainbows for horns, and a hint of a smile slowly creases your lips. Then you remember J.T. Floyd giving a 15-yard cushion on 2nd-and-21 and scream out in agony “Why GERG why?” and fall into a quivering, whimpering heap.
12 hours later, you are wearing the same clothing as the night before and are sporting a very not George Michael 5 o’clock shadow while sitting across from your parents-in-law in a “cute” bistro in town. You chew on a piece of toast, and it tastes like sadness; your mimosa burns your throat like a million suns of despair; your eggs benedict are a little runny. GOTO WEEK-ILL.
Named after the effect it has on the imbiber, you guzzle this concoction until all you see are stars and that small purple elephant in a sweatervest that seems to pop up more the past few years. You then walk into the kitchen and proceed to have a nuanced and passionate discussion with your blender about how the 3-3-5 defense simply is not a suitable base formation for a defense with a below-average secondary and linebackers who have trouble maintaining their gap coverage and tackling in space. Later reports to the nursing staff at the hospital by your loved one characterize this conversation as “a bunch of grunts, cackling, and arm-waving like Steven Tyler during a live performance of ‘Janie’s Got a Gun’” followed by you head-butting the refrigerator and suffering a concussion. You are placed on the “physically unable to perform” list for home chores and the doctors suggest you turn to watching “something less stressful, like the UFC or dress shows” on the weekends for the rest of the season. THE END.
After dis/agreeing with every poster who calls for RR and/or GERG to be fired and questioning why you are still a fan for 4 hours, you go to YouTube and watch highlights of the New Math game against MSU until you pass out on your keyboard and begin to drool. At least that is your excuse you give the next morning for why this clip was playing in a loop when you were found in the morning. GOTO WEEK-ILL.
By Wednesday you are feeling better about the past weekend, as the cool fall air, left-over Halloween candy, and flood of rationalizations lead you to believe that the PSU game was an aberration of sorts.
- “Maybe McGolin is just a good QB. You know, he almost beat out Boldin to start the year. Plus, Martin was out for most of the game.”
- “It was a night game in Happy Valley, and there was some questionable officiating.”
- “The position changes are going to take time to fit in.”
- “JoePa just wins footbawwww Gameshesh at Penn STTAAAATTTTEEEE!!!”
The degree to which your mood has lifted is highlighted by your complete non-reaction to the news that JT Floyd will be out for the season due to injury. You think, “eh, I guess it doesn’t really matter who gives a 8-yard cushion to a receiver on 3rd-and-3. Might as well be a freshman.” Also, you take solace in the fact that the Angry Michigan Hating Secondary God is running out of victims, so it will hopefully move on to another team soon. Just to be safe, you stop by Bed, Bath, and Beyond on the way to work to pick up extra candles for your shrine to Charles Woodson, Leon Hall, and Ernest Shazor.
Your spirits are further lifted when the NCAA report is released on Thursday effectively eviscerating the Free Press’s hackneyed expose against the UM program and exonerating RR and the rest of the staff for what amounted to some extra stretching and someone watching practice who shouldn’t have been there. Against your better judgment, you visit the Freep website to see if they are printing a mea culpa. To nobody’s surprise, Rosenberg and the paper are sticking to their ridiculously misguided and hollowed-out guns.
This reminds you of the text-based adventure game Zork, in which Rosenberg is the troll standing in front of the bridge that you are trying to cross. After a number of syntactically-correct but apparently illogical commands such as “Show truth about non-countable hours” and “Question whether anonymous sources are disgruntled former players”, you would have simply turned off the game and went back to playing ColecoVision version of Frogger. Today, you just say “whatever” and figure you’ll never visit the site again unless Drew Sharp publishes something REALLY dumb. You expect to return in 3 days.
After sifting through the various Illinois previews that all point to UM losing the game, you realize that UM has been a favorite and lost, and upset as a dog, so you steel yourself for 400+ yards of rushing by the Illini and hope Denard and Co. can keep pace.
A) Believe that UM beats Illinois, GOTO ILL-WIN.
B) Believe that UM loses to Illinois, GOTO ILL-LOSS.
Scheelhaase throws only 8 passes all game (completing 6 for 150 yards and 2 TDs) and the Illini rushing attack eats up the UM defense. On the 8th missed tackle by Cam Gordon that lets a player get loose for another 10 yards, you yell to no one in particular that this game could not possibly get worse. Your significant other asks what quarter it is, and you realize there are 8 minutes left in the 1st half. Michigan keeps it close, but in an all-too-familiar script, UM falls behind early and the defense can never get off the field without giving up points. UM loses 44-30, and the pilot has definitely turned off the “Do NOT Panic” sign in the cabin. GOTO PUR-WEEK.
UM rushes out to a quick 14-0 lead as Denard houses runs on the first two drives after the defense records two (!) straight stops, one a punt and the other a fumble by Leshoure in the red zone. The Illini’s run defense, highly-ranked coming into the game, proves to be no match for the midline and the simple zone read as run by a Dilithium-infused QB. The Illini are also not helped by their head coach, who reminds people why he was fired by Florida and nearly canned by his current team by never throwing the ball even though UM puts 9 guys in the box. Illinois threatens throughout the game, though, and even ties it late at 31, but a 45-yard bomb to Junior Hemingway (!) gets the offense into the redzone, where Vincent Smith (!!) drives it home for the game-winning TD. UM fans across the globe let out a collective breath as the team becomes bowl eligible, making everyone a little sad when they realize how this used to be a foregone conclusion. GOTO PUR-WEEK.
Coming off an emotional home game against Illinois, all the talk turns to the Boilermakers and resident Village People Motorcycle Guy*stand-in Danny Hope’s decimation of a once-proud program. Coming off two straight losses to the Boilermakers (and unfortunate theme during RR’s term as head coach), UM will be looking for revenge in West Lafayette. As you guessed it last week but still is a shocker, but Drew Sharp AND Michael Rosenberg have disparaging things to say about the UM program and Rich Rodriguez. Combined, the articles include about 2.5 factually correct statements and/or opinions. Few people notice, though at least one brand-new MGoBlogger creates a post about it just so that people can rant. People scream “groupthink”, and we all tell them to shut up or else we’ll all neg-bang them.
All week fans hear about how bad Purdue is on offense and defense, how they have one of the worst offenses AND defenses in the conference. UM fans know that such stats mean nothing when playing UM’s defense, but spirits are still high. Based purely on the rate at which Purdue has been losing QBs this season, the starter for the game will be a true Sophomore Mechanical Engineering student named James Sampson who led his dorm team to the semi-finals of the Purdue Intramural Flag-Football playoffs. Despite the near-certainty that he will throw for over 250 yards and have a 3:1 TD:INT ratio and the game is on the road, this still looks like a near-certain win for UM. Plus, as I mentioned earlier, Danny Hope is still the coach.
A) Believe that UM beats Purdue, GOTO PUR-WIN.
B) Believe that UM loses to Purdue, GOTO PUR-LOSS.
Sampson does not disappoint, giving a shout-out to his ME peeps after his 3rd TD pass puts Purdue ahead to stay, despite a late UM drive to tie that ends with the incredibly predictable blocked 30-yard FG. All the custom-fitted cups in the world cannot protect you from the metaphysical dong punch that racks your body after this loss. Alcohol barely numbs the pain, but the dream of prehistoric otter-sized ennui setting in is the only release you seek. GOTO BLINDER.
Bowl hurdle overcome as well as a very rare road win, you are quietly content that UM will play beyond the OSU game. Beating Danny Hope 51-21, RR lets loose a trademark kinda-smile and GERG actually receives a complement in the press conference for “only making the walk-on look like an All-City QB out there.” Sunday is the most beautiful day of your life. Your breakfast tastes better than any meal you and I have ever tasted, members of the opposite sex seem particularly attracted to you. Your dog seems genuinely happy to see you when you walk into the room, not the faux interest-if-you-have-a-treat veneer it usually puts on. All is right in the world, and you prepare yourself for the next two games believing that UM is back on track, or at least no careening off the tracks into a school full of baby bunnies.
TO BE CONTINUED?
* Little known fact, his name is Glenn Hughes. Thanks Wikipedia!
In honor of Halloween and the equally-traumatizing game yesterday, I bring you this week’s recap as told classic scary movie posters. As always, I welcome comments and criticisms of my movie choices (and especially with scary movies, I will sometimes consider the acting quality in addition to the actual conduct when determining the level of terror associated with it)
The Horror in Happy Valley
Coming off two straight home losses and still smarting from last year’s demolition at the hands of the Nittany Lions, Michigan entered Happy Valley the day before with a mission: to exorcise last year’s and win that all-important 6th game and become bowl eligible after two straight losing seasons. And PSU seemed like a willing partner in this bit of history, as the Lions’ numerous injuries turned once-intimidating Beaver Stadium into a veritable . Not only that, but UM fans were expecting their resident Denard Robinson and the rest of the team to benefit from the rest afforded by the bye week. All pointed to a UM victory, which probably should have been a clue that this game was not going to be .
The first two drives were an of what lay ahead, as UM’s questionable play-calling on third down led to a quick three-and-out, followed up by the first (of what turned out to be many) long, soul-crushing drives by PSU. Led by their ginger, walk-on of a QB, Penn St. roared out of the gates, scoring TDs on 4 of their first 5 drives as Michigan’s defense couldn’t stop with a well-timed stop. To make matters worse, a seemingly fell over the offense, as it failed to generate sustained offense beyond two scoring drives, the futility highlighted by a muffed kick return by Jeremy Gallon that the Wolverines deep in their territory. Staring at a 28-10 deficit and PSU getting the ball to begin the second half, UM fans were in .
The situation only got worse as Penn St. took the opening kickoff of the second half straight down the field and tacked on a FG, ballooning the lead to 31-10 and sending even the most faithful fan into a of questions about this coaching staff and this team, highlighted by the lament of “where was this you call a defense and why doesn’t UM have one?” The team seemed , and the two most pressing question became whether this team would win another game all year and if brought on by copious amounts of alcohol would make the game more palpable.
But then a funny thing happened – the offense began to move down the field quickly, scoring on 3 straight drives and pulling within a TD late into the 4th quarter. Suddenly, one could hear of Wisconsin in 2008, when the plucky Wolverines stormed back and ripped victory from the of defeat. All the team needed was one stop, one PSU mistake. And despite a decent return on the ensuing kick-off, PSU was set to start from their own 35 when a went through every UM faithful’s spine: there was a flag on the play, a personal foul penalty that tacked on 15 more yards to the return on the eventual game-deciding FG drive. The offense tried valiantly to score on the next drive, but as a 4th down pass fell to the ground all hope of a comeback was .
That is the question on everyone’s lips once the lights went out in Happy Valley. Behind a beat-up line and a walk-on, first-time starter at QB, Evan Royster ran around, over, and thru UM’s front with little resistance while Matthew McGloin shredded the secondary with impunity. While poor defensive performances were certainly not to followers of this team, the ease by which PSU moved the ball was truly a . And the offense’s performance, despite some success in the second half, was a of the past few weeks – struggling to score until the team fell behind by double digits, then moving the ball reasonably well as they tried to come back.
So now the familiar questions about the coaching staff have returned; will to coach another year, or will to redemption be littered with more casualties. With Saturday’s game representing completion of the middle third of the season, this team’s future will likely be decided in the Horseshoe, as UM ends the season in Columbus against the Buckeyes. Winnable games against Illinois and Purdue loom the next two weeks, and Wisconsin comes to the Big House to end the home slate in three weeks. Will the for RR and/or GERG’s heads continue to get louder until it is a , or what fans the past three games is simply a rough patch for a maturing team poised to make a strong run to end the season? I don’t think anybody knows, even if they might claim a about how the season will end.
And Because You Read This Far, Some One-Liners About Other Games This Weekend
* The MSU Spartans, saddled with expectations for the first time since the Reagan administration, walked into a in Iowa City, as the shook off last week’s tough loss to the Badgers and demolished Sparty 37-6. indeed.
* I could make a snarky comment after Notre Dame’s heartbreaking loss to Tulsa and the even more painful loss of Crist for the whole season, but considering what happened to them this week my thoughts and best wishes go out to them instead.
Due to the not-overwhelming-but-still-pleasant response from last week’s Bruce Willis montage, I figured I would try this week to both recap the season so far in UM football, plus this past week’s prominent games, with one of America’s most storied thespians. Please feel free to comment away on the quality in the, um, well, comments section.
The Season So Far, or as I like to call it, the 6+1 Degrees of Kevin Bacon Recap
After two disheartening seasons, the talk at the end of last season was that Rich Rodriguez needed to start winning or else it would be the
for him in Ann Arbor. Reports during the offseason pointed to the offense making strides even while the defense suffered from a lack of depth and a dearth of talent at key positions. All was relatively quiet until
could be felt emanating miles away in a nondescript building in Detroit. This rumbling was caused by the furious digging of one misguided newspaper’s attempt to generate headlines (and relevance) by “exposing” the deep-rooted NCAA violations going on in Schembechler Hall. RR was characterized as a criminal guilty of
for what amounted to a couple of extra hours of stretching and some tangential football personnel watching unofficial practices and weight sessions. Undaunted by reality, pundits and reporters across the various media streams let loose with a flood of chest-thumping and invectives about the “transgressions” going on under RR,
with false accusations and fears of the
being handed down by the NCAA. The Internet’s reaction was, perhaps unsurprisingly, split, with some treating these accusations as gospel while others accused the media of being actors in a conspiracy that would make the
investigations seem like child’s play.
But as we all remember, not much came of it. Despite the accusations and rabid media treatment, the truth ultimately came out, leaving everyone with the impression that the author of the “expose” was just a
, and soon the focus turned to RR
with Denard Robinson as the starting QB. Perhaps not surprisingly, the message boards and radio stations were a veritable
of individuals questioning the wisdom in this move. But on a
day in the beginning of September, Robinson and the rest of the Wolverines cast aside the tumultuous
and blasted Connecticut. Next came Notre Dame and another epic performance by Robinson, as the sporting world began to wonder if he was UM’s
And as the team raced out to a 5-0 start despite games that would leave no fans
there was a sense that this season would not be the like the two previous, that UM was back as a national power.
Unfortunately, the last two games have tempered these expectations, as it became clear that this team, gutted by injuries, transfers, and other player departures, was lacking in
especially on the defensive side of the ball. The pundits and opposing fans, so quiet during the 5-0 start, are back out in full force, questioning whether RR will ever be able to win at UM. From their high horses,
apparently so clear that even the smell of hypocrisy cannot reach them, they have already begun the countdown to RR’s demise, even with nearly 1/2 a season to still be played.
for this team is probably somewhere between the 5-0 start and the 2-game losing streak.
this season is already a success. With youth dominating both sides of the ball, UM still features one of the most dynamic offenses in the country and a defense that, well, only sometimes drives me to nearly jump into a
Every Saturday so far
is filled with an optimism, a sense of possibility that was missing the past two years. It is the air UM fans used to take for granted, and even though this season probably won’t ever by confused with some of the
seasons of years past, it is hard not to see a bright future for this team no matter how much of a UM-hating
you may be.
This Week’s Games
It was a weekend of upsets,highlighted by the third #1 team in a row to fall to a ranked opponent. This time, the Oklahoma Sooners were knocked off by one of the
in the Big 12, Missouri. With yet another #1 falling, it begs the question how the BCS will shake out at the end of the year, especially with non-AQ teams like Boise St. and TCU
beneath an invisible glass ceiling by the BCS computers and pollsters [Ed-M: Not to mention a schedule that's not...how shall we say...
* Coming off a 3-game win streak and winds in South Bend once again filled with a
of a Return to Glory, spirits were high at Notre Dame as they welcomed the Midshipmen of Navy. 367 yards on the ground and a thoroughly dominating 35-17 win by Navy a couple of hours later, the college football world was reminded that anyone trumpeting the reemergence of the Domers as a national power was simply
* Other major upsets this weekend included
at two former stops for Greg “touch of GERG” Robinson as Iowa State besting Texas for the first time (!!) in team history, while a Scott Schafer-led Syracuse defense (!!!) held West Virginia to 14 points in a stunning 19-14 win. As with politics, I will leave the
discussion about the team’s defensive performance to others.
* In other games of note, both Iowa and LSU suffered from
at the coaching position, as questionable coaching decisions by the Mad Hatter and Kirk Ferentz late in their games may have cost them wins against Wisconsin and Auburn, respectively. Senator Tressel went
against Purdue after last week’s demoralizing loss to the Badgers, drubbing the Boilermakers 49-0. The only disappointment was that the Vest didn’t break out this routine on the sidelines late in the game. Hey, hey! What's this I see? I thought this was a party. LET'S DANCE!
Mark Dantonio and Michigan State continued their unlikely run toward a Big 10 title and MNC berth (!!!!) as they rallied late against Northwestern, who blew the upset even though the Spartans once down 17 points. With only Iowa likely standing between MSU and a perfect season, I will now fill my body with
lest I be subjected to even more Sparty gloating.
* To no one’s surprise, the first game in which the Minnesota Golden Gophers were
after the dismissal of Tim Brewster ended rather badly, with Penn State earning its first Big 10 win rather handily despite being outgained by 80 yards. Perhaps a eccentric former Texas Tech coach will be walking the sidelines next year, though in that case I would like to see a name change to the Golden