It's days like this that I envy Brian. He, as a blogger, has a great way of venting that is a great balance of emotions and statistical data. I don't have the time at this point in my life to give priority to writing a blog devoted to Michigan football, and the market on that topic has been very well cornered anyway. But after another game slips through the cracks, I have to offer my take on the situation just to get past it. My reaction to Michigan football has always been almost strictly emotional (as opposed to statistical or charting), so I will post my reflections in that vein.
As the game ended against Penn State and I drove home from BW3 where I was watching the game, I felt surprisingly unemotional. Usually I feel strongly one way or the other, but tonight it was like I knew what was going to happen even though it seems like Michigan should have an advantage on the field given the circumstances going into the game (Penn State injuries, walk on QB, etc.). I feel like I've seen this movie played out for the last 2.5 years. This loss is extremely frustrating because I've supported Rodriguez from day one, arguing with my father from almost the end of the year one about how Michigan would improve and that the valuable development earned in year one would eventually justify the rapid improvement that would happen in year one.
Even in my full support of Rodriguez, he has fallen below even my already shrunken expectations every year, including the first. I seem to find myself stuck between the two loudest group of commenters on mgoblog. The first group is the commenters who don't like Rodriguez, haven't from day one, but hide behind irrational logic like "this offense doesn't work in the Big 10," when they should just admit they don't like Rodriguez. To this group I would say that if you only offer criticism that is valid when Michigan wins as well as when it loses, you probably don't deserve the benefit of sharing those opinions/critiques.
Then, there is the overly optimistic group. I have no problem with being optimistic or supporting Rodriguez and the team. The problem I have is with the similarly irrational logic and constant dismissal of valid concern as well as repeatedly blaming problems on anyone but the coach, unless it's the last coach....
I find myself strangely in the middle. I came into this season cautiously optimistic and not liking the fact that I had no clue what team I would see or what results to expect. I guess I should have known in hindsight, but I fell for it again and got excited. I was almost done in last year after Illinois and Purdue. I'm afraid Penn State has done me in this year, because I don't see a likely win the rest of the way.
Even with my negative outlook on the rest of the season, I still maintain that the best case scenario is to win two more and bring Rodriguez back, but some of the things that are happening are his fault. Whether Rodriguez supporters like it or not, he made choices that impacted every issue this team has today. I can no longer simply excuse continual failure and blame it on someone or something else.
Furthermore, it is ridiculous to say that no one else could do better given the situation. That is insane. Good coaches build their success by getting results with subpar talent. Good coaches adapt to their situation and their personnel. Good coaches take responsibility and don't make excuses for what goes wrong in the program. You can make a strong case that Rodriguez has been weak in all of those areas. I choose to measure by results and if Michigan doesn't finish 7-5 I hope they decide to go a different direction, which pains me to say because with all the ridiculous criticism that has gone on, the spoiled part of the fanbase whining incessantly, the douschiness of opposing coaches and programs becoming what they have always accused M of, I really wanted to see Rodriguez have a long career here filled with success. Sadly what stands out in my head is the look of frustration displayed above, as well as similar looks of frustration, and I hate that that is how Rod may be remembered. Most of all I hate how losing makes idiots think they're right when they're just idiots.
Sorry if this was a waste. I think I feel a little better.
The Michigan Defense
There have been a lot of complaints from Michigan fans regarding John Beilein, his recruiting (won't cover this today), his coaching style, that he doesn't adjust enough and the fact that he seems to favor offense over defense (people complain similarly about Rich Rodriguez). I believe that last part in particular to be a myth. Let's explore coach Beilein's preference defensively before I jump to this year's results (this part will be obvious to those who have watched college basketball a long time).
Coach Beilein prefers to play man to man except after a made bucket in which he will switch to a 1-3-1 trap. He has also occasionally thrown a 2-3 defense into the mix (he did this more often before Michigan, probably because he didn't think his kids were quick enough to play man to man consistently). In fact, while John Beilein's offenses have been consistently excellent in offensive efficiency, his defensive schemes are arguably just as creative. But like everything in sports, creativity doesn't mean anything if things aren't executed properly and/or a team gets predictable.
In terms of this year, I have made comments here and there on game recaps as well as on the board that Michigan's defense has improved significantly. To give evidence of this, I'd like to compare the FG% from the first 10 games to the last 6, excluding cupcakes (Northern Michigan, Houston Baptist, Arkansas PB, Detroit, and Coppin State). After that, I'll share my observations of what I've seen done differently from a defensive standpoint.
Over the first 10 games Michigan played 6 legitimate opponents and those opponents shot 50% on average! That is atrocious put bluntly.
Over the last 6 games of which the last five have been legit (conference play), those opponents have shot 42.6%.
That's a significant drop and one reason why I think Michigan can still have a decent year, although it will definitely be an uphill battle.
Now I'm well aware that anyone can compare these numbers and reach a simple conclusion when obviously it's more complicated than just FG%. Michigan hasn't been blowing opponents away with the improved defense, and part of that may be the team practicing defense more heavily recently since they have been significantly less efficient offensively. I may cover the offense in general later, but for now I'll just pass along my observations on the change in defensive strategy.
In the first 10 games of the season, Michigan was playing man to man with the usual 1-3-1 trap after a made bucket and only a little had they sprinkled the 2-3 in the mix. Their man to man was atrocious, and I'm being generous. They weren't pressuring ball handlers well and the help side was often non-existent. When they happened to get on even a little bit of a roll offensively, they would throw the 1-3-1 out there and it actually was often worse than their man to man defense.
I'd like to interject here and say that in high school one of our main rivals played a 1-3-1 trap. The goal of this defense is to get into passing lanes and trap every corner. Michigan's problems with this defense have been at the top of the defense. They weren't trapping aggressively enough and because of that there was a lot of space in the gaps of the defense for open shots or lay ups. I'd like to mention that this defense worked much better last year.
So what has improved lately? Coach Beilein has reeled in the 1-3-1 trap for the most part (except for a few possessions a game) and played man to man almost exclusively. They've still had some trouble with the help side, but they are pressuring the ball much better as well as limiting open shots. I would speculate that coach Beilein has emphasized the defense a lot more in practice as well as simplifying the defense (something my high school coach did as well). I am of the opinion that coach Beilein isn't the problem with the inconsistency of our team because I have seen numerous adjustments in all facets of the game just this season. Now on to a brief observation on Manny.
To be honest, as I was watching the Indiana game last night, my opinion of Mr. Harris seemed to change frequently throughout the game as it has all season (to clarify, I'm referring to his play and not him as a person). In my opinion, he has the most potential and talent on the team. The problem is that he doesn't seem to play hard all the time and his mental errors have proven to be killer at times. If he isn't dominating off the dribble, he seems to get lost too easily.
Let me elaborate a bit on that last point; It was noticeable the change in fluidity of the offense when Harris was benched for Vogrich last night, so the greater question might be what was Vogrich doing differently? I would answer by simply saying: hustle. Vogrich cuts as hard as he can and moves much better without the ball, and because of that finds himself making plays where Manny almost never has.
Manny can sometimes clog the offense by just "hanging around" the wing or by dribbling into trouble and I've rarely seen him cut hard to the bucket this season. I may sound a little harsh, but Coach Beilein has actually adjusted the offense to accommodate his skills. In Beilein's core system the ball will rarely touch the floor, but with Manny and Sims there have been a lot more isolation, pick and roll, and post up plays. I'm glad he did because it would have been stubborn not to, and as a result Manny has been able to take over games.
In terms of the future, I think Manny will need to develop better habits in some of the gritty aspects of the game. Whether he's vocal or not his teammates view him as a leader and his play is contagious. The key to the season is to keep up the defense they've played lately and getting their offense back to the efficiency they had at the beginning of the season (basically less turnovers).
Well, hopefully this wasn't a waste of space and let me know if I can evaluate other topics surrounding basketball in the future. At least I enjoyed it.
(Note: This is my first diary and I'm relatively new to the mgocommunity. This is simply a portrait of my experiences within Michigan football and The Rivalry).
On The Eve of Battle
Today Michigan football is in a dark space. Hopes that flew beyond control early in the season have all but been brought to earth. In a way, I think everything that has happened has set Saturday's game up to be a barn burner. For one, the game is at noon, and even though I think the game was at noon last year it has been taken out of that slot in years past (unfortunately IMO). For all intents and purposes OSU has nothing to play for and they are doing their best to try to hype this game up, despite the fact that they are disrespecting the game by wearing those God awful throwbacks. That point aside, they've won The Game the past five years, they've wrapped up the Rose Bowl, and Michigan is on a skid to say the least. For all intents and purposes this game should not be close.
The beauty of it is that games aren't played on paper. On this very site there have been posts, and diaries, and threads all dedicated to breaking down every game in every way possible. I do this myself. It's only human nature to try to give oneself control and perspective in a situation where they have no direct impact on the outcome.
I've been a Michigan fan for as long as I can remember. I've been to The Big House a handful of times and hugged or high-fived complete strangers after every big play. I've shared in the heart breaking and soul crushing defeat when we outplayed Colorado only to have a hail mary answered (along with Mo going for two too damn much). When I found out Lloyd was retiring and Rich Rod was taking over I was excited and that excitement only increased after we dethroned Tebow in the Capital One Bowl showing an offense that had never been more exciting in the Carr era.
I didn't expect 2008 to go as bad as it did, but I wore my Michigan sweatshirt to work almost everyday in broad view of my coworkers at 4 a.m., many of home root for MSU or other schools. Continuing into this year, I have watched every game even to the point where I couldn't watch anymore. My story is only one in a million other stories told here and elsewhere that make my heart swell with pride to be a Michigan man even in the dark times.
It is just football to some, and I don't lose my perspective on life (at least I don't think) as I am active in ministry (that's the only mention I will make of religion going forward), but to me Michigan football is so much more. At times my obsession with Michigan football seems more like a drug than a medicine, especially in the dark times surrounding the program. It is still a diversion from some of the things happening in my own life, and for that I am greatful, as I lost the aforementioned job and live in Michigan where jobs are about as common as wins over the Buckeyes this decade (and don't think that didn't sting to type).
The one thing that really irks me though, is why I can remain supportive of our coach and team when so many others reflect their pain into the program, seemingly trying to rip it apart. My diary will not change that fact, and it will also not affect the outcome of tomorrow's game at high noon. I do have an illogical hope, however, and it is a seemingly baseless hope. Even ripped apart as I have felt since MSU as well as feeling hopeless since Illinois, I have felt some source of inspiration this week. I have told myself that it's just my Michigan bias combined with my Buckeye hate, and that still could be true, but I have come to the boards here and found similar hope.
I can't lie and say I haven't been critical of Rodriguez, but I have never thought it wise to fire him and never thought it a good thing to let my criticism affect my support. Though the predators in the media and in the Hell that is Coumbus are waiting for another opportunity to strike Michigan and coach Rod another blow, I am making an appeal on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the '69 rebirth of Michigan football.
Though we have no direct role in the outcome, I know the true fans will be doing everything they can to transfer their passion to the players. As much as we can we should not worry about the implications a loss or win can mean. I can only hope that the passion I feel is matched in preparation, in practice, in the locker room and in the game. I think the problems that have arisen have to do with the expectations we have all had being spoiled for too long. We will succeed again.
After the game tomorrow I will still wear my Michigan gear with pride, and not just because we have a good basketball team. Regardless of outcome, let's keep things in perspective and realize that as bad as things seem we will beat the Bucks again, be it this year or next year or in twenty. I only ask that we do what we can to support the team without letting our emotions cause us to put our energy in the wrong places. If you are putting energy into getting coach Rod fired, that is energy wasted that could be spent cheering the team on. I'd rather be positive when I don't have control than negative.
That's all I have to say, other than: Go Michigan! Beat the Bucks!
(hope this wasn't a waste of space, but if it is I will go back to just enjoying others content; I feel too strongly about tomorrow not to pass on my hope)