"Northwestern fans can be both heartened and disheartened by the loss to Minnesota just like how nineteenth-century resurrectionists were heartened when they pried a heart from a freshly-buried corpse and then disheartened it when they sold it to a disreputable anatomist."
Five times so far as a Michigan quarterback, Denard Robinson has been at the helm in the final four minutes of a game with Michigan either trailing or tied. When the game is not played at Iowa City he has fared, er, not too poorly in those spots:
|comp||att||pass yds||TD||INT||rushes||rush yds||rush TD||Game Outcome|
|2010 @ ND||5||6||55||0||0||6||17||1*||Won, 28-24|
|2010 @ Ind||1||1||42||0||0||4||31||1*||Won, 42-35|
|2011 vs ND (a)||2||3||48||1**||0||2||10||0||NSFMF...|
|2011 vs ND (b)||2||3||80||1*||0||0||0||0||Won, 35-31|
|TOTALS||10||13||225||2||0||12||58||2||3 wins, 0 losses|
*-Winning score **-Winning score NSFMF
Those are numbers and accomplishments that any QB, including Brady and Manning, would die to have. Even if against not-exactly 2011 LSU or Bama defenses. But that's not Denard's fault is it.
Now. Denard's other two times leading M in the final four minutes when trailing or tied have both occurred at Iowa against the Hawkeyes. Different passing success, different outcomes:
|comp||att||pass yds||TD||INT||rushes||rush yds||rush TD||Game Outcome|
|2009 @ Iowa||1||2||17||0||1#||1||7||0||Lost, 30-28|
|2011 @ Iowa||4||12||63||0||0||0||0||0||Lost, 24-16|
|TOTALS||5||14||80||0||1||1||7||0||2 losses, 0 wins|
#-Ended Michigan's last chance to win
To be fair, Denard's passing numbers on the last drive this past Saturday were plenty good enough right up until Roundtree was tackled on the 3 — 4/8 for 63 yards. That's pretty good when you're starting on your own 18 with 2:15 left and only one timeout. With just a bit more time, or another timeout, would Borges have called a rollout or designed Denard run, as Rich Rodriguez instantly did in 2010 at both ND and Indiana when UM gained a first down inside the 5 with just under 30 seconds to go? One would like to think yes, but we are talking about Al Borges here. Do you think RR would have called for a Denard sweep on that 1st-and-goal on the 3 with 0:16 left and no timeouts? I wouldn't have bet against it. That's probably exactly what Iowa was fearing the most.
Adding the two charts together, in his five opportunities to pull off a Tom Brady-style comeback at the end of a game, Denard is 15/27 for 305 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT -- good for an NCAA passer rating of 167.5.
Results-based world, results-based blog -- don't throw asterisks on the Gallon play vs ND, or the jumpball to Hemingway at the end of Indiana last year. A 168 passer rating in such situations is glistening. Add to that 5 yards per rush, including two game-winning TD runs, and WTF. For a livin' fact, Denard can pass the football and lead a team at crunch time.
Uhh, just not from inside the 5-yard-line, only from the pocket.
Oh, to have had 10 more seconds on the clock or another timeout last Saturday -- or someone other than Uncle Fester calling those final damn four plays.
Mark Dantonio has now coached in five Michigan-Michigan State games. If you're wondering whether UM's players have justification to start feeling a bit like a roughed-up MSU dorm-hall coed and her friends, you're right.
Inglorious stats from the past five Michigan-Michigan State games, if I gleaned the play-by-play logs accurately:
|YEAR||MSU PFs||MSU RPs||MSU UCs||MSU all 3 combined||UM all 3 combined|
PF = personal foul RP = roughing the passer UC = unsportsmanlike conduct
Basically, Dantonio's Spartans are going to play like a bunch of hooligans when Michigan plays at Michigan State -- 11 personal fouls and 3 roughing-the-passer penalties in three games played at Spartan Stadium. And in the past three Michigan games alone, the Spartans have committed 9 personal fouls, 3 roughing-the-passer penalties and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. (By comparison, Michigan has committed 2 such penalties in the past thee games, and 5 in the past 5 Michigan State games.)
All this excludes the chop-block penalty incurred late last year on Michigan State, which crushed Mike Martin's leg -- a vicous attempt to injure -- and excludes the likely suspension coming to Gholston on Monday.
Maybe we've all got it wrong, however.
Maybe Dantonio isn't modelling his football program after Jim Tressel's at Ohio State's; rather, maybe he's patterning it on Dennis Erickson's notorious Miami-Florida teams of the early 1990s. True, Saturday's total of four personal fouls and two roughing-the-passer penalties isn't nudging up next to Miami's bellwether game when it comes to notoriety -- the 1991 Cotton Bowl, when Erickson's Hurricanes were flagged 10 times either for personal fouls or unsportsmanlike conduct in a 16-penalty victory over Texas. But six ugly penalties is in the ballpark, let's not sell Gholston and co. short.
More encouragingly, Dantonio's players have only a short ways to go to match those Hurricanes' worst off-field crime incident. The Hurricanes weren't wearing ski masks or roughing up co-eds, but back in their bad-ass heyday some 40 Miami players were involved in an on-campus disturbance that could be put down only by 14 squad cars worth of cops and a police dog.
But here's where you can be proud, Sparty. When Sports Illustrated wrote an open letter to Miami's president in 1995 compelling him to shut down his renegade football program, the author cited a Miami Herald story in which it claimed -- in shocking italics! -- that "No fewer than one of every seven scholarship players on last season's team has been arrested while enrolled at your university." Hell, everyone knows the 2009 Sparties had that beat by a mile after ski-maskgate.
As for Miami's other records of notoriety, maybe next year, Hurricanes. Er, Sparties.
One, I'm probably one of those guys here last fall who made Brian do the GI Joe "Kung Fu Grip" thing with his fists.
Two, I pissed off many here with my-Aykroydian Point/Counterpoint response to someone's diary post last November, here, in which I attempted to quantify why despite all the glorious yards last year's offense racked up, it wasn't great, or even good. Scoring DOES SO matter -- you're dead wrong on that point, Brian. It's the whole point of the exercise on offense -- to score. And amazingly, as I pointed out last fall, last year's team wasn't any better at scoring in the first halves of Big Ten games than the 2008 Sheridan/Threet offense. For pointing that out, I was emaciated for my "dishonest" and unfair and amateur statistical acumen, and for my selectivity in looking up only first-half stats of Big Ten games when my intention was to, uh, look up the first-half stats of Big Ten games -- when the damn things tended to be decided in the RR era.
Third, for those who don't know, and despite my criticisms of the 2010 offense in particular, I was and remain a big supporter of Rich Rod's. The guy got a bum deal, was undermined from the get-go. And I wanted his spread offense to fly -- like so many of you, I was way more than ready for its arrival. But all his sins on defense (primarily his selection of, and handling of, his defensive coaches) count as one of his two biggest self-inflicted wounds. The other was his inability to get his team -- even his beloved, potentially dazzling offense -- to play without making so many inevitable killer mistakes (and on offense, not just mistakes by his first-year QBs). There was a disconnect between what he was trying to accomplish on offense and defense.
The 2010 offense:
In November I wasn't, and still am not, prepared to say the 2010 M offense was great. Or even good. It's a results-based world, folks, and last year RR's offense made so many mistakes -- by second- and third-year starters, not just Denard -- that it did not score enough when the game was in the balance. Because when it mattered against the five toughest Big Ten opponents (MSU, Iowa, PSU, Wisc, OSU) -- that is, when the game was anybody's to win early on in those games -- the Michigan offense wasn't good. Wasn't good at scoring. And more often than Brian and many of you probably think, or are willing to admit, it wasn't even often good at moving the damn ball at all. Just as often happened in 2009 in such games, Michigan's get-go success in the first half at moving the ball vs The Big FIve of the Big Ten didn't result in many points, didn't last, and would usually result in the offense going stone cold before halftime. Meantime, of course, our defenders played as 11 turnstiles under some awful coaching. Result? Huge halftime deficit. Happened in all five of those games last fall. But, boy, when we fell behind by two to three touchdowns, hooboy! Our offense became an unstoppable buzzsaw, right? Well, except against MSU and Ohio State. But, hey, everybody wants to believe that no one could stop the offense in the second half, so I'll leave it alone.
And so. To the real point of this diary....
Earlier today, I read Brian's most recent post on Denard and the shotgun, in which he revisited this whole issue, and said in part: "There are three reasons for the gap between points and yards: field position, field goal kicking, and turnovers. The latter two combined to see Michigan's redzone scoring rate rank 109th nationally. The first two are almost entirely out of the offense's control...."
I recall having the feeling last fall that the lack of a decent field goal kicker wasn't that awful an issue, because it seemed we were often converting those fourth-downs when a normal team would attempt a field goal. Today I decided to peruse the play-by-play of the eight Big Ten games last fall to see if that hunch was correct.
It was ... more than even I dared believe.
By my count from the official play-by-play logs, the Michigan offense attempted 16 fourth-down conversions in Big Ten play last fall. Nine were either obvious go-for-its (e.g. trailing by 21 to MSU in the 4th quarter, with a 4th-and-10 on the MSU 28, when every team in America would eschew the FG attempt), or UM was not in FG range (e.g. at Purdue, 2nd quarter, 4th-and-1 at UM 46).
The other seven fourth-down attempts I am dividing into two groups: (1) FG is the likeliest option and only a riverboat gambling coach or a team without a FG kicker would go for it, and (2) FG is only a possible option, either because it'd be very long, or because there was only 1 yard to gain for a first down so going for it is a viable option. The results:
|FOE||QUARTER||SCORE||4th and ...||4th DOWN OUTCOME||DRIVE OUTCOME|
|MSU||1st||0-0||3 @ MSU 28||4-yd rush, 1st down||FG|
|Illinois||2nd||14-21||6 @ Illinois 30||Incomplete||Illinois takes over|
|OSU||1st||0-0||8 @ OSU 28||Incomplete||OSU takes over|
|FOE||QUARTER||SCORE||4th and ...||4th DOWN OUTCOME||DRIVE OUTCOME|
|Iowa||1st||0-0||1 @ Iowa 29||8-yd rush||M touchdown|
|PSU||2nd||7-14||1 @ PSU 13||3-yd rush||FG|
|Illinois||2nd||7-14||9 @ Illinois 33||complete for TD||M touchdown|
|OSU||2nd||0-10||2 @ OSU 34||complete for 13||M touchdown|
Bottom line? If we had tried FGs on all seven of those drives last year, even if we had Adam Vinatieri circa 2002 [Ed-M: or Jason Hanson, ever. /Lionsfan] and he went 7-for-7, the most UM could have scored was 21 points.
As it was? UM got 27 points out of those drives. Six more points.
1. We were all correct when we began screaming early last season for Rich Rodriguez to just go for it on 4th down every time in the red zone.
2. Brady Hoke should continue this practice, forever, unless Adam Vinatieri [/Hanson] can lose 10 years off his legs and regain some college eligibilty.
3. So much for the lack of a FG kicker hurting the offensive scoring output of last year's offense, because it actually HELPED it to score more points than it would have otherwise.
4. Brian is down to two factors to explain UM's lack of offensive scoring output -- poor field position, and turnovers.
We can all dredge up whatever stats we want to, but seven months of digesting last fall's regular season has led me to this conclusion: RichRod's spread offense is a thing of beauty ... when it works. His version of the spread, with his UM players, seemed to work best against bad defenses, and bogged down when it mattered against decent to good defenses. It was sometimes a sumbitch of an offense last year in the second half, when UM usually trailed and trailed badly. But you can't find any statistic to explain how a team with a three-score lead plays softer on D, which schematic decision plays right into the spread offense's strategic aims. That, to me, explains to a certain extent why last year against Big Ten teams UM in the second half scored touchdowns more times (16, excluding Illionis OTs) than it punted (12). On its own that is an amazing statistic. But it's more than offset by the fact that in first halves, UM scored 12 TDs compared to 14 punts, 6 lost fumbles and 5 INTs; FGs made and missed were even, shockingly (3-3).
The lack of a decent RB and the mistakes -- the damn inevitable mistakes -- are what kept RichRod's offense last year from greatness. Not the defense. Go pore over the play-by-play of the MSU, Iowa and Ohio State games. Those games were there for the taking until midway through the 2nd quarter. Even the Penn State and Wisconsin games were close at that point. But then the M offense sputtered and became almost as dead as the defense until halftime in those games.
The UM defense actually played pretty well in the 1st quarter of the MSU, Iowa and Ohio State games. Look it up. Indeed, there was nothing in those pivotal three losses to prevent UM from jumping out to a big lead and forcing the other team to play catchup .. except a good or great scoring offense.
Might this year's team, with a grizzled Denard, have truly been dynamic -- "great"? If a real Big Ten-quality RB had emerged, and RR was able to drastically reduce all the damn mistakes, then yes, it very well could have. Alas.....
The Jim Tressel years at Ohio State, from a Michigan fan's perspective, as told through all Rolling Stones U.S. studio album titles (though the albums are not in chronological order)*:
*-warning: some reaches are shoulder-separating in nature
England's Newest Hitmaker: OK, Ohio's. Only variation here. With the Ohio State football fortunes reeling in January 2001, head coach John Cooper is finally fired after 13 seasons of disappointments, great expectations and ultimately false promise. Enter Jim Tressel.
Beggars Banquet: The night of his hiring, he attends an OSU basketball game and promises the crowd they'll all be proud of their Buckeyes in the classroom, in the tattoo parlors and, most especially, at the auto dealerships. Or something like that.
Between the Buttons: Woody Hayes' trademark game-day fashion statement was short-sleeve shirts — no matter the month, no matter the weather. Tressel decides his will be a sweatervest.
Emotional Rescue: Tressel comes through with a huge upset win in Ann Arbor in his first game against Michigan in 2001. It is Ohio State's first win at Michigan in 14 years, and denies Michigan a Big Ten championship and BCS berth. Buckeye Nation rejoices.
A Bigger Bang: What could Tressel do for an encore? Only go 14-0 and win the national championship.
Out of Our Heads: The 2002 Michigan at Ohio State football game. UM fans escape with their lives, some barely, after the worst treatment ever accorded visiting fans at a Big Ten football game. Before and after, thousands of piss-drunk wrist-draggers unleash waves of vandalism, violence and urine along the Olentangy, as Columbus police pepper-spray the unruly mobs. Oddly, the Columbus Chamber of Commerce does not brag about this day in its brochures.
Bridges to Babylon: Even before the title game against Miami, Tressel's star player — freshman running back Maurice Clarett — starts coming unhinged. Then in the off-season it comes out that Clarett was on the take from boosters, for thousands of dollars, as OSU would later reveal. Tressel pleads ignorance throughout. In retrospect, this is where he began selling his soul, as he'd done at Youngstown State. Clarett gets suspended, then eventually kicked out of school, after which he tries to sell out the school and AD, but Tressel's teflon is brand new and works magnificently. Nothing to see here, move along.
Sticky Fingers: In an October 2003 night game at Wisconsin, after the whistle blows on a non-descript play, OSU linebacker Robert Reynolds just can't seem to pry his Spock death-grip off the throat of Badgers QB Jim Sorgi, injuring his trachea, rendering him unable to speak and struggling to breathe. Sorgi can't play the rest of the way but Wisconsin wins anyway.
Their Satanic Majesties Request: The entire Michigan team and its entourage, without any advance notice, are detained entrance at the gates of Ohio Stadium before the 2004 game. The buses empty, while security personnel and bomb- and drug-sniffing dogs look slowly and intently for Osama Bin Laden, as Michigan's young team is left surrounded by the venomous wrist-draggers.
Undercover: Less than a month after coming out of nowhere on the OSU roster to beat Michigan in that 2004 game, QB Troy Smith is found to have taken money from a booster. He is suspended for the bowl game, and Tressel (who claimed to know nothing about it) doesn't start him early in 2005.
Goat's Head Soup: In the 2006 #1 vs #2 showdown game, Michigan trails only 35-31 when eventual Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith runs out of bounds near midfield, far short of a first down on a 3rd-and-long. But Michigan's Shawn Crable plays the goat, hitting Smith in the head as he goes out of bound — either hard enough to warrant a penalty or not, depending on your maize-and-blue glasses. that puts Michigan in the soup after the 15-yard walkoff. OSU wins 42-39.
Black and Blue: Michigan's senior offensive stars, QB Chad Henne and RB Mike Hart, are black and blue and barely able to play in the 2007 Big Ten title showdown at Ann Arbor. Ohio State cruises to a 14-3 win, Lloyd Carr's final game at the Big House. But for the second straight season, the Buckeyes are beaten black and blue by an SEC team in the BCS title game, last year Florida, this year LSU.
Let it Bleed: Tressel's Buckeyes pulverize Rich Rodriguez's Wolverines in 2008 and 2010, and even though in 2009 the Wolverines play over their heads, they still turn it over five times in a 21-10 loss. After the win in 2010, Tressel's winning streak vs Michigan increases to 7, and his record against the Wolverines improves to 9-1.
December's Children: In the last month of 2010, the FBI tips off Ohio State (conveniently, eight months later and only a couple weeks after the football season) that five Ohio State players have sold trinkets and other items in exchange for tattoos at a notorious Columbus tattoo parlor. With the lobbying help of Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney, the five players are allowed to still play in the Sugar Bowl against Arkansas, and will instead serve five-game suspensions to start 2011.
12x5: Against Arkansas, 12 points total are scored by the Tat Five, and Ohio State wins the Sugar Bowl, 31-26.
Dirty Work: In March 2011, Yahoo.com learns that an internal audit of emails by Ohio State lawyers — as part of their self-examination to satisfy NCAA investigators — has revealed that Jim Tressel knew of the Tat Five incident back in April 2010, yet did not inform anyone at the university, then lied in September and again in December about having been aware the whole time. This deceit thus allows the Tat FIve to play every game in 2010.
Some Girls: Before Yahoo can post its report, Ohio State beats them to the punch by conducting the Worst. Bad Announcement. Press Conference. Ever. Bar. None. In an incomprehensibly incompetent display of contrition, accountability, honesty, intelligence, PR savvy and masculinity — the likes of which might never be seen again — OSU president Gordon Gee, AD Gene Smith and Tressel put on tutus and slippers, assume first position, stare into the mirrors and dance around everything.
It's Only Rock and Roll: The media can't let this go now— they all are salivating at the chance to uncover what these bozos at the press conference were clearly trying to gloss over. Investigations are rockin' and rollin' come April. And we like it. Even the (news desk of the) Columbus Dispatch gets into the FOI game. Tressel is found to have lied at the news conference when it is learned he forwarded the April 2010 tipoff email about the Tat Five to QB Terrelle Pryor's 'handler' back in Pennsylvania.
Tattoo You: And you, and you, and you, and you. In May 2011, Sports Illustrated sends to Columbus a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, an expert in college sports corruption. He discovers, among other things, that many more OSU football players, going back many more years, have been trading trinkets and even loads of their football equipment at two local tattoo parlors, in exchange for tattoos and even pot.
Voodoo Lounge: The current tattoo parlor du jour is described by SI sources to be a favorite hangout of many Ohio State football players, where they go to lounge around, play video games and who knows what-all.
Exile on Main St.: The damning SI article is the tipping point. Ohio State cuts Tressel loose.
Steel Wheels: With a suspended driver's license, Terrelle Pryor drives to the team meeting at which Tressel informs his charges he has resigned. It is the fourth or fifth known loaner car, or bargain car, Pryor has driven while in Columbus, the worst kept secret in town. Many other Ohio State players and their families have been getting ridiculously good deals at a couple of local car dealerships for years, as former OSU WR Ray Small bragged in the days before Tressel's canning. And OSU compliance doesn't know anything about it, only they do because the salesman in question says he has spoken with OSU's head of compliance in great detail about it all on the phone some 50 times.
Aftermath: Tressel's name is mud, permanently. And in something only Dickens could dream up, a Luke Fickell is the new head football coach at Ohio State. Well, interim head coach.
Now: As the NCAA investigators recomb Columbus, sure to find more, the Michigan fanbase can repair its heart of stone. Ten years of pain and 19 nervous breakdowns later, we have got our Satisfaction. He couldn't hear the NCAA knocking, but no sympathy for this devil. Best of all, they'll never make a saint of him.
There was an episode of The Twilight Zone in 1961. At the outset, we are introduced to a Mr. Hector B. Poole — played by the original Durwood from Bewitched — who is on his way in to work when he tosses a coin into a newsie's cashbox. The coin stands on its end, and stays that way. Instantly, Mr. Hector B. Poole can hear everyone's unspoken thoughts. A loan manager at a bank, Poole that day saves the outlet from a disastrous loan default when he 'hears' a respected businessman tell himself he's going to take the ostensible business loan and go gambling with it. By workday's end, Poole 'hears' his boss's plans to meet up with his young squeeze on the side, and Poole shrewdly blackmails him into giving him a big promotion. After leaving the office triumphantly, Poole tosses another coin into the same newsie's cashbox — and knocks over the coin that had been on its edge all day. Hector B. Poole can no longer read minds.
"One time in a million, a coin will land on its edge," series creator and narrator Rod Serling says in the epilogue. "But all it takes to knock it over is a vagrant breeze, a vibration or a slight blow. Hector B. Poole — a human coin, on edge for a brief time ... in The Twilight Zone."
This classic episode came to mind at some point near the end of the Troy Smith years of the Jim Tressel era at Ohio State. Maybe it was during the first half of the 2006 showdown, when Smith was as by-god good as any college quarterback I'd ever seen. Again. For the third time. I think that was when it first occurred that Tressel's two best quarterbacks to that point — Craig Krenzel and Smith — were flukes. Neither got his big chance because Tressel figured he was the best quarterback at the start of his breakthrough season. Or, in Krenzel's case, even the second best.
But this incredible string of luck for Tressel didn't end there. Right up until the past couple of months, when it came to his quarterbacks, Tressel was Hector B. Poole. He threw a coin into the quarterback cashbox in November 2001, and it stood on its side for the next 10 years. To wit:
In Tressel's first year, 2001, all Buckeye fans were over-the-moon ecstatic after the autumn press conference at which the then most-heralded HS QB in Ohio history, Justin Zwick, announced he was Columbus bound. All Tressel and OSU had to do was get through the rest of the miserable 2001 season with inconsistent, mistake-prone senior Steve Bellisari at QB, then Zwick would take over in 2002 — because, the belief went, the cupboard was empty at QB after Bellisari. And this kid Zwick was as can't-miss as they come.
Some 10 days before the 2001 Michigan game, Bellisari was caught DUI on campus and suspended for the next two games. Scott McMullen, the backup, started the penultimate regular-season game against Illinois and was terrible. Clipboard-holidng 3rd stringer, Craig Krenzel, was given a chance as Illinois was blowing out the Buckeyes in Ohio Stadium. He fared a bit better. With Bellisari still suspended, Krenzel got the start the next week in Ann Arbor. We all know what happened then. Krenzel does his thing, is surprisingly efficient and accurate and avoids the big mistakes — ie, Tressel-ball — and a star is born. If Bellisari never had driven drunk, odds are Krenzel never does anything but hold a clipboard or motion in signals for the rest of his Ohio State football career.
Yet come fall 2002, many OSU fans still want the phenom Zwick to start right out of the gate, but Tressel finally goes with the junior Krenzel. We all know what happened in 2002. Krenzel plays solidly if not ever spectacularly, but is amazingly clutch at the right times, and the Bucks go 14-0 and win the national title.
Krenzel of course is QB for his senior year too in 2003, but gets outplayed by John Navarre in the big 100th Big One showdown in Ann Arbor.
Come fall 2004, Buckeye Nation anxiously awaits for the Zwick era to, at last, gloriously begin. One problem. He's terrible. He's big, lumbersome (6-4, 225), not very accurate and surprisingly weak-armed. Tressel, though, still thinks Zwick gives OSU the best chance to win in 2004. Zwick gets OSU off to a stumbling 3-3 start, including losses at Northwestern and an absolute blowout loss at night at Iowa. Buckeye Nation wolves are out, in force. Was 2002 just a one-season fluke? Is Tressel over his head? The Great God Tressel panics. With Zwick dinged up, Tressel decides to bench him come November, and installs a completely new offense late in the season, behind a new QB — a desperate gamble to do such a thing late in the year, as observers of Michigan's defense the past three seasons can attest. Tressel replaces Zwick with little-known backup QB Troy Smith, who had been only an after-thought 3-star 'athlete' recruit in Zwick's 2002 class. Smith was so much an after-thought all through 2002 and 2003 that, with no chance of playing, he would admit later he was seldom focusing on football and was always getting into trouble, and indeed was out partying with Santonio Holmes in the night-club incident the week of the 2003 Michigan game, which compelled The Great Punisher Tressel to bench Holmes, his best offensive player, for an entire series (!) in Ann Arbor.
Back to Nov 2004. In his first start, Troy Smith looks good vs MSU (what QB didn't that year), but looks terrible in a loss at Purdue the next week. Now Michigan, undefeated in conference play and 9-1 overall behind its over-achieving true-frosh QB Chad Henne, comes to Ohio State. We all know what happened next. Smith does the Denard Notre Dame 2010 thing in 2004, in 2005 and in 2006. Tressel and Ohio State grab the M-OSU series, Ohio recruiting and the entire Big Ten all by the jugular.
The coin was still on its side when, with Troy Smith finally gone, Todd Boeckman led Ohio State to the 2007 Big Ten showdown game in Ann Arbor, Carr's last game as head coach in Michigan Stadium. Boeckman plays so awfully in the first half, Tressel is scared to throw at all in the second half. But because Michigan is so inept on offense, Tressel decides he can afford to play it as conservatively as Bo or Woody with a 4-point lead in 1973 and thus sits on a 7-3 lead with nothing but conservative running plays. It works. 14-3 final.
Then the Terrelle Pryor era, come 2008. And yet three more painful Michigan losses to Ohio State.
Think of what might have happened had Bellisari not driven drunk back in Nov 2001. He'd have got the nod at QB in Ann Arbor, when Michigan was playing for the outright BIg Ten title and Sugar Bowl berth (with the Rose rented out for the BCS title game). Bellisari would have probably done what he always did — mixed good plays with terrible ones, and as likely as not UM would have won and gone to the Sugar instead of Illinois, a team UM had crushed in September. It would have been Lloyd's fourth Big Ten title in five years. And Tressel would have been lampooned for having given his unfulfilled "you'll be especially proud in Ann Arbor" speech. What's more, the pressure to start Zwick at the beginning of the 2002 season would have been immense — especially after not having ever taken the clipboard out of Craig Krenzel's hands to see what he could do in real time. And with a true-frosh at QB in 2002, let alone one as mediocre as Zwick, there's no conceivable way that OSU would have won the Big Ten in 2002, let alone gone 14-0 and won the national title.
So, was Ohio State's great run through the Troy Smith years a result of great coaching, or incredibly great fortune?
Until late last year, I'd been telling anyone who would listen for four years that Tressel had WAYYY overdrawn from the Bank of Good QB Fortune, and that a major correction just had — just had — to be around the corner soon. My friends, and I'm sure Brian, got tired of me saying it. I'd kind of forgotten about the whole thing until today. I wasn't expecting The Great Leveller to come in the form of NCAA rules-breaking shenanigans by Tressel to protect his — tada!!!!! — star QB, Terrelle Pryor. But that's how it went down. It all evens out in the end, friends.
Today, the coin finally fell over.
Hector B. Tressel — a human coin, on edge for a brief time ... in The Twilight Zone.
Let me first say I am not an RR hater. In fact, I wanted him to succeed as badly as anyone, and am appalled at the crap he has had to put up with, and the unwillingness of so many fans to acknowledge that he had so many poorly stocked (not unstocked) cupboards at some many position groups upon his arrival.
That said, I am just as frustrated as anyone else at the current mess.
Fact is, as has been posted elsewhere today, the 2008 and 2009 offenses scored more points in the first halves of Big Ten games than the 2010 offense did. That is incredible. To wit:
|Year||PF, 1st halves vs B10||PA, 1st halves vs B10||M turnovers, 1st halves vs B10|
Stark improvement in the second halves this year, but because by the end of the 3rd quarter in the MSU, Wisc, Iowa, PSU and OSU games most or all the necessary damage had been done, each took its foot partially or completely off the gas in the 4th quarter until (Iowa and PSU) pressed, in which cases both merely got the clinching score needed.
|Year||PF, 2nd halves vs B10||PA, 2nd halves vs B10||M turnovers, 2nd halves vs B10|
Sure, there are myriad ways to interpret these stats. Few of them reflect well on the 2010 team, or RR.
You can never win or lose a game in the first half, but you can come close. A game's dynamic changes completely if a team gets out to a three-score lead.
I've looked at the play-by-plays and drive charts closely for this year's team, and for the 2008 team. And yes this year's team is a yard-gaining machine. The record-holder in M history -- well, or at least as far back as the late 1930s, when official NCAA stats started being kept. Indeed, 500 yards a game is impressive. On paper.
It is far less impressive when so many of those yards are gained between the 20s, or at least don't make it all the way in.
For instance, here is a look at how our first-half drives in Big Ten play (save half-ending kneel-downs) went:
|TDs||FGs||Missed FGs||Punts||Downs||Fumble lost||Interception|
(For those adding up, these TDs and FGs add up to 93; the fumble return vs Purdue brings the number to 100. And one of the first-half turnovers occurred on a KOR vs Wisc, hence the fumbles lost and INTs immediately above add up to 11, not 12).
There were many long first-half drives in Big Ten play that ended badly -- in fumbles, interceptions, on downs, or missed field goals. These mistakes effectively rendered all those yards gained on those drives moot. They're no more helpful to the scoring cause than punt yards. Because, really, when the 08 team kept punting from around its own 40, the other team would get the ball at around its 20 without having been scored on. The only difference with this year's team making so many mistakes in the first half is that the other team would acquire the ball at about the same location on the field, but instead of after a punt, rather after an M turnover, or on downs, or after a missed FG. There is no difference on the scoreboard.
A mistake prone-team renders its gaudy yard totals moot with its mistakes.
23 turnovers (whole game) in Big Ten play last year, and 23 turnovers in Big Ten play this year. That's almost 3 per game.
Ain'ta gonna cut it.