to play football, not to play trumpet
There is no better summary of this game and the typical reaction of the disinterested observer than this:
Go Blue and stuff.
Run Offense vs. SSONIINI
Notre Dame has battled valiantly against the pounding rushing games of Georgia Tech and Penn State but a lack of depth and talent has told late:
rushing average against, by quarter 1Q
3.74 yards per carry
Those numbers are not great even in the first half; in the second half they are deplorable. Notre Dame bloggers have chalked this up to an excessively bleah offense stranding their warrior-poets on the field too long and project this will not happen against a Michigan defense that's much kinder, to say the least, than either Georgia Tech or Penn State. I don't know if that's true, though:
|ND Plays||Opp Plays|
Neither of these is a huge discrepancy, and 68 defensive plays is not out of the ordinary. Notre Dame's offense has been so awful that many of the scores against the defense have been on short fields...
41% of all points scored against ND so far this season have occurred on drives of 36 yards or less.
...which holds down both yards ceded and plays dealt with. While ND's scoring defense (93rd) is an artifact of its tougher than average start and the crappy offense, there's no reason to believe that even if said offense does improve there will be any corresponding bump from the defense, currently ranked 100th against the run and yielding 4.82 yards per carry. The evidence shows that they tire; they should against Michigan.
Meanwhile, the lone bright spot in the first two Michigan games has been the run offense. Mike Hart rolled up 188 yards at 8.2 YPC against Appalachian State and 127 at 5.1 YPC against Oregon. While neither defense is exactly Penn State, neither is Notre Dame. Continued success is probable.
Key Matchup: Mike Hart versus his own damn body. He's limped off and missed portions of Michigan's first two games; Michigan's running game drops off dramatically when he's not in the game: Primary backup Brandon Minor is only averaging 3.8 YPC.
Pass Offense vs. SSONIINI
Ryan Mallett's debut was less than scintillating --6-17, 49 yards, and one interception -- but he was victimized by a few drops and some horrendous babying that asked him to throw a lot of hopeless bombs on third and forever. He was obviously a step down from even a Henne in full on Hennebriation mode and will remain so this week; better numbers are a definite.
How much better is in question. Carr called out Manningham's effort this week and praised Adrian Arrington; Mallett is going to need some help from wide receivers that were unprepared to catch the rockets he was slinging out there. You'd hope that a week of nothing but Mallett zingers would help matters; there will still be a drop here or there and Mallett goes all Jacob Silj on people.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame's beleagured secondary has put up good numbers so far. Taylor Bennett was 11 for 23 for 121 yards; Anthony Morelli was 12 for 22 for 131 yards and one pick six into excellent coverage. Never change, Anthony. The mere idea of "excellent coverage" as applies to the Notre Dame secondary is mindblowing and worth examining. In this instance it was provided by sophomore cornerback Darrin Walls, not the cast of Manningham torchees that still hovers in the general vicinity of receivers without actually bothering to cover them. He's grabbed a starting spot and may be headed towards competence or better. The rest of it, though, is the same cast of characters: Boxer Tom Zbikowski, who is a boxer and the most overrated safety in America when he is not boxing or being boxed or participating in a boxing fight, Terrail Lambert and Ambrose Wooden, etc. New safety David Bruton has already made a couple hideous mental gaffes.
So... yeah, they've done pretty well so far but is this not a Zach Mills at PSU situation wherein opposing teams with good defenses can pack away anything remotely dangerous in the knowledge that 14 points will be good enough? A common MGoBlog heuristic is to severely doubt seniors who sucked as juniors without extenuating circumstances and to furthermore doubt all non-freshmen stuck behind the suck: this applies to every member of the Notre Dame secondary save Walls, and Michigan has at least two guys you have to cover, possibly more.
It's impossible to offer anything solid here with a freshman quarterback and conflicting indicators from the opposition... a few big plays for and against are probable.
Key Matchup: Mallett versus Corwin Brown. It will help our efforts greatly if Mallett does not throw the pick or two that seem inevitable; the coverages Brown calls will attempt to bait him into them.
Run Defense vs. SSONIINI
If we are preparing for Cripple Fight 2007, these are the most malformed limbs. Notre Dame's total rushing through two games: -8 yards. Michigan's rank in rushing defense: 109th. Something has to hold. Probably.
Which is it? If there's one position group that Michigan fans might be holding out a little bit of hope for, it's the defensive line. While they were spread and shred the last two weeks the guys up front are relatively veteran folks with little starting experience and considerable guru acclimation. Projected strongside defensive end Brandon Graham has missed most of the first two weeks with an ankle injury but was healthy enough to provide a little bit of pass rush -- virtually Michigan's only -- against Dennis Dixon last week and will hopefully find his way on the field full time, allowing Shawn Crable to resume his outside linebacker role. The rest of the line has been disappointing against spread option attacks, but Notre Dame's offensive line has been somewhere beyond disappointing. Somewhere *way* beyond it. Like in the realm of Michigan as a team. (Zing!)
On the other hand: the linebackers have been awful and the gashing consistent. Armando Allen is a fast little bugger, if one who has been consistently doomed by eight guys in the box and the turnstile in front of him. Notre Dame will not have negative rushing yards this day, and there is always the possibility of effectiveness when Chris Graham is on the field. (Jonas Mouton's potential return could help matters, but he's just a freshman.)
Pass Defense vs. SSONIINI
Everyone's praising Jimmah's poise... for some reason. Hell if I know why. There's a whole post on this: he didn't throw downfield against Penn State until the game was well out of reach and the backups were in; every completion was a swing or a screen or a long handoff save the occasional five-yard-out. He was sacked six times, led Notre Dame to no points, and only reached 144 yards passing with some garbage time YAC. Poised he may be. Good he is not.
So it's fortunate for him that he's going up against a Michigan secondary that has given up four long touchdowns in two weeks largely because it decides not to cover guys or enjoys falling down once they catch the ball. Notre Dame has promised to open up the playbook and they probably will: attempting to flail its way to first downs with ND's promised Nasty Power Ground game is not likely to work, so their best chance to score will be eating up big chunks of yards against Michigan's befuddled cornerbacks and safeties.
Again, I cannot tell you what happens here. Notre Dame has no good receivers. David Grimes and George West are s
light and slightly athletic; Robby Parris is sort of a Samardzija type, and Duval Kamara is an enormous freshman. None has established anything. Clausen enters his second career start with about four passes downfield to his name. The Michigan secondary seems equally crappy. One thing I do figure: the ND offensive line once again proves to be an achilles heel, severely limiting ND's chances of hitting a long play.
Key Matchup: Tim Jamison and Shawn Crable versus Various Offensive Linemen. Jimmah has proven he can hit guys running open by five yards in high school; Michigan secondary will provide these targets; pressure will make or break the ND passing game.
If Notre Dame punter Geoff Price was a thunder god from beyond time, he could battle Zoltan the Inconceivable to a near-standstill. He is but a man, so this is not possible, but you can still expect many booming 50-yarders followed by limp returns.
Punt returner Tom "You May Not Know This, But I Have Boxed From Time To Time" Zbikowski's inability to wrap up and tackle doesn't affect his returns; therefore he is good at them. He's capable of breaking one off if Zoltan decides, in his mighty wisdom, to let off one of the line drives that he occasionally fires.
Kicker Brandon Walker has two short field goals to his name; little is known about his proficiency.
Key Matchup: Zoltan/punt cover versus Zbikowski who is a boxer. Michigan cannot give up cheap points if their defense in intent on being cheap points incarnate.
- The coaching staff clearly has no faith in Mallett's ability to read defenses.
- Demetrius Jones wanders in to take a spread option snap. (Note: WOTS is that Jones is no longer with the team and may be looking to transfer, so this may not be a possibility.)
- Hart limps off the field.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Clausen's poise is limited to passes within five yards of the LOS.
- Michigan dominance on the lines is established early.
- We finally get a couple accurate deep balls.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 5 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +1 for We Suck, -2 for They Appear To Suck Worse, +1 for We Could Just Pack It In).
Desperate need to win level: 7 out of 10. (Baseline 5; -2 for This Season Is Basically Over Already, +1 for But It Would Be Nice To Shift The National Ire Onto SSONIINI, +1 for Mike Hart Deserves Better, +1 for Charlie Weis Deserves Worse, +1 for You Realize I Have To Watch These Things Over And Over Again, Right?)
Loss will cause me to... increase pace of "Profiles in Heroism" series.
Win will cause me to... create "Jimmah Clausen for Heisman" YouTube highlight reel.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
There are portions of Michigan's team that are not resolutely awful: the run game. The receivers. The offensive line. And maybe the defensive line could squeeze its way into competence when it faces off against the Irish turnstiles.
Meanwhile, no part of Notre Dame's team has really looked good except maybe the secondary if you believe the Irish have finally taught Tom Zbikowski to cover and tackle and those corners to not flail horribly. I think the easier explanation is this: Morelli and Bennett suck and their teams knew that they could just pound ND and its swing-mad offense into oblivion. This is a version of the gameplan against Penn State at any point in the Zach Mills era. They suck on a level Michigan probably does not.
So... yeah, this is a game Michigan should win. A freshman quarterback, a defense that looks epically awful, and Angry Michigan Safety Hating God could conspire to throw this one to Notre Dame, but it would require two or three disastrous plays for that to happen. Chances of that: 30%. Outside of disaster, though, Michigan's advantage on both sides of the LOS should be the deciding factor.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Hart beats Notre Dame to death with their own limbs. Also goes for 165 and two touchdowns.
- Mallett throws two picks; so does Jimmah.
- 24-17, Michigan.
It returns for a second year: House Rock Built and MGoBlog talk about the game without choking anything to death. Except our hopes. This is part two of our wide-ranging conversation; Part one can be found over at HRB.
So... one guy who's looked impressive so far on the Irish offense (and dare I say, the only guy) is Armando Allen. Yes? No? He's fast... can he run yet?
Love the kid. He runs like a gazelle on crack wearing one of those girdle things that they put on bulls to make them buck like crazy.
This seems... suboptimal.
Your metaphors need work.
It's been a rough season... I alcohol blame.
But in all seriousness, he's something to be excited about. He can run inside and outside, and has actual breakaway speed, which the Irish haven't seen too much of in recent years. I was excited in the Penn State game when the entire first drive revolved around finding ways to get him the ball. Then, the next drive, Travis Thomas came out and ran blindfolded into a gopher hole, and I became saddened and thirsty for the nurturing kiss of grain alcohol.
The little swing on the opener against PSU was pretty impressive. When you get outside Penn State's linebackers, you've accomplished something. I worry he might gash us. I worry that four-year-olds might gash us, but I worry more about Allen.
A legitimate worry... provided Weis has the sense to actually stick with him, which he has inexplicably not done in the first two games
Has he run between the tackles much? Can anyone run between the tackles given Notre Dame's offensive line?
I saw Michael Haywood trying to drive a Ford F-350 between the tackles at the fall practice. I think he averaged like 3.8 yards per carry. So, uh, no.
This reassures, since Appalachian State plowed Michigan. Oh, God. Do they make 400 proof whiskey? Let's talk about the other side of the ball.
So... Corwin Brown. Sellout or sellout?
Nah, kidnap and brainwash victim. Like that girl who played the harp. I think the second he decapitated Keyshawn Johnson in the NFL and developed a taste for Trojan blood, it was inevitable that he'd end up in South Bend.
Ah... that's more palatable. How has the 3-4 gone? I notice a lot of rushing yards ceded.
The defense has been huge this year. The rushing yards are hugely misleading because there have been so many plays run against the defense due to the O's inability to get a first down for large swaths of time. Also, a large majority of the yardage was given up in the 4th quarter against an exhausted D that has been on the field all day.
Fact is, Notre Dame should have lost both of its first to games by Cumberland College-esque scores with the way the offense played and gagged up the ball. The fact that we kept either team under triple digits while giving them the gift of field position and offensive zone turnovers is nothing short of a triumph.
My one beef with the 3-4 is that both GT and PSU showed an ability to get big yards on stretch plays to the right side, where the OLB John Ryan clearly hadn't quite figured out his job of containment from the position. Theoretically, that should be correctible, but it has been a recurring thing.
That seems a poor weakness against Michigan's stretch-mad run game. I also note a BGS post that confirms the exhaustion you saw; is that not a potential item that will recur against Michigan?
If the offense goes two and a half quarters without a first down again, then I can promise you the splits will look exactly like that.
I can promise you that will not happen.
At least Yahoo provided kittens in our time of need.
Sigh. I want to believe you, but we'll have to wait and see. I really feel like if the offense can mount anything vaguely resembling an attack, the defense will be able to make this a game, particularly if they're getting rest time on the sideline and good field position. We were only down by 7 to Penn State late in the 3rd quarter despite having literally no offense (that 10 straight 3 and outs wasn't an exaggeration... check the box score).
I actually watched the game today... the key to me will be whether or not Clausen gets the green light to find receivers downfield and can. People should be open; he might not be able to locate them. Especially if he's on his back. I think the Michigan offense will probably be about as effective as Penn State's. Better running game, probably worse passing with a true freshman at the helm. I think even Michigan can shut down an offense that's playing as safe as Notre Dame did against Penn State.
Well, word on the street is the playbook is going to be opened up, so at the very least we might get to see the Irish go down swinging for once. I'm glad to hear that, and feel like it's the only way this team is going to get anywhere is by taking the skirt off and slinging the football.
Given Michigan's secondary play last week, there will be opportunities to hit guys downfield... assuming people get blocked. Projected starting SDE Brandon Graham should return from an ankle injury that severely limited him the first two weeks; this will allow Shawn Crable to slide back to the attacking linebacker role he filled adeptly last year instead of being an undersized and ill-proportioned defensive end. The hope at the beginning of the year was for an attacking, sack-happy defense. That hasn't materialized but may against an offense Michigan seems better suited to defend.
One thing I am very concerned about: John Carlson. Michigan's linebackers are useless in space and Carlson is a terrific receiver. Seam routes off play action alarm.
Carlson has been the missing man this year. I'm guessing it's a combination of other teams keying on him (him being th
e only real proven threat on offense) and the dink-and-dunk offensive scheme not spreading the field. At any rate, the Carlson seam was a backbreaker against Penn State last year, and getting him involved in the offense should be one of the primary concerns for Weis coming into this game. I think by throwing the ball downfield more, it'll free up more room in the gooey middle of the field, where Carlson can play mismatches and raise hell.
Also Carlson's had to stay in to block.
All right, so the Michigan fanbase. Is there any sort of excitement for this game, or has it completely spiraled into sarcastic numbness? From the Irish perspective, this game is being viewed with much more aloofness and levity than it typically is because expectations are way down from recent years. What's the skinny in AA?
Sarcastic numbness is job one at Michigan even when things are going relatively well, now it's the only way we interact. We believe in nothing, Lebowski! There is something at stake here, though: if we beat Notre Dame there's at least some hope of refocusing the national derisiveness on the Irish and getting it (partially) off Michigan. Winning wouldn't make anyone particularly happy, per se, but it would be grimly satisfactory.
Women say the same thing about sleeping with me.
How about the Irish? Your 0-2 must suck considerably less than ours. I mean... you have all the freshman stuff, not four-year starters at QB and RB and a top five preseason ranking. Also you didn't lose to a I-AA team. But it seems that a lot of people are seriously questioning Weis, which is something I don't get. This year is the reason that Willingham got fired, really... not even the certified genius of Charlie Weis can deal with that. But it seems the natives are, if not exactly restless, a little peeved. Yes/no?
I don't think there's my native restlessness... or more to the point, I think that all of that is manufactured by the media because it makes for a charming headline. Irish fans are still happy with their robot genius, despite the fact that there are some legitimate grips to raise about the way these first two games were handled. You hit the nail on the head, this year is exactly why Willingham was fired. We knew it was going to be a rough 2007 back in 2004, so the results so far haven't been the type of radical departure from expectations that gets coaches fired. It's a rebuilding year, and everybody knows that. As long as the recruiting classes are staying good and the right kids are getting experience out there, the future and general inertia of the program is in good shape, which is the most important thing.
It's fair to say that people are actually "questioning" Weis in the sense that we're starting to move away from acknowledging him as the all-knowing oracle of football and moving toward a more realistic, post-honeymoon belief that he's a skilled coach capable of making some mistakes and occasionally being out-coached.
This seems... reasonable? You've turned my world on its head.
Yeah, there's a few stray rational neurons in the Notre Dame hivemind. Well, it's getting kind of late. You've probably got to go give Chad Henne a lower leg massage, right? So drop me some knowledge... what's your big prediction?
I would prefer implanting Tom Brady's brain but that will do.
I hesitate to predict anything good coming about for this Michigan team but it does seem to me that Michigan has at least one major advantage here: its offensive line and Mike Hart versus the Notre Dame run defense, which though valiant has been oft-perforated. Everything else looks like it could go either way. So I do tentatively think Michigan will win this, although a touchdown-plus spread seems excessive. Notre Dame wins if they find a downfield passing game that does not result in turnovers; I think this is probably not going to happen enough for them to win.
I had a vision last night while I was tripping on paint thinner. A hush falls over the Big House as a wobbly 59 yard field goal sails through the uprights, winning the game for the Irish. The benches clear, the jubilant Irish rush onto the field, and, lo, Jimmy Clausen finds Scarlett Johansson in the pandemonium, kneels down, and proposes. The two embrace passionately and the camera cuts to a teary-eyed Brent Musberger who solemnly declares, "This is why we love this sport so much," then trails off, not having any words to describe what he has just witnessed.
all-Scarlett-Johnasson-references-are-accompanied-by-picture rule. Because,
seriously, ladies... you would hit that too.
I welcome your 59-yard field goal attempt for the win. We are agreed that this is a satisfactory final play. (Assuming Michigan is ahead by 1 or 2.)
Well, best of luck this weekend. Tell that jowly interim head coach of yours I said "hi".
And tell your interstellar pirate made entirely of lard and self regard to invent something cool, like a first down, for Saturday.
Oh the hate!
Feel it flow through you.
Hate makes you strong!
The obviously starting point for Saturday's game is Jimmy Clausen, and while pundits who note it's hard to take much away from a game where he was limited by both the offensive playcalling and defensive expertise are somewhat right, I saw enough to be happy. There were several times when he held onto the ball for too long, including the first sack of the day where simply stepping up in the pocket and delivering a strike to any of the open receivers (they all had separation to some degree, including a lonely John Carlson in the middle) would have warranted a first down, but these are correctable issues. If our biggest problems from Clausen in a game starting against those linebackers in that atmosphere is a moderate case of happy feet in leaving the pocket too soon and a willingness to hold onto the ball instead of just throwing it away, I think that's a very good thing.
Ladies and gentlemen, we finally have found our quarterback. He wasn't perfect by any means, but there were a lot of positives to Clausen's play. He throws a great ball, both accurate and quick. He was sacked a few times, but considering the line's play and the amount of times he was able to get rid of it, I can't really put too much blame in his hands. He seemed like a quarterback with a purpose, a leader that the offense sorely needs. Perhaps what I was most impressed with was his toughness. We hear about him being this prima donna, but that wasn't the case at all. He got up after every hit and was even getting on some of the wide receivers when they weren't on the same page as him.
Jimmy Clausen is going to be very good. He handled himself about as well as could be expected.
Clausen's statistics are nothing special, and he occasionally held onto the ball too long or tucked and ran too early. Yet Clausen did show the resilience and poise that Brady Quinn demonstrated in the losing effort against Purdue in 2003.
A complete dossier of all Clausen pass attempts: DRIVE ONE
- five yard swing to Armando Allen
- Allen dumpoff.
- Allen screen.
- Long handoff to George West.
- Nine yard scramble; does not see wide open Carlson in endzone.
- Swing pass to Allen for loss of one.
- Three yard scramble.
- Incomplete Armando Allen screen.
- Six yard completion to Duval Kamara on third and twenty-five.
- Long handoff to David Grimes.
- Pass to David Grimes for eight yards. Not specified what this is but probably a slant or an out given the description.
- Long handoff to David Grimes.
- Incomplete fade to George West.
- Pass to Armando Allen for seven yards. At the end of the half, Penn State is in a prevent.
- Scramble for ten yards. This runs out the clock.
- Armando Allen swing pass for one yard.
- Pass incomplete to John Carlson. Possibly dropped or batted away, apparently a good throw.
- Six yard dumpoff to Will Yeatman on third and eleven.
- Out incomplete to David Grimes on a sprintout.
- Scrambles for three yards on third and twenty. A roughing the kicker call gives them another opportunity.
- Pass complete to Golden Tate for 42 yard gain -- not specified what the route was; called back for holding.
- Dumpoff to Carlson for five yards.
- Incomplete to Grimes; details omitted.
- Incomplete to Grimes... nearly intercepted?
- George West screen for four yards.
- Pass complete to Robby Paris for 35 yards... lots of YAC apparently.
- Completion to Grimes for 14 yards.
- "Decent pass" behind Kamara that is dropped.
- Interception by Justin King on overthrown ball.
All this adds up to:
I was very encouraged by what I saw of Jimmy Clausen on Saturday. Did he miss some reads? Of course. Did he hold on the football a couple of times? Absolutely. But there was much to like about his performance on Saturday. The most important thing was his poise. ... Jimmy Clausen is special. The Irish have a future star.
Maybe he threw downfield three times and mostly against Penn State's backups long after the game was decided, but by God that's a special swing pass to Armando Allen.
The final word goes to Black Shoe Diaries:
Jimmy Clausen is the best screen passer I've ever seen.
Official Naming. From the comments of SMQB comes the official name for this game:
He's not dead yet. The Free Press, citing the always reliable "people with knowledge," reports that Henne's knee injury is a 2-3 week thing:
People with knowledge of Henne's left knee injury expect him to be out at least 2-3 weeks.
(Nice blockquote there, Brian: it communicates nothing that the opening sentence didn't. God. Where's my mojo? It's gone.) If true, this would render the "OMG what if he medically redshirts" conversation moot. Mallett gets a three-week audition, probably loses to Penn State badly, and then Henne returns for our Insight Bowl push.
FEEL THE EXCITEMENT! Michigan is playing Notre Dame on Saturday and people are so desperate to get rid of their tickets on the frickin' 40 that they're offering them up for face on their blogs:
I have 4 excellent seats for sale for the upcoming ND game.
Section 22, 40 yrd. line, 75 rows up under the press box.
Would just like to recoup my cost only which is $60 face value + the
preferred seating surcharge of $63 or a total of $123 per ticket.
Let me know if anyone is interested.
Do they make winged stovepipe hats? Autumn Thunder discusses some more unconventional Michigan coaching candidates:
Meanwhile... if you think it's straightjacket time around here, Notre Dame fans have really gone off the deep end:
Make no mistake about it, the Notre Dame team we had out there could have beaten that Penn State team. Unfortunately, it's becoming rapidly apparent that our greatest opponent is ourselves. But fortunately, when you are your own worst enemy, you get plenty of time to work on beating that opponent. Schizophrenia, once again.
I love the idea that "schizophrenia" is the reason Notre Dame's players will make one good play amongst a host of bad ones, and not a lack of "talent" or "experience." Notre Dame net yards against Penn State: 199. Notre Dame rush offense: 119th. They're averaging -4 yards per game. Total points generated by Notre Dame's offense against Penn State: zero.
Sure, here it's kittens and crying children, but goddammit at least we know we suck.
Also in the realm of delusion:
Michigan lost, again. At least everyone thought we were going to be bad. But Michigan? Dayum. The pain of a Notre Dame loss is generally mitigated by 30% whenever Michigan also loses, but that number can go as high as 45% when Michigan's loss is at home to a Division 1-AA would-be powderpuff or by 30+ points. I say this acknowledging that Notre Dame sucks this year and will probably lose to Michigan on Saturday, but I am loving the fact that this is just the beginning for UM. This is the beginning of the implosion. We're rebuilding now, but they don't even get to start rebuilding until next year after they fire everyone except Bo's ghost(who, quite frankly, is not pulling his weight either). Icing on the cake: watching a certain UM blogger take his site offline rather than face the music. OMG sooooooo teh bedwett0r!
This would be accurate only if Michigan had sucked down Ty Willingham recruiting classes the past two years instead of consecutive top-ten classes (after evaluating everyone who got to campus). This year it will be tetchy and probably ultimately disappointing, but still decent enough to bridge the gap to a new regime. Michigan won't be throwing out like two contributing seniors or whatever at any point. As long as you're dreaming, you could ask for a bowl win and a college down that's not a hole.
Also: tough words from a dip who waited a full two weeks to deal with his own team's crap sandwich, but ND fans are always criticizing Michigan for not living up to standards they don't meet themselves.
Na ga da. Les Miles ain't talking:
"I know you guys want me to get into this, but I'm not," Miles told reporters. "I am at a great school with a great team. I'm at a place I love. I am not going to talk about any other school. That would be a waste of productive time for my team."
Someone start harrassing Tedford, please.
I figured this would happen. In the comments to "Destroy Harbaugh" there first came a pebble:
No mention of the 38% stat, I see. Because lets be honest, it doesn't matter what major you are if you don't actually graduate.
And then another...
Etc. These claims invariably come from Notre Dame fans. What can I say? Their obsession with Michigan knows no bounds. They even harass innocent bloggers who don't even cover their team.
This is the sort of criticism that only the truly deranged could come up with. While Michigan has spent most of the past decade fighting a protracted court battle against anti-affirmative-action groups, eventually winning and sort of losing at the same time, and has vowed to do everything in its power to keep the undergraduate population representative in the wake of Proposal 2's passage last fall. Michigan's administration had a deep-seated and continuing freakout over losing the ability to consider an applicant's race when it comes to admissions. In January they said race would still be a part of the application but that admissions officers could be trusted to ignore that information. The university stepped up its outreach and recruitment efforts so much that applications actually went up five percent:
According to preliminary admissions data, a total of 2,460 underrepresented minorities had applied to the University by the beginning of February - a 5 percent increase from the same point last year.
The increase in applicants may have been due to the fact that Proposal 2 was looming. Students at Cass Technical High School in Detroit said that before the initiative passed, University admissions officers encouraged them to apply as early as possible because it would be harder to get in if Proposal 2 was approved.
"Admissions officers came to our school and told us to apply early," said Cass Tech senior Dwayne Riley, who has already enrolled at the University for next year.
Admissions officers visited Cass Tech - a major feeder school for underrepresented minorities who attend the University - frequently throughout the fall.
Ashley Grant, also a senior at Cass, said the University's image may have even improved since Proposal 2 passed.
"I definitely don't think Proposal 2 hurt Michigan's image," said Grant, who is still waiting to find out whether she's been admitted to the University. "If anything, I think it made the school look a lot better because it was trying to do everything in its power to admit as many students of color as possible."
Meanwhile, Notre Dame admits virtually no black students. A minuscule 3.6% of the undergraduate population is black, and the only reason it's that high is because of varsity athletics. One third of the black males on campus have letter jackets. A third! Without varsity athletes there would be 102 black undergraduate males at Notre Dame, 2.4% of the male student body. If you had a scavenger hunt on the Notre Dame campus, "black undergraduate male" would be tough. I don't mean to imply any racism on the part of the administration or school itself; far more likely is that an expensive Catholic school in South Bend, Indiana doesn't appeal to black students very much. (Its appeal to others remains a mystery.) As a private Catholic school their admissions policies are their prerogative. But it's clear that Notre Dame doesn't really care to change that perception or the composition of their student body.
So to be subject to a constant fusillade of racial criticism from fans of this school that suffers less than four percent of its student body to be black is amazing and infuriating, because the implication is always that Michigan is a racist institution that doesn't care about graduating people who aren't white. One school bends over backwards to help black students be the first in their family to go to college; the other virtually ignores them unless they can help out their sports teams... and it's Michigan that's criticized?
But it is leveled time and again, so it may as well be addressed.
1. 38% is a fictional number. I don't know where it came from or if it was a low ebb or what, but at the very least it's not current. The most recent NCAA data:
Three numbers, none of which are 38%, though one
is uncomfortably close to it. Which do we use? Well, 99-00 is just one class and the 4-class and GSR rates encompass a large number of athletes so we should prefer them. And the difference between 4-class and GSR or "Graduation Success Rate" is that the GSR removes "permissible exceptions" like religious missions or, um, death as well as players who transfer out of the program in good academic standing. It's more accurate, as it doesn't punish Michigan for losing a guy like Cobrani Mixon. That number: 50%. Obviously this is not ideal, but let's at least talk about a real number.
2. It is hard to graduate black men.
I'm not going to speculate on the reasons for this, but Michigan -- a school that we've seen wants to do everything in their power to get black kids on campus, and presumably graduate them -- only gave degrees to 61% of the black males it admitted over the four-year span in which our 50% number applies. This is a nationwide phenomenon:
Troubling, but not a symptom of wanton disregard from the university.
So it's not surprising that a group of black males with lower GPA and test scores than the general population, which already graduates at a lower rate than any other group, have an even tougher time getting out of college with a degree. Especially what with that full time job on the side. Of course, is that degree as valuable to varsity athletes?
3. Graduation is not a priority for many of Michigan's black athletes.
Some leave early: Woodson, Terrell, Branch, Shantee Orr, etc. Others, like Lamarr Woodley and David Harris, stay four years but are clearly going high in the NFL draft. They may not graduate because they choose to spend their final semester preparing for their chosen (and extremely lucrative) career instead of picking up a cosmetic diploma. This is clearly a larger effect for black players than white players. Despite an approximately 50-50 split between white and black players on Michigan's team, two-thirds of the draftees in the past ten years have been black.
And because whites are disproportionately concentrated on the offensive and defensive lines, tight end, linebacker, and quarterback -- all positions that tend to see redshirts a plenty -- they get a critical fifth year in the program much more often than black players do. An excellent comment (<-- also where the above referenced draft stat comes from) from Jim Carty's blog breaks down the details:
Of those drafted, % who were in school 5 years (really 4 and 1/2 since the guys preparing for the draft do not go to school second semester of their 5th year):
Black: 29% (9/31)
White: 87.5% (14/16)
Michigan's graduation rate for black males in school for four years hovers around 42%. (The 61% is the five-year graduation rate, from appearances.) Again I would like to stress that this is an outlier in no way whatsoever; this is a nationwide phenomenon.
This is only a subset of the total number of athletes, but it's a significant subset. Mike DeSimone shows 200 players signed in the previous decade, four of whom never got to campus and shouldn't be counted. Approximately half of them were black; approximately 31% percent of Michigan's black players ended up in the NFL over the past decade. This is a significant drag on their graduation rates, as a 1996 paper by Lawrence DeBrock, Wallace Hendricks, and Roger Koenker demonstrates. In it, they do a sophisticated statistical analysis of a set of variables. Their findings: when controlling for other factors, average GPA and SAT scores were not indicators of likely graduation or not, but four of the five professional success metrics were highly negatively correlated with graduation rates for an obvious reason: the acquisition of a degree is not as economically significant.
In each of our structural equations, our measure of the value of a degree from the institution had a strong positive impact on the graduation rate of scholarship athletes. This result was robust for all specifications, sports, and genders. In addition, we found evidence that the alternative economic opportunity of professional sports plays a significant role in the decision of scholarship athletes to stay in school. In both of the sports that had professional leagues, the opportunity to play in these leagues had a significant impact on graduation rates. In the case of women's basketball, where no such opportunities exist, those athletes who we predict would normally leave school early for this career are more likely to stay in school.
Alternative labor market opportunities are very real for this segment of the student body. These opportunities have significant impacts on graduation rates in football as well as men's basketball. The athlete's choice of a college is certainly driven by how the particular school will influence future financial returns; this is the same for nonathletes. The difference is that for athletes, this income stream is not as contingent on graduation as it is for other students. The strong implication is that movements to mandate graduation rates are misguided.
The market forces that lead some schools to have lower graduation rates among the student-athletes will continue to cause many students to rationally leave school early. Just as it is impossible to attempt to impose cross-institution equalization of graduation rates for the overall population of students, restrictions on graduation rates of scholarship athletes across campuses would be equally inefficient. While there is some informational content to raw graduation rates, it is considerably smaller than either the U.S. Congress or the media seem to believe.
Ironically, graduation rates are depressed because Michigan's elite football players are no fools: they have little use for a degree, at least not within the narrow five year band in which graduation rates are declared and discarded.
To paraphrase Kanye West, does Michigan care about black people?
You can't just add 50% and 31% to get a healthy 81% of Michigan's black players who end up either with a degree or in the NFL, as there's undoubtedly some overlap... but it probably isn't much given early departures, the prevalence of four-and-out NFL draftees, and the powerful economic disincentive provided by the potential of an NFL career -- Michigan will always be there, but your NFL combine comes but once a lifetime. Even if the overlap is quite large, Michigan's athlete success rate climbs above its non-athlete success rate. Peg it at around 50% of NFL players and Michigan athletes are at 65%, above the 61% of your typical student. That's estimating conservatively. Add in previous studies indicating that athletes are generally better off than non-athletes after graduation even without the pro sports option and it's clear that Michigan has little to apologize for. The goal here is not necessarily to rubber stamp some diploma. It's to provide these players a foundation from which they can live their life. Michigan does that by all accounts save one man who's got an obvious ulterior motive.
Is there room for improvem
Yes. Michigan makes an awful lot of money off these guys and owes them more than a typical student, who provides only tuition. Unless Michigan starts handing out degrees like candy the graduation rate is not likely to exceed 70-ish percent even in optimal cases. Ideally, everyone in the program is either degree-bearing or in the NFL minus a certain number of washouts that will happen naturally. Without a radical change in the philosophy of the university, 65% is a point the U should aim for an attempt to reach in the next few years.
What about Notre Dame?
This is about Notre Dame since it is always Notre Dame fans that bring this up, probably because they're about the only school that's appreciably better at handing kids degrees than Michigan is amongst national powers. Oh, and since they haven't won a bowl game in nearly 15 years. Or been among the top 25 programs in the last decade. Or finished with fewer than the three losses they deride Lloyd Carr for accumulating since 1993. When you can't talk about results on the field, talk about results off of it.
Anyway, according to the latest numbers ND has a GSR of 90%. Great! Good for you. But please realize that once you get into Notre Dame it is nearly impossible to not get a degree. One of eight Michigan undergraduates fails to graduate; that number at Notre Dame is one in 20. You can explain this gap any number of different ways, from the culture -- or lack thereof -- at Notre Dame to an Ivy League-like refusal to not pass people. I don't know which it is, but don't try to tell me that a school that recruits Tony Rice and Robert Blanton (810 SAT!) and the like but still graduates virtually everyone is particularly strict. Call this the Aaron Taylor Theory: if Aaron Taylor holds a degree from your university, chances are a sizable number of six-year-olds could also manage said feat.
Postscript. I'm tired of talking about this, but there is no one in the media who's willing to look at this any deeper than the surface level. Those that try, like Jim Carty, have put their muckraker hats on and are just digging for dirt without any consideration of complicated things like economics or common sense. Carty's perpetual assertion that it's way sketchy to have 60% of your declared majors in a particular program -- not an actual major -- which spans the entirely of LS&A but totally un-sketchy to have 60% of your declared players in only four majors, like Stanford does, is Carty at his worst. He did this "why won't Michigan answer my questions" junk after the Year of Infinite Pain, too. It's a common rhetorical device: assume Michigan's desire to avoid someone clearly looking to paint the university in a poor light is a virtual admission of guilt.
It's clear why Michigan is not going to talk about the subject: the last time they did they got an ill-considered Pat Forde article down their throat and Carty complaining about "silence." Since the media can't be trusted to do anything except rub their nonexistent goatees and try to impress chicks with their deep concern for Serious Issues instead of actually taking a point of view that's something other than willfully naive, they have no incentive to actually talk. In the end, the answer to "why won't Michigan talk to Jim Carty?" is "because he's Jim Carty."
Now: on to actual football. I have said my piece. I would appreciate it if commenters would link this whenever some daft Notre Dame fan runs into the comments and accuses Michigan of being the Josef Mengele of universities; nothing more on this topic will be published. Probably.