Fourth And Long: The Excerpt

Fourth And Long: The Excerpt Comment Count

Brian August 23rd, 2013 at 11:53 AM

John Bacon's latest book Fourth and Long is a look at four Big Ten teams in various places as the 2012 season progresses: Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, and Northwestern. While the Penn State stuff is unbelievably compelling, Bacon also touches on the increasing commercialization of the game—a hot button topic here—in multiple sections, including Michigan.

The following is an account of what went down during the Great Band Fiasco Of 2012. If you desire a look at the Northwestern and Ohio State sections, Sippin' On Purple and Eleven Warriors both have excerpts today.

147896042LH010_Michigan_v_A

Cowboy Stadium

On Friday morning, April 20, 2012, while I watched workers set up the stage for the groundbreaking ceremony for Penn State’s $104 million hockey arena the day before their football team’s spring game, I took my weekly call from Ann Arbor’s local sports-talk station, WTKA.

This being six days after Michigan’s spring scrimmage, I assumed the morning hosts would ask me how Michigan’s second-year coaches, who favored a pro-set offense, were meshing with soon-to-be senior Denard Robinson, the consummate spread-offense quarterback. So I was a little surprised when Ira Weintraub and Sam Webb asked me about the Michigan-Alabama game, scheduled more than four months away, on September 1 in Dallas.

It was already being hyped as a clash between two tradition-rich programs, both ranked in the preseason Top 10, and two tradition-rich conferences. But it was bigger than that, because the schools had struck a deal with the Dallas Cowboys’ celebrity owner, Jerry Jones, to play the game in his shiny, new, $1.15 billion, state-of-the-art pleasure dome, nicknamed Jerry World.

They called the game the Cowboy Classic, a four-year-old version of the former Kickoff Classic, and it had come to represent the apotheosis— or nadir, depending on your view—of all that modern college football was becoming: the colossal, professional stadium; the seemingly endless corporate tie-ins; and the orgy of interest in a game between amateur athletes.

Although Michigan did not sell out its allotment of 17,500 tickets for the Sugar Bowl a couple months earlier, the athletic department had no trouble selling all 25,000 tickets for the Cowboy Classic, before they could even offer them to the general public. They were gobbled up entirely by Victors Club members: first to those with the most “priority points” (which they accumulate largely through donations), down to those with just one priority point. Thousands of fans with no priority points got shut out.

It was all the more impressive because the tickets for the Cowboy Classic weren’t cheap: $125 for a seat in the rafters and $285 for one on the 50, plus $80 for parking across the street. Jerry World also offered standing-room-only tickets, which one website packaged with vouchers for a beverage, a hot dog, and a bag of chips for $89—and sold more than twenty-three hundred of them.

“Let’s put it like this,” the ever-quotable Jerry Jones said the week of the game. “I’m going to compare it even to the Super Bowl. They’re two different events—but this is the hottest ticket . . . of any game or any event that we’ve had at that stadium.”

Michigan would net $4.7 million for the Cowboy Classic matchup with Alabama, the highest payout ever for a Kickoff Classic/Cowboy Classic season opener. After the department publicized that fact, fans were surprised to hear athletic director Dave Brandon announce he would not be sending the Michigan Marching Band to the game because the athletic department couldn’t afford the $400,000 travel expense. That decision lit up sports-talk shows across the state.

This seemingly simple decision to leave the band at home raised an equally simple question: How important is the marching band to the fans?

A few weeks before Brandon’s announcement, he sent band director Scott Boerma an RFP, or a “request for proposal,” which is how CEOs ask for a sales pitch. Brandon told Boerma to put together a page of bullet points explaining why Boerma thought it would be better for the band to fly to Dallas for the season opener against Alabama, on September 1.

“We did so,” Boerma told me, “and we turned it in. We never expected Brandon to fly us down, but we hoped. At that point, it was my assumption that we would have a conversation about those bullet points, most likely making compromises on both sides. But a few days later, we heard that the answer was simply no. And that was it.”

Ann Arbor Torch And Pitchfork

Michigan-band-walks-onto-the-field-Jeffrey-McMahon[1]

Boerma and his band were stunned, but not as much as their loyal following, who blasted the decision through just about every medium available. For a week in late April, the band’s fate dominated Ann Arbor sports-talk radio—a first, to be sure. Invective aside, the callers’ main complaint was that if Brandon eliminated a home game or the possibility of an attractive home-and-home against Alabama for the chance to play in Jerry World primarily for the record paycheck, as he stated, then why couldn’t Michigan afford the $400,000 it would cost to take the marching band? After all, the band had to be one of the main attractions of college football Jerry Jones surely expected when he invited two college teams to play in his pleasure dome.

There seem to be a few reasons behind Brandon’s initial decision. A $4.7 million payday sounds like a lot, but according to MGoBlog’s Brian Cook, it was actually about $300,000 less than Michigan would have made if Brandon had scheduled Alabama for a home-and-home series, on the same terms Michigan had with Notre Dame. The deal looks even worse when you take into account the team’s travel costs to Dallas, and the substantial revenue from parking and concessions Michigan would have kept for a home game—not to mention the excitement such a game would generate among season-ticket holders from the day it was announced. Cook concludes, “This supposed financial windfall simply does not exist.” [Ed: the department would later cop to this fact.]

But if you looked at Brandon’s initial decision to leave the band behind purely from a short-term business perspective, it made sense. The band trip would cost real money, coming right off the bottom line, but would not necessarily influence the outcome or ticket sales or TV ratings. Fans would not wait in long lines to buy Michigan Marching Band uniforms—be they classic or “alternative”—and EA Sports was not champing at the bit to put Michigan’s drum major on the cover of its next marching-band video game.

19072326[1]

from "Day 2 Marching Band Not Going To Dallas Rage Thread"

If you bring it back to the simple question of keeping your fans happy, however, Brandon’s decision was as foolhardy as the CEO of Cracker Jack eliminating the prizes at the bottom of the boxes because, hey, you can’t eat them, and those things cost money. If there is one symbol of college football that distinguishes the irrational, romantic notions fans feel for their favorite sport from the streamlined sensibilities of the pro game, the marching band might be the best place to start. When the band plays, the students feel connected to their parents, and their parents feel connected to their past, traveling back in time to their college days.

It is the prize at the bottom of the box.

Shortly after Bill Martin became athletic director in 2000, he commissioned a survey titled “Fans Speak Out on Game Day Experience,” by his good friend, Republican pollster Bob Teeter. The response rate alone told them how passionate Michigan fans were about their team. While most consumer surveys attract a 6 to 8 percent rate of return, fully 64 percent of the three thousand Michigan fans randomly selected responded—or about ten times the average.

When these season-ticket holders were asked to rank the importance of twenty-three aspects of the game-day experience, the survey readers weren’t too shocked to find seat location atop the list, with 88 percent of respondents ranking it “important.” But the marching band finished a close fourth, with 83 percent, two places ahead of the final score, and four ahead of the quality of the opponent. Thus, whether the Wolverines won or lost, or which team they were playing—in other words, the football game—was less important to the fans than seeing the marching band. After all, the band remained undefeated.

Brandon took some hits for his decision from fans, who flooded his e-mail account, but donors soon stepped up to cover half the $400,000 tab, leading some to believe the whole incident was a ruse to get someone else to pay the bill. But UM’s band director at the time, Scott Boerma, wasn’t buying it. “I do not think he planned on the backlash,” Boerma told me, “nor do I think it was some clever way to get donors to pony up for it. Dave was genuinely surprised.”

After Brandon finally capitulated, he told the Detroit Economic Club in August that it was all a “misunderstanding,” akin to a “family squabble.” He said he had agreed from the outset to fund the $100,000 necessary for the band to take buses down to Dallas, allowing them to play concerts along the way."

“The band changed their mind,” Brandon said. “They decided they didn’t want to be in buses and they didn’t want to play their way to Dallas, and they came and said, ‘We’re planning on coming to Dallas, everybody’s planning on coming to Dallas, but we’re not going to ride in buses—we’re going to fly in a jumbo jet and here’s what it’s going to cost.’”

But Boerma recalls the dialogue differently. “I think it’s important for people to know that we never ‘changed our mind.’ We never agreed to busing down and playing gigs along the way. We offered to look into that possibility, but when we did, we determined that it really wouldn’t be best for all concerned, especially because it would be the weekend before classes started, and we would lose several days of our pre-season rehearsals, when we prepare for the entire fall ahead. We never refused to bus down, as Brandon said. We were never given the opportunity to refuse anything, because there was no follow-up conversation.

“When it all hit the fan, I made sure that it wasn’t the band students and staff causing a commotion. We just laid low and waited for it all to work out. If the decision to not take the band down remained intact, we would have been fine with that. It was Brandon’s decision; he was paying the bills, and that’s his business.”

Of course, some fans angered over the decision included big donors, who ultimately stepped up to cover half the cost of the band’s trip.

"The band is coming to Dallas," Brandon told his audience. "And I hope you enjoy every note."

Leaving the band behind for a big game proved not to be an option—at least in 2012.

As the arms race escalates, Brandon does not seem terribly interested in slowing down to ponder it all. He is too busy pressing full steam ahead. “I don’t talk the past,” he said several times in his first year as Michigan’s athletic director. “I create the future.”

He might just be right.

If the future of Penn State was in the hands of its players, and Ohio State in the hands of its new head coach, Michigan’s was in the hands of its new athletic director.

Fourth and Long is available everywhere: 11  bucks on Kindle, 16 for a hardcover. Worth it just for the story about Jay Paterno getting chased out of his own locker room, and there are 200 more pages.

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Ultimate Ennui Showdown 2: Ennui Harder

Ultimate Ennui Showdown 2: Ennui Harder Comment Count

BiSB July 25th, 2013 at 9:07 AM

We’re back. No need to thank us.

Henri, I’m not sure we’re welcome here anymore…

In case you missed Part One, we’re on the quest for the ultimate low point of the Michigan sports fan in recent history. I’ll present you with the terrible moment/period/whatever, as well as an argument or two in favor of it being the worst moment, and an argument or two for it not being as bad as you remember. I’ll also include the flip-side of the karma coin; if the ennui moment was the Yin, I’ll try to look on the bright side of life by finding the Yang.

We’re looking at the period starting in the 1990’s until today. We already looked at the ultimate killer dong-blows, as well as the I-coulda-been-a-contenda moments. Today, we consider the generally miserable experiences in the Well That Was Unpleasant Region, as well as the catch-all General FML Region. Read this, then vote HERE.

You’ll be happy to know that this will be the final front page of this here series. I’ll keep you posted on the progress of the bracket in the Twitterverse posts in the coming weeks.

Again, remember to vote your pain here: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/PN9LXST

[For the protection of the childrens, all the gore after the jump].

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Dear Diary Fought in the Big One

Dear Diary Fought in the Big One Comment Count

Seth March 29th, 2013 at 9:50 AM

Jerry World (pic via Dawg Day Afternoon; need help finding the artist)

This week I saw a photo of Jerryworld with its floor removed in preparation for 2013 tourney games, and I was reminded of the horrific things that must be buried in that dirt: the blood from a terrible Indian battle, bits and pieces of Woodson's collarbone (Superbowl XLV) and Denard Robinson's shoulder dislodged by Dee Milliner, perhaps the remains of five hookers.

Among various banners this basketball team has been asked to carry, one is a flag of redemption for Michigan's other sports. Given the site and the stage, sure why not the Alabama game too? The last trip to the Dallas/Ft. Worth/Arlington parking lot from hell dismantled every shred of hope and excitement for the last year of Denard. Now another former Big Ten coach who moved South and built a pro factory of mauling blue chips could end our association with Burke. ClearEyesFullHart starts with Bill Self's Illinois teams to preview tonight's Sweet 16 matchup with Kansas.

If this trip doesn't work, there may be an opportunity in 2015.

Excelius in'dome'ine. Say hello to stopthewnba, who received a points advance so he could post another attempt to get all statistical about the "domes hurt shooting" meme. This is of course super-relevant to Michigan in Jerryworld tonight since we're very much the shootier squad. The data haven't gotten any larger, however there's knowledge gained:

In four of the past five seasons, among Sweet Sixteen teams, one of the top two teams that increase their scoring average in the tournament over their regular season average made the Final Four.  Similarly interesting is that in four of the past five seasons, one of the bottom two teams who score LESS in the tournament than their regular season average also made the Final Four:

I think I found the sampling bias in that: the further you go in the tournament the tougher defenses you will happen upon. The teams who score way above their normal rates those who "got hot" and they of course will go further, but good teams who are playing at the same level they did all year should see their scoring rate dip both due to the improved quality of defenses, and the fact that defenders are more rested thanks to all the advertising breaks. What sold this diary to me was the Excel sheet he attached, which gives me an opportunity to try out my new embedding plug-in:

That work? Sweet.

Pipkins Dominates the Michigan Drill. This was on the boards but it' the diary of the week, easy. Michael Scarn took the "Michigan Drill" I referenced last week and broke down how Ondre Pipkins did it right. The drill heavily favors the offense: a defender has to beat a blocker and contact the runner. A snippet:

As he makes contact with Bosch, Pipkins has already driven off his right foot as well, generating more power and force into Bosch.  His hands have shot inside very quickly and, as we'll see, will allow him to control Bosch.

Screen_Shot_2013_03_29_at_1_52_38_AM

When I watched this earlier I didn't want to over-emphasize because I thought Bosch probably true freshman'd something. He did, but Pipkins was able to use his technique mastery to take advantage of that. Read this if you want to know what Hoke is talking about when he gets defensive liney.

Goal by goal. Relive the wonderful Saturday and ultimately disheartening conclusion to hockey's last-ditch CCHA run via your last goal-by-goal analysis until probably sometime next year (hopefully MGoBlueline will start in November). Lost with the championship game was the glory of the semifinal against Miami (NTM), which itself can be a pleasant memory to keep from an otherwise unpleasant season.

You should hold a hat ceremony too! I gave The Michigan Men's Football Experience the recruiting profile treatment:

mmfe

If you are participating I highly encourage you to take the opportunity to mock the recruiting system as well.

Etc. LSAClassof2000 calculated the chances of various matchups occurring in this tourney, and you can follow the charts as games get decided; Ohio State's victory last night raised the likelihood of Michigan facing them in a championship to…I can't tell but it's like 5% or something. Sweet 16 Wallpaper by jonvalk. Blockhams uses a semicolon incorrectly.

[The Best of the Board, after the jump]

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Opponent Watch: Finale

Opponent Watch: Finale Comment Count

Heiko December 14th, 2012 at 3:25 PM

No. 2 Alabama (12-1 overall, 8-1 SEC)

Last game: Beat Georgia 32-28 in the SEC Championship after Georgia futzed a last-second goal line play.

As frightening as: Rome, ca. 450 A.D. Currently idling between sacks. Fear level = 9 but waning.

Superlative: Best cry after a win.

If Michigan could play them now: The humanity would overwhelm.

In hindsight, Michigan should have: Not scheduled them.

Bowl game: Will play No. 1 Notre Dame in a battle of which team Michigan fans want to cheer for less.

Prediction: It’s Notre Dame.

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Air Force (6-6 overall, 5-3 MWC)

Last game: Blown out by Fresno State 48-15. It’s like people know how to defend the triple option. Crazy.

As frightening as: Kryptonite. Ostensibly harmless, inert substance that glows green around Michigan players and makes them appear slow and weak. Fear level = 5.

Superlative: Most infuriating to root against due to nameplates bearing noble ideals.

If Michigan could play them now: Nobody needs that twice in one season.

In hindsight, Michigan should have: Scheduled them later, as in not right after Alabama.

Bowl game: Will play Rice in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl.

Prediction: The ratings will be higher overseas.

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UMass (1-11, 1-7 MAC)

Last game: Lost to Central Michigan 42-41.

Mike Cox!: 17 carries, 66 yards, 1 TD.

As frightening as: A flap of a butterfly’s wings. Every once in a while it might trigger a tiny vortex that blows a nearby butterfly off course. In this case that other butterfly would be 1-11 Akron. Fear level = 0.

Superlative: Most likely to appear in highlight reels of other teams.

If Michigan could play them now: It would be a nice glamour photo shoot for Michigan’s tailbacks complete with dramatic lighting, airbrushing, and green space.

In hindsight, Michigan should have: Not scheduled them. This game didn’t do anything for Michigan other than show us that Denard can throw a pick-six to even the worst defenses.

Bowl game: There should be an anti-playoff to determine the worst team in Division I.

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No. 1 Notre Dame (12-0 overall)

Last game: Failed to lose to USC, 22-13.

As frightening as: MRSA. Fear level = 8.

Superlative: Most referees on payroll.

If Michigan could play them now: Michigan would probably find another way to lose again, which is fine. This year, as they say, is Not Ours.

In hindsight, Michigan should have: Run the ball more, which sounds crazy now, but back then people had luxuries like ulnar nerves and tibias. This kind of thing worked.

Bowl game: Notre Dame is 60 minutes away from Returning to Glory. Agasp.

Prediction: Either way Ohio State won't end up No. 1 in the AP. 

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Purdue (6-6 overall, 3-5 B1G)

Last game: Won rivalry game against Indiana 56-35, fired coach.

Arithmetic: WALRUS minus STACHE equals MANATEE.

If Michigan could play them now: It would be a semifinal match for the title of “B1G Team with most season-altering injuries.” In the other bracket of this hypothetical tournament is Iowa, which has a bye because of its self-explanatory No. 1 seed.

In hindsight, Michigan should have: Savored this win more.

Bowl game: Heart of Dallas Bowl vs. Oklahoma State.

Prediction: Oklahoma State is 7-5. All five of its losses have been to teams that were ranked at one point or another during the season; Purdue lost to Minnesota. In conference play, Oklahoma State beat TCU, No. 24 Iowa State, West Virginia, and No. 23 Texas Tech by multiple scores; in conference play, Purdue beat Indiana by multiple scores.

This should go real well.

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Illinois (2-10 overall, 0-8 B1G)

Last game: Could not overcome five-score deficit; lost to Northwestern.

As frightening as: Someone else’s septic leak. Schadenfreude level = 4. It’s been a few years since they last beat Michigan, so it’s difficult to relish their misery.

Superlative: Most likely to develop oropharyngeal malignancy.

If Michigan could play them now: Be careful what you wish for, or Jim Delany might put them in Michigan’s division so Michigan can play them year after year after year until Fresno State joins the B1G and they have to redo the thing again. Playing Illinois every year doesn’t seem so bad, though. I just wish they could go back to being interesting rather than sad.

In hindsight, Michigan should have: Not injured Denard’s arm, since the arm issue would turn out to be kind of disastrous two games later. This is foreshadowing, for those of you who suffered from alcohol-induced retrograde amnesia after the OSU game and are now trying to piece the events of the season back together.

Bowl game: Ha. (By the way, what is with people typing “ha” over text or gchat? I normally have a two-“ha” minimum when I laugh electronically, unless I’m feeling derisive. Is being stingy with the “ha’s” a Michigan thing? I only ever notice this when communicating with people from Michigan.)

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Michigan State (6-6 overall, 3-5 B1G)

Last game: Beat Minnesota 26-10, avoided a losing record.

As frightening as: A rock.

Fear level = 5.

Superlative: Most likely to throw up on self en route to Disney World, ruining the trip for everyone.

If Michigan could play them now: Maybe Michigan could have some fake audibles. Like, okay, you don’t want to play chess with Narduzzi, but wouldn’t it be fun to pretend like you are? “Alert alert alert!” = base play. “Blue 42! Blue 42!” = base play. “We’re going to throw it to Dileo!” = We’re going to throw it to Dileo.

In hindsight, Michigan should have: Anticipated the most obvious fake punt situation ever, which has only become more obvious in hindsight.

Bowl game: B-dubs vs. TCU. Should be fun to watch actually.

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No. 16 Nebraska (10-3 overall, 7-2 B1G)

Last game: Lost 70-31 to Alabamasconsin.

As frightening as: A teenager who finally gets his license after failing twice. Fear level = 7, to others and self.

If Michigan could play them now: Oh if only.

In hindsight, Michigan should have: I hate them so much.

Bowl game: It’s more loathing than hate. It’s how you would feel about someone who you let copy your homework and then gets both of you in trouble.

Prediction: Nebraska plays Georgia. Good luck!

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Minnesota (6-6 overall, 2-6 B1G)

Last game: Lost to Michigan State 26-10.

As frightening as: Anything that can be described as “scrappy.” Fear level = 3.

Superlative: Best tire fire mitigation effort.

If Michigan could play them now: Same story, different day.

In hindsight, Michigan should have: Prepared Devin Gardner to play quarterback a week earlier. This is purely a hindsight thing, though.

Bowl game: Ritual gopher slaughter at Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas vs. Texas Tech.

Prediction: The gods will be pleased.

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All the better to play Monopoly with.

No. 20 Northwestern (9-3 overall, 5-3 B1G)

Last game: Managed to hold onto a five-score lead, beat Illinois 50-14.

As frightening as: Receiving an email with the subject line “Remove Me From This List!” Fear level = 7.

Superlative: Worst utilization of Kyle Prater.

If Michigan could play them now: I liked the screw-with-their-reads plan Mattison used late against Northwestern and Ohio State. Mattison knows how to play chess.

In hindsight, Michigan should have: Michigan had a good game plan. Northwestern put up a good fight. Not much to change.

Bowl game: Gator Bowl vs. Mississippi State.

Prediction: No idea actually. This will be a good match, oddly.

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Iowa (4-8, 2-6 B1G)

Last game: Lost to Nebraska 13-7. What a tease.

As frightening as: Nomads indigenous to the Great Plains who believe most bright colors to be evil and think the best cure for a gangrenous running back situation is to sacrifice linemen to a deity named AIRBHG. Recently discovered fire and a vertical passing game, no idea how to use either. Fear level = 3.

Superlative: Most unexpectedly overrated. People thought I was being harsh when I predicted Iowa to go 6-6.

If Michigan could play them now: It would just be sad.

In hindsight, Michigan should have: Saved some of the game plan for Ohio State. This was the annual “We wasted the good surprise on you” game.

Bowl game: Iowa is a proud people who do not believe in bowl games.

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Ohio State (12-0 overall, 8-0 B1G)

Last game: 1,000 newborns in the state of Ohio were named “Urban.”

As frightening as: VRSA. Fear level = 9.

Superlative: Worst thing ever.

If Michigan could play them now: By the end of the game, Braxton Miller will have sustained his tenth concussion (but still play anyway). Michigan will employ Denard and Devin in the same formation but hand it off to Vincent Smith anyway, because Ohio State would never expect it.

In hindsight, Michigan should have: Scored some points in the second half.

Bowl game: Gator Bowl vs. Florida, last year.

Comments

Opponent Watch: Week 11

Opponent Watch: Week 11 Comment Count

Heiko November 15th, 2012 at 3:05 PM

About Last Saturday:

A 10-point lead late in the third quarter - 31, Is not enough points when you are Northwestern - 38 (OT)

The best wide receiver in the B1G at right; My new favorite Northwestern player at left. (h/t @shane_heck)

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The Road Ahead:

Iowa (4-6 overall, 2-4 B1G)

Last game: Purdue 27, Iowa 24 (L)

Recap: You know things are pretty bad when you play the second-worst team in the conference (which is incidentally the second-worst conference in the BCS) and then all of a sudden you’re the second-worst team in the conference.

What is going on, Iowa? What’s the deal? Why do you have only one running play? Why do you refuse to throw a pass farther than five yards past the line of scrimmage? Why does your offensive coordinator still have a job? (Why did you hire him in the first place?) Why does your defense give up 500 yards of offense to an offense run by a guy who doesn’t have an ACL? How do you fail to beat a team when you’re plus 3 in turnover margin and have just two penalties for 16 yards to their 10 for 100?

These are the tough, existential questions I hope will never be asked about Michigan. /knocks on wood.

At this point, it seems like Iowa isn’t even trying. Let’s look at their season to date:

  • vs. Northern Illinois, 18-7 (W)
  • vs. Iowa State, 6-9 (L)
  • vs. Northern Iowa, 27-16 (W)
  • vs. Central Michigan, 31-32 (L)
  • vs. Minnesota, 31-13 (W)
  • BYE
  • @ Michigan State, 19-16 OT (W)
  • vs. Penn State, 14-38 (L)
  • @ Northwestern, 17-28 (L)
  • @ Indiana, 14-21 (L)
  • vs. Purdue, 24-27 (L)

That’s a couple of so-so games against randos, a couple of embarrassing close losses to Steele Jantz and Central Michigan, a close win against Michigan State that no one can really figure out, and then a bunch of games where they’ve gotten their asses handed to them, which have been disguised by final scores that belie reality.

Something isn’t working when Minnesota is the only convincing win of the season.

Okay, fine, there have been extenuating circumstances. The offensive line turned into a mess after the Penn State game when two linemen went out with injury, and then there’s AIRBHG, too, who wouldn’t even spare a fullback from his wrath. That shouldn’t be the end of the world, though. The Hawkeyes have a senior quarterback (best B1G pocket passer!), an All-conference caliber tight end, a bunch of fairly competent receivers, and a defense that … well, plays defense. Surely they could have mustered a better showing against Indiana.

Even more concerning: how will this team be any better next year? 

After the game, head coach Kirk Ferentz passionately defended his “dog crap” team. A few days later he dropped an F bomb. I’m half tempted to grab some popcorn to see what happens over the next two weeks -- Iowa plays Michigan and Nebraska. This promises to be more entertaining than an MGoBoard flamewar.

And I say “half” tempted only because, on the other hand, I don't want to support Nebraska’s economy. Not for another year, anyway.

/refuses to eat any food that contains corn.

/starves to death.*

This besmacks of: Societal failure.

Michigan should worry about: Not beating up on Iowa too badly. Michigan needs them to be as intact as possible when they play Nebraska next week since they could be Michigan’s last hope to hand Nebraska another loss. Although right now I like Minnesota's chances better.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: This has to be the easiest week of film study. Like ever.

When they play Michigan: It's Senior Day.

Also, bring tissues. It's going to get dusty.

Next game: No. 21 Michigan

*Joke stolen from Ace.

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Comments

Opponent Watch: Week 10

Opponent Watch: Week 10 Comment Count

Heiko November 9th, 2012 at 10:41 AM

About Last Saturday:

Jug Half Full - 35, Jug Half Empty - 13

Tom Olmscheid / AP

Get well soon.

May I suggest a bacta tank?

/ runs away giggling.

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The Road Ahead:

 

"This big?" / "No, THIS BIG."

No. 24 Northwestern (7-2 overall, 3-2 B1G)

Last week: Idlecats.

Recap: 

Mmm bokeh.

This team is as frightening as: A guy who shows up to a fight armed with only a Maglite. Except it's not a Maglite. It's a lightsaber. And he is Luke Skywalker. Fear level = 10

Michigan should worry about: Northwestern possesses the best wide receiver in the world. His name is Kyle Prater, and you don't know this because they have been keeping him a secret. They have been saving the surprise. Michigan has no idea what's coming. 

But I do.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: There is no shame in getting beaten by a player who is so elite that his presence at USC violated the laws of competitive fairness, which forced him to transfer to a small liberal arts school in Evanston and wear purple for the rest of his life.

When they play Michigan: Prater will have 12 catches for 170 yards and four touchdowns. 

Next game: @ Michigan.

Comments

Opponent Watch: Week 9

Opponent Watch: Week 9 Comment Count

Heiko November 1st, 2012 at 6:46 PM

About Last Saturday:

Funny bone 9, Serious bone 23.

Upchurch

Denard suffered an ulnar nerve compression. [UPDATE: Mgoreader drbogue suggests that it is more likely classified as a traumatic neuropraxia of the ulnar nerve, and I think that's accurate. The following explanations still apply because tomato tomato. 90% of you just tuned out anyway.]

Whence the ulnar nerve? Brace yourself for the fancy artwork below. Please direct your attention to the stringy yellow thing.

As you can see, the ulnar nerve innervates the interosseous muscles that are primarily responsible for grip. It also innervates the skin covering the pinky and half of the ring finger. When the ulnar nerve gets injured, the symptoms therefore manifest as loss of strength and coordination while gripping and a tingly burning sensation in the pinky and ring finger.

How long does such an injury typically take to heal? The internet suggests anything from "immediately" to "weeks" depending on severity, i.e. I don't really know. UPDATE: I just found a journal article that says that if there is "compression of a sufficient magnitude to sever axons," recovery will require several weeks during which even normal physical stress on the nerve should be avoided. Yikes. Let's hope it's not that.

Why is it sometimes called a funny bone injury? Usually the ulnar nerve is compressed at the elbow. It gets banged into the humerus. Now if you look closely at the humerus ...

You can see that it is indeed a funny bone.

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Opponent Watch: Week 8

Opponent Watch: Week 8 Comment Count

Heiko October 25th, 2012 at 7:17 PM

About Last Weekend:

Michigan State 10, Michigan 12

Apologies -- Spartyfreude is a little blurry. In any case, what are these people looking at? Oh I know. Anything but the scoreboard.

"You're good looking, and I'm good looking. We should be good looking together."

What TheOnlyColors and MaizeNBrew should do if they haven't done so already.

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The Road Ahead:

Nebraska (5-2 overall, 2-1 B1G)

Last game: Nebraska 29, Northwestern 28 (W)

Recap: When a team plays Northwestern, no deficit is too great to overcome. This is a fundamental law of football. With his team down 12 points in the fourth quarter, Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez (27/39, 342 yards, 3 TD) led the Huskers offense on two 80-yard touchdown drives to eke out a win. The Wildcats had an opportunity near the end to regain the lead but, as they are wont to do, they missed a long field goal.

For Michigan, this wasn’t the ideal outcome. While Northwestern had a nice streak going and remains one of the B1G’s two bowl-eligible teams, it would have been preferable to contend at home with a hypothetical one-conference-loss Northwestern team for the division rather than go to Lincoln to play a critical tie-breaker (sort of) game against a one-conference-loss Nebraska. If Michigan loses this weekend it no longer controls its own destiny. But you knew that.

So let’s focus on why the Huskers were down 12 to the Wildcats in the first place. For one, they didn’t have much rhythm on offense until Martinez went pass-happy against Northwestern’s defense, which plays a 4-3-Gibson scheme. The run game never broke anything big with the longest run being 15 yards. Martinez and RB Ameer Abdullah both got nearly 20 carries a piece and averaged 4.5 ypc, though the Wildcats have a decent run defense, so that’s not a total surprise.

Defensively they did a good job against most aspects of Northwestern’s attack – they kept Trevor Siemian (15/35, 116 yards, 2 TD) to 3.3 ypa and almost limited the Wildcats otherwise effective run game to less than three yards per carry … had it not been for one spectacular bust that allowed an 80-yard TD run by Venric Mark (16 carries, 118 yards, 1 TD) from a triple-option handoff up the middle. That the Blackshirts linebackers busted an assignment is an understatement.

As a final note, Nebraska turned the ball over three times over the course of the game. They fumbled twice (the one at the end was maybe meaningless) on offense and had one epic puntmuffin, which led immediately to a Northwestern touchdown.

Huskers fans prefer to downplay these mistakes, particularly the ones on special teams, when projecting how their team will do against upcoming opponents. Against Michigan, though, they won't be able to afford to play sloppy no matter how many yards they end up racking up on offense.

This team is as frightening as: The Detroit Tigers. Brilliant when in a groove but somewhat subject to horrifying derailment. Fear level = 6 +/-2.

Michigan should worry about: Limiting mistakes on the road at night. I think Brady Hoke and Al Borges have that down at the infuriating expense of offensive play calls that adjust intelligently to defensive scheme. This means that Michigan is just going to have to wait for the opponent to make mistakes on defense. I’m actually kind of okay with that in this case, because …

Michigan can sleep soundly about: I do not believe in Nebraska’s defense. Their most impressive performance to date has been against nobody. Serious. They’ve failed to hold any of their BCS opponents under 27 points. Maybe they did well against Wisconsin by holding Montee Ball to 90 yards rushing on 32 carries, but that was when the Badgers were going through an offensive crisis that resulted in the defenestration of their offensive line coach.

Maybe the Huskers have an okay secondary and a couple playmakers in the front seven, but that does not an Al Borges Denard Fusion Cuisine-busting defense make.

When they play Michigan: Michigan will try to win on the ground; Nebraska will try to win through the air. The Huskers have at least four viable receiving options in their receivers and tight ends, and it’s going to put a lot of pressure on the secondary to stick to their assignments, particularly if Raymon Taylor isn’t 100%. Plus, Michigan is overdue for giving up a big WTF play or two on defense. On the bright side, if the Huskers can’t do it, no one left on the schedule save Ohio State will be able to.

Next game: vs. No. 22 Michigan.

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Opponent Watch: Week 7

Opponent Watch: Week 7 Comment Count

Heiko October 18th, 2012 at 6:09 PM

About Last Weekend:

Illinois 0, Michigan 45

Poetry.

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Michigan State (4-3 overall, 1-2 B1G)

Last game: Iowa 19, Michigan State 16 2OT (L)

Recap: That this game went into double overtime should have been an NCAA violation. If not the NCAA, then at least the FCC, because gratuitous ugliness is just as indecent as sex and four-letter words.

Ace has the breakdown in his weekly FFFF. If you haven’t read it yet, here’s a visual summary:

Sometimes humor is controversial. Thankfully, dinosaurs are not.

The highlight of the game was the botched call at the end of the first half where half the team is running off the field, then running back on, then the offensive line shuffles (because that’s helpful), and then a guy who isn’t even the quarterback attempts to spike the ball as time expires. 

The best part of the sequence is that Iowa’s defense is all like, LOL, and celebrates like they’re not down 10-3 with 20 yards of total offense or anything.

Your Quarterback Throws Like Denard*: Andrew Maxwell -- 12/31, 179 yards, 5.8 ypa, 1 INT.

BONUS Your Quarterback Throws Worse Than The Quarterback Who Throws Like Denard: James Vandenberg -- 19/36, 134 yards, 3.7 ypa, 1 INT.

This team is as frightening as: A large rock.

Fear level = 5.

Michigan should worry about: Right now, with Michigan State’s playcalling as imaginative as a law school textbook and with how well Michigan is playing on defense, it’s hard to see the Spartans moving the ball much at all. Although Le’Veon Bell will probably convert a couple short third downs here and there and Maxwell will maybe complete a bomb or two to Keith Mumphery or Aaron Burbridge, the maddening 80-yard, 13-play drives probably won’t happen.

BUT.

The Wolverines defense has been so good despite not having super duper talent is partially due to their preparation. Like any smart coordinator, Greg Mattison coaches to tendencies. The problem with rivalry games is teams often break tendency (see 2011 Ohio State), especially if what they’ve been doing previously hasn’t been working (see 2011 Ohio State).

I wouldn’t be shocked if Michigan State comes out pretending to be Northwestern. If they're smart about it, they should.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: Northwestern scored 21 points against Minnesota by pretending to be Michigan State.

When they play Michigan: If I were Michigan State, this is what I would do (on offense, because defensively they’ll be just fine):

  1. Stop sucking.
  2. Use a lot of four-wide, one-back sets and throw screens and quick passes. Pass on first down when Michigan is keying on the run. If anything, this mitigates Michigan State’s offensive line problems. “But Michigan defended the dink and dunk offense so well against Purdue!” That’s because Purdue never had a run game to threaten the middle of the defense. The Spartans, on the other hand, have …
  3. Le’Veon Bell. Get him going with counters and halfback draws. Illinois early success running against Michigan appeared to result from their offensive line screwing with the Wolverines’ keys. One of their biggest gainers on the ground was a halfback draw when the offensive line showed pass and fooled the linebackers into dropping into coverage. 
  4. Throw deep to Burbridge when he’s one-on-one with Raymon Taylor. I fear this will be a frustrating matchup for Michigan.
  5. Quarterback draw with Andrew Maxwell. It would be the most epic trolling of all time.

Next game: @ No. 24 Big Brother

*There was an MSU College Gameday sign a couple weeks ago that read: “Braxton Throws Like Denard.” This was supposed to be some sort of insult.

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Opponent Watch: Week 6

Opponent Watch: Week 6 Comment Count

Heiko October 11th, 2012 at 4:06 PM

About Last Saturday:

Michigan 44, Purdue 13

Mike DiNovo / US PRESSWIRE

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The Road Ahead:

Illinois (2-4 overall, 0-2 B1G)

Last game: Illinois 14, Wisconsin 31 (L)

Recap: Illinois scored first at Camp Randall on a Nathan Scheelhaase keeper, which was so exciting that they forgot to do anything on offense again until the fourth quarter, when they were trailing 24-7.

Two years ago -- maybe even last year -- this game would have been much more impressive to behold. Tough defensive battle. Field position chess. Making Plays. Manball. But given the way both teams have been riding the strugglebus since September, I don’t think either team left the field being overly excited about anything. 

Wisconsin got back on track in the running game with RBs Montee Ball (19 carries, 116 yards, 6.1 ypc) and James White (6 carries, 42 yards, 7.0 ypc) against a decent Illini rush defense (ranked somewhere between 30th and 40th), but they got most of their yards late in the game when the game was pretty much out of hand. They did nothing before the end of the third quarter.

Badgers QB Joel Stave (16/24, 254 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT) proved himself an apt replacement for Danny O’Brien, but the offense did an awful job on third down, converting only two of 10 attempts. Stave threw one bomb in the fourth quarter to WR Jared Abbrederis (7 rec, 117 yards, 1 TD), but was otherwise unremarkable. His other long TD was a screen to White.

So … what about Illinois? Illinois has a running quarterback and a couple scary-ish guys on defense. The rest of the team wears jerseys with nameplates that alternatingly read “Despair” and “Self-pity.”

Personnel note: CB Terry Hawthorne was involved in a nasty collision during the game (he got flagged for the dangerous hit), lost consciousness for several long moments, and had to get carted away in an ambulance. He’s deemed “questionable” for Saturday and needs to clear a bunch of concussion tests and cardio workouts, and then endure practice. Yeah. I don’t think he’s playing.

This team is as frightening as: Once upon a time Illinois was a rock: full of inertia, heavily influenced by gravity, a hazardous roadblock. Then someone stuck a stick of dynamite beneath it and blew it into a pile of rubble. Now all anyone needs to do is roll over it slowly and watch for jagged edges, of which there are few. Fear level = 2.5.

Michigan should worry about: Every once in a while a flailing team coordinates all its movements to put together an improbably coherent and effective performance against a confidently unsuspecting opponent. You can’t have followed Michigan football over the last several years and not experience this feeling on a weekly basis.

Michigan can sleep soundly about: The fact that they were better under Ron Zook, which is kind of like saying chocolate was better with orange juice because now all you have is tobacco juice.

When they play Michigan: Home game Big House wooooooo.

Next game: No. 25 Michigan

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