The Navarre Zone

The Navarre Zone

Submitted by Brian on September 11th, 2017 at 12:35 PM

9/9/2017 – Michigan 36, Cincinnati 14 – 2-0

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furk [Eric Upchurch]

There is always a tipping point when something that probably won't happen becomes something that probably will happen. Sometimes this is nice, like when the entire NFL swears up and down that Jim Harbaugh wouldn't go back to Ann Arbor for love or money. Sometimes it is not nice.

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If we aren't already at the tipping point where "Wilton Speight makes a lot of critical mistakes" is a reasonable, seemingly immutable theory, surely we are approaching it.

The weird thing is the way these critical mistakes are loosed into the world. Anybody can throw several passes into defenders' facemasks. Killing your team with a blizzard of boggling interceptions is almost common in college football, where injuries and the vagaries of rostering regularly see peach-fuzzed high schoolers thrown into a tank of piranhas. Sometimes people transfer from Tulane and are expected to stop throwing interceptions, for reasons unknown.  Also apparently the NFL has this issue. Twitter informs me Scott Tolzien—yes, that guy—started a game this weekend. Twitter hastens to note that things did not go well. The hopelessly overmatched panic machine quarterback is so common it's a football trope.

Speight, on the other hand, has an air of cool control up until the moment he wings a pass so high that Donovan Peoples-Jones correctly decides his best bet is to spike it, or he turns around to hand air to his running back, or he does that again for the second time in one dang game. He does not seem overwhelmed. He hasn't thrown into coverage except on rare, understandable occasions*. He's yelling at his peach-fuzzed skill player crew about where to line up regularly. He makes a bunch of checks at the line. He is a man in command.

And then.

The very bad events are adding up. Everyone misses guys or makes bad reads or eats a sack on occasion. Speight's bad has been explosively bad, and maximally punished. Thus this column, which is lot like 2015's Jake Rudock is going to kill us column.

Rudock, of course, did not kill Michigan. He turned into a fine college player and Matt Stafford caddy, and even now it's not too hard to see Speight getting it together. His issues are fairly simple to correct; they jumped out at me, a layman, on a re-watch and Speight confirmed it in the postgame press conference:

“What it comes down to is, when there's something going on in my face – when I avoid the pressure – I've got to keep my base. Coach Pep is big on keeping my base. Staying loaded. And sometimes when I move around in the pocket, I get a little sloppy with my feet and it causes the ball to sail or go a little low."

Speight was leaning back a bunch in this game and the resulting throws were high. Nick Baumgardner with a preview of what UFR is going to say:

Also he's dorfing handoffs because he's not listening to Harbaugh. Two seemingly simple fixes yet to make it to the field in year four. This cuts both ways: if Speight can fix his lingering issues Michigan has that commanding guy when he throws straight and does not fumble exchanges, and that seems pretty good.

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deep shot hit rate: muchly [Bryan Fuller]

There are very good reasons that Speight is keeping his competition stapled to the bench, and it's that upside. Nobody else on the roster is going to walk on the field and know where everyone else has to be, a critical skill given the average age of Michigan's offense. Nobody else is going to have all the checks in his head, or the pocket presence.

The things Wilton Speight needs to fix are fixable in a timespan of weeks. John O'Korn and Brandon Peters do not have flaws (presence and youth, respectively) nearly as tractable, and so Michigan is going to ride with Speight and hope like hell these blips are just that, and not a pattern that will clobber a promising season like it did in Iowa City last year.

Until further notice, all dropbacks will be evaluated with a jaundiced eye and glance towards Columbus. Welcome to the John Navarre zone.

*[In this game he tried a deep shot to a bracketed Peoples-Jones because there were only two guys in the route and both were covered and what else was he going to do, which is fine.]

HIGHLIGHTS

Inside Michigan Football:

AWARDS

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mobile man mauls Mouhon [Fuller]


Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week

-2535ac8789d1b499[1]you're the man now, dog

#1 Mason Cole. This is a bit of a guess but OL never get the proper amount of respect in this section because I haven't gone over things with a fine-toothed comb yet. Cole helped Michigan bust a lot of crack sweeps, and while Isaac got the yardage on the long one it was Cole's ability to ID the force defender, declare him harmless, and go wreck a safety that sprung the play. He gave up nothing in pass protection, as well.

#2(t) Khaleke Hudson, Devin Bush, and Tyree Kinnel. Michigan's bushel of short fast dudes on defense terrorized the Cincinnati backfield, collecting all of Michigan's sacks on the day. Each also had their moments in the ground game as well; Kinnel in particular had a couple of critical tackles. Oh, and a pick six. (That was a bit of a gift, yes.) I'm rounding up and giving each gent a point. The points are made up and don't matter, people!

#3 Ty Isaac. Isaac was Michigan's best back again, slaloming through waves of opponent players. He alternated bounces with interior runs that kept UC off guard and used his size and speed combination to excellent effect.

Honorable mention: Winovich, Hurst, and Gary were all effective in bursts. Brandon Watson was in the back pocket of many a wide receiver. Grant Perry was efficient, explosive, and dangit that third down was a catch. Zach Gentry had a couple of key receptions.

Honorary Honorable mention: Baker Mayfield.

KFaTAotW Standings.

4: Devin Bush (#1, Florida, T2 Cincinnati)
3: Mason Cole (#1, Cincinnati), Ty Isaac (#2, Florida, #3 Cincinnati)    
1: Quinn Nordin (#3, Florida), Khaleke Hudson (T2 Cincinnati), Tyree Kinnel (T2 Cincinnati).

Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week

Grant Perry's third-quarter grab and go both further established him as a bonafide top-flight, experienced receiver but staked Michigan to a two score lead that allowed most to exhale.

Honorable mention: This week the good section gets to talk about Pick Six #1 and Pick Six #2. You will like them better here, I imagine. Also: Ty Isaac rips a long one off down the sideline, Speight hits Kekoa Crawford with a bomb; Rashan Gary hulks up after nearly getting ejected and gets the crowd hyped.

imageMARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.

Speight's second dorfed exchange ends a promising drive for Michigan and causes even the aggressively reasonable to think this guy has a long term issue.

Honorable mention: Cincinnati rips off a long touchdown drive to start the third quarter and create a period of squeaky bum time; Donovan Peoples-Jones turns out to be Not Jabrill Peppers on punt returns; various Speight overthrows; that one play where both guards pulled in opposite directions.

[After THE JUMP: oh also a defense]

Unverified Voracity Ain't No Jive Turkey

Unverified Voracity Ain't No Jive Turkey

Submitted by Brian on December 14th, 2016 at 4:03 PM

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[Bill Rapai]

Bust items. Michigan's annual football bust was last night. The most important thing arising from it was either Harbaugh emphatically stating he was not leaving Michigan and that three "jive turkeys" were spreading rumors to damage the program...

...or this photobomb.

Better men than me will have to parse a winner between those two items. I mean.

Split those hairs, if you will.

Other bits and pieces:

  • John O'Korn's status is up in the air: you "may see him back here next year."
  • Also in fifth year limbo: Wyatt Shallman, Patrick Kugler, David Dawson. We've been assuming Shallman gets a firm handshake since RB and FB are both full of guys and he hasn't been able to stay healthy. Michigan will probably need the OL depth Kugler and Dawson provide. It wouldn't be much of a surprise to see one or both start, but last year Michigan went into spring camp over 85 and without various exits the axe could have fallen on a guy like Matt Godin.
  • Maurice Hurst was not present—some guys had class commitments—and Harbaugh urged people to @ him to encourage him to return. Hurst's publicly stated he is leaning towards a return. Obviously that decision is not made yet.
  • Harbaugh further stumped for a sixth year for Jeremy Clark.

It is possible to take recruiting rankings too seriously. We take them seriously around here, but not this seriously:

FSU has the talent advantage in the game at every position except the offensive line.

That's a Tallahassee Democrat article titled "It's Experience versus Talent" in the Orange Bowl, which, uh

Because of the Michigan offensive line, the Michigan offense has a higher average recruiting ranking than the Seminoles despite the Seminoles having the edge at the skill positions and quarterback.

So not really. Also Michigan's defense has a walk-on at nose tackle... a walk-on who will be a mid-round draft pick. The moral of the article is that the recruiting rankings are close to a wash and Michigan is a bunch older, which helps explain why Michigan is a touchdown favorite.

Harbaugh's fourth down decisions analyzed. Long piece on Harbaugh's punt or go-for-it decision from Big House Analytics finds that somewhere between 60 and 80 percent of the time Harbaugh agrees with math dorks:

Ultimately, we have a 77.8% “success rate” here, if you will — out of Michigan’s 45 non-garbage-time punts and their nine non-garbage-time fourth-down conversion attempts, Harbaugh’s decision to punt or go was Romer-approved or at least defensible given the complexion of the game (in my opinion) 77.8% of the time. If you want to go by the book (meaning the punts I deemed as defensible but not Romer-approved counting against our success rate instead of for it), our score is 59.3%.

This analysis doesn't get into anything team specific, so Michigan's iffy running game and killer defense don't factor in. Both of those argue for a more conservative tack. Only a couple of Harbaugh's decisions stood out to me as poor: punting on fourth and five from the OSU 36 early was pretty bad. On the other hand, that set up a first half where OSU was constantly pinned back and Michigan eventually cracked their D for a TD. It was very Ten Year War, and you could see why people tended to play that way back in the day.

Meanwhile on that FSU OL. Sometime OL starter Wilson Bell was arrested for failure to appear after a hit-and-run on property. No word yet on whether that affects his availability for the bowl game. I'd guess that it doesn't since no announcement has been made yet.

Hitching your revenue model to the cable bundle was foolish. It's going to take some time, but not as much as some people thought it would. ESPN is already becoming a bit of a boat anchor for Disney:

ESPN was thrust into the spotlight in November when the ratings company Nielsen predicted the sports juggernaut would lose 621,000 cable subscribers that month. Nielsen estimated the sports network would lose another 555,000 subscribers in December.

The staggering losses have led to calls by analysts for Disney to spin off or sell the beleaguered network, which has lost 9 million subscribers in three years, according to company filings.

The cable bundle is going to dissolve. That is inevitable. I sure as hell wouldn't have cable if I didn't watch sports, and about 100% of people younger than me have the same opinion. Since sports is by far the most expensive thing in the cable bundle, grandmas who just want to watch HGTV will bolt and we'll be the only ones left. At that point you don't get to put your hand in New York's pocket just because you added Rutgers, and then Rutgers is a barnacle on the Big Ten.

Maybe they can just eject them like the Big East ejected Temple? That's the ticket?

Draft split. Todd McShay's first mock draft has Peppers 4th; he fell out of PFF's first round mock. I'd split the difference there: Peppers obviously has some things to work on, but no athlete as outrageous as he is will fall to the second round.

McShay also has Taco Charlton(24th) and Jourdan Lewis(28th) in his first round. Hopefully Charlton does go in the first round, because then I will be less peeved about his lack of a redshirt. Also he deserves it.

Also of note for Michigan fans: McShay has OSU CB Marshon Lattimore and UW OT Ryan Ramczyk in his first round. Both guys could return to school; Michigan would obviously prefer it if they did not.

Russell Wilson part 2? 247 reports that Wisconsin is looking like the landing spot for ND grad transfer QB Malik Zaire. Zaire has about 100 career attempts to his name over the last three years and brings Devin Gardner-esque athleticism. He's not a slam dunk, but he's looked better than Alex Hornibrook. Would give Wisconsin another element.

The life of an analyst. Fascinating article on the guys who get their foot in the door for Bill Belichick:

Daboll was well prepared. He had spent two years as a grad assistant at Michigan State under Saban, so could speak semi-comfortably about scheme, self-scout, all that. Then Scarnecchia asked him about salary.

What do you think you should make?

Daboll had researched this, too. He had made calls to colleagues, and had dug up salary surveys from the NFL Coaches Association. He believed the average annual salary was around $65,000. He also thought, having worked for Saban, that he was a tad better than average.

"So I say 70," Daboll recalled. "And Brad Seely leans over and says, 'Would you take 15?' I go, 'Yessir.'"

NFL teams lowballing QC types like they're newspapers out here. Article also has a bunch of details on what breaking into football coaching is actually like. It is a ton of yes/no game charting.

Etc.: Carol Hutchins wins the inaugural Pat Summitt award. Well deserved. Minnesota suspends ten(!) players indefinitely. They decline to say why because of "privacy restrictions relating to student educational data," which tells you why. [UPDATE: Nevermind. Very bad.]

Peppers and mom in NYC. Some Don Brown twist stuff. Will Lockwood will be out for some time thanks to an obvious boarding incident that went uncalled but still separated his shoulder. "Christmas camp." Sounds fun!

This Week’s Obsession: Stumbling Blocks

This Week’s Obsession: Stumbling Blocks

Submitted by Seth on October 5th, 2016 at 11:00 AM

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[Bryan Fuller]

The Question:

Biggest risk of not reaching The Game undefeated? Can be opponent or team issue

---------------------------------

The Responses:

Seth: My answers are low-score entropy, and the general bloodimindedness of the Big Ten universe. When Stribling fell down those who don't remember Bo-era losses must've thought "well that's what happens when you let a worse team off the hook." Those of us who do thought "Oh no, not again."

Randomness is the enemy of all favorites. When you're an offensive juggernaut with an okay defense, you worry about an injury to your dervish quarterback, conditions that take away something the defense couldn't, and staying on pace. When you're a defensive juggernaut with an okay offense, you worry about the one play.

We were given a treatment for the latter against Wisconsin. When facing a real defense, Michigan's just-okay offense will get bogged down. Michigan can mitigate the inability to kick a 40-yarder with better 4th down strategy, but this feeds the chaos engine.

Iowa brought back most of a great defense and could put it back together at night in Kinnick. Dantonio State will always play its best against Michigan. Indiana is probably better than either of those two and would be utterly terrifying if their chaos seed was just that rather than a curse. And out there on the Big Ten seas lurk the John O'Neill officiating crew, sworn enemies oddsmakers, favorites and ever calling holding unless it didn't happen, and capable of shifting an expected score by 28 points on the regular. When the deck is stacked in your favor, chaos is the enemy

[After THE JUMP: Respekt is earned.]

Professor Chaos

Professor Chaos

Submitted by Brian on November 16th, 2015 at 12:29 PM

11/14/2015 – Michigan 48, Indiana 41 (2OT) – 8-2, 5-1 Big Ten

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[Bryan Fuller]

Other things happened on Saturday.

Florida played South Carolina, for one. As of 11 AM on November 14th Florida is 8-1, already the SEC East champions, and a fringe playoff contender. South Carolina is 3-6 and has already seen Steve Spurrier bolt for the golf course midseason. An ESPN reporter catches up with first-year Florida head coach Jim McElwain for an interview. He asks McElwain if Florida plans on beating South Carolina's head in so that the playoff committee will like them more.

This is a dumb question for a lot of reasons. For one, if Florida wins out the only thing that will keep them out of the playoff is the apocalypse. For two, only one coach is going to respond "oh sure, definitely" when asked he is going to beat a noble opponent until they look like Jared Leto in Fight Club. Unfortunately Spurrier is that man, and he is now a pro-am golfer. For three, Florida just beat Vanderbilt 9-7.

Anyway McElwain gives this reporter an eyebrow cock and laughs out an answer. It's a good answer: "we're not at the point in this program where we can think like that."

Three hours later the Gamecocks fire in two quick touchdowns to pull within 17-14. Florida fends off further scoring from an Ichabod Crane program and rips off a big run while they're trying to kill the clock; 24-14 is the final but a bounce here or there and, well, you know.

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Michigan isn't at the point in their program where they can take much of anything for granted. This goes both ways. Suddenly the defense's fiery dominance is very much in question, but as compensation Jake Rudock is accounting for 500 yards of total offense. Jake Rudock is throwing the ball well downfield and it is going swimmingly. Jake Rudock is saying "eff it" and punting it up to Jehu Chesson to get Michigan down to the one. Jake Rudock has sweet nunchucks, and he is no longer hitting himself in the face with them.

Meanwhile, Michigan has finally run out of people to throw at opponents on the defensive line. Michigan has a very good starting 22 but the defense goes about 16 guys deep before a cliff. Michigan has three ILBs and then… uh. They have four CBs and then nah. They have eight… seven… six… five DL, and if there is ever a wrong time to be short-handed on the defensive line it is against high-tempo, crazy-ass Indiana when they have a healthy Jordan Howard.

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pictured: anime Jordan Howard

So Kevin Wilson had a plan, or at least half of a plan. The plan: be on the field forever going fast and get Michigan tired out and then get guys who had never played before locked on the field. Sometimes the other half of the plan consisted of watching Michigan score quick touchdowns, but this quickly devolved into a replay of that one Denard-vs-Indiana game. You know, the one where Indiana went on Ishtar-length scoring drives. After those drives Michigan would get the ball back and Denard would immediately run 75 yards. Repeat until dizzy. Continue repeating until vomiting. Implement yet further repeating until unconscious.

Michigan did have a ten play touchdown drive at the beginning of the second quarter, but the rest of their drives before the one-minute drill lasted 4, 3, 2, and 3 plays. Two of those were touchdowns, so hooray for that, but as that was going on this is what Indiana was doing:

  • 9 plays, 29 yards
  • 11 plays, 53 yards
  • 17(!) plays, 71 yards
  • 8 plays, 41 yards
  • 5 plays, 24 yards
  • 7 plays, 61 yards

None of those drives took as long as the Michigan 10 plays drive; Indiana got that 17 play drive off in just 5:22 of clock time.

The pace and inability to get off the field murdered the beat-up Michigan defensive line. Wilson's decision to go for three separate fourth down attempts, two of which succeeded, contributed to the downward spiral of the Michigan defense and directly led to Michigan's punch-drunk second half. On the third, Wilson threw a screen on third and ten with every intention of going for it on the ensuing fourth and short.

Fire Kevin Wilson immediately, please.

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Michigan came out the other end of that game, shook up but unscathed. Indiana does this to everyone. OSU was fortunate to not get hit with a pass interference penalty on a thirty-yard heave that would have tied that game. Indiana was driving for the lead halfway through the fourth quarter against MSU. Indiana lost to Rutgers.

Even if I don't think it's going to happen this time, I am now thoroughly used to the mid-game shift from "this is a football game against Indiana" to "this is a METH BENDER against THE CRAZED RACCOON MAFIA." By the end of the first quarter I was holding onto my butts. By the fourth quarter I had chewed a small hole in the earth's crust. Overtime was spent peeking through split fingers.

Michigan eventually held, though, demonstrating why it's better to have a struggling defense than a notional one. And here we are again: for Michigan, exhausted and victorious. For Indiana, heartbroken and half-blind.

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Indiana should definitely never stop doing this, but they should stop doing this. Fire Kevin Wilson. Replace him with Gerry DiNardo. Have the same record but lose by 30 points every game. For your heart, Indiana, and mine.

HIGHLIGHTS

Michigan-centric from Parking God:

This one has some things Indiana did if you can stand the buttrock soundtrack:

AWARDS

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hoofin' it [Fuller]

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Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week

you're the man now, dog

#1 Jake Rudock set an (overtime-aided) Michigan record for touchdown passes, and just about hit 10 YPA on a 46-attempt, 440 yard day, and added in 64 rushing yards for good measure. The interception was unfortunate but other than that he crushed it.

#2 Jehu Chesson was Rudock's favorite target, grabbing a deep in route on the fly and taking it to the house for a 64 yard touchdown. Rudock hit him twice on the touchdown drive that ended regulation, once on the kind of floated ball he's had trouble adjusting to so far in his career. No problems there and none on the subsequent fourth-and-five catch where two different guys blew him up.

#3 Delano Hill couldn't be held responsible for most of the bad things that happened to the defense because he wasn't out there for a lot of it, but after Dymonte Thomas was knocked out he entered to make 10 tackles, 8 of them solo. He made the plays that stopped Indiana in double over time, first blitzing to tackle Howard on second down, then tackling Sudfeld in space on third down, and finally winning man press coverage against a slot guy for the win.

Honorable mention: Amara Darboh and Jake Butt also racked up piles of yards on the receiving end of Rudock passes; Jourdan Lewis just about had two interceptions and was very difficult to beat as per usual; the offensive line couldn't get much push on the ground but they were great in pass protection.

KFaTAotW Standings.

9: Jourdan Lewis (#1 UNLV, #1 Northwestern, #1 MSU), Jabrill Peppers(#2 BYU, #2 Northwestern, #2 MSU, #1 Minnesota)
7: Jake Rudock (#3 Northwestern, #1 Rutgers, #1 Indiana)
6: Chris Wormley(#2 Utah, #1 Oregon State, #3 Rutgers)
5: Jake Butt(#1 Utah, #2 Rutgers)
4: Maurice Hurst (#2 Maryland, #2 Minnesota),
3: De'Veon Smith(#2 Oregon State, #3 BYU), Ryan Glasgow (#1 BYU), Desmond Morgan (#1 Maryland),
2: Ty Isaac(#2 UNLV), Willie Henry(#3 Utah, #3 MSU), Jehu Chesson(#2 Indiana)
1: AJ Williams (#3 Oregon State), Channing Stribling(#3 UNLV), Blake O'Neill(#3 Maryland), Drake Johnson(#3 Minnesota), Delano Hill(#3 Indiana).

Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week

This week's best thing ever.

Last play wins tend to have the last play feature in this section.

Honorable mention: Any number of Jake Rudock passing TDs—six to be specific. A looping pass to Butt gets Michigan into a manageable third down after second and twenty nine.

WGIBTUs Past.

Utah: Crazy #buttdown.
Oregon State: #tacopunts.
UNLV: Ty Isaac's 76 yard touchdown.
BYU: De'Veon Smith's illicit teleporter run.
Maryland: Jehu Chesson jet sweeps past you.
Northwestern: Chesson opening KO TD.
MSU: the bit where they won until they didn't.
Minnesota: form a f-ing wall.
Rutgers: Peppers as Denard.
Indiana: Delano Hill seals it with a PBU.

imageMARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.

This week's worst thing ever.

Indiana has nineteen straight runs in the second half, reminding everyone of that RichRod game against Wisconsin, which is the last game I ever expected to be reminded of this week.

Honorable mention: Channing Stribling's very bad tackle attempt leads to a PR TD; Rudock throws an INT at an inopportune moment.

PREVIOUS EDBs

Utah: circle route pick six.
Oregon State: Rudock fumbles after blitz bust.
UNLV: Rudock matches 2014 INT total in game 3.
BYU: BYU manages to get to triple digit yards in the last minutes of the game.
Maryland: Slog extended by deflected interception at Houma.
Northwestern: KLINSMANN OUT
MSU: Obvious.
Minnesota: The bit where the lost it until they didn't.
Rutgers: KO return given up.
Indiana: run run run run run run run run run run run run.

[After THE JUMP: if bad Rudock is Ruddock how do you subtract more Ds from his name than one]

I'll Believe In Anything; You'll Believe In Anything

I'll Believe In Anything; You'll Believe In Anything

Submitted by Brian on October 5th, 2015 at 12:24 PM

10/3/2015 – Michigan 28, Maryland 0 – 4-1, 1-0 Big Ten

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fight or fliiiiiiiiiiaaaaaaargh [Patrick Barron]

I'LL BELIEVE IN ANYTHING – WOLF PARADE

"I mean ... there were a couple plays where they got first downs. We've got to look at that and correct it. They shouldn't have anything."

-Maurice Hurst

"I BELIEVE" seems like one of the most fun things to say at full bellow. You are in thrall to whatever it is you are busy believing in. You are ejecting spittle that contains within it the virus that will pass the belief on to those blessed by its impact. You have left the constellation of niggling doubts and pressing issues behind for at least three syllables. It sounds like a good time.

With neither Catholics nor Michigan fans prone to bare-chested, cloth-rending proclamations of that sort, I haven't had many opportunities to test this theory out personally. Once I when I was a teenager I ended up in a place where super serious teenagers were hanging out and speaking in tongues and the like. Yes, the reason was a girl. No, it didn't take.

But anyway in the aftermath I have occasionally found myself lingering on late-night exploitative religious television with equal parts scorn, sympathy, and jealousy. While the pompadour'd reverend is immediately repulsive, I get the flock's desire.

Just give me a sign, Lord. Just give me a sign. I will take this sweaty dude's earpiece radio telling him details from the card I filled out. I'll take anything. My God, this dude is sweaty. That wasn't directed at you, necessarily, Lord. You probably know about the sweaty guy already. Sorry.

Just give me a sign.

He is really sweaty though.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Here is what this game was like: Michigan punched in the first touchdown of the game early in the third quarter. When Maryland got the ball back, the play by play announcer gamely attempted to maintain the general public's waning interest by noting it was "just a two score game."

Unless it's the Big Ten West you're talking about, in modern college football you don't have to say that in the third quarter. You don't have to say it until there are about five minutes left, and that's only if someone's out of timeouts.

Baylor and Texas Tech were a couple hours away from trading 45 minutes of haymakers before falling over in an exhausted heap. Tennessee hired Mike DeBord and now specializes in blowing three-score leads. Indiana—Indiana minus its starting tailback and quarterback!—took three separate Ezekiel Elliott uppercuts and still staggered its way back to attempt a potential game-tying drive. They got a 79-yard touchdown run from that quarterback made out of popsicle sticks. Their attempt to tie only ended because a relatively obvious pass interference call in the endzone went unnoticed.

Indiana. Indiana's bench.

These days a two score lead in football is slightly more meaningful than one in basketball, but you could be forgiven for forgetting that during any particular Big 12 game. Anyone turning off a game because two scores separate the sides is ravenously hungry and can't turn on the toaster and the TV without blowing a fuse or has something seriously wrong—like Lions fandom—with them.

Not right now, not against Michigan. If you find yourself two scores down against Michigan it's time for a priest and a eulogy. "BYU: at least they're already saved." "Maryland: if you pay really close attention you can tell they tried."

I mean, maybe not forever. Anything this good is bound to regress to the mean and get various holes poked in it and fall over breathing heavily. This isn't even typical Michigan fan bleating, it's just a fact. The ultimate fact of the universe is entropy. Ask Ohio State, currently struggling to nose ahead of MAC teams and Indiana after returning almost literally everyone of importance from a team that blitzed Oregon and Alabama to end last year. Ask the water on Mars. Ask Devin Gardner. Chaos reigns.

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Michigan now faces back-to back undefeated top 15 opponents. A year ago this would have been time to stock up the bunker and wait for the bombs to fall. Even when the Harbaugh Hail Mary was gloriously completed, we collectively told ourselves we were going to keep expectations on the level. Hopes stopped at "this is a nice 8-4 season that feels very nice and also like football mostly."

It's dumb to go past that even now. Reasonable expectations are a nice thing to have. The poison of ridiculous ones is evident down the road. I've been here before, latching on to the things that seem good and saying maybe it'll happen this time. I have gotten naught but misery for my troubles.

But each three and out, each time a Michigan defensive lineman shoots through a gap he should not be able to pierce, each bewildered quarterback throwing a ball he sort of hopes is complete but mostly just wants out of his hand—all of it sucks me closer to the event horizon. Within it all reason is lost and the future is a horde of pending victims in our war against the galaxy.

Outwardly I am still too Michigan to cry it out, the thing that is fun to say. But on third and long—and there is always a third and long—my eyes dance with blood. Just give me a sign, Lord.

HIGHLIGHTS

Also, the BTN profiled Amara Darboh:

AWARDS

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Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week

Now named! Named like so because this is the nicest thing Harbaugh can say about you.

you're the man now, dog

#1 Desmond Morgan was actually relevant this week. He was also terrific, with a difficult diving interception on a deflected pass, two pass breakups besides, and nine tackles.

#2 Maurice Hurst edges out the rest of the defensive line with two ultra-badass TFLs, one a sack on a three man rush, one an extremely similar play where he dumped the RB in the backfield.

#3 Blake O'Neill delicately located two punts inside the five, had a 59-yarder, and was extremely important for field position in a field-position-heavy game.

Honorable mention: All defensive persons. Drake Johnson. Jake Butt. The offensive braintrust.

KFATAotW Standings.

5: Chris Wormley(#2 Utah, #1 Oregon State)
3: Jake Butt (#1 Utah), Jourdan Lewis (#1 UNLV), De'Veon Smith(#2 Oregon State, #3 BYU), Ryan Glasgow (#1 BYU), Desmond Morgan (#1 Maryland)
2: Ty Isaac(#2 UNLV), Jabrill Peppers(#2 BYU), Maurice Hurst (#2 Maryland).
1: Willie Henry (#3 Utah), AJ Williams (#3 Oregon State), Channing Stribling(#3 UNLV), Blake O'Neill(#3 Maryland)

Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week

This week's best thing ever.

Jehu Chesson gets loose on a jet sweep and puts a Maryland safety in an early grave before outrunning the other guy to the endzone.

Honorable mention: Perfectly called Drake Johnson screen goes for touchdown; perfectly called Jake Butt screen goes for 44 yards; every defensive play except about six.

WGIBTUs Past.

Utah: Crazy #buttdown.
Oregon State: #tacopunts.
UNLV: Ty Isaac's 76 yard touchdown.
BYU: De'Veon Smith's illicit teleporter run.
Maryland: Jehu Chesson jet sweeps past you.

imageMARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.

This week's worst thing ever.

A Jake Rudock NO NO NO YES throw hits Sione Houma in the hands and bounces up to a defender, thus prolonging the first-half slog significantly.

Honorable mention: Even though Michigan got it back, Ty Isaac's second fumble felt a lot like a promising guy eating bench for half a season. Also Isaac's first fumble.

PREVIOUS EDBs

Utah: circle route pick six.
Oregon State: Rudock fumbles after blitz bust.
UNLV: Rudock matches 2014 INT total in game 3.
BYU: BYU manages to get to triple digit yards in the last minutes of the game.
Maryland: Slog extended by deflected interception at Houma.

[After THE JUMP: sad ghost rudock, tuff ghost defensive line]

Mailbag: Heartbaugh, Super Bowl Game Theory, Demoralization List(!), Beilein Recruiting

Mailbag: Heartbaugh, Super Bowl Game Theory, Demoralization List(!), Beilein Recruiting

Submitted by Brian on February 16th, 2015 at 10:18 AM

Okay

Good Morning (Afternoon in Ann Arbor) MGoBlog Team,

In the spirit of the upcoming holiday, the attached picture was being passed around by the 49ers fans here in my office.  One had the insight to share with me.

Go Blue.

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I want to see a version of this with the MVictors glare photo.

Not at all timely response to Super Bowl question.

Brian,

You briefly mentioned how you believe Belichick not using a timeout at the end of the Super Bowl was a colossal overlooked mistake, and that the ends don't justify the means.  In almost all cases I agree with you on coaches' inability to properly use timeouts (e.g. Hoke giving up a free hail mary).  However, in this particular case, I disagree and I think the statistics and "feels" may bear out that Belichick didn't necessarily just get lucky.

Everyone knew that, at some point, Lynch was going to get the ball.  With only one timeout left, Belichick knew that Seattle couldn't run it three straight times. In addition, Lynch had not been very good, going only 45% successful in short yardage situations all season, and 1/5(!) at goal to go from the 1.  Belichick had to know that, and was potentially making a statistical gamble on being able to stop the run there.  There is also something to be said in the "feels" category with putting pressure on the other
team to make a decision they may not otherwise make.  It was also made clear by Butler that they were ready for that exact situation.  Belichick knew they could defend it.  I think even though it may appear that Belichick got lucky, he in fact knew exactly what he was doing.  It may look like high risk, but in fact the season statistics and his preparation tell me that he knew the odds were in his favor by letting the clock run and limiting Seattle's choices.

Thanks, and I love the blog as well as discussions like this.
-Kyle (Carolina Blue)

I think that's dubious at best. Seattle snapped the ball on second down with a timeout and 26 seconds after having run the clock down from just under a minute. Seattle has the option to run on either second or third down. By not calling timeout you get to impose that constraint on their playcalling.

But that's all, and that's not much. You cite some stats that have been floating around; those are not serious. (Five attempts? Cumong man.) Football Outsiders' OL rankings have Seattle the #2 team in the league in their "power success" stat, which is defined like so:

Percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown. Also includes runs on first-and-goal or second-and-goal from the two-yard line or closer.

Lynch and Seattle had in fact been excellent at punching the ball in, and forcing a pass is a good idea. You give up some expectation when you throw on the doorstep of the end zone.

Meanwhile, the Patriots were dead last with an identical rate: 81% of the time Seattle tried a short conversion they got it; 81% of the time the Patriots tried to stop one they failed. Even leaving aside the passing down, 19% squared is about 4%. Without a miracle—the first goal-line interception thrown by an NFL team all year—the Patriots go home losers. How likely is that miracle? Not likely. Russell Wilson had seven interceptions on 495 throws this year.

Your win percentage is unbelievably grim in the situations the Pats put themselves in. But how grim is it

  • down three with a minute left with a TO
  • on your 20
  • with a unanimous first-ballot HOF QB

Not nearly as grim, I think.

[After the JUMP: demoralizing: we're experts]

Mailbag: Late Game Threes, Basketball And Football Recruiting Reassurances, The Poisoned Chalice Of Access

Mailbag: Late Game Threes, Basketball And Football Recruiting Reassurances, The Poisoned Chalice Of Access

Submitted by Brian on February 3rd, 2015 at 4:09 PM

SUBjayhawks-superJumbo[1]

Go for three against MSU?

Brian,

Frustrated after the end of the MSU basketball game.  Simple question...if you have the ball down 2 points, with the chance to take the last shot, wouldn't you give yourself a better chance to win the game by running the clock down and taking the best three point shot you can get within the last five seconds?

Simplistically, Let's say it has a 35% chance to go in, and that your win % if it goes in is 100%.  The other option is go to go for a two point shot with time left on the clock.  What are your odds of winning with that strategy?  Much worse, right?  I'm no math major, but to me the odds go like this:

- generously, a 50% chance of making the shot, which then...
- gives your opponent a possession to win.  Call it 50/50 that they take advantage.
- even if they don't, all you get is overtime, which lets call another 50/50 shot.

Maybe you can run the numbers, but it seems like your win % is something like 12.5%.  You need three toss ups to go your way.

I'll hang up and listen...

Regards,
Philip Maguran

It's a bit more complicated than that.

  1. Michigan isn't just worried about what will happen if they score. They're also worried about what will happen if they don't. Michigan had 20 seconds left when Bielfeldt tipped the ball in. If that had gone the the other way they had an opportunity to force a turnover or get another bite at the apple in the event MSU did not knock down both free throws. Even an 80% shooter like Denzel Valentine gives you a shot at the game about a third of the time.
  2. Michigan's tying basket was a off an offensive rebound. Off a two, yes, but even if it was a three the ensuing putback is still worth two.
  3. Your chance at a putback is greater if you aren't shooting a jumper. In the NBA, shots within 6 feet get rebounded at a 37% rate; threes at just a 26% rate. (Threes are still better than long twos at 21%.) Albrecht's shot was a weird floater, one that saw Branden Dawson checking Bielfeldt at the FT line in an attempt to prevent a three—the nature of that shot greatly aided the subsequent putback.
  4. Your chances of an OREB are zero if you wait for a three at the buzzer.
  5. Last second threes are generally bad shots because the opponent is maniacally focused on the three-point line. Albrecht's three to bring Michigan within striking distance was a good example of the phenomenon. To get any sort of look he had to take the shot a few feet behind the arc. See also:

you're welcome

Given all that the decision is far less clear. I'd be totally on-board with an open look that came out of the context of the offense. I would prefer it to any non-gimme two. But waiting for a do-or-die three is not good eats.

I don't have a problem with the way regulation ended. In that situation the imperative is to have a good offensive possession, hopefully quickly, and Albrecht's quick take got a decent shot that put Michigan in position for an OREB without bleeding much time.

[After the JUMP: talking people off various recruiting related ledges]

The Heart Of Saturday Night

The Heart Of Saturday Night

Submitted by Brian on October 13th, 2014 at 1:06 PM

10/11/2014 – Michigan 18, Penn State 13 – 3-4, 1-2 Big Ten

OONTS OONTS OONTS OONTS

Songs designed for da club have one over-arching theme: tonight. Buy another drink, raise it to the sky. The OONTS OONTS commands you. Feel the beat. The beat is inside you. Tonight is going to be a good night, says the worst song ever written. The people around you accept this and so do you. Your sky-drink is empty. You are commanded to buy another. The OONTS OONTS doesn't care if you vote or do your homework or wake up tomorrow with a gremlin jackhammering at your temple. It commands you to see only what is in front of you now.

What is in front of us now is a lady named Victory. She is… well… she's a little ragged. Makeup's smeared; eyes are a little twitchy; you don't want to know the Vegas over/under on how many times she will throw up in the cab. Because she will do that, in the cab. Because there is going to be a cab.

Tonight, we go home with Victory.

-------------------------------

Michigan put it all aside. There is no one to credit here; I found out a long time ago that pushing large groups of people in a direction is impossible. To lead is to find yourself at the head of a tidal wave hoping it won't notice your tiny course corrections. The people are the direction.

And except for a third of the student section that was momentarily absent because of malice or apathy—impossible to tell—the people showed up, were as into it as can be expected of people watching two cows rub against each other threateningly, and were happy to win.

After the game a section in the south endzone unfurled a section-wide FIRE BRANDON banner; that was about right. Michigan fans have for the most part held their fire on players, held their fire for the portions of games in which Michigan can win. When things get out of hand or are just intolerably incompetent on the staff's part, they let their feelings be known. They have in fact been as good as an enormous amorphous mass of pissed-off people can be at aiming before firing.

They're still mad, because they should be. This kind of win over this kind of team is just more of the same, and the athletic director's futile gestures towards humanity are the definition of too little, too late. But tonight is tonight and tomorrow can be dealt with later.

---------------------------

Devin Gardner put it all aside. A guy who'd been moved to wide receiver because the coaching staff thought more highly of Russell Bellomy. A guy whose ribs are a fine paste after last year. A guy who got benched for Shane Morris because the coaches had lost faith in him. There is a guy to credit here.

15340123720_595f0111f2_o

He's going to be a footnote, now, no question. All hopes and dreams of being a towering colossus have fled. He won't have Navarre's redemption story, and unless something deeply bizarre happens he won't have an OSU win. Ten years down the road mention Devin Gardner and most Michigan fans will wince involuntarily and offer sympathy.

This is especially cruel on the heels of his predecessor. Denard was a tragic hero but he got his OSU win, his BCS bowl, and anyone still trying to be disappointed with him after what happened when he left is certifiable. Ask a Michigan fan about him in ten years and it's different. A lot different.

But that's tomorrow, and tonight the guy who's had his leadership questioned since he arrived is going full Novak on his sideline to WIN THIS FUCKING GAME. He limped out on the field because that's just what he does. Probably can't even throw right unless several different areas of his body are telling him to go to the spa immediately. Rod Gilmore's screaming that he shouldn't be in the game because Rod Gilmore is incapable of telling a head from a leg—not that we are at all surprised by this revelation—and Devin Gardner is just like I put my heart in this shit.

-----------------------

Heart only gets you so far. It gets you to a narrow win over a Penn State team starting a broken vacuum and a Teddy Roosevelt biography at guard. We appear to have a vicious all-day hangover scheduled in two weeks. But that's for tomorrow.

Tonight, we are in a cab and squinting and feeling pretty okay, because we've got something to hang on to.

Awards

DEVIN GARDNER I PUT MY HEART IN THIS SHIT POINTS OF THE WEEK.

15526886645_3b5820f014_o

1: Devin Gardner.
2: Dennis Norfleet.
3: Devin Gardner again.

[After THE JUMP: don't start thinking about tomorrow. Oh no we did.]

Having An Average Weekend

Having An Average Weekend

Submitted by Brian on October 6th, 2014 at 12:13 PM

10/4/2014 – Michigan 24, Rutgers 26 – 2-4, 0-2 Big Ten

15256877450_1a259026ed_z

Adam Glanzman

Growing up, you latch on to whatever hipster sketch comedy troupe is of the moment and think they just understand everything. If this is no longer true, I submit that this is why The Youth are going to be The Downfall Of Our Society.

Anyway, as I was pupating there were two: The State, which you may have heard about around here because of the tacos sketch, and Kids In The Hall. The Kids In The Hall defined my main problem in two minutes amongst other terribly funny things, but the thing about them is that their sketches frequently came with this air of unquenchable sadness. Like this thing I retweeted last week that I'd never actually seen before:

Half their sketches were just absurdity; the other half were the kind of thing popular amongst the adolescent-cry-for-help-amongst-the-clutches-of-suburbia crowd I was a part of.

I still think more highly of them than I do things like American Beauty. That's why I went back and edited the previous sentence to make the crowd the active thing instead of them. A large part of why is "Having An Average Weekend."

"Having An Average Weekend" was the theme song of the Kids In The Hall. They'd use it whenever a commercial break was incoming or outgoing paired with black and white shots of the hoi polloi of Toronto, and every time I watched a KITH episode I just wanted those interstitials to last forever.

I struggle to explain why. I actually bought a Shadowy Men On Shadowy Planet album because of this feeling the combination of the instrumental and those cinema vérité shots had on me, in between sketches about crushing your head. All those songs were boring. I even find the full version of Having An Average Weekend a little bit boring. In the context I found it was arresting. And I didn't even know the name of the song at the time.

When I found out… hoo boy.

------------------------------

Football happened, in the usual way.

----------------------------

The Kids In The Hall were awkward. SNL had Eddie Murphy, even The State had Michael Ian Black and actual girl Kerri Kenney. The Kids In The Hall were painfully awkward Canadians, girls not allowed. Not because of the usual reasons, because all of them were terrified of girls. So they were sad funny bastard teenagers who got on TV, being absurd about life.

This is a good answer!

I submit to you that when things look pretty bleak that the thing to do is laugh. This goes double for things you have no control over. I spent Saturday yelling at my friend to not pull a Dave Brandon by going to get a Little Caesar's "pretzel crust pizza," which he did anyway to the regret of all.

Instead of sauce this thing has nacho cheese. With cheese on top. I know that sounds like it could be magnificent, but once you add in the Little Caesars you may as well be eating an oil spill. I was impersonating that one guy in the athletic department who must have pled with Brandon "don't do this, please don't do this!" He did it. It was terrible, but it was funny.

We watched the rest of college football burn until 7:20, then dully took in the game. Each day we shovel fuel. We work in silence, etc.

I've gotten a lot of emails about how to stay positive in the midst of the towering blackness. One: I do not understand why you would ask me this question. I do not seem like a good person to answer. Phil Brabbs would be a good person. Two: life has been given to you in a context where you are evolutionarily programmed to both die and really really not want to die. The only thing to do at a funeral is laugh.

Really. I mean, not the funeral-funeral—have some decorum!—but the bits before and after that are the real thing. I was just in high school when my grandfather died but after he was in the ground his wife and children and those of us old enough to also be there sat around, talking about all the dumb and funny stuff he used to do in the present tense. And laughing.

------------------------------

Saturday we bought Combos and actual non-Little Caesars' food and watched college football burn down. Despite the funeral in the middle of it, we managed to have a pretty average weekend.

[After THE JUMP: if you're going to call me out just do it.]

Mailbag: I Continue To Get Many Emails About A Certain Topic

Mailbag: I Continue To Get Many Emails About A Certain Topic

Submitted by Brian on October 2nd, 2014 at 1:59 PM

Catlab

Where was this last year?

hello
I'd like to ask the question, why has this incident concerning Shane Morris, framed (quite appropriately) around player safety, been treated so much more seriously than say Devin Gardner having played against OSU with a broken foot?

it's an honest question, wondering your perspective, do you think it's because of the poor play on the field now as compared to then (although we are pretty awful no matter when you look at it), but then let's not kid ourselves and exploit the situation anymore than is warranted by the poor leadership failures, or is it people are treating a head injury as much more serious than a foot injury?  I think that's true, but foot injury can also harm the student-athlete.

There are two layers of outrage/disgust here that should be separated.

1) There is disgust leveled at Brady Hoke and his program for being disorganized enough to send Morris onto the field. Much of the meta-backlash has focused on this aspect of the problems; they say that if Michigan was 5-0 this wouldn't be a problem, or compare the vastly greater level of attention to this incident than those that followed the Will Gholston a couple years ago and assert this is unfair.

The people in the Michigan community who are angry about this are not determining the media reaction. They are reacting to it. So the Gholston thing is not relevant unless you're asking Good Morning America*. By the time anyone on campus did anything that got on the news this had already blown up into a huge story, and the thing they didn't do is demand Brady Hoke's firing.

The 5-0 thing is also invalid. The shambolic state of the program now seems like the cause of an alarming incident instead of a punt return touchdown. If this happens at Alabama, are people as mad? No. But that is not just because Alabama is successful. It is also because if it happens at Alabama it seems like an aberration instead of a logical conclusion to the things we've seen before. When this happened the initial thought wasn't "I can't believe this happened"; it was "of course this would happen to this program."

And then there's the Brady Hoke Isn't Evil defense, which is an enormous strawman. I haven't seen anyone writing on this suggest that Hoke doesn't care about his players. Literally not one person outside of a message board post from a lunatic or two. It doesn't matter if Hoke is a great dude or not if he can't stay within 16 points of anybody in year four, concussion incident or not.

2) There is outrage leveled at the athletic department for their handling of the PR crisis. This went national quickly. Michigan's response was dishonest and insufficient, then laughably uninformed, then infuriating. Michigan's refusal to forthrightly admit error and lay out how they would set to fixing matters turned a one-day story into a week long debacle. It was only yesterday at 6 PM that an adult stepped in and gave the kind of statement that should have been issued on Saturday night.

The Brand was compromised, and not just the football team. The entire university's image has been through a ringer the past few days. This was unnecessary, and exacerbated by the incompetent handling of the situation by the athletic director.

This, too, is a pattern. Michigan used the same playbook for the Gibbons story last year for a weeks-long period of press tension. They learned nothing from that incident, in which simply being honest about why when and how Gibbons was removed from the team turns that into a story about Gibbons and the university disciplinary process instead of the athletic department.

The used the same playbook after the skywriting incident, and were embarrassed when the company sold 'em out; caught red-handed in a lie they waved their hands, and the story went away because only Michigan fans care.

This was utterly predictable to anyone who had been paying attention. This is what they do. It will happen again if Michigan is unfortunate enough to have to handle another story like this. Meanwhile, no big time coach is going to want to sign on to an athletic department that just hung its coach out to dry spectacularly. So the AD has to go.

------------------------

All of the stuff in bin 2 is not relevant to the above question. The stuff in bin 1 is, and to be clear: this is just another strike for Hoke. If it was strike one, people would cluck and move on. If it was strike three it would be a big deal. Since it's strike 486, it's almost moot.

But anyway: feet heal. Gardner was of sound mind and capable of making decisions about whether to continue or not. Brains, we are rapidly learning, do not heal completely, and immediately after a trauma is an extremely dangerous time.

As a culture we are pretty okay with a guy who walks with a limp. It sucks; it's not a life-ending disaster. We are not okay with Junior Seau. We are not okay with a thing that may cause you to point a shotgun at your chest and pull the trigger not being handled carefully and professionally. I feel this is too obvious to explain but there have been a ton of comments to this effect of late so I explained it.

*[And the Gholston thing at least had the semblance of competence. He was removed. He did not re-enter immediately. The nation did not see him stumble around after a helmet-to-helmet hit and then take a snap. The doctors had time to give him a legitimate examination. It wasn't as visceral.

The nation absolutely should have come down on Dantonio like a ton of bricks for his statement that Gholston "had the wind knocked out of him," but even a couple years ago concussions seemed like much less of a big deal.

In any case, the failure there is not with the response to this incident but the response to the Gholston one, for which MSU should have taken a lot more heat.]

[After THE JUMP: Good stuff Brandon did, Regents basics, a little game theory.]