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Brian October 12th, 2009 at 11:39 AM

10/10/2009 – Michigan 28, Iowa 30 – 4-2, 1-2 Big Ten

 tate-forcier-benched denard-robinson-is-a-sad-panda

screenshot via MVictors; Denard Robinson as sad panda from the News via Genuinely Sarcastic and Mike Desimone.

This is probably a time to dispense with the fooferah and get right to the heart of the matter. From our vantage point from the endzone of Kinnick Stadium our instant assumption when Denard Robinson came in was that Forcier had gotten hurt on one of two earlier plays. We couldn't see a whole lot, but we saw a lot of Michigan's third quarter—unfortunately because they spent it next to the wrong endzone. Forcier banged his hand on someone's helmet, then later took a wicked shot from some defensive lineman or another moments after launching another incompletion.

When Robinson came out with around six minutes left, we had a debate about the idea, coming down on the side of "not good." Though Robinson was surprisingly effective driving Michigan for a score-tightening touchdown, the run-based nature of the drive stripped more than three minutes off the clock and saw Michigan attempt an onside kick with about 3:20 left and one timeout. This, too, was seen as a sign that Forcier was hurt: surely if you're going to cast your lot with Denard Robinson on a drive to win you need the ability to run the ball quite a bit. Kicking deep with only Robinson available is tantamount to waving the white flag.

So all that fit together and when Robinson came out after Michigan's defense thwarted Iowa on their attempt to strangle the game, it made sense. Forcier was unavailable, and this was the best Michigan could do. And, hell, it was working all right until Robinson eschewed what looked like a wide open Martavious Odoms in favor of Michigan's third or fourth jump ball into safety coverage. This one did not clatter to the turf harmlessly. As we say in UFR, EOG.

So… yeah. The news that Forcier had to be bodily escorted off the field before Michigan's last drive was less than thrilling. I'm sure this will be breaking no new ground after a couple days of checking in on the blog to see just which items raging about the decision needed to be excised, but for the record:

WHAT

THE

HELL

?

There are a billion comments across the internet calling the decision "indefensible," many of them drawing direct parallels to the last time a Michigan team visited Iowa. John Beilein sat Manny Harris down for overtime, Michigan lost when Iowa hit an array of circus shots and Manny's replacement, David Merritt, continued being a walk-on instead of Manny Harris, and a very large number of people were peeved, livid, or somewhere in between. This space in the aftermath of that decision:

If he thought Michigan had a better chance to win with David Merritt on the floor, he's nuts. More likely he had about reached his limit and sat him in what appears to be a fit of pique. I get that: Harris at the moment is a basketball doppelganger of Braylon Edwards in his afro phase, when he was benched because he and Carr weren't "on the same page" despite his clear superiority to Michigan's other receiving options. Edwards wised up and blew up. Harris? We'll see.

I would have preferred the teachable moment had not come in overtime of a crucial road game, though. You know.

The two incidents are creepily similar, and my opinion about Saturday is about identical to my opinion about the Manny benching: there were a ton of good reasons to make the move that don't come close to outweighing the enormous one that argued against it. If Michigan had gotten that onside kick and Robinson had three minutes to work with, okay. With 1:40 on the clock, no timeouts, and sixty yards to go, no.

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

So where does that leave us? Michigan's just experienced a two point loss on the road against a top-15 team during which they were –4 in turnover margin. They got outgained again. Forcier was pretty terrible. Robinson displayed both his talent and his limitations. Rodriguez made a poor decision in the heat of the moment, bursting this site's obvious hope that he was Jesus Ferguson. They're 4-2 in the league with three games they should win left, which would leave them at 7-5 if they don't pick off one of Penn State, Wisconsin, or Ohio State. A walk-on has permanently ascended to the starting lineup.

Add that all together and you get… I don't know. A jumbled mess that's clearly not as soul-destroying as last year's merry band of incompetence but not in any respect good. Michigan has been significantly outgained in each of four games against teams outside of the MAC, and mitigating factors like special teams and turnovers can no longer patch those gaps up. After all that at the start of the season, Michigan's settled about where everyone expected they'd be: still digging out from nuclear winter, looking towards the future with hope and the present with tolerance, at best.

The emotions I had coming out of Kinnick were as much of a mess as the team is. Michigan shot itself in a thousand different ways, busting coverages on two tight end touchdowns and a third and twenty-five that was more damaging than any of the five (five!) turnovers they gacked up with little assistance from Iowa. It was really frustrating to walk away feeling that Michigan should have won but for their own errors—errors that at this point are obviously a fundamental part of what the team is—but the memory of last year hovered, suggesting that the mere idea that errors were only a part of the whole this time around represented progress. Clearly, there is a long way yet to go.

Bullets

  • I know I make fun of people in the comments who believe I have some sort of crazy power over the fortunes of Michigan football that I only use for evil, but dammit Greg Mathews, not only did you drop a punt, give Iowa the ball at the Michigan 16, and eventually lead to that short-field Tony Moeaki touchdown, you did it mere hours after I suggested that I should stop typing HOLD ON TO THE DAMN BALL as the key matchup in the special teams section. It's hard not to feel personally responsible even though that's completely insane.
  • Have seen a number of complaints about the timeout with 27 seconds left before halftime. I wanted Rodriguez to call it at the time; after some consideration I think that was probably not a good idea either. Even if Michigan gets a stop on that third and ten they'd have the ball somewhere on their side of the field with 12 seconds on the clock or whatever. In general I like the bent of Rodriguez's decisions; that one was wrong.
  • Another TO complaint: Michigan shouldn't have taken one on third and ten from the one and a half. Just take the penalty there and Michigan's got another 40 seconds to work with on their final drive. I understand it's hard to break the natural inclination to take a timeout when the playclock gets way low, though. That's a corner case that doesn't come up much.
  • I don't know exactly whose fault the two busted coverages were but if, as rumored, it was Mike Williams I don't know what you do about it. Woolfolk was physically capable at cornerback and Michigan finally went with the press man they've been talking about since Greg Robinson got hired. Williams definitely let an Iowa receiver behind him on third and twenty-fing-five, and if Moeaki was his guy on either of his touchdowns he's directly responsible for all three Iowa touchdowns. Maybe Iowa would have done something with the last drive, but the first Moeaki TD was on third and twelve; a stop there is a FG attempt. A stop on the third and twenty-five is a punt.
  • Michigan did break out some new stuff, grinding Brandon Minor into the line from the I on a successful, Bo-pleasing late touchdown drive and debuting a quick pitch to the sideline that never looked like it was going anywhere but also never failed to gain four to six yards. The former is something Michigan could have tried against State; the latter was probably hampered by Forcier's shoulder issues.
  • It seemed like after the first interception from Forcier that he refused to throw to receivers who were open. On a couple third downs there were slants available (I think) that Forcier did not take, instead running around as is his wont. I was pretty frustrated by him, and imagine that Rodriguez was ready to strangle the kid.
  • Graham shouldn't be rushing the punter on a punt safe, not that it mattered.

Trip Report Section

City. I can tell you about a lovely Econolodge in Davenport, Iowa, but despite driving out Friday and spending about all of Saturday in Iowa City, I can't tell you much about the city itself. My momentary first impression was that this was a foofy college down as I strolled by some organic eatery down one of those cobbled pedestrian streets you see wherever people are trying to create an area for foot traffic. Then we went in a bar that had six things on the menu, asked if you wanted ranch with your waffle fries, and attempted to purvey something called a "walking taco," which the waitress explained was "um, it's like Doritos in a bag with some meat and cheese and onions and taco stuff thrown in." The stalls in the bathroom didn't have doors on them.

So I was a little confused. I was referring to this experience at the Black Heart Gold Pants tailgate, and I was talking about this place we were, and when asked where, exactly, we were I rakishly pulled out my zinger: "the place with no doors on the stalls." The response was "which one? There are lots of those." So… yeah. Iowa City leans towards the no doors on the stalls. I guess. I saw the inside of a bar, a parking lot, and Kinnick. I am not a one-man Yelp here.

Fans. Excellent. There was the usual dose of meathead yellin' at the guys in the wrong colors—sort of, anyway, the difference between maize and blue and black and gold is not drastic—that you get whenever you go anywhere other than South Bend. Other than that everyone was perfectly nice. At no point did I feel like someone was going to hit me, which is more than I can say for the last few trips to Columbus or East Lansing.

I will note that the male student body of Iowa appears to be 80% meathead.

Kinnick experience, in total. Very classy. All brick exterior, looks like I'd like to see Michigan Stadium end up looking like once they figure out what they're going to do in the endzones:

kinnick-stadium-exterior

Anthony Ciatti

And the interior:

kinnick-stadium-concourse

Anthony Ciatti

The stadium itself was a bit smaller than I'd expected. Our seats were strange: section "NB," which ended up standing for "North Bleachers" and was not listed on the map or at all familiar to the first two people we tried to talk to about just where the hell we were supposed to sit. An usher had clue, though, and directed us to five rows of makeshift metal bleachers that were literally on the field in the endzone. We stood the whole game, which was fine because from appearances so did the rest of the place.

Despite that, it didn't seem particularly noisy. It got loud on important third downs but I thought it was about on part with Michigan Stadium. FWIW. I am apparently terrible at discerning variable noise levels, given my reaction to this year's addition of luxury boxes.

There's a full gallery by Anthony here.

PIPE IT IN BABY. The Iowa marching band might as well not exist. I don't know if this was a homecoming thing, but they didn't even march pregame—the alumni band did—and had a seriously abbreviated halftime show so that a Hawkeye inductee to the CFHOF could get his due. During the game they hardly played, and when they did play they mostly played marching band versions of songs that had already been piped in over the PA.

Oh, also:

This disaster was played incessantly over the PA, and we, not being 14-year-old-girls, didn't know what it was. Friend of Blog joked that it was probably a Jonas Brothers song, and we laughed, and then we thought to ourselves IS that a Jonas Brothers song? It turns out no, but it's by the Black Eyed Peas, which is 95% as emasculating. Hell, this imeem playlist by one Shelby Veppert, who—no foolies—is a 19-year old from Columbus who lists Nickelback(!!!) as one of her favorite bands, has the song sandwiched between two Jonas Brothers songs. If Michigan Stadium ever has anything that can be considered a sort of theme song I'm going to buy out Ann Arbor Torch & Pitchfork, and if it's ever something as terrifyingly fey as that thing, I'll storm the castle myself.

Site note: Michigan's homecoming activities murder Iowa's, chop them up, and put them in a bag. Iowa basically has the alumni band play the fight song and march off the field, then has a tedious announcement of various alumni who helped out and the members of the homecoming court*. And that's it. Michigan has a goofy prohibition-era cheer, awesome flipping 80-year-old alumni cheerleaders, a terrific combined-band halftime show, and that one crazy old drum-major who rips it up every year. I love homecoming at Michigan Stadium, and was excited to get the Iowa version of it. I didn't get it.

*(The homecoming king was a bioengineering (or something along those lines) major named Rohit… Naha… Romin… fromblobololgbogl. The telltale pause from the very Iowan public address announcer after the poorly-pronounced "Rohit" promised three seconds of pure unadulterated awesome, and that promise was delivered upon.)

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Brian November 20th, 2006 at 3:22 PM

11/20/2006 - Michigan 39-42 Ohio State - 11-1, 7-1

I have a friend who will not watch Michigan games with me despite my repeated urging, and not for the usual, proper reasons like "you swear like a sailor on meth" or "I'm pretty sure one of these days you are going to flip out and snap someone's neck." No, this friend can't watch the game with me because he doesn't watch games with anyone. A combination of nerves and rage and a powerful desire for others to not see his temporary descent into madness is what he says. Or words to that effect. I have tried to explain to him that if he were to have his pick of any of the six billion people on the planet he could not find a person better suited to understand and commiserate with than me and therefore we should watch games together. This has worked precisely zero times.

Not that I can blame him. Many are the times I have sat amongst people gathered to "watch" a game -- invariably there is a girl talking about nail polish on her cell phone, a guy more interested in getting WOOOOO WASTED than the violent emotional rollercoaster currently rolling through the stomachs of his brighter compatriots -- and desperately wanted to be anywhere else. Two years ago I watched Michigan lose to Ohio State accompanied by the strains of someone's deeply annoying girlfriend moaning "We can't lose to Ohio State" because some friend of hers would mock her. Meanwhile, little pieces of my soul are flaking off and burning up like meteors reaching Earth's atmosphere. Naturally, I told her to shut the fuck up (sorry mom, but those words were deployed) sometime in the third quarter and then got to feel like an asshole on top of the whole flaky meteor soul thing. She did shut up. So I've got that going for me.

Instead of navigating through a minefield of well-meaning invitations, I went. I claimed an endzone seat for three weeks rent, entered the stadium... and stopped dead. Student section. Beating heart thereof. I wanted to be alone and, uh, yeah: alone. There wasn't another Michigan fan in view. Fortuitously, I was at the very back of the first section of seating and had a railing at my back. This was helpful when everyone was jumping up and down screaming things after touchdowns, which was a lot. Myself, I was quiet both because I wanted to not die and because I was completely terrified the whole game. After the first touchdown, my hands started vibrating uncontrollably. I mean... this is bad, right? When you are at a football game and it causes you to lose the ability to make your body do what you want it to, you are probably doing something very wrong with your brain chemicals.

By the end -- after every brief glimmer of hope had been stomped out by something horrific and unbelievable -- I didn't really feel anything. I collapsed to my seat after the Crable personal foul and then watched the remainder of the game in a haze. Three hours earlier the outcome of the game was the most important thing in the history of ever; maybe it still was but I had run out of chemicals. I berated some guy who definitely has a pickup truck and watches wrestling without a sense of ironic detachment for taunting two middle-aged Michigan fans walking back to their car, but felt oddly like if he had needled me instead I wouldn't have cared.

This blog has warped itself into something of a -- yuck -- personal diary of a sports fan almost against my will. I've tried to chronicle the emotions of a Michigan fan in this space, but I'm clean out. Anyone who needs to tell me some bad news, ("Brian, we've never met but this is definitely your baby") this is your opportunity. Lo, I am spent.

Bullets

  • Right, so, spent. I'll post a few things the next couple days, but they won't have anything to do with the Ohio State game. Thursday and Friday I'm off for Thanksgiving. I'll sort through the smoking wreckage with UFR around the middle of next week. If you picked the blog up during football season, I do post year-round. I'll pay attention to the hockey team -- suddenly playing with its head removed from any and all orifices! -- and basketball. Recruiting coverage, which was the area that suffered most from my duties at AOL, will pick up.
  • Bo memorial at one tomorrow. I'm going if anyone wants to say hi.
  • Rematch? Uh... what? Going to the game and losing imposed a sort of involuntary media blackout so I must have missed the leap of logic from "Michigan got housed" to "Michigan deserves a rematch." Yeah, yeah, three point final margin but let's not fool ourselves: Michigan was +3 in turnover margin – and two of those were gifts – and still only got within ten points of OSU before scoring a 90% cosmetic touchdown aided with a miraculous, potentially horrendous bailout pass interference penalty. (Please note Secret Axiom Of Football #27: "If it ends with an unrecovered onside kick, it wasn't that close.") I see that Michigan is still somehow #2 in the BCS. Now... I know a lot of poll madness is attributable to people not watching games, but you watched this one, right? This is madness.

    With Rutgers going up in flames, other options are getting thin on the ground: USC, Arkansas, Florida, and (ugh) Notre Dame are the only remaining possibilities. USC obviously gets in at 11-1. It would be an outrage if they didn't. But Herbstreit, etc, keep advancing the theory that Michigan is better qualified than a one-loss SEC champion. This is not true. Though neither Florida nor Arkansas is without resume flaws – and I don't believe for a second that the SEC is appreciably better than any other conference this year (hi Ole Miss! Vandy seems mighty competitive this year, no?) -- at 12-1 either would have scalps on a par with Notre Dame (whoever they beat in the SECCG) and Wisconsin (uh... pick one), plus at least two or three wins in the dangerous-but-not-really category, of which Michigan has one (Penn State). While Michigan's loss is probably better, the resumes of Michigan and a hypothetical one-loss SEC Champion are near equals, except for the not-incidental fact that Michigan's already proven it doesn't really belong on the same field as OSU.

  • Bowl opponent is probably going to be... um... uninspiring. Unless USC drops one of its last two games, it's going to the MNC game. The SEC champion is locked into the Sugar Bowl. The Big 12 champion is locked into the Fiesta. Michigan is looking at a motley crew of at-large candidates: a two-loss LSU, Arkansas, or Florida, the Big East champion, Notre Dame (ha!), or Oklahoma.
  • It was a schizophrenic day. OSU's really carpet bombing its fans with this sportsmanship initiative and it's sort of working. The net effect was to make the decent OSU fans – always a sizable majority – really, really nice. The assholes are still assholes, though, and there are a lot of them. I do think 2002 was the nadir, and the administration had decided enough was enough. Then the Texas game was the final straw; no longer could Buckeye fans dismiss the complaining as a Michigan persecution complex. Not that the occasional whiny Buck fan with an unattractive wife wouldn't make unconvincing noises about equal problems in Ann Arbor in the same breath as describing High Street paved with beer cans.

    It also helped that this time I was wearing a black coat that was not immediately identifiable as Michigan-affiliated from the rear. Wandering into Columbus ticketless and intent on getting a single made me really cautious. Not cautious enough to, like, ask if the ticket I was buying was smack-dab in the middle of the student section, which it was. When I came out of the tunnel I turned to walk up the steps and stopped dead. "Oh shit," I said, "I'm a dead man." Not so. But since only the occasional burst of exhortation escaped -- "go, go, go" on Manningham's first slant, "shit" when he was caught did not meet with the approval of one poxy OSU fan directly in front of me -- I didn't get much guff. Generally if you're not a dick peo ple aren't dicks to you.

  • I WAS RIGHT! We could run on them.
  • Maybe I should have come up with some other theories. Like "Troy Smith is actually a goat." Then, like, we would have won. Because goats can't throw.
  • I don't know, man. Don't ask me. I think this: our inability to pull a blue-chip corner since Marlin Jackson – Leon Hall being a good recruit who panned out but not totally OMG Shirtless – killed us. Hall's obviously good. Everyone else got worked. Add Justin King and Jai Eugene to this team and is the outcome different? Anyone who really doesn't think recruiting matters can look at the front seven: five top 100 recruits in the starters and two overachieving three-stars versus the secondary: two borderline top-100 and a bunch of middling recruits. (And there is of course a difference between a two or three star like Braylon and a two or three star like Barringer. The term "sleeper" is now applied to anyone three stars or below when properly it should be restricted to guys who get overlooked because they're not on the field or at the wrong position or whatever.)
  • That said... uh... what are you supposed to do about that? Smith looked like a future wide receiver for about a year and a half, then turned into what the NFL wants Vick to be. I dunno. I don't want to think about it for a week.

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