Of The Decade: Worst Plays Part I

Of The Decade: Worst Plays Part I

Submitted by Brian on July 27th, 2010 at 10:45 AM

Previously in this series: ESPN Images, Michigan's offense, and Michigan's defense.

This one goes to 11 despite my intention to make it a top ten list because I wrote them up piecemeal and at some point after too much effort had been put into each to throw any away I realized I had an extra item. This is obviously fate, so here they are.

These are ranked by gut because you can't put a number on the special sort of misery football can inflict. How to rate high on thie list:

  • Represent a major missed opportunity. Games from the Year of Infinite Pain do feature prominently but towards the end of the list because reversing any one of them means you went 8-4, which BFD.
  • Be an easily preventable error. Sometimes bad stuff happens. Sometimes you do it to yourself.
  • Be the obvious start of something terrible; some individual plays on the list were moments when it became clear a large number of plays later were going to be very bad.

And now on with the hairshirts!

11. Unblocking That Field Goal

Dusty Magnum lines up for a 38 yard field goal on the last play of the 2005 Rose Bowl. Michigan charges hell-bent after the kick and gets two players in position to block the thing, but the ball manages to split Ernest Shazor's arms, taking a deflection off his elbow. The slightly redirected ball squeezes through Prescott Burgess's hands and through the uprights. Michigan loses 38-37.

The event:

shazor-rose-bowl-block

The aftermath:

rose-bowl-field-goal shazor-rose-bowl

A lot of these moments to come are going to be events that cost Michigan some opportunity in the future. This one was simple: if Shazor's dive takes him an inch to the left or right, Michigan wins one of the classic Rose Bowls of all time and I don't spend a couple hours making "The Five Stages of Vince Young" in a South Park character generator.

Despite that, the play is mostly notable for how close Michigan came to doing something that is hard to do, does not involve a Michigan player or coach making a terrible decision*, and did come at the end of a classic someone had to lose. I don't know… it just doesn't rate compared to the rest of the stuff enclosed herein. Losing a close Rose Bowl is hardly the worst thing that's happened to Michigan in the last ten years.

*(Michigan did not attempt to save itself any time in case the field goal was good but Mangum was somewhat shaky and Vince Young was unstoppable the whole night; if Texas was willing to take a 38-yarder I would have been happy enough to let them if I was coaching.)

brown-jug-2005 10. The Worst Blitz Ever

Late in the 2005 Minnesota game, Jim Herrmann lines up LB Prescott Burgess as a DE opposite the Gopher right tackle. With face-crushing tight end Matt Spaeth also to that side of the field, a 230 pound linebacker who's never played DE is one-on-two versus the best run-blocking line in the conference. Herrmann's playcall is a blitz from the other side of the field that sucks the safety on Burgess's side back into a centerfield position, and a simple off-tackle run goes for 60 yards, allowing Minnesota to kick a game-winning field goal.

Unquestionably the dumbest single playcall any Michigan coach made during the last decade. Michigan was tied with Minnesota 20-20 when Lamarr Woodley decapitated Gopher quarterback Brian Cupito. Minnesota ran a couple times with the backup quarterback, punted, and got the ball back after Michigan's drive stalled out. Stuck around their own 20 with around three minutes on the clock, Minnesota runs twice more, petrified of letting backup and redshirt freshman Tony Mortenson do anything other than hand off.

Mortenson's career numbers: 14 of 39 for 179 yards, 1 TD, 3 INTs. At the time his most extensive run had come in an 0 of 4 performance against Florida Atlantic. Since Cupito has gone out Minnesota has run six straight times. It's third and ten. Minnesota is clearly playing for overtime and will just run it off tackle and punt. An injury to Willis Barringer has forced true freshman Brandon Harrison into the free safety spot, where he pairs with true freshman Jamar Adams.

Jim Herrmann decides to put Burgess in as a down lineman in a nickel package, lines him up on the strong side of the formation, and blitzes away from Burgess. The rest is Gopher history:

Burgess ended up ten yards downfield and still couldn't get off his block, but that was not exactly his fault.

In the long run this did not matter since Michigan stumbled to 7-5 in and though they could have easily won three more games, this one included, they could easily have lost three more. Herrmann would be shipped off to the NFL after the season, clearing the way for Ron English to give everyone the wrong idea for ten games. Speaking of Jim Herrmann's failings during 2005…

9. Carr punts from the Ohio State 34

osu2005-1 osu2005-2

Leading 21-19 in the dying minutes of the 2005 Game, Michigan has a first down on the Ohio State side of the field. Two runs to bleed OSU's timeouts get nowhere. They're followed by a six-yard WR screen that uses the last OSU timeout. On fourth and four from the OSU 34, Carr brings out his kicker to do the fake-kick-actually-punt thing, which goes out of bounds at the OSU 12.

Of all the awful math-spurning things I ever saw Lloyd Carr do this was the worst. Ways in which it was a terrible idea:

  • The clock was hovering around three minutes and OSU had no timeouts. If you get the first down the game is essentially over. If you give the ball back OSU is not under any serious time pressure. Indeed, they scored and Michigan had 20 or so seconds to respond.
  • Michigan's defense had crumbled on three separate score-or-die drives earlier in the year, four if you count the one Michigan had ceded to OSU just moments ago. On each they had played soft, ensuring that when the opponent scored Michigan would have no opportunity to respond.
  • OSU was down two points and only needed a field goal.
  • The fake field goal punt was so obviously coming that OSU put a returner back. If the punt had been slightly better that guy was off to the races.
  • You spurned the opportunity to get a first down on third down for a more makeable fourth down so you could take away OSU's meaningless final time out.

Instead of taking a solid shot at ending the game, Carr chose 22 yards of field position that Michigan gave back in three plays by playing soft. I shorted out in the aftermath. Under pressure Carr reverted to the sort of call that hadn't been right since 1979 and it cost Michigan its best shot to put a dent in this agonizing OSU winning streak.

8. Pitch it to Breaston!

Michigan's attempt to replicate The Play is 15 yards from working when Tyler Ecker runs directly into a Nebraska defender on the sideline instead of pitching the ball to Steve Breaston, a man with a plan in the open field. Panama.

We end our Year of Infinite Pain trifecta with this:

I actually ended up at a tailgate that Tyler Ecker was at once, and all I could think was "why didn't you pitch it?"

jeremy-lesueur 7. Rugby punt fiasco dénouement

Michigan was really, really good in 2003. John Navarre had molted from an inept flamingo into a laser-chucking flamingo. Chris Perry made one of those senior-year explosions you always hope will happen but almost never does. Braylon Edwards announced his presence. The defense featured Marlin Jackson, Ernest Shazor before he went up in smoke, Pierre Woods before he went up in smoke, and Lawrence Reid before his back imploded. (Unsurprisingly, the yardage defense would sag from 11th to 33rd the following year.) They were good.

But it all blew up on special teams. A grad assistant named Jim Boccher was placed in charge of it; by the end of the year he'd be in real estate and (probably) therapy. Things first went poorly against Oregon. Oregon blocked an Adam Finley punt for a touchdown. A fake punt attempt ended in a fumble. Oregon returned a punt for a touchdown. Despite getting a special teams touchdown of its own on a blocked chip-shot field goal, Michigan gave away ten points on special teams in a four-point loss.

That could have been random fortune, but what happened against Iowa was not. Boccher was an eager beaver who was actually ahead of the rugby punt curve that has spread through college football; stodgy Michigan was one of the first teams to try this high school thing out. The announcers openly wondered what the heck was going on. The intervening years have proven that it's a good idea if you can do it right.

Michigan could not, and was immediately reminded of why it liked being stodgy. Iowa almost blocked a punt, then almost blocked another one, then deflected a third; Michigan was fortunate that the deflection was partial. Along the way Michigan had given up a 43-yard punt return to Ramon Ochoa that set up a nine-yard Hawkeye touchdown drive. When Rivas wandered out with five minutes left in the third quarter, the whole stadium could feel it coming, and it did: Iowa finally returned one to sender, setting up a one-yard field goal drive. Michigan lost by three despite outgaining Iowa 463-295.

Boccher sought other opportunities before Michigan fans had the opportunity to seek him; the 2003 team would go undefeated outside of games in which their special teams cost them at least ten points until meeting USC in the Rose Bowl. That was the year in which USC got booted from the title game despite being #1 in both polls; if Michigan's special teams hadn't imploded so spectacularly an undefeated Michigan would have featured in the national title game against an Oklahoma team that had just blown the Big 12 title against Kansas State; Kansas State got blown out by an OSU team that Michigan had just handled. Competency on special teams could have resulted in a national title.

Tomorrow: The top six. Wear a cup.

Texas Will Hang Separately

Texas Will Hang Separately

Submitted by Brian on June 14th, 2010 at 5:31 PM

godzillatron_closeup

I put up a Sporting Blog post on the latest in conference reconfiguration that covers the main news of the day, which is that the awkward moment in nomenclature we're experiencing where the Big 12 has ten teams and the Big Ten has twelve is a surprisingly stable college football isotope.

Whether its half-life is two days, two years, or two decades we don't know yet, but reports that the Big 12 lives have spread beyond Chip Brown, who is by this point basically the earthly avatar of DeLoss Dodds, to Joe Schad and Pete Thamel, and have reached the point the Nebraska rumors did last week where the sheer quantity of independent confirmation outweighs everyone's natural skepticism towards anything Anonymous Athletic Director would like to leak. The Big… er… Twelve lives.

Why? Because if they're going to rename it they might as well dub it The Texas Conference. The major sticking point with Texas's move to the Big Ten was not distance or tradition or even money but the Longhorn's refusal to share and share alike, which is fine as far as it goes. Anyone who approaches college football from an angle other than realpolitik is willfully naive. Expecting Texas to sign off on a change where they go from the king of everything to just another shiny happy Big Ten (or Pac-10) school was extremely wishful thinking in retrospect.

This is despite a ton of huge advantages moving would bring. For one, I don't believe Brown for a second when he claims Texas "stands to make between $20 mil and $25 mil per yr under a proposed new TV pkg presented by Dan Beebe" before we even get to the coming Longhorn Network. Allow myself to quote myself:

Big Ten teams are currently raking in 15 million per year with a fully-functional network spread across eight states with a ton of people. The Big 12  Texas's entire conference distribution was 10 million in 2007 and as of May 31st conference distributions were ranging between "7 and 12 million" according to the KC Star; Big Ten teams each brought in 20 million. The Big 12's current television contract with ABC goes to the 2015 season and the conference has just lost its third most attractive television draw (Nebraska) and third biggest media market (Denver). The average value of the Big Twelve's TV inventory has gone down considerably this summer.

Texas would make more money moving to the Big Ten. They'd get to join the CIC. They'd have a more competitive environment than one game against Oklahoma every year. Iowa State would no longer be on the schedule. In all absolute ways, moving makes sense. Relatively? Not so much. Now that the Big 10 door is swinging shut—Missouri's scrabbling at the lock but can't get in—and the Pac-10 seems set on adding Utah and calling it a day, the Big 12 leftovers desperately need Texas and will sign up for any lopsided revenue sharing plan they have to as long as they don't have to consider whether they should join the Mountain West or Conference USA. If Texas won't enter as an equal partner, the Big Ten won't take them, and that's as it should be.

But no one should mistake the reason the Big 12 has shed two of its best schools: it's because of Texas. If the Big 12 does end up imploding, it will be because of Texas. Realpolitik has its costs.

The Big Ten's Next Move

This guy on the message board has a bunch of scuttlebutt about Texas that reflects the above and suggests where the Big Ten will look next: the ACC. Take it for what it's worth—not much given how fast these things change—but I've gotten a couple notes that suggest the same thing. The current plan appears to be wait to see what happens with Notre Dame and the rumored get-in-or-get-out ultimatum from the Big East and then possibly look to move to 14. 16 is not regarded as a viable setup without a compelling reason.

One man's guess as to the future direction of the conference, listed from most probable to least:

  1. The Big Ten sticks at 12 teams.
  2. ND gets the boot from the Big East, sucks it up, and joins the Big Ten sometime around when their NBC contract expires. The league would then look for a 14th team (Maryland, BC, GT, Rutgers, Syracuse the most commonly mentioned targets) at that point.
  3. ND stays in the Big East as they are now and the Big Ten picks off a couple of the above-mentioned targets to go to 14.
  4. Some crazy thing happens and the league goes to 16.

If I had to guess, the Big Ten will stand pat until such time as Notre Dame gets the boot from the Big East, which may or may not ever actually happen.

Big Ten Deathstar Makes A Comeback

Big Ten Deathstar Makes A Comeback

Submitted by Brian on June 10th, 2010 at 5:20 PM

jim-delany Death_star1

i like this picture because he's about to shoot a planet-destroying laser out of his mouth

Some horse-holding may be in order in case anyone is printing up huge quantities of Pac-16 t-shirts. These reports come from a television station and a guy in Indianapolis radio and are about conference expansion should therefore be taken with a grain of salt large enough to have moons, but they appear to be independently-sourced claims that Texas and Texas A&M may be heading Midwest instead of just West.

TV station:

High level sources in multiple conferences have told KCTV5 that Texas and Texas A&M are looking to move to the Big Ten Conference and have petitioned for membership, while the University of Oklahoma is planning on petitioning the Southeastern Conference to become a member of its conference.

Texas Tech can pound sand, according to KCTV.

Kent Sterling, the Indiana radio guy does have an extensive newsy background, FWIW, but his site's report is way fuzzier and it's posted by Pauly Balst, whose bio reads "Pauly Balst has a very solid reputation and track record in speculative journalism and for-profit amatuer [sic] athletics." This is not reassuring. Anyway:

College Station, Texas, based sources close to Texas A&M confirm the scenario of Texas A&M, Texas and Nebraska joining the Big 10, bringing the total to 14.  … Sources also confirmed the rift with Texas Tech and Baylor is that “UT and A&M have joined together in this decision”.  By adding this trio, UT does not “go to war alone in a new conference” when ongoing issues arise.

"Confirm the scenario"? What does that mean? That could be talking. It could be a D&D meeting. I'm not putting a ton of stock into that, but it's out there.

Meanwhile, Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott is sounding less imperial:

“I’d say that (having an 11-team conference) is a possibility,” Scott said.

He also said that no assurances and that no invitations have been issued to any other Big 12 schools, including Texas and Texas A&M, whose athletic directors met on Thursday in Austin to discuss their future.

“There are several different scenarios,” Scot siad. “There is no defined timetable” for further Pac-10 expansion.

Colorado snapping up the Pac-10 invite and thereby bouncing Baylor may have given the Big Ten the wedge it needs to crowbar Tech off the Texas schools everyone wants, in which case thanks Baylor.

This post's information value will self-destruct in ten seconds.

(HT: Aaron and Damon Lewis.)

Unverified Voracity Goes Ahead And Panics

Unverified Voracity Goes Ahead And Panics

Submitted by Brian on February 11th, 2010 at 1:00 PM

whoah-texas

Whoah… Texas. I'm on druuuugs. 

Overtures!!! Everybody PANIC:

A source with ties to the Big Ten said that while most people’s attention has been trained on the conference stealing Missouri, the Big Ten has engaged in “preliminary exchanges” with a much bigger fish from the Big 12.

“There have been preliminary exchanges between the Big Ten and Texas,” the source told the Journal-World on Wednesday. “People will deny that, but it’s accurate.”

Accurate though it may be, "preliminary exchanges" are just folks in suits keeping doors open in case of disaster. Texas to the Big Ten will never ever happen. Reasons:

  • The Texas legislature would have the mother of all hissy fits and threaten UT's state funding.
  • Texas would go from its usual diet of nummy goo-goo bears plus the occasional big game to a nonconference schedule with mandatory games against A&M and Oklahoma, and that's if Texas isn't forced to play more in-state teams as part of an agreement with the legislature.
  • Texas's baseball team, currently a national power, would be playing in the college baseball equivalent of Conference USA.
  • Texas has the mojo to have it own damn channel if it wants and won't have to share jack with the other Big Ten teams.

Note that travel costs are omitted, because putting the Big Ten Network on Texas channels means even the crew teams can fly first class. It would be ridiculous. Jim Delany would buy a monocle.

That goes for this Pac-10 expansion, too. I don't buy that adding Colorado and Utah does anything for anyone except bust up the one conference that makes total sense.

Plot against America update. So I toss a link to a USA Today article arguing that adding another 31 teams to the NCAA tournament wouldn't even make much money on mgolicious and the artist formely known as Wonk duly shreds it:

The larger issue here centers on what constitutes “loose change” for the NCAA. Let’s accept that the difference between what a network will pay for a 96-team field and what they’ll lay out for a traditional 65-team version wouldn’t be all that much in percentage terms. Hiestand’s right: The new games would be the least attractive ones and, anyway, they’d represent just 17 percent of the programming “tonnage.” But if you’ve ever bought or sold a house, you’re intimately familiar with the paradox at work here. You negotiate a price and give a few thousand here or take a few thousand there. Then you step away and think: Sweet mother of Ben Bernanke, that right there’s the equivalent of a new car or three years of daycare for your kid, or 50 HDTV’s, etc.

So maybe it's some money up front that's meaningful. Meaningful spread over 340-some D-I teams? Eh… probably not. Meaningful to one organization in Indianapolis? Maybe.

Not that the idea is any less terrible today than it was a few days ago. The proposed expansion would, for all intents and purposes, absorb the entire NIT into the NCAA tournament. Last year's editions of Northwestern, Penn State, Notre Dame (18-14), Nebraska (18-12), Virginia Tech (18-14), and Washington State (17-15) would all have weaseled their way in. That's nine of the Big Ten's eleven teams in the tourney plus an ugly assortment of teams who beat no one and have no chance of winning the tournament. At some point you have to say no.

John Beilein's on the side of justice, FWIW:

"I don't understand right now," he said during his Big Ten teleconference. "The 64 (teams) – I could see adding a couple more 'play-in' games if you have to. But going to 96 may be a hard thing to do. I think it's pretty good right now."

Unsurprisingly, Bo Ryan likes evil and preposterous generalizations:

“To me, it’s foolish for those people who are saying it’s perfect the way it is,” Ryan said Monday. “Obviously, they’ve lived a very shallow life when it comes to looking at change and what change can do and how it can affect things. The history of expansion with the NCAA has been very successful."

Yeah, well, you now, that's just, like, your opinion, man. We have lived a shallow life in which we have never considered how change can affect things.

Yet another way in which college football is like figure skating. Remember some time back when the coaches threw a hissy that people were paying attention to their votes and threatened to take the final coaches' poll private? This was roundly condemned and eventually dropped, but the scars still linger.

If they try it again, opponents should point to what went down when figure skating attempted to beat the corruption out of their judges by making their scores anonymous*:

[Dartmouth economist Eric Zitzewitz] finds that the home-country bias gets even worse when anonymous judges can hide from a scrutinizing press and public, despite the barriers that anonymity may create for effective backroom deal-making. The home-judge advantage under the new system is about 20 percent higher than in the days of full disclosure.

College football coaches already display serious biases when their votes are subject to scrutiny. It would only get worse if they weren't.

*(This seems insane but there is a plausible reason it might be a good idea: it prevents collusion amongst judges. Before there could be backroom deals where a couple countries conspire to rate each other's skaters higher. Now those deals can't be enforced.)

That is more like it. Fred Jackson gives us all hope that Fitzgerald Toussaint is in possession of all his limbs:

"He's as talented as anyone who walked in the door," said Jackson, who has coached Michigan career leading rusher Michael Hart, Chris Perry, Anthony Thomas and Tyrone Wheatley, to name a few.

Jackson said he had never before heard of a player breaking his shoulder blade. But before the injury, Jackson saw budding talent.

"He's got great feet, acceleration, strength, power," Jackson said. "I can compare him to somebody -- he's like a fast Chris Perry. He's going to be very good."

Fitzgerald Toussaint is like a Doak Walker winner who was a first round draft pick… except fast.

Like candy. Touch The Banner breaks down Michigan's offers from the last recruiting class—Florida leads the way with 46—and resulting commitments, where Ohio is an easy winner this year.

Etc.: Basketball recruiting remains dirtier than a dirt sandwich. What's with Ann Arbor as the epicenter of ice dancing? Russians. Obviously. What is the point of this new rule about head coaches in waiting? Manny Harris has never been that efficient in the Big Ten.

If you have a Worst State Ever shirt, wear it everywhere and people will love you. If you don't have one, slap yourself and get one (American Apparel) or two (regular old apparel).