And On Third Down, He Rose Again

And On Third Down, He Rose Again

Submitted by Brian on November 5th, 2012 at 12:19 PM

11/3/2012 – Michigan 35, Minnesota 13 – 6-3, 4-1 Big Ten

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Erin Kirkland/Daily

The only press box I've ever been in is Eastern Michigan's, and I was there to watch Devin Gardner play. He was at Inkster; Inkster was in the Big Day Prep Showdown. We even live-blogged it. The cadre of grizzled preps guys sat a few seats down. Their silverback called Gardner "high school superman" and Paul taped him from the sideline.

In an eerie prefiguring of Denard Robinson's career, Gardner had a ridiculously high percentage of Inkster's yards and made everyone feel ill when he got knocked out of the game. Inkster was on a grinding fourth quarter drive with Inkster down two. They had no kicker, so on fourth and seven from the eight they went for it. Gardner did a Vince Young impression down to the one and did not get up.

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The backup came in to guide Inkster to minus three yards on the next three plays. Gardner was reinserted for fourth and the game. He rolled out into heavy resistance, drew coverage to him, and threw a weird mechanics-free jump pass that scored the go-ahead touchdown. His teammates celebrated; he laid under a defender. Defender removed, Gardner got up like a glacier tired of gouging lakes out of mountains. Weary. A thousand years weary.

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In the press box, the preps silverback spake thusly: "and on fourth down, he rose again."

[UPDATE: Damn my memory. This was actually a Tim tweet. Sorry I didn't remember it right and work you in all fancy-like, Tim.]

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With Gardner on the sideline, Pioneer went 68 yards in 49 seconds to win. At halftime, the Free Press had launched their Rodriguez jihad, sucking any attention his Lazarus comeback may have generated out the airlock.

That's just how being Devin Gardner has gone. He arrived with an armload of hype and fell prey to an avalanche of it wearing dreads. He didn't even get to preserve his redshirt year thanks to Tate Forcier's inability to keep on the sunny side of life and Denard going out in about 2/3rds of Michigan's games. He moved to receiver, but called himself a quarterback. He saw the Nebrasaka game up close and personal. What was he thinking then about where he had ended up?

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Things happen and you feel certain ways about them and you can only figure out why you felt the things you felt in the moment later, after. From distance I think my extremely complicated yesssnononononoyessss response to Gardner's rolling out stopping neh neh neh no lets turn around and run the other way touchdown heave was comprised of these three things:

  1. Seeing that Dileo had broken open by twenty yards.
  2. Remembering Devin's high school superman act.
  3. Remembering what happened when he tried to matriculate that upwards. Yeah, it's the MSU yakety sax clip. I didn't need to tell you this.

It was third and seventeen and Michigan hadn't been able to move the ball a lick against Minnesota, so that colored my expectations as well.

Mostly I expected that something hilariously bad would occur and I would tweet out gallows humor while scouting out Goldy for some Ohio Bobcat action. This expectation got much better when Gardner cleared the containment and broke to the backside of the play. It got worse again when Devin chucked it without setting his feet, and then it was a touchdown and I'm just like…

oh. That was madcap. That's not happening again but at least we're seven points closer to not losing this game. I wonder how we will get any more? I think we should try the triple reverse throwback bomb to Lewan. Works every time when the universe has turned into a cartoon.

Michigan went with "fade route to 5'8" receiver in jet boots." Close enough. No one adjusts to the laws of physics going all looney tunes like the Michigan Wolverines.

Yeah, Minnesota is just a high school team with a nice stadium that disguised their pass defense in the wreckage of 2012 Big Ten quarterbacking. Yeah, everyone is getting way ahead of themselves praising Gardner when his performance seemed split about 50/50 between yakety sax (but good!) and receivers bailing Gardner out on balls they have no business catching. Yeah, Gardner's mechanics still look bizarre. The main takeaway from that game was uh-oh, Ohio State. Sure.

I don't think Devin Gardner cares after years of being a two-snap sideshow. That ridiculous heave was the first hint that he might be able to hack it next year, and that's a huge relief for everyone. It took three years and third and seventeen, but Devin Gardner got up and recaptured some of that old magic.

Media

Gallery from the Daily. Detnews game story and gallery. Here's another for the Hoke pointin' files:

(caption)  Michigan head coach Brady Hoke shouts some instructions to his players in the second half.   *** After trailing 7-0 at the end of the first quarter, in which they gained just 9 yards, The Michigan Wolverines, led by backup quarterback Devin Gardner, came roaring back to defeat the Minnesota Golden Gophers 35-13 to retain the Little Brown Jug. The victory at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis improved the Wolverines' record to 6-3 (4-1 Big Ten). Photos taken on Saturday, November 3, 2012.  ( John T. Greilick / Detroit News )

John T. Greilick/Detnews

Photos from MVictors. This is epic:

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 Obligatory jug shots from same:

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Highlights again:

Hoke postgame; players postgame.

Bullets

brady-hoke-epic-double-point_thumb_3_thumbBrady Hoke Epic Double Point Of The Week.

A close race this week. I did tweet "JMFR" after that and meant it. Nine tackles, five solo, three TFLs, various other things that don't show up on the scoreboard but let other people make plays. However, Jake Ryan got edged again and I'm pretty sure he was the guy who let Minnesota's tight end get so wide open on their touchdown.

So… Wide Receivers As A Unit, come on down! Drew Dileo: I'm not even laughing at the inevitable Wes Welker comparisons. Jeremy Gallon: separate like a boss, leap like a man with rocket boots. Roy Roundtree: Devin Gardner TARP. If those three guys don't collectively play out of their minds the narrative about Gardner is quite a bit different today.

Honorable Mention. Devin Gardner, about whom more in a bit, Jake Ryan(beastmode on several plays), Jordan Kovacs (damn you fluck), Desmond Morgan (when he hits you on third and short stops happen).

Epic Double Point Standings.

3: Jake Ryan (ND, Purdue, Illinois)
2: Denard Robinson (Air Force, UMass)
1.3: Jeremy Gallon(Alabama, 1/3 Minnesota), Drew Dileo (Michigan State, 1/3 Minnesota)
1: Craig Roh(Nebraska).
0.3: Roy Roundtree (1/3 Minnesota)

Brady Hoke epic double troll of the week. This is just magnificent:

Coach Brady Hoke said after the game Gardner now is entrenched as Michigan's backup quarterback while Bellomy deals with an undisclosed injury, although he was guarded about what exactly is ailing the redshirt freshman.

"Russell's situation is a little different," Hoke said. "Not one I want to discuss."

Asked to clarify whether the issue is injury related, Hoke said "Most likely. Yes. A boo boo."

There's an art installation about the nature of truth and reality in Hoke press conferences. UMAA, get on that.

BONUS TROLL THAT MAKES IT DOUBLE: When Michigan announced that Denard Robinson wouldn't play after Hoke said he "will start," they described Denard's injury like so:

The Michigan Athletic Department delivered the sobering news minutes before kickoff: senior quarterback Denard Robinson would not start against Minnesota due to an “undisclosed injury.”

Hoke is "very optimistic" he'll be back next week. Amazing thing: that was the first game Denard has ever missed with injury.

Obligatory Gardnertake. Obviously he'll be the backup QB the remainder of the year what with Denard being even more fragile than normal and Russell Bellomy being both injured and the primary author of the second half of the Nebraska game. And he's finally done something other than worry everyone about his future not living up to what people were hoping it would be. This is major progress.

I still find myself way on the conservative end of reaction to Gardner's performance. Some other blog takes to set the table:

"After a frightening start, Gardner was amazing.  I’m amazed that he can spend basically one week preparing for this game and do that.  Yes, I realize it was The Gophers and like everyone else I’m prone to oversteer after a win, but that was remarkable.  So that is the 5 star guy that everyone was salivating over out of high school."

-MVictors

Also at MVictors, Steve Sapardanis:

WOW!!! His performance evoked three words from me: Poise, Confidence and WOW!!

SMQB:

Robinson didn't play at all, and converted receiver Devin Gardner made him look utterly expendable. Lining up at quarterback for the first time this season, Gardner was 12-of-18 for 245 yards – he had three completions covering at least 45 – and two touchdowns, good for a sky-high pass efficiency rating of 206.6.

Meinke's headline-writin' guy:

Devin Gardner's stellar performance leads Michigan to rout

This may be an effect from sitting in the stadium instead of catching it on TV: Gardner had plenty of wide open dudes, and his throws were erratic. On the one hand, there was the picture-perfect bomb to Gallon; on the other, Dileo and Roundtree bailed Gardner out hardcore on the touchdown drive that put the game out of reach. The Dileo catch was a circus catch all the way, one that could have been made much easier.

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Roundtree == Gardner TARP. MVictors

Meanwhile Roundtree broke open by yards and would have had an easy touchdown if Gardner had gotten the ball to the endzone on the opposite hash. As it was he had to circus Michigan out of an interception. I'm torn on pressured completions to Jerald Robinson and Roundtree that were wobblers but did pick up big chunks.

Gardner does have a much better sense of when to run around like a lunatic than Denard. His High School Superman mode picked up the Dileo touchdown and a critical third down conversion on Michigan's second touchdown drive. He's still having trouble adjusting to what he can get away with in college, as his second attempt to reprise his MSU 2012 Yakety Sax (except good(!)) ended in a crazy whip-around throwaway that is easy to see resulting in something worse than a harmless ball out of bounds.

Compounding everything is the complication that Minnesota is Minnesota, and Minnesota, despite being Minnesota, was the top pass efficiency defense in the league entering the game. I tend to give more credence to the Minnesota bit of that given Ace's FFFF of Jared Abbrederis hand-wavingly wide open and seeing plenty of that in person Saturday. Gardner had doorwalls, not windows.

Okay, yeah. Michigan called maybe one or two runs for Gardner, which was frustrating but

The passing game wasn’t difficult to acclimate to, Gardner said, but recognizing new protections and familiarizing himself with the ground game took some time. He called offensive coordinator Al Borges’ gameplan a “safe” one, due to the extreme lack of depth at quarterback.

“They couldn’t run the quarterback,” Gardner said. “I’m comfortable with doing that, but there was no way we could have done that, it just wouldn’t have been smart.”

…okay yeah I'm with you.

Running game, turrible. Michigan got a short-yardage romp from Fitzgerald Toussaint in garbage time to make the final numbers look okay. Extracting the final two drives (four Thomas Rawls runs for 6 yards and four Toussaint runs for 50), suck out sacks (three for 23), and Michigan's run game did this:

  • 30 carries for 122 yards.

That is a hair over four yards a carry, and suuuuuucks. Even if you add in the garbage time they only get up to 4.7 YPC, which is almost two yards worse than Minnesota's best performance to date in the Big Ten.

Kids, it's sackcloth and ashes time. I had a little fit in the stands when Michigan ran an iso on one of their first couple drives and it went for three yards because it was Rawls running into an unblocked linebacker instead of Toussaint running into an unblocked linebacker and getting two yards. Things got marginally better from there, but only marginally. Michigan's long run other than the Toussaint TD was a Gardner scramble. Their next two were 1) a Gallon end-around that didn't require much blocking, and 2) the Rawls counter pitch that required none. I'm guessing that when I do the UFR the offensive line won't come out much better than they did against Nebraska.

That's mystifying after they did pretty well against a rampant ND defense and throttled a couple bad Big Ten teams. Minnesota and Nebraska aren't much better than Purdue and Illinois on defense. Michigan crushed the latter two, and essentially got crushed by the former two. Denard's absence has a lot to do with that; it's still depressing to think of Michigan's rushing offense as the worst in the Big Ten minus #16.

Hagerup dup. Will Hagerup, please report to the garage for a tuneup: three punts for an average of 29 yards each. Yorp.

Minnesota trip report section. The Gophers' new stadium is nice, as you would expect. Unlike Northwestern—the Big Ten stadium of comparable size I've been to—even the far reaches in the corner are pretty good seats, and the video board is far superior to Michigan's. I looked it up on the wikipedia: their main board is 5184 square feet to M's 3,991 and has a higher resolution. Michigan's down to 14th on their list of biggest screen things; kind of feels like the boards installed just a couple years ago are already dated.

I was on the aisle. I spent most of the game looking around people going up or down, because 1) they serve beer and 2) Minnesota fans in our section made Michigan students look like ruthless drill instructors with their punctuality. I guess it was an 11 AM local start. Even so my strategy as a Minnesota fan would be to show up for the part of the game where you're competitive and exit early if and when that ceases to be true. At least they were nice. I didn't see a single negative interaction between Michigan and Minnesota fans.

The chintz factor was pretty high, largely because the announcer would prompt everyone with "THAT'S ANOTHER GOLDEN GOPHER…" and then a variable number of fans would say "FIRST DOWN." The PA guy's mood shifted wildly with the fortunes of the game, too. By the end of it he was almost surly. The Minnesota marching band is 350 strong and the only thing I remember them playing was the Mortal Kombat theme sometime in the third.

Logistically, the stadium is in a good spot. We tailgated at the state fairgrounds in St. Paul, which was a ten minute bus ride from the stadium on a private university road. That last bit is key: no traffic. After the game I went to a sportsbar to watch an epic Sparty No moment with various folk; another set of companions went right back to the car. The bus line: about ten minutes and then you're out of all traffic.

Oh so Sparty. Oh, Sparty. You sonsabitches. First you have to run out to a two-score lead and then salt the game away before getting their world-class Sparty No(!) moment in on a personal foul on a pick six—one of like six you sonsabitches took after being on your best fairy godmother behavior against Michigan because really you're just misunderstood—and then getting outright screwed in a fashion that I couldn't even enjoy because you needed to win that game.

And then. And then after the game you took a shot at Denard for no damn reason:

"He's faster than Denard, even though he thinks he's faster than (Usain) Bolt," Narduzzi said. "He's flat-out fast. He's a good football player."

And then players hopped on Twitter to claim they had not lost but one game this year:

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The post-MSU-win column truly could not have been anything but what it was. So Sparty.

It took exactly two weeks to go from "where's the threat" to Same Old Spartans. Well, okay. I actually hope you sonsabitches make a bowl game because thanks to the ineligible teams you'll get sucked into a NYD thing against an SEC team and lose by 600.

BONUS BONUS BONUS

Kid's got a future with Vince McMahon if the football thing doesn't work out.

All that said. I'm with MGoGadfly KJ on the validity of that penalty.

The player is trailing the play, looking at what's going on. He's Kenny Bell—he's fast. There is a possibility the play cuts back to where he's relevant, and Adams doesn't hit him in the head, he just shoulders him to the ground. It's not dirty or excessively violent. It's the equivalent of the PF Michigan got last week for hitting Martinez late—overprotective busybody stuff done in the name of PR. Unlike last week, it swung the game.

AND I DIDN'T EVEN GET TO LIKE IT ARRRGH

Fake field goal thing. Minnesota folk were livid at it but after seeing it on replay I think Kill almost got us.

Kill had something up his sleeve and used it, getting his quarterback wide open on the sideline with no one covering him. If he'd run downfield and the guy had thrown downfield, touchdown. Bizarrely, despite setting this up and getting a quick snap in the throw was on the LOS and Michigan could recover because they were not rushing seriously. It didn't seem like it was a screwup by the guy throwing the ball, either: Nelson just sat on the LOS instead of running downfield.

I don't get that bit, but the idea worked. The execution/play design was busted.

Side note: if you're wondering how that happened after the rules were changed such that anyone checking into the game has to do so between the numbers: Nelson was already on the field and just stayed on as the rest of the offense jogged off. I'm not sure why you'd put Nelson out there instead of a receiver in that case, another strange thing about that play.

So… yeah, everything that happened after the snap was weird and bad. The gamble itself I can get behind when your kicker is .500 on the season.

A plea for pass interference sanity. I'll probably expand this into a larger post after the season but Saturday really crystallized how much I hate the pass interference rule as currently implemented. I actually thought this when Michigan got the benefit of it on the long incompletion to Roundtree on which the DB had excellent position and Roundtree kind of flung himself all over the dude's back.

IMO, if the DB is over the top of the WR, he's earned the right to slow down and prevent the guy from getting to the ball. If he's behind him and the ball is crappy and underthrown that is the offense not executing. You should only be able to commit pass interference with your arms or by actually hitting a guy. You have a right to your momentum, and to exist. Grabbing, holding, blowing a guy up before the ball gets there—all of these are legitimate calls. Running over a guy because he suddenly stops because the QB left the ball 10 yards short is not. I'm really tired of plays on which the offense is bailed out when a terribly-thrown ball turns into 15 yards.

Defensive backs are corporeal beings! Let's treat them like that! I'm founding the We're Made Of Matter Too League.

LOLWUT. I'm with Heiko:

Michigan by 13.5 over Northwestern? That's higher than the opening line for Michigan vs. Minnesota.

Home/away yeah but Northwestern is competitive against teams not named Purdue. This does make me feel so much better about that game. PREVIEW PREVIEW: Not picking the spread this time, probably.

Oh, right, defense. The defense held Minnesota to 13 points and under 300 yards—though if pass interference penalties were credited as offensive yards they would have gone over—and other than some Jake Ryan chatter above this 4000-ish word post has nothing to say about it, because that's just what happens. Being seventh in yardage defense just happens. Hail Mattison.

Here

Inside The Boxscore:

It's Michigan versus Minnesota week, at Minnesota, which means one thing. A University of Michigan quarterback is going to have a career day. In 2008, Nick Sheridan was 18 of 30 for 203 yards and a 127.8 QB rating. In 2006, Chad Henne was 17 of 24 for 284 yards, 3 TDs, and a QB rating of 211.5. That may not have been his best performance, but I don't ever remember seeing a QB rating greater than 200. In 2003, John Navarre was 33 for 47 for 353 yards and 2 TDs. During my college years, we put up these scoring numbers at Minnesota: 49, 52, 58, and 44 ('89, '91, '93, '96.)

I guess what I'm saying is, we shouldn't have been surprised by what transpired yesterday, but after that first quarter, I'm betting that I'm not the only one that was shocked by the next three quarters. After 9 consecutive TD-less quarters, we scored 5 in the next 3.

Elsewhere

Blog folk. MVictors also made the trip, where he took in the game from the resplendent comfort of the press box. He was also not impressed by Gopher timeliness, and reminded me that I was also astounded by how into the Kiss Cam everyone was.

Sap's Decals:

QUINTON WASHINGTON – To me it seemed like every time a Golden Gopher ball carrier got up from a run up the middle, Big Q was at the bottom of the pile. There may have been some questions about the strength of UM D-Line, but Washington is starting to clog up the middle, making it tough sledding for opponents to run on Michigan this year.

HSR:

I think one of the hardest things college football fans have to reconcile is the ephemeral nature of players.  When you consider depth charts, redshirting, and the like, we may get about three years with them at most, four if we're really lucky.  We get to know them, we come to appreciate them for what they can do, and then, like that, as quickly as they came, they are gone, leaving only memories, and occasionally questions of what might have been.

BWS:

Gardner looked like a Jim Tressel-led Terrelle Pryor: an athletic, tall quarterback being forced to play under center and make plays only when he's asked to while allowing the defense to carry the load. In this game, Gardner was able to do so, but this was against a Minnesota team that allowed 44 points to New Hampshire and 28 to Western Michigan and Purdue. Does Gardner's obvious improvement actually resemble a sustainable winning offense? That's debatable.

Tremendous bullets. Ditto TTB bullets. Maize and Blue Nation bulletsMaize and Go Blue recap. They're SEOing Drew Dileo's name into post URLs at SBN! (Don't bother with the "RESURGENT POWER RUNNING GAME?!?!?" comment if you hit up that article, as they have been taken care of.) Gopher takes from Fringe Bowl Team and Daily Gopher. I agree with TDG on Phillip Nelson—guy was extremely impressive. Holding the Rope column.

There is a flowering of "no QB controversy" posts, BTW: Maize and Go Blue has one, and the MZone leads with:

Repeat After Me: There is NO QB CONTROVERSY

After Devin Gardner's amazing game (minus the 1st quarter), I joked on Twitter that the easiest way to identify a so-called "Walmart Wolverine" on sports talk radio this week will be the guy calling in asking if there's a QB controversy now in A2.

There is not.

Devin was outstanding (minus the 1st quarter).  He was outstanding by any measure, but more so since he hadn't gotten any meaningful game reps at quarter back since... Illinois 2011?  But as soon as he's 100% again, Denard is Michigan's QB this season.  Period.

Also yes so hard

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Paid folk (and the Daily). Come on Baumgardner diviiiiiide and take into account connnnntext before you praise RB production. Numbers from same.  Michigan had its first consecutive 90-yard TD drives ever, which… like… wow.

Helfand:

When Michigan has needed to scramble this year, it has turned to Gardner.

Gardner was never really given a fair shake. He came in as a five-star recruit marooned behind a once-in-a-generation talent. Next year, he’ll have to compete with another hyped recruit, Shane Morris, who better fits Michigan’s pro-style system.

This year, he was asked to move to receiver, though it’s unclear whether he had a choice. The extent of his protest was to say he still considers himself a quarterback.

On Saturday, Michigan thrust him into uncharted territory: a wide receiver given one week to prepare for quarterback. There was little run game to bail him out, and even with Robinson, Michigan hadn’t scored a touchdown in two games. Gardner had taken reps at quarterback in his first two years, but he had to learn new protections and run packages in days.

“I was pretty nervous coming in to know how I would handle that,” Gardner said. “But I feel like I handled it pretty well.”

Meinke:

It looked as though Gardner, a junior who moved to receiver following two seasons as Robinson's backup, was back at home -- and he said that's exactly how he felt.

"I play quarterback," he said, "so I feel good."

Is it possible Gardner is a better quarterback, now that he doesn't play quarterback?

Absolutely.

Sad Pandas

Sad Pandas

Submitted by Brian on 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.

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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.)