When he's dialed in, he's very good. When he's not, you don't know know he's not until he makes a mistake that should never have been made.
Gardner almost single-handedly lost the game for Michigan . . . his decision making under duress remains terrible.
Gardner threw three interceptions to an Akron defense that gave up 310 yards passing and three touchdowns to James Madison. One of those interceptions was a terrible pick six on a screen pass where Gardner never saw the defender in relation to his receiver. He has now thrown six interceptions on the season. That's as many interceptions as Braxton Miller threw all season last year.
Toussaint struggled again, as 15 of his 19 carries went for four yards or less. It gets worse from there, however, as 12 of his 19 carries went for two yards or less and eight of his 19 carries went for no gain or less. In other words, his eighth-longest carry of the day went for no gain.
Fitz Toussaint will never create for himself, ever. If the hole is there, he'll hit it and do okay. If it isn't, automatic two yard loss.
Center Jack Miller was pushed around like a shopping cart by Akron's defensive line, and he wasn't the only one. At one point, the BTN sideline reporter was talking to former Wolverine offensive lineman Steve Hutchinson about left tackle Taylor Lewan, and at that same moment, Lewan was being pushed into the backfield right to where the ball was for a loss of a couple of yards.
Akron's defensive line was just good enough to wreck havoc on a generally really bad Michigan offensive line, and that led to problems all over the field on the offensive side.
Last week I talked a bit about how open the middle of the field was against Notre Dame, and it was exploited again this past week by the Zips.
Defensively the secondary is a mess. Akron should not be throwing for 300 plus yards on anyone (they didn't even get that against James Madison), but the middle of the field is almost always open in Michigan's defense when teams feel like exploiting it. Countess has been opportunistic, but aside from him there's really no one to fear too much in the backfield at this point.
Speaking of Mattison, he didn't seem all that happy on Saturday. His defense was getting pushed around. There was very little pass rush and there was no penetration. Michigan's starting defensive tackles Quinton Washington and Jibreel Black failed to record any tackles. They were too easily blocked in this game.
The lack of a pass rush is a concern. James Madison sacked Akron four times, which is four more times than Michigan sacked the Zips. Defensive end Mario Ojemudia continues to be the only Michigan defensive lineman with a sack. Frank Clark came in with big expectations, but to this point has just one tackle for loss.
Michigan has a ton of gigantic, glaring holes in their team that need to be addressed ASAP or Big Ten season will be very difficult for them.
I'm waiting for the UFR's from Brian, but I'm feeling a bit glum about what this season portends. There are a few reasons I still have some hope.
The schedule. We have six weeks (four games plus two byes, one before Big 10 and one before MSU.) This will allow our extremely young team time to learn, and in the case of the lines, to gel. Hopefully Chesson gets more of a rhythm.
Jake Ryan. Whether he plays on the line as an end, or as a LB, he has to improve what the defensive line is doing, and the soft middle.
Courtney Avery. Now we know why he was moved. We need Avery in the secondary, to allow Countess to always play corner.
Williams. While having Williams in the game telegraphs "run," that's ok. Butt has promise, but we need a TE who can help block, and Williams appears to be option A, B, & C.
I've not heard from a Michigan fan yet who wasn't surprised at how Akron came so close to pulling the upset against Michigan. Most had Michigan winning (including me) in a ridiculously easy game where lots of backup players would get a chance to play. Obviously, such was not the case. Most have focused on how unprepared Michigan seemed and that while Akron played a spirited game, no way should they have been anywhere close to Michigan, let alone nearly winning the game. But perhaps we were too hasty in portraying Akron as just a push over with no chance of winning. Maybe, just maybe, Akron has some decent players, ones that are better than a MAC doormat team.
The coaching is there, without question. Terry Bowden and Chuck Amato know how to win at the top of the college ranks and have dozens of years of experience. A lot of the impression of Akron was based on their past. How many years has it been since they've won a road game? But this is only Bowden's second year there. He is not responsible for how bad the team was 3-5 years ago. And he is doing something that Bill Snyder perfected at Kansas State: building a team with transfer players.
It's common form for coaches to talk up their opposition before a game, even if it's just to be polite. But maybe Brady Hoke was onto something when he sang Akron's praises:
“When you look at Akron, I look at a team that has 22 transfers and that is coached very well,” Hoke said. “Thirteen of those transfers are playing significant snaps, (including) two offensive linemen, one transferred from Florida State and one from Pittsburgh. Those are pretty good programs. They have a couple of guys who have transferred from Ohio (State).
A quick look at their roster shows that in addition to transfers from FSU, PItt, and OSU, they also have transfers from Wisconsin, BYU, Virginia Tech, Washington State, Colorado, Colorado State, and several community colleges. They have a lot of new, experienced players this year with the talent level for success.
Yes they did lose decisively in their first game this year to UCF (who just beat Penn State) and had to struggle to beat James Madison, but they definitely seem to be a team on the rise. I'm not claiming they are going to win the MAC this year, but they probably are a much better team than most of us gave them credit for.
Unlike Bronxblue, I didn't take any notes during the game. My thinking was, hey, we're playing Akron, how much effort do I really need to put into this? Unfortunately, it appears the entire operation - offense, defense, special teams, scout teams, coaching, the students, and the band* - felt the same way. The boxscore will tell you that this game was played Sept. 14, but it sure felt like it was still Friday the 13th.
Before we wring our hands, gnash our teeth, rend our garments and run around screaming in panic-mode, let's remember what this game was: the classic letdown game. I don't understand the psychology of "playing to the level of your opposition," but I've seen it enough times to know it's real. Michigan played down to Akron's level, and the Zips did their best to seize the opportunity. We were just one play and one yard better than them on this day.
*Before BandoCalrissian gets up in my grill, where was Beyonce?
Burst of Impetus
* There were surprisingly many plays where the momentum changed hands. The 2nd quarter turnover-fest was wrought with impetus changing plays. The key moment in the game to me was late in the 2nd quarter, with Akron driving. Pohl lofted a beautiful pass headed right into the hands of his receiver, only to have a beaten Jourdan Lewis swipe at the receiver's arms moments before the ball arrived. The flags remained in the officials pockets. Akron ended up missing a 45 yard field goal and we went to half up 7-3. Those three points would end up being huge as Akron got down to our 1 on the last play of the game, but needed 4 to tie instead of 3 to win. I think the other big thing about that play is it let Akron know that their WRs could beat our non-Countessian corners 1 on 1, and they would go back to that twice in the 2nd half for huge gains. Akron drives in the first half went for 12, 26, 4, -2, 33, 47, and 0 yards. In the 2nd half, they had drives go for 75, 59, 67, and 71 yards. Pohl was only 5 of 14 for 60 yards at half, but was 20 for 35 for 251 yards in the second half. Clearly, they made adjustments on offense, and I think the biggest were challenging Lewis and Taylor, and getting O'Dorizzi matched up against our linebackers.
Unit Desperately in Need of an Identity
* 23 players showed up in the defensive stats section, but not for the reasons I would have guessed before the game. Five of those were offensive players, due to the turnovers and possible special teams play.
* I get it that the D-Line doesn't normally get involved in a lot of tackles, and Akron was throwing the ball quite a bit, but they still ran the ball 30 times. Our D-Line was led by a reserve, Ojemudia, with 4 tackles. The starters ended up like this: Clark 2 assists, QWash 0, Heitzman 0, Black 0. Did they even play?
* For the folks bemoaning our lack of a pass rush, we did end up with 8 QHs. For as long as I've tracked that, which is not long, that strikes me as a big number. We didn't get any sacks, but what is the right number of sacks to get per game? Is it 2 or 3? So if they get the 2 or 3 sacks, is their job done? Of course not. I'm more worried about the other ~70 plays during the game. I contend that QHs and QB completion percentage are also valuable metrics to look at. 8 QHs and ~50% completion percentage suggest that the line's performance wasn't all bad.
* JR3 was the defensive leader for the game with 10 tackles, 1 TFL and 1 pass broken up.
* Countess and Wilson each had an INT, making a profit out of Magnus. I bet Stribling would have gotten the third INT if he had been in there instead of Lewis.
* Gardner was responsible for all four turnovers. Yes, the INT to Funchess deflected off of his hands, but that throw was into traffic and shouldn't have been made. I was hoping the turnover problem was going to go away with Denard and his inability to see over the line. It's still happening. So at this point, we have to say it's systemic, which gets to coaching. Are the coaches asking Devin to do too much? For example, on the option play, he should have pitched to Toussaint. But how often does Devin practice that play, considering all the under center, shotgun, pistol, read-options, power, zone-blocking, and inverted and extroverted veers he's asked to run? He certainly didn't look comfortable on that play, even though it was the perfect audible and play to run against that defensive formation.
* Gardner was 16 for 30 for 248 yards and 2 TDs passing. His long was 48 yards to Funchess, but that was the result of YAC. As numerous posters have pointed out, we didn't test Akron deep all day. My self-annointed deep threat from game 1, Joe Reynolds, caught one pass for 1 yard.
20 Pound Cheeseburgers
* We ran for 177 yards on 32 attempts, better raw numbers than the ND game, but I thought the performance against ND was better. Why? I'm sure we all remember Barry Sanders. He could make an amazing run, but then be stopped for a 5 yard loss on the next play, trying to make something happen. So, would you rather have a back who goes for 20, 3, and -5 yards (total = 18), or a back who goes for a dependable 4, 4, and 4 yards (total = 12). I'll take the fours, because it keeps drives alive. We only had 10 third downs in this game, and went 3 of 10 on them. Had the line held up better and eliminated all of the negative carries for Toussaint, we could have MANBALLED Akron. Instead, they ran 79 plays to our 62, and never let us get in a rhythm offensively.
* Fitz had 19 carries for 71 yards, and Gardner had 10 for 103. Green, Chesson and TEAM had 1 carry each. I thought we had 5 or 6 RBs on the depth chart.
V. Sinha Legends Jersey
* Gallon was one of the few bright spots, catching 6 balls for 66 yards.
* Funchess and Butt each caught two passes, but I suspect their UFR blocking numbers aren't going to be great. Folks think that our edge blocking is good because of Lewan and Schofield, but Akron attacked the edge with their defense because without Williams, we are left with two-undersized TEs who haven't mastered the finer points of blocking just yet.
* Dileo was held without a catch. WHY, BORGES, WHY?!?
* Graham Glasgow got a tackle, by falling on a guy who recovered Gardner's fumble. It's usually not a good sign to see O-linemen getting in the boxscore.
My boxscore has a Butt Cheek in it
* In addition to Jake Butt's two catches, Akron's Bryce Cheek had two tackles. Did anyone get a photo of the two of them standing side-by-side?
Norf and Souf
* Norfleet caught two passes for 20 yards. He only had one kick return for 15 yards and no punt returns. It's almost like Akron scouted us, or something. Imagine that. Meanwhile we had no clue what to do with D'Orazio and kept treating him like a tight end instead of a slot receiver. But why bother scouting Akron, AMIRITE? So you don't almost end up one play away from the Horror II. Like I said, I think it was a total team letdown, including the coaches, scouts, and scout team. If I can suggest an MGoQuestion for this week's press conferences, it would be, did they bother to scout Akron? and is that what Brady meant by the coaches not doing enough last week?
* Our special teams have not been special so far. We gave up more than a first down on every exchange of punts. That's bad.
* Gibbons missed his only attempted FG, but he was due to miss one. I just wish I didn't have that gut feeling that he was going to miss. It's just how the day went.
* The silver lining to the special teams cloud was that the kickoff teams were ~6 yards per kick better than Akrons.
I'm an international umpire
* They saved our bacon, as I pointed out in the impetus section. The pass interference they called on Butt's defender at the end of the game wasn't nearly as bad as Lewis' hacking across the arms of the Akron receiver.
* Akron's fans should be furious at the refs, but that raises an interesting question. Does Akron have any fans? And if so, why? Whenever the conversation starts about the smaller schools trying to compete with the football factories, Akron is brought up as an example of a school that should de-emphasize football. And yet, they almost beat us.
* Penalties were even at 5 apiece. The penalties on us seemed to wipe out bigger gains and were more consequential, but we deserved them.
* The attendance was 107,120. That's not a sell-out, but to be fair, when I was a student, that would have set the record for the largest crowd in Michigan history. The stadium has grown, meanwhile, the population of the state has decreased. We may have reached the limit on what the market will accept.
* Michigan came into the game with three impressive streaks going - Hoke's home winning streak, Gibbons FG accuracy streak, and the Team's redzone efficiency streak. We left the game with only one streak, but it's the most important one.
* Since our staff apparently didn't bother to scout Akron, I did a little research on them. They play in InfoCision stadium, which sounds like a novel surgery technique.
* In their last game, James Madison tallied 12 more first downs than Akron. They also sacked Akron 4 times, but had 0 QBH's.
* The attendance at their last home game was 19,653. So apparently, they do have fans, but I have to ask again, why?
* Akron's helmets have images of zippers running along the top. I thought "Zipperhead" was this guy:
but apparently, he's Eraserhead, and there is no "Zipperhead," except that's a slang term our GI's called Koreans during the Korean war, so let's just forget I brought this up. I've always been terrorified of Eraserhead, but I've never seen the movie. A question for the MGoCommunity, is that worth watching?
I had a great anecdote planned for this diary, comparing Dad to Forest Gump, but I'll save that for when we are in a better mood. Instead, I'll just leave you with one his sayings, "On any given Saturday, any given team can beat any other team." And that's why we play the games...
To let you in a bit on how the sausage is made with one of these posts, I usually sit down with my laptop during the game and play around in the liveblog while taking some really cursory notes. While I’m sure I could figure out how to watch lineplay and defensive adjustments intricately in order to make really astute observations about particular players, there are lots of people here at MGoBlog who do a great job with that level of detail and, frankly, I doubt I’d be able to add much. No, the Best and Worst is all about a layman’s observations of a game, with (I hope) a bit of humor, some fun long-form ideas, and insufferable references to wrestlers and 90’s television shows.
Well, usually my notes take on a bit of a narrative as a game progresses; I inevitably start ordering comments into Offense, Defense, Special Teams, Coaching, etc. buckets, so by the end I’ve got my talking points, as they are, laid out. Given the opponent, I figured they’d be succinct and pretty general; it’s hard to derive too much from a blowout.
Well, by the last 4 minutes of the game, my notes spanned 2 pages typed and, if my keyboard was both sentient and possessed the necessary funds to file documents with a court, would be Exhibit A of a battery suit brought against me. People joke about how typing “OMFG” or “ROFL” negates the emotion you are attempting to convey, like telling someone how funny something is instead of actually laughing. But part of the reason you use these shorthands, though, is because “nfsakjf528095353u55b25jewrnijrggrehjigh3u04u-421” followed by your dog fleeing the room is hard to convey in words. So yeah, based on my notes…
Worst: Goliath has Fans Too
I’m usually not one to complain too much about announcers except if they go full Spielman and openly root for one team over the other, but the announcers were extremely excited about the possibility of Akron beating UM. And that got me thinking; seemingly everyone loves the David vs. Goliath matchups that end with David victorious. At first blush, it totally makes sense; David represents the everyman, overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds with character, ingenuity, and guile. To root for David is to root for the human spirit and the impossible dream. Rooting for Goliath is like rooting for the house in blackjack.
But here’s the thing; being “Goliath” is not free of context, nor is it purely a “you vs. them” dynamic wherein everyone agrees how the story should end. In other words, Goliath has fans too, and in most cases they don’t view themselves as the bully, the victor, the unstoppable force OR the immovable object. Goliath is just a guy who is blessed with some physical advantages that he honed with rigorous training and passionate loyalty to a cause. In the eyes of Goliath, he’s entering into fair combat against another warrior who just happens to be smaller than him and who wields a slingshot. He’s not Razor Ramon or Vince McMahon, “heels” personified who want nothing more than to ruin the face’s day. No, He’s not the “bad guy”, unless “being tall and strong” and winning most of the time are dastardly traits. He is the Big Bad because the only lens used to view him is as the seemingly unattainable or antithesis model, the personification of David’s shortcomings.
So saying you love David vs. Goliath games is really saying you like to see the big guy lose not necessarily because you have a rooting interest in David or against Goliath, but because you don’t want to be reminded that not everyone has David’s problems. On some level, you hold Goliath’s strengths and accomplishments against him, believing something must be cosmically wrong to explain his winning ways, and that a loss will somehow right this off-kilter universe.
But that really isn’t fair to either party; Akron is just a bad FBS program trying to find its footing and UM is the winningest program in college football history. UM has all of those wins because, for most of its existence, it has fielded talented, well-coached teams that beat other ones on the football field. Akron, not so much, but that isn’t because of something UM did. And, humorously, the tables are turned in the other “football”: Akron has been one of the best college soccer teams for years now while UM is the “upstart” that scored a major 1-0 upset over the Zips a couple of years ago during an otherwise poor season.
I’d say millions of people partook in today’s game in some way (live, TV, radio, internet, etc.), and a significant number of them are probably fans of UM football. They wanted to see UM win for any number of reasons, and few if any thought Akron winning would be a “good thing”. Russians certainly didn’t think losing to the US at the Olympics was a good idea, nor are Phi Slamma Jamma fans clamoring for Lorenzo Charles (RIP) memorial jerseys, and I’m guessing Lloyd Carr isn’t sending Armanti Edwards holiday cards. Had Akron pulled off the win, it would have been heralded as a huge upset both for the year as well as historically, and people who “like” upsets would have another moment to cheer about. But for the fans of Goliath, David is just the guy who got lucky, and no amount of culturally-endorsed schadenfreude will change that.
Today’s game ended with Goliath winning, though it was obviously closer than expected. The narrative is that Akron gave UM all they could handle, and that in a game of inches UM got lucky that Akron came up a bit short. But it was a game that both teams had a chance to win, and this time Goliath benefitted from a missed opportunity; history hasn’t always been so kind. I’m certainly not going to complain.
Worst: It’s a Win? (as said in the voice of Ron Burgundy)
Yeah, I’m not going to be one of those people who says it would have been a better “learning experience” if they had lost; I’m a results-based grader so a win is always better than a loss. That said, this is up there with narrowly beating Indiana and Illinois under RR and a turrible 10-7 win against 5-6 Utah in 2002 (a game I attended and apparently blocked from my memory until now). And unlike those games where you could at least point to one element of the performance being a positive, it isn’t really hypoerbole or “ESPN talking head”-ole to say UM was beat in all three phases of the game.
Best: It’s a Win
But it’s a victory for UM, and 3-0 is 3-0. Just ask MSU, whose offense finally eclipsed the defense is scoring 3 games into the season. Teams have bad games, and for all of the hell the players are likely to have rain down on them by the coaching staff this week, it would be immensely worse if Saturday’s game had ended with an “L” on the schedule. This game probably ratchets down the expectations a notch if you saw UM as a top-5 outfit, but otherwise it was a close shave for a team with top-15 talent. Given the number of massive upsets this year, it could have been far worse.
I know the Internet is the ultimate echo chamber for cynicism, and this blog’s particular composition only accentuates that property, but just like was a need to pump the brakes a bit after the ND game, this game doesn’t not necessarily mean you need to stock your panic room quite yet.
Best: I don’t want…your life!
One of the more underrated moments in Varsity Blues is the “hungover” game played by the West Canaan Coyotes after Mox, Tweeder, Billy Bob, Wendell, and Lance spent a night at the Landing Strip Gentleman’s Club*. Hungover and clearly off their game, they lose in embarrassing fashion and Bud Kilmer turns to threatening Mox about his scholarship to Brown if he doesn’t shape up and fall in line.
In no way am I insinuating that UM’s play against Akron was caused by every starter heading off to Deja Vu in Ypsi Thursday night, but it clearly looked like a team that was out of sorts from the outset. UM did force a 3-and-out on Akron’s first drive and followed it up with the long TD by Funchess, but for most of that first half the offense looked lost and the defense held tough but couldn’t generate much of a pass rush. And once the 2nd half began and Akron made some adjustments offensively, the defense struggled to keep them off the field. Plus, Gibbons missed his first kick since Purdue and Matt Wile shanked a couple of punts, resulting in an average of 33 yards per kick despite “booming” one 54 yards. As a couple of people noted (including Ace), if it was against any other team but Akron, UM probably would have been run off the field. But still, just a disorienting performance.
Of course, Notre Dame also had a pretty off performance against Purdue, so who knows where everyone was last night.
* I know this is saying a great deal in a movie where James Van Der Beek is a Texas QB, literally every play is either a bone-shattering tackle or a 50-yard TD (seriously, watch the clip and you’ll see 4-5 NFL Blitz-style flying tackles), and a HS team is allowed to basically coach itself once Jon Voight leaves at halftime – you’ll notice no assistant coaches take over or are even on the screen, but the most unbelievable part of that movie is a HS health teacher moonlighting as a stripper in a city of, oh, 10,000 people in Texas and NOBODY notices until some HS kids see her act. I mean, that club looked packed on (I’m guessing) a weekday night, and early on the movie establishes that Miss Davis must be making decent money from her dancing in order to afford a Mustang convertible, so it is clearly a popular place. Yet her double life remains a mystery both before and after this night. Simply unbelievable.
UM averaged 5.5 ypc* and 8.3 ypa** while holding the Zips to 3.6 ypc*** and 6.3 ypa**** which look good on paper, but as the astute reader might have picked up, those little *’s aren’t just looking for a party to crash; they are massive caveats. First the rushing: Gardner averaged 10.3 ypc on his 103 yards, showcasing the game-breaking speed that can turn a collapsing pocket into a 36 yard TD. Fitz recorded 71 more yards on 19 carries, but didn’t crack 4 ypc against the #80 rushing defense in the country. And while I initially thought he was the recipient of some bad luck out there due to penalties on runs, the only one apparently was a holding penalty by Gallon on a 3-yarder. Of his 19 carries, 7 were for losses and 8 were for minimal gain (though one was the TD). He recorded 65 yards on 4 other carries, and added a nice 27 yard reception to goose the numbers up a bit. On most runs he was engulfed in the backfield or had trouble locating holes either because they weren’t there or a momentary hesitation closed them too quickly. I’ll get into my feelings about the line play later, but this was not a banner day for a guy who has played reasonably well this year given the obvious issues in front of him.
As for that 8.3 ypa, that is .7 ypa below Akron’s 114th-ranked pass defense, and came with a 53% completion perctange and 3 INTs, including a horrible screen-ish pass that was returned for a TD. Nobody other than Gallon caught more than 2 passes, and while Funchess had a nice day on paper with a TD and 65 yards on his two catches, one was a 48-yard TD run that was aided by some poor angles and tackling by Akron, a theme they continued on Chesson’s only catch (and first of his career) on the day, a 33-yard TD where he was pinballed toward the endzone by an Akron defender. Criminally underused Drew Dileo was held without a catch, so hopefully this week Brian will be able to release that particular Kraken.
The defense did marginally better, holding Akron to about their season average rushing and about a yard less passing, but those numbers were put up against UCF and the zombified remains of the 4th President of the United States, er, eponymously-named FCS James Madison University. And Akron had 4 drives longer than 45 yards, including two 11-play drives that ended with a TD and the final drive, as well as a 5-play drive that ended with Wilson’s INT in the endzone. UM could not get Akron off the field in the 4th, including giving up a number of long completions and “they only need 5 yards for the first down, let’s give the slot receiver a 10-yard cushion” plays.
So yeah, statistics should be trusted only as far as they can be thrown, which against UM’s defense today is apparently both quite far and with minimal coverage.
Okay, okay, that’s a little mean. But it was pretty bad out there.
So you know how earlier I mentioned that statistics sometimes lie? Well, a big reason why UM’s running game struggled was the continued inability of the offensive line to consistently block for anyone. Against Akron, Fitz had 15 carries that resulted in either lost yardage or minimal gains, and a significant number of them were because one or more Akron defenders were in the backfield rather quickly. It remains a team that is strong on the edges (though both Lewan and Schofield missed a couple of blocks) and “maturing” or “weak” (depending on your viewpoint) in the middle. Akron didn’t seem like it was doing anything special defensively, yet they always seemed to have the number’s advantage at the point of attack. And while they only recorded a single sack, Gardner was harassed most of the day by the line without excessive use of blitzes or disguised coverages. I’m not expecting major changes on the line next week, but this is a team that can’t consistently get 4-5 yards a pop on the ground without the QB getting involved, and that is not a sustainable situation during the conference season unless Devin remains healthy throughout, which would be a minor miracle.
As for the defensive line, to say the “Right to Rush 4” mantra needs to be redefined would be an understatement. A unit with a decent amount of hype heading into the season failed to register a sack on 49 attempts, though the defense was credited with 8 QB hits. Still, it took an all-out blitz to get pressure on the QB to end the game (reminiscent of the Points-a-Palooza some years back), and when your undersized tackle (Black) is your most consistent pass rusher against a MAC team, that isn’t good news. I guess the jury is still out on Frank Clark, but at this point the judge expects to hear a verdict by the end of lunch. It certainly didn’t help that Mattison seemed reticent about using more than 4 linemen to get pressure, and as a couple of people noted in the Liveblog the stunting was glaringly obvious, but again you shouldn’t have to overly gameplan for a team coming off a 1-11 season.
Best: Times are Changing
Now, I know I just spent a couple of sections dumping on Akron and minimizing their influence on today, but they deserve quite a bit of credit for playing UM to a standstill. Maybe 25-30 years teams like Akron are just happy to be playing in the Big House and are overwhelmed by the moment, but in today’s college football ecosystem everybody believes his team can beat anyone else. For even with Akron’s fallow history, it is still an FBS team with D1 players on it, and given the exposure and resources available to virtually all such programs nobody should be surprised they didn’t just wilt as soon as The Victors played. Terry Bowden may have looked like he ate his daddy Bobby before the game, but he’s still got a career record of 142-75-2 (including 47-17-1 while at Auburn), and certainly knows how to beat teams like UM. They played solid, largely mistake-free football and took advantage of UM’s miscues. They played like a major college football team, and this game should be yet another reminder that “MACrifices” isn’t a reality in today’s football landscape.
Best: Tackling, and the Lack Thereof (part deux)
Last week I mentioned how refreshing it was seeing the other team (in that case, ND) miss some crucial tackles while UM largely wrapped up quickly. Well, count both Funchess’s and Chesson’s TDs as beneficiaries of some dodgy tackling by the Zips. By comparison, UM typically tackled guys at contact, though Jourdan Lewis had a pretty bad “tackle” of Pohl as he rushed for a first down late in the game. There were also the coverage issues with the corners and linebackers, especially in the middle of the field where D’Orazio was seemingly open all day. This definitely felt like a gameplan limitation, at least initially, but it was troubling that late in the game receivers were able to get open in the secondary with players trailing them by 2-3 yards.
Worst: Hitting Reset
Last week I waxed poetically about Gardner being a modern-day unstoppable video game QB, UM’s answer to Michael Vick circa Madden 2004. He was like UTG Trevor Siemian crossed with a mongoose, and it was glorious. Like Vick in the game, it just felt unfair to have him on your team, and to talk about him in front of your vanquished opponent is to welcome scorn and possibly some shoving.
Well, against Akron people saw the other side of the videogame analogy: when the computer “cheats” and everything that could possibly go wrong does. Suddenly, your all-world QB can’t complete a pass except to the other team, your RB can’t get a yard beyond the line of scrimmage, you are getting called for penalties on any positive play, and even digital Texas’s GERG thinks you are playing too soft defensively. By the time a defensive end houses an interception off a screen pass, you’re diving for the reset button while cursing Alan Turing and his stupid face.
Of course, in real life that’s just the third quarter of the game, and you still have to watch and hope that somehow, someway your team figures it all out enough to pull out a victory. Against Akron, Gardner and the offense did just enough in the end for the win, and on a seemingly snakebitten game they can lick their wounds and give it another shot.
Best: Even YMRMFSPA had Bad Games
So the Vince Young analogies have been trotted out for Devin since his game against Northwestern, and with his improvisational skills, strong arm, and galloping strides it is hard not to see a bit of the college star in him. Unfortunately, Gardner also showed the same characteristics that drove Texas fans crazy early on in Young’s career, with 4 turnovers, including a TaINT, and some happy feet that resulted in missed receptions and poor throws. If you check out Young’s gamelog from his first full season, you’ll see the same tantalizing mix of promise and growing pains: 5 TDs against no turnovers against Texas Tech following 8/23 for 86 yards against Oklahoma and 3/9 with 2INTs against Missouri. After those games, people we calling for Chance Mock to play at QB, and if that name doesn’t ring a bell it’s because he didn’t do anything to make people forget about Young. People in A2 forget this because of the game Young had against the Wolverines in the Rose Bowl, but Young finished with a 12:11 ratio on the season and had some tough performances even in wins. The next year he emerged as a breakthrough player and led Texas to the title.
I’m not saying Gardner is going to do that, but this game was a reminder of how fickle and infuriating the maturation process can be at times, and that the same player can have a stinker like today AND a performance against ND without there being anything wrong with him. I suspect he’ll play better next week, but regardless of his performance it won’t change this past game or how the future plays out. Every game is another data point, and sometimes you don’t realize there are outliers until time and distance it provides have given you some perception. Gardner wasn’t a Heisman winner after last week and he’s not a bum after this one, but instead a work in progress like the rest of the team.
I’m wheeling out my extra-tall soapbox now, so if you don’t want to hear my complain about fandom in general and UM followers in particular, feel free to skip to the next section.
What has always driven me crazy about the fandom in sports is the moralizing and dime-store psychoanalysis people place on players’ motivations. A team plays well and people lionize the “heart” shown by the winners while questioning that of the loser. Every down and distance becomes a Greek tragedy played out with a pigskin, and we want to equate higher meaning with 3rd-down conversions and missed blocks. But that’s the thing – it’s just a game, and teams win and lose, players play well or poorly, for reasons that have nothing to do with their moral fiber or ability to “lead” men.
Both during and after the game, there was a contingent of fans who tried to make the game a referendum on these players. They questioned the leadership displayed by Taylor Lewan apparently not getting the line “up” to block, as if Kalis, Miller, and Glasgow would have held their blocks if only they had cared more. Gardner threw INTs not because he made a bad read or had a bit of bad luck, but because he wasn’t a leader out there and his receivers didn’t have confidence in him. And in the postgame, when both Lewan and Gardner said they promised a better effort next week, people on the blog questioned their motives and suggested they had “heard this before” and UM still lost, proving that fans shouldn’t operate heavy machinery following a game because their blindness will undoubtedly cause accidents.
Sports were oftentimes used as stand-ins for battle both in real life as well as in narrative devices; we speak of “warriors of the gridiron” and its bond with iconography of good vs. evil and right vs. wrong is hard to ignore. But in the end, sport is just a game, with winners and losers according to the rules of the contest. To try to derive some greater meaning from it, to look deep into a man’s soul on a 3-yard run at the end of the game and hope to identify his humanity, is a foolish exercise. I know people will continue to act this way long after I’m cold and in the ground, but I still hope that one day sports will be treated as the athletic contests they are, not the day of reckoning some yearn for them to embody.
Best: Quick Hits
A couple of points that aren’t really worth their own sections:
I thought the secondary played okay, though the middle of the field was open seemingly for days at a time. They also seemed to line up yards off receivers that didn’t seem able to really beat them in a race. And to Akron’s credit, a couple of long receptions were the result of good throws; the one where I believe Taylor was beaten down the sideline in the 4th quarter by Smith was a great throw as much as any failure by the coverage. That said, surprised Lewis got the nod over Stribling out there, especially given the size differences.
Al Borges called a decent enough game in my opinion, though he seemed afraid of running the veer too much early on even though Akron had no answer. The inability of the line to run block certainly didn’t help; when UM needed yards late in the game they ran directly behind Lewan, which was obviously a positive but not great news for your inside running game.
I remain puzzled that Hoke did not go for it at 4-and-1 on UM’s 45 early on in the 4th quarter. The numbers say putning is the right call, but one yard with Gardner in the gun seems quite doable. I’m not a big fan of “momentum”, but getting a yard there gives UM a fresh set of downs and doesn’t put the ball on the foot of your admittedly-skittish punter who proceeded to shank the ball anyway. Plus, I believe this was right after Akron nearly blocked the last punt.
Norfleet appears to have lost return privileges at least on punts, with Dileo back there in the second half. That feels about right; I know Norfleet has shown great potential, but he continues to make the routine catches scary and still doesn’t seem to have a great sense of how to handle returns. And with Dileo back there, it allowed the BTN announcers to talk about how he can run in space. Because if there is one element of Dileo’s game we can ALL agree on, it is his blazing speed in space.
Best: Release the Hounds
The good news is that the UConn Huskies are an absolute tire-fire and UM should be rather motivated heading into the Cabella’s parking lot er Husky Stadium next week. I hope for everyone’s sake it is a short game and next week’s recap is “Best: Everything.”
Really sad news out of Akron ahead of their game against Ohio, reports are saying a ROTC student commited suicide in stadium and was discovered this morning. Looks like the game will be played as scheduled.
30 minutes left 0-0 against 4th ranked Akron. Michigan is hanging in there.
[Ed - PGB: I'm so glad this thread was posted. Along these lines, is there anyone in the MGoCommunity that has the ability to provide regular updates to the Board on things related to Men's Soccer? I think it would be a great service. I would do so myself but I am not on campus and don't really have access. It would be cool if someone there near the pitch could provide regular updates by way of a Diary. Any interest? <looking at you, msoccer10>]