Best and Worst: MSU

Best and Worst: MSU

Submitted by bronxblue on October 26th, 2014 at 12:03 AM

For various reasons, this diary is going to be low on game-specific commentary.  The box score tells a pretty complete tale already; I don't think you need me to supplement the numbers to get the drift.  Plus, I need a little R&R.

Worst:  Our Place in the Dirt

Few lines have gotten me this excited about a movie more than Mr. Dirk Pitt intoning about the plight of the human civilization as we look to the heavens for a way to escape a dying planet before the last embers of humanity as extinguished.  From what I've read about the movie, it is all about scientists discovering a wormhole that (apparently) would allow faster-than-light space travel, Earth no longer being capable of sustaining life due to the effects of cataclysmic climate change, and Dr. Larch calling upon Rust Cohle and Fantine to travel beyond the solar system in search of new, habitable planets.  Throw in Christopher Nolan and some cool cinematic effects, and I am already making triple-redundant babysitter plans for opening weekend.  Doesn't look like I'll be missing much in the way of relevant football then.

For decades, Michigan fans looked at every season not just with hope, but with expectations.  They expected to compete for conference titles and bowl wins, to beat rivals and stay atop the college wins list.  To being, for lack of a better word, good.  The stars didn't always align themselves (and let's be frank, more times than not goals were equal parts hubris and idealization), but Michigan fans always had their heads up, dreaming big.

But since 2006, that hasn't been the case.  Sure, there have been glimmers here and there (most of 2011, the starts of 2009, 2010, and pre-Akron 2013), but they've all been mirages, pockets of air escaping a dying husk of a collective fantasy.  Michigan the football program isn't "dead", of course; it will rebuild (with a new administration and a new coach) and undoubtedly return to competitiveness on a national stage.  You don't post decades of winning seasons without being able to adapt and reform, and this fallow period will most likely be an historical outlier (and not a trend) when my kids look back 32 years from now.

But I'm talking about the future, of a generation of fans who are still figuring out what "Michigan football" means to them.  They'll know it for this period of struggling, but as the team improves these memories will fade away, and one day they'll look back and wonder what the hell was happening in Ann Arbor in the late 00's and early 10's, much like my generation wonders about Bump Elliott and the 60's.  But this generation, the current era of fans who only know Bo and Carr and "the Streak" and spoiling OSU's perfect seasons and consistently pants-ing MSU, those memories are being buried deeper and deeper under each blowout loss and non-competitive game, under every good coaching hire in Columbus and East Lansing, and every "great" alum chiming in with his #HOTTAKE about the current team.  This is our first taste of failure, and its one that will linger for years.

I'll be there cheering on Michigan in 2019 or whenever they are "legitimately" good again.  When they are beating MSU and OSU, winning 9-10 games consistently, and celebrating your first touchdown in nearly 3 games doesn't break Ace.  But right now I'm staring at the ground, powerless to effect change and just hoping that someone, anyone can make sense of what has happened these past 7 years and make it stop.  And yeah, I'm sure they will, but it will be hard to wipe away this much dirt, this much grime with a couple more wins against Sparty and a couple of shiny TV games.  It's going to take something truly significant.

Or maybe none of this matters.  Maybe this is just a cycle ever team goes through, the karmic payoff for 40+ years of bowl games and #1 selling merchandise.  Maybe Michigan's Circadian rhythm is just longer than everyone else's, its death and rebirth on a different timeframe than most others, and thus what feels unfortunate and untimely is right on cosmic schedule.

Worst:  11 Points

Michigan scored an offensive touchdown against MSU for the first time in 3 games, or to put into perspective, for the first time since before the world had 7 billion people on it.  Excuse me for a moment.

Best (I Guess):  No Hell in a Cell

You know how I know you know something about professional wrestling, dear reader?  Because you've heard good Ol' J.R. announce epic dunks, huge hits, and internet fails for years now.  And chances are you probably watched the original video of the Undertaker vs. Mankind in Hell in a Cell.  If you haven't, here's that memorable scene.

What made this match so memorable wasn't the novelty of the cage; it had been around in a similar form for some time, most prominently as part of WCW's WarGames gimmick match.  And the violence that is so easily lent to the caged environment had become far less jarring with the continued evolution and prominence of lesser-known federations such as ECW, which had co-opted the "hardcore" style previously found in Japan and (to a lesser extent) Mexico and Latin America.  No, what made these early Hell in a Cell matches iconic was the escalating brutality they displayed.  In the first, Shawn Michaels took a for-then rough bump to the floor, but it was still pretty controlled and "safe", basically Michaels jumping from the cage onto a free-cut table.  But when the Undertaker battled Mankind, any reservations or sense of self-preservations were thrown out the window.  Watch the video again, and see Mick Foley dive off that cage onto the floor.  When Ross cried out that Foley was likely dead, you could hear real concern in his voice.  We were still a year away from Owen Hart's tragic death during a pay-per-view making this kayfabe fear a reality, but this was still a grown fan flying off the top of a 20+ foot cage onto the concrete floor of an arena.  It was both terrific theatre and terrifying spectacle, and the fact Mick Foley continues to show the lasting effects of this and other, similarly-brutal matches cannot be forgotten.

Last year's game felt like Gardner was flung from the top of the cage.  We semi-joke around here about his ribs being crushed by MSU and that "breaking" him, but it was terrifying to watch and made me legitimately question whether or not referees should be allowed to pull a player for his safety.  The fact Gardner kept getting up was courageous in a sense, but at some point you just wished he had stayed down and everyone just go home.  But in a sad testament to the season thus far, I didn't think Gardner suffered nearly as much against a ferocious MSU front.  Yes he was sacked twice and hit a half-dozen more times, but it looked like a normal 2014 game, not a life-changing evisceration on national TV.  It was your typical slobberknocker between these two teams, and if we are looking for a silver lining at all, everybody seemed to leave the game with all of their bones and organs in the same general place.

Worst:  So Close

This is Michigan's gameplan in a single gif.  They had halfway-decent field position on a couple of drives, and moved the ball in fits and spurts.  But every time they had the hint of momentum, they'd go for an ill-fated flea-flicker, or fail to execute a simple bubble screen, or just run the damn ball on 2nd-and-9 for 1 yard and waste any opportunity to keep the game close.  It was infuriating, it was depressing, it was par the course for the year.

Worst:  Running Gardner

I saw a number of people arguing for Gardner to be more involved in the running game, the logical argument being that while his passing wasn't working well against MSU's stout defense (13/28 for 121 with 2 picks - including on pick-6), he likely would have been more effective running the ball compared to the rest of the team (which if you squint kinda came within the ballpark of 100 yards total).  And maybe in another world, with actual QB depth and a coherent offensive plan, I'd agree with you.

But we've seen the backups for UM at the QB position - Morris isn't close to running this team, and Bellomy has looked lost every time he's been asked to do anything with this team.  This game was lost as soon as the two teams had the coin flip, but (in theory) Michigan has a chance to finish 6-6 and make a bowl game with very winnable games against NW, IU, and Maryland coming up.  But if Gardner goes down and is replaced by either of his most-likely backups, the team might as well not get off the bus.  And though I'm absolutely of the belief that Hoke should be gone, he's still being paid to win games for the University of Michigan, and he is going to make decisions that will maximize his ability to do so.  That means keeping Devin Gardner as healthy as possible, and in a game where MSU was going to be teeing off on him at every opportunity, exposing Gardner to any more damage in a lost game didn't make a whole lot of sense.

Worst:  Saving Timeouts

It was beyond infuriating to watch Brady Hoke allow MSU to run a good 40 seconds off the gameclock to end the half before scoring their second TD to push the game to 14-3.  With MSU needing about a quarter of a yard on 3rd down, Hoke allowed MSU to run the play clock down before plunging forward for a score.  Even if UM stops MSU at that point and the Spartans kick a FG, a couple TOs used there conserves clock and gives UM a chance to at least get within long FG range.  But with a full complement of TOs, Hoke let the clock burn down, ran for a couple of yards on the last play of the half, and went into halftime with three timeouts and nothing to show for them.

I guess you could argue Hoke wanted to see if his defense could hold MSU without giving the Spartans a chance to consult on 3rd down, or that he didn't want to expose his beleaguered offense to another set of downs that could lead to a turnover or some other misfortune.  Those are all theories with merit in a vacuum.  But this is Brady Hoke and Michigan in 2014, and that this point try to win the F*CKING GAME and squeeze one more possession out of the game.  You'd already gotten a couple of gifts in that first half; any shred of confidence you could hang your hat on went out the window when you basically told your offense you'd rather regroup than try to matriculate the ball down the field in a minute.  Still...

Worst:  Hoke is the Worst A.I. Ever

This might be semantics, but I don't think Hoke is a quitter.  He's (sadly) calling the game the same way in the 1st quarter as he is in the 4th quarter.  He's like the worst movie version of artificial intelligence.  He doesn't learn from the past, he doesn't integrate new information into his plans, he isn't becoming sentient, and he sure as hell isn't turning the world's electronics against the humans.  He's a mediocre football coach who seems unwilling to break out of his gameplan to any meaningful degree, and that's why all of these losses feel the same.  With a lead he's maybe willing to take a couple of chances, but when he's down its all huddling, predictable pass plays, and punting for field position.  He's not trying to "look good" for his bosses or nab a "moral" victory; he's just coaching like Brady Hoke at Michigan.  Now, the fact that this style resembles a guy who is over his head and failed to install anything resembling a consistent, sustainable identity is another matter.

Meh:  Defense

They gave up 446 yards, 4.8 yards a rush, busted on a 70-yard TD pass, and never made life too uncomfortable for Connor Cook.  At the same time, they played 29 minutes of the first half, forced a couple of turnovers to keep the game close, stopped MSU on 4th down, and for long stretches of the game looked competent despite missing a number of rotation/starters.  I know the raw numbers say otherwise, but it did feel like the defense was up to the challenge of today's game, and had the offense been able to sustain anything in that first half the game might have been a bit closer.  I'm not saying there would have been an upset, but for a defense that hasn't caught a break all year, the turnovers in particular were a welcome reprieve from the muck and, had they been capitalized on better, might have kept the game more competitive.

Longer-term, it doesn't really matter what Mattison and his coordinators do going forward.  Like Hoke, they are gone in a couple of weeks, so complaints about coverages, line play, RPS, etc. are kinda irrelevant.  I could see a world in which Nussmeier is retained due to his relative newness to the program and the expertise of the coach coming in, but Mattison is going to ride into the sunset with Hoke.  He'll leave having improved Michigan's defense significantly from RR's time, but not to the level people expected after 2011 and, frankly, what was needed to keep this team competitive.

[EDIT:  Put this in comments section below, figured I'd add it here for completeness]

Best:  Showing Some Heart
I have 0 problems with Bolden planting that stupid spike into the ground before the team took the field.  It's a cheap motivational ploy, but honestly teams do way worse before and during games.  Any arguments about it "disrespecting" MSU, especially coming from a program that planted the MSU flag in the middle of Notre Dame's stadium after the game is the height of hypocrisy.  Dantonio wasn't there in 2005, but he has shown little class in the intervening years as it relates to UM, whether it be getting into a verbal fight with Mike Hart in front of the media, pulling guys from lockup to play against UM before sending them back, encouraging (or at the least not punishing) consistent "violence" toward Michigan players that results in helmets being yanked sideways and cheap shots on downed players, and generally being an asshole.  He's a good coach, but I haven't liked him since the day he arrived in East Lansing and that hasn't changed one bit in the intervening years.
This is a rivalry game, and I expect players on both sides to get amped up over it.  Bolden didn't leave the stake in the middle of the field during the national anthem, Michigan didn't take shots at MSU players deep on the sidelines, and they didn't really taunt or otherwise disrespect MSU (and to their credit, MSU largely kept it clean as well).  MSU players trying to justify running up the score by talking about respect is stupid and shows an inability to accept the fact you scored again because you wanted to, because you like to win and rub in the victory against your biggest rival.  It's the same reason Izzo was throwing alley-oops up a billion against Michigan in basketball, and why Morris told MSu to get the fuck off his court after they vanquished them.  
It's all a show by MSU at this point, this faux outrage at what happened.  They won the game handily, and look to be one of the better teams in the country.  The fact they continue to have a hard-on about really trivial stuff like gives fuel the overblown-but-still-existing inferiority complex that fans of both sides attach to this rivalry.  But for the record, I hope Bolden puts one of these down in the field the next time they play.

Best:  IU Defense  - The Best Gift a Sport Could Give

So my daughter is celebrating her first birthday next week.  Since she's been born, Michigan has basically lost every meaningful game and looked like a steaming crater of tires covered in bird shit.  So that's not a good thing.  But what IS a good thing is that they are playing Indiana, and with all due respect to Jamie Mac, I'm pretty excited to see Michigan get a chance to put the spurs to a bad defense for once.  It won't make up for the past 12 months, but it will give me something else to smile about, and would be a perfect gift for this little Wolverine-in-training.

Good-bye to a Great Man

Good-bye to a Great Man

Submitted by Ron Utah on October 25th, 2014 at 8:18 PM

The End.

Embracing Mark Dantonio for an extended congratulatory message, I have little doubt that Coach Hoke whispered something graceful, complimentary, and kind.  I also think he said something else.

Few things make Mark Dantonio smile.  He is the grumpy cat.  But beating Michigan has always been one of them.  That's why it was surprising to see Dantonio look so distraught after today's win.  The interviewer had to ask him if he was happy, and, finally, Dantonio smiled.  He was so aware of his unusually grumpy (even for him) face that he said, "It may not look it, but I'm happy."

I believe Coach Dantonio--who has proven himself to be one of the nation's best college football coaches--was actually sad.  Not about beating Michigan (he'll always relish that) but about the final postgame handshake with a man he wants to hate but simply can not.

"Real recognize Real"

I believe Brady Hoke is a great man.  Despite not being able to produce a coherent offense in four seasons at Michigan--even with an MNC-winning OC--he has still continued to reel-in top talent on both sides of the ball.  This, in my opinion, is almost wholly attributable to his genuine love for the young men he coaches.  He cares about them as people, not just as football players.  He is concerned about their character, not just their statistics.  When Jabrill Peppers committed to U-M, he said, "Real recognize real," referring to the sincerity of the coaching staff.  I unreservedly agree completely with John Beilein: Brady Hoke is the type of man I would want to coach my son.

The Shane Morris concussion issue did not make me doubt Brady's concern for his players' well-being.  It wasn't a coach who didn't care about a player's health; it was just another symptom of a coach who couldn't manage the myriad details involved with running the winningest program in college football.  If Brady knew there was any real possibility of Shane being seriously injured by playing, he would not have played him.  That wasn't the problem.  The problem was he didn't know; he wasn't aware, and that problem has extended to field on too many occasions.

Brady's last UTL was a win

It's a small miracle that this team continues to play as hard as it does.  The defense, once again, played with heart and character against an extremely efficient MSU offense.  Their never-say-die attitude lasted well into the fourth quarter.  The whole team fought tooth-and-nail to squeak out a win against a below-average Penn State team.  I believe this Michigan team, like all teams, reflects the attitude of their leader: high-character, high-motor, high-intensity...and imprecise.  Over and over today small things made big differences: passes just a bit off, receivers dropping the on-target efforts, runs just a bit too impatient, a quarterback feeling pressure when there was none, a tackle just missed.  These are not new problems.  It's not youth, it's imprecision, and it has plagued our team (and especially our offense) since Hoke's arrival.  And these small things have added-up to big numbers in the loss column.  And so Hoke must go, and I am calling for his replacement as loudly as anyone.

But let's never forget that this man's character was enough to inspire Greg Mattison to come back to Michigan from the Ravens.  This man was charismatic enough to lure Doug Nussmeier to Michigan.  This man is genuine enough to pull-in the highest average recruiting class  in the country, even though he can't win at Michigan.  Let's always remember that while Coach Hoke did not cut it on the scoreboard, that his integrity is an example of what a Michigan Man should be.

Denard Robinson's mythical talent, combined with freakish turnover luck, was enough to propel MIchigan to an 11-2 season and a Sugar Bowl victory.  And let's give credit where credit is due: Hoke and Mattison field competent defenses, and, with more time and a developing team, I think Brady could probably keep Michigan in bowl games for the foreseeable future (after this year).  But that's not good enough.  That's NOT Michigan.

Chris Spielman--somewhat surprisingly--said it well: "I believe Brady Hoke is a good man and a good football coach...but the results aren't good enough."  And I believe that part of Brady's message to Mark Dantonio tonight wasn't just congratulating him; it wasn't just genuine admiration of how well Dantonio runs a team (in almost the exact way Hoke would like to run his team); it wasn't just well-wishes for the rest of the season.  It was good-bye.

I think Brady Hoke knows his time is up.  I think he told Dantonio as much tonight after the game.  And I believe that Brady Hoke is such a good man that even Mark Dantonio, who hates all things Michigan with an immeasurable, dyed-in-the-wool passion, was nearly brought to tears by a Michigan Man's farewell.

I'm excited about the possibility of a Harbaugh, or even someone not quite as perfect.  I'm eager for a coach that is demanding, detail-oriented, and relentless in his pursuit of victory.  And while I'm quite certain we can and must find a more capable coach to lead our program, I'm just as sure we won't find a better man than Brady Hoke.

I wish him and Laura all the best.

Would you be in favor of hiring a rival coach for Head Coach?

Would you be in favor of hiring a rival coach for Head Coach?

Submitted by sheepdog on October 20th, 2014 at 3:54 PM

Pretty straightforward question (and pretty hypothetical because this doesn't seem like a legit question to have to answer this time around).

If a rival coach of the caliber of a Kelly, Dantonio, Meyer or one of their capable coordinators (like a Naduzzi) showed interest, would you be in favor of this for the HEAD COACHING job at Michigan?

Also, does anyone know of some examples of this happening before?  Recent example would be USC hiring Sarkisian from Washington, although not the same level as aformentioned rivals.  

Personally, I wouldn't have a problem with it - even Tressel or someone - as long as we win.  If we didn't win, the world may end.  Our (arguably) beloved GMatt has had stops at both UM and ND, and was embraced again by the UM community a few years ago, as a DC though, obviously.


EDIT: In case anyone was confused about which position I am referring to, it would be our J. Ira and Nicki Harris Family Head Football Coach.

Midseason Review of Losses: Opponents' Records

Midseason Review of Losses: Opponents' Records

Submitted by Humen on October 14th, 2014 at 7:28 PM

We're slightly more than halfway through the regular season and sitting at 3-4 with losses to:

#5 6-0 Notre Dame (best win: #14 Stanford)

#20 4-1 Utah (best win: #8 UCLA)

5-1 Minnesota (best win: Northwestern/Michigan)

5-1 Rutgers (best win: Michigan)

That works out to 20-3. Heading into the bye, we just beat a PSU team that was 4-1. One could make the case that we haven't lost to a bad team. One could defend Hoke on that ground, but I'm not going to make that case. 

Notre Dame has @FSU (#2), @Navy, @ASU (#17), Northwestern, Lousville, and @USC (#22). FSU will be favored by about 10 if Winston plays and about -3.5 if not. It's likely they finish 9-3 or better. 

Utah has @OSU (NTOSU), USC (#22), @ASU (#17), ORE (#9), @TREE (#23), UA (#16), and @CO. That's brutal. Your guess is as good as anyone's in this year's PAC12, but mine is that they lose to USC, ASU, ORE, TREE, and UA, finishing 6-6. 

Minnesota still has to face Purdue, @Illinois, Iowa, OSU, @Nebraska, and @Wisconsin. This is looking like a team that will win at least 8(!) games, possibly more. 

Rutgers still has to face @Nebraska, @OSU, Wisky, Indiana, @MSU, and @Maryland. It's likely they finish 6-6 or worse. 

Perhaps, just perhaps, the teams we've lost to will all prove to be decent teams.

Stupid Person Asking Question about End of Half Timeout

Stupid Person Asking Question about End of Half Timeout

Submitted by IncrediblySTIFF on October 14th, 2014 at 11:12 AM

Rainy Tuesdays are much worse than Mondays, in my opinion, and I was hoping to see a few more thoughts about the time-out called with three seconds left in the half.

Here's my take: there is no significant risk from taking this timeout (chance of a successful hail mary is pretty minimal).  However, there is not much reward there either, as the probability of a turnover-for-touchdown is even less than that of a conversion.

As a Brady Hoke apologist, and admittedly able to find the smallest amount of hope in the least-sensible ways, I would argue that it was a good call.  The fact of the matter is: Penn State was content to let the clock run out and go in for a rest.  Brady Hoke said, "wait a minute there, get on back out here and finish some football."  I like the mindset because I am stupidly loyal and find humor in the call   in that the opposition was trying to do one thing, and Michigan forced them to do the other.

I saw Space Coyote chime in on this as well in a different thread, I would like to hear a few more thoughts.  Seems to me the general sentiment is it was bad because it gave them a chance to throw the ball to the endzone (if PSU thought they had a chance of converting, why didn't they try it themselves)?

Why we are not competitive in pictures

Why we are not competitive in pictures

Submitted by maizenbluenc on October 9th, 2014 at 11:49 AM

Hoke when the refs make a bad call against us:



Hoke when a player screws up:


Note: he used that yardstick both to measure your foot placement and splits, and to whack you when you were off by a fraction of an inch. Details man, details.

[Edit: I think some of you are taking me too literally, and are missing some of the implied humor in the extremity of the cases: there is a careful balance.

Also, there is a point that Bo managed the details in an authortarian manner, and therefore no one wanted to screw up the details so they focused on them.]

The Michigan Clans - Revisited

The Michigan Clans - Revisited

Submitted by saveferris on October 6th, 2014 at 3:04 PM

Over three years ago, immediately after Dave Brandon announced the hiring of Brady Hoke as the new University of Michigan football coach, MVictors came out with what I consider to be the definitive summary of the Michigan fan culture.  We were divided then, some of us acrimoniously, and with Michigan poised to begin another coaching search, the factions have begun to show their ugly faces again.  There is less division now over whether the coach should go or stay, but who should take over, who is worthy to lead us out of the desert into the Promised Land, that is still very much a point of contention with many in the Michigan family.

For those of you who have been around here for awhile, this will look familiar.  Brian featured it on UV after it came out.  MGoShoe started a thread where you were able to share which faction you best fit into.  If you’re new around here, I encourage you to click over to MVictors and check it out, because it’s really outstanding.

I didn’t bother to reassess the breakdown of each group, but certainly some clans have grown and some have shrunk.  In 2011, here’s how the folks at MVictors saw things:

With Michigan poised on the cusp of what appears to be another change in leadership of the football program and perhaps the Athletic Department as a whole, it seems relevant to have a look another look at our collective culture and what value unite us and what ones separate us and remember that ultimately, we all want the same thing; for Michigan to win and be Michigan again.


Bo Clan

They weren’t really in Hoke’s corner when he was hired, but liked his rhetoric and were impressed with his recruiting.  Things looked encouraging when he went 11-2, but the gradual decline over the next 2.5 years is undeniable.  These are the guys who bristle the most at all the Hoke hand-clapping and talk of toughness that never seems to make it to the field.  They are aghast that Hoke allows David Brandon to micromanage the football program they way he does.  They want Brandon gone yesterday and Hoke let go after this season is over and give Jim Harbaugh whatever he wants to come back to Ann Arbor.


The Rebellion

Still pissed and their ranks are swelling.  Feeling a bit vindicated that Hoke’s version of Manball has fallen flat.  Chafed over watching Denard line up under center as Borges tried to hammer that square peg into that round hole.  Apoplectic that a player of Devin Gardner’s caliber is being wasted doing the same thing.  These guys want Hoke gone NOW!  Want Brandon gone NOW!  You saw a lot of them on the news last week marching around The Diag and the President’s Residence.  These folks are the most annoyed with the Michigan Man meme and while they would accept Jim Harbaugh, believe he’s not coming and think somebody like Dan Mullen is a perfect guy to come in and finally move this program forward.


Corduroy Jacket w/Patch Clan

Feeling uneasy and a little put-out that Hoke hasn’t been successful and that Brandon continues to commit PR gaffe after PR gaffe.  Michigan being dragged through the mud in virtually every national media outlet over Concussiongate is the worst thing ever.  They just want this shit to go away and for everyone to get along again.  Still, our future falls disproportionately in their hands right now, as we’re unsure if the head of this clan, President Schlissel, is up to the task of righting the ship.


In Rod We Trusted

As always, closely allied with The Rebellion, but their ranks have thinned with time.  Also feeling vindicated watching Hoke fall flat while Rich Rodriguez’s Wildcats sit atop the Pac-12 undefeated and sporting a sexy upset over Oregon.  Annoyed with being right back we were in 2011 facing another coaching search and talking about viable candidates when they still believe that we could’ve avoided a lot of this if we had just given the man a fair chance to succeed.  The next coach should be the best candidate for the job and anyone talking about Michigan Men should be taken out back and shot.  Oh yeah, and fire Dave Brandon.  Giving the collective finger to….


Lloyd Loyalists

These are the only guys still firmly in Hoke’s corner, stubbornly insisting that he’s a good coach and will succeed at Michigan if just given time.  They’re not happy with Dave Brandon and want to see him gone, but Hoke is their guy.  Their ranks have been dwindling for years now, but unfortunately, since they mostly consist of Lloyd’s ex-players at this point, they have a lot of inside access to the program and are a serious challenge to any kind of wholesale culture change.


Cotton Pickin’ Blues

The biggest group and the biggest reason why Michigan Stadium looks so empty this year and the resale market for tickets is so poor.  These fans have simply checked out.  Dave Brandon has disenfranchised these folks with neutral site body bag games against Alabama, noodles, RAWK music and the general NFLization of the Michigan football experience.  Done with Hoke as well, as this is not Michigan.  Don’t really have a favorite replacement in mind, because, frankly, at this point, they just don’t care anymore.  These are the folks that successors to Brandon and Hoke will have the work the hardest to get back.


Fierce Pragmatists

They were 100% behind Hoke coming into this season and thought any talk of Hoke’s seat being warm or setting a win threshold on retaining him for his 5thseason was ludicrous.  Have come to the sad conclusion in the past few weeks that things around Hoke have gotten just too toxic and his job is not salvageable.  These guys don’t really have a preferred replacement in mind, they will back him no matter what, but they hope for an inspiring choice.


The Second Estate

These are the guys that are still firmly in Brandon’s corner.  See Stephen Ross.  Keep Hoke, fire Hoke.  Whatever; Brandon knows best.  Just as long as their access to the program is not affected, they will ultimately be satisfied.  These folks would probably be the most wary of a strong coaching hire, like Jim Harbaugh, that might put their access in jeopardy.


The Decatur Clan

These folks are still somewhat in Hoke’s corner if only because what about the kids?  These are the guys who came back to watch the finish of the Utah game who weren’t Utah fans (so yeah, not Ace).  They bristle at pyrrhic talk of boycotts and public protests and want to believe beyond all hope that Hoke is going to right the ship, the light is finally going to come on for this team, and we will have our revenge against MSU and OSU.  They haven’t considered a good replacement for Hoke, because a real Michigan fan wouldn’t have turned their back on this team while there is still season left.  Will get behind whoever is hired once that decision / announcement is made.

Best and Worst: Rutgers

Best and Worst: Rutgers

Submitted by bronxblue on October 5th, 2014 at 5:28 PM

[EDIT] You know it's been a long season since this was originally titled "Maryland".  Just banking these beforehand, I guess[/EDIT]

One of these days I'm going to put in less work on writing these than the coaching staff did in preparing for the game.  They just keep setting the bar so low, though.

Best:  Semi-competent loss

It's come to this, hasn't it.  Not moral victories or BS like that, but after being destroyed by a cadre of mid-level BCS teams and Notre Dame, Michigan finally looked semi-competitive against another BCS team.  And Rutgers is at least a bowl team, something Michigan sure isn't right now.  I always figured Michigan would have a close loss like this during the year, but the expectation was that it would be a rare occurrence of bad luck and incompetence instead of, I guess, a sign of growth and competence in year 4.  

Ugh.  Moving on.

Worst:  Reset Doesn't Exist

I recently finished reading Console Wars, a sometimes-laborious-but-interesting read about the history of Sega, Nintendo, and (a little bit of) Sony and the video game industry they helped revive in the 80s and 90s.  It has its flaws from a narrative perspective, but what it does highlight so well is the evolution of video games from quarter-eating arcade cabinets in pizza parlors and movie theaters to the multi-billion dollar industry have now, spurred on by improvements in technology as well as creativity and game design.  The book doesn't go into great detail, but another major innovations was the idea of continued gameplay, of "saves" that allowed players to start the game back up from an earlier time but not having to reset from the beginning.  It made the games more fun and allowed more immersion in the narrative; the player had a history with the game and so by starting around the same place later on, that connection wasn't lost through the redundancy of replaying previously conquered levels.  And during the game, when everything went to hell, you could return to an earlier, better state and try it again.  Suddenly, every misstep wasn't, well...

And this advance brought along some quirks.  As a kid who grew up in the era of NES/Genesis/SNES cartridge rentals from Blockbuster Video, it was always a bit of a mixed bag when picked up a game for the weekend.  If you were lucky, some guy was 3/4 of the way done with A Link to the Past and you could see how the game ended; if not, you had a cartridge with a busted save battery and you had better hope your mom never turns off Secret of Mana for the weekend (And yes, I know you can always start a new game, but 8-year-old me wasn't above using a leg up if it was presented).  But if you did continue an earlier game, you were implicitly endorsing the decisions, and repercussions of those actions, from the player(s) before you.  Yeah, Cecil Harvey may be totally powered up, but he's also rolling with a Mage and not an awesome Thief, and there's no easy way to correct for that.  It's great to have a chance to influence the future, but it comes with all the history and baggage that you had nothing to do with but now informs all of your decisions going forward.

I'm not going to comment much on the past week; I've said my piece about my issues with the tenor of the movement but I agree that change is necessary going forward; win out or lose out, Hoke and Brandon can't both be here in 2015.  Practically speaking the coach being let go is easier but probably more damaging, at least in the short term, because the costs of the transition are so high (coach search, player attrition, recruiting, etc.), especially for a program that seems to have been paying them for 8 years now.  Hoke is most likely over his head, but he has pieces of a good staff and I still hold that his ceiling is a competent program that wins 8-9 games a year; considering where the sad state the team has been for years, that would be considered a massive improvement.  He isn't a long-term solution, but he can be a nice transitional coach to the next hire and helps make UM way more appealing than the tire fire it is right now.  Getting rid of Brandon, though, is holistically much better for the school and has a less direct effect on individual teams, not just football, and would help quell the masses to a greater degree than just bringing in a new guy to run the football team.  I'm not sure, though, if the school administration is ready for such a heady task given the fact Schlissel is new the job himself and seems less interested in dealing with athletics than Bollinger and Coleman before him.  And has been pointed out a couple times already, how do we know he's not going to pick an equally-bad replacement for Brandon.

Regardless of how the next stage in Michigan athletics plays out in the coming months, the incoming parties are going to walking into a situation that is as fractured and toxic as I've seen in all my years following Michigan athletics.  People talk about 2007 as a bad environment, but that was mostly tied to wins and losses by the football team; nobody marched through campus because Carr lost to Appalachian State.  RR wasn't made to feel particularly welcomed by some of the purported old guard, but Michigan fans had not yet welcomed this little guy into their lives, so spirits were still reasonably high.

I'll just set my bags on down over here

When Hoke arrived in 2010 the program was mired in its first sustained stretch of struggles both on and off the field in most fans' lives, but there was still optimism that with a new AD (remember how much we loved Dave Brandon?  Ah, it was a simpler time when "You may resume your unbreakable faith in David Brandon's pimp hand." rang true) and Hoke was so Not Rich Rod, and that feeling only intensified with that 2011 season and the solid recruiting that followed.

But now?  Unless the new head coach's name begins with "Jim Harbaugh" and ends with "combined with John Harbaugh to create Mecha-Harbaugh", it isn't going to be pretty.  Michigan fans have already lived through the hot-shot outsider as well as the "program" guy accepted by the old guard; the next coach isn't going to be able to play either card, and it's a pretty small deck to begin with.  This site has chronicled a number of the top candidates, and I've heard everyone from the improbably (Miles) to the gotta-be-trolling impossible (Tressel, Narduzzi).  Obviously winning quick and consistently will be the most important, but the next leader of Michigan football is going to have to do it largely without the benefit of the doubt, or at least show marked improvement early on to the bulk of a fanbase burned out by sustained "growing pains".

The environment around this program is terrible, and while change is a necessary antiseptic, it doesn't wipe away the damage already done.  The Michigan "brand" is junk right now; Brian spoke about how "THIS ISN'T MICHIGAN" as it relates to the handling of Morris's injury, but what IS MICHIGAN is a bunch of pissed off fans and students angry not just at the current administration but the world.  People have their multitudinous reasons for supporting this team, but most of the fandom is rooted heavily in Michigan's consistent winning (and consistency and stability overall) for over a century.  It hasn't always been an elite program, but a consistent plugger with occasional spurts of greatness is still high praise, and the program has historically been above the muck and grime that has marred most of other schools (the sanctions passed down because of the Freep "investigation" stung even more because they were the first in Michigan's football history).

Michigan isn't a "winner" anymore.  It's not the home of the "Leaders and the Best" anymore either; it's the home of retreads and sycophants, administrative incompetence, wasted potential, and empty suits looking for fireworks and empty headsets not knowing how a clock works.  That doesn't mean Michigan is doomed to mediocrity, as every new coach and AD means another chance at redemption and a return to the school's place in the upper-echelon of college sports.  But the road back is getting longer and longer, and every step back by the current regime is just another one the next guys need to retake.  Player development will likely regress and will need additional attention, recruiting will struggle a bit as different offensive and defensive systems require different players while (hopefully) integrating the current ones as best as possible, and new coaching philosophies will need to be conveyed to college kids who will need to forget what they've been taught for years.

It isn't going to be pretty, and barring a miracle, it is going to take time.  The next coach is going to be taking over for a guy who wasted a bunch of goodwill and resources on "toughness" without focus, and the next AD is going to inherit a jaded fanbase that feels ignored and abused by a guy who thought fireworks, noodles, and bitchy emails were good business practices.  But unlike in video games, these men and women don't have the option to hit reset, and because of that we need to be patient as they figure out what level they're on and why they don't have any more mana.

Best:  Resiliency

Hoke mentioned in the post-game press conference about the resiliency of the team, and it is hard to deny that the team didn't fall apart like it had in previous weeks.  Part of that was undoubtedly due to Rutgers being Rutgers and failing to convert on a couple of long drives in the second half, but Michigan didn't let Rutgers run away after that late halftime score, and answered right back after the Knights took a 26-17 lead.  And after forcing Rutgers to punt following Michigan's last score, it looked like a team that could absolutely pull out a close win on the road.  It's still Rutgers, but given the team's struggles under Hoke it would have been a pretty substantial win.

In particular, I think we should all recognize the performance put forth by Devin Gardner.  A week after being benched and basically throw onto the scrap heap, and facing a solid pass rush behind a leaky line, he performed admirably.  That interception was pretty terrible and he had a couple of other throws that were off or thrown into double or triple coverage, but he also kept plays alive with his feet, and when the offense belatedly started to run most plays out of the shotgun looked a bit like his old self.  It wasn't enough to win, but this performance put into even starker contrast the lunacy of last week and playing Shane Morris.  It also, sadly, shows just how much trouble the offense is probably going to be in next year unless the line becomes markedly better.  Gardner kept drives alive with his mobility and slowed down the pass rush a but, but without an established run game a less mobile QB like Morris would have been flattened early and often.

Worst:  I Don't Understand Reviews Anymore

The refs were all over the map in this game; Michigan had 3 holding calls where probably only one was bang-bang, while Rutgers got called for 2(!) hands-to-the-face calls on defense and 3 personal fouls though not a single holding call despite Willie Henry basically carrying a Rutgers guy on his back a couple of times.  Michigan also received a gift spot on a 2nd-down run by Smith that sure seemed to be stopped short and didn't get called for a facemask on a Gary Nova sack.  

But that clusterf*ck on Darboh's 3rd-down play takes the cake.  Hoke should have challenged the spot instead of calling a TO and then challenging, but given how he handles normal game situations that shouldn't surprise anyone.  That said, everyone who saw that play except the video reviewers thought it was a catch, and it was weird seeing the catch be overruled by the referee who seemed farthest away from the play.  We've seen tons of those types of sideline catches count before, and if anything Darboh made it look worse because he inexplicably tried to reach out for the first down after he was past the sideline and the ball popped on when it hit the ground.  

I know, I know, Michigan deserves blame for playing so poorly that they needed that break late in the game, but it was still a bad call.  And it put Michigan is a tough spot where they had to either try a 56-yard kick (which had about a 2% chance of working against a team that leads the country in blocked kicks) or going for it on 4th-and-8.  Personally I would have tried to get the first over taking such a long shot, but neither option was appealing.  

Worst: Supernova

It was either this or Liz Phair

So yeah, pass defense kinda sucked this game.  I know they were down Peppers to start and lost Jeremy Clark in the second half, but this was still a terrible performance by the defense given the fact that Gary f'ing Nova was the opposing QB.  True, a couple of his throws were the type that happen against good coverage, but far too often Rutger WRs and TEs had 2-3 yard cushions on short passes, allowing them to either break tackles for extra yardage or even just fall down for the first.  This was especially true on 3rd down, where Rutgers converted 8 of 16.  Normally you'd say "50% conversion rate isn't horrible", but when you are allowing Rutgers to get to 16 3rd downs on only 10 meaningful drives, it also means you aren't kicking them off the field much either.  Rutgers had 3 drives of 10 or more plays, and all of them featured multiple 3rd-down conversions.  To make matters worse, the ghost of GERG had apparently been awaken from its eternal slumber, as a number of these conversions were on 3rd and long.  Early in the 2nd quarter it was Gary Nova juking Bolden for 20 yards on 3rd-and-16 deep in Rutgers territory, and later it was a 26-yard pickup on 3rd-and-9 and a very simple dink-and-dunk for 7 yards on 3rd-and-4.  Ultimately those drives ended in punts, but in a close game the loss of field position was felt immensely.  

The passiveness shown in coverage remains troubling for a number of reasons, but most especially because there doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason for when it is deployed.  Sometimes corners line up 2 yards off the receiver on 1st down, and then on 4th down and 3 yards Ramon Taylor is giving a WR oodles of real estate; only saving the conversion because of a nice hit that threw Grant off a bit as the ball arrived.  The seams are constantly open, and even though the windows may be small they exist so consistently in coverage that most QBs can hit them with regularity.  It's feels like in Madden when you just let the computer pick the defense and they settle on some generic cover-2 that doesn't really matter to you because you are always rushing from the outside with JJ Watt.  Unfortunately, the pass rush isn't getting there and all that cushion is inviting lots of short completions with copious YAC.  There are still some great playcalls and performances at times, but the pass defense again seems like a B+ outfit on a team that expects/needs an A performance every week.

Playcalling arguments given, this in no way overshadows the insanity of Gary "Wrecking Ball" Nova throwing for record-setting yardage.  It's a cheap CS joke, but I looked up the number and I couldn't find it anywhere on the internet.  And it was a holistic failure by the defense; everyone will point out that Countess was burned on the 80-yarder to Turzill and failed to stay with Tsimis on the score to end the half, but this entire secondary has 1 interception and that courtesy of a duck by Miami.  The linebackers get lost in coverage far too often, the defensive line can't generate consistent pass rush, and the safeties are so thin and inexperienced save for Wilson that they either dive toward the line too quickly or play too tentatively and let too much happen in front of them.  I'm sure not having a guy who actually played/coached the secondary previously trying to install a very intricate defense doesn't help, but (not to sound cliche) sometimes players just need to make plays.  I don't know the exact defensive playcalls or how these kids are being coached, but I kinda of doubt it entails trailing WRs for 4 yards or biting on double moves every time.  It is particularly jarring to see a senior like Countess, who coming into the season looked like a competent DB at worst, seem absolutely lost out there.  And while we cam talk about his lack of closing speed or ability to stay with speedy receivers, but he obviously was able to hold up reasonably well (Lockett aside) until this year.  It's likely a combination of confusion amongst the players and learning a new system that isn't expertly understood by the staff, but a game like this should not happen.

Worst:  I HATE Prevent Defenses

Now, I recognize that there are many different types of formations and playcalls at the end of the half that are designed to bleed clock in exchange for yardage, but this year's defense seems absolutely incapable of closing out a half without giving up points.  Last week Minnesota marched down the field for a late score, Utah marched down 54 yards in 16(!) plays for a 38-yard FG, Notre Dame before that scored an incredibly easy TD in about 50 seconds to really pull away at the half of that game, and now Rutgers went on an interminable 11 play, 75-yard TD drive in 1:21 (!!) to take the lead right after UM had surged ahead.  It was a weird drive to be sure, but Michigan just kept conceding yardage without putting much pressure on Nova, and even when they did get a free blitzer (Frank Clark on 3rd-and-goal), Nova got free and threw the TD.  All four of those drives had a huge impact on the games, and it isn't too much a stretch to say that each of those games could have turned out differently had Michigan had held without giving up points.

The team's close management at the end of halves is stupefying, and it further magnifies how terrible UM is at tempo that multiple teams can run up and down the field on them at pace while Michigan can barely run a 2-minute offense in 4.  There is a fine line between aggressiveness and recklessness on defense, but Michigan is far behind that line on the passive side that it is killing whatever chances they have to enter halftime with any sense of momentum.

Worst:  Fungible Funchess

No to be the bearer of bad news to the coaching staff, but (a) they aren't going to be around next year, and (b) even if they are, Devin Funchess probably isn't.  So I see no reason why they continue to "save" him during long stretches of this game.  Funchess had 3 catches in the first quarter and then had 2 catches in the 4th quarter, with the only substantial one being a 17-yarder on the last drive for Michigan hat got them deep-ish into Rutgers territory.  Funchess is probably a bit hurt and teams are obviously shifting their coverage to him, but no corner on the Rutgers sideline is taller than 6 feet, or 1/2 a foot shorter than Devin.  What's the worst that is going to happen if you just throw it up to him - you already had micro-Megatron with Hemingway in 2011 and that worked out swimmingly.

Only MSU and maybe ND and Minnesota have secondaries that should be able to keep up with Funchess, and yet every non-Appalachian State team has been able to bottle him up reasonably well.  I'm sure Funchess will explode for 200 yards against OSU when the team is 4-7, but it feels like a waste of a supremely talented player.

I've made most of these complaints/observations before in other games.  So here they are in short doses.

Best:  Lollipop Fake Punts 

Michigan caught one huge break when Rutgers called that fake punt in the second quarter.  It was actually a good call, as Michigan was scrambling and allowed the punter to escape behind them to the other side of the field.  What saved them, though, was the pass back to the punter with more hangtime than any of UM's punts in this game.  You could see the Rutgers punter stare down the swarming Michigan players while the ball just hung in the air and just kind of concede defeat.  It was glorious.

Best:  The Defensive Line

I saw some internet tough guys calling out Frank Clark for failing to bring down Nova when he had a free-ish run at him to end the half, but otherwise I thought the line did reasonably well.  It still can't generate consistent pressure (2 sacks notwithstanding), but it held Rutgers to just under 100 yards rushing if you excise sacks, and that includes the one 20-yard scramble by Nova alluded to before.  They also blocked a PAT and generally looked competent with an effective rotation.  It's not a dominant unit by any stretch, but it feels like the one part of the defense you can rely on to perform consistently every week.

Worst:  Still Waiting

Neither Green nor Smith provided consistent performance in this game.  Green averaged 6.2 ypc, but that number is goosed by a low number of carries (14) and two 20+ yard runs and not much else.  Green had a great run on the first drive and then another good run on the last UM scoring drive, but that was about it.  Smith had his moments and scored another TD, but he also looked indecisive at times and, like Green, didn't always identify the hole quickly.  It led to a bunch of stutter-steps and change-of-directions that might work in high school but lead to minimal gains, at best, in college.  Hayes continues to look plausible without being realistic, if that makes any sense.  He'll get a nice run or short pass and flash some speed, but then you look at the stats and he's barely being used and most of his big runs/plays come on long downs where the defense is conceding some green.  But both Green and Smith show just enough hints of explosiveness, of putting it together and being solid college running backs, that it is hard to give up on them yet and hope Isaac turns it around.  It probably doesn't matter given the upcoming coaching changes, but this team desperately needs to establish some identity running the ball, or at least figure out what each guy is good at and try to get some run with that instead of this "back by committee" approach that doesn't seem to work for anyone.  This is especially true with Gardner back there, as he forces the defense to stay honest and not commit defenders to stop the run so quickly.  

Meh:  The Offensive Line

This was a horrible matchup coming into the game, as Rutgers led the nation in sacks and Michigan's line led the nation in broken television sets, but they only gave up 3 sacks and the aforementioned holding calls were a mixed bag.  Michigan was able to sustain drives unlike in weeks past, and I haven't seen a coach so excited/satisfied about a TD drive like Hoke was following Michigan's last score since I learned about the dangers of "pep pills."

At the same time, the line is a victim of its past at this point.  You can see Gardner step back in the pocket and immediately start to worry about getting a helmet in the ribs.  At least one of those sacks was a "coverage" sack because Gardner just gave up after his first option was covered and started looking to escape despite the fact he had time.  The line is improving in fits and spurts, but at this point they've broken to QBs and I'm not sure how that will change between now and 2015.

Worst:  Somebody Count for Gawd's Sake

Another week, another 10 guys on the punt team.  At least this time it was a return, but it remains a bewildering problem for this team.  I presume that people on the punt team know they are on the punt team.  How about those 11 guys always run out on 4th down and let's see what happens.  I swear at some point this year Will Hagerup is going to be on a bicycle behind the bench and nobody on the Michigan sideline is even going to notice. 

Next Week:

PSU can't really defend all that well, can't block anyone's pass rush, can barely run the ball, and relies almost exclusively on Hackenberg keeping them in games with his arm.  Plus they've looked pretty bad on the road. Thus, I fully expect Michigan to give up 500 yards through the air and for every cornerback to be burned on a double move by anyone in a white helmet.  Last year's game was Hackenberg's coming-out party, and even without Robinson he looks competent when he gets time in the pocket, or as we like to say around here, Michigan's usual pass rush.

At the same time, Michigan is minus 13 on the year in terms of turnovers; they are bad but certainly not THAT bad.  If there are 90,000 bodies in the stands it will be a miracle, but I suspect they'll be treated to (sadly) Michigan's last home win of the year.  I want to be wrong about the year, but both IU and Maryland have good enough offenses to beat UM, and while I expect Michigan to not have too much trouble scoring, they probably won't be able to keep up.  So this game is essential for any faint hopes of a bowl game, and I expect the team will rally under the lights.


Brandon: I don't think Brady deserves any blame for what happened on the sidelines

Brandon: I don't think Brady deserves any blame for what happened on the sidelines

Submitted by wlubd on October 2nd, 2014 at 5:29 PM

WARNING - This is a Freep article. I will put link at bottom but have copied a few relevant quotes from their story just published.

Not trying to bombard the board but this was just posted and wow. Presented without further comment.…

Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said today that Brady Hoke had no fault in the handling of his quarterback's brain injury and that the ensuing firestorm will not affect how he evaluates the football coach's job status.
Brandon placed the blame on the school's medical staff for not quickly diagnosing the injury to Shane Morris and relaying the information to coaches, which led to the concussed quarterback staying in for another play and re-entering the game a few minutes later for yet another play.
"I don't think Brady deserves any blame for what happened on the sidelines," Brandon said. "Because Brady is responsible for coaching.

Hoke on 97.1: "I tried to buy [Gardner] back into the game with a time out"

Hoke on 97.1: "I tried to buy [Gardner] back into the game with a time out"

Submitted by MGoBender on October 2nd, 2014 at 9:21 AM

Interview ongoing right now.

Says the ref didn't let him call a timeout, until the head ref overruled.  Says by then it was too late and Morris was on the fied.


My commentary:

1. Blatant lie.  

2. The refs know that basic rule - there aren't times when you can't grant a timeout.

3. There was no "too late."  He could have called a timeout up until the snap.  For 20 seconds had the chance to fix it and didn't.