With apologies to Charles Dickens and BronxBlue, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Michigan won a football game. Michigan almost lost a football game in heartbreaking fashion, but Michigan was playing Northwestern. So when Northwestern's quarterback slipped and fell to effectively end the game, we all exhaled, smiled, and thought, of course that happened because it's Northwestern.
Michigan's defense held Northwestern to 95 yards total for their first 13 drives. 95 yards in 51 plays; that's less than 2 yards per play. (I is good at math.) One drive lasted 9 plays. One drive lasted 7 plays. No other drives lasted more than 6 plays. So, of course, on Northwestern's last two drives, they go 95 yards in 19 plays and 74 yards in 14 plays. 169 yards in 33 plays. That's better than 5 yards per play after demonstrating complete futility all game long. Of course that happened, because this was the Michigan-Northwestern game.
Michigan's offense gained 147 net yards rushing and only gave up 3 TFLs. Michigan's offense averaged 4.2 yards per rush to Northwestern's -0.3 yards per rush. That's usually a recipe for success, unless it's Michigan versus Northwestern, and then the normal rules of the universe don't apply.
Northwestern had more first downs than Michigan, 18 to 13, and ran 84 plays to our 59. Gaining more first downs and dominating ball possession are usually recipes for success, unless it's Michigan versus Northwestern.
Northwestern was only flagged for 10 yards in penalties to our 50. Northwestern had 82 yards in interception returns to our 2. Hidden yards can often determine the outcome of a game, unless it's Michigan versus Northwestern.
I know you are patiently waiting for the links, but I've got one more of these, so bare with me. Northwestern was 10 of 20 on third conversions to Michigan's 1 of 12. How in the heck did we win this game? Oh, yeah, that's right, we were playing Northwestern.
Boxscore Link: http://www.mgoblue.com/sports/m-footbl/stats/110814aaa.html
Play-by-play Link: http://grfx.cstv.com/photos/schools/mich/sports/m-footbl/auto_pdf/2014-15/box_score/stats_20141109aaa.pdf
Burst of Impetus
* Pat Fitzgerald would have you believe that when Northwestern blocked Michigan's field goal attempt to end the first half, Northwestern seized the momentum. I'm a scientist, so I'm fairly certain I can explain why he was wrong. Momentum is mass times velocity. Since neither team had any forward velocity, there was no momentum to be had. Michigan's touchdown drive came after Northwestern muffed a punt return. Gardner threw an 18 yard pass to Funchess, down to Northwestern's three. De'Veon Smith punched it in from there. Michigan's offense was functional for two plays, and that's all we really needed, because Northwestern.
* Jake Ryan led the defense with 11 tackles. He had half a TFL for 1 yard, a BrUp, and a huge, impetus reversing interception. There were some growing pains earlier in the season, but he seems to be settling in at MLB.
* Will Hagerup banged a punt 57 yards early in the game, but only netted 37 yards on the punt as it snuck into the endzone. That was his only touchback; however, and he contributed mightily to the cause by knocking three punts inside Northwestern's 20, with 2 of them being downed at the 1 yard line.
* Devin Gardner continued to explode in every direction. He finished 11 of 24 for 109 yards and 2 interceptions. I thought the blame for the first interception could be split equally between Gardner and Butt, but that second INT was vintage Gardner. I've been wondering why Michigan hasn't been throwing the deep ball this season, and I think it's because Gardner can't be counted on to get the ball within 10 yards of the receiver, and if by accident he does, the receivers can't be counted on to make a play on the ball.
* My one prediction going into this game was that if Gardner threw a pick-six, we'd lose. If he didn't, we'd win. At least I got one prediction right this season, but Northwestern had a 79 yard interception return and had a couple other chances to score from the defensive side of the ball.
Love the Drake, but Really Love De'Veon
* I saw Brian give De'Veon another -2 in the UFRs this week, and that got my dander up. I can't help it, I love watching him run. Well, you can't really call it running. It's more like slogging. But the guy gets YAC like nobody's business. De'Veon gained 122 yards on 18 carries and only lost 1 yard. He finished with 121 net yards, 1 TD, and a 6.7 yard per carry average.
* Michigan won a game with special teams? Yes, Michigan won a game with special teams, but it's probably more accurate to say that Northwestern lost because of their special teams.
* Northwestern netted 30 yards per punt, about 5 yards less than Michigan. Michigan picked up about 30 hidden yards on punt exchanges.
* Northwestern did block a Michigan FG attempt, but also missed a 36 yard attempt.
* Northwestern's offense dominated Michigan's defense on it's last two drives. This would suggest that Northwestern would have been better served kicking the extra point and going to overtime. However, Northwestern's field goal kicking appears to be so bad that Michigan would have a decided advantage in the kicking game had the game gone to overtime. Teams start at the 25 yard line in overtime. Michigan can make 42 yard field goals. Yes, they occassionally get blocked, but more often than not they go in. Northwestern would need to gain a first down to get into field goal position. I think that's likely the reason why Fitz went for two and the win in regulation.
* I normally don't complain about the umps, but I thought they were awful. It wasn't just the penalty yard discrepancy. There was Funchess' offensive pass interference call, and numerous questionable spots that went against us.
Who was worse?
* Your candidates are Brady Hoke, Pat Fitzgerald, and whomever directed the game for ESPN. The coverage was awful. They were continually late cutting to the sideline view at the start of the play, and they even missed an entire play to let Adnan Virk give us an Auburn-Texas A&M update. Hey, ESPN, we're watching a Michigan-Northwestern football game. That means we're certifiably insane. No one who bothers to watch Michigan versus Northwestern gives a sh!t about good teams playing good football.
More Best and Worst
* I watched two games today. This one, and State versus State. The latter was a contest to see who is the best of the best of the Big Ten. After last week, it's obvious that Indiana - due to their present QB situation - is the worst of the worst. So what does that make the Michigan - Northwestern game? I was going to say it was a contest to see who was the best of the worst of the Big Ten, but after winning, Michigan sits at 3-3 in the conference and 5-5 overall. We're solidly in the middle of the middle. Next week will determine if we're the best or worst of the average teams. We were all expecting, or at least hoping for better in year 4 of the Hoke administration.
* I made the statement this week that I'd take Hoke back next season if we won by 1 point on November 29. I hemorrhaged quite a few MGoPoints as a result, and rightly so. I'll readily admit that a one point victory over Northwestern is not the same as a 1 point win over the Buckeyes. But after today, after what Ohio State proved by going into Spartan Stadium and doing that to Dantonio and his nationally renowned defense, you've got to admit that if we upset the Buckeyes to end the regular season, Brady Hoke should be put up for sainthood because a few major miracles will have occurred. I think it's far more likely that we lose by 40+ points than we win, but that's why they play the game. Maybe Gardner, Funchess and Norfleet can get healthy during our bye week and our passing game can provide a nice complement to the newfound competence in the running game. That would be the best outcome going down the stretch. I'm prepared for the worst.