I Make Big Comment Count

Brian November 10th, 2008 at 12:33 PM

11/8/08 – Michigan 29, Minnesota 6 – 3-7, 2-4 Big Ten 

 Michigan wide receiver Greg Mathews (13) makes a one handed catch during the 1st quater of the Michigan - Minnesota college football game at Metro Dome on Nov. 8, 2008 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Michigan SCORE (RODRIGO GAYA/Daily).

(via Rodrigo Gaya and the Daily)

Football is the strangest sport.

Baseball and basketball and hockey are too transparently random to be strange. Sometimes you just lose despite largely outplaying the other team; that's not strange, it's just puck luck or hot shooting or whatever baseball equivalent you'd like to offer. You hit the ball hard and it goes into someone's mitt. You toss rubber at the goalie and hope. You engage in a series of independent random trials worth two or three points. In all these activities the chance is right on the surface.

Football, though… in football inexplicable things happen on a regular basis and they're all gussied up to look like Flat Out Heart. You might think that, eventually, close observers would figure out this tendency and start saying things like "watch for the inexplicable thing!" but no, not really.

This is of some comfort to me in a season where the only thing more reliable than Michigan's ineptitude is this blog's ability to incorrectly forecast future events.

To be fair, if you had collected everyone on the planet who thought Nick Sheridan would lead Michigan to victory over a 7-2 team, no matter how fraudulent, and put them in a room that room would contain Nick Sheridan's mother, that one guy on the message board with the annoying, unkillable optimism, and a bushman who speaks one of those clicky languages and erroneously believes there to be free sandwiches because of a mindboggling linguistic coincidence.

Then at some point during Michigan's opening field goal fiesta Sheridan scrambled out of the pocket and threw across his body. I guarantee you every single Michigan fan watching the game thought this was a horrible idea and that in approximately two seconds Minnesota would be running the other way with the ball. Somewhere, a Michigan fan stuck at a wedding had an eerie feeling of deep foreboding as the Michigan fanbase's collective brainwave screamed "nooooooooo" in slow-motion.

Complete, first down, eventual scoring drive, final yardage for 435, final yardage against 188, 29-6 victory.



Back in the day when computer cases came bolted on with a dozen tiny screws and floppy disks were floppy, if you wanted to have decent sound you had to buy your sound card separately. My friends did this, and it was there they met Dr. Sbaitso. Dr. Sbaitso was a weird little AI program that would converse with you that Creative Labs shipped with their soundcards to show off their speech software.  It was the early '90s. It was free software. If you swore at it, it would complain that that kind of talk would give it a parity error. You can imagine the hilarity.

Though I never interacted with him myself, for years after conversations would occasionally take abrupt detours into Sbaitso lingo. The thing that lingers in my head to this day is this:


This was inevitably followed by some sort of fooshing noise that indicated great expansion.


Over the past five weeks as Michigan slid from 2-2 to 2-7 and victory became a thing once remembered, everybody wanted someone's blood. It didn't matter who you are, you wanted to bash someone with a brick. For some, it's Rodriguez or Martin or Shafer. For others (Wolverine Liberation Army most prominently), it's anyone who would come on the internet and say something rashly dumb. For me, it's the media that took the opportunity to lay the foundation for Rodriguez's premature firing.

Scorn, condescension, and mockery are the only things coming from Detroit columnists not named Wojo these days, as they rush to be the first to pile dirt on Rich Rodriguez's grave (but, of course, only after telling you that's it's far too early judge).

Look at this from the Detroit News in the aftermath of the Purdue game:

But what should be as distressing to Michigan's football camp as this incomprehensible string of losses -- five in a row -- is Rodriguez's attitude.

"I know what's going on," he said Saturday, as if he is aware of deficiencies no one else seems to recognize

Does he really believe that?

I find it amazing that Lynn Henning finds it possible to condescend to someone who's proven over the last twenty-five years that he's one of the best football coaches in the profession. After all, Lynn Henning has proven over the past twenty five years that he is Lynn Henning.

And then, of course, the Worst Columnist On The Planet*:

They're [Michigan fans] spoiled. They're arrogant. They feel entitled. They took 9-3 seasons with annual losses to Ohio State for granted, lusting for their program's rightful destiny. And they will demand significant improvement from Rodriguez in his second season or he will face a BCS-or-else ultimatum in his third year.

Saban's quick Alabama transformation just made it harder for every other coach.

This is so obviously retarded in a thousand different ways (for one: Saban has a senior multi-year starter at QB) that it hardly warrants a response. But there is one thing that is dangerous here: the suggestion that Rodriguez should be on a short leash.

In a word, no. 

Rocky Top Talk, a fine Tennessee blog, was kind enough to have me on their latest podcast, whereupon we talked about coaching changes and the creepy similarity of the two programs* and, uh, how Alabama fans hate me. At some point Joel asked for advice, which was kind of odd but he asked. In response, I asked what the talent level looked like and he said the general opinion was that next year would actually be a step back. Then I noted that last year Tennessee had one of the most disappointing recruiting classes in the nation and that this year's class would likely be substandard what with the coaching change and all and advised patience. Sustained, gritted-teeth patience.

Because without patience you acquire unreasonable demands like "take a 3-7 team to the BCS in two years with a (probably) true sophomore quarterback or we fire you, confirm every stupid thing the media has incorrectly said about the Michigan fanbase, and start all over with someone definitely less proven as a successful head coach than Rich Rodriguez."

Screw that. Screw Sharp and all his ilk at the Detroit papers ready to leap upon the carcass of Michigan football because they're too stupid and shortsighted to do anything else.


Nick Sheridan was nicknamed DEATH up until the moment he threw that "nooooo" pass across his body. I had too little data, but I made big.

Michigan fans assumed this all-singing-all-dancing-all-freshman offense would be basically as effective as other crappy offenses from Michigan teams past. They had too little data, and they made big.

The Detroit media would like to assure you that it's way too early to judge Rich Rodriguez but my god what a horrible coach who is mostly at fault  for Michigan's failure to acquire a chintzy bowl bid. They had too little data, and they made big. (They will continue to do this.)

Now Tennessee and Washington and Clemson and maybe Auburn and a bunch of other teams will be scouring the nation for coaches upon there is precious little data, because the ones on which there is much data are already out of reach. If Michigan goes searching again prematurely they will not find a guy with a proven record of success like Rodriguez. They will not find a coach with two BCS bowl wins to his name. They are wishing and hoping.

We got extraordinarily lucky; there is enough data to justify Rodriguez the five years coaches all used to get, and we should give it to him. 

*(if you absolutely must see the entire thing I will link it (nofollowed) but I urge you to not click here: .)

**(No, seriously. I always thought Tennessee, a traditional power with an awesome fight song that operates at a recruiting disadvantage because its home state is talent-deficient relative to its peers and has a national championship from about a decade ago, was pretty similar to Michigan. Then Joel from RTT was talking with me and mentioned that Tennessee had been coached by a total of two guys over the last 32 years (16 years each for Majors and Fulmer) and I was like… whoah.)


  • This is already way too long!


matty blue

November 10th, 2008 at 1:14 PM ^

"that one guy on the message board with the annoying unkillable optimism?"


i'd just point out that i don't think i wrote that sheridan would lead us to victory, only that i wouldn't be surprised if he turned out to be serviceable, particularly against this particular defense (or something to that effect, i'm too lazy to go back and look it up). obviously, nothing i saw on saturday made me take any part of that back.

i wouldn't suggest that he's turned the corner, however...he's every bit as likely to take another bite of the wrong side of the "fluck" sandwich and throw 4 picks this weekend.

not to be a contrarian or anything.

West Texas Blue

November 10th, 2008 at 1:28 PM ^

For all the bitching people are doing during Rich Rod's FIRST YEAR, just take a look at different programs who are in worse shape, who have had coaches installed for years, and have their recruits to run their system:

ND - Year 5 of Weis will be lucky to pull off 7 wins. Weis had his first 2 years to fill holes and recruit well; instead he played only upperclassmen his first 2 years and didn't develop any underclassmen, thus leading to the 2007 debacle. Talent development and offensive scheming has been poor/sketchy. Year 6 of Weis, ND has to win 9 games or Charlie is out.

Tennessee - Fulmer is gone, but that program was on the decline since the 2001 SEC Championship game when they lost to LSU and missed out on the national championship game. He had 16 years. Tennessee just lost to Wyoming and will have their 2nd losing season in 4 years.

Wisconsin - For a team that's so senior laden and has several NFL prospects (notably Travis Beckham), they've crashed hard with a 5-5 year. Beilema has been running the program for 3 years now; next year will be a testament of his recruiting ability and how well they've been developing the talent as there is not alot of returning starters. For a team that was #9 in the nation, it's been all downhill since.

So yeah, considering it's Rich Rod's first year, he hasn't gotten his recruits, he is working his ass off recruiting wise to help fill the holes in OL, LB, and S that Carr left us with, and he's trying to reteach fundamentals to alot of the kids who didn't learn anything under the previous regime, the media needs to cut him some slack. Patience is a must.

Enjoy Life

November 10th, 2008 at 3:24 PM ^

RR should be given at least 5 years, and I think he'll be great!

BUT, none of the teams mentioned even comes close to M's record of 40 YEARS without a losing season.

So, include me (and Brian, if you've been paying attention) to those bitching!

With just a couple breaks, we could have ended up at 6-6 and gone to a bowl (crappy bowl, but kept streak alive).


November 10th, 2008 at 4:13 PM ^

First off, so many were bemoaning Carr and the "mediocrity" of the program long before he retired. One of the main reasons I stopped posting over at umgoblue.com is that it felt like every third post was a discussion with an idiot about how good we really had it. There will always be someone bitching. Even after '97, there were those bitching that we had to share the national championship!

One of the things I always used to say about Michigan is that we were more "not bad" than any other team. That might not win National Championships every three years, but it does allow for the streaks we had in place. My contention was that no matter who we brought in as a replacement, all of our streaks were in jeopardy. Few seemed to care. I quoted those streaks to anyone who would listen, and most were surprised to hear them! The only reason they are top of mind is because of how extensively the breaking has been reported.

At some point during the fourth quarter of the Toledo game, I realized, as a large cheer rose up for us getting a first down before the long pass to McGuffie, "Going nuts because we might pull off a win that helps us get into the Motor City Bowl is not what Michigan football is about."

I think this season will make these players stronger and that it took breaking all these streaks to appreciate how special they were. Do you want to see real horror? Go look at Southern Cal's season records in the '90s...

I'm just hopeful that we can take our lumps and start getting better. First with Northwestern, then Ohio State, then onto next year. Another year of winter ball, another year of Barwis, and another year of recruits should help immensely.


November 10th, 2008 at 1:30 PM ^

at the across the body pass. Kind-of like the ill-advised, near half court three by a big man in hoops that goes in. A quick shift from noooooo! to yesssssss! (just don't do it again!).

Quick Dr. Sbaitso comment: My senior year we had an automated phone message at our public school that would phone home if a student was not in school. We concocted a message for the good Dr. to call and leave messages on our friends' answering machines. I think we got a few people in trouble.

Michigan Arrogance

November 10th, 2008 at 1:50 PM ^

ND - Year 5 of Weis will be lucky to pull off 7 wins. Weis had his first 2 years to fill holes and recruit well; instead he played only upperclassmen his first 2 years and didn't develop any underclassmen, thus leading to the 2007 debacle. Talent development and offensive scheming has been poor/sketchy.

this is a great point about using upperclassmen and underdevelopment. However, the scheming issue is also relevant to M on the defensive side of the ball. not to mention, the parallel b/t RR's D coord hire and Weis's hire. was Corwin Brown hired in w/o his choice of D staff? staff misalignment seems to be an issue in A2 and SB.

Tenn having 2 losing seasons in 4 years...not something i realized, but that loss to WY was sobering.

finally, i'm not sure Wisc has a lot of NFL talent on that team, so i'm not sure what expectations are reasonable for Wisc... a team who seems to overachieve relative to their talent every year.


November 10th, 2008 at 2:08 PM ^

The other Sheridan pass that got me was the TD slant to Matthews. Watching the play from the endzone (on TV) showed how much he changed. In his first few setps on the half-roll, Sheridan was looking right (pulling the 'backer over). He then plants, steps right at his target, and delivers with crisp overhand form. In the past, he'd overshot his downfield receivers by seemingly being afraid to follow through. Not on that throw. That was the throw, as were many all day, of a QB who finally felt comfortable.

If he can keep it up, I'd start him over Threet, particularly with this nagging injury. That may be a big "if," but I'd sure think about it.


November 10th, 2008 at 2:52 PM ^

Never mind the fact that there are Tennessee fans who hate Michigan because Woodson "stole" Peyton Manning's Heisman, and Michigan fans who hate Tennessee because Fulmer voted Michigan fourth in the final coaches poll of 1997, giving Nebraska the split title.

And you throw in the second and third largest stadiums in the country thing, and yeah, it's like we're cousins.


November 10th, 2008 at 7:07 PM ^

If he'd ever gotten around to beating Florida. He was 0-4 against Spurrier when he was at Tennessee.

And how about the way Manning and Tennessee laid down for Nebraska in '97? In my mind that was just further proof that Tennessee fans should stop whining about that Heisman.

Other Andrew

November 10th, 2008 at 4:23 PM ^

It was fourth. Not sure where you got the eight from. I've googled my tail off and can't seem to find the exact numbers, but nobody voted Michigan eighth. The total votes do bear this out, if I recall correctly. They didn't release names in those days, but one ballot reportedly had: 1) Neb, 2) Florida State, 3) Tenn, 4) Michigan.

Other Andrew

November 10th, 2008 at 4:34 PM ^

Brian, you've nailed it as usual. It's clear that the team is playing hard, and despite some painful losses, they're persevering through the growing pains. A friend recently sent out the Jim Rome "Chris" Everett video, and it made me realize what a profound impact that event had on sports journalism. Suddenly, Rome had made a name for himself. Now we have a slew of ESPN shows dedicated to this garbage, and the print journalists all are trying to get into the outrage business. Keep on 'em, Brian.

BUT, we won! We haven't won in a month and a half! Please tell me you enjoyed it at least a little. I hope you did. And maybe it's not your job to have that show up in this space (and maybe especially not right now), but I hope you still had a great Saturday.

Re: Tennessee. After going there for a game (highly recommended), I believed it all the more. Pretty much every Tennessee fan I've met has been cool and really fun to talk football with. But I always held a grudge because of Fulmer's vote. The similarities are clear. Plus, everyone in their conference HATES them. I think we're used to that also...


November 10th, 2008 at 5:08 PM ^

Brian, out of curiosity, why do you consider basketball "transparently random"? I can see what you mean about baseball and hockey, but in basketball, the better team seems to win much more often than in those sports. Look at the list of NBA and NCAA champions over the past 30 years, and very few surprises pop up. Even in college hoops, with the single-elimination format, the Final Four almost always contains four teams that were in the top 25 (if not top 10) going into the season. (Yeah, I remember George Mason's run a couple years ago, but that was a huge outlier.)


November 10th, 2008 at 6:09 PM ^

Lived in Nashville from 95-97...and got to see the absolute hatred that Vol vans have for all things Michigan. Im not sure why this is...but for example, i distinctly remember sitting in a BW3 watching Michigan vs. OSU in 95 (Biakabatuka 313) and being surrounded by a bunch of Southern boys grumbling "kill those Yankees, go Bucks!" which was almost enough to cause me to throw down, but i didnt. It wasnt just that one game...in all aspects Tenn fans hate Michigan quite a lot. The 97'vote...Woodson/Manning "controversy"... the big loss that we suffered at their hands in 02 (visions of that big TE who is now with the Cowboys...running down the field, seemingly faster than our entire defense...)...

However despite this animosity from our 'cousins' down South, I do respect their program and feel that they will be back in no time with a good coaching change.

As for Sharp, Rosenberg, Henning, even the dedicated UM blogger Snyder at times... way to call them out Brian on their nonsensical crap, which is mostly based on their odd opinions and not on the facts.

PPS: It was great to see the offense look in sync vs. Minn. and a lot of the young kids getting touches and making things happen. It is a diverse offense with multiple approaches and schemes, and RR/McGee are excellent play callers. With some decent QB play and an OL that is starting to jell...it looked good, imagine what the future holds. sorry for the long post.


November 10th, 2008 at 6:15 PM ^

I've been a Michigan fan long enough to be very adept at justifying losses. In my rationalizing, I've learned that sometimes, Team B just puts in a performance that would lose to Team X, where X equals any Division I football team (including Appalachian State) that plays at its base level of competence.

Make sense?

This game was LOST by Minnesota. Yes, I can whoop it up for Nicky Number 8, ol' Share-the-ball Sheridan, Sheridammit, Nicker the Quicker, His Noodly Appendage, the artist formerly known as DEATH (note to Brian: have you thought of using a symbol for his nickname?). But there were a couple times when Sheridan made a damn fool throw that luckily stoned off the hands of one or more Minnesota DBs. I don't want to knock him too much, since his performance was much improved from previous outings. But if he charts out at UFR to anything approaching a typical afternoon out with Henne or Navarre, I'll eat my Number 7 jersey.

Go on the Minnesota boards and you'll see a couple people wrote "Give Michigan credit" every once in awhile, between long, tear-jerking laments to the multitudes of Gophers who crapped the hole. If you're looking for "This Week in Schadenfreude" material, crying puppies have nothing on erstwhile Gopher Girl's broken heart, or the guy who blamed the "doom dome" for helping elite teams.

They have a point. Not about the Metrodome, where the decidedly non-elite Twins seem to fare just fine every year. But about their team playing crappy.

Tell me this: Justin Feagin is taking the snap at quarterback. Every time he has been in, Michigan has run the QB inside the tackle. Do you a) back off into coverage so you won't get tricked, or b) stack the box, contain blitz, and see if the true freshman can pass a football under pressure?

Tell me this: Michigan has had success four times with the bubble screen to Odoms. You're lined up against Odoms on the outside. Do you a) cover the screen, or b) sit back in coverage?

Tell me this: Michigan's walk-on quarterback has like no arm strength and freaks under pressure. Do you a) back off in coverage and make him play underneath, or b) bring the house?

Minnesota's defense made about as much sense to me as the cornerback alignment against Purdue last week.

I want to give Michigan credit. But I haven't seen a fundamental change just yet. Offensively and defensively, the Gophers were playing worse football than they played all year.

And if I still had to pick between a moderately dinged Threet and Sheridan, I would stick with Threet. Our 1st half offense bordered on disaster except for the big plays. Only in the 4th quarter did Minnesota really seem on their heels. Maybe that was just what Michigan needed to reestablish some confidence. But I don't expect Northwestern or tOSU to put up so little fight.


November 11th, 2008 at 9:01 AM ^

Regardless of Michigan's offensive output, the Gophers still only scored 6 points. Michigan has the big-play potential to score a touchdown from any point on the field. If you say Minnesota played poorly defensively, that's fine. But offensively, Minnesota sucked. Even if Michigan only pulled off three field goals, the Wolverines would have won 9-6. Nobody's implying that the Michigan offense was a juggernaut. It's a TEAM game, and the offense and defense combined to beat Minnesota. Minnesota had every reason to be pumped for this game - Brown Jug, keep a 7-2 season going, beat Michigan - and Michigan still beat them. Michigan won that game.


November 11th, 2008 at 12:38 PM ^

did bog down in the red zone and the big play on offense did make up for a lot of poor plays on offense, but the real story is how well our D played. Minnesota really only scored 3 points if you take away the second field goal because Ezeh recovered that fumble. And, as opposed to the Toledo game, our D made Minnesota go 3 and out a lot giving our offense more opportunities to get a rhythm going.


November 12th, 2008 at 12:26 PM ^

"Saban's quick Alabama transformation just made it harder for every other coach."

Riight, because he was the first coach who put together a great team in his second year. Heck, in recent memory, there's Jim Tressel and the 2002 OSU Buckeyes, or Bob Stoops and the 2000 Oklahoma Sooners.

Stupid people thinking that since they're doing it in the SEC, they're leading the pack, when in reality, its all been done before.