A Moment Of Stillness Amongst Chaos

Submitted by Brian on November 18th, 2013 at 12:49 PM

11/16/2013 – Michigan 27, Northwestern 19 (3OT) – 7-3, 3-3 Big Ten

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Bryan Fuller

In the long history of clock-running fire-drill field goal attempts there has been only pain and misery. When the game's about to end and you're trying to fling six guys on the field and take six off and align your kicker such that he can calmly take two steps and boot, you're gonna die.

Everyone knows this. Pac-12 refs know it so well that they don't even bother with last second field goals anymore as long as the defense squats on the ball like a hobo over a purloined chicken. Northwestern's student section knew it and was counting the clock down to their first Big Ten victory.

That's something I missed live and had to pick up on replay because I was dumbly staring at a horde of people exiting, a horde of people entering, focused on a line that I knew for a fact would not be set. So I also missed Drew Dileo sliding into his holder spot and recovering an instant before Glanda snapped it to him, possibly tipped off to exactly when he needed to get the ball off, set or not, by the numbers ringing out from the students.

Michigan's not set, in all probability, but there's no flag and Dileo's recovered from his sprawl and Gibbons ceases moving backwards, which oh by the way he is at the snap. Moving backwards. This is just an indicator of the doom to come—catch, placement, kick, overtime, whereupon it was ordained by fate that Michigan would pull this game out of their butt. Like it was nothing. Like it was always going to happen like that.

Because This Is Michigan, and That Is Northwestern.

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The time for turning up your nose at any win, no matter how alarming, is past. Michigan could beat Akron on a triple reverse Hail Mary that Akron intercepts and fumbles out of their own endzone for a safety and it would be time to wave the flag and say hurrah.

So let us duly wave the flag. It is good to see the team happy. In the aftermath, various players tweeted out "Go team," each instance more delightful than the last, and then Taylor Lewan got piled on for following the crowd. Kyle Bosch did this.

And this time, Gardner destroyed the jumbled heap of pointy bits and gristle he calls a rib cage for a purpose. That purpose is looking an awful lot like not being in Detroit for a bowl game—SORRY, right, waving the flag.

While unit X's shocking incompetence is a callback to the Rodriguez days, so is feeling good for the put-upon players after a narrow win against a bad team. Even if I am in a emotion deprivation chamber for the rest of the year for my safety and that of people around me, the way you get out of those is by having good things happen, and that was a good thing.

So, good.

It was also an obvious thing. My game previews have always been made in a spirit that says predicting things is dumb (thus the weird scores), but damn if this wasn't easy to call:

Michigan wins! On some bulllllllllshit that causes Northwestern fans to self-immolate.

Or eat the saddest cup of pudding in the world.

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Sippin' On Purple's Rodger Sherman has questionable taste in hats

This is what Northwestern does. Sometimes it's in the service of preventing a Big Ten championship game appearance, like it was last year; sometimes it's keeping you winless in that Big Ten. Either way, you could feel both sides of that stadium preparing to lose as Michigan embarked on the dread two minute drill. This one ended in chaos and fiasco, as they all do, but at the end Michigan managed to pull itself together and execute. Northwestern's bad mojo still trumps all.

That's not going to lead anywhere important—this season ends with an abattoir named Braxton Miller. In a landscape as bleak as the weather on Saturday, though, any ray of light is a welcome one. Let us forget about our worries and stare blankly into the butt of next week, ignoring what that hammering sound ahead might mean. It's probably meant for some other cow. Yeah. Otherwise I would not be so calm and tranquil.

Go team!

Awards

brady-hoke-epic-double-point_thumb_31[2]Brady Hoke Epic Double Point Of The Week. This is a tough one because while the defense held Northwestern to nine points in regulation, nobody really stood out as the single best guy on that unit. I think we will go with James Ross, though; Ross had an important sack and nine solo tackles amongst 13 total; his speed and ability to get to the right place was a major factor in Michigan suppressing Northwestern's option game.

Honorable mention: Jeremy Gallon had ten catches. Brendan Gibbons was perfect on the day. (Matt Wile missed the 51-yarder.) Wile dropped punt after punt inside the 20 and had a 50-yarder. Collectively, Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith had a stat line that looked like an actual running back: 27 carries for 120 yards.

Epic Double Point Standings.

2.0: Jeremy Gallon (ND, Indiana)
1.0: Devin Gardner (ND), Desmond Morgan(UConn), Devin Funchess(Minnesota), Frank Clark(PSU), Matt Wile (Nebraska), James Ross (Northwestern)
0.5: Cam Gordon (CMU), Brennen Beyer (CMU)

Brady Hoke Epic Double Fist-Pump Of The Week. Michigan executes the first and only successful clock-running end of game field goal fire drill in the history of football. Go team!

Honorable mention: Jibreel Black sacks Siemian to put Northwestern in a deep hole in the third OT, Jake Butt's one-hand stab gives Michigan a torchclown, Joe Reynolds flags down a punt at the one, subsequent Northwestern punt goes out at the ten, Derrick Green runs through a guy for a 20-yarder, Gardner leads with his ribs into the endzone.

Epic Double Fist-Pumps Past.

8/31/2013: Dymonte Thomas introduces himself by blocking a punt.
9/7/2013: Jeremy Gallon spins through four Notre Dame defenders for a 61-yard touchdown.
9/14/2013: Michigan does not lose to Akron. Thanks, Thomas Gordon.
9/21/2013: Desmond Morgan's leaping one-handed spear INT saves Michigan's bacon against UConn.
10/5/2013: Fitzgerald Toussaint runs for ten yards, gets touchdown rather easily.
10/12/2013: Devin Funchess shoots up the middle of the field to catch a 40 yard touchdown, staking Michigan to a ten-point lead they wouldn't relinquish. (Right?)
10/19/2013: Thomas Gordon picks off an Indiana pass to end the Hoosiers' last drive that could have taken the lead.
11/2/2013: Clock expires.
11/9/2013: Nebraska muffs a punt through no action of Michigan's.
11/16/2013: Michigan executes a clock-running last-second field goal to get the game to OT.

[AFTER THE JUMP: decisions, waggles, I hate Illinois rollouts, a brilliant GIF, and physics.]

Offense

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this was the dropped one, IIRC [Fuller]

How about that. Borges bounced up from recent nadirs by implementing a run-plus-constraint package that got Derrick Green some nice runs up the middle and successfully tested the edge with three bubble screens for thirteen, four (on second and five in the redzone), and zero yards. The unsuccessful one was a dropped ball that would have been a success, and the four-yarder (in OT, Funchess fumbled it at the end) probably should have been more but Funchess went inside instead of out. It gave the linebackers a crappy decision to make and Gardner a read and it just made sense even as you were watching it.

This helped Michigan go forward on the ground.

They're on to you. There were a couple points at which I did want to throw my nonexistent hat to the ground and stomp on it, though.

#1 was the fourth and two play late. Michigan comes out in a pistol package, and there is a timeout. They then come out in a goal line package with Taylor Lewan as a wing TE. They run the Gardner boot, and get crushed. Oh, the reasons this made me want to flee to a monastery and disclaim all knowledge of feet and balls:

  1. Michigan still hasn't learned that moving Taylor Lewan around is a massive HI I AM RUNNING HERE flag.
  2. They've been running that boot since Gardner ascended to the starting QB job and it usually has Funchess out there, because Funchess can go downfield. Removing eligible receivers had better damn work, because if it doesn't (and it never does) it just looks like you're playing 10 on 11. Also, massive HI I AM RUNNING HERE FLAG
  3. Northwestern had already stuffed this exact same play on an earlier third and two. With Lewan as a wing TE and everything.
  4. NORTHWESTERN LOST ON A GARDNER BOOT LAST YEAR.

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If there was ever a team that was going to blow that up it was going to be Northwestern, and every team is going to blow it up since we've seen the last couple weeks that everyone is gameplanning for that play on short yardage. To run it there was incredible malpractice. It's over.

This continues a theme with Borges: he sticks with his cute stuff way too long. Remember that thing he did where he'd line the fullback up about a foot from the QB and then give him the ball on a quick dive over the top? Yeah, that lasted about three games too many and then was finally ditched.

If Michigan was intent on having Gardner run it, anything else would have been preferable. Literally anything.

#2 was the end of Michigan's first drive. They'd thrown and run effectively and unpredictably from various formations down to the Northwestern seven, whereupon they ran a stretch for a loss of two yards—cumong man—and then went with a waggle on second and goal from the nine.

That's alarming to me. Why on earth would Northwestern bite on that action when they just beat up the base play and you are in an obvious passing down? They did not; they put a guy in Gardner's face and blew the play up. To run that there is to assume Northwestern's staff is composed of morons who will fall for the world's most obvious feint.

There's a variety of poker player who is good but exploitable because he thinks he's smarter than everyone in the room. Sometimes I get overly aggressive and then show something dumb and then that guy is after you because he thinks you're a sap. Borges reminds me of those guys. He has a tendency to do the most obvious counter-move to anything he's just done. Supporting evidence: #1 above. He doesn't seem to anticipate that teams will adjust to things on film and pre-emptively insert the counter. That was a major cause of Gardner's near-INTs: Michigan was running the same things they always do and Northwestern was in the huddle on them. Linebacker undercuts on plays that otherwise look open, and that's a tough adjust for Gardner.

Gardner throwing it at people. Which people? Any people. While the near INT thing has been overplayed a bit by the BTN asserting that any fingertip-deflected pass should have been a turnover, hoo man did Gardner put a couple right in Wildcat breadbaskets.

I'll have to check, but on a couple it looked like Northwestern had specific robber zones designed to look like player X was open and then bait Gardner; these worked well save for the catching the ball thing. On Michigan's last drive Northwestern undercut a Dileo in route, which was Michigan's go-to play on fourth down last week (Dileo dropped it) and has been their go-to play for a long time on third and medium. Another was the pop pass which seems to be about 50% of their pistol snaps and hasn't actually seen a run from that formation for a long time.

Obviously, Gardner shouldn't be making these throws but with Northwestern jumping his primary reads and a line that's pretty leaky he's probably just reading presnap and going with that sometimes. This deep into the season I don't know if that's fixable. Guy has lost faith in his line with good reason and is making bad decisions.

ROLLOUT CITY. I hate rollouts. They are occasionally good for short conversions; run with any frequency and they become option-halving, time-limiting invitations for your quarterback to make a crappy throw without his feet set. In compensation you get some shorter throws that your quarterback is going to be less accurate on and you run away from certain rushers.

Michigan seemed to be using them to mitigate pass protection issues, but the 13 yard sack on the two minute drill was another damn rollout on which everyone was covered and the unblocked end—the intentionally unblocked end roared in to sack. Another sack was a rollout on which the end got outside of Schofield and Gardner tried to go around; no dice, another huge sack.

We talked about this some during the Denard era: paradoxically, rolling the pocket removes your QBs legs as a threat, as he can't threaten to break the pocket and go vertical.  The pass protection benefits it's providing are dubious. Death to rollouts.

Goodbye, Toussaint? Zero snaps for Toussaint, who was dressed and on the sideline, as Green, De'Veon Smith, and Justice Hayes got all the tailback snaps; Kerridge also moonlighted as a pass protector. Afterwards, Michigan muttered something about injury. I generally hear things about guys who aren't likely to play and heard nothing about Toussaint; that seems like saving face to me.

In his absence, Green and Smith looked okay. Green had one nice cut in the hole to dodge a tackler, ran through a lineman on a 23-yard stretch…

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WHAT HAPPENS NOW [Fuller]

… and fell forward all day.  Nothing Smith did was amazing but he averaged five yards a carry, which is a lot more than none.

And seriously. I must have had a bad angle on the Gallon endzone fade, which I thought was close and turned out to not be particularly so.

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Fuller

Nevertheless, I still maintain that Michigan's insistence on not throwing the ball at their 6'5" leaping stretched-out guy in the endzone—like, ever—is nuts. This team should probably chuck him a deep ball about every fifth play just to see what happens, and yet I can't remember even one aimless chuck in his direction.

This should be Junior Hemingway redux here: receiver with size and ball skills bails out floundering offense time and again. It doesn't even take that long to throw a fade.

Butt. Nice catch, man.

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Fuller

I am glad you are not 5'8" in this instance.

Defense

I am the golfer they based par off of. Save for getting bombed by Indiana's tempo, this defense has a knack for hewing particularly close to expectations no matter the personnel shifts underlying the greater whole. Thomas Gordon came back in this game (with some authority); Jarrod Wilson ate bench for reasons inexplicable; Black continued being a seemingly exploitable nose tackle without actually being exploited; Michigan held an opponent offense down to numbers that would have been met with rapture if the offense had scored, like, points.

What happened here in eleven regulation drives plus three overtimes:

  • Three and outs: 5, including the second OT drive (six yards, FG) and third OT drive (-13 yards, prayer). One of those was field-position driven after the Reynolds punt catch.
  • First down and outs: 2, drives of 16 and 21 yards.
  • FG drives: three, of 49 yards, 56 yards, and 77 yards.
  • Northwestern's last regulation drive had two first downs and gained 32 yards.
  • They had one OT TD drive.

Northwestern's not what we thought they might be at the beginning of the season, especially without Venric Mark. They've rarely been that inept this year, even when they haven't had Colter at their disposal. That's quality output, especially when you look at the YPC: 5.3 passing, 2.9 rushing.

Gordon back, Wilson not so much. Thomas Gordon returned to his starting spot and seemed to play really well aside from a couple of missed tackles in space, which will happen against a guy like Colter. On the other side of the ledger, Gordon blew Colter up (albeit after he got the first down) on one play and made quite a few of those open field tackles.

He played next to Avery, and while Avery didn't do anything that made you question that choice, it did seem pretty strange to have him out there instead of Wilson, who is much better equipped to tackle folks.

On the edge, it seems like Stribling has re-taken the third corner spot from Lewis, at least until he does something where he phases out again, whereupon Lewis will retake the spot until someone puts a 40-yard pass in the six inches of space he's ceding, whereupon… yeah. Just call it the Mobius back.

Henry, Clark. This seemed like the third straight game in which both Clark and Henry playd well, better than they did earlier in the season. Heininger Certainty Principle is engaged. People aren't getting to the quarterback much, yeah. That's just something we have to live with this year.

Option stuff. Michigan held down the option so well in this one that more than once I was privately irritated that Michigan had given up five yards only to find out that they'd given up close to zero. They made two adjustments that I picked up live: the DE was far more committed to take the pitch man and on certain plays they went with two high safeties, which allowed the playside one to charge down to take the pitch. The results were very good: a couple of Colter runs on which he managed to slice through the blocking at the line and not much else. Good to see the week-to-week improvement there.

I am kind of out of things to say here. They did a nice job slightly better than expected and nothing terribly long or damaging transpired. They are who they are.

Miscellaneous

Punt cover explanation. I was right on the goal line where Joe Reynolds grabbed that punt that the side judge called a touchback that was eventually put on the one, and thought they'd screwed up the call in Michigan's favor. I've poked at the rules and this is what I've discovered: once a player has possession of the ball, the play is dead. So when Reynolds caught the ball, that was where the ball was despite his momentum clearly carrying him into the endzone*. That's why they put it at the one instead of the two, where Michigan eventually caught the Reynolds fling out of the endzone.

*[Note since it seems everyone who I talk to is unclear on this: in college the only thing that matters is the location of the ball. You can be standing with two feet in the endzone and grab the ball and as long as the ball stays out, it's at the one.]

I take back everything nice I've ever said about Under Armour. Good lord, these things.

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Fuller

Half-measures. Full measures:

  • pants say DON'T TREAD ON ME on butt
  • players have names of all 50 states and assorted territories on them, including Canadian provinces with asterisks next to them
  • one player gets a jersey that starts with an asterisk and reads SOON
  • pads get those sensors they put in Christmas cards; sensors play "Stars and Stripes Forever" whenever someone gets hit

Decision recap. I was vaguely in favor of going for it on the late fourth and two. My thinking was admittedly influenced by my desire to see the game end in regulation. In a strictly statistical world of average NFL defense versus average NFL offense, Advanced NFL Stats's calculator says that decision shades towards going but it's close enough to 50/50 that game context easily overwhelms that.

Add in the game context and… it doesn't get much clearer. There are six minutes left. Michigan is down three and their offense is terrible; Northwestern hasn't been much better. You're neither particularly likely to get the first down or particularly likely to get another chance to score a touchdown. I thought it was the right move because I'm in favor of aggression and I'd rather be the team with the ball last, which was more likely if Northwestern was trying a four minute drill in six minutes instead of trying to go down the field to win.

With Northwestern sputtering on the ground and Michigan having a first down-or-two buffer they were likely to get the ball back with good field position if they biffed, and that is in fact what happened. So… yeah, right move, but if Michigan kicked I wouldn't have thrown a fit. The Mathlete's college numbers are strongly in favor of going for it. The break-even point was a 30% chance of getting it:

Michigan has had its troubles on offense but a 30% break even point is a low bar. 3rd or 4th and 1’s from inside the 5 are converted at 57% historically. So even if Michigan was half as likely as an average team to convert it still would have been an even decision with kicking the field goal.

He also brings up the point about the four minute drill in a clear fashion:

A failed fourth down would have left Northwestern with the ball and the lead late. Coaching history as taught us that this is a recipe for most coaches to curl up into a ball and try and ground out the clock and if they’re lucky get a first down or two. Because of this often failed mentality, giving the other team back the ball with a lead can be more valuable than giving them back the ball with a tie where there is some pressure to push forward.

Michigan had two other fourth down decisions on which they chose the conservative option:

  • On fourth and four from the Northwestern 46, Michigan punted. Wile put it on the 12, Michigan got a three and out, and Michigan resumed at the Northwestern 48 (whereupon they also went three and out.)
  • On fourth and three from the Northwestern 34, Michigan had Matt Wile try a 51 yard field goal.

I did not like the punt, but like the fourth and two decision it was a close thing that could be argued either way.

The field goal was terrible, especially given the unpredictable winds. It made me morose. It made me hate this offense that has taken Brady Hoke's big swinging jibblies and turned them into Bette Midler albums. This is probably a reason I was in favor of going for it late. Yes, this thinking results in Breaking Bad. Whateva. I think what I want.

This has been decision recap.

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Now more than ever, Pat White's critical commentary on growling sounds [Fuller]

I remember. I remember when I went to Ryan Field and came away with a smug sense of superiority about how much better Michigan Stadium's grandeur was. Now that only happens during the Discover commercials they put on the scoreboard.

There's little difference now other than the quality of the scoreboard, and about half the time Northwestern provides a camera angle that lets you figure out what the hell you just watched, so even that's a push. What good is your enormous scoreboard if you're never going to show the offensive line on replays? I ASK YOU THIS SIR.

Let's check in with the wife. Reminder: wife has enormous surplus of empathy and starts rooting for the opposition once Michigan goes up by many points. While that hasn't been relevant for a bit, she remembers the way this game ended last year and BTN slathered the Nebraska Hail Mary all over the broadcast. Result:

I wanted Michigan to win, and then they did
and I felt shitty
I was like "what is this shit?"

-MGoWife

Her relationship with fandom is bizarre. In a different way than mine is.

Here

Genius gif from Drkboarder:

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(Yes, please put these in the diaries.)

Do recommend the Mathlete's post if you want the fourth and two decision from every angle.

Inside The Box Score is… whoah.

The Heisenborges Uncertainty Principle pits the Newtonian Mechanics school of thought (MOAR MANBALL!) against Quantum Mechanics (QUANTA SCREENS!) and the wave-particle duality of spread and shred concepts. Applied to Heisenborges, the traditionalists see a wave of defenders crashing through the inexperienced line, gathering TFLs by the bushels. The new school sees individual quanta of defenders beating blocks, one block at a time. The probability distribution function of each and every block working is directly related to the number of blocks that must be executed properly.

I think we have discovered that ST3 is a physicist. Also:

A week after NOT getting a single rushing first down, we had 10 against NU. This is primarily attributable to the running of Derrick Green and an adjustment Heisenborges made (the whole, pass to set up the run concept, i.e., DRAW PLAYS!) Green ran 19 times for 79 yards. It's been so long since we've seen positive rushing yards, I was expecting Green to be over 200 yards in the boxscore. If that's what positive 79 yards looks like, I'll take it.

Best and Worst:

Best:  Northwestern: The ‘Eat Your Vegetables, There are Starving Kids in X’ of College Football

It’s a bit cliche, but I remember my mom whipping out the tired “eat your food, there are kids with far less around the world” argument when I wouldn’t finish my broccoli.  Of course, little did she know that broccoli is the most deadly of the vegetables.  Regardless, the point was to remind me that there were people out there with it worse off, and not to take for granted the bountiful opportunities before me.

Well, for UM fans those starving children are Northwestern.  After a 4-0 start, NW has lost 6 straight, including one game on a last-second Hail Mary from Cereal Empire Progeny Ron Kellogg III and another after being Gibbons’ed with about a second left.  Unless they somehow pull off an epic upset against MSU, they will finish with a losing record before they match up against Illinois, and a season that began with talk of a Rose Bowl bid will, at best, end with them playing in some god-forsaken shanty-town (or Detroit) in a late-December bowl game named after a Dave Brandon’s Mortal Enemyor the state in which it is held.  So the next time you complain about being “only” 7-3, remember that there are a bunch of future hedge fund associates and medical school colleagues being bummed out for a couple more weeks.

reshp1 breaks down the results on third down, which were implausibly grim all day. Comes out thinking things are about equally distributed between Gardner, Borges, blocking, and Northwestern's defense doing a good job.

Elsewhere

Out of time. Later, gentlemen.

Comments

Bosch

November 18th, 2013 at 3:23 PM ^

That Borges reminds of the original Techmo Bowl... where your playbook consists of 4 plays, one of which you call so often that your opponents blow it up half the time.

McSomething

November 28th, 2013 at 2:47 PM ^

Formations, not plays. He has, maybe, a few plays per set. But has a ton of sets. Makes it easy to narrow down what he's gonna do based on personel and formation. Oh, and that we'll run play-action and counters off run plays we don't actually run.

Goblueman

November 18th, 2013 at 3:48 PM ^

Why make wholesale changes? Kicker,holder,snapper only 3 guys who really MUST be on field.I've always thought this special situation could be less chaotic.You should have a pretty good idea of which offensive player package is going to be on field for play prior to FG.I think coaches make things overly complicated sometiimes.

reshp1

November 18th, 2013 at 4:08 PM ^

The 4 OL other than center would know where to go but almost no one else would. Also, if you have receivers they'd have to get back vs just running to the sidelines. The remaining people would have to figure out where to be. I think having a personnel group identified and drilled in that situation is still preferrable. Running less people out doesn't necessarily speed things up (it's all in parallel, you're only as fast as the slowest substittution) and eliminates some confusion on who's supposed to do what.

blueinuk

November 18th, 2013 at 4:18 PM ^

...but which one is it?

"That was a major cause of Gardner's near-INTs: Michigan was running the same things they always do and Northwestern was in the huddle on them"

or 

"Guy has lost faith in his line with good reason and is making bad decisions."

It's probably some of both.  

I would be more happy than sad if Borges was gone after this year.  But I guess I felt like Gardner showed on Saturday why his short, quick passes could be more frustrating than the efforts to install a running game.   

MaizeAndBlueWahoo

November 18th, 2013 at 4:39 PM ^

I like rollouts.  I especially like rollouts when the O-line is so pitifully bad at protecting the quarterback.  You have to pass the ball sometime.  You can't do it the normal way.  A rollout is a great way to get that done, and further it puts a talented runner on the move already so he has the option to easily pick up a few yards.  Usually.  But the really nice thing is that if the coverage is there and the pressure is there, instead of being a twelve-yard sack it's a two-yard sack.

I hate rollouts to the short side of the field because sideways plays to the short side of the field are stupider than stupid and I don't want to hear about that being the throwing-arm side because Devin is capable of throwing when running left.

m1jjb00

November 18th, 2013 at 5:48 PM ^

I urge everyone in doubt to just draw out the various possibilities and probabilities themselves between going for it and kicking. I would think that at worst the decision is close.

I need a lot of convincing to thinl Schoefield didn' t simply wiff on the sack.

fukkyt

November 18th, 2013 at 6:09 PM ^

A win is a win. But it does not make me feel good knowing that we are still underdog by almost a TD to an average at best Iowa. Add that now to the internet rumors that UM recruits are thinking of jumping ships. A loss to Iowa is going to be disastrous even though I believe that is a likely outcome.