Moxie And MacGyver

Submitted by Brian on September 14th, 2009 at 10:24 AM

9/12/2009 – Michigan 38, Notre Dame 34 – 2-0

 greg-mathews-game-winner-nd

When Michigan headed in at the half down only three because of a confluence of events I saw splattered across "Life on the Margins" in the near future, I wrote the game off. When Michigan turned first and goal from the one into a missed field goal, I wrote the game off. When Armando Allen ran the ball into the endzone and Clausen did his fey little "butt dance," to steal a term from MVictors, I wrote the game off. When LaTerryal Savoy dropped the touchdown pass* that would have given Michigan the win, I was annoyed.

Some things, among them faith and love, reveal themselves only after they form, when some other event makes it clear you have had powerful emotion X about object Y for an indeterminate amount of time. Love tends to brew a long time and reveal itself in spectacularly inopportune fashion. Faith… well, if you let X equal faith and Y equal Tate Forcier, the process is considerably expedited. For the author it came to its enzyme-aided conclusion sometime between Junior Hemingway's second touchdown against Western Michigan and the wild bumper-car rollout that ended in a dart to Savoy and first and goal.

When, exactly, is impossible to tell. Like Denard Robinson, attempting to observe it changes it. But here it is rewarding us with all sorts of dopamine and serotonin and other whatnot on this finest Monday of all Mondays in a fairly long time.

What is up, faith. I am feeling goooooooood.

--------------------------

Rich Rodriguez had spent twenty years earning a little faith as his teams performed, time and again, above their talent level. But the instant he decided to extract himself from what seemed like a poisonous relationship with the rest of the West Virginia athletic department, all of it evaporated.

Almost from the instant Rodriguez arrived on campus the media—first from West Virginia and then locally—painted him as a mercenary, a swearing robot, a rube. It's been covered here a thousand times before so let's just focus on the giant flashing insanity: Rodriguez took a metric ton of crap for breaking his contract, something literally any coach who's ever moved jobs has done. Something that the contract has explicit buyout provisions for. Something that universally-loved John Beilein did one year earlier.

When 3-9 followed the amplitude went up by an order of magnitude, culminating in the Free Press hit job the nation knows and loves. Faith did not exist except in battered, weary pockets. This pocket wavered. It would be impossible not to.

In this space I've alternately mocked and panicked at the idea that external forces or internal dissent could strangle the Rodriguez era in the crib and set Michigan on much the same path Notre Dame has traveled these last 15 years. The parade of inept coaches, inept coaching searches in the frequent interregnums, and mostly unrelenting failure during the brief periods in which the school is not searching for a new inept coach could easily have happened here. Michigan was in the process of chaotic, inept coaching search number one when WVU athletic director Ed Pastilong and Pat White's thumb dumped one of the premiere coaches in college football in Bill Martin's lap and Martin jumped at it without thinking it over.

The public reaction since threatened to undo that stroke of fortune and set Michigan into the spiral that consumed South Bend. The danger was that all those sneering generalists who glanced over from their NBA game to snort "lol" and moved on would actually impact Michigan's ability to reason.

Did it? Will it? It's impossible to tell. Rich Rodriguez and Tate Forcier plan on making the question moot, and have already gone a long way towards doing so.

------------------------------

This is Michigan now, a strange collection of 3.8 GPA kids from New Jersey and Arizona and locals who grew up loving Michigan and kids with dreads from poor, broken places mostly in the south who have one way to get out. Receivers who score game-winning touchdowns and almost lose their cool before apologetically handing the ball to the referee, sir. Woop-gone cuts when the defensive end beats you to the corner in cover zero. The fetishization of work to the point where the S&C coach is the target of adulation so intense that you can call something "Barwis Porn" and not be 100% joking. Hype videos and piped in music. Shotgun hurry-up and quarterbacks slipping by linebacker kill shots. The circle of terror, chest bumps, awkward press conferences, a tear here and there. This is it. This is block-M Michigan.

It's not all great. But take it from a guy who remains a programmer in spirit: life is tradeoffs. Give Rich Rodriguez six dwarves, some baling wire, a walk-on safety from Curtice, Ohio, and someone to spatter paint all over everything and we're good. This is a program of moxie and MacGuyver.

While Terrelle Pryor labors in an offense that has him throw 25 times and run nine against USC, previously run-manic Rich Rodriguez has taken his collection of half-man-half-velcro tight ends and pounding fullbacks and moosebeast tailbacks and forged them into a machine that, for two games at least, is the explosive equivalent of his White-Slaton heyday. He has integrated this crazy wheeling Jackson Pollock of a quarterback to the tune of 70% completions, five touchdowns, and one interception in his first two games in college. In the process he's made the men who looked at twenty years of wildly successful offenses, wildly successful programs at every level of college football and saw nothing but an inflexible, lucky hick look like fools.

He's repaid the faith shown him by his team, by the guys who stayed and waved their arms madly and jumped up and down last week when the students took up a "Rich Rodriguez" chant and did not stop until most of the stadium was doing it. They stayed, and they're on their way, and it doesn't take much faith to say: this is Michigan now.

Tate - Moxie

via reader Nick Stratton

*(It would turn out to be tipped but from the stands all I saw was a ball hit Savoy between the eight and the two and ricochet away; the crowd's reaction was such that I thought Notre Dame had somehow intercepted it for a split second.)

BULLETS THAT CHANGE DIRECTION SIX TIME A SECOND

  • 10,000 cocktails to the guy working the replay board who got the Armando Allen screen touchdown on the board almost before the play was over, thus causing the stadium to explode and Rodriguez to take a timeout that would eventually save Michigan four points. Those four points were the final margin of victory and while there's a chance the replay would have come down on its own, the quick thinking of that guy made it inevitable. Someone ferret out this guy's name so he never has to buy a drink in town again.
  • To really discuss what's wrong with Weis I have to dig into the poker metaphors. If Carr was a weak-tight calling station—a guy who doesn't take many risks and can be easily dissuaded from taking them—Weis is a loose-aggressive donkey—a guy who just bets and bets and bets and rides it. The LAG (loose-aggressive) is a better player, much tougher to win against, but is prone to huge, fatal mistakes. So the problem with that second-and-ten bomb was not that Weis threw, it's the sort of throw he called for. Running or whatever strips Michigan of its timeouts and has relatively little value compared to a first down. A first down just about ends the game. I had a perpetual frustration with Carr's playcalling in similar situations because it was run run run punt almost without fail, or possibly run run third and ten pass punt. So a slant or a hitch or some sort of high-percentage pass that can break for a first down is a great call.

    The bomb is going all in with a middle pair after you get a couple overs on the flop. (I was in the World Series of Poker once!!!) It might work. But if it does, it's not because you're a good poker player.

    Weis is a guy who thinks "they'll never see my 4-6 unsuited coming." And he thinks it all the time. I know, I know: Gus Hansen exists. The thing about poker on TV is that it throws out all the "boring" hands and therefore disguises Hanson's insidious brilliance. I've seen all of Weis's hands. He's not Gus Hansen. I mean, even if you're going to throw that, why throw it against Warren instead of the guy you've been torching all game?

  • On the other hand: I haven't seen anything from Rodriguez yet that makes me think similar thoughts. I have instant go-punt reactions on all fourth downs and get very upset when the coach in question defies an obvious one and haven't been very upset with Rodriguez yet. He may call a hotel a "ho-tel" but he's a better poker player than Carr or Weis. Even when Michigan was up eleven, it seemed like they needed one more touchdown to win, and it appeared Rodriguez thought the exact same thing.
  • Speaking of Beilein: there have been persistent rumors that Beilein and Rodriguez have a frosty relationship, but one of the things I caught as I watched the team leave the field was the two coaches meeting around the forty yard line and sharing a deep, lingering man-hug. I don't think that rumor holds much water anymore.
  • I'd been bitching about Forcier thinking he's in high school on many of his runs. Often he had an opportunity to cut upfield for solid yardage but instead tried to pop outside a corner or safety and turned it into a three-yard gain because he can't just outrun members of the opposition secondary anymore. (There's a play in UFR last week where I question whether a similar incident was a good idea.) So, yeah, a little smug on that touchdown run after I went WOOOOO a lot.
  • Cissoko… man. I've seen a fair number of people defending him but he was bad. Maybe I'll think different after the UFR but the guy got torched. Hopefully that's an effect of going up against two crazy good receivers and a quarterback who wasn't so terrible himself. I don't think so, though. He was lost.
  • I really hope I see even more holding than they called on UFR because Clausen had all day basically all day. I vastly underestimated the pressure he'd face; when he did get pressure he just chucked it OOB. So I was kind of right about that.
  • Brandon Minor is way better than any other back on the roster. Q: why did Michigan go away from the up-the-middle gashing that worked so well in the third quarter? Notre Dame was clearly vulnerable to runs that went directly at them but did well against the stretches.
  • Warren, on the other hand, basically lived up to the hype this blog perpetuated.
  • It's amazing how vastly different real live Notre Dame fans are from their internet fanbase. The worst thing you can say about them is that a disproportionate number look like they're huge Steve Miller Band fans. The worst things you can say about Notre Dame fans on the internet would take thousands of words to describe.
  • WOOOOOOOOOOOOO

ELSEWHERE

Charlie Weis caused the potato famine, says one Irish fan. Also check the Chips shirt.

MVictors wasn't in the press box for this one and thanks God for that stroke of luck. Also check the spectacular Brandon Graham mugging picture and the guy in the comments who claims Armando Allen called the student section "faggots" to draw his flag. Can anyone in the front of the student section confirm that?

While we're on MVictors, nice catch from the NYT:

Central Michigan beat Michigan State on a 42-yard field goal with 3 seconds left. As the game’s final minute ticked away before the start of the game here, news media in the press box gathered around televisions to watch.

Central Michigan initially missed a potential game-winning 47-yard field goal, but got to try the kick again after Michigan State was penalized for being offside. The announcement of the penalty that set up the game-winner prompted clapping and an announcement in the press box.

“Cheering is not allowed in the press box,” the announcer said, “but it is right now.”

Something something pride something fall.

Doctor Saturday's takes on Michigan State, Michigan, and Ohio State are fantastic.

I grabbed a bunch of complaining from ND Nation in anticipation of a flush, which did happen.

Comments

Jorel

September 14th, 2009 at 10:45 AM ^

Thanks, Brian.

On the bullets:

I still think you're right on Tate heading outside on zone reads where he shouldn't. It's not just the TD vs Cover 0, but the plays where he gets three and could get five that "prove" this. Obviously, we're picking nits here.

I don't get the defense of Cissoko either. I mean, part of the deficiency is his height (or lack thereof), which isn't his fault, of course, but neither is JT Floyd's lack of speed his fault. Cissoko looked hesitant. He played quite soft, but never let guys behind him, which is good, I suppose. He got out of his break late and took a poor angle to Tate on the short TD. Warren, OTOH, got beat by Floyd once, but not too badly and Floyd is pretty damn good. We'll need to see some improved play from the corner spot opposite him, though. There's no reason that can't come from Cissoko.

I think you'll see a few more holding penalties on ND's O-Line than were called, but not tons. Our 4-man rush got little pressure on Clausen. Herron looked like he didn't know whether to rush or drop in to zone a few times. And I don't know what the excuse is - other than size - for getting crushed by the O-Line on runs. Ezeh had a bad day reading plays and getting off blocks. This, we must fix, as we'll face many more big, average O-Lines in front of competent RBs this year.

dakotapalm

September 14th, 2009 at 11:27 AM ^

Agreed, +17 for the "Moosebeasts."

Also, I thought Graham was a powerful force off the edge who was held ofttimes, but disappointingly, Ezeh seemed to run himself out of position on run plays.

Seriously, does anybody have confirmation on the Armando Allen personal foul call? The shhhh is a borderline call, but if he said what's alleged, there's no question about that.

ronmexico

September 14th, 2009 at 10:47 AM ^

boubacar really stunk it up, but i guess in his defense not many corners can guard tate or floyd all that well. and a +1 to Brian for referencing "something something family guy something darkside" quote.

Other Andrew

September 14th, 2009 at 10:58 AM ^

In addition to the foolish long pass (I thought the same as you - it's not that he passed, it's that he went long down the sideline), Weis pulled another huge boner early in the game.

I believe it was on their first drive, when ND had first and and goal and came up empty. On second down, he emptied the backfield and then called a QB run up the middle. Clausen was predictably stopped as was their previous momentum. I'm not sure why this is even in their playbook, or certainly why someone would call a play like this in that situation. I assume it's again because he wants to prove what an unconventional genius he is.

He keeps pulling this crap. I'm reminded of Einstein's definition of insanity...

Great post, Brian.
A

tbliggins

September 14th, 2009 at 10:59 AM ^

Brian - you need to bring back the "On Notice" board for Cissoko. Besides the fact that he was torched all day, anytime he was around a play the defense made he was talking trash. Compare that w/ Warren who didn't say a word after the 2 and 10 call from Jeff Bowden.

genericmichiganfan

September 14th, 2009 at 11:16 AM ^

One play that stuck out was when Tate (I think it was him) dropped a touchdown when he hit the ground and the ball came loose. Cissoko started doing some kind of dance it looked like, which I found extremely odd since the ground played better defense than him.

baleedat

September 14th, 2009 at 1:25 PM ^

Yeah, it was that stupid move where he crosses his arms and nods his head (with authority!)...he was doing it all day. In the play you referenced, it looked like he may have slapped the ball once it was in the receivers grasp, but I believe it was the ground that knocked the ball loose.

jaster

September 14th, 2009 at 2:32 PM ^

I think your guys' take, combined with Brian's, is spot-on. Yes, Cissoko was lined up against a great receiver, but his problems seemed to go beyond the fact that Tate is exceptionally talented, and I think UFR will bear that out. His attitude is also disconcerting, as noted. I want a guy to be charged and excited, but the timing of his trash-talking/motioning left me scratching my head.

I'm willing to give Cissoko a few more games to prove himself, but, at this time, I do not count myself a Cissoko fan. How close is Turner to being ready for the big time?

Durham Blue

September 14th, 2009 at 10:59 AM ^

your words, Brian. Perfectly stated.

I think I've replayed the clip of the Mathews catch about 40 times now. And every single time I get goose bumps when the announcer screams "CAUGHT, TOUCHDOWN!"

Enjoy Life

September 14th, 2009 at 11:02 AM ^

Can't wait for the defensive UFR to look at the 3-man rushes M called. IIRC, we were in it 3 times in nd's first 4th quarter TD drive and got burned 3 times.

I think it may have worked a couple of times in other situations but I want to see the risk versus reward in the UFR.

I really hate the 3-man rush.

medals

September 14th, 2009 at 11:07 AM ^

He is a sophomore going up against two of the best receivers in the country (that might be exaggerating a bit, but those guys looked like NFL receivers to me). He kept those guys in front of him and for the most part made good tackles. I am hoping that was a worst case scenario game for him, he'll learn a lot from it, and steadily improve over the next 2.8 years.

What I did not like was his arm-folding profiling after the ND receivers did not catch the ball. (I also don't like when neighborhood kids are on my lawn, though, so grain of salt, etc.).

jaster

September 14th, 2009 at 2:41 PM ^

It's cliche to say there was holding on every play, but.... wow was there a lot of holding by ND in that game. I'm glad we won, otherwise this would sound like sour grapes, but I consider myself a pretty objective observer when it comes to this stuff (I have no problem pointing out when Michigan is getting away with stuff too, though, admittedly, it's harder to notice). ND held A LOT, and Graham was the most frequent victim. I thought the refs would eventually catch on, but they did not. Or, more likely, they did and for some reason didn't care.

cfaller96

September 14th, 2009 at 11:09 AM ^

I agree that Cissoko got torched, but I'm not sure that could've been helped.

What I saw was Cissoko playing a lot of deep zone, which like, okay that's not a bad plan against a deep strike-happy ND squad, but a 5'5" corner who is most comfortable playing press coverage is not going to be a superstar playing deep zone. Especially against WRs who are not only fast but like 10 feet taller than him.

This was a bad situation for Cissoko and a bad matchup for M/Gerg. I imagine there will be better days ahead for both (provided there are no major injuries). Be patient.

darkstrk

September 14th, 2009 at 11:43 AM ^

... that I notice is that the secondary is rolling more to Warren's side on obvious passing downs. As a result, Warren is able to play more aggressively and didn't have to give as much cushion to the receiver. While I'm not exactly sure why this is, I have a feeling that the coaching staff has lot of faith in Cissoko.

Wolverine In Exile

September 14th, 2009 at 12:09 PM ^

I actually think Weis may have done a good job of playcalling (minus last drive) b/c I'll bet my lunchtime twinkie that ND used formation and motion to constantly get Floyd on Cissoko's side vice Warren's. I kept yelling at the TV "why the hell isn't Warren on Floyd!" and in retrospect, I'll bet it was schemed that way from Weis. As much as a despise Jabba the Butt, he does deliver good offensive game plans from a scheme / setup point of view (see New England, NFL). I'll bet Cissoko was initially supposed to cover Tate on half the plays Floyd burned him / went single coverage deep on.

BTW-- When the hell did Johnny go all Freaky Friday and swap with Brian's body for that opening ode?

formerlyanonymous

September 14th, 2009 at 11:40 AM ^

Rich Rodriguez was once given the world's largest atom collider, the brain's of Hans Delbrück Abbey Normal, a Catholic university, and an emu. He created the greatest schematic advantage in college football.

wolverine1987

September 14th, 2009 at 11:49 AM ^

only after they form." Great line, dare I say even profound. Though of course the programmer in Brian compelled him to make that rest of that sentance an equation, great thought nonetheless. Great column.

TSWC

September 14th, 2009 at 11:59 AM ^

I still need to watch the game on TV--I was in the SE corner at the game, which was a great spot for the end of the game(!) but not so great for seeing the whole field--so I'm not sure yet, but during the game I just assumed M was getting torched because of the complete lack of pressure. When you give Jimmy and two admittedly excellent receivers enough time on almost every play to take a nap, brush their teeth, take a leak, and then complete the play the secondary is going to break down at some point. Right? But like I said, I need to watch it on TV, maybe then Cissoko's poor play will be obvious to me.

cfaller96

September 14th, 2009 at 12:47 PM ^

Cissoko was starting with 5+ yard cushions, and then immediately bailing on almost every play. To me, it looked like it was designed that way.

Which, again, against Weis and his deep strike style...that's a plan designed to mitigate the inevitable pain and protect your players as much as possible. I thought it was the best plan Gerg could come up with, even though it meant that M was going to get chewed up all day long. Sometimes you just gotta accept that you're going to be in a shootout, and in that case it's the defense's job to play it safe and not blow coverages.

But bailing into a deep zone is not Cissoko's game. He's a molecule-sized corner who likes to press and bump. This was just a bad situation for him. I think he'll be fine.

Dave B

September 14th, 2009 at 12:18 PM ^

I never did give up on them. I always had a feeling the defense would come through when needed, and they did in the 3rd quarter and at the end of the 4th.

I was calling for Minor up the middle all game. Every time they ran that play, it seemed like 10+ yards. As long as he could stand it, I'd have just given him the ball and let him run over people.

I picked them to go 7-5 this season. Now I look at the schedule and see wins all over. Wow, this second year stuff is great!

Feaster18

September 14th, 2009 at 12:37 PM ^

The beginning of your post, Brian, was just beautifully written; even in comparison to your normal work, and that's really saying something. You have a great way of capturing the essence of an event.

Big10Defender

September 14th, 2009 at 12:36 PM ^

And how much would Ohio St fans need to pay you to change allegiences and blog about the Buckeyes?

After Saturday night, I NEED to see a logical, reasonable deconstruction of where the OSU program stands, coming from a place of unending passion, from a WRITER. That doesn't exist in the OSU blogosphere. I'm left with MSM rehash, & sloppily written opinion pieces in the blogs.

Your writing about UM is so inspired. Such a combination of heartfelt passion, reason, fandom, logic, and sheer writing talent. I think I would pay at least $50-$100/year for this level of coverage on my team. What do you say?

Sven_Da_M

September 14th, 2009 at 12:58 PM ^

... you spend 5 minutes on that site, and you see it for a typical, borg-like Night of the Living (Buckeye) Dead fan blog.

And even the title of the blog is bogus. You may think you have Tempe, but Clarett wasn't even eligible and the ref should have been given the game ball.

But is is nice that you're following the Jailhouse progress of a guy who "Liked to get his Goose On:"

http://www.wewillalwayshavetempe.com/2009/7/7/941455/maurice-clarett-a-…

Maybe the real answer to your prayers for Better Buckeye Blogging is this one:

http://mauriceclarett.wordpress.com/

Sven_Da_M

September 14th, 2009 at 12:47 PM ^

... you can never count a RichRod-coached team out. (And also a Mike Barwis-conditioned team).

And like so many people who have been Michigan fans for 30+ years, we grew to expect (or fear) losing key games at the end in the worst way.

And now, we win a key game at the end in the absolute best way.

What is even more exciting is that I don't think we're seeing even 30% of what RichRod can do with Michigan recruits, over a period of years, knowing and expanding the spread option (and the GERG D).

Great work, Brian. I almost felt sorry for Charlie; definitely fearful for the Leprechaun.

DHerrick

September 14th, 2009 at 12:53 PM ^

Excellent column and I really enjoyed the poker metaphors. As much as I like Lloyd, he really was weak tight, and Weiss certainly looked like a LAG on that last drive.

Rodriguez looks to me like a tight aggressive. He is aggressive, but he picks his spots.

mendrygal

September 14th, 2009 at 12:53 PM ^

Nice work. ND nation is complaining about the time at the end of the game, but I'm not the only one who saw the returner touch the ball, right? That starts the clock, and at least 2 seconds should have come off, which they did. Propecia Clausen and the rest of them need to watch the tape. Besides, no one here even seems to care in the least about the struggles and intense pain being suffered by Charlie's belt.... "can't..hold..much..aarrrgh"

WolverRoudy

September 14th, 2009 at 12:57 PM ^

I was listening to fox sports on xm radio coming back to chicago from Michigan when they were complaining about Greg Robinson. Apparently the announcers on the show (not sure who they are) think that Robinson has been an utter failure everywhere he has been and they were shocked to see him on the sideline in the Michigan game. They were very adamant that this guy is a joke and should have a job coaching anywhere but D-3. Has anyone else heard this level of criticism of GERG

KTChicago

September 14th, 2009 at 12:57 PM ^

Greg has made some great catches in the past but I was particularly happy to see him make the game-winning touchdown. I like what I see from Stonum, Hemingway and Koger but I really want to see Greg have an outstanding senior year and I think this is a big moment for him.

I never gave up hope, even when it was looking grim. ("Remember, Red...hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.") Here's hoping for a win on November 21!

Eye of the Tiger

September 14th, 2009 at 1:03 PM ^

"I know y'all don't want to hear this, Wolverine fans, being deeply committed to cynicism and ennui and wary of the fates' hostility to hubris, but here it is: At the moment, Michigan looks like easily the third-best team in the Big Ten."

Hmm. Still hard to say at the moment. We look great, but it's a long season with a lot of parity in the Big 10. Not counting us, the Big 10 has 4 decent-not-great teams (MSU, Wisc, Illinois, Iowa) and 3 pretty-good ones (OSU, PSU, N'western). We play 6/7, and should win at least 3/6. So I'm predicting a 9-3 season going in to the bowl game. But potentially we could go 10-2. I think that might be a little overly optimistic, though.

WolverRoudy

September 14th, 2009 at 1:13 PM ^

To sum up ND complaints:

1. Even though their own NBC station affliate has footage showing Allen's foot out of bounds, since ABC didn't show it there is no proof that they had an angle to make that reversal, the right call was to not reverse the touchdown.

2. If only they hadn't complained about the clock there would have been one more second which would have allowed enough time for ND to score a td and win the game (one second)

3. The refs should have put one second back on the clock after the last play so that ND could throw a long bomb and win the game on a last second play.

4. Weiss should have run, run, run. Even though that doesn't guarantee a first down and also doesn't mean that Forcier would not have either won the game outright as his did or get them into field goal position which he did.

This is similar to the argument over the reversal on the TD... somehow the 4 points missing from the reversal on the TD would have been enough for ND to win the game (even a game that ended 38-34)... Just following ND logic I'll make up my own that says even if you don't reverse the TD and that we stuff the run three times to force a punt with no time outs, Forcier would have still completed a TD (37-38) and then would have run it in himself for a 2-point conversion and a (39-38) victory.