Robinson And Guildenstern Are Dead

Submitted by Brian on November 22nd, 2010 at 12:08 PM

11/20/2010 – Michigan 28, Wisconsin 48 – 7-4, 3-4 Big Ten


Detroit News

During my illustrious high school quiz bowl career* I ran across a question about Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, the Tom Stoppard play about a couple of bit players in Hamlet. It started off "the first 47 words of this play are 'heads,'" at which point someone else rang in and answered. Later I'd find out via the miracle of DVR that the reason the first 47 words of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead are "heads" is because one of the characters flips a coin over and over again. It always comes up heads. Rosencrantz or Guildenstern—it's unclear who is who for the duration—arrives at the conclusion that they are "within un-, sub-, or supernatural forces."

This weekend I'm scanning the message board for threads to terminate with extreme prejudice when I run across something from Mgrowold about the events of Saturday's second half:

Wisconsin then proceeded to run the ball 32 out of 33 times in the second half of today's game.  As I sat in the stadium it occurred to me that if a running play was "heads" and a passing play was "tails" then the Badger's play calling went something like this: heads, heads, tails, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads, heads and then heads.

Wikipedia describes Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead as an "absurdist, existentialist tragicomedy." This is Greg Robinson rubbing a beaver on Kenny Demens's face in the midst of a game where the Michigan defense gave up 560 yards and Scott Tolzien's only incompletion was a James Rogers interception, his third in two games:

At this point the column writes itself.


Apparently this is not literally true and now I have to put words down.

This is disappointing; you always hope if you really, really nail it in the first couple paragraphs you can watch the words appear as if by magic and then you won't have to seriously think about what happened in a game where Wisconsin punted once for the second consecutive year. Not accurate.

Obviously that was awful. Michigan had no answer to Wisconsin's series of basic "hai guys we're Wisconsin" runs. They went back to the same stupid 3-3-5 with Kenny Demens lined up two inches from his nose tackle's butt that got Michigan obliterated against Penn State. Wisconsin's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern second half was immensely, grindingly depressive but did have a secondary effect: it mostly absolved the improbably young secondary from blame. The front seven/eight aren't universally freshmen and should be able to hold a team under, I don't know, 350 yards of rushing.

I said my bit on the job status of Rodriguez and Robinson already. Michigan put up 28 that would have been 31 if not for a missed 30 yard field goal. That's on par with Wisconsin's worst performances of the year—Michigan State put up 34 but got a punt return touchdown, Iowa put up 30. The defense was the same incoherent mess it's been the whole year. It was more depressing than I expected, but at this point whatever, right?

Saturday reinforced both positions. Our defensive coordinator literally rubs small stuffed animals on people's faces. Denard Robinson broke the I-A record for rushing yards by a quarterback and is the first guy in history to have 1500 rushing yards and 2500 passing yards in the same season. Michigan is the most dichotomous team in at least the last decade of college football, and while I won't be horribly upset if Rodriguez does get the axe I still think the best thing for the next year or two is to see what happens when Denard Robinson is an upperclassman and the defense isn't starting four freshmen and three more sophomores. Michigan did manage to achieve the modest goals set before it, albeit in unimpressive fashion.


Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are boyhood friends of Hamlet summoned to a castle undergoing chaos. They've got no idea what's going on, are used as pawns, stumble around cluelessly, and end up hanging by their necks until they are dead. Woefully underprepared and doomed from the start, their deaths are both unfair and unavoidable. The third act is set on the boat they take to England and their deaths; they discover the letter sent with them says to execute Hamlet, then discover the Hamlet's fateful switch.

Much of the last bit is devoted to a discussion of how the pair can be so important as to necessitate their execution. I wonder if that's how Rodriguez felt as he watched the half of his team he delegates to someone else ground into a fine dust, like Jeff Casteel had switched his defense with one that read "execute this man."

*(We were actually pretty good, the Wisconsin/Iowa of Michigan high school quiz bowl at the time. We'd own most teams we played but would consistently lose close games to Salem, CC, DCD, and a Henry Ford Harrison team that had lucked into the National Geography Bee winner. We prided ourselves on not having uniforms, at least.)

Existentialist, Absurdist, Tragicomic Non-Bullets

Jeremy Gallon special teams error limit: determined. It is ten billion. I'm obviously on the tolerant side of the scale when it comes to coaching errors (outside of obvious game theory errors, about which I have an Al Qaeda level of zealotry) but JESUS GOD RICH RODRIGUEZ WHY DID YOU LET JEREMY GALLON RETURN KICKS AND PUNTS FOR TEN GAMES.

On the bright side, Michigan's kick returns finally seemed like a net positive aside from the Gallon fumble. Which aaaaargh. The strange thing about those returns was that Wisconsin seemed to be putting them exactly where they wanted—right along one sideline—and still gave up big returns seemingly every time.

A note on how meaningless the NCAA's official kick return stats are: in one game Michigan went from a horrendous debacle to essentially average. They're 67th now. I'll ping Brian Fremeau for his fancy stats at the end of the year to see what the actual damage was in the kick return game.

Small move towards Pulaski. Hey: surprise onside kick that absolutely should have worked but for two Michigan players whiffing on opportunities to recover. Since Wisconsin was going to score anyway, the only tactical error was not doing this two additional times. Also, the last one was not a surprise but it was beautifully executed by the kicker. Maybe that's what they've been practicing all year.

If Roy Roundtree drops a sure first down the next pass will be batted skyward and intercepted 15 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Fact. Please stop doing this, Roy.

First half struggles. The offense didn't score in the first half due to a confluence of events. Event the second: field goal kicker durrr combined with coaching durrrr about the field goal kicker durrrrr. Event the first and many other bits: Robinson couldn't throw straight. Wisconsin shoved guys up to the LOS and dared Michigan to throw deep. Michigan threw deep. Robinson missed guys by yards and yards, including an open Vincent Smith on that third and six that eventually led to field goal durrrr.

In the second half Robinson hit a series of bombs, forced Wisconsin to back off, and Michigan went TD, TD, TD, fate induced post-Roundtree INT, TD. Again, the design of the offense is excellent and while Robinson's lack of accuracy is now an established issue this level of performance with two seniors on the field is remarkable.

God, this was awful. I hate to embed this and inflict it on the public at large, but this was awwwwwful:

I'm actually a fan of Old Hat Creative's work with Michigan's hype videos but Notre Dame fans would laugh at this treacly debacle. Athletic department: I will write sentimental stuff with 10% of the schmaltz for free. I will pay you if this is the alternative. Guh.

Things that were good. A fond farewell to drum major David Hines Jr., whose backbend will remain legendary, and various other band seniors. The MMB bounced back from a year in which they forced Carl Grapentine to say "the clown who laughs outside as he cries inside" and deployed a series of accessible halftime shows that did not involve various operas of the 19th century. The Wizard of Oz halftime was good, Lady Gaga translates to marching band in a shockingly effective fashion, and the hockey band just played the old Hockey Night in Canada theme. Thumbs up.

Bret Bielema: still a huge jerk. This isn't a surprise from a guy who saw one of his special teams scrubs attempt to injure Steve Breaston and then pretended it didn't even happen, but Bret Bielema said his team sent "a message" by chop-blocking one of Michigan's linemen on that first-half drive that didn't end in a touchdown. You know, that one.


Michigan Exposures with a bunch of pictures, including the random F-15E wandering around the stadium before kickoff, a panoramic shot, and:

I should start regularly linking Mike DeSimone's comprehensive picture galleries, which collect everything shot on a game-by-game basis and act as a crutch here.

I made this facial expression at the exact same time!

Joe Stapleton says he feels sorry for Rodriguez. On RR's postgame mini-rant about the exceptional youth in the secondary:

It's an excuse and reality. As much as I would like to say it, the biggest problem with the defense isn't the abjectly awful coaching of defensive coordinator Greg Robinson (Though it certainly doesn't help — as gaudy as Wisconsin's offensive numbers were, they could have been a lot worse if the Badgers would've taken advantage of the WIDE-open middle of the field through the air). It's the youth in the secondary.

Some say, without thinking, that this is Rodriguez's fault. He should've recruited more (and better) defensive backs. Here's the thing: he had defensive backs. They all just kinda ... left. That, or they got injured.

I'm at the point where losing Vlad Emilien, no matter how not good he may have been, is a strike against you, but by in large most of the departures were ordained like a post-Roundtree drop INT. Wojo's column is along the same lines as this one. runs a poll of their own about RR's job security; the ones run around here earlier in the year by The White Tiger are more extensive but MGoBlog actively discourages people from the militant wing of the fanbase from participating so the numbers at are probably more representative. They've got 3300 votes in with 41% saying boot him, 22% saying "one more year," and 33% saying "I support him." A very strange 2% of people took the time to vote "I don't care." That's a majority saying keep him but it's vastly short of the 81% who voted "keep him" at 7-5 in the poll around these parts. (Michigan had yet to play Illinois and Purdue when that poll was deployed.)

Across various blogs the reaction seems to be mostly "not surprised." Touch The Banner:

This is a game that I expected Michigan to lose.  Almost everyone did.  That's not to say that I wasn't frustrated by some of the things that the coaches and players did - and the offensive production in the first half was somewhat embarrassing - but ultimately, this outcome is what most educated observers foresaw.

TTB does say the constant use of Vinopal as a blitzer was stupid, which yeah. Burgeoning Wolverine Star:

Wisconsin is that good. It's not surprising, then, that Michigan struggled so mightily against an oversized, veteran unit that is unquestionably the best outfit in the Big Ten. That doesn't make Michigan's complete inability to stop the run or their general defensive incompetence any less disappointing, but it does mitigate it somewhat.

Mets Maize:

My prediction--Wisconsin 45-28--and similar ones around the blogosphere was closer than the Vegas spread (-4.5 Wisconsin). We knew we were outmatched, plain and simple. Too many things had to go our way and JJ Watt's self-tip and pick was not one of them. The disparity between Wisconsin's physicality and Michigan's, uhhh, collection of 18-year-old biceps was worlds apart. I'm sort of glad the game flew by.

The Hoover Street Rag busts out Jefferson's inaugural address in a plea for people who think one side or the other of the Rodriguez debate is full of idiots. MGoFootball peruses the board for choice bits.



November 22nd, 2010 at 1:07 PM ^

With respect to the offense production, it should be noted that the team only had 4 real possession in the first half, and probably left 3-10 points on the field.  The difference between UM and those other two teams is that they could actually, you know, stop Wisconsin and get the ball back.  Plus, the offense you see out there now is short a couple of starting RBs, one of its better Olinemen, and some of the WRs were dinged up.  Definitely some blame should fall on the coaches, but this offense isn't close to the one that we saw even a couple of weeks ago.


November 22nd, 2010 at 1:17 PM ^

V. Smith is the starting RB. He was playing the first half. Stonum, Roundtree, and Hemmingham were healthy the first half. Your argument is invalid, sorry.

As much as it sucks, the offense cannot come out flat and expect the defense to help them out. This offensive struggle seems to be the norm against good teams, unfortunately. So maybe now we can accept that the offense is not as bullet proof as everyone is saying. Yes, they have improved, but no they aren't great.


November 22nd, 2010 at 1:38 PM ^

was big.  He has been really good against top DEs this year.  Not having Shaw also hurt us. He was a pivotal contributor against Illinois.  He runs the veer better than any of our other RBs.

The best excuse for the offensive ineptitude in the first halves, I think, is nerves.  They come out tight because they KNOW they have to score on every possession.  When they biff a wide-open play due to nothing except poor execution they get even tighter the next possession.


November 22nd, 2010 at 2:09 PM ^

One more year of experience, and this offense starts scoring at all times in the game against everybody, and not just when the opposing team has gained a multi-score lead. That, and somehow fielding an average defense next year will help alleviate the enormous (and unfair) pressure put on the offense to produce every time they get the ball.


November 22nd, 2010 at 1:52 PM ^

Smith is the starting RB largely because Shaw was hurt, and Odoms is also gone.  Maybe I over-generalized the loss of some playmakers, but now the team is short Gallon and maybe Smith, so the injuries are piling up.  Lewan being out was huge.  So there were some injuries on the offense that certainly contributed to the slow start. 

My point is that, yes, a still-young offense struggled against good defenses, but at least in part that is due to some injuries that have robbed it of some depth. 

Also, let's not act like good defenses don't hold back most good offenses.  OSU was held in check by Wisconsin, then dropped about a hundred points on Purdue and Minny.  They struggled against Iowa and PSU (until PSU started throwing picks).  That is an offense that, statistically at least, is close to UM's.  The offense has certainly regressed a bit, but that is to be expected when you replace BGSU and UMass with Wiscy and Iowa.


November 22nd, 2010 at 1:02 PM ^




So of course that happened.


November 22nd, 2010 at 1:22 PM ^

Drew is a true frosh; gallon a redshirt frosh.

Not the same class, but otherwise I dont see why he's not out there more either.

He was our best kick returner the day he signed with MICH in April, 2009 and probably remains as such. I am all for more Dileo


November 22nd, 2010 at 1:04 PM ^

"and the hockey band just played the old Hockey Night in Canada theme. Thumbs up."

My SO arranged Good Old Hockey Game for the hockey band bones while he was in the Hockey Band. This made me smile.


November 22nd, 2010 at 1:07 PM ^

Really enjoyed this, Brian. But I want to dispute one thing and note another:

1) We sure did put up some points. And, yes, it would have helped if Roy hadn't dropped a pass. And if Denard hadn't overthrown that first pass. If...If...If... Too many M fans, IMO, seems to use too many "if" excuses, especially in defeats that did not hinge on a play or two. Also: I think you underplay the fact that most of our scoring, against quality teams, occurs after we've fallen far behind (and when the opposition has let up a little). Otherwise, we often sputter. The distinction is an important one, no?

2) I detect, for the first time, a softening in your long-held pro-RR stance. You say you wouldn't be terribly upset if he gets canned. A subtle but telling shift, no?


November 22nd, 2010 at 1:11 PM ^

81% said keep RR at 7-5.  Well, we're staring that in the face (hey! 8-5 when we win our bowl game), and the Maize and Blue faithful are backpedalling like mad men.

My take: It's b/c people have seen glimpses of how good this team can be.  For one, the "keep him at 7-5" talk was before anyone knew how good Denard would be this year.

I support RR.  Things are looking up.

Go blue, beat OSU


November 22nd, 2010 at 1:15 PM ^

Last thing: I wish people would stump trumpeting our yards-per-game advantages over certain teams (MSU, Iowa) that beat us. As if that someone means we were actually the superior team. We were not.  Most of our yardage came after we'd fallen far behind. When you lose by double-digits, YPG only means so much.


November 22nd, 2010 at 3:01 PM ^

We are putting up 36.3 ppg, which is #19 in the country. That is a good offense whether you think so or not. It is up from 26.5 ppg from last year.

If you consider that we are missing about a field goal per game due to kicking incompetence, we should be about 39.3 ppg, which is up with Stanford (39.4 ppg) at # 7 in the country.

If you think that number is inflated because of our non-conference schedule, consider that in Big Ten play we have averaged 35.7 ppg, which isn't much of a dropoff against much stiffer competition. We have the third most points scored amongst Big Ten teams at 405. The two ahead of us, OSU with 436 and Wisconsin with 450 are one loss teams in the top ten in the country.

The offense has let us down big time in the first half of games. It has turned the ball over at too high of a rate. And it has had some three and outs at the worst time. But it is a very good unit with a first time starter at quarterback and a 3-star 5'6" running back coming off an acl injury. We lose ONE contributor on offense this year-Schilling (Dorrestein is ok but Huyge and he are interchangeable in my mind)

Add Demetrius Hart, Shaw, Touissant, healthier Smith and a year more experience/weight training for everyone and this should be a top five offense in any statistical category next year. Just imagine if the defense could get off the field and give us a few more possesions or the special teams could make a field goal.


November 22nd, 2010 at 4:42 PM ^

Your math is a little off.  We're averaging 34.3 points per game in Big Ten play.  It's worth noting that we scored 22 points in the three overtime sessions against Illinois, which inflates our total a bit.  In regulation, we're averaging 31.1.  That's a decent average, but not quite the "best in conference history!" people are claiming.


November 22nd, 2010 at 1:23 PM ^

rejoice if your Robinson is dead proclamation isn't just wishful thinking. 

Just remember, people:

1997 was Herrmann's first year as DC.

2006 was English's first year as DC.

We're returning 9 starters on defense.   If the talent is there a first year DC can produce fantastic results right out of the gate.

Continuity of the staff is always WAY overrated.  GERG must go. Give the new DC total control. If he wants to keep any of the current position coaches, fine.  If not, they gotta go, too.


November 22nd, 2010 at 1:59 PM ^

If we lose a player or two, so be it.  GERG has done absolutely nothing to warrant keeping his job.  Anyone can get bad results with bad players.  That takes no particular skill.  Just what has he done to inspire confidence that he can be a championship-level coordinator down the road? 


November 22nd, 2010 at 1:38 PM ^

Every Saturday, watching all the games, I end up finding about 2 dozen D coordinators I would rather have. And about a dozen head coaches I would rather have

It's been that way for going on a decade now, lol.

Translation: There are a lot of excellent coaches out there. I'll never understand why MICH/Rich didnt pursue better candidates after 2008, but man, they are out there and some of them arent even big names.

Look at the improvement the 'no name' new DC at texas a/m has done this year. And they are a lot like us. A lot of worthless offense because the D cant stop anybody in 2009, to beating Oklahoma, Nebraska and perhaps even Texas in the same year.......and I dont think they have half the talent on offense that MICH doesn

Just one example. So, yeah, let's bring in a defensive doctor. Like now so he can work with the kids during the bowl practices.


November 22nd, 2010 at 3:24 PM ^

In 2008.  But he didn't fit with the rest of the staff, or employ the philosophies the head coach wanted him to. He was well regarded before, and isn't doing too bad after (won't say "great" in the Big East).  The problem might not only be the inability to find some up and coming head guy, but making everyone under him who Rich brought with him follow the whatever the new guy says.


November 22nd, 2010 at 3:29 PM ^

Every year you could look at some team out there that is doing more with less. There are undoubtedly things going on that help the "genius" running the show that aren't showing up. Senior leadership and luck being a couple.

But we should also look at the fact that all programs, even great ones, go through slumps. Some during coaching changes and some without that excuse.

For example, Texas-5-6, Miami 7-4, Notre Dame 6-5, USC 7-4, Florida 7-5, Georgia 5-6, Tennessee 5-6.

Does this mean that Mack Brown, Brian Kelly and Urban Meyer can't coach, or does the fate of a football team have a lot to do with the players and circumstances beyond the coaches control. I say its the later.


November 22nd, 2010 at 3:37 PM ^

It's Tim DeRuyter, who was a great up-and-coming DC at the Air Force Academy before A&M got him. This got me to thinking that Navy's DC, Buddy Green, would be a good post-Robinson hire, for the same reasons that DeRuyter's been a good fit at A&M. I wrote a post about Green after the Penn St. debacle.


November 22nd, 2010 at 1:44 PM ^

The 1996 defense wasn't bad.   It's not like he inherited a bad defense and worked miracles.  He had tons of talent to work with.

We don't have a Heisman winner at CB and we don't have 5-6 future NFL players on D either.

Talent counts as much as coaching.


November 22nd, 2010 at 1:25 PM ^

Great post Brian.  I hope that RR comes back next year and this defense improves, because right now a change would probably set the team back another 2-3 years.  That said, the next defensive coordinator HAS to be given more autonomy and be allowed to hire who he wants and run the defense he wants.  I expect that to be a condition sent down by Brandon.

I do think that people may be overreacting a bit to some of those losses against teams like Wisconson.  As the announcers kept pointing out, Wiscy had a slew of seniors on both sides of the ball, and so this was the year for them to make this type of run.  Same goes for Iowa and MSU to an extent, as both will be losing valuable players directly responsible for their recent successful runs.  At the same time, UM continues to improve and gain the experience necessary to play well in the B10.  I'm not saying this team will be a top-5 team next year, but I very much expect that some of the losing streaks to teams like MSU and Iowa (of course we'll miss Wiscy and PSU for a couple of years) will end next year.


November 22nd, 2010 at 1:28 PM ^

Maybe I'm just a softie, but I'm willing to give Gallon a pass on the Wisconsin fumble if he was indeed injured on the play.  It looked like he was favoring his shoulder.  That doesn't explain his fumbles in the first 10 games, but sometimes shit happens.


November 22nd, 2010 at 2:08 PM ^

I yelled profusely at Gallon after that fumble and then felt bad about it. For one, he got hurt (?). Two, I realized that I was yelling "at" a 19-year old kid. I should be mad at the coaches for letting him return. No offense, but he is bad. I never played organized football but after watching him this season I honestly think I could be a better kick returner. Seriously.


November 22nd, 2010 at 2:44 PM ^

Just as I wasn't the least bit upset at Broekhuizen for missing the FG.  I was, on the other hand, mad with the rage of 1000 suns at RR's decision to keep putting these kids out there to do something you already know they do badly.  You can't blame them, they're doing the best they can, and I love 'em for it.  Ripping on them is like ripping on the poor sons of bitches at Galipoli or Verdun ordered to charge the enemy's fortified positions-- there's no chance it's going to end well.

The Charge of Broekhuizen and Gallon

Ours not to question why

Ours not to make reply,

Ours but to do and die, and fumble kick returns and shank field goals.


November 22nd, 2010 at 3:21 PM ^

I guess you'll be one of the few to be happy that Gallon is listed first at both PR and KR in the new depth chart for OSU. Personally, I'd like to see Stonum and Cox returning kicks and Grady returning punts.


November 22nd, 2010 at 1:29 PM ^

So, the team has 7 wins. Wasnt it almost unanimous in HTTV that 7 wins would be the team's record? How is 7 wins suddenly not living up to the preseason expectations?

When you're in last place in the Big 10, like we were in 2009, you need to make a stop at the 3-5/4-4 area of the standings first.

Regardless of who the coach is, let's be a little patient with our very young team. As far as I am concerned they did what I wanted them to do this year. Get us back into a bowl with a winning record.

Go Blue/Beat OSU/Beat Future Bowl Opponent


November 22nd, 2010 at 2:14 PM ^

Hard to argue there. I mean he wasnt given the best personnel to work with.....but he was also given a low bar to succes, meaning just stop them half the time and we can win with the offense. Instead the D has been largely so bad, that we're not even playing real football games almost......if that makes sense.

Like I said in response to you above, I see dozens of better defensive coaches that I would rather have every Saturday. And half of them, I need to look up their names and bios as I watch their team play because I've never heard of them before.


November 22nd, 2010 at 3:25 PM ^

How do you know what the modest expectations are for a defense that most of the time has 5 or 6 freshman out there?


Have you ever  seen a defense in D1 football with that many freshman perform well?  Cause if you have ill be waiting for the answer and the stats to back it up..


November 22nd, 2010 at 1:44 PM ^

As much as I would like to say it, the biggest problem with the defense [...] is the youth in the secondary.

I thought this was true earlier in the season, but lately I've come to the conclusion that the bigger problem is that the front seven (or six) absolutely has not stepped up.  Martin has been the only playmaker, and he's hobbled.  Ryan Van Bergen came into this year with a ton of hype and has been largely invisible.  Banks, Patterson and Sagesse have been around forever but haven't stepped up.  Roh really hasn't done much at either DE or OLB.  And we've discussed the LBs ad nauseum.

I would say the secondary has actually made the greatest strides of any unit on the defense.  Even the corners have been halfway respectable in coverage lately.  The DBs still aren't great at filling in gaps to stop the run, but there are too many gaps - the front seven is having such a hard time getting off blocks that the DBs are forced to make too many tackles.  Kovacs has almost 100 tackles on the season, which is absurd.