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 1:55 PM ^

This is fundamentally untrue.  Your nose tackle needs to be decent sized and good, not necessarily Ted Washington.  Mike Martin does just fine at NT, thank you very much.

And the defensive ends don't need to be 330, either.  They could be 290 and work just fine.

People argue against the 3-3-5 on here continually, and arguing against any defensive philosophy is just kind of silly.  Any defense can work (3-3-5, 4-3, 3-4, 4-2-5) if it's employed and taught correctly, and you don't need superstars at every position to make it work.  You just need guys who aren't obviously overmatched or playing out of position.

Ed Shuttlesworth

November 22nd, 2010 at 3:18 PM ^

Nobody's "targeting" the offense.  It's very good. 

By no measure is it good enough to fully offset an historically dreadful defense and poor attention to detail in all non-offensive areas of the game.

Again:  I loved the Coach Rod hiring.  It hasn't worked.  The two major things people point to in support of him -- (i) improvement over the 3-9 debacle of 2008 and (ii) the fact that he's a lot better offensive coach than GERG is a defensive coach -- both stem from situations he was responsible for.  

That should be repeated in the hopes it sinks in:  Rod is responsible for 3-9.  Rod is responsible for GERG.  No one -- no one -- thought the team Carr left behind after the bowl win over Florida would be a 3-9 team the next year.  It's silly to give so much weight to improvement over a record and a season that should never have unfolded as it did.

You are what your record says you are.  Barring a miracle next Saturday, Rod is 7-5 in his third year at an elite program -- one that has been throroughly uncompetitive in essentially every game against the four best programs in its conference.

That's acceptable at Michigan?

As for the spread, and the step back from transitioning:  the spread is now a thoroughly mainstream offense, perhaps THE mainstream offense.  I've been to a bunch of Ivy League games this year (don't ask).  Every Ivy team runs the spread.  Fordham runs the spread.  Towson runs the spread.   Not a single team that's played football in Columbia's stadium this year has run anything but the spread.   You could put Jim Harbaugh, Bret Bielema, or the ghost of Woody Hayes in as Michigan's coach and it would take them about a week to adapt an offense to talent best suited to the spread.


November 22nd, 2010 at 3:43 PM ^

What's the point of your last paragraph?  Are you implying that Bret Bielema, Jim Harbaugh, or the ghost of Woody Hayes could have created a decent offense from redshirt freshman Steve Threet/walk-on sophomore Nick Sheridan, DT-turned-OG John Ferrara, SR Toney Clemons, injury-prone freshman Sam McGuffie, injury-prone junior Brandon Minor, etc.?

No matter what coach was in charge or what offense was being installed, that 2008 offense was bound to be a failure.  The defense might be a different story, but that offense was certainly, absolutely, 100% bound to fail.


November 22nd, 2010 at 4:02 PM ^

You make some good points, particularly re: RRod's responsibility for GERG, but I have to take issue with this:

That should be repeated in the hopes it sinks in:  Rod is responsible for 3-9.  Rod is responsible for GERG.  No one -- no one -- thought the team Carr left behind after the bowl win over Florida would be a 3-9 team the next year.  It's silly to give so much weight to improvement over a record and a season that should never have unfolded as it did.

Let's remember, that bowl win over the Gators was the swan song for many more people than just Lloyd Carr; the "team Carr left behind" was a shadow of the team that beat Florida. The offense lost Henne, Hart, Long, Manningham, and Adrian Arrington to graduation/the draft, and Mallet was probably going to transfer even if Carr hadn't retired. That's a hell of a lot of talent & experience to replace. The defense lost Shawn Crable, Chris Graham, and both starting safeties. 2008 was a disaster waiting to happen, and the coaching transition only made it worse; you can't really pin all that on Rodriguez. (Nick friggin' Sheridan was playing QB, for heaven's sake!)


November 22nd, 2010 at 4:52 PM ^

Are you exonerating RR for the Boren departure?  That's completely on him.  All he had to do was agree - as Carr had done, and Tressel would do - to let Boren miss a few mid-winter workouts to drive the snow plow.

Ed Shuttlesworth

November 22nd, 2010 at 3:56 PM ^

No, I'm saying smashmouth guys like Harbaugh, Bielema, and Ghost Woody could walk in here tomorrow, add spread principles, and have a very good offense next year.  It's silly to think Rod and the spread are doing so many unique things that Rod is indispensible to the offense.  There's nothing remotely special about the spread anymore.

And if the defense is going to magically improve just because guys become a year older, it'll have the same improvement under a different coach.  They aren't going to stay the same age if Rod goes.

Rod lost Mallette and Boren, that's the big reason the 2008 offense stunk so much.   It was going to be a transition year anyway, but 3-9 is a disaster, not a transition.  I'd give him a pass if they were better this year, but I'm not going to use it to justify a 7-5 record in Year 3.  Hell, I'd be ok with 7-5 or even 6-6 if we were competitive with the Top Four/Five and I could see light at the end of the tunnel.  Swap a bad bounce in the 3rd OT against Illinois with leaving tire tracks on Little Brother or Iowa and this is probably a different conversation.


November 22nd, 2010 at 4:08 PM ^

There might not be anything special about the spread.

But even though Michigan's defense can't get any stops or turnovers or even short fields, somehow Michigan's offense is averaging 36+ points per game and the quarterback is setting NCAA records.

So let's not pretend that too many other spread offenses are just as potent as Rodriguez's.


November 22nd, 2010 at 9:02 PM ^

Mallette and Boren

Alex Mitchell quit I think, too.   I want to say another kid who would have been a senior OL left, but I can't recall who it was.

the big reason the 2008 offense stunk so much.

You'll recall the '07 offense struggled mightly without a healthy Henne or Hart.   IMO the talent level was slipping already at that point, at least on offense.


November 22nd, 2010 at 5:47 PM ^

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matty blue

November 22nd, 2010 at 8:32 PM ^

i'd also point out #10's dive at denard's ankles three yards into the end zone after one of the touchdowns.  seems like his teams do that kind of crap ALL THE TIME.