Sad Pandas

Submitted by Brian on October 12th, 2009 at 11:39 AM

10/10/2009 – Michigan 28, Iowa 30 – 4-2, 1-2 Big Ten

 tate-forcier-benched denard-robinson-is-a-sad-panda

screenshot via MVictors; Denard Robinson as sad panda from the News via Genuinely Sarcastic and Mike Desimone.

This is probably a time to dispense with the fooferah and get right to the heart of the matter. From our vantage point from the endzone of Kinnick Stadium our instant assumption when Denard Robinson came in was that Forcier had gotten hurt on one of two earlier plays. We couldn't see a whole lot, but we saw a lot of Michigan's third quarter—unfortunately because they spent it next to the wrong endzone. Forcier banged his hand on someone's helmet, then later took a wicked shot from some defensive lineman or another moments after launching another incompletion.

When Robinson came out with around six minutes left, we had a debate about the idea, coming down on the side of "not good." Though Robinson was surprisingly effective driving Michigan for a score-tightening touchdown, the run-based nature of the drive stripped more than three minutes off the clock and saw Michigan attempt an onside kick with about 3:20 left and one timeout. This, too, was seen as a sign that Forcier was hurt: surely if you're going to cast your lot with Denard Robinson on a drive to win you need the ability to run the ball quite a bit. Kicking deep with only Robinson available is tantamount to waving the white flag.

So all that fit together and when Robinson came out after Michigan's defense thwarted Iowa on their attempt to strangle the game, it made sense. Forcier was unavailable, and this was the best Michigan could do. And, hell, it was working all right until Robinson eschewed what looked like a wide open Martavious Odoms in favor of Michigan's third or fourth jump ball into safety coverage. This one did not clatter to the turf harmlessly. As we say in UFR, EOG.

So… yeah. The news that Forcier had to be bodily escorted off the field before Michigan's last drive was less than thrilling. I'm sure this will be breaking no new ground after a couple days of checking in on the blog to see just which items raging about the decision needed to be excised, but for the record:





There are a billion comments across the internet calling the decision "indefensible," many of them drawing direct parallels to the last time a Michigan team visited Iowa. John Beilein sat Manny Harris down for overtime, Michigan lost when Iowa hit an array of circus shots and Manny's replacement, David Merritt, continued being a walk-on instead of Manny Harris, and a very large number of people were peeved, livid, or somewhere in between. This space in the aftermath of that decision:

If he thought Michigan had a better chance to win with David Merritt on the floor, he's nuts. More likely he had about reached his limit and sat him in what appears to be a fit of pique. I get that: Harris at the moment is a basketball doppelganger of Braylon Edwards in his afro phase, when he was benched because he and Carr weren't "on the same page" despite his clear superiority to Michigan's other receiving options. Edwards wised up and blew up. Harris? We'll see.

I would have preferred the teachable moment had not come in overtime of a crucial road game, though. You know.

The two incidents are creepily similar, and my opinion about Saturday is about identical to my opinion about the Manny benching: there were a ton of good reasons to make the move that don't come close to outweighing the enormous one that argued against it. If Michigan had gotten that onside kick and Robinson had three minutes to work with, okay. With 1:40 on the clock, no timeouts, and sixty yards to go, no.


So where does that leave us? Michigan's just experienced a two point loss on the road against a top-15 team during which they were –4 in turnover margin. They got outgained again. Forcier was pretty terrible. Robinson displayed both his talent and his limitations. Rodriguez made a poor decision in the heat of the moment, bursting this site's obvious hope that he was Jesus Ferguson. They're 4-2 in the league with three games they should win left, which would leave them at 7-5 if they don't pick off one of Penn State, Wisconsin, or Ohio State. A walk-on has permanently ascended to the starting lineup.

Add that all together and you get… I don't know. A jumbled mess that's clearly not as soul-destroying as last year's merry band of incompetence but not in any respect good. Michigan has been significantly outgained in each of four games against teams outside of the MAC, and mitigating factors like special teams and turnovers can no longer patch those gaps up. After all that at the start of the season, Michigan's settled about where everyone expected they'd be: still digging out from nuclear winter, looking towards the future with hope and the present with tolerance, at best.

The emotions I had coming out of Kinnick were as much of a mess as the team is. Michigan shot itself in a thousand different ways, busting coverages on two tight end touchdowns and a third and twenty-five that was more damaging than any of the five (five!) turnovers they gacked up with little assistance from Iowa. It was really frustrating to walk away feeling that Michigan should have won but for their own errors—errors that at this point are obviously a fundamental part of what the team is—but the memory of last year hovered, suggesting that the mere idea that errors were only a part of the whole this time around represented progress. Clearly, there is a long way yet to go.


  • I know I make fun of people in the comments who believe I have some sort of crazy power over the fortunes of Michigan football that I only use for evil, but dammit Greg Mathews, not only did you drop a punt, give Iowa the ball at the Michigan 16, and eventually lead to that short-field Tony Moeaki touchdown, you did it mere hours after I suggested that I should stop typing HOLD ON TO THE DAMN BALL as the key matchup in the special teams section. It's hard not to feel personally responsible even though that's completely insane.
  • Have seen a number of complaints about the timeout with 27 seconds left before halftime. I wanted Rodriguez to call it at the time; after some consideration I think that was probably not a good idea either. Even if Michigan gets a stop on that third and ten they'd have the ball somewhere on their side of the field with 12 seconds on the clock or whatever. In general I like the bent of Rodriguez's decisions; that one was wrong.
  • Another TO complaint: Michigan shouldn't have taken one on third and ten from the one and a half. Just take the penalty there and Michigan's got another 40 seconds to work with on their final drive. I understand it's hard to break the natural inclination to take a timeout when the playclock gets way low, though. That's a corner case that doesn't come up much.
  • I don't know exactly whose fault the two busted coverages were but if, as rumored, it was Mike Williams I don't know what you do about it. Woolfolk was physically capable at cornerback and Michigan finally went with the press man they've been talking about since Greg Robinson got hired. Williams definitely let an Iowa receiver behind him on third and twenty-fing-five, and if Moeaki was his guy on either of his touchdowns he's directly responsible for all three Iowa touchdowns. Maybe Iowa would have done something with the last drive, but the first Moeaki TD was on third and twelve; a stop there is a FG attempt. A stop on the third and twenty-five is a punt.
  • Michigan did break out some new stuff, grinding Brandon Minor into the line from the I on a successful, Bo-pleasing late touchdown drive and debuting a quick pitch to the sideline that never looked like it was going anywhere but also never failed to gain four to six yards. The former is something Michigan could have tried against State; the latter was probably hampered by Forcier's shoulder issues.
  • It seemed like after the first interception from Forcier that he refused to throw to receivers who were open. On a couple third downs there were slants available (I think) that Forcier did not take, instead running around as is his wont. I was pretty frustrated by him, and imagine that Rodriguez was ready to strangle the kid.
  • Graham shouldn't be rushing the punter on a punt safe, not that it mattered.

Trip Report Section

City. I can tell you about a lovely Econolodge in Davenport, Iowa, but despite driving out Friday and spending about all of Saturday in Iowa City, I can't tell you much about the city itself. My momentary first impression was that this was a foofy college down as I strolled by some organic eatery down one of those cobbled pedestrian streets you see wherever people are trying to create an area for foot traffic. Then we went in a bar that had six things on the menu, asked if you wanted ranch with your waffle fries, and attempted to purvey something called a "walking taco," which the waitress explained was "um, it's like Doritos in a bag with some meat and cheese and onions and taco stuff thrown in." The stalls in the bathroom didn't have doors on them.

So I was a little confused. I was referring to this experience at the Black Heart Gold Pants tailgate, and I was talking about this place we were, and when asked where, exactly, we were I rakishly pulled out my zinger: "the place with no doors on the stalls." The response was "which one? There are lots of those." So… yeah. Iowa City leans towards the no doors on the stalls. I guess. I saw the inside of a bar, a parking lot, and Kinnick. I am not a one-man Yelp here.

Fans. Excellent. There was the usual dose of meathead yellin' at the guys in the wrong colors—sort of, anyway, the difference between maize and blue and black and gold is not drastic—that you get whenever you go anywhere other than South Bend. Other than that everyone was perfectly nice. At no point did I feel like someone was going to hit me, which is more than I can say for the last few trips to Columbus or East Lansing.

I will note that the male student body of Iowa appears to be 80% meathead.

Kinnick experience, in total. Very classy. All brick exterior, looks like I'd like to see Michigan Stadium end up looking like once they figure out what they're going to do in the endzones:


Anthony Ciatti

And the interior:


Anthony Ciatti

The stadium itself was a bit smaller than I'd expected. Our seats were strange: section "NB," which ended up standing for "North Bleachers" and was not listed on the map or at all familiar to the first two people we tried to talk to about just where the hell we were supposed to sit. An usher had clue, though, and directed us to five rows of makeshift metal bleachers that were literally on the field in the endzone. We stood the whole game, which was fine because from appearances so did the rest of the place.

Despite that, it didn't seem particularly noisy. It got loud on important third downs but I thought it was about on part with Michigan Stadium. FWIW. I am apparently terrible at discerning variable noise levels, given my reaction to this year's addition of luxury boxes.

There's a full gallery by Anthony here.

PIPE IT IN BABY. The Iowa marching band might as well not exist. I don't know if this was a homecoming thing, but they didn't even march pregame—the alumni band did—and had a seriously abbreviated halftime show so that a Hawkeye inductee to the CFHOF could get his due. During the game they hardly played, and when they did play they mostly played marching band versions of songs that had already been piped in over the PA.

Oh, also:

This disaster was played incessantly over the PA, and we, not being 14-year-old-girls, didn't know what it was. Friend of Blog joked that it was probably a Jonas Brothers song, and we laughed, and then we thought to ourselves IS that a Jonas Brothers song? It turns out no, but it's by the Black Eyed Peas, which is 95% as emasculating. Hell, this imeem playlist by one Shelby Veppert, who—no foolies—is a 19-year old from Columbus who lists Nickelback(!!!) as one of her favorite bands, has the song sandwiched between two Jonas Brothers songs. If Michigan Stadium ever has anything that can be considered a sort of theme song I'm going to buy out Ann Arbor Torch & Pitchfork, and if it's ever something as terrifyingly fey as that thing, I'll storm the castle myself.

Site note: Michigan's homecoming activities murder Iowa's, chop them up, and put them in a bag. Iowa basically has the alumni band play the fight song and march off the field, then has a tedious announcement of various alumni who helped out and the members of the homecoming court*. And that's it. Michigan has a goofy prohibition-era cheer, awesome flipping 80-year-old alumni cheerleaders, a terrific combined-band halftime show, and that one crazy old drum-major who rips it up every year. I love homecoming at Michigan Stadium, and was excited to get the Iowa version of it. I didn't get it.

*(The homecoming king was a bioengineering (or something along those lines) major named Rohit… Naha… Romin… fromblobololgbogl. The telltale pause from the very Iowan public address announcer after the poorly-pronounced "Rohit" promised three seconds of pure unadulterated awesome, and that promise was delivered upon.)



October 12th, 2009 at 2:09 PM ^

taken third and ten from the one and a half was made by Minor. It looked to me like there was a sideline call which most of the team saw and adjusted to, but Tate did not. Minor called the TO to avoid a busted play and possible turnover or safety. Today's press conference disclosure of Tate's concussion makes this a more likely explanation.


October 12th, 2009 at 2:12 PM ^

When I went to Iowa in 2003 (also homecoming) with a group of band friends, it was obvious that the alumni band was far superior to Iowa's normal band. One of the alums who looked to be about 45 even had a snarky shirt on about it.


October 12th, 2009 at 3:29 PM ^

To all those who are despondent and rapidly reducing their expectations. What was your preseason expectation? I saw everything between 5-7 and 8-4. Michigan is right on target for 7-5 with the same shot they had at 8-4 as they did at the start of the season.

This team is talented and can largely blame themselves for the loses. The QBs and OL have been much better than expected.

What is the problem? You expected Michigan to beat the #12 team on the road?

Loses hurt. And however the lose happens it feels like the hurt is special. It's not. Losing because you turn the ball over 5 times is acres better than losing by 35.

This season has been a resounding success so far. RR has been great. Be happy.


October 12th, 2009 at 4:04 PM ^

Aren't most of you the same people that were singing that tune in the offseason? Honestly, I think we'll all look back on these two losses as key learning experiences for our Frosh QB's and the rest of the team late in the season and next year. Here is summary of the lesson from Iowa:

1) Tate needs to get more comfortable in the pocket and deliver the ball on the money when he has time, not just when he is running around in sandlot "hero" mode.

2) Denard just flat out needs more passing experience and pressure to understand when to throw the ball away and progress in his reads, his three bad picks all came when he was trying to go downfield and forced it; experience help this, but going from run, run, dink

3) the Defensive coaches are doing all they can to make both scheme and personnel adjustments to put us in a position to win games

4) Coach Rod needs to chill out on the sidelines and demand excellence with more coddling vs. screaming since these two are so young, but that's probably just Rod being a Dick and I don't expect that to change.

5) We are spoiled as hell even though we just had the worst season in recent history everyone now expects this to be Michigan back to its statistical norm. It sucks that we lost two games we had a chance to win, just at it was great that we won two games that we just as easily could've lost. Those wins were huge confidence builders and we will reap the benefits in the future. Yes it sucks that we are 4-2 vs. 6-0 but get over it.


October 12th, 2009 at 9:25 PM ^

I don't quite get some of the pessimism Brian had about the team--despite some pretty poor play at times, we're a couple plays away from undefeated. Of course there's "a long way to go" for serious NC contention, but that's true for all but maybe 5-6 teams out of 120. There's not a long way to go to get back to respectability; as long as M beats the three softies and steals one or two out of three tough games left, everyone will know they're back.
Although whenever I think of "a couple plays away" I also think of that quote from The Mighty Ducks: "Yeah, but six inches the other way and you'd have missed completely."

Blue in Yarmouth

October 13th, 2009 at 9:28 AM ^

"1) Tate needs to get more comfortable in the pocket and deliver the ball on the money when he has time, not just when he is running around in sandlot "hero" mode. "

Because Tate is 6'1" it is hard to pass when you are in the pocket. If you noticed during the game he had a few passes batted down whenever he tried throwning from the pocket. I think he completed one and had three knocked down. He is very accurate on the run outside the pocket, I think that is where he does his best work. I don't think there is any need for he or the coaches to restrict him to throwing in the pocket.

"4) Coach Rod needs to chill out on the sidelines and demand excellence with more coddling vs. screaming since these two are so young, but that's probably just Rod being a Dick and I don't expect that to change. "

These are not 10 year old kids we are talking about, they don't need to be hugged and kissed after they screw up IME. Just because a coach gets mad doesn't make him a dick. I coach a few sports and get mad on occasion but don't think it makes me a dick. RR is an intense coach and showed the more coddling side when the screw ups were happening earlier in the season. As the season progresses, so do coaches expectations for their players and thus, the intensity on the sidelines increases. I think his reaction was appropriate given the circumstances.


October 13th, 2009 at 4:49 PM ^

1) My point wasn't that the coaches should limit Tate, it's just that when he doesn't break contain, he needs to learn to be comfortable inside the pocket vs. on the run. There were multiple times when Iowa's dline held contain where he had time but had to make a decision from within the pocket and he didn't look comfortable. This is a coaching point where he can improve by either stepping up or moving around in the pocket vs. potentially running outside right into a sack, not that he did this but just a point for improvement. Denard has the same issue. Agree on the point about him being 6'1'' though.

4) Was a bit tongue in cheek but anyone who has played sports knows that after you f-up and know it the last thing you want is some red-faced coach screaming at you, but hey I'd rather have Rod's intensity than the opposite.


October 12th, 2009 at 4:08 PM ^

This "tradition" has been around for a few years. When I was a student at Iowa (2003-2007), the students rushed the field for every win. This included when Iowa beat highly ranked Michigan in 2003, and also when they beat Akron to open the season in 2004. Didn't really matter who the opponent was.

Pretty lame, IMO.


October 12th, 2009 at 4:10 PM ^

Great journalism as usual, backed up with logic and reason. I'm fairly happy we are 4-2 at this point in the season. I just wish we didn't have that second conference loss. I'm hoping we can knock off either Penn State, Wisconsin, or OSU and maybe end up 9-3 for the season.

Durham Blue

October 12th, 2009 at 4:16 PM ^

this game should've been Michigan's worst nightmare. Near freezing cold, night game, pumped up and liquored up crowd, Iowa's strong defense, etc. I made the pick before the season that Michigan would beat Iowa. Before the game I thought I'd be eating those words big time, to the tune of a 20-point drubbing. After a close 2-point loss, I'm actually quite pleased with the effort. I was not happy with Tate's decisions but this is part of the ups and downs of a true freshman QB. Michigan will get well against Delaware State and I think they'll make amends against PSU for losses to MSU and Iowa.

Darth Vader

October 12th, 2009 at 5:06 PM ^

I'd just like to second the overall great Iowa fan experience - not too much hostility like you'd expect from MSU and OSU, where the possibility of getting hit by something is quite high. we tailgated right across the street from one of the big lots (Myrtle lot I believe) and we had nothing but fun with our direct neighbors, who were Iowa alum, and those passing by.

beer, food, and football seemed to make everyone OK with just having a good time. our outfits might have helped some I guess... especially once we got to the stadium. other than 2 points (or some turnovers), it was a fantastic weekend!


October 12th, 2009 at 5:25 PM ^

I am guessing Tate is given fairly specific reads and checks for which to look. Perhaps he overstepped his boundaries several times, temporarily forgetting that this is no longer an improv routine at a Scripps Ranch HS game, but rather, a veteran, highly disciplined D-I opponent who has memorized hours of film of how you move and to whom you are throwing.

RichRod probably warned him of this: that teams will be on to your "schtick" as the season progresses, so better not stray too far off of the line, sonny.

Like the Clint Eastwood line...."a man's GOT to know his limitations".

Just my opinion.


October 12th, 2009 at 5:28 PM ^

Did he really "Go Batshit"? I've read this a few times. He yelled at a QB who had made repeated bad decisions, and, trailing by two scores with 7 minutes left in the game, had just taken 2 delay of game penalties with the clock melting away. Tate's a true freshman, and he'll get better, and he'll learn, I have no doubt. But RR has never yelled at kids for just messing up - I imagine the clock management was what infuriated him.

Pasty White Irishman

October 13th, 2009 at 12:29 AM ^


I was impressed with the Wolverines, and while I can understand Michigan fans being down I see a lot of progress. This team plays harder than any of three loss Lloyd's last few teams. I think you physically matched up well, which hasn't always been the case against a Ferentz coached Iowa team.

You guys get great athletes as always and RR will get them into the system. I think the brand of ball will be very, very exciting.

Please, please beat those bastards in Columbus!