After the first game of the season I made a somewhat negative comment on this here blog and someone responded with, "what did you expect?" That exchange stuck with me. What does it mean to have an expectation? Google can't even figure it out. The first definition is, "a strong belief that something will happen." The second definition is, "a belief that..." So did I strongly believe we would go 10-2 at the beginning of the year, or was that just a belief that it could happen? I don't like to expect 8 win seasons. Why should I root for a team that I expect so little of? (I already have the Lions for that.) This is my team and my school. I want the best for them. If they fail to live up to expectations, we'll just work that much harder and try again. But we should never settle for mediocrity, nor should we expect it.
I've been asking myself, are my expectations realistic, or are they more "best-case scenarios," or my hopes for the season. I was conditioned by my first 36 years of life to expect 9+ wins per season, the occasional Big Ten championship, and to see a team that while maybe didn't win every game, at least was competitive in every game. After all, the ball can take some funny bounces and there is an RPS-aspect to every game. But the Michigan football team was well coached and controlled what they could - putting 11 men on the field, limiting penalties, making tackles, executing blocks, etc. The last seven years sorely tested the expectations I had built up over three decades.
Initially, the team failed to live up to my expectation as a 5th year senior quarterback coached by a QB guru, threw 3 interceptions in one game after throwing only 5 all last season. In the next two games, the team met my expectations by handling inferior opponents at home. In the fourth game against a ranked opponent that had demonstrated competence playing against serious competition, Michigan far exceeded even my lofty expectations, winning 31-0. I expected Maryland to score on us. I expected a close game, heck, they beat us in Ann Arbor last season, and this Michigan team hasn't traveled very well the past few seasons. But this season isn't last season, and that was proven yet again yesterday. Michigan far exceeded my expectations by blowing out the #13 team in the country and recording their third consecutive shutout. My son is 10 years old. The last time Michigan recorded 3 consecutive shutouts, I was 10 years old. A time when my expectations for Michigan football were being formed.
Burst of Impetus
* Is it possible to win a game in the first 13 seconds of action? With this Michigan defense, I'm going to say yes, yes it is. The opening kick return for a touchdown by Jehu Chesson set the tone for the rest of the day. Late in the 2nd quarter, Northwestern had an 8 play drive, granted they only gained 20 yards, but 8 plays is a lot against our defense. On the next drive they eked out a first down and started looking a little comfortable on offense. Then, Jourdan Lewis basically pick-pocketed the NU receiver and returned the ball for a touchdown. Had NU been able to score at the end of the half and score to start the 3rd quarter, maybe you could convince yourself they had a chance. Heck, the past 3 years, we've seen Michigan have trouble with the first and last 5 minutes of a half. But this season is not last season. Do you know what these two plays have in common? It's play-makers making plays. After writing 57 diaries about boxscores, far too often I've seen games decided not by the overall statistics, but by a few plays here and there. The Utah game to start the season is a prime example of this. They got the pick-6 in a 7 point game. Against NU, we got the pick-6 and the kickoff return, but we also dominated in every aspect of the game. When you can do both - make the big plays and dominate the down-to-down action - you've got the makings of a special team.
The Two Jakes
* For the first time this season, Jake Rudock met my arbitrary efficiency metrics with 74% completion percentage, 7.8 yards per attempt, and no turnovers. See, all we need is an efficient QB and we can beat top 20 teams by 38 points. I don't need greatness at the QB position, efficiency is sufficient.
* Jake Butt caught 3 passes for 40 yards with a long of 32. He was overshadowed by...
A.J. Williams, Receiving Threat
* A.J. led the receivers with 4 catches for 48 yards. Exhibit A in the case for Harbaugh's coach of the year nomination is this stat line. He takes guys that Brady Hoke struggled to put in positions to succeed and makes them significant contributors to the team. Other examples include Braden, Clark, Poggi, Houma, and Strobel. And the list just goes on and on. And he knows how special teams are supposed to work.
* Rudock spread the wealth again among 7 receivers. 7 passes went to TEs, 7 went to WRs, and three went to Smith.
* 9 players and one TEAM made carries in the game. Surprisingly, it was Derrick Green who led the team in carries with 12 followed by Smith with 8 AND Karan Higdon with 8.
* De'Veon is clearly the lead back, but I'm starting to think it doesn't matter who gets the next carries. Joe Kerridge got a 34 yard carry. Five player had long runs of 10 or more yards.
Tacos, Peppers and Captain Morgan
* I'll give Northwestern some credit; they did make our back 7 relevant. Safety Jarrod Wilson led the team with 7 tackles followed by linebackers Morgan and Bolden with 6 each.
* Michigan recorded 8 TFLs with Willie Henry leading the way with 2.5.
* A couple weeks ago, I noted that Michigan had 6 BrUps, a huge number. Well, against Northwestern, Michigan had 5 QHs, an equally huge number. I've been doing this for awhile and I don't recall ever seeing that many QHs.
* Peppers led the way with 3 of Michigan's 5 BrUps. Like I said before, play-makers making plays.
* Michigan ran 69 plays to NU's 58. There were 27 special teams plays. 17.5% of the plays were from special teams, or roughly 1 in 6.
* Michigan punted five times. Northwestern returned zero for zero yards.
* Michigan also kicked off seven times. Northwestern returned four of those for a total of 75 yards. Jehu Chesson returned NU's only kickoff for 96 yards and a TD. I'd say that's a win for us.
* Michigan gained 21 first downs to NU's 13.
* Net yards rushing was 201 for Michigan and only 38 for NU.
* Both teams came into the game allowing roughly 20% on third down conversions. Michigan went 7 of 14 while holding NU to 2 of 13.
* Michigan had the ball for 37:05 to NU's 22:55. Like DJ Durkin said after the game, a shutout really is a team statistic. The other team can't score if they don't have the ball, and they can't get in field goal position if the special teams are working and the offense isn't turning the ball over.
WHAT ARE THOOOSE?
* Those are robots and nutrients. You look confused, so let me explain. I didn't think I'd have one of theeese, or more properly, one of thooose, this week, until I turned on the MSU-Rutgers game. During every televised game, in an attempt to maintain the facade that college sports are integral to the academic mission (have I gotten that cynical?) the television network will show commercials for the two competing institutions. During the Michigan game, they showed Prof. Jessy Grizzle's robot. I know and like Prof. Grizzle, and I'm sure his robot is really cool, but it seems like they've been highlighting his research for several years now. Surely, there must be other interesting things going on in Ann Arbor?
* Fast forward to the Spartan game. The MSU commercial promoted a faculty member from their environmental engineering department and his work separating nutrients from cow manure. It was 30 seconds of cows and cows' manure footage. Great big machines were shoving rivers of cow manure towards a nutrient separation system that separated the 90% of manure that is water from the nutrients. The commercial ended with the professor suggestively taking a drink of yummy, recycled, nutrient separated cow manure water. I don't understand how they think that the average high school student watching at home is going to see that and get excited about applying to MSU. It's like they know they are Moo U and they have decided to double down and own their ag-based, academic mission. I have numerous friends and family members who root for sparty. If it was any other week, I probably would have skipped this section of the diary, but you know, there's a somewhat important game coming up on Saturday. Regardless of the outcome, my expectation is that we'll go back to our high technology jobs working with robots, while they will go back to separating nutrients from manure. Have I sufficiently beaten this to death? Yeah, I suppose so.