Tuesday, August 16, 2016

HSR 10

It's our tenth anniversary year here at HSR, and we made a joke this morning:

We got way more than we deserved!

Thank you, Joe!

Monday, August 15, 2016

MGoMix 2016

We're back!  After yet still another summer of continued Harbaugh, Harbaugh, Harbaugh, we're back with our breakdown of our new playlist for the 2016 season.  We tried to mix it up a bit while following our rules: no more than 80 minutes of music, make every effort not to repeat non-Michigan songs from previous years, and try to capture the mood of the season while driving to Ann Arbor and walking to Michigan Stadium.  With that in mind, here we go:

(Note: It's been a crazy summer.  We did sincerely think about just tossing up The Big Chill soundtrack and calling it a day, but we figured someone would catch it.  That said, there is a vein running through this year's choices.)

1). "It Don't Come Easy" by Ringo Starr
"Forget about the past and all your sorrows
The future won't last
It will soon be over tomorrow."

Last season was great, well, except for a few moments.  But it's in the past.  A new horizon awaits, new memories to be made.  New joys are stretching out before us.

2). "Magic Carpet Ride" by Steppenwolf
"Why don't you tell your dreams to me
Fantasy will set you free.

In honor of the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, the song the accompanied the first warp flight.  It also marks the return of Michigan fans being able to, reasonably, dream big.

3). "Here Comes Your Man" by The Pixies
"There is a wait so long (so long, so long)
You'll never wait so long
Here comes your man."
Harbaugh?  Harbaugh.

4). "Hypnotize" by The Notorious B.I.G.
"Pink gators, my Detroit players."
I mean, the video starts with a trip to Florida.  I also hope that we can collectively start calling the Cass Tech connection "the Pink Gators." OK, you know what, let's not.

Then again, I mean, it all makes sense when you think about it, it's all there. #howbiggieknow?

5). "Heroes" by David Bowie
"We can beat them, forever and ever
Oh, we can be heroes, just for one day."

In honor of the late great Mr. Bowie, my favorite Bowie song (well, this or "Under Pressure").  Some portions of the schedule will feature schools Michigan has handled in the past with great ease.  Others, well, just for one day.

6). "Living in America" by James Brown
"You might have to walk the fine line
You might take the hard line
But everybody's working overtime."

It's Jim Harbaugh's America as this tribute to the hardest working man in college football shows us.  (Also, as we learned in the "30 for 30" on the events of Rocky IV, never perform a five-minute dance routine before you begin your prize fight.) 

7).  "Lonely Town" by Brandon Flowers
Brandon Flowers and the Killers remain the unofficial chroniclers of HSR's sincere belief in a new future.

8). "Something Good Can Work" by Two Door Cinema Club
"There's a spanner in the works, you know
You gotta step up your game to make to the top
So go!

Got a little competition now
You're going to find it hard to cope with living on your own now
Uh oh! Uh oh!"

Michigan football, ladies and gentlemen.

9). "Mess is Mine" by Vance Joy
"You can tell me what you see
I will choose what I believe

Well hold on darling
This body is yours
This body is yours and mine
Well hold on my darling
This mess was yours
Now your mess is mine
Your mess is mine."

There's something appropriate to this for my ten-year "career" as a Michigan football blogger.  I write about Michigan football, Michigan athletics, because of the shared communal experience of it. Not just the highs, but the lows, the frustrations, the near misses.  This mess was yours, now your mess is mine.

10). "Hey Man, Nice Shot" by Filter
"Now that the smoke's gone
And the air is all clear
Those who were right there
Got a new kind of fear"

Hey man, have fun.

11). "Sure Shot" by the Beastie Boys

"Because you can't, you won't, and you don't stop."

Jim Harbaugh in one line.

12). "My Silver Lining" by First Aid Kit
"There's hope, there's a silver lining
Show me my silver lining."

Seven years ago, another program tried to be the silver lining for the state of Michigan.  Time to restore the traditional order of things.

13). "Courage (For Hugh MacLellan)" by The Tragically Hip
"But that night as I drove back to Montreal, I at least discovered this: that there is no simple explanation for anything important any of us do, and that the human tragedy, or the human irony, consists in the necessity of living with the consequences of actions performed under the pressure of compulsions so obscure we do not and cannot understand them.”

Hugh MacLennan, The Watch that Ends the Night

This one is for me.  Thank you, Gord.

14). "Spectre" by Radiohead
"Futures tricked by the past
Spectre, how he laughs"

The danger of a strong performance in a New Year's Day bowl is that it can be ephemeral.  That team that won won't be the one that takes the field on September 3.  The job of this team will be to show that 41-7 was no fluke.

15). "Trouble Man" by Marvin Gaye

"I come up hard, baby, I had to fight
Took him on madness with all my might
I come up hard, I had to win
Then start all over and then again
I come up hard, but that's OK
Because Trouble Man don't get in my way"

"Marvin Gaye, 1972, Trouble Man soundtrack.  Everything you missed, jammed into one album."  How right you are, Sam.
16). "Gimme Some Lovin" by The Spencer Davis Group
"Well, my temperature is rising, got my feet on the floor
Crazy people rocking 'cause they want to go more
Let me in baby, I don't know what you got
But you better take it easy cause this place is hot"

One of the truly great opening riffs of 1960s blue-eyed soul.  And it goes will with a young man running a precision aerial assault.  Or a precision ground attack.  Or trying to counter preprogrammed electronic dis-co.

17). "I Can't Turn You Loose" by The Blues Brothers
18). "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love" by The Blues Brothers
"We're so glad to see so many of you lovely people here tonight and we would especially like to welcome all the representatives of the Big Ten officiating community who have chosen to join us here in the Michigan Amphitheater at this time. We do sincerely hope you'll all enjoy the show and please remember people, that no matter who you are and what you do to live, thrive and survive, there're still some things that make us all the same. You, me, _them_, everybody, everybody."

19). "I Can't Turn You Loose" by Michigan Marching Band
And suddenly, I am craving cake and electronic dis-co.

20). "M Fanfare" by Michigan Marching Band
21). "The Victors" by Michigan Marching Band
22). "Temptation" by Michigan Marching Band
23). "Hawaiian War Chant" by Michigan Marching Band
24). "Varsity" by Michigan Marching Band
25). "Star Spangled Banner" by Michigan Marching Band

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Name Games

Name Games are simultaneous an easy and difficult concept to grasp in college football.  It started, interestingly enough, with a discussion of John O'Korn's number change to #8 and a mention of Nick Sheridan and my defense that Nick Sheridan will always have "The Nick Sheridan Game".  That led to my desire to make this list.

So a "Name Game" is, on some level, a great performance by a player where it is that player's signature game.  It is seemingly simple, but as discussion bore out, like anything that seems simple, it is not.  Let us eliminate a few things ahead of making the list.

It is, generally, not:
·         A Game that is better known by another name.
To wit, Barry Pierson had a tremendous performance in the 1969 Ohio State game, and that may very well be his signature game, but that would not be immediately how anyone characterized it in discussing it.  This is not to disparage three interceptions and a 60-yard punt return to set up Michigan's third touchdown, he is clearly the game's MVP, but that's not quite what this exercise is.  That also tends to eliminate bowl games, which knocks out Leroy Hoard's effort in the 1989 Rose Bowl, Steve Breaston's valiant effort in the 2005 Rose Bowl and the like.  It also eliminates Anthony Carter's effort against Indiana in 1979, which is better known as "Ufer Goes Crazy".
·         A Game that Michigan lost.
Interestingly enough, that tends to create its own version of the Name Game, like The Donovan McNabb Game, The Dennis Dixon Game, The Troy Smith Game, where the opponent that did it to Michigan goes down in legend.  But that is not out focus here.  But some honorable mentions would have to go to Devin Gardner's effort on a broken foot against Ohio State in 2013 and Walter Cross's 104 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman that came up shy against Syracuse in 1998 (yes, the Donovan McNabb game).
·        A Game in the Darkest Timeline
Though many of these are eliminated by the previous condition, though suggested to me, I'm not going down the road of Nebraska 2012 or Minnesota 2014.  We all know what happened and to hang that title on the name of a player when it speaks more to decisions made by the coaching staff prior to the game is simply not fair to the player.  It also knocks out the Tyler Ecker game. #pitchittobreaston
·         A Game that immediately raises an argument.
I dubbed this "the autopen argument" and it's more of a compliment than anything.  To wit, what is Denard Robinson's signature game for Michigan?   Heck, he has two signature performances against Notre Dame alone (even if one is Under the Lights, aka "Jeremy Gallon's Cloaking Device").  Or Desmond Howard?  Do you pick Notre Dame 1991, Boston College 1991, or Ohio State 1991.  Charles Woodson?  Michigan State 1997, Ohio State 1997, etc.  This tends to hurt quarterbacks, as they can have multiple great games in their careers.
·         A Game which is more about the "One Shining Moment" principle, aka sharing the wealth.
Also not a knock.  But a single shining moment in a game is not, necessarily, enough to make it a Name Game for you.  To wit, John Thompson's scoop and score against Wisconsin in 2008 is memorable, but not necessarily "The John Thompson Game", because it's also a bit of "The Steven Threet Game" due to his crazy, season long for the team scramble in the second half.  It also, kind of, eliminates Indiana 2015, since that is simultaneously The Jake Rudock Game and The Jehu Chesson Game (we hope that Mr. Chesson autopens a few more of those efforts this season, allowing us to move Mr. Rudock's six TDs into this category.)  It also eliminates Iowa 2001, because as much as Larry Foote was an absolute, absolute monster in that game, 15 tackles, including setting a school record 7 TFL, Marquise Walker's "how did he catch that" grab late in the third quarter keeps it from reaching the singularity.   Tai Streets effort in 1996 against Ohio State at the Horseshoe is also memorable for how Brian Griese seemingly came out of the depths of nowheresville to regain the starting quarterback job.

Now, all of that said, there are always exceptions to how we remember things, memory very rarely follows a strict set of rules.  So, with that in mind, a ranking of Name Games of the last 25 years.

Honorable Mentions:
The John Kolesar Game - at Ohio State 1988
Yes, this is outside the scope of our consideration, but Ohio native John Kolesar, with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter, ran back a kickoff 59 yards to get Michigan in position and then caught a 41-yard TD pass to give Michigan the win.  That gets you a mention, for sure.  (Keeping in mind that Kolesar also had a huge catch in the 1985 game from Harbaugh as well.  He saved some of his best work for The Game.)

The Roy Roundtree Game - Illinois 2010
Treezy set the Michigan record for receiving yards in a game with 246, besting Braylon Edwards effort in 2004 against Michigan State (more on that in a moment.)  But this also falls under the "better known as" principle, since this is the 67-65 triple overtime game against the Illini, so it is not necessarily remembered as the Roy Roundtree Game.

The Mario Manningham Game - Penn State 2005
The Ernest Shazor Game - at Purdue 2004
The Phil Brabbs Game - Washington 2002

In each of these three cases, they should not qualify under the "One Shining Moment" guidelines, but in each of these cases, they are moments "at the death", to use the term from English football, where the victory is sealed by their actions.  In the case of Manningham, TOUCHDOWN MANNINGHAM is indelibly seared into the brains of many a Michigan fan (and many a Penn State fan, who will tell you this write up is two seconds too long to begin with.)   In the case of Ernest Shazor, though he had a monster game, his explosive hit of the Boilermakers' Dorien Bryant, following a Markus Curry hit, which led to a Leon Hall fumble recovery to end Purdue's last gasp drive was so big, it overshadowed a 206-yard rushing effort by freshman Mike Hart in our collective memory.  In the case of Phil Brabbs, his two early missed field goals against the Huskies in the 2002 season opener led to one more shot at redemption on the last play of the game, of which he made the most.  Worthy of mentioning, but not necessarily what we're looking for here.

The Drake Johnson Game - Indiana 2014
Though I have already dubbed Indiana 2014 "The Drake Johnson Game" on this blog, I am leaving it out, as I do not feel it is fair to cast in stone a Michigan career not yet finished.  I hope, I sincerely hope, that there is a bigger, better Drake Johnson game left somewhere in the future.

10).        The Brandon Herron Game - Western Michigan 2011
Brady Hoke's first game as Michigan head coach, when we were so full of hope…and Denard.   Better remembered for the wicked weather and being called early with 87 seconds left in the third quarter, this is still the Brandon Herron game, between his 94 yard pick six, and his score off a fumble forced by Captain Kovacs, two defensive scores, in such a delightful manner gave hope to an era and a fanbase desperately looking for it.

  9).        The Jerome Jackson Game - at Iowa 2005
Interesting case here, because it was suggested several times by different Twitter users, but others could not remember it when mentioned.   Jerome Jackson's name game comes from pinch hitting for a dinged up Mike Hart and taking over the fourth quarter at Kinnick, then scoring on a 1-yard run in overtime to seal a big win during "the season of infinite pain" and Coach Carr's 100th win as Michigan head coach.

  8).        The Justin Fargas Game - at Northwestern 1998
Before Son of Huggybear left Ann Arbor for the warmer climes of Los Angeles, he had one legendary night in the muck and the mire of a soaked Ryan Field in Evanston.  Though usually the purview of the A-Train in that era (who will have a hugely memorable moment at Ryan Field two seasons later and I don't want to talk about it.), Justin Fargas had 31 carries for 120 yards to secure a much needed conference win against a Northwestern team that looked more fierce at the time than it would at the end of the season.

  7).        The Tate Forcier Game - Notre Dame 2009
Though the post itself was one of the biggest whiffs of my chronicling career, the point remains.  The image of Forcier, pointing to the crowd after a masterful scramble, the freshman so full of potential that would never truly be fulfilled, the false promise of the infamous "Rich Rod Year 2" meme that died on the one-yard line in Champaign, the charitable contributions of Charlie Weis's schematic use of times out.  All of this goes into making The Tate Forcier Game what it is.  Because, if nothing else, you beat a rival, again, in a completely unexpected and shocking manner.

  6).        The Chris Perry Game - at Michigan State 2003
51 times.  No FBS player since 2003 has carried the ball more times in a game than Chris Perry did on that day in East Lansing.  Only one, Michael "The Burner" Turner, has carried it more in a game since 2000 (as far back as the Play Index goes), and that was literally just one more carry.  219 yards and Michigan needed every one of them to hold off Michigan State that day, 27-20.  "I need a hot tub," Perry said that day. "And we've got one in our apartment."

  5).        The Nick Sheridan Game - at Minnesota 2008
I have often dubbed this "Sheridan Saves the Jug" and it's true.  In the darkest night in recent Michigan football memory, well, at least until 2014 and another Minnesota game, Nick Sheridan, the coach's son who came to Michigan and probably never expected to see game action behind Ryan Mallett, fills in for a banged up Steven Threet and proceeds to, in utterly efficient fashion, go 18/30 for 203 yards and a TD, no picks, and Michigan wins 29-6. Sheridan saves the Jug (until 2014…ugh), and preserves Michigan's perfect record at the Metrodome.

  4).        The John Navarre Game - at Minnesota 2003
OK, yes, this is probably remembered for "the Water Buffalo Stampede" and being on a Friday night, and the comeback, and being for the Jug, but it is the moment for John Navarre.  "Not Drew Henson" led Michigan to a 31 point fourth quarter, threw for three touchdowns, ran for a huge gain on the Transcontinental, and won the 100th anniversary of the purchase of the Jug game (wanting to get that just right for Dooley) and Michigan's 15th straight win in the series.  You'll always have the Metrodome, John.

  3).        The Jeremy Gallon Game - Indiana 2013
This isn't fair to Devin Gardner, who had 584 yards of total offense, 503 of which came through the air.  It's just that he kept finding Jeremy Gallon.  Again and again and again.  Gallon had a B1G record 369 receiving yards on 14 catches with two touchdowns as Michigan won 63-47.  Even as further cracks appeared in the foundation of the Hoke era, Gallon was there with spackle, a trowel, and an indomitable will.

(Author's edit: 3/9/16.  A compelling case for The Devin Gardner Game - Notre Dame 2015 has been made in the comments, so I am slotting it in at 2a), which feels right.  Seth, take it away.)

The DEVIN GARDNER game! You brought up the Ohio State one on a broken foot, but what about in Under the Lights II, which name needs to go both for being not very descriptive (who's going to remember every night game?) and for the Dave Brandonness of it.

The Game in 2013 was representative of the Tragedy of Devin, but against ND that year Gardner was transcendent:

*21 for 33 for 294 yards, 4 TDs and an interception
*13 rushes for 96 yards and another TD
*That totally insane INT where he was falling down and chucked it to a nose tackle in the end zone.

THIS THROW: https://youtu.be/J2uZXmavRTs that's 30 yards and made ropes feel bad.
THIS THROW: https://youtu.be/MPr_zv0hSos where he took over the mind of his receiver.
THIS OMIGOD THIS THIS THIS THROW: https://youtu.be/e7dh8hODIq0
THIS THROW: https://youtu.be/vmlpG5QbkPg
THIS THROW: https://youtu.be/9uU2efsWDkE

You skipped the last one didn't you? Don't do that. Unless of course you want to do anything else again ever because once you click that you will need to simulcast the Woodson/Desmond returns to break your skull out of it.

On a night after an entire day of having to listen to tailgate idiots talk about how Shane Morris would replace him, on a night when his offensive line was a disaster on the level of, well, 2013 Michigan, on a night when not a single linebacker or safety showed the least bit of fear of any kind of handoff run, Gardner looked like an NFL franchise QB, ran like an NFL-bound RB, and then we all got to make glorious chicken noises.

  2).        The Tim Biakabatuka Game - Ohio State 1995
313 yards.  In The Game.  To upset previously unbeaten and #2 in the country Ohio State.  To send Northwestern to the Rose Bowl.  To overshadow eventual Heisman winner Eddie George.  To forever be BIAKA…..BATUKA in the hearts and minds of a generation of Michigan football fans.

  1).        The Braylon Edwards Game (bka Braylonfest) - Michigan State 2004
One of my first outings in football blogging, Braylonfest is as magic a game as I have ever been to at Michigan Stadium for the reasons outlined in this post.   That there are over 1500 Google results for this specific one-word term speaks to MGoBlog's power to create a meme and to the magic in the gloaming of that evening.  Braylon Edwards had other great games at Michigan, but if every Michigan receiver who wears #1 has to earn it, he earned it, in spades, that evening. 

I may have missed some (you know where to find us), and I am exceptionally grateful to all of you who joined in this exercise on Twitter, it was some fun in the dark of early Spring in Michigan.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Loose Construction

Recruiting is weird.

I don't need to rehash the ways in which it is weird, because if you're reading a college football blog, you are deeply familiar with the myriad ways in which it is but, needless to say, it is also the lifeblood of a program.  Recruit or die.

But what struck me in this recruiting season is that Jim Harbaugh is Alexander Hamilton-esque.

Allow me to explain, via the unlikely for me route of musical theater (oh and I'm sorry Jane).

As many of you know, Hamilton is the breakout musical of the 2015-16 Broadway season.  Created by MacArthur Genius Grant winner Lin-Manuel Miranda, the musical tells the story of Revolutionary America through the eyes of future Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton.  Hamilton went from a penniless immigrant from Nevis to what is now Columbia University to George Washington's right-hand man in the Continental Army to delegate to the Constitutional Convention to Secretary of the Treasury to his death in a duel with Vice President Aaron Burr.  But what Miranda centers on in his take on Hamilton is seen in the Act I closing number, "Non-Stop."

"How to account for his rise to the top?
Maaaaan, the man is

We know Harbaugh is a competitor.  We know that Harbaugh believes in the notion that if we're keeping score, if we're competing, then why not try to win.  Yes, you will ruffle some feathers along the way, you're going to make some enemies, but Harbaugh has zero fear about that.  In fact, what upsets Harbaugh's competitors is that he is non-stop.  He makes them work harder.  He forces them out of their comfort zone.  Harbaugh has sleepovers at recruit's houses to maximize his in-home visit time?  That just makes good sense.  But that also means other coaches have to decide if they want to do it.  Which brings me to another point.

One of the nuances that Hamilton can't convey readily is that Hamilton firmly believed in "loose construction" of the Constitution.  The document that he helped to explain to the American people in the Federalist Papers, he felt that as long as the Constitution did not expressly forbid him from doing something and the ends were legal and Constitutional, he could choose the non-expressly forbidden means by which to arrive at the end.  I feel like Jim Harbaugh looks at the NCAA rulebook the same way.  Does the NCAA say we CAN'T do this?  A rulebook and interpretive guide massive in size and scope to account for this exact kind of behavior; and yet, still Coach Harbaugh continues to find ways around it.  Whether it is satellite camps, the Sincerely Yours in Football camp, the Signing of the Stars event, recruit sleepovers, all of these things are perfectly within the rules, Harbaugh was just crazy enough to say, why not?  The competition hates this kind of thing, because it forces them to respond, and they know they don't have the motor to do it.  The man is non-stop.  Jim Harbaugh is boundless energy, he's Tigger in khaki pants and a sharp light blue pullover sweater.  He plays to win all the time and he doesn't really care whose feelings get hurt in the process.  It's a meritocracy, and he has the exact right school and fanbase to sell that notion.

The thing is, he won't have to do this for very long.  If he can convert this highly touted recruiting class into the expected results on the field, the results that Ohio State and Michigan State used this cycle to recruit their players (and, by the way, still the single best argument you can make in recruiting, winning and winning consistently), then he won't need stunts.  But for now, he is happy to leverage your curiosity into Harbaugh's next bold gamble, next outspoken moment, next unfiltered utterance, and use the media churn to keep the Michigan name in front of recruits.

Harbaugh may seem like to some that he assumes he is the smartest in the room (well, he went to Michigan, we sometimes do that.  It happens.)  Every proclamation gives ammunition to his enemies.  But history has his eyes on him, and he's not throwing away his shot.  Just you wait.

And if you don't know, now you know, Victors.

Friday, January 01, 2016

How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

There is a certain joy in watching your team pull away with a lead during its bowl game.  Like much of this season, it was a joy rediscovered during the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl this New Year's Day.  When Michigan got called for some pre-snap penalties, including a drive-extending illegal substitution penalty which led to what would be Florida's only score (and on a trick play, no less), it was a bit nerve-racking.  You don't want to see the season end and new year start on the wrong foot.  But then, a touchdown, an end zone pick, and a field goal and Michigan never looked back. Win with character, win with cruelty.  It wasn't a perfect game, but it did not need to be.  It was simply a well-executed game plan with improvement shown from the several bowl practices.  Hooray for bowl practices.

There will be arguments that Florida's heart was never really in this game and that may very well be true.  But Michigan took one of the nation's best defenses for a ride on this day.  Rudock made me regret that this was the only season we will have with him, but grateful for those thirteen games we as fans got with him.  It was so much better to see this game as the farewell for these seniors than the chill of Ann Arbor during the Ohio State game.  It's almost a perfect full circle, a cap to the eight-years-in-the-adidas desert era that after that wonderful New Year's Day 2008 in Orlando where Michigan sent Lloyd off into the sunset by beating Florida.

So this is where we stand.  Harbaugh will tell you it wasn't a rebuild or a righting of the ship, or however you may see it, and that is fine, but as a fan, it feels like something more.  We told ourselves this after 2011 and we ended up being wrong, but we can certainly hope, for any number of reasons, that this, this is different.  For starters, there isn't a game with Bama in JerryWorld looming to open the season.  It's not an optimal schedule, but Harbaugh will relish the challenge.

Mostly, I just want to savor this feeling.  This moment of knowing it's not perfect, but it's better.  It's no longer unfounded hope and belief, it's not "where we are going from here."  Let's head off into the sunset of the 2015 season knowing that what lies over that next horizon is much better than what lies behind us.  Fair winds and following seas friends.  Hail.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

No Light, No Light

History never looks like history when you're going through it.  (Photo by Bryan Fuller)

You want a revelation,

You wanna get it right.
But it's a conversation,
I just can't have tonight.
You want a revelation, some kind of resolution
Tell me what you want me to say.

History can be instructive, but we must remember that it rarely repeats itself.  It echoes, it begs for comparison, it tells us what has been and what might be again, but in the final analysis, we cannot predict the future simply by looking at the past.  If we could do so, we would be far less likely to repeat foolish mistakes.  We would just make awful new mistakes.  Which, really, is what we do.

As much as we want to think so, it is hard to pinpoint "the single moment" upon which the result of a football game turned.  Of course, I say this knowing full well that Michigan had three games in which one could readily point to a single moment.  But if I wasn't already in "this does not bode well" mode after the drum major dropped the mace after throwing it over the crossbar, but no, it was the photo above.

Punt block attempts are high risk/high reward.  Michigan already had one punt block effort blow up in their faces this year, against Maryland.  That penalty, though bad, ended up being meaningless in the grand scheme of that game.  This one, on 4th and 7 from OSU's own 9 handed the Buckeyes a first down on their own 24 and two plays later, Ezekiel Elliott was off to the races for 66 yards and Ohio State figured out they just needed to run the Indiana offensive game plan writ large, coupled with a more solid defensive performance, and they would have this one.  A game that was 14-10 at the half was 28-3 after the half and could have been worse if not for a solid stand late in the fourth after the game was well out of hand.  No one can say for sure what would have happened if Michigan had not been flagged for a personal foul on that play (which I still think is specious, but, you know, biased.) but it did feel like that was going to be "the mistake" upon which the game would turn.

It is not a failing to acknowledge that Michigan just ran out of gas down the stretch,  The stretch, in college football, is what separates great teams from good teams, and national championship contenders from great teams.  Michigan's 9-3 mark this year was better than even the wildest dreamers would have allowed ourselves to believe in, even when Harbaugh landed at DTW eleven months ago.  That doesn't mean we have to like that of Michigan's three losses, two were to rivals at home.  But I think in the end, when you can reflect calmly upon it, it's just that Michigan did not have enough at the end, the attrition of football being football got to them.  That will change.  That will get better, but for now, we don't have a whole lot of answers.  We await a likely New Year's date in the Florida sun against an SEC team.  And that is certainly not the worst way to end Year 1 of a new coaching administration.  More to the point, it was fun again.  There were far few of these "what is the lesson of this terrible thing that has befallen our team" columns, far less gnashing of teeth and rending of garments.  It was fun again, even when it wasn't on the scoreboard.  But for the first time in a while, we end a season with hope, realistic, grounded hope.  Not flights of fancy, not longings for that which is gone, but seeing a process and knowing that there's a foundation upon which to build.

Until we know where January takes us, as always, we fight for better days.  My thanks to you for reading again this season and a blessed holiday season to you and your family.  Go Blue!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Never Let Me Go

"Dad" Rudock.  It's like Dad Rock, but less Steely Dan, more Dan Fouts. (Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports)

I don't know that I would want the B1G to schedule like this forever, but the fun of the last two weeks of the B1G East have the Michigan/Ohio State/Michigan State/Penn State parallelogram of peril playing against each other (with the first leg having also been played on the same weekend back in October.  Now let us not speak of it again.)  As a fan, it was great knowing that I could watch a Michigan/Penn State road tilt at noon and then enjoy the Michigan State/Ohio State showdown at 3:30.  It felt fantastic to know I could watch both.  What ended up happening on Saturday became a tale of four coaches and their quarterbacks.

For Michigan, the progress that Jake Rudock has made since Week 1 has been nothing short of astonishing.  Rudock has gone from a liability to an asset, becoming one of the singular reasons that Michigan has won the last two games.  He is making good decisions (OK, the interception was suboptimal, he didn't look off his receiver and threw a laser right at the Nittany Lion defender.), he's making good use of the field position granted to him when the special teams unit breaks a return, and he has removed the sense of "waiting for the other shoe to drop" paranoia that has haunted Michigan's quarterbacks of recent vintage.  Coach Harbaugh has proven his quarterback whisperer bonafides yet again.  You hate to look ahead, especially with a season that has been so rewarding still in progress, but man, is it exciting.  So exciting.

For Penn State, the devastation wrought upon Christian Hackenberg yesterday by Michigan's defense, though not as statistically present as it was physically and emotionally (Michigan got pressure on 65% of Hackenberg's dropbacks according to PFF), with Wormley and Charlton doing most of the dirty work.  Hackenberg looks broken, and its understandable.  He came to Penn State when he could have changed his mind, got coached up by Bill O'Brien and looked like an absolute world beater his Freshman year, only to see BOB head to Houston and James Franklin come in to Happy Valley and go anchor down on his draft status.  Penn State is not a bad football team this year, all four of their losses are completely explicable, but I am sure that is cold comfort to the Nittany faithful.  Franklin's utterly bizarre coaching decisions, though grateful as I am for them as a Michigan fan, have to just make Penn State wonder what they did to deserve...oh, right.

For Michigan State, the chicanery and legerdemain of whether Connor Cook would play this weekend was a handy bit of subterfuge by Mark Dantonio, one for which I do not blame him in the least.  The only people who benefit from knowing injury information ahead of time are gamblers.  Why in the world would you tip your hand before you absolutely had to do so.  And this ignores the fact that Dantonio was hoping that things might get better before Saturday.  He might have suspected, but didn't know for sure until Cook got out to warm ups.  So you prepare like he can't go, but reserve hope that Cook might be able to pull a Willis Reed.  In the end, the supreme irony is that Dantonio didn't need Cook.  He took the chip on Michigan State's shoulder, drove it into the collective Trapezius of the Spartans and emerged from the Horseshoe with a win that put the Spartans in the driver's seat for the B1G East despite not having led for a single solitary second of either of their two most critical games, both played on the road.  That is impressive, even if it is your rival and you hate to admit it.

For Ohio State, the tyranny of too many choices finally came home to roost at the most inopportune of times.  It would be easy to say that Urban Meyer had the kind of problem you want to have, three excellent quarterbacks, all of whom had proven themselves in critical situations.  But it wasn't the quarterback or the choices that was going to be the issue.  It was the departure of Tom Herman to become Houston's head coach (true story: I had talked myself into Herman as my leading choice to replace Hoke if Harbaugh was not coming.  I am obviously thrilled beyond belief with how it turned out, but I don't think Herman would have been a bad consolation prize.  Well, you know, until he lost to UConn this week.  But I digress.)  that derailed Ohio State's machine.  The warning signs had been there, we knew it, the playoff committee even gave you a sense that they knew it, but we don't want to discredit the defending champions until they lose.  It's fair on some level, but completely different team, completely different circumstances, we should really start with a clean slate.  But we don't, essentially, defending champion until proven otherwise.  But now Michigan gets either an angry Ohio State team, or an unraveling Ohio State team.  Either one is a wounded animal, but at least, for Michigan, it's not a wounded animal defending its home turf.

In the end, the stakes seem pretty straight forward to me, and absolutely downright thrilling.  If Michigan wins, as every Michigan team has whose first year at Michigan coach has brought them into a season ending Ohio State game with a winning record has done in the past, then it is possible, verging on likely that a 10-2 Michigan gets picked to go to the Rose Bowl, potentially to face Stanford in what would be an easy and obvious storylines game for an NY6 bowl that wasn't a playoff game.  If Michigan wins and Penn State wins, Michigan heads to Indy for the first time ever to face an Iowa team where the obvious storylines would be overflowing.  It's been a strange college football season.  Almost anything that can happen has happened.  Michigan takes care of business at home, it puts the rest in the hands of other people.  Control your controlables, make your free throws, beat Ohio State.

Happy Thanksgiving. Go Blue.

Sunday, November 15, 2015


Find the target, hit the target.  Precision Rudock passing leads to a banner day for Chesson.  (Photo by Bryan Fuller)
Popular history books, or at least a certain genre of them, make a living on people who survive seemingly insurmountable odds and survive to recount the story.  There's a logic to this that makes sense.  The old nautical saying "Dead men tell no tales" applies.  We don't know how well someone fought, even unto death, unless someone else can emerge on the other side to tell the circumstances.

In three of Michigan's last four games, the ending has been in doubt up to and including the final play.  The Michigan State game, well, you know.  The goal line stand in Minnesota.  But the double whammy of the game tying touchdown (see photo above) where Jake Rudock found Jehu Chesson for a fourth time hitting paydirt (and then Kenny Allen slipped an extra point through after another bad long snap.  Because, you know, maybe that play where the long snapper got bowled over and it wasn't called has had a lingering effect on the Michigan season more than we could have expected.)  One more quick kickoff and Michigan was off to overtime against #TEAMCHAOS.

One of the hardest parts about being a head football coach, on any level I suppose, but certainly a Power 5 head coach or an NFL head coach, is knowing that you are going to make choices that will not work and thus will be second guessed.  After an opening overtime played at the student section end where IU gashed Michigan's depleted and exhausted defensive line with run play after run play and UAB transfer Jordan Howard leaped in to the end zone (after a replay that showed Michigan had actually stopped Howard short of the goal line on third down.)  Michigan then went two plays, a quick run then a Jake Butt 21 yard TD forced the second overtime.  Michigan then realized that they held air superiority and dropped a beautiful 25 yard dime into a bucket to Amara Darboh to put Michigan up and force Indiana to match the touchdown.

It did not look too reassuring when Jordan Howard broke for 17 on the first play down to the Michigan 8, forcing goal to go.  But, Michigan has been great with their backs against the wall this year.  Howard went for 3 on first down, then no gain on second.  Now facing 3rd and goal to go from the five, Indiana set up and  Michigan smartly called a late timeout.  Indiana showed pass, then, given a chance to think about it, got Sudfeld scramble to the two and one last play.  Then Indiana called timeout to think about it and outsmarted themselves.  Discounting a punt and a field goal attempt, Indiana had called 20 consecutive run plays for 159 yards, two touchdowns, and a field goal.  It was working.  So yes, Durkin and the Michigan defense were probably expecting run, but they never sold out to buy into it.  Delano Hill stuck on his man, fought him tooth and nail, broke up the pass, and Michigan survived 48-41 and walked out of Bloomington with their 20 game winning streak against Indiana intact.

Kevin Wilson had to know people would ask questions about why he chose, with the game on the line, to abandon the run that had been working so well.  He had in his mind, more than likely, a belief that Michigan would not be expecting a tendency breaker at that exact moment.  This is entirely fair.  If it had worked, it would have been seen as a particularly keen bit of gamesmanship.  But Indiana now stares at having dropped six conference games, five of which they were close or ahead at the third quarter break.

Michigan, on the other hand, is now 8-2, still in the hunt for the Big Ten East championship, still facing a tough matchup with a stout Penn State defense in Happy Valley next week, but able to tell the tale of survival.  They got out of Bloomington with a win, even when that win seemed highly improbable at best.  Good teams find a way to win games they shouldn't.  Michigan's a good team this year.  Whether good can be upgraded to any higher superlative will be figured out over the course of the remaining three (possibly four, fingers crossed) games.  But for now, sing to the colors that float in the light.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Fire and the Flood

Two great things close to Geoff's heart: the MMB and WWII military aviation. (Photo by Bryan Fuller)
Rutgers has been playing football since 1869.  They call themselves "the birthplace of college football."  They are the oldest program in FBS.  During that time, they have won 641 games.

Michigan has been playing football since 1879.  They claim the record for the most wins in college football.  They are the second oldest program in FBS.  During that time, they have won 922 games.

A lot has been made of  how we motivate ourselves, the fixed mindset vs the growth mindset.  It is possible, we cannot know for certain, that during the Hoke years, Michigan's football program was stuck in a fixed mindset, that they could only be so good, that talent was innate and not developed.  It appears that in the Harbaugh philosophy is the growth mindset, never satisfied with being good enough, always looking for ways to improve.

For that mindset to work, you need motivation. Intrinsic motivation is good, because it is, theoretically, a never ending wellspring, always bubbling under the surface of one's demeanor.  But most of us need extrinsic or outside motivation and if you can't find it, sometimes you have to make it up.  If you're Michael Jordan, you turn virtually every time someone breathed incorrectly in front of you into a form of motivation.  If you're Tom Brady, you're leaving a trail of devastation in your wake all in the name of the Ideal Gas Law.  For each of us, the source and amount of the slights are sometimes a mystery.  Molehills become mountains that spoke ill of your mother.

So when Rutgers decided to celebrate a field goal that brought them within 19, on a day where their only touchdown came on a kickoff return and said field goal was set up largely because the officials picked up a flag for targeting (while missing two blatant blocks in the back) on another return, it was opening a fuel line and dumping it directly in to Coach Harbaugh's internal fires of competitiveness.  Michigan won the second half 14-0, playing its reserves only very late because the notion of Kyle Flood's players celebrating a field goal that didn't even change the fact that it was still a three score game in Michigan's favor must have been abhorrent to the competitive soul of James Joseph Harbaugh.

My favorite thing is the sense of wonderment some of the current Michigan players express towards Coach Harbaugh's competitive fire.  These young men, by virtue of being Division I football players, are blessed with talent that most of us can never dream of possessing, and even then, they speak in curious, awed tones of just how competitive their coach is.  It is not mocking, it is not reverent, but it is appreciative.  It is "OK, this guy, wow, I can't be him, but maybe I can be a little bit like him."  We're not all wired like that, and I think that's OK.  Those who are need to find a way to channel that competitiveness in to positive avenues for growth, lest they become self-destructive.  Coaching is definitely one of those realms where that competitiveness can be rewarded, as soon as you can get buy-in from those whom you lead, your players, your coaching staff, your fans.

Harbaugh's faith in Jake Rudock, the things seen in practice unseen in games thus far, resulted in Rudock's best game as a Wolverine.  We probably haven't been fair to Jake Rudock, but then again, we're rarely fair to any athlete, but quarterbacks especially.  We look at every pass, every handoff, every moment and critique, even though we know that cannot ourselves do better.  But the game plan of this Saturday, the offensive game plan gave Rudock a lot of chances to look competent and he did just that.  Screen passes galore, like the Rutgers defense had not heard of them.  Snags by Jake Butt that made the simple seem sublime.  Add it all together, throw in a nice little corner scramble for a TD and another for a "you did it to yourself, Rutgers" two point conversion and all of the sudden, your mind starts going "OK, it's Rutgers, but what if...what if..."

I do not know if Michigan can get better this season.  The mastery curve, like below, reads like this:
The moves within "expert" are less noticeable because there is simply less room for improvement.  It takes longer to go from great to sublime.  But if Michigan can find a way to move into that third zone in the next three weeks, well, maybe Pasadena awaits.  Who would have thought that a year ago today?  Well, maybe some of us.  

Until the next one.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

St. Jude

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"Where is the Jug?"
"We have top men working on it. right now. Top.  Men."
(Photo credit: Patrick Barron)

I spent a lot of time helping set up my church's VBS this summer.  The theme was the 12 Apostles and I was reminded of my affinity for Thaddeus, who is also known as Jude.  In Catholic tradition, St. Jude is the patron saint of desperate cases and lost causes, in part because his intercession was rarely invoked due to the similarity of his name to that of Judas Iscariot, that he basically was so happy that when anyone called upon him, he was eager to please.  I'm not totally sure that's how that works, but you know, I really can't argue with Catholic tradition.

After some early jitters, it looked like Michigan was going to cruise.  When they went up 14-3, it felt as if Minnesota was running on emotion and adrenaline and if Michigan could weather the storm of the first quarter, they'd be OK.  But then, in a weird Halloween fashion, Minnesota caught a series of breaks that had to be seen to be believed, encapsulated in a ball late in the first half where it went through Dymonte Thomas hands and right in to those of a Gopher receiver.  The Gophers kicked a late first half field goal and went into the locker room with a two point lead.  The teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter, Michigan looking very sharp on the opening drive of the half, then returning to a posture of flailing and "Hoke Year 5".  Then Jake Rudock went down awkwardly after a rushing attempt and much seemed lost, ennui began to make itself at home once again in the collective souls of the Michigan fanbase.  But Wilton Speight finally settled in, hit a couple of nice passes, moved the ball down the field relatively effectively, and after a moment where it looked like Jabrill Peppers was going to try and throw for a touchdown, because why not, Speight hit Jehu Chesson from 12 yards out, then hit Amara Darboh for a two point conversion when things looked really lost, and just like that, Michigan was up three with just under five minutes left to play.

The longer you watch college football, the more that you come to realize that even familiar tropes and scenarios can have surprise endings.  On Minnesota's final drive, Michigan couldn't get off the field on third and long in the shadow of the Gopher end zone, well, you start wondering what form the destroyer is to take, because God doesn't forgive poor tackling or coverage too readily.  When the "go for broke" pass beats your coverage, you're shocked when the replay review actually correctly showed the receiver down at the half yard line and the officials got it right.  When the Gophers wasted 90 percent off their remaining clock on the restart for reasons that were not immediately and readily apparent, "narrative" dictated that the team playing for their beloved, recently retired coach would still be rewarded for playing to win.  But narrative still must give way to physics, and the fundamental theorem of football physics says "low man wins."  Michigan correctly presumed a QB sneak, sold out like Roger Daltrey hawking Heinz baked beans on it, and in doing so, brought the Little Brown Jug home for the next three years.  What felt like a lost cause just five minutes of real time early was suddenly found, saintly intercession or not.

Wilton Speight becomes the unlikely hero.  Though spouting the cliches of next man up and constant preparation, as he should, few of the Michigan faithful were going to be looking to Speight, who was 0-for-2015 coming into the game yesterday, to lead Michigan to victory.  Their eyes were fixed on Jabrill Peppers, who was working in mysterious ways in all three phases, but Speight, eager to prove himself, becomes the patron of this seemingly lost cause.  Michigan gets one that maybe they shouldn't have on the heels of losing one they all but had.  Michigan's bowl eligible, coming home to play Rutgers, and looking ahead to the next challenge.  Yesterday went a long way to exorcise some of the specific demons of 2014, and little by little, you start to think that, maybe, maybe, the Game might be a dogfight.  We'll see.