Monday, October 24, 2016

Speight Meter: Slow Insight

Scoring less than half the number of touchdowns that you scored in the previous game is rarely not a cause for concern, but dropping from 11 to 5 is hardly an issue for concern, especially when (1) Wilton Speight has worked his way back towards his early season accuracy, and (2) Kenny Allen hit a couple of field goals. Going into halftime 31-0 was more reassuring than going in up 35-0 would have been.

The most heartening events of this weekend weren't at the Big House - everywhere else in the Big Ten gave signs that the schedule already played was harder than Michigan made it look and the schedule to come is a little easier than we thought. Indiana lost to Northwestern. Iowa failed to have an offense yet again. Rutgers showed signs of being merely extremely bad instead of utterly incompetent. And Penn State beat Ohio State and is now "good" again, which means that Michigan beat a good team by 39 points.

Michigan State lost to Maryland. According to the rules of our Sparty, No! quiz, this counts as a Sparty No! game because MSU was up 17-14 at the start of the fourth and thus, technically, they blew a fourth-quarter lead. If win probabilities had been readily available four years ago we would have used them instead, as MSU only had, at most, a 55% chance of winning.

Of course, we never know what schemes Mark Dantonio has up his sleeves. Riley Bullough could have got himself ejected so he'd have extra rest for Saturday, we may never know.

The Speight Meter is at an 8 this week. Go win this pelt.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Homecoming

One of the many heads of Michigan's running back hydra.  No, not that Hyrda.  Even if we share the whole "Hail" thing.
(AP/ Tony Ding)
Some random notes from the second half of a blowout win.
Issue #1: Why isn't Illinois better at football?
Illinois is 4th all-time in Big Ten Conference championships, with 15 (just behind...Minnesota?  Yes, Minnesota), but only have seven since 1945.  For all of the people who live in Illinois, you would think that they should be able to recruit the best of Chicago and downstate and be highly competitive.  Then again, Urbana-Champaign is 135 minutes away from Chicago without traffic, and Notre Dame is just an hour away, and Northwestern is "Chicago's Big Ten Team" so maybe that's part of it.  Illinois being "good" always feels more like a random blip than a sustained notion.

Issue #2: Does Jim Harbaugh pay at Ruth's Chris Steak House?
I say yes, even if he is doing wonders for their Sunday-Thursday business.

Issue #3: Does Jim Harbaugh believe in Information Chaos Theory over Information Secrecy Theory?
I have a friend who breaks things for a living and he explained to me during the early years of social media that the key to not giving potential identity thieves a line on who you are is not to put zero information out there, but to put so much information out there that no one knows what is real and what is fake.  If you make it plausible enough, you're not worth the hassle.

I feel like Harbaugh/Drevno/Fisch have decided that they're going to show Michigan's opponents so many things in their playbook that have so many variations, that no one will know that look X means play Y.   Instead, they've gone full Vulcan: Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.  Sure, we'll try a fake punt up 34 in the second half, because the opportunity presented itself!  Sure, we'll run the train after two straight misfires in the "let's just Jabrill Peppers a touchdown today" effort.  Sure, we'll cook something up that earns Tyrone Wheatley, Jr. his first career catch which becomes a touchdown.

Basically, Jim Harbaugh is Jimmy James from NewsRadio:
Mr. James: "See? That's right. Just when you think I'm going to zig, I zag."
Dave Nelson: "Well sir, when you're done with your zig-zagging..."
Mr. James: "That's when I zog."

Issue #4: The Michigan Stadium scoreboard was reconfigured and now it is harder to see where the ball is spotted.
I don't need to know what quarter it is on equal footing, but I do want to know where the ball was spotted.  Especially when you're in the end zone and don't have a good angle on it.

Issue #5: I hope the Yips are OK.
Saw the costumes but not being worn, I hope that the Yips are OK.

Really, that's about it.  Which is fine.  Yesterday was routine, for a new definition of routine.  And that's awesome.  On to bringing Paul home to Ann Arbor. Hail!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Speight Meter Week 6: Win, with, spite

Normally, watching a football game involving Rutgers has a well-defined place on the priority list, and that place is at the bottom. So, upon hearing that Saturday's game would be at 4:00 PT and conflict with my arranged-far-in-advance dinner reservations, I expected that missing the late stages of a blowout would mean not missing anything important. Never again will I underestimate the Rutgers's ability to overwhelm with underperformance.

I stopped following the game to start dinner in that brief moment when it appeared Rutgers had more than zero points.

As for the offense: I reviewed the drive chart and realized I had almost forgotten that the first few drives...were not good. If we want to nitpick a 78-point performance (and Michigan Men always do), we can complain about using the wrong gloves and not needing a passing game.

But putting up the largest margin of victory since 1939 is a special occasion and should be noted accordingly.

Rutgers can't even stop our third string and walk-ons, but that's none of my business. It's not my job to stop trying to score.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Operation: Annihilate!

Hello, Mr. Laviano, it's Taco Time.  (AP / Mel Evans)
When preparing to write these posts, I like to look back at the play-by-play to find patterns that I may not remember from watching the game live.  This week showed me that I was correct in thinking that Michigan would not throw another pass after the near interception off the deflection that was taken to the house by Rutgers, only to be called back (unfire the cannon!).  Only three things can happen when you pass, and two of them are bad, and when you are up 57-0, you don't need that hassle in your life.  In the fourth quarter, not counting the two end of game kneel downs, Michigan averaged, averaged 10.64 yards per carry from that point, and scored three touchdowns, all from backups.  Michigan did not so much call off the dogs as told the dogs to go out and have fun and don't get hurt and still put up 21 points.  There can be one conclusion from this: Rutgers 2016 is not a good football team.  I suspect one day in the near future they may be; especially if (and this is a big if) they can keep some of that local talent at home, but for now, Michigan honored the 100th anniversary the infamous Georgia Tech 222, Cumberland 0 shutout, by burning down a divisional foe.

It's worth remembering though that this game was ugly to start.  The rain falling on northern New Jersey was threatening to make this game an equalized slog where it would come down to fumbles and traction.  It was punt, punt, fumble on Michigan's first three series and the room was becoming visibly and audibly nervous.  But then Jabrill Peppers decided to frolick down the sideline on a wildcat keeper, stopped at the Rutgers four and Michigan was in business and never looked back.  Michigan kept piling on, keeping up with a tradition of going for two while up four scores and looks forward to an open date next week.

For all of the offensive fireworks and gaudy stats, the defense was the real MVP.  Michigan had 13 total TFL from 13 different players, limiting Rutgers to an average of two feet per play.  Not two yards, two feet. There were several moments when Michigan was on defense and successfully got pressure, only to see the Rutgers quarterback escape danger, only to have a Michigan player fly in from off screen to lay the wood where I yelped "Oh dear God."  It was savage, it was unkind, and it was ferocious.  It is Michigan's mentality now.  It is no longer her to make friends; it is no longer concerned with being liked by any other school, team, or fan base.  Considering how far Michigan has come since its last trip to Piscataway, that bleary October evening two years ago, this is a whole other world.  It is a world that would have only been permissible in one's wildest dreams or deepest rooted fantasies.  No longer are Michigan fans left to look for silver linings or pushed to gallows' humor.  We enjoy the moment and the seemingly limitless horizon that lays out before us, because this team and this coaching staff have, thus far, made it possible.

But now here Michigan is, 6-0, running like a finely tuned machine, and yet one that still has room for improvement.  That said, the expectations are such that this is where most Michigan fans thought this team would be at this point in the season.  Even if the entirety of Michigan's non-conference slate is proving itself to be better than predicted before the season started, even if Michigan's toughest opponent turned out to be a Wisconsin team that did give the Wolverines fits last week, the six wins in six tries was the widely expected notion.  In looking at the second half od the schedule, the next six games are fascinating if nothing else. Road trips to three of the most hostile to Michigan venues possible, Indiana and Maryland teams that are showing to be a tough out, if Michigan makes it to Thanksgiving with all of its goals in front of it, it will have shown it through the mantra: "Win with character. Win with cruelty."

Enjoy the open date and the new world.

Monday, October 03, 2016

Wis., Tot Helping

Watching Michigan play Wisconsin was like taking a three-year-old to Buffalo Wild Wings to watch the game, which is what I did. In the first quarter, everything seems OK. She gets her lunch, eats some fries and her fruit, plays with their game box, and everything is going slowly as planned. There are warning signs though - she doesn't want to eat her mac & cheese because BW3 has shells instead of elbows.

The second quarter starts out better. She gets out of her seat and lies on her side once for no real reason, but soon after she starts clapping along to The Victors like she knows what she's doing. But the mac & cheese slowly congeals into a single blob and she starts throwing her toy football everywhere except where it's supposed to go.

I buy her ice cream at halftime because these three and a half hours need ice cream to get through.

The third quarter has the inevitable accident that you always have to plan for but you're always surprised when it actually happens. Let's not speak of it further.

The fourth quarter starts with her finally deciding to eat a little bit of macaroni. Despite it all, she does do everything she's supposed. For the second Victors singalong she starts to get all the hand motions right.

She spends the second half of the fourth quarter watching Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood on the iPad, learning valuable lessons about anger management, and just riding out the string. As the game ends she starts yelling a little and demands to go home as quickly as possible. 

So if you want to know what parenthood is like, Saturday was the experience for you. Everything usually works out OK in the end, making the hours upon hours of aggravation worth it.

The Speight-meter gets a 2, as the difference in the game was Speight-to-Darboh whipping it longest.

Numbers go in the train formation now.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

A Taste of Armageddon

Darboh time, just in the nick of time. (Dustin Johnson / Maize n Brew)
In my mind, there was a slight bit of amusement to be had in the pundits predicting that this would be the week that Wisconsin was exposed as being not as good as thought collectively.  There's nothing wrong with those predictions, they were based on sound reasoning and math, it's just that felt highly unlikely as to how this week was going to go at The Big House.  Even if one thought Michigan might cover the 10 1/2 point spread, it was still going to be a rock fight.  The reality is, advanced stats can help us understand what has happened, but it is still difficult to see when they tell us what will happen.  We can see why Michigan's defense has been so good through things like its HAVOC rating and its stellar third-down completion percentage, but it does not mean that those things will happen again, just that they are likely to be as such, at least based on past performance.

That is why I felt that Wisconsin fumble that was not on third down deep in their territory was a critical missed opportunity.  Not because Michigan needed help, but because that kind of thing would be a break a team needs to help it demoralize an opponent early on and lead to the boat racing that many had foreseen.  Even if Wisconsin didn't score on that drive, even if they didn't move the ball that well, it still felt like a moment of what could have been.  An experienced watcher starts mentally writing the story of the game in one's head while watching the game because one has seen how these things tend to play out.  Very often, that narrative is wrong, but on occasion, it ends up being right.

When Michigan went down the field late in the first quarter, pass, run, run, pass, pass, incompletion, pass, run, run, touchdown run, it felt like Michigan had found a rhythm and a way to befuddle the stout Wisconsin defense just enough to keep ahead of the chains and find paydirt.  Except that is not what was meant to be.  Despite getting excellent field position from Wisconsin, a horror show broke out, complete with a pair of missed field goals, a flurry of penalty flags, and a plethora of punts.  In a game that Michigan should have been up 13-0 headed into the locker room, it was a very disquieting 7-0 lead and one that provided more questions than answers.  Should have has yet to win a football game.

So the weirdness of the opening salvo of the third quarter, penalties leading to Michigan needing to re-punt, only to draw a roughing the snapper call on the re-kick, only to see Speight throw an interception on the play after a Shane Morris run had been called back by a hold, emblematic of the disjointed weirdness that had inhabited Michigan's offense after the touchdown.  Wisconsin used a short field and a wheel route to make their first real moves on the Michigan defense and suddenly, the missed field goals loom large and become the narrative thread of what might have been.

Except, it wasn't.  After another missed field goal, and five exchanged punts, Wilton Speight stayed clean for just long enough to find Amarah Darboh covered single high and dropped a duck in the bucket and Michigan led again.  But the time loomed large over the 110,000 plus crowd, each second feeling longer than the last.  Could the Michigan defense keep answering the bell?

In the end, Michigan held Wisconsin under 170 total yards.  They had three interceptions, including a pair of critical picks by Channing Stribling as the Saturday understudy, and the single most exceptional interception I have ever seen in person by All-America Jourdan Lewis, and it was just enough to hold on to win.  Not pretty, not at all textbook, but perhaps showing one critical point: If Michigan can beat its opponents in all three phases, as has been suggested, and two of them are not working on a given day, the only one that it can rely on is its defense.

In so many ways, I was reminded of the 1997 Iowa game, one of the first real tests of that championship season.  It's not a perfect analogue, for instance, Michigan never trailed in this game, but when a team has championship aspirations after a long run of middling, fans and players alike need to know that the team has mettle, that the team can dig deep and find it when it needs it most, and pull out a win that keeps all of  the team's goals in front of them, it becomes a relief.  But it also is a reminder that there's magic in these moments, even when it does not seem apparent.

On to Rutgers, where Michigan seeks its first victory at Piscataway.

Friday, September 30, 2016

The return of the wordplay-based meter

Last year, the Drevnometer collapsed like a football unit trying to operate in an overcomplicated scheme. As the season went on, cracks in the facade turned into a full-blown collapse. It seemed as though the idea of pun-based offensive ranking meters had run its course. We here were hopeful that John O'Korn would get the starting job because the nü-metal O'Kornmeter is a clear concept, but we were also dreading the possibility because then we would have to listen to a bunch of nü-metal songs to figure out how they should be ranked.

When Wilton Speight won the job, the days of pun-based rankings were over, but fortunately, Speight provides an unexpectedly different kind of wordplay. Not only is Wilton Speight an anagram goldmine, but anagrams of his name provide references that harken back to Michigan quarterbacks of yore. WHITEST LOPING is clearly a reference to John Navarre and there is no phrase more clearly associated with Tom Brady than LIGHTEN TWO PSI.

So not only do we have an anagram-meter, but the anagrams are rated according to the reputations of the great Michigan QBs they're clearing referencing. So what do we have?

Wilton Speight's Anagram Meter

1/10. Let's hope they never play like they overslept and missed their flight. It's Ryan Mallett: O, SITTING WHELP.

2/10. Do people look like they'd rather be playing baseball and striking out a lot? It's Drew Henson: WHIP IT LONGEST.

3/10. Sometimes the offense tries and fails to do things it should never have been asked to do. That describes poor Denard Robinson in THE PISTOL WING to a tee.

4/10. Are things erratic but finally rounding into legitimately good shape? Then we've got Jake Rudock: LEGIT TOWNSHIP.

5/10. An 8-4 season would be a disappointment, so let's hope things go better than they did for Todd Collins: EIGHT WINS PLOT.

6/10. Is the offense good enough to win it all with a legendarily great defense? If so, we've got Brian Griese: TOWNIES' PLIGHT, because Scorekeepers window jokes are still funny two decades later.

7/10. Is Michigan setting all kinds of offensive records, but still getting sniped at for everything that goes wrong? Then it's John Navarre: WHITEST LOPING!

8/10. Can the offense storm back from behind and beat Michigan State? If so, we've got Chad Henne: GO WIN THIS PELT

9/10. An Orange Bowl win and a preeminent NFL career only gets you so far, Tom Brady: LIGHTEN TWO PSI

10/10. Winning Orange Bowls and Super Bowls is nice, but they're no Rose Bowls, and they're definitely not People's 1998 Sexiest Athlete Alive Award. So capping off the meter is Elvis Grbac: HOT PIGLET WINS

No Michigan QB is bad enough to be associated WITH INEPT SLOG for 0/10, so we'll just go with "Rutgers" instead. (There is also an 11 - yes it is Harbaugh - but we're keeping that in reserve until it's needed.)

Standards on the Speight-meter have gone way up over the days of the Borges-O-Meter. Now 3/10 gets you a beloved long-time quarterback. No more giving bad offense a 5/10 out of hope. We're kicking off the Speight-meter this week with a rating of 6.

High expectations aboud when a national championship gets you a 6. Blame Phil Fulmer, like we always do.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Shine a Light

(Author's note: I wrestled with this post, or at least, the notions behind it,  for a long time.  I wanted to get the tone and message just right, and each time I thought I had it, I still wasn't sure it was right.  But I'd rather be mostly right than silent; because silence's time is over.  I am only speaking for myself in the words that follow.)

The recent events at Michigan, between the raised fist protest by members of the football team and the racially charged flyering, there's been lots of attention paid to where we are as a campus and alumni community at Michigan, part of a larger national conversation.  This conversation has no easy answers, because if it did, it would already have taken place.  A piece on this topic by MTV News's (and Michigan alumna) Jane Coaston helped me understand that maybe I did have one small thing to add to this conversation.

I'm a 38-year-old white guy from the suburbs.  My entire life has been lived in a triangle bounded by Livonia, Ann Arbor, and Cone, Michigan.  By any estimation, I have had an incredibly blessed life, one for which I am grateful, though perhaps not always as grateful as I should be. Whatever my anxieties or stresses are, they are not life or death.  I do not know the African American experience, nor would I make any claim to understanding it beyond what I have read and what I have heard from listening to people whose opinions I respect discuss it or write about it.  But I do feel like an important piece has been, if not missing, at least undervalued, in the discussion of the protests taking place regarding the national anthem.  It is in this area is where I feel comfortable, as someone who is well versed in America's history, in making a point.

In the preamble to the United States Constitution, Madison and the other Founders gave their generations and those in their posterity, a mission statement for the United States.  We, the People, of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union.  "More perfect" is a statement of striving, an aspirational goal that says "It's not going to be perfect, but we should try to be better."  Immediately following that statement, the Framers provide a list of things that this Constitution seeks to accomplish: establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.  That "establish Justice" and "insure domestic Tranquility" sit side by side is what gives us pause.  Those who are protesting are seeking, in a very oversimplified by me, way, equal protection under the law, something the Constitution would not assure its citizens for nearly 90 years after its ratification by the several States.  That the quest for that assurance has, in the minds of some, disrupted domestic tranquility is frustrating or even angering, but it is truly in the best traditions of America's history.

One of the heritage narrative themes that runs through America's history, in its telling, is that we are a country founded on dissent and protest.  The Puritans were religious dissenters who left England for an errand in the wilderness and resolved to make their colony a "city upon a hill," an example to the rest of the world.  When middle-class artisans and upper-class Bostonians felt their way of life being threatened by increased regulation from Britain, they took a series of steps to express their displeasure, culminating in the Boston Tea Party.  When men and women alike began to question the role slavery was playing in the United States, they began to write, and write, and write to expose what they saw as a grave injustice, often at great personal or political cost.  When women felt they had waited for a half century of empty promises to grant women's suffrage, seeing nothing come of the words but delays and prevarications, they took to the streets and made their case.  When African-Americans realized that nearly a century after the Civil War, America was still a segregated society of two classes of citizens, they employed a variety of techniques to make their message heard.  All of these moments were, in their time, denounced by the status quo as needless agitations and harmful to the proper order of society.  Today, we celebrate these groups as examples what America can do at its best, shine a light on that where we are wrong and through commitment, dedication, and courage, make things better.  We strive ever forward towards more perfect, though knowing that while perfect may never be attainable, it is a lofty and worthy goal of a nation that believes in the ideals of liberty, freedom, and equality.

At a university whose motto is "Arts, Knowledge, Truth," we too can seek a better way forward.  We can have minds broad enough to embrace positions with seeming contradictions.  We can support the players who protest knowing that they understand their beliefs fall firmly between a love of country and a desire to see that country be better.  We can believe in the possibilities of a better tomorrow while simultaneously listening to those whose today needs immediate care.  We can learn from each other if we listen to each other. If we accept that, well, just maybe, we don't know better than everyone else.  If we don't presume motives without asking questions, and if we can use knowledge gleaned from a wide variety of sources, backgrounds, and beliefs, perhaps we can find something closer to the truth.

I'm just one person, with a very tiny platform, if I can use my platform to support the courage of young men who seek to use their athletic gifts to benefit the university I love, and who use their platform to help draw attention to difficult truths worth examining, then I know that we are keeping in the best traditions of the university I love.  A university that seeks better tomorrows together, and walks together into that future, one that is hopefully made brighter by the honor, courage, and sacrifice of those who shine a light today.

I thank you for reading, and as always, we fight for better days.

Monday, September 26, 2016


So, during the fourth quarter of a blowout, you hope no one gets hurt (speedy recovery Jeremy Clark) and you start to fill with tangential material.  So we ended up doing this.

So, in this vein, here is, in no particular order, a list of anagrams for selected members of the 2016 Michigan football team (fun fact, J words are very tricky in anagrams.  Also, Jake Butt is impossible to anagram, which makes sense, since it's so perfect on its own).












DELANO HILL gets you NO DEAL, HILL (wait, that's terrible.)

DELANO HILL gets you HELLION LAD (that, that is awesome.)

KYLE KALIS gets you SKA, LIKELY (Which I believe was a rejected name for Ace's ska band.)





Sunday, September 25, 2016

In a Mirror, Darkly

Celebrating with the students, and our ride or dies, the MGoYipYips.
See all of Dustin's photos from the game at Maize n Brew. (Photo credit: Dustin Johnson)
The rout-like nature of the game this week allowed me to think about other notions regarding college football, and specifically Penn State's place in it, five years after what was one of the biggest and most soul wrenching scandals in the history of the sport.

Let's be transparent about a couple of very critical points before we move forward. Firstly, many Penn State loyalists are still wounded and horrified by the Sandusky child abuse scandal, because they may be Penn State fans, but they are thinking, feeling human beings first. They know the gravity, the magnitude, and the sheer awfulness of the whole of it and do not seek to wish it away, but rather want to channel it into positive directions of "Never Forget, so it never happens to anyone again." My genuine belief is that these fans are numerous, but not necessarily visible,  in part because, truth be told, many of us on the outside would rather bury that chapter of college football history in the past. Perhaps occasionally, we present some fist shaking of out revulsion at the scandal to remind ourselves that we are, in fact, human.  Part of this may be that creeping sense that the structural flaws of college football as constructed in American life today are a large part of what made the Sandusky scandal possible and those lessons show no signs of taking root in America writ large.  Whether we like it or not, there is still a sense of "there but for the grace of God go I" as it relates to one's program.

Secondly, we cannot deny that there is a faction within the Penn State fan community disconnected with reality. In rejecting it as such, have tried to force upon the rest of the college football world a narrative that is soulless, honor-free, and numb to the victims and their very real trauma and very real pain. These people do not deserve to be listened to or given any regard, as they have chosen to recreate a pretense of a false world, one built on lies at worst, or a blind eye and few questions if we are generous.  But the recriminations are so natural, so obvious; we hammer them because it makes us feel better about that we didn't choose that path.  Five years on, we're no closer to answers, no closer to healing, no closer to having seemed to learn anything, and that secondary tragedy is nearly as depressing as the original scandal.

All of that said, perhaps the more fascinating, which is to say hilarious rather than soul-numbing, disconnect from reality that Penn State suffers from is the idea that James Franklin is a coach on the level of an Urban Meyer, a Mark Dantonio, or a Jim Harbaugh. That James Franklin, who seems to understand less each passing year about the nature of time and clock management, is a high-level coach that can bring Penn State's "success with honor" vision to fruition. That James Franklin is the right man for the job in State College. That James Franklin, if given the choice, would be a general preference to run your program, even if you could get a Harbaugh (just ask the PennLive writers).

James Franklin pulled a rare moment of doubling down on a surrender field goal, choosing to kick a 21 yarder after a timeout taken to avoid a delay of game penalty.  This after his team had forced a three and out to open the half, and his offense had actually shown some signs of life, driving over 70 yards and making its first real impression on the Michigan side of the field all day. While I cannot prove this, I genuinely believe that this field goal had to inflame the competitive soul of Jim Harbaugh, who realized that quarter was being asked, but that no quarter was being considered, let alone granted.

So Coach Harbaugh called for the challenge on the spot on fourth down up 35-3 late in the third quarter. So Coach Harbaugh kept the starters in until the dying moments of the fourth quarter. Coach Harbaugh's philosophy is simple, we're out here to win the game, and your job is to stop us (a lesson he took from a 2004 game against Penn when he was at San Diego. I'm not calling off the dogs is about you getting stops than me not trying.) Harbaugh saw the tiny white flag attached to that field goal and ordered Penn State's continued devastation. You don't get to decide to surrender, you don't get to sue for peace, we're going to ground you into powder because I would expect no different if the roles were reversed.  This will lead to calls of "classlessness" and "poor sportsmanship" but Harbaugh "always sees the game as 0-0, no matter what the scoreboard says" in a paraphrase of Brian Griese from Saturday's telecast.  Harbaugh has stated that they only way you get better at playing football is playing football, and so those live snaps are some valuable time in the lab, seeing how concepts the staff have drawn up in the film room and on the practice field at the Glick play out in game situations.  You've got four legitimate running backs? Let's see how all of them work?  You've got three tight ends?  Let's see who can block and who can catch.  Coach Harbaugh knows the challenge that Michigan faces next week, not peeking ahead, but having to know that Wisconsin will be the first genuine test of Michigan's mettle.  The no quarter flag is flying at Michigan Stadium and the man who raised it knows the price involved.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Tacking into the Wind

A little bit of everything.  (Rick Osentoski, USA TODAY Sports)
I'd love to be able to tell you that I saw this coming, but no, I did not.  I did not think today would be a romp; Colorado has some guys on scholarship, after all, but the quick strike touchdown, followed by the sack-fumble-touchdown, and the only comforting thought in the Big House was that it was still really early, and Michigan has not exactly struggled on offense this season.

In sailing, when the direction that one wants to sail in is into the wind, a sailor, with great effort, must tack, or turn its bow into the danger zone, to achieve the desired direction.  It requires discipline, recognition of the circumstances, and willingness to do what is needed to find a way forward.

So, after being stalled in the doldrums for much of the first quarter, Michigan's offense and defense both made adjustments that took them from 21-7 down to 45-28 as a final.  We have become so acclimated to Michigan failing to adjust to what the opponent is trying to do, Michigan being stubborn and refusing to break its tendencies. That it seemed like a minor miracle when midway through the second quarter,  (Truth be told, while the adjustments, which are just coaching, are better for my sanity, they make for worse columns.  I was clearly much better at this when there was some "died bravely" thread running through the piece.  It is a trade-off I can and happily will live with.)

So much of that "tacking" boils down to the efforts of Jabrill Peppers.  Peppers needed to be great and provided a spark on defense and special teams.  He was stopping the run; he executed a tremendous safety blitz that Colorado did not see until their backup quarterback was picking pieces of rubber out of his mouthguard 11 yards behind the line of scrimmage.  Then, of course, there was punt return.

Because of the importance of punt returns for touchdowns in previous Heisman-winning seasons for Michigan players, there has been, in my estimation, a collective will in the Big House to compel by some larger force, Peppers into getting a punt return TD.

So when that ball took a flat trajectory into Peppers' hands, just past the midfield stripe and burst forward, it was the hope that Peppers could score in that end zone that Howard and Woodson had made famous all those years ago.  It was not the prettiest run back, but Peppers is more about bursting through and fighting through than gliding fast and free.  The score and subsequent point after put Michigan up 17 and for the first time all day, Michigan fans felt as though they could breathe with some ease.

And so Michigan emerges from the non-conference portion of the calendar with a 3-0 record, not as easily as some had predicted, but 3-0 nevertheless.  This team is still a flawed team, but it has surpluses in critical areas that allow for those deficits to not necessarily be a huge concern...yet.

But, for now, as long as Michigan has a Peppers, it feels like it always has a chance.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Future Imperfect

This, this was pretty good.
This had to happen.  It was inevitable because it is what happens when expectations are raised.  Michigan won by 37 points, and people aren't happy.  There is a legitimacy in this because it's the inevitability of disappointment, and disappointment only comes when expectations exist.  Expectations have not been "real" in Ann Arbor for much of the last decade, after all.  There have been historical expectations, but that is based as much on a bizarre combination of entitlement and factual evidence as anything.  The expectations that this team entered the 2016 season were, in some ways, too low.  They were tempered by the "three tough road games" narrative and the worry that Year 2 was too soon to think Playoff.  But there were others who said, perhaps rightfully so, that this was the year.  But wherever one fell on that continuum, there were expectations and those expectations were created by the roster and staff that Michigan was rolling out on the field this season.

Michigan punted on its first offensive series of the game, the first time they had punted all season. Their next six drives went touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, field goal, touchdown, field goal.  By the time they punted for the second time this season to essentially close out the first half, Michigan was up 34-7, and the online kvetching had begun in earnest.  Michigan can't run the ball!  Michigan can't stop the run!  Michigan looks sloppy on their assignments! Michigan didn't provide enough condiment stations for the family pack hot dog plans!

There is a difference between "complaints" and "concerns".  Complaints boil down to "I'm mad that you're not doing what I expected of you!"  Concerns are "Well, that needs to be fixed going forward."  It's mostly a matter of tonality.  What's interesting about yesterday's results are that despite the score it is the other stats on the Big House scoreboard served to confirm many of our concerns as fans from the beginning of the season, that Michigan might have a hard time establishing the run, that Michigan might have difficulty with securing contain in an aggressive defensive scheme,  The difference is a belief that the coaching staff working to fix the problems.  Colorado will likely provide a stiffer test than expected before the season started, and the progress from this week will be measured against the rising expectations of "OK, good, but..."

In the end, we got back exactly what we have wanted for the last ten years, the goal of being in the running for the national championship.  Those expectations come at a high cost.  In Bo's Lasting Lessons, John U. Bacon relays the story (which I am paraphrasing here) that when Bo's captains would choose goals for the season, if they wanted the national championship, he would remind them that they would need to be perfect, not just on every play on Saturday, but in every snap in practice.  Even then, you would need more than your fair share of luck.  Having the highest goals for the season is not an objectively bad thing, Harbaugh himself has said himself: "If nobody's laughing, you didn't set your goals high enough."  But goals only become real when paired with execution.  Saturday showed us, and this team that you can still win a game even if you don't play perfectly.  But this was against Central Florida, a team that went 0-12 last season.  All of us, the fans, the players, and the coaching staff know that this won't cut it against a Wisconsin, or certainly not a Michigan State or an Ohio State.  But, just like the fumbled punt snap yesterday that Kenny Allen fell on, perhaps it is good that it happened early, while there's still time to fix it.

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Where No Man Has Gone Before

Speight, the final frontier.  (Credit: Getty Images / Gregory Shamus)
50 years ago this month, Star Trek debuted on NBC.  Though a modest hit at best, it developed, over time, a cult-like following, obsessives who pored over every detail of the original 79 episodes and became the sci-fi fandom against which other fandoms are judged.

137 seasons into Michigan football, each new season is eagerly awaited by its fans (and its hate-watchers) to see which twists and turns the writers have in store for this year.  Social media will see hushed moments of awe and vociferous complaint in the online recaps.  Some will say that this season is a return to form, on par with the classics.  Others will worry that the new landscape will never allow this year to measure up.  But the season is here, and well, these are the voyages.

In the grand scheme, this was as strong a season opener as you could hope for in this kind of enterprise.  When your defense loses the shutout because the kicker defiantly nails a 55-yarder, you just kind of laugh, because the offense nearly covered the over by itself.  So many freshmen played today, it felt like an away team with all of the redshirts burning.  This game, by itself, does not answer many questions, it's just one episode.  New horizons wait next week, new discoveries to be made.  But make no bones about it, if we're going to get beyond the last decade, one that took us into darkness, then the reboot under Harbaugh, keeping the things we loved about the original, but adding a new cast of characters, starting with a head coach with a ridiculous Q score, one seemingly regarded as an emissary by the faithful, that's where all of this brings us, to Year 2, an undiscovered country.  The future remains to be written, but when you have good leadership, your crew can defy the impossible again and again.

First games are about learning something.  Michigan learned a lot from last year's away mission to Salt Lake City, it bounced back because it worked on correcting mistakes that cost them a victory.  All of the preseason expectations change as we gather data points.  Is Colorado better than advertised, or is Colorado State really bad?  Could Wisconsin be more of a challenge than anticipated?  Is the defense for real?  These are the storylines, some will be answered, others will be forgotten as the season moves forward.  Here's to hoping that we will never have to say "Dammit Jim."

Saturday, September 03, 2016

10 Years

I got bored when I didn't have a band. So I started a band, man...

A photo posted by The Hold Steady (@theholdsteady) on

In 2006, I was a year and a half into the job I still hold, but I didn't have much else going on. Work took up most of my time, and trying to make friends as an adult is weird. I started gravitating online, and a lot of that gravitation took me to MGoBlog. I was completely on board with that, and with my extra time, I figured I could pour that into something similar. So I started a blog, and recruited my friends. It wasn't particularly good (at least not my stuff), but it existed and that was enough. As the years have gone on, my job got bigger, and I fell in love, got married, sold a house, moved 4 times, and bought another house. That slice of time I had has gotten slimmer, and my writing has not gotten any better, so I've receded around here.

But we're back here for the 2016 season, and there's a palpable buzz in the air. I've long given up predicting a year's outcome. It's much more likely to go well, when compared to most of the last decade, but there's a reason they play the games, etc., etc. I want to enjoy this season, just like I enjoyed the 2006 season. It should be a wild ride, and I want to hang on and watch these guys work through it. I hope you'll join me.

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!