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

Embedded image permalink
"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.

Sunday, October 18, 2015


"Oooh, ahh, that's how it always starts.  Then there's running....and screaming."
(OK, yes, that's The Lost World, but I don't care at this point.)
The short answer is, of course, it hurts.  No one denies this.

And yet...

This wasn't even my worst day at the Big House.  I've had plenty worse in twenty years of going to games.  I was there for Appalachian State 2007.  I was there for Northwestern 2008.  I was there for Utah 2014.  That is to name but three.  This hurt, but it's the dirty secret of college's chaotic.  It's chaotic and it doesn't have to make a whole lot of sense, because order is the way in which we try to find patterns in the chaos.  The problem with patterns are is that we cannot ever necessarily know if they are truly patterns because even as we string them out in to eternity, all of the sudden, there is a blip that you didn't expect and the pattern no longer exists.  And the universe would smile at your newfound knowledge, but it doesn't care.  It's the universe, and it does what it wants.

99.8%.  By now you've probably seen the stat that Michigan's win probability before the snap on the play with 10 seconds left was at 99.8%.  Mathematically, that means that if that play were run 500 times, Michigan would have won the game 499 of them.  This universe, this quantum reality, it happened.  Why?  Chaos.

(In retrospect, we really should have put locking mechanisms on all of the vehicles.)

For all of the awfulness of this game, and there were layers upon layers of awfulness, Michigan was in this game due, in no small part, to special teams.  It was in this game despite miscues, despite a suboptimal performance on offense, despite officiating which will likely not grade out very highly with Collegiate Officiating Consortium people who grade these things, despite replay reviews which made me lament the invention of the digital video recorder.  In spite of all of this, Michigan had a lead late.  This is significant progress.  Michigan can tell itself that it's Michigan and we don't find or need moral victories, but that isn't what this is about.  Michigan had made so much progress so quickly from where it was at the end of 2014 as a team that it was easy to tell yourself that Michigan had this one, no problem.  But, in the end, it did not.  Whether it was a bad snap, cold fingers, worries about an all out punt block attempt, we'll never probably know for real, but in the end, it happened and Michigan State took its only lead of the game with no time remaining on the clock.  Sometimes, when you root for chaos, you bring the house down upon your own head.  It's the price you pay for that deep seated desire to see something you've never seen before.  Sometimes the universe just says "Next" and points the finger at your team.  It doesn't have a schedule or an agenda or a rotation, because it's the universe and the universe doesn't care.

So I want to be mad, I've tried to be mad, but I can't be.  Mostly, I feel really bad for Blake O'Neill.  He had an 80 yard punt, a thing of beauty, and several other punts which put Michigan in a position to win.  Now he becomes to people who don't care about this team, a punchline.  But to only be judged by our worst moments is unfair.  But, as the universe reminds us, it's never really about fair.  Deserving to win does not guarantee victory.  Doing everything right leading up to a moment does not assure us that it will continue.  All we can do is our best every time and learn from the bad moments.  After all, as Kierkegaard said, "Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards."  In the middle of the story, we cannot always see the end.  We can speculate, we can estimate, but we are rarely the masters of our own fate.  It'll be a long two weeks, but on Halloween night, I foresee Minnesota getting quite a scare.

We fight for better days.  My sense is that they will be here sooner rather than later.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Drevnometer adopts Collective Rule

A colossal performance by the offense against Northwestern deserves a colossal ranking, so the Drevnometer shoots back up to seven. It's jumping up and down like a heartbelt because the offense finally has a pulse.

This offense has been a joy to watch and also a sign of false nostalgia. Harbaugh and Drevno are providing us with the MANBALL offense we're nostalgic for, the one that could not only run roughshod over opponents, but also adapt to take advantage of their weaknesses. The real historical Michigan offense at Tennessee, and that's a lot more exciting. No lead is safe, and you'd rather be behind after three quarters than ahead. I don't miss that feeling of dread in far too many fourth quarters.

The Drevnometer's Three Stars of the Game

Massive props to the offensive line for a true team performance. Unfortunately for Jehu Chesson, the Drevnometer's Three Stars do not incorporate special teams performance.

Previous Three Stars

Maryland: ★★★ Drake Johnson ★★ Graham Glasgow ★ Jehu Chesson
BYU: ★★★ De'Veon Smith ★★ Amara Darboh ★ Jake Rudock
UNLV: ★★★ Ty Isaac ★★ Jehu Chesson ★ Sione Houma
Oregon State: ★★★ De'Veon Smith ★★ Erik Magnuson ★ A.J. Williams
Utah: ★★★ Jake Butt ★★ Amara Darboh ★ Graham Glasgow

Sunday, October 11, 2015

How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful

Desmond Morgan is an airplane. (Photo by MLive's Melanie Maxwell)

Hey Northwestern, you like apples?
Michigan's got its third straight shutout, how do you like them apples?
(Photo by MLive's Melanie Maxwell as well)

Homecoming is a chance to tell yourself a story about the past, even if it's, if not a lie, not the whole truth.  You leave out the parts of those four years of your life that you'd rather forget and focus on the good stuff.  If you do think about the bad stuff, you either frame it as a growth experience, or look back in bemusement.  That class you probably should have gone to more often to get a better grade, well, it taught you the importance of actually showing up for your job on time, every day.  That time that the dude puked all over your back as you were leaving S'keeps on the opening night of the NCAA Tournament?  Well, at least your jacket was GoreTex and it washed right off.  That girl that you went out with during your senior year from Northwestern?  Well, it helped you learn who you were as a person.

In reality, it's not that much different than being a Michigan football fan.  You remember things from the past as better than they were.  Unless the loss was particularly soul-crushing, you can almost explain everything from the past in the gauzy halo we give to the past.  The bizarre sequence of Michigan/Northwestern games over the last four years, for instance, can be chalked up to learning experiences, or gallows humor, but the reality is, they were four wins in an era of ever diminishing returns.

So as Michigan stared down a match-up against Northwestern, it was billed as a showdown between two of the best defenses that anyone had seen this year.  The computers, as much as they could, were gushing over the statistical profiles.  Michigan coming off two straight shutouts, Northwestern over impressive winning efforts against their "academic peers" in Stanford and Duke.  This felt, all week, like it was going to be a tight one.  The sharps in Vegas tried to tell us.  The computers tried to explain it to us, that it might not be what it was billed as.

It was not.  From the moment when Jehu Chesson found the seam and engaged the slipstream drive, this one was never in doubt.  The profound joy of knowing that 7 points, the way the defense has been playing, might be enough to win the game, is exceptional.  Just tremendous.  That Michigan went on to run a meticulous series of offensive plays against a very very stout Northwestern defense, go up 21-0 at the end of the first quarter, add a logic and science defying Jourdan Lewis pick six late in the second quarter and then after a great halftime featuring the Alumni Band and, oh yeah, the New York Philharmonic's brass section, (for what it's worth, playing "Ode to Joy" might have been a little on the nose, but, nah, it's all good.), it was time for classic "dull and boring football" in the second half, where all Michigan fans (and the Michigan defense) wanted to see was a preserved shutout.  That a mostly full Big House was chanting "defense" with less than a minute to go in a game where Michigan had a 38 point lead, well, it reminded me of the good old days.

One of the funniest things about defying pre-season expectations is that Michigan is in a constant "prove it" mode this year.  Losing to Utah, well, see, Harbaugh's got some work to do.  Beat Oregon State, well, they're a Pac-12 cellar dweller.  Beat UNLV, well, their coached by a guy who was a high school coach last year.  Shut out BYU, yeah, well, BYU had a nightmare travel schedule and maybe they weren't that good.  Shut out Maryland, well, I mean, they're coached by Randy Edsell.  Shut out #13 Northwestern, yeah, well, um, let's see how you do against Michigan State.  The thing is, I actually think this is perfect for a Harbaugh team.  Perpetual doubt means constant discomfort and no satisfaction.  It means constantly chasing the improvement and the dream.  It's a rivalry game, it's a measuring stick, and it's probably a battle of Top 15 teams.  GameDay is coming.

Let's Go Blue.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Walk the #M00N

GIF via EDSBS's Erase This Game.

Oh won’t you take a sack
Make it 4th and 23
I said “Stuff my tailback”
She said “Shut up and punt with me”
Turnovers are my destiny
She said “Oooooh, shut up and punt with me”

We were victims of the night
The end zone is our kryptonite
Helpless tries to pass and fading routes
Oh we were bound to fail together
Bound to fail together

He took the snap, I don’t know how it happened
He hit the ground and she said

Why can’t you hit the gap
Get stuffed for a loss of three
I said “You’re holding my defensive back”
She said “Shut up and punt with me”
A touchback is my destiny
She said “Oooooh, shut up and punt with me”

A bottled-up run and some failed sneaks
Downfield completion is my third-down dream
I felt the ball hit my chest since he threw to me
I knew we wouldn’t hit the ground together
Go out of bounds together

He took the snap, I don’t know how it happened
He hit the ground and she said

We’re going to march backwards
We’re too close to scoring three
I said “You’ll lose thirty yards”
She said “Shut up and punt with me”
Five and seven is my destiny
She said “Oooooh, shut up and punt with me”

Overtime, can’t let it be the future
I realize this is my last chance
He took the snap, I don’t know how it happened
He hit the ground and she said

Oh don’t you scratch your back
Forget this game could ever be
Please don’t happen again
She said “shut up and punt with me”
A new coach is my destiny
She said “Oooooh, shut up and punt with me”
Don’t you dare look back
It’s now 2015
Forget about last year
She said “shut up and punt with me”
Jim Harbaugh is my destiny
She said “Oooooh, shut up and punt with me”
”Oooooh, shut up and punt with me”
”Oooooh, shut up and punt with me”

Friday, October 09, 2015

The Drevnometer discovers Replaceable Parts

When the offense dominates in the first half and goes to sleep in the second half, they get the benefit of the doubt. When they sleep through the first half and wake up in the second half, not so much. So the Drevnometer falls back to a 4 this week. We're back to the pyramids, but maybe we'll find Neferiti's grave.

The chart has a new picture this week, courtesy of Patrick Barron at Mgoblog! It also has icons along the x-axis now, which is surprisingly hard to do.

The Drevnometer's Three Stars of the Game

Previous Three Stars

BYU: ★★★ De'Veon Smith ★★ Amara Darboh ★ Jake Rudock
UNLV: ★★★ Ty Isaac ★★ Jehu Chesson ★ Sione Houma
Oregon State: ★★★ De'Veon Smith ★★ Erik Magnuson ★ A.J. Williams
Utah: ★★★ Jake Butt ★★ Amara Darboh ★ Graham Glasgow

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Raining in Baltimore

"I am waving my hands in the air, as if I just don't care."  --Jim Harbaugh, maybe?  (CSTV)
One of the truly great pleasures of being a Michigan fan is underrated, well, perhaps it was until it went away for a while.  Michigan plays in the early game, wins the game over a lesser opponent, and you can watch the rest of the afternoon and evening's games without worrying about seeing the highlights or analysis.  You can sit back and watch everyone else and mentally start thinking about the next opponent.

I can't underrate a shutout, because they are rare and they are a beautiful thing.  If the other team doesn't score, they can't win.  It's the fundamental theorem of sport. So if your defense does not allow the other team to score, you're going to win the game (well provided you can get some points yourself.)

I had a mild repiphany this past week.  A repiphany, of course, is when you remember a life changing revelation that you had about yourself previously but had allowed to fade in to the background.  But my realization is that I am fundamentally about defense.  If you ask me to choose which I like better, offense or defense, it's going to be defense.  (This is mildly ironic because quiz bowl, with which I have been involved for nearly a quarter century as a player, tournament director, and coach, is one of the few competitive activities of two teams facing each other simultaneously where you cannot play defense, except by playing offense.)  In football, offense is about imposing your will on the other side.  I want to do this particular thing to achieve this particular goal, and this is how I will go about doing it.  Defense is about guessing what the opponent wants to do and preparing for any and all contingencies as best as possible.  You array your players on the field to maximize your strengths and disguise your weaknesses.  So if you have a lockdown secondary, you can be more aggressive in the pass rush.  If you have a stout run defense, you can force the opposition into throwing more, even if they don't want to do so.  Offense is planning, defense is constant adaption, but, if you have superior defense, you can impose your own will on the offense.

The 1997 Michigan defense is, of course, the gold standard of great modern defenses* in Ann Arbor.  This defense isn't there yet.  But...That 1997 unit gave up 26 points in the first five games of the season.  Michigan's defense has only given up 29 (the Rudock Pick 6 against Utah can't be held against this defense, can it?)  This Michigan defense has given up fewer yards than the 1997 unit (admittedly, that 1997 team played all Power 5 schools in their first five games, but still.)  Anything this Michigan team is going to do is going to come from what the defense can do.  Michigan turns the ball over?  No problem, defense forces a three and out.  (OK, admittedly, this is not a viable long-term strategy, but it's much less annoying that feeling doomed because the offense just screwed up again.)  Put in your back up quarterback to find a spark?  Willie Henry blasts through your offense line to stand over him looking like a hungry bear that has stumbled upon a campsite of unprepared urbanites trying to be "rugged."  Move the game up eight hours because the hurricane sitting in the middle of the Atlantic might be headed for Maryland?  Michigan gets the job done well ahead of schedule and comes home to start prepping for Northwestern.  

We keep recalibrating expectations for this season, in part because we spent the summer trying to tamp them down because the last seven seasons wouldn't allow us to dream.  Next week will be a huge test for this Michigan team, in large part because Northwestern might be an even better defense than Michigan's.  But Michigan's at home, and maybe that might be just enough. 

But, hooray for having faith in two of your three units.  Trust but verify on the third.

(*-I mean, Yost's 1901-1903 teams went 26 straight games without allowing a point.   Just sayin'.)

(**-My initial plan for this season was to use all Florence + The Machine song titles for the names of the columns, but then the Killers column happened, so it's just all song titles this season.  But were I going for a F+TM title for this one, it would have been "Hurricane Drunk.") 

Friday, October 02, 2015

The Drevnometer discovers aesthetics

A dominating second-quarter performance from the Michigan O pushes the Drevnometer to new heights: an 8! This is higher than the Nussmeter ever reached, and the Borges-O-Meter usually exceeded these heights only due to Denard-related exuberance.

Much like the Michigan offense, the Drevnometer chart is adding new wrinkles each week:

Picture showing that Tim Drevno's knot-tying game is off point from

The Drevnometer's Three Stars of the Game

Previous Three Stars

UNLV: ★★★ Ty Isaac ★★ Jehu Chesson ★ Sione Houma
Oregon State: ★★★ De'Veon Smith ★★ Erik Magnuson ★ A.J. Williams
Utah: ★★★ Jake Butt ★★ Amara Darboh ★ Graham Glasgow

We're now using the Americans for Amara Darboh. And, based on that tie, being slightly left-of-center is a very Drevno thing to do.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Daily 125

On the occasion of The Michigan Daily's 125th anniversary.  (And as always, I could probably use a good editor.)

My time at Michigan was built around four years (plus some mentoring) with UAC's Michigan Academic Competitions.  So much of my Michigan life, including almost all of my long-term friendships formed at Michigan, came from my days on MAC.  Of the three men who stood up in my wedding, one was my brother, one was my friend Geoff, who was a fellow MAC member, and one was my best man, my friend from high school, my college roommate, Dave Wallace.  It is through Dave that I first came to understand The Michigan Daily and that which is 420 Maynard St.

To many a Michigan student of my era, and I am sure of eras before and after, The Daily was the thing you grabbed to read before class started and maybe kept around to do the crossword.  (OK, I did a lot of Daily crosswords while sitting in the back part of the NatSci auditorium.  No one denies this.)  But from Dave, I understood it was something more.  It was long hours.  It was hard work.  It was craft.  It was dedication.  Though I was always told in high school that I had a knack for writing, but it was well and truly agreed that Dave had the gift.  Dave wrote in a way that a high school student should not be able to do, but he had a gift.  (True story: My mom would read our high school paper and she was always very complimentary of my writing, she would tell me how exceptional Dave's latest column or article was.)  So I would always look for what Dave wrote in The Daily and I would appreciate that the he was surrounded by some other exceptional writers, and that they were all writing for this student paper that we could pick up for free in the stairwell of the MLB.

(My only contribution to The Daily when I was a student was helping Dave name his column when he earned one in his junior/senior year.  We threw around a lot of names before landing on "Exile on Maynard Street", which was a wonderful combination of pun, nod to the Daily, and Rolling Stones reference.) 

Like many things from college, you move away from things as you leave college, but around the same time that Twitter burst into prominence around 2009-10, I started following some of the Daily sports writers.  They were insightful, they were funny, and they were always willing to listen and interplay on topics.  Just like watching college players move through their careers and grow and mature, I got to see and read these articles, which were so polished, so concise, so clean, giving a perspective on Michigan athletics that doesn't always get picked up by a local beat writer (I would argue that not only did The Daily fill the void after the Ann Arbor News stopped publishing a printed daily paper, they became a wonderful complimentary piece to MLive.)

So when, due to some very complicated issues, the high school I teach at stopped having a newspaper, it disappointed me because I wanted to send some of my kids to write for the Daily.  But, just as not having a journalism major hasn't stopped the Daily from turning our great journalists, not having a newspaper wasn't going to stop me from trying to connect my future Wolverines with The Daily.  It thrills me to no end that four of my former students are currently writers for The Daily and that through them, I get a vicarious view into the wonderful world of 420 Maynard Street as it is in 2015.  I am thrilled to see these college kids become even more than they were when they first showed up for a Daily mass meeting as freshmen.  Some of them have and will go on to  great journalism careers, like so many of their predecessors.  Others maybe will not pursue journalism, but will treasure their time at The Daily just as others treasure their time in college on the stage, or in a club sport, even if it is a part of their past without being their future.   The knowledge that you were a part of something larger than yourself, and you're connected to the past and the present and the future of something that has been around for a 125 years, well, that's kind of amazing.

So to you, The Daily, the kids who give us something great to read every day, five days a week, a bunch of weeks of the year, thank you.  Wherever the road leads you in the future, we appreciate the moments you had when you were exiled on Maynard Street.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Diamonds from Sierra Leone

Amara Darboh with a leaping grab, as captured by Eric Upchurch.

Every so often, you get one right.

I saw this great photo from Michigan's David Turnley as a part of Mark Snyder's tremendous story about Amara Darboh becoming an American citizen this week.  I saw the joy in a young person's eye in becoming an American citizen, affirming on paper what he already had in his heart and in his mind.  And I thought "Wouldn't it be great if Darboh had a big game this week?"  It would certainly be a nice narrative.  As I waited to get in to Michigan Stadium on Saturday, hurrying as best we could after a late morning youth soccer game that we coached, I said to my wife "I feel like Darboh's going to have a big game today.  He became a citizen this week, I think he's feeling good and he'll be really focused."  The native of Sierra Leone would not disappoint.  Nor would his teammates.

Every so often, you get one right.  I had no idea that Darboh would do it in such spectacular fashion.  On a previous Saturday this September, maybe that Rudock throw is a little higher, or a little less on target and Darboh makes a great effort but for naught.  But on this day, on 3rd and 5, with the Michigan Stadium winds swirling, having gone three and out on the opening drive of the game, Darboh made a catch that will be long remembered and replayed in Michigan lore.  (Thankfully, it was part of a touchdown drive, when Rudock scrambled for three yards for a touchdown, meaning it actually was a part of something useful.)

Darboh would also snag a touchdown catch early in the second quarter, helping propel him to game ball honors for Michigan, but the best part of today was the moment where you just think to yourself "Oh my goodness, everyone is having a great game!"  It isn't objectively true, I am sure things will be found on the game film that can be corrected and improved upon, but in a week when Jim Harbaugh backed his starting quarterback to the media, Jake Rudock had his best game as a Wolverine, with no turnovers, smart decision making (including a couple of wise throwaways), and some scrambling (which led to two touchdowns), to pick but one notion, it is a nice feeling.  The defense, which wanted the shutout last week, got it*, only to be disappointed in not keeping BYU under 100 yards of total offense.  As our friend Tom Servo once famously reminded us "Oh yeah, these are the problems you want to have."

One of the problems with writing a weekly column on Michigan football is that you end up looking for deeper meaning in each game when sometimes, none exists.  Other days, however, when the stars align just right, meaning stares you right in the face.  Michigan fans wanted to know what this season would be.  With September in the rearview, Michigan emerged from the non-conference schedule 3-1, winning their home games and losing a road game to a tough Utah team by just seven points.  They head into B1G play not as the favorites in the B1G East, or even as the second choice.  But they get Michigan State and Ohio State at home, and if the defense can play even remotely in the neighborhood of what they did today, well, you never know...Neither looks as invincible as we initially thought on paper (the losses of Tom Herman at OSU and Pat Narduzzi at MSU may loom large down the line.)

But for now, an exceptional day at the Big House, and not a perfect September, but one that ends on a high note.  No result on the field could hope to match the hype of the off-season, and certainly that opening game loss but a damper on expectations, but October doesn't feel dread filled, but rather challenging and compelling.  After the last few years, so many of us will happily take that.  So, onward to a night in College Park, the start of conference play, and the hope that better every day is a truth to behold.

(*-Some wonderful symmetry here: Michigan took the consecutive games without being shutout streak away from BYU in game 362 (in 2013 against Ohio State) (only to lose it in game 365 of the streak on a 31-0 shutout to a religious school that plays as FBS independent.  This game was the first time BYU was shutout since the 2003 loss to Utah that ended BYU's 361 game streak.  Yes, I know way too much about this streak.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Drevnometer discovers Mathematics

This week the Drevnometer drops from 6 (Temple of Artemis) to 4 (Pyramids of Giza). This drop corresponds to the drop from the enthusiastic feeling of "we can run through anybody!" to the lingering dread of "what if the only thing we can do is run through anybody?" The Drevnometer's progress now comes in handy chart form:

This chart may get prettier as the year progresses.

While the Drevnometer took a hit this week, it's still a welcome sight compared to the Borges-O-Meter. San José State was Oregon State's opponent this week, allowing for a common opponent comparison: the Spartans only had 253 yards to Michigan's 405, had 149 passing yards divided between three QBs, and a pick 6. They did win the time of possession battle though! The Borges-O-Meter gets a 2.

The Debord-O-Meter also took a big retroactive hit this week, as the Oklahoma defense the held Tennessee to 254 yards last week gave up more than 600 yards to Tulsa. A dominant performance against Western Carolina does not undo the fact that the defense that looked dominant against you looked significantly less so against an average AAC team. The best possible explanation for Debord is that the OU defense really is that good and the Stoopses told them to take it easy last weekend at part of their continued trolling operation against the SEC.

The Drevnometer's Three Stars of the Game

Previous Three Stars

Oregon State: ★★★ De'Veon Smith ★★ Erik Magnuson ★ A.J. Williams
Utah: ★★★ Jake Butt ★★ Amara Darboh ★ Graham Glasgow

Sione Houma is second only to Kraig Baker among Michigan football players who share their names with cities in Louisiana, although Zachary Gentry may be nibbling at his heels next year.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Welcome to Fabulous

Mr. Smith goes to the End Zone (Photo Melanie Maxwell/MLive)
(I don't know if there's a lot to glean from this week, but when I found the gimmick, the premise seemed like a Killer...  So if it doesn't work for you, I'm sorry, but no reason to make a Hot Fuss.)

For us Michigan fans of a certain vintage, "When You Were Young", this would have been the kind of Michigan game that you would have expected.  It's "The Way It Was" and "The Way It's Always Been" but when you're "On Top", you don't always appreciate it.  We've been "Losing Touch" with this, "For Reasons Unknown", but that is the "The World We Live In" in this Day and Age.  "From Here on Out" it was "A Matter of Time"  until someone came along to "Change Your Mind" that Michigan was back.

"My List" of things I wanted to see today was solid running attack, improved passing, and hopefully nothing to sweat in terms of UNLV's offense.  "Between Me and You", "Somebody Told Me" that "Runaways" or blowouts only come if your team practices "Hard Enough".  But "Everything Will Be Alright" if Michigan came out, did it's job and didn't suffer any major injuries.  It's almost as if Michigan could "Read My Mind" during that first half "Joy Ride", a semi-repeat of "All These Things That I've Done" last week, and you could "Smile Like You Mean It" as Michigan made its "Bones" on a "The Rising Tide" of overpowering a much smaller Rebel team.

If I am going to be "Mr. Brightside", Michigan football is trying to be a "Prize Fighter", overpowering opponents by punching and punching, making them ask "Why Do I Keep Counting?" until they're "On the Floor".  But "The Clock Was Tickin'" and the early scores by Smith, Chesson, and Isaac had "The Desired Effect" and UNLV had to "Swallow It", looking 2012 "Jacksonville"  Jaguars-esque at times.  They were "Playing with Fire", but "This Is Your Life" as a Mountain West team looking for a guarantee game, a "Flesh and Bone" opponent that would like to acquit itself as something more than just looking for a paycheck.  But the scarlet and gray team from "Sam's Town" are "Battle Born" and were hoping that "Dreams Come True".  But, caught in the "Crossfire",  they ended up in "Lonely Town", their upset dreams just a "A Dustland Fairytale".  Maybe if you made a few more plays in "Spaceman", you'd look something more than "Human".

(OK, I'm done.)

In the final analysis, Michigan does have some things to work on, before BYU and before conference play.  They need to get the timing down between Rudock and his receivers.  They need to keep refining, smooth, polishing the stone.  But there is something nice in knowing that Michigan seems to have two legitimate options at running back in De'Veon Smith and Ty Isaac, as well as a returning Drake Johnson.  If this season has a developing theme, it is that it's going to be someone new every week, and potentially every quarter.  The leverage of using whatever's working and whatever the defense feels like just seems like, dare I say it, good coaching?  On some level, we should not be too excited, Michigan beat two teams that will likely end up with losing records at season's end, but they looked like a team ready to do more.  Next week against BYU and then the road trip to Maryland will be real eye-openers.  But for now, I am happy with where Michigan is as a team.

"Goodnight, Travel Well"