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.") 

1 comment:

Jared Lashley said...

Is that a Counting Crows reference? Nice