Friday, November 20, 2009


It was spitting down rain all morning, and it only picked up for gametime. I took one last lap around the stadium I'd always known.

UM vs. OSU, 2007

If there was any justice in the world, they'd have won last year, so I didn't have high expectations. Not with Mike Hart hobbled and Chad Henne barely able to lift his arm and guys not named David Harris at linebacker. And so we yelled and screamed and Beanie Wells had 172 carries and Mario Manningham dropped 18 passes or something and Ohio State won an excruciating 14-3 game.

Sports don't really respect the storylines we want them to follow. It doesn't seem right that Hart and Henne and Long will never beat the Buckeyes, that Bo's death came on the eve of a Buckeye victory to keep Michigan out of a national title game. The 2008 Capital One Bowl is such an anomaly because it's the exit Lloyd Carr seemingly deserved, and a David-over-Goliath moment to boot.

And so 2008 came and we all had to come to the shocking realization that Michigan wasn't just mediocre, but a horrible football team. Either the talent wasn't there or it was unsuited for the new system, and Michigan wasn't coming within a country mile of a winning record. I stopped watching The Game 2008 early in the second half, because I'd sat through the whole Northwestern game and had nothing to prove, and I knew how this one was going to end.

Early morning

What do you do after a year like 2008? You go back to work. You get up earlier. You stay later. You brag about it on media day to some hack with a press pass who twists your words.

Practice on the blacktop

But more than anything else, you get out there and work as a team.

Mace in mid-air

And there are days when you see it all coming together, the inevitability of it all.

Coach Rod

At the beginning of the season, Rich Rodriguez faced The Most Important Game Against A MAC Opponent Ever. The Freep's accusations hit the front page a week before the season started, putting it in front of maximum eyeballs. As if 3-9 wasn't enough to weigh on him. And it all vanished in a puff of smoke in the face of 31-7.

Graham's near-safety

But that seems like so long ago now. It's been like this for the past six weeks: Brandon Graham is on the verge of winning the game singlehandedly, but it's just outside of his grasp.


We're nearing the end of the 130th season of Michigan football, and this finale has everyone focused. It's one last game, playing for the extra bowl practices, playing for a bus ride to downtown Detroit, and playing for a hard-fought victory over a bitter rival.

Inside the tunnel

It's one more chance to come together, playing for the seniors, playing for an embattled coach, playing for pride, and playing for Michigan.

Graham and co.

Those seniors take one last walk to the stadium on Saturday, one last chance to put it all on the field for Michigan.

Tate and Denard

And it's a chance for the future of the program to assert itself, to show what lies ahead if we allow it to grow.

Notre Dame

That's what we all want to see. But sports don't care about storylines. Sports care about talent and scheme and execution and luck. They care about heart and grit and emotion only so far as they translate into execution, and how they can lift raw talent and focus it. If Michigan can put together a victory on Saturday, it won't be arbitrary comeuppance for OSU or some mystical force to quiet Rodriguez's detractors or any sort of karmic justice. It'll be because Michigan played better football or caught a break or two. Or twelve. We'll take every one of them. Ohio State is a vastly superior football team and should walk away with another win, unless something goes beautifully wrong. I'm hoping it does. Go Blue.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Catch 11

I wanted to open this by saying that Coach Rodriguez is in a no-win situation, but that not only sounds hopeless, but perhaps hits a little too close to the Vest right now. But I have been thinking about this as the usual "Rodriguez hasn't embraced the rivalry and it's going to cost him." floats around during Ohio State week. The problem for Rodriguez is, he can't embrace it like you want him to and he can't embrace it like you want him to for a reason that some people miss.
Adam Rittenberg put together some numbers on current Big Ten Coaches records in Rivalry Games, which leads me to my overall point: If Jim Tressel beats Michigan, his entire fanbase is relatively happy. We don't have empirical data on this, but if Ohio State went 1-11 and beat Michigan, I am pretty sure the good people of Ohio who call themselves Buckeye fans would be pretty happy.
If Mark Dantonio beats Michigan, his entire fanbase is ecstatic. Michigan State fans live to beat Michigan. It is their raison d'ĂȘtre. Sparty spends 364 days dreaming of hanging one on Michigan and a 365th hoping it goes their way.
If Tim Brewster beats Michigan (in years that Michigan and Minnesota play for the Jug), his entire fanbase will be largely satisfied. I am sure Gopher fans would love to see wins over Wisconsin and Iowa, but beating Michigan is pretty high on the to-do list for a season.
If Ron Zook beats Michigan, his fanbase will be oddly placated. Illinois considers Michigan a rival (which was true in, say, the 1920s), and Michigan looks around and says "you guys, too?" and laments that the Illini have taken Michigan behind the woodshed in consecutive years.
If Joe Paterno beats Michigan, his fanbase is relatively satisfied, particularly after nine straight losses to Michigan, it certainly helps. I don't know if Michigan/Penn State is a rivalry, but you have to get up for the game nonetheless. Plus, it's Joe Paterno, do you think he really worries about what his fanbase is thinking? He's freaking JoePa!
In order for Michigan fans to be happy, Rich Rodriguez has to, at a minimum, beat Michigan State, Penn State, Notre Dame, and Ohio State, or at least three of the four, and really it's all four. So if that's the case, why not just try to win all 12. You give every other team on your schedule your best shot and you see what happens.
If Rodriguez "embraces" the rivalry, what is the opportunity cost? If he does something in every practice to beat Ohio State, does that come at the opportunity to be at the best for Notre Dame, or Michigan State, or Penn State, or Minnesota, or Illinois, or any other team that wants to punch Michigan in the mouth every chance it gets?
Part of the problem with being at the top, being the powerhouse, is that everyone makes you the focal point of their year. "If we can just beat Michigan, well, things will be better." Who does Michigan get this with? This is not a complaint, mind you, it comes with the territory. But you cannot ask Coach Rodriguez to "embrace" this rivalry like Jim Tressel for a very simple reasons. Tressel's fans demand that the rivalry not only be embraced, but be lived in, worn as a second skin every waking moment of every day, and dreaming of beating Michigan in his sleep. Michigan fans want Rodriguez to never lose to anyone who considers us their rival.
It is impossible to be all things to all people. He's a football coach, not the great and powerful Oz. You start to fix things by winning one game. Maybe if he does that, people will say he's embraced the rivalry, simply because he won. Winning changes everything. Start changing things Saturday and see what the world looks like on Sunday.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

I Find You Unpleasant

I thought that when the season came back, I'd be posting a lot more. Instead, I've been working non-stop and having a life. When I see something I want to say, it's usually been said more eloquently by somebody else. And what is there to say about this season? Hot start, then ice cold. They didn't play all that well at MSU, but had a chance to win anyway. They played much better at Iowa and were doomed by turnovers. They housed Babby Seal U, were dealing with Illinois, and then folded after the goal-line stand.

Which brings us to Purdue. What a miserable experience. Not just because of what happened on the field, but also the people around me. This Stevie Brown hater decided to come out of the woodwork to derisively yell "NICE COVERAGE, STEVIE!!!" any time Purdue made a completion that was anywhere near him. It didn't matter that Stevie was playing pretty decent coverage (+9-4 = +5 on the day)1 and tackling immediately, it was All His Fault. My dad was flipping out about how Purdue was going up and down the field on us, but freely admitting that he has trouble distinguishing between poor coverage, a scheme that puts players in a bad spot, and a good play by the offense. And then there was the "THEY'VE GOT NO HEART!!!!!!" guy that Brian referenced in his Monday column. That guy was immediately in front of my dad; a paunchy, goateed 35-year-old in an Adidas #1 home jersey tucked into his jeans. Every problem was due to the fact that the players had either a.) No heart or b.) No intensity. Never mind the fact that Mike Williams opens up a sweep from Bolden because he's trying to do too much, overrunning the play. He can't conceive that the team would be losing due to talent deficiencies or execution errors. If they were just grittier, that would totally do it.

By the way, he thinks Brian Kelly should be our next coach.

Why do I hate this guy so much? Is it the hair trigger he has on FIRE COACH X RIGHT NOW? Is it that he has no idea how football is played or coached or the difference between talent and walk-ons? It's part of it. But what gets to me is this guy's belief that they are doing it on purpose. That they're dogging it out there and he is personally agrieved and offended and all of this is UNACCEPTABLE and THEY SHOULD BE ASHAMED OF THEMSELVES FOR NOT BEING IN THE ROSE BOWL RIGHT NOW. LOOK WHAT COACH IRVIN MEYERS DID AT FLORIDA. WHY DIDN'T BILL MARTIN GO GET BOB STOOPS? HOW DID HE NOT THINK OF RE-ANIMATING THE CORPSE OF FIELDING YOST? WHAT GOOD IS A BIOMEDICAL ENGINEERING PROGRAM IF IT CAN'T BRING BACK LEGENDARY COACHES FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE? UNACCEPTABLE.

The reasonable response to the Purdue game is to say, "This sucks. I hate watching the team I love play bad football, and Brandon Graham and the other seniors deserve better than this. I'm going to go [to place] to avoid all sports / watch better football / get hammered. I hope Rodriguez can turn this around / I don't think it's going to work out / I thought things were going to be like this when they hired that guy, but I wish I'd been wrong." Obviously, reason plays at best a minor role in football fandom, but guys like THEY'VE GOT NO HEART Man make life actively worse.

I'll be watching the Wisconsin game today, and I'll be back for OSU (ugh) next weekend, but guys like that make me want to stay away.

1 Plays Brown was +/-'ed on from the Purdue UFR:

O44 2 14 Shotgun trips Nickel even Pass Dig Brown 13
Brown(+1, cover +1) right there on the play and has a swat at the ball but misses it. He's still there to make a tackle, though the receiver drags him for a few yards. Excellent coverage; Michigan made it tough this time. Graham did tear through late, but this is a pressure -1... Elliot could stand and fire.
M33 2 6 Shotgun empty 2TE 4-3 under Pass TE Out Brown 3 (Pen -5)
Caught; Brown(+1, cover +1), in a cover-2 zone, lights up the TE as soon as he catches it. Illegal motion brings it back.
O45 3 4 Shotgun 4-wide 4-3 under Pass Corner Brown 6
Line shifted as per usual but the LBs are off the line and tucked in; weird. Michigan blitzes; Graham tears around the corner and beats one blocker, forcing another to come out on him. Purdue is clearly trying to pick Warren and get the slant as a result; Warren(+1) does a fantastic job of coming under the pick and having this blanketed. Holding? Maybe, but not called. Brown(-1), however, reacts to that route when he's in man on the slot guy and leaves his little corner route open, so Elliot has another option other than “die because of Graham.” Tough leaping catch from the WR.
O24 1 10 Shotgun trips bunch Nickel under Pass Swing Brown 3
Trips bunch set takes Brown out to them and he plays head-up on the guy on the LOS. Michigan drops into a zone; Purdue receivers attempt to run it off and hit the swing pass underneath; Brown(+1, tackling +1) makes a good open-field tackle to turn this into a meh play.
O41 2 10 Shotgun trips Tampa Nickel Pass Hitch Brown 5
Brown(cover +1, +1) is again right in the receiver's grill as he makes the catch and has a swipe at the ball for a PBU, but can't make it. He does tackle(+1) with help.
M19 1 10 Shotgun 3-wide Nickel even Run Power off tackle Brown 19
Ugh. Center actually pulls here as two guys double Roh and Purdue goes for the outside. Roh(-1) gets sealed really quickly and is both out of the play and not occupying a double. Brown(-1) comes down too far inside and gives up the corner; Leach(-1) is sliced to the ground by the TE coming off Roh, Williams(-1) overruns the play as it nears the sticks and turns it into a touchdown.
O38 1 10 Shotgun 3-wide 4-3 under Run Zone read stretch Brown 16
Purdue motions in a slot WR to act as a second TE and Michigan does not react (RPS -1); Brown(-1) fails to get outside the slot guy and gives up the corner; Roh(-1) ends up spinning inside of the OT despite this run obviously going outside; Leach(-1) is indecisive and ends up getting blocked into oblivion. Bolden gets the corner and a bunch of yards.
M32 1 10 Shotgun 4-wide 4-3 under Pass Quick out Brown 8
Brown(-1) has the flat here and instead attempts to cover a TE that is running into Leach's zone; Warren has a deep half and is not responsible. (Cover -1)
O48 2 4 I-Form Twins 4-3 under Run Pitch sweep Graham -3
Graham(+1) slants inside, meeting the playside G a couple yards in the backfield as he pulls; he drives the G back, forcing Bolden outside. Graham gets stiffarmed but his interior play has allowed Brown(+1) to finish the TFL after he got outside his blocker effectively.
O32 2 9 Shotgun empty Tampa Nickel Pass Scramble Brown 4
Fake bubble to the slant Michigan likes to run except Brown(+1, cover +1) is not biting and Elliott has to look elsewhere, at which point Graham(+1) tears through on a three man rush and flushes him out of the pocket. Coverage remains good downfield so Elliot has to scramble; lot of short routes mean no one can peel off until he crosses the LOS. (Cover +1)
O6 1 22 I-Form Twins 4-3 under Pass Rollout comeback Woolfolk Inc
Elliott wants to go to the TE but Brown(+1, cover +1) has him covered and Elliott keeps rolling and rolling. He's late; as he reaches the sideline he chucks it to the other receiver, who Woolfolk(+1) has under control and makes a pass breakup on. (Pressure -1, cover +1)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

No One Denies This

If they had (a few more) guys playing like he plays with the effort he plays, they’d be a good football team

Some NFL Scout re: Brandon Graham

Following up on his controversial "having good football players makes your team good theory," the scout went on to claim that his truck would be lighter if it weighed less, that Jordan Kovacs could cut down his 40 time if he were faster, and that he'd be wealthier if he had more money. (H/T: MGoBlog)