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"

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Drevnometer discovers Calendar

Greater minds than our own have both captured Jim Harbaugh's bad call-fueled rage in GIF format and analyzed it thoroughly. However, we here at the Drevnometer wish to draw you attention to the right-hand side of the picture, where our namesake, the eminence grise of the Michigan offense, the Dap King himself, is reacting to the man in charge.

He's walking down the sideline, sees Harbaugh start throwing things. He looks at Harbaugh and think to himself, "Yeah. That'll happen." Unflappable.

The Drevnometer has a four-point jump this week, from 2 (pre-season and Utah) to 6. That may seem low after such a dominant running performance, but we need to save room for when the passing game starts clicking. The offense is running smoothly on one cylinder, but it can run smoothly on both.

The Drevnometer's Three Stars of the Game

Honorable mention to Wilton Speight and the proper demonstration of how a redshirt works.

Previous Three Stars

Utah: ★★★ Jake Butt ★★ Amara Darboh ★ Graham Glasgow (We totally meant to post this. We promise.)

Elsewhere in Michigan Offense-Related Puns

I was quite confused when Joe Davis, Kim Davis's husband, told WDRB that the judge that locked up his wife was "a butt." Why would he compare the judge to Jake Butt unless he thought the judge was great? If he wanted to say the judge was bad, he should have suggested that Judge Bunning must have earned his law degree from Rutgers. /rimshot

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Breath of Life

Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends. (Photo from MGoBlue.com)
(Editor's Note: Updated throughout 9/14 for clarity.  Apparently me fail English yesterday morning.)

If you asked a sports fan to be truly honest, they will admit that while they loathe it when their teams lose, the thing that worries them most deeply is chaos.  Fans of power programs want routine wins, just like the prophecies had foretold.  They want their teams' games that play out exactly as they had scripted in their head.  Let the chaos come to that Notre Dame/Virginia game that you watch at home after your team has packed up a nice win in the expected packaging and is thinking about next week.

Routine is about not about eliminating the unknown, but minimizing the impact chaos can have on one's life.  Oh, you build an extra 20 minutes into your commute so that if there's a chemical spill on US-23, you're not going to be late for work.  You have trouble remembering to get a card for your sister's birthday?  Write a Google Calendar task to remind you a week early so you're not scrambling on the actual day.  You buy yourself some cushion so when the chaos comes, because it will, because it must, because as an Austrian philosopher once said "All genius is a conquering of chaos and mystery."

I don't know if it is true genius to build your football program around the principles of a stout run game, taking care of the football, and getting off the field on third down on defense.  Maybe it was genius at one point in time that then became the conventional wisdom because obviousness of  the plan demonstrated itself often enough in programs that won that it seems so easy to replicate and earn similar results.  If the past seven years have taught Michigan fans anything (and believe me, they should have taught us a great deal) it's that saying the words, telling people that is what you want to do, does not automatically mean you will do it, let alone do it well well.  Heck, sometimes you won't even do it at all.  But when you can do it, it becomes apparent that your team will win a lot more football games than it loses.  It is removing as much chaos from the game as possible.  A stout run game means you're theoretically gaining yards and keeping on schedule.  Taking care of the football means you're limiting turnovers, and thus not only the opportunities that your opponent has to score, but also the associated sudden change situations that are chaotic in and of themselves.  Getting off the field on third down on defense means that your opponent is not extending drives, a subtle form of chaos.

The first 5% of Michigan's game with Oregon State was a form of chaos.  The Beavers, who had struggled with FCS Weber State last week at home, crossed three time zones for a noon kickoff, and came out ready to do the dam thing.   They marched down the field with seeming relative ease and all of the sudden, the 109,651 in the Big House were suddenly reaching for their collars.  This was further abetted by Jake Rudock's fumble on just the third offensive play of Michigan's day and all of the sudden, all of the bad memories of the last seven years came rushing to the fore.

So when Joe Bolden committed the perfect Bolden on Bolden crime and recovered an Oregon State fumble, it took a couple of series, but Michigan got the ship righted.  The 95 yard swing on the punt (which came in the series after Jeremy Clark was called for a terrible Roughing the Kicker penalty, for which Harbaugh was right to lose his mind, followed by a three down stand, and a Oregon State Delay of Game Penalty) allowed Michigan to score last in the first half, and then first in the second half, and the game was salted away.

So, 1-1, UNLV coming to town next week, and feeling a little better than we did last week.

* Thank you ABC/ESPN for including Wolverbear in the new CFB graphics package.

* The internal video board graphics at Michigan Stadium looked clean and crisp.
* Michigan's win was #916 of all time.  They remain behind Notre Dame in the winning percentage race, .7316 to .7291.  Michigan currently needs to win three four games on days with Notre Dame losses to reclaim the crown (and obviously, not lose when Notre Dame wins). (Editor's note: Updated, the numbers we had for both schools did not account for Week 1.  We have corrected the error.
* Bryan Cole looked really good on punt block duty.
* Watch the two point conversion play.  Really heady work by Rudock to wait until he had something and found Smith.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Long and Lost

Jake Butt, in triple coverage? Why not?  (Photo by Bryan Fuller)

If we're truly honest with ourselves, it wasn't that different than our usual collective delusion of a summer.  We overinvest in the positives, we paper over the negatives or doubts with rationalizations or dismissing them as unknowns.  We talked ourselves into the notion that the guy who only had 1.9% of his pass attempts last year intercepted would take better care of the ball.  We told ourselves that the O-Line would have improved technique and hey, throw in some Harbaugh and boom, problems solved, past buried, ship righted.

It's not going to be easy, because if it were easy, Brady Hoke would probably still be Michigan's coach.  There are flaws and they're not necessarily fixed quickly.  But I'm going to not focus on the flaws, because we're all going to see them.  They're very similar to the ones that haunted Michigan last year.  But they also feel correctable.  They feel like things that happen against a pretty good team, on the road, in your opener.  Utah left lots of points on the table as well, so this was not exactly a classic of the genre.  This was a game where the home team played better than the visitor that it was probably a bit better than anyway and won by a touchdown.  That's like 40% of all football games.  (I have no way of proving that, but it feels about right.)

Positives are there.  Jake Butt looks tanned, rested, and ready to go.  He's going to be a weapon for the offense.  Jabrill Peppers didn't make a ton of huge plays, but the presence was there and the plays he did make gave me confidence that there's something here.  De'Veon Smith had churn.  He didn't hit every hole, but there were a bunch of moments in the game where he could have had one or two yards became three or four or five.  It was a little Mike Hart-ish.  Do we believe that Rudock, with a little more time and practice, can hit the open receivers deep?  Because they were there and if they were there tonight, they could very well be there in the future.  Drop that ball in the basket, and Michigan is cooking with gas.

It's a start.  It's a data set that we previously lacked.  We can be hopeful and think it will be the roughest and rawest Michigan will look all year.  We can be pessimistic and think that all of the issues we've spent the last few years dealing with are still there.  The truth is probably, as it almost always is, somewhere in the middle.  Besides, years of early season games against Notre Dame temper ones dread about Septembers that didn't quite start right.

But now the hype is over.  Michigan's moment in the spotlight, nine months in the making, was not a triumph, fists raised overhead in glory.  It wasn't an embarrassment, facepalms and garment rending as appropriate.  It was a loss, one that can, will, and should be learned from.  Michigan will come home to Ann Arbor and more than likely look better against Oregon State next Saturday.  Not every great book has a tremendous opening chapter.  Not every script has a great opening act.  If it gets better as it goes, though, you can forgive the flaws, because you see where it came from.  The difference right now is that I believe that it will get better, because the adults in charge won't accept anything less than that.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Introducing... the Drevnometer

The first few days after Jim Harbaugh was hired were heady days for fans of pun-based offensive coordinator rating systems. First we got to retire the Nussmeter - which, let's face it - was a bit of a stretch and, honestly, too painful to update on a regular basis by the end of last season. The less said of it, the better.

Second, rumors swirled that Harbaugh was going to bring 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman with him. While bringing an NFL coordinator to the college game is usually a recipe for disaster, in this case, it was a recipe for an endless smorgasbord of puns! Popes! Sins! Emperors! Orators! Numerals! It was such an embarrassment of potential riches that we had already worked out three possible ratings based on the speculation alone. To top it all off, Greg Roman totally looks like Craig:

As soon as we got our hopes up, those hopes were brutally dashed when Harbaugh hired Tim Drevno as OC. It's like he doesn't even consider the punnability of his assistants' names when making hiring decisions! But we here at HSR have been making horrible puns for so long that when we started, Adam Jacobi was still calling puns the lowest form of humor.

So, undeterred, we looks for ways to make puns on the name Drevno. It's an anagram of "vendor." There's a Gene Drevno school in Torrance, California. And, uh, that's about it. Not much to work with. A search of articles about his time at Stanford indicated that his offensive line earned the nickname "Tunnel Workers' Union". That had a little promise. Whatever the hell's going on under Seattle's the bottom of the scale, Detroit-Windsor's somewhere in the middle. But can you name 10 famous tunnels off the top of your head? Neither could we.

Desperate for ideas, we went to Google Translate, typed "drevno" into the box, and clicked "Detect language." There was a hit - Croatian! - where apparently "drevno" means "ancient." There are lots of ancient things! Ancient Ones! We can work with this. There are dozens to choose from.

The problem is that it's hard to fit a good ranking system. Is Cthulhu worthy of a higher ranking than Sheb-Niggurath? Where does Azathoth fit into all this?  There are two many choices and, frankly, Dave Brandon's fired now, so it's time to leave unspeakable terrors in the past.

A solution was finally found on the Civ Fanatics message board. They had a poll rating the ancient wonders, which provided a convenient full ordering of ancient history. Science demonstrated that the Hanging Gardens and +6 food is the best, and the Statue of Zeus and a 15% city attacking bonus is the worst.

We therefore introduce, with much fanfare and rambling, the Drevnometer! May it last more than two seasons.

The Drevnometer kicks of the 2015-16 season at 2 because when you have two quarterbacks, you get a two. The Great Lighthouse lets you see further, but it's no help on grass.