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.)

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