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.