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.

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