Sunday, October 29, 2017

A Sort of Homecoming

Man, he looks young...oh, right. (Mike Mulholland |
Homecoming is an odd duck when you attend football games on the regular with your college roommate in that it should feel like a chance to be nostalgic, but, I mean, literally, I'm sitting with the same person I sat with for four years of games as a student.  We have all the same in-jokes, all the same reference points, and so on.  It's not a blast from the past, it's Season 21 of the same show (and like The Simpsons the first 11 seasons were much more fondly remembered by the masses.)

It is also comforting to know that the same general miasma that surrounded Michigan Stadium during the first 20 minutes of the Rutgers game was not just one's self perhaps being too pessimistic.  Even after a thirteen play, 80-yard drive that took nearly seven minutes off the clock that broke the seal, the 65-yard bust by Janarion Grant off the direct snap took all of the wind out of Michigan Stadium's collective sails.  The alumni (and the half of the student section that showed up) were cold, wind-burned and frustrated.  So when you get a fumbled snap that leads to an O'Korn scramble that ends with a seemingly random slide, and two incompletes, you couldn't blame the defense for thinking "What the heck?" because it was seemingly the general thought among the Maize and Blue faithful, especially after Rutgers allegedly missing in action passing game saw Giovanni Rescigno hit Josh Hicks for 28 yards into Michigan territory.  If not for a supremely mediocre punt by the Scarlet Knights, Michigan could have been pinned deep without a lot of room to work.

Then it happened.  It was a small burst of noise, coming from the most observant in the stands, and then it rose as a murmur, then finally a crescendo as the crowd realized what had happened.  Brandon Peters was in the game at quarterback.  The noise became so much that the scoreboard had to make a "Quiet Please: Offense at Work" request, which might have also been "Can we please not put any undue pressure on the kid, OK thank you?" request.  The whole of the stadium was picked up, it seemed, as the offense perked up, hitting on runs of 8 and 12 yards, then Peters finding Tyrone Wheatley, Jr for 15 for another first down.  Then a Walker run for 4, hitting Poggi for 10 and another first down, Ty Isaac for 6, then a wonderful find of Nico "The Velvet Underground" Collins for the sideline for 12, and finally Karan Higdon in from ten yards out and all seemed right with the Maize and Blue world.   This assertion was only reaffirmed when Michigan pulled together a wonderfully executed, if short, two-minute drill, finished by that most beautiful of all plays, a wheel route to Chris Evans and Michigan went into the locker room up 21-7.

One of the concepts I am finding the most difficult to deal with in my life as it stands now is the difficulty in converting mindset into success.  There are those who have argued (and this is WAY oversimplified) that if you believe you have room to grow, to improve, that you can get better, that there are no practical limits to what you can achieve.  While this is a wonderful and noble goal, sports are a painful reminder that talent still plays a role.  If wanting to be good at something was all that mattered in being successful, Brady Hoke would have a much better shot at still being Michigan's head coach.  A desire to be good and a commitment to improvement are not enough, you still need to have some talent to do it, especially when you are surrounded by other motivated, driven, and talented individuals.  So I think it has to be hard knowing that you wanted to do everything you can to make the most of your shot as a starter and it was just not enough.  As much as people tell you to tune out what the fans and the media are saying, it's so much easier said than done, you know your own shortcomings, and as much as you are working to overcome them, it's just not happening.  You know that you don't have many more chances, which possibly makes you press more, press harder, make bad mistakes precisely because you didn't want to do so.  But college sports are a ruthless meritocracy, as much as loyalty should be rewarded, if you're not getting the job done, you're not going to keep getting opportunities.

What Brandon Peters did yesterday was a glimmer of what is possible.  I do not expect that this is the start of some magical end of season run that rights the ship completely, but I do think it gives Michigan a realistic chance to see what it has in Peters going forward, earning him and the other young players some valuable game experience, and hopefully winning some games along the way.  The Wolverines still have to play the #4 and #3 teams in the country at the end of the coming month.  They have a defense that will, hopefully, keep them in any game.  The question is, can the offense find a way over the next two weeks to be ready for those matchups and give Michigan a chance.  Logic says "Probably not."  Hope says "Sure, why not?"  Hope's more fun here, and I'm going to run with it for now, knowing full well logic probably wins out in the end.  Then again, maybe not, it's college football, and if there's one thing that college football has proven time and again to not be, it's logical.  We shall see.  But for now, it's Minnesota week and as always, Jug security is at a premium.

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