Saturday, September 28, 2019

Forget Myself

Hey, we remembered that this guy plays football for Michigan.  (Kirthmon F. Dozier - Detroit Free Press)

[Caveat: Rutgers]

They didn't turn the ball over on the first offensive series.  6-14-2-10-Nico for 48 and a TD.  [Caveat: Rutgers]  People we're going to point to Gattis on the sideline calling plays, or the "good week of practice", but really [Caveat: Rutgers] it just came down to talent cohering, looking crisp, and after a Rutgers three and out, finding a solution to the goalline woes by bootlegging Shea [Caveat: Rutgers] not once, not twice, but thrice (and Joe Milton once for good measure.) Shea's day looked like what you would expect from a top-end signal-caller recruit [Caveat: Rutgers], and even the interception, a good idea "Chuck it to Nico," almost worked.

We spent a week wallowing in the muck and the mire of what Wisconsin meant. Why did Michigan look lost and perpetually doomed to be an also-ran? We are no closer to knowing what it meant or how we got here.  Pet theories were batted around, national media types spewed forth with a barely restrained glee that Harbaugh wasn't the messiah.  When we asked Ace last week "Why is this sadness different than the other types of sadness we have experienced," his reply in the pod was spot on, we allowed ourselves to dream and to hope without restraint.  Rodriguez and Hoke were risks in their own way that the hope was more invested in "please don't crash and burn." Whereas with Harbaugh, the track record was much more shaded toward lending itself to a massive amount of hope, and the crushing realization that it may never happen again was devastating.  It probably took us longer than the rest of the nation, but it still hurt.

Today's result [Caveat: Rutgers] doesn't change anything.  It is what we expected at the beginning of the season, Michigan handling its business against a massively overmatched Rutgers team was written in Sharpie at the beginning of the year and was a solid bet three possessions into the game.  It doesn't tell us anything more than we already knew, but at least it wasn't the confused, choppy, ill-fitting outing against MTSU or the never schedule a service academy run of the Army game.

Sometimes you have to lose everything to find out what you really are.  On the day in which Michigan celebrated the 150th anniversary of college football, it wasn't a look back to the receding past, nor trying to find its place in an ever-changing future, but rather a solid moment of reflection in the present, committing to trying to be what they thought they were, what they hoped they would be, and what they always suspected they could be.  The puzzle will be solved, week by week, but at least for one moment, things looked as good as they have in a while.  And that just might be enough.  [Caveat: Rutgers]

Saturday, September 21, 2019


It's not a perfect summary of the day, but... (Jeff Hanisch, USA TODAY Sports)
Nothing is good anymore.  Even the slightly good things feel like they come at a cost.  Sean McKeon scored a touchdown to get Michigan on the board and cut the lead to...well, slightly less and he came away hurt after trying to avoid destroying someone on the sidelines.  That score came after Dylan McCaffery took two hits to the head, earning a pair of targeting penalties, one for each of Wisconsin's starting safeties and was later reported to be suffering from a concussion.

I really don't have anything to add.  It was awful to watch.  It was confusing to watch.  It was frustrating to watch.  And I don't see how it gets better, at least in the short term.  But for the first time, in a long time, I also don't know if it gets better in the long-term.  I know Michigan is never going to be Michigan again, the world has changed too much, the inherent advantages that Michigan once had are gone, and all that is left is a trophy case full of what once was and likely shall never be again.  But I don't want to accept this.  I feel like this isn't the way things should be and the denial of it shall stave off the encroaching despair as if positive thinking alone can make things better.

I'm not declaring myself done, I'm not writing off the season, I'm just over the line of thinking that Michigan will ever be the Michigan of the past once again because it won't.  We had our literal best shot at making that happen and it didn't happen.  There's no logical way forward that gets Michigan back there and at some point, the past is too far gone to recapture it again.  The new world is a harsh and unforgiving place and it cares not what has been before.

So cool, let's celebrate the sesquicentennial of College Football with the two oldest programs in FBS with a meaningless Big Ten noon game next week.  Maybe Michigan won't fumble on their opening possession this time.  That would be something.

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Taste of Danger

Once again, a quick whistle nearly caused a Michigan disaster.  (The other fumbles didn't help.)
David Guralnick, Detroit News
I am not saying any of us is a prophet, but someone in the Michigan fan base saw the Army/Oklahoma game as it played out last year on that one guy's Periscope stream and immediately asked the question "Wait, why did we schedule in 2019 Army again?"  Especially since Army was supposed to be playing Northwestern today.  Keeping in mind that Army had won 12 games in four years prior to 2015 when this game was announced, it wasn't an overly terrible idea, it's just that Jeff Monken hadn't had time to go full wizard on his team.  But never schedule a service academy.  We're done with this.  Or at least, we should be.

There was an odd familiarity to this game, it felt like a bad copy of last week's game, too many fumbles, too many opponent points off those turnovers, and some bad luck.  The Metellus fumble recovery, clearly seen on replay that his knee was not down, that saw the ball immediately go back to Army because Christian Turner had some, difficulty, in pass protection, and Shea Patterson got blindsided and strip-sacked and everything felt awful, even in a tie ball game, the third lost fumble felt exactly like the kind of thing that you point to as to a reason a ranked team was upset at home.

Army West Point is very good at what they do.  They know what they want to do, and they executed the hell out of it.  They understand math, they understand that if they limit the number of possessions and make the most of when they do have the ball, they can win a lot of football games.  It's one of those things that you tip your cap to and nod at in the affirmative until they are playing your team.  Then you hate it.  As Ace said on Twitter:

I have said in the past, the difference between "survives an upset bid" and "is upset" is a chasm visible from space.  But it doesn't make it feel a whole lot better at the moment.  It will feel better down the line when that ends up +1 is in the win column (956 total, evening the all-time series leaving just USC (4-6) and Cornell (6-12) with winning records against Michigan), but right now, everything feels off.  We're stuck with troubling trendlines, confusion about the offensive identity, and concerns about both lines when the smallest lines in FBS were giving them everything they could handle.  Two weeks into the season in which Michigan is 2-0 and the fanbase is in full-on finger-pointing as the first open date approaches.  Things will, hopefully, get better.  But at least today was not a loss, and when that's the best thing* you can say about it, well, let's just move on and burn the footage.

(*-Oh, Zach Charbonnet looks like the real deal, that was nice.)

Sunday, September 01, 2019

How's It Going to Be

Like many of us, Coach Harbaugh is wondering why there is no sound coming from the South End Zone scoreboard (Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press)
Harbingers don't actually exist, except in retrospect.  But the longtail of history also gives the canny observer patterns of things to look for when things are turning sideways or worse.  So you can forgive the 110,000+ fans in Michigan Stadium got a sense of dread when the first play from scrimmage of a new season with a new offense ended with a Shea Patterson fumble and a Middle Tennessee State recovery.  That the Blue Raiders then went 42 yards in four quick plays and Michigan was down 7-0 just a shade under 130 seconds into the game. 

The new Michigan offense answered with scores on three of its next four possessions and looked to have created a semblance of order, if sloppy, first week, needs improvement order.  But the mood was locked in, the tone had been set.  The night game magic of Under the Lights I was a distant memory, even if the Michigan Stadium DJ attempted to rouse the old feeling by playing Taio Cruz's "Dynamite."  (This led to an exchange between myself and my college roommate and longtime seatmate in which I said "It would appear were trying to do whatever the opposite of 'exorcise the demons' is?  Like 'inorcize'?  To which he gently pointed out the word I was looking for was "possession."  Really we were just invoking the spirits, but I digress.)

 Things looked to have been a righted ship until Lavert Hill got a case of the muffs on a fair catch punt with five minutes to go, leading to another MTSU touchdown and an eventual 27-14 halftime score that made the MMB's terrific show seem not so great because this was not going as planned.  So many B1G teams had rolled to relatively sweat-free victories in Week 1, what the hell was wrong.  All the hope that everything had been fixed, all of the hand-waving that the defense was going to be just fine despite some significant personnel losses felt like wishful thinking at best, and willful self-deceit at worst.  And yet, both scores came off short fields due to turnovers, the defense did look like it could still flash bits and pieces of its old self, but it still felt off.

The hardest part about this game is that it never could be examined on its own merits.  It was always about what it tells us going forward, what does it mean for Wisconsin.  College football only lives in the future and in the past, never the present.  It was always going to be about a status check, a temperature taking, and the joy of those first few minutes before kickoff when everything is still possible, no dream is too bold, too outlandish. That the joy you hear when Carl Grapentine's deep baritone welcomes you warmly to Michigan Stadium, like an old friend, reminding you of what you missed and trying to make you believe.  The game itself is the harsh reminder that this game is, at its core, a foolish thing to love, which somehow only makes you like it more, even when it hurts you, even when it doesn't quite go the way you wanted it to at the moment.

So I have seen the full spectrum of takes and opinions about what to take away from this game.  I don't know who is correct in any of this, but no one else does either because no one can see the future.  The harbingers are here, we just don't know which ones they are yet.