Saturday, November 30, 2019

Losing a Whole Year

I mean, it's kind of a metaphor (David Guralnick/Detroit News)
I probably should wait to write this, because right now, I genuinely feel like Michigan may never beat Ohio State again.  I don't see how it can happen.  I don't see a path forward.  I just see year after year of having to eat this.  They never go fallow.  They never get punished meaningfully.  They never suffer transition costs.  They just keep doing and doing and doing.  Michigan can come out and play reasonably good football and it will just keep getting smoked by Ohio State.  I don't see how it will ever be different.  I want to feel differently, I want to feel something that isn't meaningless existential dread at the end of every November.  I want this to be different and I genuinely do not feel like it ever will be because no one can explain to me how it can be.

I went into today believing that Michigan was likely going to lose this football game.  I had no real reason to believe that Michigan would win.  I sat surrounded by bro OSU fans who ran their mouths the whole game.  I just sat there, largely silent, wanting more than anything for this to be different and knowing that it wouldn't be.  This is a stupid feeling and I should have been more prepared for it, but here we are, hours later, and I am still just soul numbed.  I don't want to feel like this.  I don't want to be like this, so upset about the result of a college football game.  But because I wanted the joy of something going against the script, against the expected, the price paid is this feeling.

The only way Michigan had a chance to win this game was to play perfectly.  So when the first extra point play resulted in a bad hold and a miss, it pretty much was over, even if it was just the first possession.  The miscues were plentiful, the decisions occasionally maddening, but the same result happened one more time.

No one knows how to fix this, short of Ohio State being found guilty of massive NCAA violations, and even then, I'm sure they'd figure out a way to roll with it and go back to winning double-digit games every year.  Michigan may never beat Ohio State again and I don't know if knowing that is likely true is comforting or not.  (If you would like to share your rational and feasible plan for this to not be the case, please, by all means.  It still won't likely be enough.)

Friday, November 29, 2019

Nothing's been the same since New York

(This morning, we're teaming up with the Action Cookbook newsletter for a little Black Friday preview of The Game.  If you are a regular here, this will not be anything new, but if you came to us via the Cookbook, we welcome you.  If you'd like to subscribe to the Action Cookbook newsletter, please click here.) 

Iron Man 2 is still the better movie.  This is my most controversial MCU opinion. (Disney/Marvel Studios)

"Nothing's been the same since New York."

Perhaps because the holiday season is upon us, this simple expositional quote from Tony Stark in Iron Man 3 has been resonating in my head. Because the Michigan football version of this has been "Nothing's been the same since Bo died."

Let me unequivocally state before we go any further that this is not an effort to elicit pathos from the reader. Michigan fans know damn well no one will shed one tear for a program that has built its reputation and veritable mythos around being the leaders and best, the winningest, the very top of the heap. The Michigan man thing is mocked, and perhaps we could stand to be knocked down a peg, maybe that's true. Many Michigan fans are more than willing to laugh at themselves and the notions of what Michigan thinks it is, especially relative to what it is and has become.

But as Michigan fans also tend to be sentimental and romantic about the past, that day, November 17, 2006, is an easy thing to point to as defining. The moment when everything changed.

Ohio State does not get enough credit for it nationally. Still, the reality of the Buckeyes is simple: They never go fallow. Their "down years" are when they only win ten games.  Only one team since 2004 has failed to win double-digit games, the 2011 team interim coached by Luke Fickell, the season that led immediately to the hiring of Urban Meyer. Ohio State never misses a beat. There were those dreamers, and even realists, in the Michigan fan community that thought 2019 would be the year. New coach, even with the talent, you never know what could happen. Nope, Ohio State looks every bit the Big Ten juggernaut it has since the turn of the millennium, maybe even more so given their defensive improvement.

There are plenty of practical reasons why you can point to Ohio State's dominance in the rivalry this century, with nary an aspersion cast at OSU. You can look to their generally excellent recruiting year in and year out. You can cite tremendous player development during this time. You can credit a single-minded Cato the Elder-like devotion to destroying Michigan and salting the earth. You can look at the shifts in population trends in Michigan, Ohio, and the greater Midwest and how that impacts recruiting in this day and age. You can look at other factors that sound a bit whiny and cheap. In the end, it still comes down to a straightforward thing, Ohio State wins, Michigan loses.

Saturday, November 23, 2019


If one has earned the right to stunt on 'em, stunt on 'em. (Tyler Carlton)
In 1969, Michigan was 7-2 after a 51-6 demolition of Iowa at Kinnick.  They had lost two games early in October, a non-conference game against Missouri and falling victim to the Curse of Paul Bunyan in Bo's debut in their match-up with Michigan State.  This meant that Bo, in his first year in Ann Arbor, would need to beat Ohio State to match Bump's 1968 win total.  Even though it was pretty much a given that Michigan would be heading to Pasadena regardless of what happened in the not-as-yet dubbed Big House on that November 22nd, the 12th ranked Wolverines were facing a daunting task.  Ohio State hadn't lost in 22 games.  They were being called one of the all-time great teams, even better than their national championship winning predecessors.  There was no way Michigan was winning this game, 17 point underdogs that they were.

Trap game, they yelled.  Indiana's really good!  #9Windiana was lurking.  Harbaugh teams always have trouble at the Quarry.  And early on, it was holding to form.  Indiana looked really good picking on Dax Hill on their first scripted drive, and though Michigan responded immediately (yeah Ronnie Bell!), the short punt after the interception and Indiana's subsequent touchdown generated that oddly queasy, yet wholly expected feeling.  That Giles Jackson didn't hear a whistle did not matter as he was down 62 yards earlier, he played the game until he was told not to do so.  That Shea mixed it up and hit a bunch of receivers made it feel good, but the circus catch by DPJ was a thing of beauty to tie the game back up.

From that point forward, it was the Nico Show, with three touchdowns, each beautiful in their own way, be it the catch and GO for 76 yards for his second or the repeat of last week immediately after a turnover for the third and the nail in the Hoosiers coffin.

Plenty was said today, on GameDay, during the game, about just how different this Michigan team has looked since halftime of the Penn State game.  The numbers bear it out.  It feels different.  The BPONE doesn't settle in.  It looms, but it gets up and leaves a lot earlier than you expect it to do so.  But it also gives Michigan fans hope.  Because that moment 50 years ago this past Friday is our origin myth, or at least, the reboot version of it.  It's setting up to be close enough to what it was if you squint a little.  Is it all just a little bit of history repeating?  Maybe, probably not.  But it's not fun to not hope.  It was utterly improbable that Michigan could upset Ohio State 50 years ago until it happened.  I know that was then, but it could be again.

Beat OSU.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Blinded (When I See You)

Donovan played the hits, and the people were happy.  (Photo by Patrick Barron)
Let's be clear.  When Michigan State went up 7-0 in the first quarter, all of the old narratives were settling in.  Michigan was taking bad penalties to extend Spartan drives, Michigan was not covering short and intermediate routes and Brian Lewerke looked like he had one more game in him to screw things up for Michigan.

But Michigan answered on the next drive, even if it took to just past the quarter break.  Michigan State extended the drive with a personal foul, and getting back to even at 7-7 was a solid reset.

So when Aidan Hutchinson got an unsportsmanlike penalty, the teeter was tottered by Michigan State earning a pair of unsportsmanlike penalties (on the same play!) turning a twenty yard gain into a ten-yard loss on the play, and eventually leading to a Michigan State punt that would be downed at the two-yard line.

3 yards, incomplete, 8 yards, 3 yards, 15 yards, 14 yards, 6 yards, 5 yards, incomplete but DPI so 15 yards, -3 yards, 5 yards-touchdown.  98 yards in 12 plays with just one (non-penalty) incompletion and one negative play.  That drive was a Michigan team playing within itself, spreading the ball around (Haskins, DPJ, Charbonnet, Patterson keeper, Bell, Bell again, Charbonnet, Sanistril, Nico targeted, Haskins, and then Eubanks, eight different Michigan players moved the ball on the drive.)

So you could be forgiven, going into the half with Michigan up 17-7 for thinking "We're letting them hang around.  No good can come of this."  They could be forgiven for worrying, up 27-10 as Michigan State lined up for a critical fourth and 1 at their own 45 that this thing was not over yet.

And then one of the most remarkable three-play sequences in the history of this rivalry left no doubt.  First, Michigan's defense drew a false start, allegedly using the "MOVE" play that Don Brown is so fond of using.  Then, Michigan State, deciding that they need to punt on the 4th and 6, fell prey to Khaleke Hudson's sixth career punt block/deflection, giving Michigan the ball on the MSU 22.  One snap later, Shea found Nico Collins on the goal line and the entire stadium could sense the rout was on.

But all of this pales in comparison to the fiesta of penalties.  This from the same crew that called OSU 2016.  Here now, a list, in order:
  • False Start - Michigan
  • DPI - Michigan [cough]
  • Offsides - Michigan
  • Personal Foul - Michigan State
  • Unsportsmanlike Conduct - Michigan
  • Unsportsmanlike Conduct - Michigan State
  • Unsportsmanlike Conduct - Michigan State (on the same play!)
  • DPI - Michigan State #chuckittoNico
  • Roughing the Passer - Michigan (on the same play as a defensive holding, Michigan and a DPI, Michigan.)
  • 12 Men in the Defensive Formation - Michigan
  • Unsportsmanlike Conduct - Michigan (flexing is now a crime)
  • Intentional Grounding - Michigan (because Shea was the second player to pass the ball)
  • False Start - Michigan State
  • Unsportsmanlike Conduct - Michigan State (a flagrant!)
  • Sideline Interference - Michigan
  • Unsportsmanlike Conduct - Michigan State (by the brother of the flagrant!)
  • Personal Foul - Michigan State
(This doesn't even count Giles Jackson nearly costing Michigan 30 yards on a kickoff that went out of bounds because he almost touched it before it went out.)

The Battle for Bunyan is always a chippy affair, so it's understandable that Michigan was happy to see it over and done with a comfortable win.  It may be the last stand of Mark Dantonio as Michigan State's coach, that remains to be seen.  But Michigan's won three of the last four in the series.  It's not quite back to "just like old times" but Paul's staying home and has fancy new pants.  We'll take it.

Saturday, November 02, 2019


And we felt silly for even being slightly worried. (Julio Cortez, AP)
I'd like to cop to something.  I was slightly worried about this week's game.  Road game being what it is this year, coming off a big win, you never know.

That worry evaporated after approximately 15 seconds when Giles Jackson ran back the opening kickoff for a majestic Skycam tracked touchdown.  While it would be annoying on occasion on offense, the defense once more did their thing (the only points coming on a 97-yard Maryland kickoff return in the second half) and Michigan won 38-7 that was described variously as "pedestrian" or "much closer than the score indicated." 

Michigan beat a Maryland team before a homecoming crowd just a shade above 40,000 people, most of whom looked and sounded to be Michigan fans.  A Michigan team that was looking like they were about to white flag the season at halftime in Happy Valley has been, in fact, turning in what Jim Harbaugh described as "our finest hour" over the past ten quarters.  Yes, it is too late for any of Michigan's pre-season goals, and that is frustrating, but there's something satisfying in seeing this Michigan team come together and play as we suspected they might be able to from the first hiring of Josh Gattis.

In the end, it's a road win, a conference win, and it takes Michigan into the second "improvement week" of the season on a solid note.  So much like this game, this column did just what it needed to do before moving on.  Enjoy the off week!