Sunday, September 25, 2022

(Don't Go Back to) Rockville

Blake Corum found holes and ran through them with purpose. (Patrick Barron | shop)

"It's not as though I really need you
If you were here, I'd only bleed you
But everybody else in town only wants to bring you down
And that's not how it ought to be
I know it might sound strange but I believe
You'll be coming back before too long."

--"(Don't Go Back to) Rockville" by R.E.M., from their 1984 album Reckoning 

"(Don't Go Back to) Rockville" is, at its core, about Mike Mills catastrophizing what would happen if his then-girlfriend went back to Maryland for the summer, despite knowing nothing about Rockville at all.  It is not a perfectly apt metaphor for yesterday's game, but it's a starting place.

Maryland checked in today at 30th in Bill Connolly's SP+ ($), which does have some pre-season expectations still baked into it, but reminds us that it's a major step up from playing the 125th, 127th, and 129th teams in that same ranking.  (By the way, Iowa checks in at 27 if you're wondering about next week.)  It was known that Maryland had some talented skill players, but it was also known that Maryland frequently played highly undisciplined football.

About that...

I do not believe I have ever seen a football game, at any level, with just two accepted penalties for the entire game.  Now, one can say that this evens out in the end, that if it's not a penalty disparity, then no one benefits, but given how Maryland was making effective use of some holds and coverages, perhaps not.  Then again, Michigan benefitted from a seeming unwillingness to review interceptions, so perhaps it all comes out in the wash.

But if this is about kids from Maryland who go to college out of state, then this is really about Blake Corum and the possibilities of Blake Corum.  It was thought that Michigan would sorely miss the sheer legs churning yardage generation of Hassan Haskins, and rightfully so; Haskins was a rare combination of power and deftness that got yards in the toughest situations.  But to look at Blake Corum is to see a legit muscleball who has an extra gear in the open field, if he can find daylight. Thankfully, for any of the missed downfield passes or excruciating fumbles by Michigan, Corum's two big runs on short yardage, on a fourth and one hurry up at the line, and on a third and four after a time out, made most of the difference, but more importantly, Corum carried the load, Chris Perry style, with 30 carries for 243 yards, the most by a Michigan running back since Biakabatuka dialed 313 against Ohio State in 1995.  Blake Corum was the difference in a game where his being the difference was palpable.  Maryland might still be better than people think; only time will tell.

In many ways, this game was a spiritual cousin to last year's Big Ten opener against Rutgers.  Michigan was a little more tested by a conference foe than it had been, by and large, in its non-conference schedule.  There are plenty of things to clean up, to work on, to improve upon, but as I was reminded on Twitter this morning, it's way more fun to do that when you're 4-0 than coming off a loss.

Michigan will need to be much cleaner on offense next week as they head to Iowa City. where they are 1-5 in their last six games there, but this will be a strength on strength game.  We'll see if Michigan can get the win or waste another year.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Life and How to Live It

A lovely view of the weekend house.  (Zach Shaw)

Raise the walls and shout its flaws, a carpenter should rest
So that when you tire of one side the other serves you best
Read about the wisdom lost, a knock, a knock, a knock
A secret knock one hammer's locked the other wisdom lost

--"Life and How to Live It" by R.E.M. from their 1985 album Fables of the Reconstruction

Leon Franklin scored a touchdown today.

Yes, the touchdown made the game 58-0 in the fourth quarter, but consider this: In the 1,365 games in Michigan football history, there have been 34,781 points scored by Michigan all-time.  Leon Franklin is responsible for six of those; no one can ever take that away from him.

Leon Franklin is a senior who lettered last year and had been a special teamer.  He played at Southfield A&T and had a touchdown against NIU called back last year.  He's a Computer Science major, and now, Leon Franklin joins the hundreds of other Michigan football players who scored a touchdown in their career.

I love this for him.  I love today for every Michigan player on the roster who got to see game action today because Michigan's starters handled their business.  Because Michigan's special teams handled their business with a punt block and a punt return touchdown.  Because Michigan knew the assignment and crossed all the ts and dotted all the is.

Michigan player participation neared 100 players today, including having seven different Michigan players attempt at least one pass (Connecticut completed five total.)  All of those players who spend so much time in practice, studying film, and being a student, got to get into the game today.  Some of these guys will forever be to point to a moment in a video to their kids and their grandkids and show them that they played at Michigan.  I think that's pretty great for them.

It is remarkable in its own way that in a game where Blake Corum tied the Michigan record for rushing touchdowns in a game with five, it was not, at all, the Blake Corum game.  Blake Corum was just the closer.  Another case of doing exactly what was needed at the moment.  It was a day where sure, let's let Jake Moody try a sixty-two yard field goal at the end of the half that would have sent the Big House into pandemonium had it hit, but alas.  

The Big Ten conference slate looms, starting with Maryland for Homecoming next weekend.  But for now, let us celebrate three straight games of over 50 points for Michigan and the simple joy that Leon Franklin scored a touchdown.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

I'll Take The Rain

"A Tale of Two Post-Game Moods" by Patrick Barron
(Patrick does phenomenal work and you should consider going to his online store and buying some of his excellent nature photography as well.)

I used to think
As birds take wing
They sing through life, so why cant we?

You cling to this
You claim your best
If this is what you're offering
I'll take the rain
I'll take the rain
I'll take the rain

The night time creases
Summer schemes
And stretches out to stay
The sun shines down
You came around
You love easy days

-- "I'll Take the Rain," from R.E.M.'s 2001 album Reveal

A 46-point win that was where Vegas opened the line last week doesn't really have a lot to say about it in the long view.  Hawai'i looks like an improved team from their first two games, which is good, and best of luck to Timmy Chang as he rebuilds the ash heap that Todd Graham left in his wake on Oahu.  It was nice to see Ronnie Bell get into the end zone again after a year away due to the injury, but all in all, it was just a little bit of a strange evening where kickoff came at 9:00 PM, with no MMB pre-game, no touch the banner, but the dispatch of another G5 team that wrapped up just after midnight.

Instead, I wanted to talk about the weirdness of feeling like one needed to have a preference of Cade or JJ in the battle for starting quarterback.  I understand "the choosing" aspect of it; when offered two options, as humans we're going to gravitate toward one or the other for reasons.  Many times in life, the choice of two options is so obvious that we don't even see it as a choice or as something that needs to be decided.  But in many cases, where both options have their merits and deficits, there's a feeling that one needs to render a decision and back up one's opinion with evidence.

I genuinely do not have a preference in the quarterback battle for the simple reason that I have no control over it.  I certainly have sympathy and empathy for Cade McNamara, knowing that he did everything he was asked to do last year as the starter and you know, led Michigan to a Big Ten conference championship for the first time in nearly two decades and their first College Football playoff appearance, only to have his role potentially usurped by a younger player, considered by many to be much more talented.  I mean, this literally happened to me at Michigan, and I learned how hard it is to accept what you can't help but see as a demotion.

On the other hand, you cannot help but look at JJ McCarthy on the field and see all of the potential and moments of wonder.  Yes, there were the inexplicable moments, but every quarterback has those when you're looking and watching closely, but the vibes were "This is the guy who can take us higher."  Which, in the back of my mind, was "OK, yes, but I mean, that next leap is a lot."  But I can't blame people for dreaming, especially during this portion of the non-conference schedule this year, when everything feels like it will be supremely easy forever.

What this brings me back to is mostly the idea that one having a preference must, automatically, presume hatred or antipathy for the other choice.  I am struggling to understand the vein of a very toxic fandom that seeks to denigrate Cade simply because he isn't JJ.  He's still a Michigan player; he still has given and is giving his all for Michigan.  Why would we want to make that player, a peer-elected captain, feel like he is unwelcome by people who want Michigan to succeed?  Moreover, strictly pragmatically, we saw in yesterday's Texas game the importance of having a competent, ready-to-go backup on hand.  Even though Texas did not complete the upset of Alabama, they were in that game because Hudson Card made the most of his time under center.

Cade's performance yesterday certainly makes it hard to make the argument for him being the starter, just as Harbaugh noted that McCarthy will start the Connecticut game "on the merit" of his performance last night.  I feel like this team will figure out a way to all pull forward together, and I think it is in the best interests of our own fandom to remind ourselves that we never had any say in the choosing, so let's just enjoy the ride and where it's headed.

Saturday, September 03, 2022

We All Go Back To Where We Belong

Jake Moody knows what's up.  (Patrick Barron)

I can taste the ocean on your skin
That is where it all began
We all go back to where we belong
We all go back to where we belong
This really what you want
This really what you want

--"We All Go Back to Where We Belong" by R.E.M., the band's final single from 2011

There is a moment in a season opener at home when you are sitting there, and every possible option is on the table.  Not all of them are as likely as each other, but they all exist on the unfolding horizon.  On a morning where even before noon, one knew it was going to be a hot and humid one in Michigan Stadium, I sat pondering these possibilities when two things struck me.  One, Jake Moody was the last man off the field from warmups, having made sure to do a practice kickoff from each 35-yard line.  There was something routinely mundane in making sure everything was set up the way he wanted it to be.  The second was the wonderfully sonorous voice of Carl Grapentine bidding us good morning and welcoming us to Michigan Stadium and the 143rd season of Michigan football.  Carl's voice was the sign that the off-season was now officially in the rearview, and we're now into the season.  There was a moment of palpable joy in hearing it. 

This was a game that was mathematically, never in doubt, but there are always those moments of trepidation with a new team, and we're also a little out of practice.  So with a quick three and out that featured two drops, and then CSU tempoing and going 25 yards in four plays, all of the dread of every bad thing comes flooding back.  Then Mike Morris made a tackle behind the line, and suddenly Michigan's getting the ball back off a punt, and Roman Wilson said aloha and flew away home to the end zone and Michigan never looked back.  While it wasn't perhaps as crisp and clean on the offensive end, the defense handled its business in a highly efficient and effective way, and the game was never even close to being in doubt.  Cool things happened, DJ Turner's fumble recovery TD, JJ's 20 yard TD scramble, some nice runs by Corum and Edwards.  It was a little of small, nice things.

There isn't much to say about an opener that pretty much goes according to plan.  The new guys looked mostly good, we're still no closer to a decision on the long-term starter at quarterback, and while that may seem trite or like a moment of surrender to the strictures of a column, the reality is, sometimes you do the things that you have loved to do in the past because they remind you of the joys and pains of the past.  

We all go back to where we belong.