Sunday, October 30, 2022

Talk About the Passion

When afforded the opportunity to hit the Paul, one must hit the Paul.  (Isaiah Hole)

Empty prayer, empty mouths combien reactionEmpty prayer, empty mouths talk about the passionCombien, combien, combien de temps?
Talk about the passionTalk about the passion

--"Talk About The Passion" by R.E.M. from their 1983 debut album Murmur 

I should like this game more than I do.  I did deeply enjoy the era of assured certainty of the late Carr era, where Michigan would show up and beat Michigan State. Even as Michigan was lost in the desert during the Dantonio era, there was this certainty of dumb things happening to Michigan.  But this entire week felt like a full Kobayashi Maru.  If Michigan wins in anything other than blowout fashion, it will be an indictment of the season, to say nothing of the reaction if, once again, an unranked Michigan State finds a way to spoil a Michigan season in the name of making their own.  

So yes, please forgive me if the first quarter felt frustrating.  Even if one intellectually knew that Michigan State could not keep just throwing up long jump balls and scoring, well, it worked in 2020, so yeah.  But the reality settled in that even if Michigan could move the ball to the Spartan five, they just couldn't get in the end zone.  But, thankfully, Jake Moody remains money, and it was 13-7 at the half.

The underappreciated genius of Blake Corum and Donovan Edwards is that they echo Mike Hart's running style without copying it.  They find the holes, they fall forward for the extra yards, and they do more, but they don't make it look difficult.  When the running game is clicking, it's not necessarily an exciting brand, even if Corum and Edwards were both averaging over five yards every time they touched the ball without a bunch of explosive plays.  In the larger view, the only reason that this didn't feel better was that Jake Moody had five field goals instead of, say three field goals and two Michigan touchdowns in their stead.  37-3 would be much more indicative of what the offense was doing outside the red zone than what they were doing inside the red zone.  I suppose that is a credit to the Michigan State defense.

The final analysis of this game is that Michigan won by nearly exactly the margin they were expected by Vegas to win by and has reclaimed Paul.  Michigan has a win over every Big Ten team in their most recent match-up.

Michigan Spreadsheet Notes:
Win 0984
29-7 score, not a Scoragami.  4th time, previously against Indiana last year.
Win 450 at Michigan Stadium (in 600 games)
Attendance 111,083, the 65th largest crowd in Michigan Stadium history
All-time record against Michigan State/MAC moves to 72-38-5
Michigan moves to 14-5 on October 29th, all-time.  The previous 10/29 game was 32-23 win over MSU in 2016
Michigan moves to 16-2 when scoring exactly 29 points
Michigan moves to 107-13-4 when allowing their opponent exactly 7 points.

It's Rutgers week.  Steel yourself accordingly.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Crush With Eyeliner

It wasn't the moment that Michigan fans stopped worrying, but it was the moment Michigan fans at least allowed themselves to consider the possibility of stopping. (Patrick Barron)

I'm in like
I'm infatuated
It's all too much, the pressure
She's all that I can take
What position should I wear?
Cop an attitude? (you fake her)
How can I convince her? (fake her)
That I'm invented too, yeah

I am smitten
I'm the real thing (I'm the real thing)
We all invent ourselves
And, uh, you know me    

--"Crush With Eyeliner" by R.E.M. from their 1994 album Monster 

By coincidence, well, and the way the calendar lines up, today marked the third time that Michigan had faced off with Penn State on October 15.  The first was in 1994, just a few weeks after the release of Monster, R.E.M.'s "back to basics" rock album, when #5 Michigan faced off against the #3 Nittany Lions in Ann Arbor just three weeks after "The Miracle at Michigan".  Penn State was facing a lot of skepticism about their weak early schedule but came out and posted a 16-3 halftime lead, only to see Michigan race back to tie the game twice, only to pull it out in the end.  I distinctly remember this was also the night of my junior year Homecoming Dance and I kept checking in on the game at the bar in the restaurant, which was fine because my date was also a fellow future Wolverine and wanted to know what was happening.  

The second was 2005 when Michigan was 3-3, having alternated wins and losses to start the season took down a #8 Penn State squad at the Big House on "Touchdown Manningham" an improbable win during "The Season of Infinite Pain" that meant Michigan had won seven straight in the series, a run that began on Judgment Day in 1997.  

History isn't instructive in college football, as much as we like to celebrate it.  So none of these things that had happened before mattered as we came into today.  A Maize Out to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the beloved 1997 National Championship team, a 6-0 Michigan team, said by some around the country to be untested, against a 5-0 Penn State team.  Big Noon Saturday...again.  All the making of a classic.  Except, it really wasn't.

Michigan could clearly move the ball early on, eating up most of the first quarter on an 11-play, 64-yard field goal drive and a 13-play, 77-yard field goal drive sandwiched around a three and out for Penn State.  It would have been great to finish those drives with touchdowns, which Michigan got after another three and out and a 13-play, 70 yard touchdown drive, it felt like Michigan had things well in hand, especially when it looked like Michigan's defense had stopped the Penn State rusher in the backfield, only for the entire stadium to discover that Sean Clifford still had the ball and ran for 62 yards to set up a Penn State score.  

OK, no problem, just keep moving the ball, that was a fluke, the defense has this in hand...and then a double helmet bounce pick six and Penn State has the lead and nothing makes sense.  Michigan did go down and get a field goal on another 11 play drive to go into halftime with the lead, but a game that could have easily been 28-0 was 16-14 and it just felt bad.  Penn State had 14 points on 14 first half plays.  Michigan fans aren't always great about being rational even with a lead.

Penn State went down and finally put a drive together, using a 48-yard pass to get into field goal range, but no more.  Now Penn State has the lead and everything feels...oh wait, Donovan Edwards just exploded for a 67-yard touchdown run that included a spectacular freezing of the final defender to beat and with a two-point conversion by Ronnie Bell, Michigan was up 7.  And while Penn State went for it on fourth and six (after the entire stadium sang "Mr. Brightside") only to give the ball back to Michigan, Blake Corum decided to make sure the Heisman talk was still coming this week with an explosive 61-yard TD run of his own to put Michigan up 14 and never looked back.  Michigan scored 25 straight points after Penn State took the lead, never looked back, and moved to 7-0.  

Bye weeks are always better when you're coming off a win. Michigan State in two weeks, on Halloween weekend.  We can dare to start dreaming again, because we all invent ourselves and, uh, you know me.

Saturday, October 08, 2022

Finest Worksong

J.J. went for 300+ thanks to a very good second half. (Patrick Barron)

The time to rise has been engaged
You're better best to rearrange
I'm talkin' here to me alone
I listen to the finest worksong

Your finest hour
Your finest hour
--"Finest Worksong" by R.E.M. from their 1987 album Document

Resolved: Indiana games are always dumb.

The first half certainly felt like it would be one of those games.  

(I have to be honest here, I have started and stopped writing this one several times, mostly because I really just want Mike Hart to be OK.  I am encouraged by the reports out of Bloomington, and I am hopeful that the medical professionals were able to get to the bottom of what caused him to collapse on the sideline.  So I mostly wanted to acknowledge this before I started talking about the game because it just felt like it needed to be said.)

After another expert opening drive, Michigan just felt like it couldn't get its act together on offense and was struggling with Indiana's tempo on defense.  But all of the elements that Indiana was able to use to get their touchdown drive were not replicable, as Ace Anbender pointed out on Twitter at the moment.  Not that this felt better in the first half.  In a week where a Big Ten Network viral promo had James Franklin telling us that penalties are the most overrated stat, the officiating crew decided to test that thesis on Penn State's next opponent since the Nittany Lions were off this week.  A matched pair of blocked kicks on field goals and it was 10-10 in the locker room.

Jim Harbaugh said he challenged his team to play their best half of football in the second half, their finest hour, if you will.  And they did just that.  The 98-yard touchdown drive started off feeling bad with Cornelius Johnson letting a sure touchdown slip through his hands, only to redeem it by cashing in for the go-ahead score.  Two more touchdowns and a pass rush that seemingly made Indiana question whether the legalization of the forward pass was in fact wise and Michigan got out of Bloomington with a three-score win.

Indiana games are always dumb, but for another season, it's over.

Saturday, October 01, 2022

Living Well is the Best Revenge

Mike Morris decided to end the game himself, and not a moment too soon.  (Patrick Barron | Shop)

Don't turn your talking points on meHistory will set me freeThe future's ours and you don't even rate a footnote nowSo who's chasing you? Where did you go?You disappeared mid-sentenceIn a judgment crisis I see my anecdote for itYou weakened shell
All your sad and lost apostlesHum my name and flare their nostrilsChoking on the bones you toss to themWell I'm not one to sit and spin'Cause living well's the best revengeBaby, I am calling you on that

--"Living Well is the Best Revenge" by R.E.M. from their 2008 album Accelerate 

Feelingsball is a bad way to coach, but it is supremely the way that many of us consume football.  Michigan never fell below a 90% win expectancy at any point in the second half, but after Iowa scored to make it 20-7, and Michigan went three and out after Blake Corum slammed into a fierce Iowa goalline defense on a third and one at the Michigan 33, it was starting to feel dicey.  It was not dicey, but the specters of Kinnick past lingers, even if they were not able to be seen.  Even though Brad Robbins boomed a 50-yard punt to put Iowa behind their own twenty-yard line, things did not feel good.

They had felt good early.  Michigan looked like it was running a clinic on the opening drive, 11 plays, 75 yards, 5 minutes, and a Ronnie Bell run for a touchdown.  Michigan wanted to put pressure on Iowa's offense that an early score would help facilitate that exact notion.  While Michigan would get a pair of Jake Moody field goals to go up 13-0 at the half, even with Iowa's documented offensive difficulties, it still did feel like more was needed.  So, after the beautiful JJ rollout right to Donovan Edwards on the angle route to make it 20-0, it felt like Michigan just needed one more drive to salt things away.  About that.

After the Robbins punt, Iowa proceeded to, in defiance of history and precedent, move the ball down the field.  The first touchdown could be explained away by the short field generated from the backward pass McCarthy threw, and Donovan Edwards covered for a loss, but not a turnover.  But now, Spencer Petras is actually hitting guys, Michigan's tackling is leaving something to be desired, and while it's taking some time, Iowa has fourth and two on the Michigan six...this is it, this is the play that will...and Iowa throws short of the sticks and commits offensive pass interference all at the same time.  Michigan gets the ball back, and Iowa is still down 20-7.  Michigan did go three and out again after this, but another Brad Robbins bomb, this one for 51 yards, and with four minutes left, Iowa still needed two scores.

That was when the defensive line decided to make the Iowa offense pay for its sins on the day and exorcised so many of the ghosts of Iowa City.  Mike Morris on first and second down brought the heat, leaving Iowa to face 3rd and 19 when Taylor Upshaw and Eyabi Okie teamed up for another five-yard sack and then Okie with a QB pressure on fourth down.  Michigan only held the ball for three plays on the next drive as well, but this time it was because Blake Corum shimmied and shook an All-America linebacker out of position for a touchdown to make it 27-7.  While Iowa would get a cosmetic score late against a very soft bit of coverage by Michigan, a top five maize and blue squad escaped Iowa City with a win to move to 5-0 for the second straight year, the first time since (checks notes) 2010-2011.  (Wait, really?  Yes.  Really.)

The fears in the game came from a storyline and the fears of what happened the last time Michigan visited Iowa City, in what felt like a lifetime ago.  But Kinnick is in the rearview and Michigan moves ahead to play at Bloomington next week with bowl eligibility possible with a win.  As Harbaugh said in his presser, the only way to get to 6-0 is to get to 5-0, so we'll see what happens next.