Saturday, November 26, 2022

Shiny Happy People

WITH A BROKEN HAND!  TWICE!  (Photo credit: the incomparable Patrick Barron.)

Shiny happy people laughing

Meet me in the crowd, people, people
Throw your love around, love me, love me
Take it into town, happy, happy
Put it in the ground where the flowers grow
Gold and silver shine

Shiny happy people holding hands
Shiny happy people holding hands
Shiny happy people laughing

--"Shiny Happy People" by R.E.M. from their 1991 album Out of Time

All that matters is that the players knew they could do it, and they would do it.  It would have been so easy to tell ourselves, "touchdown underdog on the road to a team bent on revenge in a place Michigan hasn't won since 2000 and the status of Blake Corum unknown," that it just wasn't Michigan's day, the stars were not aligned.  It wasn't a great feeling, but it would have been understandable.  It could have allowed the national pundits to declare last year a fluke and "great season Michigan, but Ohio State is just that much better." and the like.

You look for signs.  A 28% chance of winning is roughly about flipping two quarters and both coming up tails.  On Tuesday, I flipped a quarter twice while standing in the hallway between classes at work.  Both came up tails.  Well.

Everyone around, love them, love them
Put it in your hands, take it, take it
There's no time to cry, happy, happy
Put it in your heart where tomorrow shines
Gold and silver shine

In a promotional video earlier this week, talking about the rivalry, JJ McCarthy was wearing a knit cap to help promote the "Sack The Stigma" campaign for mental health help awareness and to let people know about the new 988 Suicide and Mental Health Crisis Hotline number.

Today's victory in Columbus was Michigan's 988th win of all time.  The signs were there if you were willing to see them.

Shiny happy people holding hands
Shiny happy people holding hands
Shiny happy people laughing

Whoa, here we go.

It felt like Michigan was lucky to be only down three at the half.  The Cornelius Johnson long-bomb TD was nice but did not feel sustainable.  Michigan was getting stops on defense, but it felt like Ohio State was just lurking, waiting; they'd come out of the locker room and start gashing Michigan.

But Michigan got the ball to start the second half; they needed a touchdown to get the feelings flowing.  And we decided that Donovan Edwards would have to carry the load, which he did, broken hand and all.  Still, it was JJ McCarthy's 19-yard run, which included his second effort to push the tackler back to set up another long touchdown, this time to freshman Colston Loveland.  Michigan would lead 24-20 and never looked back.

It didn't feel like it, but ESPN analytics said it was true:

Michigan's defense forced Ohio State into a three-and-out (thanks, in part, to a combination of a holding penalty and a personal foul), and while CJ Stroud clearly wanted to stay on the field and try and convert the fourth and five in plus territory, a false start on the punt led to a touchback and a net gain of 28 yards.

For all of the quick strike and explosive plays that Michigan had converted on, it was a classic Michigan long march drive, a combination of patient runs by Donovan Edwards, a trick play from a linebacker turned running back turned jump passer Kalel Mullings to get a critical first down, a great football IQ play by Ronnie Bell to get a PI in the end zone on a third down on a ball that was high but probably not an easy catch, and a J.J. run to get into the end zone and go up two possessions, there was still a lot of time left in the fourth quarter.  Though Michigan forced another Ohio State punt on a three and out, another OSU unsportsmanlike conduct put Michigan in business on their own 43.

You can be forgiven for thinking that the Jake Moody missed field goal from 57 yards, which would have been his career long had it been made, was going to loom large in the final outcome.  It was the years of pent-up knowledge that these things, these Games, turn on poor decisions.  But Mike Sainristil made an absolutely textbook pass breakup, forced Ohio State into a field goal try to bring it within eight, and tension returned.  Too much time, too many things that could go wrong.

Donovan Edwards didn't care about the past.  With most of the fanbase thinking that Michigan just needed another long drive that ended in points for Michigan, Edwards, with a busted up hand, said "Nah" and went 75 yards in one play and got a touchdown to put Michigan up 15.  It was this absurd "no, I do not accept this" reality moment where suddenly, everything felt possible and real.  But Ohio State now got the ball back with a lot of time left and began moving the ball down the field again.  But, despite not having Mike Morris, the Michigan defense got some pressure on Stroud and forced him into a bad shovel pass that was picked off by Taylor Upshaw, of all people.  Michigan had the ball on their own 8, and two plays later, Donovan Edwards decided if one long touchdown in The Game was nice, two would be legendary and went 85 yards in one play to put Michigan up an absurd 22 points.

Ohio State only had a shade over three minutes to try and rally, but after an Eyabi Okie sack that should have included a fumble, Makari Paige proved ball don't lie and got a second pick (trying to put Michigan up by 30+ but really just sealing the game.)

As fans, we spent much of the last year hoping that this was possible, but as the wins piled up, it seemed like Michigan would have another exceptional season that would end in disappointment.  It was not to be, and for another year, Michigan and its fans get to revel in the fact that Ohio State has, once again, been vanquished. Another trip to Indianapolis, a place that seemed so far away just 364 days ago, is in the offing, facing a Purdue team Michigan has not seen in five years, awaits as Michigan tries to win back-to-back Big Ten championships for the first time since 2003-04.

As much as people do not love "Shiny Happy People" thirty years on, it does represent a certain level of joy.  It's too treacly, too saccharine   But, as so many Michigan fans of a certain vintage know, the song and the lyrics we were really thinking about at the end of the game were a different manifestation of joy:

And sometimes when you're on, you're really fucking on
And your friends they sing along and they love you
But the lows are so extreme, that the good seems fucking cheap
And it teases you for weeks in its absence

But you'll fight and you'll make it through
You'll fake it if you have to
And you'll show up for work with a smile
You'll be better and you'll be smarter and more grown up
And a better daughter or son
And a real good friend

You'll be awake, you'll be alert
You'll be positive though it hurts
And you'll laugh and embrace all your friends
You'll be a real good listener
You'll be honest, you'll be brave
You'll be handsome and you'll be beautiful
You'll be happy!

Your ship may be coming in
You're weak, but not giving in
To the cries and the wails of the valley below
And your ship may be coming in
You're weak, but not giving in
And you'll fight it, you'll go out fighting all of them

Once more, Ohio beat.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Oh My Heart

Senior Day means featuring photos of two of Michigan's most valuable seniors, Money Moody and Ronnie Bell. (Patrick Barron)

The kids have a new take, a new take on faith
Pick up the pieces, get carried away
I came home to a city half-erased
I came home to face what we had faced

This place needs me here to start
This place is the beat of my heart

--"Oh My Heart" by R.E.M. from their 2011 album Collapse into Now

So, you have to trust me on this one, but I had suspected all week that something like this was coming.  I didn't think it was going to be a loss, and I didn't know it was going to be this close, but Michigan hadn't had "the stupid game" this season yet, and The Game can be many things, but it cannot be "the stupid game."  But there were hints all week.  The bitter cold forecast for Saturday came to be. There were emotional factors in favor of the Illini. Michigan had some injuries that might be an issue.  It was foreshadowing and foreboding.

But to watch that first drive, a Blake Corum explosive play to start the day after a week where he was (relatively) bottled up, then a quick hitter to Ronnie Bell for 16, then hitting some tight ends to get inside the ten, and then Blake three times to pay dirt, a Jake Moody PAT, and Michigan was up 7-0 early.  Then Illinois couldn't do much of anything on their first two drives and then was stopped on fourth down on their third, and while Michigan wasn't doing much either, it felt like Michigan was in control on this freezing day.  After all, even after Illinois hit the field goal, Michigan started moving again, thanks to the efforts of Blake Corum.  Then, without warning, on a simple four-yard outside run, Blake Corum took a helmet to the knee, causing him to fumble the ball, and upon review, Illinois got the ball back, and Corum left the game for the half.  While Illinois couldn't do anything, and the teams headed up the tunnel with Michigan up 7-3, the brightness of the early moments seemed to darken into a classic Michigan November gray, that oft-felt sense that doom was creeping back in that matched the clouds in the sky.

The storm didn't kill me, the government changed.
Hear the answer and call, hear this song, rearranged
Hear the trees, the ghosts and the buildings, sing
With the wisdom to reconcile this thing

It's sweet, and it's sad, and it's true
How it doesn't look bitter on you

As halftime wound down, I watched Jake Moody kick into the steadily strong winds blowing north wind toward the south goalposts.  His consistency was unsurprising but a marvel in its own right, just an athlete making sure he knew what the elements he faced were and was prepared for them if called upon.

The Michigan defense's three-and-out on the first series should have assuaged some fears, as should have Blake Corum's return and five-yard carry on the second play of Michigan's opening offensive series. Still, Michigan's inability to turn excellent field position into a touchdown meant the first Jake Moody field goal of the afternoon and a 10-3 lead for the Wolverines.  

You could just tell yourself, "it's OK, Michigan has made excellent second-half adjustments, they'll figure out how to keep the Illini down, grind out an ugly win," and then Illinois went back-to-back drives, with a Michigan failure on fourth down (thanks to a missed offside call that likely lead J.J. to try an Aaron Rodgers' style shot play to Andrel Anthony (who did almost haul it in) only to discover there was no flag thrown, and everything felt awful. The stupid game was in full effect.

The three and out by Michigan as the third wound down and all of the old ghosts started to pop up, right on cue, as if to tell all of us that they had been gone far too long and had some things to say to us.  But then, something subtle happened.  The quarter ended, and Michigan would drive with the wind at their backs for the rest of the game.   

The next Illini drive featured a botched snap and loss of 11 to set up 4th and 19 from the Illinois 34 when the Illini punted to Ronnie Bell.  Ronnie Bell, back out returning punts on Senior Day, went like a man possessed and took a 44-yard punt back 40 yards to the Illinois 38.  The Michigan Stadium crowd, acting like they knew the ghosts could be put to bed, began an unprompted Let's Go Blue chant, and though the drive stalled, a Jake Moody field goal to bring it back within four started to answer some of the fears.  The defense would need to stand tall.  

Illinois tried to put together a drive to either pull back to seven or go up 11 and keep their Big Ten West title hopes alive. It looked like it was going to work for a bit, but faced with a 4th and 8, Tommy DeVito scrambled, but DJ Turner got him by the legs six yards short of the sticks, and Michigan got the ball back with over eight minutes left.

At this point, the cryogenically sealed crowd knew this next drive was big. The freshman Colston Loveland got things going with a replica of the Erick All game-winning play against Penn State in 2021, this time for 27 yards and into Illinois territory. Still, the run game kept stalling without Corum or Edwards, and after three stalled plays inside the 15, Michigan chose another field goal to get within one.  A stop, a drive, and a field goal or better could win it for Michigan.

Bret Bielema helped on the first count by calling an exceptionally conservative sequence that also included a holding and saw Illinois lose three total yards on a three-and-out while Michigan burned its time-outs to preserve the clock.  Michigan had 2:15 and the ball on their own 48 to try and keep the perfect season alive.  A storybook ending would have likely featured a J.J. rollout to a wide-open Ronnie Bell in the end zone.  But Michigan doesn't go for the obvious conclusion.

Mother and father, I stand beside you
The good of this world might help see me through
This place needs me here to start
This place is the beat of my heart

Michigan couldn't quite get all the pieces together quickly but also put them together when it counted.  Isaiah Gash made up for an earlier drop with an eight-yard conversion on fourth down to keep the game alive, using his blockers to get open, much to the chagrin of the Illini fanbase and coaching staff.  On the next play, Ronnie Bell wasn't in the end zone but drew a critical pass interference call to get Michigan to the Illinois 22, or a 40-yard field goal attempt for Jake Moody if they didn't gain another yard, and Moody was 36-37 over the last two years from forty or closer.  A weird play where Cornelius Johnson got five more yards, then Michigan got a free time out with the clock running down as the play was reviewed.  A JJ incompletion meant the stakes were simple.  With 13 seconds left on the clock, #13 Jake Moody would attempt to score his 11th-12th-and 13th points of the game to put Michigan on top.

I never doubted it.  The ball was centered, for the most part, between the hashes.  Robbins had handled a fastball snap earlier in the day, and the operation just needed to do its thing one more time.  Snap, ball down, laces out, kick up, kick right down Main Street, and Michigan led 19-17 with nine seconds left on the clock.

The ghosts whispered in the wind, but there were also memories surfacing.  A fan behind us said: "Man, I was here for Colorado."  So was my wife.  She knows it's not over until the clock says 0:00.  But when Tommy DeVito's Hail Mary attempt into the wind fell harmlessly to the turf, Michigan Stadium let out a collective sigh of relief.  11-0 heading into Columbus, with every single goal still possible.

Jake Moody entered the Pantheon today, Jim Harbaugh suggested as much, and the record book now says as much.  But he had never had a game-winning kick at any level before today (I would have thought the Nebraska kick counted, but that took a tie game to a lead, so your mileage may vary).  But on Senior Day, his last game in Michigan Stadium, Jake Moody became the man of the hour and preserved Michigan's first 11-0 start since 2006, setting up The Game with both teams undefeated for the first time since that fateful meeting.

Beat Ohio.

Tales from The Spreadsheet:
  • Win 0987
  • 11th win in a row, the longest streak since 2006.

  • Michigan winning 19-17 is NOT a Scorigami; it previously happened on 11/18/1939 against Penn.

  • Attendance: 110,433, 99th largest crowd in Big House history.

  • 6th straight win over Illinois.
  • All-time record against Illinois moves to 71-23-2

  • Michigan moves to 13-6-1 all-time on November 19 all-time (5 of those losses are Ohio State in the before times.)

  • Michigan moves to 13-4-1 all-time when scoring exactly 19 points.
  • Michigan moves to 36-16-2 all-time when allowing exactly 17 points.

  • Michigan completes its fourth perfect home slate under Harbaugh. (2016, 2018, 2021, 2022)

Sunday, November 13, 2022

So Fast, So Numb

Big Mood...Jake Moody. (Patrick Barron)

You're drinking raw adrenal, baby
And do-si-do, saddo
You're eating cartilage, shark-eyes, shark-heart, all present tense
And boy, your blood is running cold 
Listen! This is now, this is here this is me
This is what I wanted you to see
That was then, that was that that is gone, that is past
You cast yourself, cast passed by, thrown down fast

You say, you say that you hate it
You want to re-create it
--"So Fast, So Numb" by R.E.M. from their 1996 album New Adventures in Hi-Fi

It was cold.  There were flurries that melted upon contact with the ground that retained much of its warmth from temperatures in the 60s all week.  It was the permagray that settles in over Michigan Stadium when November rolls in.  As Jane Coaston said:

All of this is to say that it is well within expectations that when your offense is getting nearly six yards a pop on any rush attempt without any real explosive plays, deciding to keep things on the ground and let your offensive line impose their will and let your Heisman-candidate running back do his thing.  There is nothing wrong with this!  Maybe this is years of training watching Big Ten football and flashing back to years of rooting for any kind of first down in the Novembers of the late RichRod and late Hoke years, but if the offense can do things and do them well, then yes, keep doing those things.

Yes, I would love to see Michigan's passing game show some signs of execution where they can use their talented wide receivers to mix things up so defenses cannot just stack eight in the box.  All of this is worried about the future, which I both understand and respect.  But for a day where Michigan could find a way to move to 10-0 for the first time since 2006, keep the ball on the ground, hold on to it, and take care of business on defense.

"Dull and boring football" was a common complaint about the Michigan football teams of the 1970s and yes, it was a vastly different world, both in the Big Ten and nationally, but I really think "wishing the passing game was more dynamic" is the sort of thing that falls under "these are the problems you want to have" kind of thing that crops up when the team you're rooting for is 22-2 in their last 24 games.

It was cold, it was boring, but it was a win, and I'm absolutely fine with that.

Notes from The Spreadsheet:
  • Win 0986
  • 34-3 win, the fourth time it's happened, most recently in...2006 at Indiana (to go to 11-0.)
  • 110,192 attendance, 108th largest crowd in Michigan history.
  • Michigan moves to 7-4-1 all-time against the Huskers.
  • Michigan moves to 17-1-3 all-time on November 12.  (Do NOT think about the 1.  It will make you sad.)
  • Michigan moves to 37-0 all-time when scoring exactly 34 points.
  • Michigan moves to 47-2-3 all-time when opponents score exactly 3 points.

Sunday, November 06, 2022


The buffs look good on Barrett.  Oh, hey, Denard! (Michigan Athletics)

I know what I wantedI know what I wantedI know how I wanted this to be
You go down to the waterDrink down of the waterWalk up off the water, leave it be
This is not my time, sisterIt is cold in heavenAnd I'm not sprouting wings
I'm drowningMeI'm drowningMe, yeah
"Undertow" by R.E.M. from the band's 1996 album New Adventures in Hi-Fi 
OK, this one's on me.  I picked the white #23 jersey to wear for this game.  A 2003 vintage Chris Perry, it's one of my newer additions to the collection, but I thought getting "Perry with the carry" vibes would be good against Rutgers, which, if it can do anything (beyond make things exceedingly annoying for other teams with their "hard hitting" and "Schiano manning") it is defending the run.  And things felt pedestrian when Michigan moved the ball down the field with relative ease on the first drive, though the red zone struggles seemed to be rearing their head again until Blake Corum's fourth try to get over the goal line to go up 7-0.  It's just...Michigan has punted so little over the last few weeks that Michael Barrett might have forgotten that he is Brad Robbins' personal protector and Michigan had a rare special teams mistake under Jay Harbaugh. Suddenly, it was 7-7.  Thanks to a short field from a Rutgers' surprise onside kick, Michigan used a short field to drive down the field thanks to a quick 43-yard run by Corum, but again, stalling inside the one-yard line but finally getting JJ over the goal line to make it 14-7 Michigan. 

The second quarter was utterly forgettable, like so many second quarters of recent vintage, including seeing Jake Moody miss two fifty-yard field goal attempts thanks to some tricky winds in the warm New Jersey evening.  So yeah, bad vibes going into the locker room for a third straight week.  But Michigan has been a second half team the last few weeks, so perhaps things would right themselves.  That's when I swapped out the #23 for a 2004 vintage #1 Braylon Edwards; you've got to change up the vibes.

Anyway, after ten minutes of the third quarter, Michigan's current #23 Michael Barrett had two picks, including his first-ever pick six at any level, and had a 35-17 lead.  They never looked back.  Will Johnson got his first career pick two series later, Michigan cashed in another touchdown on it, Jake Moody got a field goal that helped remind folks he's money. One more touchdown from the backups and the 52-17 scoreline looks like what was expected, though not the method of arrival.

Rutgers games are always annoying, especially the last three, but in the end, coming out of each with a different kind of win.  A comeback in triple OT in 2020, a hold on for dear life second half in 2021, and now this slow start, fast finish.  Rutgers can do some things well.  They might continue to get better, especially if the Big Ten moves away from divisions and they no longer have to face all of the top teams in the league every year.  But for now, it isn't enough.

The last time Michigan was 9-0, it was on the literal exact same calendar date in 2016.   Every game date, including the bye week, lines up.  Which would make me a little nervous if we were off to Iowa next week.  But instead, Nebraska comes to town as a massive underdog, so hopefully, Michigan can keep handling its business and take advantage of the chaos that happened elsewhere in college football yesterday at the top.

Michigan Spreadsheet Notes
Win 0985
52-17 score, not a Scoragami.  2nd time, previously against Minnesota in 1995.
Attendance 51,117, which is interesting because it exactly matches the attendance at Michigan Stadium on November 16, 1968, when Michigan was also AP #4.  (Oh, and that's the Ron Johnson single-game rushing record game, 347 yards on 31 carries, or 11.2 yards per carry, and 5 TDs.)
Michigan's all-time record against Rutgers moves to 9-1 (9 straight wins).
Michigan moves to 15-3 on November 5th, all-time.  The previous 11/5 game was 59-3 win over Maryland in 2016.
Michigan moves to 11-0 when scoring exactly 52 points.
Michigan moves to 35-16-2 when allowing their opponent exactly 17 points.