Sunday, December 03, 2023

It's Only Rock 'n Roll

Apparently, we can have nice things! (Patrick Barron)

If I could stick my pen in my heart
And spill it all over the stage
Would it satisfy you? Would it slide on by you?
Would you think the boy is strange?
Ain't he strange?

There was a long-time criticism of the movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, especially in the first two phases, that while Marvel has excellent heroes, there was a tendency to make the villain just a dark mirror of the hero.  Iron Man faces Iron Monger, Hulk faced Abomination, Captain America faced Red Skull, Ant-Man faced Yellow Jacket, and Doctor Strange faced Kaecilius.  In each case, the complaint was that it made the framework of the conflict sort of boring and predictable.  

In other news, it is worth noting that Michigan decided that the best way to beat Iowa and its nation's best defense was to basically become Iowa with a better offense.  How did Michigan win this game?  Lockdown defense (which, admittedly, was made easier by Iowa's offensive inability), timely special teams play (the Semaj Morgan punt return to give Michigan a short field on which they cashed in, James Turner being perfect on field goals.), and forcing turnovers (if you would like to believe that the Big Ten officials might have a bias against Michigan, the replay review where Josh Wallace's timely remembrance to pick up the ball and hand it to the official gave Michigan another short field), Michigan essentially became MegaIowa and the result was a 26-0 victory to end the Big Ten East/Big Ten West era of Big Ten championship games 10-0 in favor of the East.

If I could win you, if I could sing you
A love song so divine
Would it be enough for your cheatin' heart
If I broke down and cried?
If I cried

Michigan fans have long seen Pasadena as the just reward for a great season.  You win the Big Ten, you go to the Rose Bowl.  While the results of that game have not always been great, there have been great moments in the shadow of the San Gabriels.  While it would have been nice to have a Pac-12 opponent to face in the last "real Rose Bowl," a battle of the two winningest programs in college football history is a nice framework to look at as we head into the New Year.  Michigan has learned, hopefully, the lessons of the last two years, and know that Alabama, and specifically, Nick Saban, with time to prepare, is a nightmare.  But Michigan wants to win a national championship; they have a path they need to walk to get there.  We'll see if they can do it, but for now, at least they have the opportunity, which is more than other people can say.

I said, I know it's only rock 'n' roll, but I like it
I said, I know it's only rock 'n' roll, but I like it, like it, yes, I do

College Football is a deeply screwed-up sport, in ways that I do not need to catalog for you, the reader.  We have to accept that if we like, love, and appreciate this sport, there will be things that make no sense.  From the playoff selections this Sunday to NCAA investigations into petty infractions while looking the other way for years on other systemic wrongdoing.  All of these things are just part of what makes this sport what it is.  But for now, Michigan has a chance to win the Rose Bowl, something they have not had an opportunity to do since New Year's Day 2007.  California dreamin' indeed.

Tales from the Spreadsheet
  • Win 1,002
  • 26-0 is NOT a Scorigami (12th time, most recently 11/15/1980 while hosting Purdue)
  • 67,842 was the attendance (largest of Michigan's three Big Ten Championship game appearances.)

  • Michigan moves to 45-15-4 all-time against the University of Iowa.
  • Michigan has won four straight over Iowa.
  • Michigan moves to 1-0 all-time on December 2.

  • Michigan moves to 28-1 when scoring exactly 26 points (the loss is 27-26 to 1994 Colorado.  You may remember the ending of that game).
  • Michigan moves to 338-0-12 all-time when allowing 0 points to the opposition.  It is Michigan's second shutout of the season, and Michigan's eighth game holding its opponent to single digits.
  • Michigan has won 22 games all-time by precisely 26 points, most recently the 2021 Northwestern Game. 

Saturday, November 25, 2023

She's a Rainbow

The sweetest buffs of the year.  (Bryan Fuller)

Have you seen her dressed in blue?
See the sky in front of you
And her face is like a sail
Speck of white, so fair and pale
Have you seen a lady fairer?

On a week where Jim Harbaugh referenced Ted Lasso, and the MMB made a "Believe" sign during halftime, it is perhaps fitting that today's column takes its name from one of the finest needle drops in the series.

When not thinking about the holiday this week, most of my spare time was fluctuating between dread and complete dread about this game.  Everything on paper said that these were two evenly matched teams, except one was without its head coach due to a suspension.  Would that be too much?  Would Michigan, being at home and united under the "Michigan vs. Everybody" mantra, find a way to do it?  It was a different feeling than what I had felt going into The Game for much of the last decade.  Most of the time was hoping Michigan could find a way to pull it off, only to have that hope dashed either quickly, or crushingly, or sometimes both.  2021 allowed Michigan fans to dream again, and 2022 allowed Michigan fans to feel something wholly different, something ancient awoken in our souls; the dream of the 90s was alive in Ann Arbor.

But 2023 has been a ride.  A completely stupid ride.  One that I regret spending so much mental energy on, as elucidated by BryMac in Punt/Counterpunt this week.  But it was perhaps inevitable when you spend so much time thinking about Michigan football.  These were the narratives, the things that had to be mulled over, and there they were.  Narratives aren't reality; we try to predict the story based on what has happened before; it's one of the most basic reading comprehension skills we teach children.  But we cannot predict the future; we are not clairvoyant, and our tendency to catastrophize as a means of guarding ourselves against the disappointment to come later.  But we cannot lose sight of hope.

She comes in colours everywhere
She combs her hair
She's like a rainbow
Coming colours in the air
Oh, everywhere
She comes in colours

See, hope comes in colors.  Sometimes it's the mono-blue uniforms that Michigan has made a new tradition at home against Ohio State.  Sometimes it's the steel gray sky of the late fall in the Midwest.  Sometimes it's the polarized brown of the buffs after not one, but two critical interceptions, one to get things rolling, and one to close the door.  But hope will sit with you as Michigan bleeds clock in the fourth quarter until Ryan Day starts calling some time-outs.  You start to think about how one more first down will win this game.  You hope that kicking the field goal to go up six is the right call.  You wonder if hope is leaving early to beat traffic when Kyle McCord keeps completing passes.  But then, Michigan got just enough pressure on McCord to force him into a bad throw, and Rod Moore got both hands under it, and you realize that yes, hope has left the building, not because she abandoned you, but because hope has become reality once more.   

Have you seen her all in gold?
Like a queen in days of old
She shoots colours all around
Like a sunset going down
Have you seen a lady fairer?

Michigan still has some work to do.  Another matchup with a 10-2 Iowa squad in Indy.  Win that, and Michigan heads back to Pasadena for the first time since New Year's Day 2007 in what is, in some ways, the last real Rose Bowl.  Maybe it's Michigan/Washington for a fitting farewell, but there is still too much daylight between now and selection Sunday to make any predictions.  But as I think about the future, I am reminded of the past.

Ten years ago, a flawed Michigan team went blow for blow with #3 Ohio State in the Big House.  Trailing by 7, Michigan drove 84 yards in 100 seconds to score a touchdown to make it 42-41.  Hoke asked the players if they wanted to go for the win.  They said they did; they came out with a two-point conversion play.  Ohio State called time out.  Michigan came back out with the same play, and Ohio State knocked it down to survive Michigan's upset bid.  I wondered at that time who Michigan football was for, and what Michigan football was for.  Ten years later, I came to the same conclusion, it is for them.  These players wanted all of this, and this time, they got it.  Three in a row against Ohio State.  What a time, what a team.  Onward to Indy.

She's like a rainbow
Coming colours in the air
Oh, everywhere
She comes in colours

--"She's a Rainbow" by the Rolling Stones from their 1967 album Their Satanic Majesties Request

Tales from the Spreadsheet
  • Win 1,001
  • 30-24 IS a Scorigami (I know, I'm just as surprised as you are.) (Five of Michigan's 12 games thus far this season have been Scorigamis.)
  • 110,615 was the attendance (the smallest home crowd to watch Michigan play a football game against Ohio State since the 1997 game.)

  • Michigan moves to 61-52-6 all-time against the Ohio State University.
  • Michigan has won three straight over Ohio State.  Three straight for the first time since 1995-1997.
  • Michigan moves to 11-6-1 all-time on November 25, 6-5 vs Ohio State on this date.  It marks Michigan's first win on this date since 1995, which allows me to yell BIAKA for a good reason.

  • Michigan moves to 9-1 when scoring exactly 30 points (the loss is 31-30 to 1988 Miami).
  • Michigan moves to 17-18 all-time when allowing 24 points to the opposition.
  • Michigan has won 30 games all-time by precisely 6 points, most recently the 2020 Rutgers 3 OT game.  (Fun Fact: Michigan also beat Ohio State by a six-point margin in 1997 to finish an undefeated regular season.)

Saturday, November 18, 2023

(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction

A journey that began in 1879 has a new milestone.  (Nick Wass/AP Photo)

"When I'm driving in my car
And that man comes on the radio
And he's telling me more and more
About some useless information
Supposed to fire my imagination
I can't get no, oh no, no, no!
Hey, hey, hey!  That's what I'll say!."

--"(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" from the band's 1965 single of the same name

It was a lot this week.  Which is weird because, in some ways, it was less than the week before, but in other ways, it was more.  But it was a lot as a fan, so I can only presume it was worse as a player or coach.  But it was reasonable to believe that the dust would settle enough when Saturday came, and Michigan would come out and play some solid football.

We must have forgotten a critical truth of the college football season.  The game before the Game is always stupid.  Deeply stupid.  To look back at the last few, there was last year's Illinois game, the 2021 Maryland game (perhaps the least stupid of the lot), the 2019 Indiana game in freezing rain, and the 2018 Indiana game that featured six Jake Moody field goal because the offense could not cash in.  It's not that it's a trap game; it's just you don't want to lose anyone to injury before The Game, and you don't want to put too much on tape.  That's a restrictor plate, and it can lead to some weird results.

Michigan came out flat initially, but after a Maryland field goal, it got an offensive touchdown, a strip sack touchdown, a punt block converted into a safety, and then a touchdown drive to go up 20-3.  Michigan looked ready to downshift into cruise mode, but Maryland had different ideas and got a touchdown to take it to 20-10.  OK, Michigan, actual two-minute drill practice, which was going well enough, even with a near pick by JJ, which then became an actual pick in the end zone on the next play.  There were many arguments as to why it happened: JJ's dinged up, and Roman Wilson had left the game as a precaution after a hit to the head on Michigan's second offensive drive.  Maryland had some momentum and would get the ball back to start the third quarter.

Sure enough, Maryland marched down the field and got a touchdown, and Michigan's 20-point lead was down to six, and every Michigan fan seemingly turned into a doom machine, especially when Michigan went three and out on three straight runs.  Maryland looked like it would march down the field to take the lead when Mike Sainristil reminded the Terps that to live by Taulia Tagovailoa's arm is to die by Taulia Tagovailoa's arm.  Sainristil got a crucial interception and nearly made it a pick-six before he was ruled down.  No matter, Michigan moved the ball downfield and used a Semaj Morgan jet sweep to put themselves up 12 (a failed two-point conversion was in the mix.)  Nope, Maryland immediately went back down the field and got another touchdown, and now, it was only down five points late in the third quarter.  Michigan punted, but the defense came through, with a critical sack of Tagovailoa on third and 13, which allowed Michigan to get the ball at midfield on the ensuing punt.  But then Michigan went three and out after a sure TD pass to a wide-open Cornelius Johnson on first down, but at least pinned Maryland inside their own ten.  Kenneth Grant got a run stuff, then a sack that was nearly a safety that set up third and 18, which resulted in a Tagovailoa armpunt to Mike Sainristil, again.  But once more, Michigan could do nothing with the ball, going backward thanks to a holding call in Trente Jones during a rare JJ McCarthy scramble during this game.  This left it again on the foot of Tommy Doman, who executed a dead solid perfect punt downed at the Maryland 1-yard line.  Four minutes remained on the clock, but Maryland would need to go the length of the field against a resurgent Michigan defense.  It ended up being moot because on second down, Michigan's pass rush forced Tagovailoa into a pass without forcing him out of the pocket that got nowhere close enough to a Terp receiver.  The officials threw a late flag and awarded intentional grounding in the end zone, thus a safety, giving Michigan a seven-point lead.  Maryland would never touch the ball again, and Michigan escaped College Park with a win, the 1,000th in team history.

Michigan played nowhere near their best football on this day, and it showed up repeatedly on the field.  But once more, Michigan won over a bowl-eligible team on the road.  It did what it needed to do.  Ohio State did its part, and, once more, 11-0 Michigan and 11-0 Ohio State will face off in another edition of The Game.  Who knows what potential horrors and distractions await during the week, but for one more week, Michigan kept all of its goals ahead of it despite all of the adversity it faced, self-induced and otherwise.

Nothing more to say.  Beat Ohio.

Tales from the Spreadsheet
  • Win 1,000
  • 31-24 is NOT a Scorigami (the other was a 1965 game against another ACC team, North Carolina.  29-24 would have been.  The consensus thought this would be a more common score, even if Michigan got there in a weird way.)
  • 49,546 was the attendance (the smallest crowd to watch Michigan play a football game this season and the smallest crowd since...Maryland 2021.)

  • Michigan moves to 10-1 all-time against the University of Maryland.
  • Michigan has won seven straight over Maryland.
  • Michigan moves to 15-4-1 all-time on November 18, breaking a two-game losing streak on this date, which started with the 2006 edition of The Game.

  • Michigan moves to 45-4 when scoring exactly 31 points.
  • Michigan moves to 16-18 all-time when allowing 24 points to the opposition.
  • Michigan has won 51 games all-time by precisely 7 points, most recently the 2022 Maryland game.  (Fun Fact: Michigan also earned win #500 by a seven-point margin over Illinois.)

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Street Fighting Man

Blake Corum, bloodied but unbowed. (Angelique Chengelis-Detroit News)

"Yeah, think the time is rightFor a palace revolutionBut where I live, the gameTo play is compromise solution."

--"Street Fighting Man" from the band's 1968 album Beggar's Banquet

You could be forgiven for forgetting that Saturday's contest marked the first top ten matchup between Michigan and Penn State in Happy Valley since 1997's "Judgment Day." That would have been enough. But then Big Ten Commissioner Tony Petitti suspended Jim Harbaugh "for the remainder of the regular season" under the conference's sportsmanship policy in the wake of allegations of in-person scouting by a Michigan analyst. Michigan learned of the suspension when they landed in State College, leading to a series of social media posts by Michigan players that simply read "Bet."  So many posts that said "Bet."

Michigan's administration had hoped to get a Temporary Restraining Order that allowed Harbaugh to be on the sideline for the game. However, that did not come through, leaving the interim head coach reins to OC Sherrone Moore. I have to admit I thought for sure they would go with Mike Hart, which would have allowed Moore and Minter to focus on the playcalling duties, but it makes sense that Moore, seen widely as a leading candidate for several open jobs around the country, would get the call.  

In a game that lived up to the expectations of two high-level defenses, Penn State took an early lead on a field goal after running the first play inside the Michigan 10-yard line all season. Michigan looked shaky early on offense, but after a couple of protection adjustments, Michigan roared back with a pair of second quarter touchdowns on the ground, the first a short dive by Blake Corum, the second an explosive run by Donovan Edwards, coming on 75 and 78-yard drives, respectively. While Penn State would get a score late in the second quarter, after a successful halfback pass on a fourth down and then a Drew Allar scramble, James Franklin went for two, and Penn State missed, and it was 14-9 at the half. The stats said that, like last year, Michigan was outplaying Penn State, and it's worth noting that Michigan's win expectancy was virtually the same at halftime as it was last year.

Penn State got the ball to start the second half and was moving the ball reasonably well until a Drew Allar fumble on a QB keeper recovered by Makari Paige. Michigan proceeded to squeeze the life over of the third quarter clock slowly. 13 plays, 45 yards, eight minutes of clock. Though the drive ended in just a field goal, those three points would prove critical in the final outcome and in the final disposition of the fourth quarter. Over the next six drives, neither Penn State's nor Michigan's offense could not put anything together, with no drive lasting longer than six plays and several three-and-outs.  

Penn State took the ball back at their own 26, and after a first down run, two quick Allar incompletions led to Franklin's...aggressive...decision to go for it on 4th and 2. Choosing to do so deep in his own territory, with two time-outs still in his pocket and over four minutes remaining, did not pay off. 

Michigan responded to this sudden change with a 30-yard run by Blake Corum to extend Michigan to a two-score lead. On the ensuing Penn State possession, a near interception by Michigan on first down nearly snuffed all the drama out of the game. Still, with a couple of assists from the officials, Penn State did march down the field to get a touchdown, but once again, Penn State went for two and failed, leaving Michigan still up two scores. Michigan recovered an onside kick, got a first down, and salted away a gratifying win.  

Coach Moore's postgame interview with Fox's Jenny Taft caught the raw emotion of the man (and a few expletives) who shouted out Harbaugh, the university president, the athletic department, the alumni, and the fans. Michigan got Win 999 without its head coach and a chance to be the first school to get Win 1000 next Saturday in College Park. Another week of drama regarding the Harbaugh suspension will ensue, but it's worth remembering that Harbaugh can still do everything during the week; he just can't be at the venue on game days. Michigan will likely continue to fight the suspension on due process and failure to follow the Big Ten's bylaws grounds, which I think they have to in terms of not conceding that the scheme was not necessarily improper (there is a way to read the vaguely written rules to make it reasonable. Whether you want to agree with that read is a different matter.)  Michigan will be defiant to the joy of their fans and the scorn of the rest of the country. Michigan has embraced the villain role, which I never expected to see happen, but here we are.  Well, what can a poor boy do?  Except to play for a football band? 'Cause in sleepy Ann Arbor town, There's just no place for a street fighting man.

Tales from the Spreadsheet
  • Win 0999
  • 24-15 is a Scorigami (thanks Frames)
  • 110,846 was the attendance (second largest crowd in Beaver Stadium history, largest non-Big House crowd Michigan has ever played in front of.)

  • Michigan moves to 17-10 all-time against the Pennsylvania State University.
  • Michigan has won three straight over Penn State.
  • Michigan moves to 15-4 all-time on November 11, including 12 in a row (they are 13-1 since 11/11 became Veterans Day).

  • Michigan moves to 37-8 when scoring exactly 24 points.
  • Michigan moves to 7-2 all-time when allowing 15 points to the opposition.
  • Michigan has won 10 games all-time by precisely 9 points, most recently the 2016 Michigan State game.

Sunday, November 05, 2023

Gimme Shelter

"It's just a shot away, it's just a shot away."  (Jacob Hamilton | MLive)

Ooh, a storm is threateningMy very life todayIf I don't get some shelterOoh yeah, I'm gonna fade away

"Gimme Shelter" by The Rolling Stones from their 1969 album Let It Bleed.

It was certainly not a boring bye week for the Michigan football program. It was a week that required a lot of incredulity, skepticism, and steeling oneself against wish casting in both directions. Facts were few and far between, but information still needed to be presented as such, with conflicting interpretations of what was, what is, and what shall be. I found myself wanting to exclude myself from any of these conversations because I was not comfortable with what I actually knew about things.  

But I can talk about this game.

One of the most challenging things about setting a high standard for yourself or your team is that it can be challenging to maintain that standard. Standards are not set over one game or two games, but eight games into the season, everyone around the country had a pretty good sense of what Michigan is capable of doing.

Early on, the best feeling about the game was that Michigan looked sharp in all phases of the game in the first quarter, something that had not been happening with regularity at home this season, getting out to a 17-0 lead in the first quarter and while there was a slightly off-target pass from JJ McCarthy here or there, it looked very much like this was the match-up of an 8-0 team and a 2-6 team.

Then, the flatness settled in.

It did not actually show up mathematically in the analytics because of the weirdness of how Purdue got to this point. Still, a long Hudson Card completion where a freshman DB appeared to give up on the play (which is probably not what happened, but the way it looked in real time was rough), Purdue extending a drive by getting a punt to carom off one of Michigan's blockers, and Michigan trying to get a 4th and 1 on their own 34. The latter two events gave Purdue excellent field position, with which they could only garner two field goals. Simultaneously, Michigan just could not move the ball with any regularity or consistency, 

The malaise continued after the half, and it could be chalked up to a combination of Michigan perhaps believing that they had enough points to win the game and not wanting anyone to get hurt, seemingly telling JJ not to take off and run after the first quarter, and a little bit of post-bye week rust. But cracking the playbook back open just a little, a nifty end around to the speedy Semaj Morgan, bolstered by a neat fake on the counter, and Michigan extended the lead to 21 points and got things unstuck. A couple more fourth quarter touchdowns would put a bow on things, tarnished only slightly by Purdue's late drive that found the end zone on a hanging arm punt on a fourth and three. This pushed Purdue to 13 points, the highest total of any opponent this season. But Michigan came into this game and handled its business ahead of its first ranked match-up of the year in State College next Saturday against the Nittany Lions. No one knows what the week ahead holds, though many would like you to think they do to sell premium subscriptions. But for now, we wait, and we hope.

Tales from the Spreadsheet
  • Win 0998
  • 41-13 is a Scorigami (41-6 would have also been.)
  • 110,245 was the attendance (106th largest crowd in Michigan Stadium history.)

  • Michigan moves to 47-14 all-time against Purdue University.
  • Michigan has won six straight over Purdue.
  • Michigan moves to 14-6-1 all-time on November 4.

  • Michigan moves to 19-1 when scoring exactly 49 points (you may remember the one loss).
  • Michigan moves to 45-12-1 all-time when allowing 13 points to the opposition.
  • Michigan has won 31 games all-time by precisely 28 points, including once already this season against UNLV.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Paint It, Black

Pick Six into Hitting the Bunyan (Michigan Athletics)

Maybe then, I'll fade awayAnd not have to face the factsIt's not easy facing upWhen your whole world is black
No more will my green seaGo turn a deeper blueI could not foresee this thingHappening to you
"Paint It, Black" by the Rolling Stones from their 1966 album Aftermath

Well, that was something else.  The Bobby Williams Game in 2002, the 49-3 beatdown so bad that when asked if he had lost his team, then-MSU head coach Bobby Williams replied, "I don't know," has long been my gold standard for "Michigan not only has more talent, they want it more than Michigan State" games.  The nature of the rivalry, especially in the 21st century, has yet to allow Michigan to demonstrate much of this.  So when you combined what this blog's founder Geoff called "the Bad Ideas Bowl" of playing this game at night in East Lansing with liquor sales allowed for the first time in the stadium, there might have been a little trepidation.

Michigan left no doubt in their intentions.

The 12-play, 84-yard opening drive was not flawless, but it showed one of the elements that Michigan has demonstrated time and again this year: their ability to keep moving the chains even when it doesn't look great.  An uncharacteristic false start penalty on Corum and an incomplete pass by JJ?  No problem, just find Barner for 21 yards.  It wasn't dink and dunk; it was purposeful, efficient, and ended in the end zone for six.  

Michigan State's first drive looked interesting enough.  NBC made a point to show Katin Houser going over to the sidelines to get the play call on each play, a precaution against the accusations of sign stealing by Michigan that had cropped up during the week and some thought might be a distraction.  But for anything Michigan State tried to get going, a holding call put Michigan State off schedule, leading to a 4th and 2 at midfield that Michigan State went for.  At the time, it was a good call and a right call, but they failed to convert and gave Michigan a short field with which to work.  A series of McCarthy passes ended with, once again, Roman Wilson in the end zone (giving him the most TDs by a Michigan wide receiver since Desmond Howard in 1991.) Michigan was up 14-0, and a rout looked at least like a reasonable surmise as the end result.

The rest of the half, Michigan's defense did not allow Michigan State to gain more than ten yards on a drive while adding two more touchdowns by Colston Loveland and nearly a third were it not for a false start call on Donovan Edwards that probably should have been picked up since Edwards was moving backward, but nevertheless, a 10-second runoff ensued. 

Michigan State had a chance to come out after halftime with their scripted drive, and it looked promising, but faced with a 4th and 7, Mike Sainristil picked off a Houser pass and ran it back 72 yards for a touchdown.  Michigan's fourth pick-six of the season.

The rest of the game was largely academic.  Michigan State got into the personal fouls as a form of expression territory; Michigan's backups were undisciplined themselves.  Still, a wonderful bookend of a Jaden McBurrows interception led, in part, to an Alex Orji option back drive that resulted in the final TD of the game after Michigan State was more than happy to commit yet another personal foul, setting Michigan up with first and goal from the MSU six.  Orji put the capper on a night of domination, Michigan's largest win over the Spartans since they joined the Big Ten and the largest shutout victory over the Spartans since they were renamed Michigan State.  Perhaps Michigan State's black uniforms were just knowing that the atmosphere in Spartan Stadium would end up funereal for their fans?

No one knows how the rest of things play out this year.  Is the NCAA investigation a witch hunt because they're pissed at Harbaugh, or did Michigan actually screw something up?  Is Michigan actually good, or do they just keep processing opponents so thoroughly it's hard to tell if anyone they're playing is good?  None of these answers will come this week during the bye, but for now, Michigan looks like they're rolling, and that's enjoyable enough.

Tales from the Spreadsheet
  • Win 0997
  • 49-0 is NOT a Scorigami (one of the fastest confirmations I've ever had because of Michigan's first two Rose Bowls.  This was the seventh such occurrence, most recent was Homecoming 1974 vs Minnesota.)
  • 74,206 was the attendance (Yep, it wasn't even a sellout at Spartan Stadium.)

  • Michigan moves to 73-38-5 all-time against MAC/MSC/Michigan State University.
  • Michigan has won 2 straight over Michigan State.
  • Michigan moves to 17-3-0 all-time on October 21.

  • Michigan moves to 21-0 when scoring exactly 49 points.
  • Michigan moves to 337-0-12 all-time when shutting their opponent out.
  • Michigan earns its first shutout since 2022 UConn, its first B1G shutout since 2019 Rutgers, and its first road shutout since 2016 Rutgers.
  • Michigan has won 8 games all-time by precisely 49 points (the seven 49-0 results and the really wacky 70-21 game against Illinois in 1981, a game that Michigan was down 21-7 in the first quarter before scoring NINE unanswered touchdowns.  The Bentley has the digitized game film!)

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Under My Thumb

Roman and Colston, after Michigan went ahead for good. (Maize and Blue Nation)

"It's down to me, oh yeah
The way she talks when she's spoken to
Down to me, the change has come
She's under my thumb
Yeah, it feels alright."

--"Under My Thumb" by The Rolling Stones from their 1966 album Aftermath

I don't like to think about Michigan losing to Indiana.  Truth be told, it has only happened twice in my lifetime, one of which was the COVID year that we don't talk about. It's just, "Oh, Indiana games are always going to be stupid."  This is not wholly true, but the stupid ones do stand out.  But Indiana has only beaten Michigan ten times in seventy-two tries ever.  The Hoosiers have not won in Ann Arbor since the Johnson administration.  So there's this strangeness of simultaneously not wanting to worry about Indiana but being really annoyed that I have to worry about Indiana.

So when the first quarter ended with Michigan having not crossed midfield AND being down 7-0 to the Hoosiers on a cold, wet, miserable day in Ann Arbor in the middle of a solar eclipse, you could be forgiven for thinking this was about to be one of the weird ones.  But to start the second quarter, Michigan ran seven consecutive plays for positive yardage, ending with a Blake Corum one-yard TD run, and the game was all tied up.  This is the closest it would be the rest of the way.

A lot of the rest of the game felt perfunctory.  A long drive that resulted in a TD pass to Roman Wilson, a shorter TD drive set up by a good punt return by Tyler Morris that ended with a Blake Corum TD, but not before a Mahomesian flip pass by McCarthy to Donovan Edwards that got Michigan inside the 5.  Michigan scored on every subsequent possession until the game-ending kneel-down, and the result was a 52-7 final.  (There was a tense moment at the end of the game where Indiana looked to have a touchdown that would have put Indiana at 14 points, but the Hoosier receiver Omar Cooper, Jr. was found to have stepped out of bounds before he made his catch, and Michigan kept the result as 52 unanswered points.

This game was not boring, especially because there were a lot of cool plays by Michigan on offense and defense (two picks and two fumble recoveries, for starters.) but, at a certain point on a rainy October day, if you're in the stadium, no matter how well you've prepped your outfit choices, you're getting ready for it to be over.  Michigan stayed on course for all of its goals, especially important as they headed into Michigan State week up at East Lansing.  A great deal of business was accomplished, just as expected.

Tales from the Spreadsheet
  • Win 0996
  • 52-7 is NOT a Scorigami (previously occurred October 29, 1988, vs. Northwestern)
  • 110,264 was the attendance (highest of the season, 106th largest crowd in Michigan Stadium history.  Especially impressive given the weather and being Fall Break.)

  • Michigan moves to 62-10-0 all-time against Indiana.
  • Michigan has won 2 straight over Indiana, 27 straight in non-pandemic seasons, and 22 straight in Ann Arbor over the Hoosiers.
  • Michigan moves to 14-4-1 all-time on October 14.

  • Michigan moves to 13-0 when scoring exactly 52 points. (This marks the second time this season that Michigan has had the exact same offensive scoring output in back-to-back weeks)
  • Michigan moves to 111-13-4 all-time when allowing precisely 7 points.
  • Michigan has won 7 games all-time by precisely 45 points.
(Also, through a lot of hard work and cross-checking, I found the two issues that were making the Win Count not make sense.  One of them was a transcription error in the original data from 1998 that made that year's Wisconsin game appear in 1988.  But if you would like to see The Spreadsheet, please click here.)

Sunday, October 08, 2023

Jumpin' Jack Flash

Kris Jenkins shows off the spoils. (Michigan Athletics)

"I was born in a crossfire hurricane
And I howled at the morning drivin' rain
But it's all right now, in fact, it's a gasBut it's all right, I'm jumpin' jack flashIt's a gas, gas, gas"
--"Jumpin' Jack Flash" by the Rolling Stones from the 1968 non-album single of the same name
The thing that struck me in last night's post-game interviews is that while I don't think it was the actual plan, I think the Michigan coaching staff accidentally said, "What if we built the whole team out of dorks who sincerely love football and are also really good at it?"  Like, to listen to JJ and Blake postgame, they said all the right things about the team, about not focusing on anything more than the task at hand and doing the job they need to do, but you just get this vibe of the team reflects this notion that it's OK to be a football dork.  If attitude reflects leadership, we may have the most Jim Harbaugh team ever.
I thought it last week on the second Roman Wilson touchdown, but I think it was confirmed on both McCarthy's second touchdown run this week and the Loveland TD.  JJ might be everything I had ever wanted or hoped for in a Michigan quarterback.  Accurate, smart, fearless, has enough of an arm to go deep, willing to tuck it and run, can throw off platform, can avoid pressure, and plays with joy.   On his second TD run, McCarthy did a dead-leg slide step to...pump fake a defender with his legs, who he then stiff-armed same said Gopher into the turf, and got in for six.  On the Loveland touchdown, JJ saw a free rusher likely coming to his left, adjusted his line protections, Mullins picked up a blitzing linebacker, and JJ threw a dime to Colston Loveland as he got him (actually got roughed as he threw) to put Michigan up by 28 (thanks to Todd Blackledge for explaining this very concisely on the replay).  
Michigan's defense outscored the Gophers 12-10 thanks to pick sixes by Will Johnson and Keon Sabb, and other than one bad bit of coverage at the end of the first half did not really allow the Gophers to do much of anything on offense.  It was a complete game from top to bottom, every member of the traveling party, save backup long snapper Greg Tarr, got into the game, and Michigan handled its business as one would expect or hope.  The Jug stays in Ann Arbor for another year (hey, Minnesota ended up on next year's new schedule as well), and Michigan gets to decide where the next five scores go on the Jug (social media seemed to indicate they'll be putting them above the Minnesota M).  Hoosiers for Big Noon next week.
Tales from the Spreadsheet
  • Win 0995
  • 52-10 IS a Scorigami
  • 52,179 was the attendance.

  • Michigan moves to 77-25-3 all-time against Minnesota.
  • Michigan has won 4 straight over Minnesota, and 18 straight in Minneapolis.
  • Michigan moves to 17-4 all-time on October 7 (weirdly, Michigan was 1-3 in their last four Oct. 7 games going into last night, including that MSU game in 2017 in the squall line.  Also, Michigan has been a Top Ten team in each of their last eight October 7 games.)

  • Michigan moves to 12-0 when scoring exactly 52 points. (Weird note: Four of the games with exactly 52 points were against Minnesota.  Minnesota has never had the same score on their side of any of those four.)
  • Michigan moves to 56-10-1 all-time when allowing precisely 10 points.
  • Michigan has won 15 games all-time by precisely 42 points.

Sunday, October 01, 2023


This should not have worked, but it did, and it was spectacular. (Patrick Barron)

"Did you ever wake up to find
A day that broke up your mind
Destroyed your notion of circular time"

"Sway" by the Rolling Stones from their 1971 album Sticky Fingers

This was more like it.  This is what most of Michigan fandom wanted but did not hope for.  Michigan has never had an easy time of it in either of their B1G games in Lincoln, but having lost the toss, Michigan started on offense for the first time all season and began a methodical drive, churning out first downs without any play longer than nine yards, setting up 2nd and 2 at the Nebraska 29 when J.J. McCarthy waited out the patterns to develop thanks to a clean pocket and fired an absolute laser into the back of the end zone where, somehow, Roman Wilson did his best Tyrone Prothro impression, held on to the ball, and opened the scoring on the day for Michigan.  It's easier to say in retrospect, but the vibes were immediately excellent after this.

So when, on their second play from scrimmage, Nebraska had a pass batted in the air and Kenneth Grant, quickly becoming a fan favorite, waited for it to come down like the biggest kid in your fifth-grade class getting ready to pull down a wounded duck in a recess game of "500", letting Michigan cash in three plays later on a beautiful 20-yard rush by Kalel Mullings, yep, the rout was on.

Nebraska did try to make a game of it with a solid 68 yard drive, but Michigan stopped Nebraska on a 4th and 1 and turned around to go 88 yards in nine plays to get a touchdown when J.J. saw nothing but green grass in front of him and celebrated by feasting on some corn on the cob.

A series of three traded punts ensued, and with time winding down, J.J. McCarthy did something that qualifies as all I have ever wanted from a Michigan quarterback, all in one play:

McCarthy took the snap, saw pressure, and thus, he rolled out to his left, he had plenty of space in front of him if he wanted to run, but instead threw an absolute dime to the back of the end zone (Jason Benetti said it had a vapor trail on it) to a crossing Roman Wilson, who snagged it in stride, touchdown Michigan, 28-0.

The second half was largely about keeping up the solid effort, scoring on their three drives, pulling the starters to avoid injury, and save one big bust by the backups to allow Nebraska to keep their scoring streak alive, largely just doing the good work over and over again, it was a comfortable, easy-going afternoon of Michigan football.  Not a bad way to start the road slate.

Jug security is now at a premium for the week to come.

Tales from the Spreadsheet
  • Win 0994
  • 45-7 is NOT a Scorigami (fifth ever, most recently August 30, 2003, against Central Michigan.)
  • 87,134 was the attendance.

  • Michigan moves to 8-4-1 all-time against Nebraska.
  • Michigan has won 4 straight over Nebraska.
  • Michigan moves to 10-3 all-time on September 30.

  • Michigan moves to 23-1 when scoring exactly 45 points. (sighs in Fiesta Bowl)
  • Michigan moves to 110-13-4 all-time when allowing precisely 7 points.
  • Michigan has won 18 games all-time by precisely 38 points.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

19th Nervous Breakdown

Way to go, I-da-ho! (Jacob Hamilton/MLive)

"Well, it seems to me that you have seen too much in too few years
And though you've tried you just can't hide your eyes are edged with tears
You better stop, look aroundHere it comes, here it comes, here it comes, here it comesHere comes your nineteenth nervous breakdown"
--"19th Nervous Breakdown" by The Rolling Stones from the 1966 single of the same name.
Having listened to Ryan Nanni's very fun new podcast series "We're Not All Like This," where he talks to members of various college football fanbases to try to understand the similarities and differences among the various fandoms of the college football landscape, I am hesitant to assign any particular neuroses to be unique to Michigan, though we do have some very specific quirks.  That said, Michigan fans' willingness to believe that everything is about to go on an express elevator straight into the depths of hell is definitely one that Michigan fans seem to have written into their default programming.
So it was no surprise that when Rutgers scored on a long passing play on a busted coverage on the third play of the game, there were some folks who felt the bottom rumbling under their feet.  This was exacerbated by a quick Michigan three and out, and then a Rutgers three and out that saw Michigan pinned back inside their own ten after a booming punt and roll by Rutgers Aussie punter.
That is when Sherrone Moore's playcalling got Michigan back in business, whether it was the unleashed wheel route for Donovan for 33 or the flea flicker+ that found Colston Loveland for 35 and brought the ball inside the five.  Quick work by Blake Corum on the goal line (so unlike last year's first-half adventures in Piscataway), and Michigan had the ball game tied up.  
While this should have stabilized the situation, the traded missed field goals felt like so many dumb things were still afoot in this game.  But the defense got another three and out, which was followed by a long and fruitful drive ending with Semaj Morgan's first career TD, and Michigan headed for the locker room up 14-7.  Not great, but certainly better than being down or being tied at the half.
After the annual Blast from the Past wrapped up, the field goal drive to open the second half seemed to take a bit of wind out of the sails of Michigan Stadium, especially as Rutgers put together a sustained drive, built off some interesting officiating decisions on a day full of them, and it felt like Rutgers would be rewarded for their aggressiveness on going for it on fourth and two.  
So when Mike Sainristil sniffed out a screen pass, picked it off, cast off an airborne Junior Coulson, and then got Kenneth Grant and a couple of other friends to come with him to the end zone, the ensuing 24-7 lead completely altered the feeling in the stadium.  Relief settled in as the crowd started doing the math on how little Rutgers had done on offense since the opening drive and felt confident that this one was in hand  One more touchdown by Michigan and a clock vampire drive to end the game that burned seven minutes in ten plays and Win 993 was in the books.
I have no idea if Rutgers is good.  I don't know if Rutgers knows if they're good.  They're definitely not bad.  I don't know if Michigan is great, but they're definitely very good.  But it's also September, and rendering judgments on an incomplete body of work is a thing we have done for years, with limited success, and while we should know better, I don't think we want to because we need to be able to quantify how we feel and why.  We've seen too much in our years, after all.
Tales from the Spreadsheet
  • Win 0993
  • 31-7 is NOT a Scorigami (seventh ever, most recently September 5, 2009, against Western Michigan.)
  • 109,879 is the 100th-largest crowd Michigan has played in front of, just ahead of, 2001 Western Michigan.

  • Michigan moves to 9-1 all-time against Rutgers in the battle of the two oldest programs in FBS.
  • Michigan has won 9 straight over Rutgers and 4-0 vs. the Scarlet Knights on Homecoming
  • Michigan moves to 9-0 all-time on September 23.

  • Michigan moves to 43-4 when scoring exactly 31 points
  • Michigan moves to 109-13-4 all-time when allowing precisely 7 points.
  • Michigan has won 24 games all-time by precisely 24 points.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Can't You Hear Me Knocking?

Kris Jenkins, skill position player. (David Wilcomes)

Hear me prowlin'I'm gonna take you downHear me growlin'Yeah, I've got flat-ten feet now, now, now, nowHear me howlin'And all, all around your street nowHear me knockin'And all, all around your town

"Can't You Hear Me Knocking?" by The Rolling Stones from their 1971 album Sticky Fingers

One of the stranger parts about night games is that the narratives of the weekend of college football may already be established by the time the game kicks off.  Perhaps a blood week is brewing, perhaps it's just a day of the big boys taking care of business, or perhaps it's just a weird day, by the time 7:30 rolls around, you sort of know what's up.  Yesterday, the narrative was mixed; some of the teams in the Top Ten were struggling in games that looked as if they would roll, and some were rolling as expected.  So, which side of the fence would Michigan land on by the time the night was over.

You wanted to believe that the weirdness of the first big hit pass down the sidelines, which was called incomplete, only to see that overturned without any real evidence that it was complete, but Michigan got a "next three and out" to put together a four-play, 77-yard drive, highlighted by a big Blake Corum run that the whole stadium had been waiting for since the season kicked off to go up 7-0 and early.  The vibe was good, Michigan was going to follow the path of Washington and Ohio State this evening.

It seemed to be rolling that way, especially after a subsequent three-and-out and solid punt return to get Michigan starting on the BGSU 43.  A bunch of quick hitters, and Michigan has second and goal on the five.

Then all hell broke loose.

JJ threw an interception that looked like someone missed an assignment, and McCarthy locked on his first read, which earned the Falcons a touchback.  Bowling Green then proceeded to put together one of those maddening drives where Michigan would do its job on first and second down, only to lose contain for a big gain on third down (including another baffling sideline adjacent catch). Holding fast when it mattered, the defense would force a field goal, and BG would be down just 7-3.

On the subsequent kickoff, Max Bredenson seemed somewhat surprised by the short kickoff but fielded it well, and then made a decision to try and get some yards, which ended up with him fumbling the ball and Bowling Green had even better field position than a surprise onside kick would have garnered them.  Michigan's defense did its job and once more prevented a first down and saw the Falcons attempt another short field goal.  Michigan remained in the lead, but the vibes in the stadium were dreadful.

When Braiden McGregor fielded the subsequent short kickoff, and himself fumbled it (thankfully recovering it), Michigan Stadium seemingly wanted a return to normalcy, which for four plays, seemed to be in order, but another JJ interception and it became one of those moments where you longed to understand what was up.

Praise for the Michigan defense here.  Put in rough positions over and over in the second quarter, they, by and large, got the job done, including a great three and out that saw BGSU gain -1 yard on the sequence after JJ's second pick.  McCarthy, to his credit, did get back in the saddle and found Loveland for 22 and Roman Wilson for 33 yards and a touchdown to put Michigan up 14-6 late in the second.  Michigan's defense also turned the beat around and got a pick of their own thanks to a wonderful read by Quinten Johnson, and while they couldn't cash it in, they got to halftime with a chance to regroup.

An interlude here: The new lights are fine, but perhaps maybe don't kick into the fancy light show so quickly after a touchdown?  It just seems kind of cheap and the sort of thing that we were doing because we can.  I know I am not the target audience here, but can anyone show us who was asking for this particular "enhancement" to the Michigan Stadium experience.

A couple of turnovers on back-to-back possessions for the Falcons after the half, which Michigan cashed in for ten points, lifted the collective ennui lurking in the Big House and a flea flicker bomb to Cornelius Johnson, which required some fancy tip drill skills, and Michigan closed the scoring for the remainder of the night for a 31-6 win.  Which was essentially in line with the rest of the non-conference schedule.

My working theory is that this was the culmination of three weeks of everyone on the coaching staff being slightly out of place because of Jim Harbaugh's suspension.  Everyone has been doing a job that isn't quite the one that they are supposed to be doing.  This week, it was Sherrone Moore's turn to be the interim boss.  Next week, Harbaugh returns, the team goes back into something more like normal, and I think that will make a difference, which is good because the ever-annoying Schianomen of Rutgers are coming for a Homecoming match-up.  As always, ugly wins count just the same.

Tales from The Spreadsheet
  • Win 0992
  • 31-6 is NOT a Scorigami (fourth ever, most recently October 22, 1988, on Homecoming against Indiana)
  • 109,955 is the 122nd-largest crowd Michigan has played in front of, just ahead of, 2010 Bowling Green.

  • Michigan moves to 3-0 all-time against East Carolina.
  • Michigan moves to 4-2 all-time on September 16.

  • Michigan moves to 42-4 when scoring exactly 31 points
  • Michigan moves to 83-5-4 all-time when allowing precisely 6 points.
  • Michigan has won 19 games all-time by precisely 25 points.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Tumblin' Dice

Roman Wilson is as consistent as the beat of an 808 drum machine. (Patrick Barron)

Honey, got no money
I'm all sixes and sevens and nines
Say now baby, I'm the rank outsider
You can be my partner in crime

--"Tumblin' Dice" by the Rolling Stones, from their 1972 album Exile on Main Street

I am too young to remember when it happened on initially, but during the 1970s, long-tenured Detroit sports curmudgeon Joe Falls would lambast Michigan for playing "dull and boring football," which somehow the Athletic Department turned into a selling point for Falls' book on Michigan's relatively new coach. I would argue that there's nothing wrong with dull and boring football because rarely could a dull and boring team be bad.  They could be middling, but they're likely very, very, very good, and that ruthless efficiency feels "dull and boring."

The inequalities of college football scheduling, for much of the post-World War II era, and certainly during the post-NCAA v. OU television-saturated era, much of September has featured P5 teams facing G5 teams, G5 teams facing FCS teams, and FCS teams against D-II teams, and so on. Occasionally, you will get headline-grabbing "helmet games" or some early season conference games, but by and large, yesterday's slate had about one marquee matchup, a few P5-P5 games, and a lot of other games.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with "other" games. If you only get six to eight Saturdays in your home stadium as a season ticket holder, you relish those opportunities (or sell them off to other people who may want to just get one game in the stadium), and you appreciate that you get to see this iteration of the team play.

So in a game where ESPN's win probability chart had the Rebels' best chance at victory the moment that Tommy Donan kicked the ball off, you become invested in side stories, like "Man, JJ's hot hand passing is continuing, and maybe improving somehow (the second TD pass to Roman Wilson would be a solid evidence for that point.) or the defensive line finally breaking through and getting severe pressure on the QB which resulted in five sacks, and five additional tackles for loss. And as weird as the circumstances were, it was pretty cool to realize that Mike Hart became Michigan's first Black head coach, even if just for a half. (Project Coach Mike Hart 2030 continues as he prophesized in his playing career.)

If dull and boring football is a 35-7 handling of business on a crisp September afternoon, I can live with dull and boring football.

Tales from The Spreadsheet:
  • Win 0991
  • 35-7 is NOT a Scorigami (sixth occurrence, most recently was Oregon State 2015)
  • 109,482 is the 140th-largest crowd Michigan has played in front of, displacing last week's attendance of 109,480.

  • Michigan moves to 2-0 all-time against UNLV (previous game, 2015).
  • Michigan moves to 5-0 all-time on September 9.

  • Michigan moves to 36-0 when scoring exactly 35 points
  • Michigan moves to 108-13-4 all-time when allowing precisely 7 points.
  • Michigan has won 30 games all-time by precisely 28 points.

Saturday, September 02, 2023

Waiting on a Friend

Welcome back, Blake.  (Patrick Barron)

"Watching girls go passing by
It ain't the latest thing
I'm just standing in a doorway
I'm just trying to make some sense
Out of these girls passing by
The tales they tell of men
I'm not waiting on a lady
I'm just waiting on a friend."

"Waiting on a Friend" by The Rolling Stones, from their 1981 album Tattoo You

The first game of a season is odd in that it feels, at the moment, in the moment, like a harbinger of things to come.  But, it is only in retrospect if you seek to connect the dot. So, in that framework, there are two ways of looking at this game.

Option A: Michigan hit on all cylinders, powered by JJ McCarthy, who looked absolutely blistering in the passing game, going 26/30, making several tough throws on rollouts, and repeatedly finding the newly christened #1 Roman Wilson for three touchdowns.  ECU sold out to stop the Michigan run game, but even still, Corum and Edwards got several solid runs.  Michigan held a 30-point lead for the majority of the second half and had a 99%+ win expectancy from the moment the MMB left the field in the second half.  1-0 to start the year, on to UNLV.

Option B: Michigan looked fine but clearly left points on the field by refusing to abandon the run game when ECU kept loading up the box.  Everything felt like the team was just going through the motions, almost acting like it was a pre-season exhibition game, and it amplified the fact that Michigan's offensive and defensive playcallers were not the usual coaches in those roles.  The team acted like they missed Harbaugh more than they wanted to win for him.  They cannot keep playing like this if they expect to win more demanding games in Big Ten play.

Option B is the default for Michigan fans because we're always worried about the future instead of being in the moment, which I get. After all, the expectations for this team are as high as they have been since 2007 (which is probably playing into this level of terror; it's a training scar.)  But Option A is the fairer version of this because it's closer to the reality of most of this game.

But mostly, this game feels like an unknowable enigma because of what was missing.  The fact that Harbaugh wasn't on the sideline definitely felt like it was impacting the players, even if they didn't want it to be a thing, and they certainly got the job done, but I just wonder if they had to get this out of the way so they could prove to themselves it wouldn't be a big deal.

Beyond that, and the saddest field goal in recorded history, I will not remember much about this game as the season progresses. It may not be the shape of things to come, but rather, a thing that happened along the journey.

Tales from The Spreadsheet
  • Win 0990 
  • 30-3 is a Scorigami (so I guess we can thank ECU for that small favor)
  • 109,480 is the 140th-largest crowd Michigan has played in front of.

  • Michigan moves to 1-0 all-time against East Carolina.
  • Michigan wins its first game against a new opponent since beating Middle Tennessee State in 2019.
  • Michigan moves to 5-0 all-time on September 2.

  • Michigan moves to 8-1 when scoring exactly 30 points
  • Michigan moves to 48-3-3 all-time when allowing precisely 3 points.
  • Michigan has won 17 games all-time by precisely 27 points.