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.