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.