Monday, October 17, 2011

Why Are You Playing Checkers With a Chess Set

Two weeks ago after watching Ohio State and Michigan State play in a game that was one giant bitch-slap to offensive football, I was bouncing around the usual Buckeye blogs to try to find something to help me prove a point to some MSU friends about just why I was still skeptical about the MSU defense being the best in the Big Ten.

What I found was an offensive review of the game that had three subheadings: Back to the Well: The Constraint Theory; Why Beat Your Head Against The Wall?; and Execution Mishaps.  After watching Michigan put up a similarly putrid offensive effort against the Spartans, I am so totally stealing those to help me make sense of just how the offensive game plan failed.

Why Beat Your Head Against The Wall?

Denard Robinson was 2/2 for ten yards after the first offensive series, and he turned the final pass play into a 15-yard scramble for a touchdown.  How did the Wolverines complete these two passes?  Both were quick outs thrown from a moving Robinson and designed to attack the safeties in a moment of indecision: "is he going to run or throw?"  Both worked for the obvious reason     completed pass, duh     but more importantly, both were designed to get the ball out to play makers in the flats and away from the mass of Spartan defenders in the box.

From that point on I can only remember running that play two more times (however, there might have been one or two more called).  One of them was run right into a blitz off the edge and batted down.  The rest of the 41 pass plays?  Straight drops by Denard Robinson and roll outs by Devin Gardner.  Those plays yielded as many completions for Denard (seven) as sacks allowed and as many points for the offense (six) as points for the defense.

Even more maddening?  On the first drive Michigan ran the ball six times for 47 yards (excluding the scramble and fake FG) on almost eight yards per carry.  That was six running plays in six minutes of game time for almost one third of the gained rushing yards on the day (NCAA stats list Michigan with 151 positive yards to 69 negative).  Michigan would go on to rush the ball twenty times over the rest of the game while passing 39 times into swirling 25 mph winds that made Spartan Stadium look like one of those tornado-in-a-bottle science projects you make when you're in middle school.

Would Michigan have been able to continue to run for 8 yards per carry.  No, Michigan State has a very good run defense and would have held the Wolverines to lower ypc numbers over the course of the game.  However, I vote we change the definition of insanity from "doing the same thing and expecting different results" to "running all vertical passing routes and five to seven step quarterback drops against six or more pass rushers in a howling windstorm."  Specificity, man.

Back to the Well: The Constraint Theory:

Two things were certain going into the game on Saturday:
  1. Michigan State didn't respect Denard Robinson's ability to pass down field.
  2. Therefore, Michigan State would blitz like mad to disrupt down field passes knowing that Robinson wouldn't be able to make the throws in time.
One of the interesting parts in the OSU offensive review a couple weeks back was a quote pulled from a longer piece by Chris Brown of Smart Football on The Constraint Theory*.  If you don't know constraint theory, just know this:  The crux of it is that every football team has something it wants to do, call it A, and every good defense will eventually adjust and cheat to take away A.  Therefore, an offense must have a game plan, B, in place to catch the defense overreacting to A, allowing the offense to go back to A until the defense cheats again.

Anyway, at the end of the block quote is one of the best summations of football I have ever heard, and a pretty good explanation of why I love the game so much, "That’s the beauty of football: punch, counterpunch."

If you watched the game on Saturday you saw the Michigan State defense slowly adjust itself to attack Michigan where it was the most vulnerable.  MSU sent blitzes from every angle, usually not well disguised, and bet that the amount of times Michigan would fail to take advantage of mismatches in the deep and intermediate passing game would cancel out any positive plays.  Weather, Mark "the revolving door" Huyge, and precedent all played into that decision, and it worked brilliantly.

The problem for Michigan was that the counter punch never came.

Take for instance the final play of the first quarter.  Michigan is in a shotgun trips formation with the receivers to the wide side of the field and a tight end on the boundary side.  MSU shows blitz with the SLB moving down so that he is shaded over Molk's right shoulder, then the MLB stacks behind the SLB just before the snap.  This is the area where Vincent Smith is about to go with an inside hand off.  The play gets stuffed.  

Meanwhile the MSU corner is two yards off the wide receiver and the WLB/NB is six yards off the line and over the two slot receivers.  Once the MLB commits to the blitz the next closest player to the flat is the safety eleven yards deep and standing inside the hash.  A quick throw to the slot receiver gets two on two blocking in the flat on the wide side of the field and instead of losing one yard on an inside hand off straight into two blitzing linebackers, Michigan gets at least five with a favorable match up in the flat and possibly more with a missed tackle.  

Michigan State did the same thing to Ohio State, and teams from here on out are going to keep players inside to bottle up the run.  Borges has to spread the defense out so that five blockers aren't taking on six and seven defenders in the box.  Bubble screens are a great way to attack the edges and keep defenses from sticking linebackers in the box and daring Michigan to run without numbers.  This is just one of the constraint plays I was practically begging for on Saturday.

The Spartans were able to stick eight men in the box all day and rush five or more because Borges didn't once call a play to neutralize the pass rush.  No throwback screens, no bubble screens, no shovel passes or draws.

However, the worst part about the offensive game plan wasn't that Borges refused to call any of those B plays to catch the defense out of position; it was that the base plays, the A's that a team relies on, didn't at any point seem coherent and well designed.

This team lacks an offensive identity and obviously doesn't have a solid plan other than, "throw shit against the wall and see what sticks."  Is Michigan a shotgun spread team that runs a lot of zone, or an I-form team that runs power.  Is the passing game based off quick reads and easy short and intermediate routes or attacking the field vertically with seven step quarterback drops.

Up to this point it hasn't really mattered.  Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Minnesota, San Diego State, and Northwestern were the kind of defensive teams that are capable of various levels of resistance, but ultimately can't adjust fast enough when Borges flips to a random page of the playbook and points at something with his eyes closed.

And that is how the play calling felt this game.  There doesn't seem to be any logical progression through the playbook.  The best analogy I can think of is that Borges seemed to be playing checkers when he should have been playing chess.  Instead of just calling plays and trying to pick up yards here and there he needed to call plays with an eye toward the future; figure out ways to manipulate the overeager Spartan defense and find the weaknesses that are presented.  If Michigan State wants to blitz, find a way to set up a screen pass. If Michigan State wants to keep eight men in the box, throw the ball to the flat on a bubble screen.  If the defensive ends are charging off the edges and getting upfield too quickly, hand off on a draw to the halfback.  Chess.

Last week Burgeoning Wolverine Star looked at a nifty little two play progression that led to a touchdown.  Borges called a Maryland-I formation on the first short yardage play and motioned the full back directly over the intended hole before the snap.  Michigan is fortunate to get the first down.  A few plays later the same formation comes out, only this time the fullback motions over the same hole but then pulls across the formation as a receiver on a Devin Gardner bootleg.  Chris at BWS grants Borges some credit for setting this touchdown up with the first play.  I'm not so sure, and neither is Brian at MGo.  This seems to me like a very simple progression that doesn't really set the defense up to be caught off guard as much as it takes advantage of the defense being a bunch of Northwestern players.  Checkers.

My final piece of evidence in the growing case against Al Borges: various I-form plays have come on long down situations this season, and at some point I began jokingly saying to anyone within earshot "here comes the most surprising waggle in history," knowing deep in my heart just what was coming.  Over 75% of the time I was right.

When Michigan lined up in an I-from on fourth and one late in the game I couldn't get to my phone fast enough to text my friend and call it.  We all know how that play worked out.  Checkers.

Now, I don't hate Al Borges, or think I can do his job better than him.  However, these are real concerns as we approach a stretch of games that reads @Illinois, @Iowa, Nebraska, Ohio State.  These teams may not be as good on defense as Michigan State (with the exception of Ohio State, which I think is close), but all four are better than anything Michigan has seen outside of Notre Dame during the six game winning streak that started the season.

Al Borges got exposed on Saturday as a guy who still hasn't settled on what he wants this offense to do.  He has all these odd pieces at his disposal but he has this gnawing urge to line them up in two-tight I-form every once and awhile to see if the finally Get It.  There was no greater plan, no thinking a few moves ahead.  All it is is, "right, left, right, jump, left, king me."  Unless Borges can find a way to better play into this groups skill set while building a coherent offensive progression designed to set defenses up to fail, this offense is going to struggle against defenses that bring a lot of pressure.

He has all the chess pieces, he just has to stop playing checkers with them.

*(I have a general rule that you should follow as well: if Chris Brown writes something, you should always read it.  He is so knowledgeable and well written that I can imagine his grocery lists are encoded with keys to breaking down the Tampa Two defense with four verts.)

Execution Mishaps:

That isn't to say that the fault lies totally with Borges.  He isn't the one on the field blowing blocking assignments and under throwing receivers.  The players have to step up their games in times like these.
  • David Molk didn't have a great day.  He was the victim of a number of blitzes and stunts designed to trip him up and he simply couldn't handle the load.  This same thing happened to OSU center Mike Brewster two weeks ago, which means that either a) these guys had bad games, b) MSU sold the farm quite a few times on blitzes, or c) a little of both.
  • Mark Huyge isn't an offensive tackle.  He may be a guard, but when faced with speed rushers off the edge he simply doesn't have the athleticism and technique to hold up on long developing pass plays.  Despite having a pretty good core group of offensive linemen, this one is on Rich Rodriguez's inability to bring in offensive linemen the last couple years.  It is only going to get worse.
  • Omameh and Schofield both seemed to be pushed around by Michigan State's interior line and stymied by inside blitzes from the linebackers.
  • I can't fault the receivers much in this one because they were either dealing with good coverage or badly thrown passes.  I would have liked to see Gallon get a few shots to make people miss in the flats on bubble screens.
  • Denard.  First, let me preface this by saying I don't think he needs to be benched.  You don't take your biggest offensive weapon off the field, you give him ways to succeed and reap the benefits.  Although in this one his production was sorely lacking.  Now, disclaimers abound: the wind was an obvious factor on a number of throws and Michigan State spent most of the afternoon drinking his milkshake right up.  However, there were a few downright awful passes and a few potential scrambles that became sacks because of Robinson's indecision.  If he doesn't adjust to this kind of pressure the rest of the season is going to go about the same because you know teams are going to bring the heat from here on out.
  • Other dings:  Vincent Smith's failed hot route on the pick-six, Grady's drop, and Lewan's face mask pin (you're better than that, son.).

This game needs to be a wake up call for everyone involved.  The offensive coaches need to readjust the way they prepare this team as well as build a cohesive offensive identity.  Brady Hoke needs to go for it on fourth down in the opponents territory.  Denard Robinson needs to settle himself in the pocket, set his body to throw, and take off when he feels pressure.

This offense isn't hopeless, but only if Al Borges starts using the pieces he has in the proper way.

Besides, chess is a better game, yo.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

I usually watch Michigan games alone.  It has been that way since I graduated college and left the communal atmosphere that makes one feel a part of the school and the games.  Being an alumni just isn't the same.  The love is there, but the camaraderie is missing.

Of course, the last few years didn't help that much.  I spent 2007 as a holdout in one final semester, most of my friends graduated and moving on with their lives, me clinging to my student tickets and the only thing that ever made sense to me: going to school.  The next two years I lived in East Lansing with a house full of MSU fans, who, while generally rational, enjoyed watching my in-game nervous twitching, tantrums, and manic depressive behavior too much for my comfort.  I spent many Saturdays in my room alone.  Last year was my first away from the Midwest, and living with a friend who couldn't have cared less about college football in any form, it was easy to find solitude in which to watch games.

In any case, the last four years of Michigan football, combined with my already nervous disposition, have driven me away from football as a communal experience.  I've become a college football hermit.


This year things are a little different.  I have more friends in the area, one of them a good college friend and one of only two people outside of my father who I go to to talk Michigan football.

I also don't have the Big Ten Network at home.  This has driven me find places outside the comfort of my house to watch games     something I'm not entirely comfortable with.  It has also driven me to sports bars more often than I would have liked.  Most games so far this year this  have been fine.  I watched the EMU game in an empty bar in Mio Michigan, I watched the SDSU game early in the afternoon in a half empty Buffalo Wild Wings that was just quiet enough for me to worry out loud and crack jokes to the others at my table, and I watched the Minnesota game at a friend's apartment as he got ready to watch the MSU game at 3:30.  All three cases were low stress.  Games were never in doubt, and I never had cause to flip out*.

Saturday night for the Northwestern game a few of us decided to go back to BWW.  I got there early and found a table right under a screen already tuned to the Big Ten network.  The Virginia Tech game was in the final minute (living in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, this is overwhelmingly the favorite team despite the a heavy military presence) and the whole place had a great college football buzz, different cheers erupting from corners of the bar, everyone closely following a game, and occasionally the majority of the place hooting and hollering at the game in Blacksburg.

Then the Tech game ended and the crowd started to thin out just as my blood pressure was rising.  The beginning of the Michigan game quickly went from ideal to, well, less than ideal.  You already know that part.

As the second quarter started the mood in the bar changed.  It was a UFC fight night, and slowly the place started to fill up with people waiting for the fight.  Pretty soon our TV got changed one of the under card fights and we had to track down the nearest manager to get BTN back, but not without hearing that no matter what, at nine o'clock the big screens were all going to be turned to the fight, and we would have to make due with a smaller TV tucked away  in a corner somewhere.  Over the noise of the patrons was the juke box playing just about everything I don't want to hear during a Michigan game with the exception of In The Big House     thank god for small miracles.

I don't know what your thoughts, dear reader, are on MMA fighting.  Whether you fancy it the sport of gentlemanly combat between well-trained chiseled Adonises, or a brutal Romanesque spectacle that excites only the basest instincts of meat heads and forearm tattoo enthusiasts** is immaterial.  What is most egregious in this writer's mind is the fact that on a football Saturday, with a handful of great college games available, the sports bar's main interest was showing an MMA fight.  Don't even get me started on the fact that the ALCS was shown on one TV, tucked away almost directly behind a large pillar***.

The crowd and the noise and the infuriating string of interceptions was too much, and by the time Pat Fitzgerald was lobbying for two seconds to be put back on the clock     all the while I couldn't tell what the hell was happening     I made up my mind.  The prospect of watching the second half of Michigan's return-to-earth game in a packed bar cheering for blood was too much.  I called a friend that I knew had BTN, asked if we could head over, and by the midpoint of halftime we had paid our bills and left.

*(Contrast this to the Notre Dame game, which I watched alone in my room in a depressed funk, then state of charged ecstasy.)

**(Seriously, I'm usually not one to stereotype, but by the fourth person who walked past in an Affliction t-shirt with some ridiculous forearm tattoo, I knew something was up and the congenial college football atmosphere had taken a turn for the worst.)

***(Like watching a game at old Tiger Stadium.  Am I right, folks?  Am I right?  I'll be here all night.)


I guess where I am going with all of this has less to do with the external environment of watching football than the things going on in my head (although to be fair, I am never going to watch a Michigan game in BWW again as a matter of principle.  Your boneless wings may be tasty and your large glasses of beer cheap, but you insistence on deifying MMA fighting is an outrage, but I digress).

I guess I have been spoiled as a fan.  I have for the most part stayed away from sports bars, avoided hostile fan bases (never once going to see Michigan play an away game other that the '07 Rose Bowl, which don't get me started on that), and been able to crawl inside a cocoon of self loathing and defeatist cries at every wrong turn.

Are other people miserable to watch Michigan football around, or is it me?  I'm afraid to answer that.
This game was no different.  I like to joke that the repeated blows of the last few years have hardened me to the failures of my alma mater, that I have become numb to incompetence and defeat.  This is a lie I tell myself so I feel better during all those hours I'm not actively freaking out about Michigan football.  I'm not numb to defeat, I find defeat in everything and constantly expect the worst.

This game was no different.  I spent the entire first half miserable about the failure of Denard Robinson to throw to his receivers, the failure of the defense to stop the Northwestern speed option, and the failure of Al Borges to stop calling The Most Surprising Waggle In History.

I wonder if this is it.  If I have been broken.  Have I wound myself too tightly in the success and failure of this team?  Do I not give the coaching staff enough credit when it comes to subtle in game adjustments and fixing player mistakes during the game?  Will every October bring a feeling of impending doom, as if it is only a matter of time before the other shoe falls and I end up pouring over recruiting rankings and repeating, "next year, next year" to myself like a crazy person?

I don't know the answer, but I certainly hope not.  This game is too much fun to take too seriously, and the players on the field work too hard to judge on the basis of wins and losses.  I would still think the world of Denard Robinson if he threw three more interceptions in the second half.  It would still be an honor to have Jordan Kovacs on the team even if he kept missing tackles on the option that led to touchdowns.


I know the cosmos doesn't care how I watch football and whatever higher power is up there has more important things to worry about than some neurotic 26 year old fan getting too worked up over things he can't control.  But it still feels like this season so far has been about healing the fan base.  Slow first halves give way to strong finishes.  Early mistakes are corrected during the game.  The impending October collapse is shaken off as Denard Robinson settles himself in the pocket and leads the team to four touchdowns on five drives in the second half.

I have no illusions of this team going undefeated.  It could very well lose next week to Michigan State.  But I am starting to get more comfortable with the idea that sometimes a loss is just a loss, and not a sign that the universe is unraveling at the seams.

But don't ask me my thoughts on that next Saturday.

Baby steps.


Now, what you are really here for: actual football talk.


  • I don't know if I have ever seen an athlete capable of a greater range of play than Denard Robinson.  Between everything that happened last year, and the two comebacks this year, we have seen Denard at his absolute best, absolute worst, and everything in between.  This time we must make no excuses. Denard was just flat out bad in the first half Saturday.  Some interceptions are great plays (look at the INT Nebraska had against OSU late in their game), some interceptions are lucky bounces (Brandin Hawthorne nods knowingly), and some are just putrid throws that are completely inexcusable.
  • That being said, Denard was pretty friggin' awesome in the second half.  He looked like a new quarterback.  He was patient in the pocket and on target with his throws.  If we get that Denard the rest of the season we win every game.  We won't get that Denard the entire rest of the season.  It has become a matter of how long he shows up.  Some games we don't need him (EMU, SDSU), some games we only need him for a quarter (ND, WMU), and some games more like a half (NU).  You can bet we will need three quarters of Good Denard if we want to beat Michigan State this weekend and Nebraska/Illinois/OSU in the future.
  • The running backs were quiet, but one thing I really enjoyed was seeing Michael Shaw get a chance to play.  It grew increasingly obvious that the only way we would pick up yards on NU was to get the ball outside the tackles     a Mike Shaw specialty.  I still like the Fitz/Vince one two punch, but it is nice to know we can go to the well and change up the strategy if need be.  Shaw only finished with 25 yards, but he did it on just six carries (4.2 ypc) and got a touchdown out of it.
  • Junior Hemingway was back in a big way, and goddamn can that man high-point a ball.  Any other receiver and I would call that first jump ball a product of luck (I'm looking at you Roy Roundtree, and also the CB that didn't turn around to see the ball almost hit him in the helmet), but with Junior the jump ball is more of an art.  In basketball some guys just know how to rebound; they understand innately how to get position under the basket, what angle to expect the ball to carom off the rim at, and when to jump.  Junior is exceptionally good at doing this on the football field.  I bet he is one helluva IM basketball player.
  • I would like to kindly ask Al Borges to stop running The Most Surprising Waggle In History, but I'll be damned if the thing didn't work a couple times.  Sure, Denard's first throw was inches away from being of the hair-pulling variety, but the offense converted a couple times.  Still, it is pretty bad when I can announce every I-form tight play as The Most Surprising Waggle In History to the room and be right 90% of the time.  Who wants to bet Michigan State isn't fooled.
  • Taylor Lewan, you got lucky on this one.  Savor it, because it isn't happening again.
  • I hoped the offense would do a bit better than 3.6 ypc against Northwestern, but I will chalk that up to the Wildcats being a stout run defense team, and not our offense being ineffective running the ball with anyone but Denard in games against anyone but Minnesota.  We will know for sure next week.  Michigan State has a pretty damn good front seven.
  • Speaking of pretty damn good front sevens, I liked the way the defensive line and linebackers got after Persa and the Northwestern running game.  It is important to keep in mind the injuries to Mike Trumpy and Dan Persa (who wasn't 100%), but I thought NU did a great job integrating Kain Colter into the game plan, and the defensive line did a great job disrupting things once it got its footing.
  • Other than the speed option.  This is troubling, especially because the two toughest opponents left after Michigan State are all teams that can and will spread the field and look to exploit defensive breakdowns with quick option plays.  Persa picking apart the defense through the air was one thing, but the fact that the speed option picked up yards nearly every time*.  Also, the tackling on the speed option looked 2010-esque.  Even Kovacs whiffed on one tackle, leading to a touchdown.  By far the worst aspect of the defense all day.  This same rant could be used to bemoan being bubble screened to death, but Mattison did a good job covering the slot in the second half and slowing that down.
  • Other than that missed tackle, Kovacs had another good day, and Thomas Gordon was good as well, especially on his strip and fumble recovery.  Two good safeties?  Something about that just doesn't seem fair.  I didn't know teams could do that.
  • Blake Countess.  Yeah, I know he got beat by a step on the long pass in the second quarter, but other than that he looks very solid out there.  I am excited to see how this develops.
  • Big Will Campbell also had a nice sack late.  I haven't watched the entire game replay yet to try and pinpoint his contribution (trying to play the 5GB torrent I downloaded was pretty much akin to pouring molasses on my two-year-old laptop) but rumblings from around the blogosphere are positive.  (Insert burned red shirt rant)
  • It was nice to see the defense as a whole step up so much in the second half after allowing 24 points and looking almost completely helpless in the first half.
  • One last note: 14/17 on third down.  I was shocked when I read that stat on Sunday.  It really puts Denard's interceptions into perspective.  If he wasn't stopping the offense, nothing else was on Saturday.  One of the best third down percentages I can remember against a team with a pulse.
*(The one time it didn't: fourth and one.  However, this was a speed option run to the short side of the field with a visibly slowed Dan Persa instead of Kain Colter.  The Michigan defense blew the play up, but the play call did not put NU in a position to succeed.)


Last week I said we couldn't learn anything at all from the Minnesota game.  This week I'm still not sure what we can take away specifically about the offense or defense.

However, the one thing I did learn is that it will be hard to count this team out with all the play makers on it.  Now that there is a coaching staff that's adjustments are more than switching stuffed animals at halftime, this team can finally start growing into something better week by week.

I'll probably still be a nervous wreck, though.

Monday, October 3, 2011

And Nobody Learned Anything At All That Day

(I'm back*.)

My junior year of college my younger sister decided to visit me for a football game.  She was a senior in high school and was just starting to get her mind around the big transition that was looming as she prepared to go off to college in the fall     a transition that she had witnessed me making from afar.  While we were always close when we were younger, we had drifted apart in the years since I had left home, and our time spent together became limited to those few weekends I went home because of other plans but just happened to be around the house Saturday afternoon for a little while.

The game we settled on for her visit was Minnesota     partly because tickets would be easy to come by and partly because it looked like a win in a season that wasn't exactly following my best case scenario.  That Friday night before the game we went to a party at a my friends' house, and I, as I was wont to do in those days, partied a little too hard.  She was still in her straight-laced days of no booze and dragged my ass home after I had drank all the booze.  She wasn't impressed.

The next day we woke up and I started in on the normal Saturday routine.  I made breakfast with College Gameday playing in the background, started drinking beer and getting nervous about the game, then took her to hit up a couple tailgates with friends.

The game, as you can most likely remember, couldn't have gone much worse.  After starting MSU's Annual October Descent into Madness the week before, Minnesota just wouldn't die.  After jumping out to an early lead Minnesota clawed back and tied the score at 20 going into the fourth.  By the time this happened: day was pretty much ruined.

As we trudged back to my house down Hoover street among the throngs of silent and discontent fans, I don't think I said much of anything outside of muttering a few of the standard Late-Era Lloyd Carr complaints under my breath.

The most vivid memory I have of that day is laying down in my bed, feeling sick to my stomach from the gut punch that followed a morning of greasy food and beer.

We didn't do anything that night.  Just stayed in and watched football on TV, me and my sister in that old house on White street.  Just like when we were kids.


That is the only Minnesota game of my life that I really remember outside of 2008.  I listened to the 2003 comeback in the Metrodome from a car radio on my way home from watching my old high school team get their asses handed to them by the best team in our conference.  What other year was Minnesota even relevant?  Had they not taken the Jug on that fall day in 2005, it would still be in the same spot it had been since 1986: right where it belonged, in Schembechler Hall.

In a way I'm almost glad that the game happened.  Not because I like losing to Minnesota en route to 7-5 in what was to that point the MOST DISAPPOINTING SEASON OF MY LIFE (hah, if I only knew...).  Character building experiences are for chumps.  No, that game reminded me just how much it meant to beat Minnesota, and keep the Brown Jug.  People can write that the Brown Jug is meaningless now, but I know better.  Just because Minnesota has been bad for a long time, just because the one year the Gophers were favored turned into an epic choke job at the hands of Nick Sheridan doesn't change that pain in my stomach October 8th.  I didn't want to give up the Jug.  It was a matter of pride.

That game helped me realize that.  It also brought me closer to my sister.  That next summer we took a road trip camping in upstate New York.  Six days of intense one on one time before she went off to college at Pittsburgh that fall.  We may not talk a lot these days, but those are the kind of memories that hold us together.

Two weeks ago she got married, and it was my honor to preside over the service**.

I may not keep in touch with my sister much these days, but deep down she means the world to me, even if I take it for granted that she will always be there when I want her to.


As for Saturday's game, I don't know what to say that hasn't already been said in regard to every natural disaster in the past ten years.  What Minnesota did on Saturday in no way resembled Big Ten football, and by the time it ended I had lost all interest.  You can only rubberneck at a car accident for so long before reality sets in.

This game was in all honesty little more than a scrimmage.  Bullets anyway:

  • Even though it wasn't a very competitive game, it is nice to see Denard gain a little confidence in the passing game.  Those passes don't complete themselves, even if there is no discernible defense in the way.  I will take 11 straight completions any day of the week, and that pass to Hopkins (HOPKINS!) was as pretty a throw as I've seen from Denard all year.  More of this please.
  • Denard running against Minnesota's defense reminds me of being a kid when that one athletic kid a couple years older than everyone comes in and just quietly dominates all game before walking off and leaving everyone slack-jawed asking what the hell just happened.  Some of the cuts he made and creases he hit looked too easy.
  • Fitz Toussaint is quietly becoming one of my favorite players on the offense.  While the competition hasn't been there, he seems to be gaining confidence and making the subtle kinds of moves that most running backs aren't able to pull off.  Not to mention the fact that he never stopped running as hard as he could until he was pulled all the way down to the ground.  A couple times I thought he was going to run right out of his jersey as some Minnesota player clung to it for dear life.  I hope this bodes well for the future.
  • I'm not sure what to think of the diamond formation Borges pulled out.  Are you trying to get in Northwestern's head?  Is this something we might see a lot of?  The possibilities are endless, and I guess I'd take this over I-form, but let's no go nuts, ok?
  • Helmet Numbers:  I'm a fan.  I like that the team liked the idea, and it is the kind of subtle change to the uni's that I can support.  I also second Brian's idea:  if they lose, the numbers are gone.
  • Hemingway had a couple catches, and it was nice to see him after he had been quiet the last couple weeks.
  • Vincent Smith as the second halfback option is seeming better and better all the time.  He isn't going to be a 100 ypg back, but he does enough of the little things that he is valuable to have on the field 20+ times a game.  Just no more passes please?  That was an arm punt if I've ever seen one.
  • I don't have too much to say about the defense other than: bravo.  I don't care who you play, if you shut them down that thoroughly you are doing a good job.  Unfortunately this doesn't really mean anything for the future I fear.  I am excited to see how our D does against Northwestern and MSU     both good teams with talented skill position players but weaknesses that are ripe to be exploited.
  • I didn't realize the first time through that Countess was the one who forced that fumble in the flat.  Excitement level growing...
  • Koger's stiff arm: damn.
  • Devin Gardner played well in his limited time.  Bodes well for the future that he looks comfortable in the offense and athletic enough to make plays out of nothing.
  • Still not sure what to think about Thomas Rawls.  I'd like to jump on the hype train, but I just don't see him being anything more than a poor man's Brandon Minor.  Will I take 80% of a healthy Brandon Minor over the real thing that only plays half the time?  Oh yeah.Christmas came early for 
  • Courtney Avery.  That is the easiest defensive touchdown of your life kid.


What does any of this mean for next week?  Nothing.  It was painfully obvious once both teams got a few snaps that it was only a matter of "how badly will Michigan beat Minnesota".

Thankfully it looks like Northwestern may be vulnerable.
  1. Dan Persa:  Persa was back last week, and while he threw four touchdown passes, he only passed for 120 yards on just 14 attempts.  Only two of the scoring drives were long (80 and 69 yards) while Northwestern has six drives go for less than ten yards and five go between 30 and 40.  If Michigan can take care of the ball and stay solid on special teams it could be hard for Northwestern to move the ball 60+ yards to score.  I want to see Michigan lay the hammer down on defense if only so I have a little more confidence going into the MSU game.
  2. What Rush Defense Shows Up?  Northwestern held Boston College to 102 yards in the first game in what looked like a sea change for the beleagured Wildcat front seven after a poor 2010 playing the run.  Then BC went out and lost to the world, Northwestern gave up 381 yards on the ground to Army, and Illinois couldn't get much more than two yards per carry and...well, I don't know.  Eastern Illinois is a terrible rushing team in FCS and it gained 5.0 ypc against NU.  What the hell Pat, make up your mind.  If Northwestern shuts down Michigan like it did Illinois, Michigan won't have much chance in this one.  I don't see that happening.  Northwestern got a bye week before the Illinois game and I have a feeling Fitzgerald spent the whole time teaching his team how to shut down Illinois on the ground.  Should have spent some time on pass defense.
  3. Nathan Scheelhaase, pocket passer?  It certainly looks that way from the stat sheet: 21/32, 391 yds, 3/1 td/int, with only 35 yards rushing on less than two yards per carry.  Scheelhaase has thrown the ball better this year     almost 70% comp     but he still isn't the kind of guy you peg for 391 yards against a good pass defense.  Which means this may not be a good pass defense.  Eighty-eighth in pass eff. defense and 81st in pass yardage defense don't paint a rosy picture.  Especially when one of the teams you played was Army.
Of course this is the first away game, and it is a night game, so that is an advantage for Northwestern.  Although if half the stadium isn't wearing maize and blue then the Chicago alumni have failed miserably.


If you want to read me elsewhere I just posted my weekly Big Ten Power Rankings on Bleacher Report.  You know how you beat the man when he tells you to do a slideshow?  Make the damn thing 5000 words long.  I also wrote two reaction pieces in the wake of the OSU vs. MSU game.  They focus heavily on just how awful Ohio State is.  Read them for nothing else than the juicy schadenfreude in the comment section.

Ah, Buckeye fans, your tears sustain men.

Until next time (whenever that is).

Go Blue.

*(After announcing the return of the blog I quickly wrote one post.....then went AWOL for like three weeks.  I'm sorry.  In my defense:  1. I had to drive home to Michigan for my little sister's wedding up north without TV or internet that forced me to watch the EMU game on a grainy, 20-year-old projection tv in a bar owned by quite possibly the oldest people in the world.  2. The life of a part time employee is fraught with terrible hours.  Between my other job and writing for Bleacher Report, I just haven't had time to write much on Michigan football.  3. The last three games haven't been all that interesting.  I promise more regular content from here on out.  You don't believe me, and probably for good reason.)

**(I was ordained in some church online that I cannot to this day give you the name of.  They send me emails that I mark as spam.  I am not available to do your wedding unless you pay handsomely and don't care about how the service turns out.  Or if you don't care that I do it half drunk     I've got bad nerves and all.)