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.)

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