Friday, September 30, 2011

Who Am I, and Why Do You Care?

For those of you who read Holdin' The Rope on a usual basis (I know there are some of you out there), you may have noticed a new contributor last week and today. I am Mike Taub.

There's Fouad waving on the left and me on the right during the Notre Dame game.

What do I know about football? The University of Michigan? Michigan Football?
I've essentially been a Michigan fan since I was born. I have early memories of crying after Michigan losses in the early 90s. I've been going to games since I was five years old. During my first game, I looked around the enormous stadium, saw the band run out, sang along with The Victors, watched the team touch the banner, and screamed and cheered the entire game. I was hooked.

In the late fall of 2004, my high school football team went to a Michigan practice as they prepared to play Texas in the Rose Bowl. Coach Carr spoke to our team, and I got to meet players like Mike Hart, Chad Henne, and Braylon Edwards. The most important aspect of this trip for me was getting to meet, and have a long conversation with Bo Schembechler. Four or five of us stood in a circle, for what seemed like forever, having a conversation about everything from football to life lessons with the legend. For reasons I will never know (maybe he needed it to keep his balance), Bo grabbed my elbow and just held on to it for most of the time we were talking. Needless to say, this conversation with Bo left my friends and me with a moment to remember.

In 2006, I started applying to colleges. Three weeks after I applied, I got a large envelope from Michigan State University welcoming me to East Lansing. It was nice to be accepted, but I wasn't thrilled, I had my mind set on Michigan. On November 17, 2006, I was on a computer at school, and I clicked over to rather than do my work. On the main page, the article was about Bo passing away. I texted a bunch of my friends (clearly I was paying attention that day), and everyone was shocked. When I arrived home from school that day, there were Maize and Blue balloons on my mailbox. When I entered the house, my mom handed me my acceptance letter to the University of Michigan.

The day I was accepted, Michigan was 11-0 and ranked #2 in the country. The next day, Michigan played Ohio State to see who would go to the National Championship Game. As we know, Michigan lost that game, then lost again in the Rose Bowl to USC. I arrived on campus in August 2007, and I was incredibly excited for my first game in the student section. We were ranked #5, Chad Henne, Mike Hart, and Jake Long were returning seniors, and they were going to make up for the year before and take us to the National Championship. Appalachian State had other ideas. I sat around the 90th Row in Section 33, I was going to have a perfect view of the field goal that would keep us from losing to a FCS opponent. Instead, the kick was blocked, and I didn't even know what to do with myself. I had never seen a Michigan loss in person before. The next week Oregon demolished us. After the game, two of my friends and I just sat in our seats until security told us to leave. We couldn't believe that this had happened. We also thought this must be the worst Michigan would be while we were students. Boy were we wrong...

Of course now that I have graduated and live in Nashville, the Michigan Football Team seems to have an excellent future again. I don't have anyone here to talk about everything that is going on in the world of Michigan Football, so I have resorted to blogging. My writing is nowhere near the level of Fouad's, but I'll try to improve (if only I was an English teacher instead of a Math teacher). I'm always open to suggestion, so tell me what you think, either in comments or on Twitter (@mtaub). Hopefully you will enjoy what I write, because I know I enjoy writing about the Michigan Wolverines.

Who Are You and Why Do We Care?: Minnesota Golden Gophers

Now that we are in Big 10 play, is there a rivalry here?
This will be the 97th meeting overall, 92nd for the Little Brown Jug, between the Minnesota Golden Gophers and the Michigan Wolverines. The "rivalry" between the two teams is much more based on history than on recent competition. Since Bo took over as Michigan's head coach in 1969, Michigan has only lost three times, in 1977, 1986, and 2005.

When did we see them last?
The last time we played Minnesota was in the horrendous season of 2008. The lone bright spot in Big 10 play was the game against the Gophers. Michigan won 29-6 behind the foot of K.C. Lopata, a touchdown from Nick Sheridan to Greg Mathews, and a 3 yard touchdown run by (my high school football teammate) Mark Moundros. What I would give for a kicker like Lopata now who could kick a perfect 5/5 from 44, 34, 26, 48, and 23 in one game. Nick Sheridan was your only Quarterback (Threet was injured), and he didn't throw the game away, although I'm sure there were plenty of hitches 5 yards over Greg Matthews head and screens 5 yards in front of Odoms and McGuffie. Zoltan even got to run the ball on a fake punt! Toney Clemons, Sam McGuffie, Justin Feagin, Boubacar Cissoko all played roles in the victory.

What happened in 2005?!
With just seconds left in the game, Minnesota Kicker, Jason Giannini kicked a 30-yard field goal to put the Golden Gophers up 23-20. After two kicks from Garrett Rivas, a touchdown run by Mike Hart, and a 95 yard kick return touchdown, Michigan was up 20-13 with 12:25 left in the 3rd Quarter. Lawrence Maroney ran for a touchdown in the third quarter, and no one scored until Giannini's kick to end the game. This was not for lack of trying, in a very Brendan Gibbons fashion, Garrett Rivas missed two field goals that could have given Michigan the lead in the fourth quarter. Needless to say, this was a huge victory for Minnesota, and their first in 16 tries.

Lloyd Carr said he wanted to see how the Wolverines would respond to this loss, and respond they did. Michigan went on to beat Penn State, Iowa, Northwestern, and Indiana to push the record from 3-3 to 7-3.

What do they look like?
The Golden Gophers official colors are Maroon and Gold. I've always been a fan of both Minnesota's color scheme and their logo. As you can see, they have multiple combinations of uniforms. I'm not a fan of the monotone maroon on maroon, but the maroon on gold is not bad at all. I stripe on the jersey is pretty unnecessary, and a classic example of Nike trying to make jerseys more exciting. We will probably see something like this on Saturday. The biggest issue with the Gophers uniforms is when they break out the gold on gold, which ALWAYS looks terrible.

What's their coaching situation?
In the past off-season, Minnesota fired Tim Brewster, and hired Jerry Kill. Kill has been a head coach for a very long time, working his way up from the Saginaw Valley State Cardinals to the Emporia State Hornets to the Southern Illinois Salukis, finally he broke into Division 1-A with the Northern Illinois Huskies, before getting the promotion to the Big Ten with Minnesota.  In 2008, Kill took a Huskies roster that went 2-10 in 2007, and lead them to 6-7 including a bowl appearance in the Independence Bowl. In 2009, the Huskies improved to 7-6 with an appearance in the International Bowl. Finally, in 2010, Kill lead Northern Illinois to a 10-3 record. They were undefeated in MAC play until the MAC Championship Game, which they lost to Miami (NTM). Early in the season, Kill's Huskies beat the Minnesota Golden Gophers in Minneapolis, 34-23. Before Kill could coach the Huskies in the 2010 Humanitarian Bowl, Kill was offered the Minnesota job, and he resigned.

Sadly, Kill may not coach the Gophers tomorrow, as he suffered another seizure. Hopefully, this is a problem that can be solved, and Kill can continue not only being a successful football coach, but having a successful life as well.

Have they won National or Big Ten Championships?
The most recent Big Ten Championship for the Golden Gophers was in 1967, under coach Murray Warmath. Warmath also won a National Championship 7 years earlier in 1960. Minnesota also enjoyed two dynasties in the very early history of college football. Henry L. Williams and the Gophers won Big Ten Championships in 1900, 1903, 1904, 1906, 1909, 19010, 1911, and 1915. The Gophers' second dynasty was in the 1930s under Bernie Bierman. They were National Champions in 1934, 1935, 1936, 1940, and 1941.

Did anyone famous play there?
Depends what you consider famous...

  • Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney - Combined were one of the best 1-2 punches at running back. Separated, they have been average professionals. 
  • Tony Dungy - Played his college ball at Minnesota, and went on to coach the Tampa Bay Bucs and Indianapolis Colts, whom he lead to a win in Super Bowl XLI. 
  • Verne Gagne -American Wrestling Association World Heavyweight Champion and WWE Hall of Famer. 
  • Otherwise, they have had 215 players in the NFL and 6 NFL Hall of Famers. 
Do they have a goofy mascot?
We No Speak Americano gets me every time. 

Anything you could ever want to know about "Goldy the Gopher" is right here and here.

I would not give justice to any explanation of the Little Brown Jug, so read these articles instead: Mike Rothstein posted a nice article over at WolverineNation, and MVictors, as always, has great history of the oldest rivalry trophy. After putting up a fight against USC in week 1, Minnesota has lost to both New Mexico State and North Dakota State, while beating Miami (Still NTM). Prediction based on everything, but football: Michigan 35 - Minnesota 7. 


So I'd like to take a retrospective look at the first four games of the season before we rush headlong into the murderers' row mildly challenging Big Ten slate ahead of us. I'll be doing this after the Homecoming game and then again after The Game to gauge our progress at four game increments. This will be a sort of State of the Union meets a general airing of grievances meets shameless Mattison worship. In any case, I can't believe we're already a third of the way through the regular season. I know we still have eight games and a bowl game to go but before we know it it'll be the offseason and we'll all be groveling pathetically for recruiting info.  Good times, but not really? Why can't it be football season forever?

The Numbers So Far

The most important stat, of course: 4-0. Michigan has trounced two directional schools and a dangerous albeit declawed SDSU team in addition to another win for the ages against the Irish.

Michigan is currently averaging:

  • 156.0 passing yards per game (good for 110th overall)
  • 250.0 rushing yards per game (good for 12th overall)
  • 32.0 points per game (good for 49th overall)
  • 12.8 points against (good for 11th overall...11th!)

Compared to last year (against UCONN, Notre Dame, Bowling Green, and UMASS):

  • 256.8 passing yards per game ('10-11 Δ= -100.8)
  • 306 rushing yards per game (Δ= -56)
  • 41.3 points per game (Δ= -9.3)
  • 23 points against (Δ= -10.2)

I'm not really an advanced stats guy (the above certainly does not qualify as "advanced") or anything but this pretty much confirms what we already know: the offense is worse and the defense is better. I know, the insight! All things considered, the schedule to this point was probably tougher last year with a UCONN team that went to a BCS game (basically by default, yes, but still) and a Notre Dame team that ended up being okay. This year we had a pretty decent Notre Dame team*, a complete scrub in EMU, and two teams with dangerous isolated elements (Jordan White, Ronnie Hillman) but not enough elsewhere to really challenge a talent-deficient iteration of Michigan football. So, nod goes to 2010 but this is basically splitting hairs. 

Michigan is running and passing for about 50 and 100 yards less respectively, of which the latter is probably a much larger concern at this point. In addition, the positive change in points given up has been essentially cancelled out by the negative points for delta. I'll take that every day and twice on Sunday. 

*I still think they're good for 9 wins, FWIW. Learning how to not trip over their own faces would help in reaching that benchmark. How does one go about tripping over his or her own face? Ask the Notre Dame offense, for they are skilled in this particular art. As good as Liam Neeson was at neck chopping bad guys in Taken, Notre Dame is equally good at turning the ball over.

Hoke? Mattison? Borges?

I'll say it: I love Brady Hoke. I supported Rich Rodriguez till the very end but this is turning out to be GOLD JERRY GOLD. Seriously, a lot of the stuff being said about Hoke would cause you to roll your eyes if another fan base was saying it about their guy but the man can do no wrong...that is, until he does, which he will eventually. However, there are a lot of reasons to think that won't happen any time soon. Speaking of Brady Hoke fluff, if any of you haven't seen the BTN "Step Into My Office" featuring him and have 30 minutes to kill, watch it. It's hard to find fault with very many things he's done thus far as the head honcho in Ann Arbor...can you think of any? I'm trying really hard right now and can't think of much. Not pursuing Devin Lucien in the offseason? Not wearing a headset from time to time? Using the word "rusty" instead of rustic? It's okay Brady, sometimes I get words mixed up too. 

In short, I'm really grasping at straws here. The media loves him, the fans love him, the players love him, and recruits seem to like the man. So far so good. The Era of Good Feelings is off to an auspicious start (I'd be worried if it wasn't because of the name and all). Hoke gets an A+, and the only concern is what he does after Borges and Mattison move on, but that is SO far down the road (and represents a hypothetical situation that would ostensibly be preceded by some above average level of success, i.e., Hoke wins enough to survive the past 3/4 years) that it doesn't even matter. 

As for the coordinators...Greg Mattison might as well have fell to us on a cloud from above because having a defense is kind of awesome. Yes, I know that whole 11th in the country thing won't stand but it's still awesome to look at. Somebody should probably get a screenshot of that before it changes. Beyond the numbers, even the layman can see that things are different. There's something there now that wasn't there before that has nothing to do with talent. One offseason is certainly not enough to improve a defense through S&C or an infusion of new talent, so the only thing we could have logically done is worked with what we have (really, that was our only option). Remember when Jordan Kovacsvis a vis other dudes of his ilk (Tyler Sash, Jim Leonhard, other gritty white guys, etc.) but he's definitely not a liability, and for us that might as well mean All-American. In any case, we haven't had a dependable duo at safety since the Adams-Englemon duo of '07 (and even then, Englemon only got the position because of the pic fail that was Stevie Brown at safety). That pairing wasn't that athletic either (watching Englemon get out-angled by Northwestern's Omar Conteh in '07 was painful), but the encouraging thing is the Kovacs-Gordon pairing actually has a good bit of eligibility left. If blood=defensive competence and this here turnip=the defense than Greg Mattison has managed to squeeze every bit of blood out of this turnip as possible. Some early concerns about Craig Roh have started to dissipate, Mike Martin is doing his manbearpig thing, and we are getting a non-zero contribution from Will Campbell. The linebackers need work but there's some definite potential there with both Hawthorne and Ryan despite each being somewhat limited (Hawthorne is too small and Ryan too inexperienced), and that's not even mentioning a corps including Cam Gordon at some point in the hopefully not too distant future. At this point the most cynical folks among us can say that the absurd turnover margin and points against figure won't stand and that we haven't really played anybody yet, but it's all relative. We are not a "good" defense by any absolute, objective sense...yet. We are, though, definitely better than last year. 

Gorgeous Al's case is a little more convoluted because it is his side of the ball that has seen a statistical decline. Borges has the unenviable task of beginning the installation of a non-spread offense (pro-style, West Coast, whatever you want to call it) while also taking advantage of the elements of the offense that made Denard what he was last year...most of which do not overlap with the aforementioned "non-spread" offense. It seems that most are empathetic with Gorgeous Al's plight, and I hope that he can parlay that empathy into not looking so startled all the time.  

I stumbled upon a pretty interesting Braves & Birds post comparing Borges to Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad (which, if you're not watching it then you probably should posthaste). B&B writes

When Jesse explains this development to "Mr. White," he makes the obvious point that he knows how to run the cooking process from start to finish, but he doesn't understand the chemistry involved like White does.  He has a superficial understanding, but he doesn't know how the parts of the process fit together and therefore, would struggle to answer questions about it.
So yes, RR is Walter White (don't let Rosenberg get wind of this) and Borges is erratic Jesse Pinkman. This harkens back to an article I read in the offseason about the offensive situation at Oklahoma State re: the departure of Dana Holgorsen. I can't remember where I read it, but the general gist was that Brandon Weeden was basically teaching the offense to new offensive coordinator Todd Monken. If that sounds awkward and bound to produce less than the previous iteration, that's because it is awkward and bound to produce less. Borges is trying to run an offense that he doesn't know, that is a faithful imitation at best. Obviously Denard will still run for 200 yards out of sheer raison d'etre but there's a certain verve that's clearly missing that Al Borges probably won't ever be able to replicate completely. I remember doing an imitation exercise in English 325: we had to read a bunch of passages by several authors--Hemingway, Faulkner, Woolf, etc.--and try to imitate their style in a paragraph or so of our own. The request was inherently impossible, but even I--someone who reads and loves Hemingway and Faulkner and those types and often try to imitate them whenever I write things here and elsewhere--knew that even if I produced something similar, it was never going to be exactly the same and it definitely wouldn't be as good. The above numbers bear that out, but as we all know it isn't always about the numbers. 

It might be too small of a sample size or generally unrepresentative of the average quality of defenses we'll face this year, but going a perfect 13/13 in the red zone is to be commended. Let's keep doing that. 

How Is That Meaningless Preseason Prediction Doing?

So I had us pegged for 3-1, with a loss to Notre Dame. I will say that I did switch to the good side after ND fell to USF, for posterity's sake I'll just say I was off in my initial prediction. For what it's worth, I had us at 8-4 to end the season, with losses to ND, Iowa, Nebraska, and Illinois, which would of course mean wins against Michigan State and Ohio State. 

How do those predictions look now? Well, let's just say the MSU and OSU predictions look far less ridiculous now than they did then. MSU is like the Chicago Bears of the Big Ten (although as a Bears fan, I think I would honestly switch receiving corps with the Spartans, straight up): solid defense, solid skill players, and a ghastly offensive line. In Yost I believe they would refer to the offensive line as a "sieve." If the pre-Bryzgalov Flyers netminders all came together and performed some sort of strange voodoo to turn themselves into an offensive line, they'd become the offensive line of the Michigan State Spartans. Our defensive line is going to look the the New York Giants line when we come to East Lansing. And I'll end this here before it becomes even more mixed metaphor-y. 

Ohio State, on the other hand, is not as hopeless a cause as State is. OSU is young but still very talented on defense and at the quarterback and wide receiver positions. After seven more games worth of experience, I think the Buckeyes will be a team to be concerned about. If they played right now, Michigan would win. Unfortunately, they are not, and Posey, Herron, and Adams will be back. On that note, I've kind of slacked on the "Keep Your Enemies Closer" feature, which I'm sure all of 2 Michigan fans read. After doing the Akron and Toledo games but skipping the next two, I may or may not choose to continue it now that we're in the Big Ten schedule and we're playing for keeps. 

The Next Four?

No changes from my preseason predictions. Michigan should roll this Saturday; Minnesota is a complete mess right now. Given Minnesota's coaching situation I'm sure Hoke will call off the dogs, which hopefully means we'll see a lot of Devin Gardner. We should beat Northwestern too, Persa or no Persa. State is a team we should be able to beat, and Purdue is just a touch above Minnesota in quality. So that means...8-0? 


Five Things to Watch For In The Next Four

  • Blake Countess--Was his above average performance against SDSU a mirage, or can we expect that to continue? A NU passing attack led by a possibly still hurting Persa and an MSU attack with above average receivers but shoddy line play is about the extent of the quality our secondary will face in the next month, so we might not find out in earnest. Then again, we might not even find out all year depending on how highly you think of Iowa's James Vanderberg. 
  • Jake Ryan--Can he learn how to keep contain? That would be cool. 
  • Denard Robinson--Obvious, but can Borges continue to find the balance between too many carries and too few, while also getting Denard in any semblance of a rhythm throwing the ball. I mean, man...even Taylor Martinez is putting up better numbers than Denard and he throws like Tim Tebow would if Tim Tebow was making fun of the inefficiency of his own throwing motion. That needs to change. Jeff at MaizePages suggests that somewhere around 21 carries is the "sweet spot" re: Denard carrying the ball in a given game. I kind of agree but even that makes me nervous that he'll get hurt. That's another big question that I hate to even ask: can Denard stay healthy? Three of these next four games can probably be won without Denard going all roadrunner on defenses...let's save him for when it counts if possible. 
  • If the under center offense continues to stumble against the likes of Minnesota and Purdue, does Borges just completely scrap it before we enter the actually somewhat tough part of our schedule? Does he even try to run from under center against State's front? 
  • Can Fitzgerald Toussaint do enough with his carries to become the undisputed man? A few soft defenses lie ahead of us but Fitz will need to pitch in about 70-80 yards if we want to win in a non-ridiculous fashion for once (i.e., not like '09/'10 ND, '07 MSU, etc.). Our running backs haven't been this meh since that weird "BJ Askew as tailback" era, so it would be really nice if Fitz could break out here pretty soon. I'll even take a 100+ yard game against Minnesota as a sign; I'm not picky. 
The Music to Michigan's Season Thus Far

Okay, this is basically just Notre Dame but still...apathetic, uninspired beginnings and then a crescendo building up to the miraculous. 

The Defining Moment

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

HTR's Top 25: Week 5

Oklahoma State
Boise State
South Carolina
Texas A&M
West Virginia
Georgia Tech
South Florida 
Florida State
Arizona State
Iowa State

  • Nebraska's place in the rankings is just about the point where I say "bastante" re: dropping Boise State even though they keep winning. 
  • South Florida, still chillin' on the top 25's couch, not leaving even though the top 25 has hinted that it is unwelcome and has "stuff" to do. 
  • LSU and Alabama are about the same at this point...Oklahoma is a touch below them IMO. Again, Bama and LSU continue to steamroll everything in sight like that Tim Curry-voiced pollution machine from FernGully. Alabama has a nice test in the Swamp this weekend; if they contain quarkbacks Rainey, Demps, etc. they should come out with another grind-it-out win, the type of performance that Alabamians subsist on as if they were Golden Flake potato chips or Milo's Sweet Tea. 
  • I guess my preseason hype of FSU was somewhat unwarranted, but they can still have a great--potentially BCS game--season if they win out out, which shouldn't be too hard to do as long as EJ Manuel can make it back to the field. 
  • Ah Dabo, master of deception...don't worry Dabo, we know that you set up this 4-0 start to make the inevitable fall that much derpier. Well played. 
  • A&M basically had Oklahoma State dead to rights so I wouldn't punish them too much in the rankings; unfortunately for the Aggies, they have to turn around and face an Arkansas team that is still pretty good despite what the Crimson Tide did to them. The Aggies need this one if they don't want their final season in the what was once Dan Beebe's conference to unravel completely. 
  • After a bye week for the Cyclones, the Longhorns come to Ames this weekend, a big game for both teams. Iowa State's spotless record thus far is somewhat of a mirage, but if they split their next four games (Texas, @Baylor, @Mizzou, Texas A&M), I'd be extremely impressed. Unfortunately, Steele Jantz and his awesome name will probably only be able to do so much, like probably only win 3 more games this season. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Down the Rabbit Hole

Brady Hoke, master of doing nothing while doing everything...pretty sure he's secretly a Jedi 

Michigan 28, San Diego State 7

Another week has come and gone and Michigan is 4-0 once again. This is where our collective guard should go up. The last two years, the bridge covering the distance between us and Big Ten glory (or, let's be honest, the Capital One Bowl) dropped out from underneath us, leaving us to the voracious appetite of our conference foes and various reptilian media personalities who shall go unnamed in this space. I'm not going to argue whether or not this time is different because I don't even know what that really means. Does it mean that Michigan will finish the season with more wins? Does it mean that we will be more competitive against the Big Ten schedule (primarily against OSU and MSU)? Does it mean we'll reach some benchmark of improvement , whether vague or statistically specific, that we can at a certain point say that we are doing the opposite of what we were ostensibly doing last season (i.e., regressing)? Does it mean all of these things at once? I'm not really sure. The Big Ten is certifiably pathetic this year (Rittenberg ranked us 3rd--THIRD!--in the conference), and an extra win or two against teams that have replaced PSU and Wisconsin on the schedule, while nice, isn't a reason start making arrangements to cordon off State St. for the biggest pre-Capital One Bowl parade of all time.

With that Debbie Downer bit out of the way, I will say that it feels good to be 4-0 once again even if it could all very well be a mirage, even if we've played only one team (a team whose offense can best be described as Malfunctioning Eddie from Futurama) with a pulse. I'll take it, and with 6-0 looking like a distinct possibility if not an inevitability then all I have to say is let's let the Era of Good Feelings continue.

The Offense

So I think it's safe to say that we're starting to get an idea for what this offense can and can't do as we sit on the precipice of the Big Ten schedule. Watching Denard throw the ball has been an adventure to say the least, and I'm pretty sure the way I feel as Denard is about to release the ball is exactly how I felt in 2009 whenever he'd appear in games. I'm not interested in ridiculous buzz words like "regression" but things don't look good. How long can you pin Denard's lack of accuracy on nerves or unfamiliarity with the schemes or whatever other reason has been conjured up? I believe that Denard gets too hyped up before games, I really do, but at a certain point you've got to learn to harness that excitability and unleash it when you're streaking down the field and trying to destroy the safety's angle with pure, unadulterated speed.

In any case, Denard had yet another Denardian game--are we at the point yet that Denard's performances merit an eponymous adjective, like Kafkaesque but scary in a different way?--passing for a sub-100 amount and running for an amount that would make Forrest Gump tired just thinking about it. Denard's already over halfway to a 1,000 yards rushing this year, a stat which of course includes the rain-shortened Western game where he only had 46. It's hard to complain, but Denard carrying the ball 22 times (of course, only some were by design, but still) compared to Fitz+Smith's 21 is...right? An equitable division of carries? Horrible because because Denard is gonna break, man? I don't know. Maybe we can just keep running Denard all day and he doesn't get hurt at all, but I just find that highly unlikely. If we're running him 26 and 21 times against EMU and SDSU respectively, what does that say about his workload throughout the Big Ten schedule? Once again, thank you 2011 schedule for kind of taking it easy on us. Notre Dame didn't impress all that much against Pitt, but there's an outside shot that ND could end up being the best team we'll have faced all year. Think about that. Notre Dame. I'm not saying it's going to happen, but if it does then this season will be pretty awesome even if it exists only in some mirage-like Matrix world. Denard might not be able to hit an open receiver, but he's still basically Neo with the ball in his hands. If only he could could sit in that chair and receive a training module on how to pass, life would be so much easier.

In non-Denard news, the tailbacks were once again their standard selves. Smith had a pretty poor game minus the one beast mode touchdown and the 32-yarder; any questions about who should start can pretty much be shot into the sun at this point. Toussaint is better, and while he's probably not going to join the pantheon of elite Michigan running backs (sorry, Fred) but he's more than good enough for our purposes. Thirteen carries for 67 yards is an unspectacular but very solid day. He is an agile back with enough quicks to navigate his way to the right hole and occasionally blow through it as he did against Western. Unfortunately, the offensive line has had somewhat of a tough time thus far this year, but it's still early and Michigan will get plenty of chances to hone their ground game in the coming weeks (not to mention in practice).

It's become clear that Hemingway et al are going to fall painfully short of the lofty pre-season expectations that many--including myself--had for him/them. Their numbers just have to go up as the season goes on. As great as Denard doing his thing is, we have way too much talent on the outside to waste. Insert last week's post-EMU general call for hitches, bubble screens, and any other manner of getting the ball from Denard to a receiver for confidence-building and, you know, the actual completion of passes. That'd be nice. Get Denard and Borges in the training room of the Nebuchadnezzar, ASAP.

The Defense

All things considered, the defense is...not a disaster? There are even things to be optimistic about, which is a foreign feeling and makes me uncomfortable even though I know it's a good thing. Of course, Marqueis Gray will run for 900 yards next week and I'll just think yeah, that sounds about right. 

Michigan did get a lot of help from Ryan Lindley, who was about as accurate as Denard except that he threw it a whopping 48 times. Unfortunately for the Aztecs, many of Lindley's passes fell nowhere near their intended target, whether due to miscommunication, pressure, or just bad accuracy. Our secondary is giving us reasons to be excited, but they're not at the point where they can subsist completely on the magnitude of their own talents. Lindley only completed 23 of 48 passes for 253 yards, many completed to Tacopants. Michigan did a fine job (as they've done all season) of bringing pressure right up the middle (think back to Demens coming up the middle against Western three times in a row). After doing some amateur scouting of Lindley's performance against TCU last season as part of a general look at the Borges offense, I pegged him [Lindley] as a guy to be pretty worried about, especially when paired with a legitimately above average tailback like Hillman. Lindley disappointed--some of which can be attributed to Michigan's defensive performance--but you also can't deny that the loss of SDSU's top 4 receivers, either to the NFL or injuries, was too much for them to overcome. Other than Escobar and maybe Lockett, SDSU just didn't have the weapons to challenge Michigan's secondary. I guess it's a good thing Michigan's secondary held up pretty well, because if they didn't then that would've meant getting burnt by a receiving corps full of noobs.

On a serious note, can we go ahead and just admit that JT Floyd and not Woolfolk is probably our top corner? Woolfolk taking Hemingway's place as the team injury magnet hasn't helped, but Woolfolk was beaten on a couple of occasions whereas Floyd held his ground nearly every time, with a PBU and just generally good coverage a majority of the time. I used to think of him as a Grant Mason-y type, but he's definitely proven himself to be a little more serviceable than that. Absence makes the heart grow fonder re: Woolfolk, but, he's still a good player and a leader and a more than solid #2 guy at this point in Michigan's rebuild of the defense.

Elsewhere, Martin, RVB, and even Roh were fairly active in this one, and Campbell continued to be not definitively bad, which in Michigan fan terms might as well mean All-American status. Seriously, though, Campbell...he's learning. They can rebuild it...maybe they did? I'll hold off on excessive hype until he starts to prove it against Big Ten teams (not that any of the offensive lines he'll face in October are anything to write home about). After a week where I foolishly thought "so where has Mike Martin?" he showed up time and again, blowing up the middle of the line and getting in Lindley's face. I'm sorry for even thinking about questioning you, Mike. It'll never happen again. So yeah, he's still good but getting doubled over and over again kind of mitigates your impact on the stat sheet. Got it.

Jake Ryan got is first official start and looked pretty good despite getting rocked on that one play that Floyd got temporarily hurt on. I would really love to see Cam Gordon return but at this point I'm just kind of ignoring everything that Brady Hoke says about him, and if he [Cam] returns then I'll treat it like a pleasant surprise. For the time being, though, Jake Ryan is someone to get really excited about. He plays like a freshman at times but he's going to be good when all is said and done.

Contain is still an enormous issue for this defense, but then again containing Ronnie Hillman is difficult for even an experienced, edge-conscious team. Generally, this is further proof that Michigan's defensive speed is not even close to up to snuff; that issue will be rectified in time through S&C and recruiting. For now, we'll have to hope that the team continues to pick up what Mattison is dropping. It definitely looks like they're making some plays that haven't been made in the past few years.

From a statistical perspective, giving up only 7 points (in addition to 10 and 3 against the Michigan direction schools) is nothing to scoff at. Yes, part of this has certainly been luck, and yes, not all of Michigan's turnovers have been forced. Michigan's current turnover rate is unsustainable but that's hopefully okay because Michigan will (ostensibly) be better on both sides of the ball as the season goes on. In any case, holding a back like Hillman to only 109 yards (well below his average) is pretty encouraging. That guy is good, and he'll go on to have many more 100+ yard games this season.

I'm not going to say anything about the safeties because talking about safeties usually means something bad happened, and...nothing bad happened, really. Our safeties are competent, if not good. There, I said it. OUR SAFETIES ARE GOOD, Y'ALL.

The Special Teams


Also, Matt Wile had a nice game punting the ball, but the assumption is that Hagerup--assuming there isn't any residual post-suspension doghouse stuff going on--should get the starting nod going forward.

Miscellaneous Minutiae

  • I'll admit it, I definitely thought and said "punt" on that 4th down from our 48. I'm not proud of it, but we all make mistakes. Maybe my brief meeting with Lloyd is to blame for this instance of philosophical and mathematical derpitude? Probably.
  • Jake Ryan is doing things on the reg now so I'm replacing the "Jake Ryan!" bullet with "Blake Countess!" Yes, let the hype train pick up speed. Seriously, we have actual depth in the secondary this year, and it is glorious. Countess pretty much blanketed his guy despite the fact that Lindley was looking to target him specifically. He honestly might have had a better game than both Avery and Woolfolk. 
  • Hopkins needs to not play for a long should be Smith and Fitz almost exclusively the rest of the way, with Shaw getting the scraps. Hopkins was about to finish off a pretty nice run before he fumbled, which makes it even more frustrating. Some guys just have problems holding onto the ball for whatever reason (it's not like it was an exceptional defensive play or anything), and unfortunately Hopkins is one of those people. 
  • So it looks like I was completely wrong to think that Avery>Floyd in the preseason. I still have high hopes for Avery but he's still young; the lone SDSU touchdown was completed on him. 
  • I'd like to see linebackers and not defensive backs lead the team in tackles in any given game but  I guess that comes with the territory of a "bend but don't break." 
  • Okay I'm done. But seriously, stop it. 
  • I'm not 100% sure what the injury situation is regarding Woolfolk and Barnum (and even Cam Gordon), but if there's any doubt about their ability to play then they should sit against the Gophers. Also, if Denard carries the ball any more than 15 times next week (rather, if we need him to) then I might start to get a little frustrated with the state of the offense. 
  • I don't care if this is a mirage or not real or whatever; it's great to be 4-0 once again. 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Back To Ann Arbor

I'm about to head back to Ann Arbor for my second game as a graduate...I probably won't be back again until either Nebraska or OSU so it's time for ALL THE BLIMPY/SPOT'S/COTTAGE INN. This is where champions are made.

Remember last time, guys? Let's not make it like last time.*

UM vs. San Diego State

*Although, if a tailback wants to emerge and put a multi-year stranglehold on the position, like last time, I'd you know, be kind of okay with that.  

Who Are You and Why Do We Care?: San Diego State

Rather than focusing on the Offense and Defense as the Michigan Wolverines prepare to face the San Diego State Aztecs, here is a quick look at everything else, and a huge change of pace from the norm here at Holdin’ The Rope.

When did we see them last?
San Diego State has played in Ann Arbor one other time, in 2004. One week after losing to Notre Dame, San Diego State gave the Wolverines a run for their money. Going into half time, the Aztecs lead 21 - 17. Freshman Quarterback Chad Henne threw a touchdown pass to Braylon Edwards early in the second half which would hold up for the rest of the game. Mike Hart ran for 121 yards and Braylon gained 130 yards along with two touchdowns to become Michigan’s career leading wide receiver.

What do they look like?
The Aztec’s official colors are Black and Scarlett. Their uniform combination has ended up on a few ugliest uniforms lists. In stark contrast to the best helmet in football, the Aztec’s helmet leaves much to be desired. The black on black look is pretty terrible, which is embarrassing because they have been using it forever. The white jersey is better, but lacks style. I’m also not a fan of the red outline around the white outline on the numbers and letters.

Have they had good coaches?
Well their current coach is Rocky Long. He has been coaching since the 70s and was the head coach at New Mexico from 1998-2008. He lead the Lobos to five bowl games in six years from 2002-2007. After the 2007 season, he resigned, and joined the staff of a lovable finger-pointing man whom I think you may know... When Brady was selected as the University of Michigan Head Coach, San Diego State selected Long, Hoke’s Defensive Coordinator, to replace him. Much of Hoke’s staff followed him to Michigan, and Long was forced to replace almost an entire staff.

Did anyone famous every play there?
  • Joe Gibbs - NFL Head Coach for the Washington Redskins.
  • Herm Edwards - NFL Head Coach for the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets, and now annoying ESPN talking head.
  • John Fox - NFL Head Coach for the Carolina Panthers, and now Denver Broncos.
  • Sean Payton - NFL Head Coach for the New Orleans Saints.
  • Marshall Faulk - NFL Running Back for the St. Louis Rams.
  • Az-Zahir Hakim (my personal favorite) - Former NFL Wide Receiver for the Rams, Lions, Saints, Lions (again), Chargers, and Dolphins.

Do they have any weird/interesting traditions?
Since September 25, 1930, 75% of the Aztecs’ games have been played at night. 

They are called the Aztecs. Have they ever had a super racist Native American logo?

San Diego State is no cupcake. They will not just roll over and let us win because their former Head Coach and most of their coordinators are now wearing Maize and Blue rather than Black and Scarlet. Hoke left a good team in place in Southern California, but Michigan should still come out on top. Prediction based on everything, but football: 24-14 Michigan.