Monday, November 28, 2011

The Sun Also Rises

Michigan 40, Ohio 34

The ball came and he went up for it like a whirling gyre amidst the chaos. He came down with it, assessed the situation, and said "I will go there." And he did. The sun shone as he reached that place once again, that place he once knew but had for a time forgotten, like a soldier in a faraway land holding a grainy picture of a girl or a dilapidated home that maintained only a tenuous mental existence, like a dream instantly forgotten upon awaking. He crossed the line and remembered it all. The obstacles around him twisted and stumbled and fell as he came through, unable to reconcile the reality with their worldviews that it disrupted the laws of physics as they knew it for a brief moment. Everything collapsed around him but each step forward ushered in a new civilization, a new idea, a new hope. Each step to that end was a tacit affirmation of everything that was good but hadn't been for so long. 

It was the first salvo of many in the second half, but Michigan never trailed again after that point. It was a tacit understanding that this was the end; this wasn't last time, or the other time or the other time. It was a time unto itself, flourishing in the culture of its newness. 

When the last pass fell into the arms of Courtney Avery like he was welcoming someone's long-awaited return, he sat on the sidelines and smiled. The sun seemed to have risen, like the rows upon rows of Michigan Stadium before a third down play. It was strong but not malevolent. It shone pure lucidity, a clarity that made all actions obvious so that the intermediaries of thought to action were obviated by the circumstances. Run to the student section. And they went. He jumped up for the last time and the world was upon him. Hands and faces and shouts: happiness. He held onto the moment because it would be the last time.

The streak is over but on this particular day the streak doesn't mean a thing. It was about Michigan and Michigan alone. It was their day in the sun, and they took it. When the adrenaline had subsided, the fans had left the stadium, and helmets were off and held in hand, only one thought remained, only one could rightly be had: Michigan had won. It was ironclad. 

They sang The Victors. The noise that rang out bellowed, each syllable pounded into the air like a fist. It could be heard from far away. I think I hear it now. Eyes all searched for something to say we won to, and the air was charged with something that carried the scent of momentum, a latent buildup of something. Plans were laid and a bridge was built. All that's left to do is marvel. The room buzzed and they marveled. 

The Offense

Like RVB said in the post-game presser, this probably wasn't Denard's "best" game if numbers alone are the determining factor, especially with the 2010 ND game in the not too distant past. With that said, as far as virtuoso quarterback performances go, this game reminded me of Chad Henne's Rose Bowl against Texas, Tom Brady against Alabama, Henne against the Gators, &c. For the first time this year, Denard looked like a complete quarterback, like a guy who truly could beat you with his arm the minute you thought it was okay to cheat on the run. That's not to say that past iterations of Denard weren't great, but I think this might be my favorite Denard performance of all time, and yes, that includes last year's ND game. 

His throws had zip and were on target, and although he didn't have as prolific a day as the aforementioned guys with respect to pure yardage, it was as efficient a day as you could have wanted. Denard was 14/17 for 167 yards and 3 TDs through the air, and he of course added 170 yards and 2 TDs on the ground just for fun. You could say that this was an example of a Denard-Borges offense at the height of its powers, except, you know, we get one more year of this. This was just a preview. 

At this point, any complaints about Borges are so minor as to be downright irrelevant if not absurd. Sure, you have to take into account subpar performances against MSU and Iowa, but if you survey the season on a macroscopic level it is astoundingly clear that this offense is much more dangerous than it was back in September, when the offense consisted of jump balls and a run offense that was 2010-esque in its inability to find production from anybody not named Denard Robinson. Denard's command of the offense and Borges's command of the circumstances have improved by leaps and bounds; there's a lot to be excited about for next year, not to mention the fact that the fires of an offseason QB "controversy" have been effectively extinguished. 

The numbers themselves don't even do the performance justice. The types of throws Denard made on Saturday were good throws for any quarterback, and plays that evinced the types of attributes that a good quarterback would have, let alone a spread quarterback trying to do something new. The touch pass to Koger up the middle, the 28-yarder to Dileo, the Hemingway touchdown, the patience on the Odoms touchdown: these are the manifestations of Denard's progression as a passer. I don't want to hear the word "regression" anymore. Life isn't a series of unflinching black and white. Bad and good things happen but that doesn't necessarily indicate a trend or even a trend that is doomed to stick if it's a bad one. 

Oh, and he was sort of alright running the ball too. Rich Rodriguez must've been watching those veer plays thinking "Really? COME ON." It was downright scary how reminiscent of White & Slaton some of those plays looked, but I guess the sledding gets much less tough when you have a talented back like Toussaint to pair up with Denard. On Twitter Brian noted that Denard needed to start keeping, and, as if on cue, he did just that. Perhaps most encouragingly--more than the actual output itself---is that he ran like 2010 Denard again. He looked as fast as he always was after leaving me wondering at various points this year if he had lost a half step. He was aggressive and his movements were purposeful: read and GO, and maybe embarrass some people in the process:

If Etienne Sabino is a Beatles fan, "Hello Goodbye" was probably playing in his head at that very moment in time. There are many more runs like that one. The fumble and the almost lost fumble were the only real blemishes on an otherwise tremendous day on the ground and through the air.

Elsewhere, Toussaint did what he does. Another year of Toussaint and Denard plus a group of solid wideouts (and a legitimate deep threat in Stonum) and an OL that returns more than enough folks should provide for a fun 2012 season on offense.

How perfect was it that seniors like Odoms, Hemingway, and Koger all scored touchdowns in their final games in the Big House? It was a perfect end to a trio of careers that had their fair share of setbacks, frustrations, and moments of doubt. It's hard to play favorites with any of these guys, but Steve Breaston: RBUAS::Odoms: me. I'm sad to see him go and it's hard to believe that this was his last game in the Big House. Listening to this past week's MGoPodcast's discussion about Odoms re: the weather during the '08 Northwestern game gave me laugh and then got me to thinking how quickly time can pass without your approval. I'm not sure what lies ahead for Odoms et al, but if this season is any indication then I'm sure it will only be the best of things.

And if you needed one more thing to smile about, I give you Denard, post-game: "I'm glad I stayed."

The Defense

Thomas Gordon breaks it down as others do things

Well, that didn't quite go as expected. The Buckeyes put up a number of big plays and 34 points on a Michigan defense that had risen meteorically from last year's level of unadulterated futility. The secondary breakdown on the long TD last week against Nebraska was an indicator that despite the improvement, this defense wasn't exactly immune to giving up the big play, but nobody thought that a Bollman offense could have come into Ann Arbor and performed like that. Yes, Michigan escaped with the win and that is definitively all that matters. Michigan's defensive renaissance isn't to be casually dismissed on the heels of one bad game, but it is a subtle (okay, not so subtle) reminder that scheme and coaching go a long way, but talent and experience need to be there as well. Michigan has the former set in spades, but the latter (i.e. talent, experience, and depth) still needs some work to say the least. 

With that said, credit is due to Ohio State, namely Braxton Miller, for coming into The Game with an aggressive gameplan as opposed to prior games where there was seemingly no gameplan at all. It was hard not to watch and have visions of 2004 Troy Smith run through your head but we got the win so those will be set aside until next year. I had a feeling that OSU would definitely do better than they had throughout the season because it's The Game fergosakes, but still...I don't think anybody expected to give up that many points or big plays. 

It seemed to me that, even late, Mattison wasn't really respecting Miller's ability to go downfield and it almost burned us there. Countess got his lunch taken a few times, and so did Floyd on the Miller overthrow in the last drive. The later was a little discouraging given the situation in the game as well as the fact that Floyd has defended moves like that before, particularly against AJ Jenkins of Illinois. 

The numbers are actually not that bad. Michigan gave up 372 total yards (with my mind still sort of expecting RR era results, less then 400 yards=GOLD JERRY GOLD), and the Buckeyes racked up only 137 rushing yards on 31 carries, good for 4.4 ypc. That's not terrible. Michigan held Dan Herron to 43 yards on 15 carries, and he is pretty good even if OSU's 2011 OL hasn't been the best in recent memory. Of course, where Michigan got beat was when Braxton Miller decided to turn into a jazz musician in cleats and improvise all over the place. There's a reason he was a highly-touted recruit; the guy can play. He's not there yet, but given Michigan's lack of defensive speed and relative inexperience in spots, it's not hard to see why Miller had the game that he did, even if other lesser teams held him in check. Did I expect it? No, but I'm not exactly surprised. In any case, despite the points, Michigan notched 7 TFLs, including 4 sacks. Even when Michigan is getting 34 dropped on them, they're still doing some good things. That, and Demens and Morgan lead the team in tackles with 10 and 8 respectively. That's what you want. 

It will be interesting to see how Michigan responds in the bowl game, particularly if they face a team like Houston that will throw and throw and throw some more. Despite the defensive turnaround by the numbers, I would caution people to not get too excited just yet. I know, thanks Cornelious Buzzkillington...but it's true. Giving up plays of 36, 43, and 54 yards does not bode well if we are to face a team like Houston, unless we can get pressure with the front four (and I think it's a reasonable assumption to say that we will). I won't lie and say that the defensive performance wasn't a little disappointing, but (WE) BEAT OHIO. Michigan will spend the next month or so getting some invaluable coaching; guys like Morgan, Ryan, and Countess will basically have a second fall camp to get ALL THE MATTISON COACHING. 

Special Teams



Gibbons has quietly put together a fine season (10/14 on the year and 48/48 on extra points), and has become, dare I say it, "reliable." That 43-yarder was about as clutch as you can get without being a straight up "if you don't make this we lose" situation. Hagerup had his derp moment (I'd put it here but you've all seen it already). I like that Hoke always dismisses these occurrences as a product of "probability." It's: a) true and b) serves to not completely destroy a kid's confidence. I like it.

Otherwise, Hagerup did well with his other 2 punts, returns were average as usual, and OSU's returns teams were generally a non-factor save for one 31-yard kick return from Jordan Hall. 2011 special teams, I love you so much.

Miscellaneous Minutiae 

  • Make no mistake about it, OSU will be back. That team has talent--quite frankly, the talent gap is still pretty wide--and all it will take is some coaching. OSU will have the offensive side covered; if Urban can make a good DC hire then the Buckeyes will likely get back to being pretty good on defense again. Injuries didn't help and some guys (Travis Howard) turned out to be nowhere near as good as anybody expected, but they will be fine next year. 
  • Michigan went undefeated at home for the first time since 2006. Clearly Pop Evil is having some sort of adverse effects on our opponents as well. 
  • I wonder how many wins in a row it will take for OSU fans to stop talking about the 7-game streak? It seems like talk of Michigan's ownage of PSU pretty much came to an end last year. I'd say two more and we're good.
  • Brady Hoke unleashed his inner 7 year old by utilizing the word "funner" post-game. Brady, if you keep winning you can continue to pepper your coachspeak with non-words as much as you please. 
  • Martavious Odoms doubled his previous career TD output throughout the last three games, scoring one in each game. PAHOKEE UBER ALLES. 
  • Notes, always full of interesting trivia that you may or may not want to know. Did you know that Brady Hoke is the fifth Big Ten coach ever to win 10+ in his first season? Well, now you do. 
  • Michigan is now 58-44-6 against Ohio. I bid you adieu, 57.

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