Wednesday, November 2, 2011

We Hardly Knew You, 11/2/2011

Another Saturday has come and gone. A brief snow flurry fell as I watched Gameday Saturday morning...mansome. It's Big Ten football time, for real y'all. It feels so strange not being in Ann Arbor for all of this after spending four years there, each week recovering from the last only to build up steadily each day until it became Saturday again and everything was good. Even when things weren't good, they were something. Thankfully, I will be making it out for the Nebraska game, so it'll only be a few more weeks of this "not being in the Big House" nonsense.

Goodbye: This is already old news at this point, but Carvin Johnson is the latest Wolverine to leave the program. Of course, once you get past the fact that this is a not insignificant dent to Michigan's depth in the secondary, it hurts to lose a guy like this for many other reasons.

An average Michigan recruiting class normally features a five-star or two (sometimes more), a veritable army of four-stars, and a smattering of three-stars boasting offer lists that seem to dispel their lukewarm recruiting rankings. You'll see an elite quarterback, monstrous offensive and defensive tackles, and defensive backs with a propensity to cover large swathes of turf with speed, agility, and courage.

Then you have the rest. It's hard not to become attached to players like these, players who were specifically elected, plucked from the enormous faceless mass of anonymous three-stars because they sparked some interest in somebody along the way. That's nothing to scoff at. The domain of the three-star is not that different from that of the working world at large; that is, the sheer number of people in existence makes it difficult to differentiate one's self from others, to make one's self noticed, appreciated, seen. In college football recruiting, there are infinitely more three-star and below prospects than there are four and five-star guys (this is obvious and follows logically--ultimately very few are cut out for college football), and it's difficult to get noticed by the elites.

I wish he had stayed, but, in the end, these are the guys you root for even when they're gone, simply for the fact that they keep an idealized notion of hope afloat. The idea that simply getting noticed is even a possibility should be reassuring to us all.

Three and Out: I received my copy of "Three and Out" last Thursday and, after tearing through it in the span of 24 fevered hours, was intent on writing a big ol' depressing post about it full of outrage and hand-wringing. After letting some of the book's more ignominious revelations settle in my mind for a while, I decided not to for the simple fact that: a) it's been talked about ad nauseam and b) it's incredibly depressing. With that said, if you haven't read it you probably should go do that. A few impressions ranging from the general to the specific to the inane (this is completely off the cuff...I know there will be many things I'm either forgetting to mention or lack the ability to adequately confront):

  • Obvious statement of the century, but man did RR git a raw deal from the word go. He made his mistakes, but he just didn't have a chance. Eric Mayes's comments pretty much sum up what RR was up against and represent some of the far from rosy underbelly of the institution of Michigan football. The most frustrating part of the book is realizing how much RR actually did understand many Michigan traditions, going all the way back to his early coaching days. I just wish he was more able to articulate what he did know to the media, in addition to knowing when to just stop talking and start coachspeaking. 
  • As a piece of writing, this book is awesome from start to finish. The survey of college football history and the development of athletic departments, the relationships between ADs and college presidents, the evolution of offenses, all the way up to the biographical bits about RR's upbringing and early pursuit of a career in coaching, were consistently captivating, even if you already know about most of these things. 
  • As grim as much of the book was, something about a grown man saying--profanity ahead--"FUCK ME" was admittedly kind of funny (after watching "Fargo" the other night I guess I'm in a dark comedy sort of mood). Obviously, the circumstances were not funny at any point, but the aforementioned is something I imagine a 15 year-old on a Mountain Dew and Halo bender saying. Although the depiction of RR's cursing and object tossing wasn't flattering, it was real and most of all familiar. 
  • Similarly, Rod Smith's "Suck it, Notre Dame" line...GOLD. 
  • I mentioned last week that I would be reluctant to view things in any sort of black and white sense despite whatever disappointments I'd find in the book. While I'm still dedicated to that notion, it's hard not to lose a little respect for, yes, Lloyd Carr. 
  • Despite RR's treatment, it becomes quite obvious (if it wasn't clear already) that the players were the biggest victims throughout this entire nightmare. Bacon's descriptions of what the players had to go through on a daily basis--as a result of the ongoing drama in addition to the day-to-day grind of life as a college football player--humanizes the whole shameful affair in a way that's unrelentingly heartbreaking. 
  • The last line of the book was perfect and yet so painfully succinct that you wish it would just swallow up every page that preceded it. I remember my unbridled excitement about what was to come in the moments leading up to kickoff of the Utah game; it seems to have happened so long ago that I'm not sure it was ever real. 

Glazed, No Sprinkles: Transitioning to less depressing topics, this week's edition of Inside Michigan Football promises its usual buffet of fluff that doesn't give you anything new or useful to think about (but you still love it anyway). Hoke talked about this and that and other things, but the only reason I'm linking this is to note that he mentions a liking for glazed donuts but not the sprinkled kind. Once again, Hoke proves that he gets it. Sprinkles are most certainly the flashy, substance-less dressings of a donut lacking in fundamental toughness. A man who likes sprinkles is not a man I want to know.

Also, there's an awkward exchange about Halloween costumes at the end, punctuated by Hoke hilariously saying: "I just don't know, Jim."

Minnesota In Ur Base, Outscheming Ur D00ds: Black Heart Gold Pants has a great rundown of what exactly went wrong last Saturday against a horrible, horrible Minnesota team. I highly doubt we'll be basing our gameplan on what Minnesota did given that we, you know, actually have some amount of defensive talent to work with, but it's an interesting read nonetheless. If Minnesota DC Tracy Claeys can figure it out, I have faith that Mattison will be just fine.

The Gophers went with the "wide nine" for much of the game, which is now in vogue in the professional ranks and has replaced the Wildcat as the gimmicky deviation from the monotony of sterile manball the NFL espouses that is inevitably mentioned a million times per broadcast involving a team using these philosophies. To a certain extent it kind of worked for the Gophers. Sure, Coker made a killing on the ground, racking up 252 yards; at the end of the day, though, the Gophers only gave up 21 points, which is pretty miraculous given Minnesota's defensive incompetence against everybody save USC. BHGP writes:

It certainly seemed like Minnesota was copying the recently popular NFL concept of setting their ends up in the so-called "wide nine" stance, as in outside the tight ends. And unlike NFL teams, who prefer this look solely on passing downs, it certainly seemed like Minnesota went with this look all the time. Why go this route? Here's a good article on the concept, but the basic idea seems to be to pressure the quarterback. And Vandenberg did seem to face pressure all day, even when Minnesota didn't have an explicit blitz call on.  It's hard to say if that was due to the alignment of the ends and how much was due to a mediocre day by the Iowa offensive line, but whatever it was, it worked. 
Again, there's no way Michigan goes with this extreme of a game plan on defense, but it's worth considering. Despite the outcome of the game, Iowa will provide a serious challenge this defense; Vandenberg is a capable, strong-armed quarterback, and, paired with a pretty good back in Coker and an NFL quality receiver in McNutt, nothing but our best effort will do. Iowa's offensive line isn't really anything to write home about, and I don't see the more straight ahead stuff being a major threat barring any obscene displays of horrible tackling. As usual, controlling the edge will be crucial because the Hawkeyes do like them some stretch plays. If Michigan can duplicate the relatively solid edge-consciousness they displayed against Purdue then that should go a long way toward shutting down the run and giving Mattison free rein to blitz the heck out of Vandenberg and a leaky OL.

McGary Watch: If you haven't heard, tomorrow is the day that Mitch McGary, coveted 5-star big man, announces his decision tomorrow. Everybody who's anybody is saying that he's a lock for Michigan, which, if true then WOOOOOO. Nick Baumgardner of talks about the implications of a McGary commitment:

If Brewster Academy mega-recruit Mitch McGary puts on a Michigan basketball hat Thursday, he instantly changes John Beilein's program.
The Wolverines' 2012 recruiting class suddenly shoots up the national rankings and Beilein gets a 6-foot-10, 250-pound power forward with seemingly limitless potential to add to his already promising roster for next season.
 The article even includes a LaVell Blanchard name drop, with recruiting analyst Dave Telep noting that McGary would be Michigan's highest-rated recruit since Michigan landed Blanchard way back in 1999. That shouldn't be surprising at all (see Amaker, Tommy and Ellerbe, Brian) and yet it is. Blanchard was my favorite player as a younger fan (I was in middle school when he played) and the only basketball jersey I currently own is a blue Michigan #30, a cherished relic from a frustrating era.

With McGary ostensibly (knock on wood) joining the program, I think it's safe to say that this sleeping giant is starting to wake up. And to think that people wanted Beilein and his "gimmick" philosophies on offense and defense gone at one point--ah, the virtues of patience. Michigan hit a home run the day they hired Beilein, and that investment is finally starting to bear fruit.

More? Adam Jacobi's "Keys to the Game" for this Saturday...I'm pretty confident that we'll win but for some reason I'm getting some strong 2009 Illinois-esque vibes. HOLD ME. Joe Pa insistent on keeping the 2-QB system alive...Penn State's QB situation takes the old "if you've got two quarterbacks then you've got none" saying and derpifies it even more than would normally be the case. As WVU lawyers up, new Big 12 puppet commissioner Chuck Neinas says "Hey guys, see y'all next year!" Former Alabama and LSU stars now in the NFL weigh in on the game of the year, with each player shockingly siding with his alma mater. Georgia taking a page from the Iowan reality known as "not having any running backs ever due to various circumstances/having to deploy a guy named Paki O'Meara for a non-zero number of plays"...thankfully for UGA, they get New Mexico State this week. The WSJ on Bama-LSU.

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