Quick Michigan State Preview

I’m not sure when the past two seasons fell apart, but the Michigan State game seemed like a big part of each collapse, maybe even the start of it. This year seems different, but I don’t think we’ll really know until Saturday. It was nice to beat up on Minnesota and steal a “road” game at Northwestern, but the test of whether this team is different than the past two years is Saturday.

I’ll save the suspense, I’ve bought in. I think this team is different and they’re for real this year. Is Michigan a national championship contender? No, probably not, but thanks to a favorable schedule they could actually play in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game, which is just the way it should be. Even if they’re not one of the best teams in the country, they’re better than this Michigan State team, and I’m not sure it’s even that close.

State lost their best defensive player and seemingly their entire offensive line. They return Kirk Cousins, BJ Cunningham, Edwin Baker, and some other RB who crushed us last year. That’s no joke, but if Michigan gives them no space to run the ball and no time to throw it, those skill players shouldn’t matter too much. The “strength” of the State line is the guards who are sandwiched by a redshirt freshman center — Mike Martin should have ample opportunity to wreak havoc if Mark Dantonio doesn’t order a hit on him like he did last year. And the tackles on the State line might as well be named Gingor and Ghomas (as in, helpless kitties). Michigan should crush this line with a mix of Greg Mattison blitzes and just pure power.

Denard is obviously the key on offense. If he throws 3 interceptions again Michigan could be in trouble, but that’s not going to happen since Al Borges is going to focus the offense on short underneath throws with huge holes in the zone coverage (RIGHT, AL BORGES?). If Vincent Smith or Fitzgerald Toussaint or Michael Shaw can gain any yards on the ground that would be nice too, but Denard should have ample opportunity to run against a primarily Cover 2 defense. I’m sure State is prepared for the Denard/Devin combos that we’ve debuted the past couple weeks, and hopefully they spent quite a bit of time preparing for them, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t see those formations at all. We aren’t going to need them.

The past few years State has run a number of new packages, both offensively and defensively, to seemingly surprise Michigan. It wouldn’t shock me if they did the same thing this year, hell they’ll probably come out and throw 7 straight bubble screens, and switch to a stack defense just to fuck with us, but Michigan has shown an ability to adjust this year. I think we’ll adjust to the new stuff, and be familiar enough with the base packages to be able to keep them in check. And then I hope Brady Hoke has a couple F-U touchdowns in store for the past few years. And I also hope he punches Mark Dantonio in the face.

Michigan 45 Michigan State 17.

Update after getting crushed 28-14: I don’t have the heart to write a full recap, so I’ll just write a few notes.

  • Michigan State was clearly better on both sides of the ball. On defense, they stacked the box and brought pressure on seemingly every down. On offense, they knocked the Michigan defensive line backwards on most of their runs. While Michigan struggled to find any running room, State ran it for 4 yards a pop on first down.
  • The game was probably decided in the 2nd quarter when Michigan spent the entire quarter in State territory and came away with no points. On six occasions they punted from State territory, including a Lloyd Carr-esque punt on 4th and 4 from the State 36 yard line. Some of those punts can be blamed on the fact that Michigan was faced with 4th and very long, but Michigan’s inability to score in State territory brought back haunting memories of the past couple seasons.
  • The wind obviously hurt both teams, but Denard was atrocious throwing the ball. Tough to say whether State’s strategy would have worked as well as it did if Denard had been able to throw it a little better, but the conditions clearly hampered his effectiveness.
  • Michigan State was undisciplined (William Gholston was dirty) and sloppy for most of the game, but Michigan was unable to make them pay for any of those mistakes. It was nice that we remained composed in the face of numerous late hits and cheap shots, but our inability to do make them pay for any of those penalties was a huge factor in the loss.
  • Glad Michigan didn’t stick around to shake hands. I hope Brady Hoke told them to leave the field.
  • William Gholston had better be suspended for the Wisconsin game next week. It should be interesting to see whether that suspension comes from the Big Ten or whether Dantonio does it himself. Since it looked like Dantonio gave Gholston a butt slap after the punch, the former seems more likely.
  • I’m not sure this game means we’re going to collapse like we did the past two years. Should be interesting to see how they respond in two weeks.

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Hail Mary

 

“We had no flow offensively.” Those were Brady Hoke’s words following the most exciting Michigan win I’ve ever seen (apologies to Michigan/Penn St ’05). This post was going to be a long rant about how Brady Hoke and Al Borges had immobilized the most electric player in college football. Instead, OMFG, what the hell just happened, look at that picture. Michigan struggled to do anything all night offensively, then the 4th quarter happened and Denard just started chucking it up and Hemingway, Gallon (!!!!!!!!), and Roundtree went up and made ridiculous catches over and over. Hello Mediocrity least favorite player Jeremy Gallon almost redeemed himself for the 17 punts and kicks he misplayed last year. His 64 yard completion when it seemed like the game was lost was the most shocking catch I’ve ever seen. Simply an incredible game. Words can do no justice, so here’s a collection of text messages I got last night:

11:21 pm Dan: Ahhhhhhhhhhh

11:21 pm Dan: If we line up for a fg I’ll puke

11:28 pm Dan: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

11:41 pm Jeff: Wow

11:42 pm Louis: Go fucking blueeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!

11:42 pm Rachel: Gooooooooooooo

11:43 pm Me: Blueeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

 

Some other notes:

  • Michigan Stadium looked spectacular last night. That should happen every year.
  • Brady Hoke still doesn’t have a kicker. We haven’t attempted one this year, and apparently the thought of having to lineup for a game tying FG with 8 seconds left was too much for Hoke. Props to him for not putting a kicker out there.
  • Now having said that, Hoke looks like a clueless doofus on the sideline. I know I was in favor of him delegating duties to Borges and Mattison, but it looks like, and sounds like, he has no idea what is going.
  • Dave Brandon is an asshole. Did you see him running on the field after the game and hugging Hoke? Rich Rod must have been thinking what could have happened if he had any of that support. Who else is looking forward to John Bacon’s book about the Rich Rodriguez era?
  • Notre Dame shot themselves in the foot over and over. Obviously the 5 turnovers were bad, but so was the predictable play calling. Michigan had no answer to Michael Floyd, but when Notre Dame got themselves into 3rd and short multiple times they ran HB dives, which Michigan stuffed, forcing at least 3 punts.
  • I understand Troy Woolfolk was playing with a broken hand, sprained ankle, reconstructed ankle, and bloody nose, but who’s idea was it to put JT Floyd on Michael Floyd (often without help) all night. JT was solid, but it seemed odd, especially considering how locked in Rees was on Floyd for most of the night.
  • This is probably it’s own post, but jeez, the offense kind of sucks now. There is still no running game (where was Toussaint? why was Hopkins listed as an impact player at the start of the game? what did I miss?). Now, instead of Denard hitting wide open WRs streaking through the secondary, his favorite play appears to be the jump ball. It doesn’t exactly leave you feeling good about the offense going forward.
  • The theme of the Rich Rod era was quick starts to the season, including his two best wins over ND in an almost exciting fashion. But when the Big Ten schedule rolled around the team struggled to match up with just about anyone. Hopefully this team can take this win and actually build on it.

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Hello Mediocrity Michigan FOOTBALL 2011 Season Preview

So we took about 4 months off there to recharge our batteries after becoming the 117th best Michigan sports blog on the internet. We even tried to get hired by MGoBlog in the off-season, but Brian Cook had never heard of us. Whatever, it’s a little creepy stalking 17 year old kids on Facebook (good luck Ace!).


I think this preview has to start with Brady Hoke.

That right there is the face of Michigan Football.

My optimism towards this season is contingent on Brady Hoke not being much more than a symbolic figurehead, like Joe Paterno, only seemingly more aware of his surroundings. I don’t want to sound like an asshole, because I believe Hoke has done a great job in his first few months on the job, especially considering the circumstances around his hiring (taking over mid-January, being the absolute last resort, coming off the worst 3 year stretch in the history of the program, etc.), but if Brady Hoke is running the offense or the defense, Michigan is fucking screwed. If Brady Hoke is merely “involved” in the play-calling on offense I’m going to being throwing more remotes this year than the last three years combined.

Rich Rod fucked up. He picked the wrong defensive coordinator. Twice. But he knew it wasn’t his thing, and deferred to someone else. All early indications are that Hoke will do the same thing as Rich Rod, only with both the offense and the defense. Whether he has the right guys wearing the headsets is still unclear, but I’m going to write this preview under the belief that he does.

The Offense

Michigan moved the ball unlike any Michigan offense ever last year. Unfortunately, that didn’t always translate into points. There were several reasons for this: terrible FG kicking, an inability to convert third and longs, turnovers, horrible starting field position (thanks greg robinson!), and terrible FG kicking. All of those things should be better this year, mostly because they can’t be much worse.

On the other hand, it’s unlikely that Michigan is able to gain yards in the same chunks that they did last year. I can’t find the quote, but one of the running backs admitted the other day that this offense is designed to be more of a grind it out, stay on the field type offense. That is another way of saying they’re much less explosive.

Despite the offensive design, Denard Robinson still has the potential to be the most exciting player in the country. Offensive Coordinator, Al Borges, has said he wants Denard to carry the ball less than last year, so as to keep him healthy, but he has also said that he wants Denard to be more willing to scramble when a play breaks down. Last year, Denard “scrambled” (as in, ran with the ball when there was a passing play called) about 3 times the entire year. Whether he will be comfortable doing this is a huge question, but the actual threat of Denard taking off (as strange as it sounds, he was incredibly one dimensional on third and long last year) might open even more options.

It would also help if Michigan had a RB who didn’t suck. Last year, the RBs were horrible. One would think that the threat of Denard would have opened some holes up for them, but either Denard was awful at the read option play Michigan ran so often, or the RBs just weren’t very good. Unfortunately for Michigan, they return the same underwhelming group. The hope is that injuries were the reason that they were so bad last year. Mike Shaw was constantly dinged up, Vincent Smith was coming off an ACL tear, and Fitzgerald Toussaint was never healthy enough to even get on the field. If only one of those guys is 100% healthy, Michigan will still be in a better situation than they were last year.

The receiving group is solid, but not spectacular. Darryl Stonum had to go out and pick up another DUI (and then drive around with his already suspended license), which earned him a year long suspension (and a redshirt). He was seemingly the only WR with elite speed on the entire team. Roy Roundtree put up unbelievable numbers last year, but most of his receptions came without a DB within 15 yards of him (thanks to Denard, not his incredible route running ability). He also dropped more passes than any WR in the history of Michigan Football not named Braylon Edwards. Junior Hemingway is always hurt. Jeremy Gallon earned the right to be called my least favorite player last year (which is incredible considering the defense went entire games without forcing a punt). And the always dependable Martavious Odoms rounds out the group. They should be good, but the transition to a new offense where the players have apparently struggled to pick up the timing is something to watch out for.

As pessimistic as all that sounded, there is still Denard. Denard who is not in his first year as the starting QB. Expectations are very high for him, and he is surrounded by experienced players on the offensive line, in the backfield, and spread out wide. The offense might not be as explosive as they were last year, but it would not be shocking to see them score more points.

The Defense

Should we just skip this section? They can’t possibly be any worse than last year, can they? No, they cannot possibly be any worse. No Michigan defense will ever be as bad as last year’s defense. But how much better they will be is a fair question.

Troy Woolfolk coming back for his 5th year after missing his entire senior year with an injury would be the biggest addition, if it weren’t for Greg Mattison. Having a Defensive Coordinator who was coaching the Baltimore Ravens last year should help. It will likely help even more that he isn’t being made to run a 3-3-5 that he has only sort of heard of before.

There are many reasons why this defense should be vastly improved: Mike Martin is healthy. Craig Roh isn’t playing LB. There are no true freshmen in the starting lineup (yet). Will Campbell is no longer a backup OT (now he is a backup DT, whatever). Obi Ezeh is gone.

But what is tough to predict, perhaps impossible, is how much improvement we can actually expect. Last year’s Michigan defense gave up 40+ points to a red headed walk-on QB from Penn State, they let Wisconsin run the same running play 37 times in a row without even getting close to stopping it, they gave up 37 points to UMASS. Even if they’re much better, they’re still likely to be below average, and not even close to what you would call “good.”

The Special Teams

Should we just skip this section? They can’t possibly be any worse than last year, can they? Unfortunately, they might be worse.

The FG kicking probably can’t get any worse than the 3-14 on FG attempts last year. But it sounds like All-American Matt Wile was not able to win the job from former All-American Brendan Gibbons. Gibbons was atrocious last year, as was Seth Brokeniunk (or something like that). Gibbons has apparently been kicking well in practice, but as Brady Hoke keeps saying “it’s different kicking on Main Street.” Expect the absolute worst here.

The punting should also be worse as Will Hagerup went and got himself suspended for the first 4 games of the year. Amazingly, Hagerup seems like the most troubled player on the entire team, other than Stonum. Wile will fill in, and is supposedly capable. Capable means not shanking every other punt.

Kick returns and punt return duties are still being handled by Jeremy Gallon. I have NEVER seen someone make so many horrendous decisions fielding kicks. Just awful. And it’s not even a risk/reward thing since Gallon doesn’t seem to have any big play potential. If it weren’t for insisting that Michigan run a 3-3-5 defense for his entire tenure, putting Jeremy Gallon back to return kicks for an entire season would have been his worst decision. Glad Hoke is picking up right where we left off.

The Season

Despite all the negativity screaming from this post, we should be better this year. For the first time in 4 years we have a QB who isn’t a first year starter. We have no true freshmen in the starting lineup unless you count Wile. We have actual juniors and seniors at most positions. Our defensive coaches have a clue. The schedule is favorable (don’t confuse with easy). If Michigan can steal the ND game in week two, then they should be able to roll to a 5-0 start before having to play a road game. Then we’re on the road for NW and MSU, and split should be doable. Beat Purdue, and head back out on the road for games at (an undermanned) Iowa and Illinois. Michigan could be 8-2 heading into the final two games against Nebraska and Ohio State. Most people are predicting 8-4. I’ll go one higher and say 9-3.

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The Best Play by a Michigan DB in Years…

…was a touchdown pass.

In Brian Cook’s recruiting profile of Greg Brown he highlighted his play in the Spring Game. In the Spring Game there was exactly one receiving touchdown and it was thrown against Greg Brown. In fairness, Brown had pretty good coverage on the play, but the fact that we are celebrating a cornerback being in the vicinity of a pass tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the expectations for the Michigan defense next year. On the plus side, Greg Brown didn’t transfer like it was rumored he would a month ago. Amazingly, in doing both of these things, Greg Brown managed to accomplish something almost every other Michigan DB in the past three years has not done: cover someone and not transfer. Woot!

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Waiting for the Great Leap Backward

One of many critiques of Rich Rodriguez was how inflexible he was when it came to his offense in his first year. People maintained that he should have tried to adapt his offense to the players that he had on his team. I thought this was completely ridiculous, but only because of the players that were actually on that team. It didn’t make any sense to run an offense that Michigan wasn’t going to use in year two just because it fit someone like Steven Threet and, maybe, Greg Matthews a little better. Everyone else on the offense, mostly freshmen and sophomores, would surely benefit in the long run from having the chance to be in the spread offense for an extra year. Had Rich Rod been able to keep players like Ryan Mallett, Mario Manningham, Adrian Arrington, and Justin Boren then maybe the critique makes some sense,* but he didn’t keep them. Would Michigan have won more than three games if they had run a system more suited to Threet’s ability? Yes, probably, but that number would have been four or five. In the long run, that painful season probably would have been worth it if the defense hadn’t been such an abomination.

Now, fast forward to this year, and you’ve got a junior Denard Robinson, tiny slot receivers all over the field including Roy Roundtree, Kelvin Grady, and Jeremy Gallon, and a bunch of undersized offensive linemen designed for the spread. Michigan had the number eight offense (in terms of total yardage) in the country last year and managed to do that with a first year starting quarterback and not a single senior playing a skill position on offense. When Brady Hoke brought in Al Borges there was a lot of talk about understanding the players Michigan had and adapting his system to those players. Unfortunately for Michigan fans, Borges’ adapting of his system sounds like it’s about the same as Rich Rod’s. Rich Rod threw the ball a little bit more from the spread with Threet, but he still very much ran a spread offense. Borges’ adapting of his pro-style offense seems to include running a couple more quarterback draws, and including a slot receiver instead of a second tight end in his base offense, but it is still very much a pro-style offense.

I didn’t watch a single second of spring practice or the spring game, so it might be a little early to start critiquing the new offense, but it’s tough to get excited about the upcoming season when you had a chance to have the best offense in the country and instead you’re going to watch a complete transformation for the second time in four years. I’ll reserve my hate-filled rants until I see the new offense in action, but I’ll leave you with a thought. We saw what Denard looked like as a pocket passer last year having to make actual reads that didn’t include hitting the wide open receiver streaking down the middle of the field. It happened every time Michigan was faced with third or fourth and long. If I had to guess I would say Denard was something like 15-57 for 230 yards, 1 td, and 9 ints in these situations. Hopefully, the pro-style at least includes teaching your quarterback to throw the ball away.

*The fact that he didn’t keep any of them is an entirely different critique.

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All You Need to Know About Braylon Edwards

When I think about Braylon Edwards I don’t think about the Michigan State game or the dropped passes or the number one jersey. I think about the time I saw him at Meijer.

One time I went to Meijer with my roommate on a Thursday night in the middle of fall, I think it was 2003. Anyone who has ever shopped at Meijer in Ann Arbor knows that this is the best possible time to go there because the store is practically empty except for the people who are restocking the shelves. Apparently, Braylon Edwards also knew this when he was in Ann Arbor because we ran into him there one time.

We noticed him and some guy who was pushing his cart when we were walking in and didn’t pay much attention to him, although I’m sure he would have loved it if we would have come up and asked him for an autograph. But as we were checking out he got in line behind us with the guy who was pushing his cart. This guy may have been his friend because I’m guessing when you’re friends with Braylon Edwards he assigns you tasks like pushing his shopping cart and buying him groceries, but whoever he was also had the task of building up Braylon’s ego. As he unloaded Braylon’s cart and put wine cooler after wine cooler on the conveyor belt, Braylon asked him question after question about the prior week’s game. “Yo, how many yards did I have again?” “What was my best catch?” “What about that one where I went across the middle?” I can’t imagine why anyone would put up with such an insufferable asshole unless they were getting paid, or were hoping to get paid in the future.

Five minutes in line at the grocery store told me all I needed to know about Braylon Edwards, so it wasn’t too surprising to hear that he rooted against his university because the head coach didn’t understand the tradition of the fucking number one jersey. Glad to hear that Brady Hoke made him feel welcome again though.

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The Masters: More Traditions than Any Other

Golf is a funny sport to be a fan of. I’m a fanatical Michigan football and basketball fan and I love watching those sports because I love rooting for those teams, and I love rooting against their rivals. But in golf, who are we really rooting for and against? Technically, you’re supposed to root for good golf shots, not specific players. You applaud good shots and groan for bad shots. But obviously, there are going to be fan favorites. People will cheer a little bit more for Phil Mickelson than KJ Choi or Vijay Singh, but you’ll never hear boos. I don’t personally have a favorite golfer. But for some reason, the Masters is one of, if not my favorite, sporting event.

Augusta National is perhaps the most pretentious sporting landscape in the world. Tickets are not sold to the public.* In order to buy tickets you basically have to have season tickets. But the real problem is that the season ticket waiting list closed in 1978. So it’s pretty much impossible to get tickets unless you know someone with tickets, or you’re incredibly rich. And even if you’re incredibly rich it can still be tough since scalping tickets at the Masters is not allowed. If someone is caught selling their ticket, they lose their right to purchase one in the future.

Also, these tickets that I just referred to are not called tickets, they are known as badges at the Masters. When you walk around the grounds you keep the badge clasped to your shirt at all times. And God forbid anyone forgets to clasp the pin shut on their badge when handing the badge to an attendant upon entering the grounds. A stern talking to is definitely in order.

There are excessive rules at Augusta National. For example, there is no running on the grounds. It makes for a pretty funny sight when people are trying to follow the leaders on Sunday and everyone is speed walking their way from hole to hole. But by far the best rule is the seating honor system. When the grounds open at 6:00 in the morning all the patrons** speed walk their way to their favorite hole and set up folding chairs with their name on them behind the green. Then, for the rest of the day, no one else will sit in that seat.

The winner of the Masters wins a green jacket, and a permanent locker in the champions locker room. He also wins the right to pick the dinner menu for the following year’s Champions’ Dinner.***

Everything has a name at Augusta. Every hole is named after a flower or tree. For example, number five is named Magnolia and number thirteen is named Azalea. The bridge to the green on number twelve is named the Ben Hogan Bridge. The water that cuts in front of the twelfth green is known as Rae’s Creek. Holes 11, 12, and 13 are collectively known as Amen Corner because of the difficultly of the holes and the unpredictability of the winds around those holes. The main driveway to the clubhouse is called Magnolia Lane. The Crow’s Nest is the tiny living space where the amateurs that are invited to play in the tournament are housed. And Butler Cabin is where Jim Nantz gets all teary eyed every year.

Yet for all of the pretentiousness and the ridiculous rules and traditions, there’s just something inherently likable about it. The Masters reminds us that spring is here. It is the most scenic golf course your eyes have ever seen. The cheers are tough to put into words. There is a separate cheer for a birdie, an eagle, a hole in one. A Tiger cheer, a Phil cheer, a no one has ever heard of me cheer. But the amazing thing is that you can tell them all apart on the course from holes away. It’s a special tournament, and maybe it’s because of the rules and names and traditions, but there’s nothing else like it in sports today.

******************************************************

Oh, and since this is supposed to be a Michigan blog, watch for Lion Kim this year (yes, there are now golfers named both Lion and Tiger). Lion is one of the six amateurs invited to this year’s tournament, and is a current University of Michigan student. You won’t have trouble spotting him since he’ll be decked out from head to toe in maize and blue. At least I’ll have someone to root for this year. Go Blue!

 

*Next year there will be a few tickets sold to the public for the first time ever in a random lottery system.

**Fans at the Masters are known as patrons.

***The most famous Champions’ Dinner moment happened when a liquored up former champion Fuzzy Zoeller told reporters to tell Tiger Woods “not to serve fried chicken, or collard greens, or whatever the hell they serve” at next year’s dinner.

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