Monday, September 12, 2011

The Day After, We Move On

Waking up this morning after arguably the most exciting college football game in Michigan's history and the 10 year anniversary of inarguably the worst attack on American soil was sobering. While I woke with the same smile I wore to bed, it quickly vanished after watching the memorial services at Ground Zero. As a New Yorker, one who has been directly affected by 9/11, I reflected on how that tragic morning changed my life forever, gave clarity to what's really important in this world. As much as I'd like to think it's college football sometimes, it's not. I know that. But as a Michigan fan, I couldn't help but also wake up wondering whether Craig Roh can truly play rush DE at 280 lbs when Jibreel Black really improved his run defense. These opposing thoughts--one grounded in reality and the other in fantasy--reminded me why the day after is never as bad or good as you think. I will never forget those who perished on 9/11. I will never forget the thousands of service men and women who have fought and died for a safer and more tolerant world. And I will never forget the countless military personnel who continue to serve and protect simple freedoms I take for granted like being able to enjoy a college football game. I will never forget last night thanks to them. We can move on because of them.

So. About last night...

Forget the lights, the rivalry, the atmosphere and the stage, and you still have one of the best, most dramatic comebacks in Michigan football history. Drama derives from both heroic play and epic collapse. The cliche question asked after any thrilling game--whether one team won or the other lost--has no real right answer. Having said that, Notre Dame totally lost. Yes, Michigan won from will and determination but the heroic part also had some help from lady luck. Sometimes there's no good explanation why Hopkins fumbles into Denards lap for a TD yet the football goes all "F U Tommy Rees I'm a beach ball now" late in the 4th. Watching 60 minutes of awful offense, defense and special teams, from both teams, proves that sometimes terrible football produces exciting games. When your offense relies on jump ball fade routes to a 5'8" Jeremy Gallon, when your defense consistently leaves gaping holes up the middle for 20+ yard rushes, when Vincent Smith is returning kickoffs, you are not a sound football team. But the good thing is neither is Notre Dame. For as poorly as we played, for as hard as we tried to lose that game, Notre Dame found a way to beat us there. I used to think RichRod had Notre Dame's number; it turns out the Irish self-implode no matter who's coaching on the opposite sideline.

More later this week but some reactions from the game after a 3rd, yes 3rd, watch:

Denard. 11/24 passing for 338 yards, 4 TDs and 3 INTs. How is this stat line even possible? That is over 30 yards PER COMPLETION. 36% of his completed passes were TOUCHDOWNS. 21% of his completed passes--if you count picks the other way--were to the other team. And we won.

Denard! For the 2nd year in a row, Denard accounted for well over 90% of Michigan's total offense: 446/452 yards or 98.7%! The backs combined for a total of 10 yards. I'm beginning to think this game should just be renamed Denard vs. Notre Dame. There's plenty to criticize in his game, particularly his deep ball (or lack thereof), but the man led this team to victory. Who cares if it happened to be with smiles and underthrown balls? (Don't answer that)

Denard? There's a lot of talk about Denard's 4 TD passes all from under center but I wouldn't read too deep. He's still an enigma in this offense and I don't envy Borges for trying to figure out how to use him without breaking him. But when shit hits the fan, at least Borges knows to take off the handcuffs and just let the kid go because he's our only shot. The playactions were nice but they didn't fool anybody: Denard was either running it or going over the top for another underthrown jump ball. Quick side note: I thought his best throw, perhaps next to the Gallon wheel route or the Grady out route, was when he hit Junior in stride for YAC at the end of the 3rd after the ND defender was hanging off his ankles. It almost forced Denard to slow down, set his feet, and just throw the ball accurately.

Receivers. As much as I wanted to kill Junior and Roundtree on a few easy drops, they obviously redeemed themselves at the end. This receiving corps really played their hearts out; there's no other way to describe it. Stonum's absence was noticeable on the outside but guys like Gallon played larger than life. It's hilarious the way Michael Floyd towers over Courtney Avery the same way Gary Gray towers over Jeremy Gallon. It's only hilarious because we won.

V. Smith TD was a great playcall but terrible blocking. Please stop calling it great blocking or a "convoy" the endzone. Excellent playcall by Borges but Lewan missed an easy block on the outside. Ricky Barnum spun around like a top. At least Roundtree had a good seal to allow Smith to escape down the sideline but that play was mostly because of Smith's agility, balance and vision.

Back to no backs. So much for the backs breaking out last game. Shaw looked terrible and the Hopkins fumble machine returned. Again, 10 total yards from the backs. Please get healthy Fitz. And fast.

Jibreel Black will start over Craig Roh for the rest of the year. I had a strange feeling before the year started that Roh was either going to have a breakout season or totally bust. He just looks slow off the edge, extremely ineffective in both the run and pass. Black played most of the game with what looked to be much improved run D; interior line was more of the issue. Roh was a hero, if you can call it that, on a plagued defense during the Rodriguez era but he looks uncomfortable in his own body, too heavy for the position. I think he needs to slim down.

The Kovacs pick embodies what Mattison brings. There is a sophistication in Greg Mattison's defense that Wolverine fans have been craving for years. Kovacs executed a designed disguised cover 3 (oddly enough, I believe the same look we gave on Notre Dame's last TD), breaking off his man to undercut Rees' go-to route intended for Floyd. That is coaching, coaching, coaching: recognition of the situation, adjusting during the game and calling the perfect defense.

RVB did work. I don't expect him to grade out too well in the UFR considering some of those long interior rushes but he made a few TFLs count. Recovered the late Rees fumble too.

Ryan and Hawthorne. I joke about Ryan's fanaticism but this is the 2nd game he's been the most effective player from the LB corps to get to the quarterback. Him and Hawthorne made some key 3rd down stops in the 4th quarter to hold off what should have been Irish scoring drives. Given the lack of depth at SAM and WILL, I expect both to see significant playing time moving forward.

Don't hate on J.T. Floyd. You try covering a 1st round NFL draft pick when your defensive coordinator leaves you on an island because he needs both safeties to pressure the quarterback. J.T. obviously got burned several times but him, Avery and Woolfolk (when available) fought the entire game. J.T. looked especially bad on Michael Floyd but he also made the key PBU that saved a TD. This secondary isn't getting better any time soon but they don't get discouraged either.

I could talk about this game forever but that's all I have right now off the top of my head. My final thought, which I'll probably elaborate during the week, is this: this team is weird. Awesomely weird. How Hoke/Mattison/Borges are able to win with Rodriguez's players is a tribute to not only their commitment to their philosophy/style of football but also their open-mindedness to adapt to the personnel. Out of 120 teams, Michigan ranked 2nd in the nation when it came to returning starters. This is last year's team, hungry to win but (for now) equally confused. Somehow, someway, Michigan is winning in all the same ways through completely different avenues, if that makes any sense. If it doesn't, it doesn't matter. Nothing about yesterday, or this season, has so far.

1 comment:

  1. No one said Hokemania would be boring. We might have thought it, but no one ever promised it. I'm on board.