Friday, October 14, 2011

114-21

So it's clearly been a busy week for me. Not only did I not have time to write my usual post-game but also skipped the analysis I typically scramble together during the weekdays, including the "Air Denard" series. As Mike points out in his weekly picks, I'm not sure if it's because we're winning or what, but the weeks are flying by. I still feel preseason-like nervous, then remind myself we are ACTUALLY 6-0 and it's already Sparty week. Winning consistently has been such a foreign concept to me. I have become incapable of understanding what is happening before my eyes every Saturday. I like it though.

Anyway, there's nothing I can say about NW that hasn't either already been said or is just no longer relevant anymore but I will make a few points. The post's title refers to a stat many of you probably recognize: the margin by which Michigan has outscored their opponents in the 2nd half this year. Through all the analysis I've read about the halfway point of the season, after all the times I've rewatched each of the first 6 games, this is what stands out to me most. This is obviously a team accomplishment that requires the efforts of both the offense and defense, but the 21 really sticks out; score one for the Mattison hire as the jumpstart of Hokeamania. Michigan is strangely a 2nd half team--something you couldn't say at all during the RichRod era or even towards the end of Carr. Not that I ever want to enter 2nd halves down but having Mattison warms my heart infinitely more than Greg Robinson. When the opposing head coach specifically drops your defensive coordinator's name during an on-field halftime interview, worrying about his adjustments, you know you're going to get some stops. And therefore, have a chance to win that game.

Without getting into the nitty gritty of the game, the way NW played out proved 2 things about this team to me. 1) We are actually pretty good. Not competing for a Big Ten championship good but good enough to be considered among the upper half of the conference, excluding any qualifiers about the strength of the Big Ten this year. Which leads me to 2) We are also overachieving in what can only be described, as I have done here before, as a perfect scheduling RPS +3. Mike and I have discussed this over the phone before but it should be said on the Internet too: we will have a better record this year than next year despite having a better team next year. In a bizarre Hokeamania twist, the timing of our opponents, particularly considering their injuries, have either helped our weaknesses or played to our strengths: Notre Dame would beat us right now, we drew a 70% Persa, I could be Sparty's starting RT, Ron Zook still coaches Illinois, Jared Crick just went down, we don't play Wisconsin, and Ohio State can't get a first down. Michigan has certainly earned their 6-0 start--and we'll be in the driver's seat for the division if we beat Sparty to go 7-0 heading into the bye--but you also can't not look at our schedule and do your best Mr. Burns. I am officially not scared of anybody in the Big Ten (it used to be only Nebraska as the auto-loss but Crick's injury changes that for me); Michigan has a chance to win every game on their schedule. I repeat: Michigan has a chance to win every game on their schedule.

Not to step back too much, since we're all still in a midseason mindset, but it still amazes me how much the Hoke hire has changed this program so much so fast. Winning helps, yes, but the positive energy is just uncontrollably oozing out of the fans, the players, the coaches and the athletic department. Fergodsakes, Dave Brandon is chest bumping players. Knowing all that could have gone wrong with this team so far, especially for a first-year head coach transitioning and our collective experience of the last 3 years, Hoke has done a, wait for it, tremendous job. This team has responded to adversity, performed under pressure and that starts and ends with the head coach. Credit must be given. It will be interesting to see how Hoke and this team deals with a loss this year. It will happen at some point (just being realistic). We'll see a more vulnerable side that will truly test their will when the team comes out the following week.

Let that experience not be this week though. Michigan State preview to come in... 30 minutes.

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