Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I AM CALM

You can often gauge the severity of the loss through the type and tone of texts in the hours following. After State, I received no messages from Michigan grads--nothing needed to be said--but got a few from others who know me best as "the dude who really likes college football; Michigan's his team I think". Questions regarding my level of inebriation or general concern for my safety seemed over the top at first, though understandable since most have seen me on fall Saturdays between 2008-2010, but I was surprisingly reserved. It was the kind of loss that brought me full circle: strangely, barely and perhaps scarily silent. I texted back "I AM CALM" and went about the rest of my day about how that text suggests.

After my second viewing yesterday, I am officially lower-case calm. Yes, there's plenty to complain about--the dirty play, Borges' playcalling, the lack of run defense against a grab bag offensive line--but the simple truth is Michigan got outplayed and outcoached on the road by a, I hate to say it, better team. That it happened against an in-state rival makes it difficult to swallow, perhaps even unacceptable to some. But take a step back and realize that this Michigan team has shown itself different from years past; it can and will compete with a chance to win all of the remaining 5 games of the season, Nebraska included. Take another step back and Michigan sits at 6-1 (2-1) going into their bye when majority of preseason predictions had us at 5-2 and worst-cases at 4-3. This is not an excuse for the game. But it is the truth for the season.

It's funny--and by funny I mean stupid--how perception changes so quickly after a loss. The immediate regression and subsequent weekly improvement of Denard's passing game was never a panicked issue so long as we won. Now people are calling for Devin. Yes, let's knee-jerk and remove the most explosive player in college football from his natural position that got us to 6-0 just 72 hours ago. It is his fault he was asked to throw 24 times in a tornado and turn his back from the LOS on 4th-and-inches. In a game where Denard's strengths as a quarterback were least used, whether it be due to injury or frequent formation changes, and resulted in a loss, why would you want less of him? On the offensive line, few talked about the lack of depth, even when Barnum went down, so long as Michigan backs recorded a few 100-yard games. Now it seems much more of an urgent issue that we have 6 total offensive linemen followed by air. Schofield, who has replaced Barnum at LG for a few games now, also served as the backup LT, RG and RT. If Lewan goes down, we are 7-5 and that is not a joke. No wonder Hoke is pressing for a 6th and possibly 7th OL in the 2012 class.

If Minnesota raised the bar, Michigan State pulled at our heels. The game was winnable; you could convince yourself of that without sounding like an Indiana fan doing the same about Wisconsin. But just as the 6-0 start doesn't automatically prove this year is not last, neither does the State loss, which has marked the start of the free fall over the last 3 years. Michigan had the tools to stay within striking distance of a legitimate division contender. Whatever the reason--the weather, the early injuries, the timing--it just never clicked. And then we spiraled as teams do. That doesn't necessarily lower the bar. But it does mean the magical season we all had secretly hoped for is not happening. Hey, remember when we were all talking pragmatically about how reasonable it would be for a first-year head coach attempting to instill a wildly different football philosophy to perhaps not earn a BCS bowl game in his inaugural season?

It's amazing how differently teams look through different lens and light: under the glistening sun on a beautiful fall day in Ann Arbor against Minnesota or swept up in a trash cyclone in East Lansing against Michigan State. Likewise, as Brian has already pointed out, so can the perception of Borges' playcalling. While I am less harsh on Borges in terms of lizard brain, I do believe he freaked out to some degree. 30-yard routes and playactions without an established run game spells trouble for any offense, much more on one led by a running quarterback. But in some ways, Borges did the opposite of reverting back to his West Coast offense; he stayed static in his insistence on using creativity to outscheme opponents. And in doing so, he outschemed himself. The point of adding packages with 5 or 6 different plays running out of the same set is so when 1 play gets stuffed, the defense reacts the same way when they see the formation again. Then, you pull the string. But if the defense doesn't defend it properly on the first go, run it again! I get the sense Borges somehow adjusted into the hands of Sparty's defense for the sake of change. At some point, if you add too many wrinkles, you lose sight of the base offense you are supposed to be operating out of. What is Michigan's base offensive set? Denard in shot with twin WRs and twin TEs? If you have to ask yourself that, you probably don't have one.

I'm starting to babble incoherently. Back to my main point: the loss is disappointing--there's no way around that--especially given some of the external circumstances. The Gholston replays and subsequent silence out of East Lansing--Dantonio actually listed Gholston as a started against Wisconsin--speak for itself. Hoke, his staff and the players are doing the right thing by taking the high road and not commenting about the game's obvious dirty play. But remove those subjective factors and Michigan lost to a decent team. It has a bye to rest up physically--Denard looks to be at his mid-season breaking point of random injuries popping up that will hamper him for the rest of the year--and refocus on how to finish this season strong. The weather conditions will worse. They road tests will be tougher. Michigan will be challenged again and as I've said before, it's how they respond that will prove why they are a different team.

They will. Stay calm. I am.

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