We're gonna need a bigger boat (or bandwagon). Welcome back everyone. It's been a rough 8 years while you were gone. Don't come empty handed :)
Don't make Harbaugh mad. Wear a lei and bring some pineapples dammit.
We're only three weeks away from the date that Marty McFly landed on when he traveled 30 years in to the future. And yes, using a time travel analogy is both easy and cheesy when it comes to what is happening around Ann Arbor. But it's too damn fitting. It couldn't have been more mid-90's in the Big House on Saturday.
Jim Harbaugh has done many things since arriving. His attitude and pedigree has brought a legitimacy and interest to the average press conference, and the smug way he allows all of the stupid questions make the person asking them look inept is both uncomfortable and refreshing. He has assembled a staff from which our next head coach could emerge. In 9 months, he has conditioned a group of men that most considered soft into a team that you don't want leaning on you in the 4th quarter. His appreciation for the past has changed our uniform colors and has Darth Vader reading our hype video script. But most importantly, Coach Harbaugh has very quickly made a group of fans feel like kids again. After a stress-induced rapid aging era of nearly a decade, Coach Harbaugh has provided 110,000 people access to the fountain of youth.
"Michigan is back" are three words that have been thrown around a few times in the last eight years...most of the time in relation to a decent performance in the pre-conference portion of the season, other times after a win over a rival that had our number for a few years prior. The paper thin success of the 2011 season that ended with a BCS bowl victory over The Goiter comes to mind as a time when "Michigan is back" was proudly uttered. Unfortunately, it was held together by dreads and prayers, and while RichRod detractors pounded their chests and exclaimed "I knew we'd be ok once we got rid of him!" those in the know knew that it would take more than a series of miraculously caught underthrown ducks and untied shoes to rebuild the program.
This is not that. And it's pretty clear that this is not the destination.
We've very quickly reached that point we all remember so well, back when we pined for more, wondering when we'd take that next step. And we've been dying to get here, just to be able to have a reasonable conversation about the program's future as opposed to wondering when the seemingly never-ending pain would end.
This season's improvement has become exponential. And while it's important to stay grounded and know that this trend is not sustainable, just seeing things change from game to game in this manner is something rare, not just in the recent past, but in the long, rich history of Michigan Football.
I'm pretty sure there are no long term plans to settle in to mediocrity. Certainly not in the mind of the absolute crazy man we hired to run this program.
Michigan's 31-0 victory over BYU is a great, signature, non-conference victory. And it would have been a great, signature, non-conference victory back in 2005, 1995, or 1985. These don't come around too often. Let's enjoy it.
Northwestern and Michigan State are looming, and this Saturday against Maryland on the road at night is clearly the trappiest of trap games. Coming out of the next three games at 2-1 would be sufficient, which makes a victory in College Park paramount. Fortunately, we are led now by a man that channels a man that cared only about Big Ten championships. So it's my assumption that the team will remain focused amid the hype of catapulting to #22 in the country and being on the tip of every talking head's tongue.
Everything is better when we win.
Buying in to the success of Saturday's game is dangerous. I'm pretty sure we are not going to be able to line up and smash mouth through the remainder of our schedule. Sparty and Buckeye are too developed these days to fall victim to the classic Wisconsin we are portraying here. But I'm optimisitic that we out-conditioned a Pac-12 squad with a pedigreed, albeit new, coach. Jimmy put these boys to work over the last 9 months, no doubt. I honestly do not remember the last time we pushed and watched our opponent buckle, even in our biggest of blowouts against the patsy-est of patsys. We've been a product of scheme and speed for a while now, clinging to a few gifted athletes with an ability to un-break broken plays. Spare parts of a defunct RichRod era that seemed to run out of the little magic it had right around the time Brandon and Brady ran out of excuses.
But Saturday? Ball control, leaning on a team until they breakdown physically, vanilla traps and a classic Lloyd reverse? It's like time travel. You may now return to your regularly scheduled Michigan-style complaints of 1993-2007.
I am conditioned these days to ask for very little, and to expect even less. When the game began with a surgical strike of a drive by the Beavers and a Ruddock turnover, simultaneous mutterings of "here we go again" echoed throughout the Big House, and I had already begun to justify everything with the obligatory "it's going to take time for Him to turn this team around" again. Mantras like this are necessary for survival in a post-TheHorror world, and don't let Saturday's success skew you in to thinking we won't use that one again...we will.
But did we get better? I think so. Even if Utah was the toast of the Pac-12 and Oregon State is a pile of shit, things were different. Hits were harder. 10 helmets on the ball was common. Smith ran with purpose. Jake managed the game and looked slightly less skiddish.
In short: We should have beat Utah.
Establish the Tailgate
The craft beer tailgate went over pretty well. Noon kicks have been a little rare over the past few years, so it's tough to get a rhythm going. But we have two more noon kicks in a row to improve our pacing, and that starts with this weekend's contest against UNLV. In honor of our friends from Sin City, the tailgate theme is Vegas. Not sure what that means for food, but I'm going to deal live $1-$5 blackjack from 10-11am on site.
See you there! GO BLUE!
Utah. Gorgeous little stadium with a view that rivals even Husky in Seattle. Great bunch of "nice-guy" fans. Football knowledge? Notsomuch. Bearded weirdo next to me thought the game was ending at the end of the third quarter. The intricacies of time outs, replays, and penalties seem to be lost on them. I heard a good amount of questions that are typically reserved for that-young-drunk-freshman-chick's first game.
Oh well, it's better to be an uninformed winner I suppose.
The Wolverines fell 24-17 in the opener, and in many ways it felt like we were lucky to be that close, even though we were probably just a couple of corrected mistakes away from winning. Weird. The first iteration of the Wolverines under Harbaugh looked a lot like the last iteration of the Wolverines under Hoke. So the eye test was undoubtedly disappointing. But the hope I was full of is not dead. And that's a result of the unbelievable patience I have developed since Bo died...combined with the fact that I have no choice.
I was happy to give RichRod a pass on his inaugural year with the bare stable he inherited from the end of the Carr era. And in turn, one of my reasons for optimism for this season was the personnel. Quick turnarounds require talent, and this group is far from pedestrian on paper. We were told the recruiting classes that made up this team were solid, right? I just assumed that a Harbaugh kick in the ass would fix all that ailed these underachievers.
But watching them yesterday the weaknesses were apparent. We're missing athletes. There's not a player that touches the ball on offense that exudes excitement. The attributes that can't be taught, even by our "savior," are missing right now.
That's not to say someone won't emerge. As time passes, depending on the level of success, I think this team will be invaded by youth. And the answer we're looking for might be there. I think there will be a point this year, maybe several, where we criticize coach for not playing (insert relatively unknown young roster member here) sooner.
Ruddock is clearly here to play that Griese game manager role. That seemed to backfire in game one. I'm pretty sure Shane is not the answer, but if it's a risk reward situation, I'm all for risk. And if that risk brings in Shane or someone further down the depth chart, I've got no problem with that. Same for any of the other skill positions. Ate too many donuts while being coddled by Brady? There's a hungrier kid behind you that might get your spot, so either get tough, get better, or get out of the way so we can have a bigger recruiting class. If I am to criticize, I would say I'm disappointed that there are not more underclassmen already on the top of the depth chart, which is either a function of poor evaluation or upperclassmen loyalty, neither of which I have time for.
My expectation is development, and to beat one of the two asshats at home. I believe the former will happen, and I hope somebody will come out of that that can help the latter happen.
We head home now, to welcome Coach back to the Big House under a little less fanfare than we would have had he pulled this out. And that's probably ok.
See you next week. Noon kick. Bring craft beer. Go BLUE!