The Complete Game Shut Out

Photo: Bryan Fuller - MGoBlog

Photo: Bryan Fuller - MGoBlog

Who do I blame for the embarrassment we endured on Saturday, and what do we change immediately to salvage this season?  Two questions that should never need to be answered on September 8th with ten games to play.  But this is how we cope.  It's something Michigan fans have had to learn to do the last seven years after spending the bulk of our lives in a stable, .700 winning-percentage environment that occasionally featured road victories.  The popular options seem to be (in no particular order):

  1. Fire Brandon
  2. Fire Hoke
  3. Bench Gardner and start Morris

Nothing is likely to happen before this season's story is told, so suck it up...but let's talk about it until we're blue in the face anyway.

I find the bantering about of firing Brandon comical, not because I'm not all for it, but because his hand in the creation of the football team effectively stopped once Hoke was hired.  As much as we joke, it's not like he's actually the general manager of the Michigan Wolverines, scouting talent and making trades.  He's the guy that negotiates hotel rates and puts out the Meijer photo of the week on twitter.  He fired RichRod and hired Hoke, which is what you all wanted him to do (probably me too to some extent), and last year he approved Nussmeier's salary.  In between he monetized the athletic department by any means necessary at the cost of image and real fan support, and while that was disturbing, it had nothing to do with 31-0.

Brady isn't going anywhere mid-season, and any attempt to say otherwise is stupid.  But there's no denying anymore that the seat is warming up underneath him.  Having a team look so inept, so unprepared, and the lack of adjustments or improvement throughout the game...just unacceptable.  I know I've said this a thousand times, but after three years of development under the tutelage of Hoke and friends, I haven't seen a single player grow and develop into something more than he was when he arrived.  This may be because I have blinders on and only see the skill players, but whatever.   

I didn't want there to be a number of wins that had to be achieved, I just wanted to be good.  But now Hoke has to at minimum split MSU and OSU, and that's a tall order.  Aside from that he also needs to win the rest of this pre-Big Ten slate, which includes a Utah team that seems to not suck.  And I can even allow one other Big Ten loss, for a total of three-losses:  9-3.  ND shellacking aside, 9-3 is somewhere in the area of the expectation I had coming in.  Anything less, and it's time to clean house starting at the top by dialing 1-800-CALL-SAM.

Photo: Bryan Fuller - MGoBlog

Photo: Bryan Fuller - MGoBlog

I don't like pointing fingers at players, mostly because they're kids.  But Devin Gardner doesn't seem like a kid anymore, and with each passing game where he effectively freaks out and throws shit all over the place in the hope that it will stick somewhere, I start thinking about what a nice second target he'd make next to Funchess.  Is it him or the line?  Probably both.  But between Devin and Denard, I've been watching this scenario repeat for 4+ years.  When challenged, panic sets in.  On some rare occasions, this has resulted in what seemingly was brilliance (Denard against ND, Devin against OSU), but the other times...most of the time...it devolves into garbage.  And I am not sure it would be different with Shane.  He doesn't possess the mobility to evade the rush bestowed upon our quarterbacks by our always young, always inexperienced, always a work-in-progress offensive line.  I do think he can make some passes that Devin just cant, dude has a cannon...but so did Jeff George.  Man, if I can't trust that Nussmeier and Hoke to know who is better fit to help Michigan win games then none of this means anything anyway.  So I will trust that the quarterback that starts is the best quarterback and leave it at that.  I mean, if fans had control of the position, Griese would have never been on the field, and Drew Henson would have started the Orange Bowl against Alabama over Tom Brady.

The truth is...and I know it sounds ridiculous...these teams are not as far apart as the score indicated on Saturday.  Notre Dame has more established depth and was able to make due with the second and third members of their depth chart covering our receivers.  They have developed their players.  They adjusted.  Michigan did not.  Call it attrition or blame Rich Rod or Lloyd or whatever, but Taylor and Peppers being out ruined us.  We were once again victims of the Michigan mantra that "the expectation is for the position."   Golston being really really accurate did not help that cause.  

The other issue is that Michigan knows how to lose.  They are conditioned to accept it in a way that previous generations of Michigan teams have not been.  And because of that, the game ended as soon as the score hit 14-0.  Their demeanor changed.  They panicked, and then they laid down.  They didn't adjust and Devin commenced his shit show.

Okay, okay.  Let's finish with some hope.  There is something to salvage here.  The Big Ten sucks, and if we can get it together we can win in this conference, even this year.  And while that would mean about as much nationally as winning the Sun Belt, it's still a ring.  It would mean we figured some things out, that we didn't give up, and that we are actually building something.  Trust me, you want this to work.  You do not want a 4th different coach in a span of 8 years.  That type of inconsistency and turnover kills classes and decimates programs....  Unless that coach is Jim Harbaugh.  In which case blow it all up and back up the Brinks truck.

Hang in there.  See you Saturday.  Go Blue!

ND Takes Their Ball and Goes Home

Sometimes it takes a little while to really digest what you've seen on a Saturday afternoon in the fall, to remove the bitter taste left after a loss.  Feel free to fill in any other not-so-relevant shit-sandwich-eating metaphors here.  

Tasty

Tasty

Bottom line, that sucked.  It was historic sucking.  You will discuss this game in the future and refer to it as "that game that sucked."  The Borges hybrid gameplan was pages and pages of plays that when held at arms length, had the receiver's routes looking like shafts, the blocking schemes looking like balls and the defensive counterparts were mouths and teeth.  On paper, a diagram of suck.  That's suck to its very core.  

Telestrator Dong

Telestrator Dong

And yes Denard sucked.  The happyfeet, backfooted version of Denard is unable to throw with any type of accuracy.  Any.  At all.  If we had a serviceable backup and didn't have this Jiminy Cricket sitting on our shoulder telling us that we can't bench this poor fella because "he's got a great smile" and "he stuck with us after RichRod" and "he's a great leader" and "did you see what he did to Notre Dame last year?"...we would have had someone else start the second half.  But we don't have that option.  

This type of shit typically angers touchdown Jesus

This type of shit typically angers touchdown Jesus

Denard deserves better, or at least something different.  And we deserve better, or at least something different.  We are handcuffed, and because we are, and because we are not adjusting smoothly from small and fast and read-option to big and strong and pocket-passing...it's time to blame a coordinator.  So great.  Now I hate Al Borges.  Fire Al Borges.  It's just like old times.  Hey, I think Michigan really is back!!

Anyway, I am sure it looked just as horrid on television, but that was near the top of a increasingly long list of shitty games I have attended, most of which have been over the last five years.  If Notre Dame is hanging its hat on that victory as a return to glory, or any of its three victories over Big Ten foes for that matter, they will soon find, as we have, that they are not ready for prime time.

But I think (and have thought for some time) that these two teams are somewhat headed in the right direction.  Perhaps in a few years this game will really mean something...  

Wait, what?  ND is cancelling the series?  Super.  I'm sure we'll get a great home-at-home to replace it.  We are so good at scheduling interesting home-at-homes.

Staff Predictions for Notre Dame

Tuba Says:

This is a quintessential Michigan v Notre Dame matchup (of the last 20 years). Two completely unproven teams in the midst of yet another rebuilding year of the program. But thankfully each University seems to be comfortable in the direction they're heading. There is no controversy surrounding this matchup or the teams heading into Saturday. ND has a spread quarterback to run their offense, Michigan has a dynamic quarterback to run theirs. Neither are ideal situations, ND would love Gholston to be a senior and Michigan, despite all his dilithium would love Denard to be a senior Shane Morris but the teams are on the right track, especially at that position. By 2015 this is going to be a monster matchup. Of course question marks of greater significance exist on both sides of the ball and unfortunately for Michigan, on both sides of their lines.

Much has been made about the weak Irish secondary and as much as I fight to keep the ghosts of Lloyd out of my head for this prediction, I remember being in South Bend when a soccer player returned a Michigan interception for a touchdown, I'm still taking Michigan to win. But THAT is South Bend everyone. It is the old Yankee Stadium of college football. There are ghosts in that place and we have averted their ire in recent years. The question on Saturday won't be which team is better, it will be which team can play mistake free. ND is HOT after their assertive victory over a very mediocre Spartan team. And while we're on MSU, they're so mediocre, that, on opening night against Boise St, I texted the webmaster asking if we could play the Green and White tomorrow (meaning before we got pasted by Alabama). But MSU apparently has a good defense and it didn't prevent ND from scoring so what does that mean for our defense that can't prevent anyone from scoring? It means we're going to have to smoke 'em out. It's still September and it's an election year so why not foster the type of rhetoric that worked for so many years for GDub? You're either with us or against us.

Michigan 38 - Notre Dame 35 (we're gonna have to make a field goal at some point if we want to win this one).

The Webmaster Says:

The more time passes, the more I'm convinced that we can't win this game.  The formula to defeat us is readily available for download from the internet.  The revenge factor will play a role as well...Under the Lights: The Reckoning.  Add in the stupid magic shit that happens in that graveyard, and you have a recipe for disaster.

The antidote is a completion percentage over 50% to soften the line that made MSU look like, well, like us against Alabama.  Denard will need to open things up for his legs by doing it with his arm, and if that doesn't work, I'd like to think we're going to have him run anyway.  Also, ND will not want this to be close.  If we're within 10 when the 4th quarter starts, expect the buttholes to pucker a bit on the Irish sideline.

But I'm pretty sure we won't be.

Irish 35 - Michigan 20

Holy

Notre Dame Stadium is not all that big.  Their press box isn't very impressive, and the scoreboards remind me of the pixelated version from early-90's Crisler Arena that used to blink "BIG NOOK" when Juwan Howard was introduced.  The "open bowl" setup lends itself to having the noise escape a la the pre-suite Big House.  The student section is small, as is the school in general, about 1/4 the size of the University of Michigan.  In short, on paper, Notre Dame is not all that intimidating of a place to play.  The reality however, is that the second you enter the stadium, you can literally feel the tradition, like you're in a museum, or a hall of fame.  The pageantry of the Notre Dame marching band, the boisterous student section's male and female portioned cheers, the gold helmets, and there's like a garden with shrubbery and ivy, green as Ireland, behind both the benches.  Seriously, it's beautiful.  And while I've never actually met a Notre Dame fan that actually attended Notre Dame, they are still very passionate, and enjoy looking down their noses at you.

But there's something about the place.  Something is different there.  It's hard to describe.  Sometimes called "luck" or "magic," and often playfully given religious metaphors.  This power, this certain something, this twelfth man that Notre Dame possesses for each and every home game...it's real.  I've seen it.  And I'm not talking about touchdown Jesus, though after staring into his eyes for the better part of 4 hours on Saturday,  I know that each time I looked to the heavens for help with my team, he scrambled the signal.

That's why I was never comfortable.  A 14-point lead is nothing against the power of that place.  Even referees are unable to resist the mystique.

Early on, we knocked Notre Dame quarterback Dane Crist silly, whose last name is an h short of being the messiah, and they brought in Joe Montana's son.  Seriously...Joe Montana's son.  He rode in to the stadium on a unicorn.  He had on his dad's NFL number.  And he had giant calves from wearing shape-ups.

With just under 4 minutes to go in the game, the sky, which had been thick overcast, parted, and sun hit the field for the first time all day.  And a rainbow in the distance hooked around and landed on the 50-yard line.  Ten seconds later, Crist, back in the game for the second half after guzzling holy water, threw a 95-yard touchdown pass to a tight end to give ND their first lead since the first quarter.  The PA announcer actually said "95-yard touchdown pass from Dane Crist to Kyle Rudolph, and a rainbow on the 50-yard line."

I'm not making this shit up...except for maybe the unicorn.

But there was Denard.  And Denard is something that the football gods, or the gods, or god Himself may have not been prepared for.  Notre Dame, despite seeing the films from the previous week, certainly was not.  Denard broke the rules of tradition.  Denard broke records.  He now holds the mark for the longest run in the history of Notre Dame stadium.  He is also the first person to use the Heisman pose out of necessity since the guy they modeled the statue after did it in 1934.  Denard doesn't know or care who Knute Rockne is, and he doesn't know or care about his own stats.  He only cares about the team.

And this is a team my friends.  Coach Rodriguez is building his own family here.  He's creating his own Michigan men.  Don't kid yourself, he created the phenomenon that is known by many as "shoelace."  He took a sprinter and made him a football player.  Rich Rodriguez created Denard Robinson to take everything that is wrong with these Wolverines, from the placekicking to the punting to the defense's inexperience, and eliminate them from the equation of football completely. 

They say special teams wins games, and defense wins championships.  We have very little of either, yet we have a chance to win both.