Friday, October 31, 2008

The Cavalry is coming to the O-Line

Michigan is struggling this year, in large part, because of its QB play. A mobile QB probably would’ve meant a victory over Toledo and very well could’ve meant victories over Utah and Michigan St. However, the abysmal performance by the offensive line has given Michigan virtually no chance at offensive consistency and has been every bit as damaging as the QB play. I have no doubt that the guys on the line have been working their tails off. I don’t think effort is the issue. This is probably Michigan’s least prepared and/or experienced offensive line in school history. It is also one of the least talented. Lloyd Carr “dropped the ball” in offensive line recruiting over his last few years which has left the current unit short on talent and numbers. Mark Ortmann and Tim McAvoy were lightly regarded three star prospects who were probably never going to see significant minutes—even with Carr’s suspect O-line recruiting—if it weren’t for a litany of personnel losses (Mgoblog details the losses). David Moosman or David Molk probably would’ve started at center this season but I don’t think it was in the plans for both to be starting. Steve Schilling has been–and likely will be—the right tackle. He was a five star recruit coming out of high school and he’ll leave Michigan as a four-year starter. Of Michigan’s five starting O-linemen, two of them were projected to be starting this season as of last year. Throw in an entirely new offensive scheme and you get total disaster. If that wasn’t bad enough, the departures have left virtually no depth chart. Bryant Nowicki—a walk on—has seen game action this year. That is simply unheard of for Michigan football. John Ferrara—a defensive tackle as of August—has seen game action this year. A defensive tackle in August starting at offensive guard in September is simply unheard of for Michigan. The line is bad and the depth is even worse.

The good news is that you’ll likely never see a Michigan offensive line this bad again in your lifetime. I don’t think it’s going to take too long for the line to become a strength. Rich Rodriguez currently has one offensive line commitment in the class of 2009. That recruit is a four star prospect named Michael Schofield. Rodriguez will likely add at least two more linemen by signing day. The most likely commitments will be from Taylor Lewan and Quinton Washington. Both are four star recruits. If things unfold as expected—and Rodriguez is able to secure three OL commitments for ’09—then Michigan will have nine linemen in 2009 with four years of eligibility (six redshirt freshmen and three true freshmen). Talk about going from the garbage can to the penthouse. Michigan will go from a depth chart of zero to one featuring 10+ backups.

Rodriguez has said on numerous occasions that the best players will start at Michigan. His philosophy will be tested next year. I would be shocked if there weren’t at least two players from the group of nine freshmen who are good enough to start. Some may question Rodriguez’s decision to redshirt all six of his O-Line recruits from ’08 but I think it was a great decision. Whether anyone knew it or not, the 2008 season was always going to suck. Nobody knew how dire the QB situation was until Threet and Sheridan stepped on the field against Utah. Once everyone realized what Michigan was dealing with, it made sense to start looking towards 2009 in terms of personnel. Instead of wasting a year of playing time on a few snaps, Rodriguez has banked six seasons of offensive line production. In just one year, the O-line will go from the position of least depth to the one with the most. Expect Michigan’s improvement in the win/loss column from 2008 to 2009 and from 2009 to 2010 to be directly linked to the improvement from the O-Line.

Simply having nine additional linemen for next season will help regardless of how good they are. Fortunately for Michigan, I think they have the chance to be very good. Here are the six players who will be redshirt freshmen next year:

Ricky Barnum: Barnum committed to Florida before switching to Michigan on Signing Day. He will probably start next season at left guard. He was a four star recruit who was rated the #5 center in the country. He has earned rave reviews in practice and has an advantage in the sense that he was actually hand-picked by Rodriguez to play in his offense.

Dann O’Neill: O’Neill was the highest rated lineman in Michigan’s ’08 class. Rivals rated him as the #49 player (any position) in the country. Word out of practice has been that O’Neill started off slow but has really come on as of late. He’ll be in the mix at left tackle.

Elliot Mealer: Mealer was also a four star recruit who was rated in the Rivals 250. His development was hindered by a shoulder injury but he is expected to contribute down the road.

Rocko Khoury: It appears as though Michigan got a steal here based on praise from the coaching staff. Khoury was slated to be the backup center to start the season before the coaches decided to redshirt him. It’ll be interesting to see if he pushes Molk for playing time next season.

Kurt Wermers: Wermers was a highly sought after recruit among Big Ten teams. He pulled in five offers from the Big Ten as well as an offer from UCLA. He has been the least talked about of the six. I’m anxious to see what affect a year of conditioning and practice has done.

Patrick Omameh: Omameh is an example of how hard it is to rate recruits. He only received two stars from Rivals and was no more than an afterthought MAC prospect early in the recruiting process. His stock started to rise significantly as Signing Day approached. Eventually he garnered last minute offers from Michigan St., Michigan, and Ohio St. Omameh is now one of the more promising linemen in the program.

These six players are going to benefit exponentially from being able to practice in Rodriguez’s scheme for over year before ever seeing the field. They will also benefit from a year of training under Mike Barwis. There is no question in my mind that any combination of five of these linemen in ‘09 would form a better unit than Michigan’s 2008 group. Obviously, the ’08 line was put in a rough situation and will be much improved in 2009 as well. The increased numbers will lead to increased competition which will almost certainly lead to increased production.

If I had to guess what Michigan’s opening day O-line will look like in 2009, I’d say there will be two changes. I think Ricky Barnum will start at left guard. I also think Dann O’Neill or Patrick Omameh will start at left tackle. If I had to guess, I would probably go with O’Neill. Molk, Moosman, and Schilling will be given first shot at keeping their jobs. Hopefully, they’ll either be much improved or Rodriguez lives up to his word about playing the best players.

The 2009 starting O-Line could look like this:

LT Dann O’Neill
LG Ricky Barnum
C Dave Molk
RG Dave Moosman
RT Steve Schilling

If that ends up being the line, the depth chart would include Mark Ortmann, Tim McAvoy, Perry Dorrestein, John Ferrara, Mark Huyge, Rocko Khoury, Patrick Omameh, Elliot Mealer, Kurt Wermers, Michael Schofield (almost certainly will redshirt considering the depth), and two other freshman linemen who will likely redshirt.

While 2008 has been a disaster at almost every position, the offensive line should be much better in 2009 and has the potential to be fierce in 2010. Throw in the two dual-threat QBs who are coming in next year and 2009 looks to be a prep year for a monster season in 2010. Hopefully the defense will be improved by then but I’m not sure it will matter. If Michigan isn’t averaging 35 points per game in 2010, then I will be surprised. Rodriguez’s work in progress will be over much quicker than anyone realizes. Go Blue!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

NBA Fantasy Land

I received a message from a reader named “Jack”. This is how it went…


My name is Jack... and I am looking for an expert. Last night a group of guys were supposed to gather for a Fantasy Basketball draft... but the website (yahoo) was not working, so instead we sat around the Novi Buffalo Wild Wings and talked sports. A heated argument broke out about who would be the top five players you could put on a court at one time to form a team. (ALL TIME)

So... in the end, we sat around BW's with no lists, no previous studying, and had an impromptu draft. I am looking for a ranking of who you might think is the best of these teams. Imagine that you take each player... and take him at the VERY peek of his game. (Tho some of these guys are obviously VERY young) Tell me which team you think is the BEST.”

Jack’s question comes at a perfect time. The basketball season starts tonight. I didn’t have a post topic in mind. And, I'm in the mood for a light-hearted post.

I don’t know Jack personally. I don’t know any of his comrades who took part in this draft. I don’t even know which team was drafted by Jack. I did not come up with the team names so please refrain from posting comments like, "Why did you name a team after Tim Duncan and not Bill Russell?" Some players are out of position. For instance, Larry Bird was a small forward but he is a shooting guard for “Team Bird.” Kobe is a shooting guard but he is a small forward for “Team Kobe.” Lastly, you may notice that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jerry West are absent. They failed a steroids test and were deemed ineligible. Or, they were just forgotten. I'll let you decide.

Without further ado, here are the teams…

Team Hakeem

PGJohn Stockton
SGClyde Drexler
SFLeBron James
PFChris Webber
CHakeem Olajuwon

Team Jordan

PGDwyane Wade
SGMichael Jordan
SFCarmelo Anthony
PFMoses Malone
CYao Ming

Team Kobe

PGDeron Williams
SGRay Allen
SFKobe Bryant
PFKarl Malone
CDavid Robinson

Team Shaq

PGMagic Johnson
SGJoe Dumars
SFScottie Pippen
PFDennis Rodman
CShaquille O’Neal

Team Wilt

PGAllen Iverson
SGOscar Robertson
SFJulius Erving
PFDirk Nowitzki
CWilt Chamberlain

Team KG

PGIsiah Thomas
SGReggie Miller
SFGrant Hill
PFKevin Garnett
CAmare Stoudemire

Team Duncan

PGChris Paul
SGPete Maravich
SFVince Carter
PFTim Duncan
CBill Russell

Team Bird

PGSteve Nash
SGLarry Bird
SFDominique Wilkins
PFCharles Barkley
CDwight Howard

This is how I would rank the above teams 1-8…

#1 Team MJ

Strengths: This team gets off to a strong start just by simply having the greatest basketball player of all-time in its lineup. Michael Jordan and Dwyane Wade are two of the greatest penetrators in NBA history. They would give the other defenses listed here fits. Carmelo—although I’m not a huge fan of his—is automatic from 15 feet. Jordan and MJ’s penetration would free up ‘Melo for easy jumpers all day. Yao can also knock down 10-12 footers with consistency. The combination of Yao and Moses Malone would be the biggest frontcourt of the eight teams. They are one of the few teams that could body-up Shaq and Wilt. In fact, this team is big at all five positions. This team is a behemoth and easily the best in my opinion.

Weaknesses: The only major weakness is the lack of a perimeter threat. MJ and ‘Melo are career 29% three-point shooters. Wade is even worse at 25%. Jordan and Wade are so good at getting into the paint that the perimeter game would likely not be an issue.

#2 Team Wilt

Strengths: This team is loaded. All five positions on the court can score. The inside-outside game of Wilt and Dirk would be lethal. Wilt would command a double team or dominate his defender. If he draws a double, then Dirk will make teams pay with his mid-range jumper or with his peak 42% three-point percentage. Dr. J would flourish in this offense. Iverson and Robertson are two of the great defensive guards to play the game. They also happen to be two of the great offensive guards to play the game.

Weaknesses: Allen Iverson is not your prototypical point guard. He is a scorer. I’m not sure that he meshes particularly well with a team full of superstars. This team would struggle from the perimeter. Iverson and Dr. J were not particularly good long-distance shooters. Robertson played before the three-point line but I don’t believe he was a better than average long-distance shooter, either.

#3 Team Hakeem

Strengths: The margin between Team Hakeem and Team Duncan is razor-thin. In fact, I've gone back and forth a few times. As I type this, I'm giving Team Hakeem the edge because of its major advantage at the three and four spots. LeBron and Clyde Drexler would hammer Pistol Pete and Vince Carter. Hakeem and Russell would be a wash. In fact, Hakeem might actually get the advantage. Hakeem was an equally good defender and had the greatest post moves in NBA history. Duncan gets the advantage over Webber. Chris Paul and John Stockton are close to a wash. The inside-outside game of LeBron and Hakeem would be a treat to watch. LeBron can get to the basket at will. Hakeem could finish like nobody’s business.

Weaknesses: Webber was a monster in his prime. People forget how much of a freak he was. However, I think he has a little bit of the “Iverson Syndrome”. He doesn’t mesh well with other superstars. Plus, his strength was in the post. Hakeem would be the post guy on this team which would push Webber away from the basket a bit. Since Webber was an average jump-shooter, that would not benefit this team.

#4 Team Duncan

Strengths: A frontcourt of Tim Duncan and Bill Russell would easily be the best defensive frontcourt in this league. They have eight MVPs between them and 15 NBA Championships. Chris Paul is well on his way to becoming the greatest small-man in NBA history. He breaks down his defender like no other point guard I have seen.

Weaknesses: Russell was a great defender, no doubt. However, he would be overmatched by Shaq. Players like Dwight Howard, David Robinson, Amare, and Hakeem weren’t around in Russell’s day. It’s hard to tell how he would match-up against much greater competition. Remember, Russell was only 6'9. Vince Carter and Pete Maravich were turnover machines and struggled defensively. That is bad news considering these would be the guys guarding the all-time great offensive players like MJ, Kobe, and LeBron. This team would also struggle from the perimeter. However, I think the frontcourt and penetration ability of Paul would make this one of the better teams.

#5 Team Kobe

Strengths: The difference between teams 3-6 is pretty small. The Kobe-Mailman-Admiral combination would be killer. Malone is the second best power-forward in NBA history. Kobe is the second best shooting guard in NBA history. David Robinson is the 6th greatest true center of all-time. This team would be pretty solid defensively. Deron Williams and Ray Allen would be one of the more potent three-point threats in this league. Overall, this is a solid team that could beat any of these teams on a given night.

Weaknesses: Deron Williams and Ray Allen are two of the weaker players in this eight-team league. They would be a liability against some of the better backcourts. For instance, MJ and D-Wade would kill these guys. This would be a “scrappy” team but I don’t think it has enough to win in a league like this night-in and night-out.

#6 Team Shaq

Strengths: Magic Johnson and Shaquille O’Neal are two of the top five players in NBA history, in my opinion. Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, and Joe Dumars were fantastic defenders. In fact, I think this would be the best defensive team in the league. The only other team that would come close defensively is “Team Duncan.”

Weaknesses: Unfortunately, this is just a badly-formed team. This is the worst shooting team of the eight. Rodman kills this team considering the other power forwards in the league. Shaq would get doubled by Yao and Moses Malone and Shaq would have to kick out to…Dennis Rodman. Magic likes to run but this team is hardly a “fast break” team. Still, Shaq—in his prime—was simply unguardable. Magic could physically dominate most of the point guards in this league (although I would expect that Kobe and LeBron would guard Magic when their teams matched-up). Team Shaq’s defense along with Shaq and Magic would keep this team from being the worst.

#7 Team Bird

Strengths: This team would easily be the best offensive team in the league. In fact, other than “Team Jordan”, this would be the team I’d want to watch play the most. Steve Nash, Larry Bird, Dominique Wilkins, and Charles Barkley are four of the greatest offensive players in NBA history. This team would score 130 points per game. Dwight Howard would lead the league in dunks and rebounds. Nash and Bird would easily be the best three-point tandem in the league.

Weaknesses: However, this team would also be the worst defensive team in the league. Barkley is 6’6, if that. He would struggle to defend some of the bigger power forwards. Bird was a good defender but he would be no match for Kobe, LeBron, and MJ. Nash would be OK against Stockton but he would get owned by everyone else. Howard lacks the post moves necessary to have success against some of the best defensive centers in NBA history. This team could beat anyone but would probably lose more than it wins.

#8 Team KG

Strengths: This team would have no problem scoring. All five players were scoring machines at their peaks. Grant Hill—much like Chris Webber—isn’t remembered as fondly as he should be. Hill was one of the five best players in the NBA during his prime with the Detroit Pistons. He was unstoppable off the dribble just short of the Kobe, MJ, LeBron class. Isiah Thomas was a scoring machine. Reggie Miller gives this team an instant perimeter threat. KG and Amare would probably make for the quickest frontcourt in the league.

Weaknesses: I just think this team comes up short in “talent” in a league with so many star players. KG and Amare would get pounded by some of the bigger frontcourts. Grant Hill, Reggie Miller, and Zeke are probably the weakest collection of ball handlers in this league.

I could certainly be persuaded to change my mind on a few of these teams. I initially thought Team Bird would be one of the better teams but the more I thought about it, the more I felt that they would struggle to stop teams. I'm also willing to admit that I may have overrated Team Kobe. I go back and forth between Team Kobe and Team Shaq. Interestingly, if Team Shaq, Team Bird, or Team Hakeem had drafted Kareem instead of Dennis Rodman, Charles Barkley or Chris Webber, then it would have easily been the top team in the league. Jerry West would’ve catapulted Team Duncan, Team Shaq, or Team Russell.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Lions 2009 draft is a GM's dream

Now that Matt Millen is off hunting and running over things with his bulldozers, I have decided to lift my self-imposed ban on posting about the Lions. There are a lot of positive things to talk about—none actually on the field—starting with the Roy Williams-trade. By all accounts, the trade was a heist for the Lions. They will now have eight picks in the 2009 draft. Five will come in the first three rounds. They could do a lot with a second and two third-round picks. Savvy trading could easily net a third first round pick if they were inclined to do so.

The other good news is that the Lions are so bad that it looks like they have all but locked up the first or second overall pick. In fact, a quick gander at the rest of the schedule reveals an excellent chance at becoming the first 0-16 team in NFL history. Detroit’s remaining opponents have a 41-24 record. Thank you, Matt Millen! With a lofty selection in the 2009 draft secured, the Lions can start thinking ahead to draft day. They have no running game and the 2009 draft is top heavy on nasty offensive tackles. Michael Oher (Ole Miss), Andre Smith (Bama), and Eugene Monroe (Virginia) are big-time NFL caliber tackles. The Lions will be able to name their guy at that position. I know the draft is still six months away but there’s a pretty good chance that the Lions will end up with the best player they’ve drafted since 1988. All three of those guys are bad dudes. If Gosder Cherulis turns into a decent lineman, then the Lions could have the makings of a pretty good offensive line.

There’s even more good news if you can believe it. When word came out that the Lions received a first round pick from the Cowboys, most assumed it would be a late-first round pick. Now the Cowboys are 4-3 and have a brutal schedule ahead. They play Tampa Bay (5-2) and the New York Giants (5-1) over the next two weeks without the services of Tony Romo. They also have to play at Washington (5-2), Pittsburgh (5-1), and Philly (3-3). Dallas is going to have a heck of a time making the playoffs. If the Cowboys don’t make the playoffs, then the worst the pick from Dallas could be is 21st. If the Lions want to upgrade their awful linebacking corps, they could be looking at Brian Cushing (USC) or James Laurinaitis (Ohio St.). The Lions would then be on the clock again at pick 33 or 34 with a chance to draft another top-flight player. They could pretty much pick any offensive guard they want. Travis Beckham (TE, Wisconsin) might even be on the board. Defensive end is certainly a position of need but this draft is not heavy on big-time DE’s. Michael Johnson (DE, Ga. Tech) and George Selvie (DE, S. Florida) are elite players but they’ll be gone by the time the Lions get to their second first-round pick.

Here’s the best news yet…If Matt Millen was around, you could pencil in the first three picks as being a WR, a guard that projects as a tackle, and a guy we’ve never heard of. Now that Millen is gone, there is hope that there might actually be someone making draft decisions who knows a thing or two about football. If the guy in charge knows what he’s doing, the Lions have a chance at putting together a special draft. Some of the great teams in NFL history were put together largely due to a strong draft. The ’74 Steelers, ’86 Niners, and ’91 Cowboys might be pushing it a bit but there’s nothing wrong with shooting for something like the ’06 Packers. Seven players from that draft have already played in at least 20 games for the Packers. If the Lions could come anywhere close to that level of efficiency, then we could be looking at something. It’s hard to screw up a draft when you know you have five selections among the first 88 picks. The only guy I know who could do it is gone. Woo hoo!

There are a number of scenarios that the Lions could consider. If they do things right, they could trade out of the #1 or #2 spot and pick up additional draft picks. They could use their second round pick and two thirds to trade up into the first round and net a third first round pick. Making bold draft moves and solid selections is how championship teams are formed. They need to be thinking about these things now instead of worrying about how many points they’re going to lose by this week. All the years of Millen’s futility have lead to a chance at redemption via the draft. Also, please, for the love of Jamie Moyer’s left arm, don’t let Rod Marinelli anywhere near the draft room. This draft can’t be about toughness or grit. It has to be about drafting frickin’ sweet football players.

The last thing the Lions need to be worrying about in April of 2009 is drafting a QB. I’m not sold on Matt Stafford. He may end up being pretty good but he is way too risky for a bad team to take with the first overall pick. Assuming Colt McCoy, Sam Bradford, Mark Sanchez, and Tim Tebow stay in school, the 2010 draft will be loaded with QBs. Plus, I think there is a very good short-term solution that the Lions need to seriously consider. I have never been a huge Michael Vick fan. I think it was because he was advertised as the next coming and I always felt that he wasn’t an elite caliber QB. However, there is no question that he is a decent QB. In fact, I’m pretty sure that Vick is better than any Lions QB since I’ve been alive. He’s cheap (nobody is going to throw a huge contract his way coming out of jail). He’s young (he’s 28 but his legs are even younger than that). He’s a master of ball control (the Falcons were annually near the top of the league in time of possession). T.O.P is certainly an overrated statistic but it’s a lifeline for teams with a). terrible defenses and b). no talent. Vick shortens games by controlling the clock. He also keeps his defense rested on the sideline. Lastly, Vick is a scrambler. Lions QBs have been running for their lives since “Thriller” came out. Vick will give them a different option than “instant death” when the pocket inevitably collapses. He would be a low risk, high reward acquisition and he would bring instant viability to the Lions offense in the same way he did to Atlanta. I don’t condone what he did—in fact, it was heinous—but if he’s going to play for an NFL team and he’s not going to continue being an animal abuser, then it might as well be for the Lions. The NFL is a business and signing Vick could be a good business decision for the Lions.

Obviously, this is all firmly entrenched in theory. William Clay Ford must first show that he has the competency to hire a good GM. Until that happens, the 2009 draft is destined to be a disaster like every other Lions draft since they lucked their way into Barry Sanders with the third overall pick in 1989. My hopes are sky-high in the theoretical realm. In reality, I’m waiting to hear…”With the first pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions select Matthew Stafford, QB, University of Georgia.” Something tells me Stafford doesn’t want that to happen, either.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

“They say we’re young and we don’t know. We won’t find out until we grow…”

I was as surprised by the outcome of the Penn St. game as I was that the calendar read “October” when I woke up this morning. I predicted a 28-point Michigan loss before the game and the final margin ended up being 29 points. In the second quarter, I predicted that Threet and Co. would not score another point after they hit 17 and—true to form—they ended up with 17 points. I wish I could claim uber-intelligence but unfortunately it’s much simpler than that. I was right because we’re living through a maize and blue version of Groundhog’s Day. I feel like Phil Connors. Every game has been identical and—like Phil—I started to pick up on things. The only difference from game to game has been whether Michigan will play well in the first or fourth quarter. If you want to know what’s going to happen in the next game, just look at the last game. It’s far less annoying when you know what’s coming. Although, knowing what’s coming can eventually drive you mad as Phil Connors can attest to. Hearing “I’ve got you Babe” (lyrics in post title) for the millionth time drove him to the brink of insanity.

I realize that the players are busting their butts and RR and his staff are working tirelessly to clean things up. I don’t want to minimize the work they are putting in. However, in terms of predicting future success, nothing that happens on the football field the rest of this season will have any impact on whether Rodriguez has success at Michigan. Steve Threet will not be Michigan’s starting QB next year. Michigan’s offensive line will hopefully have at least three new starters. The spread is entirely predicated on the respective abilities of the QB and offensive line. With all due respect to Steve Threet’s future in a non-spread offense, “Freshman Threet” is the worst starting scholarship QB in Michigan football history. Yes, I realize that means I think he’s worse than “Sophomore Navarre.” To be fair, Navarre didn’t have to run the spread. Had he been asked to, Threet might not be at the bottom of the list. Likewise, this is the worst O-Line in Michigan football history. Neither is going to change this season. I’m sure if you got out your maize and blue microscope and looked real hard, you might be able to find an atom-sized level of improvement in execution at one or two positions. That said the net gain in competence through seven games has been zero. This team is as good as it will get this year. It's not Lloyd Carr's fault. It's not RR's fault. It's not the players's fault. This is what we signed up for when we wanted to make the transition to a spread offense. Everyone needs to stop acting as if each game tells us something we don't already know. The coaches are stuck. The players are stuck. Consequently, fans are stuck. Nobody can do anything about it until next season. So, chill.

Thankfully, this team will get major upgrades at crucial positions in the off-season. This team is clearly ill-equipped to run the spread and Rodriguez is doing something about it in a major way. I like to make the analogy that recruiting is like a download. Clearly, one download at Michigan was not enough for Rodriguez to have success with his system. In fact, I’m not sure we can even call the first download a full one. The majority of RR’s first class was recruited by Lloyd Carr. While many of those players are talented, they are really no different than the players recruited by Carr who were already on the team. Only half of RR’s first class was recruited to play in the spread. Rodriguez will find a place for some and some will transfer. Still, the first class will probably not fit RR’s scheme as well as the classes that follow.

The important question at this point is whether the second download will have enough of an impact to make 2009 a successful season. Despite Michigan’s miserable performance to date, Montavious Odoms, Mike Martin, Boubacar Cissoko, Sam McGuffie, Kevin Koger, and Darryl Stonum have been impressive. If download #2 includes a similar crop of early contributors, then there will be some major talent on the field next season. The most important feature of the 2009 class is much-needed competency at the QB positions. That will help immensely leaving Michigan’s major problem on the O-Line. The good news is that Rodriguez is currently redshirting six offensive linemen from the 2008 class. The bad news is that if they don’t beat out the current starters, then things are going to be ugly next season.

It’s important for Michigan fans to remember that it will be four years (five if you count fifth-year seniors) before Rodriguez fields a Michigan team fully-equipped to run the spread. Right now Rodriguez is trying to run the spread with essentially one half of one recruiting class. As obvious as it seems that Rodriguez needs 2-3 seasons at a minimum to get his product running at or near an optimum level, it is amazing just how many “fans” (I’m using this term as loosely as possible) have already given up on him. Don’t worry. Pockets of extreme ignorance are not a problem specific to the Michigan fanbase or even college football. You’ll probably see the same thing in the NBA when Mike Dantoni tries to run his up-tempo offense with a roster more in common with pack-a-day smokers than the pre-Shaq Phoenix Suns. There has never been a roster in the history of the NBA less equipped to run Dantoni’s high-octane offense than the New York Knicks. Sound familiar? His first season will not be pretty (Don't sleep on David Lee, though). Even though everyone knows this, some Knicks fans will call his offense a joke and demand his removal.

The best advice I can give to Michigan fans (and Knicks fans if you’re out there) who get more disenchanted with each loss is to stop watching. Despite insistence to the contrary, each loss does not make things worse. They are inevitable at this point. I’ll slightly amend an analogy that has already been used many times in the Michigan community. Michigan Stadium is currently in the middle of a big renovation project which is, of course, analogous to the fact that Michigan football is also undergoing a “renovation” project. Does it make sense to go to the stadium every day in the off-season to see how things are going? We know the stadium is under construction. We know it won’t be finished until 2010. Because we know this, we don’t drive to AA everyday to see if that is, in fact, happening. We also don’t speculate that the renovation is never going to be completed because construction has been halted during the football season and through the winter. Think of the construction of the Michigan football team as being halted. The Rodriguez-led renovation of the team will start up again in the off-season. If you can’t handle the losing, do everyone a favor and come back next season. The future of Michigan football is being carved out on the recruiting trail. That’s where improvements are being made. Stop criticizing RR for what’s happening on the field and start praising him for what’s happening off. If you don’t follow recruiting, then you probably think Michigan is turning into Indiana. If you follow recruiting, then you probably think Michigan is turning into Florida. So, I suggest you follow recruiting.

A final note on programming: My goal is to avoid having my blog turn into a spinoff of Groundhog’s Day by saying the same things about the same games every week. So, I won’t be posting as much about on-field events. However, I will likely talk a little bit more about recruiting at some point. Go Blue!

Friday, October 17, 2008

JoePa might never stop laughing

The Michigan Player Board is off this week. In fact, if the Toledo game is any indication, it’s getting tossed permanently. Hopefully, this audible will be more enjoyable for you. I was brainstorming for a possible post topic when it dawned on me that this might be it. This might actually be Joe Paterno’s last year. I know, I know. We’ve heard this before. In 1986, Paterno said he would only coach for four or five more years. It’s been 22 years and counting. There’s also been speculation pretty much every year in between that he should call it quits. This is different, though. Penn St. could actually win the National Championship this year. Few players and/or coaches get to ride off into retirement at the pinnacle of their sport. John Elway did it. Michael Strahan did it. Tom Osborne Scott Frost did it. Chances are an 82 year old dude previously up to his bifocals in criticism would gladly do it, too. Paterno winning a National Championship at 82 would be the biggest sports story of the year and one of the biggest stories in sports history.

There have been a lot of coaches who have taken heat from their fans over the years. Nobody has taken more criticism for a longer period of time than Paterno. The criticism has been mainly on point. The idea of Penn St. winning a National Championship is probably #3 on the list of improbable things in sports behind future employment for Matt Millen and Adam “Pacman” Jones ever shedding his nickname. The Penn St. offense has been horrific for the better part of a decade. The talent in Happy Valley has been at an all-time low. From 1966-1997, Penn St. won 298 games with a 79% winning percentage. Only Nebraska was better over that span. From 1998-2007, Penn St. won only 60% of its games which was only good for 35th among I-A teams. The last ten years haven’t been a total failure in Happy Valley but they’ve come pretty close. Paterno had the first back to back losing seasons of his Penn St. career and he did it twice. Through 1999, Paterno had one losing season in 34 years. From 2000-2004, he had four. Paterno had never won fewer than five games in a season until 2003 and 2004 when he won three and four games respectively. Penn St. did go 11-1 in 2006 but I doubt fans felt that was a fair tradeoff for four losing seasons.

Not surprisingly, fans became disenchanted over the years because of the on-field results, or lack there of. To make matters worse, before the season even started ESPN ran a feature on the Penn St. football program and the inordinate number of players who had gotten into trouble with the law. Two months ago, there was a dark cloud headed directly for Happy Valley, or so it seemed. Then out of nowhere came the Spread HD. The guy who doesn’t even know how to send a text message has brought us the most technologically savvy nickname in sports history. I have no idea where this resurgence came from. Penn St’s average recruiting ranking by Rivals over the last five years is 22nd. Penn St.’s average final ranking over the last five years is “not applicable” or, out of the top 25. That should hardly forecast a National Championship. Apparently, though, it does. Penn St. is the only team in the country in the top ten in both total offense and total defense. The Nittany Lions haven’t won by fewer than 14 points yet this season. With the Big Ten at its weakest in recent memory, Penn St. is clearly the class of the conference and has proven it by beating Illinois rather handily and crushing Wisconsin by 41 points in Camp Randall. Penn St. is for real.

October 25 will be the biggest day the Penn St. program has seen since 1986. Penn St. travels to Columbus in what will surely be PSU’s first and final major obstacle to the National Championship game. Penn St. will be favored and—considering Ohio St’s recent troubles on offense—looks to be the better team. The season finale at Michigan St. won’t be easy but if you’ve seen Brian Hoyer play, you know why Penn St. shouldn’t be worried. Ironically, if Michigan St. beats Ohio St. this weekend, then the Penn St./Michigan St. season finale could be an accidental Big Ten Championship Game.

There are two teams ahead of Penn St. in the major polls. However, there is virtually no chance that Alabama (@ LSU, Auburn, and likely Florida) and Texas (Missouri, Oklahoma St., @ Texas Tech, @ Kansas, and likely Missouri again) will both finish the season undefeated. Alabama has the best shot and that’s probably no better than a 25-33% chance. That means that if Penn St. wins out, then it will play in the National Championship game. No matter how many times I type that or run it through my head, I cannot believe it. Other than this Saturday for obvious reasons, I will be rooting for Penn St. the rest of the way. There are too many ridiculously amazing storylines to root against it not to mention it would halt having to deal with the incredibly nauseating experience of having Ohio St. come out of the Big Ten yet again. Of course, getting to the National Championship game is only half of the equation. Ohio St. certainly knows that but JoePa knows it better than anyone. Paterno has four undefeated seasons that didn’t result in National Championships four times. At least this year, he might get a chance to win it on the field. The old man who became a running joke amongst college football fans might actually have the last laugh and I expect that laugh to last for a long, long time. Crazy.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Observations on Toledo

  • Michigan should be able to beat Toledo with its second string. So, I’m not trying to excuse the loss. However, Michigan was without three of its five best players. Brandon Graham, Donovan Warren, and Montavious Odoms were out with injuries. Considering how abysmal the team was with those guys in the lineup, it doesn’t take much imagination to get to a loss to Toledo without them.

  • A loss is a loss. There are a number of plays or decisions that you can go back to after a game and say “if x, then y”. However, Rich Rodriguez could have gone a long way in avoiding this loss if he had managed the game better on the last drive. After a nine yard run by Michael Shaw, Michigan had a 2nd and 1 at the Toledo 9 yard line with 18 seconds left. Rodriguez should have had two goals at this point; 1). Pick up the first down, and 2) center the ball for a possible field goal attempt. Both could’ve been accomplished on 2nd and 1 with a run to the left. The clock would’ve stopped with the first down and Michigan would’ve had three shots at the end zone from the eight yard line. Instead, Nick Sheridan threw incomplete passes on 2nd and 3rd and 1. Even if RR wasn’t thinking about picking up the first down on 2nd and 1, that should’ve been the goal on 3rd and 1. Picking up one yard and then having three shots at the end zone is much more ideal than taking one shot and then going to overtime. I realize that running the ball on 3rd and 1 with 13 seconds left and no timeouts would pretty much end the game if Michigan didn’t pick it up. That risk would not have been there if Rodriguez tried to pick up the first down on 2nd down. It was bad clock management and it very well could have cost Michigan the game. I was mildly pissed that Michigan lost to Toledo but I was really pissed that RR blew the end of the game. Michigan didn’t play well enough to win and certainly K.C. Lopata should be able to make a 26 yard field goal but you want your coach to know how to manage a game.

  • Informed football fans understand why Michigan is struggling. You cannot have success running the spread if you have a QB who can’t run or throw. Truth be told, you can’t have success running any offense with a QB like that but it is especially true with the spread. Michigan is bad for one reason and that’s because of the QB play. If RR had merely an average spread QB, or even just an accurate passer, Michigan would likely be 4-2. Instead, Michigan is 2-4 and looks even worse than that. There are many things this team could improve on but there is only one thing making this team bad. I’ll once again cite my favorite example when discussing Michigan and the spread: Georgia Tech. Paul Johnson literally hit the ground running at Georgia Tech with his triple option attack. With far less talent than Michigan, he had the Yellow Jackets wreckin’ house at a rate of 412 total yards per game. Why? Because he inherited two above average dual-threat QBs. That’s it. That’s the difference. Michigan is a disaster because of one position. Need evidence? Both of Georgia Tech’s QB’s were out this past weekend against Gardner-Webb. Gardner-Webb is a I-AA team and a mediocre I-AA team at that. Without its two dual-threat QBs—and with a Threet-esque QB—Georgia Tech won 10-7 and put up 199 total yards. Sound familiar? Michigan isn’t perfect, but it is literally one position away from being a 10-win bowl team. Don’t forget that when you’re making your “Fire RR” signs.

  • At this point, RR should understand a few things. First, defenses are just waiting to clobber Sam McGuffie. They don’t fear Threet’s feet or his arm. McGuffie is taking way too much punishment because of the bland play-calling. I realize that Threet is horribly inaccurate and that certainly limits things. However, giving the ball to McGuffie every play is not working. RR also needs to give up the WR screens. They are a disaster. Toledo managed to run them whenever they wanted. In fact, most teams seam to run them with success against Michigan. Michigan, on the other hand, seems to lose yardage on those plays more often than not. That might be another function of defenses not fearing Threet’s arm. They can simply jam ‘M’ receivers since they don’t fear Threet beating them with his arm. Unfortunately, that means Michigan has no chance of successfully running WR screens. The worst thing that can happen to a WR screen is for the corners to jam the line. So, I have two suggestions: 1). Stop calling the WR screen (it doesn’t work with a poor QB) and 2). Learn from what works against you and start jamming the opposition’s receivers. That brings up another point. Why do Michigan corners play 10 yards off the ball? It is infuriating. Stop doing it. Please! For the love of Edwin Moses, stop playing 10 yards off the ball. That’s how dudes rack up 20 receptions against you.

  • Although the defense isn’t the reason why ‘M’ lost to Toledo—that distinction once again goes to the offense—there is no question that it was used and abused by the Rockets. There is no reason for a defense with as much talent as Michigan’s to look as bad as it looks. Scott Shafer isn’t working with the same handicap that RR has to deal with. Donovan Warren, Morgan Trent, Brandon Graham, Terrance Taylor, Tim Jamison, Will Johnson and Obi Ezeh will probably be playing in the NFL at some point. Michigan’s defense isn’t unbelievably talented but there is plenty of talent to work with. There have been instances (fourth quarters of Wisconsin and Utah) when the defense has looked outstanding. Unfortunately, that is not the norm. The D-Line has not had a consistent pass rush. The linebackers have not defended the pass well. The defensive backs have been atrocious in virtually every area. Shafer hasn’t been around long enough to call him a bust but it isn’t nearly as difficult to implement a defensive philosophy as it is an offensive philosophy. It’s usually “plug and chug.” Shafer has plugged but the chugging is noticeably absent.

  • Streaks don’t define programs. Winning does. Do you think Ohio State fans cared that they had a down year at the end of the Cooper regime or lost two consecutive bowl games to weak S. Carolina teams when they were holding up the National Championship trophy in 2002? Michigan fans are the only ones who even remember that. It’s about winning now. The fact that the bowl streak, winning-season streak and the MAC streaks are going to end is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. RR came here to win Big Ten and National Championships. I’m sure he wanted to go to a bowl game this year and have a winning season but he has “bigger fish to fry.” Streaks are nice. Championships and relevance are better.

  • There are countless examples of programs that have struggled in year one of a system. In fact, it is extremely rare for a program not to struggle. Minnesota went 1-11 last year and was the butt of many, many jokes. One year later? Minnesota is 6-1 and just disposed of Illinois on the road. While everyone was laughing, Minnesota was getting better. Does anyone really think that Urban Meyer goes 8-5 in his first year at Florida with Steve Threet at QB? If you do, then I have some Jeremy Bonderman baseball cards that I’d like to sell you. Change takes time. Some coaches are lucky enough to inherit a fairly good match of players to fit their system. Others are not so lucky.

  • Penn St. is better than Illinois. Michigan got crushed by Illinois at home. Michigan plays at Penn St. That’s all you need to know. The line is Penn St. by 23.5. Considering what Illinois did to Michigan and what Penn St. did on the road to Wisconsin, I think that line is generous. Michigan fans need to realize that nothing that happens the rest of the season matters. I would be surprised if Michigan won another game. This team cannot win or even have consistency until it has a QB. That won’t happen until next year. Quit pretending that each loss changes things. We know everything there is to know. Michigan could lose the rest of its games and it wouldn’t matter. There is nothing RR can do about his QB play nor is there anything he can do to salvage this season. Next year is all that matters.

  • Remember when Bill Martin hired RR? There was a huge group of fans who were still complaining about not getting Les Miles. I believe those are the people who are already giving up on Rodriguez. Only an ignorant fan would already give up on Rodriguez six games into his career. I think the people who supported RR from the beginning are still behind him. It’s just too bad that we can’t expel moronic fans who are jumping ship six games into RR’s career. They will come back and cheer just like the rest of us with no consequences. There was an idiot who called into Sam Webb’s show on Monday morning who said, “If Michigan would’ve hired Brady Hoke, we’d be undefeated.” There wasn’t a person in the universe who wanted Michigan to hire Brady Hoke (Hoke relatives not included). In fact, Hoke represented the worst possible scenario. People were having nightmares about the possibility of Hoke running the program. I can’t believe there is a guy out there, living and breathing, who could actually bring himself to mutter the sentence, “Martin blew it by not hiring Brady Hoke.”

  • Go Blue!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Michigan Player Board Week 5 (on a diet)

For the benefit of my sanity—one of my more valuable commodities—I am suspending the 25 player board in favor of a 15 player board. Those of you who have seen all five Michigan games surely know that this team has been a disaster save for roughly four quarters. Surprisingly, four good quarters out of 20 have produced two wins and one near win. Not surprisingly, there have not been many players worth writing about. The massacre at the hands of Illinois was the worst performance of the season and as a result, I needed to chop off 40% of the board just to avoid having to see in writing just how poor the performances have been. Michigan should pick up a win against Toledo this week to pull to 3-3. That would mean Michigan would have to go 4-2 over its last six games to make a bowl. Ohio State and Penn State are guaranteed losses bloodbaths which means Michigan would have to be perfect against Purdue, Michigan St., Minnesota, and Northwestern. The two worst teams of the bunch (Purdue and Minnesota) are road games and the two best teams (MSU and Northwestern) are home games. So, with the double bonus of playing those four games at the right places and not playing a particularly difficult team in the bunch, Michigan still has a decent shot at a bowl game. The problem is that all four of those games are losable.

Top 25 Michigan Player Chart (cumulative)

1Brandon Graham, DEBy far Michigan’s best player this season. Leads ‘M’ in TFLs and sacks and it’s not close.

2Sam McGuffie, RBMcGuffie has taken a pounding this year. He has been the most reliable player on offense. Someone needs to get him an OL for Christmas.

3Zoltan Mesko, PYou don’t want your punter at #3 but he has been phenomenal. Nobody in country has more punts with a better average.


4Montavious Odoms, WROdoms is a player. He is the caliber of receiver that would flourish on any team in the country. Plus, it looks like ‘M’ found its kick returner.


5Greg Mathews, WRMathews is one of the best receivers in the Big Ten. It’s too bad nobody knows it because ‘M’ can’t get him the ball. He averages 15 yards per catch.


6Donovan Warren, CBCompared to players around the country, Warren has been average to decent. Compared to players on Michigan’s defense, Warren has been very good.


7Obi Ezeh, LBIt’s rare that a guy tallies 4.5 TFLs in one game and has a bad game. After Saturday, it’s a little less rare.


8Brandon Harrison, SHarrison might want to check his body for a “Juice” tattoo. He got burnt bad enough that one might have just showed up somewhere.


9Morgan Trent, CBDitto. Trent has been disappointing this year. Still, I think he’ll join the long line of disappointing ‘M’ DBs who make it in the NFL.


10Terrance Taylor, DTThere was no chance that the Illinois game was going to be a good game for TT. The good news is that he probably won’t need any Vitamin C for a least a year. “Juice” took care of that for him.


11Tim Jamison, DEDitto. Illinois was a terrible matchup for the ‘M’ defense. The offense didn’t do these guys any favors either.


12Mike Martin, DTMartin was one of Michigan’s better options against Illinois along with Jonas Mouton. They were the two ‘M’ defenders best equipped to handle the spread.


13Jonas Mouton, LBMouton is going to be good by the time he’s done at Michigan.


14Mark Moundros, FBMoundros does what he’s supposed to do and he does it well.


15Brandon Minor, RBIt’s interesting that Minor and Shaw only have 143 combined rushing yards yet they average 6.6 and 8.1 yards per carry respectively. More carries surely equal fewer YPC but these guys could stand to get a few more carries.


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Way too many observations on Illinois (QB Edition)

  • While some—usually the “glass is totally full” crowd—insist otherwise, Michigan has not improved one lick since the first game of the season. Go back and look at the tape of the games. Remember the Utah game? Michigan played miserably in the first half only to play brilliantly in the second half. Sound familiar? The exact same thing happened against Wisconsin. Remember the Miami (OH) game? Michigan played brilliantly for a quarter and then played terrible for the last three quarters. The exact same thing happened this week against Illinois. Remember the Notre Dame game? I hope you don’t. Nothing has changed since week one. Steve Threet is just as capable now as he was against Utah. The execution is the same as is the production. This team will not improve until it gets a quarterback who can hit a wide open receiver at a better rate than one in three. It’s frustrating but not unexpected. This was always a possible outcome for year one under Rich Rodriguez considering Michigan never recruited dual-threat quarterbacks under Lloyd Carr. The two he did recruit recently—Jason Forcier and Antonio Bass—transferred and suffered a career-ending knee injury on a run-drill, respectively. Both would’ve probably led Michigan to a bowl game this season.

  • John Navarre took a lot of criticism for playing poorly at Michigan. His play was certainly his fault but the fact that he was playing was not. Lloyd Carr got hoe’d out by Drew Henson and was left with a defensive end/4th string QB as his starter. The same situation is going on right now with Threet. Threet transferred to Michigan because he thought he was going to play in Michigan’s pro-style offense. Like Navarre, he was thrust into a situation that he was mentally and physically ill-equipped to handle. In the same way that Michigan’s offense was inept under Navarre, this Michigan team is inept under Threet. Threet is the worst thrower that I have ever seen. I’m sure some of it (maybe even most) has to do with nerves or lack of confidence. Clearly he isn’t that bad when he’s playing catch with his friends. Nobody is. Regardless, he is an extremely poor QB right now. His 49% completion percentage doesn’t tell the whole story. Most of his incompletions are to wide open receivers. Navarre gave it his best and Threet is doing the same. It sucks but he deserves empathy.

  • There is no doubt in my mind, however, that your classic tall, slow, pocket-passer can run this offense. A dual-threat QB is ideal but not exclusive for success. The reason why Threet can’t run it is because he is woefully inaccurate. As an example, if Michigan had Graham Harrell (or any dude on this list), I really think we’d be looking at an explosive offense. There are so many big plays being missed by poor throws. That, in turn, has a twofold affect: 1) ‘M’ is losing out on those big plays and 2) defenses don’t fear the passing game so they key on Sam McGuffie. The average fan doesn’t realize how crucial the QB is to the spread. The spread is designed to attack via three different avenues: 1) QB run, 2) RB run, 3) QB pass. Right now, Michigan can only accomplish #2, and even then, we’re only getting 3.6 yards per carry. In conventional football, a subpar QB can be masked on a good team. These sorts of QBs are affectionately called “game managers”. In the spread, a subpar QB sticks out like Rush Limbaugh in a thong. Michigan looks much worse off than it is. There are 100 QBs in D-1 football right now (first string and second string alike) who would probably have Michigan ranked with one loss right now. Unfortunately, none of those QBs are on the roster and we have to live with the consequences. However, that doesn’t mean we have to pretend the “sky is falling”. Michigan is one decent spread QB away from killin’ fools like Georgia Tech. Paul Johnson inherited a team that was much less talented than Michigan but he had the luxury of not just one, but two spread (or triple option) QBs. If RR had Josh Nesbitt or Jaybo Shaw, Michigan would be averaging 500 yards per game and everyone would be worshipping RR.

  • There is some skepticism—and rightfully so—that a true freshman QB could come in next season and put up big numbers. You never know how a freshman is going to handle the pressure of 100,000+ fans hanging on his every move. It’s true that Tate Forcier could come in and suffer a mental breakdown Chuck Knoblauch-style. However, he has all of the tools to the run the spread. He is the most accurate passer in high school football. He is a running QB. Those just happen to be the two things missing from Michigan’s offense. It’s a round peg for a round hole. Forcier may not win Michigan a National Championship next year but he’ll give Michigan the chance to run the zone read the way it was meant to be run and he’ll hit open receivers. I’d pay $500 to magically give Steve Threet those abilities. Don’t underestimate the importance of Forcier enrolling early. He will be practicing with the team from January until August. That is eight times the amount of exposure as your normal true freshman. Shavodrick Beaver (Michigan’s other top ten Dual Threat QB in the class of ’09) will also be enrolling in January. The chances of neither being ready after eight months of practice are slim, in my opinion.

  • There has been a substantial debate among Michigan fans regarding which unit was most responsible for the loss to Illinois. Clearly, both were responsible but if you held a naked picture of Charlie Weiss to my head, I’d have to say the offense was the biggest culprit. Everyone knew that Illinois was going to score points. We knew going into the game that Michigan would probably have to score 30+ points to win. When the offense inexplicably shut down after the first quarter, the defense was left for dead. After Greg Mathews scored Michigan’s second touchdown of the first quarter, the offense went three and out on five of the next seven possessions. The other two possessions were five and six plays respectively. Seriously, look at Michigan’s drive chart after the first quarter (page 5). The defense had little opportunity to rest and even less time to figure out what it was doing wrong. Against a team like Illinois, a totally ineffective offense has a snowball effect that can, and likely will, lead to a blow out.

  • I realize this idea usually falls under the “you have to be insane” category. Nonetheless, why doesn’t Michigan take a fast player who played QB in high school and make him the QB for the remainder of the year? This season is a wash from the QB perspective. We know exactly what we’re getting from Threet from here on out. For the sake of salvaging the season, get someone back there who isn’t “no-dimensional.” Seriously, burn Justin Feagin’s redshirt. Throw him behind center. I know the armchair coaches and the expert insiders will think I’m crazy but a QB cannot be worse than Threet at this point. At least put someone in there who allows RR to call the zone read. Threet’s accuracy is so atrocious that it doesn’t make sense to keep him at QB. He averages 5.3 yards per attempt which is one of the worst averages I’ve ever seen. His QB rating is last in the Big Ten among full-time starters. We already know he can’t run. If he can’t run or pass, then why is he in there? Why not force defenses to do more than key on Sam McGuffie? Maybe Threet throws better in practice than Feagin but clearly Threet can’t throw in games. That’s really all that matters at this point. It doesn’t even have to be Feagin. Carlos Brown or Brandon Minor could do it. It just doesn’t make sense to keep throwing this season away with a QB who hasn’t improved at all since game one and probably won’t be the QB next season. The offense is absolutely atrocious. Michigan is 10th or worse in the Big Ten in virtually every offensive statistics. There isn’t anything to lose at this point. Threet is playing worse than I ever imagined possible. I would be shocked if a running back played worse under center.

  • I continue to be amazed by the number of fans who think Michigan football is going into the tank Notre Dame-style. The problem with the various freedoms we have (i.e. freedom to vote and freedom of speech) is that there is no prerequisite for being able to use those freedoms. You can vote for John McCain because he’s not black or Barrack Obama because he’s not white and your vote counts just as much as mine. It sucks but it’s true. Likewise, there are a bunch of college football fans who choose to use their freedom of speech without having even a single clue what they’re talking about. People who vote or speak based on ignorance make life suck for the rest of us. If you didn’t think there was a good chance that Michigan was going to struggle offensively coming into the season running the spread with a freshman QB who can’t run, then you have serious logic issues. If you’re giving up on Rich Rodriguez after five games—universally regarded as one of the best coaches in the country—then you have serious loyalty issues. RR is putting the finishing touches on a top 10 (maybe even top five) recruiting class and he’s already got the 2010 class in good shape for a top five class and possibly even better. Two years from now, Michigan is going to be destroying teams and everyone is going to be complaining about RR running up the score. The same people who are complaining now will be the same people saying, “Lloyd Carr wouldn’t have scored 63 points against Western Michigan.” The ignorance in the Michigan community is nauseating. I do think the majority of fans are hip to the whole idea of transition but 35% of 5 million (a rough estimate of Michigan fans) is still a lot.

  • Go Blue!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Michigan Player Board Week 4

There wasn't a whole lot of movement this week. Part of that is because the Wisconsin game only represents 1/4 of the season. Single games will start to have less and less impact on the rankings. The fact that Michigan played one of the worst halves of offensive football I have ever seen and then followed that with an amazing comeback cancelled each other out. The result is not a lot of movement. The defense will face its biggest test of the season against Juice Williams. If they don't do the job, you will see a lot of defensive players in the red next week. Hopefully, Michael Shaw and Montavious Odoms will see the ball more. It'll also be interesting to see if Kevin Koger gets more looks.

Top 25 Michigan Player Board

1Brandon Graham, DEBig Ten Defensive Player of the Week. Owned the Wiscy O-Line.

2Sam McGuffie, RBDidn’t have a great game but scored another TD. Leads the team in most offensive categories.

3Donovan Warren, CBWarren has performed a little better than Trent in just about every game.

4Brandon Harrison, SHad another strong effort against Wisconsin. He will face his biggest test against “Juice” on Saturday.

5Obi Ezeh, LBHelped hold P.J. Hill to just 70 yards with just a 3.2 YPC. The LB corps played its best game of the season against Wiscy.


6Tim Jamison, DEJamison doesn’t have a high sack total but he has been very effective in the pass rush this season.

7Morgan Trent, CBI don’t want to say Trent has regressed this year but I think he’s peaked. Still, he’s an above average CB in the Big Ten.


8Terrance Taylor, DTTT had a monster game against Wiscy’s D-Line. He’ll have his work cut out for him against “Juice” and the spread.


9Greg Mathews, WRMichigan’s only consistent downfield receiving threat. Averages 13.5 YPC. No other player with at least three catches even averages 10 YPC.


10Zoltan Mesko, PMade some crucial punts against Wiscy including his last that forced the PR to catch it out of bounds. Mesko is 4th in the country in punts per game (6.5). Only one other punter has more punts with a higher average (43.9)


11John Thompson, LBHad an excellent game even before his Int. return for a TD.


12Jonas Mouton, LBLarry Foote reincarnate? Mouton has gotten better each game and seems to be around the ball every play.


13Will Johnson, DTHas been up and down this season but played pretty well against Wisconsin.


14Montavious Odoms, WROnce Michigan gets a running QB, Odoms will explode. Defenses don’t fear the QB as a running threat which means they can key on the short stuff.


15Steve Threet, QBWhen he’s on, he’s better than the average D1 QB. When he’s off, there is nobody worse. He makes plays with his feet which has been a huge, albeit surprising, asset to Michigan’s offense.


16Mike Martin, DTMartin gives O-Lines fits. He is quick through the gap and is relentless in the pass rush. He’ll get more and more time as the season progresses.


17Brandon Minor, RBHuge run with a surprising finishing burst for a TD. Has two touchdowns on only 10 carries.


18Stevie Brown, SBest game of his career. I don’t remember a single glaring mistake.


19Steve Schilling, OTThere have been few bright spots on the line this season including Schilling. He has been the most consistent but that isn’t saying a whole lot.


20K.C. Lopata, KNot a lot of work against Wisconsin.


21David Mooseman, OGSingled out by RR as the offensive player of the game against Wisconsin. Maybe that’s simply based on who improved the most?


22Charles Stewart, SAlong with Brown, played best game of the season including a pick.


23Dave Molk, CMolk hasn’t been Michigan’s worst offensive lineman. He got smoked by Wiscy’s D-Line, though.

24Michael Shaw, RBDidn’t play against Wisconsin although he was given a clean bill of health before the game. Should see action against Illinois.


25Kevin Koger, TELikely supplanted Carson Butler as go-to TE. Made huge catch to get ‘M’ on the scoreboard.


Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Observations on Wisconsin

  • I’ve been to some pretty good games (@ MSU ’95 @ PSU ’99, @ OSU ’00, @ ND ’06) but only the epic home win over Ohio St. in ’97 tops Michigan’s comeback win over Wisconsin. The sudden and totally unexpected turn that this game took was unbelievable. It’s been 10+ years since I went bonkers at a game like that. Michigan didn’t look like a juggernaut even when they were putting up 27 points in the last 17 minutes of the game. Yet, the difference between what we saw in the second half (decent execution) and the first half (possibly the worst display of college football I have ever seen) was staggering.

  • Kudos to the coaching staff for making the necessary offensive adjustments at halftime. Maybe Rich Rodriguez should’ve done it earlier but halftime adjustments are much better than no adjustments. Michigan fans can vouch for that. He put Wisconsin on its heels to start the second half by going five wide. Michigan stayed in four and five wide for virtually the rest of the game and Wisconsin was never able to adjust.

  • The John Thompson interception return reminded me a bit of the famous “Battle at Kruger” video where the buffaloes work together to wreck house on some Lions. Thompson had eight players paving the way as he rumbled to the end zone. Terrance Taylor bulldozed two Badgers on the play. That play may end up being the defining moment of the season.

  • The refereeing was terrible on Saturday. The refs blew a number of calls and they all went against Michigan. Here are five off the top of my head:

    1). Stevie Brown was clearly held on the first-drive play that ended in a fumble recovered by Michigan. The ball was eventually given back to Wisconsin via replay. Brown could’ve picked up a TFL on that play if not for the hold.

    2). Mathews’s fumbled punt return in the second quarter was recovered by a Wisconsin player who was out of bounds when he got possession. The replay shown on the stadium big screen clearly showed this. The ABC crew was also adamant that it was recovered out of bounds. The worst part of the whole thing is that it wasn’t even reviewed even after RR called a timeout to give the booth more time to look at it.. Boos rained down and rightfully so.

    3). Mathews was clearly interfered with on the pass the he dropped in the end zone in the third quarter. He was forcefully pushed out of bounds mid-route by the DB. Thankfully this didn’t cost Michigan because the Koger-touchdown came two plays later.

    4). The refs blew a call in the 4th quarter when they awarded a catch to David Gilreath even though the ball visibly came loose as he rolled over it. Making matters worse is that the refs actually reviewed this play and still got it wrong. That was a huge play for Wisconsin because it came on 3rd and 9 as they were driving to potentially tie the score.

    5). Later, on that same drive, Terrance Taylor was blatantly held in front of a ref with no call.

  • I appreciate what the athletic department is trying to do with the “Maize Outs.” Some have said that it looked pretty good on TV. Unfortunately, I think it was extremely disappointing. I give credit to the fans for participating in the “Maize Out.” I think enough wore maize to make it work. The problem Michigan has—a problem that no other major school has—is that nobody knows what “maize” actually means. There are currently two very different acceptable definitions of “maize.” Some fans opt for the orangish-yellow shirts made popular by Steve & Berry’s. Others wear the bright yellow shirts that the football jerseys have featured for the last few decades. The orangish-yellow doesn’t stand out and severely takes away from the effectiveness of the vibrant yellow shirts. The orangish-yellow color is generally what I associate with “maize” and it happens to be one of my favorite colors. However, there is no question that the vibrant yellow color is much more conducive to standing out in a crowd. That is the color that everyone should wear for a “Maize Out.” The contrast between the student section (all wearing the vibrant yellow) and the rest of the stadium was obvious. The students stood out big-time. The rest of the stadium did not. The dual definitions of “maize” present a problem that is not easy to solve. Half of the stadium owns the orangish-yellow shirt and half own the vibrant yellow shirt. Simply attempting to get fans to stop wearing one color is an impossible endeavor. So, the athletic department needs to secure a sponsor to make shirts to pass out before “Maize Outs.” so the color can be uniform across the stadium. A vibrant yellow Maize Out with nearly full participation would look sweet. Even though they are both a shade of yellow, the 50/50 mix we saw on Saturday just doesn’t look good. For a sweet history of how Michigan's colors (and shades) have changed over time, click here.

  • The blue “Block M” in the student section was a great idea and earns high marks for its first appearance, in my opinion. However, a few tweaks could make it even better. I analyzed the “M” from a number of overheard angles and I think it needs to be taller, wider, and thicker. It didn’t look so much like a “block” as it did just a regular “M”. It also looked squished. Making it taller would iron out that issue. The student section is pretty big. The “M” could be doubled in size and it would still fit nicely into the student section.

  • Jonas Mouton was fantastic on Saturday. He was all over the field. He reminds me of a young Larry Foote. Foote was quick and always around the ball. Foote’s coming out party came during the last regular season game of his freshman at Hawaii in December of ’98. Lloyd Carr seemingly blitzed Foote on every play. Mouton’s coming out party may have been on Saturday.

  • There has been some dissent among the fan-base over RR’s decision to go for two when Michigan scored to go up 20-19. That was absolutely the right decision and I’m not sure how anyone could successfully argue the other side. What good would it have been to go up two points? The offense had been struggling all season. It would’ve been absurd to assume that a). Michigan was definitely going to score again (something that wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for the Int. return for a TD) and b). Wisconsin wasn’t going to get into field goal range the rest of the game. If RR kicks the extra point there, then Wisconsin would’ve been in position to win the game if it weren’t for the Int. return of a TD.

  • Something that was overlooked by the fact that Michigan scored a gazillion points (27 to be exact) in just over 12 minutes was the error that RR made by not going for two after Michigan’s first touchdown. Let’s set the stage. Michigan had 21 total yards, 1 first down, zero points, and five turnovers in the first half and faced a 19-0 deficit. Michigan’s first score came out of nowhere which 2:22 left in the 3rd quarter. The Michigan score made it 19-6. Kicking the extra point to make it 19-7 means you’ll have to score two more touchdowns to win the game. Failing on the two-point conversion also means you’ll have to score two more touchdowns to win the game. Considering how inept the Michigan offense was through three quarters, it would’ve been unreasonable to assume that two touchdowns was something that was going to happen. Getting two points would’ve put Michigan within 11 points which only requires a touchdown and a field goal. This decision became moot pretty quickly because of the barrage of points that followed but there was no way that could’ve been expected. RR would’ve received a lot of criticism—and rightfully so—if Michigan scored another touchdown to make it 19-14 and then had the ball in field goal range at the end of the game. That was a tactical error in my opinion.

  • I had empathy for Wisconsin fans after the game. I can only imagine how stunned the crowd must have been to see their team in cruise control for the majority of the game only to be victimized by the greatest comeback in Michigan Stadium history. Oh wait, I do know how that feels. I was at the Michigan/Illinois game in 1999 (Illinois came back from 20 down in that game). Doh! As we were exiting the game on Saturday, a red-faced Wisconsin fan looked utterly devastated. I told him that I had no idea how what happened happened. He responded with, “I guess in the end, tradition always wins out.” Maybe he was in Uruguay last year when Michigan lost to a little team I like to call Appalachian St. Nonetheless, Wisconsin continued its history of getting beat by Michigan. Don’t think its fans haven’t noticed. Going 5-30 in its last 30 games against Michigan will have that affect.

  • Michigan needed to beat Notre Dame or Wisconsin (preferably both) to keep a shot at a bowl game realistic. So, the victory over Wiscy is huge in that regard. It was a great experience. I’m going to bottle it up and refer to it in the event that things don’t work out the rest of the season. However, I honestly can’t say that the manner in which Michigan beat Wisconsin gives me any better feeling about playing Illinois. I don’t think this team has the ability to carryover from game to game. It didn’t happen against Miami (OH) after the great second half performance against Utah. It didn’t happen against Wisconsin after a pretty good offensive effort in South Bend. This team seems to start from scratch at the start of every game. Sometimes they are able to make up for the hole they dig themselves. Sometimes they can’t. They might beat Illinois but the days of me thinking that Michigan is about to break out because of something positive from the last game are over.

  • Mike Martin is a beast. He is everything you could want in a defensive tackle. He is quick and agile. He’s strong and has a motor. He’s stuck behind seniors Will Johnson and Terrance Taylor on the depth chart but when he gets in there, he makes things happen. I don’t want to get too carried away but I think he may end up being the most effective every down defensive tackle that we’ve ever had. He’s only a freshman!

  • Steve Schilling tackled Sam McGuffie for a two yard loss on the first play of Michigan’s second offensive series. I’m not saying that Schilling tripped him up or McGuffie ran into the back of him. I’m saying he actually tackled Schilling. I have watched the replay numerous times in amazement. I don’t believe I have ever seen an offensive lineman tackle his own running back.

  • Wisconsin’s trick play that resulted in Terrance Taylor jumping offsides was well-designed even if it was just a punter running up under center. The entire Michigan D-Line was fooled by the fact that Wisconsin’s O-Line didn’t immediately get down into their stance. They went part of the way and then as a unit went down into their stance in unison. That movement combined with a loud cadence by the punter made just about everyone on Michigan’s D-Line jump. TT just happened to be the most egregious. Still, there’s no need for a senior to get fooled like that.

  • Stevie Brown played the best game of his career. He was all over the place. He had 7 tackles and a pass break-up on the “official” score sheet. However, he did every bit as much as Brandon Graham on a play where Graham was awarded with a sack and a forced fumble. Both of those could’ve been given to Brown. Brown also recovered a fumble by a Wisconsin receiver that was eventually overturned. Brown was blatantly held on the play and still managed to work his way back into the play to recover the fumble. He also saved a TD in the first quarter with excellent position. Hopefully, this is a sign of things to come.

  • Steve Threet couldn’t hit the side of a barn with, well, another barn. Someone should put together a collection of some of his worst throws this season. It would be sadly entertaining. The guy next to me said that Threet’s interception near the end of the first half was the worst throw he had ever seen. I thought the worst throw I had ever seen came later when Threet threw a sideline route that would’ve went for a pick-six if it weren’t such a terrible throw. Your average “bad” throw would’ve given Wisconsin six points. A historically bad throw actually saved the day on that possession.

  • That said, Threet’s wheels and mobility saved the day on a number of occasions. There is no question that his 58 yard run was huge. However, his most important run came on 3rd and long near the end of the third quarter. Threet looked like he wasn’t going to get anything which would’ve forced a punt. Instead, he maneuvered his way into a position where he could dive for extra yardage. That play allowed RR to go for it on 4th and 1. That drive eventually lead to Michigan’s first score. Threet also hustled back to make a TD-saving tackle on the interception to end the first half.

  • This Wisconsin game was a bizzaro world version of the Utah game. They were nearly identical right down to Michigan’s woeful first half performance to the huge discrepancies in total yards between the two teams at halftime. In both games Michigan’s defense was phenomenal in the second half. The similarities don’t end there. Everything looked the same. Greg Mathews got hurt diving for an overthrown bomb. Threet overthrew a wide open Darryl Stonum near the sidelines. Then there was the crowd. In the first half of both games, the crowd looked like it had just seen Janet Reno naked. The mayhem that ensued in the second half on Saturday was nearly identical to that of the Utah second half. There was just one tiny difference. Michigan actually finished the comeback against Wisconsin.

  • Go Blue!

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