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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