10/28/2006 - Michigan 17-3 Northwestern - 9-0, 6-0
You would think a poncho is something you can't screw up. Take some flexible plastic, punch one to three holes in it, and enjoy a waterproof exterior when the 35-degree rain comes down. Is it possible to get a poncho wrong?
Unfortunately, I can testify that it is. Unearthed from ancient reserves, I donned something that can be described as a poncho but could be more accurately be titled "grounds for murder." Made of a thick, stiff plastic, the thing projected out from my shoulders at a ninety-degree angle for a few inches. Its sides were left entirely open, one half-inch-long nub of ratty velcro the only concession to the idea of closure. When the wind blew -- which was constantly -- the Grounds for Murder flapped wildly, protecting my grumpy person in no way whatsoever. I sat on the poncho. People in front of me stood; I stood. I sat again. Wind kicked up and Grounds for Murder flapped again. I watched dropped passes and fumbles and an offense seemingly unearthed from the 1920s. I sat in the dreary rain. I coughed and ejected mucus, leftover goo from my midweek near-death experience. I was cranky. No doubt the following has been colored by that -- fair warning.
Even though I wrote something along the lines of "this is going to be boring and frustrating and we'll run all day" the day before, I was still surprised and dismayed. Michigan fans have split into two warring groups, one running around declaring Mike DeBord to be the devil, the other dismissing the game as a meaningless blip. Personally? I'm torn.
Mike DeBord does have some pointy-horn qualities about him. The kind of contemptuous gameplan assembled today is one reason we generally lose to some team we shouldn't. Michigan's bizarre strategy when coming up against obviously inferior teams is to run as much as possible, reducing the number of possessions in a game, giving away much of our advantage on offense by being remarkably predictable, and getting ourselves locked in close games. While the strategy reduces the chances of disaster but increases the chances said disaster will be fatal instead of annoying. It's dumb.
And don't give me guff about hiding the playbook for Ohio State. The Rosetta Stone to our offense is not a first-down slant. Throwing one will not cause the scales to fall from Tressel's eyes. Also not something to provide guff-like substance about: Mike DeBord's record as offensive coordinator, now something like 41-5 (I cannot be bothered to look it up, since it's a crap stat). DeBord's been OC here for four years and has had the good fortune to coach opposite two of the finest defenses in Michigan history. He's a pitcher who gets 8 runs a game from his offense: his win-loss record is virtually meaningless. If he didn't have a gaudy record it would be conclusive proof that he is inept.
So all these things are true. One of the crosses Michigan fans must bear is the nasty, dull, too close for comfort win over clearly inferior competition. It's our version of the Spartan collapse. But Michigan does not play like this against opponents it respects. I would like to have my cake and eat it, too: I don't like DeBord but it won't matter against Ohio State, a team that even he has to take seriously. Michigan's gameplans are only expectation-scorning things against the Northwesterns of the world.
Also: no Riley, Manningham, Ecker, or Massey. Arrington with reduced playing time. Hart dinged up and Super Fumble Brothers replacing him. Miserable, miserable weather. Excuses a-plenty are available if you wish to use them. But, really: Michigan's playcalling put it in a situation much like last year where they were forced to make several third-down conversions per drive. With the weather, the missing personnel, and the execution errors, the offense on homecoming was indeed a blast from the past: 2005.
The defense of a more distant, more powerful vintage, and we'll ride it as far as it takes us.