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Thursday, January 03, 2008

1/1/2008 - Michigan 41, Florida 35 - 9-4, 6-2 Big Ten
1/2/2008 - West Virginia 48, Oklahoma 28 - 11-2, 6-2 Big East

Fireworks, Hong Kong.

Every year in February, people around the country who happen to be something other than Chinese vaguely recognize the existence of the Chinese New Year, a holiday that seems simultaneously old and strangely futuristic, much like the odder outposts of Chinese cooking. ("Oyster cake." The mind reels.) Chinese people, of course, go nuts for the biggest holiday on the calendar.

It's later than it should be, it's flashy, enticing, and rousing, and it seems vaguely superior* to old fashioned New Year's largely because of unfamiliarity: the past two days have been Super Chinese New Football Millennium for Michigan fans.

It was nice to send out the old regime with a rousing win. It was better to see it happen with an offense that looked remarkably similar to Rich Rodriguez's spread 'n' shred. And, truthfully, it was better still to watch West Virginia carve the nation's #9 scoring defense into Sooner tots and hold the nation's #3 scoring offense 15 points under its average. Hell, if West Virginia wasn't forced to play Ryan Mundy they would have yielded two fewer personal fouls and one fewer 60-ish yard pass reception and possibly turned the game into the laugher it always threatened to become.

Rich Rodriguez put that team together, and though he was absent the framework of that team's offense and defense were his responsibility. That team's offensive and defensive coordinators will be Michigan's offensive and defensive coordinators. That team's recruiting coordinator will be Michigan's recruiting coordinator. And that team was a national-championship-caliber one cobbled together from quarterbacks LSU wanted as a wide receiver and terror-beast fullbacks from Division III schools in Wisconsin.

This might have been a good hire.

Meanwhile in Orlando, Michigan put on a show that was at once tantalizing and depressing. Let's be clear: Michigan's ability to put up numbers like this would not have saved them against Wisconsin and Ohio State, when Ryan Mallett and Chad Henne's busted shoulder combined to put up the worst back-to-back quarterbacking performances in Lloyd Carr's career, but it's impossible to watch Michigan refuse to punt after the first quarter and not wonder "what if" about a half-dozen games over the past decade. Even the one standout piece of Lloydery, Michigan's final run-run-run-oops-let's-FG drive, was apparently the result of a screwed up Henne check instead of Lloyd Carr giving his old "how to lose in the fourth quarter" playbook one last spin.

(Not that there should have been the option for a run check there anyway, and it is mighty suspicious that Henne would prefer said run, as it makes no sense unless you've undergone some serious protect-ball-all-costs brainwashing. But nevermind all that. It doesn't matter.)

And any questions about said lose-it-late playbook were obliterated when Ron English did what he'd done all day: make the Florida offensive line look like Ohio State's in the Not Fiesta Bowl last year. He attacked.

The whole team attacked; the whole team looked entirely different, like a group of people determined to make the future something of their own devising. One of the most frustrating aspects of the Carr era was the frequent appearance that Michigan is coached like it is afraid of a poor outcome. For an example, check any late-game punt from inside the opponent's 40. Too often Michigan has passed up the right call in favor of the safe call, and it has cost them.

But not this year, and not in the future. Michigan took control of the Heisman winner, battering him until his final pass wobbled skyward and fell to the ground. West Virginia met every attempted Oklahoma comeback with a thunderous riposte. No shells. No idly hoping things fall your way. No waiting to be given something. Reach out and take it. It's a new year.

  • And so it goes when Michigan plays the SEC. Even leaving aside the Vanderbilt game, Michigan is 5-1 against the home of "southern speed" in their last six bowl matchups. Why does the SEC suck so much? Why can't they be competitive against us? Am I enjoying being as parochial and narrow-minded as virtually every football fan south of Maryland? No, not really.
  • Do we like the 3-3-5 a little more now? The final numbers were respectable for Oklahoma -- 419 yards and 28 points -- but WVU was ahead so much most of the night that OU was in desperation mode from midway in the third quarter on. OU's final two drives netted a useless 76 yards as WVU was correctly in a full-on prevent; without those this team held OU 100 yards under its season average. (This is obviously not quite fair, but if WVU had been grinding the clock out instead of, like, scoring on the first play of every drive those yards would never have happened; WVU's D faced 14 drives, a hefty total.)
  • And that was with OU almost literally holding on every play, the sort of holds that get called "egregious" by the announcers, not the sort of holds Penn State fans envision whenever someone in a winged helmet deigns to block anyone. OU picked up a half-dozen holding calls; another half-dozen must-calls went unnoticed. WVU dominated one of the most grinding, powerful offensive lines in the country with their speed and angles. They did this without the use of their best defensive lineman for most of the night.
  • Jeff Casteel would be A-OK by me.
  • FOX is a terrible network to watch college football on. At points during the Fiesta last night we were treated to the following instead of onfield action: 1) an ad for some stupid movie, 2) an inversion of the "dingle berry" picture that lit up the hur-hur-hur sections of the blogosphere earlier this year, and most egregiously 3) completely inert Gatorade containers. Anyone who wasn't Pat Haden was completely useless.
  • B&B made mention of this, and it's true: the gap between Mike Patrick and Todd Blackledge is immense. Blackledge made the most salient point I've heard an announcer make all year when he pointed out that though Tim Tebow has a gazillion rushing yards and touchdowns, he's not Dennis Dixon or Armanti Edwards and the threat of Owen Schmitt taking off and rumbling through your secondary just doesn't come with the same elevated threat level. I actually said out loud to no one in particular "huh. That's a really good point." Meanwhile, Mike Patrick called Arrington "Harrington" for most of the first half.
  • The one downer in an otherwise schwing kind of game yesterday was the parade of personal fouls; twice WVU got not one but two on the same play; both times one of the offenders was Mundy. This is probably a fluke; I'll take a look at RR's penalty yardage over the years at some point in an attempt to confirm. Also, we can blame that on interim head coach Bill Stewart.
  • SMQB has us pegged.
  • Achtung, pounding PA FB/HB Christian Wilson and your potentially iffy commitment:

    This offense... it's not so bad for you.
(*Less chance of waking up with a raging hangover and an ominous creaking/neighing sound coming from the other side of the bed; also the parades seem way more fun.)