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Monday, November 12, 2007

11/10/2007 - Michigan 21, Wisconsin 37 - 8-3, 6-1 Big Ten

There was a lot of contention around these parts after the Illinois game. This was confusing to me given the content of the post that caused the contention until a commenter pointed out that the title of said post, taken from a Ben Folds Five song, was extremely inflammatory without context. Ben Folds Five being a regrettably brief and obscure prequel to Ben Folds' regrettably lengthy and prominent solo career (which, let's be clear, starts with "Reinhold Messner" and sucks), a lot of people had no idea what I was talking about and came to the conclusion I was being a dick.

Maybe I was, but the offense was not intentional. I just thought Michigan was a pretty average team bailed out by an Illinois team hell-bent on giving the game away. Surely this no longer seems controversial. Since then, Michigan struggled with the worst team on the planet for a half, required a miraculous clutch performance from Chad Henne to beat bleah Michigan State, and got manhandled by a Wisconsin team still searching for a quality win. This team deserves its record, Appalachian State loss and all.

The real tragedy in all this, of course, is that I didn't wait a few weeks for Michigan to hold out a debatably healthy Mike Hart and Chad Henne, then bitch and sleepwalk its way through a dolorous loss to Wisconsin. Because what a title for this week, eh?

Could either have played? Absolutely. If Wisconsin was Ohio State they both would have, but it was not and they did not. You can debate the wisdom of this move, but not the result: the Wisconsin game was a glorified exhibition to Michigan. Both lines took their cues from the stars on the sidelines and took the game off. So did Ryan Mallett's brain. The kick coverage team, way ahead of the curve, continued its season-long vacation. In ways literal and metaphorical, Michigan did not show up.

So, fine. Whatever. On the road against a good team, saddled with a deranged freshman quarterback and a running scheme that almost requires Mike Hart's presence to function, Michigan lost thoroughly. Fine. The absence of Henne and Hart has nothing to do with the ability of the line to block or the defense to penetrate, but whatever. It's Ohio State week and Michigan can win the Big Ten outright by beating the Buckeyes. All of the pain and frustration and anger that's built up in the Michigan program over the past six years will evaporate if Michigan can pull it out.

If Carr wins, he goes out 7-6 against Ohio State. He goes out with four Rose Bowls in five years. If he loses, he directed Mike Hart and Chad Henne to 0-4 records against Ohio State and will spend his final bowl season in central Florida trying to finish in the top 25 at season's end. For Carr's legacy, this is the rubber match.


  • The complete and total failure of Michigan's ground game in the absence of Mike Hart is the worst thing that can be leveled at Debord and, by extension, Carr. This was a defense that had even approached stopping anyone except Iowa's terrible offense and it held Michigan to 47 yards on 25 carries. The zone game is a failure. One cannot run 80% stretch plays and have a good ground game; when your scheme regularly depends on lumbering backside guards making tough reach blocks against DTs who are slanting away from them it is destined to suck. Only Mike Hart's brilliance has kept the run game afloat.

    The blame falls on four people. First: Debord, for seizing upon the idea that a stretch is such a tricky play that it is in and of itself deceptive and failing to diversify the offense. Second: Andy Moeller, who has not put together an offensive line without enormous holes for three straight years. Third: Mike Gittleson, whose outdated strength and conditioning program -- most prominently seen hanging over Tim Jamison's belt -- has been left behind by every school except Penn State. Fourth: Lloyd Carr, for hiring (or, in Gittleson's case, retaining) all three mostly because they were well known to him.
  • The referee who made up a rule that did not exist and turned a Mallett dumpoff that would have gone for a first down into second and twenty from the two should be publicly spanked. That was clearly a reaction to two other instances when Mallett attempted to avoid a sack by getting rid of the ball; you cannot just make crap up because you're irritated with a player. There is no "in the grasp" rule, and that was a valid forward pass.
  • Ryan Mallett: WTF? Maybe his footwork and mechanics can be fixed. Maybe his pass reads can be fixed, and maybe he can be convinced to stop doing something blindingly stupid every third play. But probably not by next year. That was the worst performance a Michigan quarterback has put in since Navarre gave the Ohio State game away.
  • Shawn Crable is the emblem of this Michigan season: irresponsible and poorly coached. First the Appalachian State FG screwup, now a critically stupid personal foul against Tyler Donovan. Plus all those touchdowns on which he lost contain. Add in the Ohio State personal foul, even if it was an unfair and arbitrary application of a stupid rule, and Crable's legacy is one of critical mistakes.
  • Good to know that when Wisconsin's backup quarterback is in the game and we need to stop a drive that's taking place entirely on the ground that we keep our two-deep coverage.