The first installment of this year’s series on the Michigan-Ohio State football rivalry takes us to 1998. The late ‘90s were heady times for the Maize & Blue, and the offseason leading up to the ’98 season might have been the headiest time of all. Coming off a perfect season and a share of the national championship, Michigan had vanquished all the ghosts of seasons past. An expansion of 5,000 seats enabled Michigan Stadium to reclaim the title of nation’s largest college football stadium, and the addition of highly-touted quarterback recruit Drew Henson and highly-touted running back Justin Fargas had Michigan fans dreaming of even more glory.
Unfortunately for Michigan, the 1998 season unfolded with all the charm of a hangover. Many critical players graduated or left early to join the National Football League. My wife and I attended the home opener in the newly expanded stadium, hoping to see the raising of the National Championship banner (in our native New York, the raising of a world championship banner borders on a religious experience). Sadly, Michigan didn’t raise a national championship banner in the stadium, and Donovan McNabb and Syracuse thrashed Michigan.
Still, by the final week of the regular season, Michigan had righted the ship, and was in position to win the Big Ten championship with a victory in Columbus. Unfortunately, Ohio State was lying in wait for Michigan, still smarting from a loss in Ann Arbor the previous season. By now, everyone knows how that game turned out. A year earlier, Michigan cornerback Andre Weathers had been one of the heroes for the Wolverines; this time, Ohio State receiver David Boston burned him for a pair of touchdown receptions on the way to a 31-16 Ohio State win.
Fortunately for Michigan, the Wolverines adhered to Bo Schembechler’s old rule not to let one loss become two losses, as they routed Hawaii in a rare season-ending non-conference game, and then overcame two deficits to top Arkansas in the Florida Citrus Bowl.
Thanks, as always, to ABC Sports, and to YouTube poster Stephen Barnett. We own nothing, and this post is strictly for the enjoyment of readers.
The University of Michigan men’s basketball team played two games last week, and they won both of them. On Monday (11/13/2017), UM beat Central Michigan 72-65, then on Thursday (11/16/2017), they beat Southern Mississippi 61-47. Both games were in Crisler Arena. Michigan’s record is now 3-0.
Two wins in 4 days. Undefeated. Looks pretty good, huh? Well, looks can be deceiving. These were both ugly wins against overmatched opponents, and Michigan looked pretty bad in both games. Sure, they had short streaks of inspired play to finish out both games, but the first 30 minutes of each game were almost unwatchable. Actually, that’s all 3 games this season that have followed the same pattern: a seesaw battle in the 1st half, a close game with 10 minutes left, and a strong finish by UM to (finally) put away a “guarantee game”.
In the CMU game, CMU jumped out to an 8-point lead early (11-3), and still had it with 3:49 left in the 1st half (30-22). Michigan went on a 12-1 run to close the half up 32-31. Early in the 2nd half, Michigan built their own 8-point lead (42-34), and it looked like they were finally going to take control of the game. Nope. They went cold, and CMU went back on top, 47-46, with 11:53 to go. That was their last lead, as UM pushed their lead back up to 9 points (62-53) with 4:11 left, and kept it around there for the rest of the game.
In the USM game, Michigan came out hot, and had a comfortable lead (20-6) at the 10:00 mark. Then they threw the lead away in the next 7:40, as USM tied it up 25-25 with 2:20 left in the half. USM outscored UM 8-7 in the last 2:20, to lead 33-32 at halftime. In the 2nd half, USM extended their lead to 4 points (40-36) with 14:30 left. Michigan finally started playing some defense, and held USM scoreless until the 6:21 mark, while they scored 15 points, to lead 51-40. USM scored one point until the 5:30 mark, when it was 56-41. At that point, the game was over. The teams traded points, but Michigan’s lead never got below 13 points, and they won by 14.
The statistics for the CMU game aren’t very impressive. Michigan didn’t shoot very well overall (26-for-59 = 44.1%), they didn’t shoot 3-pointers very well (10-for-34 = 29.4%), but they did shoot free throws pretty well (10-for-12 = 83.3%). Michigan got out-rebounded by a MAC team (34-27), but they crushed CMU in the turnover department (14-6).
The statistics for the USM game aren’t much better. Michigan shot a little better overall (23-for-47 = 48.9%), they shot 3-pointers a little better (8-for-23 = 34.8%), and they shot free throws about as well (7-for-9 = 77.8%). They won the rebounding battle solidly (32-23), but lost the turnover battle (11-10).
Who Looked Good
The starters were Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Charles Matthews, Duncan Robinson, Zavier Simpson, and Moritz Wagner. All 5 of them scored in double figures in the CMU game, and 3 of them hit double figures in the USM game.
MAAR was the high scorer in both games, with 17 and 14 points. He also had 4 assists in each game. He had a rough time shooting 3-pointers: 3-for-9 vs. CMU and 2-for-7 vs. USM.
Wagner also had double figures in both games (10 and 12 points), along with 11 rebounds vs, CMU, for another double-double. His 3-point shooting was also a bit off: 1-for-5 vs. CMU, and 0-for-2 vs. USM. He needs that part of his game back.
The other starter with double figures in both games was Robinson (10 and 12). His 3-point shooting was off in the CMU game (2-for-8), but better vs. USM (4-for-8).
Matthews hit double figures in the CMU game (13), but had a quiet night vs. USM (6 points). His 3-point shooting was terrible: 1-for-6 and 1-for-3.
Simpson had a nice game vs. CMU (13 points), but was held scoreless (on only 1 shot) vs. USM. He ran the offense OK, and played some decent defense.
Jon Teske had a decent game vs. CMU (4 points, all free throws), but he had a very good game vs. USM (10 points and 11 rebounds, for his first career double-double). He was the star of the USM game, even though he wasn’t the high scorer. Besides the 11 rebounds, he also played some good post defense. It was very encouraging to see him play with confidence out there.
Ibi Watson was held scoreless in the CMU game, but he scored 5 points (including a nice 3-pointer) vs. USM. He’s looking more comfortable out there.
Jaaron Simmons scored 5 points vs. CMU, and 2 more vs. USM, but his biggest contribution was on defense, especially in the USM game. He also had 5 assists vs. USM.
Who Looked Not-So-Good
Eli Brooks only played 3 minutes in each game, and failed to score.
Isaiah Livers played 6 minutes vs. CMU and 8 minutes vs. USM, and failed to score.
Who Else Played
Austin Davis got in during the last minute of the USM game, but didn’t score.
Who Didn’t Play
Jordan Poole was the only “mainstream” player who didn’t play in either game.
The Big Picture
The 2 games this past week were supposed to be tune-up games before Michigan headed to Maui for the Maui Invitational. They were supposed to be easy 25-30 blowout victories where everyone got to play, and Michigan got to try out some new lineup combinations. Instead, they were both hard-fought games with the outcome in doubt midway through the 2nd half. They were supposed to give UM some self-confidence before a tough tournament. Instead, they gave Michigan a lot to worry about.
Disappointment in sports generally comes from unmet expectations. All the “experts” (including me) expected Michigan to easily steamroll all 3 of the overmatched opponents so far this season, but that hasn’t been the case. Yes, Michigan did dig in and play tough down the stretch in all 3 games, but they played pretty poorly for the first 30 minutes of all 3 games.
So, what’s the problem? Look at the “Who Looked Good” and “Who Looked Not-So-Good” lists. Almost everyone looked good. Huh? The individual performances were fine, but the team chemistry is terrible. Too much indecision and poor decision-making. Overpassing. It’s all correctable, and it should get better with time, practice, and game experience, but in the meantime, expect some ugly games when the competition gets tougher, starting this week.
Predicted Win Total
I’m afraid I have to adjust the Predicted Win Total down a few games, based on what I’ve seen so far in the first 3 games. A few of the “Should Win” games (Ohio State [away], Detroit, Illinois, and Nebraska) have slipped into the “Toss Up” category, and a few of the “Toss Up” games (Purdue [home], Northwestern [away], and Minnesota) have slipped into the “Should Lose” category.
This week’s Predicted Win Total is: 16
Here’s a chart of the Predicted Win Totals for each week:
Predicted Win Total
Note that 16 wins is the minimum for making the NIT. It certainly won’t get Michigan into the NCAA Tournament.
This week Michigan plays three games, all in Lahaina, Hawaii, in the Maui Jim Maui Invitational. Since Hawaii is 6 hours ahead of Eastern time, the games could be on TV at very late times here in Michigan. The tournament requires each team to play 3 games in 3 days (Monday – Wednesday), so there isn’t much time for rest, practice, and scouting.
Michigan’s first round opponent is LSU, on Monday (11/20/2017, 12:30 a.m. EST, ESPNU). Technically, this game is on Tuesday, just after midnight. If Michigan wins, they play the winner of the Notre Dame/Chaminade game on Tuesday (11/21/2017, 11:30 p.m. EST, ESPN). If they lose the first round game, they play the loser of the ND/Chaminade game at 9:00 p.m. EST, on ESPN2. There are 4 possibilities for the games on Wednesday (11/22/2017):
- Lose 1st round, Lose 2nd round (7th/8th place game): 3:30 p.m. EST, ESPNU
- Lose 1st round, Win 2nd round (5th/6th place game): 6:00 p.m. EST, ESPN2
- Win 1st round, Lose 2nd round (3rd/4th place game): 9:00 p.m. EST, ESPN2
- Win 1st round, Win 2nd round (1st/2nd place game): 11:30 p.m. EST, ESPN2
Here’s the complete bracket.
LSU has an imposing roster, with lots of height and experience. This will be a challenging game.
Check back next week to see what happened, and why.
The Wolverines trekked to the other side of Lake Michigan to Madison, Wisconsin to battle the undefeated Badgers of the University of Wisconsin in their most significant contest yet this season.
The Wolverines played a decent first half, but could not present an effective offense or defense for the last third of the third quarter, and in the fourth quarter. This has been a symptom of their play all year long. Complete games have been rare against better opponents.
Both sides had great expectations and motivation in this battle, but the Badgers prevailed to remain undefeated and on top of the Big Ten.
BADGERS: Foremost in the Badger’s immediate expectation was to hammer the Wolverines. All time, the Badgers had suffered at the hands of the Wolverines, but they have had their moments, as the M record of 50 wins includes 15 losses, and Saturday’s win.
One of those moments was an early season 1980’s contest against the Wolverines in Camp Randall. In a season opener, the Wolverines featured their great running back Butch Woolfolk, and went into the game ranked Number One in the country. They were convincingly toppled by the Badgers, demolishing M’s expectations and momentum.
This time around the Badgers were ranked Number Five, and had a shot at another step towards an unbeaten season. They had the advantage of playing on home turf at a frenzied Camp Randall Stadium in front of a packed house of over 80,000.
Representing the much-maligned West Division, which they had already won, they wanted to teach the higher profile East Division a lesson by taking another step up the ladder in esteem. They were already destined for the Big Ten East/West game in Indianapolis.
If the right circumstances occur, the Badgers could possibly get a shot at NCAA football’s football final four. It’s a long shot, but a shot. These were compelling expectations and motivations.
A victory over the nineteenth ranked Wolverines is just the ticket to eliminate criticism that the Badgers had not beaten a ranked opponent, and had played an easy schedule. That discussion is now diminished, if not at an end.
WOLVERINES: The Wolverines still desperately needed a “signature” win. Coach Harbaugh and his Michigan program have not routinely knocked off a member of upper football echelons in a meaningful game. I think one out of six in his Michigan Head Coaching career is the correct number. This season has been no exception to date.
M also wanted to maintain the slim chance of a shot at the Big Ten Championship. They needed to combine a win over the Badgers at their home burrow, with a clobbering of the Buckeyes in their regular season finale to maintain that chance. That is gone now, except for wanting to clobber the Buckeyes.
They also wanted to play spoiler. They did not want the Badgers to continue to sniff an undefeated season, but couldn’t stop them.
BRIEF STATS: Offense: The Wolverines managed a dismal average rushing yardage of 1.6-yards a carry. Chris Evans led the pack hauling 10 for 25-yards with a long of 10 and a 2.5-yard average. Karan Higdon, who was dinged during the game and left it, toted 7 for 20-yards with a long of 8 for 2.3 average. Donovan Peoples Jones ran once for twelve yards.
Donovan Peoples Jones led the receivers. DPJ had his best day as a Wolverine receiver gathering in 4 passes for 64-yards with a long of 48-yards. Zach Gentry had a thirty-five yard completion that put the Wolverines at the five early, before the DPJ no TD call and Peters lost fumble.
Defense: K. Hudson had six solo tackles. He had 1.5 sacks and 1.5 TFLs. Josh Metellus had the same stats minus the sacks and TFLs.
Michigan had 58 net yards rushing, and 143 net yards passing to Wisconsin’s 176 net yards rushing and 183 net yards passing.
HOW THEY SCORED; First Half: The odds were against the Wolverines but they stayed determined, and played hard and smart for much of the game on offense and defense, especially in the first half.
A costly first half special teams gaffe was an exception. An M punt hit the ground and laid there unpossessed for a second or two. An alert Badger scooped it up for a 50-yard TD.
This lackadaisical punt return effort allowed the first TD by either side for the day. Did the Wolverines think the ball was dead when it hit the ground? Whatever the case, it was a major error.
There was only one Wolverine near the ball as it lay on the ground before being picked up by a Wisconsin player, and toted to 50-yards into the end zone. The M player overran the ball, and could not get back to make the tackle. Another player wearing Maize and Blue missed his tackle, and the Badger was home free.
This special team’s gift made it 0-7 Badgers at 8:52 of the first quarter.
It was not the Wolverines lucky day. There was some first half bad luck for the Wolverines. A great Peters throw to Donovon Peoples-Jones for 48-yards was captured by a leaping DPJ in the end zone.
While in the air, he was being pushed to the boundary by the defender. He had control of the pass as first his left, and then the right foot came down. I thought the replay showed the left foot in bounds and the right out a split second later as it touched the line.
It was the judgement of the officials after review, it was not a catch. That TD was still born.
Next came Peters first turnover as the M QB. On the subsequent play, it looked like the Wolverine’s red zone woes were in the past, as Peters sprinted to the goal line down the sideline. A little short of the flag (pylon), he tried to switch the ball from his left to right hand to score by stretching stretch over the pylon. Jostled during the switch, he dropped the ball, and a Badger recovered.
Before those two plays, the Wolverines had earlier enjoyed some good luck when an apparent Badger third and 14 first down conversion was overturned on review.
Donovan Peoples-Jones contributed to positive passing stats with a 48-yard grab of a perfectly thrown Peters’ pass. DPJ had his best day as a Wolverine receiver..
On third and eight, Peters then checked down to Chris Evans for a 19-yard first down. TE Sean McKeon then nabbed another nifty Peters pass of 14-yards and the ball was on the Wisconsin one.
Harbaugh got inventive, and lined up K. Hill beside Ben Mason. Mason got the call, and the one-yard TD, which was the first of his career.
Despite of the special-teams gaff, the Wolverines had bettered the Badgers in the first half. Wisconsin had not scored an offensive TD, and the Wolverines had allowed the Badgers just 99-yards of offense.
HOW THEY SCORED; Second Half: The first two-thirds of the third quarter were good for the Wolverines. M Punter Brad Robbins set the Badgers on their own ten after the Wolverines held to begin the third quarter. The defense stood tall, and the special teams stood tall. M’s Robbins dropped a punt on the Wisconsin ten.
M’s Viper, Devin Bush, stood especially tall as he collared an errant Badger pass on the first play of the drive to put the M offense at the Wisconsin 29. The Wolverines offense stalled and they had a Quinn Nordin field goal of 39-yards. M-10; Wisc.-7.
Nordin was relieved and happy after his score on the sidelines. In a big game, under pressure of previous misses, he knocked it through to aid his team, and preserve his job. Harbaugh had warned him after the last game not to miss another.
Even though the later loss of Peters was also very significant, I believe that not scoring a TD after the sudden change was a serious turning point of the half, and the game.
The wind seemed to go out of the Wolverines defense. The Wolverines helped the Badgers by means of a Tyree Kinnel 15-yard pass interference penalty. The Badgers took it to the house from there. A 24-yard pass capped a 7 play, 77-yard drive that produced all that was needed to win, as Wisconsin went ahead to stay, 10-14, at about 3:32 of the third.
The Wolverines went three and out, and Peters was downed by what I considered a late hit that could have been called, but wasn’t. It was close. Peters was lost for the game.
After the game Harbaugh said he seemed OK, but was getting checked out. He also said O’Korn was ready.
Hopefully, Peters will be back to face the wrath of the Buckeyes, but possibly not if it is a head injury instead of a shoulder injury. Then the concussion protocol could rightfully apply.
John O’Korn took over, and the offense could score no more points. John made no mistakes, but the Wolverines were not effective offensively from that point of the game on.
Meanwhile, the Badgers were super charged, and went up 10-21 on the strength of a 32-yard TD run.
With 2:22 left Wisconsin hit a 30-yard field goal to make the final 27-10.
TAKE AWAY: The Wolverines offensive line and its backs do not shield the QB very well, so it is no surprise whatever that Peters was knocked out of the game. In fact, it was predictable, and predicted.
The Wolverines are a team that has not yet this year played a full game effectively against the better teams they faced. While the defense shines for a longer period and is more remarkable, they too finally bite the dust late against the better teams.
The offense is significantly ineffective in producing points against the better defenses. For a team the relies on its running game as a staple, they often can’t move the chains at crunch time as runs are stifled with the box loaded with defenders. The pass pro is so rudimentary that they can’t consistently move the chains through the air. Michigan’s QB is too often harassed. They suffered well over a dozen QB hurries.
The Wolverines game management is too often suspect. Why did they have to use so many time outs so early in the first half? It didn’t burn them this time, but could.
Almost everyone forecast that this game was a true litmus test of the Wolverines fortunes and capabilities this year, and forecast that at this we would be able to measure this edition of the Wolverines.
These results show that they look like they fit well into an 8-4 season.
They can change that perception as the big, ugly shadow of the Buckeyes looms over them. It will take a lot of fight for sixty minutes. Ten points will not do the trick. We will see if the Wolverines can do it.