M Football 2012: THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT- MICHIGAN 14, ALABAMA 41,

BALLYHOOED SEASON OPENER IN COWBOY STADIUM IN ARLINGTON A BLOW OUT FOR TIDE,  A REALITY CHECK FOR WOLVERINES

The University of Michigan Football team opened its season away from friendly home confines for the first time I can remember, at night in prime time, against possibly the most talented, physical, and well coached team in the country. The pads popped at this one.  As did the Wolverines dreams of a spectacular success on the big stage, and immediate continued national football respectability.

Coach Hoke summed it up: “Obviously, we didn’t play Michigan football, and that is something that bothers our team, bothers the coaches. I don’t think we played or tackled well enough on defense. We didn’t control the line of scrimmage enough offensively, (we had too many) penalties. I mean, we had a lot of penalties, and that’s usually not like us, so that is bothersome and we’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve got a lot of things to correct.”

Coach Hoke had no comment regarding the extent of Taylor Lewan’s injury or the injury to Countess.  Lewan walked off and early speculation that Blake Countess had an ACL injury has now turned into speculation regarding a knee injury.

There is nothing like two out of the last three national championships to smooth out the rough edges of Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban. An escapee from the same position at Michigan State where he was 2 and 3 against the Wolverines, he headed to greener football pastures at several places before coming comfortably to rest at Alabama, where he floats on a tide of success. A Red Tide.

Before the contest, some M fans liked the opening game scenario and some didn’t, but all agreed that most of the benefits of the event to the Wolverines were highly contingent on a winning performance against the number two pre-season college football team.  Some were even ready before hand to embrace an “at least we didn’t get beat too bad moral victory.”  While a home opener would have made more money, certainly the high profile, away opener bought significant notice to the program, but with this loss comes a loss of national admiration that will be difficult to regain.  Was scheduling this debacle a Brandon error?  I leave it to you to decide for yourself.  Certainly the Big Ten, as well as the Wolverines will suffer slings and arrows because of this game.

If M was to win, it had to come at the expense of a team which in 2012 ended up in sporting the most productive defense in BCS football.  Therefore, they did not need an extraordinarily productive offense to secure the (still mythical) national championship last year.  This year the offense was very productive rushing and they incorporated the play action pass effectively.

With a massive offensive line, they bullied their way with road graders, and bought the same credentials to this year’s Dallas area opener despite feeding significant grist to the NFL’s mill from last year’s team. And they continued that Saturday night as they dominated in all phases of the game, especially along the offensive and defensive fronts.  Both M lines were manhandled, and knocked out of position.  That contributed to arm tackles, missed tackles.

As many thought the weakest point of Michigan’s improving defense was their rebuilt defensive line, and one of the main strengths of the Alabama offense is still paving the way to victory with ball possession and moving the chains with road graders, many thought the Wolverines would be in for a long evening.  The Wolverine defensive weak point against the Tide’s offensive strong point proved to be a wall as leaky as New Orleans’s levees once were during Katrina.

Coaches Hoke, Montgomery, and Mattison conceded nothing, and the team was intense in anticipation during all of the fall camp.  They schemed mightily to give the Wolverines an edge in this uneven battle.  They moved Q. Washington to nose guard, and W. Campbell to defensive tackle for a heavier line.  Offensively, Elliot Mealer started at center, and Rickey Barnum at guard.

Hoke on the switch: “They had been both playing a lot of center, a lot of guard. Just felt some of the shotgun stuff Elliott was a little better.”  That’s interesting.

In facing this supremely talented and effective team, the Wolverines were without their thousand yard rusher from last season, Fitzgerald Toussaint, and talented Frank Clark who had a timely interception in last season’s culmination, the Sugar Bowl.  They weren’t on the scene in Arlington, being rightfully suspended for off field misdeeds that have been well documented prior to this account.  Kudos to Coach Hoke.  Kudos for demonstrated his perspective for the program, while the perspective of the players is being adjusted.  The absence of Fitz made the difficulty of the task facing Denard more difficult.  Rawls made but a minor contribution.  Hopkins contributed, but the main man on the ground was Vincent Smith.  Smith broke free for a 22-yard scamper down the sideline, but that was about all.   A standard offensive pattern was little tough guy Smith running headlong into the Bama line.

Many faced this game with more trepidation than usual since was hard to get a real feel for how good the Wolverines are this year. Practices are closed to the media.  Even so, the Wolverines were granted top ten pre-season standing by most pundits.  That has evaporated.

The Wolverines were simply not impressive, except in punting and KO returns.  Will Hagerup averaged 51.3 yards punting.  True Freshman Dennis Norfleet averaged 22.2 yards per return, and had a long of 32, and he looked good doing it.  With 8 returns for an impressive 177-yards, he had plenty of practice.  If there was a bright spot, he and Hagerup were it.

So there were many pre-game questions, beside the strength of the revamped defensive line.  That included the effectiveness of the receivers, number of carries of Denard Robinson, and who besides Denard, could ankle his way to pay dirt.

The leading receiver was Jeremy Gallon who produced 107-yards on 4 catches, with a long of 71. Devin Gardiner struggled some due to good coverage, but caught a TD of 44-yards.  Roy Roundtree had 2 grabs for 12-yards

Denard Robinson did not have a Heisman day.  He ran 10 time for 27-yards with a long of 9, and a first half TD on a 6-yard run. Vincent Smith got 33 on 13 attempts with a long of 22.  Thomas Rawls was held to 9-yards on 6 carries, with a long of 5.  These dismal stats are a tribute to the effectiveness of the Bama defense.

Denard continued his string of interceptions, tossing 2, one of which was returned for 6. Reserve Russell Bellomy also threw on.  It should be noted that Devin Gardner played receiver all the way.

This game was over at the end of the 1st Quarter.  Bama scored on three possessions: a two-yard pass, a fifty-one yard pass, and a nine-yard run.  Up 21 at the start of the second they hit a twenty-two yard FG, and got a 16-yard interception return.  At the half it was 31-7.

The misery continued in the third, with fifty-one yard FG, but D. Gardner grabbed a 44-yard TD pass for M’s final score.

Beginning the 4th it was 34-14. Bama scored on a one-yard run in the 4th for a final of 41-14.  The Wolverines were out manned, outgunned and out coached.  The best team won and it wasn’t even close.

The good thing is they won’t have to play the Tide again this year, and the Wolverines will be competitive in the B1G, but it is difficult to take anything away from this one but disappointment.

That bump you heard in the night was expectations of winning over a major power effectively hitting bottom along with M’s national ranking, and as unsettling as that was, achieving the team’s major season goals is still a possibility.   How this team rebounds from this one, may be a major measure of the success of Hoke’s tenure. How much hangover will be left from Dallas remains to be seen, but I think the Wolverine will rediscover their growl and prove they can play some football.  The side trip to Dallas is over.

Bring on the cadets of the USAF Acadamy and their triple option, and let’s get started on redemption.

See you there.

Go Blue!

 

 

 

 

16 is the answer to life the universe and everything (for 2012) Denard Robinson

Denard Robinson holds the key to success this season

With apologies to Douglas Adams and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the answer to the meaning of life the universe and everything is not 42.

It’s 16.

At least that’s the answer for Michigan Wolverine fans this season.

After weeks of breaking down game tape  and evaluating the incoming football roster for the upcoming season, I have reached the following conclusion:

It’s all about Denard Xavier Robinson.

Of course, he needs no introduction. Since he grabbed hold of the starting QB position two seasons ago amid the implosion of Tate Forcier he’s taken Wolverine fans on a wild ride. From the 2010 Notre Dame game where he gained 258 yards while announcing his entry into the Heisman Trophy race, to last season’s improbable last minute comeback, again against the irish, to lead the Wolverines to victory in the first night game in history of The Big House- Denard is the spark plug that makes the Big Blue Machine go.

Denard Robinson Photo Gallery

In fact last season’s 11-2 record might be the most damning indictment of former coach Rich Rodriguez and his gang who-couldn’t-shoot-straight defensive coaches. With Denard in full Heisman mode in 201o, the team barely squeaked into a bowl game beating. This past season a more restrained Denard Robinson under Brady Hoke and a rejuvenated Greg Mattison coached defense gave a Wolverine fans a taste of what’s possible.

For the next three months, fans will debate who will snap the ball, who will block and who will catch the ball for the Wolverines. We’ll agonize over every rumor while fretting over the the defensive line and backfield depth charts.

I’ve seen Anthony Carter electrify Michigan Stadium. I’ve seen Desmond Howard dominate the Buckeyes and break into his Heisman pose. I was there when Tim Biakabutuka ran for 313 against the Buckeyes. I was at Penn State when the mere appearance of Charles Woodson in the Wolverine offense made the Nittany Lions panic like a second rate junior varsity squad. I saw Braylon Edwards dominate Michigan State in the famous triple overtime game.

I’ve experienced all these great performances and many more (even some by opponents; Donovan McNabb, Dennis Dixon, and Troy Smith to name a few) but the game-in and game-out electricity of Denard Robinson trumps them all.

Last year my analysis told me the we were looking at a 8-4, 9-3 regular season. In retrospect, a few less distractions at Michigan State, a few calls breaking our way against Iowa and…which brings us to this season.

There’s three months to fill before the Wolverines play in Dallas.

We’ll hear the clowns at ESPN debate whether Denard should demand to play wide receiver!

We’ll talk about why it took 18 months for the Athletic Department and the band to figure out travel arrangements for the Cowboy Classic.

We can question if “The Brand, The Brand, Brand(on),” has replaced the “The Team, The Team, The Team!”

But there’s really only question that matters when the Wolverines take the field in Dallas against Alabama to start the season.

Where’s number 16?

 

…and the band played on- Michigan Wolverine Marching Band *will* play in the Cowboys Classic

On October 14, 2010, the Michigan athletic department announced that the Wolverines would travel to Dallas, Texas to face the Alabama Crimson Tide for the 2012 season opener.

“This is a great way to kick off the 2012 season with two of the nation’s winningest college football programs,” said U-M director of athletics Dave Brandon. “We are excited about playing a regular-season game in the state of Texas, a region of the country where we have traditionally recruited. Our goal is to get as many Michigan fans to the game as possible to witness this match-up of traditional powers.”

On Thursday April 19 2012, the members of the Michigan Marching were informed via email that

“…it has recently been decided that the Michigan Marching Band will not be traveling to Texas for the Cowboy Classic game vs. Alabama this fall. The Athletic Department is treating the Alabama game as a standard road contest, not as a bowl game. Therefore, there is no bowl-style budget available to bring the band to Texas.”

What happened during the 18 months between these announcements may take some time to uncover but reaction from Wolverine fans was known immediately. Less than 5 days later the athletic department reversed itself and it was announced that band would be traveling to the game.

The solution that had remained a mystery for 18 months was suddenly solved in less than 5 days.

The message is clear- don’t mess with the band.

Fans may be accepting of piped in music during home games but the idea of having the Victors played via tape during a huge national game is unacceptable.

Fans, stung by rising ticket prices and seat licenses, and a less than stellar home slate of games put their collective feet down.

Sending the band isn’t cheap, and surely the athletic department can’t be expected to pay for everything all the time but considering the special nature of this game and the projected athletic department budget for 2012

…At the University of Michigan Board of Regents meeting on Thursday, athletic director Dave Brandon presented a budget with anticipated revenues of $121.2 million versus expenses of $109.8 million, a surplus of $11.38 million. The Michigan athletic department expects a surplus of $4.7 million for fiscal year 2011, which ends June 30. It will be the department’s 10th straight year in the black.

This should have been an easy call. Certainly it shouldn’t have taken 18 months to find a solution.

Now some have questioned the financial terms of the deal Michigan negotiated to play in the Cowboys Classic. They cite the loss of revenue for surrendering a home game at Michigan Stadium versus the revenue generated by traveling to Dallas.

This is why accountants don’t make strategic decisions for organizations.

Now there are things I don’t like about this game. First and foremost it leaves season ticketholders with a weak slate of game at the Big House this season. Secondly, Dallas err Arlington (the home of Cowboys Stadium) is one of my least favorite destinations and honestly I would have preferred playing an away in a collegiate stadium.

But those reasons aside, if you’re Dave Brandon you make this deal in a heartbeat.

For the 6 month run up to this game Michigan will receive unprecedented media coverage.  They get the opportunity to play a high profile game in the heart of prime recruiting territory and within driving distance of tons Michigan alumni.  They have locked in a high profile opponent, something that even a BCS bowl bid (Virginia Tech) can’t guarantee. The game is early enough in the season that the Wolverines can easily recovery from a loss, and if QB Denard Robinson pulls of the victory he and the Wolverines could be on the way to very special season.

And stay tuned because rumors of more special event games have been swirling for years. Visits to the New York area and the west coast (anybody up for a Nike/Adidas showdown?) have obvious appeal.

The only mistake in this saga was shortchanging the band.

And now with the minor details resolved we only have to wait for the actual game to be played.

I’m so excited I’ll even go to Dallas.

Go Blue!