Michigan Football- Cupid Interferes

The University of Michigan Football team has to return to its winning ways to prove to itself, its fans, its enemies, and the college football world in general that it is a program on the upswing again, and capable of recruiting, competing, and winning against the likes of the Irish and the loudmouthed, and always only so slightly soiled Buckeyes of the world.

That the Wolverines have several new Assistant Coaches this year is well known.  It is hoped they will instill a new enthusiasm (Coach English has referred to it as increased defensive violence within the rules) in the Wolverine program..

The offense seems to be the major work.  The dismal offensive production last year led to the appointment of long time Assistant and onetime Offensive Coordinator, Mike DeBord as Offensive Coordinator again, replacing the well liked Terry Malone, who had replaced Mike as OC earlier.

Many have cited Mike’s record as Head Coach of the Central Michigan Chippewas as one reason he should not have assumed that post, that he is the beneficial recipient of cronyism since he and Carr are friends, and others decry his style, which in the past has stressed the run, and has favored play action, the TEs, and sometimes the waggle.  His first half calls in the 2000 Orange Bowl are also cited.  The Wolverines persisted with a non productive running attack during the entire first half against a great Alabama defense, but after the break they let Tom Brady light it up, and they squeaked by with a victory.

Can Mike D. elevate the dismal offensive performance of last year to something approaching an elite Big Ten level?  I think he can, but before we injure ourselves leaping to conclusions, we await the proof.

Occasionally, a sports team can leap from the nether regions to the top offensively, statistically and otherwise.  Penn State was a stunning example of that last year.  In other sports, those long time bottom feeding Detroit Tigers are floating to the top.  Even I am regaining interest in them.  It can’t be predicted that Michigan has the ability to do that this year.  I won’t believe it until I see it.

Obviously, Coach DeBord and the other coaching additions  have  to prove themselves. As importantly, it is time for Chad Henne to step up.  It is time for him to lead his team to victory against the Irish and Ohio State. It is time for him to lead his team to a major bowl victory. He has a ton of experience, with plenty of highs (overtime wins against Michigan State, that laser to Manningham with a second left to skewer  PSU etc)., and plenty of lows (interception at Notre Dame, poor ball security, batted balls and so on). It is time for Chad Henne to take  his long anticipated place among the elite QBs in the Big Ten.  Hopefully he can challenge the Green and White’s Drew Stanton who is as of now annointed the Big Ten’s best by most.  Do you think Drew remembers that Woodley hit that put him out of the game a couple of years ago?  Their fans, poor babies, are still upset by that little extra Woodley twist.  Not me. Clean play. No flag.

If there is to be an offensive resurgence, Chad will have to lead it by producing in the red zone and moving the ball at crunch time.  He will have to prove he is an improved QB.  It appears he has the talent to achieve the level of play that he wants, but I’ll believe it when I see it.

Last year I seriously over rated the quality of the offensive line when healthy, and worse they were dinged most of the year. Senior offensive Linemen Matt Lentz, Adam Stenevich,  and Leo Henige didn’t get drafted by the pros.  That fact speaks for itself.  Big Leo was running around on “wheels” too often repaired, which of course reduced his mobility, so his effectiveness did not match his courage.  You have to credit him with the guts just to play. I appreciate that line’s contributions and they were and are good Michigan men.  We expected too much of them because we credited it with more talent than it proved to have. Certainly we expected more production than we got.

It is hoped improved mobility is the key to OL improvement. It has been indicated that certain linemen such as Jake Long are slimmed up (or should I say slimmed down) this year, maybe quicker if not faster.  For Michigan to suceed this year, Jake has to have an all Big Ten year. Mark Bihl has to finally break through and establish himself as THE offensive center, BEYOND ALL DOUBT, so the rising Adam Kraus can play elsewhere. Will they suddenly become a good run blocking line after last year’s discouragement?  I think DeBord will make them play tougher, but again we shall have to wait until they prove it before we anticipate great success.  Some newer blood, like Alex Mitchell, has to develop, and it would be nice if Reuben Riley could work at guard instead of tackle as it seems to be his position of choice.  Fortunately, he is good enough to play where the team needs him.

It is easy to anticipate Mike Hart having an outstanding year.  You have to respect this kid’s attitude, toughness, vision, desire, strength, competitiveness, and ability to avoid contact, and to gain yards after contact.  He is the complete package, especially when healthy, even if some question his top end.  It is easy to predict lots of carries and lots of yards, and a great season if he remains healthy, but I am not ready to anticipate him gaining 1,400 yards at this point in time as some would have it.

It seems the better situation would be sharing some of the wear and tear with Kevin Grady.  Grady had an outstanding spring and is leaner this year.  There is plenty of talent at the running back position.  Mister Simson proved a hard runner in the spring, Alijah Bradley can move it, Jerome Jackson may be back, and hyper talented newcomer Carlos Brown, an unusual combination of speed, power and agility may help us endure the loss of Antonio Bass to injury.  He has the break-away speed that some say Mike Hart lacks. Brown’s highly regarded classmate, Brandon Minor could contribute. At about 210 he has some size. Obi Oluigbo, had a fine spring at full back.

Michigan’s receivers aren’t getting a lot of love from the preseason magazines, but I am very confident Mario Manningham is the real McCoy.  Steve Breaston has to have a better season as a pass receiver than he has enjoyed previously.  Don’t hesitate in predicting an outstanding special teams season for him as a punt and kick return specialist.  The quality of his effort in those endeavors is already proven and without question, and is extraordinary. We do not have to wait and see on this one.  What is in question is his ability as a down field pass receiver. He will have to demonstrate that he can do that in order for the Wolverines to shine and for us to believe in him as a receiver.

Will Zoltan Mesko take over the punting duties?  It would be better than a kick in the pants if he could.  A better punt game would benefit both the offense and defense.

It seems that Michigan should be able to play some offense in the red zone this year, with a  QB of better than average talent.with a ton of experience.  While the effectiveness of the OL is still an unproven concern, there are enough good backs with a variety of skills, and a corps of talented receivers, including tight ends, to move up in the Big Ten offensive standing in total offense.  Mike D. should be able to spread our offense out some, but how can we be assured Michigan’s red zone woes are over until we see the TD proof?

Then there is the schedule.  Notre Dame is the home of homer calls.  Penn State is in Happy Valley at night.  The game against THE Ohio State University, in the land of security checks for opposing players and in the house shaped like a toilet seat, is always a challenge.

To say that Michigan has not prospered away from the friendly confines of the Big House lately is not a stretch especially when you add in their bowl losses each of the last three years (USC, Texas, Nebraska).  Of the three losses, the one that festers most is the loss to the Huskers, the worst of those three bowl adversaries. Michigan simply did not rise to the occasion and unfortunately Nebraska did.

We do get those pesky Spartans at home. Each year Michigan has better recruiting classes and ranking than the Spartans.  And most years the Spartans give them trouble.  Football is after all a game of emotions.  This year, offensively the Spartans will put up points, but will the Sparty defense show up, especially  the secondary.  Overall the Wolverines look superior again as they have looked on paper the past two years, during which time they have played a total of four overtime periods with the Green Meanies.  Fortunately, the Wolverines won both, but it has been razor close, and Smith needs a win over Michigan.  Badly.  Many of the Spartys that I talk to (there is no avoiding it)  think his hire was a mistake.  That negative opinion would change instantly with a win over Michigan.

All of these games have a propensity to be hotly contested and close.  All could be losses.  All could be wins. Based on recent past history, it is only rational to fear several losses. On the hopeful side of the ledger, both Penn State and Ohio State lose a significant number of their talented defensive players.

Michigan could field a better team this year and improve their record only slightly.

An oddity in the schedule is that in November we get a visit from Brady Hoke and his Ball State minions.  It is a strange time of year  to play what is essentially an exhibition game.  We will be going to A squared in the cold, perhaps to see guys we haven’t seen play much.  I hope this isn’t one in which we only run, run, run, to hold the score down on a friend. This is the extra money game the NCAA has instituted beginning this year, thus bringing the total to 12 games instead of 11.

By now you have probably noticed that we have only talked offense, and not defense. We’ll catch the defense later.  Statistically the defense had a much better year as a unit than did the offense so it is reasonable to be less skeptical regarding defensive improvement than offensive improvement.

Michigan’s outstanding and annual football camp for high schoolers is over now and we got as couple of commitments, including Troy Woolfolk, whose Dad Butch was an outstanding back at Michigan .  I mention Troy because it is nice to recall his father’s accomplishments in Maize and Blue.  Butch and the Wolverines opened the 1981 season at Wisconsin, with the Wolverines ranked number one in the country, if I recall correctly.  That honor did not last long as they fell to the Badgers, but I have always fondly remembered the way Butch played football.  He had TD runs of 92 and 89 yards, longest and third longest TD runs in Michigan football history at the time..  Not too highly touted, DB Troy has blazing speed.  A team can’t have too much of that, and I wish him luck.

My grandson attended the Michigan camp for a couple of years and  both enjoyed and learned from it .Among other things, they learn how hot South and West Quads can be in the summer.  Some great High School Coaches staff the camp, players get to measure themselves against players they have heard about but have not seen, and so on.  Lloyd Carr does not get enough credit for this outstanding, well run, and very sizable operation.

“Okay, Grandpa, you’ve strung us along far enough.  What’s your prediction for the upcoming season, now that you have decided to write this kind of article.  Cut to the chase.  I thought you were going to write about Bill Martin’s visit to the Lansing Alumni Club where he was scheduled to talk proposed stadium improvements.  What happened?”

“You are quite right, Josh.  I thought that would be a most interesting article; but it was skewered by Cupid’s arrows.”

“Cupid’s arrows?”

“Yes, Mr. Martin canceled because of a relative’s wedding plans.  I was going to hear what was happening directly from the horse’s mouth, but Cupid intervened.”

“Grandpa, there are rumors that you get your information from the other end of the horse. But that’s another matter.  Michigan’s record for the 2006 season will be?”

“Well, right now I would predict a nine and three regular season.  I think they will win one of their three key away games and they may lose an additional game by upset.  That makes three losses. With a bowl victory, they could end up ten and three, but lately they have not won bowl games.  We ought to wait until after the Notre Dame game for these predictions. Michigan will play no bigger game this year as it could start some momentum, or kill momentum.  It will be a measure of what we can expect looking forward.  There is a lot at stake for the Michigan program this year, and Lloyd Carr’s legacy is now being formed.  Is this program going up or down?  You know what I hope…..”

In any case, let us hear your email opinion and thanks for reading this far and most of all…

Go Blue!

Twas the Night Before Practice

Today I visited the Big House and Schembechler Hall in anticipation of the first day of practice tomorrow..  I was thinking about writing an aticle called, “The Calm Before the Storm,” but as I walked around I kept thinking how it was really more like the night before Christmas.

 

‘Twas the night before Fall practice, and all through the Big House

Not a creature was stirring, not even a gopher;

The helmets were hung by the lockers with care,

In hopes that a National Championship soon would be there;

The players were nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of hotties danced in their heads;

With my wife sleeping soundly, and I resting too,

Had just settled down for a long summer’s nap,

When at Fort Schembechler there arose such a clatter,

I drove in from Pittsfield to see what was the matter.

Away to the athletic campus I flew like a flash,

Jumped out of car and ran to the Stadium.

The moon on the breast of prescription athletic turf below

Gave the lustre of mid-day to the scoreboards above,

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,

But the Michigan Assistant Coaches, harnessed like reindeer,

With a stern old driver, so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment it had to be Lloyd!

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,

And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

“Now, Debord! now, Campbell! now, English and Jackson!

On, Loeffler! on Moeller! on, Stripling and Szabo!

From Endzone to endzone! Now to the Press Box you go!

Now blitz away! pass away! tackle away all!”

As old programs that before the wild hurricane fly,

When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,

So up to the Big House the coursers they flew,

With a book full of plays, and Lloyd Carr too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard the pacing and stirring of each coach’s foot.

As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,

Down to the sideline came Lloyd with a bound.

He was dressed all in blue, from his head to his foot,

And his clothes were all from Nike with Maize accents to boot;

A bundle of playbooks he had flung on his back,

Ready for the new season soon to begin.

His eyes — how they burned! his jaw was set firm!

His cheeks were pale, while his nose fared like a bull!

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,

And his hair had specks of white from last year’s 7-5 toll;

He had a serious face and hardly no belly,

But his jowls shook, when he screamed like a bowlful of jelly.

He was stern and serious, hardly a jolly old elf,

But I smirked when I saw him, in spite of myself;

For I know that opponents of Michigan were in for a shock!

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,

Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,

And flipping through playbooks; he then turned with a jerk,

And laying his finger aside of his nose, as if to lecture a ref,

he seemed ready for the challenge ahead

He gave a final nod, and through the tunnel he strode;

To his coaches gave a whistle,

And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.

But I heard him exclaim, as he disappeared out of sight,

“Team Sleep well, for tomorrow WE GET TO WORK!”

Clawing Back

In the most remarkable comeback in its football history, Michigan’s Wolverines stared down defeat and clawed back to victory, barely escaping from the Metrodome with a 38-35 victory over the undefeated Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Gophers were under estimated because of their soft schedule, but Michigan was the underdog in the game. Michigan trailed 28 to 7 at the start of the fourth quarter, scoring 31 points to win on a Garrett Rivas field goal with less than a minute left. Unbelievable!

In so doing the Wolverines maintained their self respect, the Little Brown Jug, and perhaps more importantly, they preserved a chance to compete for the Big Ten title for at least one more game, as a happy Lloyd Carr indicated in a post game interview.

Outplayed by a good Minnesota offense for most of three quarters, Michigan’s offense roared back to win. Late in the game the defense got a couple of critical stops.

This was a tale of two halves. Michigan was lousy offensively and defensively in the first half. They were flat. They were scoreless, and it looked as if they were clueless. The enigma that is John Navarre did not pass accurately sometimes, mainly in the first half, which helped stall drives, and all that observed probably thought that here we go again to another “away game” defeat. Michigan was down 14 at the half and things could not have looked worse for the Blue. The Gopher ground game looked unstoppable only because it was.

In the third quarter, Michigan finally scored a TD on a John Navarre pass to Steve Breaston, who in turn tossed it back to John Navarre. Navarre then galloped into the end zone to break the ice. He was accompanied downfield by at least four 300 pounders who cleared a path all the way to the end zone. John didn’t outrun the big fellows, and scored from 36 yards out.

John Navarre was the Michigan player of the game. Granted that he made some errant tosses when it counted, one resulting in an interception, and threw into coverage. He played over these mistakes by making some athletic plays, and he engineered some long fourth quarter drives that were simply outstanding. He ran for an occasional first down, and sneaked for more, and caught a pass for a touch down. He finally won one in a hostile environment against a ranked team, having failed six prior times. He was 33 of 47 for 353 yards, one TD and one interception.

Chris Perry also played with heart, and ran well. His single miscue on the day on Michigan’s last drive came as the result of an outstanding hit. That error was a potential drive killer, and game loser, but an alert Tim Massaquoi recovered to save the drive, and the day. Michigan’s winning field goal was kicked after the recovery. Chris Perry was Michigan’s leading receiver, gathering in 11 for 122 yards and a TD. Additionally, he rushed for 85 yards and scored another TD on the ground.

Braylon Edwards caught a critical 52-yard scoring pass in the fourth, Jason Avant made receptions and fought for yardage, and Steve Breaston contributed by making some receptions and some good punt returns.

The defense gave up lots of yardage. The Gophers had a hefty 495 net yards on the ground and an additional 71 harmful yards in the air. The defense let a very quick and experienced Minnesota QB, Asad Abdul-Kalig, loose on the ground on occasion, but when it was crunch time they stepped up and stopped the Gophers. Jacob Stewart intercepted an A-K pass and returned it 34 yards for a TD, in that critical fourth quarter.

Minnesota scored the only points of the first half with Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney of the Gophers running in from 20 and 8 yards respectively for TDs. Michigan started the third quarter down 14. Then Michigan got on the board with the Navarre to Breaston to Navarre TD. Now Michigan trailed only 14-7 even though Minnesota is clearly playing better than the Wolverines. Laurence Maroney extended the Minnesota lead to 21-7 on a 38-yard run, and I have to reach for the Maalox. Thomas Tapeh then raised the deficit to 28-7 and I am considering turning the game off, and I am definitely bad mouthing the Wolverines. A 28-7 lead to begin the fourth quarter has to be insurmountable. Always before, in all the history of Michigan football, it has been enough to ensure a loss.

Surprisingly, the Wolverines didn’t fold, fought back, and closed the gap. Chris Perry caught a 10 yard-TD pass adjusting the score to 28-14. Then Jacob Stewart ran in his interception to bring it closer at 28-21. Minnesota did not surrender and answered with a nifty 52 yard run up the middle for six to put the Wolverines behind 35-21. A 52-yard John Navarre pass to Braylon Edwards made it 35-28 and a Chris Perry 10 yard run tied it at 35-35. The defense held the Gophers, and a Garrett Rivas field goal made it Michigan 38, Minnesota 35 in the last minute of play.

Spectacular! An awesome finish!

To say that a Michigan victory was unexpected when the fourth quarter began is to dramatically understate the case. Minnesota proved on the field that they are a quality football team, especially offensively. Marion Barber is a great running back this year, and their other backs are good. Asad Abdul-Kelig is quick and played a good game with the qualifier that he sometimes tries to make nothing into something. Fortunately for the Blue, Jacob Stewart returned that kind of mistake for a TD at critical point in the game. A-K made up for this with a with a 52 yard sprint from scrimmage, but he seemed more careful after the interception. The interception was a turning point. While Minnesota’s defense played well for much of the game, they were not up to stuffing the Wolverines for four quarters. Michigan’s special teams did not attract special attention this time. The coverage was adequate and the kicking was good.

Fortunately! Unexpectedly!

This will not stem all the criticism of John Navarre and the coaches, and the quality of their season, but absolute disaster has been averted and expectations preserved.

This victory will go a long way toward providing a base of confidence the team can build on for the rest of the season, and will provide the hope that Michigan can win away from home, in a loud environment. Remember we have those ugly green helmets coming up in East Lansing yet this year.

Next week we will be back in the friendly confines of Michigan Stadium and we will be able to resume the normality of a Saturday afternoon game.

Hopefully, we will be able to enjoy most of next Saturday’s game against the Fighting Illini. Friday night only the fourth quarter was enjoyable.

Of course, the Illini will do their best to see that we don’t enjoy it.

Lloyd Carr Handshake Controversy? Free Press Stirring Up Trouble

Apparently, beating the Wolverines in overtime last season wasn’t enough for some Michigan State Spartan fans.  This week at the Big Ten meetings in Chicago much was made of the fact the Lloyd Carr didn’t give MSU Head Coach Bobby Williams a handshake after the game.

There’s only one problem.  Lloyd did shake his hand.  See the picture.  Watch the video.

 

Journalistic Integrity?

Now I’ll be the first to admit that it wasn’t exactly a ‘warm’ handshake.  But it wasn’t a snub either.  A snub would have been to ignore Bobby Williams completely.  But no matter what video shows the media seems intent to re-write history.

…They’re still pouting in East Lansing because Carr didn’t shake hands with Williams…(7/27/02)…

Who wrote this you ask?  None other than the illustrious Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press.  I vowed to stop reading Sharp (oxymoron?) long ago but happened to run across this article while researching the upcoming Big Ten season.  You have to wonder if he even watched the game.  The Ann Arbor News also repeated the fallacy in its Friday print edition.

Inferiority Complex

The ‘handshake controversy’ is just another symptom of Spartan inferiority.  Of course, some Spartan backers will deny that any such complex exists.  But the reality is that some MSU fans have a chip on their shoulder regarding the Wolverines.  They don’t feel that they get the respect that they deserve.  Wolverine fans find this humorous.  The truth is Wolverines fans don’trespect the Spartans.  Why should we?  Our all-time record versus Michigan State is 61-28-5.  Since 1970 Michigan is 24-8 versus the mighty Spartans.  Two of their latest ‘victories’ (19902001) were dubious at best.  This Spartan inferiority complex even seeps into the media.  Respect is earned not given freely. 

Why Do They Care?

Michigan fans couldn’t care less what other fans think about the Wolverines.  We care what we think and that’s about it.  That’s the difference between being number one and being an also ran.  That’s the difference between being a Wolverine and a Spartan.