Thursday, October 6, 2011

License to Kill Gophers...

Date:  October 1st, 2011 12:00pm
Opponent:  Minnesota Golden Gophers
Outcome:  W 58-0
Season Record (B1G Record):  5-0 (1-0)
Attending:  Robert Fera, Bob Fera, John G Fera, Francisco Orozco, John Francis Orozco, and Michael Zogaib
Weather:  High 40s/Low 50s and Partially Cloudy.  
Title Reference:  Here

Game Recap:  First B1G game of the season.  Michigan looked tough from start to finish.  Minnesota playing without starting QB Marqueis Gray and Head Coach Jerry Kill has been in and out of the hospital the past few weeks with a seizure disorder.  Coach Kill was on the sidelines for this one, but probably wishes he wasn't.  

I think they might have scored already.
Michigan took the kickoff right down the field 80 yards in 7 plays in under 4 minutes following receiving the kickoff.  Toussaint made the big play on the drive bursting through the right side of the line for 35 yards  before Vincent Smith finished off the drive with a 3 yard run off the left side of the line untouched for the TD.  7-0 Michigan.

Denard about to hand to Vince for 6.
Nearly all of Minnesota's possessions will read exactly the same.  (Insert RB Name here) runs into Ryan Van Bergen on 1st down for 1 yard.  (Insert RB Name here) runs into Mike Martin on 2nd down for no gain.  On third down, QB Max Shortell is pressured and has to hurry a throw into coverage.  Punt.  Michigan's D was so dominant in the game it actually became a little boring.  Yeah, yeah, the same D that gave up 30 some points to UMass last year made it look easy against a team from the Big 10.  I'm afraid Minnesota is just that bad though.

Michigan's 2nd possession featured the fake run/counter pitch out of an exciting new formation.  The formation puts QB Denard Robinson in the backfield at wingback, with Vincent Smith at another wingback, and Fitz Toussaint as the deep back.  Instead of a dive they faked a sweep right with Denard and then pitched to the opposite side with Toussaint.  The play relies heavily on faking the pants off of the weak side defensive end, who obviously keys on Denard on the play.  It'll be interesting to see how much more they deploy the formation.  At the very least it gives opponents more to plan for.  Also, this drive featured the first sprint counter/draw of the day.  Love this call mainly because it KILLS Michigan's D every time opponents run it.  I vividly remember MSU running it all day with DeAndre Cobb in the 2004 game.    This drive ended in a Denard 9 yard TD run.  14-0 Michigan.

Following a 3 and out, UM scored again on a halfback pass from Vincent Smith to Drew Dileo.  It wasn't a pretty pass by any means and Dileo did a good job of catching and keeping a foot in as the pass sailed to the corner of the end zone.  It's nice to run these plays, but even as it's only 21-0 it already seemed like it was rubbing it in.  3 Drives, 3 TDs.  21-0 Michigan.

Minnesota got a first down on the next drive, but quickly fell apart again.   Michigan took over on their 31 and got 20+ yards with Fitz Toussaint on the sprint counter on the first play.  The drive was finished off by Vincent Smith on a 28 yard TD on the throwback screen (a play call I absolutely love).  4 Drives, 4 TDs.  28-0 Michigan.  Vincent picks up "the cycle" with a TD rushing, passing, and receiving.

Following a 3 and out and a Michigan drive for a short FG, Minnesota threatened to cross midfield, but true Frosh Blake Countess stripped a Minnesota WR of the ball which Carvin Johnson pounced on.  Countess continued his stellar play from the week before and already looks to be Michigan's top CB.  I can't imagine Troy Woolfolk and his club and bad ankles can hold him off very much longer.

Michigan ended the half with an 18 yard TD pass from Robinson to Senior TE Kevin Koger.  It was one of Denard's better throws of the day as he hit Koger in stride over the LBs who didn't have any safety help.    38-0 Michigan.  6 Drives, 5 TDs, and a FG.  End of First half.

Halftime show featured songs from the Beatles.  My brother-in-law Bob was a little dismayed as they played 5-6 songs and only 1 Lennon tune.  I'm challenged to remember all the tunes at this point, but it was pretty much what you'd expect... 8 Days a Week, Eleanor Rigby, Got to Get You Into My Life, and finished with Hey Jude.  It was a tough day for the band, as they played the show in honor of Patrick Fleming, a trumpeter who was killed in a auto accident on Monday.  They marched all formations without him leaving space where he would have lined up.  It was pretty moving as the hole created by his absence was a constant reminder of his death.

Following a 3 and out, Minnesota finally forced a Michigan punt, but Michigan's D held again and took over near midfield on what would be another TD drive.  A drive that featured an awesome stiff arm from Kevin Koger on a little swing pass that picked up 18 yards.  Fitz Toussaint finished the drive with a 1 yard TD drive.  45-0 Michigan.  It would be Denard's last drive of the day.  There's really not much else of noted to discuss in the game other than Brendan Gibbons made 2 more FGs, one from 38 yards, which took him to 3-3 on the day and 4-5 for the year.  

Robert and Bobby enjoying the sunshine.
The other thing to say is that Denard looked much better today.  It may have been how Minnesota was playing them, but they didn't go down field much at all.  Most pass attempts were in the 5-15 yard range and he looked sharp throwing him.   He hit many receivers in stride and on their numbers.  He finished the game at 15-19 for 169 yards and 2 TDs.  I'm not positive, but I think he hit his first 12 passes.  He played the game with a heavy pad on his right forearm, supposedly after he had an access drained/removed early in the week.  Hopefully, it was the cure to an inaccurate start to Denard's season.

Michigan's 2nd team offense looked ok.  True Frosh Thomas Rawls picked up most of the carries and looked promising.  Would like to see him get some more work as the B1G season progresses.  He's got nice quickness for a bigger back.  Might be useful against tougher defenses if Michigan's smurfy backs can't get loose against the MSUs and Iowas of the world.

Amateur Analysis:  Defense is now #2 in the country in scoring defense, which obviously won't continue, but again, it's pretty much the same personnel who gave up 37 to UMass last year.  The tackling seems a lot better, but I think they are just overall more fundamentally sound.  I believe I saw a statistic that Michigan has not given up a play of 40+ yards yet this year.  Last year, they gave up 15 during the year.  They obviously could still hit that number, but zero through 5 games is pretty damn good.  They've done an excellent job of keeping the ball in front of them and only seemingly losing contain on a handful of outside runs per game.  Without being at practice, it's tough to say who deserves the credit for this resurgence, but I  like what I see from the secondary a lot thus far, so for now, we'll say "bravo, Curt Mallory".  

Play of the Game:  Pick one.  I'll go with Toussaint's first big run.  There were some crushing blocks that set him free and it's always fun to see backs burst through the line into the open field.  He was caught from behind, but only because of a failed ankle tackle as he burst into the open field which slowed him just enough.  Toussaint finished the day with 108 yards on 11 carries.  It was his first 100 yard game as a Wolverine.  Love what Toussaint brings to the field.  He's a shifty, speedy back, with a thirst to lower the boom on DBs if they get in his way.  If he stays healthy, he'll be a good one.

Best Moment:  Helping my father-in-law with the Victors.  It was his third time in the stadium an I think he finally figured out the "Hail" late in the second quarter after about the 103rd playing of the tune on the day.

He's got it now.
Other Fun Nuggets:  
  • Because I'm a nut, I added to my collection of Michigan tattoos with this beauty.  I got it done on Friday before the game in Lackawanna, NY.   I've always liked the "angry teddy bear", but wasn't sure how it would look.  Once I found out that it was one of the earliest logos/mascot used by the University back in the 20s, I had to get it.  I think it looks pretty cool.  Still debating on filling it in with yellow (bear) and white (hat).   It's on the inside of my left leg, opposite of my "M" and "Wings".  Once it heals, I'll add a picture of my Michigan "gallery".

  • Had to outfit the crew with some maize for the supposed "Maize Out".  I knew it wouldn't turn out so well with the cold weather.   Not my crew though, we bought the Ts big enough to go over everyones coats to give them all the Stay Puft look.
They're ready to go now.
  • Student section pulled out all the stops for the Wave in the middle of the third quarter with the regular, slow, fast, reverse, double, and double fast wave all making the rounds.  This was much to the delight of Francisco, who declared "we can leave now" at 45-0 and his waving activity completed.
  • Ready to go after his wave participation
  • No Cash and Shooter again this week, but Dad was delighted to see Minnesota get smoked as Purdue plays them next week and gives them one of their best opportunities for a B1G victory this year.

Post-Game Meal:  With the big group, and my Father-in-law loving Maize and Blue from a visit last year, we had to go back again.  I made a new choice with the #79, Suzanne's Latest Discovery.  This sandwich was another perfect creation, featuring pastrami, turkey pastrami (a new fave), swiss cheese, cream cheese, and red onion on grilled white bread.  The cream cheese was a fantastic complement to the peppered pastrami.  

Wade's latest discovery
Looking Forward:  Michigan goes on the road for the first time this season to face Northwestern.  It's hard to figure what might happen as Northwestern has played most of the season without their best QB Dan Persa, who tore his achilles late last year.  Persa saw his first action of the season last weekend against Illinois and led the Wildcats to 28 points on 4 TD passes before aggravation his injury.  According to reports, Persa will play but he will be without Northwestern's top rusher, Mike Trumpy, who tore his ACL in the loss to Illinois.  I gotta believe Michigan will have enough offense to win the game.  I like how the defense has played since the ND game, but scars of the past still linger enough to get me worried.  I expect Michigan's OL to lead the way to a big day on the ground for Toussaint and Robinson as Michigan moves to 6-0 heading into the MSU game.  GO BLUE!!!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Back to Basics...

Date:  September 24, 2011  12:00pm
Opponent:  San Diego State Aztecs
Outcome:  W 28-7
Season Record (B1G Record):  4-0 (0-0)
Attending:  Jacqueline Fera, Autumn Padovani, Chip Meredith
Weather:  Gorgeous sunny day in the mid 60s

Pre-Game Meal:  Because we missed the band and the team running out of the tunnel last week against Eastern, we didn't take any chances this week and didn't eat in Ann Arbor pre-game.  We met up with Chip outside of Reveille Hall around 11:30 and headed straight to the game.  My Panera breakfast sandwich off of the Worst State Ever Turnpike on the road was fantastic though!!

Game Recap:  I was pretty skeptical coming into this game.  The betting line was UM -10, which I thought was WAY too many points to be giving a team with the #2 RB in the nation coming into the game.  I felt good about a Michigan win, but figured it was going to be a back and forth run fest.  I went as far as to declare SD State +10 as the lock of the century.  

San Diego State won the toss and elected to receive, hoping to set the tone early by running it down Michigan's throat.  Michigan stood tall early though and, after their best kick coverage of the year, stopped SD State on a 3rd and 1 from their own 27.

Michigan continued its strong start to the game with a 6 play, 61 yard drive culminated by a 5 yard Denard Robinson touchdown run.  All 61 yards of the drive were gained on the ground,  with the key play being a 32 yard run by Vincent Smith.

Down 7-0, San Diego State overcame an early holding call on their drive to convert a first down.  Ronnie Hillman started to look like the promised as he put together consecutive 7 yard runs before fumbling at the end of an 8 yard run.  Hillman was stripped by Kenny Demens as he was churning for extra yards in a pile of swarming Wolverines.

Michigan capitalized quickly as Denard kept the ball on a speed option play on 3rd and 2 and went 53 yards for the score.  It was the first time the play had been called this year and it was clear SD State was prepared for it.  Denard was all alone in the clear almost instantaneously.  14-0 Michigan. with about 7 minutes left in the 1st quarter  My pre-game declaration looks ridiculous already.

San Diego State's next drive looked promising as QB Ryan Lindley completed his first two passes as he took the Aztecs into Michigan territory; however, Lindley's third and fourth down passes were incomplete from Michigan's 30 and Michigan took over on downs.  Both passes were rushed as UM was able to get a little pressure on Lindley and make him uncomfortable.  Lindley, who was touted as an NFL prospect coming into the year, didn't look it there.

Michigan's next drive ended with a Vincent Smith fumble in SD State territory; however SD State was unable to capitalize as SD state went three and out.  After Michigan followed up with a three and out of its own, SD State went on an amazing 14 play drive.  Amazing because I don't recall ever seeing a 14 play drive that didn't end in points, let alone only travel 40 yards.  After a holding call, SD State finally had to punt from the Michigan 43.  The defense, despite not being able to get off the field on 3 straight 3rd and 1 plays looked good as the defensive line continued to get push and gang tackled the ball carriers.

Michigan took over at their 19 with over 6 minutes on the clock and would march down the field on what would probably be their best drive of the year en route to a third Denard Robinson TD run of the half.  The TD play was a nice bootleg that he cut back to the inside behind a nice block by Michael Schofield.  The play of the drive though wasn't really play, but more of a decision by Hoke to go for it on 4th and 2 from their own 48.  I wasn't really a fan of the call as it happened, but given the success of the Michigan running attack at the time it was a safer play than I felt at the time.  Michigan had lined up to punt prior to Coach Hoke calling a TO to rethink his original decision.  Michigan entered the half up 21-0.  The sun was shining bright.
Autumn and Jacqueline

The halftime show didn't do much to improve the mood though.  I think the goal was to make the halftime show "interactive" by apparently letting the fans vote on the songs to be played; however, it turned out to basically be a rehash of the last three shows, with eminem, the blue song, and thriller all being rehashed.  The show ended with the Theme from Rocky and Bullwinkle, which, judging by the fans reaction, I'm not sure how it won.  It was kind of sad to see less than 10% of the fans doing the "antlers" routine.  Chalk one up to piped in music and Pop Evil.

The second half is somewhat of a blur at this point.  There wasn't much energy in the crowd as the game never really seemed that close and Denard Robinson did his best to keep SD State in the game by throwing a couple of interceptions early.  SD State appeared to be moving toward their first points of the game when Ronnie Hillman broke free for a run of 30 yards; however, Ryan Van Bergen made a great hustling play to chase Hillman down and strip him of the football which was recovered by Jake Ryan at the Michigan 7.

Michigan took the ensuing drive 70 yards before the drive stalled at SD State's 23, forcing UM's first real FG attempt of the year which was pushed left by the left-footed Brendan Gibbons.  The kick was definitely strong enough, but missed just left.  The drive was mainly short gains on the ground, but was highlighted by a beautiful screen pass to Vincent Smith.  Smith had a caravan of blockers in front of him, unfortunately they had no one to block until 30 yards downfield, by then Smith had outrun the fatties and was tackled by a safety.

UM forced another three and out, but turned the ball right back over on 1st down as Stephen Hopkins buried himself further in the doghouse as he fumbled on a hard stick by SD State.  SD State would finally capitalize on UM's fourth turnover of the game with a Lindley pass to Colin Lockett for a TD.  The 3rd Quarter ended with UM up 21-7.

As UM went 3 and out, SD State took over at the 50 yard line.  Lindley was complete for 10 yards for first down to UM 40, but Lindley promptly went 3 straight incompletions.  The teams then traded punts before Michigan took over with 8 minutes to go.  Denard started the drive with a 30 yard run to the SDSU 27 and the drive was finished by a great 7 yard TD run by Vincent Smith who dragged a safety the last 3-4 yards into the end zone.    UM 28 - SDSU 7.

The remainder of the game was filled with prevent type defense and UM trying to run out the clock.  The biggest play coming when Craig Roh came off the right side to sack Lindley and force a fumble which was recovered by Jake Ryan again.  San Diego State threatened on their final drive as well, but Lindley was rushed into several bad throws by the D line as the drive sputtered at the Michigan 13.  UM wins 28-7.

Jacqueline and Me
It was a win reminiscent of eras past.  It was only three years of Rich Rodriguez, but it was definitely odd to ~only~ score 28 points and win handily.  I loved the way the defense played, and I've always preferred to see UM grind out the yards on the ground.

Amateur Analysis:  Several encouraging takeaways in this game, the first being the play of the defensive line.  Craig Roh, Mike Martin, and Jake Ryan did a good job of pressuring Lindley on most passing plays, making a purported pro prospect look very average.  Additionally, Ryan Van Bergen made two of the best plays of the game, the first chasing down Hillman and forcing a fumble, the second when he burst through the line and snagged a SD State wider receiver for a 5 yard loss on a jet sweep/end around.  The coaching staff went 9-10 deep on the DL in this game, a rotation that will probably be shortened up in the forthcoming Big 10 season, but if it allows production like this, I'm obviously all for it.

Loved seeing the speed option from the offense, it gives another threat for opposing defenses to have to respect.  I saw a couple new formations as well, with RBs split wide, and several new TE formations.  Let's hope they save a couple of these looks for Michigan State in a couple weeks though.

On the negative side, I don't need to say it, but Denard is carrying the ball an awful lot.  Going into Big 10 play, he's going to have to start looking better throwing the ball if he's going to last the season.  Teams will continue to load the box and pound him relentlessly if he can't.

Play of the Game:  I have to go with Van Bergen's hustle play to track down the nation's #2 rusher from behind and force a fumble deep in Michigan's territory.

Best Moment:  Hoke's decision to separate himself from Lloyd Carr and go for it on 4th and 2 from the Michigan 48 on the final drive of the first half that put Michigan up 21-0.  Again, I wasn't a fan of the decision at the time, but I'll blame the disappointment of the last 4 years on my feeling that something was going to get screwed up by the decision.

Other Fun Nuggets:  It was a pretty slow day as far as ancillary stories.  I'll say this though, I had to hold back several times from snapping at grown men from leering at my 16-year old daughter and her friend Autumn.  If you need fun times, just envision me unexpectedly snapping on the leering dudes like Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne in Tim Burton's Batman.

No Cash and Shooter podcast this week as Dad wasn't available to chat on my drive home this week.

Davie, readying to shout someone down
Post-Game Meal:  After being discouraged the past few attempts by the line, I was determined to get to Blimpy Burger this week.  Blimpy was a staple for me during my last few years at Michigan.  The place never disappoints.  It's the greasy spoon to end all greasy spoons.  If you haven't tried it, you haven't lived.  Beyond the great food, the experience is something you can't get anywhere else.  Once you finally get to enter the building, you'd better not stand in the doorway, hold the door open, sit down, or talk on your cell phone or fear getting shouted down by one of Blimpy's very cordial employees.  Once you make it to the serving line, you first place your fried food order.  I got a large onion rings this time through.  The fun really starts once you make it to the grill.  Blimpy has had several gems working the grill throughout the years, but none more iconic than a very small black lady with braids who could pass for Whoopi Goldberg's sister.  (I finally found out her real name is Davie this weekend.)  I instructed the girls how to order as we went through the line, as Davie proceeded to give several customers hell in front of us.  For the uninitiated, the rules are written on the wall; however several ALWAYS seem to screw it up.  You start with the number of patties, the kind of bun, and any grilled items (mushrooms, onions, bacon, etc.).  It's not that hard, but when Davie shouts to you for your order, MANY choke.  This time I went with a Quad (4 patties) on an onion roll with an egg (of course) and mushrooms.  As far as cheese, I'm a fan of bleu....and with my Michigan fanaticism how could I not have bleu when Davie does this (panicked camera work ensues):

Needless to say my burger was phenomenal.  The onion rings were perfect.   I had a Red Apple Soda from Sprecker's to wash it all down which was uniquely spectacular.  All in all, it was the perfect cap to a great day in Ann Arbor.
Looking Forward:  The B1G season starts next week with a game vs Minnesota.  Minnesota is 1-3 on the year with recent losses to New Mexico State and South Dakota State.  I just can't imagine them hanging with Michigan.  I fully expect Denard to have another big day on the ground.  I would not be surprised if he hits 200+ again.  The defense will face it's first truly dual threat QB of the year in Marqueis Gray.  These type of guys have always given UM fits, but I'm confident that Mattison will show enough looks to confuse Gray to keep him guessing.

I'm really looking forward to the game as football in October is just better, but I've also got a few extra tickets, so I'm bringing a group of 8 with me.  Should be a great time as I bring some of the men from my Buffalo family for a tour and some good eats.  My father in law loves Maize and Blue, so I'm sure we'll hit that again.  GO BLUE!!!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ahhhhh, the French.....

Date:  9/13/11 12:00pm
Love this pic.  Day wasn't this cloudy for long.
Opponent:  Eastern Michigan Eagles
Outcome:  W 31-3
Season Record (B1G Record):  3-0 (0-0) 
Attending:  Rachelle Fera-Starnes, Deanna Fera
Weather:  Gorgeous, Sunny Day in the Mid 60s

Pre-Game Meal:  We were running SUPER late (more on this later) so we didn't have time for much of anything other than to call in an order to Maize 'n' Blue Deli.  This week, I had the #5 Grand Daddy's.  This sandwich has a heaping portion of roast beef, mild peppers, provolone, russian dressing, onion, black olives, and a fried egg (keeping the streak alive!).  Maybe because I had to wolf it down, I didn't enjoy it as much as my previous week's sandwiches.  It was a good sandwich, but the massive amount of roast beef was a tad dry and I'm not a huge fan of mild peppers.  We grabbed the sandwiches and walked down toward the stadium.  We took a seat near the Bongo Man on Hoover and literally inhaled our food prior to going into the stadium just before kick off.

#5 - Grand Daddy's.  A solid, not spectacular choice.
Game Recap:  Eastern Michigan took the opening kickoff and ran it down Michigan's throat.  Eastern showed promise early by shifting formations and linemen all over the place on pretty much every play.  Michigan's D tried to adjust, but DE Jibreel Black's forced fumble saved them after getting gashed for runs of 13, 6, 19, and 14.  The fumble was recovered by S Thomas Gordon at the Michigan 35. 

Michigan took over and got a couple of first downs before the drive stalling.  From Eastern's 34, Michigan went for it on 4th and 5, a solid David Romer decision.  Unfortunately, Denard's pass to Hemingway was off target and was intercepted.  Not a great start to what should be a rout.

Eastern took over at their 27.  Using a nice PA pass, a jet sweep, a couple of QB runs, and 4th down conversion, Eastern found themselves in 1st and Goal at the Michigan 7.  After a few runs, Ron English and Co. found themselves at 4th and 1 from the 1.  Eastern tried to run off the right side with Javonti Greene again, but he was denied the end zone on a SUPER athletic play by Jordan Kovacs, who blitzed off the left edge and came around behind the play to grab Greene from the side and pull him back from stretching across the goal line.  Kovacs has by far been the best defensive player on the field for Michigan this year.  All the Marvin Robinson lovers can take back everything they wrote on message boards this summer.  Kovacs is legit and won't be displaced anytime soon.

Following a 3 and out and a terrible punt by Matt Wile, Eastern took the ball back over at Michigan's 24.  Eastern continued to stick to the run, meeting more resistance from UM as yardage wasn't as easy to come by with rushes of 4, 2, 7, 3, 2, and 2.  The drive concluded with a 21 yard FG on the first play of the 2Q.  3-0 Eastern.

The fearful blogger, contemplating his exit
UM went three and out again with two incompletions by Denard, and I left my seat.  Wolfing the Maize and Blue, plus this uninspired offensive performance had turned my stomach.

I emerged from the bathroom to the roars of Michigan Stadium to find out that Thomas Gordon had picked off a double pass attempt and that Al Borges finally decided to ditch the original game plan, unleashing Denard for 52 yards on the first play of the drive.  Denard finally completed his first two passes of the day on the drive.  2 nice throws to Kevin Koger, the second for a 9 yard TD.  The drive covered 97 yards in just under 4 minutes.  THIS was the Michigan offense that is going to be successful this year.  Let's hope Denard can withstand the punishment it's going to put on him.

Eastern and UM exchanged a few punts before UM took over at their own 13 with 5 minutes left in the half.  UM capped the 87-yard drive, all rushing plays, with a Denard Robinson 11-yard touchdown run.  Vincent Smith got his first carry of the day on the drive taking it 38 yards on the second play of the drive on the fake FB dive/HB pitch out play that always looks cool, but not sure I like so much (it is predicated on the play-side DE getting anxious and crashing down, if he doesn't, you're screwed).  Vincent was just getting warmed up.  

Following a horrid, short squib kick with 40 seconds left, eastern quickly rushed the ball up to Michigan's 33 with a few seconds left.  Eastern didn't capitalize on the field position handed to them by the squib and missed the 50 yard FG as time expired.  End of 1st H.  M leads 14-3.  

The halftime show was pretty uninspiring, featuring "music from Michigan".  Song selection included an Eminem song (couldn't make out the tune), Cat Scratch Fever (Nuge), Old Time Rock n Roll (Seger [EFFING PLAYED]), Detroit Rock City, and a couple of Kid Rock's rockabilly tunes.  No dance breaks, no gimp costumes, pretty terrible tune selection.  Definitely the worst show of the season thus far.

Rachelle and Deanna
UM replicated their last drive of the first half, this time going 83 yards, all on the ground, in just over 5 minutes.  Denard did attempt two passes on the drive, one dropped by Toussaint as he heard footsteps on a nicely thrown wheel route.  Fitzgerald Toussaint capped the drive with a 1 yard plunge from the fullback spot, which seems to be a staple of Borges short yardage.  Toussaint had at least 1 TD from this against Western (it may have been 2), and same formation that Hopkins fumbled in against ND.  UM 21-3.  I finally start to relax.

Eastern's next drive started with a sack by Craig Roh, which was pretty much the first time I'd noticed him all year.  After two runs, Eastern punted again to UM.  UM drove the stake into EMU with a 75-yard drive capped by the first appearance of the QB PA/Seam pass to Drew Dileo for a 19-yard touchdown.  I was hoping they didn't get rid of that play.  It's a fantastic counter to LBs and safeties cheating at the first sign of Denard heading toward the line.  I would have preferred they kept it hidden until a bigger moment, but 7 points is cool too.  UM 28-3.  

Eastern ran 9 plays on the following drive, but a holding penalty set them back and they were forced to punt for the 4th time on the day.  Michigan's last meaningful drive lasted 13 plays and ate up 6+ minutes of clock and ended with Michigan's first FG attempt of the year, a 21-yarder that split the uprights by the much-maligned Soph PK Brendan Gibbons.  Gibbons looks much better on PATs and this kick than he did last year.  The ball didn't seem to jump off his foot at all last year, and he seemed headed for transfer or an unceremonious ushering out the door prior to this fall, credit someone for fixing something with him...thus far.  Man, am I knocking on anything remotely wooden right now.  This drive also featured Denard's best throw of the day, a 24-yard rocket to Jeremy Gallon on a post route.  Gallon has shown a lot of promise in the past two games.  It's strange that the 2 receivers I trust most are Grady and Gallon.  While neither have had the glamorous highlight reel catches that Hemingway or Roundtree have produced, they seem to be the guys Denard looks for on 3rd down passes.

Happy to leave with a solid W.
The defensive second unit forced a punt, followed by 3 non-meaningless runs by Michigan as time expired.  The plays were non-meaningless because FR RB Thomas Rawls got his first action of the year, potentially burning his ability to redshirt this year.  With Hopkins solidly in the doghouse following the fumble against ND, UM needs a big back to contribute.  Hopefully, we see more of Rawls if UM does intend to not get a redshirt for him.  I'm already smarting from the burned RS of CB Blake Countess, who is covering kicks.  Back to non-complaints....UM WINS 31-3.

Denard finished the day with 198 yards rushing on 26 carries (about 10 too many), while Vincent Smith had one of his better days as a Wolverine with 118 yards on 9 carries.  I would expect to see a little more of Vincent in the coming weeks.  He's looked to be the most dependable back they have at the moment.  Fitz is definitely shiftier and faster, but there's just something about Vincent that allows him to pick up positive yards on most every carry.

Amateur Analysis:  Although it was a MAC team, was happy to see the defense settle down and figure out Eastern's run it down your throat offense.  Eastern attempted a mere 6 passes on the game, but the running plays came from all angles.  Jet sweeps, the dreaded shotgun counter play, unbalanced lines... you name it, Eastern threw it at UM.  I thought Jibreel Black made a couple of nice plays.  I noticed him not giving up and chasing RBs down the line a couple times, most notably on the fumble he caused.  Hearing Craig Roh's name a couple times was refreshing too, let's hope he can keep it up as we move into the teeth of the schedule.  True FR DE Frank Clark also looked good in his limited action.  Haven't seen the pass rush ability that has been touted about him just yet, but definitely looks like a keeper.  

Play of the Game:  While in reality it only saved 4 points, Jordan Kovacs play at the goal line was pretty special.  Again, this kid is the best performer on this D.  While he's probably not a first teamer, at this rate, I won't be surprised if he makes an all B1G team.

Best Moment:  Not really sure there was one, unless you count me storming out to the concourse following another 3 and out with Michigan down 3-0 in the second quarter.  I believe I texted my buddy Eric threatening suicide during this time.

Other Fun Nuggets:

Our frenchman's label of choice
  • Non-conference MAC foes are always interesting from a season ticket holder perspective.  You find out who the die hards are by seeing who doesn't sell their tix and attends.  I only recognized 1 of the normal crew in my vicinity.  No Statler and Waldorf, thank god.  Their bitching might have forced my hand this week.  However, the seats in front of us were filled with four young French dudes.  I surmised they were french after they started openly rooting for french-sounding Fitzgerald Toussaint.  I confirmed it when, during halftime, one of them turned around and very suavely asked my WIFE, I repeat MY WIFE and NOT the football fan sitting directly behind him, "uhhh, esscuse meh, uhhh, how much longer will the game last?".  He acted disappointed when told the game would last another hour and a half.  I leaned over a little later and gave Rachelle a Freedom Kiss to let him know I wouldn't stand for his advances.  Eat it, Black Swan Choreographer.  This is AMERICA.
  • The guy below also showed up at the game.  I don't know what to say.  I'm at a loss for words. It's quite possibly the most unironic attempt at humor ever.  I can't believe he wasn't wearing jorts.  Speaking of, there were LOTS of jorts in attendance.  Also seen: mustaches.  
John Rocker in attendance.

Smokey and the Lunatic.

  • The ride from Buffalo was quite an adventure.  We left downtown Buffalo after picking up Deanna around 5:30am.  I decided to go through Canada because I had good luck the week before.  Unfortunately, the week before, I went straight to Novi and then to Genesee County.  I wish I has known about the horrendous construction traffic on the 696.  I couldn't BELIEVE that they had the freeway closed in both directions for about a half a mile to work on an overpass.  There were NO SIGNS to this effect as we exited the 94 for the 696.  No signs as we passed the final exit before the construction.  20 minutes wasted.  To top it off, when we FINALLY got past the construction, I shit you not, we got caught up in a motorcycle funeral procession or something with no less than 6 police cars flanking the procession.  They took up two lanes of the 3 and were going a good 5-10 mph BELOW the speed limit for most of the 10-15 miles we were with them.  I was literally losing my mind as the cops swerved and changed lanes to not allow faster traffic to pass.  I would really like to know what the F was going on.  The procession not only made us even more late, it may or may not have taken a small piece out of the rock solid foundation of my marriage to my wife.
  • The HORDES clamored for it.  Here it is.  Ca$h and Shooter's weekly podcast.  BTW, Caleb Terbush is Purdue's starting QB.  I have no idea who TerHoven is.

Post-Game Meal:  Rachelle LOVED Frita Baditos after the Western Michigan game, so she was chomping at the bit to make a return visit.  It didn't disappoint.  This time I got the Chorizo Frita Loco, which is the chorizo patty with "the works".  The works included muenster cheese, a lime salsa, a tropical slaw, and of course, a fried egg, to go along with the standard french fries.  We also ordered the twice fried garlic plantains which were fantastic.  The plantains were fried perfectly and the garlic, salt, and lightly sweet plantains were a beautifully unique combination.  The best part of my meal though was the fresh lime batido.  A batido is a latin milkshake, made with different fresh, fruity ingredients and sweetened with honey.  It was heaven.  The lime was very sweet with just enough sour, but the cream of the milk offset it perfectly to give you a fantastic lime creamscicle tasting treat.  I'm still wishing I had asked for a shot of rum with it.

Ole Yeller.  2010-2011
RIP:  Ol' Yeller [My yellow hat]  (2010-2011)  While at Frita Baditos, I was forced to put ol' yeller down after an unfortunate scrape with the Frita Baditos toilet.  I went to the bathroom to remove one of my upper layers and set her on top of the toilet tank.  At some point during my shirt removal, I either knocker her off and into the Frita Baditos toilet, or she decided to end it and jumped in herself.  Maybe she was hot.  We'll never know.  I was going to attempt to resuscitate her, but Rachelle insisted I let her go.  Gone too soon.  (Like the savage beast I am, I've moved on quickly and replaced her)
Looking Forward:  While the defense has played better in the last 4-5 quarters, I'm very afraid of San Diego State is capable of this week.  They are a solid pro style offense featuring pro prospects at QB in Ryan Lindley and at RB in Ronnie Hillman.  San Diego State struggled with Army two weeks ago, but that may have been more due to the early east coast start for the Aztecs.  Of course, UM puts them into the same situation this week, so hopefully that will repeat itself.  Beyond the fact that SD State is a solid team at 3-0, they are Coach Hoke's previous stop.  I'm sure they will be fired up to prove their worth one more time to their former Coach.  I'm not sure there are many defenses in the country that will be able to stop Michigan's offensive attack as the season progresses, but Denard's early season struggles passing and finding open receivers is troublesome.  ND and Eastern have both sold out to stop the run and played single coverage all over the secondary.  Look for more of the same from the Aztecs.  In the end, I hope Coach Mattison and the defense make enough adjustments to get enough stops for UM to come out victorious.  

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

I Don't Believe What I Just Saw.....

Date:  9/10/11
Opponent:  Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Outcome:  W 35-31
Season Record (B1G Record):  2-0 (0-0)  
Time of Game:  8:00pm
Attending:  Eric Good, Chip Meredith, Rick Dunning

Pre-game pic
Pre-Game Festivities:  Rick and I had decided to hit Blimpy Burger early in the week.  We had plans to have a blimpy patty for every "gimmick" we could come up with for the evenings festivities.  At one point, I swear we were up to 8.  At this time, I can only come up with 6 distinct gimmicks being deployed by AD Dave Brandon and the Athletic Department:

  1. Night Game
  2. "Legacy" Jerseys (Drives me nuts anytime I hear people call them "throwbacks")
  3. Flyover
  4. Parachutists
  5. Desmond Howard Ceremony
  6. Gameday in town (not really Brandon's doing, but it counts)
A near perfect sandwich.  "T's Sweeping Style"
Unfortunately, we waited in line at Blimpy's for about 30 minutes before bailing.  At that point, we decided to walk across campus to Maize and Blue Deli again.  This week I had the #10 - T's Sweeping Style.  It's another fantastic offering by M&B with loads of corned beef, russian dressing, red onion, green pepper, swiss cheese, and of course, a fried egg on rye bread.  It was the first M&B visit for the boys.  They enjoyed it as well, or were at the very least very gracious to lie about it.

Following lunch, we decided to zing the football around a bit in the West Quad parking lot.  That party quickly ended when I rocketed one over Chip's head and nearly took out the rear window of a small Nissan.  We then ventured down to meet up with other friends in the RV lot at Ann Arbor Pioneer (more on this later).

Game Recap:  The first night game in the history of Michigan Stadium.  The setting was unbelievable from the start.  Most of the crowd was in place a half an hour before kickoff and the Victors was especially great with the crowd waving pom poms.

Following the flyover, which, given the speed of the vintage bomber, seemed like an epic miss on the part of the pilot (the flyover was more over the east skybox than the stadium itself), Michigan took the kickoff and promptly went three and out.  Notre Dame took over and went 57 yards in 7 plays, capped by a 7 yard TD pass from Tommy Rees to Theo Riddick.  The drive was eerily similar to Western's first drive last weekend in that Michigan offered very little resistance.  According to Eric, this was all "according to script".  I don't like the script thus far.  ND 7-0.

Michigan then went three and out again, followed by ND's 12 play 83 yard TD drive capped by a Cierre Wood 4 yard TD run.  Common elements between this drive and the first?  ND wasn't forced into a single third down.  I get very quiet and hang my head a bit.  Eric again tries to pep me up by saying "we're just trying to feel them out".  There's probably a Crying Game analogy in here somewhere.

Michigan finally got a first down on their third drive of the day, but Denard Robinson promptly followed that up by doing his best "Wade Starnes in the West Quad parking lot impression" by horribly overthrowing a screen to Vincent Smith.  End of 1st Quarter 14-0 ND.  My head sinks lower.

Despite ND's next drive starting inside of Michigan's 40, Notre Dame couldn't advance any further and Michigan finally forced a punt.  Michigan still couldn't do much in the following series which contained a horrible drop by Junior Hemingway.  It was about this time I started getting annoyed with the unfunny versions of Statler and Waldorf behind me.  Again, I'm not in the best of spirits at this point, but one of the last things you will hear me run down any of the players or coaches.  I'll definitely question play calls or strategy, but I'm not one to call players "terrible" or call for them to promptly exit the field.  Waldorf went as far to ask if the "Denard experiment was nearing the end".  Statler agreed "He's not a quarterback."  I bit my tongue.

Jordan Kovacs made a nice play on Tommy Rees' third down toss to force ND's first turnover of the game.  It was at this point that somebody in the Michigan booth must have realized that ND was pretty much selling out to stop the ground game on every play.  Michigan finally made ND pay for the strategy by hitting Junior Hemingway on the first of several long tosses on the day.  Hemingway made a nice adjustment on the ball and virtually boxed out his man coming down with the under thrown pass from Denard.  After Hemingway came down with the ball he made a nice move to dive for the pylon, getting the TD.  14-7 ND.

ND's next long drive ended when Tommy Rees' pass near the goal line intended for Michael Floyd was intercepted by JT Floyd.  It was Rees' second INT of the game, but was MUCH bigger error than the first because they were in the red zone.  Rees only had eyes for Floyd on the play and severely under threw his WR throwing away at least 3 points for the Irish.

Following another horrid drop by Roy Roundtree, ND took over following a punt and went down the field for a FG ending the half at 17-7.

The half time show featured techno/rave music.  Don't ask me to give you song titles.  I vaguely remember a snippet of Haddaway, that "Blue" song, and a Britney Spears tune.  I wasn't really paying attention to the music, because the Color Guard and Dance Team were dressed up as "The Gimp" from Pulp Fiction.  I'm not joking.  Proof below.

Michigan's D showed a little life early in the second half, stuffing a 3rd and 1 run for a 2 yard loss on the first drive, and forcing Cierre Wood to fumble on the 2nd.  Unfortunately, Michigan's offense was still stuck in neutral with a punt of their own and another bad looking Robinson interception.

ND then embarked on a 71 yard drive that ended with a 15 yard TJ Jones crossing pattern TD pass.  I'm not sure Michigan has stopped a late crossing route in about 5 years, if Michigan is in a zone, inevitably, the linebackers fail to redirect the receivers as they come across the field, I think UM was in man on this play, however, Van Slyke wass trailing the play badly and the result was an easy TD for ND.  24-7 ND.  The third quarter is nearing an end and there was absolutely no light at the end of the tunnel, and some people start to leave the stadium.  (SUCKERS!!!)  I wish Statler and Waldorf had left at this point.  They were unbearable.  I remember wishing I could throw a couple 180 degree right hooks in their direction as they continued their dogging.

The next drive started with the first bit of many magical moments in the comeback.  As Denard fended off an ankle biter, he found Junior Hemingway late across the middle who scampered 77 yards into the open field when ND's Gary Gray got victimized for the second time of the night.  Gray's night wouldn't get any better.  Michigan punched it in for the score on another crazy play when Stephen Hopkins' fumble on a 1 yard plunge bounced directly to Denard who scooped it up and walked into the end zone.  Whew.  24-14 ND.

The intensity of the crowd grew as Cierre Wood was smothered for a loss of three on 3rd and 3 on ND's next drive.  Michigan wasted little time going down the field following a terrible punt (predicted by Rick) by ND's Ben Turk.  The TD play Michigan scored on was high on the difficulty scale as Denard threw a jump ball to 5'8" Jeremy Gallon over Gary Gray (officially a scape goat now) cutting the ND lead to 24-21 with 10 minutes to go.  I imagine anyone who left the Stadium was now pleading with security to let them back in at this point.

ND's next drive appeared to be a soul crusher from the start, with Rees converting a 3rd and 15 with a 22 yard strike to Eiffert on another late crossing route.  However, following what I thought was a horrible pass interference call on Courtney Avery in the end zone, Rees inexplicably made another HUGE mistake as he apparently lost grip on the ball as he prepared to throw the ball to the corner of the end zone one more time.  Jibreel Black appeared to have pressure on the play, but as far as I can tell no one touched Rees or the ball. Can we stop with the "Tommy Rees just comes through" memes at this point?  He's now 0-2 this year and I count at least 3 very bad mistakes in those losses.  Ryan Van Bergen pounced on the fumble and Michigan Stadium went bezerk.  I remember thinking at the time, "I've never heard it this loud".  It would get louder.  Much louder.  As it quieted some, Statler pipes up "Boy, this defense isn't very good, but they're lucky".  I lost it.  I had heard enough.  I reenacted something akin to Brian Kelly vs. UCF on them.  In retrospect, the dude was probably right, but I couldn't believe that negativity was flowing at this point.  I believe I impolitely asked them to leave.  They didn't move, but I think they understood my point....that or they feared my face would melt a la Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark had they continued.

Following another under thrown jump ball into double coverage to Junior Hemingway for 45 yards, Denard followed up that bad decision with another jump ball to Jeremy Gallon who couldn't bail him out.  The pass was intercepted and many of us in the crowd lost a little hope.  ND took over with just over 4 minutes on the clock, but couldn't duplicate the success of the last drive and were unable to move the ball, culminating with the third 3rd and short stop by the Wolverine defense of the night.  Hope regained.

Gallon's 21 yard punt return set up the Wolverines at their own 42 yard line.  Following a first down, Kelvin Grady broke free outside the hashes for a clutch 27 yard grab.  Michigan then took the lead for the first time on a throwback screen to Vincent Smith for 21 yards.  It was a great play call, by Borges and would have been an easy TD had Taylor Lewan not TOTALLY WHIFFED on a block on the lone ND linebacker near the play.  The whiff was reminiscent of my buddy Jeff Grieve not being able to touch grooved whiffle balls in a tuxedo prior to another friend's (David Bunnell) wedding in Oakland.  (I wish I had the ability to paint that picture further).  I digress.  I totally lost my mind following this TD.  UM HAD THE LEAD!!  I remember standing there arms extended looking straight into the sky and screaming for about 20 seconds straight as loud as I could.  I cannot compare the sound level in the stadium to anything I've heard before.  The place was sheer pandemonium.  It wouldn't last.

Following a return out to the ND 40, the first good return of the night by ND aided by a line drive kick and a missed tackle at the 30, ND went downfield immediately to Michael Floyd who was (probably smartly) held by JT Floyd.  JT had no help over the top and was beat off the line by his opponent.  The 15 yard penalty hurt, but it was (at the time) much better than the alternative.  ND completed their comeback when TJ Jones broke free up the left seam.  I didn't mind Mattison's defensive call here with 11 men at or near the line of scrimmage to confuse Rees.  Unfortunately, Thomas Gordon (playing nickel on this play) allowed Jones a free release up the field while taking his short zone.  Marvin Robinson had absolutely no chance to get to the seam to make a play because Jones was running FRONTWARDS while Robinson had to turn and run while looking back to see what was coming.  Unfortunately, Robinson did pivot away from Jones and did have his back to him as the pass was thrown, but again, if Jones is bumped or redirected at the line, Robinson stands a much better chance at getting back in time to make this play.  Anyway, ND 31- UM 28.  30 seconds left.  It's very quiet now, but we've seen enough already to know that 30 seconds was enough time to get into FG range.  Especially with 2 time outs.

After Kyle Brindza kicked the ball out of the end zone, UM took over at the 20.  Gary Gray played goat for the final time when he followed Roundtree on a slant instead of watching Jeremy Gallon on a wheel route out of the slot.  Gallon caught the ball with nary a defender within 20 yards of him.  I had no reaction to this.  Coupled with the disbelief that someone could be THAT wide open, I honestly was still recovering from my primal scream following the Vincent Smith TD.  Gallon cut back across midfield.  I remember glancing quickly at the clock wondering how far he should take it up field before stepping out and/or going down to set up the FG.  He out ran a couple of defenders and finally stepped out at the 16 with 8 seconds left.  I was surprised UM didn't call a timeout to discuss strategy here, but Coach Hoke decided to try to keep the rhythm going and called for a final shot to the end zone.  Denard's final jump ball of the night found Roundtree in the right corner of the end zone.  My ears nearly split.  I just stood there.  Dumb founded.  What had I just seen?  Clearly, nothing like it ever before.  UM wins 35-31.

UM had scored 28 points in the fourth quarter.  The game was over....funny thing.  Statler and Waldorf patted me on the shoulder as some sort of peace offering.  No one left.  Many kept cheering, singing, dancing.  I stood there taking it all in.  I've never heard the stadium so loud.  The waving of the pom poms made the crowd seem like 1 living, breathing organism.  It was an amazing site.  One that I can't possibly describe with my amateur, technical writing abilities.   I kept thinking about Kirk Gibson rounding the bases after his heroic one-legged Game 1 homer and Jack Buck crowing "I DON'T BELIEVE WHAT I JUST SAW...".  I know now what Buck felt that night.

Amateur Analysis:  It was clear that ND was selling out to stop the run from the get go.  You can be sure that other teams will follow that game plan throughout the year.  Not only did Denard not look comfortable in making throws to beat the one on one coverage the receivers were seeing, a majority of them were of the jump ball variety, which seem highly unsustainable.  I would hope that Borges and the staff work on more crossing routes, and out patterns which are more of the short to medium range.

I'll need to watch the tape, but it seemed like Brandin Hawthorne and Will Campbell played pretty well in the 2nd half.  True Freshman Desmond Morgan got the start at the WLB spot, but was replaced in the 2nd quarter by Hawthorne.  Campbell played a lot of snaps after halftime.  I'll be interested to see how others grade their performances out.  Both guys were involved on a couple of the third and short stops, and I remember Hawthorne seeming effective in hurrying Rees on several throws on blitzes.

Play of the Game:  This one's pretty easy.  The clinching fade pass to Roundtree was a great call and nearly perfectly thrown.  The safety and nickel back went with Hemingway in the slot leaving Roundtree one on one in the corner on a double move corner route.  I've heard many analysts call the play excessively "gutsy".  Apparently, Herbstreit called for them to kick the field goal.  Honestly, the thought never crossed my mind.  Given the ease in which UM had moved the ball on the previous possessions, one shot to the end zone seemed safer than a kick from our non-trusted (at least not yet) FG kickers.

Moment of the Game:  In a game of several memorable moments, the cake topper will be the fact that after the whistle had blown and the clock read 0:00, very few people left the stadium.  All that stayed swayed and sang along to the music (yes, that garbage from Pop Evil was played).  Several people captured the moment and have posted it to you tube, but it's just not the same.

Other Nuggets:  
  • This was the first time in awhile I've gone to the south side of the stadium for pre-game.  I gotta tell you... I hated it.  No offense to our hosts is meant in anyway.  It was a great tailgate party.  It's just not what I want out of my Michigan Football experience.  I love parking up on Central Campus, finding some lunch on campus and walking to the Stadium down State Street past the fraternity parties, past the house parties, past the Bongo Man, and over to the Stadium with the Band on Hoover Street.  Maybe I'm just too sentimental for my days as a student...maybe I'm too set in my ways, I think the people who tailgate are missing out on a great part of Michigan Football Saturdays.
  • The scoreboard is still a mess.  Down and distance and yardage totals didn't update quick enough for most of the game.
  • "This is Michigan, for God's sake" is still funny.
  • I liked the Desmond Howard tribute.  I think the idea of putting a patch on the jerseys to commemorate the "legends" is great.  I hope they do it for more numbers.  I would guess #2 will be next.  What I don't want is the debates "is he worthy of the #21?" debates.  If it's available, and a receiver/RB/return man wants it, let him have it.   Other thoughts, if they do it for Tom Harmon they're going to have to bend the rules a bit, I'm not sure a RB will be wearing #98 anytime soon.  I would hope the #1 would commemorate Anthony Carter before Braylon Edwards, but I know that Braylon has some sort of endowment set up for the #1 jersey already.  Also, what happens if someone who gets to wear one of these "legend" jerseys goes on to have a brilliant career.  Do we split the patch?  Get another patch?
  • The "legacy" jerseys didn't look as bad as I feared.  The stripes actually worked with the helmet stripes.  I'm still not a fan of the jerseys they're selling at the MDen.  They're just too clownish.
  • This won't come across in blog form, but I need to memorialize anyway.  Following the parachutists, which seemed incredibly ill-timed (being that the band waited on the field for several minutes, I'd guess they were supposed to land during the final song or at least right after), my buddy Eric jokingly mentioned that another guy was coming in with the American flag while pointing at the Goodyear Blimp (which displayed the american flag for most of the game).  The lady in front of us who could best be described as "retired elementary school librarian"-ish turned around and looked at Eric with the biggest disgusted sour puss and "Are you kidding me?" look.  She looked like someone had just waved a baby's diaper in front of her face.  It was incredible.  We had a great time trying to recreate her face the remainder of the evening.
Post Game Meal:  We didn't leave the stadium till 1230ish so our options were pretty limited.  Gas station taquitos were my best option at the Speedway on Plymouth Road on our way out of town.  

Looking Forward:  Eastern Michigan comes to town next week.  Michigan should have the opportunity to rest up some of the wounded and get a look at some of the guys further down the depth chart.  I'd hope that Sophomore QB Devin Gardner plays most, if not all, of the second half in a rout.  The game will also be a good indication of who the staff is planning to redshirt as the bench should empty in the 4th quarter.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

This is Michigan....

Date:  September 3rd, 2011
Opponent:  Western Michigan Broncos
Aww.  Me and the gorgeous bride.
Outcome:  Win (Weather Shortened) - 34-10
Season Record (Big Ten Record):  1-0 (0-0)
Time of Game:  3:30pm
Attending:  Rachelle Fera-Starnes, John Francis Orozco, Jacqueline Fera
Left Home:  5:45am 
Arrived:  11:15am
Departed:  8:30pm
Returned Home:  2:00am (9/4)

Pre-Game Meal:  Maize and Blue Deli - 1329 S. University, Ann Arbor.  Met with Flushing '90 alum and UM '94 alum Dr. John Miller and his son Nik.  I had #19 - Ed's Reuben.  Wish I had taken a picture of it.  Maize and Blue never disappoints.  This sandwich was loaded with pastrami, topped with coleslaw, jarlsberg cheese, a fried egg (everything is better with an egg on it), and thousand island dressing.  Maize and Blue was packed so we took our sandwiches to go.  We sat in the Diag and ate.  All the time wishing I had a Nerf turbo to throw ROCKETS past unsuspecting passerby's ears.

Game Recap:  Brady Hoke's first game as Michigan's head coach.  Western Michigan came out firing on their first drive in no huddle offense and went right down the field for a TD.  Ulcers bled.  Michigan's offense came right back with a TD, looking more like Rodzilla era offense more than the MANBALL many have envisioned, shortly after the 2nd Q started.

Already sweating buckets, pre-game.
Western's second drive ended with a missed 38 yard field goal after another drive where Michigan's defense showed very little resistance.  After a 3 and out by the Michigan offense, ulcers bled further as Western marched down the field once again down to the Michigan 4.  On 2nd and Goal, Jake Ryan, no not him, who started in place of the injured Cam Gordon at SLB, got home on a blitz right up the middle and tipped a pass that was intercepted by Brandon Herron who returned the interception 94 yards for a touchdown.  As chaos ensued around me, all I could do was raise both arms triumphantly. I couldn't  make a sound.  I was joyous, but more relieved that the defense had finally made a play.

Blitzes continued to disrupt the Broncos on their next 3 and out, followed by a 74 yard Michigan drive that ended with Fitzgerald Toussaint, in his first extended action as a Wolverine, picking up his second touchdown of the day.  The XP was blocked.  I reasoned myself out of getting too steamed as the snap was pretty terrible, still amazes me how fragile kickers are.  (Editorial Comment #1:  Here's a thought..How come for XPs..and shorter kicks teams don't take more than a seven yard snap?  Wouldn't that alleviate some of the blocks on low kicks?  Wouldn't it be farther for the end rushers to get home?  You can't tell me that a long snapper can't adjust accordingly.  Infielders in baseball make throws from all angles all over a diamond.   I can't believe a guy with one duty on a football team can't say "Ok, this snap needs to go 11 yards?  Can do, Coach.")

Western ended the first half with a FG following their hot knife thru butter routine, until Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison dialed up the blitzes again causing Western's QB Alex Carder to heave several passes to the corners of the end zone past his receivers.  Halftime  - Michigan 20 Western Michigan 10.

The halftime show was above average.  The marching band did a tribute to 30 years of MTV.  Songs included Money for Nothing by Dire Straits, Take On Me by A-ha, Sledgehammer by Peter Gabriel, Thriller by Michael Jackson, and Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana.  I probably missed one, but that's what sticks out to me right now.

The start of the second half coincided with the first of many torrential downpours.  Michigan went three and out after Denard overthrew Kevin Koger on a post route against single coverage on 3rd and 3.  (Editorial Comment #2: RUN IT DOWN THEIR THROATS.  That is all.)  Following a punt, the game went to it's first lightning delay after a play or two of the Western possession.

The new board.  Not sure why those lines are there.
Maybe my camera caught some They Live-type message.
Following the delay, Western took over and converted two third downs before Jordan Kovacs absolutely drilled Carder forcing a fumble which Brandon Herron scooped up and returned 28 yards for his 2nd TD of the day.  Following the XP, the guy running the brand-spanking-new scoreboards whipped the fans into a frenzy showing the replay of the hit about 5 times in 10 seconds, each one followed by 100,000 plus fans yelling "BOOM!".  If this sounds like overkill, it was...but it sure was fun.

The following Western possession featured another Kovacs sack off the edge and a punt.  Once Michigan regained possession, they wasted little time in scoring.  Toussaint went 43 yards up the middle on a nice run, but didn't have enough speed to split the safeties and score.  The next play, which should have been a touchdown, was play action off the same look that Toussaint just bust loose on, but Robinson's pass to Drew Dileo on the slant from the slot was thrown behind him.  In any event, Michael Shaw bust loose for 44 yards through a hole up the middle featuring a great kick block from LG Michael Schofield, who drew the first starting assignment of his career in place of Ricky Barnum, who was also in line for his first start, but did not dress due to the ominous "team issue" along with teammate RB Stephen Hopkins.

Captain Cheeseball and his mates
soaked prior to leaving the stadium.
Western's next possession featured another long third down conversion before the drive stalled after a fumbled snap recovered by Ryan Van Bergen.  As the downpours came and went, UM took over for what would be their final drive of the day.  After Denard completed his longest pass of the day, 37 yards on a jump ball to Junior Hemingway, the game was stopped for a 2nd time.  This time for good.  As we exited the stadium, we heard they were officially evacuating the stadium and soon there after had called the game.

It was a strange ending to a strange game.  In short, the offense looked potent with many contributors on the ground and through the air.  I'm concerned about depth on the O-line as Michigan wasn't able to do much at all when Michael Schofield left the field for a couple plays in the first quarter when he lost a shoe and Elliot Mealer came in at RT, shuffling Mark Huyge to LG.  (Which seemed like an awfully odd substitution at the time, far as I know, Mealer has spent all of the past 3 years at G).  Kevin Koger did have 2 catches, but I'm hoping the role of the TE continues to expand.  Koger is a big body with nice hands and flare for spectacular catches.  The defense looked like swiss cheese on many drives.  Carder passing the ball at will and Michigan losing contain on a few outside runs.  It seemed as if 3rd and 9 was money in the bank for Western all day; however, the D did FORCE two turnovers, and capitalized on a third, which is something that we haven't seen consistently for what seems like forever.

Amateur Analysis:  I will be interested to see how Hoke and Co. use Cam Gordon at Sam or Strongside Linebacker (SLB) when he's healthy.  Western did a lot of 3 and 4 WR sets, which forced UM into its Nickel and Dime packages.  I haven't watched the tape (what do we call this these days?  It's not "taped"'s on my DVR) yet, but it seemed to me that the strongside defensive end (SDE) Will Heininger or Nathan Brink came off the field in these situations in favor of FS Carvin Johnson (Marvin Robinson later in the game) and starting FS Thomas Gordon would slide down to "nickel".  RS Frosh Jake Ryan and true Frosh Brennen Beyer would then drop down into the rush end spot.  I'm assuming when Cam is healthy, he will also come off the field in these situations, in favor of Ryan/Beyer.  I'm sure Cam Gordon will blitz a lot from SLB, but they surely won't use him as a rush end at 222 lbs.  I didn't really notice Ryan being lost in coverage as the Sam, but I would guess, it wasn't fantastic either.  Thought he looked good blitzing from different angles.  He got to Carder very quickly on the middle blitz that forced the Herron INT.

Jacq, Shel, and JF pose for one more soaked pic.
Also found it interesting that the other walk-on safety, Jared Van Slyke, was on the field a lot after not hearing his name once during fall camp.  I'll have to check, but I would guess he came on the field in favor of the Will or Weakside Linebacker (WLB) in their "big" dime package (Actually 4 safeties, and 2 CBs) Considering we've heard such positive things about true frosh Greg Brown and Blake Countess at CB, one would think this would be a place for them to see the field.  I didn't see the Freshmen on special teams, even though Senior CB Troy Woolfolk was injured early on kick coverage.  Perhaps Hoke will attempt to redshirt them?  

Play of the Game:  Herron's 2nd Q INT return off the tipped pass by Jake Ryan.

Best Moment:  As the team lined up in the tunnel, preparing to rush the field, the new "hype" video was shown.  Typical stats are strewn about, 42 B1G titles, 11 National Championships, 3 Heisman trophy winners, 884 wins, 109,901 fans.  "This is Michigan..." is then repeated by several players.   Followed by Hoke himself (in spot on Matt Foley voice) from his inaugural press conference.  The place went bananas (also for his initial introduction).  There's no doubting the buy-in from those in attendance with Hoke right now.  Even better, they showed the video again later in the game as the team prepared to take the field after the stoppage.  This time I heard the full Hoke quote "This is Michigan, for god's sake".  I could swear they didn't play the second half of the quote the first time around, maybe the roar of the crowd drowned it out.  I'll have to watch for it next week, but GD it made me chuckle.  While it remains to be seen exactly what kind of coach Hoke will be, it's abundantly clear he loves this school, loves what it stands for, and will do everything and anything to put Michigan back where it belongs in the college football landscape.

Following the band into the stadium.
Other Fun Nuggets:  
  • Walking down State Street to games still does not suck.  That is all.
  • My daughter Jacqueline walked squarely into a traffic sign pole on the walk to the stadium.  
  • The 94 degree heat did suck while sitting in the stadium.  Prior to the clouds becoming extraordinarily threatening.  Brian from MGoBlog summed it up best when he tweeted "My first half MVP is the big damn cloud blocking the sun."
  • I hesitate to put this in here, because it is not "fun" and I hate to have anybody give this anymore hits, but this was unfortunately played several times throughout the day.  I could not hate it anymore.  The only thing that could be worse is if the lead singer recorded a video dressed like a nazi clubbing baby seals.
  • My new stadium neighbors seemed nice, and rational enough.  I'm a little concerned about one old-timer who sat directly behind me.  He didn't give me any "down in front"s, but I sense they're coming.  I apologized in advance for being excitable.  He followed up my attempt at humor of "Hey, maybe I can provide some shade for you." with "Yeah, but your blocking the breeze."  Guh.  To be continued...
  • The ride home was CRAZY for awhile.  We were treated to an amazing lightning storm and some heavy rainfall.  Check the video below for a good example, plus a snippet of the soon to debut "Ca$h and Shooter College Football Recap Show".

Post-Game Meal:  Frita Baditos - 117 West Washington, Ann Arbor.  Once we changed into some dry clothes, we went to this establishment as recommended recently by MGoBlog.  It did not disappoint.  It's a latin/cuban inspired burger/sandwich joint that is only a couple years old.  The place specializes in "Fritas" a primarily chorizo burger type thing topped with french fries on a cuban roll and "Baditos" a milkshake type substance which could be alcoholic.  I didn't get a Badito, but I did have a frita, and let me tell was awesome.  The whole fam loved the place.  I got my frita with a lime salsa, "tropical" coleslaw, and, you guessed it, a fried egg, sunny-side up.  It was definitely unique, but it was fantastic.  The bread was soft and perfectly grilled.  The chorizo was spicy enough to bring some heat but not overpower the other spices.  The french fries atop were fried and salted perfectly to work with the chorizo.  I can't say enough about it.  

MMMMM.  Mine on Right.  Rachelle's fish frita on Left
Looking Forward:  Notre Dame comes to town next week.  Fresh off a loss to an underrated South Florida team.  ND was favored, but turned the ball over 5 times en route to a 23-20 loss.  HC Brian Kelly benched freshly anointed starting Senior QB Dayne Crist at halftime of the game in favor of Sophomore Tommy Rees, who led the team to 4 straight wins to end last season.  I would suspect Rees will get the nod next week in what will be the first night game in Michigan Stadium history.  Hoke has already announced Cam Gordon will not be healthy enough to play, but Ricky Barnum should return and should improve the O-line and, at the very least, improve its depth.  Stephen Hopkins will also return, but after seeing Shaw and Toussaint, can't imagine him being used unless they really go I-form MANBALL in short yardage situations.  I wouldn't mind seeing a Hopkins as FB role, but not sure he's heavy enough to lead block.   

I suspect to have more bleeding ulcers, but hope that the D can confuse ND just enough to cause a few more TOs.  I am NOT looking forward to Michael Floyd against the Michigan secondary and can only hope that Woolfolk returns and draws the assignment.  I'm obviously looking forward to the excitement of the night game and all the gimmicks that will entail.  Michigan will most definitely have to play better on D and on special teams to move to 2-0, but I think they have it in them.  CAN'T WAIT!!!!  GO BLUE!!!