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Stadium and Main: January 2007

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Prove me wrong... please.

After a nice home win against Purdue, some of you might be tempted to get your hopes up regarding Michigan basketball. I urge you not to. Here's our remaining regular season schedule:
Wed., Jan. 24 at Wisconsin 8:00 p.m. ESPN Full Court
Sat., Jan. 27 at Indiana Noon ESPN
Wed., Jan. 31 Iowa 8:00 p.m. ESPN Full Court
Tue., Feb. 6 at Ohio State 7:00 p.m. ESPN
Sat., Feb. 10 Minnesota 8:00 p.m. ESPN Full Court
Tue., Feb. 13 at Michigan State 9:00 p.m. ESPN
Sat., Feb. 17 Indiana 4:00 p.m. ESPN
Wed., Feb. 21 at Illinois 8:00 p.m. ESPNU
Sat., Feb. 24 at Minnesota 1:32 p.m. ESPN Full Court
Tue., Feb. 27 or Wed., Feb. 28 Michigan State Time/TV TBA
Sat., Mar. 3 Ohio State Time/TV TBA
For the sake of argument, let’s say that Michigan is the 5th-best team in the Big Ten, and that only the top 4 teams in the Big Ten are guaranteed NCAA bids. Both of those statements might be accurate, for all we know, and I think you could make strong arguments to support them. But check this out: In our final 11 games of the regular season, we play Ohio State twice, Michigan State twice, Indiana twice, and Wisconsin once (on the road). 7 of Michigan’s final 11 regular season games are against teams that most neutral observers would say are the “top 4” in the Big Ten.

Fair or not, the “last ten games” statistic has become more prevalent in the NCAA Tournament Committee’s collective mind. And while Michigan certainly choked down the stretch last season, they faced a fairly difficult schedule. Same thing this year. Same result? Unfortunately, I think so. Blame the Big Ten schedule-makers. Blame Amaker. Blame Bill Martin. Blame the facilities. It doesn’t matter. It’s what we’re faced with, and here’s what I think is gonna happen...

I don’t think we’ll beat any of the “top 4” on the road – that’s 4 Big Ten losses right there. And I don’t think we can beat OSU at home – make it 5 losses. Add those to the one loss we already have (at Purdue), and we have 6 “guaranteed” Big Ten losses, in my mind. Call me a pessimist, but I think I’m being realistic. We just don’t beat good teams on the road (plus, OSU has Greg Oden. We have Courtney Sims. ‘Nuff said.).

So let’s look at the 6 other “winnable” games: Needless to say, wins over Iowa and Minnesota at home are critical – lose one of those, and the season might be over. Lose both, and it is. Assuming we can take care of business in those two games, the season comes down to this four-game stretch, in my opinion:
Sat., Feb. 17 Indiana 4:00 p.m. ESPN
Wed., Feb. 21 at Illinois 8:00 p.m. ESPNU
Sat., Feb. 24 at Minnesota 1:32 p.m. ESPN Full Court
Tue., Feb. 27 or Wed., Feb. 28 Michigan State Time/TV TBA
Winning these four games in a row will go a long way to improving our NCAA chances. In fact, we might need to win those games to have any chance at the Tourney. 10-6 in the Big Ten is good enough. 9-7 in the Big Ten, during a year in which the Big Ten is way “down” (in the eyes of the media and the computers), might not do the trick. I don’t want to need two wins in the Big Ten Tournament to "earn" a NCAA Tournament berth. We’ve seen how that goes.

Also of importance: If things go as I expect, we will be without a signature road win this year, which will be a pretty big weakness in a resume that also includes losses to the only three non-conference teams with a pulse that we played (at NC State, a blowout at UCLA, and a mini-blowout at home against Georgetown).

I don’t hate Amaker, but I don’t love him. I don’t know if he’s a good coach. When color commentator and former Michigan player Tim McCormick can consistently and accurately predict your defensive tendencies, you’re probably not a great coach. When I know that you’re going to run a double screen for a Dion Harris three-pointer out of timeout, opposing coaches probably know it, too. People "inside" the Michigan program consistently say that Amaker will be back next year regardless of what happens this season. If so, I suppose life will go on, right? I'm just not going to waste much time or energy hoping that they can secure a Tourney bid. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Post-season blues

The longest 8 months of the year have officially begun. Random thoughts...

- The BCS Championship Game was pretty crazy/boring/surprising, no? It’s rare that you see such an exciting beginning followed by a pretty thorough butt-kicking. It reminded me a lot of the 2003 Orange Bowl between Iowa and USC. Both games started with a kickoff return for a TD, and in both games, the better team pretty much dominated from that point forward.

- Is it just me, or are more and more players leaving early for the NFL Draft each year? I’m no Draft expert, but I follow college football quite closely, and every day on the ESPNews ticker, I’ve seen at least one “who?” scroll across. I don’t necessarily think this is a bad trend. If you don’t have anything left to prove, and you play for, say, Marshall, I can’t blame you for taking the NFL money. It’s just a bit amazing to me that a dozen or so running backs alone had the same idea. But, ya, 4th-round NFL money is still good money - better money than most of us will ever see.

- Ted Ginn conspiracy theory! I’m not buying it, but I will admit that during the game, I questioned his need for crutches. I’ve just always viewed him as a “doesn’t like contact” guy. But after seeing this pic, I think it was all legit.

- Oregon lost their Offensive Coordinator to LSU this week. After being “exposed” against OSU and USC, I was a bit worried about what a quality OC could do against our 2007 secondary, especially in what might be our first “real” game of the season. I still consider this a trap game, though.

- This is old, but I think plenty of folks missed it:
"Michigan's athletic director Bill Martin said Monday he is looking for an opponent for Sept. 1 -- he moved the Eastern Michigan game back into October. Martin wouldn't say whom he's considering but added it would be a Division I school."
- Speaking of 2007, there are some decent non-conference games, although not nearly as exciting as this past season:

9/1 – Tennessee at Cal
9/1 – Oklahoma State at Georgia
9/1 – Georgia Tech at Notre Dame

9/8 – Virginia Tech at LSU
9/8 – Miami at Oklahoma
9/8 – TCU at Texas
9/8 – Nebraska at Wake Forest
9/8 – BYU at UCLA
9/8 – Notre Dame at Penn State
9/8 – Navy at Rutgers

9/15 – USC at Nebraska
9/15 – South Florida at Auburn
9/15 – Notre Dame at Michigan
9/15 – Louisville at Kentucky
9/15 – Texas A&M at Miami
9/15 – Ohio State at Washington

9/29 – Alabama vs. Florida State (at Jacksonville, FL)

- Other stuff you might have missed: Better Red Zone stats, offensively and defensively ; Post-Carr coaching options

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The end is nigh

Just one day remains in the 2006 college football season. Depression sets in soon. I'm still pondering ways to hibernate, grizzly bear style. Yet again I'm faced with a recurring problem: root for Ohio State, or no? That whole BCS mess was frustrating, but seeing that Michigan didn't hold up its end of the bargain (Dwayne Jarrett just caught another pass), does it really matter? The question now revolves around my Big Ten loyalties. A 3-0 mark against the SEC would be nice. But it won't be nice when Mark May, Craig James and company continue with the "the SEC is the best conference" stuff next season. Resistance to "southern speed" is apparently futile (unless you play for Wisconsin or Penn State, that is). This is the best:
"Tim Brando, going with the pro-SEC theme that CBS shamelessly employs, began highlights of the Penn State-Tennessee game on New Year’s Day (a game in which Penn St. won) by saying, “Now let’s remember that the outcome of bowl games does nothing to prove which conference is better.” Brando might as well have been wearing an “I Love the SEC” T-Shirt."
Other stuff in my brain:

- I know it's a ridiculous excuse, but it also seems to be a trend... Am I the only one that thinks we play significantly worse on grass than FieldTurf? And I'm not just talking about playing worse on the road - it's like we're a bunch of 3rd-graders at the ice rink. If I had more time/energy, I'd do some sort of research on this. It's just something that's been in my head since the Iowa game in 2003, and it has been prevalent at ND, OSU, the Rose Bowl... even at Purdue. It's just weird.

- It's a bit disappointing (and amazing) that Boise State was the New Year's Day Bowl participant that reminded me why I love college football so much. And to those saying "see... if there was a playoff, that wouldn't have happened!," I say, if there was a playoff (done right), it would have happened - it just would have happened in Boise, Idaho or Norman, Oklahoma, in the first round. You know those March Madness upsets that everybody loves so much? Why can't they happen in college football, too? Boise State could be this year's George Mason. They might not beat an OSU or a Florida, but at least they'd have a chance, as opposed to finishing #5 in the polls, or whatever.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Reality check

So, ya. Remember all of my enthusiasm and delusions of grandeur regarding the 2007 season? Well, we can temper that, significantly. Too many issues, too little time. We have seen games like this before. Unfortunately, it seems to be becoming an annual occurrence. I’ll focus on the Offense, but that doesn’t mean the Defense wasn’t just as bad. But the offensive issues are easier to analyze quickly, especially when they’re so blatantly obvious. This is going to be a disorganized rant, because I’m a bit peeved. Anyway…

Defensive issues

Isn’t it supposed to be an advantage for the Defense when a team is one-dimensional? We knew that USC wasn’t a strong rushing team, and we still couldn’t figure out a way to defend the pass. I hate to bring up the “H” word, but can you imagine the heat he would be getting if he had coached the last 2 defensive debacles? Ron English had the best front seven since 1997, and he got shredded by the two best teams Michigan faced. Save for one pass break-up by Willis Barringer, the Safety play was atrocious. Herrmann was DC and LB coach, and our LBs regressed. English is DC and Safeties coach, and the same thing seems to be happening to his crew. Seriously, what is the deal?! The honeymoon is over, Ron. Teams saw the OSU game (or should I say the Ball State game?) and realized we can be had. Spread the field and throw. Expect more of the same against Oregon, ND, OSU, and others next season. Better figure it out.

Offensive issues

USC’s CBs were giving our WRs huge cushions. Where were the quick slants and 3-step drops? What happened to “taking what the Defense gives you?” That’s the excuse we’ll hear when we stumble through a 17-7 win against a crappy team like Northwestern or Illinois. But where is that quote when we lose a game? It’s nowhere to be found, because the truth is we don’t take what the Defense gives us… ever. Sure, Henne will check from a pass to a run on a 2-point conversion, but the play-calling, in general, consistently puts him (and the entire Offense) behind the 8 ball. We line up and do what we want, and we expect it to work. Then we blame “execution” when it doesn’t. So ridiculous. So arrogant.

So that’s what we have: a team that can line up and “execute” against inferior competition, and expects to do the same against teams with equal or superior talent. A team that can zone block against mid-level Big Ten teams, but gets stuffed by teams with speed and athleticism (which makes sense – you just can’t run slow-developing zone plays to the outside against teams with speed on the DL and at LB (but don’t fret, we’ll try it again next year against OSU and in the Bowl game!)).

A five or seven-step drop against a USC team that is blitzing on every play is like a death sentence for the QB. Did you see how comfortable Henne looked in the shotgun? Did he miss one pass out of the shotgun (I don’t think he did)? So why the lack of shotgun? Oh, that’s right:
“Our Offense primarily is designed… the shotgun part of it is the 2-minute offense, late in the half, late in the game. And, we felt like we had to have good balance, we had to be able to run the football some to be successful against SC. And, to be able to run the ball effectively, we’ve gotta have the quarterback under center.” – Lloyd Carr, post-game Rose Bowl press conference
“The shotgun part of it is the 2-minute offense, late in the half, late in the game.” And that’s how Lloyd thinks. That mentality is etched in stone in his brain. Because, you know, you wouldn’t want to exploit an opponent’s weakness (USC’s was its DBs, although you wouldn’t have known by our play-calling). And you certainly wouldn’t want to make life easy for your QB who has continually shown, for 3 full seasons, that he is reliable when he has time, but makes mistakes and lacks the ability to throw the ball away when he is under pressure. Nope, you wouldn’t want to do that. Not after 4 sacks in the 1st Quarter! Not if you’re Lloyd Carr or Mike DeBord. Because the shotgun is reserved for special occasions, like the fine china in your mom’s dining room. C’mon, Lloyd. Get real.

The bullheaded notion that we must have “balance,” and must “run to establish the pass” took yet another swift kick to the groin in the Rose Bowl. During one stretch in the 3rd and 4th quarters, as USC racked up 28 points off of 4 passing TDs, the Trojans threw the ball on 27 of 29 plays (if my math is correct). Ball game. They dominated us in the 2nd Half without a running game, or even the threat of a running game. And yet Lloyd and DeBord will continue to harp on “execution” in the running game.

You don’t win the game by being balanced. You don’t win the game if you have more rushing yards than the opposition. You win the game if you score more points than the other team. That’s football in 2007, like it or not. Offensive coaches: get with the program… like, now.

I love Mike Hart – I really do. But Mike Hart’s “highlight reel” runs are plays that should go for a loss, but end up going for 8 yards because he has great balance and is tougher than nails. Hart’s “amazing” runs go for 8 yards, not 80. Sure, Hart busts a 40-yarder every now and then (on runs up the middle when the blocking is perfect), but he isn’t a game-breaker. He isn’t Reggie Bush.

So why are we obsessed with stubbornly trying to churn out gains of 4, 2, 8, and 11 with Hart when we have ridiculous talent at WR, and a QB who, given time, is pretty darn good. Protect Henne, learn to pick up blitzes, and use the shotgun more often (it isn’t against the rules, you know?). Is that too much to ask, or do we have to let USC set a single-game sack record against us before we change things up a bit?

Bottom line

Attention Michigan coaches: The game has changed. Other teams are innovating. You are regurgitating. Stop being reactive. Start being proactive.

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