Monday, September 03, 2012

In hindsight, the DVR-ing was unnecessary

So that was fun. And by "fun" I obviously mean "the worst thing* ever."

I don't even know whether the worst part was the complete offensive ineptitude, the utter obliteration that was allegedly Michigan's front seven trying to tackle any of Alabama's eleventeen uber-recruit running backs or listening to Brent Musburger fellate Alabama for the last hour while trying to figure out whether Michigan would lose to everybody in the SEC or just everybody other than Ole Miss.

Pick one of the above. If you picked one of the above, punch yourself 100 times. You now look like a Michigan defensive lineman.

This will be relatively brief because ... I mean ... obviously. I actually DVRed the game, and at some point during the second quarter, my wife said to me, "You're recording this?" I responded with something along the lines of, "Yeah, but I could probably stop now since I'll never, ever, ever want to watch this again." I stand by that statement.

Obvious takeaway: Alabama >>> Michigan. There's an alternate universe in which every close play/call goes differently and Michigan is competitive to the point where a win wouldn't seem totally implausible. Unfortunately, this is not that universe. Basically everything** that could go wrong did, and the result was a paddlin':

The thing that's unknowable without any additional context is whether Alabama >>> everybody. Michigan has somewhat of a rebuilt D-line but also has all three linebackers back after finishing sixth in scoring and 17th in yardage last year under one of the undisputed best D-coordinators in the country. This defense will not be bad; it will probably be somewhere between "good" and "very good" pending the development of the rebuilt line. And Alabama's O-line basically did this for 60 minutes:

That gif in numerical form: Minus sacks, Bama averaged almost 6.2 yards a carry. I was gonna post another picture here but can't find any that are accurate since all the ones on Google Images feature a Michigan dude both in the picture and making a tackle.

And the other defense ... yeah. Michigan had two pass plays that (due to one busted coverage and one "derp I fell down" moment) resulted in 115 yards; the other 54 plays resulted in 144 yards, which means the typical play from scrimmage produced about 2.5 yards. And it was actually worse than that since there were eight penalties for 99 yards, meaning Michigan had 160 net yards (not a real stat).

Did I mention that it was 31-0 when Michigan crossed the 50 for the first time? Ughghghghgh. That's an 11-letter groan; it would probably be at least 20 letters if not for the acknowledgment that Alabama might be the equivalent of the Steelers, and by "equivalent" I do mean "equivalent" and not "college equivalent." Good Lord. I don't even know what else to say other than a thankful prayer that I will be nowhere near Gary Danielson at any point in the foreseeable future.

It probably wouldn't have mattered given the defense's general inability to not have the ball shoved down its collective throat, but whatever chance Michigan had to hang in was gone whenever Al Borges drew up a gameplan that involved Denard having two designed runs in the first half. Two!!! No comprendo. I mean, trying to get the linebackers on their heels or whatever makes some sense, but there are things Denard (and Michigan, by proxy) is good at and things Denard is not good at; asking him to do nothing but the latter makes no sense if the intent is to, like, have any chance of winning (especially given a relatively uninspiring group of receivers who didn't get open much save for the two massive plays that produced half of Michigan's total yardage).

BTW, I can't/won't accept the suggestions that (a) Michigan was "saving" him so he didn't get killed or (b) Michigan bypassed the run game entirely because Alabama's defense is/was just too awesome to bother with it. Nay. Denard running against a physically dominant front seven > Denard throwing to mediocre receivers against a really good secondary.

The confidence I gained in Al Borges over the final month of last season (in terms of using Denard in a logical way) was pretty much entirely eliminated in the span of about an hour Saturday night. Useful comparison: Denard had 26 carries (for 170 freakin' yards) against Ohio State last year, most of them of the veer-option variety, and he had 10 carries against Alabama, none of them of the veer-option variety and almost all of them in the third quarter when the game was already totally out of hand. Michigan's first three drives -- when the game was still kinda competitive-ish -- included five designed run plays, and all of them were to Devin Vincent Smith and Thomas Rawls. Y NO DENARD??? I don't even know, man.

I'm just not sure Borges is ever gonna be able to wrap his head around the idea that he has maybe the best runner in the country playing quarterback rather than the idea that he has a quarterback who happens to be one of the best runners in the country. I thought he'd already started to do so based on the Nebraska and Ohio State games last year; apparently not. I'm guessing this will happen again at some point this year and be similarly infuriating, at which point I'll just have to remind myself that Mike DeBord once existed and having a guy who's down with throwing it around via an NFL-style passing game will probably be swell eventually.

That said, I told everybody who would listen that my expectations going in were for a Michigan loss by a touchdown or two (depending on my confidence on that particularly day), so my expectations based on a somewhat-worse-than-expected loss have changed little. Michigan should still be one of the better teams in the Big Ten; Michigan might actually be the best team in the Big Ten, which really says more about the Big Ten than it says about Michigan. Michigan State beat an obviously rebuilding Boise State team at home by a field goal, Wisconsin had to stop a late fourth-down play to beat Northern Iowa (!), Iowa had to rally from 10 down in the fourth quarter to beat Northern Illinois (?) and Nebraska might be better but is still largely the same team Michigan beat by four touchdowns last November. Ohio State could actually win the whole thing oh wait lol yeah. A not-inebriated Al Borges + something resembling resistance on the defensive line = a pretty good team.

Whether those things actually happen (and, if so, when they happen) will basically determine whether "pretty good" means 7-5 with a bunch of losses to similarly pretty good teams or 10-2 with a bunch of wins over similarly pretty good teams.

Brian at MGoBlog wrote this on Friday:
We have a moment to not have those crushing expectations, to look down and think Michigan can't do it but hope they can, hope they can write themselves into lore as champions.

Here between the trough and the peak there will be a moment in which "can't" becomes "did." Maybe tomorrow.  
Maybe tomorrow.

What really sucked about that game wasn't losing or even losing by a lot; it was the sinking-in-way-too-deep realization that Michigan is not very close to being a national-title-caliber program. That crazy-but-maybe-not-that-crazy thought that's always there at the start of the season -- the one that says "maybe this team can win that one game it probably shouldn't win and then win that really tough road game and so on and so forth" -- was gone after 20 freakin' minutes. And it was gone with authoritah. I like it when that thought lasts til October (or, ya know, January).

The right-now version of Michigan is not the right-now version of Alabama or LSU*** or USC or even Oregon. There are deficiencies that will exist until the O-line/D-line two-deep is actually full of scholarship dudes and the coaches don't have to hold a redshirt bonfire because of a lack of non-freshman alternatives on special teams and the like. Fortunately, those things will go away and (based on a recruiting class that's unquestionably one of the best in the country) the talent level will approach that of the teams mentioned above, at which point happy times will be had by all me. Unfortunately, those things are still here now, hence 41-14.

Now let us never speak of it again. There was misery that should not be brought up.

*The Horror notwithstanding. 

**Starting corner Blake Countess blew out his knee (he's done for the year) and All-Everything left tackle Taylor Lewan suffered a leg injury of unknown severity. There's only one way it could have been worse, and that way will go without saying since I'd prefer not to even open up the possibility of manifesting such a horrifying future.

***It's worth pointing out that last year's pretty-dang-awesome version of LSU didn't cross the 50 even once against Bama in the title game and produced nine total points in two games. Again: Alabama might just be >>> everybody at this point.


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