Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sad/angry pandas

It was probably 2008 when I became convinced that Notre Dame Stadium exists -- during Michigan games only -- underneath a cartoon-esque raincloud that never actually moves and creates a permafrost-type slop resulting in turnover-filled, generally unwatchable football; Yakety Sax and Denard Amazingness were just requisite exceptions to the rule. My opinion has changed little, obviously.

Obviously. Ughghghghgh.
. . . . .

I spent most of Saturday night trying to decide whether it's worse to get completely and utterly obliterated or play reasonably well overall, finish with a positive yardage differential and lose solely/exclusively because of HEAD-ASPLODING turnovers that result in HEAD ASPLOSION. I settled on the former; at least the latter provides some reasons for optimism and the law-of-averages expectation that the worst-quarterbacked game in the history of quarterbacking probably won't happen again.

So ... yeah. Michigan lost by six to a legitimate top-15 team on the road despite finishing -4 in turnovers, having four straight passes picked off at one point, missing a field goal and (on a related note) scoring a total of six points in five trips inside the Notre Dame 20. The performance on all the plays that weren't disasters was fine; stupid disasters.

Commence Denard/Al Borges Fury Allocation Project. And don't worry; there's plenty of fury to be allocated. A summary of the aforementioned disasters: (a) a series that started at the Notre Dame 10 after a pick and lost 15 yards, resulting in a missed field goal, (b) an OMG WUT halfback pass on first-and-goal on the following drive that got picked at the goal line, (c) a inexplicable throw to a double-covered Jeremy Gallon that could've been picked by either of the Notre Dame dudes standing in front of him, (d) a back-foot throw to an open receiver in the middle of the field that went five yards over that guy's head and directly to a pair of guys in coverage and (e) a Denard fumble on a veer-option keeper as Michigan was running it down Notre Dame's throat on the first possession after halftime.

The two early first-and-goal series were the most aggravating because they resulted in a game that probably should have been 10-0 Michigan instead being scoreless (and then 3-0 and then 10-0 after Notre Dame yanked Everett Golson (more on that momentarily) and went to Turnover Tommy Rees).

The playcalls on the first series: a toss left to Toussaint (which Michigan never runs because the linemen don't pull very well and pitch plays are timing-based things that aren't worth the effort when the veer option is more effective) for a loss of two yards, a coverage sack on a second-and-12 that had "get back into a makeable third-down distance" written all over it and another sack on a third-and-15 that had "set up a makeable field goal and by God please don't take a sack" written all over it. The second "series" was the AARRGHGH Vincent Smith pick on another first-down pitch play that got blown up by Manti Te'o because that's what Manti Te'o does.

It's worth noting that this came at the end of a drive on which Denard went 5 for 6 for 59 yards and had three carries for 18 yards. Y U NO LET DENARD SCORE TOUCHDOWN??? Because of that, I was doing this ...

... in Borges' general direction all night.

That said ... man. Denard. I can't blame Borges when guys are open and Denard is overthrowing them by five yards or when guys are covered and Denard is just throwing it to defensive players because hey why not. Denard was almost solely to blame for pretty much all the profanity-inducing events after the first two. I do think he got put in some tough situations where he was being asked to throw into inevitable face-eating pressure a little more than he should've been ...

... but that's something he's been able to do with some success this year and should be able to do against a team with a secondary held together by rubber bands and paper mache and some dudes Brian Kelly pulled out of the band. So the passing-game playcalling could've been better; Denard should have been better. There were guys open for most of the night, which was evident because Denard was finding them on the regular when he wasn't do mind-bottlingly awful things. Even with the four picks he finished 13 of 24 for 138 yards, and that latter number would've been a lot higher if Devin Gardner had bailed him out on a pretty swell double-post-pattern dealie that got Gardner basically uncovered 40 yards downfield but ended with a slightly-high-and-behind-him throw going through his hands.

BTW, Michigan went for 189 rushing yards (sacks excluded) and 5.1 yards a carry against a front seven that's allegedly and statistically one of the best in the country. The veer option returned, there was useful jet-sweep motion that played off said veer-option stuff and there was a well-set-up Gardner throwback bomb on the second play of the game that got Michigan a big chunk of yards on what should have been a scoring drive. The gameplan wasn't terrible except for the few things that were.

So ... Denard/Al Borges Fury Allocation Project complete. Result: Everybody wins, by which I mean everybody loses (kind of).

Going back to the reasons-for-optimism reference a bunch of paragraphs ago, the running game (especially if the veer option is back for good) is definitely one of those. A more significant one of those: the D-line (and the front seven as a whole).

Notre Dame did nothing on offense for a large majority of the night; both of the scoring drives in the first half started in Michigan territory, and holding a decent offensive team to 239 total yards, three real points and two turnovers seems, like, pretty good. It's not insignificant that Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick, George Atkinson and Everett Golson combined for 92 yards on 30 carries; the massive front-seven improvement I was hoping for might have actually happened (or at least might be happening). The holes were constricted, the linebackers filled with authoritah, the safeties cleaned up everything that was supposed to go outside, etc. Sadly, that alleged front-seven improvement produced zero sacks and mostly let Rees do whatever he wanted. I'll still take it considering what I saw against Alabama and Air Force.

Speaking of which, from a Notre Dame standpoint, I don't get the Golson/Rees thing. Golson looked terrible; he ended up 3 for 8 with two picks, zero rushing yards and one first down on five drives before getting pulled. The NBC guys kept talking about how turnovers are a "point of emphasis" (or something) for Kelly this year, which is pretty hard to reconcile with a returning starter at quarterback getting benched in favor a redshirt freshman who might be really good a couple years from now but is going to do some disastrous things if for no other reason than his freshman-ness. It's gonna be hard to justify not giving Rees regular snaps (at the very least) considering (a) his performances so far this season and (b) the certainty that Notre Dame is gonna have to score some points against Oklahoma and USC and maybe a couple other teams with decent offenses. The front seven is good but isn't Alabama's; there will be games requiring non-gift touchdowns. I'm not totally sold on Return to Glory XIV ... yet. But I'm not totally sold on USC/Oklahoma/Stanford, either, and winning even one of those three would be sufficient for 10-2 and a BCS game and some deserving fellating of Brian Kelly after two years of this:

Anyway, Michigan's defense: It's not bad, which yay. I didn't expect it to be bad seeing as how Greg Mattison is amazeballs but have seen bad defenses in the recent past and still have the eyeball scars to show for it. Expectations (on that side of the ball) upgraded incrementally.

The offense ... ehhh. I just don't know. There was no soul-crushing physical domination along the lines of Bama-induced DEATH; again, Notre Dame is not Bama. There was just the awfulness that Denard and Borges are cumulatively obligated to produce about twice a year despite all indications prior to Saturday night being that the passing game in general had improved to some not-insignificant degree. I'm gonna assume that poopfest was the exception since most teams don't have three quality 300-pound D-linemen and Manti Te'o to commit to the run and thus the ability to drop seven guys into coverage and still get some pressure, but there's a saying about assumptions making something something. Denard is never gonna be the Cade McNown/Jason Campbell-type passer Borges needs him to be for the offense to be operating at optimal levels; the question is whether he can be close to that (or Borges can meet him a little closer to halfway) against most of the rest of the schedule, in which case Michigan is probably the best team in the Big Ten.

Yeah. Srsly. Just look around: The Big Ten is a crater with no signs of life and tumbleweed doing its tumbleweed thing. The survivor of the Michigan-Michigan State-Nebraska battle royale is probably going to the Rose Bowl seeing as how Wisconsin has decided to play the season without an O-line and Purdue is Purdue and that's pretty much the extent of the (eligible) competition.

In that regard, the Notre Dame game really means nothing except for the delusional people who figured Michigan was gonna win every remaining game so impressively that a rematch with Bama for ALL OF THE MARBLES would be feasible, which lol no. This year's goal: roses.

Still ... I mean ... that. My soul hurt a little. And it hurt both a little more (from a human-interest standpoint) and a little less (from a STABBY STAB STAB standpoint) after Denard went and did this:
"I want to say sorry to everybody who watched football, watched Michigan football and whoever follows Michigan football, I want to say sorry and it won't happen no more. I am going to be accountable for the rest of the season. I'll tell you that much.

"Most disappointed I've been in I don't know how long, the 22 years I've been living, this is the most disappointed I've been in myself."
Maaaaaaan. It's OK, man. It's OK.


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