Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Phil Knight's Yellow Smile is Beaming
Michigan moves from Nike to adidas; Oregon smushes Michigan; Phil Knight is happy; somewhere in Southeast Asia, an 11-year old gets to work 13 hours in a day instead of 15. Me bitter? Naw.
I don't have too much to add about the Michigan debacle. OK, I do, but I'll keep it relatively brief:
1. Michigan's goose was cooked in part over the past several recruiting classes when they failed to bring in any blue chip linebackers or corners (with one very recent exception) and in part on Oregon's second drive when Dennis Dixon completed an 85-yard touchdown pass over the head of Brandon Harrison. At that point, Michigan made the decision to leave its safeties back for the rest of the game and Oregon tore through the Wolverines without remorse. Whether a more aggressive defensive approach would have paid off is anyone's guess. After all, Michigan does lack quality corners to play man coverage, but one thing is for certain. Michigan leaving its defense back and playing conservatively was an utter disaster, as it opened the Wolverines up to Oregon's zone-read game and it allowed Dixon to make easy throws for ten yards per pop. Dixon's weakness coming into the season was the fact that he could be induced to throw bushels of picks, but Michigan removed this possibility by allowing him to complete passes that required almost no thought. It's telling that Lloyd Carr harped after the game on Oregon's two big plays, when the Ducks scored at will in the first half regardless of whether they were scoring in one play or ten. Additionally, Oregon's second long touchdown pass was completed against a conservative cover-three zone, which means that Lloyd's mandated soft approach was not a panacea. In the end, criticizing Michigan's defensive approach in the game is a little like criticizing that of Granada in 1983, but why not.
2. Even with the significant problems in the back seven and with the offensive and defensive schemes, Michigan is not as bad as they have looked in the first two games. There is something wrong with this team emotionally, despite the fact that they had, by all accounts, a harmonious spring and fall. The most precise analogy might be to last year's Pittsburgh Steelers, another team coming off of an excellent year that mailed in their season because everyone on the team knew that the coach was a lame duck. If the '06 Steelers are a guide, Michigan might rally to have a decent year. Additionally, the Wolverines outgained Appalachian State by over 100 yards and rolled up 300 first half yards against the Ducks, so they aren't as bad a team as they look. Of course, that was all with Chad Henne under center. With true freshman Ryan Mallett at quarterback and Michigan's tendency to react to inexperience by becoming more conservative, this could get worse. And by worse, I mean losing to a truly wretched Notre Dame team.
3. For me, the biggest disappointment for Michigan in a two-game season of misery has been the defensive line, which was supposed to be the strength of the defense, but has been uniformly unsuccessful at generating pressure or stopping the run. Right with the defensive line disappointment has been Chad Henne, who appears manifestly incapable of making a quick decision against a blitz. Whether this is an offensive design problem or an execution issue is anyone's guess. Given Michigan's problem with being dependent on slow-developing routes that assume perfect protection (see: Bowl, Rose), I'm inclined to blame the scheme. Still, Henne's interception on the first drive of the game is a good illustration of his problems. He locked onto Mario Manningham running a deep post and thereby led the safety right to the ball. Last year, he was moving safeties away from his throws with his eyes; this year, he's doing the opposite. Never one to get a call right, the addled Paul Maguire claimed that there was only one receiver on the route, but the replay revealed a virtually uncovered Adrian Arrington on the other side of the field.
4. At 32-7, I turned the game off and turned on The Devil Wears Prada. I needed to not only stop watching Michigan; I needed something that would not remind me of football at all. Mission accomplished. My estrogen blossomed and the rest of the day was fine.
On to happier subjects...
No, I didn't think I'd see the day that a Steve Spurrier team would win a game by running the ball and dominating in the trenches, but it happened on Saturday night. In a relatively even game, South Carolina's superior ability to string together successful running plays was the difference between total failure in the red zone and just spotty play in the red zone. (Incidentally, was I the only one who thought that Saturday night was reminiscent of 2003, the last year that the Dawgs had such a green offensive line and Georgia had similar problems scoring touchdowns inside the 20?) Spurrier has to call a conservative game by necessity because, let's face it, his quarterback is not good...or at least his quarterback is not good when facing his homestate team. At times, Blake Mitchell has to make Spurrier long for the days of Doug Johnson. South Carolina was very lucky that Mitchell's bumbling act with the ball did not lead to turnovers.
As for the Georgia quarterback, I said this last year and I'm going to repeat it: I'm not overly impressed with Matt Stafford's accuracy, especially down the field. I'm not sure that a quarterback necessarily gets better at throwing an accurate deep ball over the course of a season. The overthrow on the wheel route to Knowshon Moreno (a terrific call by Mike Bobo and one I would have gone back to again, a la Spurrier when something works) is the best example. Stafford, as usual, was let down by his receivers and his protection was spotty, but he's not as much of a strength as he was supposed to be for an otherwise questionable Georgia defense.
While I'm happy to praise Bobo for the nice call on the wheel route and I'm not inclined to kill him for the panoply of screens that are probably necessary with a suspect offensive line, I was decidedly not happy with the 4th and 1 play-action pass that fooled precisely no one. That play has worked for Richt in the past, but look at the situation. Georgia had generally struggled running the ball between the tackles in the game and they had just been stuffed on 3rd and 1. In that circumstance, isn't a pass totally obvious when you've just established that you can't run up the middle? And if you are going to fake a run, isn't it better to fake the toss sweep that had been working all game instead of the inside run that hadn't? That call was weak and it not only deprived Georgia of a scoring chance, but it also set South Carolina up at midfield.
What happened to the Brandon Cox who looked so good in Baton Rouge and Athens in 2005? I premised my belief that Auburn would be good this year on Cox being healthy and showing that form, as opposed to the massive unfunded liability that took the field for the Tigers in 2006. On Saturday night's evidence, the 2005 Cox was a mirage. Who's next in line on the Plains? This does not look like a vintage year for quarterbacks in the asylum to the west, as John Parker Wilson looked similarly underwhelming in Nashville. And don't think that I didn't smirk to myself during the Falcons game on Sunday that Alabama State product Tarvaris Jackson is starting while Auburn and Alabama remain on their two-decade streak of not producing an NFL starter (save Jason Campbell).
And speaking of bad quarterbacks, Sam Keller...yeesh. Count me among those who gives Nebraska little chance on Saturday night because USC's defense is going to eat him alive. USC will join Oklahoma and LSU as early royalty for the season (it's 2003 all over again!), but all three will have passed their early tests against teams with nothing under center.
In my growing misery on Saturday, I did enjoy flipping to the Washington-Boise State game. Washington being good was a fixture of my college football youth and the Pac Ten seemed so denuded with the Huskies sucking. It was a nice return to normalcy to see Husky Stadium rocking and rolling. The Pac Ten is relatively short on great crowds/venues, so Washington returning to prominence helps the league out in that department.