Monday, November 28, 2011
The Ship Comes In
My apologies if I betray my orientation as a Southern college football fan a little with this post, but I was zoned in on the Michigan game at noon, then the 3:30 games were all blowouts and Mrs. B&B and I went out during the evening timeslot. I have a meta-SEC premise that I'll get out later in the week, but for this morning, please forgive me if my attention heads north...
Please lord no - If Michigan would have lost that game, then I would have been asking the following question: my five-year old has not seen a Michigan won over Ohio State in his lifetime; now, I'm seriously wondering if the event will happen before his bar mitzvah. There was a sense in the later stages as Michigan continued to struggle to contain a heretofore terrible offense that the Bucks' dominance over the Wolverines was not just a matter of having better teams. When they are better (2005, 2007-10), they win. When the teams are even (2006), they win. When they are worse (2004), they win. There was a major potential for "if not now, when?" as a legitimate question if Michigan would have lost a home game when favored by eight points against a 6-5 Ohio State team that had lost two straight and had a freshman quarterback, a green defense, and a lame duck coaching staff. Thus, the feeling after the game was exhilaration tempered by a major feeling of relief. It was not quite the unfettered joy that Dawg fans felt after beating Florida in 1997 or that Vol fans felt after beating the Gators in '98.
Oh, wide open - Also causing the major feelings of relief: Braxton Miller missed open receivers down the field on a number of occasions, most notably on the Bucks' last possession when DeVier Posey had a good two steps on J.T. Floyd for what would have been a truly soul-crushing touchdown.* Michigan has seen good receivers this year - Michael Floyd, B.J. Cunningham, A.J. Jenkins, and Marvin McNutt all come to mind - without major damage. Posey was a different proposition, which raises a few possibilities. One is that Posey is a step above those other receivers. (The corollary to this theory would be that Ohio State could have been an 8-9 win team with Posey on the field this year.)** A second is that Michigan was not fully prepared to deal with Ohio State because they had so little film on the Bucks' offense with Posey in the mix. A third is that Michigan could handle mobile quarterbacks and they could handle top receivers, but they couldn't handle both at the same time. (Illinois technically has both, but they were in offensive freefall by the time they played Michigan.) If the third is indeed the case, then maybe Brady Hoke and Al Borges need to think through the offensive transition that they envision for Michigan over the next several years. They just finished the season second in the Big Ten and 19th in the nation in yards per play running an offense that is not their preferred mode of attack. How much more conventional should they need to be?
* - The last time Ohio State played in the Big House, the Bucks won 21-10 and the margin would have been larger if not for Terrelle Pryor missing an open Posey behind Floyd. That game convinced me that Floyd did not have the speed to play corner at a high level. Floyd has played much better this year, most notably in a superlative performance against Illinois's A.J. Jenkins, but Posey abused Floyd on Saturday, just as he did two years ago.
** - Another pet theory: bad wide receivers don't get criticized as much because their failures happen off the screen. With just about every other position on the field, it is obvious when a player fails to perform his role. This is not the case when a wide receiver doesn't get open. Thus, we might not have fully appreciated the struggles of teams like Ohio State and Florida this year. We put the blame on the coaches, the quarterbacks, the offensive lines, and just about every other factor other than "the receivers can't get open and thus, the passing game grinds to a halt."
Feeling conflicted? - As I watched Ohio State suddenly unearth a functional offense, I wondered how Ohio State fans feel about Jim Bollman. For most of the year, one of my little pleasures in life has been following the Twitter feeds of Buckeye bloggers as they deal with what seemed like one of the worst-schemed offenses in modern history. All of a sudden, with his job gone with the wind, Bollman unleashes a diverse, dare-I-say threatening attack that takes advantage of the entire field. The Buckeye reaction had to be similar to that of Michigan fans who watched the 2007 Capital One Bowl against Florida. In that instance, Michigan deployed the spread passing attack that should have been the team's approach since, oh, I don't know, 1998 and marched up and down the field on Florida.* The feeling had to be a combination of happiness with "where the f*** was this for most of the past decade?"** If I had a nickel for every time Chris Spielman said something to the effect of "Ohio State hasn't shown this all year," then I would be as rich as Urban Meyer.***
* - The common thread in both games: Greg Mattison was the opposing defensive coordinator.
** - Bollman and Mike Debord can both defend themselves to a certain degree by pointing to the personnel available to them in their swan songs. Debord finally had a healthy Chad Henne and Mike Hart in the bowl game, while Bollman finally had Posey and he also had Braxton Miller with a year's worth of experience.
*** - Despite the complaints of some Michigan fans, I still like Spielman as a color guy. For example, on Michigan's last touchdown, he noticed immediately that Michigan was using a formation that they had not used all year. The fact that Spielman clearly watches lots of film to prepare for calling a game should not stand out, but it does. Unfortunately, the rest of ESPN's broadcast was not up to Spielman's standards...
Talk about the game, please? - For those of you who didn't watch the game, let me set the stage for you. Michigan and Ohio State are playing in a game that ESPN hypes as one of the great rivalries in all of sports. Future star Braxton Miller has just led the Bucks to a touchdown to draw his team to within three at 37-34. Michigan, wearing the albatross of a seven-game losing streak to its arch rival, has the ball with about seven minutes to go. It's at this point that the guys in the production truck decide that it's time to put up a graphic on Urban Meyer's resume and Dave Pasch dutifully starts talking about the possibility of Meyer going to Columbus. He's doing this in the fourth quarter of a very close rivalry game! If ever there were a time to not go with your filler, this is it! ESPN had clearly prepared to discuss Meyer and they were going to use their graphic, come hell or high water. The producer was like the captain of a ship who decides "well, we're coming into port and we haven't had a chance to fire our harpoon gun at a whale, so let's fire at this family of four eating ice cream on the dock as we pull in." And the stupidity of ESPN's decision is amplified by the fact that Pasch and Spielman called a game with Meyer last week and didn't ask him anything more than "are you going to Ohio State?" So ESPN doesn't ask anything more than softballs to its own color guy and then they decide to explore his potential decision in the closing stages of an exciting, competitive game. Bravo!