Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Western Michigan Game Day Experience

New Stadium Construction
I live in southern California so attending Michigan football games is a real treat for me. The last Wolverine football game I attended in Ann Arbor was the 2006 Ball State game, which Michigan won in typical indecisive, Mike Debordian fashion. The game day experience back then was really cool, as it always is in Ann Arbor, but man, I didn’t have a very warm and fuzzy feeling after that football game, despite Michigan’s high national ranking at the time. Michigan then went on to beat Indiana decisively on ESPN the following week, but lost a barn-burner at Ohio State. Of course, then Michigan was royally embarrassed by a vastly superior Pete Carroll-Ken Norton Jr.-coached USC team in the 2007 Rose Bowl.

The Western Michigan game last weekend just seemed very different. The Victors Walk, the support for Rich Rod and football team both off campus and at the stadium, and the new towering dark navy blue box structures on both sides of the field…it was different and impressive to me. I really like what they’re doing with Michigan Stadium. Once complete, this is going to be a great and massive venue for college football games. The one thing I kept thinking about was, how cool would it be if Michigan started playing night games here.

I know. I know. I’ll stop. But still…

It was also kind of neat to see a few construction guys in hard hats taking in the game as well.

So, was it louder?

I thought it was louder. My father is 71 years old and slightly deaf in both years. He attended the game with me. After the game he complained about a headache from the crowd noise and said his ears were still ringing on Monday. The bleachers weren’t shaking or anything like they do in Husky Stadium (Washington), but I was in Section 22 Row 45 well away from the Michigan student section and the band (By the way, I could not hear the band very well at all where I was sitting, which really sucked). The crowd noise was sufficiently loud most of the game, but what I did notice was that on big plays there seemed to be a clap or a louder “eruption” of sound from the crowd than what I remembered. Regular Michigan game visitors probably don’t notice this (and you should rightly all have your hearing checked by a physician tomorrow), but for infrequent visitors to Michigan Stadium like me (and probably for UM opponents as well) it was surprisingly loud.

Michigan Stadium, Now with Rrrrawk!
There have been numerous statements in the blogosphere this week about the piped-in music during the Western Michigan game. I guess this was a Michigan Stadium first. So what do I think? I’m in the camp that likes to impersonate an irate Bo Schembechler when a 38 Belly Option play in practice goes horribly wrong:

“Goddammit! Can’t you engineering propeller heads hookup some decent audio hardware to the Michigan Marching Band and blast the stadium visitors into oblivion with crystal clear music!!!?"

By God, I want to hear that band playing The Victors right all the way down in F*bleep*ing Akron!”

"And *bleep!* Neill Diamond!!!"

The answer is apparently no. The University of MichiganMarching Band is arguably the best marching band in the country and can play just about any music that Generation X, Y and Baby-boomers and even older want to hear. Piped in music at Michigan Stadium? Look, Guns and Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle” is fantastic when the Detroit Redwings first take the ice, or just prior to an Anaheim Ducks hockey game face off. But seriously, it has no freaking business in Michigan Stadium. Bo Schembechler would be rightfully enraged by this, so I thus rest my case....And....I’ve probably just given away the fact that, as stated frequently in the Lethal Weapon films: “I’m getting way too old for this shit”.

I hate to say I told you so. But I freaking did tell you so. As long as he stays healthy, I’m telling you folks in Ann Arbor right now that you are going to be very pleased with Tate Forcier’s exploits over the next 4 years. He is simply not your average mobile high school quarterback that just happened to run a spread option offense. The kid can take over football games by making big, WTF plays. And the other thing is he gets better when the pressure is turned up in football games.Opponents are not going to be comfortable until the clock really hits 00:00.

The only thing Rich Rodriguez and Rod Smith need to guard against is whether Mr. Forcier falls into the belief trap that: “If it’s gonna be, it’s gotta be me”. He can’t do it all himself. Forcier has a crap load of talent all around him this year and well into the future. Finally, we’re all going to get to know those other players pretty well this year because the ball will end up hitting their hands courtesy of Mr. Forcier and Mr. Robinson.

I was very pleased with the quarterback play and confidence overall, even with all of the mistakes, with the sole exception of SheridINT’s interception, which would have given Michigan a 38-7 win in all probability. Denard Robinson is going to keep Tate honest week after week and serve as a nice option for the Wolverines offensive packages going forward. Oh, and he just happens to be a jack-in-the-box-like Impact Player. It’s like you’re 1 year old again, and you hear this funny music playing, knowing perfectly well that something fabulously shocking is about to happen. How interesting is it that exactly 30 years ago a freshman player from Florida became a star player for the Michigan Wolverines (Anthony Carter, 1979)? Denard Robinson’s future at Michigan is going to be a very bright one.

But I’ll say it again: There are going to be a number of mistakes from these quarterbacks this year. Prepare yourselves mentally for that eventual certainty.You may tear your hair out, chug a bottle of Pepto (I’ve seen it a hundred times out here from UCLA fans), or just run outside and scream a cloud of expletives that will cause it to suddenly rain. Most UM fans are newly accustomed to such rituals after the 2008 season debacle. Yet these freshmen quarterbacks are going to work out OK over the long run. Competition is going to increase next year, and that’s probably all we need to know for now to finally get some rest.

My Favorite Thing
DEFENSE! How about Greg Robinson? It’s early days, and Notre Dame comes to town this Saturday, but we saw a number of familiar but different things versus Western Michigan on Saturday with the Michigan defense:

1.) Guys knowing where they were at and what they were doing
2.) Wrapping arms and driving through tackles with their feet (this was the bestest thing everest on Saturday!)
3.) Hot pursuit up until the whistle. (Whoa. Are we sure Bill McCartney isn’t the Michigan DC this year?)
4.) Appropriate, though not perfect, pursuit angles. (Yeah, that was sort of a problem last year.)
5.) General relentlessness and meanness along the Michigan front 4 (Van Bergen, Martin, Graham and Roh*). Not perfect, mind you, but wow, a lot of upside shown here for a group that lost Taylor, Jamison and Johnson to graduation last fall.
6.) More aggressive jamming and tighter coverage from the Michigan corners. (Dear Mr. Jesus, please do not let there ever be a 2008 Purdon’t Game redux until the end of the world. Thank you. Amen.)
7.) Just one big play on blown secondary coverage in the game. Not eight or ten.

*For the record, the word “roh” is German for “raw” or “uncooked”. It also means “rough”.

I, for one, deeply appreciate the new mean streak and furrowed brows of this very young Michigan defensive line. We will respect the new appetite for horrendously undercooked quarterbacks by Mr. Martin, Mr. Graham, Mr. Van Bergen and Mr. Roh. That name, Mr. Roh, suits you, sir.

Evolution is right, but brutal
So yeah, Greg Robinson perhaps has no business acting as head coach anywhere in the country. But so far the man appears to have evolved in Darwinian fashion through slow, gradual change over many years of coaching in the PAC 10, NFL, Big 12 and Big East football to make a fairly decent coordinator of defensive coaching staffs. A defensive coordinator sets the objectives and ensures the strategies support that defensive objective in every game. He allows the individual defensive coaches to recommend and implement the agreed individual tactics that support each of the strategies that will ultimately result in the final objective being met: defensive domination and victory. GERG learned from one of the best defensive coordinators ever (in my opinion) while at UCLA: Bob Field. Sure, UCLA had a prolific, West Coast style offenses throughout the 1980s under Terry Donahue. But you simply don’t go unbeaten in major bowl games with shitty defenses either. I think Robinson changed some things right away when he saw what he had to work with at Michigan, and he will be a much more flexible operator than prior Michigan defensive coordinators depending on Michigan’s opponents. This is a very important change for Michigan football in my opinion. It’s still early days, but at least we are witnessing what other football programs have enjoyed called "adjustments" and "relentlessness".

Position Report Card: Western Michigan Game

Quarterbacks: B+

OK so I’m harsh here, but I’m kind of still pissed about Sheridan’s interception, otherwise quite good. Michigan has a good quarterback again. Actually, the Wolverines have two. And Wolverine fans welcome the return of a downfield passing game again for the first time since January 2008. Yippy Skippy!

Running Backs: B
Minor was out with injury and that sucked, but Carlos Brown and Michael Shaw did a capable job in his absence. Would have like to see bigger runs in this game versus Western Michigan’s inexperienced defense, but that’s partly dependent upon Tate making some better reads in the future and offensive line executing a ton better in the future. If this group goes down in productivity, it may not be their fault, but it will be very disappointing. I do worry about Minor's fragile nature.

Offensive Line: C

Way too many penalties and not exactly the dominating performance one would have expected versus an overmatched and way inexperienced Broncos defensive line. It was the first game, but the run blocking simply has to get better. I was disappointed to see no big runs by the Michigan running backs opened legimately by the OL. The pass blocking wasn’t too bad, but my theory is that Michigan’s more mobile quarterbacks this year (Forcier and Robinson) are going to make the OL look a lot better than 2008 in this regard. I'll talk about this in the Notre Dame preview, but Michigan is not going to beat Notre Dame this weekend without marked improvement with the offensive line play against considerably better talent in the Irish front line.

Wide Receivers: B+
Aside from Junior Hemingway’s welcome back party (5 catches, 103 yards and 2 TDs), this group did pretty well, ratcheting up Michigan’s yards per catch to 13.1! Zoyks! Western Michigan’s secondary was as advertised (not good at all), but Michigan’s pitch and catch attack in this game was a significant step change from 2008. This group can and should get better and more consistent. I bet they’re all smiling about their new quarterbacks. I was not particularly impressed with the downfield blocking of Michigan receivers in this game, and this has to improve significantly to beat Notre Dame next week, and just about any other more talented secondary in the Big Ten.

Tight Ends: B+
I posted earlier that Koger and Webb were going to be factors in 2009 that defenses must prepare for. They showed pretty good blocking in the WMU game as well. I like this group and expect some very good things as this year progresses. Koger is the real deal. This is the part where we feel warm and fuzzy inside because Kevin Koger is only a sophomore and Martell Webb is only a redshirt freshman (CORRECTION: Martell Webb is a junior! Thanks Tar).

Defensive Line: A-
I was really worried about this group over the off-season and still will because of Michigan’s frightening lack of depth here, but I did not expect this front four to play this well against a veteran Broncos offensive line. I seriously believed that Bill Cubit would logically deduce that his best chance to win last Saturday would be to run behind their experienced, behemoth offensive line with that 1,000 yard rusher Brandon West and then balance it out with Hiller’s long ball chucks. Only he did not. West had only 46 yards in this game and 3.2 yards per carry. If this group can somehow stay healthy, this could easily become a better than 7 win season for Michigan. Mike Martin, Brandon Graham are very good. Van Bergen and Roh are still “raw”, but in a good way. Barring injury this group should progress and get better each week. Kudos to Bruce Tall, Mike Barwis and Greg Robinson for making this group angry and relentless.

Linebackers: C+
I’ve come to the conclusion that Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton are going to do OK this year. Nothing great or spectacular, but they’ll be functional. The thing I liked to see was the pursuit and speed of these two linebackers in the game Saturday. Both are more athletic than last year. The thing I didn’t like was some of the incorrect reads and general hesitancy on some plays to take on blockers and fill gaps. I hope this will improve more under the new DC. Stevie Brown did well in his OLB role in this game. Again kudos to GERG for moving Brown to a position where he can actually dish out some damage instead of the reverse.

Secondary: B-

Tim Hiller normally throws for 300+ yards and lights up the scoreboard for 3 TDs or more against MAC opponents. Michigan held him to 259 yards passing including one major blown coverage up play for 73 yards, sacked him twice and intercepted him twice. He never got in the groove. Most importantly, Michigan corners played much closer coverage and did well jamming WMU receivers like Nunez, Ponder and Arnheim at the line. WMU never got any kind of rhythm going. Cissoko and Warren are going to do well for Michigan this year, but we all observed the kind of ruin that almost certainly awaits the Wolverines the moment even one player gets injured in this group.I really don’t mean to knock on J.T. Floyd. He’s young and will only get better in the future. But the second Cissoko went out of the game with a nerve pain injury, Floyd ceased the disruptive press coverage and gave his man way to much room to maneuver. I didn’t like the penalties on Warren, but in general I thought these guys covered, tackled and pursued fairly well for a first game. And let’s face it, these young Michigan secondary defenders are going to be burnt toast at least 2 times next week versus Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen, Golden Tate and Michael Floyd, maybe more. Tony Gibson and GERG will need to sharpen their pencils this week and put together one hell of a game plan. Maybe I’m batshit crazy, but I’m thinking Michigan needs some better speed and coverage capability at the safety spot.Unfortunately, it probably won’t be very long before we get a preview of what Vlad “The Impaler” Emilien and 5 star DB Justin Turner have to display.

About the Monkey

Rodriguez and the team faced a tough week with the practice allegations coming out on Monday. He did a great job keeping the team focused and executing the game plan against the Broncos. Notre Dame is going to be a tough opponent, but even though both teams won decisively Saturday, the pressure is clearly much higher on Charlie Weis than Rich Rodriguez.

When the game concluded Saturday, Calvin Magee and Rod Smith made their way down the steps of Michigan Stadium around my section (22). A number of fans yelled out to them and said "Great game coach Magee!" and "Great job guys!".

I left that game impressed with the support for the coaching staff, despite the distractions from the press.


Tar said...

Webb is a JR, not a RS FR

Markusr2007 said...

Tar, Thanks for the correction. I will update the post.