Sunday, October 11, 2009

How About Calling Fan Myopia Into Question?

Following Michigan’s close road loss tonight at 12th ranked Iowa tonight 28-30, I was surfing the web for a few minutes searching for other college football stories (especially those laced with schadenfreude) to sooth some of the pain in my brain and abdomen that comes from hours of yelling, celebrating, swearing, and drinking, all in no particular order.

I stumbled across the following post over at the ESPN College Football Nation Blog written by Adam Rittenberg. This post seemed to grab the torch (and pitchforks) of no doubt thousands of Michigan football fans who had watched the game tonight by calling into question Rich Rodriguez’s decision to put in freshman quarterback Denard Robinson over freshman starter Tate Forcier with just 1:25 left to play in the football game:
"Granted, Robinson had boosted Michigan by leading an 11-play, 59-yard scoring drive minutes earlier. And Forcier had struggled throughout the night, completing just 8 of 19 passes with an interception and a fumble.

But Forcier has been Mr. Clutch for Michigan this year, leading game-winning touchdown drives against both Notre Dame and Indiana and a game-tying drive last week at Michigan State. Robinson, meanwhile, boasts tremendous running skills but seems ill-suited to lead the two-minute drill with no timeouts. He entered Saturday night having completed 4 of 11 passes for 57 yards with two interceptions."

I watched the game from start to finish. I don’t think Forcier played that badly. He did not play particularly well, either. I was struck by how many online posts involved placing the weight of the entire game outcome on the coaching decisions in the final 3 minutes.

I saw things very differently.

In my view, for the third week in a row, Michigan could call itself fortunate to be trailing only 14-20 at halftime to Iowa. It very well could have been 14-28.

In the second half of the game, this is what we observed from the Michigan offensive possessions with quarterback noted:

Drive 1 (Forcier): 14:55 in 3rd at UM 33: 3 and out (UM 14, Iowa 20)

Drive 2 (Forcier): 10:39 in 3rd at UM 39: 4 and out (UM 14, Iowa 23)

Drive 3 (Forcier): 8:57 in 3rd at UM 43: 10 play, 57 yard drive for TD (UM 21, Iowa 23)

Drive 4 (Forcier): 14:15 in 4th at UM1: 4 and out (UM 21, Iowa 23)

Drive 5 (Forcier): 12:56 in 4th at UM 25: 4 and out (UM 21, Iowa 30)

Drive 6 (Robinson): 7:42 in 4th at UM40: 11 play, 60 yd drive for TD (UM 28, Iowa 30)

Drive 7 (Robinson): 1:25 in 4th at UM17: 3 plays, INT

In the second half Tate Forcier delivered one touchdown drive and four three(or something)-and-outs. If Forcier really is “Mr. Clutch” not to mention a gifted pro at running the 2 minute drill (Michigan runs a no huddle spread offense all game long so WTF is a 2 minute drill?), then what business does Denard Robinson even have being in the football game?

Well, the answer is that despite Michigan’s (and Forcier’s) flailing about offensively in the 4th quarter, the game was tight at 21-23 with over 13 minutes left. All of the sudden Iowa scored an easy touchdown on a 42 yard strike to TE Tony Moeaki, rambling the distance untouched.

Not sufficiently surprised? Me neither.

With Michigan now down by two scores (9 points), Forcier is sent out to the field again by Rich Rodriguez. Forcier (and his cohorts) respond by promptly directing yet another three-and-out. Anybody with two brain cells to rub together could see plain as day that Forcier’s decision-making, field presence (-5 yard delay of game penalty), not to mention his throws were way off. It’s also possible from Forcier’s buckling over in pain that I witnessed on the TV screen, that he might have hurt his wrist or shoulder on the earlier possession, or something. Regardless, this final three-and-out by Forcier and Co. was costly to Michigan because Iowa proceeded to whittle away 4 more precious minutes off the clock on their ensuing possession

By the time Michigan got the ball back, there was 7:42 left. Rodriguez is visibly pissed off. He decides to try Denard Robinson at quarterback and, despite certain groans from yours truly, this decision was the right one, resulting in a touchdown that shrunk the Hawkeye lead back down to 2 points once again, 28-30.

So with 3:16 left Michigan only needed a quick defensive stop, and a field goal to win the game. The defense delivered on their end of the bargain. Jason Olesnavage’s longest successful field goal kick this year was 44 yards. Irrespective of which quarterback Rodriguez would select for the final drive, this would mean leading the Michigan offense at least 50 yards (from the UM 17) in 1:25 minutes with no timeouts all the way down to the Iowa 37 yard line in order to put Olesnavage in position to match his earlier 44 yard field goal try.

Yes, Tate Forcier has certainly delivered his share of Hollywood-esque final drive theatrics against Notre Dame, Indiana and almost pulled off a dramatic come-from-behind stunt in East Lansing a week ago.

So why not put him back in, since that’s what he does best? I mean, he’s even said it himself: “That’s how I play”.

Then I wondered.

Has it occurred to anyone that maybe Forcier was given the chance(s) already to play out the game “his way” tonight against Iowa? Denard Robinson can run and throw well too, not mention make electrifying plays in his own right. Or have we all somehow forgotten how he left defenders eating tire fragments as he scampered into the end zone against Western Michigan and again versus Eastern Michigan in a matter of seconds? Michigan rushed for 195 yards tonight against Iowa’s top 15 defense. Is it then so hard for Michigan fans to imagine Denard Robinson breaking out and scampering 83 yards for a touchdown on the final drive? What if he had just scampered out of bounds well in field goal range and with plenty of time left on the clock? What if he had connected to Odoms at or around the Iowa 31 with those 45 seconds yet to play?

There seems to be a refrain stating something to the effect that Denard "can't do it" and only Tate "can do it".

I don’t think it’s rational to believe that since Forcier achieved his acrobatic feats in games past that therefore the probability is high every time that he would achieve the same or similar feats again and again, week after week. Forcier throws interceptions, makes bad reads and commits fumbles too. He threw 1 INT tonight and also fumbled. And he does it in crunch time as well. We all know how the MSU game ended. On the other side of the coin Robinson played well tonight and, as improbable as it seemed at the time, actually and almost single-handedly brought the Wolverines back from the dead.

In my view, not only did Denard Robinson deserve the opportunity to lead the team and win the football game “the way HE plays it” on this final drive with 1:25 left to play and no freaking timeouts, Rich Rodriguez was right to make that choice.

Forcier had his opportunities, and with 4 out of 5 stalled drives in the second half, a fumble and an INT, a 2 score deficit. Furthermore, switching back to Forcier on the final drive despite Robinson’s previous touchdown drive would have not only been a slap in the face to Denard, but unfair to the rest of the football team, come victory or defeat. Forcier got his reps in and did his damnest. To deny Robinson his shot would not have been right.

Rodriguez didn’t throw away the football game with this last drive decision. College football is a team sport. The outcome of football games (the final score) is the product of a progression of multiple events. It’s very common and traditional within our society to attempt to attribute all the glory of such outcomes to one player or once coach. This is how we try to make sense of the unbelievable and the highly improbable in team sports. But this approach underestimates the complexity of events and the speed with which they take place. It’s also rarely the truth. A great many more things contributed to the last second Michigan victories and losses this year than one single player, one play call, or one coaching decision. If we as fans only notice what is immediately before us, only what is most recently apparent to our eyes on the television screen, then we focus on the bad throw, the dropped punt, and then we long for some young kid to re-play yet another epic last-second, game-winning episode. When we do this, there’s a risk that we miss the non-apparent things that are occurring in between, such as a young south Florida kid stepping into the game for the first time of the night, completely cold, no previous reps, under the freezing night sky, and rallying the team to score, helping them all quickly forget that 42 yard Iowa touchdown play which shook the blackened stadium.

This loss hurts. The Michigan football team may be 4-2 tonight, but it is growing up quick right in front of our eyes. We would all be wise not to miss the good stuff.


scogor said...


Very well reasoned post. I've followed UM for more than 40 years (and graduated from UM in '75), grew up in Ohio, have many Buckeyes in my circle of family and friends...Of greater relevance is the twenty-five years I've had personally observing SEC football and in particular the Gators as I've married into that family and have spent and will continue to spend many fall weekends in the Swamp with one or two road trips to Gator games. Also, I've been given some additional insight into RR and what he's trying to accomplish at UM from my trainer who played tailback at WVU when RR was an assistant coach in Morgantown...

With all that as background, and having suffered through years of watching Big Ten "powers" fall flat on their faces against faster, more athletic teams, I was very pleased UM's decision to hire RR as it (at least to me) sent a clear message that UM was serious about competing on the BCS stage. I also realized that the complete restructuring of the team would take several years.

I think all of us realistically anticipated that the second year of the rebuilding process would have more than its share of ups and downs and this is exactly what has occurred during the first six games--we've fairly easily won two games that we would have (hopefully) somehow won last year, and we've competed in the other four games--all of which could have easily gone the other way--but quite frankly, it's doubtful that last year's team would have won any of those games.

RR is assembling the type of SEC calibre speed and athleticism that he will need to (as I tell my Gator wife) turn UM into "Florida North"--and there are certainly worse fates than that in the college football universe.

What is evident is that we need at least one more strong recruiting class to get to that point. I agree with you that Denard deserves increased playing time and this team will benefit from that increased playing time both this year and in the future. I don't think any of us can predict at this point whether it will be Tate or Denard (or both) qb'ing this team next year but can anyone deny that for all the growing pains and agonizing losses the difference between last year and this year is like night and day?

Everyone should take a step back, realize how much youth and undeveloped talent we have on this team (with more on the way), and enjoy watching this team grow during the next six weeks and (hopefully) into the bowl season. RR's track record calls for a 5-6 game improvement from year 1 to year 2...but I think what's most important is that these kids have played four incredibly tight games so far this year and I can't help but think that this will come in handy in the future.

Go Blue!

Don said...

It's been true as long as there has been football that the most popular guy with fans after a loss is the quarterback sitting on the bench at the end of the game.