Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I'm Billy Mumphrey

"You see Elaine, Billy was a simple country boy. You might say a cockeyed optimist, who got himself mixed up in the high stakes game of world diplomacy and international intrigue."

- Kosmo Kramer (The Assman)

Okay, today I'm Billy Mumphrey. But I'm ready to admit that Michigan's football season is a lost cause. Although I am still convinced that this is just a bad season, and not a sign of bad things to come in the future, some others are not so sure. In my season-long quest to convince myself and others that this season is a transitional one, and does not necessarily mean doom for the Michigan football program, I thought I'd explore some other relatively recent transitions to new ways of doing things. Many teams/products have tried new formulas throughout the years, with mixed results. Let's examine some of those, shall we:

New Coke
The geniuses at Coca Cola decided in 1985 that their product was not dominant enough in the cola marketplace - their market share had dipped from 60% just after WWII to 24% because of the emergence of Pepsi. Coke's response was to come up with a new formulation for their cola that tasted more like the sweeter tasting Pepsi Cola. To make a long story short, New Coke (or Coke II) was such a failure that Coca Cola brought back the original formulation as "Classic Coke" just 77 days later and New Coke was ultimately phased out altogether by 1992. This failed marketing ploy is the standard by which all failed marketing ploys are judged - kinda like the "Watergate" of stupid marketing ideas.

Nebraska Football
Obviously this is a closer parallel to the Michigan football situation. Tom Osborne retired after the 1997 season (after sharing the 1997 national championship with Michigan), and his handpicked successor Frank Solich took over the program. In Osborne's 25 seasons at the helm, the Nebraska program had finished the season out of the top ten just four times. Solich coached the team from 1998 thru 2003, when he was fired despite winning nearly 75% of his games. Then, Nebraska inexplicably hired Bill Callahan, who had recently been fired from his position as head coach of the Oakland Raiders. The Huskers changed from a power running I-formation offense to a "west coast" style offense - with disastrous results. The Huskers fired the AD responsible for the hire, then hired Tom Osborne as AD - who then fired Callahan. Nebraska is still recovering from this. This comparison should strike some fear on the hearts of Michigan fans everywhere, but there are as many differences as similarities - so don't panic too much. Because...

Oklahoma Football
Another close parallel to Michigan football. The Sooners broke from the successful Switzer era (successful early, but struggled later) by hiring Bob Stoops in 1999. Stoops previously had been the defensive coordinator at Florida. The season before his arrival, the Sooners were 5-6, despite the superior talent accumulated by head coach John Blake's stellar recruiting. Stoops was 7-5 his first season in Norman - a season in which they used the spread offense for the first time, let by a JC transfer QB. They won the BCS championship in 2000 - just Stoops' second year on the job. Oklahoma has consistently been near the top of the rankings ever since.

Bush Administration
Despite his re-election in 2004, things were not going well with the Bush Administration in 2005 and 2006. During 2005-06, Bush changed out most of his cabinet. Gone were Sec. of State Colin Powell, Sec. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Chief of Staff Andrew Card, Interior Sec. Gale Norton, Sec. of Energy Spencer Abraham, and Sec of Homeland Security Tom Ridge (among others). However, the results were largely the same. The President has one of the lowest approval ratings in the history of approval ratings. Whatever it means, the success or failure of this midstream re-structuring of the cabinet will essentially be judged by the voters on a couple weeks. Election of McCain will be an endorsement of Bush policies, and election of Obama will be a repudiation of same. Barring an upset, it looks like it was a failure. Personally, I think the entire 8-year term was a failure, but perhaps that's a post for another day.

American Idol
While the essential format of American Idol has remained constant - marginally talented karaoke singers judged by three panelists of varying degrees of qualifications to judge anyone - the first year of the program featured two hosts: Ryan Seacrest and Brian Dunkleman (nice hair, dude). After the first season, Dunkleman was jettisoned and Seacrest was left as the only remaining host. Whether or not it was because of the newly formatted hosting arrangement, the show's ratings have been consistently high - routinely 50% higher than the ratings in season one - and Seacrest is a ubiquitous presence on television. Regardless of whether you like this show or not - and I do not - this has to be viewed as a good decision. In addition, many of the shows that are rip-offs of American Idol have the same format - single host, three judges: America's Got Talent, Nashville Star, etc.

Windows Vista
I have Vista on my home computer, and I haven't had any major problems with it, but I am not doing anything fancy on my home computer - Microsoft Office, torrents, internet browsing, blogging, watching porn, downloading pics of celebrity nipple slips, etc. But there are lots of whiners out there are complaining for various reasons. But there are also some positive reviews, mostly from gamers. I'm not computer savvy enough to know what the issues are, but I do know that the switchover from XP to Vista was insignificant from my standpoint. I think the jury's still out on this one.

After forty years of success under the guidance of Bo Schembechler and his former assistants Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr, AD Bill Martin went "outside the family" to hire Rich Rodriguez from West Virginia. Not only did Martin hire an outsider, but one with an entirely different offensive philosophy. Coach Rodriguez is one of the creators of the spread offense that is used throughout the country with great success (nine of the top ten offenses in the country run a version of the spread). The good news is that West Virginia went 3-8 his first season, and 9-4 his second season. Then he went on a streak of four conference titles in five years. And the year WVU did not win the conference title, they finished second. The bad news is that it was the Big East.

The last time Michigan hired an outsider, they hired a little known assistant coach named Bo. That worked out pretty well. How will this one turn out? I'm hoping it's more like Oklahoma rather than more like Nebraska or Coke II. Stay tuned...


Friday, October 24, 2008

Michigan-Michigan State

While I am optimistic about the future of the Michigan football program, I must admit at present it's a little depressing to be an underdog to our "little brothers" at home. It's kinda embarrassing to be hoping for an upset of Michigan State at home to save our season. If the Spartans are going to beat the Wolverines, this is the year to get it done, because RichRod's squad is only going to get better over the next few years. Here are some arguments why Michigan can win this game - and some Sparty counter-arguments:

Michigan State is one dimensional on offense...
So far this year the Spartans have rushed for 160 yards per game (and remember - college football counts sacks as negative rushing yards). Javon Ringer is a stud, but that's the extent of MSU's offense. QB Brian Hoyer is completing less than 50% of his passes this year - not good. If Michigan commits to stopping the run by putting Brandon Harrison up on the line of scrimmage (and I'll start throwing stuff at my TV if they don't), Hoyer is probably not capable of beating them with his arm.

...but that one dimension is pretty damn good
Ringer already has 1179 yards on the season, and already has more carries than all of last year. He's a workhorse and, like legendary Mike Hart, he does not fumble. Michigan's defense has proven to be less than stout against the run, despite the fact that their strongest unit (in theory anyway) is their defensive line. The problem is the linebackers and the safeties are bad. The Spartans could exploit this.

Michigan's offense is coming around...
In the first half of the Penn State game, here is a summary of the Wolverines' first three drives: 86-yard TD drive, a 49-yard FG drive, and a 78-yard TD drive. They had 253 yards in the first half against the Nittany Lions, who have a pretty good defense. Minor and Threet ran the ball well, passes were on target, and there were no turnovers. As long as Threet is in the game (and the offense doesn't give the ball away) the Michigan offense is competent, and borders on being good. Note to RichRod: Let Threet play the whole game.

...but Nick Sheridan
Yeah, I know. For some reason, Coach Rod insists on running Sheridan out there time and time again when Threet doesn't appear to have any sort of injury and Sheridan doesn't appear to have any sort of talent. If Sheridan plays at all, that is a bad sign. God bless the kid, because he's out there giving it his best, but the offense becomes stagnant (or just plain bad) when he's in there. The defense doesn't have to play for the pass at all, and there is no running room with 8 guys on the line of scrimmage. The Michigan offense becomes more one dimensional than the Sparty offense, except they don't have a stud like Ringer to fall back on. If Sheridan takes off the headphones and puts a helmet on, Spartan fans should rejoice and start ordering celebratory shots.

Brian Hoyer may not play...
Starting QB Hoyer is listed as questionable (covers.com lists him as "questionable - Head" - an assessment that many Spartan fans might agree with). As shown above, backup QBs are a scary proposition for the offense. Many times it leads to narrowing the number of plays that the offense is going to call, making the job of the defense easier. The backup is a freshman. Even if Hoyer starts, after a head injury in the OSU game, one hit from Brandon Graham could send him to the sidelines asking for a popsicle and his blankie.

...but Brian Hoyer sucks
I'm not sure why Spartan fans would not be excited about the possibility of getting someone else in there to run the offense. After all, Ringer's gonna get 40 carries anyway, so does it really matter who's going to hand him the ball? Why not replace the QB with a fullback and just snap the ball directly to Ringer?

The Spartans haven't won in Ann Arbor since 1990. They have to be pointing to this game as an opportunity, not only for a big win, but to impress the recruits that are going to be on their own sideline and also the opposite sideline - both physically and metaphorically.

I think the Wolverine offense has turned the corner. They seem to have good balance and have the talent to make plays - as long as Threet is playing. Brandon Minor adds power to a previously "soft" running game. The defense has to start making plays, and the turnovers have to stop. If Threet plays the whole game: Michigan 27, MSU 24. If Sheridan plays more than one token series: Michigan 17, MSU 27. Enjoy the game and as always:

Go Blue!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Michigan Football and the 2008 Election

I got to ponderin' this morning, and I came up with an infallible and irrefutable theory. I decided that your opinion on the fortunes of Michigan football probably mirrors your opinions on the upcoming presidential election. Here is how I see it:

1. The Future is Bright
This is the group of Michigan fans that, despite their struggles so far this year, believes that the Rich Rodriguez hiring was the right one and the program will flourish under the new coach. Essentially, these are the hopeful optimists who are confident that the spread offense is the offense that will take us into the next great era of Michigan football. These people have observed how the game has changed, and how "three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust" just doesn't cut it anymore. The traditionalists think that these people are naive idiots, and that we are being led down a path to ultimate destruction - as if not making a bowl game one year is some sort of apocalyptic event.

This group consists mainly of Obama supporters. Supporters of Obama are more prone to embrace change, and are tired of the "same-old same-old" of tired Bush policies that McCain offers. But the supporters of Obama don't just want change for change's sake. They truly believe that Obama is a leader who can take us thru the current turbulent economic times and rid ourselves of the Iraq war anchor that is hanging around our neck. Traditionalists think that these people are naive idiots and that Obama is all flash and no substance, and that he's a Muslim pinko terrorist sympathizer - as if talking to world leaders we don't agree with is some sort of traitorous betrayal to freedom loving patriots everywhere.

2. Oh My God, What Have We Done
This is the group of Michigan fans that wanted Michigan to hire a coach with a more "traditional" offensive philosophy; i.e., more like Lloyd and Bo. This group would probably include the guys who already have started the Fire Rich Rodriguez website. There is panic in the air. These guys want to dump Rodriguez now and think that we can still get Les Miles, despite the fact that he already had a chance to come here if he really wanted to, and chose not to. These are also probably the people who are floating the rumor that Rich Rod is talking to Clemson about their head coaching position. They point to all the perceived mistakes and shortcomings of the coach - he can't recruit like Lloyd, he talks to the media more than Lloyd, his offensive system has failed to adapt to the existing talent, etc. They think that Kirk Ferentz is a "maverick." The people from group (1) above think that these people are stodgy old out-of-touch buzzkills, and that hiring a coach with a more "Lloyd-like" offense would have been a huge mistake.

This group consists mainly of McCain supporters who are reluctant to embrace change and feel that the war is a good idea and is totally justified in the age of global terrorism. These people believe that leaving Iraq before being able to declare some sort of "victory" is tantamount to surrender. These people are also convinced that in these troubled and turbulent economic times, they want a president who won't do anything different than the previous administration. Change is something these people can't handle. They think that John McCain is a "maverick." The people from group (1) above think that McCain is a stodgy old out-of-touch rich man, and that electing someone who would perpetuate Bush's failed policies would be a huge mistake.

3. Oh My God, This is Horrible - But I'm Hopeful...
This is the group of Michigan fans that is taking the "wait-and-see" approach to the new coach. They can see how we needed to modernize the offense, bring the conditioning program into the 21st century, and get some new blood in the program. On the other hand, they are also leery of outsiders, and wonder why we couldn't have hired a "Michigan man" instead of some guy from West Virginia. These people are straddling the line on RichRod, and are ready to jump to either side if something happens. Win over PSU this weekend - "I'm starting to warm up to this guy." Loss to Minnesota later in the year - "I'm not so sure about this coach." The people from groups (1) and (2) think these guys are mamby-pamby dispassionate non-fans who can't make up their minds.

This group consists of the "undecided" voters. I'm not sure what these people are waiting for. They can see both sides on every issue, and have some opinions in common with each candidate - "I like Obama's plan to get out of Iraq, but I'm pro-life." You've got 19 days left - make up your mind. They watch the debates trying to find something to cling to, and read all the spam e-mails that falsely claim that Obama is a Muslim and McCain has cancer and is about to die. The people from groups (1) and (2) think these people are mamby-pamby dispassionate boneheads who can't make up their minds.

So, there you have it. Where do you fall in the spectrum? If you're a Michigan fan, please weigh in. I'm a man of science. I want to attempt to prove or disprove my theory. From this post and previous posts, I'm sure you can guess into which group I fall...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Michigan Football - Improvement

Well, since I already talked about the obvious things that are wrong with Michigan football, I thought I'd weigh in with some equally obvious opinions on what I think needs to be done in the second half of the 2008 season to set up the Wolverines for a successful 2009 season. Please note: I am an expert, and my opinions are unassailable.

1. Don't play Nick Sheridan any more unless Threet is hurt.
Next year's opening day starter, believe it or not, will probably be Steven Threet. The alternatives are incoming freshmen, and odds are that they'll be sitting to start the year. Playing Sheridan at all is just a waste of time. Threet has to get as many reps as he can at QB. This offense needs an experienced QB who can read defenses in order to decide whether or not to hand the ball off, keep the ball, etc. Since he's gonna be the starter next year, play Threet every possible snap.

2. Fix the offensive line.
The blocking is atrocious. Use the second half of the season to get the top five (or seven, or eight) as many snaps as they can. As long as they stay away from injuries, the O-line should improve with more experience. Incidentally, this observation is number one on the all-time list of most obvious observations of all-time. Please congratulate me on my keen sense for the obvious.

3. Turnovers
If the Wolverines can cut their turnovers in half for the last half of the season, it should be seen as a victory. I'm not sure how you can coach a team on how to hold onto the ball, but if there's any way to have Mike Hart give these guys some advice, he should be consulted. Stop dropping the friggin ball on the ground. Since he handles the ball on every snap, Threet needs to take special care of the pigskin in order for the team to have any success. Also, stress the importance of creating turnovers on defense.

Since the offense is obviously struggling, perhaps the defense should get more aggressive and take some more chances. Use Mouton as a pass rusher like Crable. Blitz the safeties more. Whatever. It's increasingly apparent that the offense is not going to be able to put up huge numbers this year, so challenge the defense to step up and create turnovers by attacking the opposition with more funky stuff. And tackle better. The defensive line was supposed to be the strength of the defense, and other than Graham they have been pretty quiet.

5. Rotate the safeties
It's becoming more and more apparent as the season goes on that safety is a position of weakness on this team. It's time to sit fifth year senior Charles Stewart and get some of the other guys in there to get more experience. The safeties are like the QB of the defensive backfield, and they need snaps to get experience: Williams, Chambers, Smith, Floyd - hell, put a CB back there if he can tackle (Woolfolk, Cissoko, etc).

6. Play baseball
Treat the last half of the season like a MLB team that is out of the pennant race. Instead of playing veterans who won't be here next year or don't figure to play much next year, play the young guys and give them a chance to see what they can do. I am by no means suggesting that they give up on the season and play all freshmen. On the contrary, perhaps this season can be saved if the coaching staff can get some of the young guys some more snaps. And I'm not talking about all freshmen all the time. We're already using a fair share of youngsters, but I'm talking about playing select underclassmen who Coach Rodriguez and his staff know they will need contributions from next year.

I think the key things we need to look for the rest of the season are "improvement" and "experience" from almost all areas of the team, except of course Zoltan, who's already the most awesome thing about this team (and if that, my friends, is not an apt microcosm of the season, I don't know what is). Any further suggestions? I'm certain Coach Rodriguez reads this blog regularly and will take any advice that we give him.

Go Blue!

NOTE: I apologize for my excessive use of the word "obvious" throughout this blog entry. Please forgive me, but I am obviously unable to use a thesaurus.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Michigan Football - Midterm Analysis

Well, so far this blog has been suspiciously silent on the ongoing debacle that is the 2008 Michigan Football program (a couple work trips and the painful reality of the season have gotten in the way). So I guess it's about time we addressed it, as difficult as it might be. I was on record saying the team would win nine games this year, and that prediction is already shot. The ineptitude is astounding. There are a lot of reasons for the poor results:

1. QB
This is the most obvious, as the QB is the most visible player on the field. Threet has been decent at times, and has even shown that he's capable of running the ball on occasions where it's needed. However, he makes bad decisions, is inaccurate throwing the ball, and has shown a propensity for fumbling. At least twice already this season, Threet has fumbled the ball while just cocking his arm to make a throw. His backup and nominal "co-starter" for the first couple games, Nick Sheridan, has shown nothing to make anyone wonder why he was a walk-on. Michigan's pass offense is 102nd in the nation (108th in pass efficiency). Sheesh.

2. Offensive line
The O-line has one returning starter from last year. The blocking has been downright dreadful. They have been unable to open significant holes for the running game, and have not shown any consistency in their pass blocking. Sheesh.

3. Safeties
There have been several big plays that could have been averted if only the safeties had taken a better angle on the play. Both Steve Brown and Charles Stewart have been atrocious at times. Brandon Harrison has been pretty good, but he's had his share of miscues as well.

4. Hold on to the damn ball!
In just six games, the Wolverines have fumbled 20 times already, and lost 11 of those. As a comparison, for the 13-game 2007 season, Michigan fumbled 29 times and lost just 13. Although time of possession is somewhat of a misleading stat overall, it's indicative of turnover impact and offensive ineptitude. Michigan is averaging just 26 minutes of possession this year. Michigan is 114th in the country in turnover margin. Sheesh.

5. Coaching

Okay, I'll admit the coaching has been lacking so far, but I'm gonna revisit this topic later, so don't panic. I place a lot of the blame for the shoddy tackling and the poor blocking on the shoulders of the coaching staff. While I understand that it's a new staff, a new system, yadda yadda yadda, I still expected the talent on the team to be able to adjust to the new schemes with not a whole lot of drop-off. I was wrong. Perhaps the talent level is lower than I thought.

So, at the risk of sounding like a total homer, I'd like to say a few words about what I think are the positives about the season as we hit the season's midpoint.

1. Sam McGuffie
Despite the lack of blocking by the O-line, McGuffie has managed to eke out some good gains on a regular basis. In addition, he's shown that he is capable of being a good receiver out of the backfield. And he does not fumble often, unlike Minor and Grady.

2. Martavious Odoms
When he gets the ball, it feels like he can go all the way. He's lightning quick and has good hands. Unfortunately, too many times the ball is thrown inaccurately or his blockers whiff and he's hung out to dry. He has a chance to be a great one.

3. Zoltan
Okay, I'm reaching here, but Zoltan has been spectacular. The punt team is second in the nation in net punting average. Zoltan is the man.

Here's what I'm hanging my hat on: I have confidence in the system. Despite the shortcomings of this year's team, I don't think the spread offense is to blame. Lot's of teams run the spread, and most of them copied it from RichRod. Did anyone catch the Okla-Texas game last weekend? Oklahoma runs the spread offense, and theirs works because they have a great QB and their linemen can block. I think that once we get a good QB to Ann Arbor (hopefully next year with Forcier and Beaver on the way) and the linemen learn how to block, the offense will start to click.

In this age of instant analysis and feedback and blogs, don't fall into the trap of giving up on the team and the new staff just because of a slow start. I think it's too early to panic and bail out on the system because the players are unable to execute it. I think we have a good coaching staff that needs more time to teach the new offensive and defensive systems to the players. Once they have more experience under their belt, I think the offense will flourish. This year is gonna be painful though. It's already surpassed what I thought the pain level would be for this season. I was not anticipating this. Anyway, as always...

Go Blue!