Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Man, Sports.

"Sports is Hell" - William Tecumseh Sherman

I mean, he probably said that. War too, obviously. But mainly, sports. And even more mainly, college football. And even more mainly, the unending anomaly that is Michigan football.
The General's sports-induced anger prompted his 'scorched earth' total war tactics. Same, bro.

During the increasingly arduous Autumn months, many an athletic contest is fought out on the field, gridiron, court, rink, and pitch (if you're into that sort of thing).

NBA basketball starts up, as does about 8 months of ESPN's daily reminders that LeBron James exists, and how important it is for you to know everything he does and says, because human privacy in the United States of America is so '90s.

The NHL season kicks off, along with about 8 months of ESPN's semi-weekly reminders that the NHL still exists.

The National Football League begins its assault on weekly sports programming. More importantly, perhaps, is the weekly sadness it offers in fantasy realms for the ever-growing sect of society that chooses to base a great deal of happiness upon whether or not fictional collections of grown men throwing a ball around can accrue more points than an equally fictional collection of different grown men. I have 3 fantasy teams. I am part of the problem.

Playoff baseball is in full swing (ha, get it? Swing. Like a...never mind). Those whose teams are eliminated find reasons to hate or cheer for those remaining. Those of us whose teams are still in contention find ways to figuratively/literally induce self-harm after crushing late-inning defeats BROUGHT ON BY COLLAPSES OF DEATH STAR-SIZED PROPORTIONS THANKS IN PART TO G*DD*MN JOE BUCK JINXING EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME YOU JERK YOU MONOTONOUS DETROIT HATING JERK WHY WHY WHY. Sorry. I didn't mean to yell at you guys, it's not your fault.

Also, I guess cricket season is happening. So, yeah, like I said...if you're into that sort of thing.
It's like hockey baseball? But with a wooden sword? Just stop.
Then, there's college football. NCAA Division I college football. Specifically the Big Ten. Specifically-er, for the purposes herein on this inconsistently updated blog, the University of Michigan football team.
(Hit the jump for the ramblings of a young man at odds with rationality)

Michigan Football, 2013: 5-1 (1-1 B1G)

-Last Game: UM 40, Penn Shhhhhtate 43; 4OT
-AP Poll: Unranked
-Coaches Poll: 24

'O' Identity, Where Art Thou?

Six sanity-draining games into Michigan's 2013 season and we still don't know what this team is. The offensive line is a cyclone of uncertainty and rotating personnel, and they're apparently one injury to All-American Left Tackle Taylor Lewan away from appearing wholly unable to perform even adequately. (If your running backs garner just 28 total rushing yards on 30 carries, something has gone horribly awry on the line).

Coach Hoke argues that the OL is young, which is overwhelmingly true for a great deal of them, starters and backups included, and especially true for the line's interior. Other than senior tackles Lewan and Mike Schofield, the rest of the OL is mostly an amalgam of freshmen, redshirt freshmen, and sophomores. Here, perhaps, is the last time we can really blame RichRod for anything about this team. If you're unaware, Brother Richard does not recruit offensive linemen. He left the team with a criminally low amount of depth at the position. It's downright dastardly. (Seriously. Go look up his recruiting classes at Arizona. Go ahead, I'll wait. They're...I just...I can't. I digress. Sports.)

Sure, Michigan has a plethora of young men waiting in the wings/developing. Highly ranked linemen pepper the 2012-2014 recruiting classes: David Dawson, Chris Fox, Patrick Kugler, Kyle Bosch, and Ben Braden, among others, figure to be fixtures on the line at some point, while Kyle Kalis and Erik Magnuson are already seeing relevant playing time significant to their growth as future maulers. Still, young is young, and experience takes...experience. Well said, Joe. Thanks, Joe.

On the other hand, age is just a number. UCLA starts 4 freshmen and 1 sophomore on their offensive line. They're averaging 190 yards a game on the ground, and 4.5 per carry. Stanford has Freshmen and Sophomores getting serious playing time at every spot on their O-Line, and they're...well, Stanford. Michigan recruits as well or better than both these schools, yet is unable to garner the same production from their OL.

We're not asking for the 2012 'Bama line that produced ALL THE NFL TALENT. But it takes some seriously ridiculous line play/play calling to average .9 yard/carry. Good lord. Sports.

That said, you can't entirely blame age (or lack thereof). Which brings us to: Offensive Coordinator Alan "Al" Borges, who seems completely aversive to predominantly calling plays that accentuate this offense's strengths, in favor of trying to establish an archaic notion of 'Manball' that simply doesn't fit the current personnel. Manball, in essence, is running the ball between the tackles - into that aforementioned problem area known as the interior - and grinding forward for 3-5 yards a play, occasionally breaking off longer runs in an effort to draw the secondary in and set up play-action passes. Sports.

If you've watched Michigan football for the past, um, ever, you know that's not what's happening. Those 3-5 yards forward have consistently been -3-0 yards forward (also known as 'backward' in some scientific circles). Herein there are no excuses for Coach Borges. You know that saying about when something isn't broke, you don't fix it? This is broke. Fix it. Adapt.


Courtesy of FGS contributor Sean, our resident Doogie Howser Lookalike, this picture is the end of the Penn State game in a nutshell. What would be the smart way to adapt this play for a positive, maybe even excessive amount of yardage? Perhaps an almighty BUBBLE SCREEN to Jeremy Gallon, perched at the bottom of the formation with a 10 yard cushion from the cornerback? Or maybe a quick-out/slant to whoever is lined up next to Gallon - it's either Devin Funchess or Jehu Chesson - and is given even softer coverage. Hell, even a designed run for QB Devin Gardner would probably be pretty productive.

Nope. Toussaint rush for 1 (one) single, measly yard. Michigan's current rushing attack, you have been nutshelled. Sports.

"But it's overtime. Shouldn't you play it safe and rush, holding on to the ball and keeping yourself in field goal range?" - you, probably.

Maybe, but if you'll recall: 30 rushes, 28 yards for running backs. No. Just no. Devin Gardner averaged 8.3 yards per pass and 5.0 yards per carry. Rushing up the middle here is the definition of insanity. Also,
All together, now: YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME.
Coach Hoke is no stranger to gutsy calls. He's made several of them during his tenure as head coach at Michigan. This time...not so much.
In overtime, this team was down, having just given up a 10-point lead in the waning minutes of regulation. Some more aggressive play-calling would have energized the team, an immeasurably important factor when playing in a hostile environment filled with screaming, drunk Pennsylvanians. The team needed a big play to swing momentum in their direction and shut Happy Valley up. Big play =/= Fitz up the middle for nothing. Ugh. Sports.

The Future:

I hope we have one. I'd like to think this game was an aberration, and that in the future, Al Borges and Brady Hoke will conspire to put forth a more comprehensive offensive gameplan. Preferably, one that doesn't include plays in which I, Joe, a 5'9", 175 lb. semi-solid mass of poor athleticism and uncoordinated feet (but muscular arms and uncannily beeftastic calves), could accomplish roughly the same rushing output as the talented, athletic specimens being provided a free education for said feats. Sports.

I'll reiterate: That's on the coaches. If your starting left tackle goes down, don't run the same gimmicky 'tackle-over' nonsense that is entirely predicated on his superb skill set. If your Tight End But Actually He's A Wide Receiver Stop Calling Him A Tight End, aka Devin Funch-A-Crunchess, aka the Funchback of No Turndown, is consistently beating his man and getting open for big gains, maybe throw to him a bit more.
There are so many more things to discuss on this but it's late and my head is spinning. More this week, probably.

Evolve. Grow. Adapt. Sports.


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