Sunday, September 23, 2007

Mike Hart

He's a warrior on the field and carried the ball 44 times against what was the #1 rushing defense in the nation statistically entering the game. Everybody knew he'd need to do it with Ryan Mallett still manning the QB position in Chad Henne's place against #10 Penn State. 153 yards and 1 TD later and it's another victory for Michigan. Quite the performance. Earlier this summer, I noted that Mike Hart was approaching several career records for Michigan. Well, they are going to ride him hard this season and he will have a good shot at some single season marks as well.

Four games into the season, Hart ranks #1 nationally with 655 rushing yards and #2 nationally with 163.75 yards per game and #1 nationally with 127 carries and #10 nationally with 6 rushing touchdowns.

Let's assume Michigan will play in a bowl game this year. Before the season, that was a given. After the 0-2 start, that was a major question. At this point, though, it seems pretty reasonable. That would give Michigan 13 games to play this season. Right now, Hart projects to 413 carries for 2129 yards and 20 TDs. That would be a hell of a season.

Rushing Attempts - the current single season mark is held by Chris Perry at 338 attempts. Hart needs 211 more in 9 games (23.4/game) to tie the mark. Assuming he's got a couple more 35+ carry games coming it would seem that he will break this mark if he stays healthy. I'm thinking 360+ is a likely bet at this point.

Rushing Yards - the current single season mark is held by Tim Biakabutuka at 1818 yards in 1995. Hart needs 1163 more yards in 9 games (129.2/game) which will be tough to do but is within reach. Hart's main problem will likely be that the Michigan coaches will look to give him some breaks against teams like Eastern Michigan so he might only end up with a few sub 100 yard games. I'm not ruling him out, though.

Rushing Touchdowns - Ron Johnson holds the single season mark with 19 rushing TDs in 1968. Hart needs 13 more in 9 games (1.44/game) to tie the record. This will be tough to do, but he will definitely get the ball near the goalline. If he can throw up a couple three TD games he'll have a chance.

100 Yard Games - the single season mark is currently held by Jamie Morris with ten 100 yard games in 1987. Mike Hart is 4/4 on the season and needs to get 6 of the last 9 to tie the mark. It seems pretty likely that he'll at least tie the mark and he might even break it.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

A Decade

Penn State. When you're Michigan, that's a team you have not lost to since 1996. That's a long time, even in Joe Paterno time. It's easily the longest losing streak Paterno has ever had to one opponent.

Well, that streak would appear to be in as much jeopardy as it has ever been. Michigan is 1-2 and I really don't have to go into much detail about the pair of brutal losses they suffered. Penn State is 3-0 and ranked #10 in both polls.

But is it really such a colossal mismatch? Does Michigan have any chance?

Let's take a little closer look.

Penn State is 3-0, but what have they really proven? Not much if you ask me. Florida International? Buffalo? Not exactly world beaters that they've played thus far and in fact they are two of the worst teams in the country. Then there is the common opponent in Notre Dame. Any blind person can see that Michigan dominated Notre Dame far more than Penn State did. Be it score (38-0 vs 31-10), yards gained (379-295), yards allowed (79 vs 144), or whatever other measure you want. Not exactly top 10 material if you ask me.

Then we come to Michigan. 38-0 over Notre Dame? I would've predicted that before the season began. After the 0-2 start and with Chad Henne out I did not see that coming. But what to make of it? Are all Michigan's struggles on defense really related to spread offenses with mobile QBs? It'd be nice if that were the case but it can't all be that simple. Is a beatdown of perhaps the worst Notre Dame team of all time really worth anything? Maybe not. There are still major questions about Michigan starting first and foremost with the QB situation. Will Henne play? Possibly, but unlikely if you ask me. Will Mallett be asked to do anything other than hand off to Mike Hart 50 times? Hopefully. Will he be up to the task? I have no idea.

Some keys for Michigan against Penn State:

1) Exert dominance in the ground game. Penn State has a young front four and Jake Long and co. need to continue the power ground game to keep the heat off Ryan Mallett. Let's be honest, Penn State has never held Mike Hart under 100 yards and they are unlikely to do so on Saturday. He's going to get the ball a lot.

2) Let Mallett make some plays down the field. He still makes some freshman mistakes like calling the wrong audible or locking on to one receiver at times, but the talent is undeniable. He might be big and lack speed, but he moves in the pocket well and is a natural at throwing on the run looking quite coordinated unlike Chad Henne who is more of a pure pocket passer that struggles to connect when rolling out. And yeah, he might have the strongest arm in the county as he looks effortless tossing it 30 or 40 yards on a line. I hope he gets to air it out a few times against a PSU defense that will be keyed on Mike Hart.

3) A big game by the defensive line to slow down the PSU rushing attack and get in Anthony Morelli's face. The DL dominated against Notre Dame and has a lot of talent, but they still need to prove it against a real opponent this year. Saturday would be a good day to start.

4) A solid showing in special teams. Zoltan the Destroyer needs a big game and it would help if they didn't muff any punts or miss any easy field goals.

I pretty much wrote off the 2007 season after the Oregon game. It's still brutal, but if the players still want to fight for the Big Ten title they need a great performance this week against a program looking to end a long losing streak.


Sunday, September 09, 2007

Completely Random Thoughts

While watching the Oregon game, a few thoughts popped into my mind:

- Chad Henne must've been out with a bruised vagina in the second half. I didn't think it was too serious, but now that he's doubtful for the Notre Dame game it must be pretty bad.

- Watching SS Jamar Adams and MLB John Thompson point fingers at each other wondering who was supposed to be covering the WR that just got wide open for a catch was amusing. I couldn't help but wonder why either one of them was supposed to have man coverage on somebody that neither could cover. Are the defensive coaches just that dumb? I mean they still can't figure out how to even slow down a spread attack. One guess what Notre Dame is going to try to do next week.

- I think Michigan's offense was walking around with two peg legs by the 2nd quarter with all the times they shot themselves in the foot. They had 215 yards of total offense less than 1 minute into the 2nd quarter and they couldn't score points to save their life.

- I was pleasantly surprised any time Oregon got less than 10 yards on a play from scrimmage.

- Why not just toss injuries on top of embarrasment with guys like Henne and Hart and Long and Brandon Graham and others all going down.

- On the plus side, I think Michigan is going to wrap up their fall from grace all into one season. No long, slow slides into mediocrity here. Let's just go 2-10 and get it over with.

- It was sort of refreshing to watch Michigan get hammered yesterday. This was no gut wrenching, agonizing defeat that Michigan fans had grown so accustomed to. 32 point margin of defeat? The horrible five loss campaign in 2005 featured losses by a combined 21 points. This was not a Lloyd Carr Michigan team. Carr's teams would get down by 21 points and then claw back to make it exciting in the final minutes before folding. I've never seen them just completely quit before. There are some serious off the field issues going on with this team.

- Mike Hart may have guaranteed a win over Notre Dame, but somebody forgot to tell him that he is the only player that even showed up against Oregon so I hope he isn't expecting too much help against the Irish.

- Thank God for the Big Ten Network so I will be spared the pain of watching much of this team. It's easy to not go to a bar to watch the game. It's hard to not watch it when it's on ABC or ESPN.

- There are some teams around the Big Ten licking their chops right now at the thought of facing this Michigan team. It's going to be like sharks with blood in the water. Minnesota, Michigan State, Indiana, Purdue, etc. have all been dying for a shot at a Wolverine team this bad. Hell, you know Penn State fans will be praying to finally end their massive losing streak regardless of how bad the Michigan team is.

- I feel sorry for Appalachian State. Their "historic" upset just doesn't look so impressive any more. You beat 2007 Michigan. Congrats. That might carry as much weight as beating Northwestern. I mean objectively, Michigan lost at home to a D1-AA team and got blown off the field at home by a middle of the road Pac Ten team. That's not very impressive.

- The first 11 games of the 2006 season are sure looking like an aberration right now. Michigan is 18-11 in their last 29 games, including those 11 wins. That's 7-11 from the 2004 OSU and 2005 Rose Bowl through the entire 7-5 campaign in 2005 and with the most recent 4 straight losses.

- Do I really want to look at how spread teams have fared over the last few years against Michigan? Probably not. It's been ugly. I think a well coached HS spread attack could score 20+ on Michigan. Ball State made it look easy enough on offense last year.

- Something I never thought of last week, but does D-1A still have that rule about only counting a win over a D-1AA opponent towards bowl eligibility once every four years? If so, Michigan still has that one in the bag for future use which is nice.

- I was really worried about how Michigan would replace Steve Breaston as punt returner this year. Fortunately, Michigan will not be returning many punts so that isn't as big of a concern as I had originally thought. Whew. Unfortunately, his talents as a kick returner are missed much more than I had anticipated.


Wanted: A Coach

It is becoming painfully and plainly obvious that the only valuable part of the Michigan 2007 football season will be finding a new coach. Lloyd Carr was as good as retired after last year if he would've won either the Ohio State game or the Rose Bowl, but he kept sticking around wanting to go out a winner. It's now quite clear that he doesn't have the energy or know how to remain coach of a big time football program.

So where does this once powerful program look from here? Some have said it's the best job in the country, all the mystique and aura and helmets but without the "win a national title now or get fired" pressure at some other places like Alabama or Notre Dame. Maybe it's not #1, but it's easily in the top 5 or 10 regardless of who you ask. There will be some big names thrown about over the next few months and it's all but assured that Michigan will throw some big dollars towards this. So who are some of the names out there and what might be there level of interest?

Les Miles - the current coach of the #2 ranked LSU Tigers. Les is a 1976 graduate of the University of Michigan with a degree in Economics. He was a graduate assistant under Bo Schembechler in 1980 and 1981 and an assistant under Bo and Gary Moeller from 1987 to 1994. His wife was a former women's basketball assistant coach at Michigan. Since leaving Michigan he has been an assistant coach for the Dallas Cowboys and head coach of the Oklahoma State Cowboys before his current gig as the head coach of the Louisiana State Tigers. At OSU, he won some big games against rival Oklahoma but also managed to lose some games each year (4-5 per year). At LSU, he has had a pair of 2 loss seasons so far, but each included a blowout win in their bowl game (40-3 over Miami and 41-14 over Notre Dame). Yesterday, his team destroyed #9 Virginia Tech by a score of 48-7.

So what's the mutual interest? According to those that know Miles, he'd take the Michigan job in a heartbeat if the offer ever came and not even think twice. It's his dream job and he'd drop everything to return. The problem until now has been some tension with Lloyd Carr and company in regards to things like recruiting and ethics and other things nobody will really talk in detail about. It is working to Miles favor right now that Carr is going to have pretty much zero say in who gets to replace him with the way things are going. By the end of this year, he might have himself positioned as the favorite.

Rich Rodriguez - the current head coach of the #3 West Virginia Mountaineers. He has built the West Virginia team into a power, even if they are playing some lesser competition in the Big East with back to back top 10 finishes and another excellent team in 2007. He has no real ties to Michigan and just passed on the Alabama job to stay at West Virginia. I think he's a longshot for Michigan, but the name will get tossed out there.

Jeff Tedford - the current coach of the California Bears. He's a career west coast guy that has built some powerful offenses and good teams at the perennial cellar dwellar known as Cal, though he has struggled to have consistently great teams (sounds like he might fit here, right?). It is possible that he has taken Cal as far as it can go and might want to try his hand at a bigger program with more of a national reach to see what he can do. Bill Martin will love what he has done at an academic equal to Michigan and might be willing to give him a shot.

Greg Schiano - the current head coach of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. Schiano is from New Jersey and has spent time at Rutgers, Penn State, Miami, and with the Chicago Bears in various coaching capacities. He's a defensive guy and was named national coach of the year last year for his dramatic turn around of the Rutgers program. His name is going to get brought up for every big job opening, but the Michigan AD might just be able to land him if they so desire. Michigan would offer him a major step up in the college football world and he already has spent a few years at Penn State and with the Chicago Bears so Big Ten country isn't foreign to him.

Kirk Ferentz - the current head coach of the Iowa Hawkeyes. Ferentz name was on the hotlist for all job openings a few years ago, but he has struggled a bit the last few years. Still, Michigan president Mary Sue Coleman knows him quite well from her days at Iowa and there will be some rumblings about Ferentz whenever Carr eventually "retires".

Brian Kelly - the current head coach of the Cincinnati Bearcats. Kelly is no stranger to the state of Michigan having been a dominant force at Division 2 Grand Valley State going 41-2 over his final 3 seasons including a pair of national championships. Then he moved up to Central Michigan and lead the Chippewas to a MAC title. Kelly has a reputation for being an offensive genius and I don't think he would think twice before leaving for Michigan if he got a job offer. There are a few off the field issues with him, however, and I'm not sure how serious of a candidate he would be. I mean a few years at CMU and Cincinnati as your total of D1 experience might not be enough to get the Michigan job.

Mike Trgovac - the current defensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers. Trgovac played and coached under Bo Schembechler for Michigan. He then spent time at Ball State, Navy, Colorado State, and Notre Dame (under Lou Holtz) before heading to the NFL. In the NFL, he has served as defensive line coach in Philadelphia, Green Bay, Washington, and Carolina before being elevated to defensive coordinator of Carolina in 2003. The Panthers have routinely been in the top 10 in most defensive categories since Trgovac took over as defensive coordinator. The two big questions with Trgovac are would he want to go back to college and would Michigan want a guy with no head coaching experience? Hard to say, but his name is definitely going to be thrown into the ring.

Cam Cameron - the current head coach of the Miami Dolphins. Cam was an assistant under Bo Schembechler and Gary Moeller from 1984 to 1993 in Ann Arbor before becoming head coach at Indiana where he struggled to an 18-37 record. Since then he has been offensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers before signing a 4 year deal with Miami this past offseason. The Dolphins just lost one head coach to the college ranks (Saban at Alabama) so it would be just plain not funny for a Dolphin's fan if Saban's replacement left for college as well. Cameron definitely has strong ties to Ann Arbor, however he just signed a 4 year deal with the Dolphins and I'm not sure he'd back out on it so soon.

I'm sure there are a few other names out there that I'm forgetting, but those are most of the big ones that will be talked about. One thing that is for sure is that with the rapid demise of the team, current assistants will have no shot at the head job so that means no more worrying about DeBord taking over for Lloyd. The more I look at everything surrounding the situation, the more I have to think that Miles is the favorite. Then it becomes a question of timing. Lloyd has been within inches of retiring in the past and you know he is trying to figure out an "exit strategy" right now. He has some health concerns and it is conceivable that he could retire any day. I know he wants to finish out the season, but if the team falls apart on him that might not be possible.


Saturday, September 08, 2007

First Team to 40 Points Wins

Well, I'm not sure what to expect in the Michigan-Oregon game today in terms of picking a winner. I know Michigan is still a sizeable favorite, but after last week you can't be too sure of anything. What I do know is that there should be a ton of points scored by both teams. I mean Michigan couldn't stop a D-1AA team from scoring 30+ points, so why would you expect them to stop a good offense from the Pac Ten? On the other hand, Oregon has a bad defense and Michigan still has a good offense (particularly if Chad Henne and the WRs get their timing back).

I'm going to guess the score will end up somewhere in the 42-38 range with big plays galore. Should be fun to watch and hopefully the Wolverines find a way to avoid their 4th straight loss.

I'm feeling a little better after my week of vacation. It was nice not being around anybody I knew and leaving the phone off and just forgetting that the Appalachian State game even happened. Unfortunately I'm now back and they better not lose again or this week I will never hear the end of it.


Monday, September 03, 2007

10 years, $40 million

That's what Charlie Weis signed for a contract extension after one year on the job. After seeing what happened to Notre Dame against Georgia Tech on Saturday, I've got another holiday weekend post in me.

Nearly two years ago, I made what I thought was a meaningless little comparison between Charlie Weis and Ty Willingham after one season of play and found it a little odd that Charlie got a mega contract when his inaugural season was very similar to that of recently fired Ty Willingham. Turns out it got linked on CNNSI's On Campus and I got deluged with angry emails from Notre Dame fans. Well, here we sit in year 3 of the Charlie Weis regime and I'm still smirking just a little bit. How about another comparison?

Through 26 games, Weis vs Willingham:

Overall record: 19-7 vs 15-11 (edge Charlie)
# of 20+ point losses: 4 vs 6
record vs teams in final AP top 25: 1-5 vs 4-7

Gotta give a slight edge to Charlie on overall record and fewer blowout losses, however Ty faced tougher competition. Now one of these coaches was on the verge of getting fired and the other has what amounts to a near lifetime contract. What's the difference between the two? Willingham went 6-4 the rest of the way in 2004 to finish his ND career with a record of 21-15 including a 6-9 mark against teams ranked at the end of the season. Charlie has 7 consecutive losable games coming up and ND starting 2-6 on the season is not an unreasonable expectation (@PSU, @Michigan, MSU, @Purdue, @UCLA, Boston College, Southern Cal).

Is the Notre Dame administration sweating even a little on this one? Should they be?


Sunday, September 02, 2007

Wow, that sure was fun

What's there to say after witnessing history? Nothing? A million things? Somewhere in between? Part of me could talk for hours about what went wrong and why it did. Part of me says who cares, it did. I can't believe I rearranged my travel plans to arrive in time to get to a sports bar to watch that debacle. I should've just got drunk at the beach and not believed anybody when they told me the score. Some random musings on what I watched before I get back to barbecuing on the beach...

  • This probably goes down as the biggest upset in the history of college football. Now it's not the biggest in terms of point spreads and it's not the biggest in terms of talent differential, because ASU is better than more than a few D1A teams. But in terms of perception? D1AA vs a team ranked #5 in the nation? Doesn't get any bigger than that.
  • The only moment I can think of right now since I've been following Michigan football that even comes close to describing the overall shock is Kordell Stewart to Michael Westbrook in 1994. That game isn't there, but the improbability of the moment is similar. That instant that Westbrook caught it is still burned into my memory banks and I'm sure this entire game will be as well.
  • I'm happy for the Appalachian State players and coaches and fans. They have a nice program that not many people knew about playing in rural western North Carolina. I'm guessing they will get a little more recognition from now on. Oh, and they can kiss any chance of ever playing a top opponent again goodbye.
  • I love rooting for the big underdogs to shock the world, unfortunately it was against my team this team. Oh well.
  • Michigan may have done the virtually impossible for 2007. Almost regardless of what happens the rest of the year, the single lasting moment from this edition of the Michigan Wolverines will be the loss to Appalachian State. They could rip off 12 straight wins including a bowl game, and people will still mostly remember this game. That's sad and unfortunate for a team that had big goals at the start of the year. Hell, this game might be the single biggest story of the entire 2007 college football season aside from whoever wins the national championship. It will be the year that X won the title and that Appalachian State beat Michigan. Does this put up more pressure for a playoff? I don't know.
  • You can't pin this loss on Lloyd Carr or Ron English or Mike DeBord or Vance Bedford or Andy Moeller or Chad Henne or whoever else you want to. It was a team effort. There are probably 150 people that can all take some blame for this one. It was the absolute perfect storm of things going wrong against a team that played the game of their lives.
Some specific points about the team and/or game:

1) It is beyond obvious that they overlooked Appalachian State. ASU spent the entire offseason watching Michigan's gametapes and coming up with a way to exploit a few weaknesses and figuring out a way to try to take away a few strengths. Michigan apparently didn't even bother to put in a specific game plan for this one and instead just wanted to run some base stuff and keep people healthy and get ready for Oregon. Well, I hope they got ready for Oregon.

2) At what point is Michigan going to a) recognize that their LBs and Safeties cannot cover wide receivers in space and b) do something about it. This is the 3rd consecutive game they have lost and in all 3 games I think you can pin most of the blame on the defense not putting guys in a position to succeed. Last year, Ball State got some points by spreading Michigan out and picking on the LBs and safeties in coverage. Then Ohio State scored at will with 4 and 5 WR sets that Michigan couldn't match up with. Then in the Rose Bowl USC got stuffed for the entire first half before changing gears at halftime and spreading Michigan out and moving the ball at will. Now call me crazy, but I suspected that the coaching staff would've worked at improving their ability to defend the spread formation this year. In this game, it sure didn't look like it. They ended up in the exact same situations as last year with the exact same results watching WRs get matched up 1 on 1 with safeties and LBs and making the defense look clueless. I'll give you one guess what the Oregon Ducks are going to do next week on offense and a hint that running up the middle from a 2 back set isn't it.

3) Why on earth did Chad Henne and his WRs look a step off on their timing for nearly the entire game. A 4th year senior and some junior wide receivers couldn't get on the same page in the first game? Haven't they been practicing for weeks? This would be excusable if it was a bunch of new starters, however all these guys have shown that they are much better than the way they executed yesterday.

4) When is Michigan going to learn how to pick up blitzes. Pete Carroll has owned their OL in the last 2 Rose Bowl matchups by bringing blitzes that they had never seen and making them look clueless. Appalachian State yesterday took a much inferior group of talent compared to USC and employed some of the same schemes and still got decent pressure on Henne. Sure, there are some new starters on the offensive line this year, but come on. That's no excuse. This has to fall back on OL coaching when it's the same thing year after year.

5) Is there any question that Mike Hart is the MVP of the team? Yesterday he racked up 188 yards and 3 TDs on only 23 carries. So what, it was Appalachian State. But did you notice that when he sat out almost the entire 2nd quarter and the first 10 minutes of the 3rd quarter with an injured leg that Appalachian State outscored Michigan 24-6? Michigan outscored them 26-10 with Hart on the field and got blown off the field when he was out.

6) Game management. Who's bright idea was it to go for 2 with a ton of time left and trailing 31-26? Everybody and their brother knows you kick the XP to make it a 4 point game with an entire quarter to play. Instead, Michigan went 0-2 on 2 point conversions down the stretch and lost by 2 points. Way to go.

7) 2 field goals blocked in the final 2 minutes of the game? Yeah, that hurts in a 2 point loss. The blame for the blocked kick at the end of the game falls squarely on Shawn Crable. He was the wide blocker on the left side on a kick from the right hash. There were 2 players coming at him and he blocked the outside man allowing the inside guy to go untouched and block the winning field goal. I'm not sure what exactly he was thinking, but you absolutely positively have to block the inside guy and force the outside guy to take the long route to go for it.

8) Stupid bumbling mistakes that always happen in the first game: late hit out of bounds, mishandling some kick returns, etc. You have to expect those in the first game of the year, but they don't help matters in a tight game.

9) Expectations - I guarantee you that every single person in that stadium outside the Appalachian State lockerroom expected Michigan to win yesterday. Every one, apparently including the Michigan coaches and players. That's not right. Heck, my expectations are as guilty as anybody (however I'm not responsible for lining up and playing). If you listed all 12 games and ranked them from the one you most want to win this year on down to the one you least care about winning, Appalachian State is probably at the very bottom of the list. I mean they just don't matter to Michigan. You want to beat Ohio State. You want to beat Notre Dame. You want to beat Michigan State. You want to beat Wisconsin. etc. Nobody had the season opener circled for anything other than a nice day to watch Michigan win a game. Well, the next 3 games will tell us a lot about a team that "expected" to have a big season. They've got Oregon and Notre Dame and Penn State all in a row and all 3 are pretty much a must win at this point.

I'm sure I'll come up with some more stuff later, but I'm still shocked at what happened as is most of the college football world. What does this mean for the rest of Michigan's season? That's actually a pretty tough call at this point. It might mean nothing. Maybe it was just a perfect storm of things going wrong for one team and things going right for the other. Maybe Michigan is closer to 2005 than 2006. Maybe it's a wake up call and they blow Oregon off the field next week. Anybody that claims to know at this point is just flat out lying. I'm still pretty confident that Michigan's defense will be just fine against teams that line up in a traditional set with 2 WRs and a TE. I'm also still pretty confident that Michigan's defense will not fair well against a spread formation. We'll see how that plays out in the next few weeks.

I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention that it's a little unfortunate this will go on Lloyd Carr's resume. He's one of the truly nice guys in college football and this is likely his final season and it's sad that he'll be remembered for this when he has done so many good things for the University. Here's just a teeny guess: Jeff Tedford is going to get a big $$$$ offer in January to be the next Michigan coach. Bill Martin has very few qualms about conducting a national search for a head coach (see the hires for men's hoops (x 2), swimming, baseball, tennis, etc as evidence of that).

And hey, look at the bright side. Michigan still has a very good chance at becoming the first school in college football history to lose 4 Rose Bowls in 5 years. Ohio State came the closest losing 4 times in 6 years from 1971-1976 and Cal and Michigan both have had 3 straight losses before. History in the making...

P.S. anybody else see a little cosmic karma for finally scheduling a game against D1AA competition for the first time ever? Yeah, lots not do that again.