Saturday, October 01, 2011

Little Brown Jug ‘non’-battle: as easy as …

Let’s see … how about playing “fill in the blank” in the following statement – Michigan’s 58-0 victory over Minnesota on Saturday was so (blank) easy …
Break out the thesaurus for the proper word. Hmmm … surprisingly (no) … exceedingly (no) ... tremendously (no) … unexpectedly (no) …unusually (no) … justifiably (no).
A-ha! Here’s the proper word for that sentence … Michigan’s 58-0 victory over Minnesota on Saturday was so (PAINFULLY) easy … it simply hurt much of the time to watch.
Yes, painfully is the proper term to employ because it’s been eons since I’ve seen such a non-competitive game played in the Big 10 – for a revered trophy and to open the conference campaign.
And it all stemmed from the utter and total weakness of Minnesota, a team so horrid, it won’t win a game in the rest of the 2011 season (unfortunately, the Gophers don’t have the other Big 10 weak sister, Indiana, on their schedule). This team was not ready to play in any facet of the game, showed no emotion for what should have been a meaningful game (for the Little Brown Jug and to open Big 10 action) and lacked an ounce of intensity or pride in their “suckiness.”
This, by no means, subtracts from Michigan’s best overall performance of 2011; the Wolverines dominated from the first snap with a much sharper passing attack (18 of 25 for 217 yards, three touchdowns) and a bagful of odd formations-backfields and trick plays to accrue 580 yards in total offense (32 first downs and 6 for 11 on third down conversions). Michigan committed no turnovers and very few penalties (only one significant call on offense which was balanced by a Minnesota infraction on the next play).
Fans actually had to look at the roster in the game program to identify all the running backs who played and the second-string lineman who saw almost a full half of action. The three leading rushers were NOT named Robinson – Fitzgerald Toussaint led with 108 yards on 11 carries, followed by freshman Thomas Rawls with 73 yards on 10 rushes and Michael Shaw with 60 yards on 8 carries. Robinson added 51 early yards while Vincent Smith only ran 5 times for 27 yards, although you would’ve sworn it was much, much more.
It was the kind of game where offensive coordinator Al Borges must have been spinning the game wheel from “Life” in the press box, to see just how many formations and trick plays he could actually call down. Most of them won’t see the light of day again, but … just in case … it’ll be something else for the staffs in Madison, Columbus, East Lansing and State College to think about. The more time you spend on the “what if” plays of an opposition, the less you concentrate on those things a team actually WILL run against you.
And the Wolverine defense sported its first shutout since 2007 (meaning there were NO shutouts in the Rich Rodriguez era, in case anyone needed reminding why Brady Hoke is now roaming the sidelines). In fact, Michigan has only surrendered 10 points in its last three games and that hasn’t been said about that unit since … well, almost ever.
It was interesting to see, on The Big Ten Network, when defensive box Greg Mattison called out signals for his troops, no other coach was talking or shouting. All assistants’ eyes were on him – a far cry from 12 months ago when confusion often reigned from a lack of cohesiveness in delivering what the defense should be doing.
Along with scoring yet another defensive touchdown on Courtney Avery’s 83-yard return, Minnesota was rendered impotent all afternoon long – just 177 yards in total offense and just 73 rushing. The Gophers (nothing golden about them today) went zero for 11 on third-down conversions, including third-and-short situations. But no one had the courage to even try a fourth-down conversion play – stemming back to the complete lack of motivation on the sidelines and on the field.
What was stunning was a complete absence of physicality from Minnesota. Players getting bumped hard, in a collision sport, were running off the field, obviously NOT wanting to return; I actually held a concern for possible injuries.
The Gophers looked slow, exhibited some of the worst technique for a Division 1 program, and, at times, appeared to have no clue how to cover receivers or tackle ball carriers. There were SIX special team penalties, mostly for illegal blocks that appeared to be a result of laziness rather than effort, including one that erased the Gophers’ only potential score.
Except for the first Michigan possession of the third quarter, when it was a third-and-out stop for Minnesota, not one player exhibited a scintilla of emotion or enthusiasm. It made you wonder who they ever beat Miami of Ohio.
Once upon a time, not THAT long ago, Minnesota was a proud, steady and decent program. Hell, Lou Holtz coached there (albeit only for a 10-12 record) before escaping to Notre Dame. It was a school that produced the likes of Laurence Moroney, Marion Barber and Tony Dungy (a top-flight option quarterback). Gopher greats have made the College AND Pro Football Hall of Fame, like Carl Eller, Bobby Bell, Leo Nomellini and ex-Detroit Lion TE great Charlie Sanders.
Bronko Nagurski was a Minnesota man, for God’s sake!
But there are no ghosts of Bronko inhabiting the living torsos of those who wear the Gopher uniform. It could be decades before the program becomes top quality, but, as a fan, I’d settle for slightly competitive. When you score time after time, and it looks too easy to be true, you aren’t offered the best yardstick to judge your own performance.
In the end, Michigan played as if the game at hand actually MATTERED; Minnesota played as if it did not. That tells the story of two programs, under first-year coaches, with polar opposite futures.
I hate to say this, but Minnesota should politely tell Jerry Kill to eliminate the physical stress of his body (twice hospitalized in the past month for cancer-treatment related seizures), and go hire …
… Rich Rodriguez. Yes, you read that properly. If for no other reason, he’d bring some excitement to Minneapolis on Saturdays and stop people at Minnesota home games from spending all day conversing about the Vikings.
Or doing the wave. They did the wave in Ann Arbor, but it was a tidal wave that swamped the Gophers.
Next week will be a different story for Michigan – there is a potential trap game on the horizon. The Wolverines will travel away from the Big House for the first time, will face one of the top three quarterbacks in the conference (Northwestern’s Dan Persa) and will be a higher-ranked squad than before. Without motivation, U-M could be picked off like a low-hanging mango in Hawaii.
But seeing how Michigan is performing, that should NOT happen. Finally, after five weeks, this squad’s legitimacy is being verified. I doubt you’ll ever see a Brady Hoke-coached Michigan team play like Minnesota did on Saturday.
No team can get THAT low.
Chuck Bloom is a former Collin County columnist-editor and a frequent contributor to Collin County Opinions. He can be reached at

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