Sunday, October 28, 2012

Michigan falls at Nebraska: Conflicts of interest

When I attended the University of Michigan in the early 1970s, my life would have been soooo much better if I had access to three future technological advancement people take for granted today.
A calculator (of ANY kind, even the “pong”-like Texas Instruments version with the LED readout), a personal computer (hell, yes, I would have gladly accepted the early Apples, Commodores or even the TRS-80, known to all as the “Trash-80,” because all of them would have been superior to my Smith-Corona electric typewriter, courtesy of Montgomery Ward) and a VCR (VHS, not Beta version, thank you).
I could dumped my slide rule, made term papers look like they should have been without the tons of Liquid Paper to cover over lousy typing and recorded all those episodes of “Night Gallery” and “Hockey Night in Canada” when I should have been studying. I actually believe my grades would have reflected more of my ability.
Instead I often caved into the temptation of a new life on my own – where classic movies were shown nightly in places like Angell Hall and the Poly-Sci building, where the clinking of beer mugs at the Village and Pretzel Bells created a siren’s song for innocent young men (and women), where the Dixieland jazz music mixed with hot pizzas at Bimbo’s for a perennial party atmosphere, or where a hockey or basketball game was simply too tempting to miss (and the books could wait until later).
Life would have been so much easier to schedule, studying would have been less complicated and less stressful and I STILL would have had the time of my life without missing a beat.
But … it didn’t happen. Technology was yet to have penetrated the student scene in such meaningful ways. A computerized journalism class meant typing stories on punch cards to feed into a huge reader at the Computer Center and getting a flywheel printout of one’s efforts.
For one assignment, I realized the computer was only seeking key words for its judgment, so I only typed in the key words without benefit of any formal sentence structure, just to see what would happen. As believed, the computer graded my effort as excellent; when I noted this silliness to the graduate assignment, leading the class, he was none too pleased.
But I proved my point; journalism (back in the day) was something you learned from a hands-on approach. It was most important to be right than to be first.
My classroom was the Michigan Daily, NOT affiliated with the Journalism Department, and thank God it wasn’t! Only by talking to people, doing the shoe-lather work of actual reporting and establishing solid relationships with news sources did one learn the art of writing, interviewing and … ethics.
I would not have traded all the degrees on someone’s wall for what I learned with some of the best writers around on the collegiate level, who have matured into some of the finest columnists-journalists of our times (Robin Wright, Eugene Robinson, Sara Fitzgerald, David Margolick, John Papanek – just to name a scant few).
We learned to edit using the composition process of “hot type” – where our typesetting was done with hot, molten lead in single lines of type (called linotype). And when it came time to get rid of excess copy, people meant it; the overset was tossed back into the boiling lead pot and could never be retrieved again (no control-z key to bring it back).
You learned to write “tight” and within confines of that open space to be filled with all that lead.
But eventually (within the span of my career) linotype was replaced by the portable computer to the point where everything can be done (writing, layout, composition, delivery to printer) without using a single piece of paper. The television has morphed into a fancy machine (monitor and hard drive) to record multiple shows at the same hour. We now have our lives controlled by personal hand-held units we laughingly term “smart phones” and tablets (“take two iPads and call me in the morning”).
No one could have predicted that when sitting at the Daily on a late weeknight, waiting for that issue to be finished, eating cold Cottage Inn pizza and drowning our thirsts with half a dozen nickel Cokes from the machine in the corner. Those WERE fun days, my friends.
I tell you all this because I had my DVR working overtime last Saturday night. It recorded the Michigan-Nebraska encounter while I watched the Tigers host the Giants in the World Series. Sorry, but baseball is my FIRST priority and when the Tigers play, it moves the needle beyond that, into a religious experience (I tend to pray a lot when certain hitters are at the plate).
As it turned out, I should have done something else that night…perhaps an impromptu root canal. The Tigers’ bats continued their sleepwalking journey through the Series and Michigan played lousy on the road (again) at Nebraska, falling 26-9.
And the Wolverines learned a hard lesson that can only be corrected in the next few years – a team can NEVER allow itself to have an injury to one player bring everything to a complete standstill! If your depth at that spot is that low, you remain just a twisted ankle, bruised ribs and elbow stinger away, from losing.
In Lincoln, Michigan fans discovered, to their dismay, what losing quarterback Denard Robinson means to this year’s team. Without an adequate replacement having practiced for that game’s opponent (which is why Devin Gardner did not step under center following Robinson’s departure), the UM offense went from decent (it was 13-6 at the time of the injury) to non-existent for the remainder of the contest.
Without Robinson’s untied shoes actually on the field, Michigan had no running attack whatsoever and replacement Russell Bellomy proved unable (physically) to meet the challenges of completing simple pass routes. His 10 straight unsuccessful passes proved that – many of which were wounded ducks that anyone with a .12 gauge in the stands could have blasted out of the sky before reaching a Wolverine receiver. Bellomy didn’t, and doesn’t, have the arm strength to face the likes of Nebraska.
I’m sure Bellomy is a nice young man, good to his mother and father and well-respected among his teammates. But his signing two years ago was a mystery to me (in particular) because he was on NO ONE’S recruiting radar when he inked with Michigan.
He was an all-district quarterback out of Arlington (Tex.) Martin High School, located a scant few miles from Cowboys Stadium, where Michigan opened the 2012 season. But he was NOT among the top 10 quarterback recruits as a senior in the DFW area, let alone in the state of Texas. I have no clue why he was signed, other than to speculate that he was filling a hole with the cupboard pretty well bare once Brady Hoke replaced Rich Rodriguez.
On the Michigan depth chart, only three quarterback are listed – Robinson, Bellomy and Gardner. Three others are “in” the program but are invisible – freshman Brian Cleavy from Detroit Jesuit (not listed among incoming freshmen in 2012 Football Guide), fifth year senior Jack Kennedy from Walled Lake Central (who has played once or twice in those five years and never throw a pass in all that time) and sophomore-freshman walk-on Alex Swieca from the Frisch Yeshiva in New York City (who has not played anything resembling quarterback, even in high school).
Robinson was a RichRod recruit when Rodriguez was hired from West Virginia and Gardner followed the next year. Rodriguez’ last recruiting class did NOT include a quarterback of note, leaving Hoke, and the Wolverines, with this gigantic hole to fill. Michigan was skating past that hole until going to Lincoln and the hole opened wide, like the whale’s mouth to swallow Jonah.
Next year, Michigan is expected to have a prized freshman recruit on campus, quarterback Shane Morris (6-3, 183) from Warren DeLaSalle High School. He is ranked as the number-two quarterback recruit in the country despite being sidelines most of his senior year with mononucleosis. And after what coaches and fans saw Saturday, getting playing time as a freshman should not be a problem.
Of course, that will depend on whether Gardner remains as a valuable option at the wide receiver slot, or move back to the position for which he was recruited. But depth is important at every position, no more so than quarterback and the thinness was exposed and exploited by Nebraska in the cold, cold night.
Good news? If Michigan still handles its business properly, and runs the table (with winnable games) and then stops Ohio State IN Columbus, it should have the spot against a weak Wisconsin team in the Big Ten Championship game on Dec. 1. You see, many of us believe Nebraska has another loss within its schedule – at Michigan State, home against Penn State or at Iowa in the season finale.
The Huskers remain an inconsistent team offensively and proved it can stop an offense incapable of executing with its backup quarterback on the field. Other future opponents might not be as handicapped as Michigan was in Lincoln.
The Wolverine defense acquitted itself fairly well (giving up an early touchdown on a clear pick play which should have been flagged) and delivered a goal-line stand after a Bellomy interception gave NU the ball at the UM 2.
Michigan still must find a running attack and it is not running the ball east-to-west; and receivers need to show they can catch the ball better. The offense must prove it can score a touchdown instead of settling for field goals (no entries into the end zone for two consecutive games) Apparently, in a reversal of fortunes, Michigan has a potent field goal kicker in Brendan Gibbons, with his own personal best from (shockingly) 52 yards out!
Thank God Michigan is playing Minnesota next week because be it Robinson or Gardner at quarterback, this should be a fairly easy win simply due to talent level. Still … Michigan’s talent level at that critical position can no longer by like skating on thin ice.
And I didn’t need my DVR to show me that.

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