Wednesday, November 28, 2012

2013 Baseball Hall of Fame nominees on the ballot

The candidates for the Class of 2013 to enter the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. has officially been announced and the debating on sports TV and talk radio has already begun. I know I will get the same arguments, made annually, about one player’s stats, another’s eyeball tests and someone else’s computerized statistical analysis – none of which means a hill of beans!
In the end, it’s up to the likes, dislikes and prejudices of the Baseball Writers of America – the arbiters of this decision.
My list falls into 5-6 categories (absolutely, gotta think about this one hard, sorry, but no, hell no!, I thought they were still playing? And then the Less-than-Fab Five).
Here’s my breakdown:
Absolutely – Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Jack Morris, Mike Piazza, Lee Smith, Alan Trammel;
Gotta think about this one hard – Bernie Williams, Curt Schilling, Dale Murphy, Larry Walker, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly;
Sorry, but no – Tim Raines, David Wells, Steve Finley, Fred McGriff, Julio Franco;
Hell no! – Royce Clayton, Jeff Conine, Shawn Green, Roberto Hernandez, Ryan Klesko, Kenny Lofton, Jose Mesa, Reggie Sanders, Rondell White, Woody Williams, Sandy Alomar, Jr.;
I thought they were still playing? – Jeff Cirillo, Mike Stanton, Todd Walker, Aaron Sele;
Less-than-Fab Five – Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa.
In my mind, “no brainer” votes go to Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell of the Houston Astros (the only TRUE Astros to have qualified), Mike Piazza (greatest hitting catcher in MLB history), Jack Morris (stop this nonsense about ERA; he was a four-time World Series champion with 254 wins and 1991 World Series MVP and if that isn’t good enough to get it, NO ONE should ever be voted in), Lee Smith (478 saves over 18 seasons and only one man has more and Trevor Hoffman WILL be in the Hall), and Alan Trammell (played the hardest position at an All-Star caliber for one team – six-time All-Star, four time Golden Glove winner, three Silver Sluggers and 1984 World Series MVP). ‘Nuff said!
Under “gotta think about this one,” each player, in his own way, has the numbers and performed very well (even past the point of excellent to greatness at times) to deserve serious consideration. The problem stems from proper value and how does one adjust roles within the game from league to league.
Seattle’s Edgar Martinez was the premier designated hitter of his time (perhaps of ALL-time) yet it (technically) is not a full-time role since it does not involve fielding. Now, whose fault is that? Certainly, not Martinez; he played where he was told to be and was a standout at it. For several years, he was THE best at HIS position – major criteria (in the past) for induction.
Yet he is down-graded as a baseball “player” because of the major difference between leagues. It’s not fair and the argument will grow even louder when Boston’s David Ortiz becomes eligible. His dominance is undisputed and his numbers are more than worthy.
If Curt Schilling is voted into the Hall, it will be based, for the most part, on post-season excellence; his career numbers are very good, but other hurlers, never to be considered, have better (David Wells is such an example). Should Schilling get the call, then Bernie Williams, who played as well as anyone in World Series history, should be right behind him for a notification. And HIS regular season numbers are far better than many of those enshrined.
I believe two-time recipients of the Most Valuable Player award should get far more serious consideration than Dale Murphy has been accorded. And Don Mattingly was a premier player of his day – multiple All-Star, batting champion, leader, icon.
I’m sorry, but really good players, like Timmy Raines and Fred McGriff, are just NOT Hall of Fame worthy and numbers don’t count here. They are more in line with the kind of Fantasy Baseball choices one would make today; you want their stats but they are NOT your first, second or even fifth-round draft selections.
Obviously, the last grouping is the five players, in recent baseball history, with more than enough credentials to enter Cooperstown except for their admitted, or judicially-disclosed, use of steroids. As more and more and more players are being “outed” for continued usage, the question to be asked is how can anyone simply ignore the numbers that remain in the record books (without intentional footnotes),produced by these individuals, in an era when usage seemed to be the norm, not the exception.
It’s fine to be all “holier-than-thou” sitting in the cheap seats, or in the case of the BBWA, in the press box, but the danger becomes losing an entire generation of the sport without irrefutable, conclusive proof of complete guilt, and that others already enshrined weren’t as guilty. Since its ALL perception, it’s a trap door waiting to be spring upon the fans.
This discussion is like anything else – it fills time and kills brain cells, but …is ALWAYS interesting. The new members will be announced (on MLB Network) on January 9.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Michigan v. Ohio State: Dr. Fickell and Mr. Hyde

One year ago, Luke Fickell, carrying the tag of interim coach, was the victim of Michigan’s emotional win in Ann Arbor, beating Ohio State for the first time in several years.
On Saturday, returning to his old job as defensive coordinator under a new regime (led by former Florida coach Urban Meyer, who took the Columbus job after a year’s sabbatical for “medical” reasons … and was supposed to be in the TV booth for that encounter in Ann Arbor), Fickell exacted his revenge upon the Wolverines with a masterful set of adjustments at halftime.
With Michigan leading 21-20, thanks to a lighting-striking 67-yard bolt from U-M senior Denard Robinson, Fickell must have yelled, “Enough is enough! HE’s NEVER going to throw the football!” to his troops underneath old Ohio Stadium.
The changes he ordered worked to perfection, leading to no Wolverine second-half points and a 26-21 Buckeye victory to end the 2012 season with a 12-0 mark. Michigan now sits at 8-4 and must wait eight days to discover where its bowl destination and opponent will be.
Fickell’s work was made more special knowing that his top defensive player, senior end John Simon, was out for the game with a knee-leg injury. But in the second half, Fickell chose to make sure two players were always shadowing Robinson whenever he touched the ball – usually linebacker Zach Boren and safety Ryan Shazier.
It worked! Robinson, who has 124 yards rushing on six first-half carries, only ran four more times and lost two yards in the final two quarters. In fact, Michigan ran for a total of minus-4 yards on the ground in the second half, as no one seemed capable of getting a single yard at critical times.
Example: sophomore Thomas Rawls ran the ball five times, losing one yard, getting three yards on two carries and nothing on two other attempts … and he was to have been the “power” back out of the remaining running corps.
In soccer, a key statistic is the amount of time one team actually possesses the ball (he who controls the ball, controls the action presumably in the other team’s end of the pitch). In football, it is field position which can tell much of the story and, in the second half, field position totally favored Ohio State.
Michigan ran exactly ZERO (none, zip, zilch) plays in the Buckeye side of the 50; Ohio State ran 34 out of 40 plays in Michigan’s half. Folks, that sums up the second half and game for Michigan.
Ohio State simply exploited Michigan season-long weakness in its rushing attack – between the guards. By collapsing, and actually pushing that trio BACK into the backfield, it simply gummed up ALL the Michigan offensive works, including the passing attempts. For most of the second half, Gardner was scrambling around and never actually threw a single pass with both feet planted.
While Gardner will be a feared passer in his senior season, he clearly demonstrated his inexperience as just a three-game starter, fumbling and throwing a poorly-directed pass for an interception on Michigan’s final two drives of the game. Except the word “drive” is misleading since no possession went for more than 23 yards in the second half.
The key play of the game happened early in the third quarter when the Wolverines were unable  to convert on a fourth-and-3 at their own 47, with Robinson gobbled up like so much of the turkey consumed two days earlier. Afterwards, he blamed himself for taking the wrong read, but in truth, the blocking was not there and the play was doomed at the handoff.
On offense, Ohio State continued to punish Michigan’s season-long weakness – between the ends. Unfortunately, the players with the greatest girth – senior tackle Will Campbell (6-5, 308) and junior nose tackle Quinton Washington (6-4, 300) – were also the most vulnerable to straight-ahead blocking and running.
OSU halfback Carlos Hyde, who did his best Beanie Wells impression, did not venture outside the ends to gain most of his 146 yards. His longest run was 17 yards, but he also had five other efforts over 10 yards … and he was NOT tackle for a single yard of loss!
Quarterback Braxton Miller was fairly effective as a passer (going 14-of-18 for 189 yards) but, for the most part, was no Denard Robinson as a rusher – getting just 57 net yards (and sacked for 51 yards lost). In fact, subtract a 42-yard scamper, Miller only had 15 net yards on the other 19 tries.
NO, it was Hyde who did the damage; only two other Buckeyes even touched the football (one was a flanker reverse) – time after time after time …
So, Ohio State, on its probation (“rebuilding”) year went 12-0. No one on the roster was due to Meyer’s brilliance as a recruiter; he inherited talent and thanks to a mostly soft schedule, the Buckeyes went unblemished.
And for this, apparently OSU is going to celebrate as if NOTHING happened in the prior 12 months. The team received a trophy for winning the Leaders Division, although ineligible to play in Saturday’s Big Ten title contest, and word has it each player will get championship rings (for a division title? How much is that worth in tattoo prices?).
If a school is on probation for major infractions, it should be grateful it was allowed to play – forget trophies and rings and other baubles for breaking the rules. Shame on the conference for being any part of that!
The most irritating thing about the entire contest on Saturday was the repeated discussion (in that TV booth) that the Buckeyes, despite volumes of NCAA rules infractions heaped upon the program, forcing the myriad of penalties (including the 2012-13 bowl ban and nullification of its chance to win the Big Ten title this season), are STILL under some far-fetched consideration for a national championship by the voters in the Associated Press poll.
People need to take heed: ANY journalist who actually casts a single vote for this team – IN ANY CAPACITY (1 to 25) – should be themselves banned from print or airwaves! And sports fans need to tell their employers exactly how they feel.
All that talk and action does is to “justify” cheating, and the kind of arrogant rule-breaking and cover-up conducted by the Ohio State hierarchy, led by ex-coach Jim Tressel. And it was a sad sight to honesty and the other schools who do NOT condone such behavior to see Tressel given a standing ovation by the Ohio Stadium crowd between quarters in the first half and a ride on ex-players’ shoulders.
The team honored was the 2002 national title squad, which included a running back named Maurice Clarett, who broke almost fistfuls of NCAA rules, and enough laws to end up in jail … and he was Tressel’s special recruit that season.
Just for a moment, let us review the case of one Mr. Clarett: According to Wikipedia, com, “In December 2002, he publicly maligned OSU officials for not paying for him to fly home for the funeral of a friend and accused administrators of lying when they said he had not filed the necessary paperwork. In July 2003, Clarett became the center of an academic scandal when a teaching assistant told the New York Times that Clarett had received preferential treatment from a professor; the investigation did not find sufficient evidence of academic misconduct.”
He then was “suspended for the 2003 athletic year after he was charged with filing a false police report. Clarett had filed a false claim that more than $10,000 in clothing, CDs, cash and stereo equipment were stolen from a car he borrowed from a local dealership in September 2003. Athletic Director Andy Geiger stated that Clarett also took in special benefits totaling approximately $20,000, and repeatedly misled investigators. Clarett later pleaded guilty to a lesser criminal charge (failure to aid a law enforcement official) in that incident.”
On January 1, 2006, police went searching for Clarett in relation to two armed robbery outside the Opium Lounge dance club in Columbus. “Allegedly, with a .45-caliber handgun, Clarett robbed two people and then escaped in a white SUV with two unidentified persons. Clarett reportedly made off with only a cell phone, valued at $150, belonging to one of the victims.”
Then on Aug. 9, 2006, he was arrested, again, in Columbus, after a traffic violation and subsequent chase. Police found an assortment of weapons, including a loaded AK-47 variant and two handguns.
Clarett became verbally and physically abusive during the arrest, forcing the police to mace and use a taser to subdue Clarett, who was wearing kevlar body armor at the time.
On Sept. 18, 2006, Clarett filed a guilty plea bargain to the charges that involved the Jan. 1 and Aug. 9 events and was sentenced to 7-1/2 years in prison.
And for his part, the man that brought Clarett to Columbus, sheepishly said, “I hope it’s not true, but beyond that, I don’t know much, but my reaction is, I was sad.”
Clarett was finally released to a halfway house in 2010; there is no word if he was among the returnees at Ohio Stadium to hoist Tressel for adulation.
That might be everything anyone needs to know about the participants in this rivalry.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Michigan-Iowa: A tribute to Denard Robinson

A good screenwriter could not have scripted Senior Day at Michigan Stadium in a more dramatic and satisfying way. Before a sellout crowd for the 244th consecutive time, it was a chance for the Wolverine Nation to honor the 23 members of the Class of 2012.
But there was one special member upon whom all eyes were focused. So when longtime quarterback Denard Robinson trotted onto the field, lining up as a starting tailback for the first time since Nov. 14, 2009 (vs. Wisconsin), and people knowing it would be his final footsteps in the Big House, he received a well-deserved standing ovation.
It was the crowd’s way of saying “Thank you” for the young man’s accomplishments in a U-M uniform, and much, much more. For more than any individual, he is responsible for the resurgence of Michigan football over the past four years – for bringing the university off its own “cliff.”
When Robinson arrived as Rich Rodriguez’s star recruit (having convinced Robinson to switch his commitment from Urban Meyer’s Florida), the program was sinking into blandness and possible mediocrity. It was a sub-.500 squad with no identity (other than confused all-too-often with a porous defense and complicated offense).
In stepped the young man with the dreadlocks, who took the starting job as a sophomore, and overnight, brought the national spotlight to Ann Arbor with his blazing speed, last-second victories and stunning upbeat personality. Within weeks, fans across America knew who “Shoelace” was and why.
He became the face of the football program, and was the face of the entire athletic department. He was seen everywhere – in Crisler Arena in full-throated support of the hoopsters (who also seemed to suddenly improve coinciding with Robinson’s arrival). And since the economic engine is driven by football revenue, people buying no. 16 jerseys by the boatload were making things hum like a perfectly-tuned barbershop quartet.
His statistics will be the new yardsticks by which future Wolverines are measured; others across the country, who carry similar abilities, will be judged by what Robinson did in his time here. In 20 years, I’d hope his uniform becomes a “legacy number” to honor all his accomplishments.
No, he never won a national championship, but he did win a BCS game, the Sugar Bowl. He didn’t win a Heisman Trophy, but he was nominated as a sophomore. He didn’t win every game he started, but he never ever quit on any teammate!
There might be many Denard “haters” across the land and I feel sorry for them; they will not truly appreciate what they’ve had to watch for the past three years until he is no longer residing or playing in Ann Arbor.
So this is a chance, one last time, to toast a young man who has performed (on and off the field) as a true MICHIGAN MAN!
As was clearly shown last Saturday, in the easy 45-17 Wolverine win over Iowa, junior Devin Gardner is in control of the offense as its quarterback. His three short rushing touchdowns and three additional scoring passes fully announced that 2013 will be the Noontime in the Gardner of Good and Great.
Until the fourth quarter, it was a perfect performance by Gardner, against a Hawkeye defense that did not show its normal grit and determination. In fact, it was the worst Iowa team in a decade, knotting the fifth straight loss.
Gardner completed 18 of 23 passes (just one interception) for 314 yards while leading Michigan to touchdowns on its first six possessions of the game. Robinson, for his part, added 98 yards on 13 carries while catching two of Gardner’s aerials for 24 yards.
After allowing 10 first-half points, the defense, led by two freshmen, James Ross III and Joe Bolden (with 14 solo tackles between them), performed at its usual high standard. It is such a shocking thing to believe that a unit, rated next-to-last four years ago, is now one of the country’s best.
But there is one regular season encounter remaining with the Buckeyes in Columbus. With only three starts under his belt, and not yet a viable running threat (37 yards on nine carries, but no sacks or runs for loss against Iowa), Gardner’s arm alone probably cannot carry the day against an Ohio State team using this coming game as its “post-season” bowl affair.
Add Robinson to the backfield rotation and it’s a new ballgame for the offense, and a new headache for opposing defensive coordinators to scheme. His presence is now more important than ever due to the loss of Fitzgerald Toussaint, with a serious leg injury. While Toussaint wasn’t terribly effective all season long, it reduces the number of power backs at Michigan’s disposal.
Lord knows what trickery Al Borges will find in his playbook and no one knows exactly how Gardner and Robinson will be used, deployed … or what … against OSU. But a two-headed monster is better than one; and Michigan fans might see the magic of the past (Shoelace in all his untied glory), and promise of the future (The Rifleman), combine to win in Columbus for the first time since 2000.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Wolverines not yet out of options

What’s that old saying that applies all too often? “Better to be lucky than good!”
It is exactly the right words to use in describing Michigan’s 38-31 home overtime victory over a gritty Northwestern squad last Saturday. The Wolverines, by any standard of measure, were NOT the best team on the field; Northwestern showed greater determination … until the very last seconds when a Hail Mary pass was miraculously completed and until the Wildcats just ran out of gas in overtime.
Otherwise, we’d be taking about Michigan’s prospects for winning the Oshkosh B’Gosh Bowl against Lord-knows-Who out of the Missouri Valley conference. Instead, the Wolverines still harbor hopes (albeit feint) for a spot in the Big 10 Championship game on Dec. 1.
Michigan’s inability to adjust to the Wildcat option offense, or react properly when a substitute to a pass-only quarterback was made by Northwestern, was the road to ruin until just a few seconds to play. When Roy Roundtree successfully controlled a Devin Gardner heave, thanks to hours of practice in tip drills, at the NW 9, it allowed Brendan Gibbons to punch through a 26-yard field with three seconds left in regulation for a 31-31 tie.
And following Gardner’s 1-yard run, on a planned third-down bootleg, to push ahead in overtime, Northwestern simply could not muster the up front line push (present all game long) over four downs … and that was that for U-M’s third consecutive overtime victory. Ironically, it WAS Northwestern’s first overtime defeat … ever.
I cannot say enough about Northwestern’s performance, which reflected the attitude and tone set by Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald (who at 37 is the second longest tenured conference head coach behind …? Kirk Ferentz at Iowa). For the first time all season, Northwestern rallied after surrendering a fourth-quarter lead, and after Gardner threw an ill-advised (and poorly-executed) pass for an interception with 3:37 to play, it was all over … spare for those 18 itty-bitty seconds.
By the way, a word to the wise – those Wildcat uniforms … didn’t anyone tell you that big people should NEVER wear horizontal stripes? Make you look “bigger” than you really are. At least, you dumped the purple pants for the road uniform.
While it was nice to win, there remain too many questions about the Wolverines performance and probably no more time to get answers or solutions. First and foremost on that list is the lack of a consistent running game, hampered by the absence of senior quarterback Denard Robinson.
Despite Gardner’s quality performances over the past two weeks, Michigan is NOT a better offensive attack when Robinson is missing in action. Robinson’s running ability is simply superior to Gardner’s (who isn’t bad, but doesn’t the same instinct to escape and find long gains as does Denard).
With the group of non-prolific runners behind the U-M quarterback, any added rushing offense must come from that player, and no one in the country does it better than Robinson. So this talk about any quarterback controversy, or who should be the number one signal-caller if both men are healthy, is nonsense.
Against Northwestern, the running attack was as anemic as any game since the Alabama affair to start the season. If you scratch that 50-yard run by Fitzgerald Toussaint in the second quarter (which was wasted when he fumbled away the ball upon being tackled), Michigan never averaged more than three yards per carry.
The front trio of guards Ricky Barnum and Patrick Omameh and center Elliott Mealer were being mugged and overmatched for most of the game. And that lack of performance by the run blockers was candidly reflected in the second-half play calling – no rushing attempts in the third quarter and just four in the fourth quarter out of only 22 total snaps from center.
That is NOT a winning formula. Luckily, Iowa is not as solid as Northwestern … but Ohio State IS, and will be a major end-of-term examination of how far the Wolverines have come in 2012.
But now the question, that truthfully must be asked, is whether Robinson plays again this regular season. It is obvious something more than a mere bump on the funny bone is keeping Robinson off the field. And if that IS the case, Gardner needs to be added to the regular rushing attack, not just gaining yardage while scrambling away from would-be tacklers.
Michigan sits at 7-3 overall and 4-1 in the Legends Division, tied with Nebraska but, in truth, one game behind, and with time and games running out. The Cornhuskers, who rallied AGAIN from a fourth-quarter deficit, only has games remaining with Minnesota and at Iowa (Michigan’s opponent this Saturday); both should be presumed victories, allowing them to be in Indianapolis against Wisconsin.
A reeling Hawkeye club, having lost four in a row, will be the next Wolverine “victim” when the senior class of 2012 says goodbye to a grateful Big House audience. Iowa, to be crude about it, sucks, and is one of several Big 10 teams facing no post-season bowl experience. Aside from Michigan State, Iowa is the biggest bust in the Big 10 this season. The Hawks sit at 5-5 and unless they can upset U-M or Nebraska, they ain’t goin’ bowling at all (for the record, Sparty is in the same hot seat).
It has been a weak year for the conference and the school with the best record – Ohio State – has chosen to waste its season while on NCAA probation (meaning the Michigan game is all that she wrote for the 2012 Buckeye season). Otherwise, OSU would have its nose placed squarely in the middle of the BCS title game talk (ahead of Notre Dame and Kansas State).
A couple of more “ChuckNotes:” My God, what are some school thinking when it comes to uniforms? Just God-awful. The latest violators are in Stillwater, Okla., when the Oklahoma State Cowboys appeared, at home, with these dirty gray shirts that looked like someone accidentally mixed in a pair of bleeding blue socks with the laundry; they screamed for a gallon of pre-wash!
I know this is perpetrated by the various sports apparel companies to sell to unsuspecting supporters, but, REALLY?!?! Stop mixing rugby with college football (don’t even get me started on the so-called fraudulent NFL throwbacks)! The classic look, like a basic black tuxedo for a man or a simple black dress on a woman (with a string of pearls), is always the best route.
I continue to wonder aloud why statistics during college overtime is accepted within the game stats. By rule, whenever the clock does not run, it is not an “official” statistical play, except for point-after scoring (and the yardage for those plays don’t count).
However, playing on a 25-yard field, in overtime it ALL is added to the regulation total, often over-inflating everything (especially passing touchdowns). The NCAA needs to recalculate that aspect of its record books.
At the start of the Michigan game, I must admit to having my clicker on full surf, for the first series. I kept switching over to The Longhorn Network (which I receive on my Fios cable package) to see Texas’ first offensive series, and its first-play dedication to the memory of the late Longhorn coach Darrell K. Royal.
In this state, Royal was a revered as Bo Schembechler was in the state of Michigan, and his death last week diverted thoughts from most Texans away from the election onto a period of college football history when the ‘Horns were perennial national championship contenders (and earned four of those titles).
It was made public what Texas would do on its first play, but after Iowa State pinned UT back at its own 6, no one knew if current Coach Mack Brown would keep the promise to lineup in the old wishbone offense (that Royal and his assistant, the late Emory Ballard, who later took it to a successful Texas A&M stint).
But Texas did what it said it would, the crowd to pay tribute and then watched as Brown pulled a 2012 twist on the 1960s formation – calling for a flea-flicker going from the halfback, back to quarterback David Ash in the end zone, who hurled a 43-yard completion to Mike Davis.
According to many, the cheers were deafening and tears flowed.
Michigan never got such an opportunity to honor Bo upon his passing (at home) and that is regrettable. It happened on a Friday and the next evening, U-M played at Ohio State (whose band, I must admit, DID pay a classy tribute to a native son).
Senior Jordan Kovacs was bestowed with the fourth retired number as tribute, wearing number 11 for the last 2-3 games of his collegiate career in honor of the Wistert Brothers (Frances, Albert, Alvin).
Still waiting to see if Michigan will do anything in 2013 with Tom Harmon’s retired 98.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Don't tug on our Little Brown Jug

After each Michigan football game, the MgoBlue website posts its post-game “notes” of various interests about almost any aspect pertaining to the Wolverines. Some of it is actually interesting in a trivial fashion, and some seem like the weakest forms of filler to be found.
Hopefully it makes the job of deadline journalists easier, although, back in the prehistoric days of press box coverage (before cable television, cell phones and personal computers), we were lucky to provide quotes from both lockerrooms.
So here are some of the actual Games Notes from Saturday’s 35-13 victory over Minnesota, meaning the UM players unlocked the Jug’s box, hoisted it for all the departing Minnesota fans to see and returned it to its accustomed resting place.
• The Wolverines improved to 72-24-3 in the all-time series against Minnesota. U-M has won five straight over the Golden Gophers and Michigan retains the Little Brown Jug, as it has stayed in Ann Arbor since the 2006 season.
• Michigan is 68-22-3 all-time against Minnesota in games that handed out the Little Brown Jug.
• Michigan earned its sixth victory of the season, becoming bowl eligible for the 42nd time in program history.
Wanna know how dominant Michigan has been in this rivalry for an old clay pot water bottle? There was a period of time (1933-42) when Minnesota ran roughshod over the Wolverines, winning nine consecutive games until the 1943 Wolverine squad had enough and pasted the Gophers 49-6.
Since 1968, it’s been ALL Maize and Blue; with Saturday’s win, Michigan has won 38 of the 41 encounters. The time the Little Brown Jug has spent in Minneapolis is shorter than Lindsay Lohan’s latest movie spent in theaters.
As for bowl eligibility, at the moment, fixation is ONLY on the road to the Rose Bowl because anything else is a letdown. If Minnesota reaches six wins, heading to the Little Caesar’s Bowl would be a minor miracle (given its conference record will fall between “crappy” and “sucks”).
• Today’s game marked Michigan’s first contest against the Golden Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium, Minnesota’s on-campus stadium since opening in 2009.
• This is the first time in 41 years that Michigan played an outdoor football game in Minnesota.
• The last time Michigan played on the Minnesota campus was 1981, Anthony Carter’s junior season with the Wolverines. U-M won the game.
Prior to this initial appearance at TCF Bank Stadium, games were played at the indoor Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome and the old Memorial Stadium (one nasty creeky facility). The press box was all wood and no one could find their spot without climbing over someone else.
Nutrition, such as it was (brats, burgers and hot chocolate for a game played in the 30s with flurries), was situated outside the back of the press box, walking over rickety planks to such a flimsy shack that homeless people would have thumbed their noses.
Inside, old electric portable heaters (the ones with the red hot filaments) barely kept one’s finger thawed enough to type anything or even scribble notes on a pad. And don't ask about the restrooms...
My visit came in 1973 for a 34-7 boring, lackluster affair, and when we of the fifth estate went to visit with Bo afterwards, who kept couching his quotes with contradictory facial expressions, meaning he was less-than-pleased with even being there.
• Junior quarterback-wide receiver Devin Gardner made his first collegiate start at quarterback, stepping in behind center in place of senior quarterback Denard Robinson, who missed today’s contest due to injury. Robinson had started 34 consecutive games dating back to the 2010 season opener vs. Connecticut (Sept. 4) of his sophomore campaign.
• Gardner put together a career day behind center, setting career highs in pass completions, pass attempts, passing yards, passing touchdowns and rushing attempts. He completed 12-of-18 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns and carried the ball 10 times for 21 yards and one touchdown.

• Gardner threw a career-long 47-yard pass to senior/junior wide receiver Jeremy Gallon in the third quarter, then matched that mark with a 47-yard completion to fifth-year senior wide receiver Roy Roundtree in the fourth quarter. He also completed a 45-yard touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Drew Dileo in the second quarter.
There will be no “Wally Pipp” scenario played out here; when Robinson is ready to go back under center, he will be the starter – no question about it. However, the question becomes how much practice time Gardner should get as quarterback and as a receiver. Despite his own success, connecting with the Michigan Mighty Mites (Dileo, Gallon, Roundtree), Gardner’s size on the outside, against smaller defensive backs, was also missed.
• Michigan put together back-to-back scoring drives of 91 and 90 yards, respectively, in the second quarter, marking the third time in program history that U-M posted 90-plus yard scoring drives in the same game. It also marks the first time in program history that the feat has been accomplished on consecutive offensive drives.
• Michigan’s 91-yard scoring drive in the second quarter marked the longest drive of the season for the Maize and Blue, and is tied for the ninth-longest scoring drive in program history. The 12-play drive spanned seven minutes and five seconds.
Field position was a major problem for Michigan all game long; often due to a sub-par performance by punter Will Hagerup, who averaged less than 30 yards on three kicks. Coming into the game as one of the conference’s best punters, and the lack of any weather-related hindrances, it is hard to explain why he stunk so bad. But it factored into the long scoring drives (after Michigan held Minnesota when the Gophers had superb starting positions).
And these drives appeared out of nowhere because Gardner looked lost as a puppy in the first quarter. Suddenly he was finding receivers and the offensive line, which had allowed two sacks and was bring steamrolled by the Gophers front four, decided to actually block these people. The two aforementioned scoring drives totaled 25 plays, and swung time of possession in the opposite direction.
• For the sixth time this season, the Wolverines held an opponent to 13 points or less.
• The U-M defense has not allowed an opponent to score a first quarter touchdown since Week 1 vs. Alabama (Sept. 1) and has not allowed a first quarter score since Week 2 vs. Air Force (Sept. 8).
• Michigan has not allowed an opponent to score on its opening offensive drive all season. U-M and Penn State are the only two Big Ten teams that have not allowed its opponents to score on the opening series.
• Michigan limited Minnesota to 49 yards of total offense (7 rushing yards and 42 passing yards) and three first downs in the second quarter.
• Junior-sophomore linebacker Jake Ryan finished the game with nine tackles, including three tackles-for-loss. Dating back to last season, Ryan has posted a tackle-for-loss in 14 of his last 15 games.
• Fifth-year senior linebacker Kenny Demens notched a team-high 10 tackles, including one tackle-for-loss. has posted double-digit tackles in two consecutive games and nine times in his career.
In many ways, this year’s version of Michigan football is becoming known for its defensive prowess – a shocking admission from where the program stood just two years earlier.
Leading that effort is sophomore end Jake Ryan, demonstrating his future credentials as an All-American. He has simply been a beast among men with his quickness and ability to shuck blockers to make tackles.
Demens, probably an undersized linebacker compared to other teams, has been the other spark plug for the defense, offering very little in the way of open space up the middle.
As much credit that heads the way of coordinator Greg Mattison (and all of it deserved), the scheme put on the field only works as well of the players execute it – with Ryan and Demens, and an improving secondary week-to-week, the list of teams that can match that kind of performance is a short one.
Of course, there’s a big difference in coaching between the two schools. Gopher coach Jerry Kill made three crucial mistakes when the game was closer than aided U-M to victory.
Midway through the first quarter, at the Michigan 41, Kill decided to go for a first down instead of (again) pinning the Wolverines deep in their own end. Yes, the Michigan defense stuffed the play for no gain.
Midway through the third quarter, Kill called for a fake field goal when Minnesota had possession at the UM 16. The three points would have brought the Gophers closer at a point in the game when one turnover could have been a major difference. Yes, the Michigan defense stuffed the play short of a first down.
Finally, with 5:17 to play, at the Michigan 2, on fourth down, and behind 28-13,Kill goes for … a field goal. No guts, no glory, no Little Brown Jug. Besides, Toussaint’s scoring run ended all doubt just a few moments later.
These are the choices that mean the difference between going to the Rose and Little Caesar’s bowls.
• Gallon paced Michigan with four catches for 72 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown reception. He also added a career-high 21 rushing yards on two carries.
• Sophomore running back Thomas Rawls registered 43 rushing yards and one touchdown on a career-high 16 carries.
• Senior/junior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint amassed 70 rushing yards on 13 carries, including a season-best 41-yard touchdown scamper in the fourth quarter.
Aside from the obvious choice of Gardner, I thought Gallon was also THE star of the game; his leaping touchdown reception in the face of double coverage solidified the victory in the second half and broke the Gophers’ spirit.
As for the running attack, it was better, at times, but not in any sort of proximity of where it needs to be. Subtract Toussaint’s very well executed touchdown run, he gained just 29 yards on the other 12 attempts. Rawls’ 43 yards on 16 carries meant he gained less than three yards in those clouds of dust.
That output forces more pressure on someone like Gardner (without the third option – Robinson’s speed and feet) and his inexperience could backfire at the wrong time. Michigan must have better rushing numbers in order to win the last three games of the regular season.
This Saturday, Michigan is back at home against Northwestern, a pesky team that could offer problems on the march to Dec. 1. A prediction prior to a day before, without knowing the status of Robinson and where Gardner plays, would be a waste of time and energy.
However, fortune still lies within Michigan’s hands – although it would have been nice if Sparty actually played UP to its standards and not snatch defeat from the jaws of victory against Nebraska. The Cornhuskers should have stumbled in East Lansing (is D’Antonio in trouble?), can still stumble in the next three weeks, and then Michigan will play Wisconsin for the right to go to Pasadena.
And that’s the one game note that matters.