Sunday, September 22, 2013

Michigan-Connecticut: déjà vu all over again

The American greatest philosopher in the 20th century, was/is a man named Lawrence Peter Berra, commonly known to the world as “Yogi.” Born and raised in the Italian neighborhood of St. Louis, known as “The Hill,” he was more than just a baseball player and manager (with the Yankees) and Hall of Fame inductee in 1972; he was a man with a particularly marvelous way with the English language.
If you’ve ever repeated the words, “it ain’t over until it’s over,” thank Yogi. If you nodded in agreement to the statement, “90 percent of the game is half-mental,” Yogi strikes again.
So when Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris went back-to-back hitting home runs one afternoon, Yogi uttered the immortal phrase that WILL live forever, “it was déjà vu all over again.”
With Yankee captain Derek Jeter (Kalamazoo native and an almost-Wolverine) sitting in the stands (and Yogi perhaps listening somewhere in his New Jersey home), the Michigan football team proved his statement to be true as all “git out,” Saturday night on a former air base in the middle of nowhere (also known as Connecticut).
The Wolverines, stinking up the joint worst than what those people smelled in that Nissan commercial (the one with Kaley Cuoco), allowed the Huskies (replete with some damn ugly headwear) to daydream at night for almost four quarters of embarrassing the 15th-ranked Wolverines on half-national television. It took a miraculous play and some extra Gatorade on the Michigan bench to escape with a 24-21 victory.
Brendan Gibbons’ 21-yard field goal with 4:36 to play concluded a run of 17 unanswered points for the Wolverines, and helped overcome yet another game of “hot potato football” played by the Michigan offense, and, in particular, junior quarterback Devin Gardner. For the fourth consecutive week, he was personally responsible for multiple turnovers (three of the four giveaways and all three committed on offensive snaps).
If it weren’t for the fact that freshman Shane Morris hasn’t played enough this season to even matter, and is fairly immobile from what has been viewed, there could be a quarterback controversy this week when the Wolverines have “bye” on the schedule for Saturday.
The early Las Vegas line has it as a “pick ‘em” for the bye.
You KNOW members of my generation (whether or not anyone indulged in certain mind-altering pharmaceuticals) were having one of flashbacks before their eyes to just one week earlier when it appeared Michigan was going to lose to Akron. As fast as you could say, “Zips-pah-dee-doo-doo,” when Husky Ty-Meer Brown scooped up a Gardner fumble (on a short yardage sneak, no less) and rumbled 34 yards for a 21-7 lead within the first 81 seconds of the second half, every Wolverine fan suddenly auditioned for “The Walking Dead.”
It was Zombieland all over Wolverine World.
BUT … in what MUST be the Play of the Year for Michigan, junior linebacker Desmond Morgan reached up with one paw into the humid night air at Rentschler Field, snagging a Chandler Whitmer pass at the UConn 41, and returned it to the Husky 12-yard line.
One play later, Fitzgerald Toussaint scored the second of his two touchdowns to tie the game at 21-all.
It was at that point Connecticut ran out of Red Bull/gasoline or keys for the student body to jangle in the air (really … as if they were snooty kids from a place like SMU). The subsequent UConn punt traveled only 32 yards and Drew Dileo ran it back to the UC 40; it would have been better field position if not for an unnecessary roughness on a block flag against UM.
Slowly, the Wolverines drove to the UC 4 in order for Gibbons to do what Husky kicker Chad Christen could not do when given his field goal opportunity in the third quarter. No one can say for sure why that kick, with the wind, was hooked like Tiger Woods’ tee-shots lately, but one had to ask when anyone had actually mowed that field in the past 12 months and why huge patches of turf were flying around as if the players were wearing nine-irons instead of cleats.
It got to be embarrassing.
Actually, it’s a lucky thing, or simply good fortune, to sit at home – practicing like they haven’t practiced all season – over the next two weeks. Michigan’s record might state 4-0, but it is not a quality undefeated record; it’s more like a Minnesota 4-0, or if Rutgers were already in the conference and posting a 4-0 mark.
It doesn’t mean what it SHOULD mean – dominance, power and excellence. No one watching last Saturday (either in person or on their computer screen on ESPN3 because it was blacked out on their home cable system in order to see Texas save Mack Brown’s coaching hide in Austin over an overrated Kansas State squad) could attached those words to the current UM program.
There is MUCH work to be done, in all aspects of the game, in every category (offense, defense, special teams).
Michigan STILL doesn’t show a receiver with enough speed to simply run a deep flag or post pattern, get behind a defender and catch the damn ball for a long yardage gain. In their defense, no one was shown they can accurately connect on such a playcall, without underthrowing the pass (for interceptions) or overthrowing the target (for incompletions).
No Michigan pass went for more than 17 yards and the per completion average was an unacceptable 8.8 yards. Perhaps for the first time since, the first year Rich Rodriguez was coach (and no starting QB even existed), UM had less than 100 yards passing in the game.
UM still hasn’t demonstrated a strong running game between the guards (and up the middle) and seemingly can only run on the same side of the field that senior tackle Taylor Lewan mans. Fitzgerald Toussaint’s two scores were around the end and past blocks by Lewan, into open field.
The other side of the o-line did not perform well Saturday, to put it mildly. Michigan saw 10 of its 72 plays stopped for negative yardage, including 57 while running the ball. If not corrected, Minnesota would come into Ann Arbor on Oct. 5 and spoil all of Michigan’s Homecoming plans.
The defense stuffed UConn for just 47 net yards rushing on 25 attempts, but before anyone thumps their chest, the Huskies were second-to-last in all of Division 1 in rushing yards. Save for Morgan’s heroics, there were times when Connecticut was able to throw at will on the Michigan secondary and its first two touchdown drives.
Even the kicking game still maintains problems. Punter Matt Wile shanked one kick for 30 yards and had one kickoff sail out of bounds, giving UConn possession at its own 35 (on its ill-fated field goal drive). Sorry, but there is no excuse for NOT kicking off within the field of play.
I’m sure by now, many of the Michigan faithful are insisting on carrying plenty of Alka-Seltzer when watching UM games. It IS getting tiresome to see the same mistakes over and over when you know they are being coached to do otherwise.
Still … a win is a win is a win…
Right, Yogi?

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