Monday, December 30, 2013

Michigan-Kansas State: a game of thorns

If any football fan wishes to see a textbook example of indifference by a team on the field, during the entire game, simply pop in the DVD of the 2013 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl into the player and see how little Michigan cared about winning that contest.
It was a game essentially decided before halftime, and the 31-14 final outcome, in favor of Kansas State (a second-level team from the Big 12), was only for the scoreboard operator to monitor. In the desert community known as Phoenix, the Wolverines did not rise to the occasion; they produced no emotion, no sustainability, and no inkling of what to do in all facets of the game … except to demonstrate how meekly one team can play against another squad which actually cared about the final verdict.
It was, frankly, a boring game, an excruciating exercise to watch (for U-M fans) and a totally forgettable way to spend a Saturday evening. Apparently, the crowd (which contained the usual large number of rabid K-State followers), reflected its indifference, with only 53,284 in “attendance” (compared to the Sun Devil Stadium capacity of 71,706). It was noticeable to anyone watching on ESPN, as cameras shied away from any evidence of humanity sitting in the stadium’s upper decks.
The game might have been extended for two more quarters after halftime, but Michigan had surrendered much earlier, almost from the opening whistle. After all, how does anyone explain starting Justice Hayes, a sophomore running back with only three carries in 2013?
The real waving of the white flag came with 55 seconds left in the first half, when Michigan trailed 21-6. It had the ball at its own 46, on fourth down, and after a timeout and huddle conference, the decision was made to punt – to simply give possession away without so much as a whimper or an attempt to go for a score (or at least a first down). That was the sign of someone trying hard to escape rather than play-to-win – a shadow of the team that tried like hell to make a two-point conversion in the final moments to upset Ohio State just one month before.
I imagine the following prayer was being uttered in Wolverine household at about the same time I mumbled the words at 11:40 p.m. (CST): “Dear Lord, please let this game and this season end … as soon as possible!” It was the proper ending to a season when two of the team’s seven wins were miraculous endings against Akron and UConn (two vastly inferior teams).
Every phase of Michigan’s performance stunk to high holy hell. The beforehand reliable defense looked confused and constantly out of position, leaving wide gaps of playing turf open for the KSU offense to exploit. Perhaps the most telling statistic saw Matt Wile, the team’s placekicker, have more solo tackles than the two defensive ends (Frank Clark and Jibreel Black) – a sad state of affairs to say the least.
In his first collegiate start, freshman quarterback Shane Morris’ outing was workman-like, at best. He finished with 24 completions on 38 attempts and his lone interception (which led to KSU’s final touchdown) did not have any effect on the outcome, other than the point spread.
Morris mostly threw short “safe” passes – the longest gain (a 24-yard play to tight end Jake Butt) was yardage garnered after the reception of an 8-yard aerial. Morris averaged only 5.2 yards per attempt and a miserly 8.2 yards per completion.
In contrast, Wildcat QB Jake Waters, who Michigan made to look like a potential first-round NFL draft choice, completed 21 of 27 passes for 271 yards (and a healthy 12.9 yards per completion). Waters not only avoided tossing an interception, the plays were executed at such an efficient rate, U-M defenders didn’t come within the stadium’s confines of even sniffing a turnover (the lone recovered fumble only led to a three-and-out for the U-M offense).
The coaching staff, led by offensive coordinator Al Borges, took the easy route, and didn’t ask Morris to gamble on deep routes. All that safety dancing, however, meant the KSU defense could play a tighter zone and stop Michigan from garnering significant yardage after catches.
The manner of trying to protect Morris in his first meaningful action was admirable, but this isn’t junior high football; it was a time to discover whether he could be handed the eventual keys to the offense – either in 2014 or beyond. But it was much too timid of a game plan to demonstrate any capability of winning.
While the ball was spread among nine different Wolverine receivers, six of them combined for nine completions for a grand total of … 49 yards! Subtract a 14-yard play to slot receiver Devin Funchess, and you have eight “successful” plays for 35 yards – none over a 9-yard gain. No one can win at that rate.
Of course, Michigan’s total lack of any kind of effective running game hurt Morris all night long. U-M had to resort to trick plays (two of the first four running calls were reverses instead of going between the tackles) and those aforementioned dump passes to move forward. When Morris ran 40 yards on Michigan’s final series, it made him the team’s leading rusher … by a wide margin.
Subtract Funchess’ 14-yard gain on the first reverse play, everyone else carried the ball 13 times for 19 yards. The longest carry was all of 6 yards and the four depth chart-listed runners combined for 9 attempts, gaining 13 yards. What makes is so sad is it wasn’t the worst performance of the season … by a wide margin.
By the way, before anyone creates a false scenario, there is NO quarterback controversy at Michigan. No one can say junior Devin Gardner’s absence would have altered Saturday’s outcome, but Gardner is far, FAR more mobile than Morris and takes more opportunities to throw the ball downfield (north to south), not this West Coast, side-to-side dump-crap passing game on display with Morris under center.
The only point of concern will be Gardner’s ability to recover from what is obviously much more than “turf toe” and remaining healthy for his senior year. But it won’t matter if Michigan doesn’t produce a running game which at least is lifted to the level of adequate, instead of totally ridiculous (as it stands today).
The real difference, other than attitude, is the one commodity Michigan most lacks in its players – speed. Above anything else, speed is what distinguishes Big 10 teams from those in the SEC, ACC and Big 12; it also explains why Big 10 teams, mostly built upon methodical power football principles, have so much trouble in their matchups with teams in those other groupings. As often said, it is the one attribute a staff cannot teach; it’s either there or not.
This was not an ass-kicking because, despite the lopsided score, because no one wearing Maize and Blue actually showed their backside to the purple-clad Wildcats. In the first-ever meeting between these programs, Kansas State played like the outcome mattered to its future; Michigan looked like it was going through the motions of a light-contact scrimmage.
To U-M playing K-State meant nothing; just another name on the schedule with no history or tradition to inspire any player. To Kansas State, it meant a validation of its existence and a victory over one of the most vaunted collegiate programs in history was very meaningful.
I have spent more than a few hours in the state of Kansas; it is a sports fan base dominated by one sport – University of Kansas men’s basketball (almost to the exclusion of everything else). “Rock Chalk” is the main topic discussed in cafes, barber shops and in taverns; football is almost an after-thought. Kansas’s football program is a joke (hence, Charlie Weis is coaching there).
Within Kansas, the only school that truly appreciates its football is KSU, due to one man – 74-year-old head coach Bill Snyder. When he assumed control of the Wildcats, K-State was one of the five worst programs. In his two separate stints (1989-2005, 2009-present) in Manhattan, Snyder is now 178-90-1, and has been named National Coach of the Year five times; he IS Kansas State football.
Snyder can also “coach,” not just bring talent from across the Midwest and Southwest (including Texas, Oklahoma and other hot spots of talent). It was his game plan his troops followed to perfection in Tempe, making his opposing coaches look like prime-time JV hacks.
When Kansas State was on offense, one player stood head and shoulders over the entire Michigan roster – junior wide receiver Tyler Lockett, son of the school’s all-time receiver (Kevin Lockett). Lockett constantly barbecued, roasted and deep-fried cornerbacks Ramon Taylor and Blake Countess for three touchdowns and 116 yards overall on 10 catches ... and it could NOT have been a surprise, given a full month for everyone to ready themselves for Lockett’s ability to execute double moves and run tight routes.
But no one could stop him, or try anything to negate his influence (such as playing a tighter form of coverage or knocking his at the line of scrimmage to take him off his game, even for a brief moment). It was pathetic after KSU assumed its 21-6 lead.
For this reason, and many more (about 60 minutes’ worth), this loss sits squarely on the shoulders of the Michigan coaching staff. Given 30 days to produce a winning game plan, with or without Devin Gardner, Team 134 looked as unprepared, unmotivated and unemotional as any unit in recent memory.
And after three seasons, during which the team’s record have steadily fallen towards mediocrity, one must begin to harbor thoughts of buyer’s remorse concerning head coach Brady Hoke. He gives the impression of understanding the school’s storied history (something his predecessor, Rich Rodriguez, failed to grasp from the get-go) and can recruit like a demon.
However, getting players onto the campus is one thing; “coaching them up” is quite another. Aside from two victories over Notre Dame and a losing-streak halting victory over Ohio State (at home), Hoke has yet to command a true statement win, especially on the road. I’m sure Michigan fans are beginning to feel those ants in their pants, watching an obviously talent-laden roster lose too many games to satisfy any type of explanation.
Of course, the obvious question is, “If not Hoke, then who?” and the speculation should satisfy no one. I’m not possessed with the magic answer, nor is anyone within Wolverine Universe (especially AD Dave Brandon). But the talk will only grow louder and angrier if an immediate turnaround is not seen; and it won’t help to coach or perform with that Sword of Damocles hanging over the entire affair.
And the final insult to the Michigan program was this final audible note from the ESPN crew: with Notre Dame’s victory over Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl earlier in the day, combined with Michigan’s loss, meant the Irish NOW sport the highest winning percentage in collegiate football history – NOT Michigan! It was one of those pre-game bragging points the U-M SID office would place before the media at every opportunity.
Now even that was lost in the desert and I’m not sure anyone really gave a hoot about it … by a wide margin.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Welcome to the dog show: 2013 college bowl predictions

Entering the final year of the current BCS system to determine a “national” collegiate football championship, it is still comforting to know the post-season bowl system – rewarding too many undeserving teams with trips to exotic places (like Mobile, Birmingham, Boise, Charlotte) – is alive and well. Next season, when the playoff system is implemented, there will be even MORE games (four to be exact) to wine and dine and entice college presidents to send their young men to “represent” their institutions.
I liken the bowl season to a dog show – with all sorts of breeds competing to see which one is the best that night. It’s impossible to truly compare a Scottish terrier to a Great Dane, but it’s done. It is the same to some extent to say whether the Belk Bowl is better than the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (at least we know what will be served in one press box).
They are ALL dogs to one extent or another – some are mutts and some are champions.
With some of these games, a fan must ask, “What’s to be gained by playing?” If the game involves a team from a mid-level conference, the answer is obvious …prestige in beating one of the “big” boys.. But a second-division club from a major conference has nothing to gain by putting its reputation on the line in a venue its fans care little about.
The real answer is money, money and mo’ money. A conference like the Big 10 deliberately overextends itself, contractually, is to scoop up each loose penny it can find for its own use (not necessarily its members – how much does Michigan REALLY benefit by having Minnesota play in the Texas Bowl???).
So begins the marathon that is the viewing of too many games before the real crème de la crème meet in Pasadena’s Rose Bowl to crown a mythical national champion. For the rest of the other encounters, please heed these words: buyer beware. You get as good as the records and matchups allow.
Here are the categories (and criteria) of the 2013 bowl/dog show, to be used for this judging:
Grand champion – This game is the best of the best. In this instance, the winner is no mystery.
The two best teams, as sustained in the 2013 regular season, ARE Florida State and Auburn, to play in the Rose Bowl.
If Auburn played Alabama (who probably IS the best overall squad in the U.S.) nine other times in 2013, the Tigers/War Eagles could well go 0-9, but when it counted, in the Iron Bowl, Auburn pulled a rabbit out of its … hat, and won the game. The loss earlier in the season (in double overtime) doesn’t matter; it’s just fodder for the water cooler debating society.
In this game, I just don’t see Auburn bringing Cinderella to this ball. FSU is a better balanced team and the string of consecutive national championships coming from the SEC will end (Florida State 42, Auburn 24).
Best in Show finalist – In the running for the overall blue ribbon as one of the top 3-4 games, but just cannot get past that one element, keeping it from the crown and the glory.
Rose Bowl (Michigan State-Stanford) – this should be the best game of them all in the long tradition of Big 10-Pac-12 matchups. As a Michigan fan, I’ve learned (the HARD way) NOT to pick against Stanford when playing in Pasadena. Won’t start now (Stanford 27, MSU 21).
Fiesta Bowl (Baylor-Central Florida) – how much does anyone truly know about these two programs? Outside of Central Florida and Central Texas, the answer is very little. It will be time to introduce them to the national stage, unlike anything seen in the past (Baylor 45, CFU 41).
Sugar Bowl (Alabama-Oklahoma) – Seeing Alabama takes its frustrations out on the Sooners will warm the hearts of all Texans to the south (Alabama 42, Oklahoma 20).
Orange Bowl (Clemson-Ohio State) – two overrated programs with something to prove to themselves. Besides, the best running back in the nation is Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde and why he was omitted from ANY Heisman Trophy consideration is a mystery (offering more fuel to the Buckeye bitching fire). Watch him excel in the NFL.
By the way, the Heisman is just another dog (and pony) show; Jameis Winston has already been anointed as the “next big thing,” especially after his clearance of any possible sexual assault charges in Florida. He’ll play one more season and then skip Tallahassee for the pros (Ohio State 30, Clemson 24).
Breed champion – Good matchup; hopefully the game will live up to the hype and expectations.
Russell Athletic Bowl (Miami [Fla.]-Louisville) – the old Tangerine Bowl has itself what should be an entertaining game, especially to see if Terry Bridgewater can become an NFL quarterback (Louisville 35, Miami 28).
Capitol One Bowl (Wisconsin-South Carolina) – Can the epitome of Big 10 football – the physicalness of the Badgers – match the typical SEC overall talent of South Carolina? (South Carolina 24, Wisconsin 21).
AT&T Cotton Bowl (Oklahoma State-Missouri) – A real good matchup on paper, but, in truth, it is just two years removed from being a regular Big 12 game. No real excitement; still should’ve been Texas versus Texas A&M (Ok-State 41, Missouri 37).
Class winner – Game should be better than expected, especially for a minor level bowl.
Las Vegas Bowl (Fresno State-USC) – both in the top 25 and the Bulldogs have that chip of their shoulders about not getting any respect. But why is such a small venue? (Fresno 37, USC 34)
Alamo Bowl (Oregon-Texas) – this was going to be a major blowout for the Ducks, but circumstances can change a team and for the Longhorns, circumstances have certainly inserted itself into the storyline. You never want to play a team totally motivated to prove itself, and its coach, to the football world (Oregon 37, UT 34).
Sun Bowl (Virginia Tech-UCLA) – the folks in El Paso always produce a winning matchup, a well-organized week of festivities and one of the more interesting settings for any college football game (mountains to one side, the border crossing to the other) (UCLA 27, VaTech 20).
Chick-Fil-A Bowl (Duke-Texas A&M) – I don’t think Duke can hang with A&M’s offense and you know Johnny Manziel wants to end his collegiate career on a high (scoring) note (A&M 49, Duke 17).
Outback Bowl (Iowa-LSU) – LSU is by far the better team but doesn’t have its three-year starter at quarterback. Iowa won’t know how to plan for the Tigers’ future and cannot handle LSU’s overall speed (LSU 42, Iowa 20).
Out of the money – Matchups actually not as good as the reputations of the schools involved.
Sheraton Hawaii Bowl (Boise State-Oregon State) – at least Boise is seeing crystal blue water instead of its home ugly-ass blue turf.
Holiday Bowl (Texas Tech-Arizona State) – Tech, with all its so-called high-powered offense, has lost five games in a row because no one knows a thing about defense. Won’t be as close as people think.
Liberty Bowl (Rice-Mississippi State) – of all the teams headed to a bowl game of any repute, who served Rice for this one? Pun intended.
Independence Bowl (Boston College-Arizona) – anyone rooting for Rich Rodriguez? Seriously??? Oh yeah, Shreveport is this nation’s winter vacation paradise … if you’re a crawfish!
Stray – it’s not a good game, and the only reason you’ll watch is either you went to one of the school, or your tuition money is presently headed there.
Poinsettia Bowl (Utah State- Northern Illinois) The “We Got Screwed” award for 2013 goes to poor ole, Northern Illinois, from a ranked, BCS possibility to this crap.
Military Bowl (Maryland-Marshall) – We. Are. Marshall. In. A. Lousy. Game. Maryland is there for local interest only and those God-awful uniforms.
Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl (Washington-BYU) – Brigham Young is contractually obligated to be in San Francisco (all those Mormons spending time in America’s most liberal city… hmmmm). What’s U-Dub’s excuse?
Pinstripe Bowl (Notre Dame-Rutgers) – Puh-lese! This is perhaps the most overrated game of all. And did the Irish REALLY want to be outdoors in NYC in the dead of winter?
Music City Bowl (Georgia Tech-Ole Miss) – Rebels and rambling wrecks … sounds like a better country song than football game.
Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl (Middle Tennessee-Navy) – they’re cutting back on the military budget; start by NOT sending Navy to this lousy game, to face a school no one knows ... even in Tennessee.
BBVA Compass Bowl (Houston-Vanderbilt) – geez, had it been Rice and Vanderbilt, they could have used the old 1950s TV show format, “The College Bowl.”
Mutt – Not even worth activating the “power” button on the remote. You’d be better off watching an actually dog show. Not even worthy of making a selection.
New Mexico Bowl (Colorado State-Washington State) – why this? I have no idea (at least someone can go eat at El Pinto, one of the best Mexican restaurants around).
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (San Diego State-Buffalo) – the university or the Bills?
New Orleans Bowl (Louisiana-Lafayette-Tulane) – at least the food should be good.
Little Caesars Bowl (Pittsburgh-Bowling Green) – BGSU deserved better that Pizza! Pizza!
Texas Bowl (Syracuse-Minnesota) – Houston is a long way for fans not to show up.
Heart of Dallas Bowl (UNLV-North Texas) – Local interest involving the ONLY area school at a bowl game; too bad the opposition isn’t a known entity. Bowl (Ball State-Arkansas State) – where is Danica Patrick when you REALLY need her?
One 2013 aspect that strikes home in my household is what should be termed as the “Todd Graham” factor. Three teams that the current head coach at Arizona State led (Rice, Pitt), or is leading (Sun Devils) are in the 2013 bowl picture.
But just more than a decade ago, Graham was stationed as the head football coach at Allen (Tex.) High School (1995-2000), one of the northern suburbs of Dallas, where he established the foundation of what he become one of Texas’ premier gridiron schoolboy programs.
While at Allen, Graham convinced the school district to build one of the first indoor practice facilities in the Metroplex (to perfect scale for a 50-yard surface), and the best weight room in the DFW area. The building was nicknamed the “Todd Majal” by critics, but it showed the kind of commitment to excellence that resulted in AISD voters overwhelmingly approving the construction of a 20,000-seat stadium – the best of its kind around.
His first head coaching assignment (after assistant posts at West Virginia, with a certain unnamed former Michigan head coach, and Tulsa) was at Rice University (in Houston), leading the Owls to a berth in the New Orleans Bowl in 2006. After one season, he moved back to Tulsa as its head coach, winning three Conference-USA titles in four years and going undefeated in three bowl appearances. At TU, Graham was 36-17, including a 28-27 victory at Notre Dame in 2010.
In 2011, he was head coach at Pittsburgh, leading the Panthers to a berth in the BBVA Compass Bowl. Prior to that game, he accepted his current assignment with Arizona State, and has gone 18-8 in Tempe, winning last year’s Fight Hunger Bowl, and playing for the Pac-12 championship against top-five ranked Stanford earlier this month.
For the same reason I root for the New England Patriots (with the Tom Brady connection), I also pull for Graham’s squads – past and present – because he was a friendly and honest interview when I worked for the paper(s) that serviced Allen.
In the STRAY category must be placed the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in Tempe, Ariz., involving the Michigan Wolverines against Kansas State’s Wildcats. This less-than-interesting matchup pits the Big 10’s most (overall) disappointing squad against an also-ran from the Big 12 Conference (never in anyone’s serious pre-season championship discussion).
Both teams post 7-5 records, although K-State had a winning conference mark at 5-4 (U-M was 3-5). Each team defeated a ranked team during the year (Texas Tech in Lubbock for KSU and Notre Dame for Michigan at the Big House).
K-State is not nearly as talented as Michigan, and shouldn’t come within two touchdowns, depending on which Wolverine unit appears in Tempe – the fight-to-the-last second team that almost beat Ohio State, or the let’s-not-be-offensive players that lost to Michigan State and Nebraska.
The Wildcats do have a platoon system at quarterback but neither Jake Winters nor Daniel Sams is as individually as gifted as Michigan’s Devin Gardner (when he wants to play as he did versus the Buckeyes). The “Cats are still missing the presence and skills of Collin Klein.
The main offensive threat is junior wide receiver Trevor Lockett, with 1,146 yards receiving and eight touchdowns. If the last name seems familiar, Trevor’s father, Kevin, is the school’s ALL-TIME leading receiver, from the early 1990s.
On defense, ranked 36th in the nation, Kansas State is led by DT Ryan Mueller, with 11.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss of yardage. He will be paired with Michigan’s Taylor Lewan and should have pro scouts drooling at that one-on-one.
The constant for KSU is its head coach, legendary Bill Snyder, who has rebuilt this program TWICE from ruination. He has forgotten more than most coaches know about football and is as revered a figure in the state of Kansas as one individual can be. Hell, the field in Manhattan is named after him.
One major deterrent to watch this game is its kickoff time – 10:15 p.m. Detroit time (9:15 here in Texas). Why accept a game invitation where so much of the fan base is susceptible to falling asleep after halftime?
IF … and that could be a big “if” … one manages to stay awake, he or she will see (most likely) a high-scoring affair with Michigan emerging victorious (U-M 40, KSU 28).

Response to volunteerism column: Pin-Ups for Vets

Dear Chuck,
I receive Google alerts about Volunteerism and your blog entry came up about the importance of volunteering. What a great piece that was!
After graduating from UCLA, I started a nonprofit to help improve the lives of hospitalized Veterans and healthcare programs in VA Hospitals. We produce a World War-II style pin-up fundraiser calendar each year to help us in our mission to support ill and injured Veterans, deployed troops, military spouses, homeless vets, and female vets entering the workplace, as well as VA Hospitals. You can check out all the pages of our website at
Since I began the project eight years ago, I have been able to make volunteering "glamorous."   Young women who never thought to step foot into a Veterans Hospital are contacting me daily to see how they can join our 1940's-style calendar girl volunteers on our 50-state VA Hospital Tour. I am most proud of the fact that I have been able to encourage volunteerism to help our Nation's heroes in hospitals across the U.S. You can visit the "Gina's Vists" page and our "Press Room" page on our website to learn more about our project. Also our Blog page has some interesting entries.
I would love to come to Michigan someday to visit your hospitalized Veterans. We are always looking for sponsors to help our volunteers make the trips to each state. We have visited over 5,000 hospitalized Vets at their bedsides across the U.S. to boost morale and deliver appreciation gifts. Our hospital visits are always so very appreciated.
If you know of a business or group of people that you think might like to sponsor us to help us get to Michigan for a visit with your hospitalized Veterans, please let me know.
Thanks again for a great piece on volunteering.

Best wishes for a happy New Year,
Gina Elise
Pin-Ups For Vets
501(c) 3 Non-profit Organization

Monday, December 09, 2013

Volunteerism: Personal choice you need to make

If you wish to make a New Year’s resolution that will actually be worthwhile, resolve to do something … I mean do SOMETHING meaningful within your community.
My late father used to describe the method used in the Army (when he served during World War II) in procuring volunteers for something or other.
“You lined up everyone in a straight line and when the mission was announced and the request for volunteers, everyone took one step backwards ... well ... almost everyone,” he said. “The guy who didn’t move, the one who was left standing there by himself, became the volunteer.”
My elementary school Spanish teacher employed a phrase (which I will never remember in that tongue) which translated meant “handcuffed volunteer.” It seemed as if I was in shackles often when no one raised their hand to help.
These days, not enough people are raising their hands – to help various worthy organizations, to help the youth, to help build a better community for us to live in. The list of need is long and not enough people are stepping forward to ask the clarion call.
As a society, each of us has an obligation to live together and form a bond of genuine humanity. As many move up the ladder in terms of economic and social standing, others cannot, and, sadly, do not, share in those benefits.
But the chain of our every-shrinking world feels the strain of all people. I need not repeat the adage about a chain and its weakest link. Or do I?
As a product of a different generation, I was taught that one could not live in a community, be part of any group, and not try to make things better for others. The greatest legacy a person can leave is seeing one thing – one area of need – improved by personal involvement.
In other words, you NEED to volunteer … regardless of the need. And if you ask people in various social agencies, or on any school campus, the need grows by the day. It’s like the price of most goods and services; it always goes up, never down.
Volunteerism is a very personal thing; it is actually a commitment between your body and your conscience. Such a discussion is held between your mind and inner voice which directs your heart to do things.
People “give” in their own way – some give time, some give labor, some simply give money. No one form is better, or worse, than the other. A combination of that Holy Trinity – time, labor, money – is greatly needed, especially in these current times when vital social services are starving for any one of those three entities.
I never criticize benefactors who want to stay in the shadows, but feel the need to help through financial contribution. Manpower is a wonderful thing and busy hands can accomplish so much. But groups still have to pay for items most of the time (unless that benefactor contributes goods); all show and no dough leaves many projects unfinished.
Others would be surprised at what they can do. Some gather litter from highways, some can provide tax and legal service to poor families who could use the help the most; some can read and mentor to a child in after-school programs. Food banks are struggling to combat a problem – hunger – which should NEVER exist in the richest country on earth.
The list is endless because the need is endless. Sitting her surrounded by ice and ridiculously frigid (harmful and even fatal) temperatures, there is a segment of our society unable to financially or physically cop – the homeless! I live in one of the more affluent counties (Collin) in Texas (although I never resemble that remark), yet even among people of higher means, there ARE too many adults, and even children, spending nights in cars and without so much as a roof, or a decent meal to project ahead of them.
I have (for years) supported the only homeless shelter in this county (The Samaritan Inn) because it provides a valuable and needed service. The facility, which has expanded its capacity twice in the past decade, is ALWAYS filled to capacity, and is forced to turn away twice as many people as it accepts – the need is THAT great!
I was stunned to learn that in the midst of this recent cold spell only a handful of the hundreds of churches in the county bothered to offer open doors to merely shelter these people from the cold, and offer so little as a cup of coffee, some bread or soup, to them. It simply makes a person wonder about how the teachings of a man who professed compassion for the unfortunate around him could be that misshaped.
There are homeless people everywhere in this nation and not ALL are mentally unbalanced drug addicts; most work full-time jobs and a third of those labeled “homeless” are children under 17 (who have done nothing bad in their lives other to be born to lesser circumstances). Far, FAR too many homeless men (and even women) are U.S. military veterans, for whom society has turned its collective backs on these former heroes and warriors. Such is but one of several national shames this country continues to permit.
The best volunteer helps because it’s the right thing to do. The best volunteer does it without fanfare and without seeking approval of others ... because it IS the right thing to do. And the recipient(s) of volunteer efforts need to deliver regular thanks and appreciation for that which they receive ... in the form of sincere pats on the back.
Because that is ALSO the right thing to do.
Every community, regardless of where you live, offers worthy organizations that could use help with that “trinity.” Each organization could benefit from donations, or a phone call where you ask a simple question, “What can I do to help?”
Find as much to do as your schedule will allow – at your church, at your school, through various outreach services. Take that step forward and raise your hand.
You’ll be a much better human being for it.
To everyone who reads or listens to Mgotalk, please have a safe and rewarding holiday, keep supporting this venture and the University of Michigan athletics (and other activities) and help your fellow man, woman and children.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Michigan-Ohio State: Little things say so much

Sports are pretty much a bottom line proposition; there are NO moral victories … success is very much judged singularly on wins and losses. Closeness doesn’t mean much except when you snuggle with your significant other, or when you shave.
Michigan’s Team 134 more than held its own last Saturday afternoon in its Big House (filled with 113,000 fans and a few student absentees), eventually falling 42-41 to undefeated Ohio State in the final 32 seconds when a game-winning gamble failed on a two-point conversion play.
The loss left the Wolverines with a 7-5 overall record and an expected post-season bowl invitation to either the Texas Bowl in Houston or the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in Tempe, Ariz.
And in SO many ways, the game was a reminder what could have been in 2013, and what the realities were (and often dismissed by U-M fans wearing blinders every Saturday). There were flashes, even bursts from a flamethrower, of the talent that existed on the squad, but its inadequacies were just as easily seen – as if the entire game was viewed through a 3-D process.
Little things you might have missed
In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, there exists one of the nation’s best sports radio talk show hosts by the name of Norm Hitzges, a longtime Metroplex presence on the sports landscape (heard on KTCK-The (original) Ticket). As co-host of the station’s post-game Dallas Cowboys show, he always presents a feature, “Five Key Plays You Might Have Missed.”
My list is a bit longer than that; some of them were obvious, and some have a different meaning from what people saw on the surface. But when added up, they made major impacts on the final outcome.
1) There were two tightly guarded pre-game secrets Michigan didn’t reveal until game time which had a huge impact on the game – injuries to linebacker James Ross III (U-M best defensive player over the past three games) and placekicker Brendan Gibbons, who “tweaked something” according to the ABC folks (which I took to mean a pulled muscle or hamstring). The absences meant an unproven linebacker Ben Gedeon would see more playing time, for which he responded spectacularly with a team-high six tackles and one sack.
But Gibbons’ inability to kick might well have been the difference (in the end) between victory and defeat for Michigan. It meant junior Matt Wile (the heir apparent for the placekicking job in 2014) would have to be pressed into service on ALL kicks, not just the ones over 50 yards.
In the third quarter, when U-M trailed 28-21 and with the ball at the Ohio 14, the Wolverines lined up for a 31-yard field goal attempt by Wile (after Funchess dropped a would-be first down – yet another small thing that added up). Michigan quickly had second thoughts and mere moments before the ball was snapped, a time out was called.
Still, the play was still executed (much like a baseball pitcher completing a throw to his catcher fractions of a second after an umpire calls timeout) … and Wile missed the relatively-easy chip shot to the right. Someone had to have noticed because it was the last time a field goal was contemplated.
That miss, I believe, led to the decision to go for the fourth down play – an incomplete pass attempt to senior Drew Dileo, which had thrown well short of the target. The reason for the miscued pass was a leg injury quarterback Devin Gardner suffered earlier in the quarter, which saw freshman Shane Morris quickly start to get limber.
A word about Gardner: he showed the kind of fortitude fans should remember for long stretches of time after the game is a distant memory. The injury was clearly hindering and hampering his movement, but he displayed what has been termed “true grit” and actually performed better as the game, and pain, continued.
With the exception of the lost fumble and two sacks, this might well have been Gardner’s best performance in a Wolverine uniform. He finished with 451 yards passing, on 32 of 45 attempts, finding nine different receivers in the process. In the second half, he completed 21 of 32 passes for 216 yards and three touchdowns, ripping the Buckeye secondary to shreds.

Dragging that bum leg, he still managed to make a vital drive-extending fourth-down run in the fourth quarter that helped U-M erased a 14-point deficit.
2) – OK, the play; the call! The fodder by which Detroit (and national) sports talk radio (and TV) will feast upon like that Butterball turkey devoured at Thanksgiving.
First, it was the proper thing to do, based on how the first 59 minutes, 28 seconds had gone. Overtime was an “iffy” proposition, at best, and Michigan had shown no ability to stop Ohio State’s running game at any point in the game, especially senior tailback Carlos Hyde. Trying to make plays on a short 25-yard field would have been impossible.
It was the proper call, but the wrong play … as it was executed. To put it in baseball terms, Gardner’s pass needed to be down-and-away to Drew Dileo, but it was up-and-in, and the Buckeye defender was the only player who could have caught it.
In retrospect, had the play been directed away from the cluster of three receivers split to the right, and towards tight end Jake Butt (utilizing his 6-6 frame), things might have turned out different.
Butt, an Ohio-based freshman, has certainly proved himself to be someone to watch in the coming years for U-M. He can block, he can run patterns, and as witnessed by his five receptions for 85 yards and one touchdown, he’s got hands.
Apparently, there were no second thoughts from Coach Brady Hoke, his staff or his players. At 7-4, there was nothing for Michigan to lose, and everything to gain, by playing to win the game with so little time left. In fact, I think people’s respect for Hoke might have increased and partially erased some of the criticism he has had to endure this season.
3) – Michigan was able to overcome two early errors in its initial scoring drives – one was a holding penalty on Dennis Norfleet’s kickoff return deep into OSU territory and the other a mistake by the officials when the first Buckeye punt was downed at the U-M 1.
On the punt, no one seemed to notice that the player punching the ball in mid-air actually had his feet planted in the end zone, which should have been a touchback and possession at the 20 (unless the rules have been changed on that basic rule).
4) – Midway in the third period, guard Kyle Kalis’ false start penalty negated a third-and-5 at the Ohio 45 to a more difficult third-and-10 proposition at midfield. Lo and behold, Gardner on the next play was stripped of the pigskin, with Buckeye Tyvis Powell recovering, leading directly to a quick 56-yard scoring drive allowing Ohio to gain a 28-21 advantage.
What was more significant was Gardner’s reaction to the flag; he actually barked at Kalis for the mistake – a clear demonstration (perhaps for the first time this season) of the quarterback taking the leadership role in the huddle fans had been waiting to witness since September.
5) – After the game was deadlocked at 35-all, Wile badly hooked the ensuing kickoff out-of-bounds, and not be a little. It hardly flew 30 yards before giving Ohio State possession at its own 35.
Not that it would have mattered, since the Bucks needed just six plays and a scant 2:41 to take the lead, 42-35, but the kickoff (one of several committed this season) was a momentum buster after the stirring Wolverine comeback.
6) – The regular season finale saw 17 seniors play their final game in a Wolverine uniform … far fewer than the number of players recruited for the Class of 2013. This was, essentially, a game between the remnants of two departed coaches, and who left their programs in better shape.
Without question, Jim Tressel proved himself to be a skilled recruiter before he was forced to hang up the vest for NCAA rules violations. Rich Rodriguez proved himself to be able to get offensive talent but not on the same level as his biggest conference rival.
The constant storyline of developing young linemen and secondary personnel into top-flight collegiate personnel might have begun to wear thin, but it IS the truth. The best fish in any high school pond has NO clue about the intensity and pressure of playing on Saturdays, compared to anything under Friday Night Lights. It is day and night and not every recruit adjusts as fast as the instant gratification of a team’s fan base ridiculously expects.
7) – Michigan actually corrected some deficient areas against this all-mighty Buckeye team. The Wolverines converted 8 of 14 third-down attempts (a far cry better than prior games), ran the ball effectively (152 yards on 35 carries for a 4.3-yard average).
And in total offense, U-M outgained Ohio, 603-526 … in a losing effort. Michigan simply could not stop the Buckeyes at the most critical times. Despite what the depth chart lists, the U-M defense front four was pushed around, manhandled and just plain bullied by a senior-laden Ohio offensive line.
It was a mismatch of epic proportions as seen in the tackle charts; the quartet for Michigan (Willie Henry, Brennan Beyer, Jibreel Black, Frank Clark) accounted for a total of six solo tackles and three assisted stops. If Hyde were to have been neutralized at all, it would have had to been the men up front doing that … and they simply could not.
Suspension should be forthcoming
Let’s grant this: a bitter rivalry game, between two teams that have no love lost for each other, can produce such a moment as occurred in the second quarter, after Michigan took a 21-14 lead. On the ensuing kickoff and return, when the play was whistled dead, players kept at it until tempers spilled out of their helmets and stupidity reigned supreme. After all, how would a punch at someone with more body armor than most police officers actually hurt anyone?
But there were helmets rolling toward the center of the field, pushing and shoving like it was Walmart at the start of Black Friday, and I’m sure usage of language that would make sailors on shore leave blush. It took both head coaches running into the pack to separate (and save) players from each other. In fact, it was a much better hockey brawl than anyone will witness on New Year’s Day when the NHL invades Michigan Stadium.
However, the antics of senior guard Marcus Hall went beyond the pushing and shoving and general melee behavior; it was downright embarrassing to the Ohio State players, coaches, administration and the Big Ten Conference. He slammed his helmet on the sidelines, ardently refused (initially) to exit the playing arena and then flipped-off of Michigan fans as he entered the tunnel (which must have looked very sharp on the Big House Jumbotron, and at home on a quality HD widescreen someone stood in line for hours in the shivering cold at the nearest Best Buy to get instead of nurturing that last piece of roasted turkey).
Yet all the ABC announcers (Bad Brad Nessler and Todd Blackledge) could repeat, ad infinutum, was how Hall would be eligible for Saturday’s conference title game in Indianapolis. Instead of outright, permanent scorn, it sounded almost like a built-in excuse.
As this is being written, the Big Ten has made no decision concerning Hall’s status for that game, but anything short of outright suspension would be unacceptable, hypocritical and cowardly. This should be a no-brainer for conference officials, to send a message that such crap is intolerable and will be properly punished.
But … it IS Ohio State ... it IS the 40th anniversary of a more-than-friendly conference decision favoring the Buckeyes … and it could influence the outcome of the conference title tilt. Anything short of suspension would reveal the Big Ten to have the same amount of balls as the common steer.
Hyde for Heisman
The annual Heisman Trophy race is normally a public relations campaign among quarterbacks, but I have not seen any college player as impressive this season as Carlos Hyde. Give the devil his due, that man was unstoppable against Michigan (as he has been since returning to action after a three-game suspension to begin 2013).
I’d normally say domestic violence and other “indiscretions” would be automatic disqualifiers for the Heisman, but the New York Athletic Club might well be handing hardware to a player who stands at the precipice of a rape charge (freshman Jameis Winston from Florida State).
Hyde is, without a doubt, the best NFL prospect at running back in the 2014 Draft (forget Mel Kiper, trust your eyes); he just exploded all over the Michigan defense like the Sta-Puff marshmallow man in “Ghostbusters II.” Of his 27 carries, only Jake Ryan caught him for a loss (-2) and there were nine runs of 10 yards or more, including three consecutive runs in the third quarter of 20, 11 and 12 yards.
Thank God Michigan, and the remainder of the conference, has seen the last of his “Hyde.”
Worthy less for the BCS?
There is a VERY strong argument for Auburn (11-1) leapfrogging Ohio State to the second set at the BCS championship table (assuming the Tigers/Plainsmen/War Eagles beat Missouri on Saturday).
Ohio State has won 12 games this season, but NONE will be against a top 25-ranked team (as of this Saturday). The ONLY ranked school the Buckeyes defeated was Wisconsin, ranked 23rd at game time, and Northwestern, rated 16th before completely imploding.
By comparison, Auburn not only beat the TWO-time defending national champion, but has also stopped three other schools ranked in the top 25 (Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Georgia). Its one setback came at Death Valley in Baton Rogue against LSU, thought to be a national title contender at the start of 2013.
Auburn’s opponents composite record is 75-57, with only two teams finishing with losing records (Western Carolina, Tennessee); on the flip side, Ohio State’s opposition finished with an overall 65-80 mark, and the Buckeyes have played six teams with losing marks (California, Florida A&M, Northwestern, Purdue, Illinois, Indiana).
That is hardly a ringing endorsement!
The game is supposed to be between the two BEST teams in the nation, not the best records. It is inconceivable to believe a team from the Southeastern Conference, admittedly the country’s best collection of teams, would not be part of the title game; meanwhile, Florida State has demonstrated its superiority with wins over the likes of Miami, Maryland and Clemson. In fact, no team has come within 14 points of the Seminoles.
Surrendering more than 600 yards of offense to a team that could NOT move the ball at all against Michigan State, Iowa or Nebraska is not what a national titlist resume should contain.
The only satisfaction Wolverine fans could garner from Saturday’s loss would be to see Auburn vault past OSU because it barely escaped Ann Arbor with its jock still in place.
Michigan coming to Texas???
If you wish to project a destination for the Wolverines in the post-season, as said, it centers on two destinations against teams from the Big 12 – both with losing conference records (which only seems appropriate).
On Dec. 27, the Texas Bowl (which is an updated form of the former Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl) will be held on Dec. 27 at 5 p.m. (local time) on ESPN. The following evening, the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (a substitute for the Copper and Bowls) will kickoff at 8:15 p.m. (local time).
According to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl game’s website, the matchup is scheduled to be between the third “pick” in the Big 12 – Texas, Oklahoma State or Baylor (all tied at 7-1 headed into the final weekend schedule since the conference no longer holds a championship game). The Big Ten representative is supposed to be the third or fourth team, in terms of standings, which is Wisconsin (third at 6-2), Iowa or Nebraska (tied for fourth at 5-3).
In fact, the conference team with the worst conference record is … Michigan at 3-5. Lord knows where that will land the Wolverines; probably the old, cold, Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Day.
The Texas Bowl is not so particular about its invitees; it just wants an encounter between the Big Ten and Big 12, while the Heart of Texas gets a game featuring a lousy Big Ten team and someone from Conference-USA in the old, dank Cotton Bowl at Dallas’ Fair Park.
Of course, there’s the Little Caesars Bowl at Detroit’s Ford Field, with a Mid-American Conference versus the Big Ten pairing.
However, Saturday’s outcomes could throw a wrench into the works like Thor’s hammer. If Michigan State knocks off Ohio State, the Spartans automatically receive the Rose Bowl invitation. And one would think the Buckeyes would also be handed a BCS bid.
Then voodoo mathematics enters into the equation. Two BCS invitations would leave just five bowl-eligible to fill six contracts – someone gets short-changed. The REAL question is who and the answer is money; the bowl that pays out the most will get the Big Ten team and the short straw goes to someone like the Mid-American (which would seemingly rule out the Detroit game) or a different mid-level conference.
Projections, for example, see Rice playing Ball State in Dallas – a game I can guarantee will hardly fill the 92,000 seats that accompany the Texas-Oklahoma extravaganza annually. Last Jan. 1, Oklahoma State slaughtered Purdue before just 48,000 fans in the former TicketCity Bowl (a game that has a mere three-year history and was created to keep the old, venerable structure viable). Who would want to play in front of a half-empty stadium? Certainly NOT Michigan (too much pride at stake). And what would meeting an MAC team at Ford Field prove for Michigan?
Despite the overall record, U-M travels well, probably better than Minnesota or even Iowa. No, it’s either Houston or Tempe, either against either Texas Tech (which fell off the face of the collegiate football earth with five consecutive losses) or Kansas State (another sub-.500 conference school).
Still … it could have been so much better … and so much worse when you harken to games against Akron, UConn and Northwestern that should have been losses).
Which makes the off-season and spring practices vital for Team 135 – to show that what happened last Saturday, and those letdowns preceding Saturdays, to be flukes instead of the norm.