Friday, October 12, 2007

Hubris, the weight of the world, and choo choo

So...Michigan plays Purdue tomorrow, but you'd hardly know it if you spoke to many Michigan fans. I'm a frequent poster over a UMGoBlue's forum, and the atmosphere over there is a bit...deflated. I've got many friends who cheer for Michigan, and many who will be at the game tomorrow...but I haven't heard a peep from anybody all week.


I don't know, maybe it's me. Assuming it's not though, I believe it's just a malaise that has fallen over part of the fanbase. The shock and inexplicable disaster that was the first two weeks of the season has faded a bit from our minds, but in its place we see what it plain as day: This Michigan team just isn't that good. For years, Michigan's coaches have screwed things up, put players in bad spots, and on some occasions, flat out lost games. But the messes that have occurred so far this year - Sears, Ezeh, Savoy, Minor, Manningham, Slocum, Butler - have, at least to me, shown that "the team, the team, the team" isn't there. Defeats like Appalachain State and Oregon can take their toll on a united football team, but when they happen to a team that appears to be as fractured as this Michigan team, you get the feeling that the floodgates are just one loss away.

Based on the fact that nobody seems to know that we play Purdue tomorrow, that loss may very well be Purdue. History means nothing here - the fact that Purdue hasn't won in Ann Arbor since Bob Griese was their QB means precisely dick. Some will say that while Purdue runs a spread offense, the fact that their quarterback can't run is a huge tipping point in Michigan's favor. I may tend to agree...but a spread is a spread. Michigan is probably more talented on both sides of the ball than Purdue is...but when you have coaching like Michigan does, the difference in talent is negated.

Speaking of the coaches... defines "hubris" as, "excessive pride or self-confidence; arrogance." It was the hubris of the Michigan coaching staff that lost the Appalachian State game - they assumed Michigan could take the field and win; they assumed holding Mike Hart out of the game for two quarters was inconsequential; they assumed Johnny Sears and Stevie Brown were anything but useless when it comes to playing football.

One would assume such a monumental clusterfuck loss like AppSt would cause a coaching staff to do some serious introspection, see what's wrong and bust out a whole new bag of tricks. Well, if one is a Michigan fan, then one knows better. The same hubris that lost the AppSt game is still there, alive and well. Lloyd Carr and Mike DeBord assume that Michigan's players are so much better, that their talent and execution are so superior that it doesn't matter if the opposition puts 11 in the box on the left side. Unfortunately, this ain't the 1970s anymore.

And still, DeBord will run, and pass only when necessary. 23 runs on 31 first down plays last week against a vastly overmatched Eastern Michigan team. Yeah, it worked, Mike Hart officially re-entered the Heisman race with a huge game. But because it worked against Eastern, DeBord will assume it will continue to work in the Big Ten. He will continue to assume that things like playaction post patterns and counter plays are tools of desperation instead of weapons of execution. I never understood the DeBord hire anyway; this guy ran a MAC school into the ground, and yet he's somehow qualified to call the plays for a major Big Ten school? This is on Lloyd Carr, simply playing buddy system. It's the same thing Johnelle Smith did at Michigan State, employing incompetence like Dave Baldwin and Chris Smeland. And yet because the Winged Helmet continues to recruit itself, the flaws and errors of DeBord, for the most part, go unchecked.

The cracks are there though, and because Lloyd Carr is a made man in Ann Arbor, all the pressure falls on the players. The weight of the world is on Chad Henne's shoulders, as he must overcome not only an opposing defense, but a coaching staff that is becoming increasingly clueless, and a disgruntled fanbase that at times seems ready to kick Henne out the door and start the Mallett era. All the while, as the storm clouds gather, and thunder rumbles, Henne must somehow fight through it and try to salvage the ship - HIS ship. The Titanic has hit the iceberg and is slowly going down, and Henne is trying to scoop the water up in a bucket and dump it back out - with one hand tied behind his back.

Meanwhile, the train is coming. Even after AppSt and Oregon, Michigan continues to play on the train tracks, because that's what Lloyd Carr and Mike DeBord have told them to do. They will continue to run Mike Hart zone left when there's 7 in the box. They will continue to tip their plays by ALWAYS running when the fullback shuffles in front of Hart. They will continue to put pressure on Henne by putting him in obvious third and long passing situations, giving the opposing defense a de facto advantage - the kind of advantage that Michigan's talent and execution cannot overcome every time. Ron English will continue to put Shawn Crable at defensive end, constantly getting him taken out of the play, putting Michigan in an 11 on 10 situation which was already dire because our linebackers are bad and aren't built to fight the spread. Even as the choo choo of the train is heard, Michigan will continue to dance on the tracks, always looking at its feet instead of looking up to see the danger. And then when the train is bearing down on them, then and only then will Michigan look up, and by then it will be too late.

Brian of MGoBlog refers to it as the Death Spiral. If Michigan loses to Purdue, or even Illinois next week, it will be open season on Michigan. Every game will be loseable, because there will be no more fight in this team. There will be no more pride, there will be no more spirit. There will only be hubris.

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