Monday, September 3, 2007

Through the looking glass

Ok, so the plan was to leave town directly from the game on Saturday and head over the shores of Lake Michigan away from internet, the tv, and any media. There would be plenty of time to recap the game online on Monday evening. After all, this was just a tune-up, there really wasn't much analysis needed. Oops.
The following was written the old fashioned way (pencil and paper)late Saturday night as I was still trying to digest what I witnessed.

Wow. So this is what it feels like to be a Spartan football fan. You know, the part about inexplicable losses. Hopefully there will be some unexpected wins to go with it. Actually that's not fair to State fans. They've never done anything so unbelievably inept. Hours after the game, I still can't believe what I saw. The word "upset" just doesn't do it justice. It is so surreal, I am wondering if it was a dream. I keep repeating it to myself to see if it sets in: We lost to Appalachian State. What? We lost to Appalachian State. Huh? We lost to Appalachian State? In what? Women's Basketball? It is an outcome so unbelievable that if it happened in a video game, you return the game to the store, claiming the game play wasn't realistic enough. Strike that, Appalachian State is even included in most college football games. For the first time in my life, I was ashamed to wear my Michigan hat when I walked around this small Lake Michigan town.

So what happened, and what does it mean? Let's break it down a little, realty vs perception.

Realty: The team we lost to is better than at least half the teams in I-A. They returned 17 starters, and have won 15 straight games since barely losing at NC State a year ago.
Perception: We lost to a community college. In this case, it's the perception that matters. This is a potential program changing loss. It's the type of thing that will be used by opposing coaches in recruiting against us for years. It's something that shouldn't happen to "elite" programs.

Perception: This was a fluke win for the Mountaineers, if they played the game again, Michigan would win.
Realty: I'm not so sure. Michigan never really stopped them. App State only slowed down in the second half because they got conservative. They turned the ball over three times in the second half, two of which were totally unforced errors, and that led directly to 10 Michigan points. Appalachian State was the better team.

Perception: Michigan lost because of a number of mental mistakes or execution errors.
Realty: Well, yes and no. True, if they don't miss an assignment on the final play of the game, they kick a field goal and win 35-34. But there is no way this game should have been this close. It was clear from the beginning that coaches and players didn't take this game very seriously. The offense and defensive play calling was very vanilla. No blitzing, no stunts, no reverses, nothing that was any different than what Appalachian State saw on film. We treated this game like a scrimmage.

Perception: This loss means that Michigan won't win the Big Ten this year.
Realty: I don't think this loss changes the Big Ten race at all, other than to make painfully obvious to everyone where the holes are in Michigan's defense. But anyone who watched the last two games last year should have been able to figure that out. Michigan still has enough offensive talent, when Mike Hart is healthy, to score on anyone. They still have too many defensive holes to shut anyone out. They'll be in the race, along with OSU, PSU, and Wisconsin, and maybe MSU, Iowa and Purdue.

Perception: Lloyd Carr is on the hot seat.
Realty: He is not on the hot seat, but only because it is universally believed around these parts that this was going to be his last season regardless of the season outcome. What this loss does do is guarantee that this will be his last season, and eliminate the chance that any of his assistants (i.e Mike Deboard or Ron English) get the job. Bill Martin should begin the search (i.e. call Rich Rodriguez and Jeff Tedford) now.

Perception: Things can't get any worse.
Realty: Oh yes they can. How teams on the schedule will play some sort of spread now? Lose to Oregon, Notre Dame and Penn State, and things will be a lot worse. Give first year MSU coach Mark Dantonio some life by losing to State, things will be worse. Finish the season by losing to OSU, again, things will be unbearable. Miss a bowl game...

Finally, we realized on the sad, slow drive across the state that we are now 0-3 since Bo died and we have showed none of the defensive fire (104 points) that characterized Bo, and Bo's teams. It occurred to us that there is a very real chance that we have reached the end of the Schembechler era. For the last 40 years, Michigan has been one of the preeminent football programs in the country: 38 of 40 years finishing in AP top 20. 24 of 40 years in AP top 10. Every major power has suffered a down turn of some length in that time period: USC, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Alabama, OSU, PSU, Miami, Texas all have gone through bowl-less losing seasons. Perhaps this is our turn. We also realized that there was no moment of silence or mention of Bo at the game today, despite this being the first home game since his passing. Coincidence? Karma?

I've been lucky in my life, I've never really lost anyone close to me, other than some cherished pets. I've never really suffered any great tragedies. So I can honestly say that today was one of the worst days in my life. I'm guessing it will get worse before it gets better.