Sunday, September 13, 2009

Lose Yourself

There are points during the long off-season where you find yourself daydreaming about the upcoming season, and how great it could be. There are times during the two week prelude to the season when you hear message board reports about how some young phenom is tearing it up in practice and is poised for a breakout year. But you stop yourself from daydreaming too much because you don't want to get your expectations too high. And you remind yourself that those reports have often been wrong in the past.

So when Tate Forcier missed a wide open Kevin Koger streaking down the western sideline on third down with just over 3 minutes to go I saw the young quarterback bend down with his hands on his helmet and thought, if only briefly, that they gave it a good go, and perhaps two wins in the first two games was too much to expect after the trainwreck that was last season. I half expected my friend of 20 years who sits next to me at games to remark, "Well, at least they'll probably be 3-1 when the head to East Lansing"

But thanks to some curious playcalling from Jabba the Weis, the great improvisational skills of our young quarterback, and some nifty receiving from our senior possession receiver and a career backup, what had been a good game turned into an all-time classic. In the process, the afternoon exceeded anything I had dared to imagine back when all anyone wanted to talk about was the arrest of an ex-quarterback or the number of practice hours the team spent in a week. As I rewatch the game (in HD, no less), the painful memories of last year are already starting to fade. If we have too many more of games like today or last week, I think I'll forget about last year altogether.

When the season started, I think most people had Michigan pegged between 5-7 and 7-5. I think those predictions might need to be revised. With the two toughest teams remaining on the schedule (OSU and PSU) coming into AA, and road trips to MSU, Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin not looking as tough as they did at the start of the season, an 8 or 9 win season doesn't look out of the question, and there is a chance, a small chance, that this season could really be a special one.

Bullet Points:
-Tate Forcier is one of the three best QBs in the Big Ten, and might even be better. We haven't had a QB that could just make shit up like that since Jim Harbaugh. We've had big strong guys who could throw it thru a brick wall, but no one that you would want to see outside of the pocket.
-Hello Daryl Stonum. He had kinda a tough year last year, getting into some trouble off the field, and not showing much on the field. There were reports in camp that he was dropping a lot of balls. With top wideout Junior Hemingway out this week, we really needed Stonum to step up, and boy did he ever. His kickoff return was a thing of beauty, and he did a great job running his routes, even when he didn't get the ball. I look forward to seeing him grow this year.
-Brandon Minor is clearly our #1 tailback. His bruising style is a perfect counterpart to the quickness of our other skill positions.
-This team still has a lot of holes in it. Obviously we need more depth in the defensive secondary, we played a 5-10, 190 pound walkon redshirt freshman at safety for most of the second half. We need some size in the DL and LB, we got pushed around a little up front. Our offensive line still has improving to do. But you can really begin to see how this team is going to look when it is ready to compete with the best teams in the conference and the country. The gap between us and the 2 teams at the top of the conference doesn't look as big as it did 2 weeks ago.
- The piped in music is growing on me. I thought it was much more effectively used this week. The White Strips tune is great for sporting events (as any good European soccer fan already knows), and I like the Eminem tune as well. I like the fact that there are local connections with both artists. Besides, with the new acoustics, we can't hear the band at all anyway, so they might as well play something.
-The Notre Dame team is improved from last year. They have a lot of offensive fire power, and they do a fairly good job of using it. Their defense needs a lot of work, but I don't know if there are a lot of teams on their schedule, outside of USC, that can slow them down or take advantage of their defense.
-Michael Floyd is the best receiver we'll play all year. I hope his family starts looking for an agent, so he can get ready for the NFL draft in the spring.
-Jimmy Clausen has a big arm, but no poise. Four different times in the game he called timeout in the middle of a quarter, for no reason other than he didn't like what the defense looked like. I don't think he could improvise if his life depended on it.
-Still I can't help but think that there is a limit on how successful they can be with Mr. Schematic Advantage there. He's a great recruiter, but he couldn't teach his way out of a paper bag, and there are stories after stories of him pissing off former players with his arrogance and rudeness. He can't afford to lose too many more games this year.
-In other games, I think Jim Tressel is wasting Terrell Pryor's considerable talents by trying to make him a pro style QB. Put him in our system, or Florida's, or Texas', or anyplace where they'd let him use his speed and his running ability on a more regular basis, and people would be calling him the new Tebow. USC was ripe for the picking Saturday evening, and OSU let them off the hook because they couldn't take advantage of a young, albeit very talented, USC defense in a hostile environment. They were just too conservative on offense until it was too late.
-As I was watching that game, I couldn't help thinking as I saw them in a Two TE, one receiver set, "Why don't they spread them out, so that they can get more running lanes" Rich Rod's offense has gotten to me.
-After all the crap we heard over the summer in the local media about how MSU had passed Michigan and was taking over the state in recruiting, I couldn't help but feel a little schadenfreude in the Spartans' loss to Central Michigan. Mark Dantonio has taken every opportunity to take cheap shots at us in the media the last two years, so I didn't feel too much sympathy for him as I saw him in a post game interview looking like someone had just run over his dog. Although I think he is better than John L Smith, his record is now only three games better than Smith at the same point in his tenure, and State has four very losable games coming up, @ ND, @ Wisc, Michigan, and @ Illinois. Things could get real ugly in a hurry for Lt. Dan.