Ohio State 62, Michigan 39: My short take

Okay I’m going to try to keep this short. As one of the many Michigan football fans still hungover from yesterday’s 62-39 loss in Columbus, the idea to write a short take on yesterday’s annual game literally came to me during the conclusion of a church service here in my hometown of Buffalo, NY. I’m not trying to be funny, but it’s true. In any case here goes.

First, I want to sincerely congratulate Head Coach Urban Meyer and his staff, the Ohio State Football Team, and their fan base. They did a great job preparing for the game and they executed their game plan damn near perfectly. Despite the rankings and all the chatter leading up to the game, I had a feeling they were going to play at a high level and they did. I also want to note that the game seemed to be officiated fairly and there was little controversy surrounding this contest as was the case in 2016.

I watched the game with my usual crew at Buffalo Wild Wings on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Tonawanda, NY – our annual spot for watching the two school’s annual meeting. What stood out to me as the game unfolded, was that our team didn’t seem to be prepared for the contest in terms of intensity or scheme. Offensively, the game started off positively with a nice run by Karan Higdon. The second play was a pass play in which Shae Patterson got sacked which was a bit of a head scratcher for me, as I would’ve gone back to the running game.

In general, the offense did what it had done all year long which was to try to pound the ball with occasional shots down field. Throughout the year despite its talent level, our offense was never a consistent force, but instead methodically picked and chose its spots with varying amounts of success – sometimes due to a lack of execution, and at other times due to questionable play calling. This worked well as long as the defense stood its ground and repeatedly got the ball back which brings me to my next point.

Early on it was clear that Ohio State’s approach to our physical and blitzing defense was to get the ball out of Dwayne Haskins, Jr.’s hands quickly using crossing and wheel routes out of the backfield. In instances where Ohio State spread its receivers out and were able to neutralize Coach Don Brown’s pass rush, Haskins which is not known for his mobility was able to run the ball up the middle and slide when our coverage held. In other instances, Ohio State was able to draw pass interference calls on our defensive backs which were left on ‘islands’ by themselves in ‘Man’ coverage – No. 28 Brandon Watson particularly got targeted and torched by Haskins. Their running game by itself didn’t hurt us so much.

Approaching halftime, our Wolverines were down 21-6, and with the Buckeyes getting the ball back after the half, it seemed as though it was going to be a maize and blue ‘blood bath’. A special teams fumble by the Buckeyes helped put us in position for Chris Evan’s touchdown late in the second quarter. If not for that gaffe, we would’ve been in serious trouble. That said there was a potential touchdown that we missed out on because Zach Gentry couldn’t secure the ball after a Buckeye defender slapped it out of his hands.

On both sides of the ball as the game progressed it seemed that Jim Harbaugh and his coaching staff were being outcoached by Urban Meyer and his. Our offense started slow, interestingly didn’t seem to be taking advantage of our three talented receivers: Donavan Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins and Tariq Black. I also wondered why our 6’8” tight end Zach Gentry wasn’t getting targeted more. In a game of this magnitude, we needed to challenge the Buckeye defense more downfield especially when they were ripping our defense to shreds and scoring at will. This brings me to my next point.

My comments on many of the postgame YouTube press conference footage mostly involved my surprise that Don Brown seemingly didn’t look at what Indiana and Northwestern had done his defense and planned for Ohio State to do the same thing or more. During the game, I wondered if he would adjust his blitzing style, and go with more defensive backs, like how Bill Belicheck and Bill Parcells did to my Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV where they slowed down the Buffalo Bills’ powerful offense. Instead he seemed to stick with the same game plan which he used all year which brings me to my last point.

It’s very easy for us as fans and commentators to criticize what’s happening on the field and I acknowledge that. I’ve also never coached a sport though it’s something I’d like to try one day. That said, I know enough to know that in athletics, particularly in big games it’s important to be able to adjust your plan of attack if necessary – or to anticipate having to do so. I discussed this in my interview with legendary Niagara Falls high school basketball Coach Pat Monti, who thoroughly scouted his opponents and figured out what he needed to do to give his teams the best chances to win even if meant making games ugly and unwatchable.

As we’re closing in on the end of Jim Harbaugh’s fourth year, this is something I’m wondering about, and something I wondered about during yesterday’s game. As much fanfare as there was when he got hired, how well can he and his staff really coach when going head to head with opponents like Urban Meyer and his staff on the opposite sideline? I asked myself this for the first time as yesterday’s game unfolded. One of my buddies I watched yesterday’s game with came down hard on defensive end Rashan Gary who was the top high school player five years ago and with good reason. That said it’s the coach’s job to motivate the players and put them in position to succeed. While we support him, right now, me and others in the fan base are questioning the ability of our coaching staff to do this on the biggest stages.

What’s going to happen from this point on? I honestly don’t know. I’m going to close by saying that I feel bad for our players, some of whom may have been looking ahead to Indianapolis and beyond – some of whom who have never beaten Ohio State which is something they’ll always have to live with. As we got closer to the Ohio State game, I became weary of talk of the “Revenge Tour” and Karan Higdon’s guarantee of victory as the team, the program and the fan base might suffer a black eye like we have now. Anytime ever I’ve competed, I’ve never been a trash talker and am a firm believer in just letting your play do the talking.

Like Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls teams who couldn’t get over the hump, for the remaining players and staff, perhaps this humiliating loss may be a part of their growth process that will eventually push them over the hump. We’ll have to wait and see. This year the Wolverines will once again be in Ann Arbor during the College Football Playoff. Hopefully Coach Harbaugh and his staff will ready first for their bowl game, and then when the Buckeyes come back to Ann Arbor in 2019. There’s a whole year to think yesterday’s game over.

Thank you for taking the time to right this blog post. If you enjoyed this one, you might also enjoy:

Michigan loses to Ohio State 31-20: Reflections on the 2017 game and the season
John U. Bacon presents his new book Endzone to Michigan’s D.C. Alumni Club: A look back
Michigan defeats Maryland 35-10: Two weeks until the 2017 Ohio State game
Michigan beats Florida 33-17: A recap of the maize and blue’s season opener
The 2016 Michigan-Ohio State game, the Big Ten Officials, and the College Football Playoff

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right-hand column in this post and throughout the site, or add my RSS feed to your feedreader. You can follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, and Twitter at @BWArePowerful. Lastly, you can follow me on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Michigan loses to Ohio State 31-20: Reflections on the 2017 game and the season

I’m going to try to keep this short as I’m still processing the Michigan Wolverines’ 31-20 defeat at the hands of the Ohio State Buckeyes. Late into the night I could still see John O’ Korn’s fateful final interception in my mind. As opposed to going into a play by play discussion of what happened in the 2017 matchup, I’m just going to reflect on the game, and the season in addition to some of what I saw on Twitter from our following the game.

Regarding of the game, I was pleased with the maize and blue’s effort despite the outcome. Honestly my hope going into the game was that we would keep it close and respectable, and not get blown out. I know that’s not a high bar, but based upon how this season has gone, having a chance to win was what I wanted, and which is right where we were at the end. After the Wolverines went up 14-0, I was feeling good – even optimistic that we were witnessing a miracle though in the back of my mind, I knew that Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes would eventually throw some haymakers of their own which is exactly what happened when J.T. Barrett gashed our defense and ran into the endzone for their first score.

I also knew that there would be some miscues and mistakes here and there such as when Rashan Gary had J.T. Barrett wrapped up but somehow let him get away for a first down. There was also Quinn Nordin’s extra point that got blocked which I felt would come back and bite us eventually. Unlike the 2016 game, I thought the officiating was fair. Speaking of J.T. Barrett, when he went down, I thought for a brief instant that their offense would lose something, but that wasn’t the case as Dwayne Haskins entered the game and continued marching the Buckeyes up and down the field with his arm and legs. It looks like the Buckeyes have Barrett’s replacement for next season unfortunately.

After the game, as you might expect there was a little bit of everything on social media. Buckeye fans, and fans from other schools mocked the Michigan Football program,3 and called Head Coach Jim Harbaugh “overrated.” The Michigan fan base was split as it always is – some crying about how unacceptable this game and the season were, and others saying that it was a tough season but the results were unexpected. Some inevitably compared Coach Harbaugh’s record to Urban Meyer’s and Nick Saban’s – particularly that they had won championships in their third years. There was a little bit of everything.

Regarding the Michigan fan base, I proudly fall in the latter group. I started off this year with tempered expectations and anticipated some growing pains. Michigan fans must first consider that our football program lost a lot of seasoned and experienced veterans from last year’s team as described in my summary of the Maryland game. Those players had suffered their fair share of heartbreaking losses like yesterday’s and were eventually better for it. Also consider that our young team was riddled by injuries this year at key positions mainly on offense which is the one unit that struggled the most this year. Both Wilton Speight and Brandon Peters went down with injuries. Tarik Black who looked like he was going to be our deep threat, went down early changing the whole chemistry of our offense. In the middle of the season, our stable of running backs started to show signs of wear and tear as well.

In most sports but particularly in football, young players need time to grow, evolve and develop confidence and toughness, and I hypothesize that we’re going to see a much, much stronger unit next year – one that will hopefully win its rivalry games and shut everyone up. We should particularly have Grant Newsome back who blew out his knee early last season, and who will give us a much stronger and deeper offensive line which is a major key to Coach Harbaugh’s offense. What will probably have everyone’s attention going into the 2018 season though will be the quarterback position. It’s going to be to an intense competition the likes of which we haven’t seen since Tom Brady and Drew Henson.

Earlier this evening, ESPN reported that Wilton Speight is going to transfer to another school likely leaving a quarterback 9competition between Brandon Peters and Dylan McCaffrey. Brandon Peters looked very poised and in control of our offense before getting knocked out against Wisconsin. Some fans such as one of my buddies want to give the job right to McCaffrey. Speight’s departure makes it much easier on Coach Harbaugh and his staff though the decision will be a critical. With both Peters and McCaffrey being young guys, Michigan will likely have continuity and stability at the quarterback position in the years to come barring injuries – something we haven’t had under the Coach Harbaugh’s tenure thus far. Either way, there’s no place to go but up for the Michigan Wolverines, and I think Jim Harbaugh is the guy to take our football program to the top, despite the clamoring by the critics.

GO BLUE!!!! Thank you for taking the time to reading this blog post. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

John U. Bacon presents his new book Endzone to Michigan’s D.C. Alumni Club: A look back
Michigan defeats Maryland 35-10: Two weeks until the 2017 Ohio State game
Michigan beats Florida 33-17: a recap of the maize and blue’s 2017 season opener
The 2016 Michigan-Ohio State game, the Big Ten officials, and the College Football Playoff
Chris Herren discusses his journey, drug addiction, substance abuse and wellness

If you liked this post, please do click the like button, leave comments, and share it. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. You can follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and you can also follow me at the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

John U. Bacon presents his new book Endzone to Michigan’s D.C. Alumni Club: A look back

I first heard about Author John U. Bacon as a graduate student at the University of Michigan where I regularly listened to ‘The Ticket 1050 AM-WTKA‘. I heard all of the latest news and commentary on Michigan sports on that station, and it was a lot of fun listening to it all, especially during football season. I later found that John was a fixture at the University serving as a faculty member, and as an Ann Arbor native he had a deep knowledge of the history of the University of Michigan’s athletics – particularly its storied football program. John U. Bacon has authored numerous books about the program, its coaches and players, and the world of big time college football in general. In 2015, the University of Michigan Alumni Club of Greater Washington D.C. hosted John who presented his latest book Endzone: The Rise, Fall, and Return of Michigan Football. The book chronicled the ascension of the football program, its descent into perhaps its darkest time, and then its magical return solidified by the hiring of Head Coach Jim Harbaugh.

I originally published this piece on the Examiner in November of 2015. We were deep into Jim Harbaugh’s first season – weeks after the heartbreaking loss to the Michigan State Spartans at the Michigan Stadium best known to alumni (such as myself) and fans as the “Big House”. With the exception of a graduate transfer from Iowa named Jake Rudock, Coach Harbaugh inherited Brady Hoke’s players and had begun implementing his own culture. Three years into the rebuilding of the program, we haven’t made it into the College Football Playoff (CFP) yet, but the maize and blue is much better off than in the years spanning from 2007 to 2015 – the eight-year stretch that John U. Bacon chronicled in Endzone: The Rise, Fall, and Return of Michigan Football.

* * *

“When you’re selling Michigan Football, you’re selling one of the most fundamental things that humans have to offer: the need to be together, to stand for something, and to stand in the same place,” said Mr. Bacon, discussing his latest book, with his signature comedic energy and exuberance. “Michigan Football stands for a set of values. The Redskins don’t! The Bears don’t! The Dolphins don’t!”

On October 29, 2015, the University of Michigan Alumni Club of Greater Washington, D.C. hosted a book signing by Mr. Bacon. The event took place at Squire Patton and Boggs, and started with registration, followed by an initial book signing. He then gave a detailed discussion of the genesis of his latest book, followed by an overview of its story.

“It’s actually stunning how badly things were going for the Football program, and I’ve never seen the dominos fall into place so well and for a story to come out the way that it did,” Mr. Bacon said describing what led to his writing Endzone. “The inspirational part of the book which I hope the readers get, is that to me, this is Michigan’s finest hour. The Students, the Faculty, the Alumni, the Letterman, the Regents, all of these people recognized Michigan values and sought to restore them and I think that’s the ultimate story.”

“If you’re running Michigan athletics, yes, you have to have sound business practices. However, you also need to understand that the reason the thing exists is that the people see it as a religion and not a business, and that’s a fundamental difference between the Redskins and the Wolverines,” Bacon said, discussing the magic behind Michigan Football.

Endzone chronicles the ascension of the University of Michigan’s football program spanning from its earliest days unde9r Fielding Yost to its recent golden age under Bo Schembechler and Lloyd Carr. He then discussed how the magic of the program was lost in recent years, due to poor administrative, business and political decisions made off the field that, negatively affected the product on the field and support of the program. The book also discusses the current re-ascension of the program with the recent hiring of Jim Harbaugh, one of the program’s legendary quarterbacks and most celebrated figures.

John U. Bacon has become the official Historian of the Michigan Football. He has authored numerous books, many capturing the history of the University of Michigan’s storied football program, and the current state of college football including:

Fourth and Long: The Fight for the Soul of College Football;
Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football and;
Bo’s Lasting Lessons: The Legendary Coach Teaches the Timeless Fundamentals of Leadership.

Endzone is not only a chronology of Michigan Football, it’s also a story of how not to run a business,” said Erik Ruselowski, Treasurer of the DC Alumni Club during the introduction. Following the discussion, Mr. Bacon finished signing books for the 100-plus attendees who purchased all of the available copies of Endzone that evening.

* * *

I was a graduate student at the University of Michigan towards the end of Lloyd Carr’s tenure as Head Coach of its football team. My first year was actually Tom Brady’s senior season and the inaugural year of the controversial Bowl Championship Series (BCS) – the predecessor to the CFP. Coach Carr’s teams were talented and competitive but in the new era of the BCS, he was unable to recapture the magic that carried the Wolverines to the National Championship in 1997. During that stretch there were always two to three losses that took Michigan out of contention. Our fan base began calling for his head and ultimately they got the coaching change they wanted. They also got several things they didn’t want or anticipate. As Mr. Bacon describes in Endzone, there is a lot more that goes into a college football program than what you see on the field on Saturdays, in the bowl games, and at the NFL Drafts.

Since publishing Endzone, Mr. Bacon has published two more books: Playing Hurt which he co-wrote with ESPN’s John Saunders, and The Great Halifax Explosion in which the story’s main hero is the University of Michigan’s first hockey coach. To learn more about John U. Bacon his books, and speaking engagements, go to: www.johnubacon.com.

A special thank you is extended to the University of Michigan Alumni Club of Greater Washington, D.C. for allowing me to cover John U. Bacon’s visit in 2015. Thank you also to John U. Bacon for chronicling the history of Michigan Football’s vast and storied history. If you enjoyed this story, you might also enjoy:

Michigan defeats Maryland 35-10: Two weeks until the 2017 Ohio State game
Michigan beats Florida 33-17: A recap of the maize and blue’s season opener
The 2016 Michigan-Ohio State game, the Big Ten Officials, and the College Football Playoff
Chris Herren discusses his journey, drug addiction, substance abuse and wellness

The University of Michigan Alumni Club of Greater Washington, D.C. hosts many events throughout the year for its alumni, in addition to its sports game watches, for which the University and its alumni are well known. If you are a University of Michigan alumnus in the Washington, D.C. metro area and would like to keep up with the club’s events, please go to www.umdc.org. GO BLUE!!!!

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. Lastly, follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Michigan defeats Maryland 35-10: Two weeks until the 2017 Ohio State game

On Nov. 11, Coach Jim Harbaugh’s No. 21 ranked Michigan Wolverines pushed their record to 8-2 overall, and 5-2 in the Big Ten East with a 35-10 victory over the Maryland Terrapins in College Park, MD. Michigan’s dominating performance started early holding Maryland scoreless until the third quarter when the Terrapins scored their first three points. With redshirt freshman Brandon Peters under center, the Wolverines used a balanced attack where the running game gave Peters time to sit back and find targets like tight end Zach Gentry who rumbled into the end zone in the second quarter to put the maize and blue up 21-0 (see ESPN’s box score for more stats). Other scores were by Chris Evans who actually leapt over a Maryland defender late in the game as Michigan wore down the clock, Henry Poggi and Sean McKeon.

“Go Blue!!!!!” we Michigan fans said to each other on Washington, DC’s metro system as we commuted to the game to sit and watch our storied football program in 30 degree temperatures. It was pretty much a home game for the maize and blue, as we all sung “The Victors” in the stands after Michigan’s scores. Many of the Maryland fans left the stadium at halftime with their team down 28-0.

It’s been an interesting football season for the 2017 Michigan Wolverines. Michigan’s victory over Maryland wasn’t a surprise to the fan base. Having fallen out of the Top 25 following our loss to Penn State two weeks ago, I didn’t realize that Wolverines had crept back into the AP Top 25 and the Coaches Poll at Nos. 21 and 22 respectively after blowouts of Rutgers and Minnesota. The question now is will the maize and blue still be ranked when the clock expires on November 25, in two weeks? The final two tests of the 2017 Michigan Football Wolverines may be their biggest of the season; a match up with the undefeated Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium who are ranked No. 3 in the Coaches Poll, and then our old friends the No. 11 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes at the Big House who just crushed Michigan State last night 48-3.

As described in my recap of the season opener against the Florida Gators, the results of this season haven’t been completely unexpected, at least by some of us in the fan base. Going in, I saw this season as a rebuilding year where there might be some growing pains. While quarterback Wilton Speight returned, he did struggle down the stretch of the 2016 season albeit while healing from a broken collarbone. Even with his experience, and bringing us close to beating Ohio State in that controversial 2016 loss, we graduated three very experienced receivers in Jehu Chesson, Amara Darboh, and tight end Jake Butt, replacing them with a talented but young receiving corp. Tariq Black, probably our best deep threat was lost early this season to a foot injury, and the rest of the group has made its share of mistakes; dropped passes, fumbles, and an inability to get separation from defenders. While he wasn’t the most explosive running back, we also graduated De’veon Smith who was a very effective pass blocker – a key component of the pro-style offense Coach Harbaugh runs.

Pass protection has been a major area of struggle for the Wolverines since the beginning of the season which arguably led to Wilton Speights three cracked vertebra. It’s remained a problem as backup quarterback John O’ Korn also struggled and had been on the run the majority of the time after taking over for Speight. Against Rutgers, Coach Harbaugh inserted Brandon Peters in relief of O’ Korn who has looked good, although against weaker opponents. The positive is that the running game seems to be rolling now which may simplify the game for our young offense and will open the passing game for Peters, or Wilton Speight should he return. Recent reports are saying that he is on the mend and I wouldn’t be surprised if Coach Harbaugh plays him against Ohio State in two weeks.

The one constant for the 2017 Wolverines has been the defense led by Rashan Gary, Maurice Hurst, and Devin Bush. Coach Harbaugh and Coach Don Brown have done an excellent job not only replacing last year’s veterans like Chris Wormley, Ryan Glasgow, Jourdan Lewis and Jabrill Peppers, but they’ve also kept this unit motivated and hungry even when the other side of the ball hasn’t delivered much help. Our kicking game has been pretty consistent as well.

Many Michigan fans have grown restless as this season has gone by. Coach Harbaugh has been criticized for running too complicated an offense for the crop of players he has. One high school buddy with very little patience has been particularly frustrated that the maize and blue isn’t in this year’s College Football Playoff discussion this season often comparing Coach Harbaugh to Nick Saban and Urban Meyer. My buddy actually isn’t alone though as part of the Michigan fan base has short patience and is sometimes unrealistic in its expectations causing us to squabble amongst ourselves.

If one is being realistic, the results from this season make sense. Once again the Wolverines graduated several experienced players at key positions from last year’s team which was in the playoff discussion throughout the year. In pretty much any arena, it takes time, experience (some mistakes) to figure out how to excel. As a mentor often tells me, “Success and failure live side by side, and you can’t have one without the other.” My guess is that the experiences from this season will make the 2018 team and those going forward very solid units, perhaps even championship-caliber football teams.

This year’s team has also been nipped by injuries. While Wilton Speight didn’t charge out of the gate early on like many of us hoped he would, but he was our most experienced quarterback who played in some very big games last year. The loss of Tariq Black also took away our best deep threat. Lastly if you look at Coach Harbaugh’s records at the University of San Diego and at Stanford, his successes were gradual until his teams became powers, both in his fourth years I believe. Since coming to Michigan he had a crop of players he didn’t recruit, and coached them up well all while bringing in his own recruits who are getting on the job training right now.

I’m going to approach our two remaining games with a controlled optimism as I did this season in general. Both Wisconsin and Ohio State have no doubt been watching game film on Michigan and know that the big question mark for our team is our passing game. Our defense will likely buy time as it has all season, but our opponents will likely “load the box” to stop our running game and then try to make Peters or Speight if he comes back, try to beat them. My prediction is that our passing attack, will dictate the outcomes of the next two weeks. I have to think that Coach Harbaugh has thought about this as well, and may have a few tricks up his own sleeve.

Speaking of Coach Harbaugh, similar to the 2015 Maryland game, I caught a glimpse of him and the team as they shuffled out the locker room under the night sky, and onto their busses dressed in their maize and blue sweat suits. That year it was 12 or 1 pm kickoff, and the graduate transfer Jack Ruddock was our starting quarterback beating out both Shane Morris and Wilton Speight for the job. That season Coach Harbaugh inherited a team consisting mostly of Brady Hoke’s recruits – many of which were very talented players who themselves had taken their share of lumps and growing pains.

I recognized offensive and defensive coordinators Tim Drevno, Don Brown, and defensive line coach Greg Mattison immediately. As a Michigan alumnus, I also recognized longtime radio analyst Jim Brandstatter. Some of the players went straight to their busses with their postgame meals in hand which looked like Chik-Fila. Others stopped, signed autographs and took pictures with the fans. I also recognized wider receiver Grant Perry. Coach Harbaugh who is a rock star in his own right created a buzz when he came walking through. I recognized Maurice Hurst as well whom I follow on Twitter. He took a picture with me and godson, a freshman football player at Bowie High School. He was nice enough to wait while I turned my phone back on, which was almost dead at that point.

GO BLUE!!!! Thank you for taking the time to reading this blog post. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

Michigan beats Florida 33-17: a recap of the maize and blue’s 2017 season opener
The 2016 Michigan-Ohio State game, the Big Ten officials, and the College Football Playoff
Chris Herren discusses his journey, drug addiction, substance abuse and wellness

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. If you liked this review, please do click the like button, leave comments, and share it. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subs3cription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. You can follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and you can also follow me at the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Michigan beats Florida 33-17: A recap of the maize and blue’s 2017 season opener

On September 2, my No. 11 Michigan Wolverines opened their 2017 campaign with a 33-17 victor over the No. 17 Florida Gators down at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, Tx. The win was a pleasant surprise following last season’s stumble to the finish line where the maize and blue lost three of its last four games to Iowa, Ohio State, and finally Florida State in the Citrus Bowl. See my summary of our controversial and painful loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes (damn the B1G officiating crew that day), and then the circus which led to the selection of the 2017 College Football Playoff which Clemson ultimately won.

Many fans wondered how the Wolverines would look with so many players needing to step up and into the starting lineup for the first time. My personal feeling going into this season was to approach it with low expectations as our team was going to be young and would likewise have to figure some things out along the way. That’s what I thought when Coach Jim Harbaugh wearing his signature kakis, trotted out his team wearing surprisingly all-maize uniforms.

After winning the coin toss, Coach Harbaugh elected to kick first giving us a look at Defensive Coordinator Don Brown’s new young unit. I must say that they looked very good, aggressive and hungry. They were led on the defensive line by Rashan Gary, and Maurice Hurst. Our linebacker core which returned only Mike McCray looked particularly aggressive as well led by sophomore middle linebacker Devin Bush, Jr., who almost got himself taken out of the game on Florida’s first offensive series. The secondary snatched a couple of interceptions as well from both Feleipe Franks and Malik Zaire – neither being able to get into a rhythm.

Our offense? That was a different story. I’m probably not alone in thinking that our offense is going to rely heavily on the play of fourth year junior Wilton Speight who stands at 6’6”, and has a strong arm, but who struggled down the stretch last year after a fast start. After throwing a touchdown to Tarik Black on a play-action pass, Speight threw two interceptions – one bouncing off the hands of his target and the other an overthrow both of which were pick 6s leading to a 17-13 Florida lead at halftime. After being pulled out the next two series for John O’ Korn, Speight returned and was under control the rest of the game. He finished completed 11 of 25 passes for 187 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions.

The bright spot of the offense was the running game. Our ground game yesterday with Chris Evans and Ty Isaacs carrying the ball behind the left side of the line, showed signs of explosiveness – something I think that hurt us last year and would have been the difference against Iowa and Ohio State. If the running game is solid this season and compliments Wilton Speight’s arm, I think it’s going to be a good year and the Michigan faithful will be singing “The Victors” regularly and often. Our kicking game looked good too with though our new kicker Quin Nordin who hitting two 50-yard field goals and accounting for 12 of the Wolverines’ points.

Overall I was personally pleased with yesterday’s performance, especially the defense which will keep us in every game if they continue to play like that. Offenses which involve rhythm and timing sometimes take a few games to gel, and I’m confident Coach Harbaugh and Coach Drevno will eventually have the unit clicking. I’ll still watch cautiously though. It’s a four month season and anything can happen – injuries in particular as we found out last year with Wilton Speight’s collarbone, and the year before that with Ryan Glasgow’s forearm – both changing the trajectory of their respective seasons. Also keep in mind that a number of Florida’s players were suspended for yesterday’s game so we might not have gotten their best punch though the way they looked, it may not have made much of a difference.

Oh and by the way, Ohio State won handily over Indiana 49-21 in a cupcake of a first game. I’m sure all of us will be keeping an eye on Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes in anticipation of our matchup with them on November 25. We’ll also be keeping an eye on the Michigan State Spartans. Both teams travel to the Big House this season. Both beat us on controversial plays in 2015 and 2016, so perhaps this year we can send them both home with losses. Look for another blog post from me after the Michigan State game. GO BLUE!!!!!

Thank you for taking the time out to read this blog post. If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. Lastly, follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

The 2016 Michigan-Ohio State game, the Big Ten officials and the College Football Playoff

20161208_215838This post was originally going to strictly be my reaction to the 2016 Michigan-Ohio State game, but I missed the emotional wave in the aftermath of it in terms of the news cycle. I’ve thus decided to craft a piece just touching upon the results of that game and also giving some reaction to the four teams selected for the 2017 College Football Playoff (CFP).  Oh what a ride it’s been.  By the way if you don’t have loyalty to a school or aren’t privy to the world of College Football as one of my buddies who watched the game with us wasn’t, this may all may make little sense to you.  I am admittedly a proud University of Michigan alumnus, so if the tone of this piece sounds biased, it probably is.

I’ll start with the 113th football game between the University of Michigan Wolverines and the Ohio State University Buckeyes on Nov. 26, 2016.  First off, the only good news about my Wolverines’ 30-27 loss was that our program is officially back and was in position to win that game unlike the majority of the games in the last 10 years.  The bad news is that we of course lost the game.  It was a great game which went down to the wire.  The hard part for the Michigan faithful was how the game was lost.

20161207_185633As a scientist, I’m a pragmatist first and foremost and I thus like to deal with the facts and try to minimize emotion which – very difficult to do in something like this. Though I was disappointed with the outcome game, most of my Tweets centered around what our team did that contributed to the loss.  The three turnovers involving our quarterback Wilton Speight definitely helped Ohio State and its paltry passing attack remain in striking distance.  That said without Speight in that game playing with a broken collarbone, our offense probably would’ve struggled as it did the previous week in our 20-10 victory over Indiana.

One of those turnovers, a pick 6 was due to a blown blocking assignment by our offensive line. Up 10-7 later in the first half, the second turnover was a miscommunication between Speight and our Center on Ohio State’s goal line which probably would’ve given us another 7 points and a firmer grasp on the game.  The third turnover was clearly a throw Speight thought he could make and was picked off.  This is not all to pile on Wilton because I am a fan of his and I think he’s going to have a great senior season for us assuming he stays healthy.

Now the other issue with our offense which has been there all season, was our inability to get first downs and kill the clock at the end of big games. From my vantage point, our running game this year was efficient, but not explosive, and we weren’t able to move the chains with our ground game in many key situations.  I Tweeted about this after the game too.  This is what led up to the punt debacle in the 2015 Michigan State game, in addition to this year’s 14-13 loss at Iowa.  It also reared its ugly head against the Buckeyes.  Championship teams have to be able to close out their opponents, and I’m hoping this is something Coach Jim Harbaugh will drive home with his future rosters.

As I watched the game at Buffalo Wild Wings in the suburbs of Buffalo, NY I pondered that when both Michigan and Ohio State are competitive, these roller coaster ride-type games tend to happen. In addition to our turnovers, Ohio State’s kicker missed two field goals and the Buckeyes also went for a fake punt of which they didn’t get the first down.  It was odd as Coach Urban Meyer didn’t seem to know that it was going to be called.  At least he acted that way on the sidelines.

Despite our turnovers, our defense came to play and sacked Ohio State’s elusive quarterback J.T. Barrett quite a few times much to my surprise (because of his mobility). For the most part the Buckeyes weren’t hurting us through the air, but with occasional gashes via their ground game.  Early on with the way we were moving the ball, the way our defense was playing, and the way their offense was playing, it looked as though we would take and maintain a firm control of the game.

20161209_123308Enter the Big Ten officiating crew assigned to the game. This is where people who read this are going to diverge in terms of their opinions.  Legendary University of Miami and Dallas Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson said it best in ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary The U when reflecting on a Hurricanes’ trip to play Notre Dame in South Bend.  That game ended with a call by the referees ruling a University of Miami wide receiver’s touchdown a fumble though he was clearly down.  Jimmy Johnson stated, “I tried to tell the guys that you can’t leave a game like that in the hands of the officials on the road against Notre Dame.”  Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Michigan did.

That being said, even when on the road should officials be expected to be as impartial and objective as possible? In my mind the answer is yes, but many of calls in that second half suggested otherwise.  The facemask penalty on one of our offensive lineman where we would have made the first down was tough, and I’ve rarely seen that call made on an offensive lineman.  Many of the pass interference calls on Michigan’s defensive backs were very suspicious as well, especially since Ohio State’s players were clearly doing the same thing.  Those calls clearly bailed out Ohio State’s less than proficient passing game that day steadily advancing them up the field and building their momentum.  The penalty on Coach Harbaugh was odd too.  Did he get emotional?  Yes absolutely.  Is it something other Coaches have done before?  Yes absolutely.

Michigan was able to put a lot of pressure on J.T. Barrett that day who in some instances tried to stay in the pocket and find receivers down field. In some instances, he was able to run away, but many wondered after the game if several holding calls were missed by the officials.  And then finally there was J.T. Barrett’s fourth down conversion which was clearly in the hands of the officials in terms of where to properly spot the ball – always a judgement call especially if their isn’t conclusive video evidence to overturn it.

The fan base you were a part of dictated whether you thought J.T Barrett made it or not. By eye, and from the camera angle we were watching on TV, it looked as though his feet crossed the marker but the ball didn’t.  When the play went under review by the officials, a part of me held out hope that Ohio State wouldn’t get that first down, but I suspected that the call would stand which is exactly what happened.  My personal opinion was that those officials weren’t going to reverse that call in that stadium whether it was the right or the wrong call if for no other reason than for fear for their lives.  That first down of course set up Curtis Samuel’s game winning touchdown scamper into the end zone in the second OT period.

Aside from a Buckeye fan named Tom who was watching the game with a group of Ohio State fans and who was a gracious winner, the Buckeye fans were smug and obnoxious, and defended that fourth down call (and all of the officiating) with tremendous conviction and sarcasm. Shortly after the game it leaked out that the officials who worked the game had Ohio State roots and were basically biased.  One official was previously fired by the Big Ten.  The thought that something like this could happen was infuriating, and if it’s true, the Big Ten conference and President Jim Delaney should draft some new rules to ensure that this type of thing never happens again.  The ultimate losers from this type of ineptitude were the student athletes.

20161207_185710Based upon the imbalance and nature of the penalties called, it would’ve made sense that there was a bias inherent in the officiating crew. It was some of those calls which made Coach Harbaugh irate.  He was particularly fired up in the postgame press conference which I would’ve been too if I genuinely felt like my team got cheated, and if an official said that he, “Would’ve penalized the Coach if it were a basketball game.”  Weeks later even after being fined, Coach Harbaugh was steadfast in his position which I applaud him for especially if his kids were legitimately cheated.  If the loss was crushing for us fans, it must’ve been exponentially worse for the players some of whom hadn’t beaten Ohio State their entire time at Michigan.

* * *

20161209_123241The loss left the Wolverines and the fan base in that nebulous space of needing other teams to lose to make it into the playoff – namely Clemson or Washington. It was the same position we were in at the end of the 2006 Michigan-Ohio State game – the 103rd meeting which featured players including: Chad Henne, Michael Hart, Troy Smith and Ted Ginn, Jr.  The teams were ranked numbers one and two in the nation in that game.  After the Buckeyes took an early two touchdown lead by going with a spread offense they hadn’t used all year, we battled back, but the game was ultimately decided by a terrible helmet to helmet personal foul on our then linebacker Shawn Crable who hit Troy Smith as he went out of bounds late in the game giving Ohio State an automatic first down.  That was in Bowl Championship Series (BCS) era and ironically it was Coach Urban Meyer who aggressively lobbied for his Florida Gators get into that National Championship game against Jim Tressel’s Ohio State Buckeyes, who they eventually blew out 41-14 – something that was fun to watch as a Michigan fan.

By the way in recent times Ohio State always seems to get a lucky bounce here and there. In the 2002 season where they went undefeated, several things fell their way.  They didn’t have to play Iowa that year who also went undefeated until they themselves were defeated in the Orange Bowl by Pete Carroll’s USC Trojans.  Michigan had to play both Iowa and Ohio State that year.  In our match up with the Buckeyes in Columbus that year, wide receiver Braylon Edwards’s would be touchdown reception was nullified due to an offensive pass interference call against Chris Gamble.  That play was our best chance to score a touchdown in that game which the Buckeyes went on to win 14-9.  And then there was the National Championship game against Miami in the Fiesta Bowl which turned on a controversial pass interference call in overtime which gave Ohio State new life and helped them towards their victory 31-24 victory.  Does this all sound familiar?

The debating and haggling over who is deserving of postseason play is actually quite amusing to listen to when it’s not your team. For the 2004 BCS Championship game for example, the BCS had to pick two teams for from three potential undefeated schools; USC, Oklahoma, and Auburn.  I specifically remember Auburn’s then Coach Tommy Tuberville agonizing and pleading for his team to be selected, and then lamenting about it afterwards when his Tigers were left out of the Nokia Sugar Bowl.  That’s just one example and it continued to happen year after year from disappointed coaches and fans almost like a ritual.  What’s also funny is it took another 10 for a playoff to be created.  Again it’s funny when it’s someone else’s school but when it’s yours its quite nauseating and can be angering as well.

I thought that our best chance of getting in the playoff was Washington and not Clemson losing their championship game. The winner of the Big Ten Championship game between Wisconsin and Penn State seemed to be inconsequential to the whole thing, especially since Ohio State was said to be a lock.  Penn State had beaten them in conference play and they wouldn’t be the conference champion under any circumstance and still make it into the playoff – something that felt very unsettling.  That said, that week leading up to Selection Sunday the committee actually divulged that the margin of separation between Michigan and Washington was very, very slim giving us all some hope.

20161207_190251It wasn’t meant to be though. Probably after hearing all of the talk about their weak non-conference schedule, Washington came out and played inspired in the Pac-12 Championship game against Colorado.  The Huskies got some luck too as Colorado’s starting quarterback Sefo Liufau hurt his leg when getting sacked in the first quarter and missed the rest of the first half.  He was just getting hot when he was injured too as he gashed the Huskies for a long quarterback scramble.  When he re-entered the game he clearly wasn’t the same player as he threw several costly interceptions.   Washington went on to win 41-10 making it difficult for the committee to not seed them in the playoff.

The next night everyone’s eyes turned the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game between Clemson and Virginia Tech. Led by Deshaun Watson, Clemson controlled the game for the most part but was challenged late by Virginia Tech though they held on to win 42-35 locking up their spot in the playoff along with Alabama and Ohio State.  With both Clemson and Washington winning, the chances of Michigan getting in now looked even more slim.

Adding insult to injury, Penn State rallied as their offense exploded propelling them to a 38-31 victory over Wisconsin. In the aftermath of that game, the commentators on all of the networks, most notably ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit were now speculating that Penn State should get into the playoff over Washington and Michigan, which made me sick to my stomach.  That CFP committee clearly had a more difficult job now.  The camera took a panoramic shot of the committee that night who all seemed to look on with great focus and potentially dread about which teams to leave out.  I’d forgotten that former Secretary of State Condaleeza Rice was on the committee but she was there nonetheless looking on.

20161207_190123That next morning I woke up with no expectations and expecting my Wolverines not to be selected. When the announcement was made starting at noon, the teams were steadily announced on my Twitter feed.  Alabama was seeded number one followed by Clemson at number two.  Ohio State was seeded at number three while Washington was seeded at number four.  The two matchups would thus be Washington vs. Alabama and Ohio State vs. Clemson.  Michigan remained at number five in the CFP rankings and was selected to play number twelve Florida State in the Orange Bowl.

None of the commentators discussed the poor officiating in the Michigan-Ohio State game as though the Buckeyes won it cleanly and without controversy. Maybe that was a media thing to save face for everyone and present the appearance of fair play across the board.  Only Skip Bayless kept championing Michigan’s cause.  Jason Whitlock also spoke up about what happened in Columbus.  Still feeling some residual contempt about what happened after the announcement of the teams, I tweeted about the officiating in Columbus and was confronted by another Tweeter named Ron.  He was probably an Ohio State fan because he rebuffed me and talked about how the officiating in the game was fair and how Michigan should’ve just, “Played through it.”  He also got off a jab at our coach calling Jim Harbaugh, “Cry-baugh.”  I wished him luck with his team and discontinued the back and forth as it wasn’t going to lead anywhere.

* * *

In terms of the playoff itself, ESPN’s Todd McShay said it best when he said, “This is more of an invitational than a true playoff.” By that he meant that in a true playoff, participation is judged simply by record and not voting, and not a weight of evidence approach by a committee – one of the paradoxical hallmarks of big time college football.  For those unfamiliar with the history of Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) college football, the current playoff (only two years old) was preceded by the afore mentioned BCS where only the top two ranked teams could compete for the championship.  Before that it was strictly polls where the coaches and media voted on the national champion which was absurd.

Eventually an eight team playoff should be created. Everyone is already clamoring for it.  Under that format, the Power 5 Conference champions would theoretically get automatic bids, and three “At Large” teams would be seeded similar to the NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments.  Under such a scenario my Wolverines would’ve made it in this year.  However, as ESPN’s Mark May stated, “In an eight-team playoff, the number nine and ten teams would feel left out, so there’s always someone who is going to be left out and unhappy.”  If Michigan were not in the top eight, I think I could live with that though.

Until then we have a four team playoff and this year that consists of Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Washington. A lot of Big Ten fans root for the conference when getting into postseason play.  I’m torn between rooting for Ohio State this year because of the way that they got in and that they didn’t win the Big Ten championship.  I am hoping that they carry that paltry passing game into their matchup with Clemson in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 31 and get destroyed, though I predict it may be a shootout.

The last time however the Buckeyes made it into the playoff, they shocked everyone and defeated Alabama to win the 2015 the National Championship. In the Chik-fil-a Peach Bowl, I’m hoping that Alabama crushes Washington (similar Michigan State last year) to corroborate the Huskies’ weak strength of schedule.  That’s all wishful thinking though, and we’ll have to see how it all plays out ultimately.

Mostly though I’m hoping the Wolverines end the season with a victory and make short work of the Florida State Seminoles in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30. If that happens and some of the teams in the playoff lose, we’ll leap over them in the final rankings.  In addition to playing in the Orange Bowl, it would also be a small consolation prize I guess.

20161207_185825In the after math of our loss to that team from Ohio, and the seeding of the playoff, I pondered that this is only year two for the Jim Harbaugh regime in Ann Arbor. While it’s disappointing that with the talent we had this this year that we didn’t make the CFP, it’s also important to keep in mind that neither Nick Saban or Urban Meyer won National Championships in their first two years at Alabama or that school in Ohio.  A solid College Football program takes time to build in terms of recruiting players, developing them, and getting them the game experience.  I predict that will happen for the Michigan Football program.  Fair and objective officiating ensuring a level playing field will help out as well.

While I wasn’t happy about what happened in the Columbus last month, this post was meant to be partially humorous. When watching these games, I have to remind myself that it’s entertainment and the student-athletes are 18 to 22-year-old young adults who are still developing, going classes and trying to figure out life.  I try to remind my friend Alim Gaines about his whenever Michigan loses.

These student-athletes are also unsalaried amateurs which is something we debated at Buffalo Wild Wings during the game with our friend Hestin Brown. Alim’s brother Raheem was there watching the game as was my brother Amahl who was sporting his “Michigan Brother” t-shirt.  Alim was steadfastly rooting for Michigan while Raheem whom I sometimes refer to as “Urban” Gaines was rooting for Ohio State.  Hestin was new to the College Football world but decided to root for Ohio State who he perceived as the underdog.  He also tormented me and Alim as he continually speculated about Jim Harbaugh leaving Michigan to coach his former quarterback at Stanford Andrew Luck – now with the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts.

Most importantly there are more serious events taking place in our world. The Monday after the game, there was actually a small Terrorist attack on Ohio State’s campus which was probably partially overshadowed by the CFP happenings.  My condolences go out to the families who were affected in that incident, and while we get upset that our favorite college teams don’t do this or do that, it’s important for all of us to keep perspective.  Happy Holidays and GO BLUE!!!!

Thank you for taking the time out to read this blog post.  If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment.  To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site.  Lastly follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful.  While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.