Monday, October 11, 2010

Thoughts after a Saturday in Ann Arbor

My brother and I were at the debacle known as the 2010 Michigan-Michigan State game. We rolled into Ann Arbor that morning around 10:00, and wandered around beforehand. Here are some bullet points about our day:

~It was HOT. As mentioned, I bought a cool new maize hooded sweatshirt to wear (the game was deemed a "maize out," where all M fans are encouraged to wear maize), but left it in the car. By halftime I was on my third bottle of water. Unexpected for an October day in Michigan, I have to say.

~We walked around the entire University sports complex. We were mostly looking for a place to eat lunch, but wanted to find places like Schembechler Hall as well. We ended up wandering down past all the frat houses, where all manner of pre-game exercises were being observed. I felt very much like a 31-year-old walking through there.

~Tailgates everywhere, of course. As we wandered past Schembechler Hall and continued until we could round back, I saw one tailgate with a custom banner similar to the one that the players run under: "Oregon, Ohio Supports You." I had half a mind to wander over thinking we could bond over living in enemy territory. The real place to be for tailgating, though, is either the golf course across from the stadium or Pioneer High School's parking lot, also across from the stadium. We cut through the golf course on our way back, and ended up eating hot dogs at the fanfest held at the high school. We actually have some extended relatives who live in A2, and I learned that they're always there tailgating. It never occurred to us until that day that maybe we should have made arrangements to find them. Mental note for next year.

~I was amazed at how integrated fans from both teams were. There were couples all over the place made up of one person wearing Michigan stuff and one wearing State stuff. Rival fans were tailgating together, including down by the frat houses. In fact, while there was rival chanting and ribbing, I didn't see or experience any obnoxious crap at all. Maybe this rivalry is different since it's the same state? Maybe I'm just used to certain stupid stuff happening because I live in Ohio? Maybe I just didn't see some of the more typical stuff?

~There were two old guys who sat behind us, and by the time we were ready to leave we were both ready to turn around and slug them. They jawed the entire game: about how RichRod was obviously playing conservative by keeping Denard from running, how Michigan losing was proof that the spread offense is dead, how annoying it was that fans in front of them actually deigned to stand up and cheer during the game. My personal favorite due to its revealing nature was when former players Lamarr Woodley and Zoltan Mesko were introduced at one point, and one of them asked, "Who's Lamarr Woodley?" Oh, he was only the cornerstone of Michigan's 2006 defense. Nobody you obvious football geniuses need to remember.

~The game itself sucked. The defense gave up ridiculous huge plays as well as many 3rd downs (you know...the usual). The offense just didn't click. Shoelace had an off day, the receivers had off days. My brother and I kept telling each other that this happens, they'll bounce back, etc. The first bad game for the offense after five wins, however, does not mean the spread is dead. Morons.

~Okay, even after all that reassurance, I do have a worry. I've been chewing on this for a day or so. I've been reading lately about how hands-off RichRod is about defensive issues. Other than recommending the 3-3-5 formation to be run, he spends a barebones amount of time with people on that side of the ball. Scott Shafer (his D coordinator in '08) and Greg Robinson (his D coordinator now) have both been pretty successful as D coordinators during their careers, but they haven't been 3-3-5 guys. Michigan's D can't tackle, can't contain, can't get stops. I'm starting to worry that, if Michigan ends up having another meltdown and RichRod gets canned, it'll be because of the defense. But it won't be because the players aren't there, it'll be due to his defensive philosophy, or lack thereof. The parallel example that I can think of is Nebraska: Bill Callahan was an offensive innovator but only lasted four years because he didn't run a complete team. Now Bo Pelini is rebuilding them into what they used to be, mostly because he pays a lot of attention to building a strong defense. I'm worried that RichRod is not running a complete team, and if Michigan decides to start all over again in the next year or two, that'll be why.

~It was a good day, even considering the outcome. My brother and I are already contemplating our options for next year. Notre Dame at night? The inaugural Nebraska game? The Game? Oh, the possibilities.