Friday, September 30, 2016

The Victors

Saturday, 17 September 2016 / Michigan Stadium
(№ 4) Michigan 45-28 Colorado
3-0, B1G 0-0

The Colorado game began in distressing fashion: By the end of the first quarter, Michigan was down 21-7. Being a basketcase after the last (lost) decade of Michigan football, I was near despair at this turn of events, having flashbacks to innumerable, completely noncompetitive routs in the Rodriguez & Hoke eras. This, however, is the age of Harbaugh. From the end of the first quarter to the beginning of the second, it seemed as if a switch was flipped & the Maize & Blue came alive, on both offense & defense. For the next three quarters the epithetless Buffaloes would have only one more offensive play of note (not a drive, a single play, a seventy-yard touchdown pass), while the valiant Wolverines would respond with thirty-eight more points. The valiant Wolverines rallied from the 21-7 start to take a 24-21 lead into halftime, then fell behind 28-24, before scoring the final twenty-one points of the game. Three of Colorado's touchdowns were scored by the offense, the fourth by the defense (a quarterback fumble returned for a touchdown). Four of Michigan's six touchdowns were scored by the offense, the other two—& the field goal, of course—by special teams (a punt blocked & returned for a touchdown & a punt returned for a touchdown).

Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau was sacked several times & knocked down many more times, eventually leaving the game with an ankle injury; Liufau's replacement, Steven Montez, didn't complete a single pass & was sacked, knocked down, or at the very least hurried on almost every play. So what, you say? The very next week, Montez became the first quarterback in Colorado history to throw for over three hundred yards & rush for over one hundred yards in a single game, a 41-38 victory over the epithetless Ducks of Oregon. Even Kordell Stewart never did that! (Full disclosure: Oregon's defense is coordinated by the buffoonish Brady Hoke.)

In some ways, the first quarter against Colorado is now seen as a Godsend. For the first time in the young season, the valiant Wolverines not only trailed on the scoreboard, but were seriously challenged on the field. The Leaders & Best responded with style, shutting down Colorado's offensive, solving the puzzle of Colorado's defense, & tilting the field with special teams play. The valiant Wolverines, in the oft-used boxing analogy, took the epithetless Buffaloes' best punch, got up off the mat, & kept punching until they in turn delivered the knockout blow. Team 137 showed poise & resilience*, overcoming early adversity & the very best effort Colorado had, to emerge from the day with their third straight victory, their third straight game of scored forty-five points or more, & their first victory over a club from a Power Five conference (though the State of Colorado is landlocked, the University of Colorado Boulder is a member of the Pacific-12 Conference).

Michigan finished non-conference play undefeated & entered the newly expanded nine-game B1G schedule ranked № 4 in both the Associated Press (A.P.) & Coaches' polls.

Saturday, 24 September 2016
(№ 4) Michigan 49-10 Penn State
4-0, B1G 1-0

The 51-14 blowout of U.C.F. was no fun because of a pall over the proceedings cast by U.C.F.'s supreme douchebag of a head coach, Scott Frost. The 45-28 comeback win against Colorado was thrilling, having been far more exciting than any of us wanted. The Penn State game was joyous, a lively celebration of football akin to the pure delight of the season-opening 63-3 ritual sacrifice of Hawai'i.

The valiant Wolverines came to play against the ferocious Nittany Lions, playing old-school, smash-mouth Big Ten football by dominating the line of scrimmage on both offense & defense. Michigan ran the ball, ran the ball against, & then just for variety ran the ball some more. The valiant Wolverines took a 28-0 lead into halftime, having scored three touchdowns on rushes of one yards (Khalid Hill), two yards (De'Veon Smith), & two yards (Karan Higdon), & one touchdown on a three-yard pass. For 2015, the valiant Wolverines have a new defensive coordinator, Don Brown, a blitz-happy gent with a no-nonsense moustache (as opposed to your author's all-nonsense moustache). I've nicknamed him "Uncle Don," & call Michigan's defense "Uncle Don's Murder Machine." In the third quarter, Uncle Don's Murder Machine lost the shutout, giving up a field goal to the ferocious Nittany Lions; on the sidelines, one could see that Uncle Don was none too pleased, being ultra-competitive, as are all the valiant Wolverines, in the mold of their head coach, Jim Harbaugh—the Magical Unicorn of Our Dreams—a maniac who "attacks & builds with an enthusiasm (otherwise) unknown to Mankind." The Maize & Blue responded with three more rushing touchdowns, of three yards (Chris Evans), forty yards (Higdon, again), & three yards (Ty Isaac). Yes, that's right, five different valiant Wolverines scored rushing touchdowns; Smith ran for over a hundred yards, & the running back committee notched over three hundred yards, Michigan's best running performance so far of the season.

The whole-team performance against Penn State was the perfect way to begin league play. The Murder Machine is gaining experience with Uncle Don's new defensive schemes (elsewhere referred to as "wacky schemes"), the special teams appear to be a decided advantage in most contests, & while Wilton Speight hasn't been perfect at quarterback, he is far ahead of where Jake Rudock was in September '15. We don't know if Speight's ceiling is as high as Rudock's was, but so far his floor hasn't been nearly as low & additional time under Coach Harbaugh's tutelage has never failed to significantly improve any quarterback. Through the first four games, the valiant Wolverines have scored two hundred eight points, the most in the opening four games of any season in Michigan's one hundred thirty-seven year history, including Fielding Yost's "point-a-minute" teams of 1901-1905. The average score is 52-14 (actually, that's rounding up from the true average of 52-13.75), a thirty-eight-point margin of victory. True, that's against mostly non-conference opponents, but so were all the previous seasons' first four games. The Harbaugh rebuilding project still appears to be radically ahead of schedule, though this toughest tests of the season remain: the giant-killing pesky Badgers at home, then the tenacious Hawkeyes, dastardly Spartans, & hated Buckeyes, all on the road.

Go Blue!

Next: The № 4 valiant Wolverines host the № 8 pesky Badgers, fresh off then-№ 11 Wisconsin's defeat of the then-№ 8 dastardly Spartans (currently, № 17); 'twas Wisconsin's second victory over a then-top ten club this season. (The first was over L.S.U., who have subsequently dropped out of the A.P.'s Top 25 & whose head coach, Les Miles, has been unceremoniously fired.) This is the best squad the valiant Wolverines have faced yet; arguably, the same thing is true for the pesky Badgers. Go Blue!

*I see red whenever I hear a sports broadcaster reference a team's or a player's "resiliency" when he means their resilience. Stop murdering the English language!

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