Tondar's Daily Rant

Prepare yourself for the writings of Tondar the Destroyer, Baron of Atlanta, Rightful Heir to the Throne of Spain, from whom all babies come. As his will be blogged, so let it be done.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

THE WONDERFUL JOURNEY TO OZ

From Seth...

THE JOURNEY TO OZ

So my bro taped this game on the DVR, so I was able to come home, heat up the leftover pasta from the Guitar Hero III release party, turn on some tunes and watch the 100th meeting of Michigan/Michigan State.

1ST HALF: MIGHT AS WELL HAVE BEEN IN BLACK AND WHITE

Michigan's strategy coming into the game: run up the middle. Michigan State's strategy coming into the game: run up the middle. Michigan's defensive strategy: stop them from running up the middle. Michigan State's defensive strategy: stop them from running up the middle. For a while there, it seemed more like the 50th meeting of these two teams than the 100th. MSU particularly was loading up the box. So Michigan responded by throwing deep -- and Manningham was open most of the time, despite lots of blatant interference by the overmatched Spartan corner.

OH, SHE BIT HER DOG, EH?

Michigan's offense was stymied by Henne's bad passes in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, and the constant blown calls, but more than that the excellent play of MSU's defensive line. Remember this name: Jonal Saint-Dic. This is one of the best players State has ever had.

Michigan State's offensive strategy, however, could best be described as trying to ride a bicycle into a Kansas twister. Had it not been for some lucky bounces off their punts, and the refs giving up on their whistles after the umpteenth MSU penalty, the game would have been a blowout by the half.

IF THEY ONLY HAD A BRAIN

How much chipping were the MSU kids doing in the 1st half? After every play, they were piling on, putting on late hits, trying to start tussles (big linebackers against Hart), and shoving guys who were already clearly out of bounds. They got flagged for a few, but I've never seen a team outside of Florida who showed up wanting to create more bad blood. It was pretty pathetic -- like Calgary Flames hockey. You could see Dantonio did whatever he could to fire them up, and then rather than play hard, the doofuses run out and set themselves up for a gazillion penalties. If they'd been called for half of them, MSU would have been blown out by the half. As it stood, they wracked up enough penalty yardage from the most blatant attacks to offset any good work their linebackers were doing in keeping Michigan tailbacks not named Hart to 2-yard gains.

OH, WHAT HAPPENED THEN WAS RICH

But how good is Hart? That double-cutback that set up Michigan's 1st TD -- SOOO AWESOME. And that burst -- with a really bad ankle no less. This guy...I tell ya...this guy!

MEET DOROTHY, SCARECROW, TIN MAN AND THE COWARDLY LION

So long as we're doing Oz analogy, what a game for Michigan's offensive stars. They should totally put these four guys in costumes. Long the Cowardly Lion who finally finds his courage, Manningham the Scarecrow without a brain who ends up making the most brilliant plays, Henne the banged up, rusty, creaky Tin Man, who, it turns out, always had a heart, and of course tiny Dorothy who ends up carrying them all.

HE REPRESENTS THE LOLLIPOP GUILD:

Will Johnson has a new nickname: The Yellow Brick. And the space between the opponents' left guard and left tackle, when Will is playing, is thus the Yellow Brick Road. If you want to get to the shining Emerald City where all the people wear green and are happy happy happy, then Follow the Yellow Brick Road, Follow the Yellow Brick Road.

And MSU's strategy in the 3rd quarter: Follow, follow, follow, follow!

Will Johnson was getting owned. At one point ESPN zoomed in on MSU's left guard, who had this huge smile on his face. Can't blame him. What's more fun if you're a left guard than constantly knocking a defensive tackle off the ball so badly that he ends up helping your center on the other tackle, and then being totally free to blow up a linebacker?

RUN, TOTO, RUN!

I can't talk about this game without mentioning Jevon Ringer's ring-around-the-stadium, when he slipped a tackle for loss, then cut across the field and made it to the Michigan 5 before being brought down. Best run of the season, even if there were like 30 holds on the backside of the play. This play brought Spartan Stadium alive -- you could hear them shaking from across the state. It was perhaps the loudest that place has ever been. What a run!

I'M MELTING! I'M MELLLLLTINNNNG!!!!

So now State has their enemy right where they want them. The Flying Monkeys have done their job. The Winkies have our heroes cornered. The big red hourglass is twinkling away. The Scarecrow has been lit on fire, the Tin Man rusted, and the Lion tamed. It's 2nd and 10. Henne re-injures his bad knee. Mallett isn't ready to play. He misreads a blitz by MSU and a defender comes off the end unblocked. The ball is stripped -- if MSU recovers they have the ball with a 10-point lead in Michigan territory with 7:00 left in the 4th.

And then Dorothy sees a bucket of water.

Hart picks it up, then breaks a defender, and drags a pile of Spartans for the 1st down (with a little spot help by the refs -- Michigan's one stripes break all game). This is all with his ankle absolutely killing him.

So much guts on this team! After that, you knew Michigan wanted this one more than the Spartans.

IT REALLY WAS NO MIRACLE

Henne's quick-outs drive was impressive, but I think the credit goes entirely to Mike DeBord. Afterall, only DeBord could call the same play 8 times in a row and have it be offensive genius. But genius it was. DeBord set 'em up by sending Manningham deep all 1st half, then running up the middle for most of the 2nd half. MSU, expecting DeBord to stick with rock (DeBord likes rock), kept throwing paper, blitzing from all angles and trying to create mismatches for their star defensive lineman. It worked great in the 3rd quarter, as Henne was pressured constantly and without Hart to make the fist 7 guys miss, the run game suffered. But DeBord, bless his heart, suddenly discovered scissors. Having established that Mario was going deep all game, the corners -- playing without help since the safeties were stuck on the run -- finally started backing off in coverage in the 4th, which, like a brooming at Phi Psi, opened up that sideline pass again, and again and again...

FRIGHTENED? CHILD, YOU'RE TALKING TO A MAN WHO'S LAUGHED IN THE FACE OF DEATH, SNEERED AT DOOM, AND CHUCKLED AT CATASTROPHE... I WAS PETRIFIED.

The play of the game came soon after. Henne, whose shoulder was screwing up his aim all game, suddenly launched the most perfect pass ever thrown by a human being not named Tom Brady, sailing over the head of three MSU defenders and dropping into the hands of Greg Mathews in full stride -- not a millimeter off his target. As Mitch Albom described it: "a 14-yard touchdown pass to Greg Matthews that was so perfectly timed, the Swiss were applauding."

To quote Bill Mauer: I'm Swiss!

DON'T REMOVE YOUR GREEN GLASSES

Strangely, the Run-Over-Will strategy was abandoned in the 4th quarter when the Spartans had the ball and 3-point lead with 6 mins left. I can hardly fault Dantonio, since Mich was lining up 7 or 8 on the line of scrimmage, and that meant he had his speedy receivers working 1-on-1 on a true freshman and Morgan Trent. That being said, Trent can surprise you (he made some excellent plays late in the game), and you're an idiot if you haven't figured out by now that Warren's as much a true freshman as -- oh I dunno -- Ty Law '93, Charles Woodson '95, Marlin Jackson '01 or Leon Hall '03. So in hindsight Dantonio should have done what App State did, which is to Follow the Yellow Brick Road.

PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE OPEN MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN

Dantonio's other bonehead play was to castrate his defensive line at the end. Michigan's freshman offensive linemen were having trouble containing a 5-man rush all game, while State's corners had only Henne's bad throws and the whistle gods saving them from a major embarrassment. But on the go-ahead touchdown, they rushed...a grand total of THREE! This is about as intelligent as keeping a bucket of water handy in your lair when a few cups will melt you into steam. Let's see: Jake Long and Adam Kraus can take one apiece on any play. So that leaves Justin Boren, Steve Schilling and Jeremy Ciulla (Mitchell got hurt in the 3rd) to contain State's stud. 2-on-1 against Jonal Saint-Dic is a fair match, if you have good offensive linemen. But even he can't shed 3 guys.

SOME PEOPLE WITHOUT BRAINS DO AN AWFUL LOT OF TALKING... DON'T THEY?

This was on a 3rd-and-10 play, by the way. 3rd and long, with the game on the line. And here was Dantonio, listening to every moron who ever dissed Lloyd Carr, saying Michigan would throw it 7 yards because that's what Michigan does on 3rd and 10. Both safeties and extra corners were sitting pretty at the 1st down marker (apparently, Adrian Arrington needs quadruple coverage). That meant Manningham was still in 1-on-1, against a guy he'd been beating all day, in the end zone. And amazingly, Greg Mathews was open the same way on his side of the field. Thank you every moron Michigan pundit who convinced Dantonio to call this wholly stupid defensive play, despite everything he'd been seeing all game. Michigan always throws to Arrington for 7 yards on 3rd and 10. Always. Because Michigan is dumb. Don't bother covering the other 25 yards downfield, because Michigan doesn't throw there, because Mike DeBord doesn't call deep passes (except for the 15 he called today). Anyway, the result: Henne has time to sing Over the Rainbow while waiting for Mario Manningham to shake Ross Weaver.

As was expected, Weaver got broomed.

YOU, MY FRIEND, ARE A VICTIM OF DISORGANIZED THINKING

Not that State was done yet. They got the ball back near midfield with plenty of time for a final 2-minute drill. Michigan went nickel and dime against them on the last drive, then blitzed the two linebackers each time (and sometimes a safety). How does one beat this? Again, Appalachian State had the answer: slant down the middle. The middle was wide open for the quick slant that whole drive. And the lanes were clear, since The Yellow Brick Road was still getting owned by pass protection while the blitzers were coming in from the sides. So why, for Pete's sake, was MSU still running out-routes and slow-developing crossing routes? Dudes -- you've got 2 minutes to go 50 yards -- out of bounds isn't THAT important.

DON’T CRY, YOU’LL RUST SO DREADFULLY.

And such was the end of Michigan State’s latest almost versus Michigan. After the game, Hart, who beat MSU every one of his four years in Ann Arbor, said MSU is Michigan’s little brother. To State fans and their enormous shoulder chip, the statement, while entirely true, was salt in their wound. By so aptly defining this rivalry, Hart has put it back on the map – one more gift to this school to which he has meant so much. You could see Dantonio had the passion, if not the offensive mind nor the players. But more than the Braylon Edwards show. More than the overtime missed field goal. More than the blowouts or the shutouts, you could see the heartbreak in State, left wondering once again, if the Blue birds can fly, then Why Oh Why Can’t I?

p.s. If you turn on Dark Side of the Moon right when Michigan is kicking off, the music lines up perfectly with the game action. Freaky.

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