Category Archives: Michigan football

Excessive Celebration or Excessive Penalization in College Football?

As you may have read, I was at the Michigan-Notre Dame game. Midway through the fourth quarter, immediately after ND had taken a one-point lead, the Irish scored a two-point conversion on a well-executed trick play. Notre Dame QB Jimmy Clausen faked a pass before handing off behind his back to running back Armando Allen. Clausen was taken to the turf by several Michigan defenders, but of course he didn’t have the ball. Allen ran untouched into the endzone.

Once it was clear that ND was going to score, I shifted my eyes back to Clausen. He was sitting on the grass, shaking his legs and arms as if he were riding a horse, or something. I don’t know. It was weird. But it was certainly celebratory and when I heard a referee announce an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the Irish, I certainly thought it was for that.

It wasn’t until later that night that I learned Allen was the one who was penalized. I was surprised. Then I read about, and eventually saw a picture of, the act that drew the flag.

Allen had taken a step or two past the back of the endzone, looked up at the crowd, and put his pointer finger in front of his lips, the universal symbol for “be quiet.”

I highly doubt this was premeditated, and it only lasted for a second or two. Yet it drew a flag anyway. This is not the first questionable unsportsmanlike penalty call I have seen in this young season and certainly not the most egregious. It’s just one example from a game I attended.

Before every season, in addition to an updated rulebook, officials release a statement outlining certain calls they will be on the lookout for in the upcoming season.

One of the items the officials noted for the 2009 season was unsportsmanlike penalties. The NCAA Football Rules Committee included this in the statement it released in February:

“After reviewing a number of plays involving unsportsmanlike conduct, the committee is firm in its support of the unsportsmanlike conduct rules as they currently are written and officiated. Many of these fouls deal with players who inappropriately draw attention to themselves in a pre-meditated, excessive or prolonged manner.

I wholeheartedly disagree with that statement, which in my opinion is a gross exaggeration. To say that many of the unsportsmanlike penalties are assessed to players who act in the manner described is simply untrue.

Was Allen’s “crowd shush” premeditated? Excessive? Prolonged? Excessive is the only aspect of the rule he may have broken, but I don’t think he did.

Surely you recall Jake Locker, who just led the Washington Huskies to a win over USC last Saturday, scoring a last-second touchdown against BYU last year. He tossed the ball over his shoulder in excitement, drawing a flag and forcing his team to attempt a longer-than-usual extra point, which was blocked. Washington lost by one.

Then there’s this from the rulebook, which will also get you a flag: “An unopposed ball carrier obviously altering stride as he approaches the opponent’s goal line or diving into the end zone.” If I were writing the rules, I wouldn’t include that, but at least I understand it. It’s obvious taunting.

The thing is, in that Michigan-ND game I attended, Irish receiver Golden Tate, known for his showboating more so than his teammate, Allen, caught a pass near the sideline, shook his defender to the ground around the 10-yard line, and trotted sideways into the endzone, holding the ball away from his body with one hand. No flags were thrown.

Now I’m not complaining that Tate’s actions didn’t draw a penalty. But the rulebook states it should have been called.

Much like pass interference and holding, unsportsmanlike fouls are open to some interpretation by the refs. I have no problem with them exercising their judgment — they’re just not doing a good job of that.

I’ve heard the NFL referred to as the No Fun League. While the NFL rulebook might restrict players off the field, often fining them for seemingly harmless behavior, they are free to celebrate on the field far more than college players.

I’m not saying college players need to be pulling cellphones out of the goalposts. That’s premeditated and stupid. But they should be allowed to celebrate after they’ve made a good play. A chest pounding, a call for fans to get loud (or quiet down), a flexing of the bicep — these are natural displays of emotion, not penalty-worthy offenses.

So officials, please let the kids have some fun. If they aren’t delaying the game or taunting the opponent, what’s the harm in a little celebration?

Michigan Beats Notre Dame 38-34 in Thriller at the Big House

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan football is back.

After the worst season in school history in 2008, the Wolverines are 3-0. For an alum like myself, it feels good.

The blowout victory over Western Michigan in the season opener was great — regardless of the quality of the opponent, it showed that the offense was at least competent this year. It showed that the defensive players seemed more aware of their assignments, even if they were sloppy at times. And most importantly, and this can’t be stressed enough after last season, it showed that Michigan has dangerous and effective quarterbacks.

That’s right, it took all of one week for true freshman quarterback Tate Forcier to win over the Maize and Blue faithful. He dazzled in his debut, throwing three touchdown passes and no interceptions.

One week later, he’d announce himself to the rest of the country.

Playing at home against then-No. 18 Notre Dame, Forcier led Michigan to a thrilling 38-34 win, taking the team down the field and throwing a touchdown pass with just 11 seconds left.

The win was Michigan’s biggest since Lloyd Carr’s final game, when the Wolverines sent out the longtime coach with an improbable bowl win over Florida. (Yes, there was the wild, come-from-behind win against Wisconsin last season, when Michigan erased a 19-point halftime deficit to win 27-25. But remember, Michigan went 3-9 last year. In the end, none of the games were “big.”)

Against the Irish, the Big House was rockin’ when Darryl Stonum took a kickoff 94 yards for a score to give the Maize and Blue a 14-3 first quarter lead; it was shaking when Forcier broke an Irish defender’s ankles en route to a 31-yard rushing TD in the fourth; and the stadium, new luxury boxes and all, almost crumbled when the freshman phenom found Greg Mathews in the endzone in the game’s final moments.

Michigan fans hope for a safety as Notre Dame prepares for a snap in the third quarter. Note the luxury suites that are still under construction.

Remember earlier I said that Michigan now has dangerous and effective quarterbacks. Forcier’s great play may have overshadowed the Wolverines’ other true freshman signal-caller, speedster Denard Robinson.

In the opener, Robinson was electric. He ran 11 times for 74 yards, including a jaw-dropping 43-yard touchdown run. He didn’t see the field much against Notre Dame, but rushed for two more TDs against Eastern Michigan in a 45-17 win last week. He hasn’t gotten a chance to throw the ball too much yet, but it’s clear he has all the tools to be a star.

Is Michigan primed for a BCS bowl? Certainly not. Penn State and Ohio State are still a cut above the Wolverines, though Michigan does draw both those schools at home this season, so stealing a victory isn’t out of the question.

There’s no sense in looking even that far ahead though. A less-than-stellar Indiana team comes to the Big House this Saturday before Michigan and its many freshmen make their first road trip of the season, travelling to East Lansing to take on Michigan State on October 3.

Given the way it has begun, as long as expectations don’t get unreasonably high midway through the season, 2009 will likely be viewed as a success, a step in the right direction in Rich Rodriguez’s second season in Ann Arbor.

In the meantime, as the crowd chanted following the victory over Notre Dame: It’s great to be a Michigan Wolverine.

Michigan fans go wild as the players meet in the middle of the field to celebrate the win over Notre Dame.