Michigan-Michigan State Preview: Respect This Blog Post

With a different Big Ten school losing a player to suspension seemingly every week so far in this young season, it’s clear that the conference is trying to promote seven letters: R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

And with an intense in-state rivalry game occurring tomorrow between Michigan and Michigan State, it’s a topic worth discussing. Although, I must admit, I had to laugh when I read this:

“It’s just the total lack of respect they have for our school in general. We’re always taught, as Spartans, to respect our opponent, and the lack of respect they have (for MSU) is just sickening. They think we’re beneath them.”

The person behind the quote is Michigan State defensive end Trevor Anderson. The “they” he refers to are, of course, the Michigan Wolverines.

Anderson is from Detroit, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he understands the rivalry even though he started his college career at Cincinnati and this is only his second season as a Spartan. In fact, given the inferiority complex exemplified by his quotes, it’s not even an assumption — it’s pretty clear he understands what Michigan-Michigan State is all about.

Anyway, what caught me eye about this particular quote was this: “We’re always taught, as Spartans, to respect our opponent.”

I know this happened in 2005, before Anderson, head coach Mark Dantonio, or perhaps any of the current MSU players were part of the team. But still.

New York Mets Season Ticket Prices Reduced for 2010

I’ve written letters to the New York Mets before, as you may know. Yesterday, the Mets sent me a letter. Well, not me. They sent it to my dad, a Mets season ticket holder the past two seasons.

The main point of the letter is simple: Season ticket prices will be reduced by an average of 10% next season, with some being reduced by more than 20%.

Good news, right?

Of course, unless the recipients of the letter don’t plan to buy next year. Could you blame them if they didn’t? As the letter states, “Everyone at the Mets…shares your disappointment with the 2009 season.”

Before current season ticket holders make up their minds though, I think they should wait for the second letter promised by the Mets. The one that will outline how they “plan to improve the ball club through a combination of player signings, trades, enhanced player development and continued commitment to one of the highest player payrolls in Major League Baseball.”

But if this highly-specific plan isn’t enough for you, middle-aged season ticket holder, there’s always the Mr. Met Dash on Sunday!

New York Mets season ticket holder letter

Virginia Tech Hokies Defeat Miami Hurricanes 31-7 Amidst Torrential Rain

The following post was written by Robert Miller.

BLACKSBURG, VA. — The grass was so soggy it prevented the Virginia Tech band from playing on the field at half time because the ground crew was patching it. Fans stood for most of the game, deciding that was a better option than sitting on a soaking seat. Players were sliding around as if they were on a slip-n-slide with water splashing whenever the ball or their feet hit the ground.

But something good came out of the rain, at least for Hokie fans: The pouring rain and a soggy field created a slower environment for Virginia Tech to upset the speedy, and favored, Hurricanes.

The following picture shows the water splashing under the feet of Virgina Tech’s safety. For the second consecutive week, the Hokies got off to a fast start with an early first quarter TD that was set up by good field position. Last week, a kickoff return deep into Nebraska territory set up a TD. This week, a fumble by ‘Canes QB Jacory Harris put the Hokies in the red zone and led to a Ryan Williams TD run.

It was expected that the Hokie offense would need to score without the help of good field position if it intended to outscore the Hurricane’s offense. It did that early with a 48 yard TD pass from Tyrod Taylor to Jarrett Boykin; that gave the Hokies a 14-0 lead. The following picture shows the Hokies starting that 89-yard touchdown drive. After its second touchdown, the Hokie offense looked good at times but would not complete another end-to-end drive. The following video shows a four-yard run by Tyrod Taylor that set up a missed field goal.

After coming close twice before, the Hokies blocked a Hurricane punt for a TD late in the second quarter to give themselves a 21-0 lead. The punt block for a TD was a big momentum boost for the Hokies because they recaptured points lost from the missed field goal. The Hokies also experienced punting problems when a snap sailed through the punter’s hands and gave the Hurricanes the ball on the Tech 23 yard line. The Hokie defense sacked Harris for a loss to neutralize the field position and forced the Canes to punt away. The following video shows Virginia Tech’s Brent Bowden rebounding with a successful 47 yard punt despite a high snap.

The Hokie defense improved its tackling from last week and consistently applied pressure on Harris, even as the Tech lead increased. Sparked by a strong kickoff return, the Hurricanes scored a quick TD to start the second half. Other than that, the Hokie defense stifled the Hurricane offense. The subsequent video shows the Hokies defense swarming and crushing a Canes’ receiver.

Virginia Tech’s offense did better than last week but three of the four Hokie touchdowns came via the special teams and turnovers (Harris had a fumble and an interception). Williams helped Virginia Tech win the time of possession battle with 150 yards rushing and two touchdowns. The Hokie’s passing game is still the big question mark for a team in the driver’s seat to win the ACC Coastal division.

Fans and pundits had been calling for Tyrod Taylor to run more often and, specifically, to run on busted pass plays. Against the Hurricanes he ran 10 times for 75 yards and kept the Hurricane safeties honest. The Hokies move up five spots in the rankings to sixth with Oklahoma idle and losses by Penn State, Mississippi, California, and of course, Miami. Virginia Tech is now the highest-ranked one-loss team.

Thank you to Caroline Miller for providing the pictures and videos.

Michigan Beats Indiana 36-33 in Wild Game in Ann Arbor

If you’ve watched the first few Michigan games this year, you had to expect this was coming at some point. You hoped it would come against Eastern Michigan or Delaware State, giving Michigan a far better chance to overcome it than if it happened against Ohio State or Penn State.

I’m talking about, of course, Michigan’s freshmen quarterbacks playing like freshmen quarterbacks.

It hadn’t happened in the first three weeks, but it happened today against Indiana. Yet Michigan overcame it and still won, in dramatic fashion, 36-33.

Now let’s be clear, Indiana isn’t Penn State. But they’re not Delaware State either. The Hoosiers, 3-0 themselves entering today’s contest, were certainly capable of taking advantage of Tate Forcier’s and Denard Robinson’s mistakes. In a way, they did. But as the score indicates, they didn’t really make Michigan pay.

So when all was said and done, after Forcier led Michigan on the second game-winning touchdown drive of his young career, the Wolverines’ long winning streaks against Indiana were extended. The Hoosiers haven’t won this match-up since 1987 and haven’t won in Ann Arbor since 1967, pre-Bo Schembechler days.

And when Donovan Warren wrestled the ball away from an IU receiver before they hit the ground — at least according to the referees, who reviewed the play and confirmed the suspicious call — to seal the victory, you almost thought Bo might be lending a helping hand from above (or, more likely, screaming at the officials to rule in Michigan’s favor).

Speaking of the legendary coach, today’s win wasn’t exactly 1979, when Bo watched from the sidelines as Michigan’s star wide receiver Anthony Carter hauled in a 45-yard touchdown on the final play of the game to beat the Hoosiers; not nearly as dramatic and certainly not as important.

But it was dramatic and it was important.

A loss would’ve been a bad, bad way to start the Big Ten season. Despite being undefeated, nobody really thought IU was much of a threat (Michigan was a 20-point favorite). Getting upset at home would’ve halted a lot of the momentum Michigan had built up so far this season.

Instead, the Wolverines maintained their positive vibes, coming back from four separate deficits and scoring with 2:29 remaining to go ahead for good. All of this despite a Forcier interception and a Robinson lost fumble.

Robinson made some poor decisions throwing the ball last week against Eastern Michigan, but has been an electrifying runner thus far. Forcier has been better than anyone could’ve anticipated, making smart decisions and never folding in pressure situations.

Today, however, they were both exposed as the freshmen they are, particular Forcier, who tried to flip it to someone wearing blue (not sure who exactly) as he was being tackled. To say the pass was ill-advised would be the understatement of the year. He only completed 11 of 21 passes.

Robinson ran the ball well once again and completed a long pass in the second quarter. However, on Michigan’s next possession he coughed one up into the hands of an IU lineman. At the time it seemed like a real momentum-shifter, as instead of Michigan guaranteeing itself a halftime lead, IU used the great field position to kick a go-ahead field goal.

Here’s the thing, though: Robinson’s fumble, while costly, was the only mistake I noticed from him all game. Forcier, despite the mistakes I’ve already mentioned, still completed more than 50% of his passes, threw for two touchdowns, and ran for another (as well as running in a two-point conversion). Oh, and there’s the game-winning drive I mentioned earlier.

In other words, even though they played more like true freshmen than experienced upperclassmen today, their play was still good enough to get Michigan a win. Credit the Michigan defense for holding Indiana to field goals when touchdowns would’ve likely put the game out of reach. Punts are ideal, but the “bend but don’t break” attitude is always good to see.

Next week, when Michigan travels to East Lansing to take on Michigan State, is going to be a huge test for this young group of Wolverines. Not only is it the first road game of the season, it’s against a rival in what should be a loud stadium.

Freshmen mistakes against the Spartans and I’m not sure Michigan will still be undefeated come next Saturday night.

College Football Hall of Fame Moving South; Coaches for a Cure

Anyone who knows me well has seen my ticket books. Despite being unorganized in many aspects of my life, I am very meticulous when it comes to saving tickets from sporting events I have attended.

In Book 1 (I am now filling up my fourth book), there is an admission ticket from my visit to the College Football Hall of Fame. It was only $3, since I was a child and my dad apparently used his AAA card. It is dated Friday, September 4, 1998.

The College Football Hall of Fame is located in South Bend, Indiana, but is moving to Atlanta in 2011. The move doesn’t affect me too much. Yes, I had a better chance of returning if it stayed in South Bend, as I visit the city every few years for a Michigan-Notre Dame football game. I’ve never visited Atlanta.

I was 12 years old at the time of my visit and I remember enjoying the museum, which I attended with my dad and at least one of my brothers. It didn’t blow me away — many of the exhibits were of players far too old for me to really care about — but it was fun.

I recall kicking an extra point on the regulation-sized goalposts on a field just outside the main building. I think there was a room which simulated being inside Michigan Stadium on gameday, with a fast-forward video of the stands filling up and the band taking the field. That was cool.

The thought behind the move is that it will increase exposure for the HOF and attract more visitors. There are more people in Atlanta, plus Atlanta has more to offer than South Bend, so that makes sense. Will it ever be a huge draw, though? I’m not certain.

The baseball Hall is still the cream of the HOF crop as far as I’m concerned, though I haven’t been to enough Halls of Fame to justify that statement. If you disagree, feel free to let me know in the comments section.

Rival Coaches Agree

Purdue’s head coach Danny Hope has had some choice words for Michigan’s Rich Rodriguez this past week. USC’s Pete Carroll probably isn’t too fond of his former assistant right now, Washington’s Steve Sarkisian. But coaches across America will be in support of a common goal this weekend: curing Muscular Dystrophy.

Members of the American Football Coaches Association will be sporting a patch on their sleeves in an effort to raise awareness for the terrible disease.

Go to http://www.CoachtoCureMD.org for more information and to help support the cause!

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.

One man's writing in one place.