Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Michigan Kicks Off 2012 with Sugar Bowl Win

After watching Michigan's 23-20 overtime victory over Virginia Tech, if you thought that Michigan had a lot of the same luck as they did against Notre Dame—well, you'd probably be right.

Pretty much everything about this game that needed to be said has been said. Maize n' Brew (after a long hiatus) returns with an extensive recap of the game, in case you missed it. ESPN also posted highlights. The play that literally won the game was a field-goal kick by Brendon Gibbons in overtime.

When asked what was going through his mind when Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer called a timeout to ice him, Gibbons said, "Brunette girls. Every time we were struggling with the kicking, Coach tells me to think about girls on the beach or brunette girls. So that's what we did. Made the kick." This quote is sure to find its way into both Michigan football lore and infamy.

And, of course, Brady Hoke delivers some great words on the win.

Here are a few thoughts:
  • There were two or three moments that decided the game. All of them came in overtime, in the last minute of play. The first was the call that overturned Danny Coale's would-be catch in the endzone. The second was VT kicker Justin Myer's missed field goal. And needless to say the third was Brendon Gibbons' field goal kick. Each of these moments has equal value. If the call had not been overturned, Michigan would have had to go for a touchdown. If Myer had not missed the field goal, Michigan would have either had to go for a touchdown to win or make a field goal to send it into another overtime. And, obviously, if Gibbons hadn't made the field goal, Michigan and Virginia Tech would have played another round. This is exactly why college football overtime is so "sudden death." Those who say that Coale's overturned catch decided the game would be wrong. Michigan didn't win by default. They had to make a field goal. Because they did that, they won.
  • Seth at MGoBlog takes an objective look at whether or not Coale in fact made a catch. My opinion is that it was not a catch because Coale, despite great effort, did not have possession of the football. This Virginia Tech fan obviously disagrees. (Although, to be fair, there were plenty of VT fans who saw the play and weren't sure if it was a catch.)
  • Not having Rimington Award (Best Center) winner David Molk in the opening drive was huge. Molk apparently sustained a foot injury in pre-game warm-ups, and Rocko Khoury (Molk's backup center) went in and struggled to click with Denard Robinson. Khoury is slated to be Molk's replacement for next year, but he doesn't yet have any chemistry established with Denard that Molk took years to build. Khoury will be a senior and will undoubtedly be the starter—Michigan has no one else—and will have to master the role quickly over the offseason.
  • The general consensus even among Michigan fans is that Michigan did not deserve to win this game, and they got both outplayed and outcoached by Virginia Tech. I generally disagree with this. While the numbers are clearly not in Michigan's favor—on offense, especially, as Michigan only gained 184 yards to VT's 377—Michigan absolutely played their hearts out to eek out a win. Both David Molk and Ryan Van Bergen were playing with injuries. They would not be denied.
  • As for the "outcoached" thing, Frank Beamer's known forte of special teams was clearly not up to par. First, there is the instance where Beamer opted for a "punt option" in which wide receiver/punter Danny Coale faked the punt, ran, then tried to punt, and got tackled—resulting in a turnover on downs. Beamer admits this was a coaching decision. In the first half, after Michigan scored a touchdown to go up 7-6, Virginia Tech fumbled the kickoff return to give the Wolverines a chance to get more points within the VT forty yard line. That play wasn't ineptitude on Virginia Tech's part. Like they have done so many times this year, Michigan forced the fumble and swarmed to the ball. If there is a tangible difference to the coaching between 2010 and 2011, it is that.
  • I have nothing but respect for Coach Beamer. Virginia Tech fans should not be upset that he hasn't won a BCS bowl since 2008. For the past seven years, Beamer's Hokies have consistently had seasons of ten wins or more. Virginia Tech has gone to a bowl game every year for the last eighteen years. Beamer is a guy who runs a program the right way. He should never be in the hot seat.
  • This probably goes without saying, but it's kind of ironic that the two worst aspects of Michigan's gameplay (defense and special teams, kicking game) in 2010 would be the stopping power of 2011, and nowhere was that more apparent than the Sugar Bowl. We've said many times that Michigan's improvement has been exceptional. More importantly, Michigan showed that when the offense was stagnant, the defense could hold firm long enough for someone to make a play.
  • If there was one word that sums up Michigan football in 2011, it is "improbable." From the thrilling last-second victory over Notre Dame to the throttling of Nebraska to the clutch interception that sealed the deal against Ohio State, Michigan has taken a team that probably should have never been in the Big Ten and has become competitive despite obstacles and probabilities of defeat. The carry-over from Rodriguez's era is still apparent, but the coaches and the seniors and everyone involved in the Michigan football program won a lot of their games through sheer determination alone. The prospect of defeating Alabama come this fall is dubious at best, but at least the Wolverines have a lot more going in than they've had over the last three years—and that's a fighting chance.

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