Sweaty Men Endeavors

The sports blog with the slightly gay name

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Sorry, Herky

Is it possible to type with no fingertips? Somehow I'm doing it. The past two weeks, I've gnawed them from the nails down to the bone. (Actually, the last five weeks have been nerve-wracking.) Yesterday's 23-20 defeat of Iowa wasn't quite as defibrilating as the last-second win over Penn State, especially once the Hawkeyes had to settle for a field goal in overtime. But it was dramatic right until the very end.

My first thought after Jerome Jackson scored the winning touchdown - and this is from a guy who's spent the last two years drinking the water that Kirk Ferentz walks on in Iowa City - was this:

The head coach blew the game for Iowa. Lloyd Carr's critics love to criticize him for the team's conservative philosophies on offense and defense (100 victories, by the way), but Ferentz was the one who tightened up and puckered at the end of the fourth quarter.

(Image by Harry Baumert/ The Des Moines Register)

Iowa's offense had driven 67 yards down the field to Michigan's 15-yard line. Drew Tate and Herb Grigsby just connected on a spectacular 30-yard pass play. A touchdown seemed imminent. Michigan's defense was reeling. And then Ferentz let them off the hook by settling for a game-tying field goal. Iowa didn't even take one shot at the end zone, with two timeouts in its pocket, and 1:10 left on the clock? Are you kidding? Did you have that little confidence in your quarterback? Were you that afraid of a turnover? C'mon, Kirk - let your kids go for the win.

A little Herky sat on my shoulder, stroked my ear with his feathers, and tried to rationalize Ferentz's strategy. "You have to at least tie the game," he told me. "You can't lose the game when you're that close." And for a minute, I listened. Of course Ferentz made the right decision. He's the best coach in the Big 10, right?

Sorry, Herky - I ain't buyin' it. The memory of Pete Carroll going for the win last week at Notre Dame is too fresh in my mind. Michigan was on its heels, defensively. You can't just go to overtime and figure you have the advantage because you're at home, where you've won 22 straight games. And yes, your defense has played well, but have you seen how Michigan plays in clutch situations? Hell, I'd argue you're putting more pressure on your team by taking the game to overtime.

But that's looking at the game through Hawkeye-colored glasses. I'll put my maize-and-blue blockers on now. (This, by the way, is why you should follow Bill Simmons' rules for sports fans. "You cannot root for two teams at the same time. You cannot hedge your bets. You cannot unconditionally love two teams at the same time, when there's a remote chance that they might go head-to-head some day." Not just for credibility's sake, but for your health, both mental and physical.) I think that was Michigan's most impressive win of the season.

"What? Are you nuts? More impressive than Penn State? Weren't they ranked #8?" That's what my sister - who got to watch the game in South Carolina this week, thanks for asking - said to me when we talked afterwards. (She also wonders how, as a Midwesterner, I can root for the Astros in the World Series.)

Hell, yeah. How many of you thought Michigan was in big trouble once Mike Hart's couldn't play on his twisted ankle? How many games has Michigan won with #20 out of the lineup? Then Jerome Jackson reminded us not only that he was still on the roster, but that he was once a starter at running back. 44 yards on 11 carries? The game-winning touchdown? After being buried at fourth-string and barely sniffing the field? A guy coming out of nowhere to be the hero is just the kind of story that makes sports so compelling to watch.

LaMarr Woodley hurt? C'mon in, Pierre Woods. Chris Graham, you can't go? John Thompson! You're not the former Georgetown basketball coach and current Washington D.C. sports talk radio host? Okay, get in there and play a hell of a game! Woods called him "baby Ray Lewis" after the game, and as Brian points out at mgoblog, the defense was much better with Thompson in the lineup.

Look at the Hawkeye streaks Michigan snapped yesterday. Besides the 22-game winning streak at Kinnick Stadium, here are the other trends Michigan ended (courtesy of Andy Hamilton of the Iowa City Press-Citizen): The Hawkeyes hadn't lost at home since 2002 (vs. Iowa State), they hadn't trailed in a home game since 2003 (vs. Minnesota), and hadn't blown a fourth-quarter lead in its last 35 chances.

Other thoughts rattling around in my head:

♦ Did Chad Henne at least buy Jason Avant a pizza after the game? Man, he should've. Avant's leaping, twisting 18-yard catch in overtime probably won the game for Michigan.

♦ Was that a pass play that Michigan ran with Antonio Bass at quarterback? (Is that the last one they'll call? Avant totally bailed Bass out, catching that thing you'd call a pass.)

♦ Speaking of Bass, what the hell were the replay officials looking at when they said he fumbled in the fourth quarter? What part of "the ground cannot cause a fumble" do those guys not understand? Was there some super-secret camera angle shown in the replay booth that we didn't get to see at home? Fortunately, it wasn't a factor in the game's outcome. Here's my second Pete Carroll mention of the day; if that's how instant replay is going to work out, I'm with him - don't use it.

♦ Pat Harty of the Press-Citizen isn't surprised Iowa lost. He just can't believe how sloppily the Hawkeyes played.

♦ My inner Hawkeye still can't help but wonder how Iowa's offense would look with Adrian Arrington at wide receiver. Oh, were they bitching about that one in Iowa! Cest la vie.

♦ And this is a different game entirely, but what the hell was this? That's the effort you bring for Homecoming? Michigan only beat these guys by three points? Are you nervous about Northwestern next week?

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  • At October 24, 2005 2:29 AM, Blogger mayday said…

    Yeah, that Northwestern game is scaring the hell out of me right now. Dyche Stadium in the darkness calls up memories of fall 2000, just about exactly this time of year, which I think is still one of the 5 most heartbreaking losses I've seen Michigan endure. It might be just about time for Michigan's penchant for doing things the hardest way possible catches up to us. Needless to say, if Hart and Woodley can't go, treble my trepidations.

  • At October 24, 2005 6:53 AM, Blogger Ian C. said…

    I've been thinking about that 2000 game too. The only difference, as I see it, is that this year's team has a much better defense. I can't imagine them giving up 40+ points. Unfortunately, if they do, the offense won't be able to keep up, like the high-powered, all-NFL, 2000 team did.

  • At October 25, 2005 12:59 PM, Blogger the sports dude said…

    I still am scratching my head about the Bass fumble that was not a fumble. That is the second piss poor call, after review mind you, that cost U of M this season. The other was in the MSU game when Henne DID NOT fumble the ball, but it was called a fumble. There is no tuck rule in college football and the officials, even after review, seemed to forget that. Just like the Bass play, where clearly the rule states the ground can not cause a fumble, the officials botched it even after replay! If you are going to use it use it right or get rid of it, I agree with Carroll on that.



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