Monday, November 2, 2015

Win Some/Lose Some

Lose Some
The Paul Bunyan Trophy
Win some
The Little Brown Jug
     The oval shape of a football makes it bounce funny.  On occasion it does just that.  Or it doesn't.  This unpredictable behavior add another of dimension of randomness to a game already complicated with randomness.  As readers of this blog know, I am a University of Michigan Football fan.  I live and die with the team and their results.  Randomness over the years has a lot to do with the who wins and loses the close games.  A tipped pass, a missed field goal, a made field goal, fumbles, sacks, interceptions, all play a role and often in the last few plays of the games.  I am I think I have become  much more philosophical both due to age, an understanding of the randomness I am referring to, and the humbling Michigan record from 2008 to 2014.  
      The last two games were excellent examples of both the role of random shocks in this game and a test of my supposed balanced emotions.  On October 17th, the Wolverines lost a heartbreaking game to the Michigan State Spartans on last play of the game.  Today, October 31st, we sealed a victory on the last play of the game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers.  
     Two weeks ago, Michigan lost a game, as they say, by "snatching defeat from the jaws of victory."  The Wolverines played the Spartans tough.  While MSU had more yards, time of possession, and first downs, Michigan's defense held them close.  With less then two minutes left, Michigan had the ball and a well earned 23 - 21 lead.  If they could get a first down, they would surely win.  They didn't but were able to drain the clock down to 10 seconds.  If they punted the ball deep, the would of probably won.  They didn't.  Instead our very good punter, Blake O'Neill who earlier in the game blasted something like an 80 yard punt, fumbled the snap.  He might have fallen on the ball and State would have had 8 seconds or less for one maybe two plays from the Michigan 38.  He didn't.  Instead he tried to pick it up and still get the punt off.  He didn't.  Michigan State knocked the ball out of his hands.  Jalen Watts-Jackson, a sophomore defensive back scooped up the ball and rand in for a touchdown.  No need for an extra point and the final score was 27 - 23.  The joy that was building on the Michigan side turned to gloom.  The bitter taste of loss that motivated State fans to leave the stadium turn to joy.  Everyone was shocked.  MSU kept the Paul Bunyan Trophy.
     There are youtubes of the play.  There are youtubes of completely stunned Michigan fans and grown men crying... literally grown men crying.  Meanwhile the MSU team and fans were going crazy celebrating.  This is football.  I have seen my share of last minute wins.  Sure I was disappointed, but from the very same seats I had seen my Wolverines win last minute games against Notre Dame, Illinois, and Michigan State (a triple overtime classic).  I have seen us lose to Notre Dame and Colorado.  If you follow a team long enough, you will see a fair share of triumphs and tragedies on the last play.
     I thought about writing about the Michigan State game.  I didn't.  I was busy, I did not have exactly the right angle.  I knew the angle I wanted was summarized in the previous paragraph but I just didn't get to it.  Maybe my heart wasn't in it.  Maybe I didn't want to sound whiny.  So, I didn't write a word.
     The game tonight, however, motivated me.  It was the Minnesota v. Michigan game.  Last year, Minnesota came to Ann Arbor and shellacked  the Wolverines 30-19.  It wasn't pretty.  The Golden Gophers won the Little Brown Jug for the first time since 2005.  Earlier this week, the Minnesota Head Coach, Jerry Kill, resigned for health issues.  He was a great coach who had succeeded in turning around Northern Illinois and then Minnesota.  Tracey Claeys, Kill's long time defensive coordinator, took over as head coach.  While Michigan was favored by 13 points, it was clear that the Golden Gophers would want to win this one for Jerry Kill.  They did come prepared to play.  Minnesota out rushed and out passed Michigan.  The really seemed to dominate the game.  Minnesota led at half-time 16-14.  Both teams exchanged touchdowns in the 3rd Quarter.  Minnesota added a field goal in the 4th Quarter and looked like they were going to coast to a win.  Michigan's starting QB, Jake Ruddock, was hurt late in the third quarter.  He was replaced by Wilton Speight who did not look very good in his first few series.  Things looked dire with Minnesota having a 26 - 21 lead.  Minnesota's offense seemed on fire.  Their offensive line opening holes for the impressive running of Rodney Smith and protecting QB Mitch Leidner.  They accumulated 144 passing yards and a whopping 317 passing yards on Leidners pinpoint throws against Michigan's vaunted defense.  They looked unstoppable.  The weren't.  While each Michigan score was a touchdown the Michigan Defense held the Golden Gophers to three touchdowns and three field goals.  
     Speight settled in and engineering a drive with with 5 minutes left in the quarter for a touchdown.  Michigan went for a two point conversion to prevent Minnesota from winning it with a field goal.  Michigan had a 29-26 lead.  Minnesota had a great drive with the clock winding down.  Leidner seemed to have saved his best passes for this drive.  It looked like the last pass was for a touchdown.  The officials signaled such.  But it wasn't.  Thanks to the magic or curse of reviewed plays, the ball was placed inside the 1 yard line.  The tried a pass.  Michigan pressured the quarterback who threw it away.  2 seconds left. Kick the field goal and go to OT?  Or go for it?  Tough call.  Claey chose to go for it.  Bad choice.  Michigan's defense dug in and stuffed Leidner's quarterback sneak.  Whew... we won. We won a game we could have and maybe should have lost.
     One game to the next, I experienced opposite sides of the same thing.  We lost to MSU on the last heartbreaking play and we held off Minnesota to win.  These kinds of last play of the game scenarios do not usually happen back-to-back.  But they did.  
     We won a game we should have lost and we lost a game we should have one.  The feelings are quite close.  How's that for an angle?

     Side Notes:  
  • In his touchdown run, Jalen Watts-Jackson was tackled by Michigan's tight end Jake Butts who dislocated Jalen's hip which resulted in season ending broken pelvis when he fell to the ground and/or his teammates piled on him in glee.  That was sad.  I wish Jalen a complete recovery and a return to Spartan Football.
  • Certain idiots, I cannot call them Michigan fans, threatened Blake O'Neill's life via twitter.  This is also sad.  I hope these folks seek therapy and can eventually rejoin normal society.
  • The Little Brown Jug is the oldest rivalry trophy in College Football.  Michigan has won it a majority of the time leading the series 74-25-3. The last time Minnesota won it at home was in 1977.  The last time they won it in consecutive seasons was 1961 and 1962. 
  • There were three other games I saw parts of that were decided on the last play of the game.  Notre Dame beat a feisty and determined Temple team 24 -20 with a game ending interception.  Washington State missed a game ending field goal to lose to Stanford 30-28.  The biggest last play, perhaps in a decade, was in the Duke v. Miami game.  Duke took the lead 27-24 with a few seconds on the clock.  They kicked off to Miami who had a crazy, amazing, seven lateral return that ended up in a game winning touchdown.  Great games.  I enjoyed watching them but... without the emotional involvement of living and dying for any of these teams, it was just really great entertainment.

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