Thursday, January 5, 2012

But First, and Foremost It's Michigan

From Appalachian State to Virginia Tech, the five year fog at Michigan lifted.

Think of the ride the 15 fifth year seniors have been on, starting their careers with the tragic 34-32 loss to Appalachian State with the Mountaineers blocking 2 Michigan field goal attempts at the end of the game.

Michigan is Michigan again. Brady Hoke willed the players into believing in themselves. How else can you explain an abysmal field goal kicker of last year 1/5, going 13 of 17 this year, including three in the Sugar Bowl with the final one being the game winner in overtime. No clutching this year. Brady Hoke even said a few days ago that he had confidence in the kicker. Field goals won this year.

Brady Hoke was clear in assuming the helm of the Michigan Wolverines football team.

When questioned about the past few years, he replied “I mean, we’re Michigan.” At another event, he said “But first, and foremost it’s Michigan.”

He made it clear: Michigan is Michigan. You play for Michigan, for the team, for toughness, for integrity. The seniors lead the team. He drilled MICHIGAN, the game’s winningest program, into the players, disabusing them of any memories of the past three years.

Call his attitude “arrogance” if you want, but arrogance can instill confidence.

Confidence built over the season with game after game. The critical game was Notre Dame, when the Fighting Irish snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Toughness won, with the help of Denard Robinson. As you win, as you begin to believe in yourself You go into games knowing you will win. The Oakland raiders in the days of John Madden always found a way to win. “Just win baby” Al Davis said, and win they did.

Michigan in recent years entered the Ohio State game hoping to win. Ohio State knew it would win – 7 straight years. Not this year.

Brady Hoke also knew that defense wins games.

The Michigan defense last year ranked 110 in the nation out of 120 teams – 16th this year. Last year’s coach whose name shall not be mentioned said “Vince Lombardi could come in and not fix the problems on defense.” Greg Mattison fixed them.

Michigan’s defense bent, but did not break against Virginia Tech. twice in the red zone, the Hokies had to settled for field goals. On a third occasion, they turned the ball over by failing to gain a first down on 4th and 1. That is defense- Michigan defense.

Michigan played a horrific offensive game Tuesday night. Robinson ran 13 times for 13 yards, Fitzgerald for only 30 yards. The Hokies of Virginia Tech outgained Michigan 377 yards to 184. They controlled the clock for 37 minutes compared to 23 for Michigan. They gained 22 first downs to the Wolverines 12.

The only statistic that matters is the final score, 23-20 Michigan.

The football gods smiled on Michigan. Several times this year the breaks went for Michigan, unlike recent years. Jump balls on sloppy passes went for touchdowns. Robinson’s passes that should have been intercepted were not. The season hanged on miraculous catches by Junior Hemingway, Jeremy Gallon, and Roy Roundtree.

You make your breaks. Play hard, play tough, play disciplined, believe in yourself, and good things can happen.

Indeed, Virginia State was betrayed by Beamerball. Frank Beamer’s Virginia Tech teams have thrived on special teams for a quarter century. The Hokies’ special teams failed 4 times, costing them the game: failed fake punt, fumbled kickoff return, roughing Michigan’s punted when the Wolverines had been stopped, and finally missing the field goal in overtime.

The football gods are not always fair to great coaches. Bo never won the national title, and Frank Beamer is but 1-4 in BCS games. The Big ten ended up 4-6 in bowl games this year, but the ACC is only 2-13 in BCS games.

Michigan finished the season 11-2 with a bowl victory. The most optimistic prediction was 8-4. Victories over Notre Dame, Nebraska, Ohio State, and Virginia Tech were not predicted.

Brady Hoke coached San Diego State last year in the Poinsettia Bowl. This year he won the Sugar Bowl with Michigan.

The slide began with 2 blocked field goals by special teams. The miasma lifted with three field goals by the special teams.

The circle is complete. Michigan is back.

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