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Northwestern Notes

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Photo by Eric Bronson, ? Wolverine Photo

Another week, another set of conflicting emotions. Are we to be concerned about the first-half defense, one that surrendered far too many yards far too easily? Or, should we be excited that UM shut out the nation's fourth most prolific offense in the second half? Were Michigan's 38+ minutes of ball possession and 4.4 yards per carry proof of a devastating ground game? Or, were the four field goals, the four turnovers, and the continued red zone ineptitude validation that the offense truly is lost? With Michigan, win or lose, nothing is easy. And maybe that's part of what makes fanatic fandom so rewarding when things go right, but just once, it would be nice to root for a team like USC. If UM were playing like that, the only things a malcontent like me (my tongue is now out of my cheek again) would have to worry about would be players missing practice to carry out coach-sanctioned pranks:

USC got into the Halloween spirit Monday as Coach Pete Carroll treated unsuspecting players and coaches to a perfectly executed trick play with help from running back LenDale White. As the top-ranked Trojans went through stretching exercises, White irritably jawed with teammates and assistant coaches. The exchanges continued and with about 10 minutes remaining in practice, White barked at Carroll, saying he wasn't getting enough carries. As stunned players looked on, Carroll yelled at White and told him to leave the field. White exited, followed through the gate by a group of reporters, and boarded a cart and angrily threw a pair of athletic gloves as he was whisked away. After practice, Carroll told stunned players they could not let distractions get in the way and that the Trojans had lost players before and moved on. Offensive line coach Pat Ruel interrupted Carroll and pointed to a six-story building beyond the practice field fence. From the top of the building, White was yelling in apparent anger. Suddenly, a stuffed figure wearing White's No. 21 jersey fell from the rooftop, a few players gasping in disbelief while most erupted in relieved laughter.
My mellow Jon all but begs me to rip Lloyd and Co. a new one in the wake of another road win. Is there reason to be critical of the staff? Absolutely. It hasn't been able to put a productive quarterback on the field, the offensive game plans are predictable and marginally effective, game management continues to be a problem, and the usual systemic flaws (the culture of the program) do not change from week to week, regardless of outcome. But rather than exhaustively dwell upon these issue yet again (it gets tiring even for me), I thought I'd give Lloyd and his staff some credit.

Coming into the season, I had the games at Michigan State and Iowa circled as sure losses. Once the season began, Minnesota, Penn State, and Northwestern looked like the sort of weekends that would feature heavy drinking, more profanity than normal, and a gaggle of excruciating phone calls to commiserating friends. After opening up with three losses in six games, Lloyd and his staff did not lose this team. Instead, they summoned great emotional fortitude that enabled Michigan to beat a good Penn State team; to end the Iowa home winning streak; and to win a night game on the road without its best offensive and defensive players. That's called coaching.

Don't read this post as a polemicist's mea culpa. Nothing is forgiven or forgotten. Nor do individual results change any of the valid criticisms that arise precisely because so many trends seem hopelessly persistent. But if I am going to attack the coaching staff for what I think are its frequent poor performances, I should also acknowledge the good ones.

Watching a dominant defensive line in the second half was an exciting highlight of this morose season. And it was a fun win.

Go Blue!