ALDLAND college football weekend update, part 1

As announced, Brendan will be attending and (has already begun) live-tweeting The Game. If you want to follow along, make sure you’re following ALDLAND on Twitter (@ALDLANDia), something you probably should be doing anyway.

Although I am indeed in the midst of a relocation project, I’m taking a break to attend senior day in Ann Arbor, where the Wolverines will be hosting the Iowa Hawkeyes. Key questions include: 1) Will Michigan senior QB Denard Robinson play a meaningful snap, and if so, at what position? 2) Will the mobile reception situation be as bad as it was last time? and 3) Without my charger, will my phone battery even last long enough to make the answer to question (2) relevant? Strategic packing during a move is difficult.

For live coverage of both games, follow @ALDLANDia on Twitter.

ALDLAND takes you live to the battle for the Mitten

A glutton for entertaining punishment (my teams are 0-fer when I’ve seen them live this fall), I’ll be back on the road this weekend, this time joining Brendan in Ann Arbor for the Michigan/Michigan State game. No current Michigan player has beat Michigan State– the Spartans have beaten the Wolverines four straight times– and MSU has made life difficult for Michigan QB Denard Robinson in particular.

I was in the Big House at the beginning of this current streak, when MSU won for the first time in Ann Arbor in eighteen years. I am worried that I will be there when the streak ends, too, and it has a good chance of ending tomorrow. Before the season started, I was sure that Michigan would win this game. After the first couple weeks of the season, MSU definitely looked like the better team, though, but after what we’ve seen recently from each squad, I’ve reverted to my preseason position: this is Michigan’s game to lose.

Michigan State has not looked good at all in recent weeks. For them to win tomorrow afternoon, they’ll have to have a complete game on both sides of the ball, something they have yet to accomplish this season. The X factor this week is coach Mark Dantonio. The MSU staff hasn’t been the same since the departure of offensive coordinator Don Treadwell, but Dantonio always seems to save something for big games. I don’t think he’s in danger of losing his job right now, but with now-dashed Rose Bowl hopes running high headed into this season, his seat may be feeling a bit warm. He has to know, though, that all will be forgiven in East Lansing if his team beats Michigan tomorrow.

Whatever happens, we all can agree that the Paul Bunyan trophy is ugly.

13/17 Tuesday

To much fanfare, South Carolina and Vanderbilt opened the college football season last Thursday, and the Gamecocks survived on the road, leaving Nashville with a 17-13 victory. Beside the blatant non-call on a critical pass late in the game, Vanderbilt had little excuse for losing this game. They missed a field goal that would have given them the lead in the first half, and based on the overall level of play, they really should have taken a lead into halftime. The Commodore defense showed its strength, and knocking SC starting quarterback Connor Shaw out of the game proved to be one of their best decisions, as his backups were worse than useless. Shaw didn’t stay out long enough, though, and he proved to be enough of a threat, even with a bum shoulder, to lead his team to narrow victory. For more analysis, read this. Also, did anyone else notice Spurrier wearing a normal ball cap to start the game?

Speaking of 17-13 games, Friday night’s featured game, between Boise State and Michigan State, ended with the same score, although it was the home team, rather than the visitors, that claimed the W. Both teams were featuring brand new quarterbacks, and while Andrew Maxwell struggled for the Spartans, the MSU defense made the offensive production largely irrelevant by thoroughly shutting down a Kellen Moore-less BSU offensive attack. Or, as Boise’s official twitter feed put it:

That pretty much sums it up. Not a lot of glamour for either team in this one, but Michigan State’s defense is going to keep it in some games this year in which it otherwise does not belong.

The showcase game of the weekend was the Cowboys Classic: Alabama and Michigan. Aside from Michigan’s defensive stand on the first series, this was a complete non-game. Alabama nearly shut out the Wolverines in the first half, and they scored 31 of their own points in that time, on their way to a 41-14 rout. As Tommy Tomlinson put it, “Michigan even lost the Kiss Cam.” While Alabama surely is a better team than Michigan will face the rest of the season, I’m not convinced that the Tide exactly overpowered the Maize & Blue. What I saw was the execution of a defensive gameplan to allow Denard Robinson to beat himself by throwing it as much as he wanted. To this casual observer, it felt like he was connecting with guys in crimson as much as he was with the guys in white.

I was a casual observer in part because the Clemson/Auburn game happening at the same time was far more compelling. On their opening drive, I thought Clemson was the best offense I’d seen all weekend. They soon remembered who they were, but they did earn a victory in the fourth quarter, all without their best player, WR Sammy Watkins. I haven’t looked at their schedule, but I imagine this year will go much like last year for those Tigers, in that they’ll start out very strong, maybe opening 5-0, before imploding in heart-breakingly spectacular fashion. Should be fun to watch, especially with Robbie Caldwell now on Dabo Swinney’s staff.

The Clemson/Aubrun game highlighted one of the officiating trends that is sure to drive me nuts all season. Even worse than the excessive celebration penalties (you decide what the adjective “excessive” is modifying) is this helmet rule, pursuant to which players whose helmets come off during a play due to any cause other than an opposing player tearing it off must sit out the subsequent play. Obviously I wasn’t the only one who noticed a larger-than-average number of helmets coming off during play last season. The reason for it is obvious: guys want to wear those lids loose, like Michael Vick. People called the NBA’s dress code racist, and now we have a league full of seven-foot hipster nerds. I can’t wait to see what sort of absurd headgear these kids roll out over the coming weeks and seasons, should this rule with no obvious basis in anything other than some old dude wants to demand that those punk kids strap their helmets on tight persist.

Tajh Boyd went with the leather helmet after losing his usual one several times on Saturday night against Auburn.

B1G Roadtrippin’: Michigan at Northwestern

A couple weeks ago, ALDLAND took you to the opening of the Big Ten season in Ann Arbor. Now we are taking you on a B1G roadtrip to Evanston, Illinois for the Michigan-Northwestern game. But first, I am sure you have a lot of questions. For instance, you might be asking yourself “who is this cool dude with an awesome hair and beard combo writing this article? He isn’t that one guy, or that other guy who usually bring us the ALDLAND content we know and love!” I’m Brendan, the guy who has promised that he would write about five different articles and has not once written any of them due to a debilitating addiction to FIFA. Debilitating, I tell you!

Anyway, on to the roadtrip/game coverage. If you go to a game at Northwestern, make sure you stay in Chicago, and not in Evanston. Evanston is a fine college town and all, but there isn’t a ton to do and it’s only a 40 minute train ride from Chicago to the stop nearest to the stadium. Plus, you can do fun things like have pizza! Who doesn’t love pizza? Communists, that’s who.

Tailgating in Evanston can be a lot of fun, especially if you are a fan of a team that brings a lot of people to away games. We tailgated for several hours with a bunch of Michigan fans, discussing such varied topics as how much we all love Denard Robinson and how great Denard Robinson is at running with a football in his hands. I learned about an interesting game called Dodgebeer, but that’s a whole different article.

Northwestern’s stadium holds about 40,000 fans and is largely uninspiring. Those of you lucky enough to have taken in a blowout loss at Vanderbilt Stadium would be instantly familiar with Ryan Field. Except you might be confused by the atmosphere, because Northwestern has Dan Persa as their QB and not Larry Smith, and consequently actually get somewhat excited for football games. Nevertheless, their fans were personable, and several complemented me on how I was “a lot nicer than those Iowa fans.” Iowa fans, what the heck?

The game started off well for Michigan, as Denard Robinson orchestrated a Michigan scoring drive capped by Steve Watson’s first career catch and touchdown. Miraculously, he did not throw a pick. This changed in short order, as Denard, clearly momentarily color blind, started giving the ball to the Northwestern players like it was candy on Halloween. Denard’s generosity allowed Northwestern to tie the game and eventually take the lead. Michigan’s offense continued to be lackluster, and at the break they found themselves trailing 24-14.

Sometime between the end of the first half and the start of the second half, Brady Hoke either put the fear of God into Michigan, or Northwestern forgot how to play football, because in the second half Michigan put on a clinic, scoring 28 unanswered points to give them a 42-24 victory. The second half featured an extended cameo by backup QB Devin Gardner after Denard hurt his hand and had to take a drive off. Gardner showed why he has the potential to be a star at Michigan, driving the Wolverines down the field like a seasoned veteran and scoring on a one yard run.

What did this game mean for the now 6-0 Wolverines? Well, it means they are bowl eligible, for one. I’m not sure how many doubts this answered about Michigan’s ability to play on the road, as they came out flat in front of a crowd that was at least a third Wolverines fans. Nevertheless, 6-0 is 6-0, and the country will see whether Michigan is for real this week when they take on the Spartans in East Lansing.

For Northwestern, this had to be a tough pill to swallow. They moved the ball almost at will in the first half, but failed to understand the significance of the first down line in the second half and consequently scored no points. Things are not going to get any easier for Wildcat fans, as Northwestern travels to Iowa City next weekend. A loss there and it’s looking like a trip to the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl for the Wildcats. However, the plus side of that is: pizza.

I hope you have enjoyed my first article for ALDLAND. I hope to write more in the future, however I think my friend Jeremy just called to see if I want to play FIFA . . .