Previously in this series covering the 2010s: Favorite Blocks, QB-RB-WR, TE-FB-OL, Defensive Line, Linebacker, Secondary, Worst Calls.
We were in the midst of assembling our list of best and worst plays from the last decade of Michigan football when someone suggested that a particular incident wasn’t really bad or good, but was spectacularly dumb. Someone suggested a list of smartest and dumbest plays of the decade.
It will not shock the reader that assembling the list of the most stupefying things was far easier than best, worst, or smartest. Our top ten has 11 plays in it because we remembered something halfway through. It was that kind of decade. A stupid, stupid, stupid decade.
11. Any Play Against A Service Academy, Let’s Pick This One
This was an RPS -2 play that set up a touchdown for Army but it’s the vibe, man. The vibe.
Michigan did this three times! They signed up to play a bunch of maniacal option fanatics three times over the past decade so they could do a bunch of military frippery pre-game. I hope those dudes parachuting into the stadium was worth three hours of bowel-clenching terror, because that’s what every one of these games was.
Last year’s Army game noses ahead of the two Air Force outings because it was significantly more terrifying, a game that went to overtime even with the aid of Don Brown’s “MOVE” false start. Also this was the year after Army took Oklahoma—Kyler Murray Oklahoma!—to overtime, and happened mere weeks before Michigan cancelled a home and home series against UCLA.
The Black Knights had embraced the tao of option fully by going for it on any plausible fourth down. This happened four times in regulation, each of them another twist of the knife. Michigan spent the game running basic inside zone and never running the split zone play their QB ground game was built on. Michigan scored 14 points in regulation; a few weeks later Tulane would put up 42 on Army.
Every single second this was happening every Michigan fan was thinking “why are we doing this again?”
[After THE JUMP: a journey into the heart of dorfness] 10. It’s Fourth And Sixteen!
Michigan had a play going back at least to 2009 where if one of the punt return team’s wingers abandoned the edge the punter was instructed to run for the first down. It’s a nice trick on a 4th and 4, but Michigan fans remember getting burned when Zoltan Mesko tried it on 4th and long versus MSU.
Somehow Zoltan’s spirit survived the Hoke era and into the Harbaugh zone, where it infected Aussie grad transfer Blake O’Neill. I mean, it looks pretty good when the yard marker comes into view, except that’s the wrong end of the yard marker.
Harbaugh’s lips to Chaos God’s ears:
9. We Did First Round Mitch Leidner
there’s no such thing as a back shoulder corner throw [Bryan Fuller]
We recently detailed the NFL draft industry’s annual obsession with hyping up one Big Ten West quarterback no matter how implausible, and few hype trains were less plausible than Mitch Leidner’s in 2016. Michigan was half-responsible for this—the other half was Leidner’s general resemblance to a horse—because the 2015 Michigan-Minnesota game was dumb as dirt. Leidner threw for 317 yards at 9.6 a pop, and 80% of it was Leidner closing his eyes and yelling “five hundred.” The UFR in the aftermath:
Leidner threw at least four balls that should have been intercepted that he got away with, and several others that were not at all good ideas. This is a complete fluke.
Nobody can ever tell me that Leidner was trying that. Wilson shouldn’t overrun it after, sure, but that’s… it’s… ugh, let’s not even talk about it.
This is a complete fluke.
I mean, sure, Dymonte Thomas needs to wear gloves instead of old Nintendo controllers taped together, but for that to go directly to the WR is a complete fluke.
This is like 90% fluke.
…fling this in the memory hole and move on.
What is it about Minnesota scrubs having out of body experiences against Michigan? Yes I am talking about that game where Isaiah Washington hit eight hundred 18-foot jumpers again. You can’t stop it! It’s going to keep happening!
Anyway Michigan just about lost this game because Mitch Leidner put a football through the eye of a needle a dozen times, after which he turned back into a horse.
8. First Down Pass to Uh… [Checks Roster] 2012 SUGAR BOWL
The Golden Poop Sugar Bowl was filled with all kinds of funny dumb, but none more ludicrous than Michigan botching a fake field goal. Just about nobody is getting this right. The refs miss (another) false start by kicker Brendan Gibbons. The intended target, #84 TE Steve Watson, flips a rusher and then forgets this is supposed to be his moment, releasing so late the Hokies see him coming after they’ve become aware of the fake. Dileo waits to throw it until he’s falling backwards, and chucks it behind Watson when all the space was in front of him. Brad Nessler call him Drew “Dileos.”
Michigan’s offensive line, including long-snapper Jareth Glanda, releases downfield before the pass, meaning if Watson did complete this it could have been called back anyway. Two Hokies are in the perfect position to intercept it, but neither calls off the other so they clang into each other as the ball arrives, bouncing off the chest of CB Kyle Fuller, and over the outstretched hand of DT Derrick Hopkins.
But two men among this great pile of incompetence earn the chance to redeem themselves. The first is Glanda, leading the stampede of illegal OL downfield, who has the ball fall right to where he completely wasn’t supposed to be and somehow is. The second is the ref who missed the most obvious false start ever a few seconds ago, but who of course knows if the ball is tipped a long-snapper is an eligible receiver, and whatever his reasons for being there are irrelevant.
7. Mental Message Sent, And Received
2016 MICHIGAN STATE
The apex of Michigan State’s Defeated With Dignity 2016 movement, at least until it was immortalized in the school’s own student newspaper, came in the final moments of what had been a Michigan blowout to anyone who actually watched the game. After the Spartans scored on their opening drive, the Wolverines went on a 30-3 run that stretched into the middle of the fourth quarter.
In going through seemingly every quarterback on the roster, Mark Dantonio inserted redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke after Tyler O’Connor and Damion Terry couldn’t get anything going on offense. Lewerke got the Spartans to within 13 on a touchdown pass to Monty Madaris with 7:30 to play. This would be a most Pyrrhic of moral victories. After the Michigan offense melted away almost half the game clock, Lewerke drove State into the red zone, only to be sacked on fourth down by Jabrill Peppers—and Lewerke broke his leg on the play.
The football gods were screaming at Dantonio to pack it in. With under a minute to play, MSU got the ball back, and instead of running out the clock, they drove for a touchdown to cut the deficit to seven with one second on the clock. Congrats, I guess. To, uh, send a message, Dantonio called for a two-point conversion. It turned into the payoff Michigan fans deserved after sitting through the latter stages of the game:
6. Meeting Of What We’ll Call “Minds”
2014 PENN STATE
One second left; do we get a punt return opportunity? [Bryan Fuller]
There were actually many columns working for and against each other to bring us the 2014 Penn State-Michigan night game. Dave Brandon was there to burn out the eye sockets of his enemies with electric blue uniforms in a night light show espactaculo. Hundreds of former players and an injured, aneurysm of leadership-having 5th year senior Devin Garder, were there to light a conflagration under the asses of the team, which was coming off the Minnesota debacle, a road loss to Rutgers(!), and another injury to #1 receiver Devin Funchess. Fans, many holding $150 face tickets while people outside were giving them away for free, just wanted Hoke Brandon fired. Also on hand was the great chronicler of my generation, Spencer Hall, to watch the world burn.
And then there were the two head coaches, determined to make sure nobody got what they wanted. Not since medieval England and France with their century+ of psychopathic peacocks duking it out over titular claims of dukedoms have two combatants combined for so many tactical failures.
It began naturally enough, with questionable 4th down decisions. Franklin kicked one on 4th and 2 from the Michigan 15. Hoke attempted a 45-yard field goal on 4th and 2. Franklin called a fake punt on 4th and 11 from the Michigan 37, which 100,000 fans and Mike McCray fully anticipated. Then a second before the half, with Penn State in a 4th and 1 and out of timeouts, Brady Hoke called a timeout with 1 second left and sent his punt team out, having to recall them immediately when Franklin’s staff realized they’d been given a free Hail Mary.
Not to be out-bungled, Franklin, on 4th and 31, down three points, with under two minutes on the clock, with the clock running, from his one (ONE!) yard line, USED ONE OF HIS TWO REMAINING TIMEOUTS, TO PREVENT A DELAY OF GAME, AND SAVE HALF A YARD, SO HE COULD TELL HIS TEAM TO TAKE A SAFETY.
5. M00n In Motion
Of all the plays from the infamous M00N game, it’s hard to choose one. There were: drops, even double-drops; passes directly to linebackers; passes directly to defensive linemen; passes indirectly to defensive linemen; passes directly to safeties; worm-burning punt snaps; butt-hunting field goal attempts; friendly fire in the backfield; high-arcing fumbles; got-dang dong fumbles; speed options against Jake MF Ryan; receivers futilely reaching for fourth-down throws broken up by Jake MF Ryan; and, of course, Mick McCall’s majestic final playcall and Trevor Siemian’s resulting pratfall.
This, though. This is M00N.
It’s all there: the snap into Devin Funchess’s armpit; Devin Gardner flailing as if hit by an invisible forcefield; Northwestern’s stand-up end falling on this gift as Jake Butt goes into a route next to him; and, above all, the knowledge that Michigan won this stupid, stupid game.
4. Tip-Tipitty Tree
Four times Northwestern faced Michigan in the Brady Hoke era, three times neither team deserved to win, and yet Michigan somehow did in all of them. If the Cats karmically deserved at least one, it wasn’t M00N or even the Power Slide, but an OT laugher in Ann Arbor during the end-of-2012 Gardner stretch. This game shouldn’t have even gone to overtime but for one of the silliest luck farts in school history.
So Michigan has been outplayed for much of this game until finally, late in the 4th quarter, the purple take a field-goal lead. Gardner, who has barely managed to rescue several run-around-the-backfield adventures, gets the ball back with 18 seconds left on the Michigan 38 after tossing a terrible interception to kill the previous, more likely comeback drive.
Also keep in mind that awful late clock strategy was part of 2012 Michigan’s DNA. This wasn’t some NFL team who could squeeze five plays out of 18 seconds and timeout. This is Hail Mary time.
Northwestern is a three-deep shell, and Michigan is running Roundtree on Jon Bois’s Calvin Johnson play. Safety Daniel Jones is sitting back on this ball and just needs to knock it down. He picks up Roundtree’s route but Tree puts on the burner and might actually have the advantage on a ball thrown to the correct spot. It’s not; the ball is behind the receiver, and Roundtree has to stop, jump backwards, and tip it to himself. He misses by inches.
But Jones is also punching at the ball, and his hand rescues it juuuuust enough for it to ricochet back to Roundtree’s paw. There’s no way Roy can control where it goes from there. By this point he is falling on his knees. As luck would have it, it comes right to his chest. He concentrates, secures it, and rolls, and Ibraheim Campbell enters the frame to give Northwestern more visceral credit than their coverage deserved.
Michigan kicked a field goal and won in overtime with a defensive stop that’ll at least be an honorable mention in the flipside of this post. Getting there was the adventure.
3. The Rees
2011 NOTRE DAME
The fourth quarter had already contained a lot of batshit. On the very first play, with Michigan down 24-7, Stephen Hopkins fumbled a goal line carry, only for it to bounce directly to Denard Robinson, who ran in for a touchdown. That play easily could’ve made this list; it’d be usurped a few drives later.
After a fade to 5’8″ receiver Jeremy Gallon cut the Notre Dame lead to three points, quarterback Tommy Rees drove the Irish down to to the Michigan seven-yard line. Six minutes remained in the game. The Wolverines couldn’t go down two scores; they also couldn’t stop Michael Floyd, Theo Riddick, and Tyler Eifert.
This is how Notre Dame’s first-and-goal play looks in the box score:
This is what “forced by Team” looked like in real life:
While the game would get no less ludicrous from there, no single play encapsulates the improbability and hilarity of Michigan’s comeback like Rees fumbling a near-perfect spiral on a clear night with nobody near him.
2. Great Call, Guys
2013 COPPER BOWL
In isolation, Michigan’s last offensive play in the 2013 Copper Bowl was clever and successful. It was a two-point conversion. Former high school quarterback Jeremy Gallon took a handoff from Shane Morris, drew the defense to him, and then tossed the ball to a wide-open Justice Hayes.
Who could be mad about that?
[hokevoice] Well… [/hokevoice] The conversion took place with two minutes left and after it the score was 31-14, Kansas State. Pretty bad! Also, Michigan’s previous game was a one-point loss to Ohio State in which they failed to convert on a two point conversion at the end of the game. Devin Gardner’s legendary performance ended with an interception because literally nobody was open:
This was worse because it was immediately preceded by an OSU timeout and an adjustment, as Drew Dileo told the Daily’s Alejandro Zuniga:
After Michigan lined up to go for two and Ohio State called timeout, the Wolverines came out in the exact same formation to run the exact same play.
Except that time, the Buckeyes had an additional player on the right side of the field. That time, they had a numerical advantage: four defenders to three receivers.
“The second time, I was really more aware of the defense they had, aware of whether they had made an adjustment, and they did,” Dileo said. “I really took pride of being a student of the game. I wish I had called a timeout.”
Brady Hoke and Al Borges’s tenures at Michigan were nothing if not the stubborn adherence to what you think should work even if it’s obviously not going to.
1. A Mild, Probable Fiasco
There’s no competition for #1. Five days after Shane Morris was re-inserted into a football game he had no business being in, it was still national news. New university president Mark Schlissel had to parachute in with a statement in the midst of a grassroots protest on the Diag to start stabilizing things, but the damage was done. This site has already summarized the event from some distance:
…the spectacle of a woozy Shane Morris waving awkwardly at the sideline was broadcast to a national audience, ready to repeat at any television news producer’s desire. If there was ever a moment to practice Don Canham’s famous maxim about not turning a one-day story into a two day story, this was it.
Instead, Michigan executed a public relations strategy so galaxy-spanning in its incompetence as to be miraculous. On Sunday, they tried the bluster and lie tactic. A statement from the department brazenly claimed that Morris had not in fact been concussed, and had instead been removed from the game due to an ankle injury. That was widely derided as ludicrous. The statement purported to come from Brady Hoke, scheduled to have a press conference the next day.
That press conference was a disaster. Hoke continually referenced a statement from the medical staff that was forthcoming. He muttered about not knowing things, he obfuscated. At no point did he step up and take responsibility. He lied about talking to Dave Brandon since the incident. …
Meanwhile the release did not come, and did not come, and did not come. It was finally issued at 12:30 AM, admitted that Morris was in fact concussed in direct contradiction of Hoke’s Sunday statement, and set off a firestorm of recriminations nationally. The Daily got it in their issue anyway, because fuck you that’s why.
By nine PM Wednesday, five days after the incident, Sports Illustrated’s college football landing page was this:
Both the coach and the athletic director would be gone a few weeks later.
This decade was so stupid the following things were considered but did not make the list: Indiana tries a reverse fake punt with Devin Bush on the field; Bush getting ejected at Iowa when their punter bobbles a snap and then accidentally flips; running the waggle with Denard Robinson; most of the “Brief History Of Pat Fitzgerald Getting His Soul Crushed” post but especially the three yard punt; Florida offensive linemen yelling at each other during a play because one of them missed a stunt pickup; Michigan hiring the guy who put that team together for one year; this didn’t even happen against us but that time James Franklin called two timeouts and then ran inside zone into the teeth of the OSU defense on fourth and five; also Franklin called timeout on fourth and seventeen to give Michigan an end-of-half drive in 2018; Franklin trying to call timeout after a change of possession, also not against us; Franklin ices his own kicker; there might be a Best of Frames post on the way; Michigan accidentally going cover zero late in UTL; most of the fourth quarter in that game; about half of all games against Northwestern or Indiana; John O’Korn runs twenty yards backwards like he’s playing Madden; Michigan finally chucks a deep ball at Funchess during the 2014 season and surprise it works; most blitz pickups under Tim Drevno; most balls hurled in the general direction of Junior Hemingway; Ben Gedeon sits on the bench until his senior year; DJ Durkin’s gameplan against Ohio State; that time Brian Kelly re-inserted a concussed Dayne Crist into the game because Nate Montana isn’t his dad.