Stepping Down Off The High Horse

Sometimes we do stupid things, like arguing a point so strongly you lose sight of why it even matters.

Over the last week, I’ve been accused of being anti-Rashan Gary. That’s not true. But I know that it could be perceived that way, largely because I cannot step away from an argument.

I can be so determined to prove that I am correct that I’m willing to belabor the point (and that’s where Gary has been caught up in the back-and-forth, unfairly).

I certainly develop a fandom for some players more than others but I couldn’t name one player in my 20 years covering Michigan where I disliked the player because of his on-field performance. Off the field … is another story.

But off the field, Gary is exemplary, his work in the community, his mentorship of younger players are exactly what you hope for from a Michigan Man. All one had to do was watch the Amazon Prime series last summer and if you came away from that with anything but respect for Gary, then you had an agenda.

My issue has been and continues to be the general fan narratives that are blatantly false.

In my career, first with TheWolverine.com, the last three years with WTKA, and for the past six weeks with WolverineDigest.com, I have refused to take anything at face value. I am big into research and letting the facts tell the truth.

For instance, everyone was bemoaning Michigan’s “predictable” play-calling on first down last weekend at Northwestern, but I don’t care for blanket statements based solely on emotional in-game reactions (which I am also guilty of).

Last week, Michigan ran the football on 21 of 28 first downs, 17 of those runs from Karan Higdon. Avg. YPC: 4.9. On his first 11 runs, he averaged 7.3 yards per carry. On his final six first-down attempts, he averaged 0.5 YPC when the Wolverines were trying to run out the clock. U-M was 5 for 7 throwing on first down, 13.6 yards per attempt, 19.0 yards per completion.

That might be “predictable” but it wasn’t ineffective until late in the fourth.

I’ve made my career about looking deeper. I can’t stand when narratives get repeated with no basis in fact.

Case in point: Gary is “double and triple-teamed” on every play. I don’t know where this came from. It's inherently false. That doesn't change the fact that he's a fine football player that does a lot of little and big things important to the success of the defensive line and defense overall.

But the "double and triple-teamed" argument just stuck in my craw. I knew from watching film every week that it wasn't true. That in today's college football, you just can't afford to double almost anyone because of aggressive linebackers and spread formations.

So I began doing research and when the numbers backed up my gut, I refused to accept a single person telling me that he's "double and triple-teamed."

In the Michigan-SMU game, the Mustangs doubled Gary on 13% of the snaps he played. In the first half of the Notre Dame game, the Irish doubled him on 15.3% of 39 snaps.

In the Nebraska game, Gary only played the first 13 snaps.

This discussion raised the attention of @DRtheMighty, who does a nice job on TheBluePrintMichigan.com. We decided to look at the same footage. DR thought Gary was double teamed on 3 of 13 plays, I said two (the play in question is at 5:40 of this video if you want to judge yourself)

Either way, it’s 23.1% or 15.4%. Not every snap.

Why does any of this matter? It doesn’t. I have character flaws like everyone else, and I can’t let it go when I see the same argument bandied about. But admittedly, needing to be right, regardless of how it is delivered or who gets caught up in the wash, is immature.

I get that. At the end of the day, needing to be right is petty. “Be better” my wife likes to tell me when I grandstand and ultimately lose an argument to her (which is most of the time).

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