ACC: Michigan Wolverines

Week 4: Wake-up calls

September, 24, 2013
9/24/13
11:00
AM ET
Byron JonesDavid Hahn/Icon SMIMichigan survived a nail-biting game against what was supposed to be a pushover team.
For four months, ESPN The Magazine will follow the march to the Vizio BCS National Championship, moment by moment, culminating in our Story of the Season double issue Dec. 27. Every Tuesday, Mag senior writer Ryan McGee will pick the previous week’s biggest moments and tell you why they’ll have the most impact on potential BCS title matchups. If you disagree, send a tweet to @ESPNMag and tell us why your moment matters more, using the hashtag #StoryoftheSeason. Who knows? Your moment (and tweet) might just end up in our issue.


"WELL, it was a win ... that’s about all I’ve got."

You can't blame Michigan coach Brady Hoke for being speechless at his postgame news conference, as if he’d just gotten off a roller coaster. UConn certainly wasn't billed as the Top Thrill Dragster, but the Huskies shook up the Wolverines like an old, half-broken down ride that isn’t supposed to knock the breath out of you -- except that it does.

It didn't help that Hoke had to survive a nail-biter over what should have been a pushover opponent just one week earlier. On Sept. 14, Michigan needed a stop on the game’s final play to hold off lowly Akron 28-24. Then college football’s winningest program barely made it out of East Hartford alive, edging the Huskies 24-21. Yes, the same UConn that opened the season with a loss to Towson, an FCS opponent, by 15.

“You can’t give the ball away,” Hoke said, speaking of his team’s eight turnovers in two weeks. “We’ve got a major league problem and we’ve got to fix it, because that’s not going to win you championships.”

Ah yes, championships. By the time an overwhelmingly underwhelming fourth stanza of the 2013 season had finished late Saturday night, no fewer than three would-be BCS contenders nearly had their championship dreams crushed.

How close did they come?

Three yards, one finger and one toe.


  • At jam-packed Rentschler Field, where UConn welcomed Ray Allen and Derek Jeter and had to bring in more than 2,000 temporary seats to meet ticket demand, the Huskies hassled Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner all night. He threw two interceptions (one tipped) and fumbled away a snap. During one ridiculous five-minute stretch that ended the first quarter and started the second, UConn tied the score 7-7, recovered a botched punt that hit the leg of a member of Michigan’s return team, took the lead at 14-7 and then took the Gardner fumble 34 yards for a TD that made it 21-7.



  • The Wolverines clawed back to take the lead 24-21, but in the closing two minutes, UConn still had a chance to set up overtime or win in regulation. On fourth-and-29 from the Huskies' 33, quarterback Chandler Whitmer had receiver Deshon Fox tracked. The up-and-down Whitmer flicked a beautiful pass and hit Fox in the middle of tight coverage with a safety sliding over in a hurry. That safety, Jarrod Wilson, provided just enough help to drop Fox less than 3 yards short of a first down, which would have put UConn at Michigan's 41 with 1:43 remaining.

    Three plays prior to that pass, UConn already had been across midfield, but a pass for minus-2 yards, a false start penalty and a sack for a 12-yard loss had driven Whitmer back into his own territory. Reverse any of those plays, and that fourth down becomes a first down.

    “We’ve got an off week to work this out,” Hoke said as he departed for the bus and then the airport. “We’ll take 4-0. But we can’t keep counting on the breaks to go our way.”

  • Hoke didn’t know it, but he looked and sounded an awful lot like Georgia coach Mark Richt had earlier in the day, lumbering into a postgame presser as though he had sandpaper in his pants.


  • Anyone who has made a trip to Denton, Texas, recently knows that the North Texas football program has all the potential in the world. It's in a recruit-rich area with sparkling new facilities. But even the staunchest supporter of the Mean Green will tell you that coach Dan McCarney’s players still have a lot of work to do to meet that potential.

    Yet there they were, between the hedges, tied 21-21 with the No. 9 Bulldogs in the middle of the third quarter. The rain was beginning to pour. The Mean Green was a team ready to believe and the Dawgs appeared to be a team ready to go home. Then quarterback Aaron Murray led his team on an eight-play, 53-yard drive that he capped with a keeper for the go-ahead score.

    “Hey, we’re fine,” he told his teammates. “Just play ball and have fun.”

    And they did. In fact, the next drive (12 plays for 95 yards) was even prettier. But it nearly ended in disaster. On second-and-goal from the 4-yard line, receiver Chris Conley ran a picture-perfect, inside-to-outside route and was headed to the right-front pylon as Murray turned and flicked the ball toward the corner. North Texas’s Zac Whittlefield is a great athlete, a converted running back who is now an All-Conference USA candidate at cornerback. He hadn’t bit on Conley’s fake. In fact, he’d used it to set up a great inside move that put him on the goal line between Murray and his target.

    Whittlefield had a read on the ball floating toward him and actually appeared to take a quick glance downfield to see the open lane for what could be a 100-yard pick-six. He timed his leap and extended his left arm upward. He swiped and made contact. It wasn’t going to be a pick, but it was definitely going to be batted down. The pass hit three of Whittlefield's fingers -- he needed it to hit one more.

    Instead of being slapped to the turf, the ball dropped straight down … and into Conley’s hands. Whittlefield, assuming he'd broken up the pass, was stunned when the Georgia crowd erupted and he turned to see Conley celebrating. Down two scores, the wind out of its sails, the Mean Green lost 45-21 and Georgia’s one-loss title hopes kept floating.

  • Two nights prior, the coach who pinned that loss on Georgia, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, had also arrived to his postgame Q&A looking as worn out as Hoke and Richt. The Tigers had just survived an unquestionably ugly, 26-14 Thursday night win at NC State.


  • The initial volley of questions didn’t center on Heisman hopeful Tajh Boyd’s accuracy issues (his season-best 64.9% completion rate looked good on paper but not in person) or even the importance of earning the team’s first ACC win and avoiding, for a week anyway, talk of "pulling a Clemson." Instead, reporters immediately asked about one specific play.

    Down 13-7, Wolfpack receiver Brian Underwood electrified Carter-Finley Stadium with an 83-yard touchdown reception, setting up a chance to lead the third-ranked Tigers by a point (or more) with 7:31 remaining in the third. But line judge Richard Misner ruled that Underwood had stepped out of bounds at the Clemson 47-yard line. When the whistle was blown, the play was instantly dead, meaning that it couldn’t be reviewed from the replay booth.

    Within minutes, ACC coordinator of officials Doug Rhoads had vanished from the NC State press box. He was off to the instant replay booth so he could see all angles of the play. The former back judge knew that, regardless of whether the play could be officially reviewed, he needed to know exactly what it looked like, especially as the ESPN TV booth continued to question the call and NC State fans kept booing every scoreboard replay.

    It was a rare instance when freeze frames and replays contradicted one another. Multiple shots seemed to prove that Underwood had stayed in bounds. But at least one appeared to show the right side of his foot barely over the line. In the end, Rhoads explained, even if the whistle hadn’t blown, there wouldn’t have been enough evidence to overturn the on-field ruling.



    Just three plays later, NC State quarterback Pete Thomas fumbled. Five plays later, Clemson went up 20-7. The Pack never recovered, physically or mentally.

    As Swinney took his seat in the press room, he unknowingly spoke for many of his fellow coaches, not to mention thousands of fans, when it came to summing up a gross, sloppy Week 4 filled with mismatches, miscues and malaise from coast to coast. Yes, in the end nearly all of the teams that were supposed to win did. But like Clemson, most of them seemed uneasy, unsatisfied and anxious for Week 5.

    “Glad to get that one over," Swinney said. "We can’t load up the buses soon enough.”

    ESPN The Magazine

    Video: Wrapping up the Sugar Bowl

    January, 4, 2012
    1/04/12
    1:44
    AM ET

    Wrapping up Michigan's hard-fought win and Virginia Tech's heartbreak in the Sugar Bowl.

    Video: Virginia Tech OC Bryan Stinespring

    January, 3, 2012
    1/03/12
    1:00
    PM ET
    ESPN.com ACC blogger Heather Dinich talks with Virginia Tech OC Bryan Stinespring about their matchup with Michigan.

    Video: Hokies DE James Gayle

    January, 2, 2012
    1/02/12
    3:00
    PM ET

    Heather Dinich talks with VT defensive end James Gayle about the Sugar Bowl matchup with Michigan.

    Video: Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas

    January, 1, 2012
    1/01/12
    10:30
    AM ET

    Heather Dinich talks to Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas about the matchup against Michigan.

    Video: Sugar Bowl Day 1 wrap

    December, 30, 2011
    12/30/11
    7:03
    PM ET


    Adam Rittenberg and Heather Dinich look at Virginia Tech's defensive mindset and how running back Fitzgerald Toussaint provides a second option for Michigan's offense.

    Video: Hokies DB coach Torrian Gray

    December, 30, 2011
    12/30/11
    3:57
    PM ET

    Heather Dinich talks to Virginia Tech defensive backs coach Torrian Gray about the Sugar Bowl matchup with Michigan.

    ACC officials concerned about inflated staff sizes

    May, 13, 2009
    5/13/09
    3:00
    PM ET

    Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

    AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. -- Take a look at Michigan's team photo if you want an example of why ACC officials and football coaches are concerned.

    In Michigan's team photo, there are 53 staff members wearing white polo shirts -- and 43 of them are not coaches.

    In a sport where head coaches are only allowed nine assistants, ACC officials want to know exactly what all of those other people have been hired to do, and it's not just at Michigan. Alabama hired former Virginia offensive coordinator Mike Groh as a graduate assistant, and inflated staffs are popping up all over the country. And they've got every right to because there isn't any current NCAA legislation that limits the number of non-coaching personnel allowed on staff.

    The ACC would like to see that change, if not at least monitored a little closer.

    "They're really concerned about that," said associate commissioner/football Michael Kelly.

    It's an issue the NCAA's recruiting cabinet has already decided it will look into, and Georgia Tech athletic director Dan Radakovich is the ACC's conference representative on that panel. The ACC would like to weigh in on how many coaches can actually be on the field, but officials didn't have enough information at this week's spring meetings to form a concrete proposal with their position. Radakovich will meet with the NCAA recruiting cabinet in June in San Diego.

    "I'm sure this will be one of the major items that will be discussed at that meeting," he said. "It's a big issue, but it's really more sport specific. One of the things the NCAA is trying to do right now is pull it together under one umbrella -- the number of accountable coaches, the number of other personnel inside each sport. Hopefully what will come out of the meeting in June is that maybe we need to take a step back and look at sports on an individual basis rather than trying to deal with this issue on an all-encompassing basis."

    Kelly said the ACC coaches have to go back and examine their own staff sizes to see how many they have, and what they think would be an appropriate limit for them in terms of being on the field.

    "If people have the resources to do whatever they want with X-number of video guys and trainers and strength coaches that's fine," Kelly said. "More power to them. The biggest thing the NCAA is going to focus on and what we want to weigh in on is how many guys can be on the field. I don't think it's run rampant, but there obviously a few programs who have those types of resources to have huge staffs."

    Radakovich cautioned it's a problem broader than just college football.

    "There are issues in baseball, there are issues in basketball," he said. "I wouldn't look at this as a football-centric issue. These are more national issues."

    It was a hot topic at this week's otherwise quiet ACC spring meetings.

    "In some places it's really doubling the staff just about," said Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman. "We're labeling them one thing, but their activities certainly suggest they're doing other things. They're non-coaches who are coaching. We've got to find a way to address that issue, otherwise the playing field is not level at all. People are always looking for ways to maneuver and gain advantages and this is one of those loopholes that has been found that hopefully we'll be able to address."

    NC State athletic director Lee Fowler said helping create legislation was something the ACC officials and coaches talked extensively about and "felt was very important."

    "I think it's a concern because we're hearing that's the case at other schools, and they're using weight coaches to be skill trainers and that sort of stuff, which is against what the rules were made for," Fowler said. "We just want to make sure there's some legislation or whatever it takes to make sure everybody is under the same rules and regulations."

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