Monday, September 6, 2010

Digesting the Michigan Game

So, I’ve spent a couple days digesting the Michigan game. I went into the year unsure of what my expectations should be. In general, I expected that Michigan would have an offense that would rank in the upper half of the Big 10 and a defense that would remain in the lower half.

What I saw on Saturday was *really* impressive. It’s easy to just say, “Well, it’s only UConn,” but 48 hours ago a lot of people, both on TV on and off and including myself, thought the Huskies had a legitimate shot of coming to the Big(ger) House and walking out with a W. It would be par for the course after three years of The Horror (Appalachian State), Utah, Toledo, etc.

There’s plenty of reason for concern, no question. Bill’s right. Denard cannot carry the ball 29 times a game on a Big10 schedule. I was starting to get upset he was still in the game into the fourth quarter. I was also really pissed that when Denard went out in the 3rd after dinging his hip that true freshman Devin Gardner came in. The game was still potentially in doubt and we’re running out a guy who’s never taken a college snap instead of the guy who started and played most of 12 games last year in Tate Forcier. Just how bad must this kid’s work ethic and attitude have been this past off-season for him not to have seen the field after being a reasonably effective freshman quarterback last year (given he played half of it injured). And, frankly, if UConn had shown any competence whatsoever in the passing game this turns into a shootout.

Now, to be fair. I think you have to give the Michigan D some credit for being disruptive. There were a lot times when the Dline put pressure and hits on the UConn QB (Frazer?). Also, for all the times UConn tossed an errant pass or dropped a ball, there was also a young player in Michigan’s secondary breaking up a pass or causing a fumble. If  you’re going to point out a dropped third down pass in the first quarter that would’ve given UConn a first and goal, you also have to point out their second quarter fluke passing conversion on third down that did lead to a late touchdown. The game could’ve just as easily been 30-3. Good teams with experienced quarterbacks are going to shred that secondary this year. No question. I’m just saying it wasn’t all a fluke in M’s favor.

Offensively, I really think those guys are for real this year. Yes, Michigan leaned too heavily on Dilithium Robinson racking up a single-game QB rushing record 195 yards, but the man was also something like 19-22 passing on Saturday. That’s absurd even if it’s a low per pass average. Every time he threw the ball it was at an open receiver or put in place on the numbers. There were no flukes. If it turns out this guy can be an effective passer on passes over 10 yards, which he was on multiple occasions yesterday, what are you going to do as an opposing defense? You can’t stop the conventional running game (which, granted, ended up underwhelming a bit after a good start), the passing game, and the Shoelace. Also overlooked yesterday is the offensive line, which is now experienced and has Molk back. They were was superb against UConn. Barring injury, Michigan is going to score points this season.

So, belated prediction time, now that I’ve had a chance to see this team play for real. You’re gonna say I’m a homer and that I’m drinking the Kool-Aid. Maybe I am. But I think *if* you see this team win at Notre Dame next weekend you’re going to see them get off to a 6-0 start (UConn, at ND, Mass, Bowling Green, at Indiana, Michigan State). I’m probably underselling MSU, but let’s be honest, that team exists to disappoint its fans. After that, I think they win two of the remaining mid-season games (Iowa, at Penn St., Illinois, Purdue) before dropping their last home game in Wisconsin and, of course, getting beat in Columbus. That would be an 8-win season that all but ensures Rodriguez is back next year.

The big question in that is whether or not the defense improves as the freshmen in the secondary gain experience. If they do, Michigan will get tougher to beat over the course of the year. If it turns out other teams get better at exploiting them, then it gets dicey. ND and MSU could easily end up as losses and that could prove disastrous.

Is the ship finally about to be righted? Dare to dream.