With the beginning of Thanksgiving Week, I thought it only appropriate that I dedicate this column to the things I am thankful for. Now, let’s be clear: I am thankful for a lot of things more important than Michigan football, but since this website is dedicated to talking about all things Wolverines, I doubt that anyone would be interested in reading about anything other than that. So I won’t spend time on those other things (hey, there’s something that YOU can be thankful for!).
The first thing that I am thankful for is a Michigan football program that I can be proud to be a fan of. I wasn’t one of those bandwagon fans that ditched my team over the past three years while it struggled to even get to .500. But let’s be honest, it wasn’t exactly easy to say that you were a Michigan fan. That’s especially true where I live, which is in the heart of Buckeye country. But I didn’t hide my team colors and I never took down the Michigan flag flying in front of my house.
This year is different. While they still have a ways to go, Michigan has a talented team on both sides of the ball and last time I checked, Michigan has the #2 ranked recruiting class coming in for 2012. The fact that the Wolverines are 9-2 going into Ohio week is also exciting. This is the best record that Michigan has had going in to this game since 2006! Not only that, but Michigan also has an excellent chance of finishing the regular season with double-digit wins.
Speaking of the game against Ohio, this reminds me of another thing that I am thankful for: a home game against the Buckeyes. Michigan has played its best football in the Big House this year, where they are undefeated at 7-0 and have out-scored their opponents 267-82. Not that I don’t think the Wolverines could win in Columbus, but isn’t it better to have one less thing to worry about? No bus trip, no sleeping in a hotel, and no stadium full of punk-ass Ohio fans to listen to. We will do that next year and still beat their butts.
I am also thankful for Head Coach Brady Hoke and the coaching staff that he has put together for this Michigan team. Coach Hoke has done an excellent job of providing strong leadership for the Wolverines this season, portraying a no-nonsense attitude when it comes to winning and getting his players to buy into his system and what it means to be a Michigan football player. These were two things that were lost on all players who played under the previous coaching regime.
Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison has re-established a Michigan defense that opposing teams and fans all across the country can no longer laugh at. While much maligned in this weekly column, Offensive Coordinator Al Borges has done a good job of creating balance so that defenses can no longer key in on stopping only Denard Robinson. Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint is a clear-cut threat out of the backfield and Michigan’s receivers have improved greatly, as well as the offensive line. While I haven’t always agreed with Borges’ play-calling on a game-by-game basis, I think that he has done a good job of working with the talent that he has. Once that 2012 recruiting class arrives, Borges will have even more weapons at his disposal.
Lastly, I am thankful that the team never went through a quarterback controversy this year after Denard had some struggles in the middle of the year. The Michigan offense is SO much better with Denard as the starting QB. Not only that, but it is SO much better when the coaches aren’t shuffling him in and out with Devin Gardner for those gimmick gadget plays that never really accomplished anything of substance for the offense. In fact, it actually made it easier for the defenses they were going up against.
Nothing shows this better than this past week’s dominating performance against Nebraska. Borges did not call any ‘Gardner-gadget’ plays all game, opting instead to leave Denard in the game and allowing him to get into a rhythm. Borges called plays which put the ball in Denard’s hands and let him take the offense up and down the field. The majority of these plays were out of the shotgun with the two-headed monster of Denard and Toussaint in the backfield. Off of that, Borges called play-action passes when the Nebraska defense over-committed to the run and short, quick passes whenever Denard dropped back in the pocket. The result: 45 points, 418 yards, 24 first downs, two passing touchdowns, four rushing touchdowns, and Denard was 11-of-18 passing. That’s a 61 percent efficiency. If you have been paying attention to this article each week, that kind of play-calling is EXACTLY what I’ve been advocating. Man, it feels good to be right!
As Michigan fans, we all have a lot to be thankful for this year. With a win over Ohio on Saturday, we all could be thankful for another New Year’s Day bowl game, or even a BCS at-large bid. With the shake-up that happened in the BCS this past weekend, that’s a definite possibility. But the Wolverines have to take care of business on the field first. No doubt, Coach Hoke will have the team excited and ready to play. Ever since Hoke has been there, a countdown clock has been counting down the days until Ohio came to town. That clock is almost at zero. It’s time to go to work.
*Because my wife would probably not be happy if I didn’t include her on my ‘Things I am Thankful for’ list, I wanted to include that I am very thankful for her and for our soon-to-be-born baby. Thank you for letting me watch and write about my favorite team so much, honey!