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Posts Tagged ‘Appalachian State’

Is This Year’s Hot Start Just a Repeat of 2009?

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010


Michigan escaped with a win last Saturday over an FCS school leaving Michigan fans on the verge of panic. It was a scene all to familiar in recent years, with Michigan narrowly avoiding another Appalachian State-style loss.

The first two games, wins at home against UConn and on the road against Notre Dame, had Michigan the talk of the nation with super sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson. But Saturday’s uninspiring performance in which the Minutemen marched down the field for three touchdown drives spanning 67 yards or more brought back the “Oh, not again” feelings that have inundated  the past two years.

Is Michigan headed for another collapse just like last season, or is this year’s team poised to hold its own in the Big Ten?

Offensive stats through three games
2010   2009
3-0 Record 3-0
33.3 Scoring Offense 38.0
859 Rushing Yards 812
286.3 Rushing YPG 270.7
671 Passing Yards 505
223.7 Passing YPG 168.3
510 Total Offense 439
21/42 (50%) Third-Down Conv. 16/41 (39%)
10/11 (91%) Red Zone Scoring 9/12 (75%)
1* Turnovers 4
1 Sacks Allowed 4
*1 other turnover was on a fumble after an
INT, so doesn’t count towards offensive stats

Through the first three games last season, Michigan averaged more points per game (38) than it has so far this season (33.3), but the offensive output has been much more consistent this year (510 total yards per game compared to 439).

While Michigan’s offensive numbers are better, the opponents have been eerily similar.

Last year, Michigan opened with Western Michigan, a Mid-American Conference school that had a senior quarterback who holds six career passing records at the school. Many predicted the Broncos pull off the upset, but Michigan dominated in a 31-7 win in Tate Forcier’s debut.

A week later, Michigan hosted Notre Dame and won a 38-34 shootout, then followed that up with a lackluster performance against Eastern Michigan. In that game, Michigan led just 24-17 at halftime, but pulled away, winning 41-17.

Those three opponents finished the year with a combined record of 11-25, so what seemed like a great start for Michigan was really just smoke and mirrors.

Prior to this year’s opener against UConn, many predicted the Huskies to waltz into Ann Arbor and come away with a win. UConn was expected to play for the Big East title this season. Instead, Michigan won convincingly in Denard Robinson’s debut, and UConn has now started the season 1-2 with a loss to Temple last week.

In the second week of the season, Michigan traveled to South Bend and pulled out the win when Robinson led the Wolverines on a 12-play, 72-yard touchdown drive in the final two minutes to seal the win. Notre Dame followed that up with an overtime loss at Michigan State last week, and could very well lose its next three as well.

Last week, Michigan came out flat, leading UMass just 21-17 at halftime before building a sizeable lead in the third quarter. But Michigan wasn’t able to put UMass away in the fourth quarter, as the Minutemen pulled within five before a failed onside kick allowed Michigan to run out the clock.

Despite being an FCS team, UMass is probably better than Eastern Michigan was last year, considering Eastern didn’t win a single game and UMass is currently ranked 72nd in the Sagarin Ratings. That’s higher than upcoming opponents Bowling Green (90th), Indiana (82nd), and Purdue (77th).

I think this year’s Michigan team is better suited for Big Ten play than last year’s was for a couple of reasons.

1. Denard Robinson.

As long as he stays healthy, he gives Michigan a chance to win every game. Of course they won’t win every game this season, but his ability to run and pass makes Michigan’s offense nearly impossible to defend consistently.

Last year, Forcier played well in the first few games, but Michigan’s offense was ultimately hurt by his inexperience and a lack of a true running game. Forcier was a true freshman with a limited understanding of the playbook, and thus, the offensive variety was lacking.

Running backs Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown were constantly injured and neither proved to be a true threat, meaning opponents could key in on the passing game, forcing Forcier to make freshman mistakes, which he did.

Robinson had last season to get his feet wet in the offense and get acclimated to the college game. He came to fall camp just a few weeks before the season started, so his ability to run the offense consisted solely of taking the snap and running left or right. Opponents knew that and he still ran for 5.1 yards per carry.

The offseason gave him a chance to learn the playbook and develop his arm, and it paid off when Rich Rodriguez gave him the nod to start the UConn game. Robinson took advantage, putting up three of the nine best offensive games in Michigan history the past three weeks.

The offensive line opens up a huge hole for Vincent Smith (photo by the Detroit News)

The offensive line opens up a huge hole for Vincent Smith (photo by the Detroit News)

2. The offensive line.

This year’s offensive line is talented and experienced, and it all starts with center David Molk. Last year, the offense started to plummet after Molk went down with an injury. It shook up the entire line, making guard David Moosman move to center. In the first game thereafter, he fumbled three or four bad snaps, and the line was never able to gel the rest of the season.

So far this season, the line has allowed just one sack in Robinson’s 76 pass attempts, and has paved the way for 859 rushing yards in three games (six yards per carry).

Against Notre Dame’s stout defensive front seven, Michigan rushed for 288 yards and averaged seven yards per carry. Robinson also threw for 244 yards without being sacked.

Last week, Notre Dame sacked Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins four times and held State to 4.7 yards per carry, well below its average of 6.6.

The real test for the offensive line will be when Michigan plays Iowa, Wisconsin, and Ohio State, but this line is certainly suited to keep Michigan’s offense chugging away.

3. The skills position players.

Running back Michael Shaw stepped up last week against UMass, rushing for 126 yards and three touchdowns on 12 carries. He seems to be the best back Michigan has this season, with Vincent Smith also splitting reps. If the two can combine to give Michigan a running threat outside of Robinson, the offense will be that much harder to stop.

The receivers are perhaps the best position group on the offense, other than quarterback. In Michigan’s last two games, a different receiver has stepped up.

Against Notre Dame, it was Roy Roundtree with eight catches for 82 yards and a touchdown and Martavious Odoms with seven catches for 91 yards. Against UMass it was Darryl Stonum with three catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns.  

Junior Hemingway, Michigan’s best deep threat, just returned from injury and made a nice 36-yard catch last week, and Kelvin Grady has averaged 13.2 yards per catch out of the slot.

With those receiving weapons at Robinson’s disposal, defenses will have a hard time lining up to stop the run.

Given the electric play of Robinson, the cohesiveness of the offensive line, and the talent of the skill position players, Michigan’s offense is much more suited to continue its output once the Big Ten grind starts than it was last season. The only glaring weakness is the defense, which isn’t going to be fixed this season. Expect a lot of shootouts the rest of the way.

Darryl Stonum had a breakout game against UMass (photo by the Detroit Free Press)

Darryl Stonum had a breakout game against UMass (photo by the Detroit Free Press)

Over/Under

I was right there with Michigan’s score last week, only one under, but gave the defense too much credit, 16 under. I don’t think anyone really expected UMass to drop 37 points in Ann Arbor, but here’s to hoping it was just a one-game letdown.

For the season, I’m nine over offensively and 18 over defensively, so it’s starting to come back down to the median.

I Said What?

“Robinson will play but certainly won’t need the whopping amount of carries he has had in the past two games. Rodriguez should let him keep his rhythm and build a good lead and then rest him to keep him fresh.”

Well, I was right that he wouldn’t need as many carries. He rushed 17 times, as opposed to the 29 and 28 times in the previous two games. Shaw was efficient enough with his 12 carries, scoring three touchdowns, that Robinson wasn’t needed to run as much.

I was wrong, however, about Michigan building a large enough lead that would allow Robinson a breather. (+1/2)

“Robinson needs to establish the passing game. Everybody knows Robinson’s skills on the ground – that was evident from his first collegiate snap. The biggest question mark surrounding Robinson at this point is his passing ability.”

Michigan didn’t need to throw the ball more last week, but Robinson was very efficient when he did, going 10-14 for 241 yards and two touchdowns. The only miscue was an interception on his first pass of the day.

He showed great touch on a few deep balls that he threw, completing a 36-yarder to Hemingway and a 46-yarder to Stonum.  

I think Robinson did enough to warrant defenses paying attention to the passing game, although until he proves he can do it in Big Ten play, the question marks will still exist. (+1)

“Find a running game outside of Robinson.”

Done. Shaw rushed 12 times for 126 yards and three touchdowns. He had a 34-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and broke a 50-yard run in the fourth quarter to set up another touchdown. Can he do it again? (+1)

Look for Michigan to set the tone early, jumping out to a comfortable lead by halftime.”

The tone that Michigan set was one that lacked emotion coming off a big road win over a rival. UMass took the opening drive down the field for a field goal and Robinson’s first pass was picked off. UMass led 17-7 before Michigan realized it wasn’t going to be a cakewalk and scored twice right before the half. (-1)

Denard?

Denard Pryor Week 3
Three games into the season he’s still outperforming everybody’s preseason Heisman favorite Terrelle Pryor. While Pryor has 44 more passing yards and two more passing touchdowns, Robinson has 394 more rushing yards and two more rushing touchdowns. He also has a higher quarterback rating, although ever so slight, a higher completion percentage, and has thrown one fewer interception. Interstingly enough, their yards per attempt are exactly the same.

Following Loss to Illinois, Questions Abound for Rodriguez, Michigan

Sunday, November 1st, 2009


Michigan traveled to Champaign, Ill. on Halloween looking to become bowl eligible, but instead came away with its second straight 25-point loss.

After building a 13-7 halftime lead, Michigan took the opening drive of the second half down to the Illinois 1-yard line. But four straight runs were unable to crack the end zone and Illinois took captured the momentum, and the game, scoring 31 unanswered points en route to a 38-13 victory.

*Defensive back J.T. Floyd sums up Michigan's day against Illinois, photo by Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com

*Defensive back J.T. Floyd sums up Michigan's day against Illinois, photo by Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com

Michigan looked like a kid that was trick-or-treating house-to-house, filling his bag of candy but then got beat up by the kid down the street and his bag of candy stolen.

For the second week in a row, Michigan looked uninspired and somewhat lost – far more so than a team should nine games into the season.

In the wake of the loss, and looking ahead to the final three games of the season, there are some questions that need to be answered.

Please note that I am still confident in Rich Rodriguez, and I’m not at all calling for his head after less than two seasons. I think he needs to be given time to build his team. I do have some questions, however.

1. Why can’t the defense stop the spread option?

This was a huge problem under Lloyd Carr. His defenses could defend the standard pro-style offense with the pocket-passing quarterback just fine, but when facing mobile quarterbacks, they looked lost.

Troy Smith, Vince Young, Dennis Dixon, and Appalachian State’s Armanti Edwards are still giving Michigan fans nightmares.

Much of the reason Michigan athletic director Bill Martin went out and got Rich Rodriguez two years ago was to change the stagnant culture of Michigan football.

The four and five loss seasons were getting old. The slow defense that broke down every time it faced a faster offense needed a change.

So why are we still having trouble defending it?

Make no mistake about it; this defense is dangerously thin. Only 58 percent of the defensive commitments from the past five years are still on the team. Fifty-eight percent!

That’s certainly not a recipe for success.

Twenty defensive commitments are no longer on the team due to numerous factors: graduation (four), leaving early for the NFL (one), leaving the team (13), and not qualifying (two).

Until Rodriguez is able to bring in a couple more classes, this defense should continue to struggle, simply because of lack of depth.

But depth aside, why did the defense struggle so much to defend Darryl Clark last week and Juice Williams this week when it goes up against a similar offense in practice every week?

Rodriguez is the father of the spread-option offense, so he should know how to defend it.
Today, it wasn’t just a mistake here and there; the defense looked completely lost out there. Every time Williams ran a zone read, the same play that is the staple of the Michigan offense, everybody crashed down on the same guy, which usually tended to be the one without the ball.

*Juice Williams dominated Michigan for the third straight year, photo by Seth Perlman / AP

*Juice Williams dominated Michigan for the third straight year, photo by Seth Perlman / AP

Illinois had seven rushes of 20 yards or more, three of them going for touchdowns.

I have to believe that this will improve over time when Rodriguez gets more defensive recruits and more speed into the system, but it’s frustrating that it hasn’t improved at all.
2. Why wasn’t Brandon Minor on the field for the goal line set at the beginning of the third quarter?

Minor is the bigger power back, while Carlos Brown is a bit quicker. Yet it was Brown who got the carries on first, second, and third down from inside the one-yard line.

Minor came in and got the carry on fourth down, and was stopped just short of the goal line.

I realize he still has a nagging ankle injury, but if he was healthy enough to come in on fourth down, why wasn’t he in there for the first three plays?

3. Why didn’t Rodriguez use a time out just before the half?

Michigan had just kicked a field goal to take a 13-7 lead, and then forced an Illinois three-and-out. Williams was sacked at the Illinois 24-yard line with about a minute left, but instead of using his second timeout, Rodriguez let the clock run before Illinois called timeout with 27 seconds left.

A good punt and no return left Michigan with the ball at its own 11, and it subsequently took a knee, seemingly happy to go into the locker room with a six point lead.

But why not take a time out with a minute left and give your offense another chance to score before the half?

I would have expected Carr to take the conservative route and take it into the half, but not Rodriguez, especially with two timeouts left.

The only reason I can think of is that he wasn’t comfortable with punt return-man Junior Hemingway’s ability to catch the ball.

Turning it over in that situation would have given Illinois a great chance to take the lead and the momentum into the locker room.

But that’s a chance he should have taken, in my opinion.

4. Why has the team quit the past two weeks?

In Michigan’s first two losses, against Michigan State and Iowa, the team fought for the whole 60 minutes. It came back to force overtime against Michigan State and came within two of undefeated Iowa.

But last week against Penn State and this week against Illinois, it seemed to just give up once things started going bad.

The only defensive player that played every down 100 percent was senior defensive end Brandon Graham, and that’s going to make him a great NFL player. He finished with four tackles (one-and-a-half for loss), a sack, and a blocked punt.

The rest of the defense didn’t play inspired at all.

*Rodriguez screams at Martavious Odoms against Iowa, photo by the Detroit News

*Rodriguez screams at Martavious Odoms against Iowa, photo by the Detroit News

Maybe it’s the fact that the offense puts it in bad situations with turnovers, but when you’re playing college football, it’s your job to give it your all every time. And that effort was not there in the second half.

5. Is Rodriguez too hard on the players and coaches?

One of the common scenes on the sidelines this season and last has been Rodriguez chewing out his players and coaches after a mistake.

Now, I know many people will say that they should grow up and take it, but I seriously have to wonder if his demeanor has an impact on how the team plays.

I don’t have any data on it, but it seems that whenever Rodriguez goes off on a player, it has a negative effect on his play.

I’m all for coaches yelling; it’s what they do. But for a young team like this, that is still trying to grow and learn the system, maybe yelling in their face isn’t the right way to get your point across.

It’s something to think about, but I’m pretty sure Rodriguez isn’t going to change his coaching style, so the players are going to need to adjust.

So where does Michigan go from here?

It needs one more win to be bowl eligible, and two to be assured of a bowl game.

Next week, Michigan hosts Purdue, which is probably the last winnable game left on the schedule if the team continues to play like this.

The following week, Michigan travels to Wisconsin to play a team that just throttled Purdue 37-0.  That game will be as tough as any game Michigan has played all season.

Finally, Michigan hosts Ohio State in a game that very well could salvage the season. However, Ohio State’s quarterback, Terrelle Pryor, is the same type of mobile quarterback that Michigan can’t defend.

The team needs to get its confidence back so it can finish the season strong and get back to a bowl game. Otherwise, it’s going to be another long off-season filled with second-guessing and more anti-Rodriguez sentiment.

Season Preview: A Game-by-Game Breakdown of Michigan’s Schedule

Saturday, August 29th, 2009


Year two of the Rich Rodriguez era at Michigan is just a week away. This is usually about the time of the year that I break out my “Maximum Meechigan” album to let Bob Ufer’s legendary calls of Michigan games of the past fill my mind with visions of “cotton-pickin’, maize-and-blue whirling dervishes” dancing in the end zone, as I prepare for yet another season of Michigan football.

from bentley.umich.edu

*Bob Ufer, photo taken from bentley.umich.edu

It was Ufer who penned the poem, “Burying Woody Hayes” after the Wolverines’ upset of No. 1 Ohio State 40 years ago. The poem goes like this:

“It was November 22, 1969

that they came to bury Michigan, all dressed in maize and blue;

The words were said, the prayers were read and everybody cried.

But when they closed the coffin, there was someone else inside.

Oh they came to bury Michigan, but Michigan wasn’t dead.

And when the game was over, it was someone else instead.

Eleven Michigan Wolverines put on the gloves of grey,

and as the organ played The Victors, they laid Woody Hayes away.”

I find this poem very similar to what we’re going to see this season from our boys in maize and blue. I’m not saying I think Michigan is going to beat Ohio State, but I think this is going to be the theme of our season. Every opponent is going to circle us on their schedule as a game they can win. This year, as much as any other, Michigan looks beatable on paper.

Coming off a season that resulted in the most losses in school history, and pinning all hopes on a true freshman quarterback, this seems to be the window of opportunity before Rodriguez’s system begins to take hold and terrorize the Big Ten.

However, I think we’re going to see a very fast, well-conditioned and much-improved Michigan team playing with a chip on its shoulder to avoid being put to rest again.

Here’s a game-by-game breakdown of how I see the season playing out:

Sept. 5 – Western Michigan

The Western Michigan Broncos bring a high-powered offense to Ann Arbor, led by senior quarterback, Tim Heller. However, the Broncos’ defense returns just three starters from a year ago, which should be favorable for the initiation of Michigan’s freshmen quarterbacks, Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson.

Western Michigan will try to hand Michigan its third straight season-opening loss, but I think its inexperience on the defensive side will help Michigan’s offense gel.

Prediction: Win

Sept. 12 – Notre Dame

Notre Dame comes to Ann Arbor with an experienced quarterback, Jimmy Clausen, a talented group of receivers, Golden Tate and Michael Floyd, and a boatload of expectations.

Last season’s Hawaii Bowl blowout of Hawaii showed what this offense is capable of and the unit lost virtually nobody.

The defense should be solid, with a switch to the 4-3, and much more speed that last year to accommodate defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta’s blitz-happy style.

I think this game is a toss-up, since Michigan’s offense will have gained some confidence against Western Michigan. Since the game is in Ann Arbor, I think Michigan has the edge.

Prediction: Win

Sept. 19 – Eastern Michigan

Eastern Michigan returns experience at quarterback, Andy Schmitt, and at receiver, Jacory Stone and Tyler Jones, but the team finished 3-9 last season.

*Ron English, photo taken from ESPNgo.com

*Ron English, photo taken from ESPNgo.com

New head coach Ron English, a former Michigan defensive coordinator under Lloyd Carr, won’t be able to get the Eagles up to speed in his first season, and Michigan should handle this one pretty easily.

Prediction: Win

Sept. 26 – Indiana

Indiana returns a lot of starters from last season’s 3-9 team. However, those starters don’t bring a lot of stats with them. Quarterback Ben Chappell threw for 1,001 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions, while the leading returning rusher, Bryan Payton, rushed for just 339 yards and two touchdowns.

Defensively, the Hoosiers will be led by one of the best pass rushers in the Big Ten, senior defensive end Greg Middleton.

This team just won’t have the firepower to beat Michigan for the first time since 1967.

Prediction: Win

Oct. 3 – at Michigan State

Michigan State lost quarterback Brian Hoyer and running back Javon Ringer, but features an experienced defense with eight returning starters, led by junior linebacker Greg Jones.

The Spartans will have every opportunity to get its offense going with opening games against Montana State and Central Michigan, before traveling to Notre Dame and Wisconsin.

If the offense can perform at least above average, it could be a tough day for Michigan’s young quarterbacks in their first road test.

Prediction: Loss

Oct. 10 – at Iowa

Iowa was a big surprise last season, led by running back Shonn Greene, who is now with the New York Jets. The Hawkeyes return a solid quarterback, Ricky Stanzi, as well as a competent a running back Jewel Hampton, who scored seven touchdowns last season.

The defense should be Iowa’s strength, as the unit that ranked 12th in the nation last year returns all of its linebackers and secondary.

Playing a night game in Kinnick Stadium against a tough defense should be too much to overcome for a young Michigan offense.

Prediction: Loss

Oct. 17 – Delaware State

Delaware State returns its entire offensive line and receiving corps, but must replace its quarterback and running back.

Don’t expect an Appalachian State-style upset in this one.

Prediction: Win

Oct. 24 – Penn State

Penn State returns quarterback Daryll Clark, who threw for 2,592 yards, 16 touchdowns and just six interceptions last year. The offense also returns its top two runners, in Evan Royster and Stephfon Green. The key will be replacing receivers Deon Butler, Derrick Williams and Jordan Norwood, but the experience of Clark and the running backs should help ease that process.

The defense returns just four starters, non of which are in the secondary, but by the time the Nittany Lions visit Ann Arbor, the unit will have had plenty of time to get acclimated with an easy schedule.

Prediction: Loss

Oct. 31 – Illinois

Illinois will be lead by quarterback Juice Williams and the Big Ten’s best receiver, Arrelious Benn. The Illini lack a proven running back, though Williams led the team with 719 rushing yards a year ago.

Question marks abound on a defense that lost its top four players from a year ago. Linebacker Martez Wilson had a solid spring and will be the leader this year.

Michigan will bounce back from a loss to Penn State by playing its best game of the year and surprise the Illini on the road.

Prediction: Win

Nov. 7 – Purdue

Only four starters return on the Purdue offense, all offensive linemen. Quarterback Curtis Painter hands over the reigns to Joey Elliott, who has thrown just 49 passes in his career. Keith Smith is the leading receiver with 486 yards and two touchdowns last season, while Frank Halliburton is the top returning rusher with just 37 yards and two touchdowns.

Running back Jaycen Taylor should provide a spark, returning from a knee injury, but the offense won’t have the firepower it has lacked since the days of Drew Brees and Kyle Orton.

Defensively, the secondary was the best in the Big Ten last year, but the rush defense was the worst. Those numbers should even out a little bit, but the unit won’t fare much better.

Prediction: Win

Nov. 14 – at Wisconsin

Wisconsin figures to be much the same as last year’s team, with quarterback Dustin Sherer and tight end Garrett Graham returning to lead the offense. Star running back P.J. Hill is gone, but John Clay ran for 884 yards last season and takes over this year.

The defense should be average, with a strong secondary and an inexperienced front seven. If the line steps up to put pressure on the quarterback, this could be a good unit.

Michigan suffers a letdown in Madison as it looks ahead to Ohio State.

Prediction: Loss

Nov. 21 – Ohio State

Ohio State looks to take its fifth straight Big Ten title and is led by sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor. From all reports, his arm has improved, and combined with his quickness, he could be a scary player to defend.

The Buckeyes’ top receivers and running backs are gone, but a stable of new players look to fill in. Sophomore Daniel Herron is expected to break out.

The defense should be a very solid unit, headed by a strong front line in Thaddeus Gibson, Cameron Heyward and Doug Worthington. A pair of three-year starters fills the secondary.

If Pryor can stay healthy and be more consistent than he was last year. I think Michigan is still a year away from being able to beat the Buckeyes.Loss

*Greg Robinson, photo taken from Mgoblue.com

*Greg Robinson, photo taken from Mgoblue.com

Prediction: Loss

Overall, I foresee Michigan wining the games it should win and losing the games it’s expected to lose, with a pair of surprising wins over Notre Dame and Illinois for a 7-5 record. The offense will be improved, but still young and a year away from making noise.

The defense will solidify under new defensive coordinator Greg Robinson and become a solid unit, headed by its front seven.

They will all come to bury Michigan while they are down, but when all is said and over, a winning record and a return to a bowl game will take a lot of heat off of Rich Rodriguez and provide great expectations heading into 2010.

*I will provide a more in-depth game preview and prediction in the middle of each week. These preseason predictions are subject to change in my weekly previews as the season goes on, depending on performance and injuries.

The Reinvention of Michigan Football: A Matter of Perspective

Monday, August 10th, 2009


It seems that the popular thing to do these days among college football fans is to rip on Rich Rodriguez and the recent struggles of the University of Michigan football program.

For the better part of 40 years, Michigan was a symbol of stability, consistency and excellence.

Since Bo Schembechler was hired in 1969, only three coaches have graced the Michigan sidelines prior to Rodriguez’ arrival last season.

*Photo taken from ThrowForBo.com

*Photo taken from ThrowForBo.com

Those three, Schembechler, Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr, followed the same model of football—a punishing running game, an efficient passing game and a strong defense—to amass an overall winning percentage of 76.8, including 80.9 percent in the Big Ten conference. Throw in 21 Big Ten championships, 35 straight bowl games and a National Championship, and one can see why opposing fans are so quick to pile it on after one bad season.

Rodriguez came to Ann Arbor amidst a firestorm following Carr’s retirement in 2008 and Michigan fans and alumni were torn. Most had wanted former Wolverine offensive lineman and assistant coach, and current LSU head coach, Les Miles to replace Carr. Others wanted Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano or someone promoted from internally. A few wanted Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz. All of those candidates seemed to fit the mold of the previous 40 years.

Yet it was Rodriguez who landed in Ann Arbor, spurning his alma mater, West Virginia University, and bringing with him an offense as unfamiliar to Michigan football as staying home for the holidays.

Some of the Michigan fan base was skeptical of an outsider with a wacky offense inheriting its most coveted throne. “What about our tradition?” they asked. “He’s not a Michigan man,” they cried.

When five-star sophomore-to-be quarterback Ryan Mallett transferred to Arkansas and offensive lineman Justin Boren transferred to Ohio State citing an “erosion of family values,” the mob grew louder.

Then came the season. Losses to Utah, Toledo, Purdue and Northwestern, as well as all three rivals resulted in the worst season in 46 years. The first losing season since 1967. The most losses in school history. The end of the longest bowl streak in the nation.

Obviously Rodriguez was the wrong man for the job. His offense can’t hold up in the bruising Big Ten. He’ll be gone in two years. Michigan football is descending into obscurity.

I, however, do not believe the sky is falling. In fact, I’m actually excited about the direction of Michigan football.

Would I like to have avoided a losing season? Absolutely. Would I like to have gone to a 34th consecutive bowl game? You bet. Would I like to have beaten Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State to a pulp? More than anything.

But, to paraphrase the Rolling Stones, you can’t always get what you want.

As much as football fans hate it, especially in these days of immediate gratification, sometimes success requires perseverance through tough times.

Fritz Crisler, *Photo taken from bentley.umich.edu

Fritz Crisler, *Photo taken from bentley.umich.edu

With all the success that the Michigan football program has enjoyed in its storied history, it has had a proud tradition of leading the way on the college football landscape. From Fielding Yost’s “point-a-minute” teams and invention of the linebacker position in the early 1900s to Fritz Crisler’s “Mad Magicians” and institution of separate offensive and defensive units in the ‘30s and ‘40s, Michigan has a history of change and innovation.

Historically speaking, the hiring of Rodriguez is nothing new for Michigan football. Bennie Oosterbaan, who coached the Wolverines from 1948-58, was hailed as “the best offensive mind in college football” by Crisler. Many consider Rodriguez one of the top offensive minds in college football today.

It all comes down to a matter of perspective. Last season’s growing pains were not a reflection of Rodriguez’s coaching abilities or the fall of the Michigan football program. They were a result of a complete overhaul from one way of doing things to another.

Take Apple, for example. Throughout the 1980s, Apple Computer, Inc. dominated the computer market until it became outdated and passed up by its competitors.

In need of something new, the company overhauled its image and is now considered by Fortune magazine to be the most admired company in the world. One of its main criticisms during its downslide was its cost, but by enhancing its image and its product, consumers now know they are getting a great and “sexy” product despite the higher cost.

Apple was able to reinvent itself without losing its roots. Likewise, Michigan’s hiring of Rodriguez should be seen as a commitment to reinventing the football program and tapping into its rich tradition of innovation, rather than a departure from “Michigan football.”

Last season was hard to stomach for Michigan fans. Hearing opposing fans laugh in our misery makes it even worse. But despite that, it makes me even more proud to be a Michigan fan.

For my entire life, Michigan has been expected to win nearly every game it played. It was a great, and boastful feeling. Then Ohio State hired Jim Tressel, who has won seven of the eight games he has coached in the rivalry. Then Michigan lost four straight bowl games, including three Rose Bowls. Then, a senior-laden Michigan team lost at home to Appalachian State.

Suddenly, mighty Michigan was no longer feared. It became synonymous with underachieving. It no longer had the upper hand against its most bitter rival. Its leader for the last 13 years retired. A chapter had to be closed, and a new one had to be started.

Enter Rodriguez, an innovator who has had success everywhere he has been. He won 59 percent of his games at NAIA Glenville State in his first true head coaching position, then won 70 percent of his games at West Virginia, including four Big East titles in seven years.

*Photo by Jim Beaver, Sports Illustrated

*Photo by Jim Beaver, Sports Illustrated

He also coordinated Tulane’s offense to a 12-0 record in 1998, and took a Clemson offense that averaged just 19.9 points and 304 yards per game the year before he arrived to a 9-3 record in 2000, averaging 36 points and 446 yards per game.

The guy knows how to run and offense and he knows how to win. It just takes time.
Instead of big, hulking offensive linemen, he needs smaller, faster linemen. Goodbye Boren, Kurt Wermers, Dann O’Neill, Jeremy Ciulla, Grant DeBenedictis, Brett Gallimore and Alex Mitchell.

Instead of big, tall pro-style wide receivers, he needs small, quick slot-type guys. Goodbye Mario Manningham, Adrian Arrington and Toney Clemons. Hello Terrence Robinson, Martavious Odoms, Roy Roundtree, Teric Jones and Jeremy Gallon.

Most importantly, instead of a tall, pro-style pocket-passing quarterback, he needs fast, shifty spread-option guys. Goodbye Ryan Mallet and Steven Threet. Hello Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson.

Just like that, he’s got the foundation of his offense to develop for the next four or five years along with the subsequent recruiting classes.

Winning with a bunch of freshmen isn’t going to happen overnight. Once they learn and grow in the system, the winning will come.

As much as opposing fans like to call it an excuse, the truth is that it just takes time to overhaul your roster to fit your needs. Sure Rodriguez may have won a couple more games last season by running a “normal” offense, but at what cost? Is it worth preserving a couple of streaks to risk slowing down the reinvention process?

I say no. And that is where the excitement lies. Of course Rodriguez didn’t try to go 3-9 last season, but as the next couple of years play out and we gain more perspective, I am confident that we will look back on that season as a sort of necessary evil.

Just like when you’re building a new house and you can’t wait to move in, I can’t wait for the excitement of the new Michigan football when the renovation is complete. The teams that will be dazzling the Big Ten with lightning-quick backs and receivers, racking up points the way Crisler’s “Mad Magicians” did 62 years ago.

For now though, I’ll keep watching the new Michigan Wolverines take shape and grow. And I’ll find much more delight in watching the team go 7-5 in 2009 than I did when a Michigan team full of NFL talent went 7-5 in 2005.

And you never know, maybe this year’s team will overachieve.