Posts Tagged ‘Chad Henne’
For the past three years, we have all watched Denard Robinson run up and down the field, leading the Maize and Blue as he set our hearts ablaze. From his first snap against Western Michigan to his to his three-year domination of Notre Dame to his clutch five touchdown performance to end Ohio State’s winning streak, the man they call Shoelace has littered the Michigan record books. He stands poised to finish in the top five in pretty much every rushing and passing category in Michigan history, so he will reach certain milestones throughout the season. A few other Wolverines can make their mark in the record book as well, so let’s take a look at all of the career records that may be set this year, project when during the season they might occur, as well as where the player will likely finish.
|1. Mike Hart||1,015||1. Mike Hart||5,040||1. Anthony Thomas||55||1. Mike Hart||28|
|2. Anthony Thomas||924||2. Anthony Thomas||4,472||2. Tyrone Wheatley||47||2. Anthony Thomas||22|
|3. Chris Perry||811||3. Jamie Morris||4,393||3. Mike Hart||41||3. Tyrone Wheatley||20|
|4. Jamie Morris||809||4. Tyrone Wheatley||4,178||4. Chris Perry||39||4. Jamie Morris||18|
|5. Butch Woolfolk||718||5. Butch Woolfolk||3,861||5. Denard Robinson||35||5. Butch Woolfolk||16|
|6. Tyrone Wheatley||688||6. Chris Perry||3,696||6. Rick Leach||34||6. Rob Lytle||15|
|7. Billy Talyor||587||7. Rob Lytle||3,317||7. Steve Smith||31||7. Denard Robinson||14|
|8. Rob Lytle||557||8. Denard Robinson||3,229||8. Billy Taylor||30||8. Billy Taylor||13|
|9. Denard Robinson||546||9. Billy Taylor||3,072||8. Tom Harmon||30||8. Gordon Bell||13|
|10. Lawrence Ricks||541||10. Gordon Bell||2,900||10. Butch Woolfolk||29||8. Tim Biakabatuka||13|
Attempts: In his rookie campaign, Denard carried the ball just 69 times, but in the last two, he has averaged 238 per season. Last year was 221, or an average of 17 per game. I would expect that to fall slightly with the emergence of Fitz Toussaint (depending on how long Brady Hoke keeps him out) as a true running threat. Let’s say his average falls by one carry per game. He’ll finish with 754 career carries, which would put him in 5th behind Jamie Morris and ahead of Butch Woolfolk. Projected finish: 5th
Yards: It’s hard to imagine that Denard ran for just 351 yards in 2009, but he burst onto the scene with 1,702 in 2010, his first season as a starter. Last year, that total dropped along with his carries due to Toussaint’s emergence, but he still broke the 1,000-yard mark with 1,176. Like attempts, his yards will likely drop slightly again this year and be around the 950-1,050 mark. Even 950 would put him just past Tyrone Wheatley into 4th place all-time. He would need 1,164 to pass Jamie Morris for 3rd and 1,243 to pass Anthony Thomas for 2nd. That’s as high as he could conceivably reach.
So when could we see him move up the ranks? There’s a chance he could pass Rob Lytle on Saturday, but it would take a monumental effort against an Alabama defense that allowed just one runner, Georgia Southern freshman running back Dominique Swope (153), to gain that much last season. Denard will surely pass Lytle by Week 2 against an Air Force defense that Michigan should run all over. He should pass Chris Perry by Week 5 against Purdue or Week 6 against Illinois, and then cruise by Butch Woolfolk around Week 9 against Minnesota. Projected finish: 4th
Touchdowns: With 30 rushing touchdowns over the last two seasons, including a career high 16 last year, Denard is already in the top five in Michigan history. There’s a slight chance he could move into first place, but 20 rushing touchdowns is a very tall order. It’s more likely that he’ll reach 2nd with at least 12 this season. He should pass Chris Perry in the first two or three weeks and then Mike Hart by mid-season before closing in on Tyrone Wheatley. Projected finish: 2nd
100-yard Games: In 2010, Denard ran for at least 100 yards in nine of Michigan’s 13 games, missing Jamie Morris’ 1987 single-season mark by one. Last year, he had five. It’s likely that the farthest he will climb is 4th, but there’s a chance he could reach Wheatley with six more 100-yard games. If I had to bet, I would say Air Force, UMass, Notre Dame, and Minnesota are the most likely 100-yard games with a couple others possible. But a lot of it has to do with how quickly Toussaint is reinstated as well. Projected finish: 4th
There are several other rushing categories he could move up in aside from the main ones listed above:
• He has averaged 5.91 yards per rush and could potentially pass Biakabutuka and Lytle for 3rd all-time.
• He’s currently in a four-way tie for 4th in career 150-yards rushing games with Taylor, Woolfolk, and Wheatley. One more and he’ll move into a tie for 3rd with Morris. Two more and he’ll tie Thomas for 2nd.
• Denard needs two more games of 200 yards rushing to tie Hart for 1st, although with just three in his career, it’s unlikely.
|1. Chad Henne||1,387||1. Chad Henne||828||1. Chad Henne||9,715||1. Chad Henne||87|
|2. John Navarre||1,366||2. John Navarre||765||2. John Navarre||9,254||2. John Navarre||72|
|3. Elvis Grbac||835||3. Elvis Grbac||522||3. Elvis Grbac||6,460||3. Elvis Grbac||71|
|4. Todd Collins||711||4. Todd Collins||457||4. Todd Collins||5,858||4. Rick Leach||48|
|4. Tom Brady||711||5. Tom Brady||443||5. Jim Harbaugh||5,449||5. Steve Smith||42|
|6. Steve Smith||648||6. Jim Harbaugh||387||6. Tom Brady||5,351||6. Denard Robinson||40|
|7. Jim Harbaugh||620||7. Brian Griese||355||7. Denard Robinson||4,931||7. Todd Collins||37|
|8. Brian Griese||606||8. Denard Robinson||338||8. Steve Smith||4,860||8. Tom Brady||35|
|9. Denard Robinson||580||9. Steve Smith||324||9. Brian Griese||4,383||9. Brian Griese||33|
|10. Rick Leach||537||10. Rick Leach||250||10. Rick Leach||4,284||10. Jim Harbaugh||31|
Attempts: Denard has averaged 274 attempts per season as a starter, although he threw 33 fewer passes last season than he did in 2010. I expect this year to be somewhere in between, around the 275 mark, which would move him into 3rd place behind Chad Henne and John Navarre. The numbers of those two across the board won’t be challenged. Denard may pass Brian Griese on Saturday, though he threw 26 or more passes just twice all last season and three times in 2010. He should move past Todd Collins by midseason and near Elvis Grbac by season’s end. Projected finish: 3rd
Completions: In the last two years, Denard has averaged 162 completions per season. Last year, he completed just 142 passes and I expect that to rise this year along with his completion percentage. Around 175 completions is likely and that would move him into 4th place, ahead of Collins and just behind Grbac. He may reach Grbac, but won’t even sniff Navarre or Henne. He needs 18 completions to move up one spot and pass Griese, but the most he completed in a single game last season was 17. That’s probably unlikely against Alabama’s defense. Projected finish: 4th
Yards: With an average of 2,371 passing yards the past two seasons, I expect that to be about the mark this year. Let’s say an even 2,400. If he does so, he will easily occupy the 3rd spot in Michigan history. The next person on the list to pass is Tom Brady, but it’s not going to happen in Week 1. It will likely happen against Air Force, and then he’ll pass Harbaugh shortly thereafter. Collins should be passed by midseason and then Grbac late in the year. Projected finish: 3rd
Touchdowns: Denard is already 6th in the record books in career touchdown passes and needs just two more to move into a tie with Steve Smith for 5th. That could happen on Saturday. Last season, he threw 20 and the year before that he thew 18. Twenty is probably a realistic number this year and if that happens, he’ll finish 4th behind Henne, Navarre, and Grbac. There’s a big gap between 4th and 3rd and I think it’s too much to ask for. Projected finish: 4th
There are several other passing categories that he could finish highly in aside from the main ones listed above.
• He’s currently 8th in career completion percentage (58.3) and could move as high as 5th with a great season.
• He’s currently 5th in efficiency rating (142.1) and could jump another spot or two as well.
• With three more 150-yard passing games, he will jump up to 4th, and with six he could move into a tie for 3rd with Grbac and Collins.
• With four 200-yard passing games, he will jump Harbaugh for 5th. He needs five to tie Collins for 4th and six to reach Brady for 3rd.
• As a toast to Brett Favre, he will likely also finish his career with the dubious honor of most interceptions thrown. He’s currently 6th and needs just eight more to pass Henne for the top (or is it bottom?) spot.
|Total Yards Gained||Big Ten QB Rush Yds||Tackles||Field Goals Made|
|1. Chad Henne||9,300||1. Antwaan Randle-El||3,895||1. Ron Simpkins||516||1. Garrett Rivas||64|
|2. John Navarre||9,031||2. Denard Robinson||3,229||2. Jarrett Irons||440||2. Remy Hamilton||63|
|3. Denard Robinson||8,160||3. Juice Williams||2,557||3. Erick Anderson||428||3. Mike Gillette||57|
|4. Steve Smith||6,554||4. Paul Girgash||414||4. J.D. Carlson||39|
|5. Rick Leach||6,460||5. Mike Mallory||396||5. Ali Haji-Sheikh||31|
|6. Elvis Grbac||6,221||6. Andy Cannavino||385||6. Bob Bergeron||29|
|7. Jim Harbaugh||5,745||7. Calvin O’Neal||378||7. Hayden Epstein||26|
|8. Todd Collins||5,702||8. Sam Sword||377||8. Mike Lantry||21|
|9. Tom Brady||5,180||9. Mike Boren||369||9. K.C. Lopata||21|
|10. Anthony Thomas||4,472||15. Jordan Kovacs||266||15. Brendan Gibbons||14|
Denard shouldn’t have any trouble passing Henne for most career yards gained and Antwaan Randle-El for the Big Ten career rushing yards by a quarterback.
Safety Jordan Kovacs is currently 15th on Michigan’s career tackles list with 266. He would need 95 to pass Steve Morrison and move into the top 10. Another nine would allow him to pass Mike Boren for 9th. If he matches his career high of 116 which was set in 2010, he would move up to 7th. An interesting note is that every guy in the top 10 was a linebacker so Kovacs would be the first safety to reach that point.
Kicker Brendan Gibbons is also 15th on Michigan’s career field goals made list with 14. Thirteen of those came last season and if he can match that this year, he’ll move into 7th on the career list, just ahead of Hayden Epstein. As just a junior this season, he has a chance to move into the top three or four by the time his career is up. Who would have thought that after his freshman season?
As you can see, there are a lot of milestones to be reached this season, mostly by Denard Robinson. Stay tuned to Maize and Go Blue each week as we will keep you updated on his progress. It’s fun to see him pass some of the all-time greats in Michigan history week in and week out.
It’s no secret that Denard Robinson had a bad game against Michigan State on Saturday or that his passing has not shown much improvement since last season. He went 9-for-24 last Saturday, lowering his season completion rate to 53.9 percent, and threw an interception to raise his season total to a nation-leading 11. Michigan fans across the spectrum are clamoring for Devin Gardner to replace him. So why is this guy still the starting quarterback at Michigan?
The answer, in short, is because by the time he hangs up his jersey for the last time, Denard will be one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever don the maize and blue. You may scoff at that claim, given the number of signal-callers Michigan has sent to the NFL, but it depends on what your definition of quarterback is.
Is he the best pure, NFL-ready quarterback? No. There are probably a dozen Michigan alums that were better true pro-style quarterbacks. But college football is chalk full of effective quarterbacks who aren’t NFL-style QBs. Denard is one of the best, and the same can be said for his place in the history of college football’s all-time winningest program.
Don’t agree? Look at the numbers. He’s a year-and-a-half into his career as a starter and he already ranks in the top 10 in nearly every major offensive category, both passing and rushing.
Michigan has fielded 132 teams since the football program began in 1879. It has a history as rich as any school in the country. There have been some phenomenal players to take the field, but none have the statistical resume Robinson will have when he graduates.
Putting stats aside for a minute, the main metrics in which any player is judged – and rightfully so – are winning games, winning championships, and beating rivals. Right now, Denard trails in all three, but he’s not as far behind the greats as one would think.
He has a current record of 13-7 as a starting quarterback through his first 20 games. By contrast, Chad Henne and John Navarre were each 14-6, and Tom Brady and Elvis Grbac were 15-5. Brian Griese was 16-4 thanks to the national championship season of 1997, and Jim Harbaugh was 16-3-1. As you can see, Denard’s not far behind the recent greats in the win category. However, judging a quarterback by winning games alone is somewhat misleading unless you look at the talent he has around him.
Henne had probably the best crop of playmakers of any Michigan quarterback, with Braylon Edwards, Steve Breaston, Mario Manningham, and Adrian Arrington to throw to, Mike Hart to hand off to, and an NFL No. 1 overall pick, Jake Long, protecting him. Navarre had David Terrelle and Marquise Walker to throw to and Anthony Thomas and Chris Perry to hand off to. Griese had Amani Toomer, Tim Biakabatuka, Tai Streets, an NFL offensive line, and one of the greatest defenses of all time. Grbac had Desmond Howard, Derrick Alexander, and Ricky Powers.
Denard has some talent around him, but right now it pales in comparison to what Henne, Navarre, Griese, and Grbac had. Every single one of those above played or are playing in the NFL. How many of Denard’s current supporting cast will make it to the league?
Now that we’ve established that Denard is right on pace in the win category, lets move on to winning championships. If we’re talking national championships, then only Brian Griese can count in the modern era. We would have to go all the way back to Pete Elliott in 1948 to find the last Michigan quarterback to lay claim to that.
If we’re talking Big Ten championships, then Denard has some work to do. Henne started four years but won just one Big Ten title. Denard still has a chance –albeit slight – to achieve that this season. He also has a year left. Brady, Griese, and Harbaugh each also won one. Navarre won two, although one was in 2000 when he started just four games and split time with Drew Henson.
How about beating rivals? This has a chance to be Denard’s strongest comparison but just like winning games, this takes help. He has beaten Notre Dame both times he’s faced them – and did it almost singlehandedly each time. He’s lost twice to Michigan State and is 0-1 against Ohio State with a chance to even that record at the end of November. That would pull him to 3-3 against rivals, and with a sweep in 2012, he could get to 6-3. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Since he will play nine career rivalry games, barring injury, he’ll either finish with a winning or losing record in those games.
Henne went 5-6 (4-0 against Michigan State, 1-2 against Notre Dame, but 0-4 against Ohio State). Navarre went 4-4 (2-1 against Michigan State, 1-1 against Notre Dame, and 1-2 against Ohio State). Griese was 4-1 (2-0 against Ohio State, 1-0 against Notre Dame, and 0-1 against Michigan State). Grbac was 5-2-1 (2-0 against Ohio State, 2-1 against Michigan State, and 1-2-1 against Notre Dame). Harbaugh went 6-1 (2-0 against both Ohio State and Notre Dame, and 2-1 against Michigan State).
So by that measure, Harbaugh, Grbac, and Griese lead, but again, Denard still has a chance to achieve a winning record, which Henne and Navarre couldn’t. Only Henne had a losing record, so Denard will have to avoid doing that.
Stats-wise, Denard currently ranks 9th in career completions (272), 10th in passing yards (4,011), 9th in touchdown passes (31), 9th in 100-yard passing games (14), and 6th in 200-yard passing games (9). He also has the second-best single-game completion percentage, with his 86.3 percent performance against UConn last season, he currently ranks 5th in career completion percentage (59.9), just ahead of Henne, and 4th in career efficiency rating (145.9), ahead of both Henne and Brady. Last season’s 2,570 passing yards was the 7th-best season total in Michigan history.
By the time his career is over, Denard should conceivably rank third or fourth in every major passing category, behind only Henne and Navarre.
Rushing-wise, he’s like no other Michigan has seen. Michigan has had some agile quarterbacks, but none put up anywhere close to the rushing numbers he has so far, partially because they all had solid running backs alongside them. Denard is already second in Big Ten history for quarterback rushing yards, trailing only Illinois’ Juice Williams, and he’s just 1,080 away from passing Williams.
He currently ranks 10th in Michigan career rushing yards (2,815) and career rushing touchdowns (28). Those numbers are for any Michigan player, not just quarterbacks. He also has the highest career yards-per carry average (6.49), the 4th-best single season yardage total (1,702), and the 5th-best single game total (258). Last week, he passed Tim Biakabatuka in yards. By the time his career is over, he’ll likely rank in the top four in yards and top two or three in touchdowns.
So buckle up Michigan fans, because right now we’re witnessing one of the most prolific Michigan quarterbacks of all time, whether you like his style or not. After he graduates, Michigan will likely go back to the NFL-style signal-caller, and years from now, we’ll all look back with reverence at the Michigan legend that was Denard Robinson. Let’s put to rest the calls for Gardner.
|Michigan has a great tradition of sending players to the National Football League. While the pace has fallen off over the past few years, there are still plenty of former Wolverines in the League. Each week during the season, we will provide an update on how former Michigan Men fared that week.
Tom Brady – Patriots QB
Chad Henne – Dolphins QB
Last game: Completed 19-of-29 passes for 255 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT; Rushed 4 times for 26 yards
Season totals: 61-of-108 (56.5%) for 841 yards (14th), 4 TDs, 3 INTs
LaMarr Woodley – Steelers OLB
Mario Manningham - Giants WR
Braylon Edwards – 49ers WR
Charles Woodson – Packers DB
Steve Breaston – Chiefs WR
Jason Avant - Eagles WR
Last game: 4 catches for 33 yards
Tim Jamison – Texans DE
Leon Hall - Bengals DB
Morgan Trent – Bengals DB
David Harris - Jets LB
Zoltan Mesko – Patriots P
James Hall – Rams DE
Larry Foote – Steelers LB
Jay Feely – Cardinals K
Alan Branch – Seahawks DT
Adrian Arrington - Saints WR
Brandon Graham – Eagles DE
Jeff Backus – Lions OT
Steve Hutchinson – Vikings OG
Jonathan Goodwin – 49ers OG
David Baas – Giants C
Jake Long – Dolphins OT
Jonas Mouton – Chargers LB
Stephen Schilling – Chargers OT
Donovan Warren – Lions DB
Brandon Minor – Broncos RB
|Michigan has a great tradition of sending players to the National Football League. While the pace has fallen off over the past few years, there are still plenty of former Wolverines in the League. Each week during the season, we will provide an update on how former Michigan Men fared that week.
Tom Brady – Patriots QB – Completed 32-of-48 passes for 517 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT
Chad Henne – Dolphins QB – Completed 30-of-49 passes for 416 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT; Rushed 7 times for 59 yards, 1 TD
LaMarr Woodley – Steelers OLB – 3 tackles, 1 sack, 1 tackle-for-loss, 1 PBU
Mario Manningham - Giants WR – 4 catches for 49 yards
Braylon Edwards – 49ers WR - 3 catches for 27 yards
Charles Woodson – Packers DB – 2 tackles, 1 PBU
Steve Breaston – Chiefs WR – 2 catches for 26 yards
Jason Avant - Eagles WR – 3 catches for 40 yards
Tim Jamison – Texans DE – 1 assisted tackle
Leon Hall -Bengals DB – 2 tackles, 2 PBU
Morgan Trent – Bengals DB – Did not record a stat
David Harris - Jets LB – 7 tackles
Zoltan Mesko – Patriots P - 4 punts for 152 yards (38.0 avg), 1 touchback, 1 inside 20
James Hall – Rams DE – 2 tackles, 1 tackle-for-loss, 1 PBU
Larry Foote – Steelers LB – 2 tackles
Jay Feely – Cardinals K - 0-for-1 FGs, 4-for-4 XPs
Alan Branch – Seahawks DT – 1 tackle
Brandon Graham – Eagles DE – On PUP list with knee injury. Expected to return in Week 7
Jeff Backus – Lions OT - Started
Steve Hutchinson – Vikings OG – Started
Jonathan Goodwin – 49ers OG – Started
David Baas – Giants C – Started
Jake Long – Dolphins OT – Started
Jonas Mouton – Chargers LB – DNP
Adrian Arrington – Saints WR – DNP
Stephen Schilling – Chargers OT – DNP (On practice squad)
Donovan Warren – Lions DB – DNP (On practice squad)
Brandon Minor – Broncos RB - DNP (On injured reserve)
In what would have been situation of near panic for most teams, the genius of Rich Rodriguez’s system shone bright. After racking up nearly 200 yards of total offense and a 14-0 lead in the first eight minutes, Denard Robinson went down with a knee injury. Instead of going into a shell of the offense, backups Tate Forcier and Devin Gardner didn’t miss a beat, leading seven touchdown drives as Michigan pummeled Bowling Green 65-21.
Just like that it became apparent that Michigan is set at the quarterback position for the next few years and Rodriguez needed only to get his type of players into his system in order to succeed.
It was a stark contrast to both the team on the other side of the field and Rodriguez’s first couple of years at Michigan.
Bowling Green’s starting quarterback Matt Schilz suffered a shoulder injury in last week’s win over Marshall leaving redshirt sophomore Aaron Pankratz to make the first start of his career. He proved ineffective even against a Michigan defense that entered the game on pace to become the worst in school history statistically.
Michigan sacked Pankratz three times and forced two turnovers, limiting the Bowling Green offense to 283 total yards, 71 of which came on one busted play in the second quarter.
Two years ago, it was Rodriguez who found himself in a quarterback quandary with two quarterbacks that had no experience, one a walk-on, and neither of which suited for his system.
While the offense struggled to put together drives and score points and Michigan fans bemoaned the program’s worst season in 40 years, Rodriguez supporters insisted that he needed to be given time to recruit his guys.
Last season, the offense showed a glimpse of what was possible with Forcier, then a true freshman, leading Michigan to a 4-0 start, including a thrilling come-from-behind win over Notre Dame. Robinson, who didn’t enroll in the spring like Forcier did, provided highlights with his legs but had virtually no grasp of the offense.
Now, as sophomores, and Robinson firmly entrenched as the starter, Michigan has again raced out to a 4-0 start, boasting one of the best, if not the best, offenses in the entire nation.
Robinson has rushed for over 100 yards in all four games, leading the nation in rushing, but has also proven he can be an efficient passer. He currently ranks 18th in passing efficiency, right in between Michigan State’s Kirk Cousins and Nevada’s Colin Kaepernick.
|Offensive stats through four games|
|13/54 (57%)||Third-Down Conv.||25/58 (43%)|
|18/19 (95%)||Red Zone Scoring||11/15 (73%)|
|*2 other turnovers were fumbles on a INT returns,|
|so they don’t count towards offensive stats|
He’s certainly the electricity that fuels the dynamic Michigan offense, but in moments like this past Saturday, having a proven starter as the backup allows the offense to keep firing on all cylinders despite a flat tire.
When Gardner, a true freshman, gets added to the mix, one can see how Michigan has perhaps the best corps of quarterbacks in the country. Many believe Gardner to have the most potential of the three, and he has been the first off the bench each time Robinson has been forced out of the game.
His knowledge of the offense is akin to that of Robinson’s last season, but his physical talent and size make Gardner an imposing threat. On Saturday, he showed his passing ability, connecting on 7-of-10 passes for 85 yards and a touchdown. Hidden in those stats is a beautiful deep ball that would have been a 47-yard touchdown pass had Junior Hemingway not developed a case of alligator arms.
Forcier, meanwhile, set a Michigan record for most passes without an incompeltion, connecting on all 12 of his passes for 110 yards and a touchdown.
All together, the trio went 23-for-26 for 255 yards and two touchdowns and rushed 15 times for 184 yards and three touchdowns.
While it’s easy to look at the opponent and say, “Well, it’s just Bowling Green,” consider that the last time Michigan put up offense like that against an FBS team was in 1986.
Michigan plays MAC schools nearly every season and the next closest results were a 59-20 beating of Eastern Michigan in 1998 and 55-0 in 2005. Those teams were led by quarterbacks you may have heard of: Tom Brady and Chad Henne.
As electric as Robinson is, the offense was just as effective without him for 52 minutes on Saturday, while in Columbus, fellow Heisman candidate Terrelle Pryor played all but 16 minutes of his team’s 73-20 win over Eastern Michigan.
Imagine the kind of stats Robinson would have put up had he played another two-plus quarters against Bowling Green.
Despite the initial scare when Robinson got his knee checked out on the sideline, he was cleared to play and could have gone back in had he been needed. Instead, Rodriguez made the right choice to keep him healthy heading into Big Ten play and give Forcier and Gardner some valuable playing time.
Denard is the current front-runner for the Heisman, but he has selflessly embodied Bo Schembechler’s “the team” mindset. By putting the team first, Robinson earned his starting spot, and even though he wasn’t needed for most of the game last Saturday, he’ll be the fuel that keeps the engine running as Michigan travels to Indiana to open the conference schedule this Saturday.
Yes, we have little receivers. Get used to it
When are refs going to realize that just because our receivers are small and required to run block in Rodriguez’s system, it doesn’t mean they’re committing penalties all the time?
Maybe the refs aren’t used to seeing little guys blocking out in the open field, or maybe the defensive backs and linebackers have to get so low to approach them that it looks like it’s illegal, but when Martavious Odoms was called for a personal foul block below the waist in the second quarter, he literally hit the guy in the chest.
It was the second or third time this season a receiver has been called for the penalty when it wasn’t even close. That’s not even a penalty like holding that could be called on every play, or pass interference that is largely subjective. It’s not hard to tell if a guy hits another guy in the chest versus the legs.
If the game would have been three quarters long instead of four, I would have been close. But I’m glad it wasn’t, since it gave us a chance to see the debut of Fitzgerald Toussaint, in which he rumbled 61 yards to set up his own 5-yard touchdown run.
I ended up 17 over on offense and just two over on defense, leaving me 26 to 20 over on offense and defense, respectively for the season.
I Said What?
“While Michigan’s offense has looked virtually unstoppable so far this season, it will be that much better with a proven back to take the pressure off of Robinson. Hopefully Shaw continues to emerge as that back, and I think he will.
Over/Under – 99 Rushing yards for Shaw. I’ll take the over. Marshall’s Andre Booker ran for 126 last week against Bowling Green.”
Shaw didn’t really need to do much on Saturday. He carried the ball 12 times for 59 yards and a touchdown, but that only accounted for 21 percent of Michigan’s carries. Counting the three quarterbacks, nine different Wolverines rushed the ball against BG.
Shaw didn’t get over 99 yards, so I was wrong (-1), but he certainly didn’t do anything to warrant losing his spot as the top back.
“Over/Under – 2.5 sacks. I’ll take the over again. Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen, Greg Banks, and Craig Roh have to be licking their chops right now and hope to use this game as a springboard for the rest of the season.”
I was dead on with this prediction as Michigan recorded three sacks. Jonas Mouton, Ryan Van Bergen and Greg Banks each got to Pankratz, besting the total number of sacks Michigan had in the first three games combined. (+1)
“Gardner seems to have passed Forcier on the depth chart, and Rodriguez would love to get him some live reps. On the other hand, Forcier has a year of starting experience under his belt and hasn’t sniffed the field yet this season. Rodriguez would probably like to get him out there as well.
My bet is that Gardner gets at least a few drives to show what he can do and Forcier becomes the Darco Milicic human victory cigar late in the fourth quarter.”
Well, Gardner was the first to relieve Robinson, but Forcier was anything but Darco Milicic and I’m rather embarrassed for even suggesting he would be.
Forcier is a very important piece of this team and I have a much greater respect for the kid after his performance on Saturday and the press conference afterward. He basically said he loves Michigan, he loves Rodriguez, and he’s all in. (-1)
“Over/Under – 49 rushing yards for Devin Gardner. Once more, I’ll go with the over. Of course, this all depends on the first-team offense playing well enough to yield playing time, but my guess is that Gardner will get three or four possessions. The game should be well in hand by then, so Gardner won’t be passing much. I could see him breaking one long run.”
Gardner did show his passing skills but only made it halfway to the rushing yards I predicted, so I was wrong. He has certainly shown his talent, but has missed some reads and seems to get tackled much easier than Robinson does. He’s just a true freshman though, so there’s a long way to go. (-1)
“Michigan puts it away early in the second quarter. The offense will be firing on all cylinders and the defense will force some turnovers. Bowling Green won’t have enough firepower to keep up and Michigan’s backups will finally get a chance to play.”
Well, that about sums it up. It was basically put away in the first eight minutes, but BG fought back before it was officially put away with Shaw’s touchdown run just before the half. (+1)
Around this time last year, I wrote this, questioning whether it was time to expand Denard Robinson’s role in the offense. Now, just two weeks into the 2010 season, he’s a human Heisman.
I’ll be the first to tell you I didn’t expect Robinson’s development to happen this fast, but even in that article after last year’s Iowa loss, it was less about his future as a quarterback, and more about utilizing his athletic ability given where his development was at the time.
Now that he has, to borrow a phrase from the Fab Five, “shocked the world” with his play during the first two weeks of the season, leading the nation in rushing yards and total offense, and vaulting to the top of the list of Heisman Trophy candidates, it seems absolutely ridiculous to think of him anywhere else but lined up behind the center.
While Robinson has captured the attention of the nation, he certainly has his detractors who say there’s no way he can keep it up through the grind of the Big Ten schedule. He’ll end up getting hurt from all the pounding he takes. He still hasn’t proved he can pass.
Those are all legitimate claims and only time will tell whether they ring true or not, but one thing is for certain: Rich Rodriguez has his man.
To be honest, I still haven’t even figured out what happened in South Bend on Saturday. I think @cjane87 said it best: “I have had every single emotion over the last four hours.”
The game started out ominously with Notre Dame quarterback Dayne Crist leading the Irish down the field for a touchdown. Michigan responded with a punt. But then instead of Crist coming back out on to the field it was freshman Tommy Rees who proceeded to throw an interception on his second play, and Michigan took advantage with a 31-yard touchdown pass from Robinson to Roy Roundtree. Just like that it was 7-7.
From that point through the rest of the half, the inept combination of Rees and fellow freshman Nate Montana allowed Michigan to pull ahead 21-7. At that point, I was feeling good about the way things were going, but knew for sure that Notre Dame was going to come back.
Sure enough, the momentum swung back to the Irish as Crist returned to bring the Irish back, and ultimately hit tight end Kyle Rudolph for a 95-yard touchdown to take the lead with just 3:41 remaining. At that point, I may have sworn at the thought of my wife jumping up and down. She’s a Notre Dame fan, and I was out of town for the weekend on a business trip, thankfully.
In retrospect, the quick strike was a blessing for Michigan and served as fuel for the growing wildfire that is Denard Robinson. Unlike the Iowa game last season when Robinson had the chance to lead the offense down the field for the win, but instead threw this (at 2:12), Robinson was fully in command and marched the Wolverines on a 12-play, 72-yard scoring drive that ate 3:14 off the clock and sealed the Michigan win.
Just three minutes after NBC announcer Tom Hammond proclaimed that Rudolph’s go-ahead touchdown would go down as one of the greats in Notre Dame lore, Robinson created his own history, becoming the first Michigan quarterback to win his first start in South Bend since Jim Harbaugh in 1986.
That list includes Steven Threet in 2008, Chad Henne in 2004, John Navarre in 2002, Tom Brady in 1998, Todd Collins in 1992, Elvis Grbac in 1990, and Michael Taylor in 1988. In other words: most of the best quarterbacks in Michigan history couldn’t do what Robinson did on Saturday.
Robinson proved he has what it takes to lead the team down the field for the win, not just with his feet, but through the air as well. He hit Roundtree with a perfect pass to the two-yard line to set up the winning score. He actually went 5-6 on that drive for 55 yards and only rushed for 17 yards.
Notre Dame fans will always argue that if Crist had played the entire game, Notre Dame would have won. They may have an argument there and I may have to agree with them, but the cruel nature of the game is dealing with injuries, and Michigan has faced its far share of them this season as well.
In the same breath that an ND fan can say that, a Michigan fan can say that Rudolph never would have gotten open down field had Troy Woolfolk not suffered a season-ending ankle injury in fall practice.
The fact of the matter is, Michigan won for the second straight year and fourth time in the past five years.
The schedule sets up perfectly for a 5-0 start before another rival, Michigan State, invades the Big House.
We’ll get a good look at MSU this Saturday night as they host Notre Dame.
An ideal scenario for Michigan this week and next is to jump out to an early lead on UMass and Bowling Green, letting the starters play through the first half and possibly into the third quarter before giving way to the backups.
It would be great to get last year’s Notre Dame hero, Tate Forcier, some playing time, as well as freshman Devin Gardner.
Yeah, so I was wrong with my prediction that Notre Dame would win. Don’t call me a sell-out for picking against the Wolverines. As I said in the pick, I desperately want Michigan to win, but have to put bias aside when making my picks. I was only three off Michigan’s point total, but 13 under Notre Dame’s.
For the season, I’m 10 over for Michigan and 34 over for the opponents. I guess I should start respecting defenses, huh?
I Said What?
“The combination of Michigan’s defense this year and Notre Dame’s offense virtually requires Michigan’s offense to score 35-plus points if it wants to win this game.”
If Crist had played the entire game, maybe, but I was a touchdown too pessimistic. (-1)
“While you can’t look at the time of possession alone to determine the outcome of a game, it can certainly go a long way toward helping you win the game.”
Final time of possession: Michigan 34:09, Notre Dame 25:51. Michigan had the ball for just over eight minutes more than Notre Dame. Part of that was due to the 95-yard touchdown pass from Crist to Rudolph, allowing Michigan to put together a game-winning drive while eating the clock, but nevertheless, Notre Dame had just three drives of more than five plays the entire game. (+1)
“Two years ago in South Bend, Michigan lost four fumbles in the rainy conditions and lost 35-17. The weather forecast calls for similar conditions this Saturday, so whichever team takes better care of the ball could be the one that wins.”
The rain held off, but Michigan protected the ball for the second straight week. The only miscue was a fumble by Robinson in the first quarter, but Michigan recovered. On the flip side, Michigan picked off three Notre Dame passes, one of which directly lead to Michigan’s first touchdown of the game. (+1)
“The defense has to employ the bend-but-don’t-break attitude that it used last week, making Notre Dame work to get the ball down the field, rather than making big plays.”
Eh, not so much. The Crist injury may have contributed to Michigan’s success in the first half, but the big plays certainly did happen: A 37-yard pass at the end of the first half, which should have lead to three points, but Brian Kelly chose to go for the touchdown; a 53-yard touchdown pass early in the third quarter; and Rudolph’s 95-yard romp for the go-ahead touchdown. Three big plays that lead to 14 (should have been 17) points. All things considered, that’s a success against one of the most talented passing games Michigan will face all season. (-1)
“Michigan’s lines dominated UConn last week on both sides of the ball. There’s nothing to suggest it can’t do the same this week, as Notre Dame has a very young and inexperienced offensive line.”
Michigan didn’t exactly dominate Notre Dame’s offensive line, getting just one sack, though as MGoBlog points out, when Mike Martin and Craig Roh weren’t being double-teamed, they did this, this, and this.
The offensive line did well to not allow a sack for the second straight game and pave the way for Robinson to run for 258 yards. (+1)
So hey, three out of five isn’t bad.
We Can Always Use More Denard
A new addition to Maize & Go Blue is the Wolverine Watch, which is housed on the right sidebar. Currently, it features a side-by-side comparison of Robinson and Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, as seen above. It will be updated after every game for the entire season to show where the two stand in comparison.
If other Wolverines break out, they will be added to the Watch next to one of the Big Ten’s best at that position. Right now, the only one I could foresee is Roundtree if he continues his pace from the last few games of last season and has more games like his performance on Saturday (eight catches for 82 yards and a touchdown).
Each year during the week leading up to the first Michigan game of the season, I dust off my Bob Ufer “Maximum Meechigan” album and put it on repeat. As the goose bumps spread across my forearms I’m instantly transported back to the golden era of Michigan football eagerly anticipating the return of college football.
Perhaps Ufer put it best when he said, “There are five seasons across this country every year: winter, spring, summer, fall, and football. Football season makes the barber cut hair just a little bit better, and it makes the butcher slice the steak a trifle thicker. The shoe-shine boy pops his rag with more gusto, and the landlord doesn’t mention the overdue rent.”
While the quote may be a bit outdated, its meaning certainly holds true today. As we reach the start of the country’s fifth season, Michigan looks to start a new golden era, and it all begins on Saturday when UConn invades the Big House.
September 4 – UConn
Randy Edsall’s Huskies return eight starters from an offense that averaged 31.2 points per game a year ago. Fortunately for Michigan, the strength of the offense is the running game, led by Jordan Todman. Both receivers are new, affording Michigan’s weakness, the defensive secondary, a chance to get its feet wet for next week’s battle at Notre Dame.
Conversely, Michigan should be able to put up plenty of points against a very young and inexperienced UConn secondary. All signs point to a shootout, but Michigan should be able to come out on top with an explosive offense led by the duo of Denard Robinson and Tate Forcier.
Michigan 37 – UConn 31
September 11 – at Notre Dame
Notre Dame has a new coach at the helm in Brian Kelly who plans to spread the ball around in an up-tempo offense. Though the Irish will be breaking in a new starter at quarterback, Dayne Crist, he has some experienced weapons in receiver Michael Floyd, tight end Kyle Rudolph, and running back Armando Allen. Michigan fans are already having nightmares of Crist to Floyd in the same way that Michigan State felt about Henne to Edwards. In other words, it could get scary.
The one saving grace for Michigan is that Notre Dame’s defense is similar to its own: strong up front, weak in the secondary. Just like the UConn game, this figures to be a shootout, but Notre Dame will have too much firepower for Michigan to keep up with on the road.
Notre Dame 33 – Michigan 27
September 18 – UMass
Michigan gets a bounce-back game to get the offense firing on all cylinders and this should be similar to last season’s Football Championship Subdivision opponent, Delaware State.
UMass returns just eight total starters and will be no match for Michigan. Devin Gardner will likely get his first action running the offense as Michigan pounds the Minutemen.
Michigan 52 – UMass 17
September 25 – Bowling Green
Much like UMass, Bowling Green won’t put up much of a fight for Michigan. The Falcons return just eight starters. Senior running back Willie Geter is good, but won’t be able to make up for the loss of the school’ second all-time quarterback and receiver.
If there’s a common theme among Michigan’s non-conference schedule, it’s lack of depth and experience in the secondary. Bowling Green doesn’t have much to work with on a defense that gave up just under 28 points per game last season.
Michigan 46 – Bowling Green 20
October 2 – at Indiana
Last season, Indiana gave Michigan a scare in Ann Arbor. This season, Michigan needs to avoid a trap game on the road before entering the meat of its conference schedule.
Indiana is led by senior quarterback Ben Chappell, who pioneers one of the conference’s most dynamic offenses. Receiver Tandon Doss tore Michigan up a year ago and could be a tough matchup again this year for Michigan’s weak secondary.
Defensively, Indiana returns just three starters, all in the front seven. Michigan should once again light up the scoreboard in a close one.
Michigan 35 – Indiana 31
October 9 – Michigan State
Michigan State has won two straight in the rivalry and is licking its chops for a chance to make it three. Led by junior quarterback Kirk Cousins, the Spartans have one of the top offensive attacks in the Big Ten.
On defense, Michigan State has depth in the secondary but its weakness is up front. The leader on defense is All-American linebacker Greg Jones and he’s a force to be reckoned with, but Michigan should be able to move the ball on the Spartans. With the home field advantage, Michigan pulls it out.
Michigan 28 – Michigan State 24
October 16 – Iowa
The Hawkeyes could be the most complete team in the Big Ten with a senior-loaded offense and eight starters returning from one of the Big Ten’s top defenses. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi won’t be confused for Peyton Manning, but is efficient at running the offense.
Iowa’s defense gave up just 15.4 points per game last season and ranked fourth nationally in pass defense. The entire defensive line returns and should give Michigan’s offense fits for the first time this season.
Iowa 23 – Michigan 17
October 30 – at Penn State
Michigan gets the fortune of having its bye week prior to traveling to Happy Valley, which should help relieve the sting of the Iowa loss. Penn State has been one of the top teams in the Big Ten the past few years, but will be starting a true freshman quarterback, Robert Bolden, this season.
Last season’s top scoring defense returns just five starters and has to replace five of its front seven. A primetime “white-out” game in Happy Valley, however, is a recipe for a Penn State win.
Penn State 26 – Michigan 21
November 6 – Illinois
With Juice Williams and Arrelious Benn gone, Illinois head coach Ron Zook finds himself squarely on the hot seat. He will likely be relying on redshirt freshman Nate Scheelhaase to guide the offense that ranked last in the Big Ten last season in conference play.
On the other side of the ball, seven starters return from the worst scoring defense in the conference in 2009. Michigan will be able to score against the Illini and bounce back from two straight losses to become bowl eligible for the first time in three years.
Michigan 33 – Illinois 17
November 13 – at Purdue
Purdue seems to be a dark horse candidate to surprise some in the Big Ten this year, but the Boilermakers face two key issues: rebuilding on offensive line and in the secondary. Head Coach Danny Hope will rely on Miami transfer Robert Marve to lead the offense, but the Boilers suffered a huge loss when running back Ralph Bolden tore his ACL in the spring.
On defense, Purdue surrendered a conference worst 173.4 rushing yards per game last season, but returns most of the front seven. The secondary is void of experience, so the defense should yield plenty of points.
Michigan 31 – Purdue 21
November 20 – Wisconsin
Like Iowa, Wisconsin features a very experienced team on both sides of the ball from a team that finished 10-3 last season and upset Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl.
Senior quarterback Scott Tolzien returns, as does junior running back John Clay. The Badgers offense ranked first in the Big Ten in scoring (31.8), rushing yards (203.9) and total yards (416.9) last season, and it only has to replace one receiver. This offense should be hard to stop with the combination of Clay on the ground and receiver Nick Toon in the air.
The defense gave up a Big Ten best 88.2 yards on the ground last year but has to replace three defensive linemen. If the replacements can hold up, Wisconsin should challenge Ohio State and Iowa for the Big Ten title. They should be too much for Michigan though.
Wisconsin 28 – Michigan 20
November 27 – at Ohio State
The final game in the Big Ten as we know it could be ugly for Michigan. Ohio State figures to be firing on all cylinders with junior quarterback Terrelle Pryor expected to break out like former Texas quarterback Vince Young did in his junior season. Pryor has senior wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher, a virtual clone of Anthony Gonzalez, to throw to, and speedster Brandon Saine in the backfield. Four of five offensive linemen return including Michigan transfer Justin Boren.
While this should be the best offense Ohio State has had since Troy Smith graduated in 2006, the defense has some holes to fill. The defensive line needs to be retooled, but the linebackers all return, including seniors Brian Rolle and Ross Homan, the top two tacklers from a year ago.
Pryor could be looking to wrap up the Heisman with a big performance, and unless Michigan’s secondary grows up fast, it could be a long day for Michigan.
Ohio State 38 – Michigan 24
Many outside the program (and some of the Michigan fanbase) will say that 7-5 isn’t good enough for Michigan, but it’s just what Rich Rodriguez needs at this point to ramp up expectations for 2011. Getting back to a bowl game is the first step and anything more than 7-5 will be considered a huge success this year as Michigan will return 19 starters to challenge for the innagural Big Ten Championship next season.
Being a Michigan fan that grew up in Ohio and currently lives in New York, I’m constantly bombarded with ridicule from friends and family about the state of the Michigan football program.
“Wow, Michigan has really fallen apart; I don’t think they’ll ever be the same,” one will say, or “Don’t you wish you had a quality coach like Tressel?” another will ask.
In passing conversation, especially with an Ohio State fan, it’s impossible to adequately describe the perfect storm that has been Michigan football the past two seasons.
So as we enter Week 1 of the 2010 college football season, let’s put into words how Michigan’s recent demise, while frustrating, is not quite as bad as it seems.
Be Careful What You Wish For
On the surface, it’s easy to pronounce, “Carr never had a losing season and Rodriguez has losing seasons in each of his first two years, therefore, Rodriguez is a terrible coach and must be fired.”
Yet, a little critical thinking will tell you that there’s more to it than that. The blame for the past two seasons should be as much on former Michigan Athletic Director Bill Martin as on Head Coach Rich Rodriguez. It was Martin, after all, who decided to take Michigan down a completely new path to modernity following Carr’s retirement after the 2007 season.
Carr was a conservative coach who continued the success of his mentor, Michigan legend Bo Schembechler, combining with Bo and Gary Moeller to guide the program to 40 straight winning seasons and 33 straight bowl games. His teams were never going to go out and put up 60 points or step on an opponent’s throat while it was down. But they were never going to get blown out either.
That was both a blessing and a curse. Carr’s safe approach, whether it was punting on fourth-and-one from the opponent’s 45 with a minute and-a-half left in the half, or running three straight times to wind down the clock late in the game while clinging to a two-point lead, worked out more often than not. However, in the few instances when it gave the opponent enough time to score before the half, or gave the opponent the ball back with a chance to drive for the winning score, it was enraging. Michigan fans were constantly calling for Carr to stop being so conservative and some were even calling for him to be fired.
When Martin went out and hired an offensive innovator from West Virginia, some Michigan fans were disappointed that he didn’t get former Michigan offensive lineman Les Miles, while others were intrigued by the notion of the spread offense in Ann Arbor.
Martin knew upon hiring Rodriguez that, while he was an offensive genius, that coaching IQ fit a certain system. His style of coaching doesn’t mesh with the 320-pound offensive linemen and statuesque quarterbacks of Michigan past. He needs smaller, quicker offensive linemen and dual-threat quarterbacks. Whether you think that’s the sign of a good coach or not, that’s what Martin hired.
Right off the bat, Michigan fans expecting a carry-over from the Schembechler/Moeller/Carr regime were in for a letdown. That blame cannot be pinned on Rodriguez.
An Empty Cupboard Won’t Yield a Feast
Carr officially retired following the 2007 season, but he seemingly checked out a couple of years prior. He first hinted at calling it quits prior to 2007 and many believe that had Michigan beaten Ohio State in 2006 and advanced to the National Championship game, Carr’s exit would have come then.
He entered 2007 with a senior four-year-starter at quarterback (Chad Henne) and a hot-shot freshman (Ryan Mallett) backing him up. Part of Carr’s bait to hook Mallett, the number two quarterback in the 2006 high school class, was that the job was his when Henne graduated and Carr wouldn’t recruit a quarterback in the 2007 class.
Mallett, however, had trouble adjusting to Ann Arbor, butting heads with Carr during his freshman season, while being thrust into playing time during Henne’s injury-plagued senior season. By all accounts, Mallett intended to return home following that season regardless of who the coach was in 2008.
Following that season, Henne graduated along with four-year starting running back Mike Hart and left tackle Jake Long (the 1st overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft). Junior wide receivers Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington chose to enter the Draft and left guard Adam Kraus graduated, leaving Rodriguez with just a handful of returning starters on offense, none of which were suited for his offense.
The coaching transition was further slowed when Rodriguez lost out on Terrelle Pryor to Ohio State and offensive lineman Justin Boren bolted for Ohio State, bad-mouthing the program on his way out.* Pryor’s talents fit Rodriguez’s system and would have made some difference in 2008 and Boren certainly had the talent, but wasn’t committed to working hard enough for Rodriguez’s system.
Instead, Rodriguez was left with less talent and experience on offense than the majority of college football. His choice at quarterback was a freshman (Steven Threet) or a walk-on junior (Nick Sheridan), neither of which had any game experience and neither was suited for Rodriguez’s system. That alone wouldn’t have doomed the Wolverines had there been an experienced supporting cast to make up for it.
The best running back Rodriguez had was also a true freshman, Sam McGuffie, a Carr recruit who would have redshirted in any normal situation. The top receiver was a true freshman as well, Martavious Odoms, one of Rodriguez’s first recruits at Michigan who is more suited to be a supporting receiver rather than the lead role.
It’s certainly no stretch to say that no team in college football history has succeeded with freshmen starting at quarterback, running back, and wide receiver, no matter how highly-touted they are coming out of high school. It’s also no stretch to say that no coach in the country could have fared well with what Rodriguez had to work with in 2008.
Essentially, Rodriguez had two choices: to design a completely new playbook to fit the talents of the players Carr left behind or to begin installing his spread ‘n shred offense.
The former might have yielded another win or two that season, allowing Threet and Sheridan to be drop-back passers and McGuffie to run for three yards and a cloud of dust. Yet it would have set back the progression of the offense Rodriguez was going to install – the one he made his living on in working his way up from Glennville State to Tulane to Clemson to West Virginia and, ultimately, to Michigan.
The latter would at least get that progression started for Odoms and the rest of the players recruited by Rodriguez specifically for that offense.
Again, keep in mind that Martin didn’t hire a coach who then surprised everyone by running some wacky offense that no one knew about. Martin knew when he hired Rodriguez that he was essentially a system coach and the best in his field.
To expect that system to work from Day 1 is ludicrous even if he had Henne, Hart, and Long. Simply put, Michigan didn’t have the right players and that’s not Rodriguez’s fault.
Imagine if Schwinn Bicycle Company hired a new CEO who decided the company was going to start making airplanes. While the company is great at making bikes, handlebars and spokes will only fly so far. Mr. CEO would have to begin acquiring the necessary components to build airplanes and it wouldn’t happen overnight.
In the world of college football, players stay in a system for four or five years, making the roster turnover a slow process. It’s impossible to just get rid of 100-plus players of the old regime and bring in 100-plus of your guys. It takes four or five years to turn over the roster, and in theory, the results should progress each year.
By planting the seeds of his offense from Day 1, Rodriguez began to water the roots of his system.
In 2009, Rodriguez was able to land two quarterbacks that fit his offensive style, Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson. Threet transferred to Arizona State when he realized he was a square peg in a round hole and Sheridan was relegated to third string.
In one sense, Rodriguez has progressed with Odoms and the rest of the returnees from 2008 already having a knowledge base of the system. But on the other hand, he was back at square one, having to start another true freshman at quarterback.
Even so, the offense showed marked year-over-year improvement, going from 20.2 points and 290.8 yards per game in 2008 to 29.5 points and 384.5 yards per game in 2009. It just lacked consistency as a result of inexperience.
Reporters With an Axe to Grind
The next fodder for the anti-Rodriguez crowd is the allegation of cheating which was exposed by the Detroit Free Press last August. While all kinds of conspiracy theories exist, the fact is that the Free Press’ reports were nothing short of slanted, biased and exaggerated.
The paper’s writers, Michael Rosenberg and Mark Snyder, succeeded in creating a national sense of animosity towards Rodriguez and ego-boosting by fans of other schools.
The NCAA’s probe, released in February found five violations that in any other situation would be considered the minor, slap-on-the-wrist types that are constantly self-reported or overlooked by other schools. However, as a result of the “Freep Jihad,” the NCAA came down hard, finding five so-called major violations.
While all are nothing more than what would be found at nearly every other school in the country, the national perception is that Michigan and Rich Rodriguez knowingly cheated. It’s easy to create that perception when you’re a reporter with an axe to grind. Just find a couple of disgruntled former players who will gladly trash their former coach as well as a few ignorant freshmen and distort their words. In that way, the situation in Ann Arbor is different than everywhere else.
There is no doubt that Ohio State would find itself behind the eight-ball if the Columbus Dispatch decided to declare jihad on the school. Just this summer the Ohio State athletic department self-reported 13 minor violations between Jan. 1 and July 1, six involving the football program. In fact, since 2000, Ohio State has self-reported 375 minor violations (across all sports), the most of any school in the NCAA. By comparison, Oklahoma has self-reported 224 and Florida 112.
This leads to two possible conclusions: either Ohio State purposely crosses the line just a little bit, and decides every now and then to self-report just to keep the NCAA at bay; or Ohio State’s athletic department and coaching staff don’t monitor the rule book well enough to know that they shouldn’t keep making these kinds of mistakes.
Either way, if the Dispatch decided that instead of just reporting these violations, they were going to dive in and blow them out of proportion, the NCAA would almost certainly have to come down hard.
So the issue isn’t that Rich Rodriguez is a cheating scumbag; it’s that he didn’t meet the standards of two local reporters.
I’m not saying that Michigan wasn’t wrong, but failing to count 10 minutes of stretching as countable practice time certainly doesn’t justify the national perception created by Rosenberg and Snyder, nor does it create any more of a competitive advantage than those 375 minor violations at Ohio State.
To Paraphrase Arnold, We’ll Be Back
So now that Rodriguez finds himself firmly on the proverbial hot seat, many consider him all but gone if Michigan fails to have a great season this year. But that’s not the case.
If absolutely no progress is shown and another losing season is the end result, then it could happen. But a winning season, a bowl game, and signs of progress assure a fourth season on the job because 2011 promises to be a good one.
Following this season, Michigan loses only one starter on the offensive side (left guard Stephen Schilling) and two on the defensive side (linebackers Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton).
When senior cornerback Troy Woolfolk went down with a season-ending ankle injury last week, it was both a blessing and a curse. Woolfolk won’t be able to help out a very thin secondary this season, but intends to come back for his senior season in 2011, so a position that will be a weakness this season will be a strength next year.
In addition to 18 starters returning (19 if you count getting Woolfolk back), quarterbacks Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson will be in their third season running the offense. By then, their comfort level will be enough to ensure an offense sure to be as vaunted as those Rodriguez featured at West Virginia.
The schedule also sets up nicely with Notre Dame, Wisconsin, and Ohio State at home, Penn State off the schedule, and Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, and San Diego State as the other non-conference opponents (although the conference schedule may change due to the realignment and addition of Nebraska).
In other words, Michigan Athletic Director Dave Brandon would be ill-advised to fire Rodriguez after this season unless things really blow up. I don’t support firing him this season anyway, since 2011 will really be the determining season.
Consider 2010 the primer for a run at the inaugural Big Ten Championship next season. Don’t write off Rodriguez and the Wolverines just yet, because it’s not quite as bad as it seems.
*Many have also piled on Rodriguez for the players that have left the program for various reasons, such as Boren and wide receiver Toney Clemons who transfered, Justin Feagen and Boubacar Cissoko who were kicked off the team, and others who failed to qualify. Yet they forget that Carr had the same troubles.
In 2007 alone, Carr dismissed tight end Carson Butler, defensive end Eugene Germany, and cornerback Chris Richards from the team for violating team rules, backup quarterback Jason Forcier (Tate’s older brother) transfered to Stanford, and linebacker Cobrani Mixon transfered to Kent State (all of which subsequently hurt the depth of Rodriguez’s teams).
Michigan had a chance on Saturday to prove the doubters wrong – to shut up the critics of head coach Rich Rodriguez. Instead, its 35-10 loss to Penn State served only to ramp up the criticism and turn up the heat on Rodriguez.
A quick look around the Internet reveals some very negatively shaded articles about Michigan football. Headlines like, “Who’s to Blame For Michigan’s Downfall?” or “A Blown Opportunity for Rodriguez” or “Safety Responsible for UM Collapse” or “Penn State Dominates Reeling Michigan Football Team,” show either a misconception about this team or a clear bias against its coach.
Let’s all take a deep breath and realize that this team was not expected to challenge for the Big Ten this season. Most knowledgeable Michigan fans predicted a 7-5 finish. Some of the more optimistic fans said 8-4.
There is no downfall, no collapse, no blown opportunity, and this team isn’t reeling. It’s growing.
After a 4-0 start that included a come-from-behind win over rival Notre Dame, the expectations were immediately, and wrongly, raised. Even after taking Michigan State to overtime and Iowa to the brink, many unfairly praised this team as much farther along than it really is.
But what team can really succeed with a true freshman quarterback?
Some might point to USC and Matt Barkley, but that’s a team that has arguably the best offensive line in the country, and is loaded on the defensive side of the ball.
Some might even say Michigan’s own Chad Henne in 2004, but he had a senior Braylon Edwards to throw to. Edwards caught a school record 97 passes that season for 1,330 yards and 15 touchdowns. Michigan doesn’t have a down-field receiving threat this season.
I’m not saying that a team can’t succeed with a freshman quarterback, but it has to have outstanding play elsewhere to allow for the growing pains. Michigan doesn’t have that this season.
I’m excited for the future of Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson, but we have to be patient. Highlight-reel runs and game-winning drives aren’t going to happen every game.
We knew entering the season that Rodriguez’s offense was going to be a little bit better than last season, but still not where it will be once he gets all the athletes he needs to run it.
The addition of Forcier and Robinson helped take an offense that was virtually non-existent last season to one of the highest scoring offenses in the Big Ten this season.
Just think about how good it will be when these players have another year or two in the offense, and another recruiting class or two comes in.
Defensively, the struggles have been very hard to watch this season, especially since it doesn’t seem to be making much progress throughout the season.
Much has been made about its inability to make big stops, but defensive coordinator Greg Robinson is the third different coordinator in three years, which makes it hard to develop chemistry and consistency.
The defense will remain a frustration for the rest of this season, but should improve along with the offense in the coming years when Rodriguez gets more speed and talent to fit in.
The most important thing for Michigan fans is to not lose faith in the system and growth. We were griping for Lloyd Carr to be replaced because of 8-4 or 7-5 seasons when his teams consistently underachieved. Yet we’re all up in arms when this year’s team, in the second year of a complete overhaul, is on its way to a probable 7-5 season.
Look at it this way: in the last seven years of the Carr era, the offense averaged 30.4 points per game and 400.1 yards of total offense per game. The defense gave up 19.6 points per game and 331.5 total yards per game.
This season, Michigan’s offense is averaging 33.9 points per game and 404.5 total yards, while the defense is giving up 23.5 points and 367.4 yards per game.
Essentially, this year’s offense is better than the seven-year average in points and total offense, while the defense isn’t far behind the seven-year average. This is the best offense we’ve seen in the maize and blue since 2003.
And it’s still considered a rebuilding year!
Imagine what the future holds when Carr’s players move on and Rodriguez’s players step in. That’s not a knock on Carr at all – it’s just a completely different system that needs different types of players.
So while the big loss to Penn State hurts, it was just one game, and Penn State is a very good team. The first four games of the season spoiled us, but we need to keep things in perspective.
Michigan travels to Illinois this weekend to face a 1-6 team, and then hosts a dangerous Purdue team the following week.
While no game is a lock, Illinois should be a win to get Michigan bowl-eligible, and Purdue is also a game Michigan should win.
It should be 7-3 heading into Madison, Wisc., looking to close out the season with an upset over Wisconsin, or Ohio State in the final game.
A 7-5 season is likely, but an upset over Wisconsin or Ohio State would make this team an overachieving one, as opposed to Carr’s underachieving teams that we detested.
Even if Michigan doesn’t pull off an upset, and finishes 7-5, Michigan fans should be content with this season, looking forward to a bowl game and an even more talented and potent team next season.
That’s not exactly easy to swallow – being content with 7-5 – but it’s part of the process and it’s something we have to accept.
The future is certainly bright for Rodriguez and the boys in maize and blue. We just have to be patient and let the process unfold.