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Posts Tagged ‘Gator Bowl’

GATOR WAIT: Gator Bowl Loss Leaves Rodriguez’s Fate in Doubt

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011


Well, to make what might be the understatement of the year for Michigan fans, that was painful. It was fun for about the first four minutes and four seconds when Denard Robinson led Michigan right down the field for an impressive touchdown. Then Mississippi State got the ball and the game was over. The Bulldogs spotted Michigan another touchdown and then proceeded to run up 42 straight points including a 31 yard touchdown pass on 4th-and-10 with a 31-point lead and 10 minutes left.

Against Ohio State or Michigan State or Wisconsin I might have been mad. But Mississippi State put on a clinic, making me envious of a fast, talented, well-coached defense. A defense that sees what the opponent’s offense is doing and makes changes to counter it. Must be nice.

Instead, I saw a Michigan defense that was consistently out of place, running from the sideline at the last second before a snap, players running across the field not knowing where to line up, and having absolutely no clue how to stop an opponent it got five weeks to prepare for. An opponent that didn’t score that many points in a game all season, including against the powerhouses of Memphis, Alcorn State, Houston, and UAB.

If Michigan could play entire games solely on offense or if football games were just 15 minutes long, Michigan might be national champions. Unfortunately, defense is half the game and games are 60 minutes long. Michigan dominated the first quarter this season, outscoring opponents 122-64. But once things settled down, we saw week after week that opposing coaches were able to make changes and Michigan’s weren’t. In second quarters this season, Michigan was outscored 194-83.

All season long, I’ve publicly supported Rich Rodriguez getting a fourth year. At this point, I’m as close to changing my mind as I have been all year. After the loss to Penn State on Oct. 30, I created the Rich Rod-ometer which showed my level of acceptance with the coach at an all-time low. Now, if I were to show an updated version, there would be just a tiny sliver of white on the right-hand side.

It’s not that I want Michigan AD Dave Brandon to let Rodriguez go; I still do think he can produce some great teams here and is headed in the right direction. But I also think that something needs to change. And that something is the defense. For the second year in Rodriguez’s three seasons Michigan allowed more points than its offense scored. The last time that happened was 1967.

I wish it could have worked out too, Coach Rob, but it's time to part ways

My opinion is that Brandon should put up as much money as it takes to get the best defensive coordinator he can possibly get, ideally West Virginia DC Jeff Casteel. I think the perception that Rodriguez doesn’t care about defense is false. He’s definitely an offensive-minded coach, but he had good defenses in Morgantown when Casteel was on his staff. Due to a mixture of lack of talent, youth, bad luck, and a poor fit with Greg Robinson, Michigan’s defense has regressed each of the past three seasons.

Yes, you can blame Rodriguez for hiring Robinson, but it’s not like he was an unproven no-name defensive coordinator. He had some credentials and two Super Bowl rings to prove it. Whether it was injuries, youth, or being forced to run Rodriguez’s 3-3-5 (I’m sure it was a combination of the three), he just didn’t work out. And now he should be shown the door where he will undoubtedly succeed somewhere else.

With nearly every defensive starter returning and getting senior cornerback Troy Woolfolk back from injury, this defense could be much improved next season, especially under Casteel or another top-notch coordinator. If it’s even average, it could be enough for a Big Ten title run next season with the talent returning on offense.

I admit that I am intrigued by the thought of Jim Harbaugh replacing Rodriguez, but I still don’t think it will yield short-term results. Harbaugh will give fans, alumni, and boosters a “Michigan Man” at the helm and he will add some fire to the Ohio State game. But he also presents a philosophy shift back to where Michigan was three years ago. All progress from the past three years will be lost and another period of growing pains will ensue. Denard will probably leave (but not to the NFL) and a number of others will too.

Remember, Harbaugh’s resurrection of Stanford followed nearly the exact same evolution as Rodriguez’s has at Michigan (4-8, 5-7, 8-5 with a bowl loss, and now 11-1, compared to Rodriguez’s 3-5, 5-7, 7-6 to date).  With a revamped defensive staff, next year’s Michigan team certainly has the talent for a similar season as Stanford’s this year. And that’s where my hesitation with giving up on Rodriguez lies.

Keeping everything intact is not an option at this point. So if something has to change I think keeping Rodriguez and going after Casteel or another top-notch defensive coordinator has the same long-term potential as firing Rodriguez and hiring Harbaugh. The difference for me is in the short-term. I think Rodriguez with an experienced offense led by a junior Denard and even an average defense will have a better season than Harbaugh without Denard and possibly several others, running a different offense than what has been run the past three years.

Ultimately, the decision rests with Brandon and I know he has done his due diligence and will make the best decision for the University of Michigan. Whether that’s sticking with Rodriguez or bringing back Captain Comeback, I’ll support it 100 percent. But despite the letdown this New Years Day, I still think Rodriguez’s best days are ahead.

FORECAST FRIDAY: Gator Bowl, Michigan vs. Mississippi State

Friday, December 31st, 2010


Bowl season used to be one day to look forward to while ringing in the new year with friends, family, and if you’re fortunate, watching your favorite team play an opponent it doesn’t typically play in a warm and sunny spot you wish you were in. These days, we don’t even get a break in between the last game of the regular season and a watered down slate of games you really don’t care to watch but watch anyway because your only other viewing options are Glee or reruns of House.

Michigan vs. #21 Mississippi State
Block M logo

Saturday, Jan. 1, 2011 – 1:30 p.m. ET – ESPN2
7-5 Record 8-4
UConn 30-10
Notre Dame 28-24
UMass 42-37
Bowling Green 65-21
Indiana 42-35
Illinois 67-65 (3OT)
Purdue 27-16
Wins Memphis 49-7
Georgia 24-12
Alcorn State 49-16
Houston 47-24
#22 Florida 10-7
UAB 29-24
Kentucky 24-17
Mississippi 31-23
#17 Mich. St. 17-34
#15 Iowa 28-38
Penn State 31-41
#7 Wisconsin 28-48
#8 Ohio State 7-37
Losses #21 Auburn 14-17
#15 LSU 7-29
#12 Alabama 10-30
#13 Arkansas 31-38 2OT
34.3 Scoring Offense 27.1
251.1 Rushing YPG 215.8
249.8 Passing YPG 178.6
500.9 Total Offense 394.3
33.8 Scoring Defense 20.3
187.7 Rush Defense YPG 121.7
260.2 Pass Defense YPG 236.4
447.9 Total Defense YPG 358.1
18 Takeaways 26
27 Giveaways 20
17 Sacks By 26
11 Sacks Allowed 22
75/162 (46%) Third-down Conv. 81/179 (45%)
4/13 Field Goals 12/18
36.7 Net Punt Avg. 38.2

And so it is that we’ve finally arrived at that one day of the year where college football takes precedence over everything else and we Michigan fans get to watch a game we’ve been looking forward to since that brutal game on November 27.

Tomorrow’s matchup with No. 21 Mississippi State takes on added significance after Michigan’s two-year absence from post-season play and the fate of Head Coach Rich Rodriguez hanging in the balance.

Michigan always plays well against SEC teams (20-5-1 all-time and 7-3 in bowl games), but as we’ve learned the past three seasons, this isn’t the Michigan of old anymore.

That could spell doom for Rodriguez, but I don’t think the outcome of Saturday’s game will factor into his fate, and that’s the last thing I’ll say about the coaching situation.

Perhaps the most important factor for Michigan is the health of Denard Robinson who, by all accounts, is as healthy as he has been all season. He struggled late in the season when he was banged up and didn’t seem to have the same burst he displayed early in the season. But Saturday he’ll be healthy and playing in the warm and sunny weather of his home state of Florida.

Mississippi State is an interesting study. It’s a team that hung tough with Auburn and Arkansas, but didn’t really beat anybody good all season and barely survived 4-8 UAB. In other words, its season is reminiscent of Michigan’s.

The strength of the Bulldogs is the defense, led by linebacker Chris White, an all-SEC first team defender who gets the task of trying to slow down Robinson.

In week two, White and the Bulldog defense held Heisman winner Cam Newton to his worst performance of the season. Auburn won 17-14, but Newton completed just 11-of-19 passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns and rushed 18 times for 70 yards (3.9 yards per carry).

Head Coach Dan Mullen hopes to replicate that performance against Michigan on Saturday, but what give me hope is that performance was a long time ago. In the last five games, MSU’s defense gave up an average of 26.4 points per game. That’s good news for Michigan since the Bulldog offense doesn’t exactly light up the scoreboards, ranking in the middle of the pack nationally in points scored.

Offensively, the Bulldogs’ best player is tackle Derek Sherrod, a second-team All-American who figures to be a first round draft pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. He has helped pave the way for the nation’s 16th-best rush offense, but his line has also allowed 22 sacks. An interesting matchup to watch will be Michigan’s defensive line against Sherrod and company. Can Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen, and Craig Roh pressure quarterback Chris Relf or get into the backfield to disrupt the run game? If so, it will help Michigan’s young and oft-maligned secondary.

Mississippi State’s pass offense is it’s weakness, ranking 91st in the nation with just 178.6 yards per game. Much of that has to do with the strength of its running game, but Relf ranks 52nd nationally in pass efficiency, just behind Indiana’s Ben Chappell.

Expect the Bulldogs to pound the ball on the ground and try to keep Michigan’s offense off the field, much like Wisconsin did, except out of a spread similar to Illinois’ (and Michigan’s for that matter). That could play into Michigan’s hands since the defense goes up against a similar style offense in practice every day.

Robinson warms up during practice in Jacksonville

According to Rodriguez, Michigan should get junior receiver Martavious Odoms back from a foot injury that has sidelined him since the Michigan State game. If he really is healthy enough to play at full speed, that will help Michigan both in the run and pass game. Odoms is the most experienced wideout on the team,with sure hands, and despite his small frame, is a great blocking receiver to set up Robinson’s runs.

Also healthy is Michigan’s best offensive lineman, center David Molk who missed time in the last few games with a foot injury. His presence will help combat White and MSU linemen Pernell McPhee, Josh Boyd, and Fletcher Cox.

The strength of the Bulldog rush defense and weakness of its pass defense leads me to believe Michigan will look to pass a little more than usual. Rodriguez loves to run to open up the pass, but a couple shots downfield early on could open up the running lanes for Robinson and backs Michael Shaw and Vincent Smith and keep the safeties from creeping up. In the last five games, MSU gave up 257 yards per game through the air, which is almost exactly what Michigan’s secondary has allowed this season.

Three Predictions:

1. Denard has more rushing yards AND more passing yards than Cam Newton did against Mississippi State

2. Michigan’s defense turns in one of  its best performances of the season

3. Roy Roundtree eclipses 1,000 yards for the season

Overall, I think the game rests solely in the hands of Robinson. If the Robinson of the first half of the season shows up, Michigan will be in good shape. If the Robinson of the second half shows up, it will be a long day. The absence of Tate Forcier, who was ruled academically ineligible yesterday makes the health of Robinson of utmost importance. Freshman Devin Gardner, who was the first QB off the bench in the season opener against UConn, would be the backup, but it would mean burning his medical redshirt that Rodriguez hopes will keep him two years behind Robinson and Forcier.

As long as Robinson doesn’t get banged up, I think Michigan will be able to score around 30 points, which should be enough to beat the Bulldogs. And then the real waiting begins.

Michigan 31 – Mississippi State 27