Previously: Michigan offense
Posts Tagged ‘Greg Robinson’
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.
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.
As if any more commentary on the current Michigan coaching situation is called for, I need to bring closure to the regular season by injecting my stance into the conversation.
It has been no secret over the course of the past three seasons that I have supported Rich Rodriguez. I have been one of a group that has been declining in number and popularity by the week and I’m not quite ready to give in just yet.
It was our beloved legend Bo Schembechler who once said, “When your team is winning, be ready to be tough, because winning can make you soft; on the other hand, when your team is losing, stick by them. Keep believing.”
I suppose you can support the team but not Rodriguez, and the argument could be made that if you truly want what’s best for the team you should want the coach who has gone 15-21 in the past three seasons gone, but I’m still believing. I’ve never been one to make knee-jerk decisions. I believe in giving people a chance and standing by a decision. I also think a college football coach should be given at least four years, or long enough to field a team full of his own recruits.
Unfortunately, that’s not the way things work these days. We’ve let our fast food mentality permeate our sports expectations to the point that if a coach doesn’t win the national championship in his first season, fans are already calling for his head.
In the case of Rodriguez, the reasons things have gone the way they have gone have been discussed over and over again, so I won’t get into that. Instead, I’ll present my reasoning for wanting to keep him.
To begin with, progress has been made in each of Rodriguez’s first three seasons. In 2008, the team went 3-9; in 2009, it went 5-7; and in 2010, it is currently 7-5 with a chance to make it 8-5 with a New Years Day bowl win over Mississippi State.
The tired, “Yeah but it’s Michigan” meme needs to stop because it’s arrogant and ignorant. I want nothing more than to be winning Big Ten championships and playing in BCS bowls year-after-year, but three years ago we were all clamoring for a change from that. We were the ones unhappy with simply competing for Big Ten titles each year and getting blown out by USC in Rose Bowls. We were the ones excited when Lloyd Carr retired because of the possibility of ushering Michigan football into the modern era.
Then the father of the spread offense came to Ann Arbor and inherited a team full of Carr’s guys, and they weren’t the ones that led the team to those Big Ten titles. They’re now playing on Sundays. He was left with walk-on Nick Sheridan and freshman Steven Three to quarterback his first Michigan team. We all know how year one went: offensive ineptitude at a level Michigan hadn’t seen in a long, long time.
The offense scored just 243 points in that first season, an average of just 20.3 per game, as it struggled to move the ball on anyone other than Minnesota. It lost at home to Toledo, Northwestern, and Purdue and got trounced by Notre Dame, Illinois, Penn State, Michigan State, and Ohio State. Those games weren’t even competitive and we all had our egos bruised.
|Scoring Off. Ranking||98||45||22|
|Rush Off. Ranking||60||27||11|
|Pass Off. Ranking||108||81||35|
|Total Off. Ranking||111||59||6|
|Scoring Def. Ranking||80||79||102|
|Rush Defense YPG||136.92||171.92||187.67|
|Rush Def. Ranking||49||92||94|
|Pass Defense YPG||230.0||221.42||260.25|
|Pass Def. Ranking||87||69||111|
|Total Def. Ranking||69||81||108|
|*Rankings reflect national ranking|
Year two saw Rodriguez bring in some of his own guys, his first true recruiting class, and he finally had the anchors of his offense in quarterbacks Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson.
Forcier was the quarterback to lead the Wolverines that season and the freshman growing pains were evident but the team showed significant progress. It scored 354 points, an average of 29.5 per game, and stayed competitive for much of the season. It beat Notre Dame, took Michigan State to overtime, and nearly came back to beat Iowa on the road, but still failed to really compete against Penn State, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Ohio State, and lost again to Purdue.
Progress was made, but it was essentially a freshman offense. It’s hard enough to win with a quarterback who was at prom six months ago, let alone when his surrounding cast is made up of youth as well.
This season, enormous strides were made offensively and Michigan improved to one of the best offenses in the nation, scoring 412 points, an average of 34.3 per game. The team turned a lot of heads eraly in the season with the breakout performance of Denard Robinson, who beat out Forcier for the starting spot. Robinson broke the NCAA FBS quarterback rushing record by 149 yards and still has a bowl game to add on to that.
Michigan crushed Connecticut, which won the Big East, outlasted Notre Dame on the road, and won a three-overtime thriller over Illinois, but was still unable to beat the big boys of the Big Ten, which has been the biggest knock on Rodriguez to date.
The critics say that beating up on the Indianas and Purdues of the world don’t mean anything if he can’t beat Iowa, Penn State, Wisconsin, and most importantly, rivals Michigan State and Ohio State. That’s true, but it depends on whether your definition of improvement consists of a giant leap for mankind or stepping stones. If you expect Rodriguez to be Neil Armstrong, then you’re sorely disappointed. But if you see the slow and steady improvement as reason to believe, then you should be confident that the wins over the big boys are coming soon.
Two years ago, Michigan wasn’t good enough to beat Toledo. Last year, it could beat the MAC, but couldn’t beat Illinois or Purdue. This year, it beat Illinois and handled Purdue on the road, but still couldn’t crack the top dogs. The logical line of progression would be a couple of wins over those guys next season.
I believe it’s coming because the offense is only going to get better with another year of experience and only one departing starter, and the defense only has one way to go: up.
With the offense, let’s take a look at Oregon. Last season, the Ducks went 10-3, averaging 36 points per game. It had the nation’s sixth-best rush offense and 33rd-best total offense. It outscored the majority of its opponents, but lost 19-8 to Boise State and also lost to Stanford and in the Rose Bowl to Ohio State. In short, it was a really good offense, but still waiting to break out.
This season, the Ducks’ offense exploded. It is first in the nation in points per game (49.33), second in total offense, and fourth in rush offense. Most importantly, it’s undefeated and set to face Auburn in the BCS title game on Jan. 10.
I think Michigan’s offense has a chance to blow up next season similar to Oregon this season. Robinson will be in his second season as the starter, all the running backs will return with the addition of big-time recruits Justice Hayes and possibly Dee Hart*, all receivers return from a group that was pretty dynamic this season, including one of the Big Ten’s best in Roy Roundtree, and the majority of the line returns as well. It will be the fourth season in Rodriguez’s system, which will allow the unit to function on a higher level.
While the offense has progressed in each of the past three years, the main problem has been the defense which has seemingly gotten worse each year. But despite the decline from allowing 28.9 points per game in 2008 to 33.83 this season, I believe the defense is due to break out like the offense did the past couple of seasons.
It’s no secret that this year’s unit was riddled with injuries and youth. Just as it’s hard to win with a freshman quarterback, it’s even harder to stop anybody with freshmen on defense. One or two freshmen can succeed if surrounded by experienced talent, but when your entire defense is relying on freshmen surrounded by sophomores, you’re begging for trouble.
I’m not trying to make any excuses for the defense, but we knew heading into the season it was going to be rough. Then, the week of the opening game, the senior leader of the unit, Troy Woolfolk suffered a season-ending ankle injury, leaving the defense without its leader.
Next season, Woolfolk returns, and the only defensive players who played prominent roles that Michigan loses are linebackers Jonas Mouton and Obi Ezeh and lineman Greg Banks. Mouton was hit-or-miss this season. He was Michigan’s best linebacker by default, making some big plays, but he also tended to overpursue and take poor angles, leading to big runs. Ezeh lost his starting spot midway through the season and Banks played well at the end of the season, but his departure will allow Craig Roh to move into the end spot that he should have been in all season.
The one bright spot of playing so many young guys so prominently is the experience they gained. Many people criticized Rodriguez for playing his guys and installing his offense right from the start in 2008, but that has paid off with one of the nation’s best offenses this season. The defense will follow a similar progression in the next couple of years. If it can just improve to average next season, it should be good for another couple of wins.
This season, it’s 102nd in the nation in scoring defense. It doesn’t have to be top ten, but even if you put it at 60th, which is exactly middle-of-the-road, it would have given up 7.5 points less per game. That would have turned many of the losses this season into much closer games and would have given the offense a chance to win them.
The most popular conjecture among Michigan fans right now is that defensive coordinator Greg Robinson should be fired, but I’m not 100 percent sold on that either. The young defense needs consistency above all, since it has had three different coordinators in four years. The only reason I’d be in favor of giving up on Robinson is if Rodriguez can lure West Virginia defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel away from Morgantown.
Casteel was Rodriguez’s coordinator at WVU and runs the same 3-3-5 defense that Rodriguez has Robinson running at Michigan. Casteel has kept the Mountaineers’ defense ranked highly, and this season it ranks second in the nation, giving up just 12.75 points per game. Michigan would be in the BCS national championship game this season with that defense.
All that to say, I think Rodriguez has the building blocks in place to continue getting better and to warrant another season in Ann Arbor. His players love him, he does some great things off the field, and his speech and actions at last Thursday’s Michigan football bust shows a passion that Michigan fans should revere, not mock.
Jim Harbaugh^ seems to be the flavor of the week right now, just like Rodriguez was three years ago, and he’ll most likely still be at Stanford next season. If I’m wrong, and continued progress isn’t present in 2011, then I may be willing to go after him at that time. I just don’t think the time is right yet.
*There has been some recent speculation of Hart switching his commitment to Alabama, but nothing has been confirmed yet.
^I do like Harbaugh, and if Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon does decide to can Rodriguez and hire Harbaugh, I will fully support him. But like I said above, I’m not ready to give up on Rodriguez yet because I think his best days are ahead.
For the past two and a half seasons, I have tried to remain calm and serve as a voice of reason for the current state of Michigan football. Week after week I have advocated patience for Rich Rodriguez and his coaching staff. I’ve been one of a diminishing populous all season, but the performance on Saturday has pushed my propensity to move on from mild to warm.
It wasn’t simply that Michigan lost to Penn State, but the matter in which Michigan was manhandled by a team starting a walk-on quarterback and missing almost half its starting lineup that pushed me closer to the “Jim Harbaugh, come on down!” side.
For the first half of the game, Michigan looked as if it spent the bye week shopping for Halloween costumes rather than preparing for Penn State. Two weeks of practice midway through the season usually allows a team to correct some flaws and spend some extra time gameplanning for the next opponent.
But Michigan came out with a terrible play call on the third play of the game (more on that in a minute) and proceeded to let Penn State double its season points average.
Rodriguez vowed after the loss to Iowa two weeks ago that he would spend some more time with the defense and last week he said there would be some personnel changes. Replacing linebacker Obi Ezeh with Kenny Demens worked well against Iowa, but when you’re replacing starters with freshmen, it’s not always going to work out for the better. This week, he moved safety Cam Gordon to linebacker and filled his spot with true freshman Ray Vinopal.
Vinopal made some mistakes, but the defense as a whole turned in its worst performance of the season, making Penn State’s version of Nick Sheridan look like Tom Brady. Quarterback Matt McGloin, a former walk-on, in his first career start, looked comfortable and confident all game long, picking the Michigan defense apart both short and deep. When he needed to convert a third down, he put the ball on the money with a five-yard out. When he threw deep, his receivers were open enough to make it just a long hand-off.
Michigan stopped the Penn State offense once on five drives in the first half as the Nittany Lions rolled up a 28-10 lead and only once more in the second half, right after Rodriguez stormed into the defensive huddle and laid into the defense.
The offense didn’t look sharp early on either, and it was the third play of the game that began the frustration for Michigan fans. On third-and-two from the Michigan 36, Rodriguez ran Vincent Smith up the middle out of the i-formation. He was stopped for no gain and Michigan punted, allowing Penn State to set the tone of the game. It was the sixth time this season that Smith has gotten the carry on third-and-short and Michigan has converted just three of them.
For the rest of the game, Robinson took the carries on third-and-short and converted all three, two of which he ran for eight yards or more.
|Michigan rushes on 3rd-and-short (3 yards or less)
|3rd-and-1 = 3 yards||3rd-and-1 = 2 yards||3rd-and-1 = 2 yards*|
|3rd-and-1 = 3 yards||3rd-and-1 = -2 yards||3rd-and-1 = 2 yards*|
|3rd-and-1 = 3 yards||3rd-and-1 = 3 yards||3rd-and-1 = 7 yards#|
|3rd-and-2 = 4 yards||3rd-and-1 = 1 yard||3rd-and-3 = 0 yards^|
|3rd-and-2 = 6 yards||3rd-and-1 = 0 yards|
|3rd-and-1 = 0 yards||3rd-and-2 = 0 yards|
|3rd-and-2 = 16 yards|
|3rd-and-2 = 47 yards|
|3rd-and-1 = 27 yards|
|3rd-and-3 = 0 yards|
|3rd-and-3 = 6 yards|
|3rd-and-3 = -4 yards|
|3rd-and-1 = 2 yards|
|3rd-and-1 = 3 yards|
|3rd-and-1 = 9 yards|
|3rd-and-1 = 8 yards|
|13/16 for 133 yards||3/6 for 4 yards||3/4 for 11 yards|
|8.31 YPC||0.67 YPC||2.75 YPC|
|*Michael Shaw, #Stephen Hopkins, ^Teric Jones|
Why Rodriguez and offensive coordinator Calvin Magee continue to run the 5’6″ 180-pound Smith up the middle on short-yardage plays instead of Robinson or freshman beefcake Stephen Hopkins is anybody’s guess, but for a team that needs its offense to play perfectly in order to win, that’s certainly not a play call the coaches should keep making.
On third-and-short situations this season, Robinson has carried the ball 16 times and converted 13 of them, averaging 8.3 yards per carry. When he lines up in the shotgun with a head start and blockers in front of him, it’s almost impossible to stop him from picking up the first down even when the defense knows it’s coming.
I really like Smith on screens and lined up in the slot, but banging him up the middle on short yardage plays is ridiculous. On six carries on third-and-three or less, he’s averaging two-thirds of a yard per carry, having converted only half of them. He’s much more suited for the open field than up the middle.
Still, the offense scored 31 points on Saturday and it would have been good enough to win if it had a halfway decent defense. So why is the defense so bad, and whose fault is it?
Misopogan’s latest diary on MGoBlog sums it up perfectly with this statement: “The point is this: we already thought the defense would be bad in May. Since then, almost half of the possible defensive contributors either transferred, got injured, or proved themselves mostly useless. We aren’t just the bottom of the Big Ten; without Martin, we’re probably in the middle of the MAC.”
Defensive tackle Mike Martin, the only NFL-caliber player on the defense right now, didn’t make it through the first series after re-injuring his ankle. Somewhere between seven and ten true or redshirt freshmen saw the field on defense. Any other season, most of them would be redshirting right now, but due to the aforementioned transfers (Justin Turner, Anthony LaLota, Vladimir Emilien), injuries (Troy Woolfolk, Brandon Herron, Mike Williams), players kicked off the team (Boubacar Cissoko), and recruits who never made it to campus (Demar Dorsey, Davion Rogers, Antonio Kinard), Rodriguez wasn’t afforded that luxury. Freshmen can succeed in college football, but only when they’re surrounded by talented upperclassmen. When they’re all you have, you’re not going to win ball games consistently. That’s not an excuse, that’s reality.
Some of that was of his own making, recruiting guys with academic problems, not putting much focus on the defense for two-plus years, etc. However, as MGoBlog pointed out last week, Lloyd Carr is at least as much to blame as Rodriguez for the current woes due to the lack of junior and senior talent currently on the roster.
After Notre Dame’s loss to Tulsa on Saturday night, my father-in-law (a Notre Dame fan) said, “Our starting quarterback was out, our starting running back was out, our starting tight end was out, a starting safety was out, and a starting nose guard was out. But you know what, at the end of the day, those are all just excuses.”
That’s certainly true in our case as well. There are a lot of excuses to be made about this team right now, but I still don’t think it’s time to give up on Rodriguez yet. While the abundance of freshman causes blown coverage, missed tackles, and loads of frustration now, it can only help for the future as these players gain experience. Look at how much Denard Robinson progressed from last season to this. If the defense was this bad with Woodley, Branch, Harris, Crable, Burgess, Warren, and Hall, then it would be time to dump Rodriguez. But no one is going to confuse the current defensive roster with the squad of 2006.
And for that reason, we have to give Rodriguez one more season. If he’s still failing to compete with the Big Ten big boys, then call up Harbaugh. He’ll still be around 14 months from now.
Eighteen of Saturday’s starters return next season and the secondary will likely get its best player, Troy Woolfolk, back for his senior season. One of the four not returning is James Rogers, a receiver-turned-corner who wouldn’t even be playing if not for Woolfolk’s injury in fall camp.
Notre Dame, Nebraska, and Ohio State are all at home next season and Minnesota and Northwestern rotate back onto the schedule in place of Wisconsin and Penn State.
You can’t get rid of Rodriguez without seeing what he can do with his players now in the system for a couple of years and a favorable schedule. That’s why I’m not all the way to the Fire DickRod hehe! side of the thermometer.
The offense has gone from 20.2 to 29.5 to 35.4 points per game since Rodriguez took over and is right on track with 10 returning starters next season and one of the top high school running backs in the nation, Demetrius Hart, on his way to Ann Arbor. Now, Rodriguez needs to turn his focus 100 percent to the defense and get it to where it needs to be. If that means firing defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, I think I’m okay with that at this point, even though he hasn’t had much to work with thus far. If Rodriguez can lure West Virginia defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel to Ann Arbor, then I’d be all for it.
Under Rodriguez and Casteel, West Virginia’s defense went from 62nd in total and 109th in pass defense in 2006 to seventh in total and 14th in pass defense in 2007. Currently, Michigan ranks 106th overall and 117th in pass defense. It’s not going to make the jump that WVU made in 2007, but it will definitely be better than it is this season solely because of the experience this year’s players are gaining. If it’s even good enough to be a middle-of-the-road defense next year, that team will win a lot of games. That 2006 West Virginia team went 11-2 with such a poor defense thanks to an experienced offense with second-year starters Pat White and Steve Slaton. Denard Robinson will be a second-year starter next season and the offense will be even better than it is right now.
For all of those reasons, I still believe that this Rodriguez thing can work out. The patience is wearing thin, but it’s not broken yet.
Michigan survived a scare from another FCS opponent on Saturday leaving many Michigan fans up in arms about the performance of the defense. It was a lot closer than it should have been, Michigan winning 42-37, and needing a failed onside kick attempt by UMass to seal the deal. Yet, after the way Michigan started in the first two weeks of the season, many maize and blue faithful seem to have forgotten what this team really is.
Yes, it has college football’s most exciting player right now in Denard Robinson. Yes, the offense has averaged 33 points a game so far. Yes, it beat Notre Dame in South Bend. But most figured this to be a 7-5 team before the season started, due in large part to one thing: the defense.
It’s not a knock on any player. Nor should it be a call for defensive coordinator Greg Robinson to be fired, as ESPN’s Mark May and many others suggest.
The fact of the matter is this is a defense starting a walk-on (Jordan Kovacs), a converted wide receiver (James Rogers), and two redshirt freshmen (Thomas Gordon and Cam Gordon, also a converted receiver), with a walk-on-fullback-converted-linebacker (Mark Moundros) also getting extended playing time. In addition, the top corner and senior leader of the secondary, Troy Woolfolk, was lost for the season just before the first game, and an opening day starter, Carvin Johnson, has been out with a knee injury that he suffered in the first game.
If you haven’t read Misopogan’s “The Decimated Defense” part one, part two, and part three, please click on those links and read them now for a comprehensive breakdown on why the defense is what it is right now.
Pinning the blame on Greg Robinson at this point is nothing short of ridiculous. This is the first season since 2007 that the Michigan defense has had the same coordinator as the year before. The defense needs some stability.
A lot of fans point to Robinson’s failure as head coach of Syracuse before being hired by Rodriguez as proof that he’s not fit to lead Michigan’s defense. They shrug off the two Super Bowl rings he won as defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos.
Some guys just make better coordinators than they do head coaches. One needs to look no further than South Bend the previous five years. Charlie Weis was highly successful coordinating the New England Patriots offense to multiple Super Bowls in the early 2000s before leaving for Notre Dame in 2005. His time guiding the Irish was largely unsuccessful with a 35-27 record and now he’s back in the NFL, coordinating the offense of the Kansas City Chiefs – the same Chiefs that racked up nearly 400 total yards in a win over the San Diego Chargers last Monday.
The jury is still out on Robinson at Michigan, although judging him by the defensive performance last season and the first three games this season is a bit unfair given what he has had to work with. He should at least be given enough time to get a full crop of actual defensive recruits into his system.
With the electric play of the Robinson gaining all of the positive headlines (Denard), Michigan has regained national attention in the early part of this season. That will only help with recruiting as kids will want to be the next “Shoelace” or play alongside him for the next couple of years. If the offense can continue to roll and if Denard can keep putting up Heisman-like numbers, highly-rated defensive recruits might long to wear the winged helmet and Robinson will be able to fill the holes with concrete rather than gum.
We all knew the defense would struggle this year, so don’t let the quick start cloud your judgment. Just hope that Denard and the rest of the offense can continue to carry the team to victory and keep Ann Arbor a prime destination in the eyes of prized recruits.
Remember that this coaching transition is still a work in progress and keep things in perspective. Yes, losses and near-losses to FCS teams are frustrating, but the last thing we need to do is overreact.
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.
In the week leading up to the Indiana game, Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez said that he would like to get to the point where the team could play poorly and still win. On Saturday, he got his wish.
Michigan, at times, looked like last year’s Michigan team, not taking care of the ball, picking up penalties and failing to take advantage of opportunities.
In the end, however, Michigan was able to pull out a win in its first Big Ten conference battle of the season to keep its unbeaten record intact.
But how did Michigan pull out a win in a game in which it was out-gained by nearly 100 total yards, lost the turnover battle, and was held well below its per-game rushing average?
First of all, the play of Michigan’s special teams went a long way towards helping secure the win.
Zoltan Mesko showed why he began the season on everyone’s Ray Guy Award watch list. The senior punter booted seven punts for an average of 48.1 yards per punt (46.6 net average).
Four of Mesko’s punts sailed past 50 yards and two were downed inside the 20, including one that pinned Indiana at its own two-yard line early in the third quarter.
In comparison, Indiana punter Chris Hagerup averaged just 37 yards per punt (36 net), or a difference of 10 yards per change of possession.
In addition to Mesko’s punts, sophomore receiver Darryl Stonum did an admirable job of returning kicks, constantly giving Michigan good field position to start drives.
Michigan’s average starting field position following kickoffs was its own 36-yard line. Conversely, Indiana’s was its own 27 – a difference of nine yards.
That shouldn’t be overlooked, since many of Stonum’s returns were brought out of the end zone from a few yards deep. Had he taken a knee, Michigan would have had a much longer field to work with.
Secondly, Michigan’s defense stepped up in the second half, keeping Indiana out of the end zone except for an 85-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
This has become a trend so far this season, and I think it says a lot about the coaching staff’s ability to make halftime adjustments.
In Week 2, Notre Dame moved the ball at will in the first half, racking up 295 yards and 20 points. That included scoring drives of 10 plays, 69 yards (missed field goal); eight plays, 56 yards; seven plays, 76 yards; and seven plays 69 yards.
In the second half Notre Dame had just one long scoring drive (14 plays, 80 yards). The other touchdown came as a result of a short field, following an interception at the Michigan 36.
The next week, Eastern Michigan moved the ball pretty well in the first half. Scoring drives of eight plays, 49 yards and 11 plays, 79 yards allowed EMU to hang with Michigan at the half.
In the second half, Michigan’s defense stiffened, allowing just one long drive (15 plays, 55 yards), which Michigan stopped on downs at its five-yard line.
This past week, against Indiana, Michigan allowed 270 yards and 23 points in the first half. In the second, Indiana still gained 224 yards, but 85 came on one long touchdown run. The main thing is that Michigan kept Indiana out of the end zone, with the exception of that one run.
The Hoosiers had a drive of 12 plays, 72 yards that resulted in a field goal and a drive of 11 plays, 52 yards resulting in a missed field goal. Other than that, Michigan forced two three-and-outs and picked off a pass to seal the game.
In the past three games, it seems that Michigan’s defense hasn’t been able to stop anybody in the first half, but has been able to make the necessary adjustments at halftime.
After the Eastern Michigan game, Donovan Warren and Ryan Van Bergen both mentioned that opponents have shown some looks that they hadn’t seen on film, which explains why Michigan has had some trouble getting stops in the first half.
Once the coaches have time to regroup at halftime, they are able to make the necessary adjustments to make the difference in the second half.
Finally, the offense has shown a propensity for fast starts and clutch play down the stretch.
In all four games so far, Michigan has scored at least 10 points in the first quarter. In three of the four, Michigan scored on its first possession (two touchdowns and a field goal).
In the only game in which Michigan didn’t, against Notre Dame, it scored on its second possession and returned a kickoff for a touchdown the next time it got the ball.
Fast starts have allowed Michigan to stay in the game until halftime when the coaches can make their defensive adjustments.
In the second half, while Michigan’s defense has been able to slow down opposing offenses, its own offense has started slowly, but made big plays when it needed to.
Against Notre Dame, Michigan trailed 20-17 at halftime. The defense shut down Notre Dame in the third quarter, while the offense took a 31-20 lead.
In the fourth quarter, Notre Dame’s potent offense battled back to pull ahead 34-31. But then freshman quarterback Tate Forcier led the offense down the field on a nine play, 57-yard touchdown drive to seal the win.
The next week, against Eastern Michigan, Michigan led 24-17 at halftime. In the second half, the defense shut down Eastern while the offense got off to a slow start with two punts. Then, Michigan scored on three of its next four possessions to pull away.
Against Indiana, the offense came through in the clutch once again, using fourth quarter touchdown drives of 13 plays, 75 yards and eight plays, 52 yards to out-gun the Hoosiers.
Two game-winning drives in final minutes in four games. Can Michigan keep it up?
Following Sunday’s Jets-Titans game, Vic Carucci of NFL.com asked Jets safety Kerry Rhodes if he thought the Jets’ style of play was sustainable. Rhodes replied that he thought it was because having such a good defense allows rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez to make some mistakes.
Unfortunately, that won’t exactly translate to Michigan. While I think Michigan’s offense is further along in its development than Sanchez’s Jets offense, relatively speaking, Michigan hasn’t faced its toughest opponents yet.
Notre Dame had one of the best offenses Michigan will face all season, but its defense ranks 94th in total defense through four games.
Forcier has won the hearts of Michigan fans across the country with his poise and game-winning drives, but he is also starting to show his true freshman side. He threw an interception against Indiana that never should have been thrown.
He also suffered a shoulder sprain against Indiana. Rodriguez said Forcier will be ready to go this weekend, but he could be one hard hit or one bad fall away from wearing street clothes on the sidelines.
I’m not trying to be a downer, but I do think expectations should be tempered. As great as it is to have a 4-0 record and be ranked No. 22 in the nation, we have to realize that the meat of the schedule starts now.
This week is the first road test for the young guns, and Michigan State will be hungry to avenge its disappointing 1-3 start.
If Forcier’s shoulder can’t hold up, and you can bet Michigan State defenders will be gunning for him, Denard Robinson will find himself in sole possession of the offense.
Robinson has played well in limited time, but hasn’t truly been in control of the offense yet this season. He led the team down the field on a touchdown drive against Indiana, but most of what he’s been asked to do is run the ball.
Don’t get me wrong, his quickness and elusiveness is fun to watch and tough to stop, but can it sustain the offense for an entire game?
Should Michigan get by Michigan State, it faces what could be its biggest test of the season when it travels to Iowa City for a prime-time battle with Iowa. The Hawkeyes entered the AP Top 25 at No. 13 this week after upsetting No. 4 Penn State on Saturday.
Delaware State the following week will be the final breather before Michigan finishes with No. 15 Penn State, at Illinois, home against Purdue, at 4-0 Wisconsin, and then back home to battle No. 9 Ohio State.
The road only gets tougher from here and in the coming weeks, we’re going to get a good look at how far along this team really is.
Nevertheless, Michigan stands at 4-0 (1-0 in the Big Ten) and is well on its way to getting back to national prominence.
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.
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.
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.
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.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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.