Posts Tagged ‘Tate Forcier’
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
One week in mid-November makes us obsess a little bit more than all the others: Ohio State week, or Buckeye week, or Hate week. Whatever you want to call it, we spend more time during the week longing for Saturday to come, more time ragging on our family, friends, and coworkers who have the unfortunate quality of being Ohio State fans, and more time telling “a Michigan fan and Ohio State fan walked into a bar…” jokes.
So I’ll spend a little more time this week writing about all things Michigan and Ohio State related. Thank goodness for Thanksgiving making this a two-day work week! I’ll publish an article every day this week, the schedule as follows:
Wednesday: Why Michigan has a chance on Saturday
(Note: I apologize for not getting this up today. Our drive from New York to Tennessee for Thanskgiving took a lot longer than expected and I haven’t yet mastered typing while driving. I’ll try to get it up either today or Friday, but the rest is still on schedule)
Thursday: What I’m thankful for this season
Friday: Michigan-Ohio State game preview
A Thanksgiving poem of all of the reasons
I’m thankful for Michigan this Twenty-ten season.
For a refurbished Big House with club seats
back to the biggest including new suites.
For keeping The Game at season’s end
when next year Nebraska joins the Big Ten.
For the NCAA ruling Rich didn’t lose control
as was claimed in allegations from those Free Press fools.
For a new AD coming from Dominos,
a Michigan Man and disciple of Bo.
For Brock Mealer walking against all odds,
beating one percent and giving glory to God.
For Denard against UConn and his long flowing dreads,
his human Heisman pose turning all of our heads.
For 200-yard rushing and passing games
and making Shoelace a household name.
For Tate not quitting through adversity
and remaining loyal to our university.
For coming in and leading touchdown drives
and cheering on Denard and giving high fives.
For Vincent returning from an ACL tear
to be our best back with his dreadlocked hair.
For Junior finally playing an entire year
without getting injured like we all feared.
For his Braylon-like grabs and catch-and-runs
and making the Illinois game really fun.
For Roy and his impressions of Donald Duck
and proving our passing game does not suck.
For Stonum wearing his press conference glasses
and teaming up with Denard to catch lots of passes.
For 65 against the Bowling Green boys
and topping that score against Illinois.
For becoming bowl-eligible once again
and those who have stayed are true Michigan Men.
For another comeback against Notre Dame,
and Weis or Kelly…it’s all the same.
For Devin getting his feet wet for a few plays
and a QB position that’s stocked if he stays.
For David Molk anchoring the offensive line
and fighting through injuries all the time.
For Lewan looking like a young Jake Long
and for The Victors, the greatest fight song.
For Mike Martin, the incredible hulk
clogging the middle like spackle and caulk.
For youth on defense getting experience this year
to help bring us back to a defense that’s feared.
For Woolfolk’s ankle that’s healing so he can come back
next year to put our defense back on track.
For seven wins, which is more than our losses
and all of our offense’s long touchdown tosses.
So on this Thanksgiving while we eat lots of food,
let’s give thanks to our boys in the Maize and Blue.
And will them to win over Ohio State,
the team that we’re all thankful to hate.
The bye week came at just the right time for Michigan after losses to Michigan State and Iowa and allowing quarterback Denard Robinson to rest an ailing shoulder that caused him to miss extensive time in both of those losses.
Many in the media tried to play up a quarterback competition between Robinson and last year’s starter, Tate Forcier, but head coach Rich Rodriguez insists that Robinson is the starter. Indeed, if he is healthy enough, he could be in for the kind of monster game that made him a household name through the first five weeks of the season.
Penn State is flat out hurting. At 4-3, Penn State has given up 437 and 433 total yards the last two weeks to Illinois and Minnesota, respectively. Neither of those has an offense near Michigan’s, with Minnesota’s ranked 59th nationally and Illinois’ 88th.
While the defense hasn’t fared well, the offense has been the main disappointment for the Nittany Lions this season, ranking 82nd nationally in total offense and 99th in points per game with 20.3. Only twice this season has Penn State scored more than 30 points, in the opener against Youngstown State (44) and last week against Minnesota (33). Alabama and Iowa each held Penn State to just three points.
What has gone so wrong? Youth and inexperience is part of the problem. As Michigan found out last year, starting a true freshman at quarterback isn’t exactly a recipe for success, but Joe Paterno chose to do that with Robert Bolden.
Yet the biggest problem is that Penn State has been plagued with injuries. Five starters have been lost for the season (tackle Lou Eliades, tight end Garry Gilliam, safety Nick Sukay, receiver Curtis Drake, and tight end Andrew Szczerba), and several others, including defensive ends Jack Crawford and Eric Latimore, will miss this week’s game. Bolden is also questionable and it appears that sophomore Matt McGloin will be making his first career start tomorrow at quarterback.
If any game is ripe for the picking it’s this one, and it’s an important one. It would make Michigan bowl eligible for the first time in three years, assuring the Wolverines of avoiding a third-straight losing season, and would end a two-game losing streak, both to Penn State, and this season.
Traditionally, Rodriguez-coached teams have fared well after the bye week during his career, including in 2008 when Michigan beat then-No. 9 Wisconsin 27-25.
While Penn State players are dropping like flies, Michigan’s bye week allowed some key players to get healthy. In addition to Robinson, Michigan should get running back Michael Shaw back this week, as well as center David Molk and tackle Mike Martin.
Michigan’s offense has struggled to find a running game the past two weeks, partly because of the stout defenses of Michigan State and Iowa, but also partly because Shaw, Michigan’s starter through the first five games, has been banged up. Vincent Smith is reliable, but not the complete back that Shaw is.
Rodriguez has hinted that freshman Stephen Hopkins may see some more playing time this week. Hopkins has looked good in limited action so far this season and is the biggest back on Michigan’s roster. Supposedly, ball security in practice has kept him from seeing the field more often thus far, but he has shown enough the past few weeks to earn more time.
Getting Molk and Martin back is perhaps even more important because each is the lynchpin of his side of the ball. When Molk went down last week during the opening drive, backup center Rocko Khoury did a decent job filling in, but had a couple bad snaps. Michigan’s offense is clearly better with Molk in the middle.
Martin also had an ankle injury that happened during the Michigan State game and was reinjured against Iowa, causing him to miss much of the game. He’s the motor of the defense and with a unit that ranks 104th in total defense, his presence is obviously needed.
So how can Michigan win tomorrow? The easy answer is to score a lot of points. Penn State’s defense gives up a lot of yards, but is 22nd in the nation in points against, averaging just 18.4. However, Illinois scored 33 in a blowout win two weeks ago and Minnesota managed 21 last week.
Michigan’s offense ranks 17th in the nation in scoring at 36 points per game and second in total offense. In losses the last two games, the offense was still able to move the ball, but turnovers were the difference. Avoiding those same mistakes will be the biggest factor in whether Michigan wins or loses tomorrow.
Robinson should be able to rack up yards just as Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure did a couple weeks ago, rushing for 119 yards, and Minnesota running back DeLeon Eskridge did last week, rushing for 111. Another 200-yard rushing and 200-yard passing game is within reason, but 150/150 is more likely.
Defensively, Michigan will probably get pounded on the ground, given that McGloin will be making his first career start at quarterback. However, when he replaced the injured Bolden last week, he connected on 6-of-13 passes for 78 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, and took some shots downfield. Penn State will likely try to get the running game going and then test Michigan’s young and shaky secondary.
A lot of talk has been floating around this week about freshman Ray Vinopal getting some playing time, if not starting, at safety. A similar experiment paid off last game when Rodriguez replaced senior linebacker Obi Ezeh with Kenny Demens and he provided solid run support and was at least a small upgrade from Ezeh. Can Rodrgiguez strike gold a second time? Vinopal has really only played in one game this season, against Bowling Green, but he made the most of that time, intercepting a pass in the fourth quarter.
The freshman from Youngstown, Ohio is smart and it’s certainly worth a try against a team with such a stagnant offense like Penn State. If Vinopal doesn’t work out, nothing is really lost, since Michigan’s secondary has been horrific anyway. But if he does prove a better option than Cameron Gordon at the position, Michigan will have seen two mid-season upgrades on defense heading into the final four games of the season.
Regardless, I can see Michigan forcing two or three turnovers this week from the inexperienced McGloin.
If Michigan isn’t able to put the ball in the end zone offensively and it comes down to special teams, Penn State has the clear advantage, having succeeded on 14 of 17 field goals this season, while Michigan’s kicking woes are well-known. You can be rest-assured that Rodriguez won’t try a field goal from anywhere longer than probably 30 yards, and even that is doubtful.
Fortunately, I don’t see it being that close. Michigan’s offense will be much more efficient than the past two weeks with a healthy Robinson, Shaw, and Molk. Penn State will score some points, but won’t be able to keep up with Michigan.
Michigan 42 – Penn State 27
From their view…
PennLive.com declares that Denard doesn’t deserve Heisman hype because he was once in a three-way tie for the starting spot with Ryan Threet and Tate Forcier (really?); The Daily Collegian talks about a record that will probably be set tomorrow; Nittany Lines predicts a Michigan win and hopes Penn State can keep Denard to just one long touchdown run; The Philadelphia Enquirer also doesn’t know how to spell the names of our quarterbacks.
Since last week was Michigan’s bye week, I decided to take a week off to regroup and catch up on sleep. I spent Wife Day 2010 making the ultimate sacrifice: accompanying my wife and her parents (all die-hard Notre Dame fans) to the Notre Dame-Navy game in the New Meadowlands Stadium.
It just so happened to fall perfectly during Michigan’s bye week, meaning I didn’t have to draw the ire of the in-laws by wearing my Michigan garb to the game while following the game updates on the Blackberry all game as I did two years ago when I accompanied them to the ND-Navy game at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore during the Michigan-Northwestern game.
This time around I threw on a shirt with the Ireland flag on it to somewhat appease them (hey, it’s Irish but not the Irish).
As I watched Navy fullback Alexander Teich shred the Irish defense for 210 yards and three touchdowns and the Notre Dame offense fail to get anything going, it really made me proud to be a Michigan fan. Not despite what we have gone through the past couple years, but because of what we’ve gone through.
Throughout the entire game, I got the pleasure of listening to Larry, Mo, and Curly, three Notre Dame alums who looked to be in their 50s and were seated right behind me, banter on about the state of the Notre Dame program. They already have the pitchfork out for ND head coach Brian Kelly. And they have already written off junior quarterback Dayne Crist, despite the fact that he was playing without his top target, Michael Floyd, calling for Nate Montana after Crist’s second quarter interception that led to a Navy touchdown just before the half.
While I was thoroughly enjoying that running commentary, I was following Iowa State’s win over Texas on my Blackberry. Yeah, that’s right, I said Iowa State’s win over Texas. A year after playing for the BCS National Championship, Texas is struggling to remain competitive to the point that some are suggesting that Mack Brown is on the verge of retirement because the game has passed him by.
I strongly doubt that’s the case, but Texas could be headed to a 7-5 or 6-6 season, which is as good or worse than where Michigan is headed this year.
A week earlier, I sat in a sports bar in D.C. watching Florida drop its third straight game, this time at the hands of Mississippi State. Yep, Mississippi State. At 4-3 and with games against South Carolina and Florida State remaining, 7-5 is likely, which would be the worst record since Ron Zook’s last season in 2004.
Meanwhile, on the west coast, USC is 5-2, but lost to 3-4 Washington and struggled to beat Virginia and Minnesota. With No. 2 Oregon on the slate this week and Arizona, Oregon State, and UCLA still to come, USC looks to be headed to a down season as well. Add in the probation Pete Carroll left behind and the violations sure to come by Lane Kiffin in the coming years, and things aren’t looking up in L.A.
With so many recent college football powers struggling this season, it’s hard not to look at Michigan’s situation and get excited about where the program is headed. Michigan was in a similar position to Florida and Texas in the late 90s when Lloyd Carr guided the Wolverines to the National Title and subsequent double-digit win seasons. But then the losses started to creep up. 10-2 gave way to 9-3, which gave way to 8-4 and 7-5. Before we knew it, a senior-laden Michigan team lost at home to Appalachian State and got trounced by Oregon the next week.
Yes, Michigan was a game away from the BCS National Championship in 2006, but Carr wasn’t able to beat the big boys in bowl games and forgot how to beat Ohio State once Jim Tressel took over. In short, Michigan wasn’t Michigan anymore. It was just an old reliable Toyota, while Michigan fans were screaming for a Lamborghini.
When Carr retired after the 2007 season, athletic director Bill Martin made the decision to transform that Toyota into a Lamborghini with the hiring of Rich Rodriguez. Japanese had to become Italian, which meant statues with robotic arms had to become dilithium with dreads, linemen had to be able to actually move instead of just get in the way, six-foot tall jump-ball receivers had to become slot-ninjas that were just as adept at run blocking as catching passes, and linebackers had to be able to move sideline-to-sideline to chase down running backs.
The general mindset these days, especially in sports, is one of impatience. We want our coaches to win national championships before we get to the pick-up window for our Big Mac. And if it’s a minute too late, we want a refund.
But as Michigan fans, we need to take a step back and examine the process, take a look at how far we’ve come in the past two-plus years. Maybe Les Miles would have turned us into an instant champion or maybe he’d be driving us crazy. It’s time to stop wondering about what if and start looking at where we’re headed.
Notre Dame is a perfect microcosm of what we don’t want to be. Since Lou Holtz left Notre Dame in 1996, the Irish have hired five head coaches, four of which have coached a game, and many are already calling for the latest to go. In eight of those 13 seasons, Notre Dame lost six or more games and is headed that way this season as well.
Michigan reached that the past two seasons, but is on pace for just four or five losses this season, which means the team has grown leaps and bounds since Rodriguez’s first season and is headed in the opposite direction of the aforementioned teams.
2008 was a shock to Michigan fans everywhere, many of whom had never witnessed a losing season. We were shell-shocked and our egos were bruised. But the product on the field was like Ichiro Suzuki trying to become a Cardinal in the Vatican. Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan trying to run the spread resulted in a dismal 3-9 record and an average of just 20 points per game.
In 2009, two Italian engineers were hired, one from San Diego and one from Deerfield Beach. They were still a little new to the Lamborghini business, so the initial model yielded limited results. Flashes of brilliance eventually stalled and the result was slightly better at 5-7, with an average of 29.5 points per game.
This season, those engineers have a year under their belt and are coming up with some great concepts, but are still trying to piece together the right formula. The engine is more precise, churning out 36 points per game through the first seven and already as many wins as last season, but the old Toyota brakes still need some work. Pads and discs are on backorder, so for the rest of this season, it’s all about seeing how far down the throttle can go.
The next three games should tell the story. Coming off a bye week, Michigan heads to Penn State, which looks to be without freshman quarterback Robert Bolden and a host of other injured starters. If any game is ripe for the picking it is this one. Illinois and Purdue follow, and there’s nothing to indicate Michigan won’t win at least two, if not all three, of those.
At 7-3 or 8-2 heading into big showdowns with Wisconsin and Ohio State, Michigan will have met or exceeded expectations from the beginning of the season, with a long shot to steal one of the final two.
If you can’t see the year-over-year progress and get excited about the near future of Michigan football, then it’s time to jump ship, because you were probably one of the poor souls booing the team off the field at halftime last week.
While it’s frustrating to lose games, if you take a deep breath and look at the transformation that’s going on with our beloved football program, it’s pretty exciting. The reason we can be excited and glad we’re not Notre Dame, Texas, Florida, or USC right now is because we are progressing; our pendulum is on the upswing.
And in couple of years, when we’re riding our Lamborghini past Ohio State’s Chevy and into the National Championship, we’ll look back and realize that those trials and tribulations only made us stronger.
|Denard Robinson vs. Terrelle Pryor|
Five games into the season it’s apparent that Michigan’s success depends largely the health of Denard Robinson, the electric sophomore who tops everyone’s (or almost everyone’s) Heisman list. With the schedule getting tougher beginning this Saturday, Robinson will need to keep up his torrid pace if Michigan wants to avoid a Big Ten collapse like last season.
Last week, I wrote that the performance of Tate Forcier and Devin Gardner in Robinson’s absence against Bowling Green showed the position to be perhaps Michigan’s greatest strength this season. Forcier’s year of starting experience under his belt makes him a better backup than most around the country, but for Michigan’s offense to be as successful as it has been so far this season, Robinson needs to avoid the injury bug.
Robinson has won over most analysts with his five straight 100-yard rushing games and 70 percent completion rate. He has become the talk of college football to the point that when he went down after re-injuring his knee last Saturday, the sell-out crowd at IU’s Memorial Stadium cheered.
Classy? No. Smart? Yes. IU fans knew it was their best chance of stopping him.
This Saturday, Michigan hosts in-state rival Michigan State in a battle of unbeatens and Robinson will face his toughest test to date. But before we get into the match-up, let’s take a broader look at what Robinson has done so far, where he stands in comparison to the NCAA record book, and what he needs to do to top it.
The NCAA record for rushing yards in a season by a quarterback is 1,941 by Chris Sharpe of Springfield (Mass.) College, but that’s Div. III. The FBS record is 1,494 by Air Force’s Beau Morgan in 1994.
Robinson is well on his way to breaking that record, needing to average just 84 yards per game the rest of the way (or 74 if Michigan makes a bowl game).
To break the all-time NCAA record, Robinson would have to average 148 yards per game (129.5 with a bowl game).
Through the first five games, Robinson has averaged 181 rushing yards per game, a stat that would be higher had he not been injured eight minutes into the first quarter against Bowling Green. But again, staying healthy is the name of the game.
Another record that Robinson may approach, but won’t break, is yards per game average. The NCAA record is held by Alcorn State’s Steve McNair when he averaged 527.2 yards per game in 1994. The FBS record of 474.6 yard per game was set by Houston’s Dave Klingler in 1990.
Robinson has averaged 382.6 total yards per game (431 if you throw out the Bowling Green game), so it would be impossible to reach Klingler’s FBS record. He would have to average 540 yards per game.
He could, however, break into the top 10. To do so, he would have to average 416.9 total yards per game the rest of the way (415.1 with a bowl game) – not impossible, but a tough task considering the defenses Robinson still has to face.
Iowa ranks 4th nationally in total defense, giving up just 242.2 yards per game, Ohio State ranks 5th (242.4), Penn State ranks 18th (290.4), Wisconsin ranks 25th (301), and Michigan State ranks 41st (328.6).
One record that is certainly safe is total yards, which is currently held by Texas Tech’s B.J. Symons. Symons accounted for 5,976 yards of offense in Tech’s pass-happy offense in 2003, only 143 of which were running.
|Robinson’s Pursuit of NCAA QB Rushing Record
|Rushing Yards through 5 Games
|Yards Needed to Pass Morgan||589|
|Average Per Game
|Average Per Game Needed
|Yards Needed for All-NCAA Record
|Avg. / Game Needed for All-NCAA Record
Currently, Robinson has 1,913 total yards, so he would have to average 580 per game, (508 with a bowl game) to break that record. I think it’s safe to say that’s not going to be touched, but he could move into the top 10 by averaging 427 yards (373 with bowl) the rest of the way.
He’s already set one record, becoming the first quarterback to eclipse 200 yards passing and rushing in one game twice in a career. The fact that he’s done it in just five games makes it that much more amazing.
Regardless of how many record books Robinson’s name gets written in or whether his name gets added to the distinguished list of Heisman Trophy winners, he has almost single-handedly put Michigan back on the map after a two-year hiatus. A win on Saturday would make Michigan bowl-eligible for the first time since Rich Rodriguez took over in 2008 and would also end a two-game losing streak against the Spartans.
For Robinson, a big game on Saturday would go a long way towards earning the Heisman. His Playstation-like numbers have been against weaker competition compared to what’s ahead and most analysts and Heisman voters want to see a performance like that against the best competition. That starts on Saturday.
Provided Robinson stays healthy, it should be fun to watch and he may earn yet another honor: the most hated player in East Lansing.
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)
Michigan’s performance last Saturday in what many thought to be a cakewalk left much to be desired. After thumping UConn and outlasting Notre Dame on the road, Michigan eked out a win at home over FCS UMass. This week, 1-2 Bowling Green comes to town and Michigan hopes to show that the UMass performance was just an emotional letdown after two big wins, rather than an indication of things to come.
Bowling Green comes in with road losses to Troy and Tulsa and a 44-28 win over Marshall – the same Marshall team that took No. 23 West Virginia to overtime two weeks ago.
While, as we saw last week, and the past three years for that matter, no opponent can be overlooked, it’s hard to imagine Bowling Green having much of a chance given the strengths and weaknesses of each team.
On paper, the Falcons’ offense actually stacks up pretty well against Michigan’s weakness, the pass defense, averaging 258.3 yards passing per game, which ranks 29th in the nation. The good news for Michigan, however, is that quarterback Matt Schilz, who has thrown for 664 yards so far, is out with a shoulder injury, leaving redshirt sophomore Aaron Pankratz, freshman Kellen Pagel, or true freshman Trent Hurley to take the snaps.
Pankratz is just 10-21 for 163 yards, one touchdown and one interception in his brief career, while Hurley hasn’t played yet.
The running game has averaged just 83.3 yards per game this season, led by senior Willie Geter, who is averaging just 3.7 yards per carry and 81 yards per game so far, though he’s very active in the passing game as well.
Defensively, the Falcons play right into the strengths of Michigan’s offense. Bowling Green ranks 111th in total defense, and 98th in rush defense, giving up 194 yards per game on the ground this season. Michigan’s offense, led by Denard Robinson, ranks sixth in the nation with 286.3 yards rushing per game.
Last week I predicted that Michigan’s starters would play the first half, and maybe into the third quarter before giving way to the second team. That wasn’t the case, since the offense wasn’t able to find its rhythm until just before halftime and the defense couldn’t stop UMass in the second half.
This week, however, I’m going to predict the exact same thing. The most important aspects of this week’s game, aside from getting a win, is establishing consistency and keeping the starters, most notably Robinson, healthy.
Rich Rodriguez said after last week’s game that had safety Cam Gordon not fumbled his interception return, the backup quarterbacks, Tate Forcier and Devin Gardner, would have gone in. Rodriguez wants to get them some game action to stay fresh in case Robinson gets injured in Big Ten play.
With Schilz out, Bowling Green’s offense will struggle even against Michigan’s poor defense. Keep in mind that the Falcons’ offensive line is playing three new starters this year, and has given up an average of nearly four sacks per game this season. That bodes well for Michigan’s defensive line to get some pressure and force the inexperienced quarterbacks into quick throws.
Look for Michigan to force four or five turnovers and at least for this week look like a solid defensive unit as it heads into conference play.
What to watch for:
Can running back Michael Shaw repeat last week’s breakout performance and cement his spot as Michigan’s go-to back? Last week, he carried the ball 12 times for 126 yards and three touchdowns.
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.
Can the defense pressure Bowling Green’s inexperienced quarterbacks? As mentioned above, Bowling Green has given up an average of 3.6 sacks per game this season, with three new offensive linemen from last season, and will be starting a quarterback who has thrown all of 21 passes in his collegiate career.
Despite Michigan’s strong defensive line, getting to the quarterback has been a problem through the first three games. Michigan has recorded just two sacks, and only three teams, North Carolina (1), Hawaii (1), and New Mexico State (0) have made fewer.
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.
Will the backup quarterbacks get some playing time and give Robinson a rest? Michigan is averaging 33.3 points per game this season, while Bowling Green is giving up an average of 30.3. Look for Michigan to run early and often against a poor rush defense and rack up nearly its average in the first half.
Perhaps the biggest question is which quarterback will relieve Robinson first. When Robinson was momentarily injured against UConn and Notre Dame, it was Gardner, not last year’s starter, Forcier, who relieved him.
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.*
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.
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.
Michigan 48 – Bowling Green 23
From Their View…
The Toledo Blade says Bowling Green draws some inspiration from Miley Cyrus, the Cleveland Plain Dealer seems to think Schilz’s injury won’t slow Bowling Green down, and FalconBlog answers 25 questions about Michigan.
*I hate to make a joke about Forcier not starting or even being the backup this year, since he was incredibly clutch in some games last season and still could become a very good college quarterback. I think the way he handled himself in the opener against UConn was very immature and embarassing, but by all accounts he has become a great team player since then, so I’m glad that he has been able to move past that and put the team first. I’m glad we have him in case Robinson gets hurt and Gardner doesn’t perform. I hate to see him on the bench, but for Rich Rodriguez, it’s a good problem to have, and I won’t belabor the point any longer.
Michigan escaped with a win last Saturday over an FCS school leaving Michigan fans on the verge of panic. It was a scene all to familiar in recent years, with Michigan narrowly avoiding another Appalachian State-style loss.
The first two games, wins at home against UConn and on the road against Notre Dame, had Michigan the talk of the nation with super sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson. But Saturday’s uninspiring performance in which the Minutemen marched down the field for three touchdown drives spanning 67 yards or more brought back the “Oh, not again” feelings that have inundated the past two years.
Is Michigan headed for another collapse just like last season, or is this year’s team poised to hold its own in the Big Ten?
|Offensive stats through three games|
|21/42 (50%)||Third-Down Conv.||16/41 (39%)|
|10/11 (91%)||Red Zone Scoring||9/12 (75%)|
|*1 other turnover was on a fumble after an|
|INT, so doesn’t count towards offensive stats|
Through the first three games last season, Michigan averaged more points per game (38) than it has so far this season (33.3), but the offensive output has been much more consistent this year (510 total yards per game compared to 439).
While Michigan’s offensive numbers are better, the opponents have been eerily similar.
Last year, Michigan opened with Western Michigan, a Mid-American Conference school that had a senior quarterback who holds six career passing records at the school. Many predicted the Broncos pull off the upset, but Michigan dominated in a 31-7 win in Tate Forcier’s debut.
A week later, Michigan hosted Notre Dame and won a 38-34 shootout, then followed that up with a lackluster performance against Eastern Michigan. In that game, Michigan led just 24-17 at halftime, but pulled away, winning 41-17.
Those three opponents finished the year with a combined record of 11-25, so what seemed like a great start for Michigan was really just smoke and mirrors.
Prior to this year’s opener against UConn, many predicted the Huskies to waltz into Ann Arbor and come away with a win. UConn was expected to play for the Big East title this season. Instead, Michigan won convincingly in Denard Robinson’s debut, and UConn has now started the season 1-2 with a loss to Temple last week.
In the second week of the season, Michigan traveled to South Bend and pulled out the win when Robinson led the Wolverines on a 12-play, 72-yard touchdown drive in the final two minutes to seal the win. Notre Dame followed that up with an overtime loss at Michigan State last week, and could very well lose its next three as well.
Last week, Michigan came out flat, leading UMass just 21-17 at halftime before building a sizeable lead in the third quarter. But Michigan wasn’t able to put UMass away in the fourth quarter, as the Minutemen pulled within five before a failed onside kick allowed Michigan to run out the clock.
Despite being an FCS team, UMass is probably better than Eastern Michigan was last year, considering Eastern didn’t win a single game and UMass is currently ranked 72nd in the Sagarin Ratings. That’s higher than upcoming opponents Bowling Green (90th), Indiana (82nd), and Purdue (77th).
I think this year’s Michigan team is better suited for Big Ten play than last year’s was for a couple of reasons.
1. Denard Robinson.
As long as he stays healthy, he gives Michigan a chance to win every game. Of course they won’t win every game this season, but his ability to run and pass makes Michigan’s offense nearly impossible to defend consistently.
Last year, Forcier played well in the first few games, but Michigan’s offense was ultimately hurt by his inexperience and a lack of a true running game. Forcier was a true freshman with a limited understanding of the playbook, and thus, the offensive variety was lacking.
Running backs Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown were constantly injured and neither proved to be a true threat, meaning opponents could key in on the passing game, forcing Forcier to make freshman mistakes, which he did.
Robinson had last season to get his feet wet in the offense and get acclimated to the college game. He came to fall camp just a few weeks before the season started, so his ability to run the offense consisted solely of taking the snap and running left or right. Opponents knew that and he still ran for 5.1 yards per carry.
The offseason gave him a chance to learn the playbook and develop his arm, and it paid off when Rich Rodriguez gave him the nod to start the UConn game. Robinson took advantage, putting up three of the nine best offensive games in Michigan history the past three weeks.
2. The offensive line.
This year’s offensive line is talented and experienced, and it all starts with center David Molk. Last year, the offense started to plummet after Molk went down with an injury. It shook up the entire line, making guard David Moosman move to center. In the first game thereafter, he fumbled three or four bad snaps, and the line was never able to gel the rest of the season.
So far this season, the line has allowed just one sack in Robinson’s 76 pass attempts, and has paved the way for 859 rushing yards in three games (six yards per carry).
Against Notre Dame’s stout defensive front seven, Michigan rushed for 288 yards and averaged seven yards per carry. Robinson also threw for 244 yards without being sacked.
Last week, Notre Dame sacked Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins four times and held State to 4.7 yards per carry, well below its average of 6.6.
The real test for the offensive line will be when Michigan plays Iowa, Wisconsin, and Ohio State, but this line is certainly suited to keep Michigan’s offense chugging away.
3. The skills position players.
Running back Michael Shaw stepped up last week against UMass, rushing for 126 yards and three touchdowns on 12 carries. He seems to be the best back Michigan has this season, with Vincent Smith also splitting reps. If the two can combine to give Michigan a running threat outside of Robinson, the offense will be that much harder to stop.
The receivers are perhaps the best position group on the offense, other than quarterback. In Michigan’s last two games, a different receiver has stepped up.
Against Notre Dame, it was Roy Roundtree with eight catches for 82 yards and a touchdown and Martavious Odoms with seven catches for 91 yards. Against UMass it was Darryl Stonum with three catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns.
Junior Hemingway, Michigan’s best deep threat, just returned from injury and made a nice 36-yard catch last week, and Kelvin Grady has averaged 13.2 yards per catch out of the slot.
With those receiving weapons at Robinson’s disposal, defenses will have a hard time lining up to stop the run.
Given the electric play of Robinson, the cohesiveness of the offensive line, and the talent of the skill position players, Michigan’s offense is much more suited to continue its output once the Big Ten grind starts than it was last season. The only glaring weakness is the defense, which isn’t going to be fixed this season. Expect a lot of shootouts the rest of the way.
I was right there with Michigan’s score last week, only one under, but gave the defense too much credit, 16 under. I don’t think anyone really expected UMass to drop 37 points in Ann Arbor, but here’s to hoping it was just a one-game letdown.
For the season, I’m nine over offensively and 18 over defensively, so it’s starting to come back down to the median.
I Said What?
“Robinson will play but certainly won’t need the whopping amount of carries he has had in the past two games. Rodriguez should let him keep his rhythm and build a good lead and then rest him to keep him fresh.”
Well, I was right that he wouldn’t need as many carries. He rushed 17 times, as opposed to the 29 and 28 times in the previous two games. Shaw was efficient enough with his 12 carries, scoring three touchdowns, that Robinson wasn’t needed to run as much.
I was wrong, however, about Michigan building a large enough lead that would allow Robinson a breather. (+1/2)
“Robinson needs to establish the passing game. Everybody knows Robinson’s skills on the ground – that was evident from his first collegiate snap. The biggest question mark surrounding Robinson at this point is his passing ability.”
Michigan didn’t need to throw the ball more last week, but Robinson was very efficient when he did, going 10-14 for 241 yards and two touchdowns. The only miscue was an interception on his first pass of the day.
He showed great touch on a few deep balls that he threw, completing a 36-yarder to Hemingway and a 46-yarder to Stonum.
I think Robinson did enough to warrant defenses paying attention to the passing game, although until he proves he can do it in Big Ten play, the question marks will still exist. (+1)
“Find a running game outside of Robinson.”
Done. Shaw rushed 12 times for 126 yards and three touchdowns. He had a 34-yard touchdown run in the third quarter and broke a 50-yard run in the fourth quarter to set up another touchdown. Can he do it again? (+1)
“Look for Michigan to set the tone early, jumping out to a comfortable lead by halftime.”
The tone that Michigan set was one that lacked emotion coming off a big road win over a rival. UMass took the opening drive down the field for a field goal and Robinson’s first pass was picked off. UMass led 17-7 before Michigan realized it wasn’t going to be a cakewalk and scored twice right before the half. (-1)
Three games into the season he’s still outperforming everybody’s preseason Heisman favorite Terrelle Pryor. While Pryor has 44 more passing yards and two more passing touchdowns, Robinson has 394 more rushing yards and two more rushing touchdowns. He also has a higher quarterback rating, although ever so slight, a higher completion percentage, and has thrown one fewer interception. Interstingly enough, their yards per attempt are exactly the same.