Tales from the Deuce

Its the Shoes

In one of the most electrifying and improbable debuts in the storied history of the University of Michigan football program, Denard “Shoelace” Robinson finally gave some legitimacy to a coaching staff under siege.  For two years many Wolverines fans wondered when they would see signs of what they thought they were getting when head coach Rich Rodriguez came to Ann Arbor from West Virginia.  With a much improved offensive line and some solid play on defense, the Wolverines outplayed a UConn football team coming off of a successful season and bowl win.  Here are my takeaways from my Saturday in Ann Arbor.

What I liked:

1.  Robinson:  My sense has always been that Tate Forcier would be the better choice as the starter at quarterback, primarily because of his experience from last year.  However, I felt comfortable with the idea of Robinson as the starter.  Considering how high the stakes are for Rich Rod this season, the starter he chose would clearly be the person he felt best gave the team the chance to win.  Thankfully Robinson did not disapprove.   His 383 yards of total offense and 197 yards rushing were single-game records.

2.  The offensive line:  Rodriguez finally has some experience upfront and it showed.  As a team, Michigan averaged 4.7 yards per carry and protected Robinson quite well in the passing game.

3.  Key plays on defense: J.T. Floyd’s forced fumble on the goal line was the play of the game.  With Michigan driving the ball 95 yards down the field on the ensuing drive, the fumble created a 13 point (missed the extra point) swing.

What I didn’t like:

1.  Devin Gardner as the backup.  To me this makes little sense.  There are only two plausible explanations for Forcier being relegated to the #3 spot.

a.  Gardner is better
b.  Forcier done screwed up again

To me neither explanation is grounds for burning a redshirt.  Even a basic understanding of football would tell you that freshmen quarterbacks rarely play well.  We would be lucky to get a performance out of Gardner this season, that would be as good, if not better than Forcier’s last year.  Indeed, Forcier’s performance last year as a starter was strong for a freshman (see Brian Cook of Mgoblog’s graph on this very subject).  Since quarterbacks generally get better with their second year, AND he was considered to be neck and neck with Robinson for the starting job, it just doesn’t add up that he’s the third best qb on the roster.  If Gardner isn’t the second best quarterback on the roster, why play him?  Thus, reason (a) doesn’t make any sense.  As far as reason (b), disciplinary action hardly seems like a good reason to play with redshirts.  Look, I get it; Forcier has some serious maturity issues (tweeting, emailing the media, skipping class and workouts).  But we were all led to believe that he had cleaned up the act, so what happened to warrant Forcier playing second fiddle to Gardner?  Of course we’ll never know, since Rich Rod’s been pretty mum about this.  Regardless, I just can’t see how this move makes sense.

2.  Defensive pressure.  In order to win going forward, the defense is going to have to put some pressure on opposing offenses.  Last Saturday the Wolverines failed to sack Huskie qb Zach Fraser even once.  Considering the Huskies brought back 4 offensive lineman from last year, we should fare a little better with future opponents.  Still, our glaring weaknesses in the secondary will require that we put at least some heat on opposing offenses up front in order to compensate.

3.  The running backs.  While Robinson was amazing on his feet, the guys that actually earn their keep running the ball were less impressive.  In fact, Robinson was the only guy that averaged over 4 yards a carry.  I had hoped that someone would emerge as the leader among the group but that simply did not happen.  Perhaps when redshirt freshman Fitzgerald Toussaint comes back from injury he can fill that void as “the guy” in the backfield.

College Pigskin

Another Season in the Abyss?

Michigan 2010 Preview

Head Coach: Rich Rodriguez, 3rd Year (8-16)

2009 Record: 5-7 (1-7 Conference)

Returning Starters: 15 (8 defense, 7 offense)

When I think about the current state of the Michigan football program, I often think: “how did we get here?”  It seems like just yesterday I was on the horn with all of my Wolverine buddies talking about how dominant Michigan would be, once the newly hired coach Rich Rodriguez was able to install his system . . . what a difference a few seasons makes.

While I fully embraced the Rodriguez hire, I now find myself wondering whether its possible for ole’ Rich Rod to save his job.  I also wonder if Michigan is the right fit for Rich Rod.  Its not that I question his coaching ability.   Rather, I wonder whether new AD Dave Brandon has the patience, or more to the point, the faith to see this thing through.  After all, a dark cloud has hovered over this program, almost since the day Rodriguez arrived in Ann Arbor.  It started with Rodriguez’ messy divorce from his former team, the West Virginia Mountaineers.  Which was followed by other issues, some big (Justin Boren and Ryan Mallett transferring) and some small (taking the #1 jersey away from Daryl Stonum).  And now, we wait with baited breath as the NCAA decides how it will levy punishment against Michigan for a failure by Rodriguez and his staff to follow NCAA summer workout rules.  All of this along with one of the worst two-year records in the history of the program and it’s clear to see why this is a make or break year for Rodriguez.  Can he deliver the goods and save his job? Maybe.  Here’s a closer look. Continue reading

Iowa 30 – Michigan 28

Michigan Iowa Football

Michigan’s loss on Saturday to the Iowa Hawkeyes was no doubt frustrating.  Despite strong performances by several players, the Wolverines played clumsily, surrendering the ball 5 times to their opponent.  Despite numerous turnovers, the Wolverines still had an opportunity to win the game late.  Here’s a few takeaways:

The Good: Michigan’s physical play on both sides of the football. Offensively, the Wolverines established the line of scrimmage early by engineering a 72-yard drive, led by Brandon Minor.  Overall, the Wolverines averaged nearly 4.5 yards per carry.   Defensively, the Hawkeyes were limited to 2.4 yards rushing.  Along the defensive line, the Wolverines got strong play, most notably defensive end Brandon Graham who registered 2 sacks, 9 tackles, with 3.5 for a loss.

Along the same lines, I loved the aggressive game plan defensively.  Often times, there were 8-9 men in the box and they brought constant pressure from all over the field.

Donovan Warren got off to a great start with an interception for a touchdown.  Despite Iowa bizarrely targeting him throughout the game, he had a strong game.

The Bad: Michigan’s continued an awful trend of playing poor defense on third down. The most glaring example came on a 47 yard completion on 3rd and 24 .  In another situation, Hawkeyes tight end Tony Moeaki broke open in a 3rd and 12 situation for a 35 yard touchdown.

The Ugly: Perhaps the most obvious would be the turnovers. It would be easy to say that these mistakes were a result of youth.  Yet two fumbles came at the hands of two of Michigan’s senior players: receiver Greg Matthews and tailback Brandon Minor.  The latter could not have come at a worse time, as the Wolverines were in the midst of a 51 yard drive.  Had they scored, they would have likely gone into the half with a one point lead.

Rodriguez’ decision to keep Tate Forcier out of the game on the last possession. Although many have argued that Rodriguez’ decision to remain with the hot hand was sensible, it was clearly misguided.

On the previous drive I commended Rodriguez for mixing things up by bringing in freshman quarterback Denard Robinson.  Rodriguez obviously felt that the offense needed a jolt and the freshman quarterback provided that.  Robinson showed great poise in making critical throws and he further demonstrated why its so difficult to keep him on the bench.   Nevertheless, bringing him back out there on the subsequent drive was a poor decision by Rodriguez and the facts bear that out.

First, the previous drive led by Robinson took 4.5 minutes.  The Wolverines would not have that luxury on the subsequent drive.  The reason why the drive took so long is because Robinson utilized both running and passing to make his way downfield.  In fact, 42 of the 60 yards gained on that drive came from Robinson scrambling.  Secondly, a significant factor in Robinson’s effectiveness on the previous drive was the very fact that he may run.  In the final drive, it was clear that he would not have that luxury.  The Wolverine got the ball back on their own 17 yard line with 1:21 left in the game and no timeouts.  All the Hawkeyes would have to do is drop back in a zone with no fear of the run, in hopes that Robinson would make a mistake with his arm.  Sadly, that is precisely what Robinson proceeded to do.  It would have been more sensible to bring Forcier back in to the game for obvious reasons.  For starters he’s already demonstrated an ability to engineer game winning drives.  Further and most obvious, he is a better decision maker and thrower of the football.  Despite these obvious facts, Rodriguez chose to use his gut and not his head when he sent Robinson back out.

Ultimately, this has no bearing on what I think of Rodriguez.  Simply put, I think he’s one of the best coaches in college football.  I am also not suggesting that the decision to sit Forcier on the last drive cost the Wolverines a victory.  Rather, I’m simply trying to illustrate how in this particular situation, a different decision may have lead to different results.