It was never the best of times but not exactly the worst of times either.
Michigan’s 5-1 start to the 2013 season could’ve, and at times, should’ve been a greater mess than the record indicates.
But just how fake is the Wolverines record? Hmmmmm let’s see:
Since nearly hanging on to beat Michigan at the big house, Akron has lost four straight games to bring their record to a ghastly 1-6 including blow out losses to Bowling Green and Ohio (the Bobcats, for those keeping track at home).
The Wolverines trip to Hartford proved more contentious than previously anticipated as Connecticut held a 14-point advantage in the second half before Michigan gathered themselves to escape with a win. Since that time? The Huskies have fired their head coach and are still currently looking for their first win of the season, sitting at a putrid 0-5.
But but but, the bye week really helped and the offensive line was so much better against Minnesota.
At the same time, the Golden Gophers are 4-2 with headlining wins over the likes of UNLV, New Mexico State, Western Illinois and San Jose State. Even Iowa, who I’ll admit looks better than I anticipated heading into the year, dismantled Minnesota 23-7 to open up their Big Ten slate.
What am I getting at? We all know.
But the bigger question is where does the truth lie with this team?
Examining loss to Penn State
I’ll spare you the play-by-play -- we all know how it went down and the misery that came for Michigan fans with every opportunity that was missed in that football game.
Conservative approach? Poor clock management? Untimely penalty?
All are viable reasons for the Wolverines loss at Penn State in four overtimes.
I’m going to choose to focus on one thing and one thing only, something I’ve watched as closely as anything with this team the entire season; Where is the consistent, or even semblance, of a rushing attack?
27-rushes for 27-yards out of senior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint is about the most telling statistic anyone needs to know, remember and be infuriated by if Maize & Blue runs through your veins.
What’s worse is the fact that No. 28 kept getting the football. I thought the game plan to incorporate more quarterback runs with Devin Gardner was brilliant and 100-percent necessary, so why keep going back to something that clearly can’t work even if it’s what you’d like to be identified by?
How many 3rd and short opportunities need to be squandered by a handoff to Toussaint up the middle before the strategy is altered? Penn State knew what was coming and knew they could stop it.
This isn’t a new problem, it existed even in Michigan’s 59-9 season opener against Central Michigan, the previously mentioned closer than expected wins over Akron and Connecticut, and reared it’s ugly head in Happy Valley, and, in my opinion, is what cost the Wolverines the football game.
If Michigan had the rushing attack with their 10-point lead in the fourth quarter there is no chance for 18-year old Christian Hackenberg to bring the Nittany Lions back.
Nothing gets easier for the Wolverines as a dangerous offensive attack comes to Ann Arbor Saturday known as the Indiana Hoosiers -- a team that beat Penn State by 20-points, no less.
After that, another bye week hits before five straight weeks of difficult football that will begin with a trip up to East Lansing to face a Michigan State defense we all knew would be dominant, and a Spartan offense that may have found some life.
Here’s part of my remedy for improvement (though, it is my belief that halfway through a season you are what you are as a football team and tangible improvement in certain areas is an uphill climb):
1. A more spread oriented attack. I know what you’re thinking, Kyle, we saw Gardner run a lot more read option Saturday night! Yes, but at the risk of beating Gardner up even more, it needs to continue to be utilized. The only reason Michigan had a chance to beat Penn State is because of Gardner’s athleticism (imagine if Michigan had a pocket passing statue back there this season). Remember, when Toussaint ran for 1,000-yards in 2011, a lot of the reason was because of the threat of Denard Robinson. Michigan could use Gardner in similar fashion.
2. Tons of Funchess. Michigan’s newest ‘receiving threat’ Devin Funchess was targeted much more over the last two weeks, scoring three touchdowns in that time, but if I’m the Wolverines I’m attempting to get the ball in his hands as much as humanly possible. The better Funchess is, the more dangerous this offense can be, and potentially, could back safeties out of the box to prevent long passing plays. If that happens, could the running game get better despite the lack of push up front? Maybe.
3. Green needs more Green. No, not money. Michigan’s backup running back Derrick Green needs to see the turf more than he has after carrying the ball just three times Saturday night. Giving Green a series here or there would give him added game experience and who knows, maybe even spark a ground game that is in desperate need of it. Toussaint is a talented tailback with quick cuts and good vision but anyone who believes he can pound it up the middle isn’t seeing what I’m seeing. Is Green the answer? Who know, we haven’t seen enough of him. But he could be.
I know a lot of folks out there will judge a recruit by the stars next to his name but I implore you to look past that when discussing 2014 Michigan commitments, wide receiver Fredd Canteen and defensive back Brandon Watson.
I was in Cleveland Saturday as Eastern Christian (Mar.) Academy took on Cleveland St. Ignatius. Great football game by the way, ECA went down the field in the final minute and scored a touchdown with just 10-seconds left on the clock to secure a 32-29 win.
But as for Canteen and Watson -- wow. Since the Michigan football camp I really felt Canteen could be a steal in this class and a major weapon in Ann Arbor and Saturday only further cemented that belief. The young man has Mario Manningham type quickness and route running ability, able to get down field in a hurry and out run people to the end zone. Canteen caught two touchdown passes in the game. I don’t think his 40-time would be the best ever but the young man is football fast and could be a terror in the slot or on the outside.
Talking about Watson, the guy is as physical as they come and is a rarity at the cornerback position. Watson will hit anyone that crosses his path and play as tough of press coverage as I’ve seen live. As with Canteen, Watson won’t wow with an unbelievable 40-time either, but he can play the game, has terrific instincts, and, something Michigan has gotten better at, has fantastic ball skills, swatting a couple footballs on Saturday.
Look for those interviews and highlights this week.