I’m sure coffee or whatever it is fans are drinking on this Monday morning doesn’t taste as good following what was a disturbing loss this past weekend in Ann Arbor.
A miserable few weeks for Michigan fans now transitions to three weeks of highly emotional, at times volatile, and at other times potentially down right depressing football as things currently stand.
The rushing numbers over the last two weeks are as awful as awful can be, but this isn’t something we didn’t already know.
What’s the difference?
Well, as you heard Michigan coach Brady Hoke ask following the Wolverine’s 17-13 loss to Nebraska, “it’s hard to explain isn’t it?”
I’m no football coach nor profess that or have any desire to be but to me this speaks to a few things:
1. Earlier in the season, even in wins over Central Michigan and Notre Dame, the downhill rushing attack was non-existent. Michigan was able to run the football in various other ways, to the outside, with the quarterback, out of the gun etc., but was never able to outmuscle even the worst competition the Wolverines faced.
2. As more film was available the coaches at Akron, Connecticut, so on and so forth, simply said ‘the only thing this team can successfully do right now is the short, quick passing game. If we shut that down and force them to do what they can’t we have a shot to win this game.’ To which, every team has had the same recipe; stop the run, send the house in obvious passing situations, and force Devin Gardner to make quicker decisions than even he wants to.
3. Michigan State seemingly opened the floodgates to what could be a rough final three weeks of the season now for Michigan. The Spartans have a defense obviously capable of shutting down the run, the pass, and smiles everywhere. But Nebraska? The Cornhuskers simply followed suit and Brady Hoke admitted afterward that Bo Pelini’s crew blitzed a little more than they anticipated heading into it. This is what Michigan can expect the rest of the way as the offensive line continues to work to create holes for the tailbacks and struggles to protect their quarterback for more than a few seconds.
4. A part of all of this is no doubt the continued attempts to run the football up the middle despite the inability to do so even when numbers do favor the Michigan offense. Running on first down isn’t working. Running on third and short isn’t working. Michigan wants to be Stanford right now, but they just aren’t there yet and adjustments to that need to be made quickly or even one more victory the rest of the way would be hard to envision.
That’s right, there is good that can come out of the last two losses for Michigan.
Despite the negative yardage and criticism coming from every direction, the young Wolverines are learning, facing the adversity head on and should be better off for it down the line in their careers (I know, I know, Kyle, what the heck good does that do right now?).
The fact that we saw even more youth on the field Saturday against Nebraska is a great sign moving forward.
It’s time for freshman Taco Charlton to make his presence felt, make mistakes, get better, and just gain experience. Charlton was impressive in his spot duty, not credited with a sack but he’s the reason senior Cam Gordon got his, collapsing the pocket up the middle. For good measure, Charlton proved tough enough in run defense as well, holding his blocker at the line before getting a paw on the running back that had nowhere to go.
It’s time for Derrick Green. Eight carries for 11-yards, I know, it wasn’t exactly like lighting the world on fire Saturday but the more carries he receives, the more opportunities he’ll have to see a cutback, to break a tackle, to gain positive yardage. I thought Green’s greatest attribute was not taking as many losses as he could have. Several times defenders were in the backfield and he was able to use his big body and feet to fall forward for a couple yards -- play him more.
The list goes on and on, Dymonte Thomas received extended time in the secondary, flashing quickness and cover skills at nickel. Channing Stribling made a play on the football in coverage Saturday, looking more confident and quick in his decisions. For all of the struggles, Kyle Bosch and Erik Magnuson will be better off having had half a season as starters on the offensive line, regardless of where Magnuson will play next season.
I’m sure not many want to discuss it especially after Michigan has given up big plays at key moments late in football games, but Greg Mattison’s defense is giving the offense chances to win. If the offense had a running game, could control some clock and put a few more points on the board the defense wouldn’t even need to be looked at.
This has been the same story week in and week out since the end of August. Michigan has a near loss to Akron at home and it appears they’ll be ready to rebound against Connecticut the next week. Nope. Eye opening shoot out win over Indiana but the Wolverines will have things cleaned up when they go to East Lansing. Yeah, no. Same thing after the loss at Michigan State, no way they lose to Nebraska, right? Wrong.
At some point a light has to go on though, in some capacity, a time when the Wolverines will get off the mat and respond. Even flashes of a run game or improved pass blocking have to happen in the final three weeks, right?
There’s no guarantees, obviously, but I find it hard to believe with all of the young talent continuing to spread its wings that we don’t see a glimpse of improvement offensively, because, well, can it get worse now?
My guess is we’ll find out a lot about this program and the direction it’s headed over the next three games and the bowl game.