Sunday, September 12, 2010

Warp speed ahead!

Photo - Michigan Daily

As I watched the end of the Boise State - Virginia Tech game on Labor Day night it occurred to me that the difference between the two minute offenses of Boise State and Virginia Tech embodies the struggles that many long-time Michigan fans are having in accepting the new Michigan offense. For the longest time, we had prototypical pro-style quarterbacks who like Boise's Kellen Moore could surgically take apart any defense with his passing even when everyone knew they had to pass. Now with a system that emphasizes a quarterback's running skills and athleticism more than his passing skills, I think many Michigan fans fear that we will be unable to run an effective two minute offense, just as Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor was unable to do at the end of the Labor Day game.

Among the multitude of amazing things Denard Robinson did on Saturday perhaps the most significant thing was to show those Michigan fans still uncomfortable with the new offense that just because he is not 6-4 with feet of clay doesn't mean he can't deliver in crunch time when everyone knows he needs to pass the ball. With the game on the line and 75 yards away from pay dirt, he went 5-6 for 55 yards and added 17 yards rushing with a fourth and one conversion and a touchdown rushing. Any doubting that he can be a complete quarterback is either not paying attention or is looking for reasons to complain.

The offense still has things to work on: the running backs have not been productive, the down field passing is inconsistent, and the propensity for bad penalties is gonna cost them at some point. Although last year taught us not to get to far ahead of ourselves, I think it is safe to say that baring some key injuries, this offense will be fairly productive.

The Defense? We won. Can't say too much more than that. They did appear to limit the ND rushing attack a little bit, but didn't get much pressure on the ND QBs and had some significant lapses in coverage. Cam Gordon took a couple of bad angles that led to two long ND touchdowns. Missed tackles were numerous, and the two inside LBs are about 50/50 to make the right read. We don't really know how good the ND offense is, but it's probably safe to say that the defense still has a long way to go to get to adequate. We won't discuss the special teams.

So big picture, where are we? One game closer to the seven wins we need to go bowling. I'd like to say this is better than a 7-5 team, but after last year, we know things can go south really quickly when the team has serious depth issues. Looking at the schedule, based on games played so far, there appears to be four teams that we would seem to be better than: UMass, Purdue, Bowling Green, & Illinois, five teams we don't have enough evidence to judge yet based on over matched opponents: Iowa, MSU, Indiana, Wisconsin, & Penn State (a loss @ Alabama doesn't prove anything major), and one team, Ohio State that appears clearly better than us. If I had to guess now, based on last year, Iowa and Wisconsin will join OSU in that last group, and Indiana will join the first group.

Some other thoughts:
-I'm sure you'll hear from negative nancies in the media and opposing fans how Denard won't survive the season carrying the ball 30 times a game and Michigan's offense will suffer if he goes down. While there is some truth in that, it's no more true for us than it is for any other team. Where would OSU be if Pryor went down? How's Florida doing so far without Tebow? Is a QB that carries the ball more likely to get injured than a RB who carries that much? I think that part of the negative reaction towards the amount of carries Denard gets has to do with that uncomfortableness with the offense we discussed above.
-I'm sure he got approval of the team doctors, but I wonder if Brian Kelly's decision to put Dayne Crist back in the game was a sound one. Crist's vision problems would seem to suggest a potentially serious concussion or head injury that would keep him out of the whole game. I'd hate to think that the decision to put him in was motivated by the horrible play of his backups, and you just hope that there are no lingering issues for Crist.
-Didn't see much of any of the other big ten games to draw many conclusions, other than the large white stripe on the MSU helmets looked bad and I wished we played Minnesota this year. What the heck Gophers? At least when we lost to an FCS team, we lost to the three time defending champs, not a .500 team that's only been playing Division one for four years.
-Bad day for the MAC. They went 2-5 in non conference play with two losses to FCS teams (Akron to Gardner Webb, Ball State to Liberty). The conference should really consider an en masse move to FCS.
-Almost equally bad day for the ACC, with losses to an FCS team (see below), a poor Kansas team, and big losses in marquee games by Miami and Florida State. They look to be a one bid league in terms of the BCS, yet again.
-USC looked fairly average. Pac Ten will be decided Oct 2 when Stanford visits Oregon. The amount of empty seats in Neyland Stadium midway through the fourth quarter was quite impressive.
-Biggest loser this week? Probably Boise State, whose "big" win over Virginia Tech became virtually worthless when the Hokies fell to FCS "power" James Madison. I can see another 12-0 season ending in a random BCS bowl game (but not "the" game) against TCU.
-The news on Friday that FCS power Villanova has been asked to join the Big East in football confirms what many have said for years -- the Big East doesn't deserve a BCS bid. Villanova currently plays in a 12,000 seat stadium, probably draws less per game than two other Philly area teams (Penn and Temple), and probably falls about ten spots down in the sports consciousness of the typical Philly fan. I know that UConn made a similar jump a decade ago, but they weren't really competing with anything else other than Husky basketball.
-On a final note, one of the all time greatest Wolverines, Ron Kramer, passed away on Saturday. I'd like to think he spent the afternoon watching the game with Bo, Yost, & Bob Ufer. Godspeed, # 87.