Saturday, September 11, 2010

Michigan football: Good so far; far from great

Dedicated to the people who vote in the various college football polls (which are truly meaningless this young into the season, but still …)
Dear Sirs,
PLEASE! Whatever you think, see or try to believe, do not (repeat, do NOT) rank Michigan in the top 25 after Saturday’s 28-24 win at Notre Dame. While it was a thrilling last-second win (made FAR too close by the Wolverine defense, which will be examined later), this team is not yet deserving of a top 25 ranking.
That mistake was made under similar circumstances one year earlier, after another come-from-behind last-second victory over the same opponent. All that ranking accomplished 365 days earlier was a build-up to ultimate failure in the Big 10 season.
The Wolverine Nation does not need history to repeat itself SO … if you’d please … keep your rankings away for a couple of weeks.
Until this extremely young team finds more answers to the gaping holes within its game. While it was very satisfying to beat the Irish in their own backyard, on their own TV network, with their own cheerleading announcers, there are still plenty of questions to ask and need to be answered before Michigan enters the top 25 of anything.
First, a wonderful game-winning drive engineered by the “IT” player in college football at the moment – sophomore Denard Robinson. He looked cool, collected and stabbed Notre Dame in the heart and shut those damn-ass people up in that frightful stadium.
Sidenote: How sad that the recession has hit the Irish football program. In past years, all Notre Dame player helmets would be spray-painted the night before every game with a new coat of Irish gold, which included REAL flecks of gold!!! This season, those helmets looked like mere old gold dull plastic. How sad!
After Robinson, the second best player on the field was Irish sophomore linebacker Manti Te’o, 6-2, 245, from Punahou High School in Laie, Hawai’i, who earned this fan’s total respect for his performance. Someone else recognized that and the player Robinson sought to congratulate after the final whistle was … Te’o; Denard knew a real player when he saw and felt one and he gave Te’o his props.
And if Roy Roundtree was “doubtful” for the affair, then list his at that level before EVERY game. I cannot think of any one of his eight receptions (for 82 yards) that were NOT crucial. His last grab, at the Notre Dame 3, set up the game-winning run by Robinson. He was Michigan’s second-best player on the afternoon.
But Robinson stood head and shoulders above everyone else, totally 502 yards in total offense, which I’m sure is a Michigan record. I’ll betcha high school coaches all over America will be hearing from players who don’t want to tie their shoelaces, simply to emulate Robinson. And it’s nice to see him credit everyone else and not give a damn about personal stats; he just seems to care about the scoreboard – as it should be.
HOWEVER … there is still lots of work for the coaching staff to do because weaknesses exists all over the place – in all facets.
The kicking game almost cost U-M the victory; if you didn’t notice, Coach Rodriguez changed kickers on the last extra point after Brendan Gibbons badly missed two makeable field goals (39, 40 yards). It was Seth Broekhuizen booting the final point; and I imagine there will be a week-long battle for the placekicking job in practice this week (even kickoffs seemed 5-7 yards too short).
The punting was somewhat sub-standard and things must improve from a 38.3 yard average.
On offense, the lack of a productive running back, behind Robinson, seems to stymie things at crucial times. Subtract Robinson’s totals and the trio of halfbacks gained but 20 yards on 13 carries, and NONE for a first down. That MUST change in future games in order to take some of the pressure away from Robinson’s feet and arm; someone you can count upon to get that first-down yardage on a straight handoff.
The running backs also need to become better blockers, at the corners and downfield. Merely getting in someone’s way is NOT the same as delivering a solid block.
Second-half drives were snuffed out because of penalties by Kelvin Grady and at least two holding calls; we won’t even speak of two ridiculous late hits that almost cost U-M the game.
And then there’s the Michigan defense, which allowed 535 yards of Irish offense (on 76 plays), had scores of missed tackles (a little wrapup drill is in order) and, despite three interceptions, had difficulty covering Irish receivers, notably tight end Kyle Rudolph (8 receptions, 164 yards).
There was absolutely no excuse for Rudolph to have burned the Wolverine secondary for a 95-yard touchdown pass in the final four minutes. It was a crime that he was single-covered when he was burning the U-M defense all afternoon in that scenario. It was unspeakable how the Irish moved the ball SO fast in 14 seconds to have that final shot to the end zone to win the game. How does that happen?!?!?!?!
Michigan WILL have more problems as the season progresses with any team that can put the ball downfield through the air.
Which is why I never got comfortable with a 21-7 halftime lead, never felt good about Notre Dame having the ball at its own 5 with less than four minutes to play and was still shaky in the final 20 seconds.
Which is why … this team should not be ranked in the top 25 – not just yet. A few games are needed to fix the problems and then, maybe, this 2010 team will be ready for prime time.
One player is already there; one defense is not.

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