Saturday, October 16, 2010

U-M v. Iowa: The smelly egg layeth again

Call it what you will, but that ugly, smelly gigantic egg (for the sake of the few families that might read this, I won’t use a term related to excrement) laid by the Michigan football team will do nothing to silence the critics of the program OR erase comparisons to last year’s collapse … because it’s déjà vu all over again, my friends.
After Saturday’s 38-28 loss at home to Iowa, it’s on to a bye week for the Wolverines, and frankly, the bye will be a 7-point favorite. Right now, this team will be fighting with Northwestern, Purdue and Illinois for a berth in either the Insight or Sun Bowls. Not exactly what one would call a major motivating factor.
With the various exposed problems that have arisen over the past two weeks, there is NO way Michigan can compete with either Wisconsin or Ohio State – and until that can take place, this is not where Michigan football needs to be.
There must be a dozen questions being asked by most of the 112,000 fans at Michigan Stadium (people should refrain from using the term, “The Big House” UNTIL the team is worthy of such a reference). One thing is for sure: the noise made at the end of the first half did NOT resemble cheering. For the first time on a national telecast, you could hear boos lustily ringing down onto the field as the squad exited.
And they were well-earned. The team’s performance frankly sucked; players looked like they were expecting to fail, instead of making plays and stop with the foolish mistakes.
Turnovers (four), penalties (too many because of stupid play) and sleep-walking on special teams – these were hardly expected by a squad looking to put its best foot forward against a quality opponent. Instead, one MUST ask if this team is being well coached. The on-field results do not allow someone to objectively answer other than, “NO! This team is NOT well-coached.”
I’ll make my case: Defensively, you are only as good as your personnel and there is a complete lack of talent (save a few overachieving individuals) at Michigan. As a result, coordinator Greg Robinson (who had success at Texas as defensive coordinator) is employing a gimmick 3-5-3 scheme … and it isn’t working. In fact, I thought I actually saw a four-down alignment to open the contest but on Iowa’s third possession, it was the same old, same old from Michigan.
In all honesty, when U-M fans speak about future recruiting, the focus should not be on the Demetrius Harts of the world possibly coming to Ann Arbor. The sole interest should be on which defensive stars, especially linemen, are agreeing to where the Maize and Blue. All the blazing speed and elusive runners will only go so far (as is being shown right now).
Unless and until you can actually stop an opponent’s offense (which has NOT happened through seven games in the 2010 season) and come up with turnovers (none in the two losses compared to seven giveaways by U-M), you will NOT win. Period.
The emphasis needs to be on the basics because the tackling was not improved versus Iowa. And the stats proved it – NO tackles recorded by Martin, and Ezeh, only two from Johnson and Van Bergen while Banks had 4. Iowa’s front line dominated Michigan’s and any opponent who has a stronger, larger offensive line will probably to the same for the remainder of the season – a bad recipe for the 2010 future.
Penalties. Face masking is a heat-of-the-moment incident; false starts are a matter of execution, which needs to be eliminated in practice. Three times, Michigan drives were stalled, hampered and vanquished because of flags. A matter of coaching.
The problems that swirl around the performance of tackle Taylor Lean appeared to have required his benching in the third quarter after what I counted as the third flag directly against him. Down 14-7, Lewan’s false start killed that drive and led to a ridiculously-executed field goal attempt – blocked at the line of scrimmage and then returned 37 yards for great Hawkeye field position. Iowa then drove the short field (48 yards for a 21-7 lead … and thus the boos began).
Which brings me to the next problem of coaching – special teams. All I can say is that it appeared to resemble 11 men sleep-walking. Nothing explains the long return on the blocked field goal. Nothing explains the poor kickoff that floated out of bounds to give Iowa possession at its own 40 (four plays later, Iowa scored again). Nothing explains 40-yard kickoff returns by Iowa.
Michigan outgained Iowa but that was deceiving because the Hawks seemingly always had short field to work with. They were more efficient with their 60 offensive snaps than Michigan was with its 86 – mainly because of poor special teams play.
I would probably call for the head of the special teams coach but he’s also the assistant head coach (RichRod’s hand-picked guy), so it won’t happen. But it should; it would at most programs.
Michigan still has a problem with its running game when the ball isn’t directly in Denard Robinson’s hands. Vincent Smith is great on first downs, but is not the runner you need for third-and 3. Freshman Stephen Hopkins looked like he was making good yardage but just as quickly as he appeared, the offensive game plan removed him. Michael Shaw looks like a scout team back at this point of his career.
Sidenote: Despite what was repeatedly said on the ESPN broadcast, Hopkins is NOT from “Double Tree,” Texas. No such place exists except for a few choice Doubletree HOTELS. Hopkins is from Double Oak – a bedroom community outside of Lewisville, Texas (a VERY suburban suburb north of Dallas and south of Denton) and attended Flower Mound Marcus High School, a quality program.
Now I like Ron Franklin; played tennis with him three DECADES ago at a charity event, with the late Farrah Fawcett (love name-dropping, don’t you?). Ron used to be the voice of the Houston Oilers back in the Bum Phillips/Earl Campbell era. But he constantly made mistakes identifying names, yardage and what was happening on the field.
In fact, in the contest, I NEVER heard about the broken foot sidelining Martavious Odoms – something I believed was a problem for Michigan. Why not? It DID matter, taking away an important weapon on offense and kickoffs for U-M.
Time to hang ‘em up, old friend.
Back to the matters at hand.
While Tate Forcier rallied the troops, two poorly thrown passes (his were just as bad as Robinson’s pick) eliminated all hopes of a Homecoming win, or of silencing all conversation about a repeat of last year. Michigan “should” beat Purdue, Illinois and even Penn State. It’ll have to if the Wolverines want to play in some sort of half-ass bowl game (El Paso is a lovely city, really wonderful scenery and a great place to dodge bullets from the other side of the border drug wars).
But the signs are all there. Center David Molk might well be injured AGAIN and all I could see where players limping around, head held down, expressions as dour as if they were living a nightmare … all over again.
Of course, if I had a high def 42-inch set, I probably would have seen things differently. But the economy is bad in places other than Michigan…
Michigan has two weeks to get ready for Penn State – it needs all that time and then some. Time will not change the roster, just heal wounds and make people and players think…a lot…about last year…
“Déjà vu” was a great Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young album – it’s a poor way to approach the rest of the 2010 Wolverine football season. Hopefully, Michigan will “Carry On,” but not look “Helpless.”

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