Sunday, November 21, 2010

Michigan-Wisconsin: Look, ma, no defense!

God bless the digital video recorder (DVR)! It permits one to be 200 miles away (let’s say at your 4-year-old granddaughter’s birthday party) and still be able to capture every moment of a show or sporting event in crystal clear, high-definition (Santa, I want one for Christmas…) glory when you returned.
Then bless the little button on the remote control that allows you to speed past any and all commercials, any and all game action, and any and all inane studio cut-ins or game babble (even if it IS Hall of Fame quarterback Bob Griese). When the final score, 48-28, is already known before you sit and watch, it makes you appreciate (and celebrate) the fast forward feature – especially at quadruple forwarding speed. Three hours of television is reduced to but 35-40 minutes of actual play time.
My fast forward button got a beating early Sunday morning. It was not necessary to watch each of Wisconsin’s running plays to know that the Wolverines were utterly incapable of stopping them. Like most rodeos, if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Seeing freshmen and undersized defensive linemen flail at flashes of red-and-white uniforms whisking past them requires just a few examples – not scores of them.
Let’s state this at the outset: Wisconsin is a MUCH better football team than Michigan at this point in time…in ALL facets of the game. They are bigger, stronger, more diverse and deeper in talent, better on defense in coverage, tackling and strength (the latter being a major factor in winning last Saturday). They are better on special teams; then again half the high schools in Texas are better in that department.
The 2011 Badgers are, right now, one of the top 4-5 college teams in the country. Period. How they lost to Michigan State should be a mystery worthy of inclusion on “Dateline NBC.”
The gap in program status between the two schools was starkly evident on the Big House floor. Wisconsin looked confident and played that way; Michigan looked disorganized on defense and utterly impotent on special teams.
But … if you’ve watched this team from the opening game, this is old news. If you’re … let’s pick a name out of the air … Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press, this is all news to you (because you have NOT watched the same team from early September). I love Albom as a writer, but his post-game column was done by someone in a coma since the UConn game.
A review of just a couple of the revelations Albom suddenly discovered:
“Can’t stop ’em, can’t beat ’em. It’s pretty simple. The Wolverines have one fast superstar, a flashy offense and a nonexistent defense. I mean Casper the Ghost nonexistent.”
Duh! Been that way since Day One.
“Speaking of which — what’s with the inability to tackle? Don’t players at Michigan’s level arrive knowing how to tackle? Don’t they get coached? You’d never know it watching them. They are out of position, coming at bad angles, flailing with their arms and flinging off opponents like water off a shaking dog.”
Mitch if you wish to check, this was said on THIS blog ... oh, five weeks AGO (by yours truly and by the two hosts of the podcast).
“But it’s more than youth. They don’t look like they know what they’re doing. Their coaching is absolutely suspect. And you can’t fix that fundamental stuff during the season. You address it in training camps, in spring practices, in recruiting and in the staff you hire.”
That applies to the defense and special teams as well, and, again, was highlighted in details on this blog 5-6 weeks ago. But it makes for good post-game analysis in the big city paper … even if it IS a bit late to the party.
Here are more truths that MUST be accepted by the average Wolverine fan. This roster is too small and too inexperienced to deal with quality-ranked teams. When you’ve reached mid-November, it is impossible to change ANYTHING – defensive schemes, offensive pass patterns or, especially, personnel on both sides of the ball.
All one can do is hope and pray major changes are immediately made among the coaching staff – starting with a new defensive coordinator and assistants … and a new special teams coach. Someone must explain to me why Darryl Stonum, arguably the best return man on the U-M roster, had NOT been on the kickoff return unit until an injury to Jeremy Gallon forced that move. The last person to make BIG plays on kickoff returns was … Stonum last season; funny how short one’s memory becomes in the face of poor returns and fumbles.
And who decided on an onside kick down 31-21? All that did was reduce the amount of rushing yards Wisconsin would garner and made it easier to score. That coaching miscue essentially ended Michigan’s chances of winning the game.
Then there’s the kicking game, the single most embarrassing product EVER seen in a Michigan uniform. Ever and that’s dating back to the 19th century! If a school like Michigan cannot produce someone who can kick a 30-yard field goal, or not shank PAT conversions, it has no business on the field.
How did U-M sink to this unspeakable depth? If you’ve been there three years, how could there NOT be a junior or senior placekicker handling these chores (instead of two freshman or someone scrapped off the rugby team at Palmer Field?).
When did a school with record-book lineage, such as Jay Feely, Mike Gillette, Garrett Rivas, Ali Haji-Sheikh, Remy Hamilton, Hayden Epstein and, yes, this blog’s own Jeff DelVerne (15 career field goals including four against Notre Dame in 1999), allow itself to be caught with its pants around its ankles without a viable kicking game?
The answer is obvious – recruiting (the same answer as to why the Michigan defense is woeful). In three years’ time, this is what passes for a roster on defense and kicking and it is unacceptable.
To be fair, the gap between high school senior and college freshman is wider than the Grand Canyon. When asked about playing freshmen, Bo Schembechler once said, “The best thing about freshmen is they become sophomores, and then juniors and then seniors.” The talent is raw on defense and starting five first-year players (not even redshirts) against a team like Wisconsin or Ohio State is a recipe for disaster – as evident last Saturday.
But it’s a reason, not an alibi. Eleven games have gone and gone and the essential elements of positioning and tackling are not present and THAT is a coaching problem. Recruiting needs to focus like a laser beam on size, strength and agility up front in order to erase this ridiculous 3-5-3 defensive alignment (which couldn’t stop a stripper with a roll of $20 bills).
Next week will NOT be pretty. Ohio State doesn’t run the ball as well as Wisconsin and Terrell Pryor can make poor throws in the passing game. But, up front, the Buckeyes are as big and strong as ever and that is a situation Michigan cannot handle, given its current personnel.
At Ohio Stadium, the OSU Band might be able to use the head of Craig Robinson to dot the “I” because it should be his last game (bowl game or not). The sad part is several other heads need to roll at the same time and it will probably mean a deficit among coaching responsibilities in advance of the Insight Bowl or Texas Bowl or Fruit Bowl.
Michigan needs better players and the process has got to begin Nov. 28 because the shopping list is long.
Postscript – The worse part of losing to Wisconsin was allowing that banty rooster of a coach, Bret Bielema, crow about his superiority as a system to Michigan. Of course, it ain’t bragging if you can back it up but this jerkwad take it to a different level. Someone who would so deliberately embarrass a fellow conference member (as was the case the week before against Indiana) will, one day, get his in spades.
Here’s hoping that day comes REAL soon. Perhaps he’ll be hired to be the next coach of the Dallas Cowboys; believe me, that would be purgatory and a living hell combined. :-)

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