Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Observations on Michigan's Opener

  • If my level of enthusiasm was a ten (scale of 1-10) before the Utah game, my level of enthusiasm is still a ten. Normally, a Michigan loss in the opener (usually a game that Michigan should have or could have won) would destroy my enthusiasm for the season. This one did not. I’ve never been more pumped for a MAC opponent in my life. Bring on the RedHawks!

  • There is an article on “The Wolverine” titled, “Expectations tempered after opener”. This would imply that expectations were that Michigan would beat Utah and be amazing with a new coach, a new system, a walk-on QB, three true freshmen starters, and a weak offensive line. If you foolishly ignored those things, then yes, you’ll need to now ratchet down the expectations a bit. You’ll also probably want to lower your expectations on winning the lottery and marrying a member of Brangelina. For everyone else, no adjustment is necessary. This team is capable of anything and nothing. I sense we’ll get a little of both this year. Enjoy the ride. This is the year where it’s OK for Michigan to lose. Take advantage of it.

  • I was disappointed in Rich Rodriguez for mainly two things on Saturday. One is more forgivable than the other. I don’t understand how he could watch Nick Sheridan and Steven Threet for weeks in practice and come to the conclusion that Sheridan was the better player. Threet was a four-star, highly recruited QB, who played magnificently in high school. Sheridan was a walk-on QB who played seven games in high school and was far from magnificent. Side note: The dude sitting in front of me at the game on Saturday said that he watched all of Sheridan’s games at Saline and he wasn’t very good. That doesn’t guarantee that Threet is the better option but it should at least be a giant, zeppelin-esque clue. It might have been an illusion, but Threet even looked to be the better scrambler and possibly the faster runner. Sheridan was terrible. He looked as bad as you would expect a walk-on to look. However, I do understand that there exists “practice stars”. We’ve seen them time and time again at Michigan (Chris Graham, Markus Curry etc.). Without game speed, it’s hard to judge how players will perform in actual games. This was obviously the case with Sheridan. Rodriguez saw Sheridan do well in practice, took it at face value, and named him the starter. I wish he would’ve seen the glaring difference in ability but he saw something in Sheridan and that’s somewhat understandable.

    What isn’t understandable in the slightest is how long Rodriguez stuck with Sheridan. That very likely cost UM the game. Before the game—58 minutes before the game, in the stadium, under the relentless sun, to be exact—Nick and I made predictions about when Threet would come into the game. I’m pretty sure we both agreed that it would be around the fourth series unless Sheridan was just flawless. The fact that Sheridan was awful and still made it eight series before being yanked is inexcusable. I’m guessing that Rodriguez was somewhat tricked or hamstrung (however way you want to look at it) by Michigan’s 10 points. Those who watched the game know better. Sheridan mustered a total of 35 yards on those 10 points. Utah pretty much forked them over on a platter of turnovers and penalties. Michigan should’ve been shutout in the first half and the fact that it wasn’t is what kept Sheridan in the game far too long.

  • Michigan will need to improve dramatically in the intermediate passing game to have a chance at a successful season. Michigan’s best passing threat came in the form of pass interference calls against Utah. Judging from the first game, it seems like 10-15 yard routes are not a part of Rodriguez’s offense. That will need to change. Your passing game can’t simply be to throw up a “jump ball” deep or throw a swing pass every other attempt. When it came time for Threet and Co. to drive down the field to win the game, they had nothing to lean on. Michigan has the receivers and the QBs to abuse corners and linebackers on basic passing routes. That advantage needs to be used. Smart Football has an article that discusses this a little deeper. Also, Rodriguez might want to think about throwing it to Carson Butler every other play. He shouldn't have to wait until he's in the NFL before he becomes a star.

  • When the defense got rollin’ in the second half and the scores started to pile up, the stadium was loud—really loud. In fact, it was probably the loudest I have heard the stadium with the possible exception of the pandemonium that ensued after Charles Woodson’s punt return against OSU in 1997. The crowd did its part. Utah’s offense was clearly out of sync once the crowd got into it. The defense had a little something to do with that, too.

  • The defense looked terrible in the first half but was dominating in the second. Your guess is as good as mine as to which one will show up for the remainder of the season. Odds are we’ll get a little of both. However, the cornerbacks and defensive line were outstanding. Morgan Trent and Donovan Warren are easily one of the five best cornerback tandems in the country. I’m also pretty sure that the d-line is among the ten best in the country. This defense is very close to being incredible.

  • Utah is a good team. The Utes were ranked in the preseason poll. They were expected to be good and they are. They aren’t a great team but this wasn’t Appalachian St. or even Utah ’02. Utah turned out to be too good of an opening opponent. If the dates of the Utah and Miami (OH) games were switched, then maybe Michigan starts off 2-0.

  • Never in a million years would I engage in a conversation on a message board. I cherish my sanity too much. However, I do like to read them to gauge reactions. The number of people who have already given up on Michigan this season and Rodriguez for the long haul amazes me. Don’t get me wrong, these people are idiots. They are in the minority. But, how anyone could expect anything this season is beyond me. By any definition, this was always going to be a rebuilding season. The real questions were based on how bad things would get. I haven’t seen anything to indicate Michigan won’t get to a bowl which was always the goal this season. Side note: not all message board posters are bad. In fact, most aren't.

  • The halftime adjustments were amazing for the simple fact that there actually were some. The Michigan coaches corrected the defense in a hurry.

  • That old Michigan comeback magic didn’t die with the spread. Threet led a commendable comeback attempt and it was great to see the team fight back. That is encouraging. Just think how much press UCLA got for coming back against Tennessee after playing so poorly early. Kevin Craft had one of the worst halves in football history and still managed to become the lead story on ESPN.com after leading UCLA back to a victory. Michigan and Threet were a missed two-point conversation from having that reality.

  • Speaking of the UCLA/Tennessee game. Did you see UCLA’s kickoff after taking the lead with 30 seconds to go? Rick Neuheisel opted for the high, short kickoff which is OK if there’s three seconds left or if you’re up by more than three points. That decision nearly cost UCLA the game. Even still, that decision left Tennessee 20 yards from a game-tying field goal that it would eventually make to force overtime. Luckily for Neuheisel, his team pulled it off in OT. Had UCLA lost that game, he should have forfeited his game check.

  • Go Blue!

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