"Jim's a tough guy and you can see his personality is all over this football team," Fitzgerald said.
The announcers were talking about Tate Forcier hitting the wall this year late in the season. And I was wondering whether a whole team could hit the wall.
What has bothered me the most about this team this second half of the season is their complete inability to take advantage of opportunities and their tendency to collapse at the most inopportune times.
Obviously in the first four games (but also Michigan State and Iowa) it felt like they could still make plays when they needed to; like they were going to keep fighting until the end. I can take the losses of MSU and Iowa, like the wins against Indiana and ND, because it felt like we played hard and were in it right until the end.
But in this slide is just didn't feel that way. Whenever the defense played well the offense struggled. If the offense made a big play the defense immediately gave up one.
Today was just another example. Tate just inexplicably fumbles and gives Ohio State 7. We can't make a short FG. The defense plays well but the offense goes three and out. When we do move the ball Tate throws a pick in the endzone. The score may have been close but I never felt we were going to win this game - maybe that is my lack of faith - because we gave OSU the perfect set up: protect a lead and wait for Michigan to make a mistake. It worked.
Maybe it is because there are so many young players - Forcier is still a freshman after all - but it just feels like this team picks the worst possible time to make critical mistakes.
Ohio State is a good defense, and they played conservatively on offense, but five turnovers?!?! Three with the game hanging by a thread.
I don't know if it is inexperience, mental and physical exhaustion, or trying to do too much. But this team found ways to lose rather than finding ways to win and it wasn't always clear that it was due to lack of talent.
One thing I will be looking for next year is a sense that those who return will play smarter and within the system. I am not sure I can take another year of massive turnovers and the overall lack of poise and discipline.
P.S. For the record I am totally against firing RichRod. I think continuity is a must right now. We need as many returning players as we can get plus as many recruits as is possible. This team needs to continuing building not start over again.
I don't blame this inability to find ways to win games during conference play primarily on the coaches - the players were in a position to make plays but didn't. But I do think next year this team has to show composure and discipline or I will begin to wonder about coaching.
Well, Michigan has pissed away another game and has now lost five straight conference games (turnover = touchdown; onside kick = touchdown; missed extra point and field goal = loss). The defense gives up big play after big play while the offense can no longer be counted on to make the big play with the game on the line. This team finds a way to lose.
Can anyone really say victories over Wisconsin and Ohio State are possible at this point? Be rational, right?
So what is the Michigan fan supposed to think - in a clam and rational manner - if this team loses seven straight conference games, has a losing season, and misses out on a bowl game?
I am not advocating firing the coach and starting over. I do not think that is the answer. But what I would like to know is what all of these "calm down this is what we expected" folks think at this point.
Because I did not expect this team to compete for a Big Ten title or beat high caliber teams. But I sure as heck expected this team to not get crushed by Illinois and choke a game away against Purdue when they had a two touchdown lead at the half.
It seems likely to me that this team is going to have to improve just to be mediocre next year given the defense. And if the offensive line doesn't get substantially better how are we going to outscore everyone?
Maybe it is my fault for not realizing that Michigan would need three years to be competitive - not national but in the conference - again. Feels like this program is a lot farther behind than I thought.
Is there such a thing as off season bulletin board material? If so this ought to motivate the players and coaches as they work at building this program. Bob Hunter in the Columbus Dispatch (http://www.dispatch.com/live/content/sports/stories/2008/11/23/osufb_hun...):
Put it this way: Ohio State-Michigan has suddenly begun masquerading as an OSU-Toledo game, a switch not without a touch of irony considering the Wolverines lost to Toledo this season.
But the rivalry is tottering not simply because Michigan has had an embarrassment or two, or because of an unprecedented five consecutive OSU wins in the series, or because Michigan has just finished the season 3-9, or even because the Buckeyes hammered their hapless rivals 42-7 yesterday in Ohio Stadium.
It is tottering because the Wolverines looked so weak yesterday that it's hard to imagine they're looking at a quick fix. This is a team so bad that even the rivalry couldn't lift it up, and this is a rivalry that injects so much emotion in the game that it sometimes makes mediocre teams look pretty good.
Rich Rodriguez is a good coach, but he's not Moses. After Michigan's woeful performance in the Horseshoe, it seems clear that for Rodriguez to lead his team out of the Big Ten's second division -- not even one of college football's lower-middle-class neighborhoods these days - it's going to take more than a few top recruits.
Hunter goes on to all but predict that Ohio State wins the next two meetings. And then gets in a litte dig:
Some rivalry, eh?
If this keeps up, those little gold pants Ohio State players receive for winning the Michigan game may eventually become worthless trinkets around here. They used be rare as a gold doubloon. Now they're like loose change. Fifth-year seniors have five pairs.
The Buckeyes fans are clearly enjoying things. But you have to think this kind of talk will serve as good motivation for Rich Rodriguez and the Wolverines as they work to regain their winning ways and the respect that comes with it.
File this away for the future.
Interesting article in the Columbus Dispatch on Rich Rodriguez and the trials of taking over a storied program like Michigan - and struggling mightily your first year.
A couple of things stood out to me. One was the discipline he is trying to install:
It wasn't just the playbook that changed.
"From practices to meetings to dress codes to lifting schedules to where we eat, what we can do, where we can go, curfew -- there are a lot of things that are different," senior defensive tackle Terrance Taylor said. "You expect that, but being here, you want to hold on to something you know about."
Michigan used to have season-long captains. This year, they were chosen on a weekly basis.
Before, Michigan players didn't have a curfew. Taylor said Sunday night's curfew required players to be home by 10 p.m., in bed by 11.
Rodriguez has banned players from using cell phones in the team's building "because when we're in the building he wants us talking to each other," Taylor said.
Given the trouble college football players seem prone to get into when out late, the curfew seems like a good idea. And the cell phone rule connects with a larger theme Rich Rod is trying to build:
As for changing the team's culture, Rodriguez said he wasn't sure how that should be defined. He said that if that meant instilling the desire to do the best they can on and off the field and put team before individual, that's what he wants.
"Is that the culture where I'm at right now?" he said. "I don't know. But that's the culture that I want. If that's the culture that our fans want, then we're on the same page."
I think that is a simple but worthy philosophy: the desire to be the best on and off the field and to value your team more than yourself. I am confident Rodriguez can recruit talent. But if he can mold a true team that has that camaraderie and commitment then Michigan can be a national contender again.
The article ends with an anecdote that shows how Rodriguez is illustrating that commitment himself:
It could very well be that all Rodriguez needs is time. That's something he didn't have after his hiring. Though he had the senior class over to his house more than once, some of them felt they got short shrift.
Harrison, the safety, was among them. Then last weekend on Senior Day, his parents were late getting to Michigan Stadium from Dayton because of traffic from an accident. So instead of having Harrison take the field unescorted, Rodriguez accompanied him.
"He didn't really need to do that," Harrison said. "I see him in a whole different way. I used to look at him as just my head coach. Now I look at him as if it's a different type of bond."
I don't know about other Michigan fans, but I felt better about our coach after reading this article. There has been a lot of debate about the so called "family values" at Michigan under Rodriguez, but the values noted above are the right ones in my opinion.
I was able to talk with Michael Rosenberg, the Detroit Free Press columnist and author of War As They Knew It, at an event here in Columbus back in September. And after our chat Michael was gracious enough to agree to answer some questions via email. I figured Ohio State Michigan week would be a good time to take him up on that offer. I posted Ten Questions to him regarding his book (see above) over at Collected Miscellany, but wanted to focus more on football in this set of ten.
So here they are:
1. How did the rivalry between Bo and Woody change Michigan football?
Michigan is the all-time wins leader, all-time win percentage leader and plays in the greatest rivalry in college football. So naturally, Michigan fans like to think the program has been one of the best in college football since its inception. That is largely true, but in the 1960s, Michigan State surpassed Michigan on the field and in fan interest. If Bo had not succeeded and MSU had hired a fabulous coach to replace Duffy Daugherty, who knows what would have happened?
Bo put Michigan football back at the forefront of college football, where it has remained ever since. He also gave the rivalry incredible life - even if you didn't care about Michigan or Ohio State, you knew Bo and Woody. It created a momentum for Michigan football and the UM-OSU rivalry that has never really abated.
2. Is it fair to say that Michigan has underachieved in the years following the 1997 National Championship?
No, I don't think that's fair. Michigan never had a losing season, won an Orange Bowl, played in three Rose Bowls and won several other January bowl games in that period. Were other programs better? You might be able to find five or six. You won't find 10. So I don't think "underachieved" is a fair term.
3. What do you think is behind the apparent weakness of the Big Ten when compared with SEC or Big XII? Is this just a cyclical thing with recruiting, etc. or has the Big Ten lost its edge in fundamental ways?
I think it is cyclical. Contrary to popular opinion, the SEC is not far ahead of every other league every year. The Big Ten held its own in bowl games against the SEC. That's just a fact. People concentrate on the national-title games and ignore all other evidence.
Having said that, I do believe the Big Ten is down this season. Almost every program is in transition in some way. Let's see where the league is in three years.
4. Was hiring Rich Rodriguez a mistake in your opinion?
I don't know yet. I think it's a strange fit and Rich should have won more games with the talent he had this year. I think he has given himself a thin margin for error with some of his actions. But I also think he is a bright coach who has a great track record, and of course he deserves time to turn this around.
5. What was his biggest mistake and what has been his best decision so far?
His biggest mistake was not settling that lawsuit against West Virginia. He got very little out of fighting it, except some embarrassing depositions involving him and his agent and bad publicity (some deserved, some not). It just wasn't worth it. He dug his heels in, and Bill Martin encouraged him to do so, instead of finding a way to end the ugly mess. I don't see how anybody can look back and say it was worth it for him.
As for his best decision, that's hard to say right now. Rich is sticking by his gut, though: recruiting who he wants, implementing his system, doing everything exactly as he wants to do it. I would say (and I think he'd agree, actually) that his best decision probably won't be clear until two or three years down the road. Maybe it's the decision to recruit somebody or a hire he has made that will pay off later.
6. How long do you think it will take for him to build a competitive program?
It was a competitive program when he showed up. It should have been more competitive this year, though obviously there are talent issues. I think it's reasonable to expect a winning season next year and contention for a Big Ten title in year three or four. I don't see how this team contends for the league championship next year with a freshman quarterback and so many losses on defense.
7. Has the Ohio State dominance of late reduced the luster of the Ohio State rivalry?
The rivalry has always seen stretches like this. Bo once went four years without beating Ohio State. It happens. I don't think the rivalry is in any danger of going away or losing importance. It has always been incredibly important in Columbus, and if anything, OSU's dominance has made it more important in Ann Arbor.
8. When was the last time Michigan was this big of an underdog going into The Game?
As far as I can tell, the answer is 1934. Michigan was 1-5 entering the game and had scored 15 points all season. Ohio State won 34-0. This shouldn't surprise anybody - it's rare to see Michigan this bad, Ohio State this good and the game in Columbus.
9. If you had to pick one early indicator of a possible Michigan upset, what would it be?
Um ... an extra week of eligibility for Tom Brady? I really don't know. Michigan's best chance to win a battle is with its defensive front. If that happens, and U-M forces Terrelle Pryor into some freshman mistakes and the Wolverines make a play or two on special teams ... stranger things have happened. But not many.
10. If they were to pull off the upset, where would it rank in terms of the rivalry?
I checked the history, and couldn't find one instance when a team as down as Michigan faced a team as good as Ohio State, especially on the road - and won. This would be the biggest upset in the history of the rivalry.
In a season full of disappointment, and a comedy of injuries and errors, one thing has stuck out to me: Michigan's offense has disappeared for long stretches in almost every game. This lack of scoring has absolutely killed Michigan and in many ways explains, or at least illustrates, their inability to win games they were in a position to win. The offense has rarely played well for more than a half and has played particularly bad in the third quarter.
Here is the breakdown:
Utah: no points in 2nd or 3rd quarter
Miami (OH): no points in 2nd or 3rd quarter
Notre Dame: no points 3rd or 4th quarter
Wisconsin: no points 1st or 2nd,
Illinois: no points in 2nd or 3rd quarter
Toledo: no points in 3rd or 4th quarter
Penn State: no points in 3rd or 4th quarter
Michigan State: no points in 4th quarter
Purdue: scored in every quarter
Minnesota: scored in every quarter
Northwester: no points in 3rd or 4th quarter
So in 8 games this year Michigan has gone two or more quarters without scoring a point! How can you expect to win ball games if you take half the game off on offense from a scoring perspective?
Here are the points but quarter:
1st: 92, 2nd: 51, 3rd: 34, 4th: 65
Clearly this team struggles mightily in the third quarter. Almost half of the yearly output (14 pts.) was in one game (Purdue). In only 4 of 11 games this season have they scored at all in the third quarter.
Here are some options for why this is happening:
- Coaching: opposing coaches are figuring out Michigan's schemes and coming up with ways to stop them while Michigan is unable to adapt.
- Talent: Michigan simply doesn't have the talent to compete and this talent is winning out in the later half of the game.
- Inexperience: in pressure situations young players make more mistakes and thus we lose important scoring opportunities.
This is not an exhaustive list, obviously, but these seem like the main culprits. And it also seems clear to me that in reality it is a mix of all three.
I think the lack of talent and experience has led to both inconsitent play and to a limited play book. As opposing teams figure out what we are doing and shut it down, the coaches are not able to enlarge the play book or get more creative because the players are not able to handle it. Critical mistkaes and turnovers have also plauged Michigan this year and this has taken away key scoring oppertunities as well.
I am not a Xs and Os guy, and I didn't take the time to chart every drive, but have ing watched the game it was clear that the offense has simply been unable to move the ball for long stretches of time. The scoring numbers reflect this and it has meant the difference between being competitive and getting blown out and between narrow loses and wins.
It Michigan is to have a prayer of winning on Saturday they will need to find a way to be consistent and not take a couple of quarters off. It the above pattern holds it will get ugly.