So I think just about everything relating to yesterday's game has been said - it was a tough loss against a strong, determined opponent, one in which UM left points on the field but also one that MSU deserved to win based on their play. Players will be analyzed and graded, playcalling reviewed and tweaked, and coaching questioned. There will be fears about another collapse, laments for lost opportunities, and concerns about the future.
But there is a silver lining in it all, and one that I hope the fans, coaches, and players realize - they are now the underdogs. Coming into this season, people questioned whether UM was ready to take the next step, and they responded by dominating UConn and defeating ND on the road. Against UMass, they let up on the gas a bit and it showed. With BGSU coming to town, UM went out to prove to the world that they were back, and they put up a record-breaking offensive performance. Traveling to IU, it was clear that Indiana was going to throw the kitchen sink at them, and they responded by pulling out a tough win.
While it may have just been me, this week's game had the feel of UMass week a bit - everyone was talking up UM and how they were the favorite, how it would be close but UM would pull out a win at home, Denard was the Heisman front-runner etc. And as we saw, UM was punched in the mouth by a good team and lost. But going forward, UM will be an underdog in every game save for Purdue, PSU, and (maybe) Illinois, and even those will be close. And I for one think that is the best position for this team - to hear how people discount their abilities and potential for greatness.
All week we'll hear about how Iowa is such a great defense and will throttle Denard and the passing game. Later, how Wiscy will simple overpower UM's defense and gash them like MSU. How OSU will simply outclass the short-handed Wolverines into oblivion. How Illinois will bring a dynamic offense to town and just run past the UM defense, Purdue will find a way to pull out the win like they have the past few years, and PSU is still PSU and look out for Joe Pa. And just like against UConn, ND, and IU before them, I expect UM to exceed expectations, to show the world that you can't count out these Wolverines. So while this game will sting for a couple more days, it won't define this season.
One thing M fans of every stripe agree on is that talent and experience on defense is lacking. Very lacking. Another is that our expectations for our defense this year were low going in. Where opinions begin to diverge however, is what that should mean for our defensive performance. Many are in the "OMGFIREGERGUNACCEPTABLE" camp, many more are in the camp of "this is what we have to expect with so many young players, so much misfortune with departures/transfers/injuries in the secondary, and the lack of talent available at LB. Things will improve next year."
I would like this post to start a non-emotional discussion of our current defense. To do that perhaps impossible task, I would like to confine the discussion to having both camps answer a question. A question based upon what I think we all agree is a truth, which is that much of our defensive breakdowns (defined here as those things that cause our defense to, instead of being mediocre, be really awful) are due to fundamental failures. Poor angles, missed tackles, missed assignments. Poor tackling has been identified by RR as a prime culprit all year. Assignment and gap responsibility failure was identified by Ryan Van Bergen yesterday as the cause of the big plays State had. I think we can agree that these things are defensive fundamentals.
Here is my question, the answer to which I think will determine what camp, if you are undecided on this, you fall into:
Can marginally talented, very inexperienced football players be taught to play sound fundamental football, to be sound at tackling and disciplined at their assignments?
If your answer is "yes,"--then why haven't we done this? If your answer is "yes but there is more to it than that"--what more to it is there? If the answer is "no/only to a degree" - so talent is the only answer?
Where do we go from here?
Michigan drops to 26 according to Sagarin. We're in OK company, though - Arkansas is 24, Wisconsin 25. Florida and USC are 28 and 29. MSU holds at 18. Here's how our remaining schedule stacks up:
Penn State: 66
Illinois: 31 (!)
Ohio State: 15
Amazingly, Penn State is now looking like our easiest remaing game. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. Also worth noting is that Michigan's SOS is now 54th. Iowa's, FWIW, is 111th.
The offense slipped a bit in the rankings. Michigan is now 3rd in total O with 533.7 yds/game (behind Oregon and Nevada). The rushing O is 6th with an avg of 297.3/game. Only Air Force, Nebraska, Georgia Tech, Oregon and Nevada are better.
Denard still leads the nation in rushing with 991. LaMichael James is a somewhat distant second with 848. Denard's passer rating dropped to 164.1, which is good for 12th in the nation. Kirk Cousins is 9th, Andrew Luck 10th. All 11 QBs ahead of him are upperclassmen, many of them legit NFL prospects.
With exactly half of the season gone, Denard is now on pace for 2,446 passing yds and and 1,982 rushing yards, just under the 2000/2000 mark.
Edit for defense:
The Passing D is out of the dog house! They are now 119th/120, allowing 304.3 yds/game. Thanks Tulsa! FYI, Okie State is 118th, just behind USC (116th) and Oregon St. (115th).
The Rushing D is 55th in the nation, allowing 146.3 yds/game. Iowa is #2 (behind only Kent St.) allowing just 63.2 yds/game. Amazingly, Iowa has not yet allowed a rushing TD this season.
Total defense is now ranked 112th/120, allowing 450.7 yds/game. Scording D is 75th (26.8 pts/game). Michigan is between Hawaii and North Texas in that category.
This defense is on pace to shatter the record for most yards allowed in Michigan history set by...last year's team. Here are the only Michigan defenses to allow more that 350 yds/game (records only go back to 1936):
2010: 450.7 yds/game (5-1 record)
2009: 393.3 yds/game (5-7 record)
2000: 389.9 yds/game (9-3 record)
2008: 366.9 yds/game (3-9 record)
1982: 366.8 yds/game (8-4 record)
1994: 362.0 yds/game (8-4 record)
I really hoped to create a picture depicting redemption; showing Mike Martin reminding State that they are the "Little Brother." Unfortunaltely, the game didn't go as any of us hoped. It played out like a Shakespeare tragedy, both offense and defense seemed to die in the end.
Today's image shows the tragedy and Lloyd Brady represents the chorus displaying their sadness.
I'm sorry to those who see this as salt in the wound.