Why is Michigan better this year than last year? And no, I don't mean because of any one player's amazing ability or development, exactly. No, I mean it's because our coach is finally molding this team into what it is supposed to be, and how it is supposed to work.
Tate Forcier's touchdown run versus ND was a thing of beauty, yes? We will love it forever. And the reason it was so beautiful is because it was probably the closest we came to a Zone Read all last year. Tate goes to hand off, sees the defense slanting towards the hand off and pulls it out. Now, this is not a Zone Read, I don't believe, but it has some of the same basic principles. Once pulled out, Tate has some options of what to do with it. And it works.
Now watch the rest of that video. Obvious passing drops, scrambling everywhere, directing traffic. These are great things to behold, but they are NOT our offense, and when we got to the cream of the crop, they fell flat.
Now watch this.
Yes, friends, Denard Robinson is truly awesome, but if we were still in last year's offense, he would be awesome in a very Tate Forcier way. Nothing wrong with that. Forcier rocks my socks. But if you want to put up blindingly huge numbers and leave our opponents as smoking ruins on the field, then you owe gratitude to just one man.
So Michigan is now a delicate 5-5, fighting for self-respect and bowl eligibility in year two of the Carr-to-Rodriguez transition. The game at Wisconsin (7-2) this weekend is going to be a huge test for the Wolverines. A victory would be something along the lines of a miracle, when one considers the trajectory of the Michigan defense, the road venue and the Badger's rabid intentions to extract revenge for the inconceivable loss to UM in 2008. A Michigan win would salvage the football season for Rodriguez to a certain degree.
A loss to the Badgers Saturday would likely send the Michigan team careening toward rock bottom, or place it there instantly. Michigan fans are already hoping that last week's home loss to Purdue was the verifiable lowest point.
But when will be the lowest point for Michigan?
When Rodriguez became the new head coach at West Virginia in 2001, things went poorly to say the least. The Mountaineers lost all of their road games, and lost to four ranked foes, finishing 3-8. The following year, Rodriguez discovered a way to shut off the turnover faucet, pretty much ceased throwing the football, and focused on establishing the run. He was successful.
But when was Rodriguez's lowest point at WVU?
Some say it was the embarrassing 3-45 loss to No. 1 Miami in the Orange Bowl in 2001. Other say it was the 13-24 loss at 14th ranked Syracuse two weeks later that handed WVU six losses on the year and eliminated them from bowl contention.
I believe it was the 14-17 home loss to Temple in 2001. WVU was 3-6 at the time, definitely staying home for the holidays and facing a very bad Temple team that would finish 4-7 that year. With hated rival Pitt was on the deck the following week, the Mountaineer team lost focus and were douched in embarrassing fashion in front of their home crowd by the Owls.
The last time a Mountaineer football team lost to Temple? 1984. Which also happened to be Rodriguez's senior year at defensive back under then coach Don Nehlen. It was also the last time Temple football had a winning football season (6-5). Sure enough, WVU went on to lose to their chief rival Pittsburgh the following week 17-23. But it was probably the Temple loss that sunk Rodriguez's fledgling program to rock bottom.
Rodriguez's second season saw WVU go 9-4, but it too was chock full of team regression and decisive losses, like the 17-34 loss to Wisconsin in Madison, the 17-48 shellacking vs. Maryland (with former Mountaineer Scott McBrien quarterbacking the Terps to add insult to injury), and a 23-40 bashing by a No. 1 Miami team again in front of a home crowd in Morgantown. All but the Maryland defeat were to ranked opponents.
Yet in between those defeats was a surprising offensive turnaround. The Rodriguez team appeared to have finally found it's identity not only offensively, but defensively as well. By early November the pieces appeared to have been finally forged together just tight enough to spring an unexpected upset victory over a heavily favored and 13th ranked Virginia Tech team in Blacksburg 21-18, followed by a 24-17 Mountaineer win 17th ranked rival Pittsburgh.
Many Wolverine fans today probably consider the loss to Toledo 10-13, or the 35 point defeat to Ohio State back in November 2008 as Rodriguez's rock bottom at Michigan.
Was that really the bottom?
I don't know that we have the answer yet.
Michigan has an opportunity to either reach a new bottom, or recover from whatever destination they arrived at last week courtesy of Danny Hope.
Wisconsin is currently ranked 20th in the land and nobody is giving Michigan much of a shot.