Disclaimer: before anyone gets TOO excited, I'm not comparing Rich Rod with John L, but the way the seasons started and ended are eerily similar. Let's hope our 2010 won't be like MSU's 2006 Season (another bowl-less meandering that got John L fired).
During the Purdue meltdown, the announcers made mention of Michigan's fragile psyche and how the team seemed to collapse when a play or two went against it. Right about the time we surrendered the ill-covered on-side kick, followed by a 50+ yd TD bomb to a wide-open WR, I started thinking about what this Michigan team reminded me of.
Not exactly the 2005 UM team, Lloyd's worst team that finished 7-5. I only wished that we could have that team back again, at least their record. That team blew 2nd half leads to Wisconsin, Minnesota, OSU, and Nebraska in losing gut-wrenching games. Without the Henne-to-Manningham TD at the end of the PSU game and a great catch by Jason Avant in OT at Iowa (which set up the winning TD), we would have lost 6 games that we led in the 2nd half. But, that team still did deliver a few beautiful wins, including two on the road. (I was at both the PSU win and at Iowa for the OT win in back-to-back weeks.)
So...just who did 2009 UM resemble?
Well, consider the 2005 MSU team. They started with a few easy wins and then a thriller of a win at ND in OT. You might recall that a few zealous Spartan players promptly planted the S flag on the ND field (a mighty classless act that has NOT been duplicated by any RichRod teams in the past, even going back to WVU).
Sparty then rolled to victory two more times, including a blowout win at Illinois. UM stumbled into East Lansing a humbled 2-2, playing Sparty at 4-0. This was finally the chance to bury UM and possibly send them home without a bowl game at all. The game went back and forth, before UM blew a chance to win at the end, when Garrett Rivas shanked a short FG, similar to the Olnesavage shank yesterday vs. OSU. Sparty missed a FG (barely) in OT, and Rivas drilled the game winner.
Sparty proceeded to lose 4 of the next 5 games and then faced a must-win home game vs. PSU. Sparty played well but lost 31-22. Sparty QB Drew Stanton had a bunch of turnovers, similar to Forcier yesterday. Sparty ended home for the year, even though UM felt down after the season, losing an uninspired Alamo Bowl game to a Bill-Callahan-coached Nebraska team (Callahan = Ron Zook w/o the recruiting ability).
While NO bad season revolves around 1 or 2 bad plays, most seasons that turn sour seem to have a key southward-turning point. MSU's undoubtedly occurred during a classic John L meltdown at the end of the half vs. OSU. MSU had a surprising 17-7 lead and was trying a FG on the last play of the half. MSU had 10 men on the field and the FG was blocked and returned for a TD. MSU fell apart and never recovered. It seemed that the final blow wasn't the OT loss to UM, but the bumbled FG and subsequent meltdown at OSU. One play turned about an entire season. Once things bombed, morale sank to the depths of the ocean floor. Even a great coach would have struggled helping that team turn it around.
Our meltdown moment was that 1st and goal vs. Illinois, up 13-7, ready to go up 20-7. Nothing went right the rest of that game and, except for a quarter here or there of good play, we melted. Just like if Sparty hadn't blown the FG vs. OSU in 2005, I think they would have probably found a way to win enough to make a bowl game. Ditto for 2009 UM.
What needs to happen between now and September 2010 to avoid the "John L" fate?
Well, for one, RichRod should KEEP his staff together (as he stated he would). If improvement is only a matter of guys getting more time in his "system" then keeping the system the same makes sense, even if it isn't popular. I'm tired of change. All I want is improvement.
Second, RichRod needs to be more of a Dr. Phil in the off-season. Bo was always easier and supportive of his players when they were down. We don't really need anyone transferring out right now. Let's face it, Tate's unscripted text messages show how down he feels! Yelling has a place in this world of coaching (laziness, silly personal fouls, etc.), but this team seems (at least on the surface) to be together more than it is not.
Finally, enough of the "hey we're improving even if you don't see it on Saturday" comments! Be specific. If a guy is making great strides in practice, tell everyone who and what. After a game, mention the plays/situations where we made improvement from 2008-09. I'm hoping to here RichRod say sometime next year: "last year, Tate would have thrown it here and not waited for a another second or two, and that's why we got the winning TD today."
UConn will be ready to roll next year when we open up the new Big House. We have 10 months to get ready.