Observations on where we be at

Submitted by shackney on October 18th, 2009 at 11:05 PM
My brother was a tutor at the Cabrini Green after school program here in Chicago.  His student was in the third grade when they first met.  Every Monday night, my brother would pick up his charge at the Fourth Presbyterian Church and study with him.  He did this for weeks on end, and though he felt strongly that his student liked him just fine, he wasn't able to perceive much of a connection.  After several months of dutiful service, my brother had to miss an evening.  When he showed up the following week, his student (Jamal) walked up to him and said "where was you at?"  My brother was touched to the core.  And I learned this important lesson: always know where you be at.  And thus my observations:
1.  Preseason record predictions.  There has been a lot of commentary regarding Michigan's performance so far.  I think it is safe to say that the large majority of Michigan fans are pleased with the team's performance and view it as exceeding expectations.  I know I am in that group.  I predicted that we would be 5-7 this year, but also predicted that the qualitative direction of the team would be highly positive and a significant improvement over last year.  I was less interested in record, per se, and more interested in whether Rodriguez' system would make strides.  Lucky for me, I have hopes to get both quantitative and qualitative improvement.

But before I get ahead of myself, we have to be candid about the record.  Pre-season, I predicted we would defeat WMU, EMU, Indiana, and DSU.  I thought we would win each of those games convincingly.  I thought we would lose badly to ND, MSU, and Iowa.  So where I predicted a 4-3 record, instead we stand at 5-2.  A cynic would argue that Michigan's record, alone, does not demonstrate the sea change for which many are hoping.  But...

2.  Michigan's competitiveness has exceeded expectations.  The but, in this instance, is a big one.  First, Michigan played with, and defeated, an ND team that is showing some sparks of life and has a solid record of its own with multiple wins over ranked-ish teams.  Second, Michigan was extremely competitive in the Iowa game and, from where I sat, could be said to have outplayed Iowa and deserved to win.  While the MSU game was deceptively "competitive" in the sense that it went into OT, it was nowhere near as close as the Iowa game.  Still, much can be said of the defensive performance in that game, which allowed our offense to come on late and tie it.  The sum up is that Michigan has been competitive in every single game this year, and won most of them -- and this competitiveness materially exceeds my qualitative expectations of how they'd play.  Given that I spent last year with my hands covering either my mouth or my eyes, this year has been both fun and better than I expected.

3.  We stand on the precipice.  So where do we go from here?  The rest of Michigan's schedule is as follows: Penn State (home), Illinois (road), Purdue (home), Wisconsin (road), Ohio State (home).  If you look at that lineup, you can credibly believe that Michigan could win every game.  If you remember the Indiana game and are sobered by visions of a mediocre Indiana team moving at will in the Big House, you realize that Michigan could also lose all five of these games.  So how will it go?

The fact that the Penn State game is at home is significant.  With our frosh QBs, we've learned the importance of the home field.  It is also significant that Penn State has a steady but uninspiring offense.  I'd rather play a team with a solid defense and ho-hum offense than vice-versa.  I am predicting we upset Penn State.

We are lucky that our next road game is at Illinois.  I have always believed, and this year proves it, that Ron Zook is good at distributing duckets on the recruiting trail, and horrible at coaching his mercenaries once they decide to attend.  I get the feeling that Zook has lost this team.  I think Michigan is favored on the road, and I think they win it.

Next comes the trap game.  Am I the only person that thinks that Purdue doesn't suck that bad?  Something happened to this team after their loss to NIU.  I thought they outplayed ND (admittedly without the Blond Vajajay for much of the game) and I thought they outplayed OSU.  Did OSU turn the ball over a lot?  Yes, but the turnovers weren't gimmees, they were caused in the main by good defense.  I think the Purdue game could go the way of the Indiana game and be up for grabs in the last minute.  My crystal ball doesn't see this far.  I can't predict the Purdue game.  For argument's sake, let's call it a win.  Michigan is now 8-2.

Off to Camp Randall.  Wisconsin is not good this year, but they are never that bad either, and they are always tough at Camp Randall.  Notwithstanding lots of improvement from Tate and Denard, I think the two are rattled to be back out on the road.  M loses and falls to 8-3.

And then the Game.  There is a great deal of anticipation by the faithful this year, and for good reason.  I have not been impressed by OSU in any game I have seen them play, including USC.  I just don't see much of an offense, and certainly not one that exploits Pryor's physical talents.  The defense is reliably good.  Tressel has been criticized roundly this year, but he has demonstrated himself year in and year out at being good at preparing for Michigan.  Unfortunately, my gut says we lose one more year.  We are almost there.  But I think the vibe that I thought would obtain (an angry, talented Michigan) is going to be missing.  If anything, I think OSU may be the more angry and embarrassed team -- especially if they pick up a third loss against Iowa.  Plus, you can expect an inspired game from Pryor, amid recent catcalls that he should have said yes to RichRod.  I think the Bucs beat us at home for one more year.  Michigan falls to 8-4.

4.  Am I smoking crack?  Potentially.

5.  What are the keys going forward?  Four keys going forward.  First, I think RichRod needs to make up his mind, a bit, that we are NOT in fact a two quarterback team.  Tate Forcier is the only quarterback who demonstrated the ability to drive us consistently with both passing and throwing.  I think Denard is great and may be the better QB every year but this one.  I also think he's a good change of pace to be deployed in the second quarter.  But I think Forcier is a rhythm quarterback and I think taking him in and out isn't good for his mojo.  For whatever reason, I think RichRod has a preference for Denard and has been playing Tate principally based on Tate's excellent on-field performance.  I'm in favor of giving Tate all the series but the occasional change of pace, and I'd let him know it.

Second, we need continued improvement from the improving offensive line.  Molk's return could be large, and we should all applaud Moosman for his efforts, notwithstanding a rocky start in East Lansing.  If this line continues to improve week to week, especially in pass protection, I think we are going to be a tough out.

Third, we need improved linebacking.  If I recall, Brian's UFR saw improvement in the Iowa game from Brown/Mouton/Ezeh.  We need more of it, quickly, if we are going to stay with teams like Illinois, Purdue, and Ohio State.

Fourth, if the secondary play can hold where it is at, I'd be happy.  I know we had the two blown coverages in Iowa.  Still, I thought those guys have improved dramatically from the exorcism that was the ND game.  While it would be great to wish our secondary would magically become a lockdown all the way across, you have to be reasonable.  If they can play like they did against MSU and Iowa, I will take it.

6.  One final point.  It is eminently possible that this whole thing melts down and we lose four of the next five and finish 6-6.  My view is that I am less interested in our record than in our attitude and player development.  I am happy with where we be at, and think you should be too.


Sextus Empiricus

October 18th, 2009 at 11:22 PM ^

But they all will have potential for disaster (even Illinois can save face against us. It is a game of emotion.) The final word is that Mich holds their fate in their own hands.

Competition works for QB selection. Forcier got some time vs DSU but I would like to know where his head is at wrt to learning from the Iowa game. I'm sure he is working on added plays for Penn State, but I'm wondering if there is learning or for that matter if the concussion is good to go. On both counts I'm hopeful.

I for one am happy with the effort from this team.


October 18th, 2009 at 11:38 PM ^

It's good to be one win away from (albeit a medicore) bowl game. I think this team has the ability to win every game it plays from here on out, but because of youth and a persistent lack of errors (see turnovers, and late game heroics) it won't happen.

I'm still thinking 7-5. Wisconsin will not be an easy game for us, unless Tolzien goes Ricky Stanzi on us and throws pick-sixes.


October 19th, 2009 at 12:31 AM ^

I think they are a different team with Navarro Bowman and Sean Lee back. They just held one of the best passing attacks in the Big Ten to 138 total yards and 7 first downs. Decker had just one catch.

I think we may fare better against OSU.

And is it duckets or ducats? Or is this going with the Cabrini-Green theme?


October 19th, 2009 at 8:42 AM ^

that I have only spoken the word and never spelled it. It never occurred to me that "ducats" was the proper spelling, but I am sure it is. Less embarrassing than the reverse though, which is where you have read, but never said, a word, and then promptly mispronounce it in a big meeting or on a date or insert embarrassing place to mispronounce word here.


October 19th, 2009 at 8:04 PM ^

I take it

august is the pronounced the same as the month

macabre is ma cab ree

and croats is pronounced like coats(jacket) but with an 'r'?

Personally having read quite a bit as well, i was quite surprised to see that Hors 'd Ouerves was NOT spelled orderves. It only took me 30 years and probably 20 years of reading the words to connect it with the pronunciation....


October 19th, 2009 at 1:56 AM ^

I think we need to keep Denard at quarterback for two reasons, to keep Tate hungry and make him a better player, and also to develop Denard into a better passer in case of a situation where he ends up starting.


October 19th, 2009 at 7:42 AM ^

...does not have "a solid record of its own with multiple wins over ranked-ish teams." None of ND's victories came against opponents that are ranked now, or that were ranked when the Irish played them. Every team the Irish beat has at least three losses. They only barely beat MSU (4-3), Purdue (2-5), and Washington (3-4). Their only easy win was against a non-BCS team, Nevada (3-3).


October 19th, 2009 at 8:47 AM ^

Both MSU and Washington have spent time ranked in the top 25. If we had beaten MSU, it would be our second most significant win. The main point is that ND is not as bad as I had hoped or thought. You have to give them credit for not folding up against SC. I actually don't like Shamu and wish he would be fired just because it is more interesting when ND is on the rise. But I think they are going to be "good" enough this year to help him keep his job in 2010.


October 19th, 2009 at 8:47 AM ^

I think this us quite possible as a scenario, although I happen to think you've switched a victory and defeat. I think we will beat Purdue and lose to Illinois. But as for this statement:

"For whatever reason, I think RichRod has a preference for Denard and has been playing Tate principally based on Tate's excellent on-field performance. "

I agree with it wholeheartedly. I has struck me that I've never seen RR yell at Denard, he is always most encouraging. I know that isn't the most convincing evidence of your point, but I think RR sees huge potential in Denard (i.e. next Pat White) and likely feels a DR that is great at running and even average at passing will run his offense better than a great pass/ok run TF. Next year I think DR starts and Tate becomes the change of pace role player Denard is today.


October 19th, 2009 at 8:51 AM ^

I think where RichRod's head was at going into the season was that Forcier would be a bit of a place-holder while Denard had time to learn the playbook. And I am not saying that I disagree with his assessment -- when I look at Denard, I see the potential, especially on the arm strength, which Tate candidly lacks. But Forcier's excellent early performances wrong-footed Rodriguez somewhat, in a good way. I don't have an anti-Denard bias. I am just saying that at some point you have to adjust to facts on the ground, and Forcier doesn't look like a Freshman much of the time he plays. Denard still does. I agree with many of the posts that suggest that competition is, and has been, good for the two guys. I am arguing that at some point, the threat of the hook starts getting into a guy's head and interfering with his rhythm. I think Tate has earned the right to be the starter and play the overwhelming majority of series.

Blue in Yarmouth

October 19th, 2009 at 9:28 AM ^

But disagree with this: "I think Tate has earned the right to be the starter and play the overwhelming majority of series."

I should be more clear....I don't disagree that he has earned the right, he has. What I disagree with is your assertion that he doesn't get that already. DR didn't play the entire Iowa game until those last two drives. He played very little in both the MSU or ND games as well. What games have you watched that give you the impression that Tate doesn't get the overwhelming majority of reps during the games? Other than DSU he has, and most agreed that this was a good time to get DR more playing time in case TF goes down due to injury.

Finally, while I agree that Tate has looked great at times this year, it is incorrect to say that he hasn't looked like a freshman (and why shouldn't he....he is). During conference play he has certainly looked like a freshman to me and has been throwing far to many passes to the defense than I would like. If he continues doing this against defenses like PSU and OSU we will see a couple more 5 turnover games. He has thrown a lot of balls at the defense that they should have caught and didn't. Tate could easily have at least 4 or 5 more INT's in the stat column.

All that said, I have been very impressed with him and he makes it easy to forget that he is a freshman. For a freshman he has been outstanding and has changed my preconceived notions about how he would play in college football. I just have to keep in mind that he is a freshman and these mistakes are giong to happen. This way I won't get so upset and critical of him when they do.


October 19th, 2009 at 11:00 AM ^

that in the MSU game, you saw Denard come out in the second quarter (I may be wrong), but definitely in the 3rd Quarter, late. I think that the issue is a bit nuanced, as even I have said I am OK with the "change of pace" use of Denard. So there is judgment involved in deciding when Denard is being used "legitimately" (in my book) as a change of pace, or "unfairly" (in my book) as a spur to Forcier. My judgment in the MSU game was that it was the latter.

Also, I will have to go back and check when I have a minute, but are you sure Denard didn't have an earlier series against Iowa? I thought he did.

Blue in Yarmouth

October 19th, 2009 at 2:29 PM ^

I'm not 100% sure as I have quadruplet 15 month olds running around and it is hard to watch the entire game, but I didn't see him on the field until that time.

Also, I am not really sure why he shouldn't be used as a spur to TF. RR's whole philosophy is that players compete for playing time, and if someone isn'tplaying as well as they can/should what is the problem with yanking them for a series or two to give them time to regroup?

Having said that, I think Tate has gotten a pretty long leash to this point in the season anyway. If DR was used to be a spur he would have seen far more action than he has to this point IME. I have watched TF throw many passes that he had no business throwing and were not interceptions only because the DB's had butter fingers. I can't imagine that many people that have watched all the games this year would think TF hasn't had a fair chance at solidifying his position on the team. This is all just my e-pinion though.


October 19th, 2009 at 3:42 PM ^

I guess where I come out is that in the early going, it seems fair to say that Tate shouldn't assume the position is his. After a while, though, the "DR trigger" could be seen as undermining confidence. Tate has absolutely had some sequences where he ran around like a chicken with his head cut off and then threw it to the opposing team. But even against MSU, a game that was a difficult one offensively until the last four minutes, my view was that Tate was playing OK and was more victimized by drops than by bad passes. The only game where I think Tate can be described as below expectations for his level would be the Iowa game. I can't and don't discount your points -- I just make a different draw on what impact I think DR might be having on Tate's confidence.


October 19th, 2009 at 9:18 AM ^

Notre Dame has not beaten a team with a winning record all season. Actually last year I don't think they beat a team with a winning record either. Hawaii may have been 7-5 or 6-6, but that win is not exactly a feather to stick in your cap.


October 19th, 2009 at 4:28 PM ^

I think that, and Hawaii, are their only victories over bowl teams in several years. They beat MSU, who may finish over .500. That's about it.

ND this year is a strange 'feather' in our cap, and yes, it's the best win we have by a sizeable margin. With healthy Emu and healthy starting WRs I think they are pretty decent, and scary offensively. That's the team we had to play most of the game. With the injuries they became less of a quality win, but I don't think that diminishes our win against them.

We have no other wins against anything like quality opponents. Our next opponent, Penn State also has just one mediocre win - this past weekend against Minnesota.


October 19th, 2009 at 9:58 AM ^

My question is, did your brother mentor his student on the proper tense usage or not using a preposition at the end of a sentence? Other than that, I think that 3-2 is very realistic/probable. We will see how it turns out!

Steve in PA

October 20th, 2009 at 9:14 AM ^

I didn't get to see the D State game on the B-10 network and the stream I found was too choppy to watch. Reading Tim's report reinforces the good feeling I've had over the past few weeks, including the losses. This program is moving forward. At the end of Lloyd's time I think we all thought that the program had gone as far as it could with the tools it had.

The matchup this week with PSU is an example of a program that has gone as far as it can go with the tools it has. They will never contend for a national championship with Joe & Company at the helm again. They are only going to be at best a 2nd or 3rd contender for the B-10 and when Michigan and one other team steps up they will drop to 3rd or 4th.

I'm in the heart of PSU country and I've noticed that the fans are even starting to believe this. Last year I told them that Joe can put together a great team once every 4 years, then they fade back to mediocrity. Now the same thoughts are starting to appear in the papers again. OSU's system may be antiquated, but they are the B-10 favorite nearly every year. Hopefully that changes starting next year.

PSU however, is just antiquated. They're not as good as last year and next year they will be worse than this year. It's the way of the Lion. I know because I'm an alum.


October 19th, 2009 at 10:18 AM ^

Wisconsin is extremely tough to play on their field, so I see that as a loss. Purdue and Penn State are tossups to me, it depends on how the breaks go. I see UM winning one of those two. Then, for Ohio State, I boldly predict a win over a team that can't shoot straight offensively; I mean, they are frackin' TERRIBLE. Michigan has enough balance to keep their D guessing, and that will be the winning edge. So there, a Sparty fan says you're going 8-4. Maybe now it's time to be afraid, very very afraid.

Not a Blue Fan

October 20th, 2009 at 7:10 AM ^

I don't have a game prediction, but if you can follow the Purdue template of forcing OSU to play from behind, UM might very well win that game. OSU hasn't shown the ability to put up lots of points, and no matter how good the defense is it won't be able to hold the water for the offense forever.

So I guess if there's no improvement in the offense by The Game, it's at least a toss up if not a slight UM lean. If the offense finds its balls and puts pressure on UM to score a lot of points, the defense might be able to strangle you guys.

Either way, it looks a hell of a lot less one-sided than it did 3 weeks ago.


October 19th, 2009 at 10:33 PM ^

I felt from the beginning of the season that how M did against ND would set the tone for the rest of the season. ND is not a great team but the psychological boost was huge from that win. On the other hand, a loss to ND early on would have had the opposite effect. I felt a win against ND would probably lead to a season around 8-4. At this point that is certainly doable. Also, based on how M has performed thusfar this season, I think it's safe to say that M will not be blown-out in any of their remaining games. Another factor that needs to be taken into account is the expected improvement of the team in the second half of the season. Other teams will also improve but M should improve at a faster rate due to the learning curve of a younger team. FWIW--my prediction for the reast of the season is a win against Illinois and Purdue and one more win against either Penn State, Wisconsin or OSU. That would result in 8-4. Anything beyond that is all gravy.


October 19th, 2009 at 11:03 PM ^

... and player development.

100% agree, even if we only end up 6-6. Illinois looks like it's going in the toilet, but given that the game is there, a victory is far from certain. It's still early in RR's tenure, but so far in two seasons he has just one victory on the road. If you can't win away from home, you're never going to challenge for a conference championship, much less qualify for a BCS game.


October 20th, 2009 at 9:11 AM ^

Sagarin's methodology also projects that Mich should be at least very competitive in each of its upcoming games. (Sagarin isn't the end-all and be-all, but it is a well known, objective methodology.)
Current Sagarin rankings.

Rank   Team      Rating   W   L   SOS (Rank)
 34 Michigan       77.91   5   2   65.92( 90)

Rank   Team      Rating   W   L   SOS (Rank)   Prediction
 21 Penn State   80.42   6   1   63.65(106) -1 Fav(Live +4)
125 @Illinois       59.30   1   5   70.70( 34) -15 Favorite
 76 Purdue         68.99   2   5   73.26( 23) -12.5 Favorite
 32  @Wisconsin 78.18   5   2   72.08( 29) +4 Dog
 19 Ohio State   80.77   5   2   70.65( 35) -0.5 Favorite

While I think Sagarin's methodology likes us a little more than it should (my gut), that doesn't look like a 1-4 finish to me.


October 20th, 2009 at 7:59 PM ^

Low expectations are usually achieved. For me...I'm with Stevie Brown. Michigan and Iowa win out. Iowa plays for the National Championship. Michigan goes to the Rose Bowl.

Go Hawkeyes!

Go Blue!