This Michigan team reminds me of a team on which I played my senior year of college. The circumstances were a little different. It was our coaches fourth year, and had already produced an undefeated regular season and a trip to the Div 3 national quarter finals. However, the senior class that led us to that point in my sophomore year was one of the most talented group in the history of the program. The junior class was also very good, but by the time I was a senior there were only 13 players left in my class. Of those 13, only about half saw significant playing time. We started 5-0 against some weak competition. We played the eventual conference champion in week 6 and lost 33-31 after we missed a 40 yard field goal on the last play of the game. This is where the comparison really starts. The rest of the year we really struggled. Everything was a grind. We thought we had put bad moments behind us, but they obviously lingered. I do not remember having a bad week of practice, but we just could not seem to get it going in games. Our QB was inconsistent and struggled with his confidence. Over the last 5 games, we went 1-4. Occasionally, I think about that season and try to figure out what happened, because we had the players to win the conference. I think it came down to two things:
- We never got over the missed field goal. I think it lingered with many of our younger players, and we just could not pull ourselves out of it. We would have good weeks of practice, but when games came around, there was just couldn't put together any consistency especially on offense.
- We did not have many seniors on the field. It has been my experience that seniors play with a sense of urgency that younger players sometimes lack. When there are a good number of seniors on the field, this rubs off on everybody else.
I think Michigan is in a similar spot right now. They are in a grind offensively, and are struggling to find a rhythm. Threet has been inconsistent, and at least to me, does not look like he is throwing the ball with confidence right now. In fact, the whole offense lacks confidence right now. There seems to be indecision from the O-Line on who to block on zone plays, Threet doesn't seem to pull the trigger quick enough, and the backs don't seem to be finding the hole. I actually think the D has been ok.
The point of the story is that the juniors, sophomores, and freshmen from my senior went on to win or share the next 3 conference titles. The QB who struggled that year was Gagliardi Trophy finalist his senior year. (Div 3 Heisman) Those underclassmen did not give up on the system, they only became more determined. Was it bad coaching that led to that one bad season? I don't think so. Should those underclassmen have given up on our coach? Obviously not. All these things that look wrong on Saturdays are being drilled every day in practice. They are running the zone over and over again, because its what they practice. The coaches, who all have a track record of success, believe its what will work on Saturdays. Eventually, it will start working. It may not be this year. I think the offense will probably look good in spurts the way it has most of the season. But every time you think about the struggles of this Michigan team, you think about those young players that are getting experience, and not ever wanting to go through a Toledo loss ever again in their Michigan football career.
I hope some people find my experience relevant. I'd like to finish the post with a passage from Bo's Lasting Lessons.
"Hey. You can take any coach you want - I don't care if it's Woody Hayes or Ara Parseghian or Joe Paterno, all giants - and you can pick apart their career and find that, sure, they lost some games, probably a few they shouldn't have. Every one of those three guys won a national title, but every one of them had losing seasons, too - usually when I was on their staff, it occurs to me! And these are some of the best coaches the game has ever seen. What does that mean?
I'll tell you what it means: Nothing!
Everyone's got critics. And if you're in charge, you're going to have more than the people working for you. Well, I had 101,001 critics every Saturday, and millions more watching on TV - screaming at me to pass more, to blitz more, to go for it on fourth-and-one more from our own 40-yard line. Let me tell you something: I fundamentally did not give a damn what the press, the administration or the alumni thought about my coaching. Fritz Crisler said it best. "If you're winning," he said, "you don't need them. And if you're losing, they can't help you."
So, you block them out!"