Saturday did nothing to quell my concerns. It’s rare that a win at Michigan stadium could cause me to be so snarky and terrified for what lies ahead. The last time Miami of Ohio won a game was October of 2012. Denard Robinson was still quarterback at Michigan, Barack Obama was still in his first term, and some people were still claiming the world was going to end that December. One thing that we do know is true was that Michigan had already begun their decline into this state of mediocrity and malaise while Miami went on to lose 19 games in a row. One girl sitting behind me in the student section quickly grew weary of my scathing remarks all game, but as I frankly explained, watching this program in person slide from Big Ten Championship contender to Big Ten also ran had hurt me as a fan. It took away my sense of wonderment while watching Michigan football. As I enjoyed my tailgating before the game, attending the games now almost feels like more of a chore. I always go to say I had attended and to keep my streak alive, but this season, I may stop going. Not out of lack of spirit, but out of protest. It doesn’t help that lifers like myself are being accused for our criticism – Brady Hoke last week spoke about how “the true fans” will stick by the program through thick and thin. We as fans cannot be expected to stay if the results will stay the same. The microcosm of the game in total was the drive at the end of the second half when Michigan launched a 4 minute drill with no urgency or care to try and score. That drive was capped off by not one, but TWO delay of game penalties, including one coming out of a timeout…Which led to a punt, which led to the team getting booed off the field at home. Turnovers were also the undoing of the team as Miami’s two scoring drives were both under 30 yards. Devin Gardner again put his defense in an awful position and they had to break at some point. One fumble off a kickoff return was because Wyatt Shallman ran into teammate Justice Hayes, jarring the ball loose and giving Miami possession. After Gardner took his seat on the bench, Shane Morris seemed more focused on throwing balls through his receivers as opposed to tossing them catch-able balls. The few highlights included the defense playing stingy and strong (note, Miami of Ohio may as well be an FCS school), Derrick Green looked like a true 5 star recruit power tailback should, and Jake Butt’s full return yielded decent results (3 catches for 59 yards). As MGoBlog pointed out, the box score makes Michigan seem like they are fine, but the team passed no one’s eye test. With Utah coming to town next weekend, a team that has put up 115 points through two games, Michigan’s defense will be tested even harder than it was against Notre Dame. This is by no means a call from me to blow up the season, but if the coaching staff doesn’t start trying some new, more innovative plays, packages, whatever, the boos will continue to rain down and the program will continue as a rudderless ship with an aimless captain. Try Devin Gardner at wide out in a package (no way he’s going to the NFL as a QB), throw in Shane Morris or Wilton Speight at the end of games more often. Something has to happen to try and find new ways to win games, because what the team is trying right now is forcing a square peg into a round hole. Gardner is more fundamentally stable than Denard Robinson was, but Michigan hasn’t had a QB that I have fully trusted since Chad Henne graduated in 2007. As I said last week, this year (while still mathematically possible though) is not about winning the Big Ten. It’s about Michigan attempting to reclaim an identity that has escaped them. What I saw yesterday and have seen so far this year is not a team that is hungry, but one simply going through the motions. To paraphrase Brady Hoke when he was hired: This isn’t Michigan, this is sh*t fergodsakes.
Let’s take a quick peek down the rest of the schedule just to estimate how my pick last week of 7-5 would shake out.
9/20 vs Utah: Loss (2-2)
As I wrote above, Michigan is facing a buzzsaw in Utah’s offense. Thankfully the defense has played well in all three games (scoreline aside, they fared decently vs Notre Dame, holding them to under 300 total yards, it was the field position that destroyed them). I think this is one of those trap games for Michigan that no one is really expecting, but right now I fear Utah more than I fear an empty refrigerator (what? I like to eat.) I say Utah’s offense will be too much and if Gardner’s turnover problem continues, it’ll be too much for the defense to hold them.
9/27 vs Minnesota Win (3-2)
Even in years when Minnesota has been better than Michigan (read: 2008, 2009.) The Wolverines ALWAYS seem to have the Golden Gophers’ number, and I say that continues – the Little Brown Jug will stay in Ann Arbor for the 7th straight year.
10/4 at Rutgers Win (4-2)
Did you see what Penn State’s defense did to Gary Nova Saturday night? He threw five interceptions, if Michigan’s defense keeps playing at a high level, things could get ugly in Piscataway for Kyle Flood’s boys. Combine that with the amount of Michigan fans in the metro New York area coming to bring some road support, and I smell a low scoring Michigan win.
10/11 vs Penn State Win (5-2)
Like with Minnesota, Michigan really cranks it up once they are under the lights. Now granted, both games were vs Notre Dame and the stakes were a bit higher, but Penn State under James Franklin’s leadership is looking like a fairly complete team. I also think Michigan takes the win as they are eager to avenge the 43-40 4OT debacle in Happy Valley last year. Now this is one of those games I cannot guarantee as a win, Christian Hackenburg could come in and carve Michigan’s pass defense up like a pumpkin, but I’m hoping for the best.
10/25 at Michigan State Loss (5-3)
If you think Michigan has any shot of winning this game in East Lansing, please consult your doctor immediately.
11/1 vs Indiana Win (6-3)
It won’t come with the same fireworks as last year’s 63-47 thriller, but Michigan will win on Homecoming.
11/8 at Northwestern Win (7-3)
I was at last year’s Northwestern game, Welsh-Ryan field leaves a lot to be desired compared to the Big House, and the weather in early November is absolutely brutal, but Michigan owns the Wildcats in Evanston, having not lost in Evanston since the 54-51 shootout back in 2000 (if you catch that game when it occasionally airs on BTN, it really is a fun one to watch despite the loss.)
11/22 vs Maryland Loss (7-4)
Like Penn State, this is a toss up game, I think Michigan has the juice to beat one of the pair of Penn State/Maryland, but they cannot complete the season sweep. This is a Maryland team that was down 28-6 to West Virginia on Saturday and came all the way back to only lose by 3. The talk of Maryland as a sleeper is very real, Randy Edsall’s boys want to show they can compete in the Big Ten, and I think by the time the frustration of the year, paired with injuries, fatigue and looking towards Ohio State, Maryland can sneak out of Ann Arbor with a win.
11/29 at Ohio State Loss (7-5)
The whole “No Braxton Miller” thing originally gave me hope, but down at Ohio State, they ain’t come to play school. Despite their loss to Virginia Tech, OSU did to Kent State what Michigan was supposed to do to Miami – blow them into the next county. They did so winning 66-0. Urban Meyer’s squad isn’t strong enough to take down big dog Michigan State for the East division crowd, but they certainly have enough to pull of a win in the former greatest rivalry in college football. Last year’s thriller aside, I sadly don’t think this game will be as close, but more like the 2012 edition – Michigan will give them a fight, but it won’t be enough.
Bowl Game: I’ll just ride with SBNation’s bowl projections since so many things can change and bowl invites outside of the playoff can be very random – I’ll say the Pinstripe Bowl vs an ACC team in New York City at Yankee Stadium – win (8-5)
If Michigan DOES play in the pinstripe bowl, it will be their first, non-new years day (or later) bowl game since the 2005 season, when Lloyd Carr’s squad lost to Nebraska in the Alamo Bowl on December 28, 2005.
That leads Michigan to an 8-5 record, like I predicted - they can beat the teams they are supposed to and lose to the ones they are supposed to. It’s a very vanilla way to watch the rest of the season, but I left that game with a knot in my stomach (no, it wasn’t the stadium chicken tender basket) knowing that it is going to be a long season. The Rich Rod years were painful, but culminated in success with the Sugar Bowl win in 2011. Right now, I cannot say that these struggles are leading towards anything, other than Michigan Football becoming the number one pizza chain in America. Cheers to football, prove me wrong. Go Blue kids, Go Blue.