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Down and Out in College Football: What the Bleep Happened to Michigan?

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We could fume and we could fulminate. But that would neither resolve matters nor aid in a thoughtful understanding. What happened to our beloved Wolverines these past two weeks? They showed their age. This is a young team.

Michigan returned the Big Ten’s fewest starters from 2012. Their depth chart features a number of sophomores and redshirt freshmen in the rotation. That doesn’t excuse playing like crap, but it places it within a plausible context. Young players are prone to small mistakes, which add up. They have letdowns after big games. They are more affected on the road. When things take a wrong turn, they tend to snowball.

What happened to Michigan happens to young teams, even quite talented ones. We saw this with Florida State in 2011: a turnover apocalypse on the road against an overmatched Wake Forest. We saw it with Louisville in 2012. They were good enough to dump Florida in the Sugar Bowl. They also played down to awful FIU, South Florida and Southern Miss teams and lost to UConn, at home. Fans, media members and, perhaps, even the team itself underestimated the troubles Michigan’s youth could cause.

Stunned Michigan fans vs Akron 1The poor results came on consecutive weeks, but they weren’t that similar. The Akron game was an absolute dumpster fire. The offense did not convert third downs (3/10). The defense did not stop third downs (9/18). Turnovers, especially the INT returned for a touchdown were devastating. That was a letdown gone rotten.

UConn was different. Yes, the Huskies lost to Towson. That’s the same Towson that was a handful for LSU last year and looks like one of the best FCS teams this year. UConn hung with a pretty good Maryland team, getting foiled by an interception returned for a touchdown. They aren’t awesome, but they are better than their 0-3 record suggests. The betting public loved Michigan as -18 favorite. Nerd stats were far more pessimistic. FEI projected a 22-14 Michigan win.

Michigan’s defense dominated against UConn, eventually. They stopped 10/11 third down attempts, allowed 3.6 yards per play and got some much welcome penetration up front, with four sacks and eight tackles for loss. The offense shorted out for much of the game. Devin Gardner threw two interceptions and lost confidence. But the turning points were a fluky butt-induced fumble, which UConn recovered and returned for a touchdown, and a ball hitting a punt coverage guy, allowing UConn to recover inside the opposing 10 to score another touchdown.

A game that should have been in the 24-14 range became 24-21. Shit happens. Michigan was fortunate to win against Akron. They were unfortunate against UConn, and still won. The result wasn’t optimal, but it was not as damning. Talk of a broader malaise may be premature.

The Wolverines entered the season with questions. The answers won’t be as seamless as they seemed against Notre Dame. The inexperienced offensive and defensive lines should improve somewhat as the season progresses. Whether Michigan can overcome them depends on Gardner. The Wolverines’ starter has shown himself to be a rhythm and confidence player. If Al Borges and Brady Hoke can’t build him back up before November, that will be a problem.

USATSI_7447860_153192880_lowresLet These Games Be Wiped From The Collective Consciousness… Notre Dame won its war of attrition with Michigan State 17-13. The great game was deeply unsatisfying on all fronts. The offenses completed fewer than 50 percent of their passes, averaging 3.46 yards per play combined. The defenses combined for just one sack. The decisive play was a phantom pass interference call. The Spartans get an “L” in the record books, but the true losers were those who viewed the spectacle.

RELATED: Florida Hit Tyler Murphy in Head With Botched Snap, Will Muschamp Could Not Believe It

Florida vs. Tennessee, shown concurrently, was about as putrid. Tennessee just isn’t a very good football team, on either side of the ball. Freshman Nathan Peterman made his first start, and completed four passes for five yards. The Gators lost Jeff Driskel for the season. Backup Tyler Murphy had a solid game in relief. Though most of the game saw the retrograde Gator offense running the ball 56 times at less than four yards per touch. #Muschamping

A Brief Respite… Texas beat Kansas State at home 31-21, to the delight of Greg Robinson. It was a tender moment. We hope Longhorn fans savored it, as their season could turn sour again soon. Texas’ defense looked improved, but playing an immobile quarterback had much to do with that. The win cost the Longhorns perhaps the two players they could not afford to lose. Quarterback David Ash left with “head injury symptoms” – he had just returned from a concussion – and star linebacker Jordan Hicks is out for the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon.

Baylor Box Score Watch… Baylor drilled Louisiana Monroe 70-7. The Bears gained 781 total yards on 77 plays, shutting it down about halfway through the third quarter. Bryce Petty completed 18 of 27 for 351 yards and four touchdowns. Lache Seastrunk had 156 yards and a touchdown, on 10 carries. It’s a small sample size, against nothing opposition. But Baylor ranks 5th right now in yards per play defense. Bring on a live opponent!

HolgOHNO… West Virginia lost 37-0 to Maryland. The Mountaineers averaged just 3.7 yards per play. They amassed the same number of turnovers, six, as first downs. This was West Virginia’s first time being shut out since a 35-0 loss to Virginia Tech in 2001, Rich Rodriguez’ first season. Dana Holgorsen has won three of his last 11 FBS games. Those wins came against Iowa State, Kansas and Georgia State. Twelve months ago, Oliver Luck looked like a genius hiring Holgo and moving up to the Big 12. Now? Yikes.

LEACH-F-U

Words Exchanged… Mike Leach and Paul Petrino exchanged pleasantries after Washington State’s 42-0 defeat of Idaho. Petrino’s words weren’t caught on tape. Leach’s “f**k you” retort was. [via Gifulmination]

[Photos via USA Today Sports]

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