For all the grinding and gnashing of teeth I've read and heard since Saturday, you'd think the rapture had occurred. It seems as though the rest of the Big Ten was taken in a divine light, leaving only Michigan to contend with the SEC and other evils left on this world.
Not so much. Saturday sucked. But the reality is Saturday's Michigan loss to Penn State was not unlike other games or years we've seen as Michigan fans. Michigan got thumped by a better team. Penn State's defense was far better than we were willing to give it credit for, and their Defensive Tackles and Linebackers ate our average offensive line for lunch. Darryl Clark was a far better passer and game manager against Michigan than I, personally, gave him credit for. Michigan also shot itself in the foot with drops, stupid penalties, drops, a safety inducing bad snap and more drops.
It was ugly. But we've seen just as bad or worse.
If you're looking for a parallel, don't look at 2008. That's not a particularly apt analogy. Look at Game 2 of 2007. Yes. The season we'd all like to forget. The Oregon game. If you're looking for a game where Michigan came out of the tunnel gamely, put seven points on the board, then collapsed like a New Orleans levy against stiff breeze, that's the one. Saturday's Penn State game wasn't even close to that. Oregon dominated every last aspect of that game in a manner that completely eclipsed the loss to Penn State.
Even worse. Look at the Iowa game in 2002, when Michigan lost 34-9. I have no clue how we got 9 points. None. They should've deducted points from Michigan's score. Then there was the 2007 Ohio State game. Or, look back to Donovan McNabb steamrolling the Wolverine defense in 1999. Even a moment's reflection reveals this sort of thing has happened before. It's happened to good teams as well as bad ones. So please, let's not act like Michigan never lost a game in poor fashion before Rodriguez showed up on the sidelines.
The sad reality is that this isn't a very good football team. Sure there are some exciting players. Sure there is talent. But this is the same team that went 3-9 last year, only it's a year older and starting sometimes two freshmen quarterbacks. The same defensive and offensive liabilities still exist. The difference is, this year, we're beating teams we're supposed to beat. We're just not ready to beat teams we shouldn't.
Going into the Michigan State game I was genuinely afraid that people would look past this team's obvious deficiencies, and work themselves into a delusional frenzy. Check. We played marginally against Iowa, and came within two points of beating the Hawkeyes before blowing the doors off cupcake Delaware State leading up to the Penn State game.
Woo. We're 5-2 with wins against crappy competition! Let's go crazy! Woo! Seriously. Look at who we've beaten. Western Michigan. Eastern Michigan. Indiana. Delaware State. Out best win is against a highly over rated Notre Dame squad that should've lost to Washington, Boston College, and Michigan State. Woo! World Beaters! We deserved to lose both prior games. The only reason Michigan remained in either the Michigan State or Iowa games was because both teams let Michigan stick around and seemed determined to give the game away for no good reason.
Penn State didn't. Penn State played like a good team. And good teams beat mediocre ones.
And let's be honest. This is a mediocre Michigan team. They're not bad. They'll go to a bowl game. But they're not good enough to play poorly and win. But given how bad things were last year, I'll take it.
What's amazed me the most about this season isn't the progress, it isn't the work they've put in. It's just how short Michigan fans' memories are. Michigan's recruiting and talent level was in a nose dive from 2005 onward. 2007 (minus Jake Long) showed that. While poor game planning didn't help anything, Michigan got whipped on both lines by "inferior" opponents. Look at the linebackers and safeties. The upperclassmen we're supposed to have aren't there. Look at the offensive line, our upperclassmen are adequate at best. Our best players are freshmen and sophomores. When that's the case, you're not going to win a lot of games.
After four wins over bad to mediocre opponents there a portions of the fan base expecting the world. Questioning the play calling. Questioning personnel selection. Insinuating different decisions would've netted wins rather than losses. No. They wouldn't have. And if you think they would've, you're fooling yourself. So stop. Please. Stop. You're giving the rest of us a migraine.
The Penn State game turned when David Molk left in the first quarter. The following series, Michigan fell apart. Molk is the key to this offensive unit because he's the only reliable center we have. More importantly, he's our best offensive linemen and arguably the most important player our offense has. He brings a nastiness and purpose that was sorely missing with his departure. Without him, the line was in disarray and Tatenard spent the rest of the game running for his life.
We're not far enough along where we can over come an injury like that. Frankly, there aren't a lot of teams in D1 football that can. Look at the Oklahoma Sooners. A new offensive and they've already lost more games this year than in the last two combined.
Things are getting better. One game doesn't change that. Michigan is still much better than last year. We're 5-3. We're better playing much better than last year. Saturday was both an aberation and an expected outcome. The Penn State defense that dominated the Michigan offensive line and a linebacking crew that confused the hell out of two freshmen. Being freshmen caught up to Tate and Denard over the last four games. That said, I think you'll see a tremendous step forward as the season goes on. We got beat by a game plan that actually executed itself to exploit our weaknesses. It happens.
But ask yourself if you would've taken 5-3 at this point before the season began. You bet your ass you would've. And the fact is this team is getting better, even if it didn't play like it on Saturday. Better days are ahead.
You've just got to be patient.