Agony of Defeat: Are There Any Meaningful Streaks Left?

This team has managed to find new and varied ways to tear its fans' hearts out over the past month and a half and yesterday was no exception.  A classic recipe of a crippling turnover, a genius playcall by the opposing coach, a missed extra point, and just to top it off a horrifying booth review all combined to stick the needle to Michigan in ways that never cease to be cruel.  My heart goes out to these players though, they're fighting their tails off.  Oh and let's just get this out of the way at the outset: I cannot conceive of a situation where anyone could possibly defend the overturn on that crucial replay late in the game.  Not one.  There was absolutely nothing in any of those replays that could've overturned the call on the field, which was a 1st and goal Michigan.  It was horrible and I'm now done talking about it, I promise.  

For the second year in a row neither of these teams' defenses were able to put up much of a front against the offenses and it made for an extremely entertaining/frustrating-as-hell football game.  I certainly tip my cap to Coach Hope for the onside kick call: nobody in the stadium and certainly nobody at home was looking for that and it couldn't have worked out more perfectly for Purdue.  I felt as though Purdue formulated a great gameplan to focus on this defense's obvious deficiencies and they executed it well enough to come away with the win, I mean Joey Elliot lit us up for 367 yards and looked downright good doing it (both picks were tips and not exactly his fault).  As rage inducing as yesterday's loss was for Michigan fans, I do think there are a few things we can take away from the loss moving forward.  I'll cover more of this later, but we've known for some time that the defense is... well it is what it is.  This isn't trying to carve out a moral win in any way, shape, or form, but rather just pointing out that amidst the overall continuing struggle, some aspects of this team's game noticeably stepped up yesterday afternoon.  The Michigan O put more than enough points on the board to win this football game, but when it comes down to it, a missed extra point (among other issues) proved to be just too much to overcome in the end...  sigh.  

Miscellaneous

- Boiled Sports had a few things to say about Rodriguez's post-game comments regarding Hope's low-class move after the game.  Quite frankly, who the hell cares?  Nobody, that's who.  Hope apparently didn't like Rodriguez calling out a blatant cheap shot several weeks ago that just so happened to be by a Purdue player.  Of course Rodriguez's singling out of this play has nothing to do with the fact that it was Purdue and Hope but EVERYTHING to do with the fact that the Big 10 conference set itself up as judge and jury of such actions earlier in the season.  Hope naturally is too uncouth to understand this and so instead of focusing on his team's great win, Hope figured he'd really stick it to Rodriguez.  What a class act.  BS continues on to make a rather insight-less rant about Rodriguez's future and generally looks foolish doing so, which is pretty apropos actually.  How about you lads stick to topics you actually know something about and celebrate your once in a generation win with some class?  Too much to ask?

- Navy managed to put a small grin on my face yesterday afternoon, congrats to them.

- Stanford hanging 51 on Oregon gets a "WOW" if you ask me.

- I had a feeling Ohio State would be able to contain Penn State's offense, but I wasn't sure how well the Buckeye offense and Pryor would hold up against Penn State's D... that Ohio State won wasn't surprising, how they won was.

- Iowa losing to Northwestern was pretty cruel not that I have any sympathy for them... but that they lost Stanzi in doing so is pouring a really wealthy helping of salt in the wound.

Offense

- The offense came alive again yesterday for really the first time since the Iowa game, and managed to sustain it for the majority of the game.  I loved the game plan, I loved how well Tate played, and I felt that all in all there were some noticeable steps taken.  The switch to the two-back set was a true revelation.  Michigan's first four drives netted 24 points, which, YAY.

- 12 points in the second half....  Missed FG, and of course that other thing that I said I wouldn't mention again played into that.  

- [Edit] I forgot to mention in the initial post that I fail to understand why we didn't kick the FG on 4th and 10 down eight points in the game...  This is the second time in the past few weeks I've really questioned an in-game decision by our coaching staff regarding coming back from a deficit... that's concerning if you ask me.

- I continue to be flummoxed about how on plays like crucial two-point conversions we don't have two or three "go-to" plays that you can run that you know the opposing team has not seen or prepared for.  At the very least don't you have to roll Tate out and give him the option to run or throw there?  Arg.

- Great balance, 11 first downs rushing, 11 first downs passing.  427 yards of total offense.  Michigan's rushing offense put up 215 yards on the ground and averaged 4.9 yards per carry.  Listen, missed FG and EP or not, the offense did more than enough to win this football game.  That's not something we could've said the last two weeks.

- Tate Forcier made a lot of great throws yesterday, and ended up 15/24 for 212 yards and 1 TD.  Of course he also made one big mistake on the option pitch, but the rest of his decision making was much improved.  With something bordering on a remotely competent defense, that one turnover is not nearly as huge as it ended up being yesterday.  All in all it was as good of a game he's played in the last six weeks, which is incredibly encouraging if you ask me.  Much less freelancing, much more sticking within the system.  Amen. 

- Brandon Minor really gutted out a heck of a performance yesterday afternoon, which honestly was the first time this year he looked anywhere close to the player we saw towards the end of last season.  154 yards and 3 TDs, he did everything he could to carry this team, hats off to you Brandon.  

- Roy Roundtree, much to the chagrin of Purdue faithful during the game I'm sure, had a fantastic day and has really stepped up in Martavious Odoms' absence.  His emergence is another positive sign for this football team going forward.  Forcier has been targeting him more and more since he made it into the lineup and the fact that he had seven more catches than any other Michigan receiver yesterday certainly emphasizes that point.

- The offensive line turned in a better performance this week, although I suspect a lot of the improvement also lies with going with the two back set for the majority of the day.

 

Defense

- I'm not going to re-invent the wheel here, the unit is easily worse than it was last year, which is to say it's really bad.  A few positives from yesterday though:  a first half where they limited Purdue to 10 points and really did a great job after the opening drive.  Also, two forced turnovers, which was great to see after the drought heading into this game.

- I am not going to write the same thing over and over and over again in this space regarding the negatives and deficiencies, they have been well illustrated and have not really changed, and honestly I don't have any new insight into any of them.  The following are points that I think could at least be addressed in some small way with two weeks to go and our bowl lives depending on a win against two solid/better-than-solid football teams...

- Tackling.  For the sake of our sanity, wrap the ball carrier up.  With the way some of our guys are tackling I'd be just fine with moving Kovacs, who has been downright decent in anything that doesn't require him to cover much faster guys downfield, up with the LBs and.... oh wait, we have absolutely no one else at safety, nevermind...  sigh.

- Do not, under any circumstances, get beat deep.  Why even put the safeties in a position where they have to come up and then drop into coverage?  Just don't let it happen.  We can't give up easy points and one play drives.  I would love to see our corners playing tighter more frequently, but you have to keep the safeties back.

- I almost think that we need to move Woolfolk back to safety at this point and try someone else at corner... I don't know who that would be, but I don't see nearly as much issue at corner as I do at our safety positions.  If Woolfolk can perform back there more effectively than Williams then that is where he should be.

- I really appreciate all the great work put in over at mgoblog detailing the disaster that has been our trying to keep defensive talent on the team over the past four years.  It illustrates in an incredibly clear way just how little we're actually working with here.  I honestly do not know what else Robinson and company can do with this defense, the areas of weakness are too numerous to mask or hide.

Special Teams

- Ugh.

- Giving up the onside kick was bad, it was a great call, but yeeeeeeeeeeesh.

- Olesnavage has been nothing short of rock-solid all year, and his performance yesterday was one of the more perplexing aspects of the game if you ask me.  A missed extra point was the dagger, but his miss on the 48 yard FG in the 4th was also enormous.  There's no harm in missing a 48 yard FG don't get me wrong, but he dead nailed the 51 yarder earlier in the game going the same way, so I was entirely confident in him prior to that kick.  He's still had a great year but yesterday will be one he'd like to forget I'm sure.

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So, yep.  Another loss, another week of speculation and dampened hopes.  I don't really know what to say in this space, we're going to Wisconsin, who lest you forget absolutely housed Purdue 37-0 a week ago... so yeah.  I just cannot believe the events of these last two weeks.  We've given up a tidy 1000 yards and 76 points to the likes of Purdue and Illinois.  What do you want me to say?  OT losses to Michigan State and narrow defeats to the likes of Iowa on the road are things that any football team can experience and are hardly a warning sign of impending doom.  But for this team, to be in the position they were in two weeks ago and to have come through those two weeks at 0-2 is beyond explanation.  It is on coaching, it is on execution, and it's on a team that also can't seem to buy a break since the calendar hit October.  These last two weeks represent a blown opportunity that may well cost this team for years to come. Not in terms of coaching stays, I refuse to believe that Michigan would act rashly in that regard, but rather in terms of both practice and recruiting.  Last year's team managed to win two conference games.  We're a true freshman's heroics away from not having won a single conference game this season.  That is so bad it defies words.  

But (you knew there would be a but didn't you?), a win in these next two weeks would go miles (haha, not a pun I promise).  It would mean Michigan actually did something along the lines of either beating a downright solid team on the road or doing the unthinkable and beating Ohio State for the first time in half a decade (which would instantly cure all ills as far as 90% of the fanbase is concerned).  It would mean they somehow pulled this thing out of the fire for 60 mintues, banded together, and played their tails off.  Likely?  No, not really.  Conceivable?  If the offense plays the way it's capable of playing and the defense stops the bleeding long enough to tackle someone... then yes.  A win would push the record to a wholly unsatisfying 6-6, but a record that produced 3 more wins than last season and one that many at the outset of the year were throwing around as a somewhat pessimistic prediction.... and that was before we had any idea our defense would be this bad.  

A lot of talk around the start of this season centered on whether or not we'd make "the leap"... I never would've really considered that half team would make it and the other half would go in the complete opposite direction.  The offense is better in every conceivable way, the system does in fact work, and it is working with youth and backups in key areas still.  The defense, the defense is as decimated in terms of talent as any unit I can ever remember at this program.  The lack of any kind of continuity at the head of the defensive coaching staff likely doesn't help here.  There are coaching decisions on defense that I have not understood or agreed with, but I do not think snap evaluations of Greg Robinson's tenure at this point are based on anything called "logic" or "reason".  We're working at a significant talent deficiency compared to every other team in the conference on the defensive side of the football.  That is a fact.  It's something we cannot hide and cannot fix immediately.  

If this team is going to salvage anything from this year, a year that brought joy for a whole month, then they're going to have do it by out-gunning people.  It is what it is, and it's not going to suddenly change over the next two weeks of practice.  So c'mon Blue, go out there and fight your hearts out.

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