Stop me if you've heard this story before. Hot start. Cold finish. A promising football season that meets a two game speed bump. If things follow the script... well... you've heard this one before, haven't you?
No, you haven't.
For as much as people want to draw parallel to last season's finish, this is a much different story than the one we've read before. Even though Michigan dropped it's second straight game to a ranked opponent, Michigan showed signs of life we didn't see last year.
It should be noted that the game unfolded basically as we predicted it would. Iowa maintained a lead. Michigan rallied to cut the deficit to a single score. Then Stanzi put the game away. Going into the game, going into this year, this is what we thought would happen. And it did.
But the way it unfolded was very different than we thought. This is not to say there weren't similarities to last season's matchup. Like Tate Forcier before him, Denard Robinson, despite an impressive first drive against Iowa, looked lost. He ran tentatively, misreading when to hold and when to run. He got desperate when he didn't need to, and chucked the worst interception he's thrown since last year's Iowa game. Then, predictably, he got popped.
This is where the story of 2010 differs from 2009.
Michigan not only lost Denard Robinson to injury, but it lost its two best linemen on either side of the ball. David Molk went out with an apparent knee injury. Mike Martin went out as well, suffering from a similar fate. Unlike last year, Michigan wasn't within spitting distance of Iowa, they were down 21 points. Yet Michigan didn't fold. Far from it. They came out guns blazing. Both lines continued to play well. Michigan's receivers torched Iowa's vaunted secondary. The defense did it's best to hold serve, stopping Iowa on its first two possessions of the second half. There was no quit. No sense that Michigan couldn't win this game if it continued to play well. And all of a sudden Michigan was within a touchdown of tying the game with 8 minutes left.
In the end, missed tackles proved to be Michigan's undoing. On a third and long, Iowa went to a swing pass that
Cameron Gordon Courtney Avery read and reacted to perfectly. Sadly, he couldn't wrap up Iowa's Adam Robinson. 20 plus yards later, the game was officially a "W" in Hawkeyes' favor.
While I was initially disgusted at the mental errors, the turnovers, the missed opportunities, on Saturday, two days removed I am less so. This is not the same team I saw last season. This Michigan team has depth on offense. One injury, even two critical injuries cannot derail this offense. On defense, they may not be deep, but dammit they're trying. They may even be improving. Michigan won't face another trio of talented receivers anything like Iowa's until the last week of the season. They've shown they can get stops, now if their offense can keep from turning the ball over (3 INTs and a redzone fumble) they may actually turn out to be okay.
Michigan racked up 522 yards of total offense on, what was then, a top ten ranked defense. 522 yards. The Michigan defense, despite routinely being put in awful positions by its offense gave up only 383 yards of total offense, and just a 135 yards on the ground. Were this a normal year, we'd probably be pulling our hair out, but in 2010 you take your improvements as they come. And this is a marked improvement over last week's performance.
When this season started out, we all marked this game down as a loss. A 5-0 start does not change that. At five and two, going into a bye week, Michigan finally has a chance to rest, get healthy, and prepare for the second half of the 2010 season.
Michigan's coaching staff has shown they can prepare a team well when given extra time to do so. Look at the UConn game. Michigan will have two weeks to prepare for a Penn State team that resembles Michigan... last year. Michigan will hopefully be healthy. Hopefully, they'll be ready.
While this season has started out in a similar fashion as last year, this is a very different story. There are new characters, new obstacles, and new strengths. There are areas for improvement, certainly, but there is at least a feeling that things are improving. Michigan hit rock bottom against Michigan State. On Saturday, they started to lift themselves out of the trench. Showing a resilience we didn't know they had. They didn't make it all the way out, but they almost did.
Looking ahead, Michigan has three games in which they will likely be the favorite. Three games that they should walk away from with wins. The story is different this year not just because of shoelaces, high hopes, and new faces, it is different because this whole team is different. They have a surprising depth and a surprising resilience.
They've given us the prelude. It's now time for them to finish their rewrite.
Several things stood out to me that merit mention, so here are things that resemble Bullets:
Kenny Demens is not going to set the world on fire at Middle Linebacker. Even so, he is a clear (i.e., night versus day) upgrade over Obi Ezeh at Middle Linebacker. While Demens is equally lost in coverage as Ezeh, he is aggressive and fills running lanes with authority. You did not see Demens getting run over. You saw Demens as the clear aggressor, making contact and wrapping people up. With Demens on the field, Michigan is clearly a better defense.
I really like Vincent Smith. I do. But he is not a capable short yardage or goal line back. He just isn't, and Rodriguez' insistence on putting him out there in those situations is not doing Vincent or the team any favors. I really can't see a situation on the field where Stephen Hopkins shouldn't be in there. He is a crushing blocker and a powerful straight ahead runner. Most importantly, Hopkins gets the positive yards Smith does not appear capable of obtaining right now. At this point Hopkins is your Number One back. Until Mike Shaw is healthy, I can't think of anyone else who can do what Hopkins can.
I may have jumped on the J.T. Floyd bandwagon a little too soon. Floyd got torched twice, on the same type of play, by Derrell Johnson-Koulianos. Floyd committed the cardinal sin of letting his receiver get inside position at the goaline without any safety help over the middle. He's better than that. At least I hope he is. Floyd's been one of Michigan's best defenders all year long and I'm hoping Saturday's performance was the result of going up again an NFL calibre receiver rather than an endemic problem.
I'll say it. The Denard for Heisman train derailed for good on Saturday. Denard's a tremendous talent, but he's spent the last two weeks looking like a first year starter. I'm hopeful he'll rebound, but sincerely doubt we're going to see the same type of Play Station type numbers we saw earlier in the year.
Tate Forcier looked like Tate. You live and die by his arm. Two really bad, forced interceptions and a "DEAR-GOD-THROW-THE-FOOTBALL-AWAY!" sack. Then there were three "HOLY-CRAP!" awesome drives. Sigh. It is what it is.
Cameron Gordon is really, really struggling right now. Gordon continues to look like a converted wide receiver. He looked confused on some of the coverages, including Iowa's second touchdown where he was obviously confused on the coverage. He missed tackles, isn't wrapping up, and obviously needs some time off. I know this might be an overreaction, but why not let Ray Vinopal or Marvin Robinson see some time. They're actually, you know, safeties.
Thank god for the bye week. Michigan needs it to not only get healthy but to fix a number of issues in it's deep zone coverage and to fix some execution errors on it's offense.