Rich Rodriguez and his staff had two weeks to prepare for Penn State. A team without its starting or backup quarterback, that hadn't gone over 100 legitimate yards rushing against a team with a pulse, and was missing more players to injury than a school for rodeo clowns. Penn State's defense had been shredded all season and its offense was stagnant. As a result, Penn State ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten in nearly every major statistical category offensively.
Michigan's reward for those two weeks was arguably its worst defensive performance of the season. Michigan allowed 435 yards to an offense that hadn't sniffed four hundred yards with its starting quarterback since the Lions played Temple. Michigan looked completely lost in run defense. They looked puzzled in pass defense. Simply put... they looked awful. How Michigan could only force Penn State's anemic offense to punt twice is a mystery best left to the Discovery Channel.
Despite the 31 points on the board, Michigan's offense wasn't much better. For some reason, and I've been harping on this the entire season, Vincent Smith is still Rodriguez' short yardage back despite a season of reasons he shouldn't be. Michigan failed to convert a relatively easy 3rd and 2 on its first drive because Smith simply isn't big enough to pick up those types of yards. The result was a punt on a drive that should've been sustained and giving life to a team Michigan had a wonderful chance to beat. False starts. Penalties. Missed assignments. The complete abandonment of any meaningful zone read. Sadly, Michigan's offense wasn't only bad in the first half, it was predictable.
Ever since Rodriguez set foot on campus I've been solidly in his corner. I've forgiven all manner of sins, incompetence, mistakes in judgment, and cultural differences. I've done that because I believe in my heart that he is a good man. He is a decent human being given a difficult task. When I look at the manner in which he has handled the kids in his program, meted discipline, and represented himself and the school despite challenging times, that belief has been confirmed. I've also done all these things because I believed that he was a decent football coach. Strike that, a great football coach and that we were lucky to have him. I honestly believed that.
But what occurred on Saturday was inexcusable. Michigan looked completely unprepared for the task at hand. Denard Robinson looked hurt, and played like it. The offensive line looked lost. And the defense.... oh God... the defense...
I've given the benefit of the doubt to Rodriguez and his staff on everything from the NCAA investigation, to recruiting snafus, to questionable play calling. I've pointed to sub-par recruiting by the Carr staff, youth on defense, and thought the guys that transferred out simply couldn't hack it. But Saturday was beyond excuse. I can't come up with a reason or a rationale for Michigan to have played that badly against a team that even the Penn State faithful thought would lose by two touchdowns.
This game wasn't supposed to be Rodriguez' Waterloo. It wasn't. Even if Michigan lost this game, in a competitive manner, I would've likely chalked it up to a well coached team in a hostile environment pulling one out. I've been drinking the Kool-Aid that long that it would make sense. But this game was not as competitive as the score indicates. Good teams, well coached teams, are not down 18 points at the half. This is a team that lost by 20 to Illinois, and Michigan was down 18 points at the half to them. Suddenly, a game that shouldn't be a referendum became one.
I can't make excuses for it. I can't tell you this will be a good team when everything I've seen to this point against Big Ten opponents tells me it won't be. Michigan faces Illinois (5-3), Purdue (4-4), Wisconsin (7-1), and Ohio State (8-1) to close the season. I'm desperately trying to find two wins out of this, but I can't. At this point I'm expecting three blowout losses and a close win over Purdue. But even that isn't a guarantee.
Rodriguez and his staff had two weeks to prepare for this game. A game they maybe didn't have to win, but a game that they certainly had to show improvement in. A humiliating loss was the result. I can't excuse it. I won't make excuses for it. I just don't have the energy to do so anymore.
Rich Rodriguez is a good man. I have never questioned that and I never will. But when given two weeks to prepare his team for a critical game, his team came out flat and ill prepared. When it was over, I didn't have an excuse to make or a valid reason for why I saw what I did.
After nearly three years of supporting his ability to coach this team, two weeks finally made question that support.