Over the last few years rain clouds have brought more than their share of misery to the Michigan program. I've sat through miserable losses to Northwestern and Ohio State where the only thing worse than the play on the field was the weather. Driving rain. Temperatures just above freezing matched with a howling wind. Dampness that soaked through whatever water repellent gear you were wearing at the time to drain you of any energy or life that you might possess to cheer for your team. During the 2008 Northwestern game I'm fairly certain that the marrow in my bones froze. Needless to say I am not a fan of rainy, November football games.
Yet there I was Saturday. Joined by three close friends, I sat at the 10 yard line in a mostly empty Ross-Ade Stadium and watched Michigan do something I haven't seen in years. Win a miserable game in miserable conditions in November.
It's really hard to imagine an uglier game than the one I witnessed this weekend. Ten combined turnovers. A grass field that devolved into the Mud Bowl. Rain that not only went sideways, but somehow found a way to swirl upward underneath the bill of my cap and soak my face and shirt. An offense that was as much a danger to itself as it was to Purdue.
Nevertheless, it was beautiful.
For all that went wrong on Saturday, the most important thing went right, Michigan won and moved to 7-3 on the season. Regardless of what happens against Wisconsin and Ohio State, Michigan is going to a bowl game not located in Detroit or Canada (the same thing really). In the grand scheme of things, Michigan has done what it was supposed to do at the outset of the season. They've beaten the teams they were supposed to beat, something they haven't done in in three years. If you're looking for a sure sign of progress, look no further.
Even with all the turnovers, the perplexing decisions, and the simply god awful penalties there were signs of progress. And for once, they were mostly on defense. Michigan forced 5 turnovers and even managed to turn one of those turnovers into a 58 yard touchdown return by Cameron Gordon. Michigan racked up 8 tackles for loss and 3 sacks on the game. Hell, Obi Ezeh led the team in tackles from the outside linebacker/hybrid/DE position. And he wasn't a liability! Kenny Demens and Ray Vinopal, two guys that didn't see the field until the season was already halfway over with both notched 7 tackles a piece and provided needed stability at Michigan's most vulnerable positions, Linebacker and Safety.
As you glance around the Michigan blogosphere, this concept of a hideously beautiful win seems to be universally shared. There is little, if anything, positive to take away from this win on offense. All the positives on defense must be taken with an "El Capitan" sized grain of salt. Michigan's best defensive effort of the year came against a team using its third string Quarterback, its 100th string tailback, a bunch of receivers who would presently be fighting for mop up time on a MAC team, and a porous offensive line that you could use to drain pasta.
Regardless, it remains a W in the proper column in the standings. It also means Michigan is finally back to a Bowl game. It won't be a good bowl game. It won't even be a fun bowl game. But it'll be a Bowl Game some place warm and a bowl game that gives Michigan those 13-17 extra practices they so desperately need to become a better team.
What it all means is that when next season starts, the sports casters and talking head will begin with "Michigan finished ___ and ___ and went to the ____ Bowl" instead of talking about NCAA infractions and consecutive losing seasons. Much like Will Hagerup's booming 72 yard punt in the fourth quarter, Michigan has flipped the conversation. This is no longer a conversation about all the failings of this coaching staff and their inability to do anything right. It is a conversation about a program on the upswing, a bowl birth, and a dynamic offense and progressing defense that combined promises to scare the ever living ---t out of everyone next season.
So my friends and I sat there. Soaked to the bone without a glimmer of sunlight in the sky.
It was beautiful.