This is the first in a series we're going to be doing here at Maize n Brew, talking about the various position battles that will be ongoing right up to kick off for the UConn game. To start things off, we're going to start with the most obvious and critical position battle on the Michigan team: the Quarterback Position. Up first, Tate Forcier.
Memories fade quickly. No one is more acutely aware of this than Tate Forcier. As a freshman quarterback, Forcier led the Michigan Wolverinesto a 4-0 start and was anointed the next great Michigan Quarterback before the season was even half over. The hallmarks of Forcier's early success were quick decision making, escapability, and accuracy on the run. Everyone was pumped, ready to wake up our own echoes, and cheer a bowl win.
Sadly, it didn't end as well as it started.
During the win over Indiana it was readily apparent to everyone who watched that Forcier was hurt. And he was hurt bad. After the game winning throw, Forcier was seen reeling in pain as a teammate gave him a congratulatory pat on his throwing shoulder. What we later came to find out was Forcier had a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder. Suffering from a loss of strength and stability of his shoulder, Forcier's effectiveness as a passer suffered. The end result was off-season shoulder surgery for the true sophomore quarterback and a lengthy recovery over the spring and summer months.
Despite the injury and despite some tough losses, Forcier performed as well or better than anyone could've ever expected. Rushing for 3 TD and throwing for 13 TD, Forcier piled up 2050 passing yards and more than 200 rushing yards. Not bad for a freshman battling through injuries.
Why Tate Will Start
Despite Michigan's won lost record, Forcier's numbers were really good for a true freshman. As Ace over at The Wolverine Blog points out, Forcier's final numbers compare very favorably with just about every other contemporary starting freshman quarterback of note. These numbers are especially impressive when you consider the chaos that was the Michigan offensive line when David Molk went down, lack of a No. 1 or No. 2 receiver, and the M*A*S*H unit that was the running back Corps. While it's true Tate did through 10 Interceptions, 4 of those were against OSU in the final game of the season. Until that time, the highest number of INTs in a game was one (1). Take out the four INT fiasco at the end of the season and his over numbers look even better.
If you get right down to it, Tate is the best quarterback at Michigan. As much as I'm enthralled with Denard Robinson's speed, Tate brings a confidence and understanding of the offense that Denard hasn't been able to replicate. Tate has a far more accurate arm than Robinson and the difference in arm strength is fairly marginal if we're being honest.
What Tate has is every intangible you can think of. He has leadership. He has confidence. He has grit. He'll play hurt. He'll improvise on the run (remember the TD against Western to Junior Hemingway?). When the kid is healthy, he's proven that he's a winner.
What seems to have been lost when discussing the Michigan QB battle is what we've actually seen on the field each Saturday versus what we've seen or heard about in practice. Experience does matter. What also matters is that despite his injury Forcier played through it. What's more impressive is that even with the torn up shoulder and the four pick game, Forcier finished each of his last three games with a completion percentage above 60%. While we have ample film with which to find flaws, we've also got ample film to offer praise.
Forcier runs the passing aspect of Rodriguez' spread very, very well. He's good at making the initial read and improvising when his blocking breaks down or his receivers are covered. One thing Forcier doesn't do that I'm very grateful for, and impressed by, is he doesn't try to over throw the ball into impossible spaces. The only time he really did this was against Ohio State. Otherwise, Tate's INTs were the result of miscommunication or bad timing between he and his receivers. The kid is polished. He'll make mistakes, but mistakes in his reads. And those are things that can be corrected.
Why Tate Won't Start
Ball security and injuries. If there is a true Achilles heel in Tate's game it's his tendency, when pressured, to juke around with the ball exposed and away from his body. Forcier had a nasty habit last year to leave the ball out and get it stripped when he was running around. Any season where you fumble ten times, lose four of them, and then tack on 10 interceptions... well... you've got work to do. If Tate is going to secure the starting job, he's going to have to learn to secure the ball. Perhaps more importantly he's got to learn when it's time to scramble and when it's time simply to eat the ball and take the sack.
As for injuries, that's just a bugaboo of quarterbacks in Rodriguez' offense. Forcier got dinged up in his fourth game and never really seemed to be healthy after that. Irrespective of his brains and talent, if he's hurt to the point that he can't throw the ball at 90% he's going to have a tough time starting. Tate is still a little too young and too early in his understanding of College defenses to be able to win games on sheer moxie. If he's hurt as bad as he was at the end of last year, it's going to be an uphill climb to starting against UConn.
I think Tate is going to start the season, after that his health will determine the rest. We easily forget just how good Tate was before he got injuries and we also forget just how bad our defense was. Forcier guided this offense to the tune of 30 ppg despite all the health problems throughout the offense. I think Tate can be a Colt McCoy type of player. Though he'll never rock the pornstache like Colt could, he certainly has the talent and drive to achieve similar results as the talent and experience around him improves. If Tate stays healthy he could easily toss 20 TDs, cut the INTs to 7 or 8, and wind up just north of 3,000 yards passing. But all of this is contingent on his health.
Memories are a fickle thing. But if Tate stays healthy, we'll remember 2010 as his coming party. And that'll be what's important.