Discretion being the better part of valor, I decided to try to get away from the game as quickly as possible and let emotions settle a bit before trying to look back on a few things. I find it's simply best to avoid the same inevitable tired posts regarding our choice to hire Rodriguez that come out like worms on the sidewalk following a rain in the spring after every loss, but are somehow conspicuously absent when this team manages to perform well... My threshold of tolerance of this kind of fan has dwindled to a point where I cannot respond in a level-headed fashion to their "points" anymore. That doesn't mean the coaching and staff are beyond reproach. In fact, I have a few concerns/questions about the game yesterday, some on coaching, some not.
1. Everyone understands that once the whistle is blown, the play is dead, and no replay can overturn that... here's my question. What in the HELL was that linesman doing blowing his whistle? The replay showed that Warren was clearly in-bounds, but if there is any question at all, why would you blow the whistle knowing that you have the replay in the booth to back you up or correct the call? It's infuriating to see 6 points wiped off the board simply because of gross officiating incompetence. Is the outcome different if we get that pick 6? I don't know, but it was a HUGE gaff that at this point in the year was simply too much to take at the time. The blatant helmet to helmet no call was simply salt in the wound later. After the call on Crable in '06, any time that's NOT called, particularly when it happens against us, it's rage-inducing. Call it sour-grapes if you will, but those two plays were 100% garbage.
2. On a day when the weather was downright awful and you've managed to roll up 180+ yards on the ground... why oh why are we going 5-wide with nobody else in the backfield with 7 minutes to go in the fourth quarter? It wasn't panic time. We do NOT have a QB who can move us down the football field all on his own, we just don't, let alone in that weather when it's even more difficult. We had just over 80 yards throwing the football all day, and 25% of that came on one lob ball to Greg Matthews. I don't understand the thinking behind what we did in the fourth quarter. We had solid success moving the ball on the ground against them throughout the day, I would've kept at least the threat of the run in the scheme at the end of the game, particularly only being down *1 score (see point #1).
3. Speaking of the threat of the run... absolutely no read-option yesterday that I saw. I was stunned. Considering how hard NW slanted their D-line against us last year, and how they continued to do so again this year, it would've seemed to be an ideal play-call to mix into the running game.
4. Of all of the deficiencies we have on this football team, the QB position is the one we simply cannot overcome. It's so painful to watch routes that were certain TDs for the past 12 years be missed or over-thrown. How some can sit there and try to throw all of the blame of this year on Rodriguez and his staff while completely ignoring our obvious deficiencies in talent and/or experience on the field is simply beyond me.
5. Why are we so GOD-AWFUL in the third quarter? Seriously. The score at halftime could've easily been 21-0, and even more easily have been 17-7 at the worst. Michigan had twice as many yards of offense as NW at the half, 162 to 80, gave the Wildcats their only score of the half thanks to yet ANOTHER special teams turnover, and had somehow managed to start a drive on the NW 8 yardline and not come away with ANY points. Once again, everywhere but the scoreboard, the Wolverines had thoroughly out-played Northwestern... then the third quarter came and went: Northwestern scored 14 points to our none, picked up 6 first downs to our 1, 144 yards of offense to our 28... DESPITE us holding the football for 8 minutes and 34 seconds...
6. 3rd and long... In this game, the defense, which otherwise played quite well, gave up 3rd and 18 for a TD and 3rd and "goal" from the 17 for another TD. Despite holding Northwestern to only 6 of 17 on third down conversions... three of those six came on 3rd and 9 or longer, and two of those conversions were for TDs... That's "take-years-off-your-life" bad, and it's been a recurring theme for the year. Is our coverage simply that consistently terrible or is there some other factor here that I'm completely missing?
7. Special teams... we don't have a special teams coach that I'm aware of, and I'm not sure you need one to tell individuals to CATCH THE FOOTBALL, but uh....
The frustration, at least for me personally, is that I fully understand that there are areas on this football team where we simply do not have the talent that we're used to having, and by used to having, I mean "have had nearly every year for the past 20 years". I fully understand that we're simply not that good of a football team this season thanks to a perfect storm of circumstances that robbed this team of much of its experience and returning talent on the offense. I also fully realize that Northwestern is the vastly more experienced and, in many areas, equally talented opponent... and yet, I come away feeling like we GAVE away that football game yesterday... again.
For all of the deficiencies and struggles, it's another game where the Wolverines were leading and in control and then fell apart thanks to a comedy of errors. Two 3rd and 15+ TDs? The other being a nice bit of coaching by NW to rush to the line and get the play off before Michigan had so much as called a coverage. It's hard to watch a team come out and play so well with so much youth and then in the very same instant, flip the switch off and simply flail away with complete ineffectiveness. It's extremely difficult when you've been used to consistency in performance to see such inconsistency this season. Even though I fully understand that with that youth comes inconsistency.
What gets me is that the consistency of prior years was deemed "unacceptable" by many. We were underperforming for our talent level. But now that the talent level is appreciably less, the expectations haven't followed suit. The detractors throw out any other factor affecting this team that doesn't begin with Rich and end with Rodriguez.
Am I the only one who feels that when this team actually executes they perform quite well? I find it extremely difficult to understand those blasting away at this hire in year one that refuse to acknowledge the situation we're in. We have two QBs who've never taken a collegiate snap as a starter, an offensive line that is for all intents and purposes entirely new, a receiving squad that features Greg Mathews and a ton of freshmen, and a running back corps that while loaded with talent had to rely on two freshmen for the first half of the season due to injury. The story continues to the defense. We have a linebacking corps that is without an upperclassman leader, a group of safeties that are... well you know. The youth and inexperience on this football team on offense is undeniable, yet many seem to think that has no bearing on the way this team has performed. Why?
There were many in the offseason talking themselves into a lot of things, that talent somehow means more than experience, even when your experience is "none". That an offense returning one starter would be able to be competent after a few games to pick things up, and that a defense that had a pretty obvious achielle's heel would be dominant enough to make up for the offense's early struggles. Many were using recruiting rankings and stars to justifiy predictions of some kind of success. Guess what folks, we were wrong. No this season didn't have to be 3-8 bad, but when many of us laughed at those predicitons, we failed to acknowledge the distinct possibility that it could be that bad. Sure some of the blame falls at the feet of the coaches, but there's a lot more contributing to our struggles than just coaching. That fact doesn't change with a loss to Northwestern, and it doesn't change regardless of what happens next Saturday in Columbus.