He's only a freshman.
Funny. We've said that so many times over the last month in so many different intonations that it seems to have twenty different meanings. Tate Forcier is something of a revelation for Michigan fans a year removed from the purgatory of a 3-8 season, but he's only a freshman. He's only a freshman starting behind an offensive line that lost its best starter to a foot injury; a defense that seems to regard yardage against as a Christmas present to the opposition; and a squad teeming with inexperience. He's only a freshman starting his first college away game.
There's no such thing as a good loss. For some programs there are, but not at Michigan. A loss is a loss regardless of how well or how badly you lost. There are, however, losses that tell you something about the state of your team. This was one of them. First and foremost, Saturday's game showed how resilient this year's squad is. Despite being down 14 points with less than 5 minutes to go in the game, this team fought back to tie it in the game's dying seconds. In fact, 160 of Michigan 251 total yards on the afternoon came after the 4:47 mark of the fourth quarter. This team is explosive, mentally tough, and will never quit on a game or each other. That is something to be commended.
We can also take some solace in the fact that Brandon Graham and his defense limited the Spartan's offensive output in regulation to just 20 points, despite receiving no help from its offense. There are many people who say that time of possession is an over hyped and unimportant statistic. I disagree. When your opponent possesses the ball at a 2 to 1 margin, it's going to wear your defense out. Michigan State had the ball for a mind boggling 39 minutes, 46 seconds in regulation. That's 40 minutes of running full out on defense. If you're looking for a partial explanation for our tackling problems late in the contest and overtime, it could simply be exhaustion from being run ragged by MSU's 20 first downs and 417 yards of total offense. Still, like the offense, the defense is resilient. Their bend but don't break policy limited the Spartans to two field goals and two touchdowns on an afternoon where the score probably should've been worse. I can live with that.
What happened on Saturday was just proof of a simple postulate, a team can only live dangerously for so long before it catches up to them. In five games Michigan has been forced to come from behind in the fourth quarter three times. Saturday's game was the second time they'd been forced to make up a double digit deficit to tie or lead in the fourth. We saw shades of what might happen in the Indiana game. Blown assignments. Tate forcing passes. Holes in the offensive line. Giving up chunks and chunks of yardage. These were all issues we were aware of, yet intentionally (as fans) chose to overlook or convince ourselves would be fixed overnight. They weren't, and they are issues that Michigan will continue to battle for the remainder of what is still a promising season.
4-0 start gone 4-1, this is still a staggeringly young team. Our safeties are freshmen and sophomores. Our Defensive line has one upperclassman. All but one receiver is an underclassmen. Our quarterbacks. When you have a lot of inexperience, you're going to see it at some point. Whether it's hitting people rather than tackling them or forcing a pass you shouldn't, it's going to show. And for the second time in two weeks, it did. This time it cost us.
But to hell with that. This team is exciting. Sure we knew we'd drop one eventually, but I'll take the pulse pounding excitement this team generates over the dirge-like march of last season. We finally had to pay the tab for starting all those young faces, and I'm okay with that. Because by paying that bill, and learning the lessons of a loss on the road to an arch rival, these kids learned something valuable. There's a lot more in their tank than they put on the table on Saturday. When Michigan turned it on, Michigan State damn near crumbled. Three and outs. 92 yard touchdown drives. Sacks. 60 yard TD passes. When they wanted to be, they were unstoppable.
Now they must learn from it. Grow up a little bit. We all knew this game was coming. So did they. Now comes the most critical part. Dealing with disappointment and turning that disappointment into something positive. Working harder than ever to correct those mistakes, bad reads, missed tackles, and poor decisions. There's a lot to play for, and at 4-1 Michigan is still a team to be reckoned with whether it is young or not.
We all knew this game was coming, but we also knew something else was right around the corner. The chance to show that Michigan's youth is growing up.