It wasn't until Coach Rodriguez took off his headset and started walking out to midfield for a post game handshake that I finally allowed myself to breathe.
After two weeks of Kool Aid drinking and visions of New Years Day bowl games dancing in Michigan Fans' starry eyed heads, a tidal wave of reality came crashing down on the Ann Arbor shores. That's probably too many metaphors for a single sentence, but I don't care. I'm still trying to figure out what the hell I witnessed on Saturday.
After the Notre Dame game I wrote the following:
Saturday's game was simply confirmation of everything we felt about this team heading into 2010. The offense is explosive. The defense is suspect. Games will be won and lost in the final minutes of this season's game more often than is healthy for anyone's cardiovascular health. There will be games where Michigan is forced to outscore a pinball machine for the Wolverines to walk away with a win. There will be games where few things make sense. But we knew this already. Saturday just confirmed it.
A week later, that paragraph can just as easily sum up Michigan's tread bare win over D1-AA UMass as it did the win of Notre Dame. Again, the offense put up Playstation type numbers and 42 points. Again, the defense allowed Playstation type numbers and 37 points. This is not a recipe for a New Years Bowl trip. Frankly, it's a recipe for disaster.
Michigan came out of the gate as sharp as a bowling ball, and instead of knifing through UMass as they should've, Michigan's defense spent most of it's day in the gutter. The linebacker pay was atrocious. Jonas Mouton and Obi Ezeh basically pole vaulted backwards in their development, Jordan Kovacs likewise spent a good chunk of his day out of position and the defensive line failed put any pressure on UMass quarterback. It was ugly.
And it's not the the offense was particularly good early on either. On Robinson's first pass, he woefully under threw Roy Roundtree and a sure touchdown had he put more air under the ball. After a "that's more like it" 93 yard touchdown drive, the offense dropped a three and out allowing UMass to roll up a 17-7 lead on the Wolverines.
Sure, things eventually worked out. Michigan scored touchdowns on 6 of its 10 relevant possessions. But UMass also scored on 6 of 10 possessions, with the difference being a field goal rather than a touchdown saved Michigan's bacon.
The bottom line remains that Michigan is going to struggle against teams with large Offensive Lines (UMass offensive line averages just under 6-5 305 pounds. Their LT Nick Speller6-5 335 is a transfer from Syracuse and was on the All-Big East Freshman team last year.) and strong running games. Michigan simply doesn't have the numbers at linebacker or on the Defensive Line to stand up to that consistently. And the total inability to stop the run opened up the secondary, as Robinson was forced to drop the safeties lower to help out in the run game. The numbers are exceeding frustrating to look at. UMass ran the ball 49 times for 217 yards. That led to UMass being able to throw the ball 29 times, and complete 22 of those passes.
The bottom line is Michigan fans need to scale back their expectations for this year. As much as we like to say last season chastened us, everyone got caught up in the Denardification of the offense. We all started talking about the potential for an even better season than we first predicted. Nine wins were a legitimate possibility. After Saturday's performance, I'm sticking with my original predictions. This is a seven or eight win team. Maybe this was a defensive fluke. Maybe the team will improve.
But to borrow from Denny Green, "They are who we thought they were." This is an exciting, dynamic offense led by the most electrifying Michigan quarterback any of us have ever seen. It's also a undermanned, inconsistent defense with all the depth of a kiddie pool.
And we're going to see a lot more shootouts just like this.