After a horrifying performance in Week 2, the Big Ten made some adjustments, recalibrated its focus, and dominated in Week 3.
Well, actually not quite.
Ohio State won handily, but the rest of the Big Ten - against Notre Dame, three Big 12 teams, a Pac-12 team, 2 other MACs and a Mountain West squad - dropped 6 of its 9 non-conference games, generally losing close to teams it should beat and getting blown out by Power 5 opponents. Michigan contributed one of the three precious wins for the conference, but they hardly looked better. A 34-10 win over a bottom-level MAC program was close until the tail end of the third, when a 29-yard pass to Jake Butt managed to put the Wolverines up two scores. A guaranteed win? Hardly.
After the game, when asked about being booed at halftime, Hoke had this to say: "We got great fans, and you know what, they got high expectations like we do. As far as the players, they know that they can only control what they can control, and that's playing the best Michigan football they can." The best was nowhere to be found, but at least there were some positives. The defense has yet to allow 300 yards in a game so far, and the running game has started to become a reliable strength - which, in turn, can stabilize the Wolverine offense.
The fact remains, however, that Michigan's athletic advantage over the RedHawks was often the only thing causing plays - and they didn't look nearly as athletic against that team as one would expect. Then again, that's something that will happen when a team isn't playing with fundamentals or hasn't felt the game slow down yet. Miami competed well against Michigan's offensive line, found some creases in the Michigan secondary, and forced three turnovers. The one thing they had no answer for was Derrick Green, who didn't take a single tackle for loss. Granted, he was bottled up regularly, getting a gain of 1-3 yards on 45% of his carries. But when his offensive line opened holes for him, he got 115 yards on 12 carries and almost 10 yards a pop.
What all this means is uncertain. The team's run defense improved dramatically from Week 1 to Week 2, and it's possible the turnover problem might see something similar. The defense hasn't forced many turnovers either, but they have been in the right place more often than not. Michigan's defense has given up 2.6 yards a carry and less than a rushing touchdown per game. They have a rushing offense that's looked good against weak competition (626 yards vs. ASU, Miami) and poor against Notre Dame (35 carries, 100 yards). They have a QB who has underwhelmed, and a backup who looked plenty quick on a 27-yard run toward the end of the game. There are many more questions than answers.
And so, the team moves on to Utah. The potential is there like it always was, and so is the omnipresent potential for disaster. The Wolverines are essentially like Derrick Green, either floundering or else finding a home run, and sometimes on successive possessions. It's a brand of football destined to turn young men old, and old men to the grave.
Hitting the Links Needs to Concentrate
In case you forgot, here's the bad and the ugly. Wait, didn't I say this last week?
One of the most common problems for a football team is a disconnect between the coaches and players. Being a football coach is a superman job - it takes schematic cleverness, business practices Monday to Friday, maturity in the media, and the ability to communicate with college and high school students.
A good question to Brady Hoke in the post-game is whether this was what he wanted to see, outside of a five-minute window in the second quarter. Hoke nodded, talking about how he wanted to see energy from his team in front of the crowd. That is, of course, a part of it, but Hoke's struggles on the road indicate he needs to teach his players how to generate momentum from within and from their playmaking without a home crowd.
The conversation goes back again and again to turnovers, but they also hit on what they saw from the passing game and Devin Gardner versus Derrick Green on the ground.
The eye test is very different from the box score, as Ace writes for MGoBlog in this very well-written piece.
Michigan's image is trending down, and Brady Hoke's popularity in a week he got booed at halftime is holding steady.
From the MLive article: "This week, you're going to see a handful of empty seats and we're going to be transparent about that," chief marketing officer Hunter Lochmann.
This game was telling in the all the wrong ways, writes Nick.
This was some very good analysis by Magnus over at TTB.
Touch the Banner also runs down the list of players who came to watch Michigan play.
Sharp is not liked by many, and while this piece was well-written, and hit close enough to home, it still echoed with his off-the-mark and impish putdowns. He is of course the least of Michigan's worries, though.
That bald eagle was nice, but there is nothing prettier on game day than the Maize and Blue.