“Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes, well, he eats you.” -The Stranger, The Big Lebowski
Happy Monday, Wolverine faithful! By now, our hangovers have subsided, tears have dried and apologies have been issued to father-in-laws for breaking an expensive vase (sorry again, Mark).
Saturday night’s game was about as enjoyable as a paper cut; having a colonoscopy conducted with a fireman’s hose; listening to J. Cole. But alas, it’s over and although the wound is still fresh, allow me try and alleviate your suffering.
I am, by curse, an optimist: I perceive my reality in an honest, always positive light. Yes, this has led me endlessly trying to reconcile the irreconcilable such as last year’s loss at Ohio State and the ending to The Boy In the Striped Pajamas (seriously, what the hell). But for the most part, justifications for my optimism are easy to find.
I know two things to be fact: Michigan will not play a game this poorly again and the season remains far from over. Five turnovers, monsoon conditions, an indigent game plan (it’s okay to criticize the Messiah), dropped passes, bad play calls and missed blocks contributed to the worst game of the Harbaugh era. But with that perfect storm of blunders, Michigan was STILL in contention to win during the closing minutes. Are we even sure State is bad? The 3-9 jokes swiftly died (RIP) and so must fans’ “little brother” arrogance when perceiving this team.
The Spartans feature the nation’s fourth best defense and a quarterback who is third in the conference in total yards-per-game. Quality of opponents can be dissected, but the season is halfway over. Not to mention, Mark Dantonio always has his team prepared for Michigan (if Sparty wins next year, Michigan will be 3-9 against State in the Dantonio era and I’m sure no one from Lansing will point that out). Now, I’m not looking for any rah-rah moral victories or trying to absolve Michigan’s sins, but as much blame as the Wolverines’ offensive ineptitude deserves, Michigan State’s defense deserves equal credit.
The rare combination of Michigan’s unforced errors, bad weather and a decent team got us to this point: a loss. But the season is not over, folks! It is time to re-board the bandwagon, hype train or any other metaphorical vehicle you please.
Michigan has seven games remaining: at Indiana, at Penn State, Rutgers, Minnesota, at Maryland, at Wisconsin and Ohio State. No need to waste your time on Rutgers because the Scarlet Knights are a guaranteed victory as the Ash era is going up in flames.
Maryland features a defense incapable of stopping a toilet. Indiana is the worst team in the Big 10 in turnover margin so count on Lagow to ease the Wolverines’ offensive burden. Minnesota’s offense is ranked 97th and the team only managed 80 rushing yards against a bad Maryland defense. Once again, count on this offense to help the Wolverines more than themselves.
The remaining three opponents are the games Wolverine fans have had circled for a long time. Each feature a top 15 ranked defense nationally, but none are still statistically as good as Michigan State.
Ohio State struggles to stop the pass as evident against Oklahoma and J.T. Barrett is still playing quarterback (and school). Harbaugh cannot afford to go 1-5 against rivals unless he likes his seat the way Bobby Petrino likes his motorcycle passengers. This will be the most important game of the Harbaugh era and I expect to see the very best of Michigan.
The dreaded “white out” game against Penn State. This environment will be chaotic but manageable. Ohio State lost last year in Happy Valley, but severely outplayed the Nittany Lions before blowing a 17-point fourth quarter lead. Also, what travels well? Defense. If Michigan’s defense can contain Saquon Barkley, the game will be close. Offensively, the Wolverines need to wear down Penn State’s front. Against Iowa, Penn State’s defense crumbled in only 20 minutes of action against the 99th ranked offense. When Penn State most needed their defense in this game, they took a sick day.
Wisconsin will be another tough road game, but once again defense travels well. If Michigan can make Wisconsin offensively one-dimensional, the Badgers will struggle to move the ball. Couple that theory with the fact the Badgers let Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson mount an improbable comeback in Madison (before his intrinsic ineptitude regained control) and you have a clear path to success.
Michigan’s defense makes every game winnable and this is a luxury that cannot be overlooked. The Wolverines may have faced the best defense they will all season and it still took a hurricane and the worst offensive showing of Jim Harbaugh’s tenure to secure a four-point loss.
I still believe in this team’s potential and you should too.
You may disagree, but as my hero The Dude said, “Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”