Michigan Football: 5 Most Important Takeaways from September
Michigan's road to 4-0 hasn't been smooth.
In fact, the first month of the season has been anything but predictable—a stark contrast to what was expected from the No. 19-ranked Wolverines. Two slip-ups against middle-of-the-road competition raises concern when forecasting the rest of Team 134's fall.
After taking two steps forward, quarterback Devin Gardner finds himself worse off than from when he started. Entering 2013, Gardner, a 6'4", 210-pound redshirt junior, was thought to be a Big Ten player of the year candidate. A solid five-game slate in 2012 certainly provided plenty of optimism.
But he's struggling to make ends meet on the field. Likewise is true for the offensive line, led by senior All-American left tackle Taylor Lewan, and the secondary, which has been anchored by redshirt sophomore Blake Countess, who has three picks on the year.
If there's one thing that can be taken away from September, it's that Brady Hoke must go back to the drawing board. His team is talented enough to win 10 games, now the third-year coach has to find a way to fit the pieces together.
This slideshow will cover a few thorns in the side of the Wolverines, who open Big Ten play Oct. 5 with Minnesota at "The Big House."
Spirit of 'Team 134' Isn't Broken
Maintaining continuity through turbulent times is the sign of a strong locker room.
Facing strong criticism from fans and analysts has to be difficult to endure. However, it seems as if the Wolverines are conducting themselves with a business-as-usual mentality.
Tight bonds are typical of teams that rise above circumstances and meet expectations after a bumpy launch. "Team 134" is such a team.
Former Michigan basketball standout Dugan Fife recently took notice of exemplary teamwork:
So proud to see Devin Gardner, Jeremy Gallon and other M athletes visiting sick kids at Mott's hospital tonight. That's Michigan!#goblue— dugan fife (@dugfife) September 20, 2013
Results off the field can lead to results on the field. Drew Dileo took the time to credit Gardner's work ethic:
It'll take more than a few pats on the back for the Wolverines to right the ship. Time, obviously, isn't on their side; the Big Ten gauntlet starts Saturday. But it's difficult to bet against a group of guys who truly play for one another. Their social-media interaction only paints part of the portrait. Team 134 is a closely knit band of brothers.
Consider Reevaluation of Michigan
The good news was delivered in the previous slide.
So, here comes the bad news.
It may be time to reevaluate the Wolverines. The season is far from lost, and, yes, Michigan is talented enough to win 10 games.
But that doesn't mean that it will. Plenty of "talented" teams fail to deliver each season. This could be such a fall for the Wolverines if they don't make a statement against the Minnesota Golden Gophers this weekend.
This week isn't a make-or-break. But it's in the neighborhood. A loss to Minnesota would make it extremely difficult to see more than eight or nine victories, while a win would provide enough to stay on par with a 10-win year.
The same could be said for next week and maybe the week after that. Pick one; they're each important. A class performance in the conference-opener is necessary.
To quote Sir Charles Barkley, "Anything less would be uncivilized."
Secondary Needs Attention
Michigan's defense hasn't been anything to brag about.
On paper, this year's secondary looked to be close to what the Wolverines had in the late 1990s, minus Charles Woodson of course. With experience from Blake Countess and Courtney Avery complementing an emerging Raymon Taylor, the defensive backs were supposed to be an ace up Greg Mattison's sleeve.
Other than Countess, who has three picks this season, the secondary has become a primary area of concern. The deep ball hasn't yet toppled the Wolverines.
The key word is "yet."
UConn's Chandler Whitmer was on to something. He looked comfortable in the pocket, while dissecting Mattison's defense. Akron's Kyle Pohl was a bit more mobile, but he, too, had success in the pocket.
Whitmer's stats appear a bit misleading. Far from impressive at first glance, most of his key plays and production came in the second half of his team's 24-21 loss in Week 4.
His big game versus Team 134 wasn't a prelude to success; he lost, 42-14, to Buffalo in Week 5. That throws another smudge on Hoke's win.
As for Pohl, his Zips have losses to Louisiana-Lafayette (35-30) and Bowling Green (31-14). Yep, there goes more dirt being kicked on the Akron victory.
The Wolverines' pass defense is No. 8 in the Big Ten, giving up 232 yards each Saturday. That won't be sufficient when it comes time to play the pass-happy Ohio State Buckeyes on Nov. 30. It won't be enough to get past Northwestern's fast pace either.
More Desmond Morgan
Jake Ryan remains sidelined, but the linebackers aren't lacking push or power.
Desmond Morgan, a junior, has done well through four games. If not for his interception against UConn, Michigan could be 3-1.
That play counted for something, and the folks at Athlon were paying attention.
Desmond Morgan named Athlon Sports Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week.— Michigan Football (@umichfootball) September 23, 2013
Morgan has a high ceiling of potential. He's proven reliable when called upon, so it should come as no surprise to see his defense get rewarded. At 6'1" and 228 pounds, he's the next best thing for Michigan until Ryan returns.
With an average of six per game, Morgan is second in team tackling to Thomas Gordon, who gets 6.7 per game.
Offense Needs Two-Back System
Offensive coordinator Al Borges is a fan of the one-back style. But he's not opposed to the two-back either.
So the question is why he hasn't plugged in more than Fitz Toussaint into the backfield. Derrick Green...De'Veon Smith...Justice Hayes...Thomas Rawls.
The man has options, but it seems like he refuses to give anyone but Toussaint carries. As the senior, Toussaint's job is to lead the group of running backs. Thus far, he's been average when measuring his stats against potential.
Worth noting, he's recovering from leg surgery. He'll probably need a couple of weeks to regain his step. He showed a burst with a season-high 120 yards versus UConn, which, along with Morgan's pick, helped vault Michigan to a win.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.