It was markedly quiet for the latter half of the weekend on the Michigan campus.
Not only because many UofM students made the road trip to Sparty-land, but as a result of a 20-26 loss to “Little Brother,” who this year seemed to have gone through a growth spurt.
The Spartans were physical and unrelenting, as can be expected in a game that traditionally defines their season—what Ohio State is to Michigan, the Wolverines are to the Spartans.
There’s no getting around it—Michigan did not play well in their first road contest against the Michigan State Spartans.
Both the defensive front and backfield were perpetually weak. Time of possession was especially awful, and missed tackles proved costly.
Michigan failed to make or break big plays until the final minutes of the fourth quarter.
Unable to gain major yards for the majority of first down plays, the Wolverines often dealt with long third down possessions. For the most part, the Spartans were able to completely shut down the running game.
Yes, aspects of the game were positive. The intra-state rivalry proved to be yet another down to the wire, intense matchup. Kevin Koger, Darryl Stonum, and Tate Forcier generated some big plays for the Wolverines.
When the offensive line finally clicked, Tate Forcier was able to pass for two touchdowns in the final five minutes of play, sending what had initially appeared a secure Michigan State lead into overtime.
However, the freshman phenom threw an interception to Michigan State, and true freshman Larry Caper carried the ball 23 yards on the third play of Spartan overtime possession to seal a victory for the Spartans.
As Rich Rodriguez commented after the game, Michigan was not sharp—there was no offensive rhythm to make plays and a lack of defensive toughness that ultimately cost the Wolverines in their first road contest of the season.
For Mark Dantanio and the Michigan State Spartans, the game would “define” the remainder of their season and provide a morale boost to a shaky 1-3 record.
In Monday’s press conference, Rich Rodriguez emphasized late-game tackling and blocking issues as two especially poignant problems that need to be corrected.
Beyond basic skills that need to be improved upon, Rich-Rod is right on target in maintaining a national exposure mind-set after a loss to Michigan State.
While Dantonio and the Michigan State Spartans are “defined” by the intra-state rivalry, Rodriguez stresses the critical nature of moving on from the loss, learning from what went wrong, and preparing for the week ahead.
While the Spartans may feel like they just went 5-0, the single loss for the Wolverines signals only that—a loss.
Sure, any loss hurts. Especially a game that garners enormous state-wide attention. However, moving on is exactly what the Wolverines need to do in order to prepare for the Iowa Hawkeyes.
The fans and students stand behind Rich-Rod. Campus sentiment has proven to support a coach who has endured an arduous beginning to his coaching career at Michigan.
Many continue to criticize the loss of Michigan-native players—but there is no denying that this young team has incredible potential. The Wolverines have proven much better than anyone could have expected.
Nevertheless, the spark was not there for Michigan last Saturday—the Hawkeyes will prove more than a crushing explosion if that spark is not ignited this week.
With Carlos Brown possibly out this weekend, the Wolverines are looking for big plays from Brandon Minor, and accurate, (preferably freshman-proof), passing from Tate Forcier.
The University of Michigan campus stands behind Wolverine football—there is resolute faith that this program is headed in the right direction.
As difficult as it may be to endure a loss after four straight wins, it must be endured. Rich-Rod exemplifies this mindset. Learn from past mistakes, address what must be corrected, and move on. No doubt, the Wolverines will work fervently this week in practice to do just that—both in game time performance and overall morale.
Michigan intensity must be visible this weekend in order to contend against a powerful Iowa defensive line. If the Wolverines live up to their potential, a 2008 Wisconsin-esque upset could be in the making.