Michigan Football: 8 Reasons To Believe 2010 Start Won't Turn Into 2009 Finish
The favored Notre Dame team, clinging to a 3 point lead as the game winds down. With touted QB at the helm, Michigan begins driving, culminating in an exciting last-second touchdown that propels the Wolverines over the Irish.
This wasn't Michigan's 28-24 victory over Notre Dame this past Saturday, no, but Michigan's 38-34 victory over Notre Dame last year in Ann Arbor.
The hero, Tate Foricer, was the talk of the college football world.
It's almost unnerving how similar the story has gone. In fact, it seems all-too-familiar: the Heisman hype, the 2-0 start, and Rich Rod's smiling press conferences.
Have you ever been in a movie, thinking, "Wow! That was an awful ending! I wish I could change it!", well, that's about where Michigan finds themselves - having seen it before, and this time willing to change it.
But what is most important is that this year is not last year, and here's 8 reasons why this year could be totally different.
Michigan's Win Was At Notre Dame
A mere 2 weeks into the season, and Rich Rod already has more road wins this year than all of last season. For those of you keeping track at home, that is 0 road wins last year and 1 road win this year (so far).
Notre Dame is not a friendly environment, and regardless of how good or bad Notre Dame might be this year, there is one certainty: It's hard to win in South Bend. For some perspective, Michigan has only won 5 times at South Bend in the past 33 years.
This road win, against a rival, is invaluable to the momentum of this football team. Under the Wolverines' belts now are two wins against BCS opponents (something most schools cannot say, as the sexy thing to do is play FCS schools or non-AQ opponents).
And, Rich Rod is 2-1 against the Irish now.
Turnover Free Football
At this point last season (for those of you obsessed with drawing the comparisons), we had tallied 2 interceptions by now en route to a total of 15. At this point in the season, we're at 0.
Also, last year, we had 29 fumbles and lost 13. This year, we've fumbled the ball a couple times but always retained possession.
In other words, Michigan is playing turnover free football.
And while I am not naive enough to think that Michigan will never turn over the ball, I realize that last year it was a huge problem - and it directly cost the Wolverines' at least 3 victories.
If Michigan can hold on to the ball as well as they have through the first two games as we go through the Big Ten schedule, then that will take care of a lot of Michigan's problems - it keeps the opponent from potential points and keeps our defense off the field.
Hindsight Is 20/20
Yes, Michigan went 5-7 last year. Contrary to what many believe, that really don't have a huge impact on what will happen this year.
For example, in 2001, Tressel went 7-5 at Ohio State. He followed it up with a national championship the following year.
In 2001, Rodriguez went 3-8 at West Virginia, then he went 9-3 the following year.
Or, for a little closer to home, try Michigan: Carr and the Wolverines went 7-5 in 2005, then followed it up with a run for the title, ranked #2 at 11-0 heading into the Ohio State game (and would've made it if it weren't for a bad call by a ref).
So, counter-examples present, I assert that last year - while intriguing to talk about and interesting to compare to, is not a sufficient indicator of the success/failure of this year's team.
They have been here, and they were ranked last year after beating Notre Dame.
So now they know exactly how not to allow that to happen this year. It starts with not letting things get to their heads, and they're going about it by trying to set aside distractions (i.e. the media).
“Probably, if you asked half the players on the team, they wouldn’t even know that we’re ranked right now,” senior cornerback James Rogers said. “We’re just trying to stay out of the newspapers and stuff like that and don’t even worry about it.”
Heisman talk aside, this guy is special.
He's 43-of-62 (69.3% completion rate) for 430 yards, 2 TDs, and no interceptions. While not staggering, those numbers are by no means bad.
His rushing is even more impressive, leading the nation at 227.5 yards per game, and he combined for 885 yards.
But it's even more his attitude about all of the attention that is more captivating. He doesn't have cable in his dorm room, and he tries to stay off of the internet.
"I was raised to be humble and to keep my eyes on the prize," Robinson said Monday. "You can't just say, 'I'm the man'. That wouldn't be right."
"I don't pay attention to none of that [the hype] — I don't even have cable," he said.
And his teammates seem to feel the same:
Denard is probably the best person to handle all this fame," center David Molk said. "He doesn't search for it, which is probably the most impressive thing. He's not going to be taken by the storm. It's not going to take him off his game."
He's got the stats and the right attitude to be something very special for Michigan. His crisper and more accurate passing and his speed are tough for defenses. He does have to work on his long ball, but the offense works pretty well with his short to mid-range passes. He's fun to watch.
And while he is credited with 885 yards, he'll be the first to tell you it's not just him - it is the line blocking for him, receivers making the plays happen, and downfield blocking so he can, you know, take off for an 87-yard TD in Notre Dame Stadium (the longest such TD run there, ever. It was under, fittingly, a rainbow).
The Defense Is Improved
Key word here is "improved".
Before the "But Michigan gave up 535 yards to Notre Dame" comes, listen here. Yes, Michigan surrendered a ton of yardage to the Irish, but how often did they score? Not often, as Michigan forced the Irish to punt 8 times and snagged 3 INTs. Also, they contained star receiver Michael Floyd (admittedly, they let others shine) but they still were able to contain him.
A few fixes in the secondary from watching film, and we can eliminate the 95 yard TD catch and the 53 yard TD catch before it.
Secondary, while shaky, is managing.
Even more impressive is Michigan's D-Line. Before the season started, the consensus was that Michigan D would basically suck because Graham would no longer be on the line. Mike Martin has stepped up quite nicely, and in fact, our defense is only allowing 146 yards per game rushing - and that's against some very decent backs.
Our defensive line and linebacker play has really stepped up to the challenge - I can see Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen often in the backfield causing havoc, and that's a good place to be. They did let Crist sit there way too long at times, but errors will be eliminated in the next couple weeks leading up to conference play.
Veteran Offensive Line
I said it before the season, and I'll say it now - Michigan's offensive line rocks. Patrick Omameh might be the exception, but the guy's a redshirt sophomore so I suppose we can cut him some slack (only a little). He did set up the key block for Denard's 87 yard TD run, which, as we've established, is the longest such run in Notre Dame Stadium history (and that's a lot of history!).
Senior guard Steven Schilling has really stepped up to the plate, executing at the level Michigan requires him to, and of course, there's David Molk - the glue that holds this formidable unit together.
Watching the game, there's some times one could drive a semi truck through the holes that this line made. Other times there's just enough of a seam for Robinson to fly through before the linebackers actually notice that he's not in the backfield
One only needs to look to just last year when Molk went out for the season against Eastern Michigan. After he left the line, the unit dropped from respected to "Why are we even on the field anymore?". I sincerely believe that had Molk been given the chance to keep the line in tact last year, the Wolverines would've been at a bowl (at bare minimum) last year.
But alas, it's 2010, and provided everyone stays healthy (have you heard that enough lately?) things are looking good for this unit. It won't matter who is running - Robinson, Smith, or Shaw, they'll have the holes to make it through.
Michigan's Got Talent (at Running Back)
Admittedly, you likely haven't seen the talent that Michigan's got in the backfield quite yet, as Denard has been too busy stealing the show, and not even really stealing the show, pretty much just being the show... but I digress.
Rich Rod possesses a stable of running backs - Fitzgerald Toussaint, Michael Shaw, Vincent Smith, Stephen Hopkins. There's plenty of talent there, and expect to see them (or whoever starts among them) to start seeing more carries and an increased role.
After all, a QB taking ~30 hits a game is a little scary, so these guys will step in and alleviate some of the pressure.
Michigan has had no trouble establishing the ground game, winning handily in the trenches in both games, and only expect the ground attack to get more fierce as the question moves from "Is Denard going to run or pass" to "Is Denard going to run, pass, or am I going to have to hit someone else?"
As defenses pick up on Denard's style and attempt to contain him, lanes (and hence, opportunities) will open up for the backs to flex their muscle, and it's just a matter of time before we get there. Luckily we have a couple weeks against respectable, but not upper-level talent, to get everything set.
There's sufficient talent at the receiver position for Michigan to be a threat through the air in addition to the ground. Roy Roundtree has started to break out a bit, but the position group remains loaded with weapons like Darryl Stonum, Junior Hemingway, and Martavious Odoms.
They're not getting the flashy, long-range passes, but as Michigan's offensive drives continue, they're catching the mid to short-range passes - for 5-12 yard gains, occasionally the 20+ yard toss. Roy Roundtree gelled well with Forcier last season, and I can only hope a similar relationship develops between he and Denard.
Last year, we hadn't established a go-to receiver until it was too late, this year, I think we're already there. Michigan has games against UMass and BGSU to get some reps in for the receivers before conference play starts.