Butterfingers! Michigan Wolverines Fumble Away The Game

Keith SheltonAnalyst ISeptember 13, 2008

It's not too often that the Michigan Wolverines look like the Detroit Lions when they take the field for a football game. It's also not too often you see a Michigan team turn the ball over six times.

In a game that often decides how the season will go for the respective teams, Michigan laid a big fat egg today.

Notre Dame fans can finally stop holding their breath. Their team won a meaningful game for the first time in over a year. I only say meaningful, however, because this is a rivalry game.

Michigan and Notre Dame were both unranked when they met for the second year in a row. Charlie Weis' Fighting Irish were thoroughly owned by the Wolverines the previous two seasons by scores of 38-0 and 47-21 and he only needed to tear his ACL and MCL today to finally beat Michigan.

Charlie Weis's freak injury aside however, Michigan wasn't prepared from the very start.

On Michigan's first kickoff return, Cissoko fumbled the ball and was barely able to recover in time to get Michigan to about the 10-yard line to start things off. Four plays later, Brandon Minor fumbled on a screen pass and this time, Notre Dame recovered.

The Irish would score a few plays later to go up 7-0. On the ensuing kickoff, Shaw fumbled the catch and the Irish again recovered. A few plays later they would go up 14-0.

Just minutes into the game, Michigan had fumbled the ball three times, twice on the kickoff return. They would fumble the ball six times during the game, losing four of them.

Perhaps the most costly fumble came with Michigan deep in Notre Dame's red-zone with a chance to get within one touchdown. Grady would fumble away that chance inside the five yard line and Notre Dame would again recover.

Although the final score would be 35-17 Notre Dame, Michigan largely beat themselves today. Sure, take the 14-0 Notre Dame lead away, and the Irish still would have won 21-17, but it also would have been a different football game.

I'm without an explanation for Michigan's huge problem of holding onto the ball today. Most of their fumbles came before it started raining. That, and Notre Dame did not have a problem hanging onto the ball; they didn't fumble once.

Notre Dame looked OK when their offense had to go more than 10 yards to score, but not great, except for one drive when Clausen threw two long passes for the touchdown.

Nick Sheridan would enter the game at quarterback in the fourth quarter when the game was out of hand to relieve a limping Steven Threet. He would throw two interceptions however, and all but removed himself from the quarterback competition.

Simply put, this was a huge failure by Michigan today. It wasn't without its bright spots, however.

Running Back Sam McGuffie is largely establishing himself as the best freshman running back in college football. After the Wolverines went down 21-0 to Notre Dame, it was McGuffie who gave Michigan a chance to come back. He danced around the Notre Dame defense all day, displaying the flash and dazzle shown in his Youtube videos.

McGuffie would finish with 131 yards rushing and 47 receiving yards with a touchdown. He left the game in the third quarter after falling awkwardly.

Steven Threet also finally established himself as the starting quarterback for this team. Threet looked very poised and managed the game as well as a freshman could after falling behind 21-0. He finished with 175 yards and one touchdown.

Early in the game Threet made a crucial play on third down with his feet, rushing for 18 yards and keeping the drive alive. Later in the game however, he was seen limping. I have to say though, it was great seeing a Michigan quarterback not be a statue for once.

Finally, Zoltan Mesko showed some athleticism I didn't know he had on a 4th down play early in the game. Michigan faked the punt and Mesko ran for 13 yards to keep the drive alive. Lloyd Carr would have never tried something like that, and it was nice to see Rodriguez take a risk and have it pay off.

However, for every bright spot on offense, there was an inefficiency by the defense.

Last year Michigan's defense sacked Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen eight times which largely contributed to the rout. This year, Clausen wasn't sacked once. It can't all be attributed to Notre Dame's offensive line, however. Multiple times, Michigan got heavy pressure on Clausen. Each time, Clausen threw the ball away before he took a sack.

This shows maturity on Clausen's part. He now recognizes when he can't make a play and rather than take a sack, he gets rid of the ball.

Michigan's cornerbacks also looked outmatched for most of the day, as Clausen and his best receiver, Golden Tate, put on a show. When it appeared that Michigan made a good defensive play, pass interference was called on Morgan Trent and Donovan Warren respectively.

Frankly, it was embarrassing to see Michigan turn the ball over that many times in one game and not be able to hold onto the ball on a simple kick return.

However, the offense made huge strides today and so there is hope for the future.

Michigan is 1-2, which is exactly where they were after the Notre Dame game last year.
The Wolverines have a big game against Wisconsin next week, and with the offense improving, they just might have a chance at the upset.

They'll need to hang onto the ball, though.


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