Despite Michigan’s second straight 1-2 start, this point in the season feels better than it did last year. With a senior-laden team a year ago, Michigan was expected to compete for a national championship. Those dreams were dashed by Appalachian State and Oregon, leaving Mike Hart to guarantee a victory over Notre Dame and Lloyd Carr to stoically pronounce that Michigan will battle back.
This year, with a host of freshmen at the skill positions and a new coaching staff and offensive system, Michigan sits in the same position. If the expectations weren’t considerably lowered entering this season, then reality has sunk in by now.
In the '70s and '80s, Bo Schembechler built his teams on taking care of the ball and executing the fundamentals better than the opponent.
After Michigan’s six-fumble performance at Notre Dame, Rodriguez promised, “Michigan football will be back.”
What he was talking about was, while Michigan isn’t going to win every game this season and play in a BCS bowl, it can take better care of the ball and do the fundamental things needed to win, as has been Michigan’s calling card the past 40 years.
No coach in the country would envy the position Rodriguez walked into—a team that lost its top quarterback, top running back, top two receivers, and four of five offensive linemen. The backup quarterback, who earned valuable playing time last season, transferred, and those who returned had no experience in the spread offense.
With so much inexperience, there was no way to predict how Michigan would start the season. But now, with a body of work, Rodriguez can assess the performance and set the course for Big Ten play.
“After three games, I think we have it,” said Rodriguez in his weekly press conference. “I know where we’re at. I know where we need to go. I just hope we can get there. It’s not we’re going to all of a sudden turn it around.
"I said this before, some of the problems we have didn’t happen overnight, and they’re not going to be solved overnight. You’re not going to solve inexperience in just three games. You’re not going to get faster in just eight months. I know what our problems are. Now, we got to try to fix them as fast as we can.”
Most importantly, despite the six turnovers, Rodriguez found his quarterback for the rest of the season and his running back of the future in Steven Threet and Sam McGuffie, respectively.
With each game, the offense will continue to learn and grow; the fumbles won’t happen every week, and the defense will continue to be relied upon.
This is a team that could make some noise in the Big Ten, beginning next Saturday against Wisconsin, as long as the ball-control issues are fixed. I’ll stop short of predicting a win over the Badgers, but with a week off, Rodriguez will have his Wolverines ready to give Wisconsin a run.
The critics can write Michigan off all they want, but Rodriguez will stick to his guns and restore the glory of Michigan football.
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