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Michigan-Notre Dame: A Look Back and a Look Forward

Charles WelchCorrespondent ISeptember 15, 2009

ANN ARBOR, MI - SEPTEMBER 12:  Quarterback Tate Forcier #5 embraces head coach Rich Rodriguez as they approach the tunnel after beating Notre Dame 38-34 at Michigan Stadium on September 12, 2009 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  (Photo by Domenic Centofanti/Getty Images)

This past week has been quite interesting as it relates to Michigan football.

At the end of August, most pundits were questioning whether or not Michigan would even get to 6-6 and a bowl game, and now, the Wolverines are getting some conference championship buzz.

Although it's important to keep in mind that it's only two weeks into the season, and Michigan is starting a true freshman at quarterback, there are still some observations of Michigan's performance thus far that are paramount to address.

Michigan is 2-0, has just defeated a high-powered rival ranked in the top 20, and is in good position to equal their win total from 2008 this week. Michigan's freshman quarterback just led a two-minute offense with incredible poise, in a rivalry game that provided multiple opportunities for a true freshman to lose his focus.

Several important plays were made in the game, starting in the first half when Michigan scored on a long drive to take the lead early, followed by a field goal drive when Notre Dame was on a 17-0 run.

Forcier completed a 15-yard pass to Greg Mattews on a 4th-and-11 play from midfield. The ensuing field goal tightened the game back and equalized the momentum.

On the opening possession of the second half the young signal caller led a drive to the 1-yard line that led to no points. That didn't shake this team as the defense came up with a key turnover and the offense responded with a Forcier-to-Koger touchdown pass to take the lead.

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It was 4th-and-3 in the fourth quarter when Tate Forcier made the cover zero pre-snap read that led to a juke and a 31-yard touchdown. If that wasn't impressive enough he threw an interception that led to a Notre Dame touchdown and overthrew a receiver on a key third-down pass play.

After giving up 14 unanswered points Michigan went out and ran their no-huddle spread with excellent execution. Forcier made a couple key third-down pass conversions for first downs. After a 1st-and-goal touchdown pass that was dropped after young Tate's magician-like escape act, they came up with the big game-winning connection.

What can we actually take from all this?

Michigan does have questions no doubt, as does everyone in the Big Ten. Michigan's lack of depth at defensive back was quite apparent, although they were facing one of the premier passing attacks in the entire country. Tackling was weak at times and the defense often looked badly overmatched.

However, MSU just lost a home game to a MAC school in which they had questionable discipline. The Spartans are facing a rough stretch at Notre Dame and at Wisconsin before hosting Michigan. Wisonsin beat NIU at home by eight and went to double overtime with Fresno St. at home.

Iowa looked good this week but horrible against Northern Iowa. The Hawkeyes still have a lot to prove with the losses of Shonn Green and Jewel Hampton. Ohio State is by no means as bad as some might imply, but they haven't been dynamic yet, particularly on offense. OSU is very good but not unbeatable by any stretch.

Even Penn State has some steps they need to take in order to truly separate themselves from the rest of the pack, as they aren't blocking nearly as well as they did a year ago and the running game has been less than stellar against less-than-stellar opponents.

What I can draw out of Michigan is the same as the rest of the Big Ten. There are a lot of games to go, but it's anybody's conference. Nobody is getting out without at least one loss, so you have to take it a week at a time. Michigan does have a couple of encouraging distinctions between themselves and the rest of the conference.

First of all, they are heading in the opposite direction, and by all appearances, at a very fast pace. There are a lot of teams that have not only questions where they are heading this season, but have a lack of dynamite in their offense that is so apparent it will affect them in the future.

Also, a related subject is Michigan's quarterback situation. They are starting a true freshman at the position, however should that actually be encouraging to UM's opponents? With the output of Tate Forcier in the first two games, this offense is only going to get better if it stays healthy. When Minor, Hemingway, Stonum, Mathews, and Koger all are 100 percent healthy—look out!

The depth at quarterback with Denard Robinson is going to get better, as well. If this guy can improve his passing and knowledge of the offense the way Forcier has, or even provide a legitimate threat to throw, his speed is incredible. Ultimately, Michigan definitely has turned a 180 in the last nine months.

Is Michigan back? I'd ask how to define "back." Big-Ten competitive? Yes. They are what they are, and as long as they stay healthy they are only going to get better. They will make mistakes just like everyone else, but Michigan's name has just been dropped into the hat. They will be competing for a Big Ten title in November.