On a chilly Halloween afternoon, University of Michigan students watched a spooky scene unfold on their television screens.
The curse of the defensive spread once again prevented the Wolverines from making an impact. The zone reads were cluttered and inconsistent. The defense looked like a bunch of dim-witted zombies running every which way.
Okay, okay. So maybe that’s a bit excessive. However, most were left baffled after the Hallow’s Eve contest—most conspicuously, because any sign of mental-toughness or perseverance was completely absent the entire second half. The team seemingly gave up.
The only notable exception was defensive end Brandon Graham—even on the screen it is conceivable that this guy gives his all no matter the circumstances. There have been positive moments for the defense, but a noticeable regression cannot be ignored after the Wolverines’ most recent performance. Before last weekend, Illinois did not score more than 17 points against an FBS team all season. Cumulative points per game—not per quarter.
Although Halloween festivities carried on per usual on the University of Michigan campus later that evening, conversation often referred to the Illinois catastrophe. Had a skeleton in the closet been revealed? Did the team actually not care?
Those accusations are most definitely not true. As Stevie Brown emphasized, bowl-game eligibility is now a poignant goal and motivation for the Wolverines to keep pushing. A bowl-game appearance will not resolve all of the issues and concerns of the 2009 season—but it will signify that progress is being made.
Spirits are low on campus. After a promising “W” tally in the initial start to the season, the perpetual downward cycle is disappointing to say the least. The same exuberant, nerveless Tate Forcier is making mistakes. The defense is repeatedly inconsistent and misses key tackles.
In Wednesday’s press conference, Rich Rodrigeuz addressed the defensive woes. “We’ve gotta do enough defensively just so they don’t always know what we’re gonna be doing…you can be too simple. So part of it’s that, and then the other part of it is just physically being able to get there to make the play, whether it’s speed or strength or what have you.”
But the defense is not the only point of concern for Rich Rod, the rest of the coaching staff and for the players themselves. Confidence proves yet again to be an especially troublesome problem. Coach Rodriguez stated on Monday that “things started going down hill and the guys lost confidence…we’ve got to learn to fight through that. I don’t want our guys to hang their heads all week…we’ve gotta learn from it and move on.”
It seems that this sentiment is being shared with students as well. The lack of game-examination in the aftermath of Illinois is almost an unspoken commandment on the Ann Arbor campus. Sure, everyone is disappointed. Many are shocked that Michigan played so poorly, gave up so many red zone possessions, showed little consistency…no need to continue.
Forgive and forget; live and learn. Most importantly, move on to the next task at hand.
In Monday’s press conference, Coach Rodriguez emphatically relayed that this team is not good enough to play poorly and win. A running list is not necessary in this case- Rich Rod was obviously referencing what happened in Champaign.
However, this doesn’t mean that a bowl game is impossible—that this is a poor-quality team, or most crucially, that this season is over.
Purdue is a beatable team—perhaps not a Delaware State level contender, but not an overbearing danger nonetheless. With parent’s weekend festivities on the horizon, students and their alumni parents will be in high spirits leading into this weekend. Equally necessary for the team to maintain confidence on the field are for fans and students to exude the same.
In yesterday’s press conference, Coach Rodriguez emphasized that Tuesday’s practice was “spirited.” Let’s hope this enthusiasm carries over into Saturday’s Big House performance; it may very well be the missing element to what will carry this team through a haphazard, but reparable season.