Posts Tagged ‘michigan football’

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Denard Robinson Should’ve Been Left Off the All-America Team

12.13.10

Awards, much like polls and surveys, tend to be way too subjective for my taste and the Football Writers Association of America’s All-America team is no exception.

Though I have to say, as a Michigan fan, I’m stoked to report that UM quarterback phenom Denard Robinson made the first team, which is a who’s-who of the best college football players in the nation.  What strikes me as a bit of a slap in the face, however, is that he wasn’t selected in the position that he plays.  Instead he was honored as a running back, alongside Heisman runner-up LaMichael James from Oregon.

Now, stats-wise, it makes total sense: Robinson was the third leading rusher in the nation.  Yes, you read that right.  Not the third leading rusher amongst quarterbacks, but among all running backs in the Football Bowl Subdivision.  In fact, he was only 6 yards shy of the second-leading rusher and less than 50 yards away from topping the aforementioned James.  To say that Robinson had a banner year is being modest.

But he didn’t accomplish these record stats as a running back. He did them as quarterback. True, he clearly runs.  A lot.  And does it remarkably well.  Just going by his numbers, it seems like he could be a  tailback on nearly any team in the country.  But that’s not his position at Michigan.  Nor was it his position in high school.  It’s not how Rich Rodriguez recruited him nor is it what he intended to play when he came to Ann Arbor.

He’s a quarterback. Just because he puts up better numbers than almost all other designated running backs in the country doesn’t mean that his position changes anymore than a wide receiver who’s excellent at running reverses becomes a running back simply because of that facet of his game.

Normally I’d say that, regardless, it’s an honor to be named to the All-America first team even if it’s for the wrong position.  And I do think that he did enough this season to warrant such recognition.  The reality is that running is an increasingly integral part of a college quarterback’s game, so to acknowledge his impressive talent but then essentially claim that it’s not part of his role as QB1 is to basically say that he’s not great enough at his position for the honor — so why bend the justification?

If the voters felt that he was not quite good enough all-around to make it on the team as a quarterback, they should’ve just left him off the list.

Denard Robinson is the starting quarterback at the University of Michigan.  He should be recognized as such.

Image courtesy of Mike Pettigano’s Flickr Photostream.

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Michigan Football Deserves Better From Fans

12.11.10

Michigan fans at the moment generally consist of two separate camps: those who are skeptical of head coach Rich Rodriguez’s ability to win but are willing to give him another year to see; and those who have zero confidence in him producing a competitive team ever in Ann Arbor.

Both parties want the same thing: to win.  It seems that the different lies mainly in patience.

Joe Okubo at Bleacher Report writes his piece as if he’s from the former group, but he really is a member of the latter. His main point is that RichRod has not had a single signature win nor has he fielded a team that competitive in big games once in his three seasons coaching the Maize and Blue:

How do you let a walk-on QB with a plethora of injuries to almost five starters still pass for 250 yards and look like a Heisman candidate?  How do you let a team you know is going to run the ball torch your defense for six TD’s and almost 600 yards on the ground?  These are just a few things that have been bothering me and we’re only talking about this year.

It’s extraordinarily frustrating how we managed to lose to both Penn State and Wisconsin this year, I agree.  As a Michigan fan, it was difficult to watch and tougher to stomach afterward.  The thing is, though, the issues that Joe brings up are both results of the same issue that affected the team all year: the ridiculously green defense. So when Joe says that these are just a few things that have been bothering him, he’s really saying this is the one thing that’s been bothering me all year long.

It’s one thing – admittedly, a big thing – but one, nonetheless.  It wasn’t as if Michigan inability to stop Wisconsin once during their 30 straight running plays in the second half of that contest was due to Rodriguez not expecting Badgers coach Bret Bielema to run Clay/Ball/White up the gut; it was because the freshmen-led, smallish Michigan defense was no match for the bruising front line and bowling ball halfbacks from Madison.

You could argue that the 3-3-5 defensive scheme is deeply ineffective, and I would agree — though, would any formation have made our rag-tag group of barely-out-of-high-schoolers any better at stopping opposing offenses?  I doubt it.

The fact of the matter is with Rich Rodriguez at the helm we are not competitive.  It was never more apparent than in this year’s OSU game.  A friend and I were talking about what adjustments he could make to have a fighting chance of winning this game.  We had none.  Sure there are injuries to some key players, I understand that.

The teams’ performances against OSU over the past three years have been abyssmal.  We had a decent first half this year, but failed to capitalize on our rare defensive stops and couldn’t put it together on offense either.  But, basing the team’s level of competitiveness based on one game isn’t fair.   We can point to other games where we were clearly competitive, notably both games against Iowa this year and last.

Back in Iowa City in 2009, against a formidable Hawkeye squad ranked 14th in the nation, our true freshmen quarterbacks not only kept us in the game, but nearly marched down the field to a last-minute win if not for an ill-advised interception toss to seal the deal.  It was an extremely entertaining game; and also one in which we had a shot at winning the entire time.  Fast forward to this year against much of the same returning Hawkeyes who were now seniors and ranked 15th in the nation and, while the Maize and Blue started off rusty and got down early, they rallied back within striking distance until — again — interceptions sealed their fate.  Wolverine mistakes kept them out of the “W” column, but not for lack of trying.  Both games could’ve been won.

Same for the 2009 game against Michigan State — we lost in OT.  The 2008 game against Wisconsin, where we managed to actually secure a win, which didn’t happen much that season.  They’ve also beaten Notre Dame two of the past three years under RichRod (a team that ended up being quite competitive in their own right, finishing strong this season).

But for fans like Joe, none of this matters.

For those of you who think he’s winning 9 games next year, great, I appreciate your optimism.  But unless he’s beating MSU, PSU, Iowa and of course OSU, I won’t be happy.

Nine wins and a solid bowl game victory with a bunch of sophomores and juniors should be something we all are happy about. It would mean national title aspirations for 2012, something every Michigan fan wants to get back to.  Joe and I want the same thing; except he seems to want this current young squad to be there already, or, at the very least, no later than next year.  And hey – anything is possible; our offense went from flashes of excitement to 5th in the nation from last year to this year — maybe our defense will make a big leap, as well.

Also, his wishlist for wins is admirable — we’re well overdue for wins over all of those opponents, especially MSU and OSU — but, it’s an extraordinarily tall order even from an experienced, 10-win squad like the 2003 Wolverines who beat OSU, MSU, and Notre Dame… but dropped one to Iowa.  That team went to the Rose Bowl following at 10-win season, pretty much what Bo Schembechler dreamed for every single season.

That said – I’d love to see Michigan beat all of those teams he listed.  It’s been 13 years since a Wolverines squad beat all of them in the same season, not coincidentally also the same year that they won the national title.  I don’t imagine our team will be quite there next year, and if they don’t, I won’t consider it to be a total failure like others.  Nor should they.  If Joe had said that he wanted to see us competitive in all of those key games, I’d have stood behind his words wholeheartedly.  But no good fan can rationally expect a national title every year, calling anything less to be a disappointment.

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Michigan Needs to Make Decision on Coach Rodriguez

12.06.10

With the threats of decommitments coming from three- and four-star student-athletes and the sweetened deal extended by Stanford to coveted coach Jim Harbaugh, it remains to be seen what good Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon is looking to get by delaying his decision until after the Gator Bowl in Florida against Mississippi State.

I hoped that Brandon would learn from the gaffes of his predecessor when Bill Martin tried to woo Michigan man Les Miles away from LSU only to have that end in embarrassment, so that now when it comes time to assess the current UM head coach, Rich Rodriguez, he’d be able to handle it with more grace and tact.  Perhaps, this time actually getting the coach he was seeking.

But, that’s assuming that Brandon wants the oft-speculated Harbaugh.  He’s a Michigan man, has had great success at a school lacking a long tradition of winning in football, and seems poised to make a leap to another institution (perhaps the NFL, perhaps UM?).  And even after the embarrassing banquet last week where Rodriguez nearly cried while Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up” playing over the loudspeakers, Brandon has stated that he won’t make a decision on the coach’s fate until the season is over.

By then, though, the decision may have been made for him, with Harbaugh signing off on an extended contract and no other candidates being mentioned.  And if that’s the way that things go, Brandon would be way better served – and so would the entire football program, for that matter – if he’d just stand behind RichRod for one more year, giving those top recruits the confidence that the coach who convinced them to come be a Wolverine would still be the one coaching them on the sidelines during their first year with the team.

Then again: I’m not an athletic director for a major university.  What do I know about hiring a new coach while still employing an embattled coach while in the first year on the job?  I’m sure he’s not just sitting around waiting to see how we do against Miss. State — even if that’s the image he wants to portray — so, hopefully this is all just part of his strategy.  I just can’t imagine that he’s truly teetering between keeping or firing RichRod based on the Gator Bowl.

And if he is… well, we have more problems than may people already think.

Image courtesy of BrokenRhino’s Flickr Photostream.

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A Rational Argument in Favor of Rich Rodriguez Keeping his Job

11.29.10

Another year, another loss to Ohio State. It’s not something that any Michigan fan can stomach, let alone the seventh straight defeat at the hands of our bitter rivals. But what’s the solution? Many are saying – and have been for some time now – that it begins with firing head coach Rich Rodriguez. But, I’m still not ready to jump on that bandwagon.

To blame Rich Rod for all of our woes is failing to see the entire picture. I liken it to those who blame President Obama everything that’s going wrong in our country today. Americans in general have become extraordinarily impatient and short-sighted, with a side of selective amnesia fueled by nostalgia. For Republicans, that means forgetting all about President George W. Bush’s shortcomings and military and economic policies. For those clamoring for Rodriguez’s prompt dismissal, it’s about forgetting that our streak of futility against the Buckeyes started long before his arrival — Lloyd Carr brought us a national title, but he also went 1-6 against Jim Tressel’s crimson-and-gray squads.

Speaking of Carr, there were plenty who were ready for someone new by the time that he stepped down. 1997 feels like a dozen lifetimes ago and this is clearly a “What have you done for me lately?” environment. His inability to take down Mr. Sweater Vest himself, even with the number two team in the nation and a roster of future first-round NFL draft picks coupled with a similarly putrid record in bowl games didn’t do much to solidify his reputation amongst the restless Michigan fanbase. But at least he had the impossible-to-refute response of: “I won a national title, ninjas.” Rich Rod’s best is: “I almost went to the title game but I lost to Pitt one year. I owned the Big East, mothertruckers!”

People will say, the facts are the facts. RichRod is 0-3 versus both Michigan State and Ohio State. He holds one of the worst season records in Michigan history (3-9, his first season at UM). His squads had back-to-back losing seasons for the first time in Michigan history since the 60s. He’s 0-11 against Big Ten teams with winning records at the end of the season.

And I concede these facts. But, the important part is to look at context.

He was hired relatively late in the recruiting season back in 2008, not giving him much time to get the kids he needed for his system his first year — namely, a quarterback who could legitimately run his offense.  That ended in a 3-9 season.  A total debacle.  I give him a mulligan on that one though because of the circumstances: new coach, new scheme, player attrition due to coaching change that was inevitable when going from a pro-style offense to a spread, shortened recruiting time.  It was worse than we’d all hoped, but given what we had, it’s not quite as surprising looking back on it.

So last year was his true first year and he went 5-7.  You know who else went 5-7 in his second season as head coach?  Yup: Jim Harbaugh.  Now, I don’t mean to say that one coach is better or worse than the other, only that for those who think that hiring Harbaugh will instantly make our defense like our old squads we had that were tops in the country with the same roster that we currently have, you’re clearly smoking some good herbal refreshments.  I bring it up because, for many programs going through massive change like the Michigan is going through, there is a curve of excellence.  It takes time to get things moving.  (Also note: that Harbaugh’s first season he went 4-8, not much better than RichRod’s inaugural run.)

Granted, we got smoked in the Big Ten, losing to our main rivals – again – and didn’t finish strong at all.  But remember again: this wasn’t like we had all-Americans all over the field here or something.  It wasn’t like we were underachieving based on the players on the field (which could definitely be argued for Lloyd Carr’s final squad who was full of NFL starters yet couldn’t beat our archrival nor win a bowl game until the last game of their careers.)  Our current players were and have been playing their hearts out every single week.  But they were mainly freshmen last year!  Both of our starting QBs – Denard Robinson and Tate Forcier – were true freshmen leading that offense, which showed flashes but sputtered because, well, they were barely out of high school trying to take on the junior/senior led teams of the Big Ten.  It wasn’t going to happen — save for that miracle against Wisconsin in RichRod’s first season.

And now that brings us to the 2010 campaign. We finished 7-5 in the regular season and made a bowl game for the first time in three years.  We lost to Michigan State and Ohio State again, extending our futility streak even longer.  But, 7-5 is what was pretty much expected of us by just about everyone.  I had hopes for an 8-win season, and I still hold onto that hope because I believe we’ll win our bowl game, making us 8-5 on the year.  You know who else went 8-5 in his third season?  You guessed it: Jim Harbaugh!

The reality is that some vocal Michigan fans haven’t liked Rich Rodriguez since the very beginning.  They wanted change to happen overnight and they wanted to just close their eyes, stomp their feet, and cry about having Michigan football back to the way it was with the click of their heels.  Change doesn’t happen like that.  It’s sometimes long and often hard.  But think about it this way: the worst is over!  The change has happened. The offense was ranked 5th in the nation this year — up until the OSU disaster — and was run by mainly sophomores; the leaps and bounds they made since last year was incredible.  Now, everyone can agree that the defense needs serious help.

But look at the reality there: we lost our two starting, senior cornerbacks (arguably the more porous aspect of our D) Troy Woolfolk and Donovan Warren — one to season ending injury in the beginning of the year and the other because he thought he was ready for the NFL and left early only to not even be drafted.  In an ideal world, those two would’ve been in our secondary and you could argue that thing would’ve been drastically different.  Instead we had true freshmen playing against veteran QB-WR combos like Pryor/Sanzenbacher and Stanzi/Johnson-Koulianos — and, well, we all know how that went.  Our front three were decent and our linebackers are improving.  But when you play sometimes eight true freshmen on a defense in the Big Ten, there’s just not going to be the stout response that we’d like from a maize-and-blue squad.

Short story long: Rich Rodriguez deserves another year. It’d be foolish to pull the plug at this point and change everything over again to a whole new coach and new system when things are noticeably improving.  The kids love the coach.  The kids trust the coach.  And the coach has our kids playing hard.  They never quit even during the embarrassment in Columbus on Saturday when the game was totally out of reach.  I mean, of course they wouldn’t: they’re Michigan men.  And those who stay will be champions.

(And for the record, in Jim Harbaugh’s fourth season, he’s currently 11-1 and has Stanford in the top 5 of the BCS rankings, poised for a big money berth.  I’m not predicting that success for us next year — we’re a different, younger team with a totally different roster — but 9-10 wins is clearly in our sights and attainable.  And, who can honestly be upset with a 9-10 win season?  Are we really that arrogant?)

Image courtesy of larrysphatpage’s Flickr Photostream.

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Why Rich Rodriguez Doesn’t Exude Confidence but I’m Optimistic About Michigan Football Anyway

08.30.10

I’ve supported Rich Rodriguez as Michigan’s head coach since he was hired in 2008 and I still do after all the strife and all the losses we’ve endured for the the past two seasons.

He’s going into his third and most likely decisive year where his job is on the line if you talk to any of the fans.  For those who haven’t liked his hiring since the get-go, even going 9-3 and beating Ohio State wouldn’t be enough to win them over — although, it probably would satiate them for a little bit longer.

Personally, I’m hoping for 8-4 and wins over Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Ohio State.  A tall order, I admit, but I think it’s all well within the realm of likelihood — even if OSU is ranked number two in the preseason AP poll.

Despite giving Rodriguez the leeway to build the program his way, after suffering a couple, rough rebuilding seasons, I can see how hard it is for others to get behind the guy.  And his soundbites don’t exactly instill confidence in the fans.

Rivals.com:

“We made progress last year, but the problem was we had so many dang turnovers toward the end of the year,” Rodriguez says. “We had too many turnovers and negative-yardage plays. Hopefully we’ll get better.

AP:

I know eventually what we’ll have, but in the first game or two, with all of the nerves out there and all that kind of stuff, big Johnny (Falk) will probably have to bring a couple extra pairs of pants in case they make a little mess,” said Rodriguez, referring to the team’s equipment manager.

Sporting News:

We have a pretty good idea already in how our rotation is going to be with the quarterbacks,” Rodriguez told reporters Monday. “But it’s going to be a feel thing. I’m not going to say this guy is going to play 20 plays and this guy is going to play 15 plays. It’s going to be a feel thing and we’ll get them all ready.”

Detroit News:

Every day I come in and wonder, ‘OK, who’s going to separate themselves?‘” Rodriguez said Wednesday after practice. “So that’s been an ongoing process. With three guys, this is probably as unique a situation I’ve been in.

“It may seem frustrating and everybody wants to know (who will start), but as long as they get better every day and eliminate the mistakes tomorrow that they had today or yesterday, then we’ll be OK. That’s the big thing. We don’t want to keep making the same mistakes, and they haven’t been for the most part, but there are some days they do better than others.”

Not exactly what you want to hear from the head coach just days before the kickoff of the 2010 season.

Michigan hasn’t had a bona fide QB1 since Chad Henne graduated after the 2007-2008 season, leaving the big question: who will be taking the snaps?  And when the coach, having had two, full recruiting years under his belt, still can’t make a decision on who will be leading the team down the field on offense less than a week before the first game, it doesn’t exactly exude confidence.

When it comes to the quarterback position, three pretty decent players doesn’t not one great player make.  Actually, that’s never the case, but at least when it comes to other positions like linebacker, wide receiver, or running back, you can fill in by committee without changing much in the way of the game plan — but, when the director of the offense keeps changing, the challenge would be in maintaining consistency throughout the group.

Perhaps he has a plan and feels confidence in his signal callers to the point that they all could lead the time and win.  I don’t know.  But I do know that I’m truly optimistic for this season. I can’t wait for this Saturday’s game against Connecticut. Maybe our three quarterbacks will all gel into some never-before-seen, three-headed QB behemoth.  (Like I said: I’m optimistic.)  And our top recruits on defense will jump into their new roles and play well beyond their years.  And we’ll hit that 8-4 mark and go back to a bowl game.

And we’ll finally beat the Buckeyes for the first time since 2003.

I’ve never coached a team of any kind, but I imagine installing a brand-new system into a program with a bunch of inexperienced players that weren’t recruited for your schemes would come with a fairly long learning curve.  I’ve been patient with RichRod this whole time and I remain so to this day.

Because at the end of it all, it’s Michigan FootballThe maize and blue. And while it’s easy to sit here and say that I’d have done things differently and that we should have hired so-and-so instead and we should never have switched to the spread offense, I’d rather just get behind the school and the team that I’ve loved for so many years and look forward to getting back to our winning ways rather than waste my time wallowing in the losses of the past couple years.

It’s gotta turn around at some point.  It might as well be now.

Image courtesy of Anthony Gattine’s Flickr Photostream