Monday, September 15, 2008

The Best 18-point Loss to a Hated Rival Ever

Despite getting concerned e-mails from co-workers and the obligatory playing of the Notre Dame Victory March by my friend Klinsi (whose alma mater, incidentally, lost to New Mexico over the weekend, completing the Pac Ten's perfect 0-4 whitewash at the hands of the Mountain West - you don't get to talk shit when you lose to Los Lobos!), I was not bothered by Michigan's performance on Saturday. Sure, losing to Notre Dame as Tom Hammond audibly reaches climax on each Irish touchdown. I'll grant you that I'd prefer not to watch Michigan fumble the ball 89 times in a game.

But here's the thing: we have an offense! If you would have asked me before the game whether I'd prefer to win an ugly 13-10 game because Notre Dame's offense line is wretched or lose while gaining 397 yards and driving the field repeatedly, I'd have taken the latter. Fumblefest '08 isn't likely to repeat itself. Phil Steele has led the way on this subject: turnovers and points can lie, but yardage cannot (with limited exceptions). Michigan is more likely to get to seven wins if an average offense joins an above-average defense.

More importantly, Michigan will improve faster if Steve Threet takes to the offense and vice versa. Threet ran the scheme adeptly on Saturday. If you looked really hard, the slight outlines of the Chase Daniel Missouri offense could be seen over the horizon. Yeah, it's the distant horizon, but it's better than the "can't complete a pass to save my life" Threet from the previous Saturday. Brian, say it better than I can:

The most damaging part of the whole Terrelle Pryor/BJ Daniels/Justin Feagin fiasco was not necessarily the loss of player X or player Y but the crimp it put in Rodriguez’s development schedule. Until about 3:45 Saturday it appeared Michigan would have to suffer through this year with the Threet/Sheridan duo, then start all over in 2009 with freshmen at the most critical position on the field.

It was at that point Threet threw a third-and-long slant, moved the chains, and embarked on a 16-23 day in extremely unfavorable conditions. Though he fumbled twice and was partially culpable for the Minor fumble, he also looked like an actual Division I quarterback, and in ways that even a potentially horrible Notre Dame defense couldn’t distort: he threw balls to receivers. He made good decisions. He was a freshman in his first road game, played in Hurricane Katrina, and averaged 7.6 YPA.

Yeah, he’ll probably regress, probably play well only in fits and starts, etc., etc. He’ll also go into next year a threat to keep his starting job, giving Michigan a third shot at quarterback competence. That’s more relevant for the rest of this year and the next three than a slippery ball and Notre Dame waking up the Willingham echoes.

Speaking of our buddy Mr. Pryor, the Ohio State-USC ritual sacrifice on Saturday night provided further evidence that Michigan made the right decision by going with Rich Rodriguez. We saw exactly what happens when rock-ribbed Midwestern-style running, defense, and special teams meets similar talent and better coaching: "Conquest" over and over and over again. Jim Tressel coaches Lloyd Carr's style. He's better at it because his recruiting base is better, his defense is better, and his running game is better. That said, the next time you see Ohio State do something on offense that causes you to say "wow, that was interesting" will be the first. If Michigan is going to aspire to beat USC someday, they'll need to do something more than "you know what's coming; now watch us execute it well." The arch-rivals to the South illustrated that point oh so well.

Also, Michigan's loss on Saturday increases the likelihood of Weis E. Coyote sticking around for another year or two, so sliver linings abound!

1 comment:

peacedog said...

That one play in the BCS title game last year on their first or second drive, where they had multiple RBs in and one split out (can't remember if he motioned out). That was interesting.

Twas the only interesting thing I've seen them do in years, tho (disclosure: I've certainly not watched every play from scrimmage for OSU in thus period, or anything close to it).