M-barrassing? Yes, but Not the End of the World


By Mario DiCicco

There are no positives that Michigan can take out of Saturday night’s thrashing at the hands of the Alabama Crimson Tide. Well, other than the fact that the Wolverines won’t face a team as tough, strong, and fast as the Crimson Tide for the rest of the season. They simply fell flat on their collective faces and suffered a humiliation that was tough to watch, especially for the Michigan fans who had shelled out a bunch of money to go down to Dallas, Texas and see that performance. Alabama showed very painfully just how far Michigan really is from being a perennial national title contender, but that wasn’t the expectation heading into this season to begin with. Winning the Legends division and the Big Ten title game have been the stated goals and those are both still very much attainable. But the first game of 2012 showed that some things have to change for Michigan to be successful going forward.

For starters, whatever offensive game plan that head coach Brady Hoke and offensive coordinator Al Borges made for Alabama needs to be put in a fire pit and burned. It played right into the Tide’s hands defensively, and made quarterback Denard Robinson as one-dimensional as One Direction. (ask your ten year old tween)

Coaches can work with him all they want on his mechanics and footwork as a pocket passer, but he’ll never be a consistent good/great thrower. (RE: Tim Tebow) That’s not his M.O. and it never will be. He’s a playmaker who a majority of the time makes the big play mostly with his legs when he has to have it. Whether or not the coaching staff purposely all but erased the running option of Robinson’s game Saturday night to protect him for the rest of the season, we’ll never know. But there were moments during the game where the staff should’ve used better judgment with him. In the second half, down by four touchdowns and already injuring his shoulder and back, there’s no reason for Robinson to be in the game at that point. If they were so worried about keeping him healthy for the season, then he would’ve been taken out long before the halfway point of the fourth quarter. There won’t be much success on offense at any point if the coaching staff makes Robinson a pocket passer, they have to live and die by his legs and decision making.

Defensively, this unit took the biggest hits against Alabama, both on the field and on the depth chart. Sophomore cornerback Blake Countess went down in the first quarter and Hoke explained at his Monday press conference that Countess suffered a torn ACL which will end his season. Junior Courtney Avery will take over his spot where he’ll have plenty of opportunities to redeem himself as he struggled in pass coverage in the first half after Countess was injured.

The defensive line was simply mauled by the Tide’s offensive line, but as bad as they looked against them, they’ll take the experience of playing against practically an NFL line and learn from it. They’ll be a much better unit for it as the season goes on. Will Campbell, Craig Roh and Jake Ryan are all much better players than they showed themselves to be Saturday night and know the pressure that they’re under filling Ryan Van Bergen and Mike Martin’s cleats after their departures to the NFL. For the defense to have somewhere near the amount of success it had a year ago, those three must be the foundation, not the problem.

Looking down the road, Michigan can’t feel sorry for themselves this week as Air Force opens the home slate for the Wolverines this Saturday. The Falcons bring a tricky option attack that could cause headaches for the Maize and Blue if they’re asleep to start this game. Notre Dame looms even larger now on September 22 as the nighttime showdown in South Bend could prove to be a turning point one way or another for the Wolverines.

College football is as much about momentum and confidence as it’s about X’s and O’s. After a year in which everything went right for Michigan in 2011, leaving this September with two losses could start triggering questions inside the players’ heads of whether or not they really were just lucky in regards to last season. Bigger showdowns loom in October and November, but Michigan must first get out of September without losing anymore games, bodies, and confidence. If they do, they’ll very much be in position to accomplish their 2012 goals, and leave the possibility of opening 2013 in Pasadena, California wide open.

Mario DiCicco is a long time Detroit sports fan who writes stories primarily on the Detroit Red Wings and Michigan Wolverines, and on occasion the NFL. He can be found on Facebook, and on Twitter.  Please follow his Twitter handle: @Italian_Beast89