Wolverines Issue of the Week: Fighting through injuries, both physically (Countess) and mentally (27-point loss)
ANN ARBOR -- The Michigan football team was clubbed Saturday in more ways than one.
First, the Wolverines' pride as a program and as a team in 2012 took a heavy haymaker to the head early and often against defending national champion Alabama, as the Crimson Tide made Michigan look like over-matched junior varsity players for most of the first half.
And second, perhaps more importantly, Michigan's health took a pretty big beating, too.
The Wolverines will play the rest of the 2012 season without arguably their best cornerback, as Blake Countess is currently prepping for ACL surgery that will cost him his sophomore season.
In addition, Michigan's thinnest spot on offense -- tight end -- got a lot thinner with an MCL injury to senior Brandon Moore. Moore won't likely won't play this week, and there's no real timetable for when he'll be able to suit up again.
Taylor Lewan has been deemed "fine" by Brady Hoke, but he didn't exactly look it as he limped off the field after the game.
Can Michigan overcome the massive injury to Countess? The loss of their starting tight end? And the already banged up health of their starting left tackle?
And, can the Wolverines salvage some pride after the most lopsided season-opening loss in program history?
Countess' injury is poignant because Michigan was expected to rely this season on its secondary while breaking in three new starters on the defensive line. His replacement, Courtney Avery, looked lost against Alabama. Moore's loss also hurts, because it leaves only a former walk-on (Mike Kwiatkowski) and two true freshmen (Devin Funchess and A.J. Willaims) to man the position.
Lewan's injury is concerning too, even if Hoke seemed optimistic Monday. He was in rough shape in the tunnel after the game. Lewan's health is a top priority because not only is he Michigan's most talented player, but the Wolverines also have very little offensive line depth. Just a combination of freshmen and one redshirt freshman, plus walk-ons.
The silver lining, if there is any, is the Wolverines have two very winnable games on deck. Air Force gets a lot of credit for being "tricky," because of its option offense, but it also graduated 17 starters from last year's team, then removed five key contributors before fall camp, then lost its starting center for the season due to an injury sustained in the opener.
Michigan can get adjusted to life without Countess and Moore this week against a gutted Air Force, then next week against an overmatched UMass, before its next real test against Notre Dame. And it could turn out to be a harsh life, if Avery doesn't find his way.
Brady Hoke often exhausts the media with his "there's an expectation for the position" answer to just about every question he's asked. Hoke maintains, that no matter what, every player at Michigan is expected to perform at the same level -- regardless of past history or experience. We're about to find out how true that really is.
Avery looked rattled and confused early after taking over for Countess against Alabama, getting scorched for a 51-yard touchdown before he even settled in. The good news: Air Force isn't Alabama. The bad news: He still appears to have plenty of work to do. The combination of Avery and sophomore Raymon Taylor isn't as good as Countess by himself -- but Michigan has roughly two weeks to get that duo up to speed. Or else.
While you hate to see a player like Moore suffer an injury this early in his first shot as a starter, the lack of depth behind him is almost as concerning for Michigan. Kwiaikowski will have to earn his recently awarded scholarship, and both Devin Funchess and A.J. Williams are about to get a crash course in big boy college football. Lewan? Well, let's just say Michigan had better hope he truly is "fine." Because if he's not, it'd be a complete and utter disaster.
As for the whole pride thing is concerned, Michigan won't be able to wash the Alabama beating away by knocking off Air Force or UMass over the next two weeks. It'll take a lot more than that. But now, again, the world is watching. Are the Wolverines really that overmatched? Or was Alabama just that good. We're about to find out.
It's your turn to speak up. In the comments section below, let us know if Michigan can survive without Countess and Moore. And will the Wolverines be able to salvage some of their bruised pride as well?