Birk's Eye View: Is Michigan a fraud or contender? We'll find out soon
EAST LANSING - Western Michigan doesn’t look much like a MAC contender, Eastern Michigan just got trucked by Temple, Indiana is still one of the worst teams in the Big Ten, and Notre Dame, for all its miracle finishes, ranks 96th in the nation in total defense.
So how good is Michigan? After losing for the first time this season Saturday at Michigan State, it's a fair question - and one no one knows the answer to for sure.
The Wolverines (4-1, 1-1) struggled to beat three of the aforementioned teams, winning on last-minute drives against Notre Dame and Indiana, and keeping EMU afloat for a half before pulling away.
Nothing should take away from those victories - too few teams take care of business like they should. But Michigan hasn't much resembled the top-25 team it was until Sunday, either.
The defense has been shredded consistently and in different areas every week. Depth and talent remain an issue on that side of the ball. And Michigan’s Big Ten-best rushing offense appears to have been built by cards (380 yards vs. EMU) after a disturbing 28-yard day against MSU.
Maybe the Wolverines (4-1, 1-1) are still Big Ten title contenders. It’s doubtful they’ll run into a team as determined or emotional as MSU was Saturday, when they were just two overtime plays away from stealing a win on the road.
Maybe they’re complete frauds who’ll luck into winning six games and as punishment be forced to spend the holidays at the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl.
Or maybe they’re neither. Maybe they’re the mediocre but improving team we all thought at the beginning of the season.
There’s nothing wrong if that's true. Better days are clearly ahead.
But whatever the case, with another road test on the docket Saturday at Iowa, we'll find out soon.
Notes, quotes and leftovers â€¢ Re-watched the tape and I’m still baffled by the fake punt call. It didn’t appear as if kicking ever entered Zoltan Mesko’s mind. He took the snap, ran left and tucked the ball under his arm, searching for a seam to get up field.
Obviously, if the fake was called from the sideline it’s indefensible, and Mesko said Saturday “it was called.” He also said “it was my option,” and since he has the freedom to run on those rugby-style kicks, it’s possible he was referring to the option being called, not the full-blown fake. Maybe a lip-reader out there can tell me what Rodriguez said when the cameras panned to him on the sideline just before the play.
Regardless, on fourth-and-a-few-chain-links that deep in the field, Rodriguez has to take the run option out of his punter’s hands. Michigan doesn’t go rugby-style on every punt - the Wolverines didn’t on their first punt Saturday - and when you have one of the best punters in the country, there’s no reason not to stand back there and let him kick.
â€¢ Two other thoughts on the fake:
First, it struck me that Rodriguez so candidly blamed Mesko for the fake in his post-game press conference.
“He was supposed to kick it,” Rodriguez said according to a transcript provided by Michigan State. “It was a read and Zoltan, who has made that decision very, very well a number of times, thought he saw a crease.”
I’d be a hypocrite if I banged Rodriguez for what most people would consider throwing his player under the bus. As a reporter, I always want coaches to be honest.
But it’s incorrect to say both that Mesko “was supposed to kick it” and that the play “was a read.” If it was a read, then Mesko did what he was supposed to on the play and make a decision (albeit the wrong one). Again, it never should have come to that.
Second, I’ve always wondered why Michigan doesn’t employ a true special-teams coordinator rather than divvy the responsibilities among other full-time assistants. This isn’t just a Michigan issue, mind you, it’s common throughout college football. But for an area so important to the outcome of games, it’d make sense to me.
â€¢ One thing I think Rodriguez and Co. did a good job of Saturday was playing Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown together in the backfield. That two-back look is bound to give defenses fits (assuming they stay out of each other’s way), and it might help keep Tate Forcier healthy, too.
Forcier should never have more carries than Minor and Brown combined, as he did Saturday. If he’s going to make it through the season - and for Michigan’s offense to reach its potential - he needs to take less of a pounding.
â€¢ Forcier on his interception in overtime: “I had an over route coming from Martavious (Odoms), and he just - he tried to sit in the window and it was kind of a miscommunication thing. I thought he was going to keep coming and the safety was the one that kept coming. I just threw it and like I said, freshman mistake.”
â€¢ Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi on Forcier and the two touchdown drives he led late in the fourth quarter: “They put No. 5 in there and he makes things happen because he is a heck of a football player. He makes things happen. When he scrambles around, we thought we had him sacked a couple of times and all of a sudden he’s gone and throwing the ball. He’s a football player and a great quarterback.”
Dave Birkett covers University of Michigan football for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached by phone at 734-623-2552 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.