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Posted on Sun, Oct 4, 2009 : 2:13 p.m.

Birk's Eye View: Is Michigan a fraud or contender? We'll find out soon

By Dave Birkett

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 • 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.

• 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.

• 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.

• 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.”

• 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 He can be reached by phone at 734-623-2552 or by e-mail at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.



Wed, Oct 7, 2009 : 9:18 a.m.

Carr never lost more than 4 games in a regular season, ever. Heck, even the App St. year (2007) he went 9-4...


Wed, Oct 7, 2009 : 9:16 a.m.

@ azwolverine: can't agree with you more. I thought RichRod was supposed to take the program to new heights beyond what lloyd could do, and without Forcier, he wouldn't even be close to that goal. What greatly concerns me is the lack of physicality along the defensive and offensive lines. I thought Barwis and his stregth and conditioning regimen would solve the problems of the slow big ten stereotype we were supposedly known for. I have yet to see any UM defensive or offensive front dominate for 60 minutes against a Big 10 team under RichRod (save the minnesota game last year).


Tue, Oct 6, 2009 : 10:27 p.m.

6-6 or 7-5 will be completely disappointing, especially after a 4-0 start. What has happened to the defense? It has gotten worse over the last two years, not better. That is a definite concern. This D need to get better, period, or what the offense does will not win us championships. That said, I like a lot of what RR is doing on offense, but the majority of the improvement I see this year is due solely to Tate, in my opinion. He alone has opened up the offense with his versatility, accuracy, and moxy. I believe we would have gone at least 6-6 with him last season (our 3 wins plus Utah, Toledo, and Northwestern) and may have even won more. So my question is, if we go 6-6 or 7-5 this year, have we really improved as a program or did we just get a better QB? Heck, even Carr went 8-4 with Navarre as a rookie starter. I'm behind RR because he is our coach, and as a Michigan fan, I want him to be successful. If he's successful, Michigan is successful. However, I still need convincing because, in my opinion, there was no reason for Michigan to get absolutely dominated for 56 minutes against an average MSU team. Hopefully against Iowa Michigan plays a game that, win or lose, shows that they are improving.


Mon, Oct 5, 2009 : 3 p.m.

The use of the word "FRAUD" in the title of this article is absurd. No reasonable person expected this team to be any better than 4-1 right now. They have done exactly what I hoped they would do. They won the three that they were supposed to win, and they stole one of the two that they were not supposed to win. The use of the work "FRAUD" assumes that this team was supposed to be better than this...they are not. We will beat Delaware State and Purdue, and I am calling for one more steal from the Ill., Iowa, PSU, OSU, Wisky games. The obvious one there is Ill., but that's not a guarrantee. 6-6 or 7-5 is were this team is headed, so if they go 4-8 or 5-7, please call them a fraud then. Also, with time to heal, and practice, we will almost certianly win our bowl game, so make that 8-5 to finish the campaign. I will take that and be happy with the improvement. Anyone who says this team is not improving must have been sleeping last year, because this team is light years ahead of last year. They are going to struggle because of talent and depth issues, but compared to last year?...It is not even close. A couple other thoughts that come to mind. David Molk, Donovan Warren, and Tate Forcier are VERY important to this teams success, and Molk going down takes a toll on two of those three cogs. Loving watching this team! They are young, but loaded with future play makers, speed, heart. With more experience, growth, and time in the same system, this team will be ligitimate contenders for the Big Ten championship, and the National Chamionship.


Mon, Oct 5, 2009 : 2:43 p.m.

That's a horrible headline. A fraud is a team with high expectations and clearly overrated. Michigan has exceeded expectations as witnessed by the picks of the's own gurus.


Mon, Oct 5, 2009 : 12:32 p.m.

Fraudriguez enjoys throwing his players under the bus instead of defending them... He should have taken responsibility for the bad play calling...


Mon, Oct 5, 2009 : 12:13 p.m.

I guess it is fraud if you are drinking the kool aide. I don't feel like I have been misled. I think this is an average team in an average league. Six or seven wins was predicted at the beginning of the season...if you bought the media hype after the Notre Dame game than maybe you feel like you have been scammed. Still, this team is really fun to watch. If the program doesn't get significantly better in a couple of years than it is today, then the term may fit.


Mon, Oct 5, 2009 : 10:38 a.m.

Two losses in the Big Ten will tie for the Championship this year. Michigan will contend. Write it down!


Mon, Oct 5, 2009 : 10:28 a.m.

Fraud is correct in this situation. The other teams have shown their true colors in other games played - they are bad. MSU dominates (physically) the game for all but 5 minutes - and they are the 5th or 6th best team in the horrible Big Ten. The only difference between this year and last is Tate. And he is going to get beat up in the upcoming games.6-6 is high achievement for this team - but 5-7 is more realistic. As for the defense, and people saying they are on the field too much and are tired, lack depth. How about doing your job and getting off the field! Don't give up 10 yard cusions on receivers, tackle somebody! This program has not been relevant in 50+ years. Everyone gets a break every half century or so - which explains 97. The Big Ten is a joke nationally and will continue to be. Just need to keep it real, and remember what conference we are in. 6-6 in the mighty Big Ten is a feat worthy of all the money spent on Rich Rod/stadium.


Mon, Oct 5, 2009 : 10:26 a.m.

I think your title is misleading. It seems the media jumped on the contender bandwagon and now wants to jump off. We are getting exactly what we were told this team would be. They are young, inexperienced with some obvious weaknesses. They are fun to watch and I think there has been improvement. The experts said six or seven wins and it seems we are heading in that direction. How is that fraudlent?

Jim Knight

Mon, Oct 5, 2009 : 10:23 a.m.

A comment was removed because it contained a personal attack.


Mon, Oct 5, 2009 : 9:56 a.m.

Truth be told, Saginaw, I'd rather be playing OSU at home next week than Iowa on the road. But like I said, there is no game that M can't win. And that should keep you glued to your flat screen every Saturday.


Mon, Oct 5, 2009 : 9:47 a.m.

Ok, let's be a little realistic; does anyone believe that after watching UM play Indiana and Michigan State, that we are going to beat Ohio State. Let's have some sanity. In any case, we'll need 100% focus on Iowa -- which is a winnable game.


Mon, Oct 5, 2009 : 9:45 a.m.

Based on RR's mostly calm demeanor on the sideline after that fake punt, either he called the fake or he approved an assistant's call to fake the punt, or it truly was Zoltan's decision. Two things here. 1) If RR wasn't expecting a called fake punt, I'd think he would've blown up at an assistant or someone on the sidelines. The TV cameras didn't show an irate RR. He seemed to say something to an assistant, but it didnt looke like he was screaming at him. 2) If Zoltan has free reign to run that deep in territory or during any part of a game, no matter how crucial the consequences, then the blame squarely falls on coaching. Like someone else has said, Zoltan never should have had a choice in that situation. Punt and force MSU to punt back instead of giving them three free points, and maybe Michigan wins without OT.


Mon, Oct 5, 2009 : 9:42 a.m.

Gotta love all the Monday morning quarterbacking and "in depth analysis" (lol) that went into this article and the subsequent comments. But here's the bottom line folks...There is no game that Michigan will play this year that they cannot win! And that is pretty damn special after last year.


Mon, Oct 5, 2009 : 9:40 a.m.

The key to M's offense depends on Taters' ability to run. Now that M is in big ten play, its going to be quite difficult for Tater to take big hits like he has in a couple of games. If you were observance you will notice that Tater did not run until the very end and the M coaches was a little reluctant to turn him loose. I hope that RR is making some serious efforts to prep Shoelace because he is going to need that player if he intends to have any success outside of the Delaware game. Whats up with that Mesko run. He ran the ball like he has 20 pounds weights attached to his legs. Stick to kicking.


Mon, Oct 5, 2009 : 9:29 a.m.

This is a good article. Iowa is good, but they are a little over rated. It will be the speed and skill of Tate Forcier vs the brute power of the physical Iowa defense! I will take the speed and skill of Tate Forcier. Iowa has been very inconsistent in 2009 and they are due for a loss at home. GO BLUE.


Mon, Oct 5, 2009 : 9:24 a.m.

It's hard to read both these stories and the subsequent comments after a loss. The sky is not falling. Relax, we're going to win 7 or 8 games. That's a step in the right direction, and something that we would have gladly accepted before the season began. I do take umbrage with the word "fraud" here. It is constantly used inaccurately and irresponsibly by sports writers in this context. It's negative connotations don't apply to a football team that's playing fair, trying it's hardest, and may not be as good as some people with unrealistic expectations hoped. Tone it down.


Mon, Oct 5, 2009 : 7:53 a.m.

RR was honest in his assessment, true; But I think protecting the players is more important in his public statements than "honesty" so to speak. I am glad he is honest,yes, but these are not pros. Air the dirty laundry inside closed doors. Let Mesko have it, if he truly made a mistake. But let me be clear with my opinion-- that game was coached poorly throughout. Michigan was unable to get any momentum. Freep had a stat this morning which said we had 2 drives of 5 plays or longer. That just does not get things done. They did not seem to be able to match the execution of MSU. Could not make tackles. Could not hold onto passes. Could not block. Could not find lanes to run--but the running plays they ran were not creative. Basically, I think the game is played as the team practices, and it would seem to me that MSU was much better coached and prepped for this game than UM.


Mon, Oct 5, 2009 : 6:59 a.m.

I doubt that anyone who knows Big 10 football seriously thinks, or expected U-M to be a contender for the championship this year. A record of 6-6 or possibly 7-5 was the consensus from the pre-season magazines. Iowa, Penn State and OSU are likely losses and Delaware State should be a victory. The other games are what will make or break the season.


Mon, Oct 5, 2009 : 4:57 a.m.

you talk about improving every week on def. are you kidding what games have you been watching,this def. isnt improving they are continuing to get shredded every week and all i hear is we have to make the improvements on def. dont just say it actually get out there and do it talk is cheap if this team cant beat the skirts def. theres no way in hell they can beat ia def.


Mon, Oct 5, 2009 : 4:56 a.m.

you talk about improving every week on def. are you kidding what games have you been watching,this def. isnt improving they are continuing to get shredded every week and all i hear is we have to make the improvements on def. dont just say it actually get out there and do it talk is cheap if this team cant beat the skirts def. theres no way in hell they can beat ia def.


Mon, Oct 5, 2009 : 2:35 a.m.

UMminks... Koger had 1 big catch but also 2 key drops... they went for him and he didnt produce. Dropped passes were huge in this game, as was the one critical bad snap by Moosman. No offense to MSU, but Michigan 'beat itself' in a lot of ways in this game....


Mon, Oct 5, 2009 : 2:34 a.m.

On the tape...RR clearly said "kick it"... it was Mesko's mess up, regardless of whether there was an option or not, he should know better by now based on the field postion. Some have said that RR "threw Mesko under the bus" but that is total crap. It was Mesko's mistake or some mistake in miscommunication and for RR to say "he should have kicked it" is not so bad... imagine what Bo would have said (im old enough to remember some Bo press conferences where he was not kind to his team at all)... it was a dumb play but IMO, the dumber play was on 3rd down and having Tate run it when Minor was in the backfield and was better equipped to get 1 yd. That was the crap call.


Sun, Oct 4, 2009 : 11:29 p.m.

MSU kept LB up at the line neary the entire game. A bit dissapointed we didn't use Koger or the slot recievers more to open up the defense and get the running game going early on. These linebackers took away all the lanes in the zone blocking scheme. Though our O-line looked a bit like last years sissy line when they got more of an aggresive front 4 to go against. The O-line needs to toughen up by next week! I hope the O-line can do a better job blocking at IA or it may be another long game. There may be some hope after the MSU game that the defense is slowly improving but the LB play needs to improve. I was suprised how low-scoring the game was and was expecting a 35-38 shoot out game. I still think that loses are probable against IA, PSU, OSU and WI. I just hope our D and O-line continue to improve. I'll be happy with a 7-5 record, especially if the team improves through the remainder of the season and we at least give OSU a tough game at home!


Sun, Oct 4, 2009 : 11:26 p.m.

Do you think RR cares if you like him b/c he's "honest" with you or not!? Your job is to report the facts of the game. Not try to be a "PARENT" to RR. If RR said "he was suppose to kick it but then says it was an option" it's HIS call! Yes it was a TERRIBLE call but it's his!! After all,he is our coach!!! So don't flatter yourself by thinkin' RR cares what you think!! It's a safe bet that he DOESN'T!!! Remember that this is still a young team and they will get better.If not this year,maybe next yr. I just hope we improve some for our night matchup against Iowa!!! All In 4 Michigan!GO BLUE!!!!