Polish and poise - that's what the Michigan football team needs in final 4 games
Five days ago, Michigan safety Stevie Brown stood at a podium and talked about the Wolverines making an improbable push toward the Rose Bowl. “I have a feeling,” Brown said. “I don’t know if anybody else has a feeling, but I have this feeling. If we can win out, I think we have a chance that we might be able to make it to the Rose Bowl.” He clearly had overreached with the pronouncement, and everyone knew it. But it was hard to not appreciate his earnestness.
There stood Brown, an underdog if there ever was one, longing for the prized game he remembers from his freshman year, not afraid to step out on a very long limb. There stood Brown, against the odds and any sense of reality, believing big in Michigan. It’s hard to reconcile his steadfast optimism with what happened Saturday, when the Wolverines showed little fight in by far and away their worst outing of the season, a 35-10 loss to Penn State. The lopsided loss served as a reminder that, while last season’s 3-9 wreck might be in the rear-view mirror, there’s still an overwhelming amount of improvement needed before Pasadena is something more than a pipe dream. After watching the Nittany Lions dismantle Michigan in every conceivable way, postseason expectations can stop aiming for the Rose Bowl and start settling for any bowl. There’s no shame in that result this year. In fact, it’s a fine start for a program that missed the postseason for the first time in more than three decades last year. But if the Wolverines are going to scrounge a sixth win somewhere in their final four games to qualify, they must do some soul-searching. It wasn’t only that the Nittany Lions overwhelmed them in a straight-up battle of talent. It was the way they fell apart.
None of those shortcomings came because the Nittany Lions had more talent on the field Saturday. They came because the Wolverines need to show some patience and composure. They’re not Penn State yet, and that’s fine. No one expects them to be playing at that level halfway through Rodriguez’s second year of a big-time rebuilding project. But it’s fair to think the Wolverines should be more polished and poised by this point of the Rodriguez era. In the final four games of the regular season, that’s what they need to show on the field. Improvement won’t get them to the Rose Bowl. But it would be enough to get them a victory, get them into the postseason, and get them a badge of pride.
It’d be enough to show everyone else on the outside just what it is that Stevie Brown sees in this team right now.
Pete Bigelow is the sports producer for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at email@example.com or at 734-623-2556.