Sunday, September 22, 2013

Turn the Page

Desmond Morgan on his horse (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

It's only fitting that when discussing Michigan's struggles with life on the road, we'd turn to Ann Arbor's own Bob Seger.

Here I am / On the road again 
Let's be very honest, Michigan never expected to find itself in East Hartford, but they were booked into this gig by their old manager and well, as much as the new boss tried to get them out of it, Connecticut politics, being what they are, put Michigan at the smallest venue it had played at since Cornell in the 1950s.  But hey, you play the gig, you wow the crowd, you collect your paycheck, you come home for the Open Date, and you reset.  Oh, sure, the struggles of the Akron game last week were disconcerting, but the sound coming out of Michigan this week was good, the right things were being said, it was a scare, you learn from it, move on, and make sure you get out of Connecticut with everyone healthy.

There I am / Up on the stage 
So some how, Michigan at Connecticut ended up going to 60% of the country on ABC (much to Kirk Herbstreit's dismay) so a chance, in prime time, for the rest of the nation to see Devin Gardner play like he did Under the Lights, to see if Michigan had fixed its issues on the lines, and whether the Wolverines could establish a running game.  Business trip, write up the expense report, come home.

Here I go / Playin' star again 
I think the consensus reached among Michigan fans were that we'd be happier with Devin Gardner's play if he could solve the turnover issues.  This starts with tucking the ball when he decides to run (and the thing is, he can run.  He just leaves the ball way out there, begging to be stripped.)  Chris Spielman's working thesis last night seemed to be that Gardner was playing too tight and it was causing the turnovers, which, sure, that seems reasonable in that way that color commentary seems reasonable in explaining things that you're seeing without actually knowing.  My thesis is this: Devin Gardner spent the last three years of his football life watching Denard Robinson become one of the single most dynamic football players in modern college football history, one who was always willing and perhaps too often asked to put a team on his back and will it to victory.  Gardner's stats at Inkster High School remind us that he was a one-man show too many times for the now defunct Vikings.  So yes, sure, while he trusts Jeremy Gallon, and yes, he knows that Fitz Toussaint can run, but when push comes to shove, default mode is heroball.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, and all too often this season, it's been an abject disaster.

There I go / Turn the page
Here's what I choose to see out of last night.  At a juncture when things could have completely gone Achebe for Michigan, especially after the three and out in the immediate wake of the fumble return for a touchdown, Michigan dug down deep, recentered itself, and moved 75 yards down the field to bring it within a touchdown with still over 20 minutes remaining in the game.  Michigan then got a series of fortunate breaks, tipping the scales of the breaks that had gone against Michigan (self-inflicted or otherwise), and kept Blue in the game.  A Connecticut missed field goal from 46 yards out.  the Desmond Morgan one handed interception just three plays after Devin's attempt to convert fourth down ended on a fumble and a bad spot, Desmond Morgan running with the ball for 29 yards, Fitz Toussiant looking like 2011 Fitz and going for a quick 12 yards and score to tie the game.  And all of the sudden, with 9:49 left in the game, Michigan had erased all of the bad things that had happened to that point, was back to even, and just needed to be one point better than Connecticut the rest of the way. A UConn three and out, a Dileo return (which, yes, was wiped out by a STUPID penalty, but still, nice to see Dileo break one a little bit.), a nice time draining drive to get a field goal (no matter how much one would have liked to have seen six at that point).  And sure, Connecticut was moving down the field with a chance to win, or at least tie, when Frank Clark gets the 12 yard sack to give Connecticut a seemingly impossible 4th and 29.  And while Michigan's defense gave back 26 of those yards, the down mattered more than the distance and everyone could collectively exhale.

You can choose to see a game where Michigan struggled with a team that lost to I-AA Towson and scrapped out a victory is disheartening fashion.  That's fair, the narrative pieces are there.  I choose to see a young team that fought back to score 17 unanswered points to win a game, on the road, in what was considered to be the biggest game in the stadium's history.  Michigan is ALWAYS going to get an opponent's best shot, because if you beat Michigan, your name gets etched in history, next to the Appalachian States, next to the Toledos.  It's the burden of being Goliath, and it's the unspoken flip side of what This is Michigan entails.

So sure, it's 4-0 that doesn't feel well deserved, but did 2-2 after four games last year feel like what Michigan's team really was either?  You have two weeks to correct the mistakes, to work on the fundamentals, to get back to what made people think you were worthy of the preseason praise.  It's much easier to "forgive" a bad win than a frustrating loss.  The math says you may run out of rabbits to pull out of your hat, but if you start to play better, you can move on to other illusions.

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