Sunday, September 11, 2016

Future Imperfect

This, this was pretty good.
This had to happen.  It was inevitable because it is what happens when expectations are raised.  Michigan won by 37 points, and people aren't happy.  There is a legitimacy in this because it's the inevitability of disappointment, and disappointment only comes when expectations exist.  Expectations have not been "real" in Ann Arbor for much of the last decade, after all.  There have been historical expectations, but that is based as much on a bizarre combination of entitlement and factual evidence as anything.  The expectations that this team entered the 2016 season were, in some ways, too low.  They were tempered by the "three tough road games" narrative and the worry that Year 2 was too soon to think Playoff.  But there were others who said, perhaps rightfully so, that this was the year.  But wherever one fell on that continuum, there were expectations and those expectations were created by the roster and staff that Michigan was rolling out on the field this season.

Michigan punted on its first offensive series of the game, the first time they had punted all season. Their next six drives went touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, field goal, touchdown, field goal.  By the time they punted for the second time this season to essentially close out the first half, Michigan was up 34-7, and the online kvetching had begun in earnest.  Michigan can't run the ball!  Michigan can't stop the run!  Michigan looks sloppy on their assignments! Michigan didn't provide enough condiment stations for the family pack hot dog plans!

There is a difference between "complaints" and "concerns".  Complaints boil down to "I'm mad that you're not doing what I expected of you!"  Concerns are "Well, that needs to be fixed going forward."  It's mostly a matter of tonality.  What's interesting about yesterday's results are that despite the score it is the other stats on the Big House scoreboard served to confirm many of our concerns as fans from the beginning of the season, that Michigan might have a hard time establishing the run, that Michigan might have difficulty with securing contain in an aggressive defensive scheme,  The difference is a belief that the coaching staff working to fix the problems.  Colorado will likely provide a stiffer test than expected before the season started, and the progress from this week will be measured against the rising expectations of "OK, good, but..."

In the end, we got back exactly what we have wanted for the last ten years, the goal of being in the running for the national championship.  Those expectations come at a high cost.  In Bo's Lasting Lessons, John U. Bacon relays the story (which I am paraphrasing here) that when Bo's captains would choose goals for the season, if they wanted the national championship, he would remind them that they would need to be perfect, not just on every play on Saturday, but in every snap in practice.  Even then, you would need more than your fair share of luck.  Having the highest goals for the season is not an objectively bad thing, Harbaugh himself has said himself: "If nobody's laughing, you didn't set your goals high enough."  But goals only become real when paired with execution.  Saturday showed us, and this team that you can still win a game even if you don't play perfectly.  But this was against Central Florida, a team that went 0-12 last season.  All of us, the fans, the players, and the coaching staff know that this won't cut it against a Wisconsin, or certainly not a Michigan State or an Ohio State.  But, just like the fumbled punt snap yesterday that Kenny Allen fell on, perhaps it is good that it happened early, while there's still time to fix it.

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