Sunday, September 27, 2009
Michigan not great, but learning how to win
Watching the Michigan football team Saturday, it was clear that they're not a great team, not a national-title contender, probably not a team that will win the Big Ten title.
There were missed tackles, poor communication on offense, and, overall, just mediocre play against an an Indiana team they should have beaten by three touchdowns at home.
The Wolverines, I'd say, are just about appropriately ranked in the low 20s of the national rankings.
But the one thing that stands out about this year's group, and could even make them achieve more than their talent might dictate, is that they know how to win. That can't be undervalued.
Especially during conference play, there are going to be ugly games, there are going to be turnover-infested affairs, the going will rarely be smooth regardless of whether Ohio State or Northwestern is on the opposite sideline.
That's why knowing how to win tight games and having an unyielding belief in one another is so key.
The Wolverines, in September of 2009, have developed that confidence.
And it all starts with their freshman quarterback Tate Forcier. Sure, coach Rich Rodriguez has done a good job of galvanizing his players and getting them to mesh well together.http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif
But confidence is gained between the sidelines, and Forcier has led the charge. Saturday's 36-33, come-from-behind-several-times victory over the lowly Hoosiers was a prime example.
Due to extenuating circumstances, I didn't catch the first 20 minutes of the game, during which each team scored two touchdowns to set the stage for a wild day. But according to accounts from my Dad and my man Tick, both avid Wolverines fans, Forcer "played like a freshman" (Dad) and didn't look like he belonged on the field, to paraphrase what Tick said.
That's why, apparently after a terrible Forcier interception, the first two series I watched featured the speedy, flashy Denard Robinson playing QB. Now I love Robinson, but he still is very shaky as a passer. And Michigan wasn't about to win, even against the Hoosiers, just by running the ball.
The Wolverines would have to throw it, and Forcier is the man for that.
So back he came in the second half, and in the fourth quarter he showed, just like he had two weeks earlier against Notre Dame, why he's such a winner — he makes the plays when they're needed most.
Overall, it might have been his worst game as a Wolverine. But two times in the final period, he took Michigan on scoring drives (of 70 and 52 yards) to regain the advantage.
On the first drive, he made an Elway-type play, fearlessly diving over a couple defenders into the green, plush end zone for the score on third down. Not only that, but he followed it up by running the two-point conversion in on a QB draw after a penalty pushed the Wolverines 5 yards back.
(It can be argued that Forcier also risked the Wolverines' season by subjecting his body to such a beating. He'll have to be smarter about taking such hits as the Big Ten season heats up.)
And on Michigan's final scoring drive, Forcier fought off pain from a bruised shoulder to lead the Wolverines down into Indiana territory before throwing a perfect, lofted (possibly painful?) pass right into the bread basket of Martavious Odoms for the winning score.
The defense finished the job.
So Michigan is 4-0. Meanwhile, Ohio State and Penn State — both national-title contenders at the season's beginning — have losses. Does that mean Michigan's better than the conference's favorites?
But what we've learned — and it's very educational, sports fans — is that unlike a year ago, or even a couple years ago under Lloyd Carr, Michigan has a team that absolutely knows how to finish the job no matter how ugly the process may have been.
In the coming weeks, we'll learn just how good, and tough, these Wolverines are. We'll finally get to see them play road games the next two weeks at hurting rival Michigan State and Iowa, fresh off an upset win at Penn State.
The young Wolverines will really have to show their mettle, and cohesiveness, in those two tough environments.
And the results of those games? Who knows. Could be two W's, could be two L's.
Michigan didn't hurt its chances, however, during the first month of the season by learning, within the confines of the Big House, what winning is all about.
Led by their precocious, forgets-about-past-mistakes quarterback.
Who will need to stay healthy and on the field for the W's to continue piling up.