ANN ARBOR – Still rough around the edges, yet, the University of Michigan Wolverines are a visible work in progress that appear to be making strides towards being a viable Big Ten challenger.
Michigan’s hold-on-for-dear-life and cardiac approach to football leaves many still scratching their collective heads even after its come-from-behind 36-33 victory over the almost ready for primetime Hoosiers.
At Michigan Stadium before 108,118 the Wolverines, with their somewhat surprising 3-0 record, opened up Big Ten play versus equally surprising 3-0 Indiana University.
Many assumed the Hoosiers, who have been a pasty for the Wolverines as evident by UM’s commanding 50 wins and only one loss, would have a fairly routine day at the football office. In fact, college football’s experts installed the Wolverines as a three touchdown favorite.
Indiana was having none of that as it took Michigan to the brink and then some.
Second-year coach Rich Rodriguez, for the first time this season, saw his freshman quarterback tandem, Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson, play like freshmen. “Particularly at quarterback you can see when things do not go right for them,” Rodriguez proclaimed in the post-game press conference. “Both are trying so hard they can get in trouble sometimes.
“For example, Tate’s eyes are all over the place. He’ looking on State Street, Schembechler Hall, at his dorm, everywhere, but he’s always looking to make it happen for his team. I can live with that.
“With Denard, as the season goes on, we have a lot of things we can do with him. He’ll get even better as the season goes on. Remember he was not at sing practice like Tate was.”
When Rodriguez’s offense looks bad it really looks bad. With all the gimmicky formations and players moving around like a Chinese firecracker drill, it begs the question, will it really all work in the smashmouth, cold weather Big Ten campaign?
On this Saturday afternoon the Michigan quarterbacks laid the ball all over the field, unable to corral those shotgun snaps, and for bad measure, added an interception and two sacks.
For a while the offense did not work on a perfect fall football day at the “Big House.” No matter. Michigan, which finished 3-9 in 2008, is now 4-0 (1-0 Big Ten).
“We are 4-0 and it does not matter what people say about us,” senior defensive end Brandon Graham said. “I do not think anyone outside this locker room thought we would even be in this position.”
Said junior defensive back Donovan Warren, who came up with the game-saving interception: “We have been winning a lot of close games, but we have been winning. This team has something special going on and I like it.”
Added Rodriguez: “We had a lot of unforced errors, but we got the win. I’m proud of the guys. We’ve talked all year that we’re going to have to play every game for 60 minutes. We have to get out and battle and we did that. We got a nice win, and we got a lot of things to work on, too.”
This Saturday Michigan will play its first road game in East Lansing against its biggest rival — Michigan State (1-3, 0-1 Big Ten).
UM’s bend but do not break defense will be surely tested versus the Spartans. Although the Spartans have a losing record, most acknowledge they are better than their surface appearance.
Michigan State should have won versus Notre Dame and Central Michigan and its record should be 3-1. Both games were in their hands, but they found a way to lose both.
“It was great winning like we did, but now we are thinking about the Spartans,” said senior linebacker Stevie Brown. “We know State is better than its record and they will be looking to get back in the win column.”
Said sophomore receiver Martavious Odoms, who made the winning catch against the Hoosiers: “They (MSU) came down here and beat us in our house last year.
Now we want to beat them in their house. We are going to prepare and be ready for what we expect will be a tough challenge.”
Leland Stein can be reached at email@example.com.