Monday, October 12, 2009

Iowa: Where 2008 looms large

So that happened. Five turnovers is hard to swallow in a 2-point loss. As I mentioned in my preview, Michigan wins this game if they win the turnover battle. Things started well with Stanzi being Stanzi, but Forcier proceeded to give one back on his first toss of the day. It was a horrible pass and a worse decision. But that was Forcier's problem all day: he was forcing and trying to do too much. On a few different zone reads, Forcier kept the ball when he knew he shouldn't have and Michigan lost out on a good chunk of yards that Brandon Minor would have gotten. And so continues the emergence of our true freshman quarterback. You live by Forcier, you die by Forcier. That's been our motto all season long and it still is. Sort of.

Speaking of minor, boy was I wrong. He looked great on Saturday. He ran patiently, hitting the holes that he needed to and bowling over defenders when they tried bringing him down; a man amongst boys. He ended the game with 22 carries for 95 yards (4.3 YPC) and two touchdowns. So much for Iowa's 33 quarters without allowing a rushing touchdown.

But the real question: Did Rodriguez make a mistake leaving Robinson in for the final drive? I don't know. Given how Forcier had been playing all day, I tend to say no. Robinson looked potent and mostly unstoppable. He rushed for 5.25 YPC on the previous drive and was 2/2 through the air. If Michigan needed a touchdown, I think you can say that Rodriguez made a mistake by leaving Robinson in. But at the time the final drive started (at the 17 yard line), Michigan had 1:30 to gain approximately 50-60 yards for a reasonable field goal attempt. Robinson had just proven that he could do it. He made a grave mistake. So I don't know if Rodriguez made the right choice or not. I tend to trust him, but man, that was a hard loss to take.

I can has defense?
In more positive news, Troy Woolfolk's move from safety to cornerback seems to be something of a watershed moment. Maybe it was because Stanzi insisted on throwing at Donovan Warren (which was kind of inexplicable), but Woolfolk looked comfortable and aggressive. He broke up passes, tackled, and was generally light years ahead of JT Floyd and Boubacar Cissoko.

Cissoko, meanwhile, has been having some trouble. As was rumored on the MGoBoard (something I truly doubted, FWIW), he didn't even make the trip to Iowa. Says Rodriguez:

Cornerback Boubacar Cissoko did not make the trip to Iowa after he was suspended for a violation of team rules. Cissoko started the first four games at right cornerback, but did not play last week against Michigan State.

"When he comes back, I couldn’t tell you,” Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said. “It’s really up to him. He’s got certain things he’s got to do on and off the field, academically and all that. And if he does them he’ll be back sooner rather than later.”

Emphasis mine. That doesn't sound good. Skipping class, maybe, but it seems to be a little more than that. Word has it that he's suspended indefinitely. That sounds as much like he's acting out during practice as it does he's skipping class. You don't get suspended indefinitely for skipping class.

Another thing we learned from the Iowa game: No one is ever going to run on Michigan again. There's no point. It won't succeed. Though Iowa's rushing attack hasn't been superb this year, they were thoroughly dominated by Michigan's front four, which continues to be the only thing keeping Michigan's defense from being thoroughly awful. The Hawkeyes averaged an embarrassing 2.4 YPC on 34 attempts. Ryan Van Bergen and Mike Martin were great stuffing the middle of the line and Brandon Graham was wreaking havoc on the Iowa backfield. A thoroughly impressive performance. Just a shame the secondary remains so deficient.

So why can't Michigan cover tight ends? Were they convinced to make Tony Moeaki look like Michael Floyd? I'm going to have to go back to the plays and look at them more closely, but I remember thinking at the time that they were poor defensive play calls. I think Robinson called for a zero blitz on both of the Moeaki touchdowns. I'm not sure if Michael Williams is supposed to drop off into coverage if the tight end releases, or if they hope the blitz gets there. I'll break the plays down sometime this week, but those were backbreaking.

So now what?
Yes, so what now? Michigan's pipe dream Big Ten title hopes are officially dead. But going against (possibly) the best team in the Big Ten, turning the ball over five times, and still being within two with a chance to win at the end of the game is encouraging. Even as heartbreaking as that loss was. Woolfolk's move to cornerback is almost certainly permanent (holy depth chart!), leaving Williams and Kovacs to hold down the fort at safety. This will ultimately be a good thing but will open up the team to a lot of Moeaki-like plays. Even on Forcier's worst game of his career, Michigan had a chance to win the game at the end. I expect to see Robinson start under center next week against Delaware State. It won't be a permanent move, but the staff is going to want to get Robinson as much playing time as he can get.

Penn State is going to be a really difficult test, but looks beatable. Michigan outplayed one of the Big Ten's best defenses on Saturday, and, were it not for the turnovers, would've come away with a victory. This team is young, thin, and inexperienced. They will get better and will have at least a few more miracles this season.


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