Monday, October 26, 2009

Penn State: Where the similarities are uncany

When the Michigan men's basketball team had an improbable run against Top 5 teams last season, beating both UCLA and Duke early in the year, the team went from promising upstart to potential Big Ten contender, rightly so or not. As the season waned, so too did the team's momentum, and their youth and flaws began to show. Close matches between Savannah State and Indiana, coupled with back-to-back-to-back losses to conference foes (Illinois, Ohio State, and Penn State) raised alarms for fans and made an NCAA berth go from a certainty to a realistic, best-case scenario.

So too seems to be the arc of the football team. After a nonconference win against then #18 Notre Dame, the preseason projections of 7-5 suddenly looked more like 8-4 (or 9-3 at best). But in the midst of the Big Ten slate, Michigan has stumbled, falling to Michigan State and Iowa (which included a benching of the team star, Forcier, much like the similar, controversial benching of Manny Harris against Iowa in an overtime game), a close win against lowly Indiana, and now a crushing defeat to Penn State; 8-4 is a pipe dream now, and the team is now in line to play the worst two Big Ten teams in what feel like must wins.

What can we can learn from this Penn State game is a little more concrete: David Molk really is as valuable as we all thought; the shine is beginning to come off of freshman savior Tate Forcier; the turnover problems from 2008 are far from resolved; and the defense is worse than we all thought.

I'll get into this later in the week, but the secondary is in far more dire a situation than was widely presumed at the beginning of the season. Stevie Brown and Mike Williams are mostly incapable of covering anyone in space. Jordan Kovacs, who had been anointed as Michigan's Rudy two weeks ago, has been exposed time and again, allowing a number of touchdown passes that have crushed the team. The defense appears incapable of playing man coverage, while the defensive line is flailing without much success. Simply put, this team is in a lot of trouble as the offense continues to have difficultly scoring behind an injured Forcier, fumbly running backs, and receivers whose recent case of the dropsies is nothing short of a massive disappointment after their respective performance early in the season.

On the other side of the field, it would appear that I greatly underestimated how good Penn State is. Not that any team that beats Michigan so resoundingly is suddenly much better than we thought, but Penn State is clearly a legit contender in the Big Ten and will still finish second or third in-conference; their stats, though against mostly cupcakes, are no joke. Evan Royster trounced what was otherwise a particularly stout defensive front, putting up 5 YPC on 20 carries. Meanwhile, Michigan's rushing attack looked exceedingly mediocre. Basically, everything that could've gone wrong did.

In other words, Michigan is reeling. I don't know what they need to do to get better. The secondary doesn't look like it has the talent to perform against Big Ten offenses. The offense has gone from fast and high-powered to a sputtering collection of players that look like they are trying to win by themselves (see also: Michigan 2008). Meanwhile, I've got questions about the defensive play calling and the offensive personnel that Rodriguez has been playing. When once we hoped that the Illinois/Purdue stretch would be gravy, it now becomes a crucial stretch of the season. Michigan is in trouble and they don't look like they have any answers.


Post a Comment