Everybody is lining up this week to stand at the buttocks of the Michigan coaching staff and get their noses just a little bit brown, already declaring the current season a resounding success. The Wolverines just grabbed their 8th win of the season, a somewhat decisive victory on the road against a team that 1) squeaked out a 17-14 victory over Western Michigan, 2) is coached by Ron Zook and 3) Had lost three consecutive games while scoring a TOTAL of 28 points. It's a celebration! If you watched that game, you know it was one of the poorest excuses for a football game ever played. The only team in the country that played worse than Michigan on Saturday was Illinois. Michigan would have lost to pretty much anybody else that day. Missed opportunities, turnovers, an embarrassing red-zone offense, and a rotating pair of quarterbacks that are both mediocre at best with regards to passing. I'd like to also add that I think Denard has been pulled a couple times this season, Saturday being one of them, under the guise of injury...when in fact he was not injured. I feel like his injuries have come all too coincidentally after very poor interceptions.
And somehow, holding Illinois (the 78th ranked scoring defense in the nation) to 14 points was the defining moment for the Michigan defense. In fact, depending on who you ask, it turned them into an actual Michigan defense. Listen, they played very well against the run, and as I said last week, Michigan's turnaround on D from last year to this year borders on the miraculous, and it is a testament to just how bad Greg Robinson was, how bad Schafer was before him, and how poor the general defensive direction and communication was in the previous regime. It is also a testament to the quality of opponent we've played, as the Big Ten is worlds worse, team by team, than it was last year. Also, I cannot say enough about how bad Ron Zook's gameplan was. Illinois scored their first touchdown in the third quarter to make it 17-7 on a drive that was all passes, basically a series of completions and pass interference penalties. I thought they had us. I thought they figured it out. Yes, despite JT Floyd being anointed the next Charles Woodson by the blogosphere this week, Michigan is still vulnerable to the deep ball. Throwing deep against us will get you large chunks of yards and/or draw penalties. It's a nearly foolproof plan. And after Michigan countered the Illinois's TD with a three-and-out, I was convinced the Illini were about to make it a three point game. But they went back to running and a sideline to sideline passing game, never throwing the ball more than 5-yards past the line of scrimmage. That got them nowhere. JT jumped a short route and got an interception that set up Devin Gardner to put the game away. 8 wins for the first time since 2007. Bury the demons? A little bit. Still concerned about the future from both a "right now" and "5-years from now" perspective? Most definitely.
I'm worried about the last two games. I'm concerned that Nebraska's line will show us the kind of manball we saw at Iowa and MSU. I'm concerned that OSU will find a way to put it all together for that last Saturday in November. But beyond this season, I'm still worried about where we are going. We are going back to building a Big Ten champion, and in the short term that's going to make us feel better because we've endured so much pain in the last 3 seasons. We can very easily dominate this conference. So could the 7th best team in the SEC. As Ohio State has shown in the past several years, dominating the Big Ten does not translate nationally. And ready or not, we are headed to the big stage, because after these two games, our next two games are (likely) January 2nd against an SEC team that we have no business playing...and then Alabama on September 1st.
Brady Hoke is well on his way to being the Michigan Man we needed. He is certainly "as advertised." I just want him to be more than that. Even in these rebuilding times, when victory is so much more appreciated, I want to see Michigan moving past being Michigan. I know Brady will get us back to where we were, and I hope he proves me wrong and gets us to where we've never been.