There's no debating, this defense is remarkably better than last year. Still full of attrition, still full of injuries, still starting babies and walk-ons, and yet performing at a level that warrants your attention. The 2011 Wolverines boast, per game, the #10 scoring defense in the country (16.38), and the #28 defense in total yards (335.75). Through the same point last season, Michigan was allowing twice as many points (33.89) and 118 more yards (453.67) per game.
And that's where the good news stops for now. The offense has been struggling to find its identity, residing somewhere between the wide open speed of the RichRod led Wolverines and the I-form/playaction/drop-back passing scheme you came to know and love...and eventually hate...under Lloyd Carr. For me, it's about the misuse of talent. Denard, when left to roam, makes things happen. But somewhere along the line his "health" became the focus, or at least that's what they're selling us...less running, more quarterbacking...less RichRod system, more installation of the system we will be using in the future. They are making Denard into the QB of our future, and it remains to be seen (meaning next year) if he can develop that skillset. Regardless, it seems our 2nd biggest concern (behind the worst defense ever) going into the season is coming to fruition...Denard is no longer Denard. They are coaching this team like they have the ability to punch teams like Iowa in the mouth, to win in the trenches, to play power football. But that's a few recruiting classes and apparently a significant amount of growing pains away.
The Purdue victory, and the method by which it was accomplished, is what lost the game at Iowa. They won that game with the system of the future using players of the past, playing a craptastic Big Ten squad, and they assumed it would work again. It didn't. It won't. A Michigan offense that isn't centered around Denard and his uncanny ability to be his own personal playaction is not going to work...not this year.
NASCAR. It's the buzzword of the week out of the post-game pressers. It's Coach Hoke's pet name for the two-minute offense...the offense that wins games, the offense that worked against Notre Dame to the tune of two touchdowns in a little over a minute, the offense that marched down the field in the 4th quarter this week. It had Iowa on it's heels. It was unstoppable. It IS unstoppable. So the simple question becomes, why isn't NASCAR THE OFFENSE? Even some watered down version of it is better than what we did out there for three quarters, and what we seem to try to shoehorn in every Saturday.
At Kinnick, I sat five rows up behind the Michigan bench at about the 25 yard line. Not my favorite vantage point, given the depth perception issues you get when the ball is snapped at the other end of the field, but fun to experience every once in a while, especially when the action is right in front of you. Michigan came on and off the field in my corner. After halftime, for the first time in many years, I yelled at a coach. "Turn him loose Coach!" I yelled at Brady. "Turn him loose!" I struck up a conversation with a former Hawkeye player in the stands, and he was as astonished as I was that Denard was so handcuffed. When the opponent is wondering why you aren't gashing his team with your team's strengths....that's when you know you are doing something wrong.
And the answer today from Fort Schembechler seems to be "we need to play tougher," when the reality is, we need to play smarter and faster, at least on offense. Smarter and faster would have made the Sparty game closer. Smarter and faster would have won at Kinnick. Tougher might win in the future, but the truth is, team 132 does not have the men for tough, and it would be very surprising if suddenly they developed into what Brady wants them to be in time for the season saver after Thanksgiving.
That's not to say that Indy is out of the question. The Big Ten is a mess. A giant sloppy mess of barely average teams beating each other up from top to bottom. If you think you are in the driver's seat, you are probably about to lose.
But Michigan would need to win out to even sniff a chance, and that is no small task. In addition, I don't think it's this team's focus anymore. I believe this season has become about beating Ohio. And while that hurts to say right now, it's going to feel so good that none of this will matter.