After getting steamrolled by Alabama and squeaking by Air Force, there seems to be way more questions and unknowns about Team 133 than there are answers and definitive conclusions. Are they truly a contender in the B1G? What is their offensive identity? What’s up with the offensive line? Where is Roy Roundtree? How good or bad is the defense? Will Avery or Taylor replace Countess? These are just a few things that we really don’t know at this point. And though many will say they have the answers to these questions, I don’t think you can after playing maybe the best team in the nation followed by a team that runs an offense that always gives the big boy teams fits. We won’t get many answers this week either as they will play a team in its first year at the division 1 level in UMass. The Wolverines SHOULD win this game easily while playing it pretty vanilla on both offense and defense and continue to work in a lot of freshmen. We will have to wait until next week when they travel to South Bend to face the Irish on the road under the lights to find out what kind of team the Wolverines are in 2012.
Against Alabama, they faced a defense loaded with NFL-calibre talent at every position. They stacked the box and forced Robinson into being a pocket passer (allegedly), their DL dominated the OL giving Michigan’s RBs (who were without Toussaint) nowhere to run, their DBs blanketed UM’s pass-catchers, all of which added up to a nonexistent Michigan Offense. Playing probably the best defense they will see all year did not, nor should it, provide any indication as to how effective the offense will be this season.
In Air Force they faced a team that was over matched physically, especially in the trenches. Of course they focused on stopping Robinson on the ground. They failed miserably allowing him to rush 20 times for 218 yards including 2 biggies for 79 yards and 58 yards. By looking to stop his ground attack it opened up the passing game (minus Roundtree who was once again invisible) for Denard who also threw for 208 yards and 2 TDs. The only group that struggled was the RBs, specifically Toussaint, who in his first game back from suspension ran 8 times for 7 yards which was good enough to be the team’s second leading rusher for the game. Was it because the Falcons’ defense was so focused on the run that only the superhuman efforts by “Shoelace” could exploit it or were the running backs just that bad along with the offensive line that dwarfed the Air Force DL physically? Was Fitz just rusty? Will the offense be a one-man show? I honestly can’t tell you. Please check back with me after the game against Notre Dame where we will truly find out where this team is offensively. The two defenses they have faced so far simply cannot provide us with definitive answers.
The defense faces even more uncertainty. Alabama was simply bigger, faster, stronger. Okay, okay, A LOT bigger, A LOT faster, and A LOT stronger. Their O-Line of All-Americans demolished Michigan’s inexperienced D-Line which allowed their talented backs to run through and around defenders. Again, that will be the biggest and most talented all-around offense they will face all year. Especially up front. Yes, there were a lot of missed tackles and blown assignments, but I think the gap in talent level was much larger than it will be for the rest of the year to the point we can’t make any conclusions.
Air Force runs a triple option offense that most teams, Michigan included, never sees. It is incredibly tough to prepare for and because of that, they regularly give the big teams they face fits (see Oklahoma a few years ago). They did just that. They gave Michigan’s defense all they could handle posting 419 yards of total offense and 25 points. Michigan managed to sneak out with a 6-point victory by making a few big plays at the end. This offense had the Wolverines so baffled, they were mixing personnel all game including playing as many as 6 true freshman at one time. They struggled to be blunt. The silver lining is that Michigan will not see this type of offense the rest of the season, and possibly ever again. They will face more conventional styles of offense that they typically can stop. Will they stop them is the question that is on all of our minds. Again, I can’t answer that. The offenses they have played so far give us no glimpse into the future of the season. I am concerned that so many freshmen are playing which could be a huge problem later in the season. It definitely gives you a clear picture of the overall depth in the program as of now. Did they play more because these players were simply were better suited to play against this unconventional offense? Did they play more because they are better than the veterans? Once again we will not find out until they face Notre Dame. That will have to be the measuring stick.
The only things we really know are that Denard can be electric, both lines need work, Norfleet will provide the Wolverines a true weapon in the return game, and Hoke is not afraid to play freshmen. We can’t say the offense is either very good, very bad, or somewhere in between yet. We can’t completely freak out about the defense until we see them face, for lack of a better term, a normal offense. We won’t know answers to either after UMass because the Wolverines simply will be a mismatch at every single position on the field and will not need to open up the playbook to win. You would think that the game will be out of reach at some point in the second half and the reserves will be worked in. If this is not the case, if they struggle again, then maybe some of the answers we are seeking will present themselves. I just don’t see that happening. Am I impressed with Team 133 at this point? No. It’s hard to feel real good about what I have seen to this point. Do I think they still have potential to be a pretty good team that will contend for the B1G title? Yes, but improvement is definitely needed. I just think that due to the opponents they have faced up until this point we really have no clue as to what type of team the Wolverines have in 2012. The true litmus test will be in week 4 against the Fighting Irish. Until then, let the experts say what they want. Let opposing fans poke fun. Let the fans who are freaking out continue to do so. We just have to wait another week after Saturday to see if the naysayers, Wolverine-haters, worry warts, and Negative Nancys are right about Team 133. I am not being a homer, a slappy, or a Michigan apologist. I am simply saying to breathe a little and let things play out over the next 2 games before jumping to conclusions.