|By Joshua Henschke
Who am I? I’m the team who had an impressive win over Notre Dame, but yet struggle mightily against lowly Akron and UConn.
On the outside looking in, this is a confusing conundrum. But, in reality, this is what Michigan football is right now. A figment of what it once was just a few weeks ago. But all is not lost.
A four-point victory over Akron brought thoughts of taking their opponent too lightly and not being prepared. Captains declaring it was embarrassing and would never happen again. Fast forward a week later, it happened again. Was their three point victory over UConn another underwhelming performance for Michigan? Or are there issues being exploited that Michigan could play through and avoid catastrophic upsets due to talent differentials?
Either way, this team is a shadow of its former self right now. Haunted by ghosts of weeks past, these performances won’t cut it once the team reaches the heart of their schedule. Granted, Michigan is 4-0 to start the season. That alone is biggest positive from the past couple of weeks. But is that statistic worth beating your chest over when two of those wins needed fourth down stops against inferior opponents?
With all things considered, this is a Michigan team without an identity right now. The toughness fans saw earlier in the season has been lost. The aggressive offensive line play fans were promised during camp has been non-existent and our quarterback has just simply not lived up to the pre-season hype as of late.
Devin Gardner, by veteran quarterback standards, is still very inexperienced. People seem to forget that this is his first full season as a starting quarterback. Granted he had about half a season worth of playing time under his belt from last season, he will still make mistakes. Unfortunately, these mistakes are coming too often and many of them are avoidable. Do these mistakes warrant a quarterback controversy in Ann Arbor? Absolutely not. This Michigan team will live or die with Devin Gardner. We all know what he is capable or, so expect the team to thrive once they have everything figured out.
Though the blame cannot be placed squarely on Gardner’s shoulders — cue The Team speech — the offensive line is simply not putting him in a position to succeed. Too many times Gardner is forced out of the pocket due to the sheer lack of time he has back there. Thusly, leading to rushed throws and turnovers. To put it in perspective, Gardner had 97 passing yards with zero touchdowns against UConn. UConn was in Gardner’s face all game long, which is completely unacceptable. This lack of time and protection from the offensive line is a key component of why Gardner had such a poor couple of weeks.
The bye week will be a welcomed friend. This will allow the coaches and players to review as much gametape as they can physically stomach to right their wrongs and prepare for Minnesota. Whether the team will answer the challenge in two weeks time is an unknown. It will more than likely continue to be an unknown until Michigan starts playing a consistent brand of football that had labeled them as potential Big Ten championship contenders to start the season.
This is a young football team, the team will continue to be a young team for the next couple of seasons. The youth has been very obvious the past few games, it’s up to the veterans to step up and make sure that youth toughens up. Just because they’re young doesn’t give them an excuse to play the way they did against Akron and UConn, talent alone should’ve been enough to beat them. Playing up to down/up to their opponent is not an excuse, either.
This team needs consistency, even being undefeated doesn’t mean you’re a giant. Michigan has plummeted about seven spots on the polls due to laying an egg two weeks in a row. Right now, this team doesn’t have an identity. Without an identity, this team is in for a rude awakening come conference play.
Am I confident that Michigan turns this ship around? Absolutely. The Notre Dame game was not a flash in the pan. Even though Notre Dame is not at last years caliber, it’s an early season benchmark to see what your team is going to be like. The past few games have sorely missed the mark by a longshot. They just need to find their way back again.