We’ve been down this road before, recently, with the Michigan football team. They were 4-0 in 2009 and won just one game after that and started 5-0 last year before stumbling to a 7-6 record. Michigan is once again 5-0, with its highest ranking (No. 12, AP/No. 11, Coaches) since it was No. 5 in the 2007 preseason polls.
There is no reason to think the Wolverines will or won’t go into a tailspin just because they did the last two years. Unless you think these players are conditioned to play poorly in the second half of the season or Michigan is cursed in some way, I see no reason why the last two seasons would have an effect on this one. There is a new coaching staff. There is an upperclassman quarterback. The schedule is different. Michigan could keep rolling, or they could fall apart, but it won’t have anything to do with the past two years.
Michigan is scoring 37.2 points per game, tied for 25th best in the country. They are tallying 440 yards a game (33rd best). The running game is one of the best in the nation, and it was at its most dangerous this past Saturday in a 58-0 rout of Minnesota, as Michigan got 312 yards of rushing from players other than Denard Robinson.
Despite 48 rushing attempts, Michigan did not fumble against Minnesota, and has lost just two fumbles all season (both against San Diego State). Robinson has only fumbled once, and Michigan recovered. (So for every one of his own fumbles, Robinson has picked up a teammate’s fumble and taken it in for a score, which is nice.) This is part of the reason why the Wolverines are 12th in the country in turnover margin.
The other reason is that Michigan’s defense has forced 15 turnovers, sixth best in the country. The unit has allowed 15 plays of 20 yards or more, an average of three per game (eight came against Notre Dame, three on passes to Michael Floyd). Last year Michigan allowed 4.3 of these big gainers per game. By not giving up as many huge chunks of yardage they are giving themselves more opportunities to create turnovers. The result is a defense ranked 31st in yardage allowed and tied for second in points per game allowed (10.2).
|Denard Robinson (with ball) and the Michigan offense has looked good.|
The schedule has not been a murderer’s row but Notre Dame is 29th in total offense and San Diego State is 50th. Getting stops against even subpar offenses is something Michigan fans haven’t seen in a few years.
After going 4-for-14 on field goals last season (worst in the country), Michigan has converted 4-of-5 this year, missing from 40 yards but making from distances of 32 and 38. A competent kicking game will only help this offense become even more potent. Michigan is a perfect 21-for-21 in the red zone, with 17 touchdowns (the official stats say 21-for-22, but the only “failure” came in the last drive against Minnesota, when Michigan took a knee to end the game one play after getting inside the 20).
Michigan has also excelled in the penalty department. Their 3.8 for fewer than 31 yards per game put them in the top 10 in the country in both categories.
As you can see, Michigan is doing well in all phases of the game. That is not to suggest they are among the best teams in the country. The thing is, neither are Michigan’s opponents. The schedule gets tougher, sure, but Michigan avoids the dominant Big Ten team, Wisconsin. None of the remaining games save a home date with Purdue are locks, but Michigan State, Iowa, and Ohio State look worse than most expected at the beginning of the season.
I have been impressed with Brady Hoke and the Michigan coaching staff so far. In my season preview I said the season would hinge on Hoke and company’s willingness to adapt to their personnel, which I think they’ve shown. Most of the play calling has been very logical. It was clear that Robinson needed some short, relatively easy passes to regain his confidence, and that’s exactly how the Minnesota game began (Robinson finished 15-of-19 for 169 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions).
This team has its flaws: Even with Robinson’s stellar day against Minnesota, he is completing just 55 percent of his passes, and it is still unclear whether a running back can consistently take pressure off of Robinson in the ground game. If the high turnover rate doesn’t keep up can Michigan still keep the opponent off the board?
These are questions Michigan fans can be concerned about, but as far as the eventual record of this team goes, the good news is that Wolverines have looked better each week, the schedule is not overly difficult, and of course, they have started 5-0. Now it’s time to leave the last two years in the past, where they belong.