Nobody expected this to be a great season for the Wolverines (except for a few misguided voters who had them ranked 25th in the preseason polls). But I don't think anyone expected 3-9, the worst season in school history. So what went wrong? Let's run through the games first.
The offense looked decent as we put 10 points on the board right away. Then Utah took over. A furious second half rally came up short, as Steven Threat's two-point conversion pass fell incomplete. Utah won 25-23.
I don't remember much about this one except that Miami's receivers dropped some crucial passes and a late Brandon Minor TD run sealed a 16-6 victory.
Six turnovers pretty much doomed this one. Two fumbles in the first 5 minutes allowed ND to go up 14-0. Kevin Grady's third quarter fumble at the Irish 5 killed us. A TD there would have made it 28-24. Instead we lost 35-17.
The high-water mark of the season. We were down 19-0 at halftime and came storming back to win 27-25. In case anyone hasn't figured it out by now, Brett Beilema is a lousy coach. I really wanted to see the Badgers lose to Cal Poly last Saturday.
We were up 17-3 in the first quarter and I was certain we'd turned the corner. The offense looked great, the defense was playing well. Then Juice Williams exploded and we got hammered 45-20. This game really exposed the terrible linebacker and safety play that would plague us the rest of the year.
The less said, the better. K.C. Lopata missed a chip-shot FG that would have sent the game into OT. It never should have come down to that. We lost 13-10.
We again jumped out to a quick lead. It was 17-7 after the first quarter and we still had a 17-14 lead at halftime. Then Penn State woke up, adjusted to the changes we'd made in the running game, and rattled off 32 straight to beat us 46-17.
A gift TD from the refs, a coupled missed FGs by Sparty and inspired play from Brandon Graham and Brandon Minor weren't enough. State wins their first game in Ann Arbor since 1990 and their first legitimate win in the series since 1999, 35-21.
After Toledo, this was the most aggravating loss of the year. Purdue's starting QB had just been moved from RB three weeks earlier. Of course, he gashed us for 48 points. A well-timed fake punt and a beautiful hook & ladder play put the Boilers over the top. We wasted what was by far our best offensive performance of the year, losing 48-42.
Finally, a win. Our defense was nearly perfect, giving up no first downs until the game was out of hand. Nick Sheridan had his one and only solid performance of the year on the way to a 29-6 win.
So much for Nick Sheridan and "solid performance." He was bad. The entire offense was bad. Northwestern got their TDs on three big plays, two of them on 3rd and long. Steven Threet relieved Sheridan in the second half, threw a killer interception in the end zone, and got injured. We lose 21-14.
Our defense didn't play as badly as the score might indicate. OSU made several huge plays and I don't think the team recovered mentally from the two play, 91 yard drive in the third quarter. The final was 42-7 but it easily could have been a lot worse had our defensive line not terrorized Terrelle Pryor.
So what worked this season? Here's what I liked.
- Brandon Graham: An absolute beast. He finished with double-digit sacks and proved to be nearly unblockable without a double-team. He says he's coming back for his senior year, which is the best thing that's happened to the program all season.
- Brandon Minor: He took the starting job from Sam McGuffie in midseason and turned out to be the only offense we had after Threet went down. Minor has deceptive speed, breaks tackles and seems to have solved his fumbling problems. He should be the starter headed into next year.
- Jonas Mouton: I'm not sure why he didn't start the Utah game, but he took over quickly after Marrell Evans turned out to be a disaster. Mouton still has a tendency to overrun plays, but he's fast and he actually does a good job against the run for as small as he is. He'll be a starter for the next two years.
Mike Martin: He played quite a bit as part of a three-man rotation at DT and made a few plays. He seemed to hit the wall late in the season. Martin showed some good quickness and definitely seemed stronger as a pass-rusher than a run-stopper. He'll start by default next year, with Terrance Taylor and Will Johnson graduating.
Here's what I liked, but with reservations:
- Martavious Odoms: He made some big plays, but he killed us a few times, especially at the end of the year. A perfect example is the Purdue game, where he returned a punt for a TD... and then fumbled the next punt, setting up Purdue for their first TD. He also fumbled a punt against Northwestern, setting up their first TD and he fumbled one against Ohio State, denying us a chance to start a drive in Buckeye territory. That said, he has good speed, he can make guys miss and he's surprisingly tough for his size.
- Michael Shaw: Great speed, but he doesn't know how to set up his blocks yet. He'll probably back up Minor next year but the coaches need to find a way to get him a few touches every game with an eye towards a starting job in 2010.
Here are a few things I didn't like:
- Stevie Brown: I lost track of how many long TDs we gave up that ended with Stevie Brown chasing a member of the opposing team into the end zone. That he held onto the starting safety job all year speaks volumes about the depth at that position.
- Obi Ezeh: Too slow to react to running plays and pretty bad in coverage. He's still just a sophomore, so there is hope for the next two years.
- The QBs: I doubt we'll see Nick Sheridan at all next year, except at the end of blowouts. Steven Threet will go into practice as the starter, but Tate Forcier and Shavodrick Beaver will challenge him. Internets chatter indicates Forcier is most likely to win the starting job by the fall, but Beaver is probably the better runner.
- The Offensive Line: The line's struggles can be traced back to off-season attrition. Jake Long graduated, Alex Mitchell and Jeremy Ciulla quit rather than play as fifth-year seniors, Justin Boren whined and cried about the new conditioning program before transferring to Ohio State and Corey Zirbel had a career-ending injury in the preseason. The good news is that six freshmen red-shirted this year and at least two of them will challenge for starting jobs next year, which I'll look ahead to tomorrow.