The Mississippi State University Bulldogs dominated the young Wolverines at will in establishing their football superiority in the Progressive Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida on New Years Day. This completes the 2010 season on a sour note. For Michigan, it should have been called the Regressive Gator Bowl as it was the worst Bowl loss in Michigan football history. The Wolverines are now 19 and 21 in Bowls.
This was the Wolverine?s first Bowl game under Coach Rodriguez, and some hoped it a chance for redemption of coaching reputation, and a chance to prove team improvement. It was thought that the Wolverines could compete with a mid level SEC team. That proved untrue.
Unfortunately, game day completed on a note too familiar, as the Wolverines were embarrassed 14 to 52, and were competitive only for the first quarter. It was 14 to 31 at the half, and the game was essentially over at that point.
MSST played well, and they proved too much for the Wolverines in all three phases of the game. Whether that should be stated as all four phases of the game (including coaching), will undoubtedly be decided by AD David Brandon in the very near future.
In my opinion, Coach Rodriguez did not add the needed positives to his body of work to gather sufficient traction for longevity as the University of Michigan Football Coach. He is after all, 15 and 22, and 1 and 11 against ranked teams. Opponents have consistently scored more than 34 points against the Wolverines this season.
Outside of the beautiful weather, and perhaps the hospitality of the folks managing the event, not much went right for the bumbling Wolverine offense, defense, or special teams. This beat down was only a surprise offensively as the Wolverine?s echoed their usual defensive body of work this year when facing some of the better teams on their schedule. They could not stop the run game of a one-dimensional running team. Fourteen points by this offense, usually capable of far more, is certainly sub par.
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Denard had an ordinary day (for him). He had 256-yards passing and 58-yards running. Statistically, that is not that bad of an ?ordinary? day, with two TDs. But an errant pass helped seal the Wolverines fate. Make no mistake that he has had a brilliant and record setting season. He has 4,272 total offensive yards, and that is a school record. He has had a spectacular season. But the Wolverines needed more from him on Saturday to entertain a victory. And he needed more weapons helping him.
Denard has not proved a winner against the better teams. That will come next season as he hopefully gets more help from his friends. It will be worth the price of a ticket to watch him. There is no question he is the team MVP.
Saturday I had hoped a healthy Denard could make us competitive, but he could not. The running game was stuffed. Yards after catch were denied. He simply did not have enough offensive help, and the offense has sort of become a one trick pony. The offense could not convert several critical 4th downs, or attempt 3-point FGs because they simply can?t kick them. Obviously our scheme is well scouted by this time of year.
Other turnovers, and dropped passes also hurt, as did penalties, not to mention decent defense by MSST, and 481-yards and 26 first downs by their offense.
It was no surprise the defense played like they have played all year. It was no surprise they had trouble lining up properly, sometimes appeared confused, remained ineffective tacklers, had an inability to stop third downs, or corral the lumbering, but mobile Bulldog quarterback. Not surprising that they yielded record numbers of points today as they have over much of the season. They let out a short dump pass for an 81-yard TD. They confirmed again that they are among the worst defenses in the Big Ten, and nationally.
Sad to say that is a fact and some played hard all season, and they had some moments this season, but overall the team defensive results are still nothing but poor. No question, the worst defensive season in Michigan history.
Was it all because of injuries and young players? Or is some of it because of scheme and ineffective coaching? Or is it some of both? Do you believe that the defense has headed in the right direction the past three years? Certainly the offense has taken some strides, has seen measurable improvement, but defense and special teams remain special disasters.
As expected, the special teams were no blessing again. A punt was blocked, a short field goal missed, but Martavious Odoms returned from a broken foot in good form on KO returns.
The first half started off well enough, with Denard weaving runs of 22 and 24-yards. An 11-play, 73-yard drive was completed with a 10-yard TD pass to Roy Roundtree. M 7-MSST 0.
MSST immediately answered with an 11-play, 79-yard creation featuring a 4-yard TD pass. It was 7 up and I thought the shoot out was on.
MSST then blocked a Wolverine punt, and hit a 42-yard FG to break the tie. M 7-MSST 10. It seemed a happy event that they were held to a field goal.
M answered with a beautiful 27-yard TD pass to Odoms. Perfect throw and catch. M 14-MSST 10.
Michigan was unable to score again so the expected shoot out never materialized. The Wolverines fueled the Bulldogs scoring frenzy with an interception. The Bulldogs never looked back as they produced a couple of long drives for scores by half-time to produce an overwhelming 14-31 deficit.
MSST didn?t need any more scores to win, but they engineered more long TD drives after halftime and an 81-yard screen pass to end the thumping at M 14-MSST 52.
To start the second half, M?s defense stopped the Bulldog?s opening drive, but to no avail. The Wolverine?s offense had been solved, and it could not score. And the defense had no more stops. The embarrassment was complete.
Everybody wonders if loss should, and will signal the end of the Rodriguez era. Wonders if there will be hurricane winds of change in Ann Arbor regarding the entire coaching staff, if it is the end of the Rodriguez era, and is the dawn of the Harbaugh, or Hoke, or whoever wants the punishment, era. Many fans are on board the Harbaugh train.
There are compensations even for losing coaches. RR would take 2.5 million out the door, more than the lifetime earnings for most of us. In that sense he would go out a winnerfrom Ann Arbor.
They say only the hairdresser of a lady that colors her hair knows her true hair color, and only David Brandon knows for sure if Coach Rodriguez and all of his staff will continue to be Maize and Blue.
Logically, we should know the why and who of it in a few days. I would think the waiting period has to be over very soon. At no time has AD Brandon made a strong statement of support for RR, and this has fueled speculation that change is imminent. The lack of positive results has caused that speculation to ignite like a magnesium fire, and burn intensely.
It is sad to think that RR has come to this point as chief of the Wolverines. I have always wanted him to succeed, because I want the Wolverines to succeed, but it is my obligation to report it as I think it is. My uninformed guess is that there will be a change of all or part of the football staff.
Coach Rodriguez came to Ann Arbor with a few cans tied to his tail, factions at Michigan tied on other cans, and some of the press has missed no opportunity to slur him and the program when and where it can. Makes you want Coach to succeed, but it is a wins and loss business and he is not winning, nor effectively competing. Some sort of signature win continues to elude him. The defense is not any better than the two prior years.
I will support whatever David Brandon does. He has a lot at stake in this call, as it will likely be the athletic director?s biggest career decision. It will be a decision that may determine his legacy. It is hard to see how he will satisfy all of the factions.
In any case, Saturday?s game was a sad end to a throw away season even though it was a 7-6 season and therefore showed a bit of improvement in the win/loss column over the two previous season under RR?s tutelage. It seems a sad punctuation mark to end the careers of seniors such as Schilling, Mouton, Rogers, Dorrestein, Webb, Ezeh, Ferrara, Banks and Patterson, who obviously would have preferred a win to remember. They will have to pack it away and forge ahead in the real world now.
As always, I thank you for reading this column and visiting the site. Hopefully next year will be a better season, but for sure it is going to be most interesting.
I can be emailed if you like at email@example.com. I enjoy hearing from you, whatever your opinions, and I hope the New Year brings you all the health and happiness you need or want.