Let me start out by saying that, as a Michigan fan, this article may seem biased, but I will do my best to present a decent argument. But hey, can you blame me? I'm starving for something good to come out of Ann Arbor in the fall.
Anyway, two games in, Michigan is 2-0, ranked in the top 25, and looking pretty good. The offense seems to be clicking with Denard Robinson running the offense, and our defense has only looked JV on some plays. We've played to teams that have been projected to have better than average seasons, so at least for now, Robinson's insane stats don't look inflated. Yet, the voice in the back of my head says, “You've seen this before, and it didn't end pretty.” True, but something seems different this year. Maybe it's just because I am such a big Michigan fan, but there are several differences from last year to this year.
First of all, Denard Robinson is not Tate Forcier. Last season, Tate came in the clear favorite having been able to practice with the team all spring and already knowing much of the playbook. One could say that he was almost the started by default. Much of his success came from being able to improvise and from being able to throw. He succeeded from freelancing and coming up with his own way for getting out of tight spots. This worked, until teams recognized that he really wasn't running the Rich Rodriguez system and played to stop him. The rest of the season didn't go as well. This season, Robinson came in as the favorite and immediately showed why. Last season, he could only run, but this season, he has improved his throwing ability, and it has really elevated his game. What's most impressive, though, is the way that he runs the offense. Everything he does was designed by Rodriguez and is in his system. His monster runs are happening as a part of the offense, not because the offense isn't doing anything and he needs to bail them out. This is good because teams have to prepare for, not only him, but the entire offense. Of course, the question will be if he can stay healthy for ten more games. He's already sat out a couple plays for little dingers, so a season ending injury may not be that far off.
Secondly, the offensive line has looked really amazing. One of the best stats after game one against Connecticut was the zero sacks allowed by the unit. After missing most of the second half of last season, David Molk, the center, has stayed healthy so far and is anchoring the line. Also showing major improvement from last season are the tackles Mark Huyge and Perry Dorrestein. They were the weakest part of the line last season, and now are holding their own. There is still room for improvement, but the feeling that I got knowing they were going to be starting is diminishing. As a whole, the line is opening up lanes for Robinson and giving him enough time to pass.
Finally, while the defensive secondary has looked quite bad on some plays, the rest of the defense hasn't looked too bad. Craig Roh has looked really good, and our defensive line has looked to be at least average. Jonas Mouton has already improved a lot from last year and is looking like a more than capable linebacker. The fact that half of the defense has improved has been really overshadowed by the secondary, though, and that is warranted.
Despite this, there are also several areas to be concerned about. Last season, Michigan started 4-0 and then stumbled to 5-7 with their only victory coming against an FCS school, so there is no reason for that to not happen again. Here are several scenarios that potentially could happen with serious effects:
Scenario One: Denard Robinson gets hurt. Every time Robinson takes a hit, I pray that he gets back up, and the two times he hasn't gotten up right away caused my heart pressure to rise to unhealthy levels. Forcier was the hero for the first four games last season, but this season, he seems to be the third stringer. That means that the likely starter, should Robinson go down, would be true freshman Devin Gardner. While he has he potential to be a good quarterback, starting a true freshman, especially coming into the Big Ten season, can never be good. Also, he hasn't had enough time to develop and mature as a college quarterback, and he certainly hasn't had time to take in the playbook completely.
Scenario Two: More than one big game comes down to making a field goal. One area that Michigan has really showed that they are well below average is in the kicking game. Brendan Gibbons has looked absolutely terrible; he's one for four for the season, and against Notre Dame looked like he was trying to miss. If any game comes down to a last second field goal, we are finished. Also, the points that we're missing out on is depressing. To win close games, we have to be able to make field goals.
Scenario Three: The secondary starts to be even more awful. Against Notre Dame, we gave up a long touchdown to a tight end. Some of the game, they made alright plays, but in any game the rest of the season, if they look like they did on that play, Michigan is going to lose. If more teams challenge them, and if they can't stop them, we might as well let the other teams score quickly to give Robinson more time with the ball.
In the coming three weeks, Michigan plays Massachusetts, Bowling Green, and at Indiana. We should be able to win all three games and give Robinson a bit of a break. Look for Michigan to be 5-0 heading into the big October 9 match-up with the Michigan State Spartans.