Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Michigan Wolverines season recap
By ESPN.com staff
There weren't many dull moments this fall at Michigan, but embattled head coach Rich Rodriguez would have traded the drama for a few more wins.
Michigan found itself in the national spotlight before the opening kickoff, as allegations of NCAA time-limit violations surfaced in late August. The Wolverines weathered the storm to win their first four games, riding fearless freshman quarterback Tate Forcier and an offense that finally started to surge. But as Rodriguez would later lament, the warts with this team were always there, and they started to show up in October.
Michigan's delicate defense fell apart in Big Ten play, as a talent-starved unit ended frequent meltdowns. Despite the presence of standout defensive end Brandon Graham, Michigan surrendered 30 points or more in five consecutive Big Ten losses. The Wolverines ranked next to last in the Big Ten against the run (171.9 ypg) and generated just 16 takeaways.
Forcier struggled during league play and the offense was hurt by injuries to star center David Molk and bruising running back Brandon Minor. All Michigan had to show for itself after Oct. 1 was a win against Delaware State, a 4-6 FCS program. The Wolverines blew leads against Illinois and Purdue and dropped their sixth straight to archrival Ohio State to post consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1962-63.
Offensive MVP: Tate Forcier. Without the freshman quarterback, Michigan easily could have finished 3-9 again. He was a hero in wins against both Notre Dame and Indiana and consistently showed the ability to make something out of nothing. Forcier must learn to make smarter decisions and become a better pocket passer, but he'll have time to grow.
Defensive MVP: Brandon Graham. He was the most dominant defensive player in the Big Ten and one of the best in the country. Graham earned co-Big Ten MVP honors after leading the FBS in tackles for loss (26 total, 2.17 per game) and finishing tied for 15th in sacks (10.5). Michigan's poor overall defense hurt Graham in the awards races, but he certainly did his part.
Turning point: Two moments stand out. Michigan went to East Lansing at 4-0 and rallied from a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit to force overtime before Forcier's magic ran out. A win there might have changed things, at least a little. The other came Oct. 31 at Illinois, as Michigan led 13-7 and had a first-and-goal at the Illini 1-yard line early in the third quarter. The Wolverines couldn't reach the end zone and went on to get crushed 38-13. They never recovered.
What's next: The results of the NCAA's investigation into the program should be known at some point this month, and Michigan could face major violations. Rodriguez has to find some help on defense, especially with Graham gone and star cornerback Donovan Warren likely joining him. Michigan should be solid on offense next fall, but the defense must be upgraded.