Big Ten: Chris Relf

Michigan's up-and-down season ended on a very down note, and an embarrassing loss in the Progressive Gator Bowl could spell the end for embattled Wolverines coach Rich Rodriguez.

Let's look back at Michigan's 52-14 loss to Mississippi State in Jacksonville.

How the game was won: Mississippi State steamrolled a soft Michigan defense that didn't make the type of strides it needed to during bowl practice. And after a fast start from Denard Robinson and the Wolverines offense, the game got out of hand as Mississippi State dominated the second quarter and never looked back. The season-long woes that plagued Michigan's defense -- tackling, angles, reading the quarterback -- showed up again in Jacksonville. Perhaps the only surprise was Michigan's offense didn't do more to keep things somewhat competitive.

Turning point: The second quarter really turned the game in Mississippi State's favor, and the Bulldogs capitalized off of a critical Wolverines turnover. Down 17-14, the Wolverines faced third-and-13 from their own 21-yard line when Robinson threw an interception. It was the type of throw he made too much in Big Ten play, and it cost Michigan as Mississippi State marched for a touchdown, converting a fourth-and-2 play along the way.

Player of the game: Mississippi State quarterback Chris Relf. Relf was extremely efficient as a passer, completing 18 of 23 attempts for 281 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. He added a rushing touchdown and 39 yards on the ground as the Bulldogs became the latest team to destroy Michigan's defense.

Stat of the game: Third down once again proved to be Michigan's downfall on both sides of the ball. Mississippi State converted 9 of 17 third-down attempts against Michigan, which went just 2-for-10 on third down and 0-for-5 on fourth down in the game. The Wolverines simply couldn't keep drives alive.

What it means: Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon wanted to wait until the end of the season to evaluate Rodriguez. After Rodriguez had five weeks to prepare for the bowl, Brandon had to expect a lot better than this from the Wolverines. It's hard to imagine Rodriguez surviving for another year, especially if Jim Harbaugh is willing to leave Stanford for his alma mater, but Michigan could keep Rodriguez and overhaul the defensive staff. The offense remains potent with Robinson but makes too many critical mistakes against improved competition. The defense has endured a lot of misfortune, but its inability to improve even a little bit before the bowl is inexcusable.

I really enjoyed reading Tate Forcier's quotes this week about his drama-filled career at Michigan.

The sophomore quarterback talked about losing his starting job to Denard Robinson, nearly transferring early this season and then choosing to stick it out in Ann Arbor. He discussed his maturity, his respect for Robinson and how everything is part of a plan.

Here's Forcier in his own words:
On Rich Rodriguez's statements last spring about Forcier's immaturity: "Just being a freshman, hitting the freshman wall. Having too much success, letting it get to my head, going out [partying]. I used to love going out. Now it's like, it's old. Being a freshman, everything's so new to you. You get overwhelmed with everything. Believe it or not, it hurt me having a lot of success so early. You take any kid, not just a quarterback, and put them on a stage like this and have success, it's going to be hard for them to be able to handle it, especially being so far away from home. It's just different. I learned a lot after my freshman year. It's not all about you; it's about the team."

Forcier was candid and entertaining. He sounded like a guy who had evolved after dealing with some disappointment.

Now he's dealing with more disappointment, and so is Michigan.

The school announced Thursday that Forcier is ineligible for Michigan's matchup with Mississippi State in the Progressive Gator Bowl. According to a news release, Forcier "did not meet university standards." That sounds a little vague, but Forcier's situation likely relates to academics.

It's an unfortunate situation for a player who earned respect for remaining with Michigan and backing up Robinson throughout the season. Forcier appeared in eight games and passed for 597 yards and four touchdowns with four interceptions.

His situation puts Michigan in a tough spot entering the bowl game. The Wolverines had been seeking a medical hardship waiver for freshman Devin Gardner, who appeared in the first four games this fall before back problems kept him sidelined. Gardner, who has been simulating Mississippi State quarterback Chris Relf on the scout team leading up to the bowl game, now is a play away from the field. Gardner won't retain a season of eligibility if he plays in the bowl.

Michigan really needs Robinson to remain on the field Saturday, for multiple reasons.

What's next for Forcier? We'll have to wait to find out.

Michigan defense gets back to basics

December, 30, 2010
Michigan's defense had a rough time playing against just about all of its Big Ten opponents this season.

So what's the best part about five weeks off before a bowl game? No opponent.

The Wolverines could simply worry about themselves.

"Having a month to prepare, you're not practicing for Mississippi State the whole time," Wolverines sophomore defensive end Craig Roh said. "You have like seven practices to practice just technique. That can help a lot of guys. You're always evaluating yourselves, and having that time off just to relax a little bit and really evaluate what we need to improve on does help the defense."

After finishing 102nd nationally in points allowed, 108th in total yards allowed and 111th in pass yards allowed, Michigan needs a much stronger effort from its defense Saturday against Mississippi State in the Progressive Gator Bowl.

Although the Wolverines' lacked noticeable progress on defense throughout the season, the unit was ravaged by injuries, player departures and other factors, particularly in the secondary. Michigan has played 13 true freshmen, including six defensive backs, and had three other defenders make their collegiate debut this fall.

Roh has seen the young players benefit greatly from the long pre-bowl layoff.

"I'm seeing a maturing," Roh said. "They're just starting to really become more confident. I was a freshman last year, and you just need to get some games under your belt and get some time under your belt to get confidence."

Roh has used bowl prep to fine-tune the technical aspects of his game. He played outside linebacker for a chunk of the season before settling in at defensive end, where he's most comfortable.

Michigan needs a strong performance from Roh and the rest of the defensive line against a Mississippi State offense that boasts several rushing weapons, including running backs Vick Ballard and LaDarius Perkins and quarterback Chris Relf.

"They're a really well-rounded offense," Roh said. "They don't really have a weakness or a weak guy that you can really pick on. They're all good players, so it's going to be a good challenge for us.

"We really need to get on our techniques. If we execute our game plan, we'll have a great chance of winning."

Gator bowl

December, 5, 2010
Mississippi State Bulldogs (8-4) vs. Michigan Wolverines (7-5)

Jan. 1, 1:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

Mississippi State take by SEC blogger Chris Low: There was a little drama at the end about where, but Mississippi State is going back to a bowl game for the first time since the 2007 season. At one point, it looked like the Bulldogs (8-4) might fall to the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, but the Gator Bowl scooped the Bulldogs up to face Michigan in what will be their first Jan. 1 bowl appearance since the 1999 Cotton Bowl.

Dan Mullen, in his second season at Mississippi State, has rejuvenated the program. The Bulldogs won six straight games during the middle portion of their schedule before losing back-to-back games to Alabama and Arkansas following the death of defensive end Nick Bell, who died of cancer.

Mississippi State recovered to beat Ole Miss for a second straight season, really endearing Mullen to the Bulldogs’ fans. Perhaps the best news for Mississippi State entering this game is Mullen said Sunday night he’s staying put. School officials are working on a new deal to keep him in Starkville amid reports that he was one of the top targets at Miami.

The Bulldogs have leaned on their running game all season. They're ranked 16th nationally in rushing offense, averaging 215.8 yards per game.

Michigan take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: Michigan is bowl bound for the first time in three seasons, and once again the spotlight will be on the Wolverines head coach.

The Wolverines sent Lloyd Carr out as a winner by knocking off defending national champion Florida in the 2008 Capital One Bowl. They’ll try to deliver a similar performance Jan. 1 against Mississippi State for embattled coach Rich Rodriguez, who still doesn’t know whether he’ll return for a fourth season.

The Gator Bowl features two spread offense teams and two of the system’s proven practitioners in Rodriguez and Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen. Michigan has had the more dynamic offense this season, ranking sixth nationally in yards per game (500.9) and 11th in rushing (251.1 ypg). The Wolverines also boast the most dynamic player on the field in quarterback Denard Robinson, who ranks fourth nationally in rushing average (136.9 ypg).

Mississippi State, however, looks like the better team. The Bulldogs don’t have an obvious flaw like Michigan (defense, special teams), and all four of their losses came against top 20 opponents (Auburn, Arkansas, LSU, Alabama). Michigan’s defense will have its hands full with Bulldogs dual-threat quarterback Chris Relf.

Perhaps the best news for Michigan is that Mississippi State doesn’t play in the Big Ten. The Wolverines are 8-0 in nonconference games the last two seasons but just 6-18 in the Big Ten under Rodriguez.



Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12