Saturday, January 1, 2011
Instant analysis: Miss. State 52, Michigan 14
By Adam Rittenberg
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.