There’s no ‘D’ in Michigan – and that’s the problem

by | Nov 21, 2010 | Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

The pass hit a Wisconsin lineman, flew up in the air and fluttered back into his arms. J.J. Watt – all 6-feet-6 and nearly 300 pounds of him – began to rumble. And the only thing in his way was poor Denard Robinson, the quarterback who threw the ball. Robinson grabbed Watt’s jersey with both hands, hit the turf and held on for dear life. Finally, the big man tumbled. It was like bringing down a bull with a jump rope. And the saddest part wasn’t the interception that just occurred, or that all hope for a victory had been dashed.

No. The saddest part was that Robinson had just made Michigan’s best tackle of the day.

Can’t stop ’em, can’t beat ’em. It’s pretty simple. The Wolverines have one fast superstar, a flashy offense and a nonexistent defense. I mean Casper the Ghost nonexistent. Dinosaur nonexistent. When a team runs 31 straight times on you, you’re extinct.

And that’s what Wisconsin did Saturday. Thirty-one straight running plays, 58 total – or 80% of their snaps. Government cheese has fewer handoffs.

A team runs that much only when 1) it knows it can, 2) it’s playing with a lead. Wisconsin led, 24-0, at halftime. You’d run it, too. You might be tempted to take a knee the entire second half.

“I gotta see who missed the tackles,” coach Rich Rodriguez said when this was over, 48-28.

I can save him time. Assume everybody.

Can’t stop ’em, can’t beat ’em.

If the offense doesn’t score 50 …

Let’s be blunt. This is half a team. Whatever Michigan’s offense has been to “awesome,” Michigan’s defense has been to “awful.” It doesn’t improve, it just prays for weaker opponents. When Rodriguez laments, as he did Saturday, “We have to have things go right for us,” he means he can’t count on getting a stop. He might win a 67-65 shoot-out with Illinois. But if the offense trips, fumbles or goes flat, it’s pretty much over.

And that’s what happened against the Badgers, who, admittedly, are one of the best teams in the country. They came out charging, U-M couldn’t keep up – several three-and-out possessions – and that was it. Like watching a coyote run off with your baby rabbit.

Wisconsin punted once. Once. The Badgers had two rushers over 170 yards, six rushing TDs, 357 ground yards total – and another 201 yards passing, because, I guess, those come free with your purchase.

“We knew they were gonna come out and hit us straight in the face,” said cornerback James Rogers. “We gotta make tackles, that’s all.”

Speaking of which – what’s with the inability to tackle? Don’t players at Michigan’s level arrive knowing how to tackle? Don’t they get coached? You’d never know it watching them. They are out of position, coming at bad angles, flailing with their arms and flinging off opponents like water off a shaking dog.

If Bielema can do it …

Here’s part of the problem. The Wolverines are young, and they’re hurt. They have kids and subs out there – some not quite big enough yet. Rodriguez says he doesn’t like excuses, but he often uses these excuses. And he’s not totally wrong. “Go find another Division I school that has five or six true freshman playing significant time on defense,” he said.

But it’s more than youth. They don’t look like they know what they’re doing. Their coaching is absolutely suspect. And you can’t fix that fundamental stuff during the season. You address it in training camps, in spring practices, in recruiting and in the staff you hire.

None of which takes place before next weekend.

Which means strap yourselves in, U-M fans. Because Ohio State will show no mercy on these Wolverines, who are likely to finish with a 3-5 Big Ten record and not one victory against a ranked team.

And that makes the Maize and Blue grow restless. Bret Bielema, who took over Wisconsin’s program two years before Rodriguez came to Ann Arbor, has never suffered a losing season and now has his team at 10-1 and poised for possible national title shot. You think U-M fans don’t notice that?

“This is one of the most storied places in college football,” Bielema told the media about Michigan Stadium. “None of the teams in the past were going to play today.”

That’s for sure. Those Michigan squads could tackle. Can’t stop ’em, can’t beat ’em. The Wolverines are half a team these days, and that’s a whole lot of trouble.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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