BY GABE EDELSON: HONEST GABE
Published December 13, 2005
It's gotta be the uniforms.
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How else can you explain Michigan's unusual season?
The Wolverines' 7-4 record this year is the team's worst regular-season mark since 1994. Understandably, many people have been left scratching their heads in an attempt to figure out exactly what went wrong. Sure, it's easy to call attention - as I have - to Michigan's five late-game defensive collapses that allowed opponents to win or tie games in the final minute. But there must be a deeper, more profound cause - right?
Well, after a close examination, the Wolverines' new threads seem to be the culprit. In the vein of the ESPN Classic show, "The Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame," I present to you "The Top 6 Reasons You Must Blame Michigan's New Uniforms for the Wolverines' Sub-Par Season." Each explanation will eliminate another potential target of finger-pointing from the equation until no possible excuses remain. Let's take a look:
1. You can't blame Mike Hart.
After Hart's jaw-dropping freshman year - 1,692 all-purpose yards and 10 total touchdowns - many expected Michigan's star tailback to challenge for the Doak Walker Award, given annually to the nation's best running back. Instead, Hart managed to shoulder the bulk of the Wolverines' rushing load in just four games this year. Because of nagging leg injuries throughout the season, he amassed a disappointing 17 carries for 36 yards against Notre Dame, Iowa and Ohio State combined. Hart didn't even see the field against Eastern Michigan, Wisconsin, Northwestern or Indiana. But it wouldn't be fair to blame Hart and his 588-yard, four-score campaign for Michigan's woes. After all, sore hamstrings and bum ankles are part of football, and it can happen to anybody at any time. In addition, backups Jerome Jackson and Kevin Grady proved capable in Hart's absence. Most people tend to believe that the running game is more important than the ball-carrier's uniform. I'm not so certain.
2. You can't blame Steve Breaston.
A redshirt junior wide receiver, Breaston wasn't healthy for much of the beginning of the season. An attempt to transform him into the team's deep-threat failed because Breaston wasn't well suited to the task. As a natural return specialist who excels from the slot, Breaston stepped up his play when he returned to his familiar role. He picked up 85 percent of his receiving yardage over the final six games of the regular season. Against Indiana, Breaston out-gained the entire Hoosiers team with 201 all-purpose yards - in the first half. Is it fair to blame him for being injured and playing an unfamiliar position? Probably not. Let's move on.
3. You can't blame Chad Henne.
Michigan's quarterback endured plenty of criticism during what many perceived to be a "sophomore slump." Barring a 500-yard, five-touchdown performance in the Alamo Bowl, the sophomore will fall short of his 2004 numbers. But many don't give Henne credit for playing superbly against Ohio State and showing flashes of brilliance against Michigan State, Penn State and Indiana. Add in a number of drops by his receivers, a quickly shrinking pocket and the loss of Braylon Edwards, and Henne's 20-touchdown, seven-interception season suddenly doesn't look so terrible. I've heard people say that Henne and his play are critical to the Wolverines' fate on the gridiron. But we all know that clothes make the man.
4. You can't blame the offensive line.
Opposing defensive lines dominated the unity early in the season, but that was understandable. After all, mammoth tackle Jake Long, perhaps the team's best lineman, missed Michigan's first seven games after suffering a freak injury in fall camp. Tackle Adam Stenavich, guard Matt Lentz and center Adam Kraus also took turns sitting out with various injuries. What's more, Rueben Riley, Mark Bihl, Mike Kolodziej and Alex Mitchell performed admirably while filling in for their stricken teammates. Starting guard Leo Henige and Long will miss the Alamo Bowl after undergoing surgery, and Kraus may also sit out. Still, it would be fair to say that the Wolverines' blockers overachieved, considering the circumstances.
5. You can't blame the coaching staff.