- Adam Glanzman/Daily
By Everett Cook, Daily Sports Writer
Published December 29, 2013
TEMPE, Ariz. — They might talk about this night one day in the near future, about how this was the game that showed us program-saving quarterback Shane Morris for the first time and the game that warmed up Brady Hoke’s seat just enough to make him push the right buttons.
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Maybe this is the game that turned it all around for this program from not just a short-term fix, but a long last plan — the final skid mark on the highway wreck that was the 2013 Michigan football season somehow becoming the game that woke everyone up.
If you’re a Michigan fan, that’s what you have to hang your hat on right now, the potential for this to be a game that somehow became a catalyst for future change, whether it’s in the form of a healthy Devin Gardner, a more experienced Shane Morris or a new coordinating staff that doesn’t continue to get schooled by opposing coaching staffs.
Because right now, in 2013, this is bad. This is a shredded defense and an offensive game plan that tried to set a world record in attempted reverses. This is getting out-strategized by a 74-year old coach, Bill Snyder, who was born at the onset of World War II and makes less than both of Michigan’s biggest members of the brain trust, offensive coordinator Al Borges and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison.
Remember when Rich Rodriguez was fired in his third year after a 7-6 record? Was that really so much worse than this, a 31-14 loss in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl that dropped Michigan’s record to 7-6 in Hoke’s third year?
Here’s the thing about Saturday’s game: in the grand scheme of this season, it really didn’t matter. This dumpster fire was going to burn regardless of the outcome in a middling bowl game, win, loss or tie. For 2013, this bowl game didn’t hold much importance.
The only reason this game mattered was for the next couple years, the years that are supposed to bring Michigan back to a level that isn’t a bowl game before New Years. This bowl was about the future, not about salvaging the un-salvageable present.
But it’s not as easy as assuming next year will be different, that a new class of seniors and freshman will find a switch that this year’s class didn’t. You can’t just shut the door on this year and assume that none of it will seep out the cracks. The slate can never be entirely wiped clean.
“We put up numbers and stuff, but it was a frustrating season in general,” said fifth-year senior offensive tackle Michael Schofield. “Our offense was struggling, then our defense was struggling…we just never really clicked as a unit, as a whole team. When we did, you saw what happened. There were games we put it together, we just couldn’t do it consistently. It’s tough.”
So that’s why the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, and this season, mattered. It was a blueprint for what not to do. In the locker room after the game, sophomore linebacker James Ross III said that, “It was just our mindset from the jump. We weren’t totally into it, I would say.” While Derrick Green answered questions, fifth-year senior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint made faces and tried to make him laugh.
If Michigan wants to continue to be a nationally respected program, to be Michigan, there can’t be another 2013 next year. Whether that means switching up certain members of the coaching staff or not is unclear at this point. Right now, in the desert, the only thing that matters are the lessons the Wolverines either will or will not take from this debacle of a game, and this debacle of a season.
The last shot we saw of this football team was after the game, when the confetti that was actually shredded newspaper shot onto the field and Kansas State celebrated near midfield. Many Michigan players bolted to the locker rooms, but some stuck around to shake hands with the Wildcats. The last three players to leave the field were Morris, Gardner and fifth-year senior tackle Taylor Lewan. The present, Gardner, limped off in crutches with the future, Morris, slowly walking next to him.
The past, Lewan, was the last to head to the locker room. He took in the moment, hugging fans and his mom before running into the tunnel. The last words he would heard in a Michigan uniform from a fan would be someone screaming, “Thanks Taylor!”
All three of these stages matter. All three intersect.