Any win is a good win. And this past Saturday afternoon, the Wolverines were able to stay out of the loss column. So that”s good.
But an ugly victory over an inferior opponent is still cause for trouble. And on Saturday, the Wolverines did look tremendously sloppy. That”s troubling.
This coming weekend, Michigan might see what happens to a good team that doesn”t get it together in time to take the field. It would be a realization similar to the one suffered last year in the scorching heat of the Rose Bowl after a 23-20 loss to UCLA in the third game of the season.
In last season”s first two games over Bowling Green and Rice, the Wolverines looked very good. So did their record.
But then-backup John Navarre was not ready to face the Bruins. His solid performances against the Falcons and the Owls were not indicative of his ability against the nation”s elite.
So what does Michigan”s average performance against Miami say about its chances in Seattle this weekend or in the Big Ten race?
It”s hard to tell at this point. The Wolverines were rusty in their first game not a rare occurrence, by any means. They were without two of their star linebackers, Eric Brackins and Larry Foote. They were christening an almost brand new offensive line and a new starting quarterback and tailback.
So there”s no need for the doomsday fears just yet, unless Michigan doesn”t shake off the rust and do what it takes to secure a victory in its next challenge.
Some of the problems that the Wolverines had against the RedHawks were inexcusable. With all due respect to Miami, Michigan”s defensive line heralded as much-improved from last year”s unit should not miss tackle after tackle against MAC players. The offensive line, even a young offensive line, should be able to lead tailback B.J. Askew one yard forward on fourth-and-one from the 49-yard line.
“I think the defense as a whole expects a lot from ourselves and we don”t expect to miss tackles like we did against Miami,” linebacker Victor Hobson said. “I think on Saturday we missed a few tackles we should have made and I think we gave up a few big plays that we shouldn”t have. That”s going to happen in a first game, but we expect a lot from ourselves and expect that not to happen.”
It can”t happen in Seattle.
Husky Stadium might be the toughest place in the country for visitors to win. And Michigan coach Lloyd Carr knows the issues that the rabid Washington fans can cause.
“I have said through the years that there are lots of stadiums in this conference that are loud, but the loudest stadium I have ever been in was at Washington,” Carr said. “I don”t know what year that was but they get tremendous fan support and they really get into the game. Sometimes that can create problems.”
Carr is right winning in Husky Stadium is difficult for a weathered and experienced team. But the bigger concern is how a young and mistake-prone team, which the Wolverines appeared to be against the RedHawks, will handle the pressure.
The 31-13 final is deceiving. The Wolverines could have easily been up only 10-6 going into halftime had Navarre not found tight end Bennie Joppru wide open on fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line. And even with the 17-6 lead that the Maize and Blue held throughout the third quarter, the Wolverines seemed one turnover away from giving Miami all the momentum it needed to take the game.
“I felt like we could have beat Michigan today,” Miami wide receiver Eddie Tillitz said. “I don”t think they were all they were hyped up to be.”
These are the problems that need to be ironed out before Michigan grows too concerned about the setting it will face in Seattle. Michigan can”t be a team that MAC schools consider beatable.
“I think (Navarre) was correct when he said you learn a lot about a team”s character in a game like Washington,” defensive lineman Dan Rumishek said. “It”s very good to learn about it early in the season because then you know what you are working with for the rest of the year.”
By no means will winning in Washington be easy. And for all intents and purposes, the game that the Wolverines played against Miami is not going to cut it at all. If the same team shows up this weekend, things could get ugly.
But should Michigan clean off the rust and perform like the No. 12 team in the country, it could do what only five visiting teams have done in the past 47 games at Husky Stadium win.
“We have some things to work on and we have some things to correct,” Navarre said. “The good thing is a lot of them are correctable, and we can get better. The team is confident that we can play better football than what we did on Saturday. All in all we feel good.”
Jon Schwartz can be reached at email@example.com