When will this Michigan football team hit rock bottom?
After a six-turnover game at Notre Dame last month, it looked as if the Wolverines couldn’t play any worse. That was when Rich Rodriguez said Michigan football would “be back,” and his prediction appeared accurate when Michigan upset No. 8 Wisconsin two weeks later.
Then came last weekend’s blowout loss to Illinois — a game in which the Wolverines played like veterans for the first 15 minutes and looked like they didn’t know which way was up for the last 45.
But after that game, a beacon of hope came down from the scheduling gods: Toledo.
The Toledo Rockets of the Mid-American Conference, a collection of teams against whom Michigan had a 24-0 record going into the game. Toledo, a team that was 1-4 coming into the game, had given up more than 30 points per game and lost at home to Florida International (yes, that’s a real school). What better way to get some momentum back for the rest of the conference schedule?
Momentum, huh? It’s hard to find anything other than more doubts after Saturday.
The biggest concern for Michigan after losing to Toledo is that it regressed once again. All afternoon, there were the same mistakes you expect from an inexperienced team in week one, but errors that are unacceptable by the sixth game of the season.
• Three interceptions, one returned 100 yards for the Rockets’ only touchdown of the day.
• Two late-hit personal fouls, both entirely unnecessary and neither on defense.
• The missed 26-yard field goal in the closing seconds, which would have sent the game to overtime.
• About a million missed tackles.
Good teams rarely get away with mistakes like those, and Michigan is not a good team.
What has to worry the fan base is a simple question: If the Wolverines can’t win at home against Toledo, then who can they possibly beat the rest of the season?
It’s not time to worry about extending the bowl appearance streak to 34 years. That ship sailed at about 3:15 on Saturday afternoon. It’s time to worry about getting a third win — for the entire season.
After the game Rodriguez and his players talked about taking a day to think about the loss and then moving on to Penn State. They always have that mantra, and sometimes it’s even believable, but not now, not after a loss like that.
“Coach Rod tells us, whether it’s a win or a loss, to either celebrate it or kinda be depressed about it for only 24 hours, and then get it out of your mind,” redshirt sophomore linebacker Obi Ezeh said. “With that, just try and keep it out of your mind. It will probably try to linger in the back of your mind.”
The fact is, this one is going to sting for anyone remotely connected to the Michigan football program for a long time.
Even a man as confident as Rodriguez, a coach who has built programs from practically nothing into powerhouses, had too much doubt in his eyes after Saturday’s game for comfort.
He has the coaching staff he’s comfortable with and the system that has made him famous. Sure, Rodriguez could use more talent on the field, talent tailored to his schemes. But the coach knows no matter the talent level, his team shouldn’t look like it did against Toledo, not halfway through the season.
On Saturday, Rodriguez didn’t sound angry as he did after the losses to Notre Dame and Illinois. Instead, he sounded sad.
What else can be done? How low can it go?
— Sandals can be reached at email@example.com.