The Michigan Wolverines have been one of the biggest surprises in college football this year, as QB Denard Robinson has emerged as a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate and UM has beaten two quality opponents. But while these victories demonstrate progress on the part of Rich Rodriguez and his team, it is only a mirage to the bigger problems facing the Wolverine program.
Even the biggest Buckeye fans have to admit that Denard Robinson has been terrific thus far. He has rushed for 455 yds in two games, averaging 8.0 ypc, and his passing has even been pretty good, as he has completed 69% of his passes. The problem is he has already rushed the ball 57 times, thats more than every Michigan RB combined. Robinson is as thin as a rail, and if this pace continues he is going to get injured at some point in time. Even if it is a series of minor injuries as opposed to a single major injury, it will hurt his effectiveness, and at this point in time Robinson is Michigan’s offense. As great as he is, he cannot handle the load by himself for an entire season. Furthermore, UM is going to eventually go up against some very talented defenses -OSU, Iowa, even Michigan State – that will key in on Robinson and force other players to make plays.
One of the reasons Rodriguez’s teams at West Virginia were so good was because they had that dynamic QB in Pat White, but they also had some great running backs like Steve Slaton and Noel Devine. But right now, Michigan’s best running back is averaging 3.2 ypc. That isn’t going to be good enough. Still, Michigan beat to decent teams in Connecticut and Notre Dame, but those teams weren’t good enough or didn’t have the personnel to take advantage of Michigan’s biggest weakness – the defense. Put simply, Michigan’s defense is porous, especially in the secondary. UConn has a great run game but a very weak passing attack, so they were unable to take advantage of this. And ND missed their starting QB for a good portion of the first half on Saturday, and still racked up 535 total yards on offense. If Dayne Christ hadn’t missed any time, the two INTs thrown by backup QBs may not have happened, and the game could have gone in a different direction. Michigan just doesn’t have any elite talent on defense right now, and a team with a good passing attack can light up that secondary. OSU, Wisconsin, and Iowa will have little trouble putting up points on Michigan, and Robinson likely won’t be able to keep up.
Rich-Rod has also been coming up short in the recruiting department. In Scout.com’s rankings, Rodriquez had his most success in his first season as coach, having the 6th best class in the nation. Most of that recruiting work, however, was done by Lloyd Carr, and recruiting only got worse from there. In 2009, UM’s class ranked 14th, in 2010 it ranked 12th, and his 2011 class currently ranked 29th. Those aren’t horrible rankings – and rankings aren’t an end-all-be-all sort of thing – but they aren’t good enough for what UM should be doing. This problem is compounded by the fact that he is failing to bring in enough elite defensive talent. His defense is already bad, but there are no young players on the team that seem capable of turning it around. It seems like Rich-Rod has spent so much of his time focusing on finding guys to fit his spread offense that he hasn’t been working hard enough to find top defensive talent.
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Michigan so far this year has followed a path similar to last season. Behind freshman phenom Tate Forcier, Michigan raced out to a 2-0 start, including a last second win against ND. We know what happened next – Michigan proved to be overrated and limped to a 5 win season. Things do appear to be better this time around, in no small part because Robinson looks like the real deal. But that doesn’t mean Michigan is back to being an elite team, in fact they are still far from it. They have the schedule to race out to a 5-0 start (sorry, Indiana), but after that, it gets tough. The only games they will likely be favored in are at home vs Michigan St and Illinois and at Purdue. But even the Michigan State game will be tough. While they could pull an upset against a top 25 team, its entirely possible that they only win 7 games this year. That almost certainly will end Rich-Rod’s tenure in Michigan. But what if they win 8, or even 9 games? Rodriquez will likely stay on board, but it remains to be seen if the pieces are in place for Michigan to make the jump back to where they belong – the elite.
This article originally appeared on landloyalty.com