Michigan’s season began with a four-game winning streak, highlighted by a last-second victory over Notre Dame, and a three-week stay in the Top 25. The Wolverines and coach Rich Rodriguez appeared to have turned the corner, putting in the past a 3-9 record in his first season and the program's first losing season in 41 years. But a three-game Big Ten losing streak, capped by a 25-point loss to Penn State at Michigan Stadium last Saturday, gave the season a totally different feel.
Michigan’s season began with a four-game winning streak, highlighted by a last-second victory over Notre Dame, and a three-week stay in the Top 25.
The Wolverines and coach Rich Rodriguez appeared to have turned the corner, putting in the past a 3-9 record in his first season and the program's first losing season in 41 years. But a three-game Big Ten losing streak, capped by a 25-point loss to Penn State at Michigan Stadium last Saturday, gave the season a totally different feel.
When Michigan (5-3 overall, 1-3 in the Big Ten) plays at Illinois (1-6, 0-5) Saturday (2:30 p.m., ABC), the Wolverines want to save a season and build momentum in a proud program trying to return to the top. The 35-10 loss to the Nittany Lions reminded everyone just how far Michigan still has to go.
"I'm disappointed in the way we played Saturday,'' Rodriguez said. "In a couple earlier losses, we had chances to win the game. We didn't play great, but we played competitively and had a chance at the end. In the last game, we didn't give ourselves a chance.
"Everyone realizes where we are in the program and some of the issues we're dealing with and can see progress. Our fans, alumni and administration have been very supportive, but they want to see progress. Nobody wants it more than the coaches and players.''
These are tough times in the state of Michigan, where unemployment is soaring and the Wolverines are falling out of relevance, and they got worse last week when the NCAA officially notified the university that its investigation into the Michigan football program was continuing, the school said Monday. It marked a significant development that indicates the probe so far has uncovered information worth a deeper look.
An investigation began two months ago after the Detroit Free Press reported allegations by several current and former players that Michigan regularly violated NCAA rules governing required practice, film study and workout time. Shortly before the latest news from the NCAA became known, athletic director Bill Martin announced he will retire soon.
Rodriguez wouldn't deny any rules had been broken Tuesday on the Big Ten media conference call.
"You'd love for this to be over as soon as possible,'' he said. "We have to go through due process. We'll see where it takes us.''
Behind the electrifying play of freshman quarterback Tate Forcier, the Wolverines overcame a weak defense earlier in the season, but the magic evaporated in losses to Michigan State, Iowa and Penn State. Forcier, who compiled 310 yards of total offense against Notre Dame, had 120 total yards vs. Iowa and 150 against Penn State.
Meanwhile, the hiring of Greg Robinson as defensive coordinator has done little to help that side of the ball. The former Syracuse coach and former coordinator at Texas and in the NFL directs a unit ranked eighth in the Big Ten.
"A couple plays, they had trouble lining up," Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark told reporters after throwing for 230 yards and four touchdowns.
Primarily an offensive guru and spread specialist, Rodriguez did spend time early in his career as a defensive coach, but he doesn't plan to oversee the defense.
"I probably micromanage too much anyway,'' he said. "I trust our defensive coaches, and they've got a lot of experience. It's all just a matter of just playing better and getting them in position as coaches to make plays and then hopefully the guys will do it.''
A three-game losing streak in the Big Ten reminded everyone there's still lots to be done.
John Supinie can be reached at Johnsupinie@aol.com.
A look at Michigan
Record: 5-3 overall, 1-3 in the Big Ten.
So far: Def. Western Michigan 31-7, def. Notre Dame 38-34, def. Eastern Michigan 45-17, def. Indiana 36-33, lost to Michigan State 26-20 (OT), lost to Iowa 30-28, def. Delaware State 63-6, lost to Penn State 35-10.
Coach: Rich Rodriguez, 8-12 in second year at Michigan, 113-74-2 in 17th year overall.
Players to watch: QB Tate Forcier (1,167 yards, 9 TDs passing), DE Brandon Graham (5.5 sacks), MLB Obi Ezeh (62 tackles).
Did you know?: Michigan has only lost once in Champaign since 1957.