TSB Exclusive Interview: Rich Rodriguez’s pride

Michigan Rodriguez Football

By H. Jose Bosch

The Sports Bank’s very own H. Jose Bosch has been given a once-in-a-lifetime exclusive interview with Rich Rodriguez’s pride. Long believed to have disappeared, Jose has managed to find it and get the interview everyone’s been wanting.

The transcription after the jump.

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Falling into the abyss will test loyalty for Rich Rodriguez

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By H. Jose Bosch

I didn’t watch a single play from Saturday’s debacle in Ann Arbor. Why? I was tailgating with my father before James Madison University took on the University of Maine.

That’s right. I picked a Football Championship Series (formerly Division I-AA) football game between two mediocre FCS teams over the Wolverines on an HDTV.

That’s how far Michigan has dropped in the last two years.

It’s not that I’ve stopped rooting for Michigan or that I don’t care about the results. I was just as upset about the loss as if I had watched the whole game. Well, maybe I was a little less upset because I didn’t actually have to watch it.

The fact is that with the exception of the Ohio State game (and only that is due to such a long and outstanding tradition) the Wolverines are no longer must-see TV. They really haven’t been for most of the Rich Rodriguez era.

In years past, when Michigan was a perennial national power, you’d be foolish to miss any match up. You wanted to witness every step in the march toward a Big Ten title and, in some years, a national title. But for the last two season fans have been watching the Wolverines stumbling and tripping into the unenviable position of being an NCAA laughingstock.

The only school worse of than Michigan is, arguably, Notre Dame. And that’s only because Charlie Weis has been coaching their longer. Oh and that’s been Rodriguez’s only signature win. Against another former great who is embarrassing itself.

michigan_sucksI’ve always been a Rodriguez supporter. I’ve preached patience with this team and the program. Not all of this terrible play is his fault. Brian Cook at MGoBlog has done a fantastic job breaking down why you should still support RichRod. (But even Cook, who is the highest-profile Rodriguez supporter on the web, is starting to weaken).

But I’m going to admit that my support is wavering a bit. This team is an improvement from last season, but just because you improve from nothing doesn’t mean you’re close to being a national power. I’m sick and tired of the Wolverines, not just losing games, but losing them in a fashion that shows they’re a.) unprepared b.) not talented or c.) or both.

Sometimes to clean up a mess you have to make everything just a little bit messier. We’re in that stage with Michigan right now. But can any of us stand to see this through?

Yet another sad chapter in the Michigan football saga

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By H. Jose Bosch

Dear Michigan football fans,

This is not the way I want to end things, but I just couldn’t bring myself to tell you in person.

I’m leaving.

Yes, I know the season isn’t done yet but I feel like it’s time for me to go. I think Saturday’s loss proves that this has all just been a charade. I mean, when we walk down the street together, people are laughing behind our backs. We can’t go out for a nice quiet evening without someone else questioning our relationship. It’s clear that this just isn’t going to work out.

But I want you to know that it’s not you, it’s me. I know people say that all the time, but I really do mean it. Our relationship began under false pretenses. You were looking for something more long term and I clearly couldn’t provide that for you. That doesn’t mean what we had wasn’t real. It just means we weren’t being realistic when we thought it was going to last.

Did you see the defense give up nearly 400 yards of offense on the ground? Could you stand to watch those half-hearted attempts at tackles? Do you understand that a freshman quarterback just can’t lead a team as effectively as a more experienced quarterback?

I know what you’re probably saying to yourself. You’re probably angry that I’ve even led you on this far. That’s fair. But please don’t be too angry with me. When I saw how happy you were at the beginning of the season, I couldn’t help but stick around. It was easy for me to ignore all the problems after a 4-0 start. But now that the team is 5-4, the team’s issues are too big to ignore.

I’m afraid to say you’re on your own the rest of the season. That doesn’t mean we still can’t be friends. But I think it’s best that we spend some time apart.

Never forget me Michigan football fans. Who knows, maybe we’ll meet again in the future.

With love,

Hope

Michigan and Rich Rodriguez have nothing but a bowl to play for

RichKD/flickr

RichKD/flickr

By H. Jose Bosch

No one can convince me that there is a better place in the world than Buffalo Wild Wings. Why?

Plenty of solid beers to choose from; the wings, unlike Hooters, are actually good and the whole atmosphere of it all helps you forget that your college football team is actually as mediocre as you feared.

I’m sorry, what? What was the third thing I wrote? The wings?

Oh, that’s right, the mediocre football team Michigan played on Saturday and contrary to the hopes of only the most disillusioned fans the Wolverines were who we thought they were. They’re led by a freshman quarterback who is still raw; have a secondary with no true playmaker (or any good talent outside of Donnovan Warren) and a head coach still struggling to run a football team his way without all of the personnel to do it.

This season has essentially turned into the morning after. One evening of unadulterated (think 4-0, win over Notre Dame) fun followed by a massive headache with someone you really don’t want to wake up next to (1-3 since). It happens to men. It happens to women. And it happens to football teams and their fan bases.

For the rest of the year, rather than playing for anything significant in terms of the conference, the Wolverines are now just playing for one more win. Why? Bowl eligibility.

RichRod may not have Michigan competing for a conference title this season, but you can be sure he wants to get the Wolverines back into a bowl game. Considering how awful last season was, even if Michigan has to make a trip to the Little Caesars Bowl (formerly the Motor City Bowl) I’m sure Rodriguez will take it.

To keep the morning after analogy going, just imagine trying to leave the person’s bedroom without waking them up. Sure, the entire rest of the world knows you’re making the walk of shame, especially if you’re coming from a costume party. There may even be roommates waiting on the other side of the door to laugh at you.

It can be very ugly.

But if you can escape without having to talk to the Frankenstein next to you, well, isn’t that all that matters?

Moral victories are all Michigan has left this season and there is really just one moral victory that needs to be had: making a bowl game. The rest is just icing on the cake.

CA2/flickr

CA2/flickr

All Hail! the mighty Wolverines … for now.

Julian Gonzalez/DFP

Julian Gonzalez/Detroit Free Press

By H. Jose Bosch

I went to Michigan bar in the middle of the desert or Scottsdale, Arizona depending on your perspective, to watch Michigan’s home opener.

It was me, a friend and quite a few Michigan fans huddled around the many TVs throughout the top floor of the bar. The Syracuse-Minnesota crapfest had just ended on ESPN 2 and all of us were waiting in anticipation for the first glimpse at our new team.

For five straight years I watched Michigan’s opening game in person — four years as an undergrad and once as an alum.

My record was 3-2, but the last two years included an epic fail against Appalachian State and a “good loss” to eventual undefeated Utah.

Needless to say I was ready to watch the opener from a remote location this year, especially after the “controversy” stirred up by the Detroit Free Press earlier in the week. What was going to happen on the field Saturday afternoon?

Would Rich Rodriguez’s thin hold on the team slip away after another embarrassing loss to a MAC school?

Or would the team rally behind its fearless leader and, for one week at least, make alumni proud of the football program again?

Whatever happened, I took comfort in the fact that I didn’t have to bake in the sun for two and a half hours to find out.

Then the image on the screen finally flickered to the Michigan game. It took a moment for anyone to register what was going on. Our first image of the 2009 season was … I didn’t know. I’m bad at matching numbers with players. Who the hell is No. 21? And why are a bunch of teammates surrounding him?

Wait.

Touchdown!

Julian Gonzalez/Detroit Free Press

Julian Gonzalez/Detroit Free Press

Yes, the first image of the 2009 season for some 80ish Michigan fans was the celebration following Tate Forcier’s first touchdown pass of the day. We’d later learn that he wisely stepped up in a well-formed pocket to avoid the rush, ran to his left and made sure not to cross the line of scrimmage before he hit Junior Hemmingway with a perfect pass. The rest didn’t matter, just the result.

It was 7-0 Michigan and we hadn’t even watched 30 seconds of the game.

The rest of the afternoon was just a blur of giddiness. Part of it was Michigan’s first-half performance and part of it was the Blue Moon. At the end of the day I was on cloud 12, ready to call this season a success after just one week.

Screw the anti-Rich Rodriguez faction. This team is for real.

I’ve had a day to sober up literally and figuratively. The excitement is still there. Even after just one week I’m convinced this team is heads and shoulders better than last year’s abomination. But that won’t necessarily translate into a much better season.

Before the game I was willing to say that just about every game was predictable one way or the other with the exception of the game against Purdue. Now I will say that the Wolverines have a chance against Notre Dame (since the game is in Ann Arbor) and a chance at Illinois (because the Illini crapped the bed this weekend against Missouri).

That’s a possible two-game swing that makes them 7-5 rather than my predicted 5-7. I’m probably getting ahead of myself. There are still a lot of unanswered questions. The second half wasn’t particularly inspiring and we don’t know if the special teams will be clutch when we need it.

But for one week I’d like to bask in the greatness of Michigan football, believe that the Wolverines are back and that Rich Rodriguez is moving in the right direction.

For one week the Wolverines won’t be the butt of every joke in the college football world.

Michigan Wolverines football preview part 1: The offense

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By H. Jose Bosch

Last season, Michigan’s traditional “3 yards and a cloud of dust” offense transformed into 3 yards and I want to throw up. Actually, I may be giving them too much credit: most of the time it didn’t even feel like they could move the ball three yards at a time.

Michigan fans were warned of it. In Rodriguez’s first season with West Virginia he went just 3-8. We ignored it. This was Michigan. Rodriguez wasn’t going to fall the same way he did in puny West Virginia. We had the nation’s longest winning-seasons streak (40) and the longest bowl streak (33) on the line. But we’re haughty, supercilious and we brag about knowing the definition of words no one really uses to describe being arrogant.

upset_rodriguez1So the 3-9 season was a shock to the system. Not a surprise, but a shock. Rodriguez had not only broken the two aforementioned streaks but he also broke a nine-game winning streak over Penn State, a six-game winning streak over Michigan State and a 24-game winning streak over the Mid-American Conference. The only real good news for Rodriguez was that he wasn’t the coach who lost to Appalachian State.

Now that the Wolverines have thoroughly been beaten to a pulp, 2009 will hopefully be the year Michigan channels its inner phoenix and rises from its ashes. Rodriguez coached the Mountaineers to bowl eligibility the year after his 3-8 debut and since he has that experience there’s no reason to believe he can’t do it again.

2008 record: 3-9 (2-6 in the Big Ten)
Returning starters: 15 (10 offense, 5 defense)
Total Offense: 290.75 (109th in the nation, 11th in the Big Ten)
Scoring Offense: 20.25 (101st, 11th)
Rushing Offense: 147.58 (59th, 7th)
Passing Offense: 143.17 (108th, 11th)

Notable returns:
RB Brandon Minor WR, Martavious Odoms, LB Obi Ezeh, DE Brandon Graham, and  S Stevie Brown, TE Kevin Koger, WR Greg Mathews, P Zoltan Mesko, C David Molk, G David Moosman, LB Jonas Mouton, OT Stephen Schilling, WR Darryl Stonum, Donovan Warren

Key losses: S Brandon Harrison, DE Tim Jamison, DT Will Johnson, RB Sam McGuffie, DT Terrance Taylor, LB John Thompson, QB Steven Threet, CB Morgan Trent

Quarterbacks: Since Rodriguez came to a school with athletes ill-fitted for his system, he needed to go MacGyver if he had any chance of succeeding. There were times where a paper clip, rubber band and some tin foil might’ve been the better alternative behind center.

Tom and Jerry made a more intimidating duo than Nick Sheridan and Steven Threet. Neither was suited for the job and they couldn’t throw the ball beyond five yards with any semblance of accuracy.

Now that Threet is gone the No. 1 candidate to start on opening day is freshman Tate Forcier. He impressed everyone during the spring game and has the skills Rodriguez wants/needs for his system. Denard Robinson is the other new man on campus and he’s not too bad himself. Expect both to see time under center.

Running backs: The ground game was one of the few bright spots of last season and it was really more of a dull glow than anything else. Brandon Minor emerged as the team’s rushing leader and gave fans a glimpse of how good Michigan could be after career days against Penn State and Purdue. His game could be enhanced this year with a viable quarterback threat. That needed help was especially obvious in the Penn State game when the Nittany Lions finally figured out Michigan couldn’t pass the ball. Next thing you know, eight men in the box.

Minor won’t have his running partner in Sam McGuffie, who transferred to Rice, but he does have Carlos Brown. Brown didn’t look too shabby when both Minor and McGuffie were battling injuries last season and he ran for 115 yards against Northwestern.

Receivers: To really get a sense of the offensive drop off from 2007 to last season, one can look at the receivmartavious_odomsers. In 2007 Mario Manningham led the team with 1, 174 yards receiving. Last year Martavious Odoms led the team with just 443 yards. The lack of a good quarterback and two true freshman starters contributed to this drop in production.

This year the Wolverines don’t lose anyone of significance and they’ll likely have a better quarterback heaving the pigskin. This will bode well for the receiving core. While Rodriguez prefers a running spread, having Odoms, Darryl Stonum and Greg Matthews with a better quarterback could make the offense more dynamic.

Offensive line: Last season Rodriguez had to start from scratch with his o-line. He had to replace four starters. Of the remaining lineman, there were just 16 starts among them and Stephen Schilling accounted for 13 of them. Constant shuffling and injuries made matters worse. The line’s numbers fell (144 rushing ypg last season compared to 165 the year before) but the damage could’ve been worse. Somewhat surprisingly the sack totals dropped (22 last year compared to 28 in 2007). Part of that can be attributed to the various bootlegs Michigan ran but the point is despite everything going against them, the line didn’t perform half as badly as one would expect.

This season all five starters return and there are seven players who have four or more starts under their belt. Returning that many players is always welcomed but it’s especially crucial when you have little time to implement an entirely new system, like Rodriguez is doing now. This unit will benefit greatly from having a second year under Rodriguez and they can make life even easier for the new signal caller.

Overall this offense still isn’t what Rodriguez ideally wants but it’s getting there. Even if the Wolverines showed minimal improvement, all they have to do is cut down on turnovers and it could be a vastly different team. The key will be the quarterback and it will likely fall on Tate Forcier’s shoulders to get the Rich Rodriguez era moving in the right direction.

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