CFN Bowl Analysis ...
Miss State 52 ... Michigan 14
If a coach's job comes down to what happens in one game, you already know what the answer is.
There's nothing that happened in the Gator Bowl that Michigan higher-ups didn't already know. The offense is great, but has problems against the better teams, and the defense is an unmitigated disaster. While there might be a slew of freshmen playing in key spots, especially in the secondary, at this point in the season there should be some semblance of improvement. Instead, the defense looked lost, was out of position, couldn't get the right guys on the field, and failed to come up with tackles when the right players were in the right position, and the result was an embarrassing end to the season.
But you knew the defense was going to play like this.
The problems with the defense weren't in question coming into the Gator Bowl; but the offensive gameplan and the design was another story.
When the floodgates started to open up, did the Wolverines try to grind out the running game to slow things down? No. Did they try to use their most dangerous weapon, Denard Robinson, enough as a runner? No. Did they try to turn Robinson into Peyton Manning in the comeback attempt, when the running game would've been far more effective? Yup, and oops.
This game doesn't mean anything to RichRod world. It's this simple; if Michigan has Jim Harbaugh, then that's it. A 105-3 Michigan win wouldn't change anything. But there won't be any sort of a coaching search and Rodriguez isn't going to be canned just to can him. There has to be a guy ready and waiting who'll step in and change the attitude of the program, because Rodriguez, for all his faults, might be closer than it seems to making Michigan strong. All it'll take is a big defensive recruiting class and everything might change.
But so much attention is being paid to the Michigan situation that it might be lost at just how effective the Mississippi State offense was. This was a far cry from the Sylvester Croom days of hoping to capitalize on turnovers; this was a dominant offensive performance that took advantage of the horrible play from the Wolverine D. Two spread offenses showed up. One worked and one didn't.
One coach just got an extension, and the other might be knocking on Pitt's door next week.
- I just don't get it. Michigan has the most dynamic running quarterback in college football, who can hit the home run from anywhere on the field and can move the ball far better with his legs than with his arm, and he's asked to try to bomb away. Robinson wasn't bad, but he didn't get the chains moving like he needed to.
- Mississippi State OT Derek Sherrod destroyed the Michigan defensive front. He was opening up ten-mile wide holes.
- Michigan, it's called a third down stop. Look into it.
- Bowl games like this matter to shape the perception going into the next season. With Chris Relf, Vick Ballard, and LaDarius Perkins all coming back, the Bulldog backfield will be the red-hot talk of the offseason after this performance.
Jim Harbaugh's asking price just went up dramatically.
One game, good or bad, should not define a coach's career. However, this Gator Bowl might have been a microcosm for Rich Rodriguez's tenure in Ann Arbor. It was the kind of disaster, a postseason Hindenburg, that's going to be extremely difficult to overcome. If you're once-mighty, always-proud Michigan, can you put up with this type of product any longer? The Wolverines were a disaster on so many different levels, obviously performing as if they were poorly coached. Yeah, the players failed to execute, but a 52-14 loss with so much riding on the outcome has to fall on the shoulders of the staff. If Harbaugh is interested, everyone knows how this is going to end. If not, you've got an extremely interesting saga about to unfold. The coaching moral of the story? Don't be afraid to stay put when things are going well in a smaller town, like Morgantown, even if bigger programs are contacting your agent.
- How can the Michigan defense be THIS bad? It defies logic that a program of this caliber and recruiting potential can show such little progress throughout the season. Not only should Greg Robinson be canned, but he ought to be forced to pay his way back to Ann Arbor tomorrow.
- Oh, by the way, Mississippi State just delivered one of its most impressive wins in school history. It'll unfortunately get lost in all of the Rich Rod noise, but Dan Mullen is doing a remarkable job in Starkvile. Florida didn't go after him a month ago why?
- QB Chris Relf, RB Vick Ballard, and the Bulldog offense was the story in Jacksonville, but what about that D? Mississippi State laid the lumber all game and kept high-scoring Michigan off the scoreboard over the final three quarters.
By Matt Zemek
Well, everyone else in the college football cosmos is saying this, but there's no way to avoid talking about it: Rich Rodriguez has made life easy for Michigan Athletic Director David Brandon. Really – how much needs to be said after the Wolverines got their faces plastered all over the green grass of Jacksonville, Florida?
If Michigan had at least held up its end of the bargain on the offensive side of the ball, Rodriguez still would have had a sturdy leg to stand on. The company line coming out of Ann Arbor could have been, "Well, if Rodriguez just finds himself a great defensive coordinator and remains the custodian of the offense, everything will be fine." Now, with the Maize and Blue getting shut down after a first-quarter burst, there's simply no tenable or reasonable basis for keeping Rodriguez in the Big House for 2011. Palace intrigues surrounding the San Francisco 49ers and the NFL's labor situation could both influence Jim Harbaugh's thinking, but if – in the immortal words of Bo Schembechler before the 1989 NCAA Basketball
Tournament – "a Michigan man will coach Michigan," Mr. Brandon needs to hand Harbaugh the keys to the kingdom. PERIOD.
Where should Rodriguez coach? The opinion here has long been (by "long," I mean the three years since he was mistakenly hired by Michigan...) that Rodriguez would thrive at Clemson. The Tigers have access to big-time athletes but, like Miami (FL) and West Virginia, have not been able to win the ACC or Big East as long as they've lacked the offense-first coach who can teach an up-tempo, speed-based system. In the world of the Big Ten, Rodriguez was clearly out of his element. He could find a good landing place in the Pac-10, but Rodriguez doesn't know that part of the country very well, so a slumbering ACC or Big East program makes the most sense for him. Clemson is the most compatible fit for him, but we'll see how the various Rodriguez-based elements of the coaching carousel will spin in the coming days. It will be anything but boring, that's for sure.
--Yes, Mississippi State deserves to take a bow – no, not for whipping Michigan (lots of teams have done that over the past three months), but for playing a focused and complete game. This is a school without much of a football pedigree, and the air in Starkville has been thick with controversy and drama over the past two months, because of the Cam Newton affair and the uncertainty enveloping coach Dan Mullen in the week following Urban Meyer's retirement announcement. There were many reasons for Mississippi State to be cloudy and confused, edgy and antsy, in the latest Gator Bowl, but they instead exhibited their very best ball and played the part of a team that's serious on remaining an eight- or nine-win team in the SEC West. The last time the Bulldogs made and won a bowl (in 2007), they couldn't maintain momentum. If Mullen really is serious about making Mississippi State his home base for the next five years, the Bulldogs could become a 10-win program. Believe it.
--One peculiar play from this game deserves to be mentioned: When Mississippi State blocked a Michigan punt in the first half, the ball lay motionless just inside the Michigan 30. The whistle had not been blown, and no Michigan players were near the ball. All a Mississippi State player had to do was pick up the ball and stroll to the end zone. Yet, no one in a white MSU jersey managed to do just that. It's been repeatedly obvious – after observing another full college football season – that punt-return teams are horribly coached at the FBS level. Players are freaked out by coaches; they're taught to avoid bouncing balls so thoroughly that they have no shred of confidence in their ability to pick up a ball even when it's not moving (but still live). Much as punt returners are consistently unwilling to simply catch a bouncing punt before it rolls 20 extra yards, it also stands that punt-return blockers are even more paralyzed about the prospect of touching the pigskin. Yes, safety (ball safety) must always be priority number one, but my gosh, let's introduce a little nuance and common sense (and a pinch of courage) into punt-return instructions. Even a sportswriter with no serious football-playing experience could rightly say that Mississippi State should have picked up and returned that first-half blocked punt. When that kind of a statement can safely be made, the coaching community should take notice.
--One final and very simple question: If Rodriguez really cared about his job status, why did he not fire defensive coordinator Greg Robinson before the bowl game so that a better defensive coach could have taught the Wolverines during the weeks of practice for this game? If Rodriguez really wanted a fresh start, wouldn't he have displayed a clear commitment to improving his defense? No wonder he's about to be fired after this plainly unacceptable (non-)effort against Mississippi State.
Should Rich Rodriguez have been fired walking to the locker room, or did Michigan do the noble thing and let the Gator Bowl sink in for a bit? After what transpired Saturday afternoon in Jacksonville, a public canning probably would have been more appropriate.
But let's not focus on the turmoil that Rodriguez has brought to Michigan; after all, it's too plentiful to fit into this analysis. Instead, let's stand up and applaud the fantastic season that Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen has posted in just his second season with the Bulldogs. Nine wins in Starkville is no easy task, and Mullen accomplished that feat with players that weren't necessarily recruited for his system. The rest of the SEC should take note, because once Mullen gets a full complement of recruits on campus, look out.
Mississippi State quarterback Chris Relf played his heart out, and did so while wearing the number of teammate Nick Bell, who tragically passed away this season after a short battle with cancer. Relf sliced and diced the Michigan D completing 18-of-23 passes for 281 yards and three touchdowns; and ran for 39 more yards and another touchdown. A performance like that, while honoring a fallen teammate, is one that will be remembered in Starkville for a long time.
And a side note, the SEC West beat the state of Michigan 101-21 Saturday afternoon. The SEC West obviously didn't get the memo that was passed around New Year's Eve that said that "the SEC is down."