Well, that sucked.
The much-anticipated game between the Michigan Wolverines and the Alabama Crimson Tide quickly became boring as the Tide went up three touchdowns with ease in the first quarter. Michigan was constantly facing an uphill battle and their offense was never able to get anything going against Alabama's incredibly fast and incredibly aggressive defense.
- The lack of Fitzgerald Toussaint really hurt the offense. I'm not saying that the game would have been won with him in tow, but the Wolverines were clearly missing a huge part of their identity with his absence. Thomas Rawls and Vincent Smith attempted to pick up the slack but did not perform well. Michigan only had 69 total rushing yards in the game. Alabama had 232.
- Blake Countess injuring himself out was also huge. He and J.T. Floyd are arguably Michigan's best cornerback combo, and with Countess out, Michigan looked like it was playing with one hand tied behind its back. Hopefully the injuries to Countess and offensive tackle Taylor Lewan are not serious. We seriously need those guys going forward in the season.
- Denard pretty much blew any chance of a serious Heisman campaign with two rancid interceptions, both of which were costly, eventually resulting in touchdowns. The first was thrown and a Michigan receiver was nowhere in the vicinity of the pass. The second, I'm guessing Denard just didn't see the linebacker. Denard eventually settled down, going 11-26 and racking up 200 yards. He also banged up his shoulder but was able to get back into the game.
- The Michigan defense started well on Alabama's opening drive, forcing a three and out, but were pretty much manhandled by the Crimson Tide after that. Alabama scored three touchdowns in the first quarter on three consecutive drives. Michigan's defensive line did get some penetration, forcing Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron to throw the ball away on several occasions, which I suppose is impressive given that the opponent had arguably the best offensive line in the country. Against weaker offensive lines, Michigan should do a lot better.
- Michigan's offensive coordinator Al Borges learned a lot about what to expect from his team going forward. The speed option does not work against a defense that has stacked the box. Alabama put a man on both the quarterback (Denard) and the pitch man (Thomas Rawls) to tackle for a loss.
- Devin Gardner needs more time at wide receiver, just to gain experience. He is clearly a gifted athlete, and I can only wonder how much more of a threat he would be if he had been a wideout for the last two years. Some Michigan blogs were expecting miracles from him, but let's keep in mind that this was his first game as a wide receiver. He did manage to catch a pass that scored one of Michigan's two touchdowns in the game.
- In this game alone, Michigan has put up more points against Alabama than any other Big Ten team did. (Penn State only scored 3 points in 2010, and 11 in 2011. Michigan State only scored 7 points in garbage time.) Michigan also put up more touchdowns than LSU did against Alabama last year.
- Though the game was largely over by halftime, it's not entirely fair to say that Michigan never had a chance. The Wolverines forced a three and out in Alabama's opening drive, but on Michigan's first drive, the wide receivers (Roundtree and Gardner) dropped easily catches that would have kept it going. This offense relies so much on rhythm and momentum. Things got really ugly when Alabama took that away. And, of course, injuries were killer.
What does it all mean? While this game was quite possibly the worst case scenario (maybe not, Alabama didn't hold Michigan scoreless for the entire game), all it really tells is what we already knew. Michigan just isn't there yet. Keep in mind that only two years ago, the Wolverines were blown out 52-14 by Mississippi State. Imagine how bad this loss would have been if Rich Rodriguez was still in control of the defense. Even though we lost one game, I am still confident Brady Hoke is taking this program in the right direction.
Yes, it sucks to be embarrassed on national television, but no one in their right mind expected Michigan to win, and the Wolverines (like most teams in the country) are just not ready to go toe-to-toe with Alabama, the defending national champions. There are teams even in the SEC who can not keep up with them.
What we can expect now is that Michigan will improve as the season goes on, just like they did last year. The loss to Alabama was not overtly shocking and does nothing to keep Michigan from winning the Big Ten championship. Michigan faces Air Force in week two in the Big House.