Terry's Sweet 16
It is only the first weekend of college football and we've already had one of the biggest upsets in history. One of the most storied programs in all of college football went down to defeat – AT HOME – in such dramatic fashion that even its most optimistic observers have got to be shaking their heads in disbelief … and in grave concern about the prospects for the rest of the season. Five of the top 10 teams in the country played poorly in their season openers, but only the University of Michigan found a way to lose. There might be endless questions those other schools still have to answer, but on the only ledger that really matters, they were able to post a "W" and Michigan had to post an "L."
So how could this have happened?
Fifth-ranked Michigan lost to Appalachian State of what was formerly known as Division I-AA 34-32 in what some are saying is one of the biggest college football upsets ever. This is the first time that a ranked Division I-A team has ever lost to a I-AA opponent. Most experts were picking Michigan to win the Big Ten championship – including me – and some even had them playing for the national championship. But now the only question is will Lloyd Carr still be around at the end of the season?
Although most games are won by the team that has the most talent or the team that plays the best football, there are six "musts" that almost all coaches agree need to be adhered to if you are going to avoid the upset.
• No missed assignments
• No turnovers
• Don't give up the big play
• No foolish penalties
• No breakdowns in the kicking game
• Great goal-line/short yardage offense and defense
If you do all of these things – or at least do them better than the other guy – you are going to have a great chance to win the game. Just as importantly, and maybe more so, you are not going to get upset by an inferior opponent.
Now, Michigan did enough things wrong in the Appalachian State game that it is difficult to point to the definitive reason for its loss. The defense, under second-year coordinator Ron English, could not handle the speed or athleticism of the visiting Mountaineers. Michigan's offense, with at least three All-Americans, was not as dominant as it should have been. And although the Wolverines won the turnover battle and kept their penalties to a minimum, they gave up a big play – a 68-yard touchdown pass – and twice gave up touchdowns instead of field goals in their goal-line defense.
But if they could have done a better job of executing field goal protection, Michigan would have won the game. Twice, in the final quarter, the Wolverines lined up for a field goal that would have put the game away. Twice they had the kick blocked. Nothing is more fundamental in college football than PAT or FG protection. That is, if everybody does their job and the kicker gets the ball off on time at the right trajectory, it can not be blocked. It is not a matter of talent but a matter of effort and execution.
Although there were all kinds of coulda, woulda, shouldas in this football game, there really is no excuse for the breakdown Michigan had in field goal protection.
There is one more glaring mistake that Michigan made that is almost as inexcusable as anything that happened on the field. Because it is so easy to place the blame on the coaches who might not have coached well or the players who maybe didn't play well, no one is talking about a little thing called scheduling.
Why in the world was Michigan playing the two-time defending I-AA national champions? If you are going to play a I-AA opponent, you know good and well everybody is going to criticize you before the game even starts. So why not play one that you are going to beat; even on a day when you stink up the place? Folks, the former Division I-AA is no different than Division I-A. There are good teams and bad teams … teams that can play lights out and teams that can't play dead. Most of you know the difference between Ohio University and Ohio State or Florida and Florida International, but you don't have a clue between Western Carolina and Appalachian State or Montana and Murray State.
Louisville beat Murray State 73-10, which was 1-10 last year. Alabama beat Western Carolina, 2-9 in 2006, by a score of 52-6. At the same time, Michigan felt it was necessary to be playing and, unfortunately losing to Appalachian State, which went 14-1 last year on its way to a second straight national title.
Don't get me wrong, Michigan SHOULD HAVE WON THE GAME. But they just probably shouldn't have been playing it.
On a day like Saturday in Ann Arbor, there is enough blame to go around for everyone.