Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, September 4, 2015
Michigan lost tonight at Utah. But, really, it won, right? The Jim Harbaugh era has been officially christened-and that?s what tonight was about.
Did you really think the Wolverines were going to waltz into Salt Lake City and beat a very good Utah squad? It was close. Final score: Utah 24, Michigan 17.
A Michigan win would have been a cherry on top of what has been an electric build-up all offseason toward the unveiling of the Harbaugh era. The victories will come wrapped in khaki. Be patient.
This is what we know: Michigan has a strong defense. It also lacks explosiveness on offense and must muscle up on the ground after rushing 29 times for a disappointing 76 yards (2.6 ypc). We also know this: Jake Rudock has to play better. If not, it could be a long season.
The big mystery entering tonight was who would start at quarterback for Michigan: Rudock or Shane Morris? Rudock got the call. A big reason for that, presumably, was because Rudock was a veteran who limited mistakes. But, he imploded.
The Iowa grad transfer looked like a quarterback who had been demoted-which Rudock had been in Iowa City shortly after the Hawkeyes? loss to Tennessee in a bowl game last season. Rudock packed for Ann Arbor and emerged from a crowded field of signal-callers. And his debut was, well, dubious.
With Michigan trailing, 17-10, and possessing the ball and momentum in the fourth quarter, Rudock dropped back and tossed a ball into the flat.
It was Rudock?s third interception of the game. This from a guy who tossed just five in 345 attempts last year. Rudock also missed an open receiver three times for what would have been touchdowns. That probably looked familiar to Hawkeye fans, who saw Rudock struggle to throw downfield consistently.
But, enough with piling onto Rudock, who hit 27-of-43 passes for 279 yards and two scores. It?s only one game. He?s at Michigan for a reason. He?s not Joe Montana. But, Michigan can win games with him.
And the staff was unwilling to replace him with backup Shane Morris, so it looks like the Wolverines will stick with Rudock. Why not? He still did some good things on this night, showing some mojo with tight end Jake Butt (eight catches for 93 yards and a TD) and Amara Darboh (eight grabs for 101 yards and a score). Rudock is the best Michigan has for now. One day, Harbaugh will have his Andrew Luck in Ann Arbor. Give him time. Until then, learn to live with Rudock.
The Wolverines have a big, veteran line that?s expected to be one of the team?s best in recent years. But Michigan could not get traction in the rushing game. That has to change. A better ground game figures to help Rudock. He can?t be throwing 43 passes a game.
Still, this configuration of the Wolverines can win a lot of games as it matures and makes adjustments-and you can count on Harbaugh?s staff doing that. Michigan just is not ready to go on the road and beat a team like the Utes. No shame in that. Let?s call this a good first step for Michigan.
The night began with Internet images of Michigan players leaving for the game all wearing khakis. Then, during warm-ups, there was Harbaugh taking snaps.
Harbaugh has been hailed a savior since news broke that he was going to take over the program and rescue it from an abyss of mediocrity.
Everything started to go wrong when Michigan tabbed Rich Rodriguez to take over for Lloyd Carr in 2008. The hiring will go down as one of the most disastrous in college football history, a colossal mismatch of personality, styles and school. By the time the plug was pulled on Rodriguez, the Wolverines had gone 15-22 overall and 6-18 in the Big Ten with just one bowl appearance.
Next, Michigan turned to Brady Hoke. It seemed like a good idea. Hoke wasn?t a ?Michigan Man,? but he was the next closest thing having been an assistant under Lloyd Carr from 1995-2002. It started so gloriously, with an 11-2 season. But, it went downhill each season from there, as the win total sunk to eight ? then seven ? then five before Hoke was given a brown box and told to pack his office after going 31-20 overall and 18-14 in the Big Ten with three bowls.
Enter Harbaugh. And enter hope.
Things don?t get much easier from here. Next up is a visit from Oregon State, which is coached by former Wisconsin boss Gary Andersen. After a layup home game vs. UNLV, a rugged BYU squad comes to Ann Arbor. What?s it all mean? A 2-2 start is a distinct possibility.
But this season won?t be measured in wins and losses for Harbaugh. No one has predicted an East Division title for Michigan-let alone a Big Ten championship. No, this season is about establishing an attitude, setting a tone and tenor for this underachieving program and building toward a big tomorrow. It?s also about raising expectations.
This was a good first step for Harbaugh–and about what I expected.
|About Tom Dienhart||BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.|
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