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September 22, 2013

Borton's Blog: Scary perfection

Michigan football doesn't scare anybody right now. That ought to frighten everybody in a winged helmet, no matter the level of bravado present in U-M's frantic, 24-21 comeback win over the University of Connecticut.

The Wolverines didn't spook Akron, which sports a close win over James Madison and nothing else so far. They didn't shake up UConn and its cozy record crowd of 42,704.

Oh, make no mistake. It's still about winning. But when your fierce, historic rival - and prime competition for a Big Ten title - is ripping the fangs out of the Florida A&M Rattlers (76-0) - you probably want to show a little more bite.

What the Wolverines have shown, ever since their fans did the Chicken Dance in celebrating a win over vanquished and vacating Notre Dame, is a talent for producing incredibly exciting endings when wholly unnecessary.

They've given their fans perfection … record wise. They've also boosted treatment for ulcers, facial tics and all sorts of other stress-related maladies.

"We're trying to improve each week," said linebacker Desmond Morgan, whose leaping, one-handed interception helped Michigan rally from a shocking 21-7 deficit. "We're moving into Big Ten play. Now the conference starts. Obviously, there are things we have to clean up, but the biggest thing is improvement. It's a lot better to go into the bye week on a win than on a loss."

On the plus side of the ledger, Michigan does enter its off weekend 4-0. That's the bottom line, regardless of how ugly the road. Certainly a win over Notre Dame provided a glimpse of what the Wolverines can accomplish against a legitimate top-25 team.

Brady Hoke's crew didn't suffer any major in-season injuries to starters so far. Meanwhile, the Wolverines' top defensive player, All-Big Ten linebacker Jake Ryan, is set to return sooner, rather than later, perhaps even for U-M's Big Ten opener against Minnesota. Beyond those boosts to the 2013 effort, though, Michigan produced far more question marks than exclamation points - especially in the last two games.

The fortnight of wonderment tumbled into a laundry list of to-do items for the next two weeks. Among the areas begging for immediate attention are the following:

  • Putting a tourniquet on the turnover hemorrhage. Michigan has spiraled down to near the nation's basement in throwing the football to the other team, and eight giveaways in the last two games proved essential to teams like Akron and UConn knowing they could compete to the final whistle.

  • Finding a more consistent rushing attack. When fifth-year senior running back Fitzgerald Toussaint isn't breaking off a bigger play, he's all too often running facemask first into a brick wall. That sets up second-and-long, which can lead to third-and-long, and … well, see item No. 1. He did rush for 120 yards against UConn, but no honest assessment insists the holes are there often enough.

  • Of course, the aforementioned involve U-M's offensive line growing up - in a hurry. When U-M is under siege (three sacks by UConn, and several defensive tsunamis washing over Toussaint), all eyes turn to the men up front. The Wolverines went with the same five-man front through the first four games. If that quintet returns for the Big Ten opener against Minnesota, it will have shown more in practice than it did in the two weeks leading up to the bye.

    Michigan coach Brady Hoke knows the issues are there, and some are glaring. He came into the season talking about the deadly 18 turnovers in Michigan's five losses last year. The Wolverines have coughed it up an even dozen times in four games so far, losing the turnover battle 8-3 in the last two cliffhangers alone.

    It's no way to win, and Hoke understands that better than anyone.

    "Obviously you can't give the ball away," Hoke said. "Right now we've got a major league problem and we've got to fix it, because that's not going to win you championships."

    He'll need all wrenches on deck to fix the issues arising in the games leading up to a desperately needed break. The problems, he assures, are indeed fixable.

    "I think they are, because number one, I think I know our team, we know our team," Hoke said. "They realize the things they need to do better. We've got to give them the tools to do those things better. That's our job, and we'll do that."

    The Wolverines have the potential to frighten folks down the road. But the only ones they're scaring right now are Michigan fans who bought Big Ten championship game tickets early.


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