Monday, September 14, 2015

Michigan 35, Oregon State 7: Harbinger

Michigan ran the ball: again and again and again.

For the first time in a while, they did it powerfully. Make no mistake, Michigan's ground game under one Denard Robinson was no less spectacular, and if another Denard were to walk through Ann Arbor and onto the Big House turf, I doubt if anybody would raise an objection.

But that offense was different. That offense was predicated, in large part, on individual brilliance (i.e. Denard Robinson). There is nothing wrong with individual brilliance, of course. Denard was the shooting spread star of Michigan offensive history -- he came and went, streaking across the Michigan sky at hyperspeed, much to our wonder.

What happened Saturday against Oregon State, however, was something different. While Michigan's fortunes previously hung on the balance of Denard's brilliance -- and the ancillary opportunities said brilliance provided, as in wide open receivers when Denard so much as moved an inch toward the line of scrimmage -- it now seems to hang its hat on sheer, bull-headed anger.

Okay, just to get it out of the way, Oregon State is not a good team: we know that.

Still, Michigan has faced not-so-good teams in recent years, and not come out so well. The ground game, shall we say, was often grounded. It was a tricked out pickup truck that fell apart with the first move forward: set, hut, to the sound of a wheezing engine, a faulty transmission and tires slowly bleeding air.

On Saturday, Michigan looked like a real offense for the first time in some time -- real in the sense that it executed by both malice and design. The linemen, more or less, did their jobs, and Michigan paraded out a series of large tailbacks, with De'Veon Smith the headliner and Ty Isaac and Derrick Green also barreling toward the line imposingly. I wasn't around then to see it, but I imagine it was not unlike the days when Bo's offenses featured multiple tailbacks, well before the workhorse -- think "Chris Perry carrying 51 times in one game" -- became became the norm.

For the past few years, Michigan fans have bemoaned the way the defense, left out to dry by the offense, would eventually wilt late in games. Well, this time, the Oregon State defense wilted, not Michigan's. When Michigan did this... could hear the sound of will being broken.

And so, as tantalizing as Denard's exploits were, there's something equally rewarding about this way of doing things.

As Smith et al pounded through the line over and over again, and Beavers defenders receded into the artificial turf like unblooming flowers, I felt like we were watching a trailer for a movie coming out next fall (or, probably, a couple of years from now).

We were privy to a sneak peak of that film, which is not quite finished. Not even close, really. There's production to be done: editing, cutting, fixing, tweaking. There are scenes that need to be added, story arcs to be emphasized or pushed away.

Michigan is led by a seasoned team of directors and miscellaneous production staff -- Harbaugh, in particular, has a cinematic record worthy of optimism. He's succeeded on multiple sets in California, after all, the nexus of the film industry.

Sure, what we saw was just a trailer, a snapshot of things to come. But on the heels of nearly a decade's worth of box office duds, Michigan finally seems on to be on track, heading somewhere approaching the memorable.

Ultimately, I'm not sure that Saturday's win will make it into that hypothetical movie. Odds are, it'll end up on the cutting room floor, to make way for more dramatic happenings.

If anything, it'll be a blip, a short prologue before the deeper story. For now, though, it is the story, 225 rushing yards and 48 carries in narrative capital.

Sometimes, it's hard to predict box office success. Like anything in life, things can, at times, veer off course.

But if you asked me now, based on the trailer alone, I'd tell you, in between bits of popcorn: "I can't wait to see that."

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