By JOHN SEARS - BIG TEN INSIDER
Michigan had been at odds with Toledo for years (173 years to be exact), despite today marking the inaugural meeting between University of Michigan and University of Toledo on the football field. In 1835 a boundary dispute arose over the ownership of the so-called Toledo strip between Michigan and Ohio, which spurred the Toledo War. The Northerners claimed ownership of land that lies due south of Ann Arbor by just over 50 miles. Despite nay a casualty, Michigan eventually capitulated and struck a deal to surrender said land over to the state of Ohio. Many believe the Michigan/Ohio State football rivalry can be traced back to this early dispute.
It seems that Toledo, historically a stitch in Michigan’s side, has transformed into a thorn and now a bloodletting gash. The Rockets (2-4) walked in to the Big House for the first time in the history of their football program and accomplished what 24 of their MAC predecessors could not – win. Hats off to the University of Toledo for their 13-10 victory, unfortunately, those vested in Michigan football are scratching their heads and looking for something (anything) to stop the bleeding.
Most disconcerting for the Wolverine team is not just the defeats – but the fact that they are not improving week-to-week. In fact, in some facets of their game, notably the defense and quarterback play, they seem to actually be taking some steps backward. The quarterback shuffle is back into effect, as well as rotations in and out of the secondary. Two weeks ago, the heralded Michigan defense surrendered the most all-purpose yards ever to Illinois quarterback Juice Williams, and against Toledo, gave up an astounding record 20 receptions to Toledo wide receiver Nick Moore. The offense is equally guilty. Since their shocking win over Wisconsin, Michigan has averaged 305 yards offense, 15 points and 2.5 turnovers in their subsequent losses. Coach Rich Rodriguez challenged his team calling them “soft” publicly and they responded exactly so, getting blown off the ball against a seemingly weaker Toledo squad.
So much seems to be lost for the Maize and Blue after this week. In order to subvert a losing season (42 years) and to maintain their consecutive seasons of bowl eligibility (33 years), the Wolverines need to win four of their last six against teams who combine for a 32-8 record (at Penn State, Michigan State, at Purdue, at Minnesota, Northwestern, and at Ohio State). Michigan could not notch wins against Toledo, Utah, Illinois and Notre Dame in the first half of the season, so the season’s remainder seems grim and bleak at best. With the recent loss to the Rockets, who would have imagined Toledo would give reasons for Michigan to hang their heads again after all these years?