Edson: A Disappointing Start for Both U-M and MSU

Maybe it was all the pre-season hype.

Maybe the players and coaches at Michigan and Michigan State really did believe all they had to do was show up for their openers and Notre Dame and Utah State would fall down on their knees.

But both teams got rude awakenings for the weekend. The Wolverines got off to a terrible start – down 21-3 – before losing to the Fighting Irish, 24-17.

Michigan State struggled the entire game with a huge underdog before finally putting away Utah State, 38-31.

In both cases, the fan bases were less than satisfied with what they saw.

Michigan was hailed as the new Big Ten power with a new quarterback (Shea Patterson) and “the best defense in the country.”

It took Notre Dame one half of football to dispel that theory. The Irish bolted out to a 21-3 lead and Michigan couldn’t answer.

Let’s be clear about this right off the bat: Patterson is an improvement at quarterback but he isn’t an All-American, not by a long stretch. In fact, Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush was far better on Saturday night.

Part of that was Patterson but the other part was the predictable play-calling by the Wolverines.

That’s coaching. The other coaching disappointment was that Jim Harbaugh and his staff didn’t have this team ready in the first half. The Wolverines were simply overwhelmed by Notre Dame throughout much of the first half.

The good news is that Michigan will now cruise to five straight victories before meeting Wisconsin (home) and Michigan State (away) at mid-season. That will be the next measuring stick for the Wolverines.

Just be careful not to get carried away with the five wins and assume Michigan’s loss to Notre Dame was just a blip on the radar screen. There is still a lot of work to be done if the Wolverines think they can beat the Badgers and Spartans in back-to-back games.

But Michigan State fans have to be just as cautious. The Spartans had no business struggling with Utah State.

Only a late touchdown drive and a couple of key interceptions at the end of the game kept MSU from falling flat on its face in its home opener.

Quarterback Brian Lewerke showed he is one of the top quarterbacks in the Big Ten. But Mark Dantonio and staff have to figure out a way to improve their defense if the Spartans want to be serious conference title contenders.

Both the Spartans and Wolverines have a lot of work to do. It helps they now can fatten themselves up on a soft schedule.

It’s too early, of course, to write off either team. But they both have to take some big steps in the next few weeks.

Nick Edson is a retired Hall of Fame columnist and sportswriter. He worked 25 years at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, 18 as sports editor. He is a two-time president of the Associated Press Sports Editors Association and a member of the Michigan Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.

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