The sorry state of football in Michigan

The state of football is awful in the state of Michigan. If you look at all of the major programs, professional and college, around the state, you’ll be hard-pressed to find something positive to say about what is going on.

Let’s start off with the Detroit Lions. What are some words to describe Monday’s 48-17 debacle against the New York Jets? Pitiful? Pathetic? Horrendous? Those are the best ones I can think of without adding in some expletives.

Detroit teased me and everyone else at the start of their season opener. On his first-ever NFL pass, Jets quarterback Sam Darnold threw a pick-six and just about everybody I knew thought the Lions’ secondary was going to have a field day feasting on this guy.

All Detroit needed to do was get its offense going early and they could probably cruise the rest of the way.

But it was all downhill from there. It almost defies belief about how bad the Lions played. I’m sure if you grew up a Lions fan, you probably have gotten used this kind of performance sometimes happening.

For me, though, it was just mind-boggling. The Jets went 5-11 last year, had a rookie QB who, again, threw an interception for a touchdown on his very first throw of the game. And the NY defense finished 25th overall last year. This on paper was already a game in the win column for the Lions.

Lots of people are putting the blame on Detroit QB Matthew Stafford, and they have evidence to back up that statement. This was probably the worst performance of Stafford’s pro career as he threw four interceptions, including his own pick-six, and just looked out of sync the whole night.

Will this kind of thing happen again this year? Probably not. He’s one of the best quarterbacks in the league and he was already pretty disgusted with himself after the game. From what I know about great athletes is that when they have an awful night, they make sure it doesn’t happen again. And that should be the case with Stafford.

If you want to point your finger at somebody, I’d suggest two of them going in the direction of coaches Matt Patricia and Jim Bob Cooter.

Patricia, an assistant until this year of New England head coach Bill Belichick, looked flat-out overmatched in his first game as head coach. Patricia, who is seen as a defensive genius, coached a team that gave up 48 points to a rookie signal caller.

Cooter also deserves some of the blame because, according to some of the Jets, they knew what plays were coming by the signals Stafford would use. Sure, you can blame Stafford for that and he deserves it, but that’s more on Cooter.

If a defense can distinguish just about every play before you do it, that means you failed as a coordinator. It means your game plan was ridiculously easy to figure out and you should feel ashamed of that. You’d expect that kind of thing maybe at the high school level, but not in the NFL. Nice bit of coaching Coots.

The Lions may be the most glaring example of ineptitude in Michigan, but the two Big 10 schools are close behind.

I talked last week about Michigan’s face-plant against Notre Dame in its first outing, which looks even worse now as the Fighting Irish struggled to get past Mid-American Conference member Ball State last weekend.

Well, the Wolverines rebounded in a big way in a slaughter of Western Michigan, but how much can you judge from that? They pounded another MAC team, which is what they are supposed to do. Assuming U of M got past SMU on Saturday, which it should, that’s a 2-1 record with both victories coming against teams outside of Power 5 conferences.

The Wolverines’ next real test will come Oct. 13 when Wisconsin comes to Ann Arbor, and after that, they head to East Lansing to face Michigan State, so that should give you a better indication of where U-M is as a team this year. Until then, I wouldn’t get excited yet if I was a Wolverines’ fan.

I would be even less excited right now if I was a Spartans backer. Right now, MSU might be one of the most overrated teams in the land and the season is only three weeks in. In case you’ve forgotten, the Spartans struggled mightily against lightly-regarded Utah State, needing a late interception to get the victory.

Well, last week, MSU went out to the Arizona desert for a bout with new coach Herm Edwards and his Sun Devils. Even though the Spartans were battling a late kickoff and some blazing temperatures, they still held a 13-3 lead heading into the fourth quarter. MSU couldn’t hold on, though, surrendering 13 unanswered points including the game-winning field goal at the final horn.

In back-to-back weeks, the Spartans have underachieved and made everyone wonder what exactly is going on in East Lansing (in more ways than one).

The good thing for MSU backers is that the Spartans were off this weekend, so they have extra time to prepare for Indiana, a team that always seems to surprise good teams. The schedule also gets easier as it won’t be until mid-October when the Spartans play a legit contender with Penn State and Michigan in back-to-back games. So there’s still time for MSU to get it together.

And that’s what we all need to keep in mind — it’s still early in the season. By the time the Wolverines play the Badgers, they should be 5-1, and when MSU heads to Happy Valley, it should be 4-1.

Things appear to be moving in the right direction, too. Even though they lost, the Spartans didn’t look too bad against ASU, they just couldn’t hang on in the end. That’s something that can be fixed.

As far as the Lions go, that’s going to take a bit more tweaking. If Detroit had simply lost its first game, Lions fans would probably be disappointed, but willing to move on.

However, the Lions not only lost to the Jets, they looked downright embarrassing while doing so. People are already packing in the season with some of the crazies saying that Detroit will go winless.

Simmer down, folks. The Lions are too good of a team to go winless, even though it may not seem that way. Don’t expect Bud Light to place locked cases of free beer all around the Motor City next year.

It may be tempting to reach for that extra can of Bud right now, but don’t fret too much if you’re a Lions fan. I’m sure you’ve been through this kind of thing before, but things can change for the better.

Detroit heads to San Francisco today and that should get the Lions a victory. Then we’ll see what kind of coach Patricia really is the following week when Detroit gets the Patriots. So let’s not jump to conclusions.

My original conclusion was that football in Michigan is bad right now, which is true. However, that doesn’t mean it will stay that way and it could be a lot better by the time you finish reading this column.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal. net.


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