The Sweep

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Freshman Sam McGuffie gave Michigan some reason for optimism by rushing for 131 yards against Notre Dame.
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Michigan won't play again until Sept. 27, so that gives the Wolverines plenty of time to find a silver lining in their 35-17 loss Saturday at Notre Dame. Well, after further review, here's that silver lining.

It can't get any worse.

Michigan embarrassed itself Saturday, and the remainder of the season could include some similar bumps in the road. But the confluence of opponent, attention and sheer boneheaded play won't happen again, and by this time next year, the Wolverines will be able to look back on this past weekend as a necessary growing pain.

"It was a nightmare," Wolverines coach Rich Rodriguez said. "But as I told the team, we've got too many things going for us that maybe the outside public doesn't see."

Those things include a better-than-average defense, some good young offensive players and an unexpected recruiting advantage.

Saturday, Michigan's defense gave up only 260 yards. It's patently unfair to ask a defense to defend an 11-yard field and a 14-yard field, as Michigan's had to do on its first two series Saturday. The emotional lift a red zone fumble recovery provides to an offense is more than enough to carry it a few yards into the end zone. Michigan had a mix-up in pass coverage that led to a 48-yard bomb, but the defense can only really be blamed for two touchdowns. Allowing 260 yards and 14 points will keep a team in most games.

On offense, several freshmen gave the Wolverines reason to hope. Tailback Sam McGuffie didn't hurdle anyone, but he ran for 131 yards, caught four passes for 47 yards and scored on a 40-yard catch. Unfortunately, his best move of the day came on the touchdown catch, when he needed a spin move to keep from getting taken down by his own offensive lineman. As the players adjust to Rodriguez's offense, such issues will dissipate. That can only mean more yards and more scoring for the Wolverines. Also, three of Michigan's top four pass catchers Saturday (McGuffie, Martavious Odoms and Darryl Stonum) are freshmen.

This can only help in recruiting. When Rodriguez meets recruits, he can prove that he will get the ball to young players. Many top-shelf prospects consider early playing time their No. 1 criterion in choosing a school. Rodriguez can offer that.

That last silver lining won't help the Wolverines this year, but it does bode well for 2009 and beyond. Now, the Wolverines just have to figure out how to get through 2008 without more debacles like the one Saturday in South Bend.

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