If you're able to judge a football team without considering wins and losses, you're taking away many good things from Michigan's game against Notre Dame Saturday.
Topping this list is that the offense, for the first time under Rich Rodriguez, actually looked coherent for most of the afternoon. Steven Threet, clearly the better of Michigan's quarterback duo, was in control of the offense. He looked like he knew what he was doing, getting his 10 friends to the line of scrimmage early and setting up the play. Add to that the many pretty throws he made, including an absolute beautiful rainbow toss for a completion in the monsoon that engulfed South Bend, Ind.
Threet completed 16 of 23 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown. He didn't throw an interception. It should be noted, too, that a few of his incompletions were drops.
And he wasn't the only offensive bright spot. Freshman Sam McGuffie is living up to his Youtube-created hype. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound running back darted left and right, spun off tackles, rushed for 131 yards on 25 carries and caught a 40-yard touchdown pass.
McGuffie has established himself as Michigan's starting man in the backfield, but when he tires there is plenty of depth behind him. That's not a bad thing.
Yeah, yeah, I'll get to the bad. Michigan absolutely killed itself Saturday, which is why it lost 35-17. Give Notre Dame credit for turning Michigan's miscues into points.
Here's what happened before I evened turned the TV on: Michigan fumble, Irish touchdown; Michigan fumble, Irish touchdown. It was 14-0 Notre Dame in the game's initial 4 minutes. Then a Michigan drive stalled and the Irish scored again. Make that 21-0.
So much for all those 13-12 and 14-10 predictions.
But when the Wolverines held onto the ball, they were clearly the better team. That's how they got back into the contest, cutting the score to 28-17 at halftime and driving deep into Notre Dame territory — and the heavy rainstorm — late in the third quarter.
Of course, that's when Kevin Grady coughed up the football, making it quite clear that it simply wasn't Michigan's turn to win. The Irish had suffered back-to-back dismal defeats in the historic rivalry. Charlie Weis had his left leg busted by one of his own players in the first half, relegating him to crutches the rest of the afternoon.
Yep, Notre Dame needed the win more than Michigan. And the Irish sowed up the victory when Threet cemented Michigan's "Fumbleroosky" day by fumbling away the pigskin, which ended up in an Irish defender's hands as he raced toward the end zone. Game over. Go home soaked.
But anyone who thinks Notre Dame outplayed Michigan is just kidding around. Yes, it did a better job of stripping the ball from weak-armed Michigan ball carriers. But the Wolverines outgained the Irish in total yards, 387-260. That's not very close.
If not for six giveaways — compared to two by Notre Dame — and a few missed tackles here and there, Michigan would have won Saturday.
But enough about winning, because that's not what this season should be about for this team. It's about progress, especially in learning Rodriguez's offensive system. And for the first time in three games, real progress was evident on the field. Threet threw accurately. A plethora of receivers made the catches they were supposed to make. McGuffie was a spark.
The defense was solid. Not great, but solid. That's the grade for a unit that missed too many tackles, but didn't allow 300 yards.
It was an effort deserving of a victory ... except for the fumbles.
Moral victories aren't accepted in Ann Arbor — and they shouldn't be — but the Wolverines might as well take one from their second loss of the season. And they can feel good about this: Their 1-2 record this season isn't any worse than last year's 1-2 mark put up with Chad Henne, Mike Hart, Jake Long and Mario Manningham.
Plus, with next weekend off, they've got plenty of time to figure out how to hold onto the pigskin.
I suggest having every player who lost one Saturday sleep with a ball for the two weeks.