The Michigan Wolverines looked pretty good this weekend in their 33-17 win over Florida, so we’ll keep this short.
Just kidding, there’s still plenty to talk about.
First, I feel like we need to begin with a couple of caveats. The first caveat is for Michigan fans — this game was against a team with 10 players suspended, including the starting running back and wide receiver. So even though your defense was awesome, this wasn’t really much of a test.
The second caveat is for Ohio State fans — when you read me raving about how great the Wolverines looked in this game, you don’t need to tell me about how many players were suspended. Please see the first caveat.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let me start by saying Michigan looked pretty damn good on Saturday.
I went into this game with some questions — namely the running game and the secondary, and those two questions were answered emphatically. I have no questions about Michigan’s passing game because I know what quarterback Wilton Speight is, and he showed that again in this one.
Michigan replaced 10 starters on defense and at no point could you tell it was an issue. It was just a new batch of terror. Not even a reboot, but more like an anthology series. A different and terrifying episode on each snap.
Florida’s offense never had a chance. They never even saw most of it coming.
When Michigan Was on Offense
The Wolverines passed for 218 yards and rushed for 215 yards. They ran about twice as much as they threw it, but the balance in yardage is exactly what they want.
Michigan split the carries three ways, with Chris Evans rushing for 78 yards on 22 carries, Ty Isaac rushing for 114 yards on 11 carries, and Karan Higdon carrying the ball seven times for 28 yards, and the lone rushing touchdown.
Isaac looked as good as he ever has as a Wolverine, but he’s looked like this before and then disappeared completely the next week. While this is a very positive sign, consistency has never been Isaac’s strong suit.
Evans had a nice 29-yard run, and that is something he is always capable of doing. Of his 22 carries, however, only seven of them went for more than three yards. Seven of his carries went for a loss or no gain. It’s a similar pattern to what De’Veon Smith produced last season, but I think the running game is in much better hands this year.
By the way, even though Isaac had half the carries of Evans, seven of his rushes went for at least seven yards, and four of them went for at least 14 yards.
I think it’s okay to credit Florida’s run defense here for limiting Evans, even though I’m not sure he’s ever going to be a pile mover this year.
In terms of the passing game, there was some good and some bad. Wilton Speight completed 11-of-25 passes for 181 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Both of his interceptions were returned for touchdowns, which is where the Gators got the bulk of their points. After the second pick six, Speight sat for a spell and John O’Korn came in. He completed a 37-yard pass to freshman receiver Tarik Black.
The first interception wasn’t Speight’s fault, but the second was. He had some terrific throws, but he also had two pick sixes and missed a wide open Kekoa Crawford for a touchdown. We always know what we’re going to get with Speight, which is the unknown on any given throw. He didn’t look great in this game, but I won’t be surprised to look up one day in October and see him leading the Big Ten in pass efficiency.
I was impressed with the Michigan receivers and tight ends. They lost a ton, but there is significant talent here. For instance, tight end Jake Butt is gone, but tight ends Sean McKeon and Nick Eubanks combined for five receptions for 86 yards, including a 48-yard catch by Eubanks where he got behind both of Florida’s safeties on a deep shot.
And that’s not even mentioning starter Tyrone Wheatley, Jr., who is capable of doing this to a defensive front.
Michigan TE Ty Wheatley sealing the edge like Flex Seal here. pic.twitter.com/RXiJ9LlbzW
— Tony Gerdeman (@TonyGerdeman) September 4, 2017
I mentioned freshman receiver Tarik Black, and he flashed early, catching a 46-yard touchdown pass from Speight. Black was special in the spring and he’s only gotten better. He got the start for the Wolverines.
Slot receiver Grant Perry was a bright spot for Michigan in this game and he looks like he’ll be a security blanket for Speight as the season goes. He caught four passes for 46 yards in this one.
The offensive line was not without some issues. They gave up five sacks and 11 tackles for loss. New right tackle Nolan Ulizio gave up a pair of sacks and had a false start. Left tackle Mason Cole also gave up a sack. New center Patrick Kugler played well, and new right guard Michael Onwenu looks like he’s going to be a good one.
All in all, my questions about Michigan being able to run the ball were answered, but I would have liked to have seen Chris Evans be more effective. Too many of his runs were not “wins” for the offense.
When Michigan Was on Defense
Where to begin?
Florida hasn’t had a good offense since Tim Tebow was a senior, so the fact that they only managed 192 yards of offense shouldn’t surprise anybody. Their 11 yards rushing is a bit of a surprise, however. The 11 yards bested any totals from Michigan’s 2016 defense, which is saying quite a bit.
Two Florida quarterbacks combined for 14-of-26 passing for 181 yards. They were sacked six times, but didn’t throw any interceptions.
So yeah, 10 new starters on defense for Michigan. The only returning starter is weakside linebacker Mike McCray. New middle linebacker Devin Bush led the team with seven tackles, 3.0 TFLs and 2.0 sacks. He was maybe the most impressive defender on the day. He scrapes well and didn’t get hung up. He’s not the biggest dude (5-11 232), but he never looked small out there.
Khaleke Hudson stepped in for Jabrill Peppers and had 1.5 TFLs, a sack, and a forced fumble. I don’t think we’ve seen much of what he can do yet because there’s no reason to break out the good china for Florida’s offense.
As it was, the Michigan defense covered the Gator offense from more angles than ESPN’s MegaCast. They alternated between four-man fronts and 3-3-5 looks, but no matter the front, there was pressure coming from the linebackers.
I was interested to see how this pressure would affect the cornerbacks and safeties, and after the first game I can say with utmost confidence that they don’t care.
I expected the corners — namely sophomores Lavert Hill and David Long to have some struggles, but they looked the part all game long. They weren’t perfect — and Long had to leave the game due to an injury, but they weren’t any kind of a weak spot. Brandon Watson then came in for Long and looked fine as well. Hill gave up a couple of receptions, but it wasn’t anything shameful and he was also solid in run support.
The safeties were very good in run support as well, but weren’t really tested in the passing game.
Defensive tackle Maurice Hurst was fantastic. He was a brute up front and yet too quick to run screens against. He makes everyone else on the defensive line better.
Based on this small sample size of just one game, I think more teams should replace 10 starters on defense. It’s like shaving certain parts of your body — the new defense will appear to come in thicker and fuller.
For instance, shaving Ben Gedeon at middle linebacker back in January has now given the Wolverines a full Bush in the middle.
The Michigan Special Teams
Redshirt freshman kicker Quinn Nordin hit a 55-yard field goal. Nothing else needs to be said. He also hit one from 50 yards. In all, he was 4-of-6 on the day, hitting from 25, 55, 30, and 50, while missing from 52 and 32. Yeah, he’s got a big leg.
The other main point that I took away from the special teams is that freshman receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones is fearless as a punt returner. It’s a quality that coaches appreciate. Ohio State had that for a couple of years with Jalin Marshall. They don’t want the ball to bounce and roll, so coaches love it when players are aggressive in catching punts. It can — and will — lead to a muff or two this season, but DPJ will save many more yards than he will cost the Wolverines this year. And I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t house at least one this year.
What Does It All Mean?
It means that Michigan beat a team that had two pick sixes and blocked a punt against them.
There are metrics out there that tell you when you give up any one of those things, you’re chances of winning are greatly reduced. To give up three such detriments is usually a lock for a loss. But Michigan was unaffected and undeterred.
Not only did the Wolverines beat Florida, but they beat them. Michigan dominated the Gators. This was not an equal matchup. It was a contest between a disciplined pack of cold and distant hitmen and some dudes who thought it would be fun to steal from Don Brown’s late-night poker game on the east side.
The only thing that kept Florida in the game was Wilton Speight, and he still did as much damage against the Gators as anybody.
It also means that this was exactly the kind of start that Michigan expected. They had no doubts. The defense has total faith in their directive, and they preach it very loud and forcefully.
The offense, meanwhile, still sends out some mixed messages, but you get their meaning.
Together, however, they worked very well this past weekend, especially against a team where discipline is a nice idea, but way too much work.
The Road to The Game
Sept. 2 Michigan 33 – Florida 17
Sept. 9 Cincinnati at Michigan
Sept. 16 Air Force at Michigan
Sept. 23 Michigan at Purdue
Sept. 30 BYE
Oct. 7 Michigan State at Michigan
Oct. 14 Michigan at Indiana
Oct. 21 Michigan at Penn State
Oct. 28 Rutgers at Michigan (Rivalry Game)
Nov. 4 Minnesota at Michigan
Nov. 11 Michigan at Maryland
Nov. 18 Michigan at Wisconsin
Nov. 25 Ohio State at Michigan