I believe Scott Frost is going to be very successful at Nebraska, but the Huskers are a far cry from being able to compete with Michigan at any position group in year one.
The Wolverines (3-1, 1-0) hammered Nebraska 56-10 on Saturday and were leading 46-0 when I finally stopped watching the carnage.
The Huskers are still a couplefew years away, and freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez should eventually be a guy to worry about. But bringing a true freshman quarterback coming off of knee injury into Ann Arbor against a Don Brown defense is like walking into a 1975 honky tonk and trying to introduce karaoke to an American audience, but using Bee Gees songs to get it done.
And no, I’m not going to shoehorn a ‘Stayin’ Alive’ reference here in regards to Martinez, whose day started well, but ended quickly and terribly. But at least he made it through unscathed, which was my biggest concern for him coming into this game.
Whenever the Buckeyes are playing at 3:30 and Michigan is kicking off at noon, I get to the press box early so I can watch the Wolverines at least a little bit. I wasn’t able to do that with this one, but every time I would look at my phone, Michigan was adding more punishment and another touchdown.
After watching most of the game on Monday, I could have gathered all of the information I needed from simply looking at the score. Michigan dominated every step of the way and left cleat marks on the Huskers all game long.
When Michigan Was On Offense
The Wolverines rushed for 285 yards on 45 attempts (6.3 avg) and threw for 206 yards, completing 18-of-31 passes.
Backup running back Chris Evans didn’t play this week, as he left last week’s game in the second half with an injury to his body. Starter Karan Higdon had an easy day, rushing for 136 yards on 12 attempts (11.3 avg), including a 44-yard touchdown run. His first three carries went for 44, 2, and 46 yards.
Third-teamer Tru Wilson looked good against the Husker defense, rushing for 43 yards on six carries (7.2 avg).
The biggest problem I have with the running game this week is fullback Ben Mason, who is an even bigger touchdown vulture than Khalid Hill was last year. Harbaugh is even giving Mason the ball at tailback. I drafted Karan Higdon on my fantasy team because Hill was gone and Higdon would be a perfectly acceptable goal-line back. I’ve since dropped him when I saw how much Mason was being used early on. He had six carries for 18 yards and three touchdowns in this one. I guess this complaint is purely selfish, but I’m okay with that.
Quarterback Shea Patterson had another “lazy day,” completing 15-of-22 passes for 120 yards with a touchdown. He was sacked once and hit a couple of other times.
There wasn’t much need to throw the ball, but I do wonder what will happen when there is a need. I have confidence in the skill positions, but I’d like to see a more prolific passing game here and there. The offensive line will need to protect Patterson when the time comes, but he can make any throw necessary and his receivers are capable. But are they getting enough work?
Donovan Peoples-Jones had a huge week last week and followed that up with one catch for 10 yards in this one. He wasn’t needed, but it would be nice to see some momentum built with him.
Michigan plays basically four receivers while the game is in doubt. Peoples-Jones leads the team with 15 receptions for 169 yards (11.3 avg) and four touchdowns. Sophomore Nico Collins had three catches for 66 yards against Notre Dame, but has just four catches for 75 yards in the three games since.
Collins and DPJ are going to have to make plays in big games this season, and I feel like they could use more work in preparation for those moments.
The other two receivers who see the most action are Grant Perry and Oliver Martin. Perry is averaging 6.5 yards per catch and Martin has had just one catch in each of the last three games.
I understand the desire to win the surest way against overmatched opponents, but this is also an opportunity to turn inexperienced players into experienced playmakers.
Patterson is 0-3 as a starting quarterback against teams that ended the season ranked. Notre Dame could push that to 0-4 if they stay in the Top 25.
Peoples-Jones, Collins, and Martin are Michigan’s top three receivers in terms of yardage and they have never beaten a team that was ranked at the end of the season. They were 0-4 last year in such games. I’m sure they’re getting great experience now, but relying on them a bit more will help them down the road when the reliance is real.
Or maybe I’m just looking for something to complain about. I’ve been known to do that.
I did like the employment of the jet sweep action in the offense, as well as a split-back look out of the shotgun. I’m waiting for Patterson to be more involved in the read-option game because he has the feet for it. I don’t know if he has the feel for it, though.
When Michigan Was On Defense
It was murder.
Nebraska rushed for 39 yards and passed for 93 yards.
Adrian Martinez got the start and completed 7-of-15 passes for 22 yards and an interception. He was sacked four times and eventually Scott Frost pulled him in favor of allowing him to continue existing.
Martinez completed his first pass attempt for 32 yards. His final six completions went for a loss of 10 yards. And to be honest, that 32-yarder was a prayer on a scramble that never should have been caught. Martinez was fortunate not to be 6-of-15 for -10 yards passing, which would have perhaps been the stat of the decade.
Martinez’s second pass would have gone for a touchdown if not for defensive tackle Lawrence Marshall batting it up in the air at the line of scrimmage. That’s why they say pass defense starts with the defensive line.
Speaking of the defensive line — and Marshall specifically — it was good to see him back out there and active again. The depth has been hurt and Marshall being back helps a bit.
The rest of the defensive line harassed the Husker offense in perfect unison with blitzing linebackers.
There are times when Don Brown’s aggressive defense can be just a step out of sync against a talented spread offense, but there were no such instances in this game. Or at least in the 2+ quarters that I took the time to watch.
There were rollouts right into defenders on more than one occasion. Michigan seemed to know what was coming and never once did they appear the least bit concerned about what the Huskers were doing.
It also didn’t help matters that Nebraska’s offensive line was way too slow for the Wolverine defense. They tried to get wide to block, but each time a Michigan defender waved as he ran by and tackled the football in the backfield.
The last time the Wolverines faced a Scott Frost offense was the second game of the 2016 season. Frost brought UCF into Michigan Stadium and his team ran for 275 yards. No such successes were had on Saturday, however.
Michigan finished with 14 tackles for loss spread out over 12 Wolverine defenders.
How the hell did this team lose to Notre Dame?
The Michigan Special Teams
Donovan Peoples-Jones returned a punt 60 yards for an incredible touchdown. It was the second touchdown return of his career. He is a danger every time he touches the ball, which is why I’d have targeted him more than three times on offense in this game.
Punter Will Hart averaged an impressive 59.3 yards on his three punts, putting two inside the 20-yard line. The one punt that wasn’t put inside the 20 was a 57-yarder that was muffed by former Buckeye commit Tyjon Lindsey. Michigan recovered. (So has Ohio State.)
What Does It All Mean?
It means that the offense and defense are both clicking and it’s happening at a good time.
The Wolverines won’t face an offense that should pose a problem until they head to East Lansing, and even then, that’s just an assumption that Sparty will have something for the Michigan defense.
Offensively, the Wolverines are capable of being balanced, even if Jim Harbaugh is completely unwilling to prove it.
The schedule will eventually force his hand, and hopefully the lack of practice to this point won’t be an issue.
It also means Michigan is hitting the road for the first time since the season-opening loss at Notre Dame, and that should have Wolverine fans concerned.
The road hasn’t been kind, at least against teams with winning records. Fortunately for Michigan, that may not ultimately describe Northwestern. The Wildcats are currently 1-2 and just lost their best player on offense in running back Jeremy Larkin who had to retire from the sport for medical reasons.
While the schedule does finally get tougher moving forward, 10-1 heading into Columbus grows likelier by the week.
But again, the road has been tricky for the Wolverines over the years, so keep that in mind as the rest of the season unfolds.