Sorry for the delay on this week’s Michigan Monday. Traveling back from Dallas on Sunday and then having Urban Meyer’s return on Monday kept me from getting this done in a timely manner. The fact that Michigan was only playing SMU played into it a little bit as well, but don’t tell anyone.
The Wolverines vanquished the SMU Mustangs 45-20 Saturday afternoon, but for most of the game the score was much closer.
In fact, down 14-7 at the end of the first half, SMU was driving, but quarterback Ben Hicks threw a 73-yard pick six to safety Josh Metellus with the clock hitting zeroes. That gave UM some breathing room, but not much. The score was 35-20 almost midway through the fourth quarter before the Wolverines added the final 10 points to end all Mustang hopes.
Even with the score being “close” for much of the game, there was never any point where Michigan was in danger. They always had the ability to move the ball down the field, but didn’t always take advantage of it.
When Michigan Was On Offense
The Wolverines rushed for 197 yards on 41 carries (4.8 ypc) and quarterback Shea Patterson threw for 237 yards on 14-of-18 passing with three touchdowns and an interception.
Michigan was without starting running back Karan Higdon, who is day-to-day or week-to-week with an injury to somewhere on his body. Chris Evans got the start and rushed for 85 yards on 18 carries (4.7 ypc). Evans left the game in the second half with a lower-body injury. Junior Tru Wilson — a former walk-on — is the No. 3 running back, but moved up to No. 2 this week and rushed for 53 yards on 11 carries (4.8 ypc).
For a comparison, SMU played TCU two weeks ago and the Horned Frogs had the same 41 rushing attempts as Michigan, but ran for 233 yards.
The most disappointing aspect of the offense for the Wolverines was their struggles in short yardage. They faced 15 instances of three or fewer yards to go for a first down and picked up the first down just six times. Just once did they pick up the first down with more than one yard to go, and that came early in the third quarter.
Michigan was 0-for-4 on picking up the first down with three yards to go, 1-for-3 with two yards to go, and 5-for-8 with one yard to go.
Chalk that up to missing Higdon, at least in part, but not in entirety.
The most frustrating thing for me was that all 15 plays were running plays. Granted, many of these plays came deeper in SMU territory, but you can still throw the ball. There were opportunities for some shots down the field, but Michigan instead chose to take the long cut.
One of the reasons why the lack of passing on short-yardage bothers me is because Shea Patterson can make all of the throws. The fact that he only threw the ball 18 times in this game is sad.
Having Patterson throw the ball so little is like buying a top of the line fishing boat and all of the best fish-finding equipment, and then backing it up into a pond, dropping anchor, and saying, “Now let’s go get those bluegill!”
Patterson made some incredible throws in this game and it just seems like a waste that he isn’t being allowed to do more.
Without their best running back, perhaps if they had relied on Patterson more, they wouldn’t have been looking at a two-score game in the fourth quarter.
If I have a guy who can make every throw, I am going to put him to work. Dwayne Haskins threw the ball 19 times in the second quarter alone against TCU Saturday night.
Earlier in the season, people argued that the porous offensive line was the reason for fewer passes and deep shots. That’s fine, but if your offensive line sucks, is running the ball 60% of the time really the way to protect yourself from your offensive line?
(And if you’re going to run it 100% of the time on short-yardage, expect the defense to be ready for that too.)
With Patterson’s ability to throw on the run, you can roll the pocket out and protect him that way. Or you can throw the ball quicker. Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins are the kind of guys who can take a slant the distance.
Hell, you’ve got two tight ends on nearly every pass route. Keep one of them in to pass block. Granted, that means Jim Harbaugh will want to have a third tight end out there to replace the one who is now blocking, but there are ways to throw the ball if you’re terrified of your pass blocking.
Speaking of tight ends, Patterson’s lone interception came at the SMU 2-yard line on a throw to the end zone that required tight end Sean McKeon to come back to the ball, which he didn’t do well enough to either catch the pass or prevent the interception. Having two tight ends on so many pass plays means your athleticism on those plays is diminished, and we saw it here. Could a wide receiver have gotten to the ball? I don’t know, but he would have had a much better chance.
And I realize I’m saying this when tight end Zach Gentry caught four passes for 95 yards (32, 24, 11, 28 yards).
Speaking of athleticism, Donovan Peoples-Jones caught four passes for 90 yards and three touchdowns. In a shocking development, he was actually used down the field. For most of the season, it has felt like they were worried they’d get an ineligible receiver downfield if they sent DPJ too far out into a pass pattern.
If Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins (one catch, three yards) can develop into simultaneous downfield threats, then Shea Patterson would have something similar to what Jake Rudock and Wilton Speight had in Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson.
And unlike Rudock and Speight, Patterson is good enough to make his receivers even better.
When Michigan Was On Defense
SMU had three touchdown drives of at least 75 yards against Michigan, which is the second time this season they have allowed three such drives in a game.
Interestingly, the first time they did it was in the season opener at Notre Dame. Also interestingly, the Irish did not have a single drive of 75 yards against Ball State (despite many opportunities), but did have two this week against Vanderbilt.
SMU rushed for 110 yards on 31 carries (3.5 ypc) and threw for 209 yards on 19-of-34 passing with an interception.
The Wolverines have now allowed over 100 yards rushing in every game this season. It’s only the third time in Jim Harbaugh’s tenure that the Michigan defense has allowed 100 yards rushing in three consecutive games. Unfortunately, it’s also the sixth time in the last seven games this has happened.
This is the first time since 2012 that Michigan has allowed 100 yards rushing more than once in their first three games of the season.
The good news for next week is that the Wolverines haven’t allowed 100+ yards rushing in four-consecutive games since the 2013 season.
The Michigan defense committed penalties that allowed six SMU first downs, so much of the Mustangs’ success was thanks to the Wolverines, but that’s not exactly good news for Michigan.
Michigan was led — per usual — by defensive end Chase Winovich, who had 10 tackles, three tackles for loss, and a half a sack. It was his 11th-consecutive game with a tackle for loss.
On the other side of the defensive line, Rashan Gary was quiet with just three tackles. He did have a quarterback hurry that saw him come free up the middle and wrap his arms around the QB, but he was too out of control to actually bring the quarterback down, so he escaped and Gary was left to watch the rest of the play unfold without him.
I haven’t really talked much about Gary this year because there hasn’t been much to talk about. He isn’t making plays — he has just two tackles in the backfield this season, and one of those was an assist. And it’s not because he is being “double and triple teamed every play.” Does that happen sometimes? Of course. Does it happen often? No. There doesn’t appear to be a need.
I’m not saying Rashan Gary is going through the motions this season in anticipation of the NFL, but if he was, this is what it might look like.
For a guy who can do what he can do, it’s time for him to start doing it.
The Wolverines got some good snaps from defensive tackles Carlo Kemp and Bryan Mone, but the health at the position needs to get better because the lack of depth is eventually going to cost them.
The Michigan secondary also had some issues on the day. Every starter except for corner David Long was flagged for interference. While I like the Wolverines’ rotation at cornerback, SMU was having success with the slants. And despite the aforementioned 73-yard interception return by Josh Metellus, the Michigan safeties can be attacked in the passing game as well.
A more dominating Rashan Gary would make the secondary even better, by the way.
The Michigan Special Teams
There isn’t much of note here. Kicker Quinn Nordin made a 45-yard field goal. Punter Will Hart averaged 50 yards on his two punts. The return game was non-existent.
What Does It All Mean?
It means that Michigan has a quarterback who can do whatever is asked of him, but he’s still waiting for the call.
Patterson still makes a pretty bad throw or two in every game, so perhaps Jim Harbaugh is trying to keep that number down. Maybe more attempts will wean him out of those throws, but we’ll never find out.
It also means that the Michigan defense isn’t yet what it needs to be to win the Big Ten.
The good news, however, is that maybe for the first time under Don Brown, the defense will peak in November and not October.
The offense and defense we are seeing now from Michigan should both be improved by the time the Wolverines come to Columbus.
Or at least they better be.
The Road To The Game
Sept 1 – at Notre Dame (L) 17-24
Sept 8 – Western Michigan (W) 49-3
Sept 15 – SMU (W) 45-20