You’ll have to forgive me if this week’s edition of Michigan Monday isn’t as boisterous with life and excitement as previous editions, but I’m trying this new thing where my writing mirrors the demeanor of the Wolverines’ opposing coach.
This week, my muse is Mark Dantonio, which means why even bother trying to do something new and exciting when slow death and boredom was once so effective at times.
I should just use an old, unsuccessful edition of Michigan Monday and rearrange the words and see if that works.
I bet it wouldn’t.
Michigan hosted Michigan State on Saturday and after the Spartans opened up a 7-0 lead, the Wolverines went on to score 44 of the final 47 points of the game, winning 44-10.
Tom Orr and I previewed this game in one of last week’s bonus Patreon podcasts and I said that this felt like one of those games that Jim Harbaugh would love to turn into a blowout if he could, but I just wasn’t sure how well they would be able to run the ball.
Turns out, they didn’t need to run the ball because they threw it very well and also because the Spartans’ offense is only designed to fool children 5-8 years old. It says so right on the side of the box.
This was a game featuring two teams headed in opposite directions.
Of course, they could just be stuck on the same roundabout.
We’ll know more two weeks from now.
When Michigan Was On Offense
I didn’t expect the Wolverines to be able to run the ball against the Spartans, and they didn’t.
Michigan rushed for 83 yards on 34 attempts, though quarterback Shea Patterson did lose 43 yards via four sacks. Still, removing those negative 43 yards still leaves Michigan at 30 carries for 126 yards, with 35 of those yards coming on two carries.
The Wolverines still aren’t running the ball well enough to beat good teams. And no, the Notre Dame game doesn’t do a lot for me, other than tells me the Irish are softer than Sunday morning bangers and mash.
Receiver Giles Jackson led the team in rushing with 32 yards on two carries. Zach Charbonnet was held to 30 yards on seven attempts, and Hassan Haskins managed just 13 yards on six rushes.
Haskins rushed for 149 yards in the rain against Notre Dame, but has managed just 290 yards rushing in seven Big Ten games. Charbonnet isn’t too much different, managing 325 yards rushing in seven conference games. And over one-third of those yards have come against Illinois for both players.
There is a significant problem running the ball here and Michigan is trying to fix it by running Shea Patterson and the wildcat. Both allow the offensive line to equate the numbers against the defense and give the ball carrier an extra blocker, but the results have been disappointing. Patterson ran for 28 yards on four carries when you remove the sacks, but the consistency is missing and I don’t see it returning in two weeks.
That all being said, I’m not sure how concerned Michigan was with the running game, which sounds crazy to say.
Shea Patterson, who played the entire way, completed 24-of-33 passes for 384 yards and four touchdowns. It was his eighth-career 300-yard passing day — and his first at Michigan.
It should be noted that there was quite a bit of success here from the RPO, so feel free to add that into the running game and consider things a little better than the box score says.
Even when Patterson is playing well, however — and this may have been his best game as a Wolverine — there are still moments where he throws passes or does things that he shouldn’t. Michigan State’s defense wasn’t able to take advantage of those instances this week, which could give both Patterson and Michigan confidence (perhaps of the false variety) moving forward.
Patterson still needs to make sure he is more careful with the football, given the fact that he did fumble the ball and nearly threw an interception in the end zone.
We did get to see quite a bit of the speed in space from the Wolverine receivers, however. Ronnie Bell led the team with a career-high nine catches for a career-high 150 yards receiving. He continues to be a workhorse for the Wolverines and I continue to make sure I have scrubbed all of my tweets about Jim Harbaugh landing a commitment from Bell, who was ranked like the 150th receiver in the 2018 recruiting class.
Donovan Peoples-Jones added four catches for 48 yards, but showed some explosion on his 18-yard touchdown, scoring down the sideline when most receivers wouldn’t have been able to. Nico Collins added his customary three catches for 45 yards, scoring once.
When Michigan Was On Defense
When Michigan was on defense, Michigan State was on offense and there isn’t much more you need to know.
The Spartans ran for 52 yards on 30 attempts with a long rush of 10 yards by receiver Julian Barnett.
Quarterback Brian Lewerke completed 17-of-30 passes for 166 yards with two interceptions and one touchdown. He was sacked three times.
Cornerbacks Lavert Hill and Ambry Thomas grabbed the two interceptions.
In the seven games since Wisconsin rushed for 359 yards against this Wolverine defense, they have allowed just 442 yards on the ground — and only Penn State has averaged better than three yards per carry.
The thing for Michigan fans to be concerned about, however, is that they haven’t faced an offense equipped to run on them at a high level since the Badgers. They’ll get that opportunity in two weeks and we’ll see where they stand. I believe they are better than they were against Wisconsin, but Ohio State has yet to be held under 200 yards rushing by any opponent this season.
I don’t want to make it sound like I’m shortchanging some defensive analysis here, but writing about a defense’s performance against the Michigan State offense is a lot like writing about anybody’s performance against Rutgers. I can only do so much of this.
This is a Spartan offense that was held to 303 yards by Tulsa, 285 by Ohio State, 149 by Wisconsin, 265 by Penn State, and now 220 yards by Michigan.
This isn’t a game you personalize a cake for, you just grab whatever’s available in the bakery section at the grocery store.
The Michigan Special Teams
The Wolverines blocked a punt in this game, which needs to be a concern for the Buckeyes. Viper Khaleke Hudson beat an upman with an inside move and got both hands on it. Michigan took over at the MSU 22-yard line and on first down Shea Patterson hit Nico Collins for a score at the goal line.
Perhaps the best news of the day for Michigan was that they didn’t miss any field goals. Quinn Nordin went 3-for-3 with makes from 28, 49, and 33 yards. Of course, Michigan made it into the Spartan red zone on all three of those field goal drives, but came away with just nine points. You can do that against Michigan State, but it wouldn’t be wise to settle for too many field goals the rest of the way out.
What Does It All Mean?
It means that Michigan didn’t have to hand over the bragging rights to Michigan State for at least another year. No matter what the rest of this season holds for the Wolverines, they’ll at least have this win to sell to recruits who are choosing between them and the Spartans.
Having now won two in a row over Michigan State, maybe this will be the encouragement Mark Dantonio needs to restructure — in a real way this time — his offense. As I say everywhere I go, bad offense is a choice, and it is now time for Dantonio to choose life.
It also means that if it feels I’m not giving this game my utmost attention it’s because road trips to Rutgers will do that to a person.
We will learn more from the Wolverines over the next two weeks than anything the last three weeks have shown us. Indiana has a balanced offense, but Michigan has a balanced defense. Can they keep the Hoosier scoring down while also finding enough offense to score the 27 or so points they’ll need to get the win?
Can Shea Patterson carry this momentum through the rest of the regular season? He’ll need to.
The defense will also need to prove that they are extremely far removed from the Wisconsin debacle because the Ohio State game almost always comes down to who runs the ball better in that game.
And based on how things are going there right now, who do you think that favors?
Ohio State and Penn State play this weekend for the division crown.
Michigan will simply be playing for pride from here on out, and pride can do some amazing things when combined with skilled players and talented coaching.
I expect the Wolverines to look pretty good against Indiana, but then things get serious immediately after that.
The Road to The Game
Aug. 31 — Michigan 40 – Middle Tennessee 21 (1-0)
Sept. 7 — Michigan 24 – Army 21 (2-0)
Sept. 21 — Wisconsin 35 – Michigan 14 (2-1, 0-1)
Sept. 28 — Michigan 52 – Rutgers 0 (3-1, 1-1)
Oct. 5 — Michigan 10 – Iowa 3 (4-1, 2-1)
Oct. 12 — Michigan 42 – Illinois 25 (5-1, 3-1)
Oct. 19 — Penn State 28 – Michigan 21 (5-2, 3-2)
Oct. 26 — Michigan 45 – Notre Dame 14 (6-2, 3-2)
Nov. 2 — Michigan 38 – Maryland 7 (7-2, 4-2)
Nov. 16 — Michigan 44 – Michigan State 10 (8-2, 5-2)
Nov. 23 — at Indiana
Nov. 30 — Ohio State