Evan: Ha. I finally listened to my call of Shea Patterson fumbling Michigan’s season away this morning. Now before you say that is an overreaction, just realize that Michigan has to be essentially perfect from here on out to have a shot at the Playoff. There were bright spots, no doubt about it, but this was not how Harbaugh needed to start his fourth season. So I guess to answer your question, no I have not calmed down.
Alex: Well glad to hear it. I would argue that they don’t have to be exactly perfect because with their schedule, 11-2 and a Big Ten title is probably enough for the playoff, but that’s a long way away. As for the game itself, I think a lot of people had their hot takes ready at halftime and didn’t adjust it as the full game went on. Michigan wasn’t outplayed by Notre Dame by that much. The final yardage totals were very similar between the two teams, for example. It just seemed like 4 of the 5 most important plays in the game went against Michigan. Too many mistakes and too many points left on the field.
Evan: I agree that too many people wrote their game recaps at halftime and then tuned out for the second half. Don Brown made excellent halftime adjustments on the defensive side of the ball. The secondary had a rough start but settled in later in the game. I still think the biggest play of the game was the Josh Metellus targeting call on ND’s second drive. Not only did it extend the drive on that play, but the eventual touchdown pass came against Brad Hawkins who came in for Metellus. As for the offense, it took them a bit longer to settle in. The tackles (and line as whole) struggled with ND’s pass rush. It wasn’t until Dylan McCaffrey came in for a cramping Shea Patterson early in the 4th that the offensive staff finally decided to start rolling the quarterbacks to the right immediately on every snap. From there the quick passing game improved substantially on the last few drives. Patterson hit Nico Collins on one deep throw in the third quarter, but overall he just didn’t have enough time to stretch the field.
Alex: You seem to be in a very generous mood at 11:45 pm on a Thursday in saying that the tackles “struggled”. I’d say it was more akin to a dumpster fire, if we’re being honest. They were beaten on nearly every single play and the whole game plan seemed to be built around that knowledge, as there was a lot of dinking and dunking going on, short passes to get the ball out. I will say, I saw some lazy takes about the offense, with some people saying that it still resembled last season’s inept offense, which I think is just blatantly not true. The offense moved the ball pretty well last week, better than last year. It’s just every drive would have something stupid happen at some point, whether it was a decisive sack or a fumble or a penalty, that would derail it. The offense needs to continue to improve, but I don’t know about you, but I liked what I saw some Shea Patterson and the WR’s, despite the OLine trouble.
Evan: I rewatched some of the game throughout the week.
Alex: You must like making yourself feel bad
You’re right though I was being generous… There wasn’t a single player on the line who played well. Every player got burned in different ways at different times. But yes, let’s talk about happier things. Nico Collins, Oliver Martin, Grant Perry, and Donovan Peoples-Jones (only receiving NOT returning punts) were all excellent. The short passing game was solid, and Karan Higdon held his own despite not having much space to run through.
Alex: I think the interior of the line held up reasonably well, better than last year, and when the issues did arise, they tended to feed off of the issues at tackle. On the topic of Higdon, the most puzzling development is how they often went away from him on third and short situations, as well as the goal line sets, when Michigan had the chance to punch it in on second and goal early in the 2nd quarter and decided not to. The play calling issues were mostly overstated by angry fans but that was a pretty significant mistake, just as much of one as the dropped field goal or the Winovich roughing the passer. Also, what happened to Chris Evans? Did the team leave him at the hotel?
Evan: Don’t bring up the goal line situation. Or any of the plays where Michigan left points on the field. As far as Evans, he didn’t touch the ball until the 4th quarter. He looked great once he finally got a couple carries and receptions, but prior to that, he wasn’t involved at all. I have no answer as to why, especially after how good he looked.
Alex, I’m just very frustrated. I don’t know what to say about our coaching staff anymore.
Alex: If we’re talking in the context of season expectations, after a lot of thinking, this game doesn’t really change my outlook, nor is it all that surprising. It was against a pretty good team on the road, it was a close game, and Michigan lost. On the face that isn’t bad and it was really just 2 or 3 plays away from a win. Again, in one isolated case, that isn’t an issue. But the fact that it was emblematic of the entire Harbaugh era, playing tight games against good teams but consistently falling one play short, is concerning. I don’t know how much is coaching and how much is the players, but when it just keeps happening, it makes you raise an eyebrow.
Evan: Yeah, for me it’s just the same problems over and over and over again. Oh well. I need to see significant improvement from the offensive line, secondary, and special teams very quickly or I will get even more cranky in regards to this team.
Michigan has a couple tune up games before Scott Frost’s revamped Nebraska Cornhuskers come to town. Have you had a chance to preview Western Michigan?
Alex: A bit. One last thought on the season as a whole is that this will be a good test to see how much better the team can get. The sign of a good coach is someone who can make the team better as the season goes a long. We’ve come to expect that from John Beilein and the basketball team, and we saw it from Mel Pearson and the hockey team last year. Past Big Ten champions had it happen, MSU 2013, OSU 2014, and PSU 2016 all come to mind. Harbaugh did it to some extent in 2015. He’s going to have to do it this year if Michigan is to win the Big Ten.
As for WMU, they were 6-6 a year ago, but we were one of the only bowl eligible teams not to get invited to a game. They were pretty solid under QB John Wassink last year but then he got hurt. He’s back now and it’s a team with a lot of talent for a MAC squad, since former coach PJ Fleck was recruiting at the top of the MAC level during his tenure there. Current head coach Tim Lester has to convert that talent into wins and this year is probably a year too early for WMU to really compete for the MAC title but they should be middle of their division, 7-5 or 8-4 range. They lost their week 1 game to Syracuse in a high scoring affair 55-42. The defense was very bad last year (125th in S&P+) and it doesn’t seem to have improved much this season. They’re not a doormat but also not what they were two years ago when they went undefeated in the regular season. This is a game Michigan should win, and easily.
Evan: If there is one thing I learned last year, it’s that blowouts shouldn’t be taken for granted. In fact, we might learn more about the team this week than last week. There is almost no chance Michigan loses, but how they win will be a huge indicator of how the rest of the season will go. One thing I am excited to see is former Michigan wide receiver Drake Harris finally play at the Big House… it will just be for the other team. Otherwise, I just need to see dominance from Michigan. Here’s my big question for you: will DPJ ever learn how to return punts?
Alex: One game sample size is not enough and his last return against ND seemed fine. Let’s give the kid some time and wait and see. I thing you bring up an excellent point in that the margin of victory and the manner in which the game plays out will be very interesting. If Michigan is a legit conference title threat, then they need to replicate 2015 and 2016 when they were hammering their lesser opponents. If Syracuse could hang 50 points on Western Michigan, then the Wolverines should be able to hit 60. A good 63-10 blowout would be appetizing.
Let’s wrap this up. Give me your score, MVP, and thing you’re most interested in watching in saturday’s matchup.
Evan: I think Michigan wins, but not by a margin that we’d like to see. I’ll go 31-14. The game-MVP will be Karan Higdon. He will have 20+ carries for 100+ yards and a couple touchdowns. I’m most interested in watching how the secondary, particularly Josh Metellus, responds to a rough first game. How about you?
Alex: I’ll go with 41-7. I think the defense has a big bounceback performance after struggling mightily in the first half of the Notre Dame game. The MVP will be Patterson, who is finally given a bit of time to throw and connects for at least one deep touchdown. I’m most interested in watching how the offensive tackles do against lesser competition. If we’re being honest JBB and Runyan are MAC-level players and they will be facing MAC-level DE’s this weekend. They should hold up much better or else it’s seriously panic time. I also want to see if some depth guys get rotated in, Hudson and Mayfield, as well as other parts of the team like Kwity Paye or Jordan Anthony.
Evan: Based on some cryptic social media posts, it appears that we won’t see the young offensive tackles… Anyways, enjoy calling the game. I’ll be standing with 20,000 other disgruntled students who just finished their first week of classes.
Alex: It's good to have the old Evan back.
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