Evan: 78-0. See you next week.
Alex: Hey, save the Scarlet Knights slander for later in the piece. We need to start by discussing the preceding game. What was your #1 takeaway from the beat down over PSU?
Evan: 42-7. Next?
Just kidding. I have a few key takeaways. The first is that Josh Uche might be the best pass-rushing specialist in America. At his best, he is almost literally unblockable. The stutter step move he used on Penn State’s tackle on third down of their first drive was absolutely filthy. I’ll stick with defense for now, and my next big point is that Brandon Watson is maybe the 9th or 10th best player on this defense and he has two pick-6s this year. Michigan’s corners have more touchdowns than they have allowed so far this year. Don. Brown. Is. The. Best. Coordinator. In. The. Country.
Alex: It was quite the showing from Michigan’s defense, which managed to keep three teams all ranked in the top 35 of S&P+ (Wisconsin, MSU, PSU) to a combined 27 points. For me the biggest takeaway is in a similar vein: how hungry this team looks. Remember when you were panicking over the supposed “slow starts” with this team? That feels like a distant memory at this point. On these first three stops on the revenge tour, Michigan has come right out, taken the lead, and never let up. Impressive work.
Evan: Well… Let’s hold on there for a second. This game should have been 7-7 midway through the 2nd quarter if offsetting penalties on a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown didn’t erase the return. It should have been 14-7 at halftime if Trace McSorley didn’t miss a wide open receiver that burned Brandon Watson down the sideline. Michigan once again wore their opponent down and went in for the kill… late in the 3rd quarter. It was still 14-0 with 1:38 left in the 3rd when Michigan capped a 14 play, 6+ minute drive with a touchdown pass to Zach Gentry. The Brandon Watson pick-6 then came two plays into Penn State’s next drive. But let’s not pretend that Michigan didn't dominate this game from start to finish. It was slow, methodical, and well executed, but this could have been a very different game at halftime. The defense played extremely well aside from Watson getting burned on a double move and Penn State’s garbage time touchdown drive. The offense controlled the game and the clock, but they did not finish drives early.
Alex: That’s fair. If there is one critique of this team over this stretch, it might be that the games weren’t buried in the first half, even though it’s been lots of fun to watch them squeeze the life out of an opponent in the fourth quarter. Speaking of which… how about that offensive line? Another opposing squad gashed on the ground by an OLine unit that may now be one of the two best in the Big Ten. Just incredible improvement.
Evan: You have to think that all the reps they get in practice against this elite Michigan pass rush has helped them improve. I would love to see how the O-line fairs against what is at least a top 5 pass rush in the country at full strength. Some of the holes Higdon had were absolutely gaping, and Patterson had plenty of time on most of his throws. The Penn State secondary played a decent game, but it’s hard to lock down a receiver for 8 seconds when a mobile QB like Patterson can sit back for 3-4 seconds and then scramble out of the pocket and extend the play. This team finally appears to have the offense necessary to compete with the national powerhouses. Ed Warriner and Shea Patterson have lived up to the hype and more.
Alex: I would say that Warriner has far exceeded the hype. I don’t think there’s anyone who would have reasonably predicted how much improvement has occurred. The hope in the summer was that he could maybe get the tackles to serviceable and the line to an above average standard. Instead the line is somewhere between good and great and the tackles are almost above average themselves. By the way, it’s worth noting that throw that Patterson made to Peoples-Jones for the TD. On the run, perfect strike. That’s an elite level throw that a Michigan QB hasn’t been able to make in a long, long time.
Evan: I’d like to briefly say that Shea Patterson having the 3rd best Heisman odds is flat out disrespectful to Karan Higdon, but it is nice to see the offense finally be performing well enough to receive national recognition. Also, let’s play a quick game. I’ve got a few fill in the blanks for you:
Donovan Peoples-Jones is the best Michigan receiver since _______.
This is Michigan’s best WR corps since _______.
This year’s defense is _______ than the 1997 defense.
Alex: For the first one, it’s tough. Talent-wise, he’s on par with Braylon Edwards. But production isn’t quite matching because Michigan isn’t throwing it all that much and there are a ton more targets on this team than say in 2016, when it was literally just Butt, Chesson, and Darboh. For the second one, probably some of those mid-2000s teams with Manningham and Breaston. And the third one…. we have to wait and see I guess. It’s definitely in the holy club of 97, 16, and now 18. But I need to watch the whole season play out first.
Evan: Those are all fair answers. Do you.. even want to bother talking about Rutgers… or… talk about… I don’t know, literally anything else?
Alex: Let’s talk about Rutgers. But we’ll do it through a series of three questions.
1.) How many QB’s play for Michigan in this game?
2.) Who is the most obscure player who will get a catch or a carry for the Wolverines?
3.) How many walk-ons will play in this game for Michigan?
- At a minimum, 3. Patterson will take a few drives before Peters comes in. Joe Milton will eventually seen some action in the second half. The real question is whether Michael Cessa gets some action in the final minutes. The over/under is 3.5, but I’ll take the under. I think they’ll want to get Milton as much game experience as possible so that he is ready to go in the event that Shea Patterson goes down.
- This is tough. Guys like Berkley Edwards and Jared Wangler have already gotten touches, so they’re out of the picture. I really don’t have a good sense of who the remaining players who we haven’t seen play yet might be, but my default will be freshman tight end Mustapha Muhammad (if he’s healthy).
- I’ll set the over/under at a dozen. You can only bring so many players with you to road games or it’d be higher.
Alex: I forgot about Cessa. I might be inclined to take the over in that case. Mustapha Muhammad is a good pick, especially since he was a highly touted recruit. And I concur on the third.
Let’s wrap up with prediction, MVP, and thing to watch.
Evan: I’ll go with 56-0. MVP is Joe Milton. Thing to watch: How Brandon Wimbush performs in his first start in nearly two months and how Georgia performs in their last test before the SEC Championship vs Bama.
Alex: I’m gonna go with 58-3. MVP is…. Chris Evans. Thing to watch: East Lansing and whether MSU beats OSU.