Evan: There are a lot of things we can take away from this. A Jim Harbaugh Michigan team finally showed resilience, some young guys on defense group up before our eyes, the offensive line might not be as bad as we thought, and the B1G Ten officials hate Michigan. What do you want to start with?
Alex: Well we can start with the resiliency because that was the big story of the game for me. Michigan bounced back in a big way at a time when some were throwing in the towel. I never thought the game was over but they needed to turn it around and got the big statement drive right after NU went up 17-0. Still don’t like to see the team fall down that much though…
Evan: The slow starts have become a big problem for Michigan in the last two years. Dating back to the Florida game last year, when Michigan’s defense dominated from the get go, the offense (Wilton Speight specifically) gave Florida two touchdowns off turnovers leading to a Florida halftime lead. The Wolverines won that game, but a slow start under the lights against MSU was too much to overcome, as sloppy turnovers and horrific playcalling led to a 14-10 loss. Then when the Wolverines played at Happy Valley, Penn State roared out to a 14-0 lead before Michigan finally woke up. They cut the lead to 1 before halftime, but it was all Penn State the rest of the way. The slow starts weren’t as much of a problem by the end of the year, as Michigan led against Wisconsin, Ohio State, and South Carolina before eventually losing all 3 games.
Fast forward to week 1 in South Bend, and the problems came back in a big way. Notre Dame took a 21-3 lead before Ambry Thomas returned a kickoff for a touchdown to give Michigan some life. The Wolverines dominated the second half, but could never fully recover from the 3 score deficit they dug themselves into. This past weekend was no different. As you said, Northwestern got out to a 17-0 lead. But the problem extends passed the scores: during all of these games, the defense gives up easy pass plays that are atypical, the offense consistently goes 3 and out, and the whole team just plays very flat. I don’t know why the team has developed this tendency to start games slow, but it’s frustrating as a fan to say the least.
Alex: Well that was a lot of words. I’m not sure we can deem it a “trend” in the sense that just last week we were hailing the end of the slow starts. That said, it was good to see adjustments. Don Brown is very good at halftime adjustments, and I loved how much more physical the cornerbacks got, especially in helping to shutdown Northwestern’s slant routes. As you mentioned earlier, a lot of newer faces had some big plays. Kwitty Paye looked good again and Josh Uche had some huge moments as a blitzing linebacker. Always good to see the depth, though Rashan Gary’s health is a bit of a concern. Not as much for Michigan’s season but for his long term success as a football player for sure.
Evan: Just briefly since you mentioned the corners, yes they got more physical and improved as the game went on. But they should be playing that way from the start. If Don Brown wants to bring pressure the whole game, the corners have to play physical, man-to-man press coverage the whole game. That shouldn’t be a halftime adjustment, it should be the game plan.
I agree that Gary’s health is a concern for him as a player. It will be interesting to watch the next few weeks, especially with Michigan playing some games in the national spotlight. He has already fallen behind Nick Bosa and Ed Oliver on draft boards, and Clelin Ferrell is hot on his heels. If he can’t stay on the field, his draft stock will take a big hit.
Alex: I would hope they give his shoulder some rest this week since Michigan is not exactly playing a marquee opponent in Maryland. And also, Michigan will need Gary as close to 100% as he can possibly be for the big stretch against Wisconsin/MSU/PSU.
You brought up the offensive line in the opening and we should talk about that now. We talked a fair bit in last week’s article about Michigan facing a difficult front 7 in Northwestern, with Joe Gaziano being a factor in particular. Overall, the Wolverines did a pretty darn good job mitigating the Wildcats’ pass rush and keeping the pockets clean for Patterson. Now obviously Northwestern wasn’t blitzing a lot, which is the last hurdle to cross, but this at least makes me feel more confident in the lead up to the Wisconsin game.
Evan: I agree that it was refreshing to see the line perform well. Per Michael Spath, Michigan ran the football on 21 of 28 first downs against Northwestern. Karan Higdon had 17 of those carries for average of 4.9 YPC. On the first 11 runs, he averaged 7.3 yards per carry. On his final six first-down attempts, he averaged 0.5 YPC. U-M was 5 for 7 throwing on first down, 13.6 yards per attempt. That tells me a couple things: the line actually did a decent job of setting the tone in the run game, the offensive coaching staff had some semblance of a logical play script for the game, and Karan Higdon is good. I don’t know what the balance of those three things is, but regardless it was a good sign.
Alex: I will agree that play calling was generally pretty good in this contest, save for two particular calls: the 4th & 1 handoff to Higdon when Ben Mason still exists, and the goal line fade to GRANT PERRY of all receivers. But yeah, it was generally a pretty well called game by the offensive staff and there were certainly no James Franklin-like catastrophes.
Should we move onto Maryland?
Evan: You really don’t want me to talk about the holding call?
Alex: You can if you want but I don’t have a lot to say.
Alex: Well now that that’s over with, let’s talk about Maryland. The Terps are 3-1 with a rather perplexing resume, which includes a win over Texas but a loss to Temple. Anything that jumps out to you about this squad?
Evan: No. They’re very mediocre across the board. They don’t have much of a passing game offensively, and they’re spotty defensively. They look like a team that doesn’t have its coach… and well, they don’t.
Alex: For those who aren’t familiar, their coach DJ Durkin is in purgatory and will likely be fired for being a psycho who was largely responsible for the death of offensive lineman Jordan McNair in the offseason.
But yeah, Maryland is not a good team. They’re not Rutgers, or Nebraska for that matter. But they also aren’t good. This should be another easy win. Though of course, we said that last week.
Evan: Yeah, we did. I am curious to see if this might be a home-away thing. If they come out with great energy the next two weeks but flat against MSU, I’ll think this is just a team that struggles on the road. Regardless, I am not anticipating a close game Saturday.
Alex: Shall we do predictions then… thing to watch, score, and MVP?
Evan: Yes but you’re going first.
Alex: I’m watching for Patterson to have a bounce back game after a shaky performance vs. Northwestern. He’s almost looked his worst when he has time to throw and if the offensive line can give him a clean pocket, I’d like to see him take advantage of that and have another lights out game like he had versus Northwestern. For MVP, I’m taking Chase Winovich. And for prediction, I’m going to take Michigan 38-10.
Evan: I’m watching for two things, the two things I talked most about in this article: how fast Michigan starts and whether or not the refs continue to screw them over. I think the MVP will be Khaleke Hudson. He has the chance to play his first full game since the matchup with Western in week 2, and I’m guessing he makes a statement.
I told you earlier this week that this week would be very tough to predict. I still don’t have a good feel for how this game will go. I’m going to base my prediction off of the fact that Maryland doesn’t have any passing game: Michigan 41-7.