Not many Michigan fans thought Rutgers would knock off the Wolverines on their journey to Big Ten Title contention and a chance at the College Football Playoff. For Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverine players, though, each week is just as important as a National Championship Game regardless of who is their opponent. Outside of winning the football game, the main goals for the Wolverines were to stay healthy and be able to dominate the game without having to dive too much into their playbooks on both sides of the football.
For a lot of people, Michigan was boring to watch offensively on Saturday. They played vanilla against the Scarlet Knights. Part of bringing in offensive line coach, Ed Warinner, was to simplify the offense to allow the offensive line to play fast and confident by having less to know. When Warinner was at Ohio State as their offensive coordinator, I went to his run game clinic where he explained and drew out OSU’s running attack on a whiteboard. They had a total of 14 run plays, but only would use half of them on a game-to-game basis. Formations and motioning make plays look different, but in actuality, it’s the same play.
This mentality is now with Michigan. They run inside/outside zone, frontside and backside guard power, counter (gap) and variations of sweep blocking concepts. The tandem of backs at Michigan between Karan Higdon, Chris Evans and Tru Wilson put up 193 yards on 40 attempts. As a unit, they averaged 4.8 yards a carry. Down the stretch, Chris Evans will need to be more apart of their ground and passing attack as he is the most athletic and explosive running back the Wolverines have. They showcased that by lining him outside at wide receiver and throwing him quick screens and routes to make Rutgers defend more horizontally.
Michigan loves to run a lot pistol or under center with two to three tight end sets attached to it. Those sets force defenses to become balanced or decide where they want to set their strength to because they are unable to set their strength to where the running back lines up at due to him being straight back behind the quarterback. Based upon how their opponent aligns, Michigan will run the direction where they get the most blockers to the football. The Wolverines ran a lot of inside zone without the factor of Shea Patterson reading the defensive end out of the pistol because they didn’t need that element of their offense to beat Rutgers. The less hits Patterson has to take, the better heading into Indiana and Ohio State.
Michigan, at times, will run a jet sweep to get the ball to the edge quickly. However, they have done it with receivers who are not burners like Donovan Peoples-Jones. To get the best out of that play, Michigan should bring in Chris Evans or Ambry Thomas to hand the ball to. They both have strong hands, too, where Michigan could run a hard play action off of it and have them go to the flat or down the sideline.
Shea Patterson is the quarterback Michigan has needed to get them over the hump offensively. He is not a superstar talent. His play is comparable to a younger Alex Smith, the current quarterback for the Washington Redskins. They both are athletic enough extend plays with their legs, great on the run, strong short to intermediate accuracy, good enough with the deep ball shots when called and don’t put their offenses in bad situations by turning the football over.
Patterson’s deep ball accuracy was as good as it could be with the strong winds during the game. He was 18 of 27, 260 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. He now has 17 touchdowns to 3 interceptions on the year, and still has not played his best football game in a Maize and Blue uniform. He has the ‘it’ factor to play quarterback. Expect to see that come to light the most against Ohio State in two weeks.
Michigan played well besides a great call by Rutgers in the first quarter on their 80 yard rushing touchdown getting Michigan caught in man coverage and looking in the backfield off a fake reverse that defensive end, Chase Winovich and free safety, Tyree Kinnel, followed giving up the huge cut back lane. After making a few adjustments, Michigan did not allow Rutgers to do much more in the air or on the ground for the remainder of the game.
The interior defensive line of Michigan is a group who each week gets better and better and continue to allow Michigan’s linebacking core to make plays all over the field. They do not stack up to the stat sheet, but their impact on the game is huge with their ability to keep the center, guards and tackles from getting to the next level to block the linebackers by using great lateral movement with their footwork and strong pad level.
There are not many defenses that are as fast as Michigan in the country. Their ability to close down run lanes in a matter of seconds is at an elite level. That all comes down to proper angles to get to the ball carrier. Credit to defensive coordinator, Don Brown, for teaching his players the proper angles necessary to be an elite defense. There is rarely a case where there are not multiple Wolverines making a tackle on a ball carrier.
If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Michigan had success running man-to-man all game in the passing game, so they stuck with that coverage for most of their snaps. Losing starting corner, Lavert Hill, to a concussion during the game is something the Wolverines did not need with a pass-happy Indiana team coming to town this week. It is yet to be determined if he will be available for Indiana as well as defensive lineman, Kwity Paye, who went down with an arm injury, too. The Wolverines are very deep on defense with talent, but there is no question there is a slight drop off in the secondary if Hill is not available on Saturday.
This Michigan team controls their own destiny in the Big Ten. If they win out, they get a rematch against Northwestern in the Big Ten Title game. And assuming Alabama continues to win and does not choke against Auburn or Georgia in the SEC championship game, Michigan will get their shot to shock the world and compete against the best team in the country on the biggest stage. There is a lot of anticipation in Ann Arbor. One game at a time is all they can do and control.
Featured image courtesy of Detroit Free Press
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