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Michigan: Pretenders or contenders in the Big Ten East?

Big Ten Michigan football 2018

Coming off a bye week with two weeks to prepare for Michigan, Pat Fitzgerald got his squad fired up to play at home. Northwestern’s record was not indicative of what type of team they were on Saturday. They are a scrappy, never quit football team every year. They gave Michigan fans a scare in the first half.

The good offensively

On 24 pass attempts, Shea Patterson only got sacked once. He had a clean pocket to throw from for most of the game. And if the pocket did break down, Patterson used his athleticism to get first downs with his legs. The offensive line did struggle early in the run game, but found the adjustments in the second half to hit the ground running to open up holes to run through.

Harbaugh and company also added some wrinkles to allow Patterson to carry the football off of zone read when necessary, which is exactly what Michigan needs to do moving forward. Patterson does not need to carry the ball 15 to 20 times a game, but just enough to keep defenses from keying on the running backs. As the season gets tougher, Patterson will need to be more a part of the run game.

Big Ten Fotball Michigan 2018
Image courtesy of

Karan Higdon is the best running back that has played for Michigan since Mike Hart back in the mid-2000’s. Heading into the homecoming game against Maryland, Higdon has 76 attempts, for 479 yards, averaging 6.3 yards a carry and five touchdowns. He is a true do-it-all back with his combination of speed, power, agility and soft hands out of the backfield. He also always falls forward to gain the extra yard. It’s the little things that add up to becoming a great running back.

There were no turnovers on Saturday by the Michigan offense either. A team’s chances of winning go up significantly if they take care of the football.

Areas for improvement offensively

Big Ten Football Michigan 2018
Image courtesy of CBS Sports

Patterson’s outside breaking routes, like post corner, outs, comebacks and back shoulder fades, are his most accurate throws. Patterson struggles on true intermediate, anticipated inward breaking routes like digs behind linebackers in tight windows. He, more often times than not, will miss high, which can lead to a tipped, intercepted ball. Dig routes and over routes are staples to a strong play-action base passing game that must be able to be completed to have success in that element of the offense.

Play-calling, at times, is easily diagnosed by the opposing team, especially on 3rd and 4th and short. Harbaugh believes his offense can outpower anyone for one yard or inches. Though his confidence in his offense is nice, he needs to add more short yardage, play-action pass plays to not be so predictable. Wisconsin, Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State will stop traditional, smash mouth power plays more consistently than teams they have encountered so far.

A couple of times on Saturday, drives came to a halt because of penalties. Michigan better figure that problem quickly if they want to stand a chance with the toughest schedule in college football in front of them.

Positives defensively

Big Ten Football Michigan 2018
Image courtesy of The Daily Northwestern

The size and speed of Michigan’s front seven is scary good. It is extremely difficult to keep a team under 225 yards of total offense. Michigan only gave up 28 yards on 34 rushing attempts by Northwestern. They had 10 tackles for loss. Making a team one dimensional always plays into a defense’s hand. Clayton Thorson also was unable to get comfortable in the pocket. He got sacked six times on 27 pass attempts.

Greg Mattison, Michigan’s defensive line coach and former defensive coordinator for the Maize and Blue under Brady Hoke, is the best defensive line coach in the country. His group plays the most consistently every week. Their ability to play with excellent pad level, quick hands and aggressiveness is a testament to his coaching ability. Chase Winovich is a prime example of that. He is always in the right position to make a play. If a young man has aspirations to play in the NFL, being coached under Greg Mattison is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Areas for improvement defensively

It’s no secret that the Michigan secondary is the weakest part of this defense five weeks into the 2018 season. Having an elite front four bails out this secondary at times. With that said, the amount of pass interference calls that happened, as well as some that were not called, will keep this defense from winning the big games in the near future. Teams like Ohio State and Michigan State will take advantage of those mistakes in a heartbeat.

If I were a Maryland coach, I would look to attack cornerback, David Long, and strong safety, Josh Metellus, a lot. They have terrible habits of holding receivers down the field. Man coverage is an absolute must in Don Brown’s aggressive, blitz-happy, high risk, high reward defense. Time to get back to the basic fundamentals of playing man-to-man coverage in practice. If the pass interference woes continue, Michigan will have to play more zone coverage to protect the secondary more, which will change the entire dynamic of Don Brown’s blitz pressure packages.


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