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Michigan sends strong message heading into East Lansing

2018 Big Ten Football

There are not many Michigan fans that expected to see the performance they witnessed on Saturday night against Wisconsin. Most people around the country expected to see a smash-mouth, low-scoring, defensive battle in Ann Arbor. Though both teams struggled with injuries on both sides of the football, the depth of Michigan, especially on the defensive front four, prevailed against the number four total rushing offense in the country.

Positives on defense

2018 Big Ten Football
Image courtesy of Detroit Free Press

The defense had to accomplish one big thing: contain Wisconsin’s running back, Jonathan Taylor, and make quarterback, Alex Hornibrook, beat them to have a greater chance of coming out with a victory. The Wolverines accomplished just that. Though Taylor and the offensive line early in the game found success running the football inside, defensive coordinator, Don Brown, and his staff found the right adjustments to swarm Taylor for the rest of the game.

The pass rush of the Wolverines was relentless, too. There were not many times where Hornibrook had a strong pocket from which to throw. And when he did, the Michigan secondary were in the hip pocket of receivers all night.

Something Michigan did a little more in the secondary than in previous weeks was disguising their zone coverage with man technique looks. That change of pace messed with Hornibrook’s ability to get comfortable in their passing game as he was 7 for 20, 100 yards, two interceptions and one touchdown. It’s hard to win football games with that type of execution in the passing game.

2018 Big Ten Football
Image courtesy of Grand Rapids Herlad-Review

Nobody packed the stat sheet on defense with tackles, but rather it was an entire group effort to get the win. Saturday night was the most complete game the Wolverines played defensively the entire year, especially in the penalty department where they had none for the first time this season. Not giving offenses free opportunities to extend drives is a formula for success. The Wolverines were also excellent on 3rd down defense. The Badgers only converted twice on 11 attempts. If the Michigan defense builds off of Saturday night’s performance, they have a strong chance to run the table in the Big Ten Conference this year.

The bad defensively

The linebackers and safeties, at times, overran their gaps and allowed cut back lanes for the Badgers to run through. Staying on the back hip of running backs is crucial to have success tackling as a team. A factor of overrunning plays is missing tackles, which happened a little too much for the Maize and Blue. A few of Taylor’s big runs came from missed tackles by the second level of defenders. With a similar type of running backs next week against Michigan State, State will take advantage of over-pursuing linebackers and safeties.

Setting the edge to force the ball inside to the defense was a little bit of an issue for Don Brown’s defense, specifically on jet sweep plays that Wisconsin ran, too. Expect to see better force from the Michigan secondary against Michigan State.

Positives on offense

2018 Big Ten Football
Image courtesy of Detroit Free Press

Jim Harbaugh and his offensive staff continue to improve offensively every week. The biggest way this is seen is from the offensive line play. All credit goes to first-year offensive line coach, Ed Warriner, who has come in and simplified the offensive line’s reads, allowing them to play faster. The biggest strides up front have come from the center/guard combination play. They had their way with the interior defensive line of Wisconsin most of the game. Michigan’s offense will go how they go. The 320 yards rushing as a team is not easy to come by in the Big Ten.

Harbaugh is finally allowing Shea Patterson to take control of games with his legs. Having a mobile quarterback only enhances an offense when used correctly. He needs to continue to be given the opportunity to run off of inside/outside zone, or on any plays where the backside defensive ends are not blocked. Patterson is no Dennard Robinson type of running threat, but he showed how athletic he is with nine carries, for 90 yards and a touchdown when given a chance. Patterson did enough in the air to balance out the ground attack, too. He is doing exactly what Michigan needs to win football games by taking care of the football.

2018 Big Ten Football
Image courtesy of Maize n Brew

Karan Higdon is the driving force of this Michigan offense. Michigan is now 10-0 when he gets 100 or more yards. He is too talented not to give him 20 to 25 touches a game. Michigan State will be the toughest front seven they have faced all year. If Higdon goes off, or the run game in general against MSU, expect a Maize and Blue win come Saturday afternoon.

A question that remains is: Can Patterson will his team to victory if his run game is stagnant? Is he good enough to throw it 35 to 40 times and win a game? Only time will tell.

Special teams

Michigan’s kicker, Quinn Nordin, has not lived up to his hype coming out of high school. He no doubt has one of the biggest legs in college football, but his career 78.9 career percentage is not what it needs to be. Michigan needs to be able to score points whenever they are in field goal range, especially with Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State all still on the schedule. Improvement must happen in the kicking game for long-term success as an offense.


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