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Has Michigan caught their stride heading into Wisconsin?

Big Ten East football 2018

Coming off a tough battled win against Northwestern last week railing back from 17 points down in the second half, Michigan was happy to return home playing in front of the largest crowd in all of college football. The home dominance under the Harbaugh era continued Saturday afternoon against Maryland. Besides one mishap on special teams giving up a kick return touchdown in the first half, Michigan controlled every facet of the game from that point on.

Offensive performance

Big Ten East football 2018
Image courtesy of Detroit Free Press

The run game took another step in the right direction against the Terrapins front seven. Most of their success came from outside runs like outside zone, front-side G power and sweep with Karon Higdon and Tru Wilson in the backfield. Backside guard power and inside zone are still the plays that have yet to consistently get three to four yards an attempt. The inside zone will open up more if Michigan allows Shea Patterson to keep the football when necessary out the back door of the defense.

The question remains: Can Michigan continue this success running the ball against Wisconsin, Michigan State and Penn State coming up on their schedule? Michigan must establish the ground attack against Wisconsin to be able to take the passing game to the next level.

 

Big Ten East football 2018
Image courtesy of Yardbarker

Sophomore full-back, Ben Mason, is becoming a fan favorite with his truck stick, north and south type running style. At 6 foot 3, 254 pounds, he is extremely athletic for his size and almost impossible to stop with a full head of steam on the goal line. Against the big three opponents in the near future, hard play-action off of power and G power, have to be more part of their offense to keep opposing defenses from selling out for the run.

Shea Patterson once again showcased why he is the right man under center for the Wolverines. His big arm, ability to extend plays when the pocket breaks down and accuracy on the run was put on display against Maryland. The second half touchdown pass to Donavon Peoples-Jones when he escaped the pocket to his left, squared his shoulders and threw the crossing route to him was an elite talent play. Each week he continues to get more comfortable in Pep Hamilton and Harbaugh’s offense. Expect him to have his best game of his season against the Badgers of Wisconsin.

Senior Tight End, Zack Gentry, is establishing himself as arguably the best tight end in the Big Ten conference. At 6 foot 8, 258 pounds, he is a matchup nightmare for any safety or linebacker. He’s too big for safety’s, and too fast for linebackers. He will be an x-factor against Wisconsin.

A lot of questions will be answered offensively versus the Badgers. If Michigan can take care of the football, convert on 3rd down, establish the run to open up the play-action pass, the Wolverines can put up 35 plus points when firing on all cylinders, especially with Wisconsin not being as sound on defense as they have been in the past few years statistically.

Defense performance

Big Ten East football 2018
Image courtesy of the Detroit Free Press

Maryland tried to confuse Michigan with a lot of shifting and motioning before the ball was snapped to slow down the aggressive scheme of defensive coordinator, Don Brown. At times, that philosophy helped them move the football, but Michigan adjusted as they do and too control of the game on defense.

Maryland’s game plan was to run the football, chew up the clock, keep the game as close as possible and win the game late. They had 37 rushing attempts for 147 yards. The only team thus far this season to not fold on the run game against Michigan. It was a good game situation against Maryland for the Wolverines with a team in Wisconsin that has arguably the best back in the country in sophomore, Jonathan Taylor, that is going to want to give it to him 30 or more times.

Taylor is their workhorse. He is already close to a 1,000 yards on the year with 126 attempts, 849 yards, 8 touchdowns and averaging 6.7 yards a carry. The Wisconsin team ranks number four in total rushing yards so far this season in the country. On the other side of the football, Michigan’s defense currently sits at number six in the country in total rushing defense. For four quarters, it will be a smash-mouth, hard-hitting slugfest under the lights in Ann Arbor.

Big Ten East football 2018
Image courtesy of Fast Horse

Being home against Wisconsin is an advantage they have. Don Brown and company also get a break on defense from defending the spread offense. The front seven of Michigan is their strength. Assuming Rashan Gary plays, the Michigan defense will be flying around and making plays all night in the run game. If Michigan cannot contain Taylor and make Wisconsin’s quarterback, Alex Hornibrook, go up against the number one secondary in passing yards allowed in the nation, it will be tough for Michigan to get the win. 

Even though Michigan still has the number one stat in passing yards allowed on defense per game, this secondary is still a cause of concern for the Maize and Blue at times. Maryland decided not to attack the secondary, especially their safeties on Saturday. Wisconsin is not a pass first team as they are ranked at 101 in total passing offense heading into The Big House, but if they can establish the run game opening up their play-action passing game, will the Michigan secondary run with Wisconsin’s receivers in their tight, man-to-man coverage consistently is the question? If Wisconsin is able to get more than three to four big chunk plays of 30 to 40 yards this weekend in the passing game, I expect to see a Michigan loss at home.

Each game is as important as any other game. Only time will tell if this Michigan team is indeed Big Ten Conference contenders.

 

Featured image courtesy of Detroit News

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