Michigan Football was demolished by Penn State on Saturday night. The Nittany Lions struck early and often on their way to a decisive 42-13 victory. They ran their offense with precision and gashed the Wolverines defense to the tune of 506 yards of total offense. This loss, combined with the loss to Michigan State, has exposed some areas of concern for the Wolverines.
Michigan’s offensive line is not good. John O’Korn was sacked seven times in the loss to Penn State and spent most of the night running for his life. There was a play late in the game when O’Korn was sacked and there were four of Michigan’s offensive linemen standing around him, not blocking anyone. The line is being routinely beat on simple stunts and four man rushes. To make matters worse, Michigan’s running backs are not good in pass protection. Too often they are completely missing defenders or if they do engage, they are easily defeated and end up being little more than a minor speed bump for defenders who are running full bore at Michigan’s quarterbacks.
Michigan will lose two starters to graduation after the season, Mason Cole and Patrick Kugler. They will return both starting guards and both players who have started at right tackle this year.
There are some promising youngsters waiting in the wings, particularly true freshman center Cesar Ruiz (6’4”/316) and true freshman tackle Chuck Filiaga (6’6”/345). Don’t be surprised if both players are starting next year. Last year’s starting left tackle, Grant Newsome, is still working his way back from a horrific knee injury that almost ended his career. He may be ready to go next fall. Another player to keep in mind for next year is true freshman Andrew Stueber, who checks in at a massive 6’7”/314.
That all sounds promising, but until the coaching staff actually develops a good offensive line, a wait and see approach must be taken.
A legitimate question is, why two offensive line coaches? Currently, Tim Drevno coaches guards and centers, while Grey Frey coaches the tackles. Perhaps one coach could and should handle the entire unit?
Michigan’s passing offense ranks 98th nationally and the team’s combined quarterback rating ranks even lower at 109th. Quarterback play has been erratic and at the lowest level Michigan has had since year one of the RichRod era. It doesn’t help that starting quarterback Wilton Speight has been out of action since the Purdue game, but he wasn’t lighting up the skies prior to his injury either.
Regardless of who is at quarterback, it is hard to operate behind a line that is as inconsistent and unreliable as Michigan’s.
Many have wondered why Brandon Peters hasn’t been given a shot yet. Many of those same fans are the ones who wondered why Speight was starting over O’Korn and I think we’ve all seen why. If Peters gives Michigan the best chance to win, then he will play. The future is most likely going to be Dylan McCaffrey, who is redshirting this year and will compete with Peters and Speight, if he returns for a fifth year, next season.
McCaffrey, who led his high school team to three state championships, has that “it” factor. He has all the intangibles you could want in a quarterback. He has size, 6’5″/199, smarts, athleticism, leadership and a great feel for the position.
The loss of Tarik Black was a crushing blow to Michigan’s wide receiving corps. Despite only playing in three games, Black is still the Wolverines’ third leading receiver this year with 11 receptions. Grant Perry leads Michigan with 270 receiving yards. Tight end Sean McKeon is second on the team with 192 yards, followed by Black (149), Donovan Peoples-Jones (137), Zach Gentry (134) and Kekoa Crawford (125). Those numbers aren’t causing opposing defense a lot of sleepless nights.
Peoples-Jones has big-play ability, but is still finding his rhythm. He has improved, but he did drop a key pass in the Penn State game, on a screen that appeared to be set up for a big gain. Gentry and McKeon look like future stars at tight end. There just isn’t a lot of consistency from this group right now. Too many drops and not enough separation from defenders.
Black will be back next year along with every receiver and tight end on the roster, except for Maurice Ways (two receptions) and Ian Bunting (one reception). There should be plenty of depth and having a full year in the system, along with playing time under their belts, will help Michigan’s young receivers. We haven’t heard much yet from Nico Collins, who burned his redshirt in the Penn State game, and Oliver Martin. Both are true freshmen with high ceilings.
There are some concerns with Michigan’s offensive coaching staff, where there are three coaches involved in play calling. As mentioned above, the offensive line is being coached by two different people. Neither the offensive line nor the running backs are even adequate in pass blocking, which is a major concern at this point.
Those calling for Jim Harbaugh’s removal as head coach are confused individuals. He is an outstanding coach and the perfect guy for the Wolverines. We are halfway through his third season as Michigan’s head coach. He has a record of 25-8 which compares favorably to how other top tier coaches fared through three seasons. Yes he is just 1-4 against Michigan State and Ohio State which is disconcerting. It will be important to turn the tides in both of those rivalries, but Harbaugh is absolutely the right guy for the Wolverines. He has a proven track record and its not like he has forgotten how to coach.
Michigan’s defense will return nine starters next year and is building impressive depth. Look no further than the Penn State game for an example of that depth. True freshman, defensive end Kwity Paye saw his first extended playing time and he responded with three tackles, one tackle for loss and half a sack. He passed the look test and certainly looks the part of a menace off the edge. Michigan will return all four starters from the secondary. Additionally look for true freshmen Ambry Thomas, who has excelled as a kick returner, and J’Marick Woods to have expanded roles in the defensive backfield next year. They are both future stars.
Nobody likes to hear about rebuilding years, but that’s what this season was always going to be for a team that lost so many starters and key contributors, on both sides of the ball. Next year will be year four at Michigan for Harbaugh. The roster will be in good shape and it should be as deep as it has been in years. Two things have to start happening; develop an offensive line and start beating the rivals, this includes Notre Dame who returns to the schedule next year.
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