In 2017, it was quarterback play. Whether the offense was a case of too many cooks in the kitchen implementing a game plan, or simply a lack of execution, production in the passing game bore the brunt of the blame for a disappointing 2017. Heading into this season, there’s reason for optimism all around the program, including the passing game and the ceiling of new quarterback Shea Patterson. While one weakness appears to have been strengthened, there are still a few spots with the potential of distempering expectations for Michigan Football in 2018.
Offensive Line Play
The arrival of Offensive Line Coach Ed Warinner and hype around the offensive line throughout offseason camp are both positives surrounding the unit, which has been a weakness by Michigan standards for some time now. The arrival of a new coach and positive hype in years past hasn’t actually translated to results for the Wolverines however. Before Warinner it was Tim Drevno, then Greg Frey that were supposed to fix what ailed the offensive line. Both had impressive track records producing top offensive line units prior to coming to Ann Arbor. The issues along the offensive line are still here while those coaches are not. More questions surround the tackle positions than the interior spots as it stands now, and how they hold up, in pass protection especially, could be a deciding factor in how well the team performs this season. Keeping the quarterback upright and giving them time to throw will be as important as the strides made in the quarterback room as Michigan tries to improve upon a lackluster passing attack.
The defense is the strength of the team. They will create plenty of turnovers of their own. The easiest way to neutralize that strength is by turning the ball over on offense. Shea Patterson brings the big-play ability the offense was lacking a year ago, but with that comes a reputation as a bit of a gunslinger. Quick changes from offense to defense and shortened fields mitigates the advantage the Wolverines have with their defense unlike anything else. Finding the balance between creating a more explosive offense and limiting risks will be key in creating a game plan and in preparing Patterson to execute it. Especially considering the schedule with difficult road games against Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State, and home games against Penn State and Wisconsin, losing the turnover battle is sure to mean losing games.
Continued Struggles on the Road
The last time Michigan beat a ranked team in a true road game was September 16, 2006. You might remember that game, with Mario Manningham running out and up routes all over South Bend in a 47-21 victory over Notre Dame and Brady Quinn. Since then, they’ve dropped 16 straight road games against ranked opponents. In these losses, they’ve only managed to cover the spread four times, according to Drew Hallett in an article at Maizenbrew. So not only have they been losing, they’ve looked unprepared. Michigan has three opportunities to buck that trend on the schedule this year, as well as a sneaky tough game at Northwestern (a few too close for comfort road wins over the likes of Purdue, Indiana, and Northwestern over the last decade and the 2016 loss at Iowa come to mind). Season opening Notre Dame, mid season Michigan State, and the final game of the regular season at Ohio State are all likely to feature ranked opponents. If Michigan is to reach the heights they believe they can in 2018, they’re going to have to be better on the road. Something they haven’t done since four months before Barack Obama announced his candidacy for President, they’ll likely need to do at least twice in the next four months. Victories in these games would go a long way in changing a negative narrative around the program and would be massive for Harbaugh as he continues to restore the team’s culture to one of national prominence.