Michigan football: 5 things we have to see from Wolverines in Week 1
Finally, it’s game week. And no one has quite the season opener like Michigan and Notre Dame do. It’s a bitter natural rivalry, of course, but it’s also odd for it to be the first game out of the gate.
And it also means so much to both schools this year. Both teams, after all, have College Football Playoff aspirations. And while one loss on the first day of September won’t end those dreams, a victory — and all the important strength-of-schedule implications that come along with it — will mean a lot.
The fourth year of the Jim Harbaugh experiment is a critical one. It’s time to beat conference rivals Michigan State and Ohio State later in the year, but it’s also time to get a big win early on the road at Notre Dame (Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET; TV: NBC)
Here are five things we really have to see from Michigan in Week 1:
1. Shea Patterson has to be a star right from the get-go
Shea Patterson, the quarterback transfer from Ole Miss, has won the starting job in fall camp. That’s not a huge surprise, because he showed a lot in 10 starts over two years with the Rebels. He is one of the best quarterbacks in the country, a five-star recruit who has already done big things. Now he needs to do them at Michigan.
He needs to look like a seasoned veteran from the first drive. He needs to show that he really is the best quarterback Michigan has had in years. He needs to make all the big throws, keep turnovers to a minimum and be a leader. All of that is imperative if Michigan is going to win a big game on the road.
2. There has to be a good flow to the play-calling
Michigan’s offense has not been good during Harbaugh’s time at the helm. There’s been plenty of blame to go around, from QB play to disappointing pass blocking. It’s time for all of that to change.
There’s no reason why the passing game shouldn’t be better (see above), but what I would really like to see is snappy play-calling that puts constant pressure on Notre Dame, not only just throwing it but also with what should be a very potent running game. The offense has gotten too conservative and lethargic at times, and that has to end.
3. Michigan’s defensive line has to be disruptive
Folks at Clemson and Auburn might argue, but Michigan does have one of the best defensive lines in America. And it has to prove that from the first whistle on Saturday.
Rashan Gary (66 tackles, 12 tackles for loss a year ago) is a star and a likely high first-round NFL draft pick next spring. Chase Winovich (79 tackles, 18.5 TFL) will make big plays as well. They need to be disruptive and keep Notre Dame’s offense in check. The reserves are talented as well, but they’re mostly young and will need to learn the ropes quickly.
4. The offensive line has to show improvement
Michigan quarterbacks took a beating last year because of poor offensive line play, and the Wolverines’ starters up front have taken that personally since January. They are vowing it won’t happen again. That’s good because, quite frankly, it simply can’t happen again.
Of all the Michigan position groups, there’s more pressure on this one than any of the others because they must improve. All the skill position pieces are in place for Michigan to have an explosive offense, but it all starts up front. These guys need to make a statement against Notre Dame’s stout front seven.
5. Late in a close game, someone has to make a big play
There’s no denying that Michigan has the toughest schedule in the country this year. The Wolverines play five teams ranked in the top 12 in the first AP poll, three of them on the road in very hostile environments. There’s no denying that Notre Dame Stadium is going to be very loud on Saturday night,
That said, if you’re the better team, it shouldn’t matter. What has to happen for Michigan is that someone has to step up and make a big play late in the game that makes a difference between winning or losing. It could be Patterson, or a wide receiver. It could be Gary with a big sack on defense, or it could be an interception from a defensive back. Someone, though, has to step up. Will they?