Why even in a blowout, Saturday left me wanting to find out more about the Michigan offense
When the Michigan offense trotted off the field following a scoreless first drive, it was greeted with a chorus of boos from the home crowd.
That was a carryover from last week, when inevitably, there were probably boos that could be heard in South Bend from the Michigan faithful back in Ann Arbor. Michigan’s offense was bullied, embarrassed and most importantly, predictable.
So when the Wolverines completed a screen pass that didn’t gain a single yard on third and long, the crowd was restless. On the opening series.
But a half hour later, Michigan was up 3 touchdowns and the game was all but over. That was thanks to Karan Higdon’s dominant start and an impressive dive into the end zone by tight end Sean McKeon after he toed the sideline on a play-action drag route.
Michigan had a 21-0 lead despite just 5 pass attempts from Shea Patterson. Michigan could’ve yelled across the scrimmage “HALFBACK SWEEP LEFT” and Western Michigan wouldn’t have been able to do anything about it. Needless to say, Michigan had a slightly better advantage at the line of scrimmage than it did last week.
As a result, Saturday’s outcome was never really in doubt after that first unsuccessful series for Michigan. And yeah, Patterson found a wide-open Nico Collins score, which ended Michigan’s 364-day drought without a touchdown pass to a wide receiver. Those were all positives.
Unfortunately, there are still just as many questions as there were about the Wolverine offense as there was last week.
Michigan could’ve won 100-0 and that still would’ve been the case. I know what you’re thinking.
“It was a Group of 5 team. What did you expect? Michigan to get pushed to the limit for 60 minutes?”
No. But after that unsuccessful opening series, I found myself wanting to see how Michigan would respond to some adversity in obvious passing situations.
It wasn’t that Michigan didn’t do that. It was that Michigan didn’t have to do that.
It was exactly the way that Jim Harbaugh drew it up. He didn’t have to show much of anything from his passing game all afternoon. All we learned was that Michigan was capable of dominating an inferior line, though I’d argue that wasn’t really “news.”
In other “news,” Patterson likes operating out of the play-action and targeting wide-open receivers after coverage breakdowns.
WR TD ALERT! WR TD ALERT! WR TD ALERT! And @umichfootball is rolling.
— Michigan On BTN (@MichiganOnBTN) September 8, 2018
Don’t get me wrong. That was a beautiful sight to see. After watching fellow B1G East powers like Michigan State and Penn State struggle in home openers vs. Group of 5 teams last week, easy wins shouldn’t be taken for granted…even against a Western Michigan defense that coughed up 560 yards of offense to Syracuse last week.
But I wanted to see a few wrinkles from the Michigan passing game. I wanted to see if Harbaugh had made adjustments after last week’s vanilla play-calling kept the offense in neutral. Would we see Michigan try and spread it out and play to Patterson’s strengths? Would we see him take some deep shots on first down?
No and no.
There was no need for Harbaugh to show that with Higdon running like the second coming of Barry Sanders. There will be a need for that creativity soon, though. It definitely won’t be next week against an SMU team that allowed an average of 44 points in its 0-2 start, and it might not even be after that against an unproven Nebraska defense. It won’t always come that easy, which Michigan fans know all too well.
I will say this, though. We might not have seen anything particularly creative from a play-calling standpoint, but we saw Patterson’s talent on Saturday.
There were a few moments that served as a reminder as to why he earned Johnny Manziel comparisons at Ole Miss. We saw him pick up a first down with an on-target pass across his body on the left sideline to Oliver Martin. We saw Patterson hit Donovan Peoples-Jones on a corner route in the end zone that was perfectly thrown.
And Shea will just put that ball riiiiiight …. there. @UMichfootball goes up 42-0. pic.twitter.com/H5t4oe0gDI
— Michigan On BTN (@MichiganOnBTN) September 8, 2018
I couldn’t help but notice Peoples-Jones immediately gave Patterson a look after that play. The former 5-star receiver pointed at Patterson as if to say, “man, it’s been awhile since I’ve seen a throw like that my way.”
Clearly, the talent is there. And clearly, time will tell if he’ll be able to maximize it. Patterson still isn’t big on throwing the ball away — that sidearm pass as he was going to the ground was equal parts impressive/lucky/terrifying — which can obviously prove costly against better competition. The same is true for unimaginative play-calling.
Saturday was never going to be a game in which we saw all of Michigan’s plans for Patterson. Perhaps I tricked myself into thinking that was possible after that unproductive first drive.
The good news was that Patterson got his confidence up, the offensive line took out some aggression after getting trucked last week and the receivers ended that baffling touchdown drought.
Still, if you were hoping to see a bunch of offensive adjustments after the Notre Dame debacle, Saturday left you wanting to find out more.
The boos took a break, but Michigan fans should still have the same questions they had last week.