Michigan football: More ups and downs, but another win is what matters most
You can do whatever you want with numbers, and as far as Michigan football is concerned, all that mattered Saturday was 45-20, the score in its win over SMU, and 2-1, its record now as it heads into Big Ten play.
All the rest of it is just noise.
The Twitter trolls were all over the Wolverines early when they staggered out of the gate. Here’s a stat for that: 1 vote that I don’t care about Twitter trolls, zero votes that I do.
Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, and I not just saying that because I’m sharing my opinion with you now. It’s just that none of the noise really matters right now. It’s as simple as this:
Michigan is what it is right now, no better no worse. And what’s that mean?
Three important things in my eyes, some of which might get bashed by the trolls:
- Shea Patterson is a very good quarterback: Look, as someone who’s covered the SEC the past few years, I have watched this kid play. He’s smart and he’s got a gun. He’s capable of scoring points, and he proved that Saturday with three touchdown passes to Donovan Peoples-Jones. Get off his back.
- Michigan’s offensive line is still the group that determines success: Patterson can throw a little bit on the run, but he can’t throw from his keister at all. No quarterback can. And also, on third-and-1, it’s always up to the offensive line far more than it is the running back to earn that first down. I’m still not sold on this group, and these notoriously slow starts that have happened twice in three weeks now have to end. That’s on the O-line to play better.
- You may not like the play-calling, but remember that No. 2 is more important than No. 1: In the three-plus seasons of Jim Harbaugh football at Michigan, the second-highest and third-highest quarterback ratings (212.3 against Western Michigan and 232.3 vs. SMU) have come in the past two weeks. But when you say “throw it more,” remember No. 2 above. Their protection is often No. 2, if you know what I mean, and throwing the ball repeatedly might lead to some problems. A better balance? Sure, it would help. And maybe it will come down the road. Let’s hope so
This was, quite frankly, a weird game. It was very easy to get frustrated early, when the first three series ended punt, punt, interception. Even more frustrating was why: Chris Evans lost 2 yards on third-and-1 on the first drive, Patterson was sacked on third down on the second drive and Patterson threw an interception under duress on what seemed like a sure touchdown drive on the third one.
The points came in bunches after that, of course, and scoring 45 points is always a good thing, regardless of opponent. So why complain? Right? It’s a 45-20 win, and it was done without your best running back, Karan Higdon, who didn’t play a down. Michigan rushed for 197 yards on 41 carries, good for a very respectable 4.8-yard average. There’s really nothing to bark at there, either.
Patterson was 14-for-18 passing (78 percent) for his 237 yards and three touchdowns. There’s nothing wrong with that, either. Nothing at all.
What is wrong? It’s the penalties that are crushing this team. On Saturday, the Wolverines had 13 for 137 yards. You know what they say about teams that get a lot of penalties. They say they are undisciplined and poorly coached. I’m not ready to go there, but certainly several of those penalties came an very inopportune times. That’s a mess that has to get cleaned up quickly.
So where are we with this team now that the Big Ten season is ready to start? Hey, I’m on the hook because in August I picked them to win the Big Ten and I said they’d be better than Wisconsin in December. Hey, they were certainly better on Saturday, because the No. 6 Badgers lost at home to BYU. That said, if I was re-picking the Big Ten East race now, I’d have Michigan third behind Ohio State and Penn State.
But I will also say this: Michigan can still beat those teams. Patterson will continue to get better. There are weapons on the outside and the running game can work.
Sure, a lot of Saturday was worth grumbling over, but that’s all wasted energy. It’s another win, so bring on the conference slate. I still think this team is going to be alright.