Michigan peaking at the right time as Ohio State clash nears
I’m buying Michigan as a legitimate threat to topple Ohio State in the regular-season finale. Is that crazy?
Perhaps so, but the Wolverines have found an identity on offense, and it’s been on full display since the second half of the Penn State game last month.
Jim Harbaugh’s squad is improving and getting more comfortable each week, particularly on offense, and it’s showing up in the win column.
The 8-2 Wolverines throttled rival Michigan State at home on Saturday, 44-10, behind the arm of Shea Patterson, who completed 24 of 33 passes and threw for a season-high 384 yards and four touchdowns. After trailing 7-0 at the end of the first quarter, the Wolverines stymied the MSU offense (running back Elijah Collins had just 27 rushing yards on 12 carries a week after running for 170 yards and two touchdowns) and caused a lot of problems for Sparty’s pass defense.
Receiver Ronnie Bell had a monster game, logging nine catches for a career-high 150 yards. Throw in Donovan Peoples-Jones and Nico Collins, and Patterson has lethal down-the-field weapons at his disposal. Bell has really been his go-to guy this year, particularly when the play breaks down and Patterson keeps it alive with his legs.
Over the last month or so, Patterson and crew are better protecting the football, and the emergence of Hassan Haskins has really helped the running game as he’s been able to beautifully complement young Zach Charbonnet. The offense looks sharp, in sync and reliable.
“Josh [Gattis] had a great game plan, and the entire offensive staff did a tremendous job game-planning,” Harbaugh said in his post-game press conference. “They really put together a tremendous plan, and even predicted some of the adjustments. It was fun to be a part of it, and fun to watch the players execute it.
“It was really almost…I can’t think of too many mental mistakes or mental errors. Flawless in a lot of ways. I’m sure we’ll look at the film and there will be a few things here and there, but that was as good as I’ve seen them play.”
Defensively, the Wolverines gave up 98 yards on Michigan State’s first two drives, but they held them to 122 yards the rest of the game. Cornerbacks Ambry Thomas and Lavert Hill had interceptions, and collectively the defense is allowing just 226 yards per game over their last seven games.
This unit will be tested next week against an Indiana team that has scored 27 or more points in each of its past seven games. The Hoosiers nearly knocked off Penn State on Saturday. But the Wolverines will be ready for a battle as they continue to peak.
“Across the board as a team: sound, good, solid football,” Harbaugh said. “Good execution, good planning, good result.”
Perhaps the most impressive play of the day against Sparty came after Khaleke Hudson blocked a punt to set the Wolverines up with first down at the MSU 22 with a 27-10 lead. Gattis went for the kill and called for a pass play, and Patterson hit Collins for a 22-yard score on the very first play of the drive to make it 34-10. It was the perfect call at the right time, and it was a microcosm of how much better this offense looks compared to early in the season.
Penalties do remain an issue, though, so that’s an area that needs to be cleaned up, especially before the clash with the Buckeyes. But this is a Wolverines team that has not lost at home since closing the 2017 season with a loss to OSU. Will the Buckeyes be thieves on the road again?
Before the season began I picked Michigan to win the B1G East division. In my opinion Ohio State has proven to be the most complete team in the country, as it’s been dominant in all phases of the game. But I was sold on this being Harbaugh’s year. And after a rough start, he has steered this team in the right direction, and the coaching staff has done a good job of overseeing improvement.
The Wolverines and Buckeyes will battle in Ann Arbor, and Michigan already has wins in rivalry games over Notre Dame and Michigan State. Will Ohio State be its final victim? We’ll see.
One thing is for sure: this Michigan team is much improved than the one we saw back in September, and it’s only going to get better.