Two and one. Michigan's football team won two of its first three games, something a myriad of football 'experts' predicted heading into the season, yet the air around the program smells of depression and underachievement.
Beating Miami of Ohio by twenty-four points doesn't do anything to change the situation in Ann Arbor. In fact, it may have made the atmosphere even more suffocating. The Wolverines came out looking like the dominant team, only to let a completely overwhelmed opponent back into the contest through turnovers and inconsistent play. We've all seen this narrative played out before, but the last thing we want to see is a repeat performance.
So, what did we learn?
Repeatedly repping zone is paying off
Statistically speaking, Michigan is one of the most lethal rushing offenses in the country. We all know the 6.3 YPC number is bound to drop toward 4.0 YPC by the end of the season, but 4.0 YPC is still a major upgrade and proof that repping the same players in the same scheme yields results. The offensive line is creating large running lanes against low-end opponents, which is a great place to start.
Derrick Green is Michigan's premier back
I started the season in the DeVeon Smith camp for two reason. First, Smith remains more likely to break a tackle and turn a two-yard gain into a six-yard gain. Second, I tried warning all of you about Smith's presence for months before he arrived on campus and need to make sure I'm always right.
I'm probably not right, and that's a good thing. Derrick Green hit holes in week three that he was passing up in week two, doing a better job of seeing the play and emphatically choosing a running lane. He still has quite a ways to go in terms of breaking second-level tackles, but at least he's making progress alongside his offensive line.
Michigan's run defense is elite
The Wolverines' rank in this category isn't going to fall anytime soon. Appalachian State's rush offense was nearly nonexistent, Notre Dame's was entirely nonexistent, and this is Miami's rushing box score:
Good luck on the ground, Utes.
Jourdan Lewis is the secondary's best player
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Jourdan Lewis needs to replace Blake Countess as Michigan's island corner as soon as Taylor is ready to play again. He's longer, more physical, faster, and learning to turn his head to find the ball. There's no reason why he shouldn't be the corner Michigan leaves on an island by the middle of the season, and Jabrill Peppers should get opportunities opposite him when Michigan is forced to play big and take the nickel off the field.
Jury is still out on Matt Wile
Wile has made three of his six field goal attempts, two of which came during the Miami contest. He couldn't hit the broad side of a barn against Notre Dame; whether or not he'll ever be reliable in close games is yet to be determined.
Injuries could cost Michigan in the long haul
Devin Funchess is nursing an injury to his lower leg. Raymon Taylor had his entire leg crushed under the weight of his teammate during the Notre Dame game. Jarrod Wilson didn't even dress against Miami, although we don't know if he's injured or being disciplined. Senior linebacker Desmond Morgan injured his arm and won't be on the field for several weeks. Four starters, all watching from the sidelines.
Will this cost Michigan in the future? It could as soon as next week is Funchess isn't ready to play. Michigan also needs Raymon Taylor to get healthy so it can have a more athletic replacement for Blake Countess, who simply doesn't have the tools to play press-man coverage against respectable receivers. We can only hope that Wilson isn't seriously injured, as he's the Wovlerines' only proven safety.
Reviewing the Six Pack
This week's match-ups returned mixed results.
1. Devin Gardner vs. Nightmares of Turnovers Past
Gardner loses. Yes, his lone interception was tipped at the line of scrimmage, but he should have registered two more on balls that were either inaccurate or ill-advised. It sure feels like Gardner's ways won't be changed by Doug Nussmeier during the course of his senior season. We can only hope.
2. Blake Countess vs. Toaster Strudels
Blake wins! That said, there we would have been serious issues if he lost this battle against a team that poses next to no offensive threat at all.
3. Jourdan Lewis vs. Useless Fear
Lewis wins. As stated above, Lewis is still learning to make plays but should end the season as Michigan's top corner heading into the 2015 season.
4. Frank Clark vs. Almost Awesome Frank Clark
The fact that Clark hasn't registered a sack isn't overly worrisome considering Michigan has played three spread-to-pass opponents who tend to let the ball go quickly. Clark loses this battle but should win during Big Ten play.
5. Devin Funchess vs. Doug Nussmeier
Funchess injured his right leg during the Notre Dame game and was held out against Miami.
6. BTN vs. The Curse of BTN
Ha! Take that, you biased sonsabitches!
Games like this are nearly meaningless in terms of projections. Michigan looked the part on defense despite the absence of Taylor and Wilson, but I'm worried about the aggressive scheme coming back to haunt the Wolverines if Taylor doesn't come back sometime soon. Again, I'm not confident in Blake Countess' ability as a press cover corner. At least we know the rush defense is shored up for good.
As far as the offense goes, who knows what will happen as the season progresses? The offensive line and its running backs are gelling with each passing game, but Devin Gardner continues to make poor decisions. His struggles will only be exaggerated against better opponents if his best weapon continues to stand on the sidelines, and one of those opponents will be in Ann Arbor in only five days time.