Coach Harbaugh had a lot of positive impressions from the beatdown against BYU. Put on your coaching hat, though, and pick out one thing you think the Wolverines should work on at practice this week.
Kevin: Harbaugh is clearly a genius at drawing up a game plan week by week, but he would be the first to say his team can always get better. Jake Rudock squashed his turnover bug, but was a bit uneven with his throws. He missed some targets that everyone in the stadium could see, but still scraped up yards or a check-down throw. Fisch and Drevno need to continue to work with him on his timing and progressions, because some of the Big Ten defenses Michigan will face aren't going to be late on coverage or out of position on the check-down option.
Alex K.: The secondary is a channel that's risen to the occasion thus far behind the development of Channing Stribling and Jourdan Lewis. If I'm being nitpicky, a few DB's missed some interceptions against BYU, but ultimately ended up suppressing a respectable core at WR. Also, let's get some better celebrations; sick of seeing everyone just hug Rudock like he solved a Rubix Cube. Need more goal-post dunks.
Drew: Offensively, Jake Rudock needs to improve how he moves through his progressions after the first read. When he drops back to throw, he's still not seeing the entire field. Against BYU, there were at least three occasions when he failed to spot -- or opted not to throw to -- an open receiver for a completion that would have been no shorter than 20 yards. Having played only four games at Michigan, Rudock still is trying to become comfortable in Jim Harbaugh's offense. I think Rudock will progress with time, and, if Michigan wants to satisfy its higher expectations, U-M needs him to do so.
Peter: Jake Rudock should just continue working on his accuracy and his confidence. Last weekend was a huge confidence booster, I'm sure, but there was still obvious room for improvement. Like Drew said, he needs to get better at seeing the entire field, but it was nice seeing him play smart ball and throw out of bounds instead of an INT or taking the sack. Harbaugh needs to reinforce last week's positive play, but remind Rudock of the little things that can go wrong out there.
Fish: Rudock, Rudock and Rudock. While he's been decent so far, he can be so much better with some more reps, film study and confidence. Everyone and their mother saw what was available on the first play from scrimmage for Michigan as Rudock missed a WIDE open Jehu Chesson down the field. That wasn't the only thing he missed. There were several opportunities to cut it loose down the field and to target Jake Butt when wide open or with single man coverage. For Michigan to succeed moving forward, he needs to take some shots down the field.
Shash: I agree with Fish, but I think everyone’s missing a key point here. Michigan’s coaching staff needs to up its game on this one - they were caught stealing BYU’s playbook by alert commenter @freemale221g - and they need to do a better job stealing Maryland’s playbook and not getting caught by Freemale again.
The defense gave up 105 yards the whole game. Talk about what has been the difference that has made them click so quickly into the season.
Kevin: The players were already talented. Greg Mattison was an excellent coordinator. DJ Durkin is an even better coordinator, allowing Mattison to focus on one unit within the defense. Injecting NFL-caliber coaching into all the position units has created the terror seen on the field against BYU. Durkin is as good of a game planner as Harbaugh; he builds around the weakness of the opponent and exploits it until the opponent tries something else. It's working.
Alex K.: The defensive pressure early in downs is forcing opposition to have to convert 3rd and long, and that's when we're seeing the blanketing in the secondary mixed with some irregular blitzing. Think the Wolverines have that tenacity up front to complete own the line in early down situations that is making things so hard for opposing offenses to climb out of big holes.
Peter: Well, as Drew and I have already discussed in our own pieces, it isn't like Michigan had an awful defense coming into the season. After last season, they were ranked #7 overall, which I think is pretty good, right? If I'm going to point to anything that pushed this defense up a level so far in 2015, then it really does have to be the offense's ability to keep the chains moving. Even if they end a drive with a punt, it's better than many of the drives we saw last year. A defense that gets down because the offense can't keep them off the field is a killer for the entire team.
Drew: Peter makes a great point. Michigan's offense has been able to sustain drives, and, accordingly, U-M is eighth in the nation in time of possession. This stat can be meaningless if not used in the proper context, but it shows that the defense has had ample time to rest on the sidelines. Further, Michigan's special teams have been remarkably better whether it be Blake O'Neill's rugby-style punts or Jabrill Peppers' nifty returns. The result of all of this is that Michigan's defense has not had to come on the field with its back against the wall often. If you want proof, Michigan is 15th in defensive field position according to S&P+. It puts the defense in a position to succeed.
I also must add that, even without Bryan Mone, Michigan's defensive line is better than we imagined. Ryan Glasgow has continued his transformation from walk-on to All-Big Ten candidate, while Chris Wormley, Matt Godin, and Maurice Hurst, Jr. have had drastic upticks in their ability. Thus, Michigan has seven defensive linemen that are worthy of starting. That Michigan can rotate them all keeps them fresh and wears down offensive lines. And, because U-M is winning in the trenches, the defense is dominating.
Fish: While most fans may think this is all coaching, I believe there are two main factors to why the defense has taken the next step: Experience and the offensive efficiency. Like Kevin said, the talent has been there but several players, like Channing Stribling and Willie Henry, needed to grow, mature and get that experience to really become game changers. And while that is huge, the offenses ability to control the clock, get first downs and score points allows the defense to rest and play as aggressive as possible whenever they want. That is the biggest difference between 2014 and 2015.
Shash: I gotta believe continuity in Mattison is a big factor - but the line has really stepped their game up. Knew the back 7 would be good - but the line is making them great.
Last week I asked about how Michigan should sort out their running backs, but then De'veon Smith became the bulldozer we've all dreamed about. Does that change your position at all toward using him exclusively going forward?
Alex K: I wasn't a fan of so-called ‘platooning' and given Smith is making the most out of his carries, no sense in not leaning on his versatility and caliber as the season progresses.
Peter: I've loved Smith since the beginning, and I'm sticking by him at all costs. Until something happens in his game that shows he can't be the featured back, then he needs to be the featured back. Of course, he'll need a breather from time to time, and it's great knowing that Michigan has totally capable backs who can fill in for a down or two...especially if it's because Smith has already done all of the demoralizing.
Drew: I still have my issues with De'Veon Smith. I'll never question his heart, his toughness, or his desire to punish defenders, but he has weaknesses in his game that I just can't ignore. It's not even that he lacks top-end speed. It's that he doesn't have the vision or agility to create holes for himself. Yes, he did have one nice out-and-in cut the led three Cougars into the wrong gap, which in turn led to an 11-yard rush for Smith. But he also missed some wide cutback lanes. I still think Michigan needs a second back -- Ty Isaac or Drake Johnson -- to complement Smith's brash style. However, it seems Jim Harbaugh plans to ride Smith -- he has 69 (nice) carries while no other Wolverine has more than 23 -- this season. Though, we'll see if Smith (ankle) participates vs. Maryland.
Fish: I love me some De'Veon Smith but with the offense that Harbaugh likes to run, Michigan needs a stable of backs. He showed last week how easily it is to be injured during a simple play and I think the staff saw the same. They need the other running backs to not only be mentally ready but have the reps needed just incase Smith is rolled up on again. Luckily, there are four legit options out there.
Kevin: All of Michigan stadium squealed with glee as Smith teleported and twisted his way into the endzone for that touchdown. That run accounted for almost half of his yards, though. Smith isn't quite to the point of being the exclusive, punishing back the Harbaugh system needs, and the measuring stick should be Leonard Fournette. Until Smith is the thing keeping defensive coordinators awake at night, Michigan should continue to make use of all the talent on their roster.
Shash: I’ve never been on the Smith hype train and I’m not on it now. Dude clearly sucks. Fournette would have run for 100 yards on that TD Smith only managed 60 on. And you saw how he let a couple guys touch him. /sarcasm ALL HAIL SMITH
Michigan is a heavy favorite. Give your best advice for avoiding a spectacular upset, and a score prediction.
Kevin: Don't kick the ball to Will Likely. He is their dangerous return man and the Maryland crowd doesn't need any reason to get rowdy early.
Alex K.: Don't try and get cute. The Mountaineers hung 38 on Maryland in the first half alone, but this isn't a time to be trying to stretch the field and collect home run balls just because the defense is dismal. Stick to the offensive blueprint of running the ball when needed and keep building Rudock's confidence by dabbling in the short-passing game.
Peter: Alex is spot-on, here: no cutesy stuff. Take what the defense is giving you, make smart decisions with the ball, and don't think you will go out there and "make up" for not scoring 60 on BYU. Zero turnovers will be a key...and kick away from Likely.
Drew: Don't punt to Will Likely. Don't turn the ball over. Don't punt to Will Likely. Be content grinding out yards with De'Veon Smith or Ty Isaac or Drake Johnson because trying to air it out in what could be dire weather conditions does not seem like a recipe for success. Don't punt to Will Likely. Put Maryland in obvious passing situations, and force Caleb Rowe, who threw four interceptions against West Virginia last weekend, to beat Michigan with his arm. Oh, and did I mention U-M shouldn't punt to Will Likely?
Due to the inclement weather, it'll be a sluggish win for the Wolverines. Michigan 24, Maryland 6.
Fish: I'm with everyone else here. Don't punt to Will Likely, if and when they are stopped on offense, and do not get cute. Luckily, Harbaugh is not a cute coach. He may have the best jaw line in the business but he will stick to his game plan and play it conservative and safe each and every game (until Jabrill is unleashed against MSU, of course).
In the preseason, I thought it would be a close win, 28-24, but then I saw Maryland play. My new prediction is 28-0 thanks to the bad weather, bad Maryland quarterback play and lack of a kicking game.
Shash: Agree here. Don’t make dumb special teams plays and avoid getting into a quagmire game. Trust your running game to grind out some scores so that even if Likely runs one back, it won’t break the game. Look what happened to the Soviets in Afghanistan. They didn’t trust their running game, and they got their asses beat.
Week five already and
a whole lot of time to kill before Michigan takes the field on Saturday night lots of games on after the now-early kickoff in College Park. What're ya watching?
Kevin: I haven't watched Northwestern since they played Stanford, so if they can get past Minnesota...verrrry interesting game with Michigan next week. Other than that, Georgia-Alabama should be good because 'Bama may end up an underdog by Saturday.
Alex K: Houston-Tulsa. Every time one team punts, you have to drink a 40 oz. of King Cobra.
Peter: I'm probably taking it easy on football this weekend. I'll get up, watch the Michigan game, and maybe call it good. I've got some things I'd like to do with the family later in the day, so I'll probably just hang with my kids. There are some movies I want to watch later in the evening, so that's on my schedule, too.
Drew: Originally, I wasn't planning to watch any college football as I will be in a wedding (groomsman, not groom) tomorrow evening. However, Poseidon didn't want to wait until 8:00 p.m. to watch his Michigan football -- yeah, he's a Michigan football fan ... you didn't know? -- so he drummed up Hurricane Joaquin to move the kickoff to noon. Accordingly, I can watch Michigan-Maryland before I head off for the wedding.
Fish: Living down in Atlanta means I will be tuning in to the Georgia-Alabama game and will be backing the Bulldogs as they look to pick up their biggest win of the season. Besides that, I'll be passed out while trying to play Alex's Houston-Tulsa-King Cobra challenge.
Shash: I’m going to the game. So aside from early morning kegs-n-eggs - which I’m actually doing - I doubt much football will be happening after my postgame nap. I just had a birthday and am contemplating my mortality, so I thought the best way to stave off doom was a nap and bacon.