This is a good week to sit back and evaluate each position group on their overall performance since week one against Florida. Two losses to Big Ten East division teams are not what fans wanted to see, but it's now reality. With a handful of manageable games ahead, this is a great time for position units to gain some experience and confidence before taking on Wisconsin and Ohio State.
Let's get to it and review each position group based on their season’s performance through seven games.
John O’Korn has played in almost the entire last four games and is 1-2 as a starter. While play calling and the offense struggle bus has reared its ugly head lately, I feel like he has played better after the Michigan State loss. He eliminated some of the mistakes and turnovers in the last two weeks, but has been sacked a lot with a developing offensive line. O’Korn has completed 61-of-110 throws for 729 yards, 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions. If he can focus on throwing the ball away, making quick decisions or the right ones, escaping the pressure to avoid sacks and generate some yards on the ground, he can turn it around and create something out of this offense based on their remaining opponents.
Harbaugh says Peters has gotten backup snaps. "Readying himself to play. He's one play away right now."— Isaiah Hole (@isaiahhole) October 23, 2017
One of the biggest questions surrounding the offense, and the program in general is how much more will John O’Korn play before Brandon Peters starts getting snaps? Even though it is very unlikely Michigan contends for the Big Ten Championship, many look to Peters as the future quarterback after 2017 and think getting him game experience now will only benefit the team more in 2018. We will soon find out against Rutgers this upcoming Saturday for the homecoming game at noon.
Running backs: C+
The full backs also have underperformed so far in Henry Poggi and Khalid Hill. Until we see a consistent run game performance by one player, there will be a rotation of three to four players at that position going forward. Nobody on the team is an offensive weapon like other Big Ten teams have this year. We saw recently how Saquon Barkley was able to dominate with the ball and as a decoy. I think Higdon is the best running back based on what we've seen so far this year. He is able to gain the most yards after initial contact and could end the season with some impressive stats if he can continue having 100 plus-yard games.
Wide Receivers/Tight End: C
Along with Wilton Speight going down with an injury against Purdue, the loss of Tarik Black has caused others in this unit to step up, but not much has happened. We've seen some success in the air to tight ends, but the lack of consistency by this unit is one fans hope will improve over the year with the young talent in both groups. Grant Perry is leading the receivers with 21 catches for 270 yards, averaging 12.9 yards per catch, and 1 touchdown. Sean McKeon started showing us in the Purdue game his talent and is sitting at 18 catches for 192 yards and averaging 10.7 yards per catch. Jake Butt was a special tight end and this young group can develop to be a very talented group in the future if they continue to make plays. Whoever is playing quarterback, I would like to see more quick plays to the tight ends to generate solid drives down the field and more success in the red zone.
Offensive line: C-
Part of the reason fans are frustrated is due to a struggling offensive line, which has been the thorn in their side for many years. You have to go back to the Coach Carr days when the program had a dominant offensive line, allowing for an elite offense. You cannot blame the quarterback or offensive line for all the struggles this season since it's a combination of several groups. Pass protection after losing De’Veon Smith last year was another reason this offense has struggled. They are on pace for the most sacks in program history, and that's saying something if you look back over the last few years and what has happened on offense under the last two coaches. This is a group that will have growing pains as we have seen, but can work through it, and hopefully have Grant Newsome back next year for a quick upgrade. Patrick Kugler, Mason Cole and Ben Bredeson have done fairly well so far, but the right side continues to be a question mark since August.
Defensive line: B+
It's quite impressive how much this group has accomplished so far overall, especially before the game against Penn State.
Michigan Defense (Week 8)— Drew Hallett (@DrewCHallett) October 22, 2017
Scoring D: 22nd
Total D: 5th
Run D: 11th
Pass D: 5th
QB Rtg: 5th
This unit is what can keep this team in close games and Coach Don Brown is one of the best defensive coordinators in the business. I've been very happy with this squad causing havoc up front, but I moved them from an A- to a B+ only because of the last game. The three guys quickly rising and leading this group are the following:
1. Rashan Gary- 28 total tackles (12 solo), 4.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks so far.
Harbaugh says Gary "continues to be an ascending player." Knows he will respond.— Isaiah Hole (@isaiahhole) October 23, 2017
2. Maurice Hurst Jr.- 30 total tackles (17 solo), 7 tackles for loss, and 1.5 sacks. In 2016, he had 33 total tackles in his 12 games played, so he's been a huge contributor to this unit and holding teams to record low yards over the last several years.
No.1-graded interior pass rusher in college football:— Steve Palazzolo (@PFF_Steve) October 24, 2017
No.1-graded interior run stopper in college football:
3. Chase Winovich- 40 total tackles (24 solo), 8.5 tackles for loss and 5 sacks.
Watch out for this team to come out and pick up where they left off against Rutgers, which was shut out by Michigan in last year’s contest.
I would call you crazy if you said in August that Mike McCray would not be the best in this unit as the only returning starter on the defense. Devin Bush Jr. has become one of the most dominant players on the defense with 52 tackles and 4.5 sacks. I know this group had their struggles against Penn State, but it is one of the best units on the team mainly due to Bush Jr. having an impressive season. He tends to be running down opponents all over the field.
This entire unit is very quick and swarms to the ball, which we saw early against Florida only allowing them 11 total rushing yards.
This group has developed since August, but was tested and got beat several times against Penn State. If you look at the performance as a whole so far, this group has created some pick-six plays and turnovers. Lavert Hill has come on strong so far with 18 tackles (12 solo), 3.5 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions and 1 touchdown. Tyree Kinnel has 2 interceptions and 1 touchdown, along with 37 tackles. What fans should be excited about is the balance in the unit where multiple young players are making plays. It's always tough to replace players that are drafted to the NFL and fill those shoes, but this is one of the groups I've been most impressed with so far this season.
Special teams: B+
When a team has a player like Kenny Allen kicking, most would say relying on several young players the next year is a tough pill to swallow. Brad Robbins, James Foug and Quinn Nordin have been very impressive so far this season. Outside of the missed extra point by Nordin against Penn State, he's had a great first half of the year with 14 field goals, has two field goals beyond 50 yards and is perfect from 40-to-49 yards. Robbins is averaging 40.9 yards per punt through 29 punts, with the longest at 57 yards. James Foug has 25 touchbacks with 39 attempts averaging 64.1 yards per kickoff. This unit is very young and talented, allowing opponents with very little opportunities for a return.
Knowing fans are frustrated at 5-2, I hope they realize at this point that a step back from two consecutive seasons with 10 wins was highly likely to happen. The blemishes in the loss column both sting, but before the season we knew road games at Penn State and Wisconsin were going to be tough. Michigan State and the amount of penalties against Indiana surely has given the team opportunities to learn and develop, which for fans is not happening as quickly as they hoped. If this team can end with 10 wins, which is still doable, knowing the majority of starters are returning in 2018 should give fans hope. Making excuses is not what I think anyone inside the program is doing, and are taking what each week brings them and tackling it together as a team. Let’s put things in perspective and trust this staff to get the players ready for each battle ahead of them and build off each game. Do Michigan fans want to see them win big games on the road, beat their rivals and win the Big Ten? Absolutely. It will not happen overnight, so trust the process and get behind The Team, The Team, The Team.