Michigan went to College Park on a chilly Saturday and got the job done against Maryland in a comfortable 35-10 win. While some may be concerned about the second half, don't be. We saw great throws by a calm and confident Brandon Peters, Chris Evans hurdled a defender and Josh Metellus blocked a punt, among other great plays on defense including an interception in Maryland’s end zone. There were a few minor injuries as well, including Rashan Gary, Lavert Hill and Karan Higdon. They were not in much for the second half, which allowed Maryland to score 10 points.
There's room for improvement on both sides to prepare for a huge road test Saturday at Wisconsin, so let's get to it and hand out some position grades.
Brandon Peters had a decently productive night for his first road start at Michigan. He completed 9-of-18 passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns. I was very impressed with his ability to read the defense and make plays. He connected to tight ends over the middle and had a great throw for a touchdown to Gentry. His comfort level must have moved up a notch after Saturday with no turnovers of any kind.
He’s had chances to connect downfield like we saw Speight do earlier in the season and last year. If he can complete a deep ball or two in the next two games and avoid turnovers while making smart decisions, we may be in for something special.
His performance in the air will be an important factor in the Wisconsin game. If he connects and scores a couple touchdowns, along with a couple from the run game, they have a shot.
Wide Recievers/Tight Ends: B-
The Purdue game provided us with a first glimpse of this talented tight end group with Zach Gentry and Sean McKeon. They were very productive against Maryland and Brandon Peters made it look easy scoring two touchdowns with the duo. Gentry is a tall target at 6-foot-7 and is having a fantastic year. A once quarterback recruit, Gentry is turning into a lethal weapon with 12 catches for 209 yards, averaging 17.4 yards per catch.
Since there has been very little production by the wide receivers over the last few weeks, I anticipate the coaching staff to continue what's been working on offense. I am curious when we see more Ambry Thomas on offense and if they have a list of plays they've not done yet up to this point. Eddie McDoom also has been somewhat quiet on offense, so I have a feeling this offense has a few tricks they will bring out on Saturday.
Running backs/Fullbacks: A-
Chris Evans is a special player and had a solid performance against Maryland. He ran for 80 yards on 15 carries and had two touchdowns. His highlight of the game was the hurdle jump over the defender, clearing him by an insane amount of room.
Evans is averaging 5.5 yards per play and has a total 569 yards with six touchdowns.
Karan Higdon played very well in the first half before going out with an injury. He had 10 carries for 50 yards and another 48 on two catches.
What a play by Peters to Higdon pic.twitter.com/4imafzviYy— David Noe (@DavidRNoe) November 11, 2017
He is only 146 yards away from breaking the 1,000-yard mark for the season. His injury does not seem like it will keep him out of the game this Saturday, which is great news.
The Baltimore native Henry Poggi found the end zone for the first touchdown in his last game played in his home state. I think Jim Harbaugh knew what that game meant to him and decided on that first drive to give him the chance to punch it in.
This running back group may have Ty Isaac back this weekend against Wisconsin, but there is no confirmation yet. Wisconsin’s rush defense is the best overall in the country, allowing only 81.5 yards per game on the ground. The environment will make it a test for the backs, but hopefully utilizing all of the available backs will cause some solid drives for Michigan to wear down Wisconsin’s defense.
Offensive line: B
While the second half was not as productive, the first half may have been their best yet and gave them an A-.
Really good blocking along the whole line.— Due# (@JDue51) November 12, 2017
Love McKeon plowing in, and Cole putting the LB on skates pic.twitter.com/TZjH877BRn
There was solid blocking, pass protection and gave the backs nice gaps to run. This football team has not been up 28-0 at half, so evaluate the second half how you wish. I'll give them a C+ for that half, but I suggest not overreacting or being overly concerned.
Defensive line: B
The defensive line was very solid overall and had new guys making plays. One of my favorite plays came by Josh Uche in the first half below.
The group was led by Maurice Hurst with nine total tackles and was his best game performance since the Michigan State game. Chase Winovich also had a solid game with six total tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss to move his season total to 56 total tackles and 13.5 tackles for loss.
However, Maryland ended the day with 340 total yards (180 rushing/160 passing). Some may be concerned about that, but I anticipate the mistakes getting corrected.
Here are some of the reasons why they gained the second-most yards on Michigan this season:
● Their starting field position was at their 17.7 compared to Michigan’s 44.
● They had eight plays for 178 yards, all of those for over 20 yards each.
● Two turnovers and one was an interception from their own end zone.
Rashan Gary missed part of the second half after he got injured and ended the game with five tackles. He spoke to the media on Monday, which is a good sign he will not miss any of the upcoming game at Wisconsin. He was asked about Michigan playing as a spoiler or villain role.
“I'd be lying to you if I said I wasn't paying attention to it.” He then smirked and laughed. “We got two big weeks but we're taking it one at a time. We'll be going after each other this week in practice making sure everything’s perfect because we have an opportunity in front of us and we don't want to let it go.” He also was asked about Wisconsin’s run game and what he prefers. “We pride ourselves on stopping the run.”
This weekend is huge for this defense to show if they have improved since the Penn State game against a solid offense, and it starts upfront with this defensive line. Michigan’s No. 9 ranked rush defense will be going up against Wisconsin’s No. 18 rush offense. Jonathan Taylor has 1,525 yards total averaging seven per carry and 12 touchdowns. Illinois held him to 73 yards on 12 carries and Maryland only allowed 126 yards on 22 carries. If Michigan can do the same and keep him under 150 yards, this will be a great game for the defensive line.
Devin Bush led the way with five total tackles, including one tackle for loss. Through 10 games, he has 82 total tackles, nine tackles for loss and five sacks. He had two great plays where he got his hand up on the pass completion.
Devin Bush got hand on a couple balls yesterday. pic.twitter.com/dTfcKOiSzX— Due# (@JDue51) November 12, 2017
After a career day for Khaleke Hudson against Minnesota, he also had a solid game with eight total tackles and 0.5 tackles for loss. These two sophomores have played a huge role on this defense this year and have two more regular season games to add to it.
It will be very important going forward for this linebacker group to avoid the over pursuit that in the past has led to huge run plays and yards. They will show their blitz and other packages by Don Brown, but failing to making those adjustments is what could cause more costly plays for this defense. They must do their part and be patient in these situations.
Tyree Kinnel had a solid game with 11 tackles, but short passes and poor protection at times allowed Taivon Jacobs to have eight catches for 92 yards and a touchdown. This is the most yards by a receiver since Penn State’s DaeSean Hamilton when he had 115 yards on six catches. Indiana’s Luke Timian also was a problem for the secondary, who had 95 yards on seven catches.
Josh Metellus had a great coverage on this play.
Lavert Hill had concussion and at this point is still in the protocol for that, so we are not sure on his return. This will be a tough blow for this secondary since he's a big contributor with 19 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss so far this year.
Wisconsin's Danny Davis III has 12 catches this season, but 244 yards total and is averaging 20.3 per catch. Troy Fumagalli is another weapon they will have to protect well, who has 33 catches for 422 yards averaging 12.8 per catch. These two will be their toughest matchups, but with the No. 96 pass offense, much like Michigan, will rely on a solid run game. Wisconsin averages 188.1 yards in the air and Michigan’s defense is only allowing 144.5 yards, so they will test this group during the game so if Hill is out then Metellus and Kinnell will have to come ready.
Special teams: B-
If it wasn't for the blocked punt by Josh Metellus, this would have been a lower grade. He shot out of the line and busted through for the block giving Michigan with a short field.
Brad Robbins kicked well overall with five punts averaging at 42.4 yards, slightly higher than his average of 40.8 yards in the Minnesota game.
Quinn Nordin and Jim Harbaugh had some words after his missed field goal.
Quinn Nordin back talks Jim Harbaugh after missing a field goal... not a good move. pic.twitter.com/rMMplqYV52— Evan Petzold (@EvanPetzold) November 11, 2017
He has missed three straight field goals and two extra points in the last four games. This kind of trend will not allow him to keep his job and Jim Harbaugh commented after the game about what he told Quinn.
“Start making them," Harbaugh said with a smile to the media. "Yeah, got to make them. I think anger is a powerful motivator."
We will likely see Quinn back in against Wisconsin, but if he is set up to hit a field goal and misses, we may see a change. In games like this one coming up when every point is vital, they have to take every opportunity for points.
Hats off to Jim Harbaugh for two reasons. First, he knew this was Poggi’s last game in Maryland and allowed him the opportunity to score on the initial touchdown. He also showed some raw emotion toward Quinn Nordin after missing the field goal when it was 28-0.
They have continued to do better at avoiding costly mistakes in the penalty category since the 16 penalties for 144 yards at Indiana. That stat went in the right direction against Maryland with only one penalty for 10 yards.
Their game plan I thought was excellent and it allowed Brandon Peters with opportunities to throw to the tight end group and gain valuable experience. If they can play smart football and improve on some of the small mistakes, avoid penalties, and turnovers, this next game against Wisconsin will be a close one.