Michigan went to Camp Randall Stadium on another chilly Saturday and faced a roller coaster ride that ended with several bumps, resulting in a tough 24-10 loss to the No. 5 team in the land.
While it was close for more than half the game, it wasn't enough in the end and both sides have things to work on before The Game. Let's get to it and hand out some position grades.
Brandon Peters entered Madison in the biggest road test of his college career and a tough Big Ten environment, but was unable to end the game healthy. Michigan’s offense was showing some positive signs with a 48-yard throw by Peters to Donovan Peoples-Jones. He stepped into his throws, showed some poise in the pocket and made some good decisions. His stats were impressive against the best defense in the country, going 9-for-18 passes and 157 yards, and that was with him missing some of the game.
His biggest mistake was fumbling the ball within the five yard line, but what impressed me the most is his next drive that ended with a touchdown. When he was hit after releasing the ball with just over three minutes left in the third, fans knew what kind of blow that was to this offense. I give Peters a B+ for his performance showing us some true grit and toughness.
John O’Korn came in and couldn't get the offense back on track. He went only 2-for-8 passes and 19 yards, but some of those incompletions were a result of dropped passes.
One of the biggest question marks heading into the Ohio State game is who will play quarterback. O’Korn is in there currently taking snaps in practice and likely to start if Peters is unable. Jim Harbaugh and the medical staff have seen some positive improvements over the last 24 hours based on what he told the media Monday. This is more of a wait-and-see situation.
Wide receivers/Tight Ends: B-
One play we saw earlier in the year with Wilton Speight at quarterback was the deep throw for a completed pass. That was going to be a huge factor in this game and which team would create big plays down field. We finally saw one with Donovan Peoples-Jones snagging a 48-yard throw by Peters to put a spark in their offense. He ended the day with 64 yards on four catches. Sean McKeon and Zach Gentry also had a few nice catches for a combined 58 yards.
One controversial call was the impressive throw by Peters to Peoples-Jones in the corner of the end zone where it looked like his left foot was down before his right. After it was called incomplete and the refs reviewed it, the play stood and it was not overturned. Here are some of the photos that started to circle around on social media shortly after.
You’re telling me we can put men on the moon but replay officials can’t see this is a TD? pic.twitter.com/TjWKmGbYTT— Grant Newsome (@grant_newsome) November 18, 2017
One way the offense can find some momentum is gaining yards in the air like they did against Wisconsin. The tight end group has contributed the most recently and averaged 6.8 yards per catch against one of the best defenses in the country.
Running backs/Fullbacks: D+
The run game has been dominant the last few weeks, but against lower ranked teams in the Big Ten. The best rush defense in the country held Michigan to only 58 yards on 37 carries (1.6 yards per rush). Chris Evans and Karan Higdon combined for only 45 yards on 18 carries.
The highlight was Ben Mason getting the carry on the one yard line to punch it in for their only touchdown of the day.
The entire running group must generate its best performance on Saturday and establish some form of a productive run game to keep Ohio State’s defense on the field and the Wolverines in this one.
Offensive line: C-
The line overall held its own against a solid Wisconsin front for the first half of the game, and only allowed two sacks on the day. Another play that ended with Peters on the ground was the dagger. They gave him more time to throw and in some of the plays blocked very well, but the last 15 minutes was much worse than the other 45. They also faced pressure on 13 of his 25 drop backs. The run game also came to a crashing halt after a few solid games, and part of that is due to lack of solid blocking.
This group must execute the game plan the staff is bringing against the Buckeyes. We've seen teams like Iowa create plays and score points on their defense this year, who’s the No. 8 defense in the country (No. 15 passing/No. 12 rushing).
Defensive line: B
Six players on the defense had six or more tackles, and only two players were in this position unit with Maurice Hurst (6) and Chase Winovich (8). There were several drives by Wisconsin that ended in three-and-outs because of the pressure this group was able to create. They did however allow freshman running back Jonathan Taylor to 132 yards on 19 carries, but 52 of those yards came from one play.
One thing Michigan has allowed in big games at Penn State and Wisconsin is a few long plays that have turned into points. Eliminating those big plays and forcing them to throw on third down could allow this front seven to have a monster game on Saturday.
Devin Bush had another phenomenal game with seven tackles. He's been productive in knocking down throws lately and added to that with a huge interception against Alex Hornibrook. He was also named to the final list for the Butkus Award earlier this week. He's been one of the most productive and consistent players with 89 total tackles this season (35 solo/54 assists).
Khaleke Hudson also was one of three players on defense that had eight tackles against the Badgers.
Can Bush and Hudson have a dominating performance on Saturday? This Buckeye offense can run and has J.T. Barrett leading the fourth best offense overall in the country. They average 40 more yards in the air per game at 293.6. With Don Brown’s No. 1 pass defense in the country, the pressure on Barrett will be a pivotal key to forcing plays by the Buckeyes to create costly mistakes. The Wolverines are allowing just 144.4 yards passing in the air, 149.2 lower than the Buckeyes’ average per game.
Josh Metellus and Tyree Kinnel had solid games with decent protection, but a few long plays created momentum on third-and-long for the Badgers. They had 15 tackles combined in a game that also didn't have Lavert Hill cleared. A.J. Taylor and Troy Fumagalli had six plays for a combined 117 yards (19.5 average per catch).
The good news for the secondary is Hill will be back for Saturday after being cleared earlier this week from the concussion protocol. His return will be very important to avoid plays down field if they get in third down territory.
Special teams: B
Brad Robbins had a busy day in the cold with nine punts and an average of 40.3 per kick.
Quinn Nordin also had one field goal in his only opportunity on the day to give Michigan the 10-7 lead in the third quarter.
The players on punt and kickoff returns had done their job by avoiding any big mistakes, but only had 44 yards, 37 on two kickoffs and seven yards on four punts.
While they knew the weather and environment would be tough, they like the improvement in this team since earlier in the year and since Penn State. The fan base knows what kind of opportunity they had there, but this coaching staff is staying optimistic that all the pieces are working together to improve and win a game they were not favored very soon.
I also thought only four penalties for 28 yards and some questionable calls was an improvement as well. If you just compare penalties from the first half of the year to the second, they've turned in the right direction. Through 11 games, they average 6.09 penalties and 59.36 yards per game. Their average through the first six games was 8.5 penalties for 54.97 yards per game. The turnover and interceptions have also been mostly eliminated since Brandon Peters has played, except for his one fumble last Saturday.
While fans may have had some unrealistic expectations this season based on who we had playing, three to four losses was more accurate. They have a chance to still end the year with 10 wins if they can put together a solid game plan for four quarters and crush the College Football Playoff hopes for the Buckeyes before the bowl game.