Dan: It's another week of Mailing it in with Dan and Von, and this week we're in a bit higher spirits than the last month or so. That's what Rutgers week will do to you. Von, I want to ignore the first 20-22 minutes of this game with John O'Korn as the QB because I think a new page has been turned. Could you argue that the last 30-40 minutes of this game was the best Michigan has looked all year? Offensively at the very least.
Von: Dan, this WAS the best Michigan's offense has looked all season. Now...let's not get too carried away — it was against Rutgers, at home, on homecoming, and the offensive was extremely simplified for Peters at his first go of extended playing time. The run game was feasting even before Peters got in the game, so the fact that Rutgers had to respect the run game may have led to the passing game finally opening up. He didn't have perfect throws (the TD pass was a bit under-thrown and he almost threw a pick-six) but for his first real game time in his collegiate career, there are a lot of positives to go around for him and the offense as a whole.
Dan: I agree that we need to hamper some excitement — I've never been fully on board the Peters train, and I know you haven't either — but at least there seems to be some life back in the team. The last four weeks have really felt like a team just spinning its wheels going no where. The wheel was under-thrown, but with a safety coming over the top a throw to the outside shoulder might actually be preferable. He did something similar in the spring game. I'm not sure if that's purposeful, but at the very least he's showing a good ability to keep the ball in spots where his receivers can make plays. Let's talk about the play calling for a minute because I wanted to drive my fist through the TV. On the first drive, why in the world did they stop running? If there was ever a game where the dive, dive, improvise set of play calls was working, it was last week. Drevno got cute and it put the offense behind the 8-ball early. Things settled down with Peters but it's unsettling that ONCE AGAIN, there were clear play calling issues.
I'm contradicting myself a bit again by talking about the first part of the game that I wanted to ignore, but the play calling really hit a nerve.
Von: Yeah, I'm not sure why they quit the run game on that first drive. I was at the game and I was thinking to myself "I don't want a single pass play on this drive." Well, that didn't happen. I feel like they wanted O'Korn to get some confidence and try to catch Rutgers off guard because of how much they were running the ball. My mindset is that if something is working, don't go away from it. We have seen it too often this year that Michigan's run game is performing very well and then all of a sudden O'Korn drops back to pass and is either picked or sacked. It's clear as day Michigan's run game and run blocking is way ahead of its pass attack and pass blocking. I sure hope we see more of the run game against Minnesota, because it dominated last weekend.
Dan: I would've been okay with a play-action or, this seems to be a novelty to the Michigan offense, a bootleg. Instead we ran a bubble screen and a swing pass with a predictable "oh crap, we should go back to running" dive in between. Oh well, it's time to move on from that. Let's talk about Peters briefly because, to me, he looked A LOT better than the Spring game. I think it was Josh or James pointed out that the winged helmets make it easy for a defense to tell where the QB is looking. At the same time, it also makes it easier for the fans to see where he's looking. His head was moving quite a bit and there were times where you saw him go through 3-4 reads and even a check down. I was incredibly impressed by this, even if it wasn't happening at the quickest pace. He'll need to speed it up against a better Minnesota defense, but that's got to bode well for the future.
Von: Yeah I was really happy to see him progress through his reads and make good decisions. I remember seeing one pass he completed where he was looking at a completely different receiver and then threw it across the middle of the field for a first down. Not sure if my vision was off at the game or if that actually happened, but if it did that is very impressive. My favorite part about Peters is how calm he is at all times. He doesn't appear rattled whatsoever and doesn't force throws. There was one play where he was being pressured and he just slid down for a loss of one, which is just about as good as throwing the ball away, something O'Korn NEVER did. So to see the calm demeanor and good decision-making from Peters in his first extended playing time was great to see. But honestly, I'm not so sure how much better Minnesota's defense is compared to Rutgers'. The Golden Gophers haven't played anyone noteworthy (except MSU, who they gave up 30 points to, and that offense is garbage). I think Peters will be just fine against Minnesota, as long as he's not throwing 30 times in a monsoon...
Dan: Well the weather reports are looking less than ideal... Let's keep our fingers crossed. The last time these two teams played was an incredible game. Minnesota drove down the field and scored what looked like a game winning touchdown with about 19 seconds left. Fortunately, Channing Stribling had been able to down the receiver just short leading to one of the worst managements of late-game clock I've ever seen by Minnesota. That goal line stand was one of the high points of a surprise 2015 season. Minnesota has a new coach in P.J. Fleck, and both teams have had a ton of roster turnover. It's a night game, AGAIN. Could we see some more theatrics?
Von: That 2015 game was incredible, and yes, some of the worst time management I have ever seen as well. We could see more theatrics, but I personally don't think it will be that great of a game. Minnesota's offense is one of the worst in the country, and going up against a top 5 defense on the road is never ideal. I didn't expect a lot out of P.J. Fleck's crew in his first season, so to see they are right at .500 isn't shocking to me. They haven't defeated a good opponent yet this season and I don't expect that to suddenly change at The Big House this Saturday. I am expecting a low-scoring game, but also a potential shutout for the Michigan defense.
Dan: This kind of follows the development for Fleck's teams. He's not a microwave coach, which is somewhat surprising considering his personality. He's a true long-term builder looking to establish a culture and a foundation before the jump. That's why I was fairly surprised he took a job like Minnesota. The defense looked very good holistically against Rutgers but once again got beat for a long touchdown. While not a concern, the big play has been one of the biggest weaknesses of the defense this year. Do you think that's just a product of youth and Brown's system or a bigger overall problem?
Von: Perhaps a little bit of both. We saw Saquon Barkley do real nice stuff against Michigan when he was lined up at quarterback. The problem most of the time, especially on his long touchdown run, was that the defensive linemen were trying to penetrate the inside of the pocket instead of leaving someone on the outside. This made a quick and easy read for Barkley to take the ball himself and outrun the likes of Devin Bush and Co. So inexperience definitely leads to that, but Don Brown has to be able to adjust to guys like Barkley and Janarion Grant on last weekend's big play. If you take a look at that play, Michigan is loading up on the left side of the line. Once Grant takes the snap to the left side and gets past Khaleke Hudson, all he has to do is go through the open lane in the middle and hope Bush doesn't catch up to him. So it is a bit of both, but all of this will be fixed with experience and Don Brown (hopefully) realizing the problem.
Dan: You mention Bush and Hudson as the last line of defense which leads me to a legitimate concern that I know some others have pointed out. Kinnel and Josh Metellus have had a couple rough weeks now in a row, and far too many times are not there to make the play when the back or receiver breaks through the second level. I'm not sure if its an effort or positioning issue but it feels like a repeat thing even going back to Indiana. Are they regressing?
Von: I wouldn't say that; that may be a bit of an overreaction. I'd have to look back at the film to see what exactly the issues are but they have faced some fantastic Big Ten skill players the last few weeks. Grant is as electric of a player in the conference, and we all know about Barkley and those guys over at Penn State. Obviously it is a concern with how well the rest of the defense has played, so you just have to hope they improve and are not targeted heavily in the pass attack. Do you think they are regressing?
Dan: I, like you, would want to look at things a bit closer and see where they were positioned in comparison to where the play went. I don't blame them for DaeSean Hamilton ripping them apart. Neither was prepared to match up with him, so that's not their fault. That's on Brown. Again, for the big plays, I'd have to go back. It's just frustrating at this point when there's no safety to stop a 12-yard gain from turning into a touchdown. Something to keep an eye on. Let's do what we did last week to wrap up. Come Sunday, what are three things you hope to be discussing?
Von: 1) Peters leads the team to another victory and is turnover free in his first collegiate start. With the forecast looking like more rain and cold temperatures, I don't expect him to throw all that much. If he is able to hang onto the football and lead the team with the confidence he showed last weekend, Michigan should be just fine. 2) The defense forces turnovers to lead to easy scores. The defense hasn't forced a turnover since the Indiana game, so it's been a little while. I’d like to see at least two turnovers to help Peters and the offense get easy points on the board, since they may come at a premium on Saturday. 3) The young weapons on offense continue to improve and showcase their talents. Nico Collins recorded his first catch while Kareem Walker rushed for his first collegiate touchdown last weekend. Now they must build off these milestones and create consistency on the field. Peoples-Jones has been relatively quiet lately, so I'd like to see him get a few catches and maybe even a score in this one to help fuel the young guys' motivation and determination to keep a consistency on offense. How about you?
Dan: I’ve got a crazy stat here: The last time a starting Michigan quarterback threw for a touchdown was Week 2 against Cincinnati. It’s been two months since that happened so my #1 thing I want to see is Brandon Peters breaking that streak. Ideally, Donovan Peoples-Jones is on the receiving end. My #2 for this week is an improvement in field position. Ambry Thomas has been solid on kickoffs lately, but the defense hasn’t been forcing turnovers, the punt return game has fallen off and our punters have been solid, if unspectacular. I want a dynamic return or turnovers to get some drives started on Minnesota’s side of the field. Finally, for #3, and forgive me for being so general on this, let’s see some #growth. Last week was the first time since Speight went down that this program felt like it had a direction. The fan base is engaged again, and I think most people have come around to realize that this is a young, talented team with a ton of room to grow. I think people forgot that because of the 5th year senior at quarterback, but the youth movement has now been fully embraced. Michigan has looked really really really really really really really bad its last four night games (despite making a late comeback against FSU, they were terrible for three quarters of that game). This is another opportunity, with a rivalry trophy at stake, to show some flashes of the immense potential this team, and this program has. I want to see a few more steps in the right direction.